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The Imitation Game (2014)
Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes, playing Alan Turing
I'd first heard of Alan Turing as the father of computer science, but I didn't know his story until a few years ago when an online petition to the UK government went viral, asking that they grant Turing a pardon and issue him an apology. And it came as no surprise when I'd found out that Hollywood had turned his work for the Allies in WWII and the subsequent years of his life into a biopic. It is quite an amazing story which deserves to be told, and The Imitation Game tells it quite entertainingly.
It also came as no surprise that they picked Benedict Cumberbatch, popular for his role as a genius detective, to play the role of Turing, a genius computer engineer. In fact, the parallels between the roles are so striking that it felt like the credits should read, "Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes, playing Alan Turing." There's even one of those Sherlockian "Eureka!" moments thrown into the movie. A moment which was worked in for dramatic effect, but also came across as a bit forced and lazy.
In fact, my only big criticism of The Imitation Game is that a lot of this movie comes across as being dramatized rather than true. It seems like a lot of extra narrative was thrown into the mix, adding a lot of extra heavy-handed messages about the morality of war, women's rights, bullying, autism, etc. I'd have been nice to see a more straight-forward telling of the story.
In spite of these criticisms, there is a lot to like about The Imitation Game: Keira Knightley had a great character. The scenes of Turing's childhood hit all the right emotional notes, and Alex Lawther - an actor who'd I'd never heard of before - did a great job as Young Alan Turing. And overall it was an engaging movie with only a few slow spots here and there. And fans of the BBC's Sherlock (with Cumberbatch) will definitely enjoy it.
The Maze Runner (2014)
Fun movie, good mystery, though a weak payoff
The Maze Runner opens with an unknown panicked boy, awaking in a dark, steel elevator, ascending into the unknown. The doors open to a grassy plane - The Glade - where he is surrounded by a group of mocking boys. We soon learn that they remember nothing of their past lives, except that they are all trapped here, surrounded by a gigantic labyrinth which they must navigate to (hopefully) find freedom. It's certainly an intriguing plot.
Having never read the book, I didn't really know what to expect. And to that end, the mystery kept me interested throughout. However, I can't say that I felt much for any of the characters. Perhaps those who have read the book will feel differently, but there just didn't seem to be much depth to them. Even the lone girl in the movie seemed to be mostly a useless character, adding very little to the plot.
I'd heard many compare it to The Hunger Games, which definitely shares many of the same elements. Both are fun movies, but the main fault of The Maze Runner is with the payoff at the end. Why are these boys trapped? By whom? You'll get answers, for sure, but I felt like they didn't make a whole lot of sense.
Apollo 18 (2011)
For a movie with what must have been a fairly low budget, the Apollo 18 filming team definitely did a great job. The moon and space scenes looked very realistic, and the director definitely knows how to film a movie in the "found footage" genre. The small cast of actors also did a pretty great job. So what went wrong here? Overall, I think, the "horror" element of the movie seemed half-baked, and the monsters seemed tacked on.
For example, with any good horror movie, the villain is given some sort of motivation - even if those motivations are left vague. But, ask yourself, what were the motivation of these moon-rock spiders? They would simply attack these astronauts, make them slowly go crazy, them leave them to die. ...Even when they pulled the astronaut into the dark crater, he re-appeared a little crazier but no worse for ware.
For this and other reasons, it seemed that little thought was put into the plot. Still, the movie was a good way to kill 70-minutes.
Mad Max (1979)
A classic? Really?!?
After hearing from so many people that this movie is a "classic," I was quite shocked to find how bad this movie actually is.
That said, I'm partly sympathetic to the creators of this movie. They tried to do a big idea - a post-apocalyptic action movie - an a tiny budget. This is probably why the world was hardly identifiable as post-apocalyptic, where it just looks like it takes place in a rural area of Australia (you pretty much have to read the movie description to figure it out). At the very least, however, they could take the time to simply explain the background. We never are given any explanation of what is supposed to have happened to the world, which makes the movie more confusing than it needs to be.
The characters are also poorly written. The "gangs" in the movie have no real motivation, but are just generic one-dimensional "bad guys." At the beginning Max kills one of the gang's leaders, but this is not really used to drive the plot. When they go after Max's wife, for example, it's simply a coincidence. Even the good guys (the "police" I guess) are all written like they're all bi-polar. Even the acting is terrible. Mel Gibson, who by far does the best job in the movie, over-acts like crazy.
The car stunts are definitely well-done for such a small budget, but other effects are terrible. There's a scene where a motorcycle runs over Max's arm and I actually laughed at how poorly executed it was (the low budget was no excuse for this one). But overall, these action scenes were few and far between. Things don't really get going until the final 20 minutes of the movie, making it a bit boring to watch.
The Tree of Life (2011)
Great in many respects, but completely fails to engage.
After hearing much of the rave reviews, The Tree of Life was rather disappointing. There were, of course, many great things about this movie: It had very poetic and thought-provoking messages, the cinematography was amazing, and the director did an amazing job giving us a sense of childhood in the 1950s suburbs.
The problem with the movie is that it completely failed to engage its audience. There was neither a story nor a character we could really cling to, and that makes for a long 2.25 hours. While people often blame the laziness of American audiences for demanding engaging stories, I'm of the opinion that it's a failure on the part of the writer and director. Take a look at 2001 or, to take a more recent example, Inception. Those movies are both engaging and thought-provoking.
In The Tree of Life we get to know a family, true, but only vaguely. Perhaps those born in the era or those with similar family dynamics will relate to the characters more, but this doesn't help me (or most audiences) very much. So while I enjoyed the movie on one level, it was still ultimately a boring film.
Synecdoche, New York (2008)
Great directing, but still a disappointing watch
I've been a big fan of Charlie Kaufman's work for awhile. Adaptation, Being John Malkovich, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, all written by Kaufman, are among my favorite movies. Synecdoche, New York (2008) was not only written by Kaufman, but it was his debut as a director as well, so I had very high hopes.
...And I really can't say anything bad about the directing of Synecdoche. It looked fantastic, and he got really great performances out of the actors. The real problem with this film is that it makes very little sense.
The first half-hour was pretty clear cut and easy to follow. After that the movie got pretty trippy. Time kept jumping forward without the main character realizing it - which might have been explained by these weird medical problems he was having, but they kind of dropped that whole thing halfway through the movie. There were lots of surrealist elements, which I was expecting in a Kaufman movie, but there was no clear understanding of what it all meant. After awhile this film seemed more interested in being like a Russian nesting doll than it did about characters or plot.
Now, I'm sure there is some well thought-out meaning behind everything in this movie - meaning only Kaufman himself can fully appreciate. It seems to me that Kaufman had too much involvement in this, and maybe this is why his screenplays have worked so well in the past. He kind of needs somebody else to say to him, "yeah, this might make sense to you, but nobody else in the world will have any possible chance of grasping meaning out of it."
Hamlet 2 (2008)
Seeing the trailer ruined the movie for me.
Hamlet 2 (2008) had an ad campaign that seemed to focus on the fact that it was from the co-writer of South Park, but they are not referring to Matt Stone or Trey Parker (who had absolutely nothing to do with this movie). They are talking about Pam Brady who mostly produces the show, but has some co-writing credits on a couple of the episodes and on the South Park movie. So, if you're going into this expecting something like Orgazmo or Team America, then you'll probably be disappointed.
That being said, the movie is still pretty clever and funny. Aside from a slow beginning, an annoying amount of pratfalls, and two completely pointless characters (played by Catherine Keener David Arquette), it's a pretty funny movie.
Unfortunately this is one of those movies where the funniest parts are spoiled by the trailer. My suggestion would be to skip the theatrical release and wait for it to come out on DVD. By that time, you probably will have forgotten the ad campaign, and you'll really be able to enjoy it.
The prince songs ruined the movie.
Batman (1989) fits in very well with the rest of Tim Burton's movies. What I mean is that Burton has a style which really shines through the acting and the plot, which is great if you love Tim Burton, but I find something a little bothersome about his style. Everything in his movies is a bit too much like a cartoon. I guess, though, that this over-the-top quality works in favor of this comic book based movie.
Still, there are scenes which are much too silly for this movie. For example, there are the lame Prince songs which really don't fit in at all. Why play some terrible Prince song when you already have an amazing Danny Elfman score? Other cheesy moments include the Joker's ninja underlings (he has a couple throughout the movie), and his 5-foot long gun which takes out the bat wing in a single shot. Oh, and I can't forget to mention how lame it is that there's what amounts to an American Express commercial within the first 3 minutes of the film.
But since we were on the subject, I really should mention Jack Nicholson's portrayal of The Joker. Since The Dark Knight has come out, many people have been comparing his performance to Heath Ledger's performance. Though they play the same character, after watching this movie again, I can safely say that the comparison is pretty silly.
While The Dark Knight had a more realistic and gritty feel to it, the 1984 Batman has more of a comic book atmosphere - the kind where a guy can fall into a vat of random chemicals and come out with bleached skin and dyed green hair. No matter how much you compare them, neither Joker could be successfully transplanted into the other movie. But if I absolutely had to choose, I'd have to go with Ledger because, frankly, Jack Nicholson is kind of an annoying actor.
To wrap up, Micheal Keaton was pretty good as Batman. Though he's not really known for this type of movie, he pulled it off pretty well. Kim Basnger was alright, but nothing to write home about. I'd have to say the movie was good, but not great.
Brideshead Revisited (2008)
Great acting and imagery don't save it from a boring plot.
Brideshead Revisited (2008), based on the 1945 novel of the same name, can be best described as a combo of Brokeback Mountain and Pride and Prejudice. While the plot focuses on an atheist who befriends a rich kid from a overly religious family, the movie seems to be focused on early 20th century British high-society.
If you're into seeing rich women at fancy balls, taking trips to Italy, having flings with "average" (but good-looking) guys, and getting into all sorts of pointless drama, then you'll love this movie. Other than that, there really isn't much to say.
The film is technically very good, but the thin and boring plot make the 2-hours go by slowly. There were also a lot of pro-Catholic themes which didn't bother me except for the fact that they were kind of dumb.
Superhero Movie (2008)
No more parody movies! Please!
Superhero Movie (2008) is the most recent in the long line over "parody" movie movies which I despise so much. I wish this movie could be the death of the genre, but I know that it isn't awful enough to put the final nail in the coffin.
If Meet the Spartans is considered the bottom of the barrel as far as Hollywood movies go, than Superhero Movie is probably near the top. Unfortunately Meet the Spartans was actually miles below the barrel, and this movie just barely makes it in.
Superhero Movie has a decent cast of C-list celebs. It's got Drake Bell (the kid from Disney's Drake and Josh), Leslie Nielson (Airplane!), Tracy Morgan (SNL and 30 Rock), and a few others scattered throughout. Although it has the star power to light a 40-watt bulb, the movie fails to utilize any humor.
This movie is about 80 minutes long, most of which is dedicated to following the Spiderman plot, and not one single joke is funny. I didn't laugh or chuckle or smirk the entire time.
Don't see this movie. Don't even think about it. For the love of cinema, just skip it and maybe they wont come out with another one.
...oh, who am I kidding? They'll probably come out with another one by fall.