Thursday, December 29, 2016

Ben-Hur (2016)


RATING: D

While some could argue that maybe it was nearing time to resurrect this particular story back into cinema, a remake of Ben-Hur would still have a tough act to follow. Despite the 1959 film's overly long length, it was very well made. There was a reason it won as many Oscars as it did back in its day.

If you're familiar at all with Ben-Hur at all, you'll know that it's the story of a wealthy Jew named Judah whose family is betrayed by his former friend Messala turned loyal to the Roman Empire, and he ends up in the galleys, swearing vengeance. His long story leads him eventually to the lawless Roman Coliseum in the chariot race against his friend-turned-enemy that is the focal point of the story in general, as well as to cross paths on occasion with Jesus Christ.

One good thing about the prospect of a new version was that it could trim the length of the nearly four-hour 1959 version. Here we get two hours, and yet somehow it isn't enough; we cover the basics and most of the necessary parts, but there are some minor alterations here and there that make the film perhaps a little more confusing at times for those are who are completely new to the story (namely, Messala's motivations and character, which in general feel far less fleshed out).

Somehow, despite being drastically shorter, this version feels surprisingly slow-paced at times; which might be due in part to quite poor dialogue and hit-or-miss acting. It felt difficult to be interested except during the more important scenes, or just the action pieces; and yet they still kind of screwed one of them up. The other main action piece besides the chariot race is the naval sea battle, but we don't actually get to see much of it because we're stuck inside the boat for most of it instead.

The greatest flaw by far, however, is Jack Huston, who has zero of the charisma and not even half of the acting ability that Charlton Heston had. The character of Judah is actually less interesting under Huston. Rodrigo Santoro doesn't fare well as the Christ either; he has so little of the impact or presence that you might be expecting if you've seen Jesus enough in cinema. (Seriously, the version of Jesus in the 1959 version fared better, and they didn't even show his face!)

It's not necessarily all bad, though. Morgan Freeman is a bright spot amongst the acting, and though it won't be remembered as one of his top performances, he still lifts any scene he's in. The chariot race, even if it doesn't quite top the insane realism of its predecessor, is still pretty doggone entertaining in its own right, as the introduction of CGI allows them to do things they could never have done in the original.

On one hand, it may seem a little unfair to rag hard on this movie, since it did have such a tough act to follow. On the other hand, it still feels like any adaption of this is capable of being better. It doesn't have to be a shot-for-shot remake or anything, but it just has to be better made and better written, and has to have a better lead. If you're not familiar with this story, I would recommend just sticking to the 1959 version, even if it is rather long.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Secret Life of Pets


RATING: B

Even though this is a premise I'm quite sure we've seen before in different forms, here's a movie answering the question of what your pets do when you're not at home. On an average day, for a dog, that can mean just staring at the door all day until your owner comes home. Or go throw a party. For a cat, it might mean tossing away the actual cat food and raiding the fridge. Or just being a lazy bum.

Of course, all of this can change when your owner brings home a new dog who's significantly bigger than you who immediately insists on taking your bed and all your food. And if you're a dog like Max, you feel the need to get rid of this competitor immediately, which of course ends up leading you on a crazy adventure in a plot that sounds quite a bit like Toy Story... until instead of meeting an animal abuser (because the equivalent of Sid in this movie would have been way too dark) we get a human-hating animal cult led by... Kevin Hart the Bunny (or Snowball). It's actually quite hilarious.

The premise of this movie is somewhat promising (if you look away from the fact that it rips off movies like Toy Story), but ultimately it's pretty thin. Much of it depends on the fact that all the owners are gone all day long apparently, as well as apparently being incredibly forgiving when they find a mess--instead of being forgiving but still putting them in a crate or something. And just some other unrealistic things in general, such as the single fastest Animal Control response team in history.

The biggest mistake the marketing department made was making this movie compete against the other big talking-animal movie of the year--Zootopia, which was way more sophisticated. This movie is not that at all. It's a mostly brainless comedy; and a pretty fun one at that. We get plenty of Looney Tunes-esque slapstick violence that we don't get nearly enough of in today's animation. We get some amusing depictions of things pets do. We get plenty of Kevin Hart being Kevin Hart. And we get the single funniest interrogation scene of all time, courtesy of Gidget, the awesome (even if naïve) super tiny dog.

The Secret Life of Pets may not be the smartest animated movie of the year, but it's still quite fun in its own right, giving you just under 90 minutes of harmless comedy. If you're more demanding of a good story in a kids' movie because like many of us you've been spoiled by Pixar--or you're just not into the whole slapstick comedy thing--this one probably isn't for you. But for those who are open to this kind of material, go ahead and check it out; it might be a little more fun than you expected.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Star Wars: Rogue One


RATING: B-

One of the interesting (and slightly unnerving) things about when Disney acquired Star Wars was the announcement that besides the new trilogy, there would also be these "Anthology" films; spin-offs that didn't carry episode numbers and thus weren't directly attached to the series, but that were still canon and part of the Star Wars universe. It's better not to think about that part of it.

Rogue One was described as more of a gritty war film early in production, which was enough to get me interested in at least this one. If it hasn't already been made clear to you, this movie takes place between Episodes III and IV--almost immediately before IV, as a matter of fact. The movie answers the question we never really realized we had: "Just how did they manage to get those Death Star plans?" And so we get a 133-minute movie devoted to that very question.

We're introduced to a whole batch of new characters; a few side characters we've seen before in previous movies, and one character you've only heard of if you've watched the Clone Wars TV series--Saw Gerrera. The new bunch of characters is led by Felicity Jones--um, I mean Jyn Erso--and then there's the other ones, most of whose names you won't even remember later. (Seriously, I only remember the names Jyn Erso and Captain Andor.)

This movie's final act/45 minutes really saves it; it does put the "Wars" in Star Wars as we are given an awesome climactic battle which includes the return of the Imperial Walkers on land, and up in space the Rebel fleet versus the Imperial probes and Star Destroyers (and we also witness the greatest Star Destroyer takedown ever). Not to mention Darth Vader appearing in action at the end, and the final 30-45 minutes make you pretty easily forgive the fact that most of the rest of the movie is more forgettable.

Aside from a visually strong Death Star test run and an attack on an Imperial base, the first hour contains a lot of nothing as we are given more sci-fi mumbo jumbo than usual out of a Star Wars movie, and really flat characters who are difficult to get excited about. Especially the blind ninja who's not a Jedi, but keeps irritatingly repeating "I am one with the Force, the Force is with me" and he does seem to have some sort of power; which makes no sense.

Still, as I said, the final act was pretty amazing. The visuals and set pieces are great all the way through. It was interesting seeing the return of Governor Tarkin via CGI. K-2SO was amusing as well. It's not like the movie isn't entertaining or good or anything. But there are issues underneath the surface that make it still feel like a lesser Star Wars movie; at least when compared to the original trilogy or even The Force Awakens.

Ultimately, Rogue One is a very different kind of Star Wars movie, seeing as there are no lightsabers (until the very end with Vader), and the Force really isn't involved much either. But probably any big Star Wars fans should still see it. It does get right quite a bit of what the other prequels got wrong, even if it makes some mistakes of its own. It feels a little underwhelming, but it's still a pretty decent installment in the Star Wars universe.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Jungle Book (2016)


RATING: C

Remakes. Many people don't have much use for them. Thus, when one actually is successful, sometimes we're unsure of whether to be pleasantly surprised or just disgusted. I certainly did not go into this movie with high expectations at all. So, I came away a little pleasantly surprised... but also slightly disgusted. Not necessarily at the movie and its content, but more at the movie's existence and the fact that its success opens the door for even more Disney remakes.

Now, I've watched the original Jungle Book 1967 cartoon, but I never read the actual book. (Isn't there a bit of irony in calling a movie a Jungle "Book?") The plot runs more or less the same as the original, only with a bit more backstory (which actually helps), and certain characters getting more screen time (the wolves) while other characters get much less screen time (Kaa) or are just cut completely (the vultures).

So of course, we also have the big change from animation to the massive CGI jungle. Interestingly enough, basically everything in this movie but the kid himself (who's sadly a mediocre child actor anyway) *is* CGI. The CGI varies from actually pretty stunning regarding the jungle itself to oddly sloppy with Bagheera, the panther.

Obviously one of the main questions is how it compares to the original. And that is difficult for me to say, actually, owing to the fact that it's been years and years since I watched the original cartoon, and I don't remember certain parts that well. But some things that were undoubtedly an improvement included the added backstory; namely, where Mowgli came from and a little more exposition as to why Shere Khan wants to kill him so badly. Also, it was good to see the number of musicals cut down. Only two songs were left in this one. Obviously, you have to keep "Bear Necessities," and I won't make any complaints there, even if this rendition feels more subdued. But I don't understand why they had to keep "I Wanna Be Like You," one I don't recall even liking when I was younger in the original, and I certainly didn't care for this one either.

But one thing that they couldn't have done back then but was a pretty great timely update was the action sequences, which are much more fulfilling. And there's also just about every scene with the menacing Shere Khan (voiced masterfully by Idris Elba) in it in general. In this version, he actually kills a side character and later creepily threatens another while telling its children a story. And we get to watch him go toe-to-toe with Bagheera, Baloo and the wolves much more satisfyingly.

One thing that was definitely a step down was Baloo in general. Despite Bill Murray, this version is a bit more of a jerk at times (Bagheera calls him a con artist, and he's not entirely wrong) and just less of a feel-good character. Also, this version of Kaa (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) ends up being a lot less comical  and a lot more creepy and weird... and not in a good way.

As you can see, there are some things that are actually pretty doggone well and other things that aren't. And there are some things that are just kind of there; I found it pretty difficult to stay engaged during the monkey scene, for example. And I wasn't sure how to feel about the elephants' new role in this version.

It's honestly rather difficult to forget throughout the film that it's a remake, and not really a necessary one either (I find it hard to call any of these Disney remakes "necessary," regardless of how I felt about the original). With that hanging over it's head, it does take a little bit away from the movie itself. Which is unfortunate, because there's actually a pretty decent film in there. If you never saw the original, you'll probably love this movie. And you might enjoy it regardless. And that's fine. I was entertained enough by it myself.

Just remember... in part because this movie was successful, we're going to get live-action versions of movies like The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast (next March, too). And basically every other Disney cartoon ever, too. (Mulan's currently on the release schedule for 2018.) But I genuinely wonder how all the 90's and 2000's kids feel about the inevitable remake of The Lion King. I know if it held the same place in my heart as it did for many other people, I would be pretty enraged. Just keep that in mind while you're enjoying this particular remake.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Alice Through the Looking Glass


RATING: C+

It only took six years, but a sequel to Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland happened. Were people really still interested by this point? That's up for debate, since it didn't even make half the money the first one did. Impressively, despite the long span between the two movies, they got basically *all* the cast of characters to return--even the minor ones that I didn't expect to be in the film at that point.

 The plot of this movie isn't quite as cookie-cutter as the first one, but it is somewhat more convoluted as it involves time-travel. It centers around a depressed Mad Hatter who wishes to know what happened to his family, whom he believes are still alive despite being presumably slaughtered by the Jabberwocky. Alice then tries to change the past, only to get caught up in a maddening series of events in the process.

Interestingly enough, the movie does hit some of the usual clichés you'd expect from a time-travel plot--while avoiding others entirely. This ends up being a problem, as we are left with a rather ridiculous ending in which some odd device is able to fix everything (despite that seeming impossible), and somehow everything ends up working out a little too perfectly... even by my standards, as some characters in both Wonderland and the real world end up making unrealistic changes a little too out of the blue.

Despite some of the plot sloppiness, there is still some fun to be had. The visuals and set pieces are still great, and the cast is still awesome (though Johnny Depp feels slightly more subdued this time), with Rhys Ifans added in this one, as well as Sacha Baren Cohen, who delivers a brilliant performance as a physical manifestation of "Time." Despite some of the frustrating time-travel material, his character is possibly the best thing about this movie, as he delivers many self-referential jokes ("Stop wasting myself..." get it?) and many hilarious puns, particularly in a tea party scene. The script is actually probably the best thing about this movie.

Although it's difficult to not be frustrated at times with this movie, the script and its humor help make this an enjoyable pastime of a movie. Although comedy may not have been what this fantasy movie was going for overall, that really is where it succeeds the most. And even if that isn't quite what some are hoping for, it was enough that I didn't feel like I had wasted my time at all when it was over. Though not a lot of people will likely be watching this movie, it should at least be recommended to fans of puns, if no one else besides fans of the first movie (which there aren't a lot of).

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Alice in Wonderland (2010)


RATING: B


When you think about it, there are certain book-to-movie adaptions that Tim Burton was *born* to do. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was one of them. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children could be another one (though I never read the book, so I don't know for sure). Alice in Wonderland is definitely another one of those. Lewis Carroll was an insanely imaginative and creative person, who also sometimes defied all logic for the sake of random weirdness. Tim Burton is really the same way, which is both his greatest trait and greatest flaw; while he is probably the most imaginative filmmaker in the business, sometimes he just puts random weird things into movies and forgets to give us a story point or characters to care about. How nice, then, when the story has already been done for him. Well, sort of.

You see, this isn't entirely a direct adaption of the book or the original Disney animation from the 50's. It's a combination remake-sequel of sorts, if that makes any sense; because it takes place when Alice is 18, years after she first went to Wonderland. It's acknowledged that she went to Wonderland before, but what *isn't* acknowledged exactly is if it's the same events from the 50's movies or different ones, thus setting up some coherence issues.

Truth be told, the story is actually probably one of the lesser things about the movie. It's not necessarily bad, but as mentioned earlier, there's some confusion regarding events before this movie's events, and it's a pretty cookie-cutter "hero must slay the evil beast as foretold by prophecy" tale. It was fortunate, then, that plenty of other things about the movie were pretty great.

The visuals and cinematography are flat out gorgeous; Burton brings Wonderland to life brilliantly, while also making it more grim as appropriate. The characters are lots of fun; ones like the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire cat, and the twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum are hilarious. The Red Queen is great in her own right as well; a villain, but an oddly amusing and well depicted one nonetheless. And there's an all-star cast including Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry, Crispin Glover, and Michael Sheen, among others. (Christopher Lee voices the Jabberwocky, but only gets two lines.) And there is a bit more character development than you'd expect on the part of characters like the Hatter.

Of course, there are some things that are frustrating; namely the thing that comes to mind is a question the Hatter asks multiple times as if he knows the answer already: "Why is a raven like a writing desk?" When Alice asks him what the answer is at the end, he replies, "I haven't the slightest idea." It's things like that frustrate me when they are given such prominence only to mean literally nothing at the end of the day.

But overall, the positives outweigh the negatives. The story, cookie-cutter though it is, is suitable enough to not annoy me, and the film is pretty fun all around; and it's difficult to deny the visual art the film presents. Although Alice in Wonderland does have some flaws, it's good enough to warrant a viewing if you're a fan of the source material (even though it's not that faithful to it) or of Burton's work in general.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Finding Dory


RATING: B+

People had apparently been waiting for a Finding Nemo sequel for a while. I didn't entirely understand why, since there wasn't really anything left to tell. As it turns out, the idea for this film literally comes off one line from the first movie from Dory: "[Short-term memory loss] runs in my family. Well, at least I think it does. Uhh... where are they?"

I had no idea that there were so many people who were genuinely interested in Dory's backstory and family. Going into this film, I had little interest in such a concept. Dory was a good character from the first movie, but she never struck me as one that needed her own story. If anything, her memory issues only solidified that. But here we are anyway.

So yes, this is actually the synopsis of this film. Dory actually remembers something from her past, and is able to remember that she has parents and sets out to find them, with Marlin and Nemo reluctantly going along for the ride (much like this viewer, initially) and end up getting themselves into more than they bargained for. This film takes place at the fictional Marine Life Institute on the coast of California, which brings up a massive problem with this movie early on; the fact that our characters are simply able to ride a current over to Cali in a relatively short time; it certainly doesn't seem like it took much longer than the trip to Sydney. And such a notion is ludicrous.

I was actually very impressed with this movie, ultimately. I wasn't expecting much from it besides some laughs, which I got plenty of. But they actually brought a decent story to the table--not a great one, but decent enough. The thing they truly have going the most for them is that they're able to actually get you to care about Dory and her search--which was truly the last thing I ever expected of this movie. And it would never have worked if we weren't already on good terms with the three main fish characters.

The main issue about the story is that it is a bit cookie-cutter and somewhat predictable; we all know that Dory's going to find her parents before it's all over. But it's what she does find out when she finds them that is truly memorable; in fact, we are given the best example of parental dedication that I've seen in cinema in quite some time.

I found myself unexpectedly liking the new characters as well. The sea lions are a brilliant new source of comic relief, and I liked the new whale characters Destiny and Bailey as well. As mentioned before, Dory's parents are great. Hank the Octopus was decent too; his pessimism made for some funny moments, as did his camouflaging abilities.

Obviously, there are issues though. I was very disappointed with the lack of the Tank Gang (only showing up in a post-credits scene), and I found the climax to be rather ludicrous, and really, not much was solved with it; most everything that we cared about in this movie had already happened by that point. Also, I would've liked a little more backstory on Hank; he's missing a tentacle and he is oddly terrified of the ocean, but we never find out why. And obviously the whole thing about how easily and quickly the characters are able to get to California in the first place is rather dumb, but we're forced to accept it so the movie can happen.

With those things said, Finding Dory--a film I had low to middling expectations for--turned out to be the best thing Pixar's done in several years, and their second straight good-though-not-quite-great movie (yes, I didn't really care for Inside Out). This could actually be the best non-Toy Story sequel they've done thus far. Monsters University was a mess, and Cars 2 was fun but just that. It's good to see Pixar succeeding on a particular sequel front that I never really expected them to, and they thus have given me hope for their future again. Finding Dory definitely falls short of its predecessor, but if you loved Finding Nemo like almost everyone else, there is little reason to miss the sequel.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets


RATING: A-

It's a good thing the guys at Warner Bros were ready to go to put out another Harry Potter film immediately the year after the first one, since they had seven of these things to do in total (or eight, actually). And those kid actors aren't gonna be young forever, right? Hopefully they'll improve though, since some were better than others. 

Luckily, a year and a bit of experience and some of the kid actors actually do improve in the second Harry Potter movie. Daniel Radcliffe does a lot better in the Harry Potter role and continues to do well from here on out. Rupert Grint (Ron), however? He somehow actually got a little worse in the second movie. Tom Felton (Draco) didn't really change much, but he's still got time. 

The second movie had the same director as the first (Chris Columbus), so it was very similar stylistically. The production felt more or less the same. And once again, it was quite a reverent adaption of the book; although it actually did better this time, I think. It seems a bit odd; these two first movies in the series are quite similar, but the second one is loads better. Does it have anything to do that it works with a lot more enthralling story than the first one? Partially. 

Some of the lesser things haven't changed much. Some of the kid actors still don't do well. Quidditch is still depicted poorly (though slightly more exciting and engaging this time). Richard Harris, even if he gets the facial expressions right, still seems just too frail for the Dumbledore role (unfortunately, in real life he died just before this movie was released). 

But besides some of the improvements like Radcliffe's performance, things that were already good are generally better; or good things that have more added onto them; such as the cast. Amongst the great adult actors, new ones include Kenneth Branagh, who is surprisingly perfect as Gilderoy Lockhart. Jason Isaacs is quite a welcome addition as well as Lucius Malfoy. Also, Christian Coulson's performance as Tom Riddle is very overlooked, in my opinion. 

Although the film drags a little bit at times during the first half, and there's still the additions of Dobby and Moaning Myrtle to deal with (characters I'm not a fan of even in the books), things really pick up during the second half, where it feels like the book is done the most justice, namely in the brilliant diary-memory scene and the fantastic finale in the Chamber itself (which they really depict well). Despite being 161 minutes, most of all those minutes are well earned or needed. 

Though Sorcerer's Stone did a pretty decent job of introducing the Wizarding world, Chamber of Secrets is much more effective as there's not a whole lot that's inherently wrong with it. There's a few minor annoyances here and there, but all in all, it's much more of the type of adaption that a Harry Potter book deserves. And luckily, most of the rest of the movies did more or less the same the rest of the way as well. In the meantime, Chamber of Secrets ultimately stands out as one of the better installments in the Harry Potter film series. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone


RATING: C+

How big of a hit was the Harry Potter series? So big that it only took four years after the book's release in the UK (three in the US) for them to put a movie out. That's pretty popular. Thankfully, they didn't make a low-budget adaption either like some adaptions get these days. They really wanted to actually do the book justice. And... well, they tried. Difficult to deny that.

One of the biggest complaints about any book-to-movie adaption you will see now is how different the movie is from the book. Sometimes adaptions are judged unfairly for this, while some admittedly do go some crazy routes with the source material. But this adaption is about as faithful as you'd expect, more or less. Some things are tweaked, of course, but they stick pretty close to the book. Often quoting word-for-word. 

All in all, the cinematic introduction to the Wizarding world from 2001 is pretty impressive at times, and yet also underwhelming at times. There are some things that are done very well and cleverly--such as the decision to not make the viewer find out about Harry's past until he did, which helps bring a sense of mystery for non-book readers--and the final confrontation as well is done justice. But some other things just aren't handled well; for example, the circumstances that lead to the detention in the Forbidden Forest make less sense. And Quidditch is depicted quite inaccurately and a tad ridiculously (one of my biggest complaints about the entire film series, for that matter). 

Probably my biggest complaint about the film, though, is many of the child actors. Despite the efforts from great actors who help elevate the film (Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, John Hurt, John Cleese), most of the child actors just didn't do that well in their first outing, even if they grew to be good or great in later films. Daniel Radcliffe (Harry) and Tom Felton (Draco), for example, aren't nearly as good in this film as they are in later ones. Emma Watson does well, but she's arguably the only one amongst the child actors who does. 

And that's not to mention other things that help elevate the film, such as the action sequences or visuals or John Williams's score, as well as other things that bring it down, such as Richard Harris's more frail performance as Dumbledore and the often awkward transitions/cuts (in some cases, probably due to where a scene was cut). 

As you can see, there's a fair amount to like about this film, namely many of the adult actors and the special effects. But there's also a fair amount that really brings the film down--namely the child actors. The Harry Potter film series got much better later on, so it could be said they were just working out the kinks. You'll still have to deal with this first installment, though--the good and the bad. 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Iron Man


RATING: A-

Opening your movie with AC/DC's "Back In Black" is about as good a start as you can get. And then our main character being caught in an explosive ambush is pretty good too. In other words, the movie does a great job of getting you absolutely hooked early on. 

By now, we're all pretty familiar with this particular guy. He's appeared in a total of six Marvel movies now. And it's also probably rather difficult to forget about the movie that started this whole "Marvel Cinematic Universe" thing. I personally doubt that the guys at Marvel knew they'd be where they are now when they made this movie. Either that, or they were incredibly ambitious/optimistic. And it actually worked out for them. 

So in this particular movie, we get told the origin story of Tony Stark/Iron Man; which happens when he, the CEO of Stark Industries--a company known for creating weapons--is captured by Afghan terrorists and wakes up with shrapnel embedded in his chest from an injury. Forced to fight to survive, he creates an iron suit to escape and then decides to use his brilliant new "iron suit" idea to fight against evil. 

Despite how far we've come in this series, this movie mostly holds up pretty well. Although there a couple points during the flashbacks that go by slowly, there's not a whole lot of dull moments. Once the Iron Man suit is on, the action sequences become a lot better; a highlight being a scene where he saves a bunch of Afghan refugees and attacks the "Ten Rings" terrorist group. The climactic fight with Iron Monger is quite awesome as well. 

On the casting, Robert Downey Jr is quite great as Tony, even if he's still working out the kinks a little bit. Jeff Bridges does a fantastic job in his role. I can't say the same for Gwyneth Paltrow, whose performance and scenes are more annoying than anything and do admittedly take down the movie a slight notch. I like Terrence Howard as Rhodes, although it's still weird seeing him in the role since he got replaced immediately afterwards. Also, it'd been years since I've seen this movie, so I'd forgotten how much Clark Gregg was involved as Agent Coulson, who is great, of course.

All in all, it's pretty difficult to deny that Iron Man is a good movie. I don't find it to be quite the revered classic that some do now (especially when compared to some other better Marvel movies) but it was still a pretty darn good starting point for the most ambitious film franchise of all time. It's pretty fun and exciting for the majority of the way through. If you somehow haven't gotten yourself wrapped into this Marvel series yet, the first Iron Man film is the place to start. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Central Intelligence


RATING: D+

Once upon a time, I actually thought this film was going to be pretty decent for a film that's essentially a buddy cop action comedy (something I don't watch often). Heck, I recall noting that this film was coming out the same weekend as Finding Dory, and actually thinking, "This random movie looks like it could be actually more fun." (As of this writing, I still haven't seen Finding Dory, and I honestly don't expect much from it, but I do now expect it to be better than this.) Well, that turned out to not be the case. 

The film pairs together Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart; with Johnson playing the former school outcast who became a CIA operative and, as Hart's character puts it, "Jason Bourne in Jordan's." Hart plays the former school hero who is now an accountant--and is displeased with his life. Johnson shows up and says he needs his accounting skills to solve a puzzle involving some satellite codes. Or something. 

Central Intelligence is really one of those movies that pretty much literally uses all the good parts in the trailers. Johnson and Hart have some funny moments, for sure, but you probably already saw them on TV during commercial breaks during the NBA Finals. There's honestly not a whole lot else to see. The plot is mediocre at best, and the script is honestly ludicrous--the moments that actually manage to be funny are that way because of Johnson and Hart, who both manage to keep this movie from being a complete waste. 

They attempt to make it an action comedy, but the few action scenes honestly aren't that good despite getting to watch The Rock slam people around, which is always fun. The comedy? Well, there are comedic moments, but all too often it slips into typical ridiculous crude humor "comedy"--something I was hoping this movie would avoid, but it doesn't. 

So what is there to like about this movie? Not a whole lot, but Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart do admittedly save it from being a complete disaster. Their antics might just be enough for some to have fun, and if your brand of humor matches up with the majority of this film's humor, you'll probably have even more fun. And you could certainly do worse. But it's all too cookie-cutter and ridiculous and lacking in truly funny moments to really be remarkable. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Legend of Tarzan


RATING: C-

The Legend of Tarzan picked a pretty bad year to come out. It's already the kind of tale that doesn't seem to hold as much sway as it once did (even though there are still fans of the Disney film). But it also didn't help matters that a well-received Jungle Book remake came out this year as well, and apparently people didn't need more tales of guys who grow up in the jungle and become friends with the animals. There certainly wasn't a whole lot of anticipation leading up to this movie. 

This particular Tarzan film decides to take a bit of a "Hook (1991)" approach to the Tarzan story by having the character Tarzan (aka John Clayton III) no longer living in the wild; and he is asked to survey a development of the Congo area where he came from, which is now being overseen by some king from Belgium. 

Along with John Clayton comes his wife Jane, and Samuel L. Jackson--excuse me, I mean George Washington Williams. However, it ends up being a trap planned out by a Belgian representative named Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) who has nothing but bad intentions for Congo and the various tribes within. Which means Tarzan has to return to the jungle and get his old buddies together to take down the villain from Spectre and restore peace with Samuel L. Jackson's help. No big deal, right? 

This kind of feels like one of those movies that had a troubled production and the final product was affected because of it. It's pretty messy throughout, and the first half is really boring as a lot of nothing happens--besides some poor uses of flashbacks. The second half gets better with some good action and fighting scenes, but that still leaves a plot that is generic at best, but sloppy is more accurate. The characters are honestly pretty boring. It is difficult to get invested in the character of Tarzan as Alexander Skarsgard doesn't bring much to the table on the acting front. Leon Rom is also an incredibly flat villain. 

It's not completely bad. Unlike most of the other flat actors, Samuel L. Jackson actually does really well in his role and provides some well-needed comic relief--and it actually works. There's some good fight scenes too--the highlight being when Tarzan boards a train and singlehandedly takes out an entire room of soldiers. 

The Legend of Tarzan isn't one of the worst action films you'll see, but it's definitely not a successful attempt to bring back the character. Even if it gets better later in the second half, the first half is just so sloppy and horribly paced that much of it becomes an afterthought otherwise, especially since the second half is still flawed even so. It's not a straight-up horrible film, but Legend of Tarzan is definitely one of the more forgettable action flicks of 2016. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Project Almanac


RATING: F

The found-footage genre is probably one of the worst things ever to happen to cinema. Sure, it might work good for horror movies, especially considering that the cliches of those two things go well together, but put it with pretty much anything else and it's a hot mess. Chronicle and Cloverfield were decent for found-footage movies, but even they suffered from the fact that they were found-footage movies.

There are a lot of problems with found-footage movies, especially when you try to combine them with non-horror movies. The characters are pretty much always stupid and flat, the script tries to match up with real life but instead comes out horrifying, and the camera jostles around everywhere so you have no idea what the heck is going on. The actors are usually nonexistent. The plot of the movie itself can sometimes be okay, but you have to come up with a reason for why your characters are filming everything. And that reason almost always makes no sense and is stupid. (Unless it's Cloverfield, when it *kind of* made sense.) 

Pretty much everything checks out here. We're stuck with high school characters, so of course they're talking like high school characters, much to everybody's chagrin. The acting in this movie is pretty awful. The camera work is rather ludicrous. The plot of the movie is sadly pretty pathetic. Oh, and the whole camera thing? They don't even explain why they're doing it in this one. They just film for no reason. 

The plot of this movie revolves around the teenagers using blueprints and the main character's father's work to make a time machine. I'm not convinced that really any of the characters--except maybe the main one (he aspires to go to MIT)--would even be able to build such a thing. And once they build it, all the characters become pretty stupid and despite discussing well-known movies where time traveling changes reality and the need to be careful, they proceed to go into the past and end up, well, changing reality. And things start going wrong. And somehow the smart, nerdy main character ends up being the one who is the stupidest regarding his actions. 

And somehow, the ending manages to be about as stupid as can be. (If you really don't want spoilers, stop here and skip to the next paragraph... but in all fairness, you might as well read because there's a fair chance you're probably not watching a lame and quickly forgotten movie like this anyway.) They end up eliminating the timeline where they screwed things up, but it's still all on the camera they recorded it on, which they find at the end, which means they again have knowledge of the now-nonexistent timeline that no one else remembers, but there are no consequences... that we know of. Make any sense? No? Well, that's what happens. 

As you can see, Project Almanac is a mess of a film. Even if it weren't a found-footage film, it wouldn't be very good anyway due to its plot. But the fact that it is found-footage means it's even worse. And what's sad is that it takes pretty much a whole hour before we even actually start getting to the remotely interesting part where their actions affect reality... meaning you have to sit through a hour of pretty much nothing before you get to the rest of the movie, which is mostly misguided and confusing anyway. 

I've seen movies that I personally hated a lot more than this, but ended up (or would end up) getting a slightly higher rating because they had some redeeming quality to them, even if a minor one. This movie doesn't really have any redeeming qualities. It didn't have much that made me angry (besides how long it took in movie minutes for them to build the stupid machine), but I'm not sure I even cracked a smile once--besides laughing at how sloppy the ending was. To sum it up, this movie is just flat out lifeless. 

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Fast and the Furious


RATING: C-

The Fast and Furious series has become one of the more longer-running current franchises, and have gained plenty of mixed opinions along the way. These days the films are known for doing crazy things like pulling off a heist with cars, defeating a tank with cars, and driving a car in midair from skyscraper to skyscraper. 

But back in the earlier installments (certainly this first one), these films were actually racing films. More or less what you'd expect. It combined the plot of an average spy/fight movie from the late 90's or early 00's and combined with it the world of underground illegal street racing. An interesting combination; and one that it ultimately couldn't keep going properly as they ultimately gave way to focusing on the street racing. 

The film focuses on Brian O'Conner, the undercover cop who is trying to figure out the culprits of a gang of semi-truck hijackers. Along the way, he gets caught up in the underground racing world led by reckless racer Dominic Toretto and now has to decide where his loyalties lie. And knowing the kind of movie this is, it's ultimately no surprise what he ultimately chooses. 

This is honestly kind of a weird and ludicrous movie. Among other things, it feels *way* too much like a 1990's film for its own good. There are moments where it actually seems to be trying to be intelligent, or trying to be carrying out a decent plot, but particularly in the finale, it throws all of that to the wayside for the sake of an exciting automobile chase/fight scene and an incredibly stupid ending involving an impromptu race between the leads. 

Although most of the characters in the film are actually criminals, there's actually some interesting ones to be found among the bunch, particularly Dom Toretto. The acting is hit-or-miss, though the script didn't really help it out. Vin Diesel's pretty entertaining though, almost no matter what he's doing. And the film actually does have a few charming and/or exciting moments here and there. 

But the problem is, there's just too much inconsistency as well as a dose of stupidity. It feels like it's all too easy for Brian to go undercover and become best buds with Toretto, and all the same, it seems like Dom forgives Brian all too easily after the inevitable revelation of "oh yeah, I'm a cop." (Man, this plot really writes itself, doesn't it?) And the villains? They're arguably some of the most forgettable ones I've ever seen, taking a backseat to the dynamic between Brian and Dom. It literally does feel as if the studios just said "screw it" for the final 20 minutes. 

As far as films with brainless thrills go, one could certainly do a lot worse. Vin Diesel and Paul Walker help keep things interesting, at least. But it's just difficult otherwise to get into a film that's mostly strictly about racing and can't decide if it wants to be intelligent or not before just saying "whatever" eventually. There is definitely certain types of people that might be able to enjoy this if they're not too demanding, but if you want something a little more realistic and sophisticated, stay as far away as possible from this movie. 

Friday, September 30, 2016

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Out of the Shadows


RATING: D+

Over the years, the various films in the Ninja Turtles series have received criticism for different reasons. Though most fans enjoyed the original 1990 movie, a frequent complaint since then is that we've never seen other villains from the TMNT lore besides Shredder. And the first film in the new reboot was also criticized for not enough of the turtles, and for the turtles themselves being hideous CGI abominations (for the record, I don't hate them as much as most), way too much Megan Fox, and no Casey Jones. 

Now, normally, film studios don't generally seem to listen to the fans' complaints. They'll do whatever the heck they want as long as you still come to see it. But oddly enough, it seems they actually listened--for better or for worse. They can't fix the look of the turtles, but the turtles are actually truly the main characters this time. There's not as much Megan Fox (though she's still annoying). Casey Jones finally got brought in. And they finally involved the villains that many were asking for--all of them, pretty much. Which normally isn't a very good idea. 

In total, there are about *four* villains from the lore; Shredder, of course (who doesn't even get his battle armor on until the very end, thus making him pretty boring); as well as Bebop and Rocksteady, Krang, and Baxter Stockman (played in a ridiculous performance by Tyler Perry). And if you include Karai, then that makes for a total of five freaking villains in a plot that involves Krang using pretty much all the other villains to open a dimensional portal to bring his war machine to Earth to destroy it. 

For a movie that actually does almost everything the fans asked for, this film still somehow managed to be a bit of a letdown. Sure, Bebop and Rocksteady are involved, and they are pretty cool in their action scenes at times, but they're given some absolutely ridiculous dialogue. Krang? Well, he's pretty cool, but based on what little I know about the Ninja Turtles lore, I feel like he's the kind of villain you'd put in your last movie or something like that. In other words, they kind of almost pulled a Doomsday from Batman v Superman. Baxter Stockman and Karai? Well, they're just kind of there. They don't do that much. But probably the dumbest thing about all of this is when the humans (not just Casey Jones, even though he feels oddly held back in this movie) are actually able to hold their own against some of these villains. 

So what is there to like about this movie? Well, as mentioned earlier, Krang is a pretty decent villain to bring in. There's a few cool action sequences, such as the convoy breakout early on in the movie, and a fight between the cops and Foot Clan ninjas, and Casey's face-off with Bebop and Rocksteady late in the movie. There's also some better moments of humor in this movie than the last one, even if there's also some moments that are even more ridiculous as well. There also actually seems to be a little more character development between the turtles in this one than the last movie. 

Ultimately, per the usual, this one's probably not going to appeal to very many people besides hardcore TMNT fans. It's difficult to say whether they'll love having all of their various favorite characters/villains finally thrown in, or if they'll be frustrated by the way they're used in the pretty ridiculous script (I know I was frustrated with this new depiction of Casey Jones, and I'm not even a huge fan of this series), or if they'll just be overwhelmed by it all. It looks like the guys at Paramount are going to back to the drawing board; however, you really have to wonder where they can go from here. By still not getting as much as positive reception as they were hoping for, they've kind of dug themselves into a hole they may not be able to dig themselves out of. It may be for the better to just put the turtles back in the shadows for a while. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Self/less


RATING: C

Now here's an interesting case: in a modern-day Hollywood littered with remakes, here's a movie that apparently might as well have been a remake of an older one, were it not for different character names and what not. The movie in question is a 1966 flick named "Seconds," which I haven't seen, but it seems that this movie (from 2015) took its plot from Seconds so much that it might as well have been a remake. So it's not a remake... but at the same time, it kind of sort of is. Now poor Hollywood's trying to be sneaky with putting out remakes. 

Anyways, the film centers around a dying wealthy businessman named Damian (Ben Kingsley) who is offered the chance by a mysterious organization to keep on living. To be immortal. They do so by transferring his consciousness into a brand new body (Ryan Reynolds); and how exactly they're able to do that is never really explained, but in these kind of movies (with transferring of consciousness), I get the feeling that's a common thing. 

So, he's got a new body. But inevitably, all is not as it seems; and he goes on a crusade to uncover what the organization is hiding--about themselves, and the new body he has. In some ways, the plot that ensues is pretty predictable. Is it a bad one? Not particularly, but it telegraphs itself all too often so there's not that much that's an actual surprise. 

Despite having a couple decent stars, this movie was unfortunately kind of doomed to a degree by being stuck with a low budget. Hence, the direction is a bit mediocre and it feels a little sloppy occasionally. Ultimately nearly everything about this film is pretty middling. Nothing is particularly great, and nothing is particularly bad either, per se. It's a movie that's often just too average for its own good. 

It's not without its moments, though. There's a couple of nice action sequences, including a decent car chase scene. The ending is pretty good as well. But it also doesn't help that some of the things that the film is based round--such as the immortality conversation--aren't dwelled on quite as much as I'd like. 

It's certainly not a terrible film, but it's also probably easy to see why it was overlooked by virtually everyone. It's a decent movie, but it's also a bit forgettable, so if you even saw it when it first came out, you probably forgot about it when you were looking back on movies of 2015. And while one could certainly do worse with their two hours, the feeling still cannot be shaken that this film could've been done better. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Transformers 4: Age of Extinction


RATING: D+

The Transformers movies were in an interesting spot after the third one. For starters, they'd killed a *lot* of the robot characters off. About half the Autobots were dead and the Decepticons were basically decimated. So they were going to have to dig further into the Transformers universe for robots. But also, Shia LeBeouf left the franchise. So ultimately, we ended up getting an almost-reboot where none of the human characters from the last three movies were around, and though the events of the last three movies were acknowledged, it's never explained why Optimus Prime and Bumblebee don't seem to care what happened to Sam Witwicky. 

So now, we're stuck with Mark Wahlberg as the lead. And ultimately, I preferred Witwicky's dumber moments. Cade Yeager is a stupid lead character, but then again, virtually all the new human characters are stupid. There's nothing really appealing about any of them. Not that the horrible script helped them or their actors out much. 

We are introduced to a whole new host of Transformers in this movie--most of the Autobots are dead, so they threw in Hound, Crosshairs and Drift out of desperation. Hound is the only one who fares that well, mostly due to being voiced by John Goodman. As for one of the new villains, they bring in Lockdown (neither Autobot nor Decepticon) who is actually pretty awesome and introduces a pretty interesting new plot device involving the Transformers and their "creators"--which is what I guess the fifth movie is going to be about. 

As for the Decepticons? Well, they pretty much exhausted the roster there apparently. So now they've resorted to a stupid plot where *humans* are building Transformers. *Humans.* They create Galvatron out of that, who sadly is hardly even in the movie, especially considering how important to this and future movies he turns out to be. And instead of the usual Transforming effects, these new human-made bots have some awful transforming effects where they turn into a swarm made up of block cubes. Normal Transforming is pretty awesome, so I don't understand why they felt the need to screw it up. 

So yeah, there's a lot of new in this movie--but in some ways, things are still the same as ever. Cool action sequences. Horrible attempts at comedy involving humans. And the plot? The plot is almost nonexistent. Much of it revolves around the idea that somehow all Transformers including Autobots are at fault for the Decepticons destroying Chicago in the last movie. At least in the last two movies, it felt like they were kind of trying--albeit still ultimately failing. It's also beginning to feel like they keep reimagining the Transformers universe and its past just so they can make those movies. 

There are likable moments here. There are still some isolated awesome action moments. The Dinobots, though they aren't in the movie nearly enough, are pretty cool. There's an hilarious sequence where Bumblebee reacts to the human-made Transformers and how one specifically was modeled after him, but "better in every way," leading him to freak out. 

But on the whole, this is definitely the worst of the Transformers movies. With no decent human characters, very little plot and being too long even for a Transformers movie (165 minutes), it's pretty difficult to ultimately redeem this movie even if there are some isolated enjoyable moments. I still didn't quite cover everything wrong this movie, but when a movie is this long, it's pretty difficult to hit all the points, good and bad alike.

The set-up for the next one actually looks kind of interesting, with the concept of the "creators" of the Transformers and such. But it's difficult to see it turning out any better than the others as long as Michael Bay is at the helm. Yes, he creates some good action and visuals, but he can't create a good enough story, and he can't resist putting other stuff in like human drama that no one who's interested in the Transformers cares about. If we got a new director (a proper one, mind you), we might sacrifice some of the visuals, but it might be worth it so we can finally get at least a B-grade movie out of these  movies. And they better hurry before they run out of material to do that with in this series. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon


RATING: C

Wait, what? Is that really what the subtitle there says? "Dark of the Moon?" I have to wonder just how this weird seemingly-broken-English title happened, especially considering that the proper term "dark side of the moon" is used a few times in the movie. That probably left the more skeptical ones already knowing how this was going to turn out, but seeing as Michael Bay was still attached to these movies, they probably should've known anyway if they saw the last two movies. 

Coming off the heels of the sloppily plotted Revenge of the Fallen, we're now given a plot where the 1960's Space Race to get man on the moon was actually a disguise to get to a crashed Transformer spacecraft before anyone else. When the Autobots discover this, a race begins to get to the spacecraft and the technology and knowledge within before the Decepticons do. Sam Witwicky gets thrown into the fray again as well when a co-worker gives him knowledge of the conspiracy, leading him to discover the truth of the newest mess he's found himself in. 

Although this movie has a better plot than its predecessor, that's really not saying much; because it's still pretty sloppy and there are still quite a few discrepancies as they end up contradicting certain events from the first movie. And if they hadn't embraced the more brainless thrills of their movies before, they do now more than ever before; to the point where things are just so ridiculous that I basically turned my brain off around the two-hour mark of this 155-minute movie and just enjoyed the robots slamming each other around and the destruction. 

As a Transformers movie, it delivers more or less what you'd expect. You still have the great action sequences (though more unrealistic than before). You still have the appallingly dumb human interaction stuff aside from that. You still have the much more interesting robotic conflicts, and you also have the stuff during the first act that is genuinely insulting to the viewer--such as Rosie Huntington-Whiteley's "performance" and the way she is used that was so bad it actually made some people wish to have Megan Fox back. 

Probably the most insulting part of the movie, though, is when Leonard Nimoy's new Sentinel Prime character quotes Nimoy's most beloved character Spock in one of his most memorable lines ("The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few") in a manner that is definitely not logical and straight up feels random and out of place, making you wonder just what Michael Bay was going for and if he was trying to insult the memory of Wrath of Khan and how in the world Nimoy was convinced to repeat his own line in that manner. 

So once again, as usual, it's the action sequences and the robot fights that make the movie worthwhile. There are some scenes that stand out more than others, such as the spectacular highway chase/fight scene and Optimus Prime's street rampage near the end. And in general, the whole final hour of the movie or so is pretty riveting. Bringing in Shockwave was pretty awesome as well, as was involving Soundwave more. I do wish Megatron hadn't been reduced to a mere afterthought until the final ten minutes of the movie, but whatever. 

All in all, this Transformers movie is basically more of the same, so it kind of depends on how you viewed the previous two. And it's not a movie you should go in planning to take very seriously, because you will definitely walk away frustrated. If you found enjoyment in the action scenes of the previous two movies, you'll enjoy those parts of this third one, which manages to often outdo the previous installments in that regard. So once again, a movie pretty strictly for fans of the characters and for people who are fine with non-demanding action movies; everyone else should probably skip out. 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen


RATING: C-

When you go to watch a movie about robots that can transform into cars, you go to watch that movie  pretty much just to watch the robots fight each other, right? Just verifying as I get underway with this one. Because both Michael Bay and some of the audience don't seem to entirely get this. 

The Transformers series continues as the Autobots are still working on cleaning up some of the remaining Decepticons on Planet Earth with Megatron dead, but turns out his master is still alive--The Fallen. (If he ever had a different name, we never hear it.) And he's ready to begin his conquest to exact his "revenge" upon Earth; which includes resurrecting Megatron. So now the Autobots and Decepticons are going to war again, and Sam Witwicky gets dragged into things again when he looks into a shard of the All Spark, which transmits a bunch of symbols into his mind--which supposedly lead to an Energon source. Or something. 

If you didn't care much for the first one, you're going to have a difficult time with this one. Following a pretty awesome opening sequence in Shanghai, the movie's next 45 minutes are spent around stupidity regarding the humans, a Decepticon that can turn into a human, and boring college stuff, and more horrible attempts at comedy that feel out of place in a movie about robots fighting each other. In other words, it's more of the same of what you saw in the first movie... only put some emphasis on the word "more." 

Unfortunately, the plot (which was just okay in the last movie) takes a bit of a dive in this one. There are bits and pieces of a decent story here and there, but there are quite a few inconsistencies. Namely, this legendary key that can supposedly only be used by someone who's earned it--and then the villain proceeds to use it right away.

There's some issues also regarding the usage of the robots. Of course, there's a pretty long stretch where we don't see much of them early on in the movie same as the first one. The good news is, Megatron gets a lot more screen time than the first one. The bad news is, Optimus Prime doesn't. The good news is, Soundwave is finally brought in. The bad news, The Fallen doesn't really do much despite being a pretty formidable villain until the very end--and then is killed in three minutes in a pretty awesome but incredibly rushed final fight. And of course, now there's a LOT more robots on both sides and it's getting more difficult than before to tell who's who. Not to mention the fact that a few robot characters just disappear completely without explanation and are never seen again. 

So what is there to enjoy about this film exactly? Well, watching the robots fighting each other or just wreaking havoc in general is pretty great as before. There are some genuinely awesome fights and visuals. Although most of the cast isn't that good (*cough* Megan Fox), Shia LeBeouf fares better in the second movie as an actor, and John Turturro is actually more funny for most of this one. Oh yeah, and Steve Jablonsky writes a fantastic soundtrack. 

So really, what much of this comes down to (again) is if you enjoy watching robots fight each other and if you enjoy the Transformers to begin with. If you don't, this will probably be a dumpster fire of the highest order, due in part to the sloppiness of the story and the idiocy of the script. If you do, you still won't find this to be a classic by any means, but you might want to check it out if this kind of thing is up your alley. Otherwise, you probably shouldn't bother. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Transformers


RATING: C

Transformers. If you were a kid during the 80's, you might've been a fan; whether it was the toy line, the TV show, and apparently there was even a comic. And in order to find a way to sell more toys, the guys figured they might as well make a live-action movie. Or something like that.

And hence, we have the first movie about the war between the Autobots (led by Optimus Prime) and the Decepticons (led by Megatron) as it comes to Earth, with both parties in search of the "All Spark," a mysterious cube that powered their home world, Cybertron. Obviously, one side intends to use it for good; the other for evil. And some teenager named Sam Witwicky holds the key to finding its location on Earth. 

Michael Bay was selected to direct this movie (and all its sequels), which is part of the reason there are often mixed emotions about this movie. To start, the action sequences are pretty doggone incredible. Watching the robots fight each other is what you came for, and the special effects department delivers and then some. The only problem with these scenes is that (if you're not already familiar with the various robots) without doing a little research you might have trouble figuring out which robot is which (save for Optimus, Megatron, and Bumblebee--Sam's guardian). 

The biggest problem by far with this movie is much of what goes on when we're not watching robots in general. We spend more time than I'd like with Sam Witwicky and his personal life; little of it even ties into the actual plot of the movie, aside from him and his new car (Bumblebee). The attempts at humor used are just plain awful; material that I'd expect to find in maybe a teen "comedy" movie, but not in an action/adventure movie about robots fighting each other. And often the script (especially during these "comedy" scenes, which really aren't that funny) is just awful.

And honestly, I'm not that big on Sam Witwicky at all. He gets better during the awesome final act, but he's just annoying for most of the movie. I like Shia LeBeouf, but this isn't one of his better films. But he's better than Megan Fox (who plays his love interest), who isn't an actress so much as she is intended to be eye candy. As it turns out, the two primary military characters (Lennox and Epps) turn out to be far more appealing than the two main human characters and I wish we'd spent more time with them instead when we weren't spending time with the robots. 

Really, what makes this movie worth watching at all is the Transformers themselves, their conflict and their battles. All of that is far more interesting, and it's what you came to watch in the first place. But we just spend too much time with meaningless human material that contributes little to nothing to the plot. The crude attempts at humor in most of this movie are awfully misguided and feel pretty out of place in a movie about robots fighting each other. 

Transformers leaves you with mixed emotions, indeed; you might be wowed by the action sequences, but you'll be pretty frustrated with a lot of other things. If you're a fan of the material, and you enjoy big action films in general, you'll want to see it; but if you're looking for something a little more serious and more well done on things other than the action, this is not for you. I was entertained enough to not regret watching it, but it's definitely only for a certain audience/demographic. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Last Witch Hunter


RATING: C+

When you think of Vin Diesel, you might think of that guy from the Fast & Furious series who says things like "Let's go for a lil ride." You might also think of "I am Groot!" from Guardians of the Galaxy. Oh yeah, and there's also that "xXx" crazy-stunt franchise. Well, here's another possible franchise with him for you; one where he hunts witches.

This movie centers around an immortal warrior named Kaulder, who helps keeps the peace between humans and witches (who are allowed to live in peace) in the present day by defeating rogue witches, always accompanied by a "Dolan" (a priest) who records the events. He is forced to deal with an uprising of witches using incredibly dark magic to try to bring back their long-dead leader. Accompanied by a new Dolan (Elijah Wood) taking over for his predecessor (Michael Caine) and also by a "good witch" named Chloe, he'll have to keep the world from being turned into a wasteland.

As you might expect (especially if you saw the trailers), this movie is quite the action-fest that rarely lets up. Considering the poor reception, I wasn't sure what to expect from the plot, but I was actually somewhat impressed. Once you accept the idea of a movie taking place in a world where witches exist and are allowed to live in peace, everything else flows pretty well. There are a few pretty good plot twists; a couple which I didn't see coming at all.

The action scenes, for the most part, are actually pretty decent. The CGI occasionally is a bit overdone, but for the most part, the visuals are strong as well; carrying a dark atmosphere without being so dark that we can't realize what's going on at all. It's not a particularly boring movie by any means.

Most of the issues lie elsewhere; the script is average at best; and Michael Caine is tragically underused, not being in the movie nearly enough. That said, he's not given much to work with, so it's not that memorable of a performance for him. Elijah Wood actually fares better, but his character is more complicated. Vin Diesel is Vin Diesel; doing what he does. But his character is somewhat underdeveloped, even if entertaining.

If you're unable to accept the premise of the movie involving the witches, it's going to be a rough ride. And if you're looking for an action masterpiece, look elsewhere; this film is just flawed enough around the edges to avoid that distinction, and just a little more forgettable than some other recent action films. That said, it's still pretty entertaining, and better than I expected, and still really not that bad on the story front. If you're looking for an exciting action film without being *too* demanding of it, or you're a fan of Vin Diesel in general, give it a whirl. Despite the bashing it took reception-wise, you might be surprised. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Avengers


RATING: A+

There was a time when the idea of this movie seemed risky; if it fell apart, it'd be a massive failure for everyone involved, and the successful build-up that they had created up to that point (with the solo Iron Man, Thor and Captain America movies) would ultimately have been for nothing. Four years later, now they're trying to do more and more movies like this; they're trying to do the same thing with the Justice League. 

This movie was pretty much every fanboy's ultimate dream ever; combining the forces of Iron Man, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, and some archer guy named Hawkeye into one. And that was before they added even more guys later on in these Avengers movies! It's all of these guys versus Loki, Thor's brother, and some alien army he's allied with in order to take control of the Earth.

The film takes an oddly simplistic approach, having established its universe in previous films. Bad guy shows up (previously thought dead). Team comes together; fails against the bad guy on first try. Team then *truly* comes together, and defeats bad guy easily. That's more or less how it goes. It's a formula we've seen before (and since, probably). 

So what made this movie such a huge success? Well, the tougher question to ask would be what *wasn't* successful about it. It's undeniably awesome to see all these heroes together at once and fighting against different enemies; and the script is brilliantly written, courtesy of Joss Whedon (also directing), loaded with humor at every turn; whether it's the film poking fun at itself, or characters poking fun at each other (physically or verbally). The film's all-star cast delivers.

So what ultimately is there negative to say about this film? Very little; and what there might be to gripe about are very, very minor occasional gripes. Even non comic-book fans can get in pretty easily without being confused (as long as they've seen the previous movies in this series, anyway).

This movie is basically the perfect blend of action and comedy; it's pretty likable even for people who aren't quite as big of fans of superhero movies. It's definitely one of the best movies of the decade, if not the best. You've probably already seen it, but if you haven't, you still should; this is an action movie that's about as much as fun as they come. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice


RATING: C+

People have been clamoring for a cinematic standoff between the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight for some time now. It's pretty clear that they hadn't exactly thought the whole thing through, because a fight between those two goes only one of two ways: either Superman kills Batman with a flick of his finger, or Batman kills Superman... but only because he had Kryptonite. In other words, there's not much you can do with this story. But Zach Snyder and the DC Extended Universe decided they wanted to do it anyway. 

The story they come up with in the background is actually decent; Superman is dealing with a world that is concerned about him and his all-powerfulness and his battles which sometimes lead to deaths of civilians; one of them being Batman, whose company and employees were pretty much obliterated in the climactic battle in Man of Steel. Concerned about the unchecked power that Superman has, Batman decides he has to destroy him. 

Now where exactly do I begin? Because there is a *lot* to cover when talking about this movie. And that's part of the problem. Unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which took multiple movies to tell its story leading to the Avengers, this movie tries to cover all too much. There's of course, the battle between Batman and Superman to deal with, but they also try to set up for Justice League by giving us little very brief intros to the other guys (Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg) while giving us a full intro to Wonder Woman; who really doesn't have much of a reason to be in this movie... she just is. (Not that I'm complaining; she's actually one of the brighter spots of the movie.) Not to mention all the suggestions of interesting stuff that happened *before* this movie regarding Batman that is unexplained, trying to set up for the future of the franchise in general with teases at future villains. Oh yeah, and there's Doomsday to deal with too. Even though it's only our second movie in this series. 

Perhaps we should start with the big fight itself. Which actually is arguably the dumbest thing about this movie. As you might expect, the only way they can make it an even fight is to weaken Superman with kryptonite; the effects of which sometimes randomly wear off, of all things. So ultimately the big fight is rather anticlimactic; but then again, if you think about it, you were probably expecting it. 

The story following Superman is actually pretty interesting as he struggles with a world that doesn't entirely accept him. But there's really not much else to say about it; the character that requires more conversation is Ben Affleck's Batman. On one hand, a couple of the action sequences involving him are some of the best parts in this movie; a fight scene in a warehouse, and a car chase scene. But on the other hand, this Batman is totally out of character from what we've seen in recent years. This Batman actually kills. This Batman doesn't want to kill Superman because he thinks he has to; he wants to kill him because he *wants* to. Despite how the ending ultimately pans out, he seems borderline psychotic at times. 

And then, of course, there's the Doomsday conundrum. On one hand, the fight with Doomsday is actually quite awesome, and we get to witness Wonder Woman in action in it, which also turns out quite well. What's the problem, exactly? The fact that he's in this movie at all; considering he's pretty much one of the biggest (if not the biggest) juggernaut of the DC Universe, why are you bringing him in this early in your movies? Save him for later. 

As you can see, I have very mixed feelings on a lot of facets of this movie. And I haven't even started on Lex Luthor yet. I enjoyed Jesse Eisenberg's performance more than most; but sometimes it's just a little too goofy and over-the-top. One thing I don't have particularly mixed feelings on, though, is the ending (destroying Doomsday, and the aftermath). It's just stupid, plain and simple. I won't say anything as to not spoil it, but if you *have* seen the movie, you probably know what I mean. And it leaves me wondering just how they're going to handle certain things in Justice League. 

So what exactly about this movie does stand out? Well, visually, this movie is a work of art (kudos to Zach Snyder). Filled with brilliant scenery, cool camera angles and shots, and (in a dream sequence) some awesome post-apocalyptic imagery, and the action scenes (save for the main fight) are incredibly appealing visually and exciting. The acting is, for the most part, quite strong (though Laurence Fishburne is poorly used). 

Quite simply, this movie, despite driving you crazy at times and occasionally making no sense (even though I found out a few certain things are explained in the Ultimate Edition), is quite entertaining and fun to watch at times. This movie is loaded with some well-done action, and much of the plot itself that sets certain events into action is quite competent (even if the fight it's building up to is dumb). 

The movie is often pretty stupid. But it's also often pretty entertaining. It's entertaining stupidity, you see? And it is possible to enjoy entertaining stupidity to a certain degree. Now, as for the future of this franchise, I am rather concerned. Although I am looking forward to the Wonder Woman movie, I am more concerned about the Justice League movie and how they intend to follow up certain events that happened at the end of this movie and how they intend to raise the stakes after Doomsday. There is definite reason for concern regarding this franchise. Hopefully they can manage to at least keep it entertaining.