‘Transformers: The Last Knight’ (2017) Review – Bayformers, The Fifth One

Transformers-The-Last-Knight

It’s easy to exaggerate the quality of Transformers and claim it’s the worst thing mankind made, but the argument is somewhat justified for Transformers: The Last Knight. While it may not be as harmful as the resurgence of radical nationalism or circle-jerks caught on film, the newest Transformers is still a fucking atrocity that deserves every insult that will be thrown its way.

Without Optimus Prime’s leadership and now that they’re being hunted by the world’s governments, the Transformers have gone into hiding. Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) continues to help the remaining Autobots, but a larger destiny awaits him as the resurrection of the Transformers’ homeworld Cyberton could end humanity. Even worse, Optimus is leading the coming onslaught, putting him at odds with the planet he once called his second home.

At this point, little could be said about the flaws of a Transformers movie because all five movies are the same fucking thing. With the exception of the first one and its groundbreaking special effects, the Transformers movies have no innovation to speak of, and The Last Knight continues this tiresome exercise in repetition.

Revenge Of The Repeats

As usual, the cast is filled with too many obnoxious stereotypes, all of whom get less than a minute of screentimeFor the fifth time, the Earth is fucked because of ancient Cybertronian jargon, and god knows how many explosions ensue before the obligatory dragged out action-packed finale. How humanity got used to this annual Armageddon, I’m sure I don’t know. And again, Optimus Prime heroically gives an inspiring speech that will rouse viewers’ exasperation since as many as 14 of these fucking movies are currently in the works.

If there’s one thing worthy of praise in The Last Knight, it’s the criminally underused Izabella (Isabela Moner). Though Izabella is the stereotypical spunky tomboy seen in every action movie, Moner brings enough charisma and charm for audiences to latch onto, and it won’t be surprising if the young actress scores more movie appearances in the future. That, and watching Sir Anthony Hopkins not give a fuck by playing the worst possible British caricature imaginable was kind of fun.

But as is tradition for each Transformers movie, every shred of humanity in The Last Knight is set aside in favor of stupid writing and immature humor meant for the brain dead motherfuckers who keep demanding for more Transformers. For a movie titled Transformers, the appalling number of sex jokes, racial/gender stereotypes, childish machismo and the general lack of humanity among the human characters outnumbers the one thing people want in a Transformers movie: the fucking Transformers.

Age Of Extinct Fucks To Give

The worst thing about The Last Knight is how little of a fuck both audiences and the movie itself give for whatever is happening onscreen. Like the previous Transformers sequels, The Last Knight may have a lot of subplots but none of these matter, which begs the question as to why they were introduced in the first place.

Rather than develop interesting ideas like the secret involvement of the Transformers throughout human history, Cybertron’s impending resurrection, how society changed because of constant alien wars, and the impact these have on humans and Transformers, The Last Knight makes more sex jokes and shows off American military hardware because storytelling is hard. It’s worth noting that the Autobots don’t have any qualms about blowing up their homeplanet, emphasizing the lack of fucks this movie has. Telling a compelling story was never the goal of Transformers, but rather, to appeal to the most juvenile and simplistic sides of the target audience – which is confirmed by how hollow The Last Knight is. 

The Last Knight never stops to let the anything settle in. Before anyone could make sense of the chaotic action set-pieces that are obscured by sparks and slow-motion, another fucking action set-piece begins. Perhaps this was done to keep viewers distracted from the ineptitude of The Last Knight, but the fifth time around is definitely not the fucking charm. And surprisingly unlike the previous movies, not one fight in The Last Knight is worth the price of admission. For a movie that has giant robot sword-fights and Mecha King Ghidorah, this is just fucking pathetic.

The Worst Knight

The Transformers franchise has had a generous lifespan of five entries, but five movies in and not one of them could get the basics of filmmaking and storytelling right. Explosions and yelling may make an action scene, but they don’t make a movie – let alone an entire fucking series of them. With a collective budget large enough to buy a small country, some would expect Transformers to give even the least amount of effort required to make a movie, but this is not the case as proven by The Last Knight.

Cynical, condescending, lowbrow and devoid of any creative substance, Transformers: The Last Knight is an assault on the senses that will leave viewers physically exhausted after viewing it. It may not be the worst entry in the franchise, but it’s definitely one of the worst movies of the year.

To put things in perspective, The Last Knight began by expecting audiences to cry over a literal pile of rocks. Granted, Izabella gave it a name but it’s still a fucking pile of rocks. If this doesn’t look like the lowest that the Transformers movies could sink to, then I don’t know what it is.


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‘Wonder Woman’ (2017) Review – Wonders of Wonders

Wonder-Woman

After a string of disappointments, a lot of pressure was on Wonder Woman to not only impress but to redeem the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). Needless to say, the cinematic debut of DC’s lasso-wielding heroine did not fail to impress.

Set against the backdrop of World War I, Wonder Woman shows how Princess Diana (Gal Gadot) became the Amazonian warrior who saved the world. After Capt. Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash-lands into the Amazonian homeland of Themyscira, Diana follows him back to the outside world to bring an end to the war to end all wars by hunting down the god of war himself, Ares.

When compared to a neon-colored ode to schlock and a two Superman movies that were so far up their own asses that the dialogue unsurprisingly sounded like bullshit, it’s easy to call Diana’s origin movie a cinematic masterpiece, but that would be unfair to its individual merits.

Old-School Super Heroics

Wonder Woman has everything a good superhero movie should have: a compelling lead, a good roster of supporting characters, kick-ass action scenes, a balanced tone, and most importantly, a great cinematic origin story. This may seem like a tall order, but Wonder Woman does a fine job of balancing everything. Each element compliments the other, making a simple yet engaging origin story.

It’s hard to not like Gal Gadot as Diana, since she effortlessly turns the Amazonian warrior into someone who’s easy to relate to. As Diana learns more about the world, the audience sees what lies beneath the badass motherfucker she is today.  She may go through some predictable character arcs, but Diana’s transformation from naive newcomer to experienced heroine earns the right to show these moments. If given to another director, Diana’s banter and eventual romance with Steve may have come out as cheesy or corny, but in the hands of director Patty Jenkins, it comes out as heartfelt and emotional in Wonder Woman.

Technically speaking, the worst that could be said about Wonder Woman is that the middle act needed trimming, the supporting cast needed more time to shine, and the movie follows an all too familiar formula. It’s hard for Wonder Woman to stand out among other superhero origin stories, but what sets it apart is how enjoyable yet dramatic it is. Where other superhero origin movies lazily follow a checklist before calling it a day, Wonder Woman shakes things up by doing everything the DCEU wanted to do but failed miserably at.

The Right Shade of Dark

Wonder Woman doesn’t feel like a DCEU movie, and that’s what makes it worth watching. Gone is the needless cynicism of Man of Steel, the juvenile angst of Batman V Superman, and the chaotic clusterfuck of Suicide Squad. In place of these crippling flaws is a well-structured origin story about a heroine who struggles to make sense of the new world she finds herself in.

The DCEU was proudly heralded as the adult-oriented counterpart to the family-friendly Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), but this shared universe was as “adult” as what a teenage edgelord lurking in the comments sections might say. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, has no such pretense and embraces the fact that it’s based on a comic book, not a simplistic, college-grade understanding of Nietzsche’s philosophy. Combining its comic book origins with a good understanding of how to tackle heavy themes regarding mankind’s evils – which is amplified by the general senselessness of World War I: a historical conflict rarely seen in film due to its amorality – Wonder Woman speaks a timely message that hasn’t been heard in most superhero movies and gives the movie an unexpected emotional weight.

Even if said theme is debated by Diana and the movie’s overall antagonist through a super-powered fistfight with cliché-ridden dialogue that would feel at home in a Saturday Morning Cartoon featuring talking cartoon animals, Wonder Woman comes out as sincere instead of preachy or stupidly bleak. This is due to how Wonder Woman was written as an even-handed approach and stab at the various issues it tackles, resulting in a fair and balanced movie that will leave viewers thinking about some seriously heavy shit by the time the end credits roll.

A New DCEU

The biggest fault of the previous DCEU movies was that they failed to entertain and inspire people, despite each entry having its own dedicated set of fans. Wonder Woman achieves both of these goals and creates a great superhero origin story that just fell short of achieving perfection. Diana’s story of self-discovery is a fun, colorful and hopeful movie that shows the best and worst of humanity in all of the ways a good superhero movie should.

For those like myself who were burned out by the DCEU and were close to giving up on any future DC movie that wasn’t animated, Wonder Woman will rekindle that confidence and excitement first felt when the teaser trailer for Batman V Superman deceived people into thinking that DC’s first major cinematic crossover would be anything but a pretentious piece of shit. Simply put, Wonder Woman is fucking awesome.

Hopefully, Wonder Woman won’t just earn a profit but will pave the path for more equally well-made DCEU movies that can inspire their respective target audiences to do more than fanatically defend some of the worst superhero movies of recent memory.


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‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales’ (2017) Review – The Bland Finale

POTC-5

Having grown up with the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, news of a fifth entry inspired more doubt than interest in me. As far as I was concerned, the adventures of Captain Jack Sparrow ended with the third movie, At World’s End, and Dead Men Tell No Tales does little to change that sentiment.

Down on his luck and past his prime, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) must hunt down the legendary Trident of Poseidon to save himself from his long deceased rival Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) – who came back from the dead to exact vengeance. Other parties (both friend and foe) have their eyes on the Trident too, and Captain Sparrow must beat them to the chase if he wants to sail the seas again.

To be fair, Dead Men Tell No Tales is not a steaming piece of shit like the fourth Pirates entry On Stranger Tides was, but its existence still begs the question why sequels were made after At World’s End. 

Back to Basic Piracy

Dead Men Tell No Tales thankfully learned from the mistakes of On Stranger Tides, and this should somewhat please those who were unimpressed by a movie with a main villain who had the ability to control fucking ropes. For the most part, the fifth Pirates movie did its job of rekindling the spark of the older Pirates movies that was missing in its immediate predecessor

If Dead Men Tell No Tales feels familiar, this was intentional and it’s not just you being an observant, cynical asshole who’s seen too many movies like yours truly. In an attempt to revive the Pirates movies, Dead Men Tell No Tales borrows the entire set-up of The Curse of the Black Pearl while sprinkling it with the sequels’ best elements.

From killer ghost sailors to Captain Jack Sparrow being relegated to a supporting character for a pair of lovebirds no one gives a fuck about, Dead Men Tell No Tales brings the Pirates movies back to their roots. Rather than try to surpass the previous movies, the latest sequel narrows its focus to a smaller cast and a chase for a mythical object not unlike the Heart of Davy Jones from Dead Man’s Chest. 

Dead Men Tell No Tales feels and looks like a proper Pirates movie. But besides being a homage to the franchise’s better days, Dead Men Tell No Tales doesn’t have much else to it. Despite being an improvement over On Stranger Tides, this sequel is still wholly unnecessary and worse, lifeless.

Apologies of the High Seas

The common sentiment among Pirates fans is that the series ended perfectly with At World’s End, and whoever thought On Stranger Tides was a good idea is a dumb motherfucker. If Dead Men Tell No Tales is anything to go by, it’s possible that even the cast and crew agreed with fans’ complaints.

Everything in Dead Men Tell No Tales feels obligatory – probably because everyone on board stopped caring years ago and are just present for a paycheck. Minus Captain Salazar, none of the characters give a fuck. Even Captain Jack Sparrow felt like a bumbling parody of his once clever self, as if he had better things to do than look for a magical ocean fork. The stakes are nonexistent because the characters’ flimsy motivations for acquiring the Trident are interchangeable. That, and everyone just decides they want the damned thing before knowing what the hell it does in the first place.

Even the movie itself felt as if it were just following a checklist instead of showing a brand new adventure. The humor was repetitive and forced, and the plot was as predictable as any forgettable disposable summer adventure movie could get. The biggest fault of On Stranger Tides was continuing a story that already ended, and Dead Men Tell No Tales remedies this by tying up every loose end possible while acting like the fourth movie never happened. Though this apology is appreciated, Dead Men Tell No Tales still missed the chance to end the Pirates movies on a high note.

Laying the Pearl to Rest

Advertised as “The Final Adventure,” Dead Men Tell No Tales doesn’t bother giving the franchise a proper send-off, preferring to quickly get shit over and done with so it could go home and get hammered on rum while recalling the glory days of the Pirates movies.

Despite these, Dead Men Tell No Tales is still watchable and even heartfelt in the right places. It may be cynical, lazy and generic when compared to the creative madness of the original trilogy, but at the very least it’s a competent, serviceable movie that won’t offend anyone over its 129 minute run – the shortest runtime of a Pirates movie to date. If this doesn’t emphasize the feeling that Dead Men Tell No Tales wanted to leave cinemas in a hurry, then I don’t know what else could.

The best thing about Dead Men Tell No Tales is its intent to end the Pirates movies once and for all. Pirates of the Caribbean has been going on longer than it should have, and Dead Men Tell No Tales accepted this hard reality. There’s nothing else to be told in the story, and it’s better for Captain Jack Sparrow to heroically sail into the memories of fans and never come back, because his legend is better remembered than being needlessly prolonged.


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‘Colossal’ (2017) Review – Monstrous Emotional Baggage

Colossal

Kaiju movies have it hard: when there’s not enough monsters, old-school genre fans throw a bitch fit. When there’s not enough humanized characters, general audiences and critics dismiss the movie as brainless. Colossal challenges this stigma by doing both, and the results are something to behold.

In Colossal, Gloria (Anne Hathaway) just hit rock bottom. After losing her job, boyfriend and residence in New York City, Gloria retreats to her childhood hometown to find herself. It’s back here where Gloria discovers that for some reason, she controls a gigantic monster that appears over Seoul, South Korea every time she gets drunk. Together with some old friends, Gloria tries to learn the reasons behind her monstrous connection and how to control it.

Colossal may look like a high-concept comedy that was written while high, but it’s nothing like a circle-jerk that glorifies alcoholism and hedonism – such as anything Seth Rogen farts into existence. Instead, Colossal is one of the most unique films to ever hit the big screen and one that exists on its own plane of being.

A Monster Named Gloria

None of the absurdity in Colossal would have been plausible if not for the acting, and this is one of the movie’s biggest strengths. Colossal not only has Anne Hathaway making one hell of a comeback after a relative hiatus following her award-winning turn in the severely overrated Les Miserables, but Colossal boasts one of her best performances to date that’s backed up by an impressive cast of supporting characters.

At worst, some of the minor players are unceremoniously dropped by the movie’s end, though their absence does little to affect the story’s conclusion because their arcs were already wrapped up prior. A short epilogue for some of them would’ve been greatly appreciated, though.

It’s through these expertly directed and executed performances that Colossal hits all of its emotional beats with perfect timing, even if the movie shifts genres and moods as often as a misogynistic, self-proclaimed Alpha-Male president who makes violent yet ridiculously empty threats to anyone who dares disagree with him.

Colossal  may open as a quirky comedy, but there is depth beneath its premise and the movie pulls off this tough balancing act with flying colors. Underneath Gloria’s abused liver and alcohol-induced Kaiju shenanigans is a compelling story about everyday life’s fuck-ups, and the real monsters we encounter on a daily basis: other people.

Minimalist Monsters

Given the presence of giant monsters rampaging all over the birth place of K-Pop music, it would be easy to expect Colossal to be a bloated CGI display, where the property damage takes priority over the people at the center of the story. Don’t get me wrong, the giant monster on the movie’s poster does fuck shit up in cinematic fashion. And yet, Colossal is surprisingly minimalist in terms of its story and style.

At the heart of Colossal are flawed and realistic characters who struggle to make heads or tails with the world-changing events unfolding before them, all the while trying to get their shitty lives back on track. Colossal does such a good job at balancing multiple genres that a heated fight between childhood friends can be more intense than a monster crushing helpless Koreans in Seoul. It’s through a giant creature fucking up an Asian city that the characters’ best and worst are exposed, and this serves as the narrative spine of Colossal. 

Without spoiling anything by accident, things go from bad to incredibly fucked up when the ramifications of an unstable person controlling a giant monster are explored. The movie even tackles personal matters like abuse, betrayal, and the sins of entitlement with the monsters and other sci-fi story elements serving as towering metaphors for built-up rage and repressed emotions. All of these are done in a respectful and mature way,  leading to the socially awkward Gloria and her 50ft reptilian avatar being as well-rounded and feminist as the badass Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) in the adrenaline-fueled ride that is Mad Max: Fury Road. 

No, really. I am not fucking joking.

There Be Human Monsters

The worst things Colossal does is overlook a few small details, such as the lack of permanent evacuations in Seoul despite the Kaiju’s multiple appearances or a stronger military response against said behemoth.

But since Colossal stars a directionless, burnt out girl who controls a giant fucking monster when she gets shitfaced drunk, considering the lack of more thought in these background departments as major flaws would be pretentious nitpicking on par with a debate in some article’s comments section.

This movie is what you get when a talented independent director is given a blockbuster movie’s budget, along with a studio’s trust afforded to such expensive features. The best of both styles of filmmaking (i.e. the raw emotions and the entertainment value) are present, with none of the pretension, pandering and vapidness commonly associated with them anywhere in sight.

Colossal is a fun yet oftentimes heart-wrenching movie about humanity’s imperfections as told by B-grade, Godzilla rejects that bring the smackdown to the land of the Gangnam Style. It’s a very original movie with a lot of heart to it, and it’s something that you should watch if you simply like movies.


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‘Bliss’ (2017) Review – The Demented Beauty Of Deviance

Bliss

The psychological-horror genre is relatively new to Filipino movies, mostly due to the local studios enabling an overlong cycle of ripping off Asian horror movies. Continuing the resurgence of Filipino cinema is Bliss, a psychological-horror movie that knew how to fuck with audiences – figuratively and literally.

Bliss follows actress Jane Ciego (Iza Calzado) after she survives a near-fatal accident on the set of her latest film. Paralyzed below the waist, Jane learns that the house she’s recovering in is more akin to a prison, where suspicious people and sinister forces conspire to keep her from discovering a dark truth as her perception of reality crumbles.

For all intents and purposes, Bliss has no right to exist. But like former porn stars serving in public office, Bliss is a reality that some may feel discomfort with – though unlike the former, Bliss is a welcome change of pace.

Deviance Is Bliss 

When I say Bliss has no right to exist, I mean that in the best possible way because it’s not like most Filipino movies. If it were pitched to studios a decade earlier, Bliss would never have made it past the drawing board because some stupid studio head would prioritize what sponsors and what the ornery fucks at the local ratings board had to say over financing anything with artistic merit.

In a few words, Bliss is expertly made. From the simple yet striking visuals to the disturbing story of repressed fears among many other fucked up things, Bliss is a textbook psychological-thriller crafted to near-perfection. It also helps that the actors on board gave it their all, bringing the necessary escalating emotions and tensions to life. Even if it could be said that some of the people Jane interacts with are generic stereotypes, they still serve a purpose and Bliss wouldn’t be the same without these darker and more serious takes on familiar archetypes.

At worst, those who’ve seen enough psychological-thrillers in the past may be able to predict what happens next before all the pieces of the puzzle are dropped. However, this does little to take away from the fact that Bliss is still a mystery worth following. All this says is that I need to stop watching too many goddamned movies and maybe get a life while I’m at it.

Mysteriously Blown Load

Bliss is the kind of thriller that’s put together well, but closer examination reveals a few cracks in the otherwise air-tight mystery movie at hand. Again, this does little to erode the film’s status as a Grade-A thriller, but it denies an otherwise impressive movie from achieving perfection.

Without giving away too much, the central conflict of Bliss finds Jane in a surreal mix of reality and insanity that continually fucks with her mind, while also finding new ways to do so in each passing scene. If the whole movie was built on this premise, Bliss would have successfully created its desired nightmarish dreamlike experience with flying colors. Yet for some reason, the causes and explanations behind these events are almost immediately revealed before the second act even kicks in. Seemingly too excited to say the punchline, Bliss nearly wastes a good set-up by prematurely blowing its load and reveals the secret behind the ongoing mindfuckery too early.

Since the ending is a foregone conclusion for those who were able to catch the jig or unveil a good amount of the mysteries by the movie’s one hour mark, Jane’s struggles switches from a matter between life and death to a waiting game where the audience just witnesses the mystery solve itself. Scenes that are meant to explain everything from a certain character’s perspective came off as spoon-feeding rather than self-explanatory, and shortening or outright cutting a few of these would have benefited the movie’s final run time.

Despite these and a particular depiction of sexual deviance that will rub some people the wrong way due to the real-life sensitivity of the issue, Bliss manages to keep viewers guessing and enthralled in Jane’s torment, leaving them eager yet fearful of what lies ahead for the trapped actress. It’s a testament to director Jerrold Tarog’s skills as a filmmaker that these minor gripes do nothing to affect the overall quality of Bliss, because a weaker director would have surely let these fuck the entire movie up.

The Right Dementia

For those familiar with psychological-thrillers, Bliss may not offer anything new but it’s still a great example of the genre at work. For those new to the genre or at least those who nearly gave up on Filipino cinema, Bliss is a demented miracle to behold that shows the medium’s capability when let loose, free from the bondage of outdated studio mandates and enforced product placement.

Bliss will disgust and offend certain viewers (conservative moviegoers, be warned), but this is exactly what Filipino cinema needs: a good dose of deviance and malice with no pretentious, mean-spirited bullshit attached. The shocking elements of Bliss are there for good reason, and they’re not just some sick director’s fetish being shat out on screen.

If you’re of age and prepared for some disturbing cinema, Bliss deserves your time of day. Not only because it’s a great movie, but to spite the dumb local motherfuckers who tried to ban it with an X-rating despite giving the insult to intelligence that is Fifty Shades Darker an uncut, R-18 pass.

Yes, that really happened.



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‘Alien: Covenant’ (2017) Review – Aliens Of The Comfort Zone

Alien-Covenant

Back in 2012, the movie Prometheus set out to reveal the origins of the nightmarish Xenomorphs seen in Alien (1979) but instead, polarized an entire fanbase with its flawed execution. Its follow up, Alien: Covenant, aims to redeem the Alien prequels with even more flaws and bullshit.  

Alien: Covenant focuses on the titular colony ship Covenant as it journeys through space to find a new home planet for humanity. Woken up from cryosleep after an unexpected incident, the Covenant’s crew follows a distress signal to a mysterious planet, only to discover a cosmic terror that could kill them and threaten mankind.

The latest Alien movie had the challenging task of being a sequel to Prometheus and a prequel to Alien. Despite this heavy narrative task, Covenant not only avoids being an all-out clusterfuck, but somehow manages to still feel like a lazy, safe bet.

Resurrecting The Horror

If there’s something good about Covenant, it’s that it’s a return to form. Covenant is a horror movie through and through, and director Ridley Scott revisits his roots to deliver decent thrills for audiences to enjoy while shitting their pants once in a while.

Those who wanted a new Alien movie to be an honest horror romp with guts and gore flying all over the place will be more than satisfied. Covenant fulfills this blood lust and shows why the original Alien is often imitated but never surpassed. Ironically, Covenant copies the first film so much that it becomes a modern, multi-million Dollar retread of the movie that shot both Sigourney Weaver and a phallic alien to pop culture immortality.

For a movie that’s supposed to take place before Alien, the events that unfolded are similar beyond coincidence, right down to a crew of likable but stupidly helpless people that’s cut down to a single, strong-willed, black-haired woman who musters the courage to fight the carnivorous, walking penis that facially violated her friends to death. All new protagonist Daniels (Katherine Waterston) needed to be called called Ripley The Second was a fat cat and a flamethrower.

If Covenant was just an Alien prequelthis remake would be slightly forgivable since we already live in an age of unnecessary franchise revivals – a new Alien movie that feels outdated is as inevitable as the Filipino government doing something stupid. But Covenant was meant to build on the promises of Prometheus, and its failure to do so drags what was just a passable homage to the depths of mediocrity.

Alienating Progress

Even if Prometheus ended with some plot threads hanging, it still answered its own central existential questions regarding man’s origins. It was up to Covenant to tie up these loose ends while expanding the dark mythology behind humanity’s creators being murderous assholes. Instead, Covenant takes whatever questions were left unanswered from Prometheus and happily throws them out of the fucking window.

Seemingly uninterested in giving Alien veterans what they were expecting from a Prometheus sequel, Covenant poses even more god-damned, by the Jesus, fucking questions without a hint to the reveals that are obviously being saved for the sequels. What little Covenant bothers to answer (such as the Xenomorph’s creators) are annoyingly predictable and could be seen coming a mile away by anyone who’s seen a fucking movie before. The few things Covenant does unveil only undermine the threat and mystery of the Engineers and Xenomorphs, denying them of what made them intimidating in the first place.

Covenant also endlessly references Biblical passages and classical art, in its attempts to look and sound deeper than it really is. Since the movie is supposedly about mankind’s alien creators, this artistic choice may make sense. But Covenant is essentially a ride at the carnival ghost train with Percy Bysshe Shelley’s sonnet about Ozymandias’ useless gloating blasting out of the speakers. Unless you can only enjoy horror movies when some pretentious asshole randomly yells philosophy quotes amidst the slaughter, the tonal shifts of Covenant and its bloated self-importance are as jarring as I put it.

What made the first Alien iconic is how little is actually known about the primary antagonist, and yet the movie works perfectly as a tale of isolation and cosmic horror. Alien is a great example of simplicity devoid of pretense, and Covenant is the exact opposite. By attempting to explain everything yet revealing almost nothing relevant and acting smarter than it really is, Covenant brings the story back to where Prometheus ended – nowhere near a satisfying conclusion.

Space Faring Disappointment

As disappointing as Covenant was, I can’t bring myself to hate it because of how well-made the latest Alien entry is. Ridley Scott once again shows why he’s one of the most respected visual storytellers making movies today, thanks to Covenant’s haunting cinematography and an expertly crafted atmosphere that brings in the necessary dread and fear. If Covenant was your first Alien movie, it’s sure to be a fun way to burn two hours.

But for long-time fans like myself who were expecting answers and a good new Alien movie, Covenant leaves people blue balled and demanding something more conclusive than this glorified trailer for five more motherfucking Alien sequels/prequels. What should have been the redemption of Prometheus and the true continuation of the Alien saga is instead an exercise in  wasted potential and a bad omen for the future of the Alien movies, which could become as needlessly dragged out as DC’s sad attempts to make a shared cinematic universe.

Rather than expand its interesting and unique lore to deliver a strong, stand-alone story, Covenant stagnates and ignores the very goals its immediate predecessor originally set out to achieve in favor of relieving the Alien glory days of decades past. Alien: Covenant may not be the worst prequel ever made, but it’s by far one of the most fucking frustrating experiences I’ve had with a movie outside of trying to bust a nut in Fifty Shades Darker


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‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2’ (2017) Review – Galactic Family Reunions

Ego

Believe it or not, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is not only the 15th Marvel movie to date, but the first of three Marvel movies in 2017. If this particular sequel is the standard for this year’s Marvel features, then it set a high bar for Spider-Man and Thor to live up to.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 reunites the titular group of misfits for yet another cosmic adventure. Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) team up once more to deal with multiple problems, including but not limited to: the vengeful Ravegers under Yondu’s (Michael Rooker) command, the spiteful Sovereign People, and Star-Lord’s father, Ego the Living Planet (Kurt Russel).

Given how I’m not the biggest fan of the original Guardians movie, I was hesitant about Vol. 2 because the trailers promised more of the same. Thankfully, the sequel delivered a Marvel movie at its best, despite awkwardly tripping along the way to its lofty heights and expectations.

Galaxy Questing on Factory Settings

As a sequel to one of the most popular entries into the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Vol. 2 had the obligation of giving audiences exactly what they wanted before doing anything else. This leads to the movie’s clunky first half, where it prioritized repeating itself over doing something else.

Because the first movie had a sense of humor, Vol. 2 ramps up the jokes and one-liners. Since its predecessor had lots of action scenes, Vol. 2 crams in as many ludicrous fights as possible, such as the skirmishes between the Guardians’ lone ship against an entire fucking armada of golden arcade players. The first Guardians was littered with references to ‘80s pop culture, and you can bet your ass that the sequel nearly drowns itself in this self-indulgent nostalgia trip, bordering on the pettiness of an entitled hipster who was totes born in the wrong generation.

For the first hour or so, Vol. 2 felt as if it were going through the motions. The once-organic banter between characters now feels rehearsed, with the shoe-horned romance between Star-Lord and Gamora being the worst. Their “romance” was already forced to begin with, but Marvel tries and fails to play matchmaker for a love-team that has as much chemistry as a pair of chairs trying to fuck. The Guardians work as a dysfunctional family because of their clashing personalities, not because of a shitload of characters who are burdened by backstories and a romantic subplot that only adds to a growing mess.

Granted, director James Gunn brings order to this chaos. But when Gunn and the Guardians finally get past the contractually obligated explosions, clichés, formula, and set-ups for future cosmic Marvel movies, Vol. 2 comes alive and delivers what almost every other Marvel sequel failed to bring onscreen.

Emotional Seconds

If the first half of Vol. 2 felt like every cookie-cutter Marvel sequel at its most generic, what this predictable fare builds up to is the exact opposite.

Despite being set in a galaxy filled with special effects and computerized aliens, Vol. 2 is actually a lot smaller than its predecessor, but only because the stakes are much more personal this time around. Sure, the galaxy needs to be saved again, but the fate of the nameless billions only comes second to the main characters’ struggle with emotional baggage and old wounds – which they deal with while trying to save the galaxy at the same fucking time. Though the moral dilemmas that could have been played with are never fully delved into, Vol. 2 manages to hit its emotional beats, giving everyone in the cast equal time to grow and earn the audiences’ emotional investment.

Where sequels like Civil War quickly reverted to the status quo despite the implied stakes or where Iron Man 3 proudly shat on audiences’ faces and said “Fuck You” for expecting a better movie, Vol. 2 emphasizes the human tolls of loss, loneliness and betrayal by showing how fucking painful these are for the characters at hand. As far as Marvel sequels go, Vol. 2 is almost on par with Capt. America: The Winter Solider (aka the best Marvel sequel so far) in terms of properly building-up previously established characters not by giving them bigger toys to play with, but with bigger personal problems to overcome.

This dramatic second half was unexpected, resulting in the film’s major tonal issues. The transition from campy to emotional was jarring to say the least, because Vol. 2 has a problem with balancing Gunn’s intent to bring the Guardians to more serious territory and the annoyingly comical audience-friendly Marvel formula that demands stupid quips every five minutes. Thankfully, this problem wanes by the time the second act kicks into full-throttle.

Guardians In Imperfection

On a technical standpoint, Vol. 2 isn’t as well-balanced as the first movie, but it’s more creative, daring and visually batshit insane than the previous Guardians. While certainly not a bad movie, the first Guardians of the Galaxy was a corny, by-the-numbers, live-action Saturday Morning Cartoon that I couldn’t care about because I simply wasn’t a part of the movie’s intended age group. Its sequel, on the other hand, thankfully grew up and showed that a superhero movie can bring outlandish characters and stories to a mature level while never losing any of the entertainment value.

Not only does it stand out among the repetitive Marvel sequels thanks to its calculated but mostly effective emotional punches, but Vol. 2 convinced me to give a shit about what the Guardians will be up to in Vol. 3.  It may be flawed, but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is an improvement of the first part and a satisfying ride with surprising depth.

And like its titular heroes, the chinks in its armor only add to the sequel’s personality. At least you know the movie took the risk and tried something new, instead of retreading a tired story or revealing the overall antagonist to be a stupid fucking junkie who probably reeks of alcohol, wasted character development, and disappointment. 


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‘Power Rangers’ (2017) Review – The Right Misfits

Power-Rangers

Though nothing but a rumor, it’s easy to see why Hollywood is supposedly shit-out of ideas. When studios can’t make something original or anything as lucrative as Krispy Kreme donuts, the only choice left is to take an originally child-friendly material and darken the fuck out of it – which leads us to the new Power Rangers movie.

Based on the popular series of shows under the franchise of the same name, Power Rangers follows five ordinary teenagers as they train to become the Power Rangers – super-powered protectors of the life-giving Zeo crystals. When Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) awakens from her eons-long slumber and threatens to take the Earth’s Zeo crystal and destroy the planet in the process, the five high-schoolers must band together to defend their home.

Having never grown up with the original Power Rangers due to the lack of cable TV that was as affordable as a Krispy Kreme donut, I entered this movie with only the most basic understanding of the Rangers. Little did I know that the new Power Rangers looked at its goofy forefathers, disowned them and killed the fuckers before burying the bones in shame.

Saban’s Breakfast Club

The last thing anyone would expect from something like Power Rangers would be character development, and yet, the newest entry into the long-running franchise exerts a surprising amount of effort in making sure that the core characters are more likable than even your favorite Krispy Kreme donut.

For once, a cast of high-schoolers are not a collection of cliches, racial stereotypes, or the embodiments of perfection. Rather, the five central teens of Power Rangers are in fact, teenagers with attitude. For comparison’s sake, the Rangers have more in common with the kids of The Breakfast Club (1985) than they do with any derivative piece of shit Young Adult movie from recent memory. This makes it easy for viewers to care about the Rangers, and when their lives are in peril, the emotional stakes are not manipulative but are as well-deserved as a Krispy Kreme donut after a hard day’s work.

Even more admirable is how the cast is naturally diverse and how no one makes a scene out of it. Instead of putting these differences on a pedestal, Power Rangers treats them as normal, everyday personality traits that shouldn’t be despised like your least favorite flavor of Krispy Kreme donuts. You know Power Rangers is doing something right when it does a better job of normalizing diversity than another reboot with an all-female team at its center.

Power Rangers has problems, but these have nothing to do with the well-acted characters who do spout some stupid lines and jokes involving cow dicks and Krispy Kreme donuts. This reboot’s issues stem from how seriously it takes itself, and this attitude and somewhat bloated sense of self-worth fucks up what could have been a serviceable, modern-day spiritual successor to The Breakfast Club – only with more kicking, aliens and some seriously fucking ugly designs that look like shit out of Michael Bay’s Transformers.

Mighty Jarring Tonal Problems

As far as I know, the original Power Rangers made a name for itself through choreographed kung-fu performed by cosplayers who fought rubber mascots as threatening as a Krispy Kreme donut. Power Rangers is seemingly ashamed of its origins, and sadly joins other modern film adaptations with needlessly dark overtones in dire need of self-awareness. It doesn’t go overboard, but Power Rangers really needed to lighten up.

Despite its title and the accompanying nostalgia, there is a painfully obvious lack of Power Rangers in a movie titled Power fucking Rangers – similar to how crippling the lack of coffee with your Krispy Kreme donuts can feel. The titular Power Rangers appear in all their silly, fun, action-packed glory (i.e. the selling point of the franchise) in the last 20 minutes or so, and the fights are quickly concluded because the movie couldn’t stand having a bright color scheme for more than two seconds.

For most of its duration, Power Rangers prioritizes the high-schoolers’ lives as misfits and justifying jargon like “Morphin” or “Zord” without showing a fucking Ranger kicking something every once in a while. Don’t get me wrong, the back-stories for the heroes are not only well-realized but are legitimately compelling as well. But when the action in a blockbuster action movie becomes a distraction to the quiet, character-driven scenes, you know that someone in the filmmaking crew didn’t have enough Krispy Kreme donuts for breakfast.

Worsening this jarring tonal shift is the presence of Rita Repulsa and some of the Rangers’ own comedic hijinks. For a relatively bleak story, Rita seems like the only character who knows what defined the original Power Rangers: over-the-top insanity. Elizabeth Banks chews scenery and Krispy Kreme donuts wherever she goes, giving a performance that feels more at home in an old-school, schlocky B-horror movie instead of a serious retelling of the Power Rangers.

If Power Rangers settled for just one tone (whether serious or campy), the entire experience wouldn’t have been as confusing as choosing which delicious, sugar-coated donut to buy at the local Krispy Kreme.

So So Ranger Reboot

In a time when reboots are generally hated, Power Rangers differs for being passable and progressive, despite its glaring flaws. These issues don’t wreck the entire movie, but they do stick out like Krispy Kreme donuts in a bucket of chicken, and it would be hard not to call attention to them.

At worst, Power Rangers is imbalanced, and jarring at worst. For someone like myself who never really gave a fuck about the Rangers, this new take on the characters was an unexpectedly fun and entertaining introduction to a franchise my friends loved more than Krispy Kreme donuts.

The movie did its job of showing a world I’m open to seeing more of, though it’s hard for Power Rangers to stand out in the plethora of gritty reboots that currently fill the blockbuster season as much as Krispy Kreme donuts do in a happy person’s gut.


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‘Ghost In The Shell’ (2017) Review – Live-Action Anime Interface

Ghost-In-The-Shell

Given Americans’ tendency to fuck up every anime adaptation they make, the concern from fans of the 1995 animated classic mindfuck Ghost In The Shell is understandable. But since we live in a time when man-children are fit to serve in public office, of course a surprisingly decent live-action Ghost In The Shell could exist.

Based on the manga/anime of the same name, Ghost In The Shell follows Major (Scarlett Johansson) and the counter-terrorist force Section 9 as they pursue Kuze (Michael Pitt) – an  elusive assassin who targets Hanka Robotics’ high-rankers. As Major gets closer to Kuze, she begins to learn more about her past while also questioning the very essence of humanity, or the lack thereof.

Following the horrendous track record of American-made anime adaptations, it seemed that Ghost In The Shell was destined for failure from the start. Leave it to the director of none other than the hilariously stupid Snow White And The Huntsman to finally break this curse and redeem a subgenre of movies that always get the short end of the stick.

Stand Alone Complex

For the most part, Ghost In The Shell brings its source material to life. This adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s magnum opus maximizes today’s computer wizardry that modern filmmaking is capable of. The futuristic cyberpunk cityscapes of Ghost In The Shell are impressive, and looking at them is enough to feel how appropriately seedy the urban concrete jungle the Major operates in is.

The same could be said for the action, which could have been better. While Ghost In The Shell thankfully lacks the epileptic bullshit of shaky cam and quick cuts, the action is merely “safe” at best. Due to the amount of special effects and slow motion, the fights felt more like video game playthroughs than visceral confrontations. As pretty as the visuals were, Ghost In The Shell is yet another movie that could have benefited from a gritty, hard R-Rating – especially when considering the fact that the original manga had a lesbian orgy in cyberspace.

The characters were all well-cast, and their looks onscreen were thankfully more than just glorified cosplays. But with someone like Scarlett Johansonn leading the story, one has to wonder why an evidently capable group of performers acted like they didn’t give a fuck about what was going on and just flatly recited their designated lines. The worst offender is the normally eccentric “Beat” Takeshi Kitano, who portrays Section 9’s Chief Aramaki. It’s one thing to be aloof and basically anti-social, but it’s another thing to clearly not give a shit when the fate of a group of people under your command is threatened by the obviously evil corporate bitch. Kitano floats through his scenes, and makes Johansonn’s robotic (but somewhat justified) monotone sound like Shakespeare in the goddamned park.

Ghost In The Shell works as a stand-alone for those not familiar with the anime, but let’s face it, most of this film’s viewers are those who watched the previous anime incarnations. As an adaptation of a classic brainfuck, Ghost In The Shell suffers from some glitches that cost it the chance to truly break the mold.

Ghost In A Nutshell

Ghost In The Shell is equal parts black-ops operations and mindfucking, but its live-action adaptation merely glosses over both these defining aspects.

Saying the central case of Ghost In The Shell was unnecessary would be too nice. Kuze may have been introduced as a terrorist with goals beyond mere chaos, but he just disappears by the halfway point, only to reappear in the end without doing much. All in all, Kuze was a lazy bum who didn’t have long-term goals when you stop to think about it. Because Ghost In The Shell was an origin story like any modern superhero movie, Major’s transformation from civilian to cybernetic superhero takes priority, leaving development for Kuze and Section 9 (which is mostly non-existent in the movie) behind. Then the movie goes on and waters down what made the originals memorable in the first place.

Since the original Ghost In The Shell tends to straddle between convoluted and pretentious, dumbing the story down for people who only took up basic philosophy in college (like yours truly) was not only a welcome sight, but a necessity. But in the case of the remake, this went too far to the point where it had more in common with any late-90’s cyberpunk movie than a truly thought-provoking, psychological story.

Major’s identity crisis was befitting of the movie’s predecessors, but it’s basically the original plot written in bullet points. This is evident in how everyone spoon-feeds their existential issues to audiences in the most basic philosophical jargon imaginable. Ghost In The Shell leaves no cerebral matter to the imagination, opting to explain everything the characters think about. The original is considered to be a classic because of how much could be derived from its subtext, not because Major stopped working to moan out loud about how lame being a half-robot is.

Arising From Mediocrity

Having seen most of the anime incarnations of Ghost In The Shell with the exception of the painful bore that is Arise, it’s safe to say that I was unsurprisingly concerned about the live-action adaptation, what with all the controversy about whitewashing (which is justified through a questionable plot-point) among others making the rounds online.

Compared to cynical reinterpretations of old titles that were made to siphon money from nostalgic nerds, Ghost In The Shell was made by filmmakers who admired and loved the iconic source materials. This adaptation doubles as a good introduction for newcomers, and a heartfelt, respectful homage for fans like myself.

It’s generic by Science-Fiction standards and it won’t redefine an entire genre like what its animated predecessors did, but Ghost in The Shell is still the one to beat in terms of future American anime-adaptations. And I say this not as a consolation for a subgenre with standards at an all time low, but because the movie is pretty fucking decent on its own.


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‘Kong Skull Island’ (2017) Review: Viet Kong Lite

Kong-Skull-Island

Ever since his debut, the towering ape known as King Kong dominated the monster movie scene despite being one of the least creative giants to ever grace the big screen when compared to his truly monstrous contemporaries. Given today’s technology, it was only a matter of time before Kong returned to the big screen, which led to Kong: Skull Island.

The monster homeland of Skull Island has been uncharted for decades, until representatives of the covert organization Monarch set out an expedition to put the island on the map. Helping them are the expert tracker Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), the war photographer Weaver (Brie Larson), and a battalion of air cavalry men led by Lieutenant Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). On the island, they discover Kong and worse creatures whose emergence could mean the end of humanity.

Kong has been a pop culture mainstay for as long as anyone could remember, but it’s only now someone tried to inject new life into the story – a noble effort that both invigorated and shackled the giant primate’s latest outing.

Gorilla Warfare

If there’s anyone aside from Captain America and motherfuckers like Adolf Hitler who goes hand in hand with the 1930’s, it’s King Kong. As honored as the 30’s setting may be, it’s beyond stale at this point, which makes the choice to update the setting of the Kong mythos to the early ’70s and the end of the Vietnam War an inspired decision.

By evoking the tensions of the time period and paying tribute to classic ‘Nam movies, Kong: Skull Island opens the doors of the monster movie to new creative directions. Instead of being yet another movie about nameless dudes running away from a monstrous visual effect, Kong: Skull Island tells a story of survival where characters desperately try to get off the titular island.

Doing so showed how insignificant humankind was when compared to the giants, a theme that has been running since the rebooted Godzilla (2014). Kong: Skull Island organically carries on these themes to emphasize the stakes of the setting, and this adds surprising subtext to what is essentially a brainless monster mash.

There is almost never a boring moment in the movie, and it quickly gets to the action after the obligatory character introductions. Kong: Skull Island takes no breaks, and each succeeding sequence features new monsters or increased dangers. It seems like the movie was tailor-made in direct response to the criticism of the glorified cocktease that was Godzilla, and the fact that producers listened is an incredible miracle on its own.

If Kong: Skull Island were rated on looks and themes alone, it would be a solid blockbuster movie. But alas, it’s still a monster movie about a giant monkey fucking up gunships to the tune of ’70s rock bands.

Marvel Goes To War

It’s no secret that Kong: Skull Island is a set-up for the monster-verse where Kong and Godzilla will fight in the future, and the flaws that have become synonymous with the modern day shared cinematic universe pioneer, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, rear their ugly heads here.

As distinct as they may be, none of the cast in Kong: Skull Island could be described as “complex human beings.” Rather, they are a mix of flat characters and exposition mouthpieces, where majority of them serve as cannon fodder and/or monster chow. Granted, Kong: Skull Island is a monster movie at the end of the day – meaning that character development isn’t exactly a priority. But just like a Marvel movie, the cast is made up of talented actors whose skills are squandered in favor of the flattest possible roles imaginable.

Conrad and the nigh-insignificant Weaver merely exist to look hot in the jungle and ask the stranded World War 2-era pilot Marlow (John C. Reilly) expository questions, while Packard and the Monarch agent Randa (John Goodman) do their best to shine despite their one-note personalities. The worst part is that these characters have interesting backstories and motivations, none of which are fully developed. Though they’re still better and more entertaining than the cardboard cut-outs in Godzilla, they’re as disposable and interchangeable as any Marvel superhero origin story that came out after Iron Man (2008).

It could be argued that Kong: Skull Island is a monster movie first, and what audiences are really in for are the big fights. But even these spectacles are only decent at best, as bombastic as the opening slaughter was. There’s a reliance of slow-motion in Kong: Skull Island, and while it’s thankfully easy to follow the action, it gets to a point where the nth time Kong skull-fucks a Skullcrawler in slow-motion loses impact. That, and it’s a monster/war movie mash-up that needs an R-rating, not a fucking child-friendly PG-13.

A Monstrous New Universe

What makes Kong: Skull Island special and a good introduction into the newest shared universe is just how honest it is. Not only is it a heartfelt homage to two old genres, but what makes it better is the fact that it knows exactly what it is.

Compared to Godzilla, Kong’s latest outing has no pretenses and just gives audiences what they want – giant fucking monsters duking it out while the humans try to get out of dodge. Instead of meandering and needlessly philosophizing about humanity’s place in nature despite the obvious having already been stated five minutes ago, Kong: Skull Island jumps right into the carnage and doesn’t let up for a single second.

Kong: Skull Island may be as deep as a B-Monster movie and a pulpy comic book, but by god, is it one of the better made popcorn movies seen in recent memory. For the most part, the upcoming monster universe Kong: Skull Island heralds is one shared cinematic universe I’ll be looking forward to. Kong: Skull Island is a good way to burn two hours on a weekend, but don’t expect to remember it a few days after viewing, because the shared universe loving producers of Warner Brothers sure as shit didn’t.


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