The setting? The far reaches of space, of course. The characters? A loveable bunch of couples with far too much to lose. The foe? A foreboding, hero-goading, chest-exploding, ode to old-fashioned sci-fi aliens. So what could go wrong? See Alien: Covenant if you want to find out.
The story unfolds as robot assistant Walter (think Rosie the Robot meets Data in a Michael Fassbender shell) awakens the crew of a ship destined to colonize a far-off planet so that they can handle an onboard emergency. Now awake (and bored?) the crew chases after a curious transmission they track to a planet perfect for human colonization. Mysteriously, in their years of preparation for their mission they seem to have missed this speck of the universe. What to do, what to do…well, nobody is ready to go back to sleep for another seven years, so they decide to forego all plans and explore the unknown planet. The crew takes its dangerous detour, and before we know it, they start dropping like flies.
Now I’ll admit that the film starts out quite strong. Our first encounters with the aliens are raw, visceral (literally), and flat-out fun. It’s exactly what those of us who grew up watching Sigourney Weaver stare down a nasty mini-alien (emerging from its mama like an angry, possessed tonsil) had hoped for—good, old-fashioned, sci-fi horror.
But the plot soon twists and betrays us loyal fans. The struggling crew stumbles upon David (Fassbender again), an out-of-date Walter who you will of course remember More >
You may not know that the original Baywatch TV series was canned after just one season on NBC. It wasn’t until its reanimation in 1991 for first-run syndication (executive produced by David Hasselhoff) that this show-zombie became a worldwide sensation. That makes it sort of the self-published surprise-smash novel of its time. Fifty Shades of Bay.
And Baywatch was never a particularly good show, but it sure did scratch a decade-plus global itch for hot bodies in red onesies jogging along the Coppertone-drizzled beaches of L.A. county. Our needs, it turns out, are basic.
And that’s really all this reboot had to do. Cast the Rock? Gravy. Make it a comedy, with a deep-R rating? Bonus. Spin some fanciful crime-lite plot? If you like. But give us the beauties on the beach, and if ever you falter, give us those beauties again. It’s so easy: Any time this film threatened to skip the rails, all director Seth Gordon had to do was shout that safe-word and show us some flesh. Boobs and abs shall be your guardrails, your training wheels, your guiding light home at night. Thus spake the Hoff.
So it’s hard to grasp how something so dead-brained simple has gone and gotten itself so thoroughly botched. It’s a true shame to take a film so promising in its own fleshy way — one shamelessly showcasing for its first fifteen glorious minutes the superhero bodies of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, and Ilfenesh Hadera — and so promptly devolve it into an More >
I doubt anyone could confidently have foretold the runaway success of Marvel’s original Guardians of the Galaxy. When it opened in summer 2014, I had never once heard of its characters; moreover, talking raccoons and pleasing filmgoing, in my experience, rarely co-localized. But the raccoon Spoke, and It Was Good. Actually really good.
It also made lots of money, so it’s no surprise what happened next. Marvel is the glowing crucible where dollars and follow-ups are forged. I know of no entity that can so reliably cultivate any and every celluloid success, spawning from each seed a thick and verdant bed of sequels and spinoffs. So now, three years later and as it must, comes Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
Expectations run high, and the question is whether writer/director James Gunn (returning once more here) can deliver.
He does. Volume 2 is at least as funny, and has even more heart, than the first. The visuals are stunning, the banter is easy, the laughs are solid. The characters feel lived in, each one gets plenty of screen time, and Baby Groot is just as terrific as the many trailers suggest. (Though Vin Diesel is again credited, the gravel-voiced actor’s relation to this miniature CGI walking tree now seems tenuous at best.) The plot is a bit shallow and resorts once more to the old Marvel playbook, generating some new universe-menacing threat that somehow no prior hero has yet encountered. In positive news, though, it does have Kurt Russell. And some legitimately More >
One of my favorite horror movies, if not my absolute favorite, is Lake Mungo, an unexpected little gem of an Australian film. It’s a faux documentary that centers around a family mourning the loss of a teenage girl, who they mysteriously start seeing around their house long after her death. It’s simple and straightforward enough, yet I watch it again and again and never tire of it. The filmmakers gently but persistently build an ominous mood, hitting all my favorite ghosty pressure points and revealing dark, unexpected secrets along the way.
Phoenix Forgotten closely tracks all the things I love about Lake Mungo. In Phoenix Forgotten, our narrator is the sister of a teenage boy who disappeared with two friends in the desert outside of Phoenix, Arizona. The trio of teens had set out to find answers to the real-life unexplained appearance of a UFO-like string of lights over the city in 1997, but they never returned from their excursion. Now, the sister is back in town, looking for answers about her brother’s disappearance, and of course, making a film. She interviews local experts, family members, and even military officials, and mixes in video recorded by the teenagers themselves.
So what makes it work so well? I think some of it is what has made true crime so maddeningly popular. Many experts have written about the explosion of investigative TV shows and podcasts. They’ve postulated about the “armchair detective” effect of entertainment that walks you through a tragic story More >
(1) My former girlfriend’s terrier once ate a giant marzipan bar of mine, nearly her same damn size. We came back from the ski hill and this little dog was slouching around with a rock-hard belly, packed thick with almond paste. A man of science, I was truly shocked she fit it all in. Another friend’s dog got into a massive birthday cake and ate the entire thing in minutes.
(2) I love Luxardo cherries. They’re the best. If a bartender puts one in a drink, I’ll petition for more and more. One time, a particularly hospitable barkeep thought she’d catch me crying wolf, and put about thirty in my drink. I ate every single one, feeling justifiably like Homer in the Ironic Punishment Division.
Why do I say these things? Well, some folks prefer balance. They like a little taste of something sweet after a wholesome meal. They don’t want an entire marzipan bar the size of their whole body and nothing else. They don’t want to eat just cake. They don’t want thirty liquor-steeped cherries in a Collins glass.
They won’t like this movie.
This movie is a sugar rush. It’s like someone sucked the marrow and substance out of every good action movie, then distilled whatever was left into a sticky sweet syrup of hero cars and CGI and nuclear threats and explosions and punchlines. It’s a thick quilt of shiny bits swaddling the most infantile and preposterous scaffold of story. There’s nothing to it but flash.
I liked it.
Sure, any old joe could sit down in my special Haus chair and More >
Before we talk about what T2 Trainspotting is, let’s be clear on what it’s not: namely, the Trainspotting for a new generation. It couldn’t be, anyway, with its heavy dependence on backstory, with most of its protagonists now pushing 50, and with what once shocked our innocent pre-Google moviegoing minds no longer even moving the needle.
No, T2 is a nostalgia film, through and through. If you saw the first one in the theater, and have since orbited the sun twenty damn times and want very much to have your nose rubbed in that fact, then you’re pretty much the target audience and you’ll find this a sharp and welcome vein-shot from memory lane. If you’ve never seen the first, this installment will probably make no sense at all.
That doesn’t mean, mind you, that you need to have seen it lately. I confess I felt unprepared walking into this movie. While I did see Trainspotting in the theater in ’96, and have seen it at least a couple times since, it’s been well over a decade and the story wasn’t exactly fresh in my mind. But director Danny Boyle must’ve seen this coming, because he sprinkles helpful refreshers throughout. He also liberally injects clips from the first film, typically using old locations as a trigger to overlay some original footage. Reminiscent of CHiPs ’99? Sure, but that’s a reference for a level-fourteen battlemage of B-rate movies (or a reader of my last review).
“Never meet your heroes,” they say, and to this I would add, “be careful with movies you liked as a kid.” Sure, some do age well (Ghostbusters, Robocop, Top Gun), but you’ll find others strangely peppered with stop-and-blink slurs (The Breakfast Club) or just plain hilariously bad today (Rambo: First Blood Part II, or Stallone’s Cobra come to mind). I say that to say this: There’s a reason why classic cop-dramas remade as movies tend so heavily toward comedy. (Think 21 Jump Street, The A-Team, Dragnet, Starsky and Hutch; Miami Vice and S.W.A.T. are about the only two I can think of that played it straight — I blame Colin Farrell.) It’s because redoing an old favorite how it actually was might not play too well today.
So I get why Dax Shepard (who wrote, directed, and stars in CHiPs) tried to turn this early-80s treasure into something R-rated and racy. I get why he cast Michael Pena as Ponch and himself as Jon. I even get why he aimed for a semi-self-aware, kinda-woke-but-also-raunchy angle.
What I don’t get is why what should have been the milk run of remakes fails so hard.
First and most troubling, CHiPs isn’t very funny. While paced as though it’s skipping from punchline to punchline, so many of these fall flat that it plays more like a weird, reverso drama. And for an R-rated comedy, a surprising majority of the would-be funny stuff is cognitively available to a middle schooler (though I’d wager his dick jokes are better).
Judging by its trailer, Life could be one of two things: either a moody, semi-intellectual think piece involving a space-station-bound, flight-suited crew wrestling with some tough decisions; or a dim-witted, sophomoric gremlin-o-rama with an EVIL ALIEN stalking a half-dozen astro-nots like so many slasher-film victims. Thanks to the liberal application of JFK voiceover, my bet was on the former.
Wrong. Life is a one-note B-movie with not much useful to say.
If you’re surprised, get in line. This film had a lot going for it. There’s a remarkable amount of talent here: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and Ryan Reynolds star. Hiroyuki Sanada is aboard (splendid in Sunshine), and Olga Dihovichnaya and Ariyon Bakare round out the crew. Sure, Reynolds seems a tad too hotheaded and quippy for an astronaut –a little Deadpool-lite — and Gyllenhaal is a bit sullen, but everyone’s watchable. The special effects team did great work: the requisite floating fluids and weightless humans and space vistas all are beyond reproach. And Daniel Espinosa’s direction is serviceable, at least once you figure out Life is piling all its eggs in the jump-scare basket. So what’s the problem?
It’s dumb. And worse, so are the characters in it.
A brief aside: I once attended a workshop at the American Film Institute whose sole stated purpose was to teach screenwriting to scientists. (It was sponsored by the Air Force. Your tax dollars paid for this. I am not making this up.) For a week, about a More >
My mother once told me that in real life, no one would like Murphy Brown. In reality, you see, there’s no laugh track — and to actually share office space with Candice Bergen’s quick-mouthed TV journalist (and brave her unending caustic jabs) would, she thought, get pretty old pretty fast. Seen in situ with the goofy and upbeat cast of FYI, Murphy is gloriously entertaining. Strip away her foils, though, and … hmm, maybe not.
Similar deal with Logan. Notwithstanding X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the adamantium hero typically sings backup as a scowling, gruff-stuff agitator to the X-Men. He pops up now and then in those ensemble pictures, brooding under a thunderhead of Bad Mood, dishes out some snarky quip and it’s on to the next thing. (The McAvoy/Fassbender recruiting scene in X-Men: First Class springs to mind.) He’s the emotional California: Fun to visit, but we wouldn’t want to live there.
But what if the King of Sullen actually told his own story? And I don’t mean a cookie-cutter hero picture with yellow leotards and gleaming blades and blinking screens of doom, but a hard look at the world this misanthrope actually would occupy. What does a real Wolverine movie look like?
It looks like this. Logan is the movie Wolverine always deserved, but not necessarily the one you wanted to see.
For starters, it’s dark, harsh, loud, and bloody. (No complaint on the latter: It’s amazing that a hero whose main ability is slicing people with knuckle-swords has steered clear of true gore More >
You know the drill. Another year, another trip around the sun, and it’s all for THIS. We here at The Parsing Haus are doing it again, shined and primed for a long and robust jaw-aching feed at the swollen teat of decadent celebrity culture.
Join us on Sunday, February 26 for live coverage of the 2017 Academy Awards; bury your hungry snout in our trough of cinephiliac num-nums and popcorn and snark-dumplings and perfect little starfucker sundaes topped with delicious bon mots. It’s a feast. You’re welcome.
- Our live red carpet coverage starts ~2:30 pacific / ~5:30 eastern (TBA) (watch: ABC)
- Our live Oscar coverage starts 4:00 pacific / 7:00 eastern (TBA) (watch: ABC)
So tune in right here. It’s going to be choice.*
* – and don’t forget to refresh the page. On some browsers, the live blog software we use doesn’t auto-update. We’ll fix this someday, probably.