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Big Game (2014)
Fun, but less funny than I expected
The problem with the film is that all the plot and the good scenes are in the trailer. The rest is just filler. I had great expectations from this movie because it is a Finnish film, and they have a good record of funny films with lots of irreverent gags.
Was it fun? Yes. A kind of Die Hard comedy for kids. Was it as good as it could have been? Hell, no! And for that reason alone I am penalizing the movie. Maybe not fair, but I think it necessary.
The plot is that the American president - who somehow is Samuel L. Jackson :) - gets lost in a Finnish forest, hunted by armed men. His only hope a 13 year old boy on his journey to become a man on his birthday. What bigger catch than the freaking president? You can imagine how great a script like that could have been. Instead, it was muddled by too many scenes of the American actors, too little character development and way too much action for what the movie was supposed to be: a forest adventure and a clash of cultures. In fact, it didn't even feel as a Finnish production, it felt like a low budget American movie.
San Andreas (2015)
A refreshing take on a tired genre this is not
This film is a classic disaster movie and by classic I mean exactly the same as any number of previous disaster movies. Even the awesome muscles of The Rock trying to escape his tight shirt and the equally awesome breasts of Alexandra Daddario trying to escape her tight shirt couldn't save the boring by-the- numbers script. The special effects were great, but I kind of saw everything (complete with subway train falling when the earth fractures) in 2012. Why are subways functioning during a 9.6 earthquake anyway?
What is worse, the details that slip through the cracks of the carefully cloned plot are ridiculous. See professional rescuers coming to help a woman trapped in a car dangling dangerously over a chasm... and arriving in a helicopter. Then hovering above and wondering why the car shifts position and falls. Or watch Dwayne Johnson going to save his daughter by serially stealing every vehicle he can find, then trashing it. And when it's time to save his daughter he comes back to his wife to kiss her and reassure her that he will save the girl. I mean, all of the tension of almost losing her could have been avoided if he would have just gone and save her.
Bottom line: just watch a clip of Alexandra running in her wet shirt over and over again and ignore the rest. Special mention for lovely up and coming Marissa Neitling. I have high hopes for her. Meanwhile Carla Gugino pops up in everything and gets more annoying by the day. And Dwayne Johnson... he was perfect for the role, but what a disastrous role it was. You can do better, man!
Also worth mentioning: I think the PG-13 take and then the hopeful "we all help each other with volunteers and FEMA and look at families holding each other" ending was just an insult to New Orleans. Just saying.
Everybody's a critic
This film is, indeed, all about Danielle Chuchran. She is beautiful, incredibly athletic and a quite decent actress. The sci- fi in the film is of the type of Firefly, you know, you go to another planet and there are American cowboys there. So not that much. However, the few sci- fi bits in the story did further it, so in my mind that part was a success.
After enjoying the hell out of Shadow of the Cabal, I had to see this movie as well, especially since it starred Danielle, and I can tell you it did not disappoint. The story, as usual (shame, Arrowstorm!), was a bit silly, but simple enough to not bother me tremendously. Kevin Sorbo did play a larger role, although it's becoming a pattern in these films: he appears as some sort of father authority figure, does a few scenes, then splits.
The action scenes were really good, as expected from a professional stunt actress, but also the director has to be good at it. The scenes were great and reminded me of the orc elf battle that hooked me when watching Shadow of the Cabal. The implanted computer, scanner and holographic screen was a great addition and allowed the story to move fast over some logistical problems like how people find each other, coordinate over large distances and detect food or injuries.
There were issues with the film. The technical details in the introduction almost threw me off completely in the beginning of the film. The character of Weston was ridiculous and completely unnecessary - they could have done more with him. Also they took their sweet time to "get it". I won't spoil it here, but as a hint just listen carefully at the alien language and you can figure it out in the first 15 minutes.
Other than that, few characters and a lot less character development made this almost a pure action film. Danielle was great, and also Melanie Stone, which you may (barely) recognize from the Mythica series. Sorbo acted well, but his character was a little bit ridiculous. He had a lot of scenes about bones and almost all cracked me up - no pun intended (OK, I did intend it a little).
It is far from perfect, but was one of the best movies in this particular genre and I really don't understand the mostly mean comments the film has received here. I mean, if they would have used cars instead of running around it would have been Mad Max, and you bloody loved that one!
Mythica: The Darkspore (2015)
Not as good as the first one, but still entertaining
The party continues on their quest, this time helped by a dark elf with mysterious markings, while a warlock is trying to beat them to their goal. Unfortunately, it seemed like the makers made a lot less effort for this film, especially in the areas of character interaction and storyline. That's unfortunate, especially since I loved A Quest for Heroes.
Some commentators focused on the quality of the special effects. I don't care about those, but this is an indicator that those people didn't feel the characters were important or the story inspiring, and that is on the script writer. If the story is great and the characterization well done, no one looks twice on the special effects. I think that, while I still enjoyed the film, more effort should be made to make the viewers feel with the characters in a story that one could believe in.
Bottom line: fun film, really inconsistent characters, jumping from love to hate on a whim, and a disappointing and rushed ending that made little sense. I hope the next part will be more engaging.
Dragon Nest: Warriors' Dawn (2014)
The Chinese version of How to Train Your Dragon
OK, it wasn't the same thing, but the feel of it was the same. Young kid becomes great while tagging along a party of epic fighters sent to kill a dragon. I haven't played Dragon Nest - which BTW is a MMORPG - but I liked the characters and the lighthearted mood of the film. In fact, the only thing that I think could bother people is that it is basically aimed at children and (very) young adults.
The animation was nice, the main character a bit annoying, but fun, the young romance thing interesting. There were some points that I didn't like, the reveal of the nature of the two brothers and the scheming dark elf that everybody seems to know who she is, but was never explained in the film. Also the unfathomable 'level up' at the end, so Asian in nature, that made the entire story feel kind of stupid. I mean, if a little kid can do all that, what the hell was everybody else doing?
Bottom line: I rate it as 'unexpectedly good'. In truth, I had no idea what the movie was, I just liked the title, so not much in the way of expecting, but considering it is a Chinese animation film, it was actually quite good and I enjoyed it. Also, it should be a good film to watch with young kids, just cover their eyes at the sex scenes - nah, just kidding.
Star Trek: Renegades (2015)
Great cast, but still a fan made film
Starved of all things Star Trek, I really wanted to like this film, particularly after watching a lot of fan-made Star Trek on the Internet. And it had its moments and good ideas and certainly a varied and talented cast, but where it failed was the storytelling: both script and direction. And that is certainly strange, as Tim Russ has been directing a lot of stuff previously and all of the people involved are clearly Star Trek fans. Still, the entire thing did feel like a YouTube fan made film.
As I said, some things were good. Forgetting the whole "to boldy go" thing and having people motivated by something else than exploration for a change was one of them. The acting was good and also the practical effects. The CGI, not so much. I have green screen etched on my retinas after watching the movie. The design of the ships and the entire film was also quite interesting, combining usual Star Trek design with original ideas.
What absolutely destroyed the film was putting too much stuff in which led to weak characterization, too many villains, too many things left unexplained, a whole unused cast, too many characters, most of which we care nothing for, and so on.
Bottom line: Sean Young, Edward Furlong, Corin Nemec, Robert Picardo, Tim Russ, Walter Koenig, Gary Graham, Vic Mignogna, f-ing Grant Imahara... this movie had a lot of talent, a lot of geekiness, and clearly a lot of good will. Having a ridiculous script, ridiculous action scenes and a weak story carried by weak characters didn't do all of these people justice. Clearly a sequel is intended. I hope they spend more time brainstorming the script for the next one.
Great performances, weak story and direction
Asa Butterfield played his role as a functionally autistic kid really well and it is the only reason why I enjoyed the movie. The thing that bothered me most was the artificiality of the feelings the story attempted to evoke. It felt like a computer algorithm tried to play on your emotions. Weird little kid: check, emotional trauma during childhood: check, well intentioned mother that struggles with life and motherhood: check, kind father figure with his own problems: check, young love: check, and so on and so on.
Even if the script wouldn't have been specifically written in such a clumsy heavy handed manner, the story itself wasn't much to begin with. The entire film is purposed around creating empathy towards this kid, but that is, quite literally, impossible. He is an autistic genius. You won't identify with him except in the most narrow situations that must be directed so that they feel like something a viewer could experience. But each situation was described as clumsily as the script was conceived: details that don't drive the story, like him learning Chinese or how to play the piano or meeting people that just disappear from the plot when they were becoming interesting or texts of mathematical problems, but lack of details where it mattered, the sense of competition, the way he felt about the little Chinese girl.
I wanted to like the film, but it was impossible. The only explanation I would have for the way the movie was constructed is that it is inspired by material that is not dramatic in nature, but rooted in real events - and indeed the director of the movie seems to be in the business of documentaries about young gifted minds - however a movie is supposed to make you feel things rather that just be descriptive, and I believe this is where the film failed.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Action followed by action then, surprisingly, some character development. Then some more action.
So everybody must be asking now: "Is it worth watching more than two hours of this just to get to the obligatory Thanos end credits scene?" and the answer is... yes. Besides making fun of War Machine - again - and completely ignoring characters like Pepper Potts and Falcon, there was nothing that bothered me tremendously about this film. Keep in mind that it is a comic book film with superheros that dress funny, though.
The villain is pretty menacing, the interaction between the Avengers goes well beyond killing enemies in each other's blind spot and the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver addition was interesting, though kind of condescending. I mean, if they want to ban Tin-tin cartoons for racist depictions of African people, they should stop at one moment or another inventing countries with Slavic names and filling them with helpless women and children with names just as ridiculous and toy soldier police and army forces. I am just saying.
What I thought was better than I was expecting from an Avengers movie were the underlying character stories. Thanks to Scarlet Witch we see bits of our heros' histories, we get to know Hawkeye a little better and understand his role in a team of superpowered individuals, he see the romantic side of Black Widow and the Hulk... yes, you read that right... and we get to see Captain America and Tony Stark having ideological arguments that divide the team. Of course, they carry them with vibranium shield throws and energy beams, like men do... don't they?
I loved the character of The Vision, a freak hybrid between a servile AI and a full psycho AI, holding the power of an Infinity Stone and having a 3D printed body that is half alive, half vibranium. I share his view of humanity as queer pets that you have to enjoy during their short life.
What I didn't like is that they upped the ante of what the Avengers can do, just because they could. In the end this diminished the level of empathy that one can feel for superhumans like that and removed from the quality of storytelling. Also, another film in which artificial intelligence builds bodies and kills people. Why would it? Ultron's motivation was completely unexplored and his philosophy and references to Pinocchio made no sense at all. OK, it was meant to be insane, but even insanity has purpose and sense. Overall, I think the biggest problem with the film was that it had too much of a budget.
Bottom line: brainless fun, but fun nonetheless. Less humor than expected, with Ultron teasing an interesting character with his jokes, but then devolving to a classic villain in the sea of special effects that filled most of the movie. You get to know the Avengers more, as well, which was nice.
Northmen - A Viking Saga (2014)
Great viking quest movie!
What the hell is wrong with reviewers nowadays? Who rates low a viking movie that is filled with action and interesting characters? Why would you watch a viking movie otherwise? For the romance?
This film has a classic story of a team of fearless warriors stuck in a foreign land and hunted by their enemies. Somehow a monk and a princess get into the mix, some Viking vs Scot fights, but most of the action is related to the pack of mercenary "Wolves" that are hunting them down to get the princess. They're from the Carpathians, so really mean :)
The acting is good, the action sequences well done and the entire film is entertaining from start to end. There are some weird scenes with rough warriors that care nothing of death suddenly shouting "Noooo!" when a friend dies, or random characters surviving the impossible and appearing out of nowhere, or people all speaking the same language, but overall everything is well done.
Bottom line: this is not a Hollywood movie, it's a German coproduction, but it barely shows, mainly in the accents of the actors (who should be Vikings anyway). I have seen many other "Viking movies" that are way worse that this and I personally enjoyed this quite a lot. Who knew Ryan Kwanten could be such a badass?
Robot Overlords (2014)
A decent British scifi that feels like a not so insane an episode of Doctor Who
This is a low budget movie. Deal with it. The action and the special effects are there just to further the story, which is nothing special, the typical "young rebels save the day from oppressive gits", with some family love thrown around for seasoning. But the film itself is not bad.
The reason for the invasion of Earth and for our quick defeat is one of the most believable in years. No they don't want our water or our gold, duh! The robot mediator is also done very interestingly, apparently trying to maximize the uncanny valley effect and succeeding quite well.
Bottom line: I feel this is the British version of a summer blockbuster: medium to low budget, a simple story that appeals to teens, but filled with interesting ideas in the way they use the special effects and the direction of the movie. While not a masterpiece, it is clearly a breath of fresh air in the stale atmosphere of big budget summer films.