“Overlord” full movie review

Surprisingly deep! The best kind of bait and switch is when you go in with moderately low expectations and get blown away by how incredibly well an experimental film dances the line between two genres and provides us with rich writing and excellent direction. At the end of the day, it is still a glorified B-movie, but it’s a B-movie that has so many A-list qualities about it. Often when the term experimental is attributed to a film or movie, it is usually because of a particular stylistic choice by the director; however, I chose that description for this movie because it blends the war (WWII) genre with horror and action to create a movie experience that is incredibly thrilling and creepy. Not for the weak stomached, this movie contains quite a lot of war and horror violence, but the gore and violence are never the focus but used to enhance the visceral experience of the movie. The focus of the movie is on the mission of the American soldiers to take out a signaling tower for the Nazi forces, and we never forget that. For all the complexities of the film, the plot is superbly simple and the main characters moderately complex. If there is one singular fault of the movie, it is that the character of opposition (Wafner) is not as interesting as our central character of Boyce. Supporting the lead cast are fantastic side characters who are mostly there for some comedic relief. While the horrors of Nazi medical experimentation led by the sadistic Josef Mengele are still stomach-churning to this day, the end of this movie contains a brilliant payoff that takes what the Nazis may have been doing right before D-Day, and turns it against them. The Nazi’s are defeated by a member of a group that would have been on their extermination list. If you’re thinking that this is going to be another Dead Snow, you would be wrong. Takes what Dead Snow did well and combines it with the best of WWII movies to deliver an exhilarating movie!

Hours before the real life D-Day, a small group of American soldiers survive a airborne battle above France, and must work together, through their differences, to destroy a signaling tower in village near Normandy in order to allow the Allied forces to storm that infamous beach to deliver France from the clutches of Nazi occupation. The US soldiers soon realize that there is more going on than an oppressive Nazi occupation in the village. As the soldiers inch their way toward the former church, now a Nazi camp, they discover that the evil Nazi medical experimentation goes way beyond unethical and even immoral to downright sadistic. In an effort to solidify the Third Reich’s rein over the world, they have developed a serum to make super soldiers that has some horrific side effects. The allied forces must face not only the Nazi forces but the undead as well.

Why does this movie work as well as it does? Easy. The screenplay by Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith and direction by Julius Avery. Ray is known for Captain Philips and The Hunger Games, Smith for The Revenant. Avery is still relatively new to directing feature films, but demonstrates a strong ability to work with a blended genre that provides audiences with an exciting big screen time. With Avery still earning his chops for feature films, the fantastic screenwriting and story serve as a solid foundation upon which the other elements are built. At first glance, this movie seems like one that would essentially one that is just schlocky fun, or perhaps one that tries to take itself seriously but fails miserably in a way that makes it painful to watch, and ultimately forgettable. But to great surprise, the movie not only delivers a thrilling WWII horror movie but one that is produced with dimension, depth, and visual precision. Although not writing or directing, J.J. Abrams penchant for incredible visuals and heart-pumping action is seen throughout the movie.

Before discussing the performances and visuals of the film, I want to focus more on why this film is much deeper than it first appears. On the surface, it is a WWII action horror movie but beneath the surface, the screenwriters confront the audience with concepts and questions that are creatively woven into the high concept plot. Chief among these is found in our central character of Boyce. He’s a young black male fighting alongside these hard-hearted soldiers. While his counterparts are mostly jaded, he maintains a morally sound world view amidst the harsh realities of war. The fact that the film depicts a young black male as the hero during a time in our country that was about to experience great civil rights unrest, is a testament to the creative and effective approach to this story. He plays the role that is often given to a white actor, but I immensely enjoyed the charisma and talent he brought to this role that shows a progressive film. Regarding the rest of the American soldiers, each soldier represents a different kind of character, providing audiences one with whom they may be able to identify.

In addition to the fantastic casting choice in Boyce (Jovan Adepo), the screenwriters also confront the audience with the question of what truly separates us from our enemies when the only means to defeat them is stooping to their level. Including a message such as this one allows us to use the situation as an allegory in our present culture that is growing increasingly divided, and hate seems to abound. Where do you draw the line in the course of war or a philosophical battle? Ostensibly giving the middle finger to the damsel in distress, this film delivers an independent badass heroine in Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier). Such a strong female character in this movie, Chloe refuses to stay in her home and allow the American soldiers to fight for her. And she is so strong that even the most masculine of the soldiers accepts her tenacity and unbreakable spirit. Fortunately, the movie does not turn her into a love interest for the American soldiers. Many of the solders find her attractive, but she is never objectified by the Americans; however, she is objectified by the despicable Nazis. But fortunately for her, the infatuation the Wafner has with her, eventually brings about his demise.

Overlord delivers it’s visual tension brilliantly. And this is in party to the high degree of visual storytelling in this movie. The action sequences and special effects are extremely well produced. Avery’s movie rises above what we generally expect out of high concept action/horror movies to provide audiences with gritty, gnarly special effects and makeup effects. There is a realness to the atrocities of war felt in this movie that can be greatly appreciated. That realness is achieved by a large percentage of practical effects supplemented with digital effects. As I have pointed out before, relying upon mostly CGI robs the audience and the actors of authenticity. CGI cannot completely replicate the way real light bounces off real objects and into the camera. That sound mix, tho! If anything assaults your senses as much, if not more than the gruesome visuals, it is the ridiculous good sound design and mix. Definitely watch this film in IMAX or Dolby Digital (or the equivalent) if it is available in your area.

If you are seeking a horroresque gritty action movie, then this is one that you do not want to miss. It’s got everything you want from a movie that dances the line between horror and action. I cannot think of another horror action movie that does this as well with the exception of James Cameron’s Aliens (though, that one leans more towards action than horror).

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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The Predator (2018) Review

A solid reboot/sequel for the Predator franchise! Don’t pay attention to the plethora of reviews from critics who are hating on Shane Black’s The Predator. With an entertaining action-horror plot, fantastic cast, and excellent pacing, this is the Predator that we wanted and got! And I am not alone in this, several podcasts and even the Roger Ebert site agree on Black’s Predator. The tone of the movie feels like a throwback to the original, while acknowledging the other movies to maintain just enough continuity where you don’t question where this film falls of what has happened prior. I went into this movie with moderately low expectations because of what I read in the initial reviews, but I was completely surprised by how much I enjoyed it. And not only me, all of my friends who were with me between Rounds 1 and 2 of Halloween Horror Nights opening weekend. You get it all, grizzly action, humor, and entertaining kills. Unlike past movies that tried to “improve” on their 80s predecessors, this quintessential action-horror takes us back to what made the 80s horror endure the test of time. Instead of building the movie around the title character, it builds it around the lead human cast. And a memorable cast of characters, at that. Where some reviewers have found irreverence or offensiveness in the fact that many of the characters demonstrate cognitive and emotional disabilities, this is actually what works well for the film. Furthermore, it highlights how emotional, physiological, or cognitive disabilities do not determine someone’s degree of courage, determination, empathy, or sense of humor. Each of the lead and supporting characters in the ensemble cast overcome any obstacles that stand in their way, whether the obstacle comes from within or from the outside. It is a fun, exhilarating horror movie that will keep you entertained!

“From the outer reaches of space to the small-town streets of suburbia, the hunt comes home. The universe’s most lethal hunters are stronger, smarter and deadlier than ever before, having genetically upgraded themselves with DNA from other species” (IMDb). When US Ranger McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) discovers a crashed space ship and loses his crew to a mysterious alien with futuristic weaponry, he salvages what he can find from the wreckage and mails–in Dr. Henry Jones fashion–it in order for it to not be confiscated by the US government. Unbeknownst to McKenna, the US government is aware of these Predators, and has one sedated for testing in a secret facility. When the US government gaslights McKenna and believes him to be maliciously upholding an investigation, he is thrown onto a bus of other veterans, whom the government does not want to deal with, to be taken to a mental hospital. When the Predator escapes the facility, McKenna teams up with his fellow soldiers on the bus to take down the alien killer before more harm can be done. Meanwhile, the situation is complicated when a boy accidentally triggers the return to Earth of an even bigger Predator, and only McKennas’ ragtag crew of ex-soldiers and an evolutionary biologist can prevent the end of the human race.

Since there isn’t much to analyze here, I am going to keep this one short. What I find most interesting about The Predator, is what it was NOT more so than what it was. It wasn’t another reboot of a past franchise that overly injects vapid dialogue and self-aware humor or a complex plot. The Predator heeds the maxim “simple plot, complex characters.” Moreover, it also wasn’t a parody or satirical piece that was making fun of the genre or source material as if it was no longer relevant to audiences. It would have been far too easy for Black to have made a mockery of this franchise or wrote-directed something that was just complete schlock; but he did what many thought was impossible with this horror creature feature. He revived what we loved about the original, made a few tweaks, and gave us a strong reboot/sequel that was incredibly entertaining to watch.

After watching the movie, I am left with the conclusion that Black was able to recapture what made the first one work so well and actually repeat it, with some exchanges of grizzly violence for humor. But why does this movie work so well? Black started with characters, then derived a plot from those characters with incredible precision and strategic pacing. The tone and rhythm of this movie are remarkable. Yes, remarkable. Black was able to achieve what fans of great action movies love and take for granted, but is highly difficult to pull off effectively. The placement of dramatic beats. The reason the plot of this movie works so well is because Black knew where to place the emotional and action beats, and how to build up to them, and drive them home. He connects to these beats through character-driven development through which plot is derived.

For fans of the franchise, this truly IS the Predator movie that you were hoping for. Even those who are new to the franchise will enjoy the movie because it works as both an homage to and a pioneer in rediscovering the attraction of this iconic creature feature.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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Blumhouse’s “Upgrade” movie review

Black Mirror on crack. That is precisely what Blumhouse’s Upgrade can be likened to. Outstanding commentary on the convergence of humanity and technology that provides many thought-provoking moments. Best known for its horror, this action thriller from Blumhouse will have you on the edge of your seat the entire time. Rooted in classic science-fiction, this thriller will also deliver a healthy dose of dark comedy, heart-pounding action, and acutely shockingly violent scenes. Writer-director Leigh Whannel crafts a brilliant motion picture that is one part vigilante Robocop and another part Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster. On the surface, Whannel’s thriller comes across as a B-movie done well, but it contains prolific content that will likely inspire conversations about the relationship between humanity and technology. Perhaps it was not the intention of Whannel (co-creator of Insidious and Saw) to write a motion picture steeped with commentary on the human condition and a harbinger against allowing technology to fuse with our minds and bodies, but there is certainly material here to discuss those deeper topics. Bumhouse’s Upgrade is certainly a big screen experience, so catch it while it is there!

Set in the not-so-distant future, cars drive themselves, pizzas can be printed at home, and Alexa is built into your house. After dropping off a completely rebuilt 1980s Firebird Trans-Am at a client’s hosue, Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) is left a quadriplegic following a brutal car accident and mugging that also leaves his wife dead. While recovering in the hospital, Grey is approached by a major tech company owner about an experimental surgery that is theorized to enable Grey to regain his motor skills. It worked! Only now, Grey’s realized that he has cat-like agility and reflexes as well as increased strength. With his newfound abilities, Grey seeks to assassinate those he blames for his wife’s death.

Better have an iron stomach in order to watch this thriller, because Whannel prefers shocking moments in abundance. Whereas this film is certainly not a horror–as the intent of the film is NOT to horrify audiences–it certainly contains elements borrowed from horror films in order in increase the level of threat. A director friend of mine from Germany characterized the film has having tones of a John Carpenter movie combined with Drive by Nicholas Winding Refn. Though set in a possible near-future, the cinematography, score, and lighting are quintessential 1980s. No surprise as 80s is en vogue in our movies and TV shows. Grey’s “everyman” character archetype enables audiences to identify with him quickly, thus root for him as he takes the law into his own hands to avenge the brutal death of his beloved wife. It’s the simple revenge plot that enables Whannel to build a complex character delivering dark humor and visceral violence.

Definitely an entertaining science-fiction thriller! If you enjoy TV shows like Netflix’ Black Mirror and movies like DriveHalloween, Frankenstein, and Robocop, then you’ll certainly like Blumhouse’s Upgrade.

“Deadpool 2” movie review

“Deadpool, can you hear me?” Subversive, irreverent, brilliant, meta. It very well may be better than the first. How often do we get to say that about direct sequels? Ryan Reynolds’ witty, crass, charmingly naughty superhero is back to take even the most unrelentingly serious movie patron, and drive them to complete laughter. The square peg of the X-Men’s round universe returns with non-stop action, antics, and fourth-wall breaking humor virtually deconstructing everything from the opening credits to the post-credit scenes. Nothing new there; however, Deadpool assures the audience that the story they are about to see is a family movie. And after watching it, it may be unconventional, but it’s a solid family film. Maybe not “family entertainment,” by the Disney definition, but about family nevertheless. Speaking of which, we may have just watched the final Deadpool as we know it before it gets the Big D sanitization treatment, should Comcast (NBC Universal) not swoop in to save 20th Century from the otherwise inevitable Disney acquisition. Deadpool 2 isn’t just better than the first one simply because it’s funnier, more risqué, or more clever; in measurable ways, it possesses stronger villain(s), stronger opposition to the goal, and a better plot overall. Not your everyday “family” film, but filled with emotional tugs at your heart strings, all the same. Just with a heaping helping of self-aware and self-deprecating bawdy humor.

For two years, Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) has continued his mercenary work, taking down villain after villain, crook after crook; but, after he fails to kill one of his targets on an extra-special day to him, he is faced with tragedy. Through a series of bizarre events–yes, even bizarre for Wilson–Wilson finds himself in a maximum-security prison ran by the DMC (Dept of Mutant Control) along with a renegade 14yo mutant named Russell. When Cable (Josh Brolin), a high-tech assassin, arrives from the future to take out a target that he claims leads to total destruction, Wilson must battle inner and outer demons in order to get his heart into the right place. Knowing he’s facing the most dangerous villain he’s ever encountered, Wilson forms the X-Force, a diverse “superhero” group of many talents in order to apprehend the target to prevent the world from plunging into complete chaos.

There is a comedic power in the plot of Deadpool 2 that invites the audience, at every turn, to laugh with the movie as it laughs at itself. There are a few running schticks throughout the film, but my favorite is the continued references to Barbra Streisand’s groundbreaking film Yentl featuring the iconic Streisand ballad Papa, Can You Hear Me? To which, Deadpool points out sounds an awful lot like Do You Wanna Build a Snowman from Disney’s Frozen. And it’s the implication of Disney appropriating Streisand’s song where the “Disney joke” was likely cut from the movie. Other jokes carry over from the first film such as the X-Men mansion with only Negasonic Teenage Warlord and Colossus roaming around. Some of the schticks from the first movie are transformed for this direct sequel. Contrary to the Wade Wilson from the first film, this one, this one diverts from his persistent aversion to companionship and a desire to be the “lone ranger,” as it were, and expresses a need for family. This desire for family serves as the backdrop of running jokes, gags, and extreme snark.

Streisand isn’t the only female vocal artist highlighted in the film, Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5, Pat Benatar’s We Belong, and Cher’s If I Could Turn Back Time are all featured, all that we were missing was Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time. Unlike the completely unconventional opening credit sequence from the first Deadpool, this sequel’s opening credit sequence takes a page out of the James Bond handbook, complete with the new single Ashes by Celina Dion. Like the opening credit sequence from the first film, this one also replaces the names with jokes that certainly aid in setting the irreverent mood of the film. Although a film should never primarily rest upon the music, as the plot should stand on its own, the score and featured songs are incredibly important assets that can greatly enhance the experience. Deadpool 2 contains a few montages set to song that will certainly have you rolling over laughing. Sometimes it’s the complete contrast or juxtaposition that the lyrics provide against the action in the foreground that drive the audience to complete hysterical laughter.

For all the first film got right, one of the elements missing from it was a well-developed, dynamic villain (more specifically, opposition to the external goal). Deadpool 2 provides solid central opposition to the external goal (which, for spoiler sake, I won’t mention) flanked by two villains taken directly out of the X-Men comics (and X-Men: the Animated Series). Cable, mentioned earlier, and the Juggernaut. Not to pigeonhole Cable into the villain category, there is more to this villain than first meets the eye. He can be more accurately described as an anti-hero because of his reasons for returning to the past to stop Armageddon, so to speak. Knowing Cable’s backstory, his goals, and that which he sees as opposition to his goals, gives him a character depth seldom seen in many superhero villains. When a villain (or anti-hero) can get the audience to empathize with his or her plight, then the villain succeeds in being well-developed and complicated. Having a complicated villain enables the audience to love or love to hate the villain. But in both cases, the audience loves to see the villain (or anti-hero) on screen. Supplementing the cast of villains in Deadpool 2, is the iconic X-Men character Juggernaut. His introduction into the film comes at a strategic turning point that launches the plot into the showdown.

The film makes an important observation about the lack of plus-sized lead characters in superhero movies. Russell is a plus-sized mutant who wants so desperately to be a superhero, but sends the message to Wilson (and by extension, the audience) that there should be room for non-athletic types in the superhero universe. It’s an important message that I think would have played out more effectively had the actor not been so childish. I understand that the character is a 14yo mutant who is still struggling to find his place in this world and understand his powers, but I kept seeing the actor and not the character. The ability to bring a character to life without the actor showing is part of the art of acting. In most cases, the audience wants to see the character, not the actor playing him or her. I liked the character of Russell, just think he could have been portrayed by another actor who could have more effectively driven the message home that diversity in the superhero universe mans more than male, female, straight, gay, etc. It should also incorporate a diversity of body types. Having non-athletic body types represented in lead characters–superheroes specifically–is an element that I hope continues to improve.

There truly is so much to enjoy about Deadpool 2. Behind the ballsy jokes, suggestive poses, and hilarious meta observations, is solid writing and direction. With the Disney acquisition of 20th Century Fox all but complete, with the wild card of Comcast’s (NBC Universal) bidding 19% more than Disney in cash that could alter the direction of the deal, I hope that we did not witness the last Deadpool free of Disney sanitization. Knowing that they strong-armed Fox into cutting a Disney joke from the film during post-production, does not help matters any. Hopefully, the third installment of Deadpool will be just as funny, if not funnier than the first two. Oh yeah, it should go without saying but this NOT a superhero movie for kids.

“Ready Player One” movie review

A spectacular journey that will have you on the edge of your seat. Ready Player One is a throwback to the classic Spielberg blockbuster films from the 70s, 80s, and 90s that many of us know, quote, and love. You’ll do far more than wax nostalgic in this film, because the focus is on the conflict at hand and not the pop culture references. Spielberg’s adaptation of the best-selling novel, written by Ernest Cline, takes on the challenge of crafting a visually compelling narrative that shows the benefits of virtual reality (VR) and gaming, juxtaposing it against the harshness of a reality following socio-economic and natural disasters in the near future. Although the story highlights the benefits of VR and shows the wonders of the imagination through the exquisitely designed scenes, there is one element seen throughout the story that transcends the illusion of Oasis (the virtual world); and that is humanity. Generosity of spirit and integrity are showcased brilliantly through the various central characters. I found myself, at the end of the movie, thinking about how much it reminds me of the magic of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Never once, will you find an opportunity for boredom to set in. And you’ll find yourself rooting for this open source of entertainment and information to remain available to all those who want to participate, and not regulate content based upon how much someone is willing to pay.

From filmmaker Steven Spielberg comes the science fiction action adventure “Ready Player One,” based on Ernest Cline’s bestseller of the same name, which has become a worldwide phenomenon. The film is set in 2045, with the world on the brink of chaos and collapse. But the people have found salvation in the OASIS, an expansive virtual reality universe created by the brilliant and eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance). When Halliday dies, he leaves his immense fortune to the first person to find a digital Easter egg he has hidden somewhere in the OASIS, sparking a contest that grips the entire world. When an unlikely young hero named Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) decides to join the contest, he is hurled into a breakneck, reality-bending treasure hunt through a fantastical universe of mystery, discovery and danger. (IMDb)

Pop culture, geek-dom, and nerd-dom for everyone! Whereas the book primarily contains 1980s references, the movie adaptation spans pop culture from the 80s to today. This was an important and strategically solid move in order to appeal to a wide age-range of movie-goers. Not being a gamer myself, I am unable to comment on the various references in the film and how they are placed perfectly in the narrative; however, I LOVE movies and TV, so I can definitely comment on those references, and they were spot on! Loved every one of them. And not just because these references were in the movie–anyone can just shove references and product placements into a movie without thought of the meaning or contribution to the plot–each and every movie or TV reference was selected specifically to fulfill a larger purpose and placed precisely where it needs to be. It would have been far too easy for the pop culture references to steel attention away from the plot, but the structure and pacing of the movie is such that the references enhance the experience without becoming sheer spectacle that could have been interpreted and pandering to audiences.

Of all the references, my favorite is Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. That’s right. Return to the infamous Overlook Hotel during one of the quests to search for the Jade Key. The Overlook Hotel from Kubrick’s horror masterpiece (that was, interestingly enough, disliked strongly by Stephen King) was incredible. I felt that I was legitimately transported to the macabre setting in which we encounter unimaginable terror. This referenced worked particularly well because I cannot imagine another setting that could have been used in such an instrumental fashion. There are times in films that a location could be swapped out for another similar setting and achieve the same result because the plot is not predicated on it–essentially, the plot would play out just as well and effectively through another comparable location. The Overlook Hotel and specific events from The Shining (that I won’t go into because of spoiling the experience) were nearly as integral to the advancement of the plot as the characters themselves. No sooner could you replace The Shining sequence than you could the main turning points between Acts I/II and II/III. Although there are many excellent sequences to choose from in the movie, the series of scenes during the time spent at The Overlook are definitely my favorite.

It’s not often that an action-adventure or fantasy movie is deep enough to provide social commentary on real issues facing us in the real world or what it means to be human; but Ready Player One contains fantastic material for philosophical discussions regarding the current trends and challenges facing present-day society. The subtext of this movie contains material on human values, equitable access to content online, and the dangers of falling victim to only “existing” in a virtual world. Man vs technology, greed vs generosity are ways to look at the story, not to oversimplify the subtext. Because of the present crisis of the ending of net neutrality facing the United States, there is clearly a message that everyone has the right to equitable access to the universe of entertainment and information online. When a greedy capitalist attempts to disrupt that access and determine someone’s access based upon how much someone is willing to pay, we see that the system runs the risk of breaking down and not allowing for the joy that was once ran through the very framework of the virtual world. The film also provides audiences with commentary on the importance of actively participating in the real world to form tangible, physical relationships with others in order to find love and forge friendships. Furthermore, if a society becomes so fixated on avoiding the problems of the real world by transporting to a virtual world, then the problems of the real world grow worse, bigger, and more devastating than if society takes the time and effort to combat that which seeks to destroy our world.

Such an excellent movie! If you are a fan of the Black Mirror series on Netflix for its Twilight Zone approach to tackling tough subject matter involving the degree to which technology permeates our lives, then you’ll enjoy Ready Player One. I find that many elements of this movie feel like the San Junipero episode, and the successful show at large, because of the terrifying visions of the near future distorted by the abuse of technology. Thoroughly enjoyed every moment on the more than two-hour runtime. I was initially afraid that the movie would feel too much like a video game, but that is not the case. The design is such that the virtual world and real world feel just as tangible. Being that I am not a gamer, I don’t want to attend the cinema and feel that I am watching cut scenes from a video game, so this was handed extremely well. You’ll easily find characters that you can identify with and root for, and the opposition forces are well-developed too.