“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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“Star Trek: Beyond” movie review

StarTrekBeyondOld school charm paired with impeccable visual storytelling! From Paramount Pictures and Bad Robot, Producer J.J. Abrams once again returns audiences to the world of Captain Kirk aboard the U.S.S. Starship Enterprise (NCC-1701) in a film that encompasses much of what was loved about the original series/movies, and combines that soul with the film production technology of today. Despite the subdued anthropological subtext, which is one of the primary differences between the Star Trek and Star Wars universes respectively, this story will definitely keep you entertained with brilliant writing and a nostalgic feel. For long-time fans of the franchise that’s been around since the 1960s, you will find that Abrams handles the settings and characters with care and respect. The third film in this reboot series, Star Trek: Beyond is one roller coaster of a ride that boasts a narrative pace that moves at warp speed. If there is one fallacy in the storytelling of this installment, in the Abrams reboot of the Gene Roddenberry classic, it is the lack of social commentary on the human condition that has been at the core of Star Trek since its creation. With a fantastic cast, incredibly strategic direction, and beautiful cinematography and visual effects, Star Trek: Beyond will whisk the audience away to the final frontier and “boldly go where no one has gone before.”

Following an encounter with an alien species at the York Town space station and colony, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is requested by Starfleet leadership to investigate the causes of distress in order to render help. With the possibility of accepting a Vice Admiral commission from Starfleet, Kirk sees this as his potentially final mission aboard the Enterprise. Concurrently, Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is also at a crossroads in his life when he receives word that Ambassador Spock has passed away, as he contemplates picking up where Ambassador Spock left off. Gathering the crew together for what may be the final mission of Kirk and Spock, the Enterprise sets out to uncharted deep space to evaluate the problems and bring about peace. Unknown to the Enterprise crew, they are about to encounter their darkest times yet and a villain named Krall (Idris Elba) who seeks an artifact in the possession of Kirk and has a mission to destroy the Federation and bring about his own version of peace–called chaos.

As a long-time Star Trek fan myself (TNG & Voyager), one of the very first elements I picked up on at the beginning of this installment was the trademark bridge sound effects from the original Star Trek TV series. Employing a little suspension of disbelief, what with all the flat panels and touch screen displays and all, the bridge of the NCC-1701 Enterprise still boasts the old soul of the bridge that started a universe of adventures that continue to this day. Fortunately, visionary producer J.J. Abrams, director Justin Lin, and writers Simon Pegg & Doug Jung craft a story that mostly takes what made the franchise so endearing and channel it into an exciting story for audiences today. From the characters to the dialog, and from the interpersonal interactions to the settings, this Star Trek movie effectively leads the reboot of the franchise in the right direction. Having just watched Abrams’ Star Wars: the Force Awakens back in December, I was very curious as to how similar Beyond would look and feel as compared to the aforementioned. Forced to decline the director’s chair for Star Trek: Beyond, Abrams turned the reigns over to Lin while still serving as the creative producer. Directing Star Wars and producing Star Trek could have left audiences with similar cinematic experiences; however, both movies are vastly different but provide fans with excellent additions to the respective universes.

Prior to screening the movie, I was very skeptical going into it since the various trailers for the film were disappointing–looked like the film was going to be cheesy. To my surprise, the film was definitely not hokey and played out exceptionally well. Compared to the previous two films, I definitely like this one much more. That is mostly attributed to the fact that Beyond felt like a Star Trek movie. The previous two installments felt like a Star Trek movie taking place inside a Star Wars-esque universe. Hopefully, this film will redirect the reboot of the motion pictures in a direction more closely aligned with the original series and movies. With Star Wars and Star Trek trying to find their respective places in today’s culture of media, entertainment, and gaming, it is important for both series to be distinctly different from one another. Now, I don’t mean different stories or characters–obviously, that’s a given by default–but I mean the feel of the stories needs to be unique. Star Wars is an action-adventure mostly concerned with good v evil and Star Trek is science-fiction that concerns itself, traditionally anyway, with the human condition. Both take place in the future, but are different experiences. There is demonstrable evidence in Star Trek: Beyond that the franchise is seeking to stay true to its roots in anthropology and psychology; whereas Star Wars: the Force Awakens is staying true to its roots in futuristic good v evil in a galaxy far, far away.

From a technical perspective, the film is flawless; however, it would have been nice to have seen more practical effects and miniatures more so than digital effects, albeit, the effects were impressive. I appreciated the focus on the interpersonal relationships between the characters, and how it upstaged the actual conflict. Yes, the conflict in the story is important and is what drives the action, but it’s the characters themselves that are the most important element in the narrative. Does this film shift the dominant focus off Star Wars and onto Star Trek? Not particularly. But does this movie pave the way for the Star Trek movies to be on par with the Star Wars movies? I believe that we could begin to witness that trend. Star Wars has the massive advantage of being owned by the Walt Disney Company; and therefore, TWDC is integrating that IP into the parks, cruise line, and merchandise. That is HUGE. Unfortunately, Star Trek does not benefit from being owned by a distribution company and legacy studio with theme park investments in the United States, anyway. Paramount did have amusement park investments, but sold them off to Cedar Fair many years ago. Perhaps the interest in the Star Trek movies and upcoming TV series in 2017 will generate a desire for this IP to become part of a themed entertainment property as well.

With so many choices this weekend for movies it is hard to decide what to see! I am looking forward to watching Lights Out now that I have watched Star Trek: Beyond. Whether you are a fan of the original series or movies OR you are a new fan to the Star Trek universe, I feel confident that you will find much to enjoy in this newest installment in the Abrams reboot. Hopefully the film will perform well over the weekend and begin to generate an interest in the upcoming TV series as well.

“10 Cloverfield Lane” movie review

10CloverfieldExtremely suspenseful and enigmatic! Within minutes of the beginning of the movie, you will be sucked into the twisted and claustrophobic subterranean world at 10 Cloverfield Lane. Not directly connected to Cloverfield (2008), this film quite possibly takes us to a moment concurrent to or just before/after the events in New York City caught on the handicam. Director Dan Trachtenberg and Producer J.J. Abrams work together to shock the audience with a movie that will keep you guessing right up until the end. Brilliantly cast and written, 10 Cloverfield Lane is an excellent old-school feeling horror film that you have got to experience in IMAX. Just when you think you have it figured out, you will immediately begin to second guess yourself. Probably the most brilliant part of the film is the fact that three principle characters can keep your interest and attention the entire time without ever a feeling of boredom or annoyance. From the writing to the cinematography and visual effects, this film is sure to keep you on the tip of your toes.

Following a car accident, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up with an IV in her arm and chained to a wall [wait, is this Saw?]. With no cell reception and no recollection of what happened, she begins to fear the worst. Upon meeting her capture Howard (John Goodman), she fears for her life. Not buying his story about saving her and keeping her from the hard during the fallout from the attack, Michelle attempts to escape. Failing to overcome Howard, she slowly begins to accept the worst. To her surprise, she is not the only one in Howard’s fallout shelter. Michelle meets Emmett (John Gallagher Jr). Thinking that Emmett’s injuries are from escaping, she learn that his broken arm is from fighting to get INTO Howard’s shelter. With this new revelation, Michelle begins to settle into life with Howard and Emmett. Still, something just isn’t right. From car noises to sunshine, Michelle has doubts of the alleged apocalypse and must solve the mysteries, puzzles, and covertly plan her escape.

One of the most intriguing elements of the movie is personally feeling the claustrophobia that the principle cast is experiencing in the movie. That is thanks to the excellent cinematography, production design, and lighting. That additional experiential element is not terribly common in films, even horror cinema. But it was very instrumental in generating the feeling of suspense, anticipation, and intrigue during the movie. Much like Super 8 and in the vein of other J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot productions, the movie begins with a fantastic and blood curdling accident. Just like a rollercoaster, once that car accident hits the screen, the movie will take you up and down thrilling hills on a track that you will struggle to see 10 feet ahead. It’s difficult to talk about how the movie keeps you guessing and second guessing yourself without giving away a lot of what makes the movie thrilling. So, you will just have to take my word for it. Like with any good horror/suspense movie, it is necessary to include strategic comedic relief or lighthearted moments. And writers Drew Goddard, Daniel Casey, Matthew Stuecken, and Josh Campbell weave together a brilliant combination of terror and humor to keep the movie alive and dynamic.

John Goodman is absolutely brilliant in the film. Not that he has anything to prove. He is one of those actors who, with the slightest tweak of the face or shift of the eyes, can have you laughing one second and terrified the next. His ability to turn his character’s emotion on a dime makes him equally weird/quirky and frightening all at the same time throughout the story. Is he a weird old man who, in his own awkward and bizarre way, is keeping Michelle and Emmett from hard or his is a sadistic serial killer who forms inappropriate intimate bonds with his “guests”? That is for you to discover in the movie. Both Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr were perfect choices for their respective roles as well. Winstead brings that independent spirit and look to the character of Michelle and Gallagher provides the audience with a country boy charm. The ability for an actor to capture the emotion of extreme terror and sell it as a legitimate, believable emotion is tough. Selling that acute and powerful emotion can make or break a horror film–if the director’s intent is to make the story as real as possible and not a parody or satire of itself.

You may be wondering how this film is even loosely connected to 2008’s Cloverfield. And that connection isn’t really made until the end of the third act of the movie. Unfortunately, I cannot go into too much detail without giving away the climactic and over-the-top ending, but I can say that it does a great job of being connected just enough that it can essentially stand on its own but when you think of how it is or could be connected to Cloverfield, then the movie becomes all the more intriguing. Interestingly, the manner in which this installment in the Cloverfield universe was directed and produced, it definitely could begin a franchise with movies that are never directly connected to the previous film or even Super 8, but are taking place at or near the same time, each with it’s own respective story.

It isn’t often that I watch movies that are best seen in IMAX, but this is definitely one that is best appreciated and experienced in IMAX; however, if you want to take the old-school feel of the movie to a who other level, then you may want to consider watching the movie at a local drive-in. However you choose to watch the film, you are going to definitely enjoy the adventure.