Movie Review ~ Monster Trucks

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The Facts
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Synopsis: Looking for any way to get away from the life and town he was born into, Tripp builds a Monster Truck from bits and pieces of scrapped cars. After an accident at a nearby oil-drilling site displaces a strange subterranean creature,Tripp may have just found the key to getting out of town and a most unlikely friend.

Stars: Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Thomas Lennon, Amy Ryan, Holt McCallany, Rob Lowe, Danny Glover, Barry Pepper

Director: Chris Wedge

Rated: PG

Running Length: 100 minutes

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review:  It’s not always the case, but when a completed movie sits on the shelf watching numerous planned release dates come and go it’s a sign something isn’t quite right.  Filmed nearly three years ago and waiting for a release date ever since, the early notices for Monster Trucks weren’t great and this silly (okay, stupid) family fare became the scapegoat for its studio (Paramount) to lay some of their money problems on.  I’m not sure how that all came about but there’s little in doubt the movie isn’t anything someone would be proud to feature on their tax returns, resume, or digital library.

Creaky from frame one, Monster Trucks shows its battle scars of reedits and reshoots loud and proud with familiar faces being introduced and then vanishing (Oscar nominee Amy Ryan pops up at the beginning and then is MIA until the epilogue, same goes for a wheelchair bound Danny Glover) or actors sporting different hairstyles and/or obvious wigs from one scene to the next.  That leaves the movie with ideas that are hard to string together, let alone follow with any kind of interest.

Teen Tripp (blank faced Lucas Till, Kristy) wants to get out of his small town and into…well, I dunno and obviously neither does the movie because Tripp is painted as someone that doesn’t know what he wants, but it sure isn’t what’s standing right in front of him.  Pined after by a sweet classmate (Jane Levy, Don’t Breathe), he’s a loner grease monkey more at home in the junkyard where he works than in school or at home.  His mom has married the local sheriff (Barry Pepper, The Lone Ranger, sporting lips so purple as to suggest a serious lack of oxygen) and his loser dad (Frank Whaley, Ironweed) is out of the picture working for a local oil company.

It’s at the drill site for the oil company where three creatures escape when the evil CEO (Rob Lowe, Sex Tape, oilier than the crude his company peddles) ignores environmental warnings of digging too deep.  Two “monsters” are captured but the third finds his way into Tripp’s life and fixer-upper roadster.  Going over what happens next isn’t worth my time or yours, but know that Tripp’s new friend Creech somehow becomes part of the car and improves the life (and gas mileage) for its young owner.

Directed by Chris Wedge, Monster Trucks is a very lame attempt at catering to a specific audience who are already wise enough to know there are better options out there.  Whether it be from its long gestation or problematic production process, no one seems to be invested in the film and that goes double for the special effects team.  I’ve seen better effects in a Hot Wheels commercial and at least those are around 30 seconds.  At 100 minutes, Monster Trucks is the kind of roadkill material audiences of all ages are wise to avoid.

31 Days to Scare ~ Kristy

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When a college girl alone on campus over the Thanksgiving break is targeted by a group of outcasts, she must conquer her deepest fears to outwit them and fight back.

Stars: Haley Bennett, Ashley Greene, Lucas Till, Erica Ash, James Ransone, Chris Coy, Mike Seal, Lucius Falick, Matthew St. Patrick

Director: Oliver Blackburn

Rated: NR

Running Length: 86 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Where to Watch: Netflix

Review: You know how sometimes Netflix will exercise its info gathering muscle by sending you an e-mail letting you know they just added a movie you’d like?  Based on my viewing preferences, I’m always getting a notice about some indie horror flick making its debut on the streaming service.  If I’m honest, most of the suggestions remain that way, sure I may add them at the time but they quickly get pushed further and further down my queue.  For a while there though, they were nicely on target and steered me toward a few winners.  Now it’s my turn to share the wealth.

After suffering through 2012’s The Apparition, I made a pact not to let myself be exposed to another Ashley Greene (Wish I Was Here – another movie I loathed) film.  That particular movie made me so mad I felt justified in holding a grudge against all involved…but when Kristy became the latest suggested title from my good friends over at Netflix I decided to give her another shot.

Feeling very “now” (which means it’ll be dated in several years), Kristy is a thriller heavy on atmosphere resting squarely on the shoulders of its leading lady (Haley Bennett, The Magnificent Seven).  Greene plays the leader of a gang of cyber cultists that hunt and kill random females they dub with the moniker ‘Kristy’.  With no motive to speak of, it’s impossible to look for meaning in their murder-for-sport thrill-kills and the overall brutality to all that stand in their way makes Greene and her crew into fairly nifty villains.  Unfortunately, their latest target is Justine (Bennett, a strong heroine) and she’s not going down without a fight.

It’s the Thanksgiving break and college-student Justine doesn’t have the money to make it home.  Her boyfriend  (Lucas Till, Stoker) and roommate (Erica Ash) have family obligations so aside from a friendly security guard (Matthew St. Patrick) and a solitary maintenance man (James Ransone, Sinister) she’s has the entire campus to herself.  Needing some sustenance for the long weekend, Justine makes a late night convenience store dash where she has a run-in with Greene.  The murder mob follows Justine back to her deserted dormitory and over the course of the evening the bodies pile up in most gruesome ways.  Working from a tight script by Anthony Jaswinski (The Shallows), director Oliver Blackburn keeps the tension high, working the shadowy corridors and security-lit grounds to his advantage.  The campus is wide-open but feels like a prison as Justine scrambles for safety while the four-person posse goes on safari for another ‘Kristy’ to add to their trophy wall.

I look at Kristy now as a nice make-up for me and Greene, because this was one hell of a solid movie that deserved a bigger audience.  Admittedly, I imagine the film plays better at home than it did in whatever limited release it had but this is competent filmmaking surpassing much of the lame big studio fare topping box offices throughout the year.  For the extra brave, I’d suggest watching this one alone late at night in your basement, just for the added thrill of it all.

Movie Review ~ X-Men: Apocalypse

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The Facts:

Synopsis: With the emergence of the world’s first mutant, Apocalypse, the X-Men must unite to defeat his extinction level plan.

Stars: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Olivia Munn, Lucas Till, Evan Peters, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alexandra Shipp, Josh Helman, Lana Condor, Ben Hardy

Director: Bryan Singer

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 143 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Dear readers, it’s OK if you are in the throes of Superhero Movie Fatigue. I’ve been suffering symptoms of SMF for over a year now and I’m sure it’s helpful to know that you’re not alone if you suddenly find yourself recoiling at the first whiff of a CGI created villain or needing to lie down from exhaustion when you try to tie all of the various multi-film storylines together. While I don’t see a cure for SMF in the near future (both the Marvel and DC universe are mapped out for the next several years), I think we’ll learn to adjust to an onslaught of comic book adaptations that will eventually start to compete only with films from their own franchises until a death rattle finishes them all off.

In the meantime, 2016 has brought forth the good (Deadpool, Captain America: Civil War) and the misunderstood (Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice) and judging from early reaction you might feel inclined to add X-Men Apocalypse to the miscalculated pile. I’d caution you to see for yourself though because this eighth X-Men movie is big (BIG!), rather exciting, and sets the stage for a new era with a careful hand and a gentle nod.

Admittedly, I’m not the biggest X-Men fan in the world. I was slow to warm to the series and never really had much of an interest or stake in the opinion of the overall quality or the consistency that true fans seemed to find the most fault with. The first movie was decent but half-baked, the second addressed the major concerns and righted a listing ship only to have the third one stank up the joint. Venturing into solo territory, Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables) tried to get a Wolverine series off the ground but fans weren’t interested. A prequel reignited the flame and led to another Wolverine film (which I enjoyed more than most) and the 2014 time-hopping head-scratcher X-Men: Days of Future Past.

I didn’t think the franchise could stuff more into its running length but X-Men: Apocalypse is the stone soup of the bunch…it’s got a little bit of everything. It’s going to divide many a fan/critic/movie-goer and maybe I was just in the right mood for it because I found myself highly engaged and, yeah, emotionally invested in the continued adventures of Professor X (James McAvoy, Trance), Magneto (Michael Fassbender, Prometheus), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, Joy), and their mutant co-horts that go up against their most formidable enemy yet.

His presence was teased at the end of X-Men: Days of Future Past and an energetic prologue in Egypt shows how Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac, A Most Violent Year) came to be buried under a pyramid until he’s uncovered in the ’80s by a faction of his descendant followers. Luckily, Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne, Spy) is there to see it all take place and sound the alarm that something big is about to go down.

Meanwhile, Mystique is spending most of her time sans blue skin (you can just hear Lawrence negotiating ever y second she has to be in full Mystique-garb), watching out for mutants being mistreated the world over. Rescuing Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee, ParaNorman) from a cage match with Angel (Ben Hardy), she brings him back to Professor X’s school where he falls in with Beast (Nicholas Hoult, Warm Bodies), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan, Mud), and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner). It isn’t long before the mutants find themselves under attack in their own home, culminating in a most impressive rescue sequence (it took the longest to film) led by Quicksilver (Evan Peters, The Lazarus Effect) who happened to be in the area looking for personal answers of his own.

With Apocalypse freed and intent on bringing the world back to square one by wiping the human population out, he gathers his four horsemen to assist him in his end of days plot. One will remain secret here but a young Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn, Magic Mike) are part of the mix. Scenes of massive destruction and special effects threaten to overtake the picture but those that complain about director Bryan Singer (Jack the Giant Slayer) focusing more on computer generated mayhem instead of human heart must not realize they bought a ticket for a movie about superhero mutants fighting a doomsday villain.

On the disappointing side are McAvoy and Fassbender largely sleepwalk through the movie and Munn is totally miscast, mostly because she’s not that impressive to begin with. Isaac gets lost in his big blue bad guy but he does what he can in moon boots under all that make-up. It’s the younger generation that impresses here, with Hoult, Smit-McPhee, Sheridan, and Turner signaling that they have what’s needed to continue on with the franchise. This is reportedly Lawrence’s last spin and her absence will leave a big hole in the emotional core of the film. Even though she’s a top-tier A-List star now, Lawrence never looks down on her role or gives it anything less than her full attention.

For a PG-13 film, the movie has a questionable amount of bloody violence (especially in a sequence that involves a cameo that seems to be standard issue for any film bearing the X-Men moniker). Parents should likely see this one first before bringing young children, it’s not only heavy on viscera but at nearly 2 ½ hours it can start to feel long during its mid-section. It ramps up nicely to a whopper of a climax but even I struggled to stay alert as the film reached the two hour mark.

There’s a lot going on in X-Men: Apocalypse and for those living with SMF you could find yourself stretched thin by the time the credits roll…but if you can hang on it’s highly worth seeing on the largest screen you can get to.

Movie Review ~ X-Men: Days of Future Past

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The X-Men send Wolverine to the past in a desperate effort to change history and prevent an event that results in doom for both humans and mutants

Stars: Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore, Peter Dinklage, Omar Sy, Daniel Cudmore, Fan Bingbing, Boo Boo Stewart, Adan Canto, Evan Peters, Josh Helman, Lucas Till, Evan Jonigkeit

Director: Bryan Singer

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 131 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  Ok, I believe by now we’ve established the kind of reader-critic relationship that allows me to be as open and honest with you as I possibly can.  So, I the spirit of putting it all out there on the table I need to tell you that the X-Men and all their variations have never really been my thing.  Aside from a childhood desire to beat the SEGA game, I’ve never truly warmed to Professor X and his motley crew of mutant heroes and villains…even after seven films.

Though the overreaching message of the film (we’re all mutants in some form or another and that’s ok) is a positive one that has the ability to speak to anyone, there’s something about the over eagerness of the filmmakers to constantly “get it right” that I find myself enjoying the spectacle at a distance.

It doesn’t help that the quality of the movies hasn’t maintained any sort of consistency since X-Men was released in 2000.  The first sequel improved upon its predecessor but when original director Bryan Signer vacated the series for Superman Returns the third entry landed with a thud.  Spinning off the series into a poorly executed Wolverine origin story further dug a hole for the franchise before 2011’s X-Men: First Class saved a listing ship.  I didn’t dislike 2013’s The Wolverine as much as my colleagues but by that point fans were a little sensitive to their mutants getting less than stellar cinematic adventures.

Now we’ve arrived in the present with X-Men: Days of Future Past…but we won’t stay there long as the enjoyable seventh entry of the series is more interested in looking back than moving forward.  There’s a lot (A LOT) going on in Simon Kinberg’s script…so much so that I often found myself struggling to remember how all the pieces fit, who is who, and what decade we’re in.  After an opening in a desolate not-too-distant future, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, Prisoners, who must have been paid in how many bicep veins are present) is sent back to the early 70’s by Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) to prevent rouge Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle) from setting a series of events into motion in the past that will have a deadly impact for the future.

Juggling two separate time frames, returning director Bryan Singer manages to keep everything in balance for the most part.  Having watched X-Men: First Class directly before seeing this new film, I was impressed that Singer and Kinberg carved out a new path while keeping continuity through some difficult loose ends previous director Matthew Vaughn left for the new crew to figure out.

Less impressive is an overall humdrum feeling the movie left me with after all was said and done.  I’m not suggesting the movie isn’t terrific popcorn entertainment or doesn’t contain a handful of impressively filmed sequences (like Evan Peters as Quicksilver showing off his talents while Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” plays in the background) but it all feels overly calculated, designed to allow the franchise to continue without really having to answer for past mistakes.

With Lawrence’s star gone supernova since the last installment, her part is significantly beefed up here.  Mystique has never been so front and center and Lawrence manages to eek out some nice moments under her full body make-up.  As the younger Professor X and Magneto, James McAvoy (Trance) and Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) don’t seem quite as invested this time around, but then again there’s not the same kind of character discovery available to them.  Jackman can play the role in his sleep…and by now it looks like he is.

Moving fast through its 131 minute running length, the end of the film sets up the next volume of X-Men escapades nicely…but then again if you really think about it that’s all the movie seemed interested in in the first place.  Fairly and frequently violent for a PG-13 film, parents should think twice before bringing young children along…Godzilla has less death/carnage in it.

With all my griping about overall ulterior motives, I’ll admit the movie fits neatly into the mode of summer blockbuster by combining all the right elements into the mix.  I think fans will look back and see the mechanics of the script in years to come…but by that time these will be the true days of future past.