Movie Review ~ Serenity (2019)

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The Facts
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Synopsis: The mysterious past of a fishing boat captain comes back to haunt him, when his ex-wife tracks him down with a desperate plea for help, ensnaring his life in a new reality that may not be all that it seems.

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Diane Lane, Jason Clarke, Djimon Hounsou, Jeremy Strong

Director: Steven Knight

Rated: R

Running Length: 106 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: When you’ve been following movies as long as I have, you tend you get a feel for when a stinker is approaching. Take Serenity as a prime example. Here you have a movie headlined by two Oscar winners featuring an additional two Oscar nominees in supporting roles written and directed by another Oscar nominated filmmaker arriving in cinemas with no promotion and no buzz. Even more curious is that it’s being released the same week Oscar nominations were announced, typically a popular weekend for audiences to catch up on films going for the gold. This is a movie everyone, including the fledgling studio that produced it, is clearly hoping will go away quietly.

Set on a small island community where the days are hot and the nights wet, the film opens with a heavy dose of overbaked Hemmingway finding fishing captain Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike) obsessing over a monster tuna that continually evades him. Audiences prepped for a steamy thriller by the previews are in for an off-kilter start as tuna talk takes up a good twenty minutes at the offset with McConaughey jabbering on about this fish to his first mate (Djimon Hounsou, The Legend of Tarzan), the town floozy (Diane Lane, Man of Steel), and anyone else within earshot. It’s not until a blonde bombshell from his past (Anne Hathaway, The Intern) enters the picture that the cash strapped Dill gets lured away from the titan tuna and hooked into a murder plot that leads to several large twists.

Written and directed by Steven Knight, who earned an Oscar nomination for 2002’s Dirty Pretty Things and was responsible for the hackneyed script for 2018’s The Girl in the Spider’s Web, the crux of Serenity hinges on a plot twist so bonkers that when I figured out it was coming I was almost begging for it not to be true. Even though it makes the film harder to review, I won’t spoil it for you. The twist comes from such a strange place and is at times so outright bizarre that I could see it almost working had Knight fully committed to it from the beginning. When it’s revealed around the halfway mark it just doesn’t hold up if you carefully replay the first part of the movie back in your mind.

That’s not to say Serenity might not have been a moderately enjoyable bit of C-movie trash had it been released as a Netflix original film with a lesser lauded cast. There’s something about the gathering of this caliber of talent that instantly elevates the movie to a higher level of prestige and, in doing so, invites a closer scrutiny of everyone involved. If the film starred Chris Pine and Mila Kunis in place of McConaughey and Hathaway, for example, I don’t think we’d be running the film through the same wringer. Knight’s script is heavy to the point of Mel Brooks spoofing on noir symbolism (though admittedly there’s a reason for that) and he’s given everyone at least one doozy of a line they have to deliver with a straight face. Example, from Hathaway: “You gave me this ring and said, ‘With this stupid ring, I thee wed, baby’…I memorized that.” Really? She memorized that? I mean, it’s not Shakespeare but…

Thinking about the performances after the fact, I’m wondering if only one actor knew about the twist. How else to explain the disconnect between what we know as an audience and what is being happening on screen. McConaughey plays things so deadly serious that you can’t help but laugh at his misguided intensity at the most minor of emotions. His reaction to catching a fish is pretty much in line with deciding whether or not to kill Hathaway’s abusive husband (a snarling Jason Clarke, All I See Is You). He’s either drunkenly stumbling around the island or cliff jumping naked into a deep blue vision quest. Some may find it worth the price of admission just for the gratuitous shots of McConaughey’s rump, which I think gets more screen time than Diane Lane.

Hathaway doesn’t seem like much of a femme fatale in my book and though she admirably goes for it here, I prefer her taking on bad girl roles that have a sly wink to them (think Oceans 8) instead of the cold calculation of her character here. I often wondered why Lane wasn’t playing this part instead – she seemed like a better fit for the role. As the lone voice of reason in an increasingly crazed cast of characters, Hounsou does what he can with his thankless role and Jeremy Strong (The Judge) kept my attention as a mysterious man following McConaughey’s every move.

Sometimes a movie is so bad I feel like recommending it just so we can have that shared experience of saying we survived it together. Right now, with the way our country is going and the amount of problems we’re facing…adding Serenity to that list seems irresponsible. It’s a movie you absolutely should avoid at all costs and skip over when it inevitably pops up on your streaming service in a month or so. Everyone involved is capable of better – even the title needed more thought.

Movie Review ~ First Man


The Facts
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Synopsis: A look at the life of the astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969.

Stars: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Pablo Schreiber, Jason Clarke

Director: Damien Chazelle

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 141 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: There’s nothing I love more than a movie about space.  I like seeing monsters in space, I cheer for Muppets in Space, I love space adventures, and I really enjoy movies about the space program and how we made it into orbit.  So you can imagine that First Man, focused on the life of Neil Armstrong, seemed like a slam dunk winner to me when it was first announced.  Adding to that confidence was Oscar winning director Damien Chazelle (La La Land) and Ryan Gosling (Blade Runner 2049) so my interest was definitely piqued.  Then something really strange happened…I saw the movie.

Little doubt remains that Chazelle is an accomplished filmmaker and that Gosling is one of the best actors working today but their reunion after La La Land is a chilly film that I just could not connect with.  I know many supporters of the film have said that Armstrong himself was a hard nut to crack, legendary in his aloofness, and Gosling was just paying service to the man he was playing but the disconnect goes beyond that.  I found it hard to find anything warm in the movie, not even Claire Foy (The Girl in the Spider’s Web) overselling her much ballyhooed role as Armstrong’s wife.  This is the third Foy film I’ve seen in 2018 where she’s struggled with maintaining an American accent throughout and I’m wondering if anyone is listening to her in post production.

Where the film finds some modicum of success is chronicling the dangerous space program that Armstrong and his compatriots participated in in the race to beat the Russians to the moon.  These men put their faith in new technology and materials that were unproven and were pioneers in our exploration of areas outside our atmosphere.  With people dying in the process you do have to ask yourself if it was worth it and by the time Armstrong lands on the moon there is a sense of accomplishment you feel just as much as they do.  Chazelle and screenwriter Josh Singer needed to find more of these moments to give their film a little more life.

31 Days to Scare ~ Pet Sematary (2019) – Trailer

Synopsis: Behind a young family’s home in Maine is a terrible secret that holds the power of life after death. When tragedy strikes, the threat of that power soon becomes undeniable.

Release Date:  April 19, 2019

Thoughts: Remakes are a tricky thing and often I feel like to remake an already established film isn’t really worth the time or money.  Why go back and revisit something that still holds up?  Sure, movies like Oceans 11 and even last year’s re-do of Stephen King’s IT improved upon their originals but what about the Carrie remake or any of the sanitized updates to horror films like Prom Night or When a Stranger Calls?  Tough stuff.

So here we are now looking down the barrel of a Pet Sematary remake and I’m conflicted.  The original 1989 film retains much of the same scares and thrills as it did when first released but this look at the 2019 version has arrived and I’m not inclined to claw at the walls in frustration.  I really enjoyed directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer previous film Starry Eyes and star Jason Clarke (All I See Is You) seems a good choice for the lead.  I just hope they can exercise some restraint and give us a spooky tale and not go into excess.  Don’t want audiences leaving the theater thinking that sometimes un-remade is better.

Make sure to check out my review of Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary, the documentary on the making of the first film.

Movie Review ~ All I See Is You


The Facts
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Synopsis: A blind woman’s relationship with her husband changes when she regains her sight and discovers disturbing details about themselves.

Stars: Blake Lively, Jason Clarke, Yvonne Strahovski, Danny Huston, Ahna O’Reilly, Wes Chatham

Director: Marc Forster

Rated: R

Running Length: 110 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: Here’s a strange little movie for you, not necessarily a bad one, just a strange one. At a time when we’re coming out of a slump summer at the box office and into the terrain of Awards Season, All I See Is You has the visual panache of a major blockbuster helmed by smart filmmakers but is ultimately more interested in the art-house vibe. This creates a discord between two distinct notes that never totally synch up, though it does have a few fleeting moments of harmony that have kept it lingering in my mind several days after seeing it.

Blinded by a childhood accident that left her parents dead, Gina (Blake Lively, The Shallows) lives with her husband James (Jason Clarke, Lawless) in Taiwan. She’s adjusted to her life living in the shadows, only able to see brief glimpses of light (fabulously photographed by cinematographer Matthias Koenigswieser) but when an opportunity presents itself for an experimental surgery that could give her back her sight in one eye, she grasps the opportunity with both hands.

As her sight returns, her relationship with her supportive husband changes as she becomes less dependent on his care and more independent in her needs. The life she thought she was going to lead now has more opportunities and both husband and wife start to realize at the same time that their union may have been fortified by her disability. A visit to her sister and brother-in-law (Ahna O’Reilly and Miquel Fernández) raises more marital strife, compounded by a painful trek to the place where she lost her sight many years earlier.

As the movie develops, it becomes less of the psychological thriller it feels like it wants to be and more of an erotic drama that pushes the boundaries for both Lively and Clarke. Lively seems especially game and she’s continuing to become an actress unafraid of a little risk in her roles. Clarke, too, brings some painful pathos to the part, culminating in a wordless exchange between the two in a very public setting that’s awkwardly intimate though they are surrounded by a crowd unaware of the matrimonial fissure that has cracked wide open.

Director Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace, World War Z) co-wrote the script with Sean Conway and as mentioned above it’s a sometimes off-balance mix of soapy melodrama and kinky canoodling. Up until the last moment, I kept waiting for one tone to come out clearer than the other but it never happens. Even the ending fails to dig its feet in and put a period on its lengthy rambling sentence. While it’s hard to empathize with the two leads that live in a fantastic apartment and jet-set to luxury locales, it’s not easy to write them off for the same reason. Flawed through its characters may be, there’s a voyeuristic interest at play in All I See Is You which makes most everything you see watchable.

31 Days to Scare ~ Winchester: The House That Ghosts Built (Trailer)

Synopsis: Inspired by true events. On an isolated stretch of land 50 miles outside of San Francisco sits the most haunted house in the world. Built by Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester fortune, it is a house that knows no end, an asylum for hundreds of vengeful ghosts, and the most terrifying among them have a score to settle with the Winchesters…

Release Date: February 2, 2018

Thoughts: There’s truly nothing like a Dame to give some extra class to what could wind up being another ordinary haunted house flick. The first trailer for Winchester: The House That Ghosts Built is surely edited to provide audiences a loud and jarring viewing with cliché scares and ominous warnings.  Often, this is a sign that there’s not much to the film overall but gosh, I dunno, something about the participation of Helen Mirren (Woman in Gold) just tells me there’s a corker of a movie waiting for us in 2018.  Directed by The Spierig Brothers (soon to have their Jigsaw unleashed on moviegoers and who were behind the excellent but little seen Predestination) and co-starring Jason Clarke (The Great Gatsby) and Sarah Snook (The Dressmaker), it’s time we had a darn good haunted house movie.  Let this one be more original than its trailer suggests!

Movie Review ~ Terminator Genisys

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The Facts:

Synopsis: John Connor sends Kyle Reese back in time to protect Sarah Connor, but when he arrives in 1984, nothing is as he expected it to be.

Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Jai Courtney, Matt Smith, Emilia Clarke, Byung-hun Lee, J.K. Simmons, Sandrine Holt, Dayo Okeniyi, Michael Gladis, Courtney B. Vance

Director: Alan Taylor

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 125 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: So far, the summer of 2015 has proved fertile ground for highly anticipated blockbuster sequels.  From May’s Avengers: Age of Ultron & Mad Max: Fury Road to June’s record-breaking Jurassic World and Ted 2 audiences have willingly plunked down their dough to revisit old friends.  Well, July is here and a chilly wind has disrupted the warm paradise…and it’s called Terminator Genisys.

The Terminator franchise is a great example of a movie studio unwilling to quit while it’s ahead.  Released in 1984, James Cameron’s The Terminator was a sleeper hit that officially introduced Arnold Schwarzenegger (Kindergarten Cop) has an action star.  Seven years later Cameron had a golden idea for a sequel, resulting in the groundbreaking Terminator 2: Judgment Day.  That film was a forward thinking epic on the grandest of scales, effectively saving the summer movie event from the comic-book mayhem it was turning into.  Cameron’s director’s cut of the film remains one of my favorite films of all time, perfectly continuing the story he created and wrapping things up beautifully.

Unwillingly to leave well enough alone, Warner Brothers moved forward with a third film in 2003 and a fourth in 2009.  Neither were much to write home about because they were designed to be cash grabs for a studio that seemed to lack an original idea.  Admittedly, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines isn’t awful but it’s far more appealing than the gloomy Terminator Salvation…still, both films exist only for profit and nothing more.

So here we are, 31 years after the original with the fifth film in the Terminator universe and it’s easily the most troubling one of them all.  I held out a little hope for the movie at the outset because it seemed to be going for a clever revisionist reboot vibe, with scenes from the 1984 film recreated with a fine eye for detail.  Good intentions are quickly overtaken by uninspired action sequences that introduce a host of new faces playing familiar characters.

In the future where machines have taken over the world and are exterminating mankind, Kyle Reese (a flat Jai Courtney, Jack Reacher) is an impassioned devotee to resistance leader John Connor (Jason Clarke, Lawless, looking alarmingly like the puppet from the Saw films).  How impassioned is he? Well, let’s just say that when Reese finds out later that he’s actually Connor’s father you can see that Reese’s dreams of sipping mai-tais with Connor on a beach disappearing right before his sorrowful eyes.  When the opportunity arises for a mission back to 1984 to save Connor’s legendary mother, Reese volunteers and the rest is history…or the future…doesn’t really matter.

Back in 1984, things aren’t exactly like we remember them (the film reminded me a lot of Back to the Future Part II) and instead of finding a helpless Sarah Connor, Reese meets up with a determined heroine that has her own Terminator (Schwarzenegger) in her protection detail.  Emilia Clarke may have a Linda Hamilton look to her but the comparisons stop there.  Clarke is, like her co-stars, not a strong enough actor to carry this type of character to the end and therefore scenes displaying her unyielding stance at fighting for survival don’t land like they should.

Not surprisingly, only Schwarzenegger scores with any regularity.  He’s perfected this character over several cinematic endeavors (and one exciting theme park ride) so this is all old hat to him. A chance for the elder Schwarzenegger to fight with a recreation of his 1984 persona is a pleasant sequence but an all too brief foray into ingenuity by screenwriters Patrick Lussier & Laeta Kalorgridis.

Director Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) has several large action sequences up his sleeve and while they deliver the requisite thrills, they seem like they’re cut scenes from a movie far removed from the Terminator universe.  Mostly, the film is a paint by the numbers exercise in too much exposition backed up with surprisingly weak special effects.

The worst thing about the movie is how much of it has been spoiled by the marketing team.  I won’t confirm or deny what people are thinking but you only need to look at the poster or watch one of the many spoiler-heavy trailers to get an idea of what’s going on in the film and preview nearly all of the pivotal moments the film tries to spring on you.  A very shameful showing by the marketing people at the studio.

A poorly executed sci-fi adventure that loses itself in its own pretzel twists of time, there’s little to like or recommend here…it’s a chipped tombstone for the series.

The Silver Bullet ~ Everest (2015)

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Synopsis: A climbing expedition on Mt. Everest is devastated by a severe snow storm.

Release Date:  September 18, 2015

Thoughts: Director Baltasar Kormákur (Contraband) has gone big with his IMAX 3D adventure Everest, from the impressive vistas right down to its imposing cast. Based on various novels/accounts detailing the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, just watching the trailer is enough to send summer audiences reaching for their winter jackets thanks to an immersive visual style. Boasting a roster of the most in-demand stars in Hollywood right now like Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), Robin Wright (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice), Jason Clarke (Lawless), Sam Worthington (Man on a Ledge), John Hawkes (The Sessions), and Emily Watson (The Theory of Everything) the anticipation surrounding this is a high as the titular mountain itself.

The Silver Bullet ~ Child 44

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Synopsis: A disgraced member of the military police investigates a series of nasty child murders during the Stalin-era Soviet Union.

Release Date:  April 17, 2015

Thoughts: Originally published in 2008, the novel this Cold War thriller is based off of is the first in a trilogy involving Soviet agent Leo Demidov, played here by Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road).  With Hollywood’s love of a good franchise starter, how well Child 44 performs may be the key to future adaptations…but I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s stay in the here and now because I love a good murder mystery.  Bolstered by Hardy’s rising star presence in addition to Noomi Rapace (Dead Man Down and Hardy’s co-star in The Drop), Gary Oldman (Lawless), Charles Dance (The Imitation Game), Jason Clarke (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), and Joel Kinnaman (2014’s RoboCop), Child 44 may represent a nice throwback to the classier end of the serial killer chiller that’s all but dissolved from the filmmaking landscape.

The Silver Bullet ~ Terminator Genisys

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Synopsis: The year is 2029. John Connor, leader of the resistance continues the war against the machines. At the Los Angeles offensive, John’s fears of the unknown future begin to emerge when TECOM spies reveal a new plot by SkyNet that will attack him from both fronts; past and future, and will ultimately change warfare forever.

Release Date:  July 1, 2015

Thoughts: I recently went back and re-watched the first three Terminator films and for a franchise that’s been around for 30 years, I was impressed how well the futuristic films have held up…well, that third entry has some serious problems and let’s not even go there with McG’s Terminator: Salvation. (I also visited the Terminator 3D ride at Universal Studios in September which, though amusingly dated, featured some of the most wowza 3D effects I’ve ever seen.)

With Paramount hitting the ever popular “re-boot” button that seems to be all the rage, the killing machine first introduced in James Cameron’s 1984 original is making a return to the big screen now that Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Last Stand) was willing to don that leather jacket once more.  Our first teaser for the summer 2015 flick looks like a splicing of the skeleton from the original low-budget entry and the effects marvel of the 1991 follow-up.  I’m interested to see where it’s all heading and with fresh faced cast members Jason Clarke (The Great Gatsby), Jai Courtney (Jack Reacher), and Emilia Clarke preparing for battle under Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) the hopes are high that the Terminator is back…for good.

Movie Review ~ Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar is threatened by a band of human survivors of the devastating virus unleashed a decade earlier.

Stars: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Enrique Murciano, Kirk Acevedo, Judy Greer, Karin Konoval

Director: Matt Reeves

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 130 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  Okay, so we’re halfway through the summer movie season and, like every May-early August that has come before it, I think we’ve had our shares of high highs (Godzilla, Edge of Tomorrow, The Fault in Our Stars) and lowly lows (Jersey Boys, A Million Ways to Die in the West, Blended).  Some have incorrectly scoffed that Transformers: Age of Extinction will bring about the end of humanity but I say those critics just forgot to change out of their fuddy duddy pants.  Then there’s Tammy, the worst of the worst…the bubonic plague of the summer.

Don’t retreat to your lake cabins yet or focus solely on training for a fall marathon because July is just getting started and if Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is any indication, summer is about to heat up.  The sequel to 20th Century Fox’s 2011 surprise hit franchise reboot manages to be a hell of a good ride, emerging as a film that knows what it wants to achieve and uses it’s talent, budget, and running length wisely.

Three years ago I didn’t get much of a rise out of Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  Though the motion capture technology produced some impressively lifelike rendering of apes, it was bogged down by saggy leads (James Franco and Freida Pinto) and focused too much time on the human side of things.  It’s when the apes took center stage that the movie found its shape…but by that time the movie was nearly over.  Luckily, director Matt Reeves (Let the Right One In, Cloverfield) came onto the project wanting to make it an apes-first film so the sequel jettisons what didn’t work previously and gives us more time with the simian nation.

I’ll admit that the first 20 nearly wordless minutes of the picture had me squirming in my seat.  See, I’ve been trained so far in 2014 for my summer action flicks to come out swinging so it was jarring (but welcome) for a film of this magnitude to make the bold choice of starting off quiet, letting the audience get used to a world ravaged by disease where apes are the dominant species.  The beginning of the sequel re-introduces us to several hairy friends we got to know back in 2011, finding them communicating mostly in sign language (over half the film is subtitled) until they learn to literally raise their voices.

Caesar (performed by a flawless Andy Serkis, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) is king of the colony of apes that escaped to the California forests 10 years ago.  In their getaway a deadly virus was unwittingly released, ravaging the majority of humanity that wasn’t genetically immune.  After a decade of toil, human and ape meet up once again when a small band of survivors led by Jason Clarke (Lawless, The Great Gatsby, Zero Dark Thirty), Gary Oldman (RoboCopThe Dark Knight Rises) & Keri Russell (Austenland) venture into the forest in hopes of using technology inside an abandoned dam to help power their dying city.

Meanwhile, Caesar battles rebellion within his own tribe as those less trusting plot to launch a deadly strike at the humans before they can destroy the apes.  With his scarred body and milky eye, vengeful rebellion leader Koba looks straight out of a nature run amok horror movie, which makes sense because he’s the scariest villain I’ve seen in quite some time.  Like Caesar, Koba is no ordinary ape and his subversive rampage is more Shakespearean in nature than paint-by-numbers evil-doer.

What I enjoyed most about the film wasn’t the nearly seamless blending of visual effects and live action but in the way it found room for good storytelling as well.  If we’re being honest, the plot isn’t much more than the oft-told mutinous parable of dissention within but it’s in the way that screenwriters Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, and Mark Bomback (The Wolverine) weave parallel themes of family, trust, and honor throughout the film that makes it more than your standard action sequel.

The motion capture technology has come a long way in the past three years, allowing Serkis and a full range of gifted performers free range to flesh out their primate characters.  While Serkis’ Caesar and Toby Kebbell’s Koba sometimes look a tad too animated, there are moments when the visuals are truly astounding and you start to wonder how Reeves directed two wild animals to perform with such vigor.  Best of show goes (once again) to orangutan Maurice who is not only amazingly played by Karin Konoval but rendered with 100% believability by the gigantic visual effects team.

If I’ve left out talking about the humans, it’s only because reviews sometimes have to leave out secondary characters which Clarke, Oldman, Russell, et. al certainly are.  Not knocking their talent or value to the overall effect of the picture but Reeves and his screenwriters have purposefully kept all humans on the sidelines and I’m positive that’s why the film works as well as it does.

Packed with action sequences that will keep you on the edge of your seat (check out the bravura and dizzying 360 degree shot on top of an armored tank and a high wire battle late in the film) and with an assured eye on the prize attitude from all involved, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is another step in the right direction for this happily burgeoning franchise.  I’m interested to see what’s next…as long as the future chapters keep those damn dirty humans at bay.