All Eyez on Me (Full Review)

Having great source material does not guarantee a great movie… especially when it comes to Biographical films. Some true stories may work best as mini-series’ or documentaries, but making a feature length film requires finding the right actors and fine-tuning all of the compelling facts into a cohesive under-three hour story. Tupac Shakur is already an interesting subject, even if you were never a fan, but making a film about his life needs more than that to live up to the hype of one of music’s most iconic figures.

AllEyez_posterNewcomer Demetrius Shipp Jr. takes on the difficult role of playing rap legend Tupac Shakur, a man that went Platinum from prison and had 7 albums released after his death. Navigating through his rise to fame, problems with the law and untimely murder, the film highlights his relationships with his former Black Panther mother (Danai Gurira), friend Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham), lover Kidada Jones (Annie Ilonzeh) and violent manager Suge Knight (Dominic Santana).

As I mentioned, when making a biopic, the most important elements are landing the right cast and creating a sound story. Straight Outta Compton nailed both. The James Brown biopic Get on Up had a great cast but lacked narrative structure.  All Eyez on Me doesn’t really secure either one. The cast has a few bright spots. Danai Gurira is clearly the best actor on screen as Pac’s mother. Kat Graham doesn’t look like Jada Pinkett, but she has the mannerisms down pat and Jamal Woolard, reprising his role from Notorious, is also once again great as Biggie Smalls. But this is a Tupac movie, and it helps if the guy at the forefront can consistently carry his weight.

Shipp Jr. isn’t terrible. He definitely gets better as the movie goes along, but aside from physically resembling Tupac, it never really feels like he embodies the artist. Tupac had a boyish charm to him that made him incessantly charismatic while also carrying a serene wisdom that transcended others in the industry. Aside from spouting some Shakespeare, that intelligence doesn’t really come through in Shipp’s performance and the charm only appears in doses.

As for its narrative structure, the movie takes nearly half of its two and a half hour runtime to find its footing. The first half works like a spark notes version of Pac’s life, fluttering between scenes without cohesive transition or focus while being filled with as many cliché monologues as possible. A prison interview is used as a framing device and then is completely dropped halfway through, making the much more compelling last half feel like it has a completely different director.

All Eyez on Me succeeds in being interesting, but never thoroughly entertaining. It’s hard not to compare it to Straight Outta Compton, but considering its subject matter, those comparisons are inevitable. Without a stellar lead, and without cohesion, the movie never truly becomes the homage it wants to be.

FINAL GRADE: C

 

All Eyez on Me (Full Review)

The Mummy (2017) Full Review

Welcome to the age of cinematic universes. Marvel did it. DC is doing it. Even Lego has one going. And now Universal is trying to cash in on the action by using their old monster movies. The Brendan Frasier Mummy movies weren’t the greatest, but there is a fun 90’s camp feel to them that makes them enjoyable. Looking to launch their interconnected Dark Universe, The Mummy tosses Tom Cruise into the fold to reboot the series.

The_Mummy_(2017)Cruise stars as US soldier, Nick Morton, who scrambles around the middle east with his friend and fellow soldier (Jake Johnson) recovering artifacts from insurgents to sell on the black market. After stealing a map from an archaeologist (Annabelle Wallis), he inadvertently releases Princess Ahmanet, (Sofia Boutella), an evil mummy who wants to turn him into the god of death and unleash hell on earth. Oh yeah… and Russell Crowe plays Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde ‘cause cinematic universe and stuff.

The movie certainly earns points for some solid special effects and a few successful jump scares, but it’s hard to ignore how out of place everything is. Tom Cruise has never been one for slapstick humor, and this movie is full of zany jokes that would work best if Brendan Frasier were the one leading the charge. Instead, this movie switches between horror and campy action adventure, never truly settling on a correct tone and fading into a failed attempt to be what it thinks audiences want to see in a summer blockbuster.

Cruise is also not the only one out of his element. Russell Crowe is useless, to both the plot and as a casting choice and Annabelle Wallis’ Dr. Halsey is dull and unoriginal. And if the meandering story and unnecessary easter eggs don’t make it completely obvious that this movie is designed to set up spinoffs and sequels, the somewhat inexplicable ending does its best to shove that concept as far down your throat as possible. There are worse films to watch, even in the Mummy franchise (Scorpion King anyone?), but this Mummy reboot is just a soulless attempt to cash in on the hottest Hollywood trend without actually doing anything to make you care about any of it.

FINAL GRADE: D

The Mummy (2017) Full Review

Baywatch (Full Review)

If you’re like me, you remember the concept of Baywatch more than the actual show. David Hasselhoff and women in skin tight swimsuits solved crimes as lifeguards on the beaches of Los Angeles. Somehow that was a premise good enough for over a decade of television episodes. If there’s a property that seems ripe for a comedic parody film, it’s this one.

Baywatch_posterIn this adaptation of Baywatch, Dwayne “The Hulk” Johnson takes over Hasselhoff’s role of head Emerald Bay lifeguard Mitch Buchannon, whose job becomes a bit more frustrating after his boss (Rob Huebel) sticks him with arrogant Olympic Swimmer Matt Brody (Zac Efron). When a club owner (Priyanka Chopra) begins smuggling drugs on their beach, Mitch and fellow lifeguards Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera), CJ (Kelly Rohrbach), Summer (Alexandra Daddario), and chubby oddball Ronnie (Jon Bass) take on the role of self appointed beach vigilantes to try and stop her, much to the dismay of actual area policeman, Garner Ellerbee (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).

Marketing itself as a comedy for wide audiences and not just fans of the television series, poking fun at the fact that the original cast carried themselves as if they were filming Law and Order, and not a cheesy drama that was just a reason for people to gawk at supermodels, should’ve offered the opportunity for heavy laughs. And yet, the cast of this film version of Baywatch operate almost exactly like their small screen predecessors. Throughout the movie, it is reinforced that this should be a job for the police and that Mitch and his crew are out of their league. Instead of at least crafting a resolution to show that both sides could help each other in protecting the bay, the movie ends up being a tale of superhero lifeguards who can and will recklessly take matters into their own hands with positive results. And maybe that was the point, for Dwayne Johnson and cast to embrace the ridiculousness of the source material by attacking it with the same seriousness. The problem with that is that it makes Baywatch the movie as terrible as the TV show.

Instead of being a spoof, the film wants to be an action movie with self-reverential humor and carries itself as if its rescue sequences are actually intensely thrilling. But the entire time it just feels like you’re being told a boring, over exaggerated story that might be more interesting if you were a lifeguard. It doesn’t help that many of the scenes don’t feel remotely realistic due to an overuse of green screen, which just seems lazy considering the movie is set on an LA beach.

Occasionally the movie makes up for its atrocious attempt at being exciting by throwing in some good laughs. But there aren’t as much as you’d think. The movie follows my comedy pet peeve of having its biggest laughs in its trailers and too often it relies on gross out humor or Jon Bass’ character being the awkward antithesis of the typical Baywatch lifeguard. And it’s a shame, because we know from past films like Central Intelligence and Neighbors that Johnson and Efron are capable of being hilarious with both delivery and physical comedy.

So if you’re expecting a comedic parody, you’ll only be satisfied about 20% of the time. As for the purists, I’ve never met an actual fan of the TV show so I don’t know if it’ll be pleasing to them. Sure, the men look like gladiators and the woman are stunning, but who the hell cares if you have to sit through two hours of lousy plot and cheesy action?

FINAL GRADE: D = Terrible Movie with a few redeeming qualities

Baywatch (Full Review)

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (Full Review)

Few summer blockbusters have ever been as much fun as Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. The movie had thrills, humor, and charming characters. But the more movies they attempted to squeeze out of Johnny Depp’s iconic Jack Sparrow, the more the franchise began to lose its luster. Dead Man’s Chest was good, not great. At World’s End was far too long and overstuffed to truly enjoy. And… and… there was a fourth one, right? Something about Blackbeard? Anywho… this newest installment hopes to bring the Disney magic back to the eerie waters of the Pirates franchise.

Pirates_of_the_Caribbean,_Dead_Men_Tell_No_TalesThe aptly named Dead Men Tell No Tales once again finds an undead sea captain searching for the bumbling, alcoholic, but keenly clever scoundrel known as Jack Sparrow. This time, said sea captain is Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), a Spaniard who once hunted pirates but was tricked into defeat by a young Jack. To escape Salazar, Jack must team with a female astronomer (Kaya Scodelario) and Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the son of Jack’s old ally Will (Orlando Bloom returning in a cameo role), to find a legendary trident that will grant them power over the sea.  Meanwhile, Jack’s old rival Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) seeks to save himself from Salazar and his henchmen of zombies who can’t step on land by helping in the hunt for Jack Sparrow.

Like most Pirates movies (even the good ones), the plot can get a bit caught up in itself as it lumbers on for over two hours. There are some characters, like a British Naval Captain (David Wenham), that take up too much screen time despite being both generic and unnecessary. The plot itself also carries its fair share of conveniences. But what is Pirates of the Caribbean if not an unbelievable tale hidden beneath massive set pieces and well crafted costumes?

For the most part, Dead Men Tell No Tales manages to recapture the swashbuckling fun that made the franchise so popular. Yes, the plot often seems filled with holes so big that previous films can even get sucked into them, but that doesn’t take away from the fun at all. Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush effectively step back into their roles as if they never left. Newcomers Thwaites and Scodelario provide wholesome focal points as a boy fighting to reunite with his father and a woman trying to forge her own path in a world where a woman is deemed a witch if she reads a book. Javier Bardem even manages to succeed in being a wholly threatening adversary even though he’s essentially no different from the villains in the other Pirates films.

The movie is filled with some scenes so over the top or cheesy that your eyes might fall out of your head. But those moments are eclipsed by all of the genuine laughs and charm brought to the story. With stunning CGI effects and likable new characters, this entry feels much more like what audiences fell in love with. By reconnecting with the original trilogy (something the fourth film almost completely failed to do), this new Pirates manages to give us an adventure both nostalgic and compelling.

FINAL GRADE: B

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (Full Review)

Alien: Covenant (Full Review)

Back in 2012, Ridley Scott attempted to revitalize his science fiction/horror Alien franchise with Prometheus. Despite having a star studded cast and a premise filled with intrigue, Prometheus left me (and tons of franchise purists) a bit dissatisfied. It was by no means a lousy movie, but it failed to answer many of its own questions and was also void of the horror elements that made the original films so suspenseful. Having heard all of the gripes back then, it’s only natural to expect Scott to right the wrongs of Prometheus with Alien: Covenant.

Alien_Covenant_Teaser_PosterTaking place 10 years after Prometheus, this film follows the voyage of a ship on its way to colonize a new planet. After an on-board malfunction causes them to lose their captain, the crew decides to answer a distress call on a nearby habitable planet rather than re-enter cryogenetic sleep to reach their original destination. Little do they know, there are deadly alien creatures waiting to rip them apart upon arrival.

For the most part the crew (or inevitable victims if you’re familiar with the franchise) is intrinsically likable. Katherine Waterston does an amicable job as Daniels, the Covenant Captain’s widow and the film’s lead. She is humble and does a solid job conveying all the necessary emotions, but it’s admittedly difficult to distinguish the character’s personality from the previous film’s lead (Noomi Rapace). Danny McBride brings surprising emotion and southern charm to his role as Tennessee, the ship’s pilot. Carmen Ejogo and Billy Crudup do their best as the husband and wife duo entrusted to lead the crew after their captain’s untimely demise. Michael Fassbender returns to the franchise as Walter, a humanoid robot built by the expedition’s founder Peter Wayland (Guy Pearce in a cameo role). Just like in Prometheus, Fassbender’s performance is hauntingly magnetic and the film’s driving force.

It’s hard to truly delve into the problems and successes of Alien: Covenant without revealing heavy spoilers. But it is important to note that the film is a direct sequel to Prometheus. This not only means familiarity with the previous film is a must to understand much of Alien: Covenant, but it also makes the movie associate more with its underwhelming prequel than to the beloved first two films in the franchise. Just like in Prometheus, the true villain isn’t a terrifying alien and although there are still tons of creepy horror moments, the movie is more stomach churningly gruesome than it is outright scary.

The movie does deserve credit for making its characters a touch smarter than the ones in Prometheus (but only a slight touch) and unlike the previous installment, Covenant actually manages to answer more questions than it leaves on the table. But it still doesn’t do much to make itself more memorable. While it certainly doesn’t hearken back to the 1979 or 1986 films in thrills or suspense, Covenant does manage to be an intriguing and fun, albeit generic entry worth a watch for fans of the genre but possibly dismissive for anyone else.

FINAL GRADE: B

Alien: Covenant (Full Review)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Full Review)

No film in Disney/Marvel’s massive gallery was as much of a surprise success as 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. The film about a ragtag group of space anti-heroes transcended its lesser known source material to become a fun summer blockbuster full of exhilarating action and humor. But it’s hard to follow up a breakout hit with something better or even just as good. Iron Man 2 and Avengers: Age of Ultron showed us, that while the Marvel Cinematic Universe always keeps things entertaining, sometimes their sequels can’t quite live up to the hype.

GotG_Vol2_posterGuardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues the adventures of a group of intergalactic heroes for hire. Returning are Drax (Dave Bautista), a slow witted mustle man who lacks subtlety; Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a rude and violent talking raccoon; Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a naive tree monster reduced to baby form following the first film’s climax; Gamora (Zoe Saldana) skiled assassin and daughter to a space tyrant, and Peter “Star Lord” Quill, (Chris Pratt), an Earthling with a human mother and an alien father he’s never met. After the crew makes enemies out of a society of genetic purists (led by Elizabeth Debicki), the Guardians encounter Ego (Kurt Russell), an antient, powerful being claiming to be Quill’s father, and his socially awkward aprentice, named Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Michael Rooker also returns as Quill’s former mentor Yondu, and Karen Gillan reprises her role as Gamora’s sister/hated rival, Nebula.

As it turns out, Guardians Vol. 2 has many of the same problems as Iron Man 2 and Age of Ultron in that it seems more concerned with making the audience laugh and giving them shiny new CGI to gawk at than with forming a coherent narrative. As such, the plot to this film is all over the place for the majority of its seemingly lengthy runtime. There are far too many threads that are overly emphasized such as a subplot about Yondu’s connection to a former mentor (played by Sylvester Stallone) and his dismissal from the bounty hunting Ravagers. It isn’t until the admittedly exciting climax that things seem to actually come together, but the means hardly justifies the ends.

There’s still a great bit of humor throughout. Dave Bautista (who has greatly improved since his acting debut) is hilarious in every scene and most of the banter between the team is fun. But even here, things don’t feel as consistently organic as they did the first go round. Too much of the jokes are awkwardly raunchy (get ready for penis jokes… yes, penis jokes), and the cartoony slapstick is so abundant that it often undermines scenes that should probably be taken more seriously.

The film manages to add some weighty emotional moments to make the story feel grounded and a bit more necessary. A few scenes between Saldana’s Gamora and Gillan’s Nebula do a fantastic job of adding depth to both characters. In fact, most of the cast deserves credit for injecting likability into each of their characters. But with the story, much of the humor, and even the soundtrack all feeling like a step down, its hard to make a case that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is memorable. Not every follow up is going to be The Empire Strikes Back or The Dark Knight, but I can’t help but feel like characters this fun deserve an adventure that isn’t predominantly a throw away.

FINAL GRADE: C

A = Must See/Top 10 Nominee

B = Good film. Flawed, but still very entertaining

C = Not Bad, but highly flawed/Probably better off waiting for Redbox

D = Terrible Movie with a few redeeming qualities

F = I wanted to walk out/Don’t waste time or money

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Full Review)

Free Fire (Full Review)

There’s nothing like a movie that takes a simple concept and is able to turn it into something entertaining. Some films don’t need elaborate plots or huge set pieces to be exhilarating. With Free Fire, Director Ben Wheatley takes pages out of the Quentin Tarantino book of storytelling and delivers a hilariously kinetic film held up by a captivating cast.

imagesFree Fire takes place in the 1970’s and is almost entirely set in a Boston warehouse. Brie Larson plays Justine, a liaison helping a group of Irishman (Cilian Murphy, Michael Smiley, Sam Riley) illegally purchase assault rifles from a group of shady gun dealers (Shalto Copley, Armie Hammer, Babou Ceesay, Jack Raynor). When an altercation leads to shots being fired, the deal turns into an all out gun fight with everyone trying to make it out alive.

As I mentioned, Free Fire feels very much like a Tarantino film (think Reservoir Dogs or The Hateful Eight). Almost every line is filled with sly humor and relevancy. And every time the story seems as if it’s going to lull, a new twist sparks even more hilarious chaos. The characters, from Armie Hammer’s suave trash talking Ord to Sharlto Copley’s weaselly Vernon, are all charismatic degenerates that make you want them killed just as much as you want them to survive.

If the film has a flaw, it is in those occasional dry spots where characters seem to be firing back in forth with no rhyme or reason. But that’s almost part of the fun. The only characters that seem to remain calm are too busy trying aimlessly to keep their moronic allies alive. As a result, Free Fire never feels too long or uninteresting. It plays out like a giant game of Russian roulette and by the time the climax rolls around, you’ll be glad you watched it all unfold.

FINAL GRADE: A

Free Fire (Full Review)