Monday, January 30, 2017

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion (or other commenters), that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching!  There were definitely moments where this movie made me Lima Oscar Lima.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – 2 out of 5

This movie is one of that I first heard of in a news story—what the news story was about, I don’t remember but I saw that Tina Fey was in it and it was based on the true story of a war correspondent and that kinda interested me.  Pretty soon I started to see the trailer for it over and over again in front of other films that I was watching and I was pretty much sold on watching it.  I love Tina Fey and the added benefit of having Margot Robbie and Martin Freeman in the cast of this comedy felt promising.  So, what was ultimately missing from Whiskey Tango Foxtrot that I initially thought was going to be a home run film?

It wasn't because of Tina Fey.  She can do no wrong in my book!

Based on the memoir The Taliban Shuffle:  Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the film centers on a bored journalist in a go-nowhere position named Kim Baker (Tina Fey).  When her office offers her up the chance, she takes the leap and decides to take an assignment as a war correspondent in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom.  She’s quickly learns that she might be in over her head thanks to culture shock and the daunting and seemingly unrewarding nature of the work.  However, she struggles to make this worthwhile as she gets to know her fellow reporters and tries to keep her personal life from being flipped upside down.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot has some glimmers of a film that I enjoyed but was, honestly, a bit bored with the whole thing.  One sad element of the entire film is how misguided its marketing was.  The trailer sold the film as a light-hearted war-time comedy but the feature was really anything but.  Sure, there is some comedic elements to the film and I definitely found these moments amusing but, at its heart, the movie is very much a drama that dissects journalism in a war torn landscape as well as how different the cultures are when American is thrown into Afghanistan to do a job.

I admire how the film didn't turn these differences in culture into bad jokes.
Lesser films would have done so.

There are times when this drama worked very well and I enjoyed the commentary the feature was making on the job of journalism and the struggle of a woman in the business.  The problem that ending up harming this element of the film is how unfocused the entire plot felt and how the running length felt too long.  The whole movie felt like an exploration of little moments in Baker’s time in Afghanistan rather than an unfolding story with a beginning, middle and an end.  The entire time I watched the film I never felt like there was really an underlining story taking place beyond just a reporter having some adventures in a war-torn land.  This ended up making the already slightly long length of just under 2 hours feel even longer.  Overall, it just felt like there was no direction nor an end point in mind for the film as supporting characters are rarely developed well and plot progression felt a bit jumpy.

The plot was a bit chaotic...kind of like a battle situation.  Eh?  Eh?

It's kinda hard to not like Martin Freeman.
Although I do admit that WTF did bore me, I won’t say the whole thing was a waste of time.  In addition to the commentary the film is providing about war journalism the film also has a tremendous cast.  Tina Fey is her usual endearing and charming self and really balances the comedy and the drama of the role in a way that was a lot better than how the film itself handled that same balance.  Additionally, Martin Freeman is terrific as Scottish freelance photographer Iain MacKelpie, Margot Robbie is entertaining as a BBC correspondent (who really needed more development, I feel) and Billy Bob Thornton is very amusing and has some very entertaining scenes with Fey as General Hollanek.  Without a doubt, this is one of the film's strongest aspects.

He's looking longingly into the distance and thinking about french fried potaters.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot didn’t end up enthralling me like I had hoped it would and I ended up finding a film that did drag a lot, didn’t feel as developed or as focused as it could have been and it made for a product that kinda bored me.  However, there was still merit in it in the form of its very strong cast and its representation of journalism and cultures clashing.  Overall, though, it just proved to be not a film for me.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Phantom

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion (or other commenters), that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching!  Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men--oh wait, that's The Shadow.

The Phantom – 3 out of 5

The 90s, for some reason, became a decade that really wanted to make superheroes from yesteryear a thing, thanks to films like Disney’s The Rocketeer and The Shadow.  Not too long ago, I revisited The Shadow on my semi-regular feature over at The Robot’s Pajamas called Was It THAT Bad?  Basically, I look at films hailed as critical failures and ask if it really was as bad as the critics and/or audiences stated.  That movie got me thinking and reminded me of another pulp hero that was adapted in the era of Surge soda, Tamagotchi pets, Beanie babies and Discman players.  I’m talking about The Phantom.

Please don't call him the Purple Headed Warrior.

Meanwhile, Indian Jones is 20 feet away
trying to not get his heart ripped out.
In 1938, a hero protects the jungle from pirates, mercenaries and other ne’er-do-wells.  People whisper that the hero is immortal as he’s existed for generations but, in reality, it’s a title that has been passed down from man to man.  Currently, the 21st hero to wear the mask is Kit Walker (Billy Zane) and he stumbles upon a plot run by a power-hungry businessman with an amazing name; Xander Drax (Treat Williams).  Drax is out to locate three skulls that hold the secret to unbelievable power and this pursuit leads him to kidnap the daughter (Kristy Swanson) of a newspaper mogul investigating him.  The biggest problem is this girl used to date Kit—oops!  Now The Phantom must save his ex and stop Drax in his mad dash for otherworldly power!

"It's okay, kid.  I'll finish the rescue after I quickly recreate a moment from
my favorite Stallone film!"

The Phantom comic strip was started by Lee Falk and was first published way back in 1936.  So, when the film adaptation came out in 1996, the property was already 60 years old!  That’s damn impressive.  The sad part is the film was met with mixed reviews and, to be honest, I only watched it once when it came out to rent (or even when it was available on a movie network like HBO)After that, I never really thought about it again.  It didn’t leave much of an impression on me one way or another.  However, revisiting the film for my blog, I have to say the film isn’t too bad.

He's in a staring contest with the Eye of Sauron.

For the most part, The Phantom is entertaining as it delivers a story that works and feels comparable to the source material.  Sure, there are moments where the action gets clunky and doesn’t look as polished as it needed to be but it makes up for this with some cool stunts.  Ultimately though, the strongest aspect of this film comes from the cast.  Everyone is doing an excellent job with their characters but it’s at its apex when it pertains to the protagonist and antagonist of the story.

If Xander Drax was born in another era, he'd be a Mountain Dew spokesman
because of that name.

Without a doubt, Billy Zane and Treat Williams are my favorite parts of this film.  Number One, Williams is delightfully over-the-top in his performance and is perfectly able to ride that line of being a guy who is just gorging himself on every bit of scenery he can cram into his gullet but does so in a way that is never grating or annoying.  He actually is playing a hell-bent tycoon out for supernatural power in a very fun way.  Number Two, Billy Zane is stupidly charismatic as Kit Walker/The Phantom.  He’s fairly amusing in the fact the character looks like he’s actually having fun doing his job and being a hero is kind of a game to him.  Additionally, having a superhero that isn’t dark and gritty but rather kinda upbeat and always with a smile on his face is a nice change of pace to how characters like this are adapted now.  Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy a good dark and gritty hero but watching this now it’s kinda fun to see a hero who is capable of being serious but would rather spend his time just being kinda silly and dashing.

Also, at one point he gets to stand near a tiger and that dynamic can
pretty much make anyone look amazing and cool.

Now, The Phantom isn’t without its issues.  I already mentioned how the action isn’t the best but the story has some problems with it as well.  It works for what it is but it’s not the most developed and sometimes the simplicity of its plot makes the whole thing feel pretty average and mundane.  There’s also a really odd moment thrown here and there that made me say, “WTF?”  For example, there’s a very weird zoom in at one point that feels cheap and then there’s the scene in the climax where Drax is using the three skulls to shoot a laser beam at The Phantom and he is really leaning into and ends up doing a Michael Jackson “Smooth Criminal” type of move.  It’s strange and really hard to not laugh at it all.  However, these moments aren’t total killers for the feature.

"Annie, you won't be okay after THIS!"

The Phantom is probably not the most memorable adaptation of a pulp character I’ve ever seen but it’s not really a bad movie.  It has a few hiccups here and there but there’s nothing entirely terrible going on with it.  The story is straight forward, the vibe and tone is there and palpable and the performances are very good.  In fact, the film ends up being an accidental proving ground that this property can be something that can be tried again—whether it’s a reboot or even a sequel (since the title of The Phantom is passed down from person to person a sequel could work in theory).  Honestly, I wouldn’t mind seeing this character get another chance at a movie.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Rev. Ron's Realities: The Purge

I know it’s been awhile since I’ve done one of my Realities but I’m back and ready to make the dive into another film.

In case you’re new and haven’t experience Rev. Ron’s Realities yet, let me drop some knowledge on you.  These are the moments where I take a break from reviewing movies and take a single aspect of a film—like a minor plot point, some extra that caught my eye or even the potential for new characters in the background—and create a short story about them.  In the past I talked about the sale of the intellectual property of Jurassic Park, an architect on a job interview during San Andreas, a little boy who experiences the Christian “found footage” film; The Lock In, from an outsider’s perspective and how eating the last slice of pizza can cause a friendship to deteriorate and one of them being eaten by a ghost shark.  For this installment, I’m rolling into the reality that is The Purge and talking about two dudes who might have the worst jobs in the world and what happens to them when it might end up being the last night ever for the annual event.

Let’s get started…

“What the fuck, Andre?”  the heavy but muscular man yelled in the night air.  “You Purge?!?”

That was two years ago.  That day, after collecting more bodies than he wanted to count, his partner revealed that he engages in the yearly event.  The large man’s name was Marcus Reilly and he and his partner; Andre Stonestreet, have possibly the worst jobs in the world.  They are the guys who go out on March 22 and clean up the bodies from the night before—the night where all crime is legal.  When he applied 5 years ago, he had hoped he would get a job washing graffiti or picking up trash but he took what they gave him because he needs the extra income and the added security benefits that came with the occupation.  He’s seen a lot of horrible stuff and was no stranger to vomiting at the sight of the atrocities he’s seen people commit but finding out that his partner is out there murdering, raping or whatever the hell he’s doing despite being someone who helps with the clean-up was the worst thing he had ever experienced.

Even for the guys who clean up the bodies after The Purge,
staff meetings still suck.
Now, the day of the 18th annual Purge, Marcus finds himself in the break room of their local office, watching as other clean-up employees shuffle in for the yearly meeting on how to handle what’s to come.  Usually, no one looked too thrilled to be filing in to hear about who is assigned to what area of the city or how much overtime is expected or where the employees’ safe location would be in order to survive the night (actually, that was the one thing they did want to hear) but there was always the exception of Andre.  He always waltzed in with a half-drunk bottle of soda in one hand, a cigarette behind one ear and a huge smile plastered on his face.  After the revelation two years ago, Marcus finally understood why he had that demeanor.  Until then, it was just a mystery that he never bothered to get to the bottom of.  However, today Andre slowly strolled in with his head hung long, his bottle of soda untouched, and no cigarette behind his ear.

Without a word, Andre sat down.  Marcus noted that he reeked of smoke more than usual.  It was clear something was bothering him because when something was weighing him down, he smoked almost three times as much as he usually does.  “What’s wrong, brother?” he asked his downtrodden partner.

“This fucking senator bitch wants to shut down The Purge.”

The Senator in question (please note, she's not a bitch).

Marcus internally winced as Andre’s words.  He supported Senator Roan’s bid for the presidency because he hated The Purge and how it affected lower income families like his but he did so only in secret.  He didn’t like hearing her referred to in such a way but, since he wanted to avoid confrontation, he just let it slide.  “I wouldn’t worry about it, man,” he said, coming up with the best noncommittal statement he could think of at the time.  “Maybe she won’t get elected.”

“I hope someone breaks into her cushy little home and slits her throat tonight,” Andre spat.

“Come on, man,” Marcus added, “there’s no need for that—”

“Alright, let’s settle in,” came the voice of their boss, interrupting Marcus.  He was a slightly pudgy, balding middle aged man in glasses.  His name was Roger Coldwell and has been Marcus and Andre’s boss since they both were hired.  He was a quiet kind of guy, a man of few words and would often be described as a fairly forgettable and uninteresting individual but neither of them considered him to be an unfair or bad boss.  “Purge Night is tomorrow and we have a lot to cover.”

The boss started reviewing the usual procedures, duties and all the pep talk mumbo jumbo that he carts out every year to try and motivate the guys but Marcus noticed that Andre clearly wasn’t having it.  When the meeting finally was called and the location for the employee safe house was mentioned, everyone left the building.  Once outside, Andre immediately lit up a cigarette and was consumed in a cloud of smoke.  Marcus didn’t agree with Andre’s attitude about The Purge but he still didn’t like to see him upset.

“Hey man,” he said awkwardly, “why don’t you join my family and I at the safe house tonight?  It’ll be a nice change of pace for you.”

“This could be my last Purge, Marcus” Andre said as he held in a cloud of smoke.  “There ain’t no way I’m missing it.”

“Missing one year won’t kill you,” Marcus said, instantly regretting the unintentional pun.

Andre visually looked unnerved, “If that senator whore wants to take it away from me, I’m going to make this my best Purge year ever!”  Andre took a long drag of his cigarette and slowly released the smoke, his face morphing into one of amazing realization.  “Marcus,” he said with the first smile he’s had all day, “why don’t you come out with me tonight?”

Marcus’ eyes widened, “Hell no.  I have a family, Andre.  And you know I don’t do any of that Purge nonsense.”

Andre tossed his cigarette to the ground, “Fine.  At least go get a drink with me.  I need it.”

“You know there are no bars open tonight.”

“We don’t need a bar,” he said as he pulled a bottle of whiskey out of his pocket.

Marcus thought about it for a long moment.  It was clearly a bad idea but one drink couldn’t hurt, right?  He shook his head in defeat, “Fine.  Let me just text my family the location of the safe house and tell them I’ll meet them there.”

Andre laughed wickedly but playfully as Marcus texted his family and the two walked to their vehicles.  They made the plan to just sit in Andre’s car in the parking lot for a bit while they took hits off the bottle before Marcus would leave and meet up with his family for the night and Andre would go off and do his thing.  

Well, that was the plan anyway.

The night falls...(Did that sound ominous?  I was going for ominous.)

Marcus woke up with a headache and double vision in some random alley in the city underneath several bags of garbage.  Tossing the bags off him, he tried to stand but his legs were severely shaking.  He knows he didn’t drink that much and this feeling wasn’t something one would get when someone was blackout drunk.  He started to go over the recent events in his head to try and figure out what happened to him when he heard someone shouting.  The voice echoed and bounced off everything and it was impossible to make out where the source was coming from but what they were saying wasn’t as difficult to conclude.  They shouted, “Let’s have some fun, Marcus!”

The Purge begins!

“Goddamn it,” Marcus cursed under his breath.  It was Andre.  He did this to him.  He drugged him and it was probably in that stupid bottle of booze he brought with him.  He can’t even remember if he saw him take a sip.

“I’m being a nice guy here, dawg,” Andre yelled from some unknown position.  “I’m giving ya’ll a head start and trying to let you live just once in your life.  After that bitch takes this away from us, you’ll thank me—if you live through the night,” he added before laughing.

Marcus was much larger than Andre but in this inebriated state, he doubted he could fend off any attack.  Additionally, he wasn’t bulletproof so, rather than wait for his partner to come up on him, he started to run.  At first, he looked like a half-decomposed zombie attempting to jog as his limbs were heavy and unreliable but as the adrenaline started to kick in and whatever drug was in his system started to wear off, he was able to start to gallop away.  As he screeched out of the alley, he could hear the night air filled with the roaring fires, terrified screams and bullets of all the people out enjoying (or not enjoying) The Purge.  As he went across the street he found one of the many bodies that was littering the city.  Marcus’ lunch threatened to come up on him when he noticed that it was a middle aged man who seemed to have been chocked to death with his own genitalia that was forced down his throat.  He must’ve really pissed off his wife, he thought.  He didn’t look forward to cleaning that up tomorrow…if he made it that long, he reminded himself.  

And cue Drowning Pool's "Let the Bodies Hit the Floor."

He knew he had to get somewhere safe and wait it out but where to go was a whole other question.  The safe house would be sealed for the night so even if he figured out where he was and got there they would never let him in.  He couldn’t go home because his family would have sealed that up as well.  He supposed that he could break in to a nearby abandoned building and find some corner to hold up in for the night but as this thought crossed his mind, automatic weapons fire snapped him back to reality.  Behind him, in the alley, was Andre.  He was carrying some assault rifle in one hand and was firing it wildly in the air as he ran towards him, laughing manically as he did.  Marcus was about to take off but stopped when he saw Andre trip and fall.

Marcus’ shoulders slumped.  He should have been scared for his life in this moment but what he just saw was too pathetic to be afraid of.  Andre’s whimpering about how his knee hit a rock wasn’t helping things.  

When Marcus saw that Andre was starting to get up, he was about to take off and run again but a bullet bouncing off the asphalt near him spooked him and froze him in place.  Instinctively, Marcus put his hands up and slowly turned around to face Andre as the man limped up to him, wildly gesturing with his rifle.  “I’m doing this for your own good,” he said.  “You can’t go your whole life and not get out there and live, man.”

“This ain’t livin’, Andre,” Marcus replied.  “This whole Purge business was designed to kill folks like you and me.  You’re just falling for their lies.”

“Don’t be a punk, Marcus,” Andre spat.  “For 5 years you and I have worked together and I see how unhappy you are.  You’re tense, all worked up and you need to release, man.  And since you’re married and can’t get some young bitch to fuck, why not live it up during the last Purge?  Unless of course Senator Roan gets it tonight.  Shit, if you live through this we can team up next year!”

Andre started to laugh before he pulled the cigarette from behind his ear and dramatically lit it, “But that shit’s a dream.”  He raised the automatic weapon and pointed it right at Marcus’ face, “You ain’t going to make it to next year.”

Marcus winced as Andre squeezed the trigger and expected a white hot burst of pain to explode over him but, instead, he just heard an odd empty click.  With his eyes still closed and still anticipating the loud bang, he kept hearing a repetitive ticking sound.  Slowly, he opened one eye and saw Andre fumbling with the gun.  Marcus breathed a sigh of relief when he realized the weapon was empty or jammed.

“How the hell have you survived all these times going out in The Purge, man,” the large man asked Andre.

Andre stopped messing with the gun and looked downtrodden for a moment, “Well…I may never have actually done a Purge before.”

“Man, what the fuck?!?” Marcus yelled and made a quick step towards Andre, forcing the man to stumble backwards in fear.  “My family is probably worried sick about me because you wanted to play out your fucked up fantasy of killing someone in the Purge and here I see you never even got your little prick wet in this shit?!?”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Andre pleaded, “I called your wife on your cell and told them you were with me at another of the worker safe houses.  Your family thinks you’re okay.”  

Meekly, Andre handed over Marcus’ cellphone.  The large man snatch it up from him quickly and immediately bit down on his lower lip.  He was furious with his coworker right now.  Every basic instinct in his body told him to take that gun and shove it up his backside or to crush his skull with his bare hands or to do to Andre what happened to that corpse behind him but he swallowed his rage and began to compose himself.

"Hi, establishing shot here to show you it's still night time."

“Man,” he began, “let’s just get the hell out of here and find some place to hold up for the night.”

Andre nodded his head in agreement right before a car suddenly came around the corner and slammed into him.  His body went flying over the hood and across the top of the car before crumpling in a pile behind the truck.  The vehicle immediately went into reverse and rolled over Andre’s body a second time before going forward again and hitting it for a third.  Marcus was stunned and just watch in object disbelief and horror as the man in the car decided to repeat the back and forth over Andre’s body several more times.  After about a dozen instances that ended up leaving Andre an unrecognizable mess, the car came to a stop in front of Marcus.

Marcus gasped when he noticed who was driving.  "Mr. Coldwell?!?" he yelled, seeing his boss behind the wheel of the car.

The middle-aged man slowly turned his head, his face frozen in shock as his jaw hung open and his wide eyes stared in disbelief over his glasses at the man standing outside his car.  “Oh…” he slowly began, “Marcus, how are you?  This is really awkward.”

“’Awkward’ doesn’t even begin with it, Mr. Coldwell.  I just watched you kill my partner.”
Coldwell shrugged, “It’s The Purge.”

Marcus stared at his boss in unblinking disapproval.  Roger Coldwell seemed to shrink in his driver’s seat, “I’m sorry, Marcus.  I’ll assign someone to help you out tomorrow morning.”

Marcus’ stare became more intense.  “Oooor,” Coldwell added, “I can help you out tomorrow.”

Marcus still said nothing and the two stood in an uncomfortable silence for a long time as screams and ripping bullets in the distance echoed in the air.  Finally, Mr. Coldwell jester with a tick of his head, “Get in, Marcus.  We’ll find a place to hide out for the night.”

Marcus slowly walked around the car and got into the passenger seat, his disapproving gaze never once leaving Mr. Coldwell’s direction.  His stare became so intense as he sat down and pulled his seatbelt across his chest that Coldwell started to shiver nervously as he put his vehicle into drive and started to move—running over Andre’s body again didn’t help the moment.

“You know,” Mr. Coldwell finally said after the two were driving in silence for a bit too long, “I never really liked the guy anyway.  He wasn’t a great worker and, since he smoked, he wasn’t going to live that long anyway, am I right?”

Marcus took a deep breath and slowly released it, “Let’s talk about the raise you’re going to give me instead.”

And so begins a really awkward friendship.

And there ya have the adventure of Marcus and Andre; two clean-up crew guys not seen in The Purge: Election Year (but they were totes there, I swear).  Keep coming back for more Rev. Ron’s Realities and more reviews!