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Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Blood, Sand, and Car Chases All The Way To The End
There have been many who wrote negative reviews for this film, but I think if you start watching Mad Max with the right frame of mind, you will find it worth watching. Set in post apocalyptic Australia, it features stark but stunning landscapes of sand and craggy rock. Tom Hardy as Max and Charlize Theron as Furiosa are excellent and very believable as people traversing this gritty and violent world in search of something better. Hope and redemption as the film puts it. Through blood, gunfights, and car chases they try to stay true to their hopes for a happier future. Best seen on a larger screen to take in the scale of the vistas and the numbers of vehicles involved in the battles, but still very impressive on the smaller screens. The gigantic but empty landscapes highlight just how small they are as they continue on their quest, and also how small their chances of success are. The film at times has a theatrical quality almost like a Shakespearean play as the individual characters reflect on their situation. The battle scenes are elaborate, and almost circus like sometimes. You will get your fill of car chases, guns, and blood in this one. But besides the action Mad Max makes an effort to fill out the backgrounds and hopes of the main characters. These days you don't find that attention from every Hollywood film. Mad Max powers through with the steady pace of an 18 wheeler and you will get a steady supply of action to keep you interested till the end.
Jurassic World (2015)
The CGI Is Great, But Jurassic Could Have Used a Better Plot
Probably a little bit of a commentary of some kind on the dangers of genetic modification, any such message is very poorly articulated in this film. Children and simple minded teens may find Jurassic World's impressive CGI dinosaurs entertaining, but anyone expecting any complexity in the story-line or beyond-cartoonish characters/acting will be disappointed. If you just want to veg out and see a few man vs dinosaur battles this may fit the bill as well. Certainly Jurassic is watchable, and as usual it explores the possible societal relationships and methods of the dinos in an interesting way. Our involvement with the characters could easily have been improved with more character development and background. Overall though it's a fun if largely mindless romp though.
The Expendables 3 (2014)
The Blood Transfusion Failed
The first instalments of The Expendables were fun, kind of unrealistic clichés of action films with a good smattering of humorous one liners. If you got your bowl of popcorn and just enjoyed them for the plentiful action sequences and suspended your disbelief they could be enjoyable. This one is way too serious for that though, and bereft of the funny moments that peppered the other films. It tries at points, but the jokes just are not that good. As for the action sequences, the ones in the beginning were promisingly good, but got quite a bit less frequent in the later stages. These later action scenes are also quite a bit less exciting for the most part, and the shallow characters that may have fit in a pure non stop action film probably will not draw much interest from you. In between the tinny gun fights the most interesting thing to do is count the wrinkles and grey hairs on the old crew. Injecting new blood failed to inject life into this one.
The Gambler (2014)
A Gritty Performance
The Gambler is a movie that you will need to concentrate on as gambling man Bennett (Wahlberg) navigates in between a swirling mix of gangsters, students, and other characters. His mysterious character is slowly revealed, but always leaves us wondering about what motivates a person with everything to seemingly intentionally lose it. The cohesiveness of a varied mix of characters is well maintained as some of their lives become intertwined. Wahlberg's blunders are often so costly that that it is difficult to keep watching. Wahlberg's stark portrayal of a man who is willing to lose everything is well played. Often quiet, but sometimes passionate about things. In scenes where we see him quiet and expressionless, usually after one of his catastrophic and self destructive actions, one can't help to wonder what is going through his mind. Bit by bit some of that is revealed. The Gambler can be hard to watch, but in a way it's emblematic of his own struggles with himself, and also testament to the film's ability to invest us emotionally in the life of Jim Bennett.
I was really looking forward to seeing this WW2 film being a bit of a history buff but once again Hollywood disappointed with a movie that failed on many levels. Character development was non existent as was any meaningful plot. The special effects were good, but I didn't find myself drawn in by the battles either. With such a thin plot, the writers of Fury made a serious mistake by making the protagonists so unlikable. Really without likable characters and such a simple plot there are not that many reasons to keep watching. It just keeps rolling on like a damaged tank until it finally stops and we can finally stop watching. Non the richer for the experience. A wonderful opportunity to illustrate the deeds of the heroes who defended freedom was wasted here.
Cacophony of Explosions and Little Else
As the title of my review suggests, besides explosions and CGI this film contains little of any other redeeming elements of film making. At a running time approaching 3 hours, it's just too much time spent watching CGI robots tumbling, blasting, and blowing things up. With such a simple plot line and shallow characters who don't meaningfully engage each other or the audience, this film should be 1.5 hours at the most. In the beginning I was hopeful that Wahlberg's fine acting skills could save it, but it was not enough and I do not blame him for the poor script. You will likely feel more of a connection with Optimus Prime than any of the humans, which is quite sad I think. Michael Bay makes an attempt in Transformers to warn us of the dangers of giving drones too much autonomy, but it is confusedly wandering in between explosions and often difficult to spot. Even for a movie about giants robots battling each other, I found the CGI movement to be non believable and that further disengaged me. On a large screen some may enjoy the panoramic views and Bay hallmark spectacular destruction but if you want anything more than that see something else.
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
A Thrilling Science Fiction Adventure That Gives Hope For Us All
Edge of Tomorrow delivers an exceptional combination of thrilling sci-fi special effects, great storytelling, and a message of hope for us all. It is best viewed on the largest screen available to appreciate the scope of the battles and the marvelous technological creations like the drop ships that assemble in D-DAY like armadas. Certainly one of Cruise's best performances is enhanced by the natural chemistry between himself and Emily Blunt. Cruise is a reluctant soldier who learns to accept his role, and Blunt is his always steadfast companion on a mission that keeps repeating itself. Testament to the way the dramatic special effects and compelling romantic subplot keeps our attention is that despite the seeming repetitiveness of seeing these scenes over and over, we are still transfixed by their struggle to complete a mission of critical important to humanity. Well interspersed are occasional moments of humor to defuse the tension. The film has a relevance to our sometimes chaotic and tumultuous world as well that viewers should pay good attention to. At the end of the day this film delivers a message of true hope and that adversity must be challenged even in the face of previous failures.
Lacking in Too Many Areas
I really could not in good conscience recommend this movie to anyone. There is little that is truly thrilling or suspenseful in what happens in this film, and it drags on to a whodunnit conclusion that you will probably not have guessed. But at that point you won't think "Wow now I see how it was done!" because like much of the rest of the film it is put together in a ham fisted way. Non-Stop is really not articulated well, and even it's final message is slapped over the top of your head in a clumsy way. Is there anything good to report? Well I can say that the use of text messages on screen was done in a relatively innovative way. Liam Neeson plays alcoholic and solitary Air Marshall Bill Marks very well. Marks haggard tired appearance unfortunately reflected my own growing tiredness as the film dragged on to a conclusion that was not able to save it.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)
Formulaic and Bland... But Watchable
After enjoying other films in this franchise, I was eager to see if a Chris Pine reboot would restore life to this series. Unfortunately what I found was a formulaic going through the action film paces routine. You won't find much in the way of high tech wizardry, thrilling plot twists, or even consistently good chemistry between Pine and Knightley. And it's a shame because there was plenty of opportunity for it in it's close to 2 hours of running time.
Pine is bland as a non super agent Jack Ryan, and his opposite number Kenneth Branagh is not quite evil enough as would be terrorist mastermind Viktor Cherevin. Costner does play the role of quiet CIA spy father well though.
The plot has too many hardly believable coincidences benefiting the protagonists, and could have used more intense action sequences. It's hopes for audience engagement probably rest on enduring American fears of terrorist attacks. Overall though the film is still watchable and a passable spy thriller that doesn't require a lot of thinking to keep track of.
Spectacular and Inspiring But Doesn't Reach It's Potential
More of an original than a film version of the short story, the Secret Life of Walter Mitty has some great points but in the end does not reach the potential that it started with. Perhaps that is a little ironic because The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is about Walter reaching his potential to find greatness and excitement in his life. At times the story was not engaging enough and had a thrown together feeling, and that may be attributed to Stiller both acting and directing in this one. All the same the film should inspire many to take charge of their lives and do the interesting things they fantasize about. The cinematography captures the epic grandeur of stunning places like Iceland and the Himalayas and should rekindle your sense of adventure. During Walter's travels, you will also see how his journey is not just point A to point B, but also one of personal discovery and finding his true self. We start out seeing him as a meek office worker but by the end you will realize how large his contribution to his family and work have been. And that is a really beautiful thing about this film. It might make you see how much you have given to life, and show you it's possible to do the things you have always dreamed about.
A Twisted Descent
Underneath grey skies, Director Denis Villeneuve examines the lengths people will go to for their young ones, and the rationale that might be used to justify what can only be seen as reprehensible acts. Be forewarned this movie contains scenes of brutal violence that should leave you wincing.Gyllenhaal's logical and professional Detective Loki provides an excellent foil for the irrational and illogical behaviour that comes to pass around him as he struggles to solve a missing persons case. And even as he succeeds, those with blind right wing views continue to support their own evil actions through various means including religion. Blindly they cling to their original views with twisted logic and a refusal to accept facts. Inside a situation where bad actions are compounded by more bad actions, Villeneuve also explores the depths and importance of a person's own children. In particular Villeneuve seems interested in how much of a person's life fulfilment is linked to their children's lives. Throughout the film the childless Detective Loki's history and life is never really filled in. Brilliantly though, he is still engaging to the audience, and the subject of children as always increases our emotional involvement. The atmosphere is taut in this film, and punctuated by violence that is made all the more brutal by that tautness. The full 2 1/2 hours is required to follow such a complex descent into people's emotions and the illogical and prejudiced acts that follow when a child's life may be threatened. The plot is as twisting and unpredictable as people's emotions can be, and you may be surprised by the ending.
More Reality Than Science Fiction
I found this movie to be an enjoyable action film with some exciting sequences. It may even be an improvement on the original, and I felt that detective Alex Murphy's character was developed more in this remake. The CGI animations are top notch and completely believable. Indeed most of the technology depicted is less science fiction than reality. Important commentaries are made on the security questions that face us today. The film proceeds with a mechanical precision that blends well with the theme of security automation. But when that mechanical feel is broken by Detective Alex Murphy's human side we also come to understand why humanity can never be left out of the security equation. Robocop deals with both the question of when does more security equal less freedom, and also examines the possible moral costs of drone strikes with less human supervision. I think the film makes it clear that it is not a supporter of gunboat diplomacy. Monitoring of people's movements through cell phones and CCTV is a constant in the film, and the audience may ask if anyone is ever free if they are under continual surveillance. Criminals do get caught quickly with these methods in Robocop though, and at the movie's end the importance of American family values that go beyond computer programming are highlighted. So at the end of the day this film is not judgmental about the use of technology in ensuring the security of citizens. It just asks that we will continue to have watchful and moral human eyes involved to prevent abuses of new technology. I for one continue to hope that it is being used for the best interests of our population in a dangerous time.
Out of the Furnace (2013)
A Relevant Film in Tough Economic Times
Out of the Furnace is a gritty film that follows the life of a man who is trying to make the right choices for his family and friends in a steadily declining personal and economic environment. As the film progresses we see the challenges he faces and the personal sacrifices he must makes to keep the ones he loves safe. Christian Bale really gets into his character's stoic resolve to protect his family and unbreaking attitude in the face of adversity. Pitted against him however are those who survive by other means than good hard work, and their greed for money. One man who would do anything for his family, and others who would do anything for money. The film's scenes of physical violence do a great job of reflecting the personal battles people must wage to survive in New Jersey's worsening economic atmosphere. As such it is very relevant to people's lives, and especially those who are struggling to overcome hardship with honest work in a harsh world.
CGI Combines WIth a 50s Feel
Godzilla boasts some very impressive CGI effects and panoramic views. But to really enjoy this film it requires that you sit back, suspend your disbelief totally, immerse yourself in a mindset that people in the 50s had. Have some popcorn and imagine you are there. And the film sports some first person perspectives that really get there. Atomic science was a new and mysterious thing and the film tries to portray that with a foggy atmosphere in the opening stages. And those opening stages are slow to develop building suspense. As the nature of Godzilla and his purposes are revealed the film also becomes brighter in lighting. Imagine the fear of an audience afraid of what might become of the world in the nuclear age, and Godzilla will seem all that much more fearsome for it. It is very much in the style of 50s monster movies too and as such it is much of a time warp as an impressive display of modern CGI technology.
An Intelligent Action Film
Besides being a great action movie, Captain America is an intelligent film that asks us to consider some important questions about America today and its future role. You will find splendid martial arts and gun fighting sequences.
The direction is great with well put together scene cuts switching perspectives at a frantic pace. The story line is complex requiring our continued attention and keeping us guessing in a whodunnit fashion at points. Captain America is solidly played by Chris Evans with his assistant Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) helping him through some tough predicaments. Comedy relief is provided by some very witty quips at well interspersed intervals . All the weaponry and high octane chases that you could ever expect are here in good quantity, and the special effects are first rate. There are some well imagined futuristic weapons that are probably not so far off from what is being made today.
The film also questions whether America's role as a beacon and example of freedoms are being changed and compromised in the name of a new order. In an age of drone strikes we are asked if taking on the role of world judge and jury tarnishes the principles of justice that have long been tenets of the American ideal. Captain America's old fashioned values clash with a new system where human and democratic controls over the actions of a government in war might be in a process of erosion. The balance between freedom and fear since 911 is acutely symbolized in the final battle sequences. It is no coincidence that you see and hear words like 41st floor and the letter IN-01 in some of those scenes.
At the end of this film I think you will be considering the question of at what point does the erosion of personal freedom and privacy equal the loss of what America once was to the world.
Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
A Stirring Journey
For the first few minutes of this movie you may not really like McConaughey's Ron Woodroofe. He is a prejudiced and homophobic person who squanders his money on drugs, prostitutes, and alcohol. He seems to lead a life with little real substance. When diagnosed with AIDs though Ron instinct for survival leads him on a path of self discovery that leads him to open up and begin a touching transformation. Like the moth's emerged from caterpillars we witness in one scene, Ron transforms into a person who can surmount his former prejudices and accept others as valued human beings. This film is about the basic human needs we have in our lives, and we gives us a unique opportunity to watch months pass by in someone life. During this journey we witness the big changes that being diagnosed with a life threatening disease can spur. The questions like why do we live and what have given to the world arise. The performances are believable and by the end you probably will have formed a bond with them. Effective symbology is used throughout to indicate this transformation and the good things that result from an unprejudiced attitude towards others. The film shines a light on another kind of disease and that is judging other human beings without knowing them.
Escape Plan (2013)
Characters And Plot Are Poorly Developed
Normally I am a fan of Stallone's films, but this one left me bored and disappointed. It was too long without a lot of action, had significant plot holes, and cartoonish characters that were really not all that believable. There was a lot of potential for this movie to be relevant being that rendition and secret prisons are a reality in today's world. But this opportunity was completely squandered by Escape Plan. There was really no conversation with the other prisoners about the issue of innocent people being sent to such secret prison facilities. As for plot holes some things just were not that believable. Examples include the way Stallone was allowed to associate with others, not required to wear a tracker or wire in certain situations, and the ease that security systems were disabled. Just too easy to be credible scenes. The main villain's character was not developed at all. There was one scene where he was working on a butterfly display but no other information was given on this. Perhaps they meant to show how meticulous he is? As I stated before there was not enough action to fill up 2 hours of movie. There was a good battle at the very end, but not much in the way of fighting etc for good stretches of the film elsewhere. At the very end some hasty twists and plot revelations were tossed in that explained everything. And it really just felt like they tossed them in. Might as well have just not done it considering the film was a minute or two away from ending. Hopefully someone else will explore this general storyline in another film with better developed and more believable characters later.
Lots of Laughs And a Touching Comedy
Once again Anchorman has brought us an unexpectedly intelligent comedy. I makes you laugh (hard sometimes!) and the all of the characters are played with steadfast unwavering conviction. But it also wants to remind us important things about life and the way we can be if we forget the basics in life. Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) encounters numerous situations that parallel the main story. And that main story is trying to show us how important our friends are and how important it is that we never forget them no matter what happens to us. His medical situation, the situation with his son, and even how he helps an injured animal demonstrate how basic and essential your best friends are. Will Ferrell plays his character so well i felt a real bond with him to the point it was difficult to watch some of the scenes. The film is also a little bit of a peek back in time to the not so distant past. As such it's almost a history lesson to see how the concept of the all news station came about. A very well done comedy.
2 Guns (2013)
Action Packed but Mysterious Too
Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg team up in a film that unfolds in an interesting way. The way they have come together is mysterious and their past generally is not revealed, but their identities are gradually developed. Their chemistry as a pair of stoically tough action heroes is entertaining as film keeps up a brisk pace. You will get a good dose of explosions, car chases, fistfights and shootouts in this one. But there is always a novel twist or two thrown in those scenes. A different punch or an interesting shot is there to been seen. The plot requires your attention as a web of interactions between the DEA,CIA, Navy Intelligence, and the drug cartel is slowly brought to light. It is only when the film is halfway through that you get a good picture of what is really happening. And the fog that envelopes the plot goes very well with the murkiness of Wahlberg and Washington's identities. If you want a little escape from the everyday a couple of hours in the action packed desert landscape of this film might be just the ticket.
Funny but designed to show why sexist attitudes are wrong
Ron Burgundy is a hilarious comedy that features many stupid and/or sexist jokes. Will Ferell is brilliant as a newscaster who refuses to view women as people who are capable of all the same things in the workplace as men. And it is a really funny movie. But this is also what makes it intelligent because it is a movie about how stupid such sexist attitudes are. The dated setting of the 1980s which is so different for our digital age further accentuates the message that these attitudes are not appropriate in modern society. It is out of place that Ron makes sexist jokes while dressing and viewing himself as a gentleman. Putting these types of men in immature or medieval situations drives the point that mature people should not espouse a mindset that women are not capable of the same things as men. The film strives to show us that being divided in the workplace leads to far less success than if we all work together and respect that everyone has the same dreams and aspirations of personal success.
An important social commentary and thrilling film
This move is well over 2 hours long but it flows so well that at the end you are in eager anticipation of the next instalment. Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth are convincing as Katnis and Peeta. In a new Survivor like setting,the two youngsters are once forced to struggle against the Capitol's interest in dominating the Districts. As this film progresses so does the interpersonal relationship between the two. The subtlety of the message is there, but the message that this film conveys is clear all the same. We are all being distracted from real life and real problems by the media of television and film. The film does present it in an interesting way though because in this story the ones who are distracting themselves are the rich and powerful ones. Issues of social stratification are also brought to light in the film, as the script shows us that no matter what their wealth status or race is people are more alike than we are indoctrinated to believe. Aside from this the action and special effects are thrilling, and the story provides some very tense moments. An important film I think because it asks many people to examine how much of their life they devote to happens on the screen.
More Environmentalist than Religious
I came into this movie without any foreknowledge of how the story would be presented so I was quite surprised that it turned out to be a movie about environmentalism rather than religious sin or anything like that. On the contrary while the movie does highlight what is good about religion, at the end Russel Crowe's Noah goes into a state that warns of the dangers of religious fundamentalism and what such people are capable of doing. All the same I think this film has a good chance of reaching those who need to get the message about climate change and animal rights the most. Noah presents us with an earth that is dying and will be flooded. Just like some scientists predict that the ice caps may melt and flood coastal areas. Just as in our world, Noah's world has naysayers as well. The film asks us to consider what a good person is and why bad people act the way they do. With the level of senseless violence that modern society is plagued by these are certainly valid questions. Russel Crowe does a job of playing the sober Noah who is tasked with doing a job for God rescuing the innocent animals. When he finally does display an outburst of emotion it is all the more dramatic because he is so steady throughout the earlier portions of the movie and leaves a lasting impression with us when we leave the theatre. My only complaint is that the film runs a little long drawing down.
Nebraska's Uplifting Roadtrip
Filmed in black and white, Nebraska brings us on a stark journey that a son takes into his father's past. Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is an elderly man with the beginnings of dementia who receives a Sweepstakes Letter that he believes entitles him to a million dollars if he can get it to Lincoln Nebraska in time. He is so insistent that he has won, despite the pleas of others that it is a scam, that his son David (Will Forte) decides to drive him all the way to Lincoln so that he will know once and for all that it is not in fact a winning ticket.
During the trip we meet many of Woody's family and old friends, and David hears many stories of his father's past. Much of his father's behaviour is explained, and David learns of many events that shaped his father's behaviour and character. This journey into the past is supported by certain devices like the non presence of technological devices like cell phones and computers in the film. This film concentrates on showing us the importance of simple things like the love between family members in an age where digital technology is increasingly detaching us from true emotional bonds and experiences. By spending time together with his mother and father, David is able to see that what their marriage is not as dysfunctional as it seems. His mother and father really do love each other. And later on David learns the real reason his father is intent on claiming the million dollar prize.
This is the sort of film that challenges you to ask why you live, and what is really important in your life. Often times these are the hardest things for us to openly express in words.
Enemies Closer (2013)
Straightforward Action With An Anti Left Subtext
Enemies Closer is a fairly straightforward action movie set in the wilderness along the Canada-US border. Tom Everett Scott stars as Henry, a former navy seal who finds his military skills are needed again to deal with Van Damne's villainous drug smuggling Xander character. It features some good hand to hand combat sequences, and very little in the way of gun fighting. This is thanks to the fact that Xander is anti gun, and it is also established early on that he is an eco friendly organic vegan. When a villain is espousing these left wing values, it makes one a little suspicious about the agenda of the film and makes you question why it's there. Xander's character is explained and developed at one point when he tells a story about why he became a vegan. It should also be mentioned that Xander's gang of villains are mostly French too. Coincidence that they come from a very socialist area? On the other hand Ex soldier Henry Taylor does not tout a lot of right wing statements either. In fact he goes along as best as he can with the flow of the action accompanied by his partner Clay, played by Orlando Jones. Henry Taylor's character is revealed well by his interaction with Clay. His caring for others is in sharp contrast to the cold blooded nature of Xander. Xander's constant states about organic foods and the environment add an element of comedic relief to this film. I found it completely watchable as an action movie, and found the persistent anti left subtext in the film actually made it more entertaining to watch.
Lone Survivor (2013)
8 for grittiness
I actually surprised myself by giving this movie 8 stars. Throughout the beginning half of the movie I was disappointing by certain aspects of the film. The characters were not nearly well developed enough and I never really felt I developed a bond with them. Mark Wahlberg is a fantastic actor though and his performance in the film manages to raise it above some shortcomings. The fighting is gritty and bloody and makes you wince at the brutality of it all. At the same time the number of enemies did seem video game like and somehow did not ring true. Others have said that the accounts changed over time in reality as well. The deaths of the US soldiers were over dramatized I think. There are some historical inaccuracies in the movie as well as fictionalized events. The battle at the end is one of them. From what I know there was more than enough material in the true story to make a great human story, and a great action packed war film as well. It was unnecessary for the film makers to through in things like the attempted beheading and helicopter assault at the end. It demeans the real life story to turn it into fiction in a film. Detailing the human story of Luttrell being saved by the Afghan villagers would have added an entirely new value to the film, but the producers seemed more intent on reaching a video game battle ending.