Category Archives: Netflix

“Outlaw King” Movie Review

I have some bad news for anyone who wants to watch this movie because they heard Chris Pine shows his full-frontal genitalia; it’s a very quick shot, practically blink-and-you’ll-miss-it. Most people will stay for the movie itself. This epic historical action drama premiered as the opening night feature for the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. After a mixed-to negative reception from critics and industry insiders, two weeks later the director announced he was shaving nearly 23 minutes off the picture. It was then released in a condensed format in select theaters and on the streaming service Netflix on November 9th, 2018, finished on a budget of $120 million. Directed and co-written by David Mackenzie, who also helmed the 2016 neo-Western Hell of High Water, the film was a passion project of his that took over five years to develop. Initially undertaken with extensive research and a couple of playwrights by his side, the completed screenplay was credited to as many as five different writers. He was apparently dismayed by the reaction at TIFF, but felt relieved when the distributor gave him a chance to fix his errors. Set in Scotland in 1304, Chris Pine stars as Robert the Bruce, a well-regarded man with a legitimate claim to his country’s throne. Following the near-crushing defeat of their Rebellion a few years prior led by William Wallace, the remaining Scottish nobility reluctantly swear fealty to King Edward I of England, played by Stephen Dillane, in order to keep their lands intact. Civil unrest and terrible circumstances force Robert to be crowned King of Scotland, triggering an all-out guerilla war against the much larger English army. I absolutely adored Mackenzie’s previous directorial effort, Hell or High Water, released back in 2016. Although I haven’t yet seen any of his other works, that one was such a smart, understated, and beautifully simple character piece with incredible performances out its three main leads. Hearing the director was developing a Medieval epic with one of those leads returning (Pine) for Netflix was enticing, especially after hearing about its emphasis on historical accuracy. Because while I really love Braveheart, it’s really hard for me to overlook the laughable inaccuracies shown throughout. And honestly, even after all of the critical hullabaloo that this film has been through, I found Outlaw King to be a surprisingly entertaining and engaging film. Now, I’m not saying that it’s an amazing movie by any means. While I’ve heard that the cut on Netflix is a major improvement over its TIFF screening, the pacing felt a bit uneven. Even though its runtime now only clocks in right at 2 hours and 1 minute, it feels like it drags in some of the more dramatic moments, as it’s clearly meant to be more of an action-oriented film. Plus, it still feels as though most of the supporting characters from either side of the conflict weren’t fleshed out enough to bring the stakes up higher. Chris Pine does a surprisingly good job as Robert the Bruce, a proud man left with an intensely unhappy country to tend to. His Scottish accent was a bit dodgy at first, but it seemed like he got more into it as it went along. Despite the brutal violence he and his followers commit, he still shows a tenderness towards his people and his family. Game of Thrones alum Stephen Dillane plays King Edward I, and he seems quite comfortable in the role. Channeling bits of Stannis Baratheon, he does a great job internalizing his frustration with trying to control Scotland consistently and is unafraid to kill hundreds to get to Robert. Despite this, he’s not completely heartless and would much rather negotiate peace, telling Robert early on, “You had the courage to stand up to me, and the wisdom to step down.” And while other actors do great such as Aaron Johnson as the unpredictable Black Douglas, Billy Howle as the deranged Prince of Wales, Tony Curran as a feisty loyalist to Robert, and more, the only one who really leaves an impression is Florence Pugh as Elizabeth de Burgh, the Bruce’s English wife. Her journey from meek observer to staunch supporting of Scottish independence is a tad jarring at first, but she never loses sight of her strength and compassion. She does her best making decisions based on SHE wants- not her powerful parents, not her outlaw husband, no one. I’m genuinely eager to see her in more films, and her slate this upcoming year will hopefully satisfy that palette. Meanwhile, the technical aspects of Outlaw King make it pretty clear where that massive budget went to. Shot by Barry Ackroyd, a regular Ken Loach and Paul Greengrass collaborator, he surprisingly restrains his documentarian, cinéma vérité style in favor of something more controlled. The film opens with a stunning, 8 minute-long take that follows the Scottish nobility at their surrender to King Edward I with amazing fluidity. Even during the impressively staged action scenes, the camera remains steady and focused on its subjects. There are also, of course, obligatory swooping shots, which reveal the gorgeous landscape of Scotland. It goes nicely with the editing by Jake Roberts, who cuts each scene together without losing sight of what’s important. It doesn’t particularly feel choppy, despite the near-last-minute trimming of the film, and allows the audience to see the action, especially the glorious, muddy final battle, in full form. Bringing home the historical accuracy is the fantastic sets and the costume designs by Jane Petrie. With rough chainmail, dirty armor patches, and nary a kilt or drop of blue face paint in sight, it feels incredibly lived-in and realistic. The musical score is composed by Tony Doogan and Lucie Treacher, and it’s more or less what I expected to hear. There are a number of tracks filled with sorrowful strings and ghostly hymnal choirs, almost prophesizing the death toll this war will take on Scotland. While it’s great to listen to, it’s not very memorable. There is an original song called “Land O the Leal” by Grey Dogs that plays over the end credits. Featuring the fair voice of Kathryn Joseph, it’s a melancholy piano ballad lamenting on the bloodied homeland of Robert the Bruce. It’s a nice song, but hardly one worth listening to more than a few times. Well-meaning but often misguided in its vision, Outlaw King is a flawed epic celebrating both spectacle and a truly noble man. Maybe I’m a bit fickle and old, but I’d be lying to you if I said that I wasn’t entertained throughout this movie. David Mackenzie gets to show off his Scottish pride with great commitment while Chris Pine plays a classical Medieval hero and Florence Pugh emerges as a talent to watch. Hopefully, it will find a new appreciation and audience, in spite of what happened behind the scenes.

 

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“Apostle” Movie Review

If ever one needed a reminder of why never to start a separate “commune” or new belief system, here’s a great example. At the end of the day, it can only end badly for people on all sides. This period folk horror drama from The Raid writer-director Gareth Evans initially premiered at the 2018 Fantastic Fest to a wealth of positive reviews. It was then released on the streaming service Netflix and a handful of specialty theaters on October 12th. Following the huge international success of his Indonesian action films Merantu, The Raid, and The Raid 2, Evans next set his sights on a film set in the English-speaking world. Rather than capitalize on his success in the action genre, he decided to try his hand at an idea that had apparently been burning in his mind for a while. Set in 1905 England, Dan Stevens stars as Thomas Richardson, a drifting young man who has become disillusioned from faith and his privileged family. He returns when he learns how his young innocent sister Jennifer has been kidnapped and being held for ransom by a dangerous religious cult on a remote Welsh island. Led by the Prophet Malcolm Howe, they believe in a great goddess of the island who gives them everything, including crops and water. Thomas travels to this island in an attempt to rescue his sister, learning of the cult’s truly dark rituals on the way. Confession time: I have still yet to watch either installments of The Raid, which seems to be heresy in the realm of action movie fans. Don’t ask why, it’s just been a very complicated, and thus far unsuccessful, endeavor to seek it out. Regardless, I’d been very interested in watching such a curious project, especially one I can watch alone in the dark at night from the comfort of my living room. It had also been marketed by some as The Raid meets The Wicker Man. (Original one, NOT the Nic Cage remake) I was surprised to learn, however, that Gareth Evans decided to take the route he did with Apostle, and it was a pleasant surprise. This is one of the better Netflix Originals to come out and just a great horror movie in general. In all of cinema, there is perhaps nothing that terrifies or disturbs me more than the occult or those who follow it. Previously, a sci-fi film released this year called The Endless by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead also dealt with that tough niche to really thought-provoking results. Apostle seeks to address that once more with its own original take on the occult, and it’s no less disturbing. Watching the citizens of this island blindly participate or comply with some truly horrific actions, for no other reason than “It was as She commanded” is unsettling to say the least. In fact, the film as a whole is an indictment of faith and how people have used it to justify acts of violence dealt out to those who don’t believe like them. Worse still, the cult’s beliefs are shown to be quite sane, but they still exploit it for personal gain. It begs the question of whether humans are naturally violent creatures and whether virtue is impossible in our world- at least without vice. Dan Stevens has impressed me with his FX show Legion, and I dare say his performance here is on par with it. As Thomas, he’s cynical and dark after losing his faith in God, telling one person, “Beware false profits, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly, they are ravening wolves.” There’s quite a bit of physicality to the role, and it soon becomes clear that he’ll do anything to rescue his beloved sister. Opposite him, Michael Sheen does tremendous work as Prophet Malcolm Howe, one of the most intriguing villains in a film this year. With a charismatic presence and a sharp tongue, you can clearly see how he was able to persuade an entire chunk of the British population of his Goddess’ existence and importance. His daughter is played by Lucy Boynton, and she helps to create a fascinating dynamic with him. As with the children of the other two founders, there is a clear disconnect between what he preaches and what she wants in life; she sees Thomas as her first insight into the real world off the island. Mark Lewis Jones is convincingly creepy and gross as Quinn, Prophet Malcolm’s right-hand man and enforcer. We can tell there is a lot of pent-up anger and jealousy within him, even as he silently carries out his duties. As for the technical aspects, Apostle is pretty distinguished in a year filled with great horror movies. Matt Flannery’s cinematography, also responsible for both installments of The Raid, is as stunning and visually appealing as the island on which it is set. When there are action scenes in the film, they show in their full, brutal glory without lingering too long to become gratuitous. Evans also shows off his talents as an editor with a kinetic yet patient form of cutting the scenes. With each cut, you can practically feel every crunched bone and cut flesh in the fights, adding to the brutality. What’s more is that the houses and sets for the village itself are brilliant and period accurate. It feels as though there’s a whole history to it, as the houses all look handcrafted and incredibly lived-in. Meanwhile, Aria Prayogi and Fajar Yuskemal both compose the musical score for Apostle, in addition to being the primary sound designers. While there are a handful of tracks that ultimately go to the horror cliché of sudden strings for jumpscares, for the most part it’s pretty respectable. It has a rather uneasy and atmospheric tone throughout, signifying that something is seriously wrong with both this place and its inhabitants. Like a lot of great folk horror stories, it doesn’t try to be obvious a lot of the time, but it does build in intensity when needed to. While overall it was a highly entertaining and gripping thriller with some interesting things to say, the film felt maybe 15 minutes too long. With the mythology that Evans has built here, there is inevitably some fat to be found that could have been trimmed down. The first hour or so is very slow rolling, with some dialogue or scenes that seem a tad out of place. However, it’s mostly redeemed in the satisfying and brutal conclusion, which is likely going to keep me thinking for a little while. Apostle is a brilliant genre melting pot in a great backdrop. This certainly ranks among the more unique horror films to be released this year, in large part thanks to the conviction of both Gareth Evans and Dan Stevens. Stay as far away from cults as you can, but watch this movie from the comfort of your home.

 

“Come Sunday” Movie Review

In a world cluttered with God’s Not Dead sequels, Kirk Cameron after-school specials, and Nicholas Cage’s Left Behind, along comes a small little film that actually tries to treat faith and religion with respect. Keep in mind that the operative word here is “Tried.” This biographical drama from director Joshua Marston initially premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival to a generally mixed reception. It was later released worldwide on the streaming service Netflix on April 13th. Originally produced by filmmaker Marc Forster, the film is said to be adapted from a 2005 episode of the radio podcast This American Life, with the host Ira Davis hopping on board as a credited producer. The screenplay written by Marcus Hinchey has been in development supposedly since at least 2010, with several potential actors and directors moving in and out. Based on a true story, Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Carlton Pearson, a Pentecostal minister who went on to become one of the most prominent African-American priests in recent history. In the late 1990’s, he briefly becomes disillusioned with his own faith after the suicide of his uncle (Who he had every opportunity to save) and witnessing the Rwandan genocides on T.V. news. Looking to use his televised persona to help give people hope, he begins preaching the radical concept of universal salvation, which implies that all men and women will be forgiven by God in the end. This causes quite a stir within his own tight-knit household and the broader Christian community, particularly his mentor Oral Roberts. Come Sunday is a frustrating movie, but not in the sense of narrative or emotional involvement. After bashing some Netflix Original films earlier this year, here’s a movie that shows that they are still capable of producing higher quality drama. And the fact that they’ve released low-brow “comedies” (Game Over, Man!) and toxic sci-fi thrillers (Mute) instead of picking up more anticipated or acclaimed projects is simply frustrating to cinephiles like myself. And honestly, after a wash of borderline-propaganda films that try to shove Christianity down the throats of audiences, it’s nice to see one that attempts to explore the religion from a secular view. While Come Sunday is undoubtedly interesting and well-acted, there’s a lot left to be desired. Like Martin Scorsese’s Silence, having grown up in a religious household, there was a lot here that I definitely appreciated more. I knew little to nothing of the story prior to pressing “Play,” so watching a man of the cloth portrayed as a real human being was quite refreshing. Similarly, the movie never condescends on the viewer how faith is important to a lot of people, good or bad. There are some individuals who genuinely want to use their religion to help others, as is shown in the opening scene on a plane. The problem is that Joshua Marston gives the whole thing to the audience straight, lacking an emotional punch on the themes. He seems to work well with his actors, but the direction feels kind of bland and holds back on any power in storytelling. You can’t help but feel that the film would have been more satisfying and engaging if it were put in the hands of a more experienced and confident filmmaker. Thankfully, Chiwetel Ejiofor puts in great, subtle work as Bishop Carlton Pearson. Even without saying a word, we can see the deep conflict in his eyes, a good man who is tortured by his own devout faith. Also, Jason Segel is surprisingly great in a dramatic role as Henry, one of the church’s main financial backers. While it could be easy to paint him as close-minded, Segel does respectable work at making him feel understanding of Pearson’s intentions, even if they don’t see eye-to-eye. Similarly, Martin Sheen, who just seems born to play men of the cloth, inkles some sympathy out of Oral Roberts. He personally groomed Carlton for his career and is a constant, if sometimes a frictional voice of help and guidance on the matters at hand. Other actors like LaKeith Stanfield as the church’s closeted organ player, Danny Glover as the Bishop’s doomed uncle, and Condola Rashad as his unfulfilled wife all do great work but don’t quite leave the same impression. And when it comes to the technical aspects of the film, there’s something about it that just feels dry and uninspired. The cinematography by Peter Flinckenberg uses a lot of muted or crushed colors, helping to illustrate the dark reality this story takes place in. The only one that really seems to stand out that much is purple, which is a major part of the Bishop’s clothes and organization. The editing is pretty finely tuned to each scene, with some clever imagery shown here or there. The two elements come together remarkably well in the moments when Pearson is actually delivering his sermons to a diverse crowd. Given the fact that the Pentecostal ministers were being televised during their preaching sessions, it puts the audience right into the moment. Like we’re watching the man give a sermon right before our eyes, in person. Neither outright horrible nor groundbreakingly amazing in any sense, Come Sunday is a well-intentioned but uneven look at sacrifice. It is certainly leaps and bounds ahead of most Netflix Original films so far this year, but still not remarkable enough to give a definite recommendation. Films like these should be made more often, as they’re far better looks at faith and religion than what you might be used to. Director Joshua Marston and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s hearts are in the right place, but it sadly lacks the punch necessary for this story.

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“Game Over, Man!” Movie Review

Fancy a drinking game much? Take one shot every time a joke involving dicks is spouted out in this movie and I swear you will die of alcohol poisoning before the halfway mark. And frankly, that wouldn’t be such a terrible thing. The latest low-brow comedy from Netflix premiered on the streaming service on March 23rd, 2018. The film, directed by Kyle Newacheck, received an onslaught of terrible reviews, with many citing it as something even Adam Sandler would pass on. The film was produced and co-written by the same team behind Workaholics, a show on Comedy Central that was similarly raunchy and juvenile. The script was supposedly taken from their collective love of the 1988 film Die Hard, and it really shows. But somebody apparently saw the appeal and both Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg boarded as producers, thus giving it real life. Adam Devine, Anders Holm, and Blake Anderson star as three down-on-their-luck friends who work as housekeepers at a hotel in Los Angeles. The night that they seem close to funding their video game, their potential financier and a host of other celebrities at a lavish party are suddenly taken hostage by terrorists. Now the housekeepers- Alexxx, Darren, and Joel -must use their knowledge of action movies and video games to save the day. Even with such a terribly derivative and predictable plot, there was some potential here for a good parody. Although I haven’t actually watched any of Workaholics, I have seen Devine in the first two Pitch Perfect films as well as some episodes of the sitcom Modern Family. At first, I thought that he was a pretty funny guy who was able to churn out some naturalistic dialogue in most scenarios. I also watched another Netflix comedy earlier this year starring him called When We First Met, which was watchable but showed a bit that he’s wearing off rather quick. And now with Game Over, Man!, it’s becoming clear that he and his buddies are a lot like Adam Sandler; this is one of the worst movies of the year. Generally speaking, I consider myself a supporter of Netflix Original films. In an age where studios are increasingly defined by watering down projects to appeal to the lowest common denominator, here’s a service that offers a great leash on creative control. No reliance on franchise names or IP recognition is usually found in their library. *Cough Cloverfield Paradox *Cough A lot of films that they release are ones that normal distributors wouldn’t even consider touching, and sometimes that’s to Netflix’s benefit. But ever since the start of the new year, it has become increasingly hard for me to keep defending their original content. It just seems like they’re getting desperate to hit that 80-movie mark they promised last year, and there are bound to be a lot of stinkers on that list. Say this for Devine, he’s grown to be comfortable with his usual shtick, and apparently so have Anderson and Holm. However, within the first 6 minutes, these friends- who we’re supposed to be rooting for -are introduced as some of the most insufferable, annoying and obnoxious individuals to surface in modern comedy. Their needless vulgarity makes it hard to care about them, especially in the second half with an unexpected barrage of homophobic jokes. However, the film is somewhat boosted by good work from familiar faces like Neal McDonagh and Home Alone‘s Daniel Stern. Most of the rest are just F-list celebrity cameos, many of whom this generation probably hasn’t even heard of. Donald Faison, Flying Lotus, Shaggy, King Bach, Joel McHale, Fred Armisen, and Jillian Bell all show up for a few seconds, with Shaggy getting the most screen-time. Why they had him perform a song, I’m still wondering. And there really isn’t anything to talk about from a behind-the-scenes perspective because the filmmaking aspects are unimpressive. Loads upon loads of unconvincingly fake blood, CGI or cheap squibs, feel gratuitous at best. It mostly is reserved for gross-out killings of the terrorists and even party guests, along with obviously rubber cut-off genitals. The lighting feels far too overly flashy for this kind of plot if only used to heighten the glamour of L.A. nighttime party life. Plus, the camerawork by Grant Smith always feels so unnecessarily glossy and way overdone. It does a mixture of slow motion and hanheld shaky cam for the uninspired action scenes and (Unfortunately) lingering static shots for some of the more obscene jokes. And… that’s it. I have nothing else to add. It’s all just a bunch of hogwash and terrible mishmash of vastly different tones and ideas. The score just sounds like a lot of leftover tracks from Steve Jablonsky’s other films, there’s no clear direction, and everyone is either trying way too hard or not trying at all. Admittedly, there are far worse options to watch before falling asleep and forgetting about in the morning. But that doesn’t change the fact that Game Over, Man! is an overly juvenile excuse for a comedy loaded with unlikable characters. If for nothing else, this movie exists to provide Netflix naysayers new evidence at the overall lack of quality in original content the streaming service pumps out. I’ll keep trying to defend them whenever I have a chance, but now I’ve become more tempered on it. Damn you, Workaholics crew.

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“Mute” Movie Review

Chasing your dream project for years on end can typically be a respectable endeavor. But when they result in something like this, maybe it wasn’t the best idea. This poorly conceived cyberpunk dystopian sci-fi drama was released by Netflix on February 23rd, 2018. Although its actual budget remains unknown at the moment, the film received a wave of negative reviews from critics. Written and directed by Duncan Jones, the same man behind Moon, Source Code, and (Unfortunately) Warcraft, the film is purported to be a passion project of his, with the earliest draft being written back in the 2000’s. Jones himself has described it as a spiritual sequel to Moon, and there’s even a scene with Sam Rockwell cameoing in his previous role. Set in a futuristic version of the city of Berlin, Alexander Skarsgård stars as a mute Amish bartender named Leo who struggles to stay in touch with the technological world around him. After a fateful night, his girlfriend Naadirah, who works at the same club as him, vanishes without a trace. As she is the only person who truly communicates with him, Leo follows a series of clues in Berlin that ropes him into a world of prostitutes, black market dealers, and two American army surgeons who seem to be the center of it all. To be upfront here, unlike many other critics that have reviewed this film, I have not seen any of Jones’ previous works. I do plan on watching Moon and Source Code soon, but Warcraft is one I’ve been hesitant on. Seeing all the bad press that that video game adaptation received, one would hope that he would be able to bounce back from it. And for a long while, this Netflix Original was one of my most anticipated movies of 2018. Even after reading some of the negative reviews, I figured this movie couldn’t possibly so terrible and unwatchable, right? Well… it’s pretty bad, guys. It’s also a damn tragedy for me to say this because Duncan Jones tried to get it off the ground for several years. The son of the late David Bowie (Who’s given a heartfelt tribute in the end credits) promoted it heavily on social media, sharing set photos and concept art almost daily. And that’s all great and dandy. Anyone who wants to make a lifelong passion project and share it with the world has already got my vote. Moreso than that, I always support anyone who wants to make an original science-fiction movie on a big studio budget. Netflix marketed this as their next big blockbuster, much like last year’s Bright. Also, like Bright, Mute fails at being either compelling or intriguing. Skarsgård has impressed me in past films with his performances, but something with Leo just felt off. I know it’s incredibly hard to act without any words, and he does a good job in some scenes, but most of the time he feels annoying and stupid. And that entire thread of him being an Amish man just feels tacked on. His girlfriend, Seyneb Saleh, isn’t any better and spends her spare moments whining and begging for a man. Ant-Man himself Paul Rudd is by far the best performer in the entire film as Cactus Bill, one of the American surgeons. Though his demeanor is uneven and acts like a conceded jerk, he clearly looks like he’s having the time of his life and is (mostly) able to power through the clunky dialogue. His best friend, played by Justin Theroux… is a pedophile. That’s not an exaggeration; Theroux’s character has a sexual attraction to young children in this movie. Admittedly, he does a fine job at being creepy and uncomfortable but the fact that it is played off like some sort of joke is wrong and honestly gross. As far as the technical aspects go, Mute doesn’t have too much going on that separates it from the cyberpunk noir genre. From the neon-soaked streets of night-time Berlin to the filthy interior buildings, the production designers try really hard to be like Blade Runner, a movie that will, unfortunately, get many comparisons to. The cinematography by Gary Shaw often opts for long wide shots, especially for some of the action sequences. Though it does provide a sense of character for the setting, showing as much of the world as possible without being too disorienting. Surprisingly, there’s a sparse amount of CGI used to create this futuristic setting, mostly relying on practical sets and oddball costumes to bring it to life. It definitely adds up to a grimy, lived-in feeling that it’s unfortunately unable to rise out of. Clint Mansell, one of the most versatile composers in the industry, gives us the musical score for this film. Taken as a whole, it’s exactly what you’d expect from a picture like this. The vast majority of the tracks consist heavily of synthesized beats and melodies, some of which seemingly go on indefinitely. On occasion, a new bit of percussion or strings were come in and reach for sentimentality in the story. Although that aspect failed, the soundtrack itself is actually pretty good to listen to and helps establish the somber tone of this world. But the film overall is wildly uneven in both pacing and tone. The first half is a slog to get through and even though it admittedly goes out on a high note, it would be perfectly reasonable if you turned it off by then. And the film seems unsure of whether it wants to be an all-in sci-fi extravaganza or a contemplative noir drama. Mute is a visually appealing busfire devoid of charm or pleasant characters. I could see why some people actually like Warcraft, but I have a hard time seeing anyone enjoying this Netflix Original. It makes me temper my expectations for all of their future content. And the saddest part of all is that, at the end of the day, Duncan Jones has nobody but himself to blame for this.

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“The Cloverfield Paradox” Movie Review

Here we are, the first new release review of 2018! What better way to kick off the year than with a movie that dropped its announcement completely last-minute before premiering on a streaming service where it’s bound to get lost in the shuffle? In other words, just another one to add to the pile. Produced by J.J. Abrams, this sci-fi horror thriller had a surprise release on February 4th, 2018, dropping immediately after the end of the Super Bowl LII. That’s not a hyperbole; Netflix actually released this Bad Robot production 2 hours after putting a 30-second teaser on during the game. Paramount Pictures was set to distribute it, as they have both previous Cloverfield movies. But following a massive shift in leadership, and the budget ballooning from $5 million to $45 million, post-production was repeatedly pushed back for nearly two years. According to several sources, at a point, they basically just gave up and let Netflix take care of the rest. Directed by first-timer Julius Onah, Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars as Ava Hamilton, one of a handful of astronauts on an international space station. In the near future when many countries are on the brink of war due to an energy crisis, the world’s space agencies launch the Cloverfield Station, which houses a powerful particle accelerator. The mission goes terribly wrong and the team discovers that the Earth has completely disappeared, igniting a fight for survival and a perilous search for the way home. It should be no surprise that I loved both Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane a lot. While many people were not happy with the ending for Lane, I saw it as a great springboard for a potential franchise. And up until this one’s release, I had assumed that it would just take the form of an anthology series, akin to Black Mirror or The Twilight Zone. But this new film, previously title God Particle, attempts to put in more references and tie-ins to the 2008 found-footage original than is probably necessary. And because of this, The Cloverfield Paradox ends up being a monumental disappointment, the first one of 2018. Let me be clear: I have no problem with a movie that wants to crossover with other installments of its franchise. Anything that wants to bring the whole thing full circle in a literal sense is perfectly fine by me, as long as it’s done in a way that’s not contrived or shoehorned. Unfortunately, the references in this movie are just that; contrived and shoehorned. If you want to watch this movie, I won’t spoil anything for you. It’s seriously available on Netflix right now, go ahead if you wish. But the more I think about some of the connections to its two predecessors, the less sense it starts to make. Come to think of it, the whole idea of this being a Cloverfield sequel/spinoff feels more like an afterthought than anything else. The stacked cast, for the material they’re all given here, does try her best in the lead role. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, previously impressing with the Black Mirror episode “San Junipero,” does pretty good work as the lead Hamilton. You can tell the personal torment in her character that she tries to overcome. Chris O’Dowd was one of the biggest saving graces of the film, providing the right amounts of levity and sly timing. Even when the comedy elements feel really forced, O’Dowd is there to give a crack at it and delivers in most areas. Selma actor David Oyelowo gives his role as the crew’s captain as much command and wisdom as he can. Though it somewhat felt like he was confused whether to impersonate Captain Kirk or reenact MLK in space. Daniel Bruhl, Zhang Ziyi, Elizabeth Debicki, Aksel Hennie, and John Ortiz fill out the rest of the station’s crew. Again, they all try their best, but it doesn’t always work out very well. Technically speaking, this is a very mixed bag of a picture. Dan Mindel’s cinematography is decent enough and captures both the look and feel of a J.J. Abrams production without the overuse of lens flares. Of particular note is a scene when Mbatha-Raw is sitting up against a windshield with space on the other side. A simple moment that at least tries to showcase the scope of the story. The set designs are also fairly impressive and, although nowhere detailed as the sci-fi films it wants to pay homage to, do a good job at bringing the titular space station to life. Metal hallways are filled up with contrasting colors, which were visually appealing. However, one of the biggest areas of issue concerns the editing. So many sequences are chopped together like they were edited by 5 different people in post-production (3 are actually credited) And rushed the dailies in to get the finished print out in time. Bear McCreary is one of the most underrated film composers working in Hollywood today, but it’s nice to see Bad Robot giving him some recognition here. The score here is surprisingly passable, all things considered. Whenever we’re in the claustrophobic halls, we get low-octave, moody tracks to set the horror movie tone. But whenever the action decides to move outside into space, we get bigger, more exhilarating songs. You know the type, large orchestral tracks with pulsating percussion and quick strings. But all of it honestly feels like leftovers from a better score by McCreary. As a derivative, low-key sci-fi horror flick found on a streaming service, this movie actually works a lot better for rainy late-night viewings. As a “continuation” of a big-budget franchise, however, The Cloverfield Paradox is an unholy slapdash of last-minute ideas and dumb decisions. While I give Netflix credit for releasing it completely out of the blue, it’s now clear why Paramount didn’t really want it. If rumors are true, then Overlord will redeem this series later in the year. A shameless Alien rip-off or a new installment of an unexpected franchise. You ultimately can’t have both.

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Retrospective: 2017 Superlatives

Now that my Top 20 Best Films is published and out of the way, I wanted to go into more specific categories with Superlatives. No specific rankings here, but I just wanted to file away certain films that I saw that deserve at least some recognition. Some of these were in contention for the Top 20, others were not. But regardless, I wanted to continue my tradition from last year and give some thoughts on these.

Most Original: “Okja”

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In my experience, Bong Joon-Ho’s films can range from hitting the exact spot that they should hit or struggle to decide what tonal path they want to take. Okja is a mixture of both but there’s no denying how it is unlike anything else that’s pouring out of the studio market these days. The concept of a child forming a close bond with a creature may be familiar, but the way that Joon-Ho goes about it in this Netflix original is so unexpected and exhilarating. Filled with both heart and searing satire, this is the kind of film that more studios and production companies should be putting faith in.

*Read my full review here.

Most Surprising: “Coco”

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I had little doubt in my mind that Pixar Animation would score more laughs and fun out of the audience with Coco. But what shocked and particularly impressed me was the deep respect and reverence the creators had for Mexican culture, which is often overlooked or misappropriated by Hollywood. Moreover, the film was surprising in its examination of death and the afterlife, a topic rarely discussed in family pictures. Topped off with some of the most gorgeous visuals the animators have had to offer yet and a beautiful score by Michael Giacchino, Coco is a glorious return to form for Pixar.

*Read my full review here.

Most Overrated: “Atomic Blonde”

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Now, this just makes me sad because I really wanted to like this movie like everyone else. And while I did enjoy parts of Atomic Blonde, nothing could overcome the excessive feeling of “all style and no substance.” Charlize Theron and James McAvoy are great in their respective roles and seem to be having a lot of fun. But the spy plot needlessly and constantly twists itself in a tangled up knot to hide its inherently generic nature. And while the color scheme and use of graffiti are nice, it ultimately feels indulgent.

*Read my full review here.

Most Underrated: “Mother!”

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I know a lot of people who not only disagree with my choice on this category, but they don’t like Mother! Not at all. And honestly, I can’t blame them since the film has no regard for the audiences’ comfort level. But for me, growing up in a religious household, seeing this allegory played out with total control unleashed from Darren Aronofsky is exactly the kind of disturbing I look for. My jaw was on the floor for the last 30-45 minutes of the movie, and the controversy this film has accumulated for its plot and violence is exactly the kind of conversation that film buffs should be having.

*Read my full review here.

Most Overlooked: “The Girl With All the Gifts”

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One could attribute this film’s relative lack of success to the overcrowded zombie genre, and you’d probably be right. But unlike many other films in that worn out niche, Colm McCarthy’s The Girl With All the Gifts has an effective emotional core in the midst of all the flesh-eating terror and guts. Featuring a breakout performance from Sennia Nanua and some chillingly real zombie effects, the film feels like a believable examination of what would happen to children in the collapse of society. It’s probably the closest we’ll get to a live-action adaptation of The Last of Us.

*Read my full review here.

Most Disappointing: “Bright”

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“It’s like a nuclear bomb that grants wishes!” An actual line of dialogue from this huge let-down. I’ll give Netflix some credit here; they tried. In an age of studios whittling visions down to empty projects, Netflix actually tried to make an original fantasy blockbuster. They’ve even committed to a sequel already! But David Ayer’s Bright failed not just at setting up a potential franchise, not just at pathetic social commentary, but also at the most simple job: making a good movie. Max Landis seems to have a ton of ideas floating around his head, but someone really should have given this one a total rewrite. Sorry, Will Smith and Joel Edgerton, I love you guys. But make better choices.

*Read my full review here.

Funniest: “The Big Sick”

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Aside from Get Out, I can’t think of a single movie from 2017 that caught more people by surprise than The Big Sick. Revealing Kumail Nanjiani as both a brilliant screenwriter and a capable actor, the awkward true story speaks volumes about current cultural barriers without ever becoming too preachy. It is increasingly rare to find honesty or sincerity in romantic films, but Nanjiani, along with his co-writer (And real-life wife) Emily V. Gordon do just that. It doesn’t avoid the emotional weight of a loved one falling ill, but they still find genuine humor amongst it all. Capped off with the single best and most unexpected 9/11 joke in cinematic history.

*Read my full review here.

Worst: “The Emoji Movie”

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In all honesty, who was actually expecting this movie to be any good? When I first heard the announcement, I thought it was an article published by The Onion, but nope. Even so, I might be willing to subside some criticisms if Tony Leonidis and T.J. Miller really put some muscle and effort into it. But The Emoji Movie not only comes across as lazy garbage but also a stupidly cynical feature-length advertisement for various corporate phone apps. Rarely have I seen a movie that is so blatantly insulting to the intelligence of both adult AND child audiences. (Sir Patrick Stewart as the poop emoji included) The Emoji Movie is easily the worst movie of the year, and the worst animation I’ve seen yet.

*Read my full review here.

Do you agree with these superlatives? What do you think was the worst or most underrated movie of 2017? Be sure to leave your picks in the Comments below, and if you’re interested to see more content like this, be sure to like this post and Follow my Blog.