This week has taken me on some twists and turns. I stumble upon films, choose randomly from my various watch lists, or watch what my film twitter friends are promoting. This week I review Kung Fu Yoga, Annihilation, The Chair, and Wild.
Written and directed by Stanley Tong. Oh boy. First, I love Jackie Chan, but there were things here… I just kept wondering about the thought process while making this film. Jackie Chan plays Jack, an archaeologist professor who is asked for help in tracking down a lost treasure. (Not to be confused with one Indiana Jones…) He asks Jones, played by Aarif Rahman, for help who turns out to be an opportunist. Disha Patani plays Ashmita, the beautiful Indian princess looking for her family’s treasure which has been lost in an ice cave for years. Sonu Sood plays Randall, Ashmita’s rival, who is also looking for the great treasure but takes drastic and violent measures against anyone in his way.
So, it opens with subtitled gaming style animation which threw me off at first until I realized it was part of an archaeological presentation given by Jack. After the beautiful Ashmita arrives, everything picks up and the connection between Kung Fu and Yoga is revealed. Some great Kung Fu work, hapless bad guys, and some wacky scenes with CGI hyenas and a lion. (You’ll have to watch to know more about that…) There’s a moral to the treasure (of course) and once everyone figures it out and accepts it—they break into a huge song and dance number. ( I don’t think this is a spoiler as it doesn’t really have anything to do with the plot.) Overall, it was fun and silly with homage to Indian Jones. I will say, most of the actors are quite gorgeous to watch and the movie appears to have spared no expense in production. Available on Amazon. Watch the trailer below:
Written for the screen and directed by Alex Garland. This story is like one huge flashback; except, not chronologically…so it’s occasionally a bit jarring to put some scenes in context as memories, dreams, flashbacks, or the present. Well, the present you know…anyway, basically, this phenomena happens at a lighthouse causing a shimmer and anyone who goes in the shimmer doesn’t come out. For three years, a team of scientists study the shimmer and people go in and don’t come back. Enter Natalie Portman, as Lena, who has to go in to find a cure for her husband Kane, played by Oscar Isaac. Dr. Ventress, a psychologist played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, leads the team which includes Anya, played by Gina Rodriguez; Cass, played by Tuva Novotny; and Josie, played by Tessa Thompson. They enter the shimmer and experience mind-bending stuff about what the shimmer does to living things and those who go in there. The secret to the shimmer is in the lighthouse but only the strong-willed make it and get back. (You’ll have to watch to find out who…)
This film has some beautiful imagery, to be sure, as well as some scary bits. The wacky formatting between the timelines only gets in the way for awhile until you just accept whatever is happening is going to make sense at some point. The big moment in the lighthouse was anti-climactic for me. I really love Jennifer Jason Leigh and will probably watch anything she’s in. She’s a quirky actress and usually does some weird movies. This one included. Natalie Portman is supposed to be somewhat cutting edge and I suppose this is. I would be curious to know what people who read the book thought of the adaption. Available on Netflix. Watch the trailer below:
**You should be able to tell by the poster art, this movie is of the horror genre, so if that isn’t your bag, then skip this review.** Written by Erin Kohut, based on story and characters by Peter Simeti, and directed by Chad Ferrin. The Chair centers on Richard Sullivan, played by Timothy Muskatell, who is serving on death row for some bad deeds against a number of kids. The prison is led by a weirdo sadistic warden, played by Bill Oberst Jr., and the lead sadistic guard Murphy, played by Roddy Piper.
I found out about this film through my #FilmTwitter community and since I am always ready to watch and support the independent filmmakers, I thought this was a good choice. Some things I liked and some things I wished were better…
What I liked: The grittiness of the cell block added to the sadistic theme of dark, dank, yes you’re a bad guy but bad things are going to happen to you here atmosphere. Serious kudos to the late Roddy Piper in his last acting gig. He plays the lead guard with complete emotional detachment from his actions while trying to understand and connect with Richie the inmate. Naomi Grossman, as the mother in the flashbacks, is fierce with her emotional breakdown and party to the abuse which leads to her ultimate demise. I liked some of the kills, too. Getting sliced in half by the cell door was probably my favorite.
What I wanted more of or wished was a bit better: The Warden as the weirdo with the Shock Waves goggles was interesting to me, a bit cliche, but still interesting. I wanted more of him–more backstory of how he got like that or maybe the later scenes with him as a regular guy, re-shot in his Warden fun room with the goggles for consistency in character. I wanted to find out about them being brothers in that fun room, not the office. The Richard Sullivan guy did some bad things, and while he says he’s innocent in the beginning, the film contradicts this with a flashback and backs the new info up with the final declaration. Just because he’s a bad guy, doesn’t mean he has to submit to the sadism in the prison. He can still be pissed off, scared, or whatever about the weirdo stuff which goes on there with is bady guy persona in tact. I also think his character could’ve been pushed further with stronger resistance against the guards. Speaking of the guards…Alvarez, played by Noah Hathaway, was good as the wide-eyed new guy shocked by the treatment of the prisoners, so HE should have been the one to call the Governor to tattle on everyone, not Bowen. I know, I know… Bowen, played by Kyle Hester, is mad after what happens to Murphy but he’s still part of the group who needs to protect their fun games with the prisoners. Speaking of fun games…the mother slapping her kid’s feet was harder to watch than the games the Warden plays or the rape scene. I know those types are a bit harder to stage, so details like adding dripping blood to the night stick would’ve been a nice gruesome touch. The opening credits were a bit long with the voice over especially since some of it shows up later. And the final bit, everyone’s dead so who turns off the chair? A fade out with it still buzzing…. I really liked the fuzzy brown liquid, which reminded me of cola, coming out of his mouth. Nice touch. One last thing, the trailer has a great scene with the mother which didn’t make the final cut of the movie…glad I got to see it in the trailer.
Overall, fun to watch. Yes, even with my nit-picks. I can be tough at times; but mostly because my expectations or hopes might be too high. I get small film budgets can restrict certain things from happening; however, a few tweaks early on with the script, some extra red- colored corn syrup, and editing polishing, this film could be right up there! Available on Amazon. Watch the trailer below:
Based on the memoir written by Cheryl Strayed, adapted for screen by Nick Horby, and directed by Jean-Marc Vallee. This film was better than I expected. Cheryl Strayed is a young woman who responds destructively after losing her mom to illness. The 1100 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail she does solo is to “remind her of the woman her mother taught her to be”. Reese Witherspoon plays Cheryl with vulnerability, honesty, and gives a hard look at the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of Cheryl. Cheryl’s the first one to tell you she made mistakes and the flashbacks edited in short bursts as she recalls them while sleeping, hiking, or meeting people along the way prove it. There were a number of times I thought–this is bad idea Cheryl…but I never once thought of leaving her story by way of turning the film off. Cheryl braves the elements, her past, the truth about her choices, her relationship with her mother, and ultimately herself. Talk about perseverance. Jeez. She never gives up. Laura Dern is Cheryl’s mother Bobbi who leaves an abusive marriage to raise her children on her own. She’s finally becoming the woman she wants to be when things take a turn for her. Of course, Laura Dern is master at these fragile yet strong spirited women. Cinematically gorgeous with the desert, mountain, and Pacific Crest Trail backdrops. The music works well and overall feels natural to the story.
Cheryl meets some wonderful people along her journey and the way it’s shot, you kinda feel like you’re walking along with her. Available on Netflix. Watch the trailer below: