First Man Review

“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

A quote from one of the United States’ most iconic figures in history, and depicted in the latest Hollywood biopic First Man.

The film documents the major life events of American hero Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling); all leading up to his Apollo 11 mission that made him the first person in history to step foot on the moon. We see his trials and tribulations, and how the loss of his infant daughter (and several close friends) impacted his psyche, as well as his drive to complete his mission to the moon. Also depicted is the strain on Neil’s family life, and how his wife Janet Armstrong (Claire Foy) coped with his emotional reclusion from her and the kids. An added level of storytelling that was almost as fascinating as the main plot.

The space flight sequences here are shot with this cinematic, visceral intensity that I imagine was quite difficult to capture. I felt myself getting physically anxious for Aldrin and Armstrong, and the excitement was a roller coaster ride. Without knowing a single thing about space flight, I was left feeling hopeless when random knobs were frantically being pulled as Armstrong and friends soared through space in their claustrophobic shuttle. Effective, nerve-racking filmmaking at its finest.

I highly enjoyed Gosling’s portrayal of Armstrong, as he gives him this distant, almost reclusive personality you wouldn’t expect here. And even though Armstrong felt emotionally distant, deep down the audience could empathize with him and his personal struggles. Through Gosling’s performance it’s clear he never came to terms with the traumatic grief of his daughter’s death. This theme of grief is present throughout the entirety of the flick and is perfectly (and most likely fictionally) all resolved in the dramatic, heartwarming climax.

Towards the end of First Man I really started to feel the runtime weighing down the film. It seems to be that way for a lot of dramas (and biopics), where they become less impactful as they progress simply because they’ve been drawn out for way too long. In reality, this just isn’t the kind of movie that necessitates a two plus hour runtime to share its message, no matter how wonderful or touching that message may be. A solid fifteen minutes could’ve been shaved off First Man to condense it into an even stronger, more emotional film.

First Man is a kindly Hollywood tribute to a cherished American hero. Whether the real Neil Armstrong wanted or felt he deserved all the showing praise, it doesn’t matter. He gets it here.

The Verdict: B+

-Zachary Flint

Venom Review

With only a few weeks till Halloween, I was expecting to review more seasonal movies this time of the year. Instead, I’m stuck reviewing yet another divisive superhero movie to split critics and audiences right down party lines. It comes as no surprise that this divisive movie was made by Sony and is their loose interpretation of the fan favorite Marvel character Venom.

Venom tells the origin story of Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), a renowned investigative journalist who hits rock bottom after doing a hit piece on a notorious businessman, Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). While investigating one of Drake’s scientific investments, Eddie becomes fused with an alien entity known as Venom. Now filled with a dark and twisted split personality, Eddie must try to control his new superhuman powers as Venom slowly consumes his identity.

The mood of Venom was a weird blend of dark and goofy, an immediate indication that this film wasn’t taking itself seriously.  Some scenes are frightening and given as much raw intensity as it’s PG-13 rating can muster. Police and criminals are thrown about, killed, and eaten, all in a somewhat mild manner. Other scenes simply have Tom Hardy going bananas. Throwing rage-filled tantrums and engaging in bizarre dialogues that were so perfectly timed that I couldn’t help but laugh. The tone of the writers tended to ape this humorous sentiment, leading me to assume that the film was supposed to be bizarre.

Major continuity issues plagued Venom from start to finish. Poor day and night consistency, unusual (or nonexistent) character arcs, and characters being in two places at once are just a handful of examples displaying the botched editing job. I’m not sure whether the studio or the filmmakers are at fault for these problems, but on several occasions they became a hindrance to the enjoyment of the film. I was left scratching my head when an important scientist in the film appeared in two back to back scenes in different locations, all with no indication of a time-lapse.

Venom was a bit of a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, I can see where people would be disappointed with the turnout of the film, it basically being one big comical farce. Nothing is taken seriously, some characters don’t have story arcs, and some people just duck out of the movie altogether.

On the other hand, I rather enjoyed the nonsense of Hardy’s “symbiotic” relationship with Venom. The unpredictable antics and wild outbursts of Hardy were laugh out loud hilarious, and the personality of Venom provided a nice contrast in the overall tone. I never found myself too bored with the film and I quite enjoyed some of the action, despite the sub-par editing that made certain scenes confusing.

I wouldn’t recommend that typical superhero movie fans go and see it, but Venom definitely doesn’t deserve the harsh feedback it’s received from critics. Venom differentiates itself enough from the Marvel “happy-go-lucky” blend of movies for those craving something a little unorthodox.

The Verdict: C+

-Zachary Flint

Hell Fest Review: One Helluva Movie!

While at the local showing for the new Halloween-themed flick Hell Fest, I noticed the formatting of the film on the screen was off by several feet. Meaning that the film projected on the wall and not completely on the screen. However, five-minutes into the film I realized it simply wouldn’t be worth the effort to raise from my chair and notify the staff of the issue.

The central idea (or should I say gimmick) of Hell Fest is that it all takes place inside a large haunted house. Six millennial teenagers act as our protagonists and go expecting to have the time of their lives. Only problem? A real-life murderer sneaks into the scare zone, slowly killing off our unsuspecting millennial stereotypes.

Starting with the characters, they’re so blandly clichéd that it’s almost a cliché to even talk about it. These types of cookie cutter characters have been done to death, and films have been satirizing these dull, bimbo idiots even before Wes Craven’s Scream made it cool to do so. They’re so overly sexualized, awkward, and annoying that at no point does it come off as cute. The one benefit to the terrible characters was watching them get killed in some pretty clever ways. One guy gets his head smashed by a test your strength carnival mallet, which I don’t think I have seen in a horror movie thus far. It’s funny, it’s unique, and horror fans will get a kick out of it.

Honestly, if Hell Fest took place anywhere other than a haunted house, I’d be hard pressed to find any redeemable qualities to the film. Thankfully, the costume designer and cinematographer put in overtime making sure the audience absorbed every inkling of horror-themed atmosphere. Everywhere you look there’s another cool costume or interesting prop that really gets me in the spirit of Halloween.

Unfortunately, this novelty wears off.

On a technical basis, Hell Fest was too preoccupied with scaring the cast and not with scaring the viewer. There were far too many reaction shots of the characters being frightened, as if they forgot that we were the ones supposed to be startled. Many moments where somebody jumps out and goes “Boo!”, the camera is focused on the protagonist and not the scare actor, therefore leaving the scene without tension. What’s even worse, we always know exactly where the real killer is going to be, leaving us with a net total of zero scares.

The biggest insult of all was the ending, which was very visibly rushed and ill-thought-out. Without spoiling anything (not that you probably care), there’s hardly a villain vs. hero showdown, and we never see a solid conclusion to the identity of the killer. Really, it felt like Hell Fest was building up to something that it never quite reached because it got bored and gave up.

They attempt to go for the nameless killer trope established in movies like The Strangers, but here it’s much lazier.  And that’s the key word there, lazy. Everything about the direction of Hell Fest just felt like a dull, straight to Netflix horror movie you watch when there’s nothing else on. Instead of earnestly trying to make a decent movie with a good payoff, they distract you with a clever Eighties throwback marketing campaign. Don’t let them trick you into believing this is a nostalgic romp. It’s not.

Hell Fest was essentially a scattershot of excellent Halloween visuals and remarkably poor writing. Those with a passion for the spooky festivities of the season will get the most enjoyment out of Hell Fest, but the rushed third act and lack of resolution is enough to disappoint any moviegoer. Sadly, Hell Fest just didn’t deliver in the scary department.

The Verdict: D+

-Zachary Flint

The House with a Clock in Its Walls Review

Leave it to director Eli Roth (Hostel, The Green Inferno) to make a children’s fantasy film that’s full of bizarre humor and dark imagery. I didn’t even think it was possible to make fun of the disabled in a mainstream movie anymore Yet, Roth made it happen, and somehow the well-timed joke landed a perfect 10 in the process.

This movie begins where most movies are at the 30-minute mark. There’s no introduction to characters or the fantasy world they inhabit. No, we’re thrown right off the deep end without any floaties. Before you know it, our soulless protagonist is learning magic and is knee deep in what this film considers “plot”.

Why is the house alive? How is Jack Black a magical warlock? What is the extent of this magical universe? Who knows and who cares! Pretty much the perfect tagline for this movie.

I’ll attempt to summarize the plot; however it’s been only 24 hours since I’ve seen the film and I already forget several key plot details. Like a distant, hazy dream.

After a car accident kills both his parents, Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) goes to live with his mysterious kimono-wearing uncle Johnathan Barnavelt (Jack Black). Lewis quickly learns that Johnathan and his home aren’t as they seem, discovering that his uncle is in fact a wizard. And after Lewis accidentally raises the dead with a powerful spell, he must help his uncle save the world from a malevolent force. Mixed into the plot is a variety of frightening images and intense scenes fused with a whimsical message about family and magic.

The child actor in The Clock deserves an award for worst acting in a motion picture, period. It’s so awkward that scenes meant to be emotional and touching just come off as strange and unintentionally hilarious. In one scene, Owen is crying over the recent death of his parents, and Jack Black attempts to cheer him up by pulling an endless length of handkerchiefs from his pocket. An old magician gag. It’s supposed to be quirky and heartfelt, but the whole scene was just odd.

Yet, that’s kind of the unexpected charm of The Clock, as it teeters between predictable family adventure flick and unforeseen absurdity. Even with the many little idiosyncrasies and plot holes there’s something enjoyable to find in almost every scene. Whether intentional or not.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls is a good fall themed movie for families with small, brave children that don’t mind some oddball (and slightly offensive) jokes. If you’re laughing at the terrible acting, weird plot, or deliberately goofy scenes, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you’re laughing and entertained, so I say mission accomplished.

The verdict: B-

-Zachary Flint

The Predator Review: An Inconvenient Truth

Apparently, the behavior of a Predator (one of the most iconic movie aliens of all time) doesn’t live up to its own animal kingdom namesake. In actuality, the predator acts more like a bass fisherman than an alien beast on the hunt for humans. Why is Predator on the hunt in the first place, you may ask? Well, because of global warming of course! At least, that’s what I was told by the latest installment to the Predator franchise.

Acting as a sequel to previous films in the series, The Predator features shoulder cannons, thermal scanners, and elaborate costumes and props. Yet, it can’t rise to the charm of previous Predator movies. A bad case of looking the part, but not playing the part.

Take the dialogue between our ragtag group of heroes as an example, which consistently came up shy of clever. Absent is the machismo attitude and testosterone-laced humor that defined the initial 1987 classic. Instead, The Predator gives off more of a carefree, Expendables-type vibe.

Our actors are having fun cracking jokes and messing around, occasionally making fun banter that got laughs from the audience. But when it’s time for characters to get serious, suddenly the holes in the writing start to appear. Point being, this movie isn’t cut out to be a laid-back romp. Where’s the suspense? The tension? The excitement? Three necessary qualities The Predator truly lacks.

The action boasts many scenes of Predator slicing and dicing people, as well as alien guns and technology blowing things up. The Predator seems content in this typical action movie formula, and less demanding moviegoers will be too. There’s plenty of “Ooo… ahh…” moments of Predator destroying things and cheeky comedy between our main cast to get the audience to the end. It will be up to the individual to judge whether it was all worth the time.

Ultimately, this film has no drive to tell a cohesive and well-rounded story. It may not sound like a lot, but it can mean the difference between getting a movie like Predator and one like Alien Vs. Predator 2: Requiem.

Part of the appeal of Predator is in the simplicity of its plot and characters, leaving plenty of time for sci-fi action and suspense. When you strip away the muscle-bound heroes and straightforward plot and substitute it for an overly complex and unfocused narrative, what you’re left with isn’t anything too thrilling for audiences.

The Predator is enough to satisfy two hours of popcorn munching, but not repeated viewings. Especially considering the many better alternatives within the genre and franchise. Most moviegoers will likely leave the theater indifferent, shrugging their shoulders saying, “That was okay.”

“Okay” indeed.

The Verdict: C-

-Zachary Flint

The Meg Review: 130 Million Dollars Well Spent!

“Tell me, do sharks bleed? You will.”

A semi-accurate quote from one of the most deceiving movies I’ve seen this year, The Meg. A big-budget fantasy thriller disguised as a corny B-movie of the past, The Meg boasts 130 million dollars’ worth of CGI sharks and overly-elaborate science lab equipment.

Yes, to my pleasant surprise The Meg goes beyond the “it’s so bad it’s good” gag and delivers some entertaining performances and general dumb fun. In the end, giving audiences something meatier and more worthwhile than films like Sharknado.

The story unfolds like many terrible shark movies of its kind. Scientists unleashed some prehistoric, gigantic shark and must figure out how to stop it before everyone dies. A simple enough plot only made more difficult with the sheer number of characters involved, including the likes of Jason Statham and Rainn Wilson. Two actors who took this hokey script and ran with it, giving delightfully absurd performances for no apparent reason. After all, it is just a shark movie.

And yet, somehow it all works!

I think what makes a film like The Meg work so well is its refusal to acknowledge how bad the concept is, while also putting in effort to make the film passable as a blockbuster movie. If the film was produced as poorly as something like Sharknado, then audiences would’ve decided to skip it and wait for it’s inevitable Netflix release. But because there was some level of leg work put into something so objectively bad, people were naturally drawn to the stupidity. Resulting in a bizarre blend of high-quality and low-quality effects, bad screenwriting but decent acting, and an uneven plot that was still somehow entertaining.

It isn’t high art, but I’d be lying if I said films like The Happytime Murders, Skyscraper, or The First Purge were any better. Quite the opposite actually. The Meg gives that rush of lame excitement one might find while watching the SyFy Channel on a Tuesday night. Only with enough money put into the movie to pull off all the hilariously bad special effects.

I highly enjoyed watching The Meg and all its 3D glory. And judging from its overwhelming success in the box office (despite negative criticism from hoity-toity critics), I’d say audiences have noticed its humorous charm too.

The Verdict: B-

-Zachary Flint

Deadpool 2 Review

After a rather unexpected turn of events, Wade Wilson (our favorite merc with a mouth Deadpool) finds himself in a life-altering crisis. Following a brief stint with the X-Men, he meets a young and impressionable orphan named Russell (Julian Dennison). When Russell becomes targeted by a mysterious cybernetic supersoldier from the future (Josh Brolin), Deadpool assembles a team of power-challenged heroes to protect Russell and earn some self-respect.

Deadpool 2, much like its predecessor, keeps to the theatricals. Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool lets the jokes fly in the best of times, and worst of times. Most of which elicit strong reactions from the audience.

He’s even thrust into the ranks of the X-Men, further allowing the audience to associate him with the X-Men Universe. This encounter is of course brief, as things inevitably go south quick (as humorously depicted in the film).

Deadpool goes as far to create his own superhero squad titled the X-Force. That’s because the name X-Men to him is appallingly sexist. This whole X-Force bit is by far my favorite moment of the film, and really highlights why people love Deadpool in the first place. The humor kept piling on and raising the stakes; and my laughter became more uncontrollable as the joke went on. One moment Terry Crews is slamming into a bus windshield, followed by a guy parachuting into a woodchipper. I typically wouldn’t think something so stupid would be this funny, yet here we are.

Overall, I guess I don’t really have much to say in terms of Deadpool 2‘s diversity from other superhero movies (hence why this review was pushed off for many months). It’s good, it’s funny, but there isn’t much to discuss at this point.

Deadpool was among the first films I ever reviewed; and now three years later – after countless more superhero movies – I feel like a broken record discussing very similar movies on repeat.

All I’ll say it this: being sucked into the strange, macabre, comical world of Wade Wilson is not a hard feat. All the obscure, bizarre references to related (and unrelated) pop culture practically acts as a magnet to mainstream movie-goers. Those who go to see Deadpool 2 will be getting exactly what they expect, and I mean that in the most entertaining way possible.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint