Friday, August 28, 2015

Edge of Tomorrow


Sigh. Time travel. A plot device that isn't used too often in movies, thankfully, because all too often it feels like it just makes things more confusing and things aren't explained properly. Or even worse, in the case of X-Men: Days of Future Past, it feels needless and unnecessary. Meet the Robinsons and Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban are a couple exceptions to the rule, which handled the time travel fine without muddling things up too much. For the most part, it's safe to say Edge of Tomorrow can be added to that very short list. 

In this film, Tom Cruise (who goes by the name Cage in this film--which kept making me think of Nicolas Cage) plays a random major who gets forcibly thrust into the battlefield of an alien attack. And along with everyone else, he is killed. Except that he isn't. 

He wakes up about 24 hours before his "death." And he lives the alien attack again. And is killed again. And the process goes on. And on. And on. However, a soldier by the name of Rita (or more simply, Emily Blunt) notices something is up. And she informs him that he has this ability for a reason, and that he can use it to find a way to defeat the aliens. 

Since that was just about all that was revealed in the promotion, I won't say much more to avoid spoilers. What results from then on is an uncountable number of time loops as Cage and Rita work to try and stop the aliens (this is used to their advantage in the humor department as well). 

What results from that point is quite a thrilling action flick that has various twists and turns to it. The time travel looping concept is actually pretty simple, as far as that goes. If you can keep up with the fact that sometimes a lot more time loops will have passed by than you realize, then you'll probably be okay. The ending is probably the hardest part to grasp, and it's rather abrupt--but it's acceptable. 

Edge of Tomorrow (or Live. Die. Repeat in some cases) is a pretty exciting flick that manages to handle the time travel issue better than some others within its genre. It's not without its flaws (most namely a conversation involving someone from Rita's past that's dropped and never spoken of again), but for the most part, it's a quality action flick. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

X-Men: First Class


The X-Men franchise has had a very rocky history. After two universally well-received movies movies, a third movie with mixed reception, and a mostly panned prequel about Wolverine, the franchise was kind of in limbo, trying to find some new life. And how did they find some new life? Well, this movie was the result. 

Focusing on the beginnings of the X-Men in the 1960s during the Cold War, Charles Xavier knows that mutants exist, but finds out that one such evil mutant named Sebastian Shaw plans to start World War III by making the Cuban Missile Crisis end in disaster and nuclear war. It's at that point that he decides to start raising up a team of younger mutants to stop Shaw. 

Early in the process, he meets fellow metal-controlling mutant Erik Lensherr, who is bent on revenge towards Shaw who killed his mother. The two powerful mutants start bringing up a group consisting of young Mystique, Beast, Havok, Darwin, Banshee and Angel with the intention of stopping Shaw and preventing nuclear war. Erik has his own plans, however. "I'm not going to stop Shaw," he explains, "I'm going to kill him." 

And thus begins the beginning of the differences between Charles and Erik that will eventually leave to the split between them and the forming of the Brotherhood. As an X-Men film, it's an excellent one and definitely one of the best in the series. It's a little slow on occasion during the first third of the film, but it makes up for it later on especially during the final act. 

This film has a lot going for it. The action sequences, though perhaps less numerous than other X-Men films, are quite exciting. The script/dialogue is brilliant. The acting is fantastic as well. James McAvoy does well as Charles Xavier. Jennifer Lawrence is quite good as Mystique; Michael Fassbender steals the show as Erik/Magneto, however. In the film that essentially kicked off his career, he gets some of the most interesting lines and portrays his angry character quite well. 

X-Men: First Class isn't perfect; it's probably a little long at 131 minutes. However, it's definitely one of the better films in an entertaining yet messy film series. It manages to get by quite well thanks in part to good direction, acting and dialogue. The film was a bit of a risky move, but they managed to pull it off quite well in the end. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Vantage Point


Vantage Point is one of those unfairly unknown films that you just happen to run across one day and say, "Huh, that looks mildly interesting/entertaining" and pick it up from the library. As a 90-minute action thriller that doesn't waste much time getting to the action and doesn't let up very much, it's a fairly simple film. 

The film centers around a political summit in Spain the U.S. president is attending to promote an international treaty (the exact details of which are somewhat unclear). The President is shot during the meeting, however, and a chase begins to find the shooter and any suspects/witnesses who might know something. 

The film is told from the point of view of different characters--some good guys and bad guys--who were present/involved. The film claims to have a total of eight "vantage points," although in reality there's only six before things come together and it shifts around a little bit more as a terrorist plot to kill the President unfolds (and why exactly they want to kill the President is never explained). 

Despite having some unclear plot points, the film does benefit from some fast-paced action and strong camera work, and is also bolstered by a strong cast led by Dennis Quaid--who is even more invincible to death and drives better than Channing Tatum in White House Down. Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker and Sigourney Weaver also do well. 

On a pacing, visual and acting level, the film's actually quite well done. It's really the somewhat unclear story and the all-too-familiar plotline that has been done better that brings it down. It actually helps in this case that the film is a short and sweet 90 minutes, because if it had been two hours, it would've been all too long. 

Vantage Point is a film that probably got left behind in the dust for good reason with multiple issues, but its unclear plot points is probably the biggest one (seriously, why do these terrorists want to kill the President?). If nothing else, though, it's an entertaining quick action thriller that has its moments. If you're looking for a better "President is in danger" film, White House Down is a better example that comes to mind. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Penguins of Madagascar


DreamWorks Animation has had their moments (How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda), and they've also had their not so good moments. Shrek the Third comes to mind as a film from the studio that was awful (especially following a decent first couple of films). However, probably the worst franchise to come from the studio was Madagascar. 

The fact that Madagascar has lasted for three movies (and possibly a fourth) is pretty shameful. The characters were mediocre, the plots were a joke, and the second one reeked of political correctness. (I haven't even bothered to watch the third.) However, the one saving grace of those movies was the penguins. Hilarious comic relief, and yet there wasn't enough of them. So when I saw they were getting their own movie, I was interested. 

To be honest, I never even really memorized the names of the penguins during the Madagascar movies, but we have Skipper, the leader; Kowalski, the tall one; Private, the short one; and Rico, the... other one. Here in this film, they end up coming face-to-face with an evil octopus named Dave who has evil plans for penguins, and end up having to team with an "elite" animal force group called the North Wind, led by a slightly egotistical wolf. 

The good news about Penguins of Madagascar is that it gets most right of what the Madagascar films got wrong. The penguins are funny as ever. The plot, while nothing to write home about, is acceptable. The dialogue is hilarious, with various references to actors and other movies hidden in the script. The jokes avoid getting tasteless (with a couple exceptions).

One thing that will likely keep the adults interested is the inclusion of John Malkovich and Benedict Cumberbatch in voicing roles. Malkovich steals the show as well as Dave the Octopus, and you have to wonder if the character was created with him in mind. Cumberbatch, on the other hand, feels less suited for his role as the wolf leader of the North Wind. (Maybe he should just stick to live-action.) 

As a whole, the movie is surprisingly frenetic--stuff happens, and the film hardly gives you time to catch your breath (especially during the climax). At times, it feels like what could be expected from one of those popcorn action films (Fast & Furious, for example--which makes sense, considering physics is often nonexistent in this film), only now it's for kids. It feels a lot like a roller-coaster ride at times. 

Overall, Penguins of Madagascar isn't a classic, but much like Puss In Boots did with the Shrek franchise, the spin-off film actually manages to outdo its original films *easily.* Helped out by some clever hilarity, surprisingly exciting action scenes, and John Malkovich, this film is well worth seeing whether you watched the Madagascar films or not (and I recommend against seeing them--and if you must, stop after the first one). Although it may be a little too ridiculous and fast-paced for some, it can be best described as fun entertainment--and really, we can't ask too much more of it.

Saturday, August 8, 2015



Hellboy's another one of those comic-book heroes that you probably never heard of until he got a movie--especially since he wasn't Marvel *or* DC. And he has a somewhat ironic name and appearance for a guy who's supposed to be the good guy. I mean, this is a demon we're talking about here. And he's supposed to be the good guy...? What? 

Upon closer look, the guy actually looks like he'd make a pretty decent action hero. This is a gigantic red dude with a huge hammer arm, he lets out various wisecracks during battle, and he has a fondness for kittens. Those things combined certainly seem promising. 

In this film, we're introduced to a 1944 world where Rasputin didn't get killed, and is getting ready to open a portal that will unleash some monsters that will help the Nazis defeat the Allies. The incident is sabotaged by the Allies, Rasputin is absorbed by the portal before it is destroyed and an infant demon is found who came through the portal, deemed Hellboy. Later, he and a couple random other "people" with powers of their own are working for the Bureau of Paranormal Research & Defense--dedicated to defense against the paranormal (duh). Sixty years later, Rasputin returns from the dead (of course) with another plan to open the portal. 

Hellboy is a film that had a fair amount of potential, but unfortunately is missing something. Besides the fact that Hellboy's fondness for kittens isn't utilized nearly enough, he has very little character development. He's a demon and yet he's always fought on the good side. He never really stops to question it. It might've actually been a little better if they had used a certain X-Men element by making Hellboy struggle with being accepted by the people. And although this could've alienated some of the audience, it might've actually been better off with more involvement of theological elements. 

Oddly enough, Hellboy's friend Liz Graham, who is a pyrokinetic, is the one who actually comes closer to portraying inner struggles with hero status and powers better--as she is seen early on locking herself away in a mental hospital to protect everyone from her rather uncontrollable powers. The other sidekick, a cross between a fish and a human, is honestly just plain boring. The story's interesting, but nothing special. I found it kind of hard to take Rasputin seriously--his ninja minion was more fun. 

Hellboy is certainly entertaining, but there are times when it gets way too big for its britches--and other times where it doesn't get big enough. Hellboy is a fun character, but he is unable to carry the movie on his own. There's nothing particularly bad about this film, but there's nothing particularly special about it either. It's passable entertainment, but it's really just that. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith


The Star Wars prequel trilogy is infamous among some fans for being in part what ruined Star Wars. Most people tend to look to the Phantom Menace as the worst of the bunch, with Jar Jar Binks being the main source of the problem. Attack of the Clones, though containing a bit more action, wasn't much better, due in part to a very poor script and horrible acting from Hayden Christensen. With all of that in mind, I wasn't exactly expecting much from Revenge of the Sith. 

Revenge of the Sith tells the actual story of how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader; and the answer is an amalgamation of fear, anger, and some twisted form of obsessive love. Haunted by visions of Padme's death, he obsessively seeks to prevent it, whatever the cost. And when Chancellor Palpatine approaches him with possible answers... well, it's not hard to guess what happens from there. Ultimately, Anakin's transformation into Vader becomes more of a tragedy than anything. 

Revenge of the Sith, on the whole, turned out to be quite a bit better than I expected. In this film, we are immediately thrust into the action, and it doesn't let up very often. There's hardly a boring moment in the film (save for the boring Anakin-Padme love scenes). Normally, we get one to two lightsaber fights in a Star Wars film. Here, we get a stunning total of *five,* and none of them disappoint. 

One of the bigger issues with the film is that, like its predecessor, it still has a shockingly poor script. An example comes near the end when Obi-Wan tries to show Anakin the error of his ways and that the Sith are evil, and Anakin responds with "From my point of view, the Jedi are evil!" I mean, point has been made, but you need something more sophisticated than that. But the worst offenders come during a couple of love scenes, where the dialogue is just simply appalling. 

However, Hayden Christensen, who acted horribly in Attack of the Clones (not that the script was helping him much), actually shows some improvement in Revenge of the Sith. He actually plays the part of a deranged person slipping into the dark side of the force quite well. His performance could still have been better (and there are a couple scenes where even the script cannot save him), but he proves to be serviceable for the most part this time around. 

Revenge of the Sith is hardly a masterpiece, but unlike its prequel predecessors it actually feels like it was taken seriously to some degree. The dialogue may try its best to undermine it, but the film actually holds up pretty decently as a thrilling sci-fi action flick. It's flawed, but it's enjoyable. In the end, the Star Wars prequel trilogy will probably be always looked upon with a degree of infamy, but at least it ended on a serviceable note.