Transformers: The Last Knight- Movie Review

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Transformers: The Last Knight is really, really bad. It’s not “so bad it’s good”. It’s not an “interesting failure”. It’s not even a colossal disaster in the vein of Battlefield Earth or Howard the Duck that is such a colossal miscalculation that it’s viewing is a rite of passage. It’s simply an inept, incompetent, and incomprehensible film that’s not only one of the worst films of the decade, but among the most cynical studio sequels ever produced.

Following the aftermath of a nearly world destroying disaster, the Transformers are hunted by the U.S. Government, and Optimus Prime has fled to the home world of Cybertron. When the Decepticons follow the trail to yet another ancient weapon, Cade Yaegar (Mark Wahlberg) is recruited by an Oxford professor (Anthony Hopkins) in order to track down the mythology of the Transformers. Sound simple? The film offers more than that simple plot, adding a coming of age story featuring a young girl, a National Treasure-esque globe trotting adventure, and countless scenes of corny military briefings.

There’s certain things one comes to expect from a Transformers sequel: a convoluted, messy plot, ridiculous product placement, and an action finale that seemingly goes on forever. But what makes The Last Knight so uniquely reprehensible is its collection of half-written ideas; there’s some genuinely interesting plot points, such as the strong performance by Isabella Moner, or the intertwining of Transformers mythology in history. However, it’s just that; Bay takes time to set up countless sub stories early in the film, before reverting to the predicted action finale, which lacks any creativity, wit, or intelligence, and is an utterly miserable end to the film.

(On a nitpicker’s note, the changing of aspect ratios between shots is completely distracting; its shocking that a major studio was able to release a film with such a noticeable and distracting flaw)

The thing is, Michael Bay is not an untalented filmmaker; 13 Hours proved his talent as a dramatic filmmaker, and he’s proven that he’s able to make fast paced, entertaining action films, such as The RockArmageddon, and even the first Transformers film. The Last Knight is a new low, a film that doesn’t seem to care about logic or character, but for all of its technical wonders, there’s no fun to be had in a film about giant talking robots that fight each other. That’s a problem. Grade: D-

The Big Sick- Movie Review

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The Big Sick is perhaps the perfect summation of what one would consider to be a “quirky, indie heartwarming comedy”, and it’s genuinely surprising that the film is as good at it is. While the film goes through an unimaginable series of cliches, there’s a heart to the film that works beautifully; taking everything else aside, the most important aspect of a romantic film is the chemistry between the leads, and the performances by Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan are funny, charming, and realistic.

The Big Sick follows a tumultuous relationship between Emily (Kazan), a young American psychologist, and Kumail (Nanjiani), an aspiring standup from Pakistan, who’s relationship is tested when Emily suffers from a potentially fatal disease. It’s not the story, but the dialogue that makes the film work so well; it’s an awkward, uncomfortably real film, and the film’s depiction of cultural differences and family drama feel real.

While there’s not a ton of “laugh out loud” moments in the film, there doesn’t neccessarily have to be; it’s the chemistry of the actors, and Nanjiani’s strength as a lead that make the film so charming. While the film’s two hours are a drag at point, specifically the last act’s repetitive emotional beats, there are moments that are genuinely moving. I can’t say if there’s a longevity to the film, or if it will necessarily work for everyone, but I also can’t deny that the impact the film left on me. Grade: B+

Shimmer Lake- Movie Review

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Shimmer Lake is a highly conventional film told in an unconventional way; the film’s approach of the “heist gone wrong” genre has a lot of familiar beats, but the film’s method of backwards storytelling is clever, and elevates the already solid ensemble of characters. Tracking the story of a local cop (Benjamin Walker) in his pursuit of two bank robbers (Wyatt Russel and Rainn Wilson), the film owes a lot to Memento and The Usual Suspects, but crafts a tight, well edited thriller. Outside of some distracting comedic beats, it’s a serviceable, occasionally gripping heist thriller.

Wilson and Russel are veteran character actors who add some valuable gravitas to the film, but it’s Benjamin Walker’s detective that proves to be the film’s standout; Walker is perfectly cast as a law enforcement officer gripped in turmoil, and plays the character brilliantly in the film’s gripping, and shocking, climax. Shimmer Lake is by no means a future classic, but it’s certainly an entertaining, if somewhat predictable experiment in nonlinear storytelling. Grade: B-

It Comes At Night- Movie Review

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It Comes at Night is one of the best horror films of the decade, a nuanced and genuinely terrifying thriller about the darkest side of humanity. Like the best horror films, It Comes At Night isn’t grounded in jump scares or overwhelming gore, but about the psychology of how people react to different situations. What makes the film so superior to a monster of the week creature feature is the uncut, realistic portrayal of humanity; the film’s thrills and scares are terrifying because they feel like legitimate, and even understandable actions.

Set in the aftermath of a infrastructure decimating virus, two families form a shaky pact to stay alive, but tensions only rise when a potential outbreak occurs. The cast is uniformly excellent, with each character growing throughout the film, and each scene progressing the escalating tension that bubbles to a breaking point. With an utterly heart wrenching conclusion, and some of the most white knuckled sequences you’ll see all year, It Comes At Night is an absolutely devastating, yet essential work of art. Grade: B

Wonder Woman- Movie Review

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Wonder Woman is an absolute triumph, the best DC film since The Dark Knight Rises, and a sincere and exciting showcase for Gal Gadot’s kickass heroine. While DC is often criticized for making dark and convoluted films, Wonder Woman is a story of hope, and tells a simple, but effective story about triumph over evil. Director Patty Jenkins creates some brilliant, stylized action sequences, but it’s the sincerity of the film, reminiscent of the 1978 Richard Donner classic Superman, that makes it so special.

Diana (Gal Gadot) has trained her entire life to defeat the wicked God Ares, and when American Pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands on the island of the Amazonians, she embarks on a journey to save mankind from the Nazis in World War I. Gadot is the perfect hero, a timid and innocent character who’s simple nature of compassion remains completely relevant in a modern context. Also brilliant here is Pine, who warrants serious Oscar discussion for his witty, charming, all-American hero who teaches Diana of mankind’s faults.

The film isn’t perfect, as it’s 141 minute runtime is a tad too long, but as the film concludes it’s hard not to get swept up in the epic adventure. In between the action, there’s plenty of emotion, as the ending is genuinely touching, and the scenes between Gadot and Pine are among the film’s best. It’s a fun, classical adventure that will hopefully launch a new era of female centric superhero movies, and is a huge step forward for DC. Grade: B+

War Machine- Movie Review

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War Machine is a broad, sharp satire of the war in Iraq, laced with some intriguing social commentary with one of Brad Pitt’s most comical, and surprisingly sincere, performances. Clearly, the film is modeled after The Big Short (another Plan B production), and while the film’s energy isn’t quite as kinetic, nor is at as gut-bustlingly funny, there’s a genuine complexity to the satire; the film isn’t simply a SNL parody of the Bush era, but an interesting character piece on Americans, and their cluelessness to foreign interactions.

General Glen McMahon (Brad Pitt) is a four-star American General hell bent on bringing peace to Iraq, who faces harsh resistance from the Obama Administration, forcing McMahon to question his traditionally nationalist, All-American values. Pitt is absolutely brilliant here; he’s charming, likable, and is never painted as a war monger or caricature. The scenes between McMahon and his wife (Meg Tilly) add emotional weight to the film, and an impressive supporting cast each add personality and charisma to the perfectly paced film.

War Machine walks the fine line between realism and satire; a film in which Brad Pitt comically dances to “Poker Face” also features a ghastly scene of civilian casualties, yet somehow it works well together. It’s a difficult task to handle, and in an era of countless anti-war films, War Machine stands as a unique, interesting take on such a concept. It’s a entertaining and edgy film from Netflix, with a fantastic performances from one of Hollywood’s most iconic movie stars. Grade: A-

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales- Movie Review

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is an enjoyable, if slight, addition to the ongoing franchise that Johnny Depp brought to life nearly fifteen years ago. The fifth installment lacks certain elements that made the original trilogy successful, mainly Gore Verbinski’s knack for insane action and the emotional weight of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, but there’s still a witty charm and sharp comedic charm. There’s numerous problems for sure: the plot is inane and confusing, and certain jokes fall flat, but for all intensive purposes, it’s an enjoyable two and a half hour action romp.

When the wicked Captain Salazaar (Javier Bardem) seeks revenge upon Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), Sparrow find himself on the run once again from the forces of evil. When a young deserter (Brenton Thwaites) and an aspiring scientist (Kaya Scodelario) convince Sparrow to search for the mythic Trident of Poseidon, a mysterious artifact that can break any curse, the pirate captain is brought back to the seas of adventure.

Yes, the plot is completely ridiculous, and by the time the final act comes along, it’s hard to determine who’s siding with who and where everyone’s intentions lie. Yet, while it’s certainly flawed, the film has a relentless sense of energy, and while some jokes miss, man hit as well. The film cleverly intertwines some of the mythology of the original films, and even when the plot is up in the air, the strong characters and personality carry the film.

Depp is definitely reverting to the stereotypes of the characters, and though his humor feel’s forced at points, the character remains irreverent and entertaining in his mischievous nature. While Thwaites is a serviceable, if slightly bland, supporting character, the film’s standout is Kaya Scodelario, who’s witty, clever character feels the perfect successor to Keira Knightley. As for Bardem, he’s a campy, over the top villain that feels at home in this wild, crazy movie.

While the Pirates of the Caribbean films have slowly become weaker in quality, they lack the cynical quality of blockbusters like the Transformers films or the endless string of remakes. Dead Men Tell No Tales is an entertaining film, with some great humor and some fantastic visuals, and at over 150 minutes it drags rarely. Is it a brilliant film? Of course not, but as a summer blockbuster, it delivers. Grade: B-

I Am Health Ledger- Movie Review

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I Am Health Ledger is a rare documentary; it’s not neccessarily contemplative or particularly challenging, yet it succeeds in exactly what it was intended to do. The film is a respectful, endearing tribute to the life of the legendary Health Ledger, who’s death in early 2008 shocked the world. Bringing Ledger’s story to life through conducted interviews with cast mates, family, and friends, I Am Health Ledger gives a thorough look at the filmography of the young actor, but more importantly, is able to show how he affected others.

Utilizing an impressive amount of previously unseen footage, the documentary stings in its tragedy of what a great artist was lost at such a young age. Yet, where a lesser film could’ve easily descended into a paranoia regarding Ledger’s death, this a film that celebrates what a unique artist he was, and reflects on the legacy his works leaves. It’s a satisfying film for those curious about Ledger’s life, and a inspiring tribute to one of the great artists of our time. Grade: B

Alien: Covenant- Movie Review

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Alien: Covenant is a masterful resurgence for the Alien franchise; nearly 40 years after the 1979 classic Alien, Ridley Scott returns the series to its roots with a scary, exciting, and emotionally stimulating film. The film combines’s the horror elements of 1979’s Alien, the thrilling action of 1986’s Aliens, and the cerebral search for a creator seen in 2012’s Prometheus, creating a well rounded film with few dull moments. Scott never loses touch with the breathtaking practical visuals, but it’s the strong story that makes the film such a revelation amongst this summer’s films.

Ten years after the Prometheus vessel was lost, the Covenant vessel travels into deep space to set up a civilization on another habitable planet. After the ship suffers serious damage, the ship’s crew, including Captain Oram (Billy Crudup), First Officer Daniels (Katherine Waterston), and the android Walter (Michael Fassbender) lead a crew to explore a nearby world that has the possibility of sustaining life. But when the planet proves to be a hive of treachery and danger, the crew must discover the secret behind Prometheus‘s disappearance, and find a path to survival.

What Scott does so brilliantly here is combine the simplicity of the original films with a genuinely interesting, and simple enough, discussion of evolution and humanity. While Prometheus worked brilliantly because of its ambiguity, Alien: Covenant offers much more answers; while this could easily limit the imaginative nature of the universe, the thrilling nature of the story, and Scott’s relentless emphasis on action and tension, allow the film’s answers to become more poignant. Enough cannot be said of Michael Fassbender’s performance here; his contemplative, complex portrayal of a man meeting his maker is worthy of an Academy-Award nomination.

Alien: Covenant is more than just a repetition of Alien cliches; it’s a modernly made and completely satisfying film that perfectly bridges the gap between Prometheus and Alien. Rarely are blockbusters like this so thought provoking, but never does the religious or fantastical imagery distract from the thrilling, sweeping adventure of the film. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable, exciting film, and yet another bold film to put on Ridley Scott’s undeniably masterful filmography. Grade: A-

The Wall- Movie Review

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The Wall has an intriguing idea; the film follows two soldiers (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and John Cena) as they’re trapped behind a wall and are forced to communicate with an enemy solider in the midst of the Iraq War. It’s high stakes, and uses a limited environment in an attempt to keep things simple and intense. It’s a stretched concept;  a film like this feels more like a student short than a high profile film, and even if it’s ideas don’t come together, it’s an intriguing watch.

Doug Liman has proven with films like The Bourne Identity, Swingers, and Edge of Tomorrow that he can make films that subvert common expectations for a genre. There’s some interesting ideas here about the nature of terrorism, and Liman should be commended for not be overbearing in a political message. Johnson also turns in a grounded, gritty performance with an emotional breakdown that remains the film’s highlight.

The film’s incredibly short run time, only 81 minutes, even feels too long, as a shorter cut may have raised the stakes and made a leaner, finer film. Liman is a talented enough filmmaker that he can keep an audience invested, even if the post-9/11 war feature has been done to death, with this year’s Sand Castle being the superior feature. It’s an intriguing experiment, worth a watch out of curiosity, but not quite enough to make it particularly memorable. Grade: B-