Movie Review: Annihilation


Biologist Lena (Natalie Portman) discovers something really bizarre in Alex Garland’s Annihilation. (Source: The Atlantic)

Alex Garland has changed the way of how we see horror and science-fiction. He first received attention from writing the screenplays for the zombie movies 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later. His directorial debut, Ex Machina, became one of the best sci-fi movies of the century. Not only does it generate brilliant ideas and makes you think, it also makes you send shivers down your spine and goes in ways you can never imagine. Annihilation, his sophomore feat (in which he also wrote the screenplay), marks his return to the wonderful world of the two genres.

Based on the book by Jeff VanderMeer, Lena (Natalie Portman) is a biology professor with military background. She’s dealing with the loss of her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac, the second collaboration with Garland) for about a year. One day, she ends up at a government facility and meets psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh). She assigns Lena to embark on a mission into “The Shimmer”, an environmental disaster zone where an alien presence is presumed to be located. Along with physicist Josie (Tessa Thompson, Thor: Ragnarok), geologist Cass (Tuva Novotny), and paramedic Anya (Gina Rodriguez), Lena discovers the mysterious area of flashing colors and mystical creatures. Once they enter The Shimmer, they will never be the same.

It’s better going in Annihilation without knowing too much of the narrative. I certainly had no idea what I was in for until the movie started. After the movie, I had a similar reaction to Arrival, another sci-fi movie. It blew me away yet I knew I had to see it again.

Portman, leading a gifted cast, delivers the best performance of her career as Lena, who traces her husband’s team’s tracks into the unknown. It doesn’t take long for her and the team to go the downward spiral into madness. This is something terrifying yet truly dazzling. It’s the old-fashioned science-fiction containing unique ideas overshadowing overblown action. The final act (containing minimal dialogue) is something to behold like the rest of the movie. One of the best films so far this year!



Movie Review: Black Panther


Long live, King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman)! (Source: IMDb)

T’Challa–otherwise known as the Black Panther–made his MCU debut in Captain America: Civil War. He is such a cool superhero! Dressing up in his black suit and panther mask, he grants super speed, strength, stamina. It was great to see him kick ass at the airport with Iron Man, Captain America, among others. Two years later, we finally get to see Black Panther’s solo feature. I can’t picture a better time to see it!

Black Panther is the first big-budget extravaganza from director Ryan Coogler. From the overlooked indie film Fruitvale Station to Creed, the miraculous entry in the Rocky franchise, he is becoming one of the greatest filmmakers of this generation.

After the events of Civil War, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to his African homeland of the technologically advanced Wakanda. He takes the throne as the new king who wants to keep his people safe. However, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan, Coogler’s frequent collaborator) and his ally Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), a South African arms dealer, seek to overthrow him. While putting his country’s fate over the edge, he suits up and joins forces with Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), Okoye (Danai Gurira, The Walking Dead), Shuri (a scene-stealing Letitia Wright), and CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman). Together, they must prevent the two from annihilation.

If I ramble on about this movie, I’ll spoil it for everyone. With a screenplay written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, this contains the humor and thrills as expected in an MCU film, as well as morals, politics, and visual wonder (great cinematography by Mudbound‘s Rachel Morrison!). Boseman is the perfect choice to play Black Panther, and he leads a marvelous cast featuring Jordan (as MCU’s best villain), Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya, and the legendary Forest Whitaker. Black Panther is officially my favorite film in the MCU, surpassing Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok. This is destined to be a classic!


Movie Review: The 15:17 to Paris


Spencer Stone (as himself) notices something is seriously wrong on the train in Clint Eastwood’s The 15:17 to Paris. (Source: The Houston Chronicle)

Clint Eastwood is no stranger when it comes to hiring non-actors in his movies. For instance, the Hmong community in Gran Torino give such natural performances as different characters. In his latest film, The 15:17 to Paris, he casts three friends who were involved in an act of courage during a terrorist attack on a train to Paris. Two of them served in the U.S. military. One thing in common? They play themselves.

Not only is it their first movie together, I’m positive this will be their last. It’s a shame considering how a legend like Eastwood went from The Outlaw Josey Wales to the Oscar-winning Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby to Gran Torino to American Sniper to Sully. He has never made a bad movie until The 15:17 to Paris.

Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, and Spencer Stone have been best friends since middle school. They would spend more time in the principal’s (Thomas Lennon) office than in the classroom. The mothers of Alek and Spencer (Jenna Fischer and Judy Greer) stick up for their sons whenever they meet up with their teachers and the principal. Years later, while Alek and Spencer join the military, they decide to bring Anthony for a summer vacation in Europe. They have a great time until the unthinkable happens on August 21, 2015 when they board a train from Amsterdam to Paris.

There is so much potential to be had with The 15:17 to Paris. This powerful story featuring three American heroes playing themselves offers so little. The three men are truly terrible actors and the supporting cast try way too hard (what the hell are you doing here, Jaleel White?). Instead, they are trapped in a plot (written by Dorothy Blyskal) wrapped with inept, wooden dialogue and shallow pacing. Leading up to the terrorist attack (the saving grace of this terrible movie), the movie features Skype chats, selfies, and discipline. There is nothing much happening. Once the movie finally picks it up within the last twenty minutes, it showcases the intensity and sheer realism of the event. Other than that, this is a wasted opportunity.


Movie Review: 12 Strong


Capt. Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) and his team of Special Forces join the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan to take down the Taliban in 12 Strong. (Source: Joblo)

Jerry Bruckheimer productions have been a mixed bag over the years. From the good–The Rock, National Treasure, the first Pirates of the Caribbean, Remember the Titans–to the bad–Kangaroo Jack, The Lone Ranger, Pearl Harbor. With 12 Strong, the latest movie about The Horse Soldiers, it seemed nothing entirely special. Surprisingly, even for a January release, this is a solid tribute to the first responders of the 9/11 attacks.

On  September 11, 2001, everybody was watching the news when the two planes flew into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Capt. Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) is getting her daughter ready for school until it happened. He becomes the leader of the first U.S. special forces team to head into Afghanistan. Along with Cal Spencer (Michael Shannon), Sam Diller (Michael Peña), Ben Milo (Trevante Rhodes, Moonlight), Max Bowers (Rob Riggle) among others, Nelson joins forces with Gnl. Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban) of the Northern Alliance to take down the Taliban and members of al-Qaeda.

Having to play these real-life soldiers sounds like a dream come true to this gifted cast. Particularly Riggle who plays Col. Max Bowers. An interesting fact: Before becoming a comedic actor, we used to be a Marine who actually served under Bowers.

“He was a very proficient leader,” he said. “He knew his stuff, and he cared about his troops, and I thought he was a real professional. So that’s all you can ask for.”

With New Mexico serving as the backdrop of Afghanistan, 12 Strong has strong production values (nothing is more awesome than seeing the soldiers fight into battle on horseback) and steady action set pieces, thanks to Nicolai Fuglsig’s direction and Rasmus Videbæk’s cinematography. Despite the limited character development, Chris Hemsworth and the team do make up for its flaws. It hardly brings anything new to the table and it might be twenty minutes too long. The results are somewhat underwhelming. Also, William Fichtner as Col. Mullholland looks so bizarre with a shaved head that it’s almost impossible not to crack up. Nevertheless, I’m glad I went to see this movie.


Movie Review: Insidious: The Last Key


Parapsychologist Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) returns to The Further once again in Insidious: The Last Key. (Source: IMDb)

Starting the New Year with–what else?–a horror movie.

James Wan and Leigh Whannell have crafted one of the most successful horror movie franchises in recent memory. With a $1.5 million budget, Insidious provided the much needed atmospheric thrills without becoming too gimmicky. It contained some of the most horrifying images in any PG-13 rated horror movie. The two sequels followed the same premise of an entity taking over someone’s soul and calling upon a parapsychologist to save them. While Insidious: Chapter Two ended up being too silly for its own good, Insidious: Chapter Three had enough decent scares to carry through. With the previous film ending a cliffhanger, the beloved Elise Rainier returns to face her worst nightmare in Insidious: The Last Key.

Elise (Lin Shaye) has investigated paranormal activity for years. One day, she receives a phone call from a man named Ted (Kirk Acevedo), whose house is claimed to be haunted. This leads Elise and her ghost hunters–Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Leigh Whannell)–to Five Keys, New Mexico, where she grew up as a child. As she looks back at her childhood, she must go back into the Further to save her niece Melissa (Spencer Locke, Monster House) from the evil entity once and for all.

Is it really necessary to make another Insidious film? Of course not! But–this is slightly better than Insidious: Chapter Two. It has its moments; ranging from providing some decent scares and strong set pieces. Shaye is as great as ever as Elise. Her rough childhood is what makes this movie. It opens up in 1953 with Elise as a little girl living through the Cold War with her young brother Christian (Pierce Pope; Bruce Davison, as the adult Christian), loving mother (Tessa Ferrer), and abusive father (Josh Stewart). Whenever she is communicating with the spirits, this really pisses her father off. Then–she unleashes the evil spirit before leaving her home for good.

After the strong prologue, The Last Key descents into a state of dullness. Featuring little to no surprises and forced attempts at humor, this is far from the worst horror movie I’ve ever seen. It’s most certainly one I will never revisit anytime soon.


Top 10 Worst Movies of 2017

It’s hard not to argue that 2017 has been one crazy year with all the politics that occurred. It’s also hard not to argue that this year has been a fantastic year for movies. There have been many that went above and beyond my expectations, as well as many disappointments. Today, I would like to start off–like I always do–with the stinkers. There were A LOT of movies in which I would get mad about for day, because I wish I never wasted two hours from my life. Nevertheless, I’m proud that I saw these movies, so you don’t have to. Without further ado, let’s start my list of the top ten worst movies of 2017. (Don’t worry. I didn’t see The Emoji Movie.)

Dishonorable Mentions: Bright, Free Fire, Gifted, Sleepless, Victoria and Abdul


(Source: CNN)

10. Okja – There are two movies on this list I thought were overrated. Okja, the latest from Snowpiercer director Bong Joon-Ho, is the first. I find the first hour or so to be decent. It contains gorgeous cinematography and tackles the means of the food industry. Not to mention the great use of John Denver’s “Annie’s Song” in one scene. Then, the social satire seems to fall apart. The tone is inconsistent throughout (ranging from childish and innocent to dark and depressing), the cast is a bore (except Tilda Swinton), and has no idea what audience it’s aiming towards. Is it me, or is Jake Gyllenhaal doing his best impression of Jim Carrey’s Environmentalist from In Living Color?


(Source: IMDb)

9. A Dog’s Purpose – Remember this film back in January and the controversy surrounding this movie concerning dog abuse? While it’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be, it’s still not very good. Lasse Hallström has directed some really good films including What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and The Hundred-Foot Journey. A Dog’s Purpose does have its moments, and Josh Gad is actually not a bad narrator. However, it suffers from a manipulative script, odd point-of-view shots, embarrassing slapstick, and bland characters. This movie is a movie for dog lovers, by dog lovers.


(Source: IndieWire)

8. The Book of Henry – After directing Jurassic World two years earlier, Colin Trevorrow returns to his small-budget roots with The Book of Henry. The first hour is harmless enough, following a gifted boy (Jaeden Lieberher, who would later star in this year’s great horror film It), who supports his young brother (Jacob Tremblay, Room and Wonder) and hard-working mother. Then, it makes the weird transition of being a straight-up thriller. The pacing is all over the place, the acting is mediocre at best, the characters make poor decisions, and, as a result, The Book of Henry plays out more as a Lifetime Movie of the Year.


(Source: Entertainment Weekly)

7. Baywatch – In my original review, I found this movie to be a decent R-rated comedy. Months after thinking about it, Baywatch is not a good movie. There are some laughs sprinkled throughout and Dwayne Johnson and the rest of the cast seem to have a good time making the movie. It just has too much toilet humor, horrible CGI, stereotypes, and mystery that doesn’t seem to care. I hope, someday, there would be another good film adaptation to a TV show that makes fun of the TV show.

Film Title: The Mummy

(Source: Variety)

6. The Mummy – Whose idea was it to reboot The Mummy? With it being the first film in the so-called “Dark Universe”, this is the beginning of something horrifying, and not in a good way. I love Tom Cruise in almost every movie he has starred in, but he gets his ass kicked quite a bit in this movie. He cannot escape a ridiculous script with numerous plot holes, annoying characters with no charm, forced attempts at humor, and many unintentionally funny moments. Russell Crowe’s portrayal of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde truly defines “miscast”.


(Source: Bloody Disgusting)

5. Better Watch Out – This is the second movie I found to be overrated. A Christmas horror/comedy that delivers on neither the laughs nor the thrills. A babysitting night taking a turn for the worst when one of the kids hold the babysitter hostage. Better Watch Out is just as obnoxious and unpleasant as it sounds. Ed Oxenbould and Olivia DeJonge of The Visit star in this stocking full of coal. If you want to watch a good Christmas movie with the right amount of charm, watch Krampus instead.


(Source: Variety)

4. Tulip Fever – This is what happens when a movie stars two Oscar winners–Alicia Vikander and Christoph Waltz. With an all-star cast, they lose their talents in a soapy, unintentionally silly, predictable, and relatively boring period piece set in 17th-century Amsterdam. Even the sex in this movie makes the sex in Fifty Shades of Grey look arousing. Although it has been delayed since the summer of 2016, it should have stayed on the shelves. I like costume dramas, but Tulip Fever is an absolute disaster on many levels.


(Source: Variety)

3. Fist Fight – Is it just me, or does it seem raunchy comedies have been getting exceptionally worse? Fist Fight is another prime example of a bad raunchy comedy. The jokes go overboard with stupidity, the characters are annoying, and the titular fight is so downright predictable. Just like everyone else, Charlie Day tries way too to be funny, especially when he yells at a high pitch. And also, why the hell are the teachers teaching class, if it’s the last day of school? This is the longest 90 minutes of my entire life!


(Source: The Guardian)

2. The Snowman – The movie has every ingredient of a great thriller; ranging from a great cast, great filmmaker, and based on a pretty damn good book by Jo Nesbø. However, with a part of screenplay being cut resulting in a rushed production is what makes The Snowman so bad. From start to finish, this is a boring, befuddled mess of a movie. The characters don’t amount to anything with the mystery. Michael Fassbender’s Harry Hole (supposed to be “hol-eh”, not “hole”) is nothing but a cliched, depressed alcoholic. Val Kilmer gives the weirdest performance of the year whose voice sounds obviously over-dubbed. Fingers crossed hoping there will be a good version of The Snowman someday. Thankfully, this isn’t the worst movie of the year.


(Source: Now Toronto)

1. The Bye Bye Man – This year has seen some great horror movies–from Jordan Peele’s Get Out to Stephen King’s new adaptation of It. First things first, we got The Bye Bye Man, perhaps the worst horror movie I’ve ever seen. It suffers from cheap scares, annoying-as-hell characters, hilarious deaths, and the mystery of “The Bye Bye Man” raises so many questions concerning the train accident, his CGI dog, and its origins. This movie has been delayed since 2016 as an excuse to re-edit it to a PG-13. Again, it should have remained on the shelf.

I hope you enjoyed reading about the ten movies I hated with a passion. Since I got my frustration out of the way, I can think about the good stuff. Stay tuned until January as I present you my list of the best movies of 2017. Please feel free to leave comments about your picks of the worst movies of the year. I’ll see you all in the new year!

Movie Review: Darkest Hour


Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) writes a little something on her typewriter for Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) in Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour. (Source: Seattle Times)

Starring in about a hundred films, Gary Oldman is one of the greatest character actors working today. Ranging from Sid Vicious (Sid and Nancy), Lee Harvey Oswald (JFK),  Commissioner Gordon (The Dark Knight films), Sirius Black (Harry Potter), Dracula, Stansfield (Leon: The Professional), and Zorg (The Fifth Element), he has one impressive repertoire. Now–he takes part in delivering the most ambitious role of his entire career.

Hundreds of actors have played U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill; from Timothy Spall in The King’s Speech to John Lithgow–a surprising turn–in Netflix’s The Crown. After spending 200 hours in the makeup chair, Oldman is unrecognizable as Churchill in Joe Wright’s new film Darkest Hour. With a screenplay written by Anthony McCarten, it might be a romanticized portrait of Churchill’s first days as Prime Minister, but there is a lot to like here.

In May of 1940, World War II is in full steam. Nazi Germany has just invaded Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Churchill (Oldman) steps in to replace Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup, who took John Hurt’s place after his death) as Prime Minister, accepted by King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn). Right away, he must find a solution to a peace agreement with Germany. With the support of his secretary Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) and wife Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas), he does whatever he can to save British troops on the beaches of Dunkirk.

Darkest Hour makes a great triple feature with this year’s Their Finest and Dunkirk. Through the long, unbroken shots, the dramatic close-ups, and the gorgeous, vintage sets, this is pure Joe Wright. Oldman delivers his performance with enough wit and empathy that the audience forgets they are watching an actor. We laugh when we’re supposed to (“Will you stop interrupting me while I’m interrupting you!?” he sneers at his War Cabinet.), and we root for him every step of the way when he attempts to save the world.

While James and Mendelsohn are worth mentioning of their wonderful performances, Darkest Hour is Oldman’s show through and through. How can you not have the feeling of standing up and cheering after he delivers his famous “We shall fight on the beaches” speech in Parliament? I would be shocked if he doesn’t get nominated for an Oscar. He is long overdue for one!