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 Nun Review: An Unintentional Spoof of the Modern Horror Genre

The Sister Act just got a whole lot weirder with Blumhouse Production’s most recent film, The Nun. A film with a plot so clichéd, characters so one-noted, and soundtrack so overbearing, I believe The Nun is an unintentional parody of itself.

The film stars Demián Bichir and Taissa Farmiga as a priest and a nun in training, respectively. They’re sent by the Vatican to investigate an isolated Romanian abbey where a young nun mysteriously committed suicide. Quickly discovering the true nature of their visit, that the abbey is actually haunted by an evil entity that takes the form of a nun, they attempt to confront the beast and defeat it for some reason.

The Nun continuously tests how far we the audience are willing to suspend our disbelief, all for the sake of cheap jump scares. Some moments are so ridiculous and void of intelligible thought that it felt like the film was purposefully trying to test my patience. As if the filmmakers were fully self-aware of how corny, desperate, and melodramatic everything is.

And if you weren’t convinced by my testimony of this film’s ludicrousness, The Nun goes as far as to include the actual blood of Jesus Christ as a tool for defeating the evil. The blood, kept inside a relic that looked like the Holy Hand Grenade from Monty Python, has the power to seal a portal to hell that was accidentally opened by Nazis during WWII. Except, of course, when the relic has no power at all; since The Conjuring series typically lacks consistency with its logic.

The characters were as bland as they come, with no establishment of their personalities or their motives. It’s almost impossible for me to elaborate any further on this topic because there’s no information to go from, aside from some obvious foreshadowing that turns out to be obvious foreshadowing. It’s a shame too, because the cast (while not perfect) does their best to give strong and convincing performances. But when you’re not given a reason to care about these people in the first place, it makes for all-around poor character development.

The only particularly good aspect of The Nun was the stylish cinematography, which seemed to have at least an inkling of artistic vision. The location and set designs were moody and gave off a naturally spooky vibe. However, even the cinematography had its limitations. The Nun is filled with so much scary imagery that it looks more like it was set in a dungeon than an abbey. Not to mention the humorously absurd number of Christian crosses strewn about in the background and foreground, to of course tell us how possessed this place is.

Often scenes intended to be frightening would be accompanied by a loud musical score (this includes the divine chanting of monks, for some reason). The score was so domineering over the entire movie that over time it became quite comical. Playing at such inopportune times that it would’ve fit better in something like Young Frankenstein (cue loud neighing of horses).

Audiences frequently shoot down well-crafted horror films like It Comes at Night, The Witch, and Hereditary, citing them as boring, weird, and lacking in scariness. This mentality, coupled with a fundamental misunderstanding of what true horror is, has led to a breeding ground of mediocre scary movies. With very little wiggle room for original frightening concepts to make it into the public eye.

This tragic “assembly line” sentiment culminates into films like The Nun, which take all aspects of horror filmmaking to the nth degree. So illogical, basic, and blandly spooky, it’s practically all a big joke.

The Verdict: F

-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

The Happytime Murders Review

What is there to say about The Happytime Murders?

Well, what appeared to be a clever concept for a raunchy adult comedy (of course starring Muppet lookalikes) turned out to be quite the opposite. An unfortunate excuse for Melissa McCarthy and friends to tell bad puppet-related puns. And that’s about it.

The plot, your bare bones buddy cop comedy, stars an ex-officer puppet named Phil Philips (Bill Barretta). After an incident involving the death of a civilian puppet, Philips leaves the force and becomes a private investigator. Now, some twenty years later, an unknown murderer is killing off puppets with ties to Philips. With this in mind, a guilt-ridden Philips decides to take action, teaming up with his old partner Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) to solve the crime and stop the horrible fluffshed (that’s my joke for the evening, you’re welcome).

There’s approximately thirty seconds of condensed laugh out loud humor in The Happytime Murders, effectively making this film a huge dud. Most of the jokes were dead on arrival, with many scenes dedicated to a single terrible pun. Several sequences of character banter go on for excruciating lengths, and often devolve into “f- you” exchanges and “Says what?” jokes. The kind of low brow humor that passed for comedic genius in fifth grade but everyone grows out of by sixth.

The biggest loser here would have to be Melissa McCarthy, as The Happytime Murders surely won’t be winning her any new fans. It’s likely one of her least funny movies to date. Every unbearable scene was only exacerbated by her presence, with most of her attempts at comedy coming off as forced and misguided. She isn’t wholly to blame for the lack of inventive humor (Who could you really ask to make these lines funny?), but she sure doesn’t help the situation either.

To the film’s credit, the puppets are integrated well among the humans, and I can tell there was a lot of effort put into its execution. However, good intentions can only get you so far. Thirty minutes, to be exact.

Where The Happytime Murders fails massively is in its lazy writing. The most blatant and impactful error is that the plot never drives the humor. Instead, the filmmakers relied on the humor to drive the plot. As mentioned earlier, several scenes are left utterly pointless because they only exist to make one really bad pun. When the joke inevitably flops, the audience is left twiddling their fingers waiting for it to end.

Being directed by Brian Henson (son of the famed puppeteer Jim Henson), there should’ve been a more imaginative vision brought to this movie. A nice idea with some talented people behind it, The Happytime Murders had potential to be an entertainingly oddball flick. To my dismay, this puppet project died quicker than The Muppets. tv show remake.

The Verdict: D

-Zachary Flint

BlacKkKlansman Review

I’ve recently had the pleasure of sitting down to watch Spike Lee’s latest hard-hitting film, BlacKkKlansman. Crammed into a nearly sold-out cinema full of anxious moviegoers, I underwent one of the more pleasant theater experiences of my recent memory. Not only for how respectful and participatory the audience was, but also because of how fascinating the film turned out to be.

Surprisingly based on a true story, BlacKkKlansman stars the unlikely protagonist Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), a black police officer in early 1970’s United States. Eager to make a name for himself as the first African American in the department, Stallworth concocts a plan to infiltrate and expose the local Ku Klux Klan chapter. His plan? Well, join them of course.

To go through with his ridiculous plan, he enlists in the help of his more seasoned colleague Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver). With a black man communicating by phone and a Jewish man physically playing the part, they miraculously fool the blockheaded KKK, yet still run a high risk of blowing the undercover investigation.

Together, Ron and Flip discover a serious threat by the Klan that could result in the deaths of several civil rights leaders, and it seems they’re the only ones who can stop it.

BlacKkKlansman doesn’t hit you over the head with its unique style in the way a Christopher Nolan or Quentin Tarantino film might do to a mainstream moviegoer. Rather, it establishes an oddly laid-back, humorous, Blaxploitation-esque mood, with finely-paced camerawork and a reliance on brass instruments for the soundtrack. Those with the eye for it will notice the stylistic choices that differ from typical modern films of this nature.

Much of the humor in the movie derived from how profane and exaggerated the racial insults were, including many tongue-in-cheek references to modern day politics. This brand of comedy works well in this situation, primarily because the clever writing and acting give way to dedicated performances and believable deliveries. Reaction shots of David Duke (Topher Grace) acting like an ignoramus often got big laughs from the audience, and Adam Driver and companies’ insults were so over the top the audience couldn’t help but laugh.

But as we learn very early on, BlacKkKlansman isn’t all fun and games. We open the film with a monologue by Dr. Kenneth Beauregard (Alec Baldwin) explaining the science behind white supremacy. While this scene is inherently funny due to the goofy way Baldwin portrays this so-called scientist, there’s a dark undertone that lingers throughout the rest of the picture.

It re-emerges again later in a particularly poignant scene where the KKK watch a special showing of the historic blockbuster Birth of a Nation; all while a couple miles away an elderly civil rights activist shares his gruesome experiences with the Black Panthers. The camera switches back and forth between the black and white romanticisation of the Klan and the horrifying realities of racism. Very chilling.

In the same vein, we’re given an interesting array of prejudice, and the many shapes and sizes it comes packaged in. There’re outright bigoted ruffians with a chip on their shoulder that you can point at and say, “That’s the bad guy!”. Then you have more finely dressed, seemingly sophisticated types whose hate boils just beneath the surface. The kind of individual you’d bump into on the street and are none the wiser to their personal beliefs.

Those with a facade of sophistication are more capable of perpetuating those hateful views through subtle displays of racism and political sleight of hand, and the ruffians are more apt to act violently on them. It’s a vicious cycle that grows deep, and Spike Lee conveys it with tenacity and conviction.

And just about when the credits were ready to roll, we’re instead greeted by graphic imagery from the Charlottesville white-supremacist rally of 2017. It’s a grim, horrifying display, and a departure from the stories’ pre-established mood. The message couldn’t have been hit home harder.

Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

Mission Impossible: Fallout Review

It’s hard to believe we’re six films in and Tom Cruise is still going strong with his Mission Impossible series. In fact, I’d say his performance in Mission Impossible: Fallout is quite impressive, which I find to be rather abnormal for an actor this deep into a franchise. I’d have thought he’d lighten up, get lazy, or lose his passion for acting the part. But no. Not Tom Cruise.

We once again see international bad ass Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), along with his friends from the Impossible Missions Force (IMF), attempt to stop a global disaster. Solomon Lane (you may know him as the bad guy from Rogue Nation) and his fellow anarchists plan to use stolen plutonium to simultaneously detonate three Holy sites. This is of course where Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, and Ving Rhames step in to carry out a death-defying, heroic mission that some might call… impossible.

Mission Impossible: Fallout plays like an intense, action-packed video game. There’s a continuous cycle of debriefings, top secret missions, and exciting chase sequences that put the audience at the forefront of the thrilling entertainment. It’s a total action movie fan’s action movie.

With a lot of action movies nowadays I’ll catch myself dozing off, not really getting into the action or even paying attention to the details. With Fallout, there’s hardly a dull moment.

Scattered throughout the film are several chase scenes (along with plenty of hand-to-hand combat scenes), which can last up to fifteen minutes at a time. Every second of it’s rewarding though, with some moments flying by so fast I wish I could’ve slowed them down. Or even just rewind and watch again.

It’s well known that Tom Cruise prefers to do his own stunts, which are notoriously so over the top and dangerous that some might call it insane. I’d consider this aspect to be one of the key appeals to the Mission Impossible series. The dramatic stunt work gives an organic, practical feel to the Mission Impossible films; and coupled with the strong camera work and editing kept things interesting for the viewer.

Shots of Tom Cruise clinging to a helicopter as it takes off, parkouring across rooftops, and skydiving from a plane are as realistic as a film could possibly get, and that’s exactly how I like it.

Mission Impossible: Fallout is a rush of adrenaline more action movies should strive towards, and it’s backed by a cast of solid, witty actors dedicated to keeping this franchise moving in positive directions.

The Verdict: B+

-Zachary Flint

 

Christopher Robin Review

Next on Disney’s extensive list of remakes and reboots, we have the reimagining of Winnie-the-Pooh and friends titled Christopher Robin.

Arguably the most original of the bunch, Christopher Robin details the later life of Christopher (Ewan McGregor) after a series of significant events have left him without joy. At his absolute lowest point, Christopher receives a surprise visit from, who else, his childhood buddy Winnie-the-Pooh (Jim Cummings). Pooh takes Christopher on one last nostalgia-filled adventure through London (and briefly through the Hundred Acre Wood) to rediscover the priorities and simple pleasures of life.

A harmless, well-intentioned story with a lot of heart and meaning behind it, Christopher Robin doesn’t deliver quite the quantity of fun I was hoping for.

The film puts a little too much time and emphasis on developing the gloomy and sometimes dark world that Christopher lives in, and never really puts in the effort to pull us out. Within the first half hour we see Christopher grow up, go to war, neglect his family, and put into a business situation where he will have to lay off many employees. We don’t even get to the Hundred Acre Wood until half-way through the picture, and even that gets to be depressing.

It’s well understood what the film was going for. We all face the unfortunate realties of work, war, and other tragic aspects of life, and having the innocent Winnie-the-Pooh show us the levity of simplicity is an excellent idea. I just don’t believe the film hits the intended mark as it should. These darker moments could’ve been conveyed more concisely, and the fun live-action scenes were sloppy and without the humorous style of the source material.

I don’t mean to sound as though this were some loathsome bore-fest, as there were several great aspects that made the film worth seeing.

Having Ewan McGregor as Christopher Robin was a wonderful decision, and his interactions with Pooh, Tigger, and so on felt genuine and real. We see him juggle between family and work and can feel for him when he’s forced to make tough decisions. Christopher has people counting on him everywhere he looks, and sometimes it seems that there’s no time for games in life. As is typical with McGregor’s performances, all these traits are portrayed to the audience with the conviction can care of a true professional.

And even with Ewan McGregor at the helm (one of my personal favorite actors), the story is undoubtedly held together by our favorite silly old bear Winnie-the-Pooh. Every minute with Pooh on-screen is a pure joy, and his kind-hearted jokes and curiosity were always met with uproarious laughter. The warm personality of Pooh is precious and delightful, enough to make the dreary environment of post-war London amusing to the viewer.

I just wish the tone of Christopher Robin matched the pleasantness of our Hundred Acre Wood favorites. Or is that too much to ask for?

The Verdict: C+

-Zachary Flint