A Chip off the Mundane Block

Chips

 

Robbie K here, starting the evening reviews with yet another comedy to grace the silver screen.  Tonight’s film is a rehash of the golden era of television (the 70s) cop comedy Chips.  What does forty years of sitting in the dust mixed with the modern era of comedy bring to the table?  Well my friends that is where I come from, and as always, I’m happy to share my thoughts on the latest “masterpiece” to grace the silver screen.  So, let’s roll out shall we?

 

LIKES

  • Decent Story
  • Good Acting Chemistry
  • Some bike stunts

 

Summary:  Not going to lie, I didn’t have high hopes for this comedy.  Yet to my surprise, Chips actually stepped up to the plate in terms of plot.  It feels like an extended episode from the show, that was part action, part crime mystery, and a majority comedy.  It was simplistic yes, but it works to bring the entertainment value and energy that the sitcom brought long ago.  While the story was decent, the real shining value is the chemistry between the “dynamic duo” that really makes this movie.  Dax Shepard for once didn’t annoy me, as his character was balanced, surprisingly deep, and quite useful in the story, compared to some of his other roles.  Although still awkward and idiotic, his antics were toned down and complemented by his partner in crime played by Michael Pena.  Pena still shows his dynamic acting style, portraying both rough edged street smarts with sexual promiscuity.  The stubborn mule Pena plays is blind-sided by his weaknesses, and only Dax’s character can deter him from the trap that is his mind.  It was very entertaining (and impressive) to see the energy both brought to the mix, alongside decent character development, kept the movie going.  In addition, there were some decent stunts (primarily bike riding) that added zest to the comedy and maybe a little suspense.

 

DISLIKES

  • Lazy writing
  • Rushed Development
  • Not as Funny as hoped
  • Perverted at times

 

Summary:  Like many comedies, Chips suffers from some lazy writing at times.  I give Shephard props for capturing some antics of the classic show, but his modern style does not give props in terms of unique writing.  Let’s face it, most modern comedies are all about the cursing, and while it was slightly diluted, there was unnecessary use of the cursing that wasn’t funny to me.  In addition, there were plenty of moments that could have been comedic gold, but the direction took a different path that was rushed and lazy, leaving little wit, surprise, or delivery to maximize laughs.  And the perverted aspect, much like the cursing, got pretty old/disgusting quickly.  No offense to anyone’s bodies, but there were a couple of scenes where I couldn’t burn the image/concept out of my head, leaving me sicker to the stomach than laughing.  As for the Kristen Bell moments, they played a key character development, but her limited screen time was shallow stupidity than entertaining, but hey she did look good doing it. Outside of the comedy, the character development also could have been a little deeper and the suspense a little more if they wanted to expand upon the genre.  Yet, when the single objective is comedy, the story often will take a hit.

 

The Verdict

 

Chips has the nostalgic feel to it in terms of its plot overall, and a few cameos, but that is where it drops off.  I again applaud Shepard and Pena’s chemistry and how they expanded upon characters who were better known for their tight uniforms.  Unfortunately, the modern telling is much like the theme of the genre, simplistic stupid moments with a curse laden dialogue and perverted moments.  If this is your style, then this movie is the one for you this weekend.  For the rest of my readers though, this movie is worth waiting for Netflix before feasting your eyes on this piece.  While better than I thought, it would be, it still is no masterpiece.

 

My Scores:

 

Action/Comedy/Crime:  6.5

Movie Overall: 4.0

Guards Up For Action Packed Laughs

Bodyguard

 

Summer movie season is starting to putter out, but the movie magic continues to trickle to get a buck out of us.  This weekend tries to muster up some chuckles in the form of not one, but wo comedies that look to be more of the same.  I start my weekend off with The Hitman’s Bodyguard starring the dynamic duo Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson. With dynamic comedy styles and a track list of movies behind them, one can only wonder what these two bring to the big screen this weekend.  Fortunately, I have the privilege of providing that information and giving you some insight.  Let’s get started on another review, shall we?

 

Likes:

 

Soundtrack:  Always good to have a soundtrack with quality music and surprisingly Hitman’s Bodyguard kills it on this aspect.  Much of the music fits in with the scenes, often used as a comedic ploy to compound on the humor presented in the movie.  They even managed to make the action even more exciting with the music, primarily during Black Betty’s epic guitar solo.  One way or another though, you may find yourself tapping your feet to the soundtrack at hand.

 

Action:  When they say action/comedy they mean action comedy alright.  Hitman’s Bodyguard has edge packed into its gun happy, pro-violence run and in a variety of styles that help diversify the plot.  Jackson and Reynolds, or at least their doubles, are involved in a variety of stunts that mix martial arts, weaponry mastery, and insane driving on their journey to testify.  I myself had an adrenaline-fueled blast with the movie, but one fan hollered in approval at the hardcore action contained in this film, despite how illogical, unrealistic, or death defying they were.  And as a note, the camera work is quite stable to pull off an approval from yours truly.

 

Comedy:  The leading component of this film though, is the comedy loaded in to the firearm that is this film.  I found myself laughing for most of the movie at the writing this film had.  The screenplay writers had a field day with the dialogue of this film, stretching their minds to deliver lines worthy of cheap laughs to witty gold.  I certainly enjoyed the entire spectrum in this movie, but really enjoyed the timing of the jokes and the delivery from the two leading actors, especially Jackson, sold the line for full price.  While certainly not the best writing to grace Hollywood, Hitman’s Bodyguard hits some balance that other comedies ignores.

 

Dislikes:

 

Jokes grow stale:  Despite all the antics packed into this pistol, many of the potshots are crafted into the same mold and fired so rapidly that they quickly lose their punch.  Reynolds’ angles are the biggest victim of going stale and becoming more eye rolling/annoying than gut busting.  I have to agree with my fellow reviewers in how the movie is relentlessly throwing jokes at you during the film and it gets tiring after a while, especially when interrupting the more serious moments.

 

Gary Oldman’s character:  Oldman is a master of playing those grittier roles and he didn’t shy away from the communist leader role in this film.  Sadly, the villains have little bite, reduced to threatening facial gestures (amidst unimpressive makeup), a few grandiose speeches, and oh yes, a running scene.  The worst part though has to be the accent and direction Oldman gave the character, which sounded forced, stretched, and uncommitted to the character at hand.  This protagonist was boring and outside Oldman’s normal range, leaving the flunkies to bring the pain.  Had they focused on his lieutenant a little more, we may have had a real ringer.

 

Jackson’s catchphrase:  I know, you get Jackson, you often get a certain phrase alongside him, and Hitman’s Bodyguard is no exception.  This film is relentless with their cursing, focusing on the magical F word and all its iterations as the primary ammunition for comedy.  Jackson in particular goes overboard with these words and while funny at times, gets old after a while.  Salma Hayek’s cameo was a welcome change to the mix, but with the lazy writing and merchandising off this word, I can’t get on board with their overuse.  To quote the movie, Jackson may be destroying the MF phrase, which is hard to do.

 

The Verdict:

 

I had fun with Hitman’s Bodyguard and enjoying the approach this movie took with comedy and action.  It’s go simplistic, unoriginal stunts that are predictable, but it is nicely executed keep your heart pumping.  In addition, the laughs are nicely integrated into the film to go along with the pace of the movie and not diverging down the slow, unnecessary paths that most do.  Still, it’s not the most unique movie to grace the theaters and like many films is unable to obtain that balance of using their gimmicks.  Throw in the over utilization of the F word and well…you see where it gets panned on.  Still, it is an enjoyable ride for a movie venture, but your money many be better spent elsewhere. 

 

My scores:

 

Action/Comedy:  7.5

Movie Overall:  5.0

A Doll of A prequel: Creation of a Better Movie


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So many years ago, the Conjuring dropped into theaters and opened up a movie universe that would bestow nightmares to the audience members who saw it.  This weekend, the latest installment in this haunted world with Annabelle Creation.  A prequel to the last film, this possessed doll continues to be a popular figure head in the occult series to warrant another film.  Is this film a fitting addition to the franchise, or is it another money grabber fit to be lost in the horror archives?  Robbie K here to help answer those questions and share some thoughts.  Let’s get to work.

 

LIKES:

 

Answers Questions:  The first Annabelle gave the doll some basis and established her deadly legacy, but it lacked any true backstory of her creation.  The prequel, as so titled, helped fill in the creation story and establish the origin to its possession.  As the film progresses, more of the Annabelle’s journey is revealed, alongside a closer look at the creature that uses it as a puppet.  While not fully complete, we now have the connections needed to make sense of the first movie, and further engross us in the universe. Unfortunately, the name, the involvement, and other details of the demons still remain unanswered, but can be extrapolated with a dialogue hints.

 

The Pace:  Horror movies can have pacing issues at time depending on the story.  Fortunately, Annabelle Creation’s moves at a decent pace to maximize the movie.  Slow enough to provide build up for the scares, but fast enough to keep everything moving and on edge, the production team did a nice job keeping you invested in the movie.  There is little time between all the craziness, with just enough comedic relief to relieve the tension and keep things interesting.

 

Scares:  I guess we need to talk about the main element you go for these movies huh?  The scare factor is at an all-time high in this movie, continuing the Conjuring’s legacy of keeping things dynamic, fun, and suspenseful.  Annabelle’s creepy on so many levels, starting with the realistic setting to place the movie in.  That realism and the use of shadows has your imagination on fire trying to fill in the gaps of what lurks in the dark.  Once the subtle components are set, you can bet there a number of creepy tricks played in this film, alongside the fleeting glimpses of the demon that terrorizes the family in his cruel game. And of course, there is that doll. It’s soulless stare and deceiving smile continue to give me the willies, and had a number of audience members using colorful language before involuntary rising from their seats.

 

DISLIKES:

 

Character stories:  The movie had a lot of characters to play in our haunted setting.  The protagonists of the film held a lot of potential to develop as characters, and unfortunately, they failed on that level.  Sure, you can piece together the simple origins placed before you, but I would have liked more insight into the girls’ origins or perhaps a little more integration of Bee into the writing to help maximize scares.  With the conjuring able to unearth their demons and dreams in a quality manner, Annabelle should be able to mimic that magic.  Scares do not equal perfect horror movie.

 

Pointless characters:  Remember the big family in the Conjuring and how each sibling, parent, and exorcist were part of the tale in some way.  That’s gone too.  Annabelle Conjuring brought a large group into the home, but only about four-five of them have any real involvement in the plot.  The underutilization of these characters tripped up the plot, made for ridiculous scenes that didn’t have as much importance, and really left me asking, what was their point.  One girl has just one line and a few stares at the camera.  Why include them if you aren’t going to use them to develop the characters, or at least try to work together to escape the demon’s wrath. 

 

Predictability:  Scares are getting easier to predict in this day and age.  This is mostly due to the development team throwing their usual tactics into the mix to warn you of the impending jump scare. Annabelle Conjuring doesn’t escape this trend and much of the scares can be seen a mile away in some form or manner. While there are a few moments that were good tries, the tactics got repetitive and/or cheesy to be laughable rather than fearful.  Fortunately, some creepy special effects and the darkness offset this enough to still get under your skin… thanks religion nightmare inducing series.

 

The Verdict:

 

Overall, Annabelle Creation is one of the better horror movies of the summer and perhaps this year.  It is dark, creepy, and moves at that pace needed to keep you invested in the movie for the two-hour run time.  In addition, the filling in gaps and hints start to connect the world (a very popular trend), which will have you die hard horror fans screaming in delight at both scares and plot.  Yet, there are still elements of the story telling to clean up and utilizing your characters you bring in is a big step to improve on.  In addition, I hope the next installment forgoes the predictable moves and gives us that kick I haven’t seen yet.  Considering everything, this reviewer recommends a visit to the theater for this one, assuming you are disturbed by spiritual haunting movies. 

 

My scores:

Horror/Mystery/Thriller:   8.5

Movie Overall:  7.0

 

P.S. Stay for the end of the credits for some teasing.

Towering Potential Falls

Dark Tower

 

Stephen King is a master of many things, and Hollywood has never been afraid to capitalize on the epic tales he has crafted over the years.  This weekend his legendary Dark Tower series gets its own chance to “shine” and prove to fans that the series can continue on. Did Sony studios plan to make a “sequel” to the books thrive, or will if fall victim to the shortcuts the film industry often takes.  Robbie K here to share his thoughts on another movie.  Why don’t we get started then?

 

 

LIKES:

 

Nice Set Up:  Doing my research, I realized where the directors were planning on taking this film franchise and the books it is based on.  The Dark Tower acts as a “sequel” to the books and builds as an introduction to the series.  It sets a nice framework up for those who haven’t read the series and prepares us for an adventure that could span multiple films/shows in the future.  It has simplified the complexity of King’s work and thrown hints at how his worlds are connected, perhaps inspiring some rewatching of his classics.

 

Action Scene: Dark Tower primarily is about opening us up to a world and setting the pieces and that unfortunately doesn’t bring much action.  However, the group managed to put a dazzling piece together involving our gunslinger and a round of minions.  Idris Elba finally gets to show off his legendary skills, outside of acting, as the lone gunslinger in his quest to stop the forces of evil.  The stunts are epic, the editing is on point, and the violence is contained to not be overly gory but still strong enough to be considered action instead of a bland use of a gun.  It took the movie long enough to get to this point, but I thoroughly enjoyed the climax fight.

 

The Acting:  I’m not calling this the world’s best acting, or even Oscar Worthy on most levels, but the acting is decent in the Dark Tower.  Tom Taylor as the new kid with the shine, does a decent job playing the troubled, awkward kid and portraying that strange view of the world.  His other emotions, however, needs a little work as these come off dry, awkward, and sometimes a bit underwhelming given the circumstance.  Matthew McConaughey brings his Lexus commercial approach to the mix, the cool delivery of his lines, holding an air of superiority and malicious intent.  He has the villain role down and instills a bit of chill when he appears on the scene.  Of course, the champion of this movie is Idris himself, hitting the role with 100% accuracy.  Elba’s got the rogue part down and the edgy, loner bravado brings the bang to the proverbial gun.  And the chemistry Elba has with his cast only amps up his skills, a talent I always like to see.

 

DISLIKES:

 

Rushed:  Sure the movie made a nice framework for introducing the series to nonreaders, it failed to deliver those important details.  The Dark Tower leaves a lot questions unanswered in terms of the origins of all the pieces involved in this war.  As for the parts they do fill in, these are lacking on so many levels, lacking real depth or mystery to get you hooked into the film. Even worse, much of the quest has little in regards to obstacles, with most problems being solved with little effort.  You get to hear all about the things lying in wait, but their actual involvement in the movie is little to none.  While this not only limits the story, it also limits the special effects and creature design we could have gotten as well.  A few CGI and makeup effects stand out, but the Dark Tower’s first film is rather lackluster given the potential of King’s books.

 

Anticlimactic:  Much of the movie is rather dull, drawn out in a manner of theoretical talks of ideal brain power, anarchy, and abduction.  All the fancy words and magic didn’t help a limited dialog that can be boiled down into a single-minded set of plots that we hear over and over again.  When things finally get going, and all the hot air from the cast is lit aflame… the action barely catches light before being snuffed out.  With the exception of one scene (see likes), The Dark Tower’s gun slinging is not what I expected.  This is particular true for the final fight between antagonist and protagonist that was more lame than impressive.  All the hype and rivalry to end so abruptly, not the direction I would have taken.

 

Predictable/Lazy:  There was so much potential placed on this movie, and the trailer painted what could have been an epic adventure.  Yet, somewhere the film fell victim to cheap shortcuts, low use of nightmarish effects, and a direction that went down the wrong tangent for an opening. It felt uninspired and lazy at times, and perhaps they cut a lot of good parts to fit into the short run time.

 

The VERDICT:

 

Overall the Dark Tower is not bad when you understand the plan to expand upon in the years to come.  As a stand-alone film, it does the job of introducing characters and the world, but it failed to reel me into the full-on adventure.  With a rushed plot, easy challenges, and lazy production approach, this film is mediocre at best given the hype of everything.  Therefore, this reviewer recommends holding off seeing this film until Redbox gets it in stock.

 

My scores:

 

Action/Adventure/Fantasy:  6.5

Movie Overall: 6.0

An Icon of Lost Potential

Emoji

 

In today’s world, the phone isn’t used quite as the inventors pictured, with actual calling being replaced by texting and snapchat.  But one item has been developed to replace the words that are too difficult to write: Emojis. In desperation, Sony has developed a film about these icons in an attempt to break the bank with another hit animated series.  Can they succeed, or will this movie be nothing but a bombardment of sad faced emojis?  Robbie K here to answer that question for you with another review.

 

LIKES:

 

The Animation:  You can say a lot of negative things about the movie, but one plus for this reviewer is the beautiful display Sony’s team has designed.  Like many movies, the characters move with fluid grace, transitioning through their adventure with little jumpiness.  High Five (James Corden) in particular has impressive moves, as having a hand expand beyond simple hand movements can be tricky business.  In addition, I enjoyed the visualization of the world within our phone, finding clever design in the development of the internal universes of each app (primarily Instagram’s frozen pictures).  I’ll admit, the characters aren’t realistic like Pixar, or even super creative design, but there is cleverness in the world itself.

 

It’s Cute:  When it comes to cartoons/animated marvels, the pendulum can swing to either side of the age spectrum.  Fear not those with little kids, this movie is certainly geared towards the younger side, filled to the brim with color, simplistic jokes, and over the top slapstick that will make many giggle.  Sure, there are a few drier jokes that adults will get, but for the most part this movie goes back to basics for family friendliness.  One won’t have to worry about inappropriate gestures or innuendos in this film.

 

The Morals:  Movies are a powerful tool to teach the lessons we humans are too ignorant to learn from mentors, school, and the quickly fading trend of reading.  Emoji’s movie solid lesson of being yourself and not conforming to the traditional ways is as good rehash of the traditional lesson.  Those who stand out from the norm will find great relevance to Gene (T.J. Miller)  and Jailbreak’s (Anna Faris) quest and most likely grab on to the characters.  It’s also always good to see a lesson in friendship as well, quoting the movie as “Better to have one good friend, than a bunch of fake fans followers”.  The strong emphasis on this will hopefully break through the persistent firewalls of your subconscious and get you contacting your buddies.

 

DISLIKES:

 

Story:  Despite the morals infused into the story, the overall quality of Gene’s tale is very basic at best.  The Emoji movie has little sustenance to it, diving more into cramming the jokes in the short run time. After all the world building I had hoped for a little more depth to navigating the apps, facing the dangers of the cyber terror that lurk in our phones. I wanted suspense! I wanted exploration of a selection of apps. I wanted an adventure that had a little more depth behind it. I got very little of that.  All the obstacles they faced were fairly easy to circumvent, and often not worth mentioning at how lame they were. Certainly, they did a few things right (Just Dance 4), but for the most part, it was a huge loss of potential at decoding the craziness of our obsession with phones.

 

Humor:  Humor can be fun when balanced, but unfortunately Emoji movie lacks that balance, once again swinging the pendulum to the younger audience.  Most of the jokes are very simple statements that lack any finesse, or decent delivery to maximize the laughs. Much of the humor is dry, and although has adult components, lacks that clever zing that other films/programs do. James Corden rectifies this a little with High Fives self-absorbed personality, but even his banter gets stale after a while.  With all of the comedians in this movie, I really had expected more of this movie, but again missed potential.

 

Boring: If you haven’t gleamed it from the first two categories, then this should sum this up, Emoji movie is boring. There is no suspense to the adventure, and let’s face it no point, to the challenges at hand.  I found myself looking at the clock wondering how much longer I had in the ridiculous presentation of smart phone gimmicks.  Cute is always great, but it is better left to YouTube and Kid shows that are in short spans of time. Without the jokes to back it up, nor an impressive voice performance, there is just little to scream entertainment outside of watching a child’s smile light up at the colorful presentation.

 

The VERDICT:

 

You’ve seen the reviews of my colleagues, and they aren’t far from the truth… Emoji movie was a miss for Sony in terms of quality.  The lackluster jokes, lack of challenge, and reserved wit were not the right steps to take in this inconsistent adventure for success.  In fact, the best thing of this film is the animated short for Hotel Transylvania that precedes it.  Still, if you are looking for a safe, family trip to the movies, you’ve got the Emoji movie to save your bacon.  However, I highly recommend reserving this one for Netflix. 

 

My scores are:

 

Animation/Adventure/Comedy:  4.0

Movie Overall:  2.0  

Atomic Action

Atomic Blonde

 

Spies, they come in every shape and size from goofy men in naked gun to the suave iterations of James Bond.  Yet one thing is certain, they often are involved in incredibly threatening situations that require luck, training, and sets of skills to get the job done.  This weekend, a new agent appears in the world of the silver screen and her name is Charlize Theron.  This gorgeous actress has been teasing the trailers with some exciting, seductive, and sexy scenes of her movie Atomic Blonde, promising an adventure to be had.  Robbie K back with another review, so let’s get this mission started.

 

LIKES:

 

Theron’s acting:  Lead actresses carry a lot of the movie when they are the featured character. Fortunately, Theron nails the role of the spy on all the avenues promised by the trailer.  Her physical looks, capable of making people go gaga, are only the superficial wrapping paper for the talent within, as she unleashes her cold ruthlessness with a little twist. She plays the wise and sly role well, bringing a dynamic character who has great chemistry with her fellow cast, crafting a deadly board to run their games on. Theron may be monotone in much of her roles, and often may play the same types of roles, but it works in this setting quite well.

 

Funny:  While certainly not the sole theme of this movie, Atomic Blonde is a figurative blast in the laughter department.  One of my friends compared some scenes to Monty Python in their comedic ploys of minions constantly getting up.  Seeing these stooges fall, dive, and become injured in a number of manners, but have ridiculous stamina is entertaining on many levels.  In addition, Atomic Blonde has some well-timed, and well-aimed, lines to relieve some of the tension. Mix all this with the over-the-top shock factor of this movie and you won’t help but laugh at the presentation at hand.

 

Action: The trailers painted an exciting thrill ride of death defying battles and spy warfare destruction.  And the trailers didn’t lie at all.  Atomic Blonde knocked hard on the action door as Theron faced the insurmountable odds of the secret army of spies out to hinder her mission and end her beautiful life.  The film has a number of styles for you including hand to hand combat, gunplay (and lots of it), and a few car chase scenes to keep things interesting.  Each of the drawn-out battles fits into the mission well, and the dynamic setting adds to the heat of the moment that is satisfying on so many levels.

 

The Soundtrack:  As Frozen proved years ago, a good soundtrack is something to take notice of.  Atomic Blonde’s featured tracks are all in the 80s, and the sweet beats are utilized to an excellent level that brings out the spirit of the scene.  And if you don’t care about a track matching to the movie, but like the synthesizer heavy music of the decade, then good news, you’ll be dancing in your seat to the sweet beats of the movie.  Whatever the reason, note that Atomic Bomb’s soundtrack is certainly a blast to the past of energizing music.

 

DISLIKES:

 

Convoluted story:  You may not have expected much of a story, after all most action heavy films seldom have one.  Yet, the thin story was certainly a complicated mess given everything packed into the movie and the directions they took to present it.  There is a mystery there, but it is overshadowed by the stunts and combat that ring throughout the movie. While the action is exciting, it distracts from the main plot and left little to follow given the shock factor of the series.  The dry dialogue doesn’t help much either, nor the fact that the movie jumps through so many perspectives in a short amount of time. The bottom line is…the presentation makes for a rather dry story, with only a few emotional oases to breathe life into the film.

 

Violence:  Action often does breed violence, but Atomic Blonde’s battles are true spectacles of mutilation and torture.  All the extras in particular are brutally battered in the fights, bashed in extraordinary detail to turn a few heads or make one of my friends cover her eyes. Theron’s character gets hit pretty hard too, painting her a few shades of gore as well. The gunplay makes for a ballad of painting the walls red, and the emphasis of close up, head explosions can be a little overdone at times. However, the most disturbing components are seeing the up and close drawn out deaths of a few character and their agonizing last breath.  Keep that in mind before jumping into the theater.

 

The unneeded romance scene:  I’m not one for the hot and sexy sequences in bed, but I can appreciate it when either done with class or pertinent to the story.  A scene in the trailers, and of course the movie, showed a rather hot moment that just didn’t feel necessary to me in the story.  Certainly, editing could have left this out, or at least the director’s cut, but without the added emphasis of relationships to the movie, I could have done without it.

 

The Verdict:

 

Atomic Blonde held much of what the trailers promised. It is an off the wall, very shocking film that leaves little to the imagination.  It is a thrilling, adrenaline pumping ride that felt fresh given the unique presentation and a soundtrack to further add fun.  Unfortunately, the stunts, violence, and convoluted presentation derailed the story for me and left me wondering what it is I just watched. There is plenty of theater worthy material to justify a visit, but if violence isn’t your cup of tea, pass this mission on to someone else. 

 

My scores are:

 

Action/Mystery/Thriller:  7.5

Movie Overall:  6.0

Nolan, Dun Got It Right

Dunkirk

 

War, huh, yeah, what is it good for?  Entertaining movies, that is what it is good for.  Hollywood has numerous examples of wars from the various historical times in our human legacy. Many of these installments focus on a hero who saved the war, or a band of brothers that bravely faced the odds to hold the line.  In most cases though, you can bet there will be violence, explosions, and often graphic portrayals of the hell contained in our squabbles.  I finish my weekend reviews with Dunkirk, which is the latest installment in the Christopher Nolan library.  Can the Dark Knight director work his magic in war?  Or does it fizzle out like a dud bomb.  Robbie K here to give his opinions.  Let’s get started.

 

LIKES:

 

Layered Story:  Many war movies are the linear tales of the hero who will win the battle.  Dunkirk diverts from this main path and instead presents its plot from three viewpoints that overlap at various times.  A cryptic opening doesn’t do much to explain this, but eventually the plots coincide and your mind is blown by the presentation.  This element, though confusing at times, adds that unique flare to the movie that keeps your interest piqued as you connect the journeys of those involved.  In addition, the multiple viewpoints give you a more complete picture of the war, further bringing the history to life in a manner Hollywood special effects is famous for.

 

Realism:  We know the doctoring editing and story writers can make to score big bucks in the box office.  These moments often lead to overdramatic, eye-rolling moments that war dramas can be.  Dunkirk again shines in the unique department in terms of crafting the story to be realistic in many details.  You’ll be pulled into the war in this film, grounded in the nightmares that plague the battlefields and the internal struggle that all involved face.  I felt plagued with the emotional guilt in the choices made in this film, while also concerned with the consequences that could follow those choices. The film’s focus on the people and not the battle works on so many levels, and makes you interested in the characters more so than the special effects.  Nice choice again Noland!

 

The Cinematography:  Dunkirk doesn’t have a lot of lines, award winning dialogue, or even one-liners that we as humans like.  Instead it is the cinematography and editing that bring Dunkirk to life and make it shine in the theater’s dark halls.   While the special effects are certainly impressive (though not that showy), it’s really the camera work that brings the mood out in the form of hope seeking faces that are suffering through the onslaught dealt to them.  Throw in the powerful musical score and mix in the little line delivery and you get that recipe for emotional bombardment that brings respect, empathy, and pride of the sacrifices made by troops long ago.

 

Short run time:  Such a dynamic, sounds like it would take forever…fortunately Nolan’s direction kept the movie under 2 hours and brought quality out in that short time.  This is an example of good directing and editing, and proof that you can have a quality film in a short time limit.

 

DISLIKES:

 

Missing that Hollywood Story:  Realism is good, but I certainly missed having a flared-up story to grip onto.  Dunkirk is a quality movie, but it isn’t as much fun as I have had with other war movies.  It lacks some of the big, bang excitement made famous in other war movies, and the realistic psychological approach can drag at times.  The result is not the action-packed survival I had hoped for, but I can always rewatch Hacksaw Ridge for that. And while I enjoyed the layered story approach, I again think it was confusing at times to piece things together without a central story, plot, or goal (outside of survival/rescue) to hook onto.

 

The placement of certain scenes: My buddy and I agreed that there were points to this movie that were difficult to follow.  Much of this came from the odd placement of clips in the movie and the rapid transitions between these various stories with little guidance.  Things do get better when the lines start to come together, but there are still scenes that still stay confusing at points until the end of the movie.  In addition, the pacing of the stories was uneven at times, with a couple of stories rapidly concluding (so you think), only to reappear after a prolonged gap.  Not the biggest weakness, but things could have been a little better oriented for me.

 

Depressing:  We know war sucks, and this movie’s portrayal of the loss of hope amplifies those feelings. There are so many elements of depression in this movie that you may feel a little down following the opening.  I felt a little tired during this movie, especially during the drawn-out moments that were more depressing and less stressing.

 

The VERDICT:

 

Dunkirk is certainly one of the more artistic and clever portrayals of war, dropping Hollywood flare for realism.  Nolan’s impressive directing opens up new worlds of war theater and keeps things fresh with the impressive displays of heroism.  Yet all the good the cinematography and directing is… I missed the Hollywood flare that cinemas bring.  Without that story/entertainment value to it… Dunkirk has some confusing presentations and dragged out moments that can weigh heavy on you.  Still, this movie has plenty to qualify a visit to the theater, and one of the better movies of the summer.  Not the epic wartime thriller, but certainly one of the more realistic, war dramas I have ever seen. 

 

My scores:

 

Action/Drama/History:  9.0

Movie Overall:  8.0

 

 

Descending Further Into Quality

Descendants 2

 

Robbie K here with a little change up.  Instead of hitting the silver screen with this review, I analyze the latest Disney Channel Original Movie (DCOM) to premier tonight.  Our film focus tonight, the sequel to Disney’s latest merchandise extravaganza Descendants.  If you don’t know what this series is about, it focuses on the offspring of the Disney villains and their quest to find themselves amidst a plethora of chaotic assignments.  Like many DCOMs, legendary director Kenny Ortega returns to bring you music and kid-friendly drama that keeps breathing life into Disney Channel.  Tonight, the sequel is back to keep the momentum going and try to retain some quality back to the cable network.

 

LIKES:

 

Villain Kids:  In most movies, the story is only as good as the antagonists to fight and in this case Uma (China Anne McClain) is an improvement over last movie’s band of baddies.  Descendants one tried to reinstate the classic baddies, with subpar casting and actors who semi looked the part. The direction of the movie though put the kids in the forefront and the villains in the back, resulting in rather boring/cheesy performances.  With the kids being the focus, the new villain of Uma gets the focus and development needed, and her malicious planning are nice qualities.  Her second in command Harry Hook (Thomas Doherty) is the enforcer who has some mad skills to bring to the table and actually does something to up the ante in a rather calm series.  With kids at the focus, the doors open wide for more adventure at hand.

 

The Message:  DCOM movies are all about teaching a lesson, and Descendants 2 keeps that time honored magic alive.  Where Descendants was all about not being your parents and marking your own path, the sequel focuses on finding yourself as the main theme.  A good lesson we can all use a refresher on that only loses a little power by the preachy delivery.  Of course, there are other minor plots to help teach a few more subjects on friendship, courage, confidence, and knowing when a rule needs to have a new spin. All good messages for young ones to get bombarded with, and an applause at Disney doing it right.

 

The Story:  The first movie did a nice job introducing all the relationships of the world while embedding it in plots of doing villains’ bidding, but also battling yourself when morals conflict. Yet the story was very simple and lacked the kick that it needed to be fully entertaining.  Descendants 2 was a step up, building on those relationships and using them to tell a new story that involved exploring more of the isle.  The added “suspense” was again a step in the right direction, and the increased urgency only brought more suspense to the mix. 

 

The Songs:  By far my favorite component was the soundtrack.  After seeing Descendants a thousand times over the last two years, I made my list and found only a couple of songs I found timeless.  In this installment, the five out of six tracks will most likely be coming to my Ipod.  The dance numbers were much better for me and they fit very well into the theme of the movie instead of just being jammed in at random intervals ( see Evil Like Me and Ridiculous).  The new soundtrack has edge and really kicks up the beat.  Nice improvements guys.

Acting:  One thing I must give props to though, is the acting.  Descendants cast is super talented and each brings a dynamic energy to the movie that really sparks magic into the DCOM world.  Dove Cameron steals the show with her fantastic ability to direct a character and mold it into a believable performance.  She also brings singing and dancing to the mix that mirrors the emotions present in her character. Cameron Boyce as Carlos has the energy and moves to impress, even more this time with the dance numbers.  Sofia Carson is brains, beauty, and passion with focus on her singing coming out in this movie.  Sofia’s dramatic air somehow brings the group together and keeps the extreme personalities grounded.  Booboo Stewart as Jay has more lines in this movie, and brings that action packed, stunt oriented edge the movie continues to need.  Just maximize his talents more please.  Finally Mitchell Hope does a nice job as King Ben, reprising his well to the full effect and refining it to meet the needs of the scene.  The cast’s chemistry is impressive and Ortega’s guidance keeps things strong, selling the relationships that this movie depends on.  

Dislikes:

 

Dropped plot elements: If you haven’t followed the animated shorts and accompanying books, then this won’t affect you.  However, the super fanbase will note other characters missing from Auradon’s halls.  Many characters are absent in this film, and even those from the first film have been reduced to back burner secondary appearances with little involvement in the main plot.  Audrey, Jane, even Doug are not nearly as involved, most likely to give the newbies more screen time.  Unfortunately…

New elements lacking:  Outside of Uma and maybe Harry, many of the new characters are also reduced to smaller roles than I anticipated.  Newcomers Dizzy (Anna Cathcart) and Gil (Dylan Playfair) have been the highlights of the recent advertising campaign, but sadly don’t do much in this film.  In addition, many of the dramatic buildups, foreshadowing, and magic are actually played less than I originally thought.  Guess dancing and sword fighting are more important than complete plots.  One warning I have for future installments is to not grow so big to drop other characters, or face the threat of devouring yourself by inconsistencies.

Rushed Plot:  Descendants holds a lot of potential to be an epic tale, and that first book by De La Cruz was an epic introduction filled with that potential.  The movies unfortunately have lost that balance and go for the rather rushed conclusions that make many DCOMs lacking.  Number 2 did not improve on this element, but worsened as they tried to shove too many plots into the short run-time.  Much of the conflict is dropped quickly, the tasks and trials are rapidly completed, and new elements are haphazardly dropped without any buildup or heat.  I know they are shooting for time constraints, but with something this big… you can take your time and go a little longer.  Younger audiences won’t care about this, but older ones like me would appreciate a little more dramatic play ups.  In addition, don’t set up potential plots and drop them like a bad habit (see Chad Charming subplot).  That incomplete presentation is a little disappointing with legendary directors in the mix.

 

Anticlimatic ending:  I know, this is a movie geared for younger generations, we can’t have too violent of a fight.  The sword fight did a decent job of bringing the appropriate action especially the tangle between Harry and Jay (Booboo Stewart).  However, another struggle at the end showed off some semi-decent computer work in a very…bland manner.  I can’t reveal much more, but an epic tangle could have come in that wasn’t so…abruptly stopped.  Kids watch lion King, Aladdin, and Incredibles, they can handle more than G rated punches.  Add some “fire” to the mix, or throw in some close calls to mix things up and actually bring fear to the mix.

 

The Verdict:

 

Overall, Descendants 2 stepped its game up on many levels with their villains, story, and songs.  Yet it still succumbs to the modern spin on DCOMs to go for musical gimmicks and diluted themes that while entertaining are not the only sustenance of the film.  Descendants 2 story has room for improvement in regards to integrating its characters more, and could take a lesson from the books in regards to adding some suspense to the film.  Still, it is one of the better DCOMs I have seen in a long time, and certainly the more impressive sequel to grace the small screen.  With a little more work and some other feedback from you fans… Descendants 3 (which I feel will come) can be even more exciting. 

 

My scores:

 

Family/Musical/Adventure/Fantasy: 8.0

Movie Overall:  6.0