Posts by thegreatmoviedebates

Skyscraper Review: Dwayne Johnson With a Vengeance

Dwayne Johnson’s new action flick Skyscraper is a hard movie to put a finger on. I guess it’s best summed up by the following two words: ridiculous and inconsequential.

As many have pointed out, the plot of Skyscraper mimics the basic formula of Die Hard: action guy (Dwayne Johnson) in tower fights European terrorists in order to save family (his wife being played by Neve Campbell). The plot attempts to get deeper than this, but overall it doesn’t stray from this premise.

Several obvious MacGuffins, Deus ex Machinas, and other overused tropes make Skyscraper a painfully standard action movie. It borrows every last detail from other films that have already done these ideas much better. It’s sterile, Hollywood green screen look is matched only by its lifeless acting and countless inconsequential scenes.

A character will double cross Johnson, only to be killed moments later. Johnson will be seriously wounded and must perform first aid on himself, only to be perfectly fine in the following scene. Someone pivotal to the story will be introduced into the film, only to be forgotten entirely.

In the end it’s all filler gunk that has no real impact on the convoluted and not well-thought-out plot.

As strange as it is, there were multiple instances where the film set itself up for some great foreshadowing. Particularly the opening scene (where Dwayne loses his leg) and the climax (the final showdown with the villain), both of which were formatted similarly. So similar in fact that I hoped they’d make an insightful comparison to the two scenes, maybe about how Dwayne had grown as a person and wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. But no, they squandered that potential too. They instead try and top the memorable ending to Die Hard by adding in a death scene so corny, so over the top, that I couldn’t help but laugh hysterically.

One of the most astonishing mistakes that Skyscraper flaunts happened whenever Dwayne would leap off a ledge and catch himself safely on the other side. You could actually see his hands completely miss the ledge in the first shot yet cut to him magically catching the ledge in the next. It may sound minor, but this little goof-up is basic editing that the makers of Skyscraper carelessly neglected.

The sloppy editing was incredibly consistent, becoming the biggest nuisances of the film. Action scenes were choppy and often not very satisfying to watch. What’s worse is sometimes the screen would go dark during intense fighting sequences, which coupled with the bad editing made Skyscraper an incoherent mess.

The most enjoyable part of Skyscraper is just accepting the nonsensical nature of the film and watching Johnson live through the impossible. Leaping off exploding buildings, hoisting himself up by thin pieces of rope, defying gravity, Dwayne Johnson is probably the most impermeable action hero I’ve ever seen.

Nevertheless, even this easygoing mindset had its limitations.

Ultimately my feelings towards Skyscraper are ones of confusion and amazement. 125 million dollars spent on a cheap Die Hard knock-off with terrible editing, so-so effects, and a cheesy script. And for what purpose? I refuse to believe for a second they thought this could make its money back. Dwayne Johnson can bring in a lot of money (as we’ve seen with Rampage and Central Intelligence), but there’s no way he can save this film.

The Verdict: D

-Zachary Flint

The First Purge: White People Ruin America (A Review)

After the financial success of not one, not two, but three Purge movies, I guess it was inevitable that Blumhouse would sooner or later make a fourth Purge flick.

In The First Purge, we see the political origins of how the Purge eventually came to be, and how the initial round of participants respond to the carnage. It turns out that the first purge didn’t take place all throughout the U.S., but instead acted as a trial run on Staten Island. Think Escape from New York but not just criminals. We follow an unlikely group of heroes as they attempt to survive the night; while they also discover a sinister plot by the political party who began it all, the New Founding Fathers of America.

The First Purge makes the grave mistake of thematically following in the footsteps of the 2013 Ethan Hawke Purge movie. The film spends most of its time trying to convince the audience that this is some realistic dystopian future that the United States is heading towards rather than give the audience what they came for. People watching The Purge want to see mindless violence, awesome kill sequences, and entertaining costumes. All of which we were given very little of.

The bottom line is that The Purge is a ridiculous concept, period. It cannot and will not ever happen in real life. Please make whatever pun you’d like about the current political climate, because I’m sure it’ll be better than anything in this film.

The movie lazily tries to comment on all things race related; including poverty, crime, violence, and an assortment of other things. This is a feat The First Purge is not properly equipped to deal with. The film’s basic principles are such thinly veiled propaganda that, when I left the theater, I had a bruise from where filmmakers beating me over the head with their nonsense.

If the messages of white vs. black weren’t already too evident for the viewer, there’s even a scene where white supremacists commit mass murder inside a black church. I personally found this to be a bit out of place and too heavy-handed for what this film is, but maybe that’s just me.

The poor directing and camerawork often got in the way of enjoying the few good scenes of action sprinkled about. Towards the climax of the film there’s a big fight inside a dimly lit apartment complex that started out pretty promising. The imagery is quite frightening and intense, and the location itself was a fascinating one. But as soon as the action begins, this obnoxious strobe effect gets intercut throughout the scene and distorts the audience’s view. Why purposefully make it difficult for us to see the best part of the movie?

At the very least the movie was well-acted, a particularly tough task when the level of filmmaking is subpar. I give special props to Y’lan Noel, whose acting I highly enjoyed. He somehow managed to give a convincing performance despite the series’ goofy limitations.

If The First Purge would’ve dropped the serious shenanigans and gave audiences more of what they came for (cool costumes/masks and intense action) I think more could’ve been redeemable. Unfortunately, this pill is hard to swallow. The writers behind The Purge want us to take this ridiculous plot as sensible commentary on modern society yet throw in cartoon-like villains named Skeletor. What an unbelievable cluster of a series.

All in all, don’t let this film trick you into believing it has something intelligent to say. It doesn’t.

The Verdict: D-

-Zachary Flint

Ant-Man and the Wasp Review

After the exciting but desolate film that was Avengers: Infinity War, it’s nice to see Marvel’s Ant-Man sequel be an upbeat and cheerful continuation of this franchise.

In Ant-Man and the Wasp, we see our hero Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) down on his luck (i.e. on house arrest) after being convicted for his so-called treasonous actions in Captain America: Civil War. He’s soon contacted by Hank (Michael Douglas) and Hope (Evangeline Lilly) Pym, who believe their wife/mother Janet may still be alive in the Quantum Realm. One thing leads to another, and soon Scott adorns the Ant-Man suit once again to fight off some new enemies and help find Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) before it’s too late.

Ant-Man strikes me as a more comedy-focused film than most Marvel movies in the franchise. Even when considering Spider-man: Homecoming and the Guardians of the Galaxy movies (which are also comedies), the material never gets as light-hearted and thin-plotted as it is here. There’s more time set aside to focus on long-running gags and even entire scenes dedicated to pushing a singular joke.

This would’ve been an interesting take, if the style of humor used in Ant-Man wasn’t so hit or miss with the audience. Some jokes garnered uproarious laughter while others got complete and total silence. I chuckled more frequently than most individuals in the theater, and I myself didn’t find Ant-Man that funny. Some bits would start out unfunny and stale but redeem themselves with a hilarious witty line. Other scenes would be hysterical right off the bat, but then draw-out the joke too long and ultimately devolve into boring jibber-jabber.

The action scenes are fast, flashy, and occasionally very creative, pretty much what you’d expect this time around. Every now and then there’s a new camera trick, a goofy moment, or a stunt we haven’t seen yet that is visually exciting and memorable. I never thought I’d see a Hello Kitty Pez dispenser thrown out the back of a moving fan and knock out two guys on motorcycles. And now I have.

Ant-Man and the Wasp does a little too much plot juggling for what the story really is. Taking a quick glance at the two-hour runtime as well as the numerous characters incorporated into the flick, you’d think there was more substance to the storytelling.

Still, this was a sturdy enough film to support a slew of great casting choices and consequently many powerful performances. The cast easy being the strongest component of Ant-Man and the Wasp. Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Douglas, Laurence Fishburne, the list goes on. And because these actors pulled off great performances, they even managed to make the message of the film (which was your run-of-the-mill morals on friendship, family, and teamwork) feel genuine and not cheesy.

Dedicated Marvel fans will surely enjoy Ant-Man and the Wasp, especially for its tie-ins with Infinity War. Those not as committed to the series may find it hard to get into the thin plot and semi-functional comedy routine. There’s enough great performances mixed in to make this a fun viewing, but I’m not sure if it was entertaining enough to warrant a rewatch anytime soon.

 

The Verdict: C

-Zachary Flint

Sicario: Day of the Soldado Review

I was initially surprised to see the nail-biting 2015 drama Sicario get a direct sequel. The film was pretty conclusive and didn’t leave much story left to be told, so it was interesting to see what they’d do next. What was even better about this news was that Benicio Del Toro, arguably the best character in the film, would be reprising his role as a mysterious and sometimes frightening hitman.

I immediately knew that regardless of the quality of the film itself, Del Toro would deliver another solid performance and give more depth to a fascinating individual. How right I was.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado brings FBI agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and hitman Alejandro Gillik (Benicio Del Toro) back to Mexico to fight the cartel. However, this time drugs aren’t the name of the game, its people.

Attempting to start a war between the numerous cartel clans, Alejandro kidnaps the daughter of a kingpin named Isabela Reyes (Isabela Moner). As they dig themselves deeper into the mess they’ve created, the life of young Isabela becomes in jeopardy, and Alejandro begins to question what exactly he’s fighting for.

I have to say that this concept doesn’t work as well when we don’t have that fish out of water character (like Emily Blunt) to latch onto. In the first Sicario, we the audience were just as helpless and confused as Blunt. We cared about her, felt sorry for her, and learned all the crazy plot twists along with her.

Here we have Isabela (a very well-written character) as an innocent child to care for, but that doesn’t work as well when it comes to plot suspense and tension. We’re constantly being fed spoonful’s of plot to come before the events even take place. It makes for some interesting scenes, but nothing feels as dramatic or tense with Brolin and Del Toro holding our hand through the chaos.

Speaking of Del Toro, one advantage Sicario: Day of the Soldado has over its predecessor is giving more focus on the character of Alejandro. This time around he isn’t as mysterious or menacing, and we even see a softer side to his existence. There’s some touching moments between Alejandro and Isabela that turn out to be the best scenes in the film. Moments that properly convey the message of how children and families are negatively affected by acts of terrorism and counter-terrorism.

Sicario plays out as a fairly solid drama/action film, at least up until the last ten minutes. A couple of very bold choices are made in the direction of the film, and I was suddenly shocked into excitement over what might happen next to our leads. Lots of buildup for what is ultimately a letdown ending. Sicario concludes on a note that’s confusing, nonsensical, and overall anticlimactic. I feel like there may have been several scenes taken from the final cut that tied everything together. Rather than end the film hitting the message home, they instead decide to leave us with an obscure cliffhanger. How disappointing.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado is an entertaining yet flawed mix of action and drama, with some light social commentary and great performances sprinkled in. If you’re expecting anything as hard-hitting or thought-provoking as the first Sicario, you’ll be leaving the theater more than dissatisfied.

The Verdict: C+

-Zachary Flint

Incredibles 2 Review

It’s hard to believe it’s been 14 years since the last Incredibles movie graced the big screen. Despite technical advancements in films (like Inside Out and Toy Story 3) as well as better storytelling approaches (in films like Up and WALL-E), The Incredibles is still picked out by fans as among the best.

I’m not sure if there’s really a solid answer to why this is, but maybe it’s because The Incredibles tackles real life, complex issues (like marriage and infidelity) while also being a cool, kid friendly action movie. The Incredibles has a little bit of something for everyone, and there really isn’t an audience demographic who’d dislike this.

So, after many years of patiently waiting, Pixar and superhero fans finally get another dose of their favorite family of supers.

The film takes place directly after the previous installment (I love when a movie can do this properly) with the attack of the Underminer. After a public blunder that further calls the role of superheroes in society into question, the Incredibles (i.e. the Parrs) must go into hiding once again. That is, until they’re approached by Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), a business tycoon and superhero fan who wants to help gain public support to legalize supers. To do this they enlist in the aid of Helen Parr (Holly Hunter) aka Elastigirl to display the benefits of superhero intervention in society. While Helen’s off saving the world, Bob (Craig T. Nelson) is forced to become a stay-at-home parent, raising their rambunctious children. We get to see new and old characters, fun commentary on everyday life, and a malicious plot to undermine the existence of supers.

Incredibles 2 is quickly becoming another beloved installment into the Pixar canon. However, claiming it as a game changer or the next big cinematic leap in animation would be a major embellishment.

The visual quality saw a great improvement over its predecessor; and it’s interesting to see how far animation has come even within the past 14 years. The backgrounds and character movements are crisp and clear; making action sequences and special effects more appealing to the eye. A lot of the artwork in the film has this distinct futurism look to it that I took notice of almost immediately. I’m a fan of this style of science fiction imagery and found it nice to see here.

The villain of Incredibles 2 called the Screenslaver, whose identity is part of the big surprise twist, is sadly quite obvious from the get-go. It’s in fact so apparent that your first immediate guess is exactly right. It’d call this a minor nitpick, but I think even younger kids might find this to be a bit too blatantly obvious.

Screenslaver as a character is kind of ominous and has a fascinating monologue full of philosophical and ideological jargon. There’s actually a plethora of thought-provoking ideological clashes displayed in Incredibles 2 that I really admired. The biggest of these ideological themes is the place of superheroes in our society, which we see reflected in the beliefs of Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, Winston Deavor, and the Screenslaver. It’s not the first time this has been debated in film (even being mentioned in the first Incredibles); however here I feel like we really get at the heart of the conflict in a fascinating way.

If there’s anyone who decides to take up arms against The Incredibles 2, it’s going to be over the pretty stagnant story, which perhaps is not as exciting as everyone wanted it to be. This could potentially be the case especially when you consider it’s taken Brad Bird so many years to get around to the sequel. Fans have been waiting so long they expect the best possible story to be told, and I’m not sure if this was it. I can’t help but feel that Pixar coaxed him into production far before he was ready. Really, the “stay-at-home dad” plot/ retread morals of the first film isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s understandable.

That being established, I think most audiences young and old can get a lot of entertainment value out of Incredibles 2. Even with the release of several superhero films a year (and countless television series), there’s something about The Incredibles films that really draws in its viewers. In this case, I think it’s because we’re all already in love with all these characters, and The Incredibles 2 just builds on top of that connection. The Parrs are an interesting group of superheroes that we love seeing interact and get into trouble.

How well the film will age after the superhero craze dies down is a good question that I don’t have the answer to. But if audience reactions are any indicator, I’d say The Incredibles 2 will be cherished for years to come.

The Verdict: B+

-Zachary Flint

Hereditary Review

The intent of most great horror flicks is to create an unsettling, suspenseful atmosphere for the moviegoer. It usually takes a film at least thirty minutes to effectively establish this mood, and sometimes the effort is in vain. Therefore, I consider it a true feat when a film like Hereditary sets this disturbing tone less than sixty seconds in. Somehow managing to keep the creepy ambiance going throughout the whole picture and frightening me far after I left the theater.

Attempting to summarize Hereditary does no good, as it risks bewildering prospective viewers and spoiling the many twists and turns. It’s basically about a small family gripping with the loss of their grandmother, a rather strange woman known to have dabbled in the occult. As time goes on, bizarre events begin to unfold that makes us question our ideas on fate and inheritance.

This is the kind of well-designed horror film that critics go nuts for and audiences shrug off in disgruntled confusion. Perhaps Hereditary gets a little too abstract and bizarre for mainstream audiences to latch onto. Take the ending scenes of example. The movie ends on a , even vile note that’s meant to leave you grasping for answers instead of feeling warm and satisfied.

Despite it’s limited audience, Hereditary is bone-chilling. There’s simply no other way to say it. I very highly enjoyed it’s blend of serious and realistic subject matter, complex themes of mental illness, and fusion of abstract horror elements. The camera work is done at such a leisurely pace, quietly crawling down corridors and holding on shots for uncomfortably long periods of time. Several moments left me on the edge of my seat begging for the film to just get on with it, as something terrifying sat silently in the corner of the shot.

Toni Collette deserves special praise for her chilling, disturbing performance as a mother at wits end. In multiple instances she has emotional breakdowns and blowups that sometimes will scare you and other times just leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. One moment that I found particularly crazy is when she attends a group therapy session for those grieving the loss of loved ones. Collette proceeds to dump out all her emotional baggage for the whole group to see, leaving them all in an awkward state of shock. Truly discomforting.

So, while Hereditary is a stylistic and thrilling movie, it’s a very slow build to a payoff only those with zero preconceptions and expectations will truly enjoy. It shares many similarities to films like The Witch and It Comes at Night, requiring much interpretation to have a meaningful experience. If these movies aren’t really your thing, I’d stick with A Quiet Place, and stay far far away from Hereditary.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

Solo: A Star Wars Story Review

 

After several major production issues plaguing its release, Solo: A Star Wars Story finally arrives to cautiously optimistic audiences everywhere. With directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller fired (replaced by Ron Howard), an editor canned, half the original film scrapped, and acting coaches galore, Solo was a ticking time bomb of disappointment. And after viewing it in a half-filled theater with not so excited fans, I can in good faith report that yes, the production issues showed. Boy did they show.

Solo: A Star Wars Story details the origins of the beloved smuggler Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich). From his humble beginnings of poverty, to his service in the Empire, and finally to his days of smuggling, we see Han go from point A to point B. And, that’s about it. Along this all too familiar journey we meet his mentor Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), as well as his first love Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). Both of whom help to shape Solo into the man we know him as today. Kind of.

While I was personally dissatisfied with both Rogue One and The Last Jedi, never has a Star Wars film felt this dirty. While plenty of problems with the film can be contributed to the rocky production, many creative choices made felt just like a tug at your wallet. Even the special cameo of a long lost Star Wars character felt like cheap gimmick, and honestly a tad corny too. A good general description of the entire flick.

The bottom line for Solo is that’s a generic sci-fi adventure, full of poorly written characters, a terrible portrayal of Han Solo, and even a ridiculous social justice warrior robot (unfortunately pulling Star Wars into the 21st century culture).

If there was a saving grace of Solo, it was definitely Donald Glover and his portrayal of Lando Calrissian. Everyone is praising his role in this film, and there’s good reason for it. Glover was a phenomenal choice for the smooth-talking space pirate, and the role felt tailor-made for his personality.

Despite the great performance of Glover, emotional investment was far from Solo‘s forte. With characters coming and going throughout the picture without the slightest bit of care or concern coming from the audience. Not once was I sad or surprised about a character’s death. And from observing the dead silent crowd I watched Solo with, I don’t think anyone else was concerned either.

Perhaps the biggest infraction in the whole film, the true reason this fundamentally doesn’t work as a Star Wars film, is that they portrayed Han Solo incorrectly. When we first meet his character in A New Hope, he’s a genuine narcissistic jerk. All he cares for is money. Period. Contrast that to this film, where he does care about others and not just money. The filmmakers put up this front like he’s a conflicted antihero, but we the audience know better. They couldn’t end the film portraying Han how he is in A New Hope, because that wouldn’t wrap the story up in a nice package. Instead, fans must now reconcile the inconsistent personalities of Han Solo between the two films. Oh joy!

On top of that, numerous double crosses and betrayals from several characters will leave you asking the simple question, “What was the point of all this?”. The double crosses are so strange and frequent that it may leave some young viewers confused and repel others (like myself) from ever watching Solo again.

I guess those with an unwavering love for all things Star Wars will probably find only minor inconsistencies and idiosyncrasies that hinder their viewing experience. For those not as indoctrinated, Solo: A Star Wars Story was a venture into completely unnecessary territory. What was supposed to be cool and exciting was underwhelming, and what was supposed to make Han look like a badass was just cheesy in the worst way imaginable.

In my mind, how I imagined the Kessel Run went down (as well as how Han got his blaster, and how he met Lando and Chewbacca) is much more creative and entertaining than what’s portrayed here. In fact, I’d rather pretend that this isn’t even cannon to the Star Wars Universe, like how Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is to Indiana Jones. A cash grab farce.

There are so many great stories you could tell in a universe as vast as Star Wars, so why waste the time on something like this that’s best left to the imagination?

The Verdict: D-

-Zachary Flint