Tag Archives: film

House Series – Review: Part 1

20 Nov

Horror and comedy go together better than most genre combinations. It’s fun to be scared at the movies and it’s also fun to laugh at yourself being scared, so why not mix both into one movie? In 1980, Sean S. Cunningham created one of the most iconic horror franchises ever with his movie Friday the 13th, and Steven Miner continued his franchise with two sequels. What some people may not know is that they collaborated again in 1986 with a horror comedy called House. It wasn’t as big of a success as their previous works, but it did spawn a series that I’ve never really heard anyone talk about. Could there be a reason for that? Let’s find out.

Roger Cobb (William Katt) is an author who is struggling to find inspiration for his new book about his experiences in the Vietnam War. After his estranged aunt (Susan French) commits suicide in her home, Roger decides to move in and take care of the place while also hoping to be inspired in the house he used to live in before a tragedy forced him and his wife, Sandy (Kay Lenz), to separate. What Roger wasn’t expecting was that this house would be a portal for all sorts of creatures and ghouls to come through and torment him during the night and threaten his very existence. Now, it’s up to Roger and his especially nosy neighbor, Harold (George Wendt), to stop the specters from threatening the rest of the neighborhood and completely destroying Roger.

There are plenty of reasons that make House an appealing movie to see. For one thing seeing the Greatest American Hero and Norm from Cheers teaming up to fight creatures in a haunted house is hilarious. Both William Katt and George Wendt bring their comedic chops to the table while also functioning well in the film’s more serious scenes. There’s also some clever special effects and creature design that don’t use any kind of computer effects, of course. I’m a sucker for things like that so any movie that utilizes these kind of costumes already has a leg up in my book. While House is definitely more of a comedy, it does also touch on the PTSD that many soldiers go through after a war, with this one being Vietnam. It adds a layer of drama that was a little unexpected, but certainly welcome.

While there’s plenty to enjoy with House, it really isn’t all that special. A lot of the comedy is very childish despite the movie being rated R, and I don’t feel like it really embraced the off the walls insanity it may have been going for. I just felt like something big was missing from this movie. There’s no scene that’s exactly memorable and it’s a movie I feel like I may not remember too much about as time goes on. It also takes quite a while for things to really start happening, which is kind of strange because this is a pretty short movie at just an hour and a half. There’s also a character who exists solely so that there can be a funny scene with a kid in the middle of the movie. It was a really entertaining bit, but this character was just useless and didn’t make any kind of impact on the story.

One of the first words I used to describe House after I just finished watching it was “cute.” It’s a serviceable horror comedy that can be easily watched and disposed of. I really wanted a lot more from the movie, however. For an R rated horror comedy, it’s really quite tame, and that’s surprising since it’s coming from the creative forces behind Friday the 13th and a few of its sequels. This is a movie that seems to have sort of faded into obscurity despite the fact that it has William Katt and George Wendt fighting demons. That in and of itself was enough for me to watch it. House isn’t a bad film, but don’t go in expecting too much.

Final Grade: C

While House wasn’t that much of a success, there was still a sequel released one year later, and I have to say I love the title: House II: The Second Story. Get it? Like the second floor? Story? Moving on.

Jesse (Arye Gross) and his girlfriend Kate (Lar Park Lincoln) are a well off couple who move into a mansion that has been part of Jesse’s family for generations. While they’re there, Jesse does some investigating into his past and finds that his great great grandfather found a crystal skull in an Aztec temple and it may or may not be buried with him in the graveyard on the hill next to the house. This prompts Jesse and his friend Charlie (Jonathan Stark) to head over and dig up the grave. What they don’t know is that the corpse isn’t a corpse, but is very much alive and insists on Jess and Charlie calling him Gramps (Royal Dano) after being dug up, crystal skull in hand. Now, Jesse, Charlie, and Gramps have to keep their secret from Kate and her nosy boss, John (Bill Maher), while also defending the skull and the house from extra dimensional beings and time travelers who want the skull for themselves, especially Gramps’ old foe, Slim Reeser.

Remember how I used the word “cute” to describe the original film? Well House II is even more so, and I may have to go so far as saying it isn’t even a horror movie. This film is heavy on the comedy and fantasy but very light on the scares. This works both for and against the movie. Let’s start with the negatives so I can focus a bit on the fun stuff later. House II is a follow up to a horror comedy, so I went in expecting a horror comedy. Since I didn’t get that I feel like the movie comes off as both a little unnecessary and kind of disappointing. For most of the movie the comedy also comes off as excruciatingly obvious and not delivered all that well. Arye Gross isn’t much of a heroic presence and his line delivery often times comes out very awkward. The same can be said for Jonathan Stark, which is a problem since he’s supposed to be the main source of the comedy for most of the movie.

If I’m going to be completely honest, this is kind of a hard movie to be overly critical with because it is such a light hearted film. In fact, in terms of it’s tone, it was more in line than the first House. Royal Dano as Gramps is hilarious and Bill Maher works great as the slimy boss with eyes for Kate. John Ratzenberger also has a small part towards the end and he is easily the best part of the movie. If I can be honest again, I have to say that this movie was very entertaining. There was some cool make up effects for Gramps and Slim Reeser and there’s also some fun puppet work when dinosaurs get involved. Yeah, I said it. Dinosaurs. This is a movie that knows exactly what it is and has fun with it, and it never gets bogged down with drama. Drama’s absolutely great, but House II was determined to be a comedy so it stuck with that.

I honestly can’t believe I’m saying this, and I may be in the minority here, but I enjoyed House II: The Second Story more than the first movie. Both have their positives and negatives, but my biggest complaint with the first one was that it didn’t go far enough. The second movie dives head first into weird and doesn’t stop to take a breath. It is a tame outing, but it’s fun and so light hearted it’s hard not to enjoy it just a little bit. If you’re going in expecting a horror comedy like the last film, you may be disappointed. This one is more of a fantasy adventure mixed with comedy. If that’s still your cup of tea, I recommend this one with a smile on my face.

Final Grade: C+

Well there’s the first two House movies for you. Both aren’t masterpieces, but they certainly aren’t bad. They’re both light comedies that blend horror, fantasy, and some adventure. They aren’t movies you have to watch right this second, but they’re completely serviceable entertainment. Check back soon for the second part of this review where I’ll be talking about House III: The Horror Show and House IV.

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The Killing of a Sacred Deer – Review

18 Nov

There are certain film makers working right now where it’s pretty much guaranteed that anything they release will be a completely original piece of work. One of these film makers is the one and only Yorgos Lanthimos. My first experience with Lanthimos was with his surreal family drama/coming of age story called Dogtooth. Just last year I had the pleasure of seeing his dystopian romance titled The Lobster, which made me laugh as much as it made me think. Continuing this string of totally oddball films is his latest, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which almost slipped under my radar. I watched a trailer for it the day before seeing it, but still didn’t really have a sense what it was about. I’m glad I went in that blind because what I saw was one of the most disorienting movies I’ve seen in a long time and I’m thrilled I didn’t miss it.

Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a surgeon that has used his skills to help create a great life for himself. He’s celebrated in the community and has a really nice house with his wife, Anna (Nicole Kidman), and his two kids, Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic). He’s also taken a teenage boy who is in his daughter’s class, Martin (Barry Keoghan), under his wing since he’s had a hard time coping after his father died during heart surgery. The odd part is that Steven was the surgeon and he’s may or may not be hiding something from Martin concerning that day. When Steven’s children begin to get mysteriously ill and just keep getting worse after many different doctors can’t diagnose what’s wrong with them, it becomes clear that Martin may have something to do with it, and his ultimatum to make it all stop will change the Murphys’ lives forever.

The first thing I absolutely need to touch on is how this movie is written and how it is performed. From the very first line of dialogue, I knew something was weird. Everyone spoke so literally and used such a dull, matter of fact way of delivering these lines. It was very hard to get used to because pretty much no one talks like that. It made for some very cold characters that felt like they were miles away from the reality we are all living in. There’s one scene where Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell both have a break down in their kitchen, and that was really the only time any true honesty or emotion was being conveyed. To many people, this will be a major deal breaker. This isn’t a straightforward narrative with straightforward characters. These characters almost feel programmed to say what should be said in a certain situation instead of saying what they feel. It’s almost sociopathic, but that’s just what this movie needs.

Not only is the acting very cold, but the cinematography seems almost non existent. This film is shot in hues of gray and blue with other, brighter colors coming in rarely. The locations are almost bare of any kinds of decorations, besides what is necessary for the characters to use to live, and this just mirrors their lack of any kind of moral or personal connection to the world they live in. They merely exist, and up until this point, existed free of consequences. The striking score of the film completely clashes with the bare cinematography and set design and succeeded wonderfully at sending shivers down my spine, even if the image was nothing all that off putting. The entire movie is made to make the viewer feel uncomfortable. Finally, and possibly most importantly, the camerawork is disorienting in the best possible way. It flows behind characters, often times going out of focus or losing them in the frame some other way. Zooms end with people on the far side of the screen instead of firmly in the center. It will also often times linger too long on somebody or something, just to add a new layer of creepy that otherwise may have slipped beneath the surface.

Finally, I can’t praise the originality of Yorgos Lanthimos and The Killing of a Sacred Deer enough. We have a film made by an artist that is totally unafraid of controversy and backlash. This movie doesn’t pull any punches and will leave you confused and wanting more. There are things that happen in the world of this movie that would surely be explained in any summer blockbuster, but Lanthimos isn’t interested in answering questions. He’s interested in telling a story that defies all logic, but demands you pay attention to the straightforward way he tells it. This isn’t an easy film and it can’t really be compared to any other film, other than maybe something else Lanthimos has done. He has a style all his own and I can’t wait to dive down this rabbit hole again.

I absolutely loved this movie. I loved this movie more than I thought I would and it’s been sneaking around in the back of my mind since I saw it. It’s hilarious, disturbing, awkward, cold, and ultimately original. When I see a piece of work done by a film maker who isn’t afraid to break any and all rules, I feel a sort of respect that’s rare. The Killing of a Sacred Deer isn’t for everyone, and it is admittedly hard to get into at first, but once you find its rhythm, I dare you not to remain hooked.

Final Grade: A

Universal Soldier Series – Review: Part 2

11 Nov

In my last review for the Universal Soldier movies, I talked about the original from 1992 and the god awful sequel from 1999. The first movie was an adequately entertaining movie while the second movie was the worst I’ve seen in quite some time. Well, buckle in because what I’m about to say is very shocking to me. Direct to DVD movies are normally a pain to sit through. I’m never that thrilled to watch something released strictly in that format, but I am always willing to. In the cases of Universal Soldier: Regeneration and Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, I’m glad I did. These entries are, without a doubt, far superior than their theatrical released predecessors. How weird is that?

Let’s start with the 2009 cult favorite, Universal Soldier: Regeneration.

After a group of terrorists kidnap the son and daughter of the Ukrainian Prime Minister, Commander Topov (Zahari Baharov), the leader of this terrorist cell, announces he plans to detonate what’s left of the Chernobyl Power Plant. This would cause a major problem with fallout and leave many people dead if the Prime Minister does not answer his demands. The joint team of American and Ukrainian officials try sending in a unit of soldiers and UniSols to combat the situation, but they soon see that Topovs Next Generation Unisol, or NGU (Andrei “The Pit Bull” Arlovski), is a much more vicious opponent than they originally expected. Their next course of action is to find Luc Devereaux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and reactivate him for UniSol combat. As Devereaux leads the charge into Chernobyl, Topov’s men have another trick up their sleeves: a regenerated clone of Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren) who is still out for blood.

After seeing the first two Universal Soldier movies that were major theatrical releases, I can’t believe that I have to say Regeneration, a direct to DVD sequel, is way superior than its predecessors. I had a blast with this movie, and I really wasn’t expecting much. Let’s get some negatives out of the way, because this movie is still far from perfect. There are lapses in common sense and continuity that do make things a bit messy. For one thing, Devereaux just runs to the Chernobyl plan from the army base in a matter of minutes. How close are they? Seems a bit too close for comfort. It’s also worth noting the inclusion of Dolph Lundgren in this movie is a little unnecessary, other than just having him there for fan service. The real match for Devereaux is NGU, but I will say the showdown between Devereaux and Scott is really badass.

Universal Soldier: Regeneration is a surprisingly well shot and well choreographed action film. The fight scenes are brutal, shot with the full view of the action, and cringeworthy in all the right places. This does feel like a real tribute to the talents of Van Damme and Lundgren while also having MMA fighter Andrei Arlovski showing off just what the newer generation is capable of. While the camerawork in this movie is excellent, I can’t really say the same about the color. It’s muddy and gray throughout the entire movie, which does work for the environment, but it just felt bland. While the camerawork and directing are both way better than I expected, I can say the same about the writing. There’s no feisty journalist making snarky comments throughout the movie, there’s no love interest for anyone, nor is there any unnecessary humor. This is the darkest Universal Soldier movie yet, and it’s all the better for it.

I can believe I’m saying this, but Universal Soldier: Regeneration was a really entertaining movie and it’s one I’d watch again over the first two. It has great action, a welcome return by Van Damme, and writing that is way more focused than the other entries. The AV Club called this film the most important action movie of 2009, and I certainly agree. It shows that with the right talent and the right vision, direct to DVD movies can be just as good, if not better than its theatrical predecessors. Long story short, if you’re a fan of the first film (no one’s a fan of the second), do yourself a favor and watch Regeneration if you haven’t already.

Final Grade: B

The final film in this long running series was released in 2012. Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, and even Andrei Arlovksy return. Like its predecessor, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning manages to blow the first two films out of the water.

After witnessing his family be brutally murdered by renegade UniSol Luc Deveraux, John (Scott Adkins) wakes up in a hospital with no memory of the events leading up to the assault. All he knows is that Deveraux killed his family and he needs to find out why and get his revenge. Meanwhile on the other side, Deveraux and his second in command, a clone of Andrew Scott, work to recruit other UniSols to their cause of cutting all their ties to secret government programs. Their latest initiate is a UniSol named Magnus (played by Arlovsky) who is given the task of hunting down John before he can confront Deveraux. Along John’s mission for revenge, he finds a lot of clues that point to shady dealings with him in the past, which leads John to think he may not be who he wants to find out he is, nor may he be as innocent as he thinks.

While Day of Reckoning still destroys the first two Universal Soldier movies, I can’t say it’s quite as good as Regeneration. With Van Damme, Lundgren, and Andrei Arlovsky back in front of the camera, we also have John Hyams back in the director’s chair and it’s a welcome return. For some of the faults this movie has, Hyams still keeps this a kinetic action thriller. Scott Adkins is a welcome newcomer, especially since 90% of the movie revolves around him. He owns the show here, but this is also where some of the negatives come through. There just isn’t enough of Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. Lundgren once again feels like he’s been thrown in the movie for fan service, while Van Damme’s character feels so different from what he has been in the past films. When they are onscreen, however, and the fists are flying, it’s a great reminder of why they are there. Even at their ages, they can still crank out some mean action sequences.

Day of Reckoning is probably the most unique film in this entire series, even if it doesn’t pack the punch of its predecessors. In many ways, this film acts as a mystery with Scott Adkins’ character slowly chipping away the truth about his recent past. I was actually genuinely curious to know how all of the pieces fit together, and the result is quite satisfying in that Philip K. Dick sort of way. I can’ believe I just referenced Dick in a review for a Universal Soldier movie, but it’s something that I can’t deny. With all of this mystery, this is also probably the slowest film in the series, but because of the intrigue and questions I was still interested in the proceedings. Like I said, the action is explosive when it wants to be, but this movie isn’t afraid to slow down a little bit.

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning is a good way to end this series even if I could have watched more entries of Hyams was involved. This film has everything you could ask for in a movie like this. There’s plenty of action, mystery, suspense, and performances from some of your favorite action stars. Unfortunately, Van Damme and Lundgren are both underutilized. While this movie may have objectively less flaws than Regeneration, I can’t place it quite as high on levels of entertainment. Still, this is another surprisingly quality work for a direct to DVD title.

Final Grade: B-

It’s so strange that the direct to DVD titles for this series were so much better than their theatrical predecessors. It just goes to show that sometimes money isn’t the be all end all of film making. If you have the right director, writer, and crew everything can work out a lot better than you may expect. If you’re a fan of the first Universal Soldier, don’t let the second movie dissuade you from seeing these two way above average direct to DVD titles. They really are a blast.

Thor: Ragnarok – Review

10 Nov

In between Marvel movies, the MCU relies on its number of shows to keep the world alive. The Defenders was an excellent entry that united all of the Netflix heroes, but Iron Fist and Inhumans has been a slog through primordial mud. Because of this, I haven’t been having the best time with the MCU recently, so I needed a major pick me up. I was relying heavily on Thor: Ragnarok to really bring it, but was worried because this series has been one of the weakest in the MCU. I held onto the fact that the film was being helmed by Taika Waititi and went in not knowing what to expect. Well, Ragnarok succeeded at jolting new life into the MCU and has now placed itself at the top of the Thor movies as the best entry into the series yet.

After leaving the Avengers during the events of Age of Ultron, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has been spending his time searching for the rest of the Infinity Stones. Upon his return to Asgard he finds that Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has been disguised as Odin (Anthony Hopkins) since he last saw him in The Dark World and has been running Asgard in his own devious ways. The two bickering brothers do end up finding Odin, only to be warned that his oldest child that neither Thor nor Loki knew about, Hela (Cate Blanchett) is soon to break free from the prison that Odin locked her in. She quickly does escape and throws Thor and Loki from the Bifrost and the two end up on Sakaar, a planet run by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) who forces his slaves, including the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) to fight in gladitorial matches. With Thor and Hulk/Bruce Banner finally reunited, they meet up with another Asgardian, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), who vows to have revenge on Hela. Now a team of their own, the group must find their way back to Asgard before Hela completely resumes control and spreads her evil all over the known worlds.

There is a lot jam packed into this movie that just runs a little bit over two hours, but that never really gets in the way. More on the pacing later. For now I want to start with why this movie works so well. It is the perfect blend of action and comedy, which is something the Thor movies have seriously been lacking all these years. The movie begins with a joke, which kind of had me worried. Was this going to be an all out comedy with the action taking a back seat? Not even a little bit. The comedy never overwhelms the stellar action sequences, but they provide a lot of great fun in between these set pieces. When the action does pick up, it really blows the roof off. The final battle on Asgard is hands down one of the greatest sequences in the MCU and features a striking image that totally sums up everything the action in Thor’s movies should be.

Everyone really looks like their having the times of their lives in Ragnarok, which really gives this film even more life. Chris Hemsworth gives his best performance in the franchise yet and works great with both Tom Hiddleston and Mark Ruffalo, who also bring a lot to their performances. Cate Blanchett is excellent as Hela and continues to show that the MCU has had a very good year with their villains. Jeff Goldblum is almost too funny here, and speaking of too funny, Waititi himself has a pretty hilarious part in the movie if you can spot him. While this movie is a great time all by itself, it’s also a solid connection to the rest of the cinematic universe. It links together multiple films and a handful of different characters to add more depth to the universe Marvel and Disney have been building all these years.

If I had anything to complain about, it would have to be some of the pacing. Like I said before, there’s a lot in this movie. So much so that you’d think it would slow the movie down. Quite the opposite actually. The beginning of the movie sets up all this important stuff so fast that I was begging for it to slow down just a little bit and let me feel the weight of it all. By the time Hela escapes and Thor and Loki find themselves on Sakaar, things find a very steady pacing. By the final part of the final battle, however, things speed up once again without ever letting me feel the weight of what I was seeing. I wouldn’t have minded if the movie was a little bit longer if it meant these two sequences were fleshed out a little bit more.

Thor: Ragnarok is exactly what this series needed. It’s a blast of action and comedy that never lets up in either department. It’s full of great performances, a lot of heart, and serves well as a connection among movies in the MCU. Some pacing issues are there, but it’s never enough to completely bring the movie down. This is one of my new favorites in the entire franchise, and I’d love to see Taika Waititi back to take on more Marvel adventures.

Final Grade: A-

Universal Soldier Series – Review: Part 1

1 Nov

The 1990s were a very hit or miss time for certain genres. The 1980s saw an explosion of really memorable and popular films, especially in the action and horror genre. By the 1990s, these movies were starting to wear a little thin, but studios were desperate to keep them alive. One of these movies is Universal Soldier, which was released in 1992 to less than favorable reviews from critics and audiences. That being said, it still managed to create a franchise that spawned three theatrical titles and two TV movies. I’m going to be looking at the theatrically released entries and not the TV movies since they have completely different actors and don’t really tie into the other films. My bar is set real low and so I’m just going to dive right in.

Let’s start with the original 1992 release.

Luc Devereaux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren) were two soldiers in the Vietnam War who killed each other after Devereaux caught Scott committing terrible atrocities to the civilians of a small Vietnam village and members of his own unit. Years later, the two are reawakened as part of a secret military project where they operate as genetically enhanced troopers known as Universal Soldiers, or “UniSols.” After part of a mission triggers memories of his time in the war, Devereaux begins to remember more about his past, which is exactly what the heads of this program are trying to prevent. When Scott attempts to murder a reporter named Veronica (Ally Walker), who snuck into their facility, Devereaux defends her and they run off with Scott and the rest of the Soldiers in hot pursuit. Andrew’s memories also begin to return, along with his vengeful and violent disposition against Luc, which will ultimately end in a conflict between the two genetically enhanced fighters.

When Universal Soldier was first released, it was criticized as just being a Terminator rip-off, and in may ways it is. From the style to the genetically enhanced beings squaring off with one of them protecting an innocent person, to the attempts at humor (although Terminator 2 succeeds at said humor). There is nothing really special about this movie other than having Van Damme and Lundgren facing off against one another. At it’s best, the humor is chuckle worthy, but a lot of it just breaks up the mood of the movie and takes away from a lot of the actual drama and suspense that the movie builds up. It isn’t a particularly long movie, so extended light hearted scenes only slow the action down. The action itself is ok, but it’s nothing really to write home about. Later in his career, Roland Emmerich really gets familiar with creating action spectacles, but it’s clear that this is his first real attempt at it. All of these mesh together to create a much less than spectacular film.

There are parts of Universal Soldier, however, that does save it from being totally forgettable. For one thing, Dolph Lundgren really steals the show once his memories start coming back to him. That scene in the supermarket is probably my favorite part of the movie because I can really tell that Lundgren is giving it his all. There’s also a great chase scene by the Grand Canyon that does preview Emmerich’s skill with handling large action set pieces. Van Damme has some funny moments and it can’t be ignored that this film helped shape his career. This all still amounts to a little bit of fun, but not something for the action history books. I’d like to give the good parts more praise, but they really just are serviceable and not really deserving to be lauded.

Universal Soldier is alright, and that’s all that can be really said. It’s a 90’s action movie that somehow spawned an entire franchise, and after fully experiencing the first one, I don’t really know how it happened. It’s a disposable film that works great as background noise or just something to mindlessly watch and forget about the next day. There’s some good action, but a lot of it is unexciting. The humor didn’t work for most of the movie, but it was cool to see both Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme share the screen. That’s all that can really be said.

Final Grade: C+

With the response Universal Soldier received, I find it a little surprising that it would get a sequel, but at the same time it does feel pretty run of the mill for action movies of this time. This brings us to the 1999 film Universal Soldier: The Return, which I can truly say is one of the worst movies I’ve seen in a very long time.

It’s been seven years since Luc Devereaux’s memories came back to him which caused the whole UniSol program to implode. Now, he’s working alongside the US government, a scientist named Dr. Cotner (Xander Berkley), and a supercomputer called S.E.T.H to train and maintain a new group of stronger UniSols for the military to use. After it’s announced to Devereaux and Cotner that the program and the supercomputer are to be shut down, S.E.T.H goes into defense mode and activates the UniSols to destroy all the threats in the facility. Now, Devereaux must team up with his partner Maggie (Kiana Tom) and reporter Erin Young (Heidi Schnaz) to take down the renegade soldiers and take down the two leaders of the revolt, Romeo (Bill Goldberg) and the body that S.E.T.H has created for himself (Michael Jai White).

Everything about this movie is so subpar, I’m amazed that it got a theatrical release. Even the title is boring. The Return? Yeah, I bet a lot of thought went into that. Let’s start with the major issues. There is very little continuity between the first film and this one. Devereaux had a wife who died but it’s never explained if it’s Veronica from the first movie or someone else. It’s also odd that there’s still a major government facility making these soldiers after it was established that it was below board in the first movie. Why is it so accepted now? Why would Devereaux want to work with them? Nothing makes any sense with what’s already been established. Even with a story as minimal and basic as this, maybe the action would at least be good. Well it’s about as boring as it gets. Director Mic Rodgers is actually a stuntman and this was his only movie, which is probably a good thing, but you’d think he’d have some creative skills when it comes to crafting an action sequence.

Everything else falls just as flat as the story and the action. This was Van Damme’s last film since his return in The Expendables 2 to have a wide release theatrically, and it’s really a stinker to go out on for such a long time. He has none of the energy he did in the first movie and his fight sequences seem very lackluster. It doesn’t really seem like he wanted to be in this movie, and the same can be said for Michael Jai White who just sounds bored the entire time. Bill Goldberg is the only person who really brings anything to the table, but his character got played out real fast. The humor that was distracting in the first movie is just cringeworthy in this one, and that’s all that really has to be said about that.

Universal Soldier: The Return shouldn’t have been made or it should have been made by people who knew what they were doing or wanted to be involved. What we get is a movie that clocks in at an hour and 18 minutes that is absolutely hollow. If this were a direct to video title I may be a bit more understanding, but this movie was given a wide theatrical release. With that being the case, this movie is absolutely unacceptable.

Final Grade: F

So far, this series isn’t off to a great start, but I’m going to power through the rest because there’s no way that I could give up now. Next, I’ll be looking at the limited release sequels Universal Soldier: Regeneration and Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning.

Serpico – Review

21 Oct

There are certain movies that I’m really surprised I haven’t seen yet. These aren’t movies that stay under the radar or anything, but movies that are well known and loved by audiences. Some of them are even considered classics. What can I say? Nobody’s perfect. I just got around to seeing one of these films that I’d list in these “movies I should have seen already” categories. That film is the 1973 classic by Sidney Lumet, Serpico. I can’t even say I knew what the film was really about. All I knew was that this movie helped form Al Pacino’s career, which is kind of a big deal if I say so myself. After seeing Serpico, I have to say that I didn’t love it. I liked it and it’s certainly a movie I’m not going to forget, but it had major issues that rubbed me the wrong way. Let’s get right into it.

All his life, Frank Serpico (Al Pacino) has wanted to be a police officer. When that day finally comes around, it’s a dream come true. Starting out as just a uniformed officer walking the beat, he begins to see signs that life on the force may not be what he expected, especially after seeing a suspect get roughed up in an interrogation room. As time goes on and he begins to adjust, he is bumped up to a plainclothes officer working more dangerous and criminal cases. What he sees is corruption on a massive scale with his coworkers shaking down drug dealers, pimps, and other criminals. Serpico looks everywhere for help, even going so far as to bring his grievances to the mayor. When no one is able to help, the biggest danger for Serpico isn’t the criminals he busts on a day to day basis, but his fellow police officers who feel he can’t be trusted.

Many people consider this movie a classic, and I believe that because of its impact on the genre. You won’t see any argument from me because my complaints are pretty minor in the grand scheme of things. I want to get the positives out of the way first because they truly do outweigh the negatives. This was a very early film in Al Pacino’s long and praised career, and if it wasn’t for Serpico, he may not have made it as big as he did. Let’s not forget that he was Michael Corleone in The Godfather movies, but this was just another notch in making his career. Pacino is excellent as Serpico. After having spent a lot of time with the real guy, it’s no surprise that he has his voice completely altered and a lot of these mannerisms you don’t really see in other roles that he’s done. This is a complete transformation and a performance that really helped define the times in terms of acting with it being the early 1970s, one of the largest times of change in film since sound was first introduced.

The story of Serpico is also incredibly engaging. As the narrative moves forward and Frank’s plight becomes more dire, I actually felt myself getting stressed out. It’s not terribly hard for a movie to have me guessing as to what’s going to happen or feeling some sort of suspense, but this movie made me physically feel stressed. Everywhere Serpico turns, he’s met with a brick wall, and we see that over the span of over two hours. Pacino’s performance and the writing really brings this character to life onscreen, so we as an audience truly want to see him succeed and finally be able to live the life that he’s wanted. Sidney Lumet is a very talented director who is able to turn characters’ environments into characters themselves. Just think of that one room in 12 Angry Men. What Lumet does for New York City in Serpico is something on a whole new scale. Having filmed this movie in mostly all of the boroughs of New York City, I saw different aspects of life clash and combine making the city live and breathe. It’s essential to this film’s story and Lumet pulled it off flawlessly.

Speaking of flawless, this movie as a whole is not. As I was watching the story play out, I could tell that time was passing. Serpico’s apartment changed furniture, his different friends come and go, and his hair, beard, and clothes change. I figured this was probably a 3 year period. Boy, was I wrong. Serpico‘s story starts in 1960 and spans to 1971! WHAT?! I never got the sense that that was how much time was passing until after the movie was over and I was doing some research on it. If I had known how long all of this was going on, that would’ve added a whole new layer of dread to the stress I was already feeling for our hero. That being said, how smooth can you turn 11 years into a 2 hour movie? There are elements to Serpico’s life that do feel glazed over, forgotten, or rushed in favor of other interests. This kind of muddles the overall story for me, and I can’t help thinking this may have been better as a miniseries on HBO.

Serpico is a very good movie that is full of great elements that is ultimately bogged down by an overabundance of information. Al Pacino’s performance is outstanding and the overall emotional and physical response this film got from me says a lot about the story. Sidney Lumet also films New York City perfectly which brought a whole new sense of realism to the crime drama film. I just wish the story was told a bit more cohesively and smoothly, but instead I felt like I was jumping all over the place without knowing exactly where I landed. Still, Serpico has earned its right to be called a classic, and I’m not going to dispute that.

Final Grade: B+

Blade Runner 2049 – Review

18 Oct

One of the most influential films of all time is Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner based off of Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. This movie is a masterwork of visual effects, cinematography, setting, and ideas. It has the classic Philip K. Dick paranoia that made his works seminal in the realm of science fiction. What Blade Runner doesn’t achieve in is narrative. The plot is threadbare and glazes over a lot of information that could have been a handy tool in building more suspense. I think Blade Runner is an excellent film and deserves to be heralded as a masterpiece, but I can’t say it’s the best science fiction film ever made. I was concerned when I heard it was getting a sequel so many years later, and I really had no excitement whatsoever leading up to the release of Blade Runner 2049. After seeing it, it’s far and away one of the strongest sci fi films to come out in years and may even have a leg up on its predecessor.

30 years after the events of the original Blade Runner, newer replicant models have been reworked and used as servants and loyal employees. K (Ryan Gosling) is one of these newer models, and also works as a blade runner for the LAPD. His sole job is to hunt down the older, more dangerous replicants and “retire” them. After retiring a replicant named Sapper (Dave Bautista) who was running a farm in the middle of nowhere, new evidence comes to light of a child that was born from a replicant. With this knowledge posing a dangerous new way of thinking, K’s boss Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) orders him to hunt down and destroy all evidence of this, including the child, now an adult, who was born from this replicant. As K follows the trail of evidence, he finds danger around every corner, especially from the founder of the Wallace Corporation, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), and his enforcer Luv (Sylvia Hoeks). K also begins getting flashes of memories he thought were false, which brings his own existence into question, which ultimately leads him on the trail of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former blade runner who may be the connection that links the entire mystery together.

The original Blade Runner is a marvel of special effects and world building. While the story may not be there 100%, I dare anyone not to lose themselves in the world that Ridley Scott and his team created. The same can also be said about Blade Runner 2049, which matches Scott’s creativity in design. This is a feat I was not expecting from this movie. There’s a scene towards the beginning when K is flying through the city and the advertisements, buildings, and other structures are all larger than life, but it’s a city that seems like it lives and breathes. There are other areas that are more desolate, but that just shows the variety of the world the characters live in, especially after the “black out” that is constantly references in throughout the story. One setting that took my breath away was the interior of the Wallace building. Not only was it just great to look at, but it also helped define Niander as a character. Denis Villeneuve has shown his skill with visuals with his films before, but this takes it to a new level. I also can’t leave out the importance of Hans Zimmer’s booming score. It’s one of the coolest original scores of the year, and I listened to it immediately in the car ride home from the theater.

Blade Runner 2049 is a science fiction epic in every sense of the word. It features a world of androids, flying cars, and evil technology corporations whose goals threaten the existence that we have come to know. It’s a world that is recognizable, but still seems fresh. I love that about this movie, and again, it’s something I wasn’t really expecting. Where this film really got me though was its strong sense of mystery. This story is essentially a hard boiled mystery tale wrapped in a world of science fiction. The best part about it all is that it had me guessing until the very end, and when the ending finally showed, my mouth was agape. Philip K. Dick is no stranger to paranoia and twisted stories, and while this may not be an original of his, it still has the spirit. Is K a trustworthy protagonist? Who is Deckard really? What is the Wallace Corporation hiding? These are only some of the questions this movie poses, and watching it all unfold at a steady, yet slow pace is extremely gratifying. It’s hard for movies that are almost 3 hours long to grip audiences so  strongly, but Villeneuve’s strong direction makes it no problem.

It was hard for me to think of anyone else being a lead character in a Blade Runner movie that wasn’t Harrison Ford, but the fact that it was Ryan Gosling should have put my mind at ease. He is the hard boiled “detective” of the story and has all the makings of a traditional character. He’s quiet, but has an edge to him with undertones of understanding, and all of the elements make up his complicated character very well. Jared Leto unfortunately in the movie a lot, but his portrayal of Niander Wallace is menacing to say the least. Speaking of menace, Sylvia Hoeks is a character that I loved to hate, which is always the sign of an excellent villain. There’s also a surprisingly heavy performance from Ana de Armas who plays Joi, K’s holographic love interest. I know how that sounds, but they actually made it work.

Blade Runner 2049 surprised the hell out of me. I was feeling like it was an unnecessary sequel which kind of impeded me looking forward to it. Maybe it is an unnecessary sequel, but it’s a damn great one nevertheless. The slow pace of the narrative pulled me into the world that it was creating and the mystery of the whole thing locked me in tighter than many movies can. This is an amazingly shot film with gorgeous special effects, an awesome score, and a story that never lets up. I loved Blade Runner 2049.

Final Grade: A+