Fantasy Island (2020)

Fantasy Island (2020)

Fantasy Island posterDirected by: Jeff Wadlow. Starring: Michael Peña, Maggie Q, Lucy Hale. Runtime: 1h 49 min. Released: February 14, 2020.

This review contains spoilers.

Fantasy Island’s the most frustrating kind-of film, one that has such an intriguing concept but no idea what to do with it. Based on the TV show Fantasy Island, this is a horror riff taken to the extreme: What if your deepest fantasies come true, but they play out to their conclusion with deadly consequences?

That sounds interesting, an idea for a horror film that could either be great in execution or dead on arrival. As for this film, da plane da plane crashes before it even gets settled in. That’s not a hint at this film’s twist, but the twists and turns border on ridiculous and the big twist is hysterical. It’s a shame it’s silly, because this is the only point of the film where it feels cohesive.

The characters on the island, winners of a contest I wish were never held, aren’t interesting. Melanie Cole (Lucy Hale) just hits on the hot guys on the island right away, and we learn she was bullied daily by someone named Sloane Maddison (Portia Doubleday). Melanie’s fantasy is revenge on Sloane; and they bring Sloane to the island so Melanie can exact her fantasy.

That’s what makes me question the rules of the island. Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña) explains to Gwen Olsen (Maggie Q), whose fantasy is undoing one of her biggest mistakes, that this is her life now because she’s fixed the mistake. Now she’s married to the man she rejected and has five years of memories of a child she never had.

She’s only married and only has a child on the island, and when she leaves, isn’t she on her own again? That sounds like a nightmare – seeing you could have had a happy life and a daughter but none of it ever exists. That’s just psychologically twisted.

Also, if the husband and daughter are only creations of the island, why did they need to kidnap Sloane? They could have just let Melanie let her frustrations out on an imaginary Sloane without real-world implications. The island’s mythos is explored, but it still never makes sense.

Fantasy Island
Maggie Q in Fantasy Island. (IMDb)

Meanwhile, Randy (Austin Stowell) wants to be in the Army and is now gets his chance. It’s the portion of the film that brings this into the adventure genre and shows the beauty of the Fiji island. Stepbrothers Bradley (Ryan Hansen) and Brax (Jimmy O. Yang) are also present, contest winners just here to party in a mansion. They high-five obnoxiously and are the film’s attempt at comedy.

There’s so much going on here and that’s why it’s 109 minutes, a crazy amount of time to invest in a film so messy. The tone is handled poorly because every fantasy is a different genre: The stepbrothers’ fantasy is a bad college movie; Randy’s sub-plot is a war adventure with a weird time thing; Gwen’s is romance; and Melanie and Sloane are the only ones in a horror fantasy, as they try to figure out the island. The film also needs to tell us why Roarke is responsible for it all.

Balancing these genres and tones isn’t a task Jeff Wadlow is up for. He doesn’t direct the horror well, there’s just misplaced eerie scores when nothing creepy is happening and no tension built while a random burnt man haunts the island. Fantasy Island should be very simple on paper, but it’s all a lot to take in and follow. There’s also the cardinal sin of being damn boring for much of it.

When it comes to the conventional horror in the third act once everyone’s individual fantasies have concluded, there is some cohesion. It’s the first time it doesn’t feel convoluted, but it also becomes truly ridiculous with its twists. I could see this developing a cult following because the last 30 minutes are just so insane.

As for the acting, I wasn’t offended by any of and it’s passable. It would be nice if they tried harder, but this is just a vacation movie where everyone just enjoys Fiji, while also making a terrible horror film. I think Fiji is why everyone stayed on this project, because I can’t imagine anyone reading the script and thinking, “That was good.”

The screenplay (by Jillian Jacobs, Christopher Roach and Jeff Wadlow) is just awful. Half of this is simply bonkers and none of it works in the same film. I reckon the writers watched Fantasy Island in a hotel room one night, went down to the bar, got blackout drunk, wrote the outline for this film on a bar napkin and woke up in the morning and tried to make sense of it. This is the result: A fever dream that’s a train wreck you can’t look away from.

Score: 40/100

Mission: Impossible III (2006)

Mission: Impossible III (2006)
Mission Impossible 3
IMDb

Released: May 5, 2006. Directed by: J.J. Abrams. Starring: Tom Cruise, Michelle Monaghan, Ving Rhames. Runtime: 2h 5 min.

I don’t remember a lot of films I saw in theatres when I was a kid but I remember seeing Mission: Impossible III. It might be because this is the first film I remember seeing that started at the mid-way point in the story, when Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman) threatens to kill Ethan Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) fiancé Julia (Michelle Monaghan).

The stakes are immediately the highest they’ve felt in the series, as I never felt like they were consistently high in Mission: Impossible or Mission: Impossible II. This was also the first time I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman and the sadism of his character is memorable and threatening.

It’s also just a good film in general and not only because of my nostalgia for it. J.J. Abrams directs the action well and the stunts are great, especially when Ethan leaps off a skyscraper in Shanghai onto another one. Anyway, Davian is the most memorable villain of the series upp to this point. Davian’s a sadistic arms dealer after something called the Rabbit’s Foot.

We don’t really know what it is and that vagueness isn’t great. Though, Davian’s willing to pay $875 million for it, so it’s a pretty big deal. Davian’s just interested in power and tormenting Ethan. In the first film, IMF director Kittredge says to find something that’s personally important to Ethan “and squeeze.” A villain finally takes that advice, as evidenced by the film’s opening scene.

The action scenes are good, and the film’s first big set piece of trying to rescue Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell), after she went to investigate Davian, sets the film’s events up perfectly. At the beginning of the film, Ethan’s settled down with Julia, played well by Michelle Monaghan, and he’s training IMF agents to be ready for the field instead of being in the field himself. But he trained Farris and that’s one of the reasons that Hunt goes back out in the field. This time, the characters are interesting enough that the very personal conflicts feel well-written.

Tom Cruise also runs a lot more in this one. He has such a great chemistry with Monaghan as Julia, as well as his IMF team including franchise mainstay Ving Rhames as Luther and Maggie Q as Zhen. Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays a team member named Declan, but he’s easily the most forgettable of all the IMF agents that have come and gone in the franchise.

Score: 80/100

Divergent (2014)

Divergent...Released: March 21, 2014. Directed by: Neil Burger. Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd. Runtime: 139 min.

Timing’s an important thing to consider when releasing any movie. With Divergent, one must consider if we truly need another post-apocalyptic YA novel adaptation while The Hunger Games still reigns supreme. I think it makes it easier to compare them, even though they’d still be compared if this were released after Hunger Games concludes its franchise. Perhaps by 2015, this wouldn’t be as successful – it seems people are already feeling fatigued from all of these post-apocalyptic young adult novel adaptations.

Divergent follows Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) whose identity crisis begins when she learns she’s a Divergent, which are members of society who don’t fit into the five factions of this dysoptian Chicago. They threaten society because they’re impossible to control. The film is basically about how Tris is going to fit into society, and she has to pick a faction to become a functioning member of society. She chooses Dauntless, and meets her mysterious boy toy Four (Theo James), and together they must find out the secret of Divergent’s before it’s too late.

Now, I’ll briefly describe the factions. The Amity are farmers who portray kindness. The Abnegation (Tris’ faction of origin) the governing faction, portray the trait of selflessness. Thinking of them Amish, since they don’t believe in vanity, might be a good way to remember them. The Erudite’s trait is intelligence, represented by Kate Winslet’s character. The Candor are brutally honest people who say whatever’s on their minds, so I call this faction the No Lawyers Allowed club (geddit?). The Dauntless, the faction Tris chooses, work as the police force – and their trait is bravery. I think of them as major adrenaline junkies. It’s funny that we’re already seeing Divergent personality tests across the web. (Apparently, I belong in Abnegation or Erudite.)

Anyway, the government believes that by dividing people into factions they will be easier to control, because they can only obtain one basic personality trait and do what job best suits them. The government doesn’t allow them to exercise free-will, either. I think it’s better portray all personality traits, but that’s a no-no, apparently. A lot of this film goes against basic human nature, especially the ‘faction before blood’ mindset. Screw that – my family comes first. The film brings about themes of fear, conformity and individuality, and the writers’ thoughts about these themes are mildly intriguing.

Divergents are also threatening because, since fear wakes them up, they’re a threat. I like the idea the idea of how one must choose their path at an early age (Tris and her brother choose the same day, so it seems it’s between 18 and 21 years old), no takesies backsies, even if they grow as people and change. (A single drop of their blood drops into the faction bowl of their choosing, so that’s official.) Do you choose to stay in your own faction and stay with your family or part ways? Do you really know your true identity at 18 years old? That’s one of the film’s most fascinating aspects, and the most compelling idea the film has. Though, The Lego Movie is a better exploration of conformity out of 2014 films.

I think this would be a good time to get the inevitable comparisons to The Hunger Games out of the way. I think this film’s Divergent member of society is “Hunger Games‘ Mockingjay. Both of these films are essentially about dysoptian futures and overthrowing the government. I think Tris Prior is a more likable protagonist than Katniss Everdeen, but not a stronger character overall.

Katniss is great, but too Condor-ish to be completely likable. Then again, that’s the point but it makes it so much greater when she shows her vulnerable side. Tris is a good character who stands up for her beliefs and other people, which sometimes brings attention to her when she’s trying to show that she’s someone in society who isn’t hard to control. Woodley portrays her well and heart-warmingly in a few scenes. I think her bravery’s admirable, and I’m curious to see how some of her decisions affect her in the sequels. Woodley, a dynamic actress, has a lot of personality. It seems to me that a challenge for her as an actress would be to be antagonized by a character portrayed by Miles Teller (playing yet another douche), who she has a close friendship with – and was his romantic interest in last year’s “The Spectacular Now.” She seems honestly hurt by some of the things she says, and I like that vulnerability.

As for Theo James’ Four, the character is described as “mysterious” but it feels more like “he’s mysterious because he’s under-developed.” James is forgettable in his role, and his character isn’t anything special. I think the chemistry shared between him and Woodley is believable, but he’s not that great. He’s just there because of the way he looks, sorry for being too much of a Condor with that one. Everyone’s pretty well-cast, from Ashley Judd to Ansel Elgort, but it seems that a lot of these actors just have so little screen time, especially Maggie Q who just gives Tris a tattoo and monitors the dream tests. One antagonizing character is Jai Courtney, who just takes pleasure in bossing people around as a trainer in the Dauntless faction, but he’ll get on your nerves after awhile. So much time is spent in training to be a Dauntless that there’s not much time for anything else. This is really just an initiation film to introduce the characters. I assume the fact that they only foreshadow that there’s something lurking outside the city’s walls suggests they will explore it further in the sequels.

I think the finale is underwhelming, but Neil Burger (who doesn’t bring much style to the film) really does direct the action-packed finale well. Throughout the film, there are a lot of dream sequences, and there’s a serum that allows one’s images in their head to be portrayed on a monitor; I want that serum, because I’d love to rewatch my dreams. There’s another futuristic invention where it doesn’t hurt to get a tattoo, so since I don’t like pain that’d be nice – I could get the Bugs Bunny tattoo I’ve always wanted. There’s a very fun game of Capture the Flag with guns that simulate the pain of real bullets (it makes me think of that paintball version of CTF in Child’s Play 3) and a crazy zip-lining sequence that enables some great imagery and cinematography to take place. The score also fits the film like a glove. Technically speaking, this all looks great – and it’s epic in scale – but only a stern pretty good in many other aspects.

Score63/100