Sci-Fi Roundup

This movie is not the Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence jail comedy. Its about a crew fighting a killer amoeba. Although the overall quality of films the last five or ten years has spiked downward, sci-fi has spiked upward in quality with some wonderful films that haven’t gotten the attention they deserve. The current film “Life,” for example, is a very interesting “Alien” knockoff about what would happen if we discovered alien life on Mars. The answer: nothing good. We think we’re getting “E.T.” and instead we’re getting something worse than The Thing. This film has interesting characters, some believable science, and is a tremendously inspired production. The director uses long, painstakingly crafted sequences to draw us in and (hopefully) make us forget we’re watching a movie. The performances of Jake Gylllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and Ryan Reynolds draw us in, and, although the film is similar to “Alien,” it scares us.

The new film “Phoenix Forgotten,” produced by Ridley Scott, is a found-footage film in the style of “The Blair Witch Project” about the Phoenix Lights UFO incident from 1997. A group of teens witness the event and decide to investigate further and film what they find. Bad idea. It turns out that the incident is much more sinister in nature than they thought. Will they survive? Maybe not, but their quest proves somewhat compelling as all of us are curious about UFO’s. The film is well-made, acted, and scored and delivers some terror on a low budget. It’s not great, but you could do worse.

Logan’s Fun

*Trailer was too ISIS-y for me. I dissent. 3 Year old girls should not be encouraged to leap around with metal claws, slicing necks. Nor can they physically do so. To think they could is too much of a stretch. – Deplorable Steve

Ok, so the third and final “Wolverine” movie, and how does it stack up?  Well, it’s a damn sight better than “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and “The Wolverine,” not to mention the atrocious “X-Men Apocalypse.”  The best thing about it is how it takes place in a plausible future world where the last surviving X-men are struggling to take it day by day.  Logan and Professor X, played very well by Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, are off the grid and disinterested in the world until Xavier senses a young girl mutant who may be key to mankind’s and mutant-kind’s survival.  They also discover an organization that has used mutant experimentation for extremely nefarious ends, and only they (or really only Logan) can prevent a catastrophe.

Let me be clear about something: this is the greatest Wolverine movie of all time.  Jackman gives a persistently top-drawer performance as the burned-out but not yet down for the count Logan.  We feel his pain and his sadness at the way the world has turned out.  He and Stewart have great chemistry and seem more Shakespearian than Marvel-ian.  I also liked how the film combines elements of futurism, neo noir-ism, and especially the western, with “Shane” being explicitly referenced.  There is no CGI in this film, and it resembles “Unforgiven” more than it does the Marvel canon.

 These attributes, along with a clever gimmick that I won’t reveal involving the villain’s experiments, are enough to make Logan a good film.  But it misses greatness because it spends too much time pleasing the fans.  We don’t need the decapitations and heavy gore because they don’t further the story and remind us that it’s just a movie.  And we REALLY don’t need the teaser for a new “Deadpool” film before this one starts which made me think I’d paid to see the wrong movie.  The movie is also too long at 2 hours and 21 minutes. All in all, though, “Logan” is worth the admission price, as it gives us a better Wolverine story than we’ve seen before, as well as approximating a real movie rather than comic book crap.  I’d say if this looks like your kind of thing, go for it; it’s smart enough and done with gusto. -CoolAC
 

Empathy and Greed

Two of the most interesting films of the last 5 years were barely released and were met with polarized responses. These films, “Cosmopolis” by David Cronenberg and “Diana” with Naomi Watts as the princess, offer very different portraits of wealth and capitalism.

 

“Cosmopolis,” a 2012 film which stars Robert Pattinson in a tour-de-force performance as a young billionaire, is about the greedy excesses of the very wealthy, which is contrasted with the 99% desire to acquire some of that wealth while castigating him for his greed. The film follows Pattinson’s journey across New York City in his gigantic limo as he travels to the poor section of town to get a haircut. While in his limo, he has sex with several women, conducts business transactions, and gets his daily prostate exam. He also visits his wife, played by Sarah Gadon, who is even creepier and more disconnected from reality than he is.

 

Over the course of the film, Pattinson tries to connect with people and fails miserably. Eventually, Paul Giamatti turns up as the man who wants to kill Pattinson. Rather than a life-and-death struggle, though, the last scene plays like a love scene. The 99% (represented by Giamatti) meets the 1% and all hell breaks loose. Cronenberg has made a dark comedy about extreme wealth and about how the rich are disconnected with reality. The future depicted in the film (and the book by Don DeLillo) has come to pass, with a rich business man running the country and mass protests everywhere. The film repeatedly refers to the rat being used as a unit of currency, and that may indeed be where we are headed. “Cosmopolis” is one of the best films you’ve never heard of a dystopian black comedy about how society reveres and at the same time tries to destroy the wealthy; it’s a masterful film about greed.

“Diana,” a 2013 drama/romance that is also pretty obscure, paints an entirely different picture of the wealthy. Rather than equating them with rats, the film shows Princess Diana (played by Naomi Watts) and her lover Hasnat Khan (played by Naveen Andrews) try to use their wealth for good. Diana, for example, visits sick children in hospitals and (successfully) crusades against the use of land mines, while Hasnat is determined to keep working as a surgeon even though marrying Diana would make him famous and set for life. Ultimately, the couple is too empathetic; a little bit of selfishness might have saved their relationship. The film is interesting to watch and very sad because it shows how the paparazzi and the fame that Diana had to deal with ended up killing her. While she succeeded in using her wealth for good, her wealth still ended up killing her.

So basically, these two tragedies of the extremely rich both show how money is not, in fact, the most desirable commodity. Whether wealth is used with greed (“Cosmopolis”) or with empathy (as in “Diana”) it will kill you in the end. Although these two films were not big critical or box-office successes, they are a must-see for students of capitalism and lovers of intelligent films. – A.C.

Plan 9 From Underworld

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The “Underworld” series is really something. It has great action and special FX and terrible scripts. The new installment, “Underworld: Blood Wars,” finds the heroine played by Kate Beckinsale once again in the middle of the war between vampires and Lycans, or werewolves. Her character is really hot and apparently cannot be killed and is a Death Dealer. Charles Dance (from “The Golden Child” and “Alien 3”) is also in the movie as the heroine’s (I think)grandfather, and he hams it up in fine Christopher Lee fashion. He’s a great actor and has helped save many a genre film. However, most of the acting and literally the entire script is bad. All this business about Lycans and Death Dealers is beyond me to explain, but what’s good about this movie and the series is the action and set design. I did feel like I was in another world, albeit a world without character development.

To say this film is ridiculous is a grave understatement; there is so much sneering and so many double-crosses that the film becomes a parody of itself. Beckinsale doesn’t act; she just poses. Many of the actors appear to be posing for a Calvin Klein commercial, in fact. And yet despite all this, I LIKED this flick. It’s like a Hammer film crossed with Clive Barker’s “Nightbreed” on crack. It aims for a sort of “Empire Strikes Back” kind of feeling, and it doesn’t totally fail. It earns its R rating with massive bloodshed and lots of sexual innuendo. And it doesn’t seem TOO much like a video game. The series also beat “Twilight” and “The Daybreakers” to the screen, so it was passably original. If the scripts had ever been any good, this could’ve been the greatest horror series ever. As it is, it is one of my leading guilty pleasure. You have to put your brain on hold, but if you do, “Underworld: Blood Wars” is good fun. I would compare it to the 90s sci-fi epic “Waterworld” in that regard.

Nocturnal Animals is Whack

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I attempted to watch “Nocturnal Animals” the other day.  I did not find it dull, but it was a real nasty turn-off of a movie.  It starts with fat, sultry chicks giving you the eye while dancing naked in slow motion. Yes it really does. Next follows a self-absorbed woman artist in a bad relationship who receives a manuscript for a novel dedicated to her from her even more self-absorbed ex-husband called “Nocturnal Animals.”  The novel follows a suburban family off the road by some redneck psychos, and the mother and daughter end up naked and dead.  This was followed by a dinner scene between our two self-absorbed artists in which they bash Republicans.  At this point, Deplorable Steve and I walked out.

     First of all, why this POS getting good reviews while the terrific “Allied” is getting panned?  “Allied” has characters we like and admire; this film has naked singing fat chicks layered over the opening credits.  Lots of directors imitate David Lynch, but Tom Ford forgets that Lynch’s films are beautiful and fun.  All “Nocturnal Animals” accomplishes is depressing the audience and making us regret listening to the critics.
-CoolAC

Bad Santa 2 is Raucous Fun

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Hey, guys, this one’s for you: Tired of movies about yuppies, families, and placating women? Want to see a movie by real men? A film about the things we really care about, like drinking and screwing? Then let me introduce you to “Bad Santa 2,” a welcome blast of relief from nauseating films like Disney’s “Moana.”

This film brings back 3 of the key original characters from “Bad Santa,” namely the con man Santa with the drinking and sex addiction problem (Billy Bob Thornton), the funny but nasty and mean dwarf (Tony Cox), and the fat kid, now grown up, who grabs onto Thornton like a leech (Brett Kelly). Added to the cast is Kathy Bates, as Thornton’s white trash mother, who makes Thornton seem well-adjusted by comparison. This movie works for two reasons: 1. It is in such bad taste that it is in a class by itself; ordinary standards of decency do not apply to this film. 2. Billy Bob Thornton is one of the greatest comedic actors of all time. Whether dealing with unruly, urinating children or Santa pedophiles, he is always ready with an extremely cunning quip. This film is getting bad reviews, but I liked it for the politically incorrect Christmas farce that it is and I highly recommend it to those sick of sappy Hollywood yawners. It puts the “ho” back in “ho, ho, ho.” –CoolAC

Ben-Hur Slays Pete’s Dragon

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If you avoid one kids’ film this year, make it “Pete’s Dragon.” For some reason, I thought this film would be entertaining; I even got the 3D glasses for it. What did I get for my faith in this film? A phony-looking E.T. dragon and Robert Redford, looking about 80, telling stories to 7-year olds. It is a mystery to me why this film received good reviews. After about 20 minutes, I stormed out of the cinema and got a full refund. I NEVER do that, but then again, this film is boring sludge masquerading as quality entertainment.

On the other hand, the new “Ben-Hur” is a rather good remake of the Charlton Heston classic. I rather liked the mix of bloody action and Christian themes, and cutting back on the gay subtext from the classic film resulted in a much shorter movie. In addition, I liked Morgan Freeman’s performance and the slave galleon and chariot race sequence are really well done. Also, the script is surprisingly good, with a strong focus on characterization. Ok, it’s not the greatest film ever, but I liked it. You could do a lot worse. Somehow this film managed to flop and lose $120 million: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/ben-hur-faces-120m-loss-925302 –CoolAC

 

 

Now Showing: Suicide Sausage Doesn’t Self-Destruct

hamburger   artwork by Saint Reggie

Suicide Squad is Worth Seeing (3.5 of 5 stars)

One of the few pleasant surprises of the summer is “Suicide Squad,” which has enough style, energy, and decent acting to overcome a not-so-great script. Being a film about C-list superheroes allows the film to have a light tone that has been sorely lacking in the recent Batman efforts, although an overweight Ben Affleck is around to around to remind us of “Batman v. Superman.” Will Smith gives a sympathetic performance as Deadshot, who never misses, but it is the women, Margot Robbie and Viola Davis, who walk off with the film. Robbie is every adolescent’s wet dream as Harley Quinn, a lethal sex kitten, while Davis oozes strength and menace as a C.I,A. agent. Jared Leto is fine but under-used as the Joker, and the script doesn’t add to that much, but I still think “Suicide Squad” is a winner. There’s plenty of action to spare. – CoolAC

 

Sausage Party is Surprisingly Good (4 of 5 stars)

“Sausage Party” is the year’s most offensive film, and also one of the  year’s best.  Why does it work so well? Perhaps because it has not been test-screened to death; it left me with the feeling that I’d really seen something.  At first it seems like a dumb stoner comedy about talking food, and that’s what I expected going in.  But as it went on, I could see that it was making real satiric points about race, gender, religion, and sexuality.  I was actually thinking as I laughed, and engrossed in it in a way I would not have thought possible.  To top it off, the animation is superb.  Seth Rogen plans to make a sequel and more R-rated cartoons. I think that sounds like a good idea.  See “Sausage Party”; it’ll make you think twice about eating. -CoolAC

 

Bad Moms is Bad

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Bad Moms (2016). R 100 min (Comedy)

I went to see this comedy with an open mind. Its from the writers of The Hangover Series, which is very hit of miss. I knew going in there could be a lot on man-hating in the film, due to the nature of the storyline. However, I wanted to see if it was a raucous Animal House styled comedy, or more of a PC thing like the recent Ghostbusters reboot (which I reviewed recently). The lead actress Mila Kunis is from Black Swan and Jupiter Ascending. She has a nice face. She really isn’t very funny though. And she isn’t really hot enough to hold my attention in a lead role. Everything tends to seem scripted in modern comedies like this. There never seems to be any improvisation, and the conversations never seem very fluid, but rather perfunctory and situational.

This flick started off okay. Kathryn Hahn is funny as the raunchy slutty MILF sidekick. Then the plot starts to kick in. It revolves around her bitching about her part-time job and how hard it is to drop kids off at school (when the kids could probably bicycle there anyways). PTA meetings are so hard. Why can’t the state just take care of her brats all day and night and leave her alone – so she can drink and do her nails? Movies like this always spend too much screen time with annoying unfunny child actors. The kids are either dopey or complainers these days. I miss movies like the original Vacation (with Chevy Chase) or Adventures in Babysitting where the child actors were actually entertaining. The film The Sitter with Jonah Hill from about 5 years ago was the last decent comedy with kids in it that I can remember.

I started to get uncomfortable when every white guy or female in the movie is lame/stupid/evil and every authority figure (the principle/ the marriage counselor) is black . Next the lead disses ska music, but we get slow motion “wow so cool” shots of her with rap and dance music constantly. And drinking is glamorized throughout the film. The worst part is we were an hour ten minutes through the film and there were still no female breasts yet, but guys were showing off their chest two or three times. Also the lady berates her son as lazy and dislikes every male in the film except for a Latin guy who first appears with a pink backpack on . I was able to watch about one hour and ten minutes of this film before I became nauseous and had to leave. Luckily I got the early bird special and didn’t pay full price for this estrogen manic film. It was too PC. – Steve C.