Mini-Reviews: CHIPS, The Belko Experiment & Life

Hey everybody!

Welcome to another edition of Mini-Reviews. So let’s get to it, shall we?

 

*As always, these will be spoiler free reviews*

 

CHIPS

Director: Dax Shepard

Writer: Dax Shepard

Cast: Dax Shepard, Michael Pena, Vincent D’Onofrio, Rosa Salazar, Jessica McNamee, Kristen Bell, Adam Brody, Richard T. Jones, Jane Kaczmarek, Isiah Whitlock Jr. Justin Chatwin and Maya Rudolph

Synopsis: A rookie officer is teamed with a hardened pro at the California Highway Patrol, though the newbie soon learns his partner is really an undercover Fed investigating a heist that may involve some crooked cops.

 

Loosely based off the popular show from the late 70s, CHIPS ups the ante on the comedy and raunchiness. Basically taking the Jump Street-like tone and making it fit its overtly over-the-top comedy and a very thin plot. Needless to say, this isn’t your parents’ CHiPs.

The film follows Jon Baker (Dax Shepard), reimagined as an ex-motocross rider who is down on his luck, addicted to pain medication from his injuries and trying to repair his broken marriage with his wife (played by Shepard’s real-life wife Kristen Bell) becomes a California Highway Patrol officer. He is then partnered up with undercover FBI agent Castillo (Michael Pena), renamed Francis Llewellyn Poncherello or “Ponch” who goes undercover when a heist involving potential corrupt cops is pulled off. The two have to find a way to work together as the threat becomes more real for the both of them.

As you can see Shepard not only starred in the film, he also wrote and directed the film. I’ve personally never seen a Shepard-directed film, so this was my first exposure to him as both. The humor is a bit over the top, but exactly what you’d expect in a raunchy R-rated comedy. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t so the humor will be something that you are either on board with or not, and if you’re not then you’re in for a long ride.

However, one of the biggest highlights – and probably the main one – is the chemistry between Shepard and Michael Pena. The two start off bickering at each other non-stop but eventually, of course, find a mutual respect. Although, I’ll admit Shepard’s Baker came off as annoying at the first, while Pena is impatience came out as dick-ish. The rest of the cast don’t really standout too much, but do they best they can do with the material their given.

Vincent D’Onofrio plays the villain, but other than one scene with Pena and Shepard, he’s really just there. Rosa Salazar plays a cop that may or may not be into Shepard’s Baker, Adam Brody plays Ponch/Castillo’s FBI partner who hates him – for a comedic/reasonable reason – while Isiah Whitlock Jr. plays the head of the FBI division Castillo/Ponch belongs to and constantly is yelling at him. Finally, Kirsten Bell doesn’t do too much to make an impact.

All in all, CHIPS is definitely not for everyone. Its best scenes are way too far apart and its humor is all over the place and sometimes outright offensive. While I wasn’t overly impressed, CHIPS is a passable enough comedy that you won’t hate yourself for watching. Maybe.

CHIPS

3 out of 5

 

 

The Belko Experiment

Director: Greg McLean

Writer: James Gunn

Cast: John Gallagher Jr., Adria Arjona, Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley, Melonie Diaz, Brent Sexton, Owain Yeoman, James Earl, Rusty Schwimmer, Sean Gunn, David Dastmalchian, Michael Rooker and Gregg Henry

Synopsis: In a twisted social experiment, 80 Americans are locked in their high-rise corporate office in Bogota, Columbia and ordered by an unknown voice coming from the company’s intercom system to participate in a deadly game of kill or be killed.

 

The Belko Experiment is, you can say, loosely based on the cult classic Battle Royale where it forces innocent people by mysterious forces to kill each other. The difference in this film is it takes it to an office space in a foreign country, and has a script by James Gunn. So, of course the question becomes does it do anything to keep itself separated from the herd? Somewhat.

The film follows employees of Belko Industries in Bogota, Columbia who are literally locked and sealed in their complex and told through the intercom that they need to kill their follow employees and friends or they will be killed themselves. To prove their point, they have installed “trackers” into their heads when they took the job which ends up actually being explosives. Of course, at first they think it’s a prank, but eventually they find out its real – and they need to kill 30 people or the voice will kill 60 at random.

As you see the set-up is rather simple, and the film doesn’t really waste too much time setting everything up, along with some of the characters. Our main leads are Mike (John Gallagher Jr.) and his girlfriend Leandra (Adria Arjona) who are still in the early stages of their relationship. We then have Tony Goldwyn as the COO in that branch, Barry Norris, who eventually becomes our “villain,” and I put villain in quotes, because obviously good and evil are blurred in these kind of situations and that something that Barry comes to terms with, but Mike struggles with even though he’s pushed by Leandra to come to a decision.

The rest of the cast is fine, but they only have small moments and it’s easy to sometimes remember who’s alive and not. John C. McGinley is easily the second villain in the film, and one that you see coming from the beginning, Sean Gunn has a small but somewhat funny comic relief role, Melonie Diaz plays new worker at Belko, Dany Wilkins, who feels like she could play a big role, but doesn’t really. Finally David Dastmalchian and Michael Rooker play technicians who try to find a way out their own way.

A movie like this will always make us, the viewer, decide what we’d do in a situation like this. The film also doesn’t hold back on the violence, because besides the explosives going off that literally blow the back of someone’s head, once the free-for-all starts, it doesn’t let up. It’s a dark, brutal and grizzly outlook of everything. So if gore isn’t your thing, you should probably pass on this.

All in all, The Belko Experiment isn’t anything new to this particular sub-genre. While the cast does fine with what they’re given, we already know that most of these characters are going to die, so we probably hold off on making a strong connection to any of them, which is in some ways a negative aspect for the film. However, if you want to watch a bloodbath in an office, then this is your film.

The Belko Experiment

3 out of 5

 

 

Life

Director: Daniel Espinosa

Writers: Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada, Olga Dihovichnaya, Ariyon Bakare and Ryan Reynolds

Synopsis: A team of scientists aboard the International Space Station discover a rapidly evolving life form that caused extinction on Mars, and now threatens the crew and all life on Earth.

 

One of the things I dislike about sci-fi space films with something mysterious onboard a spaceship is that it immediately gets compares to Alien. Which I guess is fair, but also not for whatever the film is because you have that thought in your mind and will not judge whatever film that is fairly. So the moment the first trailer for Life came out, everyone said it was Alien ripoff, or if you wanted to believe the crazy fan theory, a secret Venom prequel (it isn’t by the way). While Life is a genre changer, it is a pretty great tension filled thriller that keeps you engaged from start to finish.

The film follows the astronauts on the International Space Station that have discovered organic life from a sample recovered from Mars. The crew includes a CDC representative Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), doctor and long time inhabitant of the ISS David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), engineer Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), scientist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), pilot Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada) and captain Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya). Once they get the organism and study it, they discover that its, as Hugh puts it, “all muscle, all brain” they end up nicknaming Calvin, based off a contest on Earth. Of course, Calvin breaks frees and starts causing chaos on the ship.

Life immediately makes it known how tense this movie will be putting us inside the ship as the crew attempt to grab a probe that has Calvin in it. It never really lets up until right before the last attempt to kill Calvin where characters talk about why they came to space. It’s a good scene, but it takes some of the (no pun intended) air out of the film.

But, what makes Life great is the cast. You can clearly see they all had a great time working together, as they all have great chemistry together and their characters are fleshed out enough to make us care of them once Calvin starts moving around the ISS. Speaking of Calvin, the design of Calvin is pretty interesting and one that I would love to see more of. However, when it comes to his – its? – movement it is pretty scary to imagine that thing coming at you, especially considering how smart it really is.

All in all, Life isn’t a game changer to the subgenre, but it is a tension filled ride from start to finish that has a great cast and a formidable and scary villain.

Life

4 out of 5

Mini-Reviews: Mechanic: Resurrection, Pete’s Dragon, & Kubo and the Two Strings

Hey everybody!

So this has been something I’ve wanted to do for a while now. You know that I do sometimes multiple reviews over the weekend, but I fall behind on my movie watching and I feel like reviewing a week old or sometimes two week old film would be a little late or not worth it since many have already either seen it, or takes away from reviewing the newer films. So instead of doing big reviews, I’ll do these mini-reviews and get right to the nit-and-gritty.

*As always, these will be spoiler free reviews*

 

Mechanic: Resurrection

Director: Dennis Gansel

Writers: Philip Shelby & Tony Mosher

Cast: Jason Statham, Jessica Alba, Michelle Yeoh, Sam Hazeldine, and Tommy Lee Jones

Synopsis: Arthur Bishop thought he had to put his murderous past behind him when his most formidable foe kidnaps the love of his life. Now he forced to travel the globe to complete three impossible assassinations, and do what he does best, make them look like accidents.

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A sequel to the 2011 remake The Mechanic, Jason Statham returns as Arthur Bishop who is living a new life by himself, until an old friend, and now enemy, Crain (Hazeldine) finds him and wants him to do what Bishop does best: make his assassinations look like accidents. However, Bishop has extra incentive as Crain has Gina (Alba), a woman that has her own story for getting involved between these two, and threatens to kill Gina if Bishop doesn’t complete three different and difficult assassinations.

I don’t think anyone was really up for a sequel to The Mechanic, although it was one of the better string of Statham films for a while. When it comes to Mechanic: Resurrection, I think it was better left off without a sequel. Resurrection wasn’t a bad film, but it certainly wasn’t a worthy sequel that it should have been. In fact, Resurrection doesn’t even feel like a sequel at times, there is only one, maybe two, references to the first film.

Jason Statham does his thing, and is still great at it, but it’s the rest of the cast that falls a little short. Jessica Alba never stands out as much as she probably should have while Michelle Yeoh is wasted here and seemed like they just wanted a big name. Sam Hazeldine does okay as the villain, but we don’t get a ton of screen time with him and his arch with Bishop is really underdeveloped, and I think a flashback or two could have helped to really push the rivalry between Crain and Bishop. Finally, Tommy Lee Jones has maybe ten minutes of screen time, but it looked like he was enjoying his time playing an arms dealer.

All in all, Mechanic: Resurrection has some descent action in the film, but it did feel like a forced sequel. If you enjoy Jason Statham beating the crap out of people than this is the movie for you.

Mechanic: Resurrection

3 out of 5

 

 

Pete’s Dragon

Director: David Lowery

Writers: David Lowery & Toby Halbrooks

Cast: Oakes Fegley, Bryce Dallas Howard, Oona Laurence, Karl Urban, Wes Bentley, Isiah Whitlock Jr., and Robert Redford

Synopsis: The adventures of an orphaned boy named Pete and his best friend, who just so happens to be a dragon.

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I don’t remember watching the original Pete’s Dragon, but I knew about it. So walking into this remake, I went in with fresh eyes and it was completely worth it. The film follows Pete (Fegley), who has lived in the forest since a small boy after an accident. However, Pete isn’t alone as he has lived with Elliot, a mythical dragon in the small town away from the woods. One day, Pete is discovered by Natalie (Laurence), her father Jack (Bentley), and her soon-to-be stepmother Grace (Howard), who is a park ranger for those woods. When they find him, however, it’s Jack’s brother Gavin (Urban) who thinks something is out in the woods, and soon discovers that he’s right: the problem? It’s Elliot.

Pete’s Dragon surprisingly adds more dramatic and personal stories than you would think from a Disney film and a summer movie season film, but it all completely works so I applaud director David Lowery and his co-writer Toby Halbrooks for doing so. But it is those themes that make the film so great. Pete’s Dragon is all about family and loss but it doesn’t beat you over the head with it, instead it lets its cast do it organically.

The cast is also great, Oakes Fegley is extremely likable as Pete, Bryce Dallas Howard brings the sense of wonderment to the film that it needed and Oona Laurence has her moments in the film and continues to show that she has a great career ahead of her. Karl Urban is the “villain” of the film, but Lowery and Urban do the right thing and don’t make Gavin too extreme of one. Robert Redford as Grace’s father Meacham, plays the only person in town that still believe Elliot is actually real and the dragon of the woods is out there. Finally, Elliot the dragon is so awesome to see. I’m sure if more people watched this, we’d be seeing little kids with Elliot’s plush dolls all around us.

All in all, Pete’s Dragon is a fantastic film that should be seen by everyone. It has a great message and flows beautifully.

Pete’s Dragon

5 out of 5

 

 

Kubo and the Two Strings

Director: Travis Knight

Writers: Marc Halmes & Chris Butler

Voice Cast: Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Rooney Mara, Brenda Vaccaro, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, George Takei, and Ralph Fiennes

Synopsis: A young boy named Kubo must locate a magical suit of armor worn by his late father in order to defeat a vengeful spirit from the past.

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It’s hard to believe that Kubo and the Two Strings is only Laika Entertainment fourth film, but considering their films are so complex and intricate it makes sense. That is what makes their films so different and fun to watch because you know the years of hard work that goes into them.

The film follows Kubo (Parkinson), a one-eyed boy who lives with his sickly mother in a small town. Along with his magical guitar that allows him to control his origami creations tells stories about his legendary father Hanzo to the townspeople before the sun goes down due to his mother’s rules. However, Kubo doesn’t make it back in time one day and is attacked by The Sisters (Mara), who have been sent by The Moon King (Fiennes) for Kubo’s other eye. When his mother realizes what is happening she uses the last bit of her power to send Kubo away and bring a totem of his to life in Monkey (Theron) to protect him on his journey to find his father’s armor to defeat The Moon King. Along the way, they meet Beetle (McConaughey), a cursed soldier who used to work with Kubo’s father. He takes it upon himself to help Monkey and Kubo on their journey.

I absolutely loved this film in every way possible. There’s a lot more to the story I’m telling you because I want you to experience the story yourself first. I will say the production design is perfect and the score fits perfectly with the film that makes the experience so much better to watch. Kubo also continues Laika’s tradition of handling some darker themes of storytelling – The Sisters are a bit terrifying – but in a way that younger audiences can still enjoy and not feel too scared. However, the film also has a ton of humor to offset it if you’re worried about that.

All in all, I will say that you should go watch Kubo and the Two Strings. It has everything you can ask for and it’s a beautiful film to look at and experience. There is a character moment, and even story moment, late in the film that misses the mark just a bit but I enjoyed everything else about the film so much I could forgive the film for it. Lastly, there is an awesome and beautiful cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by Regina Spektor that plays during the end credits that I highly recommend you check out.

Kubo and the Two Strings

5 out of 5