Movie Review: “The Great Wall”

Starring
Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Tian Jing, Andy Lau, Willem Dafoe, Hanyu Zhang
Director
Zhang Yimou

Over the last decade or so, China has grown to become the second largest movie market in the world (and is currently on pace to surpass the U.S. in the next few years), which explains why Hollywood has suddenly shown great interest in the region. But while pairing one of the industry’s biggest stars (Matt Damon) with esteemed Chinese director Zhang Yimou might sound like an exciting idea on paper, it lacks the prestige that such a high-profile collaboration warrants. “The Great Wall” is a fairly generic monster movie at its core (think “Starship Troopers” in Ancient China), and although it boasts some fantastic visuals and rousing action that’s entertaining in the moment, it’s ultimately pretty forgettable.

In 11th century China, European mercenaries William Garin (Damon) and Pero Tovar (Pedro Pascal) have ventured deep into the country in search of a mysterious black powder that will bring them riches back home. After surviving a monster attack the night before, they stumble upon a secret garrison of Chinese soldiers called the Nameless Order – each faction divided by brightly colored armor – that’s stationed at a massive wall designed to keep out invaders. Led by General Shao (Zhang Hanyu), the Nameless Order serves as the last line of defense against the Tao Tie, a colony of mythical creatures that crashed into China on a meteor 2,000 years ago.

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Movie Review: “Fist Fight”

Starring
Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, Dean Norris, Christina Hendricks, Dennis Haysbert
Director
Richie Keen

The first two-thirds of “Fist Fight” play like a Ben Stiller movie from the early 2000s. Our hero is kind but doesn’t assert himself and is perceived to be a loser by everyone around him, including the ones he loves (and supposedly love him). This part of the movie is less fun, because from a filmmaking standpoint (and in life), picking on the 98-pound weakling doesn’t take any courage or risks. When our hero finally sticks up for himself, the movie feeds off his adrenaline and begins to soar, culminating in a rather spectacular finish. The path to the ending is littered with dick jokes, but “Fist Fight” makes the early hardships worthwhile. Just barely, though.

It is the last day of the school year and Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) is a high school English teacher just trying to get through the day so he can help out his daughter at her talent contest. Andy tries to help Mr. Strickland (Ice Cube) get a video started, and when Andy discovers that a student is responsible for the repeated malfunctions, Mr. Strickland loses it, grabbing a weapon from the hallway and terrorizing the students. Andy and Strickland go before the principal, who lays an impossible ultimatum on the two: either one of them confesses or tattles, or they’re both fired. Andy’s wife has already missed her delivery date with their second child, so Andy rats out Strickland to keep his job. Strickland tells Andy that he’s going to fight him after school is out. Andy knows he’s going to get clobbered, so he tries everything he can to back out of it, failing miserably in the process.

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Movie Review: “John Wick: Chapter 2”

Starring
Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Riccardo Scamarcio, Laurence Fishburne, Common, Ruby Rose, Lance Reddick
Director
Chad Stahelski

The first “John Wick” was a pleasant surprise that seemed to come out of nowhere in late 2014, simultaneously reviving the B-movie action flick and Keanu Reeves’ faltering career with its stylized, no-holds-barred violence. Though the film was admittedly flawed, it knew exactly what it wanted to be and made no apologies for it, and that’s an attitude that its sequel, helmed by one half of the original directing team, Chad Stahelski, proudly embraces again. Opening with not one but two action sequences to let you know that it means business, “John Wick: Chapter 2” doubles down on everything that made the first movie so enjoyable – including a higher body count and headshots galore – resulting in the rare sequel that’s bigger and better as well.

After settling his score with the Russian mobsters who killed his puppy and stole his car, John Wick (Reeves) wants nothing more than to return to his quiet, peaceful life of retirement alongside his new canine companion. However, it doesn’t take long before he’s once again dragged back into the baroque underground world of assassins by an old acquaintance named Santino Marchesi (Riccardo Scamarcio), a bratty Italian crime boss who’s come to collect a blood debt from Wick that he’s honor-bound to obey or be marked for death. Santino wants him to eliminate his sister so that he can take over her seat on the assassins guild’s high council, but after Wick is caught in the act and a $7 million bounty is placed on his head, every hitman in town – including a pair of bodyguards (Common and Ruby Rose) who work for opposing sides of the Marchesi family – comes gunning for him.

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Movie Review: “The LEGO Batman Movie”

Starring
Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Zach Galifianakis, Jenny Slate
Director
Chris McKay

When “The LEGO Movie” was first announced, it was met with a fair amount of skepticism that it was going to be a cynical promotional tool to sell toys. And it may have been that in a way, but it was also smart, funny and far better than it had the right to be. “The LEGO Batman Movie,” meanwhile, is absolutely a tool designed to promote the “LEGO Dimensions” platform system, working no less than seven of their licensed intellectual properties into the story. Fortunately, it manages to be a highly entertaining film despite the shameless sales pitch. The absence of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller in the writing and directing chairs is noticeable (they are executive producers only this time around), but this is a very fun, if a bit more predictable, ride.

Batman, a.k.a. billionaire Bruce Wayne (Will Arnett), has gotten used to fighting crime on his own, but his world is shattered when Jim Gordon steps down as police commissioner and his daughter Barbara (Rosario Dawson) assumes the helm. Barbara would like Batman to work together with the police, rather than as a vigilante, but Batman, with his litany of attachment issues, resists. Worse, the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) is hurt when Batman tells him that he means nothing to him, so the Joker hatches an unusual plan, which begins with his surrender. Batman cannot stand that he wasn’t responsible for the Joker’s capture, so he devises a scheme to steal a weapon from Superman (Channing Tatum) in order to send the Joker to the Phantom Zone, the same place where Superman dispatched General Zod. The plan works, but with disastrous consequences.

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Movie Review: “Gold”

Starring
Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramírez, Bryce Dallas Howard, Corey Stoll
Director
Stephen Gaghan

Former Hollywood golden boy Stephen Gaghan was at the top of his game when he seemingly vanished from the industry following 2005’s “Syriana,” so it’s easy to see why his latest project (which he directed but didn’t write) has been met with guarded enthusiasm. After actually watching the film, however, it’s not surprising that it was shut out of this year’s awards race. Although the movie is loosely based on incredible true events and features a committed performance from Matthew McConaughey, “Gold” fails to capitalize on its intriguing premise. The potential was certainly there, but despite the similarities to other recent films about greed and the American Dream like “The Big Short” and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Gaghan’s sophomore effort lacks the energy and wit that made those movies so enjoyable.

The film opens in 1981 with Reno-based prospector Kenny Wells (McConaughey) working for his family’s successful mining company. Fast-forward seven years later and the business has fallen on hard times due to a crumbling economy and the death of Kenny’s father. He’s barely keeping the company afloat, working out of a bar to save on expenses. But just when it seems like Kenny has finally hit rock bottom, he has a dream about discovering gold in the uncharted jungles of Indonesia and decides to make one last gamble, pawning his jewelry and jetting off to Southeast Asia in order to convince geologist Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramírez) – who has a theory about untapped mineral reserves in the country – to partner with him. Though they initially have zero luck finding anything, the pair eventually strikes gold in a big way, attracting the attention of Wall Street banker Brian Woolf (Corey Stoll). But as everyone fights to get a piece of Kenny and Michael’s success, the whole thing threatens to come crashing down around them.

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