All Eyez on Me (2017)

★★

Benny Boom’s All Eyez on Me feels more like a TV movie rather than something that was released to theaters. The nearly two and a half-hour run time and some of the worst editing I’ve seen in a wide-release makes this film not worth even the biggest Tupac fan’s time.

As far as the cast and acting goes, it was refreshing to see pretty much all unknown actors cast in this film. Demetrius Shipp Jr., who played Tupac Shakur looked exactly like the real-life Tupac which was pretty incredible casting. Sadly, the acting in pretty much the whole movie was just mostly everybody chewing the scenery instead of giving any thing considered a proper rendering. Everything seemed much too dramatized for its own good. Something like subtlety in a movie exists for a reason. It provides grounding for some films and All Eyez on Me is an example of its importance.

This movie also suffers from showing too much rather than telling. Text shows up at the bottom of the screen to tell us the specifics of where we are. As if these chosen vignettes were taken directly from Wikipedia highlighting the life of Tupac. Flashbacks are shown to previous scenes in the movie at some parts which ruins all chances of being subtle. One character, who does not really look like Dr. Dre at all, has to be directly addressed as Dr. Dre by Tupac as a way for people to know who the actor is portraying. It is actually surprising how many storytelling errors this and The Mummy (2017) have in common sometimes, as both tell the audience directly too much information.

The editing so shoddily done too. Graphics used for news headlines look like something a film student put together quickly in Final Cut. We flash back, then flash forward, then flash back, and then flash forward countless amounts of times and all this does is just complicate the plot. The nonlinear way the story of Tupac’s life is told for a good part of this picture does not add anything except confusion. Also, at certain points in the movie, there is a poorly done slo-mo possibly for “dramatic effect” but it just comes off as lazy and unprofessional. Once this is used together with music to create a slo-motion music montage that almost seemed like it was bordering on parody.

Overly long, preachy, and melodramatic, All Eyez on Me is a dreadful music biopic that is edited in such a way that perplexes me. You could say that this could be worth watching for the comedic overacting of everyone as well as the by-the-numbers plot that most biopics seem to follow. But Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007) does much better satirizing this genre then even something as bad as All Eyez on Me can do unintentionally.

Rough Night (2017)

★★½

Is a comedy film any good when only about a dozen jokes make you laugh? This odd Weekend at Bernie’s (1989) and The Hangover (2008) hybrid starts out slow and barely is even worth a chuckle and by the end becomes an ordinary and mediocre comedy.

Rough Night takes the dark comedic premise of killing a stripper at a bachelorette party but provides main characters that are not very funny or interesting. Jess (Scarlett Johansson), is played as the straight character but you could argue that Blair (Zoë Kravitz), also could fit that bill. Alice (Jillian Bell) is the planner of Jess’ Bachelorette party and a stereotype of age-old tropes of the crazy best-friend of the main character. Frankie (Ilana Glazer) plays a far-left hippie activist who has her moments but still remains quite static as a character. Then we have Pippa (Kate McKinnon), who fits the quirky foreign-friend archetype (this time Australian) and her shtick gets old as soon as she is introduced.  The parts of Rough Night that actually were funny, mostly had to do with the supporting cast. Jess’ fiance in the film, Peter (Paul W. Downs who also co-wrote the film) had a very funny plot-line more interesting than the central story. Peter is also joined by his friends at a wine and cheese tasting bachelor party in the first act, which include characters played by Eric Andre and Bo Burnham. Ty Burrell and Demi Moore are also the film’s other saving grace, playing next-door swingers to Jess and her friends at their Miami beach-house. So, in other words, everything (at least character-wise) is great about this movie except the main cast.

Rough Night is a film that will not be that memorable past this summer. Despite having a funny supporting cast, it still manages to fall into screenwriting clichés such as characters fighting then making up as a way to provide an illusion of a character arc. I would only recommend seeing Rough Night if you are a very big fan of writer’s Lucia Aniello and Paul W. Downs work on their TV show Broad City and are in dire need of something to watch before the season four premiere in August.

Author’s Note: If you do see Rough Night, try to spot the actor who played Buzz from Home Alone. He shows up in a funny minor role.

 

The Mummy (2017)

Before setting up this “Dark Universe” and planning out all the future installments, Universal should have just focused on making a good film and going from there. While The Mummy was only directed by Alex Kurtzman, it was written by six different people. You can very much tell, as it is tonally uneven and poorly paced.

Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) was not really likable nor provided anything interesting other than make goofy faces and scream awkwardly. This is surprising, because Cruise has picked mostly good movies to star in in the past. But, at the center of the “Dark Universe” we have Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russel Crowe) which, while being by far the strongest performance of this film, is mainly just there to provide exposition and set up more movies. The idea that Jekyll has a museum and tries to stop all of these Universal Monsters just makes us want to focus on what he does instead of focus on just the mummy. And as for the actual mummy (Sofia Boutella), was more or less, dull and uninteresting compared to the previous incarnations of the character. The mummy just felt very nonthreatening. Imhotep (the previous mummy) in The Mummy (1999) seemed to have much more interesting abilities other than just sucking the life out of people.

The Mummy also thinks its audience is stupid. Title cards of where we are flash at the beginning of the movie which is unnecessary. If the set design is good enough and the script is tight enough, viewers will figure out the setting without needing it spoon-fed to them. Flashbacks are also provided to scenes from earlier in the movie as if we forgot what had happened. It could be because they too know that The Mummy is forgettable drivel.

The Mummy is like if they took all the problems and tropes plaguing blockbusters and decided to make it a movie. Taking the horror-based source material and turning it into the most cliched of action-blockbusters. Caring more about setting up endless sequels rather than the actual central plot, overusing CGI, and falling back on dream sequences to create much more interesting imagery than what is actually happening in the film. Or in other words, The Mummy is terrible.

 

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

★★★

Should you probably see the good blockbusters this summer like Wonder Woman (2017) or Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)? I don’t know, because those don’t have a Paul McCartney cameo in them. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is about as good of a fifth installment any franchise would be able to produce. As convoluted and bloated the Pirates franchise has become, I found myself enjoying this entry more than even Dead Man’s Chest (2006). This was because of how little it tended to digress as well as get caught up in minor details that didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. While the run time was about the same as most other films in the series, the pacing felt much smoother and natural compared to any of the other sequels.

The budget may have been scaled-down compared to record-breaking production-cost of 2011’s On Stranger Tides, but that doesn’t mean the effects are any less spectacular. The design of the haunting Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) is a good example of how CGI can be used correctly. I also think that the special effects will age gracefully throughout time as The Curse of the Black Pearl is fourteen years old and still has great visual effects. When there is no computer-generated effects involved, (so pretty much only the scenes on the mainland) the film has a bright, tropical-feeling. The camera shots may not match the Verbinski-era Pirates films level of cinematography, but it still manages to have comparable direction to most other blockbusters.

As far as the story goes, it has some problems. The story opens strong however, it re-introduces Jack in a comedic manner as well as provides an exciting chase scene. But as the plot continues it soon shows its problems of heavy exposition, cliches, and plot contrivances. How many times do we need to see Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) “almost” get killed and survive to tell the tale? This plot point has been used in every single film in the franchise and is not worthy of being repeated on multiple occasions. Many lines of the dialogue are written in as a series of dead-end quips which it worked for the type of film Dead Men Tell No Tales was going for as a light-hearted swashbuckling adventure.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a passable and hopefully final entry in this franchise. The return of both Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) was a major disappointment, as Bloom, has a couple lines and Knightley does not have any speaking lines at all. But, as a good friend of mine said “Ham fisted closure is better than no closure at all.”

 

It Comes at Night (2017)

★★★½

After watching Trey Edward Shults’ It Comes at Night I would recommend watching something to boost your spirits as well as trust in the human race. Because It Comes at Night is the most disturbing film I have seen all year.

It Comes at Night is a horror film but not in the traditional sense of the genre. Shults makes sure to not give any exposition on the universe surrounding the movie because it does not need to be stated. Instead, we need to figure out what is going on for ourselves. Shults sets the world with great camerawork and very well let scenes.

As far as acting, Joel Edgerton is the best of the small cast of characters. Riley Keough was not as good as she was in other films, like Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and American Honey (2016) and Will (Christopher Abbot) had a rocky start at the beginning but his acting improved by the end of the film.

As far as pacing is concerned, the film is paced incredibly well until the end of the film where everything unravels so unbelievably quickly. (This could have been the purpose of the film however, so when re-watched this gripe could be laid to rest). The beginning opens slowly as it has to setup what is going on without confusing the viewer. But it really does not take long for things to start picking up.

It Comes at Night is hard to write about because it is an experience that I would not want to ruin by giving too much information away. It is an excellent movie that feels almost like a short film turned into a full-length picture.

Baywatch (2017)

★½

Some words to describe Baywatch would be: lazy, uninspired, crude, unfunny, and harmless. This film is not the atrocity that many are making it out to be, but it still does not go beyond something to view while flipping channels on a boring afternoon.

Dwayne Johnson is likable as Mitch Buchannon because, Johnson just has that natural charisma that makes him such a popular star today. The other actors like Zac Efron and Alexandra Daddadrio do passable jobs in the acting department, with the exception of the stereotypical nerd character, Ronnie (Jon Bass). Bass’ performance is annoying and the shtick is unfunny. Who comes off as a poor-man’s Josh Gad (which is a phrase I thought I would have never said).

The plot in Baywatch is purposefully foolish, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is riddled with clichés. If something is self-aware of itself it has to be more than self-aware to pass as actual good entertainment. Comedian Hannibal Buress shows up for a bit, for no reason and then just disappears adding little to nothing to the story, which is odd. For a comedy there is also very little of anything that is funny long stretches go on throughout Baywatch where the bland plot takes center stage and the comedy is suppressed. Which is not how a comedy should be.

As far as cinematography goes, the shots are all very boring and predictable. There seemed to be no direction for the camerawork and instead, it is mainly just medium shots. Even the special effects felt cheap as a green screen was used in many of the action sequences, which is disappointing for a big studio film.

Paramount thought they had a 21 Jump Street (2012) on their hands by adapting popular 90s TV show Baywatch into a R-rated comedy. But the film version of Baywatch lacks the creative team and effort put into it that made 21 Jump Street such a popular and acclaimed comedy. And insteadBaywatch becomes a forgettable experience.

Wonder Woman (2017)

★★★½

No setups for other films, no e-mailing of the Justice League to Bruce Wayne, just Wonder Woman. Patty Jenkins showed us all how to make the first actually good film in the DC extended universe. Other than flashy visuals, Wonder Woman is a championing of what happens when you can make a story that stands alone. This didn’t advance the plot of the other DC movies because it did not have to. This is Diana Prince’s (Gal Gadot) story.

 The film opens on the Amazonian island of Themyscira, where Jenkins creates a lush and colorful island that is just stunning to look at. The beautiful world of the Amazon Warriors is juxtaposed with the more grey and gloomy look of 1918 London as well as the front of World War I; showing what industrialization can do to land that looked just like Themyscira.

Wonder Woman‘s characters are instantly likable. Hearing this group of fighters talk and interact with each other was what really made the film work so well (other than the action sequences). Gal Gadot did a perfect job of playing a naive and good-natured person who is thrown into the crazy and hectic real world. Chris Pine’s portrayal of Steve Trevor is as a boastful, comical, and brave spy. Steve Trevor and Diana Prince’s chemistry worked as they provided foils for each other with Diana being an ideologue and Steve being a man more in touch with his actual world. Other supporting characters, such as Charlie (Ewan Bremner), Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), and Chief (Eugene Brave Rock) all are good inclusions in the picture.

The final act and the main villain is really the only weakness of the film. Which is a shame, because it felt like the film was avoiding tropes and cliches for almost the entire running time until the final battle. The final battle became also quite CGI-heavy and it looked like it was taken straight out of Injustice 2. Then Ares, the main villain felt underdeveloped and just thrown-in for the sake of it being a superhero movie. Now that isn’t to say that the final act is all bad, just like the other fighting sequences, the action is still great, but it was just a disappointment to see Wonder Woman fall apart at the end of the movie. If the final act could be compared to anything, it would be James Mangold’s The Wolverine (2013).

Finally, we have a film worthy of Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s kick-ass theme song written for the character. Wonder Woman is a step in the right direction for the DCEU.

Raw (2016)

★★★½

Sometimes excessive blood just desensitizes the viewer rather than freak them out. Julia Ducournau’s Raw however, will disturb possibly even the least skittish. Without giving much away, the film is about life-long vegetarian, Justine (Garance Marillier) and her cannibalistic awakening after trying meat for the first time.

At the French veterinary school where the film takes place, the students seem to have insane amounts of free reign to haze whoever they wish no matter how loud and obvious it is that they are up to no good. How is it that no teachers hear or see these huge hazing ceremonies that are going on? This would be the only gripe with the film. It just stuck out as odd and illogical.

Raw is a film that is very sexually provocative in nature. The way Justine eats meat is almost seductive, even. This could lend itself to what the cannibalism means on a deeper level possibility on a feminist level, a woman’s sexual awakening in college. Justine is portrayed as quite coy when she first arrives at med school, but slowly becomes more and more wild and free as time progresses. College is seen by many as a time for young adults to do many things that they were not permitted to do when parents were around and Justine can be seen as someone who takes full advantage of this.

The score is effective when it shows up but the lack of it in some parts added to the atmosphere rather than subtracted. The simple sound of guitars provide for a much more gritty and visceral experience overall. The soundtrack is mostly of the techno/electronic variety and one song’s lyrics even provide a tongue-in-cheek reference to the plot of the film, which was a clever inclusion.

The most impressive part of the cinematography has to be the party scenes. Bright neon lights and loud music cover the screen, giving a very Refn-esque look to the movie. The rest of the movie, gives off a very realistic or (ahem) raw feel. The sky is overcast for most of the film. Which inspires a very grim looking film.

Raw is part rave, part coming of age film, and part horror movie. This odd concoction makes for a very delectable and rich film that, when finished, may make you feel a bit queasy.

Author’s Note: If you don’t like soggy hair then Raw is not for you

Alien: Covenant (2017)

★★★★★

The now nearly forty year-old Alien franchise has made its genre-defining Xenomorphs less threatening over time. The terror that Alien (1979) made people feel is no longer prevalent in the new installments of the franchise. Enter Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant, a sequel to 2012’s Prometheus as well as a prequel to Alien. Covenant manages to create a whole new type of monster and makes him threatening and dangerous just as the Xenomorph used to be. His name is David (Michael Fassbender).

Without giving much away, the evolution of former Prometheus crew member and synth to villain is subtle at first as he questions his masters. By Alien: Covenant, David has fully turned on his creators showing no remorse for human life. Fassbender sells this man-made creation through his sheer acting ability to do so. While also portraying David, Fassbender also plays Walter, the synth who assists the Covenant ship crew. Watching both of these characters interact with each other on screen together is a surreal experience that is proven believable through the great effects used to produce it. The two share an admiration for the arts such as poetry, painting, and sculpture. As well as have lengthy dialogue about favorites of theirs in each medium.

A stand-out performance is Danny McBride as the pilot of the Covenant, Tennessee. McBride is mostly known for playing the character Kenny Powers in the HBO comedy series Eastbound & Down and many probably thought that McBride would not be able to pull of a dramatic performance.

Alien: Covenant has stunning cinematography. The Covenant space ship glides through the air with its odd “space sail boat” mechanics and Scott knows when the right time is to dwell on certain set pieces. Dariusz Wolski was the director of photography for this film as well as Prometheus and does a good job of capturing the atmosphere of that film. When the Covenant crew lands on the unknown planet to investigate a radio signal playing “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver (it is unknown if Free Fire stole the idea from this film or vice-versa) is where the cinematography really shines. The overcast of the unknown planet followed by the darker shades of green and blue give off a very gloomy feel to the film as well as somewhat resemble the colors of a Xenomorph. Some well choreographed battle-sequences also manage to create some good suspense.

There are only one issue that I had with this film. The terrible CGI of the Chestbursters. In 1979 the effects looked better and the state that it was shown in was unacceptable for 2017. Some may say that the scientists in this movie do not act logically. This is simply untrue, these characters are on a new planet examining new life. Even scientists sometimes let curiosity get the best of them. It does not even compare to the scientists in Daniel Espinosa’s Life (2017). Who fail to contain a life form on the International Space Station, which they are trained to operate.

Alien: Covenant manages to unexpectedly take the plot in a completely different direction than expected. Instead of having a film more reminiscent of Alien, where a Xenomorph goes around a space ship, killing crew members. Covenant creates a new identity for itself, not being predictable or by-the-numbers.

 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

★★★★

Logan (2017) set the standard for superhero movies, at least for ones this year. But, does every movie have to be emotionally as powerful as that film was? Of course not! Marvel Studios is here more, to merely create fun entertainment in James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

Watching the Guardians travel from sci-fi set piece to set piece was quite impressive. The detail to the areas showed the care put into them. Star Lord (Chris Pratt) and crew were pretty much all did good jobs with the script given. With the exception of Drax (Dave Bautista) which we will look into later.

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the villain is always considered to be the weakest link. With the exception of Loki (Tom Hiddleston) every other villain seems disposable. In Guardians 2, Ego (Kurt Russell) felt much more memorable as the antagonist makes it stick out compared to other marvel movies. The disconnect from the rest of the Marvel Universe makes the movie stand out as well. Not everything has to be filled with cameos and references to other superheros, and Gunn understands that.

The soundtrack was very well selected, just like the first’s. A lot of surprising picks show up on the set list. It’s best to not look into the soundtrack before watching because it makes the movie all the better. An awesome title sequence begins the choreographed music-video battles in this new selection of hit 70s songs.

Marvel really needs to slow down when it comes to the jokes. Comedy should be present, but it does not need to be as frequent as it shows up? Drax is the embodiment of what I dislike about Marvel Studios movies. His purpose in the movie was to tell an unfunny joke then laugh obnoxiously the same way Seth Rogen does as a que for the audience to do the same. Most of the movie going public seems to feel differently about the inclusion of so much comedy in these films but, it does really seem to affect the more sad or intense scenes. (Guardians 2 did handle an emotional scene well however, unlike past Marvel movies so bravo James Gunn). From the classic “language” quote from Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) to “that’s the wi-fi password” from last year’s Doctor Strange (2016) people seem to have a favorite bad joke to make fun of in these films. This picture is no different, offering one of the worst yet with “Tazer Face”. The joke is unfunny at first but it continued getting referenced again and again and it just continued to make it less and less unfunny.

With the exception of the failed attempts at comedy. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is pretty great. James Gunn was also the sole writer for this film and it made the film feel much more even tonally, compared to other MCU films. This is a rare exception where the sequel is possibly even better than the original film. Thank you James Gunn, this was a great way to kick off the summer blockbuster season.