CHIPS

‘CHIPS’ is the latest 70’s television show to get the big screen treatment, in this remake starring Dax Shepard and Michael Pena. Jon Baker (Dax Shepard) and Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (Michael Peña) have just joined the California Highway Patrol (CHP) in Los Angeles but for very different reasons. Baker is a beaten up pro motor-biker trying to put his life and marriage back together. Poncherello is a cocky undercover Federal agent investigating a multi-million dollar heist that may be an inside job—inside the CHP. The inexperienced rookie and hardened pro are teamed together, but clash more than click, so kick-starting a partnership is easier said than done. But with Baker’s bike skills combined with Ponch’s street savvy it might just work…if they don’t drive each other crazy along the way. ‘CHIPS’ is written and directed by Dax Shepard himself, and is rated R for crude sexual content, graphic nudity, pervasive language, some violence and drug use.

‘CHIPS’ is an interesting concept in script and tone because I’m not quite so sure about who it is marketed towards. Fans of the 70’s television show won’t like it because it abandons the working formula that made the series a success for five years. Youthful fans who have never seen the show and just want to watch a good movie won’t like it because there’s nothing funny or entertaining about this juvenile film that can barely be called a remake. Over the last fifteen years, remakes of 70’s and 80’s TV shows have been hit or miss for their finished products. Most notably, films like ’21 Jump Street’ or ‘The Man From UNCLE’ have attained that rare stamp of approval from TV enthusiasts of the original, while films like ‘Starsky and Hutch’ and ‘Dark Shadows’ have done lasting damage. Unfortunately, ‘CHIPS’ will fall with the latter because this often distracted bro-comedy offers very little homage or memorable material to justify its presence among the remake ranks. This is Shepard’s second time behind the camera, and its clear that his admirable ambitions overshoots the actuality of his grip on the pulse of this particular franchise.

At 96 minutes, there’s very little in positive returns for that of a script that takes every ten minutes to halt what little momentum these characters or subplots build on. One example of such is the noticeable stance on homophobia, which holds no bearing or place in this particular story. Because of this, ‘CHIPS’ often feels like it was made ten years too late, when the poking fun of cultural explorers because eye-rolling. Often times, this movie feels like it was written by a minor who just peeped his first nudity magazine. The R-rating is used to show female breasts, or to let the cast drop the occasional F bomb, which has zero impact on their overall comedic timing or flawed delivery. Even more so, this movie has some of the most obvious foreshadowing in storytelling that I have seen most recently. It’s easy to spot these lines from the second they are presented because often it holds no meaning or accordance to the material being shuffled in dialogue. Some of these examples were Shepard’s character having bionic limbs from bike accidents, so he tells his captain on the first interview that rain is bad for him. So of course there will be a scene where rain prominently pops up. Another one involves Shepard saying he hates blending house smells because they make him vomit, so of course we are going to have a scene where this gets to him. Pena and Shepard have a conversation early on about girls who marry their fathers, then sure enough there’s a line of dialogue by the end of a movie where a female cop explains that she likes Shepard because he reminds her of her father. This isn’t even half of what I found, and it makes the material more than slightly telegraphed as I waited for the ending.

Then there’s the dialogue, a literal hodge-podge of awful line reading. At first I wondered if this was intentional to play up to the laughably bad forced readings of 70’s nostalgia, but then I realized what little in storyline progression that this movie actually had. This film has this vast offering of multiple scenes that will halt in order for Pena and Shepard to discuss their latest sexual conquests. Most of the time it’s things that the typical grown up would learn in high school, and it hangs what is going on around them in mid-air waiting patiently for when they finish up. I will get more to the characters later on, but Pena’s character in particular crippled me, as every other line of dialogue concluded with a “bro”. On top of that, most of these reads feel like they never should’ve made the finished product, as they rarely ever feel believable through the dense fog of ludicrous developments. Now I’m not foolish enough to expect great dialogue from the CHIPS remake, but it does help the entertainment value if I can immerse myself and believe that these two idiots are officers of the law to benefit the story.

As for the performances, there was nothing of any charismatic charm or finesse to justify the casting of Pena and Shepard beyond the latter’s triple layer mold of power on the project. What passes for character exposition in this movie is the most brief of offerings for us to indulge in. Pena’s character is a sex addict, that’s it. That is all that we have to hang our investment of this character on. Shepard’s is at least slightly more in-depth; he’s an ex-motocross performer whose wife is cheating on him. How could you not want to spend over an hour-and-a-half with these guys? Beyond this, the two have virtually no on-screen chemistry between them, often times feeling like two actors who just met and were asked outside to come in and put on a show on-stage for twenty people. Vincent D’Onofrio is decent, but the biggest aspect to his character is that we learn something about his moral stigma early on that the movie doesn’t catch up to for another eighty minutes, taking us through the most obvious of movie mysteries.

I do have one positive to this movie however, and it’s that Shepard at least has a distinct view for bike chase sequences that serve as the single lone aspect that outdoes the original. These scenes don’t come nearly enough in the overall finished product, but there are some exceptionally well depicted tracking shots that take us through the ritzy areas of Beverly Hills. These luxurious landscapes breeze by through each swerve and turn that our protagonists take us on, and it overall makes for a fast-paced action thrill ride that serves as the brief moment that this film takes our breath away. I also greatly enjoyed the POV style that put us face-to-face with our riders as they embrace the fast-and-dangerous lifestyle. Most of the time, POV won’t work because you miss what is most important that is going on around the actors and action, but the rendering here is justifiable because these officers are constantly imbedded in the chaos that surrounds them.

Whatever CHIPS intends to be, one thing is certain; this film lacks the energy and chemistry of a 70’s TV show by comparison (Laugh intended). A staggerly unfunny comedy that puppeteers the sensitivity of homophobia and important female leads. Something that would make sense in the 70’s, but not in a politically correct 2017 that has grown above that. Shepard has an artistic eye for motocross sequences and little else. Perhaps a future in the X-Games, instead of feature length films is just up his alley. Either way, CHIPS is coming to a yard sale near you.

3/10

Wilson

A troubled, older man named ‘Wilson’ stands at the metaphorical fork in the road, when his life changes for the better. Woody Harrelson stars as Wilson, a lonely, neurotic and hilariously honest middle-aged misanthrope who reunites with his estranged wife (Laura Dern) and gets a shot at happiness when he learns he has a teenage daughter (Isabella Amara) he has never met. In his uniquely outrageous and slightly twisted way, he sets out to connect with her and make things right with the way certain disappointments happened in his life. All the while, settling down and garnering the kind of lifestyle that everyone should feel entitled to. ‘Wilson’ is directed by Craig Johnson, and is rated R for adult language throughout and some sexuality.

This movie deceives its audience with one of the most exaggerated trailers that I have seen in quite some time. ‘Wilson’ is a comedy that wants to badly to be a message-baring dramatic piece, alienating its former in a way that was not only damaging to the film, but also to audiences that will deal with 90 minutes of bland personalities and narration that will exert more pity out of you than feel good humor. I am not embellishing even in the slightest when I say that this movie made me so depressed that I now feel immense uncertainty with the next series of comedy offerings that I will take in. In metaphoric terms, ‘Wilson’ is a one legged dog that loses a fight to a pack of angrier, hungrier dogs, then gets run over, then limps its way to the sidewalk, where it gets chewed up by a lawn mower. Vicious example I know, but this movie fails over and over with offering the sweeter side to Daniel Clowes character, when he created and penned this story decades ago. It’s a set-up that dooms itself in repetition, as well as an incoherent screenplay that feels far too often that it is throwing any idea at a wall to see what sticks.

It’s certainly easy to see the overdone pitch here, over-and-over again. Each scene starts off with a fresh landscape different from the scene before it. Wilson comes along to interact with someone embracing their privacy, gets involved in a long-winded conversation with said person, and then says something outrageous to offend or alienate that person. That’s it. Clowes ‘Wilson’ novel is a series of one page animations that feel like your typical Sunday morning cartoon strip in the local paper. The problem is how does this equate to a three act structure that is rarely ever given time to breathe between extremities, as well as time to soak in the reactions before jarringly bad editing comes in to break up what little reactions it garners from its audience. Honestly, I did laugh a few times during ‘Wilson’, most of which were the quick-digs that were prominently featured in the trailer. What did pleasantly surprise me was to find out that this movie is rated R, so that juvenile humor can blossom to the fullest potential. Unfortunately, this film is a comedy for all of the first act, after which it dips into one of the truly most pathetic protagonist stories that can not improve its credibility when one thing after the other diminishes this character and his hopes with each passing second.

Wilson himself is the kind of guy to let life walk all over him without feeling the kind of fire or charisma to fight back. He’s utterly pathetic, rude to everyone he comes across, and selfishly puts his own wants and needs above everybody else no matter what toll it will take on them. Harrelson himself plays the character fine, emoting the most in this fragile character that deserved to be studied instead of poked at with a stick, but he just isn’t presented in the brightest of lights. That rendering smile and wink that Woody has perfectly crafted over a respectable career is there enough to think that something more memorable is behind every turn, but unfortunately it is a pipe dream that never materializes. In addition to him, the supporting characters in this film by actors like Laura Dern, Cheryl Hines, and especially Isabella Amara as Wilson’s depressed daughter Claire, are equally as unrelatable and benign as the title character. After each interaction with these characters, the film slips further and further into a reclusive state, offering the occasional shock-and-awe dialogue just to see if the audience is still awake. Thankfully, Judy Greer does turn in a brief shining light that impacts Wilson the most, despite a brief lasting power. She’s the kind of positive influence that makes me want to grab Wilson and tell him to pay attention to what’s good about his life, and forget about the past that is better left exactly there.

At a flimsy hour-and-a-half, you would think that pacing shouldn’t be a problem at all, but this movie drags its feet like an infant throwing a fit at the beach. Pacing in comedies certainly aren’t a problem if the comedic effect is in full swing, but considering I only laughed at maybe 10% of the jokes in ‘Wilson’, it’s safe to say that I checked my watch on more than one occasion. It feels like forever mostly because of choppy editing that builds addition to these sixty second scenes that never amount to anything other than throwaway. It’s a certainty that this screenplay is either written poorly, or was at the very least harshly editing to leave out some important aspects. One such scene is a courtroom deposition that we as an audience never see, but hear plenty about from three different scenes that mention the importance of it. This plays into the shock I discovered when I checked my clock late in the movie. When I realized that there was still a half hour left in this movie, I wondered how that could be. This character and tracking story respectively, had been through so much within the first two acts of this movie. Even more so when you consider that where this movie should’ve ended, it doesn’t. It drags on further for fifteen more minutes of cringe-worthy, dumbed-down choices that rip away that chance of a happy ending for this fragile presence. The movie’s ending is fine enough, but I feel like it would’ve been better if past dealings were left in the shadows of this maturing man who is moving forward.

‘Wilson’ better serves as a two minute trailer that tightly boxes in the best laughs of the movie, and teaches everything that you need to know about this particular character. Harrelson’s charm is seeking air from the suffocating cloth of material that is being forced against his nose, but occasionally breaks free to remind us that one of the most enjoyable personalities is still under the glasses and thinning hair line. I only wish I could’ve said the same for the bleak, moronic character written for him. Daniel Clowes best work would be better left alone as a book, rather than to turn it into a movie that feels choppy and lacks most of the storytelling dynamics of its material.

3/10

Rings

The visions of the most infamously dangerous videotape returns thirteen years after the events of the initial chapters, in Rings. Directed by F Javier Gutierrez, the film tells the story of Julia (Matilda Lutz), a young woman who becomes worried about her boyfriend, Holt (Alex Roe) when he explores the dark urban legend of a mysterious videotape said to kill the watcher seven days after viewing. She sacrifices herself to save her boyfriend and in doing so makes a horrifying discovery: there is a “video within the video” that no one has ever seen before, sure to bring terrifying imagery to those who embrace it. Rings is rated PG-13 for violence/terror, thematic elements, some sexuality and brief drug material.

To anyone like me who didn’t get much entertainment from the original two Rings movies, the third installment will do absolutely zero to change your perception. The thing with some sequels is sometimes they can be so different in production from one film to the next that you often wonder if you are even watching the same series. There are no doubts what so ever that this is from the same series because every one of them have put a spell of endless sleep over me. Even typing this out now, I think about how beautiful my bed looks. I could swear it’s even winking at me. Rings is the latest horror movie to find itself on the delayed schedule, after a disappointing Summer 2016 season for horror movies shelved this one until February. After viewing it, I can safely say that this is the worst kind of sequel because of how unnecessary it really is. The extending branches of Samara get some story exposition that conveniently we never discovered or even skimmed over from the first two offerings, and you can almost see the cloud of desperation extending around the edges of every scene, because this movie has little to offer in terms of frights or even memorable imagery. A callback to straight-to-DVD films that try to grasp on just a little longer to those days when it was once king.

The presentation once again weighs heavily on the eyes, as this greyish overcast fogs its way through the clarity of every scene and shot. If this benefits in one way only, it is in at least accomplishing the proper tone for Samara and the decay of the environment around her. Setting has never been a problem for this trilogy of films, but brace yourself accordingly because it is the lone positive that I pulled back from the film. The editing feels dicey again, cutting death scenes far too quickly to honor the PG-13 code of horror. I find it difficult to write on paper what even happens during the few death scenes that this movie does garner. How do they die? Beats me, the audience doesn’t see anything, and only hears a slight shriek to convey that our poorly written character has crossed over to the otherworld. One can only wonder how engaging these movies could be if for one second they catered less to teenagers and presented a sequel strictly for the fans who grew up with this series. I say grow up because in the over thirteen years since our last installment, it’s clear that this story and design hasn’t matured a day. There’s still the worst in C.G effects that certainly don’t bring to mind the technological advances of 2016 to mind.

Jump scares return accordingly to properly pay homage to the current formulaic methods of chilling the audience, but there’s something slightly different to its delivery this time. The film’s sound editing almost becomes a parody of itself as scenes with high volume are startlingly reduced from one second to the next with predictable silence that all but highlights something is coming from the darkness. As usual, none of the cuts and increase of volume for these cheap scares are justifiable, most notably in that of an umbrella that seems to make screeching sounds as it opens. Either that thing needs oil or this movie has zero faith in its audience to call it on its bullshit. I’m shooting for the latter. Beyond this and the trimmed down violence, the movie goes so long without a death scene during the second and third acts that the movie instead becomes a testing history lesson on Samara’s dark past, an angle that probably shouldn’t be necessary by the third film in a series, but then again these movies as a whole do move at a snails pace for storytelling.

One angle that I wish this movie would’ve explored more fruitfully was that in the technological improvements since our last movie. With the current age of Youtube and social media alike, Rings had the capability to change this series as a whole for the better, instilling a real fear for the audience at home who love click-bait media. Instead of exploring any of this promising area however, the movie (like its predecessors for VHS technology during the DVD era) is stuck once again in the past, this time engaging in Quicktime software like it’s the newest thing that all of the cool kids are raving about. I’m not saying that Quicktime isn’t still around and used accordingly for Apple hard drives, but I am saying that this reference feels greatly outdated in an age where HD video is at our fingertips with the click of a mouse. After 97 minutes of missed opportunities, the film finally does engage in this venture only to sequel bait us into another movie. This promise for a better movie next time gives me a Dawn of Justice kind of feel, as not enough time and creativity was put into this movie, and instead the producers focused on a future that might not come to fruition after the crowds that have already given this a 7% on Rotten Tomatoes rip it apart.

People can say what they want about the first two Rings movies, but this one will remind you that if they had anything it was in the dependable range of Naomi Watts channeling a woman whose vulnerability horrified audiences when we put ourselves in her shoes. She is GREATLY missed here. So what are we left with? Some of arguably the dumbest and underwritten characters that make up an ensemble cast. What’s funny during the first act is this movie even announces aloud to the audience how easy it would be to end this Samara curse, with temporary self-sacrifice playing a vital importance to survival. So where and why doesn’t that work? Because plot, that’s why. One such girl knows her time is up and sees Samara coming for her through a television set, only to sit there frozen instead of running away and making some attempt at survival. As for the lead protagonists in Lutz and Roe, they leave a little more to be desired in emotional delivery. Lutz has zero logic for why she is the chosen one to Samara’s plan, and has one face whether he’s happy or sad throughout the entirety of the film. Roe feels like he would be one of the first victims in any stronger horror movie, omitting a blank stare sure to kill any audience or cinematic momentum. Thankfully Vincent D’Onofrio does show up to as a historian of sorts to Samara’s curse. Where his character’s arc goes is quite an interesting one because it more-than rips off a popular Summer favorite film from 2016. Perhaps yet another reason why this movie was shelved?

All the craze from horror movies lately have marketing campaigns with such genius as “Don’t say it, don’t think it”. If Rings adds anything to this troupe, it’s in the idea that the audience should follow these characters and do anything to keep from watching this tape. It’s an uneventful, uninspired, insomnia cure of a series that has gone on for three films too long. This is one sequel that does little with its capabilities to adapt to something fresh, instead settling for rehashed mythology from its infamous antagonist to present some confusing plot holes from earlier lessons. VERDICT- Easily the worst of the trilogy

3/10

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

Monster Trucks

A youthful mechanic changes truck racing for the stranger extraterrestrial, in Monster Trucks. Looking for any way to get away from the life and town he was born into, Tripp (Lucas Till), a high school senior and loner, builds a Monster Truck from bits and pieces of scrapped cars. After a freak accident at a nearby oil-drilling site displaces a strange and subterranean creature with a taste and a talent for speed, Tripp may have just found the key to getting out of his dead-end town and a most unlikely friend in a flexible alien who is able to bend and distort his body to fit into Tripp’s newest gas-fueled hog. Monster Trucks is directed by Chris Wedge, and is rated PG for action, peril, brief scary imagery, and some rude humor.

What kind of positive product can you design with 125 million dollars? Quite simply, a Masterpiece. When you look at some of the biggest action thrillers of the last few years, most of them don’t even come close to that ridiculous figure. So what does Monster Trucks have to restore our faith in the American dollar? It turns out not much at all. This is very much a wasted effort on nearly every end of the theatrical spectrum, despite a big name cast that somehow got roped into this charity project against their will. Could that be the answer to the big 125 million dollar question? Did Rob Lowe, Danny Glover or Barry Pepper make the biggest payday of their lives to sell their souls to a higher power? It would certainly justify the theory, because there’s very little positive or reaping reward to this laughably bad project that Chris Wedge has manifested. Monster Trucks feels like 90’s cheese at its piping hottest, and that predictable formula for subplots and animal co-stars that were the hit twenty years ago has managed to find a place again in modern cinema, despite waning interest in it. This was a movie that sat on the shelf for nearly four years after its production wrapped, and it’s clearly evident in nearly every area of the movie that can’t even hit a foul ball off of an underhanded pitch.

The cast is mind-blowing. I mentioned earlier about the trio of actors that got plucked from their respectable careers for something like this, and sadly the juice doesn’t justify the squeeze with any of them, because they are such a small part to this movie. One of the two positives that I had for this film is that it is a pretty solid, albeit terribly miscast ensemble, and there’s certainly some fun to be had for these actors figuratively hurling gas on the fire that was once their careers. When I think of miscasting, I think of actors who are in roles that they have no business being in. One fine example is Rob Lowe as a Southern accent oil tycoon who shows up when he wants to make a paycheck. Lowe is seriously in the movie for about ten total minutes, and the film decides to cast a new villain along the way because of his lack of involvement in the script. How about the other side of the conflict? Lucas Till (26) and Jane Levy (27) are the central protagonists for the movie. Both of them playing high-schoolers against a backdrop of young faces and children that had me laughing every time they cut to a school shot. Thankfully, the school is only shown twice in the movie, otherwise my laughter would’ve ruined a movie for a lot of people. To even try to suspend disbelief in thinking that these two are high-schoolers is absolutely unthinkable. I could see if Till’s character was a moron and maybe got held back ten years in a row, but his character is beyond intelligent with the things he does with automobiles. One of the tremendously awful lines of dialogue in the movie is Levy’s character reacting in shock, “Wow!! You are smart”. Levy looks like Drew Barrymore in Never Been Kissed. If this is feasible on this planet, then surely they could’ve cast Ellen Burstyn or Helen Mirren. Why not?

Then there’s the story. If there’s one positive that I have to say for this aspect, it’s that the movie does have personality. There were times where I forgot what I was watching and got some occurances where I could laugh AT the movie. This is still a negative of sorts because nobody likes their work to be laughed at, but the fact that I could get something out of a bad movie is what will always separate it from the worst of the worst. Other than this, there’s never a moment when you forget that this is a kids movie because implausible scenarios are everywhere. Lets forget for a moment that a monster who can barely move can command a car. Lets think more about the fact that he smashes through walls and cars by himself without any machine, then we are asked to believe that his siblings can be held prisoner by being stuffed in plastic hampers with very little structure or security. HUH? Lets follow that up by talking about how the trucks never fall apart despite jumping on buildings or off of mountains. Not to take away from the 90s aspect however, with a pointless subplot of a school bully who only shows up a few times to spout lines like “That truck looks like a truck took a dump……yeah, that’s what it looks like”. This kid isn’t a central antagonist or anything, it’s just to remind you that this is a high-school story even after you’ve already disbanded it as anything but. So what is the villain’s motivation you ask? Well it’s a big, bad oil company that has no motivation what so ever to see these monsters dead. They could just continue drilling oil and making a fortune, but the movie needs them to be bad and hunt these creatures down, so we can have some kind of conflict. I’ve got a headache.

I couldn’t possibly write this review though, without the visuals that scream 125 million dollars. The 3D is one of the most pointless additions that I have ever endured. There’s nothing of any eye-popping or visual beauty to justify its existence, so my theory is they added it to try to chip away at making back some more of that massive budget. This movie also has severe continuity constraints that proves even the production team couldn’t take this seriously. One fine example of the many is the introduction scene between Till’s character and the monster, where the latter is seconds away from being smashed by a junk yard grinder. The monster escapes, the grinder goes all the way down, and in the very next scene, the grinder is back up top to its starting position. Think that’s the kicker? think again. The next shot shows the grinder all the way down in crushing position paused, which means only a button press could launch it back up. What were they thinking? The CGI though, is perhaps my biggest flaw with the movie. I can give them a round of applause for at least rendering the color and shadow of the creatures accordingly to match the backdrops and human co-stars faithfully. It only took 125 million dollars, but what the hell. My problem is more about hit detection for these computer animated slugs. One thing that I like to do with CGI characters is see the reaction to the live action things they touch and interact with. Take the monster touching Till’s t-shirt, and how there’s no imprint or wrinkle to convey that it is being touched. Lets go bigger. Take the dirt surface of the junkyard when one of the tentacles of the monster is being dragged along it. Is there a line in the dirt to show his interaction? NO!!! of course not. Apparently this monster has no feel to it because its physicality is non existent amongst the things it touches. Treating kids like idiots since the early 20th century.

Monster Trucks isn’t the worst 90 minutes that I’ve spent over the last few months, but it does remind me why I shutter every time I think about January and the horrors that it beholds from effortless voids like this one. This monster clearly has no teeth to its material or production, and Wedge’s film was better left in the 2014 closet where it belonged, free from destroying the careers of Till and Levy who could do better work in their sleep. But as far as spending goes, Monster Trucks is a far better way to burn through 125 million dollars than say giving to a charity or building something great. I found thirty of it, but were still looking for the other ninety-five.

3/10

Why Him?

Bryan Cranston goes toe-to-toe with James Franco for the heart of a mutual love, in “Why Him?”. While visiting their eldest daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch), Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Barb (Megan Mullally), along with their 15-year old son Scott (Griffin Gluck), are introduced to Stephanie’s wealthy and famous entrepreneur boyfriend, Laird Mayhew (James Franco). Laird’s vulgar, gregarious, and blunt personality is slightly overwhelming for Barb and Scott, but causes Ned to downright despise him. However, Stephanie insists that he’s a nice person, and that he makes her happy. But when Laird reveals he plans to propose to Stephanie in only five days, the race to prove himself worthy of her love so Ned can give them his blessing begins. Laird goes out of his way to win over Barb and Scott, while Ned schemes to make sure Laird goes down in flames. “Why Him?” is written and directed by John Hamburg, and is rated R for strong language and sexual material.

For all of its A-list talent and Holiday hijinks, “Why Him?” is more of the same from a yearly Christmas offering of comedic coal in the stocking of disappointment. This is a movie that flounders away countless opportunities to be something more than just toilet humor, but gladly settles for that distinction around every corner. As far as Christmas comedies go, this was one of the very worst that I have ever seen, joining a bronze ranking alongside travesties like “Jack and Jill” and “Christmas Vacation 2”. At 105 minutes, the movie is simply too long to ever get fluently moving. Evidence even suggests that this movie has a longer cut sitting around somewhere because most of the best lines from the trailer don’t exist in this final cut. Instead, we are subjected to a story that is every bit as predictable as it is raunchily bland on humor thrills. My theater, which was half full, was mostly dead on reactions for the entirety of this film, a signal that some people have had enough with this brand of humor. Whether it’s failing punchlines or improv that goes on for far too long, this movie has you covered to fear every Kwanza for the rest of time, and a lot of that reason is the phoned in performances from the people forced to endure this tragedy.

If I was going to get anything out of this movie, I was at least hoping for an enjoyable rivalry between Cranston and Franco. The problem with investing in their characters is many things, but most importantly that they are paying tribute to movies like “Meet the Parents” and “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” that did it much better. Franco’s character is utterly detestable. Sure he’s rich and good looking, but his bottom of the barrel humor and language to people he is supposed to respect makes me question a mental capacity that the movie just never touches on. The film tries to shed this layer for a sensitive and caring side of Franco midway through, but I’m just not buying it. The chemistry between he and Deutsch just doesn’t exist, and the two love interests flail around like brother and sister for a majority of the movie. As for Cranston, there’s very little material for him to work with that doesn’t paint him as a raving lunatic. We’ve all seen this angle frequently where the father tries to change his daughter’s mind, but here it comes off as methodically chaotic. If neither of the two male leads offer a semblance of respectability, how is the audience supposed to invest in them? The only positives that I took away were Megan Mullaly, as well as Keegan-Michael Key who once again steals another movie from top-billers. Key’s Swedish delivery leaves a little more to be desired, but his reactionary quick quips signal that his heart is the only one in the right place, and I was so glad that his character’s humor never needed the below the belt yawners that this movie delved in.

There are a lot of problems with the material, but the predictable factor hinders them further to being practically useless at every pitch. The worst kind of comedy is a predictable one, and movies like these have been happy to place a few obvious setups throughout their screenplay or setting, and I easily telegraphed these from miles away. Not to give away much, but if you see a huge twenty foot bowl containing a dead moose who’s being kept preserved by his own urine, what do you think is going to happen by the end of the movie? I don’t need to even give away the answer because it’s practical, predictable and juvenile to the kinds of things were working with. As if this wasn’t enough, the movie takes any opportunity it can to dumb the audience down by instilling a curse word every other line in the script. Believe it or not, it is possible to make an R-rated comedy without literally dicking around with the script, but you would never know that because the film waters down the power of their impact by overusing early in the film. After ten minutes with Franco’s character, I was reaching for the exit, and a lot of that reasoning is from his delivery in dialogue that doesn’t feel natural in the slightest. Nobody talks like this, and if they do it’s futher proof to distance yourself from that particularly classless person.

I mentioned earlier that some of the improv lasted ages, and that’s because this movie takes the unfortunate task of explaining every modern joke in the same way that it does to Cranston’s 50-something character. That’s right, we’re given the disposition of being treated like the slowest gatherer of information here, a fact made even more funny considering most of Franco’s audiences are Millenials who wrote mind-numbingly awful material so someone like Franco could steal it and use it a year later in a movie to seem cool and hip. Listen, Franco is 38 years old. At this point, it might be best to give up the stoner role that illuminates him in the light of hipster fossil who refuses to leave the party when all of its guests tell him he should. Then there’s the idea to repeat the same five jokes that the movie has a hundred and ten times, and it soon should seem clear how this movie got a nearly two hour run time that clearly over-exhausts a story this one-note and simple. A comedy this thinly layered should get 90 minutes and nothing more. With a quicker run time, I might not have felt the urgency to leave the theater as much, but this film’s plotting pacing will have you screaming “WE GOT IT” in even the biggest lovers of toilet humor.

Overall, “Why Him?” is a question that somebody should’ve asked about this critic as to why I have to continue reviewing this mess year after year. It’s rarely funny, wastes two charismatic male leads that sport two of the truly most wretched of sides for our female lead, and settles for more of the juvenile humor that stoners crafted in a foggy haze after somebody told them that they too could be screenwriters. This is one case where the annoying trailer matches the movie perfectly, and there will be zero cries of false advertising on this one.

3/10

Collateral Beauty

Retreating from life after a tragedy, a man questions the universe by writing to Love, Time and Death. Receiving unexpected answers within the “Collateral Beauty”. When successful New York advertising executive Howard Inlet (Will Smith) suffers a great tragedy in the loss of his daughter, he retreats from life, isolating himself from the relationships that he treasured so closely. While his concerned friends try desperately to reconnect with him, he seeks answers from the universe by writing letters to Love (Keira Knightley), Time (Jacob Latimore) and Death (Helen Mirren), seeking the answers for his unfortunate spell. But it’s not until his notes bring unexpected personal responses that he begins to understand how these constants interlock in a life fully lived, and how even the deepest loss can reveal moments of meaning and beauty. “Collateral Beauty” is directed by David Frankel, and is rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language.

After watching the popular trailer to “Collateral Beauty”, I gathered a couple of aspects that made me even slightly intrigued to check out this film. First of all, there’s Will Smith’s emotional delivery to give us a glimpse at perhaps maybe one more poke at an Oscar nomination. Second, this story revolves around the recovery after a man loses his kids, and his friends are stuck trying to figure out what they can do to help him. Third, Smith is visited by spirits who identify as three different spirits of universal emotion, so there’s a supernatural element to it. And finally, the attitude of this film seems to be a roller-coaster of tear-jerking material that is sure to give audiences a warm feeling around the holidays. Now that I’ve told you all of my observations, I can happily explain to you why NONE of them hit their desired marks for this mess of a movie, and how a movie with so much potential crashed and burned so quickly in a 92 minute sit.

David Frankel isn’t someone who I would pretend to know or understand a lot about his directing, but after scanning through his filmography and seeing his latest big screen offering, I can clearly say that David was in over his head on this project. This is truly one of the poorest directed efforts in terms of creative and artistic expression that I have seen this year. This film lacks a great level of detail when it comes to stacking the emotional depositions for what goes into Howard’s grief. A lot of that can be blamed on the bland script (Which I will get to later), but I never felt inspired by any level of sadness in this movie. In fact, the tone for the film, at least for the first hour, feels like an awkward comedy. I literally had to stop for a moment and make sure that I was in the right movie because I waited and waited for a change in tone that didn’t come until a half hour left in the film, and even then it felt obviously constructed that way, instead of a fluent screenplay that feels authentically gifted at setting the pace.

Then there’s the part of the movie that made me angry; the manipulation. This movie and the trailers that accompany it are two different things. I set the creative ground earlier for what I was expecting from this movie, but what I got was something mind-baffling. The characters are deceitful and conniving, the script dooms Smith to a supporting character in his own movie, and the film dooms us in two twists during the movie that kind of null-in-voids the other one, making a waste of time for what is already a thin screenplay. These are people we are supposed to invest in and feel compassion for? It pains me because I want to spoil how bad every one of you have been fooled with this trailer, but I’m going to let you all have your day in the sun and bask in it yourselves. As for Howard, it’s a very mind-numbing choice to understand how a movie that centers around his actions following his daughter’s death casts him aside to tell these other supporting cast’s story arcs. It feels like this movie was made far too complex for a story that practically writes itself, but that’s what were dealing with here. Smith isn’t a prominent figure in the movie until there is about forty-five minutes left, and by then the game of insensitivity within this film’s characters and tone will leave you heartless when this movie depends on that the most. There doesn’t feel like any kind of transformation by the end of the movie for Howard, and the film’s final scenes feel like a scene or two was left on the editing room floor to diminish the expositional chemistry between Smith and Naomie Harris.

While I’m on the subject of characters, I can talk about the performances that collectively felt wooden in their emotionless deliveries. Albeit except for Smith who always gift-wraps some emotionally touching moments in even the worst of films, the entirety of this cast feel out of place in name value, as well as character motivations that always had me scratching my head. Because the movie takes the time to relate to us how important their character arcs are, we learn three equally taxing storylines that take up much more of the film than they rightfully deserve. There’s something authentic about Edward Norton being an asshole of sorts here, so when the movie wants us to feel empathy for a lack of relationship he has with his daughter, I couldn’t be more distant from the emotional center that this movie tries to enact. Kate Winslet and Michael Pena are phoning their performances in, Helen Mirren has zero versatility in what makes her character stand out, Keira Knightley’s arc is boring, and Jacob Lattimore feels forgettable to the point when it surprises you every time he pops up. As I mentioned, Smith is the only reason to partake in this bomb, and that is because the complexity of his character’s responses deserve to be seen closer and not from a distance like the movie telegraphs for the entirety of the film. The star of the movie who got lead bill on the posters is a supporting character instead, and that fact should tell you everything you should know about the movie you might be partaking in.

Overall, “Collateral Beauty” has no collateral or beauty with my investment in this heartless anti-seasonal manipulation. It’s a reminder to Smith that he must carefully choose his next project because it is the Winter season that is ruining his career, between this “Concussion” and “A Winter’s Tale”. Frankel and screenwriter Allen Loeb pull the wool over the eyes of the audience one too many times, and settle for pretentious pandering instead of uplifting heart. I felt the time, wished for death, and reserved my love for something better.

3/10

Underworld: Blood Wars

Vampire death dealer, Selene (Kate Beckinsale) fights to end the eternal war between the Lycan clan and the Vampire faction that betrayed her, in “Underworld: Blood Wars”. The fifth installment in the series is about The war between the Vampires and the Lycans waging on with the Lycans being led by Marius (Tobias Menzies) being close to defeating the Vampires. He thinks if he can get the hybrid daughter of Vampire Death Dealer Selene, her blood will be the key to defeating the Vampires once and for all. It’s when she battles one of Semira’s people, that he subdues her with a toxin that paralyzes her. Semira then has her man kill the trainees with Selene’s weapon. She then reveals she wants Selene for her blood. Eventually David learns of what Semira is doing and tries to get Selene away and takes her way to the only other Vampire stronghold there is. Eventually Marius learns of this and sets out to find Selene and find out for sure if she knows where her daughter is. And it’s while they are there at the stronghold that David learns the truth about his lineage. “Underworld: Blood Wars” is directed by Anna Foerster, and is rated R for strong bloody violence and sexual material.

“There is no beginning, there is no end, there is only war”. This is a line of dialogue uttered in the final frame of “Underworld: Blood Wars”, and it’s a quote that registers eerily well to what we are forced to swallow in the fifth installment of this franchise. I am someone who did enjoy the original “Underworld”, but I had no idea how this series could grow into a horror/Sci-Fi series that has lasted thirteen years. For a series that I have hated nearly every movie in, “Blood Wars” continues to add to that tradition by providing me one of the truly most dulling sits that I have had in 2016. This movie got pushed back a month from its original release this month, to the numbingly awful graveyard of January releases, and it’s easy to see why. “Blood Wars” instills very little new or inspiring to refresh this series to a new generation of viewers, instead settling for the mundane in presentation and characterization that has made it one of the black marks of saga films going today. At 82 minutes long, there’s very little story or ideas to keep this series fresh, and Foerster’s latest picture feels like the last gasp in a franchise whose best days are clearly behind it.

This is a movie with no fewer than twenty characters coming in and out of the frame at all times, and if you’ve missed a movie or even an introduction in this movie, you will be lost and uninterested in that character as this goes on. With the exception of Kate Beckinsale’s Selene, there’s very little contrast in deposition to what goes into each one of these Vampires or Lycans, so every establishing scene kind of blends together for this and past films. At this point, I doubt that even the most passionate of Underworld fans would be able to give me an in-depth summary of each film, because they all feel like one long ten hour movie that just doesn’t know when to quit. Beckinsale radiates like the glow off of a turd here because she is the only one who ever truly feels like she isn’t phoning it in. There’s little to no chemistry between her and Theo James, mainly because James’s delivery feels very forced for his role in this particular genre. I’m not saying Theo doesn’t have what it takes to be a solid actor, but his casting as this hunter of sorts is a little far-fetched at best. Charles Dance’s return as Thomas is a welcoming one for this critic, but he’s given the bare minimum of arcs to make him truly memorable in this installment the same way he has been for a majority of the series. His screen time is reduced for younger, beautiful models who all look like they got lost in a Hot Topic and decided to play dress up. None of them differ from the other, and the lack of development in their personalities make their deaths that much more null in void.

To give credit where it is due, the action is pulse-setting and very off the wall in terms of creativity and brutality. There is a great lack in terms of CGI believability in the creatures and when they interact with a live actor, but when it’s two actors colliding in frame the fights are very well choreographed and refreshing to get away from the overabundance of exposition for Selene’s blood and the importance it plays in this chapter. The action allowance is unfortunately limited, with the first sequence happening exactly thirty-five minutes into the movie, but you will welcome it like air when it happens because it is the one thing about this movie that I will remember tomorrow. One scene in particular with Selene teaching the Vampires the unpredictability in cage fighting was my personal favorite of the movie because it felt like one of the only scenes where things weren’t taken too seriously. An aspect that this series has long since given up on.

The design and cinematography continues to be hideous for this series, serving tribute to an era of movies that took pride in the darker the backgrounds the better for the movie. When you’re not squinting your eyes and trying to register what is taking place on film, you will be uninspired with the lack of beauty from this monochrome world that looks unoriginal even with the display of scenes from interiors to exteriors. There’s a scene in the film that has been shown in trailers, with Selene fighting this immense Lycan, and the green-screen influence in this scene takes away anything of intrigue that the action gives us. The hit registering on the Lycan is nearly undetected, the glacier background is nearly animated in design with how the characters impact off of it with each devastating blow, and I could’ve sworn that I saw a wire or two during the scenes when Beckinsale leaps at her enemy. It’s all a reminder that very little time or energy went into these effects that feel more like a DVD commentary track instead of an actual finished product.

“Blood Wars” might be perhaps the worst of the Underworld series because it undersells everything about the movie that is supposed to make it different or original again. Foerster knows how to shoot the action with precision, but it’s in the mundane plot and characters where her movie underwhelms at nearly every angle. If nothing else, this installment is a test for completists whose soul intention to throw their money away will be the lone argument in making a sixth movie. This one is competent in lacking the dazzle or charisma that doomed it to the January graveyard.

3/10

Office Christmas Party

The fate of a yearly Christmas bash in a conservative company rests in the hands of its rowdy employees, in “Office Christmas Party”. When the cranky, powerful CEO Carol Vanstone (Jennifer Aniston) tries to close her hard-partying brother Clay’s (T.J. Miller) annual shindig, he and his Chief Technical Officer Josh Parker (Jason Bateman) must rally their co-workers and host an epic office Christmas party like no other in an effort to impress a potential client and close a sale that will save their jobs and restore faith to their boss. After a night of uninvited guests and rowdy debauchery, the employees try to keep order through one crazy ordeal after the next. The latest comedy from directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck co-stars Kate McKinnon, Olivia Munn, Jillian Bell, Rob Corddry, Vanessa Bayer, Randall Park, Sam Richardson, Jamie Chung, and Courtney B. Vance. It is rated R for for crude sexual content and adult language throughout, drug use and graphic nudity.

“Office Christmas Party” is destined to be one of those movies that people overlook for its comically stacked cast, as well as the debauchery that happens that’s sure to be a favorite to the Youtube generation known for five second clips. That’s ultimately what this movie gives us; brief glimpses of a funnier, strongly-paced, and more meaningful movie than the one we got here. I understand that to judge a movie called “Office Christmas Party” might not garner the most positive of responses from my readers who find it difficult to degrade a comedy, but there’s a considerable amount of negatives for this movie, and it doesn’t just begin and end with the terrible title that was chosen for this picture. This is very much one of my least favorite comedies of 2016, and the sum of its humorous glimpses ultimately don’t add up to make this a fluid comedy that always keeps the gut-busting rolling. It’s 100 minutes of the same five jokes that are repeated to the point of beating the audience over the head with it. With the exception of a couple brief laughs, the overwhelming majority of this movie kept me quiet, and that is ultimately what you grade a comedy on when it comes to pass/fail. The lack of memorable zingers is only the slightest of problems with this movie however.

The logical spins are audacious even for a shenanigans comedy. This is a movie that takes place during the biggest blizzard of the year in downtown Chicago, and the effect of snow might as well not even be present because it’s not like any of the cast react to it accordingly. For snow flakes as thick as hail chunks, and the reacting wind blowing through every shot, nobody ever signals being terribly cold or desperate to escape its chilling clutches. Keep in mind that most of the people who encounter the cold aren’t wearing jackets or any major article of clothing to keep them warm. Even funnier, we never once see any breaths from the cold temperatures, signaling how little of consideration actually went into this fluff piece. I’m not apologizing for calling this out because it is the most basic of concepts when it comes to where your film is set. Then there’s the lack of law enforcement, and I do mean lack because they are nowhere to be found in this movie. With the exception of a security guard who might as well be a drinker at the party, there is essentially zero law in this depiction of one of the biggest cities in America, and that’s made even more apparent by how much the characters get away with in this movie. I won’t spoil anything, but with the actions taken in the third act of this movie, everybody involved should at the very least be looking at some prison time. But nope, nothing ever forces regret from their actions in the same vein as a smart debauchery film like “Project X”, and it’s hard to take a movie at face value that fails to explore even the most basic of human responsibilities.

With the exception of Courtney B Vance playing an against-type binger who totally carries the entertainment factor of the party scenes, this is a wasted opportunity to showcase some usual supporting players into the main spotlight of film. T.J Miller isn’t in the movie a lot after the basic setup in the first act, and this is supposedly the main character of our movie. His character feels like what Ryan Reynolds would be cast as if he were still struggling with attaining meaningful scripts, but Miller’s rebelliously immature stance fits the bill quite well. Kate McKinnon continues her weirdo stick in film roles this year. Her character is one of a politically correct middle aged woman, offering a modern approach to work policies. Kate has always been brilliant on Saturday Night Live, but her work in movies have exposed the very thing we feared in the first place; there’s not a lot of material to present to ideas in characters that are nothing more than five minute skits on SNL. It’s time for her to break out on her own terms. The main cast don’t bring anything either. Jennifer Anniston, Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn and Rob Coddry are all playing their usual characters that you’ve seen in much better movies. That reminder will have you begging the question why you’re watching a less superior comedy when these actors have shined on much grander stages. As I mentioned before, Vance is the lone shining spot in this cast, but unfortunately his run is brief. The fifteen minutes that he graces the screen presents us with a refreshing coming out for Vance, whose usual dry gimmicks earn him roles in dramatic offerings. He feels right at home here, and his breaking out is satisfying to an audience starved for a laugh in any angle they can find it. Thank you Courtney, you seriously saved me from walking out.

The script is quite flimsy, and often feels desperate to try to throw something against that imposing 100 minute run time that clearly over-reaches. The one positive I can say is that “Office Christmas Party” at least knows when to call it quits, but it screeches to a grinding halt in pacing across that dreaded finish line. In addition to the lack of laughs, the movie has to remind us every fifteen minutes about where were at in the subplot storyline of saving this company from bankruptcy. This reminder feels forced and very unnatural when it comes to the storytelling, and adds nothing in substance to the idea of this movie revolving around one big party. The most fun I had was watching the mayhem taking place on-screen in this party, but we had to be reminded every few minutes of the overabundance in supporting characters, and just how important their resolutions are to the plot. The answer is not at all. The desperation to showcase no fewer than ten different character story arcs feels desperate to fill the time, relating the lack of depth in script that this film had to stand on its own against some of the more memorable modern Christmas comedies like “The Night Before” and “Bad Santa”. Those films were great because they warmed the heart with an underlying theme that relished in the depth of their scripts, and that lack of heart abuses this movie every chance it gets.

“Office Christmas Party” has about as much energy as you would imagine from a group of forty-year-olds at an all-night raver. The movie is a lot like a marathon of binge drinking, you regret ever doing it in the first place, and promise you’ll try to be a better person in the future. The problem is the trend seems to be that a new one of these comes out every Christmas, with “Sisters” abusing our minds and wallets last year. If this movie did teach me one thing however, it’s that Chicago is the place to be when you want to set fire to public property, damage public property while driving intoxicated, and illegally launch your own internet service that defies other businesses and government regulations. “Office Christmas Party”, I salute you. Not with that one, the middle one.

3/10

Rules Don’t Apply

One young lady’s trip up the ladder of Hollywood’s elite becomes complicated by the game of love between competing suitors. In “Rules Don’t Apply”, the newest film written, directed and starring Warren Beatty, we meet An aspiring young actress in Marla (Lily Collins) and her ambitious young driver (Alden Ehrenreich) struggling hopefully with the absurd eccentricities of the wildly unpredictable billionaire Howard Hughes (Warren Beatty) for whom they work. It’s Hollywood, 1958. Small town beauty queen, songwriter, and devout Baptist virgin Marla Mabrey (Collins), under contract to the infamous Howard Hughes (Beatty), arrives in Los Angeles. At the airport, she meets her driver Frank Forbes (Ehrenreich), who is engaged to be married to his 7th grade sweetheart and is a deeply religious Methodist. Their instant attraction not only puts their religious convictions to the test, but also defies Hughes’ #1 rule: no employee is allowed to have any relationship whatsoever with a contract actress. Hughes’ behavior intersects with Marla and Frank in very separate and unexpected ways, and as they are drawn deeper into his bizarre world, their values are challenged and their lives are changed. “Rules Don’t Apply” is rated PG-13 for sexual material including brief strong language, thematic elements.

“Rules Don’t Apply” is the perfect title for a movie like this. It simply doesn’t follow any rules in filmmaking that deal with structure, direction, conceptual tone, pacing, or even editing. To say that this movie is an incoherent mess is going light on it for the very opinions of pretentious film critics. I’m going to give it to you straight; this is possibly the biggest disappointment of the year for me, as I had previously invested a lot into the comeback of Beatty, as well as the A-list cast that accompany him. This movie about the mysterious Hughes had so much promise and capability to tell a story that very few actually know, but instead it’s a mostly fictional, flimsy piece of film that kept me bored through a majority of it. Beatty’s original directing effort in “Dick Tracy” might not be something that many people enjoyed, but I loved it for its crisp art direction and comic book flow that was certainly ahead of its time. So I was interested to see what the charismatic star had for us twenty-six years later. Boy do I wish I could take that wish back.

This is a dual narrative story that never really focuses on one soul protagonist. One could argue that Ehrenreich, Beatty or Collins is the leading role for this movie, but no answer ever feels distinguishingly satisfying against all other arguments. So immediately we don’t know who’s story this is going to be. There’s a romantic difficulty storyline with Collins and Ehrenreich that would be refreshing by itself when played against the backdrop of 1950’s Hollywood, with all of its taboos and seductions. But I then remembered that this story’s trailer was deeply involved with that of Hughes, in that it followed his everyday wacky situational trysts among the Hollywood elite. What doesn’t work about the Hughes tier of this movie is that after two hours of film I still don’t feel like I know anything about the character. There are certainly some liberties taken with his involvement in Collins fictional character, but I found myself actually checking the Wikipedia for Howard Hughes post movie to see how much was true, and that is what disappointed me. This movie had a great promise to tell Howard’s story, but it cuts him short around every great reveal. For a movie that is deeply imbedded in Hughes, it certainly doesn’t do him any favors in giving us a visionary that the world has come to know him by. This is very much the bumbling, decay side of Howard. This wouldn’t be a problem for Beatty who has great dramatic range, but as a director he stinks at developing a proper tone in attitude for the movie, so the things that should be the saddest are presented in a highlight of light-hearted humor that never feels funny. I felt greatly for the character of Hughes, and wish he was in a stronger movie to relate the kind of empathy that his suffering entailed.

Then there’s the editing that I have never seen anything like. Throughout the film, but in particularly the first act, there’s choppy editing that seems to offer a dual problem of either cutting scenes too short or having them run for far too long. This gave me a feeling that the editor was sometimes on a sugar high in some scenes, but in a coma for others. This aspect never allows the movie to run smoothly from judgmental hands, and every time I found myself invested for even a minute, my faith was cut short time and time again. I can’t believe this got passed for a final product because this is first step movements in the editing superlative. To see some of these scenes end mid sentence without ever cutting back, felt like someone was playing a prank on the audience, and the real scene would be presented later on to feel appropriate to a plot gimmick. But it never does. Some scenes could easily be cut because their new establishing shot between the characters is only used for one sentence, and then cuts us to somewhere else. It’s breathtaking in that it does so much harm to the development of these characters, and this laughably bad factor is the only way I could ever recommend something so lacking.

I would be a joke of a critic if I didn’t mention the pacing, which also gave me a first in my 839 reviews that I have done so far. When you tell somebody that a movie was boring, they typically take that as a film’s pacing was too slow, and they would be correct. That rule however is about to change, as this movie bored me to death because of its fast-pacing, which never slowed down. I’m truly perplexed by how a movie could run so quickly, yet be the most boring thing that you could possibly imagine. There’s a lot that Beatty as a screenwriter hurls at the audience, and with this quick-cut editing that never takes time to let anything soak in, we’re never given the chance to digest the current before absorbing another devastating blow. I seriously lost my belief in this film about halfway through, and couldn’t believe that I still had another hour with these characters because it felt like I had already spent life with every one of them. By the end of this movie, should you choose to see it, you will feel like you just sat through the entire Labor Day marathon of “Band of Brothers”, except ya know, that was great and beneficial to your investment.

As for positives, the movie is at least capably acted by an A-list cast that rivals any other movie ensemble this year. Beatty certainly grasps enough influence among the elite to present some against-type turns for some promising young actors, as well as some familiar veterans. Lily Collins stole my heart during a rendition of her original musical number “Rules Don’t Apply”. What works about her as an actress in this role is that Collins has that 50’s starlet look in her physical appearance, and feels believable playing against the blonde bimbo stereotype that Hollywood feels overrun by. Her sweetness and radiance make her a fitting hit, but what about her love interest. In Ehrenreich, we have already seem him dazzle during the golden age of cinema in “Hail, Caeser”, but here his length in screen time and lines are practically tripled, granting us a longer breath of fresh air for the future. He oozes a kind of Matt Damon charm in his delivery, and certainly captures a range of emotions in the ever-changing diagram of his character. The magic between he and Collins is there, but unfortunately it’s always cutting away to Beatty’s dream role. In that, Beatty does prove he still has it, omitting the unraveling psyche of Hughes later years. With a better direction by himself (Imagine the laughter of that), this could’ve been Oscar brilliance. What is missing though, is there’s never any heart to what makes Hughes tingle as a genius. We’re never given brilliance in execution, and this sadly feels more like another impersonation in movies, as opposed to the actor becoming that person.

This is also a very beautiful picture, as lots of the Hollywood backdrop is well represented through Beatty’s visionary approach. If the guy knows one thing between this and “Dick Tracy”, it’s that he knows how to visually present a film, and I was overwhelmed in “Tree of Life” cinematographer Caleb Deschanel’s artistic touch that always keeps the imagery flowing beautifully. His lively touches for the California backdrop during the big boom era is evident, and Caleb at least increases our imagination positively for this story even if the other presentations don’t always reach that similar height.

Beatty makes films by his own rules, but that isn’t always the best case scenario. “Rules Don’t Apply” is a wasted opportunity at a comeback story not only for Warren, but for Hughes as well. It’s an overburdened and overly-ambitious biopic that cuts corners on nearly every ideal aspect, disappointing the audience in presenting something refreshing for the Hollywood biz-flick that has been told one too many times.

3/10

Shut In

A woman’s dark and terrifying past confronts her in the most benevolent of ways, in “Shut In”. Naomi Watts stars as Mary Portman, a child psychologist who’s life is changed for the worst one night when a horrific accident takes the life of her husband (David Cubitt), and leaves her son (Charlie Heaton) paralyzed. After the dust has settled, one of Mary’s patients Tom (Jacob Tremblay) goes missing, and is ultimately presumed dead. Over the following nights, Mary becomes convinced that Tom’s ghost is haunting her and her bedridden son, bringing out a daily occurance of strange phenomena, and a confrontation with her past that will have her facing her deepest fears. “Shut In” is directed by Farren Blackburn, and is rated PG-13 for terror and some violence/bloody images, brief nudity, thematic elements and brief adult language.

“Shut In” finds itself paralyzed much like one of its lead characters, by the overwhelming nature of choices selected to make this movie so many things which it obviously is not. At the end of the day, this isn’t a psychological thriller or a horror slasher, it’s a Lifetime Television attempt at those things that fail because of its cheaply telegraphed thrills that always miss their mark. When a movie has you bored and reaching for your watch within the first half hour of the film, you MUST speed up the pacing by crafting some backstory exposition or some question answering from the plot synopsis that raises more questions than it rightfully should this early in development. There’s a lot of grasping at any kind of straws to produce a movie warranted of having a big screen debut, but this is just the latest in a year full of cheap thrills plots that produce little to nothing that is ever memorable. “Shut In” would find itself more comfortable in the back of a rotting video store. At least then it’s sure to be seen by more people than it will be in its brief two week release before disappearing from silver screens forever.

As far as cliches go, this one has it all. Poorly telegraphed jump scares….CHECK, overabundance of dream sequences….CHECK, characters making logic defying decisions…..CHECK. If this movie serves as anything, it’s an instructional video on what NOT to do in 21st filmmaking. By now these kinds of things spoofs have spoofs, so to see this presented as a straight-laced story feels anything but authentic. There’s a solid idea here to place this story in the isolated location between a snow storm and miles away from any kind of neighbor or authority. I dig that direction in any kind of film, but the movie’s production team does nothing to accentuate this scenario or even give us the audience anything to hang our hats on for what’s keeping our characters so secluded. During the final chase sequence, snow never looks like it even happened, as much of the sidewalks and walkways have spoiling evidence in footprints that are so easily seen. The best parts of movies like “Storm of the Century” or “The Shining” is that the claustrophobia plays tricks on the mentality of our characters by forcing them to spend time with their gravest fears. Not here however, as the characters weave inside and out through what is described as the biggest storm of the year. A single serving of the illogical that this film gave me.

The acting is kind of disappointing in everybody but Watts. She gives what can be described as a very chilling walk between her past and present, and living with the kinds of regrets that such events have left her as. She very much finds her life in a paused position, forbidden from moving forward because of the daily reminder that she is burdened with from her son’s new position on life. This forced me to have great empathy for her character, but never did anything to further this arc in the direction of substantial backstory. Everything is played in the present day, and I think that is a real mistake when it comes to the major twist that this movie entails. More on that later. The real disappointment with the performances comes in Jacob Tremblay who has been falling fast since his Oscar worthy turn in 2015’s “Room”. Like “Before I Sleep”, Tremblay once again is wasted in favor of using him as purely a visual chill for facial reactions and details. This is a shame because I feel that Tremblay is wise above his years in presenting authentic child performances that chill you to the core, and this movie simply doesn’t have anything to compliment him on, and it’s a real shame as child acting isn’t something that should be under-appreciated or underwhelmed.

I mentioned earlier a twist that happens midway through this movie, and I still don’t fully understand how I feel about this. On one hand, everything is changed dramatically in tone and composition from here on out, crafting a design of bat-shit crazy that is enjoyable in the same light as a film like “When the Bough Breaks”. But on the other hand, the twist makes absolutely no sense what so ever when you consider the aspects of what we went through to get there. I won’t spoil it for the readers, but for this reveal to make any sense, the news on live television would’ve had to be manipulated, and one of our main characters has to a time traveler that even Christopher Lambert could be proud of. I was aghast at just how little care or concern was put into this script that never worried about how logically shallow their structuring was. It feels like the writers typed out the plain cheese of a modern day horror story and then didn’t do a re-draft afterwards to correct some of the nagging glares in continuity. The twist is made even worse because it happens with about thirty-five minutes to go in the movie, and the film just kind of drowns on from there, stuffing us with scene after scene of illogical action that will make you scratch your head at how this movie tried to play one of these characters off as a genius before more was discovered about them.

“Shut In” tortures its audience through three acts of inconsistencies that never add up or amount to anything other than the buffet of cliches that you can play horror bingo with. With the exception of Watts dedicated performance, as well as its compact setting that at least attempts to set the mood, this movie failed on every range of the spectrum for anything that was even remotely chilling. Shut this one in a dark and deserted room and make sure it never gets out to the public again.

3/10