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2020 Reviews 2020s

The Hill and the Hole Runs Itself into the Ground

The Hill and the Hole is one of the most frustrating films I’ve watched in a while. This film had so much potential, but falls flat, straight down a hole into a cold abyss. We almost got two great 60-70s-esque science fiction films in the first half of the year. A film that came out this year that I find myself often thinking back on fondly is The Vast of Night. With The Vast of Night, director Andrew Patterson did nearly everything right. He perfectly captured the feel of old-school sci-fi and crafted a low-stakes film that was mesmerizing. He also found a way to make it feel unique, despite the fact him and co-writer Craig Sanger were clearly paying homage to an era of science fiction.

Directors Bill Darmon and Christopher Ernst begin The Hill and the Hole in a similar fashion. They have a stylized filmic look, the something-is-wrong-here premise, and the camp and quirk to amuse fans of science fiction. Despite having these things going for it, The Hill and the Hole greatly disappoints. I honestly wouldn’t be as upset if it didn’t have those things because then my hopes wouldn’t have been as high.

I’m not sure if it was due to sheer laziness, a busy and overrun shooting schedule that resulted in a rushed finish, or if it always planned to be the way it is, but the film gets worse as it goes on. I cannot assume, nor do I know whether or not it was shot in order, but it certainly feels like it might have been. About three quarters into the film everything becomes nonsensical. Rather than having this be a quirk, it feels more like a cruel joke played on the audience expecting them to find explanations. Mostly, it feels like a cop-out for Darmon as a writer.

I could have been a decent film, but The Hill and the Hole features poor direction that leads to even worse performances and a lousy screenplay that greatly drags it down.

1.9/10.0

Categories
2020 Reviews 2020s

Despite Its Many Flaws, Artemis Fowl is Still Watchable

The film that got Judy Dench to dress in all green and say “top of the morning” with a straight face.

There is no denying that Artemis Fowl is a bad movie, but it is – dare I say – still watchable. I find the ultimate bad or “trash” movie the kind that is completely unwatchable, has me repeatedly checking how much time is left in its duration, and has no redeeming qualities. With that being said, Artemis Fowl has plenty of cringe moments focused around poor dialogue, questionable acting choices, and lousy storytelling.

Kenneth Branagh’s latest was already off to a bad start when it opened with Josh Gad, who forces a deep, raspy voice that is inconsistent for most of the movie. Tonally, the opening scene is all over the place. The intrigue Branagh wants to create with Gad’s character, Mulch Diggums, is shattered by lame jokes, Gad’s unnatural deep voice, and the over-the-top interrogation cinematography. Branagh wants to have a Mission: Impossible-esque introduction, trying to be cooler than it is to appeal to a wide audience, when it should have embraced the fantastical elements. There are fairies, dwarves, and trolls in Artemis Fowl, this isn’t Catch Me If You Can, so own it. The sheer fact the character’s name is Mulch Diggums should have resulted in the Mission: Impossible approach being left on the drawing room floor.

This approach to be cool and edgy is also spread to the lead character of Artemis Fowl Jr., a supposed genius, who is a spoiled and mostly arrogant pre-teen that fancies himself some sort of James Bond. When he’s talking to his principal I was immediately reminded of Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, who shares the quality with Artemis that they immediately think they’re the smartest person in the room and not afraid to let others know. The difference here though, is this is one of our first scenes with Artemis. Instead of playing for this trait for laughs like in The Big Bang Theory, we’re supposed to be impressed, which I was not. I thought Artemis was an entitled brat who thinks he’s better than everyone else, which I suppose he is and does, but Branagh shouldn’t have me feel this way about him right away. It could work if Artemis was going to have a redeeming moment where he realizes how he acts and that he’s wrong to be that way. However, that moment never comes.

I think the only winners for the film are the visual effects team, camera department, editor Matthew Tucker, and Lara McDonnell’s charming performance as Holly Short. Some of the actors leave a lot to be desired, some more than others, but they’re mostly fine within the movie. In their defense, for almost all of the actors, the screenplay does not give them much to work with. 

I think it’s possible Artemis Fowl would have had the same effect if you watched it on mute. The story is all over the place and it doesn’t always make sense, but at least it has attractive visuals. Call me crazy, but I found myself thinking about the feel of the film that the visuals created the next day. Obviously, I’m still thinking of them now as I write this. As an editor, Matthew Tucker made the film flow well for the most part, even though it probably didn’t have any right to. 

Branagh and his team did manage to create an atmosphere that I found myself enjoying and wouldn’t mind entering again. I just wish Branagh and the writers managed to tell a more cohesive story.

3.6/10.0

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2010-19 Reviews 2019 Reviews

Diamantino is a Silly, but Fun Ride

This was a really nice surprise. Diamantino is funny, silly, and tackles the need for human connection. The film also manages to tackle political issues such as immigration, the refugee crisis, and Brexit. Perhaps what is most striking about Diamantino is despite its sci-fi and surrealist elements, it is still rooted by its humanism. Diamantino is a fun ride even though it disappoints with its ending.

SPOILERS AHEAD:

I think the ending of Diamantino is what hurts it from being a better film. It may leave a bad taste in your mouth. After watching the interview with directors Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt I understand they were influenced by the films of Ernst Lubitsch. With that in mind, I still don’t think the ending works. I don’t think the relationship between Diamantino and Aisha is comparable to the relationships in Lubitsch’s films.

It’s very off-putting to see what was previously a father-daughter relationship – regardless of how comical and transparent it was for the audience- turn into a romantic one. For Diamantino – because of his stupidity – the father-daughter relationship was very real. Aisha and him becoming sexual so soon after Aisha reveals who she really is feels incestuous and gross. Their relationship never needed to become romantic especially since it seemed so innocent before. Every male-female relationship doesn’t need to become romantic. What would have been wrong with them becoming close friends?

However, given the circumstances, it might have made more sense for them to drift apart.

6.4/10.0

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2020 Reviews

Fantasy Island Isn’t Actually That Bad

During its opening weekend I caught Fantasy Island, or rather, Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island, just in case you somehow get it confused with the 1970s-80s television show. After seeing it I was honestly a little surprised by the incredibly low score on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. Is it shallow? Yeah. Was it supposed to be? Possibly. Does it sometimes appear to lack focus? Yes. Does that sometimes make it more interesting? Also yes.

I’ve noticed a trend over the years that when a movie is hated or highly disliked, critics will take it and run with it (think Cats). There’s also a good chance they’ll pretend to hate it more than they probably do. Hate generates clicks. Passionate love, casual admiration, or even indifference does not. It’s probably why “cancel culture” has become a thing. You gotta love film journalism these days.

Is Fantasy Island one of the worst movies ever? No. I don’t understand critics’ fascination with movies being the worst movie they’ve ever seen beyond the fact it gets more clicks. I’ve seen far worse movies than Fantasy Island. One of the worst movies I’ve ever seen in the theater is Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) and it certainly isn’t close to being that bad.

There are a few issues with Fantasy Island that I’ve seen consistently pop up with reviews. Its tone is one of them. Like I addressed at the start of the review, it does seem to lack focus. It’s hard to figure out what kind of movie it wants to be and it seems to want to be everything. For example, it wants to be a comedy, a romance, and a horror. The tone does shift often, but I never found it too jarring.

The movie shifts tones when it switches between each character’s fantasy, which makes sense. Maggie Q’s character Gwen wants a second chance with a former boyfriend so her fantasy is romantic. Randall, played by Austin Stowell, wants to play soldier so his fantasy is Predator-esque. When you have each character have a different fantasy it’s not an outlandish approach to have them dictate the tone of the scene and have that tone change from scene to scene based off of the fantasy. I think that from a viewing standpoint the movie is more interesting because of that because it’s an approach that we don’t see often. With that being said, I don’t think it works well in terms of the movie flowing effortlessly.

Yeah, there are some lame jokes in there (i.e. holograms), but they aren’t any dumber than other PG-13 jokes from horror movies. I fail to see anything here that Fantasy Island does worse than other movies from its genre that warrants it being hated as much as it was. One thing they actually do better is I think the backstories for the characters’ fantasies are slightly more complex than I expected from a PG-13 horror. Besides that, most of the other aspects of the film vary from mediocre to slightly below mediocre. I thought the ending was lame, therefore bad, but that’s the only thing that comes to mind right now with anything being outright bad. Fantasy Island‘s foremost problem is that it’s shallow and forgettable like many PG-13 horrors these days.

I started writing this review two weeks ago for my initial thoughts of the film. At that time critics were talking about how this was one of the worst movies they had ever seen and everyone was hating on it for fun. Now, a week later, no one cares anymore. I don’t know if this says more about people’s love to hate on things they don’t truly hate for impressions or if it shows how fast the news cycle is. Or maybe it’s a result of how forgettable Fantasy Island actually is.

If everyone has already stopped talking about it more than a week after its release, was it really that bad?

4.2/10.0

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2020 Reviews

The Immersive Gretel & Hansel

Gretel & Hansel is a confident and determined Grimm fairy tale that succeeds on most fronts.

Every year I seem to say to myself: That was the most indie movie I’ve ever seen with a wide release. The first time I remember thinking this was when You’re Next (2011) graced the screen several years ago. With You’re Next, this thought could probably be attributed to both its content and much lower budget. Ultimately, it’s something I’m definitely not used to seeing on a Regal Cinemas screen. When talking about Gretel & Hansel my thoughts are related to its content being for a very small audience. This film will not be widely liked.

Osgood Perkins goes against the commercial style with this one. He wants to build atmosphere and put you in the film’s world instead of spending time on cheap scares. I acknowledge that I have talked about atmosphere in two of my other reviews this year, but to be fair, Gretel & Hansel was the fourth horror film to open to a wide release this year. In terms of creating an immersive atmosphere, Perkins succeeds greatly. Gretel & Hansel and Underwater are the only horror films to open this year that have completely pulled this off. When I watched them, I truly felt immersed in each film’s world.

There are times where the film does feel a little choppy, cutting from one scene to the next without a smooth transition. I don’t think the fault lies in the editing, but more in how the film may have been structured in the screenplay. I think this choppiness and its lack of a comprehensive plot may result in why it beings to feel repetitive near the end. This repetitive nature makes Gretel & Hansel feel like it may extend its runtime a little longer than it should. Nevertheless, Perkins’s atmosphere and brooding, but beautiful cinematography, save it from mediocrity.

Perkins wants the audience to feel uneasy and disoriented for the entire duration of the film. By using shallow depth of field and ultra-wide angle lenses he creates a 87-minute nightmare. I say that in the most flattering way possible. Perkins never lets you feel comfortable, not even at the start. He implements a shaky cam effect on a tracking two shot on Gretel and Hansel in the early minutes of the film, preventing you from easing into the film’s atmosphere.

You can tell from the very beginning that Perkins is fully committed to Gretel & Hansel and it’s not some project he agreed to for a nice paycheck. There is a clear European influence, with its dark material and stylistic technical choices, but it feels very much like his own style. Unlike the horror movies I’ve reviewed this year, Perkins appeared to be given full creative control on this. Thank you United Artists! I really hope that we see more studios giving more directors full control in the future.

Gretel & Hansel is one of the darkest PG-13 films I’ve ever seen and worth checking out.

6.8/10.0

 

Categories
2015 Reviews

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)

The Force Awakens does not disappoint.  The film looks fantastic and it’s one fun ride.  Even if it may have similarities to A New Hope, I think The Force Awakens still stands on its own.  Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are fun together and Adam Driver proves to be a worthy villain.  The Force Awakens may not be the best movie in the franchise, but it’s definitely worth your time and money.

8.0/10.0

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2015 Reviews

Crimson Peak (2015)

Crimson Peak is a visually stunning gothic tale.  The film feels like a throwback to classic gothic movies and its aesthetic reminded me a lot of Robert Stevenson’s Jane Eyre (1943).  Although it has its scary moments, Crimson Peak isn’t trying to make you jump out of your seat.  In terms of horror, it cares more about creating a mood through its sound design and visuals to make you feel uneasy.  Crimson Peak is a great movie that interestingly crosses several genres.  The production design is fantastic and deserves recognition.

8.0/10.0

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2015 Reviews

Goosebumps (2015)

Goosebumps is a fun ride.  What Goosebumps does really well that other films don’t is that it appeals to both kids and adults.  There are not any parts that are too scary for kids or overly childish for adults.  A wide range of ages can be interested in the film.  It’s important to mention that Goosebumps doesn’t focus on being scary, but rather on being entertaining. In that regard, it greatly succeeds.

Goosebumps isn’t perfect, but it’s very enjoyable.

6.2/10.0

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2015 Reviews

Pan (2015)

Pan fails to be a necessary revisit of Peter Pan.  The movie never knows what it wants to be.  One of its greatest weaknesses is not knowing if it wants to be a darker Peter Pan movie or a movie geared towards children.  The film’s overall look may be mature, but its story and dialogue say otherwise.  There are too many goofy, cringe-worthy lines and the narrative is juvenile.  The filmmakers never found a balance between kid-friendly and adult.  As a result, the movie seems like it is not really for anyone.

Something that is frustrating about Pan is how much is brought to the table and how little is explored.  A possible romance between Hook (Garrett Hedlund) and Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) is an example of something the filmmakers added that is so underdeveloped and unmotivated that the audience does not care.  It is hard for the audience to care about anything in Pan because the filmmakers keep introducing new things and possibilities, only to throw them away almost immediately.

I advise you skip Pan.

3.8/10.0

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2015 Reviews

Cinderella (2015)

It’s hard to tackle a story everyone already knows.  That is exactly what director Kenneth Branagh did when he took on the job to direct the live-action version of the classic tale of Cinderella.  The story is updated slightly and expands more on Cinderella’s story.  What I personally enjoyed about Branagh’s version is that the movie does not drag at key points of Cinderella’s story, which would have been tiresome for those of us who already know the story.  The movie travels at a fine pace.

The enchanting colors and production design in Cinderella nicely complement its wondrous cinematography.  The filmmakers create a world that many people would want to explore.  Lily James is delightful as Cinderella and Cate Blanchett delivers as her wicked stepmother.  Although the movie is kid-friendly, it is not childish.  Cinderella is a movie for the whole family and one you should consider watching!

6.3/10.0