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"Extant" is the type of science fiction I truly love. Gripping and
character-based, with multiple mysteries and obstacles challenging the
main character(s). This is what distinguished the original "Star Trek"
from all the successors. Halle Berry is perfect as Molly, with her
beautiful expressive eyes capturing empathy from the first frame.
Flashback is used as it should be, to enable suspense to build slowly;
as suspense is dependent upon empathy with a character or characters.
Those who consider it implausible that Molly would spend 13 months
alone in space know little about the logistics of space exploration. I
do, because I worked logistics on the International Space Station in
the 1990s, which includes cost estimating. The single biggest expense
of maintaining a manned space station is the cost of life support.
Thus, intelligent robots and continuous communication with the earth
would be used to substitute for human contact. As following allowing
the ship's "commander" to delete security camera footage, the
"commander" has overall authority of what is recorded in the ship's
log, especially within the interior of the ship, where privacy issues
are concerned. Most US astronauts would not set foot in a vehicle
unless they could do this.
"Extant" is handsomely mounted, sophisticated adult entertainment. Those expecting the exciting, but juvenile excitement of "Star Wars" should look elsewhere.
I give the "Extant" pilot a "10" and hope the series can keep up its excellence. I will admit, however, the plotting of this series seems limited. So, I would be surprised if it survives more than one or two seasons.
Once upon a time, a couple of writer/producers were hanging out,
enjoying their favorite recreational drugs, when one of them said, "I'm
tired of making the same old franchise crap." "Whatdoyouwannado?" asks
another. "Lets make something different...but not TOO different?"
"KnowwhatI'dliketosee?" chimes in another...a buddy movie with Mark
Wahlberg and Denzel Washington." "YES!" replied the first. "Mark
Wahlberg worked GREAT with a Teddy Bear. He can certainly work with
Denzel." Gazing around the room, the first writer/producer spots his
favorite reading material, a comic book (Well, EXCUSE ME! A graphic
novel). "PERFECT!" he shouts.
Well, by this time these three writer/producers must have been as fully loaded as Mark's and Denzel's weapons. What else, besides a lack of talent, would explain HOW they created such an incoherent mess as "2 Guns"? And, they must have been writing in sequence and coming down HARD by the time they finished, because this is EXACTLY how "2 Guns" plays; a humorous, promising start that turns convoluted and unsavory, barely redeemed by its finish, which must have written at another "hangout". Two guns has two fine "A list" stars; two distinguished character actors in Edward James Olmos and Bill Paxton; lots of firepower, explosions and great one liners. Fine ingredients and great chemistry. Well, it takes great chemistry to make a stink bomb, too.
I give "2 Guns" a 5; but only because I gave "Man of Steel" a 4; and I want "Man of Steel" to remain my worst "A" list movie of the year.
When I first saw the trailer for "Pacific Rim," I said to myself
"Rock'em, Sock'em Robots". I mean, the idiot-level concept that the
gigantic monsters would not be stopped by torpedoes, missiles or guns
at sea or a submarine net rigged with explosives or electricity just
seemed to stupid to endure. However, two things made me change my mind:
1) my wife wanted to see it and 2) the movie had a really beautiful
"look" (thanks to topnotch production values and use of a RED camera
(the same camera used for "Step-up Revolution). Minutes into the movie,
my other suspicions were confirmed: 1) this movie is marketed to an
international cast, as the the three main characters are all of
different races and nationalities; and 2) the storyline would be one
cliché after another.
Nonetheless, I rate "Pacific Rim" highly for the acting, direction, music and those aforementioned production values. Even the cliché plot lines seem fresh and original due to the fine acting; especially Idris Elba, who could impress reading a soup can. Also, always welcome, is Ron Perlman, who somehow always manages to class up the most ridiculous projects.
With a cast of real actors, not stars, the most modest of romances and lots of violent action, this movie screams "International (particularly Asian) project". I certainly expected to see more Asian names among the technical credits. However, when one figures three-fourths of this movies grosses came from outside the US, it is clear Guillermo del Toro intended to make an international film, and he certainly made a handsome one. I give "Pacific Rim" a "7".
The Superman character was only 20 years old when I first began reading
the DC comics. Superman and Green Lantern were my favorite DC
characters, as Green Arrow and Batman had too similar origins and
partners, Speedy and Robin, respectively. Marvel Comics were not even
carried on any of the news stands I frequented. While I later became
more found of characters who relied on their skills rather than super
powers, I certainly read more Superman, as he appeared in both the
Superman and Detective Story comic books. I had never been really
satisfied with the movie versions of Superman; it always seemed to me
they chose the wrong actresses to play Lois Lane. Both Noel Nell
("Adventures of Superman") and Terri Hatcher ("Lois and Clark: The New
Adventures of Superman") resembled the comic book Lois Lane, both in
appearance and class. However, until "Man of Steel," I had never seen a
such a hash of the Superman legend. Even as a kid, I understood that
Kal-El embodied BOTH Clark Kent AND Superman; and that Lois, while a
fearless, crusading reporter, was so vain and self deceptive that she
could not recognize that Clark and Superman were one in the same; as
she was unable to accept both sides of Kal-El. Kal-El loved Lois,
despite this tragic character trait. The widely-despised "Superman III"
actually makes a point of this; in that Lana Lang loved Clark Kent and
could not care less that he was Superman. However, in "Man of Steel,"
Lois is ONLY non-family member who knows Clark Kent is Superman. The
entire theme of "the inner man" has been tragically shelved.
Henry Cavill does a fine job of playing Kal-El, even if he less resembles the comic book Superman than Christopher Reeve, Dean Cain or George Reeves. Clearly Cavill has a great future in Hollywood.
Amy Adams, an otherwise superb actress ("American Hustle") is totally wrong for Lois Lane. Not meaning to be unkind, I asked myself, "Just how does one actually go about kissing a woman with such a LONG nose". As written, NONE of Lois' trademark characteristics are visible in Adams' role.
Russell Crowe seems to have as much screen time as Cavill. Whose movie is this, Jor-El's or Kal-El's? In the original comics, the Kents were an ELDERLY couple. Here, they appear to be in their mid to late 40s.
While the effects and production design are handsomely mounted, there is nothing new here to rave about. Worse, the movie is numbingly long. Superman does not even appear in costume until nearly two hours into the movie. Say what you want about any of the Christopher Reeve efforts; they were never boring or ponderous. "Man of Steel is both.
"First Knight" was rightfully savaged in 1995 when it created a travesty of the King Arthur legend. "Man of Steel" gets kudos. Has our cultured declined THAT much in the last 20 years?
I give "Man of Steel" a "4".
The story of two remarkable men whose deeply flawed world views were
irrevocably changed for the better makes for an very interesting theme.
To set this theme against the backdrop of both the War of Secession
("War Between the States") AND the Mexican Revolution makes "The
Undefeated" all the more promising. Furthermore, parallels to Vietnam
make "The Undefeated" a downright profound story. Sadly, Andrew V.
McLaglen tepid direction and bland casting of the female characters
makes "The Undefeated" an unfulfilled promise and so-so effort.
To understand the profundity of "The Undefeated" requires a crash course in the War of Secession. Though slavery was a major issue, it was NOT the primary cause of hostilities. Revolutionary War debt was coming due and many states that remained with the union had not paid their debts. However, states that joined the Confederacy HAD paid their debt and resented draconian tariffs on goods entering and leaving their harbors. Secession was recognized and accepted, as it is a basic part of the Declaration of Independence and of the Congressional Record at the time of the enactment of the US Constitution. Even Lincoln, as a member of Congress, recognized the right of secession. For those who still insist the war was about slavery, keep in mind four slave states remained in the union.
It is time now to discuss the flawed world views of both union Colonel John Henry Thomas (John Wayne) and confederate Colonel James Langdon (Rock Hudson). Thomas is a decent, kind hearted man, but his world view is quite callous. Thomas thinks nothing of taking his loyal men into strife-torn Mexico, even though he knows they may be killed and that none of them has seen home for four years. Langdon is also decent and kind hearted, but his vanity leads him to destroy his property and take his family into Mexico to fight alongside General Maximilian, who is doing to the citizens of Mexico what the Union did to the Confederacy. BOTH men receive a deserved comeuppance from Juarista General Rojas (Tony Aguilar). I am sure this would be lost on most American audiences even today even in the hands of a more skilled western director, such as John Ford, Howard Hawks, Sergio Leone, Anthony Mann, Budd Boetticher, Fred Zinnemann or even Henry Hathaway.
The finest performances in "The Undefeated" come from Rock Hudson and Roman Gabriel. Unfortunately, their same-sex antics drew publicity which clearly eclipsed the movie. Other fine performances include the aforementioned Tony Aguilar (whose reluctance and relief at a key moment is the best scene of the film), Merlin Olsen (as a wise man who prefers the company of children to adults), Royal Dano (who reveals the true theme of "The Undefeated") and Big John Hamilton (who proves one does not have to fight a war or appear unafraid to be a hero).
Hugo Montenegro, who had a top 40 hit channeling Ennio Morricone with "The Theme From 'The Good, The Bad & The Ugly') here channels Elmer Bernstein with his music. While not "great Bernstein," Montenegro's score is at least "good Bernstein".
I give "The Undefeated" a "6".
I remember seeing a few minutes of the anime of "Space Battleship
Yamato" on TV in the 70s. I took one look at the ridiculous-looking
flying battleship and turned it off. However, a few days ago, I was
watching an Asian martial arts movie and the trailer to "Space
Battleship Yamato" came on. The movie is visually gorgeous, the battle
scenes fast paced and plentiful and, best of all, the chemistry among
the cast is genuinely heartfelt. I found myself misty-eyed in many
sequences, something I cannot say has happened to me in a space movie
since "Wrath of Khan". While some of the CGI is less than stellar, the
cheesy shots pass so quickly they do not intrude. Besides, this movie
was shot for less than a fifteenth of the modern Hollywood blockbuster
and looks as good or better than most of them. It also never drags,
which I cannot say about even the best of the "Star Trek" and "Star
The Japanese made some good to terrific science fiction films in the 1950s, including "Godzilla" ("Gojira"), "Rodan," "The H Man" and "Battle in Outer Space". "Space Battleship Yamato" has elements of "Star Wars," "Star Trek" and, particularly, "Battlestar Galactica". Given the origins of this live action movie, all of the clichés and cribbing can be forgiven, except one. All I can say is that it occurs at the climax of "Space Battleship Yamato" and shamelessly cribs from the last scene of "Return of the Jedi". Clumsy as this scene is, "Space Battleship Yamato" is still the most fun I've experienced watching a movie in years. I give "Space Battleship Yamato" an "8".
I rented "Legendary Assassin" because I liked Celina Jade on "Arrow,"
and because I was looking for a special actress to appear in my movie.
Celina, who is Amerasian, has great international appeal. A friend of
mine was absolutely convinced she was Latin. However, as much as I
liked Celina as "Shado" on "Arrow," her role was pretty
one-dimensional. However, in "Legendary Assassin," Celina is
extraordinary, managing to be beautiful, cute, funny, sexy and sad in a
single role. Not to mention, Celina has a singing voice that rivals
Christina Aguilera, which is no small feat, and her "Legendary Assassin
love theme" is a bravura performance. You should watch the music video,
because the song, which plays over the end credits (and is featured on
the radio, in one sequence) is never performed in its entirety. Lead
actor Jacky Wu (Wu Jing) is a skilled martial artist. Unfortunately,
his opponents are not and the fight scenes are just so-so. Far worse is
the story, dialog, and the acting of almost all of the supporting
players. Kara Hui, who is not too bad, is still totally unconvincing as
a menacing villain. Jacky Wu may be a good actor, but his character is
so wooden, one would never know. Almost everyone else has been
encouraged to overact, typical of terrible direction. Almost every
scene, except the first, is listlessly shot and edited. Even the
opening credits are inept. However, Celina brightens every scene she is
in. She will make a wonderful leading lady in my movie and will,
hopefully, become the international star she deserves to be. Oh, one
other positive note. In the movie, Celina has a beautiful Persian cat.
I rate "Legendary Assassin a "5".
"Dallas Buyers Club" does not fit in my usual tastes of subject matter.
I saw it primarily because of Matthew McConaughey, who has evolved from
a "caterpillar" to a "butterfly" over the last 15 years. I hated
McConaughey in "Contact," tolerated him in "The Wedding Planner" and
"Failure to Launch," but loved him in "Reign of Fire," "The Lincoln
Lawyer," "The Paperboy," "Killer Joe," "Magic Mike," "Mud" and this
movie. Imagine my surprise when I discovered Jared Leto's fine
performance AND the GREAT message about the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA). The Rockefellers CREATED the FDA as a shill for
"Big Pharma". The FDA harasses, threatens or outright outlaws
alternative medical treatments, which could save live. The FDA usurped
this power; it has NO power to do so and is not even Constitutional.
Recently the FDA ordered the REMOVAL of natural Statin from Red Yeast
Rice, even though natural Statin is SAFE, unlike the Statin drugs used
to lower cholesterol. Independent studies can measure the efficacy and
safety of drugs; and alternative medical treatments and natural
products can safely replace MOST prescription drugs. A board-certified
MD, who practiced alternative medicine three days a week, once told me,
"If you had AIDS, I could cure it. However, if I did, I would lose my
license and go to jail." THIS is the legacy of the FDA. By the way,
during the time period of this movie, the NEW YORK TIMES reported
French doctors were CURING AIDS by passing a patient's blood through
tubes exposed to ultraviolet light.
I also need to mention the fine performances of both Jennifer Garner and Griffin Dunne, who play sympathetic doctors, one of whom has lost his license over prescribing non-approved treatments. I gave this movie a "9" instead of a "10" because the last quarter tends to drag and the ending feels a bit flat. However, the message is so important, and the performances so fine, I urge every adult to see "The Dallas Buyers Club".
"Cracks" appear in the veneer of "Ender's game, right from the
beginning. The camera feed of Mazer Rackham's destruction of a Formic
civilization mother ship ends abruptly, going to black rather than
static. The production design is uninspired, not nearly as interesting
as that of "Skyline" or "Lockout," which were a fraction of the cost.
The weapons and weapons platforms are as anachronistic as "Battlestar
Galactica" (2004), a considerably more profound project than "Ender's
Game". What "Ender's Game" DOES have are great performances by Asa
Butterfield and Harrison Ford. In my opinion, this is Ford's best
performance, as he gives a human face to a "monster". Asa Butterfield
is flawless; I have never seen such an assured performance from such a
young actor. Heck, many of the most-honored veterans could not pull off
such a difficult role. Butterfield and director Gavin Hood manage to
make "Ender's Game" a near-great, if not great film for the first
two-thirds, despite its predictability and other shortcomings. However,
when Ender reaches advanced military training the movie begins to fall
apart. Director Hood, excellent with ensemble actors, is simply NOT an
"action director". As producer, Hood should have recognized this and
budgeted for John Woo, who proved his supreme worth in handling
spectacle with "Red Cliff". Then,there is Ben Kingsley, who brings
nothing extra to a underwritten role.
The horrendous "secret" of Ender's Game is obvious from the beginning. Ender, who clearly regrets some of his choices, is disappointingly indifferent to his team, who share his guilt; and should, eventually, at least, feel the consequences. This is the fatal flaw in "Ender's Game," almost profound, but a miss is still a miss.
I give "Ender's Game" a week "7," based entirely on the acting and message.
When my wife and I first saw the US trailer for "Rush," my wife asked
me, "Do you want to see it?" "Well, it IS a 'racing movie," I replied.
I have mixed emotions about NOT watching the international trailer,
before watching "Rush," because I would certainly have held much higher
expectations. First and foremost, "Rush" is NOT about Chris Hemsworth's
pecs; nor, for that matter, is it that much about about Chris
Hemworth's character, James Hunt. "Rush" is about two extraordinary
men's visions of life and their approaches to racing; and, it is viewed
from James Hunt's most famous challenger, Nicki Lauder. Lauder is a
technocrat; a man who, at least, appears to "know the price of
everything and the value of nothing." Hunt is free spirit; one of
simultaneously knows the value of everything and nothing. Hunt and
Lauder are presented in much the same manner as the two main characters
of "Lonesome Dove". Like, "Lonesome Dove," "Rush" is majestic in its
presentation of these two lives. "Rush" is poetic in its presentation,
absolute precision,from its score, to its cinematography, to its
performances to the most both memorable and appropriate score I have
heard since "The Good, The Bad & The Ugly".
If you have not seen "Rush," watch the international trailer, available on YouTube. This trailer is the perfect encapsulation of the movie. If you still are not interested, don't bother. However, I hope you are as impressed as I with my favorite film of 2013.
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