Wednesday, April 29, 2015

V for Vendetta


RATING: A-

I've always had a sort of liking for the concept where a character is sort of reborn due to mental trauma. Someone is pushed to the brink... and they come back, all the more different, stronger, and dangerous for it. 

V for Vendetta perhaps epitomizes this concept to a degree, but that's only more or less the synopsis that we're given in the marketing. It epitomizes some other concepts even more... namely the "revolution" and "political uprising" concepts, plus another one which I'll get to later. 

We are introduced to the character who only goes by the name V (played awesomely by Hugo Weaving), and wears a Guy Fawkes mask. He makes his entrance by saving a reporter named Evey from the secret police. And then he blows up a building. And promises to blow up Parliament on the 5th of November, bringing about Guy Fawkes's plot to life.

Yup, sounds pretty simple from the surface. Psychotic terrorist goes and blows up things and throws knives at people. The main difference is that this is the *protagonist* we're talking about. Is he the good guy? A bad guy? An anti-hero or anti-villain? That is ultimately left for the audience to decide and formulate their own opinion upon, as are many other things. 

As it turns out, though, things are way more complex than we thought. V has a secret past that ultimately made him what he is, and he's all the more dangerous for it. But this is all part of another concept that is used to near perfection in this film: the domino effect. 

The domino effect is used amazingly in this film. It's all revealed over time, but everything in this film is part of a chain of events. Cause and effect. Without giving too much away, V and another character in this film are both saved by the hope of another; a ghostly figure of sorts. The atrocities committed by the government ultimately lead directly to the molding of V; which ultimately leads to his vendetta. It's an even more complex chain of effects/domino effect than that, but I won't say anymore for the sake of avoiding spoilers. 

V for Vendetta isn't really a story about the characters within it. If it were, one would probably be left with more of a bad taste in their mouth. It's more about the chain of events that leads to the revolution. It's more about the idea than it is the character that's leading the charge. Yes, V's a very interesting character, albeit a flawed one; but what he is is only brought about by what was forced upon him. 

Things aren't perfect within this film. There's a couple of scenes we probably could've done without, even if they were perhaps necessary for the film's ideas and symbolism. Much like other things in this film, though, different people will react differently to it. People will react differently to the film overall. Some won't like it much (especially if they disagree with its political uprising statements), and others will love it. 

Essentially, what we expect isn't what we get. We kind of expect to watch a guy wearing a sort of goofy mask rampaging around England with knives and ammunition. Yeah, we get a bit of that (there is a particularly cool scene near the end with said throwing knives), but again, this movie is more about the chain of events. The domino effect. The idea. And it employs said tactics to near perfection. 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Dawn Of the Planet of the Apes


RATING: A+


It's been ten years since the events of the last movie--Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which was shockingly good--considering it was a reboot of movies that had been a little more corny at times. This new reboot was far from corny--it took a darker tone to the series that I appreciated.

Well, during this time Caesar has started a family and is just welcoming a newborn second son. Things are going quite well for his clan. And he's determined to keep out the violence that they knew previously--the phrase "Ape not kill ape" is etched upon the cliff wall for everybody to see.

As for the humans? Things aren't going so well. If you remember, it was shown that the drug ALZ-113 which made the apes so intelligent had a more disastrous effect on humans--in other words, killing them. This infection spread worldwide and all that's left of the humans now are the genetically immune. A lot of people who didn't die of the virus died due to fighting between the humans. Only in the last two years have things gotten better.

The humans' and apes' paths collide accidentally for the first time in those 10 years when humans led by Malcolm--yes, James Franco's character Will is gone--presumably dead of the virus--arrive trying to power up a fuel station and restore electricity to the city of San Francisco--or what's left of it, anyway.

After some brief skirmishes, Caesar allows the humans to stay for a short time to do their work. However, one of Caesar's right-hand apes called Koba goes rogue due to his mistreatment from humans and thus does not trust them. One thing leads to another, and pretty soon apes and humans are fighting each other. Well, what did you expect? The apes and humans shaking hands and calling it good?

The movies so far have been a cautionary tale of how our own creations can turn against us. The "simian flu," as it is called, was developed by scientists in a lab along with the genetically enhanced Caesar, who rebelled and freed the apes--even though the humans blame the apes for all their troubles.

This movie has more of a strict war feel to it--the first one is pretty slow in comparison. However, one thing that we do see a lot more of is communication between the apes. These scenes are absolutely brilliant. The CGI used for the apes which includes allowing them to speak and showing their emotions--some of which are quite strong--is absolutely incredible. Andy Serkis does brilliant as Caesar once again--and does a lot more speaking this time--and Toby Kebbell does pretty good as well as an insane Koba.

This movie shows marvelously that although both sides--apes and humans--seem to think that the other is demon spawn, it is shown over time and characters come to realize themselves that they're more alike than they realize. And while in the last movie we saw more cruel humans than anything--save for Will and Caroline--and also apes were depicted as the better species overall--here we see more equality. There are good and bad apes and good and bad humans. On the good side, you have Caesar of course, and the new human character Malcolm. Both of them want peace and to protect their respective families. On the bad side, you have Koba and the human Dreyfus (played by Gary Oldman) who both have distorted views of the other due to bad experiences. The parallels between the two races shown here is brilliant and creepy at the same time. 

This movie is brilliant, by the way, and has a fair argument for possibly being the best movie of 2014. T
hings are set up quite well for a third movie with a bit of a cliffhanger of sorts. It's already been confirmed will see the third movie in 2016, so keep your eyes peeled. This is a somewhat unexpectedly brilliant movie series that should not be missed. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Godzilla (2014)


RATING: B

Now here's something that some folks may have been hoping never to see again after the 1998 film featuring the famed Tokyo monster. I haven't seen that film myself, but apparently it was pretty bad. Not being horribly familiar with Godzilla, outside of the basic myths/legends/descriptions, I watched this film somewhat unsure of what to expect, besides watching a giant lizard monster destroy things. 

Well, let's start right off the bat by saying that the premise of this film doesn't heavily involve Godzilla--there's two other monsters involved in this film. Some giant radiation-eating creatures that look like sort of a cross between a spider, a bat, and a cyborg, as a matter of fact. They're actually the main subject early on, as they awaken after being kept in containment for fifteen years. And start wreaking chaos and havoc.

And *that's* when Godzilla emerges--about an hour into the film. Yup, it's true--for a Godzilla film, there's actually not much of Godzilla on screen. Basically, he's an alpha predator of these two creatures, and he's coming to restore balance to nature. 

A scientist in the film puts it this way: "The arrogance of man is thinking is that nature is in *our* control...and not the other way around. Let them fight.

Basically, we get to watch some monsters duke it out in the style of Pacific Rim (only without the Transformers-like robots)--mostly in San Francisco, oddly enough. Tokyo receives some destruction, but San Francisco is laid almost completely to waste. 

In some regards, this isn't the best movie. The story isn't the best, and the characters are quite thin. We do receive an emotional moment early on, but it's not capitalized in the story very much, and the one important character you actually kind of care about gets forgotten. And we end up getting kind of a weird ending of sorts. 

What is there to like about this movie, though? There's still plenty. For the action junkies like myself, it's fun watching Godzilla and the other two monsters duke it out. There's quite a bit of destruction as well that's fun to watch. The production values are brilliant as well--the camera angles, visual effects, and the music are all spectacular. 

Godzilla is perhaps not a movie for everyone. If you were hoping to watch Godzilla destroy everything for almost the entire movie, you're out of luck. If you're hoping for a thoughtful action flick, it may just depend on your taste. Overall, though, it's definitely worth watching for its action sequences and production values. 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Big Fish


RATING: B+

Tim Burton is a guy who has always polarized me. Some of his films I enjoy a lot, and others I have mixed feelings on, and others I just struggled to not be overcome by the "weird factor." Because that is exactly what Tim Burton thrives upon, is making movies with an element of weirdness or quirkiness to them. Some feature these elements more prominently than others. (His version of Batman is perhaps the lone exception I can think of.) 

This film is hardly any different, to a degree. At the same time, though, it is quite different for him. The film focuses on a dying old man who enjoys telling tales... tall tales. Tall tales that although they're (mostly) good stories, there's some weird oddities about them; some things don't make sense, and they don't exactly conform to reality. 

Hmm. Sound familiar? 

One could argue that Tim Burton is simply making a film about himself--or a likeness of himself, anyway--and perhaps that was a little bit deliberate. That's not the main point, however. The main point is this: the dying storyteller's son is trying to see the truth behind the "lies" that his father tells, and reconcile with/understand his father before he dies.

Edward Bloom, the storyteller character, does have some quirky stories to tell about himself for sure. Whether it's a story about himself growing so fast it's visibly noticeable, a story involving a giant and an impossibly hidden weird town, or a story involving escaping the war with a pair of conjoined twins, there's always something quirky going on. At least that's how it goes for much of the first two-thirds of the film. 

Things take a rather surprising shift after that, though, as the son begins to uncover the "truth" of sorts, over time. Instead of sticking to the fantasy/quirkiness that Burton's known for, we end up sticking to reality for much of the final third of the film, and eventually we get to the ending, which is easily the film's high point, and... well, I won't say too much to avoid spoilers, but it's not too hard to guess how the film will be resolved on one degree. On another degree, we end up getting blown away when we finally do realize the "truth" about Bloom and his stories for ourselves. 

There is a thing or two in this film that is somewhat ridiculous. One of the stories that Bloom tells includes how he meets his wife--whom he meets by ringing her doorbell and saying, "You don't know me but my name's Edward Bloom and I love you." I know we're supposed to suspend disbelief, and I can do that for a lot of things in this film. Here, though, it's hard to not just start laughing as what amounts to basically stalking/harassment ensues, and somehow the guy still gets the girl. 

But I can't be too critical. After all, this is Tim Burton we're talking about. The guy knows how to make you scratch your head at times. Still, though, he can make a fairly decent film most of the time. This one easily ranks up in the upper echelon of those films. Exploring the lines between reality and fantasy sure seemed to work well for him in this one. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Wolverine


RATING: A-

This film may be about Wolverine, but at the same time, it's just a bridge-filler for him during the time between The Last Stand and Days of Future Past. What happened to the rest of the X-Men during that time apparently doesn't matter, but we need to know his story, so that we can finish connecting the dots to...*sigh*...Days of Future Past. 

That being said, people who are worried about this being the mess that X-Men Origins was, can rest easy, because this is a very different and better film. 

In an odd twist, this one takes place mostly in Japan. Before it goes there, we see that Wolverine has become a loner (little surprise after the events of Last Stand), and is essentially trying to live out his unending life in peace. But when he ends up paying a visit to Japan to pay final respects to an old acquaintance, trouble comes right back to him. Because this super-old guy whom he saved years ago from nuclear holocaust is offering to pay him back by ending his immortality. 

Logan passes up the deal (after all, technically, if he actually *wanted* to end his immortality, he could've just taken the mutant cure from the Last Stand), but later ends up with his powers somewhat suppressed after a nighttime visit from a dangerous individual mutant. Now vulnerable for the first time (to a degree), he has to deal with... Japanese conflicts, and samurai. More specifically, the Silver Samurai. 

This is definitely one of the better films in the X-Men series. The action sequences are quite exhilarating--there's one fight on a bullet train, and then the fight with the Silver Samurai is also quite awesome. Things are also a bit weird at times. 

(Spoilers follow.)

However, there are a couple of massive plotholes--that trace across multiple X-Men films, but can be traced directly back to this one. First off, Wolverine loses his metal claws in this film and gets his bone ones back--but in Days of Future Past, he unexplainably has the metal claws back. And in a mid-credits scene, Professor X makes his first official appearance since the Last Stand. With no explanation as to how or why he's back from the dead. And don't say that what Jean did was undone when she died, because then Cyclops would have come back from the dead as well. 

(End of spoilers.)

Despite these plotholes, The Wolverine is still an extremely enjoyable action/adventure film with a twist that can't be found in many other wide-release action films. It's definitely worth picking up, especially if you were jaded (like most were) by Wolverine's first stand-alone film. It may be admittedly part of the leading up to the unnecessary rewriting of the canon in Days of Future Past, but this film tries its hardest to ignore that, and give it credit for that.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

RED


RATING: A+

Action-adventure flicks these days are blasted for either having no plot, not being interesting, or being stuff that we've all seen before many a time. I'm less critical of many action-adventure flicks than most, but if there's a big flaw--plot is lame, characters are lame, or the film just fails to grab interest overall--I'm certainly not going to condone it. 

This is not one of those action-adventure films that I don't condone. Quite the opposite, in fact. 

Retired CIA black-ops agent Frank Moses is attacked in his home by assassins, so he decides to get his old band of brothers back together to find out what the heck is going on and why they are being hunted down. 

Frank Moses--played Bruce Willis--is joined by comrades such as Marvin (John Malkovich), Joe (Morgan Freeman), Victoria (Helen Mirren), Ivan (Brian Cox), and Frank's love interest Sarah (Mary Louise-Parker), as they go to battle against enemies such as characters played by Karl Urban and Richard Dreyfuss. 

As you can see, we are dealing with an all-star cast. That's one of the first awesome things about this movie. There are loads of hilarious one-liners, as well as quite a bit of slapstick violence. It may be a little bit over-the-top for some on occasion, but an overall theme of hilarity and cleverness surrounds the film. There's a lot of rollicking gunplay.

The plot isn't anything particularly special, but there are a couple twists and it's nothing lame either. It's enough to keep you interested. I can't say much without giving away spoilers, but basically, there is a massive cover-up conspiracy going on which involves snuffing out all of these retired agents. By the way, RED? It stands for Retired, Extremely Dangerous. 

RED is an action/adventure film that is about as fun as it gets. There's very little to not like about this film, what with an all-star cast, and the comedic violence and amusing dialogue. It's a film well worth checking out if you're any sort of a fan of action-adventure films. It's a film to give a look for sure. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Hancock


RATING: C+

In today's world, Hollywood is throwing out endless adaptions of Marvel and DC heroes. Many we've never even heard of. In this case, we haven't heard of this guy because... he's not a comic-book hero! 

Yup, someone went and created their own superhero film strictly for the big screen. Now *that's* rare. 

This one centers around a guy who's basically Superman in the form of Will Smith (oddly enough, Will Smith doesn't even seem much like Will Smith until about midway through the film). Named Hancock. And he's an alcoholic who saves people all the time--but when he does, he causes so much collateral damage in the process, an arrest warrant is issued for him despite all the criminal's he's putting away. 

So a PR director named Ray, after getting his life saved by him, decides to see if he can't get Hancock to change his ways so that he doesn't cause collateral damage and so that the people actually start appreciating him. 

And you know what? It actually works. He turns himself into prison, and when the cops decide they desperately need him, they call him out of prison where he dispatches the bad guys much more carefully (well, depending on how you define carefully). And he is hailed as a hero. 

And by the way, everything that I just went through--that's pretty much the entire marketing pitch for the plot. And all of that occurs... just in the first 40 minutes. So it becomes pretty clear that there's a heck of a lot more going on here. 

The truth of the matter is, this movie essentially tells two separate stories... in 90 minutes. It first tells the story of Hancock's redemption... and then it goes more into his origins, his dark deep secrets. Ray is practically sidelined while his wife, Mary, becomes more important. And the genre changes dramatically too. It turns from dark superhero comedy to more straight-up dark, cold and brutal. After a first 45 minutes or so with various laughs, there is basically no more humor for the rest of the film. Is this a bad or good thing? I'm not sure. I just wish they'd been slightly more consistent. (Of course, if the entire film had been like the 2nd half--particularly the last 15-20 minutes--it would've ended up sticking with the R rating it originally got--twice.)

This film does have some good things going for it. For starters, it's very creative. How many superhero films can you think of that don't have any source material whatsoever? Even if it's somehow not Marvel or DC? I have to give them massive props for that. Early on, it's fairly amusing. And it's certainly interesting the whole way through. Like I said, I kinda wish they'd been more consistent. If the first and second halves had actually been two separate films, it might actually have worked a bit better. Had the film figured out what it was truly trying to be, it might've been a lot better.