Friday, October 30, 2015

G.I. Joe: Retaliation


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


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



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


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)


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


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.