Category Archives: Movie Review

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Movie Review – Unstoppable

Category : Movie Review

Director: Tony Scott

Starring: Chris Pine, Denzel Washington

Year: 2010

Unstoppable was Tony Scott’s final film, and although his career had its highs & lows, I think his filmography as a whole is pretty impressive, and features so many films that are iconic, if also a few that are complete duds.  The Hunger, Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II, Days of Thunder, True Romance, Crimson Tide, The Fan, Enemy of the State, Spy Game, Man on Fire, Deja Vu, The Taking of Pelham 123; action, intensity, intrigue, speed, sex, danger, and a ton of fun, which isn’t a bad legacy to leave behind.  Unstoppable, being the last, luckily boasts one of the best casts, riddled with talent, which is the only reason this film survives my complete ridicule, because, otherwise, it’s basically a movie that you hope is a joke so that everyone involved in its creation doesn’t have to feel embarrassed for the rest of their lives.

Based on a true story, this is a tale of daring courage in the face of possible disaster, where two men step up to save many, many more lives, at the extreme risk of their own.  Starting work at the train yard like any ordinary day, veteran Frank and rookie Will take a shift running the rails, making deliveries, switches, pickups; it’s not a glamorous life, being an engineer and a conductor, but, for Pennsylvania blue collar men, it’s an honorable living.  Little did they know that they would be called upon to do so much more, when a half-mile long train of cars is accidentally left running on full power without a driver, heading for nearby towns at break-neck speeds.  Frank and Will begin to chase it down, but aren’t sure they can stop it in time, before it crashes into a populous town and becomes the disaster of the century.

First, I will say that the acting in this movie is top notch.  Pine is so good, just a wonderful all-around talent, who really can do anything; if any single person in history has had the coveted X-factor it’s this guy.  And then there’s Denzel, who’s so famous we only need to refer to him by his first name, so magnificent at his craft that he can get us to watch literally damn near anything, even when we know it’s crap.  The rest of the cast is good too: Rosario Dawson, Kevin Corrigan, TJ Miller, Ethan Suplee.  It’s not the acting that’s the problem here, and it’s not Scott’s direction, which is spot on, neither is it the music or the mood or the entertainment value.  It’s the true story and how little it lends itself to a film with this much activity and build up.

It’s a train that goes a little too far, but then they stop it …and that’s the whole movie.  The real story is even sillier; the train got away, they couldn’t stop it for a little bit, but then they slowed it down, someone ran up beside it, hopped in the driver’s seat, and turned it off.  That’s as much real drama as the film can honestly hold; the rest of the time it’s just bluffing its way through 90 minutes because, well, it’s gotta do something with its time.  I enjoyed myself a little, for a time, I liked watching these people in a stressful situation and these actors flex their muscles in a story that called for them to carry the entire thing on their shoulders.  But, at the end, all I could think was “THAT’S IT?!”, and when I looked up the true story I felt even worse, like, who in their right mind would think that this news article was worth making an action film about?  Scott is pretty daring, but this was a risky bet, and ends up a poor movie, which is simply too bad.

My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – Congo

Category : Movie Review

Director: Frank Marshall

Starring: Dylan Walsh, Laura Linney, Ernie Hudson

Tim CurryGrant Heslov, Joe Don Baker, Bruce Campbell

Delroy Lindo, John Hawkes, Joe Pantoliano, James Karen

Year: 1995

I didn’t hate Congo this time around, and that’s about the highest praise it deserves.  This Crichton book turned Marshall movie should be so much better than it is; strong novel, nice cast, cool concept, fun adventure.  But compare it to the other great films of its year and it’s embarrassing: Braveheart, Dead Man Walking, Mr. Holland’s Opus, The Usual Suspects, 12 Monkeys, Apollo 13, Rob Roy, Casino, Nixon, Sense and Sensibility, Crimson Tide, Se7en, The American President, Toy Story, Pocahontas, Babe.  I guess my point is that everyone involved should have been …better? …and that this film shouldn’t suck.  Watching it again, this time around I was at least entertained, and I thought there were parts that somehow worked, despite how shitty the majority was.

A communications billionaire, Mr. Travis, sends his son into the interior jungles of Africa to retrieve rare diamonds that may be in a volcano there, and may power lasers that can craft the world’s newest technologies.  When his son goes missing and a strange video emerges, Travis sends in his right hand woman, Karen Ross, to assess the situation, find the diamonds, and get the hell out of Africa.  She, in turn, piggybacks on an expedition that’s headed there anyway, a mission to return a female gorilla to her home.  But this ape is special, she can speak using sign language, and, oddly enough, her presence might be the only thing that keeps the team alive, as other gorilla’s emerge who are not as friendly, and a mystery rises surrounding an ancient civilization, a dangerous mine, and those who protect it.

Crichton is fun, we all know his works, and this kind of jump-the-shark story is right up his alley.  He somehow makes those far-fetched ideas fly though, his books are cool, but the movie versions aren’t always great, excepting Jurassic Park, of course.  Don’t ever watch Timeline; phenomenal book, absolutely horrendous film.  But I digress.  Congo is exciting, it’s a nice arc, it would make for a good read, but it sure doesn’t make for a good watch, not done this cheaply, anyway.  This movie should have been better; the cast, the author, the director, the action, the fun.  But it’s mostly a crappy job by all, bad execution after bad execution until the whole thing feels like a joke.  There are moments to be enjoyed; Ernie Hudson for sure, all the big names that pop up, the safari, the mystery, the intensity of the adventure.  But, overall, there’s a mood of amateurism that’s near impossible to shake, and that’s what you’ll remember after the credits roll.

My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – 2067

Category : Movie Review

Director: Seth Larney

Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ryan Kwanten, Aaron Glenane

Year: 2020

Did 2067 enact the forcible-arm-bracelet-in-a-time-travel-movie idea first, beating out Tomorrow War?  If it did, I guess it doesn’t matter, because neither are good films, both made a ton of mistakes, one you’ve simply heard of because it stars Chris Pratt and was on Netflix, while the other faded into obscurity as soon as it was spoken into existence.  2067 isn’t good, but it does have some good concepts, only executed with the skill of a 4-year-old with a butter knife and a cardboard box.  It’s a failure on most levels, which is quite disappointing, because there are many times it feels like you’ve almost watched something smart, only to be left dumber.

In the future, not too far away, the world’s environmental problems with become a crisis; storms will rise, climate will change, plant life with die, and humans will be left without breathable air.  We’ll survive somehow, off nuclear power and artificial oxygen, but our lives will hardly be worth living, more a scratching by than an actual fulfilling existence.  But a chance to change that arises; a brilliant scientist has developed a time machine, sort of, and it seems that there is a message being sent back from 400 years into the future, which states that they need his son, Ethen Whyte, to come forward through time, potentially giving humanity one last opportunity to save themselves.

I didn’t really appreciate the looping plot until the very end, when all barriers were dropped and we were allowed to understand the complexities of the story, which was somehow too late.  I wouldn’t have wanted them to give away all the goods early, but somehow we find out that this movie is kinda cool far too late in the game, maybe because the actual execution up until that moment was incredibly subpar.  The acting in this film is abysmal, and I love KSMcP, he’s a great young actor, he simply screamed, wailed, and cried too much, and every one else around him just sucked, and hard.  The music of the movie was also horrible, surprisingly so, and helped make the entire thing feel cheap, amateur, and almost an afterthought.  It’s a clever plot, could have worked, should have been given to someone else to direct, and maybe deserved more money thrown it’s way; as it stands, I can’t recommend how it turned out, I can only dream that it had turned out better.

My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – Tenet

Category : Movie Review

Director: Christopher Nolan

Starring: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki

Kenneth Branagh, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Himesh Patel, Clemence Poesy

Year: 2020

I’m going to keep this Tenet review short on purpose, because I think it could get really out of hand really quickly.  I love that Nolan makes bold choices, takes bold chances, and doesn’t play it safe; we love his movies, even the ones that aren’t perfect, for those exact reasons.  He’s thoughtful, interesting, loves to craft entertainment, and forces audiences to think, all of which I really appreciate.  Tenet might not be The Prestige, Inception, or Interstellar, it might actually be copies of pieces of those films layered on top of one another, forced to resemble something great but not truly being great on its own, BUT that doesn’t mean that this film doesn’t have solid chunks to offer of us, if only we can search through the rubble to find them.

The protagonist of our story is a special government operative, an elite soldier in the fight against global chaos, and he’s willing to continuously put his life in jeopardy to complete his goals.  His latest rescue mission almost turns deadly, and unearths an extremely strange phenomenon; items in our world that seem to be moving backward through time.  Given the code word ‘tenet’ to use at his disposal, our hero sets off on a journey through time, forward and backward, on his way to discover the truth about weaponizing the trajectory of both objects and people through special gateways called ‘turnstiles’ that reverse your time direction.  It’s almost impossible to comprehend, but the world needs him to learn fast, because there are future forces at work that want us all dead.

Tenet definitely feels like Inception, but with other Nolan films thrown in for good measure.  It’s definitely a cool idea given the Nolan treatment, until it comes out feeling like something we’ve seen before based on a concept that is incredible innovative.  I liked the technology, I liked the layered story arcs, I liked the action, and I liked the acting, for the most part; Tenet is a cool film, solid entertainment, and truly a mind-melter.  But that doesn’t make it perfect; there are definitely issues abounding.  One is the dialogue, which is sometimes muffled, sometimes nonsensical, sometimes throwaway, and often not very high-caliber.  I could have used less talking, less description, more ambiguity, and some editing down into something more streamlined.  The “twists” were easy to see coming, even if you weren’t trying to guess them, and some the scenes were very predictable, bolstered by their inventiveness, sure, but sometimes dragged down by their clunky delivery.  In the movie’s defense, I found myself curious, captivated, and wanting to see it a second time to completely understand it, which I guess is good enough for a quality rating, though I wouldn’t say that Tenet is one of Nolan’s absolute best.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

 


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Movie Review – Black Widow

Category : Movie Review

Director: Cate Shortland

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour

Year: 2021

I’m back at the movies!  Since watching Onward in March of 2020, I haven’t set foot inside a theatre, something I used to do once or twice a week, every week, over the past how ever many years I’ve been serious about film and have become a film critic.  The Pandemic has been …too complicated to put into words, but now I’m back doing this thing that I used to do, and I will say that it feels great.  I should be returning sporadically over the next couple months, and solidly by fall/winter, so I have that to look forward to, and I’ll take it.  Black Widow was a hell of a way to get restarted; not only was it a solid distraction from real life and a nice addition to the MCU as a franchise, but it was also a supremely enjoyable stand-alone feature, with the strength to strike a pose on its own two feet, slightly separated from all the bluster & battle of the others in the series.  It’s basically just a good picture seen at the right time; thank you, movie gods.

Following the events of Civil War, Team Cap is on the run from American authorities, as the Sokovia Accords have kicked in and the Avengers are now under government control.  Among those going underground is Black Widow, who changed sides, helped Cap, and is now in hiding.  But as soon as she settles in, Natasha is contacted by her sister Yelena, who has recently been freed from the Black Widows, a secret organization of assassins run by the evil Dreykov.  Natasha must reunite with her sister, rescue her father, find her mother, and take down Dreykov, before the mind-controlled Black Widows change the geopolitical fate of our world.

Marvel is back with a bang, after a bunch of TV shows but no movies for an extended period.  But Black Widow returns us to the theatrics in a big way, and let’s us know that the MCU is alive and well.  We are beginning a new Phase, with new heroes taking on the classic mantles, but before we get there Natasha has a backstory to tell, and it’s a doozy.  I enjoyed how this film is both a stand-alone piece and a piece of the puzzle; you can watch it as a super fan or just a casual viewer and enjoy it the same.  That takes talent, to weave that type of dichotomy, so kudos to Shortland, who, when I watched Somersault all those years ago, I didn’t expect to see again, and definitely wouldn’t have predicted to be the director of a Marvel blockbuster some day in the future.

So many things worked, so few went wrong, which is impressive on its own, the simple fact that this movie was made and made well.  We get a little bit of an origin story for Black Widow, but that’s also not what the plot is about, it’s focused on the here & now, in a way that feels refreshingly forward-thinking.  We get a kick-ass, female-led cast and some great side characters too; Johansson is solid as always as Natasha, but it’s Pugh who steals the show, with her perfect talent and her chameleon ability.  Although, Harbour steals his share of the lime light too, with uncanny comedy and a demeanor that I’ll always remember him for donning so awesomely.  The rest of the cast is fine (Rachel Weisz, Ray Winstone, William Hurt, Olga Kurylenko), and the villains are OK, but the real magic is within the family, and the action they find themselves a part of.  We are in good hands if this is the direction the Universe is headed, with major stars giving way to young talent and amazing stories that keep growing with prestige.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – 500 Days of Summer

Category : Movie Review

Director: Marc Webb

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel

Year: 2009

Like Scott Pilgrim, another cult favorite, I think I missed the boat, grew up, and lost the ability to connect with the juvenile nature of the characters in 500 Days of Summer, since I am no longer a juvenile myself.  That shouldn’t be needed to love a film, for a film to be great, that perfection connection at the perfect time, but it happens; I’d say that’s why I will always hold a special place in my heart for Kevin Smith movies, not because they are perfect, not because they would hold up wonderfully, but because I lived them at a very specific moment in my growing up.  500 Days just isn’t that to me, and so I judge it instead of absorb it, which, I think, makes all the difference.

Tom has known Summer for 500 days, most of which he has been desperately in love.  He’s a passionate young man and he believes in soulmates, he just hasn’t found his, until now.  The story of their love affair is broken down over the course of this year and a half, but told in broken order, giving us many pieces of the puzzle until the riddle of their relationship is finally solved.  Summer says she doesn’t want labeled loves, but what does that mean for Tom, who desperately wants a girlfriend?  They may be perfect for one another, but does that necessarily mean “happily ever after”?  We’ll see after 500 days of …wait for it …Summer.

Also, I don’t like Zooey Deschanel, I think her name is stupid and that she stinks.  No, I’m kidding, but I honestly don’t get her appeal.  I don’t find her engaging, endearing, enthralling; I just find her kind of annoying.  For her to be the focal point here is hard for me, as much as I love JGL; he rocks my world.  But putting that aside, because that’s just personal taste, 500 Days didn’t hold me tight like I imagined it would, probably because I missed it 12 years ago, when I would have been 25, when I might have appreciated the story more because I would have related to it more.  As it was, I thought the characters were foolish & young, and I didn’t love them.  I also didn’t love the direction, I thought it was gimmicky, and Webb simply isn’t that talented a filmmaker.  By the end, I was starting to get the feel, the point it was making about love, but I couldn’t fall in love myself, with this film that so many others seem to think is so lovely.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – Conspiracy Theory

Category : Movie Review

Director: Richard Donner

Starring: Mel Gibson, Julia Roberts, Patrick Stewart

Year: 1997

Richard Donner just passed away, so it seemed fitting to watch one of his films, one of my favorites, to honor the legendary director.  The Omen, Superman, Ladyhawke, Goonies, Lethal Weapon, Scrooged, Maverick, Assassins, Conspiracy Theory; that’s a pretty impressive 20-year filmography, and that’s not even including all the television he crafted in the 60s, which is pretty spectacular itself.  That’s also a lot of Mel Gibson, which we would find problematic now, but which was pretty excellent at the time, and can still be enjoyable seen through a certain lens.  I sure still enjoy this film, a genre & time capsule gem that works so well for a ton of reasons I wouldn’t count on now, but that seemed to function then.

Jerry is a conspiracy theory professional, weaving wild tales out of the daily papers like he has some sort of superior insight, and not simply because he’s got a screw loose.  He drives a cab during the day, but at night develops a newsletter that tells people the “truth” about current events and giant coverups.  Well, as crazy as it sounds, Jerry might have got one theory right, because all of a sudden the government is after him, any agency with initials wants him in custody, and who knows who’s in charge.  With the help of his reluctant friend Alice, Jerry attempts to get to the bottom of the mystery, only to find that the conspiracies go much deeper than he thought, and that he has been a player in the game for longer than he can remember.

For the genre, for the style, for a silly 90s flick about government thrills (which, if you remember, were all the rage), Conspiracy Theory could be far worse, and has very seldom been bettered.  I mean, of course it’s giggly, did you watch movies at this time?  They were all pretty ridiculous, mostly over-the-top, and usually featured the same core talent that was recycled in the theatre until it ran dry or we grew tired.  Mel Gibson is in tons of Donner films, Julia Roberts was big at the time, and Patrick Stewart had just wrapped up Star Trek; this cast is pretty impressive.  I don’t even like Roberts, but she works well in this one, playing the standard daughter-of-a-genius-who-now-tries-to-fill-her-father’s-shoes kind of perfectly.  It’s a trope, as is much of the movie, but, again, it works anyway, and is fun anyway.  I do think some of the mental health attributes feel weird today, but the story has to be viewed from ’97 when it was made, and mostly the concerns are explained by wild plot points that don’t make much sense but are nevertheless fun, like the movie in general.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

 


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Movie Review – Phantasm

Category : Movie Review

Director: Don Coscarelli

Starring: A. Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury

Year: 1979

Why did every 70s movie have an acoustic/country music scene?  Like, I know cowboys were really in, but why force a song into your film just because?  And in a horror flick?  No thank you.  That’s just one of the very odd choices peppered throughout what is otherwise a pretty cool & enjoyably-wacky horror movie.  I guess you could say that Phantasm is cool because it’s so odd & unpredictable, but, at the same time, that’s what kills it; it’s just so weird.  It does deserve credit for making bold choices and taking blindfolded strides, but that might also be what keeps me, a person seeing it for the first time, from really, fully enjoying the ‘bonkers’ on display.

A young man is killed, a member of a music trio, and his friends gather to pay their respects.  His death is ruled a suicide, but we know that it wasn’t; he was killed by a mysterious and beautiful woman, a lady that keeps popping up and seems to have murderous intentions.  She woos young Jody, but his younger brother Mike accidentally saves him, and together they stumble upon some seriously creepy stuff, man.  A local cemetery is not exactly what it seems, and its denizens want the brothers dead, before they learn too much and expose the other-wordly evil that’s seeping into our own.

It’s pretty wild and fairly loose; odd experiences are around every corner, and I don’t just mean for the film characters.  Hooded dwarves, killer orbs, creepy gentlemen, sexy murderesses; I don’t really know what to say to prepare you, it’s just a bizarre experience.  Along the way, there are some real scares, some real comedy, but it’s all hidden underneath the strangeness of the plot and the awkwardness of the time period.  I wouldn’t say this often, I hate remakes, and they did make this into a franchise, but I almost wish someone would scoop this good idea up, dust it off, straighten it out, and make an awesome modern adventure/horror film; I would watch that, and probably enjoy it more.

My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – Barry Lyndon

Category : Movie Review

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Ryan O’Neal

Year: 1975

Stanley Kubrick’s 3-hour epic masterpiece Barry Lyndon is among his lesser known works (at least, once he got established in the 60s), crowded behind other films that shocked and awed.  Spartacus, Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, Eyes Wide Shut; such a filmography as we have perhaps never seen duplicated or matched.  But Barry Lyndon might be his most beautiful, his most audacious, his most opulent, and definitely the movie that most transports audiences into a different world.  Its length and subject might deter some viewers, its scope scare them away, but, given time and patience, this is theatre at its utter finest and most literally spectacular.

This is story of how Redmond Barry became Barry Lyndon, and his journey to change his own destiny without the help of God nor grace.  Redmond was born in Ireland, and when his father died his fortunes fell.  Tripping into love with a cousin who was herself determined to marry a British army Captain, Barry found himself on the run, a fugitive from justice and a man without a penny.  So he entered service and fought, well, if not bravely at least cleverly, turning every opportunity into a chance to advance himself.  His goal was to become a lord, a man of property, a man free to make his own choices, and he was willing to do whatever dastardly deeds it took to make that dream a reality.

First, this story is simply a time capsule, a peek into the frivolous lives of the rich of the mid-to-late 1700s, but also a look at the world that they saw as far beneath them.  Barry experiences all the highs and lows of society; duels, robberies, the army, the court, gambling, carousing, gaining power, losing wealth.  We live it alongside him, and we get to know the period in a way few films have been able to show us before, which is simply an astonishing feat of this story.  Second, Kubrick directs an artistic masterwork here that has few competitors, a lustrous painting that is a priceless piece all itself.  Every scene seems stroked by hand, every outfit selected after months of consideration, every powder placed just so.  It’s a cake you dare not eat, and a film that few would even be capable of trying to match.  That Kubrick could make much darker versions of his art form only serves to make this one stand out, as you can feel the vibrating restraint throughout.  To love it, I would have preferred a touch of that bloody darkness, more violence and less harpsichord, or perhaps only a slightly less lengthy run time, the action collapsed down upon itself in a way that made every scene complimentary instead of singular.  In that way, a modern take like The Favourite sits slightly better with me, at least until you remember that it owns so much to those that have come before, like Barry Lyndon, a film that will never come again.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

 


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Movie Review – The Tomorrow War

Category : Movie Review

Director: Chris McKay

Starring: Chris Pratt, Yvonne Strahovski, Sam Richardson

Year: 2021

I’m not trying to be Scorsese and decry the death of cinema, but there’s something weird going on when the guy who directed Robot Chicken, The Lego Batman Movie, and absolutely nothing else gets handed Chris Pratt, a summer blockbuster akin to Independence Day, millions of dollars, and is told to go wild.  Of course, the movie turns out bad, most people don’t care, money is made, and the world keeps turning, but I’m left with the sense that things are going poorly, at least in the streaming world, where quality absolutely does not matter.  The Tomorrow War is a bad film, it simply is; that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy watching it if you choose to, of course you can, have at it.  But it does act as an example of a downward angle we’ve taken and that I don’t know if we can recover from.

Prepare yourself for some bad news; in 30 years almost every human will be dead.  An alien race, undetected and unannounced, will quickly infiltrate our world, eat us up, and basically wipe us out.  Our only hope in the future relies on the people of the past; or, present maybe, I’m not sure.  Basically it’s like this; the soldiers of the future figure out how to travel back to the past, they ask us for our help, and we begin a draft to send bodies forward in time to help fight a war that hasn’t even started yet.  It’s confusing, but imagine you’re Dan Forester, who gets sent forward only to meet his now-grown daughter, who, with his help, is attempting to save the world by poisoning all the aliens.  Good luck, god speed, and try not to die.

First, it’s just silly that they were like, “yeah, Robot Chicken, funny, give him millions, tell him to make a spectacular action movie.  No, we don’t care if it actually is one, everyone is at home, they’ll watch it and drool, trust me, it’s Chris Pratt.”  It’s gross how we’re being manipulated, and maybe taste levels have always been low and I’m just now getting angry about it, but it seems to me like cinema is being dumbed down pretty harshly right now, with crap literally streaming into our living rooms.  Because this movie is crap, I promise you; it’s a knock-off of Edge of Tomorrow but without anything that makes that surprisingly excellent film tick.  This one is more Army of the Dead, a pointless, brainless, generally stupid shoot-em-up flick that depends upon audiences not remembering what good movies used to look like.  I especially liked when the head of an entire department of the future military THAT SHE INVENTED is the only person working on the poison, and then tells Dan that he’s the only person who is willing to go back in time with the poison.  Yeah, great plan, do it all in secret, that’s not an idiotic manufactured plot point at all.  This is just a really poorly-made film, not thought through, and not well-constructed, with bits & pieces from a dozen other, better movies mixed in for good measure or because they didn’t know what else to do.  They didn’t know how to make a movie, that’s what, and no amout of Chris Pratt (who I like as an actor) is gonna save the day.

My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆