Showing posts with label 1 star. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1 star. Show all posts

Saturday, October 13, 2018

First Man (2018) Shoots for the Moon But Misses

First Man movie review
Universal Pictures
Most are probably familiar with Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 mission: the space race between the U.S. and Soviet Union, the "one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind" quote, the iconic photo of Neil's footprints on the moon. Here for First Man, director Damien Chazelle explores a deeper, not widely known story, behind one of humankind’s biggest achievements.

Following the death of their toddler Karen, Neil (Ryan Gosling) and his family gradually set a course for him through trial and error to chart the famous Apollo 11 mission. While working his way up as a pilot and surviving the Gemini missions to landing on the moon, Armstrong’s eyes are so strongly set on the stars to deal with his grief, his relationship with wife Janet (Claire Foy) and their two sons starts falling apart at the seams.

One can’t have a biopic about Neil Armstrong without the Apollo 11, and vice versa. To tackle such an elusive figure with monumental events, it’s a real balancing act for any director to want to tell both stories. There's no question that Chazelle wanted to explore Armstrong's side of the events. However in focusing the film almost entirely from his perspective, the overall journey to the moon leaves a lot to be desired. 

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Greatest Showman (2018) Sings A Surprisingly Different Tune

Musicals inspire us to set aside reality as characters break out into song and dance when life’s knocked them down or they're making their dreams come true. With the setting of a grand circus and a showman making his performers dreams come true, The Greatest Showman surprisingly struggles with creating magic outside of its wondrous score and dazzling production.

Hugh Jackman takes on real-life circus mogul P.T. Barnum from his downtrodden childhood to marrying the woman (Michelle Williams) of his dreams and creating an eccentric show starring outcasts – bearded lady, a giant, a dwarf, trapeze artists, siamese twins - to name a few. As his exhibition of "freaks" bring a different kind of success than he anticipated, Barnum's forced to face what his dreams are truly made of.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Cloverfield Paradox (2018) Is One Sequel Too Many for the Apocalyptic Franchise

Cloverfield Paradox movie review
Photo Credit: Netflix
Ten years ago Cloverfield thrust movie goers into NYC with terrifying found-footage of a monster invasion. It was an original film with a massive organic marketing machine that became a cult hit. Fast forward eight years, after a long string of will-they-ever-make-it hype, 10 Cloverfield Lane was an ambitious, successful follow-up with a different take on the-end-of-the-world. Even though the series's third installment, Cloverfield Paradox, follows in their footsteps, it's missing all of the same qualities that made the first two films so darn good.

Dropping on Netflix after the 2018 Super Bowl without any previous hype, the latest version of events leaves Earth behind to cover the apocalypse from space. As countries go to war at home over energy crises, an international space crew aboard the Cloverfield space station tries to utilize Shepard particle accelerator to create a renewable energy source. The downside is that executing the particle can create alternative realities. The crew's gamble poses numerous threats and questions: what will their actions do for those at home? is the sacrifice to leave their families behind worth it if they never return? did their vortex transplant monsters on Earth?

The one thing the Cloverfield franchise had going for it was its thrills. Not only its ability to release a new movie out of nowhere and let fans rush to see it, but also its ability to be scary. Cloverfield dropped movie goers into a first-person perspective as a group of friends try to survive a Godzilla-like attack. 10 Cloverfield Lane kept its suspense claustrophobic with a young woman taken in by a conspiratorial survivalist and making us question if he was crazy or telling the truth. Paradox starts off with a cool enough premise as the particle accelerator hurls chaos on the Cloverfield station. Along with the crew as they one from one crisis to another, you're supposed to feel like you don't know what's going to happen next. But unfortunately, the film's inspiring horror elements become too commonplace. After the first thrilling curveball, the script recycles "wouldn't it be scary if this happened" ideas every ten minutes; most of the intended scares of dimensions colliding are gimmicky. This isn't necessarily bad if you just want to enjoy a popcorn flick, but if you want more than the same tactics to make you scared it's unexciting.

If there's one thing the movie has going for it is the impressive cast, which includes but not limited to
David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, John Ortiz, Chris O'Dowd, Aksel Hennie, Zhang Ziyi. Gugu-Mbgraw and Elizbeth Delecki are the only refreshing entries with each having their own reasons for wanting to manipulate the alternative reality they've fallen into, but even their agency boils down to a simple process of elimination instead of anything deliberate. Unfortunately, the abundance of talent can't save the film from the fact that their characters are the most basic tropes: each one representing their home country and bringing their international conflicts (and stereotypes) from home on board.

Similar to its sister sequel, Paradox wasn't originally connected to the Cloverfield universe. The script was written with the idea of it being released into theaters as its own solo flick. Unlike 10 Cloverfield Lane which found its place in the apocalypse universe, Paradox might've worked better on its own. Despite the decent reputation of Netflix making its own content and intentionally trying to be a great sci-fi flick, Cloverfield Paradox makes for a great SYFY flick on the level of Sharknado. With the Cloverfield name attached to it, it could've been a lot better.

Rating: ★☆☆
Have you seen Cloverfield Paradox? What did you think?

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) chokes on its aspirations

Jyn Erso Rogue One Movie Revew
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
With Princess Leia ruling the original trilogy and Rey holding up the mantle for The Force Awakens as girl power icons of the galaxy, Rogue One offers another brave warrior the opportunity to give fans a new heroine to aspire to. Renegade Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is called upon by the Rebel Alliance to steal the plans for the Death Star, and in doing so, finish her family's attempt to bring down the Galactic Empire.

Like the Star Wars movies that came before and will come after Rogue One, the immersive journey relies heavily on ordinary people, Jedis or not, to vie for light, humanity, and goodness against the darker forces threatening the galaxies. This prequel (to A New Hope) relies heavily on Erso to bring a deeper meaning to the cause, but unfortunately, the production and lead character just don't have the force on their side.

Erso has all the makings of a compelling insurgent, but her journey is surprisingly incomplete. Since the space-opera saga is not particularly new with lone heroes destined for greatness, Erso's estranged relationships recycle other similar arcs created over the years. The story itself doesn't commit to original or unique moments besides the basics: Erso is an orphan, henceforth the Death Star must be stopped. As if aware of the movie's ending before giving it away, the production goes through the motions, plucking Erso in between moments of her past to the current cause, and fails to develop her identity in the galaxy.

On the page Erso must've been truly fascinating to helm such an important part of the series, but unfortunately, she's not portrayed in the best light. Felicity Jones serving as the leading lady falls very flat. Perhaps this criticism could be pointed to Gareth Edwards's direction, but Jones struggles with her bearings almost every time she's on-screen. From delivering dialogue to letting the meaning of Erso's determination come across, Jones is often unmotivating, lacking the much-needed chemistry with her castmates. (Other actresses like Emmy Rossum or Jenna Malone could've been much more interesting casting choices.) After quite a few particular dull "rousing" speeches, it's difficult to believe she's the one other warriors want to follow into the battlefield; that presence of a misunderstood loner turned leader isn't there.

Even though Erso isn't as interesting as she could've been, background players for the Rebel Alliance and Galactic Empire have a chance to be the real stars. For the former, we have Diego Luna as Cassian Andor, Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe, Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook and Alan Tudyk does a sensational job voicing the sassy droid K-2SO. Together, they create the humorous, heartfelt band of misfits and warriors needed to anchor us to the good side. For the latter, we have Ben Mendelsohn as Orson Krennic, the Director of Advanced Weapons Research who pretty much acted by himself against extras and a creepy CGI incarnation of Peter Cushing. If you're looking to rally for one of the two teams, these guys give the emotional pull the movie deserves.

The script doesn't help by jumping between the Empire, the rebellion, and Erso. The first hour feels as if Disney needed something to fill the gap between The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, and rushed to deliver this faster than the Millenium Falcon in hyperdrive. So many familiar and new places and characters are supposed to be woven together as if we naturally know everyone and everything in the Star Wars world, but rough edits and hasty dialogue rarely unites the story on the same plane. Parts of the production are wonderfully unique like the muted colors and vast cinematography, and composer Michael Giacchino is a welcome addition to challenging what a Star Wars soundtrack can sound like. What truly makes Rogue One exciting is the final battle against the Empire. Smaller characters and unexpected cameos have some amazing moments to shine and pack a punch. The non-stop action and heartbreaking sacrifices instill all of the feels and entertainment to correct what doesn't initially work. Taking over as the real showstopper, the second hour puts everything on the line and catapults the story into a fascinating finale.

Rogue One isn't the Star Wars adventure I was looking for. As an essential part of the resistance, Erso doesn't compare to her counterparts as much as she could've. If it wasn't for the movie's climatic finale offering the exciting and tragic connection to A New Hope, a lot could've been lost with this prequel. Either from a direction or studio standpoint, Gareth Edwards didn't break free from the other 'prequel-sequel-reboot' mode Disney's churning out. As if Darth Vader had his hands around the production, this installment chokes on its aspirations.

Rating: ★½☆☆
Have you seen Rogue One: A Star Wars Story?
What do you think?

Friday, March 10, 2017

Fifty Shades Darker (2017) Remains Impotent

Photo Credit: Fifty Shades Darker / Universal Pictures
As the sequel to the controversial erotically-charged series, Fifty Shades Darker was touted to be more suspenseful, sexy, and alluring than its dry prequel Fifty Shades of Grey. With major changes made from the first movie like finding a new director with James Foley, and writer (also the author's husband) Niall Leonard, this installment had expectations to be exponentially thrilling. Though its previous flick created a nice foundation for the rest of the installments to build upon, this sequel struggles even more to find a plot, maybe even a pulse.

Fifty Shades of Grey concluded with the literal door closing in Christian's (Jamie Dornan) face along with his aspirations of making Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) his full-time submissive. She leaves of her own free will (yay!!) to bigger and better things ahead until Darker brings them back together after the tiniest of separations. But a dosage of obstacles start challenging their relationship as Ana tries to establish new demands from 'the boyfriend' and her boss Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) becomes creepy and possessive over her as his assistant. Meanwhile ghosts from Christian's past like an ex-sub Leila (Bella Heathcote) and ex-dominant (Kim Basinger) simply can't let him go.

Author E.L. James and passionate readers would say the star-crossed lovers are focused on building a future together so nothing deters their love. Others will recognize that every conflict threatening to drive them apart are solved through limitless wealth and sterile sex. If a young woman establishing her wants both in and out of the bedroom could be argued as the overall arc, it increasingly exists out of mere convenience. Every time Ana doesn't want to be bought, Christian counters with sex, money, a charity ball, moving in, marriage, to steal her attention away. Even if Mr. Red Flags changes his nature over time, i.e. the dominant becomes the submissive, Ana's non-sexual wants (a job, independence, transparency) are often muted by Christian's privilege. What may be a tantalizing fantasy for readers on the page becomes an absolute hindrance on-screen as any issue the lovebirds encounter are frustratingly handled off-screen via Grey's limitless power.

So the sequel ends up relying on what it's most known for (sex) to make up for a dubious romance.

However, it merely follows in the same footsteps of the first movie of inserting sex to divert interesting conflicts between the leads and becomes even more sterile in its intimacy. Especially since Johnson still displays more than she should in an even stronger male-gaze aesthetic. Where the first movie could make the hook-ups at least tolerable, Foley lacks the judgment to properly set any tangible mood for the sex scenes, even the most vanilla kind.

If there is something to be had for Darker, it's all the best elements of the first movie - the cast and high expectations of production design, costume, and soundtrack, carry over well. As far as performances go, Johnson carries the film by still making us believe that Ana is genuinely invested in giving Christian more chances to change and open up to her. Her maturity on the type of woman she wants to be evolves, even if the script holds her hostage to Christian's whims. And because of that, unfortunately, the alluring nature of her co-star wears a crucial element of her story thin. Though Dornan is quite personable and charming when he doesn't have to deal with Grey's dark, twisted history, any commanding presence the character could have falls flat when Dornan's afforded scenes to dig deeper. As much as the story could intend exploring Ana's wants and needs in life, Christian the dominant becoming the submissive to her must be thoroughly read between the lines.

Established from the get-go by director Sam-Taylor Johnson, Fifty Shades's world remains visually elegant and sleek. Even with writing, production, and costume team alterations, her influence continues with the sequel's opulent, minimalist sets and luxurious wardrobes. Even the soundtrack, which initially kicked off with Beyonce, The Weekend and Ellie Goulding, is matched this time around with 'not being in love equates dying a thousand deaths' ballads by Sia, Taylor Swift with Zayn Malik, John Legend and Halsey. With the exception of a new avenue for the story to wander, Foley serving as the new director imprint is nearly impotent.

Unlike most adaptations where the book rarely lives up to the movie or transforms non-readers into fans, Fifty Shades Darker falls right in line for whom the film is made: E.L. James, her devoted readers, and perhaps curious hound-dogs. For all intents purposes, the sequel is posh enough to gawk at. But if you're looking for anything more than sex, which critics clamoured for and still didn't get, the story leaves everyone and everything pretty much impotent.

for readers: ★★★
for me:★☆☆
for everyone else:☆☆☆

I liked this though.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Suicide Squad (2016); the joke was on us

Suicide Squad movie review
Photo Credit: Suicide Squad / Warner Bros Pictures
High-ranking government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) believes there's a certain set of skills from a group of imprisoned super-villains that's worth using to her advantage. In fact, she thinks they can be maneuvered as a covert strike team if the president or the United States falls into the dangerous hands of a terrorist. Recruiting a mixed bag of assassins and crazed freaks locked up in a massive security prison, these worst of the bad are united in a battle for "good".

Director David Ayer was handed the keys of the kingdom to direct an installment for the DC film universe. In what was one of the most hyped movies in the super-antihero genre, quickly divided moviegoers into love or hate camps, and for good reasons. Suicide Squad has a lot of things going on; some rewarding, some lousy, most of which can't adequately be made sense of.

A big source of ire is simply the perverted faux marketing the film suffered at the hands of Warner Bros. Whether it was an attempt to get one over on it's rival Marvel or the more necessary material ended up on the cutting room floor, the film's assured adrenaline rush lags in comparison to the awesome trailers trolling fans for the past year. Ayer's next leg of DC's franchise comes across more like a messy game of bumper cars trying to get across an imagined finished line.

Essentially, the story struggles to identify what the squad is supposed to do in terms of its all-important mission and how we feel about the group.

Unlike individual installments that focus on one superhero, this flick takes us through the backstories of the entire squad: skilled marksman who never misses Deadshot (Will Smith), unbalanced former psychiatrist Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), an assassin Boomerang (Jai Courtney), a reptilian supervillain Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and a fire-summoning former L.A. gang member El Diablo (Jay Hernandez).

The peak into who these guys are and why they are so dangerous works to a point; we understand how they can get their hands dirty and bloody and find justification for it. The film almost spends too much time unmasking the squad until their reputation as actual dangerous criminals becomes blurred. As much as we care of the bad guys, should our hearts turn so soft to them that we forget why they are behind bars? that the impetuous headstrong Waller starts looking like the villain?

While the inclusion of backstories isn't a major mistake, their insertion is one example of the disorganized story. The script is too dedicated to playing up the task force's all-important government-imposed mission. Waller and her supposed villain end up coming across like a magician using choppy misdirection to complete a half-brained trick. The squad gel together but their cause is poorly executed.

As an ensemble and building up the squad, the cast is certainly on point. Most of the squad is very well-rounded, share a humorous camaraderie, and make-up one hell of a team. Smith and Robbie steal the show and nearly every scene. Though the pair already has great chemistry together from their previous film Focus, the two really step it up here; so much so, it would be great just to have individual installments of their own.

Additionally, there is no shortage of compliments that can be given to Robbie, who seems to be an entirely different movie of her own. Her Harley Quinn is vulnerable, clever, off her rocker; completely complex. Robbie has so much fun with the role without letting her performance become a caricature or sloppy. She is definitely the star of the film.

Suicide Squad isn't wholly intolerable. Ayer's initial attempt to create a gritty comic book ride ultimately gets diluted down into a very flawed flick. With a good cast, and wicked soundtrack, his original vision - whatever that may have been, barely survives. The film ends up existing in the ether of the superhero genre, where one can only dream it was as exciting as its trailers. Sorry to say, the joke was on us.

Rating: ★☆☆
Have you seen Suicide Squad? What are your thoughts?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) Lacks That Something Special

Fifty Shades of Grey Movie Review
Photo Credit: Fifty Shades of Grey / Universal Pictures
One of the most negatively panned and yet most talked-about series ever should have nowhere to go up but up when it's adapted to the big screen. Of course, pun implied, we're talking about Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy by E.L. James, the literary, erotic, and controversial phenomenon. And yet for all the anticipation both by legions of devoted  haters and fans, the highly anticipated adaptation manages to coast between the lines to lack that something special the books achieved.

BDSM billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) recruits a young virginal graduate Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) into "his red room of pain", aka a sexual contract where she becomes his submissive. He has rules. If she follows them, he'll reward her. If she fails them, he'll punish her. A chance encounter sparks a torrid relationship between the two, one that leaves Ana questioning if she wants a relationship where pain is a part of the package and forces Christian to confront his emotional limitations.

Despite its reputation as an erotica and a relationship that's supposed to jump off of the page, the movie doesn't offer much in terms of an actual story. Ana meets Christian and is propositioned to be his submissive, but for reasons that are continuously glossed over (probably to save for the sequel), we just don't understand why they're attracted to each other. If the movie is trying to explore a young woman discovering her sexuality, Ana's struggle to decide whether or not to sign the contract comes in last to pushing and failing to break Christian out of his shell. And to be honest, as Grey, there's not much there in terms of actual brooding you'd want to know more about. In-between the awkwardly male-gaze sex romps, you just can't help but realize that in place of what could be an interesting romantic drama, the characters just go at it all the time because they can.

While there is no grand love story in the first film, it's admirable that this is not a straight-up porno. Though it has its fair share of inserting a sex scene just because there's a lot of them in the books, the erotica is still surprisingly tame. (Johnson physically bares so much more than Dornan, it makes one think: wasn't this supposed to be for female audiences?). Even if it's all there in terms of going at it like rabbits, the film is nowhere near the taboo adult world people can find and already enjoy online or the real world. So critics might imply that the sex was too safe, but a lack of gratuity set a refreshing pace for the never-ending honeymoon-mode lifestyle.

What ultimately saves the movie is how it translates the books, especially for the haters who ripped it apart for grammar and narrative issues. The movie aptly removes the ridiculous first person perspective of Steele invalidating herself with inner goddesses and forty sub-consciousnesses to elevate her as much as possible. And because the film relies on the headlining stars to make the story shine, credit for making Ana someone worthy to watch goes to Johnson who brings a smoky humor, sass, and confidence to a role that you didn't know had that capability to shine. And for Christian, though Dornan wasn't everyone's first pick, he manages to make Grey charismatic enough to wonder if there's more to him than meets the eye. Together, especially since Dornan was cast at the last minute, make a decent pair for what they have to work with.

No matter the creepy logistics that Grey continually shows up wherever Steele is, and every important conversation of getting to know each other is unevenly shelved for awkward sex scenes, director Sam Taylor-Johnson does her best with what she wanted to achieve. She manages to bring  tangible aspects of the books to life through the cinematography, costume, production design, soundtrack, actors, etc. while a smarter tongue-in-cheek script can be found underneath a story that jumps all over the place.  If you are a fan of the books, Taylor-Johnson makes it possible to want to watch the movie over and over, and I dare say, she gave the film more consideration than many probably would've. And her foundation is surely something the sequels will miss out on if she isn't there to helm Darker and Freed.

More than anything else Fifty Shades of Grey aims to please fans and author. Surely, hardcore fans will be satisfied with the results and the studios who scored on curious moviegoers. Everyone wins except for those who fall outside of those two circles. But to rise above its hostile criticism already, the film doesn't or can't strive to raise a bigger discussion about Ana and Christian's relationship. It skimps along the surface of its inspiration because if it delved too deeply into James's world, it could be one huge joke (an even bigger one to those who hate the series). What remains is a well-intended production trying as best as possible to get out of the grasp of the inner circle of the author and the mind-boggling success of her story.

For book fans: ★★
For me: ★¾☆
For everyone else: ☆☆☆
Have you seen Fifty Shades of Grey? What do you think?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Sleepless In Seattle (1993)

Photo Credit: Sleepless in Seattle/ TriStar Pictures
Having relocated from Chicago to Seattle following the loss of his wife, Sam Baldwin (Tom Hanks) is encouraged by his adolescent son to pour his feelings of grief to a sensationalist shrink over the radio. Across the country, in Baltimore, that very same evening, a newly engaged Annie (Meg Ryan) hears Sam's story and becomes increasingly infatuated that she could be the one for him.

Nora Ephron's Sleepless in Seattle poses us with the question: is someone you never met the one for you? Her main character Annie treks across the country to challenge the safe path she is on and to take a risk on a different kind of partner who may be able to satisfy her expectations (most of it being driven by classic romance movies). It's a brave and sorta hopeless romantic quest because she could end up looking crazy, or it could not work out all. There's a cutesy-allergy sensitive obstacle that stands in Annie's way: her fiance Walter. Currently involved in a relationship she never really questions, until her mother mentions that meeting Annie's father was magic.

As much as I admire Ephron's filmography, Annie's escapade comes off more as stalkerish, and weird, than insatiably naive and quirky (as Meg Ryan wonderfully plays her). Maybe it's worth it to some characters, or real persons, to go out of their way to see if there is another love out there for them...  I couldn't quite fall for her attempt at looking for other romantic possibilities, someone she never met before, when Walter is endearing, considerate, and thankfully, isn't imbued with condescending faults that make his imperfect personality a love or leave him an ultimatum.

Annie all but throws her engagement to Walter aside as if it's not living up to its potential, and Sam's voice over the radio becomes a preemptively created fantasy in her mind of what great love can be. It's sorta the fangirl's ultimate fantasy - to know a guy, find him, and everything works out. Ryan is truly enthusiastic and lively, but her efforts seem to cross the line of being attracted to a guy she never met and overstepping her bounds.

On the opposite end of the line, Sam is guarded and isn't ready to take chances for a new relationship. All he's known is Maggie, and once she's gone, he believes moving across the country will aid his grief. His friends are not hopeful nor entirely enthusiastic he'll find another Maggie but he gives a few dates and the possibility of getting laid a chance - just because everyone suggests he does it. Though Hanks delivers a rightfully sensitive performance, there's never really a deep exploration (as far as romantic movies go) for Sam to identify his loss - which keeps him literally sleepless in Seattle. For the magnitude of love that each character was aspiring to capture for themselves, neither one fully seems emotionally ready. Annie has a hard enough time hiding her one-sided infatuation with Sam from her fiance, it's hard to imagine how her first date w/ Sam will go: Oh yeah, I heard you on the radio and hired a private investigator to trail you out on dates and days off with your son.... Instead, their prospective romance comes off more like my favorite line from the film: Sam: Didn't you see Fatal Attraction? scared the shit out of me! It scared the shit out of every man in America!

Taking on the common theme that This Relationship Is Destiny, I didn't feel this iconic story translated very well. Director and writer Ephron tries to emulate this same kind of "magic" found in other films like An Affair to Remember (cited numerously by her characters) by invoking the same type of characteristics both Sam and Annie share: favorite Baseball players, separate friends talking about Cary Grant, believing that touching someone's hand you may know they are the one. There are plenty of cute moments that show how compatible they are with each other, but more of the storyline is Annie forcing her hand, Sam's son making all the arrangements, and Sam balancing his first fling since his wife passed away.

Relationships can be many things; a respectfully familiar yet full of love, lightning in a bottle, a lucky meeting of the minds or hearts labeled as fate, or an adventure in which you move mountains to find ( the latter of which is Annie's heartfelt, if not weird, quest). The possible romance for Sam and Annie never quite live up how Ephron injects the idea of that their meeting is destiny. Every woman wants to fall in love just like in the movies, and there's probably no one more than me that feels heartless for not going gaga over Sleepless In Seattle. Even the classic ending didn't inspire as much magic as it is known for.
Rating: ★☆☆
Have you seen Sleepless In Seattle? What are your thoughts?