One Note Played Really Well
Lights Out (2016): When her little brother, Martin, experiences the same events that once tested her sanity, Rebecca works to unlock the truth behind the terror, which brings her face to face with an entity that has an attachment to their mother, Sophie.
Ah! It feels GOOD to be review a horror film again! It's been too long, internet. So, for those who don't know, I freaking love this genre. It's probably my favorite genre out there, but nowadays so many horror films have lost their way. I wrote a discussion of the genre, which you can find here, so I won't delve too much into it, but I will say 2016 has not been great to the genre so far. (Though I have not seen The Conjuring 2 yet) But we do have a Blair Witch sequel coming! I know I will be celebrating that come September. But we didn't come here to talk about other horror films, right? How is Lights Out? It's actually not half bad.
So let's talk about what the film does right. It's very short, coming in at just 81 minutes, but in between the scares there's actually a surprisingly good story underneath. This is by far the biggest selling point for Lights Out: the VAST majority of horror films have stories that you can't remember the next day nor do you have any interest in remembering, but Lights Out's story was actually engaging! It built up some serious stakes for the main characters, all of which were well acted. But kudos to writer Eric Heisserer, who wrote what is quite possibly the best story from a horror film I have seen in a LONG time. Now that doesn't mean the story was perfect, but a good story is miles ahead of what we're used to in the horror genre. Additionally, gotta give credit to the lighting department. Obviously with a premise surrounding a supernatural being that can only be seen in the dark you have to have some good lighting cues, but Lights Out definitely delivered in this department. After all check out the shot above for proof. I also have to give credit to the sound design. There were several points, (and some of the scariest moments of the film I might add) where you could hear footsteps coming from all around you in the theater, and that's not something that a lot of horror films do. After all one of the reasons you go watch a film in a theater is because of the fantastic sound systems so why not take advantage of it, right?
However there were definitely things holding this film back, most notably in the scares department. Once again we have a horror film filled with nothing but jump scares. Sure, they played this card really well, particularly with the lighting department, but remember when I put It Follows in my top 10 best films of 2015? Ya I did that because that film was scary as hell without using jump scares. With the exception of the footsteps, which was gimmicky at best, Lights Out is nothing but this, and by the end of the film I was just sitting there arms crossed waiting for the jump scares to come to an end. C'mon guys! Especially with an engaging story like this I KNOW you can do better. Also, and I might be splitting hairs here, but I will always bring up when a film sets rules for the evil creature then doesn't follow them. Which happens towards the tail end of the final act. But again, splitting hairs I know. The primary complaint I have with this film is it was simply just not all that creative in the scares department. You knew when almost every jump scare was coming and thus it wasn't all that scary. Fortunately an excellent story holds it up, and its originality and brief run-time kept me engaged throughout. If you're a fan of the horror genre like me, Lights Out is definitely a film that should not be missed.
The Critique: While it's sadly just one jump scare after another, an excellent and surprisingly engrossing story carries this film from start to finish.
The Recommendation: Definitely one that shouldn't be missed if you're a horror fan, and I think in time it might even serve as a good introduction to the genre as well.
Rewatchability: Moderately High
The Verdict: 7/10 Good.
Safe but Fun
Star Trek Beyond (2016): The USS Enterprise crew explores the furthest reaches of uncharted space, where they encounter a new ruthless enemy who puts them and everything the Federation stands for to the test.
I'm torn on this film. On the one hand, I had some fun. It's a fun sci-fi blockbuster in an otherwise lackluster blockbuster season. (I know that's two weeks in a row I've sad that but this and Ghostbusters are pretty much the two best films of the summer) But....I don't know I was just expecting more. At the end of the day I felt that Star Trek Beyond was a bottle episode for the rebooted series, and while it was a good bottle episode......bottle episodes just always rub me the wrong way. At the end of the film very little has changed for any of the characters, and I didn't really feel like any of the characters were "stronger because of the experience" or whatever. But....it was still fun! I had an absolute blast in the third act of this film. Which, I guess at the end of the day that's what matters right? It was just surrounded by mediocrity.
So, what did the film get right? Well, first off, in a world where so many films screw up their third act....this one does not. The climatic final battle of this film is amazing, anchored by one of my favorite musical choices ever. You can be SURE that this moment will be in my top 5 favorite movie moments of 2016 at the end of the year. Additionally, the new female character, Jaylah, is an absolute BOSS. Pictured above, she is an extremely interesting character all throughout this film. I honestly would not mind a spinoff film starring her. Additionally, in the second act there's a big rescue mission, and several pairs of characters had to partner up and work together. These pairs had some great moments, and allowed for some pretty good character development. Finally, Bones. Bones is given a chance to really stand out in this film, and Karl Urban plays this character to perfection this time around.
But, when I wasn't having fun.....I was a little bored. The film just felt long to me. Coming in at exactly 2 hours, I felt like about 20 minutes of this film could've been shaved off all throughout. Additionally, the villain is EXTREMELY lackluster. Now I know I had a similar complaint about Ghostbusters, but what made this one so much worse was the fact that the villain was played by none other than Idris Elba.This man is one of my favorite actors in the business. (Please change your mind about James Bond PLEASE) But here his character receives very little development whatsoever until the final act. In fact, his villain was going for Oscar Isaac/Apocalypse territory until the final act, when we could suddenly see that the villain was Idris Elba....somehow. Additionally, I was saddened by how little a role Chekov played in this film. I know they had no control over what would happen to Anton Yelchin long after the movie wrapped filming, I just wish he had had a better sendoff. But overall, Chekov is little more than a passing thought for most of the movie, unlike the other main characters. Rest in peace, friend.
Ultimately, Star Trek Beyond falls into the ultimate one word description I can make about a movie: it's fine. I had a....decent time, but the dragging in the first and second acts definitely brought the film down. This film is definitely worth watching someday when it's on Netflix or HBO. But I would say just wait until then. I know Into Darkness falls into the "you either love it or you hate it" category, but I definitely enjoyed Into Darkness FAR more than I did Beyond. But still. It was fine.
The Critique: While muddy in the first two acts, Star Trek Beyond is saved by a spectacular final act and anchored by a strong female hero. And Bones.
The Recommendation: Obviously a must-see for Trekkies, but for everyone else? Might be best to hold off until streaming.
The Verdict: 5.5/10 Slightly Above Average. Broke out a rare .5 score from me on this one.
Now excuse me while I go eat this apple.....
It's actually pretty dang Great
Ghostbusters (2016): Following a ghost invasion of Manhattan, paranormal enthusiasts Erin Gilbert and Abby Yates, nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann, and subway worker Patty Tolan band together to stop the otherworldly threat.
Ok. It takes a man to admit he was wrong. When I saw the TERRIBLE marketing campaign for this film, it was hard not to go into this film skeptical. But I will also say the vast majority of people who think this movie sucks are also people who are unwilling to admit that they were wrong. They are people who went into this film gunning for it, and so even the best film ever made wouldn't be able to convince them otherwise. But I'm not one of those people. I was wrong. Paul Feig's Ghostbusters is a shockingly good reboot and one that's well worth your time. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. Far from it. But I still had a shockingly good time, and Ghostbusters is certainly a film that stands out in an overall weak summer season.
Let's get the negatives out of the way. First off, (and most importantly) the main villain is very lackluster. Not only that, there was at least a little bit of an uncomfortable tie to real world events with this guy, played by Neil Casey. But these scenes are few and far between, and obviously I am in the minority on this since I haven't seen anyone talking about it. In addition, the 4 main characters (plus Chris Hemsworth) weren't particularly fleshed out, and they didn't have much of an arc to them despite their excellent chemistry. That said, did I care that they weren't super fleshed out? Heck no, because I was too busy laughing my ass off.
That's the big plus of this film: if you're willing to turn your brain off and just laugh at 4 EXTREMELY funny women go back and forth with each other and constantly enjoy Chris Hemsworth being a buffoon, you're gonna have a good time. All 4 of these women are hysterical and giving it their all under the direction of Paul Feig, a man who I think is right there with Judd Apatow for funniest director in Hollywood right now not named Edgar Wright. On top of that.....there's Kate McKinnon. Oh boy if this isn't a breakout performance for her something is wrong, because this is one of the funniest performances I have seen in years. Despite being essentially a one-note character, she ABSOLUTELY killed every single scene she was in. I found myself watching what she was doing even when she wasn't the centerpiece of a scene, and she had a sequence in the final action scenes that sent chills down my spine. This film is worth the price of admission for Kate McKinnon alone. And that's not to mention the chemistry of Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy (Edgar Wright can you PLEASE do a film with these two and Simon Pegg/Nick Frost????)
Ultimately, while Ghostbusters is not perfect., (There are a few problems with pacing I didn't mention) it is VASTLY more enjoyable than people are saying it is. And this is coming from a guy who enjoyed the first Ghostbusters, but then only mildly enjoyed the second. I would honestly watch this film over Ghostbusters 2 all day. I want to see where they take this franchise, so I hope it makes enough money to warrant a sequel. (Wow. I haven't felt that way about a reboot since 2009's Star Trek) Go check it out!
The Critique: A shockingly good reboot, Ghostbusters is a standout film in 2016's lackluster summer season featuring a breakout performance from Kate McKinnon.
The Recommendation: I really would recommend to everyone 10 and up. Yes there are a few vulgar jokes but they are actually few and far between.
The Verdict: 8/10 Great
It's like Toy Story... but with pets
The Secret Life of Pets (2016): A terrier named Max's quiet life is upended when his owner takes in Duke, a stray whom Max instantly dislikes.
Man is Illumination Entertainment trying to make themselves another Pixar or what? I'm not gonna lie I had pretty high expectations for this film. After all the previews were HILARIOUS and it's pets! How could you not love them, right? Well, after the opening of the film which showcased pretty much everything you see in the trailers, the story kicked in. And you could tell Illumination Entertainment was trying so hard to create a story worthy of Pixar levels of memorability, but sadly they fell out of the Pixar tree and hit the ground with a thud.
So, first off, let's talk about what this film does right. The animation was excellent. As I said in Finding Dory, I do not feel I have the expertise to actually critique the animation, but I can tell that Illumination has a very distinct animating style (like Pixar) which was fun to watch. And that city shot of New York City was GORGEOUS. Whoever made that deserves an award just for that shot. (Which they used several times, fortunately) Also the movie definitely has some great jokes for the kids and great jokes for the adults too. Illumination definitely tried to keep the parents entertained here, which is a traditional fault of most animated films. Finally, I had no qualms with the voice acting, though it definitely was not as good as Pixar's 2016 film Finding Dory.
But here's my problem. Well, one of them: the pacing. This film comes in at a short 90 minutes, (as it should) but my problem with pacing here was the film never really gave you a chance to breath. To appreciate what was going on.There were hardly any scenes with just two characters talking to each other and thus giving these characters a chance to develop. Now that's not to say that no character development took place it's just some of it wasn't really earned. My other problem with this film lies in its ties to Toy Story. As in.....this story is Toy Story. Like.....exactly Toy Story. Now this isn't a huge fault since Toy Story is a great film to be compared to but when it comes from a completely different studio? I don't know. I mean after the success of the unique Despicable Me, Dreamworks has pushed hard to make Illumination Entertainment to them as Pixar is to Disney. So to see Pixar's biggest competitor basically produce Toy Story but with pets....it kind of rubbed me the wrong way.
That said, this film is still an above average film, and definitely one worth seeing if you have a family. But fans of movies like myself I think are going to be a little disappointed. Especially since the trailers made it look fantastic. (That dog jamming out to heavy metal was definitely worth the cost of admission!) Ultimately this film leaves a lot to be desired, and with several promising animated films coming up later this year I'm honestly not even sure if this will receive an Oscar nomination. Check it out! Just....temper your expectations. A lot.
The Critique: Despite some major pacing problems and its striking similarity to a Pixar classic, The Secret Life of Pets is still a decent movie-watching experience.
The Recommendation: Definitely fun for the whole family on a hot summer's day, but everyone else? Just Netflix it. There. I said it.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 6/10 Above Average
Also I have to point out Illumination Entertainment's clever tribute to itself featuring a super brief cameo from Pharrell's "Happy." Well played, guys.
These Movies Just Get better and better!
The Purge: Election Year (2016): Years after sparing the man who killed his son, former police sergeant Barnes has become head of security for Senator Charlie Roan, a Presidential candidate targeted for death on Purge night due to her vow to eliminate the Purge.
Most of you may not know this, but The Purge franchise has been something of a "guilty pleasure" for me for years. I've always had a soft spot for slasher films, but I really didn't care for the first Purge, which came out in 2013. But I was intrigued by the idea of The Purge, and so when I found out they were making a sequel right away in 2014, I was interested. The Purge: Anarchy was exactly what I was hoping for: witnessing The Purge on the streets of LA. Sure, it was completely void of substance. This one is too. But man are these movies fun to watch, and I didn't think I'd be saying it but this film is the best Purge yet. So let's get our purge on, shall we?
So there really isn't anything this film gets wrong, minus the fact that of course it is devoid of substance, but is it? There are some striking similarities between the world of this film and our current world, and that was a little jarring. There's no doubt that director James DoMonaco and company made a concerted effort to make this film.....smarter than the other two, but I did my best to turn my brain off and enjoy the craziness that is this film. And crazy it is. This film follows the classic "bigger, better, and more badass" approach that most sequels follow, and I had absolutely no problem with that. The action was more gruesome, the "seeing other people purging" was more frequent and amazing, and I actually kind of dug how this film was shot. Kudos to cinematographer Jacques Jouffret for really bringing his style to this one, which he didn't really in the previous two Purge films. The way the tense standoffs were shot in particular was amazing.
I know you're hearing me say that word a lot, but it really does sum up this film: amazing. Sure, it's not for everyone. Sure it's not going to make my best films of 2016 list. But it's definitely my favorite film of the year to this point. Oh! And as if the slasher porn wasn't enough, there are some great performances in here as well! Lost star Elizabeth Mitchell is a WELCOME addition to this franchise (and will likely show up again in the inevitable fourthquel) and Frank Grillo is excellent as well. But the real stars here are all the extras. There are a TON of extras in this film and they absolutely slash their way to the best performances I've seen from extras since 2015's It Follows. And the best part of all of this? These films don't build off each other AT ALL. So, if you've been debating whether to check this franchise out or not, The Purge: Election Year is as good a place to start as any. Check it out and happy purging!
The Critique: The Purge is a rare case of a franchise getting better with age. Despite little depth to its story, The Purge: Election Year is a wonderful gem of a slasher flick with some startling ties to reality.
The Recommendation: Definitely NOT for the family. But, jokes aside, if you like slasher films and haven't checked out The Purge franchise yet.....change that now.
The Verdict: 9/10 Awesome
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