Reviews: Antman & The Wasp, The First Purge, Sicario 2 & The Death of MoviePass – Cult Following #85

85-cf

In this episode of Cult Following, the crew reviews Antman and The Wasp, The First Purge, Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado and Won’t You Be My Neighbor. We also chat about media influencers, Monstervision, TCM Underground, Shudder and do a breakdown of the death of MoviePass and the rise of services like AMC A-List and Alamo Drafthouse’s Season Pass

Join us at Mad Monster in Scottsdale, AZ from July 13th to July 15th. Plus check out “A BOY AND HIS DOG” at the Alamo Drafthouse on July 12th and DEAD NIGHT with a Q and A with Barbara Crampton on July 29th. Tickets for both at drafthouse.com/phoenix as well as VIDEO VORTEX on 7/25 and 7/30.

Posted in Episodes | Tagged , | Leave a comment

REVIEW: ‘Sicario: Day of the Soldado’ is Violent, Problematic and one of the Most Satisfying Sequels in Years

sic1

Despite a deeply morose tone and overly simplistic worldview that is likely to offend many, ‘Sicario: Day of the Soldado’ is an expertly realized thriller that largely echoes the quality of the first film and is more satisfying in many ways.

‘Soldado’ is written by Taylor Sheridan who also wrote the first film and despite a change in director, cinematographer and composer- it feels very much like the first. The closest comparison I can make is the difference between ‘Alien’ and ‘Aliens.’ The first ‘Sicario’ is an engaging, brutal and often gorgeous exercise in tension. It is a drama with infrequent albeit enthralling action. ‘Soldado’ is not as finely crafted, but has much more action and consistently raises the stakes.

The film begins with a nighttime illegal border crossing where the border patrol is portrayed as an unstoppable force. Slick black helicopters cut through the inky darkness. A spotlight illuminates the desert rushing past below. When the spotlight turns on it is accompanied by an elemental booming. This is the jingoistic view of American force so familiar from films like ‘Black Hawk Down.’ This is American power as an unstoppable beast. Illegal immigrants scurry beneath the light, border patrol trucks close in. One man separates from the group and is stopped by a cliff. As agents encircle him he reveals himself to have explosives strapped to him. He says “Allah ‘Akbar” before exploding himself.

You would be forgiven for asking what religious extremists have to do with a film series that previously focused on Mexican drug cartels. You would also be forgiven for finding this film problematic as it focuses next on a craven terrorist attack in a grocery store. Three suicide bombers enter the crowded building and commit mass murder. We are not spared the image of a mother begging for the life of her little girl. We discover that the terrorists are being smuggled across the border by the cartels. Two of our greatest enemies have now become one.

In many ways you could view the beginning of ‘Sicario: Day of the Soldado’ as a propaganda piece. With the way that it glorifies the undisputed might of American forces as well as drawing a direct line between immigration along the Mexican border to Americans being killed by terrorists, it’s not far off. As the film continues however, you see that this film is not taking a side. ‘Soldado’ is nihilistic. Everyone is bad. No one is saved. In this way, it is similar to the first film when even Benicio Del Toro’s larger-than-life and legendarily skilled assassin murders children along with cartel kings.

You would be forgiven for having too many issues with the subject matter to enjoy this film. I have spoken to many on various sides of the debate who are unable to set aside their beliefs to watch this. But for those able to view this film as a finely executed thriller, there is a lot to appreciate.

sic2

Taking over directing duties from Denis Villenueve is Italian director Stefano Sollima (‘Gomorrah’) who delivers a remarkably well-realized narco-political thriller. For all of the moral ambiguity in Taylor Sheridan’s script, Sollima’s direction is confident and effective. As stated above with the ‘Aliens’ comparison, this is movie with a lot more action than the first. Not as concerned with world-building, ‘Soldado’ gets right to the meat of it. Using the terrorist attacks as justification, the American government decides to take off the proverbial gloves. There will be no rules this time. Returning from the first film is Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) the gum chewing, Crocs-wearing task-force leader. The mission is to start a war between the cartels by kidnapping the daughter of one cartel leader and framing the other cartel for it. They will be too busy fighting each other to smuggle any more terrorists across the border. Along with an elite team of mercenaries, he also enlists the help of the shadowy assassin Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro.)

Playing the kidnapping target Isabel Reyes is young actress Isabela Moner who is a revelation. From her first moment on screen, she shows a ferocity and legitimacy far beyond her years. She was also featured in ‘Transformers: The Last Knight’ but was lost in the convoluted mess of that film. Here she is given a chance to shine and establishes herself and someone to keep an eye on. Suffice to say, things do not go as planned. Alejandro and Isabela are forced to fend for themselves in a brutal Mexican desert, surrounded by enemies. Luckily, her protector is one of the most purely-badass characters ever committed to film.

By now of course, the US government are also the bad guys. In this way, the film attempts to offend no one by offending everyone. If looked at literally, especially in today’s climate, this movie is stiflingly problematic. The Mexican desert is portrayed as a scorched badland where every passerby is a bloodthirsty murderer. The only good person our closest-thing-we-have-as-heroes is a deaf good Samaritan (and it is extremely convenient that Alejandro knows sign language.) Still, when viewed through the lens of a modern western filled with archetypal monsters of every type, it is incredibly satisfying and occasionally brilliant.

‘Soldado’ is also a beautifully shot film. The first film was shot by Roger Deakins who is almost-inarguably the greatest living cinematographer. Those are not easy shoes to fill but Darius Wolski (‘Dark City,’ ‘Prometheus’) does an admirable job. The sun-soaked desert is massive and desolately striking and nighttime glows with brilliance. In many ways this is a commercial that portends a view of the world beyond redemption and soaked in blood, but damn if it isn’t great to look at.

sic3

This is a violent and unforgiving film. It asks a lot of the audience. It asks you to believe that the US/Mexico border is a gateway to hell. It asks you to believe that the American government would order the murder of a child to cover a mistake. ‘Sicario: Day of the Soldado’ exists as both a red and blue state nightmare. A Rorsach test of offenses in a volatile time. It may be impossible to enjoy this film without a heaping dose of unhealthy cynicism. I enjoyed it. I loved it honestly. I don’t know what that says about me. But I would watch five more movies in this series. It hits all the marks of a Tom Clancy political thriller with the gruesome appeal of ‘Breaking Bad.’ Benicio Del Toro’s Sicario grows in legendary status, joining the ranks of otherworldly master killers like Anton Chigurh or Leon the Professional. There is a scene near the end of the film involving a grenade that almost had me on my feet cheering.

‘Soldado’ is certain to be divisive but I found it be one of the best sequels in years.

‘SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO’ IS IN THEATERS JUNE 29TH, 2018

 

Posted in Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reviews: Incredibles 2, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Hereditary, Upgrade and RoboCop 3 – Cult Following Episode #84

jw-cf-template copy

In this episode of Cult Following, join Victor, Joshua and Kirby as we review Hereditary and Upgrade in depth. We also give our thoughts on the newest installment of Disney/Pixar’s Incredibles and Joshua gives his hot take on Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. We also talk about whether director’s cut blurays offer anything new, what is frightening in the wake of Hereditary and you THE LISTENER get a chance to win tickets to see UNFRIENDED DARK WEB if you live in Phoenix! Join us on Cult Following!

PLUS! Let us know your worst movie watching experience ever at email@cultfollowing.co and win a pair of VIP passes to see UNFRIENDED DARK WEB on July 16th in Tempe!

Posted in Episodes | Tagged , | Leave a comment

REVIEW: ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ is a Toothless Mess

jw2

*Contains spoilers

‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ starts with a ton of potential and nosedives into one of the most bafflingly terrible films I have seen in quite a while. The movie begins with a mercenary team venturing to the island from the first film to recover the DNA of Indominus Rex. Isla Nublar is now half submerged by water and a storm rages in a blackened sky. A submarine ventures into the depths as an extraction helicopter waits above. The team are clearly nervous that dinosaurs are still around. Someone says that all of the creatures must be dead by now. We know how this ends. “Famous last words” and so on… What follows is a tremendously well-shot and fun sequence. Gorgeous tableaus show humans dwarfed by the dangerous hellscape around them. Bushes move while familiar growls and chirps encircle. Lightning flashes illuminating the silhouettes of dinosaurs everywhere. The team doesn’t stand a chance.

The beginning of ‘Fallen Kingdom’ is dumb. But it’s the right kind of dumb. Even the smallest amount of critical analysis makes the plot crumble. Why did the team attempt this mission in the middle of a thundering maelstrom? Did they not have any way of surveying the area to figure out if anything was living? None of that matters because the sequence is just so damned entertaining. By the time the late title card arrived, I was grinning from ear-to-ear. This had the potential to be something truly special. A silly and over-the-top adventure along the lines of ‘Kong: Skull Island,’ a film I adore for it’s unapologetic ridiculousness. Unfortunately, the first five minutes are the best part of ‘Fallen Kingdom.’ By a mile. I wish the potential of that opening bore out. I wish I was reviewing that film.

The terrific beginning of ‘Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom’ is dumb. The rest of the film is aggressively stupid. I almost don’t know where to begin.

The plot of ‘Fallen Kingdom’ revolves around an attempt to rescue the dinosaurs trapped on Isla Nublar. There is a volcano which is set to erupt and kill all life on the island. There is a fierce worldwide debate as to whether these animals should be saved. In an all-too-brief cameo Jeff Goldblum reprises his role as Ian Malcolm and speaks before Congress warning against saving these animals. We made a mistake by creating these creatures and nature is attempting to fix that mistake. As usual, Ian Malcolm is one of the only people making any sense. And as usual: no one listens to him. We are re-introduced to Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas-Howard) who is no longer an icy businesswoman and is now part of a group of dinosaur rights activists called the Dinosaur Protection Group. Her cartoonishly bleeding-heart sidekicks are Franklin Webb (Justice Smith) and Zia Rodriquez (Daniella Pineda.) Zia is a Paleo-Veterinarian and Franklin is afraid of everything. That description is as much character development as you get. The dino-rights activists watch MSNBC (a good touch) and cry as Congress announces that the creatures will be allowed to die.

Claire is then summoned to the mansion of Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) who was John Hammond’s partner in cloning dinosaurs apparently. If this character was ever introduced before this film, I must not remember. His smarmy business-guy front-man Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) explains that they would like to fund an expedition for Claire to save some of the dinos before the volcano erupts. They will be taken to an island preserve, not another Jurassic Park/World where the animals could live in seclusion and safety. Apparently Claire has not seen ‘The Lost World: Jurassic Park’ which this plot lifts from directly and doesn’t realize that smarmy business-guy front-man actually wants the dinos for nefarious purposes. Claire tracks down Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to enlist his help with Blue, the highly-intelligent and trained raptor from ‘Jurassic World.’ Owen (who Pratt plays as Star Lord because apparently that’s his one acting mode) and Claire once again light the screen aflame with their blistering lack of chemistry.

The dino rescue squad travel to the island and meet with a definitely-not-evil-and-in-league-with-the-deceitful-business-guy mercenary Ken Wheatley (played by the always-terrific Ted Levine.) Hijinx ensue and volcanos erupt. Action set-pieces happen. This part of the film is pretty good. But you also saw most of it in the too-long trailer for the film. In pursuit of avoiding spoilers I will spare the rest of the details other than to say, if you’ve seen ‘The Lost World,’ you know where this is going. Except we trade San Diego for a giant mansion. It is in this final act of the film where it truly gets bizarre.

On its own that description seems fairly innocuous, but interwoven into this film are moments that strain credulity far past the point of breaking. This is a film which consistently insults the intelligence of its audience. There is a moment which is perfect embodiment of this: Owen opens a utility hatch on the wall. Inside is a box labeled ‘lighting control system.’ I looked that those words and read them immediately as I’m sure everyone above a fifth-grade reading level would do. Owen however slowly runs his fingers across the words in a moment which rung out as ridiculous and unreal, as if his fingers were saying “Are you keeping up audience? Can you read this?” ‘Fallen Kingdom’ is a series of moments that are telegraphed from a mile away. You can be sure in every single case that the good guys won’t get hurt and the bad guys will get killed. And when the bad guys get killed, it will be comically bloodless. If the good guys have to draw blood from a sleeping T-Rex and have to go into its cage to do it, you can bet that it’s going to wake up. If someone says “we made it!” something will always jump out right after. This is a movie laced with clichés.

You’ve seen this all before, and that creates a building feeling of being bored. There is a good hour in the middle of this two-hour-plus movie with no action, but even when the action comes it doesn’t surprise. This is paint-by-numbers filmmaking. It’s like an overproduced pop song with twenty writers. It takes no risk and tries to please everyone and ends up feeling stale. The dialogue constantly tells you things you already inferred. The writing is often clunky and lines delivered stiffly.

JW1

Any one crime this film commits is not too bad on its own, but here it is a death by a thousand cuts. The main plot of the villains to sell dinosaurs at a comical house auction. When Henry Wu (BD Wong) shows up as an evil mad scientist and unveils his creation: the indoraptor wealthy people start to bid on it. He insists it’s not for sale. Smarmy-business-man sells it anyway. For $25 million. I am not a dino-economist but that doesn’t seem like the name-your-price a one-of-a-kind dinosaur prototype.  Wu is upset. “They will copy it!” he says. If they can copy it, why are they paying millions for dinosaurs in the first place? Speaking of copies, what about the adorable little girl who turns out to be the clone of some character we’ve never heard of. If we can make perfect clones of humans, why are we messing around with dinosaurs? That is a much bigger deal. I can’t decide if this revelation is supposed to be shocking. It is delivered in such a clunky and bizarre fashion that I found myself more puzzled than anything. What about the head-butt dinosaur that always conveniently arrives when Star Lord Owen needs to knock a wall down?

And why, above all other things, is Owen able to immediately take out ten security guards with machine guns? He is an animal trainer and yet he Jason Bournes his way through a room of mercenaries because that’s what the plot required.

I enjoyed ‘Jurassic World’ quite a lot. I had zero expectations for that movie and found it to be a diversion that had a real sense of joyous mayhem. There were even moments of true inspiration such as the fanboy of the original Jurassic Park who uses it as a meta-commentary on the state of the franchise. “Indominus Rex presented by Verizon.” Pure gold. I can understand how that film made all the money. It was a cultural touchstone. People who grew up with ‘Jurassic Park’ were able to bring their own children to experience it. Maybe it was retreading old ground, but it did so with a genuine reverence and did no harm.

‘Fallen Kingdom’ squanders that good will. This film was inevitable. When a movie makes as much money as ‘Jurassic World,’ a sequel is assured. Unfortunately this ends up as a spectacular failure. Director J.A. Bayona who directed the terrific ‘The Orphanage’ and the mediocre ‘The Impossible’ and ‘A Monster Calls’ once again shows his visual mastery. He seems to revel in the fairy-tale imagery of a dinosaur crawling through the window of a little girl’s bedroom or highlighted by the full moon. At times there is a truly beautiful film that peeks out through the cracks. Unfortunately the script by Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly comes up very short. ‘Fallen Kingdom’ seems like a cash-grab. As if it was rushed out to capitalize on the success of the first. It a few great moments but the flaws weigh it down to the point of toppling.

jw3

‘JURASSIC WORLD:FALLEN KINGDOM’ IS IN THEATERS JUNE, 21ST 2018

 

Posted in Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: The Incredibles 2 (2018)

Incredibles_2_first_look

Pixar’s first family of superheroes returns to the big screen in a sequel that highlights why Brad Bird truly understands the dynamics of what makes a hero tick.

Read More »

Posted in Reviews | Tagged | Leave a comment