Film Review: “Rough Night”

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon and Zoe Kravitz
Directed By: Lucia Aniello
Rated: R
Running Time: 101 minutes
Columbia Pictures

Our Score: 3 out of 5 Stars

I’m reminded of “Bad Moms” as I reflect on “Rough Night” because it appears the raunchy comedy playing field is beginning to even out. For every Seth Rogen vehicle there appears to be a female ensemble dropping four letter words and talking about their menstrual cycle like men talk about their farts and ejaculations. While it’s good to see things equalizing, I can’t help, but also think about “Bridesmaids” or “Trainwreck” and wonder why they all can’t be on that same level.

The set-up is simple; Alice (Jillian Bell) is setting up the bachelorette party for her best friend Jess (Johansson). Joining them on this girl’s only weekend is their other friends from college, Frankie (Ilana Glazer) and Blair (Kravitz), and Jess’ new friend, Pippa (McKinnon). After a night of pot smoking, drug experimentation, and over-priced Miami bar drinks, they retreat to the safety of their getaway pad. That’s where they order a stripper and in an accidental heated moment, kill him. I swear the premise is slightly funnier than fortuitous murder.

The main gags come from their misguided attempts at concealing the crime scene, disposing of the body, and the brief cuts to the bachelor party that Jess’ fiance, Peter (Paul W. Downs), is attending. The brief glimpses of the bachelor party, and its ensuing insanity, are the first of many instances where “Rough Night” pokes fun at role reversals. While Jess and her gang do bumps of cocaine while talking about scoring tail, Peter and his crew sample fine wines and talk about their emotions. These moments of subtlety are actually some of the film’s best moments.

Other times the movie falls into a predictable coma, finding it relying on ill-fitting and unfunny jokes and double entendres worthy of a bad Adam Sandler film. However, “Rough Night” moves at such a frenetic pace, there’s very little time to ponder those moments. It also helps that up-and-comers, Glazer, McKinnon and Bell, feast on the scenery while Johansson and Kravitz do fine trying their hand at comedy.

“Rough Night” is more or less the female version of movies like “The Hangover,” which isn’t a bad thing, but it lacks creative originality. Glazer and director Lucia Aniello work on the TV show “Broad City,” combining absurdist comedy and life in New York City. While there is flirtation with genuine human emotion and female camaraderie, it doesn’t package it as neatly as a 22-minute TV show. Hopefully “Rough Night” is a stepping stone to bigger and better movies.

Film Review: “It Comes at Night”

Starring: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott and Carmen Ejogo
Directed By: Trey Edward Shults
Rated: R
Running Time: 97 minutes
A24

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

There are a few things that always seem to get lost in the shuffle when an apocalyptic end of the world movie is created; paranoia, hopelessness and brutally honest human emotion. Most of the time in this genre, we’re meant to jump in our seats, watch a subtle reflection of the current political climate or enjoy watching Earth devolve into a sadist’s playground. “It Comes at Night” appears to start out with one of those intentions, but as it unwinds; the movie captures the very essence of humanity’s last gasp and struggling with death.

Paul (Edgerton) keeps his at his side, having them abide by a strict set of rules. The home, deeply entrenched in the woods, is boarded up and only has one entrance/exit, two locked doors, which Paul has the only key to. Paul struggles in silence to understand his son, Travis (Kelvin Harrison), who has just witnessed his grandfather succumb to the disease that is infesting the world around them. It takes effect within 24 hours, causing the body to develop talon like boils, its host to puke ink-like blood and turn eyeballs into tar pits.

“It Comes at Night” actually begins with the arduous task of putting grandpa out of his misery. Paul has Travis come along, despite his mom questioning whether or not Travis would be ready to watch the tragic deed. As Paul takes grandpa out into the woods, digs a shallow grave, and shoots him, Travis watches in confused silence. Certainly, going through puberty is compounded by watching a loved one slowly morph into some zombie movie monster.

They don’t have long to sulk because a strange man breaks into the home, scrounging for food and water. After an extensive interrogation process by Paul, the family learns that the man, Will (Abbott), is in desperate need of assistance. His wife and child are in a different home, waiting for him to return with any signs of hope. Paul agrees to help and welcomes the family into the home, and while things may be peaceful at first, things slowly unravel.

There isn’t a lot of small-talk or meaningful conversation between characters in “It Comes at Night.” On one hand, it makes sense because there’s no reason that the people in this scenario would be regurgitating the tragic details of what they already know. So very little is learned about the actual happenings outside the world and what kind of pandemic is eating away at the Earth. On the other hand, we don’t get a sense of what characters are truly thinking since they appear to be more obsessed about what the other is plotting or contemplating. The only inner workings we get a glimpse of our Travis’ adolescent mind.

It’s clear through many of Travis’ nightmares, that the death of his grandpa, sexual frustration brought on by puberty and paranoia are creating a lethal mental cocktail. Anytime a problem arises with Will and his clan, Travis is reminded by his parents about how family comes before everyone else. Since the movie spends so much time with Travis, it creates disconnect from nearly everyone else, which can be frustrating at first, but sets up for an intense final act.

There’s no traditional resolution to “It Comes at Night,” which is both a blessing and a curse. It gives the viewer a lot to ponder and discuss, but it also leaves you with no profound message to chew on. It’s unique in its pragmatic presentation of what happens when human beings are left to their own isolationism and the overwhelming distrust that will certainly envelop society during end times. But the biggest takeaway is that we’re all afraid of dying and losing those closest to us. There’s no political or social commentary away to take from that, it’s just a universal truth.

Film Review: “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

Starring the Voices Of: Kevin Hart, Thomas Middleditch and Ed Helms
Directed By: David Soren
Rated: PG
Running Time: 89 minutes
20th Century Fox

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

In 2013, 2012, 2005, 2004 and 2002, the “Captain Underpants” books made the American Library Association’s top 10 challenged books. This is a list usually reserved for “Fifty Shades of Grey,” “The Chocolate War,” “Of Mice and Men” and other well-known books. Ironically, “Captain Underpants” place on the list isn’t for its potty humor, but for its insensitivity and because it supposedly encourages children to disobey authority. For fans of the book, or those who don’t see that as a bad thing, you’ll be happy to know the movie keeps that spirit intact.

“Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” begins with an introduction to George Beard (Hart) and Harold Hutchins (Middleditch). The two fourth graders love to pull pranks and share a creative disregard for their school principal, Benjamin Krupp (Helms). They’ve rebranded him in their comic book, “Captain Underpants,” as made him the title character. He faces off against foes who are also modeled off of other people at the school like annoying teachers, humorless dorks and evil toilets. But the comic hero comes to life when George uses a 3D hypno ring from a cereal box to escape Krupp’s ire. At the snap of their fingers, the stuffy principal dons the iconic white briefs that stretch above the belly button.

There’s an underlying charm to George and Harold’s antics because of how their friendship is birthed through a mutual love for the arts and immature humor. It’s hard not to root for a duo that pulls pranks after being oppressed for expressing themselves in imaginative and comedic ways. Sure it’s humor that makes a man-child giggle and an elementary school classroom roar with laughter, but it’s counterbalanced by witty subtlety. However, even the most juvenile minds might roll their eyes at some of the low hanging fruit “Captain Underpants” happily plucks.

There is some clever wordplay and sight gags for astute viewers. But the majority of fun is from the student and teacher caricatures populating Jerome Horowitz Elementary. Jordan Peele provides the unsavory voice of a teacher’s pet, Kristen Schaal adds a nasal flair to her trademark high pitch when voicing a bashful lunch lady and Nick Kroll uses a stereotypical German accent to voice the film’s ludicrous villain Professor Poopypants. There’s actually a decent reason why his name is so puerile.

Director David Soren plays with different visual styles and animation throughout to keep the eyes drawn to the screen. While the majority of animation is on par with other animated films, moments with sock puppets and sequences that feel like children’s crayon drawings coming to life add to George and Harold’s unique vision. Soren, however, isn’t able to do much with fight and action sequences in the final act that make it memorable.

For a movie about toilet humor, “Captain Underpants” never resorts to grossing out the audience for a cheap laugh and finds a surprising amount of emotional depth in its characters, even the ones that are the butt of the joke. “Captain Underpants” does spend a little bit too much time indulging in its own sophomoric humor when it could have been fine tuning its style a little bit more or focusing on parodying the superhero genre. But if “Captain Underpants” does want to play with the big boys of DC and Marvel, it certainly has the groundwork laid out.

Film Review: “Everything, Everything”

Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Nick Robinson and Anika Noni Rose
Directed By: Stella Meghie
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 96 minutes
Warner Bros. Pictures

Our Score: 3 out of 5 Stars

“Everything, Everything” is going to draw a lot of on the surface comparisons to John Travolta’s “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble” and Jake Gyllenhaal’s “Bubble Boy.” It’s fair and unfair at the same time to make that comparison. It’s true that all three movies are about an individual, who’s basically allergic to life, overcoming the odds. But “Everything, Everything” is a lot more heartfelt and genuine, instead of cheapening its main character’s journey with low-brow humor or made-for-TV melodrama.

Maddy (Stenberg) suffers from severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID). Instead of a stereotypical bubble, her life is confinement inside her mother’s airtight home. Pauline (Rose) is a doctor that keeps constant watch and care over her daughter. Maddy seems defeated with the possibility that she’ll ever be able to explore the outside world. She limits her exploration to books she reads, online group chats with other kids who suffer from SCID and busying herself with architecture designs for an online course. Maddy’s wanderlust is sparked by a new neighbor, a loner, and uncharacteristically handsome boy, Olly (Robinson).

“Everything, Everything” is smart for recognizing that teen conversations no longer come in the form of passed notes, lengthy late night phone calls or basic interpersonal dialogue. The two connect over text and Internet, but “Everything, Everything” packages these heart-to-hearts cleverly. The movie plays out the conversation like they’re talking face-to-face, but in the realm of Maddy’s mind and in the playground of one of her architecture models. When the two finally do meet, they awkwardly communicate for the first time using words from their mouths and not with their thumbs.

The film’s sweetness is never overbearing and the cute relationship that developments is wholesome, while still maintaining a foot in reality. Maddy begins to yearn for life outside her sterile home while Olly is discovering there is hope in his miserable life. We subtly learn that his father is abusive, and that his mom, sister and he are emotional prisoners. Maddy and Olly find solace in each other. But alas, there’s a problem with the movie. It lacks courage.

The final act of this movie nearly sinks all the film’s good intention. For obvious reasons, I can’t talk about the ending, but I admit to being ignorant to the twist because I was expecting a unique ending, specific to the movie I was watching unfold. While the ending may have worked for the book this movie is based on, it doesn’t work in the movie. There was a decent shot at making “Everything, Everything” another “Fault in Our Stars” story, but the writers, of both the book and movie, lack the grit to deliver upon their character’s initial moxie.

Despite its flawed, cop-out ending, “Everything, Everything” finds it’s sensibilities in the relationship that develops between the leads. It’s faithful to their emotions, as well as their flawed humanity, although it’s a bit peculiar watching teenagers talking and acting so sincere without an underlying sense of dishonesty. Sometimes logic be damned when two teens are in love, or in this case, when the script calls for it.

Film Review: “Alien: Covenant”

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston and Billy Crudup
Directed By: Ridley Scott
Rated: R
Running Time: 122 minutes
20th Century Fox

Our Score: 2 out of 5 Stars

For the first time in well over a decade, there’s a decent amount of hype and high level of expectation surrounding an “Alien” film. There’s genuine public interest and hope that “Alien: Covenant” would add another rich layer of backstory to the close-quarters terror that audiences experienced back in 1979. But at the expense of bridging the gap between “Prometheus” and “Alien,” Ridley Scott has answered a question nobody asked and poorly answered a question that’s been left lingering since 2012.

The crew of the intergalactic colony ship, Covenant, is awoken mid-cryogenic sleep after a deep space electric charge frazzles their vessel. In the ensuing chaos, the crew’s captain (for some reason played by James Franco) is killed, the ship suffers extensive damage and the crew is alerted to a distress signal. What makes the distress signal curious is that it comes from a planet that’s more livable than the one they’re currently taking 2,000 colonists and thousands of human embryos to.

Acting Captain, Christopher (Crudup), wants to show strength by making a command decision to halt their current path and investigate the planet’s habitability as well as the distress signal. Christopher shrugs off logical concerns by crew members, like why an extensive search of the universe by precise computer programs would have missed this unheard of planet. While he lends an ear to Daniels’ (Waterston) unease, Christopher barrels towards the unknown. I’m sure you know this won’t end well.

The beginning of “Covenant” is ripe with tension, as we breathlessly wait for the best laid plans to fall apart. But once we’ve settled into the mysterious planet and we catch our first glimpse of some prototype xenomorphs, the pressure alleviates and is never reapplied. “Covenant” is covered in thick foreshadowing, that gives away its final act, even to someone who might be new to the “Alien” franchise.

However, fans of the franchise will be wondering what Ridley Scott has done. He’s stripped the dread and action, leaving behind something new, yet unpleasant. “Covenant” is a visually Gothic movie that’s more fixated with body horror than actual scares. It’s more fascinated with Frankenstein rather than the monster. While it is a slightly refreshing change of pace, the human element is nonexistent and the character’s intelligence is subpar.

Fassbender has double duty as the androids, Walter and David. David, if you remember, is the android from “Prometheus” who rides off into the proverbial sunset with Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) to find humanity’s creators. While most “Alien” franchise purists didn’t like “Prometheus,” I enjoyed it on the merits of a standalone film that plays a lot like a futuristic “Chariots of the Gods.” The thesis that all life is created by another living entity, and not a God, isn’t lost in “Covenant.”

Scott flirts a lot with man’s infatuation with creating life, discovering meaning, and tapping into what it metaphorically means to be immortal. It’s interesting to ponder, but it never evolves into anything meaningful and it’s buried under a lot of heavy exposition, robotic dialogue, and horror movie tropes. The most obnoxious of clichés is painting these astronauts and scientists like incompetent, horny teenagers stuck at Camp Crystal Lake.

I really wanted to like “Covenant,” especially since Fassbender’s performance was captivating and haunting at times, but I found myself worn out by its formulaic plot and how its human characters lacked human qualities. “Covenant” adds nothing new to the “Alien” franchise. It’s a bloated connector between two of Scott’s most ambitious films. But it’s interesting to note one scene in particular; it’s a narrated flashback that feels like Ridley Scott taking an eraser to “Prometheus.” Maybe he’ll eventually do that with “Covenant.”

Film Review: “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”

Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Astrid Berges-Frisbey and Jude Law
Directed By: Guy Ritchie
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 126 minutes
Warner Bros. Pictures

Our Score: 2 out of 5 Stars

For those who’ve read, studied, or are even fans of Arthurian legend, “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” isn’t for you. In fact, if you’re well versed in the British folklore, your confusion will quickly turn into anger a couple of minutes into the movie. While I’m not concerned about the mythology-to-book legitimacy of Guy Ritchie’s film, I’m more concerned about the emotional disconnect between its characters and the film’s unrepentant amount of murder.

Arthur (Hunnam), is born into royalty in Camelot, but not raised by his parents. His power hungry uncle, Vortigern (Law), murders his mom and dad, leaving Arthur orphaned and stranded in a boat. He’s picked up by some ladies of the night in Londinium, raised to become a compassionate and strong warrior. Arthur lives life ignorant to his royal and legendary bloodline, but he’s quickly thrust back into the bizarre world that he was born in. A sword in a stone has appeared and there are rumblings amongst the peasants about the return of England’s true king.

Anyone whose familiar with the works of authors like Geoffery of Monmouth and T.H. White, is surely wondering what the hell is going on with their beloved story. Guy Ritchie has pieced together one of the most disjointed and confounding action movies of the year. It’s really difficult to pinpoint blame on this one, but when he’s in the director’s chair and credited as one of the writers, the blame should fall at his feet.

Hunnam, is charming enough, but much of his allure feels forced. Maybe it’s because he’s much better suited as a tragic hero, which he played for six years on “Sons of Anarchy.” Law can’t suit up and play a compelling villain, and his character is inept and underdeveloped. Vortigern spends most of his time making empty threats and talking to an unnamed octopus woman in the dungeon of Camelot. By the way, the live-action Ursula gone-wrong, is just one of many unnamed and unexplained things, places, and people populating Ritchie’s vision.

Recognizable names, like Sir Lancelot or Sir Galahad, are on short supply as most run-of-the-mill fans will be struggling to remember or relate with characters like Back Lack or Mischief John. Merlin is mentioned, but the only mage Arthur ever comes into contact with is played by Astrid Berges-Frisbey. She’s never named in the movie, in the credits, or on the movie’s IMDB, yet she’s the only person of magic to interact with Arthur and help him tame his sword. You’d think an integral component of your plot would at least have a nickname.

There are inspired moments of “King Arthur,” but that’s only because of Ritchie’s visual flair and when his signature style is deployed, the use of narration over action sequences to condense exposition in an entertaining manner. The action is mostly digital; including a finale that feels like it was created with the video game engine from “Dark Souls.” It must be noted that this movie is excessively violent as we watch anonymous and unnamed civilians, usually helpless women, slaughtered. It makes the specific Arthur subplot that he lacks motivation to become king and save the day especially confounding.

If you were to take away the legend of King Arthur, as the film’s backdrop, it’s not an especially unique action film. It’s a mish mash of multi-national war dramas, “Lord of the Rings” and slow-motion CGI battles. While there’s rarely a dull moment, that void is filled with plenty of stupid moments. It may find an audience amongst connoisseurs and lovers of bad cinema; much like “Gods of Egypt” did last year.

“King Arthur” is certainly an attempt to kick start a franchise for Warner Bros., who’s still unwilling to admit their regret for hiring Zack Snyder to put together the DC universe. There was potential for “King Arthur” because Ritchie was in the pilot’s seat, but his talents are  overwhelmed by a messy script, bland characters, dimly lit settings, and an over indulgence in summer blockbuster movie tropes. If there’s a sequel, I’ll hope for the best, but expect the worst.

Planet Comicon remains the best in the Midwest

Rough weather in the Midwest didn’t stop tens of thousands of people from packing into Bartle Hall in Kansas City over the weekend for Planet Comicon. For three days, folks braved monsoon-like rains to meet their favorite stars, socialize and geek out. Nearly every inch of the convention center was brimming with fans, excited to see, meet and hear from celebrities, creators and cosplayers.

Like previous years, the 2017 edition of Planet Comicon featured all-stars across the entertainment spectrum. Everyone from Ron Perlman (“Sons of Anarchy” and “Hellboy) and Felicia Day (“The Guild” and “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”) to Jason Aaron (Writer for “Doctor Strange and “Thor”) and Kevin Eastman (Co-creator of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”) brightened the otherwise gloomy days. Our very own Mike Smith even hosted an informative panel on “Jaws 2” and Hollywood sequels. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who was disappointed by this year’s line-up and activities.

Saturday, one of the busiest days of the three-day extravaganza, could have been disastrous if it wasn’t for the quick work and social media tools at the disposal of Planet Comicon organizers. A backdrop collapse during John Barrowman, early on in the day, could have thrown a wrench in the organizer’s plans. But a quick reshuffling, along with constant updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Planet Comicon’s new phone app, notified fans about the up-to-the-minute changes. It’s just one of many signs that Planet Comicon is always evolving to become bigger and better. It’s truly a leader of cons in the Midwest and shows the perseverance to become one of the best cons in the U.S.

MediaMikes would be remiss if we didn’t thank Planet Comicon organizers for not only their hard work, but for the opportunity for some of our readers to win three-day passes to the event. We’re already planning to attend and cover next year’s Planet Comicon.

Photo by Dan Lybarger

“Hellboy” himself, Ron Perlman Pikachu on the dance floor at an after party Felicia Day with balloon versions of the “MST3K” robots No-Face from “Spirited Away”

 

Emma Caulfield and Clare Kramer reflect on their roles on “Buffy” Batman’s true weakness Jason Isaacs talks Harry Potter and DC A near-perfect Bob and Linda Belcher The one-man show, John Barrowman No shortage of creativity Tara Reid talks about how she wound up in the “Sharknado” series Ariel delighting children Shannon Elizabeth has been busy since “American Pie” An unlikely duo, the Mad Hatter and Jack Frost

Film Review: “Free Fire”

Starring: Sharlto Copley, Brie Larson and Armie Hammer
Directed By: Ben Wheatley
Rated: R
Running Time: 90 minutes
A24

Our Score: 3 out of 5 Stars

Guns, swearing and an ensemble cast. Sometimes that’s all you need. At least that might have been the idea behind “Free Fire,” a 90-minute dark comedy meant to entertain and amuse those sick enough to sift through its violence to unearth the humor and enjoy the over-the-top gunplay. “Free Fire” is heavy on style and short enough to justify the full-fledged warehouse shootout, but its lack of storytelling substance and handful of one-dimensional characters risks shooting it down entirely.

Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) are representatives with IRA, in Boston to purchase weapons from gun runner, Vernon (Copley). Mediating for the gun runner is Ord (Hammer) and Justine (Larson) for the IRA. Each side has their own underlings to schlep the merchandise around and nothing seemingly goes right during the late night meet-up. Things come to a head when underlings from both sides know one another and before you know it, the bullets start flying.

There are enough off-the-cuff remarks to understand that a few people in the overall group are a part of an underlying double cross, even before things go South. However, there’s just not enough information to fully understand the backstabbing that was about to take place before all Hell broke loose. The secondary plot at work seems inconsequential when everyone’s ready to kill each other off until the bitter end. It’s a story full of bullet holes, but I doubt “Free Fire” was concerned about that.

The movie is written and directed by Bill Wheatley, who certainly has a unique and perceptive style. “Free Fire” is so tightly filmed; it truly feels like a never ending gun battle without a dull moment in sight, unless of course you loathe brainless violence. Wheatley’s no stranger to content that will certain hook some while completely turning off others. “High-Rise” is a movie that’s intentionally repugnant, rewarding those that dig through the putrid humanity for the meaning and infuriating for those that prefer a much cleaner, deeper message.

“Free Fire” doesn’t serve a purpose other than to entertain and pay homage to late-night action movies of the 70’s and 80’s. It’s certainly a movie that Quentin Tarantino would have watched at the video store he was employed at if “Free Fire” had come out about four decades ago. Of course that would have influenced Tarantino to make a better movie. I would have preferred a story to “Free Fire” and much meatier characters so that their sass had more of a bite and their deaths were more consequential.

If “Free Fire” fails at the box office, it’ll surely become a cult classic, but if it succeeds, it’ll be shuffled to the side as a retro tribute to bygone action films. Regardless, “Free Fire” is crass escapism with some of the best filmed gunplay in recent memory. If you’re hoping for a little oomph to the plot and characters, outside of witty one-liners, you’ll be disappointed. If I could make a recommendation with what should accompany this movie, it would be alcoholic beverages and friends who bring out the immaturity in you.

Film Review: “The Fate of the Furious”

Starring: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham
Directed By: F. Gary Gray
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 136 minutes
Universal Pictures

Our Score: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

“The Fast and the Furious” franchise experienced a Renaissance when it embraced mindless action and over the top stunts, combining CGI with a real-life demolition derby, back when “Fast 5” was released. Since then it’s embraced this absurd concept that the fate of the world rests in the hands of speed junkies that refer to themselves as a close-knit family. Its intentional cheesiness allowed us to ignore the laws of physics and embrace these street racers turned globetrotting heroes. But “Fate of the Furious” stomps on the brakes by hovering precariously close to taking itself too seriously.

Dom (Diesel) is approached by a mysterious figure known as Cipher (Charlize Theron), while on his honeymoon in Cuba. Without the audience seeing it, a cellphone video convinces Dom to betray his “family,” go rogue and work for Cipher. Die-hard “Fast and the Furious” fans, who accept its cheese or eat it up like housewives munching on daytime soap operas, will certainly have their eyes glued to the screen as the betrayal unfolds. I, on the other hand, rolled my eyes and began waiting patiently for some neat explosions.

It’s difficult to talk about the plot in-depth because much of the movie hinges on why Dom is going rogue and Cipher’s connection to the greater world that’s been established through eight movies now. For a movie franchise about fast cars, scantily clad women, and explosions, there’s a surprising amount of depth within it’s pulpy drama, much like WWE’s Wrestlemania. That’s not lost on people who’ve spent over a decade and half with the group, or newcomers who’ve embraced it recently.

Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Michelle Rodriguez, and a handful of other side characters are back to appease fans who’ve stuck with the franchise since 2001. For those who aren’t familiar with the franchise, or have lazily watched them throughout the years like me, the paper thin plot and lack of meaningful development is still hanging in there. That’s actually a positive since anything more would have otherwise made the series unnapproachable as time went on.

The main problem is that “Fate of the Furious” tows the self-serious line it found itself on the wrong side of before “Fast Five.” Viewers are treated to exposition that feels like a lecture, instead of fast cuts that visually summarize our new villain, the story’s direction, or the plot. It’s a real drag when characters are reduced to robotic dialogue and technobabble during 30 minutes of talking; much like listening to two computers share data. It kills the adrenaline, especially after watching dozens of self-driving cars cause mayhem on the streets of New York City or a prison break highlighting Statham’s parkour fighting abilities.

Most of the cast knows they’re making a dumb movie and roll around in the scenery, chewing on bits and pieces while in their million dollar speed racers or while breathlessly fighting in ice covered Russia. Statham and Johnson are the best at this. Maybe they should have instructed Diesel and Rodriguez on how to liven up a little. Because Diesel is now the driving force, and one of the producers of the franchise and this film, his character has been place under the microscope. It’s a near fatal mistake assuming that the audience cares about him. People connect more with Johnson’s soccer dad persona and Statham’s hard-ass with a soft spot more than Diesel’s stoic demeanor. It appears that the loss of Paul Walker has left a big hole in the storytelling department.

“The Fate of the Furious” is an entertaining distraction that tragically relies more heavily on its slow storytelling pace, rather than its edge of your seat action. Despite its flaws, there are very few movies being given blank checks so that their characters can face off against a thermal nuclear Russian submarine with only nitrous powered cars at their disposal. The high of “Furious 7” makes “Fate of the Furious” a letdown, but the character’s affinity and eye popping action are enough to make it a passable addition to the franchise.

Film Review: “The Void”

Starring: Aaron Poole, Kathleen Munroe and Kenneth Welsh
Directed By: Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski
Rated: R
Running Time: 90 minutes
Screen Media Films

Our Score: 3 out of 5 Stars

If John Carpenter’s creatures, Clive Barker’s perversions and the 80’s Satanic panic bent the laws of nature and had an unholy baby, it’d be “The Void.” For horror aficionados and special effects gore hounds, “The Void” is a visual buffet. But for those wanting a little bit more in terms of storytelling, they’ll find “The Void” to be full of empty calories. As someone who can appreciate both, I feel that “The Void” is a scene setter for an idea bigger than what the directors could envision.

Officer Daniel (Poole) is awoken from a casual nap in his police cruiser by an injured man stumbling out of the woods. He rushes the blood-soaked stranger to an area hospital where the night shift is more focused on a different, new hospital they’ll soon be operating in. The old hospital is on the cusp of closing down after a mysterious fire. The barebones staff can’t wait to pack everything up and move.

The key players is Daniel’s emotionally distant wife, Alison (Munroe), whose sought comfort in Dr. Powell’s (Welsh) sage advice and comforting demeanor. There’s also a pregnant teenager, a clumsy CNA, a vengeful father and a decent handful disposable side characters. They hunker down as trouble arrives in the form of cloaked cult members armed with knives. They gather ominously outside the hospital, attacking anyone who dares attempt to leave, but that’s not the worst of their problems. That comes in the form of a monstrous blood-soaked blob made up of various limbs, body parts and tentacles stalking the hospital halls.

The storytelling is suspect. It’s a Frankenstein of nearly all body horror films from the 80’s, like “Hellraiser,” “The Thing,” “Re-Animator,” and “Night of the Demons.” Most other times I’d be frustrated that a movie would so blatantly steal page after page out of different movies scripts, but it’s clear that there’s a level of reverence and homage to these movies. Everything from the special effects to the tropes is out of respect and admiration, not parody or theft.

But the non-existence of originality in “The Void” hurts it a lot. The lack of personal ingenuity on the director’s end makes the movie forgettable. It’s a great throwaway, midnight creature feature, but the story and its characters yearn for to have their own novelty. The relationship between Officer Daniel and Alison should feel more exclusive, rather than a side note on a lengthy journey through religious evil and hell on Earth.

There are moments that hint towards a grander scheme at work as well as a few simple aesthetics to create an exclusive experience for fans of horror. For 90 minutes, it’s a wonderful sensory experience in terror, but there’s nothing narratively juicy enough for me to sink my teeth into and chew on. “The Void” is an ambitious project, deserving of praise for what it does right, but it’s difficult to overlook its failure to satisfy the tastes of those who crave more.

Film Review: “Power Rangers”

Starring: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott and RJ Cyler
Directed By: Dean Israelite
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 124 minutes
Lionsgate

Our Score: 1.5 out of 5 Stars

As a Millennial, I watched the “Power Rangers,” but I was not old enough or smart enough yet to do it ironically. Every day after school I’d plop my butt in front of the TV and watch a mindless repackaged Japanese TV show and enjoyed it like it was high art. My mom even suffered through the “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie” in theaters so I could get my fix. But here’s the thing, I couldn’t tell you a single Ranger’s name, villain or plot from the shows or movie. So it wasn’t memorable for me, but I’m sure the agony of having to endure it still lingers with my parents. Well, they’ll be happy to know what goes around has come around.

A prologue, millions of years in the past on Earth, sets the stage. We see that circular crystal discs are what give powers to the Rangers, an elite class of protectors. Cut to the future where we meet the next batch of Rangers, but they don’t know it yet. This is the movie’s first mistake as it spends an awful lot of time setting up Jason (Montgomery), a directionless high school football superstar who plans a juvenile prank that ruins his life. He ends him flipping his truck, damaging his knee and being relegated to detention, seemingly forever.

In detention he meets Kimberly (Scott), a former cheerleader who’s betrayed her friend’s trust, and Billy (Cyler), a brainy, yet slightly autistic student who we’ll eventually come to find out is the only originally pure of heart teenager in this movie. “Power Rangers” eventually introduces Trini (Becky G) and Zack (Ludi Lin), but never cares enough to give us any background information on them until right before the third act. But by that point it feels unnecessarily crammed in, like most of the film’s character development.

The movie sometimes chooses to be subtle with its character’s traits, yet at other times slaps audiences across the face with thick intelligence insulting exposition. But this is one of many problems plaguing “Power Rangers.” The movie never seems to settle on if it’s for a new generation of young “Power Ranger” fans or nauseous nostalgia for those who grew up in the 90’s. It’s a mix of both, but the direction choices clash so much, it makes for a jarring cinematic experience.

At times we get that TV safe Saturday morning feel from our future Rangers, like cutesy physical humor montages and a “Kingpin” joke about “milking” a cow, but other times we get blasts of teenage reality like the fallout of revenge porn and drowning your sorrows in beer. I’ll admit that the latter makes the characters a lot more human and relatable, but none of it feels natural. The happenstance of how they all meet and become friends is about as logical as a Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Banks playing intergalactic warriors who’ve been comatose for millions of years, simply waiting for the right moment to awake.

Cranston, as Zordon, is mildly wasted here, as his only on-screen performance is on a green-screen set covered in thick make-up. He shows up throughout the rest of the movie as a disembodied voice attached to a CGI grid screen, dispensing plot points and ridiculing the teenagers for not being able to come together as a team. Cranston’s delivery is too serious, never taking on the role as mentor. However, he’s complimented by the jokey robot, Alpha 5 (Bill Hader), who seems to fluctuate between hammy and cynical.

Banks plays the movie’s main villain, Rita. She’s the only one in the movie who chews on the green screen scenery. There are moments where Rita is truly delightful to watch because of how cheeky Banks’ delivers her dialogue, but there are certain elements to Rita that are unnecessarily included like when she commits cold-blooded murder or when she crawls across the screen like Regan spider walking in “The Exorcist.”

“Power Rangers” is glum and tonally frustrating, relying on concepts found in the recent trend of gritty reboots while attempting to be a self-serious homage to the original TV show. There are obvious editing flaws that even the average moviegoer should notice. It’s either bad storytelling and pacing or a baby playing with the buttons in the editing studios. Compounding these frustrations is a blatant product placement that would make NASCAR cringe. Was a “Power Rangers” movie ever supposed to be good? No. But it’s not supposed to be this bad.

Film Review: “Beauty and the Beast”

Starring: Dan Stevens, Emma Watson and Luke Evans
Directed By: Bill Condon
Rated: PG
Running Time: 129 minutes
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Disney has effortlessly remade one of its greatest films. That in itself should be commended because of the power that “Beauty and the Beast” still holds for old and young fans of the Disney brand. The 1991 animated classic still has some of the best theatrical music in their catalogue. It also has a story that managed to retell a fairy tale classic while thumbing its nose at formula, something that still feels fresh over a quarter of a century later. So how did Disney recapture the magic?

The sincerity by everyone involved is clear from the costume and set designers to the cast populating the screen. Emma Watson’s portrayal of Belle is spot on, from her obvious attractiveness to Watson matching Belle’s powerfully independent demeanor with stoic glares and gentle warmth in her eyes. There is subtle personality changes that evolves Belle from the two-dimensional hand-drawn character of yesteryear into a three-dimensional character grounded in reality that dances off the screen.

As for Dan Stevens, he had a tougher time capturing the brutish nature of his character, since the Beast is CGI. While I’d be willing to place bets that his voice was digitally tinkered with, Stevens’ ruffs, gruffs, and even singing, makes him stronger than Robby Benson’s portrayal back in the early 90’s. It also helps that we get a lot more backstory behind the Beast’s character and an extra layer of geniality beneath the coarse fur and fangs.

Going in I had my doubts that Luke Evans could play such a vain, muscular villain like Gaston, but luckily I was proven wrong by his character’s roguish suaveness and cunning wickedness. Josh Gad pairs with him nicely as a much more good-natured LeFou in this update. The cutlery and castle furniture are just as charming as their voice actors, Ian McKellan, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, GuGu Mbatha-Raw, and Ewan McGregor, who’s leading the way as the talking candlestick, Lumière. McGregor doesn’t disappoint when he voices the show stopping “Be Our Guest.”

The story remains true to the original, scrambling up a few pivotal moments, adjusting pacing, sewing in ideas from the Broadway adaptation, and taking some creative liberties (which I’m sure you’ve read or heard about one in particular in the media by now). After 25 years, it makes sense that some nuts and bolts have to be shifted and modernized, but it never forsakes the heart and spirit of the movie. The story’s soulful mix of romance and music remains intact.

There are about 30 more minutes of content that gives the audience a deeper of understanding of the characters, and not just our two lovebirds. We relate and feel more for the talking furnishings and silverware more than we did previously. While purists might fold their arms and slouch in their theater chairs in disgust over these changes and the vision, others will be enchanted by this interpretation, finding something there that wasn’t there before.

“Beauty and the Beast” is a magical retelling that will make fans of young ones and make Disney loyalists fall in love with the story all over again. While the original is still the standard bearer for Disney storytelling and animation, this 2017 version isn’t without its own merits. The 21st century “Beauty and the Beast” is a lot more melodic and even more visually extravagant without ever being gaudy. Its familiarity makes it a must-see, but its newfound charm makes it an instant classic for newcomers.

Film Review: “Table 19”

Starring: Anna Kendrick, Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson
Directed By: Jeffrey Blitz
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 87 minutes
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Our Score: 3 out of 5 Stars

The indie dramedy genre is generally characterized by it’s portrayal of a dysfunctional family, a haphazard group of friends or a bumbling arrangement of strangers in a scenario where there are multiple revelations, declarations and betrayals, soaked in sappy sentimentality and feel-good moments. Very rarely do the movies give audiences a cathartic release or genuinely move our hearts and soul. However, a few do. “Little Miss Sunshine” comes to mind. But most of these films are a dime a dozen, floundering on their own predictability or offering audiences brief, but humorous escapism. “Table 19” does both.

“Table 19” is named after the wedding table where the people who got an invitation, but should have known better and declined the offer, showed up. It’s the final table to be set and have it’s food delivered at the wedding. It’s brushed to the corner of the banquet hall, near the bathrooms and out of sight. The table 19 occupants are equally as random as their connection to the bride or groom. It almost makes you wonder if the nicer thing would have been to just never have sent an invitation at all.

There’s the heart-broken, former best friend of the bride and ex-maid of honor, Eloise (Kendrick). To her left is the Kepps, Bina (Kudrow) and Jerry (Robinson), whose marriage is struggling so bad they don’t even bother keeping up the appearance of smiling happiness or tolerable hatred anymore. To Eloise’s right is the adolescent Rezno (Tony Revolori), who’s only at the wedding because his mom didn’t think he had a chance of scoring a date or dance at his junior prom. Rounding out the table is ex-convict, Walter (Stephen Merchant) and a nanny from the past, Jo (June Squibb).

There’s a lot of emotion and backstory to unpack, but “Table 19” reveals a lot of it without sacrificing a handful of entertaining moments. Most of it unfolds naturally, in a manner that’s logical to the scant plot. Jerry loves mystery novels and wonders why such an oddball group would be stuck at the worst table. Eloise provides the answer, while withholding some secrets as to why she, a jilted lover, would bother showing up to the wedding her ex-boyfriend is at and why the couple even broke up in the first place.

Kendrick, as usual, is bubbly, likable and cute. It’d be interesting to see if she’d be able to pull off the villain in a movie someday. Merchant’s awkwardness as Walter provides some much needed comic relief that isn’t Jerry’s sardonic bluntness about the whole situation. The audience will surely relate with a lot of the characters on screen, but only because their plights are so generic. Despite my complaints about its reliance on indie tropes, I found myself enjoying the funny quirks each character carried as well as how the story resolved. The conclusion is the one thing I couldn’t quite predict.

The movie is written by the Duplass brothers, who’ve worked on a lot of indie dramedies, some bad and some well-written. What’s missing from their brand is the uncomfortable comedy that should be populating their envisioned settings. That’s where director Jeffrey Blitz comes in, whose work includes episodes of “The Office.” Together, the writers and director, create a passable movie, skirting on secondhand embarrassment, but nothing memorable or outstanding.

“Table 19” has some heartfelt performances and some jaunty comedic moments, but too often it finds itself lost in its own plotting and backstory. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell if we’re supposed to enjoy the characters company because they’re emotionally disfigured buffoons or sympathetic damaged souls. Even at 87 minutes, it feels like it takes too long to tell a simple story. At times its sappy like any love story culminating at a wedding, but sometimes you feel like you’ve shown up to a wedding you don’t want to be at.

Film Review: “Get Out”

Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams and Catherine Keener
Directed By: Jordan Peele
Rated: R
Running Time: 103 minutes
Universal Pictures

Our Score: 4 out 5 Stars

Something’s not right. It’s not just the subtle and blatant racism by Rose’s (Williams) family, but it’s the growing sense of dread that the audience experiences through the eyes of Chris (Kaluuya). Every other African-American that Chris encounters wears clothes straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting and speaks in uncomfortable pleasantries. Even worse is that when talking to these African-American’s Chris feels like he’s talking with every other white person he’s encountered at the family event.

Despite the blunt, and comedic, warnings of one of his friends, Chris is visiting the relatives of his five-month girlfriend. Rose tells him that she hasn’t mentioned she’s dating a black guy to her family, but she assures him it’s perfectly OK. She even tells him that her father (Bradley Whitford) would have voted for Obama for a third time if he could have. He later shoehorns that racially motivated banter into conversation as a way to get to know her daughter’s new boyfriend, as if her father assumes all black people voted for the 44th President. The awkward remarks and comments aren’t fooling Chris though. Something’s definitely not right.

For those familiar with Jordan Peele, who’s worked in television sketch comedy for over a decade, it might come as a surprise that his directorial debut is satirical horror, that’s a lot heavier on the tension than it is the jokes. The comedy is served up as a way to divide viewer apprehension, which there’s plenty of. Peele has a keen eye for unnerving the audience with numerous close-up shots, specific musical arrangements in even more specific spots, and performances that convey a sinister plot hidden deep in suburbia.

Peele, throughout his comedic career, has dropped muted and blunt horror movies references and “Get Out” is no different. For horror aficionados, there are plenty of nods, homages and stylistic choices reminiscent of Wes Craven, Stanley Kubrick and others. But for those in on the trick of the trade, you’ll find more to “Get Out” than its director’s love of scares as the film progresses. The social and racial commentary is sprinkled throughout and just not in Rose’s eerie, grinning family.

Chris, as well as his friend who keeps in constant contact with back home, seem to be the only ones that understand racism is still a thing. It’s seen early on with a policeman taking a statement after Rose hits a deer with her vehicle. Despite her being the driver, the officer still asks for Chris’ ID. That’s a more obvious statement by the film, but there are plenty of other moments shrouded behind smiling faces and looks, demeaning questions, and using undignified nicknames when talking with Chris.

The boogeyman in “Get Out” isn’t anything supernatural, but very real. As a white man who’s sat through plenty of horror movies, rarely do I ever get two distinct impressions. One, I am the boogeyman. Two, this is what the average black man deals with. The movie even begins with a nod to the Trayvon Martin incident as a black man walks through suburbia at night, thinking out loud about what George Zimmerman is lurking just around the corner.

As politically and socially carnivorous as “Get Out” is, it’s never victimizes black people or vilifies white people. The terror is real, projecting minority’s real world fears onto a plot revolving around body horror, brainwashing and 21st century slavery. It helps that Chris doesn’t find himself in the stereotypical backwoods, but in a picturesque homestead where everyone’s educated, nice and welcoming. But as I stated at the beginning, something’s not right. If “Get Out” is any indication, Peele is not only a refreshing voice for horror, but may have just steered the genre in a completely new direction that’s wildly exciting, scary and ferocious.

Film Review: “The Red Turtle”

Directed By: Michael Dudok de Wit
Rated: PG
Running Time: 80 minutes
Sony Pictures Classic

Our Score: 4 out of 5 Stars

Since 2013, Studio Ghibli has been without Hayao Miyazaki. The creatively diverse, ever-promising studio has seemingly been stuck in a holding pattern. When a found is no longer present, it’s understandable for a production studio to shuffle its feet while trying to find some new footing. Ghibli’s first theatrical step since Miyazaki’s departure may have come in the form of a multi-national collaboration.

“The Red Turtle” isn’t really a story, more than it’s a visual journey. In many ways, it’s a fable without dialogue, taking viewers on a curious excursion. The movie begins with an unnamed man, clinging to life in a furious sea storm. He awakens, stranded on an island that has the most basic of essentials; a small cluster of ponds to drink fresh water from, various fruits to quell his hunger, and bamboo to craft a getaway raft. The only thing preventing his escape is an expressionless red turtle.

Someone with rudimentary observational skills would view “The Red Turtle” as simplistic storytelling without purpose. But the removal of dialogue requires the viewer to take in more than they normally would. You pay more attention to the thinly drawn facial expression changes, the grunts, the various orchestral selections and the nameless man’s dreams that spill into reality. I can tell you what “The Red Turtle” means to me, but this is multi-layered movie that relays a different message for those willing to watch.

I viewed the “The Red Turtle” as a thoughtful reflection about mankind’s need to reconnect with nature in a meaningful way, less we want to wind up alone on this floating blue ball called Earth. It’s not necessarily an environmental message that I took away, but one of humanity’s casual disrespect. We merely take what we need and seem frustrated when nature responds, not with violence, but with curiosity about why we don’t stop in breathe it all in. Once the nameless man works with nature, instead of against it, he begins to be happy and see the island as a miniature slice of heaven.

But like I said, others will take away a much different and distinct opinion from the subtext. This kind of opinion is true for most films, but “The Red Turtle” is crafted in such a way that if there is a true message to be consumed, it’s cleverly hidden beneath a lot of optical substance. Without giving too much away, there are deep themes about family dynamics, the destructive habits that nature and mankind reciprocally share, the mutual survivalism every creature on Earth is enduring, and that’s just a few.

While “The Red Turtle” is a metaphorical delight, it’s pace sometimes is slower than a casual stroll, seemingly padding it’s runtime so it could be considered a feature length film. This is a story that may have benefitted from a shorter runtime, but then again it may have lacked a lot of philosophical richness that viewers would be able to sink their teeth into. “The Red Turtle” is not only a stellar animation endeavor, but a soothing delight that reflects the human soul.