A Wrinkle In Time (2018)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Meg Murray is a troubled child. Her father, a scientist for NASA, has been missing for nearly 4 years, the kids at school are mean to her, and even the teachers think she’s a lost cause. The only person who gets her is her little brother, Charles Wallace, a 4-year-old genius who seems to be able to read minds. One night, a “dark and stormy night” as the characters themselves put it, a strange woman, Mrs. Whatsit, appears on their doorstep, and casually tells them that tesseracts, the ability to teleport to other realms by bending space-time, are real. Seeing as these were the very things Meg’s father was investigating before he disappeared, Meg’s Mother, who is also a scientist, is mortified. Things only get crazier from there when two other strange women, Mrs. Who, a being who only speaks in famous quotes, and Mrs. Which, who is Oprah, appear out of nowhere, and take Meg, Charles Wallace, and Meg’s crush, Calvin, on an adventure to save their father from “IT.”

A Wrinkle In Time is adapted from one of my favorite children’s books, it’s got some of my favorite actors–like Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Chris Pine–in it, and it’s directed by a woman of color, Ava DuVernay. I WANT to like this movie. I NEED to like this movie. And yet, I don’t like this movie. Like, at all. About fifteen minutes in, I knew that the film wasn’t going to get any better. And when I realized that, I felt a small part of my soul die. (Not really, but you get the point).

This movie is cheesy, poorly-acted, and has some surprisingly bad special effects in it.  There’s one scene in particular, where Mrs. Whatsit transforms into a giant lettuce leaf monster, where I literally burst out laughing at how bad the CGI was. The costumes and hairstyles, particularly of the three Misses, are also extremely gaudy and ridiculous looking. Oprah, Mindy Kaling and Reese Witherspoon, God bless them all, have to wear these absurd poofy dresses that look like they were ripped right out of Elizabethan England, and Oprah has to act through this silly-looking wig that looks like it was taken right off of RuPaul’s head. And as bad as the special effects and costumes are, they’ve got nothing on the stilted dialogue. I kid you not, there are scenes in this movie, like the one where two teachers “talk” about Charles Wallace and Meg’s back-story, where the dialogue is physically painful to listen to.

Now before you accuse me of being too hard on this movie, it does have admirable qualities. Oprah, Mindy and Reese all do great jobs. The cinematography is very nice. And the film has a Black, female protagonist, who is interested in science, something you didn’t see that much until Black Panther came out. And as revered as the film’s source material is, it’s also kind of cheesy, so you can’t really blame the film for being that as well. Seriously, I went back and revisited A Wrinkle In Time before the film came out, and, as an adult, I noticed two things about it; one, it’s a lot more religious than I remembered, and two, it’s really, really cheesy. Like, Meg defeats the main villain through “the power of love”cheesy. Ugh. But none of that changes the fact that the CGI is bad, the dialogue is painful to listen to, Storm Reid, who plays Meg, is kind of stiff, and the actor playing Charles Wallace is annoying. So, in the end, good intentions and a strong cast aren’t enough to make this film worth watching. I feel like the studio should have waited until Ava DuVernay had done two or three more low budget movies before they gave her the reigns to a $100 million tentpole flick. After all, you need to try and fail a couple times before you know what your strengths are. Bottom line is, you don’t need to see this picture.

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Annihilation (2018)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Natalie Portman is a biologist, and former soldier. Exactly one year ago, her husband, played by Oscar Isaac, went into a mysterious, mutated area called “the shimmer” and disappeared. Everyone thinks he’s dead, until, one day, out of nowhere, he shows up on Portman’s door, deeply ill. She learns from a psychologist, Jennifer Jason-Leigh, that he was part of a reconnaissance mission sent into “the shimmer” to find out just what it is, and that, to date, he is the only person to return. Upon hearing that there will be a new team sent into the area, Portman volunteers, for some reason, and she and the group venture forth into “the shimmer” where they encounter all kinds of crazy shit, including mutated plants, mutated crocodiles, and even mutated bears.

Annihilation is a film that, on paper, I should love. It’s a sci-fi movie, with an all-female cast, and some very interesting visuals. In practice, however, I found the film to be boring, pretentious, and surprisingly hollow. Then again, this film is written and directed by Alex Garland, the man behind Ex Machina, a movie that, if you’ve read my blog, you know I REALLY didn’t care for. Luckily, this picture doesn’t have nearly as much unintentional racism as that movie. It’s still not good, though, and a lot of it has to do with the way Garland helms the film. He directs all his actors to say every line in as slow and serious a manner as possible, and there’s barely a moment in this movie where anyone smiles, or acts like a human. This is especially true with Jennifer Jason-Leigh’s character, who, to the best of my recollection, never shows the slightest trace of emotion in anything she says. Granted, her character is supposed to be very repressed and mysterious, but there’s a way to convey those things in a manner that is interesting. As it is, she just comes off as dull and lifeless.  On top of that, the character’s make serious, life or death decisions in this movie that don’t really make sense. Portman, for instance, decides to go into “the shimmer” because, according to her, she owes her husband. Owes him what? A cure? A life? An answer? The film tries to explain this away by showing how she had an affair, but, the truth is, if she was really sad, and just wanted to kill herself, why go through all the headache of an expedition. Why not just take some sleeping pills? Oh wait, I know. Because we wouldn’t have a movie otherwise. And, finally, the characters just aren’t very interesting. You know next to nothing about them, and they are all so bland that none of them sticks out. Well, that’s not true. Gina Rodriguez stands out, because, in addition to having the funniest dialogue, she shows some actual emotion. I guess Garland couldn’t dampen her spirit. On top of that, she’s the only one who reacts like a normal person when all the crazy shit starts happening. She’s the one who says, “hey, maybe we should leave.” But everyone else just looks at her with their dead, monotone eyes, and says, “No, we have to stay. For science.” I’m not joking when I say that after Gina died, I lost all interest in the movie.

Guys, don’t go watch Annihilation. Yes, it has admirable qualities, like an all-female cast and some truly impressive visuals. And, yes, it is a bit smarter, or, at least, it thinks it is, than your average horror movie. But the characters are uninteresting, the acting, with the exception of Gina Rodriguez,  is wooden, and the pace is SLOW. You want my advice, treat yourself to something more exciting, like Black Panther, or funny, like Game Night. This flick ain’t worth your time.

The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

In the future, Earth is running dangerously low on fuel. So, in a last ditch effort to come up with a clean, alternative energy source, the world’s governments create a giant particle accelerator, and shoot it up in space, where it can be tested without fear of damaging the Earth. Unfortunately, when the particle accelerator does eventually function, the crew of said space station find themselves transported to a parallel dimension. And back on Earth, the particle accelerator’s explosion opens up a portal, releasing giant, Godzilla-like monsters, which begin wreaking havoc. Will the crew get home? Will they find a way to undo all the damage that they’ve caused? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

Guys, this is it. This is what all the Zhang Ziyi reviews I’ve been posting have been leading up to; the release of her new film, The Cloverfield Paradox. I’ve been waiting for this movie for well over a year, seeing as it was supposed to come out last February, but kept getting delayed, and, let me tell you, when it hit Netflix last night, I was pumped. I was ready. I wanted so badly for this to be good; for it to be a welcome return of my favorite actress to the American big screen. But when I finished watching it, I was left feeling vastly disappointed. Not only does this movie waste Zhang Ziyi, and it’s incredibly talented cast, which includes so many international stars, like Daniel Bruhl, Aksel Hennie, and Chris O’Dowd, but it flat out doesn’t make any sense.

But before I launch into my many criticisms, I do want to be fair, and list some positives. First of all, it looks amazing. The camerawork, the production design, and the special effects are all top-notch. In addition to this, while the characters these actors are playing are flat and one note, the actors themselves all give great performances. And, finally, the film is never boring. It moves at a very quick pace, and so much crazy shit happens, like when a guy’s arm gets bitten off by a wall, and then it shows up again, seemingly sentient, that you can’t help but keep watching, hoping to find answers.

Unfortunately, the questions are all you have, and when the movie ends, you wind up feeling kind of cheated. As I said, crazy shit happens in this picture, and seemingly for no reason. What I mean by that is, characters die in this movie who just didn’t have to. And it’s not like in most horror films where it’s their own stupidity that finishes them off. “Don’t go in the basement! There’s a monster down there.” No. In this movie, characters will just be living their lives, doing their thing, when the screenwriters will suddenly decide, “you know what? We can’t have more than one survivor. Let’s off this character in a completely nonsensical, arbitrary way.” Aksel Hennie, for instance, somehow gets a bunch of space worms, and the ship’s GPS, stuck inside him, which causes him to explode. How did they get there? How was he able to live so long with those things inside him? No explanation. Likewise, Zhang Ziyi gets killed off when she goes into a room to fix something, does, and then, out of nowhere, the room floods. And it’s not like we see the pipes leaking before this happens. She just goes in, fixes something, and then, out of nowhere, there’s water. It really pisses me off when characters die for no reason, and she and Aksel Hennie most certainly do. And speaking of the characters, they are beyond one note. With the exception of the main protagonist, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, we know nothing about them. We don’t know if they have families. We don’t know if they have jobs back on Earth. We don’t know what their tastes in movies, music, food or literature are. They are literally just bodies to be disposed of. This is especially true of Zhang Ziyi’s character. In addition to not knowing any of her back-story, she is also shown as being incapable of speaking English. Yeah. All her dialogue is in Mandarin, and, sometimes, there aren’t even subtitles when she speaks. Why? In real life, Zhang Ziyi is fluent in English. Just watch Memoirs of a Geisha, Horsemen, and all the interviews she’s given to American press. Her English is perfect, so the “it was to make it easier for her to act,” excuse, doesn’t hold water. Having her only speak Mandarin was a bad directorial choice for multiple reasons. On top of playing into a racist stereotype that Asian people can’t speak English–Why do none of the European characters only speak German or Russian , huh?–it distances her from the audience. Not only do you not know anything about her past or personality, but, unless you speak Mandarin, you won’t understand a single word she’s saying. So she’s twice removed from the viewers. As a result, you don’t care about her at all, even when she dies. And that’s terrible. Zhang Ziyi is the only reason I wanted to see this piece of shit to begin with, and she’s totally wasted. AAAAAAH!

Guys, don’t watch The Cloverfield Paradox. If you’re a fan of the franchise, or space horror, you might get a kick out of this, but not me. I want characters who are compelling, a plot that makes sense, and for talented actors to not be wasted. I’m so sorry Ms. Zhang. You deserved a better script. Hopefully, I’ll get the chance to write you one someday, but, until then, I guess this is all we’ve got. And that’s a damn shame.

Horsemen (2008)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My game.

Estranged from his children after the death of their mother, hardened homicide detective Aiden Breslin (Dennis Quaid) is called in to investigate a series of ritualistic murders. His search brings him into contact with Kristen Spitz (Zhang Ziyi) the daughter of one of the victims. She pleads with him to find the killers, but then, five minutes later, reveals herself to be one. She explains that she is part of a group who model themselves after the four horsemen of the apocalypse (War, Famine, Pestilence and Death), and that there will be more murders. And, well, shit gets crazy from there.

The best way for me to describe Horsemen is as “Seven for Dummies.” Like Seven, this film is a mystery involving brutal, religiously themed murders. But unlike Seven, where there is very little onscreen violence, this movie has several torture scenes in it. And whereas Seven’s characters were compelling and well-defined, the characters in Horsemen are one-note, and even kind of annoying. In other words, they’re the kind of characters you expect to see in a Michael Bay production, which, unfortunately, is what this is. But before I delve into my many criticisms, I do want to list some things I liked about the movie. First of all, it looks great. The cinematography is beautiful, and the use of color is very effective. Second, the film moves at a quick pace, so I was never bored while watching it. And third, the acting, for the most part, is solid. So, in terms of pure craftsmanship–acting, cinematography, sound design–this movie is perfectly competent.

It’s a shame, therefore, that the script is not. As I mentioned earlier, the characters are not well-defined. All you really know about them is their type–neglectful father, angry son, etc–and their motivations don’t make sense. Well, that’s not entirely true. Zhang Ziyi’s motivation does make sense. She was sexually-abused by her parents, and wanted revenge. That I can understand. But for some of the other people, like Cory, aka Death, the reasoning behind their actions makes no sense at all. And even though I understand why Zhang Ziyi wants revenge, I have no idea why she just decides to give herself up. She doesn’t feel guilty about the murder, and the police aren’t making any progress when she does confess, so there’s no reason for her to. Well, that’s not true. If she didn’t come forward, the plot wouldn’t be able to advance, because the police in this film are beyond inept. Seriously. Every time Quaid finds out something in this movie, it’s because someone tells him. He never deduces anything on his own. Ugh.

Guys, all I can say about Horseman is this. It’s a competently-crafted, but poorly-written murder mystery. It’s got some good cinematography, and some solid leads. But unless you’re already a fan of the actors, or this particular brand of thriller, you probably shouldn’t watch it. It’s not worth your time.

Bright (2017)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And views Are My Game.

In an alternate reality where Humans, Orcs and Elves all live side by side, the LAPD, hoping to appear more diverse, hires it’s first Orcish police officer, Nick Jacobi. Jacobi is paired with veteran beat cop Scott Ward, who dislikes Nick because he’s an Orc, and because he didn’t protect him when somebody shot at them. This leads to Ward taking a deal with the Feds, wherein he’ll wear a wire, and get Jacobi to confess that he’s more loyal to his race than to the law. But all that takes a back seat when the two find a young Elf, Tikka, who possesses a magic wand. Wands, as you might imagine, are super, super powerful, and a lot of people, including a gang leader, an Elf cult, and a couple of corrupt cops, want this particular wand very, very badly. So much so that they’ll kill to get it. So it’s up to Ward and Jacobi to protect the wand, avoid the people coming after them, and, of course, save the world in so doing.

Guys, I won’t lie, when I saw the first trailers earlier this year, I was intrigued. I thought the idea of melding a police procedural with high fantasy was both original and inventive, and the make up and effects I saw looked genuinely cool. But, even so, I was weary. The trailers stressed that this flick was being directed by David Ayer, the man behind Suicide Squad, Fury, and End Of Watch. And while those latter two flicks are good, and I did initially enjoy Suicide Squad, until I realized how stupid it was, the fact that Ayer was involved made me nervous. As I’ve said before, he’s a writer/director known for making gritty, hard-hitting crime films, full of profanity, macho man posturing, violence, and racial stereotypes. Seriously, his directorial debut, Street Kings, begins with a scene where Keanu Reeves insults two Korean gangsters with every single Asian racial slur under the sun. And, to be honest, even his good films, like Training Day and End Of Watch, are full of cliched non-white characters, like Latino men who call each other “homes” and Black men who call each other “dog.” So when Bright finally hit Netflix, I was weary, but hopeful. And now, having seen it, I can safely say, yeah, it’s bad.

Now, I do want to be fair, so I’ll start off by saying that there are elements of this film that I liked. I liked the world that this flick created. I liked the creature designs for the Orcs, Elves, and Fairies. There’s some good action in here, even if it is a bit choppily edited, and I liked the fact that this was an original story. It’s not an adaptation, spin-off, or sequel to anything, which is always a plus in my book. And, again, the lore of this world is genuinely cool. I hope someone out there decides to explore this world further, maybe by going to different cities, or countries, and examining how they treat magical creatures, because it has potential. But, beyond that, this movie is pretty much awful.

Every single negative Ayer-ism you can think of–the choppy editing, the stupid, tough guy stand offs, the racial stereotypes–is on full display in this movie. And unlike his best flicks, where you can overlook those things because the characters are interesting and the dialogue is funny, this film’s protagonists are unappealing and underdeveloped, and the dialogue is terrible. Seriously! It’s awful. Here are some actual lines spoken in this movie: “It’s bullshit.” “No, human shit.” “If you’re gonna play stupid games, you’re gonna win stupid prizes.” “If you act like my enemy, you become my enemy.” What the hell, man? The lines in this movie feel like Place-Holder Dialogue, stuff you write in a first draft to give readers the feel of what the characters are talking about, but abandon and polish when you go back and revise. And, like I said, the characters are terrible. If you asked, I couldn’t tell you one thing about them. That’s because the movie never bothers to set up their personalities. In the best buddy cop films, Lethal Weapon, Rush Hour, you get opening scenes where you’re able to watch the characters live their lives, and get a sense for who they are. And then, after you’ve gotten to know them, you get to watch them meet. In this movie, you don’t get either of those things. You don’t get to see their lives beforehand. You don’t get to watch them meet each other. Ward and Jacobi are already partners at the start of the flick, and everything about them is told to us in painfully awkward, exposition-heavy exchanges. It’s really, really bad.

Guys, don’t watch Bright. Or if you do, go in knowing that it’s not very good. It’s got a cool premise, and I would love it if other, better artists would explore its world on their own, but, by itself, this film is not worth your time.

Death Note (2017)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

While doing other people’s homework, angry nerd Light Turner stumbles across a mysterious book with the words “Death Note” written on it. And by “stumbled,” I mean it falls from the sky, and hits him on the head. Anyway, when he opens it, a strange, spiky-faced demon named Ryuk appears before him, and explains that if Light writes a person’s name in the book, and pictures their face while doing so, he’ll be able to kill the unlucky soul. Realizing that this gives him virtually unlimited power, Light uses the book to kill off bullies, murderers and terrorists, eventually creating a god-like persona for himself called Kira. Some people love him, since he’s basically ridding the world of evil. Others hate him, since he’s essentially deciding who is worthy of life and who isn’t. Either way, the police, led by an eccentric detective called L, are brought in, and begin investigating Kira’s identity. This puts the pressure on Light, and his bloodthirsty girlfriend, Mia, who start to realize that, shock of all shocks, maybe killing people off indiscriminately is bad.

The best thing I can say about Death Note is that it has an interesting concept. If you did have the power to decide who lived and who died, what would you do with it? Would you just settle personal scores? Or would you try to make the World a better place? And, perhaps more important than that, how would you know who to kill? Because, the truth is, “good” and “evil” are highly subjective terms. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. People can change for the better, even after they’ve made horrible choices. And in our social media dominated world, how do you know if the stories you’ve heard about someone are true? A guy you read about online could be a murderer, or he could just be a dude that someone didn’t like, and so they decided to ruin his life by spreading false rumors. The film’s premise opens up so many interesting questions, and, to it’s credit, the script does touch upon all of them briefly. But just about everything else is laughably bad. And I do mean laughably.

There are so many moments in this film that are unintentionally hilarious, like when Light is screaming at the top of his lungs, or when he and Mia are saying “I love you” to each other on a collapsing ferris wheel, that you can’t really take the movie seriously. This accidental comedy is due, in large part, to some weird stylistic choices the filmmakers made, like using a ton of 80s soft pop during dramatic or gruesome scenes. It’s extremely distracting, and really detracts from whatever serious tone the director might have been going for. There are also some weird hold-overs from the anime this film is based off of, (an anime I have not seen, by the way), that make it extremely hard to take the movie seriously. Like, why is he named Light? Who the hell names their kid Light? If you wanted to Americanize the property, you should have called him Luke, or Liam, or anything that a normal person would be named. And if, somehow, none of that bothers you, then the lackluster acting and gaping plot holes should get the job done, because this movie has plenty of both. The guy who plays Light seems to think that the way to convince a girl that you love her is to open your eyes really wide, and smile in as creepy a manner as possible. And L, as interesting and quirky as he is, makes some huge deductions based on virtually no evidence. And I do mean no evidence. Somehow, some way, he is  able to conclude that Light is in Seattle, and that he needs to see his victim’s faces, and know their names, in order to kill them. Yes, he’s right. But you don’t buy that he’s able to deduce this. And the fact that you don’t buy it is a plot hole.

Guys, I really don’t think you should watch Death Note (2017). I can’t  say whether or not it did the anime justice, but I can say that it’s questionable acting, gaping plot holes, and strange music choices work together to create a silly, unintentionally hilarious motion picture. So unless your in the mood for something campy and dumb, don’t waste your time with it.

A Ghost Story (2017)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My game.

When a man dies in a car crash, he returns as a ghost to haunt his house. There, he settles in, and watches time pass. His wife moves out, a new family moves in, the house gets bulldozed and replaced with a new building, and, when He attempts ghost suicide, he gets sent back a few hundred years, and watches the whole process all over again. And if that sounds boring, it’s only because it is.

A Ghost Story is one of the dullest, slowest, most pretentious movies I’ve ever had the displeasure of seeing. It feels like a 3-minute student film that somehow got stretched out to feature length. And I’m not just saying that. All the characteristics of student films–minimal dialogue because you haven’t figured out how sound equipment works, one location because you don’t have the budget to build sets, a small cast because you can’t afford to pay more people–are present in this movie. And also like student films, this picture really wants to make statements on big issues, like life, love, and time, but isn’t mature enough to actually say anything worth while. There is literally a scene, about halfway through, where a character whose name we never learn, and who we never see again, gives an overly long monologue about how everything we do is meaningless, because even if our work survives, the world will blow up, and blah, blah, blah. It’s awful.

I’ve reviewed many bad films on this blog. Chappie, Fifty Shades Of Grey, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon 2, the list goes on. But even those films, as bad as they were, had stories. They had characters with names. They had certain things–like robots, gunfights, sex–designed to stimulate the senses. And, most importantly, they had dialogue. Their characters said things. This film doesn’t have any of that. The man who becomes a ghost is never given a name. He barely says anything before he dies, and what he does say doesn’t give us any indication of his past or personality. There are many, many, MANY scenes that take place in total silence, and are of characters doing completely mundane activities, like eating pie, lying in bed, or washing their hands. And they’re all done in long, static wide shots, some of them going on for over four minutes. Yes, four. I counted, and the scene where a woman eats pie in complete silence is done in one take, and that take lasts over four minutes. Sitting through this movie is a test of one’s endurance. Which is shocking, when you realize that it’s only 90 minutes long.

So when you combine all this together–the lack of dialogue and characterization, the unnecessarily-long shots, the painfully slow pacing–you wind up with a boring, pretentious, utterly unenjoyable motion picture. I hate it, and I don’t think any of you should go see it. It’s not worth your time.