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This Week's Film Reviews (May 26, 2017)

25 May 2017

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES opens and should be this week’s #1 at the box-office.  Also opening is the Inside Out LGBT Film Festival.  

Best Bets of the Week:

Best Film Opening: THE LOVERS

Best Horror: ALIEN: COVENANT

Best Family: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

Best Foreign: THE COMMUNE

Best Documentary: RISK

Best Comedy: THE DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: THE LONG HAUL

 

To find a review for a past film, key in film title in the 'SEARCH' box.

BAYWATCH (USA 2017) **

Directed by Seth Gordon

BAYWATCH is the latest edition of films based on a successful TV series that has very little to do with the series - like the JUMP STREET films.  But it the marketing works.  BAYWATCH is a modern re-working of a popular TV series of the same name.  It cost $40 million to make and is estimated to gross $45 million the opening American long weekend.

BAYWATCH is an action-comedy film directed by Seth Gordon (HORRIBLE BOSSES) starring with Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron with a list of general unknowns Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Jon Bass, Ilfenesh Hadera, Priyanka Chopra and Indian actress Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as the villain.   David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson are present with cameos and excellent ones, coming as neat surprises in the film.

The film concerns Mitch Buchannon (Johnson), the gung-ho leader of the elite Baywatch lifeguard squad.   He believes he is making a different in the world, clashing with the local police as he outdoes his duties by trying to  stop drug trafficking at the same time.  Matt Brody (Efron), a washed-up pro athlete is brought in as the new face of the organization.  However, when a dead body is recovered from the ocean, the two must put aside their personal differences and work with their team to stop a criminal mastermind's drug trafficking operation.  Mitch gets relieved of his post while Matt ends up saving the day with the help of Mitch’s crew.  The film is at least smart enough not to make any preachy statement, but just let the comedy/action takes its course.

As an action comedy, the film devotes an equal amount effort to both comedy and to the action.  The special effects especially the underwater segments (during he fire rescue) are impressive.  It is rare when the action and comedy come together.  The best and most hilarious segment occurs at the film’s start (which cannot be matched), when the logo BAYWATCH appears on the background accompanied by three synchronized choreographed dolphins after Dwayne Johnson saves some babes on his watch.

Dwayne Johnson has proven himself apt as an actor comfortable in both action and comedy.  Zac Efron is however not that funny when portrayed as a victim.  He is at his hilarious best (as in the film DIRTY GRANDPA or in NEIGHBOURS) when he is the instigator or the super drunk or drugged up super hunk.  This best scene in BAYWATCH is when he punches out his supervisor and when his muscles are flexed doing the obstacle course.  Jon Bass is given a lot of screen time doing the funny fat guy.  All his antics - the co-ed shower, the beach CPR, the disco dancing are lame.  Bass comes across as more annoying than funny.    Audiences are not going to be happy paying good money to watch an amateur comedian fail on the screen.

BAYWATCH could have been better for all the effort put in, especially the fantastic special effects on display.  Still, it is relatively entertaining, for those not expecting much from an evening at the movies.  

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDteZ0YrhSU

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES (USA 2017) **

Directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg

The 5th instalment of the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN franchise has been delayed a year and then another to be finally released this year after budget and script problems.  It is easy to see why.  The film like most sequels comes across as louder and bigger but not necessarily better.  Written by Jeff Nathanson based on a story by himself and Terry Rossio, the story is a narrative mess and all over the place.  In the parts where it is barely coherent, the special effects and swashbuckling action totally destroys whatever left as a thread of a story.

The film begins with a boy rowing a boat into the vast ocean.  A huge ship scoops the boy up from underwater where the audience learns that the boy is seeking his father (Orlando Bloom) to return home.  The father is under a curse and the boy vows to seek the Trident of Poseidon which returns power to the seas and break the curse that prevents the father returning home.  The film then jumps 9 years into the future.  The boy is revealed to be now grown up as the handsome Brenton Thwaites who is locked beneath the ship after warning the captain of dangerous waters that no ship has ever come back from.  When imprisoned, the ship is attacked by ghosts.  Henry is met by an evil, hissing ghost by the name of Salazar (Javier Bardem).  He is apparently a powerful and maniacal undead pirate hunter of the Spanish Navy who was trapped in the Devil's Triangle.  After escaping, he seeks the Trident of Poseidon to wipe out all piracy and exact revenge on Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp).  He asks Henry to pass the message to Sparrow that he is looking for him as he cannot relay the message as dead men tell no tales.  Of course, all this make no sense.  The story then jumps to anther point.  jack Sparrow is robbing  a bank. 

No one really cares what happens.  A female character Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) is further introduced into the story to form the romantic interest for Henry, who also ends up seeking that dreaded trident.  To form a strong female presence in the film, she fights for women’s rights to study in the university at that time.  

When Johnny Depp is not appearing half the time behaving as if he was drunk or high, the pirates are swinging all over the ship and beating each other up.  Lots of props get wrecked with lots of pyrotechnics thrown in.  The camera swirls around for no reason - to the sky, to the sea down to the vast expanse of beaches.  

The film’s best segment which occurs at the start when Sparrow falls asleep during a bank heist is quite over-the-top, but the the rest of the film never matches that part.

It only took ten minutes of the film for boredom to set in and the film lasts a full 2 hours and 20 minutes.  The few cameos of Paul McCartney and Kiera Knightley do not enliven the film either.

This should finally be the last tired entry to a tired series.  Jack Sparrow and gang should be forever banished to the Devil’s Triangle.  In this film, Sparrow is supposed to have lost his mojo and getting it back with Poseidon’s Trident.  No kidding about that loss of mojo.

Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrGyD4kHTSE

POPULATION ZERO (USA/Canada 2015) ***1/2

Directed by Julian T. Pinder and Adam Levins

There is much to appreciate in watching POPULATION ZERO.  The least one knows about the film, the more enjoyable and eerie the film will be.  I went into it knowing absolutely nothing and ended up totally absorbed and bedazzled by the piece.  So, if one has the intention of watching the film, DO NOT read this or any other review of the film.

That said, the film is a mockumentary.  This fact in itself spoils the film’s enjoyment as co-director Pinder introduces himself as a documentarian in the film, and one (if unaware of the film being a mockumentary) will naturally assume all that will occur on screen be true.  Wrong - though the film is based on a true incident, the fact that the story telling of the film unfolds in found footage form and documentary style, one tends to believe everything seen on screen.

The filmmakers were inspired to make the movie after learning of the existence of the "Zone of Death", a small portion of Yellowstone National Park that under the Sixth Amendment's Vicinage Clause, would enable "The Perfect Crime”.  

Bring in the murder of three young men in the Park’s worst crime in history committed by Dwayne Dwayne Nelson (Duane Murray)and one has quite the story.  In 2009, Nelson confessed to the shooting of three men in Yellowstone National Park.  Despite his confession being accurately detailed, he was not convicted of the crimes because the crime occurred in an uninhabited area and as such, there is no chance of finding a jury to hear the trial.  This is the loophole in the law that resulted from the POPULATION ZERO of the title.  All is clearly explained in the film.  But it is years later that Julian T. Pinder (playing himself, a documentarist) examines the crime and the legal loophole that allowed Nelson to walk free.  As the film progresses Pinder begins to receive strange and frightening items, evidence of Nelson's crime.  

Directors Pinder and Levins are good storytellers.  What begins as a real life murder eventually evolves into a totally concocted tale that is made so credible that one would believe  it to be true.  And it could very well have been true. The film’s pacing is close to perfect with the suspense and shock level building to an exploding climax towards the end.

The film also comes with a neat message delivered to big companies doing bad things to poor people.  The film also scarily lets the audience unsuspectedly take the murderer’s side.  For whatever had been done to him, he deserves the right to take his revenge.  When it is revealed  that Nelson could have masterminded the entire crime including his freedom using everyone including the Pinder for his cause, one cannot help but applaud the man.

POPULATION ZERO works as it is horrific yarn based on a true event, told convincingly in found footage documentary style.   Made in 2015,  it world premiered at the Newport Beach International Film Festival on April 26, 2016 and finally makes it debut.  See it!

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/161531094

THE TRANSFIGURATION (USA 2016) **
Directed by Michael O’Shea

 

THE TRANSFIGURATION premiered in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes last year, apparently coming out of nowhere just like the film’s odd protagonist, a black bullied teen called Milo (Eric Ruffin).

Milo lives with his brother and they share an odd obsession with vampires.  Milo actually drinks blood, as is observed in a very compelling and disturbing but well-shot opening scene set in a public toilet stall.  The camera follows Milo as the audience learns more about the little man.  He is bullied by other black teens, lives in a small apartment, collects and watches vampire videos, breaks into houses, stores a bag load of cash, drinks blood very few days and leads a non-existent lifestyle.  When Milo meets Sophie (Chloe Levine), a white teen neighbour, the two fall in love.

Director O’Shea obviously drew his inspiration from Murnau’s vampire film NOSFERATU.  Milo and Sophie are seen watching the 1922 classic NOSFERARU and O’Shea’s film is filled with similar sounding music.  When Sophie is asked by Milo what she liked about the film, music was her answer.  O’Shea also captures the same creepiness in his film.

The vampire is clearly used as a metaphor for bad people.  O’Shea makes the point very clear - in act too clearly, in the one scene at the end of the film when Milo’s brother preaches to him that people in the world also suck blood from each other - figuratively.

O’Shea’s film is not without flaws.  The main flaw is that it is only occasionally engaging.  It is hard for the audience to connect with a black teen with no life, who breaks into people’s houses and has no redeeming qualities.  Thee is also no explanation for the reason he dislikes the TWILIGHT films and only the real serious vampire films.  The audience is also supposed to believe that a normal human being can eventually drink blood as a normal way of life.

Despite the flaws, O’Shea can draw the audience into a scene when he wants to.  The best examples are the toilet scene at the film’s start and sporadically at various parts of the film.  He uses light, sound and edition to create a moment.

The romance between Milo and Sophie works as a first love kind of romance.  Milo gives it all up for her while she has reservations after finding out more about him.  Newcomer Eric Ruffin is quite young and a risk as O‘Shea’s lead actor.  But Ruffin is convincing and a fresh face which are good things.

One has to hand it to O’Shea for trying.  But his film misses for its failure to totally engage, with its too weird premise and too obvious metaphor of a human vampire that lives among the living.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLXiyMbLR30

 

WAR MACHINE (USA 2017) ***

Directed by David Michôd

 

A Netflix original movie opening only on Netflix and proudly not in theatres May 26th, WAR MACHINE opens as arrogantly as its voiceover, as its content and as its platform.  It is a film directed and written by David Michôd inspired by the nonfiction book The Operators by Michael Hastings.  It fictionalizes the events in the book based on the firing of United States Army General Stanley McChrystal.

The voiceover praises America, that seeks peace, that needs to find peace and win wars.  If the war like the one in Afghanistan in 1993 cannot be won, then they sack the guy in charge and hire a new guy.  Thus the film’s protagonist, first introduced as Glen (Brad Pitt) with the WAR MACHINE is described and said to be called THE LION KING by his men, and shown walking confidently at an airport lounge before deployment telling his men: “Let’s do it!”   The beginning sequence primes the audience for an exciting 2 hours to follow, where hopefully they see a quirky film, different from the ones screened theatrically.  It also warns the audience to be careful of the accuracy projected on screen.  After all, how can Glen’s men call him The Lion King in 1993 when that film was released only in 1994.  Glen eats one meal a day, sleeps only 4 hours and runs 7 miles every morning.  Glen loves his men and his men love him back.

It’s Brad Pitt’s movie.  Pitt is in almost very scene.  He has a constant sarcastic growl painted on his face throughout the film.  Pitt shows he is star material and he definitely commands screen presence.  His gruff voice sounds like George C. Scott’s in PATTON.  He hams up every scene and is as funny as his funniest role - the fitness instructor in BURN AFTER READING.  Tilda Swinton who seems to be appearing in every Korean or Netflix movie is immediately recognizable in a cameo as a German reporter who questions Glen.  Topher Grace has the supporting role of Glen’s loyal public relations supporter while Ben Kingsley plays the Afghanistan President.  Meg Tilly has the odd role of Glen’s long-suffering wife.  She provides the film’s most sentimental moment when she confesses her true feelings to her husband at their 30th Anniversary dinner.

As a satire, WAR MACHINE is funnier than it should be, where it should be more biting.  Many critics have agreed on this point that the film is thus a bit below average.

For a war film, there are hardly any battle scenes except for the one at the end.  The film also lacks a climax, expected in most films.

WAR MACHINE is a worthwhile watch if one has Netflix.  It is at least a new and an original film compared to all the other films (mostly more than a year old and already seen by most subscribers) available.  The film is currently playing on Netflix since Friday May 26th.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIqXRDDdo7c

 

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