Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Oblivion


RATING: A+

Tom Cruise does seem to often be a pretty good judge of action/adventure films to star in. He has several good films on his resume; the Mission: Impossible franchise (save for the second one), Minority Report, and Edge of Tomorrow to name a few. We haven't seen much out of him in the sci-fi genre, though. This is where that changes.

Pairing up with director Joseph Kosinski--a guy with insane talent at visuals and special effects (Tron: Legacy is his only other film directed so far)--we are given this particular film, Oblivion. A post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick where absolutely nothing is as it seems, where plot twists lurk around every corner (though some of them are admittedly predictable), and where the visual backgrounds cause jaw-drops. 

The film centers around a desolate Earth, 60 years after it was mostly destroyed in a war with aliens. Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and his wife Victoria are assigned to cleanup crew and drone maintenance as the Earth's resources are sucked up and they await to join the rest of humanity on Saturn's moon, Titan. That changes when a pre-invasion space module crashes on Earth with people in stasis chambers. A surviving woman named Julia that appears to be from Jack's past causes Jack to question everything he knows. 

As mentioned earlier, the film is loaded with plot twists. Some of them are a bit more predictable than others (the early mention of mandatory "memory wipes" is pretty suspicious from the get-go), but some are near impossible to see coming. Once the film gets going, it refuses to stop until the very last second, which ends things on a *very* satisfying note. 

Oblivion isn't particularly action-packed all the way; it prides itself more on suspense more often, which mostly works. It kept my interest for all two hours, at least. Overall, the film is strong in nearly every facet, from casting (Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko) to the pacing to the action/suspense to the visuals to even (surprisingly) the electronic-fueled soundtrack (M83). The one disadvantage for some may be the occasional plot predictability; despite that, I found it to be one of the best science fiction films released in the last few years. A brilliant flick not to be missed.  

Friday, December 18, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens


RATING: B 

Man, it's hard for a movie to live up to massive hype. When the news of new Star Wars films first came out, there was a mixture of excitement and nervousness. Once the trailers started coming out, everyone went nuts (myself included). The hype for the first installment of the long-awaited sequel trilogy grew much higher. J.J. Abrams and Disney had to know what would happen next. Either they would be revered for all time as the resurrectors of Star Wars, or they would never again be able to step foot outside their houses.

For what it's worth, The Force Awakens is sure to please a lot of long-time fans. It has more of what we all loved about the original trilogy, while still adding its own flavor to the mix. For its basic purposes, it probably achieved its goals. But was it too much to expect a little more? Especially with the awesome theory regarding the identity of Kylo Ren that was around during recent months before the release, which would've shaken things up beyond belief. In a sense, I kind of feel like I got what I *should* expect, but not what I *did* expect. 

I mean, it's definitely good. Just not great. You know? 

So anyways. Episode VII. We are introduced to a Star Wars world 30 years after Return of the Jedi, where all our favorite older characters are indeed that. Older. Way older. Some aged better than others. Luke Skywalker himself has disappeared, while the First Order--a spin-off of the Empire--has risen from the ashes and made a run for control of the galaxy.

And our new leads? Well, we have Rey, a scavenger with a pretty vague past (vague is something that I will probably continue to use a lot in this review), who gets caught up in all of the action. Finn, on the other hand, is a Stormtrooper... who oddly decides, "I don't want to do this anymore." And why? This type of thing *never* happens to Stormtroopers, it seems. They're just the masked minions who can't shoot accurately to save their life. (That has not changed.) Rey is a pretty interesting lead character, but Finn just falls short. He switches sides, and that's that. For a character who does such a thing, his character development is surprisingly lacking. Poe Dameron, on the other hand, suffers only from being underused. Harrison Ford is the one who steals the show, reprising his role as Han Solo incredibly well. 

Kylo Ren, on the other hand, suffers more from poor marketing than anything. Marketed as the powerful, awesome villain with a new unholy terror of a lightsaber, he ends up being sort of a letdown in that sense. What he is instead is certainly interesting (can't say without giving away spoilers), but his unsettling/powerful feel and his attempt to be the next Darth Vader in that sense is quickly thrown away in favor of a different feel. 

Is the story a good one? Sure. There's some big twists and turns along the way (that's J.J. Abrams for you), even if a couple things feel a little derivative almost from previous Star Wars material. There is a bit that's left hanging; by the end of the film, we still know hardly anything about Kylo Ren's vague master Snoke, and what exactly happened to Luke is still sort of left hanging. Oh, and I'm still unsure of how the title "Force Awakens" fits in, cause the Force doesn't really evolve or anything special in this film. It's nothing you haven't seen before, in that respect. 

The movie's pretty entertaining, to be sure, and has some hilarious dialogue, and yet I can't help but feel like something is missing. What, exactly? I'm actually not completely sure. 

In the movie's defense, I may have gone into it with higher expectations than I should have. I was expecting something a little more groundbreaking, and a different kind of shock twist. And while others may also find themselves expecting a little more, overall they should be satisfied. And while I myself am still mostly satisfied, I still wonder about what could've been. 

Nevertheless, we still have two more movies in this sequel trilogy to go. If they manage to pull together the story well enough for said two movies and thus give us a strong overall story for the trilogy, I will likely take back much of my criticism. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi


RATING: B+

The third chapter is often a tricky one for trilogies. Everyone is under a lot of pressure to deliver, especially when the past two installments have been successful with audiences. Sometimes what'll end up happening is that the ending will be a decent one, but it won't be the one the audience wants, and everyone suffers for it. 

Return of the Jedi is definitely a decent chapter, but it has been criticized for different reasons. Some were a little disappointed that it ended all too well. Harrison Ford even requested back before they made the movie that George Lucas kill off the character of Han Solo to make things more interesting. And then of course, there are the Ewoks, but there's plenty of time to get to those guys later. 

We unfortunately spend a good first half hour or so dealing with the rescue of Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt, who isn't particularly an appealing character or villain. Parts of that situation even tend to drag on at times. It's really not until we get to the second half of the film where Luke Skywalker goes to confront his father Darth Vader, and his master Emperor Palpatine that things actually really get good. 

Sure, there's a few exciting sequences leading up to the final battle and confrontations--namely the speeder bike chase on Endor, and the battle on the sail barge back during the Jabba sequences. But it's hard to compare all of that with what goes on during the latter half of the film, with Luke confronting his father and struggling to not give in to the dark side of the Force. 

Another interesting note is that within six years (from 1977 to 1983) special effects got a lot better in some ways. Suddenly we are now able to have way more spaceships on screen in the middle of space at once, which ultimately makes for a pretty awesome battle between the Rebellion and Empire in the middle of space near the end as well. 

The biggest problem with this film, really, is the Ewoks, which no one really asked for and ultimately are more of a dumb annoyance more than anything, and watching them actually be a decent fighting force against the Empire only furthers digs the Stormtroopers' already terrible reputation into their grave. 

Overall, Return of the Jedi is definitely the most flawed of the original trilogy, but it offers a satisfying conclusion at the same time. The problem is some of what is thrown in at the same time (the Ewoks). What props up the film so well is its final act (long as it is, running at 40 or so minutes), which is right on par with anything else from the rest of the trilogy. Despite the Ewoks' best attempts, the original Star Wars Trilogy remains a massive part of the legacy of cinema, and Return of the Jedi has its place in it just as much as the other two films. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back


RATING: A+

Back when Star Wars first came out, it had set a standard for sci-fi in general. It had set a high bar for itself, and there was probably plenty of pressure for them to deliver with the next two movies. They did deliver for this one at least, which ultimately may have been partially due to the fact that the "Directed By" part of the end credits was the only one in the franchise to feature a name *other* than George Lucas. 

The stakes are higher in this film right from the get-go; in fact, within the first 20 minutes, we are given an extended sequence (that, among other things, holds up very well despite being from 1980) where the Empire is actually being victorious in massacring a Rebel base. The film goes from there, as Luke Skywalker continues his Jedi training, as the dark side begins to come in play. Vader is determined to make him switch sides. 

By the time the relentless roller coaster of a film ends (with a little bit of a cliffhanger), we've been subjected through plenty of brilliance; the opening invasion sequence, the asteroid field scene, multiple space chases involving the Millennium Falcon, and the climactic lightsaber battle and the earth-shattering revelation that ensues as we are given one of the greatest plot twists of all time and one that set a standard for years to come. Doesn't matter if you've already seen it or you know what's coming ahead of time (like I unfortunately did), it still gives you the chills every time. 

Empire Strikes Back is a step above its predecessor in other ways as well. The script seems to have improved a bit from the iconic yet occasionally unintentionally goofy script from the previous movie, and the soundtrack (courtesy of John Williams) takes a huge step up as well, thanks in part to the composition of the popular Imperial March. 

Ultimately, I find it hard to deny that Empire Strikes Back is the best film in the Star Wars franchise. Was it because George Lucas wasn't directing (Irvin Kershner instead)? Probably. Whatever the case, it's an all-around more exciting and arguably more impactful film. Empire Strikes Back is a classic, and serves as an excellent blueprint for how sequels should be done. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Star Wars (1977)


RATING: A

The Star Wars series holds a special place in the entertainment industry to this day; hence the fact that we're getting some new sequels and spin-offs. Some people enjoy all of the Star Wars material (including the Clone Wars TV series) just fine, while some are strictly partial to the original trilogy. I don't dislike the prequel trilogy, but none of its films were particularly great.

As for the original trilogy? Well, it's definitely on another level. That perhaps has more to do with just how groundbreaking it was for its time, and its stronger plot, characters and acting. It's kind of hard to pin, but you know something was done right when a line as simple as "These are not the droids you're looking for" is revered and quoted repeatedly in today's society still. 

Normally, I would reiterate a summary of the basic plot of sorts, but mostly everyone's seen Star Wars, and those who haven't have probably had everything spoiled for them anyway. So I'll cut more to the chase for once here. Star Wars is a sci-fi adventure film that holds up quite well to this day. 

Some things admittedly hold up better than others. The lightsaber duel in the film between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader is incredibly weak when compared to pretty much every other lightsaber duel ever (especially when you look at the climactic Phantom Menace duel). Some of the visual effects have become relatively obsolete as well. And quite frankly, the TIE Fighter sequence about three-fourths of the way through the film, though it looks good for its time, does not hold up well to today's standards. 

But on the other hand, we have a lot of things that do hold up well--whether it's the hyperspace effects (yes, they've been improved over time, but it still looks pretty darn good), the shootout scenes, or the climactic chase through the trenches of the Death Star, which serves as the highlight of the film by far, and is only helped by John Williams' score (another thing that will hold up well forever). 

At times, the film kind of strays towards the fine line between sci-fi adventure and a comedy, as the occasionally silly dialogue makes one almost forget what type of movie they're watching briefly now and then. But then again, Star Wars has given us plenty of unforgettable lines, such as "I find your lack of faith disturbing," "The Force is strong with this one," and "You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy." So it all evens out in the end, pretty much.

Star Wars holds a massive place in the legacy of the film industry, though it's not quite as perfect as many fanboys like to think it is. (The Empire Strikes Back, on the other hand...) That said, it's still a brilliant and fun film that is still a good watch nearly 40 years later. 


P.S.: Han shot first. 

Friday, December 4, 2015

Casino Royale


RATING: B+

I'll admit that aside from the newer films, I'm not particularly familiar with James Bond. I know he plays the role of secret agent super spy who kills a lot of people and gets in bed with a lot of women, seemingly sacrificing character development along the way. I guess they decided to change up the formula a little bit more recently when they picked up Daniel Craig as the new Bond. 

Casino Royale actually goes back to Bond's earliest days as a "double-0," even showing an interesting black-and-white montage where Bond gets the two kills required to attain that status. Something different is afoot, though; he actually seems to be thinking on what he's done after that first kill. His second victim tells him, "Not to worry. The second one is, of course..." *bam* "Yes. Considerably," Bond replies after shooting him. 

The rest of the film focuses on one of Bond's first actual missions... which is actually pretty complicated. An early action sequence results in an MI6 target, Le Chiffre, losing a whole lot of money that he owes a client, and he sets up an elaborate poker tournament in order to get his money back. Bond is sent into the tournament to keep Le Chiffre from winning so that he'll be forced to run to MI6 for protection. A somewhat risky plan, considering that if they lose, they will have financed terrorism. 

Quite frankly, the poker tournament is probably the dumbest thing about this movie. I don't particularly care about watching James Bond, of all people, play cards for about 30-40 minutes of a 140-minute movie; sure, there's some interesting stakes at hand, but after a while, I found myself honestly bored and more interested in the upcoming action. Or even the romantic story with Bond's contact Vesper Lynd, who shockingly becomes more than a one night stand for Bond. 

Of course, when the action or more interesting parts of the story come along, they're far better; whether Bond is pursing some ninja-like bomb maker in a pretty awesome parkour chase, or trying to stop a propane truck from blowing up an airplane, or even his almost dismissive treatment of torture. Almost makes you forget that the plot surrounding Le Chiffre and the other villains is actually quite convoluted. 

Meanwhile, late in the film, a new angle is offered; as we are ultimately given some very interesting insight on how James Bond becomes a more cold, bitter killer; or quite simply, as his employer puts it, "growing as an agent." Watching this unfold and some other "post-action" sequences where Bond actually seems a little stirred offers some pretty interesting food for thought that perhaps actually makes the film, in a sense. 

Overall, Casino Royale probably could've done without its borderline ridiculous "poker tournament" plot with about three hundred villains. But on the other hand, Daniel Craig offers quite the interesting performance as James Bond, and what goes on otherwise is enough to make the film well worth the watch. It could've been a bit better, but it's certainly a worthy flick. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Divergent Series: Insurgent


RATING: B-

The Hunger Games has just wrapped itself up, but Divergent and the Maze Runner each have 1 or 2 installments left. The "Big Three" of the young adult fiction distopian trilogies converted into movies. Everyone knows about the Hunger Games. Everyone *should* know about the Maze Runner. And Divergent? Well...if you're a fan of the genre (like I am), then yeah. Sure. 

Divergent quickly established itself as the weakest of the "Big Three," which may not be saying much, but it still seems leagues behind the groundbreaking Hunger Games, and even behind the more different/refreshing Maze Runner. It still has quite an interesting storyline scenario, though, giving us a world where people are separated into Factions based on personality traits. 

In this second movie of the Divergent series, Tris and Four have escaped the city, Erudite and their leader Jeanine's wrath. A war is declared on Divergents, as they are hunted down and also scanned for the purpose of finding a test subject to open some box with a message from the "founders," whom Jeanine believes will give them guidance on how to end the Divergent problem for good. Tris, it just so happens, is of course the perfect subject. Big surprise there. The question is whether she can survive the ordeal without dying--unlike the other Divergents who have been tested.

Insurgent provides a pretty decent follow-up to the first movie; there's a few more visually thrilling action sequences (although not the type you'd expect), and the dialogue seems to have gotten a little bit better. Shailene Woodley is still strong in the lead role. The ending offers a pretty good twist that keeps one interested in the next installment.

It's not without its drawbacks, though. The character of Four seems to have gotten oddly shallow; now being nothing more than the kick-butt dude who's there to save Tris when he is needed. And the film lacks the "constant tension" that carried the first film. In some ways, this film takes out some of the qualities that helped out the first one, and adds some new ones that carries this second film in its own right.

Sure, the films certainly aren't bad; they're quite interesting, though for different reasons. Unfortunately, unlike Divergent's YA film series peers, you just can't help but feel like something's missing. Again, it's well worth watching if you're a fan of the genre and enjoyed Hunger Games and/or Maze Runner, but don't expect this one (or its predecessor) to reach quite the heights of its competitors. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Battleship


RATING: C

Let's begin this off by speaking out about how dumb of an idea it is to make movies out of board games, of all things. Board games that have literally no connection with such media whatsoever. Battleship being one of those games. The fact that Hollywood has to do these kind of these movies to make money is honestly kind of sad. 

Ironically enough, the movie Battleship actually doesn't have a whole lot to do with the game it's "based" off of. The movie centers around an alien invasion on Earth, with the alien ships centering themselves in the sea. It just so happens that they decided to pick the time of the RIMPAC war exercises in Hawaii to show up. 

Backtracking a little bit, we have our main character; Alex Hopper. A skilled person with unbelievably horrible decision-making skills. He's a Lieutenant in the Navy, though he's expected to be kicked out fairly soon. Then the invasion happens. Three destroyers are caught in the forcefield that the aliens put up to keep out interference. Plenty of people are killed in the initial attack; leaving him somehow in charge of the last functional destroyer. Thus begins the war for Earth. At sea. 

As mentioned earlier, the film actually doesn't have a whole lot to do with the game Battleship. The only time they truly sneak in elements of the game is during one of the better sequences in the movie, when both sides have nonfunctioning radar, forcing them to play things a little differently (Battleship-like coordinates are included during this admittedly awesome, suspense-filled scene). However, that's just about where the similarities end. In one of the biggest crimes of the film, no one even says "You sunk my battleship!" (And it would've been awesome to hear Liam Neeson, who was in this film, say that.) 

This film does have some good and bad things both going for it. It has some pretty thrilling action sequences at times, and the visual effects are pretty good. After a rather slow first 30 minutes or so, it's a pretty relentless fast-paced film after that. However, it is plagued by quite a poor script and mediocre acting from Taylor Kitsch and Rihanna (who seriously needs to get out of the acting business and stick to singing), though they and everyone else weren't helped by the poor script. There are some just flat out ridiculous moments (namely the introduction to Hopper), and the plot isn't exactly perfect either. 

Overall, it's a fairly entertaining action film, even if the fact that it exists is somewhat ridiculous. Luckily, I don't think most would expect much from such a film, thus there won't be too many disappointed moviegoers. Knowing what to expect when going in will help this be a passable and occasionally quite fun popcorn flick; as that is pretty much what it is. Fans of simple action films and special effects will have a decent time. Otherwise, there's not much to get you interested in the first place. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2


RATING: A-

"Make no mistake," President Snow smirks in one of the trailers in a line that didn't appear to make it in the final cut, "The game is coming to its end." 

Indeed. The rebellion from the Districts against the tyrannical Panem has come to its head, and they are ready to take the battle to the Capitol itself. Katniss Everdeen has been the face of the rebellion, but the cost of the war is continuing to take its toll on her. It's only gotten worse following the cliffhanger ending of Mockingjay Part 1, where it turned out that Peeta had been tortured and had his memories revised so that now he sees Katniss as the enemy, making him a threat. 

This only seems to further Katniss's attempts to get into the battle front lines, still wanting to be the one to kill Snow. She sneaks away on one of the hovercrafts and joins her comrades as they plan their assault on the Capitol (which has been rigged with loads of traps and monsters). However, it only gets worse when Peeta is unexpectedly brought along. For some reason. Now they have to sneak through what Gale calls the "76th Hunger Games," into Snow's mansion and kill him with a mentally unstable liability on their side. 

If Mockingjay Part 1 focused more on the "verbal war" more than anything, then Part 2 is the war itself; along with the sneaking missions straight out of video game lore. Things tend to move a little slowly at times during the first half, with all heck breaking loose occasionally. One sequence that comes to mind involves a tense fight with zombie-esque creatures that puts the weird, twitching zombies of Maze Runner: Scorch Trials to shame.  

Eventually, things to come to a final blast in a near-apocalyptic assault on the Capitol (with some stunning visual effects/camera work), and then the game comes to its end with many a cost (which I won't go into in case if you haven't read the books) in a movie/conclusion that calls into questions of ethics of war, its tactics, and the cost of it, leading up to a somewhat unsettling ending that while it ends the story, it doesn't necessarily end the vicious cycle for sure. 

If there's one glaring issue with this film, it's the fact that some parts feel more stretched out than they need to be. This may have to do with the fact that it's a 2-parter film, and overall they pulled it off okay. But let's keep in mind that Part 1 was about 123 minutes, while this one is 137. I wouldn't mind having a few minutes taking off--namely a ridiculous sequence when they spend *way* too long drawing out the tension that is to lead to a frantic action scene. 

But, overall, Mockingjay: Part 2 succeeds at being what the book was, and that is being a grim, unsettling and bittersweet ending to a long, multi-part cautionary tale. The Hunger Games "quad-rilogy" (if you will) has come to its end, leaving us with one of the better book-to-movie adaption series ever to show up. It's not for the faint of heart, but it's certainly a story worth the reading or watching. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

RoboCop (2014)


RATING: C+

Hollywood just loves putting out the remakes these days, don't they? Many probably didn't even want to watch this particular one. It's a lot easier for those of us, though, who never saw the original and got interested in this new one.

The corporation OmniCorp has changed the face of warfare with their development of cop-like drones/AI's that patrol various places around the world (we see them doing so in Iran) and maintain law and order. Due to concern over stability of the robots, the country that provides the drones ironically cannot use them on their own soil. So, for some reason, they decide to come up with a cyborg police officer. (What were they planning to do? Create a whole battalion of those guys?) 

One such subject comes along when Detroit PD officer Alex Murphy is all but killed in a car explosion, and they end up putting what's left of him in a machine. He doesn't take the news at all, and in order to move their plans forward, they are forced to slowly take away what's left of his humanity more and more. Of course, this isn't going to end too well for Omnicorp. 

RoboCop isn't a particularly spectacular action flick; there's a few cool scenes, sure, but they don't really carry the film. The reason this movie manages to keep one's interest is it's depiction of what happens when a megalomaniacal corporation goes to horrifying lengths in order to get more and more money (and how of course it backfires on them). 

The ending quote from a heavily opinionated reporter opens up some interesting questions when he notes that some believe that these drones violate civil liberties and the use of them overseas makes us like the imperialistic nations our forefathers were trying to avoid... and then essentially tells them to shut up. Considering the content of this movie and that the Omnicorp folks are clearly the bad guys, it's clear that such a line is intended to make you think, not to get some pro-imperialistic feelings stirred up within you. It's actually one of the better moments in the movie for that reason. 

RoboCop does have a pretty good cast, including Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel Jackson, and Jay Baruchel (the latter two of whom are sadly underused). And as mentioned before, there are decent action sequences and some good mental food for thought, and the storyline is certainly quite intriguing, if nothing else. 

Perhaps the biggest problem with this film is that it feels all too predictable at times (although that may be in part the marketing's fault), and there are a few isolated odd/goofy moments that perhaps were intended to pay tribute to the original film (again, I haven't seen it, so I don't know). Still, it's a fairly interesting and exciting action film with a little bit more of an interesting story than the special effects that are going on onscreen. One may not be able to help but feel something's missing, but it's still worth a watch. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Unknown (2011)


RATING: C

Ha ha, relatively unknown movie is called "Unknown." Anyways... partially due to the release of Taken, Liam Neeson has become something of an action superstar in recent years, and is sometimes seen dealing out punishment to unfortunate villains and mercenaries. "Unknown" is one such action thriller, which takes on a couple of familiar plot devices for its story. 

Martin Harris is visiting a biotechnology summit in Berlin with his wife, and he ends up in a car accident and receives a head injury. He regains consciousness in a hospital after four days with some very slight memory loss, and when he sees his wife again, she does not recognize him and another man *also* named Martin Harris is with her now. Yes, Harris is victim to a massive identity theft conspiracy. And now he has to find a way to somehow get his life back. Despite assassins being on his tail who also want him dead (seemingly to make sure the original Harris is dead). 

Unknown is a bit of a strange movie in some ways. It starts out surprisingly dull for the first 45 minutes or so, as we are subjected to cliches (and normally I don't care about those) and Liam Neeson stumbles around getting seemingly nowhere with his mystery for a while. Eventually, things finally break loose, we get a pretty decent car chase scene, and the secrets are finally revealed. 

And we do end up getting a pretty stunning plot twist that we couldn't have seen coming... in part because it felt like it was in the wrong movie. At first it seems as if we're watching an identity theft conspiracy movie... and then suddenly we're getting a (SPOILER ALERT) Jason Bourne storyline rip-off, with *one* minor twist of its own involving the memory plot device (END OF SPOILERS). 

Unknown certainly isn't a bad movie, but it's a bit of an inconsistent one. The first half is pretty darn boring as we establish the situation and then make very little progress, and then the second half is much more entertaining as the twists and turns begin to abound. It's definitely not the movie it's marketed to be, however. Unknown is an okay flick, but other movies of its nature have done it better. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

G.I. Joe: Retaliation


RATING: C-

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was a fun action/adventure film; not the best in its genre, but the action sequences were quite thrilling and the film itself was just interesting enough to keep interest. There was room left for an interesting sequel as well, with the rise of Cobra Commander and the shot of Zartan impersonating the President. Safe to say I had a bit of hope for Retaliation. 

In this film, we are given a whole new cast of characters, and a bunch of old ones are left out, to mixed results. The good news is that the cliched Ripcord is gone, but so is General Hawk, which is somewhat disappointing. Destro appears briefly, but then is left behind--literally. More shocking is the decision to kill off a main character in the first 20 minutes (I won't name it, but most know who it is anyway). Snake Eyes is still around, though, which is a relief as he was the most awesome character of the first movie. Some of the new characters we're introduced to include Roadblock (whose character development begins and ends with Dwayne Johnson), Lady Jaye, Flint and Jinx (Snake Eyes' apprentice). 

In this film, the G.I. Joes are a critical part of the American force... until they get framed for stealing nuclear warheads. Most of the Joes are killed in a colossal massacre ordered by the President himself. As it turns out, the Cobra unit has infiltrated the government. The remaining ones are quickly busted out of prison (save for Destro, because screw Destro I guess); including Cobra Commander (unfortunately *not* played by a voice-morphed Joseph Gordon-Levitt this time), Firefly, and Storm Shadow (even though I thought he died in the last movie?), and quickly push their plan forward for world domination. 

If you thought the Rise of Cobra was thinly plotted and ridiculous, then you're probably going to find yourself in for a rough time. Retaliation has an even thinner plot. Late in the film, when asked "What do you want?", Cobra Commander simply responds with "I want it all." I mean... wow, he had more character development in the first film! And that's literally pretty much the basis of the plot, besides what I already mentioned in the previous paragraph. The script is pretty dumb as well, but perhaps the biggest outrage of all is that they somehow managed to pull a ridiculous/dumb performance out of Bruce Willis. (I'm sure it's been done before in less-known lower-budget films, but for a film with more marketing and a higher budget like this one, it's ludicrous.) 

Still, it's not all bad. We still have a few exciting action sequences; and most of the fights involving Snake Eyes and his new apprentice Jinx (and even Storm Shadow) still are quite fun. The highlight scene that comes to mind is a fight between Snake Eyes and Jinx against some other ninjas on the side of a mountain, which makes some good use of the slow motion effect. The pacing is still fairly decent, and there's enough exciting/interesting moments so that you aren't necessarily bored, even if you aren't always enthralled either. 

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a somewhat disappointing sequel; much of the promise that was there following the Rise of Cobra is left behind as Cobra Commander is made far less interesting, and the characters somehow have even less development than before. But hey, there's always Snake Eyes, if nothing else. It might be a decent distraction if you enjoyed the first film, but otherwise there's little to see here. It's an okay "popcorn action film" and that's about it. Here's to hoping they get back on track for G.I. Joe 3. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Mission: Impossible 3


RATING: B+

Mission: Impossible 2 may have been a financial success, but it was pretty poorly received (and in all honesty, it was a pretty poor movie); so it's fairly easy to see why it took a little bit longer for them to get a third one out. After seeing what happens when John Woo directs an Mission: Impossible movie, everyone was probably thinking, "Okay guys, let's make sure we don't screw up this badly next time." 

Once again, we are given a whole host of new characters for this film, with Ethan and Luther being the only familiar faces from the first two movies. In this movie, Ethan has actually retired from IMF field work and is now just a trainer instead, and is settling down with his fiancee/wife Julia... until he gets a call about a former trainee of his having gotten caught in a high-risk mission involving a sadistic/psychopathic weapons dealer named Owen Davian. And it all skyrockets from there, essentially. We're given a new plot device of sorts in the form of the "Rabbit's Foot"--something Davian is after, though we never really find out what exactly it is (and the movie barely seems to care either). 

This film doesn't exactly go to back to the suspenseful/mysterious style of the first movie, but it avoids the stylish yet boring (yeah, I know, that makes loads of sense) style of the second one, going for a more frenetic action-packed style. And it works quite well, as we get quite an exciting film that does still have suspenseful bits, as well as some humor to lighten things up now and then. It also has an all-star cast, including Tom Cruise (of course), Philip Seymour Hoffman, Michelle Monaghan, Laurence Fishburne, and Keri Russell. 

It is admittedly somewhat convoluted on the story front; we don't always know exactly what's going on or why things are being done, and as mentioned earlier, we don't exactly find out what the "Rabbit's Foot" is (we find out what "type" of thing it is, but literally nothing else and it's still too vague to pick much else out of it). Despite that, there is a pretty surprising plot twist late in the movie. 

Despite that, the film still manages to be quite thrilling and fun without being ridiculous (mostly), and even if it doesn't quite reach the heights of the first movie, it still is a pretty good installment in the series and one that is quite overlooked. I know people tend to think of Ghost Protocol and even the most recent Rogue Nation first, but two of the other three ones that come before those really shouldn't be forgotten. M:I-III is an exciting flick on its own, and is well worth a watch. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Divergent


RATING: B

Fans of young-adult dystopian fiction book-to-movie series are having it great these days. We have three film series to choose from these days. We have the one that everyone knows about and pretty much everyone loves; the Hunger Games. We have the Maze Runner, the insanely fast-paced action-and-mystery-packed-and-yet-a-little-ridiculous-but-we-like-it-anyway series. And then we have Divergent. 

I'll be frank, Divergent's pretty easily at the bottom of the pecking order of this bunch. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. It has its own things to like about it, even if it feels like a blend of Hunger Games and Harry Potter and even a little of The Giver at times. 

Of the "big three" series, this one has by far the most realistic scenario. Taking place in a future Chicago, society is divided into five factions; the nerds (Erudite), the farmers (Amity), the Honest Abe's (Candor; and yes, that's actually its own faction), the ones who run the government (Abnegation) and the crazy ones who do insane stunts in the name of bravery (Dauntless). That's not a full description of them, but it's the easiest way to remember them. 

At some point in their late teens (the movie didn't exactly make it clear when), people are given serum-induced "tests" that will choose the best faction for them... and yet the kids are still allowed to choose for themselves. We have Beatrice (who later shortens her name to Tris), who takes the test like an average person... and the test doesn't even work on her. Why? Because she's a Divergent. Which are outlawed, of course. Because they can think independently and thus they threaten the "system." 

Good thing that sometimes your test-giver overrides your actual results in the computer, and that you're still allowed to choose your own faction anyway. 

So Tris joins Dauntless. For some reason. But thus begins her journey to try and fit in in a faction despite herself. She quickly becomes friends with the trainer Four (don't worry, that's not his real name), who has secrets of his own. And while Tris fights to become a full member of Dauntless, the two begin to uncover a conspiracy in the system. 

Divergent runs for a surprisingly long 140 minutes, and at times it feels like it wouldn't have hurt to trim it a little bit, considering that it takes a while for stuff besides choosing ceremonies and intense training to actually start happening. Despite that, the film somehow manages to keep us interested, and in the last 40 minutes or so, all heck breaks loose and we are treated to an action-packed ending. The film is also pushed forward by some strong acting--namely Shailene Woodley in the main role and Kate Winslet in the government official role. 

We are given enough of an interesting beginning to the film series that I still feel interested in watching the next movie. Divergent may not be quite the best of the young adult dystopian film series, but it's still worth watching if you're a fan of the dystopian genre in general. It does feel like quite a realistic scenario overall; which helps make it all the more interesting. Otherwise, the movie would be pretty boring. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Adjustment Bureau


RATING: A-

I will admit, I'm kind of a sucker for stories where there turns out to be some Illuminati-like force in the shadows, trying to steal away humanity's free will and controlling things the way *they* want them to be controlled. Sometimes this plot device is more subtly used in certain cases than others; here, not so much. 

The film centers around a Congressman named David Norris (Matt Damon) running for Senate; and after a failed attempt, he's giving it another go. By chance, he comes to meet a dancer named Elise (Emily Blunt), and the two fall for each other faster than you can say "lovebirds." They separate briefly and then meet again on a bus. 

Problem is? They weren't supposed to meet again, according to "the Plan." "The Plan" being the plan that the Adjustment Bureau follows, created by an ominous background figure called the Chairman, with loads of minions determined to make sure things continue onward according to "the Plan." David isn't exactly the type to follow plans created by mysterious figures that rule behind the shadows. And thus begins a series of events as David fights back against fate in order to be with Elise. 

Make no mistake, the Adjustment Bureau is simply a thriller; there's not very much in the way of "action sequences" to be found (there is a lot of running, though). If you enjoy these type of "conspiracy-theory/Illuminati-esque" flicks, then it's going to be an absolute head rush. Meanwhile, the production overall is good; the acting is strong all around, and the direction from George Nolfi (who?!) is well-done too, as is much of the often thought-provoking script/dialogue. 

The Adjustment Bureau will probably mostly appeal just to fans of its type of plot devices. But it's quite possible others will remain interested too thanks to its brisk pacing and lots of plot twists. The Adjustment Bureau isn't spectacular, but it's not all too far off either. In the end, the film is a very interesting flick filled with twists and turns; and it's well worth watching especially for fans of the plot device. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Home (2015)


RATING: D-

Dreamworks Animation has their ups and downs. They are well capable of producing fantastic animated films that any age can enjoy like the How to Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda films, and yet they are also capable of putting out steaming piles of garbage like Madagascar 2 or Shrek the Third. Home (which is all too simplistic a movie title) is unfortunately set to join the lowest tier of their movies. 

This film centers around a group of weird aliens called the Boov who are looking for a safe planet to hide from their enemy the Gorg; and just so happen to settle on Earth. One member of the Boov, named "Oh" (yes, that is seriously his name; I am not making this crap up), who is a more freethinking Boov, accidentally sends out a signal that will alert the Gorg to their location. He becomes a fugitive, and ends up teaming up with a teenage girl named Tip (again, I am not making this up) who is trying to find her missing mother. And thus begins the adventure of two unlikely friends. 

This little Dreamworks film manages to be stupid and annoying in about as many ways as it can come up with. The Boov are a fairly creative thing; but they have some issues, namely their unapologetic appalling grammar ("Look! I has found our car"). It's sort of funny at first, but it gets old fast. And the clash of alien cultures goes from boring to annoying fairly quick. Tip herself is just an annoying character as well (probably didn't help that she was voiced by Rihanna). Probably the only remotely enjoyable character is Captain Smek, leader of the Boov--and that is really only because of a couple funny gags involving what happens when he uses Earth objects for different things than they are intended for. 

As for the plot? ...I mean, it's not horrible, but it just gets so far lost under the annoying characters, the laughably bad script, and the terrible pop soundtrack. There is a somewhat decent plot twist at the end, but that happens at the cost of the threatening air of the "villain." We spend much of the rest of the movie with Tip and Oh, two characters who I don't particularly care about. 

To be fair, the little ones will probably enjoy it and find it cute. However, I find it hard to see who else will like this. There's very little that's actually appealing about this; and what little decent humor there is (what was shown in the marketing that got me mildly interested in this in the first place) is run into the ground so quick that it's not even really funny anymore. It tries to be decent, but the fact of the matter is Home is a ludicrous animated flick. Dreamworks is capable of far better, and it makes me all the more frustrated that it's films like this that keep making us wait longer for How to Train Your Dragon 3. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Day After Tomorrow


RATING: D

I have a higher tolerance level for typical modern disaster films than most. It's usually easy to know what to expect from them nowadays. Don't expect much in the way of a strong plot, the script is probably going to be bad too, characters could go either way, but man do those visual and special effects look astounding. 

Of course, there is a certain point where the line has to be drawn. The plot does have to be at least passable to the point where I'm not either falling asleep or where I'm not confused. And it should be thrilling throughout to one degree or another. Decent characters are actually a bit of a plus if they can come up with them (or good actors). 

Day After Tomorrow has very little to boast about, unfortunately. Director Roland Emmerich, who has a penchant for creating films more about the action and visuals than about the storyline (and he often enjoys apocalyptic scenarios, unrealistic as they are). In this particular flick, we are given a ridiculous bad-weather story where a bunch of superstorms with tornadoes and golf-ball sized hail and floods unleash havoc on the Earth in the first 40 minutes... and then we watch as all of that somehow ushers a massive global cooling scenario which somehow leads to a new ice age. 

Yeah. Basically, it's all just a bunch of mumbo jumbo. And of course, how exactly any of that can take place doesn't make a lick of sense either. 

To shed a little more light on the situation, we're given some random weather scenarios early on in the first third or so that are actually decently appealing: a massive hailstorm in Japan, a series of four tornadoes at once in Los Angeles and an insane tidal wave that essentially seals off Manhattan. And then, somehow, a bunch of hurricane-like super cells start moving about the northern hemisphere, and in the eyes of said storms, the temperature is -150 degrees Farenheit, immediately causing a massive freeze over of pretty much everything. 

A certain group of late-teens characters get stuck in New York in a public library as all of this is happening, and much of the film becomes an actually pretty slow ride as we watch people fight to survive death from cold (and many end up dying anyway--this is a high body-count film), and meanwhile, one father stops at nothing to rescue his son from the arctic tomb that Manhattan is becoming. 

Things get even more confusing at this point, if that's even possible. Various characters keep on going out into what seems to be subzero temperatures and not dying. We are told that as the "eyes of the storms" approach areas, the temperature drops 10 degrees per second (till it gets to -150 F), instantly freezing everything in sight. It's slightly confusing as to what point the lethal temperature drop is supposed to occur, and considering how long two characters in particular were out in the cold, the possibilities of survival are just flat out impossible. 

Yes, this film's story is a bunch of mumbo-jumbo and confusion. It doesn't help that the film is meant to be a politically correct pro-environmental message--which feels all the more out of place in an unrealistic/confusing disaster scenario like this. The script is pretty weak too; most of the actors are as well. Dennis Quaid was one of the few brighter marks of the film in that department. Jake Gyllenhaal wasn't very good, although that may have had more to do with the script than anything. 

The film isn't without its moments, though. There are a couple thrilling moments (namely the tornado sequence in Los Angeles), and there are some very good camera shots throughout. One in particular that stood out was a shot of a janitor stepping on the edge of what's left of a skyscraper as the camera pulls back to reveal the further damage--one of the better uses of the pullback I've seen in a while, actually. 

That being said, it's pretty sad when the high point of your film is its camera work. The feeling still cannot be shaken: Day After Tomorrow is a ridiculous and dumb pile of plot confusion and incomprehensibleness. If you're looking for a better disaster film that is less confusing (even if still implausible), try "2012" (also directed by Roland Emmerich). At least in that film, we're being thrilled and excited to the very end--something I just couldn't get with this film because I was more often laughing at how ludicrous it was (at least during the final 30 minutes, anyway). 

Bad-weather disaster films are just fine (Into the Storm is a good one), but the problem is when it doesn't make any sense. It's okay for something to be unrealistic if you at least understand what's going on, but it's not okay for a film to basically throw sense out the window and replace it with inconsistency *and* go on to contradict itself when it attempts to make sense. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra


RATING: B-

One would typically tend to think making movies out of toys isn't exactly a good idea. I'm personally all for it, if they can come up with a decent storyline and an exciting flick. G.I. Joe is one of those toys that got a couple films. I myself am not very familiar with the G.I. Joes (I know they exist and that's about where it ends), but the films looked exciting, so I figured I'd check them out. 

In "The Rise of Cobra," the first of two films (so far), a weapons master named James McCullen has developed weaponized nanotechnology that devours metal and other materials (including human faces). Four warheads with the weapons in them are being transported by NATO soldiers including Duke and Ripcord (wait, are those their *actual* names?) before they are ambushed by an enemy group led by the Baroness, who wishes to use the warheads to attack the world and rise above the panic and lead a new world order. 

Duke and Ripcord are rescued by the G.I. Joe's, a top-secret government agency that combines the greatest individuals in the world. So the characters we ultimately have to keep track of include Duke, the stereotypical main character; Ripcord, the not-Will-Smith wisecracker (and he's not very good at it either); Scarlett, the female character; General Hawk, the leader; and Snake Eyes, the awesome ninja. 

Ultimately, what we are given is a fairly predictable storyline (save for one late "twist" of sorts involving the identity of "Cobra"), but what we are also given is an action/adventure fest filled with exciting chases, insane stunts, ninja fights, underwater submarine battles, and the lot. On the action front, this film is very exciting and thrilling, even if unrealistic at times (i.e.: characters being unhurt when they should be dead). Easily the best parts are the fights between the two ninjas, Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow--two blade-wielding fighters of Japanese origin. 

The biggest problem with this film is the main characters. None of them are particularly appealing (unless you count Snake Eyes as a main character). Duke is a somewhat dull/nothing special main character, even if he kicks a lot of butt--thus adding to my overall experience of Channing Tatum being a poor actor. Ripcord is more annoying than anything; it feels like he was put there more for lame wisecracks than to do much else (he doesn't even do that much on the battlefield). 

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is just decent on the story front and poor on most of the characters, but it's a very exciting action stunt/visual effect/chase flick, and after getting most of its exposition out of the way in the first 30 minutes (and about half of that is action too), the film rarely lets up and offers a very entertaining distraction. It achieves what it sets out to do quite well--it's not trying to be a masterpiece, it's just trying to be exciting and fun to watch--and it does that quite well. I wouldn't recommend it to more picky action watchers, but it should be a fun outing for most others. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Mission: Impossible 2


RATING: D+

At the time, it probably wasn't particularly surprising that Mission: Impossible got a sequel, considering its success. And usually a Tom Cruise action movie seemed to spell money, so why not? Actually, in some ways, I think that's the main reason this one managed to sneak past the studio executives. Because, despite some occasional mild appeal, this is one of the more incomprehensible and boring action/adventure films that I've ever seen. 

Tom Cruise returns as Ethan Hunt, who is called into action during a ridiculously improbable rock-climbing sequence (his vacation) to recover some incredibly powerful virus called "Chimera," which kills its victims in about a day. The person responsible is a rogue IMF agent--Sean Ambrose--and said rogue agent is ultimately the reason why the IMF has Hunt call into action some professional thief named Nyah Hall. 

What results is a whole lot of literal nothing during the first 75 minutes. I mean, seriously, the camera work is probably the most interesting thing going on. Perhaps this is due to it following a film with a suspenseful story and a big plot twist, but the story is utterly uninteresting and there are no twists or anything to make it interesting. 

Of course, Mission: Impossible 2 does carry another big problem on its shoulders: the fact that it's a Mission: Impossible film. If it were a stand-alone film with no relation to the M:I franchise, this might be slightly more acceptable. Even Ethan Hunt, despite only having a little character development in the first film, hardly feels like Ethan Hunt. Luther Stickell is the only other returning character, and he ultimately is just a cardboard stand-in in this film. 

The film does pick up during the final 30-35 minutes or so as director John Woo--despite doing an overall terrible job with this film--does show what he is capable of in the action genre, during a fairly exciting road chase sequence and final fistfight. Unfortunately, by that point, it's mostly too late to change one's opinion about this film, and there's admittedly not much rhyme or reason to even those sequences, even if they do look cool. 

Mission: Impossible 2 was proof of just how bad a M:I film could be. We did later see again how good they could be, but unfortunately we still have to look back on this thing. Setting aside his action sequences and camera work, John Woo was probably one of the worst choices for director, and I'm not sure he gave a crap about the story. It's not like too many directors could've done much with the thin plotline, but somehow I think even Brian De Palma (director of the first film) could've done better with this one. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials


RATING: B

I haven't gotten around to reading the Maze Runner books, and yet when I saw the first movie, I loved it. A very interesting plot, loaded with relentless suspense and plot twists. If there was one thing I didn't particularly like about it, it was the idea of a sun flare occurring that caused a zombie virus. 

I've never been particularly a fan of zombies. It was an idea that got blown way out of proportion fairly quick. And it was a perfect thing to combine with slasher and gorefest films/TV shows (which I'm not exactly into, either). So the idea that the sequel to Maze Runner--Scorch Trials--was going to be loaded with the creatures was somewhat disconcerting. Nevertheless, considering the first film, I still felt I had to see this for everything else that the film had to offer and hope that they could pull off the "zombie" thing somehow (which, by the way, are referred to as Cranks here). 

In this follow-up, Thomas and his friends (Newt, Minho, Teresa, and other guys whose names you won't remember) have been rescued and taken to a facility which is supposed to be a safe haven from the Flare and the "Cranks." However, as all the marketing showed, it turns out that they never escaped WCKD, the organization responsible for putting them in the maze, and it's just a continuing part of their conspiracy. They escape into the "Scorch" (what's left of the outside world), and attempt to find a band of survivors/rebels known as the "Right Arm" who can help them fight back. 

Thankfully, the zombies are mostly limited to the first third or so of the film (save for brief/quick glimpses). As expected, the sequences involving them aren't particularly appealing (save for the incredible post-apocalyptic imagery). There's only one part that's actually exciting, and that's a part where Thomas and another friend are trying to scale an old building to escape the zombies and end up almost falling out a window with a zombie. The rest of the scenes involving the "Cranks" are basically just a lot of running and--surprisingly--punching. Yup, these zombies are actually pretty weak literally--in my limited experience with zombie fiction, that tactic doesn't work. Normally you need chainsaws and machine guns. (Luckily, the film doesn't descend that far.)

It's after that when all heck breaks loose, and we're thrust into the more interesting action and plot points as Thomas's group continues desperately to try and escape WCKD. There's not as much of the plot twists happening (which is part of what made the first movie so great), but it makes up for that by still delivering on the action and suspense front. There is a pretty dull sequence involving a "nightclub" of sorts, but other than that, the film's much more interesting at this point. 

A massive plot twist near the end of the film results in an explosive (literally at times) climax and conclusion that helps the movie to finish itself on a very strong note, and keep viewers excited for the Death Cure, the final installment in the trilogy, which we unfortunately won't get until early 2017, so we should prepare ourselves for a long wait. 

Scorch Trials is definitely not as good as its predecessor, but it's a serviceable follow-up and perhaps simply a placeholder between the establishing chapter (the first film) and the defining chapter (Death Cure). This, of course, means I have very high expectations for The Death Cure. Scorch Trials may not be quite what the first film was, but if you loved the first one, it's still a must-watch for the sake of continuing the story. Maze Runner is a pretty darn enthralling trilogy (despite its ludicrous flare that causes a zombie virus), and it shouldn't be overlooked as it too often has in the shadow of Hunger Games or even Divergent, because it's well worth checking out too. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Into the Storm


RATING: C

Sigh. Found footage films. I usually try to stay away from them. Too much shaky-cam, too many "missing the actual action" cliches, and poor quality cameras overall (for the sake of being realistic, of course). But when I saw the trailer for this, I gave in. I could tell that this film was going to appeal to my special-effects-and-destruction-in-film-loving side. 

The very first scene of the film is probably a perfect example of what is wrong with found footage films more often than not. We have a few teenagers, one of them is filming the others, and then a storm starts forming behind them. He starts filming a little late, gets out, and then once the storm quickly reaches them, the guy starts shaking his camera as he runs back into the vehicle and then we don't really get any more footage as they are killed. 

Yup. That's a pretty dark way to begin a film. Oddly enough, though, considering that opening scene and that this is a disaster film, the body count is surprisingly low--at least among the major/minor characters, anyway (more on that later). 

And also, despite that opening scene, this isn't really even entirely a found footage film. It's a combination of regular-style filming and some HD found footage (you can tell when it's being shot from a camera because of jump-cuts or in some cases a little shaky-cam and other stuff). So much of what I was worried about in the first place hardly even happened after the first two minutes. 

Of course, the film doesn't have much in the way of story, but you don't tend to expect that in disaster films. But here's what they give us: we have a group of storm chasers led by an obsessed guy who's--well--obsessed with getting "the big shot." (Boy, did he get more than he bargained for.) And you have a widowed father (principal of the local high school) and his two sons who get caught up in the action (and the older son's high school crush). Oh yeah, and there's also a couple of twister-chasing hippies inserted for an attempt at comic relief. (It doesn't work.) 

So what brings these characters together? The storm of a lifetime. No, seriously, the storm of a lifetime. I'm talking what starts as a couple of isolated tornados evolving into a group of super cells of near apocalyptic proportions. We're given multiple tornadoes touching down within a town, a group of five touching down within eyesight at once, a firenado, and a gigantic whirlwind that almost feels more like a hurricane to a degree. 

And thus we are hurled into a exhilarating special effects fest where we watch various sights such as a neighborhood, school (empty), an airport, and a car lot getting torn up to bits. And we also get to watch as the various main characters demonstrate their amazing ability to hold onto things despite impossible odds (they must be big on Stickum), and witness the insane strength of a grappling hook in a storm drain. 

The film's hardly a masterpiece, of course. The first 20 minutes or so are kind of slow, and the characters (if they can be called that) aren't very interesting. And thus the 5-to-10 minute rescue sequence near the end that is devoid of twisters is shockingly boring. You have to wince about the reason for the kids filming the whole thing (for a time capsule? Really?). 

It's not for everybody. Those who aren't into disaster films or CG special effects festivals like this one aren't going to be interested, and there's nothing else that will attract really anyone to this film. But for its target audience, it's a pretty entertaining experience. There's something about watching a twister creep along and hit a fire and turn into an insane firenado that really cannot be explained until it is seen. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

R.I.P.D.


RATING: F

Sometimes, we the movie consumers/reviewers/critics make stupid mistakes. Sometimes, we decide to go and watch a movie that not very many people liked. The critics didn't like it, the audience didn't like it. And yet, for some reason, we still decide to go and make ourselves watch certain movies. And of course, at the end, we're left going "What the crap did I just watch? And why did I choose to put myself through this?" 

R.I.P.D. is one of those movies (getting a 13% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) that unfortunately had just enough good marketing to pique my mild interest. Described as a Men In Black ripoff, this film focuses on the bland character of Ryan Reynolds--er, I mean Nick Walker--who is shot and killed during a drug bust. But instead of going to "Judgment," as it is referred to in this movie, he goes to... the R.I.P.D. (Rest In Peace Department) where the afterlife powers decide they want his skills to help keep evil souls who refuse to go on to the afterlife from from being seen in the world. And he gets partnered with a long-dead Wild West soul in Roy (Jeff Bridges) to serve his purpose there. 

I mean, on principle, it doesn't *sound* that bad. A little corny/campy, maybe, but not particularly horrendous. However, it does seem as if the people behind this film took every opportunity they could to screw this up. Thankfully, it's a pretty short film at 96 minutes, but there's still a lot of nothing besides exposition happening during the first 50-55 minutes. We end up getting fed quite a bit of dumb monsters as well, and Jeff Bridges's Wild West dialect is nearly incomprehensible at times (this may have been on purpose, but still). 

One of the film's biggest downfalls is the utterly relentless crass/racist/sexist "humor." When Nick and Roy go back to Earth to do their jobs, they actually look like someone else instead. Nick's "avatar" is an old Chinese dude (a lot of racist humor is employed on that front). Even worse is Roy's avatar, which is a female model--thus leading to a fair amount of weird gender-bending crassness. Add onto that an appalling line about what happened to Roy's skull after he died, and I nearly ejected the DVD at that point. 

Despite all of the "lot of no action" going on and all of the crass humor, we're actually given a fairly entertaining apocalyptic climax. Unfortunately, even that has a drawback--considering the fact that it seems almost clear that they could've given us more, and something better, but instead they chose to gave us about 80 minutes of boredom and dreck and about 15 minutes of actual entertainment. 

I fail to see just who R.I.P.D. is aimed towards. Was it perhaps meant to be camp? At times it kind of feels like camp. And there are other times when you just wonder, "What were they thinking?" Sure, there are some funny moments here and there, and as mentioned before, the ending is actually fairly entertaining. It's just too bad that you have to sit through all that other stuff in the process. So here's a better idea: just skip this film and don't make a bad decision like I did.