Split: Movie Review

By Erik Brandt
The trend for the last few New Years have always been starting off pretty shitty. Either a loved celebrity dies just as the New Years Eve ball is dropped or your least favourite person becomes a leader; it’s just a shit show and an indicator of things to come. But it doesn’t have to be.

The month of January is no stranger to being one of the poorest scoring months for mediocre movies. Classics like Resident Evil: Final Chapter, Triple xXx: Return of Xander Cage and The Bye Bye Man were among the steaming pile of turd that came out during that uncertain time of the year. But sometimes a rare film comes along that lets you forget all that and gives you hope for the future.  That silver lining was called Split, a film by M. Night Shyamalan.

James McAvoy portraying one of his 23 personalties. (via Filmjabber)


I’ll try to be as vague as possible with this one, but here’s some friendly advice: DON’T BRING YOUR KID(S) TO AN R-RATED MOVIE. I personally witnessed a poor soul was crying the Hudson River when the credits rolled. He must’ve been between 9-12 years old. My dad took me to see The Exorcist Directors Cut re-release in 2001 when I was 11 years old so the empathy was real.

Moving on, this is definitely a movie made for adults and fans of his earlier works. M. Night had a dry spell since Signs came out with more misses than hits. I mean there were articles on him after Signs came out, suggesting the next Steven Spielberg was to come. But his style is very different from Spielberg’s. Soon after The Visit came out, M. Night just kept pushing out poor stories with bad actors and unbelievable scenarios. The Happening was probably his lowest. On the contrary, Split marked his comeback. This is the M. Night we know and love from the late 90’s, early 2K’s. This is his return to form and the “personality” we like the most…

anna taylor joy
Anna Taylor-Joy makes a run for it. (via Moviefone)

James McAvoy, who you all know from the new generation X-Men movies, as Charles Xavier is the lead. His character is one of many, because he has a personality disorder and it’s no easy feat to channel so many characters in every scene. But McAvoy does this with such grace and pure talent. Every scene he appears in is his. Next, we have Anya Taylor-Joy, who previously debuted in The Witch. She’s fantastic in this movie too. She plays a character with a troubled past, which after seeing her story, it all makes sense why she’s stronger and calmer than her two friends, who has also been abducted. Ana and McAvoy share a great chemistry together throughout the transformation of all his characters. Speaking of which, McAvoy pulls off various personalities that each seem separate from the rest. He can channel a little boy who’s in grade school, that loves to dance; or a middle-aged woman with an obsession for Asian culture. He even does this in one take several times throughout the movie and it’s just so fascinating to watch. If this doesn’t win him an Oscar, then the show is rigged. 

Now there are some plot holes about characters and scenarios in the movie but nothing to discredit its addiction. It certainly needs to be seen a few times to fully take in the story, and it’s a damn near basically perfect movie. As a comeback storyteller, M. Night definitely shun a light back on the horror genre with Split. Watch Unbreakable at some point if you haven’t already; because the ending to this movie is so brilliant and it works on every level, leaving a fully satisfied craving.

Dosage: 10/10 pills 💊💊💊💊💊💊💊💊💊💊


Star Wars: Rogue One Review

By Erik Brandt
If you’re a geek or a fanboy/fangirl; you’re in a golden age of pop culture entertainment. Never mind just several comic book movies every year, but since George Lucas sold the rights to the Star Wars, it’s created a creative freedom for filmmakers from all over that wouldn’t have been possible under Lucas’ grasp of the IP.

Finally, a Star Wars film that doesn’t deal with the “force” or Jedis… well, almost. But for the most part, 99% of the movie does not have a light saber in it. For the 1% that it does, I promise you it is completely justified and kick-ass. And for a spin-off that adds to the universe of SW, it opens potential for new stories to emerge over the coming years and decades. What a time to be alive.

However, no movie is perfect and Rogue One certainly has some glaring flaws. It may be a far cry from the prequels, but it does setup for the original trilogy quite eloquently—while answering a question that has plagued SW fans since the release of the original trilogy for decades. So. I’m gonna try something different; start with the negatives and finish it off on a positive note. I like happy endings (pun intended), as that might imply to our more adventurous readers. Also, SPOILERS AHEAD.

Kung-fu legend Donnie Yen and Riz Ahmed join the Rogue cast and the Rogue mission. (via Lucasfilm)

Characters are a HUGE part of what makes Star Wars so great. And yes, that includes Jar Jar Binks—because as much as we hate him; he’s given us some of the best comedy material over the years. Rogue One’s characters didn’t feel as strong as in The Force Awakens, or in any of the other Star Wars movies. They each had quirks about them and something to tell them apart, but there’s nothing that made me care about them at the end of it all. And maybe that’s intentional, but I can’t help but think that if they received more attention, they could have be big heroes (like Luke Skywalker or Han Solo territory) for doing what they did to get the Death Star plans. There’s also a sudden change of heart with Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones). At first she’s a criminal who wants nothing to do with her father (played by Mads Mikkelsen), or the Rebels. But if anything is going to spur a full 180, leave it for the death of a father. Another character, Saw Gerrera (played by Forest Whitaker), is basically useless in this movie. He’s supposedly based off the popular Clone Wars animated TV show, but he hardly does anything in this movie despite looking like he could take on the Empire with some cool sequences. And his accent… didn’t do anyone any favours.

Another thing I noticed from watching the trailers is that there are a few lines of dialogue and scenes that didn’t appear in the cut of the film. For example, in the first or second trailer, there’s a quick sequence that shows our female lead going toe-to-toe with a TIE Fighter (on what appears to be a high rise area of some sort). This sequence was nowhere to be found in the film (probably used for solely for marketing purposes). I’m just saying it would have been nice to see on a big screen; just to fathom at the scale of and elevate our hero to badass levels of awesome. You know, like legendary sci-fi babes such as Ripley from the Alien series or Sarah Connor from the Terminator movies. If I remember correctly, they had to do re-shoots and possibly hire a script doctor. That’s never good news on any kind of production.

And finally, the main villain in this is weak too. He should have been much more courageous and unpredictable. Instead, he’s overshadowed by a classic SW villain from a new hope that answered to Vader. I’ll spare you the reveal, but if you’ve seen it, you know who I’m talking about. Hell, it feels like he gets more screen time than any of the other major players on the Empire team.

But that’s it for the negatives. Where The Force Awakens relied on nostalgia for its action sequences, Rogue One truly feels like its own by delivering in such a way that it puts any of The Force Awakens action heavy sequences to shame. Especially the third act of Rogue One. That whole battle sequence in space reminded me of the original movies, but it didn’t try to re-create them frame-by-frame. Instead, it improvised effectively (which is how you use nostalgia properly). It was the truest depiction of a war zone out of any other Star Wars movie. The action was easy to see without relying on rapid cuts or obnoxious handheld camera shaking. There’s also a few easter eggs in the film that talk about Old Republic and Expanded Universe material. If the geek world is lucky, this will open up possibilities for spin-offs set in those universes. Moreover, I think it’s a pretty safe route to take if you don’t mention the main timeline. You have thousands of hours worth of stories from the canon you disregarded as soon as Lucas handed you the keys to the kingdom. Maybe it’s time to explore the canon again, Disney.

Your comedic relief through the film’s entirety; android “K-2SO”. (via Lucasfilm)

K-2SO, a new droid companion voiced by Firefly alumni Alan Tudyk, serves as the main source of comedic relief in this film. He can crack jokes with dry wit but also hold his own against Empire threats in the vicinity. In fact he’s my favourite character in this entire movie. It’s really weird that in each Star Wars movie, the droids have a much better personality than most of the human characters that appear on-screen. K-2SO as a teammate reminds me a lot of the character Legion from the Mass Effect games, made by Bioware. He had great comedic timing and I cared about him more than I did for my other squad mates. Naturally, seeing him go reminded me of that moment in Mass Effect 2 where I felt a great sadness for such a fantastic character.

And lastly, the special effects are really well done here; especially for the Death Star. ILM never ceases to amaze me. You can even do one Death Star effect in the sky with a little bit of Photoshop and After Effects tweaking. And you know how less is more? Well, that really applies here as Gareth Edwards shows us this. Not a lot of people liked this approach with the American Godzilla reboot, but I loved every second of it. We didn’t need to see him all the time, so that when we did, he was much more appreciated. The same applies to Rogue One for Vader’s last scene. He really stole the show before the movie ended and left me with a lasting impression. It was like getting the cherry on top of an already fully loaded, tasty ice cream sundae. He was more terrifying here than in any of the original movies and Revenge of the Sith. Gareth directed this stunt actor with class. It shows in Vader’s anger (whose force wasn’t held back on the rebels), because at the end of the day he has to answer to The Emperor for the screw up of letting the Death Star plans get stolen.

Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) doesn’t like when people make fun of his accent. (via Lucasfilm)

Whether you’re new to Star Wars or a long time fan, do yourself a favour and see this movie. It’s a great lead into 2017 after so many lows last year, and sets up nicely for the original trilogy; shining hope and optimism in any future Star Wars spin-offs bound to come. Happy New Year and May the Force be with You.

Dosage: 7/10 pills 💊💊💊💊💊💊💊

Doctor Strange: Movie Review

By Erik Brandt
Like any big blockbuster series that has its highs and lows, Marvel seems to be experiencing a golden age on the silver screen, and Doctor Strange is one of their most visually spectacular entries to date.

Benedict Cumberbatch has a visually-stunning outer body experience. (Courtesy of Marvel Studios)

They took a risk with Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man and it’s still paying off with their latest movie, Doctor Strange. It’s like if Inception met Interstellar on a heavy dose of DMT. The best part is you don’t have to consume recreational substances to enjoy this—at least not on the first viewing. It gives you a visual acid trip just by watching it in 3D alone.  I wouldn’t even put it past the Academy board to nominate this film for best visual effects of the year, because it certainly deserves it.

My favourite thing about this is that it feels like its own standalone film. It’s still in the MCU, but it doesn’t rely on that to tell the story like the Iron Man, Captain America and Thor films did. It stands on its own two feet and it sets the stage for a new character to come into the mix; building its own mythology and lore like Guardians of the Galaxy did; all while paying respects to their comic book origins.

Marvel Studios Hall H Panel
Doctor Strange has a magical-studded cast. (via Collider)

English thoroughbred Benedict Cumberbatch, plays Doctor Strange with support from Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen and Chiwetel Ejiofor. And while Benedict looks the part, he doesn’t really feel like it at times. For one, I don’t buy his Yankee accent that seems forced in some scenes and he borrows a lot of his characters wit from Hugh Laurie, on the popular drama House (House does it way better for the record).  Another thing that bothered me was how badly they were tethered to their Sling Ring. A device that helps them travel anywhere they please, provided they have that on them. It made for some great visual sequences, but when Strange lost it, it felt like a burden. He should be able to use his powers to travel and teleport without it.  Perhaps it might be a Doctor Strange 2 thing? And lastly, by the end of it, he’s still an arrogant prick. In fact, he’s more arrogant than Tony Stark. But after going through what he went through in the movie, he should be more of a humble person.  Perhaps that might be a Doctor Strange 2 thing as well…

Fortunately, that’s about all the bad and ugly I have to rant about. It doesn’t take away from all the good or distract that much from the visual effects sequences and the way they improvise their powers to avoid situations or fix them. But let’s give credit where it’s due, to the hard working post-production team at ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) and other studios, who’ve probably put in overtime and all-nighters to get each frame of the film to the tee of the director’s and Marvel’s vision. There’s an Oscar hope for this film deeply embedded within me.

Because capes are cool. (Courtesy of Marvel Studios)

So with that, I highly recommend you watch this movie in IMAX 3D or at least AVX 3D (don’t be cheap) to really indulge those trippy visual effects and action sequences. If you decide to see it for a second time, consume a psychedelic drug of your choice or even the good ol’ Mary Jay.

Dosage: 8/10 pills 💊💊💊💊💊💊💊💊

X-Men Apocalypse: Movie Review

By Erik Brandt
If there’s one thing I like about the McAvoy timeline movies, it’s that they know how to empower villains and show just how powerful some heroes can be when they are pushed to their potential; which I can’t always say the same for the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). One thing that worried fans about Apocalypse is his look. The first images released around San Diego Comic Con last year turned out to make Apocalypse into a cliched, 90’s super-villain that would likely appear on Power Rangers or a Joel Schumacher Batman movie. They later improved his look due to the fan outcry on social media, but not by much. However, what Apocalypse lacks in aesthetic, he makes up for in ability displayed on-screen several throughout the movie and shows us just how God-like he is as the first mutant to ever exist. It takes everyone to beat him, even Magneto at full potential.

Apocalypse. (Courtesy of Marvel Studios)

The movie begins right where the bonus end-credits scene of Days of Future Past left off, in Ancient Egypt. Here we see Apocalypse, or En Sabah Nur, preparing to make transference to his new host body, played by Oscar Isaac. He’s protected by four loyal followers (referenced as the Four Horsemen) later on in the movie to make sure the transference process goes smoothly. However, not everyone who worships him agrees that he should be ruling over Egypt. Long story short, their assassination attempt fails, Apocalypse transfers his old body into his new host and at best; then gets engulfed by the destruction of his palace, which he’ll later be awakened thousands of years into the present X-Men timeline of the 80’s.

Another thing I love about the current X-Men movies is their ability to push the PG-13 rating to the limit and I don’t just mean by having big characters drop an F-bomb for comic relief, but by showing brutality and extreme violence to prove how powerful some mutants can be. This is another thing that the MCU struggles with in order to appeal to a much broader audience. However, what they lack by playing it safe all the time is usually a better-written story and characters. That’s not to say the X-Men series isn’t like that. I’ve noticed X-Men characters are better written than the overall story of the movie and maybe that’s from a combination of casting the right actors who look the part and having an understanding of the source material. For example, Magneto’s arc in this is quite powerful. You’re really happy for his new life, laying low and with a family. Then something tragic happens and Magneto goes back to being Magneto, which is usually always justified somehow. But his story is strong because it’s played a fantastic actor, Michael Fassbender.

Magneto lets out a magnetic cry. (Courtesy of Matvel Studios)

They condensed a lot of classic X-Men story arcs into one movie to prepare for the next wave of sequels, but that makes the movie suffer a bit from too many characters. Some of them are hardly utilized properly like Jubilee, who only has a very short cameo but doesn’t use her powers, just like in the original Singer timeline from the early 2000’s. Cyclops is treated much better however, with lots of fan service in this one. Quicksilver steals the show again, using his powers to save the Academy students from being killed by an explosion caused by Apocalypse. Wolverine’s sequence is served to tie-up loose ends for this current timeline and to move the plot forward a bit (another bookmarked scene of the movie). It’s right out of the panels and the Fox Kids animated series… if you’re old enough to remember it.

We also meet some classic mutants like Psylocke, Angel and Storm that weren’t done much justice in X3: The Last Stand. Apocalypse amplifies their powers in exchange for unconditional loyalty to his cause, which is to cleanse the Earth of weak people and rebuild with the remaining strong survivors, to which humans will have no part of this new civilization. Luckily, the X-Men have something else to say about that.

The final battle is probably one of the most visually spectacular shows the series has ever displayed. Apocalypse is truly not someone to be trifled with, and everyone on the team contributes. The movie balances out with a decent rate of pace. Unlike previous timelines where Wolverine led, then followed by the X-Men; everyone seems to share an equal amount of screen time to the fight this time around. So, to those who are worried that Mystique is in the spotlight for a lot of the movie, fear not.

A young Cyclops, Nightcrawler, and Jean Grey look upon the massive destruction. (Courtesy of Marvel Studios)

X-Men Apocalypse is full of condensed plotlines and a visually lackluster villain, but the movie finds gems in spectacle, teamwork and empowering the mutants to their full potential against a God. I’m hoping the MCU gets things right with Thanos in The Avengers: Infinity Wars. Otherwise, another great injustice will be done to a powerful character and Thor’s brother Loki will take the cake. In a nutshell, the latest X-Men installment is indeed worth the trip to the theater.

Dosage: 7/10 pills 💊💊💊💊💊💊💊