Archive for June, 2016


Independence Day is one of the films responsible for defining the modern summer blockbuster. It was big, goofy and a lot fun, which ultimately cemented it as one of the best disaster movies of all time. Sequels weren’t quite as common when the film was initially released, but 20 years later, Hollywood is intent on reviving every single existing property. So audiences are treated to Independence Day: Resurgence, a completely unnecessary rehash that loses much of the charm of the original. It may not be as terrible as one would expect, but it’s ultimately forgettable and doesn’t even deliver any great disaster sequences that we’ve come to expect from director Roland Emmerich.

It’s been 20 years since an alien threat came to Earth and nearly wiped out the human race. Since defeating them, humans have taken the technologies that they brought and used them to ensure peace and develop space exploration. On the anniversary of the attack, scientist David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) travels to Africa to investigate a leftover alien spacecraft that has mysteriously turned on its lights. This strange occurrence may have something to do with the arrival of a strange alien spacecraft on the surface of Mars. Levinson believes that this could be a different, more peaceful alien race, but President Elizabeth Lanford (Sela Ward) orders an attack on the extraterrestrials. But soon another spacecraft arrives, one that’s even more enormous than the ones that came before it. When the alien race begins to drill into the Earth’s core, Levinson is reunited with former president Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman). They and a trio of young military pilots (Liam Hemsworth, Jessie T. Usher and Maika Monroe) must work together to bring down the invaders.

The essential elements of the plot are almost identical to the original film: an alien race arrives on Earth and a group of diverse individuals from around the globe must figure out a way to defeat them. But this time, Emmerich and his co-writers seem to have taken the approach that bigger is better; instead of a dozens of large spaceships, this time the aliens arrive in a single vessel that’s 3,000-miles wide. It’s a logical way to raise the stakes, but nothing ever comes across as more intense or interesting. It’s just a lot of formulaic sci-fi action that would feel more at home in the late 90s than today. You could look at this as a welcome throwback to earlier blockbusters, but everything from the humor, to the look, to the set pieces feels incredibly dated. The only action sequence that really works is the climactic chase between the alien queen and a school bus full of kids. It’s certainly not amazing, but it at least feels different enough to stick in your mind.

Although 20th Century Fox would have probably loved to see the return of Will Smith to the sequel, they were unable to drum up the $50 million paycheck that he required. Luckily, we are treated to the return of Goldblum, Pullman and Judd Hirsch, among several others. Maybe it’s because they were introduced in the previous film, but these three actors portray the only characters worth caring about. The film introduces a younger generation of characters and while Hemsworth, Usher and Monroe give fine performances, their characters are paper-thin and generally uninteresting. The younger cast ultimately serves as an apt metaphor for Independence Day: Resurgence; it may have a massive budget and epic scale, but it doesn’t even come close to matching the fun experience of the original.

Independence Day: resurgence receives 2/4

It seems like most people seem to have taken a pretty negative stance on this iteration of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I remember watching the trailer for the sequel in a crowded theater and hearing several audience members groan in annoyance. Part of this probably has something to do with Michael Bay’s involvement as a producer. While you can definitely feel his touch on the finished product, I actually enjoyed 2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles more than I thought I would. So I was cautiously looking forward to its sequel and I’m pleased to say that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is even better than its predecessor. This is certainly not high art, but it’s a summer blockbuster that understands its audience and never oversteps its bounds. Add in some decent humor and a few cool action set pieces and you’ve got a pretty fun time at the movies.

After saving the world from total destruction one year ago, our favorite turtles have remained out of the public’s eye. Aside from a select few, no one knows of their existence. Having made a deal with the turtles, Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett) has taken credit for saving the city. But when a police transport of the villain Shredder (Brian Tee) goes wrong, the turtles must spring back into action and prevent him from following the orders of the evil mastermind Krang (Brad Garrett). The turtles have the help of April O’Neil (Megan Fox) and Casey Jones (Stephen Amell), but Shredder has an army of his own, including the Foot Clan and a pair of dimwitted criminals, Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Sheamus).

Directed by Dave Green, the film relies heavily on CGI and while this can often be seen as a negative in modern filmmaking, it actually works surprisingly well here. This is a franchise that doesn’t need to strive for realism and it’s a good thing that Green treats the material like a live-action cartoon. Because so much of the film is CGI, it usually doesn’t feel out of place either; the turtles and their villains might not look real, but fit perfectly alongside one another. And these visual effects allow the filmmakers to attempt some over-the-top action sequences that couldn’t be done in a more grounded action movie. Shredder’s escape from police custody is a lot of fun to watch, as is an awesome sequence that showcases the turtles jumping out of a plane and onto another. It’s only in the third act and the climactic battle against Krang where the action begins to grow stale.

It seems that lately, some blockbusters have tried to take themselves too seriously. There aren’t many live-action, big-budget action movies aimed solely at kids, so this one definitely stands out from the pack. I must be clear: this is far from a good film. It’s immature, forgettable and sloppy, but it does have a nice sense of humor and an overall feeling of fun that carries throughout most of the film’s runtime. Sometimes it’s refreshing to watch a movie that knows exactly what it is and achieves what it sets out to do. Grab some popcorn, candy and a large beverage of your choice. This is some enjoyable dumb summer entertainment.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows receives 2.5/4

A lot of horror films aren’t great, so it’s even more rare to find a horror sequel that gets the job done. The Conjuring was a huge hit back in the summer of 2013, scaring the pants off of critics and making over $300 million worldwide in the process. A sequel to this supernatural shocker was only inevitable, but no one expected it to be almost as good as the original. Returning to the director’s chair is James Wan, who has essentially become a horror juggernaut, making franchises out of Saw, Insidious and now The Conjuring. While most of the sequels to his hit films have been misfires – including the dreadful Conjuring spinoff AnnabelleThe Conjuring 2 is the rare horror sequel that works. Utilizing effective jump scares and frightening imagery, it’s a legitimately scary horror film that’s perfect to see with a crowd.

Six years after their investigation into the haunting of the Perron family, Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) continue investigating the paranormal. Having just looked into the haunting of Amityville, there are still many skeptics who don’t believe the claims made by the Warrens. But that might all change when Ed and Lorraine travel to England to help a mother (Frances O’Connor) whose home is being terrorized by an otherworldly force that’s formed an attachment to her daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe). The evidence that this is a real haunting seems strong, but the church wants the Warrens to dig a little deeper to ensure that this isn’t a hoax. What they discover is one of their most terrifying and dangerous cases yet.

The biggest problem with The Conjuring 2 – and really the film’s only major misstep – is that it’s way too long. Unless you’re making an epic horror film like The Shining or The Exorcist, every director should try to generally keep their horror films less than two hours. The Conjuring 2 clocks in at an egregious two hours and fourteen minutes, which is over twenty minutes longer than its predecessor. A large chunk of these extra minutes are devoted to developing the characters of Ed and Lorraine Warren and while that’s fine in theory, a lot of their individual scenes should have ended up on the cutting room floor. Not only does this cause the film to overstay its welcome, it also severely disrupts the flow of the movie. There’s at least one large segment of the film without any legitimate scares and this means that the sequel is unable to match the near-continuous dread of its predecessor.

But if this film had been shorter and tighter, there’s a chance that it could have ended up better than the original. There are some really great scares here that are both subtly scary and in-your-face obvious. One of the best scenes in the movie involves a painting depicting a demon nun. Lorraine Warren chases a spirit into a dark room and finds a painting of the being hanging on the wall. In the darkness, the painting looks like it could be real, but Wan ensures that the audience is never certain. It’s a great scene of anticipation; we know the scare is coming, but we don’t know when. Scenes like this one show how Wan is so great at manipulating an audience for maximum effect. He toys with our anticipation and knowledge of horror films, thus playing the audience like a frightened fiddle.

There are also some quieter scares in the film that work like gangbusters. The aforementioned nun is incredibly discomforting and its appearance at the end of a long hallway is easily the scariest image in the film. If anything is going to frighten you once the movie is over, it’s this. But another great scene occurs when the Warrens are attempting to discover if Janet is really being haunted. Janet tells them that the old man who is haunting her will only appear if everyone in the room turns their backs to her. They comply and while the camera is focused on Ed Warren, a sinister presence slowly begins to transform in Janet’s place. It’s a creepy effect that isn’t initially obvious, but it’s definitely one of the most unique scenes in the film.

Not every scare is quite as effective and one of the monsters feels strangely reminiscent of 2014’s The Babadook, but this is definitely a notch above most modern horror flicks. Wan doesn’t make raw, visceral horror films, choosing instead to treat his material like an amusement park ride. It provides some great thrills while you’re in the moment, but it certainly isn’t likely to keep you awake at night. Unlike this year’s brilliant The Witch, which some people may find uncomfortable or unnecessarily slow, The Conjuring 2 is a horror film that pretty much everyone can enjoy.

The Conjuring 2 receives 3/4