Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Spare Parts

***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!  This movie isn't about the leftover bits you get when you put a piece of Ikea furniture together, is it?




Spare Parts – 3 out of 5

With a title like Spare Parts, it would be easy to assume that this film is about a loveable little robot that falls apart a lot and is in constant need of repair.  It’s a pain in the tush but it’s such a delightful little scamp that you don’t mind it and you watch as it teaches the world about friendship and generosity.  In reality, the movie is none of this but I think I have a script to write and sell to Disney.  This movie may not be what I described but a robot is still a factor in this feature that was based on a true story.

Hmmm, is this some McDonald's product placement?
More McDonald's?!?  Did they produce this film?


"Rock You Like a Hurricane" felt like it should have
played while they entered the competition.
In between jobs, Fredi Cameron (George Lopez) is looking for work and takes a job as a substitute science teacher.  His heart isn’t completely in the duty because of how, by definition, the job is temporary but he finds himself a part of a student’s engineering club.  One eager student; Oscar Vazquez (Carlos PenaVega), comes to the club with big dreams of entering an underwater robotics competition.  Reluctantly, Cameron agrees to the idea but they need some more people.  They enlist the help of a brilliant student named Cristian Arcega (David Del Rio), a student with a troubled home named Lorenzo Santillan (José Julián) and one final student; Luis Aranda (Oscar Gutierrez), the muscle of the group and the man to carry the robot in and out of the pool.  Everything seems alright except the fact they have no money to create what the more illustrious schools can manufacture and are forced to put their creative minds to the test and make something on a small budget and something that can compete with the big dogs at the competition.

The robot immediately was piloted through urine that was mixed in the pool water
and it suddenly had a desire to kill all humans on the planet.

Spare Parts is your pretty typical, based on a true event affair.  I know that sounds like I’m downplaying it but, I assure you, I’m not.  Who doesn’t love the underdog stories?  The tales where the people who are told by society they can’t do something but they rise up and accomplish it anyway?  Actually, I don’t want to meet the people who don’t like those stories.  I say this film is typical because, going into it, you already know how it is going to unfold and how the tale ends—especially since it’s based on something that actually happened so the outcome is documented for all history.  Even with the formulaic approach these movies take, they still are charming and inspirational.  Spare Parts has this but it is a clunky road that it takes to get there.

And after they built the robot, they taught it how to love.

One thing this story doesn’t handle well is the character development so getting to know the kids, Cameron and the other faculty members feels very wonky.  This results in the moments that don’t involve the kids struggling to get the robot to work feel like it is putting the brakes on the momentum the story is having.  The odd thing about this is their backstories are interesting and help humanize the characters greatly.  The problem that occurs is the plot doesn’t really have a flow to it where these development moments feel like they are sprung up naturally and in concert with the work around the competition.  This issue does start to resolve itself as the film progresses but it doesn’t change that the story does feel a tad awkward for the first and second act.

And one of them immediately "Leroy Jenkins-ed" their whole operation.

The sequel setup where the robot turned towards Fredi
while it was in the pool and said, "What are you doing
Fredi?" felt a little ominous.
This wobbly start to the film does start to right itself out but the real highlight of the film is the cast.  Everyone from George Lopez to Jamie Lee Curtis as the school’s principal to Marisa Tomei as a fellow teacher to Julián, Del Rio, Gutierrez and PenaVega as the students are doing a tremendous job.  The actors playing the students are really stealing the show because they capture that drive and the daily hardships they go through when not in school...and, because of this, it was impossible to not cry when they achieved their victory at the competition (no, that’s not a spoiler because, like I said, you know it is coming from the moment the film starts…and their win is a matter of public record).

"Let me tell you all about the yogurt that helps you with your bowel movements..."

Spare Parts has some clumsiness to it but it doesn’t completely defeat its heart and charm.  The cast is great and there’s some real chemistry between everyone so it was easy to cheer for them as they competed at the end.  The film struggles to make the development flow but does succeed as it blends its drama, heart and humor. Overall, it's a great tale and a fun watch.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Okja

***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!  This movie has a thing called a super pig and it needs to team with spider-pig.




Okja – 4 out of 5

There was a time in my life, several years actually, where I was a vegan.  I wasn’t a militant vegan, I wasn’t preaching to the “evil meat eaters” of the world.  I was just trying to live a healthier, environmentally friendly life style.  I understand that we like our meat in our society—hell, I am no longer a vegan and have returned to meat eating ways (however, that time as a vegan really educated me on balancing meals and I still eat a lot of vegan entrees that I discovered during those years)—but I do believe in being conscientious people and being humane with the animals that we raise to be our food (yeah, I know this viewpoint will make vegans blood boil).  The Netflix film Okja plays off of these ideas and creates a story that will definitely make you think twice when you’re about to bite into those pork chops or steak.
Awww, look at the potential dinner!

The super pig came from another planet that
blew up.
With the world perpetually in a food crisis, Mirando Corp. CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) announces that they have been breeding a new form of livestock, an animal they call a super pig.  She informs the media that they will be sending their 26 samples to different farmers from around the world to raise these super pigs and, in ten years, whoever successfully nurtured the biggest one will be crowned the winner.  Ten years later, a young girl living in South Korea by the name of Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) finds friendship with her super pig, named Okja.  When the spokesman for the contest, wildlife personality Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal), arrives on the farm, Okja is declared the winning super pig and they collect it and take it to New York.  Realizing that Okja is being primed for the slaughter, Mija leaves her home and grandfather behind to rescue Okja and, along the way, finds herself teaming up with a man named Jay (Paul Dano), a leader in the Animal Liberation Front.

They just want to rescue the super pig because they want to ride it like
a horsey.

Okja is one of those films that I’ve been meaning to sit down and finally consume but, for no real reason, I haven’t really gotten around to it.  I’m not sure why but I’ve been having this problem with a lot of Netflix films.  It might be that they just put out so much original content now that it’s easier to be overwhelmed and walk away from it or it’s the fact that there’s just not a lot of time in the day to have a day job, do this movie review hobby and be a performer dancing for nickels in the Midwest…or a combination of all of this.  However, now that I’ve finally taken the time to check this one out, I have to say that I found a very amusing and tender film that provides some thought-provoking commentary on our corporate farming practices.

Swinton is in this film.  There's no good reason why I waited on this one.

Whether you agree with the points the story is making or not, Okja does a fantastic job of intertwining some social commentary in the film and it never comes off as preachy or self-righteous.  The fact that it can do this while having a real-life animal rights organization is pretty amazing because, let’s face it, these organizations are the equivalent of that friend you have on social media who is obsessed with always being right and will mansplain, “well actually” and correct you on everything you say.  I believe the reason that this balance is achieved is because the film takes that commentary and brings it to you on an emotional level by illustrating it through the relationship between a girl and her beloved pet.  This is tender and sweet so it makes the moments when you realize these super pigs were made to be meals heartbreaking but it also isn’t the overtly heavy version of this sentiment that comes in the form of a Sarah McLachlan played over images of beaten and broken dogs.

Like a super pig in a shopping mall...

I heart Swinton!
Another element that really made this film captivating and entertaining was the cast.  On paper, you already know it’s going to be good because you have some very talented people in it.  And they all really delivered.  Tilda Swinton is doing her usual delightfully eccentric work (she even pulls double-duty in this one as she plays Lucy’s twin sister) and you have Paul Dano being uniquely charming as the ALF leader.  Additionally, I really enjoyed the performance of Ahn Seo-hyun as Mija because not only did she seamlessly pull off acting alongside a completely computer generated creature but the level of heart she brought to the role was palpable and real.  Finally, I gotta point out how fun Gyllenhaal was as the character of Johnny Wilcox.  It’s been some time since I’ve seen him play a role so over-the-top and goofy that I’ve forgot he has this type of range.  It was nice seeing him play something a little more colorful and less intense.

I haven't seen Gyllenhaal this goofy since Bubble Boy.

The final element that really worked for this film is the special effects used to bring Okja to life and the overall design of the creature.  The super pig reminds me greatly of what you would see in a children’s book and its simplistic design, adorable tubby body and its life-like eyes made it very easy to be charmed by the pet/potential food source and to become sympathetic with Mija’s desire to get it back and save it.  I will admit that there were some moments up close with Okja where the special effects were a little wonky and it was easy to tell that the creature was CG but, for the most part, the effects were fairly great and it was easy to become enthralled with and believe the super pig was a part of the scene rather than something that was digitally created and rendered in post.

I would be lying if I said I didn't want a super pig.

The only drawback I think Okja has is its replay value.  I don’t envision this being a movie that I will find myself desiring to watch again—at least not in the near future.  Beyond that, however, the film is a tender, touching and amusing film that deals with some real social commentary through the means of a relatable story and without getting on a high horse and acting all high and mighty.  Finally, it has a great cast and the performances are out-of-sight.  This is definitely one of the best Netflix original films I’ve seen.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Erased

***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!  I was kinda hoping that this movie was going to be Aaron Eckhart being chased by a giant eraser.




Erased – 2 out of 5

Imagine waking up one morning and finding out that you no longer exist, that you are just scrubbed from the global system.  Some might find that terrifying but as long as my debt was eliminated, I think it might be kinda alright with it.  It would allow me to start over and find a life that is free from stress—or as free from it as it can possibly be.  Erased plays with this idea but, sadly, other films have seemed to have done this one and have done it better.

This movie really needed a moment where Aaron Eckhart says, "My life has
been...erased!"  And then looks at the camera and winks.

Ben Logan (Aaron Eckhart) is a single dad living in Belgium working for a tech company and raising his daughter Amy (Liana Liberato).  One day, he heads into his office to find that the place is empty.  When he starts to investigate, he finds no records of the work he’s been doing or that the company even existed.  Digging deeper, he finds his coworkers have all been murdered and now the culprits are after him.  There’s just one thing they didn’t plan for, Ben Logan has a mysterious past that has trained him for a life and death situation such as this.  Now he must protect his daughter and stop the people behind this nefarious plot.

Now, if I walked in and my place of business looked like this, my first thought
would be that I have the rest of the day off.

Erased isn’t really a bad movie but it’s not one that is really doing much to be a good one.  The performances are really great and, from a technical standpoint, the film looks great and is put together very well.  Finally, the few action sequences that are provided are decent.  The problem comes from the story and plot.

"Is there something on my face?"

The main problem that held Erased back is that it’s not really doing anything to stand out beyond it having some really great performances.  Sure, the visuals, lighting and editing work perfectly but the story and plot is where the film gets hung up.  The mystery wasn’t that engaging, there was no sense of urgency, the conflict didn’t feel that dire and the lack of any direct antagonist or even decent faceless minions to chase after Ben and Amy really kept this film from being memorable.  It never gets boring or dry but there just wasn’t much to latch onto and get engaged with.  Matters are only made worse when you realize that many other thrillers have done this type of story and have done it significantly better.

This gentleman is meant to be the main tough guy but he looks exactly this
interested in his work the entire film.

Even the action in this one wasn’t that grabby.  There’s nothing particularly wrong with it—in fact, there’s a great moment that involves an explosion that was pretty damn cool—but the issue I had with it was that it was all too serviceable.  The fight choreography was smooth and looked great but it all felt like the small fighting moments in better films that fill up the space between the great, larger fight moments.  The character of Ben Logan is no slouch when it concerns slamming fists into faces but he’s a long way from someone like Jason Bourne.

Logan isn't fighting the man, he just has a severe misunderstanding of the Heimlich
maneuver.

Erased isn’t a great movie but it’s not a bad one either.  It has its moments and the cast is great but it’s essentially a serviceable thriller.  The problem arrives is the fact the feature feels so serviceable that it basically becomes a bit generic and kinda forgettable.