Category Archives: Review

Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado – Film Review

The title Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado evokes memories of straight-to-DVD Blockbuster Video exclusives. The embarrassing marketing, with a skeleton holding an assault rifle, draped in a US flag, doesn’t help. Topping it off with a Rotten Tomatoes score hovering at a disappointing 64%, it seemed safe to say that this would be a Sicario sequel in name only.

Perhaps it helped then, that I watched the original Sicario just two days before. With the original fresh in my mind, I felt like I watched a very different sequel from many critics. Sicario 2 takes the pessimistic worldview of the first film and dives in even deeper, leaving behind Emily Blunt’s Kate Mercer as the one idealist we could root for. We’re left with the morally-ambiguous fixer Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and revenge-fueled hitman Alejandro (Benecio Del Toro), off on a new mission to shake the hornet’s nest at the US/Mexican border. Continue reading Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado – Film Review

Best F(r)iends, Part 1 – Film Review

Best F(r)iends, Part 1 might be a carefully crafted, perfectly executed attempt to replicate the lightning-in-a-bottle that was The Room. It might also be another unintentionally hilarious trainwreck from disaster artists Greg Sestero and Tommy Wiseau. That this is only part one of a four hour epic only serves to complicate things — is Best F(r)iends the result of incredible hubris on the part of its creators, or a brilliant marketing ploy, ensuring all of Part 1’s guinea pigs return for Part 2 with additional friends in tow?

Best F(r)iends could have been so many things. I had half-expected something darkly serious, with director Justin MacGregor somehow wrangling Tommy Wiseau into a coherent performance. The only other option seemed to be that Best F(r)iends would try to be The Room 2, ultimately failing because you just can’t do something like The Room on purpose. Continue reading Best F(r)iends, Part 1 – Film Review

Ready Player One – Film Review

It’s tough to review Ready Player One (the film) on its own merits when so much has been said about Ernest Cline and Ready Player One (the book). I never read the book, so I can’t comment on the minutiae that sets Spielberg’s adaptation apart from the original, but I do know some of the broad strokes.

Cline’s novel obsesses over 80s pop culture, while the film is a free-for-all, referencing everything from Atari games to The Iron Giant and Overwatch. Cline’s novel also gets into some messy territory, mishandling its female characters, dipping its toe into transphobia, and just generally being kind of creepy. The film, conversely, strips out most the problematic details, striving to develop its primary female character with more purpose and agency.

With these changes and streamlining, writer Zak Penn and director Steven Spielberg have crafted a crowd-pleasing, mostly inoffensive adventure (Asian stereotypes notwithstanding — this is Hollywood, after all) packed with surprisingly well-done CG action sequences. They’ve also streamlined to the point of absurdity, presenting a poorly-realized world that makes it difficult to get invested in anything that happens. Continue reading Ready Player One – Film Review

Pacific Rim: Uprising – Film Review

The original Pacific Rim left a lot of room for improvement. The film had so much promise, referencing Godzilla and mecha anime, but with a big budget and recognizable actors. There were ideas at the heart of that first film — the whole concept of drifting, where two people merge their minds to pilot their mecha successfully, for example — that elevated it beyond things like the Transformers films. The world-building of Pacific Rim was unmatched. Unfortunately, it stumbled when it came time to drive a plot around that world. The end result felt like a mash-up of the anime Evangelion, and the 1995 US Godzilla movie. It was really weird.

Pacific Rim: Uprising brings nothing new to the table, nor does it manage to succeed at the basics of storytelling. Rather than build on the cool ideas established in the first film, it quickly acknowledges the ideas before going for the lowest common denominator. Continue reading Pacific Rim: Uprising – Film Review

Red Sparrow – Film Review

Watching Red Sparrow felt like deja vu. Just six months ago I was in a theater watching mother!, another poorly-received, Jennifer Lawrence-led film. Just six months ago I was watching Lawrence give, perhaps, a little too much of herself to a role. Both films show her character beaten, punished, disrobed, tortured, and gas-lit by men in power. In both instances, I wouldn’t blame viewers who thought it was all a little too much. Yet, in both instances I was also pleasantly surprised. I absolutely loved mother!, and Red Sparrow was far from the train wreck I was led to believe.

The film that some had hoped would be the Black Widow film we’ll never get, or another Atomic Blonde, is in-fact, neither. Red Sparrow is a graphic, deliberate, and convoluted spy fiction tale. The Sparrows are Russian secret agents that use their bodies to manipulate men in power. They are trained to find weaknesses and exploit them, all the while ignoring their own sense of shame or pride. Continue reading Red Sparrow – Film Review

Annabelle: Creation – Film Review

Most people would say they go to horror movies and haunted houses for the same fundamental reason: to be scared. That said, I have to hope most people expect a bit more substance from a movie, and while Annabelle: Creation is an effective jump-scare delivery system, it doesn’t have much else to offer.

Set as an origin story for the Annabelle doll from both The Conjuring films and the previous Annabelle, Creation tells a story no one really needed to know, in a setting that couldn’t be more dull.

Set in small town America in-or-around the 1950’s, the film opens with the Mullins family — a father, mother, and daughter — living happily in their large, isolated house outside of town. The father, Samuel, is launching a new line of porcelain dolls, the first of which is completed just before a tragic car accident takes the life of their daughter.

Twelve years after the accident, Samuel and his now bedridden wife Esther take in a nun and several orphaned girls in attempt to bring some life back into their home. Of course, it’s not quite so simple, as the girls start seeing phantoms and the danger quickly escalates.

What follows is a by-the-book haunted house scenario devoid of fresh ideas. The creaky, isolated, 1950s house doesn’t leave much room for the kind of cool scares or creative kills that set one horror movie apart from another. Meanwhile, the plot treads well-worn horror territory while doing very little to surprise us with Annabelle’s origin story. The explanation for Annabelle feels like something writer Gary Dauberman was forced to come up with out of obligation — like some last minute homework thrown together on the school bus before class.

And yet, the jump scares are quite effective. I’ve often said a comedy can be about anything as long as the jokes land, and so I have to at least give some credit to Annabelle for being a horror movie with real scares. As dull as the actual plot was, as little as I cared about the moment-to-moment, as much as I felt like I’d seen it all before, I still left my seat a few times. I think that has to count for something.

That said, I don’t think jump scares count in horror the same way laughs count for comedy. Jump scares are a fleeting thrill, and without dread, psychological horrors, interesting plot, or compelling characters backing them up, I don’t think Annabelle: Creation is worth your time.