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The Movie Hole

Peacemaker Reviews - "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom"

JJ Mortimer

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"Jurassic World:  Fallen Kingdom" (2018) - Rated PG-13 / Runtime:  7 hours, 18 minutes

Directed by a half-asleep J.A. Bayona

Written by Colin Trevorrow & Derek Connolly

Starring: Poor Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, a bunch of assholes and pussies, James Cromwell looking confusingly like Richard Attenborough, Ted Levine trying not to be Buffalo Bill, and Jeff Goldblum in an afternoon of work

Review by JJ Mortimer

 

Jurassic Park 5:  Jurassic World 2: Fallen Kingdom is this year's Alien: Covenant.  And if you saw my review for THAT film, then you know that is not a compliment.

I held off on a day-after review for this film because I needed the garbage I ingested to digest a little more.  I needed to let some of my disappointment and anger stew so as to properly divulge just how lazy an attempt at a proper sequel Fallen Kingdom really is.  The shallow script for this film makes the cheap, subpar Jurassic Park III seem enlightened by comparison.  Not only is this a bad film and a bad sequel, but it also forgets what makes a movie about dinosaurs running amok really interesting and entertaining.  It's not subplots involving uninteresting characters and cloning of human beings.  It's not mercenaries stealing dinosaurs to sell on the black market.  It's not introducing new stereotypical characters to try to get an audience to sympathize with weaknesses and annoying contrivances based on a film maker's personal socio-political biases.  It IS in giving us a proper platform to indulge in epic, summertime popcorn fun.  Fallen Kingdom fails on that final note with muted colors.

Jurassic Kingdom World 5: Fallen Park is a flat, dark, contrived mess of a motion picture with some lazy visual effects, an overly-convoluted screenplay, dark locations, confusing connections to prior films, horrifically bad character motivations and decision-making, and the most OVER-FUCKING-USED monster movie cliche in film history - that of a super-monster suddenly treating every floor like slippery ice any time it gets near a hero character.

Except for two or three specific moments or shots, the movie is devoid of any emotion, charm, or creativity in its script or visuals.  Fallen Kingdom felt as though the film makers were more concerned with satisfying social, hot-topic minded "check marks" than they were giving the audience an awe-inspired, rousing motion picture.  I don't like resorting to the phrase "cash grab," but this movie feels exactly like that.  For a movie made in 2018, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom feels cheap and Sci-Fi Channel, TV-Movie-of-the-Week in quality of writing and shitty action set pieces, especially in comparison to its 25-year old derivative which had visual effects that not only hold up well to this day, but still look better than what this film presents.

The characters are extremely one-note, with two particular new "protagonist" characters (and I emphasize the quotations around that word) being so ridiculously cliched and unrelateable that I not only wanted them to get eaten, I felt like they NEEDED to be eaten.  Were this film released closer to the 1993 original classic Jurassic Park, these two characters (played by some pansy-ass bitch of a "man" and an unecessarily angry and sarcastic FemiNazi) would have been fodder for raptors before the beginning of the third act.  Now, their bland, SJW-inspired character tropes are traits of modern "sympathy" and "heroics."  This movie gave no reason why I should give any of my limited fucks about them.

Poor Chris Pratt.  How the hell did he get dragged into this mess of a film - a film with overt political undertones (whether from a news station's ticker-tape political rhetoric spewing on a television screen, or within the dialogue of a "black hat"-wearing bad guy) and with nary a sense of building any kind of tension or wonder in the minds of audiences?  The man is given very little to do and thankfully so.  Too many scenes involve characters being totally fucking dumb and with hardly any purpose for them being in the position they're involved in the first place.  The reasons for Chris Pratt's Owen Grady character being re-introduced into the film is completely negated before the end of the first act.  What follows is him just being in the film because he was in the latest Avengers, and it made producers some cocaine and prostitute money.

In terms of technical aspects outside the inconsistent CGI, the film is shot in drab monotones, with a lot of color washed out in cinematographer Oscar Faura's often flat visual style.  What doesn't help his ability to shoot fulfilling, epic scenery is in director J.A. Bayona's insistence in shooting almost every scene either at night or in dark, underlit locations.  And while I usually really like the work of musical composer Michael Giacchino (and his obvious John Williams-inspired motifs), his work here is unmemorable, bland, and tries so desperately hard to get away from the original Williams-composed Jurassic Park theme that this film ends up losing one of the major emotional connections audiences may have had that would have given this film any kind of real soul and heart.  I was actually surprised that there were actually some animatronic dinosaurs in a couple scenes as well, especially given how narcoleptic and bland the film seemingly strove to be.

What infuriates me the most is in the wondering of why THIS particular story was told in the Jurassic Park canon.  The most wondrous of things that may have drawn any kind of awe and excitement for this film happen literally in the last two minutes of the film (setting up the obvious conclusion to a Jurassic World trilogy, because everything Hollywood does is in threes).  But, everything that occurred in the two hours prior could have been told in the FIRST FUCKING ACT.  The fact that the film actually ENDS with the meat and potatoes of a potential, literal, Jurassic WORLD, makes me believe they intended on this film being the cheaper middle portion of a three course meal in order to save as much money as they could while knowing audiences would see the film anyway, regardless of quality.  This was a vegan salad made by film makers who don't like blood, and then teased us with a menu that had a picture of a steak, but didn't let us eat it, let alone smell it.

Jurassic World Park V - The Phantom Screenplay is less a movie about dinosaurs and closer in narrative to a B-movie monster fest released after Labor Day, but not scary enough to be opened nearer to Halloween.  While the original Jurassic Park films (and even the first Jurassic World to some extent) could likewise be seen as nothing more than "monster movies," they still treated their ticket-selling device - dinosaurs (try saying that without hearing Jeff Goldbum's voice) - as actual fucking "dinosaurs."  This new film cares very little with the actual prehistoric sciences and movie magic that the prior films attempted (often successfully) to create and instead relies heavily on recycled, uninspiring monster-chasing-protagonist-but-failing plot devices. If your child loves dinosaurs, keep them very, very far away from this film.  The major plot points of this film could have been truncated into vignettes that easily could have filled the first third of the film, and the future, more interesting future film they teased us with could easily have been the start of the narrative force of this film.

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The film also brings up the cloning of humans which is totally not fitting in the Jurassic-universe, and introduces us to the new dinomonster, the "Indoraptor" - a genetic combination of a raptor and the Indominus-rex from the prior film, which is interesting because the Indominus-rex was already a mutation of the best parts of a raptor and a T-rex, but this creature is the "best parts" of the Indominus and also a raptor, which seems redundant and would be an inferior fraction of the best parts of the best parts of other dinosaurs...I just don't fucking know any more.

I could angrily go on for at least an hour, talking out loud about why this film just didn't work for me.  But, what actually made me want to laugh out loud was how Owen Grady shuts the movie's script down with one simple retort early on in the film.  When we are introduced to Bryce Dallas-Howard's character, she is working in an organization that is rallying for funds to save the dinosaurs of Isla Nublar (the location of the actual park).  The first thought that came to my mind was "Why?" especially considering these fucking monsters have been eating the SHIT out of everyone, and clearly don't belong in our current world regardless of what your bleeding heart tells you.  When she then goes to try to encourage Owen to help her rescue these dinosaurs, and entices him by reminding him that his trained raptor "Blue" (from the previous film) is still on the island, she asks something along the nature of, "You're going to let Blue and those other dinosaurs just die out there?"  To which he promptly, and smartly, replies, with a shrug, "Yeah."  The End.  Roll credits ten minutes in.

Jurassic Park V: Jurassic World 2: Fallen Kingdom, First Blood, Part 2 - Attack of the Clones" is infuriatingly bad, like getting what looks like an under-cooked T-bone steak while originally ordering a Pterodactyl burger, only to be told it was just ground-up carrots shaped like a steak, and then being promised that the REAL main course is coming your way the next time you visit.  Now here's your bill and get the fuck out of the restaurant.

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NOT RECOMMENDED

*Only recommended if you get entertainment from the auteur works of Michael Bay, and thought "Species 2" was a highlight in the career superstardom of Natasha Henstridge

 

Peacemaker Reviews - "Avengers: Infinity War"

JJ Mortimer

"Avengers: Infinity War" (2018) - Rated PG-13 / Runtime:  156 minutes

Directed by Joe Russo & Anthony Russo

Written by Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Pratt, Josh Brolin, Zoe Saldana, Tom Holland, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Chadwick Boseman, Scarlett Johansson, Dave Bautista, Sebastian Stan + 97 other superhero performers

Review by JJ Mortimer

 

After a few years of the Marvel cinematic product become a bit stale and predictable, along comes Infinity War, an exciting culmination of culmination films that ups the stakes to the nth degree, while maintaining the expected humor for its first two acts and delving into a dramatic pathos in its final act that has, as of yet, been unseen and unexpected in the Avengers franchise.

*I WILL NOT VENTURE INTO SPOILER TERRITORY, SO NO WARNING IS REQUIRED.

I will cut right to the nitty-gritty:  For the past four or five years (maybe more), the Marvel films have been getting a bit stale.  While maintaining a semblance of quality in their filmmaking tactics, the franchise of films was becoming predictable and slightly repetitive.  They'd release, we'd see them in herds, and then mostly forget about them a day later.  Some moments would stick out, but overall, only little bits would progress the overall narrative arc that seemingly was leading to Infinity War over the past six years since the release of the first Avengers film (along with that film's credit-scene introduction of the super-villain, Thanos).  I was losing a bit of taste in the event of a Marvel film being released.

Then along comes Infinity War, a film that puts what feels like 97 superheroes from all the films since the release of Iron Man in 2008 and throws them all together in a smorgasbord that, if you were to read it on paper, would seemingly be impossible to balance screen time and importance of them all inside of a two-and-a-half hour motion picture.  What we get in return is a LOT to digest at first, and with a mostly-required prior viewing of the "stale-ish" films mentioned over the past few years.

But, what we also get in return is THE film that has me excited about the Marvel films again.

I'm sure upon future viewings (and with a fine comb of criticism) I will find little narrative misses and inconsistencies, and little script errors or issues here and there, but with this film I found myself not really wanting to find error (even though one or two things stuck out to me that are completely inconsequential to the overall quality of the film's entertainment) and it honestly has helped me release myself from my jaded skepticism upon the product that Disney and Hollywood have been producing lately.  Regardless of where the Marvel films go from here, this Avengers: Infinity War is a game-changer.

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For me, what made this film work so well was that the writers and the directing team of the Russo Brothers made this "the Thanos film," and spent the majority of its run time developing what can be considered the Marvel franchise's first real three-dimensional villain, rather than that of the characters we already know and mostly love.  Infinity War feels like a nightmare - all the safe feelings we got from the hero origin films come crashing into a super power that not only decimates everything he sees, but decimates our expectations and breaks the sweet, motherly hand that's been dragging the Marvel fans along for the better part of a decade.

Infinity War has a hell of a start, and sets a fine tone for the later parts of the film.  What it also does is stay true to the light-hearted humor that we've come to expect from a Marvel film.  While some might find it a bit jarring at times in the Marvel films to have occasional small jokes juxtapose a dramatic moment here and there (to alleviate some of the light tension they've presented to us in the past), what finally makes it work in the early parts of Infinity War is that the stakes with which our main protagonists face is greater than anything they've ever faced.  It's almost as though the characters themselves have become just as jaded and "safe" as we've become and joke around like nothing is out of the ordinary, and almost expect a victory as they've experienced a countless number of times in the past.  Tony Stark, for instance, would quip his common quip, but standing unbeknownst before him this time is an eminent death-bringer.

I will go on record now and add that not only is Thanos the best villain in the Marvel franchise, he rivals any villain that comic book movies have ever presented.  The biggest argument between the DC Universe and the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that Marvel can write and present heroes, but DC has the gold medal in the villain category.  Thanos feels almost out of place here, bringing a three-dimensional quality to his persona - an almost tragic, relatable understanding - and an actual internal, personal purpose to his need to conquer and destroy.  You know, qualities mostly uncommon in most of Marvel's paper villains.

I am also going to go on record and say that Infinity War's portrayal of Thanos may very well be one of the great movie villains of all time.  I found myself studying him, and giving his character the same credence I gave other great CGI-created characters such as Gollum from The Lord of the Rings or Caesar from The Planet of the Apes films.  Josh Brolin, underneath the very effective visual effects, gives an outstanding, frightening performance here.

Avengers: Infinity War shows how good a movie can be when its CGI is used well.  There is literally no way this movie could have existed without its computer-generated effects, and for that I can't fault the film's insistence on its use.  Marvel put their money where their mouth is and gave us a nearly flawless extravaganza in its visual department, all head-lined by their confidence in Brolin's performance underneath one of the finest CGI characters ever put to film.

With the film's stakes being raised to levels as-of-yet unseen in Marvel's past decade, we are presented with an often highly-emotional film with a couple tragic moments to spare.  One particular tragic scene I will admit was almost ruined by what felt like the writers' lack of confidence in the audience's ability at understanding unspoken subtlety, but luckily when the characters spoke their words, they were good words, and the scene played out pretty much as emotional as it would have been otherwise.

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After ten years of building, experimenting, planning, fist-fighting, space-battling, hammer-swinging, laser-blasting, and shield-throwing, I was surprised I was as emotionally effected as I was by this film after the credits rolled and after having experienced one of the most surprising, game-changing third acts in a major, big-budget Hollywood popcorn flick in many years. 

Avengers: Infinity War is a true blockbuster, and despite having the arduous task of trying to balance an unfathomable amount of characters in even a decent amount of run time, it mostly succeeds in giving important moments to all of its characters with quite a few of them shining in more than one scene.  The keen fan and viewer will also find Easter eggs and foreshadowing abound in the film's dialogue and script as they watch it, portending to events that take place later in the film and also in future films.

Infinity War is truly, in my opinion, the comic-book film game-changer, and the shot of fresh air that not only Marvel needed for their franchise, but also to this jaded viewer of the trash Hollywood has released to the masses over the past handful of years.  This is the first of these kinds of films I immediately wanted to watch again (most of which was from missed dialogue from the applause and laughter from the surprisingly well-behaved and excited audience I had the pleasure of viewing with), and literally had me saying, out loud, "Holy shit" as the credits rolled.

Fucking loved it.

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HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

*With a refreshed viewing of Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Thor Ragnarok, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Black Panther, and Captain America: Civil War

 

 

Peacemaker Reviews - "Black Panther"

JJ Mortimer

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"Black Panther" (2018) - Rated PG-13 / Runtime:  140 minutes

Directed by Ryan Coogler

Written by Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole

Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis

Review by JJ Mortimer

 

While not the Second Coming of Christ that many people are making it out to be, or even a technological advancement over previous films, Black Panther is a solid comic book film in the Marvel franchise, one that (like many of the other films) has messages to voice while still making an enjoyable, fun story even should you not agree with all of what it has to say.

While not at its own behest, Black Panther IS a needlessly divisive film.  While portraying an advanced society in such a way that its obvious socio-political overtones casts blatant shadows over the real world, if you watch the film for what it is, one could see that it's themes relate heavily in the fictional Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the film thrives with them.  The problem is with media and brain-dead audiences who are taking themes from this film - a film in a universe that has thunder gods, green hulking monsters, talking trees, and an un-aging Samuel L. Jackson - and becoming inspired in such a way that, should its messages work in a super-futuristic Wakanda, they should obviously work in our world.  Nope, not really.

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I will say that Black Panther is a film to be enjoyed by everyone, and not just a specific demographic.  For anyone to try and claim this film to be "their peoples' own" are playing a huge detriment to the reason of film entertainment.  What we have here is a comic book movie with really good acting (from Chadwich Boseman as T'Challa, and especially from Michael B. Jordan in easily his most commanding and demanding performance to date) and a well-written plot.  Though, like most other Marvel films, some of the action is heavily edited and hard to see (especially in the darker scenes), and some of the visual effects can often look about a decade too old and a few million dollars too cheap.

What Black Panther gets REALLY right is its atmosphere.  The African culture, the tribal feel to its society (though contrasting slightly with its technological, futuristic-like achievements), and its globe-trotting sub-adventures.  The story doesn't hold a huge amount of twists and turns, though a couple character discoveries tied the script together nicely in the second and third acts. 

One of the biggest problems I do have on a technical standpoint with the film is its over-use of green screen for location scenes.  The lighting in some of the "outdoor" scenes (especially in the crowning of T'Challa as the new king, aka "Black Panther") is so obviously fluorescent, and contrasts hugely with the intended sunlight, as to make the shots seem OBVIOUSLY studio-lit.  For a film this big in budget, I feel that the production could have found a way to shoot some of these scenes in actual outdoor locations.  As good as the majority of the atmosphere and world-building was in this film, these production short-cuts made certain scenes feel cheap and somewhat lazy.  I also found it pretty hilarious when a futuristic, Last Starfighter-looking space ship lands in the middle of a basketball court in Oakland and only five young kids acknowledge it in wonder, while a street of extras walking thirty feet away in the background don't seem to notice this world-changing technology AT ALL.  An eagle lands on a telephone pole one hundred feet away and I say, out loud, "Holy shit."

On a final note about the films correlating themes to our world (and without going into a debate or a discussion on these matters that literally could last for at least an hour) I do find it relatively hilarious that of all the messages audiences are finding "inspiring" are debated rather nicely by characters in the film itself.  Why have a clearly socio-pathic, murdering villain be the voice of societal reason with messages that clearly are meant to be drawn upon by the audience to question the morals and values of their own country?  Why have one character question why Wakanda doesn't share in its riches, only to have another character smartly say that such advanced-resource sharing would go into the wrong hands and be used as weapons to hurt the world?

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As I said before, if you listen upon the film for the messages its trying to portray as just relating to the fictional Marvel Cinematic Universe, they work just fine (though characters following them often contradict themselves, which could in turn play into their flawed character states).  But when a film makes many "statements" without actually giving suggestions on how to accomplish such Eutopian-levels of societal advancements in a world rich with such diverse and differing religious and cultural viewpoints, what you get is a film that is exactly as it is supposed to be - a fun, ho-hum fictional comic book adaptation that wishes for the stars, and can revolutionize many non-critical thinking individuals.

In the end, Black Panther is just a fun, well-made comic book movie that sits near the top of the Marvel franchise for its well-formulated plot, its thorough pacing, its good acting, and its expected humor.  While not better than the first Avengers, Iron Man, or even last years Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther is nontheless a good piece of entertainment that is probably getting more recognition than it deserves.  Nothing, and I mean NOTHING about it, is ground-breaking, or anything that a film like 1998s Blade (starring Wesley Snipes) hasn't already done.

See it.  Enjoy it.  And forget about it two days later like you probably did with Ant-Man.

As a motion picture and a Marvel film:

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As a ground-breaking, society-changing, Wizard of Oz-level "greatest, most important and bestest movie ever!!":

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Peacemaker Reviews - "Star Wars: The Last Jedi"

JJ Mortimer

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"Star Wars: The Last Jedi" (2017) - Rated PG-13 / Runtime:  151 minutes

Directed by Rian Johnson

Written by Rian Johnson

Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac

Review by JJ Mortimer

Though touched upon with fleeting moments of grace and drama, The Last Jedi is a somewhat dramatically inconsistent motion picture that builds to particular moments that never quite get the emotional push they deserve, leaving many of the newer characters to be overshadowed by the awesome presence of the nostalgia machine that is Luke Skywalker.

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A difficult task it is not to review a Star Wars film as a film itself.  You come to expect certain levels of drama, wonder, mysticism, humor, and lightsaber-induced excitement; all things that, with the help of a healthy dose of nostalgia, make these films almost immediately enjoyable.  What IS difficult, on the other hand, is reviewing a Star Wars film with years upon years of pop culture reference and product saturation sitting on your mind, on top of the fact that this newest film, The Last Jedi, only just about meets the levels of expectation, but doesn't do a tremendous amount more or less than that.  As a Star Wars film it sits comfortably middle-of-the-line, which makes for a very back-and-forth "pro vs. con" review of a motion picture with baggage in tow.

This review comes with one caveat - this is my FIRST IMPRESSION of the film, and it was my conscious choice to get my feelings out with this review as soon as I possibly could.  I did not want to be swayed by the opinions of anyone else and in turn harness the Dark Side (or the Light Side) inside of me.  Over time, my feelings may change, but for now, I judge The Last Jedi as a FILM first, and as a Star Wars product second.

Since I'm never one for spoilers, I choose to focus on the details of the film's structure rather than too many particulars of its story, in order to keep my feelings brief.  In order to do that, I'm going to focus on the specific pros and cons (as stated above) to give anyone who reads this an easier understanding of where I'm coming from.  So let's get the bad thoughts and shit out of my mind first:

CONS:

  • The biggest problem I have with The Last Jedi is its overall lack of thoughtful, dramatic heft.  There were a few moments that I felt the script was pushing towards something deep and emotional, only instead to find a reasonably-suitable twist or turn that surprised me in a "brief shock" kind of way, but immediately veers into a quick resolution that didn't allow itself time to build or draw out. 
  • The Rey character (played by Daisy Ridley) is too perfect, and isn't given the amount of danger and dread that Luke had to overcome as he learned the ways of the Force.  Instead, she's thrust in the middle of the action without ever really making a wrong step that felt she would be in dire trouble.  The tension surrounding her character is all but missing, and that is something an apparent "main character" shouldn't have on their sleeve.
  • Finn and Poe Dameron were nice additional characters introduced in The Force Awakens, but both of their plot lines and progressions in The Last Jedi felt like they took elements from a "Han Solo-type" character and split them into two parts, giving both of them just enough to do when one character could easily have been written to do both.
  • For a film running two-and-a-half hours long (the longest of the series), a few scenes could really have been trimmed down with more of that time being given to draw out the brief bits of tension between Luke and Rey.
  • There are certain uses of the Jedi power and mythos that were confusing to me, given I had never seen such powers used in any of the prior films.  Things appearing, things disappearing - some of it felt more "magical" than previously established, with the "science fantasy" that the Star Wars films have been better known for being more a side note.
  • To fill the film's run length, certain characters (including new ones) are given too much time for what results in very little consequence to the overall story.  A huge middle chunk of the film, involving a casino-like resort (similar to the Cantina scene from A New Hope, but as inspired by a James Bond film) and the search for a "code breaker" results in an unnecessary action/chase scene, as well as "dramatic" moments given to a new character (in a subplot involving the mistreatment of little kids) that really just wasn't interesting.
  • Some character choices and motivations don't make a whole lot of sense, like a Rebel leader's choice to risk mutiny instead of simply telling her people that her plan is to protect them and disguise an escape.  Some "secrets" and decisions characters make or keep from each other appear in direct service to the script, rather than to logic.
  • Some of the story points involving Luke trying to develop Rey's powers felt convoluted and overly-complex.  A lot of things start to happen involving Jedi powers (as stated above) that were HUGE driving forces of the plot, but were altogether hard to understand.
  • A major character (one of the more interesting characters in the new trilogy) whom I thought would be more integral to the story is offed too soon.
  • Nearly all of the action scenes involving Finn (John Boyega) were the least interesting of the film.  On top of the chase scene on the casino planet, another fight scene aboard a burning starship felt cartoonish and overly glamorized with that overly-CGI feel.
  • Until I can truly judge the film as part of a trilogy (or where Disney decides to take it from here), I felt the final shot was the wrong shot to end the film with.
  • The death of another character happens far too fast, and isn't given the more tender, emotional push it deserved.  People often say, "It's in the details" where most films strive.  Unfortunately, The Last Jedi needed to greet the bigger picture with something more touching than we were given, and not hide behind as much mystery as it did.
  • Rick Heinrichs, production designer better known for his work on Tim Burton films and others of the twisted, noir type, felt more inspired by a Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones art exhibition rather than that of its Star Wars source material.  This was the first film, even including the prequels, that didn't altogether FEEL like a Star Wars film that belonged in the same timeline.
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PROS / MIXED-PROS

  • A few of the characters are given decent arcs, evolution, and presence, especially the two main villains.  Other characters, on the other hand, are given good "scenes" to work with, but without the passing of time in between this and The Force Awakens, aren't given enough roots to really develop their characters into three-dimensional types undergoing significant change.
  • The return of a familiar old face is welcome, and in no way feels shoe-horned in.
  • Mark Hamill's return to the Luke Skywalker role is fantastic, with character choices that are both surprising and understandable.  Director Rian Johnson's choice to make him reclusive and dismissive is refreshing from the a-typical "old hero appears out of nowhere to save the day!"
  • Industrial Light and Magic's closeup CGI on the character of Snoke (played by the always wonderful Andy Serkis) is superb, despite other effects in the film feeling like they were created by a lesser studio.
  • John Williams, again, gives a serviceable score to the film.  But, with similar criticism to his work in The Force Awakens, his creative edge in his later years has somewhat taken away from his melodic creativity, with many pieces of music coming across overly-bombastic and unmemorable, but servicing the scenes fine.  His score, while typical grand Williams, isn't as emotional or new as his work on any of the prior films.  Even his work on the prequels trumps what we hear in The Last Jedi.
  • Steve Yedlin's cinematography is a huge step above the work of The Force Awaken's Dan Mandel, who made that film look too much like JJ Abrams' Star Trek film.
  • I don't mind a singular voice on the film, with director Rian Johnson being the sole credited writer, but this film really could have used a pass-over by the great Lawrence Kasdan to ensure continuity in the Star Wars universe, and to help keep the unnecessary elements at a minimum.
  • Rightfully so, this film only uses the lightsaber when necessary, and doesn't overstay its welcome.  One fight scene in particular goes a route I did not anticipate, and was a true gem of a surprise.
  • There are a couple distinct emotional high points in the film, with one relatively dramatic reveal, but there were also quite a few moments that were too-quickly glossed over for the sake of progressing the story to the "action."
  • Kylo Ren/Ben Solo (Adam Driver) may be the best character in the film, even if some of his character arc was assumed by the viewer and not apparently present in the story.
  • I commend Rian Johnson for not playing specifically into the hands of fans that EXPECTED certain things to happen, and instead took a couple original routes with the storytelling elements, both recycling and re-instituting themes from the original trilogy and turning them on their heads in this film.
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Part of me felt the need to pick at the things that felt off with The Last Jedi, and despite all of the things I've said that were ultimately leaning toward the negative, I can't say this was a bad film.  In fact, if you're a Star Wars fan, I overwhelmingly recommend this movie.  My personal feelings aside, the film paces itself mostly well and it's two-and-a-half hour run time doesn't feel that long.  Luke Skywalker's presence in the story felt right, even if I could have used even a little more - which is a good thing.  The last thing you want are characters overstaying their welcome.  The Star Wars humor is there, and even as a middle chapter, the film wasn't the expected dour and depressing chapter I was expecting and dreading.

To give some context to where my mind was when watching the The Last Jedi, I did an experiment this year for the first time in my life.  I avoided ALL previews, behind-the-scenes footage, or forum discussions involving anything with this film.  With as high caliber as a Star Wars film could be, I wanted to go into this film with an open mind, and with no visual preconception built in by footage or spoilers given away in the previews or discussions about the film.  With that in mind, I was mostly able to criticize the movie as a FILM first, and then as a Star Wars film second.  Regardless of my approach, there are still many things I looked forward to that had nothing to do with the film being inherently Star Wars - and I was both pleased AND disappointed.

I was pleased with some of the original choices Rian Johnson took with established Star Wars canon, but also disappointed that so many lines of dialogue from previous films were tinkered with, repackaged, and spoken with less conviction by characters who didn't have the dramatic weight or emotional context to truly believe what they were saying in the situations they were in.  The film for sure needed another voice to help guide the script into a more centered, simple, and personal story rather than one that bombards its audience with constant action and quickly-exchanging lines of dialogue between characters who are too many; some characters of which are introduced and concluded in this film alone, in moments that more dramatically could have been left either in the final film of this new trilogy, or given to a more established character in the franchise altogether to give their actions more heft.

A major issue that the film makers were going to run into was the fact that a lot of the Star Wars wonder comes from the original source - the nostalgia of the Skywalker saga - and not that of the newer characters.  Luke was the character of discovery for us as the audience to relate to, so obviously we are going to do the same in this film.  Where the film both tries to succeed and ultimately finds a middle ground is in giving more time to the newer characters without over-utilizing Luke.  The downside is that all of Luke's scenes were the more interesting, because, let's be honest - Star Wars as a franchise is good when it adheres to what we know, and there's not going to be much changing of that. 

The Last Jedi as a sequel works, for the most part.  As a stand-alone film, it fails. It has some riveting action set pieces, a few neat surprises, and a couple shots that could easily go down as some of the most iconic of the franchise.  The unfortunate part is that a lot of the moments in the film that were building toward something heavy and dramatic fall short, with too much time spent away from the characters who really needed more time to develop.  Interesting characters don't need giant explosions to maintain audience interest, and I could sense Disney was trying NOT to make this film too dramatically heavy as to not scare children away, which is saddening.

In the end, my feeling is that The Last Jedi needed to be set apart from its previous film a little more, and not be a direct linear sequel.  Like The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi before it, we needed a space in the timeline between The Force Awakens and this to better establish a growth in characters both Light and Dark that didn't require us seeing in order to believe.  As it stands, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi feel like one long movie rather than two distinct parts.  The Lord of the Rings was able to get away with that, but Star Wars suffers because of it.

I'm sure in time, this film may grow on me with future revisits, but as it stands, it's a slight step back from the dramatic efforts and the growth of simple, relateable themes introduced four decades before.  This is very much feeling like Disney's Star Wars of contemporary film tropes and cliches, and not the Star Wars we grew up with.  Parts of me feel like Disney is less out to tell an actual story than they are trying to expand the moneyed franchise beyond the Skywalker saga, which is evident in the film's hints that the Force exists beyond the pre-conceived notions that the powers are hereditary. 

The Force is strong with Skywalker, and this film needed a little more Skywalker.

 

RECOMMENDED FOR FANS, but AVOID IF NOT A FAN OF "STAR WARS"

 

 

Peacemaker Reviews - "Spider-Man: Homecoming"

JJ Mortimer

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"Spider-Man: Homecoming" (2017) - Rated PG-13 / Runtime:  133 minutes

Directed by Jon Watts

Written by six credited writers

Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey, Jr., Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Jacob Batalon

Review by JJ Mortimer

While by no means a bad motion picture and displaying one of the best Marvel villains to date, Spider-Man: Homecoming is probably the first of the Marvel movies that felt somewhat boring, mainly due to its insistence on using stale "tried-and-true" elements of the Avengers universe that never allow either itself or its lead character to break free and feel wholly unique.

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My take on Spider-Man: Homecoming may not be the popular state of mind with the majority of people who have seen it and enjoyed it.  My problems with the film may seem minor to many who read this, but when little things add up, they often distract from my overall enjoyment of a finished product.  Put too many peppers on a tasty pepperoni pizza, and the aftertaste begins to burn the throat when you burp it up.

First and foremost, I want to state that I did not HATE this movie; on the contrary, I thought it was just fine.  This Spider-Man was "just fine" in the context of what Marvel has put out before it, but something to me seemed off, and I don't want to start pointing fingers completely at Sony for its co-involvement (and history of making relatively shitty decision in the production of many films).  I will start with what I liked about the film:

Peter Parker.  Spider-Man: Homecoming finally got Peter Parker right.  Tom Holland is the right age, the right post-pubescent level of slight-insecurity and immaturity, but with the wit and intelligence enough to quickly learn the importance of making proper decisions in sticky situations.  Having the character be portrayed by an actual teenager instead of a man who looks 30 was a fine substitution to the five films before it.

Michael Keaton.  Here's a man who is having a complete career resurgence, and gives us a "villain" that is more complex, understandable, and relatable than any villain-type from Marvel films before in the Earth-based films (Kurt Russel from Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 also falls into this category, but in a less relatable format).  Keaton's Vulture proves more human and surprisingly menacing despite killing nobody (on purpose).  A couple of his scenes (especially one while driving a car) are the best of the film.

Humor.  Homecoming is more about the comic "fun" of the Spider-Man character rather than the dark, dreary undermining of a couple of the previous Spider-Man films.  Jokes and gags are abound without feeling too forced, and at times feels very much in context with what we'd come to expect from a live-action retelling of a classic comic book for kids.  Parker's best friend Ned (played by Jacob Batalon) is especially good as his confidant and counterpart.

Other great aspects of the film come at the very beginning, which do a nice job of establishing a motivation for the main antagonist, and also establishing the rambunctious nature of our hero as it shows shot after shot of him filming his previous escapades leading up to and immediately following the events from Captain America: Civil War.  The film's heart is all here.

Unfortunately, there were more than a few NEGATIVES that drove me away from enjoying the film as whole-heartedly as I have the majority of the other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

BIG PROBLEM:

Spider-Man. 

Yeah, the Spider-Man character himself was something that the filmmakers (in my opinion) got mostly wrong.  I've heard many people lament on how this film finally got Parker AND Spider-Man right, but my biggest complaint is that the intelligence and capabilities of Parker and his ability to turn himself into the hero that is Spider-Man are undermined by the technological prowess of Tony Stark.  Parker's motivation to be Spider-Man itself is also changed, and for my liking not the better.  What the prior Spider-Man films did right was give at least some dramatic credence as to why Spider-Man as a figure exists - as a way to stop crime and hone the responsibility of great power to help those who can't be helped.  Homecoming, on the other hand, goes out of its way to show us that Parker's main motivation to be Spider-Man are to impress Tony Stark and NOT to fulfill a responsibility to the city he lives in as a super-powered hometown crime fighter.  What made me like Spider-Man as a kid was his ability to be a hero not only using the powers that were given to him, but those he built upon with his own scientific and technological knowledge and his need to do the right thing as his aunt and uncle had taught him.  There was a light to Spider-Man in the comics, even though he was born from a dark moment in his life.

Spider-Man: Homecoming shows us that his only real motivation is to impress a smarter mentor-like figure, a move that felt forced specifically for the need to (once again) have their biggest star put his footprints all over what should have been a relatively stand-alone film.  Spider-Man is reduced to an Iron Man protege, with Parker using a suit that is made by Stark himself to be a weapon, if necessary.  Spider-Man's powers in this film, if you take away the Stark influence, seem substantially limited.  No "Spidey-sense," a confusingly-strange inability to climb properly with his spider-like fingers, and an over-reliance on the tools of his new "tech suit" hurt my loving grasp on the alter-ego of Peter Parker.  Some funny moments are to be had with his suit, sure, but the purpose and existence of the character are lost in the pages of the script.  Instead, a lot of what makes Spider-Man great is mostly due to the technology GIVEN to him

My biggest problem with Homecoming's version of Spider-Man is that he feels like a version of the character that was created specifically for the Avengers universe, and not the Spider-Man from the comics who just happens to be in the same universe as Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor.

I will also say that I have no problem AT ALL with social diversity in films.  So many films have successfully integrated realistic social makeup into the roles portrayed in their films without drawing attention to it, but MY GOD, I found Homecoming to be distractingly diverse, to the point where in certain scenes I thought I was watching a Saturday Night Live sketch where the film makers were trying to fit in every single demographic that they could without repeating them.  To me, it felt like either Sony or Disney were trying really hard not to offend anyone to the point of nearly every shot at Parker's high school having at least one member of every major ethnicity from major box office markets that could draw (and often do draw) the most money.  I could also do without throwing in a politically correct statement in the first couple lines of dialogue in the film, or by showing that a high school teacher thinks its "patriotic" for a teenager who knows nothing of the world to want to protest in front of an embassy in Washington D.C. 

Again, I'm a supporter of accurate demographic representations, but when it feels like a business decision from the film's parent company rather than a conscious choice of social reconstruction, I start to get the feeling I'm watching a car commercial advertisement rather than a film that cares about the core dynamics of its titular character. 

Spider-Man: Homecoming made me, at times, begin to root for Keaton's "bad guy," mainly because I got fed up with the forced PC nature of the film and started to feel for the hard-working blue collar man who got fucked over by the government.

Like the recent Star Trek reboots before it, I feel like the film makers forgot some of what made the characters great in the first place.  It isn't how cool their ship or super-suits were - it's how calculated, cool, and relatable the human side of the character was.  I don't care about and don't need a Spider-Man suit that is essentially an Iron Man suit and can do thousands of cool things.  What I need instead is a character that properly represents just how great of a mind he really has - a boy, a teenager, who has the capabilities of something grand that most scientists twice his age would kill to have and uses them from an event sparked from a dark moment in his life, while learning to responsibly use his powers to help rather than to punish.

In terms of quality, the film is nearly on par with Ant-Man (but with a more memorable villain), which isn't a bad thing, but isn't nearly as big, bold, or epic as one of the more major Avengers-related films as some critics and fans have come to praise it for at the time of its release.  The cinematography is nothing to hugely praise, given it continues the generically-flat and relatively colorful look of the MCU films, which is par for the productions.  And again, this is another big-budget action/fantasy/comic book film missing a memorable musical score, using instrumentations that pick from current trends rather than breaking new boundaries to stand out among the bland musical intuitions of most major composers working in Hollywood today.

With a lot of new(er) characters, some part of what we've grown up knowing about the Spider-Man comic and his universe is strangely missing.  While I admire the need to change from what we already know from five previous films, it still would have been nice to have a Harry Osborne, or even a Gwen Stacy waiting in the wings to become a rightfully-fitting character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Instead, I felt we got just another Avengers-fitting version of the Spider-Man character with interactions that satisfy the film universe, rather than drawing directly from the comics with which it existed.

While it was nice to have friends and other characters for Peter to bounce his ideas off of, if there's one thing the filmmakers SHOULD have changed (if they needed to change anything at all) is that in order to relate to the audience more I felt he really did need to be a geeky loner rather than just another kid at school.  Hell, he doesn't even have a real bully to push him and press him past his physical and/or intellectual limits and have to eventually stand up against.  Instead, that character (Flash, the muscle-bound jock from the first Sam Raimi film) is rewritten as another nerd who just makes kinda-mean comments toward Peter, but never really challenges him.

Spider-Man: Homecoming displays a somewhat watered-down version of a popular Marvel character, in a film produced by a company that walks so finely on egg shells as to try not to offend anyone under the guise of being "hip" and "with it."  I'm also not sure why the film is subtitled Homecoming, considering the high school homecoming is a very, VERY small part of the overall film.

As these films go on, I'm becoming more a fan of the "fantasy" characters - the Thors, Hulks, Dr. Stranges - rather than the tech-based, more Earth-bound characters.  As good as Tom Holland's Peter Parker was, Tony Stark's involvement with his suit and ultimate powers diminishes the wonder, or shall we say, "marvel," that is the Spider-Man character.

 

MODERATE RECOMMENDATION

 

 

 

Peacemaker Reviews - "Wonder Woman"

JJ Mortimer

"Wonder Woman" (2017) - Rated PG-13 / Runtime:  141 minutes

Directed by Patty Jenkins

Written by Allan Heinberg

Starring:  Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, David Thewlis, Danny Huston

Review by JJ Mortimer

While by no means a perfect movie (some shoddy visual effects, a few small missed plot points and character intricacies, and one really bad editing moment in the final act aside), Wonder Woman was, shall I say, wonderful? *cue Austin Powers 'pun intended' expression*

All joking aside, Wonder Woman is finally the good comic book movie DC has been straining to make since the introduction of the dark, depressing Man of Steel, and last year's duo of hugely reviled films Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad.  It's amazing what can be done when a quality director with good storytelling capabilities takes over the helm on a franchise film that has a story that is more about character and emotion than gritty atmosphere and shit blowing up.

I will argue that Wonder Woman has a more realistic and emotional payoff toward its conclusion than half of the Marvel Studios movies that have been released.  That's not to say it's a better film than what Marvel has produced - there's still a hint of that Zack Snyder atmospheric touch that some unforgiving audience members may potentially be unable to wipe the previous bad taste in their mouths from - but in all fairness, there were more entertaining scenes and character moments in Wonder Woman that overpower and trump much of anything I remembered from Age of Ultron or Captain America: Civil War.

Given Gal Gadot's somewhat wooden and dry performance we were spoon-fed in Batman v Superman, I rolled my eyes at the concept of a stand-alone film about Wonder Woman.  Thankfully, what we were treated with in this year's Wonder Woman is a surprisingly sincere and charming performance from it star, teaching us that sometimes the difference isn't in the source material but in the director leading the project.  Gadot's naivety in her fish-out-of-water scenario lent the right amount of wit and relateable material to the earlier portions of the film to help draw the audience in to the character; a move that made the film's more muddled later action set pieces more satisfying, and not as empty as many other CGI action-driven motion pictures.

Director Patty Jenkins was a very good fit in the director's chair, a creatively decisive choice from the DC production team that mirrored the near-perfect hiring abilities from Marvel.  The choices that were made by the director showed both a willingness to unleash the bombastic blockbuster mayhem, along with an intelligence to give real personality, heart, and interest with which the audiences could attach themselves to the characters.  In fact, I'd argue that Wonder Woman is an action film that is at its finest when its at its most quiet.  That's not to say the action was subpar, but in many cases when things were blowing up, nothing was really moving forward emotionally until the rubble had settled and the two lead stars could further develop their performances.

There are really only a few other things I can say about the film without further pushing my positive feelings, but I will say these final three things:

One, what puts Wonder Woman on par (or better) with most of the Marvel Studios films is the "human element" that it brings to its superhero table.  Two, the film doesn't require any prior knowledge of characters or situations involving previous films to be enjoyed.  The film makers' interesting choice of a World War I setting assures us of that.  Finally, and most importantly, the film gives us a hero that can be relateable to both women AND men, and to top that off makes Gadot's co-star Chris Pine equally and inevitably as heroic on the battlefield and in the context of the films screenplay.  The two lead stars have a surprisingly effective chemistry that, through quieter scenes and with the aloof nature of its superhero titular character, made me feel a little something inside that wanted them to succeed with their mission. 

Like Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, DC's Wonder Woman brings us genuine emotion and character traits that give the audience a little something more than what is being blown up in our faces.  While not as humorous as Guardians, Wonder Woman still had quite a bit of wit and charisma from its stars that made the film breeze by and not feel at all its over two-hour length.

As said before, while Wonder Woman is by no means a perfect movie.  There a few plot holes involving spoken languages and where the hell an Amazonian princess/god would have learned them, a slightly cheesy introduction in the overly-CGI Amazonian setting, a few side characters with forgotten payoffs to their stories, and one laughably bad edit before the film's final showdown that really stood out for me but weren't enough to be completely distracting from the overall experience.  The film still manages to rise above and beyond expectations, and in turn ends up being a relatively decent World War I film to boot.  It also deserved a more memorable and rich lead musical score, one that wasn't so inspired by the Hans Zimmer-ish "School of Clanking Metal, Bass Drums, and Violin Strings Together Erratically to Make Music out of Noise."

Finally, I must acknowledge the unfounded "feminist" angle that attached itself to this film weeks before its release.  While the character of Wonder Woman herself was a product of the early 20th Century women's movement, there was not a single place in this film that would establish any kind of foothold on the neo-feminist movement seen in contemporary times.  I felt that a lot of what was said about the film being "feminist" as a negative (or a positive) were completely unfounded, and were very likely a product of an outside media source rather than that of the filmmakers themselves.  Nothing in this film tells me that it was produced with "feminism" on mind as many people would define it politically as a negative.  Patty Jenkins made a film that works more than just that level of shallowness, and instead gave us a film rich with care and emotion that had a lot more going on in it than people would find viewing it while looking for one specific angle.  If you go into Wonder Woman looking for a feminist angle as a negative you will probably find it in a couple lines of dialogue only - but only because THAT was what you were looking for.  But, if you go into the film looking at it in a positive light about feminism, you'll probably find it as well - but NO MUCH MORE than any other film starring a woman.  Aliens was a better film for women to be inspired by its lead character than Wonder Woman.

Basically, don't listen to the media and any bullshit about feminism as a hindrance or as some sort of driving theme of this film.  Wonder Woman is a wonderfully-fun and charismatic film for anyone other than simple-minded people to see.

VERDICT:

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for both CASUAL MOVIE FANS and COMIC BOOK MOVIE FANS

Peacemaker Reviews - "Alien: Covenant"

JJ Mortimer

"Alien: Covenant" (2017) - Rated R / Runtime:  122 minutes

Directed by Ridley Scott

Written by John Logan & Dante Harper

Starring:  Michael Fassbender, Michael Fassbender, a bunch of people with Billy Crudup, and Danny McBride playing it straight for the first time in his career

Review by JJ Mortimer

I'm not sure this film knows what it wants to be - an Alien film, or a Prometheus sequel.  By all facets of what I saw on screen, Alien: Covenant (the eighth Alien-related film in a struggling franchise) has no right to be called an Alien film.  This barely even constitutes as a continuation of what director Ridley Scott brought to the table philosophically in Prometheus.  This is by all means a movie that tries to enlighten us with ideas and themes of creation and purpose in its first act, but then suddenly feels riddled with action pieces and moments of gore for the sake of just having them in an attempt to wash the taste of audience's general dislike for Prometheus out of their dumb mouths.

What Alien Prometheus: Covenant, Part II instead becomes is two half-baked movie concepts - one that tries to capture and simplify the grander ideas brought by its predecessor, and then another that tries to satisfy the cravings of general popcorn chewers who want the infamous "Xenomorph" to appear and rip a spaceship's crew members to shreds.  All of this leads to what feels like a five-star chef attempting to cook a miraculously protein-infused chocolate cheesecake, but then a bunch of suit-wearing bureaucrats show up, taste it, and then claim it needs more granulated sugar face-fucked into its core, and then cover it with store-brand ripoff Hershey's syrup.

And that's the nature of Alien: Covenant - a film that goes half-good/half-bad with just about everything it presents.  Director Ridley Scott still has an eye for finding the right people to make his films LOOK good, but he himself feels as though he's directing on autopilot in his advanced age and waning singular vision.  Most of the visual effects look pretty great with the spaceships and environments, but the Xenomorph (the "alien" to the laymen) effects look light years-cheesy compared to the physical costumes and puppets in the films from four decades ago.  The acting is serviceable, but none of the characters stand out as anyone we give two shits about.  We get a half-baked Ripley clone, a couple throwaway tough guys, and a pilot named Tennessee because, you know, the first film film had a "Dallas" as its captain 

I want to try to not be too general with my concepts here, and a lot of what I want to say I feel like I need to say face-to-face with a camera so that I can communicate frustratingly at how much I wanted to love this movie, but every time I was almost on board something horrendous, ridiculous, or completely out of left field would show up and make me wish the movie would end.

One of the saving graces (if not the only real saving grace) is Michael Fassbender in two roles, as "David" from the first film (his head, we are told, had been reattached by Elizabeth Shaw in the time between Prometheus and this), and as "Walter," an "upgraded downgrade" from the androids the Weyland company created after they learned of the problems with giving artificial intelligence too much free thought and creativity.  But again, much of Fassbender's performance moments are hindered by story twists that are too easy to see coming, and an impromptu fight scene between two androids that feels like a parody of the more serious film Ridley Scott should have been making (which did make for some great unintentional comedy).  There is even a very tense moment involving the first alien reveal as it tears from a man's spine, along with another crew member stuck in a quarantine chamber and no place to escape.  The scene works really well and had a lasting effect on me until the remaining crew members move on and moments later seem to be unaffected by the deaths of their mates.

Coventant's non-existent story results in a film that suffers the same fate as last year's piss-poor Star Trek Beyond, that in which an entire film is filled with so little story and narrative progression that could easily have been fitted into one or two acts of a much bigger and fulfilling motion picture.  After a promising start, Alien: Covenant feels like it keeps taking steps backwards from what the fans have waited and wanted to see for the years since the franchise's pinnacle that was Aliens, James Cameron's masterful, Oscar-winning 1986 sequel.

As a sequel to Prometheus, Covenant falls flat.  Despite audiences general dislike for that film, I personally found it amusing and containing a lot to be wondered and talked about.  I thought the film was given a much harder rap than it deserved, and at least it was ABOUT something and had grand ideas (maybe a little too many).  Prometheus edged a narrative thread into the direction of a particular concept about humans and their creators.  Covenant, on the other hand, kills of those ideas (in some cases literally) and trashes philosophy for blind, mostly-unexplained malice and studio producers' general need to "give the fans what they WANT!" without first fabricating a script that satisfies the tension, dread, and fear produced by the 1979 original.  Despite Ridley Scott's name attached as director, this feels ominously like "film by committee."

I was bored by the halfway mark.  The film lost all credibility with David's Obi-Wan-like hooded reveal and following martial arts fight between Walter and his progenitor.  The movie felt like a scaled-back, watered-down version of Prometheus that decided halfway through to also be an Alien film and have blood and severed heads strewn about instead of having meaningful discoveries about life, Creation, and existence, as well as giving protagonists we can attach ourselves to and relate to.  Instead Alien: Covenant chose to focus on Death, which all but describes where this franchise has been headed for years.

As a side note, we were teased a couple years ago with the idea of a direct sequel to Aliens that was to be directed by Neill Blomkamp (a young director with a passion and a vision) and would wipe away, somehow, the third and fourth turds that proceeded it.  It was to return stars Sigourney Weaver as Ripley and MIchael Biehn as Hicks (rather than having him and Newt killed off screen because producers didn't want to pay the actor to be in the film).  We were about to get a film that fans of the Aliens franchise could be excited and intrigued by.  Instead we got another prequel - "sequel to a prequel," if you may - to a film that was generally hated, and directed by a film maker who has barely made a film he seems to care about in the past fifteen years.

Alien: Covenant has no idea what it wants to do and ends up being about nothing, with an ending that would have been enticing were the entire film that led up to it be worth a damn.  This sci-fi schlock fest forgets to let us care about its characters, and doesn't deliver on the promise of something closer at heart to Alien or even Prometheus, for that matter.  It's a hybrid just like its titular monster, and mutilates any general narrative purpose in its path.  This movie and its dry action scenes and empty ideas made me sad.

GRADE:

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MINIMAL/NO RECOMMENDATION

Peacemaker Reviews - "Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2"

JJ Mortimer

"Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2" (2017) - Rated PG-13 / Runtime:  137 minutes

Directed by James Gunn

Written by James Gunn

Starring:  Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, Bradley Cooper (voice), Vin Diesel (voice), and Kurt Russell

Review by JJ Mortimer

Despite its length and wealth of characters to follow, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 manages to be more entertaining, humorous, and surprisingly emotional than its predecessor, even while managing to be a more character-driven motion picture.

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This movie impressed me.  While I thoroughly enjoyed the first film, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 improves upon the "group of wacky sci-fi outcasts" by adding pleasant, continuous humor, and a surprisingly-dramatic edge.  Of the films in the Marvel Studios/Avengers canon, I can't think of a single one of those films that emotionally touched me the way this film did by its conclusion.

I'm not afraid to admit, I actually had to hold back a few tears in the last twenty minutes of this film.

THAT'S the most impressive part of this film - the fact that the producers were smart enough to allow writer/director James Gunn more control over his film, a move that resulted in highly entertaining film with numerous characters (ones that we already even know) getting full-fledged dramatic arcs in the course of a plot that felt FAR shorter than any of the drab, dreary films DC has been producing.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 easily has the most heart of any comic book movie produced since 2008s flagship Iron Man.  Here's a film that doesn't preside over some complex plot line or forced conflict, and instead spreads its fantasitical wings and allows comedy to ooze from its pores.  The main plot course involves Peter Quill, aka "Star Lord" (Chris Pratt), finding out the truth of his heritage, but any more description of "story" ends there.  All that needs to be known (and most of what will be remembered for days after watching the film, should you actually enjoy it) is that not a single scene is wasted, laughs are a plenty, and even some of the slower moments are just beautiful to look at.

Speaking of beautiful, this film is one of the first CGI-infested films where the visual effects did much service to my enjoyment of the film.  Here's a perfect situation where CGI was not only needed but used REALLY well, and in fact resulted in a few scenes that were so colorful, well-photographed, and creative that the visual effects did the film a real justice in a way that didn't feel lazy.  A few shots, especially one involving Yondu's glowing red arrow tracing through the air as it pierces enemies in the dark, all while being mixed with 70s music hits, resulted in a truly creative treat to be seen and heard on the big screen.

Of the main characters, the two that really stood out for me are Dave Bautista as "Drax the Destroyer" and Michael Rooker as "Yondu."  While nearly every character had a line or two that made me laugh or smirk, any moment Bautista was on screen put a huge smile on my face.  I counted a dozen times where a line he spoke in his character's matter-of-fact delivery made me laugh louder than anyone sitting around me in the theater.  I didn't give a shit if I was loud - writer/director James Gunn took the risk of amping up Bautista's comic ability, and by some stroke of good luck found that perfect measure of utilizing an actor's comedic timing without it overstaying its welcome, and I wanted everyone around me to hear my appreciation for it.

Michael Rooker as Yondu, on the other hand, is given more screen time in this sequel, and his presence results in the best and most fulfilling of the main character story arcs.  And all that can be said about Baby Groot is that he may very well be one of the damned cutest characters in film history with such an innocent stare that could make a lumberjack weep.  I just find it ironic that they found one of the most wooden actors working in Hollywood to play a talking tree.

If I could find any negatives about the film, I would be strained to do so.  What I could say is that of the main characters, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and her relationship with her estranged villain of a sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) is the least amusing of all the character stories in the film, but that's not to say it's bad.  Just in a film so loaded with humor, their story supplied a little more immediacy and tension, which resulted in moments that were less amusing than the more wacky nature of the other characters.

SUMMARY:

Guardians of the Galaxy is comically the funniest of all the Marvel films, with Dave Bautista's Drax getting the majority of the laugh-out-loud moments (probably more than all the other characters combined).  There are themes of estranged relationships strung throughout the film (sister and sister, father and son, father-figure/guardian and "son") that help elevate and drive the characters to a conclusion that is surprisingly emotional and tear-jerking.  The film builds upon its already-established half dozen-or-so characters with humorous explosion, in cases when most other films would have trouble establishing a satisfying arc for simply one.

This Guardians sequel also has an easily-distinguishable villain with a purpose that adds backbone to how the streamlined themes keep purpose throughout the film's narrative.  The film is perfectly cast (a running commendation to the Marvel films) with numerous cameos and and one truly inspired veteran choice with Kurt Russell, the 70s music in Peter Quill's "Vol. 2" mix tape is perfectly used (especially with the usage of Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain"), and the movie is colorful and beautiful to look at through some of the most well-executed fantasy/sci-fi visual effects ever put to screen (despite visual effects artists' continuing inability to fully understand the physics of bodily movement and gravity with falling and jumping characters), and well-blocked cinematography from Henry Braham.

Director James Gunn has hit a homerun with Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, and truly gives the audience enough amusement to make a $20 ticket seem well-spent.  Just stay for the entire credits, because there are multiple scenes after the end of the initial film.

GRADE:

RESOUNDING POSITIVE

 

 

Peacemaker Reviews - "Logan"

JJ Mortimer

"Logan" (2017) - Rated R / Runtime:  135 minutes

Directed by James Mangold

Written by Scott Frank & James Mangold, and Michael Green

Starring:  Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant

Review by JJ Mortimer

 

Not to be confused with any of the previous colorful, often-cheery X-Men related films, Logan is a bleak, depressing, comic book drama - a graphically-violent superhero movie that strips away the super heroics and instead delivers an emotionally resonant, superbly-acted character piece that serves as a true-to-heart sendoff to Hugh Jackman's the Wolverine.

What blew me away from the very start of this motion picture is the level of small detail the film makers put into establishing an already well-known character, and utilizing every nuanced piece of dialogue and physical acting to establish the mood and tone for the rest of the film.  Immediately we are shown this is nowhere near the PG-13 family fare 20th Century Fox has made us accustomed to prior to the release of Deadpool, and our lead characters have become weary, aged, and withered by the death chisel that this film's world has become.

The f-word is thrown around in Logan's script like cotton candy at a carnival, and limbs and heads are hacked and slashed apart in moments of sheer horrific violence that (not surprisingly) better suits what the Wolverine character truly is.  He's a wild animal in human form, but in Logan, director James Mangold goes into exuberant detail to show us that same vicious entity in an old man's body, akin to the last ride of an ailing, aged cowboy as he sets off toward the blood-red sunset of despair and loneliness.

There's not much to the story of Logan, though its plot is riddled with fine moments, well-written dialogue, and set pieces that finely show (and hint at) the events that not only got us to our Mad Max-level post apocalypse with nary a mutant left in the world, but also propels our lead character into a situation where he learns how a powerful company that's harboring (and growing) new mutants for the sake of weaponization - a cousin to the Weapon X program that gave Wolverine his adamantium skeleton - has unleashed something (or someone) with close ties to Logan himself.

My main concern before watching this film, knowing that is was to be Jackman's last portrayal of the iconic character, was the inclusion of X-23, a little girl with similar powers to Wolverine (played by Dafne Keen).  My fear was that her presence would lighten the tone of what was to be a gritty, bloody fan service comic book film.  But, my fears were unfounded as her introduction and involvement in Logan's personal swan song brings importance and levity to his story.  The real drama in this film comes from the developing bond between the withered old animal, and young and violent pup that has not yet learned what it means to be a child, resulting in a few scenes that are so harsh and emotionally dramatic that you forget this film takes place in the same universe as the film where Storm electrocuted a man-Toad after saying the dumbest line in comic book film history.

Logan is all the more impressive in the fact that it focuses so contently on it's lead character while giving us a plot line that satisfies his purpose in the universe.  The film smartly tones back the bombastic, blockbuster action and allows for slower moments of introspection.  The film allows the bulk of its run time to focus on strong performances and speeches that somehow manage to encompass the inner turmoil that we so rarely get to see in films that focus more on explosions and surface-value cardboard characters.  Logan is a flesh-and-blood motion picture, and the more Wolverine/Logan is slashed, shot, stabbed, and mangled, we are opened up more to what makes him who he is (pun slightly intended, but not referring to his guts).

This "moment to shine" concept leads me to what I believe is the best performance in the film, and that is of Patrick Stewart reprising his role once again as Charles Xavier, a man who was once the most powerful mind in the world, and who in this film is hinted at having been one of the causes for the death of so many other mutants in a scene we can only imagine.  Charles is now in his 90s, and is showing signs of dementia and a crippling ache to free himself from the confines that prevent him from losing control of his mind and hurting so many in the process.  Stewart resonates as a man who was once very composed, upstanding, and fatherly in his mannerisms to harbor those that are deflected from the world that rejects them, but is now crotchety and at times vile, as his great mind is weathered by drugs and medicine that would keep his mental powers from losing control under the stresses of old age.

Both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart are award-worthy in their performances, in a film that doesn't necessarily present any new boundaries in storytelling for our characters to traverse, but rather presents them with obstacles that not only add to their roles in the series, but satisfy the need for these two actors to go out in top form.

If I can find any negatives about the film from my perspective, they would be difficult to list.  If anything, the final act of the film has a few small cliche moments involving child mutants that reminded me a bit of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, but didn't take away from the power of the film.  I'm also talking only about a few shots, and not entire scenes.  A couple little plot holes also stuck out, like situations where a mutant could have used his/her power but didn't despite having the ability to totally overcome the hostage situation they were in.  Like any great film, there's always going to be little inconsistencies or editing errors, but I just accept those and move on with my enjoyment of the film.  The kind of things that I noticed didn't hinder the narrative of the film, but in my mind could have just presented themselves in a slightly different way.

Despite its length and its often slower pace when compared to your average summer Hollywood blockbuster fare, Logan doesn't have a wasted scene in it, especially if you're a fan of the X-Men series and have an emotional attachment to a couple characters that you've seen in these films for the past seventeen years.  Director James Mangold went all-out with his love and care to the psychological and physical details of character development and character building are expressed with charisma in this film.  Using a western vibe to streamline a strong stand-alone film amidst a series of sequels and reboots, Mangold has given the quintessential film with which many superhero films will be compared, derived, and criticized against for years to come.

Logan's violence may be a turn-off to some, and is NOT a film for parents to take their children to.  This is no X-Men: The Last Stand.  This is a grisly, violent fucking movie that deserves patience and an understanding of the inner turmoil of its two aging main characters, and an understanding of the importance of a mutant child that is just as violent as her older, equally-metal-clawed kin.  It's deliberately slow pace just amplifies the violence when it occurs.  If you watch this film and criticize it for having an adult yelling "fuck" in the face of a child, and draw ire from watching a nine-year old girl decapitate a man and throw his head at the feet of her enemies, then you have completely missed the point of what this movie is trying to sell. 

Logan is not just proper fan service to a wildly-violent comic book character, but is also a surprisingly emotionally resonant film that any mature film fan can watch, with actors who are just as in love with their characters as the audience that grew up with them.  The themes in this film are more adult than anything Marvel or Marvel Studios has produced.

In the end, Logan still manages to be a great comic book movie that just so happens to introduce real-life human gravitas to its fictional, futuristic world, even if not being the sugar-laced, action-packed cup of tea that everyone was looking for.

 

8.5/10

Peacemaker Reviews - "John Wick: Chapter 2"

JJ Mortimer

"John Wick: Chapter 2" (2017) - Rated R / Runtime:  122 minutes

Directed by Chad Stahelski

Written by Derek Kolstad

Starring:  Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Common, Laurence Fishburne

Review by:  JJ Mortimer

Despite being a bit too long and having a few too many "stars and stops" in the overall narrative drive, John Wick Chapter 2 is still a step above nearly all other action movies being released in the past decade, with Keanu Reeves proving once again that he's the ultimate blue collar-style working man/action star in Hollywood.

 

What sets John Wick 2 apart from other action/revenge films isn't in its storytelling, but rather its film making.  The stunt choreography and tactical gun handling, like in the first film, is not only top notch but far above and beyond the CGI-infested, quick-edited crap fests we see in 9 out of 10 action movies being produced today.  The action scenes in this film are worth the ticket price alone.

As for the rest of the film, John Wick 2 does have a small tendency to fall into the same shortcomings as other sequels even while maintaining its technical prowess.  A little of John Wick's mysticism is lost amidst the action, but luckily not by much.  The film also smartly avoids doing any kind of over-description of things he's done in his past (the "impossible task," as well as killing three men with a pencil, is brought up again, but fortunately the film makers leave it as legend and don't try to show the audience a flashback scene showing and describing how John Wick accomplished it).  But, like most sequels, the ante must be raised so we are often given almost - ALMOST - a little too much to handle.

The only other somewhat negative I can think about with this film is the fact that it takes place in actual known locations, like New York City, for example.  My understanding from the first film was that it took place in a nondescript location, as though the film makers were attempting to create their own "comic book"-style world where a place like The Continental - a haven for assassins to congregate without fulfilling business duties - could actually exist and operate.  Here, in John Wick 2, we are led to believe that all of these assassins exist in the digital world we know, while often communicating in analog formats (this will makes sense when you see the film).  This little detail may seem minute, but it bugged me a little in the overall understanding of how the John Wick universe was initially established.

Luckily, this film is still a gut-splatteringly good time.  Despite the longer moments of discussion and dialogue, when the action picks up, it is not just exciting but ultimately creative.  The choreography (as mentioned before) is fantastic, with Keanu Reeves keeping with his insistence on doing the majority of his own stunts, and with gun fighting that can only be described as a "violent ballet of bullets and bodies."  In comparison to the first film, the number of bodies John leaves behind is easily 2 to 1, yet somehow doesn't feel like the film itself was TRYING to be bigger and better than the first.  The body count lends itself to the film's slightly convoluted story, and finely sets up a future where at least triple the bodies of the first two films will be left behind.

John Wick 2 is a good time at the movies.  If you were a fan of the first John Wick, a film that found a particular cult status quickly after its initial release, you should like this second film.  Not much more needs to be said than that, other than it can at times feel a little long with too many moments of sitting and talking.  While I'm not one to complain about a film's length, John Wick Chapter 2 could have been about ten minutes shorter and been more the better for it - which is saying quite a bit, because Keanu Reeves pours his heart and soul into the role, and the hard work of the film makers pays off with a great action film in return.  And having a dog with no given name is a nice touch to the hopeful-anonymity of the John Wick character.

7.5/10

2017 Oscar Nominations & Peacemaker's Predictions

JJ Mortimer

Another year, another annual Hollywood handjob given to a bunch of entitled, elitist, primadonnas who wrongfully use the celebration of the achievements in film making as a platform for religious and/or political rhetoric.  Regardless, I watch the award show as it was supposed to be and as it was rightfully hinted above - as a celebration of performance art and technical achievement for the entertainment of the masses.  The people in Hollywood may piss me off from time to time, but I still love the movies as well as the little gold man that (usually) recognizes when shit is done well.

Here are the nominees in many of the 2017 Oscar categories, as well as my predictions for who should and/or who WILL win the trophy.  I excluded categories such as "Documentary Short Subject" or "Animated Short Film" because those are termed as "tie-breakers" in my family voting on Oscar night, so I don't want ALL of my choices known to them when they try to defeat me (by copying me).

BEST PICTURE

Arrival

Fences

Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water

La La Land

Lion

Manchester by the Sea

Moonlight

____________________________________

WILL WIN:  LA LA LAND.  Hollywood loves to award a well-produced musical, especially one released so close to the end of the year.  Hot young talent in front of the camera doesn't hurt, as the two stars are drool factors for many of the opposite sex.

SHOULD WIN:  HELL OR HIGH WATER.  If you want to know why I think this film should win, read my review here.

BEST DIRECTOR

Arrival - Denis Villeneuve

Hacksaw Ridge - Mel Gibson

La La Land - Damien Chazelle

Manchester by the Sea - Kenneth Lonergan

Moonlight - Barry Jenkins

____________________________________

WILL WIN:  Damien Chazelle, LA LA LAND.  On a personal note, I thought the man was wrongfully forgotten for his masterful directing in 2014's arguable best film, Whiplash.  Directing a musical is no easy task, but if there's any drawback to his possibility of a win, history has shown a split between films winning director and picture (Chicago being a more contemporary example of a musical winning the picture award, but not director).

SHOULD WIN:  Denis Villeneuve, ARRIVAL.  Villeneuve is quickly becoming one of my favorite contemporary visual storytellers working today.  Much of his work may appear quite minimal to passive moviegoers, but to the keen eye (and film buffs alike), this man can visually tell a story like no other.  His breakthrough film, 2013's Prisoners, is one of the most underrated films to be released in the past five years.  Here's hoping they recognize his very personal and dramatic work on Arrival.

BEST ACTOR

Casey Affleck - Manchester by the Sea

Andrew Garfield - Hacksaw Ridge

Ryan Gosling - La La Land

Viggo Mortensen - Captain Fantastic

Denzel Washington - Fences

____________________________________

WILL WIN:  Denzel Washington.  You can never count out the man for putting out a generally-great performance, especially from a film that centers more on character than on story.  His recent win at the SAG awards should also help concrete his chances here.

SHOULD WIN:  TIE - Denzel Washington, Andrew Garfield.  Again, Hollywood has a thing for young talent, and after a slew of disappointing films, Garfield really shined through and stole Hacksaw Ridge with a powerful, endearing, and more importantly INSPIRING performance.  But he's going to have quite the task beating a man who can become only the third actor to hold three acting Oscars (behind Jack Nicholson & Daniel Day-Lewis).

BEST ACTRESS

Isabelle Huppert - Elle

Ruth Negga - Loving

Natalie Portman - Jackie

Emma Stone - La La Land

Meryl Streep - Florence Foster Jenkins

_____________________________________

WILL WIN:  Emma Stone. 

SHOULD WIN:  Emma Stone.

Like Reese Witherspoon before her in Walk the Line, the Oscars often award one of the two major stars that are nominated in a film nominated for a slew of awards.  Where Gosling will get his ass kicked by Denzel, Emma Stone took away the SAG award this year and has a lot of momentum going her way.  She's quality, and has the "girl next door" charm to her.  Lisp aside, she's Oscar gold.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Mahershala Ali - Moonlight

Jeff Bridges - Hell or High Water

Lucas Hedges - Manchester by the Sea

Dev Patel - Lion

Michael Shannon - Nocturnal Animals

___________________________________

WILL WIN:  Mahershala Ali.  Again, winner of the SAG award and the clear front-runner from critics and supporters of the film alike.  For voters looking for a good dramatic performance, he's the choice.

SHOULD WIN:  Jeff Bridges.  The moment I saw Hell or High Water, I knew he would be recognized for his no-bullshit performance.  Voters looking for a more entertaining dramatic performance may look his way with their choice.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Viola Davis - Fences

Naomie Harris - Moonlight

Nicole Kidman - Lion

Octavia Spencer - Hidden Figures

Michelle Williams - Manchester by the Sea

_____________________________

WILL WIN:  Octavia Spencer.  The one award this film will receive, and with recent wins in other award shows, she's definitely a front-runner in this race.

SHOULD WIN:  Octavia Spencer or Viola Davis.  Personally, I like when either a supporting actor or actress of the lead actor/actress who wins the Oscar ALSO wins the Oscar.  In my opinion, if I were ever to want to win an Oscar it would be for a supporting role.  Where I like most of the great films of the year getting recognition in one way or another, I'd like to see a supporting star (Viola Davis, sobbing boogers aside) win along side the film's main lead.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Hell or High Water

     Written by Taylor Sheridan

La La Land

     Written by Damien Chazelle

The Lobster

     Written by Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou

Manchester by the Sea

     Written by Kenneth Lonergan

20th Century Women

     Written by Mike Mills

_____________________________________

WILL WIN:  Kenneth Lonergan, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA.  This will be the one category voters choose to award this film.  Many non-critics found it boring, but found the performances to be solid and the story to be good.  Dry, droll, somewhat depressing films often get awarded here, and often a film that wins an award for its script often ONLY wins in this category.

SHOULD WIN:  Taylor Sheridan, HELL OR HIGH WATER.  Again, a script that not only is witty and riddled with humor, but is clever and gives enough dynamic to its characters in a relatively short running time that could fill an entire season of an HBO drama.  Also, the film is highly rewatchable, a huge plus in a film that will be remembered in years to come.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Arrival

     Screenplay by Eric Heisserer

Fences

     Screenplay by August Wilson

Hidden Figures

     Screenplay by Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi

Lion

     Screenplay by Luke Davies

Moonlight

     Screenplay by Barry Jenkins; Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney

____________________________________

WILL WIN:  Barry Jenkins, MOONLIGHT.  This film has all the things Hollywood loves to recognize, and has already won a bunch of awards.  For many, this was a smaller, more personal film than some of the others, and that plays well to the hearts of many voters.

SHOULD WIN:  Eric Heisserer, ARRIVAL.  The only reason I know this film won't win here is because I remember hearing a lot of people claiming that they "didn't get it."  Despite this, Arrival has a lot going for it in terms of themes revolving around science fiction and personal loss.  Many people who passively watched the film may remember it as a "boring alien movie" and will forget how introspective and creative its storytelling really is.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

Kubo and the Two Strings

Moana

My Life as a Zucchini

The Red Turtle

Zootopia

_____________________________

WILL WIN:  KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS

SHOULD WIN:  KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS

Kubo wasn't drawn completely inside a computer.  Craftsmanship, and the first "animated" film to be nominated in the Visual Effects category since 1993s A Nightmare Before Christmas gives this film a sense of importance for the industry beyond any of the other nominees.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Arrival - Bradford Young

La La Land - Linus Sandgren

Lion - Greig Fraser

Moonlight - James Laxton

Silence - Rodrigo Prieto

_______________________________

WILL WIN:  Linus Sandgren, LA LA LAND. 

SHOULD WIN:  Linus Sandgren, LA LA LAND

If Simon Duggan had been nominated for his work in Hacksaw Ridge, I would put my vote on him.  But, since he is not, I think any cinematographer ballsy enough to take on the task of lensing a musical deserves accolade.  Swooping camera mixed with beautiful colors, sets and choreography always wins over the voters who know what to look for in a film that uses the camera to its fullest extent.

BEST FILM EDITING

Arrival - Joe Walker

Hacksaw Ridge - John Gilbert

Hell or High Water - Jake Roberts

La La Land - Tom Cross

Moonlight - Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon

__________________________________

WILL WIN:  LA LA LAND

SHOULD WIN:  ARRIVAL

Musical numbers are complex and difficult to edit (which is why La La Land will most likely take the Sound Mixing category as well for the complex organization), and a film that takes this award often takes home Best Picture.  Arrival, on the other hand, used its editing to help portray not just emotion, but a shift in its narrative dynamic that alone gives the film its shock and awe factor.  Arrival SHOULD win because it actually used its editing to help tell its story - masterfully, I would like to add.

BEST ART DIRECTION/PRODUCTION DESIGN

Arrival

     Production Design: Patrice Vermette; Set Decoration: Paul Hotte

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

     Production Design: Stuart Craig; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock

Hail, Caesar!

     Production Design: Jess Gonchor; Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh

La La Land

     Production Design: David Wasco; Set Decoration: Sandy Reynolds-Wasco

Passengers

     Production Design: Guy Hendrix Dyas; Set Decoration: Gene Serdena

_________________________________

WILL WIN:  LA LA LAND

SHOULD WIN:  LA LA LAND

Duh.  It's gots colors!

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Allied - Joanna Johnston

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - Colleen Atwood

Florence Foster Jenkins - Consolata Boyle

Jackie - Madeline Fontaine

La La Land - Mary Zophres

____________________________

WILL WIN:  FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS

SHOULD WIN:  LA LA LAND

This is the first category I don't overtly see La La Land winning, only because the flashier period pieces often take home this award (as history has proved).  A film like Jackie or Florence Foster Jenkins could gain momentum here if only because of their ability to more capture the extravagance of their time periods.

BEST MAKEUP

A Man Called Ove

Star Trek Beyond

Suicide Squad

___________________________

WILL WIN:  STAR TREK BEYOND

SHOULD WIN:  A MAN CALLED OVE

While I was not a huge fan of either of the big Hollywood films, A Man Called Ove is too obscure and "foreign" for many voters to choose it, even with their disdain for a film like Suicide Squad.  That leaves Star Trek Beyond, masterfully hiding Idris Elba underneath pounds of prosthetics, allowing him to perform beyond recognition.  The only reason I choose the Swedish film is because I want the award to go to excellence, and it's the highest-regarded film on this list.

BEST SOUND MIXING

Arrival

     Bernard Gariépy Strobl and Claude La Haye

Hacksaw Ridge

     Kevin O’Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie and Peter Grace

La La Land

     Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee and Steve A. Morrow

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

     David Parker, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

     Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Mac Ruth

_______________________________

WILL WIN:  LA LA LAND

SHOULD WIN:  HACKSAW RIDGE

This is the technical category where musicals (or films about music in general) tend to rule over the bombast, loud action films.  On the other hand, if Hacksaw Ridge is to be recognized by the Academy and the specialized technicians voting in this category, this will be the area in which it will excel.  If the Academy is going to be boring as hell, they'll choose La La Land in just about every category it is nominated.  If they are spreading the love, they'll leave these categories to the films people will revisit to test their home sound systems.

BEST SOUND EFFECTS EDITING

Arrival

Deepwater Horizon

Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land

Sully

________________________________

WILL WIN:  HACKSAW RIDGE

SHOULD WIN:  HACKSAW RIDGE

Sound Mixing usually goes to the Best Picture winner in many years past, but Sound Editing is usually a more technical field (and to this day one of my favorite categories, mainly because the best work is more often consistently awarded here than in any other category) and is often left for the action films.  War films are gold when it comes to editing sound, and Pvt. Desmond Doss takes this award home on his shoulder, saving it from a La La Land sweep.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Deepwater Horizon

     Craig Hammack, Jason Snell, Jason Billington and Burt Dalton

Doctor Strange

     Stephane Ceretti, Richard Bluff, Vincent Cirelli and Paul Corbould

The Jungle Book

     Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Dan Lemmon

Kubo and the Two Strings

     Steve Emerson, Oliver Jones, Brian McLean and Brad Schiff

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

     John Knoll, Mohen Leo, Hal Hickel and Neil Corbould

__________________________________

WILL WIN:  KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS

SHOULD WIN:  KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS

This used to be one of my favorite categories to look forward to in years past, mainly because I loved seeing the progression of technique, style, and wizardry used to bring fantasy to life.  In the past couple decades, though, CGI has felt too imposing, overt, and relatively lazy in terms of allowing filmmakers too much of a break from actually putting real handiwork into making their films.  Therefore, given the time, effort,  and care put into its production, I think Kubo (like Ex Machina last year) DESERVES this award.

BEST MUSICAL SCORE

Jackie - Mica Levi

La La Land - Justin Hurwitz

Lion - Dustin O'Halloran and Hauschka

Moonlight - Nicholas Britell

Passengers - Thomas Newman

_____________________________

WILL WIN:  LION

SHOULD WIN:  LION

Piano-heavy, many people claimed the music to be a true highlight to the film's emotional impact.  Voters love pianos.  Lion has a lot of pianos, so it will win the Oscar, and a piano will play as Dustin O'Halloran and Hauschka walk to the stage.  Aside from the films having good music, I'm sadly still missing the days of great "themes" that are memorable, and easy to hum days after the credits have rolled.  One of the last true scores with memorable cues that would stick to my mind like sweet, sweet honey was Howard Shore's work on The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

BEST SONG

"Audition (The Fools Who Dream)"

     from La La Land; Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

"Can't Stop The Feeling"

     from Trolls; Music and Lyric by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster

"City of Stars"

     from La La Land; Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

"The Empty Chair"

     from Jim: The James Foley Story; Music and Lyric by J. Ralph and Sting

"How Far I'll Go"

     from Moana; Music and Lyric by Lin-Manuel Miranda

______________________________________

WILL WIN:  Something from LA LA LAND

SHOULD WIN:  Something

Honestly I don't give a shit.  The only reason I included this category to discuss is to mention how retarded it is that this is still a category to award, when nothing has been mentioned for the Stunt Performers in films.  For years there have been petitions not just to remove this category (I don't think it should be removed, but it should at least be reduced to three nominees), but to include the often death-defying work that stuntmen do on films sets (and often for shitty, shitty films).  So, screw this category.

Peacemaker Reviews - "Patriots Day"

JJ Mortimer

"Patriots Day" (2016 limited, 2017 wide-release) - Rated R / Runtime:  130 minutes

Directed by Peter Berg

Written by Peter Berg, Matt Cook, Joshua Zetumer

Starring:  Mark Wahlberg, J.K. Simmons, Michelle Monaghan, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon

Review by:  JJ Mortimer

Director Peter Berg's masterful addition to his slate of true story-based dramas, Patriots Day deftly retells the traumatic events of the Boston Marathon terrorist attack in 2013 and the manhunt that followed, while seamlessly interweaving real footage into its narrative to help empower the emotional brevity the film maintains.  The film teaches us that, despite the evil of men trying to bring a city (and an entire country) down to its knees, the strength of Boston's fellowship and love for the freedoms a country provides will help people rise above all that oppresses it.

I often find it difficult to write an extensive review on a film I overwhelmingly liked, so this may be short and sweet. 

After the success of Lone Survivor, a film that many could argue as a modern day military masterpiece, director Peter Berg found his footing retelling true events using as much factual information that was available.  His Deepwater Horizon was another good film using the same narrative beats, but Patriots Day may be his best work to date.  On an emotional level, this film transcends the others because it involves people in a situation that we all can relate to.  No military, no oil rigs in the middle of the ocean - just real, average, every day people caught amidst the depraved morality of evil men doing despicable things.

What makes Patriots Day so great is that Peter Berg and his editors, Gabriel Fleming and Colby Parker Jr., build tension, terror, drama, and small bits of humor to keep a very real situation from become too "glamorous" in film form.  The film allows the audience to put itself into the shoes of multiple characters by building their stories early on in the film, leading us to wonder what part they will play as the movie progresses.  As their individual scenes unfold, the film comes to a dramatic and emotional head that truly had me on the brink of tears as the final credits rolled.

Patriot Day's most surprising aspect of all, for me, was the powerful performance from Mark Wahlberg, who has been great in all three of Berg's true story dramas.  Here he is at his best, never overacting and, being from Boston himself, feeling as though his duty was to pay tribute to the people who suffered in the days following April 15, 2013.  Of all the actors in supporting roles, everyone played their true life counterparts as accurately and efficiently as possible, with special acknowledgment going the way of Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons as officer Jeff Pugliese, a man who some describe to this day as a real life "super hero."  Any film with Simmons is immediately elevated by his presence alone.

Peter Berg has cemented himself a career, it seems, on recreating true stories and paying homage to the real people involved in the events.  His pre-credits montages of actual pictures of the people being documented has become a welcome "common place," a motif that really nails home the emotional power a seemingly fictional story can hold, reminding us that, behind many "myths" and stories stands actual REAL people whose lives in many cases were lost.  I look forward to the director's next fact-based endeavor, and in the same breath pray that no more horrific events like the Boston Marathon bombing take place that may inspire such films to be made.

9/10

Peacemaker Reviews - "Rogue One - A Star Wars Story"

JJ Mortimer

"Rogue One:  A Star Wars Story" (2016) - Rated PG-13 / Runtime:  133 minutes

Directed by Gareth Edwards

Written by Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy; story by John Knoll, Gary Whitta

Starring:  Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, Donnie Yen, Ben Mendelsohn, Alan Tudyk

Review by:  JJ Mortimer

More dark and serious than colorful and fun, Rogue One is a capable, well-made spin-off of the Star Wars franchise that has some impressive visuals, some fun character moments, and an action-packed third act.  Though after all the "Star Wars" action and movie spectacle has subsided, the true question is:  Was Rogue One a story that needed to be told?

To be honest and fair, I preferred last year's Episode VII: The Force Awakens more than I did this film.  I may have liked it more than anyone else I know.  The continuation of the Skywalker saga, at least for me, is the heart of the Star Wars legacy.  Once that story is fulfilled, so is the true soul of the franchise.  Rogue One, being the first in a planned series of spin-off Star Wars films, though taking place in the pantheon of what we know as the "Star Wars Universe," is still a product of the nuances, trends, and styles of today's film making community.  The Star Wars films we love so much (the original trilogy, ending with Return of the Jedi) are products of the 70s and 80s, and creativity and limitations of that era are evident in the charm those films brought to the screen.  That same charm is what is sadly missing (not entirely, but mostly) from these newer generation films. 

To the credit of The Force Awakens, much of its success relied heavily on our decades-long nostalgia invested into its history, but succeeded on its own in ushering in a new era to the epic story line with easily memorable characters and a push to continue the original storyline.  Films like Rogue One (and the soon-to-be filmed spinoffs of a young Han Solo, and presumably Obi-Wan Kenobi post-Episode III) are just filling in fun little gaps without really adding anything that we need to know.  This is a classic case of a production company and financiers mining every little bit that they can from a franchise of films they KNOW people will love when they first see them, but have no intention of caring whether or not the quality of their films stand the test of time. 

Fortunately, Rogue One is an aptly made action film, made by quality film makers who at least attempt to give us characters we can enjoy that are acted by performers who care about their roles.  For that much, I can appreciate this movie.  Never in this film did I feel that anyone involved in its filming was running on auto-pilot.  I felt there was great care and craftsmanship in making this film, even though many technical and visual shortcomings that brought the charm to the original series were cleaned up with the mainstay of today's lazy digital manipulations.

I would like instead to highlight the positives, negative, and in-betweens of this movie to better illustrate how I feel about it.  I will try to avoid spoilers, but to discuss at least ONE major issue I had with the film, it may get a little spoilery, so...

POSSIBLE SPOILERS ALERT!

POSITIVES of Rogue One:

* As a stand-alone film, it has some very entertaining and engaging parts.  The last half of the movie is worth the ticket price alone, and is a treat for all audiences.

* Characters and The Force:  With the plethora of new characters introduced into this world, Rogue One director Gareth Edwards does a nice job of allowing each character a small moment to let their personality shine through.  Felicity Jones plays Jyn Erso with capable command.  A reprogrammed Empire droid named K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) brings the majority of the humor to the film.  Donnie Yen is my favorite of the new characters as a blind martial artist named Chirrut Îmwe who treats the Force like a religion, and not as a scientific abnormality that George Lucas tried to flop into our laps with The Phantom Menace. Here, the film makers rightfully put the Force as a mystical power that can be "believed" in, as is evident with Yen's religious-level chanting and belief that the Force is a power that will protect you even if you don't wield the powers as a Jedi would. 

* There were only a couple nostalgic throwbacks, with no unnecessary character inclusions.  The ones that did show up made sense to be there.  If George Lucas had directed it, somehow he would have found a way to shoehorn Han Solo, Chewbacca, Obi-Wan, Luke and Yoda for the fucking sake of reasons and toys.

* Michael Giacchino's score was serviceable and was John Williams-light in feel.  The themes were not altogether memorable (other than the obvious Star Wars theme over the end credits), but the score fit well into the overall film, and helped make Rogue One feel more like it belongs in the universe without being directly part of the Skywalker saga.

* James Earl Jones returning as the voice of Darth Vader was one of the most pleasant sounding things these ears have heard since Return of the Jedi

* The few minutes we see with Darth Vader in action are more engaging than any amount of screen time spent with him in the abysmal prequel trilogy.  He's legitimately frightening as he was in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, and this film introduces him back to us as that foreboding force to be reckoned with (pun intended).

NEGATIVES of Rogue One:

* Characters and Places:  There were too many.   Too many characters to get fully get involved with (save a few), a trait that befell another team-up movie earlier this year, The Magnificent Seven.  The film also jumps from location to location so many times that subtitles had to appear on screen to let us know which of the half-dozen planets and characters we were visiting.

* Characters, Part 2:  For the life of me I can barely remember any of their names.  Just to type in what character Donnie Yen played, I had to do an IMDB search.  The Force Awakens did a fine job of introducing us to the new series' characters, and I remembered their names much easier than I can anyone from Rogue One.  Considering this is a one-off movie, that's not a HUGE problem, but if you want characters that stick in your mind, you want names that are more easily remembered, or spoken from actors who are a little stronger with their dialogue delivery.

*  Technicals:  The cinematography from Greig Fraser and his insistence on standard medium close-up on nearly every dialogue exchange.  I wanted the camera to pull back more often than not so we can see more than one person and background action in the scene at a time.  I want to feel the environment more, not study every contour of a character's upper torso.  I'm also not sure if he was the best choice to shoot a film in the colorful fantasy world of Star Wars, given that his history of work involves dreary, washed out visuals (Foxcatcher and Zero Dark Thirty are examples).

*  The Rebel Alliance felt like a bunch of pussies that only got their butts into gear when a couple "rogue" people spoke a few choice sentences that made sense.  Before that moment, it felt like all the rebels stood around complaining, and waiting for someone to walk them by the hand over to their ships and says, "Fucking fight or you'll die!"  Oh yeah, we're at war against a regime that has a machine strong enough to destroy fucking planets, maybe we should risk a little and try to stop it, especially when someone comes forward with a legitimate plan to take them down.  I didn't buy the rebel leaders' resistance to Jyn Erso's plan to steal the Death Star's...plans.

*  Darth Vader's temple on the volcano planet felt more in place behind the black gates of Mordor than it did in the fantasy universe of Star Wars.

ON-THE-FENCE points of Rogue One:

*  Despite the heavy Star Wars action, I was a little taken aback at how dark this film (and film makers behind it) felt it needed to be.  The film had some humorous and fun moments, but watching it back-to-back with 1977s A New Hope will feel significantly - tonally - out of contrast.

*  The first half of the film is rather slow, while the end picks up significantly with some really nice visual moments of battle and carnage.  The slow pace of the first two acts may throw some younger viewers out of commission for moments at a time, but it was necessary in order for the slew of new characters to get introduced to the audience.

*  Digitally inserting Peter Cushing's face onto another actor in order to have the look of the original Grand Moff Tarkin, while mostly impressive, felt a little creepy.  While the "uncanny valley" and bringing life to a digital character's eyes has been significantly improved since The Polar Express days, the mouth movement when speaking still needs a little more work.  Ethically, I'm still on the fence about bringing a deceased actor back from the dead just for the sake of looking similar.  I understand why the film makers and the digital wizards at Industrial Light & Magic did it and I can appreciate the continuity, but I'm still on the fence about the use of the tactic, and hope it doesn't start a new trend of having CGI performances of deceased actors to have new movies starring John Wayne or Jimmy Stewart.

* The main villain, Director Krennic (played by Ben Mendelsohn) was evil enough, but was back-staged any time he shared screen time with Vader or digital Peter Cushing, which was a shame because I wanted a new villain to shine without being overshadowed by nostalgia.

*  Technicals:  The hand held camera didn't work for me in the slower first half of the movie, but worked well enough during the prolonged battle scenes in the second half.  If you've read my reviews, you know how I feel about the overuse of hand held camera without the context of artistic visual narration to support its implementation.  When two characters are having a standard conversation, you might do justice to your actors to put the fucking camera on a tripod.  When Stormtroopers are being blasted to bits, you can be a little more action-y with the camera movement, so in those moments it worked.

*  Technicals, Part 2:  The film's action is edited quite well and lets us see what's happening and to whom it is happening to, though it would have been nice to stay more away from the medium shots and closeups for us to see the full force of the action and allow our eyes to train more on the characters as they do cool shit.

Rogue One mostly feels like it belongs in the Star Wars universe, but not as a precursor to the 1977 original.  The cinematography, set design, and abundance of digital effects make it feel like it takes place more in this new trilogy kicked off by last year's Force Awakens.

 

In conclusion, to answer the original question of whether Rogue One was a story that needed to be told, the answer truly is yes and no.  I'm glad the movie was made mainly because the filmmakers behind it were capable craftsmen, and they were able to make an impressive and entertaining spin-off film that stands on its own merit without relying too much on anybody's predisposition or knowledge of the Star Wars universe.  Yet the story itself doesn't add anything new to the development of the films we already know and love, and may very well usher in "Star Wars fatigue" - a new syndrome where having a backstory to every little detail to the main Skywalker saga films will tire out the audience, and take a little fun out of imagining what may (or may not) have happened for some characters to become who they are. 

While there may be some issues and little nitpicky details I had with Rogue One, I was still surprised it came out as good as it did.  The first half of the film was pretty small scale which helped amplify the large scale of the second half (which I thoroughly enjoyed).  Some of the new characters stuck with me and I found at least one I truly loved, and the small dose of Vader nostalgia went a looooong way.  And nothing beats hearing the sound of blasters, the engagement of light speed, and dogfights between X-Wings and TIE Fighters in a large movie auditorium with a great sound system.

"I am one with the Force; the Force is with me."

Peacemaker Reviews - "Hacksaw Ridge"

JJ Mortimer

"Hacksaw Ridge" (2016) - Rated R / Runtime:  131 minutes

Directed by Mel Gibson

Written by Robert Schenkkan, Andrew Knight

Starring:  Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Vince Vaughn, Hugo Weaving, Teresa Palmer

Review by:  JJ Mortimer

With Hacksaw Ridge, director Mel Gibson partakes in the proud telling of another addition to the great pantheon of dramas involving the last Great War, in a film that is anchored by an endearing performance from Andrew Garfield as conscientious objector, Private Desmond Doss.  Gibson, with his almost independent filmmaker prowess, tells the story he wants to tell, and does so without processing too many contemporary values and thoughts into the equation, therefore delivering a film that is a more appropriate mirroring of the ethical and political values of the early 20th century rather than that of contemporary times.

Mel Gibson isn't known for being completely accurate with his "true stories."  Braveheart, in my opinion one of the best epic motion picture dramas of the past few decades, was also about as accurate as Mr. Magoo in a shooting range.  But, Gibson nontheless proves himself an effective storyteller by focusing on what makes a story - a "movie story" - great.  For him it's not about knowing exactly how every foot was stepped onto the trail as it is remembering which steps mattered the most.  I know that Hacksaw Ridge is a lot of "Hollywood" fictional retelling and embellishing, but damn does it make for some inspirational, dramatic, and powerful storytelling.

This film was full of actors I normally don't like or have even grown to hate over time, yet somehow they all redeem themselves with fantastically commanding performances (and partly because the film was also a strong platform for drama).  Andrew Garfield as private Desmond Doss is a well-cast lead, a man who is not only easy to relate to, but at times a worthy role model for his strong, strict stature on his moral, religious, and ethical code.  As with the supporting cast, the most notable is Vince Vaughn who I really enjoyed as drill sergeant Howell, in a role that some could see as schlocky or derivative at times (unfair comparisons have been made to R. Lee Ermey of Full Metal Jacket fame, but on a smaller scale), but I found his performance to be perfectly fit into the tone of the film, and a welcome surprise given the history of roles the man has taken.

Hacksaw Ridge is one of the rare movies that, in the first act, truly feels like it was filmed and is being acted more closely to the era in which the film takes place than it does in our current generation.  The performances are a little sappy and goofy at times, but somehow I bought into all of it.  As the film progresses and the bright daylight around Doss begins to darken into the war-torn dirt, mud, fire and smoke, his character becomes the light in the darkness of death and despair, showing that the actions of one can prove far greater than the often lost and misguided actions of many.

Earlier portions of the film involving the life of Desmond Doss before he enlists may sway some film-goers looking for an immediate, straight-to-the-punch, die-hard action war film, but what these earlier, more innocent moments do is enlighten the later moments of the film, drawing more emotion from his character (and the audience's attachment to his personal journey) and teaching us just how valuable it is to stay true to your personal values, and how not turning your back on your convictions define you as the person that you are.

A huge mention must be made on how Hacksaw Ridge is a beautifully photographed motion picture, one of the more carefully blocked, shot, and edited pieces of action filmmaking I've seen in many years, especially in an era when action cinematography is so shaky, lazy, and unimaginative.  Not since the late Conrad Hall's work in Road to Perdition have I seen a film and immediately thought, "This film will win the Oscar for best Cinematography."  I've seen a lot of films I knew would get nominated, but rarely do I ever predict outright a win for a film.  Well, here's my early prediction, and I truly hope I'm correct and that director of photography Simon Duggan takes home an Oscar (despite also having worked on Warcraft, one of the worst films of this year).  Not only is Duggan's work here a marvel in atmosphere, but also in knowing when to hold shots on character's faces, and allowing the emotion to seep into the scene by simply allowing the viewer to feel the determination in Desmond's expressions.

Writer Robert Schenkkan, who wrote the script for Hacksaw Ridge, also has experience in WWII drama, having written four episodes of the superb miniseries The Pacific, including episodes also surrounding the Japanese campaign.  This film feels very much in the same dramatic vein as that award-winning show, so watching Ridge in conjunction as a two-hour continuation of the stories told in the miniseries could add some interesting drama to a long Sunday of emotional, historical-based war movies.

To me, what is most important about Hacksaw Ridge is that Mel Gibson has created a film that has immediate rewatchability, and in today's times (and against my often jaded cynicism toward Hollywood pandering and production judgment), that is a HUGE plus.  Hacksaw Ridge acts as a good lesson on the importance to adhering to one's personal values; staying true to oneself, regardless of the oft ignorance of outside oppression.  If a parent could get past the extremely gory nature of war on display in many scenes, I could see the values taught by this film being very beneficial to a teenager/young adult unsure of the sincerity of knowing just how important it is to stay true to what they think is right.

Hacksaw Ridge is by no means a perfect movie, and it's all the better for that.  A few shoddy composite/green screen effects in the beginning of the film might throw a few film enthusiasts off at first, but the film's inspirational quality and entertainment value (two staples of Mel Gibson's films) gives this one a few extra points in my book.  It's also really nice to see actual stuntmen lit on fire, and despite a few obvious CGI gunshot wounds, the majority of the war carnage looked very convincing and graphic using old-school makeup effects and techniques, rather than hindering too much on computer-generated fakery.  A highly recommended film from my point-of-view, and a contender for my short list as one of the best films of the year.

Peacemaker Reviews - "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back"

JJ Mortimer

"Jack Reacher:  Never Go Back" (2016) - Rated PG-13 / Runtime:  118 minutes

Directed by Edward Zwick

Written by Richard Wenk, Edward Zwick & Marshall Herskovitz

Starring:  Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders

Review by:  JJ Mortimer

Boring, dull, and generally lifeless, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is a stark contrast to its tightly-written, highly produced and underrated predecessor.  This is a film that feels stock, uncreative, and devoid of knowing exactly what made the first film work so well, and tends to stay on-the-rails as far as doing what is necessary to get to a conclusion with a story that at times makes no sense, has complete implausibility, or I just plain didn't give a shit about. 

After all that being said, the main problem with this film is that Jack Reacher himself, Mr. Tom Cruise, relatively takes a back seat to the needless extra characters that he has to haul around with him.  The story to this film, involving a teenage girl who may or may not be his daughter, and a female Army Major who is wrongfully accused of some form of espionage in relation to Article Who Gives a Fuck, makes very little sense on where it is headed, and the definition of its plot would involve saying what the characters are doing scene-to-scene rather than a description of any real umbrella of a story.

This movie is basic, by-the-numbers film making, which is sad considering how much quality director Edward Zwick has had with his work in the past.  For God's sake, he's the director of the Civil War drama Glory - my favorite film of all time.

Where the first Jack Reacher was crackling with wit, and was crisply shot by superb cinematographer Caleb Deschanel and tightly edited together and paced so well, Never Go Back feels like it was filmed by a Hallmark Channel film crew that didn't care about creativity in shots, or building tension with the editing.  The villain is a stock character that to me wouldn't really have been a true threat to Reacher, but the film does such a fine job of making our main hero look as useless as possible until the moment the script calls for him to jump to action.

I mean, we're talking about one of the greatest wandering, homeless detectives in Jack Reacher, a man who is essentially a western version of Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo.  Yet for some reason this sequel to one of my favorite action films of the past five years doesn't seem to care about how awesome he is, and instead wants him to implausibly walk into scenario after scenario where he gets cornered by a group of idiotic henchmen just for the sake of reminding us that he's awesome at hand-to-hand combat.  We know he's awesome, but when the character has already been introduced to us as a master planner and tactician, I don't buy that when knowing he is being followed, he would just wander down a dark alley and away from a position he can use to escape.

This really hurts me to stab this movie so hard in its heart, because I love the first movie so much and I love the director's previous work.  I'm a fan of Tom Cruise and he has consistently put out years and years of quality work.  This is the first time I feel like he involved little of his input into the production and instead let last-minute film makers take over the production.  My negative review, while based mainly on the production values of this film, also is a reflection of my disappointment in my expectations based on the quality we've seen before.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is colorless in photography, has no real dramatic ups-and-downs in its narrative, is cliche, and devoid of all the energy and charisma that made the first film so great and rewatchable.  I'm upset to do this, but here's a Super Mario Bros. single star to display my displeasure.

Peacemaker Reviews - "Doctor Strange"

JJ Mortimer

"Doctor Strange" (2016) - Rated PG-13 / Runtime:  115 minutes

Directed by Scott Derrickson

Produced by Kevin Feige

Starring:  Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen

Review by:  JJ Mortimer

Though heavy on exposition and a little less coherent than some of the simpler Marvel Studios comic book adaptations, Doctor Strange is nevertheless a visually impressive, magic-filled adventure that introduces us to yet another confident, competent, and charismatic lead to the Avengers-based team.

Here's the thing:  If you like the MCUs (Marvel Cinematic Universe) characters and the Avengers-based films, you're going to like Doctor Strange.  The film looks like and follows the typical Marvel/Stan Lee tropes for origin stories, and does obvious tie-ins to future Avengers films.  Strange has a very familiar formula, but luckily ads a little spice to the visual atmosphere we've come to expect from these films.  It's magic and Eastern mysticism is a welcome change of genre than what we've seen so far.

WARNING:  If you're a psychedelic drug practitioner, do NOT partake before watching this film.  Doctor Strange has a few scenes that look like Inception as filmed by an LSD-addled Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda in the late 60s.  Stephen Strange learns of the "astral world" and is thrown into the environment-bending craziness that is a wonder to behold.  The films grasps and flies with the "strange" and has a lot of fun with it.  In the end and after all is learned, said, and done, I feel as though Doctor Strange will have a HUGE part to play in how the Infinity Wars plays out.  So, do your best to pay attention to all the details in this film.

Marvel movies aren't director's movies.  I feel Marvel didn't hire director Scott Derrickson (Sinisiter) because of his singular vision, but because he's workmanlike and will deliver exactly what the company asks him to.  These films are products of the producer, but luckily Marvel head producer Kevin Feige has the entertainment of the fans on his mind.   The only film from the current MCU that had a singular director's vision was Shane Black's Iron Man 3, but even that had more to do with his writing, combined with the delivery and comic timing of its star.

Speaking of stars, Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange is quite magnificent, playing an egotistical, self-absorbed asshole brain surgeon who, after losing the use of his precision handiwork, learns from a mystical teacher known as the Ancient One (a bald-headed Tilda Swinton) in how to channel his inner sorcery for the powers of good, and in turn become a self-sacrificing, caring leader who finds another powerful use for his hands.  The film deftly shows us how important his character is and will become, and at one point made me feel like they may have shown us a little TOO much that may hinder future tension should devastation occur to the Avengers team.

Doctor Strange is a little bit different than the other Marvel films.  We've had science fiction, grounded technology, historic war, mythological fantasy, and now we are introduced to the realm of mysticism and magic.  I feel like implications made in this film and this character will have the largest impact on the future of where these stories from the MCU lead us.

The visuals of Doctor Strange are made for the big screen.  If you have a chance, see this film in IMAX and try not to get dizzy or freak the fuck out when Strange breaks the space/time continuum, or when the villain bends New York City in ways that will make people under in the influence shit their pants.

Doctor Strange is yet another successful Marvel-ous generation of a charismatic lead character that I would like to see again in future films.  There may have been a lot of exposition for the film to get through, but luckily it is all in the presence of good bits of humor, impressive and colorful artistic design, cinematography, and effective uses of computer generated imagery (although Michael Giacchino's score did sound an awful lot like his current Star Trek themes).  And at under two hours, the film does not overstay its welcome, which is great because you should stay for the customary two post-credit sequences.

Peacemaker Reviews - "The Accountant"

JJ Mortimer

"The Accountant" (2016) - Rated R / Runtime:  128 minutes

Directed by Gavin O'Connor

Written by Bill DuBuque

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

Review by:  JJ Mortimer

Director Gavin O'Connor's The Accountant is a superhero movie disguised as a tax-based spy/Borne thriller about autism, a film so thick with detail and information that it borders on convolution, but is held tightly together by Ben Affleck's frighteningly commanding (and dare I say "nuanced") performance.

The Accountant is a film about a race to find a man, a savant who is highly effective at cooking the books for his clients, some of which are less-than-refutable.  His ties to multiple murders, involving mafia bosses, has drawn the attention of the Treasury Department (headed by J.K. Simmons).  Meanwhile, "The Accountant" (Ben Affleck) is hired by a wealthy robotics manufacturer to find an error in his accounting, an action that leads to the death of colleagues and putting the lives of the accountant and the CPA hired before him (Anna Kendrick) in danger from militaristic hitmen (led by Jon Bernthal).  Only then do we see who this "accountant" really is, and what he is capable of.

There's so much going on in The Accountant that at one point I felt it would have done even better as a Narcos-style twelve episode miniseries on Netflix.  Director Gavin O'Connor and writer Bill DuBuque do a great job of keeping the film so rife with substance that many details may pass you by on first viewing (many of which were brought to my attention in discussion immediately afterward).  The Accountant borders on being convoluted, partly due to the editor's difficult task at trying to jumble together multiple themes and storylines, mainly involving the Treasury Department's investigation on who this mysterious "Accountant" guy is, and on the audience's experience with Affleck's character as we learn first-hand who he really is.

I saw an inherent issue with this film when the trailers first premiered.  The preview to me showed what looked to be two distinctly different films - one involving a child overcoming his autism, and then one with the adult Ben Affleck version using his limitations as skills.  But I wasn't sure if the film was going in the route of a drama or an action film, and after watching it, I still feel the film could have gone either way (it went more the action route, and the previews intentionally - or unintentionally - made the audience believe it was something that it was not).  I don't fault the film for that, but it gave me an idea that the actual film itself carried so much substance in a short two-hour run time that it could have benefited from being spread out in an episodic manner.

Comparisons to The Usual Suspects are mostly unfounded.  This movie doesn't have a big twist ending that will make you go back to watch the movie again to see the clues that lead to the conclusion.  This film is more revelatory, showing little things that are subtly set up throughout the film that some people may see coming depending on their knowledge of technology, mental disorders, or the history of the film's director and the themes he likes to portray and use in his films.  There's no "Oh my God!" moment when I found out two things that, when thinking back, were totally set up with little clues early on in the film.  One of the reveals I found out twenty or so minutes before it happened, and the final one at the conclusion of the film is just a neat little thing that didn't elevate the story, but was a nice touch that tied this gift of a film together with a nice little bow.

My knowledge is limited on the intricacies of autism and Asperger's Syndrome, but the film had me sold on its use of such character limitations, or in some regards, highly-valued qualities.  Ben Affleck clearly did research to pull of his dedicated performance, one that is at times flowing from charming to frightening as a man afflicted with "functioning autism" who was trained by his military father to harness his capabilities and learn how to adapt to the seemingly extra-sensory perceptions of the world around him.  Every scene Ben Affleck is on screen is captivating and, quite frankly, impressive.  The movie often flashes back and forth, and the scenes involving Affleck's character of Christian Wolff as a boy will offer a lot of fuel for the need to see the film again.  Many little details, involving Affleck's wardrobe and routines, play off of what the audience learns in the earlier portions of the film.  The film makers also make a fantastic choice not to spell these details out to the audience, but instead leave them there for us to discover and ponder.

I will throw my two cents in here and say that any time J.K. Simmons is in a film it is immediately elated, and he is given a real moment to shine here.  The best, most emotionally-driven scene in the film comes from J.K. Simmons' character who, in a moment between what could be his choice of life or death, reveals much about himself in a breakdown that is gut-wrenching, horrifying, and profound.  The other stars in the film are also effective in their roles, with Anna Kendrick's character making sense in that Ben Affleck's functioning autistic would actually be attracted to her, not only for her somewhat manically-charming behavior, but for her as a clear dynamic that ties in to his nightly routine of bombarding his senses with loud music, strobe lights, and self-inflicted pain in order to dull his senses to the world his greater mind has trouble functioning within.  Her character isn't one-note, and has traits that would appeal to a man of his nature, and happily she isn't written off as your typical Hollywood "love interest."  There's much more to their relationship than that unnecessary bullshit.  Marvel's The Punisher himself, Jon Bernthal, is also in another note-worthy role here as a badass hitman who is a little more grounded than Affleck's savant, but is also just as dangerous in his ways of getting the information he needs to hunt the secret accountant who would give Captain American himself a shit load of trouble in hand-to-hand combat.

So overall I really liked this film.  I didn't expect it to be such an action-heavy film and was anticipating a more dramatically-themed script, but to its advantage it takes what we learn about mental/social disorders and allows these aspects to create a deeper lead character without pandering to the dumber audiences.  The action itself, which to some will probably be written off as the "dumber parts of the movie," actually has a lot of technical gunplay and combat involved in it, which always, ALWAYS, makes for far more engaging fight scenes.  I highly recommend The Accountant to people who aren't looking for cheap, pandering/political Oscar-bait material, but looking for a good night out with a well-acted action movie that has a lot of fun character and story details that make for instant rewatchability.

If you're a fan of director Gavin O'Connor's highly underrated Warrior (one of my favorite movies of the past five years) and are familiar with the themes he utilizes in his storytelling, then some ideas and themes in The Accountant may not come as such a surprise.

It's really damn odd to hear myself say that I look forward to Ben Affleck's roles.  After Robert Downey, Jr., Affleck may have the next most-successful career turnaround in contemporary Hollywood history.  What once was a 90s, coke-fueled tool of a douchebag is now one of the more highly-sought after film makers working.  He's become a gifted actor with a decent range of performances under his belt, and in many cases (and even the most dissenting of audiences of Batman v. Superman can agree) has been the best part of the recent films he's starred in.

Peacemaker Reviews - "The Magnificent Seven"

JJ Mortimer

"The Magnificent Seven" (2016) - Rated PG-13 / Runtime:  133 minutes

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Review by:  JJ Mortimer

Not so much a film of wrong choices as it is missed opportunities, The Magnificent Seven is a watered-down remake of a remake that unfortunately rushes through its first act of character introductions in order to get to its action-packed, albeit emotionally empty, final set piece.

To justify the remaking of a film, a purpose for its existence must be addressed.  In the case of director Antoine Fuqua's The Magnificent Seven (a remake of 1960s The Magnificent Seven, which itself was a remake/adaptation of Akira Kurosawa's classic masterpiece Seven Samurai), I never quite got the understanding that this film was made for any purpose other than for our current Hollywood trend of, "Fuck it, reuse a brand name and repackage it to the blind and stupid masses."

There are some good moments in this film, some of which are fun and quirky, while others are dark and almost poignant.  But, the main problem with this film is that, despite being named after a group of seven cowboys hired to rid a town of an evil, murderous land baron, we never get to emotionally attach ourselves to these men, and their immediate/rushed-for-the-sake-of-screenplay forming and existence makes no fucking sense whatsoever.

I got the impression that the film makers of The Magnificent Seven didn't know whether to make a legitimate, realistic western, or if they were just out to make an action movie starring characters wearing cowboy hats.  Cowboys vs. Aliens portrayed cowboys and the Old West in a more realistic tone and setting, just to give you a comparison.

I start to question why this remake was even a western in the first place.  Given the racial diversity of the cast (led by Denzel Washington, and characters including a Mexican, a Comanche, an stereotypical martial-arts Asian, and a few white men with diverse backgrounds), I felt this film should have taken place in a more contemporary time.  But given that this remake is again a western, one would think that these themes would be addressed given the setting which, historically, was very unforgiving to people of any color other than white.  At first I admired Fuqua's almost immediate dismissal of race relations in order to advance the plot, but then it made me question the legitimacy of its choice of era (and also how thin its plot really is).  While the film shied away from even mentioning racial division in the Old West, it still attempted to be accurate in its depiction of Native Americans and Mexicans.  So therefore, If this version of The Magnificent Seven wanted to be historically accurate to at least some degree, it needed that one scene where an equal amount of disdain is shown at first toward Denzel Washington's African-American lawman character, and then allowed him to SHOW US why he should be respected, rather than just being told he's a badass.  If the film was trying to be realistic, then a scene where a town looks racially down upon him, only to have the other six of his companions come to his support would have been warranted, therefore realistically showing a diverse and color-blind (in a good way) group of men working together.  You know - thematically uplifting material with a potential for emotional character building and an ante-up on the impact the loss of a character may have on an audience.  In 2016, I'm surprised at this omission of an opportunity to bridge the racial divide.

I really liked a few of the characters.  My two favorite were those portrayed by Ethan Hawke and Vincent D'Onofrio, the only two characters that seemed to have any real substance.  Hawke's character Goodnight Robicheaux, in general, is the only one of the seven given a chance at a character arc and a moment of redemption given his questionable history in the Civil War.  D'Onofrio, as Frontiersman Jack Horne, is also engaging and unique, and his scenes (albeit very few) are fun.  Chris Pratt brings most of the film's humor and personality, and also has the coolest scene in the movie involving a stick of dynamite, but in the end he's just Chris Pratt with a slight western twang to his voice.  Denzel Washington is commanding in his part as always, but a revelation near the end involving his character is hardly set-up and comes out of nowhere, a situation where a simple reaction early on to the speaking of a particular villain's name would have given his moment more gravitas.   

The Magnificent Seven is a film that would have benefited from being three hours long and R-rated.  The film needed more time with its characters and showing us why exactly these seven men are "magnificent."  We also needed to see these men overcome their odds (not just in personality, but in a historically relevant kind of way).  It's not such an unjustly comparison to keep bringing up its original Kurosawa source material, because we saw how development time with characters makes for a much stronger impact on the audience when someone falls in battle in that film (which was far more entertaining and nearly twice the length).

The final act of the film, its giant shootout set piece, is action-packed, edited with good flow, and entertaining with moments of greatness sprinkled in that don't quite get as lofty as they should had the characters been given more time with the audience to understand, find motive in, and become emotionally attached to.  It veers into Hollywood cheese when all the bad guys essentially become Star Wars Stormtrooper clones instead of flesh-and-blood gunfighters, all of which befall to the "one bullet shot = one kill" notion.  In the aftermath, not a single injured man is seen, and every bullet seemed to have immediately killed its target.  The film needed a little more grit, or even a shot or two of a man groveling or reacting in pain would have sufficed.

Too often I found myself during my viewing thinking of other films that have done it better with the same amount of screen time and an equal amount of characters to follow.  One example is Lawrence Kasdan's superb Silverado, a film written for its characters first and foremost, which lends to action that is more fun, thematically drawn, and ultimately pays off with more impact and audience participation.

Director Antoine Fuqua is one of the most competent action directors working today with a history of solid work, which made it so very confusing to me why he let this film seemingly run on auto pilot without a handle on building its characters, and only getting a handful of details of the Old West right.  The dialect seemed off with many of the characters, some of them were too "clean" in their demeanor while others, like Ethan Hawke, looked like they took their roles more seriously and did what they could to look like they belonged in the era.  The motives for the seven men to come together made no fucking sense, was entirely rushed, and only one or two moments were ever shown to give me the impression that any of these guys were any better than any two-bit cow hand working in some dust-addled town in Arizona would have been in their situation.  Sure, they are a "rag tag" bunch of men wrangled quickly together to help a town under siege, but this film isn't called The Ragtag Seven.  They're supposed to be magnificent, damnit.

In the end, I had some fun with this film, but nothing but a couple literal "moments" stood out for me.  I found myself filling in my own backstory for some of the characters, and even during the film it made me pine for a viewing of other better westerns.  I didn't hate it, but I was disappointed. 

The Magnificent Seven is a film where watching the "behind-the-scenes" footage will probably be more compelling than the finished product, mainly because we will get to see the motivation that some of the actors had with their characters, and choices that were made before the film was quickly edited down in order to "get to the action."  And sadly, this is one of the final films composer James Horner worked on before his untimely and tragic death.  Hints of his work are sprinkled in whenever possible, but the film fills in the gaps with a fill-in composer, and even re-utilizes Elmer Bernstein's work from the 1960 film. 

Watch 1954s Seven Samurai instead which hilariously, as of this writing, is being remade as well.  When will this shit end??

Peacemaker Reviews - "Hell or High Water"

JJ Mortimer

"Hell or High Water" (2016) - Rated R / Runtime:  102 minutes

Directed by David Mackenzie

Review by:  JJ Mortimer

A modern day western with a smooth mix of The Fugitive in the atmosphere of No Country for Old Men, director David Mackenzie's Hell or High Water is a movie so effortlessly natural in direction, pacing, and performances that it stands out not only as the year's first real Oscar contender, but as a highlight to great film making in the past handful of years.

Hell or High Water is a movie I immediately wanted to watch through again; a film so full of great acting and emotional substance that future viewings will surely uncover glanced-upon moments and subtexts not seen on the first viewing.  The last film I can remember wanting to see the very moment it ended (but for different reasons) was Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winning The Departed, another film where not a single frame is wasted during its fulfilling run time. 

That is perhaps the best thing overall I can attribute to this film working so well,  that everything about it - from Taylor Sheridan's tight script, to Mackenzie's direction, and to the superb performances from the entire cast - make the film feel so effortlessly natural and real.   There is a great balance of human drama and witty humor, and much care was put in to establishing the non-melodramatic tone that maintains its overall levity, and keeps it from taking on a feeling of being too "scripted."

Hell or High Water encompasses the true Texas feel, a contemporary western that almost seems out of place in the over indulgence of high-action and CGI popcorn fare so common in Hollywood films today.  This is a film with nary a fraction of a percentage of the "action" of a Suicide Squad, but because this film understands emotional substance and the dynamics of character amidst said action, ends up being infinitely more effective (and entertaining) in three minutes of screen time than two hours of robots destroying buildings in densely populated cities could ever be.  This is a film that knows when to pull the trigger, with results that emotionally feel real, and often unexpected due to its care for its core characters.

The real stars of the film are the performances, with a real surprise being the subtle, often subdued performance from Chris Pine as Toby.  Where Ben Foster's portrayal of Tanner, the reckless, often careless and abrasive brother of Toby, utilizes his acting skills that were well-established in performances earlier in his career, Chris Pine shows real depth and calm not expected from a man whose career was defined by the manic energy of the Star Trek reboot.  Pine, as the divorced father with a sense of duty and conviction to do what it takes to ensure the well-being of his family, really nails his role home and underplays it just well enough as not to not appear pretentious.  There is a real tension in the necessary duties of the two brothers as they rob banks to gather money to save their deceased mother's ranch, which ends up being an effective contrast to the often jovial and down-home attitude of the two Texas Rangers tasked to apprehend the criminals.

Jeff Bridges is a sure-fire guarantee for another Oscar nomination.  Essentially playing the Sam Gerard role from The Fugitive, Jeff Bridges' performance of Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton brings real old-school bravado and humor to the role, a man on the brink of mandatory retirement whose constant ribbing and poking-fun of his partner/successor Alberto (Gil Birmingham) ends up being the heart of the film.  In what can only be described as a moment of perfect casting and a seemingly "lighting-in-a-bottle" display of effective directing and writing to support an actor who gives a shit about his performance, Bridges encapsulates the heart of an aging Texas lawman with an effortless display of veteran ease.  Nearly every line of dialogue, especially in his banter with his partner, felt perfect and kept in tone with the realistic, dramatic nature of the film.

This is one of those movies you just need to go in and watch with very little context or knowledge as to the overall plot or finer details of the film.  Watch it for the sharp, well-paced editing that makes its run time chip by briskly; the cinematography that maintains a dusty, sweaty feeling about everything around it; and the music from composers Nick Cave and Warren Ellis that underscores the atmosphere effectively without becoming overbearing.

What must also be noted along with how good the film's performances really are is in some of the film's final scenes.  Without spoiling anything, there is a particular emotional reaction from Jeff Bridges that is so real that, in its ten or so seconds, should alone win him an Oscar.  There is also dialogue between lawman and lawbreaker at the conclusion that very easily could have been played by John Wayne had a version of this film been made four decades ago.  This is a film that isn't afraid to let the audience think without spelling out or concluding every little detail on screen.

A true modern-day classic, and a masterpiece of acting and directing.  A must-see film for 2016.

 

Peacemaker Reviews - "Don't Breathe"

JJ Mortimer

"Don't Breathe" (2016) - Rated R / Runtime:  88 minutes

Directed by Fede Alvarez

Review by:  JJ Mortimer

A dirty, competent thriller that doesn't necessarily present anything new to the genre, Don't Breathe does, however, give enough tension, jumps, and twists to keep the ticker going despite not allowing any sympathy towards a group of characters who are all really shitty people.

Don't Breathe is the second film this year (after 10 Cloverfield Lane) that attempts to subvert the "captivity" genre by twisting its characters in such a way as to take the expected motions of storytelling in this field of thriller filmmaking and turn them on their head.  What we are left with are situations that easily could have gone the direction of cliche, but in turn give us something slightly new.  Where 10 Cloverfield Lane was focused more on the Shyamalan-esque denouement, director Fede Alvarez's Don't Breathe gives us the major twist less than halfway through, allowing the film to marvel in the contortion of its expected narrative.  And therein also lies the potential problem.

From the beginning we are introduced to three characters that are terrible people, burglars utilizing a parent's security profession to gain access to codes, addresses, wealth, etc., only to find that one particular client, a blind man (marvelously played by a buffed-out Stephen Lang) living in the decrepit outskirts of town, has recently secured a large sum of money for the accidental death of his daughter in an automotive accident.  The three young crooks decide to raid the man's house while he sleeps, only to find that the man, an Iraq war veteran, is not who he seems. 

The moment we learn all of their motivations and the secrets behind Lang's The Blind Man, I found myself not liking any of the characters.  Nobody is a good guy here, even Rocky (played by Jane Levy, the star of Fede Alvarez's 2013 remake of Evil Dead) who, for the most part, is the only one given a relateable moment as we see her early on with her abusive family and her motherly instinct toward who I assume is her very young sister.  Outside of that, we have her douchebag boyfriend rightfully named Money (need I say more) and a third wheel named Alex who gives the broken lovebird couple his father's security access codes because of his not-so-secret love of Rocky.

I wanted The Blind Man to shoot them all and feed their bodies to his Rottweiler.  And knowing the major secret of the film, I wanted him to die as well.  But, less than I wanted the three burglars to die.

For a strong story for audiences to become engaged in, you need characters that you can relate to, or have motivations that you understand or actions that make sense.  In this film, since every character is just dirty and whose backstories lack any sympathetic connection to the audience, the film becomes "observational," like watching animals on the Discovery Channel.  You don't relate to the lion or the gazelle, but you can think, "Ew, that's gross" when the lion eats the gazelle's gawdamn guts.  Never once do you put yourself in the hooves of the gazelle and relate to his personal dire situation, but rather react appropriately to the discomfort of the moment.

That's Don't Breathe in a nutshell - a film that offers only fleeting moments of situational sympathy until you realize that the overall narrative was completely avoidable and the characters are all assholes.  I ended up excited for the things happening around/to certain characters for the sheer audacity of its depraved spectacle. 

Don't Breathe does capture the grimy nature of its environment really well, making you believe that, on a surface level, the house is owned and operated by a blind man.  Though I did find it a little hard to believe a lot of the locations, "traps," and environmental configurations could have been created by the hands of a blind man, one could argue that he didn't always live alone.  But then again, would anyone believe that a blind man's daughter would help him build a particular "room" that becomes revealed in the middle of the film?  I think not.

Fede Alvarez and producer Sam Raimi show a little more restraint in this film than they did in the Evil Dead remake, yet happily they don't shy away from the disturbing moment or two (one of the first films to make me truly hate and despise a turkey baster in TWO haunting moments that will stick with me for many days).  The film has many twists and turns in the final act that didn't seem overbearing to me, but the film could have ended on either one of them and I would have been fine.  I didn't need to see the newscast aftermath of the situation, because the hole that was left open is no more filled due to any of the extra scenes we see just before and including the final moments of the film.

The movie utilizes sound design and silence very well - a true highlight to its production.  There is a particular scene that appeared inspired by the "Clarice Starling in the dark with Wild Bill" scene from Silence of the Lambs, and I actually would have enjoyed it had the majority of the second act took place in that environment.  The scene needed to go on longer because it was so effective as a suspenseful setup with characters out of their element in the comfort zone of their "captor" - again, extending the "situational sympathy" for the characters AND for the audience by placing people in an environment that we can relate to.  Don't Breathe, unfortunately, escapes this scenario too quickly for it to be an effectively-stylish and extended set piece.

While I know a lot of my thoughts here sound relatively negative, I actually thought Don't Breathe was a "good" movie.  It falls into the category of "one-off" movies, where after viewing it I expect to have no intention of ever seeing it again.  The film has good moments, even though I felt that it might have been a little more successful had one of the main characters been more reluctantly pulled into the situation (the Alex character comes close, but his essential betrayal of his father's trust makes him the most culpable to their demise), or had The Blind Man been more sympathetic and drew the audience to his side (something the 2011 film You're Next did surprisingly well with taking a horror film cliche and literally fighting back against it).  Don't Breathe is suspenseful, and if you love twisty endings then you are in for a ten-minute treat towards the end.

Come to the film for the situational thrills that get the ticker going; stay for the visual depravity, including one shot involving what can only be described as an "errant pubic hair."