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G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)
2009's G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was by most accounts an odd flick. The trailer left a bad taste in my mouth. The productions values didn't match the astonishing budget. The script left something to be desired. It may not have been a good movie, but it provided entertainment. Hey, the task to construct a sensible movie out of a toy line littered with sci-fi inspired vehicles and characters who shoot guns without killing each other isn't a walk in the park. It exceeded my admittedly low expectations, and even appeared to set the groundwork for an improved sequel. That sequel is G.I. Joe: Retaliation, but is it an improvement?
There aren't a lot of returning faces among the Joes, the heroic Special Forces squad tasked with saving the world. Duke (Tatum Channing) is now captain of a team, which includes Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki). The only other returning hero is Snake Eyes (Ray Park), a ninja whose lack of countenance and vocals may as well mark him as unfamiliar. Playing off the conclusion of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, the President of the United States has been captured and replaced by a double seeking to rule the world. When the opportunity arises he strikes to wipe out the G.I. Joes.
This time around out heroes have at least one foot grounded in reality. There's no more secret base beneath the pyramids. The cavalcade of Star Wars derived vehicles have been melted for scrap, possibly to construct the contemporary-esque armor worn by the personnel. Though the costumes are awesome, this franchise isn't served well through gritty reinvention. This is no reboot, but a loose continuation akin to what The Incredible Hulk (2008) was to The Hulk (2003). A mere 15 minutes in, a highly unfortunate casting decision lets the air out of the movie, at which point chemistry takes a frag grenade to the chest.
Hard to believe it's been nearly 4 years between releases. This treatment was postponed for the addition of 3D, which this viewer neglected. It's tough enough keeping track of the action in a more traditional format. New director to the franchise, Jon M. Chu (Step Up 2: The Streets), keeps the action dizzying. Save for a stunning ninja battle across cliffs, I couldn't sense out of what I was seeing, who was shooting at what. I heralded the previous film as the best ninja action of the year. Here, I'm not fully convinced any actors completed a given move without the magic of editing. Visual effects are far more realistic, but what good are they when married to a lack of ambition?
The downsized set pieces take away what made G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra unique. So while this movie may appear up to par with bigger names on board, especially an appearance by Bruce Willis, there are few moments that push the envelope. G.I. Joe: Retaliation gets right everything the last movie did wrong, while getting wrong everything it did right. What should have been an easy upgrade becomes a push.
The Expendables 2 (2012)
Another Missed Opportunity
The Expendables 2 reunites a cadre of action hero legends for another outing. This time the elite mercenaries known as the Expendables, led by Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) embark on a mission of revenge as they attempt of thwart terrorist Villain (Jean-Claude Van Damme). But they're going to need more heroes so this time Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Church (Bruce Willis), and even Booker (Chuck Norris) join in.
Making good on the promise of the 2010 hit The Expendables, this sequel ups the ante in terms of carnage. Genre fans will be pleased by the near genocide of evil. There are bullet holes, explosions, blunt injuries, capitations, and even impalements which grant this movie its R rating.
Our legends are showing their mileage. The young guns, who are hovering around 40-50, get to jump, kick, dive, etc. The rest of the lot simply stand and shoot automatic rifles, with the exception of Stallone who absolutely must break a sweat in an effort to one-up the competition. For what it's worth, the action is far easier to comprehend this time as director Simon West goes for a more traditional presentation. That look carries it's own burden as The Expendables 2 appears outdated. There's no effort at slow motion or the intricate tracking shots that one expects out of a today's films. That the actors come from a different time doesn't mean the filmmaking techniques should OK, the CGI helicopters aren't necessarily evocative of Commando.
The Expendables 2 seeks to rebel against the new hero standards which have caught the world on fire. In trying to defy the narrative set forth by the comic book adaptations, we have a series that touts real heroes but delivers cartoons. The Expendables 2 misses the opportunity to address the humanity in its non-superheroes. They don't feel the effects of aginga better source for comedic material than the obvious resume shout-outs. Spider-Man is more realistic in how he juggles a secret life, sustains injury, and tries to win over the girl. Barney Ross could have in the least been teased over taking Centrum Silver.
Total Recall (2012)
No Mars, No Mutants, No soul
I'm very much anti-remake. If the original worked, leave it alone. In the case of the 1990 Total Recall we had what was built to be the biggest movie yet made starring the biggest movie star around. Yep, that sounds like a viable candidate for remaking.
In a future where most of the Earth is decimated, Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) can't shake his adventurous dreams. He heads to Rekall where vacations come in the form of memory transplants. In the process of becoming his own secret agent, Quaid discovers that his life is a lie. Wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale filling in for Sharon Stone but doubling for Michael Ironside and offering the best performance of the film) leads a chase to capture the awakened Quaid. Meanwhile freedom fighter Melina (Jessica Biel) attempts to persuade Quaid into finding his true identity and leading the cause against oppression.
This version of Total Recall does feature some upgrades. Of course visuals have come a long way. Where the original only had one computer-animated sequence involving primitive animated X-rays, this version has all the bells and whistles. There are maglev cars, a myriad of elevators, and a multitude of future housing developments. The art direction is noteworthy albeit not entirely original these days. You can see a frame of the 1990 version and understand immediately what you're looking at with it's consumer-ready technology; do the same with this movie and it's another film looking back at Blade Runner. Fight sequences and most of the action come across as deft, if not too numerous.
The omission of the plot to free mars creates a chasm of asinine edits. The people at peril are never characterized. Since they aren't sassy mutants, there's trouble in understanding the context of early fan service. Only two inhabitable territories exist in the world. The Colony as it's called (Australia) fills in for Mars but since it's the early setting of the film there isn't anything majestic about reaching it. The film hops between the Colony and the controlling British Federation with early going ease that it fails to divide acts.
The lack of Arnold Schwarzenegger helps one appreciate Arnold Schwarzenegger. For someone considered a bad actor, we never actually won a Razziehe actually got an honorary Razzie for failing to win the award, but did get a Golden Globe. Like Sylvester Stallone, Schwarzenegger's typical role, at the time of the 1990 original, exuded masculinity. However, the difference is in the touches of humor that always cropped up in the Schwarzenegger films. One can't watch Predator without shouting to get to the chopper. Transversely Stallone's Rambo never brings the fun factor. Looking back at the Total Recall (1990), little touches from Arnold make even the most gratuitous of Paul Verhoeven gore strangely comical. That odd nature interjects the ardor today's films overlook. This remake is clinical. No mars, no mutants, no soul.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Relatively a Knightmare
The Occupy Wall Street movement gets to live out a wild fantasy in the closing chapter of Christopher Nolan's Batman saga, The Dark Knight Rises. If you're confused by the naming scheme, you're not alone.
It's been 8 years since Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) last played dress up in public. Crime is at a minimum across Gotham City, but underground trouble is brewing as new villain Bane (Tom Hardy) plots to seize control of the city. I'm not saying he wants to be come the top dog of the criminal underworldhe wants total control of the city.
Bane is trouble. His strength is fantastic by the standards established in the two previous films of this trilogy. So not only is he a handful, he's problematic in helping this movie get away from Nolan's realism approach. Bane has a breathing apparatus for what purpose I'm not entirely sure of, and his voice is an issue in of itself. Fans treated to the IMAX prologue lodged complaints over his inaudible language. What I heard in the final cut was mostly clear, but noticeably foreign like the words were more narration than diagetic. The ADR by Hardy is too laughable for a villain who must do the occasional public speakingweren't limelight speeches more a trait of lighter Batman of the '90s?
Not so sure about Batman's plan to trust Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), Catwoman in the comics but here is in passing referred to as a cat burglar. The LGBT community may enjoy how Selina is shown as presumably bisexual, they may also balk at the hint. There are times where Hathaway's lines are a little too cute for this almost entirely depressing film.
This is a movie where the bad guy's scheme is so insane that it only works because evidently most people in Gotham City are criminals at heart. If that's true, then Batman certainly isn't the hero the city deserves. The two previous films in this particular series had some imaginative schemes, but they weren't so public as to literally take over a city. Strangely enough last year's megahit video game Batman: Arkham City features a city controlled by criminals in a manner which, I dare say, is more believable.
For many The Dark Knight (2008) is the gold standard, and this film is expected to follow that act. The bar may have been set too high in large part thanks to the late Heath Ledger as the iconic Joker who spewed nothing but memorable material. Tom Hardy's Bane never stood a chance.
At nearly three hours in runtime, The Dark Knight Rises spends almost every minute lowering the heroes. Just when you think it can't get worse for Batman, here comes another scene to drive home the notion. Serious fans will appreciate the integration of key figures, even jokes about the more far-fetched villains Killer Croc and Mr. Freeze. However these same fans will groan over the excessive meandering. It was only in the final battle that I could recognize the spirit of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Then a signature Nolan conclusion sweeps in for further damage control, nearly convincing the viewer this wasn't a knightmare.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
I've never appreciated Wes Anderson. I've never gone out of my way to see his little corduroy clad hipster films. That's probably because my first exposure to his work came 10 years ago when I rented The Royal Tenenbaums, a movie about nothing more than the posturing of unrealistic traits and staring at the camera head on. His latest effort, Moonrise Kingdom, is my effort to give him a second chance.
It's mid-1960s New England and Khaki Scout Sam (Jared Gilman) is missing. He flew the coupe and Scout Master Ward is tasked with finding him, which fits nicely with the mythos of summer camping. Police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) is mounts his own search, only to find that local girl Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) has joined Sam. The two plot to get away from the conflicts in their lives, but have to meet with a dose of reality.
The odd style director Wes Anderson has developed over the years goes into full effect. It doesn't matter if it's a stop motion animated map sequence or Edward Norton's childish way of receiving a thrown shoe, there isn't a shot in Moonrise Kingdom lacking in auteur theory stylization. The actors are almost always framed with stage production awareness.
The robotic charm put on by the cast is a perfect fit for the presentation. It's actually quire endearing. That's not to say anyone is particularly believable, but there is an effort to strike against that notion. A strong performance is believable within the context of a film's reality, which isn't always our own. That's what gives this comedy-drama some charm. It's funny that a 12-year old boy paints landscapes and nudes. It's funny that getting hit by lightning goes all but forgotten. For you and I the lingering effects would encompass our entire day, but for Sam it's no biggie.
Another dose of charm comes in the juxtaposition of the harmony created by the kids and the convoluted and bureaucratic world the adults preside over. I could go as far as to say the conclusion is storybook predictable, or the overt bluntness of the narrative cheapens any sense of crafty subtleness. Moonrise Kingdom may be about kids, but the themes and some suggestive material make it more for the adult who recalls The Goonies.
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
I Can't Bring Myself to Rate This Movie
The Amazing Spider-Man dresses up a story that everyone in the country already knows, and most have already seen. It achieves a better, less happenstance vision of the origin of the Spider-Man character than the 2002 Spider-Man, which launched Marvel's entire strategy toward brining their catalogue of characters to the screen.
Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is in high school when he's bitten by a radioactive spider, which gives him superpowers so he can fight crime. He lives with Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen), but only for so long. This time his love interest is the less iconic but more comic-oriented Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone).
Director Marc Webbwhat a namemakes every effort to make this the series fans want. Spider-Man is the comic book's smart alec. The visual effects are Oscar worthy, featuring fluid combat and artistic attributes that would make the comic book colorists proud. Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker isn't the all out dweeb played up by Tobey Macguire. Still, I have to take some issue with how this film's villain, a lizard mutant played by Rhys Ifans, hears voices in his head. I also can't get past how Spider-Man is skillful enough a tailor to stitch his amazing garb unassisted; maybe instead of scenes showing his skateboarding prowess we could have gotten him knitting.
The Amazing Spider-Man is presented in 3D, and I did see it as thus. In the more static scenes of dialog I lifted the plastic frames to see if anything was 3D at all, and the screen was almost entirely clear to the naked eyes. Even during the more intense moments the 3D didn't push to the extremes, where I find double vision occurs. For the most part there were maybe three moments where 3D filmmaking was really an objective and two of these bookend the movie.
The Amazing Spider-Man is considerably better than Spider-Man (2002) and the latest Marvel flick The Avengers. The people tasked with making it deserve praise, but the process for which it came to be is entirely unscrupulous. Marvel and Sony purposely crafted an awful Spider-Man 3 to build support for a reboot effort. This movie is the child of a bean counter's inartistic, unapologetic effort to make a sure buck. I'm sick of what the industry has become. Shamed to have bought into the notions, I now see that a movie which gives a too familiar origin tale can not be truly recommended. N/A
See my video review of The Amazing Spider-Man at my site VaughnOnMovies.com.
That's My Boy (2012)
The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, but it does roll
Buckle up! There's a new, raunchier Adam Sandler comedy in town. In That's My Boy the of late family man takes on the role of Donny Berger, a washed up reality star trying to reconnect with his grown son.
In 1984 Donny Berger (Sandler) was the kid who wowed America by living his dream. In other words he had sex with his teacher Ms. McGarricle (Eva Amurri), to such an apparent extent that she becomes pregnant with his child. Acknowledging the law, Donny has to raise the child as a child.
Years after what little star power Donny possessed has faded, he's behind on his taxes. A promising TV reunion could bail him out, but the trick to pulling it off lies in tricking his now grown and successful son Todd (Andy Samberg), who is in the middle of wedding festivities, into visiting dear old mom.
I'm going to groan my way through some superlatives, but there are refreshing elements to be found within That's My Boy. The crudest and rudest of Sandler comedies, there's a graduated level of humor. Less toilet humor, more sex humor. Donny is an unapologetic, uncontrollable mess, which makes for a more appealing Sandler than successful-family-man Sandler. Among the burnout clichés that Sandler lampoons: a Pontiac Fiero, reliance on audiotapes, and always a beer in hand.
How R rated is That's My Boy? The tame moments involve implied sexual encounters with senior citizen. Efforts go toward the gross-out effect, but never achieve Brüno or Farrelly brothers levels of reaction. It's like cussing out someone when you don't know the language.
The Happy Madison team may have upgraded their act, but there are still ingrained fallbacks. Conveniently starting in the '80s provides for a circumstance for Sandler's '80s music to take over the film. I do have to give due props for the score which is reminiscent of films of the era, recalling Tangerine Dream and Vangelis. Celebrity cameos are numerous and mostly deplorable. I wonder how well Rex Ryan's turn as a New England Patriots fanatic will hold up should in a year's time he's out of a job or never finds a Super Bowl ring with the Jets. The more reliable running gag is Vanilla Ice, a celebrity whose situation is known by all. Being washed up himself, I can envision Ice's manager denoting That's My Boy as his comeback, likely referencing Mike Tyson's work in The Hangover. I have some bad news for you Mr. Van Winkle, these Sandler films are far more expendable. You should have plotted your Sandler buddy comedy in the mid to late '90s.
The formula for the plot is entirely predictable, but the structure is reliable. Of course Donny and Todd are going to rub each other the wrong way only to find some common ground. It's not a new idea, but That's My Boy moves along well enough that boredom doesn't have time to be established. As strange as this may come across, the antics of That's My Boy are more enjoyable than the Darwin Award intelligence of the scientists found in Prometheusyes, I went there. These are dofusses in a world where sex with the teach is praised, which beats morons playing out an expensive space drama.
That's My Boy is a slightly more competent film than the latest guise of the Sandler movie. There's even gags the writers recall with a degree of competency. The lack of maturity found in Billy Madison finds itself taking on a more adult-oriented lack of maturity. So, if you grew up with the lazy millionaire you may have very well witnessed his fall to depravity. That's how Billy grows up.
Check out my video review as well as all of my reviews at my website VaughnOnMovies.com
Could be the worst film linked, even vaguely, to Alien and that's saying a lot these days
The Alien formula (enter cave, encounter creature, return to ship and deal with stowaway) is remarkably effective and possibly played out. So what happens when the prequel Prometheus presents a similar scenario?
With Prometheus, the highly anticipated follow-up ala prequel to Alien (1979), many of the original brains are on board including director Ridley Scott. This time archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) is on an exploratory space mission to find who she believes is responsible for life on Earth, an alien race she calls the "Engineers." Joining Shaw are android David (Michael Fassbender), and rich girl Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and a crew of too many aboard the titular science vessel.
It's with a heavy heart that I can't sing the praises of the film which I had calculated would be the best Hollywood would have to offer this summer, if not all of 2012. The cinematography, art design, and some performances are the boundaries of that praise.
The beauty of the 1986 sequel, Aliens, is in the exit from the sci-fi horror subgenre and metamorphosis into a sci-fi action film. Let's be honest, horror sequels do not work at all. They're formulaic. A new group of oblivious folks happen upon Camp Crystal Lake or Elm Street and have to catch up with the knowledge of the viewers. Alien³ (1992) played more like the first than the second; it's Alien on ground for that matter. Afterward the series attempted to adopt the spirit of Aliens to various degrees of failure.
Creatures, hornets, even lions attacking and devouring humans don't require much explanation or motivation for their actions. Hunger and instinctual survival are commonplace motivations that audiences can accept without issue. When the creature is a giant, advanced humanoid that has created technology and civilizationsthere better be a heck of a motive. Prometheus prods audiences into anticipating a sequel, which may never happen, for the answers to questions raised by this foul script.
As the plot continues to unravel, there is a combined effort to askew all continuity with the '79 film, leaving me to believe that this isn't the same planet and if that truly is the case we have no business being in this theatre. I suppose I could write a prequel to Rocky that doesn't feature Rocky Balboa but since Joe Sixpack is a boxer he serves the same purpose and the big reveal could be that it takes place in New York City. So long as they visit the same pet store, it's a prequel.
Somewhat boldly, Prometheus doesn't adhere to the Alien formula. No, these scientists can't make an exciting movie out of an expedition because they're too busy traveling to and from the site and ship. Try and imagine Aliens had Ellen Ripley repeatedly returned to the Colonial Marine's spacecraft, only to head back to LV-426 because Newt got lost in the tunnel. Better yet, think about Alien if the crew voted to quarantine themselves to the plant and consider their company's intentions. Prometheus could very well be the worst film linked, even vaguely, to Alien and that's saying a lot these days. At least Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem had the familiar creatures.
See my video review and all my reviews at my website VaughOnMovies.com and follow me on Twitter @VaughnFry.
Well, It Doesn't Sink
In Battleship, the film based on the classic naval guessing game, Taylor Kitsch plays Lieutenant Alex Hopper, an unpolished navy prospect hurdled into a leadership role when aliens attack Hawaii during an international navel exercise.
These aliens as somewhat humanoid and crustaceanesque. Surprise, surprise there isn't a great deal of thought put into them as characters. OK, there's isn't any effort whatsoever. It's a Battle Los Angeles scenario, but even less so as they're not even here for our resources. They do have toys. I say toys because they play with the human warships and are surely designed to end up in plastic form as Walmart. There's a ship that hops across the sea for no apparent engineering purpose. They also deploy spheres that can bifurcate anything.
I'm taken back by the amazing amount of attention to detail found in the setup for human characters. Hopper is made out to be such a goof that it's initially a stretch to believe he's the protagonist. He brakes into a convenience store in a scene that quite comically mimics infamous security camera footage. There's even a soccer sequence that looks better than most sports films. Credit that to director Peter Berg of Friday Night Lights, the TV series spin- off of which produced star Kitsch. The trailer doesn't hint at esteemed performances, but Kitsch gets it together. Hopper has a drastic arc that most films of late forget to include. His main buddy Raikes (pop superstar Rihanna) does no harm in her debut. Same goes for budding talent, supermodel Brooklyn Decker. These aren't the most robust roles, but established actresses wouldn't have improved upon the final product.
As par for the course the humans are hopelessly outgunned. The situation sounds more like the attack on Pearl Harbor than it appears, and the coming together of American and Japanese forces is reminiscent of the unification films that preached the North and South as Americans. This is further bolstered once the vets come on board, helping to man the USS Missouri, giving the film its titular battleship. Good luck finding a summer blockbuster with an audience this old in mind.
It's shocking that Battleship is watchable, but even more surprising that the board game gets worked into the plot without causing eyes to roll. Calling it a popcorn movie sounds like an exception, as though it's allowed to be stupid or shallow so long as it's entertaining. I'm not overlooking the plot holes, and if you expect a giant production to have more refinement then Battleship isn't going to float your boat. It does some things better than The Avengers . With comparatively lower expectations, Battleship arguably has an easier course to make good on delivering.
Check out video review of Battleship as well as all my reviews as my website VaughnOnMovies.com
Dark Shadows (2012)
Destined to be Overshadowed
Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) is a vampire, buried for 196 years and awaken in 1972. The witch who cursed him to this fate, Angelica (Eva Green), has control of the town that his family built from the ground up. Can Barnabas rally his existing family to defeat Angelica and save the fishing industry?
Director Tim Burton has assembled his troops. Dark Shadows features Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and composer Danny Elfman. All of whom are vets of his films. To retain talent at this rate, Burton must be doing something right. Unfortunately Dark Shadows isn't one of their brightest moments.
The 1972 setting is mostly disclosed through song. Dark Shadows is no musical, but the classic rock and pop soundtrack carries the movie more than any other single element. Don't jump too fast at dolling out credit; it's not that difficult to select songs most patrons are going to enjoy when they've had 40 years to grow on us.
Depp is good as the fish out of water. He's not fantastic and frankly, like most of Dark Shadows, his performance will go forgotten soon after viewing. It's not for a lack of production value, but more for an effort to mimic TV format. Now I'm not familiar with the television show Dark Shadows which this film is based, but it's too obvious that TV plot lines dominate the film. It boils down to Barnabas sleeping around and murdering to the point that a happy ending isn't just. If you're expecting a dark comedy, the trailer will suffice.
I honestly struggled to recall if I had fallen asleep, missing several touching scenes of between Barnabas and Victoria (Bella Heathcote), the young governess who has arrived in town just as Barnabas has returned. Perhaps the context is lost when it's glossed over via montage, one that focuses more on Barnabas struggling to find suitable sleeping quarters than their blossoming romance. It's something that a love story skips out on the heart.
There's a bevy of characters I'm not even going to bring up because they simply have no impact on the story as individuals. The writing seems to know this, making one a werewolf just to have something interesting occur. Again, I'm sure the TV series had time to hint at this surprise while this movie throws in an unwanted twist.
Tim Burton was at one time an auteur of unique vision, but for over a decade he's done nothing but remakes, reboots, and adaptations of established works. Dark Shadows certainly looks like his movie, combining a morbid scenario with white makeup and giant eyes. I can't help but think how magnificent it could be for Burton to apply his trademarks to new concepts.
Check out my video review as well as my other reviews at my site VaughnOnMovies.com