Review: Cinema’s iconic alien hunter deserves better. Maybe that means putting him to rest.

Something was always going to give.

The space-time continuum splintered when it was announced, seemingly a decade ago, that Shane Black would helm the next installment of the unquenchable “Predator” franchise.

On one hand, you have a nostalgia-fueled auteur responsible for two of the smarter comedy-mysteries of the 2000s. On the other, he’s taking on a sci-fi property in freefall correlating with an insistence to stay bound by shackles of self-seriousness. Continue reading →

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Review: ‘Last Jedi’ is an epic in the best and worst of ways

The “Star Wars” franchise, by its very nature, demands that high expectations be asked of it.

While writer-director Rian Johnson’s first offering to the world’s biggest entertainment vehicle is undoubtedly the popcorn flick of the year many have been looking forward to, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the episodic Skywalker saga is in danger of going into cruise control.

In terms of blockbuster action, it’s an oversaturated blast to witness. Narratively, though, it struggles to make the jump into lightspeed.

Johnson takes the reins from J.J. Abrams, cutting down on the nostalgia factor in the process. While Abrams’s story created new conflicts and heroes to root for, Johnson focuses on the introspective journeys of three in particular – Rey, Luke and Kylo Ren. Continue reading →

Review: ‘Justice League’ gets a gold star for trying

Hello, darkness, my old friend…”

Well. Here we are.

After three-and-a-halfish years of this iteration of the DC Extended Universe, a span of time which has seen film quality – and level of consumer confidence – fluctuate from acceptable (“Man of Steel”) to bad (“Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice”) to worse (“Suicide Squad”) to rebirth (“Wonder Woman”), we have finally arrived at what, we assume, should be a benchmark for this iteration of DC superherodom.

Instead, “Justice League” feels more like a litmus test, a way to test the loyalty of its fanboys while providing a predictable story whose flashiest moments still lack any really intrigue to stand out in a saturated genre. While easier to swallow than “Dawn of Justice,” you know you have a problem when there’s more charm in your 60-second mid-credits scene than everything that has preceded it. Continue reading →

Review: Marvel pokes fun at itself with ‘Thor: Ragnarok,’ and has a blast doing it

It’s about time we got something like “Thor: Ragnarok.”

After nearly a dozen years of spinning an increasingly complex web of Marvel stories and characters, the studio realized a need for giving audiences something new and invigorating; something to keep the spark alive, if you will. And they picked the perfect franchise to do it.

With “Ragnarok,” one of the MCU’s least consequential (and – let’s face it – one of its least interesting) franchises doesn’t just get a facelift; it’s infused with a new energy. With the third solo entry for Thor – “solo” becoming more and more ambiguous the further along the MCU machine churns –  he’s officially the ugly girl you initially passed up on who went on to become a runway model. Continue reading →

Review: “The Accountant” too much movie for one film

 

(An edited version of this review originally appeared in the ABQ Free Press, and can be viewed here.) 

There haven’t been very many Hollywood heroes like the one that “The Accountant” offers. Then again, Ben Affleck’s portrayal of Christian Wolff – an autistic bookkeeper-Terminator figure – could hardly be called a hero.

Nonetheless, the film displays the disorder as a strength, not just in Wolff, but in others. Our differences should be celebrated and embraced, “The Accountant” argues. Individuals with autism have as much to offer the world as anyone else.

It’s an appropriate message, one not explored in contemporary film as much as it should, let alone in action thrillers like the one brought to us by director Gavin O’Connor.

maxresdefault

Unfortunately, the film turns what could have been an in-depth exploration of a misunderstood disorder into a gimmick, one of a myriad over narratives that are part of an overstuffed, overambitious plot that is as varied in tone as it is tough to follow.

“The Accountant” has enough material for three movies, or even a short season of binge watch-worhty TV. There are so many moving parts involved that are easy to forget about, even though they are all interconnected in a complex web of…stuff that happens on-screen. It feels like a first cut of a film rather than a finished product, resulting in a two-hour affair that feels more like four.

At its core is Christian, whose affinity for being thorough leads him to success as someone who helps clean up finances. At least, that’s all he seems to do on the surface.

The film is its most engaging when it focuses on Christian in the first half hour of the film – his routine at work, his subdued nature (in an interesting, decidedly non-Affleck performance by Affleck), his daily dose of curated self-therapy he utilizes to live with autism.

It all works to a point, especially in tandem with the film’s start that covers a young Christian’s relationship with his parents and brother. It’s when Wolff is hired to help find the financial holes in the books of a robotics company that deals in the millions of dollars instead of hundreds that the film’s narrative begins to get muddled.

Over its runtime, “The Accountant” leaves the audience in the dark at so many frustrating points, not the least of which in the way it tries to connect every piece of its ensemble of characters to each other.

The Accountant

There’s an admirable attempt to create a deeply layered story, and even glimpses of what could have been a very memorable work had much of its excess been stripped away. Most narratives are a means to an end, many of them laughably disposable.

The film almost knows it too, utilizing sound and fury at some of the most opportune moments to break up the lifeless, obfuscated hodge-podge of plotlines.

Affleck and most of the supporting cast is acceptable enough, though Anna Kendrick looks out of her element here, to the point that “The Accountant” seems like a totally different movie when she’s on-screen. This could be the darkest fare she’s been involved with in her career, and she does what she can for the role, but she’s simply miscast.

There’s a good film somewhere in “The Accountant,” perhaps even a great one that touches on the impact of autism on families over a number of years. But the audience shouldn’t be asked to seek out and fit those pieces together, in a piece so thematically and stylistically jumbled.

 

“The Accountant” is rated R for strong violence and language throughout 

Starring: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal

Directed by Gavin O’Connor

2016

Movie Review: Dead on arrival? Suicide Squad is barely on life support to begin with.

This could make a fantastic start to a TV show.

That’s what I kept thinking in the first few minutes of Suicide Squad, throughout Suicide Squad and as the credits of Suicide Squad were rolling. This isn’t so much a movie worth paying to see as it is a two hour mess that pleads the audience to see that it is pushing the boundaries of what a comic book movie could be.

Instead, it falls short on the promise that DC made, not even living up to the potential of its trailers, but rather a forgettable work that on multiple occasions almost blatantly references its inability to live up to the hype.

This could be a fantastic start to a TV show, I thought. And the first 40 minutes could be considered the pilot.

Suicide Squad‘s first act is, at best, a mixed bag of neon-infused cut scenes that someone forgot to edit into the right order. It’s non sequitur after non sequitur, teasing some characters more than others in a way that doesn’t let the audience breathe, like a broken rollercoaster that lurches and stops, lurches and stops at the start. It’s exposition overload disguised as flashbacks, 40 minutes worth of it. Not all of it is fleshed out later, but at least the audience gets an idea for how tonally epileptic the rest of the movie will be.

We get intros to Will Smith’s Deadshot and Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, explicitly the stars of the show, and at least the whole thing is bearable when they’re on screen. We get determined Viola Davis who seems bored out of her mind, and we get scenes that feel like climaxes ripped out of other films, including one meant to be darkly dramatic but ends up eliciting an uncomfortable, unintentional laugh instead.

At the end of it all – the characters introductions (literally about two dozen the movie expects us to be interested in), the choppy pacing and editing, the booming soundtrack seemingly meant to cover up the nonsensical writing – you truly have the right amount of material for the pilot of a series that one can expect will flesh out these characters, their different powers, their backstories and eventual arcs.

Joker's scenes have some interesting imagery, but it's usually without explanation or connection to the main plot.

Joker’s scenes have some interesting imagery, but it’s usually without explanation or connection to the main plot.

But this isn’t a pilot. That is the end of what might be the worst first act in comic book movie history, at which point it’s painfully, obviously clear that David Ayer (Fury, Sabotage, End of Watch) has not delivered on the promise of a potentially groundbreaking yarn – not stylistically, not aesthetically, not even in its attempt to imitate the formula of, say, Guardians of the Galaxy, to similar success.

Even when the movie does a stab at really grasping its themes of whether evil can be redeemed or not feels tragically forced and underwhelming.

Squad is like an angsty teenager who continually threatens to run away from home but never does. It’s gilded; self-indulgent and patting itself on the back without really being bold or giving us some shocks and “Wow” moments. If you want that, read up on Jared Leto’s apparent experiments behind the scenes while grasping his Joker character…

…who, by the way, has almost zero point being in this movie. It’s hard enough to follow up Heath Ledger’s award-winning turn as the villain, sure, but it’s almost impossible to begin when Ayer gives us zero sense of motivation behind Leto’s maniacal deviant or his actions. He’s all flash, bringing no tension to a movie that sorely needs it.

Unfortunately, the majority of the titular squad isn’t very interesting either. You get a sense of their villainous natures at the start, but when embarking on their mission don’t get equal treatment as Deadshot and Quinn. Nothing really sets them apart from standard comic book fare. The film even explicitly reminds viewers that they’re “the bad guys,” in what like a tongue-in-cheek attempt by Ayer to say, “Hey, these guys will do something truly vile and dark, this is essential to the story, just you wait.”

It’s an empty promise. The plot is confusing and not a very intriguing one anyway, much like many of its core characters. Killer Croc is expendable, barely understandable, a grunt. You forget Boomerang is in the film at all. Diablo is the most interesting at first, but it’s an attempt at humanity and pathos that misses the mark rather badly.

And Enchantress? She’s the most cringeworthy movie character to grace haunt big screens this year, perhaps even years. Hers is a combination of Maleficent and the Grudge brought to life in abundant CGI fashion influenced by Lost‘s smoke monster. All of Squad‘s supposedly extraordinary and fascinating character cases are reminiscent of a box of high-tech toys that Ayer opened and doesn’t know how to play with.

As much as Robbie's Harley Quinn steals the show, not even she seems to reach her full potential.

As much as Robbie’s Harley Quinn steals the show, not even she seems to reach her full potential.

The villain isn’t enough to save this movie either, a monstrously ancient, boring being who wants to destroy the world via the light beam trope and after that…who knows? And who cares. The movie certainly doesn’t do anything to try and make us understand his cause, let alone sympathize with it.

Suicide Squad‘s action scenes are also surprisingly few and far between, but it could only seem that way because there’s not one memorable sequence to be seen. No real threats are ever posed to the team, and their unique traits aren’t given due justice. It isn’t a good sign when you find yourself wishing that Zach Snyder was behind the camera in these bits, but the movie lacks in anything that makes its thrills unique, leading to a severe lack thereof.

Logic is also something apparently non-existant in the script. For a movie universe in which Superman – the iconic pinnacle of goodness – is seen as an apocalyptic figure, Squad‘s side characters are wholeheartedly prepared do trust these villains with named like Killer Croc and Diablo. Simply put, they’re about as dumb as can be, totally non-believable almost to the point that you want to see them lose.

Instead, the paying audience does. This movie is one deserving of being downloaded and watched at home via a shaky camera, and perhaps not even that. It’s devoid of character, soul, uniqueness and about as memorable as what you had for breakfast this morning.

If only this was a TV pilot.

In a Nutshell

Suicide Squad is consistent in one manner: its cringeworthiness. And if these moments are what DC hopes translates as “edgy” to a modern audience, they’ve got it all wrong. This makes Watchmen seem like an all-time high for the company.

3.5 / 10

 

 

Suicide Squad is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language

Starring: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie

Directed by David Ayer

2016

Avengers: Age of Ultron, a disenchanting and explicitly naiive roadmap for Marvel’s Phase Three

Avengers: Age of Ultron is opening to some fairly lofty expectations. Everyone knows it, what with the first Avengers premiering to nearly universal acclaim, bringing every comic book fanboy’s dream to life while garnering $1.5 billion in the process.

So yes, director Joss Whedon (The Avengers, Serenity) in some respects set the bar incredibly high for himself. But over the last year, it’s been raised even higher. Last year’s Marvel Cinematic Universe offerings – the noir thriller Captain America 2: Winter Soldier and Star Wars/Dirty Dozen mashup Guardians of the Galaxy – were some of the studio’s strongest outputs to date, and it was up to Whedon to keep the ball rolling.

He stumbles.

And, tragically, he starts with the titular villain, Ultron: James Spader (Boston Legal, The Blacklist, Lincoln), who voices the robotic nemesis, does his job. Whedon does not.

Ultron is scene-stealing, and it’s all thanks to Spader’s trademark verbal flourish, menacing and charming all at once. He would make an excellent Bond villain sometime just with the way he speaks, he’s so ostensibly threatening.

Spader brings Ultron to life – and literally so in a sequence that is gorgeously written and hauntingly brilliant, in the way it’s cinematically choreographed – but unfortunately it’s just downhill from there. Whedon simply can’t balance Spader’s euphemisms with the threat that Ultron poses. He ends up being underwhelming, comic relief more that we’d like. Which is a travesty given how horrifying the trailers built him up to be.

Oh, what could have been.

Oh, what could have been.

Loki, a constant highlight in MCU films, is a hard enough enemy to top in himself, but it seems like all the attention Whedon put on making Loki so endearing and mystifyingly brilliant in The Avengers was concentrated elsewhere.

That elsewhere being our heroes, banded together to finish off the remains of Hydra/S.H.I.E.L.D., albeit for only a time before cracks start to show. Age of Ultron once again does a great job balancing each hero’s contributions and showing off their abilities in battle and their humanity while not taking down enemies, especially – and invitingly – when it comes to Jeremy Renner’s (The Hurt Locker, American Hustle) Hawkeye, who has an exponentially larger role than he held in 2012’s The Avengers.

As with The Avengers, Whedon again shows his strength in the various little moments between huge action set pieces, as well as within them. The film is expectedly full of hilarious one-liners – heck, the very first bit of dialogue in the movie will make you laugh out loud – and there is even an unexpectedly human romantic storyline between Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanov. Their relationship is eloquently done, with just enough focus on it to detract from the world around them falling apart.

As awesome as the team is, it’s certainly not as exciting seeing them together on the screen this time around, which was what made the first Avengers so fascinating to behold. To compensate, Whedon goes noticeably darker with his sequel, something increasingly common in the MCU with recent films. The tone is about as consistent as you can be, and definitely puts the film on a different tier than Avengers, but not necessarily a higher tier.

There are some pacing issues too. It takes its sweet time on occasion, testing our patience, and Age of Ultron does have a small case of “How did you get here? Why are you here?” syndrome with some characters.

Be afraid, box office competition.

Be afraid, box office competition.

The plot isn’t exactly as straightforward as it could be, but in the increasingly interconnected and complex MCU web, when is anything ever simple anymore?

The premise is basic. Tony Stark has an idea. The idea goes berserk. Avengers assemble. It’s almost completely predictable, committing one of cinema’s cardinal sins. But Whedon covers his backside with new inclusions.

The bigger of which are the twins, themselves more interesting characters than Ultron ever hopes to be. While what drives Ultron is basically ripped off of Terminator, the motivations behind what drives Wanda and Pietro Maximoff – Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver – is much more down to earth and also much more sympathetic.

And interesting. Just much, much more interesting. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass, Godzilla) and Elizabeth Olson (Godzilla, Oldboy) do a substantial amount with the limited exposure they have, something to be admired.

The twins also add an interesting new dynamic to the film’s action pieces, along with newcomer Vision. Whedon makes sure to get them their due diligence in what eventually becomes a pretty crowded field of players. Quicksilver doesn’t quite match the glory of Evan Peters’ iteration in X-Men: Days of Future Past, but he provides his own standout moment nonetheless.

Welcome to the party.

Welcome to the party.

Much of Age of Ultron’s two and a half hour running time can be attributed to his devotion to each individual hero, Thor’s “side mission” being the supremely weak link; it’s distracting and almost certainly there just to serve as a set-up for future MCU films (I mean, of course).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the growing rift between Captain American and Iron Man is fascinating to behold. We seen the two going at it as they did in Avengers, and they have even more at stake by being at each others’ throats this time around. Get excited, people. Captain America: Civil War should be a good one.

Wait. You're not Thor.

Wait. You’re not Thor.

But enough about plot and intimate moments. We know why we’re all here, why Age of Ultron is going to be filling up movie theaters for weeks to come – the action and spectacle!

Concerning explosions, flying cars and flying punches, this must be said: if you’ve seen the ten or so films in the MCU, you know what you’re getting. The action delivers at times, but in other moments it is mundane, kind of like you know you’ve seen a certain way Cap throws his shield at baddies fifty times before, or how you’ve become so familiar with Iron Man whizzing through the sky blowing up baddies.

At least they’re consistent, right?

That being said, out of the four or five distinct action set pieces, two of them stand out. The finale, obviously, is one of them. Michael Bay should take a few pointers from Marvel as to how to create action with weight and levity. Age of Ultron does an excellent job in his final, destructive act of infusing drama with the punches, actual consequences with each car or building that is blown up. The finale may run a tad long, but it’s something to behold, even though it is barely not just a rehash of Avengers’ New York City piece, with robots replacing alien invaders this time around.

And then there’s the Hulk vs. Iron Man Hulkbuster suit, without a doubt the most high-octane sequence of the film. Everyone wants to see the Hulk go out of his mind, and he does in a memorable sequence that the audience wouldn’t watching on repeat for an hour.

Maybe he should have been the primary antagonist. Avengers: Age of Hulk? No? Okay.

 

In a Nutshell

Whedon brings his strengths to the table with Age of Ultron, but also offers a glance at his weaknesses. If only he’d spent more time exploring the potential of Ultron himself, the film could have been much different.Thanks for the ride, Joss, but it’s time to hand the reins to the Russo brothers to finish off the Avengers’ story.

7.5 / 10

 

Avengers: Age of Ultron is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive comments.

Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffallo…ahh c’mon, you’ve seen this lineup before.

Directed by Joss Whedon

2015

 

 

David Lynch likes to talk about and write about movies, sports, and important happenings around the world. He can be reached at alex.695@hotmail.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

Transformers: Age of Extinction looks pretty…and that’s about it, really.

Michael Bay has done it again. The maestro of overbudget blockbusters filled with as much spectacle as they are devoid of logic has returned to the Transformers franchise that he swore he was done with.

Following a very solid first entry in the franchise, where the world was first introduced to robot-smash-robot, save the world with nice cars and pretty girls, Bay’s two sequels dared to utilize the exact same formula to underwhelming results, at least to the critics of the world. Bay remained an absolute darling at the box office.

So hey, those films made buckets of cash enough to save the starving population of Africa, so Bay’s patented formula has got to work, right?

Wrong. In short, the latest Transformers suffers from major formula recycling, major déjà vu, and a M-A-J-O-R-L-Y ridiculous runtime, and it suffers severely.

Not all hope is lost, though. For what many presume to be the first entry in a new Transformers trilogy (God help us), the producers have brought in a new leading man in well-liked Mark Wahlberg, a legitimately dark villain, and a more foreboding tone with fits the universe well. Perhaps Bay has learned from his previous film, the severely underrated work of art Pain & Gain?

Perhaps. But again…if nothing’s broke (in the eyes of the cash cows), why fix it?

With the Transformers franchise, Bay has taken upon himself to almost create his own genre. A genre that is identifiable with cliché personalities, predictable plotlines, logical gaps aplenty, and a great fetish for all things that go BOOM.

In the newest entry, humans have taken upon themselves to utilize the technology of the Transformers for their own gains. To do that, they hunt down any and all Autobots and Decepticons with the help of neutral Transformers Lockdown, who may or may not have his own motives.

A thing about Lockdown. He is the freshest breath of fresh air for this franchise in Age of Extinction. Similar to The Winter Soldier in Captain America 2, Lockdown is the first villain in the universe to really be terrifying, with an atmosphere so foreboding and ominous that he steals the scene when he’s involved in a fight. He is pulled off fantastically, certainly a high point in the film.

The baddie this time around, Lockdown, is easily the high point of the film.

The baddie this time around, Lockdown, is easily the high point of the film.

Optimus Prime is again back as leader of a whole new crew of Autobots, with personalities as diverse and fun as those in previous films. Only this time, Prime is isolated and in a weakened state of mind, hiding from humans at the start of the film who are hunting him down after thrice saving their race. This conflict between the Transformers and humans is a truly fascinating one, as we never really thought before how much of a threat humans could be to these huge hunks of metals with their outrageous guns and advanced technology.

The human characters…where to start with them. Let’s just say I feel for Wahlberg’s character, a determined but down-on-his-luck inventor who basically can’t get his way with even his own flesh and blood. His daughter has her own motives, and however pretty she is onscreen, it is just so so so difficult to ever be on her side. She’ll make you wish for Megan Fox’s character back. No, really. You’ll see what I mean. The other characters fill Bay’s clichéd personalities so extremely and excessively that we tire of them very quickly, as we do most of the film’s components. At points you kind of just want certain characters to bite the dust (and this wish is granted to one of the most annoying ever introduced to the franchise! Yay!). The human’s motives are thoroughly, utterly predictable, and some other scenes with minor characters legitimately feel awkward to have to endure.

All of that excess doesn’t help a film that is running at a ridiculous 166 minutes. The astounding thing is that Bay doesn’t make too many of those minutes count, especially when it comes to the humans and their simply flat, uninteresting, uninspired storylines.

Wahlberg (Ted, The Other Guys) replaces Shia LaBeouf as the lead of the franchise in Cade Yeager and he does a fine job amidst a time when his stronger performances are in comedies. He’s easy to like, he’s on point with the delivery of Bay’s trademark dialogue, and it certainly isn’t hard to root for him considering the people he’s surrounded by. Nicola Peltz(The Last Airbender, Bates Motel) Las does an okay job playing a bad character as Yeager’s helpless daughter who really doesn’t show any growth at all by film’s end. Jack Reynor (Delivery Man, Dollhouse) plays her squeeze, a Liam Hemsworth lookalike (sans the acting abilities) that I swear you’ll forget is even in the movie at times. He is that expendable.

Here's hoping Nicola Peltz gets some better roles in the future....

Here’s hoping Nicola Peltz’s gets some better roles in the future….

The script, written by Transformers vet (uh-oh) Ehren Kruger is….exactly what you’ve come to expect. No more, no less. Some lines will make you laugh out loud when they absolutely don’t have the intention to do so. But that’s okay, because when has this franchise ever turned in a solid script? Moving on…

To Bay’s specialty! Yes, the action! The spectacle! The explosions! OH the explosions!

I’ve got news for ya. Unless you really crave the endless deafness of buildings falling, cars crashing, environments where seemingly just grass and wood can blow up…even Age of Extinction’s action is mundane.

Bay has no problems reaching new levels of ludicrous, but Age of Extinction suffers in the same areas as Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (the most expensive movie ever made) did…there is no fine line to Bay’s destruction and absurdity. There is no end game…and it actually makes it kind of boring.

At least in previous installments, the action and destruction meant something. Here it just feels imperative and without any weight or levity. Oh, Age of Extinction looks pretty, don’t get me wrong. But any movie can look pretty. It doesn’t mean Bay can skip out on substance, which Age of Extinction is devoid of.

The final act alone is a whole hour of nonstop, mind-numbing madness where I commend you if you have any idea what is going on. Bay’s gotten to that point. He must understand that a little added desperation and slightly higher stakes don’t make for an original or better story. It needs more.

Here’s hoping the ending of the movie holds a legitimate promise, with that of a potential all-Transformer, no-human entry…

In a Nutshell

It’s loud, it’s jumbled, and recycling is the name of the game in Age of Extinction. Sadly, you never care for our human protagonists enough, and the Transformers are too busy fighting to see they’re in a franchise which has become mediocre at best.
It is gorgeous though.

5.5/10 or You’ve already seen this movie. Three times to be exact.

 

Transformers: Age of Extinction is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and brief innuendo

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Nicole Peltz, Jack Reynor, Stanley Tucci

Directed by Michael Bay

2014