Monday, November 20, 2017

Rampage Trailer

I always knew that The Rock would be destined for great things as an action star. Funny too, since for a long while in his acting career, he didn't do lots of action. I get it why, I know lots of people fear being type cast or adopting a certain persona that you can't get out of. The problem is that he went so far in the other direction that he became a joke. Lots of the kiddy stuff he did wasn't funny nor was it particularly good, and I am glad that he finally returned where he belonged, in the action movie arena. I have enjoyed The Rock's turn in "The Fast and Furious" franchise. I have really enjoyed his presents in a lot of the other action oriented stuff he has been doing. Even though it's not an action show, The Rock is really good on HBO's "Ballers," a show everyone should check out.

Just because it feels like The Rock is back home doesn't mean everything he is going to do is going to be great. I am a little hesitant for when "Rampage" gets released. What looks like a fairly typical monster movie is actually based on a video game. A video game that my brother use to play frequently on our Nintendo 64. I also had a game boy version of the game too. The movie being set in Chicago is no random movie setting. The first place you destroyed in the video game were cities in Illinois and you do attack Chicago. One of the first cities you destroy was Peoria, and since we are from Peoria, we made a big deal about that. The game was simple, you chose a monster, between a giant gorilla, a giant wolf or a giant lizard and you destroyed cities. That was basically it, so that didn't leave lots of room for crafting a story.

The video game is getting adapted into a movie and it seems like they are going the most generic way possible in explaining how three animals became huge monsters. I suppose I would have thought this was cool back when I loved playing the game. But after many recent years of CGI things destroying cities, this just looks like more of the same.

Incredibles 2 trailer

The trailer for "The Incredibles 2" hit over the weekend. We barely got any footage. If that, I honestly don't know if anything we saw will actually end up in the film. But it was great nonetheless.

"The Incredibles" is my favorite of the Pixar films. Not just because it has superheroes in it, but because it was a smart, clever movie with superheroes in it. It still holds up today as Pixar's biggest and best film. While so many Pixar films got prequels and sequels, there was no continuation of "The Incredibles" for over a decade, and I thought we'd never see this superpowered family ever again. But I was wrong. I am hoping that it ends up being awesome. I want a whole series of these films and I want them all to work!

Review: "Mayhem" is exactly what it sounds like.

Mayhem Review
Steve Yeun grew in popularity thanks to “The Walking Dead.” Everyone grew to love Glen, that is if you weren’t like me and found him endearing from the beginning. It was a lot of fun watching him grow as a character and the incredible work Yeun did on the show highlighted the best of what the character had to offer. Even though they jumped the shark with his “death” scene only to kill not too much later in the show, it was still a worthy death and the show has missed him greatly.

I am fondly happy to learn that Yeun’s career is on the up even after “The Walking Dead.” He appeared in “Okja,” the Netflix sleeper that I think more people should sit down and watch. Now, he’s stared in “Mayhem,” a twisted, crazy thriller about one man having a very bad day that only gets worse. Many of us already don’t like working a job we hate. It only gets worse when you framed by your company for something you didn’t do. It gets even worse still when the building you work in that just fired you is quarantined and a infectious virus that forces you to unleash your deepest, darkest fantasies, no matter the stakes, is unleased in your building. All three of these things happen to Derek Cho, the character Steve Yeun plays in this movie. The virus is called D-13 or maybe it was D-17? Anyway, it allows to unleash your wildest impulses. You become extremely violent, you become extremely horny, everything you are thinking about is taken to the extreme. Choas reigns in this once peaceful office building.

Despite the chaos taking place in the office building, Derek Cho is determined to get to the top floor, where all the executives are barricaded, and plead his case to keep his job and uncover the shady dealings that got him fired. He must fight his way through the never-ending people that look like they have been hit with a slight version of the Rage Virus from “28 Days Later.” He joins forces with Margot Robbie look-alike Samara Weaving who plays Melanie who has a grudge of her own with the company’s executives. What ensues is a blood-soaked satire of office life and how we are sometimes too bound to the jobs we live, even when we don’t particularly like them.

The film doesn’t even pretend to be grounded or gritty. “Mayhem” knows full well it’s a movie, and it is aiming to please you for every amount of its running time. It is a movie that is covered in blood. There are some cold, hard laughs, but they land with a sharp punch. Don’t expect a Oscar nominated script from this one, because you ain’t gonna get one. Don’t expect “Mayhem” to change the world or hold some significant hold on the genre, because that ain’t happening either. This is a movie that you throw your feet up on the recliner for and just enjoy.

All the performances in this movie range from good to ridiculous-but-in-a-good-way. There is very little, if anything at all, that is meant to be taken literally or seriously in this movie. People kill each other in highly gruesome fashions, people run around naked, people don weapons of all types. None of it is meant to be taken out of context, it’s all crazy cool, hilarious fun. I do really like Yuen here, and I think he’s going to have a fine career moving forward. I also really liked Samara’s work in the film. We have seen these archetypes to hell and back, but they make the most out of them. Most genre fans may compare this to “The Belko Experiment,” and they would somewhat be right. I think “Mayhem” is different enough that it stands apart. But there are some striking similarities and it’s kind a “Armageddon-Deep Imapct-1998” thing. But I think its worth seeing, it’s a hell of a lot of fun!


Sunday, November 19, 2017

TV REVIEW: Marvel's The Punisher



When we look back at 2017 in regards of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we will remember that it was a tough year for their television branch. “The Defenders” was quasi-fun, but too short for its own good and mostly boring. “The Inhumans” was completely terrible on nearly every conceivable level. And “Iron Fist,” honestly, I never finished it. We still have “The Runaways” coming to Hulu and season five of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” on the way, but I can’t in good faith say I am excited for those. I feel deflated as far as Marvel television goes, a feeling I never thought I’d have.

I thought “The Punisher” would be the savings grace for the year. After all, Jon Bernthal made a huge statement as the character in season two of “Daredevil.” It was never Netflix-Marvel’s plan to make a “Punisher” show, but after how popular the character was on “Daredevil,” he was given a spin-off. I liked the idea of a Punisher television show. I love myself a good revenge story, and a Marvel version would be something I would never protest to. I will also let you in on a little secret. I like watching justice be served. Even as a kid, I couldn’t stand watching people get away with stuff, either in a fictional world and even real life. I was a big tattle tail and I would do anything to make sure people who did something bad had their day. It’s always nice watching someone really kick ass, which is why revenge flicks are some of my favorite flicks.

Sadly, The Punisher has had a tough track record on live-action popular culture. I have a soft spot for Thomas Jane’s turn with the character and I think the 2004 movie is criminally underrated. I thought the Dolph Lundgren and Ray Stevenson versions were criminally dumb. So, it’s mostly been a tough road, but I had high hopes for Jon Bernthal’s turn as the character would be a new beginning in a new direction. He was so good in “Daredevil.”

After I finished the first episode of Netflix’s “The Punisher” I was totally on board. I raved about it on social media, saying that’s the Punisher alright. The series begins with The Punisher (Bernthal) chasing some bikers on a big truck, killing them. He kills a cartel leader in Mexico with a sniper rifle all the way in El Paso, TX. He kills a guy in the bathroom by choking him with his own neck-tie. He then burns his skull armor and blends into society as a construction worker. He keeps to himself, mostly ridiculed by a group of assholes. The new worker tries to befriend anyone he can, and falls in line with the assholes. Turns out the assholes are trying to rob a mob card game and they are more than just assholes, they are thieves. The bring in the new guy to their crew, and take him on the mob robbery. The robbery goes wrong, and it’s the new guys fault, so they plan to kill him. The Punisher steps in and kills the assholes, saves the new guy then takes out the mob guys before they can reach the new guy. It’s a fantastic episode, really sets a tone that works for The Punisher. I was hungry for more after that episode.

I wish I was as enthusiastic about the other twelve episodes. Sadly, the whole series slows way down after that explosive episode. There is action here and there, but not nearly on a scale that you would expect from a Punisher series. The Punisher isn’t a superhero, he doesn’t wear a cape, he has no superpowers. He is a hand-to-hand combat, explosives and weapons expert. He’s a militaristic, comic book version of Paul Kersey. If this show focused on The Punisher going around New York City, killing drug dealers and murderers and mobsters and the corrupt, this would have been something. This show would have worked in spades had they just kept things simple.

Alas, things are not kept simple. In fact, it gets so bogged down in a useless, needless plot and at times, The Punisher’s supporting cast gets more screen time than The Punisher himself does. But none of his supporting cast is really that interesting. The show also completely retcons everything we learned in “Daredevil” season two. It wasn’t mobsters who were responsible for The Punisher’s family dying. They were, but they weren’t. We see The Punisher before he became a vigilante, his alter-ego Frank Castle. Frank Castle and his close friend Billy Russo (Ben Barnes) were lieutenants in the United States Marines. They are brought into a special team by CIA officer William Rawlins (Paul Schulze). Rawlins promises making the world a better place. But Castle finds out that they may be killing innocence and that Rawlins tactics are questionable. Rawlins nearly gets Castle, Russo and his men killed on a mission Castle advised against. All of this and more makes Castle the enemy, and it was Rawlins who targeted Frank’s family.

The show is more of a government conspiracy than anything else. Frank catches wind that Rawlins and Russo are still alive and doing some shady shit with each other. And their conspiracy also got a computer’s guy named David Lieberman (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) on their trail. Lieberman was shot by corrupt cops on Rawlins payroll, but he didn’t die, and he’s been in hiding ever since. Lieberman and Castle will join forces and go after Rawlins and Russo.

I don’t mind the different origin of The Punisher and the government conspiracy storyline would have been cool, but it’s so painfully dull that it’s mind numbing. There is so much devotion to Russo banging Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah) a Homeland Security agent hot on the trail of Rawlins. There is so much devotion to Castle and Lieberman sitting around talking about morality. There is so much devotion to a sub-plot involving a soldier with PTSD, that leads him to become a terrorist-of-sorts. There is so much devotion Curtis Hoyle (Jason R. Moore) and his support group for troops, all making the same political messages repeatedly. There is also a ridiculous sub-plot revolving around Castle meeting Lieberman’s family, and doing stuff for them, while Lieberman watches from his computer because he bugged his own house to watch his family while he was underground. It’s a weird, weird sub-plot.

The show tries to make some points on gun violence in America, soldiers coming home with PTSD, and soldiers being forgotten by our government and the system once they got home. All worthy points to make, all ideas that would make an intriguing television show. But “The Punisher” never explores these points in any significant way, that it feels like wasted time. One of the biggest problems with “Luke Cage,” “Iron Fist” and even the eight episodes of “The Defenders” is that they have a story that would be told in three to five episodes. But they get stretched to eight to thirteen episodes. With “The Punisher,” it feels like they have enough story for a two-and-a-half-hour movie, but it got stretched across thirteen hours of television show. The last two episodes feels like a finale stretched across two hours. Pacing has been hard to pin down with these Netflix-Marvel shows. It was an annoyance with the other shows though, here it’s a distraction.

It’s too bad because Jon Bernthal is acting his ass off here, trying to make it all count. I wasn’t a big fan of Ben Barnes in the “Chronicles of Narnia” movies. But that was a long time ago, and he’s clearly matured as a performer. He does good work as Russo, and he’s one evil bastard in this. The entire cast does good work, and it’s tough to see so much good work on a show that is mostly boring.

When I sit down to watch a show called “The Punisher,” I don’t want to meander in a sub-plot about a kid with bad PTSD, especially when the pay-off is so rotten like it is here. I don’t want Frank Castle sitting around talking morality episode after episode. I don’t want to see the sexual encounters of the main villain. I don’t want a finale cut into two episodes. I want to see The Punisher blowing scum away. That’s what his character is supposed to do. That’s the core of the character, getting vengeance on those who killed his family, then making sure no evil-doers do something similar to other innocent people. This should have been non-stop action from beginning to end, instead we get a somewhat political conspiracy thriller that has no idea what the fuck it’s about and that’s just sad all around.

Review: "Justice League" flies, but not without some turbulence.

Justice League Review

It’s that time of year again. Warner Brothers released a new movie set in the DC Extended Universe. Several film critics write bad reviews, there is controversy over its Rotten Tomatoes score, the DC fanboys defend it to the death and flame battle anyone who disagrees with them. There are so much over-analyzed issues any time Warner Brothers releases a new movie. But I don’t care about any of that. If you love DC, more power to you. I am not going to sit back and write how this compares to anything Marvel does. Once a decade, maybe more, there are this tepid franchise wars. They are ugly for no reason, and frankly, I am sick of hearing about them. I may have been guilty of franchise hyperbole in the past, and I am quitting right now.

It's interesting to try and gauge “Justice League.” If the DCEU’s films were darts on a dart board, I would say that “Justice League” at least hits the board. It didn’t hit the wall next to the board like “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice” did. However, it didn’t quite hit the target than say “Man of Steel” and “Wonder Woman” did. I think it works better as a whole than “Batman vs. Superman” and I think that “Justice League” proves that Warner Brothers is getting closer to making the ensemble superhero movie they so desperately want to make. I have to say, the things that are great in this movie are so great they will make you swoon. Not just hardcore DC fans, but fans of superhero movies in general. There are images and performances here that are wonderful, and some of the coolest superhero moments you’ll see in a theater this year. There is so much good here that I wish I could tip my hat and say job well done.

But it’s not 1998 anymore. We are past the time when we only used to get a superhero movie every five or so years. Superhero movies have become commonplace, but only that but great superhero movies are commonplace. So, it’s weird and frustrating that there is so much “Justice League” gets wrong while simultaneously getting so much right. Lots of blame is already getting heaped on Snyder, and that boggles my mind a bit. This is not Snyder’s train wreck, by any means. I think Snyder has a great eye as a director, and he creates a visual style that I think fits well in a superhero movie. It seems the studio is never confident in the people they hire, so we get reshoots, re-dos and a new director coming in for clean-up. What WB should be doing is hiring people passionate about the material and stepping out of their way.

Let’s discuss the good of “Justice League” first. I think Ben Affleck gets a bad rap for no reason. Yes, he sucked in the 1990’s, but we aren’t living in that decade anymore. Affleck has grown exponentially since then, and he’s developed some real range as a performer. His Batman is terrific, and I think he creates a brooding style that is awesome and fitting. Wonder Woman continues to be my favorite of the group. Having just finish her solo movie, she’s easily the most developed. Gal Gadot braces every scene it’s the last movie she’s going to make. I feel like she was born to give this character live-action life and she’s amazing in every moment she’s on screen. This isn’t really a spoiler, since anybody could have guessed this, but Henry Cavil returns as Superman, and everything I would ever want from a modern Superman, and reminds us of the glory days of Christopher Reeve.

The rest of the League? They are fine, I guess. Ezra Miller is an actor I have enjoyed over the years, in films like “We Need To Talk About Kevin” and I think he’s got real range as a performer. I think there are moments in “Justice League” wear he really shines, but the script makes his character way too overly-jokey and some it lands, and some of it doesn’t. It’s interesting how they have envisioned Aquaman in the modern world. But sadly, they don’t give Jason Mamoa much to play. He’s basically a “bro” version of Kal Drogo who speaks better English. I won’t say he’s not entertaining, every once in a while he is. I love when he taunts the other teammates. I love that he screams like a Comanche Indian during battle. There is a moment when he unknowingly sits on Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth that provides some big laughs. But there really isn’t much to the character. I feel like I can’t really judge Ray Fischer’s Cyborg, because he feels like a device for the League to use, instead of an actual character. He’s connected to the big weapon that The Big Bad of the movie uses in his evil plot, and that seems like Cyborg’s only use. He seems to exist in the League only to destroy the bad weapon, there is very little development in his character. Sure, there is some backstory here, which I hope pays off in his solo movie, but it’s basically glossed over to make room for all the other things happening in this movie.

That kind of leads to the films biggest flaw. There is too much of “Justice League” that is reactionary. It’s reacting to the other DCEU movies. It is reacting to the negativity of “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” It is reacting to the Marvel movies and what they represent. Throw in introducing Atlantis, Aquaman, Cyborg, Steppenwolf, The Mother Boxes and you have a bloated, overstuffed script that gets messy in some points. At least “Justice League” is quasi-coherent and not the editing nightmare “Batman vs. Superman” was. But the problems are so glaring that you can’t NOT notice them. This goes back to my point where WB needs to just trust the people they hire and allow them to tell a good story with these characters. Both “Batman vs. Superman” and “Justice League” (and even “Suicide Squad”) suffer big time from having too many cooks in the kitchen. They are also adopting the wrong things from other franchises. It looks like both DC and Marvel will have a villain problem, because Steppenwolf stinks as a villain. He’s basically a CGI giant that gloats about his evil plot all movie, and is never really given any personality. He retrieves the devices needed for his master weapon with a genuine amount of ease. There is no tension to many of the scenes with him in it. And his parademons aren’t really intimidating either, these flying, monstrous insect guys. Sure, every dark lord needs an army but I feel like the flying monkeys from “The Wizard of Oz” were more terrifying. Steppenwolf’s evil plot? It involves another glowing McGuffin, and the whole movie comes down to simply turning off an apocalyptic weapon. A plot device that is wearing out its welcome in all high-concept action movies.

I know it may sound like I am beating up on this movie too much. But here is the thing, the material that works, works so well that it feels like a great movie is slipping away from Snyder. I liked watching the team gradually come together. I liked the moments in Atlantis and the invisible Amazon island. I liked the flashback battle between Steppenwolf’s forces, and the alliance between Men, Gods, Atlantians and Amazons, as well as some special guests that will make DC fans’ jaws drop. I liked some of the back-and-forth between characters. I liked watching the team together on their off time (save for a ridiculous ethics discussion about reviving Superman that went on too long and written poorly). I liked lots of the film’s energy and I liked the way much of it was shot. I felt pretty nostalgic when Danny Elfman recycled his 1989 Batman score, and I liked his musical contributions in general. I think DC fans are in for a treat when they view both the post-credit scenes after the movie. There aren’t an over-abundance of silly scenes or poorly written plot points like in “Batman vs. Superman.” Some of this material is so great that it feels it should belong in a different movie. “Justice League” tap dances on the line between pass and fail that its almost dizzying. What’s killing me is that WB and DC are clearly listening to their critics and trying to improve. At the same time, they keep making the same mistakes. If they can’t overcome all of their flaws, they will keep making mediocre fare.

The year 2017 was a big year for the studio and this franchise. I will even say that 2017 has mostly been a step in the right direction. Where this franchise goes from here is crucial and I am hoping and praying that WB makes the right decisions going forward.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Review: "Ingrid Goes West" tells a sincere tale of 20th Century loneliness

Ingrid Goes West Review

I am an avid movie watcher and writer by night. I have a day job, and every morning I make a forty-five minute, sometimes solid hour commute to my work. There is a radio show that I listen to quite a bit on the ride in. They discuss random things, a little of this and a little of that. One morning, they were discussing the link between depression and social media. I honestly got to say, they were making a compelling argument. We do put lots of stuff online on social media these days, and for most people, it’s only the positive stuff that goes on their social media accounts. And while many post their latest piece of good news or the magnificent thing they are doing, someone, somewhere is feeling depressed that they don’t have your life.

We meet a girl named Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza) who is starring at her home, browsing the Instagram page of a “friend” of hers. The thing is, Ingrid doesn’t feel like she’s friends with this person anymore, they keep posting wedding photo after wedding photo, for a ceremony Ingrid wasn’t invited to. How can you be close friends with someone and not be invited to their wedding? What went wrong? Ingrid gets so upset that she crashes her friend’s wedding and sprayed her friends with mace.

During a brief stay at a mental institution, Ingrid is constantly writing letters to the girl she maced, trying to let her know that she hasn’t been herself ever since her mother passed away. That’s right, Ingrid’s mother has died, and left her with a nice sum of money. Not really going anywhere in life and in a rut socially, Ingrid becomes obsessed with a social media personality Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). So, she uses the money her mother left her and goes out to Los Angeles, to further stalk Sloane. After a couple hit-or-miss encounters, she meets Sloane by giving back her lost dog. Which she ended up stealing to meet Sloane. Ingrid is one of those messed up weirdos that she’s quasi-typecast at playing. But she does it so well in such a strange way that you are drawn to her. Even though her behavior is appalling.

Sloane is instantly drawn to Ingrid and they become close friends. Ingrid finally gets what she has wanted for so long. For the longest time, Ingrid’s mother was the only person who was ever nice to her. She had trouble making friends. As the movie wears on though, we get an idea of why that is, and perhaps people aren’t just being bitchy towards Ingrid. And maybe Sloane isn’t exactly the person Ingrid expects her to be. And yes, this all comes to a head by the end of the film. We have seen plenty of films about people wanting to cut corners to reach a goal, to try and pull off some grand scheme that gets tougher as the film wears on. There is a formula to “Ingrid Goes West” and because the movie follows that formula so closely is what keeps the movie from being great or even incredible.

I will say that “Ingrid Goes West” is very good, though. What makes it worthwhile, although formulaic, is the impeccable work done by both Elizabeth Olsen and Aubrey Plaza. For my money, these are two of the most talented actresses of their generation, and they never miss a beat with their roles. Olsen has been proving roughly seven years now that she has leagues more talent compared to her sisters. She’s been honing that talent in unexpected ways. We’ve seen her take on several dramatic roles and a couple blockbusters. But we’ve never really seen her let loose like she does here. She’s great in this movie, and the sky is the limit as far as her range as a performer goes. And Plaza? Like I said above, she plays a creep and makes it compelling. That’s extremely hard to do, no matter how many Oscars you have in your closet, and Plaza does some believable work here.

O’Shea Jackson Jr.  floored audiences in 2015’s “Straight Outta Compton,” a movie in which he played his own father. Here, he plays Ingrid’s landlord who also is writing an unlicensed spec script for Batman, hoping to eventually make it big as a screenwriter. Ingrid and Jackson’s Dan Pinto eventually are drawn to each other. It feels like a natural romance, not something that is just shoehorned into the movie simply to give Ingrid a love-interest. I honestly didn’t expect them to fall for each other and their relationship is carefully created by both the actors and the script. I think O’Shea Jackson Jr. has a very long career ahead of him.

The other big performance is by Billy Magnussen, who you may remember as one of the asshole realtors Steve Carell meets in “The Big Short.” He plays Nicky, Sloane’s uncontrollable brother, and it’s fairly like the work he did in “The Big Short,” but its pumped to the brim with steroids. I don’t want that to sound like it’s a bad performance, far from it. Magnussen is hard to look away from when he shambles onscreen, and he purposely becomes a thorn in Ingrid’s side. It’s a high-octane performance and it’s clear that Magnussen absolutely relished it.

“Ingrid Goes West” has some hard but honest things to say about the overwhelming and addicting landscape of social media and the negative effects of too much profile surfing can lead to. It’s also a smart movie about when you hit rock bottom personally, and you are desperate for a connection with another person, so much so that you’ll do anything to find that connection. It’s a movie that really asks you to find out who your friends are, and that maybe you’ll find your true friends in the most unexpected places. These are all lessons I’ve learned before, but “Ingrid Goes West” makes its points in a clever, intelligent and fun way that it’s hard not to like it.


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Deadpool 2 Thanksgiving Poster

Now that's a poster
There has always been a special kind of humor to the world of "Deadpool." It's no wonder it was a superhero movie unlike any other. I love that pretty much all the characters we enjoyed in the first film are coming back for the sequel. Plus, some cool, cool new characters that I can't wait to see in action.

I NEED this poster!