A Cure For Wellness (**) – What do I have to feel?

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A Cure for Wellness – 2017

Director Gore Verbinski
Screenplay Justin Haythe
Starring Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth, Harry Groener, Celia Imrie, Tomas Norström, Angelina Häntsch

A tale as old as people trying to find a miracle cure, A Cure for Wellness finds a young and aggressive corporate shill (DeHaan)  in the unenviable task of tracking down the leader of their company (Groener). The process brings him into a trap: an institution where people go to improve their health where the opposite seems to be happening.

The film is slick and it looks as good as one would expect from Verbinski. It’s appeal is limited by its cast, location and that it not that original. What it does offer is a training wheels version of the creepy institution in the Swiss Alps with a dark and haunted past.

If you’ve never seen this type of film, this would be as good a place as any to start. It amounts to a giant telegraphed wave of images that says where the story is going with no amount of nuance. Some of the images will stick out.  The incident with the front tooth messes me up. The eels, not as much.

DeHaan does a good job looking startled, but the look on his face at the final shot actually creates more thought provocation than anything in the two plus hours before it. Goth looks haunted and starving, and who doesn’t know Isaacs is up to the worst things imagined?

Once you’ve seen a film like this, the rest kind of seem the same.

(** out of *****)

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John Wick 2 (****1/2): You’re always that guy…

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John Wick Chapter 2 – 2017

Director Chad Stahelski
Screenplay Derek Kolstad
Starring Keanu Reeves, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Claudia Gerini

If it takes away your peace, it’s too expensive. That’s what some wise people say. Even wiser it is to take those taking away your peace with a head-shot or 70. This time they missed the dog with the grenade. But they took out pretty much the whole rest of the house.  And all those pictures of him and his not as recently deceased wife.  And he’d just buried his guns under concrete again…

The most powerful thing about John Wick the character is that he is actually quite convincing as a world-weary and just plain beaten down warrior. Sure, he’s always being brought back for “one more job” but he’s going to be shot, beaten and stabbed along the way, sometimes in the middle of a concert.  And he doesn’t miss. My word does he make sure he hits the target over and over. He is hit enough himself, but bullets that hit his vest just add to the extreme agony. They don’t take away his fire to survive, but they can very much affect his fighting style.

The job brings him to Rome this time, where he has to kill literally dozens of people just to take down one target. Then he gets into a prolonged fight or two. Reeves has been at this game a long time. Seeing him hit by cars, thrown down stars and through windows is remarkable. His dedication to realism is astounding. He is not a young man, but he doesn’t fight like an old one. Just one worn down by experience. He deserves an Oscar nomination for the most believable action star in the last decade…or two.

Meanwhile the bodies pile up. And up. And up.  It’s the highest one man death count I have seen outside of A Better Tomorrow II. The director Stahelski has a remarkable dedication to the art of action. He is growing by leaps and bounds as the trajectory between this film and the last will attest. The confidence is shows in one beautiful set up after another. Every scene is meticulously choreographed, advancing the very basic story as if it were way more complex than it really is. Take away this expertise and this is any of the Liam Neeson films of his recent heyday. Not exactly a put down, to be sure, but you know what I mean.

The last act of the film has an incredible premise that starts with 7 bullets and is as much a puzzling quest for more as it is a hunt for “vengeance.” The ferocity of the jujitsu employed is an agonized symmetry in which everyone’s body weight is carefully applied to make each fight believable.

What is this world of ancient coins and hit men and women waiting on every corner? It the same bullshit we’ve seen for years. There is no secret to this secret society. The key to the whole thing is feeling like Reeves himself believes. And you can see each scratch, cut and gut shot. That says nothing about what you see when you look in his tired, but still resolved eyes. It’s a younger version of what one sees when they look in the eyes of McShane.

(****1/2 out of *****)

Gold (***1/2) is a beautiful loser

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Gold – 2016

Director  Stephen Gaghan
Screenplay 
Patrick Massett, John Zinman
Starring 
Matthew McConaughey, Édgar Ramírez, Bryce Dallas Howard, Corey Stoll, Toby Kebbell, Craig T. Nelson, Bruce Greenwood

The feeling in watching Matthew McConaughey working and sweating his way through every scene of Gold is that we are watching a story that feels like his own. The vision of Kenny Wells to the outside world is that of one who got away with something and struck it rich with an illusion. Inside his heart is true and he works as hard as anyone, even if he feels like he will never get credit for earning his fortune.  To anyone who has followed McConaughey since his first big role in A Time to Kill will find this story very familiar.

This is what draws me to his performance in what could be considered quite average fare. There is nothing wrong with this movie and it’s script. It definitely wasn’t considered at award time. McConaughey is at his very best, though from the moment he first takes the screen all the way through the end. He inhabits the screen like someone on his desperate last breaths, somehow sure that the legacy of his father (Nelson in a passing cameo) will be proved as legitimate through his own success.

As a down and out market prospector, Wells has a dream and quite literally hocks the last bit of gold his girlfriend has left to make it happen. The success does come, but it is not easy. Eventually bigger fish come in tor make their stamp and he sneaks past them like a dying man whistling past the graveyard.

The story is loosely based on the Bre-X mining scandal. For those who know what happened, there is still plenty to enjoy. Particularly good are Ramírez and Howard, as Wells partner and longtime girlfriend, respectively. I have never noticed as good a performance out of the latter. Indeed, this is the first time I have enjoyed seeing her on screen.

The story and performance of the day is McConaughey, though. If he’s been better, he’s never been as invested in a role so completely. He goes the full DeNiro here, making himself into a repulsive has been with a heart of gold.

The story plays like something that could have been made in another time, when more time and effort was poured into character and less into any sort of flash. This feels like the kind of film one produces when they’ve won the cache to spread their wings a little.

While it’s never dull, the story is steady and the scenery feels at once wearying and fresh. Gaghan has a deft touch with drama, but nothing here feels overbearing aside from the strain Wells gut puts on a pair of pants.

If you like McConaughey, then watch this film. If you are on the bubble and think he just may have gotten lucky, watch this film. Tell me if it doesn’t make you feel like he’s finally proved himself worthwhile.

(***1/2 out of *****)

The Fate of the Furious (***): Don’t think. It’s Meat

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The Fate of the Furious – 2017

Director F. Gary Gray
Screenplay Chris Morgan
Starring Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Scott Eastwood, Nathalie Emmanuel, Elsa Pataky, Kurt Russell, Charlize Theron

Don’t think that I don’t know that this series is as dumb as anything I have ever seen.

Don’t think I don’t want to see someone beaten like a Cherokee drum.

Don’t think that I don’t know that there is some serious man crushing going on between The Rock’s Hobbs and Statham’s Deckard.

Don’t think that it isn’t kind of cool to see all those cars fall from above in NYC.

Don’t think that it isn’t cool seeing Dom turn heel when they run out of story-lines.

Don’t think for a minute I can’t tell you’re trying to make Scott Eastwood a star eventually. And I hope it works well enough to give him a personality, too.

Don’t think I buy for a second that anyone who dies in this series is really dead. And the one guy who died outside the series will ever be shown as dead.

Don’t think I am any less tired of Tyrese Gibson’s Roman than I am of Dom “Meathead” Torretto.

Don’t think I don’t miss Sung Kang and Gal Gadot.

Don’t think I don’t know it’s not random choice that Theron’s Cipher makes when doling out punishment. It’s about as Random as Gadot dying just before her boyfriend Kang in part 6.

Don’t think I don’t enjoy watching The Rock kicking ass.We always need more Statham.

Don’t think I don’t enjoy watching Luda as a techno Wiz. I would buy anything he’s selling.

Don’t think that the snow chase isn’t as dumb as it is cool. More submarine, please.

Don’t think I can ever get enough of Helen Mirren.

Don’t think the laws of physics on this or any planet will apply.

Don’t think I don’t want to hear Roman stop yelling.

Don’t think any of this will ever make sense.

Don’t think that the grand master antagonist isn’t working for some other grand master antagonist in another movie down the line.

Don’t believe there won’t be a full immunity or full reinstatement at the end of every film.

Don’t think I don’t want to see Hobbs beat down Torretto.

Don’t think. It will all be better that way.

Fist Fight (*) is a forced confrontation

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Fist Fight – 2017

Director  Richie Keen
Screenplay Van Robichaux,Evan Susser
Starring Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, Christina Hendricks, Kumail Nanjiani, Dean Norris

As far as I can tell, this movie exists to show everyone that Ice Cube still has an intimidating frown for people like Charlie Day. Nothing that happens at Roosevelt High School is remotely recognizable to someone who has been in an American high school. This does not matter though, because it’s only happening to finish the job of making Charlie Day’s English teacher seem balanced, relatable and normal.

The excuse that they use for an unrelenting amount of chaos and destruction is that it’s Senior Pranks day. This means porn in the hallway, horses on meth and penises drawn on the chalk board. Charlie is a nice guy, so he puts up with it. Ice Cube is, well…

“I don’t need to be liked. I need to educate.”

Educating means scowling, grimacing, grabbing cell phones and throwing them against the wall. And that is before he attacks the student’s desk with a fireman’s axe. The principal is busy firing whole departments, though, and there is no time for the teacher’s code. The resulting situation pits Cube against Day in the parking lot. After school. With fists.

So at this point, Day’s Cunningham is (finally) distracted. Everyone in the school knows that Cube’s Strickland is going to kick his butt. Then we hear the stories and see flashbacks of Cube beating people in various scenarios.

If I left out any details, it’s mainly because none of them matter. So many decent (and not so decent) actors doing nothing of consequence, it is mind numbing. Bell is there to say even more inappropriate things than she normally does. Tracy Morgan is there to make Day feel even more desperate about his circumstances while he is oblivious to kids making lewd patterns on the lawn. Hendricks is there to be a crazy violent prude. Talk about casting against type. Norris is at once cruel and helpless.

The kids are all living in a plane of existence far above the clueless teachers. They are free to do just about anything to anyone besides Cube. Everything comes up roses for them. Cunningham is desperate to keep his job because he has a wife who is expecting.

On the plus side, there is a nice advertisement for MacBook Pro in the middle of the film. We are made aware that only dumb families don’t have them.

Dumb comedies exist only to set up the next punchline. Every single aspect of the film is a weak excuse to have us see Charlie Day sweat and scream obscenities on the roof. Once in a while we see him repeat himself in class with increasing degrees of frustration. Then we get to see weak joke set ups get muted payoffs further down the line.

If you are Ice Cube, what makes you want to be in a film like this?  It’s a soft touch film with too much swearing to attract the families. He’s asked to make a one liner out of one of his signature works to no effect, and then he’s supposed to make a Charlie Day ass whoopin’ seem believable. Tough sell for a film that is marketed to the 17-22 age range.

This is a lot of words to say a movie is bad.

(* out of *****)

Alien: Covenant (**) – IQ’s just dropped sharply

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Alien Covenant – 2017

“If you really want a franchise, I can keep cranking it for another six. I’m not going to close it down again. No way.” – Ridley Scott, March 2017

Director Ridley Scott
Screenplay John Logan, Dante Harper
Starring Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz, Jussie Smollett, Callie Hernandez, Nathaniel Dean, Alexander England, Benjamin Rigby

I think it’s well past time to stop throwing the word “genius” around when talking about Ridley Scott’s cinematic output. At the very least we should add the phrase “hampered by corporate requirements” to the end of the word. When diminishing sales compromised the vision that he put forth in Prometheus a few years ago, his talk of a prequel trilogy started shrinking to maybe just one more film. Then, as development to the followup of that flawed but brilliant film started ramping up, it was decided that the film’s title would include the word “Alien.” The cry from the large portion of the casual fan base had been to include more than just a courtesy “Deacon” Alien shot at the end of the film.

Those complaints were vetted and recognized as valid criticism to those who believe movies are in the business primarily to make money.

That there might be a long-term goal seems not to have been considered strongly. The fact that there is what looks to be an Alien Queen mural in Prometheus was more than enough for me to know that something good was coming down the line. Ridley said he wanted to know more about the Space Jockey. So did a lot of others. Prometheus is the bone tossed in our general direction that made us wonder, like Elizabeth Shaw, what else is there?

There is less a sense of wonder and more a sense of duty in Alien: Covenant. And it is not the same sense of duty that Walter (Fassbender, playing a second, more advanced and constricted android) feels for his crew mate Daniels (Waterston). It’s kind of obvious that Walter feels a kindness for humans that the creators of the Alien prequels don’t feel for their audience. The new direction has been abandoned, and in its place the same old checkpoints that Scott has hit in his previous films, with no sense of story flow past the first act.

That first act is, actually, pretty good. It’s 2104, ten years after Prometheus is reported missing. An accident on the colony ship Covenant creates the makings for a situation for their crew to investigate the source of a signal on an unknown planet, instead of their original destination. Preliminary research shows that the planet should actually be more habitable than their original destination, so despite the objections of 2nd in command Daniels, captain Oram (Crudup) decides to send most of his crew down to search for the source and scope the planet out. That they just decide to land is risky, but when they all depart the ship without any protective gear, it’s obvious that most of these folks are not mean to last the trip.

What they discover while there is a contaminant that starts to affect each of the crew one way or another. In addition, David (Fassbender) arrives in the midst of chaos breaking down. He knows everything there is to know about the planet that they are on. Let’s just say it’s not good news.

There is actually some good character build up as things are unfolding in the early part of the story. Primarily in the form of McBride, Waterston, Ejogo, Bichir, Seimetz and Hernandez, we get a sense of camaraderie and togetherness that was missing from the disparate crew of Prometheus, who somehow hadn’t met one another until they woke up from hyper-sleep. The situations they face are at least interesting until they set down on the planet, and even when the plot goes south, the characters still shine as genuine. This could be more because the loss of a spouse resonates more than would that of someone you just met prior to taking off, but it’s plain the actors have a better idea of who they are here.

It’s once they land on the planet that everything in the story lets the characters down. Crudup’s Captain Oram is most crippled by the mechanics of the point to point plotting. He goes from trying to prevent his crew from mourning the loss of a loved one to making decisions on a whim that endanger the lives of everyone. Why?  Because the plot requires it. Later he has some incredible red flags that he at first acts on, but then succumbs to stupidly.  Again we ask why? Well if you’ve seen the trailer, you know someone has to lean over an egg at some point.

This is the problem with much of the last 2/3 of the film. People are not anywhere for any meaningful reason, they just split up when the plot requires thinning of the herd. Then we get a series of clever lines followed by dumb reactions. It’s all just spacing for the next attack.

Much has been made of Fassbender playing the dual roles of David and Walter. Of this I say he is only as good as the script allows. Where we win is when they counter one another in the meaning of existence. There is a good back and forth, some of the best writing of the film. In the midst of which, the subjects of the previous entry in the story are glossed over as a minor loose thread. Just like that, several of the questions from the previous film vanish. Is this forever?  Likely, though I  hope not.

This brings us to Waterston. It’s hard to have much enthusiasm for a character filling the heroine slot when the last one is missing in action. Waterston is good in the role but her character feels less like a person than a spot holder. She’s supposed to be the one who stays calm in the face of pending disaster, and she’s the one who needs to disagree with the captain. Her relationship with Walter is a nice diversion, but she’s got to do all of the muscle bearing while everyone else succumbs to the order of appearance on the credits.

This is less of a problem with Prometheus, because Shaw (Rapace) has an actual goal beyond survival of the moment. She is curious and wonders about things that many of those watching could be interested in, were it posed in a smart enough way. Instead of refining that difficult path into a synthesized theme, we go back to having people as glorified cows lined up for slaughter by the ever refined Alien compositions.

What is going on with the Aliens? We have a few different styles than we’ve seen before, but nothing resonates until we get back to one that looks close, but not exactly like the one seen in the original. We are given some strong hints that there is some Buffalo Bill style experimenting going on, but given the fact that there are no non-botanical organisms present at all makes one wonder how perfect this contagion really is in its altered state.

The beastly antagonists are rarely scary in any fashion. There is absolutely no tension based on the fact that it’s all been done before. It doesn’t matter where something is going to break out, if you know it’s going to happen before the victims set foot in the area of playthings. Those being hunted provide no clever or meaningful resistance, therefore being even closer to cows than humans.

While much has been made of the realism of Scott’s creature effects, every shot in the film rings closer to Transformers than it does the original creepy source. The details onscreen are crisp and he definitely knows how to hold attention in the action scenes. It’s just hard to imagine he’s putting as much thought into the likelihood of some of the scenes (like watching an Alien jump directly and willingly into a trap) as he is what kind of filter to put on the lens.

Is this film a complete loss?  No. The series has a future and one can hope that the film makes enough money to provide a buffer that might allow Scott more freedom to explore the seemingly obliterated Engineers. Right now it just seems like Scott spent the film checking boxes of requirements from the people in the business attire. This is the one designed to please the “fans” to be sure. Let’s hope that this becomes less an investigation of Weyland’s creation and more of an investigation of the question that Scott has twice now said he wants to investigate:

Where do we come from?

We already know that David has found his purpose and we definitely know what happens when people in these films die. Let’s try a little harder to engage everyone.

(** out of *****)

Here Alone (**): If time is a luxury…

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Here Alone – 2016

Director Rod Blackhurst
Screenplay David Ebelhoft
Starring Lucy Walters, Gina Piersanti, Adam David Thompson, Shane West

Here Alone amounts to what feels like a Canadian version of a Zombie film. Everything is overcast, kind of dull and low budget. If time were a luxury, I suppose it might feel more nuanced than boring, but I am not getting any younger. I need more Dawn of the Dead remakes, not the end of the world is boring films.

It’s not that the acting is all that bad. Walters in particular seems up to the task of more challenging material than she gets here. The ideas are an amalgam of what you’ve seen before, only done by someone who can afford only the barest of inferences to larger action that occurs off screen. It’s a good movie for a college thesis, but not something I want to spend a Sunday afternoon watching in the place of The Walking Dead.

It would be something if there was any sort of originality to the script at all. We see a variation on the “hide your smell” routine. We learn that the dead are attracted to housing units, but not necessarily cars with screaming babies sitting alone in the woods. There are plenty of scenes with cans of food and saltine crackers. No scenes whatsoever with small game running around, or even a deer. One of those might have been believable, but it would have required someone on set knowing how to dress game.

This is not a film without its merits. This is not an insult to those trying to entertain. The acting and soundtrack, in particular is worthy of merit. In the end it becomes an effort to gain attention with not so much money and a carload of ambition. Add an original story and you might have something.

(** out of *****)

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (*****): More please

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Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 – 2017

Written and Directed by James Gunn
Starring  Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell

I am so happy this film didn’t stink. It could be a little bit of an overreaction to the fact that it doesn’t that I feel that Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 is the best film of the year so far and right on par with the best that Marvel has released into their Cinematic Universe. It sure feels like I will be watching this film with the same zeal and exuberance I have felt watching most of the films.

First of all, the characters have developed. Sure they are antagonistic as ever to each other, but they also show the propensity for caring not many ensemble casts are talented enough to do. Most obvious here is Drax (Bautista) with his awkwardly expanding foray into the world outside of the literal. His moments are consistently fresh, for such a seemingly limited character and actor, and it is a delight to see.

Speaking of limited, Baby Groot (Diesel) is the most adorable tiny version of a character to be in a sequel since Mini-Me. Every scene he is in draws out sympathy and affection, then a punctuated laugh. My favorite moments in the movie is when Drax calls Baby Groot the “smaller, dumber version,” and when Baby Groot beats on Drax for destroying his groove.

Many of the jokes in the film (and some carrying over from the previous film) have a tremendous payoff. Rocket (Cooper) breaks new ground in his establishment of a relationship with Yondu (Rooker). It might have been nice if the Racoon had been granted one liners consistently throughout, but there were so many characters, it’s tough to choose who’d be left out.

Rooker’s Yondu gets an excellent fleshing out with way more to do this time around. Some of the moves are telegraphed, but no less enjoyable when played against the plot.

Even the burgeoning romance between Quill (Pratt) and Gamora (Saldana) is played with a self-awareness of what normally happens at this point with “TV” relationships. Turning into the skid allows a certain grace with the audience for a second film. They’d better move past it by then.

Gamora is given a more complete reprise of her relationship with her adopted sibling Nebula (Gillan). The turn they take is one more conducive to her staying within the franchise and both actresses give an emotional heft to the story that is a pleasant addition to the standard sibling stuff.

Of the new characters, Mantis (Klementieff) and Ego, the Living Planet (Russell) have the most going on. Ego claims to be Peter’s dad, and he’s charming enough to convince us of anything. The faux crisis about his worthiness as a parent is finished quickly enough to move on to more interesting things. Mantis has an interesting character that fits sublimely with the rest of the team.

If I haven’t discussed the plot, it’s because the GOTG movies don’t really need to worry about the plot as much as making sure we can appreciate the fact that the gang is back and still loveable, even if a little different from before. In developing characters, we can enjoy it more despite what it lacks.

To be fair, the plot is a wholesale improvement over what they had last time. It’s more expansive and there is a desperation that one feels for the characters if not for the situation they encounter. It also helps to know not everyone is safe. Yes, and it’s not a spoiler alert.

Pratt is more comfortable in doing less this time around. His job on the team is to play straight man to a bunch of clowns, and he accepts this job willingly. That we don’t have to negotiate his screen time or make all of his actions heroic is a huge plus. There is no other leading man in the Marvel Universe with his unforced appeal.

James Gunn took this series right where it needs to be as a placeholder while waiting for the next Avengers film. He’s taken the reigns of the stories and made the comic his own, all while staying in focus with Feige’s overall scope. He’s completely in his comfort zone, and still treating the property like it is an opportunity, rather than a burden. He is the series most effective creative force.

This film is great, even for those who will say it lacks the freshness of the original. Think to yourself, how many more times will you be seeing Bradley Cooper playing a sarcastic and violent raccoon? When will you ever see Baby Groot again?

Stop taking this marvelous thing for granted. Go watch it.

(***** out of *****)

Life (*1/2) is a short trip

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Life – 2017

Director Daniel Espinosa
Screenplay by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Starring 
Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya

Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have some genuine geek credentials, having two of the biggest nerdist success stories of the last decade in their writing repertoire. First Zombieland managed to stand out in a crowded field of the undead back in 2009, then they hit pay-dirt with the Deadpool last year. This is the point in the trajectory where one dusts off some old work that must have some value and see if someone will overspend.

In the case of Life, what we get is tantamount to the opening story for a movie they were contracted to write originally, but now stands in limbo. To share more than that might give a tiny bit of the plot away. Really, though, there isn’t much to give.

Mostly what Life has going for it is one, at most two, surprises. If these are enough to sate your desires in a film, then the fact that the rest of the story is bland as hell may not bother you as much.

The gist of the story is a team of astronauts and scientists bring in a load of samples brought back from Mars. Included within the samples is the tiniest remnant of a dormant living organism. They manage to nudge it along and – lo and behold – what starts out as adorable becomes a killer in a short period of time. Soon enough we’re down to a not quite handful and the goal of the team moves from quarantine, to elimination to Def Con 1 in matter of hours.

It’s not a very good film, to say the least. Minor characters are there not for their acting talent, but to add a touch of ethnicity. It’s a tough thing to watch good actors narrowed to their face value.

Gyllenhaal and Ferguson have a few moments, though, and the ending actually is the only part of the film that doesn’t seem like it was thoroughly vetted by a test audience. That doesn’t mean it’s all that good, though.

The being, for what it’s worth, has a reason to look as luminescent as a cartoon. It still is hard not to wonder what all of the screaming is about when it’s obvious that they are acting against a green screen.

The film is not so much bad as it offers nothing more than the depressing realization that even if this had been a prequel to another more lucrative franchise, it would only serve as relief that the other project died before touching down.

(*1/2 out of *****)

Rings (*): Once more into the rabbit hole

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Rings – 2017

Director F. Javier Gutiérrez
Screenplay David Loucka, Jacob Aaron Estes, Akiva Goldsman
Starring  Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D’Onofrio, Aimee Teegarden

For some reason, I have longed to see Johnny Galecki get what’s coming to him. I never liked him, not even back when he was Sara Gilbert’s boyfriend on Roseanne. And no, IU never have cared one way or another about that nerd show. With him on it, not a chance. It’s my trial, and I bear it bravely.

Upon finding out he was in the newest version of The Ring, I figured that it only means he will die some sort of gruesome death. I can support this notion, especially when he carries the pretense of an intellectual professor. No way, Johnny. You’re a dead man once you pop in that tape.

The images change medium with Rings. Now instead of video tape we have digital files on a computer screen. Of course, this changes for one character to a series of subliminal flashes that occur like some sort of scavenger hunt for clues. This is not very fun after the first few because it is headache inducing and it leaves no room for mystery.

Don’t know what is going on? Wait 5 minutes.  Or maybe 3.

There is no shortage of people waiting to tell you the story behind the girl, Samara. That we learned about her in the previous American sequel is of no real consequence. Whether it is another angle or a totally contradictory story, we get enough people telling us about her, it’d be a surprise if someone didn’t know about her.

The makers took a page and a story line out of the far superior (and mysterious) It Follows, and creates a group called “The Sevens” who spread the video to others, giving them some sort of gap, pushing death off until those “tails” expire.  It could work as some remarkable pyramid scheme if they just broadcast it. Oh, wait…

Unlike other series that just repeat the routine of a faceless mystery killer, the people behind this story can’t hold the bountiful mystery behind the images. Like a kid who wants to open their Christmas presents on Halloween, there is an endless procession of demystifying moments until there is nothing left to fear. And strangely, nothing to feel sorry about except for the fact that you came back for more.

I would like to say there are some interesting camera angles or something. There is one that literally happens with the opening image. The rest is so choppy its hard to give a second look.

You get a giant dose of self-reference as you hear a grizzled and blind D’Onofrio say “The event, just took it out of him.” It says something strange about his career that he is literally the only name actor to take this film. Every one else was paid to scale, no doubt. He needs more characters like Malkovich and less like Lance Henriksen. And I love poor Lance Henriksen.

This movie might not even be good enough for completists. It’s only for those who have gone so far as to watch every variation of the movie, foreign and domestic. It is lighter than air.  Kind of like moths behind visqueen.

(* out of *****)