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: Office Christmas Party, Nocturnal Animals, and La La Land

Hey everybody!

Welcome to another edition of Mini-Reviews. This time, it’s more of a mixed than it was last time. So let’s get to it, shall we?

 

*As always, these will be spoiler free reviews*

 

Office Christmas Party

Directors: Josh Gordon and Will Speck

Writers: Justin Malen, Laura Solon, and Dan Mazer

Cast: Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, Jennifer Aniston, Kate McKinnon, Courtney B. Vance, Rob Corddry, Vanessa Bayer, Randall Park, Sam Richardson, Karan Soni, Jamie Chung, Abbey Lee, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, and Jillian Bell.

Synopsis: When his uptight CEO sister threatens to shut down his branch, the branch manager throws an epic Christmas party in order to land a big client and save the day, but the party gets way out of the hand…

 

Tis the season for Christmas films, and what better film than an office Christmas party movie where things go wrong, right? While Office Christmas Party does have some saving moment scattered throughout, the film falls flat on a lot of areas, which is a shame considering the pretty good cast the film fills out.

Office Christmas Party follows a tech company, Zenotech, that is threaten to be shut down by the company CEO Carol (Aniston). However, her brother Clay (Miller), who happens to have had the branch inherited to him by his father, intends to keeping the branch alive at any means. Along with his CTO Josh (Bateman) and programmer Tracy (Munn), Clay thinks they can save the branch by signing a big wig in Walter Davis (B. Vance). Carol seeing it as impossible gives them two days to get it done. Seeing their hopes slips, they decide to throw a massive office Christmas party to impressive him, get the deal and save the branch. Of course, things get out of hand.

The idea of an office Christmas party going crazy isn’t all the exciting, but you would think with a great cast like this, they would be able to conjure something worthwhile and better than average. Unfortunately, the film barely does that and fails to really connect to most of the core characters.

T.J. Miller plays pretty much the same character he’s done before, while Jason Bateman plays the straight-laced character and Kate McKinnon, who plays the head of HR, is a wacky and out-there character that has one big moment to shine. Jennifer Aniston playing the cut-throat CEO seems to a perfect fit for her. The rest of the cast have their moments to shine, but when the film takes time to focus on the main three characters in their respected stories, it fails to get us invested in them.

Bateman’s character goes through a divorce at the beginning of the film, but we don’t really see him affected by it or see his ex-wife. Olivia Munn’s character has her own arc that only serves the plot when it needs to, and there’s an interesting plot point with Jillian Bell that comes out of left field, but doesn’t really go anywhere. Also, seeing Courtney B. Vance break loose is a sight to see.

All in all, Office Christmas Party does have some great laughs scattered throughout, but the film doesn’t really bring anything new to the table.

Office Christmas Party

3 out of 5

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Nocturnal Animals

Director: Tom Ford

Writer: Tom Ford

Cast: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber, Armie Hammer, Karl Glusman, Michael Sheen, and Laura Linney

Synopsis: An art gallery owner is haunted by her ex-husband’s novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a veiled threat and a symbolic revenge tale.

 

Based on the novel by Austin Wright and directed by former designer Tom Ford, Nocturnal Animals follows Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is an art dealer, who is not happy with her life, suddenly gets a package from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). The package contains a novel he wrote called Nocturnal Animals, which he dedicated to her – and something he once called her. Susan begins to read the book, seeing the lead character of Tony, as Edward, and follows a family driving through middle of nowhere Texas that end up getting attacked by three individuals lead by Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Tony manages to get away as his wife and daughter (played by Isla Fisher and Ellie Bamber) are kidnapped and gets help from Officer Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon).

During all this, Susan also starts getting flashbacks of former her life with Edward as her current husband (Armie Hammer) is away on business. There we see how her marriage failed, and we get enthralled in a haunting, tense thriller drama from beginning to end.

It’s not hard to see the parallels between the real-life story of Susan and Edward’s novel, and flows together rather nicely once everything picks up. However, there are some things that get lost in the shuffle. Even though the film is about Amy Adams’ Susan and Edward’s novel, it would have been nice to see more of Armie Hammer’s character fleshed out instead of just being Susan’s husband – they only shared about three scenes together. There is another character that random pops up and is never mentioned ever again, but for the sake of keeping my non-spoiler tag I won’t mention it here.

Despite some of the flaws, Nocturnal Animals is held together by the cast and the gripping novel plotline. Amy Adams is always reliable, and seeing her as this somewhat broken character is something she handles very well. Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance is mostly that of Tony, but watching Tony’s story is arguably the best part of the film. That being said, that also works as a bit of a negative. The fact that the story within a story works more and is more interesting than the “real” story is a bit of a shame, but that could be just me. Going back to the cast, Michael Shannon also continues his string of reliable and great characters with Andes, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson fines a great line of sadistic redneck and playing dumb.

All in all, Nocturnal Animals has all the elements to keep the film entertaining and keep you invested, but most of it relies on the story within the story. It’s not a bad thing overall, but when it parallels to Susan’s story it takes you out just a bit.

Nocturnal Animals

4 out of 5

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La La Land

Director: Damien Chazelle

Writer: Damien Chazelle

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, Callie Hernandez, Jessica Rothe, Sonoya Mizuno, Finn Wittrock, and J.K. Simmons

Synopsis: A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles.

 

Damien Chazelle made waves with his last feature film, Whiplash, so people were really looking forward to what he had in store with La La Land. Turns out, it was another great story with great leads, an amazing score, awesome set-pieces and more importantly, a very old timey Hollywood feel.

The film follows Mia (Emma Stone), a struggling actress trying to keep her head above water, and works as a barista on the Warner Bros. studio backlot. She keeps meeting Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz pianist with dreams of his own: he wants to open his own club. The two eventually end up together and what follows is their relationship as it goes through ups and downs in Hollywood.

La La Land takes a bit to find its tempo – I’m not even sorry for the bad music pun – but once it does, the film instantly becomes a whole new animal. The film does fall into musical territory, just so you know, but the soundtrack and music by Justin Hurwitz works so well that you’ll be nodding your head and trying to sing along with the music. You combine that with the great looking set-designs and you’ll fully embrace the vivid colorful world La La Land brings to the table.

It also helps that Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are – once again – great as the leads. The two obviously have great chemistry together (this is the third film together), and their leads are likeable dreamers that fall for each other in a nontraditional way, which was nice to see, and seeing their relationship smoothly transition is what makes us emotionally invested in their story from beginning to end. Also, each of them have their own story arcs that don’t need the other to hang get involved in any real way. Mia struggles with her acting on her own, and Sebastian needs to decide on he wants to move forward with his passion. Both storylines feel real, and once we see the resolution it makes sense why they would choose what they do.

All in all, La La Land is a film that feels like an old timey Hollywood film that pays huge homage to the musicals of old, but also enough to set itself apart and pave its own way. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling carry the film from beginning to end, but it’s the music with the sets – or in many cases, real-life locations – and cinematography that makes the film work on multiple levels. Do yourself a favor and go watch La La Land as soon as you can.

La La Land

4.5 out of 5

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