9.16.2016

The Bland Witch

Earlier this year the world was delighted with the surprise of a secretly made Cloverfield sequel that actually turned out to be pretty amazing. When it was announced at the San Diego Comic-Con that ANOTHER beloved horror movie was getting a sequel, and that the early reviews for it were all glowing, people's expectations were suddenly sky high for a movie that just a few months ago they had no idea existed. The film in question getting its sequel was the horror classic The Blair Witch Project, a "found footage" film that basically created a million copycats and its own subgenre within horror lore. A sequel did come out for the film back in 2000 but was greeted with poor reviews since it couldn't match the height or originality of its predecessor. Also, a reason The Blair Witch Project was so successful is that its marketing campaign was so brilliant in making people actually question whether or not the film really happened. No one knew if it was a true documentary or a fictional film. For that type of magic, it's hard to duplicate....particularly with a sequel. 17 years later, we all know the first movie is fake, so for a late sequel to have that kind of impact would be difficult. But could The Blair Witch 2016 somehow pull off this feat? Unfortunately for me, the answer was a definite no.

The sequel is set fifteen years after the events of the first film and focuses on the brother of the former lead character Heather. After losing his sister to the mysteries of the woods, he is determined to discover if she is somehow still alive. The problem is, the original Blair Witch changed the game so much, that trying to copy it now just feels so standard. The characters are cardboard cutouts with not one of the leads giving too compelling of performances. The first half of the film is so bland and boring that by the time fun stuff finally starts happening in the final third it just feels like too little, too late. Certain storylines are set up with very little payoff, that overall....while there is fun to be had, I couldn't help but feel pretty disappointed by the time it was over.

Overall, it's hard to make a sequel to one of the defining horror genre films of the 90's when you can't pull the same trick on the audience twice. As someone who has only seen the original film a couple times, perhaps I couldn't appreciate the homages the director intended, but to me, everything just felt so cookie cutter and by the numbers, I was too bored. So perhaps bigger Blair Witch buffs will disagree with my opinion. But, to the film's credit, the final portion of the film is incredibly solid, and watching the first person perspective makes it feel like a cinematic haunted house type experiment. The end was incredibly fun but just couldn't redeem the mediocre beginning and middle. EMILY RATING: 5/10

9.09.2016

Miracle of the Sully

Fall movie season wouldn't be complete without a Tom Hanks oscar baity type role. Enter the movie Sully where he teams up with another oscar caliber director in Clint Eastwood. Sully tells the tale of the aftermath of the "Miracle on the Hudson" where Captain Chesley Sullenberger and co-pilot Jeff Skiles successfully landed their damaged plane on the Hudson River without any human casualties. Anyone reading this review should be old enough to remember what happened, but none of us know the story behind the scenes, and that's what Sully seeks to tell.

Sully begins when the story we know ends, as Captain Sullenberger is being investigated by insurance agencies who are seeking to know if he did everything he could to prevent having to resort to landing on the Hudson River. They believe that he could have returned to the airport with the plane undamaged instead of destroying it in their crash landing and risking the lives of the passengers. Sully's recollection of the events is told in flashbacks as Eastwood seeks to answer the question of what really happened. It plays out as a weird spiritual sequel to Apollo 13...that's set in interrogation offices and the majority of what is happening is...talking, as the insurance reps try to figure out the real story of what went wrong. It's kind of an odd film to watch because the most interesting part is the flashbacks, yet they don't hold much suspense because we know it turns out okay since Sully is the one remembering them.

The film is anchored by Tom Hanks's performance. The guy is pretty much a pro at this type of role by now, but he gets some nice help from Aaron Eckhart (really nice to see him in a good movie again.) Laura Linney is relegated to the "worried wife on the phone" role and is pretty much wasted here. Everyone else is pretty two dimensional which makes the ending not quite as earned as it wants to be. It feels way too tidy and left the film off on a note that just seemed too hero worshippy to me. I would have liked the film to have been a little more complex, with more moral gray to be explored. But that wasn't really the movie Eastwood wanted to make. EMILY RATING: 7/10

9.02.2016

The Light Between Morgans

The summer movie season has come to an end and different movie options aside from blockbusters are now opening up. This weekend the two releases Morgan and The Light Between Oceans couldn't be more different. One is a sci-fi, horror-thriller with the son of Ridley Scott making his directorial debut, while the other is an adaptation of a popular romantic drama. I was able to see both during the last two weeks, so let's start with my thoughts on Morgan.

Morgan is all about the titular character (played with finesse by The Witch's Anya Taylor-Joy,) a "woman" who was created by scientists. She is the first successful version of artificial life....until she becomes not so successful after attacking of one of the members of the research team. Enter a risk management member of the corporate team (Kate Mara) to decide whether or not project Morgan should be terminated. We'll leave the plot at that because it's best if there's a way the movie can surprise you with the few tricks up its sleeve that it has.

Paul Giamatti arrives midway through the film and his scene with Taylor-Joy is absolutely the highlight of the film. So much tension is built that I was so excited to see what came after this point...but unfortunately, this was where the film kinda fell back on the thriller genre formula instead of kicking the horror up a notch. Really that's the problem with the film is that it's caught between too many genres. As a fan of horror, I kind of wanted this to be more on the side of Alien...where Morgan is a silent, relentless stalker...but the way it plays out, they don't really give you much time to revel in her destruction. Still though, even though the beats became a little familiar in the second half, they were still executed with a lot of fun. Plus, I'm excited to see were Luke Scott goes from here. His freshman effort was decent enough and certainly entertaining. EMILY RATING: 7/10

The first 15 or 20 minutes of The Light Between Oceans might as well have been called "Beautiful People in Love." Not that there's anything wrong with that...but there didn't seem to be a lot of depth to this film and it made me wonder why two Oscar-caliber actors signed on for this. And then the drama hit. BIG TIME. And that's where things got interesting. The Light Between Oceans is all about a married couple (Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander) who find a baby and a dead man in a boat. Having had two miscarriages, Isabel begs her husband not to report what they found and just to raise the child as their own. Her husband Tom reluctantly agrees but soon finds he can't live with the guilt when he discovers the baby's mother is still alive (Rachel Weisz.)

Once The Light Between Oceans got rolling, I really really liked it. All the drama in the second half made me appreciate the lighthearted opener that I didn't care for at the beginning. The performances here are fantastic, and the message at its core is pretty heartwarming. The ending could have perhaps been more solid and memorable (it's a little understated and cheesy at the same time), but it's a minor complaint. I mentioned earlier as more of a cheeky comment that the movie is basically two pretty people falling love...well I can't deny that makes the movie all the more beautiful to look at combined with the gorgeous cinematography and lovely score....so it definitely ain't a bad thing when all is said and done. EMILY RATING: 8/10

8.26.2016

Breathless



What a year for the horror genre it has been. The year started off great with the Sundance 2015 selection The Witch finally being released, and only got better when out of nowhere the world learned it was getting a horror-centric Cloverfield sequel. The summer gave us the solid, though inferior sequel to The Conjuring, the ridiculously fun, shark-filled The Shallows and the surprisingly modest hit Lights Out. During my viewing of The Shallows, I caught the trailer for Don't Breathe and was instantly wowed. I'd never heard of this horror flick that reteams the Evil Dead remake director Fede Alvarez with his star Jane Levy. Like the first Conjuring film, the trailer for Don't Breathe highlighted a specific scene and absolutely terrified me. As soon as I saw that trailer, Don't Breathe instantly jumped to my most anticipated films list. So with all those expectations, did the film disappoint? I'm happy to report that Don't Breathe absolutely did not disappoint. This non-stop horrific ride instantly became one of my favorite movies of the year. It thrilled me and awed me all at the same time.



Don't Breathe is all about three kids who like to commit burglaries in their spare time. The leader is kind of a cookie cutter thug named Money (easily the weakest point of the movie) who has influenced his troubled, wrong side of the tracks girlfriend Rocky (Jane Levy) to take part in stealing from rich people. Rocky steals in hopes that she can somehow obtain a better life for her and her sister. They wouldn't get too far though without her friendzoned buddy, Alex, whose father's job puts them into easy access to spare house keys and remote controls to silence home alarms. As a final heist, they decide to rob an old blind man, who recently won a huge settlement and supposedly keeps all his money in a vault inside his house. If they can just do this job, they'll never have to steal again. As expected in a horror film, things don't go quite as planned and the audience is taken on this ride that does not let up.


For the type of movie it's trying to be, Don't Breathe is almost absolutely perfect. Dare I say the "masterpiece" word?? The only flaws that really stood out were that the characters could have been fleshed out a little more. Usually, that's a bigger gripe for me, but the amount of time that this movie holds your attention non-stop, it's an easy thing to forgive here. Money was awful, as was his dialogue. His lines can be cringeworthy, but you don't really have to deal with too many of them once everything is all said and done. Jane Levy, once again excels in the horror movie "final girl-type" role, though Goosebump's Dylan Minnette certainly tries to steal the title with his performance on more than one occasion. I would have loved a couple more moments between them before all the action started, but once it does it's really hard to complain about anything because everything is so well done. The camera work in discovering this house was so wonderful, I'd always be a second away from commenting on how masterful the film was and then gripping my chair a moment later because something horrible was happening. Honestly, this is the horror genre at its absolute best. The way it should be. EMILY RATING: 9.5

8.05.2016

Squad Goals

Another DC movie, another set of poor reviews. If my readers recall, I was one of the few who came to the defense of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, so is this a case of deja vu where all the negativity is largely unwarranted? I won't be able to give a fully in-depth review today, but this DC fan must admit that the negative reviews, this time, make a lot more sense. Suicide Squad was a disappointment for me as the film just wasn't able to live up to the hype promised in the trailers. I could feel a bit of studio tampering in the cut I witnessed in the theater. The editing was kind of sloppy and I just felt so much potential wasted. But......that doesn't mean the film isn't without its redeeming qualities. Let's go over the good and the bad shall we?

THE GOOD: The best part of this movie is Margot Robbie. She makes the role of Harley Quinn her own and she's clearly having a ball. She undoubtedly steals every scene she's in, which just makes me sad that sometimes she's not given anything more to do in a scene than call someone a pussy. (Cool! She says shocking things! /sarcasm.) Will Smith is solid in the role of Deadshot and very likable, though he's not really doing anything too new. They're kind of the only two characters that really seem to matter because they're given the most depth (aside from perhaps Diablo.) Viola Davis is good at being her intimidating How to Get Away With Murder self and Joel Kinnamon was reliable as always. The comic world that we see Harley and the Joker (Jared Leto who didn't get enough time to make too much of an impression) inhabit is one of the best parts of the movie and we didn't get to see nearly enough.



THE BAD: Some of these characters are completely throwaway. I'm looking at you Killer Croc with your horrible one liners. And one liners in general grated on me where you get the sense they were told to try to copy the Marvel formula. No DC! Do your own thing I beg of you!! That style competed with the movie the whole time where you just can sense that a darker movie was hiding under the surface that was probably the filmmakers' true vision. Unfortunately what we got was somewhere in between with emphasis from studio execs to try to be crowd pleasing. One final thing to add to this category would be that I wasn't really into Cara Delevigne's villain and as mentioned before didn't get to see nearly enough of Jared Leto's joker to decide how I felt about him. Obviously, you don't walk out of this movie feeling about him the way you did when you first saw Heath Ledger's take on the character.

FINAL VERDICT: Suicide Squad is flawed, but still enjoyable. My expectations were just a little too high. EMILY RATING: 6/10

7.22.2016

Beyond Darkness


Two new mini movie reviews today as I take on two genre films. The biggest film out this week is the third entry in the rebooted Star Trek franchise, Star Trek Beyond and the second is a modest horror flick with a simple premise called Lights Out. Both have been pretty well received by critics lately, but since I don't seem to be trusting critics this year I had to see them for myself to judge.

Back when The Force Awakens was announced I realllllly wanted JJ Abrams to be stolen away from Star Trek because I truly believed he was the man for taking on George Lucas's beloved saga. Some will think he was, but boy I couldn't be sadder that things went that way now with what happened with both franchises. JJ had a camaraderie with that cast and his directing of them felt effortless and in the early scenes of Beyond something just feels off. Some of the chemistry feels like it's missing. It took me a long time to really get into the movie. I couldn't tell where things were going for a good while, and then once they happened it didn't feel earned. Eventually, I had to just let that go and enjoy the ride. And as always, Star Trek is a fun ride. Honestly, I'll never hate on one of these rebooted Star Trek films because it's just a fun universe to visit and solid characters to spend time with. The world building here was so much more impressive than the film JJ left Trek for. Instead of recycled worlds, our eyes are treated to something new which was half of the fun. And for a film in its genre of sci-fi adventure, it's really as fun and as popcorn as it can be.  One more thing I ought to mention is that the late Anton Yelchin has a bigger role this time around than perhaps in any of the other films and he was as wonderful as always. Made me miss him even more. Anyways, there's not a ton of substance to this film, which easily makes it my least favorite of the trilogy...but I can still appreciate it on its own terms.  EMILY RATING: 7.5/10


Anyone well acquainted with me or this site KNOWS I love a good horror flick. I heard many conflicting reports about Lights Out before seeing it. The reviews on Rotten Tomatoes were all fresh and the IMDb user score was still pretty high. Could it be the next great horror film? Or did it deserve the hate that local critics seemed preconceived to having before seeing it? The answer for me is somewhere in between...it wasn't a great horror film, but I had fun with it. And I certainly didn't think it was awful. (Side note: if you want to see a truly awful horror film made this year check out The Darkness immediately.) The film is incredibly short, and as such, some things definitely tend to be a little rushed. The investigation into the entity (real or paranormal) that haunts them is thrown together and you certainly leave the film scratching your head a little at some of the plot holes. The performances aren't amazing and the creature probably could have used a little more work in how she looked (a little too Mama CGI for my taste.) The film breaks a lot of its own rules, but in the second half, you really won't mind because it's just a lot of fun. The filmmakers took a simple premise (a creature that can only appear when it's dark) and surprisingly was able to do a lot with it.  EMILY RATING: 6.5/10

7.15.2016

Girl Busters


About a year and a half ago a reboot was announced to a beloved series. Business as usual right? Not quite when the property being redone was Ghostbusters, one of the most popular boys club movies ever made and the cast that was announced for the new film gave the story a gender makeover. Ever since that announcement people have been analyzing, criticizing and arguing over the decision. Some just didn't want a reboot period when they had long been hoping for a sequel with the original cast, some took a misogynistic side and didn't think that women had a place in the ghostbusting world, and others just saw it as a gimmick. It seemed that few people were actually excited for it, and when the trailers were released it only got worse and more hateful hype ensued. For me personally, Ghostbusters was a big part of my childhood as my three brothers were obsessed with it, and I definitely have a fondness for it. I was in the camp of feeling that the original Ghostbusters was lightning in a bottle that even its own sequel couldn't quite duplicate and it was best not to touch it.


The reboot basically repackages the origin story of the original Ghostbusters with a couple of female scientists who can't get funding to pursue their paranormal dreams. The only differences being that this time, the city of New York doesn't embrace them as the Mayor is constantly trying to let everyone know that they're con artists to keep people from freaking out and the other main thing being that all of the paranormal activity is somehow being orchestrated by one lonely man who was picked on his whole life (his story reminded me a lot of Electro from The Amazing Spider-man 2, also a Sony feature.) He unleashes chaos on the city, and it's up to the ghostbusters to save the day.

I will fully admit that I went into this movie expecting and maybe even wanting to hate it. But...I didn't hate it....nor did I really like it. I felt very ambivalent about the whole thing. Was it as effortlessly funny as the original film? No, but I laughed a handful of times. Did the new cast capture my heart and gel as a perfect team? No. There was a moment at the end when Leslie Jones puts her arm around Wiig and I thought "did those two ever even have a moment together this whole film??" Really all I can say for the movie is I found it amusing. But the film definitely thinks it's a lot funnier than it is as certain gags are beaten to death and go on way too long. In a movie all about female empowerment, I hate to say it but the best performer here was probably Chris Hemsworth. Kristen Wiig all too often slips into silly SNL mode, Melissa McCarthy was probably the best but was kiiiiinda phoning it in. Leslie Jones was better than portrayed in the previews....so good for her at least and Kate McKinnon had a caricature of a character that didn't earn her zaniness. It just made me think about in the original how acquainted we were with Bill Murray's Peter Venkman right from the get-go as we see the type of man he is when he hits on his test subject. The original just was so much more character based, when this one just relied on character TYPES. The film is also littered with homages to the original and every time you see one, you can't help but think "I wish I were watching THAT movie."



Bottom line: Ghostbusters the female edition is lackluster, but not really anything worth getting worked up over. It's clear it's standing on the shoulders of a classic and doesn't really have anything new or worthwhile to offer of its own to have it be remembered by anyone. EMILY RATING: 5/10 

7.01.2016

The Ab Man...I Mean Ape Man

As I walked into the preview screening for The Legend of Tarzan this last week, I decided to myself that I really had no expectations of the film's quality (or lack thereof.) I told myself, all that I expected from this movie was to enjoy two attractive people in love, one of which spends most of the movie shirtless (sorry guys, it ain't Margot Robbie.) With low expectations like these, could the film possibly disappoint? Apparently, to many of the critics, the answer was yes. I, on the other hand, shut my brain off and enjoyed the ride.

The Legend of Tarzan isn't an origin story, but more of a sequel to a story you've already heard of, or likely seen another iteration of. The story takes place after Tarzan of the jungle has been civilized and has chosen to settle down in England under his birth name John Clayton the III,  with his beloved wife Jane. Tarzan is enticed back to Africa for....reasons. Mostly because a convoluted plot wants him back there to help free slaves while other characters have nefarious intentions toward him, so back to the jungle he will go. Instead of a story of how he came to be, we're treated to his history in glimpses and stories told by Jane. However, soon after their arrival, Jane is kidnapped to bait Tarzan into...more plot contrivances. Does anyone really care? The plot here is all over the place, yet somehow, unlike other brainless blockbusters, I easily forgave this one. 

The beautiful and likable cast are one thing, but there was just something really refreshing about this silly movie to me in the midst of a pretty crappy summer. I appreciated the style of the film; we don't have nearly enough old-timey adventure flicks anymore. There was something endearing about the flashbacks, and I almost wished we could have had an origin film since they were done so well....though I also felt that the "Hook approach" to coming back after the real story happened worked fine enough (much better than say Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland.) There's some blandness to the proceedings and some uneven humor, but still somehow I just really managed to have a fun time with this film. Tarzan is almost godly with his powers and what he's able to do, and it's fun, if not ridiculous to watch. He is the Aquaman of the jungle if you will. Tarzan is kind of a hot mess (both the character and the movie hehe,) but honestly, I couldn't hate it. If I was blinded by Alexander's abs, please forgive me. EMILY RATING: 6.5/10

6.24.2016

Sharks n Aliens

Independence Day: Resurgence doesn't deserve a typical review where I keep you in suspense for the first paragraph to let you know whether it's good or not. So I'll just let you know right here from the get-go that this movie is absolutely terrible...if not one of the worst movies of the year and one of the worst blockbusters of recent memory. If you love movies that induce headaches from mind-numbing idiocy, then this movie is for you! Also out today is a movie called The Shallows that may be just as dumb but twice as fun. I'll give you my briefest of brief thoughts on both. Let's start with former.

In Resurgence, 20 years have passed since the events of Independence Day.  The world has lived in peace all this time and advanced far in technology after learning from all the junk the aliens left behind (and yet, a 90s computer was able to beat those aliens with a virus...makes sense.) Now, a new president is faced with a tough decision when an unknown spacecraft appears to be a threat to earth and from there an incomprehensible and stupid story begins to unfold.  Plot specifics aren't necessary here because there's really not much to this film besides aliens attack earth...again. But surely it can't be that bad right? Wrong. The characters here are all essentially cardboard cut-outs and everything is lifeless. I was bored out of my mind during this movie. Watching every battle scene I felt I might as well be watching a video game as there was absolutely no suspense for any peril that any character faced. I could go more in depth on the ranting if I wanted to, but frankly it's not worth the energy. EMILY RATING: 1.5/10 


Now for The Shallows where Blake Lively stars as a woman caught between a rock and a hard place. In this case, a "hard place" being a shark-filled ocean. It's basically Castaway meets Jaws, with even less rhyme or reason than those two films may at times be accused of. As with Jaws, the shark in The Shallows is thirsty for killing and more powerful than seems reasonable. But here, it seems that the unbelievability of its power is amped to incredulous levels.  Is this movie every bit as dumb as Independence Day: Resurgence? Probably....but it pretty much owns its B-movieness. Plus perhaps the most merciful difference is that it's an hour shorter, making it a lot harder to feel bored during its shark-filled proceedings. It kinda revels in its absurdity as opposed to taking it seriously, so it's a lot easier to have fun with. So no, I wouldn't call The Shallows a good movie, but it was an entertaining one...which was a lot more than I can say for Resurgence. EMILY RATING: 6.5/10


6.17.2016

Forgetting Dory


It's kind of fitting that the character who Finding Dory centers around suffers from short-term memory loss since her movie is so darn forgettable. Wait now, Emily. Surely you can't be talking about the long-awaited sequel to the beloved Pixar classic Finding Nemo. That movie has 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. You must have seen a different movie. Perhaps I did because I must say upfront that I'm finding the overwhelming love to this film to be both surprising and confusing. As I'm the minority on this issue, I'm sure those expecting to love this movie still will....but let me address some of the good and the bad.

Right from the beginning we're introduced to the baby version of our forgetful Dory as her parents desperately try to teach her how to survive in case something ever happens and they're not there. After that, the film quickly picks up where Finding Nemo left off as recently returned Nemo is back settling into routine life wherever it was in the ocean they lived (I'm guessing Florida.) Shortly after, Dory has a flashback to her parents she lost and she's determined to find them, but she knows she can't do it alone. Marlin, feeling he needs to pay Dory back for her help during the events of Nemo reluctantly agrees and they start their journey across the ocean. Again.

The film often switches back and forth between the flashbacks as Dory's memories are sparked through her journey. I could tell Pixar wanted so badly for me to just fawn all over the baby Dory, but my appreciation never came and I couldn't shake my disconnect to the whole adventure until halfway through the movie. I was glad they didn't completely copy Nemo and make the whole film about the journey through the ocean...yet by glossing over it, as they did, it almost felt like a disservice at the same time. To accomplish something that took a whole film last go around, they do in about 5 minutes here. I get the writers conundrum in not wanting to duplicate the exact formula, and I might have been more appreciative if some truly creative material followed. Instead, the endless callbacks to everything everyone loved the first time get old pretty quickly and the majority of the plot was just useless conflict after useless conflict. It kinda felt like they amplified the dentist portion of the plot from Nemo and thought of different ways fish could be separated from one another and called it a day. Honestly, I was pretty over it by the time there were like 5 more conflicts still to overcome.

"Let's have Dory speak whale again. Everyone loved that the first time." - An example of the ideas coming out of the pitch room for Dory.

Was that a lot of ranting? Probably. But truth be told, I didn't even laugh until about an hour in. There were two sequences I genuinely liked....only to realize later that night that one of them was directly ripped off from their own earlier work in Toy Story 3 (ie the scene where Dory and her new octopus acquaintance are trapped in the kids touching exhibit, seemed almost identical to the kids daycare scene in Toy Story 3 where all the toys are extremely traumatized with how rough the children treated them.) That said...it's a pleasant enough film and a lot better than most animated kids films, and it will be enjoyable to many people ...particularly those who don't gripe over some of the things that I do. After all, the film is stunning to look at, and as a 3D experience, it was pretty cool to see the depths of the ocean. But as someone who admired the first one's creativity enough, it's sad to see Pixar turn in such an uninspired work (and incredibly puzzling to see such praise for it.) When sequels are ordered rather than organic, it really shows...and try as Pixar might to give us something new and original they just can't deliver because the heart wasn't there.  EMILY RATING: 6/10