2017 Summer Movie Review: It Comes at Night

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Paul (Joel Edgerton) tries to find answers about an intruder in It Comes at Night. (Source: Slash Film)

Director Trey Edward Shults made his directorial debut last year with Krisha. Made on an extremely low budget ($30,000, no less), he cast his family members in a movie about a woman (played by Shults’ real-life aunt, Krisha Fairchild) whose past begins to haunt her while at a Thanksgiving dinner. It unnerved audiences at the SXSW Film Festival.

He’s back to unnerve audiences again with It Comes at Night. It is unlike your average cabin-in-the-woods horror picture. Without any annoying characters doing dumb decisions or cheap scares, it features a claustrophobic atmosphere and humanity. A lot of people called it “a horror masterpiece” prior to its release. After going into this movie blind, I found it to be far from a masterpiece. Nevertheless, it is nothing short of a solid shocker.

Paul (Joel Edgerton) is a patriarch of a secluded house in the woods. He’s doing everything he can to protect his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) from a nasty virus that wiped out the outside world. One day, a stranger named Will (Christopher Abbot) is seeking shelter. Paul reluctantly agrees to have him, his lover Kim (Riley Keough), and son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) into their home. After breaking a few ground rules, the group must fight for survival.

Compared to last year’s The Witch, Shults has crafted a slow-burning psychological horror-thriller featuring a solid cast—with Edgerton doing what he does best—and some of the creepiest images in all of horror (I’m talking about the one where an old man is seen with black eyes and blood dribbling from his mouth). However, what falters is the limited character development and sluggish pacing. While a lot better than most horror movies today, It Comes at Night isn’t something I’ll revisit anytime soon.

3/4

2017 Summer Movie Review: Wonder Woman

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Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) springs into action in Patty Jenkins’ origin story of the Amazon princess. (Source: Screen Rant)

Wonder Woman has been around since World War II. Not only has the heroine been appreciated by women, but also men. A lot of you might remember the campy show from 1975 starring Lynda Carter, as she saves the world from the Nazis. While Wonder Woman has been featured in a couple of feature-length films (e.g. The LEGO Movie, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice), and straight-to-video animated films, there has never been a live-action standalone film starring her. Until now.

The DC Extended Universe is off to a rocky start. While Man of Steel provided a more twisted take on Superman, it hardly managed to stick with the nature of who he really is. Last year’s Batman vs. Superman had potential to make up for its predecessor’s flaws (including Superman seeing humanity wipe away from his eyes as opposed to saving it). While it did for the first thirty minutes, it resulted in being an absolute disgrace to both Batman and Superman. Suicide Squad, which also came out last year, also became a wasted opportunity featuring a talented cast, clunky action, and horrible exposition. This time, director Patty Jenkins (Monster) and her crew save the day by providing an origin story with heart, humor, badassery, emotion, and bursting with color.

Welcome to the Amazonian island of Themiscyra! Where it’s populated only immortal women, and men aren’t allowed due to war. Diana (Gal Gadot) wants to become a warrior just like everyone else including her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright). While her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) does not allow this to happen, Antiope secretly trains her anyway. One day, Diana discovers a plane crash landing in the water. She finds out the pilot is a man. His name is Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American working as a spy for the British. Diana learns about the Great War, and thinking Ares, the god of war, might be responsible. With her body armor, lasso of truth, among other weapons, Diana and Steve go to London to save the world from German general Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and his minion Isabel Maru (Elena Anaya), also known as Dr. Poison.

Prior to its release, the Alamo Drafthouse decided to hold women-only screenings for Wonder Woman. Not surprisingly, this caused outrage among everyone. While the theater chain never had screenings where men are only allowed for any superhero movie, it’s just a blow to the head in terms of gender equality. The demographic among movies based on comic books are intended for everyone. Wonder Woman is a prime example of being a symbol of gender equality. This movie is no exception. She works alongside men and cares for those around her. Given the movie is set during World War I, Jenkins intended to have the movie set during the height of the suffragette movement in Great Britain and the United States. With its traditional three-act structure, they each have an exhilarating, sleekly-edited action set piece. The scene where Wonder Woman walks through No Man’s Land is one of the best you will see all summer.

From being Miss Israel to starring in Fast and Furious, Gadot has certainly come a long way. She proves that she can be more than just a pretty face. She is charismatic, naïve, and simply kicks ass! Seriously! How can you not get pumped when the electric guitar music starts playing in the background once Wonder Woman heads into action!? (The score is another great one to add into Rupert Gregson-Williams’ repertoire).

Pine’s Steve Trevor provides the film’s deadpan sense of humor as he tries to understand about Diana’s nature, and eventually working with her and his buddies. His motivation serves the movie well, given its gender-neutral state. The supporting characters also have motivations of their own, particularly Ewen Bremner (Spud from Trainspotting) as the Scottish sharpshooter Charlie, who suffers from PTSD.

If the villains had a little more depth, Wonder Woman would have been a perfect movie. This is the first film from the DCEU that I’ll watch over and over again. Bring on the Justice League!

3.5/4

2017 Summer Movie Review: Baywatch

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Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) and his team of lifeguards run in slow-motion in Baywatch. (Source: IMDb)

I have never seen the Baywatch show starring David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson. All I needed to know about it is that a group of lifeguards save the day and run in slow-motion. That’s it.

When I saw the previews for the movie, they made me laugh quite a bit. How can anyone not love Dwayne Johnson? He may be tough, but he also has a soft side and can be really funny. Despite some bizarre casting choices (particularly in some family flicks), he proves that he can be a great action star—from The Scorpion King to the Fast and Furious franchise.

With him teaming up with a younger cast, Baywatch might be a decent comedic escape. The comedy does work at times and the action rarely lets up, the movie somewhat falls flat.

Lt. Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) works as a lifeguard on the Florida coast. The movie opens up with him saving a parasailer’s life from hitting his head on a rock. While saving hundreds of lives during his career, Mitch remembers that tryouts are the next day. His new team of lifeguards including Olympic swimmer Matt Brody (Zac Efron), techie Ronnie (Jon Bass), blondie CJ (Kelly Rohrbach), brunette Summer (Alexandra Dedarrio, San Andreas), and Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera) goes around Emerald Bay to solve a drug case.

Making fun of the original source material is nothing new. 21 Jump Street, 22 Jump Street, The 1995 film version of The Brady Bunch and the 2002 live-action rendition of Scooby-Doo are prime examples of movies making fun of the shows that are based off of. Some work well, while others fail miserably. Baywatch is no exception.

The movie did give me a good laugh here and there. Particularly when Mitch gives Brody such a hard time and poking fun at the hot women running in slow-motion on the beach (one of the iconic bits on the show). I don’t know how Dwayne Johnson can come up with these insults. He certainly gets a good laugh while being a straight-up badass. His comedic timing is nothing short of perfect. While having to get as buffed as his co-star (so buffed he could be on American Ninja Warrior), Efron has been starring in a lot of raunchy comedies recently—from the decent Neighbors to the abysmal Dirty Grandpa. I prefer him vomiting in the pool in this movie rather than seeing him waking up on a beach wearing nothing but a bumblebee fanny pack.

While the jokes do work, there are times in which they go on for far too long. In one scene, Mitch, Brody and Summer sneak into a hospital morgue in search for evidence about the drugs. Brody is told to look under the corpse’s penis for anything, which, of course, he makes a complete ass out of himself. A lot of raunchy comedies—like Neighbors—often use a lot of dick jokes. If it goes for too long, it loses humor.

Despite its moments, Baywatch is, more or less, your standard R-rated comedy. With strong action, great chemistry between Johnson and his co-stars, what falters is some terrible CGI (still a lot better than Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance) and the jokes being a mixed bag.

2/4

2017 Summer Movie Review: Their Finest

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Katrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) makes propaganda history in Their Finest. (Source: IndieWire)

Movies set in World War II are always the most powerful. Movies about the movies are always the most entertaining. Danish filmmaker Lone Scherfig brings forth a talented British cast to provide the right amount of wit and charisma set during the harshest time in history.

The year is 1940. World War II is under way across the Atlantic Ocean. The Nazis have devastated London by the Blitzkrieg. Katrin Cole (the lovely Gemma Arterton) is a happily married woman from Wales, who gets a job in the Ministry of Information as a screenwriter for propaganda films. Working alongside Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin), they both work on a script for a movie set during the Battle of Dunkirk. With an impressive crew and cast including the famous Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy), they intend to move British audiences as well as American audiences.

Based on the book, Their Finest Hour and a Half, this is a delightful little film about a woman having what it takes to work in the field empowered by men. The old-fashioned style with wonderful sets, gorgeous British landscapes, old gadgets, and the gifted cast make it all worth watching. Arterton is simply marvelous as Katrin; providing enough inner strength to work on writing scripts. Her chemistry with Claflin is hard not to grin, especially when they begin to flirt while filming scenes on the coast of Devon. Nighy is a straight-up laugh riot. While the film might be a tad overlong and it would be better off without some redundant supporting characters, there is plenty to like in Their Finest.

3/4

2016 Summer Movie Review: Hell or High Water

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Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine) try to save their family’s ranch in Hell or High Water (Source: IMDb)

2016 has provided some of the most original films in recent memory. For Hell or High Water, it has the plot devices of a traditional Western. Two outlaws wreak havoc in town. They do everything they can to get away with it. Someone is out after them. This time, it’s set in modern times. Instead of riding on horses, the outlaws drive in cars and trucks. Instead of the good-ol’ saloon, they eat at restaurants and cafes. Along with Eye in the Sky and last week’s Don’t Breathe, I have never seen movie this thrilling all year. But, this is something quite special.

In West Texas, Toby Howard (Chris Pine) is a divorced father who wants to do anything to be around his sons. The ranch operated by his family is being foreclosed by the Texas Midlands Bank. He calls upon his older ex-con brother Tanner (Ben Foster) to plan a series of heists in order to save their ranch. Meanwhile, the county sheriff Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is on the verge of retirement. As the brothers plan their final robbery, he and his deputy Alberto (Gil Birmingham) are out to put an end to it.

David Mackenzie and cinematographer Giles Nuttgens make every scene look like a painting. The robberies offer enough tension as if the audience feels like they are part of the robbery. In their first movie since The Finest Hours (one of Disney’s biggest box-office flops), Foster and Pine have never been better. The irony in Hell or High Water is the villains are the banks rather than the criminals. Toby is focused, while Tanner is a giant hothead. Together, they are trying everything to exceed their limits in saving the ranch. Even though this will be the last time they might see each other during this economic crisis.

The characters know how to get around every situation. As suspenseful as the movie is, the movie has a razor sharp wit, thanks to the wonderful screenplay by Taylor Sheridan of Sicario. In one scene, Hamilton likes to make jokes about Alberto’s Indian heritage. One day, they decide to get a bite to eat at a restaurant. “What don’t you want?” the waitress asks. These two are confused. She tells a story about a customer wanted trout instead of T-bone steak and baked potatoes.

Hell or High Water defines the summer. Let the Oscar buzz commence!

4/4

2016 Summer Movie Review: Don’t Breathe

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A blind man (Stephen Lang) hears something going bump in the night in the Sam Raimi-produced Don’t Breathe

Imagine Home Alone as a horror-thriller, with Kevin McAllister as a middle-aged blind person.

The summer usually ends quite poorly. On the rare occasion, there comes a movie that is truly chilling to the core. Something so straight-forward yet so effective. Something that will be talked about for years to come.

Don’t Breathe is one of those movies.

Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto) are three friends breaking into houses in the Detroit area to earn enough money to go to California. They hear about a blind man (Stephen Lang) with a huge cash settlement after the death of his only child. Thinking they might get away with pulling off an easy heist, the trio break into the man’s home. But, it later becomes a death trap. They do everything they can to get the hell out.

Everyone knows the old saying, “Action speak louder than words”. Instead of relying on too much dialogue, director Fede Alverez uses a variety of film techniques to build up tension, with long, quiet tracking shots centering on our three protagonists, who are exceptionally performed (notably Jane Levy being the new scream queen of the horror genre), being in peril. The scene in the basement with the lights off is the best examples of night-vision filmmaking.

The city of Detroit serves as a quintessential role not only in this film, but the horror genre in general. As Justine Smith of RogerEbert.com puts it, “Detroit is presented as a city to be escaped, condemned by previous generations, leaving the city’s youth to pillage for survival. Frustratingly, the film aesthetically becomes little more than ‘ruin porn,’ showcasing Detroit only through collapsing infrastructure and absent or morally corrupt adults. The representation of the city itself shallow and vague, painting the city in broad strokes of misery.”

After starring in Avatar and FOX’s Terra Nova (which lasted for only a single season), it’s awesome to see Lang as a memorable horror movie villain. Even though his blind man cannot see anything, he can hear that something is up to no good. It goes in ways you would not expect in a typical home-invasion film. It provides enough to satisfy horror fans as well as those looking for some fun end-of-summer thrills.

4/4

2016 Summer Movie Review: War Dogs

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Two arms dealers (Miles Teller and Jonah Hill) make a deal of a lifetime in Todd Phillips’ latest war comedy-drama War Dogs (Source: New York Post)

Fresh from created The Hangover trilogy, director Todd Phillips takes a step into a satirical yet darker reality: the war in Iraq. From the invasion to Saddam Hussein’s execution to the rise and fall of ISIS, it’s hard to figure out when the war will end. Of course, we can’t predict the future. The story about two arm dealers making a deal with the Pentagon has been all over the news in 2007. Unlike Due Date and the obnoxious sequels to The Hangover, Phillips crafts an amusing yet fascinating outlook on the arms industry.

Loosely based on a true story, David Packouz (Miles Teller) lives in Miami with his girlfriend Iz (Ana de Armas). He wants to do something rather than living his life as a massage therapist. He meets up with an old buddy of his Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) at a funeral. Together, they exploit a government initiative where they bid on military contracts. Little by little, they make deals internationally. Eventually, they make a $300 million contract to the Pentagon supply weapons and ammunition to the U.S. government in Afghanistan. They begin to face some serious business including arms dealer Henry Girard (Bradley Cooper).

It does sound like a discount version of The Wolf of Wall Street. Apart from the fact that both movies star Jonah Hill, War Dogs is definitely less filthy yet quite informative. Phillips brings enough energy into his direction, some impressive shots of Miami, Las Vegas, and Albania, and a perfect rock soundtrack. However, it does fall short from some lousy attempts at laughs, Iz being the typical girlfriend, and the pacing feels a bit rushed. What makes the movie worth seeing is the chemistry between a scene-stealing Jonah Hill and a solid Miles Teller.

2.5/4