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Actually not all that bad
Robocop, the 2014 reboot, is a movie that is very easy to overlook. No redo can ever match the fun, ultra-violent, satirical tongue-and-cheek Robocop that Paul Verhoven directed 27 years ago. Though this is all true, the new one is not entirely terrible. The story is the same. Police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is nearly killed in the line of duty and is brought back to life as Robocop by the robotic organization Omnicorp. He seeks vengeance against the thugs who tried to kill him and also takes down the company that made him. He also tries to understand and accept his new fate as a cyborg while coming to terms with how his bodily change impacts his wife and son. The entertainment mostly lies in the special effects and action sequences. However, the writer delivers some breathing room for the main protagonist. He is not a clear- cut, one-dimensional character. The audience is given the chance to comprehend the hero's plight and thus able to root for him as he overcomes his many predicaments.
Joel Kinnaman may not be the best actor, but he gives a subtle performance as Murphy/Robocop. He does a better job portraying the man Murphy whereas Peter Weller rules as Robocop. I really should not compare the two though. Both actors perform differently and do well in their own ways. Abbie Cornish as Murphy's wife is very underwhelming as a woman who has lost her husband to a machine. I had a difficult time believing in her. Gary Oldman and Michael Keaton make up for it as the men who build and design Robocop. I was never aware that Oldman could play such a sympathetic character like Dr. Norton and Michael Keaton as a savvy, yet a bit obsessed businessman as Raymond Sellers. These roles almost go against these actors' typecast. I will always remember Keaton as Beetlejuice and Batman and Oldman as psychotic villains like Ivan from Air Force One and Mason Verger from Hannibal.
Nonetheless, both do exceptional work here. Sadly, the screenwriter turns Keaton into a secondary antagonist for the last half hour of the movie, which takes away some of the film's credibility, making the ending particularly forced, contrived, and anti-climatic. Keaton is not meant to play a bad guy. Mischievous maybe, but not the villain. The actor who steals the show is Samuel L. Jackson as Pat Novac, the narrator of sorts. His outrageous, authoritative voice contrasted with his out of style toupee and clean suit makes him the ideal, patriotic news spokesperson. The thing to admire about Jackson is that he takes roles he enjoys. For only around 15 minutes of screen time, he makes himself larger-than-life. If he had grown a beard and wore a top hat, I could believe him as Uncle Sam. He has that power.
All in all, this is a fun movie. It will probably be forgotten like the slews of other action flicks and reboots, but unlike many of those, this one is actually not bad. On a day where you need a movie with some brains but not enough to reach Chris Nolan or William Friedkin levels, I recommend this movie.
All the President's Men (1976)
An average film with too good of a concept and topic.
In the wake of Watergate and President Nixon's resignation, All the President's Men marked itself as a controversial and compelling film for a nation in a tumultuous time. It was hailed as a masterpiece by critics and it won 4 Academy Awards. Looking back nearly 40 years, the movie is really an example of intriguing subject versus great storytelling. This does not necessarily hinder a decent film, but it also doesn't guarantee a master work either. The pivotal force is centered on the perspectives of two young and eager journalists Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Bob Woodward (Robert Redford). Their mission is to uncover the facts about the Watergate break-in. Instead of investigating a simple burglary, they find themselves in government cover-ups, witnesses that will not talk, and even names that do not exist. A story so juicy and fruitful cannot be overlooked. For two hours and eighteen minutes, the audience observes as these men try to get to the bottom of this rabbit hole.
While the substance is good and it reflects one of America's darkest times, the pace and delivery is cut and dry. Nothing exciting happens in this movie. The character interactions between Bernstein and Woodward are bland. No acting chemistry is present. They are just two guys who happen to work together. There are no memorable moments that these great thespians share together on camera. The supporting cast is equally uninspiring. Jane Alexander, who received an Oscar nomination for her performance, is only in the movie for 10 minutes and acts as if she has a nervous twitch and seems more than happy to walk off the movie's set ASAP. Jason Robards, who did win an Academy Award for supporting actor, appears in a sleepy trance throughout the film as the head of the newspaper organization. The amount of times he sets his feet up on a table and leans back in his chair, I half expected him to take a nap. Frankly, if this is what it takes to win some accolades, sign me up. Jack Warden as Bernstein and Woodward's boss and Hal Holbrook as Deep Throat are the only actors that unveil some infliction and power in their performances. Unfortunately, Holbrook's prowess is hidden in the shadows by cinematographer Gordon Willis, intentionally adding the secretive nature of his character.
I could very well be judging this movie a bit too harshly. I did not grow up during the reign of Nixon, so I cannot comprehend this movie's power at its release. However, I can look back at history from a nostalgic perspective and determine whether I like an older film. Taxi Driver, Network, Rocky, and The Marathon Man were all released the same year as All the President's Men. All of them are excellent films that can never grow dated or lose their entertainment values.
"All the President's Men" is linked to the past and purely documents a single event in time. It relies too much on facts and details that it forgets to tell an engrossing plot. This is the main reason why I cannot accept this movie as a masterpiece. The subject matter did get me through the film once, but I can never see myself viewing it again. The highlights that I do give this movie is the dedication that the set designers put into the recreation of the newsroom, Gordon Willis's lighting style for the night scenes, and the sound mixers accomplishment of overlaying land line phone calls with meticulous perfection. In short, this is an average film with too good of a concept and topic.
Into the Storm (2014)
A dumb disaster movie that does not require any thinking
"Twister" blew the minds away of millions of moviegoers with its visual effects 18 years ago. Today, audiences can look back at that movie and see how outdated those VFX are. "Into the Storm" will most likely face a similar predicament 10 to 15 years from now (maybe less from Hollywood's growing improvement on CGI). But for now, the visuals in this movie allow the viewers to suspend their disbelief and put them right into the heart of a tornado's blustery and destructive path. The action and visual effects are what sell this type of movie. Characters and plot take a backseat ride as the Midwest countryside gets wiped out by a collection of twisters. Characters and story are not completely forsaken. There is just enough of those components to keep the movie going forward.
The majority of the cast is a list of unknowns, which is somewhat fitting for a disaster movie. The only recognizable name is Richard Armitage, who plays a Vice Principal at a high school. He has two teenage sons that document the events of a high school graduation, who instead find themselves capturing a war zone of twisters. There are also a group of storm chasers down on their luck, hoping to film the greatest storm of all time and a couple of amateur, thrill-seeking buffoons who want their 60 seconds of fame on YouTube. Everyone wants to film something in this movie. This plot device sets up an advantageous visual style that mimics "Cloverfield." The hand-held though is nowhere near as nauseating. It is done tastefully enough to show the magnitude of mother nature's wrath. For a cast of unknowns, the actors perform decently with the material they are given, though I cannot say that care for any of them. An unfortunate gimmick that these kinds of movies face is flat characters. The characters in "Into the Storm" are just as flat as the earth that is compressed by the tornadoes. This is not at all bad though. For an 89-minute flick, there is little time for character development. The movie and its action flies by (literally).
There are many memorable moments that "Into the Storm" has when it involves mass chaos and devastation. One particularly fun sequence is a twister that obliterates a small town's intersection and hits a gas station, causing it to explode, turning the twister into an inferno. It's topped off with an idiot cameraman who has to get his million dollar shot, and is subsequently sucked into it. "Into the Storm" delivers as an intense yet fun big budget action flick. As Ebert described "Twister" almost 20 years ago, it's a dumb movie that does not require any thinking. "Into the Storm" is certainly that.
Blue Jasmine (2013)
A Streetcar Named Desire 2 starring Cate Blanchett and written by Woody Allen
When writing the screenplay, Woody Allen no doubt had studied the movie "A Streetcar Named Desire," or at least seen it a couple of times. "Blue Jasmine" is essentially the same movie with the more comedic and neurotic flare of Woody. Cate Blanchett, is Janette, or rather Jasmine. She can't seem to decide on which name. Her life had once been that of luxury, fancy fashion, and no need for a job. When her seemingly charming husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) runs all their money and his investor's dough into the earth, he is then arrested for using that currency in a ponsy scheme. The upper class socialite is compelled to move in with her lower-class sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). The transformation from one lifestyle to the next puts a toll on Jasmine, especially with having to tolerate her sister's macho boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale). She transitions her goals from holding parties and charities to becoming an interior designer via an online college degree. From her ineptness, she has to learn how to use a computer, in which she has to spend more money in an attempt to understand the process that our tech-savvy society takes for granted. One factor after another collides into Jasmine, and the audience cannot help but feel empathy for such a pathetic character. Tennessee William's play for streetcar did not take this approach with his character Blanche DuBois, whom Jasmine is a duplicate of. The audience interprets her from a third-person perspective as an observer. The viewer feels no real stake in her character. With Jasmine though, I am inclined for her to climb back up on her feet, even if she is an incompetent human being.
Aside from Woody Allen's cleverness for dialog, he chose such a broad range of actors for his cast. It is a very good ensemble that can't be overshadowed. Baldwin, Hawkins, Cannavale, Stuhlberg, and Clay molded so well into their characters. Blanchett though is the real show person for this film. She depicts emotion so well that with just a single facial expression, we can understand the thoughts of her character. Without Woody's script, she still would have turned out a brilliant portrayal of a middle-aged woman losing her wits and trying to capture life that is beyond reach or authenticity. For people who do not like this movie can look at it and quickly comprehend how Blanchett won her Oscar. It was justified and overdue. She is a brilliant actress and I will still regard her greatest achievement as Queen Elizabeth. Like with Elizabeth, she has the flare for making an intriguing three-dimensional character.
"Blue Jasmine" is a very good film, but not a great one. Allen's choice of telling the current story of Jasmine and her past as parallel plots delivers as intrusive and sometimes confusing. The pacing is quite slow, more so than most Woody films. For those who love his movies, they may find this one a bit darker in tone than usual and even flat out depressing. Not giving much away, but the final scene leaves the viewer with an aftertaste of stark existentialism versus an intended form of comedy. Then again, "A Streetcar Named Desire" was a serious film. "Blue Jasmine" is almost a sub genre. It has both comedy and drama, and it focuses on the failed minds of people who want to make it big in life. In a way, "Blue Jasmine" can be seen as a tragedy too.
The Monuments Men (2014)
The Monument's Men is not monumental
"The Monument's Men" feels almost like a heist movie set during WWII. A group of "art collectors" are recruited to steal back valuable art pieces that the Nazis have absconded from invaded countries. These individuals are called "The Monument's Men" hence the title. A-list actors play these men: John Goodman, Matt Damon, George Clooney, Jean Dujardin, Bill Murray, Bill Balaban, and Hugh Bonneville. Based on a true story, this film seems like a fun one to watch. The trailers played it out as a comedy thriller with spurts of action. However, in watching it, the film is anything but that.
Also in the director and writer's chair, Clooney takes the approach of seriousness, dates, and a timeline of facts. The focus is more on how the art pieces are found rather than the individuals who achieved these actions. In this regard, the movie wanders from one event to another, without giving the audience enough flamboyant characters. I relish that Clooney has made a WWII picture, but it is dull. I love all the actors in this film, but they don't do a thing here in entertainment. Clooney and Damon are bland. Goodman and Dujardin are incredibly limited. Murray tries to act serious, but just looks sleepy. Balaban has the only energy present as the mousy private. A misleading trailer and cast simply going through the motions kills it. In an attempt to add an emotional impact, there is a scene where a Christmas song plays at a military base where soldiers are wounded and dying. What could have been an engaging moment delivers as a failed method of moving the audience.
Alexandre Desplat's score is meant to be moving but feels shallow and hokey. The rest of the movie runs into this problem. I want to take it seriously, but I can't. How the monument's men searched and found the art pieces is the only thing that keep this movie going. This was enough for me to sit through it. I really wanted to like the movie. The Monument's Men is not monumental
it is average. Nick Clooney gets a good cameo at the end by the way.
A good thriller with a great actor
Enter Liam Neeson. From the opening shot of him sitting in a car alone, with the most devastated expression imaginable, we clearly understand the character he will be portraying for this movie. In "Non-stop" he is Bill Marks, an air marshal. He is burned out, struck by tragedy, and an alcoholic. His already harsh life gets worse when he gets a text message from an unknown individual, claiming that if he or she does not receive $150 million, he or she will kill a person within every 20 minutes until the demand is met. Matters grow worse when he is targeted as a scapegoat from the terrorist's antics. Bill has to battle the clock to disclose this person's identity, protect the passengers, and even save his reputation. This is just another adventure for the past middle-aged action star. What differentiates Neeson from other formulaic, action stars is his capacity to deliver excellent performances. Single-handedly, the opening scene supports his acting caliber. He can display so much without uttering a word. That is reason enough for me to consider him a favorite. He does more than well as Marks.
The screenwriter for the film thought out the story decently. There are twists, turns, unpredictably, and full-blast intensity. The viewer feels the paranoia of the central character as he desperately searches for the culprit. I tend to guess tend to guess in the end who is the bad guy, but not for this one. It is a roller coaster that shifts one direction for a moment and then takes another. When the revelation arrives though, it falls flat and feels downright pretentious. The ending is particularly rushed and pushes belief a bit too far. "Non-stop" is a good thrill ride with a great actor. It warrants a viewing
two in my case.
The Lego Movie (2014)
Everything is awesome
K-NEX and Legos. Those were the building toys I grew up on. They were awesome. A Lego Movie did not sound awesome. It actually seemed ridiculous and just overall bad. It took a bit of persuasion from a friend to see this movie. Only 10 minutes into watching it, my verdict was immediate awesomeness. The story itself is really not that great. It's orbital protagonist is Emmet (Chris Pratt), an ordinary guy who is considered to be "the chosen," who will obtain a mystical item called the "resistance piece" and vanquish Lord Business (Will Ferrel), who has enslaved just about all the people in Lego World into a strict, scheduled, totalitarian government. He is aided by some other fellow lego characters and is mercilessly pursued by Bad Cop (Liam Neeson). This all sounds like a clichéd plot.
But, what makes "The Lego Movie" awesome is all its other recipes. The animation, combined with both CG and stop motion, is flawless and glorious to watch. I recommend viewing it on a big TV screen (I did not see it in theater, so I can only imagine its fun magnitude). The colors and animation are beautiful.
The voice acting cast is perfect. Additional names include Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Morgan Freeman, and Charlie Day. Arnett and Neeson steal the show as Batman and Good Cop Bad Cop. I never would have taken Neeson for comedy. He does two interchanging voices so well that I can't take him seriously, as intended for the movie of course. Perhaps the best part is the overall fun that the movie delivers. It gives a nostalgic look back on childhood and parodies so many other games, movies, characters, and toys to the point that I was laughing non-stop. Batman, Superman, The Green Lantern, Abe Lincoln, Han Solo, Chewbecca, Gandalf, Dumbledore, and Unikitty all make hysterical appearances.
I can't think of any rating other than a perfect score to give this movie. It's not the best movie ever made, but just like the song in the beginning of the movie, "Everything is awesome."
The ape movie people have wanted for decades
Who would have thought that Hollywood, a place that masters illusions, could give us talking apes that ride on horses, fire guns, and interact with humans without turning it into a something ludicrous or even laughable? "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is such an achievement. It demands us to take its subject matter seriously and it does so with persuasive reasons. Set 10 years after the ALZ-113 virus has obliterated most of the human race, apes and the surviving humans remain as the two main species. The question of who will rise as the dominant one becomes the predicament as tensions between the two skyrocket into all-out war. The film exceeds just as much in its action sequences as it does in its more neutral moments. The apes are fully developed characters, who communicate perfectly with sign language (accompanied by subtitles) and the writers present these creatures with enough material to make their characters comprehensible.
The meticulous motion-capture improves the film's plausibility. For all 130 minutes, I thought I was seeing real apes communicating with one another. The visual effects are that convincing. Just as successful is the story. For an "ape" movie, the story is original and much darker in tone. The comparison of human's distrust and paranoia with one another to apes becomes an apparent driving force in the plot. Instead of humans battling each other, there is a situation of apes against apes. They too can have differences that can cost lives.
While the apes garner much attention, the supporting human characters take a backseat. Great talent like Gary Oldman has very little screen time, and is only given one short scene for his character. It's a poignant moment, but it feels almost wasted for such a phenomenal actor. Other characters are equally disregarded. The center-most point of the film though is the relationship between the ape leader Caesar and the lone human father Malcolm. It is a nice interaction to view, for both value the same goal of peace and unification, whereas the others of their kind desire the opposite because of past wrongdoings and misunderstandings. It's human and ape nature to fight what they fear and hate. Only the few and smart can see the good over the bad.
"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is a great feat in movie-making. It is the ape movie that audiences have wanted for decades.
Preconceived notions should not be considered for this movie
Before even one considers writing a review for "Transformers: Age of Extinction," one must understand its director. Michael Bay is the master of disaster; big explosions, car chases, city-sized destruction, and abundance of CGI. Stereotypes, loud music, hot girls, and juvenile humor make their way into his films too. He is a filmmaker that cannot direct any genre other than action with a commercial, visual style. This is what he knows and loves. In result, all his movies are the same. Unfortunately, many people, especially the big critics, do not like his films, most likely because of this reason. People may also roll their eyes and despise this movie because it is another "Transformers" film. I agree that "Revenge of the Fallen" and "Dark of the Moon" were not as great as the first one. Yet, that is not a reason to overlook "Age of Extinction."
The plot is not so much a reboot as it is a new opening for another trilogy. Five years following the Battle of Chicago, the Transformers are targeted and terminated by the government, led by a xenophobic CIA man (Kelsey Grammar) and his twisted henchman (Titus Welliver). They plan on not only exterminating the Transformers, but also rebuilding them with their own modifications from a Steve Jobs knockoff (Stanley Tucci). The pivotal force centers on Cade Jeager (Mark Wahlberg), an unsuccessful robot constructor and a single parent, who so happens to buy an old, beat-up semi-truck only to discover that it is no other than Optimus Prime. The paths between government and Autobots cross and Jaeger with his daughter are caught in the middle of an adventure so perilous that it could end all things as they know it.
What works well for "Age of Extinction" is its story. It is new, fresh, and a break from Shia LeBeouf. There are many plots, subplots, and at the end of it all, there is a good cliffhanger for an impending sequel. The story itself is darker in tone. From the get-go, the villains are cruel and heartless, particularly when they blow the Autobot Ratchet to pieces. It's unpredictability with characters sets the film up as a thrill ride versus a hardcore action flick.
The cast is another improvement. While I can't say Wahlberg turns in his best performance (he has more or less played the same character for years), he makes an effective protagonist. Unlike his predecessor, he does not run around for two and a half hours screaming. Rather, he joins in the fight, kicking butt and destroying bad guys. Grammar and Welliver are good villains that don't fit the typical cookie-cutter baddies. Reasons are given for their course of actions. Stanley Tucci delivers great comedy and pompousness as a tech-savvy billionaire way in over his head. Even the voice talent for the Transformers are well done and appropriately fit the personalities of their characters. Peter Cullen is once again the fearless leader Optimus. Ken Watanabe is the honorable samurai Drift and John Goodman is the smart-mouthed, rotund Hound. Mark Ryan as the villain Lockdown makes a formidable foe. His voice alone enunciates an antagonist. The only real bad performances in this movie are Nicole Peltz and Jack Reynor as the teen lovers Tessa and Shane. Their characters are shallow and Reynor's supposed Irish accent comes and goes just as badly as Mel Gibson's Scottish accent in "Braveheart."
The prowess of this movie though lies in the VFX team. While CGI will probably never reach true photo-realistic detail, the combination between live action and computer effects are amazing. The particle effects of debris are incredible and the transformer transformations are slowed down enough for the viewer to take in every detail of their morphing. The cinematography is something to admire. One shot in particular has Lockdown walking down from his ship, towards Optimus Prime for a death match. The symmetry, colors, and saturations are simply breathtaking. "Age of Extinction" is certainly an improvement but it is not at a masterful level.
Some of the suspension of disbelief is pushed beyond its limits. Other elements in the story are rushed and merely glanced over. The sexual innuendos are unnecessary (as they were in the first three movies). Luckily though they are kept to a minimum, but enough to make me groan. And as mentioned, I was not impressed with the performances of Jack Reynor and Nicole Peltz. Both were hired for their looks than their acting capacities. Not the best, but this is a good, entertaining Transformer movie. I will be in line for number 5 when it comes out in theaters.
Is the glass half empty or half full?
"Pompeii" is a movie that reminds me of the common expression "is the glass half-full or is it half empty," meaning that there are two different ways to perceive something--in this case the film. From one point of view, this movie can be seen as a clichéd, dull, CGI-laded disaster film centered in Roman times with a gladiator-esque backdrop. On the other side of things, it can also be interpreted as a fun, quick-paced, entertaining flick with decent characters and a rather realistic depiction of the destruction of a nearly lost city. It hurts me that many people (both paid critics and the average moviegoers) take one glance at a film and instantly rate it harshly. I am not saying that "Pompeii" is without faults, for there are plenty, but it is not a complete waste.
The plot is not entirely about the catastrophe of Pompeii. The orbital force is a young man (Kit Harington), an individual who has seen the Roman brutality at age when his family was murdered by a merciless Roman officer, turned Senator (Keifer Sutherland). Molded as a gladiator, he journeys with a slave caravan to Pompeii where he meets a beautiful woman (Emily Browning) and another gladiator (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) whom is bound to the principles of honorable combat. When Mount Vesuvius erupts, chaos breaks out in the city as everyone desperately tries to find a method for survival. Unoriginal, yet effective. The audience is more or less put on the edge of their seats as fireballs and boulders rain down from the volcano, and a tsunami and pyroclastic flow obliterate the landscape. We wonder if the characters can outrun the incoming doom and devastation. This alone makes a worthwhile flick.
I enjoyed this movie from start to finish. The action sequences are splendid and still intense without the blood and dismemberment from "Gladiator." The performances are actually good, especially by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Keifer Sutherland. Sutherland can play a real bastard. The VFX is well done, though after awhile, they become blatantly obvious. As director Paul W.S. Anderson mentioned in an interview, visual effects can only do so much. They can never fully capture the power and mightiness of an epic, volcanic disaster. Nonetheless, an element of catharsis has been achieved here. Ultimately, this is a movie that a person can choose to like or not. I chose to like it for it's worth. And that is fun.