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San Andreas (2015)
Johnson Elevates This Fun and Intense Disaster Film
Whenever a disaster movie is released, it's generally welcomed with open arms as "escapist" fun; a movie that you can just sit back and watch unfold without depth. But, then there are a select few that elevate above your average disaster film. San Andreas is one of those. It's still not without its absurd moments, but there are very few that push believability. The biggest one is actually the opening sequence, of which involves a girl's car flipping down the side of a mountain (repeatedly), and then becoming stuck between rocks, an the young girl survives even without her airbag deploying. After that, things take off in a great way.
San Andreas follows Dwayne Johnson's Ray Gaines, an LA Fire Department pilot who must rescue his daughter after she becomes stuck in San Andreas during a catastrophic earthquake, of which is discovered too late by Caltech seismologist Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti). Surprisingly enough, Brad Peyton's direction here is a superb improvement over the family movie Journey 2 with Johnson, showcasing brilliant effects with heart-pounding disaster sequences that shock and awe. Johnson's performance here might actually be his best, as he offers great dramatic depth as a broken father, haunted by a tragic past. Alexandria Dadarrio was also surprisingly good as his daughter Blake, who had grown accustomed and looked up to her father's life-style, even embracing certain rules and tricks. The script was good, but nothing spectacular, other than Johnson's somewhat clearly deep and thoughtful dialogue (a touching scene between him and his ex-wife, portrayed by Carla Gugino). The visuals were some of the best this year, and never seemed lackluster. Andrew Lockington's score was suitably epic and evocative of a horrific event depicted in-film.
San Andreas is a truly surprising and welcome summer blockbuster that strays away from being generic, but not too inventive either. The movie is greatly saved by strong performances of the main cast and smart direction, of which is a good step forward for Peyton. Certainly a must-see on the big screen, not sure about 3D though, as there weren't many pop-out moments.
A Visually Stunning and Heartfelt Sci-fi Adventure
Tomorrowland is truly Brad Bird's baby, full of intense action, emotional heft and imaginative creativity that only Disney could create. Not the company, but Walt Disney himself, as Tomorrowland is Disney's invention. The film, though, takes the "ride" to unbelievable heights, and I'm curious as to why there's so much hate surrounding the film.
Frank Walker (Clooney), a boy genius, must help a persistent and trouble-making teenager (Robertson) save the world by going to a place called Tomorrowland, where the greatest inventors and creators came together to envision a better world. Brad Bird's direction and writing (with Damon Lindelof) is superb, using some traditional Disney fun, but also by implementing his style in full-form; stylish action, smooth fast-paced sequences and genuine heart, which is shown not through Britt Robinson's Casey Newton, but through Clooney's Walker, but I won't spoil his story; it helps to forward the film. The visuals are absolutely breath-taking, Michael Giacchino's score is one of his best as it compliments each scene with sincerity, and the acting is great from all ends. But, the biggest complaint I've seen so far is the way the film depicts its story. I can understand some criticisms, but to say the film is crap or one of the biggest disappointments ever is just sad. Like the idea of the place, the film doesn't focus on resolution. No, it focuses on tomorrow, what comes after. So, if you think the second act of the film drags quite a bit, it's because you're watching it as a traditional movie with traditional story-telling. This isn't that at all.
I feel the marketing for the film didn't help what the movie was going for, but because of Bird's direction, the heart of the story and strong performances, this film is extremely memorable, even if it isn't ground-breaking. I just hope it's at least successful, since the reviews aren't helping its arrival to theaters, because it really is one to see on the big screen. And looking at how my review is being negatively received, I just pity anyone and everyone who calls themselves a film buff or movie-goer, because Tomorrowland was and is one of the most original films ever made. I'd like to see anyone who downvoted my review to make a bold, original film with important themes and messages.
A Creepy But Just-Decent Remake
If you've never seen the original 1982 Poltergeist, then this movie may be absolutely freaky for newcomers, but for those who have seen the '82 classic, this remake is both fantastic and awful at the same time. Produced by Sam Raimi and Robert G. Tapert, who gave us The Evil Dead films, this reboot and remake is a lot of the same with a couple new twists. When the Bowen family moves into a new home, they discover that their house is atop a burial ground, and is a sort-of conductor for spirits, and in this case, a poltergeist. From here, they're tormented by evil spirits, and it turns into a devilish battle that Eric (Sam Rockwell), the father, must fight to save his family.
The film is largely saved by Rockwell's touching and incredible performance, but there was so much that went wrong. Many of the scares were overplayed or just wanted to be jump-scares, and moments that replicated the original (the infamous bathroom scene) were extremely tame and unimaginative. The visual effects for the most part were believable, and Marc Streitenfeld's score was incredibly haunting and truly brilliant, especially when living up to the masterpiece that Jerry Goldsmith created. Gil Kenan's direction is solid, but the script blows through the material so fast that his vision just doesn't stick.
Poltergeist is certainly an admirable effort, but it needed to embrace the original's roots, scare tactics and slow build instead of sticking with recent horror movie "tropes" like jump-scares and minimal story-telling. If the film were fifteen-twenty minutes longer and had a script rewrite, it could have lived up to the original. But it didn't. See this for $5 if you want a theater experience, but don't expect something mind-blowing. Certainly worth a watch, though.
The Maze Runner (2014)
An Exciting, Dark and Surprisingly Good Blockbuster
I can see how people are turned away by this film by either its similarities to "Lord of the Flies" or to other young adult books- to-film movies like "The Hunger Games" and "Divergent," but let me say, this is better than most of these young adult-themed movies, including the first Hunger Games movie. I won't write-up the plot, since it's been written elsewhere and on other reviews; straight into the review we go.
"The Maze Runner" is a surprisingly fantastic sci-fi thriller that succeeds by having superb acting, fantastic visual effects with a stellar production design, a pulse-pounding musical score, focused direction and a well-written script that, while does have clichés, works with them in a very good and fresh way. I personally was impressed with the acting a great deal, especially Dylan O'Brien and Aml Ameen. The visual effects were awesome and never looked cheesy or under-valued, which is even cooler since the film is fairly low- budgeted compared to most blockbusters, taking the "District 9"- route. Wes Ball's direction was outstanding, the way he captured the dark, haunting atmosphere, that sense of a looming evil and how the unknown was the biggest enemy, not just the terrifying Grievers (which were actually creepy). The script, too, was outstanding, but seemed to lack the full force the film required to be an absolute SF classic. It's here one can draw many comparisons, but even so, it was still well-written and didn't slip up once, playing into its clichés by placing them in spots you don't see coming until they happen, leaving you with the "Ah, i should have seen that coming!"- moment.
"The Maze Runner" is a great beginning to a new series of films that will probably extend outside a trilogy, with a prequel having been written and another on the way next year. Hopefully "The Scorch Trials" step up the atmosphere and writing, and with original cast members attached and Wes Ball directing still, i have high hopes.
Marco Polo (2014)
In All Honesty, Why So Much Hatred?
Marco Polo is the new Netflix original series that's big-budgeted (for a TV show) and boasts an epic scope and scale to rival shows like "Game of Thrones" and "Da Vinci's Demons" by taking us to a pre-modern world. Here, we're shown the world explorer Marco Polo visited in Asia during his travels with his father and uncle. It's when he's left in Kublai Khan's court that Marco's 'real' adventure begins, filled with political intrigue and warfare.
Honestly, i don't know what the fuss is about with the negativity. I can understand why it wouldn't have the highest reviews or praise (it starts off well enough with decent acting, a well thought-out script and brilliant visuals), but to have such low rated reviews? Honestly, this show is much more impressive than David S. Goyer's "Da Vinci's Demons" which has extremely high ratings compared to this. I also see many comparisons with "Game of Thrones," and it's reasonable. But this show deserves better. It has good directing, acting that improves as the show moves forward (especially with the lead, Lorenzo Richelmy, a true Italian), impressive cinematography that deserves numerous awards, a captivating musical score and a good script that i constantly see critics bashing for having too many grunts and sounds. What? It just doesn't make much sense.
Marco Polo is highly entertaining, well-balanced with its pacing, and shows that if a show is given a chance to fully develop, it can succeed! We need more shows like this, or anything sci-fi themed to air on Netflix like "Almost Human," so networks like FOX won't cancel them due to low ratings. That's why i will stay with Netflix; they don't look at ratings for their shows because they mean nothing to them. If people like it, keep it coming. I for one want to see Marco Polo for another season and see it develop into something far greater.
Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)
Extremely Bold and Epic, But Devoid of Power
Exodus: Gods and Kings is Ridley Scott's most ambitious film yet, and his boldest (but not biggest). Another biblical epic after the recent releases of Darren Aronofsky's Noah and the television series- inspired film Son of God, Exodus tells the story of the exodus led by Moses from the Book of Exodus in the Bible. In the film, Moses (portrayed by Christian Bale) defies Ramesses (Joel Edgerton) and stages an uprising to escape Egypt before God's wrath is brought down upon them.
Like Aronofsky's Noah, this is simply one man's (significantly) different view of the story. Except in this film, instead of adding to the mystical elements of the story, Ridley Scott instead makes the plagues out to be natural occurrences, including the parting of the Red Sea. While some will find this absurd, i find it intriguing. It must be said i am deeply spiritual, but remember, this is a movie, and movies are an art form. With that aside, now down to film details.
Ridley Scott's direction here is eerily similar to what he did with Kingdom of Heaven, and i have a feeling the theatrical cut is not what Scott had in mind, as the script seems to be lacking in nearly every aspect, especially when trying to have us care for the characters and their struggle. It's not that the film is bland, but seems to be focused on the scope and scale, not what happens within said scale. The visual effects are top-notch, though, and well- deserving of the Oscar nomination (Interstellar is still the best by far). The acting is spectacular, with the two leads (Edgerton and Bale) shining bright. Even Aaron Paul as Joshua was good, who added more emotion to the film than one would expect. Sadly, though, Ben Kingsley is under-utilized in a very short performance that i feel we would see more in a director's cut. The production values are astonishing, the musical score helps to solidify that 'epic' atmosphere, and the cinematography is gorgeous, as one would expect from a Ridley Scott film.
In the end, Exodus: Gods and Kings is a stunning epic that lacks the power its story is supposed to bring, but like Kingdom of Heaven, will probably surface in an even more epic director's cut (hopefully). Is Exodus one to be seen on the big screen? Yes, but should you pay top dollar? Depends. Happily, the film isn't a bad movie, unlike most blockbusters. Just don't expect a captivating, full-blown epic but instead a more visually gripping and valiant effort that falls short.
An Emotional, Beautiful Journey into the Unknown
(This is both a review of the film, and an assertion of Christopher Nolan's filmmaking style)
There have been many reviewers and critics alike that have high praise for the film (the visual effects, the acting, the music), but say how it's not Christopher Nolan's best directed film. This is where i personally would have to disagree. Before i get into it, though, i'll talk about Interstellar a bit.
Interstellar is truly a sci-fi epic like no other. To compare said film to '2001: A Space Odyssey' isn't just a disservice, but unnecessary. The films are almost nothing alike, simply sharing small plot elements. Also, Stanley Kubrick's vision of Arthur C. Clarke's sci-fi epic wasn't to ponder the philosophical questions that accompanied the story, but to make art, and art is was, and is. With Interstellar, Mr. Nolan set out to make his most personal and emotional film to date about love and time (time being a recurring theme throughout all of Nolan's films). But it's so much more than that too. There are no words to express the epic journey Nolan takes us on in the film, but needless to say, it's tear-jerking and emotional throughout. The acting is top-notch, especially McConaughey, who gives (I would say) his most emotional performance yet. But the actor who stole the show in a few scenes (one in particular, when they're on an alien planet) was David Gyasi as Romilly, one of the astronauts aboard the Endurance, their spacecraft. The musical score from Hans Zimmer is, without a doubt, his best and most influential work to date, helping drive the film's bold and breath-taking vision (the church organ helped significantly). The visual effects are easily the best to date as well, and of the year. To see a black hole created through visual effects in such a way, with pages theoretical equations provided by Kip Thorne (theoretical physicist, of whom's work inspired the film's genesis); what you see in the film is the most realistic depiction of a black hole, and even offered new insight to accretion discs surrounding the anomalies. But even everything else, from the alien planets to the Endurance, the visuals always look real. Then, there's the writing. I would definitely have to say this has some of the best dialogue i've ever heard in a sci-fi movie, and the script continually pours or oozes emotion, keeping the audience tethered to the film.
Now, about Mr. Nolan. Don't just look at Nolan, but look at his films. Some say Inception would be his masterpiece, while others would say it's The Dark Knight, or Memento. But honestly, every single film Christopher Nolan has directed is a masterpiece not of its genre, but of Nolan. Following is his quiet masterpiece, not the film that put Mr. Nolan on the map as a phenomenal director, but one people visited or revisited after becoming accustomed to Nolan, after seeing Memento, what could be called his breakout masterpiece. Then, right after, he directed the remake of the Norwegian thriller, Insomnia. This, too, could be considered a masterpiece, even if a remake. Then, we were given his take on the Batman universe, starting with Batman Begins, the origin masterpiece. Then, there's The Prestige, adapted from the novel of the same name, which can be called his dark masterpiece. The Dark Knight, his bold masterpiece; Inception, his complex masterpiece, and The Dark Knight Rises, his flawed masterpiece. Now, we have Interstellar, his emotional or personal masterpiece.
This is just my looking at Nolan and his films, but whatever your thoughts are, you can't deny Interstellar is one hell of a journey. He certainly is one of the best filmmakers of our time, and of all time. I can't wait to see what he does next, but i'm not sure it will be as emotionally powerful as Interstellar.
Dracula Untold (2014)
An Intense but Sadly Underdeveloped Epic
Dracula Untold is the re-imagining of the classic Hollywood vampire, from Universal Pictures. Vlad III (Luke Evans) learns of Mehmed II and his plans to "recruit" young men into his thousand-strong army, including Vlad's son Ingeras. Searching for a way to protect his family and his kingdom, Vlad encounters the Master Vampire (Charles Dance), who imbues Vlad with the powers and weaknesses of a vampire, giving him the chance to save all he knows and loves. But, he has only three days to either use the power and watch it fade away, or become a vampire for eternity if he gives in to the thirst.
Dracula Untold was and is a surprisingly sleek and fast-paced tale of love and courage, but because of its pace, it seems like the big themes and moments of the film rush by all too quickly. That's not to say the film is bad; Luke Evans is perfect as Dracula, who is charismatic, brooding and commanding when on-screen (the supporting cast is fantastic as well), the visual effects are dazzling, the music is perfect and Gary Shore's direction isn't spot-on, but gives the film a wonderfully sleek and gorgeous look. It's the script (as usual) that needed some hefty work. It's not that there was an overabundance of cheesiness or clichés (although there were a few of those), everything just seemed 'mashed' together. If someone like Frank Darabont or even Alex Garland added to the script, giving it say fifteen to twenty minutes more, the movie could have been great. But alas, it's simply good at best.
Boasting its visual prowess and grit over story-telling, Dracula Untold is neither bad nor great. If you want a fun, intense ride, see Dracula Untold (preferably in IMAX). Just lower your expectations for the film as a whole, while Luke Evans certainly deserves great attention.
The Godzilla Remake No One Saw Coming
The original Godzilla is a classic, and is still an extremely entertaining movie to this day, but it lacks a certain relevance and heart seen today in other big (and small) movies. So when i heard there was a Godzilla remake happening, i couldn't not think of the disaster that was Roland Emmerich's Godzilla. Then, i saw the previews, and i was blown away. In this re-imagining, Godzilla is a terrifying force of nature that fights to defeat the MUTOs, Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms. But what really makes this Godzilla remake stand out is the "human element," present in the lead human characters portrayed by Aaron-Taylor Johnson, Ken Wantanabe, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen and David Strathairn.
Honestly, I think this Godzilla is better than the original, and for multiple reasons. Firstly, Gareth Edward's direction. The movie feels like a Batman Begins-esque version of a Godzilla franchise, where we don't see the titular character for most of the first third of the film, but more and more as the film progresses, and it works extremely well. And the way Edwards grounds the film in reality and with the times is just amazing, and disturbing. The acting is absolutely incredible, and surprisingly enough, it's not Bryan Cranston that steals the show; Taylor-Johnson does it with his "everyman" character, Ford Brody. The visual effects were easily the best part of the film, and some of the best visual effects of all time. There wasn't a single moment that had me thinking, "That's definitely CG there." I was completely glued to my seat in awe, like most of the other people in the theater and didn't think twice about what I was seeing. Even the musical score by Alexandre Desplat was haunting and epic, with the main theme being extremely memorable (I was humming it on my way out of the theater). The script was great, but there were moments where, they were fantastic and all, but felt like filler-moments; you didn't need them, but they worked.
Godzilla was a superb and epic monster movie that i think is a masterpiece in filmmaking, and could be hailed as a classic further down the line. I agree with some critics in that the marketing campaign was a bit lousy in that they showed off Godzilla a little too much (since he isn't seen constantly throughout the film), but to lower the score of the film because of giant lizard's absence in the first act isn't right; it isn't.
Odd Thomas (2013)
A Heart-Felt and Intense Supernatural Thriller
Odd Thomas is the film based on the Dean Koontz novel of the same name about Odd Thomas (portrayed by Anton Yelchin), a 21-year old short-order cook who has "abilities" that allow him to see the dead, and other strange phenomena. When a strange man Odd eventually calls "Fungus Bob" comes into town, followed by Bodachs, creatures that feed on pain and fear in times of great catastrophe, Odd believes Hell-on-Earth is about to arrive in their town of Pico Mundo. So, with the help of his girlfriend Stormy (Addison Timlin) and Sheriff Wyatt Porter (Willem Dafoe), Odd does whatever he can to prevent a slaughter the world would never forget.
Odd Thomas is the most surprisingly entertaining and incredible thriller i have ever seen. I did read the book before i saw the film, but that did not prepare me for how accurate the film would be. Sure, there are some truly fantastic book-to-film adaptations, and there are bad ones, but even with the changes from book to movie, Odd Thomas was everything i hoped it would be, and more. Stephen Sommers, who wrote and directed Odd, was in his A-game here, beating out his previous blockbusters The Mummy, Mummy Returns and Van Helsing, all of which were fun and enjoyable, but not as thought-provoking or emotional as Odd was. Anton Yelchin was just incredible as Odd Thomas, a guy who knows how dangerous the world is and how precious his ability is, and knows he is truly odd. Addison Timlin was actually very good as Stormy Llewellyn, Odd's girlfriend. The character really added to the character development and emotional investment the audience had towards Odd, and Stormy herself. Willem Dafoe was great as Wyatt Porter, even having a bit of witty comedy attached to his character. The visual effects were astounding, especially for a low-budget, limited theater film. The cinematography was good, the music was fitting, and the script was just fantastic; it didn't insult your intelligence, it was fresh, and it didn't feel familiar. It had its own pacing (which was odd, no pun intended, really) and the camera work was just incredible; Sommers knows how to put slow- motion to good use.
Odd Thomas is a strange, dark and somewhat comical thriller that does what some big Hollywood blockbusters can't; take a story that literally reaches apocalyptic heights, with supernatural elements thrown in, and ground it in reality. I really hope Stephen Sommers and Anton Yelchin get to make the sequel because this movie was a truly spectacular thriller that everyone should at least check out.