Wonder Woman Review

Gal Gadot wholeheartedly rose to the challenge put forth by DC Films, delivering a strong performance in their first film to be coherently structured. With a strong story, good characters, and a surprisingly well crafted message, Wonder Woman has the marks of a well-made, quality film.

The film starts out with the back story to our main protagonist, Wonder Woman (played by Gal Gadot). Before going by the name of Wonder Woman, she was known as Diana, princess of the Amazons. The Amazons being a race made up of only women who live on a remote island. As princess of the Amazons, Diana lives a rather peaceful and sheltered life, well-trained in combat but free of any conflict. Everything changes when an American pilot named Steve (Chris Pine) crash lands on the island, who tells Diana about the escalating war going on in the outside world. Very concerned with the well-being of others, Diana then decides to leave her home for the first time. And with the help of her new friend, Diana thrusts herself into the heart of World War I, determined that she can help end the fighting.

The character of Wonder Woman isn’t how she appeared in Batman v. Superman, where she came off as unnecessary, weak, and relatively boring. In this picture, everything is actually reversed. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman gives young girls the opportunity to have a good film role model, someone with robust morals and the will to always do good. Wonder Woman also knows how to fight, and takes part in some fast-paced and engaging action sequences.

The action, taking place mostly in a WWI trench warfare setting, remained as gritty as a PG-13 rating could allow. We see some of the real life repercussions of war, including amputee soldiers and homeless civilians. This was a neat addition that I didn’t expect to see, one that works fittingly with the message Wonder Woman has to offer.

Wonder Woman isn’t without its flaws, just like all superhero films. Now and then I’d come across a character with little to no point, other than to serve as some unneeded comic relief or to supply some obvious plot information. These few characters felt unnecessary to the overall story, and were more of a hindrance or distraction than anything.

One little touch that I really enjoyed about this film is that it has very little to do with the rest of the DC Universe, and makes no attempt to connect with future installments. In doing this, Wonder Woman stands much better on its own as an independent piece to the series. This is an area that, unfortunately, Marvel Studios often lacks in with its films.

Wonder Woman isn’t a masterpiece of cinema, as some people would have you believe. And few superhero films are! What Wonder Woman really is, is a step in the right direction for future DC projects. It’s a fun, well-shot, and structurally sound movie, with a truly admirable protagonist.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory Review

It’s become a recent trend for online critics to go back to beloved films like Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and label them as overrated or lackluster. Perhaps in some feeble attempt at sounding more intelligent than the rest of us blokes. I am not, for the most part, that critic.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory remains, after almost fifty years, a funny and entertaining film. One that I can continue to re-watch with the same level of enjoyment every time.

The film centers on a young boy named Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum), whose impoverished English family lives near a world famous chocolate factory. This factory, owned by the reclusive Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder), sends out five golden tickets hidden inside its chocolate bars. These golden tickets give five lucky people the chance to see the inside of the factory. Charlie’s life changes forever when he obtains one of these coveted tickets, winning him and his grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson) a tour of one of the strangest places in the world.

All the characters in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory are performed very well. I particularly liked how the main protagonist of Charlie was written and played like a normal boy. However, Gene Wilder really steals the show, as his terrific portrayal of Willy Wonka is by far the best aspect of the film.

Over time, I’ve come to highly respect the acting talent of Gene Wilder (from such films as Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein), as I feel he brings a lot to every character he plays.  He’s overall a very mysterious character, as you really never understand his motives. Even in his introduction to the film, Wonka deceives the audience into thinking he is handicapped. Wonka is rude, but also polite. He likes to give the impression that he’s careless about the well-being of others, but ends up showing a much softer side to his personality.

The interior of the chocolate factory is truly a place of pure imagination. Everything about this place is fascinating, and in need of more exploration. From the wacky, nonsensical inventions, to the strange chocolate river flowing through the middle of the factory, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is a visual wonder.

Since the first time I saw Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory as a teen, it has increasingly grown on me with each viewing. It’s pure family-fun entertainment that I’m sure just about anyone could enjoy. Gene Wilder’s sarcastic (yet lovable) performance as Willy Wonka remains one of my favorite film characters to date. Despite a few dated aspects (most notably, the music), this is a film I’m sure I will continue to revisit time and time again.

The Verdict: A-

-Zachary Flint

Signs Review

In all honesty, I don’t really understand the appeal for Signs. The film is riddled with so many plot holes that, fundamentally, it just doesn’t work.  Yet, for some reason, fans of Signs are willing to overlook the many flaws and still somehow declare it as a great movie.

Signs stars Mel Gibson as Graham Hess, a former preacher who lost his faith after his wife was killed in a car accident. He lives with his brother (played by Joaquin Phoenix) and kids on a small farm in Pennsylvania, where crop circles started appearing almost overnight. Along with these crop circles, other strange events start taking place all around the world. Marking what might be the start of an alien invasion that could end human civilization on Earth forever.

I’ll go ahead and start with what I like about Signs, that being the mood and atmosphere. The film does an effective job at creating this eerie mood that is, truly creepy. The sparse use of a soundtrack also added to how eerie Signs generally was.

Sadly, all the acting in the film resembled typical Shyamalan-style dullness. Just about everyone speaks in this low pitched whisper with a blank, expressionless stare. I can’t tell if Shyamalan was going for artsy, dramatic performances or if the poor acting was unintentional. Either way, the performances in Signs were incredibly boring and drab.

The camerawork was unfortunately not much of an improvement from the acting. There were so many shots of uncomfortable close ups that the film became very obnoxious to watch. There were also these long sequences where the camera would continue to pan 180 degrees between two characters talking. This was also quite annoying, and came off as really pretentious. It was as if Shyamalan was trying too hard to make the camerawork interesting, while in the process drawing attention to how bad it was.

The alien in the film is the exact same generic alien audiences have seen a million times over. There is so much buildup throughout the film for these supposedly frightening aliens that when you finally see them, it’s extremely disappointing. I don’t know why this design was chosen, but it sucked.

Now, I’ve saved my biggest issue with the film for last, an issue that I feel prohibits Signs from being considered anywhere near a good film. That being, how the aliens can’t open doors, and are easily killed by water. Why is it that an advanced alien race with technology far beyond our own, would invade a planet made up of seventy percent water, if their weakness is water? Also, how can the aliens not understand the concept of opening a door, seriously? These are obviously concepts that were neglected during the writing process.

The plot issues with Signs go far past just the few aspects I mentioned, which is why I am confused that so many people like it? Critics and audiences went nuts when Signs originally came out, people even said the film resembled a work of Hitchcock. I know I’m the minority opinion on this one, so maybe I’ll never understand its appeal.

I think the eerie mood that Signs builds with its slow pace and reserved use of sound makes for a premise with a lot of potential. Where Signs is unsuccessful, is in its execution. There were just way too many plot holes, lazy writing, and ideas that weren’t thought all the way through for this film to be good.

I want to like more of Shyamalan’s work beyond The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, because he clearly has talent. However, somehow I get the feeling he’d prefer to just turn out films with pretentious camera work and major plot holes, like Signs.

The Verdict: D-

-Zachary Flint

The Belko Experiment Review

The Belko Experiment is an ugly, ugly film. An ugly film that may or may not be aware of how morally pessimistic it is. An ugly film that tries to hide its excess of violence behind the plot of an evil social experiment, but we the audience know better.

Suddenly an average day at the office becomes a fight to the death, as a strange voice over the intercom starts telling the employees of the Belko Corporation to kill one another. The 80 employees, many of whom are friends, must now turn against one another for survival. Many will die, and only the strong will live.

One thing that this film manages to do well is hold your attention. From just the first few minutes of the film, the viewer is already sucked into the unusual premise. Since the film is only 88 minutes long, everything goes by at a relatively fast pace. The Belko Experiment wastes no time whatsoever, and dives head first into the madness.

I found the acting to be pretty solid in The Belko Experiment. I enjoyed John Gallagher Jr.’s performance as the protagonist, as I felt he represented a sane point of view towards the violence. At least, till towards the end of the film. I also really liked all the main antagonists as well, including Tony Goldwyn and John C. McGinley. They were both pretty absurd and crazy, playing the parts they were given well. I never knew what move they would make next, which I guess is another plus.

The lighting work of The Belko Experiment is also worth mentioning, as I feel it helps to make the film more stylish. At one point the building our cast is stuck in goes pitch black, and all there is for them to see is a glowing red light reflecting off their faces. This was a good visual effect, and there are plenty of other good effects like it throughout the film.

Unfortunately, what gets me is that The Belko Experiment maintains a morally ambiguous message in the worst kind of way possible. The audience sees the violent murders of many middle-class workers for, ultimately, no reason whatsoever. Even our main protagonist, someone who believes that life is sacred and that murder for self-preservation is unethical, regresses into a murderous spree. This shows the audience that even the good guy who tries to do the right thing can turn into a homicidal killer. This completely disregards any possibility of the film ending on a positive, morally uplifting note. What a depressing, overly violent, and downright pessimistic message.

This level of pessimism and violence doesn’t mix well with the ironic humor The Belko Experiment tries to pull. A lot of the attempts at humor got no response at all from the theater audience. Most likely because there was nothing funny for the characters to joke about, given the situation. Other than a few funny line deliveries by the stoner character, the humor just comes off as tasteless.

I’ve been trying to understand what this film was originally trying to go for, but I’m not exactly sure. At first I thought the film might go for a social conformity message, about the lengths some people will go to obey authority. It makes sense, and it would be the obvious choice, but I feel the ending of the film throws this out the window too. I won’t give too much away, but the final resolve is pretty cliched and doesn’t end with a satisfying conclusion.

There will be plenty of people who really enjoy watching The Belko Experiment. Some may even defend it and call it a satire of some sorts, which is complete and utter hogwash. I give the film some credit, as there are some very fine aspects built into the story. I think the lighting was consistently stylish and unique, the characters interesting (especially John C. McGinely’s role), and for what it’s worth it was engaging. However, what I am not okay with is the morally pessimistic message that the film semi-consciously delivers the audience. It begs the question of, “What the hell was the point?” What was The Belko Experiment ultimately trying to get across?

This isn’t Jason Voorhees murdering teenagers in a campy slasher flick. This is middle-class people that are friends with one another, brutally murdering each other on screen for self-preservation. Some may not see the difference. To me however, there is a huge contrast.

If you’re at all interested in seeing a thriller with some solid performances and an unusual premise, maybe The Belko Experiment is a film for you. I for one couldn’t stand this flick, and will remain far away from this and any pointless sequels.

The Verdict: D+

-Zachary Flint

Good Burger Review

Over time, Good Burger seems to have grown a strange cult following of fans who grew up with the flick. This goofball film is often treated like the Citizen Kane of the fast-food industry. Hell, when Netflix attempted to remove Good Burger from their streaming service, they were met with severe backlash. Am I missing something? I mean, is it really anything more than a cheap Nickelodeon movie?

The almighty Good Burger stars Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell, who previously appeared in their own Nickelodeon show together called Kenan & Kel. Kenan plays Dexter Reed, a high school student who hits his teacher’s car at the beginning of summer break, forcing him to get a job in fast-food. He takes a job working at Good Burger, a restaurant slowly going out of business due to its new competitor Mondo Burger. Here, Dexter meets a dimwitted cashier named Ed (played by Kel), who seems to live, breathe, and sleep fast-food. What follows is a very random series of events that I feel appropriate to only label as ‘hi-jinks’.

The writing of Good Burger is just so shockingly bizarre that I’m not really sure what to make of it. I’m mostly speaking about the films sense of humor, since every other word uttered by Kel Mitchell in the film is a ridiculously lazy pun. At times, I laughed at Good Burger’s weird jokes, however on most occasions I was trying to understand why anyone else would laugh at Good Burger. Some puns in this flick are clever, and others are just written so peculiarly that they got confused chuckles out of me.

Unfortunately, most of Kel’s puns come from him taking every statement someone makes literal, which gets very annoying very fast. In one scene of Good Burger, a customer orders a burger with nothing on it. Kel then gives the customer just given two buns with no meat. That was the joke. He got just two buns, get it! It’s just so downright stupid I’m not sure why I’m even wasting my time discussing why it’s not funny.

One thing Good Burger does surprisingly get right, is that it acts as a perfect snapshot of the time period it came out of. It reminds me of all the original Nickelodeon and Disney films that were released in the nineties. Good Burger also just has this inherent nineties feel to all of its cheesiness. These features both date the film, and give it a sense of timelessness.

The plot and characters of Good Burger are entertaining enough that kids will easily have a fun time watching it. The protagonists actually have some okay development throughout the story, and the plot does have exciting moments. This is probably the reason most people love Good Burger, because they saw it much more objectively as a child. When parents see the talking hamburgers with eyes, a strange ex-Black Panther played by Sinbad (seriously movie?), and a surprising amount of race and sexual humor for a kid movie, they will probably just be confused.

When all is said and done, I guess I can’t really hate Good Burger. I can respect why so many people love it, as Good Burger gives fans a nostalgic and sentimental feeling they  value greatly. However, the writing is unfortunately absurd and atrocious, and the humor is beyond cringeworthy. Yet, I somehow found a subtle hint of charm to the madness onscreen.

If you’ve never seen Good Burger before, then maybe that’s for the best. If you do plan on viewing it at some point, going in with low comedic expectations is highly recommended.

The Verdict: C-

-Zachary Flint

Spirited Away Review

Having really enjoyed reviewing the film Howl’s Moving Castle, I have decided to review some other major Studio Ghibli titles. Therefore, I feel it would be proper for me to start with my most favorite of Ghibli’s films, Spirited Away.

Spirited Away is about a young girl named Chihiro, who is with her parents on their way to their new home. They all stumble upon an abandoned amusement park that, at night, magically comes to life with mythical creatures. And through an unfortunate turn of events, Chihiro’s parents are magically turned into giant pigs. The only way she can get them back is to take a job working at a bathhouse that serves these mythical creatures.

Spirited Away showcases the always amazing talents of Studio Ghibli and their ability to put even the slightest details into their animation. You could pause the film at any moment in time to analyze and admire every little component of the animation. Each and every image is awe-inspiring, and all together they create a visually gripping story.

Throughout this magical journey that the audience gets to experience, we meet a wide variety of imaginative creatures that have now become cultural icons of their own. The biggest is probably No-Face, a semi-transparent spirit that can absorb the personalities of others when he eats them. Not only are characters like No-Face interesting and complex, but they leave a lasting impression on the viewer. Even minor characters you don’t see for more than a few seconds I remember ever so vividly (like the giant yellow ducks with leaves on their heads).

I feel that Spirited Away takes a very relaxed and laid back tone to its storytelling. Even at its most intense or sad points, Spirited Away still manages to maintain a happy mood. It’s the kind of film that I can watch at any point in time and not have to be in any particular emotional state to view it.

The soundtrack of the film creates a fun and adventurous mood that draws the viewer into the magic. The music is very similar to Howl’s Moving Castle, both in sound and how they create a lighthearted mood. Spirited Away’s soundtrack is among my favorite soundtracks to any kids film and is worth checking out on its own.

All in all, Spirited Away remains one of my favorite animated movies. It has everything that a film should have and more. The characters are fantastic, the story odd and adventurous, and the animation is some of the best I have ever seen. If you have never gotten a chance to experience the magic of Spirited Away, by all means I implore you to see it immediately. Spirited Away affirms Studio Ghibli’s place as one of the greatest animation companies of all time and will continue to astonish audiences around the world for many years to come.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

The Great Wall Review

The Great Wall was a big, dumb action movie. I went into the theater with subpar expectations, and not surprisingly I came out mostly disappointed with what I saw.

The Great Wall stars Matt Damon as a character whose name I never learned, a European mercenary traveling to China in search of gunpowder. Upon arrival to China, Matt Damon learns that the Chinese are currently involved in a war against ancient CGI monsters called the Tao Tei. Matt Damon decides to help the Chinese fight these monsters after building a connection with the Commander of the Great Wall military, Lin (Jing Tian).

I hate to start by saying that the film put too much importance on our main character, but it most certainly did. The Chinese found it fascinating that Matt Damon killed one of the creatures single-handedly. Yet on many occasions random grunts in the Chinese military kill the creatures by themselves too. Not to mention that there are hundreds of thousands of these things. So, really, who cares about this guy? Well, not me.

One of the most glaring problems with The Great Wall was the stilted and lifeless acting. Even Matt Damon and Willem Dafoe, two phenomenal actors, couldn’t give convincing performances. It was so atrocious that Matt Damon’s accent kept periodically changing. At times you could almost see some good performances trying to get through, however ultimately the film failed to deliver us any memorable characters.

The most memorable parts of The Great Wall is definitely the Lord of the Rings style battle sequences atop the Wall.  Unlike the Lord of the Rings, the CGI in this film was quite impressively bad. I could tell from the instant you see the Tao Tei (green monsters that want to destroy China) that the computer imagery is atrocious. It was so bad that I feel somewhat sympathetic for anyone involved in this project. Did they think it was okay? Did they think people would find it cool? It begs the question of how they spent one hundred and fifty million dollars on something I could make using free 3D animation software.

Most of the dialogue in the film is reduced to only two word responses. The audience is given very little time to get to know the characters, and the characters are given no time to interact and build chemistry. Instead of just watching the events unfold on-screen, we are told everything that happens scene for scene. The dialogue really makes the film feel mundane.

The costumes in the film look like a flamboyant interpretation of Game of Thrones attire. It was really hard to take anyone wearing those ridiculous costumes seriously. Which was about everyone. I’m not sure how historically accurate the costumes even were (my guess is they weren’t, at all), nonetheless they were very distracting and out of place. On the bright side, at least I now know where most of the budget went.

With nothing but boring, paper thin characters and large CGI battle scenes, The Great Wall will interest only a select few. If you do plan on seeing this over budgeted film, I would recommend going in with very low expectations. The only way I can see people truly enjoying The Great Wall is for some good old fashioned schlock entertainment, however even that is a long shot.

The Verdict: D+

-Zachary Flint