Alien Vs Predator Retrospective: Aliens vs Predator: Requiem

Throughout this entire retrospective thus far, there has yet to be an entry from this franchise that I outright hate. The worst film I rated at this point was Alien: Resurrection, but even then, I got some fun out of it because of how utterly goofy it was. The point being that I’m somebody who holds these two franchises very dear to me. Heck, even Paul W.S. Anderson’s Alien Vs. Predator was shockingly entertaining, and I’m not even the biggest fan of his films overall.

So coming off of that film pleasantly surprised, I was crossing my fingers hoping that maybe it’s sequel, the 2007 Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem directed by The Brothers Stasure (who are known for their visual effects work on films like Titanic), wasn’t as bad as I remembered it being either. Who knows, maybe I can get something positive from that one as well.

And you know what? It’s not on the same level of quality I thought it was all these years ago.

Because it was in fact far, far worse than I could have even imagined.

I’ve watched plenty of abysmal films during my time, so let it mean something that watching AvP: Requiem was one of the hardest tasks I’ve ever done. For a 90-minute feature, I had to take around 5–10 breaks in between because the film was so dreadful to sit through.

If I want to be generous, I could give it a tiny smidge of credit and say that it was trying to add new elements on top of the formula through a new location set in a small town and featuring the Predalien, a hybrid of the alien and predator that was teased in the last movie. It’s such a shame that it doesn’t matter at all because whatever unique elements this film could bring to the table are utterly trashed by just how rotten the foundation of this story really is.

Taking two of science fiction’s most iconic icons, like the Alien and Predator, and turning them into slasher villains, ala Freddy vs. Jason, neuters what makes them special to begin with. There’s none of the craft and horror that made Alien and Aliens so defining in the genre. There are no subversions of the 1980s action tropes that made Predator such an efficient thrill ride. AvP: Requiem manages to do the seemingly impossible by making these two characters utterly dull to watch.

And because this film wants to retread the most tepid of the 2000s horror cliches, the characters and narrative make for a tired mess. There are character motivations and relationships that border on being downright incomprehensible in terms of why they even exist in the first place. There’s a cop who’s buddy-buddy with the main lead who got out of jail recently, because I don’t know. The story never says why so why should I? There’s also a teen romance subplot that’s asinine and filled with the type of hokey dialogue you can expect from the worst of 2000’s horror and, quite frankly, has no place in a movie that’s supposed to be about the Predator and Alien killing each other.

There are many things you can say about the first film and W.S. Anderson, but at least that film gave proper credit to the mythology, and for as shallow as the story and characters in that narrative were, they least did their job in building up to the cool action. And on their own merits, I didn’t outright hate it either. Requiem has none of the production value and technical skill of Anderson, which results in one of the most technically incompetent features I’ve ever sat through.

There are great stuntmen in costumes that look convincing and should make for fun set pieces, but they are utterly rendered meaningless by the real horror villains of the show. The lighting and editing in this film make just watching it a terrible chore. There have been plenty of jokes by all sorts of people about how you can’t see anything in the film, and you know what?

They were right. All of them. In the context of my own viewing experience, I watched the extended version. Which I read online was better lit than the theatrical cut. I was not even more than two minutes into the movie, and I was already struggling to comprehend what I was looking at onscreen. And it never improves from there. Even during the daytime, I was terrified that the editing gods from above would change the brightness slider to zero.

And yes, this was how The Brothers Stasure wanted this movie to look. Both of them thought that if the film looked too bright, then the monsters would just look like guys in suits. So, they made the lighting dark on purpose to make their appearances more suspenseful. While their intentions make sense on paper, when nearly 1/3 of the movie comes off a literal black screen on my television set, then maybe it’s time to dial it back just a weeny bit.

And there’s the editing, which isn’t as much joked about but is still a vital culprit in making the film hard to follow. There’s no sense of flow or space during the action scenes, and even during sequences where characters are exploring an environment, the lack of any sort of visual geography meant that at points I couldn’t understand where the characters were in relation to the locale. Simply put, The Brother Stasure had no real knowledge of how to direct a big motion picture, and that makes the entire film an amateur work in every way possible.

There’s no heart. No thrills. No scares. Any time it tries to take advantage of that R-rating that the previous film wasn’t privileged with, it comes off as the most cringe-worthy, edge-lord rubbish that lacks any sort of tact or understanding of what makes the franchises this film actively stains actually work. At this point in my marathon, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem is cinematic rock bottom. There are other movies coming up that have a divisive reputation, but I fail to see how they can be any worse than this. It’s quite embarrassing and pathetic.


Alien Vs Predator Retrospective: AVP: Alien vs. Predator

We’re finally here. Right at the movie where both Alien and Predator finally got to go at it mono e mono on the big screen. This 2004 crossover was set to answer the question of what would happen if two of science fiction’s biggest alien icons finally met.

What’s interesting in hindsight is that this was the first PG-13 feature in a series that’s been traditionally rated R. Likely 20th Century Fox trying to get a movie at a rating they deemed necessary in order to draw in a potentially larger audience. This decision was very unpopular with fans, though in hindsight, with how the sequel turned out, maybe that rating wasn’t as much of a curse as it could have been. 

The film is helmed by film director Paul W.S. Anderson, known for his take on Mortal Kombat, Event Horizon, and the live-action Resident Evil franchise. Anderson is a director about whom I have mixed opinions at best. His better works, like Mortal Kombat or Solider, I’ve found decently watchable if disposable, while his worst works, such as Resident Evil’s last few films or Monster Hunter, left me very considering the possibility of me needing to see an ophthalmologist. So he likely wouldn’t be my first pick for a project like this.

So, can I just say how baffled I am at myself for how much I came out liking it? To get the biggest issues out of the way right now, the narrative and characters we met that will become cattle for the slaughterhouse have basically nothing going for them. There’s a little bit of effort to give some of the characters some unique traits to differentiate them from some of the others, but it really doesn’t amount to much as they’re ultimately names that are going to be added to the film’s kill count. 

To give credit where credit is due, however, at least I can say those weaker elements of the picture weren’t outright terrible. AVP does its job of providing a logical foundation to validate the existence of this crossover, and to that end, I say the end result is pretty respectable. It helps a lot to have AVP take place in such an isolated location, deep underneath an ancient pyramid under the frozen plains of Antarctica, making for a suitable fighting pit.

What really bolsters it is the film’s truly shining aspect. The production design, from the sets to the costumes, looks great from top to bottom. The foreboding pyramid makes for a delightful madhouse of shifting mechanics that leaves its characters between a rock and a hard place in one of the most terrifying ways possible. While CG is used for some of the more dynamic action, there are plenty of great practical efforts on display, courtesy of Amalgamated Dynamics Incorporated (ADI), who had experience with their work on Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection.

Anderson himself also emphasized the use of suits and puppets, when possible, which works to the film’s benefit. They are often given the spotlight in AVP’s various action scenes. It does a pretty fair job of giving both aliens and predators some proper respect and demonstrating the many fun possibilities that take place when they share the scene together.

I must say that some of Anderson’s quick cuts and overedited antics that make some of his later movies difficult to sit through can be found here, though to a much lesser degree. In that respect, AVP can be seen as a transitional film for the director, for better or for worse. Still, none of the action here is unreadable to the point of causing nausea.

Shockingly, during this look back on all of these movies, AVP so far happens to be the one that’s pleasantly surprised me the most. It’s a fun B-movie homage to these cinematic legends and reminded me that W.S. Anderson was able to make well-produced films.

So, seeing how good things turn out here, maybe watching the sequel again won’t be one of the most painful things I’ve ever done either?

Alien Vs Predator Retrospective: Alien Resurrection


Alien Resurrection is the fourth film in the Alien franchise and is directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Most famous for Amélie, which is one of the most positive feel-good movies I’ve ever seen and is an easy ultimate recommendation. And written by Joss Wheadon of Firefly and The Avengers fame. Once again seeing Sigourney Weaver as a human/alien hybrid clone of Ellen Ripley this time around, Resurrection sees Ripley having to team up with space pirates in order to stop the aliens from reaching Earth.

By all accounts, a film with this level of talent should be a hit. But alas like with Alien³Resurrection makes for another divisive entry that some either really enjoy or flat-out despised. Arguably even more so this time around, as Resurrection is by far the most light-hearted and comedic film in a series known for its inherent cruelty and indifference, as Jeunet intended for the film to be a dark comedy. In what feels like a proto-Firefly, many of Wheadon’s quirks and banter are present throughout the film, with many characters spouting off one-liners and gags aplenty.

It’s important to note that despite both creators’ intentions, they did not agree on the direction the film should take. Jeanut did not care for Wheadon’s story ideas or screenplay. Which causes the quippy and action-oriented script to clash with the film’s darker tone. This tonal mismatch really is what makes Resurrection so much more bizarre than anything else this series has had to offer.

For what has been a relevantly grounded franchise, Resurrection is the first film in this series that I genuinely think can be called goofy. Watching these over-the-top, campy performances delivered by a cast of actors who are talented in their own right spout off some really awkward comedy in what’s supposed to be an Alien movie of all things makes for a very bizarre viewing experience.

Sigourney Weaver, who has been consistently on top form even with Alien³, certainly makes an effort to make this new version of the beloved heroine as cool as ever, but the direction and script that she has to work with make her, for lack of a better word, weird to watch. I don’t know how I’m watching an Alien movie where Weaver is strangely moving around the ship, touching everything and everyone in a strangely sensual manner, but here we are.

In a film with other notable names like Winona Ryder, Ron Perlman, and Brad Dourif, to name a few, they all just seem off-kilter. Once again, this is an Alien movie where Dourif seems like he’s trying to lick or kiss an alien through a glass window for reasons that I can’t even fathom. Going from something as nihilistic as Alien³  to something like this is quite shocking. 

And while this more comedic approach to the series might seem ill-advised, I could roll with it if the material on its own was solidly made. However, Wheadon’s script, in comparison to his better efforts, is rather unrefined. The humor loses its luster when the characters that are supposed to work together are more often at each other’s throats, and I barely got any sort of camaraderie out of this team of space pirates.

It doesn’t help that the characters don’t really get any time to develop or meaningfully interact with each other. Making them feel like disposable fodder rather than characters we should be rooting for. I imagine the comedy was meant to make them endearing, but since that element doesn’t work, well…   

While the aliens are nicer to look at this time around compared to Alien³, they still lack that same sort of nightmarish magic that defined them in the franchise’s early installments. Their sequences aren’t badly constructed, but when the whole film surrounding them is so unserious, why should they be any different? And the final creature that’s supposed to make Resurrection stand out in this series is so absurdly designed that it becomes laughable. 

So Resurrection doesn’t really work as an Alien movie yet I would be very unkind if I didn’t admit that the sheer weirdness of the experience left me more cheerful than one would think. In retrospect, it’s pretty incredible that the director of Amélie got to make an Alien movie where he was actually given some degree of creative freedom. 

Make no mistake, this is still a Jean-Pierre Jeunet feature through and through. His visual style is present everywhere be it in the camerawork, the color palette, and the performances he wanted from his actors. Like in a quick moment where there’s a POV shot of Ryder punching the camera. To see a big horror franchise like Alien, where there are four films created by four talented directors with their own distinctive traits that make them feel so different from each other, does add some sort of novelty to each film, regardless of quality.

Alien Resurrection is, in my eyes, the weakest installment in the franchise so far, but just like with the previous film, I’m glad I decided to watch it. There really is no other film in this franchise quite like it.   

Alien VS Predator Retrospective: Alien³

It’s good to be back. Also, because of the nature of this story, I will have to discuss spoilers in some detail.

1992’s Alien³ is the follow-up to Aliens and once again stars Sigourney Weaver in her iconic role as Ellen Ripley. Following up the ending of Aliens with Ripley seemingly being the only survivor of a colonial marine spaceship following an escape pod’s crash on a planet housing a prison filled with only violent and wildly unpredictable male inmates

I could dedicate an entire post to describing the production of Alien³ because the events that took place in order to get this movie made could be enough to fill an entire novel. To summarize this complicated tale, the production of Alien3 was rather troubled. This would be director David Fincher’s first film. His name is synonymous with some of the most spectacular works of cinema in the American cultural landscape, like Se7en, Fight Club, The Social Network, and Gone Girl. But seeing that he was just starting out when this movie was getting made, he basically had no say in how the story could be conceived, and he essentially left the production as a result before it even finished. 

To date, Ficher has disowned the film entirely and stated that nobody has hated Alien³ more than him. There were many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak, with producers, studio heads, and writers duking it out and making constant changes to the story. It got so chaotic that shooting would commence without even a proper script. 

For the purposes of this review, I will be covering the 2003’s assembly cut. A revised version of the film, made without Fincher’s involvement yet, was produced to showcase more of his ideas and what he wanted to bring to this story. And because I often want to judge this story at its best, I will do so as such. Though this does open the door one day for me to explore the theatrical cut and the messy road taken just to get it made.  

If you want a movie that could be seen as genuinely divisive, this is it. Alien³ made some notably bold but controversial narrative choices in its opening act made some notably bold, but controversial narrative choices by killing off most of Aliens’ surviving cast sans Ripley. Considering that Hicks and Newt were well-liked characters that were thematically relevant to Ripley’s own development as a character as she found a new family and overcame her trauma, it can be seen as a slap in the face for the next movie too. Without pause, hit the reset button and leave Ripley back where she started.

And I won’t even lie and say that was the primary reason I didn’t even touch Alien³ for years. Even in a franchise as ruthless as Alien, both previous films ended with a speck of hope that things could work themselves out in the end some way or another, and even though those endings were still bittersweet, that sweetness was still there for a reason. Though even now I still disagree with this choice, I at least respect the sheer audacity of it, and at least the movie dedicates a good chunk of its opening act to giving Ripley the proper time to mourn her sudden loss. 

But now with the status quo set back to step one, how do this new setting and new faces fair up in comparison to its two genre-defining predecessors? Though I guess it doesn’t sound fair when it’s put like that, huh?

It’s pretty easy to see why Alien³ is both admired and hated, depending on who you ask. Aside from those story choices I’ve gone over, it has plenty of qualities that are both admirable and not so admirable in their execution. From the surface, the main theme that runs undercurrently through all of the tragedy and alien-induced mayhem is the idea that redemption is achieved through sacrifice. This is reflected in its own setting—this worn-down prison filled with criminals of the worst kind.

There’s a religious aspect to the prisoners, as they pray to their God in the hope of being able to set themselves on the righteous path so that they will never sin again. This is best exemplified in what I think is the film’s best character, not named Ripley, in Dillon, played by Charles Dutton. A self-admitted murderer and rapist of women, Dillon should, for all intents and purposes, be sent down to hell for his sins. Yet even for everything he’s done, Dillon is still capable of guilt and introspection and does everything in his power to lead his fellow inmates towards a destination that may allow possible redemption in God’s eyes.

Thematically, this is all well and good, but it’s not as fully realized as it could have been, in part due to its cast of inmates not being as memorable as the previous films. Both Alien and Aliens wonderfully contrasted their cast with the Xenomorph to bring the creature to new horrifying heights. By setting one against a group of average Joes or showing how the technological might of the Marines is pitiful compared to the sheer numbers and home advantage that an entire swarm can possess. Here, there is just not as much time dedicated to understanding these characters’ mindsets as I believed it could have, making most of them just feel like fodder in the end. And unfortunately, the characters that could make for some compelling material are underutilized.

Thankfully, the cast of mostly talented actors does give these roles some authenticity, even if it’s just so happening that all of these imamates happen to be British. And of course, Weaver still rules as the main heroine, perfectly combining the character’s vulnerability and ferocity, which continues to make her a magnetic screen presence.

It’s a visually sleek film that contains some of Fincher’s unique flourishes that would become staples in his classics. The art direction complements the setting through its intentionally ugly and bleak color palette, which makes it feel as real as any other film in this franchise. Shockingly, however, the special effects are actually rather a mixed bag this time around, I’m afraid. While the two films that follow have held up wonderfully in that department, the VFX for the Xenomorph ranges from great to outright terrible. The suit and puppetry on their own look astounding, but when the alien has to perform more complex movements, the compositing used to achieve this effect makes it look blatantly dated.

This is partly why I feel that the visceral punch of the Xenomorph feels less intense here. My issue with the special effects being put to the side is that there will be few sequences this time around that really capture the heart-pounding tension of Alien or Aliens. Be it because of an overall lackluster cast this time around or repetitive POV sequences of the alien chasing people that lose their effect fast, Alien³ just feels like it’s going through the motions when its most iconic asset shows up when it is instead supposed to be something that invigorates the overall picture.

With all of my praise and critique of this film, it wasn’t a challenge for me to see how the botched nature of its production dipped into the final result. In some ways, Alien³ is a beautiful mess. One that started off with promise but struck down when all of the setbacks kept piling on. That being said, I’m glad that I chose to put aside some of my biases and bite the bullet on this one. It’s a fascinating film in many regards and should be watched at least once by fans or those curious to see where they stand on this feature.

The Super Mario Bros Movie: It Could Have Been Better.

To say that the road up to The Super Mario Bros. Movie was a crazy roller-coaster ride would be an understatement. From Illuminations and Nintendo involvement to the reveal of the voice cast with Chris Pratt of all the people playing Mario, this could have been an easy write-off just from saying that, but the trailers actually help turn the tide in its favor by showing some stunning animation and faithfully translating the look of the games to 3D animation.

I mean, in comparison to the last Mario movie, the bar was rather low in regard to how faithful it needed to be in the first place to make fans happy. And as a fan of the games myself, I can say that it certainly captures the spirit of the games on a technical level.

And if anything can be said after this movie has already made over 1 billion dollars, it will undoubtedly leave fans very happy. While the movie still makes some tweaks to the character designs and world to make it more suitable for animation, the visuals are undeniably gorgeous. Fantastic rendering and kinetic movement make the characters very lively to watch onscreen and give them so much expression and personality. And all of the locales are impressive in their level of detail.

Also faithful to the games is the sound design. Managing to incorporate sound effects from the games into the movie in a way that feels seamless The soundtrack by Brain Tyler is also delightful. It brings some very inspired music to the table while also remixing much of the game’s iconic music. And I can say that at no point did I think any of the tracks were just there for the sake of fan service instead of serving the needs of the scene in question.

The one thing that made me sigh in relief was the celebrity voice casting. As controversial as the lineup was online, I have to admit that nobody did a bad job. Chris Pratt as Mario, as much as I think the casting choice is a meme, was totally fine. His choice of accent wasn’t too distracting and gave the title character enough of his signature energy and charisma to make him watchable. Pratt also gets to have solid chemistry with Charlie Day’s Luigi. Day delivers the stronger performance in comparison, making Luigi a very charming, if scared to his wits, goofball who just needs to find his sense of courage. Unironically, I enjoyed The Super Mario Bros. Movie most when the two brothers shared the spotlight.

My favorite performances came from Anna Taylor-Joy and Jack Black. Taylor-Joy’s Peach comes across as a heroic and capable leader while still getting in enough fun comedic beats that make her fun to watch. And undeniably, Jack Black as the big, mean Bowser makes for the best character to watch onscreen. Making him a fun menace while also coming across as a wimp in a very specific sense. Every time he shows up, the film becomes outright better to sit through.

I still don’t know how I feel about Seth Rogan as Donkey Kong, if I’m being honest. It still feels unreal, and maybe not in a good way. But he wasn’t terrible or anything, for what it’s worth.

So, on a purely technical level, Super Mario Bros. delivers. Just from seeing these images onscreen, I can tell there were many talented people onboard who were really passionate about capturing the look and sound of the games.

If only the passion could have been seen in the film’s story. Watching the movie made it very apparent that this felt like the safest, designed by the committee, version of any Mario movie that could have ever existed. It often jumps from point A to point B without really having any sense of rhyme or reason. There really is no sort of message or characterization that feels realized by what happens onscreen. At least not in any way that I found satisfying. It’s 90 minutes of Mario characters doing Mario things, with a truckload of references from the games on top of that and nothing else.

Don’t get it twisted. I didn’t watch a Mario movie with the expectation of watching the Citizen Kane of animation, whatever that ever means. But there have been plenty of other animated movies for kids that also had solid writing, an actual story, and well-developed characters. I could just bring up the 2014 The Lego Movie, another animated movie that brought another big IP to the big screen but actually did the right thing that the Mario movie failed to do in every way that I just mentioned. But to bring up another comparison, let’s look at the Sonic movies.

In terms of looks or music, they’re not the most faithful renditions of that game’s franchise that fans could have hoped for. However, they competently told a narrative about friendship and family with characters that actually changed in some way over the course of the movie. Are they themselves the most amazing pieces of cinema ever made? Far, far from it. But they were heartfelt offerings that didn’t just feel like getting paraded around a toy store.

It’s kind of neat that there are so many references to the games, and from many different sources to boot, as a fan, but even then, it started to get to a point where it became tiresome and arguably felt obtuse to anyone whose not familiar with the games. Some of these references that have big scenes in the movie, like the kart chase sequence, feel like they come out of nowhere with no real consideration to explain to the audience why karts exist in this universe the way they do. This might be a movie made for the fans, but this is also an adaptation and is allowed to be judged as such. The best ones stand on their own two feet, but I honestly don’t believe that the Mario movie does.

And it doesn’t help that the pacing is way too fast. I’d expect a Mario movie to be fast-paced, but here there are no chances for the film to breathe or allow the audience to take in a scene or moment. This lack of downtime makes the other big issues I’ve had with the movie, like the hollow storytelling or lack of character development, much more obvious. And it’s not like it needs to be longer than 90 minutes to tell a story. Just actually have scenes doing just that rather than inserting it in reference #503. Oh, and I could have taken it or left it with all of the insert songs. They feel out of place with the film’s actually well-composed music and didn’t really do anything for the moments they were used for either.

A movie based on one of the most popular franchises in gaming that looked faithful to the source material was always likely to be a hit with fans and kids wanting to see their favorite characters in a cinematic format. Rest assured that the movie delivers exactly that. But those looking for a little crumb of substance will be disappointed. I’m hoping that the eventual sequels will have something a little beefier to offer next time.

Bumblebee is a Mircale

It finally happened. It took over several movies to get to this point. It was a long painful descent into the abyss, but the light at the end of the tunnel can finally be seen.

We’ve actually got a Transformers movie that I can confidently say is good. Like, actually good. Don’t know why it took this long for one of these to finally be a hit, but I’m not complaining about the final product. After drowning myself in Bayformers madness during a long, soul-crushing week around the end of last year, watching Bumblebee felt like such a breath of fresh air. At last, a Transformers movie with characters and a plot that I felt invested in. Comedy that doesn’t make me awkwardly cringe, and action that doesn’t feel like it’s just dragging on and on and on…

The point is that being the first film in this series not directed by Michael Bay, and instead finds Travis Knight of Laika fame in the big chair. Released in 2018, and starring Haliee Steinfeld, and John Cena, Bumblebee serves both a prequel/reboot kind of to the 2007 film. With Rise of the Beasts just around the corner, I want to highlight what Bumblebee accomplished that actually has me optimistic for the future of this franchise in regard to cinematic features.

It can’t be denied that Bay’s films for better or worse were packed with spectacle. However, it came at the cost of those films lacking any real sense of heart. The human characters made for often dreadful leads and the big robots had even less characterization, often just serving as big scraps of metal whose sole purpose in that franchise was to hit other big scraps of metal. But Bumblebee actually has a soul. The relationship between Charlie and Bumblebee is the main heart of the film as both connect together through the loss of self-identity. It’s through this bond that both characters develop and really lends to some of the narrative’s most heartfelt moments.

What always bothered me about Bumblebee’s relationship with Sam in the first three films was that I never bought them as being actual friends. Rather their relationship felt more akin to an owner and a big metal guard dog. But in Bumblebee, it actually feels like both the big yellow bot and Charlie rely upon each other and shared a common trust. Major praise must be given to Hailee Steinfeld’s performance, as she essentially has to do all of the real acting against a CGI creation. She perfectly captures the angst of the character, making her sympathetic but all the more triumphant when she regains her sense of self-worth and confidence.

I was also pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed John Cena as the Colonel hellbent on capturing Bumblebee. There is a tragic angle to his character as his comrades were all killed by a Decepticon that would also be responsible for taking away Bumblebee’s voice. But at the same time, Cena pleasantly hams this character archetype with some fun bits of comedy spread throughout, while never coming across as incompetent.

Speaking of the robots, however, this is the first Transformers movie I felt actually did the title characters justice. Granted it’s a very small roster of robots, but they’re easily the best-written roster in any of these movies. Bumblebee’s arc of self-discovery and regaining his voice serves a thematic parallel to Charlie’s but makes his character endearing. He’s like a big child learning how the world works for the first time while coming packed with cannons and being able to transform into a car. Bumblebee’s the most charming he’s ever been. It helps that thanks to the excellent visual effects, Bumblebee is a very expressive character who says just as much with his face and poses just as much as he could have with words.

And the main villain Shatter and Dropkick despite not being the most fleshed-out villains out there, are still easily the best Decepticons in any of the Transformers live-action movies so far. They for once actually live up to their faction title. They use deception to trick Sector 7 to allow them free reign to achieve their own goals. Whenever they show up, we know as an audience that things are about to get dicey. The voice pairings of Angela Bassett and Justin Theroux make this duo a pretty fun pair of baddies.

Even though Bay is no longer at the helm, this is still a pretty action-packed movie with a decent amount of set pieces. The main highlights are whenever Bumblebee gets into a tango with any of the Decepticons. In a David and Goliath scenario, Bumblebee is noticeably outsized forcing him to his wits to stay ahead. It helps visually demonstrate how he’s such an effective soldier even when he’s on the back foot. It’s nice to see this sort of character writing integrated into the action instead of two big hunks of metal mindlessly killing each other.

As a story looking at it from the outset, this is a kid-befriends beast plot akin to the Iron Giant or ET: The Extraterrestrial with an 80s backdrop. So, from that angle, Bumblebee may not win points in originality or breaking new narrative ground. Where it does actually win points is that it knows how to use those tropes effectively to make a Transformers story that I can say is charming. Its setting is charming. The characters are charming. The humor is charming. You get the idea.

I’m so relieved that this film exists and that for now new movies are set to follow this one going forward. It’s the shot in the arm that Transformers needed for so long. With all the ingredients that will satisfy fans and newcomers alike, Bumblebee sets the standard that I will judge future movies to going forward. If what comes next is as good if not better, then we are in for something special.

Pinocchio: A True Story – Movie Review

Somebody shoots Pinocchio with a gun because he is a wooden boy. The fact that this is a sentence about a Pinocchio movie of all the things is a reality that I’m not ready to deal with right now.

As the first of various films starring the titular character releasing this year. This self-proclaimed true story of how Pinocchio came to set the stage for what’s to come later this year by setting the bar very, very low. 

And this isn’t a shock to anyone who saw any of the film’s marketing material which left a terrible first impression for a straightforward reason.

Somebody who works at Lionsgate in all of its mystical wisdom decided that their dub for this Russian CGI movie would have Pauly Shore star as Pinocchio. Just hearing his voice in the trailer opened the film to a world of memes instead of sounding like a young boy who happens to make of wood. Pinocchio sounds like a bot on autopilot with a dash of whiny teenage angst. Any time the character has to show some human emotion imminently falls flat because of this. Not aiding this lackluster performance, Shore’s line delivery is insanely phoned-in.

The voice cast across the board is exceptionally underwhelming. And it’s not like some of these performers are amateurs. Tom Kenny and Jon Heder have certainly made a name for themselves by starring in their more notable projects, but none of that talent can be heard here. Heder, in particular, is mind-numbingly bad as Pinocchio’s talking horse friend/father figure Tybalt, who probably delivers the worst attempt at making horse noises I’ve ever heard. I’m going to go to sleep, and all I have to comfort me will be that.

It seems very fitting to add in that the lip-synching is noticeably off-point. This only highlights how the voice cast showed up to set for the sole purpose of getting a paycheck. Prospects that I can respect but having to listen to that for a whole feature doesn’t make for a fun viewing experience. At least, not in the way the film intended.

While the voice acting is Pinocchio: A True Story’s biggest blunder, there is plenty of other terrible material in this film. In its attempt to provide the “definite” Pinocchio experience, the story takes the concept of a wooden boy who wants to become an actual human in the most outlandish, inane direction possible. The opening sentence to this review was not a joke, and that’s not the only crazy event in this story.

Things happen in this movie just because they can, even if there is no concrete setup or without consistency in character writing. Have a random love plot? Sure, why not. A detective and his men are looking for criminals and choosing havoc for no discernable reason? Of course, that happens with this narrative. The most backward twists and turns that made no sense and were only written for the sake of having a twist? Did you ever need to ask?

The visuals are the best aspect of Pinocchio: A True Story, but only in the sense that I can consider something about this film that reaches something of a mediocre standard. Stuff like the lighting or character designs gives the impression that it might look somewhat competent. But the actual animation itself still leaves a lot to be desired regarding movement or providing any standout imagery.

Sadly, the film chooses to reuse specific character animations in the scene right after it was shown onscreen. I know the production would never be on the same level as something you can at a studio like Pixar, but a little more creativity could do wonders in not making the fact more obvious.

However, the one thing that made sitting through this somewhat amusing is that as someone who has a particular fancy towards lousy voice acting, a film chalked full of it is right my alley. Otherwise, you can do better when it comes to finding a Pinocchio story worth embarking on.

A Rant About Eight Crazy Nights


No, seriously no.

I was doing so great having my first experience with this disgusting trainwreck be utterly repressed within the gutters of my mind. It was so nice and easy and made life simple. The completely braindead decision on my part to watch this movie again with friends for the “lols” was the worst idea I’ve ever could have come up with. I feel that all I have to achieve by rewatching the film upon deep reflection is that I allow a previously closed wound to reopen and then pour salt into it because why not?

Eight Crazy Nights is a musical holiday “comedy-drama” that’s produced, co-written, and starring Adam Sandler. If you didn’t know this was a Sandler production before watching this thing, trust me you are going to find out imminently once the title pops on the screen. In this cruel, unpredictable world we live in, there are two easy camps to make with it comes to his lineup. There are his good films, and there are the stinkers. And Eight Crazy Nights is easily one of his hardest stinkers.

In the spirit of fairness, I’ll sing the movie’s very few positives now. In comparison to other mainstream holiday films, Eight Crazy Nights is centered on Jewish characters during the Hanukkah season as opposed to the traditional Christmas backdrop. It should be noted that the film barely does anything relating to that holiday, but it’s something.

Undeniably the animation is very competent. Of course when there are so many animation studios involved with the production like Warner Bros Animation, A. Film A/S, Yowza! Animation, and even more names I haven’t mentioned, I could only hope that the movie looked pretty from that outset. Character designs look good, and they certainly move well. It’s an utter shame that they got wasted on a story like this, but that’s not on their shoulders. The musical numbers while not particularly memorable are least somewhat decently performed and don’t erase whatever neurons are still left in my brain like the rest of the movie.

Speaking of the rest of the movie.

Unpleasant is the best word to describe my experience. The “comedy” is what I expect from a bad Sandler film. In that, it is extremely juvenile as it aims for the lowest common denominator with toilet jokes for days on end and always aiming for the first joke you think it’s going to do. And the bad ones too.

What makes this film such a hard watch however can be found in its purest form with the film’s central character Davey Stone voiced by the one and only Sandler. Now I expect bad comedy from a Sandler film. I’ve gone that avenue before plenty of times. However, for a film that he produced, wrote, and stars in. With the lead character design visually based on him to boot, the last thing I would expect was that he would make him so insanely unlikable.

Davey is such an insufferable jerk without any sort of charisma or charm that could make his nasty attitude somewhat bearable to watch. I’ve watched movies and tv shows starring sociopaths that were more likable and easy to root for than Davey. That is not a joke. Someone like The Grinch maybe…well you know the Grinch. But even he would be put off by Davey’s personality. He treats everyone around him so poorly for really no reason. It gets so bad that the film’s attempts backstory and attempted redemption arc feel hollow and contrived.

He is the one person everyone fears will show up at the family holiday party. He’s that type of guy. And while I’m on it, almost everyone in this film is rather bloody awful for once again no reason. Selfish and treat other people like garbage. One of them is the film’s secondary character being Whitey Duvall. Who is um…well how do I explain this without getting banned from this platform?

Whitey gets so close to being a likable character. He treats everyone around him with kindness and compassion. Even going the extra mile for people who quite frankly don’t deserve it. He is best buds with his sister, and it is quite clear that all he wants is just to be accepted by his townfolks. Sounds all good right? So why does he make for another intolerable presence in a film that is populated by them?

The answer is actually is really simple. He’s voiced by Adam Sandler.

If there is one thing I can ask from Sandler that I truly hope he does for the sake of my mental health or eardrums. If there is anything I can ask at all. Never, and I mean never voice an old man ever again. Please and thanks. If I have to sit through any Whitey-like character ever again, I might take two q-tips and push them deep into my ear canal in order to make my suffering stop. Watching Whitey in Eight Crazy Nights feels like watching a hate crime in action. Just no.

Oh, I did forget to talk about the product placement? Oh yeah, there’s a lot of it. Foodfight would blush at how much of it is in this film. The sight of watching various store logos come alive to lecture Sandler about his bad behavior is something that can only be seen by yourself to believe. But that would mean you have to actually watch the movie and here is the best thing about doing that.

You don’t. Ever. Eight Crazy Nights is a bad Adam Sandler flick. One that’s particularly more sour compared to his other works. Stay away. Do not think about it. If you do and somehow dare to bring family and friends with you, then just know that the responsibility falls on you to pay for their therapy.

And yes I watch this during the Hanukkah season. No, I am not proud of that fact.

Never again.

Audition – Movie Review

This is by far the most difficult film I’ll likely have to cover during this marathon. Not in regards to overall quality. That’s a different story. Mainly because Audition is one of those experiences that’s hard to recommend to certain branches of people and to explain why is extremely complicated as it would require me to spoil the plot, and that’s the last thing I would ever do to my audience.

At least, not in this review. Do expect a follow-up post on what makes this film so special and almost sick-inducing to sit through at some point. It really deserves it.

As indicated by its placement, this is indeed a horror film. And out of everything I’ve seen, this is the most bone-chilling of the roster. We’re talking about the type of horror that gets you to start slowly leaning back in you’re chair before it gets to the point where you want to leap off for your safety. These sequences are so visceral and unrelenting that it makes future attempts in emulating that sort of feel such as the Saw franchise almost look like child’s play.

But what lends Audition to having such an incredible impact is through its very human story. The film centers on a widower (Ryo Ishibashi) who is still left numb and empty after the death of his wife. When his son suggests finding a new wife, he sets up a mock audition to meet a protentional partner. Of which he comes across one beautiful woman that catches his eye.

This creates a sympathetic character whose motivations are understandable. He’s a good man whose still struggling to move from such an awful point in his life. But when the chance seems to arrive finally, there’s such this energy and almost child-like innocence that makes him such an endearing figure. I also really enjoyed his relationship that he has with his son. Despite his wife’s passing, he still clearly doesn’t let the event stop him from trying to be a good father, and the sweet little scenes they share makes me feel cozy inside.

It can’t be overlooked, however, on the tremendous contributions that fashion model/actress Eihi Shiina brings to Audition. As the film’s love interest, there’s this sweet but notably sad element to the character. From exploring her backstory is when the film takes a sinister but tragic turn as she ultimately just wants to know how what’s it likes to connect with another human that feels meaningful.

Audition is really about the importance and loss of the human connection. The feeling of truly loving someone for who there are. Flaws and all that included. There’s such an optimistic tone that it wouldn’t be out of place in a classic drama/romance film. Of course, we know what type of genre Audition falls under. And in that case, people might be a little bit flawed to make any relationship work.

From the first few minutes, I was blown away by director Takashi Miike’s precision. The whole film looks stunning, and there are so many great angles used in service of the narrative. Like how the camera is positioned from behind a character washing dishes, you can still get inside their head and understand what’s going on underneath the surface. Sometimes he’s fine with just letting certain shots linger onscreen without feeling too drawn out.

The film even dives into the surreal territory through the use of dream sequences. These don’t feel like an excuse to add a cheap scare, but rather a narrative vehicle that allows the viewer to understand the character’s unfiltered point of view that becomes edited and paced as if everything will be hit by a speeding train.

Grade: A+

The Empty Man – Movie Review

A common theme throughout this entire marathon has been centered on cult films. Ones that have been recognized as such after the fact. That’s the funny thing about time. No one ever knows when anything could reach that status. Maybe it’s destiny that people will come around to it and go, “Hey, that was pretty good looking back at it.”

The Empty Man is fascinating for this reason. Released back in 2020 to a very underwhelming reception critically and financially, it seemed like this film would disappear from the common consciences of the average person. The way its theatrical release was handled would make one think this way. It was only in cinemas for around a day and, as of writing, does not even have a physical media release. The only legal way to watch The Empty Man is through streaming.

But what’s so surprising is realizing just how much freedom director David Prior. Having been given all the money in the world and the approval to do whatever he wanted, Prior’s film is very inspiring for anyone itching to get into the world of filmmaking without the deterrent of too much dulling supervision by the studio or distribution company.

It’s hard to assess just how The Empty Man will be viewed years from now. The film is quite ambitious, almost to a fault. Tackling concepts like the meaning of one’s existence and what such a thing even means in the first place. Presented on a scale that is very much unexpected. Make no mistakes; this thankfully isn’t just another rendition of other poor supernatural films in the vein of The Bye Bye Man or Slender Man. Prior has much more respect for his audience than that.

I still don’t understand everything myself, even after taking time to comprehend my viewing experience fully. But it certainly leaves plenty of breadcrumbs for various interpretations or maybe none at all. In the most bare-bones descriptions of the narrative, it might seem rather straightforward. But the way it’s all presented keeps the viewer in a state of unclarity. At various points in the film, parts of the screen start to fade. An intentional contrast to the rest of the image in the frame. Buildings or objects get distorted. Little details go a long way in crafting a one-of-a-kind experience.

The risk of letting the film tread on the thin line of ambiguity so much is those narrative elements may not fully connect into one cohesive whole. For me, there’s enough information given to create something of a bigger picture, but other viewers may not be so willing to go along with a film that’s saying, “I’m doing what I want to the 10th degree, and if you snooze, you lose.” I can’t decide how you will feel about this if you ever decide this watch the film, and I can’t go further without going into spoilers, so how to register the narrative will be simply on your terms.

Part of what made The Empty Man a fun watch comes through in the film’s leading man. James Badge Dale’s ex-detective could make for a very bland main character, but Dale adds enough charisma and humor that made him enjoyable to go along this ride. While also adding a very prominent edge of grief that haunts the character throughout the film.

It’s also evident that just by watching it is that there was plenty of money and effort that went into the production. From the way scenes transition between each other to the stunning cinematography, Prior used everything at his disposal to elevate his vision. The unsettling score by Christopher Young and Lustmord also comes very much appreciated.

Grade: B+