7500 (2020)

7500 (2020)

Directed by: Paul Vollrath. Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Omid Memar, Aylin Tezel.  Runtime: 1h 33 min. Released: June 18, 2020.

Paul Vollrath’s 7500 starts with soundless footage from an airport’s security camera at the Berlin Tegel Airport – showing people going about their days. There’s a disconnect watching these people and that disconnect lingered throughout the film. This is because we are confined to the cockpit of a Berlin to Paris flight for the entirety of the film with co-pilot Tobias Ellis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as the plane is hijacked.

Thrillers set on airplanes are one of my favourite sub-genres – like Red Eye, Flightplan or Snakes on a Plane, I love those kinds of films. 7500 is more in the speed of something like true story United 93, where there are only some bursts of action. Of course, the lack of consistent action is expected in 93. In 7500, I was expecting more action and was just bored throughout the film.

The film’s innovative in concept as a hijacking told in real-time from the point-of-view of the co-pilot told from the cockpit, and that’s fine if you want a film that looks like it’s filmed in a flight simulator. The sense of claustrophobia is strong here as is the anxiety – especially as the hijackers consistently pound on the cockpit door – and Vollrath’s script would be strong as a stage play, but as a film there are so many boring stretches. Still, there are some pros. The intensity of the terrorists’ first charge at the cockpit is excellently staged, as leading up to it the curtain between the cockpit and the plane’s cabin shifts as the terrorists listen for the cockpit door opening to let a flight attendant inside.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has some powerful moments as Tobias, especially when the hijackers try to get into the cockpit by taking hostages and threatening to kill them. The only way they survive is if Tobias opens the door. Tobias is helpless because opening the door would break protocol, and all he can do is watch on a small TV attached to a surveillance camera that shows the action in the cabin. This is how we watch most of the action unfold. He can’t really do much to help the passengers, other than suggesting they charge the terrorists because their weapons are just knives made from glass.

Tobias is our only connection to any other character, and honestly, he’s just boring as a father trying to survive the situation. If we’re going to be confined to a cockpit (that word gets funnier every time I write it) with him for 90 minutes, it shouldn’t be too big of an ask that he be a compelling character.

The only other characters besides the terrorists that we interact with are the captain, Michael (Carlo Kitzlinger), as well as Tobias’ flight attendant girlfriend, Gökce (Aylin Tezel). The terrorists themselves don’t seem to have a lot of motivation. One of them, Kenan (Murathan Muslu), gives a monologue of their intentions but this feels basic and vague. The youngest hijacker, Vedat (Omid Memar), seems pressured into this whole situation by his brothers. He also forges a connection with Tobias, but it’s still very boring.

There’s also such a disconnect from the passengers as we only see them being greeted by the flight attendants as they get on the plane. This disconnect is what hurts the film greatly. We don’t know their names or stories, and we are told there are 85 souls on board, but these passengers and crew might as well just be a number or names on a ledger. That could be director/writer Patrick Vollrath’s intention, as Tobias trying to save them isn’t a personal thing, it’s a duty because they’ve trusted him to fly the plane. Regardless, not knowing any of the passengers just made this feel cold.

I’m simple and I guess I like to explore the plane before the action and see the hijacking unfold among the passengers, feeling the panic that way. Instead of knowing the passengers during take-off, we actually see the plane take-off. That’s kind-of interesting – and there is a lot of technical dialogue about flying a plane and the procedures, so the research that went into this screenplay is there. The concept of this film is interesting, as it’s different being put in the shoes of a co-pilot as in so many of these films the captain and co-pilot is dead by the mid-way point.

This film feels more like a human drama, but I expected way more action. It’s not like I was expecting JGL to kick ass like Liam Neeson in Non-Stop or say one-liners like Samuel L. Jackson in Snakes on a Plane, but memorable action still could have happened. This just isn’t that type of film. I also just didn’t feel the stakes of the film consistently, as since I didn’t know the passengers or care much for Tobias, I simply wasn’t invested throughout or interested in the final outcome.

Score: 50/100

Can You Keep a Secret? (2019)

Can You Keep a Secret? (2019)

Directed by: Elise Duran. Starring: Alexandra Daddario, Tyler Hoechlin, Kimiko Glenn. Runtime: 1h 34 min. Released: September 13, 2019.

This will be a spoiler review so I talk about many plot points. I don’t think it’s worth watching anyway, but consider yourselves warned.

Apparently someone had been keeping Can You Keep a Secret? a secret from me as I had never heard of the film or the New York Times bestselling novel of the same name by Sophia Kinsella. Truthfully, I wish this film had just stayed a secret.

Emma Corrigan (Alexandra Daddario) is a junior marketing executive working for an organic food company called Panda. She meets Jack Harper (Tyler Hoechlin) on an airplane and when the plane hits turbulence, she spills all her personal secrets. The “comedy” ensues when Jack shows up at her work the next day because he’s the CEO of the company.

I’ll start with the somewhat good, and that’s Daddario. She’s fine, but if you put Daddario in a trash can of a film, it’s still a trash can. Okay, I guess there’s not really anything good here if I’m starting with that. Still, I smiled a couple times because I like her as an actress, and Tyler Hoechlin is okay, just boring because of the character.

The film just begins as an unfunny comedy with bad scenarios and switches into a rom-com with bad scenarios. The consistent set-up for jokes is Jack hanging around the workplace, asking Emma a question he already knows the answer to because of her secrets, and smiling as she squirms and tells a lie in front of others.

It’s not as malicious as I’m making it sound, but it isn’t funny. This rinses and repeats until she breaks up with her dull boyfriend Connor (David Ebert) – and then the romance between Daddario and Hoechlin really begins. Connor is a worthless presence here to simply postpone the romantic aspect of the film.

The most unbelievable thing about this film is how long Daddario stays with Connor. She’s unhappy but feels so average that she settles. For the film to believably sell Emma as an average girl, it was a mistake casting Daddario. Average? Not with those eyes. The film also puts Jack on a pedestal of perfection. Soon, we learn that Jack isn’t perfect because he has webbed feet. Really? That’s literally the same thing they do in the 2010 Jay Baruchel comedy She’s Out of My League when Baruchel has Alice Eve on a pedestal and learns she has webbed feet. Are we… Are we really saying Alexandra Daddario is the Jay Baruchel of this scenario?

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Alexandra Daddario and Tyler Hoechlin in Can You Keep a Secret?

The inferiority feels more like a sub-plot here when it’s the entire premise of League – it’s just not handled well here. We’re just led to believe that Emma is average as Jack goes on a live television interview and the interviewer asks him why he’s going into women’s health and Jack says they want to appeal to the average girl on the street, meaning Emma.

This is where the big conflict happens. We know the entire time Jack, at some point, would share her secrets – I honestly thought he was an author on the plane and would leak her secrets in a book – but the way it all happens feels so unnatural.

I’ll warn again, this is a spoiler review… Anyway, Jack is so in love with Emma that he starts to talk about all the things he loves about her and gets carried away and spills all her darkest secrets. This all happens as everyone at Emma’s workplace watches the interview on TV. He spills the fact that she “loves ABBA but hates jazz” (a big one because Connor loves jazz), “she scans the backs of classics and pretends that she’s read them” (a huge one because she was supposed to read Great Expectations), and the biggest one: “She cries every time she hears Demons by Imagine Dragons.”

The secrets feel mundane, a little embarrassing, sure, but since the secrets feel so small it takes away and stakes from the film. It’s also just convoluted how he goes on this tangent on live TV. Making matters worse is Emma’s workplace is the absolute worst. Everyone’s toxic, even Connor, but the only compassionate people are her friend Omar (Sam Asghari) and her boss Cybil (Laverne Cox), who’s mean for most of the film and then has a change of heart.

A co-worker named Artemis (Kate Easton) is the worst, the ringleader of the random cruelty as after the interview is over, she leads the office in a rendition of Demons by Imagine Dragons so Emma runs out crying. It’s all just terrible writing because it’s hard to believe a workplace would ever be this cruel, and the response is such a strange overreaction to make her feel awful.

I already hated this film for most of it, but romantic comedies get so much worse for me if I don’t buy into the conflict. And boy, the conflict here feels convoluted in every way. When Emma confronts Jack about the secrets spilling, Jack responds, “They asked me that question and it caught me off guard and I panicked.” The question he’s referring to? “Who’s your target market?” Yes, if someone asked me that on live television, I too would panic and spill someone’s every last secret.

I just don’t buy it. The writing’s just consistently awful as nothing really happens in the first hour and then 30 minutes of half-baked conflict is jammed in at the film’s end.

Score: 25/100

The High Note (2020)

The High Note (2020)

Directed by: Nisha Ganatra. Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kelvin Harrison Jr. Runtime: 1h 53 min. Released: May 29, 2020.

In Los Angeles, a personal assistant, Maggie (Dakota Johnson), working for music superstar Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross), follows her dreams of being a producer when she meets singer David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and gives him the impression she’s an established producer with connections.

That’s the best I could come up with as far as a synopsis for this film goes, as for much of it felt kind-of plotless until Maggie met David. A lot of it is a personal assistant working for a superstar who’s struggling with her age, and then it leans into romantic drama when Maggie meets David.

Their relationship felt like the heart of the film as Dakota Johnson and Kelvin Harrison Jr.’s chemistry was strong. Johnson plays the role as well as she usually does, and there’s nothing really new in her performance, but Johnson is why this worked for me at times. Harrison Jr. is good, too, there’s just nothing special about his performance, except the fact that his singing is solid and enjoyable.

About Tracee Ellis Ross, I haven’t seen enough of her to really create an opinion yet, but I wasn’t a big fan of this performance and that was mostly because I didn’t like the character – she’s a prima donna that’s too often unlikable, but her singing is fine. I liked her once we got to know her more, and a main plot point of her manager Jack Robertson (Ice Cube) pressuring her to take a Las Vegas residency was fine. It was interesting because Maggie wants her to take risks and encourage her not to play it safe, and safe would be the residency doing the same thing every night.

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Tracee Ellis Ross, Dakota Johnson and Ice Cube in The High Note.

I did like the dynamic occasionally between Maggie and Grace, and I really liked the sub-plot of Maggie working on one of Grace’s old albums to make it have a new sound. That was the most interesting part about Maggie’s character to me – her music knowledge. She’s like an encyclopedia, as Grace calls her, and her knowledge of music and her passion for it is inspiring and Johnson plays that side well. She’s a dreamer and she’s following her ambitions; but it still feels one-note and isn’t enough to create a truly great character.

About Grace’s old music: Everyone loves her music, but they don’t want anything new. It’s explained that her last album sold poorly and that’s why her manager Jack – Ice Cube is fine but has so little to do – is adamant about the residency. The logic of no one wanting new music just doesn’t make sense to me, here. Grace Davis is still doing tours and has her billboards up all over, she still seems like a big deal, still selling out venues. Why wouldn’t these fans buy a new album? Part of the story is finding that passion to want to release new music again, but I couldn’t buy that her album wouldn’t sell well when we’re shown that she is such a big deal.

It’s interesting learning a bit more about the role of a music producer, and I enjoyed all the musical aspects of this. The drama of this is just so flat and just lifeless at times, as this just goes through the motions and never really gets going, and I couldn’t really even tell where the story was going for much of the film. That’s not to say that this is due to an unpredictably to the film – more so that it just felt so unfocused and was trying to do a lot of things at once, while also feeling like nothing of substance was happening. This is made worse by the fact that this feels overlong at 113 minutes, and if this were 90 minutes and more focused, it would be much more enjoyable.

I say that because after the classic break-up conflict, the film finally hits its stride in the last 25-30 minutes. It felt lively as it hit the emotional heart of its story, and finally found its voice. The message of fixing regrets and showing that risks are integral to following your dreams was fine. The third act finally had a couple (predictable) surprises up its sleeve and the film felt like it finally clicked. I just wasn’t emotionally invested at that point, and it’s a shame it couldn’t find its stride or voice like 45 minutes sooner, because it all felt too little too late.

Score: 50/100

Force of Nature (2020)

Force of Nature (2020)

Directed by: Michael Polish. Starring: Emile Hirsch, Kate Bosworth, Mel Gibson. Runtime: 1h 31 min. Released: June 30, 2020.

Force of Nature feels like the writer of the film, Cory M. Miller, watched 2018’s The Hurricane Heist and said, “Yeah, I’d like to write something like that, but worse.” At least in The Hurricane Heist there’s an aspect of it where it doesn’t take itself seriously at all and it could be fun to mock with friends, but Force of Nature is much too boring for those purposes.

The basic premise makes sense but the story feels haphazardly put together. During a hurricane in San Juan, Puerto Rico, a gang of thieves – led by John the Baptist (David Zayas) – target a building for a heist. They encounter trouble, however, when Officer Cardillo (Emile Hirsch) and his new partner Jess (Stephanie Cayo) are on evacuation duty and try to get a disgruntled ex-cop, Ray (Mel Gibson), his daughter Troy (Kate Bosworth), an elderly recluse called Bergkamp (Jorge Luis Ramos) and Griffin (William Catlett) to leave the building and go to the storm shelter. Then, when John the Baptist and his crew come in, all hell breaks loose.

There are a lot of working parts about Force of Nature that try to come together but never mesh, and that’s with all the attempts at actually creating characters with backstories. It also makes the film feel like it takes itself way too seriously at times. Cardillo is developed as a character with a dark-ish past that everyone knows and Ray immediately doesn’t trust him because of Cardillo’s history. Cardillo has a lot of demons and we meet him sitting on the shower floor with a gun in his mouth. This type of characterization is fine in a drama, but the writing’s not strong enough to create a believable person. I get it, he has demons, but he’s a bit of a boring dickhead.

Ray is also just angry because his health is bad and Mel Gibson is just on one level the entire film – pissed off. The other attempt at serious character development is with Griffin, and his development feels relevant politically as he’s a black man who has problem with police because of run-ins with the past. He also has a killer lion or jaguar – I couldn’t tell, we only see it in a split second shot of it – whom he’s trained to attack cops in uniform. There’s also a layer with Bergkamp who’s a German who must learn to be tolerate others. This all just feels out-of-place for a dumb action movie with a hurricane and a heist. It is a dumb action movie and the attempt at characterization is fine, but the writing is so flat they don’t really ever come alive. It also just feels too serious, and the dialogue is wooden and any attempts at emotional scenes come off as laughable.

The heist is boring as hell, too, and the twist for it is dumb. Major spoilers, but basically John the Baptist is a criminal but also an art enthusiast who has caught wind of an art collection in the building owned by Bergkamp, whose father was a Nazi so he has a bunch of paintings from his Nazi days. This film really feels like if The Hurricane Heist, any action movie with an apartment building as the main setting (it’s too bad to compare this specifically to The Raid: Redemption) and The Monuments Men had a weird baby and this is the product that no one wants. And, while John is an art enthusiast and knows the value of these paintings, he doesn’t mind shooting someone in the back of the head so their brains fly all over a priceless painting. End spoilers.

He gets very little characterization – other than that these people are big into heists in Puerto Rico – and he’s supposed to be threatening just because he doesn’t mind killing his own men if they’re expendable, half the time for no reason. Seriously, I’m pretty sure he killed as many of his own guys as our heroes killed.

The hurricane itself feels inconsequential to the story, really just a framing device designed to get the cops to the same building where the gang is stealing from, and the hurricane also cuts off communication between Cardillo and Jess and their precinct. The hurricane also looks super ugly, and not much of a factor other than some flooding and filming in the pouring rain. In The Hurricane Heist the hurricane was because it was just a stupidly fun mix and at least there were action scenes in the hurricane, and in Crawl at least the hurricane served a purpose in getting the gators to the house. I mean, I guess the hurricane does get the cops to the building, but it never feels like an important factor. The same bad film could be made without the presence of a hurricane, and that could allow more action with more tenants in the building.

Score: 25/100

Justice League Dark (2017)

Justice League Dark (2017)

Directed by: Jay Oliva. Starring: Matt Ryan, Camilla Luddington, Jason O’Mara. Runtime: 1h 15 min. Released: February 7, 2017.

Beings with supernatural powers join together to fight supernatural villains. This supernatural team includes John Constantine (Matt Ryan), Zatanna (Camilla Luddington), and Jason Blood, also known as the demon Etrigan (Ray Chase).

The film opens with average people committing acts of violence because they see other people as demons, starting with a woman who runs over a bunch of them in the middle of a street, and my main question was why so many people were in the middle of the street. The Justice League don’t know what to make of it and Batman (Jason O’Mara), who is the only original JL member prominent throughout the film, is led to Constantine because whatever villainous plot is afoot deals with dark magic.

I don’t really love these DC Animated Movies (this film is a part of the DC Animated Movie Universe), but I think they’re always fine for their fans. I liked the premise of this one, though, because I think it gives something different than just the standard Justice League bit with the introduction of demons, but it still never got going for me.

Constantine’s introduction at a poker game in Vegas was a high point as Etrigan came out to save the day when Constantine forced Jason to summon him, as the situation escalated. Constantine never really left much of an impression after that because I didn’t think he ever did anything that interesting, but I like the character in the live-action film Constantine. I was way more interested in the world this film created, with the mythical House of Mystery and all that.

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Constantine, Boston Brand, Zatanna and Batman in Justice League Dark. (IMDb)

I found the side characters more interesting, too, like Zatanna who is a powerful magician and has something they call true magic (which Constantine also has), as well as Jason Blood and the backstory of how he got tethered to Etrigan and how that comes into the story. I also liked the ghost character Boston Brand (Nicholas Turturro), and the background of his death, though he’s described as a womanizer but we don’t get much of that when he’s actually dead. Also, I thought Boston’s “background” scene felt was too heavy-handed for an exposition scene and Jason Blood’s exposition scene for his background was handled way better.

Swamp Thing (Roger Cross) was also fun for a performance that was too brief for my liking. I liked this world because of the dark magic, and it’s well-animated, but I never had that much fun with it because it all still feels so standard even if it’s more unique than the regular Justice League. The villain, however, when (s)he was actually revealed was pretty good. I did like the whole premise about why average citizens are randomly seeing demons everywhere, too.

However, there’s just nothing memorable about this action and one scene in particular just feels like filler for the sake of it, but it’s needed because this is only 75 minutes long. I thought the finale was best when some of the other actual Justice League members came into play, like Superman (Jerry O’Connell) and Wonder Woman (Rosario Dawson). The writing’s fine, it’s not remarkable in any way but there are some good one-liners (“your ass is grass Constantine, and we’re the mower”).

The only memorable thing about any of the action is when someone anonymously summons a demon in a bathroom and all the toilets explode and a huge shit demon comes out. “Shit really hits the fan, eh?” asks Boston when he sees it, and this is Boston’s only good zinger. The demon’s gross, but the visual and idea of it won’t leave my mind anytime soon.

Score: 50/100

Burn (2019)

Burn (2019)

Directed by: Mike Gan. Starring: Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Josh Hutcherson, Suki Waterhouse. Runtime: 1h 28 min. Released: August 23, 2019.

I really enjoy hostage situation movies but Burn is truly one of the strangest ones that I’ve seen. When a desperate man, Billy (Josh Hutcherson), in need of cash holds a gas station at gun point, a lonely and unstable gas station attendant, Melinda (Tilda Cobham-Hervey), tired of being overshadowed by her prettier co-worker Sheila (Suki Waterhouse), sees this as an opportunity to make a connection with the robber.

The best thing about Burn is that it has a unique premise. It just doesn’t know what to do with it as Melinda comes across as way too unstable. She’ll make many audience members uncomfortable and that’s the point so Cobham-Hervey plays it well. You just know when a woman wants to go with the robber when he’s holding the place at gunpoint, something’s not right there.

There’s sympathy for her there, too, because she doesn’t know when someone legitimately likes her or if they’re just pretending. A lot of the time, though, the character’s just awkward. Her fascination with fire and burning herself to feel something is kind-of interesting. Edgy, but interesting.

Suki Waterhouse is okay in a completely opposite kind-of personality as the confident and bubbly gas station attendant who gets hit on by men whose attention she does not want. As for the robber, I like Josh Hutcherson just fine but he doesn’t work as the robber here. Josh Hutcherson in a Canadian tuxedo robbing a gas station isn’t exactly intimidating.

To be fair, his character isn’t a career criminal or anything, he’s just a guy in need of cash to pay off some angry people. That’s where the plot tries to bring outside people to the gas station but the pacing of the film doesn’t work as it’s mainly a two-person show between Billy and Melinda. They don’t have much chemistry as neither want to be there, but that dynamic works well for this. It’s just a boring film that never really elevates past a simply sort-of interesting premise.

Score: 40/100

 

Dearly Departed (2018, Short Film)

Dearly Departed (2018, Short Film)

Directed by: Elise Martin. Starring: Betty Denville, Sean Kilty, William Paul. Runtime: 13 min. Released: May 8, 2020 (on Vimeo).

Note: Since this was a short film/indie film request, I won’t be giving this a score, as hopefully the review will just speak for itself.

The zombie horror-comedy musical Anna and the Apocalypse was one of my favourite films of 2018, so when I heard about the short film Dearly Departed, a 13-minute haunted house musical that blends comedy and romance, I knew that was right up my alley.

The film follows Vera (Betty Denville), an ordinary girl who happens to be living in a house full of spirits, and must learn to balance her relationships with her alive boyfriend, Fred (Ashton Spear), and the home’s ghosts, Billy (Sean Kilty), Kirk (William Paul) and Cara (Olivia Warren). Since it’s only 13 minutes long, I’ll avoid specific spoilers, but I enjoyed trying to guess what direction the film would go in, like if the ghosts would try to break up Vera and Fred or not. How they feel about the relationship is explored, but writers Jess Bartlett (also credited as producer and hairstylist) and Elise Martin (who also directs) take this in a fun direction.

It’s interesting watching Fred throw a wrench into this unique household dynamic by immediately suggesting Vera find a new home. He questions why she needs all this space, gesturing to empty chairs that we know are occupied by the abode’s ghosts. There’s not enough time to explain exactly why Fred, a realtor, is so insistent on getting her out of this home, but it drives the main conflict as he tries to get her out of the old and into the new.

Obviously, Vera doesn’t want to leave her friends, and the ghosts don’t want her to leave, either. “This house ain’t a home if we’re trapped here on our own,” the ghosts sing at one point. The home as a setting is perfect for the film’s vibe. Its vintage style is kind-of spooky because it could plausibly be haunted, perfect for a haunted house comedy that doesn’t flirt with horror but has a dark side.

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Sean Kilty, Olivia Warren and William Paul in Dearly Departed.

The concept for this film is strong and it’s a delightful musical, and I haven’t even talked about the music. There are three original songs nestled into the 13-minute runtime that drive the story. The first song, “My Heart,” is a peppy and hopeful song of new love, reminiscent of fairy tales like Cinderella, complemented by lighting and birds tweeting outside. The other songs give it a run for its money, too, and while everything complements each other, from the cast to the direction, the music is the glue.

It brings it all together because a musical is only as strong as its music, and that’s what makes Dearly Departed a winner. Kudos to Robbie Cavanagh and Demi Marriner for creating these catchy tunes. I loved the riffs and the lyrics worked well, letting the story flow and there’s a nice sense of the characters from the songs. I benefitted from multiple viewings to really listen to the music when it relates specifically to the story.

Impressively, this was made as a graduate project for University (with the help of a Kickstarter campaign), but it feels like it’s made by a professional team. Elise Martin’s solid direction helps with that, as does Elliott Howarth’s cinematography. There are some great shots here and I like the aesthetic, and the VFX work (by Nicholas Bendle and Harry Clarke) is strong, too. Martin directs the musical moments well, and the dialogue here still flows well when the characters aren’t singing.

I said earlier that Anna and the Apocalypse was one of my favourite films from last year, and I go back to the “Turning My Life Around” scene quite often whenever I need a smile. I can see myself going back to this film for a similar reason. Truthfully, my third watch of this was because I just needed a smile and I’m happy to report it worked.

The film is available now to watch on Vimeo here.

Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (2019)

Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (2019)

Directed by: Kevin Smith. Starring: Kevin Smith, Jason Mewes, Ben Affleck. Runtime: 1h 45 min. Released: October 15, 2019.

Kevin Smith’s latest film, Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, is my most disappointing film of 2019. Packaged as a commentary on Hollywood and how they’re out of ideas because it’s all reboots, this is an essentially worse redo of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, as Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) try to stop production on a Bluntman and Chronic reboot. It follows the same structure but this time, there’s more “youth and diversity” as Jay’s daughter, Millennium Falcon (Harley-Quinn Smith), and her friends Soapy (Treshelle Edmonds), Shan Yu (Alice Wen) and Jihad (Aparna Brielle) tag along.

I’ll start with what I thought was tolerable and that’s the set-up with Jay and Millennium Falcon’s relationship. I find Harley-Quinn Smith boring as an actress but her character is the only thing that made me feel anything in this film. She’s also the only time I ever laughed at one of the main character’s lines. Smith’s commentary is smart, but I thought it got in the way, especially as he tries to relate a theme of fatherhood back to reboots, and that the fact that when you have kids, “they’re like your reboot.” It made a nice moment feel hollow.

From the get-go, the film mentions that the reboot they’re going to stop will be terrible. That makes this self-aware to a fault as I can’t tell if Smith actually intended to make this a terrible film. I also can’t tell if Smith has lost his touch or has just over-committed to proving a point that Hollywood has no creativity, by making a film bereft of creativity and skill. If that was the goal, it’s a successful film. I just hate it.

It’s a shame because I’m a Kevin Smith fan (I’ve only missed “Dogma”) but for every clever joke or moment here, there are 20 terrible forced moments at humour. This is the first film with this set of characters in the “View Askewniverse” where its humour feels forced. It tries hard to be funny, and still falls flat on its face. It’s surprising because Mewes and Smith himself are still fine, but this just doesn’t have the magic of his other films.

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Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes in Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (IMDb).

Smith prioritizes making fun of himself as a director and he’s a good sport about it. I like Smith as a person and that’s why it sucks that I hate this film. The only big laugh in this film is when someone acts out aggressively against Smith and a crowd member goes, “Oh, she must have paid to see Yoga Hosers.” It’s damn true because I didn’t pay to see that film and I still wanted my money back. Smith knows he’s made some stinkers and Reboot is now one of them.

This is also more fan service and advertisement for his better films than a real movie. It also just feels like Kevin Smith flexing his pop culture knowledge. It’s impressive, Kevin, now stop. He just focuses so much on the commentary that he forgets most attempts at story or characters. The “funny” merely settles for cameos (Ben Affleck’s works best), pop culture references and low-hanging fruit.

The laughs all miss so badly it felt like Smith was taking a handful of Hater Tots, grinding them in my eyes and asking me, “She’s named Millennium Falcon because that’s the name of Han’s ship! Do you get it? Jason Lee says ‘Hollywood’s not even making squeekquels anymore.’ Do you get it? It’s funny because he was in Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. What if I do a cute music cue as I smile at Jason Lee when we do this joke? Will that make it funny?” It’s just so in your face that I felt like if I laughed, the movie would pause and Kevin Smith would get down on his jorts thanking me for laughing at one of his jokes. It’s exhausting.

Score: 38/100

31 (2016)

31 (2016)

Directed by: Rob Zombie. Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Richard Brake, Jeff Daniel Phillips. Runtime: 1h 42 min. Released: September 16, 2016.

On Letterboxd, I’m participating in a scavenger hunt there for the month of May where you make a list of 31 films by answering prompts to watch in the month of May. The link to the original host’s scavenger hunt with the prompts can be found here. My list can be found here, too.

I started my scavenger hunt by reviewing Rob Zombie’s film 31 for Prompt Number 19 which was to “watch a film where characters play a game, but it’s more than just a game.” In Rob Zombie’s film, five carnival workers are kidnapped and held hostage in an abandoned compound where they’re forced to participate in a violent game, the goal of which is to survive twelve hours against a gang of sadistic clowns.

I watched this film first so I could say I’ve now finished Zombie’s filmography. It’s almost happened by accident because he only has seven feature films, but for me, he’s a consistent filmmaker. That’s not a good thing – I’ve only liked one of his films and that was 2007’s Halloween. I didn’t like Halloween 2, I hate his Firefly trilogy (I tolerated The Devil’s Rejects the most), didn’t like Halloween 2 and just hate, hate, The Lords of Salem. Then there’s 31, which I hated as well.

The laziest thing about it might be the title itself, merely called 31 because it takes place on Halloween in 1976. Sure, he can’t call the film Halloween for obvious reasons, but at least try with the title. The game is also named 31 because it’s played annually on Halloween. The concept is why I wanted to watch this because I love battle royale kind-of films, and this felt like a horror battle royale. As a concept, the set-up is fine.

A trio of wealthy aristocrats, led by Malcolm McDowell, decked out in Victorian era costumes tell our heroes they’ll play a game called 31. They inform our heroes of their odds of survival, as if people are betting on the outcome but that’s barely addressed, where the women of the group are given 500 to 1 odds of survival and the men given 60 to 1 odds of survival, because that’s just how Rob Zombie sees the world.

For the most part I just didn’t care about how the main characters played the game because I didn’t like them. They’re a group of carnival workers traveling to their next city – I guess – but it’s not that well-developed and the five characters that survive to the game of 31 are generally boring or unlikable. I frankly found the only one of note to be Charly, played by Rob Zombie’s wife and muse, Sheri Moon Zombie. She can’t act, but she’s also never been given a strong character.

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Jane Carr, Malcolm McDowell and Judy Geeson in 31. (IMDb)

She gets some terrible dialogue, as does everyone else, and my biggest problem with Rob Zombie as a filmmaker is just the blatant sexism and how he sees women. I don’t like his view of the world or the worlds that he creates – Halloween was the most tolerable of all his films because it’s someone else’s character. Zombie’s characters don’t talk like real people and the way they interact with each other, even outside of the game, is gross because they’re horrible to each other. It’s expected in a Rob Zombie film and maybe I’m being too Canadian, but it’s just so off-putting.

As a concept, I think 31 is a good idea but Zombie’s style and dialogue kills it. I also like violence in film when there’s a purpose or it feels fun, and 31 is neither of those. In writing, I thought the staging of the film and pacing was solid as instead of a whole gang of clowns coming to overpower them, the five players face clowns in different stages. The first clown theatrically introduced to them is also the most annoying – it’s a clown called Sick-Head (Pancho Moler), a Spanish little person dressed as Adolf Hitler. The dialogue he gets makes him more excruciatingly annoying than threatening.

His sequence is also where the film looks at its most– the colour palette is so flat and dull this might as well have been in black and white. It’s so lifeless and that’s how I generally feel while watching a Zombie film, just dead inside. The big bad of the film, called Doom-Head and played well by Richard Brake, is the main boss who has a perfect murder record because he’s a Terminator-esque killing machine. He’s obviously a horrible human being, but his third act portion would be more fun if we actually cared about any of the players.

I tolerated this film for 20 minutes when a pair of chainsaw-wielding clowns came out to play. Their scenes are somewhat fun and well-shot, despite the still consistently off-putting dialogue. It’s also a little fun when E.G. Daily shows up as we see a wild side of Buttercup from The Powerpuff Girls. Unfortunately, in her moment to shine, it looks so ugly because a strobe-light sort-of effect above makes it so hard to see and makes it so irritating.

I honestly think Zombie’s horror writing in his action is solid, but it’s his visual style that consistently compromises it. His films are also ruined by someone opening their mouth because they so often just spout vitriol at one another. It’s maddening to watch this happen time after time, and I’m truly ecstatic to be done with his filmography because it was an ordeal.

Score: 25/100

A Dog’s Journey (2019)

A Dog’s Journey (2019)

Directed by: Gail Mancuso. Starring: Josh Gad, Dennis Quaid, Kathryn Prescott. Runtime: 1h, 49 min. Released: May 17, 2019.

Of the dog films adapted from novels by W. Bruce Cameron, and with screenplay credits for him on each of the films, A Dog’s Journey is easily the strongest. 2019’s February release, A Dog’s Way Home, was a dull and annoying adventure and this film’s predecessor, 2016’s A Dog’s Purpose, was just okay, but it spent too much of the film with other owners other than Ethan (Dennis Quaid in both Purpose and Journey) as Bailey (Josh Gad in both films) learned his purpose is Ethan. Not to mention the trailers spoiled the ending.

That’s also a reason I prioritized avoiding the trailer for A Dog’s Journey. Okay, I probably saw the trailer once or twice in April 2019 but that’s the nice thing about waiting a year to watch this – I forgot about the trailers entirely, so this is mostly unspoiled territory. Anyway, this once again concerns the excitable Boss Dog/Bailey/Bailey, Bailey, Bailey, Bailey as Ethan and Hannah (recast with Marg Helgenberger) essentially raise their granddaughter, C.J., while her mother Gloria (Betty Gilpin) is off being irresponsible.

Hannah’s son, Henry, is the father but he passed away in a car accident before C.J. was born, and I’m pretty sure Henry is retconned into this film because I do not recall a Henry in A Dog’s Purpose. Gloria is an aspiring musician who thinks the world is out to get her, so in the first 20 minutes she takes her baby daughter away from her grandparents and leaves, because she assumes they want Henry’s settlement money.

With C.J. out of their lives, Ethan asks Bailey to come back in his next life and take care of C.J. like Bailey took care of Ethan. This follows Bailey’s journey as he helps C.J. (first played by Abby Ryder Fortson at age 10; and played by Kathryn Prescott at every other age when she ages many years in a decent guitar strumming transition).

I think this film has a leg up over its predecessor for one strong reason and that’s because, for the most part, the film has a focus that A Dog’s Purpose just did not have. In that film, Bailey died too many times and spent too much time with pet owners that weren’t interesting. Here, Bailey, now reincarnated as a dog named Molly, for the most part spends all her time with C.J. helping her through life. These scenes are sweet and sentimental, especially in the younger scenes when C.J.’s mom is off being a bad person, and in the teenage and young adult scenes when C.J. wants to be a singer-songwriter but is scared to put herself out there. No one believes in her besides best friend Trent (Henry Lau).

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Kathryn Prescott and Henry Lau in A Dog’s Journey. (IMDb)

We get several characters that want to bring her down a peg and that’s when the clichés in the film start to get lathered on and it becomes relentless. The most prominent is the irresponsible mother routine put on by Gloria – Betty Gilpin plays both halves of her character well – and this leads to a like mother-like-daughter thesis as Gloria continuously gets into bad relationships, and C.J. picks one bad guy named Shane (Jake Manley) who is here for the most annoying conflict in the film.

These side characters are where the film feels at its most emotionally manipulative where Bailey tells us with Gad’s inner monologues that he doesn’t like these characters. They’re mostly annoying boyfriends – another called Barry (Kevin Claydon) is only there to be condescending to C.J. – and other characters here to waste running time. If there’s one main fault in this film, it’s the clichés and poor writing in its conflict caused by secondary characters.

This is a smart film to spend most of the film with the central character of C.J., as Prescott delivers a fine performance and is a likable character. The film takes a brief detour as Bailey/Molly spends time with a different owner as a dog named Big Dog to learn that in the next life he has to be Molly’s dog before any other human can claim him. This is the only time that the film loses focus and feels like it could end up on the editing room floor as it’s a five-minute stretch where the scene feels like it’s Big Dog saying, “No Molly? Guess I’ll die now lol.” I swear, I don’t really think that’s exaggerating what happens there. The Big Dog transition is mostly to advance us to another stage in C.J.’s life., but using Big Dog’s chapter and how Molly’s chapter ends to skip forward in C.J.’s life totally felt weak.

Voicing the dog, Josh Gad is good here and he made me chuckle a lot. His voice-work captures the excitability of a dog, and I generally never found his dog observations to be too obvious or stupid, as they got most of the dumb dog observations out of the way in the other W. Bruce Cameron doggie universe films. Gad helps make this entertaining.

I’m being critical of A Dog’s Journey, but I think this is a good film. It has a strong heart and humour, something A Dog’s Purpose and A Dog’s Way Home especially have lacked. It still packs on the sentimentality but I was honestly interested in watching C.J. navigate through her relationships – well, the only one that matters – and see if she’ll get on the stage and share her songs. The redemption for certain characters is also heartwarming and Dennis Quaid’s strong in a supporting role (though, heavy old person make-up on him and Marg Helgenberger distracts big time at one point).

Most importantly, I don’t think feels that emotionally manipulative, where A Dog’s Purpose felt like it because of how many times the dog dies. Here, it hits the emotional beats well because it takes its time creating a strong central relationship (“When are you guys going to lick each other already?” asks Bailey/Molly/Max) and when there are tears because of A Dog’s Journey, they feel earned because it’s for the human characters and moments, not just because of the pups.

Score: 63/100