Tag Archive: Movie Review

Movie Review – Oblivion

oblivion-movie-posterWhat to make of Oblivion, the new cinematic event from Joseph Kosinski, the director of TRON: Legacy and the producers of Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, starring Tom Cruise?  Well, funny enough, you get exactly what you’d expect mixing those together.  A visionary-looking piece of cinema couched in a strong concept starring Tom Cruise.

Unfortunately while the film strives for so much more, it stalls out there and never manages to get over the hump of how impressive it’s visual flair is or how smart the science fiction should be, which makes it all the more frustrating.

Tom Cruise stars as Jack Harper, a security repairman stationed on an evacuated Earth in 2077.  As we learn in the voice over, aliens attacked the moon and shattered it, causing mass earthquakes and tidal waves before they invaded.  Humanity struck back with nuclear weapons, and defeated them, but left the planet an irradiated wasteland.  Now we’re bugging out, and Jack’s mission is to secure the massive operation to extract vital resources from the planet before joining the rest of the survivors on Titan.  But as the movie unfolds, Jack finds himself drawn into a series of shocking revelations that connect him to Earth of the past.

I’m reminded of a saying of the late great Roger Ebert, who was firm of the belief that if you start a movie with a voice over telling us what happened off camera, you have failed as a filmmaker.  Rule one is show, don’t tell.  I didn’t put much stock in the theory when I first heard it, after all, Star Wars has a prologue and it’s pretty good.  But, the more I started to pay attention to movies that followed this model, the more I realized he was right.  All of the info at the beginning of Oblivion is regurgitated to us again later in the film.  Had it not appeared at the beginning, the beautiful vistas of a ruined planet that Jack flies over (including canyons of skyscrapers that sink from a wide empty plain due to the topography of the planet changing so much) would have been a deeper mystery and added to the atmosphere instead of so much eye candy.  And why tell us at all if you’re gonna repeat the speech almost verbatim later in the movie?  It’s an example of pandering, dumbing down the film so that more people can keep up with it, (at least, that’s the theory) but instead it’s insulting to the audience and damaging to the film.

As for the shocking revelations, well, some were and some weren’t, which oddly, I blame on the production design.  It’s fantastic, by the way, that super high gloss Star Trek/Minority Report look, and really helps sell the visual treat that this movie is, but, eagle eyed viewers will spot the problem that I did relatively quickly, and puncture a hole in the balloon that is that plot surprise.

Which is unfortunate, because Oblivion strives so hard to be smart science fiction.  I very much love smart sci-fi—which in Hollywood can be hard to come by between all the transforming giant robots and insipid end of the world extravaganzas we get treated too every year.  When I find smart sci-fi, I want to praise it highly.  Oblivion could have relied on gun battles and special effects to win us over, and it didn’t.  It took the high road, or tried too.  It even echoed my favorite Tom Cruise film, Vanilla Sky, but the plot just isn’t quite fleshed out enough and starts to rely on just about every science fiction trope in the book by the time it’s done.

In the end, Oblivion is an enjoyable film, and yes, it’s totally worth seeing.  But maybe wait for the cheap theaters or even better, the DVD/Blu-ray release in hopes of seeing a director’s cut.  There’s a phenomenal movie in here somewhere.  I hope it gets found.

Movie Review – Jurassic Park 3D

jurassic-park-3d-posterSteven Spielberg had a huge 1993, between the awesome spectacle and box office bonanza that was Jurassic Park, and the destined for Oscar gold, emotionally powerful Schindler’s List.  One of these films would make a great candidate for 3D conversion, and one has Nazis.

It was no surprise that Jurassic Park was given the go ahead.  Spielberg himself has admitted that he really has no desire to see any of his “classic” directed films get the treatment (so no rolling boulder from Raiders in 3D) but that he did feel JP was the one exception.  And while I breath a sigh of relief since I do NOT want to see Jaws, or Close Encounters or the Indiana Jones movies get 3D paint jobs, I was very curious about Jurassic Park, as I agree with Spielberg’s sentiment that this is definitely one film that felt right for it.

3D still holds an interesting stigma for me.  Part of me knows that it’s a gimmick.  A very lucrative (from the studio standpoint) gimmick, but still a gimmick none-the-less, on par with a flea circus.  It’s poke you in the eye fun, but not cinema.  Now I like to be poked in the eye every now and then, so I do partake, but I also usually try to reserve these forays into films that really warrant it.  Avatar and The Hobbit, having been shot in 3D were fantastic.  Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace was a disappointment, as the slapping on of 3D effects seemed very haphazard. (And REALLY?  I mean, 3D was practically INVENTED for Star Wars.  These are movies that absolutely should be phenomenal in the format! C’mon guys, get it right!) Yes, I went and saw Titanic up-converted, (which was done very well), Clash Of The Titans was NOT.

So Jurassic Park held both fascination and worry for me.

I am pleased to say that it holds up very well not only as a 3D convert, but also as a 20-year old (and now I feel ancient) movie.

The story based on Michael Crichton’s best selling novel (if you didn’t know) deals with an amusement park with genetically engineered dinosaurs getting loose and wreaking havoc on a remote island.  The film stars Sam Neil, Jeff Goldblum and Laura Dern as an intrepid group of scientists who arrive to put a stamp of approval on the park, and instead fight to survive it’s deadly wonders.

The 3D conversion was done with care.  I was amazed the opening pieces of the film look as good as they do, individual trees pop and stand out against the background and the whole film has a definite feel of depth to it, not so much poke you in the eye, but real immersion.  I admit to loosing that sensation later in the film, which could have been a result of getting lazy with all those complicated special FX, or just that I got wrapped up in the story all over again and forgot to be looking for things that popped.

It was amazing to see the film on the big screen again (yes, I’m old enough to remember seeing it in theaters upon first release) and a lot of fun to watch the audience react to laughs and surprises we knew were coming.  We all laughed at the “if the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists” joke, and all jumped at the velociraptors in the kitchen.  Those moments are all here, all preserved.

Unless of course, you’re one of those unfortunates that has never seen Jurassic Park, in which case… what are you waiting for?

Movie Review: Oz, The Great And Powerful

220px-Oz_-_The_Great_and_Powerful_PosterJames Franco heads an ensemble cast in the first volley fired in Hollywood’s battle over 2013 box office: Oz, The Great And Powerful.  I’ll admit to some early trepidation, as its brought to us by the same producers and studio as the most recent version of Alice In Wonderland, which Tim Burton directed, and in my opinion fell flat.  It looked cool, but didn’t move me beyond that.

Franco plays Oscar Diggs a traveling carnival magician who is more con man than magic man.  He has aspirations of being Thomas Edison and Harry Houdini rolled into one, but really is just a two bit thief.  After getting caught wooing the girl of the carnival strong man and making a hasty retreat via hot air balloon, Oscar gets swept up in a tornado and is magically transported to the land of Oz, where a prophecy has foretold of a great wizard that would fall from the sky and free the land from the evil and wicked witch.   And yes, there are some visual similarities to Wonderland in Oz, but the good news is here’s where the comparisons stop.

After traveling to the Emerald City, and meeting some new friends (Zach Braff as the land’s only friendly flying monkey Finley, and 13 year old Joey King as the most adorable creation this side of Puss N Boots, China Girl) Oscar sets off to fulfill the prophecy to save Oz from the Wicked Witch.  He also becomes embroiled in a love triangle of sorts with three witches, Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glenda (Michelle Williams), none of whom are sure the wizard is all the prophecy made him out to be.

I know there are complaints about the acting being over the top and most of the characters around Oscar feel very vaudevillian as well, but I submit that with a theatrical background in carnival, Oscar should be played that way.  These are over the top characters and situations (we are talking about witches and wizards, after all.)

Oz is a magical place, full of spectacle and wonder.  On the surface, Sam Rami (Spider-man, Evil Dead) seems an odd choice to direct that spectacle.  But he does it with aplomb, filling the movie with many “Rami cam” moments that work, and creates something truly artful.  So many of the Oz “re-visitations” that have come lately have reinvented the story, or twisted it to better fit the needs of the new format (see Sci-Fi channel’s Tin Man, which started off great and slowly descended into something wonky).  But not here.  For a long while Oz, The Great and Powerful seemed to be walking the tightrope between being yet another empty, vapid, FX filled big budget film that was marketed to our heart strings, versus the warm glow of returning to the familiar and telling a new story.  Rami’s deft direction allows Oz to really feel like a voyage over the rainbow.

Despite my higher brain functions arguing and telling me I shouldn’t like this overblown, big budget Hollywoodized modernization/prequel of a classic, I kept slipping into nostalgia mode.  The movie made me remember and feel like I do when I watch MGM’s original The Wizard Of Oz, and if it can evoke those feelings, then I should just let go and let it wash over me and enjoy it.

And that may be the films most impressive achievement.

Much of that comes from the homage paid to the classic and iconic images of the original, things this one does in spades.  From the opening in black and white, to a few name drops that had me squee with excitement, the film did its homework.

The funny thing is, that moment seems to come once the film settles into the familiar trope of “will Oscar redeem himself or not”.  That’s when it really finds its footing.  Not that the preceding is bad by any stretch of the imagination.  But there have been so many “anti-heroes” of late that show up in films and are dragged unwillingly to the finale, it was refreshing to see one get there of his own volition.

The true magic of Oz is revealed in the final reel, which I wont ruin here, but it made me sit up and cheer.  By the end of the film, the groundwork has been laid for more, either a sequel to this film (and based on an impressive 80 million dollar opening weekend I’d say that’s assured) or a trip back down the yellow brick road with the original.

In either case, he really is a wiz of a wiz, if ever a wiz there was

Movie Review: A Good Day To Die Hard

220px-A_Good_Day_to_Die_HardSo, Valentines Day is coming up, and Mel looks at me and asks, “Did you wanna go to a movie?”

“Sure.” I say, already falling into “guy” mode and dreading the possible responses. “What do you wanna go see?”

“The new Die Hard is out this weekend.  Let’s go see it.”

THIS ladies and gentlemen, is why I love this woman.  She didn’t pick this for me, SHE wanted to go see it.  We were in Los Angeles that week, entertainment capitol of the world, and we’re going to see Die Hard on Valentines Day.  And while our original idea of seeing it at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Blvd fell through, (Really Grauman’s?  You’re not even SHOWING the film?) we did find an IMAX presentation—NOT in 3D if you can believe it—at an AMC in Downtown Disney.

John McClane, in IMAX.  Yippee Ki-Yay, right?

Unfortunately, that’s where the giddy fun part of this review stops, because once the lights dimmed, the movie began.

But first, back story:

Die Hard is of course, a classic.  A New York cop trapped in a office building full of terrorists on Christmas Eve.  Even if you don’t like action flicks, you need to see the first film, which is actually taught in film schools as an example of how to do it right.  It’s just an all around well-crafted movie, with real characters doing real things despite the extraordinary circumstances.

Die Hard 2: Die Harder stretches that formula, gives us a bigger play area by moving from a building to an airport, and I am not sure why it gets despised as much as it does.  Not as good as the first, granted, but still fun.

Die Hard With A Vengeance relocates us to all of New York, ties back into the first film and ups the ante in almost every way conceivable.  Great fun, but we are beginning to tire just a bit of John McClane and his uncanny ability to survive everything thrown at him.

But here’s the genius of the series.  He is too.  Somewhere over the course of these movies, McClaine gets funny.  He’s pissed off, aware of his own mortality and the fact that he keeps surviving strikes him as funny.  And the angrier he gets, the funnier he gets.  Kinda like the Hulk in reverse.

Live Free Or Die Hard tackles cyber terrorism on a grand scale, and while the movie involves whole cities under attack, it works because it starts small.  One shoot out in an apartment.  One car chase on a freeway.  They build the action and McClane’s anger (and humor).  Yes, this film features him blowing up a helicopter with a car, and culminates with a leap onto an exploding freeway from an attack jet, but they got there slowly over the course of the film.  It’s probably the most fun of the series.

A Good Day To Die Hard opens with a confusing montage of Russian politics culminating in an assassination.  The guilty party is Jack McClane, estranged son of our hero.  John flies to Russia to see his son, and immediately gets wrapped up in a series of over the top action pieces, which unfortunately, is the only lesson the film learned from its predecessors:  Ratchet up the action quotient.

Having been on the ground in Moscow for all of fifteen minutes McClane steals a truck and is involved in a high speed chase with an armored car that looks like it destroys as many vehicles as the end of The Blues Brothers.  Again, the chase itself was fun, but so unbelievable it took me right out of the film.  McClane is tossed into these as an unstoppable and nearly emotionless Terminator.  Don’t get me wrong, for an action film, it’s very impressive action, but he was the wrong character to use here.  Some of these are so outlandish you’d have trouble believing James Bond (or even the Terminator) would have walked away from them alive, let alone a cop from New York.

They try to rein it in with some character building moments between father and son, but instead it’s bickering with the hot head and the old guy.  All of the genuine emotion from the previous films was no where to be seen, and even Bruce Willis seemed bored at times.  Maybe it was the generic bland script.  Maybe it was the “let’s shoot this documentary style” camera work.

Where was the humor?  Where was my John McClane?

Perhaps most unforgivable, was the assault on the audience’s collective intelligence when the plot takes us to Chernobyl, and we’re expected to believe there’s a magic spray that eliminates radioactivity.  Seriously?  When did this become a science fiction movie?  By the end I couldn’t even appreciate the action anymore.  Like McClane, I was just pissed and had lost my sense of humor as well.

With the announcement of good box office, Die Hard 6 is an inevitability, (admittedly, potentially with the coolest sounding title ever: Old Habits Die Hard) and I’m sure I’d welcome John McClane back to the saddle, if only to wash the taste of this film—the weakest of the bunch—from my mouth.

Movie Review – Lennon Naked

For Beatles buffs “Lennon Naked” may be a refreshing look at one of the members of the band. However if you aren’t very well versed in the lives of the Beatles, it can be a little tough to watch and follow along.

Lennon Naked is a televised bio-pic that aired on BBC-4 then PBS focusing on the life of John Lennon between 1967 and 1971. Christopher Eccleston plays the titular character and does a decent job. There are moments when I was watching that I was aware it was Eccleston, and others where it could have been Lennon himself. The biggest asset for Eccleston selling the role, is that he always has long hair covering his distinguishable ears. Overall he does a decent job encapsulating Lennon.

The real standout in this tele-movie is Naoko Mori (Who and Torchwood fans will know her as Toshiko Sato or Tosh) as Yoko Ono. At first I didn’t like her portrayal of Yoko, but then the more she was on screen the more I liked her in the role.

As for the rest of the cast, I was very disappointed by Andrew Scott (he played Jim Moriarty in Steven Moffat’s “Sherlock”) as Paul McCartney. He had the look down of Paul, but his voice didn’t have enough of the Liverpool accent that Paul has. Perhaps it’s because Scott’s voice is much lower than McCartney’s was at that time period. Everyone else did decent jobs, for as small of roles as they were given. The men who played Ringo and George looked like the actual men from a distance, but on close ups they didn’t match the look very well. Overall, seeing the 4 Beatles together in a far shot (which wasn’t very often) it looked like it could have been actual footage. Another unfortunate thing was that the other 3 members of the Beatles had only a couple of scenes in the whole movie. I would have liked to see more of the interaction of the band.

As for the plot of “Lennon Naked” there isn’t much of a coherent story line. There were many points during “Lennon Naked” that I was confused as to what they were talking about. It is an interesting character study of a very enigmatic man, who isn’t portrayed in a very good light, he comes across as brash, rude and unpleasant. There is a lot of focus on John reflecting on his childhood, and his abandonment from his dad. While a large part of the film focuses on his and Yoko’s relationship, something seemed lacking. I appreciated that they explored the couple’s struggle conceiving, and the impact that had on John.

One thing to consider on if you want to watch “Lennon Naked” is that as the title suggests, there is some nudity in the movie. There is a scene where John and Yoko take the “Two Virgins” album cover, and several afterwards where John remains naked. This isn’t partial nudity. Seeing Eccleston’s “Sonic Screwdriver” is something I didn’t necessarily need to see, and now something I can not un-see.

For major Beatles fans this could be a must watch. For a casual fan I wouldn’t suggest it without doing more research into John’s life first. And if you have any preconceived ideas that John was overall a nice fun loving guy, this film will shatter those images of Lennon for you.

Lennon Naked – B-

Movie Review – The Hunger Games

THE HUNGER GAMES, from the dystopian novel by Susanne Collins is a surprisingly faithful adaptation of the book.  Yes, there were things changed, but that’s the standard with ANY adaptation of the written word.  There simply isn’t enough room to get it all in.  In the land of Panem, a failed revolt by the 13 districts against the capitol 74 years ago resulted in the creation of The Hunger Games, an annual battle royal where each district is forced to hold a lottery and send one boy and girl to fight to the death in the arena.  Katniss Everdeen takes the place of her younger sister Prim who was chosen as the district 12 tribute and must fight her place.

The books are an amazing read, and deal with subject matter far beyond their “young adult” tag.  If you’re expecting Twilight, keep looking.  This is a far better written and entertaining series.  The movie follows suit, cramming a lot of information into it’s nearly 2 and a half hour running time, but entertains first and foremost.  If you’ve read the books (which I highly recommend on their value alone) I don’t believe you’ll be dissapointed.  If you’ve never read the books, You can certainly jump into the film without worry of missing anything, (though the ride is MUCH more enjoyable with that backstory).

An outstanding cast brings wonderful characters to life, including Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, and Lenny Kravitz.  Of particular stand out is Donald Sutherland as President Snow, who manages to govern Panem with fear and intimidation and keeps the nation in a stranglehold under the Capitol, and gives his portrayal of President Snow as almost frail, and yet utterly ruthless.  Also in fantastic if supporting roles are the Dream Lord himself, Toby Jones, and Stanley Tucci as Caesar.

Once the games begin, they unfold like a teenage version of Survivor as they battle the elements and each other.  And this part of the film is outstandingly well made, it looks like a documentary crew was turned loose in the middle of a war zone.  Unfortunately it matches the first half of the film.  Director Gary Ross uses a lot of shaky cam to drive home drama, and in the first half of the film, it’s totally not necessary.  In fact, it detracts from the rising climax of the end of the movie.  I also wish that Haymitch and Cinna had been given more to do, as they are two of my favorite characters in the novel.  It may not be the breakout film the media have built it into, but these are all small complaints in an overall well made film.  It’s entertaining and certainly lays the groundwork for the two sequels to follow.  May the odds be ever in your favor…

The Hunger Games – A

Movie Review – Puss In Boots

As the SHREK movies plodded on, they got more and more standardized and less and less funny.  One of the few character standouts was the Antonio Banderas voiced Puss in Boots.  Surely, someone would realize the genius of this paring, as Banderas was BORN to voice roles like this, and give him his own movie…

The adage “be careful what you wish for, you just might get it” has never been more apt than it is here.  The idea of giving Puss his own movie is genius, the actualization fails somewhat in execution.  A backstory dealing with his troubled youth and the poor influence of Humpty Dumpty (voiced by a surprisingly flat and low key Zach Galifianakas) and a quest for fabled magic beans should be a fun romp.

Unfortunately, it isn’t.  The jokes fall flat, the anthropomorphized animals are beyond anything we’ve seen so far in the Shrek universe, and the plot feels like a forced attempt to squeeze in a few storybook characters that have been left out of the adventures so far.  Admittedly, there was a fairly awesome joke that almost sailed over my head in regards to the identity of the final baddie.  When I got it, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to laugh or groan.  I won’t spoil it just incase someone wants to watch, but I can’t say I recommend it….

Puss In Boots – C

Movie Review – 50/50

Behind as usual, but here’s one I watched on Blu Ray recently…

It’s not everyone who can make a comedy about Cancer.  But that’s exactly what director Jonathan Levine and writer Will Reiser have done with 50/50, inspired by Reiser’s own dealings with the disease.  An original story about best friends (masterfully played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen) whose lives are changed by a cancer diagnosis.  Friendship, love, survival and above all, learning to laugh are the key moments and themes in the story of Adam’s transformation from normal 20 something to cancer patient.  Frequently funny, emotionally moving, a strong script and stand out performances make this one of the years best, if also over-looked films.

I cannot say enough good things about this film.  I was worried going into it. (How, after all, can you make Cancer funny?)  I myself have lost two grandparents to the disease.  But it’s not a laugh riot at the disease, it draws it’s humor from the situation–ultimately life itself–and lets face it, life IS a laugh riot.  I laughed out loud several times, and giggled many more.  And in doing so, saw that Reiser and Levine have managed to pull the teeth from the disease, and downgrade it from it’s capital letter “C”.  Gordon-Levitt is amazing (again) in this film.  I was impressed with him in his last several, (500 DAYS OF SUMMER and INCEPTION come to mind) but really, he’s ALWAYS good, with the ability to embody a role without making it his own.  He becomes the character, as opposed to bending the character to fit his personality, something most of the Hollywood big wigs could stand to learn.  Adam walks a tightrope of depression and despair, but winds up translating it into edgy comedy, and he becomes all the more sympathetic and inspiring because of it.  Rogen goes with his typical over-the-top in-you-face raunchy schtick, and while occasionally he can be annoying, here as the best friend and supporting role, it’s just the right amount of his hijinks to counterbalance the stoic Adam.

A great film that reminds us no matter what bizarre turns they take, friendship and love are the greatest healers.

50/50 – A

Movie Review – Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace 3D

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… George Lucas made millions of fans happy with the announcement that STAR WARS was coming back.  Then he made millions of fan boys angry by serving up 3 not-so-great films.

I will always come down in favor of the prequel trilogy.  No, they weren’t necessarily the films I wanted.  Yes, they are full of problems.  The story of Anakin Skywalker’s turn to the dark side of the force and eventual rebirth as Darth Vader should be epic and glorious, and mesmerizing.  Unfortunately, the journey is bogged down by far to much political maneuvering (which believe it or not, I actually enjoy those scenes, as Palpatine is my favorite character in the new trilogy), Scooby-Doo sub plots, annoying animated characters, clumsy dialogue and bewildering editing.  But there are moments of glory, and since I look at fandom through rose-colored lenses, I choose to focus on the glory.

But focusing became a bit tougher through those 3D glasses…

I know everyone is down on up converting movies into 3D, and I’m not a fan of the practice myself.  But I got giddy with anticipation when I heard Lucas was doing STAR WARS.  For all their flaws, these are the kind of movies that 3D was made for.  Big, fast, loud and in-your-face.  So I eagerly plopped down my cash, fit the glasses on and waited for the lights to dim.

The results were mixed.  The opening crawl pops with this real floating effect that was super cool.  Then the film started.  PHANTOM MENACE suffers from the nuts and bolts of that galaxy far, far way.  Two Jedi are dispatched to deal with a trade dispute.  Um… TRADE DISPUTE!?!?  This is STAR WARS, GEORGE!  Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor totally anchor this film as Qui-gon and Obi-wan, and they pop very much to the foreground of their shots on the Trade Federation ship, but the rest of the backgrounds look… well, like backgrounds.  Almost like a flat view screen behind them.  And not a high definition plasma view screen, but a I-just-pulled-the-string-and-un-rolled-this-on-the-wall-of-my-school-for-an-asssymbly kinda screen.  The fights with the battle droids on the streets of Naboo were cool.  Escaping the blockade was cool.

The movie drags when we arrive on Tatooine and get bogged down in the Anakin and the middiclorian plot.  The ship is broke, they meet Anakin, he can help them win the parts they need by racing.  Might as well have yelled “Move along, nothing to see here!”  The pod race however, may be worth the price of admission by itself.  And, this is the DVD / blue ray print of the film, so the race is there in all three laps of orgasmic speed rush.

The arrival on Courriscant was cool, but then we bog down again in the interesting to watch but not fun to look at in 3D political mechanics.  I absolutely love how slimy and manipulative Palpatine is.  I marvel at watching him and his plans and schemes unfold, knowing what is coming, and cant look away anytime he’s on screen.  Ian McDiarmid is an acting wonder.

We return to Naboo to put an end to the blockade and find 3D effects make the lightsaber battle to be cool, but not as good as I would have imagined, the battle with the droid army to be cool, but not as good as I would have imagined, and the space battle to be a downright disappointment.  I was so looking forward to that, but as it un-spooled, I realized that in space there is no frame of reference for the 3D to create a background to pop out of, and the ships fly by so fast that I couldn’t tell if it was 3D or not anyway.  Surprisingly, the best part was Padme and troops fighting their way up to the palace throne room.  Those shots looked fantastic.

All-in-all it wasn’t a waste of money.  ANY excuse to see STAR WARS on the big screen is a worthwhile one.  But watching it in 3D wasn’t the religious experience I thought it would be.  YET.  Because all PHANTOM MENACE did was wet my appetite for the good ones to show up.


Movie Review – Source Code

I very much love and appreciate hard sic-fi, so when a friend made me sit down and watch the first film from Duncan Jones, (2009’s MOON) I was intrigued.  And while I actually didn’t love that film, I dug what Jones was doing.  This was an outstanding (if slightly telegraphed) idea, and had wonderful nuggets of science, something all too commonly lacking in a sci-fi story.

So when the same friend recommended SOURCE CODE I was curious but a bit hesitant.  When Keith pushed me to watch it I caved, knowing his love of time travel meant I was probably in good hands here.  WOW was I ever.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Captain Stevens, a decorated soldier, who wakes up in the body of an unknown man and discovers he’s part of a mission to find the bomber of a Chicago commuter train.  It’s a government experiment called Source Code, a program that enables him to cross over into another man’s identity in the last 8 minutes of his life.  Captain Stevens must re-live the incident over and over again, hoping to find the key to the identity of the bomber so that he can prevent a second, larger threat that would kill millions. With each run through, he gathers another clue.

Shades of GROUNDHOG DAY and DEJA VU abound in this, along with a healthy dose of “Quantum Leap” thrown in for good measure (I commented to Mel over and over during the movie that it felt like Quantum Leap, and was rewarded with Scott Bakula as a voice on the phone late in the film. Rock On!)  But surprisingly, this ISNT a time travel story. Source Code doesn’t allow for time travel, simply revisiting an event that has already happened.  But in a nifty bit of hard science, they do bring up the possibility of alternate realities.  Intelligent science in a smart science fiction film.  What a concept!

Jake Gyllenhaal is always solid, and he’s becoming one of my favorite actors simply because of the range and versatility he’s shown.  Michelle Monaghan is more than just a damsel in distress, and Jeffry Wright plays the doctor behind the project very believably.  But the stand out performance is from Vera Farmiga as Goodwin.  She infuses a quantifiable Human quotient to the proceedings, (along the same lines as Reginald Vel Johnson’s Al Powell in DIE HARD.)

It’s a brilliant thriller, engaging, thought provoking and well made. And unlike MOON, SOURCE CODE allowed me to think I had it all figured out, then blew my mind in the last twenty minutes.  They don’t get much better.




Movie Review – Soul Surfer

Based on the inspiring TRUE story of 13 year old Bethany Hamilton, who survived a shark attack and the loss of an arm to become one of the top professional surfers in the world, this is a very well made and dare I say, inspirational story.

The cinematography is stunning (although  being from Hawaii, I can say there were a few liberties taken with some of the locations, but that’s nit-picking) and really showcase the beauty of the islands and ocean.  The directing by Sean McNamara is top notch.  Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid give solid performances as the parents, Kevin Sorbo is well cast as a friend of the family, and the other surfers come off like Disney tween show villains.  AnnaSophia Robb shines as Bethany, carrying the film one handed (no pun intended.)  The only down spot is Carrie Underwood, woefully miscast as a evangelical preacher, and her limited acting ability shows.

If the film falls down, it’s in the message portion.  I’m aware that I might receive some flack for this, but it is possible to do an uplifting inspiring movie that happens to put forth a religious agenda, without the agenda.  There were many scenes where we moved along nicely and suddenly we were thrown into a “come to Jesus” moment.  I don’t have anything against a spiritual slant to a film, but this one didn’t need it.  It was well evident from the way it was handled throughout that the family relied on their faith in God to see them through things, and when Bethany has a crisis of “why me” after the attack and her faith is shaken, it’s emotional enough without being hit over the head with the message.

Indeed, when the character goes on a mission trip to a country devastated by a hurricane, and sees first hand how in comparison she hasn’t lost everything, the moment would have been so much more powerful if we hadn’t just had twenty minutes of religion prior to it.  Without it, the movie would have been moving and spiritual.  With it, it feels like a calculated play for my soul, and while I don’t begrudge anyone for their beliefs (“Just go forward in all your beliefs, and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine” as the Doctor once said) I don’t want to be suckered into church during what was billed as entertainment.

But overall, a well made enjoyable family film.


Movie Review – Unstoppable

For some strange reason, I always manage to miss Denzel Washington movies when they’re out, and don’t see them until they’ve been on DVD for months.  UNSTOPPABLE was no exception, but I’ve been playing catch up this week!  Chris Pine is the rookie rail worker paired with Denzel’s veteran.  They get on each others nerves at first, but soon bond.  No big surprises there.  But when a runaway train loaded with toxic chemicals threatens a Pennsylvania town, things get interesting.

This is director Tony Scott’s fourth film with Denzel Washington (following MAN ON FIRE, DEJA VU, and THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1 2 3) and you can almost feel the comfort level between the two.  Scott makes great action thrillers, and this one is no exception.  Nice to see Chris Pine again (although there were shades of troubled James Kirk in his performance) and the always lovely Rosario Dawson could bark orders at me through a headset anytime she wanted.  Of course the true stars of the film are the trains themselves–big, powerful, rolling steel engines of death–and Scott and his team film them beautifully.  A solid action movie, (and for some reason now I need to hunt up a copy of SILVER STREAK to watch, as Mel has never seen that one.) 🙂


Movie Review – Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows

* Spoiler Free Review

Sherlock Holmes is one of the great characters in literary history, and has been re-invisioned (or regenerated, if you like) seemingly as many times as the Doctor.  Guy Ritchie’s film franchise version has dusted off the formula and injected it full of adrenaline, playing up Holmes eccentricities, focusing on his bare knuckle boxing skills, an in general creating an enjoyable event film.  Not everyone enjoyed the re-imagining, but I did, reveling in the fun of the first film. (I also thoroughly enjoy Steven Moffat’s Sherlock, which is a completely different take on the character, and just as entertaining.)

With A GAME OF SHADOWS, the ante has been upped, (as indeed, it must with sequels).  Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law had fantastic chemistry in the first film as the title detective and Dr. John Watson, and I’m pleased that it carries through here, the verbal sparing and cheeky shenanigans only part of the chemistry these two have created.  They feel very much like brothers as well as best friends, and you get the sense that even if the plot was complete junk you’d enjoy hanging out with the pair of them for a few hours.  Downey’s Sherlock feels a bit more manic and unpredictable here (some instances work, others–like the scene where he’s drinking embalming fluid–feel a little forced, almost as if he had trouble finding his way back to the role after inhabiting Tony Stark for the upcoming THE AVENGERS.)  But Downey is a great actor, and soon finds his way back to Sherlock.  But this Sherlock is haunted by Professor Moriarity (a mesmerizing performance by Jarred Harris) both in word and deed.  The supporting cast is just as good, with special props for a surprise visit from Stephen Fry, who plays Sherlock’s brother Mycroft.

While not complete junk, the plot is overreaching, creating a global conspiracy that has our heroes traveling all over Europe.  While this definitely falls under “upping the ante” it detracts from the very cool London that housed the first film, and Sherlock feels a little bit out of his element in parts.  For all his schemes and wheels within wheels, Moriarity’s end game was telegraphed midway through the film, and felt recycled at that.  Not much surprise there.

A note of delight to the climax of the film, which literary buffs will recognize from Arthur Conan Doyle’s work, and the sheer genius of the ending.  Bravo!  Bravo! I say!

In short, I enjoyed A GAME OF SHADOWS, and had a great time at the theater.  I don’t believe it was quite as good as the first, but it’s still a solid film and well worth watching.  I just don’t know that it has the same re-watchability as the original SHERLOCK HOLMES.


Movie Review – Immortals

IMMORTALS bills itself as a cross between CLASH OF THE TITANS and 300, and if that’s not enough to get you excited, you obviously don’t have a thing for sword and sorcery epics or muscled guys in short skirts. Unfortunately, the movie comes off as a pale imitator of both, and it’s CLASH OF THE TITANS feel is the dreadful remake, not the original classic.

Our story deals with young Theseus, a mortal man chosen by Zeus to lead the fight against King Hyperion (a magnificent performance by Mickey Rourke). Hyperion is moving across Greece to obtain a weapon that can destroy humanity by unleashing the Titans, the Epirus Bow.

Okay, good set up, BUT this is where the writer needs to step in and give some stage directions, right? Oh, you’re not going to do that? You’re just going to make some pretty, flashy movie and not worry about plot? Oh. Okay, I won’t talk about the fact that Zeus forbids the gods from interfearing UNLESS the Titans are in fact, released (at which point it would be too late to step in) yet manages to influence Theseus in his human guise of John Hurt. Nor will I talk about the virgin oracle who can foresee the future because of her purity, saves Theseus with a prophesy, then is promptly deflowered by our hero, rendering her a suddenly worthless character. Nor will I bring up the “surprise” of Hyperion’s barbarism, which was telegraphed the first time we see a certain statue. Nor will I discuss the complete lack of Greek drama and history this thing is supposed to be steeped in (on that front, even the remake of CLASH OF THE TITANS got something kinda right.) Nor will I discuss Hyperion’s supposed rampage across Greece, which did NOT have the same epic feel of 300 or TROY.  Not enough of them either.  This isn’t the hordes of Orks coming for the white city in RETURN OF THE KING, nor is it the massive Persian army from 300.  His army doesn’t really do much of anything, just shows up.  Boom.  There they are.   Nor will I discuss the mighty Epirus Bow, which kills four guys, is lost by the hero after having it all of five minutes, taken by Hyperion, used to blow a hole in a wall and free the titans, THEN NOT USED AGAIN. Seriously? THIS is the super weapon everyone was worried about? Bah.

I will talk about the pretty flashy movie with no plot, except that it’s really not even all that pretty. The very graphic approach to 300, with it’s saturated colors and brown/gold/earth tones just look bland and washed out here, kinda like that odd SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW look where everything was the same color. The fight sequences featured so prominently in the trailers are very flashy and cool, but there’s not nearly enough of them to justify the movie being called IMMORTALS, especially since the plan old mortals do most of the fighting. And I will mention the costume department, normally spot on in films like this. You guys made Hyperion a helmet that was (I’m sure) supposed to look frightening and awe-inspiring. Instead (as a friend of mine pointed out) he looks like the Killer Rabbit from MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL has latched onto him and is eating his head. Hard to take a man seriously with that image.

All in all, this isn’t a bad movie.  It’s a decent enough action flick.  I just wish we could get a really kick-ass Greek Gods movie.  So far, I keep waiting.  One additional note, I saw this one in plain old 2D, and while some of the fight scenes (especially toward the end) were very cool, I didn’t see anything that would have made an awe-inspringing transition to 3D.  Save your money.


Movie Review – Green Lantern

This is my spoiler-free review of Green Lantern which released this week in theaters.

First of all: “When will DC/Warner Bros. figure out the right formula for a good superhero movie?” So far, in recent memory anyway, the only successful franchise is Batman.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Green Lantern, nearly as much as Superman Returns, but neither film reaches it’s full potential.

Green Lantern is visually amazing. Even the 3D is done right. You can tell that just about all of it’s $300 million dollar budget was spent on the visuals, computer or otherwise (oh, sure Ryan Reynolds isn’t cheap nowadays either). The movie really captures the look and feel of the comic book series, which I was an avid reader of in the late 1980’s. It looks like a photo-realistic version of each and every colorful page.

The film also captures the spirit of the comic series as well, even if it does deviate ever-so-slightly from the true origins of the books, but that’s to be expected with film adaptations and we as comic book fans have learned to overlook the subtle details.

The problems with the film lie in the plot itself. The story feels very rushed. It finds it necessary to make use of a narrated prologue to introduce the viewer to the history of the Green Lantern Corps. Then the story takes off from there, almost in a rush to get to it’s climatic finale. There are some really good moments, especially as our hero Hal Jordan (GL’s alter-ego/secret identity if you didn’t know) discovers his powers and his subsequent induction into and training by the Corps. But, I can’t help to think that a casual viewer (non-comic book or sci-fi fan) might feel cheated and somewhat left unsatisfied by the comic book style pacing.

The performances are good as well. Blake Lively, who plays Carol Ferris, Hal’s pilot friend/supervisor/ pseudo-girlfriend , does a fine job. She pulls off the balance to Jordan’s wild-card pilot attitude. Ryan Reynolds in the title role does a fantastic job. It’s not a stretch for the actor to play the pretty, witty, and charming Hal Jordan, and he is a convincing GL, although the film almost takes the “lower-your-voice-so-that-no-one-knows-who-you-are” road, but recovers by playing it off as one of the films funnier moments.

The real stand out here is Peter Sarsgaard as Dr. Hector Hammond. The character is the cliché – boy longs to get the girl he can never have, and be the hero he could never be, but Sarsgaard pours the conflict and down right crazy into the role and subtly steals the show.

Other bit parts are done quite well, including those of Tim Robbins, Angela Bassett, and Mark Strong.

I think you have to, not only be a fan of comics to enjoy this film, but a fan of early DC Comics as well. The line lacks the edgy, hardcore grit that Marvel Comics have always brought, thereby making them less accessible to the mainstream audience.

The movie (as expected) does set itself up for a sequel, but I bet judging by the reviews it’s gotten already, Warner Bros. Might be hard pressed to “green light” (like what I did there?) another Green Lantern.

Overall, a fun movie, with a decent story and good acting, but far from the best superhero story put to film.