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The Neon Demon (2016)
Another Polarizing Film By Nicolas Winding Refn, And I Loved Every Minute Of It
In September 2011, I saw a film by Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, who up until that point was known for his gritty crime thrillers like the Pusher Trilogy (1996-2005) and Bronson (2008). That particular film was called Drive (2011), and the critics adored it so much at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival that it earned Refn the award for Best Director. Drive was only a modest box office success at the time, as many audience members had been expecting an action-packed heist film in the vein of The Fast & The Furious. I understood that Refn was creating a small character-driven story, but it seemed like a lot of people just didn't get it, and the film ultimately left my local theater after just two weeks, and was completely ignored at the Academy Awards that year.
Thankfully, Drive has spent the past five years growing into one of the most adored films of the decade. It helped make actors like Ryan Gosling, Oscar Isaac, and Carey Mulligan become household names, whilst it gave others like Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, and Ron Perlman some of the best performances of their careers. With it's simple, but investing story, gorgeous visuals, editing, and of course Cliff Martinez's classic 80s-inspired soundtrack, Drive has become one of my all-time favorite movies, and I, like many, couldn't wait for what Refn would come up with next.
in 2013, I got my wish, as Refn released a new film, Only God Forgives (2013), a film that also starred Ryan Gosling. It had everything that made Drive great; fantastic visuals, editing and cinematography, and another inspired soundtrack by Martinez. Everyone waited for the word from critics at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival to sing praises of Refn's latest magnum opus...and ultimately, the critics were not so kind to it.
In fact, from what I heard and read, some critics outright despised it. I heard stories of the film being simultaneously booed and praised at Cannes. Many complained that Refn had made a film that had no point, and that it was just an exercise in his own artistic pretentiousness and the desire to show gratuitous violence. The film regrettably came nowhere close to my local theater, so I had to wait for it to come out on video before I could watch it, and I'll admit that I loved it. Refn did what he promised, take the style of Drive and amplify it. He didn't care if he drove critics or fans away, because he wanted to make movies that appealed to him and not a studio system, and I came to admire him for it.
Now, it's 2016, and Refn has returned with his latest film The Neon Demon (2016), and like his previous effort, it has received polarizing reviews. Once again, Refn has made a film that was either booed or applauded by critics at Cannes, and it seems to have divided audiences down the middle; it's either seen as a scathing criticism of the modeling industry in Los Angeles, or a pretentious wanna-be horror film that focuses on scenes of graphic violence and...other activities involving violence that I will not dare spoil, despite the insistence of many top critics to do so.
The Neon Demon is the story about a young model named Jesse (Elle Fanning), who arrives in Los Angeles and is quickly viewed as "the next big thing". She has it all; the looks, the style, the walk, etc. Everyone praises her for her natural beauty and skill, and how she does not need to rely on body modification, or usage of drugs and sex to get the best gigs at fashion shows or photo shoots. Naturally, this draws the attention of older, and less-than-perfect models/make-up artists Ruby (Jena Malone), Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee), and eventually reveals their obvious jealousy and rage that could potentially put Jesse, who becomes enamored with the prestige and high-life, in mortal danger.
I will not say any more because that would be spoiling, and I believe this is a film that needs to be seen to be believed. The Neon Demon has all the hallmarks of a Refn film I could want. It looks incredible (I could literally put frames from this film on my wall), it sounds incredible, once again thanks to another phenomenal soundtrack by Cliff Martinez, the performances from everyone are spot-on, including a surprise turn to the sinister by Keanu Reeves (who I swear is having a Renaissance in the vein of Matthew McConaughey), and of course, Refn's method of using visuals to show his point of view, which I will admit is pretty twisted, but fascinating.
Refn makes it clear from the very first frame, that this is a world where you're successful one day, and then out the next, and that many industries, in this case modeling, will literally and figuratively devour you. Watching this film made me feel both exhilarated and uncomfortable, and some of the imagery that Refn uses here did make quite a few people in the audience, myself included, gasp in shock and awe.
In conclusion, Nicolas Winding Refn has done it again. He has crafted a film that at times is a very tough viewing, but it constantly kept pulling me in with its rich visuals, fantastic music, and some truly terrifying performances. I just feel sad for those Refn aficionados who may not get to see this on a big screen. It appears that Refn will once again have to watch another one of his films see true life on television and home video, as indie-fare is constantly pushed aside for mediocre sequels and big-budget extravaganzas.
Who cares, though. It's a future cult classic, and I highly recommend it, ONLY if you really like Refn or films that really focus on visuals. Otherwise you might despise it like a lot of critics did.
Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)
Another Great And Hyper-Violent Mark Millar Comic Book Adaptation
If there is one individual who has most recently become a true legend in the world of comic book writing, then it would have to be Mark Millar. With works like Nemesis, Kick-Ass, Wanted, Marvel's Civil War, Old Man Logan, and Ultimate X-Men and Fantastic Four under his belt, Millar has managed to follow in the footsteps of classic comic book writers like Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Will Eisner, and Neil Gaimen, and like many of these artists, Millar has been able to see and even assist in watching many of his works be adapted for the silver screen.
For Millar, film adaptations of his work have had mixed, but interesting degrees of success. Wanted (2008) was a stylish and adrenaline-pumping experience with some great performances by Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman, but I do admit that the actual film was an awful adaptation considering the story and characters had almost nothing to do with the comic. Kick-Ass (2010) was a gleefully violent, hilarious, and faithful adaptation of Millar's work that helped jumpstart the careers of Chloë Grace Moretz and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, not to mention it featured the last truly impressive performance by Nicolas Cage, and while Kick-Ass 2 (2013) was far inferior to its predecessor, it was still a decent adaptation.
Now we have Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015), which while only loosely based on Millar's The Secret Service, is still a funny, well-acted, and beautifully ridiculous action film that more Hollywood studios should observe and copy in the future. Also, this film should make Liam Neeson nervous; he's not the only older actor who can pull off action movie roles. Welcome to the action ring, Colin Firth!
The plot of Kingsman is very much in the same vein as a classic James Bond film, and the film is not afraid to make fun at Bond's expense (or even Jason Bourne for that matter). The film focuses on Eggsy (Taron Egerton), an unemployed London resident who has a cowardly mother and an abusive stepfather, and has spent his entire life giving up in situations where he could have easily succeeded (school, the military, etc.). After getting arrested by the police, Eggsy makes contact with a long-lost ally, Harry Hart/Galahad (Colin Firth), who happens to be a member of an organization known as the Kingsman: individuals who pose as sophisticated tailors and businessmen who in reality have become the new "Knights of the Round Table", and work to protect the world and keep it in balance.
Eggsy is then offered a chance to become a Kingsman like his late father before him, and must compete with other hopeful (and privileged) candidates like Roxy (Sophie Cookson), all the while under the watchful eye of Merlin (Mark Strong), a senior Kingsman and trainer. Meanwhile, Galahad, under orders from Chester King/Arthur (Michael Caine), is sent to investigate lisp-ridden billionaire, philanthropist and tech tycoon Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) and his bladed prosthetic leg-equipped assistant Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), who seek to drive the world into chaos and create a new world order, and eventually Eggsy and Roxy have to join the fight, and gleeful violence and action ensues.
The plot is clearly inspired by the James Bond films of old, but director Mathew Vaughn and long-time collaborator and writer Jane Goldman, who've created excellent films like Stardust (2007), Millar's Kick-Ass (2010), and X-Men: First Class (2011), manage to keep the film deliciously retro and fresh. The story is great, the action is frenetic and edgy, and reminded me of Vaughn's previous work in Kick-Ass, and the performances are all excellent. Firth is great as Galahad, and I would love to see him star in more action films. Egerton and Cookson are solid in their roles, and it'll be interesting to see what future starring roles they'll partake in. Strong, Jackson, Caine, and Boutella all have moments to shine in the film. Mark Hamill and Jack Davenport are also funny in roles that could be chalked up as cameos, but their roles are important in driving the plot forward.
The only criticism I have with the film are that in some instances the special effects are decent, but you can tell that they are just CGI. The same held true with Kick-Ass, and even X-Men: First Class; Vaughn is able to craft great movies on relatively small budgets, but focuses more on using great actors and a story rather than effects, and there is nothing wrong with that. It's just on a few occasions the effects were so obvious that I was pulled out of the experience. Also, while the humor in the film is really great, there were one or two moments where the comedy felt designed to be shocking and perverse but in no way to drive the plot forward, but that's mostly a warning for anyone who doesn't like seeing those kinds of things.
Overall, Kingsman: The Secret Service is a fantastic action flick with a great story, excellent acting performances, awesome humor, and some jaw-dropping action scenes. If James Bond were to ever become rated R and hyper-violent, I think this would be the film to copy. Also, like Kick-Ass, Vaughn knows how to use classic rock songs in his action sequences. In my opinion, Vaughn and Goldman are the two individuals who are able to make excellent and worthy film adaptations of Mark Millar's work, and Kingsman is no different. Simply put, it's one of the best action films of the past few years, and should be seen by any fan of the action/spy/comic book movie genre.
Jupiter Ascending (2015)
Jupiter Ascending Is A Modern Version Of Dune, For Better And For Worse
If there is one pair of directors who make films that I will always see no matter how good or bad they could possibly get, it would have to be the duo of Andy and Lana Wachowski. Ever since I first saw The Matrix (1999) when I was a kid, I have been fascinated with their films. In most cases, the Wachowskis have created films with interesting worlds and stories, breathtaking special effects and costume designs, beautiful music, intriguing (and sometimes admittedly terrible) acting performances, and an array of thought-provoking (and sometimes a bit pretentious) religious/social/economic/philosophical ideas.
For over a decade now, The Wachowskis have attempted to emulate the success that they achieved with The Matrix Trilogy, but despite their ambitious efforts, they have been unable to replicate that success. Speed Racer (2008) was visually intriguing but its story was muddled and confusing; I personally think that while Cloud Atlas (2012) was not as groundbreaking as The Matrix, I still thought it was a fantastic film with a great and thought-provoking story, amazing special effects, and some truly Oscar-worthy performances. Over time these films have been viewed more as cult classics, and in the case of Jupiter Ascending, it appears destined to also join that same category.
Unfortunately, The Wachowskis' big-budget endeavors could very well come to a quick and painful close with the long-delayed release of Jupiter Ascending, a film that carries with it, for better and for worse, all the previously mentioned hallmarks of a Wachowski film, and as of this writing has been savaged by critics and appears to be another huge box-office flop in the making, which is a shame because despite its problems, I will say that Jupiter Ascending is without a doubt one of the most intriguing films I've seen in a long time, and I have to agree with some critics who are calling it a modern version of Dune (1984). The visuals, music, and world-building are incredible, but like Dune, the story is nothing short of a train wreck, and the acting is either really good or truly weird and a bit awful. Despite this, I still think Jupiter Ascending is an ambitious, though imperfect work of science fiction.
When I mentioned that the story is a mess, that's because it is, but I will try to give a quick and spoiler-free synopsis. Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is a Russian immigrant and janitor living in Chicago, who believes her life is going nowhere. In reality, it turns out that her genes are an exact match of those of a deceased intergalactic royal leader, which makes Jupiter the rightful heir to the ownership of the planet Earth. Jupiter is then rescued from alien assassins by Caine (Channing Tatum) and Stinger (Sean Bean), two genetically spliced animal-human hybrids and former intergalactic soldiers. Throughout the rest of the film, Jupiter learns more about the Abrasax family, whose three principal heirs, Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Titus (Douglas Booth), and Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) all have have their own ulterior motives for trying to eliminate Jupiter and take the possession of Earth for themselves. It's up to Caine and Stinger to protect Jupiter from these devious villains, and to help Jupiter accomplish her destiny to become a true intergalactic ruler.
Now that plot sounds almost Star Wars or Edgar Rice Burroughs levels of simplistic, but in true fashion, the Wachowskis manage to make the plot incredibly convoluted. In almost every scene, Caine, Stinger, or the Abrasax siblings deliver incredibly complex exposition in an attempt to tell Jupiter (and the audience) about how humanity has existed for billions of years, Earth was created just so its population could be harvested in the name of intergalactic wealth, and countless discussions of destiny and talks of genetics that would make Charles Darwin proud. It almost feels like Jupiter Ascending should have had books or graphic novels released alongside it's cinematic release. The world the Wachowskis have built is grand and epic, but too confusing to navigate properly.
Whenever this "intellectual" dialog is being delivered, many of the actors talk in ways that are actually funny rather than being serious, much like David Lynch's adaptation of Dune before it. Eddie Redmayne is unintentionally hilarious as Balem; most of the time he speaks in an almost inaudible whisper, and then will scream at the top of his lungs for no reason. It's really bizarre, and could very well earn him a Razzie nomination next year. Jupiter and Caine occasionally have romantic dialog that is cringe worthy, and while they are both good in their roles, they have no chemistry with one another.
In the end, Jupiter Ascending is all about style over substance, and the style of this film, much like Dune, is meticulous and jaw-droppingly beautiful. The action sequences are intense and exciting, the costumes and makeup effects are top-notch, and Michael Giancchino's gorgeous soundtrack is almost as good as that of Cloud Atlas. The effects used for the environments and creatures are incredible; it truly proves that what the Wachowskis lack in storytelling, they make up for it with a unique visual experience that should at least get some Oscar nominations for makeup, effects, sound design, and costumes.
Jupiter Ascending is almost destined to bomb at the box office and be hated by critics. The movie simply relies too much on its style and visuals, but for once I didn't care that the story and dialog was terrible. Ultimately, this is a visual experience, and as far as I'm concerned, the Wachowskis are still the masters of creating immersive worlds and groundbreaking special effects. Jupiter Ascending, like Dune 30 years ago, is a mess, but it's a beautiful and glorious one, and it still succeeded because it kept me intrigued all the way till the end of the credits, which is what is was destined to do.
Final Verdict: 7/10
Into the Woods (2014)
A Worthy, Though Imperfect Adaptation Of A Classic Musical
When I heard back in 2013 that an adaptation of Steven Sondheim's classic musical Into the Woods was being made into a film, I felt apprehensive. I've never been the biggest fan of lead actress Meryl Streep or director Rob Marshall; I worried about how Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, and Chris Pine would fare in the singing department (I had fears of another Mamma Mia! Pierce Brosnan debacle), and any confidence I had left in Johnny Depp was pretty much wiped out when I viewed his latest cinematic duds The Lone Ranger (2013) and Transcedence (2014).
Most of all, I was afraid that Disney would try and omit the dark humor and more adult- oriented themes and songs present in Sondheim's musical in favor of more child-friendly slapstick. Thankfully, Marshall and Co. have managed to keep the spirit of the musical and the Brothers' Grimm fairy tales intact, and despite a few spotty CGI effects and a third act that feels a bit rushed (sort of like the musical), the performances are all well done, many of the songs are well performed and choreographed, and overall, the film is quite enjoyable to watch.
The plot of Into the Woods (2014) is actually several different Grimm fairy tales, which include "Rapunzel", "Jack and the Beanstalk", "Cinderella", and "Little Red Riding Hood", all interweaving with a central plot about the Baker and the Baker's Wife (James Cordon and Emily Blunt), a couple who seek to end their curse of being childless, which was placed upon them by the Witch (Meryl Streep). The Witch offers them a chance to bear a child if they can collect several items; these items in turn are all related to the other fairy tale characters.
Almost all of the actors are excellent in their roles, and surprisingly, their singing is pretty good. Meryl Streep carries the movie, and unlike Mamma Mia! (2008), her singing doesn't feel cheesy or forced. Also, her makeup and prosthetics are top notch, and really proves why ugly witches are still the best in movies. Blunt and Cordon are quite good in their roles, and have a fair share of funny moments. Anna Kendrick and Mackenzie Mauzie are adequate as Cinderella and Rapunzel, but ultimately their characters feel a little underdeveloped.
Chris Pine is surprisingly excellent as Cinderella's Prince, and his duet "Agony" with Billy Magnussen as Rapunzel's Prince is easily my favorite moment in the film. Surprisingly, Johnny Depp is decent as the Wolf, and his scenes with Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) manage to keep their dark and humorous themes intact. Finally, Daniel Huttlestone does a great job as Jack, reminding me once again why I felt he gave one of the best performances in Les Miserables (2012).
As I mentioned in the introduction, I did feel that the last third of the film feels pretty rushed, and like the musical, it feels like a section that was added just to turn what is supposed to be a happy ending, into a bittersweet one. Also, while most of the sets and costumes (yes, even the Wolf) are excellent, some exterior CGI shots like the beanstalk, and the Princes' castle didn't look very good, which is disappointing knowing the rest of the effects and sets are of such a high quality.
Overall, Into the Woods is an adaptation, unlike recent films Jersey Boys and Annie (2014), that mostly works. The songs are catchy, the choreography is well done, and the the performances are consistently funny. With the exception of a lackluster final act, this is probably the best adaptation of Sondheim's musical that we could possibly get, and I commend Marshall and Co. for their work.
Final Verdict: 7/10
Dumb and Dumber To (2014)
20 Years Older, 20 Years Dumber, and 20 Years Out-Of-Date
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010). Psycho II (1983). Blues Brothers 2000 (1998). The Godfather Part III (1990). Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999). If you're wondering why I've listed off these films it's because they all have one thing in common; they are all sequels that took more than a decade to come out after their predecessors, and the general consensus was that these films were hugely inferior to the original classics, which is an assumption I'm afraid I will have to agree on.
I think it's no surprise that we constantly watch sequels get released in movie theaters. Maybe it's because the directors and actors are trying to bring life back into careers that have either slowed down, or just outright died. Maybe it's because even after many long years, the original film still has dedicated fans, and a sequel can satiate their need for closure knowing their favorite film will live on with a new chapter. Maybe it's just because the studios want to suck up whatever money the franchise can still conjure up, and don't care if the integrity of the original film is left intact.
Yes, whenever the word "sequel" is mentioned, I get both excited and annoyed. A part of me asks, why should they make a sequel when the original was so good? It'll never live up to the hype. On the other hand, a sequel will give me a chance to see my favorite characters again in an all new adventure. Yes, sequels have always had a mixed impression on me, but I honestly never expected to be seeing a sequel to a film that's as old as I am, Dumb and Dumber (1994), seeing the light of day.
Dumb and Dumber To (2014) is the "official" followup to the original 1994 classic that helped jump-start the cinematic career of Jim Carrey, guaranteed Jeff Daniels a healthy future in cinema, and introduced the Farrelly Brothers' unique brand of comedy to the world. In the past 20 years, however, times have definitely changed. Carrey hasn't made a truly impressive (or very financially successful) film in a decade since Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004). Jeff Daniels still has The Newsroom to fall back on, and he's had some decent performances in the past few years in films like Looper (2012), Howl (2010), and Paper Man (2009), but he's no longer the same box-office draw he once was. And even though I thoroughly enjoyed The Three Stooges (2012), the Farrelly Brothers haven't had a true, memorable bonafide hit since Me, Myself & Irene (2000).
Knowing this, I still walked into Dumb and Dumber To with some confidence, hoping that it could still live up to the expectations left upon it by the legacy of it's classic predecessor. Unfortunately, time has not been kind to Harry (Daniels) and Lloyd (Carrey); at times they can still be drop-to-the-floor floor hilarious. Unfortunately, most of the time I was reminded of meeting an old friend I hadn't seen in years, and while I had grown older and wiser, my friend was still the same person desperately clinging to the past. Sure, it can be nice to see the friend and have a few laughs, but then you sadly realize that you just don't have much in common anymore, and the meeting eventually becomes awkward. That's Dumb and Dumber To in a nutshell; a comedy that reunites a cast and directors together for one last roundup, but it's just not the same.
One of the reasons this film just doesn't really work is the fact that it's a complete retread of the original film. In the '94 film, Harry and Lloyd take a cross-country trip trying to find a young attractive woman and being chased down by a couple of criminals and FBI agents. I won't spoil anything, but this sequel has the exact same structure. It's still a road trip movie, only now Harry finds out he is a father, and Harry agrees to travel with him in order to meet up with the daughter. Naturally, Lloyd falls in love with the daughter, and the (attempted) hilarity ensues.
I will admit that Carrey and Daniels still have the same chemistry they had 20 years ago. I can tell that they were having a lot of fun making this movie, and I do commend them for still making their characters memorable and funny. Unfortunately, many of the situations in this film are retreads of the original, and it's just not funny when the same joke you heard years before is repeated again and again. The supporting cast is also pretty substandard. Laurie Holden (The Walking Dead's idiotic Andrea) is unimpressive in the role of Adele, a role that just gives her very little to do other than being the antagonist. Kathleen Turner is an unfunny, and bored-looking shell of her former self, and it's regrettable considering she once voiced Jessica Rabbit, and was the star of Romancing the Stone (1984) and Peggy Sue Got Married (1986).
Overall, Dumb and Dumber To feels not like a necessary sequel to a true comedy classic, but rather as a desperate act by Carrey, Daniels, and the Farrelly Brothers to relive the glory days. However, as past sequels have proved, you rarely catch lightning in a bottle twice, and for Harry and Lloyd, it was a commendable, but still unfortunate attempt to unsuccessfully carry on their story and cult legacy. If you're a fan, make your own decision about whether or not to see this, but as for me, I can not recommend this truly disappointing comedy, and it's a shame, because there was a good movie to be found here, but it wasn't meant to be.
Final Verdict: 4/10
John Wick (2014)
Welcome Back Keanu Reeves!
It's actually hard to remember the last time when Keanu Reeves was in a truly noteworthy, memorable, and quotable film, despite him being one of my favorite actors. 47 Ronin (2013), aside from being a notorious box office bomb, was completely forgettable; Generation Um
(2012) was a mess; The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) was an unnecessary remake, and Man of Tai Chi (2013), despite being a solid and well-made directorial debut from Reeves, didn't leave much of a lasting impression.
However, I've always felt that Reeves would eventually make another film that was worth the price of admission, and not just a cursory glance and rental in a video store. Thankfully, Reeves has made a fantastic return to his old, action-movie roots with John Wick (2014), a film that seems to have been designed specifically for fans of Reeves, and after finding out about how the film has performed better than expected at the box office, I can only hope that this film will help Reeves get back into the spotlight. He's definitely earned it as he is in one of the best films of the year.
The actual plot of the film is incredibly simplistic, which in this case is a good thing. Keanu Reeves plays John Wick, a retired hit man who has recently lost his wife, Helen (briefly played by Bridget Moynahan) to a disease (that is not clarified). Wick finds out that his wife left him a puppy, named Daisy, but before Wick can attempt to move on with his life, Russian mobster Iosef (played by Theon Greyjoy actor Alfie Allen) and his thugs break into Wick's home, mug him, steal his '69 Mustang, and then kill Daisy. John Wick then grabs his old guns and returns to the violent (also sophisticated, old-fashioned, and honorable) mob world that he had once escaped in order to find Iosef and exact his terrible vengeance.
I must admit I think this is easily the best performance Reeves has given since The Matrix sequels came out back in 2003. John Wick is a man of few words, but his expressions and actions (mostly violent) more than make up for it, which really works in Reeves' favor (dialogue has never been his best attribute, and I'm looking at you Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)). Wick is by no means a hero; every character Wick runs into remarks about his terrible and legendary past, and I quickly realized that Wick was simply the best bad man in a world of terrible characters. Reeves clearly gave his all in this film, as in every action scene I could tell his career decision to perform a majority of his own stunts pays off; I never saw Keanu Reeves taking down bad guys in this film, I always saw John Wick, and it was a performance that truly felt real.
Reeves may be the star of the show, but he also has an impressive ensemble cast helping him out. Michael Nyqvist (of the Swedish The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy fame) is excellent as Viggo Tarasov, the leader of the New York Russian mob, Wick's former employer, and Iosef's father. You can tell that Viggo is the sort of man who is willing to place the life of his family (no matter how idiotic) over his former friendship with Wick, which creates an intriguing conflict. Alfie Allen plays another greedy, foolish character, which has become a well played, but too familiar archetype. William Dafoe and Adrianne Palicki, have solid bits as Marcus and Perkins, close associates/enemies of Wick, and John Leguizamo and Ian McShane have memorable but important cameos as Aurelio and Winston.
What impressed me the most about this film, besides the excellent action, slick and stylish choreography, a diverse and cool soundtrack, and great performances, was the world that Wick inhabits. It is revealed that Wick is a former member of the Continental, a society of hit men/assassins who reside in a fancy hotel, and live by a strict code of honor, chivalry, and rules, and if these rules are broken, there can be severe consequences. It was really creative, and I found it to be a world that could be expanded upon in future (fingers crossed) installments.
John Wick is an action film that arrived at a time when a film of this caliber is so desperately needed. First, it managed to bring Keanu Reeves back into the spotlight; second, it's an old fashioned action film that still managed to feel fresh; and finally, it's a film that I could tell had a lot of heart and effort in it. I truly hope that Reeves' efforts will result in a sequel or similar film, and a resurgence of interest in actor who played The One. Overall, John Wick is a blast, and is a must-see for any fan of the action genre.
Final Verdict: 9/10
The Host (2013)
A Great Idea That Never Quite Takes Off.
Back in 2005, an author named Stephenie Meyer introduced young teenage girls to Twilight, a story about a human girl falling in love with a vampire. The readers must have really enjoyed Meyer's work because she wrote three more novels, and only three years after the first book was published, Summit Entertainment, trying desperately hard to cash in on the teen-romance/adventure novel craze, released Twilight into theaters. The subsequent series of films grossed over $3 billion worldwide, and is considered up there with Harry Potter as one of the most successful film series ever made, and yet a lot of people seemed to HATE Twilight.
Yeah, there are a lot of haters of Meyer and the Twilight series, but I never really got angry with them. I never touched any of the books, so when I finally saw the films on TV, I just thought they were boring. I could see the potential that these films had to offer, it's just they were poorly executed. So when Open Road Films announced that they were releasing a film based on Meyer's new work, The Host, I was partially intrigued because this film was directed by Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, In Time, S1m0ne), and starred one of Hollywood's best new-coming talents Saoirise Ronan (Hanna, Atonement, The Way Back), but I also dreaded the prospect of seeing another sappy romance film except with science fiction replacing vampires and werewolves. At the end of the day, I can say that this film is better than any Twilight film, but not by much.
The story focuses around Melanie (Ronan), a young teenage girl living in a post-apocalyptic world were almost all humans have been inhabited by alien creatures called "Souls". These creatures enter human bodies, and wipe away the mind of the host, replacing it with the alien's presence. Unlike the classic alien invasion, this film plays out like The Invasion of The Body Snatchers, except here, the aliens are actually peaceful people seeking to take over humans in order to stop all the violence, pollution, and other negative aspects of humanity that have nearly destroyed our world. Now this is an interesting concept, but unfortunately, we never see the full extent of the "Souls" plan; we just see them as cold, unfeeling, and unemotional beings that look like humans, except with bright, white eyes.
Melanie is captured by the "Souls", and has her mind taken over by an inhabitant named Wanderer (later Wanda), and the Seeker (played by an emotionless and bland Diane Kruger) tries to have Wanderer search Melanie's memories in order to find the location of the human hideout in order to take over the minds of the last humans on Earth. But there's a catch; Melanie's soul is not erased, and she fights back, trying to show Wanderer that the ways of the "Souls" are wrong, and so the duo (two minds in one body) decide to seek out the human survivors, all the while Seeker tries to hunt her down.
This would have been a great concept except for one aspect. Melanie and Wanderer both speak together, with Melanie off-screen and Wanderer on-screen. However, instead of being intriguing, it just comes across as silly. If Wanderer had a different sounding voice, then the dialog between the two souls would actually be better presented. Wanderer is supposed to be an alien, but when she speaks just like Melanie, you never really know who is talking.
Also of note is the supporting human cast. Jake Abel plays Ian, and Max Irons plays Jared. I know what you're all thinking: OH NO! NOT ANOTHER TWILIGHT ROMANTIC TRIANGLE! However, this triangle works because Ian falls in love with Wanderer, while Melanie remains in love with Jared. It's actually a love rectangle (?) that works effectively, as we see Ronan trying to play two different people in one body. This plot device actually makes sense. William Hurt plays Jeb, Melanie's uncle, and leader of the human survivors, who comes to see Wanderer as a being inflicted with indecision: should she remain alien, or allow Melanie to be free once more? However, Hurt seems to sleepwalk his way through the role as if all he's doing is just working for an easy paycheck. The rest of the supporting cast is not that great. Diane Kruger is too stiff for her role, and by the end I was laughing at how bad her performance was. The other humans are stereotypical; they hate Wanderer in the beginning, but then grow to like her in the end. It's all the same tired Hollywood clichés we've seen before, but at least here they're more enjoyable than Twilight.
The music for this film is actually pretty good, and the cinematography and design of the environments is impressive. I really enjoyed how supermarkets are now called "Store", and every item is marked the same way; there's no diversity, and the film really nails its atmosphere. Unfortunately, the dialog is pretty lackluster, and the story itself never quite takes off. There was real potential here, but I feel Niccol and the screenwriters cut some corners in order to make the film safer for a younger audience, and in the end, the story I wanted to really see never quite took shape on the screen. Overall, this is a film with a great premise that just isn't fully realized, and it has a great cast that unfortunately only half of the them are really interesting and well developed. I will say that this is the best Stephanie Meyer adaptation yet, but it's not an award winner. It's a cake with all the right ingredients, but it came out of the oven only half done.
Gangster Squad (2013)
Gangster Squad: A Beautiful, But Forgettable Crime Film
Mob/Crime films have always been one of Hollywood's greatest sub-genres. Some of the greatest films of all time are mob/crime films: The Godfather Trilogy, Goodfellas, Scarface, Casino, the list goes on. However, every once and a while we get a film that tries really hard to fit in with the big boys. Gangster Squad is one of those films, and it pains me to say that it is and will remain one of the most disappointing films of 2013.
Gangster Squad is a crime film loosely, and I do emphasize "loosely" based on the events coinciding with the fall of famous crime lord Mickey Cohen, the man who headed to Los Angeles, and attempted to carve a mighty criminal empire out of the American west. That's about all Gangster Squad manages to get right, because everything else about this film's story is fabricated in order to create a thrilling, slick, action film. Now, that's okay, because many mob films have changed the facts, case in point; Public Enemies (2010) had John Dillinger die last, when in actuality, he was killed before Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby Face Nelson were. Here's the thing though; Public Enemies was a great mob film that had a good story, well-written characters, and solid direction, along with great fight scenes. Gangster Squad is a film that copies other classic mob films in structure, has one-dimensional characters, and focuses more on the action than a good story.
The plot focuses on a 1949 Los Angeles, where Mickey Cohen (an overacting, make-up laden Sean Penn) is taking power and preparing to create a new criminal empire that doesn't have to rely on Chicago anymore. Cohen has the cops, the judges, and the witnesses all in his pocket, because if they don't support him, he kills them. LAPD Chief Bill Parker (grizzled veteran Nick Nolte) decides to have an undercover squad of cops form up in order to bring down Cohen's empire. Sgt. John O'Hara (a fantastic Josh Brolin), forms the Gangster Squad, consisting of himself, the womanizing Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling continues his streak of excellent performances), the old veteran Max Kennard (T-1000 Robert Patrick), the knife-throwing Colman Harris (a solid Anthony Mackie), the tech-savy Conway Keeler (Giovani Ribisi), and the rookie Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena redoing his End of Watch performance).
Now all of these actors are good, but with the exception of Brolin and Gosling, the squad has nothing to do other than standing around and shooting things. It feels like at least 20 minutes of film was left on the editing room floor, because I really wanted to know the squad better, but I never did. Instead the squad forms up, and begins bringing down Cohen's empire in an action montage, albeit a very well made one. Emma Stone continues to impress by playing Grace, a beautiful girl who falls in love with Jerry, but is pretty much owned by Cohen. It's nice to see Stone and Gosling together on screen again; their on-screen chemistry is great, and it's one of the only subplots that gets any attention.
Now I was willing to forgive this film for its faults thanks to the action scenes, but unfortunately, even they got repetitive. The final gunfight was a bore, and the film used WAY too much slow-motion. I don't need to see a Christmas ornament explode in slow motion, thank you. The final fight scene straight-up rips off Lethal Weapon! It's obvious that director Ruben Fleischer is inexperienced making mob films because all he's ever made are action comedies Zombieland and 30 Minutes or Less. He knows how to craft great action scenes, but he can't seem to get story or character development right yet. I think Fleischer should just go back to directing comedies, because it's clear that his lack of experience hurt this film as a whole, and if he makes another film like this one, then his career will not last much longer.
Overall, this is a really beautifully crafted, but extremely disappointing film action film that sacrificed story and character development for explosions and people dying by the dozens. The set design is incredible, the music is great, and the action was for the most part great, but when the story can't match the effects, and can't give it's characters anything to do other than run around and shoot guns, then the movie as a whole is a failure, and for a film that had a lot going for it, that makes it all the more disappointing.
Final Verdict: 5/10
Red Dawn (2012)
Does This Surpass The Original? Well...
The original Red Dawn, released in 1984, is one of my all-time favorite cult classics. It was the first PG-13 film ever released. Its story about the Soviet Union invading the United States sounded like a generally plausible idea at the time, because the United States and Soviet Union were still engaged with each other in the Cold War. The original film was written and directed by John Milius, who also directed the film that jump-started Arnold Schwarzenegger's career, Conan the Barbarian, and he also co-wrote Dirty Harry and Apocalypse Now, and created the HBO series Rome. The original film starred up-and-coming actors like Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, Jennifer Gray, and also had film veterans Harry Dean Stanton and Powers Booth as supporting cast members.
The premise was simple: a bunch of high school students escape to the mountains near Calumet, Colorado after the Soviets, Cubans, and Nicaraguans take over the town in the first days of World War III. The students quickly grow into adults as they decide to fight the bad guys and try to free their fellow townspeople, naming themselves the Wolverines after their high school mascot. They get help from an American jet pilot, cause lots of chaos, but eventually, the group gets worn out, they begin to drop like flies, and eventually the leaders of the group, Jed and Robert Eckert (Swayze and Sheen), sacrifice themselves to save the survivors of the Wolverines, and the members of the group become national heroes.
Red Dawn was filled with cheesy dialogue, some pretty laughable special effects, the same music was played over and over again, and some of the actors' performances made me want to cringe and say, "Did that actor really become a star?" Even so, the film is a guilty pleasure in its own right, and it's one of my favorite films from the early 1980s. When the word came out that MGM was producing a remake, I got really excited. We were promised an action film showing the U.S. being invaded by the Chinese (a potential possibility), and a new generation of actors donning the Wolverines name and fighting for freedom. Until 2010 that is, when MGM went bankrupt, and the film was shelved for two years, and then some scenes had to be re-shot, and the Chinese had to be digitally edited to become North Korean for the fear that China wouldn't want to show the movie in their theaters. So, after two years on the shelf, is Red Dawn (2012) really worth the price of admission? Yes...and no.
In true remake fashion, the original story remains relatively the same; the world is struck by depression, rising political powerhouses, etc. In Spokane, Washington (I'm sensing a Twilight vibe), Jed Eckert (Chris Hemsworth) has come home from a tour of duty in the Marines. His brother Matt (Josh Peck) is a quarterback of the Wolverine football team. The morning after the game, the North Koreans, with the help of the Russians, launch an invasion of the United States, and take over the town, while the Eckert brothers and some other teenage survivors (Josh Hutcherson, Connor Cruise) flee into the mountains, and decide to fight the bad guys, and call themselves the Wolverines, and...I have a strange feeling I've seen this before.
Red Dawn is a passable remake at best. The plot pretty much borrows straight from the original, although the remake does change some plot points for the audience's amusement, but what makes this film stand out is its action scenes. They're actually pretty exciting and well done; the scene with the cargo planes over the town was pretty impressive, and the Wolverines' attacking the North Koreans in a modern day guerrilla combat style actually worked to the film's advantage. The actors are surprisingly good, except Adrianne Palicki and Isabel Lucas, they're just eye-candy, and Jeffery Dean Morgan is sadly underused as Lt. Colonel Andy Tanner. The film actually has an ending far different from the original, and it left me quite pleased.
Overall, Red Dawn is a decent remake, but I still prefer the original for its campy qualities. The last generation had the original with Patrick Swayze, the current generation gets Thor as their hero. This is a Red Dawn with really good special effects and some impressive performances, but unfortunately, this is just a remake. It doesn't take risks with the plot, the bad guys are stereotypical bad guys, and when the Wolverines start to die off, you have no real emotional connection to them as much as the original. Also, why couldn't the bad guys be Chinese? It would've been more realistic. Overall, this is a decent remake that unfortunately didn't really survive its long shelf life, and has the feeling that its story and themes are thirty years out of date. It's not bad, it's passable, but I'd recommend going to see Skyfall or watch the original instead.
Final Verdict: 6/10
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Spider-Man, Spider-Man, Can Be Rebooted, Oh Yes He Can!
I was a huge fan of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy. They had great performances, amazing special effects, and really intriguing villains. It was arguably one of the best comic book film franchises ever made. I liked all the films, including Spider-Man 3. Yes, I know, a lot of people don't like it that much, but I thought despite some really corny moments, they felt like what you'd see in a comic book. The only problem is, the original trilogy felt like it was pulled out of the 1960s comic books. A lot of the dialog was corny, and can we not forget Willem Dafoe's really huge overacting? And of course the worst scene in the series: the dance number in the third film. Ugh! Even with those issues, I still thought they were good films.
Now we have the reboot of the Spider-Man franchise, and I have to admit, I was excited to finally see a different spin on the character. This new Spider-Man was more of a rebel; a wisecracker; a mix of the 1960s and 1990s comics. Spider-Man actually had to build web shooters, he actually used jokes that were reminiscent of the old days of comics. However, the film looked dark, and gritty, and more modern. It felt like the type of comic book movie you would see today. Did this film come out too soon after Spider-Man 3? Maybe, but I think this was still a very well done reboot.
The film begins with Peter Parker being left behind by his parents with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May after their home was burglarized. Jump to over a decade later, and we see Peter (played by a great Andrew Garfield) is an outcast who is picked on, but also attracts the attention of Gwen Stacy (a beautiful and talented Emma Stone), the daughter of NYPD Captain George Stacy (Dennis Leary). After discovering an old suitcase and papers of a mysterious and scientific nature that belonged to his father, Peter goes to Oscorp and meets the one-armed Dr. Curt Conners (Rhys Ifans is excellent here), a former colleague of his father's, who is trying to perfect a serum to regrow lost limbs and rejuvenate health in order to save Norman Osbourne (he's not in the film by the way). Peter is bitten by a genetically altered spider, and gains spider-like abilities and senses, but no webs (he has to build those).
Peter helps Conners complete the formula with reptile DNA, but this causes Peter to shirk his duties at school and at home, so he fights with Uncle Ben (the great and wise Martin Sheen). Ben is then shot down by a thug in the street, after Peter let him go at after robbing a store. Peter swears vengeance, and hunts the criminal down, but never finds him (Oh dear! It's not like the original!) Peter makes a costume and becomes the vigilante Spider-Man, and while he helps stop thugs and other criminals, Captain Stacy remains determined to hunt him down. Peter eventually reveals his identity to Gwen, and they start dating (Wow, Garfield is so much luckier with the ladies than Tobey Maguire). Meanwhile, Conners is forced to test the serum on himself to avoid having it tested on innocent civilians. He unfortunately is turned into a reptilian creature called the Lizard, and he suffers dual personality disorder (Green Goblin remind you of anything?), and decides to turn everyone in New York into lizards, so Spider-Man has to stop him.
I won't spoil the ending, but it's very well done, and opens itself up for sequels. Director Marc Webb, who's only other director's credit is 500 Days of Summer, did a great job creating a gritty, modern-day Spider-Man. All the actors are superb, the action is great, the special effects are amazing (especially the first-person web swinging scenes), and the story is very well done. The film may follow the original Raimi films a bit too much, but that's only a small gripe. It's clear this new universe is headed in a different direction, and hopefully we'll get to see an even better sequel. Spider-Man, I liked you in the originals, but I like this new film just as much. Only time will tell which one is better.
Final Verdict: 9/10
Finally, The Alien Franchise Is Reborn! Thank You Mr. Scott!
It's been a long time since the Alien franchise has had a hit. The first two films are masterpieces of science fiction and cinema in general. Alien 3, the directorial debut of David Fincher, was slammed by fans and critics in 1992, but it was a box office hit. After the 2003 Director's Cut was released, a lot more people began to appreciate it, and I view it as a great horror/survival film that mixes the first two Alien films together in a darker, more serious tone. Then we got the really weird Alien Resurrection in 1997, a film that was penned by Joss Whedon and directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Unfortunately, it was pretty mediocre. The story wasn't that intriguing, the characters were there pretty much only to die, and can we not forget that disgusting Alien-Human Hybrid thing? Then we got the crossover films Alien Vs. Predator and AVP Requiem. They're so bad, I won't even talk about them. Then we got word that Ridley Scott, the director of Alien in 1979, was directing a new prequel to his original film. We got hyped, and when we saw the trailers; wow, it was incredible. This film does not disappoint.
The film takes place in 2093 (30 years before Alien), where two archeologists, Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway (Naomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green) are leading an expedition on the Weyland Corporation-owned spaceship Prometheus. It's captained by Merideth Vickers (a fantastic Charlize Theron) and Janek (an excellent Idris Elba), and has a total of 17 people (most you will never know). Also on the ship is an android named David, played by Michael Fassbender, who I believe deserves an Oscar nomination. He was hands down the best actor in the film. The ship is headed for a planet called LV-223 after Shaw and Holloway discovered a star map in ancient human ruins dating back tens of thousands of years. They are now in search of the "Engineers" (Space Jockeys if you're an older Alien fan), the humanoid alien beings who created humans on Earth.
The crew of Prometheus land on LV-223 and find an ancient structure built by the Engineers. They go inside and discover a chamber holding vase-like objects that secret a black liquid. This liquid actually triggers massive alien growth in different animals. Small worms become slimy snake-like creatures, and humans can be turned into alien zombie-like creatures. David the Android even infects Holloway with the liquid, and this eventually leads to Shaw getting pregnant, and then getting an alien abortion (it's not a xenomorph, more like a squid creature). All hell breaks lose, and the crew start dying like flies. I won't spoil anything else, but the film introduces a new character towards the end, and the last two minutes of the film were designed specifically for Alien fans! Let's just say I got up and cheered!
Now, as you know, I said LV-223, not LV-426 from the first Alien films. Yes, that's right. Ridley Scott decided to make this a prequel, but a prequel that only gives us more questions than answers, in preparation for a sequel. A lot of people walked out of the theater feeling disappointed, but I actually enjoyed myself. I can't wait to see what else this series has to offer. This film is dark, gross, and scary, but it's a beautifully crafted work of science fiction. My only complaint: Damon Lindelof as the screenwriter. This guy wrote Lost, and Cowboys & Aliens, and he throws in a lot of curveballs in the story, but you can see them from a mile away. Also, some of the dialog in this film is pretty bad. I can only hope they get a different screenwriter next time. However, this is a great film that I loved, and is easily one of the best films of 2012! It's good to have you back Sir Ridley Scott! Let's hope you can make an even better sequel!
Final Verdict: 9/10
Another Animated Hit From The Makers Of Coraline!
Focus Features has only had two animated films up to this point; the beautifully crafted, but story-lacking 9, and of course the gorgeous and creepy Coraline. Now, this studio's third animated film gives us both a funny and creepy story about a town under siege by zombies and an ancient witch's curse. It's one of the best movies of the late summer, and should easily compete for at the Academy Awards for Best Animated Film.
The film in itself is split into two sections. The first shows Norman, an out-of-place kid in a small New England town who has the ability to talk to ghosts. Since he has no real friends, he doesn't mind the undead. He's picked on at school for being different, and we see that whenever another person, like the geek Neil, wants to be friends with him, he tries to push them away. Norman's older sister, and Neil's older brother are the stereotypical cheerleader and football jock, and they torment Norman as well. And then we have the school bully; every film seems to have them these days.
The second part of the film sees Norman become an unlikely hero after a witch's curse raises the dead back to life and all chaos breaks loose. There are some creepy moments, but the characters are always cracking off one-liners according to the situation, so it kept the film funny as well as adrenaline pumping. The only thing I didn't like about the story was the climax. It's not that I didn't like it, it's just that it felt sort of phoned in. Overall, the voice acting is great, the animation is superb as always, and the 3D remarkably works well. I was expecting a great movie, and I got it with this film. It may be a little too scary for kids under the age of 10, but everyone else should have a blast. I hope this film does well, and I can't wait to see what Focus Feature's next big animated project will be.
Final Verdict: 9/10
Red Tails (2012)
Lucas Has Done It Again! Another Great Idea Completely Gone To Waste!
Oh, George. Why do you insist on upsetting all of us? You ruined Star Wars with that dreaded prequel trilogy, starring the worst character since Howard the Duck, Jar Jar Binks. You even produced that terrible Star Wars: The Clone Wars film, although the TV show is a lot better. This was a film that looked as if nothing could go wrong. The trailers showed U.S. bombers being shot down, the Germans appearing victorious, then the African-American pilots of the Tuskegee Airmen/Red Tails go in and save the day in the face of adversity from the Germans and the Americans. It looked great, right? Well, everything that was shown in the trailers were the best parts of the film. Nothing else worked! Nothing!
Every actor in this film is a blatant stereotype! You've got the leader who drinks to try and feel better about himself, we've got the hotshot wannabe ace who loves to look at Italian women, you have a guy with a bulging lip who plays on a banjo, you've got the pilot who wishes to prove himself in a fight, and you've got the whiny mechanic who complains that his planes don't make it home in one piece. Every line of dialog is corny. "Let's go get 'im boys!" "Oh great, we're gonna die!" "Those pilots are black!" That's what you're in for with the dialog. Oh, and do you know that there's a love story in this film. I hate it when these love stories are forced into war films! Pearl Harbor and Flyboys are testament to that! The trailers for this film fooled me into thinking there was no love story, but there was. That alone killed the movie for me.
Also, the special effects are pretty weak, considering the fact that Lucas' Industrial Lights and Magic was behind the special effects for the film. The planes on the ground look cool, but the bomber formations look like the same three planes copied over and over; the German aircraft all get shot down the same way: the engine catches fire, the wing breaks off, and the plane spins out of control into the ground. The last fight scene alone with the Me262 jet fighters was poorly done. I couldn't believe that such a great premise could be destroyed by bad acting, a terrible story, and sub-par special effects.
The only good thing I can say about this mess of a film is that Cuba Gooding Jr. finally made his return to the big screen after a five year absence. Terrence Howard was wasted here, but his presence made the corny scenes he was in slightly more tolerable. Overall, this is a terrible, terrible film that fooled me into believing that it was going to be the next World War II masterpiece. Nope, Lucas fooled us again; I'd rather watch Flyboys again. I'd rather watch Pearl Harbor again, and I hated that film! This film bombed at the box office, so sequels probably won't be made (THANK YOU!) George Lucas, you can make good films, but try harder next time. Another Star Wars trilogy would be nice; maybe the Old Republic? Shame on you for this travesty that you thought was a film!
Final Verdict: 2/10
The Hunger Games (2012)
It's Battle Royale...In PG-13!
Alright, I'm going to be honest. I thought this film was going to be terrible. I really did. I've read all the books, and I thought they were okay, but not really worth all the hype. Then I saw the film, and I was blown away. This was one of the best films of 2012, and I cannot wait for the sequels to come out, although I am a little upset that they're splitting Mockingjay into two films! Oh, and by the way, there is a film just like this one; it came out 10 years ago, was called Battle Royale, and it was better than this, even though this film was excellent.
The film takes place in a dystopia future, where the world was destroyed by an unknown event. The area that survived, now called Panem (North America), is now split into 12 districts, all ruled by The Capitol. We find out that the districts attempted to overthrow the capital, but they were defeated, resulting in the destruction of District 13. Now, for the past 74 years, two citizens of each district; a boy and a girl, all between the ages of 12 and 18, are sent to die in a tournament called the Hunger Games. The last person standing receives a lifetime of fame and fortune, and the district reaps the benefits. This film follows 16-year old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) of District 12, an expert archer, who volunteers to take her younger sister's place in the games. Her partner, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), is a baker, and they come with a strategy of pretending to fall in love with each other in order to look good and get help from the outside world during the games. They are guided by Haymitch (a great Woody Harrelson), a drunkard who is the only surviving winner from District 12 (only two from the district have ever won).
They head for the Capital, and are trained, and they meet the other tributes. Here is the movie's biggest flaw; most of these characters actually had bigger parts in the book. Here, they run around and get killed off. Only Rue from District 11 is given any substantial screen time, but it's still not enough. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is the wicked leader of the totalitarian Capital, and he doesn't want District 12 to win, because it results in the poorer districts (9, 10, 11, 12), to stand up and want to rebel again. The games are overseen by Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) and the Gamemakers, who add new obstacles in order to make the games exciting. Those two were barely in the first book, so their larger part in this film is very welcome.
Eventually, our two heroes work together to try and win, and I won't spoil anything else. This was a very well done film. The actors are great, especially Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman and Lenny Kravitz as Cinna. The effects are all well done, and the cinematography, which I heard people didn't like, is also pretty good. Director Gary Ross (who sadly isn't directing the next film) did a great job translating the book to the big screen, and it was a success. Hope the sequels are as good as this. "May the odds ever be in your favor".
Final Verdict: 8/10
Wicked Spring (2002)
An Under-appreciated Civil War Gem!
I first saw this film in 2004 when my dad bought me this film for my birthday present. I'm a huge American Civil War fan. I've enjoyed many Civil War films, from Glory to Gettysburg to Gods & Generals to Cold Mountain; even The Red Badge of Courage from the 1950s. This was a film that was made on a small budget; with little-known actors; and had a story that you probably couldn't really tell in a big-budget film. If Gods & Generals had been made like this; it would have received an even worse critical and financial backlash than it already did. Yet for all its shortcomings, this small-budget film is actually a great little film that doesn't focus on the battle, but focuses on the people who fought in it, which is something most Civil War films fail to address.
The film is set on the night of May 5, 1864 during the Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia. The film follows three Union and three Confederate soldiers who get trapped in no-man's land, and they decide to survive together during the night, but as we all know, once the morning comes, they will become enemies again and be forced to fight to the death. It's the first two acts that work really well. We see the battle pan out; we see men fighting in formations, and dying by the dozens. Then we see these six men, and they decide to survive the night together. One of the Southerners is a man who simply wants to return home to his love; another is a hothead who wants to fight and win the war. The Union soldiers are more one-dimensional, because they all fight for the Union, and don't have personalities, except for one who is shot in the leg, and only wishes to go home. The men talk to each other about their problems, and their opinions on the war, and the dialog is really well done here. Unfortunately, the third act is where the film falls apart. On the morning of May 6, the men start fighting each other and try to capture each other; a couple try to run away; all the while the two massive armies are about to fight with our main characters caught in the crossfire. The final image of the movie is actually pretty heart wrenching, but the ending was pretty sloppy.
The effects of this movie are, well, primitive. The uniforms and weapons and the locations look good, but you can tell the extras are using modern gunpowder and ammunition in the scenes, and the sound quality isn't spectacular. The cinematography is okay; but it's either too frantic or too slow to really work well. The actors who play the Confederates are really good; the Union soldiers could have used more work. Overall, this is a film that has a short and simple, yet very powerful tale of survival, companionship, and betrayal in the middle a fierce battle in the Civil War. It's not perfect, and it definitely shows off it's limited budget, but it's definitely a film that will make you sit back and think about what really could have happened in the Civil War, and for that, I was completely satisfied.
Final Verdict: 7/10
The Room (2003)
This Really Is The Citizen Kane Of Bad Movies!
I love movies! I really do, and I am willing to watch almost anything because I believe even the worst films have at least one good thing about them. This film has nothing good in it. Nothing! This particular gem of awfulness was written, produced, and directed by a guy named Tommy Wiseau. He was also the main actor. No one knows where he's from (I think he's Eastern European), but he is such a terrible actor. Every line of dialog he speaks is emotionless, boring, and has this very snooty feeling about it. That's not even the worst part. He can't enunciate his words correctly. Not a single phrase is spoken correctly. It's so bad that it's actually funny.
The film is about a guy named Johnny, who works at a bank and lives in an apartment in San Francisco. He lives with his fiancée Lisa, has a best friend named Mark, and a high school/college student named Denny who is is admirer. We never see Johnny at his job; we just see him play football in a tuxedo, and make passionate love with Lisa. However, Lisa becomes bored with him (how does that happen), and she cheats on him with...you guessed it, Mark. I think Wiseau was trying to make a drama about cheating and the negative effects of it, but the film plot is so full of holes that you won't even know what's happening half the time. At least the plot's slightly better than Uwe Boll's films, but that's not saying much.
Ultimately, even though I hate this film with a passion, I recommend that people go out and watch it. It's really interesting to see how this project went so bad, and it stands as a lesson to those who want to make movies. It's not as easy as it seems. Even though it's one of the worst films of all time, I recommend that you see it at least once. You'll thank me later.
Final Verdict: 1/10* Recommend you see it at least once.
The Watch (2012)
Stiller, Vaughn, and Hill...What Could Go Wrong? Oh Wait, Everything!
When was the last time Ben Stiller was actually in a good movie? When was the last time Vince Vaughn was in a good movie? I don't remember because they were never very good. Jonah Hill has been in some great films in the last few years; Moneyball, 21 Jump Street, but has also been in some really bad films; The Sitter was the latest example. Unfortunately, he's not doing well here either. The Watch is another example of a film that sacrifices jokes and good performances for gross-out humor, and it's not very funny. Just like That's My Boy.
The film starts off with Ben Stiller's character, who forms a bunch of clubs because he has no friends. He then starts the Neighborhood Watch (the original title of this film), to try and find aliens that might live in the neighborhood. Vaughn and Hill are two of the new members, and they both have their share of problems. I won't spoil anything else for you, but this is a raunchy, unfunny, gross film that almost treats the audience like idiots. I can't tell whether or not this is worse than That's My Boy, but it comes pretty close. This is easily, one of the worst films of the year. Do yourselves a favor, and don't see this, but considering the fact the film hasn't done well at the box office, you probably haven't seen it. Good for you!
Final Verdict: 2/10
The Expendables 2 (2012)
It's The Same Film We've Seen Before, Only With More Bad Actors
Well, we should have known it would come to this. The Expendables 2. I didn't see the original film until earlier this year on television. I thought it was lousy, and I still can't believe it crushed Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World at the box office. Every actor except Jason Statham was terrible, the special effects were sub-par, the cinematography was pitiful, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis were underused, and Sylvester Stallone proved once again that he couldn't write a decent script (Rocky was an exception) or direct a good movie. Now we have an unnecessary sequel. I won't give away any spoilers, but I will say this film brings action stars Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris to the table, and they're terrible as always. I do admit, it was funny watching Chuck Norris killing bad guys, considering he's 72, but he's just an excuse for Stallone and Co. to say that they have another washed-out movie star in their midst.
This film is directed by Simon West, but he's never been a good filmmaker. He's a little better filming the action scenes, but the script, once again penned by Stallone, gives him nothing to work with. Overall, this is a slightly better film than the first one, but that's like comparing Epic Movie and Meet the Spartans and trying to argue which one is the best. This is another vain attempt at 80's nostalgia, but there's a reason why people don't make movies like that anymore: they were cheap, stupid, and had bad acting, but now producers have the money to make great action films, and this is just an attempt to cash in on nostalgia. I will say Arnold and Bruce are in the film a little more this time around, but even that still can't save this film.
Final Verdict: 4/10
Whatever Happened To Pixar's Creativity?
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. The once amazing Pixar has now given us it's second dud in a row. It all started last year with Cars 2, a film that had gorgeous animation, but had a bland story, little character development, and should have been called Mater's Big Movie. There was too much Mater. This time around we got a film that seemed new and creative except for one thing: This is a princess movie! It's not an original film! I'm officially saying this: Dreamworks has surpassed Pixar as the best animation studio in America!
This movie is essentially Disney princess movie ever made, except now it's in medieval Scotland. It tells the story of Merida, a red-headed princess (does Ariel ring a bell?) who wishes to go out and have adventures (just about every Disney princess in that category), and change her fate (wow, Pixar, have you really run out of ideas?). Merida doesn't want to follow tradition, so she shows off her archery skills, upsets her mother, changes her fate, and nearly tears the kingdom apart, all the while going up against an evil black bear that happens to be the worst Pixar villain to date.
The film has gorgeous animation, but I still think The Pirates! Band of Misfits was a better animated film. The story is okay, but it's the same story we've seen a dozen or more times from Disney. Sure, some characters are really funny, but the main heroine comes across as an unlikable brat, and even by the end I still didn't like her. Pixar, you can make good movies, but in the future, stop making sequels, or prequels, or unoriginal films! This is two in a row, you used to be perfect! Chances are Monsters University will be the same as this! I hope not! Try harder next time!
Final Verdict: 5/10
Ice Age: Continental Drift (2012)
This Series Is Tired...Why Is There Another Sequel?
I was a huge Ice Age fan growing up as a kid. The original had a great story, funny dialog, memorable characters, and stellar animation from Blue Sky Studios. Since then we've gotten two sequels, Ice Age: The Meltdown, and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. Meltdown had great animation, but overall felt like a poorly written sequel designed simply to suck money from our wallets. Dawn of the Dinosaurs was better; almost as good as the original. It had even better animation, and actually had a good story and some great jokes for both adults and kids. However, as soon as I saw the five-minute Scrat short at last year's Rio, I realized that the series had taken a turn for the worst.
This is the worst Ice Age film yet. The story feels tired; the jokes are mostly bland; the inclusion of Wanda Sykes as Sid the Sloth's grandmother is a huge mistake; and this film commits the greatest of sins: it has an awful musical number in the middle of the movie. Ugh, it still makes me cringe. The story is about how Manny, Sid, and Diego are separated from their herd and family after the continent starts to break apart. Our heroic trio sail across the sea only to be captured by a band of pirates that sail an iceberg shaped like an old Spanish galleon. Diego gets a love interest, and Scrat continues to hunt for that blasted acorn.
Sure, the animation is great, and the 3D actually works well, but everything about this film is just mediocre. From the bad story, to the uninspired voice acting, to the jaw-droppingly bad musical number, and Scrat's never-ending screams, this is a franchise that will probably see another sequel in three to four years, even though it should have stopped with the dinosaurs, and just feels like an excuse to grab more cash rather than create new, inventive animated films.
Final Verdict: 4/10
Total Recall (2012)
I RECALL Seeing This Movie Before...Except That One Was Terrible
I hated the original Total Recall. Absolutely HATED It. It had one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's worst performances, a bunch of really bad performances from other actors who later starred in more of Paul Verhoeven's films (Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside), some of the worst special effects in a big budget action film I've ever seen, and was just so over-the-top and goofy that I can't help but hate it. This film on the other hand, is a masterpiece by comparison. That still doesn't mean it's perfect.
The film follows the same basic storyline. The Earth has been torn apart by war. Only two nations remain (one is bad, the other is good). Douglas Quaid, played by a great Colin Farrell, is a normal working stiff who feels unhappy with his life. He goes to Rekall, a place that implants artificial memories into the consumer. Quaid gets strapped in, and as soon as the chemicals start going in, Quaid is attacked by cops and evil robots (they look a lot like Sonny from I'Robot), gets hunted down by his wife Lori (a fantastic Kate Beckinsale), and runs into the girl from his nightmares, Melina (Jessica Biel), and finds out he's a rogue agent working for the good guys. Or is he?
This film is directed by Len Wiseman, who's pretty much spent his career making the cheap Underworld movies. He's married to Beckinsale by the way, go figure. This time around however, he actually had a big budget, and created a beautifully crafted action film. The action scenes are adrenaline-pumping, the visuals are topnotch, and the performances are great. The film doesn't take place on Mars (there are subtle references though). The three-breasted woman shows up, in a PG-13 movie! The film has a darker, more serious, and less comedic tone to it, and I loved it. I understand the film hasn't done well in the U.S., and it's shaping up to be another Battleship and John Carter sized flop. It's a shame, because this is one of the best films of the summer. I really recommend it.
Final Verdict: 9/10
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
A Great...But Not Perfect, Ending To Nolan's Batman Trilogy
Remember when Batman was completely ruined by Joel Schumacher and his pathetic films that were designed only to sell toys? Remember those dreaded bat nipples and all of those really bad one-liners? Well, at least Christopher Nolan managed to reboot the once dead Batman franchise into a modern, dark, and graphic film series. The first film, Batman Begins, was an excellent, though flawed film. It's sequel, The Dark Knight, was one of the greatest comic book films ever made, with a fantastic story, great special effects, an awesome soundtrack, and incredible performances, especially from the late Heath Ledger, who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of the Joker. Well, how do you top that, Nolan? Well, you can't. Sorry.
I'm trying hard not to spoil anything for those who haven't seen it yet. It's been eight years since the events in TDK, Batman is gone, and Gotham City is crime free. That's until the sinister Bane shows up and promises to act as "Gotham's reckoning". We see Batman struggling to get back in the game, while trying to fight Bane, which makes a great homage to the graphic novel Knightfall, and we also see Catwoman, now played by Anne Hathaway. The story for the most part, is pretty good. There's only one problem: it's 2 hours and 45 minutes long! This film needed to shave off at least 20 minutes, because by the end, I was starring at my watch. I hate it when I do that. Still, it's a great story, and the last five minutes made me stand up and shout and cheer.
The effects are great as always, the music is great, the performances are all stellar. Tom Hardy is great as Bane, but he's not as sinister as Ledger's Joker, mostly because he's not insane. Marion Cottiliard is awesome, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a great new addition. It does feel like Nolan used most of his Inception cast, though. I was seriously expecting Ellen Page to show up. Overall, this is a great film, and a fantastic send off for the series, but with a running time that's just a little too long, and a few plot holes that could have used more detail, this is a great, but not perfect ending to one of the greatest comic book film trilogies ever made.
Final Verdict: 8/10
The Bourne Legacy (2012)
I Have The Strange Feeling I've Seen This Before...Only Better
I walked out of the screening of The Bourne Legacy feeling empty. Yes, the action scenes were good, but not as memorable as the original trilogy; yes, Jeremy Renner was good, but not as memorable as Matt Damon; yes, Ed Norton was good as the villain, but he wasn't as intimidating as Chris Cooper, and he wasn't on screen as much. The Bourne Legacy is the perfect example of a film that tries to kick-start a new chapter in an old series when the old series already went off on a high note and didn't need any new additions.
The Bourne Legacy pretty much begins towards the end of The Bourne Ultimatum, with clips from the original trilogy popping up here and there just to tell the audience that they're still in a Bourne movie, except with no Jason Bourne. There's some techno babble, and some chase scenes, but every aspect of this film feels recycled, and carries that feeling that it's all been done before, except much better. In the end I thought the movie was okay, but seeing how hyped I was to see this film, makes even more disappointing. Hopefully, if they make a sequel, it'll be better than this painfully average film.
Final Verdict: 5/10