Monday, July 2, 2018

MOHAWK review, (streaming on Netflix)


MOHAWK

The War of 1812 is in the last few weeks of conflict when a British spy seeks allies from a Mohawk tribe, inspiring one to commit a brutal act of sabotage when he burns an American encampment in their sleep. The survivors seek revenge and hunts the Native back to his people where the British spy and their lover, a girl named "Oak", are chased through the wilderness as they seek refuge with a nearby Mission.

Shot with unforgiving brutality, Mohawk eschews the traditional trappings of easy morality and dives deep into deeply troubled waters of xenophobia, fear, and inhumanity. Kaniehtiio Horn delivers a harsh performance as Oak, a woman in a menage trois relationship with fellow native "Calvin" and British spy "Joshua". But it's her story of desperation that drives the film toward it's bloody climax.

Ted Geoghegan (“We Are Still Here”) directs this film like a nightmarish dream that weaves through the North-East wilderness, moments often passing too quickly to be in real time and other moments moving slowly. We walk in circles, lost in mists and darkness, and flickering torches give us pause to the shadows around the characters.

8 out of 10 an a definite recommend. Streaming on Netflix.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Jurassic World and Incredibles 2

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard return for another adventure in the latest (planned) Jurassic World trilogy. Fallen Kingdom picks up a few years after the last film, the Island threatened by an extinction level event that will kill off the last of the dinosaurs. It's up to Howard and Pratt to track down "Blue" (The last film's surviving Raptor) and rescue her from the island along with several other species. Working under the auspices of the benevolent Lockwood and his company, the pair quickly find themselves pawns in a larger game of corporate espionage.

Fallen Kingdom is a fun and somewhat frivolous ride with plenty of eye-popping visuals. The dinosaurs own the film (as they should) and we get plenty of huge action sequences. The trailer spoils much of the early portion of the film and we quickly move from the island and, oddly, condense the film's primary narrative to fairly enclosed spaces. The movie loses much of it's charm when it exits the jungle and we're left shut in for a majority of the films run time.

7 out of 10, and a mild recommend. Great big budget Hollywood fun.

 INCREDIBLES 2

A movie fourteen years in the making...

And, of course, Pixar manages to re-capture much of the magic that made the first film work as well as it did.

Unfortunately, the film also walked back some of the previous film's progress and character arcs in order to fulfill some familiar themes. Whereas we left the family about to do battle with the Underminer, the film opens at that point and we see that things do not go very well in the battle that follows. In fact, it goes downright awful and the massive damage to public property reinforces the public's outcry against super heroics. The family, once working like a team, are now back to squabbling and uncertainty with their lives.

Luckily, multi-billionaire and pro-super advocate Winston Deavor has a plan to bring heroes back into the public's good graces. His entire plan revolves around the less "destructive" Elasti-Girl, and the Parr Family must now make due with Mom leaving the nest and letting Dad be the home-maker. Cue the shenanigans!

While much of the film feels like a familiar retread, there are some great sequences and the characters are faced with some new challenges. New Heroes step into the mix and a new villain, the nefarious "Screenslaver"!

8 out of 10 and a recommend.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

UPGRADE

This review may contain spoilers.

In an age where smart cars are driving themselves, "Upgrade" doesn't seem so far off from where we are heading. Like all good sci-fi stories, there's the ever encroaching progress of technology that threatens to remove our humanity and replace it with something "better" and more capable. People are replaced by machines- they don't drive their own cars, human police rely on drone cameras, we're given implants, and the list goes on. And all of this surrounds and weaves it's way through this "Deathwish"-inspired jaunt or vengeance.

Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) is a stay at home mechanic specializing in classic cars. His wife is a tech-savvy of the Cobalt corporation. After delivering his latest rebuild to Eron Keen, the couple are victims of a malfunctioning smart car and a gang of street mercenaries. His wife is killed in front of him and Grey is left a paraplegic from the neck down. The police investigation stalls and Grey is at rock bottom, looking for an end. Which is where Eron steps in and offers the man another option- installation of STEM, a computer chip that will fuse and activate the nerve responses and move Greys' body for him.

What transpires is a blood-fueled roaring rampage of revenge as STEM reveals itself to be far more advanced than Eron suggested and far more capable of helping then Grey thought imaginable. With the hosts express permission, STEM is even able to turn Grey's body into a deadly weapon. But don't be fooled by the action, the suspense, or the direction of the story- this is a tale of horror at it's very core.

DO NOT MISS THIS ONE:

9 out of 10....


--- But why do I describe it as a "horror" film when it is so clearly an action yarn of revenge? Because that's not what this is.... spoilers below.

**** SPOILER ****



**** SPOILER ****





**** SPOILER ****



Because this is a tale of technology versus humanity. STEM is ruthless in it's attempts to exact brutal retribution on the gang responsible. Grey is, at times, forced to watch in horror as STEM sets about the task of protecting the body it now inhabits. There is no mercy, no compassion, and there is no stopping STEM. As it asserts more and more control of Grey, he finds himself losing control of what it means to be human. This is a tale of body horror at it's very core, masked and distracting with a tone of action until the brutal conclusion that left me stunned as I watched the scrolling credits.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Been a bad bad boy: Revenge / Taco Shop / Tremors 6.

I've been a bad bad boy. No updates in awhile and I've seen at least three new releases in the theater. One is just not fair to me review, but I'll cover two today.

But I am also going through stuff, so I'm not at my best and my faceless readers deserve me at my best. Or at my worst. I'm sort of somewhere between right now.... anyway, you don't need to know about my personal demons, failures, or triumphs. Let's get to the movies!

REVENGE!

Obviously inspired by the "I Spit on Your Grave" sub-genre, "Revenge" starts of pretty grimy as a middle-aged married man brings his latest fling to a secluded retreat deep in the desert. He's quickly joined by two of his business friends and the group dynamic quickly gets out of hand. Three Euro-trash scumbags do the lady wrong, try to kill her, and things spiral out of control. Because she ain't dead and they ain't hunting some helpless broad.

Now, here's the kicker- Director Coralie Fargeat embraces the 70's grind-house sleaze and inserts a strong feminist narrative to the movies lead character. This is a journey of a film as we find the woman transform from helpless victim to strong protagonist hamstringing the "alpha" male complex of all three men. What starts as a desperate bid for survival becomes a cat and mouse game here the cat is now the hunted.

8 out of 10.

 TACO SHOP

I love me some low budget indie film work and it's rare that we get to see any of it on the big screen, but the local Maya Theaters owners were one of the investors in the film so we got a special run of the film. With a strong Mexican population, it was tailor-made for the local audience and embraced the culture and comedy found within.

Local "Dollar Taco" is owned by a retired porn star, staffed by a rag time group of locals, and stars Tyler Posey as a local teen hoping to own a taco shop himself But things spiral into a dirty deeds war of pranks when a taco "Roach Coach" moves in across the street and tries to grind Dollar Taco to the ground A series of events, very similar in tone to Keven Smith's "Clerks" with a strong nod to Cholo culture. Ultimately some very funny scenes, but the resolution of the story elements seem a bit rushed and disconnected.

6 out of 10.

TREMORS: COLD DAY IN HELL

Set in the great White Frozen North of Canada, the films Graboids and Ass-blasters abandon the desert for much colder climates. And yet the film oddly felt the need to NOT embrace that premise. The sixth film in the series had only two scenes with any ice in actual view. Probably a problem due t budgetary constraints, it still felt like a cheap shot marketing plug that I would've been happy to watch if they just said it was in Canada. Burt Gummer is still the primary protagonist, and the dad from Family Ties still holds enough attention with his extremist paranoid ultra-right wing anti-government character on the hunt for Graboids. Joined by a son introduced in the previous entry (An utterly uncharismatic Jamie Kennedy), the two do battle with the monsters once again and are trapped in buildings and blow stuff up and do all the stuff you expect in a Tremors ilm.

Not a good movie, but fairly entertaining.

5.5 and a mild rental. Streaming on Netflix. 

Friday, April 27, 2018

INFINITY WAR!!!

Avengers: INFINITY WAR

Nerdgasm: the Movie.

As a long term geek and awkward weirdo, I’m a little shocked to see the success of comics come to the cinema. Often relegated to the bargain bin or direct to cable, cartoonish adventure movies with heavy costumes were always “beneath” the attention of the main stream. Kids laughed at me, teachers scoffed, and so on and so forth… so here we are in the year 2018 and the biggest blockbuster event is a culmination of ten years of film blowing up into a single cross-over event featuring A-list actors, a huge budget, and nearly every local theater being completely sold out for almost every showing and forced to open several past midnight.

Avengers: Infinity War is the ultimate adaptation of the Marvel Universe cross-over material that we’ve seen in comics for so many years. It’s huge—Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, The Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther, Spiderman, and Doctor Strange and so many of the side characters in each of those franchises plus the other Avengers and, finally, Thanos. All on one screen, all with a two and a half hour long extravaganza that barely takes any time to catch a breath. It’s overwhelming at times, the spectacle threatening to overshadow the story any number of times. And then there’s Thanos.

Your heroes are scattered, broken, and desperate. They cling to hope, they fight, and some will die and they are going to try and stop Thanos from collecting the Infinity Stones and using the Gauntlet to wipe out half of all life in the known universe with a single snap of his fingers. They’ve faced evil before and they’ve overcome- they’ve even faced the threat of a number of stones, and they have overcome. They have faced Gods, Titans, and so many threats and they have overcome. But then there was Thanos.

There is no joy in what he does. There is no glee in his task. He is not a madman, he is not a tyrant s he’s been made out to be, and he is not a monster. He’s a broken man- shattered by realizations, torn by the weight of the galaxy, and he is driven to complete his goal because it is necessary. It is horrible and it is tragic and it is necessary. There is no pride in what he does- there is purpose, there is reason, and the logic is sound. Thanos hasn’t come to destroy the galaxy, but rather to save it. He doesn’t expect gratitude, he doesn’t expect to rule, he just wants to save it from a horror that he understands will be far worse. He knows it because he’s seen it.

And this is his story.

Iron Man struggles with the weight of earth on his shoulders, burdened with great intelligence and cursed with arrogance. When all is said and done, he feels responsible for opening that door- for bringing heroes to earth, for the heroes he inspired, and for the symbol he represents. He is still carrying the weight he has shouldered since the first film- how much can he be reasonably expected to be held responsible? It doesn’t matter, because he feels it all.

Steve Rogers will fight because all life is precious and he has to do the right thing. It’s what he does – whether he bears the mantle, throws his shield, or rides in wearing all black and sporting a new beard. He is going to fight because it’s right, he’s not going to sacrifice anyone to do it. He is the moral compass of the Marvel Universe and he always will be. Whether he likes it or not.

Thor is broken. Thor has failed. Time and again, Thor has failed to be what he always thought he deserved to be. The arrogance of a god strips him time and again, but he keeps fighting. He is driven by ignoble purpose- revenge, anger, and resentment. And he will fight because Thor doesn’t know any other way to be.

Gamora will face her father. She will face the doom of her people, seeing the threat the galaxy faces, and she will try to overcome the love and respect she has for the man that raised her. She will fight because she knows what he intends to do and what kind of affect that will have on the world.

But then there is Thanos.

This is not a story about your heroes. They may succeed or they may fail, but it is ultimately not about them. It is not about the technological marvels of Wakanda, it is not about the boyish innocence of Spiderman, the mystic wonders of Dr. Strange, or the romance and human connection between a cybernetic life form and a science experiment. This isn’t about the Guardians or their little family, this isn’t about rogue heroes defying their government, this isn’t about pitched battles or desperate gambits. This movie has all those things, but it’s not about those things.

This movie is about Thanos.

See it.

9 out of 10.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Rampage & Isle of Dogs: Nostalgia and Da' Feelz

RAMPAGE

It was the summer of 1987, the horseflies were biting and the river was cold but I had enough gumption to go out and collect bottles, mow lawns, and pick weeds for a number of houses around the neighborhood. I usually took my cash down to the local video store, rented a movie, had a slice of pizza, and rode my bike home- but sometimes I had a little something extra for the video games in the backroom. Paperboy, some Indiana Jones game, the ever-shifting Pinball machine, the four player dungeon crawl game I forgot the name of, and Rampage. The goal was simple… destroy the city. Smash the buildings, eat the people, destroy the tanks and jets and helicopters, and get more points than your opponents. It was a three player game with a lizard, a gorilla, and a giant wolf. Simple.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars in the film adaptation of that game and the simple storyline is given a few zings and whistles regarding plot, but the film remains as simple and as enjoyable as the game itself. He’s the caretaker of an albino gorilla named George, and an accident aboard an orbiting satellite brings a few samples down to earth and infecting three animals with altered DNA. Giant monsters, destroyed cities, and general mayhem.

Look, this isn’t a great movie. It’s actually pretty stupid and the stunts are outlandish, the contrivances are silly, but the movie never tries to take itself too seriously and the action is big enough to satisfy fans of the boom and bombastic. But if you’re looking for Shakespeare in the park, then just go to the park. This is just a fun movie for the sake of a little nostalgia and a lot of silliness.

6.5 out of 10.

Isle of Dogs

I was not in the mood. Wes Anderson’s animated film looked like a sappy love letter to dogs and dog lovers everywhere and I was just not in the mood. My wife picked the movie out of a handful that were showing, and it was the least annoying option for me and so we went to the movies and I sat in a theater and mentally folded my arms with a sad little spoiled pout. The movie started…

Atari is a twelve year old orphan whose Uncle is the mayor of Megasaki, a city of Japan’s near-future. A recent epidemic has stricken the city’s dog population, and ordinance has banished them to an off shore island. This includes Atari’s faithful dog, Spot. The boy makes a daring rescue attempt, aided by a rogue pack of dogs. The five go on a journey to find Spot and, perhaps, undermine the efforts of Atari’s uncle.

Almost two hours later, I had tears in my eyes and an odd smile in my heart. The film wasn’t JUST a love letter to dogs and dog lovers. The movie explored deep feelings of loyalty, honor, compassion, and love- it weighed in on society’s ills in placing trust with a misguided leadership and entertained throughout. The film took daring risks, choosing to allow many of the human characters to speak in their native Japanese with English translators and the rare subtitle. This film was pure joy from beginning to end.

10 out of 10 and a must watch.

PS: I remember the name of the game. And if you guess below you'll win some kind of "no prize" from me. It won't be shipped, it won't be mailed, it won't be of any value, and it won't be a tangible thing you can hold. But you can name the game and be all sorts of big and bad.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

BOXCAR at Paper Wing Theatre


The Mexican border along the United States is not an easy topic to discuss or approach in this day and age. With our President and his supporters demanding that we "build a wall" and others demanding a "comprehensive immigration policy", no one ever really tackles the serious issues surrounding the people. In Sylvia Gonzalez's "Boxcar (El Vagon)", the issue is approached from a much more personal and direct approach when five travelers are trapped in the sweltering desert heat and two border patrol officers investigate. Inspired by a very real tragic event from the mid-80s, Boxcar places a human face on a political hot button that haunts many countries today.

Full Disclosure: This is not my usual cup of tea. Let me get that right out of the way- I am at a stage in my life where I try to keep from commenting on hot button shows that have a political issue. I've actively avoided commenting where any comment I make could be misconstrued and taken as offense. But having a few friends in the cast, I wanted to support them and see their performances. I wasn't going to write a single word. What happened, however, is that the claustrophobic nature of the play wormed it's way into me and sucked me in despite my hesitation. This is, at it's core, a deeply scarring horror experience as we witness five men trapped in a boxcar with very little air and a sweltering desert surrounding them. And I love me some good old fashioned human HORROR. And while I'm sure many would see this as a human drama, this is very much the core of a horror story to me.

Roberto (Christopher Lopez) and Bill (Erik Fleming) are two border patrol agents interviewing one of the five men trapped in the boxcar, a Salvadoran teen named Noel (Emilio Sapien). He relates the story of his passage north for the two men- a story that eventually leads to his arrival at the boxcar and his introduction to the other four men. All five have paid the Coyotes to smuggle them across the border to the United States, and this leg of the journey involves travel along the rails, across a desert, in a locked boxcar.

We meet the pious Francisco (Alexander Henson), the jovial Huero (Jason Roeder), the irreverent Pepe (Andres Reyes), and the indomitable Manuel (Jose Miguel). The four men quickly bond over their stories of travel to the United States, taking Noel under their wing and offering him advice on women, studies, finding work, and avoiding deportation. But the heat is steadily rising and they are in greater danger than they realize. Everyone delivers on their performances, giving the audience every reason in the world to sympathize with each of them.

A great weight lies on Manuel, however- a man of humor, intelligence, and compassion. He is the one who allows the door to be locked and he is the one who has to try and urge the others through their journey, to try and find a way to survive. Jose Miguel's performance is top notch, and it's no surprise to see him open the show with an early interaction with Patrol Officer Roberto. Both characters are central to the themes being explored as Roberto is forced, by duty, to send Miguel back in the opening moments of our play.

Christopher Lopez hits hard with his own performance. the second generation child of a Mexican immigrant, Roberto questions his duty, his past, and the very system that he enforces. He's also forced to realize that there are no easy answers. He butts heads with his partner, he wrestles with his conscience, and he's ultimately left to make a choice.

The entire package is brilliantly produced and directed by Linda Felice. She makes very deliberate lighting choices and develops a sound track that works in cohesion with the performances to lure the audience into a very emotional experience.

10 out of 10. And I don't make that rating lightly.