All the top 10 lists Nick has scripted for WatchMojo.com, the 7th largest YouTube channel in the world throughout 2014.
Nick's film review column at Filmfestivaltoday.com.
A comic strip sadly inspired by the real life of Nick Spake.
At the age of fifteen, I launched NickPicksFlicks.com, a website dedicated to the art of film. Since then, I have worked as a published film critic for Arizona State Press, Ahwatukee Foothills News, Nerd Repository, Film Festival Today, Arizona Filmmaker Magazine, and East Valley Tribune. Entertainment writing has also given me the opportunity to interview several big name celebrities, including Emma Stone, Chris Evans, J.J. Abrams, Emma Roberts, and various others. My life hit a roadblock in 2013 when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, but I refused to let having cancer prevent me from writing film reviews and finishing college with a 4.0 GPA. In May 2013, I graduated from Arizona State University, achieving a BA in Theatre and a minor in communications. Teaching me just how precious life is, my disease further influenced me to reach out to others through my writing. Today, I'm happy to say that I am currently cancer free. As of September 2014, I have worked as a freelancer writer for WatchMojo.com, which recently surpassed 16 million subscribers on YouTube. This video content site has acted as a creative outlet for me to write top ten lists about movies, television, video games, and pretty much everything else. Out of the hundred scripts I've contributed to them so far, I'm primarily proud of the Top 10 Sci-Fi Movies of All Time, Another Top 10 Super Bowl Commercials, and Top 10 Worst Movies of 2014. In 2015, I joined the Flickreel family as a critic and columnist. In 2016, I joined Story Monsters magazine as a film critic and can't wait to bring you all more movie reviews.
5 Stars= It's Simply the Best
4 Stars= Totally Rocks
3 Stars= Rad
2 Stars= Bad
1 Star= Terrible
Zero= Totally Sucks
Don't worry, he'll get very far on foot ***1/2
Through a critical lens, “Skyscraper” is admittedly an insanely dumb movie. The premise is ripped off from countless other action and disaster flicks, most notably “Die Hard” and “The Towering Inferno.” The story is only slightly less preposterous as Dwayne Johnson’s last two films, “Rampage” and “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.” It’s also probably not a coincidence that the film is set in China, given the country’s prominent impact on worldwide box office. For the record, the film was actually largely shot in Vancouver. As silly as it might be, though, sometimes a summer blockbuster can get by on charm alone. There’s a good kind of stupid and a bad kind of stupid. Much like the recent “Fast & Furious” movies, “Skyscraper” fortunately falls into the latter category.
Johnson plays Will Sawyer, a former FBI agent who loses his leg in an explosion. Considering that he was standing right in front of the bomb when it went off, it’s rather miraculous that he didn’t sustain any other major injuries. Then again, this is the Rock we’re talking about. He can survive virtually anything, which Sawyer proves time after time when his family gets caught in a burning building. This isn’t any ordinary skyscraper. It’s an architectural behemoth complete with technological innovations. To make matters even more complicated, the skyscraper is being stormed by terrorists who wish to retrieve a literal plot device from the building’s owner (Chin Han). As the fire rages on, Sawyer must literally go to great lengths to rescue his family.
Johnson is of course perfectly suited for this over-the-top material. Much like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime, Johnson doesn’t take this ludicrous plot too seriously, but still appears invested every step of the way. Speaking of which, the fact that Sawyer only has one leg doesn’t hold him back in the slightest as he leaps from massive cranes and outruns the authorities. It’s debatable whether this makes the film more ridiculous or more empowering to individuals with disabilities. Either way, Johnson is clearly having a ball and we can’t help but go along for the ride. That being said, it’s a good thing Sawyer didn’t lose either of his arms because he spends a large portion of this movie hanging off of ledges.
The supporting cast ain’t half bad either. As Sawyer’s wife, Neve Campbell manages to overcome the damsel in distress architype, often coming up with clever solutions to protect her children and herself. The villains, while fairly stock, are a lot of fun too. Roland Møller fits the bill as the leader of the terrorists and Hannah Quinlivan is worthy of a spinoff as his Asian henchwoman. Of course, the best performance in the film doesn’t come any of the actors, but the skyscraper itself.
The titular building, which is known as The Pearl, easily could’ve had a very generic look. Production designer Jim Bissell took it to the next level, however, giving us a setting that’s always visually interesting, both inside and out. The fact that the building is technologically advanced also makes leeway for a lot of inventive action sequences, most notably a house of mirrors set piece. It’s scenes like this that demonstrate the real effort and creativity that went into this project, despite not having the most elegantly written script to work with. The setup might’ve set the bar pretty low, but the filmmakers ultimately managed to rise above it and take the thrills to new heights.
Let's make the Purge great again **
It might sound crazy, but “The Purge” movies have become usually relevant in today’s unpredictable political climate. They’re still preposterous and could never happen in real life, but the idea of all crime being legalized for 12 hours seems more probable today than it did five years ago. That being said, “The Purge” still hasn’t aged especially well, at least on a storytelling level. While the sequels made an effort to build upon the original’s intriguing premise and answer some of the gaping plot holes, none of these movies ever quite reached their full potential. The same can be said about “The First Purge,” which tries to work in some more timely political messages, but ultimately comes off as too safe, too familiar, and too on the nose.
In what’s arguably the most unnecessary prequel since “Solo,” this film explores the origins of the Purge. Before it was a national holiday, the Purge was a sociological experiment restrained to Staten Island. The story primarily centers on a couple low-income families, as well as a gang leader with a heart of gold. They have little interest in actually purging, but decide to participate in the experiment in exchange for $5,000. Isn’t that a little low even for people on welfare and food stamps? While there are a few psychopaths who come out to play, most of the murderers are actually missionaries who have been hired by a big bad politician to make sure the Purge is a success.
“The First Purge,” or “The Fourth One” as I like to call it, isn’t without welcome commentary. The movie addresses everything from social class hierarchy to the Black Lives Matter movement. Unlike “Get Out,” however, the filmmakers don’t tackle these serious issues from a unique or thought-provoking perspective. It’s just by the numbers political subtext. Somewhere in there, there’s a really clever, relevant horror flick trying to emerge. Instead, it plays out like the “Captain Planet” episode that attempted to address gang violence. The intentions are noble, but you need smarter storytellers to pull this off.
Politics aside, the biggest problem with “The First Purge” is that it’s kind of dull. The idea of crime being temporarily legal is such a fascinating premise, but this franchise never takes advantage of all the crazy possibilities. Rather than pushing the envelope, the film settles for a lot of cheap jump scares and obvious symbolism. The action largely feels recycled from the previous outings with masked men senselessly running around with guns and knives. Everything else appears to have been ripped off from superior movies like “The Warriors” and “Die Hard.” In the end, it’s another wasted opportunity, as well as a waste of Oscar-winner Marisa Tomei.
It’s a shame that none of “The Purge” movies are entirely successful because there truly is a fun setup at the core of the franchise. With each passing entry, you can’t help but go in hoping that this will be the one that gets it right. “The First Purge” is another letdown, though, and in many respects a step backwards for a series that’s never set the bar too high. Maybe it’s about time another filmmaker borrowed this premise and reworked it as a dark comedy. Actually, “Rick and Morty” already did that so just go watch their “Purge” episode.
Leaving an Impression ****
From “The Hurt Locker,” to “American Sniper,” to “Thank You for Your Service,” we’ve gotten a lot of recent films that explore the side effects of war. “Leave No Trace” is one of the most unique movies to tackle such subject matter. The film has no footage of military combat. Actually, virtually any acts of violence whatsoever take place off-screen. The main character is never even depicted wearing a uniform and his experiences overseas are left mostly ambiguous. At first, many audience members likely won’t pick up on the subtle hints that our protagonist is a veteran suffering from PTSD. It’s this understated approach that makes “Leave No Trace” one of the best movies of its kind, though.
The film centers on Ben Foster’s Will and Thomasin McKenzie’s Tom, a father and daughter eternally camping in the woods. The opening scenes are largely clouded in mystery as we try to wrap our heads around their unusual living situation. Did aliens invade earth like in “A Quiet Place?” Did Will take parenting advice from the dad in “Captain Fantastic?” Is Meryl Streep about to pop out singing “Stay with Me?” The circumstances start to become clear after Will and Tom are discovered by the cops. Unable to return to their camp, the two are put up in a house via social services. It doesn’t take long for Tom to adjust to this change, getting along well with her new neighbors. While Will makes an effort, he simply can’t integrate himself back into society after enduring such trauma.
Foster has been doing reliable work as a character actor for well over two decades. Where he was previously seen as a wild card of sorts in “Hell or High Water,” Foster gives a low-key performance here that strikes just the right note. Like numerous other veterans, Will often appears cool and collected on the surface, but is overcome with pain and paranoia underneath. After everything he’s been through, this man is only able to find comfort in solitude. The fact that Will is responsible for his daughter’s well-being greatly complicates matters, though.
McKenzie delvers a powerful breakthrough performance as Tom, who loves her father and is willing to follow him wherever he goes. Once Tom gets a taste of a normal life, however, she may never able to go back to living in a tent. It would’ve been easy to depict Will as an abusive, manipulative parent who forces is beliefs on his child. While Will’s parenting techniques are indeed unethical, he’s also an understanding dad who wants his daughter to be happy. Since they’re unable to stay on the same course, though, Will may have no choice but to let Tom go. As unconventional as their condition might be, the audience doesn’t doubt Will and Tom’s rapport for a second.
Director/co-writer Debra Granik previously brought us “Winter’s Bone,” which was draped in dreary snow. In “Leave No Trace,” Granik submerges the audience in a green, springtime setting that’s beautiful while also being isolating, which perfectly fits the film’s tone. While the premise is certainly heavy-handed, the film merits a PG rating with no sex or bad language. This is a surprisingly inclusive drama that can appeal to wide range of ages. If you come from a military family or know somebody who’s gone through a similar ordeal, it’s definitely a must-see.
So is this Jurassic Park 5 or Jurassic World 2? **1/2
The original “Jurassic Park” was such an exciting, quotable, and rewatchable blockbuster that it would’ve been crazy for Universal not to build a franchise around it. After the disappointments of “The Lost World” and “Jurassic Park III,” however, it seemed like there wasn’t much left to do with this franchise outside of milking it for every cent. Then over a decade after the franchise was seemingly extinct, “Jurassic World” came along and not only made a butt-load of cash, but also evolved the original’s premise. It was the best “Jurassic Park” sequel by a wide margin, bringing the series into modern times. “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” attempts to build upon its processor, but Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly’s script sadly comes off as half-baked.
Bryce Dallas Howard is back as Claire, who’s still trying to correct the mistakes of Jurassic World by preserving the dinosaurs that were left behind on the island. With a volcano about to erupt, though, it looks like the prehistoric beasts are about to become extinct yet again. Claire finds a wealthy benefactor in Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), who works for John Hammond’s former colleague Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell). Mills claims that he wants to rescue the surviving dinosaurs and give them a habitat far away from humankind. Chris Pratt’s Owen decides to join Claire on this rescue mission in hopes of reuniting with the raptor Blue, the true love of his life. It turns out this was all a setup, however, as Mills is actually planning on auctioning off the dinosaurs for money, money, money!
Herein lies the biggest problem with “Fallen Kingdom:” why do we need human bad guys? When you have a T-Rex and a volcano about to explode, what’s the point of throwing in a bunch of wormy, forgettable human villains who just make one colossal mistake after another? Granted, even the original “Jurassic Park” technically had human antagonists, but the filmmakers were smart enough to remove them from the equation half-way in. Here, we’re stuck with Mills for most of the run-time and he’s not nearly as memorable as Dennis Nedry. The villains simply slow down every scene they’re in when all we really want to see is badass dinosaurs doing their thing.
That being said, when “Fallen Kingdom” keeps the focus on the dinosaurs, it’s a pretty fun ride. Director J. A. Bayona, whose made some genuinely thrilling films like “A Monster Calls” and “The Orphanage,” brings his signature visual flair to the film, which features some jaw-dropping cinematography and effects. The best set piece by far takes place on Isla Nublar as our heroes dodge a dinosaur stampede and volcanic doom. It would appear nothing can stop Chris Pratt in his tracks… except for Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet. Bayona plays his best hand too early in the film, however, as nothing that follows even comes close to topping this stunning action sequence.
Above all else, “Fallen Kingdom” just doesn’t seem sure what it wants to say. There’s clearly an animal rights message somewhere in there, but it gets lost considering that the dinosaurs cause so much destruction and we’d probably be better off letting nature take its course. Speaking of which, our heroes are constantly preaching that we shouldn’t interfere with the dinosaurs, but that’s what they’re constantly doing and often making things worse in due course. There’s also a mystery surrounding a little girl played by promising newcomer Isabella Sermon, but the big reveal fails to go anywhere. She’s not the only one who comes off as underutilized, as Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm briefly returns merely to spout a couple lines for the trailer.
As disappointing as this “Jurassic World” follow-up is in parts, it does offer some intriguing ideas, particularly in the final act. It’s too bad these ideas weren’t introduced earlier in the film, but they do have me interested to see where this franchise will go in its next inevitable outing. With a more fleshed-out screenplay, there’s true potential for another stellar action adventure. For now, though, “Fallen Kingdom” feels more like a stepping stone to better things to come. If only it had spent more time in the incubator.
Boom baby! ***1/2
Your enjoyment of “Ocean’s 8” will entirely rely on how much your you liked Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s” trilogy. If you couldn’t get enough of the previous three films and have been yearning for more, you can bet on having a good time here. If you’re officially Ocean-end out, this sequel/soft revival probably won’t offer many surprises. While safe and fairly by-the-numbers, it’s still a well-executed heist comedy with enough star-power and glitz to keep the target audience entertained. Anybody who’s onboard going into the theater will get what they paid for, no more, no less.
Sandra Bullocks takes the reins of the franchise as Debbie Ocean, Danny’s equally crafty sister. Following a five year prison sentence, Debbie plans to pull off the biggest heist of her life at the Met Gala. Anne Hathaway is an MVP here as a self-centered celebrity named Daphne Kluger, who will be wearing a $150 million necklace to the ceremony. Of course Debbie can’t pull off this job alone. Her eccentric crew consists of Cate Blanchett as her right-hand woman, Helena Bonham Carter as a struggling fashion designer, Mindy Kaling as a quirky jewelry maker, Awkwafina as a sketchy pickpocket, Rihanna as the world’s most gorgeous hacker, and Sarah Paulson as a housewife who comes out of retirement for one last job.
While this “Ocean’s” film has been classified as an all-female reboot, the leads aren’t written as stereotypical woman. Most of these characters just as easily could’ve been played by a man, but the presence of these eight charismatic actresses brings something refreshing to the equation. The entire ensemble shines and everyone works off one another wonderfully. Although Soderbergh didn’t return to direct this outing, Gary Ross captures the same slick style and cheeky tone. The heist itself is a creative one and leaves the audience guessing how exactly these people are going to get those diamonds off Hathaway’s neck.
What the film lacks is a compelling villain. From Andy Garcia to Al Pacino, this franchise has attracted some pretty cunning baddies. Here, however, there’s not really anyone for the audience to root against and the character who comes the closest to being an antagonist is completely forgettable. It briefly looks like James Corden might shake things up as an insurance agent, but he’s sadly underutilized. As a result, our heroes seem to have the upper hand from the start and there isn’t really a sense of dread.
In spite of its shortcomings, “Ocean’s 8” ultimately compensates with its capable cast and Ross’ confident direction. While it isn’t the franchise’s best outing, it does provide a solid launching point for a new era. It would’ve been nice if the filmmakers took more chances, but that’s what we have sequels for. It’d actually be fun to see the series continue with “Ocean’s 9” and “Ocean’s 10,” bringing things full circle... just like an O.