Sunday, September 27, 2015

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra


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


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


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


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



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. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Spider-Man 3


I still remember the hype back in May of 2007 when there were three *huge* threequels set to shake the world: Spider-Man 3, Pirates of the Caribbean 3, and Shrek the Third. I think the disappointment with at least two of these films wasn't exactly pretty, but all three of them made plenty of money. Spider-Man 3, at the time, would've really been the only one to live up to expectations in my estimate. But then again, even reception for it was pretty middle-ground. 

Spider-Man 3 decides to up the amount of pretty much everything in this film; this is admittedly one of the most stuffed sequels I've ever seen. We have a total of three villains to deal with; Sandman (who has a big connection to Peter's past), the "New Goblin," and Venom (who doesn't even show up until near the end). And there's more plotlines as well; Mary Jane's life is starting to look down the way Peter's was in the second film, which estranges their relationship, and as if that wasn't enough, a symbiote from space bonds with Peter, giving him a new black suit as well as a darker personality. 

Yeah, it's safe to say that the guys at Sony decided to take just about every idea they had and stuff it into this movie. And yet they somehow forgot to stuff in Carnage alongside Venom. Now *that* would've been awesome. 

Spider-Man 3 is a film that is criticized quite unfairly. Yeah, it has a slightly convoluted plot, and Peter's Spidey-sense is completely forgotten, but the action sequences still dazzle (the climax is by far the most thrilling ending the trilogy has to offer) and the "inner demons" storyline is certainly very interesting and executed quite well (save for the weird dance number Peter does midway through the film). One of the more iffy things about the film was the inconsistent off and on appearances of Gwen Stacey and Aunt May getting mostly sidelined for much of the film (and one of her scenes being pretty worthless anyway). 

Spider-Man 3's not exactly a classic, but it's definitely better than it gets credit for. It may be a little long at 139 minutes, but it's exciting and intriguing enough to keep you interested for nearly all of those minutes. It also ends on some strong moral notes. It may not be the best superhero movie you'll ever see (not that that can really be said about any Spider-Man movie in a world with the Avengers franchise), but it's still well worth watching if you enjoyed the first two. The Spider-Man trilogy holds up pretty well over time, and is pretty unique in that both of its sequels are stronger than the first one. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Spider-Man 2


If the first Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire Spider-Man film was a mixture of dark and almost cartoony in a couple scenes, then this one is a little more bright and optimistic, to a degree; more realistic, as far as that goes in a superhero movie. Spider-Man 2 takes more of what worked in the first movie, and adds extra elements as well to get about as close to piecing the penultimate Spider-Man movie as any of them get (including the reboot). 

So in this film, Peter Parker (aka Spider-Man) is struggling with his new superhero life. His duties as Spider-Man are cutting into his life as Peter Parker, making him late for just about everything. And he still misses Mary Jane, even though he wants to keep her out of his superhero life. It's a bad time for him to be going through an identity crisis when a scientist wires four metallic arms onto himself and goes insane, becoming Doc Ock. And as if *that* wasn't enough, Peter's best friend Harry Osborn wants Spider-Man dead. 

The stakes are raised quite a bit higher in this movie, obviously. And that certainly does help. This movie as a whole is definitely better than its predecessor. The action sequences between Spider-Man and Doc Ock are nearly flawless; and the humor manages to be more than just J. Jonah Jameson this time around. The plot works quite well, and is arguably the best of any Spider-Man movie. 

As with just about any Spider-Man film as well, though, it's not without its drawbacks. Peter Parker is still cringe-worthily socially inept, particularly where Mary Jane is concerned. Again, it may be faithful to the comics, but that doesn't make me feel any better about it. Mary Jane still isn't a particularly appealing character in this rendition, but she's more easily overlooked. There's also a slightly anti-climactic ending, to a degree. Don't get me wrong, the ending is great, but it would've been even better with a little more Spider-Man vs. Doc Ock action before the still-satisfying resolution. 

Spider-Man 2 is admittedly probably the closest thing to an A-grade film that the character's ever been. It feels like there's always something holding them back a little bit. In this film, it's just Peter Parker's personality in general. Whatever the case, it's still quite an enjoyable simple superhero film that can please the masses easily. It may not be the best of its genre, but people are going to have a hard time downright disliking it. 

Saturday, September 5, 2015



There was a time when superhero films were much simpler than they are now. They used to focus on just one guy, doing his job. Heck, there was a time when the X-Men films would've been considered complex. But now with the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the upcoming DC Universe, things aren't exactly simple anymore. 

Spider-Man managed to go through two actors in about twelve years; and we're getting ready for a third. Some still look back on the original trilogy with a degree of fondness. In a new movie world where guys like Batman, Iron Man, and Captain America rock everyone's worlds, I must confess Spider-Man kind of falls off my radar sometimes in comparison. There are a couple reasons why, though. 

Not that I've got anything against Spider-Man. I like him as much as the next guy. But that's totally different from his secret identity, though--aka Peter Parker. Tobey Maguire nails the role pretty well, at least when you're comparing things to the comics. The problem of Peter not entirely being a likable character occasionally remains, though. This guy can go from being a total genius to being cringe-worthily stupid. Andrew Garfield may not have been as true to the comics, but he was more easy to identify with. But I'm getting ahead of myself. 

We've got Peter Parker, who gets bitten by the radioactive spider. And then he becomes a superhero... but not without learning a few tragic lessons along the way. Hence the classic catchphrase he learns from his uncle, "With great power comes great responsibility." Something he has to figure out pretty quick when he has to deal with a psychopath in the form of the Green Goblin. 

Spider-Man's first outing definitely has its moments. The casting is overall quite well done (save for Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane). We've got Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin, James Franco in one of his better film roles as Harry Osborn, and J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson. The fight scenes with the Green Goblin are quite cool and hold up well (though some of the mercenary fight scenes look oddly like something out of Ninja Turtles from 1990). There's some clever dialogue as well. 

At the same time, though, it is flawed. Kirsten Dunst is quite an annoying Mary Jane, and her character in this film series isn't particularly good either. In a couple of scenes the action is too cartoony for its own good (we'll give them a bit of a break though, it was still 2002). I'd probably enjoy this film *and* the other two (both of which are superior to this one) more if I didn't have to put up with Peter Parker's love life as much--especially considering Maguire and Dunst have horrible chemistry. 

I guess I can't be too critical though. To an extent, Hollywood was still learning how to make superhero movies for the 21st century (even though they'd already released the first X-Men film). Like I said, though, the film has a few annoying moments that conflict with the few spectacular moments. Sure, Raimi's trilogy has a better story than the one we're given in the Garfield reboot, but for sheer entertainment purposes, this first film is a little bumpy at times. It's still well worth watching, though, especially considering the two sequels that follow. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

I Am Number Four


Most of the time, when a book series starts getting adapted to film, it goes pretty well. They're often quite successful and well cherished among different types of people. There are, however, the book series that are adapted into movies but don't make it past the first movie--often because it was a box office failure and it was well below the quality of other film adaptions of books. Inkheart and Eragon are such examples. This isn't always the rule--Ender's Game was a good movie that will probably never get a sequel, and Twilight should've never made it past the first movie. But I Am Number Four can be added fairly to the list of overall letdowns. 

This particular series focuses on a group of human-appearing aliens who have escaped to Earth after the destruction of their planet, and are being hunted down by another group of aliens. Nine of them... and they have to be killed in sequential order--one, two, three, and so on. (And *why* exactly they have to be killed in sequential order is never explained.) The film focuses on teenager "John Smith," aka Number Four, who's next on the hit list after the death of Number Three. 

His attempts to blend in while going to school, however, don't end up going too well as he only draws more attention to himself--making quick enemies with the jocks, and getting involved with a girl photographer named Sarah, and also with a conspiracy theorist kid named Sam. All in all, it's probably not going to take too long before those aliens find him, right? 

The film was marketed as sci-fi/fantasy/action, so the amount of time we spend watching absolutely *none* of the action early on is quite surprising. Ultimately, much of the first 45 minutes to an hour or so feels more like a teen drama/comedy--not what I planned on watching. And once things actually start getting a little more interesting, there's still not much action--not until the climax, when we are hit with an admittedly thrilling action sequence. One ends up being bored for much of the first half instead, and by the time we actually get to the good stuff, it's not enough to make an overwhelming difference. 

There are some notable story oddities. Like I mentioned earlier, it is never explained *why* the nine kids have to be killed in sequential order. Also early on, we are introduced to Number Six briefly--and then she disappears for 40 minutes. Makes another 10-15 second appearance. Then she disappears *again*--until the climax. Why they even bothered showing her early on is beyond me. Also of note is the fact that the aliens actually try to kill her a couple times--apparently forgetting that they can't kill her yet, since Four is still alive. 

Ultimately, I Am Number Four probably performed poorly at the box office for good reason. Though the marketing made it look pretty exciting, the fact is that there's not much exciting going on at all. It's a pretty dull ride much of the way, although you may get a few laughs out of the stupidity of the protagonist. Thrilling as the ending may be, it's not enough to save it. I Am Number Four is a book-to-movie adaption you can probably skip, especially since there won't be a sequel.