Welcome to The Mundane Adventures of a Fangirl

I consider myself a Fangirl. What does that mean, you ask? A "fanboy" in the most common understanding is a hardcore fan of 'genre' based entertainment in particular. In my case - science-fiction and comic book based movies and television. Because I'm a chick - it's fangirl, not fanboy. There you have it! I am a big movie fan, however, not necessarily a 'film' fan. And now - I have the forum to present my opinions to the public! These will mainly be movie reviews -that will always be my opinion - repeat OPINION. Just what I think, and in no way do I present my opinion as fact. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will help you decide what to see at the movie theater this weekend!

Monday, December 31, 2012

Movie Review: Jack Reacher (PG13 - 130 minutes)

Lee Child (not his real name…his real name is Jim Grant) started writing/releasing Jack Reacher novels in 1997.  He says he got the name for the character when grocery shopping with his wife and another customer asked him to grab something off a top shelf.  His wife told him that if the writing didn’t work out, he could be a grocery store reacher.  In the book series,  Reacher is a former military policeman, who investigates different crimes that no one else seems to be able to handle.  You know, like all novel cops.  He’s also 6’5” and blond, but why get caught up on details?
This new movie, Jack Reacher, is actually based on the Jack Reacher novel, One Shot – which is 9th out of 17 of the novels.  Christopher McQuarrie wrote the script and directs the movie. 

McQuarrie had also directed Year of the Gun, and will direct the upcoming Mission Impossible 5, but is actually better known as a writer, having written pieces of Usual Suspects, Valkyrie, The Tourist, the upcoming Jack the Giant Slayer and the Wolverine.  
Jack Reacher is a little long for what is pretty much a standard cop-investigation-action-thriller.  It is decently put together, decently acted, and has some pretty good action sequences in which Tom Cruise does his own stunt driving.  The movie opens on a former military sniper making his own bullets, and a sniper taking out 5 seemingly random targets outside the stadium in downtown Pittsburgh.  The evidence that the cops find is overwhelming, and they quickly arrest a suspect.  We as the audience know that they have the wrong guy, but the evidence IS overwhelming.  The suspect is a former military sniper, with some sketchy bad behavior in his past, and he asks the police to find Jack Reacher.  Reacher however, sees the report on the news and comes on his own.  He follows the evidence with the intention of confirming the suspect’s guilt, but begins to stumble on a more complicated series of events, and has to uncover the true killer.

The cast is small – and it really is a Tom Cruise movie, so no one else has a role of substance, but I’m not sure that’s an issue with a movie like this. 

·         Tom Cruise plays Reacher – and yes, he’s well aware that he is only 5’7” and not 6’5”…and not blond.  Honestly, having never read one of the books, I have no idea how glaring that issue is; it simply didn’t bother me any.   I would imagine if you are a huge fan of the novels, and they mention the physical aspects of Reacher all the time, this would upset you, but all the other characteristics of Reacher that I have read (stoicism, toughness, quiet, and confident), Cruise plays just fine.  Say what you will about Cruise (he’s crazy!) he always commits 100% to his role of the moment – he works really hard, and he cares about his fans.  He’s great in this movie, and as far as I know without having read any of the books, he’s a great Jack Reacher.  Cruise is in that level of Movie-Star-ness that all you see in the movie is the star, and you don't really remember the character name.  That actually works fine in this movie.

·         Jai Courtney I have seen as Varro in Spartacus (the Showtime TV show by Rob Tapert featuring Mrs. Tapert – Lucy Lawless….not the Kirk Douglas movie) previous to this.  He plays the true killer that Reacher has to discover, no spoilers there – you learn that in the first few moments of the movie.  Courtney is an Austrailian actor who will be in the upcoming Die Hard 5 (that’s right, 5) as John McClane’s son.  He is also my pick for He-Man if they remake Masters of the Universe (if they remake it – I loved the Dolph Lundgren one).  He’s very evil and menacing in this, speaking to his future potential as a big time action heavy.

·         Rosamund Pike who was in Die Another Day, Wrath of the Titans, and (one of my favorites) Doom, plays the defense attorney for the suspect in this movie.  She takes on the defense of this suspected killer, despite the almost-iron-clad case against him.  Also, to make matters more complicated, her father is the D.A., who is prosecuting – and he never takes a case he thinks he will lose.  She’s equally as capable here as she is in anything else. 

·         Richard Jenkins – who was one of the best parts of Cabin in the Woods earlier this year – plays the aforementioned never-lose D.A.   He gets a few scenes to be grumpy and determined.

·         David Oyelowo from Red Tails, Lincoln, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes plays the lead cop working with the D.A. to capture the suspect and close the case.  They are perfectly happy the catch was so easy and are not thrilled when Reacher shows up to make things more complicated.   Oyelowo is a british actor who is perfectly matched against Cruise, and I look forward to seeing in more things.

·         Robert Duvall plays Robert Duvall owning a gun range.  That’s about all I have to say about that.

·         Grizzly Man director Werner Herzog plays….well, it’s tough to say what he plays.  Let’s go with “old Russian prisoner”.  He does pull out every cliché ‘bad-guy’ stereotype he can find:  creepy voice, scary finger mutilation, one bad eye, speaking in evil metaphors, and being quietly menacing.

All in all, I wasn’t expecting much from this movie, and I enjoyed it for what it was.  It’s not great, but it’s entertaining, and I have to admit, I was caught up in Reacher’s investigation and trying to figure out exactly who was behind the situation.  And watching Cruise beat up some meth dealers is always entertaining.
6 out of 10 – just above Average!  Gained points for the car chase.  Lost points for the sniper action at the beginning, really tough to watch (incidentally, the movie was pushed back a week after the SandyHook Elementary Tradgedy).  Gained points for  Duvall “saving his night vision”.  Lost points for Herzog’s character, his fingers, and that weird eye.  Gained points for Jack Reacher author, Lee Child, cameo-ing as a cop at a desk as Reacher gets released from jail.

Bonus Video 1:  Jai Courtney on Spartacus – impressive.  Also, Manu Bennett - who is Azog (the giant white Orc) in the Hobbit.

Bonus Video 2:  Gone in 60 Seconds, a movie I loved – seems to have the same Robert Duvall character in it.

Bonus Video 3:  Doom – hey, I’ve mentioned before how much I love this terrible movie…Rosamund Pike is in it, so I’ll mention it again.

Bonus Video 4:  Cast Interviews!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Movie Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (PG13 - 169 minutes)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey clocks in at 169 minutes.  That is 11 minutes shy of three hours.  Just to be up front, I feel that no movie needs to be over 2 hours long.  Especially when so little happens…but I digress.
Peter Jackson directed Heavenly Creatures in 1994 and The Frighteners in 1996; then in 2001 he presented the beginning of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy:  The Fellowship of the Ring.
This was followed by The Two Towers in 2002 and The Return of the King in 2003.  Each of these is near 3 hours long.  They are incredibly beautiful; shot on location in New Zealand.  They are a loving translation of the three book series by J.R.R.Tolkien; which were written in 1955.  The movies are all lush and stunning, however, they are all too long, and the last one seems to end about 5 times. 
The Return of the King cleaned up at the Oscars, winning all 11 of the awards it was nominated for.  Inevitably, Tolkien fans began to ask if Jackson would do the Hobbit, a shorter story Tolkien wrote in 1936 that was more geared toward children.  After some starting-and-stopping and some back-and-forth with some other directors (most notably Guillermo del Toro) Jackson’s Hobbit – or at least the first 33% of it – is in theaters.   

The movie has a consistent look with the LOTR series, again shot in New Zealand, it is stunningly beautiful.  Again – it is way too long. 
The story begins with the Old Bilbo talking with Frodo on the night of his party (this is the same starting point as the LOTR movies).  He then begins to write the epic story of his journeys.  We then get to see the young Bilbo, a quiet stay-at-home type Hobbit as he is visited by Gandalf the Gray, and asked to join thirteen dwarves on a mission to re-take their homeland from a dragon.  The dwarves meet up at Bilbo’s, and after eating everything he owns, they leave in the morning – Bilbo deciding at the last minute to join them.  They set out towards the lonely mountain to rescue their homeland (or, more appropriately, their home-underground-land) from Smaug - the dragon who chased them out some 60 years prior. 
Along the way, they encounter various set pieces.  The original story was set in very separate chapters, so the movie has that feel as well.  They deal with a trio of trolls; evade Azog the giant pale orc and his army or orcs on wargs (why isn’t that a band name yet:  Orcs on Wargs!); they meet Radagast, the brown wizard, who warns them of a coming necromancer; they continue to be chased by Azog and his orcs; they stumble into Rivendell to speak with the elves; they traverse some mountains and bear witness to stone giants throwing mountains at one another; they fall into Goblin caves where Bilbo gets lost and meets the infamous Gollum; they once again have to deal with Azog and the orcs only to be rescued by giant eagles and deposited on the top of a mountain that seems to be exactly 1/3 of the distance they need to go.  They look at the lonely mountain and regroup.  We’ll find out what else happens to them on December 13th 2013, but I’m guessing Azog and his orcs will show up again. 

That actually sounds like a lot of stuff happening when I write it out that way; the problem in the movie is the great swatches of time between those events where people are standing around, looking off in the distance wistfully, singing, riding ponies, or worse – walking. 
The good news is that this is where Peter Jackson excels.  Where his version of King Kong seemed overbearing and pretentious, that same style fits these movies perfectly.  The cast is all very good:

·         Martin Freeman as Bilbo – the perfect choice for this role:  charming, unassuming, and sweet.  He was perfect in the original Office, fantastic in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and is currently wonderful on Sherlock. 

·         Ian McKellan returns as Gandalf and goes back to being gray in this movie.  The last time we saw him, he had been promoted to Gandalf the white.  What exactly is the wizard color progression?  Because we do find out in this movie that there are brown and blue wizards as well. 

·         Richard Armitage plays Thorin, the lost dwarf prince/king and really – this is his movie.  He does a great job and is very regal.  He’s the one who spends a lot of time looking off into the distance wistfully, but his kingdom was taken from him by a gold-digging dragon, so I suppose it’s warranted.  You may have previously seen him as Guy of Gisborne on BBC’s Robin Hood series.

·         There are twelve other actors playing dwarves, and since you can barely tell them apart in the movie, I’m going to list them all together here:  Ken Stott as Balin; Graham McTavish as Dwalin; William Kircher as Bifur; James Nesbitt as Bofur; Stephen hunter as Bombur; Dean o’Gorman as Fili; Aidan Turner as Kili (him I actually recognized as he is the vampire on the BBC Being Human); John Callin as Oin; Peter Hambleton as Gloin; Jed Brophy as Nori; Mark Hadlow as Dori; and Adam Brown as Ori.  That’s a lot of dwarves.

·         Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett return as Elrond and Galadriel respectively, and the elves are equally as annoying in this movie as they were in the LOTR movies. 

·         Christopher Lee returns as Saruman the white.  He shows up briefly to berate Gandalf for believing there might be a necromancer about.   He also seems to berate Gandalf for hanging out with a company dwarves and wants them to stop, however Gandalf had the dwarves sneak off without him – pretty clever.

·         Incidentally, the necromancer is Benedict Cumberbatch – or, more accurately, a puff of smoke that is credited as Benedict Cumberbatch.  Perhaps he will be more corporeal in the next movie?

·         Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords fame plays Lindir the elf, and Manu Bennett of Spartacus (tv show) fame plays Azog – the giant pale orc that just won’t quit!

·         Ian Holm (still don’t trust him, thanks Ridley Scott) and Elijah Wood appear as old Bilbo and Frodo to begin the film.

·         The most striking performance is of course, Andy Serkis as Gollum.  The performance capture technology is amazing and Gollum is a little more spry in this movie than the LOTR movies.  After all, he’s happily in possession of the ‘precious’ at this point, and living in his cave eating fish and the occasional goblin.  The “Riddles in the Dark” sequence is brilliant and the buildup to the scene is extensive.  Gollum is the thing people wanted to see again, and the filmmakers know that and do not disappoint.  Serkis deserves an Oscar, but then again, he has for a long time.  He also is credited as second unit director on this.

All in all Hobbit 1 is a visually stunning, well-acted, beautifully directed really, really long movie.  I enjoyed it.  I did see it in 3D, which I would recommend.  I did not see it in IMAX, so I did not get the 9 minute Star Trek trailer.  I also did not see in in the extra special fancy 48 frames per second.  If anyone did, let me know if that made it feel shorter.
6 out of 10.  Gained points for Azog and his white warg.  Lost points for the fact that we never see Smaug….but then, gained points for not revealing Smaug to us, and leaving that for the next movie.  Lost points for the horrifying scene where giant spiders attack Radagast’s hut as he is comforting a dying hedgehog – everything about that scene was insane – so maybe gained points for that too?  Also, gained points for Radagast’s sleigh pulled by jackrabbits – awesome.

Bonus Video 1:  The scene from Clerks 2 that discusses LOTR. WARNING - this clip has bad language, and negative slurs..and is gross, You've been warned!  I don't necessarily share Randall's views...well just the one about there being only ONE trilogy.

Bonus Video 2:  Pan’s Labyrinth…gives you some idea what this would have looked like if Guillermo del Toro stuck with it…as it is, I cannot wait for Pacific Rim.

Bonus Video 3:  Martin Freeman in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Bonus Video 4:  Andy Serkis in my favorite clip from 13 going on 30 – ironically that's him with Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo, doing his own dancing and not performance capture.

Bonus Video 4:  Cast interviews!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Movie Review: Life of Pi (PG - 127 minutes)

*In case you want to hear me discuss Life of Pi in addition to reading what I think of Life of Pi – check our podcast:  http://hesawshesawfilm.wordpress.com/2012/12/14/catching-up-if-we-can/

I’ve seen several Ang Lee movies, and I feel like I can say the same things about most of them:  really long, visually stunning, sometimes pretentious, sometimes a little boring.  This includes Crouching Tiger/Hidden Dragon, the Eric Bana Hulk, and Brokeback Mountain; and now Life of Pi.  The movie Life of Pi is based on the book Life of Pi that was written by Yann Martel in 2001.  

The Ang Lee Movie is an accurate translation of the book, with the exception of having Pi relate the story to a writer who was told to look him up to hear an amazing story, “that would make him believe in God.”  As the adult Pi begins his story, he explains that his name is Piscine Molitor Patel who was named after a French swimming pool.  He continues to reminisce about his childhood and how he changed his name to Pi after the math symbol, because he was tired of being teased as “pissing”.   He father owned a zoo, allowing Pi to develop special respect for animals.  He was raised as a Hindu, but is introduced to and begins practicing Christianity, Islam and some Judaism.  Eventually, his father decides to sell the zoo, and they board a Japanese ship to take the animals to Canada to sell them.  There is a great storm, and Pi escapes to a life boat, accompanied by a zebra with a broken leg, an orangutan, and a hyena.  The hyena is responsible for the death of the zebra and the orangutan, and then Richard Parker - a Bengal Tiger – emerges from underneath the tarp of the lifeboat to kill the hyena.  Pi, in an attempt to not be killed by the tiger as well, constructs a small raft that he connects to the lifeboat. 
The next hour or so of the movie is Pi and Richard Parker surviving and learning to build a cautious trust between them as they exist on the ocean.  They encounter many different visually stunning experiences.  These include:  a school of flying fish, occasional shark attacks, a glowing ocean of algae and a whale, a carnivorous island filled (and I mean filled) with Meerkats, and an incredible thunderstorm.  After 227 days lost at sea, Pi and Richard Parker wash up on the shores of Mexico. Pi stumbles out of the boat to lay on the sand, Richard Parker gets out of the boat, stretches, and walks off into the jungle without looking back at Pi.  Pi is rescued, and executives from the Japanese shipping company come to interview him about the ship.  After he relates his story, they say it is unbelievable.  He tells the story again, swapping out a sailor, the ship’s cook, and his mother for the three animals in the boat.  After telling this story, he asks which version is preferred (in the book he asks the Japanese shipping executives, in the movie he asks the writer).  The version with the animals is preferred, the writer saying it is the better story, and Pi responds; “and so it is with God.”
I had great trepidation about going to see this movie.  I really can’t handle seeing animals in pain or suffering – even if they are amazingly done CGI animals, and not real.  I absolutely have to credit the woman in the theater behind me who took her small child out of the theater during the shipwreck part of the movie, and while the animals in the boat were being killed.   Smart move on her part - it was a tough scene - and a pleasant surprise to me, because I am used to seeing very small children in hard R movies and wondering what those parents are thinking.
Lee directs this movie using the same stunning visuals he is known for. If you are going to see it in the theater, see it in 3D – if only for the scenes of Pi and Richard Parker experiencing things during their time in the lifeboat, especially the flying fish sequence. There are parts that are slow; after all, they are in that boat for a long, long time. 
The cast is perfect, and admittedly small, but you don’t need a lot of people to convey the story.
·         Suraj Sharma plays Pi:  this is his first movie, and he does convey a sense of wonder, fear, and hope while struggling to survive.  Also, sufficiently heartbreaking when he is devastated that Richard Parker walked away from him so casually without even looking back. 
·         Irrfan Khan plays the adult Pi retelling the story to the writer.  He was most recently featured in The Amazing Spider-Man (which also featured a character called Richard Parker), where he was the ultimate corporate evil baddie.  In this, he gives Pi a quiet strength as he retells his story, and is charming and relatable.
·         Rafe Spall (son of Timothy of Harry Potter fame) plays the writer.  Incidentally, Toby McGuire had been cast as the writer, and shot some of the scenes, but Lee switched to Rafe Spall for a more unknown actor. 
·         For some reason, Gerard Depardieu has one scene as the ship’s cook.  It was weird, off-putting, and I don’t have any idea why he was there.  You almost didn’t need that scene at all.

Again, this movie is visually stunning, quietly beautiful, well-acted, and overly long.  I expected it to be far more religious than it was, that was what all the marketing lead me to believe.  Instead I would classify it as faith-based, and more meditative than overtly religious.  Check it out – and if you see it in the theater, see it in 3D. 
6 out of 10:  Gained points for Richard Parker; that tiger was awesome, and anytime he was in any kind of danger or was scared, I got upset.  Lost points for the length.  Gained points for the visuals – especially the flying fish.  Lost points for Depardieu. 

Bonus Video 1:  In case you forgot Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger/Hidden Dragon. 

Bonus Video 2: I actually prefer House of Flying Daggers, and even more so – Hero - to CT/HD.  Neither of those are Ang Lee movies, but they have a similar feel to CT/HD.
Bonus Video 3:  Interviews!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Movie Review: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part 2 (PG13 - 115 minutes)

Finally:  that’s probably the best thing I can say about this.  No – check that, the best thing I can say about this movie is that it is not nearly as terrible as all the others in the series.  It is absolutely the best of the Twilight movies.  I have never hid the fact that I am not a fan of this series.  I have read all of the books (and hated them).  I (just my opinion!) found them terribly written, and found Bella to be one of the worst female role models ever put into existence.  There are four books in the series written by Stephanie Meyer, who is famously Mormon, and they cover the romance between Bella and Edward in the slowest way possible. 
In Twilight, we meet Bella - a high school girl who moves to the town of Forks, in the Pacific Northwest.   She is awkward and pale and brood-y.  Bella meets Edward, who is a vampire (of sorts), living with a family of vampires in this town because it gets less sun than any other city in the country.  See, they need it to be overcast, because they sparkle in the sunlight (you know, as vampires do).  They’re absolutely the worst vampires ever put on screen (not their fault, they are an accurate translation from the book), and really make me wish Blade would take a trip up there and handle everyone.  Bella gets to meet and hang out with Edward's vampire family, who have sworn off drinking humans, but then they have to battle James – a vampire hunter who rolls into town with his buddies, and they do drink humans. 
By the end of Twilight, Bella decides she can’t live without Edward and that being with him is the only thing that gives her life purpose (giant eye-roll). So in New Moon, Edward tries to leave Bella for her own good, she starts hanging out with Jacob who reveals his abs and goes all wolfy.  Bella realizes that if she puts herself in mortal danger she sees visions of Edward.  She keeps doing more and more dangerous things (including motorcycle riding and cliffdiving).  Edward’s sister Alice sees the future, but werewolves cloud her judgement – so, she sees Bella cliffdive, but not be saved by werewolves, so she tells Edward Bella died.  Edward decides to go to Italy and expose himself to the public as a vampire to be killed by the Volturi – the vampire ruling body – because he can’t live without Bella.  She hears about this – goes to Italy to stop him, and they convince the Volturi to leave them alone with the promise that they will turn Bella eventually.  
Eventually Bella demands to be changed into a vampire, Edward concedes, but only if they get married first (insert Mormon based sex/marriage commentary here).   Eclipse brings Victoria, the mate of James - the hunter from Twilight - to come after Bella and Edward after they were responsible for James’s death.  The Cullen clan partner up with the werewolf clan to eliminate Victoria and the group of newborn Vampires that she is assembling (newborns are really strong and out-of-control vicious). 
Part 1 of Breaking Dawn was very long and very slow and involved the wedding – the honeymoon – the sex – and the crazy fast vampire pregnancy.  It ended with Bella’s human life ending as her vampire husband chewed her half vampire/half human baby (which was slowly killing her) out of her, because the only thing that can break through a vampire amniotic womb is vampire teeth.  That resulted in her turning into a vampire, and Jacob ‘imprinting’ on her baby. 
There’s your unnecessary summary of the story to this point.  If you want more detail, read the books.  They’re written at an exceptionally low level, you can finish them very quickly. 
That brings us up to date and to Breaking Dawn part 2.  This one begins with Bella waking up as a vampire, thirsty for blood, super strong and out to protect her rapidly growing, telepathic child.  Edward takes her hunting and she successfully controls her desire for human blood by tackling a mountain lion.  While out in the snow playing with her daughter (who now looks 4ish) and her werewolf guardian, Maggie Grace observes them from a distant hill.  Since it is forbidden to make child vampires (they can’t be controlled and apparently will eat entire towns), she assumes they’ve done this and runs to the vampire ruling body – the Volturi, which is basically Michael Sheen attempting to do the farthest thing from Lucius in Underworld that he can.   
The Volturi assemble and come to do battle, so the Cullens assemble their own group of good (?) vampires to bear witness that the child is only half vampire and was born naturally, not bitten and made.  The random collection of other vampires is a fun sequence, and we do get to be introduced to other vampires from other lands.  Each of them has special powers and different opinions.  In the book, the two sides stand on opposing ends of a snowfield and talk, for what felt like 7 chapters, but I’m sure was not.  In the movie – there is a twist, a huge battle sequence; no spoiler there, it’s in all the ads.  Eventually – it ends, and just about everyone gets their happily ever after.

This one is directed by Bill Condon, who did part 1 as well as Dreamgirls, Kinsey, Gods and Monsters, and Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (that doesn’t fit in).  This is an Oscar nominated director, and it does pay off, this movie is better done than any of the others.  By this point, the actors have been playing the characters for 6 years, so they feel more natural together.
  • Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson are back as Bella and Edward, and whether or not they are together in real life, their on-screen chemistry has greatly improved.  Stewart finally gets to give Bella some personality, and she actually gets to smile in this movie.  Likewise with Pattinson, who spent the previous movies looking pained. 
  • Taylor Lautner and his abs are back as Jacob.  He does a decent job, and could have a mainstream career after these movies as opposed to the two other leads, who will probably stick to indie careers.  Taylor’s Abduction proved he has potential to have a fun action career, so we’ll see what happens.
  • Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser, Ashley Greene, Jackson Rathbone, Kellan Lutz and Nikki Reed all return as the various Cullen family members.  They have a little more to do in this movie than in a few of the previous ones, and they all seem to be enjoying themselves.  The battle scene is great fun, and they all do a great job.
  • Billy Burke returns as Bella’s father Charlie, and gets some fun moments where he as to act like he is okay with his daughter turning into a vampire and having a mysteriously rapidly aging child and her friend turning into a wolf in front of him.  He does seem to be wanting this movie to hurry along so that he can get back to Revolution. 
If you are a ‘Twi-hard’, you’ll love it.  It’s a satisfying end to a truthful adaptation of the source material.  If you’re not that into the series, I will re-state that this one is the best of the series, the battle sequence is great, and there is an epic ending closing sequence where everyone from the series gets their name on screen next to their picture. 

5 out of 10.  Lost points for Bella, and Edward, and the majority of the characters.  Gained points for the battle.  Lost points for the creepy CGI baby…yikes.  Gained points for Michael Sheen – he is pleasantly bizarre in this.
Bonus Video 1: Blade Opening…real vampires and a real vampire hunter.  While this opening sequence is epic - Blade 2 is my favorite of the series.

Bonus Video 2:  Buffy the Vampire Hunter series opening (for each season).  If you are unaware, 7 seasons of Joss Whedon’s genius, with arguably one of the best female role models ever.  Rent it now.

Bonus Video 3:  Cast Interviews

Monday, December 3, 2012

Movie Review: Red Dawn (PG13 - 114 minutes)

The original Red Dawn came out in 1984 and starred Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, C.Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, Jennifer Grey, Powers Booth, and Harry Dean Stanton.   It was written by Keving McReynolds and directed by John Millius, who also did Conan the Barbarian (one of my favorites).  It smartly played on some of the paranoia of the Cold War, and featured an American Invasion by Soviet, Cuban, and Nicaraguan forces.  During the start of World War 3, some of these forces parachute into a Colorado high school football field.  Some of the high schoolers take off into the woods, and start to fight back - guerrilla style, and the father of two of the boys asks them famously to "Avenge Me!"
I suppose it makes sense for this movie to be remade.  While the premise is still unnerving, the original is dated; for instance, the Soviet Union doesn't exist anymore.  But the idea of high schoolers banding together to fight off an invading force still makes for an entertaining movie, right?  So who to use as the villans?
The answer is of course, China.  When this remake was filmed in 2009 - it made complete sense to use China as the bad guys and invading forces.  However, MGM went through some financial troubles, and this sat on the shelf for a while.  A fate that also befell Chris Hemsworth's other delayed 2012 release, Cabin in the Woods.  In that short amount of time, China has become quite the spot for overseas box office income.  Clearly they could no longer be the villans in a major motion picture .  The makers of this film, including director Dan Bradley (previously known mainly for stunt work and 2nd unit directing) made the decision to digitally change the villans to North Korea.  This means they left all the actors the same, but digitally changed all the flags, and re-dubbed over the dialog.  So, in a scene where two of the invaders were speaking Chinese, they are now dubbed over with Korean.  You can have your own discussions about the level of wrong-ness that entails, and whether it's just a little bit racist to assume that we'll just go with Asian actors being any asian ethnicity, and if it's distracting in the movie (I thought it was, but it might just be me). 
That being said, let's recap the plot in this version:  almost the same as the first.  We get some brief character development between Jed and Matt.  Jed is just back from serving in Iraq, and Matt is the ball-hog quarterback on the football team.  Their father is the local sheriff.  Matt is dating Erica - a cheerleader, and Jed is being hit on by Toni, who is close to Erica, but I can't figure out how - are they sisters?  The power goes out at night, and in the morning - it's raining invading North Korean soldiers.  During the confusion, Jed and Matt grab some of their friends and head out of town at the insistence of their father.  One of the kids seems to be launched out the back of the pickup truck during the escape, but they never mention that agin.  They hide out in their cabin, only to be betrayed, and just before being executed, the father of the two boys encourages them to fight.  Not quite as dramatic as being asked to avenge someone, but pretty good.  The boys then lead their friends in some guerrilla style fighting. 
The cast of this one is capable, although to be honest, no one really gets any character development except for the two brothers.  Everyone else gets about 5 minutes of development.  Which is probably enough for a movie like this.  Everyone is just fine - no one is fantastic, but I don't think there's a need for fantastic:
  • Chris Hemsworth as Jed - is again pre-Thor in this, but is fine and certainly believable as the recently returned Marine who inspires the local kids to fight back.  He proves again that he's a better actor than you think he should be, although it's not shown off in this movie.
  • Josh Peck as Matt - has previously been in a great deal of kid shows and movies.  He was in Drillbit Taylor.  He's not great in this, and has that Kristen Stewart problem of leaving his mouth open all the time. 
  • Adrianne Palicki as Toni - I know the girls were sisters in the original, so I assumed they were in this one, however, Toni does mention that she's an only child.  Adrianne has been on Friday Night Lights, and in Legion, a Paul Bettany movie that I love, and again, she's fine in this - but thank goodness she's not playing Wonder Woman.
  • Isabel Lucas as Erica - previously seen in Transformers 2 as the blond girl.  She plays Matt's girlfriend, and the reason he throws a carefully plotted scheme in the trash to rescue her, throwing the group into disarray.  She's bland, but again - fine.  Incidentally - she once costarred with Chris Hemsworth in an Australian soap opera, and they dated for a while.
  • Josh Hutcherson as Robert - again, this is pre-Peeta for him, but he had already been in the Journey to the Center of the Earth and various other TV shows. He's pretty good in this, and will probably have a very long career.
  • Connor Cruise (yes, Tom's kid) plays Daryl, the mayor's son.  The mayor starts to work with the invaders, giving Connor plenty to act conflicted about.  This is his first major movie role, and again - he's fine.
  • Edwin Hodge (older brother of Aldis, who is currently starring on Leverage, and is my pick to play T'Challa if they ever get around to a Black Panther movie) plays Danny.  He's done a lot of TV, and is again - fine - in this movie as one of the kids helping to fight back.
  • Brett Cullen plays Tom Eckert - sheriff and father.  He's the one who initiates this sequence of events by encouraging the boys to hide in the woods and fight back, but never asks to be avenged.
  • Will Yun Lee plays the lead Korean invader.  He's been in a lot of things, most recently on Hawaii 5-0.  If you didn't watch Witchblade when it was on TV, you should rent it.
  • Jeffery Dean Morgan, Kenneth Choi, and Matt Gerald play the three American Marines that eventually run into the kids in the woods to help them steal a suitcase, which will turn the tide of battle.   Because that's what suitcases do.  Okay, to be fair, it's a communications device, but still - it looks like a suitcase.

So, all in all, the actors were fine.  Nothing great, nothing terrible.  I was expecting terrible, so I was actually pleasantly surprised by the 'fine' quality.  The action was okay - several sequences were shot too close (please back up the camera and let me see what is going on!), and several sequences were shot with a hand held (please put the camera on a steadi-cam and stop running with it - that's not a cool effect, you're just make everyone nauseous!).  I wouldn't run out to the theater for this, maybe wait until you can rent it, then do a double feature with the original - just for kicks.  I'm just going to assume that you have that much time to waste on Red Dawn movies.
5 out of 10 - the definition of average.  Gained points for giving people more reason to yell "Wolverines!"  And bonus for you if that was your high school mascot (mine would be "Falcons!").  Lost points for the brothers making Robert drink a cup of deer's blood after he shoots it, ick, and why?
Bonus Video 1:  Witchblade, was a series on TNT, starring Will Yun Lee and Yancy Butler.
Bonus Video 2:  The "Avenge Me!" Clip from the 1984 Red Dawn.
Bonus Video 3:  Aldis and Edwin Hodge - again, if you aren't watching Leverage, you should be.
Bonus Video:  Cast Interviews!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Movie Review: Alex Cross (PG13 - 101 minutes)

Alex Cross is a character created by author James Patterson in 1993's Along Came A Spider.  He's an African-American psychologist and police detective.  He's made it to the big screen at least twice before in Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls, portrayed both times by Morgan Freeman.
These movies were entertaining crime drama/thrillers.  The current re-incarnation or re-boot of Alex Cross attempts to be an entertaining crime drama/thriller.
Going in expecting this movie to be terrible (hey, that's what I heard), I was surprised in that it wasn't as terrible as I thought it was going to be, but it still wasn't great.  It doesn't help that the product placement is so heavy handed that at times the movie feels like an hour and a half long Cadillac commercial - look at this long, loving shot of the killer's sharp Cadillac CTS-V performance sedan as he pulls up and parks!  Also - the movie is shot on location in Detroit, which gets mentioned over and over again. 
Tyler Perry steps into the shoes of Alex Cross in this version and does a capable job playing the doctor/detective.  This marks the first time since he started making movies that he is in a major starring role (that cameo in Star Trek didn't count) in a movie he didn't write/produce/direct/edit/market/own/shoot in Atlanta/etc.   Can you imagine - Tyler Perry Presents Tyler Perry in a Tyler Perry movie, Alex Cross; directed by Tyler Perry.  I'm teasing, his movies are not quite like that, but they do get close!  Cross and his elite cop squad are homicide detectives in Detroit (check out the Cadillacs they drive!), they encounter a murder that leads to a conspiracy involving a wealthy businesman (he arrives in a Cadillac!) and a hired hit man/pyschopath (look at his beautiful Cadillac!).  As they drive their Cadillacs from placing to place attempting to guess at the killers next move, Cross's family gets caught in the crossfire (maybe his wife should have left town in a Cadillac!), and he is forced to question his moral and psychological limits.
Harvard grad Director Rob Cohen is best known for the fast and the Furious (he has a really long relationship with GM and using their vehicles - so the Cadillac/Detroit thing does make sense), Dragon Heart, Daylight, XXX, Stealth, The Mummy 3 and is currently prepping another Vin Diesel XXX movie.  He does a decent job with this movie, yes the Cadillacs could have been a little more subtle (hell, Heineken paid for almost all of Skyfall and we really only noticed it once in the movie), but on the whole, it's shot well - with a few notable exceptions.  When Cross and his team are discussing the original murder, and Cross develops his profile of the killer, he inexplicibly turns toward the camera and away from Ed Burns while he slowly describes what the killer in thinking and how he operates.  The music comes up in a odd swell, that should have just increased the tension of the movie, but really made me wonder if Perry had forgotten there were other actors in the scene.  An odd directing choice to be sure, not overwhelmingly weird.  Except that it happens again, during an intense phone conversation between our villian and our hero, Matthew Fox finishes a sentence by turning directly into the camera.  Odd, because he's alone on a roof at the time.  Then he drives off in his Cadillac. 

One other directing choice that I disagreed with is during the hand to hand combat sequence at the end - the camera switches to very jumpy hand held, with strange slow motion pieces thrown in.  These do not enhance the action in any way - and the effect had not been used at all up to that point, which really made it feel out of place.
The cast of this movie does a good job:
  • Tyler Perry again proves he certainly can do things that are not necessarily his own pieces.  He is a good actor and will really only get better over time.  To be honest, I wouldn't mind him doing another Alex Cross movie, I think that this could develop into a strong franchise.
  • Edward Burns plays his partner and best friend, Tommy Kane (who in the books is named John Sampson - at least, they seem to be the same character).  Burns is always entertaining (if you haven't seen Confidence - rent it now) and plays the supporting role here with ease.  The friendship between the two of them is relaxed and believable.
  • Rachel Nichols plays Monica Ashe, the third member of their detective unit.  I had previously seen her in Alias (that weird last season) and GI Joe.  She's capable in this, but doesn't have a lot to do.
  • Giancarlo Esposito, who of late has been amazing on Breaking Bad and Revolution, plays a local Detroit hood who runs a car dealership (there's lots of Cadillacs and other GM cars in the dealership shots - plus Cadillac wall decor).  He is the 'bad man' Cross turns to for help when beginning to question how far he will go to solve this case.  Aside from having one of the most fun names to say (go ahead and say Giancarlo Esposito out loud a few times... then Benedict Cumberbatch, then Chiwetel Ejiofor - what I wouldn't give for them all to be in a movie together) he's a great actor and fun in the little scene he has in this movie.
  • Jean Reno plays the french businessman who has an amazing plan to re-vitalize Detroit.  He may or may not be the killer's next target, so Cross and team have to figure out how to protect him while he goes from meeting to meeting in his Cadillac.  He's good (see the Professional if you haven't - but don't bother with the Godzilla remake) but doesn't quite seem to fit in this movie, but maybe that's the point.
  • John C. McGinley plays the police chief, which seems to involve a lot of barking orders and standing with hands agressively placed on hips - you know, like every movie police chief ever.  He was great in Office Space and on Scrubs and is fine in this, but again - not a ton to do.
  • Carmen Ejogo plays Cross's wife - spoiler alert - she doesn't make it.  But that's necessary to give Cross the push towards stepping out of bounds to catch the killer.
  • Cicely Tyson, who has been in many Tyler Perry movies, plays Nana Momma - Cross's grandmother, a character from the books.  She's playing a character you've seen her play before, but that's fine, because she's good at it.
  • That brings me to Matthew Fox as Picasso - the psychotic, hitman for hire.  Fox lost a ton of weight for this role and really, really - I mean really - commits to it.  I'm not sure that level of committment was necessary.  He stands out in the movie, but not necessarily in a good way.  He's crazy, but the performance is so over the top, that you're more annoyed by him than you are scared of him.  He certainly succeeded in creating a memorable character, though.  And again, he drives a really nice Cadillac (seriously, at one point he turns on the radio in the car and it's playing a song with a lyric about Cadillacs - I couldn't make that up if I wanted to).
All in all, certainly not terrible, but certainly not great.  Entertaining enough if you really like Cadillacs, Detroit, creepy-thin Matthew Fox or crime-drama TV shows.
 5 out of 10:  Lost points for the non-stop Cadillac references. I get it - you're in Detroit and Cadillac gave you money for the movie - enough!  Gained points for the PG13 rating.  I so appreciated it with this movie...in an R movie, the killing, maiming, and murder would have all been amped up to a level I have no interest in seeing.  Lost points for Matthew Fox being just too much.

Bonus Video 1:  Giancarlo Esposito has been in many Spike Lee movies - in fact, he was Buggin' Out in Do The Right Thing:
Bonus Video 2: In Case you are unfamiliar with the rest of Tyler Perry's work - here is a very funny example!
Bonus Video 3:  Kenan Thompson as Tyler Perry on SNL: "I own Atlanta!" Hilarious.
Bonus Video 3:  Cast Interviews and behind the scenes footage!