Saturday, July 29, 2017

Cars 2


The first Cars movie was one of Pixar's more slower-paced movies--fitting, given that despite the NASCAR-like racing, the movie was about slowing down and enjoying life, among other things. It was also probably Pixar's most underrated film ever. As for the first sequel, Cars 2? Well, it switched gears entirely (no pun intended). Completely. As in... went from a simple tale about slowing down and sticking it to the Interstates to... James Bond, basically. With Mater as more or less the main focus. Pretty odd, right? 

Well, the film's plot deals with Lightning McQueen racing in the World Grand Prix. Mater, among others, comes along and along the way accidentally gets caught in a case of mistaken identity and ends up being stuck in the world of car spies and espionage and a ridiculous and convoluted bad guy plot. 

When this film first came out, it was considered to be Pixar's first flop. I guess compared to the material they had released before this movie, that's sort of true. It's definitely not as bad as some would have you believe, and it's not Pixar's worst film either. (That honor goes to Monsters University.) But it is still rather dumb at times. 

The decision to make Mater the main focus wasn't really a great one. It's made even worse by the fact that he's actually made even dumber in the sequel--going from silly but fun and endearing comic relief in the first movie to being painfully idiotic at times in this one. But there are other points of massive idiocy throughout the plot--whether it's the fact that the actual spy cars can't figure out that Mater's not a spy (they think his idiocy is his cover), or the fact that this movie does not know how electromagnetic pulses work, or how other characters aren't as smart as they once were (McQueen suffers from this too), or just the villain's plan in general. Can't say it without spoilers... but just know that it's a terrible plan and makes no sense. 

What actually does work about this movie, then? Well, even if it's a 360-turn genre-wise, the spy stuff is still kind of cool regardless. The action scenes are actually fairly fun to watch. Even if some of the characters' stupidity annoys you at times, most of them are still likable. Although there are some attempts at humor that fall flat, there is still some pretty funny stuff too--such as the wasabi gag, the disguise technology scene, or a gag involving a Gatling gun. Also, attention should be called to the animation, which is astounding--the Tokyo sequences in particular are breathtaking. The voice acting is still pretty good too--in addition to returning actors like Owen Wilson, Tony Shalhoub and Bonnie Hunt, we get newcomers Michael Caine, John Turturro, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard and a sadly briefly used Bruce Campbell. Turturro in particular provides some more of the better comic relief. The film itself is still mostly a fun and entertaining ride, even if certain parts of it make you cringe a little. 

Cars 2 is definitely not as bad as many say it is. But it's still below average for Pixar (though a few years later, "average" doesn't mean what it used to for Pixar). And it's a bit of an odd film, given how insanely different it is from its predecessor. That said, you still could do worse both with Pixar and in the animation/kids' movie department in general. Even though no one will come away calling this a classic, it's not the kind of thing most will hate themselves for watching afterwards either. Even if it was still flawed, the biggest reason it got panned was because of everyone's higher expectations from Pixar at the time. Which is unfortunate, because this film is still a decently enjoyable (if not great) way to spend 105 minutes. 

Friday, July 21, 2017



Christopher Nolan has become the best director of our times--not just because of his classic Dark Knight trilogy, but because of his other works like Inception that showcased his creativity and ability to give us lots of plot twists. He's built his career on that kind of stuff. So seeing him switch gears to nonfiction for his next movie--a World War II movie, to be specific--is a little strange. 

This particular film concerns the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940--the time when Allied forces got trapped on the beaches of far northern France surrounded by the Nazis and they got transferred by civilian ships in addition to the destroyers that were available--and 300,000 men were rescued despite the Nazi air bombers' best efforts. It's quite the war tale that many of the younger generations may not even know much about. 

The film is presented in an interesting manner. We are thrust unceremoniously into the action right away. And it doesn't let up much for its 107 minutes--except for a few short breaks, there's always something going on. The narrative switches constantly between some random soldiers trying to survive in the Dunkirk battle in the sea, one particular civilian ship that civilians drive themselves, and the dogfights up above in the air. Those three narratives... and not much else. Well, save for Kenneth Branagh's role as a Commander, I guess. 

The film certainly does manage to keep one interested. There are some rather harrowing sequences (a couple of ship-sinking and near-drowning scenes come to mind), and while some parts of the film are more exciting than others, it does manage to keep you on your toes for most of the way through--that is in part helped by Hans Zimmer's great score. The main highlights of the film come in the air battle scenes--which are great to watch. 

The biggest issue with this movie is that at times it can be a little hard to follow. First off, remember how I mentioned one of the narratives being "random soldiers trying to survive in the Dunkirk battle?" Well, good luck figuring out who's who among those random soldiers, because they pretty much all look and sound the same. And the British accents are quite heavy, so you have to listen carefully--and even then you will not catch everything without subtitles. Due in particular to the latter, there were a couple moments here and there where I thought for a moment, "Wait... what's going on again?" 

Though this next sentiment will come as no surprise, it still should be said that Dunkirk doesn't feel like a traditional Christopher Nolan movie. It's all too simplistic. That's to be expected, of course. It's an historical event. But in the past, Nolan's put something in each of his movies that's very different that blows you away--whether it's a crazy plot twist or a crazy plot device. You won't find any of that here. Again, that's no surprise. But when I go to see a Christopher Nolan movie, I expect a very different kind of film experience. I expect to get utterly blown away. I enjoyed Dunkirk, but I was not blown away by it. It goes more or less exactly how you expect it to--which of course many will prefer it that way, and it probably *is* better that way. But I guess my anticipation for Nolan's next fictional movie masterpiece is only even more heightened now by his presumably brief detour into nonfiction here. 

Regardless, Dunkirk is quite a well done war movie. It does what it's supposed to do and it does it well for the most part. While there are a few things that could've been done better, what's done well is done pretty well. I guess even if it's a very different kind of film for Christopher Nolan, it still shows some impressive versatility. It's a movie that most will probably like or even love. While I absolutely cannot describe this as being anywhere near Nolan's best, it still keeps his long streak going. 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes


Who knew that the Planet of the Apes series could not only provide an actually *great* reboot--and one of the better trilogies in the last several years? It's crazy, but that's what happened. Rise gave us a surprisingly good start-up, while Dawn acted as the equivalent of The Empire Strikes Back--giving us a horrifying look at how wars start, with neither side is completely guilty or innocent in that case. And now, in the third movie, we get to see the result of that film's handiwork--the actual war, of course. 

The war's actually been going on for a couple of years when the movie starts, with casualties on both sides. The human side consists of a military group--led by a mysterious figure known only as the Colonel (Woody Harrelson). The apes--led by Caesar (Andy Serkis)--have been holding them off for some time, but not without losses. When tragedy strikes big-time, Caesar wrestles with his darker side and begins a campaign to destroy the Colonel, who is determined to wipe out the apes forever for his own reasons. 

This movie has a lot going for it, and on the whole it's pretty great. While the film feels slightly more slow-paced than the previous two, there are some very tense sequences (namely a long conversation between Caesar and the Colonel) and an "all-heck-breaks-loose" action finale. The direction from Matt Reeves overall is quite strong, with some brilliant set pieces. While there aren't a lot of non-extra human actors (most of the acting is motion-capture performances of apes), the acting overall in the film is still great. Andy Serkis really outdoes himself; perhaps in an extra effort to get his long-deserved Oscar?

While the story itself overall works just fine, there is one kind of glaring issue which I unfortunately can't go into much without giving away spoilers. There is a revelation midway through the film that attempts to connect things further to the original Planet of the Apes. But this "revelation" ends up contradicting itself a bit. I do wonder if they actually are setting up the exact events of the original movies, or if they were just making call-backs. 

Then there's also the ending. While none of it really comes as a massive shock, it still kind of leaves us with some questions--chiefly whether there are still other humans out there, and what their current state/condition is. Considering that we don't know officially yet if more entries are happening, that's a little bit of a problem. 

Despite those two main flaws, they don't hold the film back from being a strong third entry. The film continues the dynamics found in the last film (only this one is even darker), and Andy Serkis helps strongly with that--almost carrying the film by himself. It's certainly a memorable ride, and while it may not have the same impact that Dawn did, it still gets the vast majority of things done right. If it is the ending of the series (though I personally doubt it), it's a pretty good one. 

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Jack Reacher 2: Never Go Back


The last time we saw Jack Reacher, he foiled a plot involving... um... actually, I already forgot what it was exactly. I only remember minor specifics. Something involving an assassination. Something involving a group of bad guys with agents everywhere trying to cover it all up and frame people who get in their way. A good car chase scene. A few cool fight scenes. A little bit of amusing dialogue from Tom Cruise. And not much else.

Yeah, despite being a somewhat intelligent thriller, the first Jack Reacher movie was still quite slow and quite forgettable. In my mind, there wasn't a whole lot of hope anyway for a good sequel. I'll start with this: most of the better parts were in the trailers. And if you hated the trailers, boy are you in for a rough ride.

Unlike its predecessor, this movie was quite disliked--even though in some ways it's a bit more like the first one than many would care to admit. Something involving an assassination. Something involving a group of bad guys with agents everywhere trying to cover it all up and frame people who get in their way. Not really any proper car chase scenes, but still a few cool fight scenes. A little bit of amusing dialogue from Tom Cruise. And not much else.

In this particular installment, a military contract of Jack Reacher's--Major Turner (Cobie Smulders)--is framed for the murder of two of her own guys. Reacher gets involved, and the two end up working together on the case as fugitives. And this rather annoying teenage girl named Samantha gets involved as well--because she might be Jack's daughter. 

Here in this one, they made a bit of a bigger deal of there being some kind of dark conspiracy; which does sound interesting, but then the reveal about the identity of the evil group is rather underwhelming. The conspiracy is unmasked, the "big bad" is taken into custody... but there's still 20 minutes left. Why? Well, because this random hitman goes after Samantha. He really, really, *really* wants to get back at Reacher because... why, exactly? It seemed as if the hitman just wanted to do it for kicks. Which, in this particular scenario, is rather stupid. But we do get a pretty sweet fight scene out of it, so there's that I guess. 

One thing that this movie *does* differ from its predecessor on is that it's less intelligent. It's a much more by-the-numbers action/crime/thriller movie. (Well, there is a surprising twist in the final few minutes... but at that point no one really cares anymore.) Also, the dialogue in general got worse. There are still a few fun moments--such as the perhaps infamous "telephone scene"--but once again they're not enough to elevate the film.

Ultimately, this movie is just as forgettable as its predecessor. And slow-paced again, too. (Seriously, almost literally nothing interesting happens during the entire first hour.) But at least the first one was more smart. At least it was trying. Here, we just have a cookie-cutter "action/thriller" movie. And I use those two genres rather loosely. Ironically, this sequel's subtitle actually applies rather well to most people's feelings about this movie. Indeed, let us "Never Go Back" to this franchise.