Tag Archives: Alex Kurtzman

“THE MUMMY (2017)” Review (Half of a star)

SOURCE: Universal Pictures

Should have stayed buried.

The Mummy is one of the most asinine experiences I’ve ever had at the movies. I did not enjoy a single frame of it. Not one. If the entire film stock was ripped from the theaters and used as body wrapping for a King Tut replica in a museum, I’d be completely fine with it. At least then it would have served a more useful purpose. Or even any purpose, really.

A remake/reboot/re-imagining of the Mummy tale done too many times over, this rendition of The Mummy stars Tom Cruise in a role so forgettable that I refuse to even recognize him using his character’s name. The story (*belches*) follows Corporal Tom, who is the typical bad boy in the military, stuck with boring female interest Annabelle Wallis and stock best friend sidekick Jake Johnson looking for buried treasure in Iraq.

Just so you know, I had to look up both of the actors names just to type them up. I would have rather left their credits blank just to save time writing this review.

The big baddie: a grey-skinned, Egyptian-tattooed mummified Goddess named Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), whose movements and speech is so awkward and clumsy that she makes Cara Delevingne’s Enchantress in Suicide Squad look like a Victoria’s Secret model. If this is the best movie monster that Universal can come up with, they should fire all of their future actors, makeup artists, and costume designers and just place Barbie dolls in their places. They would save money, they would get the same plastic performance, and the Barbies would actually be creepy, unlike any of the scenes containing Boutella in them.

I have so many problems with this movie, but let’s start with the most glaring problem of them all: Tom Cruise. Now don’t get me wrong, I like the guy. Even in his older age, Cruise still manages to enthusiastically dish out one role after another, from the intelligent and ruthless action thriller Jack Reacher, to the creative and captivating Edge of Tomorrow, to his familiar role as Ethan Hunt in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. I like the guy when he is in movies that work for him. The Mummy, however, irredeemably embodies the worst parts of Cruise as an actor.

I admittedly don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s Cruise’s half-witted delivery with all of his lines. Maybe it’s because he acts like he’s manically tweaked up on heroine in moments where his character is supposed to be calm and collective. Maybe it’s because for three quarters of the movie he’s spent either running away from terrible CGI or fighting PG-13 zombies in various slapping contests. Or maybe it’s because the film is written so poorly that it doesn’t know how to play off of Cruise’s charisma or charm. I simply don’t know, and a close analysis of his terrible scenes does nothing to bring any more clarity to the situation.

I’ll cut him some slack though, if for no other reason than that Russell Crowe is equally terrible here as Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. Yes, you read that right. What on Earth is Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde doing in a Mummy picture? For marketing purposes? Whatever. He’s just as forgettable and useless here as Cruise is. For half of his screen time, he’s either spent narrating over cliché flashback sequences or going Frankenstein on poor Corporal Tom’s frail body. What happened to him? He was funny and crass in last year’s The Nice Guys alongside Ryan Gosling. Now he’s stuck with just talking in a raspy British dialect and spazzing out on his co-stars. God, it’s depressing to see what actors will do for a paycheck.

This is a film that, for the life of me, I cannot understand how it ended up so unabashedly bad as it did. The film is written and directed by Alex Kurtzman, who up until now has been mostly consistent with his body of work. He’s co-written multiple successful blockbusters, including Mission Impossible III, Watchmen, and the Star Trek films. He’s produced Cowboys & Aliens, Now You See Me, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Granted, his director debut People Like Us had earnest intentions but collapsed under the weight of its own mediocrity. Still, in the world of Hollywood, Kurtzman is more experienced and reliable than most. How did he flub it up so badly and make a film as silly, stupid, and inconsistent as this?

I think it’s because instead of focusing on creating a coherent and exciting action thriller, he was trying to make a franchise. The Mummy is the first entry under the Dark Universe imprint, an expanded franchise that shares all of Universal’s horror icons under one banner (Frankenstein, Dracula, the Invisible Man, etc). If this is any indication of what’s to come for the franchise, they need to end it right here and now. The Mummy wants so desperately to launch into an expanded horror universe that it focuses too much on the superficial elements and not enough on the grounded ones. I can name to you every bland action scene in this putrid movie, every excrement of attempted comedy and drama that fails oh so spectacularly. But I can’t tell you a thing about its characters, their flat motivations, or their meaningless placement in this uninspired story. Marvel and DC are blatant in their universe-building for sure, but at least they have interesting characters and scenarios to go along with it. Whatever interest The Mummy might have had sinks beneath its narrative incapacity: like throwing the screenplay into quicksand.

The Mummy gets half of a star as opposed to its deserving zero only because it is brainless and not offensive, unlike the films Split and A Cure For Wellness which succeed in being both. Still, don’t let the generosity fool you. The Mummy is bad, and not just in the regular type of cliché blockbuster genericism bad, but in an impressively stupefying type of bad that wastes our money, intelligence, patience, and capacity to enjoy Tom Cruise all at once. This really is a special kind of terrible. Film professors should host special screenings of it just to show their students how not to make a movie. Maybe they could also invite Universal’s producers so they can learn as well.

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“MISSION IMPOSSIBLE III” Review (✫✫✫)

Your mission, should you choose to accept it. 

Finally, we can forgive Tom Cruise for the disaster that was Mission Impossible II. This is the perfect example of a solid action movie, a film that has suspense, excitement, romance, and intrigue: a Hollywood blockbuster that has a nice balance of everything you can ask for. There is a moment in Mission Impossible III where we feel for Ethan Hunt not as another movie action hero, but as a human being, who has emotions and worries that any other normal human being would possess. The way Cruise portrays him in this movie is very realistic. Think about it: if you were out there, stealing nuclear devices, kidnapping black arms dealers, and saving the world every ten seconds, wouldn’t you be worried about your wife who knew nothing of your double life back at home?

Apparently now retired, we catch former IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) as he is happily engaged to Julie (Michelle Monoghan) a nurse who is studying to be a doctor. For once, Ethan is experiencing a sense of normalcy. He’s experiencing what it is like to be a husband, and what it is like to love. No explosions, no excitement, and no lives at risk. Ethan, for once, is just a normal guy who is in love with a beautiful woman. He is experiencing happiness.

Happiness for Ethan, however, doesn’t last long, and he soon finds himself shoved right back into the profession he wants to retire from. When told by his superior, John (Billy Cudrup) that Ethan’s apprentice, Lindsey (Kerri Russell) was captured and tortured by criminals while spying on black arms dealer Owen Davian (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), Ethan feels that he has no choice but to go back into the field so he can save his friend from certain demise.

This film, like the other Mission Impossible movies, sports strong performances. The cast is just as strong as any other movie, and I think you can argue that they are the strongest in this one. Cruise, for instance, doesn’t play a paragon of an action hero. Here, he plays a human being, flesh and blood, emotion for emotion, merely molded to look like an action hero. Despite his skills and experience, he can’t be everywhere at once. He can’t be with his wife and take care of her and go off to save the world at the same time.

At some point, whether he’d like to or not, he has to leave one world in order to take care of the other.

I however, wouldn’t leave Julie alone with a creep like Davian for a second if I had known he would pay her a visit. This dude seriously scares me. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who is a very skilled actor, is perhaps the subtlest in this movie, and plays a ruthless criminal who is just plain mean, evil, cruel, and antagonizing. I have met few antagonists who are as patronizing and as threatening as this guy is. Here is a guy that puts many other movie villains to shame, including those in the first Mission Impossible. Here is a guy who scares you just by staring bleakly into your eyes. He doesn’t need to speak to you: his eyes do all the talking, the eyes that say that he’s going to kill the person you love most, and he’s going to do it in front of you while you’re watching.

This film doesn’t go as deep into those politics of things as some may like it to, but I don’t think it is necessary. Mission Impossible III is fun. I say that as a simple statement, but there is nothing simple about this movie. This movie has earned the title of Mission Impossible from the stunts and visuals alone. I can easily name eight scenes on the top of my head that truly impressed me. Perhaps the most memorable moment for me was an assault between IMF agents and trained ex-military assassins on a bridge near New York. This scene was nerve-wracking, exciting, and worrisome for multiple reasons. Perhaps the biggest is because everything was happening all at once.

Cars were blowing up. Pieces of the bridge were falling apart. Innocent people were caught confused and afraid in the crossfire. Agents were getting shot. Assasins were breaking a prisoner out of an armed jeep. And here is Ethan, running around, avoiding gunfire and explosions, trying desperately to grasp the situation and take control of it. The reason this movie is so successful is because, like the other movies in this series, they push the limits of what they can achieve. There is not a single moment in this film where a thrill is wasted. It’s all there, and it is just as effective as it was in the first Mission Impossible.

The action overwhelms the plot a little bit in the third act of this movie, but other than that, the film is almost perfectly balanced. Director J.J. Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have found a nice combination involving stellar action sequences, funny dialogue, memorable characters, and heartfelt emotion. Have I mentioned before how I hate emotionless action movies? I have no complaint with Mission Impossible III. Its heart is in the right place, and it knows its characters as well as its action. That’s a rare treatment for action movies. It’s a treatment that should be given to them more often.

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“STAR TREK” (2009) Review (✫✫✫✫)

To go where no Trekkie has gone before.  

When I first heard about J.J. Abrams rebooting the Star Trek series with another movie outing, my immediate reaction was rolling my eyes.  “Not ANOTHER Star Trek movie!” I remember thinking.  Indeed, wasn’t that everybody’s reaction?  Star Trek lived and had its time, and it seemed like the only people who would enjoy this new release were the Trekkies that were faithful to the series since episode one.

Nothing, however, would have prepared me for how immersive and fantastic this new movie is.  It’s more than just another Star Trek movie: its a science-fiction epic.  It’s an energetic and revamped take on a series that severely needed a new direction.  The story is original, the characters are fresh, and the vision is as bold and fearless as it possibly can be. Its success doesn’t just rely on CGI and visual effects (although believe me, it doesn’t fail in either category).  It’s one of those rare treasures where the characters and their dialogue is more appealing than the action scenes we have to go through every twenty minutes.

The plot originated from an idea that was had way back in 1968.  Back when the series was first spawning its popularity, original creator Gene Rodenberry started early writing for a prequel to his own science-fiction series.  But just like superhero movies Watchmen and Sam Rami’s Spider-man, it was stuck in development hell until finally creative writing team Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman were hired to write the script for the new mysterious Star Trek prequel.

This was a smart move.  They are the same writers behind movies as successful as Mission Impossible III, Transformers, and Eagle Eye, and their proficiency as writers shines here more than ever.  They compose a story as brilliant as it is exciting, a plot that is as action-packed, captivating, explosive, humorous, and in-cheek as possibly can be.  They do more than just adapt this universe: they pay tribute to it.  They pay homage to the classic series, pulling inspiration and ideas from all corners of the galaxy in the Star Trek universe.  We can tell this through tidbits of plot and dialogue that Orci and Kurtzman insert throughout the movie that reveal intimate details of the Star Trek universe we might not have known before, such as how Kirk came to become enrolled in Star Fleet, the origins of Spock, or how James McCoy got his famous nickname “Bones”.

This isn’t just another action film where the characters are just shoved aside for the action and explosions: Orci and Kurtzman are just as careful with developing character and dialogue as they are story.

Still though, if we have Orci and Kurtzman to thank for the vision, we have director J.J. Abrams to thank for the realization of it.  To date, this is only his second time in the director’s chair (his first being Mission Impossible III), but his skills as a filmmaker shine here of blockbuster-esque proportions.  Every minute of this film is fueled by both ambition and excitement, with every minute being tense, exciting, funny, exhilerating, and action-packed all at once.  Nothing is ever dull or boring or repetitious in this film: every second is filled with character appeal and visual spectacle that hasn’t been matched since George Lucas’ Star Wars series, or recently James Cameron’s Avatar.  I cannot recall a single moment in the film where I was bored or irritated.

If we’re talking about science-fiction epics, it flat out doesn’t get much better than this.  Star Trek is a great movie for many reasons, both obvious and not obvious.  The obvious reasons would involve its visual effects, make-up, and art direction.  The film is obviously visually ambitious, and like the U.S.S. Enterprise, transports you to many worlds of visual color, dazzle, fantasy, and wonder that is ever-present in the constantly-changing genre of sci-fi.  Another obvious reason would probably involve the performances: Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto do a great job at portraying the next-generation versions of James Kirk and Spock, and their chemistry with each other reflects their rivalrous spirit with both great tension and comedy.  Eric Bana also, deserves great props as the lead antagonist.  He portrays a villain so passionate and deadly that I pray the Wrath of Khan would never have to face him.

But those reasons makes the movie succeed: what makes the movie thrive are the unexpected reasons.  And those reasons are writers Orci and Kurtzman and director J.J. Abrams.  I’m not saying their careers don’t precede them: I’ve enjoyed Mission Impossible III and Eagle Eye, and I absolutely love the first Transformers movie (although the second one made me want to gouge my eyes out with a toothpick).

But the caliber of this work goes far beyond what was expected for them.  It’s typical to expect a good product from a good team: it’s rare to see exceptional work of this caliber from that exact same team.

Take this from a guy who isn’t a Trekkie.  I’ve seen a few episodes of “Star Trek” in the past, but I never became interested enough to follow the series as a direct fan.  Watching this movie makes me wonder what I might have been missing out on.

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“STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

A.k.a, the wrath of John Harrison. 

Star Trek Into Darkness is a sequel of excellent caliber, a science-fiction movie that not only lives up to the expectations set beforehand by its fans, but in many ways, surpasses them by making a much more efficient, fluent, exciting, and overall, more well-made film.  The movie is everything a science-fiction epic should be and more: it is exciting, suspenseful, entertaining, visually spectacular, and surprisingly emotional.  Were we expecting this?  I think we were not.  

Taking place a few years after the events of the first film, Star Trek Into Darkness finds the newly-appointed Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) and his first-mate Spock (Zachary Quinto) as they have just started breaking into their roles as pioneers of the U.S.S. Enterprise.  As they continue to carry out their duties, however, a new threat has arisen to challenge them and the entire Starfleet: Captain John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), a sniveling criminal who has betrayed Starfleet for unknown reasons.  As Kirk and Spock begin to investigate further into Harrison’s history, however, they uncover a dark secret that will haunt their lives forever.

This is everything a great sequel is supposed to be: exciting, suspenseful, engaging, emotive, and reminiscent of the original.  The key ingredient to this recipe is its writers and director: Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who are responsible for the witty and intelligent dialogue from the first movie, and J.J. Abrams, who is nearly a master at making blockbuster movies.  Abrams, whose most recent film was the intelligent and highly entertaining sci-fi Super 8 shows once again why he is one of the best filmmakers in the business: he is great at manipulating emotion.

In one scene, for instance, he shows a light-hearted, funny, rivalrous exchange between its two leads, Pine and Quinto.  In another scene, he shows an explosive, exciting, and suspensful mid-space gunfight through all of the lense flares and visual effects.  In another, he shows a sad, tragic, emotionally stirring moment between two close characters, almost bringing its audience to tears in the process.  With Star Trek Into Darkness, Abrams does what every great director should: he doesn’t let the visual effects run on autopilot.  He illustrates every emotional moment of this film with alluring precision, and it only makes us all the more excited knowing that he’s going to be in the directors chair for Star Wars: Episode VII.  

Regardless of Abram’s direction, however, this movie would not have survived without Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman’s intelligent, creative, and captivating screenplay.  This movie once again reminds me why they are among my favorite writers in the industry: they highlight character motivation and emotions and embed them into gripping, fascinating, and exciting science-fiction stories.  This is prevalent in all of their work: Mission Impossible III.  Transformers.  Eagle Eye.  Even the first Star Trek was focused largely on character than it was in explosions and special effects (although, as you can guess, it didn’t disappoint in either category).  With Orci and Kurtzman, they do here with any of their screenplays that makes their writing the highlight of the film: they make the characters appealing, funny, likable, and sympathetic.  Even the bad guys have a soft spot we can root for.

Which leads me to my final point: the performances.  Specifically Benedict Cumberbatch, who gives such a rousing performance as the film’s villain that he stands out in my mind similar to The Joker from The Dark Knight, or Loki from The Avengers.  Cumberbatch, who is most known for portraying the title role in BBC’s Sherlock, plays here a villain so contrasting, so ruthless and unforgiving in nature, that one could say he’s a more driven antagonist than Nero was in the first Star Trek.  His movements are stiff in STID, his gaze cold and calculative.  But when his intent is revealed, its a secret so shocking that it shakes the entire theater like the collapsing corridors of the Enterprise when it is shot and going down.

That, and this movie has endless amounts of explosions, gunfights, spacefights and CGI, which only makes the movie all the more better.  The only thing this movie lacks is the originality of the first film, and it somehow doesn’t evoke the same sense of fascination the first one did either.  That hardly matters, because Star Trek Into Darkness is still a wonderful science-fiction story while paying homage to the earlier Star Trek film, Star Trek: The Wrath Of Khan, although I dare not say precisely how.  All you need to know right now is that Star Trek Into Darkness is engaging, intelligent, touching, shocking, energetic, and fun.

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