‘Happy Death Day’ Review

Director: Christopher Landon

Writer: Scott Lobdell

Cast: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Charles Aitken, Rachel Matthews, Jason Bayle, Laura Clifton and Rob Mello

Synopsis: A college student relives the day of her murder with both its unexceptional details and terrifying end until she discovers her killer’s identity.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Slasher movies are a dime a dozen in the horror genre, however, what use to be the dominant subgenre in film has pretty much kept itself to VOD or Red Box rentals. That’s not to say the subgenre isn’t great anymore, but it’s not as good as it was back in the day – probably. That being said, you got to give props to anyone who has the gull to do a modern day slasher nowadays and give it a twist. That’s what the folks over at Blumhouse did, giving Happy Death Day the Groundhog Day treatment, and despite my early thoughts on the movie, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. However, it does misstep on a lot of areas.

The movie follows Tree (Jessica Rothe) – short of Theresa – on her birthday. She wakes up, hungover, in a dorm room that belongs to Carter (Israel Broussard), and as she leaves she comes across certain things; her father calling her, a weird guy checking her out, an activist trying to get her to sign a petition, sprinklers going off on a couple, a car alarm going off, a pledge off, an admirer, dealing with her sorority sisters and meeting with her married professor. Along with a few other things, it all comes to a head when a masked killer kills her – however, when she dies she wakes up back in Carter’s room and relives the day. Tree must then try to put the pieces together, and find out who has been trying to kill her. Lucky for her, she has an unlimited amount of lives.

Happy Death Day was not a movie was I really looking forward to, but I kept my reservation to myself and took the movie in like I do for every movie. That said, I was pleasantly surprised by the movie, but that’s not to say the movie was all that great. Happy Death Day has a pretty good concept, and I applaud writer Scott Lobdell and director Christopher Landon for fully embracing it and not making the movie too cliché. The movie does unfortunately carry some tropes with it, but the concept and the movie not trying to take itself too seriously, does help it out just a tad.

Given the concept, Jessica Rothe is left to carry the movie on her shoulders, and for the most part she carries pretty damn well. Rothe’s Tree does make bad decisions like expected, but she does bunker down to try and figure out what exactly is going on. Tree also isn’t the most likeable person either. In fact, none of the characters, with the exception of Carter and a random girl sitting outside the sorority, are terrible people and not likeable at all. It’s to be expected, but it is off putting for a while.

Although, I’m not one to complain about a movie’s rating, Happy Death Day’s rating of PG-13 doesn’t do it any favors. Which is odd, considering you can get away with a lot in PG-13 movies nowadays, and this movie could have benefited more with a hard PG-13 rating. Given the concept, I thought there would be some elaborate or even at least one creative kill, but the movie shows them off-screen, and even when they are shown, they’re very bloodless – unless you count the blood on the masked killer’s knife. I know there’s a lot of debate amongst horror fans about PG-13 and R-rated horror movies, and while I don’t need every horror movie to be rated-R, Happy Death Day could have benefited by pushing the rating, at least for one kill.

Another con I would point out is even though the movie has a brisk one hour and thirty-eight minute runtime, Happy Death Day loses some steam before the final act. However, the final act does tighten everything up. Additionally, there is one particular subplot that involves Tree that seems rather important, and hints at connecting to the overall story, but it’s never really fleshed out and feels rather weird when it’s bought up and stops the movie completely. Landon has mentioned in interviews that this would be bought up in a potential sequel, but it is rather glaring when you sit down and think about it after watching the movie.

All in all, Happy Death Day is rather entertaining, and Jessica Rothe carries the movie on her shoulders. However, Happy Death Day also has glaring and unfortunate missteps that make the movie okay as opposed to be potentially great.

Happy Death Day

3 out of 5

‘Fist Fight’ Review

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Director: Richie Keen

Writers: Van Robichaux and Evan Susser

Cast: Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, Kumail Nanjiani, Christina Hendricks, JoAnna Garica Swisher, Alexa Nisenson, Dean Norris and Dennis Haysbert

Synopsis: When one school teacher gets the other fired, he is challenged to an after-school fight.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

After school fights, we’ve probably seen them or heard about them (maybe been part of one?), but it’s usually between students and not teachers. That is what leads us to Fist Fight. While the sounds like a descent idea, some aspects of the movie do go over board, which yeah, it’s a movie, but seriously – this film is just a tad over the top.

Fist Fight takes place at Roosevelt High School on the last day of school, so everyone is a little hyped out as you can imagine. However, the students as his school take it to the next level by do insane pranks on teachers and school property. That’s where we meet Campbell (Charlie Day) and Strickland (Ice Cube), Campbell is by-the-books teacher who has a child on the way, and one set to make a big performance at a school talent show, while Strickland is the no nonsense, tough and mean teacher in school. It doesn’t help that the school is cutting down the budget and firing teachers, so when a brave soul decides to pull a prank on Strickland, he goes overboard and gets a fire ax to destroy his desk with Campbell seeing the whole thing. When they’re questioned, Campbell sells out Strickland, which prompts Strickland to challenge Campbell to a fight after school. What follows is Campbell trying to get out of the fight.

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The premise behind Fist Fight is as ridiculous as the movie is, maybe more. Again, the film takes the level of what these school kids do to the max. So much so that you have to really suspend your disbelief that these kids can and could get away with half the stuff they are pulling off. Once you get pass that, you can start to enjoy the film and all the jokes, which are pretty much nonstop once they start rolling, and of course some fall flat while others are great.

When it comes to the characters, Day and Ice Cube really nail there respected part. Ice Cube could play the tough and mean looking character all day and in his sleep, but there is a little more to his character that I wish was pushed more to the forefront. It’s mentioned in passing and near the end, but I wish there was more of that instead of his just being angry all the time. Charlie Day’s Campbell is the guy with no backbone, and spends the whole day trying to get out of the fight as much as possible, and while Day has incredible comedic timing, his actions get him trouble.

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The supporting cast is really hit-and-miss. Jillian Bell as the school guiding counselor, Holly isn’t really all that great at her job and is one of Campbell’s go-tos. Tracy Morgan plays Coach Crawford, who gets dragged into Campbell’s situation, Kumail Nanjiani plays security guard Mehar, who has some solid scenes and Christina Hendricks, who plays Ms. Monet is kind of wasted here, as she plays a character who’s too weird, even for this movie.

Surprisingly, the actual fight is rather impressive and almost felt out of place with the whole film. It’s also longer than I thought it would have been, but a credit to the stunt team along with Day and Ice Cube for even going through with it.

All in all, Fist Fight really tests your notion of the final day of school, even at a troubled and verge of closing school. However, some of the humor is spot on and the cast mostly work well together.

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Fist Fight

3 out of 5

Mini-Reviews: Ben-Hur, War Dogs, Hell or High Water, & Sully

Hey everybody!

Welcome to the second 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*

 

Hell or High Water

Director: David Mackenzie

Writer: Taylor Sheridan

Cast: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, and Gil Birmingham

Synopsis: A divorced dad and his ex-con brother resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family’s ranch in West Texas.

 

Hell or High Water may start off as a typical bank robbers vs. the law film, but underneath all that is much more. Brothers Toby (Pine) and Tanner (Foster) Howard start a string of bank robbers that are actually to save their mother’s ranch in the desolated West Texas for a bigger reason we don’t find out until the final act. On their trail is a on the verge of retiring Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Bridges) and his partner Alberto Parker (Birmingham). As the Rangers get closer, the risk for Toby and Tanner gets bigger and it leads to an explosive finale.

The film is written by Sicario writer Taylor Sheridan, which you can immediately tell once the film gets going. The themes of the film are nicely layered and scattered throughout, which may seem off or forced to many, but once you look at film as a whole, you’ll appreciate the nuances.

However, it’s the cast that really makes this film fantastic. Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges are reliable as ever with Bridges seemingly enjoying his more livelier role to date, while Ben Foster once again showing he’s a force that shouldn’t be forgotten.

All in all, Hell or High Water is a fantastic film with a great cast and story. The film is slow ride, but so worth it for the final outcomes that fits in today’s world.

Hell or High Water

4.5 out of 5

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War Dogs

Director: Todd Phillips

Writers: Todd Phillips, Stephen Chin and Jason Smilovic

Cast: Miler Teller, Jonah Hill, Ana de Armas, Kevin Pollak and Bradley Cooper

Synopsis: Based on the true story of two young men, David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli, who won a $300 million contract from the Pentagon to arm America’s allies in Afghanistan.

 

Todd Phillips has come a long way from The Hangover. War Dogs is a much more mature film for him that tackles a huge subject of the second Iraq War, but doesn’t do so in a way that says “war is bad,” but takes a conversational, or to some the real reason, “war is an economy.” The film even stars with a voiceover by Teller’s David Packouz telling us how much it costs to gear and arm every soldier in our military.

The film follows David, an unhappy massage therapist working in Miami in 2005, who reunites with his old junior high best friend, Efraim Diveroli (Hill). Unlike David, Efraim is living a rather successful life as an arms dealer who picks up government contracts. Efraim needing help, and David with a baby on the way with his wife Iz (de Armas), the two decided to grow their own business and take on government contracts. However, their partnership and friendship are tested as the money gets bigger.

I will say the film was better than I thought it would be, and it helped that Jonah Hill and Miles Teller were on their A-game. Hill almost steals the film with his sleazy performance as Efraim. While Brady Cooper pops in and out through the film after being introduced around the middle of the film. Although the film doesn’t really bring too much new to the table, you can pretty much tell how this film will turn out by the end. It’s not a bad thing – considering it’s based on a true story – and while the chemistry between Teller and Hill seems spot-on, the movie does go into a lull after a while.

All in all, War Dogs is much more of a drama than comedy, but the film has plenty of laughs to balance out the seriousness and crazy reality of the film.

War Dogs

3.5 out of 5

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Ben-Hur

Director: Timur Bekmambetov

Writers: John Ridley & Keith R. Clarke

Cast: Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Nazanin Boniadi, Rodrigo Santoro, Pilou Asbaek, Sofia Black-D’Elia, Moises Arias, Ayelet Zurer, and Morgan Freeman

Synopsis: Judah Ben-Hur, a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother, an officer in the Roman army, returns to his homeland after years at sea to seek revenge, but finds redemption.

 

I have no connection the old Ben-Hur films or novel since I never saw them or read it. I do know the cultural and film significance the film the property has had, so I was always going to go off what this new iteration bought to the table. I wasn’t really looking forward to the film too much since the trailers weren’t that great, but I gave it a shot and you know what? It wasn’t a complete waste of time.

Ben-Hur follows Judah Ben-Hur (Huston), a prince in Jerusalem, who lives his family including his adopted brother Messala (Kebbell) who knows his place amongst the family is at the very bottom. To find his own place in the world, Messala leaves and joins the Roman army, and after years have passed returns home as a successful soldier. Messala goes to Judah and pleads with him to name anyone that would think about attacking Pontius Pilate (Asbaek) when he passes through Jerusalem. Judah, not wanting to get dragged into anything, tells him he thinks Pilate will be safe. Of course, something happens and Messala seeing no other choice and viewing this as a betray sends Judah to be a slave.

However, when Judah’s ship does down, Judah finds land and is employed by a wealthy African named Ilderim (Freeman) to help him and become his chariot rider for a big race coming soon. Of course, the chariot race will have Messala in it. Along the whole way, Judah has small run ins with Jesus (Santoro).

One of the good things the film does is make the relationship between Judah and Massala a big part before we mostly follow Judah for the rest of the film. We see the love they have for each other, but you can see Messala is conflicted with his position in the family, and knows Judah will always first in the family’s eyes. It also helps that Jack Huston and Toby Kebbell have descent chemistry together, and Kebbell has enough acting chops to not make Messala a villain, but enough to make us not root for him in some way.

The rest of the cast does okay with what they given. Freeman doesn’t show up until the final third of the film, and does his typical reliable Freeman performance. Nazanin Boniadi plays Esther, Judah’s wife who tries to play Judah’s moral compass, and Rodrigo Santoro’s Jesus is nicely scattered through the film.

The film does bring up some political issues into the film, and thankfully aren’t shoehorned in. However, when Judah gets free from the ship, that message is gone and focuses on Judah’s journey of revenge, and from there the performances do take a bit of a dip, but thankfully come back near the end of the film.

All in all, Ben-Hur isn’t that bad of the film. It’s not perfect, and I’m sure most people will say it’s not like the other iterations, but something tells me that’s okay for this one. Also, the much advertised chariot race was a descent enough action set-piece.

Ben-Hur

3 out of 5

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Sully

Director: Clint Eastwood

Writer: Todd Komarnicki

Cast: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Mike O’Malley, and Laura Linney.

Synopsis: The story of Chesley Sullenberger, who became a hero after gliding his plane along the water in the Hudson River, saving all of the airplane flights 155 crew and passengers.

 

I barely remember the actual event of “The Miracle on the Hudson” on the news, but I never actually knew, many most of us too, what happened afterwards. So who better to tell that story on screen than Clint Eastwood and everyone’s favorite actor Tom Hanks. Hanks is, of course, not untested playing real people as he already did it in Captain Phillips and Saving Mr. Banks. But there is something a little different about playing the man that saved 155 people in a forced water landing.

Sully follows ‘Sully’ (Hanks) as he deals with the aftermath of landing on the Hudson River. Sully and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles have to deal with an investigation by the FAA and the insurance company. Despite Sully pulling off the impossible and viewed as a hero by many, he’s viewed as reckless to the investigators for putting everyone and the plane in danger since the simulations all show he could have made it back to the airport or make it to another one.

For what it’s worth, Sully is a very engaging film that keeps you hooked from beginning to end. The plane sequence is tense to watch, and will probably make you a little afraid of flying now, and it’s interesting to see it play out in multiple ways. We see the sequence in two different ways that are completely different, but they are a thrill to watch in their own ways. I will say the film does lack a certain something that keeps the film from being a more powerful film, not saying the film isn’t powerful, but for me there was something missing.

Of course, the main draw here is Tom Hanks. Hanks is – once again – reliable in every way possible and carries the film on his shoulders. I wouldn’t say it’s his best performance, but you believe him as this conflicted man that probably risked the lives on everyone onboard. Aaron Eckhart as Jeff Skiles is pretty good here too and might be a performance some will forget. Mike O’Malley plays Charles Porter, the lead investigator in the case against Sully. O’Malley is a surprise choice for the role, considering he’s known mostly for his comedic performance, but has put on some dramatic roles as of late and nails the performance here. Laura Linney feels almost wasted here as Sully’s wife Lorraine, as her whole performance is talking on the phone to Sully, but does have one moment near the end of the film that makes it work.

All in all, Sully isn’t that bad of a film. It’s not Eastwood’s or Hanks’ best film, but it’s not their worst.  The film is engaging and tense throughout to keep you invested more than you think, and it shines a light on a hero. The CGI plane moments do take you out of the film a bit, but Eastwood hasn’t really worked with too much CGI before, so we can probably let it pass.

Sully

3.5 out of 5

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‘Deadpool’ Review

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Director: Tim Miller

Writers: Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Ed Skrein, Morena Baccarin, Gina Carano, T.J. Miller, Brianna Hildebrand, Karan Soni, Jed Rees, and Leslie Uggams

Synopsis: A former Special Forces operative turned mercenary is subjected to a rouge experiment that leaves him with accelerated healing powers, adopting the alter ego Deadpool.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

*Reviewer Note 2: There are post-credit scenes*

 

It’s been a long time, but fans have finally gotten their Deadpool movie, and it doesn’t suck! After the disaster of trying to bring the character to life in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and after the “leaked” test footage that took the internet by storm, 20th Century Fox listened to the fans and decided to give the Merc with the Mouth a chance. Not only that they gave the film the Rated-R rating the film really needed for the character. Finally, we see the end result and its one that can possibly make every Deadpool fan happy. Cue the review.

Deadpool has an interesting set up in the first act. It acts as an origin story, for those unfamiliar with the character – which is probably a lot of people – and a “love story” between Wade Wilson (Reynolds) and Vanessa (Baccarin). However, the origin and love story are told in a flashback form during the heavily promoted expressway action sequences. It’s done fairly well and in a true Deadpool, and even comic book, way. The first time Wade meets Vanessa is at his favorite bar that is run by his best friend Weasel (Miiler). The two start an immediate relationship, but it comes crashing down when Wade finds out he has a serve case of cancer. This leads to an encounter with a mystery man (Rees) who promises him he can not only cure his cancer, but make him a superhero. Wade eventually goes and encounters Ajax (Skrein) and his right hand woman Angel Dust (Carano), who tell Wade they aren’t just curing him, they are making him a super slave and are putting him through a rigorous experiment

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Of course, something goes wrong in the lab and with the experiment and leaves Wade disfigured. Soon after, Wade promises a mission of revenge to find Ajax in hopes that Ajax will fix his disfigurement so he can go back to Vanessa and live their lives in peace. What follows is an action-packed, one-liner dropping comedy antics.

Now, Deadpool definitely won’t be for everyone. It’s brash, over-the-top, some will find it offensive, and with that the humor is something you either go with or just won’t find funny. However, there is no denying that Deadpool is a ton of fun to sit through and watch. Of course, that doesn’t mean its perfect – no film is. Despite the long wait, there are some things that just don’t click in the film, and one of them is something that drives Wade/Deadpool throughout the film: the love story. There’s nothing wrong with Reynolds and Baccarin’s chemistry and most of it is great, but the love story is a bit thin and won’t be the thing you’re talking about walking out.

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The other underdeveloped and weak point is the villain. Ed Skrein fares better here than he did in The Transporter Refueled, but his character is only okay and doesn’t really do anything to stick out too much. Same can be said for Gina Carano’s Angel Dust, although she does have a highlight moment near the end of the film, but the character doesn’t do much other than stand next to Ajax and look menacing.

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The other supporting cast do well with what they have. Going back to Morena Baccarin, she plays the part well and does the best she can with what she’s given. Leslie Uggams, who plays Blind Al, Deadpool’s roommate is pretty great and her scenes with Wade/Deadpool are damn hilarious and is involved in one of the funniest moments of the film. Briana Hildebrand’s Negasonic Teenage Warhead is pretty cool, but her scenes are limited only when Colossus – voiced by Stefan Kapicic and facial performance by Greg LaSalle – is around. Speaking of Colossus, he is treated so much better here than he was in the X-Men films and actually has more screen time than I thought he would. Finally, T.J. Miller, who I’m not really a big fan of, is great in this, especially when he’s with Reynolds. Any time the two are together, you’ll definitely being laughing.

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What makes Deadpool work is Ryan Reynolds. Deadpool I think would have not worked if it wasn’t for Reynolds, his quick wit and perfect comedic timing. Reynolds himself is a huge fan of the character, as are the writers of the film in Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick – both of which also wrote Zombieland and G.I. Joe: Retaliation – and director Tim Miller, which adds a nice added layer to the care that they took to create and bring the character to life on the big screen. The other thing about Reynolds is that he never really lets up. Wade/Deadpool is always talking so the jokes and one-liners are always in full swing. That being said some of the jokes tend to fall flat, but believe me, that’s a rare thing. Deadpool’s humor might be an acquired taste, but I’m sure even non-Deadpool fans or people that are not fans of the humor will find some of the jokes funny. Crass at times, and targets some people, but funny nonetheless.

All that is thanks to the rare comic book movie rating of being Rated-R. I’m not really one to complain about rating or get into a movie rating argument, because honestly for me, it doesn’t matter what a movie is rated as long as it’s good or highly entertaining. However, I did agree with many to say that Deadpool need to be Rated-R to really be a proper adaptation of the character and his wacky – to put it lightly – personality. The personality of Deadpool is also something non-fans will have to get use to, but Deadpool fans will highly appreciate and feels like the character jumped right out of the comic book.

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All in all, Deadpool has been a long time coming, and thankfully it’s finally here and is damn great. Right from the opening credits – which are awesome – you know exactly what you’re getting into. Is it perfect? No, but Ryan Reynolds pulls you in and takes you on this crazy ride and a damn enjoyable one at that.

 

Deadpool

4.5 out of 5

‘The Forest’ Review

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Director: Jason Zada

Writer: Nick Antosca, Sarah Cornwell, and Ben Ketai

Cast: Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, and Eoin Macken

Synopsis: A woman goes into Japan’s Suicide Forest to find her twin sister, and confronts supernatural terror.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Aokigahara Forest aka The Suicide Forest, or Sea of Tress, at the base of Mount Fuji is a real place. Aokigahara is actually very famous for being a common suicide site and being associated with demons in their mythology. So in other words, it’s prime for a horror movie setting. So, first time director Jason Zada along with Game of Thrones actress Natalie Dormer set The Forest within the famous and eerie location in their subpar horror film that has some issues that keep it from being more than just a generic horror film.

The Forest starts off when Sara (Dormer) has a nightmare about her twin sister Jess running in a forest. Her “twin connection” makes her feel that Jess is in trouble and Sarah decides to fly off to Japan where Jess is teaching at a school. What Sarah eventually finds out is that Jess went into Aokigahara Forest, which she finds out is the Suicide Forest. Despite what some people she encounters are saying, Sarah is convinced that her sister isn’t dead and wants to go into the forest to search for her.

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Sarah also encounters a travel writer, Aiden (Kinney), who along with local guide Michi (Ozawa), say they will take her into the forest to look for Jess. However, once there Sarah is constantly warned by Michi to stay on the path and not be fooled by what she sees in the forest, because it is all in her head. He also warns her to stay close because she is filled with sadness, something the forest thrives on. From there, what follows is supernatural occurrences and Sarah’s mission to find her sister and get out alive.

The Forest is not that great of a movie, however, it’s not that bad of a movie either. There are some things that really work for it and I’m quite impressed with how great the cinematography was by Mattias Troelstrup. It probably shouldn’t be that much of a surprise since Zada is music video director and some of the shots in the film, especially some tracking and swooping shots of the forest are beautiful to look at, in fact the way the film is shot, makes the forest feel like it is its own character. There’s one particular sequences right before the final act of the film that is a major highlight for me personally and is, arguably, the creepiest part of the film.

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The other best part of the film is Natalie Dormer. Her first real leading role playing twins is pretty fun to watch. Although there is a nice scene between the twins around the start of the film, we follow Sarah from start to finish as she journeys into Aokigahara Forest. Dormer handles herself very well in the horror genre and you believe her when she has to deal with everything that is thrown at her. Although The Forest isn’t the best movie for Dormer to showcase her talents, she even seems to phone it in at the beginning, although I don’t necessary blame her for that, Dormer’s Sarah is still a good lead to follow.

The rest of the supporting cast, which aren’t many mind you, are a bit one-note. Taylor Kinney’s Aiden is a mixed bag as his intentions are left unclear and unanswered, which more on that in a bit, but his character is met to be shrouded in mystery. There’s also Yukiyoshi Ozawa’s Michi, who could have been a great character if he was given more to do than just be the guide into the Suicide Forest and warning Sarah about the dangers of it. Eoin Macken pops in as Sara’s husband, who shows up in the beginning of the film and just disappears and isn’t really mentioned until the end.

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Now, going back to the unclear and unanswered statement I made, The Forest, had potential, but it’s overall a missed opportunity because of some big unanswered and unclear questions that the film brings up. There is also a big setup that adds to Sarah’s story and plays a factor later on, but the payoff is underwhelming with how it plays out which is a shame because it could have been powerful. The Forest also deals with a pacing issue which thankfully gets fixed by the end of the film, but it is a bit distracting for a good chuck of the film. There are quite a few pop-up scares that are scattered throughout, and some work more than others, but thankfully the ones that do are memorable.

The one thing you’ll probably be left out on Aokigahara itself. The movie just brushes past a lot of its history and simply uses the forest as a mere set-piece and backdrop for Sarah’s story. It isn’t too much of a bad thing, but the movie tries to put some emphasis on the importance of Aokigahara Forest, especially telling us that the souls of the lost in the forest are not ghosts, but trapped souls stuck there forever that are called Yurei. While the thought is appreciated, they could have put a little more thought into it, but the movie is Sarah’s story, so I can see why they wouldn’t go down that route.

Another thing that will divide audiences is the ending. I’m indifferent about it to be honest, because for me it lacks the extra punch because of the pacing and unclear/unanswered questions the movie leaves before the final shot.

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All in all, The Forest is an okay horror movie for January – dare I say the best one since Mama (for me anyway) – and while it leaves a lot of things up in the up, Natalie Dormer, the cinematography and a few standout horror/creepy scenes are worthwhile.

 

The Forest

3 out of 5

‘The Visit’ Review

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Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Writer(s): M. Night Shyamalan

Cast: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanne Dunagan, Peter McRobbie, and Kathryn Hahn

Synopsis: A single mother finds that things in her family’s life go very wrong after her two young children visit their grandparents.

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

Director M. Night Shyamalan’s name is now a name that you associate with, well, crappy movies. After his great start with films like The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs, his stock dropped a bit after The Village (although I enjoyed it). However, when it was announced that Shyamalan would go back to a smaller budget and the first trailer was released, some were hoping that “twist-ending” director would return to his former form. So, does The Visit bring Shyamalan back to his old form? Or should you make an excuse not to make the trip?

The not-really-found-footage film follows Becca (DeJonge) and her younger brother Tyler (Oxenbould) as they get ready to spend the week with their estranged grandparents in Nana (Dunagan) and Pop Pop (McRobbie) in order to give their mother (Hahn) time with her new boyfriend. Becca also sees this as an opportunity to make a documentary about the strained relationship between her grandparents and her mother. Everything seems fine on the first day, but as the week goes on Becca and Tyler start to notice their grandparents acting weird. Becca and Tyler eventually use their cameras to discover what is really going on.

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Like I mentioned earlier, the film is passed off as a found footage film, and while the events are being “filmed” by Becca and Tyler, the actual movie has the events being played like a documentary. Becca is a making the movie for her family and trying to recover whatever she can from the strained relationship between her mother, her grandparents and even themselves. Arguably, this is the best part of the film. The drama of the strained family is what grounds the film and makes the film better. Dare I say, the film, probably, could have worked better as a drama with a mixture of the film’s other aspects.

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The family also feels real, which is what makes The Visit more watchable. The back-and-forth between DeJonge and Oxenbould doesn’t feel forced and with their own characteristics and attitudes you get to know them and feel for them, especially when things pick up. Tyler can rap about anything you give him, but also has a thing about germs. While Becca is the more mature and rational as she tells Tyler that their grandparents are just old when they begin to act weird. But, she’s trying to make her documentary as well, so she’ll probably get on some people’s nerves, I know she did for me, but thankfully it was only a few scenes.

I don’t want to get too much into McRobbie’s and Dunagan’s Pop Pop and Nana because it’s a bit in spoiler territory. However, their performances are rather eerie, a bit terrifying, and downright odd. Of course, as the film picks up you’re trying to figure out is going on with them, and I’ll give it to Shyamalan, the twist is something I didn’t suspect. He does try to throw you off and throws a crap load of red-herrings at you. Some will like the twist and some will probably not, I was rather on the fence about it. For the most part, it works more effectively at the moment because it’s jarring and at the point in the film you are invested in the characters, especially Becca and Tyler. However, once you’re out of the film, it is a bit creepy and, but a bit lackluster compared to the other twists in Shyamalan’s films.

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The big thing that split me, and I’m sure others as well, is the tone. The Visit is labeled as a comedy horror. While the film was advertised as a horror film, there is little horror in it. Yeah, we’ll get the eventually pop-up scare here and there, but this is really more of a thriller than anything else. When it comes to the comedy part, some of it is cringe-worthy at best. I did laugh genuinely at some of the jokes, but overall the “comedy” falls a bit flat, which doesn’t help and makes the film’s tone indecisive and watching it a bit jarring because one second you’re a bit unnerved and the next you’re laughing or smirking. It does hurt The Visit overall.

All in all, The Visit feels like Shyamalan is coming back to his old form, but still has a bit to shake off. While you’re probably expecting a straightforward horror film, you’re instead given a thriller with comedy bits that don’t always work. However, the best part of The Visit is definitely the dynamic and heart of the family and it’s two young stars in Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould.

The Visit

3 out of 5

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‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ Review

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Dir: Bryan Singer

Cast: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore, Peter Dinklage, Halle Berry, Omar Sy, Josh Helman, Daniel Cudmore, Bingbing Fan, Adan Canto, Booboo Stewart, Evan Peters, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart

Synopsis: The X-Men send Wolverine to the past in a desperate effort to change history and prevent an event that results in doom for both humans and mutants.

 

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

*Reviewer Note #2: Stay for the end credits.*

 

 

Loosely adapted from the classic Chris Claremont comic storyline of the same name, X-Men: Days of Future Past puts together the big screen’s original X-Men (Wolverine, Professor X, Storm, Kitty Pryde, Iceman, Colossus, and one-time enemy Magneto) and their latest members (Bishop, Warpath, Sunspot, and Blink) living in a dystopian future where mutant-hunting Sentinels have practically exterminated mutants, imprisoned the surviving ones in concentration camps with the humans who helped them. The only way for the X-Men to survive is to send one of their own back in time in order to stop the assassination that paved the way for the mutant holocaust.

 

One of the biggest differences from the comic (don’t worry, I won’t be comparing the comic to the movie during the whole review) the comics had the older Kitty (Page) transfer her consciousness into her younger self in order to warn their past-selves. In the film, the initial argument is that only Professor X (Stewart) is a strong enough telepath to do the job, but since he can’t physically handle such a long trip back the mission falls to Wolverine (Jackman). Waking up in his younger body in 1973, Logan seeks out the younger Xavier (McAvoy) who has become a shambling version of the man we met in X-Men: First Class.

 

Charles has spent the time in-between First Class and Days of Future Past moping around his mansion brooding about what he’s lost. The only one who’s still with him is Hank aka Beast (Hoult), who has made a serum to not only control is “animal form” but also for Xavier’s paralysis. The big side effect of the drug is that it has affected Charles’ psychic powers. But Charles doesn’t seem to care as he no longer wants to hear all the voices and suffering and who has lost hope since losing his Mystique (Lawrence) to Magneto (Fassbender).

 

Although she still playing a supporting character in the great ensemble, Mystique plays a major key to changing the future as she’s out to assassinate Sentinels creator Dr. Bolivar Trask (Dinklage). In order to help them track down Mystique, Logan, Xavier, and Hank will need help from Magneto, who is imprisoned at the bottom of the Pentagon. They then recruit young speedster Peter Maximoff (Peters), aka Quicksilver. From there it becomes a race against time to stop Mystique, restore young Xavier’s hope, and prevent the X-Men of the future from being wiped out.

 

This is a plot heavy sci-fi/time travel film with lots of moving parts, so we should give credit to both director Bryan Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg that they balance all those elements with relatively little confusion. There are some clunky moments, but overall Days of Future Past does a great job in keeping the storytelling concise and clear.

 

Days of Future Past gives each of its core crew of characters something important to do. It’s pretty clever how the story manages to make the movie’s biggest stars – particularly Lawrence integral to the plot. Xavier’s arc from self-pity to the hopeful leader embodied by Patrick Stewart is moving and one of the strongest aspects of the movie. As for young Magneto, despite agreeing to help find Raven/Mystique, he still remains firm in his beliefs even if that means turning against Xavier and Mystique.

 

Days of Future Past can be amusing and funny at times, but the movie has an overall feel of grim. You can feel it more with the future setting, as all of them are hiding and during the standoffs with the Sentinels, the filmmakers did not hold back any punches. But going back to the humor, I was somewhat surprised how much of it there was. There are also some nice callbacks to the other X-Men films (and even the comics) that will make fans happy.

 

The movie’s biggest surprise is the character that’s been the greatest object of scorn online: Quicksilver. Quicksilver does not have a ton of screen-time but he’s Pentagon prison break sequence is a highlight of the movie. I do not know if it’s a scene stealer – although some people are saying it is – but this is another example of not judging a character by his publicity shots.

 

I already hinted at it earlier in the review, but the cast is great. James McAvoy’s Charles Xavier is more at the forefront this time around and has a great arc that McAvoy handles so well. Jackman does his usual best as Logan aka Wolverine. Nicholas Hoult has less to do than he did in First Class. Lawrence, who has become a major star since the first movie turns into a badass but is also conflicted once she finds out she’s the key to the future. Fassbender was one of the best things about First Class, so it kind of sucks that he doesn’t have a ton to do this time around. Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart of course bring their A-game and it’s nice to see them together again as the characters.

 

The other mutants like Sunspot (Canto), Warpath (Booboo Stewart), and Blink (Fan) have some cool moments teaming up with Bobby/Iceman (Ashmore) and Storm (Berry). Fan favorite Bishop (Sy) is nice to see on the big screen finally but some will feel like he was underused. One underused and slightly disappointing characters is Bolivar Trask played by the awesome Peter Dinklage. This is not a knock on Dinklage who plays Trask well but the character as a villain is not compelling enough.

 

The film’s action sequences are well-done and engaging, from its opening scene of the future X-Men fighting the Sentinels to the Paris standoff through to the climactic battle in Washington D.C. Even the Pentagon prison break sequence, which nicely balances humor, visual effects, character, and tension.

 

All in all, X-Men: Days of Future Past is funny, grim, bleak and filled with great action and some strong performances. For fans of the series and comic, you will appreciate the fact that Bryan Singer and Simon Kinberg attempt such a beloved and complex story.

 

 

X-Men: Days of Future Past

5 out of 5