Friday, May 25, 2018

Non-Stop


RATING: D+

I kind of wish there had been a bit more truth to the title of this movie. Sure, I get what it's technically referencing to. This movie takes place on a plane, and a terrorist situation happens on said plane. And the plane cannot stop... therefore... non-stop. But what I'm referring to is that I kind of wish there had been a bit more non-stop action. Instead, for the most part until the final act, this film attempts going the thriller and suspense route. And mostly fails. 

This is one of four (!) action thriller movies that director Jaume Collet-Serra has done in the 2010's starring Liam Neeson. Evidently, he's been trying to cash in heavily on the recent turn in Neeson's career that started with Taken. Since then he's been getting typecast as gruff current or former cops who is typically pretty good with combat skills. These particular movies never make a ton of money or win over a lot of fans--but just enough to allow studios to keep investing in it, hoping that they'll have the next sleeper action thriller blockbuster that just so happens to star Liam Neeson. 

This particular one takes place almost completely in the air--save for the very beginning and end. That does at least lend it a certain amount of focus. Neeson's character, Bill Marks, is a U.S. Air Marshal, and thus he does a lot of flying. And on this particular flight, he just so happens to get a message from a terrorist who threatens to kill someone on the plane every 20 minutes unless $150 million is transferred to a certain account. Chaos ensues... slowly. 

This movie is actually stunningly tedious for much of the run time. Much of it centers around Marks trying to figure out "whodunit." And things are actually pretty tense at first. But later the results often end up making him look bad instead--and he starts getting framed instead. Ultimately, the whole thing just gets tiring to watch as it goes on for some time. And it doesn't help matters that Marks is not much of a protagonist that we want to root for--the sad thing is, you can't entirely argue with some of the passengers' reasons for suspecting him (even though we know he is not the perpetrator). That is not good. 

Luckily, the film kicks up a bit in the final act, but it's a bit of a bonkers final act at that. Sure, there's more action, but the antagonist's plan really is not that good of one (despite the person's protests otherwise). And when you think about it, the outcome the person hoped for after the occurrence of his plan probably was not going to happen. And also, after not really doing hardly anything to suspend disbelief most of the way through, the final act ends on a bit of a ridiculous note that really should have resulted in a lot of deaths--but doesn't. 

Non-Stop unfortunately is not really a movie that had potential to be much better. It was going in the wrong direction from the start. Going the "let's frame the good guy" route for the majority of the run time is quite tedious. And not nearly enough is done to make the film redeem itself in the end. I often end these more critical reviews lamenting about "what could have been," but it's difficult to see where this film could have gone to make it any dramatically better. 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Eagle Eye


RATING: B

I'm actually at a bit of a loss on where to start with this one. I know what has to be discussed eventually about this movie; but what comes first (and what was actually marketed) is a bit more difficult to find a starting point to go on. With little option, we'll just throw caution to the wind: this is an artificial intelligence action-thriller that is disguised for the first half or so as *just* an action thriller--with maybe some kind of conspiracy involved. And it was marketed as the latter as well--which wasn't entirely a bad idea, but it's rather difficult to review this film without bringing up the second half at all. 

This film starts out with one Jerry Shaw having some weird things happen to him--he gets a crap-ton of money deposited into his account, he comes home to find all kinds of military hardware and ammonium nitrate in his apartment. And then he gets a phone call from a mysterious woman who leads him to escape the authorities and meet up with a woman named Rachel who's also been contacted by this mysterious caller. This strange caller has plans for them--and threatens their lives and family (well, the latter in Rachel's case anyway) if they don't comply. Oh yeah, and this caller seems to have control over basically everything electronic. 

Having mentioned that this is a film involving artificial intelligence, it's not difficult to guess where the film goes from there. Ultimately, what we get is a pretty doggone exciting film that almost never lets up in pace and that also has a point to make--not just about A.I., but about mass surveillance in general. The action scenes are pretty fun--we get two car chase scenes, the latter of which includes a drone (and ends in spectacular fashion), as well as an airport package processing scene which starts out a little silly but ends pretty well too.

While the dialogue/script isn't always the best, the casting often helps make up for it. Shia LeBeouf does quite well here, while Michelle Monaghan is serviceable. Billy Bob Thornton also stands out, delivering his often silly lines properly (although I get the feeling that they intended to cast someone else first). Julianne Moore alternates pretty well between being appropriately monotone and genuinely creepy. Rosario Dawson and Anthony Mackie (Falcon from the Marvel Universe) are also familiar faces. 

This movie isn't without its issues. The film makes a big deal about how the A.I. can control a ton of things--from traffic cams to traffic lights to cell phones. And that all is quite believable. But I do have a hard time believing that it could make a city train come to a screeching halt and go backwards, or somehow take control of power lines in the middle of nowhere and use them to electrocute a man to death. The point is, sometimes this A.I. does things that are straight up impossible. And there are just some other little things that don't make much sense either. Also, there is a key plot point that involves the use of a sonic detonator to set off a bomb that I wasn't really a fan of (not to mention they never tell us where the actual bomb that is to be detonated even is). 

Despite some issues, Eagle Eye is a movie that was actually kind of ahead of its time (though not by much). While it isn't entirely original (the A.I. sometimes brings HAL 9000 to mind), it does have the benefit of being released in a time period where other issues like surveillance can come up (as opposed to years before). Oddly enough, this movie was not well liked when it came out--it was regarded as ridiculous and unbelievable. Maybe the plot felt a little more far-off then, but I'm not so certain that people would take that same attitude five to ten years later. If you're a fan of this particular subgenre, it's definitely worth a spin. 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Commuter


RATING: C

Remember when Liam Neeson wasn't being typecast as gruff ex-cop or maybe current cop types with "very particular sets of skills?" Yeah, me neither. Ever since the Taken trilogy started, Neeson has been getting cast in all kinds of action thrillers -- which typically involve him beating the snot out of random goons despite his age. 

This particular Liam Neeson film is actually his fourth collaboration with director Jaume Collet-Serra. Never heard of him? Well, he's been the main guy spitting out these various Liam Neeson action thrillers besides whoever's been doing the Taken trilogy. One of those films was "Unknown," which was basically a Bourne rip-off. The other two were Non-Stop and Run All Night, both of which I have yet to see (although I may give Non-Stop a whirl soon, just for kicks). Then there's this one. When I first saw the TV commercials for it, without watching the full trailer, I immediately thought, "It's just Taken, but with trains." And it was a January release. And pretty much all January releases stink, right? Well, maybe not totally. 

In this one, Liam Neeson's character is an insurance salesman who's... you guessed it... a former cop. At least until he gets fired from his job, anyway--at basically the worst time financially. Oh yeah, and the movie makes this big deal about how this character (Michael MacCauley) rides the same commuter train every day to and from work. So he's down in the dumps. And then he gets approached by some odd woman on the train... who offers him a heavy amount of cash if he can find a certain person on the train. And then suddenly he finds himself an unwitting party to a murder conspiracy. 

One might actually be surprised to find that this film does not involve as many scenes of Neeson beating up thugs as they'd expect. This film focuses more on the thriller end of things. There still is a fair share of them, though -- viewers gotta get their money's worth somehow. There is one particular awesome fight scene that stands out dramatically above anything else in the movie--because it involves Neeson, a thug, and a guitar. You do the math. 

Beyond that, this film is just alright. The pacing is a bit inconsistent--sometimes it moves fast, sometimes it moves slow. Sometimes it gives you surprises (and even a jump scare or two), and a couple of times it seems like they're just stalling, even though this movie is not that long. There is a pretty good climactic act. But there are parts of the attempt to solve the "mystery" that are just kind of annoying and feel a bit drawn-out (identifying the wrong person). 

The biggest problem, however, is that there is not fully proper closure. I mentioned earlier that there was a big murder conspiracy involved here. And while a lot of questions are answered in the final minutes, the biggest one of all is left unanswered: who the heck is this shadowy organization that set up this whole mess? We find out who the villains are, but even they are seemingly answering to something higher up--and we never find out who or what that is. Some TV reports at the end say some things, but they're deliberately blurred together so there's no definite answer. Surely they weren't expecting to make a sequel out of this, were they? That's kind of a massive hole. 

The Commuter isn't a bad film at all. As far as action thrillers go, it's decent enough--and fans of these kinds of films with Liam Neeson in them will probably want to give it a whirl. And while it's certainly tense at times, it doesn't always do enough to stand out from the crowd--and it doesn't help that there's a couple things that are never really explained (or even ones that are, but that just make no sense). The scene with the guitar alone might be worth the rental price. But that rental price is probably about as much as this film is worth--at best. 

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Geostorm


RATING: D-

I don't think hardly anybody goes to watch a disaster movie expecting greatness out of it. Sometimes the very nature of the genre depends upon suspending your disbelief, much like sci-fi (hence why the two have crossed over on occasion). What one does hope for out of such a movie like this are great visual effects, and characters/writing that even if they aren't good, have just enough charm to distract you from the often idiotic plot (sometimes good casting can help with that). You also need good pacing to make this work in any way. 

This particular movie centers around a world where natural disasters got so bad that the nations of the world decided they needed to control the weather--by building satellites out in space that can somehow do that. (And don't even bother asking how any of that's possible.) All seems to be going well--until the system of satellites starts getting sabotaged and freak accidents start occurring on the station and down on Earth. Someone is using the system against them--to basically wreak havoc upon the Earth. 

This disaster movie is unfortunately not even that original in its own genre. It's kind of a cross between The Day After Tomorrow, Armageddon, and a little bit of 2012. The latter was the only I didn't actively dislike. The other two suffered from insanely dumb plots, unlikable characters, and bad writing--but worst of all, bad pacing. There wasn't even that much proper action in either of those movies proportionally. Guess what? This movie suffers from basically all of those flaws. 

I actually don't think my suspension of disbelief has ever been stretched so far in a disaster movie. Controlling the weather with satellites? I have to wonder how the director/writers ever came up with that ludicrous idea. The characters are either annoying or just kind of there. Gerard Butler's character is basically the metaphorical punching bag for most of the movie and it gets old fast. And the script is often comically bad. It's not good when unintentional comedy (even though there's not a lot of it) starts to stray into a disaster movie like this--this isn't supposed to be Sharknado. 

And finally, the pacing. This movie is surprisingly slow, and it makes me glad the run length is a lot shorter at 109 minutes than most of its disaster movie peers. One doesn't watch a movie like this that's marketed the way it is to watch people do some detective work--in space. (This is where the Armageddon comparison comes in.) And yet, we're stuck in places other than the action for probably a good two-thirds of the movie. That especially does not work when your characters are unlikable. 

Is there anything salvageable about Geostorm? Very, very little. The visual effects are good, but not groundbreaking. People could perhaps see the film as a "so bad it's good" film and enjoy it that way. I know I was snickering at the idiocy now and then. Perhaps if the film had fully embraced the nonsense that it was instead of actually trying to be dead serious much of the way through, it might have worked better. But in this case... even "working better" probably is not saying much. 

Friday, April 27, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War


RATING: A-

Remember the days of Tony Stark at a press conference saying "I am Iron Man," or Nick Fury's "I'm here to talk to you about the Avenger Initiative," or the alien invasion of New York in the *first* Avengers movie? All that feels like so long ago now, even though the latter was only six years ago. And they were simpler days too. 

If you thought the first Avengers or even Age of Ultron was ambitious, imagine that taken to the umpteenth degree. The first Avengers film put six heroes united together. At the time, that was incredibly ambitious and it felt amazing that they pulled it off so well. Now? Going into this movie and coming out of it, one looks back and it feels like child's play now. 

Make no mistake, this is definitely one of the most ambitious movie events of all time. It takes almost every hero we've seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far, and even some of their sidekicks, and brings them together for a film that has so many heroes in it... one probably has to wonder if doing such a project justice is even possible. Well, they do manage to pull that part off, more or less. Most of the heroes do get their fair share of screen time and their fair share of awesomeness. 

Anyway, remember the Avengers mid-credits scene that introduced the big bad Thanos? Who showed up a couple more times across the scope of the series but never really did much? Well, he's finally here. And he's decided it's time to collect all the Infinity Stones and put them in his Infinity Gauntlet so he can basically shape the universe to his liking. And that basically means... time to unite *all* the Avengers. And that includes the Guardians of the Galaxy. Because they're gonna need everybody. 

There are a lot of adjectives to describe this film--across multiple spectrums. In some ways, I still don't know how I really feel about it. This film is awesome, visceral, funny, brutal, shocking, exciting, and heartbreaking. And even a little thought-provoking on occasion, of all things. And while it suffers from some of the flaws of the franchise it's part of, it's also daring and bold in some ways that few other superhero movies in general have ever dared to be. 

This is a film that starts the action basically immediately--and almost never stops. We get a couple of brief quiet scenes--namely a moment between Vision and Scarlet Witch--but beyond that, this film almost never lets up. Even if there's not necessarily an action set piece occurring, there's always some important conversation going on. Really, the only thing that happens that actually isn't that interesting (at least relatively) is a side quest of sorts with Thor, Rocket and Groot involving the Asgardian getting himself a new weapon with the help of a Peter Dinklage character made giant through the use of some goofy-looking CGI (which is strange, since most of the visual effects in the movie are incredible). Even that kind of pays off though, since the weapon that is created for Thor is pretty awesome. 

And the action sequences are indeed incredible. One of the opening set pieces involving a fight between Stark, Strange, and Spider-Man vs Thanos' minions is quite exciting to watch. Another one that takes place on Thanos' former home-world is quite memorable too, in part due to the smartness of it. (By the way, those who were complaining about some of the choppy editing in Civil War, which was also directed by the Russo Brothers who directed this movie? That has been fixed.) There's even a massive battle near the end that brings to mind Lord of the Rings, of all things--and it's pretty awesome. 

The biggest pleasant surprise of the movie is Thanos himself. Given what (little) we had seen of him so far in previous movies and the trailers, there was little reason to believe he was going to be much more than a "destroy the world/universe" villain--probably better than Justice League's Steppenwolf, but nothing to write home about. Turns out he might actually be the most interesting/complex villain (besides Loki) in the entire MCU so far--the wait for him has paid off big time. He's still obviously insane and evil, but there's an unexpected depth to him. It helps that Josh Brolin gives an excellent performance. (And that's another thing: this film has one of the biggest ensemble casts ever, and virtually every one of them gives their all in this, as you'd expect.) 

And then there's the ending. Obviously, no spoilers shall be spoken here. But it's one with impact, and it's also quite abrupt--stuff happens, then about four minutes later it's over. See you in May 2019 for Part Two! It's also an ending that I have mixed feelings on. While on one hand I want to give the writers credit for going into territory that many may have thought they were too scared to go to, I also find it a tad annoying that it's clearly engineered to make you want to come back for more--the word "cliffhanger" definitely applies, and is arguably even an understatement. I also want to give credit for there being some cinematic brilliance of types you probably don't expect out of the genre, but then I also have to criticize it for happening all so fast. 

Make no mistake: you are not prepared for this movie. You'll think you are, but you aren't. It's pretty much impossible to be prepared for the practically nonstop action, or for the more play-to-emotions side of the film. Of course, people who are not all that invested in the MCU at this point may just find the overwhelming spectacle too much and end up being bored when it's all said and done and hardly care about the transpired events. For everyone else, this film is a rare experience. Not necessarily a masterpiece, but definitely a rare experience. And even that is quite the achievement. 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

World War Z


RATING: D

Some people like zombies, some people don't. I generally subscribe to the latter opinion. I am fine with it if they're able to put together a good story that just so happens to involve zombies. However, this is not of those stories or movies. This is apparently actually based off a book--or at least, the book's title anyway. 

What's the plot to this one? Well, a zombie outbreak starts. Basically literally out of nowhere. Gerry Lane and his family are driving through downtown Philly... stuck in traffic... until something ahead of them blows up, a cop tells them to stay in their car... and then gets run over by a garbage truck that's been taken over by a zombie and is wreaking havoc. So after escaping Philly with his family, Brad Pitt's character has to go search for a cure because... uh... because he's the main star, I guess. (By the way... we *never* find out what started the outbreak.) 

Those first 20-25 minutes or so which involve the start of the outbreak and Gerry fighting to survive with his family actually aren't that bad. In fact, they're pretty exciting and intense. Beyond that, however, we have... the infamous Israel scene where fast zombies climb on top of each other to form a ludicrous looking human wave/pyramid to scale a wall. And a plane crash scene. And... not much else. 

This is actually probably the biggest problem with this movie: the inconsistent tone and pacing. This is probably in due part to the insanely troubled production, but we go from an exciting beginning to some detective work with some typical zombie horror tropes and a bit of shaky cam, and then the action kicks up again for a little bit. And then we get to the final act which is actually rather boring by comparison, and has an insanely dumb "resolution." And the ending is confusing. Is the war over or not? It sure looks like it's more or less over (or at least the worst of it is), but the narrator claims it's only just begun. I suppose that's just to set up for a sequel, though--which will hopefully never happen.

Seriously, there's not much to this movie. The plot is stupid. The zombies themselves are rather over-the-top and don't help matters here. The cast is pretty thin; aside from Brad Pitt, you have Peter Capaldi, Matthew Fox, and Raina from Agents of SHIELD... and that's about it. And those other three names aren't even in the film that much. And although I kind of want to cut the director some slack because of the troubled production, it's Marc Forster, who also directed Quantum of Solace (the worst Daniel Craig James Bond movie), and I'm thinking the guy should never be allowed to direct an action movie again. 

The film might have actually kind of worked if it had stuck to Brad Pitt's character fighting to survive with his family. Maybe then we could have actually had some more developed characters and it could have turned into more of a family survival movie in the zombie apocalypse. Because that first short bit of the movie is sort of promising. Not great or anything, but at least it's interesting. 

Now obviously there would have to be low expectations going into this movie in the first place. But even in a subgenre like this, that doesn't excuse an apparent lack of effort or just messy writing. In more lowbrow parts like this of the action/adventure genre, one probably expects just to be entertained for a couple of hours and not given a masterpiece. This film doesn't even give you that. It doesn't even work as a popcorn action movie. Unless you're a massive fan of the zombie genre, this is a waste of time. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Coco


RATING: A-

One of the biggest letdowns of the decade has been the "fall" of Pixar. Sure, they technically haven't really truly fallen. But they hadn't had an A-grade movie since Toy Story 3 in 2010. (Sorry, Inside Out fans.) A few of them have been pretty good, but still not quite great--and therefore not up to the same standard as the greatness we were given for so long from them. And a few of them have just been average--which, by Pixar standards, is not good at all. 

I wasn't really expecting Coco to break the rut and be a true return to form. I was interested in the "Dia de Muertos/Day of the Dead" concept from the beginning, but the story revolving around music and a kid stuck in a strict "anti-music" family did not sound that interesting. And given the last several years of Pixar, I had no reason to expect anything better than "good but not great." Right? Right? 

The story still does revolve around the kid (Miguel) who's stuck in a strict anti-music family. At first, it looks about as ridiculous as it sounds--the grandmother even goes after random innocent passerby who are playing music outside the house. (I guess it's intended for laughs, but it's really just stupid.) Matters aren't really helped by the fact that Miguel *does* have a passion for music and has an idol who just happens to be dead--which makes the film seem like a ripoff of Ratatouille at first. I'll be frank: while the film is interesting from the start, things don't really kick off until Miguel accidentally gets transported to the Land of the Dead itself and has to get back home. I won't say much else about the plot, but it gets a lot better from here. 

Yes, this is Pixar's best film in years. This also seems like their most inspired one in a long time. Despite a somewhat rough start that is unfortunately required to kick-start the plot and then the story taking a little while to move even after that due to required exposition and background information, the plot is actually quite excellent ultimately. For a while we're more or less taken on a journey through the Land of the Dead as Miguel seeks out his idol and ancestor. While the plot takes a little while to get moving here, it works because we're getting introduced to a whole new world/dimension (plus the different culture). Plus, plenty of exposition is needed to get to the final act--and thus to the actual major story events. 

It certainly helps that the Land of the Dead is gorgeous from an animation perspective--Pixar has been outdoing themselves the last few years in that department, and this film is no exception. There is an insane level of detail, and quite a lot of color differentiation that works without being distracting. It also helps that there's a fair amount of slapstick humor involving the skeletal humans that dwell in the Land of the Dead (literal jaw dropping). 

The story really does take its turn to fully shine in the final act, though. While someone may be on alert for a plot twist due to the amount of time left when it appears it's time to resolve things, they still manage to surprise with the actual plot twists that do happen. And after an exciting climactic act, the conclusion is very fulfilling--and things are wrapped up also a little emotionally, in typical Pixar fashion. 

Aside from the somewhat annoying start, there's not a whole lot else to gripe about. The main song "Remember Me" is a bit overplayed even in the course of the movie, but it works when it's actually important for it to do so. There's a couple of other musical numbers that just kind of feel like placeholders--they should appeal to mariachi fans, but are still more forgettable regardless. It doesn't help if you're the kind of viewer who doesn't care for musical numbers in movies (and I am one of those viewers). 

Coco may not quite be among the elite of Pixar films, but it's still a welcome return to form that we haven't seen from them in some time. It was hard to tell if Pixar was running out of ideas or if they just didn't care as much anymore, but this movie still proves there's some of their old selves still left in the tank. Hopefully they can keep this up and continue to delivery high-quality animated movies that basically anyone can enjoy.