Tag Archives: science fiction

The Great Wall – Review

3 Mar

I recently did a review for Zhang Yimou’s 2011 war drama, The Flowers of War. In that review, I mention that Yimou is a very respectable film maker who has an especially strong talent for filming what I believe to be some of the most beautiful looking movies I’ve ever seen. His latest film is The Great Wall, a monster movie that involves protecting the Imperial City from creatures hell bent on destroying civilization as we know it. That combined with Yimou’s colorful and sweeping directorial style kind of made this a must see for me. Well, all I can say is that this film definitely looks great. That’s pretty much where the compliments end.

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William (Matt Damon) and Pero (Pedro Pascal) are two mercenaries scouring the East looking for “black powder,” which we now know as gunpowder. During their search, they end up at the Great Wall of China and are questioned about their intentions immediately upon their arrival. The two partners soon learn why the soldiers at the wall are so concerned about their motives. During a seemingly quiet afternoon, the wall is raided by alien monsters called the Tao Tie, whose goal is to penetrate the wall and continue on to the Imperial City. It doesn’t take long for William to come to a decision as to wether he wants to escape with Pero and another Englishman, Sir Ballard (Willem Dafoe), or if he would rather stay and defend the Great Wall with the newly appointed general, Lin Mae (Jing Tian).

I was excited for this movie for multiple reasons. First off, I was pumped to see Zhang Yimou tackle a big budget monster movie and have his style painted all over the movie. I was also just pumped to see another monster movie from Legendary, which has pretty much become the monster movie company for America. In these ways, the movie does succeed. When battles start happening, I got really into it. The special effects look kind of cartoony, but for some reason, that didn’t really bother me. I was taken aback by Yimou’s use of color and framing scenes to make them look as epic as possible. One of these shots in particular happened in the very first battle where you can see most of the battle in one super wide shot. Another really cool thing are the different regiments of the soldiers and the uniforms they wear to identify themselves. Honestly, in terms of style and scope, this movie stands tall.

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Like I said before, that’s pretty much where all of the good stuff ends. The Great Wall really isn’t all that good of a movie despite having a really cool premise. My biggest problem was the characters. I haven’t seen such poor development and writing in a really long time. Any scene that didn’t involve a battle or special effect of some kind fell flat. Like completely, utterly flat. It’s incredible how an epic period piece featuring alien monsters attacking the Great Wall of China could be so boring. There are a few characters worth something, but that’s not saying to much. William’s partner Pero has a good amount of one liners and a story that at least attempts to go somewhere before that’s shut down by some idiotic decisions from the writers. Lin Mae is also a pretty cool character who feels the most human out of anyone else. The worst offender of characters not worth anything is Sir Ballard. If you were to take Willem Dafoe out of this movie, nothing would be different. He’s completely wasted here.

I was also really bothered by the acting in this movie, but part of this also has to fall on the writers. There was so much clunky and awkward dialogue in this movie which only made me more distracted during the down time that I’ve already complained was boring enough. Like I said before, the only exceptions from this are Pero and Lin Mae. They weren’t perfect, but they were better than the rest. Honestly though, I was mostly shocked at how flat and uninspired Matt Damon was. I didn’t know until the end of the movie that he was supposed to be European, and I still don’t know exactly where he’s supposed to be from. His accent is on and off throughout the whole movie, and the way he delivers his lines is cringeworthy. Aside from his weird accent, he uses this over the top tough guy voice that wore thin on me after the second line of dialogue he had.

The Great Wall is a very disappointing movie. Throughout its run time, I saw a lot of hope for potential, but nothing really came of it. I will say that this is a fantastic looking movie with cool creature design and some excellent use of lighting and costume design. Everything else from the characters and their development to the structure of the narrative is flat, recycled, or just plain boring. As a monster movie, it works at the most basic of levels. As a movie to be appreciated and viewed for something more than that, it’s a failure.

Final Grade: C-

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951 & 2008) – Review

19 Feb

Science fiction, like all the other genres of film, can be done in one of two ways. On one side you there’s movies like Barbarella that have no real thought provoking qualities of any kind and serve as mindless entertainment. On the other hand, there’s films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, which challenges the viewers to expand their minds and discuss the themes and implications that are artfully shown. In 1951, the movie world got one of the most revered and thoughtful science fiction films ever made up until that point. That movie is Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still, a movie which came with a heavy and relevant message. As with many classics, it also got the remake treatment in 2008, but my response to that may surprise some people.

Let’s start this review by looking at the classic original film.

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The world is sent into a frenzy when a mysterious UFO lands in Washington D.C. early one morning. The occupants of the ship are a humanoid alien named Klaatu (Michael Rennie) and his 8 foot tall robotic sentry, Gort (Lock Martin). Klaatu is here on a very important mission, and he makes it clear that he must speak to all the leaders of the world at once instead of talking to them one at a time out of fear that it would be seen as him taking a particular side. This idea is completely ruled out which forces him to escape his government overseers and hide out in a small boarding house. There he meets a woman named Helen (Patricia Neal) and her highly curious son, Bobby (Billy Gray), who soon become the only people he can trust. Now on the run from the government, Klaatu teams up with the world renowned scientist, Prof. Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe) to organize a meeting with all of the great thinkers, scientists, and philosophers from around the world to hear Klaatu’s message that could save the planet from catastrophe.

The Day the Earth Stood Still is widely regarded as one of the best science fiction films ever made, and with good reason. This film came out at a very complicated time in history, and it showed the follies of the situation with a lot more intelligence than its counterparts. The 1950s was loaded with alien invasion movies due to the fear that surrounded the Red Scare, but The Day the Earth Stood Still gives us a hero that looks at the situation calmly and tries to offer a solution. All this intelligent writing is made complete by a strong cast of characters and some really cool moments of science fiction. I can’t help but smile whenever I hear the words “Klaatu barada nikto” or thinking about the destruction Gort could unleash upon the world if need be. Let’s not forget Bernard Hermann’s eerie, theremin heavy score that sets the mood just right. This film perfectly encapsulates everything that is to be loved about this era of science fiction.

One minor complaint here has to do with the final message of the movie. The whole story clearly has a message of peace, open-mindedness, and acceptance, but Klaatu’s wording can get a little…should I say…awkward? His big speech at the end mentions how the planets he represents agreed to peace and are protected by a race of robots like Gort that act as law enforcement. The thing is that he kind of describes something resembling a police state. I don’t really think this is what the writers had in mind, but it does come off as kind of weird and never fails to pull me out of the movie.

Awkward wording aside, The Day the Earth Stood Still is a timeless tale of caution that should be praised for its clear, outspoken message to the masses of the time. The special effects, performances, and music are all exactly what this movie needs and it has earned the right to be called one of the best science fiction films ever made and to also have become an iconic landmark in film history. It’s intelligent and exciting and I find it hard to imagine there can be people that exist that don’t like this movie.

Final Grade: A-

Like it or not, the cinematic world was given the weight of a remake of a movie that has become a classic. While there was some judgement before going into it, I tried to keep as open a mind as possible.

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Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) is a professor of astrobiology who also has the challenge of single handedly raising her stepson, Jacob (Jaden Smith). Out of the blue, government agents arrive at her house and whisks her away to a secret facility that’s been tracking a UFO. The UFO finally lands in Manhattan, and a single figure emerges that identifies himself as Klaatu (Keanu Reeves). Klaatu is not alone however, as he also has with him a 28 foot tall robot sentry that is soon named GORT. After it’s clear the United States government will not listen to Klaatu’s warnings, Dr. Benson helps him flee from the government with the hopes that he will finish his mission to save the earth. What remains unclear, however, is if Klaatu’s mission will save the earth, but at the expense of the entire human race.

Like I said, I went into this movie with an open mind even after hearing mostly negative reviews from most of the critics I follow on the internet. I wanted to make my own assessment of the movie, and I think I have. The remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, despite some serious issues with the plot and characters, isn’t that bad of a movie. It isn’t that great of a movie, but I can’t just say I hate the movie solely because it’s a remake no one really asked for of a classic science fiction film. Keanu Reeves as Klaatu was a really good choice, especially for the direction that the filmmakers wanted to take the character in. It’s also a very good looking movie, which wasn’t too surprising since the director, Scott Derrickson, was responsible for one of the best looking movies of 2016, Doctor Strange. It may not have the best special effects, but there’s something really appealing about them, especially the first time we see GORT. His monstrous size combined with the ship behind him made it a very memorable scene.

So while I do like the visuals in this movie, I will say that this is much more style than it is substance, which is kind of disappointing considering how thought provoking the original was. The remake, however, is much more of a CGI spectacle and the story sometimes gets lost amongst it all, especially towards the end. I also really couldn’t stand Jaden Smith’s character in this movie. Like not even a little bit. He does nothing but slow the action down and really only succeeds at getting the characters in more trouble than they should probably be in. If he wasn’t in this movie, it would be all the better for it. Something sort of nit pickey is also the fact that they changed the conflict in the movie to something that doesn’t involve violence, which is still relevant for the time, but I liked the idea that these aliens were coming because of our misuse of weapons and our constant states of war.

With all these problems, I still had a pretty good time with The Day the Earth Stood Still. It certainly is a movie that has been forgotten over the years since its release, and I’m not going to forcefully remind people that it exists and they should see it, but it also really doesn’t deserve the hate that it gets. It’s a movie that works best as a time waster for a boring afternoon, and that’s it. That’s more than can be said about a lot of other remakes.

Final Grade: C+

In conclusion, the original The Day the Earth Stood Still is a landmark science fiction film that deserves to be respected. It’s one of the best there is and that’s that. The remake, however, doesn’t hit the right spots like the original did, but it’s still a pretty fun and disposable movie. If you’re going to just watch one, make it the original.

Phantasm Series – Review: Part 2

1 Feb

What my final consensus was on the first three Phantasm movies is that they do represent a spark of originality in a time of slasher movies, but they still weren’t free from their own set of flaws. Most of these flaws come from the pacing and the focus of the narrative, but there were also some problems with the development of characters and the acting. Surprisingly enough, the first direct to video entry, Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead was my favorite of the bunch. Now let’s take a look at the last two and see how the world Don Coscarelli built holds up.

The fourth entry in the series, Phantasm IV: Oblivion, was released in 1998 and also sent direct to video.

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Taking place right where Phantasm III left off, Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) is on the run from the wrath of the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm). Meanwhile, Reggie (Reggie Bannister) is hot on his tail after being warned by the undead Jody (Bill Thornbury) that Mike will need all the help he can get. After the Tall Man leads Mike to Death Valley, the secrets of the Tall Man begin coming to light. Mike soon stumbles across a plethora of the Tall Man’s gateways, and he begins to travel through time to see just when the Tall Man came to be. What he finds is the story of a mortician living at the turn of the century who becomes madly obsessed with inter-dimensional and time travel. As Mike learns more of these origins, Reggie finally catches up with his friend and once again engage in a battle with the Tall Man and his horde of lurkers and spheres.

Is it possible that Coscarelli could strike gold again with the second direct to video release in this series? Well, no, I wouldn’t say gold. Perhaps bronze or silver. This is another relatively entertaining addition to the Phantasm universe and it does try to be something different from its predecessors which I really respect. For one thing, we actually see a larger picture of the the power the Tall Man has over time and space. This is way more of a science fiction film than it is a horror film at this point, even though the horror elements are never too far behind. Phantasm IV pushes the limit of the entire series in terms of storytelling and exposition, which is something that really had to happen at this point. It’s great to see what the Tall Man was versus what he turned into, and there are even some interesting twists along the way that feature all of the regulars of the series. This might be the entry with the most interesting story, if anything.

What this movie does that reminded me more of the first two films is that it sometimes gets a little muddled in showing too much or slowing things down. There’s a chunk that’s not too far into the movie that I can only describe as a lot of walking. When Mike first arrives to Death Valley and begins exploring the different gateways, it does show a lot of really interesting stuff in terms of world building and long awaited character development. It just seems that Coscarelli was determined to show of footstep that Mike takes on his journey. It was just a little bit too drawn out, but honestly, that didn’t bother me all too much. It’s also great to see Reggie Bannister and Angus Scrimm again, but of course we do get some cringe worthy acting from A. Michael Baldwin and especially Bill Thornbury.

Phantasm IV: Oblivion, along with its predecessors, are reminders of what makes this series so cool. They take the best parts of the first film and build on them to create a believable and cool sci-fi/horror world. There’s a lot of much needed exposition on who the Tall Man is and what his endgame is, and there’s also a deviation from the repetitive nature that the third movie suffered from. This is a worthy entry into the series, but it probably won’t convert anyone if you’ve haven’t had any interest in the series up to this point..

Final Grade: B

It would be 18 years before another Phantasm movie would be released, but after much anticipation, teasing, and idea changing the world finally got the final film in the series. This is Phantasm: Ravager.

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For decades, Reggie has been battling the fury of the Tall Man and the evils he has wrought upon the earth. After Reggie’s most recent encounter with the Tall Man, he finds himself waking up in the care of a nursing home where Mike tells him that he’s suffering from an onset of dementia. The confusion only gets more severe as Reggie begins finding himself both in the care of the nursing home, but also in a future where the world was completely overtaken by the Tall Man and his army of lurkers and sentinels. As Reggie continues to battle the Tall Man and his own mind, the lines of reality begin to blur. Not even this will stop Reggie and Mike from joining forces through time and putting an end to this evil once and for all.

I really hate to say this, but Phantasm: Ravager is the bottom of the barrel in this series. It’s hardly even in the barrel at this point. What’s disappointing is that this movie has a promising start by throwing Reggie right into the action with a really fun scene on a desert highway. After that, the movie just sinks further and further into the mud, and not even the Tall Man’s usual shenanigans can pull it out. This movie tries really hard to be a puzzle movie and mess with the viewer’s mind instead of trying to coherently tell any kind of story. The only problem is that the puzzles they are presenting don’t seem to make any kind of sense and nothing is ever explained enough for me to even begin putting together what the hell is actually going on. What ends up happening is a series of scenes where Reggie and his companions are just running around in different times and places only to have the scene cut away right when things start to get remotely interesting.

It’s clear that this movie doesn’t have too much of a high budget, but this has been proven to not be a detractions from horror movies given the right circumstances. The first Phantasm was put together very well for such a shoe string budget. Ravager, on the other hand, is a complete eye sore that just gets worse as it goes on. There are scenes in the future where the world is taken over by the Tall Man and even on the Tall Man’s red planet that is scene throughout the series. These mark the low points for the series in general The CGI is so bad I actually had to look away for some of the movie rather than subject myself to the computer generated vomit that was filling up my screen. It’s important to work with what you have when you’re making a movie, and these film makers (this entry is no directed by Coscarelli) are obviously in way over their heads.

Phantasm: Ravager is by far the worst entry in the series, which is sad because there is some fun to be had seeing these actors return to these characters so many years later. Unfortunately, the story makes no kind of sense and the movie is damn near unwatchable due to some of the worst CGI I’ve ever seen mixed with camera work that is bland and unexciting. This film is a let down for fans of the series, and I really wanted to see some sort of closure to the series, but this is what it’s left with.

Final Grade: D-

Looking back on it, Phantasm IV: Oblivion gets better as I think about it. That one’s really the last good entry in the series before it all just goes down the drain with Phantasm: Ravager. All in all, this series is pretty interesting and definitely unique. While it may not provide the best horror experience, these films do offer a breath of fresh air and has become something of a small icon of the horror genre. If you’re a horror fan, this series is worth checking out.

Phantasm Series – Review: Part 1

25 Jan

Horror movies have a fair share of memorable boogeymen. In the 1970s and 1980s there was Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees to name a few, but there are also some that have gained more of a cult reputation. One of these boogeymen is the Tall Man from the Phantasm series. I didn’t know much about these movies, but he was a character who always piqued my interest, and I also find it odd that I haven’t given these movies a chance yet, especially considering their cult status and following. I’m always ready to see some new horror movies, so I’m going to watch all 5 in the series and have a two part review on all of them. Let’s see how they are.

In 1979, writer and director Don Coscarelli released the first film in the series.

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Jody (Bill Thornbury) and Michael Pearson (A. Michael Baldwin) are two brothers whose parents died a few years prior in a car accident. Michael is practically attached to Jody’s hip at times, which isn’t always convenient when Jody has things he needs to do. After the death of one of Jody’s friends, Michael becomes suspicious of the town’s mortician (Angus Scrimm) and the activities he’s engaging in in the mortuary. Michael begins his investigation and stumbles across very strange things in the mortuary like hooded dwarves that attack him and a flying silver sphere that will attach to your head and drill through your skull. Soon Jody and his friend, Reggie (Reggie Bannister), join in on the investigation and are quickly sucked into a web of undead minions, hidden planets, and the wrath of the mortician known as the Tall Man.

Say what you will about Phantasm, because either way this is one hell of an original movie. This film came out in 1979, which was an era of slasher films. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween were both released and a year later in 1980 we’d be introduced to Friday the 13th. What Phantasm did was focus more on the supernatural and not so much a high body count. The whole thing feels like it could be a tale told around a campfire with the Tall Man being the boogeyman that would keep everyone up that night. Angus Scrimm plays the Tall Man to perfection, and there’s no reason not to see how he became a cult icon in the horror world. There’s also plenty of imagination in terms of the story and the design. This film was made on a super low budget, so the fact that writer/director Don Coscarelli pulled it off is amazing. One scene in particular where the silver sphere is attacking Michael in the mortuary is especially memorable and very well made.

So while Phantasm is a horror film that’s held up very well over the years in terms of its ambition and originality, there is a lot holding this movie back. My first complaint is something you’ll see in a lot of low budget horror movies, and that’s the acting. Reggie Bannister and Angus Scrimm both do great work, but A. Michael Baldwin and Bill Thornbury kind of do that weird overemphasizing thing you see in movies like this. It’s awkward to watch and must have been awkward to perform. Another big issue is the way the film is paced and structured. For a good portion of the movie, it seems like nothing is happening. There is admittedly some good suspense in this build up, but it just takes way too long, and this is a pretty short movie so there really isn’t any time to spare. Finally, there are scenes that are simply uninteresting even though it seems like Coscarelli was definitely trying to make something of them. The one I can think of is a small car chase on a deserted road. It’s a car chase that was boring and I couldn’t get into. That’s a rare thing for me.

All in all, Phantasm should be required viewing for anyone interested in horror films, but it’s not something that is necessary for everyone. There’s plenty of originality and I admire Don Coscarelli and his crew for making the movie they wanted no matter what the cost. There’s some great scenes that will stick with me for quite a long time and Angus Scrimm’s Tall Man is one of the great cinematic boogeymen. There’s just some serious pacing issues that drag this movie down from being one of the titans of the genre. It’s still a really cool movie, but can’t be compared to something like the original Nightmare on Elm Street.

Final Grade: B-

Almost a decade later, in 1988, Coscarelli followed up his original movie with the higher budgeted Phantasm II.

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After spending years in a psychiatric hospital, Mike (James LeGros) begins having visions of this girl named Liz (Paula Irvine) who is being tormented by the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm reprises his role). He talks his way out of the hospital and meets up with his old friend Reggie (Reggie Bannister also returns), who at first doesn’t believe his story of the Tall Man, but quickly comes to realize Mike isn’t so crazy. The two get geared up and hit the road, following a trail of desolate towns wiped out by the Tall Man. Soon, the two meet up with Liz and it becomes clear that the Tall Man needs Mike and Liz together because of their strong telepathic bond that becomes apparent in their dreams. Now the trio must once again face the Tall Man, his army of dwarf minions, and his arsenal of deadly flying spheres.

I didn’t have too high of expectations going into Phantasm II since I just felt like the first film was pretty good. Still, I went in with a fresh mind and wanted to see that maybe a bigger budget would give Coscarelli some more room to go bigger and build on the lore. This just goes to show that a bigger budget does not make a better movie. For a horror sequel, this isn’t a bad film, but it still falls into the same pits that the first film does. The beginning of the movie starts out really strong by picking up right where the first film ended, but as time goes on everything starts to lose its luster. The characters all, once again, fail to really grab me or make me care. The only two that succeed in being interesting characters are the Tall Man, of course, and Reggie. Mike and Liz are both bland and altogether uninteresting, which makes some of the more intense scenes feel like they’re missing something. There’s also some weird pacing issues, yet again, where the movie slows down to a grinding halt at times and we are left with characters engaging in dialogue that often feels hollow.

I’m still having a little bit of a dilemma. I have a hard time not hyping this movie up because there is still a lot of really cool stuff. The special effects in this movie are a huge step up, and some of the scenes involving them are genuinely shocking. There are a couple of new spheres that offer some of the most memorable scenes in the movie and one particular puppet that was really creepy. There’s also a new sense of action in this movie that reminds me a little bit of Evil Dead II. This film has those moments of characters gearing up and customizing their weapons, which serve really well to get the audience hyped up. There are also some attempts at funny tough talk which usually just fails completely. Still, I will say the bigger budget does allow for some great show downs with the Tall Man that was sort of missing from the first film.

Phantasm II is a mixed bag for me. It’s missing the wonder, mystery, and suspense of the first film, but it does amp up the action, intensity, and special effects. For me, a horror movie is more about the mystery and suspense while the special effects and intensity come second. This is still a really imaginative movie that builds on the lore of the original, but it doesn’t have enough characterization going for it to bolster the content still. Phantasm II isn’t bad, but I can’t help but feel it’s missing something.

Final Grade: C+

In 1994, something unfortunate happened to this series. Universal stated that if Don Coscarelli and his crew were attached to the next Phantasm film, they wouldn’t distribute it. Coscarelli said that was fine and went on to make Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead, which was released direct to video.

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Picking up right where Phantasm II left off, The Tall Man and his minions are in pursuit of Reggie and Mike (once again played by A. Michael Baldwin). After being seriously injured, Mike is left in a coma and taken by the Tall Man soon after he awakes. Now, Reggie is forced to go head to head with the Tall Man, yet again, but this time he has more help than he’s ever had. His first new partner is a young boy named Tim (Kevin Connors), who has survived in a town desolated by the Tall Man. Reggie and Tim also meet Rocky (Gloria Lynn Henry), a tough as nails biker who lost her best friend to the Tall Man. Finally, Mike’s brother Jody has returned as one of the Tall Man’s spheres that has the ability to take human form for a short period of time. This newly formed gang of heroes each have their reasons to stop the Tall Man once and for all, but will they be strong enough defeat him and his ever growing army of undead minions?

With this being the first direct to video entry in this series, I had very little hope that it was going to do anything for me. Surprisingly, Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead is the one that has entertained me the most so far. Some of the pitfalls that the other two movies fall in are avoided in this third entry. For one thing, Mike isn’t in the movie too much, which is a good thing because I wasn’t a fan of A. Michael Baldwin’s acting in the first film, and it’s pretty much the same in this movie. Another huge plus is that the characters of Tim and Rocky both work great with Reggie and provide a lot of cool scenes and comedic relief that works a lot better than it did in Phantasm II. Angus Scrimm and Reggie Bannister also do good work here, as they have continued to do throughout the series leading up to this point.

Much like Phantasm II, this movie is heavy on action. Reggies quad-barreled shotgun makes a return while Tim and Rocky bring a lot of over the top action as well. For a movie that was made for direct to video releasing, this is a pretty good looking movie with some impressive stunts and action sequences. Not only do we get cool action, but there’s also a good amount of world building in that we learn more of who the Tall Man is and what he’s doing with the bodies he steals and the towns he destroys. To point out one negative, I will say that the last third of the movie falls into an area that can only be described as redundant. It’s the big showdown inside a mortuary with a twist at the very end. This is Phantasm 101 and it wouldn’t hurt to deviate a little from what’s been done in every movie so far.

In the end, Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead doesn’t shake up the formula too much but it does offer a lot of good entertainment and fun additions to the cast of these movies. The characters are memorable and the action is fun. It just would be nice to see these movies go in a different direction in some ways.

Final Grade: B

The first three movies in the Phantasm series can be described as fine. The first and the third have stand out moments that make them memorable, but the second movie just dragged on a bit too much for me. There’s still two more movies to go so keep an eye out for part 2.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – Review

21 Dec

It’s been about 5 days since I’ve seen Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and since then I’ve been thinking about it constantly. Last year, we saw the return of the franchise to the big screen with The Force Awakens, which to me felt like new life being breathed into it that was lost during the prequel trilogy. Rogue One is trying something new by telling a story that takes place between two of the main episodes instead of continuing the main story. This left me feeling kind of skeptical and a little nervous that it wouldn’t pack the kind of punch that I expect from a Star Wars movie. As the credits began to roll and I left the theater, I was ready to sit down and watch it again.

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Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) has been labeled a criminal by the Empire after breaking their laws and giving them trouble time and again. She has every reason to have such animosity towards them because when she was young she saw the villainous Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) tear her family apart when he forced her father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), to come with him to help develop a new superweapon for the Empire. Years later, Jyn is recruited by the Rebel Alliance for a very important and secret mission to obtain a secret message sent by Galen through a defecting Empire pilot, Rook (Riz Ahmed). Jyn, along with Rebel intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), his droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), a blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), and mercenary Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), begins her adventure to find this message, rescue her father, and stop the Empire from unleashing its new superweapon, the Death Star.

Rogue One introduces a lot of new characters to the Star Wars universe, but it also introduces a new director to helm the project, Gareth Edwards. Edwards got his recognition with his 2010 independent film Monsters and went on to direct the 2014 American version of Godzilla, which people had differing opinions on. Either way, it’s safe to say he is a fantastic visual director, and this vision is one of the best parts of Rogue One. This is easily the most beautiful Star Wars film ever made with a unique blend of CGI, location shooting, and practical make up and effects. There’s so many beautiful scenes that show how great Edwards is with size and scale. From the AT-ATs coming through the fog to the Star Destroyer hovering over a city to that jaw dropping shot of the Death Star coming out of hyperspace. This is just such a beautifully crafted film in terms of its visuals and its sound and I give Gareth Edwards a lot of credit for creating a very unique looking Star Wars film.

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With all of this praise I’m throwing at Rogue One for its impressive style and beautiful cinematography, I have to also say that this is not a perfect movie and there are some flaws that are more apparent than others. The first 20-30 minutes of this movie are really rocky and often times confusing. We see Jyn’s backstory first, but after that we are forced to bounce back and forth between multiple different planets to introduce a plethora of characters really quickly. This feels messy and it’s hard to remember a lot of these characters this fast. As they are more established later on it was fine, but the first part of this movie was so scattershot. While Jyn and the rest of her crew are come pretty cool characters, only a few of them really get the attention that they deserve. Jyn gets plenty, but someone like Baze and Rook get next to nothing. It sometimes felt that these characters were pushed a bit too far into the background for a movie that is based on a team of heroes. Finally, there are a few CGI effects that happen for a certain character that is kind of weird. I understand and appreciate what they were trying to do, and on some levels it’s pretty cool, but it’s also really distracting to look at.

So while this movie does have faults, it’s still a really entertaining movie that stands alone as well as acting as a springboard for the original trilogy. It combines lore deeply engraved in the Star Wars universe while also giving us all these new characters and ways of seeing characters we already know. The story takes us to all these different planets, each with their own feel and design. Star Wars has been known for its many different planets, and Rogue One uses its settings really well. When I say that this movie stands alone, I mean that it feels like a very different kind of movie in this franchise. This is a war movie with just a little bit of mysticism in the rare times that the Force is mentioned. There’s something about how this story is told that often times gave me goosebumps. It just feels like such a perfect fit into a universe that we all know and love.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a great addition to the franchise and it really is a relief to say that. This is a beautifully crafted film that looks, sounds, and feels very unique while also fitting into the established universe very well. There’s some weird pacing issues and not all of the CGI choices work as smoothly as the film makers seemed to think they did, but all of that is overshadowed by how much fun I had watching this movie. If you want to go into this movie and nit pick it so much that nothing is left of it, then go right ahead, but if you are a Star Wars fan and are ready for another trip to a galaxy far, far away, then brace yourself for Rogue One.

Final Grade: A-

The X-Files: Fight the Future – Review

7 Dec

On September 10, 1993, the pilot episode of The X-Files aired on Fox and over the years has become one of the most iconic television shows of all time. Over the first 5 seasons, viewers saw the relationship between FBI Agents Mulder and Scully build, secrets and dangers arise, and many different creatures and entities you saw in your nightmares later that night. To bridge the gap from the cliffhanger ending of season 5 to the beginning of season 6, show creator Christ Carter and long time X-Files director Rob Bowman created The X-Files: Fight the Future. This film was met with some good reviews and some not good ones, but I want to believe that it deepened the lore of the show in ways that weren’t done before, while answering a few questions and raising many others.

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After the X-Files are closed, Special Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) are reassigned to other projects. After a federal building is blown up in Dallas and the bodies of a couple of fire fighters and a kid are discovered, the two agents are blamed for breaking protocol. Mulder isn’t satisfied with this responsibility so along with Scully, they begin investigating and find the people were dead before they even arrived in Dallas. This investigation stirs the attention of a mysterious doctor named Kurtzweil (Martin Landau) and also forces the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) to come out of hiding to assist the Syndicate to help cover up this incident and make sure no one out of their reach learns of the work they’re doing with the recurring threat of the black oil and what they are trying to achieve with hidden extraterrestrial colonists.

When this movie first came out, Chris Carter said that he wanted it to appeal to fans of the show and give them more than what an average episode could, but he also wanted the movie to attract new audiences and work well as a stand alone story. While it can be argued that it succeeds in doing that, it really works best for fans of the show. There are so many really cool nods and references to the show and by this point the lore is so deep and twisted that it would be hard to dive right into the movie and expect to get everything. That being said, fans of the show should really enjoy this movie because favorite characters are brought back for an adventure on a much bigger scale and we finally get some answers about the black oil and what’s really going on with the alien colonists. Don’t expect all of your questions to be answered by the end, however. There was still a lot more show to come at that point.

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Like I said, one of the main reasons to watch The X-Files: Fight the Future is to see your favorite characters standing up to another adventure. Duchovny and Anderson prove that they have what it took to be big screen stars, and this wasn’t the last time they would star in a big budget X-Files movie. They would return to theaters once again in 2008 for the film The X-Files: I Want to Believe. Mulder and Scully have become beloved characters over the years and their partnership one of the strongest on t.v. Not only do we get two of our favorite agents, but also William B. Davis, John Neville, and Mitch Pileggi return as The Cigarette Smoking Man, The Well Manicured Man, and Walter Skinner respectively. That would have been enough to please me, but throw an actor like Martin Landau into the mix in a completely new role for the story, and you got yourself a great and memorable cast.

A lot of people have said that this film felt underwhelming because it played like a long episode of the series. Since this isn’t the big finale, I’m fine with it feeling like an extended episode. Of course, there are scenes that are a lot more impressive than anything you’d see on the show. A couple of examples include a helicopter chasing the agents through a corn field and a U.F.O. flying high over the heads of the agents. What this movie does is tie up the cliffhanger that ended season 5 and also get the audience deeper into the lore for their journey into the show’s sixth season.

The X-Files: Fight the Future is a must see for any fan of the show. It shakes up the lore while also tying up loose ends and throwing in some twists that you never saw coming. It features all my favorite characters from the show and offers a lot of new questions and directions the overall plot may be heading towards. For people new to the world of The X-Files, it would probably feel more confusing and unfulfilling than anything else, and that’s really the only negative thing I can say. It felt like a great extended episode of the series with a huge budget and a lot of talent working behind the scenes and onscreen.

Final Grade: A-

Star Trek: The Next Generation Movies – Part 2

12 Nov

So here we have the final two movies in the Next Generation movie series. In the last review, I talked about Star Trek: Generations and Star Trek: First ContactGenerations was an acceptable entry into the series of feature films but didn’t really blow me away while First Contact was a rollicking good time and was exactly the kind of thing I wanted with this particular crew. This time, I’m going to look at Star Trek: Insurrection and Star Trek: Nemesis and see if they hold up to their predecessors.

Jonathan Frakes returned to the director’s chair after helming First Contact to make the 1998 film Star Trek: Insurrection.

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After Data (Brent Spiner) goes haywire while on a mission with Federation and Son’a explorers, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and the rest of the Enterprise travel to their location on an isolated planet. Their original mission was to study the quaint Ba’ku people, but upon recovering Data and repairing his positronic brain, it becomes clear that the Son’a and Admiral Dougherty’s (Anthony Zerbe) intentions are much more sinister. The leader of the Son’a, Ru’afo (F. Murray Abraham) along with Federation help is attempting to move the Ba’ku off their home planet in order to remove the healing properties from the rings around the planet which will make the land uninhabitable. Picard now faces a choice to either stay on the side of the Federation and its Admiral, or defy his orders and defend the peaceful Ba’ku from forceful relocation.

I see this movie get pushed to the side a lot because it feels too much like an extended episode of The Next Generation. I completely agree, but that doesn’t detract too much from it. While watching Insurrection, I wasn’t too impressed, but then I got to thinking and reading more about it and it’s actually better than people make it out to be. In this movie, we see Picard make a very difficult choice to defy the Federation that he loves so much in order to protect the rights of the defenseless Ba’ku. While this fits in with Star Trek highlighting real world issues in their science fiction universe, it also features a performance by Patrick Stewart that really shines.

Jonathan Frakes, who also plays Will Riker, is back directing this one since his work on First Contact proved very effective. While it isn’t as sharp as First Contact was, Insurrection is a still a visually exciting film with the special effects and performances you’ve come to expect with Star Trek. I have to give special attention to the make up work on the Son’a. Their skin one their faces being pulled all the way back makes them a horrifying villain to look at, and F. Murray Abraham’s performance as Ru’afo just solidifies their coolness in my mind. For a villain we’ve never seen before, they definitely make an impact.

Star Trek: Insurrection isn’t one of the best Star Trek films, but it’s certainly not as bad as The Final Frontier. This movie definitely feels like a long episode of The Next Generation, but that just means it feels like another adventure with a crew that I’ve come to know very well. I can’t really complain about that. Some parts do tend to drag and there are a few story arcs that lead to nowhere, but the action, characters, and special effects all work in the movie’s favor along with the choices Picard and the others have to make.

Final Grade: B

In 2002, the adventures of the crew of The Next Generation finally came to an end with Star Trek: Nemesis.

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After the assassinations of multiple members of the Romulan Senate, a new Praetor is put into power. As a result, the Enterprise is ordered to Romulus on a diplomatic mission to see that this exchange of powers goes over smoothly with the new Praetor being of Reman descent, which is the race that the Romulans use as slaves and cannon fodder. The new leader is in fact a human named Shinzon (Tom Hardy) who has a very special and unsettling connection to Captain Picard. When it becomes clear that Shinzon is only using his new power to not only conquer Romulus, but also Earth, Picard and the crew of the Enterprise begin a hopeless fight against Shinzon’s technologically superior flag ship. With the fight growing bleaker by the second, Picard is forced to use drastic measures that pushes the limit of his ship and crew.

After 7 seasons of the show and 4 movies, it’s clear by this point that this particular series is running out of steam. I have to say, though, Nemesis insures that these characters that people grew to love so much really get a send off. Unfortunately, this send off is very under appreciated and I feel like I’m in the minority of people that really liked this movie a lot. After First Contact, I think this movie is the best of The Next Generation films. There’s plenty of action and excitement, and despite a budget that wasn’t too great, there are some really cool special effects. The last 45 minutes or so is a space battle that really gets the heart pounding, and it highlights various members of the crew who each have their own time in the spotlight. Finally, there’s a moment in this movie that is one of the most heartbreaking in the entire franchise.

Star Trek: Nemesis is a very exciting movie that is full of action and really gives closure to these characters. The main cast are all great and perform like they always have. The best new addition is definitely Tom Hardy as the villainous Shinzon. He just oozes corruption and yuckiness while also appearing pathetic and sickly. This isn’t a perfect Star Trek movie. Leave that to The Wrath of Khan, but I will say it’s a damn entertaining one and it’s, in my own opinion, a great send off to the crew of The Next Generation

Final Grade: A-

With this series finally at a close, it’s pretty nice that there aren’t any real stinkers in the mix. A few of these movies are better than others, but none of them fall into the pit that was created by The Final Frontier. For fans of this franchise, all of these movies are worth a watch on some level. Live long and prosper.