Archive for the Reviews Category

Interstellar (2014) Review (PG-13)

Posted in A Few Old, Short Words, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on November 9, 2014 by Crash! Landen

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Film director Christopher Nolan’s latest silver screen offering is a thought provoking thrilling entertainment even if it’s not always logical. The movie stars Matthew McConaughey as Cooper, an ex-pilot turned farmer in an age of blight and famine. The human race is slowly starving, suffocating even, with no answers in sight. Cooper, a widower, is someone who is a bit disappointed by humanity’s state of malaise; no longer reaching for the stars. He doesn’t enjoy being a farmer other than to provide for his two children (Tom and Murphy), still yearning to fly.

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By an act of fate (or maybe not so much), he comes into contact with a reformed version of NASA (which was shut down after having been deemed as unnecessary). There he meets an old friend: the physicist Prof. Brand (played by Nolan favorite Michael Caine) who now leads the mission to save humanity. He has a plan to do just that, having been studying a wormhole that was ‘placed’ in our solar system by… fifth dimensional beings. My brain immediately went to Mr. Mxyzptlk (one of Superman’s arch-foes), but I remembered he was from the fourth dimension. Oh. We have more theoretical dimensions nowadays, I guess… But, I digress.

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A number of manned spacecraft have already traversed the wormhole to a galaxy far, far away. Brand wants Cooper to fly a new mission to find out if the worlds that the manned spacecraft have found are habitable. Cooper at first refuses (because he’s a father), until Brand illustrates that he’s offering a chance to save his children. With that, Cooper sets off with a team of scientists that includes Brand’s daughter (played by another Nolan regular: Anne Hathaway). And here… We…………….. Go!

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As with most, if not all of Nolan’s films, the running time is quite bloated with excessive content that allows for more ill conceived moments that momentarily take the viewer out of the story (And there are quite a few ill conceived moments). I say “momentarily” because another staple of a Christopher Nolan movie is that he knows what buttons to push to get the audience behind his protagonists’ journey as he does here. Even when a spaceship’s crew is lightening their load in order to attempt to escape the gravity of a black hole, I just ignored the utter ridiculousness of that particular idea and enjoyed the action. Nolan ‘sells’ the situations of his characters very well, even in the scenes that really added nothing except extra running time minutes. There are some black hole sized gaps of rationale that just don’t make sense, especially in who drops the wormhole near Saturn… Some cinematic time loops make sense. This one doesn’t if you think about it. But, anyway… There are also some revelations that didn’t seem to be properly set up (the one involving Anne Hathaway’s character in particular).

 

I’m not complaining about the extended length too much nor the movie’s coherence. I was never bored; never checking my watch. The story was as epic as something covering this kind of subject matter should be. It was the kind of spectacle that Hollywood films can be. The sound accompanying the IMAX visuals was worth the few extra dollars (to me). The story does offer up a little to think about with all of the concepts that get kicked around. Some of Nolan’s reoccurring themes make their way into the story, also. One such theme that I don’t think has been talked about much is the way  Nolan focuses on the way stories are told and the reliability of the truth of the story by the teller (as in ‘Following’, ‘Memento’, ‘The Prestige’, even the Batman films to some degree). That’s touched on a little in the beginning of the film (with Murphy’s teacher who talks about the ‘faked’ missions to the moon) and the theme makes itself evident later as well.

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I don’t think this is Nolan’s best work, but it was worthwhile to see at the movie theater. There are some real knockout scenes that echoed some of the films that probably directly inspired this one (especially Kubrick’s 2001) along with some head-scratchers (it’s not surprising that some of the people behind the VERY flawed 1997 Jodie foster vehicle ‘Contact’… which also co-starred McConaughey… were also behind this one). Some things like the extended epilogue should have probably been cut from the film, but on other scenes I can’t even come up with a description for (as in the ‘docking’ scene) other than that it was just really damn cool. The fact that it also reminded me of the fun but ridiculous Luc besson film ‘The Fifth Element’  in the ‘message behund the film’ didn’t help, either. There are parts in this that are better than what is taken in its entirety. Some of the best parts of the film involved McConaughey playing the brash pilot and also some of the obvious tearjerking scenes with his daughter (who I have failed to mention until now… played by Mackenzie Foy who maybe stole a few scenes from her adult costars). But the good parts far outweigh the bad (and I didn’t even get to the at first not very impressive robot comedy relief). Just go see it and make up your own mind, but if you like science fiction (or Christopher Nolan’s past films), there’s a really good chance that you’ll probably like this one.

4 of 5

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How To Train Your Dragon 2 (PG) Review (2014)

Posted in A Few Old, Short Words, Reviews with tags , , , , , on July 14, 2014 by Crash! Landen

How_to_Train_Your_Dragon_2_PosterHow To Train Your Dragon 2 picks up several years after the original film left off. Dragons and Vikings, once at war with one another are now working and playing together all because Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), the son of the Viking Chieftain, develops a friendship with a rare dragon named Toothless. Now, while  the Vikings revel in sports involving these new organic airplanes, Hiccup continues to walk his own path and expanding his own world. Each day he and his loyal Night Fury fly further into unexplored lands, adding a new piece to an ever expanding map.

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He’s found what he loves to do, but his father, Stoick (Gerard BUT-LER!), would rather him stop flying around on his dragon so that he can start preparing to succeed him as the Viking leader. But, Hiccup soon discovers that there’s an even bigger world out there, with more people doing bad things to more dragons and he’s once again crusading for Dragons’ rights… Hhhhhh…

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When I went to see the original, I really didn’t have any expectations. in fact, I think I didn’t even want to see it. It just didn’t seem to interest me, but I went and… Wow. Great film. GREAT film. It was incredible to look at. It ‘moved’ well; it had a quick pace. It was funny. It had interesting, quirky characters. It had some unexpected twists and turns.

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For the sequel, I did have expectations and I was disappointed that this film fell far short of the original. I wan’t EXTREMELY disappointed, but I did feel like Dreamworks was treading over the same ground.Hiccup discovers more people in distant lands who are basically at war with dragons (or with people using dragons). There’s another dragon, far larger than the others that is controlling them, just as there was in the original, only this time there’s TWO giant dragons so that they can fight at the end, but for some reason, it’s not as impressive as the ‘Red Death’ from the climax of the 2010 film.

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And as always, Dragon 2’s biggest sin is that it’s dull. The flying/action sequences didn’t seem to be as impressive. It wasn’t as funny. There was a re-occurring feeling of “been there, done that.” The film even lost me a few times, as when Toothless can’t fly without  Hiccup for some reason, when the first scene with the two depicts Toothless… flying without Hiccup.

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SPOILERS! READ NO FURTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT TO HAVE ONE OF THE FILM’S SECRETS SPOILED! I’M NOT KIDDING! SPOILER ALERT!… Anyway… Hiccup’s anachronistic progressive mentality wore on me in this one, also. The reaction to the appearance of… Okay, his mother (and the TRAILER gave that one away)….who was supposed to be dead is just immediately glossed over. I could never like the mother (played by Cate Blanchett) and I lost respect for the father and son because of the way it’s handled in the film… The mother CHOOSES to abandon her SON and her husband and allows them to believe that she’s dead… because she wants to be an activist and save chimpanzees… I mean dragons. Whatever. I’m sorry, I just can’t get past that. Sure, there’s a thing called forgiveness, but there’s also a thing called responsibility to raise your children. If the Dreamworks’ writers can put their contemporary attitudes into the Viking era, I can put my own into my criticism of the film and it also seemed WAY out of character for the chieftain Stoick, who routinely disowns his son in these films for FAR less. The writing just was not consistent.

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Far from the worst film I’ve seen this year, Dragon 2 still has its good points. It’s still visually stunning. The digital artists made a great film to look at, but even this aspect falls short of the first. This one seems to fast forward through the ‘big’ moments as if the filmmakers also felt that they’ve ‘been there’, so they didn’t invest the effort to make them important as they did in the first film. At least it didn’t feel that way to me. If you didn’t see the first film, I’m sure that you might like this more than if you had, but there still is a vacuum of laughs and more draggin’ than dragon.

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2.5 of 5 

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Six Movie Quasi-Pseudo-Short-Sort Of-Reviews

Posted in A Few Old, Short Words, Reviews with tags , , , , , on June 1, 2014 by Crash! Landen

 

 

I thought I’d make it easy on myself and do 6 short, quick reviews, but I guess it’s never like that.  It’ll probably sound like I’m being too negative, but it just worked out that I only like 2 of the last 6 films I’ve seen at the movie theater… Oh, well.  If you want positivity, just skip to the end. Anyway… Here they are in no particular order.

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Maleficent (2014, PG-13)

The Premise: Disney sets out to prove why making villains the protagonists (generally) isn’t a good idea… Or… ‘ A re-imagining of the classic ‘Sleeping Beauty’ story, by looking at it from the villainess’ poiint of view, blaming everything on men and ultimately making her the hero.

Why You Should Run Away From This As Fast As You Possibly Can… But A Lot of People Probably Won’t: 

It SOUNDED like a great idea. Looking at Angelina Jolie made up as a live action Maleficent LOKS like a great idea… But, the result is a horrid, seizure inducing poorly written, mis-directed crapapalooza. I have to say, I haven’t been the biggest Angelina Jolie fan in the past. She’s been involved with a myriad of celluloid putridity in her career. Her best films are mostly average. She was not the problem here.  She looked like she was born to play the title character and looked smokin’ in black. The way she entered scenes with her head tilting back and forth and the cape and the um… black leather… She was CLEARLY not the problem.

The problem was making her the heroine, the ‘protector of the Moors’, trying to shoehorn in a reasoning for why the character was acting ‘like a villain’ and not to mention showing her as a child. The only way I can describe what Disney has done here is by saying imagine they ‘re-imagined’ Die Hard, but now they were going to show everything from Hans Gruber’s perspective. You’ll see little Hans being wronged in some way as a child by ‘The Man’. When he grew up, he decided to rob the Nakatomi building, but not because he’s a greedy self important evil dude that’s willing to kill  a lot of people to make himself rich, but he really wants to make  John McClane rich because McClane had absent parents. And during the heist, he protects the cop from danger. Does that sound stupid? Well, it’s no more stupid than this particular film. And it’s apparent, as it seems to be with a lot of these films coming out these days, that the directors can put sequences of bright shiny FX together, but they never learned how to tell a coherent story.

About a half hour into the film, I thought to myself that the scene where young Aurora (the Sleeping Beauty of the story) was christened as a baby was where the film should have started. But, then I started realizing that the film should have never been made. It doesn’t even follow a logical progression for  a fairy tale. After she’s cursed by Maleficent, Aurora’s father sends his newborn daughter away to live with strangers for 16 years. SIXTEEN YEARS without seeing her, because he’s protecting her? What?

Just a complete missed opportunity. Jolie is really great in this film when they’re shooting her in the shadows and playing up the villainy. When she’s filmed in the bright sunny daylight, it  makes her look like she’s a Comic Con attendee. And other than Maleficent’s costume design (And I’m referring to the adult Maleficent without wings, not the child version), I’ll even say the character designs… mainly the creatures in the forest… fell flat… Especially whatever those toad things with the goggle eyes were. And remember the look of Maleficent herself was created by Disney artist Marc Davis (One of the Nine Old Men) way back in the 50s. Just disappointed… And I was even robbed of MAleficent becoming the big black dragon as she did in the cartoon. Way to go Disney. Maybe  you’re getting the ‘Marvel’ influence now. Marvel knows how to ruin their own characters like no one else. Speaking of which…

1.5  of  5

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X-Men: Days Of Future Past (2014, Rated PG-13)

The Premise: Not so far in the future mutant-kind is being wiped out by shapeshifting super powers absorbing robots called the Sentinels. The only hope for theX-Men (and everyone else) is for Kitty Pryde, who besides being able to walk through walls has now gained the ability to send other people’s consciousnesses back through time, but they need to send someone back to the 1970s to prevent the creator of the Sentinels (Peter Dinklage) from being murdered by X-Men good girl turned evil mutant Mystique who, like Wolverine,  is more important to the X-Men series than the original 5 X-Men of the comics…. But, I digress. Wolverine, who can heal very quickly (and somehow can heal from drowning and being.. dead…) is the only one that can handle the mental strain of being sent so far back. Wait. What? Never mind. Professor X was on drugs so that he could walk and not use his super powers, that’s all I know.

Why You ShouldYAAAAWWWNNN… Bryan Singer’s back! Yay! Bryan Singer’s back! He directed the first two X-movies and they were brilliant! Nope. No, they weren’t. YOU ARE WRONG (yes, you). They were better than what followed, but were they good? Well, at least he took the idea of random people being born with random superpowers with no explanation seriously. I’ll have to admit, although I grew up LOVING the X-Men mostly because of the artists on the book… Neal Adams, John Romita Jr. (and Dan Green), Paul Smith, Dave Cockrum (!), Marc Silvestri, Alan Davis, Rick Leonardi, Joe Mad, Jim Lee, etcetera, not to mention baddest of the bad: John CUSS Byrne… the stories were generally taken directly from elsewhere…the Avengers (British series)… Wild, Wild West… Alien… Dr. Who… STAR TREK. Whatever long tenured X-scribe Chris Claremont happened to be watching at the time it seemed. This particular storyline (Days of Future Past) is where you can almost mark where the stories started to get irreparably convoluted with all of the time travel stories, the fake Jean Greys, making the X-Men’s arch nemisis a misunderstood freedom fighter and all of the other nonsense. If you haven’t seen any of the other films, much like the Harry Potter films, you will be hopelessly lost. If you have, you still may be lost , especially when some of the new back story starts conflicting with the other films’ continuity. Probably the most entertaining sequence in the film involves super speedster Quicksilver (Evan Peters), but is only in the film for a scant few minutes, because I guess they realized they made him SO fast that he could have solved all the problems at the end of the film in a few seconds, so the X-Men leave him at home… which made no sense. It doesn’t matter what I say about it, though. The film has already made over a half billion dollars. People (myself included) keep showing up to see the next Marvel film even if almost every single one of them are mediocre at best. The film looks okay (like every other overly slick, stagey Marvel product), there are some cool slick CGI FX, you get to see lots of mutants die (even if they keep coming back to life just like they do in the comics) and it’s a pretty good cast of actors, but… shrug. Zzzzzzzzzzz.

2 of 5

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The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014, R)

The Premise: An author recounts the story of how a lowly hotel worker became its owner and what it meant to him.

Why You Should See It If It’s Still Playing At An Art House Near You… It’s Wes Anderson at his Wes Anderson-iest and gives a little screen time to all of his usual co-conspirators… Murray, Wilson, Norton, Schwartzman, Brody and Dafoe, plus a number of other big names. It’s not really a surprise that Ralph Fiennes is as brilliant in a comedy as he is in all of the serious roles he’s been in. He’s just a great actor and carries most of the film on his back. Tony Revolori plays the stoic unlikely hero/sidekick and manages to hold his own with all of the bigger names in the film. Saoirse Ronan, young mistress of accents, also turned up as Revolori’s love interest. She’s a bright shiny light in everything she’s in, even if the movie is not so good, so it’s even better that she’s in yet another good one.

It’s good to F. Murray Abraham in a few really good films like this one and Inside Llewyn Davis. Abraham played one of the greatest villain protagonists (Salieri) of all time in one of the best films of all time (Amadeus). Unlike ‘Maleficent’, it  had a point to making the bad guy the protagonist, but I digress.

This probably doesn’t crack my Top 5 of Anderson films (Royal Tenanbaums, Rushmore, The Darjeeling Limited, The Life Aquatic, Fantastic Mr. Fox…). But, it’s right up there and not to be included in his ‘lesser’ films. I shouldn’t give anything away (and I usually don’t with any good film when it comes to plot and happenings, but the thing with the cat was horrible… And really, REALLY funny. That poor cat.

4.5 of 5

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (PG-13, 2014)

The Premise:  Captain America, now (uncomfortably) working for government agency SHIELD, discovers that the villainous terrorist group Hydra has infiltrated their ranks.

Why You Should Wait For The DVD: The film has its moments, but  some of the best ones have been featured in trailers and previews. It’s a Marvel movie, through and through. Lots of CGI that doesn’t amount to much. People begin fighting when they suspect the audience may realize there isn’t really a story. I thought having Robert Redford involved might have upped the script quality up a notch, but it doesn’t. There are many instances where a little suspense could have been introduced into the proceedings, as when Redford announces that a character is wearing a device that could kill them with the click of a button. In terms of storytelling, a short scene showing this being used on someone earlier in the film would have at least given the illusion that they weren’t just making this up as they went along.

Besides that, there was certainly too much focus on the attempt on Nick Fury’s life or more specifically on how bad@$$ his vehicle is during the attempt. The Winter Soldier bored me. He looked too much like one of Marc Silvestri’s characters and even befor the reveal, comes off as a pretty boy villain. And once again, they keep telling you how bad@$$ he is, instead of just letting the audience make up their own mind. And the last thing I’ll complain about before I move on, is that apparently gravity doesn’t really work in the Marvel universe like it does in reality.  Noone seems to die by falling like 10 stories… Or off of some mountain. I mostly liked the first film… even if I think they should have had Captain America wake up from being frozen in ice in the first act, but I digress… Needless to say, I was disappointed by this one, but Chris Evans is still a pretty good Captain America (and I liked Anthonie Mackie as The Falcon a lot more than I thought I would). I just wished they wouldn’t have given the short shrift to Arnim Zola. I was so looking forward to the ‘old’ Arnim Zola. At least he made an appearance, along with Batroc, even if they got rid of the exaggerated French accent and moustache.

2.5 of 5

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014, PG-13)

Hhhhhhhhhh… The Premise. The Premise. The Premise: An iconic comic book character has been turned into a multi-billion dollar movie franchise that is marketed towards… Nononono… Spider-Man returns with a massive strategic ad campaign aimeed at— nononono… Spider-Man returns to fight crime, retain a celibate relationship with his hot nerd girl friend, not work for a living spending all of his time swinging around the city while leeching off of his poor aunt, being angsty about—-Ah, crap. I really don’t know where to begin with this so, I guess I’ll start with what I do best; complain about all of the film’s shortcomings… Be warned, this is more just me complaining about a movie than an actual review. If you want  an actual review, try my review about the first film here. Wait. Did  I review that one or…? I didn’t really like that one, either, I suppose. Anyway… Ahem…

SPOILER ALERT. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a spectacular collection of misfires, miscalculations, half realized (rushed) ideas and suffers from an apparent lack of storytelling skills by the film’s director, writer and producers. It’s a 200+ million dollar hack job. The film could have been about a lot of things, but sadly isn’t really about anything other than a super powered guy randomly fighting super powered bad guys. It’s unapologetically cartoonish all the while having MUCH to apologize for.

I won’t complain about the storyline a with Peter Parker’s… parents. I won’t complain about taking away the CORE component of the character (his failure to be a responsible citizen) that is NOT EVEN an afterthought in this sequel (I THINK they mentioned Uncle Ben… I THINK)  nor did they even continue with the change to his origin (did they forget that he was supposed to be searching for Uncle Ben’s killer.. Or did they realize that longtime fans like me HATED that and they tried to act like that never happened? I won’t kvetch about ‘too many villians’ (I will not mention the Rhino.I will not mention the Rhino). I won’t complain about the film trying to make Gwen Stacy Spider-Man’s crime fighting partner in this… Okay, I might complain about that. Yes, I’ll START with that since it leads to bigger problems in the film. In the moments leading up to the climax, Gwen Stacy (Peter’s girlfriend) steals a police car and saves Spider-Man from Electro, one of the film’s villains which is followed by a temper tantrum/women’s empowerment moment where she proclaims she can fight side by side with her boyfriend if she wants to… Even if the villain IS a guy that is essentially made of electricity. If she’s not afraid of the bad guy, then why should the audience be concerned? And the director, Marc Webb gives no illustration why anyone should care, either. He just shows Electro turning out the city’s lights. No consequences. No one gets hurt really. He just turns out the lights. Sure, the FX are kind of cool, but, where’s the dramatic tension? He just floats around complaining. This might’ve been the occasion to show why the villain feels so worthless, but, no. He doesn’t even have a motivation to call his own, anyway. It all revolves around Spider-Man, as does the motivation of the Green Goblin (yes, we get a third Green Goblin appearance in 5 movies). Isn’t  establishing a motivation for your characters screenwriting 101? But Webb really establishes nothing in the film. He just wants to get to the ‘good parts’.

Gwen Stacy… Poor Emma Stone. You can’t kill off Gwen Stacy (yes, I just SPOILED that one, but in my defense, this has been known to everyone who’s picked up a Spider-mAn comic book since the mid-197—OHMYGODWE’REGOINGTOGETAGWENSTACYCLONEINTHETHIRDONEAREN’TWE?!OHMYGOD!!!!NONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!NoNONONONONONOACK…ARRRHHH…ACK…)(Eating my hat…MMMMMMMMM. Good)…. Ahem…. You can’t kill her off in the second film without  at least a LITTLE foreshortening; without the film being about THAT.  You have to at least have a scene where she has a close call… Or at least show the… sonuvabitch… the ‘valedictorianbecauseshehastobebetterthanPeter’ speech in the BEGINNING, so that it has some poignace/relevance at the end instead of dropping that out of the sky. You could’ve also introduced Mary JAne back into this, which was a SHOCKER that they did not, since they spent so much time ‘setting up’ the next film. And I say ‘setting up’ in that they just say a character’s name like Smythe or Felicity or show some Vulture wings or metal tentacles. It’s not really setting anything up a la the end of the Empire Strikes Back where Darth Vader may be Luke’s father, but I digress. We’re expected to believe Parker and the young Harry Osbourne are pals, but it’s hard to buy into that as a viewer when he’s dropped into the middle of the second film, having never been mentioned. And realistically, without a scene where they’re at least shown together as kids, it’s hard to believe how a billionaire’s son and a kid living with his struggling aunt and uncle would have been in a situation where they would have become friends. It’s even stated that Osbourne was shipped off to boarding school when he was 11, so when were they pals?

All of the characters suffer from being written cartoonishly. Electro with his child-like self esteem issues. Harry Osbourne who is never anything other than a weasel who resembles Stephen Geoffreys’ Evil Ed character from the original Fright Night ever  increasingly as the film progresses. They got the Green Goblin wrong yet again, by the way. Dane DeHaan certainly wasn’t cast because of his threatening persona and the script dipped past ‘cartoonish’ and landed squarely in the land of ‘comic-bookish’ when it came to his dialogue (I will not mention the Rhino.I will not mention the Rhino). He may be one of the least menacing onscreen super villains to ever appear in a big budget superhero film and his part in the story also seems extremely rushed. I’m not an authority on matters of the law, but I do know that you can’t inherent a multi-billion dollar corporation and be fired a day or two later by your underlings without  a whole lot of lawyers getting involved.

And the CUSS Rhino. That is NOT the Rhino. Don’t give me any CUSS about “you can’t show the Rhino in the comic book costume, because no one would take that seriously”. The main character in the movie got SPIDER POWERS from being BITTEN by a a spider and he wears red and blue tights and swings around Manhattan via ‘web shooters’ that he MADE (practically overnight) and we’re coming off of a film where a man that turns into a lizard is trying to turn everyonein Manhattan into a lizard like himself. At least the Lizard had a motivation even if it was stupid. And WHY oh WHY couldn’t you give Electro the old green and yellow costume that worked for thirty years or so, until writers that hate comic book superheroes started writing all of Marvel’s superhero books?

AND THE LITTLE 7 YEAR OLD KID IN THE SPIDER-MAN costume at the end that stands down the Rhino. ARE YOU CUSS TELLING ME THAT YOU CAN DO THAT, BUT YOU CAN’T CUSS PUT ANY OF THE VILLAINS ONSCREEN THE WAY THEY CUSS LOOKED IN THE COMICS FOR DECADES? It’s like you made the last 2 minutes for 4 year olds, but only Spider-Man can look like he does (somewhat) in the comics?

I give up. I think I’m done with Marvel’s movies. I’m not in their films’ target audience; I like good movies.

Am I just being a ‘hater’… Or maybe ‘hater’ is just a word created for people who like crap?… I went in hoping to like this. I really did. And I DID like it up until about the time when Osbourne takes over at Oscorp… Even with all the shortcomings. I like Garfield and Stone. Garfield makes a great Peter Parker even without a good script. I USUALLY like Paul Giamatti (I will not mention the Rhino. I will NOT CUSS mention the Rhino)…. Or maybe I just want to be heard like Electro. I would like Marvel’s executives to know that at least this fan thinks their movies suck and I would like them to at least ACT like they’re trying in the process of stealing my dollars. Find a good director and turn the reins over to them and trust that they can do a better job than what’s being done. CUSS.

Sorry. I’m ranting, so in order to end on a much more positive note, let me start typing about Gojira…

END OF SPOILER ALERT. 

2 of 5

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Godzilla (PG-13, 2014)

The Premise: A mining expedition unwittingly unleashes massive indestructible prehistoric radiation absorbing behemoths upon the populace and the only solution to stopping the city stomping creatures is possibly a third creature that the government has been aware of for decades…. and have failed to destroy.

Why you should see it: It’s the greatest Godzilla film ever made that harkens back to its cautionary tale roots while fully embracing what the iconic beastie became with the numerous Toho Company  films that followed. Originally, Godzilla was a stand-in for the atom bombs that were dropped on the Japanese and later became a ‘force for good’ battling the likes of Gigan, Megalon, King Ghidorah and Mechagodzilla. Gareth Edwards, the director, for my money got everything right (and this is coming from a guy that LOATHED his first indie film ‘Monsters’). The monsters, the destruction, the human element, the tension, the tone, everything… All the while nodding to a host of other classic sci fi films, monster movies and Stephen Spielberg especially. My only complaint is that maybe Godzilla wasn’t shown enough (the anticipation     for Godzilla’s first big appearance was kind of like waiting for Old Greenskin in the first half of Ang Lee’s Hulk). This movie MUST be seen in IMAX and would make a killer double feature with last year’s Pacific Rim. Marvel should take take some notes or maybe just hire Edwards for their next big comic book adaptation (and get out of his way).

4.5 of 5

And that’s that. Anyone make it all the way through? No?Fell asleep on that second one, huh? I didn’t promise the reviews would be any better.

 

Pain & Gain (2013) Short Review (R)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on January 15, 2014 by Crash! Landen

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The Premise: Ummm… ‘Fargo’ on steroids… A self absorbed, amoral personal South Florida fitness trainer Dan Lugo(Mark Wahlberg) hatches ‘a simple plan’ to get rich quick by kidnapping a millionaire, then strong-arming him into signing over his fortune. Oh… And (loosely) based on actual events.

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Why You Should See It: Well, maybe everyone shouldn’t. Michael Bay isn’t for everyone, especially if you’re easily offended by Michael Bay. Does that make sense?  Michael Bay has a low brow sense of humor… Most critics do not, which explains the film’s (unfairly) low rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I’ll admit, I didn’t see this in theaters because my favorite movie critic declared that this wasn’t just a bad film, but this was in fact “evil”, which is just a ridiculous statement stemming from an inability to be subjective when it comes to judging someone’s film who probably doesn’t have views that jibe with his own. And critics are generally selective when it comes to what they’re offended by, anyway.

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‘Pain & Gain’ is one of Bay’s better films… And, no that’s not backhanded, faint praise. I mentioned Fargo which it is similar to in a few respects, but in reality, this probably owes more to ‘Scarface’, the story of a petty criminal’s rise to top of the trash heap (and his ultimate fall). Pain & Gain, is a far better film, though, IMHO, and never glorifies its main player(s) as that over the top Coppolla crapfest does. Yes, I said it. You heard me. Scarface was a crap movie. Never once, did I feel that Bay was admiring Lugo and his imbecilic partners in crime (two of whom are played by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Anthonie Mackie) as his detractors have accused him of. It is a tragic sequence of events (That mostly DID happen), but Bay has to admired for finding a humorous tone that allows him to tell the story in most of its horribly gory details without gawking. I was expecting progressions of torture porn, but Bay focused mainly on the absurdly stupid mentality of the criminals involved. I laughed throughout, so I guess I’m a little more low brow than most of the movie critics that I listen to.  Either that or I feel like I’ve known some people a little like those in the film… I don’t think they killed anyone, though.

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Mark Wahlberg is great here as he usually is. Tony Shalhoub is great is the somewhat unlikeable victim of Lugo’s schemes, but he’s generally pretty good in everything, as is Ed Harris who has a smaller role as a retired private investigator. Worth seeing if you don’t mind watching a film that you know is not going to have a happy ending, nor should it have). I was semi-familiar with the story, since it did occur here in Florida (even if I’m in the panhandle), but knowing the story didn’t detract from seeing it unfold onscreen. This was not as much like watching a train wreck, as like watching a bunch of ‘smart cars’ smashing into one another at high speed. Horrible, but funny in a gallows humor sort of way. Not for everyone, the film portrays a group of amoral thugs, but is not amoral itself as many critics have suggested. And it was far better than I was expecting it to be, primarily because I listened to critics that hate Michael Bay.

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4 of 5

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Her (2014) Short Review (R)

Posted in A Few Old, Short Words, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 14, 2014 by Crash! Landen

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The Premise: A lonely man who makes a living writing personal letters for other people falls in love with his new smartphone operating system. Yes, literally. With Apple’s Siri, I think we all saw it coming.

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Why You Should See It: Director Spike Jonze was behind ‘Adaptation’, which I have extremely high regard for. How high? Click here for the answer. Charlie Kaufman wrote that, however, whereas Jonze wrote this one himself. The last film that I saw that Jonze both wrote and directed was his big screen re-imagining of the popular children’s book ‘Where The Wild things Are‘, a film that I both liked and was disappointed by. I’ll wait if you want to check out my review for that one. No? You didn’t come here just for Scarlett Johansson wallpaper did you? Anyway… This was almost like watching that one, only without any expectations that I had from familiar source material.

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I don’t mean to work out where a film might be going before I see it, but a quick synopsis popped into my brain as soon as I heard about this one: “Boy Loses Girl. Boy Gets Operating System. Boy Loses Operating System. Boy Gets new Girl.” If you see this, you tell me how close that I came. I won’t blow my own horn if I nailed that one. Really, I won’t. Anyway… This is not in the same ballpark as the watermark of ‘Adaptation’. Not even in the same sport, really, so to speak. This might be in a  soccer stadium or something… No, that would be insulting. Maybe a basketball arena somewhere… And it has a few scenes that were obvious at least to me that did not work as well (or were not as funny) as the director probably thought that they did. It’s still an entertaining film, though. Mostly intelligent. The characters in the film don’t seem to think of things as quickly as the audience will (and won’t see where it’s all going, either), but it is a little more thoughtful than your typical comedy and falling at least a mile or two in general sci-fi tone as the brilliant Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind. I have high regard for that one, too, as you can see by clicking here. Or you don’t have to. I’m just sayin’…

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If you’re like me, though, you’ll like most of the people (if not all) of the actors in ‘Her’… Did I just make a ‘funny’? Yes. Yes, I think I did. Anyway, Joaquin Pheonix is a top notch actor, especially when it comes to playing people who are a little ‘off’ shall we say, and he does another fine job here. My only criticism on the rest of the cast is that maybe they were not shown enough… And that’s not any kind of scurrillous commentary on my part aimed at the Johannson’s physical assets. I reserve all of those for Olivia Wilde, actually. She makes everything that she’s in, that much better. She’s like bacon, actually. Olivia Wilde is like bacon, even in a part where she’s not supposed to be particularly liked at the end of her performance. Amy Adams (reunited with her costar from The Master) gets just enough screentime, I guess, for her supportive role, but I think the film would have been a lot better with a lot more of Her (see what I did there?). She’s one of the few actresses that can make even a chick flick tolerable to most.

Is this a big screen movie? Mmmm.. Well, I think so… It’s not a big FX movie. It’s low key. It has the feel of one of those highly polished, ‘packaged’ indie films, but Hoyte Van Hoytema (cinematographer) makes the visuals pretty to look at. It has that minimalist vibe that the director seems to prefer, not even giving  Samantha (the operating system) an avatar. But, maybe that was the point of that, I don’t know. Jonez REALLY wants to say something profound about the human condition, but maybe stays a little too cookie cutter… and a lot too banal… even for such an unorthodox love story. Is that damning with faint praise? I hope not. Jonez sequences a pretty clear narrative, but possibly the film needed more actual conflict. Maybe that’s what I’m trying to say. ‘Her’ might be be a little too ‘art house’ and not enough  ‘mainstream  theater’ for its own good. But, I LIKE art house films. And I did like ‘Her’. I just didn’t love ‘Her’.

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3.5 of 5

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Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) Short Review (R)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on January 13, 2014 by Crash! Landen

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The Premise: Set in the early 60s, it’s a crucial week in the life of a struggling yet talented folk singer, Llewyn Davis.

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Why You Should See It: It’s a Coen Brothers movie. I shouldn’t have to say any more than that. With the exception of ‘The Ladykillers’ remake, the Coens never disappoint. The characters in this film are as you would expect; quirky, funny, weird, mysterious, hard to read… Actors must really like working for the duo, because they always get the best performances out of actors in their movies and they know almost with certainty that the end result will be something they can be proud of. The film is not bleak so much as melancholy as per its central character LLewan Davis. Oscar Isaac has always been a scene stealer; this time carrying an an entire film in the lead role. When his character is described as having talent in the film, its not lip service. Isaac, himself, is a startlingly deft singer/guitarist. It was nice to see him paired again with ‘Drive” actress Carey Mulligan. I never liked the characters she played until her role in Drive, which was the first of three films in a row that I’ve seen her in now where I thought she was superlative. Coen Bros. regular John Goodman turns up in a less than plum role, but it is memorable, I think. Even if the film were awful, which it is surely not, it might still be worth seeing for the soundtrack. That alone will probably win the film some Oscars this year (Sidenote: ILD probably will be on my own Top 10 list next year since this was a 2014 wide release).

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Despite having a downbeat tone, the film has the laughs typical of the Coens’ past efforts. There were a couple of BIG laughs, with one in particular that sustained for at least a minute with the audience. Good stuff. And I won’t try to explain what the cat represents in the film. See the film and decide for yourself. Personally, when it ended, I wanted to immediately see it again.

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4.5 of 5

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The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty (2013) review (PG-13)

Posted in A Few Old, Short Words, Reviews on December 31, 2013 by Crash! Landen

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Way, way back in 9th Grade Super-Advanced English, when I was forced to read Thurber’s ‘The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty’, I found Walter, the protagonist of that short story, to be quite the happening guy… At that time, I don’t think I was capable of reading an actual book (which I did have to do). If it didn’t have photos or illustrations, at some point I would simply block the incoming information that was passing through my eyeballs and my brain would be off doing other things (which was another reason that my sympathies probably were with one Walter Mitty). This was truly a short story, though… It was like a single chapter from one of those other books forced upon me by the State of Florida (or at least my English teacher). I mean it was less than 35 pages if memory serves me and that was pushing the limits of my 13 year old brain. Plus, Mitty’s exploits kind of bobbed all over the place with Mitty’s imaginings of himself as a surgeon, or an assassin or a pilot. To my still forming brain, this was a guy that took tedium and made it fun. In every job that must be done, he was finding an element of fun. He found the fun and SNAP!… Every job was a game! Of course, my English teacher (we’ll call her Ms.Lovesnatch for our purposes here), did not care for my interpretation because I was WRONG. And much like Mitty’s wife, she proceeded to beat me into submission. “Walter Mitty was a man to be pitied, a continuing tragedy, a man who retreated from life rather than living it!” she said.

“Okay… I can see that I guess.” I did want an ‘A’, so I acquiessed, conceding the point that Mitty was NOT a righteous dude, but a tragic figure not be envied. I doubt Ms. Lovesnatch could ever be a fan of Terry Gilliam, with their reoccurring themes of the power of the imagination as salvation… But, in that particular instance, the ‘A’ was more important than making some kind of futile stand against state oppression. Lovesnatch  also probably would have been disappointed with director Ben Stiller’s expansion of that short story… And with my own feelings for this latest silver screen interpretation of Thurber’s short story.

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What Stiller has done with his slant is to completely discard the tragic elements of a put-upon, daydreaming schlep who prefers fantasy over reality into a portion of an underdog tale with a pinch of empowerment and a small dose of adventure. Stiller’s take is not one of tragedy, instead aiming to make Mitty into a crowd pleaser. Whereas he starts out as the ineffective foil in Thurber’s brief narrative, at some point Stiller transforms Mitty into a protagonist with an arc. This is very much like having Charlie Brown hit the home run, kick the football and impress the little red headed girl. Something about it just didn’t feel right. In a way, it cheapens it. That is, if A) you’ve read the novella and B) you’re a purist when it comes to translating source material to the big screen. Fortunately for me, I’m no purist.

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Besides directing duties, Ben Stiller plays the title character: Walter Mitty. Stiller’s Mitty is a meek man who is prone to ‘zoning out’, sometimes in the middle of conversations, creating fantasies where he possessed courage where he has none in reality. Walter works at Life Magazine (appropriately) where he has a crush on a co-worker, Cheryl Melhoff (played by Kristen Wiig). ‘Melhoff’ may have been  a nod to who Mitty’s character was supposedly (loosely) based upon; Thurber’s friend Walter Mithoff, but I digress…. Anyway, not being bold enough to be able to approach Cheryl directly, he learns that she has an account on eHarmony  (an online dating service) and is soon creating his own account in hopes of a relationship. Complicating things, Life is in the midst of an extreme overhaul (I think the writer is trying to tell us something), where the magazine will no longer be published except on the internets. Everyone on staff is under review to determine their necessity to the company and Walter almost immediately gets on the bad side of the obnoxious man in charge of overseeing the transition (and the firings). Being the ‘negative assets manager’ for the magazine, Walter is in charge of  the general indexing of photographs, especially for its star (cover) photographer Sean O’Connell. Mitty finds the latest cover shot to be apparently missing and is given an ultimatum to either find the cover shot or be fired. In desperation, Mitty sets out for Greenland in order to find the photographer, of course stepping out of his comfort zone and embarking on a journey sure to change his worldview, right?

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If I were to judge this film primarily on how faithful it is to the source material then it would be an outright failure, no questions about it. Judging it on its own merits, however and I found it to be moderately enjoyable. It’s not Thurber’s story, but a Ben Stiller vehicle. If you like ben Stiller and the films he’s directed in the past (like The Cable Guy or Tropic Thunder), them you’ll probably enjoy this one to some degree. It was a little surprising that this one had such an obnoxious amount of product placement given that Stiller has made fun of Hollywood’s penchant for this in the past. The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty is like a 2 hour advertisement for Life magazine, eHarmony  and PapaJohn’s Pizza…. Maybe even for Stretch Armstrong, too. It was obvious (and slightly annoying), but there were enough laughs in the film along with an amiable vibe from and for the central character that one could forget about the constant reminders of the film’s sponsors… Well, almost forget…

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The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty is typical of this years crop of films. It was adequate and not much more. It entertained, but will probably be quickly forgotten. There is an important, underlying theme to the film, it’s ambitious to use one of those often used words that ‘real’ critics use, but Stiller and Co. could have aspired for a little more. It was sold as an epic and despite Walter traveling to the far reaches of the planet, still felt small. Much like the title character it was meek for a film that features in the imagination of its hero and maybe a little too safe. Or maybe Stiller was just going for irony. In any case, I did like it even if it wasn’t the tragedy that Ms. Lovesnatch would have been hoping for.

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3 of 5

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