It Review

The choice to remake a popular horror film is far from a new concept. And with Hollywood’s recent drought of creativity, the horror genre has become stale, boring, unexciting, and lacking any passion from the filmmaker’s end. Occasionally something unique will slip through the cracks (It Comes at Night comes to mind), but more often than not we get unoriginal slop (Poltergeist (2015), Rings, Annabelle, and so on).

So, when I heard we’d be getting another film of Stephen King’s It, I was fairly certain that It would fall victim to the same level of incompetence as its peers. Yet, in a surprising turn of events, just the opposite occurred. Rather than getting a boring, run-of-the-mill remake, moviegoers are being treated to a highly appealing horror flick with a terrifying antagonist and talented cast.

Set in the quaint town of Derry, Maine, an evil entity preys upon the fearful youth. Often appearing in the form of a clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), this entity awakens every twenty-seven years to devour the children of Derry. However, when some of the neighborhood children (labeled as the Losers’ Club) band together, their friendships and fears are put to the ultimate test. Facing off against an evil force with power unlike anything imaginable.

It was delightfully scary in the utmost creative and unexpected ways. The film went with a mix of tension building, creepy moments, as well as quick jump scares that are followed by loud spikes in the sound. The jump scares were pretty standard and didn’t get the strongest reaction from audiences. The scariest scenes of It were when the film took its time building suspense through creepy imagery, all leading up to great payoffs featuring Pennywise the clown (whose eerie demeanor completely stole the show in every sense of the word).

Not only a terrifying horror flick, It contained a clever narrative on the struggles of teenage adolescence. Each character in the film was dealing with some sort of real life dilemma, such as a hypochondriac parent, grief, and child abuse. This not only gives our unlikely heroes motivation, but makes them feel all the more genuine, resulting in the audience connecting with them more. Even the stereotypical bully, a character whose writing I was fully prepared to loathe, had a tragic backstory that gave him more depth.

The dialogue and personalities of the child actors reflected how young kids might actually behave. Incredibly foul-mouthed and crude, they felt less like Hollywood twerps and more like normal everyday children.

While a few characters here and there could’ve had a little more time devoted to them, I’m really stretching to find issues. The reality is that It is a fantastic work of fiction, with dedicated filmmakers striving to make a movie that entertains viewers. With plenty of grotesque scenes, memorable performances, and a great use of camera angles, I think there’s enough here for just about any horror fan to be completely satisfied.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

Logan Lucky Review

Logan Lucky has what seems like a standard heist/comedy plot, but takes it to the nth degree. Cutting away the fluff and filler of usual heist films and giving audiences the weird scenes and exciting performances that they never knew they wanted.

Directed by Steven Soderbergh (Magic Mike), Logan Lucky tells the story of a Southern family man named Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), who decides to rob the famed Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina. To help him, Jimmy has his one-armed brother Clyde (Adam Driver), his hairdresser sister Mellie (Riley Keough), and an explosives expert named Joe Bang (Daniel Craig). Through an absurd turn of events, we the audience witness this group of unusual individuals attempt to steal millions during a famed NASCAR race.

Most of the cast of Logan Lucky felt more like actual backwoods goofballs than A-list actors, which makes many scenes all the more engrossing (and hilarious). And given the eccentric nature of the film, I often had no idea where it was going next, or even what purpose it served. All I really knew was that Logan Lucky didn’t feel obligated to play out like other films. The plot progression, for example, didn’t include many transition scenes to show characters getting from point A to point B. Alternatively, we are only ever shown what is absolutely necessary for the sake of understanding what’s going on, which ends up making the film all the more entertaining.

And rather than going with typical blockbuster banter, the humor in Logan Lucky is often very dry, deriving the hilarity from the bizarre personalities and interactions of the actors. Adam Driver and Daniel Craig were too of my favorite characters, playing two very weird individuals vastly different from what they’re used to. Driver goes most of the film with the same deadpan expression, and Craig has this maniacal look in his eye that I couldn’t help but frequently laugh at. Not all the humor of Logan Lucky was directly aimed at this Southern style mentality, as proven by Seth MacFarlane’s comical performance as an uptight British businessman.

Logan Lucky never tries too hard to dazzle, be funny, or impress the audience with usual Hollywood gimmicks. Instead, the film naturally comes off as impressive because of its charming actors, engaging story, and outlandish plot progression. And with the help of some clever camera work from behind the scenes, Logan Lucky transcends to what I would consider a fantastic work of art. It’s an oddly exciting, heartwarming film that I’d recommend anyone interested to give a watch.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

The Hitman’s Bodyguard Review

The idea of Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson acting in a buddy comedy together sounds like a match made in heaven. The type of roles they typically play are tremendously different, which would theoretically make for a highly interesting film. I say theoretically, because The Hitman’s Bodyguard perfectly displays the sad truth that, just because you have good actors, doesn’t mean you’ll have a good movie.

The film stars Reynolds as Michael Bryce, a protection agent who’s called upon to help protect a notorious hitman named Darius Kincaid (played by Sam Jackson). With a long, complicated history between them, Bryce must now escort Kincaid across Europe so that he may testify in court against a ruthless dictator (Gary Oldman).

Ryan Reynolds and Sam Jackson are pretty funny as individual characters, but don’t work well off each other’s comedic style. Most attempts at jokes dragged on for far too long, and nobody in the theater was even laughing to begin with.

This poor comedic outcome is due to the writers going for the double act style of humor, which is what you see in most buddy comedies of this caliber. Double act works in films like Tango & Cash and Men in Black because the characters are written with complete opposite personalities. Well, herein lies part of the problem with The Hitman’s Bodyguard, as neither of our protagonists have well-defined personalities

Jackson was more severe than Reynolds, but neither ever stuck with a singular set of characteristics. Jackson would often go from being a cold-hearted killer to a more sensitive and understanding person, almost at the flick of a switch. So when the actors don’t have defined personalities, it’s hard for the audience to relate to one of those characters, which entirely defeats the purpose of double act.

The villain of the film, played by Gary Oldman, is a bland Eastern European stereotype with absolutely no depth to his character. After having just watched The Hitman’s Bodyguard, I can’t remember anything about him. Now, Gary Oldman is one of my favorite Hollywood actors, and I think he can play a very diverse range of roles. So I’m incredibly confused as to why he was given so little to do the entire film. He never says or does anything of importance, making his character one of the more forgettable villains of past months.

Some of the action scenes were energetic, while others were fairly lackluster. Take the grand boat chase seen for example. It has a mix of clever and generic moments, however what really ruins the chase sequence is that it goes on for an eternity. The best chase scenes (and action scenes as well) are short and to the point, condensing what the viewer is shown into the most exhilarating moments. The Hitman’s Bodyguard unfortunately wasn’t all that exhilarating, or exciting.

When you boil it down, The Hitman’s Bodyguard is about as standard as a buddy comedy can possibly get. It attempts to go through the same motions of other films in its genre, but because of the lopsided writing it fails to leave any lasting impression on the viewer. It had some funny, even hilarious scenes. However, even the most enjoyable moments of The Hitman’s Bodygurad are overshadowed by sloppy writing and a sense of mediocrity.

The Verdict: D+

-Zachary Flint

Annabelle: Creation Review

To the best of my knowledge, Annabelle: Creation is the first prequel of a prequel based off an opening scene of another movie. And being that it’s a prequel to a horror flick that was poorly received, Annabelle: Creation was pretty much destined to be a critical failure from the get-go. However, director David Sandberg (Lights Out) and producer James Wan (The Conjuring and Insidious) were fully prepared to go against the odds, turning out a flawed, yet entertaining movie.

The film follows a nun (Stephanie Sigman) and six orphaned girls, who move into a farmhouse owned by a mysterious former doll maker named Sam Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia). Strange events begin to unfold soon after moving into the house, as one of the girls sneaks into a forbidden room previously occupied by the daughter of Mr. Mullins. There, the girl finds a porcelain doll that seems to have a life on its own, as it begins to scare and terrorize the orphans.

From his previous work on the 2016 horror flick Lights Out, its clearly evident that David Sandberg has a knack for crafting and executing a scary scene. In Annabelle: Creation, I felt that his talent was able to shine through, at least in some respects. The camera placement, pacing, and convincing acting aided Sandberg in scaring the audience on many occasions. Sadly, a lot of these frightening moments are followed up by unrelated scenes, which made a lot of the film feel poorly integrated.

I felt that many of the creative choices made in Annabelle: Creation didn’t quite fit this story, as if the filmmakers were trying too hard to emulate the style of The Conjuring. Take the numerous themes of Christianity for example, which are seen across many of James Wan’s productions. Christian themes and symbols are frequently discussed and seen all over this film, yet they never play into a deeper meaning or context. In The Conjuring these themes made sense, as it all played into the central message of the film, that the character’s religious beliefs would help them prevail over evil. In this, the Christian symbols are present for no reason other than to draw parallels to The Conjuring.

Even some of the horror movie logic doesn’t flow very well, with Annabelle often disregarding its own established rules. Even near the third act of the film the evil doll/demon would begin exhibiting powers and characteristics not yet introduced, as if they didn’t have a clear idea of what this evil entity was going to be. Usually something like this would just be a minor nitpick, however Annabelle takes it so far that the audience got tired of suspending their disbelief. There were points where the audience would audibly groan or question why certain things happened, or why a character would behave so irrationally. It was at these moments that I stopped taking the film seriously and just enjoyed it purely for the schlock factor.

I highly respect what Sandberg and Wan attempted to do with Annabelle: Creation, and in some areas, they were pretty successful. Whether the film was being serious and scary, or just complete schlock, I was entertained the whole way through. The great use of an eerie film location, compounded with the effective filmmaking techniques, made for a pretty terrifying atmosphere. I’m sure the average moviegoer would be able to overlook the numerous flaws in this picture and enjoy it as a solid, conventional horror film.

The Verdict: C+

-Zachary Flint

Atomic Blonde Review

Based on the graphic novel titled The Coldest Winter, Atomic Blonde gives audiences a thrilling spy movie experience set in the Cold War Era.

The film stars Charlize Theron as an MI6 field agent named Lorraine Broughton, who’s on a mission to Berlin, Germany to retrieve a valuable piece of microfilm. The contents of this film, in the hands of the enemy, could extend the Cold War for many decades to come. While in Berlin, Lorraine teams up with an eccentric CIA station chief nicknamed Percival (James McAvoy), who helps her navigate an unsettled city full of secret spies and double-crossers.

Atomic Blonde exhibited a variety of long, uninterrupted action sequences that somehow felt both choreographed and improvised. There’s one particularly impressive scene where Lorraine takes part in hand-to-hand combat with a couple of KGB spies in a stairwell. All the actors involved slowly became bruised and battered over what felt like a ten-minute-long sequence. The KGB spies (who I assume were played by professional stuntmen) are repeatedly knocked down staircases, punched, and hit with random, indiscernible objects that Theron picks up off the ground. I found myself getting very invested in scenes like this, where the violence is so realistic that you wonder how the actors ever pulled it off. Or how physically painful falling down the stairs backwards was for the stuntmen, after doing it three consecutive times already.

Charlize Theron played the part of a sensual and fierce spy tremendously well, with no-nonsense body language and razor-sharp intelligence. Her character felt like a cross between John Wick and James Bond, and was by far one of the highlights of the film.

Just like most films based on a graphic novel, Atomic Blonde tries too hard to be artsy and stylistic in its filmmaking, and usually just came off as gimmicky. A fine example of this would be the neon spray painted title cards that introduced the audience to new locations. Unfortunately, small touches like this felt too forced and out of place, and I could almost hear the director screaming “I’m artistic, applaud me!” in my ear.

Another issue with the stylistic approach of Atomic Blonde was the incoherent way it told its story. The first half of the film jumped around to different characters and locations way too frequently, to the point where it became difficult to keep a firm understanding of what was happening.

By the time the film became more focused and coherent in the second half, the audience was already playing catch up in an attempt to comprehend the complex story. Character motives and alliances were so scrambled that, for this reason, I still don’t fully grasp the disjointed ending.

So, while it has its minor issues in storytelling and style, ultimately Atomic Blonde accomplishes exactly what it set out to do. That being, to create a female spy movie on par with the James Bond series. I don’t think that Atomic Blonde was as stylistic as it so desperately wanted to be, and the bizarre plot pacing actually hindered its storytelling capability.

Nonetheless the film was vastly entertaining, with great use of lighting and 80’s tracks to set the proper mood. With well-crafted action scenes and a fantastic lead actress, Atomic Blonde is an action film I’d recommend you give a watch, so long as you have the patience to sit through an overly complicated story.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint

The Dark Tower Review

Based on the dark fantasy book series by Stephen King, The Dark Tower takes audiences on an all too brief journey into a very creative and unique universe.

The film stars Idris Elba as the Gunslinger, the last on an elite group of marksmen, who is constantly at war with an evil sorcerer known as the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey). It’s the Gunslinger’s duty to prevent the Man in Black from destroying the Dark Tower, the key to holding the universe in balance. When the Gunslinger meets a young boy named Jake (Tom Taylor), he discovers Jake has the power to take him to the Man in Black. Because of this, the Gunslinger teams up with Jake to exact revenge on the Man in Black, and perhaps save the Dark Tower in the process.

For reasons beyond my understanding, The Dark Tower felt the need to cram all eight of Stephen King’s novels into a single, ninety-minute film. And for this reason, the film is unevenly paced and condenses too much complex material that needed more time to develop. Character arcs, logical plot progression, and even necessary background information is all completely ignored due to limited time constraints. What should have been at bare minimum a three-part trilogy is instead just a CliffsNotes guide to The Dark Tower, which is sure to upset most fans of the novels.

The only actor to give a serious, respectable performance in The Dark Tower happened to be Idris Elba. Elba’s role as the Gunslinger carried the film through its roughest and most emotionally void scenes, giving the audience one aspect of the film to take seriously.

Even more memorable then Elba, we have the wonderfully miscast performance of Matthew McConaughey, who was already hamming it up by the first scene in the movie. There were many moments where he’d get real close to another character and whisper his lines in this creepy, perverted way. It didn’t help that he was dressed like a 90’s boy band singer for the entire film, which made it impossible for me to take him seriously.  Everything from his facial expressions to the way he carried himself was comical, making McConaughey an absolute delight to watch.

Overall, I can easily see why so many fans of the book series have expressed anger and frustration at this adaptation. To take a series so dense with lore and boil it down to a single ninety-minute adventure film feels needlessly disrespectful.

I, never having read the books, was able to look past this issue and enjoy the flick for what it was, a typical action-adventure movie. The few action sequences that The Dark Tower did sport were very well shot and a lot of fun to watch. It also had some pretty amazing visuals, and managed to hold my attention for the entire runtime, which is more than I can say for many films of this genre.

So, if you’re a fan of the books this film was based on, then I’d stay far away from The Dark Tower, as this adaptation will probably just upset you due to how unfaithful it is. If you’re someone like me with little knowledge of the book series, than I’d go ahead and check out The Dark Tower. Its action scenes, creative set locations, and oftentimes comical demeanor will keep you entertained the whole way through.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Review

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is about as visually awe-inspiring as its title would have you believe. Full of creative ideas from director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element and Lucy), Valerian unfortunately struggled to get past its own mediocre characters and bizarre writing.

The film takes place in the 28th century, where special agents Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) act as peacekeepers of the universe. They are tasked with a very important mission that sends them to the thriving, culturally diverse city of Alpha, also known as the City of a Thousand Planets. There, Valerian and Laureline discover a dark force that threatens the safety of everyone within the city, and must find a way to stop it before it’s too late.

In usual Luc Besson fashion, Valerian possesses engaging and appealing visuals, but incredibly bizarre writing and characterization. Take the opening scene of the film for example, where we are introduced to an alien race that are unfortunately killed off in a planetary explosion. The aesthetics of this scene are pretty breathtaking, as the audience is given a nice glimpse into the unfamiliar culture of this race. Yet, everything that happens is so strange and off-putting that I was genuinely confused as too its purpose. There were plenty of moments that were supposed to be charming that either had me laughing hysterically or completely shocked.

The acting in Valerian wasn’t much different, as the remarkably poor performances of Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne had me giggling through most of the flick. Dane DeHaan was particularly bad, as it seemed like he was doing his best “Keanu Reeves on Nyquil” impression. Both of them seemed so disinterested in what was happening in the story that I couldn’t help but feel the same way.

By the third act of the film, scenes began to drag and get very heavy-handed, especially when we drew close to the disappointing climax. By this point it became obvious that the entire purpose of the flick was to force-feed the audience political and social commentary, all of which comes off as way too forced and gimmicky. The well-meaning politics overall do very little for the film, other than to make the obvious villain just a one-dimensional, boring character.

The few strengths of Valerian weren’t in its ability to give us interesting characters or tell a cohesive story, but in its capacity to immerse the viewer in a vast, all-encompassing universe. From the first moment I saw the City of a Thousand Planets, the location in which most of the film takes place, I was completely mesmerized by all the wonderful aesthetics. Many of the creatures we come across in the film are designed very creatively as well, and are brought to life with great use of practical effects and costumes.

However, rather than focusing on the immersive atmosphere and truly creative ideas, Valerian spends its time focusing on a jumbled plot and characters that are honestly pretty loathsome. I had no interest in the relationship between DeHaan and Delevingne, and the plot felt way too disorganized for what it was. I wish I could’ve enjoyed the film more than I did, but even the countless moments where Valerian got so bad it was humorous weren’t enough to save it from its own painful writing.

The Verdict: D+

-Zachary Flint