Life

A crew of six highly intelligent scientists seek the answer to the question of the existence of another lifeform. In ‘Life’, we get the story of the six-member crew of the International Space Station that is on the cutting edge of one of the most important discoveries in human history: the first evidence of extraterrestrial life on Mars. As the crew begins to conduct research, their methods end up having unintended consequences for them and the citizens of Earth, and the life form proves more intelligent than anyone ever expected. ‘Life’ stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and Ryan Reynolds, it is directed by Daniel Espinosa, and is rated R for adult language throughout, some sci-fi violence and sequences of terror.

If you’ve seen one isolation in space horror movie, you’ve seen them all. Thankfully, ‘Life’ pushes past a conventional script by offering us artistic merit in the form of gorgeous cinematography, as well as a sound scheme that can at least present some peaking merits in an otherwise typical screenplay. This is a film that was originally slated to debut in May of this year, but got moved up two months to play against a March backdrop that is slightly less intimidating than that of the Summer blockbusters that invade around Memorial Day. It turns out that it pays off brilliantly, as Espinosa’s science fiction space shriek does more than enough to hold its own against previous similar offerings like ‘Alien’, ‘Event Horizon’, and leagues above the mindless ‘Apollo 14’. It’s solid proof that if you cast the big name actors, people will most definitely come, and this is a movie that is every bit as terrifying as it is cerebral. An ambitious float through the terrors of uncertainty that does more than enough to top Espinosa’s previous effort, 2014’s ‘Safe House’, also starring Ryan Reynolds.

What I love about the storytelling of this film is that it puts the characters first, and allows the story itself to follow those characters, meriting more positive returns when you care about their ordeals with this mysterious organism. Solid exposition time is depicted for all of them, and it’s in those introductions when the tragedy of this story and these people really sink into you. Space itself is an immense and unpredictable atmosphere to make a living in, and that lack of knowledge plays hand-in-hand to the kind of misfires that we make in decision making. It’s clear that this screenplay pays homage to those kind of films that adhere to the idea that man will be our society’s greatest downfall, and how sometimes it’s best to leave well enough alone. I mentioned earlier that the film does play to conventionalism despite a first act death that was a little surprising for the name value expensed. Nothing in this film ever really surprised me, and that could be at the fault of seeing and experiencing all of these films, with all of their similar structures and conclusions. The film keeps its characters at the intellectual mercy of this creature, so the convenience of butterfly effects that render them helpless is a brief suspension of disbelief for minds supposedly as gifted as this crew. Even the conclusion is something that I accurately called once the setup become obvious. Even still, I can never say that the movie bored me. Perhaps a compliment to the performances of a charismatic cast that bring their A-game when acting against a CGI antagonist.

The design and computer generation of this property felt very in-sync with that of multi-cell organisms, and that attention to detail rarely makes this alien anything super extraordinary or cartoonish in terms of its capabilities. One thing is certain, this thing is very intelligent, mimicking and authenticating the responses and actions of the living properties around it. Perhaps my favorite aspect to its design is the growing of its physical stature. I love how this creature will often appear and disappear before our very eyes, and that shock and awe when it returns twice the size of when it left, made for an emphasis on urgency that never stops pumping. If I had one negative for it, I would say it was in the developing face of this thing in the third act, which reverted it to campy alien designs in other big budget space operas. Keeping this thing faceless and non-registering is what made its unpredictable movements so vicious and conniving in plodding, so the additions do occasionally render that originality uninspiring.

The visual backdrops of Earth and the surrounding nebulas captured the immensity in isolation with these characters forced to make their own under-prepared decisions for the fate of what hangs in the balance. With the camera styles in particular, I loved the revolving camera angles that followed our cast through the very tribulations of gravity. It’s no secret that I am not often a fan of flipping the camera upside down, but here it makes sense to put us in the middle of the chase. The tracking shots through many numerous tunnels were outstanding, playing to that vintage trick of associating the camera with that of the antagonist that is chasing the crew. Espinosa plays to the hand of claustrophobia so effortlessly, but then takes it one step further when it feels like such intimate surroundings continue on-and-on with a ship this intimidating.

The musical score by Jon Ekstrand also is weighed on heavily in capturing the very dread and doom that covers each scene like dense fog. So much of what Ekstrand does is dabbling in ear-piercing notes to capture the vulnerability of these characters navigating through a ship, where this creature can pop up at any time. This composition took me back to the days of 80’s horror scores, when music played a pivotal point in teaming with that of the monster that lurks behind every corner. An addition that can take any average or predictable sequence and make it that much more captivating by orchestrating terror in its most audible of forms.

Finally, there’s the cast that brings a collaboration of A-list performers to the overlooked stage of horror for an exceptional union. Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada. A cast this well known for big budget blockbusters was a thrill to watch to see them juggle the very tones of horror, and there are simply no complaints from any of them. Gyllenhaal’s character in particular is probably my favorite because there’s a lot about him that embraces the secluded environments of space and what benefit that holds for him. This is rare for a character to feel this way in movies, but it’s depiction offers a fresh and untold angle to this particular perspective. Sanada also commands vast intelligence and humanity in his grip, juggling the complexities of a newborn baby with that of the frightening discoveries that are constantly changing with him being galaxies away. Sanada’s character feels like the one with the most to lose, so our embrace of his well-being is one that never fades over the course of several different shifts in leverage.

At 95 minutes long, ‘Life’ doesn’t necessarily need to take its time getting to the thrills and chills of a story that exercises the themes of seclusion and claustrophobic tension. With an exceptionally likeable cast, as well as sound achievements in the filming and music departments, Espinosa’s space serial is a tantalizing thriller that orbits through a galaxy of conventionalism trying its best to weigh this story down. Fortunately, the unnerving social commentary on the mission at hand offers a self-reflective view on the kinds of missions that we deem as important.

7/10

Power Rangers

Five teenagers turned heroes learn of the impending doom upon their town of Angel Grove, forcing the group to become the ‘Power Rangers’. Five teens with attitude are inexplicably brought together by coincidence or destiny to become the newest generation in a line of warriors known as the Power Rangers. The world rests in their hands as Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), a powerful witch and former Green Power Ranger, launches an assault seeking the Zeo Crystal with an army of stone golems called Putty Patrollers and a giant golden monster called Goldar. Based upon the popular American television series, ‘Power Rangers’ is directed by Dean Israelite, and is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, minor adult language, and for some crude humor.

There are times in my writing career when I take honor for being correct in my assumptions. Unfortunately for me, and fortunately for all of my doubters, ‘Power Rangers’ will not go down in history as being one of these times. When I first heard that they were producing a big budget silver-screen version of the popular 90’s kids show, I thought about how negatively some of these properties like ‘Jem and the Holograms’ or ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ have been treated along the way. Thankfully, Saban Productions knows the kind of property that they have on their hands, one that speaks to generations younger and older who adore this folklore. For my own personal grade, I view two important aspects to this movie; does it do damage to the original offerings? and does the film present enough of a fresh perspective to justify its re-imagining? Both of these answers play hand-in-hand with one another, but I can gladly say that this 2017 version should pleasantly please audiences of every timeline. Whether you were a 3-season fan like me, or you followed this evolving group of kids through every manifestation, there will be plenty of positives to instill that fun in you that you felt as a child, as well as have you anxiously awaiting the inevitable sequel that is hinted at in a mid-credits scene that is carefully orchestrated.

First of all is this fresh cast that a lot of this film rides on. The movie immediately introduces us to three valuable characters who are equally built among their respective angles and storylines. These are Jason, Kimberly, and Billy. Oddly enough, Billy was my least favorite character in the original ‘Power Rangers’, but here R.J Cyler combines nerdy intelligence with teenage awkwardness that places him in the spotlight of this adolescent who I just couldn’t get enough of. Likewise, Naomi Scott and Dacre Montgomery (Winner of the Zac Efron look-alike contest) too live up to their important characters as Kimberly and Jason respectively, and what I dig about both of them is that they feel like they come from two different worlds, and would otherwise never frequent one another, but this adventurous secret between them and everyone else, crafts a ‘Breakfast Club’ kind of arrangement that hits on that classic 80’s film setup on more than one coincidence. There are two other Power Rangers played by Becki G and Ludi Lin, as Trini and Zack, but sadly neither are given the valuable screen time or smooth transitions to their story that would otherwise build them equally with their other three protagonists. In fact, the film kind of forgets about the two of them until about midway through, when we are told vital information about one character’s sexual orientation, as well as the other one fearful to go home for their own personal dealings. These could’ve used more emphasis in a two hour run time, and regretfully character building is something that this film does feel jarring with all of its picking and choosing. Even still, I thought it was cool how they kept the names the same from all of the original rangers, and yet switching their heritage around with the color of their uniforms.

If there is one MAJOR flaw to the casting, it’s in Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa. I definitely admit that I got my prediction for the finished product of this movie wrong, but I was absolutely correct about this being an immense miscasting for the rangers biggest villain. Not that it’s completely Banks fault. She is given a very miniscule amount of on-screen time not only to build the backstory of her character, but also put her in any scene that doesn’t jumble the teenage drama kind of tone that the film surprisingly hit on wonderfully. Any time that Repulsa is on-screen, we return to the hokey kind of atmosphere that the original series dabbed in, and while this may satisfy some, I can humbly tell you that I never once believed that Banks fully immersed herself in this character. For the most part, it feels like she is playing dress-up and spouting off some cheesy lines that make it difficult to ever take serious. Banks is a decent actress, but this kind of action movie is anything but her forte, and the absence of a strong antagonist keeps this film as consistently predictable.

I mentioned the tone, and what works in its dramatic regards is that a lot of these teenagers in the movie are dealing with issues that mirror that of what our current youth entail. Sexual orientation, high school identity, and loneliness are just a few of the depictions that ‘Power Rangers’ hits on, and the portrayals consistently feel honest and not at all like a gimmick used for plot convenience. To watch this group of kids merge into a family is one that does a lot for the moral integrity of the film, and adds a dramatic layer of depth to your investment in those characters and their well-being. What’s smart about this is that this is an origin story, so the film feels it vitally important to build the men and women inside of the suit before it shows us the goods, a point that pays off soundly. At the end of the day, this is still a group of teenage superheroes who form a gigantic dinosaur, so there is some humor to boot, but the sprouts of it inserted throughout are used wisely and accordingly so as not to jumble the increasing tension within these inexperienced rangers and the impending doom that awaits them.

The action is given a nice big budget presentation in CGI destruction value. It’s kind of funny to watch this once little engine that could be transformed (Poor choice of words?) into a Michael Bay kind of depiction in crumbling buildings practically falling from the sky. The fight choreography pays homage faithfully to the kung-fu kind of brawling that engaged in the original series, even so much as turning the amps to eleven, with fast-paced movements that always feel tightly in-sync with one another. The camera work could definitely be stronger however, as there’s either often too much going on within each frame, or the direction of each shot is negatively compromised because of experimental camera work that reaches a little too much in aspirational pull. Some of what I mean for instance is when a character or machine will get knocked upside down, and the camera has to follow the flip all the way in the same vain that said object does. I certainly do not need this kind of accuracy to understand the pain associated with being knocked on your head, but if feeling the brutality was the intended purpose, then I most certainly did with some of the most visually sickening camera work of 2017.

The only other two things that bothered me was that of some viciously disgusting product placement, as well as an ending that could’ve lasted slightly longer in resolving Repulsa’s immense army. On the latter, this movie does touch on the familiar cliche that if you defeat the biggest one, the rest will fall. If you’ve seen ‘The Avengers’ you know what I’m talking about. On the former, there is a local donut business that gets the most repetitive two hour commercial that money could’ve bought them. Once or twice is OK, but to keep showing, and even having a character feast on a donut during the big climax, angered me to the days of Adam Sandler and all of his cheap usage to put some more change into his pocket. It feels as desperate here as ever before, and the intended purpose for this building could’ve been any other abandoned building or otherwise to get its point across.

‘Power Rangers’ was a brace for the worst kind of modern-day adaptation, but the marriage between 90’s cheesy kids shows and big budget productions is a gift-wrapped delight to fans who have been waiting for this kind of rangers movie for over two decades. With a better casting for the antagonist, as well as some modest step-taking when it comes to shooting action sequences, and Israelite could etch his name as a premiere filmmaker. Even still, the pacing never slows down for two solid hours of nostalgic insanity that will remind you of a simpler place and time.

6/10

The Girl With all the Gifts

One girl is the cure for the zombie epidemic, in ‘The Girl With All The Gifts’. The near future humanity has been all but destroyed by a mutated fungal disease that eradicates free will and turns its victims into flesh-eating “hungries”. Only a small group of children seem immune to its effects. At an army base in rural England, this group of unique children are being studied, subjected to cruel experiments by biologist Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close). Despite having been infected with the zombie pathogen that has decimated the world, these children retain normal thoughts and emotions. The children attend school lessons daily, guarded by the ever watchful Sergeant Parks (Paddy Considine). But one little girl, Melanie (Sennia Nanua), stands out from the rest. Melanie is special. She excels in the classroom, is inquisitive, imaginative and loves her favorite teacher Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton). When the base falls, Melanie escapes along with Miss Justineau, Sergeant Parks and Dr. Caldwell. Against the backdrop of a blighted Britain, Melanie must discover what she is and ultimately decide both her own future and that of the human race. ‘The Girl With All the Gifts’ is directed by Colm McCarthy, and is rated R for disturbing violence/bloody imagery, as well as adult language.

In 2017, it’s obvious that the zombie genre has run amock. At this point, fresh ideas to stimulate and energize this subgenre are few and far between, but occasionally an injection of pure adrenaline is injected, and we remember what was once great about these kind of movies. Out of the smoke comes ‘The Girl With all the Gifts’, a European horror offering lifted from the pages of the book by the same name. Perhaps literature still inhabits all of the fresh and unused in ways that film is truly lacking on these days, because this movie was dreary, yet inspiring. It’s a reminder that the best and truly most frightening angles in horror are the ones that we find great fear in within our own psyches, and this post-apocalyptic wasteland where youth reigns supreme is a call-back to the days of ‘Children of the Corn’, as well as ‘Pet Cemetery’. While paying homage in essence to some of those classic pictures, ‘Gifts’ is a movie that carves its own reputation by changing the perception in and around European horror.

First of all is the appreciation of a story that doesn’t overcomplicate itself by giving a typical narration intro describing how we got to this bleak disposition. There’s a lot of mystery and cryptic bypassing that surrounds the first act of this McCarthy’s film, and I dig that because his method of storytelling never requires the audience to be spoon-fed that important story arcs. This is a director who has more than enough faith in his viewers, so he lets them paint the pieces, and this is by no means a difficult picture to paint. The film is to be applauded by slow-peeling the layer of exposition. We know by the title that the younger cast maintain this constant level of importance to the overall story, but through the eyes of this teenage girl, we learn step-by-step why she is so important. I commend any film that invests in the capability of child actors, especially ones that are good at captivating audiences, but this film does all of that without needing the tired, cliche scripts that plague the young adult point of view. The film continuously built to a crescendo of pulse-setting scintilation, concluding with a finale that constantly reminds us that hope waived goodbye to this set of characters long ago. A message that the audience has to endure over-and-over through some ever-changing landscapes and backdrops.

If there is some weakness to this story, it’s more so in that defining of the rules from these infected children, who seem to turn it on whenever the plot deems it convenient. There were many examples during the movie of these kids snapping when they can smell the scent of their adult prey nearby, but then there are other points when these adults run and sweat, further engulfing themselves in fatigue that accelerates said smell, and there’s not even a flirt with such suspense. Other than this, the only other problem that I had with the movie was some slight obvious foreshadowing in the opening twenty minutes that one can read through the lines on to see where the film is headed. If you manage to watch this film in one continuous setting, these subplots that stick out like a sore thumb will constantly ring in the back of your mind near the end of the movie, and it suddenly becomes obvious how the dots connect. Small issues in the otherwise grander picture that is this frightening takeover that uniquely relays how adults are the new minority.

Leaps and bounds above the rest though, my favorite aspect to the film is a bittersweet fragile composition by Cristol Tapia De Veer. If one thing is certain, it’s that Cristol has definitely done his studying on the genre of zombie classics like ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ and the George Romero offering of zombie introductions. On those movies, ‘Gifts’ too uses the same few notes to repetition, slowly varying them with each passing second. This allows audiences to fully soak in and embrace the dread that envelopes our cast of characters in a dense fog. In addition to this, the overall sound mixing and editing justify a couple of jump scares in the script that constantly keep the viewer guessing. I’m a difficult person to rattle when it comes to timely jump scares, but ‘Gifts’ hit me hard during a second act reveal that came opposite from the side that you weren’t expecting. It overall makes for a grade-A experience if you watch this in a theater or a stacked surround sound experience.

The acting too brings to light a combination of reputable actors with relative unknowns that blended positively in a well-balanced cast. Gemma Arterton is someone who I’ve always felt needed the right script to shine appropriately, and as Justineau we get the lone character who understands and holds onto the importance of that dying age of positivity for the concept of a child being a child. Arterton and Melanie’s friendship weighs heavily in importance for the direction of the movie, and thankfully it inherits loads of heart to keep the protagonist angles working overtime against the remainder of adults who have their own selfish agendas. Such a character is Glenn Close’s Dr. Caldwell character. There’s so much menace and plotting going on underneath the surface of Close’s outstanding work here, and that attention to detail had me often times searching for the grand scheme beneath her stone cold exterior. Close and Atterton lead the way for adult leads, but it’s in the introduction of Sennia Nanua in her first feature film. As Melanie, Nanua triumphs soundly, balancing equal parts human and monster that never feels riddled in gimmicks or underplayed in emotional response. For a 14-year-old, she is leaps and bounds above her age with how she plays the movie, and silently she commits theft on the stealing of this screenplay, a ‘girl with all of the gifts’, if you will.

By finding an original take on the zombie epidemic, as well as blazing through a circumference of well-timed scares and dreary backdrops, ‘The Girl With all the Gifts’ re-ignites an antidote of adrenaline deep within the heart of this aging subgenre. Poignant, atmospheric, and brutally hungry, this adaptation from Colm McCarthy will leave you reeling long after the ending that delivers on a solid payoff. This one takes a bite and keeps on chewing.

8/10

Kong: Skull Island

The king of the jungle makes a roaring comeback, in ‘Kong: Skull Island’. Set In 1973, a secretive organization known as Monarch finds an island that is shrouded in mystery and identified as the origin for new and dangerous species wreaking havoc on the locals. The resulting expedition to the island reveals that a giant monstrous ape named Kong is at the center of a battle for dominion over the island, against the apex predators, nicknamed the “Skull Crawlers”, responsible for wiping out his kind. As the expedition crew makes plans to fight for survival against Kong and the other monsters on the island, some of them begin to see that Kong is worth saving, in the ensuing brawl for the island’s worth. ‘Kong: Skull Island’ stars Samuel L Jackson, John Goodman, Tom Hiddleston, and Brie Larson. It is directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language.

‘Kong: Skull Island’ is an accurate and intricate depiction of a creature feature set during the Vietnam era, and that setting does nothing but compliment the beautiful presentation in glossy cinematography that goes much further than cosmetic purposes. I found myself very impressed not only with the yellowish color tint, highlighting the screen full of endless sun and smoke, but also that of the superior editing of 70’s stock footage that is placed so sporadically throughout the intro scenes of this picture. The designs in costume and sets mold very faithful homages to the eras of Nixon and Johnson, and no price is spared to immerse the audience visually in this creative time period. Kong himself previously had a movie made during the 70’s, but ‘Skull Island’ feels like it outduels that previous effort, relaying the very socially binding concepts in war and patriotism that were called into question for the first times in U.S history. It’s a movie that has so much going on for it in socialistic commentary that only adds depth and layering to the concepts of setting this film in that age, and all of those issues do not go ignored in the initial plot and introductions of these human characters meeting their 100 foot tall counterpart.

The idea was evident from the opening act of this movie; presentation in ironic comparisons between this invasion with that of the Vietnam war. Upon the introduction of Samuel L Jackson’s character, we are told about Vietnam being a war in which the U.S lost, for its overabundance of lost lives, as well as the permanent stain that it left on the moral fabric of American-foreign relations. The group of soldiers in this film likewise must invade a mysterious island in which they know nothing about, tackle an enemy with all of the advantages of knowing its home, and make their way through an endless landscape of trees full of separate enemies that want them dead. Despite all of this being an obvious comparison, I found myself intrigued to see what Vogt-Roberts could do with this immense budget and ambitious production. The concept in design does wonders not only to the kinds of weapon responses that we unleash upon Kong and the creatures alike, but also in the mental instability of thousands of soldiers coming home to very little of a heroic return. It makes you understand the painfully tough decisions that each of them make, most of which go against protocol for the typical exploration mission.

As for story, the film kicks us off with a boost of adrenaline, supplying a 70’s soundtrack that perfectly captures this place in time. I commend this film for not making the audience wait the usual hour for giving us our initial intakes with its title character, the impact of which sets the stage for anything but your typical survival movie. The second act unfortunately doesn’t continue this pacing, as much of this period feels like it’s held in the air for the riveting conclusion that we’ve all been waiting for. It’s nothing jarring in terms of synthetic pacing or consequential to the material before it, but it just plays things far too safely, including a noticeable gap of about a half hour without Kong, in which we come to learn about some of the other creatures who inhabit the island. The final act resolved mostly everything that I was anticipating, building to a test of wills between man versus monster that will have you re-thinking everything that you’ve come to know to this point. Certainly, this isn’t anything original for a Kong flick, but I commend this film for not being afraid to tell the story that many Americans won’t be too encouraged to hear. When you invade and bomb somebody’s home, there are consequences that come with that feat, and ‘Skull Island’ reflects on a time when our own special forces were at a crossroads after the last of the tolling world wars.

The action sequences and creature designs also live up to par, emoting solid computer generated work to accomplish the mental game of its animated characters. This is by far my favorite Kong design of all time and a lot of that is because more attention to detail is given on his eyes and facial movements that speak to the heart of the animal. For most of the history of Kong, he is portrayed by a man under a rubber suit, and even though I am a sucker for practical stunt work, there is no comparison in monster movies to the kind of cutting-edge work that studios are manufacturing today. The designs of the bone creatures were also very enjoyable. The snap reactions to the way they stalk their prey communicate everything that you need to know about their character, and it’s in their cunning nature where they more-than measure up to the immense Kong, setting up a showdown that will remind you what you came to see. The action sequences impressed me not only as a powder-keg of ammunition riddled quick-cuts, but also in how grizzly and visceral the unapologetic violence kept topping itself. To me, ‘Kong: Skull Island’ feels like the first actual horror movie in the Kong franchise, and most of that can be attributed to its bone-crunching, crimson-colored carnage that pushes the envelope as far as it should rightfully go for PG-13.

The biggest weakness in the film to me was character exposition. Most people won’t watch a Kong movie for its ambitious characters, but an A-list cast this great were simply too big to be disappointing, and with the exception of three characters, they are mostly wasted in one-note designs that don’t do a single one of them a favor. I’ve read that most critics have a problem with the exposition for these characters, but I think the problem lies in the overabundance of characters that continue through the majority of this film. An opening crash scene that is shown in the trailers doesn’t do a lot to increase the body count, so this massive group of civilians bide their time before their number is called. Most notably, Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston are sadly wasted as flimsy one-note characters that stick too closely to their outlines. Larson is the photographer, so she must snap a picture in every cut to her, and Hiddleston is essentially James Bond with a gun or sword, so he must continue to be accurately perfect throughout the film. Thankfully, the trio of Jackson, Goodman, and John C Reilly present hearty and competent characters to give us something to chew on. I was amazed with how important Reilly was to the script as the movie went on, essentially centering around the past of his character that establishes him as something more than just the grizzled veteran. Goodman’s character narration enjoys a solid first act that unfortunately is for nothing, as he disappears late in the second. Up until then, he was probably my favorite character, but he is lost in the sea of faces once their feet land on the island. Jackson is devilishly detestable as an army captain with malicious intent. Early on, we learn why he has such an interest in this mission, but due to Jackson’s gritty performance, you start to see the mask of sanity slowly slip away, giving way to the weapon of mass destruction that earned his character a chest full of honorary medals.

‘Kong: Skull Island’ is certainly an improvement on 2014’s ‘Godzilla’, and does more than enough to even the scales for the massive 2020 showdown between the two. The film’s ambitiously gorgeous presentation, as well as thrilling action sequences does more than enough to push it through some of the weaker aspects, like a dry second act, and an overabundance of patient characters with very little to do. Vogt-Roberts masterful dab in visual tapestry paints an intoxicating canvas for Kong to roar his loudest. The king is finally back on his throne.

7/10

Logan

The last remaining X-Men faces a resistance that sees him seeking the alliance of a little girl with a secret gift. In Logan, It’s 2029. Mutants are gone, or very nearly so. An isolated, despondent Logan (Hugh Jackman) is drinking his days away in a hideout on a remote stretch of the Mexican border, picking up petty cash as a driver for hire. His companions in exile are the outcast Caliban (Stephen Merchant) and an ailing Professor X (Patrick Stewart), whose singular mind is plagued by worsening seizures. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy abruptly end when a mysterious woman appears with an urgent request; that Logan shepherd an extraordinary young girl (Dafne Keen) to safety. Soon, the claws come out as Logan must face off against dark forces and a villain from his own past on a live-or-die mission, one that will set the time-worn warrior on a path toward fulfilling his destiny. Logan is directed by James Mangold, and is rated R for strong brutal violence and language throughout, and for brief nudity.

For seventeen years, fans of the Wolverine character have waited patiently for a spin-off worthy of arguably one of the greatest comic book heroes of all time. With ‘Logan’, that time has carefully been plucked, and during the most appropriate of times for its charismatic cast. Speculation has been that this will be the final time that Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart will don the roles of their respective characters, and if that is the case, they have done us proud with an R-rated gash-fest sure to satisfy the gore hound in all of us. ‘Logan’ quite often than not feels like the adult side of X-Men movies that has always been teased, but never fully committed to for fear of the risky R-rating that rarely proves possible for comic book movies. If one thing is clear, it’s that Mangold fruitfully resonates themes like weathering and vulnerability to show-off a side of Logan that has never been seen in eight previous films. Because of Mangold’s attention to style over adaptation, we get a presentation that very much feels like a nod to 70’s westerns and road trip flicks to bond and present a wild ride that responsibly depicts the very cause and effects that come with such power.

With zero restrictions on what this character can do, it feels like this film can prosper in ways that other films haven’t, most ideally in that of adult language and fight sequences that drag the audience kicking and screaming through every unsettling jab. The concept of claws feels like it is accurately being told for the first time, as Logan and his youthful passenger leap and attack through an army of endless antagonists who feel the barbaric wrath of their ill intentions. What works is that the new rating doesn’t feel like it’s being used at desperate lengths. The fight scenes are very carefully separated from one to the next, giving the movie an anti-superhero film of sorts. In fact, ‘Logan’ likens itself more to a dramatic western genre film that has decided to pluck a character from comics just to see how he would do in this environment and picture. He prospers wonderfully, and even in his ninth film, Wolverine feels like he is seeing the world through new eyes given to him by the ambitious Mangold who paints the true torture and isolation from what comes from being different. All of this time we’ve heard about it, but never witnessed it, and it presents a somber and melancholic side to these heroes we grew up admiring, and knowing that their best days are clearly behind them.

Aside from this mysterious little girl and her purpose, ‘Logan’ surprisingly packs a wide range of well-attentive subplots that constantly keeps the movie moving well past the two hour mark. For the first act of this film, it practically breezed by, and I found myself very immersed in this world where Logan exists as someone just trying to get by. He’s kind of pathetic, revealing a nightly ritual of abusive drinking, as well as bickering back-and-forth with the one relative in mutation who he has left, Charles Xavier. The relationship between them feels like father and son, and plays even more importantly in the backdrop of the developing relationship between Logan and the little girl. This embraces a hearty side to the script that is usually steered clear of in comic book films, but it works here being the last chance that Logan has to live a somewhat normal life. The only time that the film felt like it was living up to its paper origins was in the final showdown that enthusiastically reminds audiences of who this title character is, and gives him one more day of Summer as we catch one final glimpse into the prime of the toughest S.O.B that Marvel ever illustrated. ‘Logan’ lightly touches on the graphic novel ‘Old Man Logan’, but leaves the pages of its script to original territory, relying more on gripping performances rather than action sequences in which we’ve been there and done that.

On the subject of those performances, I can confidently say that this is some of Jackman’s best stuff. I’ve always thought that the best kind of story with superheroes are in the ones when age and deterioration have caught up to them. As Logan, Jackman endures a world where X-Men no longer exist, emoting a kind of harrowing reality to just how lonely he is in this new world. Even after nine movies though, Jackman continues to be the single greatest casting decision that Marvel has ever succeeded at. To find an actor who can appropriately channel his rage, as well as dramatic depth when it comes time to harness the goosebumps, is one of great difficulty. Logan feels like his own greatest detractor, denying a hint of hope, despite the fact that a little taste of it still burns strong in his veins. I don’t know if Marvel will cast another Wolverine, but I would be happy without this character ever seeing the light of day in the film world, the effects of Jackman portraying a character so well that he will never escape it, long after he shuffles off. Patrick Stewart was also hilariously delightful, once again portraying Xavier. The deterioration of Charles and a mind once powerful, reminded me that there comes a time for all of us when the easiest task becomes the longest climb, and Stewart emotes that difficulty with much disdain, as well as a taste of that wise-ass humor that lives to tug at the sanity of Logan. These two have felt like father and son from the start, so it’s not even slightly a suspense of disbelief when Mangold illustrates this metaphor vibrantly in a world where the other is the only person who understands what they’re going through. Leaps and bounds however, I was greatly impressed with the work of Dafne Keen as (No reason to hide it) X-23 herself. Dafne kicks ass and does it with the most paralyzing of stares to weaken not only her antagonists, but that of the audience that she peers into on more than one occasion. For a majority of the film, Keen is kept quiet, and that felt like the appropriate call to channel the isolation and fragility of such a character who has never experienced a normal life, let alone a mutant one thanks to her history. Kid actors is a difficult thing to cast, but Dafne Keen’s chilling range will permanently keep her atop the list of youthful actors who you will see frequently for years to come.

As for problems, there were two small critiques that occasionally soured my otherwise amazing experience. The first is with the pacing of the second act feeling slightly off from the rest of the picture. It’s during this time when some of the setups to the final confrontation either drag on too long, or reach an overabundance in offering. For my money, some of these could’ve been condensed into one single confrontation, instead of a series of setups that feel somewhat repetitive by the third one. My second and much more important problem came with the predictability of some of the subplots that I referred to earlier. I won’t spoil anything, but a friend of mine can faithfully vouch for the fact that I successfully predicted the outcomes of more than a few of these conflicts, and I blame this on a flimsy setup that was easily transparent. If this wasn’t enough, the trailers once again spoil some visuals spoilers in the movie that would’ve been nice to be surprised on. One such scene involves a burial that is all over the trailers like it’s no big deal. My thought process soon will be to stop watching trailers, as the best in surprises for cinema are being ruined one-by-one by thoughtless teasers that do more harm than good to the creativity of a script as strong as this one.

‘Logan’ aggressively charges its way through a somber, yet sterile offering of brutal engagements. With some deliciously violent exchanges, as well as some emotionally gripping material that constantly tugs at the heart, Mangold’s goodbye to the beholder of claws is one that Wolverine fans will be gushing over for its pulled back approach to re-defining the superhero genre. Proving that even after nearly two decades, the claws are as sharp as ever to inject into the audiences looking for an articulate conclusion to Jackman and Stewart, who satisfy in spades.

8/10

A Cure For Wellness

Through the depths of unchained terror and psychological horror, one man seeks to hold onto his sanity through A Cure For Wellness. An ambitious young executive (Dane Dehahn) is sent to retrieve his company’s CEO from an idyllic but mysterious “wellness center” at a remote location in the Swiss Alps. He soon suspects that the spa’s miraculous treatments are not what they seem. When he begins to unravel its terrifying secrets, his sanity is tested, as he finds himself diagnosed with the same curious illness that keeps all the guests here longing for the cure. The film is directed by long time visionary mastermind Gore Verbinski, and is rated R for disturbing violent content and images, sexual content including an assault, graphic nudity, and adult language.

The very definition of insanity is to repeat the same action and expect different results. If this rings true, then A Cure For Wellness stumbles over its ambitious direction with an derivative script by Justin Haythe that never does it any favors in lasting impressions. In regards to a television style of storytelling, A Cure For Wellness works beautifully, offering a wide range of psychological thrills to mesh with its truly breathtaking complexity in the mind of one of the most ideal visionary directors going today in Verbinski. But when you consider that this long term investment of 142 minutes is a feature film, you slowly start to feel the momentum and excitement slip from its grasps, resulting in one of the truly most destructive third acts that I have ever seen. If I am being brief, there’s a reasonably solid offering of a movie somewhere within the deep clutches of this convoluted and often times disjointed mess. I myself enjoyed the first 90 minutes of the film, with the approaches in screenplay reaching more for simplistic, while presenting grade-A cinematography that is alluring and complementary to the former. Unfortunately, it all goes out the window fast with a cluttered script that easily could’ve used another re-write.

For all of its hints towards the brain and how it works, the film sadly depends more on plot twists that are every bit as unnecessary as they are taxing to the very investment of the audience’s psyche. One interesting aspect of these mysteries that I didn’t understand was why they were treated as such with an audience who could’ve easily pieced the answers together on two hours of sleep. The script treats its characters like morons, most notably in a subplot on the dependency of water to the patients of the facility that was obvious from the first mention of it. After that, it and every other setup is repeatedly hammered over the head, giving way to the first of many cuts that should’ve been made to this hearty helping. If the film wanted mystery, It should’ve focused on the mental health of Dehahn’s character as he navigates his way through the halls of the box of madness. The focus on if this man really is crazy would’ve intrigued me a whole lot more than knowing the answer to that question in the first act of the movie. Because these mysteries are so obvious and apparent, we as an audience just wait patiently for them to catch-up, halting the progress of a script every ten minutes or so to introduce a new aspect of cluttered storytelling that overwhelms in the worst of ways.

The ending goes completely batshit, force-feeding a supernatural aspect not only to logical thinking, but also to the compromising attitude of this picture that it had set up for itself two hours earlier. No one should ever laugh in a negative sort of way to a picture this disturbing, but the finale of this movie not only overreaches because it had a perfectly tucked in ending at the two hour mark, but also takes the cartoonish aspect in wrapping everything up. What were they thinking? It feels like something that was tacked on after an original screening for the movie disappointed test audiences. If this is what they think will satisfy that same crowd, then it’s clear that this idea in plot never had a satisfying exit to boot, and the film instead leaves its audience in a comfortably numb kind of feeling.

For Verbinski, at least the time investment does pay off in spades to some horrifically entrancing visuals that terrified well when placed against the greenish tint of exceptional cinematography. This color in shading certainly gives off the impression that there’s constantly an unseen sickness in the air, and that diagnosis plays well to the blind mice patients who are constantly in search of “the cure”. It’s great to see a horror movie that is given a professional presentation of sorts to creative camera angles, as well as shot framing that is unorthodox to this particular style of genre. Some of Gore’s artistic directions involve a camera on the side of the cars to keep the audience riding alongside its movements, a stuffed horse’s head whose eyes reflect the establishing shot being seen before our very own eyes, and the water level still shot that always leaves room for something more to be lurking just beneath the surface. All of these and many more proved that Verbinski was the right man for the job, and his more than prestigious reputation is made even more commendable in a sanity-slipping euphoria in a thick cloud of toxic haze.

The sound mixing by sound effects editor David Chrastka also plays hand-in-hand with the musical score by Benjamin Wallfisch that teamed up for my single favorite aspect of the movie. Every scene of suspense continues to build a band of accompanied sounds that hammers a chorus of repetition to the viewer, driving them a little mad in relating to the characters in tow. When you hear such crisp detection of aspects like Dehahn’s crutches or the jiggling of a toilet handle that serves as a metaphor for Dehahn’s slipping psyche, you really come to admire just how much detail and precision was used to flatter audiences with audio capabilities in the same manner that Verbinski steals the show with luxurious visuals. The duo of Wallfisch and Chrastka constantly kept my ears glued to the ensuing madness, even if my eyes had left the building with how many times the script let me down.

As for performances, there’s very little to rave about, and most of that is of no fault to the cast. The backstories in character expositions are so flawed that I still have a couple of questions regarding Dehahn’s history as a child that were shoe-horned in to this lengthy offering. Two and a half hours isn’t enough to tell every subplot in detail? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Dehahn has always been someone who I’ve been a fan of, but once again he is choosing a role that does him no favors on showing his dramatic leverage. As far as characters go, his is not only detestable for his Business head arrogance to go and do whatever he wants whenever he wants, but also naive in how many times he continues to fall for the same trick, rendering his character caught each and every time. Dane does as much as you can ask with this little of likeability, but there’s nothing memorable of heart-wrenching to the prisoner-like conditions that he is held to. Jason Isaacs is solid, but the damaging finale leaves his character in perhaps the biggest jumbled mess of the movie. A reveal during this time cost us any chance in charm that we would get to see with typical good guy Isaacs making a long-winded antagonist speech. When he’s kept simple, Isaacs works, but my moral stigma favoring his character more than Dehahn’s only further hammered home how outside of the box this film’s thinking process was.

A Cure For Wellness slugs through three grueling acts of convoluted material that weighs down heavily on the grand scale of award-worthy sights and sounds that the movie treats us to. As the film goes on, you find yourself slipping through the depths of sanity, resulting in a test of patience for the mind that is orchestrated by a clock that is constantly playing tricks on you. I would only recommend this movie if you stop watching at the 90 minute mark, otherwise it’s another disappointing offering in a genre that is still searching for the cure.

5/10

The Space Between Us

Something completely out of this world is about to crash on Earth, altering The Space Between Us. In this interplanetary adventure, a space shuttle embarks on the first mission to colonize Mars, only to discover after takeoff that one of the astronauts is pregnant. Thus begins the extraordinary life of Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield), an inquisitive, highly intelligent boy who reaches the age of 16 having only met 14 people in his very unconventional upbringing. While searching for clues about his father, and the home planet he’s never known, Gardner begins an online friendship with a street smart girl in Colorado named Tulsa (Britt Robertson). When he finally gets a chance to go to Earth, he’s eager to experience all of the wonders he could only read about on Mars, from the most simple to the extraordinary. But once his explorations begin, scientists discover that Gardner’s organs can’t withstand Earth’s atmosphere. Eager to find his father, Gardner escapes the team of scientists and joins with Tulsa on a race against time to unravel the mysteries of how he came to be, and where he belongs in the universe. The film is directed by Peter Chelsom, and is rated PG-13 for brief sensuality and adult language.

The Space Between Us is at best a solid idea about the isolations of growing up on a planet without people or basic experiences for a teenager to live without. Its reliance upon the importance of technology and the kind of advances that it gives us for making a more intelligent and even enhanced human being are greatly depicted in the film, and don’t go without polarizing contrasts when compared to Earth counterparts. At worst though, this is a film that spontaneously combusts on a wannabe Nicholas Sparks teenage romance novel, in conjunction with cheesy dialogue and some of the biggest lapses in logic that I have ever seen in a Sci-Fi film, and that’s saying something. This is very much a project that chose to be something different for all of the wrong reasons. There’s a passable movie somewhere beneath all of the forced romantic subtext, and the Y.A audience that is was depending upon. Chelsom’s film settles for being just the latest spin in 21st century love being told at an adolescent disadvantage by frustrating characters and lack of any real depth for what makes their romance one for the galaxy.

For the first half hour of this movie, I was very much on board for the setup and themes that made this quite the little science-fiction gem that it could be with a little growth in character development and the unlocking of many mysteries that were set up early on. The very idea of this baby who was born and forced to live in a kind of prison of sorts for the entirety of his life is one that is certainly easy enough to get behind and invest in, but what added that extra layer of intrigue for me was the attempt at breaking down some health concerns between the environments of Mars versus Earth. This is where the movie feels at its strongest because it is showing us a variety of foreign lifestyles and technology that seem advanced even for 2017 standards. From transparent laptops to self-driving cars, The Space Between Us gives us that brief glimpse into a prosperous future where it feels necessary to dream again, complete with detailed set pieces that really make it simple to lose yourself in the rich tapestry of the Mars red-rocks in all of its imposing stature.

Once you’ve reached the half hour mark, you should understand that it’s at that point where you’ve reached the creative peak of this movie, because instantly the film goes back on everything that it has built for a flimsy love narrative that not only feels forced, but feels emotionally awkward for the lack of chemistry and character spark of our two central protagonists. I will get to the performances later, but the vast difference in real life age between Britt Robertson (27) and Asa Butterfield (19) made it very hard to invest and feel moved by their time spent together on-screen. If anything, the two feel like brother and sister kissing, albeit with Butterfield’s undeniably youthful exterior and Robertson’s adult personality that feels anything except the high school characters that she still finds herself being cast for. Her character comes off as a badass for some reason, but then is instantly turned into the same cliche female that you always see in romance flicks. Apparently Chelsom feels my pain about their concern for physical differences based on age because midway through he gives Robertson a baby doll dress to signify her high school side, further alienating her character from the Tom-boy tough chick who we were force-fed in her opening exposition scenes. If this isn’t enough, the film completely comes to a screeching halt during this time, with shoddy pacing, as well as making an antagonist of sorts out of Gary Oldman’s character. This idea is made even more inane when you see where all of the characters finish by the end of the movie, and highlights the second act of the movie as a sore thumb that sticks out ugly against two opposite acts that feel like they’re telling their own genre story.

The finale kicked the absurdity into high gear, and it was at this point that I felt an engulfing lack of care for the rules and themes that the movie had built for itself up to this point. Characters travel to space without so much as a space suit or any kind of breathing devices that would help them adapt to the increase of cabin pressure or lack of gravity that fills the air. There’s also the big reveal to the kind of mystery of sorts that the movie lightly inserted in the first act if you were paying attention. I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t. The plot twist was easily predictable for me, and I’m usually average at predicting these kinds of things. My reason for easily reading between the lines is the forceful reactions from one particular character that radiate in overabundance when compared to everyone else, making it far too simple to read between the lines. It all closes itself up tightly for a finish that is every bit as convenient as it is frustrating at just how much could’ve easily been trimmed from the nearly two hour run time. The worst part of a movie for me is when it drags endlessly, and The Space Between Us rarely reaches orbit after it runs out of ideas midway through.

As for the performances, there sadly isn’t a lot of noteworthy praise in this notable cast. Gary Oldman is probably the one positive in terms of taking a character who is every bit the typical mold for scientist entrepreneurs and making something more out of him. As I mentioned earlier, his character does go through some morale leaps and bounds that feel jarringly forced on the very flimsy suspense that this movie entailed, but Gary is enough of a pro to go to hell and back, and yet still produce a character who is enjoyable to watch for his commitment to craft, as well as his hands-on approach of this boy’s life since watching him grow. Butterfield does exubberate slightly more enthusiasm for this role as opposed to his past monotonously tone-deaf characters, but it’s still not enough to justify leading man status. As Gardner, we see a teenager who has his eyes opened for the first time at a world he was denied. That fact alone should make this boy fascinating, but Butterfield spends too much time on his one-track mind, meddling through the motions of a relationship that he feels far too at home with, despite a severe lack of female intimacy for the first sixteen years of his life. Robertson is once again playing the same character as she has in films like Tommorrowland, A Dog’s Purpose, and Mr Church. Hollywood has seemed to typecast her as this unorthodox female teenager who can give and take with her male counterparts, but then silences her into the typical female love interest that feels like a checklist of endless cliches. Robertson has talent, but she has to start venturing out of her comfort zone.

There’s an undiscovered lifeform of potential deep within the subtext of The Space Between Us, but its reliance upon a romantic direction that offers little fresh in the way of Young Adult novels, rips the oxygen fast out of this one. It’s a slow paced, unintelligent Sparks immitator that hangs in the balance of two protagonists who have as much romantic chemistry as two people who met for the first time on FarmersOnly.Com. As it stands, Chelsom’s infatuation with Indie favorites prove to us that this story feels expired before it hits the ground, time-stamping it with the others in a post-Twilight garbage can.

3/10

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

The final remains of the T-Virus return us to the scene of the origin, in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. Picking up three weeks after the events in Resident Evil: Retribution, humanity is on its last legs after Alice (Milla Jovovich) was betrayed by Wesker (Shawn Roberts) in Washington D.C. As the only survivor of what was meant to be humanity’s final stand against the undead hordes, Alice must return to where the nightmare began; Raccoon City, where the Umbrella Corporation is gathering its forces for a final strike against the only remaining survivors of the apocalypse. In a race against time Alice will join forces with old friends, and an unlikely ally, in an action packed battle with undead hordes and new mutant monsters. Between losing her superhuman abilities and Umbrella’s impending attack, this will be Alice’s most difficult adventure as she fights to save humanity, which is on the brink of oblivion. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is written and directed by Paul W.S Anderson, and is rated R for sequences of violence, as well as some adult language.

For someone who has written and directed all seven efforts of the Resident Evil franchise, Paul W.S Anderson seems to have selective memory about the film’s rules and history that feels trampled on after the latest effort known as The Final Chapter. Going into this movie, I wasn’t expecting a lot of bang for my buck. My expectations were cast pretty low; strong action sequences and a furthering of the story that capped of fifteen years with Alice and her friends. Ultimately, both of my expectations were sadly missed, as this is in my opinion the very worst of the franchise by a wide margin, and a lot of that is because of Anderson’s careless methods to provide fans with the goodbye that they deserve. The film has a plot twist near the end of the movie that is not only predictable because of how little they do to hide the identity of this mysterious Umbrella worker, but also how little it makes sense with histories established in the first two films. These aren’t forgivable plot contrivances, these are MAJOR flaws that would only take Anderson watching these movies to refresh what he has established about certain characters. Picture a Jason movie where they flashback to something that happened in the second movie, only to show Jason wearing the wrong color and dying by a different way. It’s truly mind-shattering how far this series has fallen, and just how little this whole thing has to do with any of the respective video games that they borrow plot from.

If there is one positive, it’s that this movie at least feels like a video game. Not so much a movie, but a video game because of how it has very minimal plot and lots of weapon re-ups, as well as conflict scenes in a new backdrop with each passing minute. On the first of those issues, The Final Chapter feels like more of a continuance for something like Retribution or Afterlife, instead of its own movie. With the previous efforts, each movie revolved around its own growth for each of its characters, while establishing a setting that felt fresh for each chapter. This is very much a time and place that we have endured before in much better circumstances with the original Resident Evil. That movie, while not perfect by any standards, at least keys you into what makes these throwaway popcorn flicks exciting in their own element. The introduction here of this anti-virus comes out of nowhere. At no point in six other films did we ever key in to any kind of solution for the problems that have engulfed this world, and the introduction now feels very lazy in creating a suitable solution that fans will believe. This is a movie at 101 minutes that constantly keeps moving, never choosing to slow down to tell the story of what happened in Washington during Retribution, or establishing its fresh faces to the audience. At this point, there’s not enough patience or commitment to cast these people as anything but bodies in the way of Alice reaching her final destination, therefore your investment feels minimal and even tiresome at the repetition in setup, attack, and kill. Wash, rinse, repeat.

The visual presentation was perhaps the biggest flaw that the film entails because the camera styles don’t remain faithful to the style of shooting that we have come to love from this series. If there is one positive that I can say for this series, as well as The Final Chapter itself, is that it conjures up some artistically beautiful choreographed fight scenes that always reach their mark in channeling the video game profiles of each attack scene. This was the single greatest strength of this movie that unfortunately gets weighed down pretty quickly by some of the arguably worst action sequence depictions that I have ever seen. I recommend highly that you watch this movie at home in a lighted environment because your eyes will be kicking your ass by film’s end. The fight scenes are lit poorly, shot far too closely, and (Most importantly) involve an overburden of quick-cuts to ever keep you from registering what is transpiring on screen. Not since last year’s Jason Bourne have I truly felt such pity and despair for how a film chooses to style its bread and butter. I compare the visuals to watching a bootleg copy of a movie on your computer, where you have to squint to register the poor quality of a camera illegally filming a movie. Truly horrifying on the eyes and less on your actual fright for the creativity in creatures and zombie designs alike that the movie could’ve used more emphasis on visually.

As for returning cast, I was sadly disappointed at just how little involvement there actually was for the time invested characters of past films who were left off of the slate. Chris Redfield, Asa Kong, and Jill Valentine are three characters whose presence are greatly missed in a sea of fresh faces that never have time to establish character arcs or traits to make them any different from the people to the right or left of them. The only familiar faces are that of Alice, Claire Redfield, Albert Wesker and Dr Isaacs. The focus is mainly on that of Alice and Isaacs, leaving Wesker off of the page for a final showdown or satisfying climax to the polarizing figure that we have come to love and hate equally. This is a major disappointment because there’s much chemistry that is left off of the pages of the script between Alice and Isaacs that just doesn’t measure up to some of her previous enjoyable entanglements with that of Valentine or Wesker. When you look at the bigger picture of all seven films, it feels like these movies were constantly building to something bigger and better that just never materialized. The ending of this film felt far too easy and neatly tucked away for a fifteen year investment, settling for a goodbye to its antagonists in the most cringe-worthy and logic-infuriating methods to storytelling that missed their mark tragically. Wesker’s ending in particularly was the final gasp of hope that left my body for a once prosperous saga of video game adaptation.

The Last Chapter for Resident Evil is a welcome one because it displays just how off-the-mark the series has twist and turned from being a simply admirable zombie epic through the streets of Raccoon City. If you’ve held on for this long, I can imagine that the passionate fans of this story will like this movie all the same, but Anderson’s latest lacks any real bite to grab the attention of new audience, and The Last Chapter will go unread for plenty of fans who found the antidote to Paul’s stretching of liberties years ago.

3/10

Passengers

Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are strangers who are stranded in space, as “Passengers” for a greater cause. The Starship Avalon, on its 120-year voyage to a distant colony planet known as “Homestead II” and transporting 5,259 people, has a malfunction in one of its sleep chambers, awaking its inhabitant, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt). Preston later opens Aurora Lane’s pod after he looks at her videos and files, leaving them both stranded on the spaceship, still 90 years from their destination. Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) is a journalist from New York City who is interested in cosmic travel. Jim Preston is a mechanical engineer from Denver who wants to leave Earth and bought the ticket for the journey. The two soon discover that the malfunction is not the only problem afflicting the huge spaceship, and as they try to find a way out, they soon find themselves falling in love and racing against the inevitability of what they have been chosen for. “Passengers” is directed by Morten Tyldum, and is rated PG-13 for sexuality, brief nudity and action/peril.

Mortel Tyldum takes one of the most notoriously unused scripts on the Hollywood black list to offer a very refreshing and stylistic approach into another futuristic vision of our inevitable fates. One thing that I always love is when a movie with a setting in an uncertain future gives us depictions of everything from socialism to our technological advances, and it’s in those ideas where Passengers thrives well beyond a script with more holes in it than a piece of Swiss cheese. The basic setups for everything does take time with this many buttons and gadgets to feature for this audience, but everything feels even more enhanced with gorgeous cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto, as well as sexy backdrops and set designs that always meet their appealing marks. If I was grading this movie purely on style over substance, then Passengers would be one of the very best presentations that I have seen this year. Unfortunately, the material doesn’t match in substance what the artistic integrity pursued in style, and as a result we have one of the most flawed creations in a love story design that we have seen most recently.

During an era and age where Nicolas Sparks offers some truly wooden and artificial substances in material, Passengers manages to take it one step further with this truly insensitive flub that is always in search for a proper attitude in tone. As some of you may have read, the twist to this movie is revealed about a half hour into the movie, and this head-scratching technique steps on so many opportunities to ever elevate this movie beyond Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence doing things. I don’t do spoilers, but I feel like this surprise and manipulation of the audience could’ve garnered more emotional response if it was presented midway through the movie when we’ve invested so much of our time and hope in this man and woman as one. To give us it early on in the first half means that we can telegraph everything predictably every step of the way. Consider it like someone telling you about Bruce Willis’s secret in The Sixth Sense before you even watched it, so now everything feels like a waste of time before the inevitable happens. In addition to this, take out your love for the two main actors and see if this movie’s premise sounds like a horror/suspense thriller to you. To make this a love story, goes opposite of everything that is being presented to a logical thinker like me, and it really makes the emotive responses from the characters less relatable during each scene of backlash once this secret becomes known to everyone concerned.

There were also so many different directions that the script signals towards that it simply never takes. This is a screenplay that had plenty of wiggle room to grant us a third act that was pleasing to everybody despite the jaw-dropping portrayal in tone that this movie set, but it instead chooses to take the predictable road every chance it gets. The final half hour of this movie is so frustrating to a science lover like me who understands not only the inconsistencies in their usage of gravity, but also in their adversity that is easy to solve for anyone not involved in the movie. To say I came up with a solution to most of the problems with the ship during the final act is an understatement that further establishes I was smarter than the cast involved. This flimsy layer of dramatic garbage instead dooms this movie to be Titanic in Space, and nothing ever feels as remotely satisfying as that over-exceeding counterpart. If I did have one positive for the screenplay, it was during the opening half hour when Chris Pratt presented a peeling layer of sanity to the isolation that one faces when they are doomed to be alone for ninety years. This arc of the story is simple enough and certainly offered me the most bang for my buck in entertainment before everything gets complicated and shallow during the midway point. To know it only goes downhill from here is made even worse by the fact that you know the answer to the question long before our characters do, a decision in screenplay that should never be warranted regardless of the terms.

There’s nothing compelling in terms of drama for Pratt and Lawrence in their performances, but their chemistry on-screen is enough to make this nearly two hour experience feel beneficial. Pratt in particular offers glimpses into a side of his acting that we have yet to see, channeling a possible genre change someday for the higher waters of dramatic flow. His character feels human in a world that has advanced around him, and Pratt’s every-man routine never wears thin when there’s so much for him to react to with comedic generosity. Jennifer Lawrence simply feels too good for something of this magnitude, but it’s clear that she had a lot of fun with her sexy co-star. If nothing else, people love watching beautiful people interact off of one another, and that much is evident here with the charm from two of Hollywood’s most prominent actors currently. It’s easy to fall in love with Lawrence’s Aurora because she’s the unattainable girl for all of us guys, made even more attractive when you realize how personable she is. While matters creatively around Pratt and Lawrence crumble or diminish their growth, you can’t deny these two keep you from ever being bored, and their magnetic force in delivery will keep you constantly intrigued through some difficult times in structure.

Passengers soars just high enough with an enhancing visual spectrum to ever keep it from crashing, but there’s certainly enough turbulence among its first act decisions creatively, as well as eye-rolling convenience in the finale, for it to ever reach its true potential. Tyldum relies a little too much on his fresh faces to get him over the hump of a script that is terribly flawed, as well as morally irresponsible, and the those two factors are shrugged off so much that it’s hard to take anything at face value. There’s no gravity in space, and even less in Morten’s picture, which takes every chance to test its audience.

5/10

Assassin’s Creed

One man serves his prison sentence by inhabiting the memory of his ancestor during the Spanish Inquisition, in “Assassin’s Creed”. Through a revolutionary technology that unlocks his genetic memories, Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender), an experienced criminal, experiences the adventures of his ancestor, Aguilar de nerha, in 15th Century Spain. The process created by two mysterious scientists (Jeremy Irons, Marion Cotillard) allows someone to inherit the memories of the person they inhabit, and transport to that destination era. Callum discovers he is descended from a mysterious secret society, the Assassins, and amasses incredible knowledge and skills to take on the oppressive and powerful Templar organization in the present day. “Assassin’s Creed” is directed by Justin Kurzel, and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, thematic elements and brief strong adult language.

The curse of the video game adaptation sure isn’t going to be conquered anytime soon. Assassin’s Creed is the latest failure for such a venture that never seems to get it right. After seeing the trailers for this movie, I was very intrigued by the star power as well as the fast-paced visuals that only a trailer can instill for so much hope. It was easy to take this one seriously at face value because it felt like this movie had a purpose to silence the doubters like me who think it can be done at a price that fans can rejoice in. As it turns out, this movie is more of the same, but among the best video game adaptations to date, a compliment that isn’t sure to grant it dignity or the slightest bit of respect by feeble comparisons. What I will say is that for 100 minutes, Assassin’s Creed knows what kind of movie it should be; fan service for lovers of the franchise, as well as a premise so hokey that it’s hard not to have some kind of fun with it. Kurzel and Fassbender are no stranger to one another. Most recently doing Macbeth from 2015 together. This feels like a cash grab film for both, with very little inspiration or energy diverted into a finished product that has more than just a few noticeable problems.

The biggest one is the script that feels convoluted, incoherent and most importantly disjointed. This film certainly feels like the victim of a vicious hack-and-slash by the production studio, as many scenes are told backwards. The first half hour of the movie was the most difficult for me to get intrigued by, mainly because we are flying through character exposition, as well as eras in time with very little time to slow down and register everything. So essentially, we know very little about Fassbender’s character by the time he takes his first jump into his virtual past, therefore making it nearly impossible to invest in his mission. Once he comes out of the first attempt, it is then that we start getting clarity not only for him, but for the purpose of this entire project, and what sloppy delivery it is. Conjuring up cliche flashback sequences, as well as selective memory, and you’ve got the recipe for character pasts that happen no earlier than forty minutes into the movie. As far as incoherence goes, the movie does a poor job of establishing character motivations for certain actions. This is not the movie to sleep on for even a minute because you will be lost in jumbled developments. So much is deposited in a single film that could easily be distributed over a trilogy of movies, and that convolution that feels like a history lesson instead of a video game most of the time, slithers away at a snail’s pace before ever gaining traction to tell what should be a simple story that has already been written for you in no fewer than six video games.

At least Kurzel is a capable director even if his cinematographer does him wrong with some of the most eye-irritating visuals that I have seen this year. Justin lands some beautiful set pieces that certainly set the mood for the dramatic change in historical eras that the film lands in dual formats. The Spanish Inquisition looks glorious, and the pages of our history books comes to life vibrantly during this sixteenth century exposition. The problem comes in visual establishment and lighting for the movie, when the action scenes begin for some reason. I was offered two different chances of squinting my eyes during such a mess. The first coming in present day when every scene in the prison feels like it is being shot in the dark, and the second was in the Spanish Inquisition scenes when it looked like a child from the production team went overboard on the smoke machine that fogged entire sequences. I get the point of this is to serve to the Assassin’s credo that they work in the shadows, but I had great complications in registering what was going on in between some truly ugly shading and coloring palates that gave the film anything but visual life.

The action sequences and stunt work are some of the only positives that I can faithfully stand-by for the movie. Every throw-down is beautifully choreographed and synchronized to create poetry in motion, and it was during these sequences when the movie minimally reached the potential that it should’ve carried for the better part of two hours. The parkour delivery from this stunt team is not only risky in practical delivery, but also heart-pounding in just how easy they make it look. The parkour style gives the movie something fresh and original that we have rarely seen in video game adaptations, and this choice will live on among the very few positives that Assassin’s Creed will be known for in infamy. One problem that I had with the fast-pacing of these scenes was the pee-brained decision to keep cutting back to present day to show Fassbender’s reaction every time something major happened in Spain. I understand to make this decision during the first invasion. Audience members would at least be remotely curious as to how these is transpiring in real time. But to do this every single time for the entirety of the movie only served as an annoyance that grew into a concrete wall on the tracks of such heart-pounding intensity.

The performances were surprisingly disappointing, but I blame it more on a misfire in direction and minimal deposition in script that established these characters as embrace-worthy. Fassbender is someone who I feel is one of the absolute most versatile workers in the business today, but here he plays Lynch as very monotonous. When is Hollywood going to understand that the fans want a badass, but one we can also feel empathy for? Without letting Fassbender bring the pain emotionally, Callum was doomed from the start, and served as nothing more than another prisoner being used against his own free will. Jeremy Irons is barely used at all, ridiculed to be the “Mob Boss” of sorts looking on from behind the glass window. There’s only one scene of dialogue between he and Fassbender, and it left me licking my chops and wanting more in a virtual passing of the torch from two great actors from distinctly different eras. Marion Cotillard is probably the biggest return in terms of the trio of actors. Her character goes through a struggle of sorts with this project, knowing it doesn’t have the purest of intentions, but the desire to always impress her Father is something we can all relate to. Cotillard feels like the beating heart of a movie that doesn’t have much of a pulse. Her narration helped wonders during some scenes that come off as slightly cloudy in delivery, but she literally has very little to bounce off of, making her character memorable in the slightest.

Assassin’s Creed sacrifices important factors like story and character arcs for straining artistic merits that muddle the impactful action at nearly every step. More importantly, it wastes a cast that should guarantee a winner in even the most obtuse of frustrating garbage. If Fassbender, Cotillard and Irons can’t give us a winner in the genre, perhaps it’s time to put the controllers down and leave the memories alone.

4/10

The Autopsy of Jane Doe

The mystery of a nameless body prompts an investigation that lead a father and son through “The Autopsy of Jane Doe”. Experienced coroner Tommy Tilden (Brian Cox) and his grown-up son Austin (Emile Hirsch) run a family-owned morgue and crematorium in Virginia. When the local Sheriff brings in an emergency case; an unknown female corpse nicknamed ‘Jane Doe’, found in the basement of a home where a multiple homicide took place, it seems like just another open-and-shut case. But as the autopsy proceeds, these seasoned professionals are left reeling as each layer of their inspection brings frightening new revelations. Perfectly preserved on the outside, Jane Doe’s insides have been scarred, charred and dismembered, seemingly the victim of a horrific yet mysterious ritualistic torture. As Tommy and Austin begin to piece together these gruesome discoveries, an unnatural force takes hold of the crematorium. While a violent storm rages above ground, it seems the real horrors lie on the inside. “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” is directed by Andre Ovredal, and is rated R for bloody horror violence, unsettling grisly images, graphic nudity, and language.

Once in a while, I will get a B-grade horror movie that over-exceeds to end up highly on my end of the year list, and while “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” isn’t quite to that level of spectacular, it is enough of a fun time to offer popcorn thrills between a group of friends and restore my faith once again in underground horror. This isn’t quite your typical ghost story, and thankfully the trailer didn’t give much away to the finished product. For about an hour of the 85 minute sit that this film produces, I was constantly kept guessing as to the direction of horror subgenre this movie was heading down. The concept of creepy setting, as well as stormy background certainly isn’t anything original, but the artistic integrity of Ovredal is strong for a director who is only in his second offering in cinema. The movie repeatedly kept me guessing, building up a list of possibilities, much like the coroners examining Doe, and one-by-one the predictable avenues that the movie built for itself were diminished as to say I totally didn’t know what I was getting myself into.

There’s a solid build-up during the first two acts as a psychological thriller, diving into the tortured past of Jane Doe, and what it took to bring us to the lifeless body that we see in front of us. During this period, the movie feels like a CSI procedural combined with a slasher mystery, providing us enough information on the very step-by-step process that coroners jobs entail when they are trying to nail down a cause of death. The pushing between the two genres that I just mentioned really stimulated my desire to keep watching, and conjured up one of the very best whodunnits? that I have seen of the past decade. Then it happened. The final half hour of the movie decides to take us down a road that I frankly could’ve done without. It’s hard to discuss without spoiling, but the curveball thrown by screenwriters Richard Naing and Ian Goldberg feels very contrary to the kind of mystery that they built up in the opening hour. The movie’s turn for the supernatural burdens this movie to the same light that we see a lot of modern horror films today, complete with untimely jump scares and illogical jumps that are big for even the most convoluted of scripts. This was a shame because “Jane Doe” felt like 2/3 of a good movie, with the finale feeling like an entirely different script from the earned tension that the movie conjured up for itself to that point.

As far as some of the other aspects to the movie went, the makeup work here is extraordinary for the corpse in question. There’s a lot of attention to detail in the very damage done to this body, and every kind of shot used to relate the blood or gore is justified artistically by presenting the very beautiful side of death. This film and the career of being a coroner could’ve definitely gone overboard on what the movie showed, but Ovredal’s touch behind the camera shoots everything respectfully in the same way that our two central protagonists see it, and this is something that goes miles to relate to how they are studying the body. I also appreciated the aesthetics of the lighting within the picture. The corny storm going on in the background is overused in every movie, but the darkness in each frame that surrounds our characters certainly peaks the intrigue of what is lurking in the dark in a room full of the deceased. This artistic direction never feels forced or convenient because a real coroner’s office is visually entrancing in the same way that this film gave us. Ovredal shoots an eye-enhancing movie with only a budget of less than five million dollars. It makes me interested to see what he can do with a future lucrative project that could invest the buck for the constantly moving bang that he swings.

The performances offer very little breakout moments, but the veteran cast certainly add a dimension of depth to something that might otherwise be ignored on video shelves everywhere. Emile Hirsch is someone I have adored since 2004’s The Girl Next Door, and here it’s more of the same for someone as personable as it gets from Hollywood leads. Brian Cox also offers a personality for his own character that feels like the pulse of the film’s direction throughout the 85 minute sit. Cox serves as kind of the crypt-keeper of sorts for the narrative, and it’s in his lurking delivery where we question early the kind of intentions from some of the characters we follow through the terror-filled night. The chemistry between Hirsch and Cox carry a lot of the load and heart against the film’s tragic aspects, omitting a very empathetic within me as I watched the movie. The most important aspect to any horror movie is its characters, and the inevitability with Hirsch leaving for college certainly wields that sting of importance in counterbalance for the dark directions that their characters must endure. Beyond this, the movie has a limited supporting cast, but it’s really a two-man show when it comes to this one, but the team of Hirsch and Cox are up for the task of narrating through Doe’s complicated past, which grows in shock-and-awe with each startling reveal.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe nearly ruins all that it builds up in a tension-filled impressive first two acts to settle for mediocrity in the finale. But the artistic merits of an ambitious director festering with atmospheric tension, as well as two likeable male leads that yearn to learn the truth as we do, more than makes this an effective and engaging mystery with some unexpected turns in story that proves there’s always something worse than death. Campy 90’s style horror goodness summarizes Ovredal’s meaty delivery to hold the audience in the palm of his hand.

6/10

Train To Busan

Busan is about to get the nastiest of deliveries on a two hour “Train To Busan”. The investment manager Seok Woo (Yoo Gong) is a divorced man that lives in Seoul, with his daughter Soo-an (Soo-an Kim) and his mother. Seok Woo is a selfish man and neglects Soo-an that misses her mother that lives in Busan. On Soo-an’s birthday, she asks to visit her mother and Seok Woo travels with her with the intention of returning after lunch. They board the fast train KTX and a sick woman also boards another wagon. During the journey, the woman attacks a train staff and soon all the passenger in the wagon are attacked turning into zombies. Soon Seok Woo realizes that there is a zombie outbreak in South Korea and together with the passenger Sang Hwa (Dong-Seok Ma), who is traveling with his pregnant wife Sung Gyeong (Yu-Mi Jung), they isolate the safe front wagons from the infected ones. Along their journey, the non-infected passengers have to fight the zombies and the selfishness of the human being. “Train To Busan” is directed by Sang-Ho Yeon, and is rated R for brief scenes of blood/gore and heightened scenes of peril.

I’m a little late on hopping the “Train To Busan”, but the newest Asian zombie flick is a high-speed thriller that doesn’t have to settle for some of the tireless cliches that has reduced the genre to predictable, re-heated cinema. There are many things that Sang-Ho Yeon does well in the picture that can be appreciated from an original storytelling aspect, but it’s in his artistic direction where he gives us something fresh and admirable to add emphasis on something that would otherwise be taken as another B-grade horror flick that falls between the cracks of American release. Yeon definitely knows how to add dimensions to even the most claustrophobic of situations, and the way he breezes through this train is definitely not something to be underplayed. A real director can do so much with so little, and the setting of a train no matter how long can always be quite a handicap in the versatility of a script. I particularly enjoyed his continuous shots up and down the aisles that constantly followed the action through long storyboards of choreography. His style behind the lens gives us a dual offering of handheld and shaky camera effects that always feel like they are both being used equally at the right place and time. This is a director who is new to me, but someone who I will be looking for in future releases, and I hope his spell under Asian horror isn’t limited to just this initial offering.

One thing that I came to admire was a lot of the differences that this screenplay takes on to distance itself from other zombie films that have become as cold and distasteful as the very flock they are depicting. This is a movie surprisingly without a lot of blood or gore to it, and it proves that while this movie is a very light R-rating, there is enough room in the genre to do things right by PG-13 standards. The angles of the camera play hand-in-hand with what the director wants you to imagine and depict in your own mind, because that is where the terror musters at the most brutal. There’s also a strong undercurrent of emotional subplots here that up the stakes not only on the characters, but the urgency in time that each character has with one another. The main plot entails a distant workaholic Father and his daughter, and their relationship is one we are constantly rooting for despite the world crumbling down around them. This epidemic offers a strong transformation for our main male lead, and gives him a waking up of what is important despite years of playing the opposite. The film also offers a wide range of character exposition for some supporting cast that adds depth and detail to your investment in them, and doesn’t let them settle for being just another body count. What I found quite intriguing is that no character is the same by the end of the film for better or worse, and this quality time spent with each of them adds greater meaning when they survive a tense situation or when they have to finally say goodbye to us and their loved ones.

For nearly a two hour sit, “Train To Busan” leveled me in more strengths than weaknesses. It would certainly be easy for Yeon as a screenwriter to settle for tropes and outcomes that trigger predictability, but his tempo is constantly moving, offering very little downtime for the audience to breathe or rest, similar to our very characters who halt death at every stop. The setup does feel repetitive on a few occasions during the second act, and I could’ve used a sequence or two shaved off to make the impact of the zombie attacks feel that much more meaningful in spreading it out, instead of so often. Thankfully, the final forty minutes of the movie changes up the setting for a pulse-setting finale that is inevitably pleasing. There’s a lot of solid tension building when some surprises happen late in the movie, promoting the uncertainty of what lies behind every corner. What was impressive to me was that even the final frame of the movie is used for tension, a period that would normally be the triumph of our surviving cast. This relayed to me what I already knew; Yeon never stops constructing those scenes of irritation, and for that fact alone Busan never misses its stop.

Gong and Kim are an irresistible charm as the Father and Daughter duo whose rocky relationship is the foreground for what tests them mentally and physically over the next two hours. For a child actress, Kim is well beyond her years, offering a steady display of tears and emotion that triggers the parental instincts in all of us. Gong too relishes in the relatability to a character that doesn’t need the Superman transformation by the end of the movie to make us understand his love and compassion for his little girl. His character feels human, and the emphasis on that fact first helps us understand his thought process and risky behavior one more than one occasion. Gong himself as a character feels reserved and well-maintained despite everything, and it’s clear that his strength lies in his intelligence as opposed to his brute strength. Some of the supporting cast was slightly underwhelming. It’s clear that not much of a casting call was made to cast some of the zombie extras, who on more than one occasion were caught smiling or smirking during random close-ups. That lack of commitment slightly took me out of a couple of the attack sequences, but I didn’t fault much against them as it’s clear they’re all amateur extras.

Coming down the tracks with ferocious force, despite little blood, gore or horror tropes, “Train To Busan” is first class zombie cinema that is purely entertaining on nearly every end of the spectrum. In Yeon, we find a writer and director who feels very hands-on in only his third live action presentation to date. His emotional subtext will tug at your heart while his army of biters is feasting on your limbs. Satisfying thrills in compact settings that never hurls off of the tracks.

7/10