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, July 29, 2013

Movie Review: RED2 (PG13 – 116 minutes)

RED was first published as a short series of comic books by Warren Ellis and Cully Hammer in 2003.  DC comics re-released them in 2009 just before the first movie was released in 2010.  

In the film – Frank Moses is a retired CIA agent who spends his days quietly in a Cleveland suburb.  It seems that his only joy is calling Sarah, who works for the Pension office and talking with her.  Suddenly, a hit squad shows up at his house, marking the end of his quiet retirement.  He has to go on one last mission – pulling in all of his old co-workers and conspirators; hijinks enuse.  Incidentally – RED means Retired: Extremely Dangerous.

The movie was directed by Robert Schwentke and Starred Bruce Willis as Frank Moses, as well as Morgan Freeman, John Malcovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, Karl Urban, Julian McMahon, Ernest Borgnine, Richard Dreyfuss, Brian Cox, James Remar and Rebecca Pidgeon (in a non-Mamet role!).  It was charming and fun.  So of course, a sequel was inevitable. 

RED 2 is directed by Deal Parisot, and brings back the original cast, and adds a few more members.  Frank is again attempting to live the quiet suburban life with Sarah – who seems to be itching for action.  Marvin seeks them out to say that they are about to be attacked.  Sure enough, they are attacked, and get a call from Victoria, who states that a hit has been put out on them.  Something to do with a mission during the cold war to get a nuclear weapon out of Russia, which is still hidden there.  They have to collect the clues to hunt down the trail of the one scientist who knows where the device is located.  Hijinks and action ensue. 

I almost never say this, but I felt like this sequel was better than the original.  It seems to have a more consistent tone, the action is almost non-stop and the pacing is better.  The story is good, the twists are unexpected, and it really makes for a fun summer movie.  Not surprising, Dean Parisot directed another movie with a grumpy cast, but a fun action tone, Galaxy Quest.  If you haven’t seen that – you should rent it immediately.

The secret to this movie’s success is the cast.  These actors all seem to genuinely enjoy being in this movie, playing these roles – which are all much more action-figure-y than their real personas.
  • Bruce Willis once again stars as Frank Moses.  He is perfect for this role, and almost seems to be playing a bit of himself.  He is quietly confident, and just wants to stay home is his peaceful suburbs.  However, when the action does get going, no one is better than Willis at the every-man action star. 
  • John Malkovich takes some time off from his hobby of singing opera to star as Marvin; the slightly “off” friend of Frank who spends most of the movie giving Frank and Sarah relationship advice.  Malkovich is entertaining and weird, and I mean emphasis on the weird. 
  • Mary-Louise Parker, who really irritated me in the original, is far less annoying in this movie.  However, her character is still a little nonsensical and bizarre.  She loves Frank, but wants the action, and would prefer that he go back to accepting missions, rather than attempting to just stay quietly at home.  She’s thrilled when Marvin shows up, and even more thrilled when she gets to play an active part in some of their covert ops.  Honestly, the bit with her going undercover in the Kremlin did crack me up.
  • Helen Mirren is fabulous as always as the complete badass MI6 agent Victoria.  She’s a killer who loves her work, and still manages to have fun.  She’s sassy and spectacular in this role that seems tailor-made for her.  There is one sequence where she pretends to be an insane asylum patient who believes she is the queen of England.  Pretty hilarious, based solely on the number of times that Helen Mirren has been the queen of England.
  • Anthony Hopkins is new to the cast as Professor Bailey, the only one who knows where the device is located.  The only problem is that he’s been locked in a loony bin for 30 some years.  His performance is slightly crazed, but very smart, and really fun.  I’ve never seen Anthony Hopkins look like he was enjoying his role as much as he does in this movie.  He always seems a bit stodgy and pretentious, but he really seemed to loosen up for this role.
  • Byung-hun Lee continues his quest to be the Korean Matthew McCounaghey in this movie – once again Lautner-ing the hell out of his role.  In GIJoe Retaliation, his shirt was off within 60 seconds of his appearance onscreen.  In this movie – it’s off within 30 seconds of his appearance.  Again – no argument from me, I would like him to continue to try to set new records with that.  He plays the ‘greatest contract killer in the world’ who had previous interactions with Frank and the team.  He comes into the story and promptly joins in the relation-ship advice-giving mentality.  He’s really fun and personable in this and fits right into the cast.  His character’s first kill is amazing – and let me just say, it involves a bit of oragami.
  • Catherine Zeta-Jones is another new addition.  She plays a former KGB agent who had a ‘thing’ with Frank in the past, and steps in to help/hinder the group in this stage.  The competitive jibes between her and Sarah are hilarious and fantastic.
  • Neal McDonough plays Jack Horton – the CIA agent tasked to go after Frank and Marvin to bring them in – or take them down…whichever.  He plays this role with the same zest he plays everything – he always seems to be having a good time.  He is always going to be Ensign Hawke to me, and that’s coming from someone who saw him play M. Bison in the Chun-Li movie (that was bad – I can’t recommend it).
  • David Thewlis adds to the list of British thespians in this movie.  I would imagine that if they keep making these movies, they will start to compete with the Harry Potter movies for the overwhelming amount of British Thespians in them.  He plays ‘the frog’, a character that really knows wine – and exists for one chase sequence, and one interrogation scene – both of which are fantastic.
  • Brian Cox reprises his role as Ivan the Russian.  He’s around to help them get through Moscow, and to flirt with Victoria.  He does both of these things with panache, again – looking like he’s having a fantastic time just hanging out.

All in all, this movie surprised me by being some great action – a lot of fun, and a couple of twists I didn’t see coming.  It is pretty violent, so not for the kids, and the runtime is just under two hours so it could have been a little shorter.  I also have to say that I loved the transitions in this movie, they used bits of the comic, and really fun postcards to change scenes.  It was unique and clever.  Check it out – maybe rent the first one, then go see this one.  I’m pretty sure you’ll agree that it’s a little bit better.  Of course, it doesn’t have Morgan Freeman…so there is that. 
7 out of 10.  Gained points for Lee’s prompt disrobing – I love it.  Lost points for Sarah constantly whining about wanting more action.  Gained points for everyone giving Frank relationship advice.  Lost points for Zeta-Jones’s a little over-the-top va-va-va-vooming.  Gained points for the chase sequences, there are some really great car sequences in this.  Lost points for no Morgan Freeman.

Bonus Video 1:  Harry Potter 3 – Thewlis, Oldman, Spall…really the best of those.

Bonus Video 2:  The Chun-Li movie – it’s not good, but I found it entertaining.  In which Lui Kang crosses dimensions and teaches Lana Lang to kick ass.  Featuring Moon Bloodgood, MCD, Neal McDonough, Chris Kline, Robin Shou and Kristen Kreuk.  

Bonus Video 3:  Blind Date – remember when Bruce Willis was that TV funny guy from Moonlighting?

Bonus Video 4:  Cast Interviews.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Movie Review: Pacific Rim (PG13 – 131 minutes)

Very early this year when we recorded our podcast for the ‘most anticipated’ movies of 2013 (check it out at http://www.HeSawSheSawFilm.wordpress.com) Pacific Rim is the movie I was the most excited about.  I could not wait to see the latest creation of Guillermo del Toro.  I am a big fan of his.  He started as a visual effects creator in Mexico, then started making his own movies, and has created some of the most visually stunning movies around.  Blade 2 is my favorite of the Blade movies, but aside from that, it is the one with the most impressive visuals, cleanest story, and Ron Perlman. 

All of del Toro’s movies have his signature all over them very loudly, usually including a few trademark pieces:  tunnels and/or caves, creepy weird things in jars, and an autopsy/examination of some creature or thing on a table.  Some of his earlier movies like Chronos, Mimic and Devil’s Backbone are more horror aligned.  His more recent movies like the Hellboy series and Pan’s Labyrinth are more fantasy with elements of horror.  Pan’s Labyrinth is one of the most beautiful, terrifying, elegant, creepy, lovely fantasy fairy tales ever put to film.  It is one of the best movies I have ever seen. 

Del Toro is a fan first, and growing up – he had a major love for the early Japanese Kaiju films.  Not sure you know what a Kaiju is?  Of course you do, you’ve heard of Godzilla, right?  Kaiju literally means “strange creature”, but has been adapted to mean any of the giant monsters that populated these movies.  Starting with Godzilla in 1954, then growing to include many other large monstrous beasts:  Mothra, Gamera,  and Rodan just to name a few. 

These Kaiju movies were very popular and made their way through all different levels of pop culture.  In fact, if you were like me, and watched Mighty Morphing Power Rangers back when they were still Mighty Morphing, anytime Rita used something and turned it into a monster, then used her magic wand to make it grow – those were essentially Kaiju, or at the very least, Kaiju-inspired.

Guillermo del Toro loved these movies and wanted to find a way to modernize them (please disregard the Emmerich Godzilla remake with Matthew Broderick - no one counts that).  When he first announced plans to make Pacific Rim – a movie in which we create giant robots to fight giant Kaiju, the fanboy nation rejoiced.  Who else could make such a masterpiece?

Sometime in the near future, a rift opens in the bottom of the Pacific Ocean between our world and ‘their’ world.  They start coming through.  The first Kaiju makes landfall in SanFransico, and the shots of that first attack are amazing.  We defeat it, but only after several days of attacks with jets and tanks.  The creatures keep coming through, one after another, attacking various cities that ring the Pacific Ocean.  We decide to build better weapons, and the Jaeger program is born (Jaeger is German for ‘hunter’).  We soon realize that the neural connection required to control the Jaeger is too much for a single pilot, so we use teams of two who are neutrally connected to each other, and to the robot.  Because of this, pilot teams need to be able to ‘drift’ well together.  So it’s usually sibling teams, or other family units.  The Jaegers are very successful, and we start to get cocky about how easily we are beating some of these Kaiju. 

Raleigh and his brother Yancey are a great Jaeger team piloting “Gipsy Danger” working the Alaskan coast when they make a misstep against a kaiju, and Yancey gets killed, while still attached to Riley.  Not sure he can get over the feeling of losing his brother while still connected; Raleigh quits the Jaeger program, and starts working on the ‘wall’, our new defense plan (because that will work, right?).   The kaiju start adapting to our robots, and they start winning.  Marshal Pentecost has just been informed by the powers that be that they are shutting down the Jaeger program.  It’s too expensive, we’re losing too many Jaegers, and we can’t build them fast enough and staff them well enough to keep the war going.  Pentecost decides on a final gambit of dropping a nuclear bomb down the rift that the Kaiju are coming through, shutting it and keeping them out of our realm forever.  But to do that, he needs all the pilots he can find, so he re-recruits Riley, and sets up trials to find the most compatible co-pilot for him.  It ends up being the general’s adopted daughter, Mako.  With the plan in place, and new scientific evidence from Kaiju biologist Newton and Kaiju mathematician Gottlieb; Pentecost prepares to launch the final assault to cancel the apocalypse. 

In terms of story, really Pacific Rim is nothing you haven’t seen before – but you’re not here for the story, you’re here to see giant robots fight giant monsters.  It’s fun, well done, and the story is good. 
The cast is also pretty great:
  • Charlie Hunnam is best known from Sons of Anarchy, and does his best to continue his American accent in this movie.  I found that to be an odd choice, since there is so much focus on the globalization of this movie (everyone is represented), why not let him use his own Northern England accent?  In any case, I found Hunnam to be very flat, and not that great in this movie.  I can’t tell if that’s what he was asked to give, or if that was his choice, but I found him boring and one-note.  This is made more obvious, because everyone else in the movie is really good.
  • Rinko Kukuchi is Mako, and this is one of her first American movies.  She is very good, conveying Mako’s confidence that she can pilot a Jaeger conflicting with her desire to honor and respect the wishes of Marshall Pentecost.  She has incredible non-verbal acting and her eyes and face convey her emotions. 
  • The beautiful Idris Elba plays Pentecost, and does a fantastic job.  He is the heart of this movie; the focal point around which everything else moves.  He is very still, very focused, and knows exactly what he must do, and what he must inspire others to do to win this war.  The ‘surprise’ of him being Mako’s adopted father is transparent, and the ‘surprise’ ending of him having to climb into a Jaeger to help save the day is transparent, but none of that matters, because his performance is magnetic.
  • Clifton Collins Jr. plays Tendo Choi – who I would explain as the ‘eyes and ears’ for the Jaegers on the ground, running controls from the control room.  He’s a bit chameleonic and blends into every role he gets.  Because of that, he’s one of those guys who is in everything, but you never know his name.  It’s Clifton Collins Jr. – see if you remember it the next time you see him (you probably won’t). 
  • Burn Gorman, who I will always think of as Owen from Torchwood, plays Gottlieb.  His character in this is almost the exact opposite of his character on Torchwood.  He is the one who determines how often the Kaiju are coming through, and uses that information to determine when we can expect a ‘double event’ – two Kaiju coming through at the same time.  His scenes with Charlie Day are fantastic and entertaining.
  • Max Martini and Robert Kazinsky play Herc and Chuck Hansen.  They are the father –son duo that is the number 1 Jaeger team when Riley has to come back into the squad.  This provides the obligatory tension between Riley and Chuck as they mouth off about who is the better pilot. 
  • Charlie Day from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and the brilliant Horrible Bosses plays Newton – the scientist who has been studying Kaiju brain remains (autopsy/examination sequence) in an attempt to figure out what they want and why they are attacking in the hopes of learning how to stop them.  Day is fantastic and plays loose and fast with the dialogue.  Other actors in the movie deliver it as written, which is fine – however, Day is a comedic actor with the ability to raise the level of the dialogue he’s given and find jokes and entertainment in the performance and delivery, rather than just in the script. 
  • Ron Perlman plays Hannibal Chau – and his explanation of that name is one of the best lines in the movie.  He’s absolutely wonderful in this as he is in every Guillermo del Toro movie he’s in.  The part was written for him and allows him to chew up every single bit of scenery near him as the resident black market Kaiju parts dealer.  The scenes he has with Day are the best parts of the movie: quick, spirited, fun and really entertaining.  Not to mention those shoes (stay through the credits).

One of my favorite things about del Toro movies is the amount of practical effects.  He strives to make everything as real as possible, only using CGI when necessary.  The ‘market scene’ in Hellboy 2 is the perfect example of this. Everything is a practical effect.  That being said, when he said giant monsters vs. giant robots, I wondered how that would fit with his practical sensibilities.  He hired ILM, and it looks amazing.  The CGI are stunning, and all the fight sequences are great – however, way too many of them take place at night and in the rain.  There are a few scenes that show battles that happen during the day – and I love those so much more.  

You can actually see the Kaiju as it interacts with the Jaeger, fully lit – in bright light.  The fight sequences that take place at night, I kept feeling like I was missing something.  I did love the scene when Riley gets back to the base after his 5 year absence, and we do get the slow introduction to each of the remaining Jaegers.  It allows you to see them, and get a really good look at them.  I would have loved a corresponding sequence with the Kaiju.  They are nicknaming each of the Kaiju as they come through, but we never get a sequence where we really get to look at them.  Del Toro specifically created each of them so that they had enough of a humanoid shape that they could have been a guy-in-a-suit like back in the 50s and 60s.  Because so many of the fights are at night, you don’t really get a good look at the kaiju.  Thank goodness for additional images on the internet.

I do love the scenes where things are really there.  And true to del Toro’s nature, there are many scenes where people are interacting with practical effects.  The scenes in Hannibal Chau’s hideout were my favorites, based just on the set itself. 

All in all, this movie is what summer movies are supposed to be.  It’s a little bit Independence Day and  a little bit StarShip Troopers.   It’s big, it’s over-the-top, it’s crazy, and it’s fun.  Go see it – as big as you can – and in 3D.  Marvel at the spectacle and get the biggest popcorn they have available. 
9 out of 10.  Lost the point for Hunnam’s performance and too many fight scenes at night.  Gained points for every scene with Day and Perlman, and especially any scenes with the two of them together.  Gained points for clearly evacuating the cities when danger is near – saving the civilian population – take note Man of Steel.  Gained points for the kaiju – but I did want a closer look at them.   Gained points for Idris’s ID4 speech.  You had seen it in almost every commercial, but it still gave me chills when he delivered it!  Gained points for the one Kaiju going right through the wall – prompting the response, “Why are we even building this thing?” 

Bonus Video 1:  I felt like it was more like Starship Troopers…

Bonus Video 2: … But my friend says more like Independence Day:

Bonus Video 3:  …and of course, there are the comparisons to Cloverfield:

Bonus Video 4:  Mimic – really fun little Del Toro horror piece with Mira Sorvino and Charles S. Dutton.

Bonus Video 5:  Cast Interviews…

Monday, July 22, 2013

Movie Review: The Lone Ranger (PG13 – 149 minutes)

The Lone Ranger first hit TV in 1949, (he had been the star of a weekly radio program starting in January in 1933) and brought the fun of a serialized Western to weekly TV.   The series ran from 1949 through 1957.  Cowboy stories were very popular at the time, and he struck a chord with many youngsters across the nation.  On TV, he was portrayed by Clayton Moore, while Jay Silverheels portrayed the noble sidekick, Tonto.  The Lone Ranger would save the day – and ride off on his white horse, Silver, saying, “Hi-ho Silver!  Away!” over the William Tell overature.  After which, one of the townspeople would state, “Who was that masked man, anyway?” 

Fran Striker, and George Trendle created a creed for the Lone Ranger and Tonto that Moore and Silverheels tried to embody at all times, knowing that they were role models for all the children who watched their show.  It began with “I believe”…then includes the following:  That to have a friend, a man must be one; that all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world; that God put the firewood there, but that every man must gather and light it himself; in being prepared physically, mentally, and morally to fight when necessary for what is right; that all things change, but truth lives on forever.  

Striker and Trendle also created ‘rules’ for how the character would behave:  he would never been seen without his mask; the Lone Ranger always uses perfect grammar and precise speech, avoiding slang; The Lone Ranger never shoots to kill, but rather to disarm; The Lone Ranger never drinks or smokes; criminals are never shown in enviable positions of wealth or power, and they are never glamorous.  The Lone Ranger made the decision to only use silver bullets to remind himself that life is precious, and is not to be wasted.  This is a great iconic American hero, and he is deserving of a fantastic movie.  However, this new one is not it.

Johnny Depp has never liked ‘normal’ and has built his career around bucking it.  Rumor has it he was so fed up with being thought of as the ‘heartthrob’ from 21 Jump Street that he did whatever he could to get out of his contract on that show, including showing up with marbles in his mouth.  Since then, he has done whatever he could to create unique, quirky characters one after another.  That’s all well and good – but after a while, they start to all feel a little similar.  Beginning with the sad and beautiful Edward Scissorhands; and going all the way through Jack Sparrow, new Willy Wonka, Dark Shadows, Sweeny Todd, and Alice in Wonderland. 

When news broke that Johnny was going to star as Tonto in the Lone Ranger movie, a collective groan went up from fans.  You can debate how much of him is or is not actual Native American (he says a great amount) but you cannot debate that he would turn it into a strange quirky character.  Then the first picture of him the in makeup he had chosen for the character turned up.  The groans doubled in volume.   Then came the word of how he and his Pirates director Gore Verbinski were perhaps going over budget with this overblown story.  There was a lot of bad word of mouth before the first trailers came out. 

After the trailer came out, the movie looked better, and started to look interesting.  Unfortunately, it’s not.  The problem is that the movie is way too long, and becomes self-indulgent on the part of Depp and Verbinski. 
The movie begins in a Little Big Man or Young Guns 2 or Posse style of having a really old guy tell the story through flashbacks.  A small child wanders through a wild west exhibit in 1933 San Francisco, and encounters a very old Native American “in his natural environment”.  Turns out he’s alive, and Tonto, and begins to tell the child the story.  Tonto was captured on a train with criminal Butch Cavendish who was on his way to be picked up by rangers to transport him to his hanging.  A lawyer, John Reid,  is also on the train going to meet his brother, Dan – who is leading the rangers.  Well, Cavendish’s gang busts him out, he chains Tonto to the lawyer, and this leads to a preposterous escape sequence.  

There’s also a really long and boring sequence that establishes Tom Wilkinson as the head of the railroad company building the train, and cooperating with the Comanche, and flirting with the ranger’s wife Rebecca – the lawyer’s sister-in-law-who used to be with the lawyer, but is now with the ranger (there is what feels like a half hour sequence in which she picks out a scarf that everyone tells her matches her eyes).  In any case, Cavendish gets loose, the ranger collects a posse and goes after him, taking his brother the lawyer.  The posse rides directly into an ambush – after what felt like 20 minutes of guys-riding-through-landscapes shots.  Everyone is presumed dead.  Tonto happens across the bodies, and a spirit horse (yes, a spirit horse) whom he asks to bring back the ranger, the horse appears to want to bring back the lawyer instead.  He wakes up , realizes everyone is dead – Cavendish ate his brother’s heart while he was still alive – let me repeat that, Cavendish ate the guy’s heart as a way to kill him.  Tonto makes him a mask out of his brother’s vest and says it’s best to use the fact that the bad guys think they’re dead.  

They share a meal of rabbit cooked over an open fire, and dealing with carnivorous rabbits in the desert (what? Oh, because nature is out of balance?  You’re kidding, right?)  They ride into town to get information, leading to a 20 minute sequence in a brothel, and the introduction of Helena Bonham-Carter’s ridiculous ivory-scrimshawed legged madam, Red.  They get the information – it’s all about silver – and there’s a sequence in which Tonto states he’s afraid of cats, and puts a cage on his head (what the hell is going on?) just before escaping an angry mob.  Then the middle of the movie proceeds to drag and drag as the plot involving Cavendish, a silver mine, the railroad, young Tonto, and fake Comanche raids unwinds as slowly as possible.  The woman and her son get captured, she gives him a gun (she gives a kid a gun in a Disney movie!!!)  then climbs through the window of a train to escape, only to get captured again, then try to wrestle the gun away from the kid (you just game him that you idiot!!!)

Then, finally, there is the last half hour of the movie – which is a fantastic action sequence aboard two trains over the William Tell Overature – as it should be.  Honestly, the last half-hour was great!  But the two hours before that?  I wish I could have fast-forwarded.
Verbinski does a good job, but where the Pirates movies (okay, just the first one) felt fresh, lively and colorful, this movie feels dusty, dirty and monochromatic. 
  • Armie Hammer is capable as John Reid (the Lone Ranger).  I don’t know that he was good – and it’s not really his fault.  Hammer could become a leading man one day, but maybe in rom-coms, which is a shame, because he has the size and frame for an action hero – but I’m just not sure that ever developed in this movie.  Maybe in the sequel?  Oh no, I really hope not. 
  • Hammer is overshadowed by Depp, which would be fine, if Depp’s performance was something new and amazing.  However, I’ll be honest, it felt like Native American Jack Sparrow.  From all accounts, this was a huge passion project for him and he really wanted it to be great.  It’s not.
  • Ruth Wilson plays Rebecca Reid, the brother’s wife, who apparently used to have a thing with John Reid.  That’s confusing and not presented well, but she also has nothing else to do for the rest of the movie.  Even when she does get some moments – she has to defend her homestead, and escape custody on the train – the movie quickly un-allows that by immediately having her lose the homestead and get re-captured.  It’s almost as if she was trying to break out of the 2 dimensional character box they put her in, and kept failing.
  • Helena Bonham Carter plays Red, and has two scenes.  I think it’s just the two.  And yet, all the trailers featured her heavily, and she’s third billed on some of the posters.  I don’t understand that, and I didn’t really understand her character - but on the up-side, it’s tailor made for her.  She even gets to work in her own sad backstory about having been a dancer, but then Cavendish took her leg, resulting in an ivory-scrimshaw artificial leg.
  • Tom Wilkinson plays the head of the railroad and is always a little creepy, so – Spoiler Alert!!! – his Shaymalan style reveal as the top villain doesn’t really come as a huge surprise.  In fact, if you’re paying attention to the watch-flip, then you have that figured out in the first 15 minutes of the film. 
  • Barry Pepper bizarrely shows up as Fuller, a member of the cavalry, whose allegiance switches so quickly I couldn’t keep up.
  • If there is a bright spot in this movie, it’s William Fichtner as Butch Cavendish.  He’s slimy, evil, disgusting, and seems to be the only person in the movie having a good time.  He chews the hell out of every piece of scenery around him, and that dude’s heart.  He’s so good all the time, he deserved a better movie than this.
  • James Badge Dale plays the brother Dan Reid, and was on a bit of a roll this year with Iron Man 3 and World War Z.  He’s good in this, and to his credit, is not in it long, so maybe his hot streak is still intact.
  • Stephen Root shows up with some ridiculous old west sideburns to try to pump some enthusiasm into the politics of the plot near the end, but to no avail.

The movie ends with super-old Tonto walking away very very very slowly through the desert over the end credits, which is pretty much how the whole movie felt.  It could have been so good, honestly, if it had just been edited tighter, and cut to maybe an hour and a half – it would have played better.  But as it – it’s way over the top, overblown, and pretentious.  So disappointing.  And even more disappointing because of the complete over-hyped marketing campaign.  The Lone Ranger is such a great character, and really deserves a great movie.  I'm sorry that this is not it.
3 out of 10.  Lost points for the cannibalistic, carnivorous bunnies – they had two scenes!  Lost points for everyone wanting to touch Red’s ivory leg, what?  Lost points for being way too long and way too boring.  Lost points for Cavendish eating a heart.  Lost points for giving a kid a gun – absolutely unacceptable in any circumstance in my opinion, and could have been edited out with no issue.  Lost points for Hammer’s character not being enough of a hero, and taking way too long to get to his hero moment.  Gained points for the scene in which Tonto says “Crazy White Man” to a bunch of Chinese rail workers, who all nod knowingly.  Gained points for the spirit horse in the tree wearing a hat (yep, that happened).   Lost points for being the biggest disappointment of the year to date…but don’t worry, the Hobbit 2: the Desolation of Cumberbatch comes out later this year, so I’m sure there will be competition for that title.

Bonus Video 1: Private Resort:  Johnny Depp wants you to forget he made this 80s comedy.

Bonus Video 2:  Silverado - a Western you've probably never seen - but it's one of my favorites.

Bonus Video 3:  Posse - another Western you've probably never seen but you should.  Come on, it has Tone Loc and Big Daddy Kane in it.  And Billy Zane chewing all the scenery as the villain.  And yes, that is Tiny Lister punching a horse in the trailer.

Bonus Video 4:  Cast Interviews:

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Movie Review: White House Down (PG13 – 131 minutes)

There is nothing wrong with making a movie with an un-original plot, as long as the movie is done well and is entertaining to watch.  However, a problem does arise if you get two (or three) movies with the same plot that all drop the same season.  Do you remember Deep Impact?  Probably not, because you were busy watching the other asteroid-kills-the-earth movie that summer, Armageddon.  Baz Luhrman was working on an Alexander the Great movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio when Oliver Stone’s Alexander with Colin Farrell came out and bombed.  He prompted trashed the project. 

This year, Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen came out a few months prior to Roland Emmerich’s White House Down, and usually that wouldn’t be too much of a problem.  However, because the White House getting taken over by bad guys plots to both are so very similar, they came out way too close together.  In Olympus Has Fallen, Gerard Butler and his terrible American Accent play the ex-secret service agent attempting to rescue President Aaron Eckhart from North Korean terrorists who have help on the inside.  He’s lead through the mess by Angela Basset and Morgan Freeman as the head of the secret service, and the Speaker of the House respectively. 

In White House Down, Channing Tatum plays a security team member for the Speaker of the House who wants badly to be a secret service agent, not just to impress his daughter and his vampire ex-wife (she was in one of the Twilight movies – she’s not a vampire in this movie…that would have made it way more interesting) but mainly for that reason.  Jaime Foxx plays the president in perhaps the least believable casting move ever who is struggling with removing troops from the Middle East. 

On the very day that Tatum is at the White House with his daughter for the interview, terrorists take over the White House.  This is the same day that the head of the Secret Service (James Woods) is retiring.  Here’s a difference from the other movie – in this one, they are domestic terrorists, but they still have help on the inside. 

All hell breaks loose, and Tatum is left to defend the President and rescue his daughter as the terrorists begin wiping everyone out and making their demands.   Our two heroes maneuver through the White House, looking to get the President out, as the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins) and Secret Service representative (Maggie Gyllenhall) debate with the head of the military (Lance Reddick) about whether or not to give the terrorists what they want, and telling Tatum what to do.  Spoiler Alert – Tatum ends up saving the day, and getting his job as a Secret Service Agent.
  • Channing Tatum is a credible action star, but due to his natural charm and humor, really functions better in an action comedy, than a straight action movie.  Yes, there are funny moments in this movie, but they feel completely out of place.  It doesn’t quite fit the tone.  He’s great, and will have a great career; I’m just not sure this movie fits him.

  • Jamie Foxx is good at many things, but I just cannot believe him as the President.  This may be one of those cases where I did not see the character, I only saw the actor.  Sometimes an actor’s real life personality is so big that it overwhelms whatever ‘character’ they are trying to play.  Do you remember Tom Cruise’s character’s name in any of his last few movies?  And don’t say Jack Reacher, that’s cheating.
  • Why Maggie Gyllenhall is in this movie is a mystery to me.  She’s plays Agent Finnerty, who has some backstory with Tatum’s character, although that never is very clear.  They were in college together, but I can’t tell if it was more than that.  I thought she stuck to those indie dramas that were unwatchable, but that the Academy loves.  Of course, she was in the Dark Knight, briefly.  She seems very one-note, and again – I’m not sure I buy her as the 2nd in command of the Secret Service.  Or maybe she was the third in command, but she ends up in command by the end. 

  • Joey King plays the daughter, Emily – she’s actually pretty good in this.  She’s having a pretty big year with this, The Conjuring, and her turn in Oz, the Great and Powerful as the China Girl.

  • James Woods plays the retiring head of the secret service.  He’s actually very good and very believable in this.  He is, of course, untrustworthy just because he’s James Woods.  I’m not sure he could ever convincingly play a good guy.  He’s just too devious.  Also – I keep expecting him to find some candy, and say, “Ooo! Piece of candy!”

  • Richard Jenkins plays the Speaker of the House who has to start making decisions.  He’s good, and believable, but he’s even better in Cabin in the Woods.  Go rent that.

  • Lance Reddick continues his creepy-authoritative character roles with this turn as General Caulfield. He’s exceptionally no nonsense.
  • Rachelle LaFeve  (that’s her name) plays the ex-wife.  She has almost nothing to do but get really judgmental and frown-y about Tatum missing his daughter’s dance performance.  I suppose it doesn’t matter, she’ll just be replaced by Bryce Dallas Howard in the sequel.
  • Nicolas Wright has a great couple of moments as Donnie the Guide.  He is leading the tour group around the White House when everything goes down, and then gets to function alternately as comedy relief and hero for the rest of the flick.

  • Jake Weber continues to play Americans (he’s british) in his role as Agent Hope.

This movie does function more as a buddy-action movie as Tatum and Foxx are paired up for much of it, whereas Olympus has Fallen was Butler mostly on his own.  Because the White House is a well-known building, and it only has so many rooms/floors – there are several action sequences between the two movies that are virtually the same.  The initial firefights and troops moving up the lawns are similar, and of course, the obligatory helicopter trying to take out the terrorists on the roof and being shot down while the hero fights a villain on the roof and falls through a glass ceiling.  Seriously – that sequence was almost exactly the same in both movies.   

Both movies end with a timer countdown to the villain pushing “the button” that will launch nukes and surely start World War 3. 
All in all, I enjoyed it, but it did wear a little thin here and there.  6 out of 10.  Instead of the usual gained/lost points breakdown, let’s do a quick comparison to see which of these two movies is better:
  • Gerard Butler was the secret service agent in charge of protecting the president but had to step down after the horrible car accident that killed the first lady, because looking at him reminded the president too much of that event.  Tatum is an Iraq veteran, who ‘doesn’t respect authority’ and really really wants to be a secret service agent.  Point to Olympus has Fallen.
  • Aaron Eckhart is a steely version of the president, who as the terrorists begin torturing his staff members to get pieces of a code keeps saying, “give it to them, they’ll never get my piece!”  Jamie Foxx is a more laid-back peace-loving president who is anti-gun, but does successfully shoot a terrorist after putting on his glasses, and kicks another in the head after telling him to “get his hands off his Jordans”.  Point to Olympus has Fallen.
  • Angela Basset is the tough-as-nails head of the secret service who has no time for nonsense, and is thrilled that Butler is the only one left in the White House, because, “he’s one of our best”.  Maggie Gyllenhall is meek, and lame, and calls the wife of the leader of the terrorists to talk him down.  Not taking the time to think through the reasons he’s doing this, and realize that of course the wife will agree with him.  Point to Olympus has fallen.
  • Both movies have dramatic slow-motion shots of the flag from the top of the White House drifting to the ground, after the house has “Fallen” or goes “Down”.  We’ll call this one a draw.
  • Butler and the President’s son have to use the extensive tunnel network to get the son out of the White House.  The villains in White House Down apparently saw Olympus Has Fallen, and booby trap the tunnel entrances with bombs, causing Tatum and Foxx to have to use the Presidential limo in an insane chase sequence on the front lawn to try to plow through the main gate.  Point to White House Down.
  • The terrorists in White House Down are creepy ex-military types; that have been pulled from the Homeland Security most-wanted list.  The terrorists in Olympus Has Fallen are led by the beautiful Rick Yune.  Hmm...point to Olympus Has Fallen.
  • Both movies could be described as “Die Hard in the White House”, but only White House Down took it to the next step by having Jimmi Simpson play their hacker/tech guy.  Incidentally, he’s in a tight race for the title of new Creepiest Dude on the Planet with Paul Dano – Crispin Glover is passing the title on.  Point to White House Down.
  • The terrorists in Olympus Has Fallen figure out where Butler’s wife is, and threaten her, but nothing comes of that.  The terrorists in White House Down seem to constantly be after Tatum’s daughter, who is bravely releasing footage of them to the internet to help those on the outside identify them.  Point to White House Down. 
  • Olympus has Fallen is by Antoine Fuqua, who gave us the impressive King Arthur, Training Day, Shooter, and Tears of the Sun.  White House Down is by disaster-maestro Roland Emmerich, who gave us The Patriot (the American revolution movie starring two Australians), the super-terrible Godzilla reboot, 2012, the Day After Tomorrow, and already destroyed the White House in those and Independence Day.  Where is President Bill Pullman when we need him?  Point to Olympus Has Fallen (I love Emmerich’s movies when he is teamed with Dean Devlin – ID4, Stargate, Universal Soldier).
  • The terrorists are well organized to be sure, but really seem to take over the White House pretty easily, wiping through all the secret service very quickly.  You mean to tell me we don’t have a team at that place that knows how to handle this situation?  Both movies lose a point on this.
  • Olympus Has Fallen has Morgan Freeman.  Point to Olympus Has Fallen.

Totals = Olympus has Fallen gets 4, White House Down gets 2. 

Bonus Video 1:  King Arthur Trailer

Bonus Video 2: Jamie Foxx on In Living Color - Wanda = hilarious.

Bonus Video 3: Cast Interviews

Friday, July 12, 2013

Movie Review: The Heat (R – 117 minutes)

In 2011 the R rated, Paul Feig directed,  Bridesmaids was perhaps the funniest movie of the year.  This blew many peoples’ minds because it had almost an entirely female cast (what?  Women can be funny?)

This wasn’t really news, but it was the first major summer movie that had a female cast and was an R-rated comedy.  The movie did so well, it paved the way for other R-rated female-driven comedies.   The Heat is essentially a buddy-cop comedy.  That is nothing new in summer movie fare, and is really a formula almost as old as movies themselves.  The best example is always Lethal Weapon (even though my personal favorite is Showdown in Little Tokyo – but that isn’t supposed to be a comedy). 

The Heat teams Sandra Bullock’s uptight FBI agent with Melissa McCarthy’s wild and crazy Boston street cop.  

Agent Ashburn (Bullock) is an FBI agent doing everything technically correct and looking to get a big promotion in her DC office.  She rubs everyone around her the wrong way, despite getting results.  Her commanding officer sends her up to Boston to follow up a lead on a drug kingpin.  While there, she encounters Officer Mullins (McCarthy) a loud and brash Boston detective, who knows the streets really well.  The two are forced to team up to flush out and bring down the drug kingpin.  Really – that’s about it for the plot. 

Castwise, this movie is pretty perfect. 

·         Sandra Bullock (Ashburn) has always been good at comedies, and it’s nice to see her getting to do one that isn’t a rom-com.  She’s great in this, tough in this, and really hilarious in this.  The scene where she finally starts cursing is very funny.  It is a little reminiscent of her character in Demolition Man.  I loved that movie, maybe I should watch that again.
  • ·         Melissa McCarthy (Mullins) is the new comedy queen of the moment.  She is great in this movie, but it is really just her character from Bridesmaids in a slightly different role.  I don’t have a problem with that yet, but it could get tiresome if it goes for more movies.  Where she shines the brightest is the small moments of drama; the concern over her brother, the genuine passion for her job.  She’s a much better actress than people give her credit for, and (making this prediction now) when she finally does decide to do a heavy duty indie drama or dramedy – she could win an Oscar.  However; in this, she is very good at the comedy, and again – I just wanted the gag reel to play over the credits.  She’s so good at improvising, that I wanted to see all the other takes!  Also – her husband Ben Falcone shows up again in a brief cameo.
  • ·         Mexican actor Demian Bichir plays Ashburn’s beleaguered commanding officer.  He’s tired of her, but knows that she gets the job done. 
  • ·         Marlon Wayans shows up as the straight man in this movie.  Strange, but he gets almost no loud comedy moments (unusual for him), but he comes off as mature and sweet.  How old does that make me feel?  I remember when he was too young to play with his brothers on In Living Color.
  • ·         Michael Rapaport plays Mullins’s brother who is recently out of prison and decides to fake going back to a life of crime to help her catch the bad guy.  It’s a little understated for him, but you can watch Deep Blue Sea again if you want to see him bigger.  In fact, everyone playing other members of the Mullins clan does a great job – and really Boston-s up the characters.  Jane Curtin, Joe MacIntyre, and Nate Codry are the ones I recognized immediately.  They reminded me of the family in the Fighter, but slightly better behaved.
  • ·         Spoken Reasons (yes, that’s his name) attempts to establish himself as a young comedy actor by playing Mullins’s street informant, Rojas.  He does a lot with his role, and really seems to be working hard at being noticed.

  • ·         Taran Killam from SNL plays a DEA agent partnered with Dan Bakkedahl’s albino DEA agent.  They have some fun moments, mostly at the expense of albinos.  Taran Killam is really talented and I expect to see more from him in the future.
  • ·         Mad TV alum Michael McDonald plays one of the top villains, Julian.  It’s very hard to take him seriously as anything after watching him play Stuart all those years.

There are a couple of things I found strange in this movie.  There is a strange subplot that never really gets developed in which Ashburn keeps stating how she was responsible for catching a killer on a major case, and Mullins mentions she thought he might have been innocent.  This keeps getting mentioned throughout the movie randomly, until at the end Ashburn states the case needs to be re-opened.  I’m not sure what that subplot had to do with anything, maybe just illustrating how Ashburn’s character has grown?  Another thing I found odd is the overwhelmingly Boston-y accents of Mullins’s family when we encounter them.  And yet, Mullins herself doesn’t have an overwhelming Boston-y accent.  That’s a minor thing, and I’m sure not something I was supposed to notice.

All in all – it’s really funny, it’s not nearly as funny as Bridesmaids, but it doesn’t really feel as original as Bridesmaids either.

6 out of 10.  Gained points for the 70s cop-TV show opening title sequence.  Lost points for the over the top cursing – really the only thing that made this an R.  Gained points for Thomas Wilson (Biff from Back to the future) as Mullins’s boss. 

Bonus Video 1:  Demolition Man.

Bonus Video 2: Marlon on In Living Color

Bonus Video 3: Cast Interviews