Lightning Review: The Mummy (2017)

The Mummy (2017) movie posterSynopsis
Nick Morrison (Tom Cruise) and his friend Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) accidentally uncover the tomb of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an ancient Egyptian princess who had been buried for fear of her supernatural powers. When Ahmanet’s powers begin to return, Nick is chosen to finish the ritual Ahmanet started before she was entombed and he is thrust into an unknown world of monsters and dark creatures.

Review
As a cinefile, it is usually very easy to say whether or not I liked a movie but sometimes it can be hard to determine the why. This is the case for me with The Mummy. On the surface, it has many elements that I like in a film. Tom Cruise brings excitement to the action scenes. Jake Johnson, one of my favorite actors from New Girl, is a good comedic relief character, even if he does seem slightly out of place. The gorgeous Sofia Boutella as the titular mummy has an air of terror around her and gives a horror factor to the movie. So there are all these film elements that I enjoy, so why didn’t I enjoy this one? Maybe the issue is that I didn’t know what kind of movie I was watching. There were action pieces, humorous moments, and horror situations. There were all of these components that I couldn’t figure out what this movie was trying to do. Was it trying to be exciting? Scary? Funny? Individually, these parts are good and enjoyable here but when put together, they lose their strength and make for an inconsistent experience.

I thought The Mummy was OK 😐 When I hear β€œThe Mummy,” I always think of the 1999 Brendan Frasier version. What keeps bringing me back to that version is it is adventurous and fun and cheesy and it knows it and embraces it. This movie tries to incorporate some of that but also tries to go back to its horror roots of the 1930s original. The final product is a movie that doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be and it hurts the overall experience.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Alex Kurtzman – Director / Story
David Koepp – Screenplay
Christopher McQuarrie – Screenplay
Dylan Kussman – Screenplay
Jon Spaihts – Story
Jenny Lumet – Story
Brian Tyler – Composer

Tom Cruise – Nick Morton
Annabelle Wallis – Jenny Halsey
Sofia Boutella – Ahmanet
Jake Johnson – Chris Vail
Russell Crowe – Dr. Henry Jekyll
Courtney B. Vance – Colonel Greenway
Marwan Kenzari – Malik

Lightning Review: Baywatch

Baywatch movie posterSynopsis
Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) and his team of lifeguards protect the beaches of Emerald Bay, Florida. When drugs start appearing on his beach, Buchannon and his team, including new recruit and former Olympic swimmer Matt Brody (Zac Efron), work to expose the criminal behind the drugs, Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra).

Review
I don’t know much about the Baywatch television series, other than it starred Pamela Anderson and David Hasselhoff as lifeguards, as well as gratuitous amounts of slow-motion running. Based on the cast of Baywatch and the tone of the trailers, I figured this movie would have little to do with the show its characters come from. So while I can’t make any comparisons to the source material, I can tell you how it stacked up as a movie: it was hilarious. Both Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron can be very comedic actors. Yet, if they don’t have a good person to bounce off of, their one-liners can only do so much. These two together have fantastic chemistry and are absolutely side-splitting. Every scene had jokes flying rapid fire and while not all of them stuck, they were onto the next one before you could really process it.

Most of the jokes between Johnson and Efron consist of crude and insulting jokes and one-liners. Like all humor, it is subjective, so it might not be your cup of tea but if you’ve read any of my other comedy reviews, you’ll know that this my kind of comedy. Of course, the rest of the cast was good as well, particularly Yahya Abdul-Mateen and Pryanka Chopra. Abdul-Mateen has some funny lines as a local police officer exhausted of the lifeguards trying to be investigators. Last summer I binged season one of the show Quantico, which stars Chopra as the protagonist. It was fun to see her on the other side as the antagonist. Since the setting for this movie is on a beach, there are a lot of shirtless men and bikini-clad women. No matter your preference, there is plenty of eye candy for everyone. πŸ˜‰

I thought Baywatch was GREAT πŸ˜€ I’m sure that if compared to the original Baywatch television series, these two have nothing in common. However, as a film taken on its own merit, it is fun and humorous. In the next few years, it will be interesting to see how the film and the jokes hold up. It feels like a generic action-comedy you would expect these days, but it is a generic action-comedy I enjoyed from start to finish.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Seth Gordon – Director
Jay Scherick – Story
David Ronn – Story
Thomas Lennon – Story
Robert Ben Garant – Story
Damian Shannon – Screenplay
Mark Swift – Screenplay
Christopher Lennertz – Composer

Dwayne Johnson – Mitch Buchannon
Zac Efron – Matt Brody
Alexandra Daddario – Summer Quinn
Kelly Rohrbach – CJ Parker
Ilfenesh Hadera – Stephanie Holden
Jon Bass – Ronnie Greenbaum
Rob Huebel – Captain Thorpe
Pryanka Chopra – Victoria Leeds
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II – Sgt. Garner Ellerbee
Amim Joseph – Frankie
Jack Kesy – Leon
Hannibul Buress – Dave the Tech
Oscar NuΓ±ez – Councilman Rodriguez
Clem Cheung – Murray Chen

Alien: Covenant Review

Alien: Covenant movie posterSynopsis
The Covenant is on its way to the remote planet of Origae-6 to start a new human colony. Along the way, the ship is hit by a neutrino burst from a nearby star, forcing the crew to wake up early from stasis to make repairs. After repairs are made, the crew receives a distress signal from a nearby planet and travel to the planet’s surface in search of the signal’s origins.

Review
The Alien movie franchise is an interesting one. It spans nearly four decades, while consisting of only 6 films. The first two are two of science-fiction’s best films, which are then followed by three mediocre films. In Prometheus, Ridley Scott returned to the franchise to begin delving into the origins of his mysterious Xenomorphs, but ended that film with more questions than answers. Scott returns yet again to direct Alien: Covenant, which is inching closer to where we first met them at the beginning of Alien.

With the exception of Aliens, each film in the franchise after Alien has attempted to recreate the horror aspect of the original 1979 film. This film has so far been the closest to recreate the horror that made the first film so engrossing. Although this shouldn’t be much of a surprise given both are directed by Scott, the visionary behind the franchise. He understands that it is the fear of the unknown and mystery surrounding it that makes Alien great. Having several decades to become familiar with it, that atmosphere cannot be replicated, which is why the sequels have failed. However, that style can be honored. This movie still draws on the fear of the unknown for its tension but rather than the Xenomorph, it looks towards a fairly unexpected place.

What did surprise me, and what I really enjoyed, was that the horror didn’t always come from the alien but rather David. David is a truly twisted being and that is where a lot of the tension come from. He is an android who has no emotion and is only seeking perfection on life. And to him that requires sacrifice, sometimes at the cost of others if need be. His distorted view on life and the pursuit of perfection is sure to keep your attention. It’s a different kind of villain but one that works amazingly well.

Of course, a lot of David’s memorability is due to Michael Fassbender’s excellent portrayal of the character. It was an excellent idea to keep him in the franchise after Prometheus because he was the highlight of that film as well. He also plays another android, Walter, an updated model of David. At first I wasn’t sold on the accent he gave the character but after a while it grew on me, especially after a few scenes of the two androids together. Fassbender portrays the two characters in two very distinct ways that really highlights his acting ability.

Although it may be difficult to remember, there are other cast members besides Fassbender. Katherine Waterston as Daniels gets the most development and keeps the Alien franchise’s bad-ass heroine streak going. Danny McBride’s Tennessee also gets quite a bit of screen time but not as much development. Everyone else pretty much exists as Xenomorph fodder, just like in all the previous movies. However, with this kind of a movie, and what has become expected of the franchise, that’s alright. Not every character needs a deep rich background, especially if they aren’t going to last long anyway. Scott understands that we are there to see one thing: the titular Alien. And if we get a great character like David along the way, then that’s just icing on the cake.

I thought Alien: Covenant was GOOD πŸ™‚ The Alien franchise has had its ups and downs over the years but it seems to be finding a groove. The β€œalien” is slowly becoming less and less the alien Xenomorphs and more of an android alienated from humanity. If Michael Fassbender keeps up the great work as the android David, then that is completely fine with me.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Ridley Scott – Director
Jack Paglen – Story
Michael Green – Story
John Logan – Screenplay
Dante Harper – Screenplay
Jed Kurzel – Music

Michael Fassbender – David / Walter
Katherine Waterston – Daniels
Billy Crudup – Oram
Danny McBride – Tennessee
Demian Bichir – Lope
Carmen Ejogo – Karine
Jussie Smollett – Ricks
Callie Hernandez – Upworth
Amy Seimetz – Faris
Nathaniel Dean – Hallett
Alexander England – Ankor
Benjamin Rigby – Ledward
Uli Latukefu – Cole
Tess Haubrich – Rosenthal
Lorelei King – Mother (voice)
Goran D. Kleut – Xenomorph / Neomorph
Andrew Crawford – Neomorph

Lightning Review: Mr. Brooks

This review was originally posted for the 2017 Decades Blogathon, hosted by Three Rows Back and Digital Shortbread.

Synopsis
Mr. Brooks (Kevin Costner) is a successful businessman and philanthropist. However, he hides a terrible secret: he is addicted to killing and is the serial murder known as the Thumbprint Killer. After his latest kill, he is approached by a man calling himself Mr. Smith (Dane Cook) who witnessed the killing and agrees not to go to the police if Mr. Brooks takes him on his next murder. Meanwhile, Detective Atwood (Demi Moore) is on the search for the Thumbprint Killer.

Review
Mr. Brooks feels demented in all of the right places. When it comes to Kevin Costner, I have decently high expectations. Or I should say, I can count on him to not give a bad performance. As the titular Earl Brooks, he doesn’t disappoint. It is clear that Earl might put on a visage but underneath he is struggling to keep his inner demon in check. Costner easily switches from a calm, cool father and businessman to a serious and broken killer. However, the star of the movie is William Hurt as Marshall, Earl’s β€œinner demon,” an imaginary friend of Earl. Throughout the movie, Marshall is constantly pushing Earl to give into his cravings and kill. Hurt is simply maniacal as Marshall. Every scene of his had me leaning towards the screen, intrigued and caught up in his performance. Stand-up comedian Dane Cook traditionally does comedic roles in movies (surprise, surprise), so Mr. Smith was a different kind of role for him. I’m curious to see how the part would have been different if someone who traditionally acts in thrillers had been in the role, but Cook was good for what it was.

I really liked that Earl’s subconscious was personified as Marshall. This almost gives a scapegoat of sorts to Earl’s actions, almost like it was Marshall who pushes Earl towards killing, despite his reservations. It also creates some interesting questions. How long has Marshall been around? Is he a childhood imaginary friend or was he created when Earl started killing? Was he created to deflect Earl’s actions from himself? The concept isn’t wholly original but the implementation is unique. There is a subplot where Detective Atwood (Demi Moore) is dealing with her divorce that contributes to the plot very little. It could be removed, or at least trimmed down, to keep the focus on Mr. Brooks and Mr. Smith.

I thought Mr. Brooks was GOOD πŸ™‚ Kevin Costner gives a good performance as the two-faced business man but the scene-stealer is William Hurt as his imaginary friend, Marshall. Some might say that this film goes on for one scene too long (literally one scene) but it leaves Mr. Brooks in a precarious place either way. One thing is for certain, you’ll think twice about who people truly are on the inside despite what you see on the outside.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Bruce A. Evans – Director / Writer
Raynold Gideon – Writer
Ramin Djawadi – Composer

Kevin Costner – Mr. Earl Brooks
Dane Cook – Mr. Smith
Demi Moore – Det. Tracy Atwood
William Hurt – Marshall
Marg Helgenberger – Emma Brooks
Danielle Panabaker – Jane Brooks
Ruben Santiago-Hudson – Det. Hawkins
Aisha Hinds – Nancy Hart
Lindsay Crouse – Captain Lister
Jason Lewis – Jesse Vialo
Reiko Aylesworth – Sheila (Jesse’s Lawyer)
Matt Schulze – Thorton Meeks

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 movie posterSynopsis
After a botched job, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and the rest of the Guardians are being chased by the Sovereign. They are found by a man named Ego (Kurt Russell), who claims to be Peter’s long-lost father. They go to Ego’s planet to search for the truth behind Peter’s mysterious heritage.

Review
In 2014, Marvel put their blockbuster powers to the test, releasing Guardians of the Galaxy. It was filled with lesser known characters, even to some regular comic readers, who are unique unto themselves. It turned out to be one of Marvel’s best films and now comes the inevitable sequel. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has all of the qualities that made the first so much fun and enjoyable, albeit without the surprise of what to expect.

As I said, everything that made the first film so fun and enjoyable has returned. Everything and everyone are just as quirky and zany as you have come to expect. Chris Pratt as Peter Quill is the main funny man, but Dave Bautista’s Drax get his fair share of comedic moments. Zoe Saldana is the green-skinned bad-ass Gamora. Groot, voiced by Vin Diesel, is more adorable than ever and Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper, wants to get a hold of everyone’s prosthetics simply to see their reaction. All the while, it has a rocking soundtrack in the background.

Doctor Strange is probably Marvel’s most visually vibrant films to date, but this movie give that one a run for its money. The most notable is Ego’s planet. The moment the team sets foot on it, it just pops. The fauna are colorful, the buildings are shiny and bright, even the soil is a vibrant color unlike what you would expect. However, it’s not just Ego’s planet. The opening battle between the guardians and an interdimensional creature (a big part of the trailers) and scenes where Yondu’s ship is jumping through several wormholes are also vivid scenes worth mentioning. At the very least, your eyes won’t be disappointed.

One of this films best characteristics is its character development. Most of the second act is spent really diving into the characters and their relations with other members of the team. Some you would expect, like Peter and Gamora, but there are some that you wouldn’t, like Rocket and Yondu or Drax and newcomer Mantis (Pom Klementieff). These interactions do a great job of building the characters and lead to some strong, emotional moments.

Much to my surprise, Yondu (Michael Rooker) has one of the greatest arcs of the film. His moments with Rocket and their similar histories really tug at the heartstrings. As Peter’s adopted father, he had to deal with Peter finally meeting his real father, Ego (Kurt Russell). In the previous movie, he felt like a throwaway character; someone who was there when the plot needed it but didn’t feel like he had much importance. This time, he is front and center and gives the film’s most emotional scene. Speaking of Russell, he was a great as the living planet Ego. Like most villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he isn’t going to have any lasting presence, but Russell gave one of the more memorable villainous performances is the MCU. The relationship between Peter, Yondu, and Ego would make a great conversation starter between step-children and step-parents.

I wasn’t as in love with the soundtrack as I was with the first Guardians movie. It was still bouncy and fun and integrated into the movie well but it wasn’t as entrancing as before. Maybe it’s because I was unfamiliar with more of the songs this time around or maybe it was that I expected a rocking retro soundtrack and it wasn’t as much of a surprise. Whatever the reason, I wasn’t blown away but I still was rocking out nevertheless.

This might sound contradictory, but despite all the great character development throughout the second act, it also felt like the weakest part of the move. Weakest isn’t the right word but I’m not sure exactly what word I’m looking for. During this time, the team is split into two groups. The bouncing back and forth between the groups, as well as the balancing of those serious moments with the humorous ones gave it a really weird pacing. Whenever the movie slowed down to give the great character moments, it immediately went into a joke / gag or changed scenes. I liked that they managed to get as much development in as they did but the jumping around made my head spin after a while.

I thought Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was GOOD πŸ™‚ This movie is a good example of a movie studio giving a director the freedom to do their movie their way. James Gunn brought as much heart and soul into Volume 2 as he did in Volume 1. A slow and somewhat oddly paced middle act does not deter from what this movie does well: great characterization, a fun soundtrack, and plenty of humor to rival any comedy film. It can feel like much of the same but if you liked it the first time, you’re going to like it here as well. Once again, I left the theater excited to see where these characters go next.

Favorite Quote
Yondu: He might be your father, but he ain’t your daddy.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
James Gunn – Director / Writer
Tyler Bates – Composer

Chris Pratt – Peter Quill / Star-Lord
Zoe Saldana – Gamora
Dave Bautista – Drax
Vin Diesel – Baby Groot (voice)
Bradley Cooper – Rocket (voice)
Michael Rooker – Yondu
Karen Gillan – Nebula
Pom Klementieff – Mantis
Kurt Russell – Ego
Sean Gunn – Kraglin
Elizabeth Debicki – Ayesha
Chris Sullivan – Taserface

Lightning Review: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Ghost in the Shell movie posterSynopsis
Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind: A perfect human / machine hybrid. However, she has no recollection of her past before becoming the weapon she is today. When she confronts a mysterious terrorist known as Kuze (Michael Carmen Pitt), she soon begins looking for answers about the truth of who she really is.

Review
Ghost in the Shell had the difficult task of luring in fans of both the original 1995 animated film and proceeding anime of the same name, as well as a new audience. Because I have yet to see the original film, I fall into the latter, but found myself right away getting drawn into the movie’s world. What hooked me in the beginning was its fantastic science-fiction neo-noir version of Tokyo. The bright colors from the advertisements, signs, cars, and lights create a stark contrast against the more muted-colored buildings. When it comes to sci-fi films, I like to be sold on the world it is looking to create. Almost every character has some sort of cybernetic enhancement and this movie shows how integral these enhancements have become in this world. Say what you will about Scarlett Johansson being cast as Major, she did a great job in the role. She made her movements rigid and less fluid than what you are used to seeing. This motion sold that she had a robotic body despite her appearance as flesh and blood.

As philosophical as this movie wanted to be, it never fully examined the themes it was trying to bring across. They were touched on and hinted at several times through the film but it still felt like the message or commentary it was trying to provide was not delved into as deeply as this movie thought it was. I think it is funny that this is the case because a lot of time was spent on exposition. However, it never seemed to move past a superficial level or into any deep exploration of its themes. This also made the movie feel like it was often not going anywhere because there wasn’t enough action to make up for the lack of depth. It’s a shame these ideas never found much ground because the concepts of artificial intelligence and identity are very interesting to me.

I thought Ghost in the Shell was OK 😐 Its futuristic neo-noir world is extremely well realized and Scarlett Johansson was great casting as Major but despite much of its run time is spent on exposition, the themes and commentary it was trying to bring across aren’t explored past high-level concepts. This movie isn’t bad by any means, but there are flickers of good ideas that never came to fruition to make it something special.

Trivia
Several original voice actors from the 1995 animated Ghost in the Shell reprise their roles for the Japanese dubbed version of this film. Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Otsuka, and Koichi Yamadera voice their parts as Major, Batou, and Togusa respectively.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Rupert Sanders – Director
Jamie Moss – Screenplay
William Wheeler – Screenplay
Ehren Kruger – Screenplay
Lorne Balfe – Composer
Clint Mansell – Composer

Scarlett Johansson – Major
Pilou Asbaek – Batou
Takeshi Kitano – Aramaki
Juliette Binoche – Dr. Ouelet
Michael Carmen Pitt – Kuze
Chin Han – Togusa
Danusia Samal – Ladriya
Lasarus Ratuere – Ishikawa
Yutaka Izumihara – Saito
Tawanda Manyimo – Borma
Peter Ferdinando – Cutter
Anamaria Marinca – Dr. Dahlin