Monday, June 26, 2017

[Review] All Eyez On Me

A biopic is a difficult thing to make pop. Especially a music biopic. And especially a music biopic about an endlessly iconic and highly influential hip-hop artist like Tupac. 2015's Straight Outta Compton hit the right notes with its exuberant portrait of NWA's rise, giving some hope that maybe the following Tupac rendition could do the same. But unfortunately, All Eyez On Me just doesn't have the same energy and effective craft behind it, and it falls disappointingly flat.

The film covers the life, death, and legacy of Tupac Shakur (played by Demetrius Shipp Jr.). Of course, a large chunk of it involves the revolutionary rapper's mid-90s reign--both the high points and the downfalls, from prison time to music industry success. Considering Pac's brilliant, complicated, and contradictory nature, there's a lot to delve into in terms of character study and musical genius, but the picture painted here is mostly clumsy, one-dimensional, and not quite as deep as it wants to be.

For a story about a larger-than-life lyricist and rapper, the film itself lacks any sense of poeticism or flow. Structurally, it never seems like it can decide where it wants to go. How much time should we spend on this? What should we cover? What should we omit? In turn, the narrative comes off like an unfocused visual checklist of someone perusing Tupac's Wikipedia page. And sometimes the dialogue is so terribly on-the-nose that it often becomes phony and forced.

Demetrius Shipp Jr. has an impossibly huge task to take on, and he actually does a pretty commendable job considering the weight of it all. But while he's a solid screen presence and greatly resembles the cultural icon in appearance, he doesn't quite possess the same bravado and soul of Tupac's voice. Does anyone really, though? Still, it's a significant glare that is difficult to look past.

All Eyez On Me always feels like it should be more fascinating and powerful than it is. Maybe someday there will be a good Tupac biopic, but it's not this one.

( 4.5/10 )

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

[Review] Cars 3

Ah, Cars... Pixar's, uh, least-beloved franchise (although merchandising might say otherwise). It doesn't seem to be going anywhere, and I mean that in more ways than one. While the latest installment is better than Cars 2 (that's not saying much), it still doesn't exactly rejuvenate the series.

Cars 3 checks back in with Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson). He's a fading old-timer. Far past his prime. Nearing the end of his career on the racing circuit and getting torched by flashy and hi-tech newcomers like Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer). Things take a jarring turn when McQueen crashes and burns. And well, you know what that means: It's time for a comeback story!! But in the form of a mentorship, training young dreamer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo).

Despite its sleek animation, endearing voicework, and accessible plot, the film comes off as thoroughly mediocre. All the racing sequences get overly repetitive, and frankly, they just aren't that engaging. This lacks humor, heart, and stakes, and when it faces off against similar racing stories with similar beats--like Ron Howard's live-action (and much better) Rush--it falls far behind.

The narrative comes down to someone (automobile or otherwise) trying to keep up with a world that is moving way faster than them. It's about adapting to change, breaking tradition, taking risks, and not getting stuck in the past. But ironically, the film itself does none of these things. It isn't new. It isn't fresh. And it isn't surprising. In fact, it's about as formulaic as it gets.

So as you can guess, I probably won't be racing to the theaters for Cars 4.

( 5.5/10 )

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

[Review] Raw

Julia Ducournau's Raw is a graphic and grotesque art-horror film that is surprisingly watchable.

This French-Belgian flick follows Justine (Garance Marillier, superb) - a strict vegetarian heading off to veterinary school. Early on, she's bombarded and forced to engage in a sadistic hazing ritual that involves eating rabbit kidneys and getting blood and guts dumped on her head (an image that recalls Carrie). Soon after, she begins craving meat like a rabid carnivore. And not just any meat... RAW meat.

It gets grosser and grosser as it goes. Rashes. Animal parts. Cannibalism. But don't get it twisted, this isn't shallow snuff or shock for the sake of shock. This is well-shot and well-wrought nastiness. And by that I mean it might make you gag while you simultaneously admire the cunning cinematography, the stylized lighting, and the vivid colors. The film exhibits some surrealist flairs, occupying a bizarre and provocative alt-world. Coming-of-age symbolism, themes of sexual awakening, and sisterly bonds and rivalries curdle beneath the sickening surface, putting this film more in the realm of ambiguous arthouse pieces like The Fits or Wetlands, rather than stuff like Green Inferno.

So if you'd like to wet your weird appetite, take a chomp out of Raw. No one will blame you for wanting to puke though, especially if you're eating hotdogs during it. WHY would you do that?

( 8/10 )

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Monday, June 19, 2017

[Review] The Mummy

The Mummy rises up as the first piece in the "new" Dark Universe, Universal's relaunch of classic movie monsters. And well, if this monstrosity is any indication of what lies ahead, there's not much to be excited about, because this wannabe blockbuster is a disasterpiece on multiple levels.

Amidst the film's six different openings, an ancient princess aka The Mummy (played by Sofia Boutella) is awakened, Tom Cruise and his oddly cast buddy Jake Johnson yell at each other in Iraq while dodging bullets and accidentally uncovering a tomb, and Russell Crowe serves as narrator for reasons initially unknown. Anyway, The Mummy is mad and ready to wreak havoc, but in London.

"The past cannot remained buried forever." - A phrase that's uttered twice in this film. But considering what the filmmakers have summoned, the past definitely should've remained buried. This thing can't find a proper tone to save its life. It's a shoddy mash of genres that fails miserably at each one--whether it's horror, fantasy, adventure, comedy, or romance. Along the way, there's head-scratching hallucinations, weird possessions, generic curses, shoehorned conspiracy stuff, and a 5-minute scene of exposition about Tom Cruise's 15-second endeavor with the story's love interest (Annabelle Wallis). I will say - the attempts at humor here are so bad that they do end up being amusing.

The editing is incomprehensible and the action sequences are awfully muddled--not that what's happening is that interesting in the first place, but we should at least be able to clearly see it, right? Some of the film's imagery almost looks unfinished - you know, like those videos of movie footage that leak onto the internet before post-production has taken place. The film's big and bad title character is never that menacing of an obstacle, coming off more as an elaborate Halloween costume with a killer make-up job at best, while rivaling The Enchantress from Suicide Squad for the most futile and ill-conceived villain in recent memory. She spends half the duration chained up and immobile, to the point where you wonder if the creation of this film even began as a Mummy movie. Tom Cruise gives it his all to keep this thing alive, but it's like a captain trying to keep a pile of pierced dead weight from sinking. I don't think this is the worst film of the year, but it's certainly an abominable mess.

Brendan Fraser is rolling in his grave. (I know he's alive, but still.)

( 4/10 )

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

[Review] The Belko Experiment

The company slogan this film flaunts, "Business without boundaries" takes on a whole different meaning in the gruesomely violent 9-5 free-for-all that is The Belko Experiment.

John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona, Melonie Diaz, and Michael Rooker play the notable co-workers who clock into Belko Industries. A seemingly normal day at the office turns into absolute chaos when the building's intercom is hijacked by an unknown voice giving them orders to essentially engage in systematic killing, and it's no joke.

It's like The Purge in a skyscraper. A less-stylish cousin of Ben Wheatley's High-Rise. But it lacks the social commentary or send-up that you might expect from an over-the-top corporate debacle. And it's mostly void of any sense of humor or bite. I say "mostly" because there is an operatic sequence where people's heads start exploding and the film's token stoner yells "It's all in my mind!" But mainly, this is a hollow, hypothetical scenario of people being pushed to the edge under pressure, where all morals are tossed out the window (if the windows weren't sealed up). Who will snap first? Who's gonna get sacrificed. Who's gonna take charge? How does one even develop a plan under these circumstances?

The Belko Experiment is entertaining in a sadistic sort of way for a while, but I began to check out about halfway through as the film became loathsomely cruel, tedious, and one-note--one bloody and skull-crushing note. (I also think it was a terrible mistake to kill off Michael Rooker's character so early.) So this film isn't really fun, intense, or substantial enough to be memorable or gain cult appeal. The biggest question I was left with was: Who cares?

( 5/10 )

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