Going in Style (2017)

 

Released: April 7, 2017. Directed by: Zach Braff. Starring: Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin. Runtime: 1h 36 min. 

Joe (Michael Caine), Willy (Morgan Freeman) and Albert (Alan Arkin) are retired, lifelong friends who are losing their pension after the company they worked for is bought out. To make matters worse, Joe’s in danger of losing his home because of a mortgage payment plan he was sold.

He discusses that with a sleazy banker (John Pais) in the film’s first scene, and it’s saved from being boring thanks to a funny bank robbery.

If Joe loses his home, he, his daughter Rachel (Maria Dizzia) and granddaughter Brooklyn (Joey King) will be homeless within 30 days. He rallies Willy and Albert to rob a bank so he can save his home and stick it to the banks. They figure they’ll take what would have been theirs in pension payment, and at the tail end of their lives – they don’t have much to lose and they’re going out in style.

Surprisingly, Going in Style doesn’t actually have a lot of style. It’s basic filmmaking and the direction’s unremarkable. This is Zach Braff’s third film (at the biggest budget of $25 million), but it doesn’t have the quirkiness of his writing featured in his first two films Garden State and Wish I Was Here. The film’s written by Theodore Melfi (Hidden Figures), based on the 1979 film of the same name. The writing’s formulaic at best.

It’s a predictable caper but it’s so heartfelt and enjoyable. Its heart is always in the right place and it’s a benign tale about loving life and making the best of everything, no matter your age.

It’s also very funny, too, and the cast have great comedic timing and make the best jokes hit their mark. The best part of the film is having Caine, Freeman and Arkin share the screen. Their presence is what makes it special, even this isn’t as good as it should be – like the way that it’s great at the time but it’s forgettable.

Trio, hands raised

Alan Arkin, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine in Going in Style. (Source)

Still, they’re so charming and they help make this a good time at the movies. Their chemistry is great, and you can feel like these guys have been friends their entire lives. They’re all mostly the same age, but their development feels diverse, especially in terms of motivation for the robbery.

Joe’s motivation is pure since he’s trying to provide for his family. His friendship with granddaughter Brooklyn (Joey King) is sweet and one of the reasons I was most invested in Joe. Brooklyn’s really the only family of the trio that have a good role – and even Joe’s daughter could be written out entirely since she’s there for two scenes.

Willy’s motivation is so he can have enough money to see his family more than once a year. Albert’s the curmudgeonly guy of the group – suiting his delivery – and he’s content being alone. The bachelor gives into the heist because he’s tired of being broke. He also meets a new lady, Annie, who gives charisma to his development – and she’s played by the delightful Ann-Margret.

Its third act has some clever moments inside and outside of the heist, and the training they get from a criminal insider (John Ortiz) is fun. Though, it could benefit from more action.

It’s understandable that there isn’t since they’re a trio of good guys who don’t want to hurt anyone. It sucks out some excitement out of the heist – even though it still feels tense. It’s nice that there’s two heists and the main one is fun – but the one at the beginning is funnier.

I liked that they’re trying to rob a bank at a geriatric age and it makes for a different sort-of heist caper. It has low-speed chases instead of high-speed chases, like when they have a practice theft at a grocery store and hijack an old lady’s motorized shopping cart. It’s one of the funnier moments, and it’s scenes like these when you know it doesn’t take itself too seriously and it’s better for it.

Score: 70/100

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CHIPS (2017)

 

CHiPS. Released: March 24, 2017. Directed by: Dax Shephard. Starring: Dax Shepard, Michael Peña, Vincent D’Onofrio. Runtime: 1h 40 min.

Dax Shepard’s third directorial effort reboots 1977 TV cop drama CHiPS into a raunchy buddy cop comedy. It’s not the best comedy but it entertains for enough of its runtime.

Larry Wilcox’s Jon Baker (Shepard) is updated to a washed-out stunt motorcyclist with no more fans or sponsors. His sole motivation is saving his marriage with wife Karen (Kristen Bell), and he brings up his marriage problems so much you can turn it into a drinking game.

Michael Peña is Frank ‘Ponch’ Poncherello, an FBI agent who is brought into the California Highway Patrol as an undercover agent to investigate an armoured van robbery ring rooted within the CHP itself. He’s partnered with Baker, and their chemistry isn’t great because and they bicker from the start.

Their fights in the first half are only occasionally funny. They establish Baker spends so much time in couple’s therapy that he’s almost an expert in trying to get to the root of Ponch’s problems. He’s a better wannabe psychologist than police officer since he can’t shoot his gun with any accuracy whatsoever.

They’re some of the worst on-screen cops you’ll see. Ponch is also reckless and does everything an undercover cop shouldn’t do. Plus, he can barely ride a motorcycle, which makes him the butt of some of the film’s funniest jokes during the chase scenes. Baker’s only graduated because he’s great at riding a motorcycle.

The problem with these bad cops is that they’re not believably written, and while it’s like a farce of bad cops, the film’s not clever so the line between attempted farce and plain stupid comedy blurs. The film doesn’t take itself too seriously so it still manages to be fun.

CHIPS (1)

One of the many chase scenes in CHIPS (Source). 

The stunts and chase scenes are great. It blends extreme sports with comedy and it works well, especially because of some of the bike jump stunts. The action’s well-directed and more fun than some jokes. The action scenes and umpteen crashes and explosions help distract from a simplistic story written by Dax Shepard.

The heists are fun but Shepard’s decision to reveal the bad cops to us from the word go removes all their mystery, and since we know who they are so long before our dynamic duo, the story loses punch and surprise. Vincent D’Onofrio plays the tough-as-nails corrupt cop ring leader. He’s a generically written brute only enlivened by D’Onofrio. His character is cruel for no reason and it makes him campy, especially when he breaks out a SWAT tank – which is admittedly awesome.

Shepard holds some characters back who are criminals and unceremoniously reveals them as baddies far too early. It’s disappointing because it would be a nice surprise to find out they’re villainous when Ponch and Baker learn it.

He doesn’t pen a strong story but his jokes are decent, and it finds a balance between big laughs and forgettable chuckles. Some gross-out raunchiness misses, especially a joke about how Baker doesn’t know the new trends of oral sex, that loses slight cleverness when it’s used too many times.

The main duo’s chemistry strengthens after they stop bickering, which helps make it a decent buddy comedy since they start to enjoy each other’s company. Plus, they are funny people. They become friends when Ponch makes lip contact with Jon’s wiener – and it’s funny, but it doesn’t feel naturally enough to be a believable best friend moment. Their chemistry suffers because of it. They don’t feel like besties like Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill in 21 Jump Street – and they don’t have a natural chemistry like the guys in Super Troopers.

CHIPS

Dax Shepard and Michael Pena in CHIPS. (Source)

The supporting cast doesn’t leave an impression – though Maya Rudolph gives a decent cameo, and there are other familiar faces that pop up. The supporting characters are so one-note – especially Jessica McNamee, Rosa Salazar and Adam Brody – and it feels like Ponch and Baker are the only characters Shepard bothers to develop.

The self-involved nature of all the characters make them jerks. Baker’s obsession with his severed marriage is the film’s most annoying aspect, especially since it’s so obvious it’s over he seems delusional. Ponch is mostly just a cliché womanizer and sex addict, who has perfected one-night stands by writing the name of the woman on a Post-It note and putting it on his bathroom mirror.

Jon’s wife Karen (Bell) is the biggest jerk of them all and treats Jon terribly throughout. She feels satirical of trophy wives, but it would help if she was funny – instead, she’s heartless and terribly written. The character almost made me hate Bell whenever she was on-screen. Her talent feels wasted – but kudos to her for being a believable jerk, especially to her real-life husband.

CHIPS is a funny ride overall that gives the ‘70s cop show a modern comedy twist. It’s nice that Shepard gets to mix his love for motorcycles with comedy, but his passion merely translates into a forgettable action comedy.

Score: 60/100

Secret in Their Eyes (2015)

Secret in Their Eyes (2015)Released: November 20, 2015. Directed by: Billy Ray. Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman. Runtime: 1hr., 51 min.

I haven’t seen the original Argentinian film “The Secret in Their Eyes (“El Secreto de sus Ojos”), but the American remake “Secret in Their Eyes” likely doesn’t do it an ounce of justice.

The film concerns Jess, portrayed with raw force by Julia Roberts, a police officer whose daughter is brutally murdered in the height of L.A. counter-terrorism following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

She seeks justice for her daughter and also wants vengeance from a suspect who was able to walk because of political mumbo jumbo that bogs down the plot to a point of frustration.

13 years later, a close friend Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) has tirelessly looked at pictures of convicted criminals all this time. Since he has gone to work for the New York Mets – I assume it’s as the director of security – he is unable to scan the photo into the computer or access face recognition technology. Though, it might have been easier to ask a cop buddy help him out.

The film is told in a needlessly confusing, non-linear flow where one can only tell the difference of the characters between 2002 and 2015 is that Dean Norris is bald in 2015, Chiwetel Ejiofor just has grey in her hair, and Julia Roberts’ Jess looks like a 50-year-old trapped in a 90-year-old’s body.

Seriously: If the point was to convey that this weight of emotional distress or focusing on something you can’t change, brings aggressive aging, they did it well. Kudos, make-up department.

As for Nicole Kidman’s Claire, you have to look at her on-screen partner to see if it’s 2002 and 2015. Nicole Kidman doesn’t seem to age… Ever.

Also bogging down the plot is melodrama between Ray and Claire’s characters – with the “will they end up together or won’t they” plot line. It seems that this is a main attribute taken from the original.

But this melodrama felt out-of-place in something that looked billed as a revenge thriller. It borrows themes from successful revenge stories – notably Denis Villeneuve’s “Prisoners” – but no success is emulated in this only sporadically exciting thriller.

Sure, there’s a good set piece at a Dodgers game. And the scene where Jess finds her daughter is heartbreaking. Though: I question if her taking off her gloves and holding her daughter in the dumpster tainted the crime scene. There are good performances here, but they’re just as hatefully written and poorly-crafted characters.

While I fully understand Jess’ grief, she is unlikable. She never shows any gratitude to the one man – Ray – who has been trying to find Caroline’s killer and give Jess peace for 13 long years.

Seriously, she seems angry with him. When a central character bashes on the only person not purely fighting for themselves – it truly makes it hard to root for justice.

Score: 38/100

 

P.s., My apologies for the long hiatus there. I’ve been swamped with J-school and other writing so I will try to be more active on here as the month goes along. 

Evil Dead (2013)

Evil DeadEvil Dead

Release Date: April 5, 2013

Director: Fede Alvarez

Stars: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Jessica Lucas

Runtime: 91 min

Tagline: The Most Terrifying Film You Will Ever Experience

Evil Dead might not be the most terrifying film you will ever experience, but it is one of the bloodiest, most exciting and satisfying horror flicks in quite some time.

Five friends go up to a cabin in the woods that has sentimental value, as they’d camp there all the time as tykes. This time, they have a more serious agenda. Mia (Jane Levy) is a heroin addict who plans to beat the addiction. To help her, lifelong friends Olivia (Jessica Lucas), Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), and her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), who is there to offer support, deem it necessary to keep her at the cabin, so she doesn’t overdose again in the future. Another force soon keeps them at the cabin, when the friends find the Book of Dead (left by witches and father of a possessed girl who was burned alive) and unwittingly summon up demons living in the nearby woods. When this evil is unleashed, the friends get possessed one by one until one is left to fight for survival.

Cue the quick-paced plot, chainsaws, gross-out gore, gallons of blood, dismemberment, heroism and total awesomeness. The wickedly amazing good news is: It’s a great remake. It’s also a great individual horror film that stands well on its own two feet (and sometimes, one). It also stands fairly well being inevitably compared to Sam Raimi’s original 1981 cult classic.

This stays faithful to the original, but even when we think we know how this all plays out — there’s an admirable amount of wiggle room for surprise, and amazing plot twists. The original opts for simplicity where the central characters are merely taking a vacation for the shits and giggles, while these guys have a real purpose. They’re leading one of their best friends down a dirt road to sobriety, but litte do they know they’ll be leading her down a road of demonic possession. One thing that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and why this proves sometimes being simple can be better, is… Why choose that one childhood shacky cabin in the woods to help a friend get sober? Why not take her to a more secure friend’s house, a nice four-star hotel in the tropics, or, hmm… A rehabilitation facility?

Some of the decisions of the characters are really rather silly, but that’s expected in this day and age. Some decisions aren’t as silly as some of the characters in the original, like when the gal who was molested by the tree willingly went outside to ask “Who’s there? I heard you!” The way the demons were actually summoned is a very idiotic decision on one of the characters parts. Eric can hardly resist opening up the book because curiosity is just strangling him. Despite the multiple warnings from the book like probably a spell that was designed to give him a nasty paper cut, or actual warnings on the very page he reads a passage from, he still says the coveted words. Eric, if you’re so goddamn curious, just read the Latin in your head. It isn’t the time to practice a foreign language, especially not that of an ancient book with strange writings and demonic rituals in it. Granted, if he doesn’t commit the silly actions he does, none of the happenings of this great modern horror would happen.

This decides to take the terror trail and sometimes treads on some gross-out campiness. Fans of the original might think blood spewing all over the screen is funny (mostly because it’s pleasantly awesome), but others could be grossed out or find it cringe-worthy. The witty demons get some of the laughs, mostly the one in the cellar. It’s also funny when the possessed friends try to convince the unaffected that they’re normal and harmless, and they fall for the conniving demons, hook, line, and sinker. Fan of the original or not, one should not trust any of the effective false senses of security.

This doesn’t mean to be campy, this is a remake and it stands proudly on its own. Some of it is terrifying when the more primary characters’ lives are at stake, or like when one of the gals is being raped by a tree. It’s one of those horror movies that relies both on some effective pop-out scares and a wicked atmosphere. The sound of speeding wind when the camera is rushing through the forest is still very spooky and effective, and it gives a chill to the bone. One thing that is admirable about this is the director’s choice to use practical effects instead of CGI-effects. This rarity is great because this is an age with movies like Life of Pi or even Mama, where the latter’s villain is entirely CGI. The effects that the filmmakers achieve here are endlessly impressive. Fede Alvarez’s decision to use practical effects is a great one, and he seems like a director everyone should keep an eye on.

The characterization is good, where it focuses mainly on the brother-sister dynamic between David and Mia. She feels like David has not been there for her the past few years, and this sometimes anti-hero uses this to her effective advantage throughout the feature.

The petite central cast of five people carry the film well. Jessica Lucas and Elizabeth Blackmore don’t shine vibrantly, but the real carriers of the film are the other three. Pucci’s good as the brain of the operation, Eric. Fernandez has some scenes where he acts terribly, but he has other scenes where he is able to do a good job of portraying a concerned older brother. Because of this, he evens out to be just kind-of forgettable. Jane Levy gets her chance to shine in every aspect of the word as a sometimes anti-hero, and always an all-around bad-ass. Ash would most definitely approve of her.

In a nutshell: As far as horror remakes go, this is one of the finest in quite some time. This film has cool effects, a woman being sexually assaulted by a tree with a sex drive (try telling that one to a therapist), demonic possession, beatings, stabbings, and the usage of weapons like exacto-knives, nail guns, and, of course, chainsaws. If that all sounds like your idea of a good time, check this out; it’s one of the best 80’s horror films made in the past five years.

88/100

The Hills Have Eyes

the hills have eyesThe Hills Have Eyes

Release Date: March 10, 2006

Director: Alexandre Aja

Stars: Ted Levine, Kathleen Quinlan, Dan Byrd

Runtime: 107 min

Tagline: The lucky ones die first

A suburban American family is being stalked by a group of psychotic people who live in the desert, far away from civilization.

The Hills Have Eyes should get some props for actually being a horror flick that isn’t totally mindless. Wait a second… It is. It’s also just nasty. But… It is slightly easy to care for a select few of the characters, instead of rooting the baddies to just kill them off one by one, like most slasher flicks. Though, the villains are despicable, unsettling and nasty mutated freaks and not in a way one would want their horror villains to be. They’re some of the ugliest things I’ve ever witnessed, they’re certainly not the cool type of mutants to hang out with Charles Xavier, and they’re actually too eerie to be a highlight of a freak show attraction.

Some of the movie is creepy, but when the middle comes, it’s just downhill from there. Horror movies are universally known for characters to do some of the most idiotic things ever, but some characters’ actions are incredibly irresponsible (Hint: If you see your dog laying dead with some of his body taken off… Tell someone), and by the time some of them get picked off at the scene where the action heats up and a weird mutant guy actually takes the head off a bird and drinks from it, it’s hard to care that they get killed. They’re just so idiotic.

This is one of the nastiest and worst horror flicks I’ve ever seen, and it’s not even a fun gore-fest. Since many believe this outdoes the original, the original must be one of the worst movies ever made. The only redeeming qualities this has is it’s sometimes creepy (but it soon gets irritating) and Aaron Stanford’s character goes through a kind-of David Sumner-esque transformation to stand up for himself. Other than that, it’s poorly constructed, the acting is hardly top-tier (Stanford is okay), it’s nasty, you’ll need a strong stomach to stand it, it’s stupid, unrewarding, and just way too long. Only a few films make me angry to think back to, and this is one of them.

20/100

House on Haunted Hill (1999)

house on haunted hillHouse on Haunted Hill

Release Date: October 29, 1999

Director: William Malone

Stars: Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs

Runtime: 93 min

Tagline: Evil loves to party

Read this review to the tune of ‘White Christmas’. Enjoy!

I’m dreaming of a good horror movie
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the screenplay shines
and audiences scream in fear
at the scary things on the screen

I’m dreaming of a good horror movie
With at least one released each year (this isn’t it)
May your scares be scary and fresh
And may all your horror movies be fun

I’m dreaming of a good horror movie
With at least one released each year (this isn’t it)
May your scares be scary and fresh
And may all your horror movies be fun

Yeah, so, House on Haunted Hill is a really sloppy remake of an apparently entertaining campy 1959 horror classic. The concept is great, and it really wasted any potential it had. The twists are lame and the dialogue is crappy, and really everything about this isn’t exciting or particularly terrifying. It’s really just strange and irritating. Geoffrey Rush couldn’t even make the best of the rough source material offered to him. In an age where horror movie remakes rule the genre, this isn’t anything special.

40/100

Red Dawn (2012)

Red Dawn

Release Date: November 21, 2012

Director: Dan Bradley

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Josh Peck

Runtime: 114 min

Tagline: Heroes are made in America

Oh look, Chris Hemsworth is in a second movie this year where he goes to a cabin in the woods.

Jed Eckhart, an experienced soldier on leave, leads a group of teenagers to the forest as a way of escaping the North Korean soldiers that have just attacked their town. Soon enough, they form a terrorist group called the Wolverines, and they plan to take the town back from the North Koreans.

Directed by newcomer to the directing game, Dan Bradley, this is a remake of the 1984 cult classic of the same name (which I haven’t seen). Apparently, the only thing that is really changed is the invaders are North Korean, not the Soviet Union like the original. You may think that sounds like a promising story, but you’d be wrong.

The film opens with some compiled archive footage explaining a situation in North Korea where Kim Jong Il has recently died, and the people are furious for some reason. It just feels disorganized and it was a very dumb history lesson. It sort of sets the tone for the film and adds some context on what’s to come, but it isn’t easy to appreciate.

The plot has a fine pace, but there really isn’t any story at all. It’s just a series of events where The Wolverines attack North Korean forces, steal flat bread, meat and soda from a Subway, and just generally wreak havoc as a way to take back their town. The action comes around a lot, and that’s pretty nice, but that doesn’t leave any time for much character or plot development. The action is just a whole lot of explosions and lots of bullets being shot. For any lover of war violence, they’ll eat it up, but it certainly doesn’t measure up to something like the great action of Saving Private Ryan.

Sometimes my suspension of disbelief is really stretched. At some points, the North Koreans had perfect opportunities to shoot at the so-called Wolverines, but they didn’t take that golden opportunity. Or, they widely missed. Wouldn’t they have had military training? Who’s training them, Forrest Gump? “Just keep staring, and staring, and staring. That’s all I have to say about that.”
The dialogue is very, very poor. One character asks “Legit?” and he doesn’t even bother to say the full word. Another character says, “I’m not giving you dick!” The context, though, is when character asks the person to give him the gun, but he refuses and utters that stupid line. Who wrote this screenplay, a white thirteen year old wannabee gangster?

Red Dawn is filled with A-list and B-list actors who were fairly unknown when it was filmed in 2009. Since then, it has been stuck on the shelf, and it should have stayed that way. The action is non-stop, but that action is sometimes boring. One other poor thing about the film is the characters. They are one-dimensional, and I didn’t particularly care for any of them. Their motivations are to become heroes of the town and avenge the lives of their loved ones, and take their homes back. Some of them are particularly selfish, too. They are not easy to admire or respect, so when any of them gets killed off, the viewer could easily rub it off their shoulders and forget about it. Whenever the film tries to put in any character development, it’s pretty mediocre, and frankly, boring.

The list of Red Dawn‘s redeeming qualities is a very short one. The actors are great, but their source material is bad. There are some good action sequences, and there are some mediocre jokes to be offered (mostly from Jeffrey Dean Morgan and his buddies). That’s about it. The acting is bad and the cinematography is very shaky, and the storyline isn’t a thick one. Red Dawn is a poor action film, and there are much better action films in theatres right now. If you feel you must see it (probably because of Chris Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson or Josh Peck), and that is something I discourage, go in expecting a generally poor feature with amateurish direction.

40/100