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, October 21, 2013

Movie Review: Escape Plan (R - 116 minutes)

Here’s the good news – this movie is better than I was expecting.  The bad news is that I thought it was going to be absolutely terrible, so it’s not hard to be better than that.  It’s pretty much exactly what you think.  Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger have been friends forever.  They got the chance to appear on screen together in the Expendables – years after they and other buddy Bruce Willis created Planet Hollywood in October of 1991. 

The Expendables was made with a firm sense of tongue in cheek.  Let’s take a bunch of aging action stars (and some new ones) and throw them into a movie together.  Expendables 2 continued that trend, and they are shooting the third in the series now, which will include Wesley Snipes and Harrison Ford – yes, I said Harrison Ford.  I cannot wait. 

In any case, once Arnold’s political career was over, and he was freed up to make silly action movies again, he and Stallone both agreed to appear in the Tomb, about the two of them attempting to break out of an unbreak-out-able prison.  Along the way, the name was changed to Escape Plan, and the result is a solid action movie. 

Stallone plays Stallone – or Ray Breslin – who is a world famous prison expert.  The federal government has hired him to check the security of prisons across the country.  The movie opens with him escaping from a prison in Colorado; then reporting back to his team and partner.  They then get an offer from the CIA to check their new exceptionally secure high-tech prison (the Tomb).  He’s picked up in New Orleans, and taken to a series of stacked plastic boxes.  He meets another inmate named Rottenmeier, who swiftly befriends him.  Together they observe the guards and activities at this “Tomb” and begin to form their “Escape Plan”.  It’s not complicated, it doesn’t really need to be, but it’s sufficiently well-crafted and fun to watch.  It’s directed by Mikael Hafstrom, and seems to be the Swedish director’s first American English-speaking movie. 

The cast speaks for itself:
  • Sylvester Stallone plays Ray Breslin.  He is now 67 (and still 5’10”, not nearly as short as people have been telling you he is), and still in fantastic shape.  However, you can certainly see the effect of the neck surgery he had after the first Expendables movie.  He doesn’t really seem to be able to turn his head anymore, and has to turn his whole body to look around.  But really, what do you expect after Stone Cold Steve Austin practically broke his neck.  He does a very good job in this movie; it’s more of an understated performance, which is really what he is best at.  He does a lot of observing and analyzing, and it was fun to see him play a smart character.  I actually really liked the back story of why Breslin has this career as well, it was fitting and well-played.  There are a few moments where I could not understand what he was talking about – just because he is sometimes really difficult to understand. 

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Emil Rottmayer.  He is a year younger than Stallone and is listed at 4 inches taller, but in this movie they look like they are almost the same height.  He’s still in great shape, and I have to tell you, his acting in this movie is better than I have seen him in a long time.  His character immediately and aggressively befriends Breslin when he arrives in prison.  He helps him observe and plan, to the point of helping him get put in solitary – twice.  The second time requires an extended diversion, which allows Arnold to pretend to go completely insane while screaming in German.  It is the most range I’ve seen him have, perhaps ever, and was a really entertaining sequence. 

  • Jim Caviezel plays the evil prison warden Hobbes.  He is absolutely vile in this movie, very oily and smarmy.  He plays his part with a very quiet, sadistic charm.  He used Breslin’s book to create the prison, and once he finds out who Breslin is, does everything in his power to keep him there.  He has a hobby of mounting butterflies, which is creepy and weird, and doesn’t really serve a purpose, except for proving how creepy and weird he is.

  • Faran Tahir (the man who should have been the Mandarin, if you’re going to update that character), plays Javed, and is really wonderful in this as another prisoner who is first at odds with the two ‘heroes’, then sides with them to help their plan.  He’s great every time I see him, and I hope he continues to get interesting roles that are not always ‘intimidating Middle-Eastern man’.

  • Amy Ryan from the Office plays one of the Members of Breslin’s team, and Curtis “50-cent” Jackson plays the other.  Yes, seriously.  You could not pick a more random pair if you tried.  They do their best to help keep track of Breslin, but promptly lose his signal once he is picked up.  They then continue to work with Breslin’s partner to try to get him back.  Ryan is fine, but Jackson should maybe stick to rap.  He only has a few lines, and I didn’t buy any of them.

  • Sam Neill (hey! Sam Neill is in this movie!) plays the prison doctor.  He’s a good doctor, but if he’s so good, why is he in this horrible prison?  Well, thank goodness he is, so that our characters can turn to him for assistance at key moments.  No spoilers there, you see that coming as soon as his character is introduced.

  • Vinne Jones plays Drake – and honestly, I’m a little surprised he hasn’t been in an Expendables movie yet, perhaps in the third?  He’s basically just a sadistic prison guard who gets to beat up on Stallone repeatedly.  And I do mean repeatedly.  If you want to see him in something really entertaining, rent the UK version of the Longest Yard – which is called Mean Machine.  It’s fabulous.

  • Vincent D’Onofrio plays Breslin’s partner, Lester Clark.  He helps Breslin get put into all these prisons, then helps collect payment once he breaks out.  He has a very deliberate character piece in the beginning that he seems to be a germaphobe, constantly using hand sanitizer, and not touching anyone.  That never comes back, and never really gets a big payoff like it could.  Interesting, but wasted.  He’s weird in this, but he’s weird in everything.

Overall, this is better than Bullet to the Head from earlier this year, but not as good as The Last Stand from earlier this year.  Really, I think it will just hold you until Expendables 3 comes out.  It’s certainly entertaining, but by no means great.
6 out of 10 – Gained points for the reveal of where the prison actually is – it was very interesting, and well done.  Lost points for the weird butterfly thing.  Gained points for Arnold going crazy.  Lost points for the twist at the end being seeing from light-years away – at least by me.  Lost points for Breslin telling the doctor to check in the warden’s office for a book, the doctor finding the book, then believing Breslin from that point forward.  What was in the book?  Why did that suddenly make him trust him?  I suppose that does not matter.
Bonus Video 1: Mean Machine – super entertaining.

Bonus Video 2: Dead Calm – Sam Neill and Nicole Kidman get terrorized by Billy Zane.

Bonus Video 3:  Cast Interviews:

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Movie Review: Gravity (PG13 – 90 minutes)

I saw Children of Men in 2006 when it came out in the theaters.  It remains in the top five worst movies I have ever seen.  And of course, by ‘worst’ movies – I mean movies I personally have hated.  Others on that list are The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky), The Brothers Grimm (Terry Gilliam), The Constant Gardener (Fernando Meirelles), and Untraceable (Gregory Hoblit).  I list the directors because I always blame directors when I hate movies.  Children of Men was critically lauded as being imaginative and striking.  I thought it was pretentious and horrific, plus I can’t stand Clive Owen, not sure why. 

In any case, it was directed by Alfonso Cuaron, and was enough of a reason for me to never see anything he ever directed again.  His Harry Potter – the third, my favorite of the books and the movies – was in 2004, before Children of Men.  So when previews for Gravity first started showing up with his name on it, I was fairly certain I was never going to see this movie.  Then my brother pre-screened it several months ago, and daily for those months he kept telling me that I had to see it.  Fine, I gave in.

And, here’s the surprise – it is easily the most technically well done movie I have seen this year.  The effects are stunning, the sound is incredible, and the performances – well, the performance – is exceptional.  That being said, I am not sure I would say that I “enjoyed” the movie, but it certainly was an experience.
Ryan Stone is a medical engineer with 6 months of training for her first shuttle mission.  She is paired with veteran astronaut Matt Kowlasky, who seems to be on his last mission.  They are working on repairs to the Hubble Telescope, when that sequence you see in the trailers starts.  Apparently the Russians shoot down one of their own satellites, causing a storm of debris to go hurtling through the atmosphere.  As tiny bits of debris destroy the shuttle and most of the crew, Stone gets cut loose from her attachment and goes circling off into space.  Kowalsky recuses her, and the two of them must make their way towards the international Space Station to find an escape pod to head back to earth.  That’s it – that’s the whole plot.  And yes, it really is only the two of them in this movie.  Ed Harris occasionally talks to them as Houston, but they lose communications pretty early on.  Okay – and here’s your spoiler alert – seriously, don’t read any further if you haven’t seen this movie – because you really should go see it right now.  See it as big as you can (IMAX if possible) and in 3D – it is stunning.

I have to discuss what happens in detail to tell you the issues I had with the movie – and there are very few.  Once they head towards the ISS, they encounter all sorts of difficulties.  One of the escape pod’s parachutes has deployed, causing the station to be surrounded by tiny ropes.  They get caught in them, and grab hold.  The ropes go taut, and Stone is caught by her foot – and she’s holding the connection to Kowalsky, which then also goes taut.  He then states that he is pulling her away, and he needs to disconnect to save her.  Okay – my degree is not in physics, but I know that’s not how momentum in a vacuum works.  They were taut, all she had to do was give one good tug to bring him towards her, then they both would have gone crashing into the station.  If they needed a dramatic way for him to sacrifice himself for her, there was plenty of other terrible nonsense happening.  Once in the escape pod, Stone somehow manages to dial in a radio broadcast of a Chinese man calling his dogs and then singing a lullaby – what?  That goes on way too long, and makes no sense.  Then there’s some issues with the fact that the Hubble, the ISS, and the Chinese Space Station all seem to be on exactly the same horizontal plane in space so that you can shoot from one to the next.  But again – as I said, those are all minor things, and the key part of this movie is the action, suspense, intensity, and the performance.

  • I say performance instead of performances because George Clooney (Matt Kowalsky) essentially plays George Clooney in space.  He doesn’t do any stretching, but it’s not really called for.  He does some beautiful non-verbal acting as he is drifting away – but you almost miss it. 

  • Sandra Bullock plays Ryan Stone and really – this is 100% her movie.  She is nervous and timid in the beginning, then strong and determined towards the end with an important transition in the middle.  She does a great job.  She is sure to be nominated for an Oscar, and whether or not she wins depends largely on what other performances from other movies get nominated.  You could make the point that you’re not entirely sure how good her performance is because there is no one else in the movie to compare it to, but then, that could also work in her favor.  The performance is very real, and not over-the-top.  She is believable, and incredibly engaging. 

  • Ed Harris does lend his voice to mission control – but again, he’s barely there.

You really do need to see this movie.  It’s almost this year’s Argo.  It’s a complete surprise how amazing it is.  It’s the most visceral movie I have seen in a long time.  You feel every bit of it, including the absolute panic of the disaster.  Bullock does spend half the movie grabbing for things as she floats past them, which is so well done that the majority of the theater goers wanted to start grabbing at things to help her.  Someone asked me if maybe the casting of Clooney and Bullock was ‘stunt-casting’, because really, would it have done as well without them?  I think the answer is not initially, but it is so well-crafted that it would have done well, but probably not as well.  I cannot think of another actress that would have pulled off the relatability of Stone as well, and I think that is one of the strongest points of the movie.

8 out of 10 – I’m taking away one point for Clooney continuing to play annoying country music, and I’m taking away a point for him not understanding physics and letting himself drift away.  I will also take away some points for the dead bodies floating in the remains of the shuttle, and for the astronaut with the hole in his head – not sure we needed to see that.  I am giving back those points for the stunning visuals, the amazing sound, and Bullock’s performance.  And for making me try to grab at pieces of space stations so I didn’t float away.  Without the ‘howling with the dogs lullaby’ sequence, I would have given it a 9.

Bonus Video 1: Space Camp!  I used to love this movie.

Bonus Video 2:  Space Cowboys!  Also very good.

Bonus Video 3:  Alien, because while Bullock’s Stone is good – she’s sure as hell no Ripley.  And you know, in Space – no one can hear you scream.

Bonus Video 4: Cast Interviews:

Monday, October 7, 2013

Movie Review: Battle of the Year: the Dream Team in 3D (PG13 – 110 minutes)

There are many terrible dance movies out there.  There are far fewer good dance movies.   The first Step Up movie is pretty fantastic.  The others, however, are not.

Planet B-Boy is a documentary directed by Benson Lee that was released in 2005.  It followed the evolution of Breakdancing (or b-boying) from the early 80s to a dance fad that has covered the entire world.  There are now international dance competitions for b-boying, and Lee’s documentary helped bring awareness of them. 

Lee then realized that he could potentially roll his documentary into a feature film following the crew from America heading over to an international competition.  

The drama comes from the fact that America created b-boying, but has not won the competition in 15 years.  Incidentally, the Battle of the Year seems to be a real international b-boy competition.  The sponsor for the American team, Dante, is a hip-hop mogul who decides we need to win back the title, and brings in his old b-boy partner, who had been a very winning basketball coach until a tragedy caused him to give up on life.  Once the coach steps in, he brings with him the mentality of the 1992 Men’s Olympic Basketball team. 

Previous to 1992, America had been sending exclusively college players to the Olympics.  We had created basketball, but we were losing, as other countries were routinely sending their professionals – some of which that played in the NBA here in the states.  In 1988 we finished third.   In 1992, the decision was made to send the very best of our professional players – who promptly became nicknamed the Dream Team.  Essentially at the time, they were the greatest sports team ever assembled, and they defeated their opponents by an average of 44 points per game, easily winning the gold medal.

Josh Holloway’s character in this movie brings that same idea to his dance crew.  He fires the current squad on hand, which has not won, and has open auditions for dancers from across the country.  This leaves him with a ‘dream team’ of b-boyers.  He then starts working on turning these individual dance stars into a team.  He moves them into a former juvenile detention center and gets them up early every day for practice.  You can see where this is going, right?  There are tons of initial fights, because the group doesn’t get along, and each dancer believes that he is better than everyone else. 

There are all the stereotypical characters, and they have the stereotypical first ‘friendly’ match, which they lose because they didn’t function as a team.  They work out their differences, pull together, and head over to the competition.
Essentially – I feel like this movie is the dance version of Best of the Best,which is one of my favorite movies of all time.  Seriously – it’s almost the same exact plot.  James Earl Jones’s “…a team is not a team if you don’t give a damn about one another…” speech would have fit perfectly in here.  Holloway's character even has rules similar to Jones's rules; "Dont' be late - don't EVER be late..."  So, I guess spoiler alert – if you know how Best of the Best finishes with our competition with the Korean team, you know how this movie finishes.

In terms of the cast – the majority of it is actual dancers, not actors – so you get what you expect.
  • Josh Holloway plays Jason Blake, the tragic coach figure.  His wife and child tragically died, and he’s retreated to inside a bottle, and this represents a chance for him to get his life back.  You’ve seen that done 100 times before, and probably 87% of those were better than this.  Essentially Dante hires him because they used to b-boy together back in the day.  Where was that footage?  What at no point in this movie do we see Josh Holloway Breakdance?  That’s a shame.

  • Laz Alonso plays Dante Graham, who says all the stereo typical things that the sponsor/backer says in movies like this.  He shows up here and there to motivate Holloway, question his methods, inspire the team by bringing in one of their heroes, and give them new warm-ups.

  • Josh Peck plays Franklyn “with a Y”.  He says that too many times to count in this movie.  He does not get to dance at all – he’s the assistant basically.  He does deliver his dialogue the same way he did in that terrible Red Dawn remake – at a loud whisper.

  • Caity Lotz plays Stacy, the choreographer.  She has only a couple of scenes, so I can’t tell you if she’s any good as an actress, and we didn’t really get to see her dance all that much, so who knows.  She and Holloway have one little dinner-date scene once they get overseas.  Maybe that relationship will be fleshed out in the sequel.  I’m kidding; this is not getting a sequel.
  • Chris Brown plays Rooster, in what I’m sure is stunt casting.  Surely there are better b-boys out there that would have been better.  And he’s not that great an actor – although there is one scene where he tries really hard.  Just for fun, during that scene, pretend Rhianna’s Take a Bow is playing over that scene.  The release of the movie was delayed for a year plus, which may have been to let some of the media heat over Chris Brown’s public nonsense cool down, but the problem is, he’s so often doing nonsense in public, it never really cools down.   Takers had a delay for the same reason.  At least that movie was better.

  • The rest of the cast is all made of up b-boys who basically play themselves.  Dominic from So You Thing You Can Dance fame shows up, as well as a few others you may recognize.  Ivan ‘Flipz’ Velez, Jon ‘Do Knock’ Cruz, Anis Cheurfa, Jesse ‘Casper’ Brown, David Shreibman, Sawandi Wilson, and Richard Maguire are just a few of them.  They each get a little character defining moment, and then payoff to that moment.

The movie is incredibly formulaic, unoriginal, and standard.  The dancing is great – I wish there had been a little bit more of it, but that may have been strategic.  The first time we see our crew perform an entire routine is their opening at the big championships.  It’s not great, but it is fun to make fun of – and yes, the dancing is wonderful.  See it with some friends, and laugh at it all the way through.

5 out of 10 – and I’m being generous, but it did make me laugh here and there – but I was laughing at it, not with it.  Lost major points for not featuring any b-girls, and I know there are some awesome ones out there.  Gained points for Holloway’s commitment to the character we’ve seen over and over again, and even more than that, his refusal to put any kind of new or personal touch into this very repeated character.  Lost points for Franklyn constantly reminding us of the same things over and over again; he’s Jewish, he can’t dance, and it’s Franklyn with a Y.  Gained points for the dancing at the end – but really, you could have extended that sequence and let us watch all the countries perform.  Lost points for Chris Brown - Deuces!  
Bonus Video 1:  Dominic on SYTYCD

Bonus Video 2:  If you are in Vegas, be sure to see the Jabbawockeez show – current b-boy excellence begins and ends with them.

Bonus Video 3:  Takers, check this movie out – it’s sort of the male version of Set It Off, but not as good.

Bonus Video 4: Cast Interviews