Film Review: Thoroughbreds (2017)

Also known as: Thoroughbred (festival title)
Release Date: January 21st, 2017 (Sundance)
Directed by: Cory Finley
Written by: Cory Finley
Music by: Erik Friedlander
Cast: Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin, Paul Sparks, Francie Swift

June Pictures, B Story, Big Indie Pictures, Focus Features, Universal Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“You cannot hesitate. The only thing worse than being incompetent, or being unkind, or being evil, is being indecisive.” – Amanda

I’ve been wanting to see this for about two years, after reading about it following its premiere at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. It was said to be “smart”, “quirky”, “unpredictable” and a mashup between American Psycho and Heathers.

It really isn’t any of those things, unfortunately. Okay, maybe it has a small dose of Heathers mixed in but it certainly doesn’t come close to the darkness one experiences in watching American Psycho.

I also didn’t find it to be “smart”, “quirky” or “unpredictable”.

I don’t want to take a big shit on this film, as I did moderately enjoy it and bits were amusing. Plus, I thought Anya Taylor-Joy and Anton Yelchin’s performances were terrific.

I just couldn’t buy into Olivia Cooke’s Amanda with her emotionless, dead pan delivery. I get that this is what her character is supposed to be but she doesn’t truly commit to the bit. You see, even though she isn’t supposed to care about anything, she is still conveniently driven by things in a way that seems to betray her own character.

Cooke’s Amanda was the apathetic angsty teen that acts overly depressed and always talks about it, probably for attention at first but somewhere along the line has bought into her own bullshit. I’ve dealt with major depression my entire life and people who act like her are typically attention seekers, even if they are legitimately broken. But I don’t think she was intended to be portrayed that way, I feel as if the director/writer actually bought into her bullshit too. But I guess that really just makes it his own bullshit.

Amanda is not quirky. She also isn’t smart. And as far as the plot goes, it isn’t unpredictable, it is actually very predictable. From the get-go, you know there is going to be a dark twist of some sort by the end and you also know that the stepfather will die somehow. But when that twist comes, it’s not all that shocking or surprising, it just limps its way into the narrative and all the ultraviolence that should come with something that’s compared to American Psycho, happens off screen.

I’m not saying that gore was necessary for this film to work but this was tame when compared to the things that modern critics have associated it with.

The big scene where the shit hits the fan is comprised of a still longshot that lasts a few minutes, as Amanda is passed out on the couch and you hear a loud, violent commotion upstairs. It’s a trope that’s been overused by indie filmmaking darlings for decades and its mostly lost its effectiveness. Or maybe I’ve just watched too many movies over the years.

But the point is that there is nothing new here and the promised shocks and surprises limp into the plot like a rat stuck to a glue trap.

Thoroughbreds isn’t a terrible motion picture but it is an underwhelming and disappointing one. It’s only real saving grace was the performances by two of its top three stars.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Heathers and Jawbreaker.

TV Review: Bates Motel (2013-2017)

Original Run: March 18th, 2013 – April 24th, 2017
Created by: Carlton Cuse, Kerry Ehrin, Anthony Cipriano
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: characters by Robert Bloch
Music by: Chris Bacon
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Freddie Highmore, Max Thieriot, Olivia Cooke, Nicola Peltz, Nestor Carbonell, Kenny Johnson

American Genre, Cuse Productions, Kerry Ehrin Productions, Universal Television, NBC, A&E, 50 Episodes, 40-47 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Psycho is a movie that I adore. I didn’t watch some of the sequels until just recently but Psycho II was far better than I thought it would be. Psycho III fell off and I’ve yet to find Psycho IV streaming anywhere. But this show has been floating around in my Netflix queue for a long time, so I thought I’d finally give it a watch, fresh off of watching the first two Psycho sequels.

Sadly, I could not get into this show. I watched the first half of season one and threw my hands up in the air and just quit. I don’t usually just quit a show but I have a lot of stuff I need to power through and the five hours I spent on this were a dreadful bore where I didn’t care for a single character (well, except Olivia Cooke’s Emma Decody).

The show just doesn’t work for me on any level, really. It takes the Norman Bates character and wants to give him an origin story. But this is bogged down by a bunch of characters and the town is made to feel much larger than the desolate place it was in the original movie.

Another issue for me, is that the show takes place in modern times. Now Norman, his mother and their rundown house and hotel look like they’re straight out of the 1950s but everything around them looks like an episode of Gilmore Girls with iPhones.

This is more of a high school teen show trying to be edgy. It feels like something that I wouldn’t watch on The CW.

One thing that really made me want to give this is a shot was that I heard about how good the acting was, especially from Vera Farmiga. I don’t know what the hell people are talking about, though, as her performance seemed incredibly forced and over the top in just about every scene where she was bossing her sons around.

This is also bogged down by too many characters but mainly Norman’s brother, who was created just for this show. He’s some sort of poor man’s Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad. I’m not sure how or if he evolves over the course of the show but from what I saw, he’s just a douche and takes a job protecting a marijuana field.

I was initially glad to see Nestor Carbonell in this, as I have loved him since Lost, but even his performance was weird and his character felt really inconsistent.

But the show, at least, looks good and has nice cinematography for something on cable.

I can’t quite say that this is bad. It’s just not what I want and it doesn’t feel like it belongs in the Psycho universe.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: The original Psycho for context and it’s sequels, as this also doesn’t live up to the greatness of the original Hitchcock masterpiece.

Film Review: Ready Player One (2018)

Release Date: March 11th, 2018 (SXSW)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Zak Penn, Ernest Cline
Based on: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance, Letitia Wright, Clare Higgins, McKenna Grace, Julia Nickson (uncredited)

Village Roadshow Pictures, Amblin Entertainment, De Line Pictures, Farah Films & Management, Warner Bros., 140 Minutes

Review:

“People come to the Oasis for all the things they can do, but they stay for all the things they can be.” – Parzival

*There be spoilers here!

The first thing that people who read the book are going to ask is, “How much did they change?” The short answer is, “Everything.”

In fact, there is so much that has changed that it’s too much to list out. As my friend Greg said once the credits started rolling, “They should change it to say ‘vaguely inspired by Ready Player One.'” And that’s pretty much how I feel, as someone who read the book first.

The main thing that this film is lacking is heart and soul. The book did a decent job building up characters and making the first time meetings meaningful and sweet, the film just drops the real humans in with no warning, halfway through the story. In the book, none of these people actually meet until the very end, as they unite in the real world for the big final battle.

And for some reason, maybe because Spielberg is besties with George Lucas, this version has some sort of “rebellion” that already exists and abducts Parzival in an effort to get him to join. This leads to him meeting Artemis before the midpoint of the film. In the book, she’s so freaked out by her own appearance that she won’t actually meet Parzival until the very end. Here, her birthmark was something that could be easily covered up with foundation. I’ve seen plenty of girls who have looked far worse without makeup… hell, with makeup. And in a world where most people are poverty stricken and dirty with facial tattoos, the whole thing is ridiculous.

The biggest problem with the movie is it took a decent book with some good ideas and it made them worse. I was hoping that Spielberg could put his hand in the story and use his magic to fix up the weaker bits. But the story is so different than the book that those weak bits are gone. Sadly, they’re replaced with something much more superficial, artificial and monotonous.

Every time that something with real weight happened in this movie, it didn’t have the weight that it did in the book. I think the book benefits from having Wade/Parzival tell his story from the first-person point-of-view. The movie is just a movie without any narration, internal monologue or anything that can really add more the the story. You just don’t feel anything for these people, their situation or the events themselves. The film needs a lot more seasoning.

Additionally, the challenges were terrible. The first one is a motor race with a small detail no one was able to crack for over five years. Yet anytime a new video game comes out in the real world, our real world, some guy on YouTube finds all the Easter eggs and secrets within the first 24 hours of playing it. But in a future world where the population is probably double what it is now, where everyone is obsessed with solving the first challenge, not one single person thought to themselves, “I wonder what will happen if I drive backwards?” In reality, some noob would’ve done it by mistake and solved the puzzle.

The second challenge brought the characters into a recreation of The Shining but as cool as it was initially, it still didn’t measure up to the similar sequences in the book, where Parzival had to reenact a role in a film from start to finish. Whatever. We ended up with The Shining being populated by dancing, green glowing zombies for some reason.

The final gate was the closest to the original version but was still a heavily altered and simplified version.

One thing I was hoping would make it in the movie was the battle between Ultraman and Mechagodzilla during the big finale. Ultraman was replaced with a Gundam. Mechagodzilla was there but the design was something new and looked more like a generic metal dinosaur than any version of Mechagodzilla we’ve ever seen.

And what the hell was with Sorrento leaving his password right on his pod? Make your password something you can remember that way you don’t get easily hacked? You’re the top dog in the second largest corporation in the friggin’ world and you basically wore a t-shirt saying, “Please hack me! My password is…” I can’t accept the stupidity of this plot point, he’s not an assistant principal from a John Hughes movie. Plus, in the film they dumb him down and make him rely solely on the knowledge of his minions, as opposed to being savvy on his own and only calling for backup when stumped.

The film fails in comparison to the book and the book was hardly a literary classic. I could pontificate about all the shit I didn’t like and take this review to 5000-plus words but I think I’ve made my point about the negative side of the equation here.

On the side of positives there is sadly only really a few.

One, Mark Rylance was fantastic as Halliday and played the character in a way that was even better than what I saw in my own head while reading the book. He was really the only character I felt a connection to by the end of the film. Which is sad, as he’s barely in it.

Another positive is that it was fun in the right sort of way but it still wasn’t enough to make up for the soullessness and randomness of this adaptation.

I can’t think of another positive.

The biggest highlight of the film was the big battle at the end but it was still a mess. There were so many pop culture references running around on the screen that it was hard to focus on any one of them and you just sort of see this mish mash of shit where if the camera stops moving for one second, you might make out a Battletoad, Spawn, Ryu or a Ninja Turtle. But at least Chucky from Child’s Play got to kick some ass for a few seconds.

I don’t know, man. I had high hopes for this and I left the theater feeling empty and completely unemotional. This was like a vacuum that sucked everything out of me for well over two hours. I walked out of the theater a dumbfounded blank.

This film is like an excited toddler showing you all their toys by throwing them at your face with the speed of the Flash for two hours and twenty minutes. There is no real semblance of a plot, just toys bouncing off of your face and incomprehensible toddler rambling.

Also, Spielberg produces those terrible Michael Bay Transformers movies. This was the perfect opportunity to use accurate looking Autobots and Decpeticons. I mean, what the shit, dude?! You’re telling me the G1 versions of Optimus Prime and Megatron aren’t avatars in the Oasis?

Between the execution of this film and Spielberg’s weird comments about Netflix the other day, I think homeboy is starting to show his age.

Lastly, Zak Penn is awful. Truly, awful. How does he keep getting hired to write shit?

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: Maybe the novel it is “based on” but the book is superior.