Sunday, July 29, 2018

Maze Runner: The Death Cure

Starring: Dylan O'Brien, Thomas Sangster, Kaya Scodelario, & Ki Hong Lee
Director: Wes Ball - Rating: PG-13 - Score: 4 Stars

The Maze Runner series was one of the best book series I've read in the last few years. I obviously get excited when something I've read hits the big screen, even though I know the film usually won't be as good as the book was. I have found that when film makers try to stick to the original story, as they did in The Hunger Games, the films are terrific. When they just take pieces and basically write their own story, it's usually an epic failure, i.e. Allegiant. In the first installment of Maze Runner, the film diverged and was disappointing, but the second film followed the book to a tee, and was terrific, what would happen in the third? Right off the bat, as I feared, the story is completely different and very few elements from the book are even used in the film, however, in the rarest of rare cases, the way the film makers re-wrote the story, actually improved upon it! Dylan O'Brien returns as Thomas and this is the film where his character really broke out and came to life as the hero we see in the novels. I honestly didn't see him as Thomas until I watched this film, he was that good. As for his other half, AKA Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), she was in a completely different role than in the novel, but likewise gave a much stronger performance than she did in the other two films. The final standout was Thomas Sangster, who I've spoke about before. He is fantastic in everything he does, but he doesn't do a whole lot! I really would like to see him do more and break out, it's a mystery to me why he doesn't. As a whole, The Death Cure was not the best in the book series, but it was the best in the film series. Many critics complained that it was too long, but I say take a look at what they did with the last book of the Divergent series. Alligiant was split into two and how well did that turn out? The only knock on this film is that one of my favorite actors, Jacob Lofland, didn't have more screen time as Aries, but aside from that this was a perfect conclusion to the film series, and a better ending than the one that was originally written for this franchise.

Good Kill

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Zoe Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood, & Jake Abel
Director: Andrew Niccol - Rating: R - Score: 3 Stars

Major Tom Egan (Ethan Hawke) is a decorated Air-force pilot, who after five deployments, has been assigned to a base in Las Vegas, where he conducts drones strikes over Afghanistan. He hates his job and feels like a coward, but things get a whole lot worse, when the CIA commissions his team to start doing questionable jobs. Egan starts to come apart and take it out on his co-workers and family, leading to an uncertain future. IFC films are right at the top of my list right now as the absolute best in independent film. Seldom have they disappointed me, and I wouldn't describe my feelings about Good Kill as disappointed, but rather indifferent. This film, based on a true story, was exceptionally written and features a fantastic director and an amazing cast, but it also moves at a snails pace and is extremely repetitive. It's just drone strike, reaction, intervention, repeat, over and over again, followed by an ending that wasn't all that surprising. Ethan Hawke gives a powerful performance, despite the fact that he lacks the kind of emotion this role sorely needed. I understand that having Egan be this stone cold guy on the outside is a major theme, but it also makes for a lot of seemingly endless conversations and interactions. Good Kill has a lot of elements I look for in a movie, it's well written, has a cast I really enjoy, a director I know very well, still, it's lacking in emotion and levity. The film is monotonous and much longer than it had to be, all in all, not bad, but not great.

Under The Bed (2012)

Starring: Jonny Weston, Gattlin Griffith, & Musetta Vander
Director: Steven C. Miller - Rating: R - Score: 1 1/2 Stars

I watch mostly independent horror films, because when it comes to this genre, Hollywood is just too afraid to try anything different. When you see a horror film in theaters, it seems like all you get is either a slasher film with a ton of blood, a serial killer movie with lots of gore, or a supernatural thriller with nothing but jump scares. Real horror is supposed to be scary and is supposed to be something that sticks with you, but it's rare that a film can do that anymore, and Under The Bed is no exception. I can sum up this film by simply saying it's an hour of goosebumps, ten minutes of ridiculously over the top gore, and a whole five minutes of stranger things, thrown in at the end, for an attempt at originality. Not only was this a horror movie that I would call boring, but the cast was just plain annoying and written to be beyond stupid. If not for the writers love of the F word, combined with the last fifteen minutes of the film, Under The Bed could literally have been a Goosebump. Jonny Weston stars, and the future Project Almanac star, really was the only bright spot. This was one of his first films, but he at least has a clue as to how to live in the moment and build up the intensity. Weston's character had an interesting background and even a couple of funny one-liners, aside from that, this film has absolutely nothing. For those of us who love independent films, we are always taking a risk, knowing that a lot of times we're seeing newcomers. A lot of these films are something different, new, and refreshing, but other times they reek of inexperience and are completely lacking in originality. Under The Bed is yet another example of the latter.

Singularity (2017)

Starring: Julian Schaffner, Jeannie Wacker, & John Cusack
Director: Robert Kouba - Rating: PG-13 - Score: 2 Stars

Robots were supposed to make our lives easier, and at first, they did. Despite all the progress humanity made, it wasn't good enough for Elias Van Dorne (John Cusack), who decided robots were the way to salvation. Van Dorne promised his latest program, Kronos, would save the planet, but how? By wiping out all human life, because we are ultimately what is killing Earth. Fast Forward ninty-seven years as Andrew Davis (Julian Schaffner) wakes up in a world he doesn't know. Attempting to find his way, he meets a young girl, who tells him of a place that is free from Kronos, only question is, can they make it there in one piece? On paper this seems like a great story, and for a b-movie, the special effects are pretty remarkable, but that was the only notable thing about this film. The whole plot really doesn't make much sense, I mean why would Van Dorne want to destroy humanity and live alone forever as part of a computer program? The cast is lead by newcomer, Julian Schaffner, who shows a lot of inexperience but also a lot of potential. I think it's a good thing for a young actor to start out in a film like this, because he can gain his experience in something relatively small and unknown, before moving on to bigger and better things. As for John Cusack, I usual enjoy his films, but in this case he was just terrible. Elias Van Dorne is a character without feeling or purpose, just an evil button pusher, who loves the sound of his own voice, a complete waste of Cusack's talent. The bottom line, Singularity has it moments, but there are too many slow points and too much inexperience seeping through for it to be something I would ever watch again or recommend over hundreds of better choices.

Monday, July 23, 2018

24 Hours To Live

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Rutger Hauer, Liam Cunningham, & Xu Qing
Director: Brian Smrz - Rating: R - Score: 3 1/2 Stars

When you think of action movie stars, Ethan Hawke, isn't the first name to come to mind. That's because his best known works aren't action films, but he has done a lot of independent action stuff and each one is better than the last. In his latest, 24 Hours To Live, Hawke plays Travis Conrad, the worlds best, yet retired, hit-man. When a government conspiracy is threatened to be revealed, a large sum of money brings Conrad out of retirement, but something goes wrong and he is killed, only to be awaken 8 hours later with the marvels of modern science. He is told he has only 24 hours to live, hence the title, but in those 24 hours he must decide weather or not to complete his mission or avenge a mistake. This film has a lot of similarities to Jason Statham's Crank, except that it doesn't move as quickly and actually has a plot. Unlike Crank, this film isn't just about killing and explosions, it brings a mans morality into question at the end of his life. Ethan Hawke is fantastic and if given the opportunity would be sensational in any big budget action film. Supported by newcomers and some very poor cameos by Rutger Hauer, it's Hawke's character that makes this film spectacular, that is until the end. If you like independent films as much as I do, you come to learn that without the big budget, sometimes they have to push the envelope a little bit and do things filmmakers don't typically do. Sometimes it works out well, other times it's a complete failure, and the ending to this movie almost destroys it. The film has a terrific final scene and looks like it's on it's way to be one of the best action films I've seen all year, until a 3 minute scene at the end of the film almost takes down the whole thing. It was certainly a curve ball, but one that was absolutely unnecessary. That being said, this film was still everything one could hope for from an action movie, fast paced, loud, and violent with an actual story that makes sense to go along with it.

Last Rampage: The Escape of Gary Tilson

Starring: Robert Patrick, Heather Graham, Bruce Davidson, & Skyy Moore
Director: Dwight H. Little - Rating: R - Score: 3 Stars

Careful what you wish for, you just might get it, careful what you wish, you might regret it. This line sums up the film Last Rampage in a nutshell. This is the true story of Gary Tilson's 1978 escape from prison, with the help of his three sons. Tilson's sons never knew their father, but was told by their delusion mother that he was innocent, so when they were old enough, they hatched a plan to break him out of prison and it succeeded. The boys were elated to have their father back, until they saw with their own eyes exactly what he was and knew there wasn't anything they could do about it. The story here is kind of written and plays out like a lifetime movie, only with more blood and a lot more cursing than one would typically see on that network. As with all prison break stories, real or fictional, getting out is easy but what to do next is the confusing part. A lot of mistakes and good Samaritans, lead to a lot of detours and murders, even though this was a true story, nothing really unexpected happens. Unless you've never seen this type of film before, you can pretty much figure out what's next. Robert Patrick continues to be outstanding in very small, unknown film. He was the main guy in Terminator 2, spent a couple seasons on The X-Files, but besides that has been largely unrecognized and unappreciated as one of the best movie villains you could have. For a change the acting isn't the problem here, in fact, it really helps an otherwise dull and predictable story. Heather Graham and Bruce Davidson have never been better in support of Patrick and newcomer Skyy Moore, provides that empathetic character that is too often missing from films like this one. All in all this isn't a bad film, just a predictable one, that's a bit too long, and far more simplistic than I assume was originally intended. 

Grown Ups (2010)

Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, & David Spade
Director: Dennis Dugan - Rating: PG-13 - Score: 4 1/2 Stars

Adam Sandler gets a bad rap, especially in comedy circles. I am a huge fan, but even I won't deny that he's made some really terrible movies, that he probably knew were terrible, but is wanting to get paid such a crime? The truth is, while he has had a number of stinkers in the last few years, he's also had some really great films, which in my opinion are on the level with Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore, Grown Ups is one such film. Five school friend reunite for the funeral of their basketball coach and decide to rent a cabin together, as they did when they were children, but life with modern day families is a lot more difficult now that it has ever been. People go into to Adam Sandler films expecting raunchy comedies, because of how he used to toe the line on Saturday Night Live, but when has Sandler ever been raunchy? Even looking back at his best regarded films, they were never raunchy and seldom has he ever made an R rated movie. Sandler's brand of humor may have been more popular in the 90s and isn't as shocking to the millennial crowd, in fact, a lot of it is down right family friendly, but I still think he's hilarious and I could not stop laughing during this movie. Aside from the comedy, Sandler's films always come with a message and the message here was simple, today's kids are spoiled! It's no wonder that everyone has depression and anxiety as a result of never having a childhood. Today's kids would rather work at 10, to earn money for apps and videos games, instead of just going outside to play, and their parents are to blame for letting it happen. Kids are kids, put them in a situation and they will find a way to entertain themselves, and that's what happened out in this cabin in the woods. Sometimes too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth, but this time, the divergent comedic styles of Sandler, James, Rock, Spade, and Schneider come together in a film that is both family friendly and great for adults. It's the best film Adam Sandler has done in years and highly recommended.

The Signal (2014)

Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Laurence Fishburne, Olivia Cooke, & Beau Knapp
Director: William Eubank - Rating: PG-13 - Score: 2 Stars

By it's very nature, science fiction is going to be unusual, confusing, and sometimes just plain weird. When it's done correctly, that can be a very good thing, but when it's not done the right way, audiences are left confused and annoyed. In 2014's The Signal, three friends are on a road trip, headed back to school for another semester of higher education. To their disbelief, a hacker who had been bothering them for months is still at it and is making things personal. Nic, Haley, and Jonah have some tricks of their own and ultimately track down the hackers address. To no ones surprise, it's on their way to school and they decide to pay them a visit. What should have been a fun moment, turned into something more sinister, when a deadly scream leads to darkness, and Nic (Brenton Thwaits) winds up in a quarantined hospital with no memory of what happened that night. I enjoyed the premise of this movie and as far as story goes, the idea wasn't all that terrible, what was terrible was the way in which it was presented. This buddy road trip film ends up in a hospital, where the friends are held for way too long. The hospital scenes are just strange, unexplained, and kill the movies momentum. Towards the end there are some better scenes, hinting that the film may be building up to an epic conclusion, but it's just more of the same, as things take an even stranger turn, and an anti-climatic one at that. As for the stars of the film, Laurence Fishburn gives yet another flat robotic performance. Morpheus was the perfect character for this guy, but he never seemed to be able to leave him behind, and now plays this same role in every film. On the other side, Brenton Thwaites, somewhat known for his breakout performance in The Giver, made this film for me. He was enigmatic, on target, and just fun to watch. I said it in my review of the Giver and I'll say it agin, this kid is going places. The Signal had all the ingredients for a great science fiction film, but when the cake was done it didn't taste so good. Most of the acting was flat, the story went off in too many different directions, and it was frequently anti-climatic. 


Hello movie lovers! I know it's been a while, but I'd like to update you on what's been going on and then I've got some new reviews for ya!

I finally got that 9-5 that I've been looking for, that combined with my own business, Rock Island Management, which has me managing local bands and hosting local shows here on Long Island, has kept me very busy, but I have not forgotten about The Ultimate Movie Review. I believe I have found a time for weekly updates to finally resume!

That being said, running two businesses and living on Long Island isn't cheap, even with a 9-5, but I still refuse to accept financial donations. If you have money to give, please give it to a deserving charity and not a business! What I will accept however, is donations of your unwanted DVDs, Blu-Rays, Video Games, and Digital Codes. I will re-sell them on eBay and get the money I need that way. If you're interested in donating, please e-mail me or message me through facebook! Speaking of that, I received a very large and generous donation from a long time blog follower who quote, needs more reviews, because he can't find rare films the way that I can. I'd like to give "Mr. Anonymous" a very special thank you and let you guys know that over 150 DVDs and Blu-Rays are now up for sale on our eBay page. Click the picture below and see if we have something you want. I start the prices lower than Amazon's lowest price and shipping is cheaper too!

As for my other business, Rock Island Management, we are so happy to announce we have a national act playing my birthday show on August 6th at Amityville Music Hall!!! The Pink Spiders!!! If you're from Long Island and want to come down to the show to see this great band and celebrate my birthday with me, click the tour poster below!

That's all for now, enjoy the new reviews and get ready for more, and please remember to share share share our posts. There are a lot of amazing movies and TV shows that never get the credit they deserve, together we can change that!