Review: TV: George R. R. Martin’s Nightflyers

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GOOD LOOKING MEDIOCRE SCIENCE FICTION

by JM Prater

Science fiction is a notoriously difficult genre to get right. It would be a fair assessment to say that a larger portion of films, books, and media fail to successfully realize a believable world and believable characters. No more is this apparent than in SyFy’s TV series adaptation of George R R. Martin’s novella, Nightflyers. 


Nightflyers is based on a short story written in 1980 and later expanded in 1981. While doing press interviews for the show, Martin talked about the gauntlet that had been laid down in terms of horror and science fiction being mutually exclusive, or so he was told. Nightflyers is Martin’s answer to that challenge. 


The setup for Nighflyers finds several human characters onboard a ship headed towards a craft of extraterrestrial origin. The first episode opens with what appears to be the ending. *Spoiler Warning* A woman is desperate to send a message while being hunted, by a fellow crewman with an axe, bent on her demise. Moments before she takes her own life she successfully (but just barely) sends out a warning to all who might come looking to stay away from the Nightflyer. 


Nightflyers is described as a haunted house in space, with a lot of Event Horizon, ALIEN (1979) and a little X-Men thrown in. The production values are top notch. Everything else falls short, way short. From a convoluted plot, to characterless characters, SyFy has managed to create a show that’s barely passable, and not memorable. Nightflyer’s biggest flaws fall on the tropes and devices on display ad nauseum with a pace that doesn’t allow anything or anyone to breathe. The cast is good-looking, but the acting is B level. There are points when you can see the actors visibly struggling to find their character.


When Nightflyers was being promoted I had high hopes, especially with the attachment of master world-builder George R R. Martin as the creator. The final product is big on ideas, and that’s it. Nightflyers had a good promotion and some spellbinding trailers. Unfortunately, the promotion was the best thing going for it. 


Review: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

 Sony Pictures Animation

Sony Pictures Animation

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a towering achievement that represents a watershed moment in animated storytelling

by Patrick Greene

We all see movies for different reasons. Some of us want to escape. Some of us want to learn. Some of us want to laugh, to cry, to question. To feel part of a shared moment. To feel more alive. To feel like kids again.

Every once in a while, a film comes along that manages to do all of those things. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is one of those films. But what's perhaps most remarkable about Spider-Verse is that it accomplishes all of this while being insanely audacious.

Nothing about Spider-Verse is typical. The animation style—full of contrasting screentones, textures, expressionistic colors, and dimensionality—is overwhelming to behold. Inspired by the comic work of Sara Pichelli, the artist who (along with legendary writer Brian Michael Bendis) created Miles Morales (Spider-Verse's protagonist) back in 2011, the visual language of this film is unlike anything else I've ever seen on a movie screen. I've heard it described as "a comic book come to life," but it's really so much more than that. It's like the constituent components of a comic book's art—the linework, the CMYK printing, the digital textures, etc.—are constantly dancing with each other. It's like the essence of a comic is coming to life on screen. It's just absurdly cool.

The story, too, is anything but expected. In the comics, Miles Morales exists in the Ultimate universe—a parallel but distinct dimension from the mainstream Marvel comics. His story begins with the death of Peter Parker in the Ultimate continuity; from there, his journey unfolds in a distinct but familiar fashion. He's bitten by a radioactive spider. He loses a loved one. He's a nerdy outsider, but he has heart and he's brave and he always gets up.

But Morales has become a beloved character in Spidey fandom because his story brings so much newness to the mythos while feeling completely of a part with it. He's Afro-Latino. His dad's a police officer and his mom is a hospital administrator. He listens to hip hop and loves graffiti art. He doesn't tie his shoes. His powers are similar to Peter's, but with some twists (used to great effect in Spider-Verse). 

So in making Spider-Verse, Sony could've easily chosen to create a safer movie by setting this in a parallel continuity and just sort of ignoring the Peter Parker storyline altogether. But instead, they decided to embrace the strangeness of these parallel comic universes completely and wholeheartedly, and that's how we end up with a film where five or six universes collide and coexist.

And that collision is wonderfully liberating, because the filmmakers are able to tell a story unencumbered by audience expectation.

I first became aware of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller when I saw 21 Jump Street back in 2012 and laughed so hard I nearly passed out in the theater. Then again, in 2014, The Lego Movie had me completely in stitches—but also walking away feeling like I'd witnessed a genuinely deep artistic statement. In Into the Spider-Verse, we see the real fruits of what this pair can do with a story. It is so funny, so quick, and so full of life that you almost don't realize how profound it is until it's over and you lay in bed thinking about it. The screenplay, by Lord and Rodney Rothman (the latter served as co-director, alongside Peter Ramsey and Bob Persichetti), is just a complete triumph. Even though the realities of creating a film with a realistic duration (and budget) means that some of the multiverse characters are relegated to glorified cameos, they all have moments to shine. You won't forget them. 

And the score. Oh, the score!! Experience it in a theater with the absolute best sound system you can find. It weaves seamlessly between heart-thumping hip hop beats and orchestral grandeur. A lot of films that try to integrate hip hop sound like manufactured garbage. Spider-Verse—somehow even more than Black Panther—is a completely wholistic musical experience. You're able to appreciate where these genres merge and diverge. You get to hear real hip hop and real orchestral soundtrack music (by the gifted Daniel Pemberton) and both feel completely honest and ravishing. 

The fact that I have to wait another two weeks until this officially releases to see it again is killing me. It's already one of my favorites.

It might be the best superhero movie I've ever seen.

Review: Venom (2018)

 Sony Pictures Releasing

Sony Pictures Releasing

by Patrick Greene

Before I get into the meat (eyes … lungs … pancreas) of this review, I want to be up front about a few things.

My love affair with comics started with a love affair with Venom. When I was eight, I snagged a copy of The Amazing Spider-Man #378 with my allowance money. It was the third issue in the massive awesome-fest that was Maximum Carnage, and it starts with Eddie Brock returning to New York City to team up with Spider-Man to defeat Carnage.

Venom wasn’t supposed to be a hero. We all know the story by this point: Spidey comes back from Secret Wars wearing a crazy badass black symbiote. He realizes the suit is a) alive and b) not exactly trustworthy and ditches it with help from the Fantastic Four, whereupon Eddie Brock, disgraced reporter (and ex-Peter Parker colleague), encounters it during a dark night of the soul. United in their hatred for Spider-Man and Peter Parker, the two outcasts merge together and become almost unstoppably powerful.

 Marvel

Marvel

But things start to change during the Maximum Carnage-palooza, and suddenly Spider-Man and Venom are reluctant allies. Venom starts moonlighting as a vigilante. He gets his own limited series, which I absolutely love and upon which the film is loosely based, titled Lethal Protector. Venom becomes a (ruthlessly violent and sadistic) champion of the downtrodden and disenfranchised. And before you know it, Venom goes from villain to antihero to straight-up hero. But a hero who still looks like a monster and has no problem gleefully disemboweling bad people.

At the heart of all this is something very simple and very important: Venom is, and always has been, a love story. Eddie Brock and the Venom symbiote are two rejects who found each other across vast reaches of space and realized they were soulmates. The best Venom stories have always put that relationship front and center (including the wonderful First Host limited series by Mike Costa and the ongoing horrifying/beautiful/insane rebooted series helmed by Donny Cates).

And this humble Venom fan is happy to say that Sony’s Venom absolutely nails that love story.

Directed by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) and starring Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road), Venom is the first installment in “Sony’s Marvel Universe.” To be completely honest, I don’t really have any idea what that means at this point—I know Sony is creating a shared universe for its Marvel properties to inhabit that runs parallel to the juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and that the thoroughly delightful Spider-Man: Homecoming is in a liminal third category wherein Spider-Man is part of the MCU but also still owned by Sony, so he could theoretically appear in an upcoming Venom sequel (or this Venom could appear in a future Spider-Man film).

I don't know, it’s complicated.

This was something of a source of stress in the Spider-Man/Venom fan communities leading up to the release. The lack of a chest symbol, the absence of apparent ties to the world of Homecoming, confusion over the symbiote’s origins, etc. were all discussed ad nauseam. Then there was the trailer where Jenny Slate’s Dr. Dora Skirth says “sym-BAI-ote.” Then the news that the expected “R” rating was dropped to “PG-13.” Then the Tom Hardy interview where he says his favorite 40 minutes were cut from the film. Then the bizarre controversy with A Star Is Born. Then the alarming Rotten Tomatoes score. Then the doomsday prophesiers announcing the film would have to gross a highly-unlikely $200 million to turn any sort of profit.

And then we saw the movie. And it was absolutely wonderful.

I don’t normally deviate from critics’ scores as much as I have on this one, so part of me wonders if my love for this movie stems from the experience of being a Venom fan since my childhood. It’s possible that I’m overlooking serious cinematic flaws because some fundamental things were done so right. But you know what? I’m not a professional movie critic, and I’m going to be subjective as hell. So buckle up.

 Sony Pictures Releasing

Sony Pictures Releasing

It’s impossible to talk about this film without talking about Tom Hardy. He just completely owns this thing from top to bottom. His portrayal of Eddie Brock is crazy. I mean that in the best possible way. I have no idea how he came up with this characterization. He’s so full of tics and idiosyncrasies that you just can’t take your eyes off of him; yet he’s such a gifted actor—and has such insight into who Eddie really is—that you never lose sight of the actual character underneath. Even before things turn to shit, he is just a complete mess. Shuffling around with slumped shoulders, mumbling with a genuinely strange accent, stop-starting every time he tries to string a thought together. And yet these qualities make him a brilliant investigative journalist. He’s able to become unassuming. He comes across like a child. You don’t notice his intellect or his athleticism. And then, when the moment is right, he pounces.

But Eddie’s got some pretty deep character flaws. He’s not a bad person—his Lethal Protector arc, the one that basically redefined him as a hero in the nineties, hinges on him saving a community of homeless people—but he’s not always a great one. He wants to do the right thing, but he can’t always figure out how to.

But after the shit hits the fan, Hardy’s performance goes from a ten into This Is Spinal Tap 11. It is just bonkers. And so much fun. I don’t want to give much away, but I’ll say that I’ll never look at tater tots the same way again.

The rest of cast is largely set-dressing, but it’s not their fault. And it’s also not a problem. This is Eddie’s story, and Eddie’s story has never really been about other people. Eddie sucks with people. Eddie makes the wrong decisions. He’s divorced. He can’t keep a job.

Eddie’s story is about his relationship with the symbiote.

And in Venom, the symbiote is PITCH-PERFECT. By turns hilarious and utterly menacing, the Venom symbiote shines as its own complex, flawed character. We understand why Eddie falls in love with it. It’s not just a monster costume; it’s an animal. An animal stranded on the wrong planet who is literally just a sentient puddle in the absence of a host. And in Eddie, he finds the perfect partner. They are mirrors of each other—two failures who come together to become something special. Hardy’s vocal performance as the symbiote is wonderful: even with all the garbled (but very effective) processing, he brings out layers of depth in the character.

Think for a second about how impressive that is. He is playing an alien parasite communicating internally with himself. And in the midst of that, the parasite manages to be both reminiscent of Eddie (since he’s bonded to him, after all) and yet its own entity. The symbiote’s booming lines are just fantastic. You’ll remember them after you leave the theater.

 Sony Pictures Releasing

Sony Pictures Releasing

But to touch on the rest of the cast: Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn) plays Anne Weying (who goes on to become She-Venom in the comics), Eddie’s ex-fiancee (ex-wife in the comics); Riz Ahmed (Rogue One) plays Carlton Drake, CEO of the Life Foundation and basically this universe’s Thanos; and then there are a bunch of other people doing some things.

No one’s bad. Williams and Ahmed do fine jobs in their roles, even if the roles themselves are a little dopey. They’re both committed, and they both bring out the best in the material. But again, the material makes no illusions that it’s about anyone but Eddie.

And I think if you aren’t watching the movie through that lens, you’ll be a bit let down.

Fleischer turned out to be a great fit as a director. There’s a difficult tonal balance you have to pull off with Venom to make the character work: you have to set up a paradigm in which your hero gleefully bites the heads off security personnel and the audience laughs and recoils and still likes him. That’s genuinely tough.

And for the most part, Fleischer walks that tonal tightrope and succeeds. There are some pacing issues: the beginning is a little slow-fast-slow, and the climax comes and goes a bit quickly. In a movie about Venom, you need to really understand Eddie first—and if you don’t like Eddie, you will probably hate the first third of the movie. But if you’re open to embracing him as a distinct (and distinctly weird) character, by the time he joins up with the symbiote it’s just a tremendously gratifying thrill ride all the way to the end.

Matthew Libatique (Black Swan), best known for his (incredible) collaborations with Darren Aronofsky, shot the film; Ludwig Göransson (Black Panther) scored it. Both turn in solid—if perhaps a little underwhelming—work here. Venom’s theme is pretty freakin’ badass, though, and I look forward to hearing more of it if they manage to get a sequel made.

Speaking of which: stay through the credits. Trust me. There are a couple of scenes back there, and both will make you squeal with joy if you’re a Spidey fan.

Again, critical reviews of the film have been largely awful. I honestly don’t understand why, but I’m assuming a lot of it has to do with what kind of movie you go in expecting. Is it a horror film? No. Is it a sci-fi thriller? Not really. Is it a super hero movie? I guess it sort of eventually becomes one, but not really. Is it a Deadpool-style comedy? It’s frequently hilarious, but it’s not built around the idea of being self-aware and risqué.

So what is it?

It’s a love story.

Rating: 4 Klyntars (out of 5)

 Had this stupid grin on my face the entire freaking movie.

Had this stupid grin on my face the entire freaking movie.





Review: The Predator (2018)

 20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

by Conar Murdoch

 I can’t talk about the latest release in the Predator franchise without first going back to the original movie that spawned it all. The 1987 original spends nearly half its runtime in the guise of your typical 80’s action movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, there’s explosions, gunfire and nearly everything that’s uttered from the Austrian movie star is instantly quotable. Then it turned into something completely unexpected, a bloody, mesmerising and wonderfully tense sci fi thriller. Fast forward to the present and the first man to ever be killed by a Predator is in the director’s and writer’s chair for the 4th movie in the series.

You wouldn’t be wrong to believe that because Shane Black was present in the beginning of the franchise that he would recognize the power and awe that the original creature could still convey to audiences three decades later. With the Fugitive Predator he does achieve this apart from a certain ‘thumbs up’ scene, though the lab escape was excellent and definitely the best part of the movie in my opinion. The Fugitive Predator looked incredible and moved with such an athletic pace and brutal purpose it was awesome to behold.

Unfortunately that respect is smashed into the roof of a car as Black takes the ‘Bigger is Better’ approach with the Upgrade Predator and for the most part it’s completely unnecessary and damaging to the film. The direction of the lore also takes the same damaging approach, the predators apparently don’t take the spines of their greatest kills for trophies. Instead they take them to harvest the spinal fluids so they can genetically upgrade themselves with aspects of the most dangerous species in the galaxy. They’re goddamn Predators! They live for the challenge of hunting something that has every chance to kill them.

As for the cast I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed everyone’s performance. The comedic ensemble of the Loonies were the highlight of the movie for me with their humour. While the comedy might not be everyone’s cup of tea this is a genuinely funny movie and there was quite a few moments that had me bursting with laughter. Yet the heavy emphasis on comedy burdens the movie with an identity crisis as it doesn’t know whether to be funny or a tense and gory sci fi action movie.

You can definitely feel the effect of the screen tests and reshoots in the flow of the movie. The scenes feel like they’re all stitched together awkwardly and the film loses its sense of cohesiveness but at the same time I never felt bored watching the movie but it was jarring nonetheless. It’s at it’s worst in the second act where the pacing feels the most chopped up and awkwardly edited.

Perhaps my views on the movie wouldn’t be so negative if the ending didn’t exist at all. The reveal of what I call the ‘Iron Predator’ was something so damning that I was groaning in pain and utter disbelief. It was the kind of thing you’d see from a teenager who grew up watching the Marvel Cinematic Universe, watched Predator once. Then decided to write a crossover fan fiction where he saves the human race from a predator invasion because Tony Stark built him an Iron Man suit with dreadlocks and plasma casters the size of tank cannons.

Honestly I’ve never felt more conflicted about a movie in my entire life. There were aspects I seriously enjoyed but there were others (the Upgrade Predator and the divisive lore expansion) that never should’ve made it past the first script draft. All in all it was a great popcorn action movie and filled with good laughs. It’s worth a view in the cinema but I just couldn’t ignore the flaws in the story and clashing tones. We waited four long years for this movie and I curse myself for not seeing this disappointment coming. I’m giving The Predator a regrettable 5 out of 10.

-Conar

Perfect Organism Reviews

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Tomb Raider (6 out of 10)

"The fate of humanity is now in your hands"

    If you're going to make an action-adventure film, one of the most important characteristics it needs to have is a sense of fun.  No matter what the premise or plot, if the film doesn't incorporate a lot of humor, wonder, and many other moments that put a smile on your face, it failed to do what it should have done.  Two of the best examples of this are actually in the same franchise: "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade."  Without a doubt, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas realized that in order for their films of the adventurous archaeologist to be the most successful, they had to be a rollicking good time for the audience, and they were.  Both critically and commercially, they were smash successes and forever ingrained in pop culture.  All adventure films since then are therefore inevitably compared to them, especially Raiders, which has essentially become a template for the adventure genre, and not just for films, but also through other mediums, such as video games.  One game that owes a great deal to the Indy films is Tomb Raider.  First arriving in the mid-1990's, Tomb Raider told the story of the tomb hunting adventurer Lara Croft.  While it had some unique twists on the genre (the most obvious being an overly sexualized, female lead character), it was essentially another variation on the Indiana Jones formula.  After finding great success in the video game market, it spawned two films in the early 2000s with Angelina Jolie in the lead role.  While the first one was moderately successful, the second one failed both critically and commercially, and the film series was canned.  The video games franchise continued on, however, and essentially was rebooted in 2013 in order to give Lara a new backstory and also served to somewhat de-sexualize the character from her earlier incarnations.  The game was a smash hit, and led to the recent release of a film adaptation.

    Essentially a reboot of the film franchise as well, Tomb Raider has plenty of action and adventure elements, with big stunt sequences, chases, gun (and bow and arrow) fights, puzzles, etc.  It also has a solid (if a bit unmemorable) performance by Alicia Vikander in the lead role.  Unfortunately, what it doesn't have is what it needed the most: a fun and entertaining atmosphere.  Taking itself way too seriously, I left Tomb Raider realizing I barely cracked a smile, or even internally got any real enjoyment out of the film.  While well-made and solidly produced, it was a very by-the-numbers, stale exercise in action-adventure film tropes.  In fact, the whole third act was a series of rehashed "Raiders" and "The Last Crusade" sequences, emulating the scenes while jettisoning much of the enjoyment those scenes brought.  It does try at times, for brief moments, to be fun, but stays mainly in its all too serious state.  Because of that, and because it doesn't offer anything remotely new or interesting, it's a film you'll leave and forget about 10 seconds after you leave the theater.  It's a shame, because it had potential, but maybe this is a franchise better left to the video game medium.  As for films, stick to those Dr. Jones classics.  Never awful, but seldom fun or enjoyable, I give Tomb Raider a 6 out of 10.

- Ryan Zeid

Perfect Organism Reviews

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Annihilation (7.5 out of 10)

“It’s not destroying.......it’s making something new.”

    When it comes to any narrative, whether told through short stories, novels, television shows, films, or any other medium, there tend to be a number of moments throughout the story that the audience (i.e. reader, viewer, etc.) is likely to recall.  There could be a thrilling opening sequence that gets things immediately rolling, a key dramatic monologue at the story’s mid-point or, more likely, an action-packed climax.  But, more often than not, and for better or worse, what the the audience remembers the most is the ending.  Sometimes the story ends with a huge surprise twist, or sometimes it ends with an ambiguous ending to stir the intellect and get the audience member thinking long after the story has ended.  For some, the ending may have worked beautifully and on numerous levels, while for others, it may have been a bit of a letdown and hurt what was otherwise a terrifically told story.

    With Alex Garland’s sci-fi thriller, “Annihilation,” I found myself leaning more towards the latter.  Now, that's not to say I didn't enjoy the film on the whole.  Annihilation is a beautiful film with a number of very effective thrills (and a couple truly terrifying and chilling sequences), many thematic layers to stimulate the intellect for those who love heady sci-fi, and some solid to great performances (including what might be one of my favorite performances by Natalie Portman).  On top of that, there is a climactic scene near the end that is altogether mesmerizing, beautiful, and unnerving, and a narrative with a healthy dose of ambiguity to keep you guessing right up until the end.  

    It's that end, though, that I found to be the most problematic part of the film.  While there were parts of Annihilation that I felt were a bit derivative of some much older, sci-fi classics, without giving anything away, I'll say the end left me literally saying, "So, it's basically another __________.  Hmm, that's pretty lame."  I know there will be many who disagree with me and feel the climax and conclusion of Annihilation are the icing on the masterpiece cake, and it does get you thinking a lot about what transpired before, but for me, it was a very good and, at times, brilliant film that ended with a bit of a disappointing thud.  For some viewers, and for better or worse, that is the part that they'll remember most.  I give Annihilation a 7.5 out of 10.

- Ryan Zeid  

Perfect Organism Reviews

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Black Panther (8 out of 10)

"Only you can decide what kind of king you want to be."

    I think it's fair to say that I don't know the first thing about what it feels like to face racism and racial injustice.  While I'm technically only half-white (I'm half Palestinian), I'd give Snow White a run for her money as the fairest of them all.  So, I understand that I really have no clue about what life must be like for someone of color on a daily basis.  From everything ranging from subtle looks to overtly derogatory language and even physical violence, racism is an evil and dark part of humanity that unfortunately lives on with, sadly, no signs of fading away or being eradicated.  One group that faces some of the most vicious racism here in the United States is the black community, and despite the efforts over the decades of the likes of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and many others to overcome racism and racial barriers of the black community, its a people group that unfortunately has not had a lot of heroes to look up to, and that goes for both those real, or even fictional, such as superheroes.  While there are some fictional, black superheroes scattered throughout Marvel and DC comic books and films, I can't think of very many that are the front and center stars, and someone for the black community, and people of color in general, to look up to.

    Thankfully, with the release of Marvel's "Black Panther," that will hopefully be a thing of the past.  Featuring a charismatic and inspiring performance by Chadwick Bozeman as the title character, an excellent (and predominantly black) cast, and some of the more fun and exciting moments in any MCU film, Black Panther gives people of all races a thrilling, entertaining, and exciting entry into the superhero genre, while also (hopefully) breaking down racial barriers and divides.  It's not just Bozeman T'Challa/Black Panther who does a stellar job in the titular role, however.  Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, and Lupita Nyong'o as his sidekick, sister, and love interest, respectfully, give standout and oftentimes scene-stealing performances to compliment Bozeman and the film as a whole.  The narrative itself is well-written and constructed, introducing T'Challa without resorting to the usual origin story tropes, and the film features some excellent and suspenseful action scenes to keep the audience on the edge of their seats.  The only issues I had with the film were that it was a bit too long and could've used a little trimming, it had some Marvel/Disney cheesiness (particularly during the final battle scene), and it featured a somewhat underwhelming and unconvincing performance from Michael B. Jordan as the villain (with a corny name) Erik Killmonger.  Jordan has proved to be a very talented actor in other roles, and while he certainly looks great in the part as the villain, and has a very good and moving backstory that makes you feel quite a bit of sympathy for his character, his performance just felt a bit off and forced to me.

    Those are minor qualms, however, as Black Panther excels far more than it fails.  Being a bright spot in an otherwise dull time of the year for feature films, while also transcending the typical big budget superhero film by pushing social and racial boundaries, Black Panther is a great film for the whole family.  It introduces a lead superhero of color, along with other characters who can be looked up to and inspire children and adults around the world to believe in themselves and what they can accomplish, no matter their race or color of skin.  I give Black Panther an 8 out of 10.  

- Ryan Zeid

Perfect Organism Reviews

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Maze Runner: The Death Cure (6.5 out of 10)

“You’re so close to the truth.  Don’t you want to know why this all happened?”

    In my experience, one key aspect of almost every great film I’ve seen is that it is memorable.  No matter what the genre is, if the film has me thinking about it for minutes, hours, and even days after seeing it, the odds are it was a great film, at least in my eyes.  Recent films such as Interstellar, Blade Runner 2049, and Predestination are prime examples for me.  But, having said that, there are some exceptions.  For example, 2012’s Prometheus had me thinking about it quite often after seeing it, but it’s a film that has also left me with plenty of mixed feelings about it.  Maybe because it’s so closely tied into the Alien series (and acts as a prequel of sorts to those films), it had me pondering its many ideas and possibilities for quite awhile afterward, yet it also left me frustrated with what I felt were its numerous failings.  On the other hand, there are films like the first live-action Transformers that I thought was really fun, solid escapist entertainment, but I didn’t think one iota about it after leaving the cinema.

    Maze Runner: The Death Cure seems to be one that will fall more into the latter category.  As the third film entry of the “Young-Adult (YA) fiction series, Death Cure provides plenty of solid action and entertainment, some good performances, emotional moments (especially near the end), and a mostly nice, albeit far too long wrap-up to the series.  But, much like the first two in the series, it’s a film that I haven’t given one though about since I saw it.  Despite the good performances, I didn’t care that much about the characters, and didn’t feel very invested in them (although I did a bit more toward the end).  Dylan O’Brien does a solid job in the lead role, and the other actors are mostly fine as well, but maybe it’s just a symptom of being inundated with so many different YA film franchises (Twilight, The Hunger Games, Divergent, etc.) over the last decade, with different settings and plots but carbon copy characters, that has led me to grow a bit detached from them.  Similarly, the action scenes are handled well (with one fairly elaborate scenario involving a bus), but I found myself, much like with the characters, not very engaged with them either.

    That’s not to say, of course, that I don’t recommend seeing The Death Cure.  Despite my criticisms, it may actually be my favorite of the series, at least on par with the first one, and concludes the trilogy on a solid note.  It also offers a few subtle homages to the classic 1986 film Aliens, which was a very unexpected but pleasant surprise.  Really, if you’re looking for solid, escapist entertainment, you could do a lot worse than The Death Cure.  But, if you’re looking for a film to stick with you and make you think about it long after it is over, you may want to save those memory banks for a different film.  I give Maze Runner: The Death Cure a 6.5 out of 10.

- Ryan Zeid

Perfect Organism Reviews

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The Post (7.5 out of 10)

“If we live in a world where the United States government tells you what we can and cannot print, the Washington Post has already ceased to exist.”

    I oftentimes miss the Golden Age of Steven Spielberg movies, when he directed films that inspired awe, wonder, suspense, and a feeling of adventure.  From his late 70’s classics such as Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, to his 80’s hits such as the Indiana Jones films and E.T., and into the early 90’s with Hook and Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg captured audiences world-wide with his mesmerizing and engrossing directorial style.  It was sometime after 1993’s Schindler’s List, though, that Spielberg began to move away from his earlier fare, and focused more on “mature” films with heavier political and social commentary, such as Amistad, Saving Private Ryan, The Terminal, Munich, Lincoln, and Bridge of Spies.  That’s not to say that they were lesser films by any means, as many of them were among the best films of the 1990’s and the new millennium (with Saving Private Ryan still being one of my favorite war films of all time).  That’s also not to say that he hasn’t tried to capture the wonder and awe of his early efforts, with offerings such as A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Minority Report, War of the Worlds, but his focus has clearly shifted as he’s gotten older, and he has moved away from his earlier work that I gravitated more toward.

    Nevertheless, whenever I hear about a new Steven Spielberg movie coming out, I’m still instantly intrigued and want to see it, regardless of most subject matter, because I know that I will be watching a film by a master auteur; one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.  So when I heard about his new film “The Post,” and especially when I heard the rave reviews from critics and audiences alike, I knew I wanted to see it as soon as possible.  Sure, it’s more along the lines of his political/social commentary films that I’m not as into, but I figured it would at least be deftly directed and extremely well made.  Thankfully, The Post is all those things and more, a very good, and at times great film that tells the true story of the Washington Post releasing stories in the early 70’s about confidential government documents regarding the Vietnam War that put the U.S. in a very negative light.  While it started slow and took me a bit to really get into it (probably because it felt more like a stage play early on than a film), the movie picks up the pace and the tension as it goes along.  It doesn’t hurt that it has Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep in leading roles, with the two delivering stellar performances with some great lines and dialogue, and really working well together in each scene.  It also benefits from having a strong supporting cast, as they are good-to-great all around as well.  The production values are top-notch, and frequent Spielberg cinematographer Janusz Kaminski does a masterful job of effectively capturing each set piece and scene.  Also, the story’s message is as applicable now, if not more so, than it was 45 years ago, making the film feel even more relevant today.

    While it might not be along the lines of his earlier, and my more favored offerings, The Post is a very solid film that starts off slow but gets better as it goes along, building suspense and tension right up until the end (which is quite difficult to do for a true story when the audience already knows the outcome).  It shows that, given nearly any subject matter, Steven Spielberg can deliver a very good and oftentimes great film, as he has a talent for making movies that is nearly unparalleled in the history of filmmaking.  Maybe that, in and of itself, should inspire more awe and wonder.  I give The Post a 7.5 out of 10.

- Ryan Zeid

Perfect Organism Reviews

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The Commuter (5 out of 10)

“What kind of person are you?”

    I honestly didn’t even want to write a review for this film.  It’s not because it is awful, because it really isn’t.  Actually, it was mildly entertaining and had some decent action sequences.  No, the reason I didn’t want to write a review for this film is because it’s really just another Liam Neeson action film.  Ever since Neeson’s career was reinvigorated with the smash success of 2008’s “Taken,” he’s had no problem being typecast in a bunch of wannabe, Taken-like films.  I guess it pays the bills, but it also has heavily diluted his brand and drained every last ounce of creativity from the scripts he receives, and that trend continues with “The Commuter,” Neeson’s fourth outing with director Jaume Collet-Serra, previously working with him on 2011’s “Unknown,” 2014’s “Non-Stop,” and 2015’s “Run All Night.”  Of those films, The Commuter is most like Non-Stop.  In that film, Neeson played an air-marshal trying to solve a mystery/conspiracy while on an airplane, with plenty of fighting and action sequences along the way.  In the commuter, Neeson plays a former NYPD officer turned life insurance salesman who is suddenly fired, and on the train home, he is thrust into figuring out a mystery/conspiracy while on a train with, you guessed it, plenty of fighting and action sequences along the way.

    The only semi-creative twist I can think of for this film is that Neeson isn’t nearly as good of a fighter as he is in his other action films.  Unlike his Brian Mills character in Taken, Neeson gets battered, bruised, and beaten to a pulp by multiple people while he tries to defend himself, often unsuccessfully (but of course he just kept chugging along).  Were there any other interesting parts to the film?  Sure, Vera Farmiga (seen only briefly but heard throughout the film) is very interesting as the mysterious woman who offers Neeson’s character a nice sum of money if he can find the passenger on the train who “doesn’t belong.”  Also, some of the other supporting characters do a decent job of bringing some tension to scenes, even if most of them are nothing but red herrings.  But none of those things, plus the fighting and action sequences, do much to alleviate the boredom and the “been there, seen that” feel I got throughout the film.  The fight scenes are fairly brief and rather banal, and the action pieces, specifically the climactic train derailment, are so over-the-top and poorly rendered that they became laughable.  Also, Collet-Serra tried to be creative with some of his camera work, but those moments came across as forced and rather unnecessary directorial flourishes that didn’t do his film any favors.

    I wish I could say that this film brought something new to the table, or even just made old material feel fresh and exciting, the way I felt when I watched Taken, but alas, it does not.  While it certainly had some potential, and Vera Farmiga could’ve been a very interesting villain if given more time to develop, the film is, ultimately, just another mediocre Liam Neeson action movie.  I give The Commuter a 5 out of 10.

- Ryan Zeid

Perfect Organism Reviews

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The Greatest Showman (8 out of 10)

“No one ever made a difference by being like everyone else.”

    I’ve always had a strong love and affinity toward music.  I took singing and guitar lessons for a short time, and at one time I (very briefly) went to a college in Nashville, Tennessee to pursue a career in the music business.  While nothing has ever really materialized in my brief musical endeavors (relegated to singing loudly in my car nowadays), my love for music has remained.  Give me music with a great melody, regardless of almost any genre, and you’ve got me: hook, line, and sinker.  That also goes for music within films.  Whether it’s individual songs on the soundtrack or the film composer’s score, if a film has music I really connect with, I’m much more likely to enjoy the film (notwithstanding good acting, story, etc.).  Despite all of that, for longest time, I had never considered myself much of a fan of film musicals.  Maybe it had a bit to do with not seeing a lot of great musicals, or seeing mostly old black-and-white ones with good but archaic songs that I just didn’t connect with.  It wasn’t until I saw “Moulin Rouge” back in 2001 that I realized I really could love and enjoy a musical film.  While the first 15 or so minutes of that film were a bit jarring, once the first duet with Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman began, I fell head over heels for the film.  Since then, I’ve been far more open to seeing musicals and embracing them as a genre of film I can thoroughly enjoy.

    When I heard there was a new musical called “The Greatest Showman” coming out toward the end of 2017, starring Hugh Jackman, I was very excited to see it.  Not only because I’m a big Hugh Jackman fan (who also happens to be an accomplished singer, showman, and stage actor himself), but also because some of the same people who worked on it also worked on the excellent musical “La La Land” that came out just a year previously.  Well, I’m happy to say that “The Greatest Showman” is another excellent entry into the musical genre.  Featuring fantastic song-and-dance numbers, with beautiful choreography, a solid story with great acting, and an inspiring message about not being ashamed for being different than others, but using that difference in a positive way to bring joy to people, The Great Showman should garner some nominations and maybe a few victories during the movie award season.  Hugh Jackman is great playing P.T. Barnum, the originator of the long running (but now recently defunct) “Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus.”  This is the kind of film Hugh is clearly comfortable being the lead in, and it shows.  It doesn’t hurt that the rest of the supporting cast around him is excellent as well, especially Zac Efron as Barnum’s reluctant business partner, Phillip Carlyle.  Efron, a veteran of the High School Musical films, shows he’s still very in touch with his song and dance background.  He also has a huge part in my favorite scene in the film, a duet midway through with Zendaya’s trapeze artist character, Anne Wheeler.  The song, the choreography, pretty much every part of the scene is executed brilliantly.  There really isn’t much not to like about the film.  The only minor complaint I had is, if you go in expecting a very in-depth biographical film about P.T. Barnum, this is certainly not it.  The film is a very surface-level, sensationalized look at Barnum.  To be fair, I don’t believe the filmmakers intended to make a film like that anyway, and instead wanted to capture the essence and feel of what Barnum tried to accomplish through his circus and theatrical endeavors.  Nevertheless, if you’re looking for more details on the life of P.T. Barnum, I’m sure there are far more detailed accounts in books than what you will see in this film.

    But, if you go into the film expecting a fun, inspiring, well-acted, well-choreographed musical with terrific song and dance numbers, you can’t do much better than “The Greatest Showman.”  While it is a very surface-level look into the life of P.T. Barnum and how he began his long-running circus show, it does capture much of what Barnum was looking to accomplish with his shows: bringing awe, wonder, joy, and happiness to millions of people around the world.  As Barnum himself once said, “The noblest art is that of making others happy.”  I give “The Greatest Showman” and 8 out of 10.

- Ryan Zeid

Perfect Organism Reviews

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Star Wars - Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (8 out of 10)

"I need someone to show me my place in all of this."

    I can't think of too many products of any kind that have been as iconic, prolific, and ingrained in popular culture as Star Wars.  When the first Star Wars film debuted way back in 1977, a lot of people, including some of the cast, thought it was just a ridiculous sci-fi film created by some young, relatively unknown filmmaker named George Lucas.  Alec Guinness, who played Obi Wan Kenobi, was pretty open about his dislike of the script and the "bloody awful, banal lines."  Little did he or anyone else know, Star Wars would go on to become a multi-billion dollar, multi-media, mega-franchise, spawning two sequels over the next six years, along with numerous books, games, toys, etc. over the next few decades.  Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo, among many other iconic characters, became a part of the public conscious.  Despite the many other products and forms of media released after 1983's after Return of the Jedi, fans still thirsted for more films, and George Lucas was inspired to bring to life a prequel series that told the story of how things led up to the original film.  So in 1999, Lucas released Episode I: The Phantom Menace, along with Episode II: Attack of the Clones, and Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, over the next six years.  Despite making millions of dollars, the prequel series was largely panned and loathed by audiences and critics alike, relying too much on CGI, poorly written characters, bad acting, and a lack of the genuine spirit of the original trilogy.  The franchise, despite still being insanely popular, was at a crossroads of sorts.  That is, until the Walt Disney Company bought Lucasfilm for over $4 billion dollars in 2012 and immediately announced the development of a new film trilogy, that would tell the story of what happened after Return of the Jedi.  In 2015, Disney and Lucasfilm released Episode VII: The Force Awakens.  Despite its flaws and the very safe writing and direction by J.J. Abrams, The Force Awakens brought back much of the fun, joy, spirit, and great characters of the original trilogy, and made nearly $1 billion in the U.S. alone.  Star Wars, as a film franchise, was back in high gear.  The following year brought the first of the Star Wars Anthology films, Rogue One, a telling of the events leading right up to the beginning of the first film.  Rogue One was also very successful and largely praised by fans and critics alike.

    Once again, a year later, Disney and Lucasfilm bring us back to the main Skywalker storyline with Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.  Following soon after the events of The Force Awakens, TLJ continues the story of Rey, Poe, Finn, while also bringing back Carrie Fisher's Leia and Mark Hamill's Luke Skywalker.  Directed and written by the relatively unknown Rian Johnson, TLJ is in many ways a departure from the Star Wars films we've seen before, and it works, oftentimes incredibly well.  Featuring numerous twists and turns, surprises, a large dose of humor that (mostly) works, and many crowd-pleasing moments, The Last Jedi is a breath of fresh air for many who found The Force Awakens to be, while fun and enjoyable, a bit too derivative of the original trilogy.  Johnson takes chances in this film, and largely succeeds.  It doesn't hurt that the cast is stellar once again, especially Mark Hamill (giving quite a different take on Luke Skywalker this time around).  His moments on screen are among the best in the film.  The rest of the cast, including Daisy Ridley as Rey and Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, are fantastic as well.  The story certainly kept me on my toes and guessing as to what would happen next, something I didn't experience with The Force Awakens, or most of the other Star Wars films.  Rian Johnson brought creativity that, while some might find polarizing, I found to be much-needed for the franchise.  Yet while there are numerous, positive aspects to the film, I did have some mild criticisms.  First of all, I felt the film went on far too long.  Clocking in at two and a half hours, TLJ could have used some more time in the editing room, as I felt quite a few scenes could've been trimmed, particularly one scene about halfway through the film involving a casino-like resort.  Also, while it looks great in many ways, there are several moments in the film where the special effects were distractingly poor, especially for Industrial Light and Magic, who usually put out stellar work. 

    That being said, these are minor flaws in what is another stellar entry into the Star Wars film franchise.  Continuing the fun and enjoyment of what made Star Wars the monster franchise that it is, while bringing something new to the table thanks to Rian Johnson's clever, surprising script, The Last Jedi is sure to please many hardcore Star Wars fans and plenty of casual moviegoers as well.  Disney certainly has the franchise heading in the right direction, and has me excited about what's next.  I give Star Wars - Episode VIII: The Last Jedi an 8 out of 10.

- Ryan Zeid

Perfect Organism Reviews

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Murder on the Orient Express (5.5 out of 10)

"My name is Hercule Poirot and I am probably the greatest detective in the world."

    I've never been a huge fan of large parties.  It's not that they can't be a lot of fun sometimes, with various fun games being played, swimming in a pool, lounging in a hot tub, good food and drinks, etc.  The main reason is that there are just too many people, and if I don't know any of them ahead of time, it makes things pretty overwhelming for me.  Sure, I may end up having a couple decent and slightly more in-depth conversations, but for the most part I never really get to know a lot of the people there, and it's easy to end up feeling pretty isolated and alone, despite being surrounded by dozens of people.  When it comes to films, it can be a similar challenge when you have a script featuring many characters (played by a who's-who list of A-list actors) who each need to be presented with a backstory and given some screen-time, and all done within about a two hour movie.  It can be a bit overwhelming to try and bring so many characters into a film, flesh them out and make them compelling enough so the audience can be more fully drawn into the story.

    So when I went to see Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of Agatha Christie's novel "Murder on the Orient Express," I had in the back of my mind that this would ultimately feel like one of the many large parties I've been to, where a smorgasbord of characters are presented, but there's not enough time to make them interesting or compelling enough to really care about them or the narrative.  Unfortunately, that's more or less how it played out.  While the film is well acted, and the production values and cinematography are top notch and make for a film very easy on the eyes, Orient Express gave itself too much to handle in terms of number of characters and character development.  The one with the most screen-time is Branagh's own Hercule Poirot.  Featuring a large dose of eccentricity, a ridiculously large mustache, and a thick French accent that makes him hard to understand at times, particularly early on, Branagh tries his darnedest to make Poirot a compelling protagonist as the self-proclaimed "greatest detective in the world," hired to find out who killed a patron on the train (played by Johnny Depp).  For the majority of the film, Poirot is thus left to interview each of the guests on the train to try to figure out who the murderer is.  While they are all given a fairly equal amount of screentime, there are just too many to try to flesh out, and that's despite a cast featuring Depp, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Daisy Ridley, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Penelope Cruz.  With all that talent, they can only do so much with the script to make each character compelling, but it's clear the film was overloaded with too many players.  By the end, I didn't really care who the actual murderer was (which is revealed in a plot twist that comes off as more unintentionally funny than satisfying in any way).

    Sometimes films can bring a large cast of A-list actors together and create an effective story with well-fleshed out characters.  But for many films, such as this one, they are better off sticking to the old adage "less is more."  While I'm sure the novel (which I haven't read) spent much more time exploring the different characters and making them more interesting, Express just doesn't have the time nor the ability to effectively tell this ensemble murder mystery.  Feeling like a large party where you leave not really knowing or caring much about the people there, and thus feeling empty in the end, Murder on the Orient Express rates as a 5.5 out of 10.

- Ryan Zeid

Perfect Organism Reviews

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Justice League (5 out of 10)

“I don’t have to recognize this world.  I just have to save it.”

    One thing I’ve always admired about professional film actors is that, no matter what project they are acting in, and no matter how negatively they might feel about the characters, plot, script, etc., they usually can bring their A-game to their performance and make you feel like they really care about what you’re seeing on screen.  Alec Guinness, for example, made Obi Wan Kenobi iconic with his portrayal of the character in the original Star Wars trilogy, despite various stories stating he loathed the script and thought the things he had to say were ridiculous.  Every so often, though, there are actors whose performances are so bland and uninspired on screen that the viewer can be all but certain that the actor playing that role had little to no interest in the project and looked like he (or she) would rather be somewhere else

    That’s clearly the case in DC’s newest mess of a film, “Justice League.”  Despite being my favorite part of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” it’s pretty clear that Ben Affleck (giving a much more disinterested and dispassionate performance) would rather not don the cape and cowl again as Batman aka Bruce Wayne (which has also more or less been confirmed by major news outlets).  While his reasons could be numerous, it probably didn’t help that this latest outing for the Caped Crusader and his new mega-team of superheroes is a disjointed, messy, uneven clash of styles, with both Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon (uncredited) getting director duties on the project.  I think most comic book film fans will be able to pick out which scenes were directed by Snyder (who had to leave the film production because of a family tragedy) and which scenes were directed by Marvel alum Whedon.  The dark, foreboding, gloomy bits of the film have Snyder’s stamp on it, while the lighter, funnier parts feel much like a Whedon-directed superhero film.  I definitely enjoyed the more Whedon-like scenes more, and wish that he had been given the reigns from the outset to see how the rest of the film would’ve turned out.  It may have ended up too much like a Marvel film, but considering how well those films have done, both commercially and critically, I think it would’ve been a welcome change for DC.

    The acting (outside of Affleck) is solid enough, particularly Ezra Miller as The Flash.  Bringing some much needed, Marvel-like humor to the proceedings, Miller is a good fit as the lightning fast but socially awkward comic-relief.  Gal Gadot returns as Wonder Woman, and again does a great job in the role.  Jason Momoa gives Aquaman a sort­ of surfer dude personality, but is decent enough, although not given much to do other than walk around shirtless and make many female (and some male) audience members drool.  Ray Fisher is interesting as Cyborg/Victor Stone, but his character isn’t explored as much as I would’ve liked.  Henry Cavill returns as Superman/Clark Kent, in a role he seemed destined to play.  The rest of the performances are decent enough.  Unfortunately, the film suffers, once again, from a weak villain, played by Ciaran Hinds.  Not only does his character, Steppenwolf, bring almost zero tension to the film, it doesn’t help that he is one of the most poorly rendered CGI characters I’ve seen in a major, big-budgeted film over the last several years.  In fact, the film as a whole has atrocious CGI throughout, with many scenes coming across as no better than an average video game in quality.  For a film that’s almost entirely filmed with a green screen in the background, as well as CGI characters in the foreground, you’d expect they would put more time and effort into making things feel more realistic.  Unfortunately, what we ended up with feels rushed and sloppy, and hurts the film greatly.

    While I did find Justice League slightly more enjoyable than its predecessor, “Batman v Superman,” thanks primarily to the much-needed comic-relief, it unfortunately becomes another muddled film in the garbage heap of DC Extended Universe films.  Despite some decent performances and a few solid character moments, Justice League falls far short of the majority of Marvel’s offerings in the comic book film genre.  By the end of it, you may feel much like Ben Affleck and want to move on from these shoddy DC films for good.  I give Justice League a 5 out of 10.

- Ryan Zeid

Perfect Organism Reviews

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Thor: Ragnarok (6.5 out of 10)

“Thor, I sense a great change in your future. Destiny has dire plans for you, my friend.”

“I have dire plans for destiny.”

    It’s safe to say that Marvel Studios has gotten off to an enormous head-start on DC Entertainment, it’s chief rival.  While DC has been trying desperately to catch up to Marvel over the last few years, with very mixed results, Marvel keeps chugging along and putting out hit after hit.  Back when Marvel’s “Iron Man” debuted in 2008 and became a smash success, it ended up launching the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  Since then, Marvel has released numerous films introducing and developing some of the most loved characters in Marvel’s comic book history, such as Captain America, Ant-Man, Dr. Strange, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and the ensemble Avengers films.  During that time period, Marvel Studios has developed a specific formula that permeates most if not all of its films: lots of action, strong character development and narratives, and last but certainly not least, tons of humor.  While DC films have mostly stayed dark, bleak, and serious, Marvel has marketed and delivered movies that have stayed on the lighter side with many laughs and jabs not only at its characters, but at popular culture as well.  The formula has worked effectively, as Marvel Studios has earned billions upon billions of dollars from this ever-expanding universe it has created.  That formula has been pushed to the zenith with its latest release, “Thor: Ragnarok.”

    Ragnarok is the third outing for Thor, following 2011’s Thor and 2013’s Thor: The Dark World.  While those two films had plenty of laughs, for sure, Ragnarok ups the humor aspect considerably, so much so that it’s safe to call Ragnarok a full-blown comedy with some action.  Humor and laughs permeate the film, from beginning to end.  I found myself laughing quite a bit at what was delivered (although at times the humor was a bit cringe-inducing), and while most of the comedy worked and I was certainly entertained by this latest Marvel film, I also left the theater a bit letdown.  While the wall-to-wall humor was great for the most part, I also felt it masked some of the overt deficiencies in the film.  First of all, the film was not edited and paced well at times, as some scenes seemed to plod along clumsily and were unnecessarily extended.  Secondly, Ragnarok has some of the worst CGI I’ve seen in an MCU film.  While it’s possibly intentional to correspond with the zany and comical quality of the film, I found the poor CGI to be quite distracting, especially when nearly every scene is basically live actors in front of a green screen.  Also, the story itself is fairly thin, and it felt like scenes were intentionally dragged out to mask the weakness of the narrative.  There was almost no tension throughout the film, as there was never a time I felt concerned about the protagonists.

    That’s not to say that the actors in the film did poorly.  Despite the deficiencies in the narrative aspect of the script, the acting is solid throughout.  Chris Hemsworth returns as Thor in a role he was pretty much destined to play.  This time, Hemsworth gives his most comedic take on the character, with plenty of tongue-in-cheek moments throughout.  Tom Hiddleston is great as Loki, as are Anthony Hopkins, Tessa Thompson, and Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/Hulk.  Cate Blanchett, an actress I’ve always admired, does a fine job as the antagonist Hela, the evil sister of Thor and Loki, hell-bent on taking over Asgard, and also getting to flex her comedic muscles as well.  The real scene-stealer, however, is Jeff Goldblum as the flamboyant Grandmaster.  Essentially playing himself, Goldblum hams it up and is perfect for the part. 

    So, there is plenty to enjoy in the latest Thor outing.  The humor keeps things light and entertaining, and the actors seem to be having fun with the material, which makes things more enjoyable for the audience.  It’s hard to not enjoy a film when you see how much fun the actors are having on screen.  But the uneven pacing, weak story, and poor CGI keep Thor: Ragnarok from being one of the elite films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Despite that, however, the film should continue the string of massive box office successes for Marvel and leave DC further behind in Marvel’s rear-view mirror.  I give Thor: Ragnarok a 6.5 out of 10.

- Ryan Zeid

Perfect Organism Reviews

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Jigsaw (4.5 out of 10)

"You're about to play a game......" 

    I can't remember exactly where I was when I watched the first "Saw" film back in 2004.  I do know I wasn't expecting much, as I never have high expectations going into horror films.  I find most horror films usually boil down to the same tropes, over and over again, and thus become quite repetitive.  Sure, they can be dressed up in different settings and sometimes they'll surprise you with originality, such as "Scream" or "Cabin in the Woods," but those horror films are few and far between, as the majority of them tend to be quite forgettable at best.  So, imagine my surprise when I finished watching "Saw" and found that I really enjoyed it!  It was an intense, disturbing film about a serial killer, Jigsaw, who tortures his victims with vicious games, the caveat being that his victims are people who have done some pretty evil acts themselves, and thus are being punished until they "repent of their sins," so to speak.  If they beat the game, and thus repent, they'll survive, but if they lose the game, they die, usually in a violent, gory manner.  I had never seen a film quite like it, at least at the time, and it has a whopper of a twist ending that took me completely by surprise.  To this day, it is one of my favorite horror/thriller films, and it was a massive, surprise hit when it came out.  It was such a huge hit, in fact, that it produced not only numerous copycat films (known facetiously today as "torture porn"), but no less than seven sequels.  Unfortunately, the subsequent Saw films devolved into basically finding creative ways for Jigsaw to eviscerate and mutilate his victims, while offering really nothing new in terms of a smart narrative or compelling characters.

    So that brings me to the latest sequel in the series, "Jigsaw," which despite being directed by the Spierig Brothers, who were behind 2009's solid vampire film "Daybreakers" and the excellent 2014 time-travel film "Predestination," ends up being more of the same ol' song and dance.  To be fair, I did find myself somewhat engaged with the offering at times.  I enjoyed the bevy of twists, turns, and red herrings presented throughout the film to throw off the viewer in terms of who was responsible for the latest deadly games (since the Jigsaw killer, John Kramer, had died 10 years before the events of the film.....or did he?).  The scenes involving the police investigation and the two autopsy doctors (who may or may not have more going on than initially believed) were fairly intriguing.  Unfortunately, the film falls flat with the torture porn aspect.  The paper-thin, one-dimensional victims, with all the annoying yelling and screaming, were completely uninteresting to me.  That made the moments when they are tortured and killed off, while filled with plenty of blood and gore, devoid of any tension.  Also, despite the numerous twists and turns, I found the final twist to be quite anti-climactic and fairly lame. and overall a letdown.  So, I suppose if you like your torture porn with plenty of blood and gore and little in the way of originality, creativity, engaging stories, or interesting characters, you may find plenty to enjoy in Jigsaw.  Otherwise, sitting through the film may ultimately feel like being in one of Jigsaw's torturous games.  I give "Jigsaw" a 4.5 out of 10.

- Ryan Zeid

Perfect Organism Reviews

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Happy Death Day (6 out of 10)

"You relive the same day over and over again, you kind of start to see who you really are."

    I've always enjoyed films about time travel or time loops, because it gives the protagonist a chance, in some way, to relive a certain day or moment, something that I've often thought and fantasized about.  It's interesting to me, though, that of all the days I would want to relive or redo, it's usually the bad ones.  Sure, there are plenty of great days I would love to relive and experience again, but really, it's those days or moments where, if given the chance, I would want to do things differently, in the hopes that the different decision would result in a better outcome.  But, of course, with my very limited perspective, making a different decision that I think would have made things better may have, in fact, resulted in an even worse outcome.  Ultimately, I have to learn to accept those decisions and learn from them, in the hopes that they'll make me a better person.  

    But in the thriller, Happy Death Day, Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) does get to experience the same day, over and over again, and it just so happens to be a very bad day for Tree, because at the end of it, she's murdered by a masked killer.  Neither Tree nor the audience know why the time loop is happening, but it's clear that she needs to make some different decisions, because once she gets killed, she wakes up again in the same dorm room, on the same day (which also happens to be her birthday), only to get murdered again.  It's an interesting premise, but unfortunately not very original.  If you've seen the classic 1993 Bill Murray film "Groundhog Day," you've already seen a time loop movie done much better, albeit in the form of a comedy.  However, that's not to say there aren't things to enjoy about Happy Death Day.  There's plenty of needed humor in the film to lighten tone.  There are several twists and turns that, despite not being very surprising, at least keep things from getting too stale.  Also, while she starts off as extremely unlikable, Gelbman eventually learns to change her ways, as this film is more about her character's redemption than it is about solving a murder mystery. 

    The film does falter from too much of a "been there, done that" feel (apparently the filmmakers realized that, as there's a very direct reference to Groundhog Day made within the film).  The acting, for the most part, is mediocre at best (although I found Rothe to be quite effective in a few scenes).  There's also a mid-film montage sequence that I found to be a bit distracting and poorly done.  Despite that, though, there's enough thrills, humor, and overall enjoyable moments in the film to give it a mild recommendation.  While it may not be the most original time loop thriller, at least it didn't make me wish to relive the day so I could tell myself to stay home instead.  I give Happy Death Day a 6 out of 10.

- Ryan Zeid

Perfect Organism Reviews

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Blade Runner 2049 (9 out of 10)

“I always told you, ‘You’re special.’  Your history isn't over yet.  There's still a page left.”

    There really is no such thing as a “perfect” film, in my humble opinion.  Every film, even the best of the best, have some flaws in them, either technically, narratively, with the acting, editing, etc.  There’s always some way that a film could’ve been corrected.  Then again, when we talk about great art, we don’t necessarily call it perfect; we call great art “masterpieces.”  A masterpiece is something that transcends flaws, goes above and beyond any kinks in its armor.  It grasps the viewer on a level beyond mere technical prowess and narrative fortitude.  Masterpieces belong in a class beyond perfection, because they reach inside the audience in a special, transformative way.  When Ridley Scott's “Blade Runner” debuted in 1982 (itself an adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep), it was considered far from a masterpiece, or even just a good film.  It was met with lukewarm reviews and poor box office receipts, but over the years following its release, the film became a bonafide cult classic, spawning multiple cuts that improved on the narrative and high-end transfer that brought the already amazing visuals to even greater heights.  Today, Blade Runner is considered the zenith of masterful science fiction filmmaking.  It became something greater than greatness itself.  Despite any flaws it had, those were lost, like tears in the rain, beneath its story, its thematic layers and universal, philosophical questions, and its characters that struggle with issues as relevant today as ever before.

    When “Blade Runner 2049” was announced, many scratched their heads at the idea of making a sequel to a film that didn’t need one.  How do you follow up a masterpiece that never needed a follow up in the first place?  Disappointment seemed to be inevitable, if not outright hatred.  It seemed like a shameless cash-grab to ride the coattails of its predecessor.   But when I found out it was to be directed by Denis Villeneuve (director of stellar films such as Prisoners, Sicario, and Arrival), I knew we would be in for a treat.  Villeneuve has quickly become one of my favorite directors working today, and I was sure he wouldn’t have taken on this immense project if there wasn’t a great story there he wanted to tell.

    Thankfully, Villeneuve and company deliver a film that exceeded all my expectations and then some.  With a simple but compelling and moving story, strong, memorable characters, astounding visuals, and rich themes with many layers for the filmophile to sink their teeth into, Blade Runner 2049 delivers nothing less than a grand moviegoing experience.  It’s a film that stands firmly on its own, without relying too heavily on its predecessor, except for a few very effective callbacks.  The visuals and sound effects alone are stunning to behold, especially in the IMAX screening I went to.  There’s not a single wasted shot in the whole film.  Every scene, every frame is done with impressive and meticulous attention to detail.  You become immediately transported into this world and don’t leave it until the credits start to role.  The soundtrack, by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, is a masterwork on its own, following boldly in Vangelis’ footsteps from the original but never sounding like it copies his work.  The acting is stellar all-around, particularly Ana de Armas as Joi, Officer K’s (Ryan Gosling) holographic girlfriend.  Every scene between them moved me on multiple levels, as de Armas makes her non-living, digital character feel as alive and human as any flesh and blood person.  Another standout is Sylvia Hoeks as Luv, a second-in-command of sorts to Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), the creator of the next-generation of replicants.  Both chilling and compelling, she brings a much needed edge and brutality to her antagonist character.  Harrison Ford returns as Rick Deckard, in a somewhat brief but narratively important appearance.  Gosling is fine as the primary protagonist trying to uncover a mystery that could shake mankind.

    The only very minor issue I had with the film is that it felt just a little too long, and maybe could have used just a bit more time in the editing room.  Honestly, though, I was so immersed in the world that I didn’t even care.  The length of the film is easily forgiven and forgotten beneath all of its sublime and fantastic qualities.  Blade Runner 2049 started off its development being a film that nobody wanted, but ends up being a film everyone needs to see.  Immediately supplanting itself as one of the best films of the year, one of the greatest science fiction films of all time, and a modern-day masterpiece, I give Blade Runner 2049 a 9 out of 10.

- Ryan Zeid

 

PERFECT ORGANISM Reviews

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Kingsman: The Golden Circle (6 out of 10)

“Manners….maketh…..man. Let me translate that for you.”

    I think one of the most underrated and important jobs on a film or television production crew has got to be the role of the editor. While much of the focus for the general moviegoer are those in front of the camera, namely the actors, and while they and the director tend to get the brunt of the focus from film critics, it’s really the editors who I believe have one of the greatest and most important responsibilities. The success of many films can be affected greatly by how well they are paced, how easily it flows from one scene to the next, and how fluidly actors seem to move from one scene to the next, even when said scenes are filmed days and oftentimes weeks apart. All of that is part of the editing process and the duties of the editor. Yes, the director and some of the producers have a huge say in it as well, but it’s the editors who make the cuts, splice the film together, and give us what we finally see on the big screen (or small screen). When too many cuts, or not enough cuts, are made, the flow of the entire movie can be negatively affected. So, when I heard that “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” (the sequel to 2014’s immensely fun and effective “Kingsman: The Secret Service”) had a run-time that clocked in at over two hours and twenty minutes, I had a sinking suspicion that the film was going to be a bit bloated, with too much in the film that should’ve been edited out and left on the cutting room floor.

    Alas, my suspicions were unfortunately proven true. Now, that’s not to say that there are not some fun and effective scenes, with plenty of wildly violent but fun gun battles and fight scenes, hyper-stylized car chases, and a healthy dose of humor throughout.  Also, the lead actors do a fine job, as Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, and especially Julianne Moore (as the main antagonist) seem to have loads of fun with the material they're given, as do Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, and Pedro Pascal as the Statesman. But while The Golden Circle retains much of the fun and excitement of the first film, I couldn’t help throughout the offering, thinking of all the excess scenes and bits that could’ve been edited out and trimmed down to make the film into a much tighter and more effective thrill ride. Returning director Matthew Vaughn apparently decided to up the ante in nearly every aspect from the first film, and thus The Golden Circle falls prey to the all too common and flawed sequel-ism that “more is better." If the first Kingsman was essentially a James Bond film on steroids, the sequel is a James Bond film on steroids, HGH, cocaine, and a healthy dose of Hulk-like gamma ray exposure. Unfortunately, that choice ultimately hurt the film rather than helped it.

    There is quite a bit to enjoy in the Kingsman sequel, but it’s just too overlong, over produced, and over indulgent for its own good. If you’re a fan of the first film, you’ll most likely find a lot to like with the sequel, but I think many will find, like me, that sometimes more is simply not better, and that the film could’ve used quite a bit more time and care in the editing room. I give "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" a 6 out of 10.

- Ryan Zeid