Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Going in Style


RATING: B-

So guess what? This film is a remake. You probably didn't know that. A lot of people probably didn't know that. I actually didn't know that for a while. But it is a remake. A remake of a film from 1979. Well, even in an age of endless remakes, I guess it's okay to remake a movie when the original has been completely forgotten about. 

This film centers around three elderly men--Joe, Willie, and Albert--all played by famous older actors. As in Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin, respectively. These three guys are just living the retirement life--until their retirement pensions are cancelled by some evil bank due to their former company being bought out. Or something like that. So basically, these three guys are now screwed. Until they get the idea to rob the bank and take back what is rightfully theirs (and *only* that). 

To be frank, this movie gets by pretty strictly on the power of its main stars and the chemistry they have. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman both being in a movie to begin with is great, but Alan Arkin arguably gets many of the better lines with his character's dry sense of humor. Also, Christopher Lloyd is in this movie--and though he doesn't have a whole lot of screen time, he steals the show whenever he is on it with his over-the-top performance. Some scenes in the movie are more funny than others in general--namely the "test robbery" run of a discount grocery store. 

That said, this movie is a little bit *too* simpleton in some ways. There's not much to this movie's storyline other than the bank robbery and everything leading up to it (as well as the immediate aftermath). And there's not a whole lot payoff at the end (no pun intended). While things go mostly as you might expect, nothing really big happens before the final resolutions. Basically, the 15 or so minutes immediately following the robbery (but before the actual ending) kind of almost feel like a waste of time and were perhaps intended to just stretch the film to 95 minutes. 

It's a decently funny movie, but it also plays it a little too safe at times and doesn't really do anything special with the storyline. Not that you would expect much in a mere comedy like this, but you'd expect something a little more. That said, it's an alright way to pass about an hour and a half of your time--thanks to the cast and their chemistry. You might forget about it fairly quick, but you won't feel like you wasted your time either. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Despicable Me


RATING: A-

Early on in the 2010's, there was a sudden rush of animated movies about guys who start out as "villains" but end up being redeemed by the end (this, Megamind, Wreck-It Ralph). Two of them even happened in one year! And despite how much they were using this storytelling device, all of these movies actually turned out pretty good. While most will agree that Wreck-It Ralph is the best of the bunch, Despicable Me is the most famous one (or infamous, depending upon how much you hate the Minions by now) and is the only one of the bunch to have spawned its own franchise. And this was from an animation studio (Illumination Entertainment) making their first go at it. 

This particular bad-eventually-turned-good-guy is Gru (Steve Carell), a villain whose goal in life was to be the most well-known of the villains. And for a while, he actually was--at least in the actual villain community, anyway. (No one in actual society seems to know anything about who these villains are or where they live--despite the fact that they're pretty conspicuous.) But he gets upstaged by a newcomer and now has to put himself back on top. So he tries to pull off the ultimate heist: steal the moon. 

No seriously, steal the moon. It's at this point where I should probably mention that, unlike other modern animated films of its caliber, this one is a lot more Looney Tunes-esque not only in humor style but also in that it doesn't pay much mind to silly things like science or physics--or even logic in general, at times. (Namely at how despite villains, their villainy *and* their bases being pretty obvious and out in the open, law enforcement never does *anything* at all in this movie.) 

Anyways, things get only crazier for Gru when three young orphaned girls--Margo, Edith, and Agnes--end up in his life. (How exactly, I will refrain from saying.) And honestly, you can probably more or less predict what happens from there. Probably one of the biggest flaws about this movie, as a matter of fact, is how predictable it is. However, I guess that just makes it more impressive that the final product is as good as it is. 

There's a lot of good things to say about this movie. Though Gru is a jerk to start off, it helps that Steve Carell gives a hilarious vocal performance. But Gru himself has decent character development throughout as well. The girls themselves manage to be likable/charming enough. As for the Minions? Well, they're still quite hilarious in their first go-around--we're not given overdoses of them here. They're great comic relief, but there's plenty of comedy to go around in general. There's plenty of memorable moments in general--whether it's the iconic "It's so fluffy" scene, the attempted infiltration of a fortress that results in much pain for Gru, or the surprisingly heartwarming ending. (Too bad they put in a ridiculous dance number right after that.) 

Of course, it's not without flaws. The above mentioned dance number ending is stupid. The opening scene itself (with the great pyramid) is pretty doggone forgettable. There are a few humor attempts here and there that don't work as well as others. Also, a glaring flaw is the actual villain. Yes, there is an actual villain besides Gru--and it's Vector. Who's basically a bratty teenager/young adult. And who does actually nothing really that villainous (besides his early offscreen heist) or even interesting until the climactic act. Yup, he's a pretty lame villain. Heck, the girls' former orphanage supervisor is a bigger villain than he is! 

Even with someone below average in the antagonist category, Despicable Me still manages to do what Marvel Studios has done a few times--still make a pretty good movie. Whatever one may think of what this franchise has become, this first one is still genuinely fun and it actually has some charm and heart to it. While it may not be as great as Wreck-It Ralph--or as unique as Megamind--it's still a pretty good movie in its own right. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Kong: Skull Island


RATING: B

So here's the second installment in the MonsterVerse. What is the MonsterVerse, you ask? The "shared universe" franchise which is basically an excuse to have new Godzilla and King Kong movies, and to have them fight each other in a few years. Which is actually a pretty awesome prospect. But for now, we get their... um... solo movies? 

The biggest complaint about the Godzilla movie was the lack of Godzilla actually being on screen. While it was still a fun watch regardless, fans won't have to worry about such issues here because King Kong is on screen a lot more in this film. As a matter of fact, we're thrust into the action almost *immediately* after arriving at Skull Island. Beyond that... and all the star talent in this movie... the two MonsterVerse movies are actually a bit more similar than you'd expect at times. Mostly in that they attempt to make the main character monsters more sympathetic. 

This movie actually takes place in 1973, centering around the organization Monarch (who was also a focal point in Godzilla, in case you'd forgotten) and their expedition to the uncharted Skull Island, along with a military escort led by Samuel L. Jackson. Why, exactly? Because it's uncharted territory. And this is the Cold War, and the Americans have to do/discover everything before the Russians, of course. At least, that's the "official" reason anyway. But once they get there, they get more than they bargained for. With not just King Kong... but all the other monsters on the island too. Including giant spider-like creatures. And a Krakken of sorts. And Skullcrawlers--crosses between reptiles and more traditional lizards. 

Much like Godzilla, there's not a whole lot of concern with plot here. There's not a lot that's straight up stupid, but they only care about creating enough plot to justify monsters fighting each other and to get humans involved. That also means, once again, that there's not much character development and you don't end up actually caring too much about the characters. But it does help that there is *much* more talent in this movie--Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, Brie Larson, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell... and of course, Samuel L. Jackson, who is able to give a death stare directly into Kong's eyes without flinching... which is pretty awesome. John C. Reilly also steals the show with his comic relief. 

This is mostly a popcorn action movie; after a kind of slow first 15-20 minutes, it gives you action or suspense of some sort for the rest of it. And most of it's pretty doggone exciting and fun to watch--whether it's watching humans taking on monsters (and usually losing) or watching Kong go toe-to-toe with monsters as well. You get what you came for, and the spectacle is quite fun. If Godzilla was good because of how well it was directed (despite a couple glaring flaws) and its production values, then Kong: Skull Island is good because of all the insane monster action. 

With that said, Kong: Skull Island isn't a classic by any means. A movie with great action but also with mediocre writing and uninteresting characters can only be so good. This movie is good, for sure. But it is mostly geared towards the popcorn action/adventure fans. You'll definitely have some fun and enjoy it when it's all said and done, but it's certainly not the best thing you'll see all year either. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Cars 2


RATING: C+

The first Cars movie was one of Pixar's more slower-paced movies--fitting, given that despite the NASCAR-like racing, the movie was about slowing down and enjoying life, among other things. It was also probably Pixar's most underrated film ever. As for the first sequel, Cars 2? Well, it switched gears entirely (no pun intended). Completely. As in... went from a simple tale about slowing down and sticking it to the Interstates to... James Bond, basically. With Mater as more or less the main focus. Pretty odd, right? 

Well, the film's plot deals with Lightning McQueen racing in the World Grand Prix. Mater, among others, comes along and along the way accidentally gets caught in a case of mistaken identity and ends up being stuck in the world of car spies and espionage and a ridiculous and convoluted bad guy plot. 

When this film first came out, it was considered to be Pixar's first flop. I guess compared to the material they had released before this movie, that's sort of true. It's definitely not as bad as some would have you believe, and it's not Pixar's worst film either. (That honor goes to Monsters University.) But it is still rather dumb at times. 

The decision to make Mater the main focus wasn't really a great one. It's made even worse by the fact that he's actually made even dumber in the sequel--going from silly but fun and endearing comic relief in the first movie to being painfully idiotic at times in this one. But there are other points of massive idiocy throughout the plot--whether it's the fact that the actual spy cars can't figure out that Mater's not a spy (they think his idiocy is his cover), or the fact that this movie does not know how electromagnetic pulses work, or how other characters aren't as smart as they once were (McQueen suffers from this too), or just the villain's plan in general. Can't say it without spoilers... but just know that it's a terrible plan and makes no sense. 

What actually does work about this movie, then? Well, even if it's a 360-turn genre-wise, the spy stuff is still kind of cool regardless. The action scenes are actually fairly fun to watch. Even if some of the characters' stupidity annoys you at times, most of them are still likable. Although there are some attempts at humor that fall flat, there is still some pretty funny stuff too--such as the wasabi gag, the disguise technology scene, or a gag involving a Gatling gun. Also, attention should be called to the animation, which is astounding--the Tokyo sequences in particular are breathtaking. The voice acting is still pretty good too--in addition to returning actors like Owen Wilson, Tony Shalhoub and Bonnie Hunt, we get newcomers Michael Caine, John Turturro, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard and a sadly briefly used Bruce Campbell. Turturro in particular provides some more of the better comic relief. The film itself is still mostly a fun and entertaining ride, even if certain parts of it make you cringe a little. 

Cars 2 is definitely not as bad as many say it is. But it's still below average for Pixar (though a few years later, "average" doesn't mean what it used to for Pixar). And it's a bit of an odd film, given how insanely different it is from its predecessor. That said, you still could do worse both with Pixar and in the animation/kids' movie department in general. Even though no one will come away calling this a classic, it's not the kind of thing most will hate themselves for watching afterwards either. Even if it was still flawed, the biggest reason it got panned was because of everyone's higher expectations from Pixar at the time. Which is unfortunate, because this film is still a decently enjoyable (if not great) way to spend 105 minutes. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Dunkirk


RATING: B+

Christopher Nolan has become the best director of our times--not just because of his classic Dark Knight trilogy, but because of his other works like Inception that showcased his creativity and ability to give us lots of plot twists. He's built his career on that kind of stuff. So seeing him switch gears to nonfiction for his next movie--a World War II movie, to be specific--is a little strange. 

This particular film concerns the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940--the time when Allied forces got trapped on the beaches of far northern France surrounded by the Nazis and they got transferred by civilian ships in addition to the destroyers that were available--and 300,000 men were rescued despite the Nazi air bombers' best efforts. It's quite the war tale that many of the younger generations may not even know much about. 

The film is presented in an interesting manner. We are thrust unceremoniously into the action right away. And it doesn't let up much for its 107 minutes--except for a few short breaks, there's always something going on. The narrative switches constantly between some random soldiers trying to survive in the Dunkirk battle in the sea, one particular civilian ship that civilians drive themselves, and the dogfights up above in the air. Those three narratives... and not much else. Well, save for Kenneth Branagh's role as a Commander, I guess. 

The film certainly does manage to keep one interested. There are some rather harrowing sequences (a couple of ship-sinking and near-drowning scenes come to mind), and while some parts of the film are more exciting than others, it does manage to keep you on your toes for most of the way through--that is in part helped by Hans Zimmer's great score. The main highlights of the film come in the air battle scenes--which are great to watch. 

The biggest issue with this movie is that at times it can be a little hard to follow. First off, remember how I mentioned one of the narratives being "random soldiers trying to survive in the Dunkirk battle?" Well, good luck figuring out who's who among those random soldiers, because they pretty much all look and sound the same. And the British accents are quite heavy, so you have to listen carefully--and even then you will not catch everything without subtitles. Due in particular to the latter, there were a couple moments here and there where I thought for a moment, "Wait... what's going on again?" 

Though this next sentiment will come as no surprise, it still should be said that Dunkirk doesn't feel like a traditional Christopher Nolan movie. It's all too simplistic. That's to be expected, of course. It's an historical event. But in the past, Nolan's put something in each of his movies that's very different that blows you away--whether it's a crazy plot twist or a crazy plot device. You won't find any of that here. Again, that's no surprise. But when I go to see a Christopher Nolan movie, I expect a very different kind of film experience. I expect to get utterly blown away. I enjoyed Dunkirk, but I was not blown away by it. It goes more or less exactly how you expect it to--which of course many will prefer it that way, and it probably *is* better that way. But I guess my anticipation for Nolan's next fictional movie masterpiece is only even more heightened now by his presumably brief detour into nonfiction here. 

Regardless, Dunkirk is quite a well done war movie. It does what it's supposed to do and it does it well for the most part. While there are a few things that could've been done better, what's done well is done pretty well. I guess even if it's a very different kind of film for Christopher Nolan, it still shows some impressive versatility. It's a movie that most will probably like or even love. While I absolutely cannot describe this as being anywhere near Nolan's best, it still keeps his long streak going. 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes


RATING: A-

Who knew that the Planet of the Apes series could not only provide an actually *great* reboot--and one of the better trilogies in the last several years? It's crazy, but that's what happened. Rise gave us a surprisingly good start-up, while Dawn acted as the equivalent of The Empire Strikes Back--giving us a horrifying look at how wars start, with neither side is completely guilty or innocent in that case. And now, in the third movie, we get to see the result of that film's handiwork--the actual war, of course. 

The war's actually been going on for a couple of years when the movie starts, with casualties on both sides. The human side consists of a military group--led by a mysterious figure known only as the Colonel (Woody Harrelson). The apes--led by Caesar (Andy Serkis)--have been holding them off for some time, but not without losses. When tragedy strikes big-time, Caesar wrestles with his darker side and begins a campaign to destroy the Colonel, who is determined to wipe out the apes forever for his own reasons. 

This movie has a lot going for it, and on the whole it's pretty great. While the film feels slightly more slow-paced than the previous two, there are some very tense sequences (namely a long conversation between Caesar and the Colonel) and an "all-heck-breaks-loose" action finale. The direction from Matt Reeves overall is quite strong, with some brilliant set pieces. While there aren't a lot of non-extra human actors (most of the acting is motion-capture performances of apes), the acting overall in the film is still great. Andy Serkis really outdoes himself; perhaps in an extra effort to get his long-deserved Oscar?

While the story itself overall works just fine, there is one kind of glaring issue which I unfortunately can't go into much without giving away spoilers. There is a revelation midway through the film that attempts to connect things further to the original Planet of the Apes. But this "revelation" ends up contradicting itself a bit. I do wonder if they actually are setting up the exact events of the original movies, or if they were just making call-backs. 

Then there's also the ending. While none of it really comes as a massive shock, it still kind of leaves us with some questions--chiefly whether there are still other humans out there, and what their current state/condition is. Considering that we don't know officially yet if more entries are happening, that's a little bit of a problem. 

Despite those two main flaws, they don't hold the film back from being a strong third entry. The film continues the dynamics found in the last film (only this one is even darker), and Andy Serkis helps strongly with that--almost carrying the film by himself. It's certainly a memorable ride, and while it may not have the same impact that Dawn did, it still gets the vast majority of things done right. If it is the ending of the series (though I personally doubt it), it's a pretty good one. 

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Jack Reacher 2: Never Go Back


RATING: D+

The last time we saw Jack Reacher, he foiled a plot involving... um... actually, I already forgot what it was exactly. I only remember minor specifics. Something involving an assassination. Something involving a group of bad guys with agents everywhere trying to cover it all up and frame people who get in their way. A good car chase scene. A few cool fight scenes. A little bit of amusing dialogue from Tom Cruise. And not much else.

Yeah, despite being a somewhat intelligent thriller, the first Jack Reacher movie was still quite slow and quite forgettable. In my mind, there wasn't a whole lot of hope anyway for a good sequel. I'll start with this: most of the better parts were in the trailers. And if you hated the trailers, boy are you in for a rough ride.

Unlike its predecessor, this movie was quite disliked--even though in some ways it's a bit more like the first one than many would care to admit. Something involving an assassination. Something involving a group of bad guys with agents everywhere trying to cover it all up and frame people who get in their way. Not really any proper car chase scenes, but still a few cool fight scenes. A little bit of amusing dialogue from Tom Cruise. And not much else.

In this particular installment, a military contract of Jack Reacher's--Major Turner (Cobie Smulders)--is framed for the murder of two of her own guys. Reacher gets involved, and the two end up working together on the case as fugitives. And this rather annoying teenage girl named Samantha gets involved as well--because she might be Jack's daughter. 

Here in this one, they made a bit of a bigger deal of there being some kind of dark conspiracy; which does sound interesting, but then the reveal about the identity of the evil group is rather underwhelming. The conspiracy is unmasked, the "big bad" is taken into custody... but there's still 20 minutes left. Why? Well, because this random hitman goes after Samantha. He really, really, *really* wants to get back at Reacher because... why, exactly? It seemed as if the hitman just wanted to do it for kicks. Which, in this particular scenario, is rather stupid. But we do get a pretty sweet fight scene out of it, so there's that I guess. 

One thing that this movie *does* differ from its predecessor on is that it's less intelligent. It's a much more by-the-numbers action/crime/thriller movie. (Well, there is a surprising twist in the final few minutes... but at that point no one really cares anymore.) Also, the dialogue in general got worse. There are still a few fun moments--such as the perhaps infamous "telephone scene"--but once again they're not enough to elevate the film.

Ultimately, this movie is just as forgettable as its predecessor. And slow-paced again, too. (Seriously, almost literally nothing interesting happens during the entire first hour.) But at least the first one was more smart. At least it was trying. Here, we just have a cookie-cutter "action/thriller" movie. And I use those two genres rather loosely. Ironically, this sequel's subtitle actually applies rather well to most people's feelings about this movie. Indeed, let us "Never Go Back" to this franchise.