The Belko Experiment (R)

Many times when I go to the movies I can tell when the movie is going to be crappy very early on. Call it want you will – instinct, intuition, a gift, a curse or whatever. Two minutes into The Belko Experiment I got that feeling again; that feeling that I should have just gotten up, gotten my refund, and seen something else.  Anything else.  But I didn’t.  I hate when I get that feeling, because I feel as though I need to give the film a chance before shutting it down, but I know myself well enough to know that once I get to the point where I want to walk out, it takes a lot to reel me back in.  Despite all of this, I sat through the entire movie.  When I get that feeling I am always, not just some of the time, but always, correct.  I’m a woman who knows what I like, and oh how I regret remaining seated.  People in the audience (including myself) laughed through the entire movie; not because anything particularly funny was happening, but because we had to find a way to turn tragedy into triumph.  It is billed as a horror movie for crying out loud!  I’m still ticked with myself for not leading the charge to the refund line within my 20 minute window.  The next time I get that feeling, not only am I going, I’m going to try and take everybody in the damn theater with me!  I am going to stand up and exclaim, “This is garbage. I’m going to get a refund.  Whose with me!”  Seriously.  Enough is enough already.

How disappointing when this year’s horror movies have been coming out in such force with such amazing quality (Raw, The Girl with all the Gifts, Get Out, The Autopsy of Jane Doe).  Just when I was about to petition the Academy to include a horror category for next year’s awards (which they should have at this point for Get Out alone), how is it that a film as bad as The Belko Experiment slips through the cracks and ruins the streak?  This is one of those ideas that one might imagine may have sounded good on paper but failed to transition to film.

Here’s how it slipped through… The Belko Experiement is written by James Gunn, who wrote and directed Guardians of the Galaxy and the upcoming sequel thereto. I’ve never seen Guardians and this movie doesn’t inspire me to ever want to do so.  I don’t usually “do” spoilers.  I avoid them to the extent that I am able, but this movie was already spoiled long before I got here, so here we go…

In this movie, there’s some U.S. government company/agency named Belko housed in a single building in Bogota, Columbia, where this multicultural group of people work.  One gets the feeling that the majority of the employees, if not all, are American.  80 employees are in the building on this particular day.  All of a sudden, the building is put under an ISIS (for those of you who watch Archer, you know to what I am referring.  Those of you who do not watch Archer, go watch Archer.  It’s good.  I recommend it much more highly than this movie, for certain. ) -type lockdown, where the entire building is pretty much “off line” and all points of egress are inaccessible.  Anyway, a voice over a loud speaker begins to give the employees instructions and informs them that 2 of them must be dead within like 90 minutes or some such nonsense – in order for the “stakes” not to escalate.  Nobody wants to kill anyone at first, of course, but somehow, people being to die.  The next order is to kill 30 people in 2 hours.  And if the count does not reach 30, then 60 employees will be exterminated.  So, these people being to lose their minds and hack and shoot and stab at one another with verve.  They miss the 30 mark by 1 body and the stakes escalate to the last man standing and an all-out blood bath ensues.

I get it. This movie is like The Purge meets the Stanford prison experiment.  The demands and psychological effects of the experiment, such as mob mentality and homicidal psychosis, are escalated by making murder a requirement for survival.  The special effects and the gore were well done, but even with all the blood and brains and guts and violence (and there was plenty), The Belko Experiment did not come across as a horror film.  It would have made an excellent spoof on a horror film had it been pushed in that direction (Simon Pegg could probably have done an outstanding job with it).  Otherwise, it just doesn’t fly. I won’t even bother to say who is in the movie, because it doesn’t even matter.  It’s just that bad.

The Belko Experiment earned 4 out of 10 bloops. This movie is not good even if you do not have to pay.  If it comes on cable on a Sunday afternoon and you think you have nothing better to do, trust me, you do.  Find something else to do.  Anything else.  Watch a couple of episodes of Archer instead.  And if you venture forth, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Bloops:

1   =   worst ever, avoid at all cost
2   =   very bad, forget about it!
3   =   poor movie, not recommended
4   =   not good, even for free – NO!
5   =   so-so, worth it if you don’t have to pay
6   =   not bad, could have been better
7   =   good movie, worth seeing
8   =   great movie, don’t miss it!
9   =   excellent movie, a must see!
10 =   a masterpiece, go see it now!

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What I’m Watching This Week

  • The Shack – Really, this is the week.
  • Bluebeard – A Korean thriller that sounds amazing
  • The Great Wall I’m still trying to gear up to go see this movie. Obviously, I don’t quite care about it enough to get there.  I believe this is the last week it will be in theaters, so it’s now or never.
  • Personal Shopper
  • Life

Recent Reviews:

Beauty and the Beast
Raw

Kong: Skull Island
Logan
Bitter Harvest
The Girl with All the Gifts
A Cure for Wellness
Get Out

Oscar reviews:

Hidden Figures
Fences
Moonlight
Hell or High Water
Loving
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
Nocturnal Animals
Captain Fantastic
Elle
Jackie
Florence Foster Jenkins
I Am Not Your Negro

Beauty and the Beast (PG)

A “modernized” adaptation of Beauty and the Beast starring Emma Watson of Harry Potter fame and Dan Stevens (Matthew from Downton Abbey) hits theaters today.  As a matter of full disclosure I have to tell you, I have never seen this movie before.  I have never read the story.  I have never seen the play.  It just never appealed to me on any level.  I’m not a fairy tale loving type of girl.  While there are some stories I like better than others (Aladdin is my all time favorite), I am not, nor have I ever been, about that Disney life.

I have to discuss the writing, or shall I say, the rewriting. Beauty and the Beast was written 277 years ago by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. Beside selling millions of books, it has been performed on Broadway.  There has been at least one animated film and there was even a television series based on the story.  In other words, it has been rewritten before.  Something was needed to modernize the story this time; to make it stand out from all the other versions that have been produced before it.  So, this version contains an emergent gay character.  Le Fou (played by Josh Gadd) is one of the most endearing characters in the movie.  No one ever says the character is gay.  His mannerisms, some innuendo and his obvious adoration for Gaston is what makes his sexuality questionable.  And it’s all really pretty funny without being offensive or cruel.  He is someone who is figuring himself out is all, like all the other main characters in this movie.  In other words, the part is only as dirty as your mind.  One who is pro LGBTQ is sure to feel differently about it than one who is a homophobe.  Along with spicing it up with this gay character, there is also an ethnic “mix” to the supporting cast that as far as I know (and I could be wrong) has not been done before.  Whether any of this makes this film any better or worse is subjective.

The contrast of light and dark in the story telling is pleasant enough. It is a PG rated movie after all, so no one should be having nightmares after watching it.  (Honestly, it was actually a welcome respite after watching all the horror films I’ve seen lately.)  There is enough suspense and tension provided to keep you and most children invested in the story, despite the fact that the movie is 2 hours and nine minutes long.  There are heroes to root for and villains to despise, and sometimes those lines blur.  The song “Be Our Guest” (even though I’ve never seen it doesn’t mean I don’t know what the highlight of the whole event is!) does not disappoint.  The wardrobe, hair/makeup, set design, special effects, animation/CGI are all very well done.

Emma Watson has a delicate singing voice that fits here because Beauty and the Beast is touted as a family/fantasy/musical, with the “musical” part being a bit less prominent than the actual story. In other words, Emma is okay for this movie, but I don’t believe she couldn’t pull off playing Belle live on Broadway.  The fact that the story is a fairy tale helped.  She did a good job singing (nothing spectacular that countless other girls could not have done), but her acting was solid and she really did seem like a pretty good fit for the part.  It was fun to see the actors who voiced the animated items throughout the castle revealed in the end (hope that didn’t require a spoiler alert).  I had no idea who was even in this movie beside Emma before I saw it.

Beauty and The Beast earned 7.5 out of 10 bloops. It’s a good movie worth seeing.  Your kids (boys and girls) will enjoy it and watching with them will bring you minimal pain.  Don’t get all bound up in knots over the gay character.  He’s really just one more of Disney’s many culturally diverse characters and your kids will just think he’s one really funny guy in the movie.  Beauty and the Beast is worth seeing on the big screen for the CGI and effects if your kids insist, but I opted not to see it in 3D and I don’t feel as though I missed anything.

Raw (R)

Raw, starring Garance Marillier and Ella Rumpf is a French drama/horror film written and directed by Julia Ducournau.  A young girl from a family of vegetarians enters university and acquires a “taste” for blood and flesh following a freshman class hazing ritual.  The premise expounds on parents’ worst fears as they send their little darlings off to college.  Some young adults may have mental or emotional break downs, party too hard, do something dangerous, stupid or life threatening, etc. in their first year of college.  No doubt there will be some growing pains.  This girl figures out she kinda likes the taste of warm, bloody, uuuuuuh, human.  Now that is a problem.

Marillier and Rumpf do an outstanding job as sisters who keep things from one another while simultaneously sharing secrets.  They are two very different people whose sisterhood runs deep despite their inability to get along and the glaring differences in their personalities.  The supporting cast is excellent all the way around.

Raw is thoughtfully written.  The story holds your interest.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a cannibal horror movie like this that I can think of (Silence of the Lambs is a very different type of film).  One of the many interesting things about Raw is that on one hand the story seems extremely far-fetched, but on the other hand it also almost seems like something that could, sort of, absolutely, really happen.  The ways in which this girl’s stress manifests itself in her life are realistic and relatable. There is this fine line between reality and horror that is balanced very delicately and successfully.

Incorporated into the plot is this series of twists that keep the story moving forward rather than relying on people doing incredibly stupid things to move the action along like so many other horror movies.  The college setting works so well here because it is the combination of partying, alcohol, low adult supervision and fearless young adulthood that fuel the action. And by the way, THIS is how sex and sexuality should be melded into a film.

Although gory at times (we are talking about a movie about cannibalism here, so yes, there is gore), the horror remains relatively subtle throughout the story.  I’ve been reading articles about how gory Raw is, like this one, but I didn’t find it to be nearly as repulsive or disgusting as anticipated.  Please note that according to IMDB when the film was shown in Sweden, over 30 people left the cinema and two of those fainted. Depending on how squeamish you are, be careful.  I enjoyed the level of gore and that even in the effects department this movie does not rely on the same gimmicks we’ve seen in other horror movies.  The more I write about this movie the more I like it.

I wanted some different things to happen with the story that didn’t happen and I don’t write short horror stories, but I can definitely see Raw being used as a template for more stories about cannibalism.  (I cannot believe I just wrote that – much less, thought it – but there it is!)  I mean… Ms. Ducournau could have easily written about vampires or zombies, but you kind of have to admit, the cannibalism angle brings something clever and fresh to the party.

One problem with Raw is that there is one scene where I missed a couple of screens of text because the words blended into the film.  (I read English subtitles so slowly you wouldn’t believe English is my first language.  I just like to make certain I am reading what’s on the screen correctly.)  When I cannot see the subtitle because there is something the same color as the letters in the background it becomes rather frustrating.  Other than that there isn’t one bad thing I can think of to say about this movie.

Raw earned 9 out of 10 bloops.  I won’t go so far as to call it a masterpiece but it is fine work. Honestly, when I started writing this review I was going to give it 7 out of 10 bloops, but after thinking it through this really is a great little piece of horror.  It is an excellent movie, and a must see if you are a horror fan.  In New York City you can only catch it at the Angelika as of now.  I’m not certain whether or if it is scheduled to go into wide release.

Kong: Skull Island (PG-13)

Starring Samuel Jackson, Tom Hiddleson, and Brie Larsen, Kong: Skull Island is the latest of the shiny new Hollywood remakes.  The looming question is – Will a $190 million budget including the best CGI and special effects money can buy make this a movie great?  In Kong, this diverse team of scientists, soldiers and adventurers comes together to explore a mythical, uncharted island in the Pacific.  As the team enters into the domain of the mighty Kong, they ignite the ultimate battle between man and nature and the exploratory mission morphs into a fight for survival.

We just saw Samuel in The Legend of Tarzan last summer, and here he is, back in the jungle again, messing around with more primates.  He was also recently featured in Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children running around with some Tim Burton created creatures.  So, please understand when I say I had reservations about seeing this picture.  I understand that Hollywood’s objective is to generate fresh dollars and they stick to the tried and true stories a/k/a remakes for a reason, and I also understand that originality creates monetary risk.  I was just praying this wouldn’t turn into another 2 hours of PG-13 nonsense that I would regret having wasted.

It wasn’t. Kong: Skull Island, like any other Kong, is a pretty good flick – $190 million worth of good is debatable – but pretty good.  Kong was most likely released in March to beat the crowded upcoming summer of big budget blockbusters and avoid the post summer turn to serious movies considered to be contenders for awards.  Kong makes perfectly satisfying, mindless, movie watching.  If that’s what you’re looking for, Kong delivers.

All the action takes place on Skull Island, of course, and not in New York like classic Kong, so some movie goers were disappointed. I don’t know where so many people got the idea there would be a New York setting here, but this is not classic Kong.  And if you’re looking for creativity, you won’t really find it here either.  It is a “remake” and there is but so much wiggle room a classic story can have, before it becomes a different story.

Filmed in Hawaii and Vietnam, I loved the set design and setting because this island felt authentically remote. The plot was unbelievable (when I say “unbelievable,” I mean silly and unrealistic) in places, but so is the entire story, so what else can one expect.  There were quite a few flaws in the writing, and I must say, I have never seen a photographer take so few pictures while seeing so many extraordinarily incredible sites as Brie Larsen’s character.  The acting is what it is under the circumstances; there will be no thespian nominations.  And it’s one of those movies with one curse word throughout the entire thing, which, as always, I despise.

Similarly to the story of Tarzan, the racial and sexist overtones of the entire story persist here. Listen, the original Kong was written circa 1930 by some white dude, so I won’t sit and rehash that.  Didn’t know him and I don’t believe anyone questioned him at the time about racism or sexism.  It is his story, he told it his way.  If he was a racist then yes, some element of the story  might be racist.  Like any other characteristic of anyone who has ever told a story may be infused into their story, the author’s characteristics are a part of the story.  I’m not saying it’s right or wrong; it just “is.”  If you’re offended by the story itself, naturally, you won’t go see the movie.  Thankfully, we all have a choice.

Anyway, the single expectation I was not willing to back down on for a film which weighed in at nearly $200 million was the effects. To answer the original question, bigger and more does not necessarily mean better, but the action sequences featuring Kong and the other mythical creatures were pretty darn cool.  It is a nice way to introduce a new generation who may not necessarily know much about the history of Kong, to his world.

Kong: Skull Island earned 7.5 out of 10 bloops. It’s a good movie worth seeing, and particularly worth seeing on the big screen once, if you’re into it.  Some may feel it doesn’t adhere to the original enough and others won’t think it ventures far from it enough.  Expect nothing to avoid disappointment either way and enjoy is what I advise.

Bloops:

1   =   worst ever, avoid at all cost
2   =   very bad, forget about it!
3   =   poor movie, not recommended
4   =   not good, even for free – NO!
5   =   so-so, worth it if you don’t have to pay
6   =   not bad, could have been better
7   =   good movie, worth seeing
8   =   great movie, don’t miss it!
9   =   excellent movie, a must see!
10 =   a masterpiece, go see it now!

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Mini Reviews

  • Before I Fall. 7 bloops.  Worth seeing if you are a preteen or teen or if you have any at home.
  • Collide. 7 bloops.  Sir Ben Kingsley is why I went to see this and he was the main reason I stayed with it; that and the great car chase scenes.  Good looking cast, but takes too long to get to the action and some very unlikely things occur to propel the story along.
  • Table 19.  4.5 bloops.  Terrible.  Like watching an anti-comedy.  Could have been good, but the subject matter was far too serious.

What I’m Watching Next

Other Reviews

Good Time
Atomic Blonde
Dunkirk
Girls Trip
Spider-Man: Homecoming
The Big Sick
Baby Driver
All Eyez on Me 
It Comes at Night 
The Wedding Plan 
Wonder Woman
Everything, everything
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Raw

Kong: Skull Island
Logan
The Girl with All the Gifts
A Cure for Wellness 
Get Out

Hidden Figures
Fences
Moonlight
Hell or High Water
Loving
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
Nocturnal Animals
Captain Fantastic
Elle
Jackie
Florence Foster Jenkins
I Am Not Your Negro

Logan (R)

Written and directed by James Mangold and starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Dafne Keen, sci-fi/action/drama Logan is the present-day continuation of the story of Wolverine.  In this installment an aging and tired Logan a/k/a Wolverine cares for old, ailing Professor X in a hide out on the Mexican border. Logan’s attempt to hide from the world is interrupted when he involuntarily becomes entangled with the drama attached to a young mutant.

As you should already know (if you haven’t heard I don’t know where you’ve been this week), this is the end of Hugh Jackman playing Wolverine and Patrick Stewart playing Professor X.  It spoils nothing to say they both die and this is part of what makes the movie great. There are no loose ends as far as their characters are concerned. There is no wondering whether they made it or not, no ambiguous demise to be returned from.  For a change of pace, we have an intelligent set up for a sequel that is not condescending and contrived.  There is a new band of mutants to learn about as they grow up now and that is all.  This is how to properly transition from the end of one leg of a franchise into another.  Just as when anyone dies, you miss them and have fond memories of them, but life goes on, the world keeps turning and we all have to move forward.

If you’ve been reading my reviews you know I am not into the comic book/super hero movies at all. I don’t like the mentality that just because I am into something sequels can be cranked out at regular intervals and I am obligated to go watch them.  I’ve got control issues.  What can I say?  Nobody dictates to me what I will and will not watch.

At any rate, Logan is certainly different. It is well written, thoughtful and contains elements from many films, including, but not limited to, Taken, Mad Max; Fury Road and The Terminator.  Additionally, Logan has this western-ish, Mexican stand-off type of feel derived from being filmed across the desert of New Mexico.  It is as if this desert is its own character.  There is suspense, action, humor, social commentary about the ethics of the medical/pharmaceutical/scientific communities, the value and treatment of black and brown children and ageism that doesn’t bash the viewer over the head, but oh, it’s there and you see it.  And it is all done with a sense of fun, adventure and excitement that is perfectly balanced with a this heavy sense of sinister darkness and danger.

The writing is complimented by the acting, and vice versa. The way the three main characters interact with one another is a pleasure to watch.  Wise, old Professor X enjoys and sometimes has no control over expressing himself and pontificating, Logan is not a man of extra words – saying absolutely only the words he must, and the child, named Laura, barely speaks at all.  Similarly, because the script and acting are so tight, Mangold does a good job directing.

The action is more than satisfying, with adequate, cringe-worthy gore that never goes too far – at least not for my taste; but I enjoy the brutal, gory stuff. You may not.  I mean, there were things done during fights that automatically caused my shoulders to draw upward directly underneath my ears as I braced myself as one would before impact with another automobile because I felt a blow or a slash that was so intense; but for me, that means I was totally invested in the action, and I loved every bloody minute of it.  The choreography of the hand-to-hand action was beautiful at times. The camerawork was nuts, just looking at the angles of some attacks.  And the shape Hugh Jackman is in is a beautiful thing to behold.  Thank you, Mr. Jackman.  Thank you…

I enjoyed Logan tremendously.  Probably because it is a perfect mix of exactly what it claims to be – science fiction, action and drama. If there is a world catastrophy at stake here, and there very well may be if the good guys do not prevail, it is certainly not the same old one that we’ve seen over and over again and has been done to death, quite frankly.  Thank goodness.

Logan earned 9 out of 10 bloops. I’ve got absolutely no complaints about this movie right here.  The honest reason I didn’t give it 10 out of 10 bloops is because I stop just short of calling it a “masterpiece,” but I definitely feel as though it is an instant classic.  Maybe when I see it again (and I will), I will feel differently.  If the movie would have started up again right after it ended, I would have watched it again.  It took me back to a time when action movies were truly great.  The acting is solid, the story holds your attention, it is well directed, the action is super entertaining, the blood and gore is neither too tame nor overdone, Hugh looks great.  Enjoy!

Bloops:

1   =   worst ever, avoid at all cost
2   =   very bad, forget about it!
3   =   poor movie, not recommended
4   =   not good, even for free – NO!
5   =   so-so, worth it if you don’t have to pay
6   =   not bad, could have been better
7   =   good movie, worth seeing
8   =   great movie, don’t miss it!
9   =   excellent movie, a must see!
10 =   a masterpiece, go see it now!

Welcome message

What I’m Watching Next

 Recent Reviews:

Bitter Harvest

The Girl with All the Gifts

A Cure for Wellness

Get Out

Oscar reviews:

Hidden Figures

Fences

Moonlight

Hell or High Water

Loving

La La Land

Lion

Manchester by the Sea

Arrival

Hacksaw Ridge

Nocturnal Animals

Captain Fantastic

Elle

Jackie

Florence Foster Jenkins

I Am Not Your Negro