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!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Movie Review: Godzilla (PG13 – 123 minutes)

One of the first stuffed animals I ever received was a three foot Godzilla from my parents.  I still have it, and because of that, I have always thought of Godzilla as a good guy.  And there’s good reason for that.  

Godzilla first hit screens in 1954, making 2014 his 60th birthday.  In his first appearance, with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still fresh in the Japanese consciousness, Godzilla was the result of nuclear bombing aftereffects.  He was a true chimera, incorporating features from a Tyrannosaurus, an Iguanodon, a Stegosaurus, and an Alligator.  He had an upright standing posture (which just made it easier for the actor inside the original suit), and scaly skin, muscular arms, spikes on his back and tail, and a really furrowed brow.  Sometimes he’s green, but he’s usually gray with white spikes.  And then there is the distinctive roar, and the signature “atomic breath”, a nuclear blast generated inside his body and unleashed from his jaws.  Also – he can breathe underwater.

Originally, Godzilla’s relatively human-ish appearance and lumbering 'guy-in-a-rubber-suit' movements endeared him to audiences, and made him a likable monster, despite his tendency towards mass destruction.  In fact, he was really only the ‘bad guy’ in the first appearance, and through the 28 subsequent movies, became the hero (or anti-hero) – as well as a representation of the result of humankind’s arrogance in the face of nature.

Because Godzilla has been such a cinema mainstay, Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin (who had done some really great movies – Universal Soldier, Stargate, Independence Day, etc.) attempted to update and Americanize him in 1998.  The result was horrific.  Not because it was horrifying, but because the movie was so incredibly terrible. 

To celebrate Godzilla’s 60th birthday, we have a new Godzilla movie, directed by Gareth Edwards.  Edwards is previously best known for a small movie called Monsters starring Scoot McNairy.  This new Godzilla brings the world’s most famous monster into present day, but still honors his original stories and appearance. 

This one has the largest Godzilla ever – he is 350 feet tall, his tail is 550’4” long, his palm is 34’4” across, and he has 89 dorsal spikes on his back.  And yes, the furrowed brow is back.
The plot of the movie (does it even matter?) is actually fairly interesting.  There’s an American scientist working at a nuclear plant in Japan 14 years ago.  There’s an earthquake (or is it?), which causes a huge disaster at the plant, resulting in the death of his wife, and also unearthing a pod, or cocoon, or egg, or something like that.  Cut to 14 years later, the scientist’s son is working in the bomb disposal unit in the military, eager to get home to his own son and wife, when he receives a call that his father has been trespassing in the quarantined area in Japan where the accident occurred.  He reluctantly goes to get him.  While there, they witness the pod-egg thingy hatch.  From it comes out a M.U.T.O – a massive unidentified terrestrial object – like a UFO, but bigger, and from here.  It’s like a combination of a cockroach and praying mantis, and it is sure hungry for radiation, also - it's a walking EMP, which shuts down all our electrical devices near it.  The folks on the ground who are working for Monarch (a mysterious company) knew something was there, and while they were prepared for it – they weren’t prepared enough, so it takes off, looking for more radiation, but not before stomping the hell out of their secret base.

The son of the scientist then gets bounced to a new military group who are looking to stop this thing.  Meanwhile, the Monarch Japanese scientist mentions that maybe they won’t have to – nature has a plan, an ancient monster whose job it is to restore balance.  Now that this MUTO has awoken, and is looking for radiation (and something else), this balance-restorer is sure to come and handle it.  He encourages the military to wait, and not to try to blast the creature with a nuclear weapon (it eats radiation, what the hell are you thinking?). 
Sure enough, Godzilla wakes up, and sets off to take on the MUTO in downtown San Francisco – because after all, Godzilla cares about restoring balance, he doesn’t care about people or skyscrapers.
Edwards has been very vocal about not wanting to reveal the monster too early, and using the same smartness from Jaws, Alien, Predator, and all the classic movies where the creature isn’t revealed until near the end, giving the audience time to build excitement.  It works beautifully in this, and when he finally is revealed, he’s gorgeous.  He definitely is a throwback to the original Godzilla, and he has all the classic attributes.  Watching him stomp around a bit of Hawaii and then downtown San Francisco is glorious.

Now, because we as an audience have to relate to the movie, there are humans in it, and they do a decent job.
  • Bryan Cranston plays Joe Brody, a preoccupied Nuclear plant engineer in Japan 14 years ago.  After losing his wife – very briefly played by Juliette Binoche – in an accident.  He goes slightly crazy trying to figure out what happened.  He does a great job, but seriously, what is the deal with mens’ wigs in Hollywood?  Why can they not find a decent wig?  And, why not just have the character be bald if the actor is currently bald?  Whatever – he’s great at playing crazy determined.

  • Aaron Taylor-Johnson (who will be your new Quicksilver as of next year – Evan Peters is Quicksilver this year) plays the son, Ford Brody.  He’s good, and his accent didn’t slip, and he’s perturbed that his dad won’t let the whole ‘devastating-nuclear-accident-that-killed-my-wife’ thing go.  
  • Ironically, his wife is played by Elizabeth Olsen (who got all the height that her twin sisters did not get), who will play the other half of the “twins” in Avengers 2.  Try not to let that weird you out as you watch them play a married couple in this (after all, that will be next summer, and they'll both look different in that).  She’s okay, she doesn’t have a ton to do aside from look worried and concerned and cautious and then panicked.

  • Ken Watanabe plays the Japanese doctor Ishiro Serizawa, who knew something was coming, and then encourages everyone to just wait for Godzilla to handle it.  He spends almost the entire movie looking into the distance with a shocked look on his face.

  • Sally Hawkins plays Dr. Serizawa’s assistant Vivienne Graham.  She again, spends most of the movie looking shocked, but also spouting off figures and some background exposition.

  • David Strathairn plays a very David Strathairn-type character, Admiral William Stenz of the US Navy (who agreed to participate in the movie, while the US Marines declined).  He comes up with a couple of various plans to get the MUTO under control, none of which work all that well.  Maybe Dr. Serizawa is right, and you should just let Godzilla handle it?

  • Richard T. Jones plays Stenz’s number one go-to guy, Captain Russell Hampton.  He’s helpful and determined that they can get this creature before it does too much damage.  He’s wrong.

  • The star, of course, is Godzilla himself (which is technically ‘itself’).  He looks like a dude in a suit, even though he is completely computer generated.  He’s big, he’s lumbering, and he looks fantastic.

The movie is great – it’s a little too long, and some of the humans are a little boring – which is not their fault; no one can really compete with the awesome-ness that is Godzilla.  I also did not understand the final scene (minor spoiler here).  We’ve been told the whole movie that Ford’s job in the military is disarming bombs, he helps build the bomb their using, and over and over again it’s mentioned that he’s the only one who can turn it off.  Why then, does he not turn it off?  Why do they let it explode?  He’s alone on the boat with it (he gets away just in time), but it seems like movie-making 101 to have him disarm it with like three seconds left, thus validating all the time you spent telling us that was his special talent. 

9 out of 10, Lost a point for all the humans but Cranston being boring and looking shocked for the whole move (I get it, the mosters are shocking!  Pull it together!)  Gained points for Godzilla, for the way he walked, for his furrowed brow, for him being awesome, and for the nuclear breath.  Someone asked me how that worked, because it didn’t make sense.  Hey – it’s Godzilla, he’s always had that.  The science is sound.  Here’s hoping for sequels where we see some of his famous friends:  Mothra, Gamera, King Ghodirah, etc.

Bonus Video 1:  This Snickers commercial cracks me up.

Bonus Video 2:  1954 Original Godzilla trailer.

Bonus Video 3:  Cast Interviews
Here's a photo of one of the original Godzilla suit actors - because it cracks me up!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Movie Review: Amazing Spider-Man 2 (PG13 – 142 minutes)

Spoiler Alert – this movie is good!  Go see it!  I will cover the plot, and most of what happens, so if you don’t want to know before you see the movie – see it first, then read this (you should see it). 

SpiderMan was created in 1962 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.  He has always been one of (if not the most) popular of Marvel’s characters, mostly because of his relatability.  Peter Parker is a quiet nerd who has lost his parents and is raised by his elderly aunt and uncle.  He gets sudden superpowers when bitten by a radioactive spider.  First using those powers to make money, he fails to prevent the death of his beloved Uncle Ben, and realizes that “With great power, there must also come great responsibility!”, which is perhaps one of the best lines ever written, comics or not – thank you Stan Lee!  This story was beautifully covered by Sam Raimi’s 2002 movie, but even better in the 2004 sequel:

This second Amazing SpiderMan is far superior to the one released 2 years ago – at least I think so.  That one was a bit clunky, Rhys Ifans was horribly miscast as Dr. Conners, and it was rebooted way too quickly after the Sam Raimi stinker that was Spider Man 3.  The reboot got several things right; number one and two of that being Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone.  

This story picks up where the last one left off.  Peter is trying to fulfill the promise he made to the dying Captain Stacy of keeping Gwen safe by keeping SpiderMan away from her.  Unfortunately, Gwen is not making that easy, so Peter is haunted by the ghost of Captain Stacey who shows up and frowns at him every time he gets near Gwen.  Due to his SpiderMan responsibilities, Peter shows up late to his high school graduation, and just misses Gwen’s valedictorian speech, which is a shame, because it was full of foreshadowing.  Meanwhile, the dying Norman Osborne brings his estranged son Harry back from boarding school to leave him his company, and also to gloat that the disease that is killing him will soon begin to kill Harry – wow, what a terrible guy. 

Spiderman saves humble, geeky, overlooked and ignored Oscorp electrical engineer, Max Dillon from being hit by a car, giving Max the fuel to start fixating on Spiderman.  Norman dies, most of the Oscorp employees get the afternoon off, but Max’s snooty boss, Mr. Smythe (that should come back in the next one) tells him to go fix something in their electrical room.  Max falls into a vat of electrical eels – becoming Electro (who first appeared in Marvel comics in 1964, and was an electrical engineer struck by lightning while fixing a power line – no eels).  He seems to be dead, but then wakes up in the Morgue as pure electricity but weak, so heads out into the city, and quickly finds out he needs to ‘charge up’.  He causes a commotion in Times Square, which puts his face on all the screens, which he loves, because finally everyone can see him.  SpiderMan shows up, and does remember Max, and tries to help him, causing SpiderMan to go up on the screens instead of Max, and since he’s already crazy, that pushes Max over the edge.  Oscorp locks him away. 

Harry becomes obsessed with trying to beat his hereditary disease, and when his childhood friend Peter stops by to offer condolences about his father, they rekindle their friendship.  Harry eventually puts together that Peter knows SpiderMan, because he takes his pictures, and demands that Peter get him some of SpiderMan’s blood, believing that it will save his life.  Peter finds his father’s secret lab, and learns what he and Norman Osborne were up to, and that his father loved him very much, and did not abandon him as he had previously thought.  Meanwhile, Aunt May starts working to become a nurse – presumably to give Sally Field more to do.  Meanwhile (there’s a lot of Meanwhile action in this flick), Gwen gets offered a scholarship to Oxford, so she is preparing to go to England.  She breaks up with Peter, because he’s wishy-washy about committing to her due to the guilt about her father.  Harry learns that the spider serum he wants is in the Oscorp “Special Projects” vault, and just as he gets ousted by the Oscorp board, he breaks out Electro for assistance in getting to the vault.  Electro gets to charge up, and Harry injects himself with crazy spider serum – this allows him to go Green Goblin-y and steal a glider and suit from the special projects vault. 

Peter realizes he needs to commit – finds Gwen on her way to the airport, and tells her he loves her.  He’s so excited to see her that he doesn’t realize she’s wearing the exact same outfit that she wore in a very important issue of the comics.  He tells her he’s going with her to England, but then Electro attacks, and they have one of the most visually interesting fight sequences in the movie.  Gwen demands to help, causing the ghost of Captain Stacy to show up and really frown hard at SpiderMan.  He defeats Electro – just in time for the new Green Goblin to show up, and take one look at SpiderMan, and Gwen next to him, and realize that it’s Peter.  They have a huge fight, which ends as it is supposed to, with Harry off to intense psychological repair at Ravencroft Institute, plotting with the mysterious Mr. Frears to create the sinister six, and Peter in a bit of a depressed state.  Aunt May offhandedly mentions that the world needs SpiderMan, so he goes out and battles the Rhino.  At no point does his new neighbor next door come over to let him know he just hit the jackpot – Tiger.  But, surely in the next movie (Shaliene Woodley was cast, and shot some scenes, but Webb decided they didn’t quite fit).

Director Marc Webb seems to be settling into his role, and this movie is better than the first.  It flows better, has even better action, and the effects blend well with the story.  Webb seems to really understand the characters – and while some of the decisions in the first one upset me because they re-worked the origin story, we’re past that part in this one. I have to say, my absolute favorite moment in the movie is when SpiderMan saves a young boy and his science project from a group of bullies who have him cornered and break his project.  SpiderMan not only scares away the bullies, but fixes the project, introduces himself to the boy, and walks him home.  This is a very short scene, but it is exceptionally perfect for the character and it brought tears to my eyes.  It also pays off later in the movie.

The actors are also all settling into the roles, and again – the casting is very good.
  • Andrew Garfield continues to play the role with the joy you’d expect from someone who has been a die-hard SpiderMan fan all his life.  He continues to do amazing charity work using the costume to bring joy to kids, and he really does a great job of being SpiderMan.   His perfect chemistry with Emma Stone due to their real-life relationship is fantastic, and really pays off in the flick.  They work well together, and Stone’s feisty version of Gwen is fabulous.  You absolutely believe she would be able to help with the web-shooters, but is also tired of Peter’s nonsense.

  • Jamie Foxx plays Max Dillon, and I have to say – sometimes I forget that he has an Oscar.  He is a talented actor – and I think it’s on display in this movie.  At the beginning, Max is so pathetic, you really feel sorry for him.  When this powerless man finally gets some power, you understand the flip he makes.  Then of course, he goes psychotic and takes it too far, but up to that point, I was empathizing with him!

  • Dane Dehaan is creepy and excellent – if you didn’t see Chronicle – rent that now.  You never really believe that he could ever be a good guy, he radiates malevolence.  It was interesting to see he and Peter reconnect, which was well done, but you are not surprised when he goes bad.  And no, the goblin make up doesn’t look as bad as you thought it would.

  • Sally Field has less moments in this one than she did in the first one, and I wasn’t sure about the subplot of her nursing studies.  It just provided the grounds for May and Peter to have an argument about laundry.  I did enjoy when she – clearly well aware that he’s SpiderMan – mentions strongly that the world needs SpiderMan, and he needs to be out there.  Subtle, Aunt May – real subtle.

  • Colm Feore plays the evil head of Oscorp who bosses Harry around a bit.  His character is named Donald Menken, but there are many who speculate he will become the Vulture.

  • Felicity Jones plays Harry’s assistant, Felicia – which he says just enough times to make me repeatedly ask if her last name is Hardy and when that will pay off.  It didn’t – but hopefully it will in the next movie.  After all, SpiderMan will need help to take on the Sinister Six.
  • Paul Giamatti is barely in this movie.  For all the pre-hype of him playing the Rhino, he’s got two scenes – clearly setting up for the Sinister Six plans.

  • Campbell Scott plays Richard Parker and he and Embeth Davidtz as Mary Parker get one preliminary action sequence on an airplane that sets up the movie. 

  • Kiwi actor Maron Csokas pops up as Dr. Ashley Kafka (running Ravencroft), and seems to look a lot younger than the last time I saw him.  He’s crazy in this, and that’s fine – but I would have cast him as Kraven, so I think it’s a missed opportunity.  I always think of him as Borias from Xena, no matter how many other things he shows up in.
  • Also – that brief Aidy Bryant cameo was not enough Aidy Bryant.

It’s really good, it’s really fun, and it really moves.  The Electro effects are really cool, and Garfield and Stone are great.  There were some complaints that it had too many endings – but I would disagree with that.  It’s long, but I didn’t feel the length.  I will say, that comparing it to other things I’ve loved this year – when Captain America 2 ended, I immediately wanted to see the next one…When this ended – I thought, “Hey, that was great!”, but did not immediately crave the next one.  I do wish Sony would let the rights go back to Marvel so that we could see Peter interact with the Avengers.

9 out of 10 – again, it’s probably higher than it should be because my expectations were really low, but I did love it.  Gained points for the tease of the Sinister Six – it’s not really a tease, it’s more of a declaration.  Lost points for Dehaan being so creepy.  Gained points for Chris Cooper playing Norman Osborne – lost points for his claws…yikes.  Gained points for that scene with the kid – which is one scene that sums up everything Spiderman should be!  Also - bonus points for putting Gwen in the right outfit for her climatic scene.

Bonus Video 1: Electro from the 90s SpiderMan animated series – still the best one.

Bonus Video 2:  Chronicle trailer.

Bonus Video 3:  Cast Interviews

Friday, May 9, 2014

Movie Review: Brick Mansions (PG13 – 90 minutes)

This review is a bit of a two-in-one – a special bonus for you! 
So, what exactly is Parkour?  It's defined as "the activity or sport of moving rapidly through an area, typically in an urban environment, negotiating obstacles by running, jumping, and climbing".  Here in the U.S., we tend to call it 'free-running'.  It was founded by frenchman David Belle.
Banlieue 13 was directed by Pierre Morel, written by Luc Besson and came out in 2004.  

It was a showcase for David Bell (who at the time was a YouTube sensation and Parkour inventor) with an assist by Luc Besson associate and stunt coordinator Cyril Raffaelli (he did the mo-cap for Hulk and Abomination in Louis Leterrier’s Incredible Hulk).  The original was a quick action flick, set in the distant future of 2010, when a part of the slums of Paris had been walled off, and the criminals left to roam free inside.  

Leito (Belle) is trying to do his best to clean up the area for those that live there.  He is stealing drugs from local kingpin Taha and destroying them.  Taha (Bibi Naceri) sends his number one henchman, K2 (Tony D’Amario) after Leito, leading to an intense opening Parkour action sequence as Leito evades the bad guys.  They kidnap his sister to get him to come to them, which he does.  He drags Taha to the cops, but the cops let him go, and let him take the sister.  In his anger, Leito kills a cop, and heads to jail.  

We’re then introduced to undercover police agent Captain Damien Tomaso (Raffaelli), who is assigned by his superiors to go into Banlieue 13 and track down a bomb that Taha hijacked.  Once he finds it, he is to call them for the deactivation code.  He doesn’t know the layout, so they set up a situation where Damien appears to be a criminal being transported with Leito – he stages a breakout to free the two of them, which Leito promptly sees through.  The two of them go to take down Taha’s gang, and the bomb. 

Taha meanwhile, is completely out of his mind on cocaine, straps Lola, the sister to the bomb, and aims it towards downtown Paris, while demanding a huge ransom for it.  K2 and the rest of the gang take out Taha and help Damien and Leito get to the bomb, but Leito realizes the code that gets called to them is the area code of the area, and the government officials actually want to set off the bomb to wipe out the area.   They have a huge fight about whether the code will disarm or set off the bomb, but eventually Damien doesn’t enter the code, and together they take the bomb back to the government and the colonel, to threaten to set it off in his office, as a ruse to get a confession on videotape.  The movie ends with Leito and Lola going back inside Banlieue 13 to help clean it up as Damien head off on another mission.  It actually had a sequel, called Banlieue 13: Ultimatum that came out in 2009. 

Brick Mansions is a remake of the original and it is almost the same with a few key differences.  It's directed by Camille Delamarre, who is also from the Luc Besson camp. 

 It’s in Detroit (of course it is).  David Belle still plays Leito, except now he’s called Lino (of all the things to change, why that?).  Paul Walker plays Damien, and the druglord is now Tremaine Alexander played by RZA.   Gouchy Boy plays K2, and Catalina Denis plays Lola, who has been changed from the sister to the ex-girlfriend.  They’ve also added a crazy bad girl named Rayzah, who seems to only be there for creepy sequences with Lola, and one fight between the two women.

Because Paul Walker is the centerpiece of this version, as opposed to David Belle being the centerpiece of the previous version, we get a bit of backstory where he’s a great cop, but haunted by the fact that his father died in District 13 – presumably killed by Tremiane.  This gives him even more reason to want to go after him.  The opening sequence is virtually the same.  K2 comes to Lino’s place to take back the stolen drugs, (they even grab the same actor for directions to the right apartment!) and the parkour chase sequence begins.  And here is where we get one of the major problems.  This movie is cut way to fast.  The point of the first movie was the parkour – which, in order to appreciate, you need to see from far away, with no cuts, so that you understand the amazing athleticism of Belle.  There are way too many cuts in the opening sequence, so you lose the effect of what he is doing. 

Story-wise, the front half is basically the same.  Lino gets away, they grab his ex, he goes back for her, grabs Tremaine and drops him off with the cops who promptly let him go, and give him the girl.  Lino kills a cop – gets sent to jail.  Damien is established as a great cop and given the assignment to go in after the bomb by the mayor (who already has plans to build a beautiful new complex where the Brick Mansions currently are).   The fake bust-out from jail is still there, as is the quickly forced partnership between the two leads.  They head in, and this is where some interesting changes happen.  In the original, Taha was horrible, and was taken out by his own people so that the bomb could be dealt with.  In this one, he’s an upstanding citizen, former military, not a bad guy, just a druglord capitalizing on his situation.  He treats Lino with respect and is decent to Lola (Taha had her drugged up and chained like a dog).  He even explains to Damien that he didn’t kill Damien’s father, that the father was killed by his own men.  But he does want his money for the bomb.  He threatens to shoot the bomb at downtown Detroit, but has a change of heart (after the climactic fight scene).  Rayzah shoots him, claiming he’s “gone soft”, but he knocks her off a building, so that Damien and Lino can have their fight about whether or not the code will disarm or set off the bomb.  Eventually – Damien doesn’t enter the code, and he, Lino, Tremaine, and everyone from the Brick Mansions rushes the mayor’s office, where they get the confession on videotape and immediately release it to the press.  The final sequence is Damien coming by to check on Lola and Lino as they are training small children in parkour as the walls around Brick Mansions are scheduled to come down. 

The movies are both interesting, and both not very good.  They both have entertaining parts, and I am really glad that I watched the original before going to see the new one.  I wish there were less fast cuts in the new one and more of the parkour.  I did enjoy the cameo by Tony D’Amario in the backround while the new K2 was walking Damien and Lino through Tremaine’s office.  

The final sequence showed all these people enjoying life in Brick Mansions, proving that not everyone inside are thugs and drug addicts, but that would have meant more if we had seen that in the beginning.  Because there is no one to care about in Brick Mansions for the whole movie, and you assume it is full of thugs and drug addicts, because that’s all you saw.  Showing us those regular people at the beginning would have made us care about what happens to Brick Mansions throughout the movie.  There is still the fight with “Yeti” – a giant henchman of Tremaine’s.  In the first one, he was a big bearded guy.  In this one, he’s played by Robert Maillet – that giant French guy you’ve seen in other movies that have a giant French guy.  

Everyone in the movie does the best they can with what they have, but it all could have been just a bit better. 
  • It’s bittersweet to see Paul Walker as Damien.  He was really wonderful, and it’s a shame to have lost him so young.  He does fine in this as a very determined cop.  It was fun to see several scenes where he simply would watch Lino’s parkour and find an alternate method, whereas In the first one, Raffeli could keep up with Belle.

  • David Belle may have invented Parkour, but this is 10 years after the first one.  He doesn’t seem that much slower, but there was far less parkour in this movie.  I would imagine it’s not as easy for him now, but he still looks pretty good.  They did choose to dub him over for the movie, which is annoying, but apparently his English is so heavily French-accented, no one could understand him clearly. 

  • RZA is still not much of an actor, and is sometimes difficult to understand, but he was pretty charismatic, and I enjoyed the character change from the first movie.  He does spend a lot of time chopping hot peppers in this.

  • Gouchy Boy plays K2, and he’s been in a surprising amount of movies.  He’s actually French Canadian, and speaks fluent French. 

  • Catalina Denis plays Lola, and it doesn’t surprise me that they switched from the sister in the original to an ex-girlfriend in this version, it allows for a more romantic interaction.  She has very little to do, but she’s fine for the scenes she has.

  • Ayisha Issa as Rayzah was an addition I did not understand, maybe they thought it would be ‘hot’ to have one of the bad guys be a chick who keep threatening to tear off Lola’s clothes?  She was super wooden and uninteresting, and the fight scene between the two was not that great.

Overall, the new one is almost equal to the original, but not quite as good.  If you’re going to see this one, I highly recommend watching the original first.  It’s streaming on Netflix.

6 out of 10.  (Banlieue 13 gets a 6.5, Brick Mansions gets a 6.0) Gained points for RZA chopping all those peppers.  Lost points for Rayzah – just annoying.  Gained points for the opening sequence being just about the same, but lost points for chopping it up poorly.  Gained points for shooting in Montreal, but lost points for pretending it was Detroit.  Just go with Montreal!

Bonus Video 1:  David Belle doing some random parkour.  If you have the time, fall into a parkour hole on YouTube.  It really is fascinating to watch, and quite a skill.  

Bonus Video 2: RZA’s Man with the Iron Fists.  Check it out – it’s crazy.

Bonus Video 3:  Cast interviews

Monday, May 5, 2014

Movie Review: Transcendence (PG13 – 119 minutes)

Prey is one of many novels written by Michael Crichton.  It was published in 2002, and involved a story about nano-robotics and the havoc they wreak.   After Timeline, it is my favorite Michael Crichton book.  I always thought it would make a really interesting and terrifying movie.  Apparently, Transcendence is as close as we will get, and that’s a shame – it’s not based on the book, but maybe it should have been.

Transcendence tells the story of Dr. Will Caster, who, with his wife Evelyn, and their friend Max, are working to create a more powerful Artificial Intelligence.  They are collaborating with several other experts in the field at various other labs.  One day, a radical anti-technology group called RIFT (basically what John Connor would create if he was real) attacks all these labs at once with varying degrees of deadliness, ranging from poisoned cake to exploding computers to radiation-laced bullets.  The bullet was for Will, who begins to die, and during the process, works with Evelyn and Max to upload his consciousness to the A.I. they were working on.  Max is a little concerned, but Evelyn doesn’t want to live without Will, so they upload him.  Once uploaded, he grows more powerful.  The terrorist group sets out to stop him, as he leads Evelyn to a rural desert town to start building nano-bots, which he begins to use to “fix” humanity, making them stronger and regenerative.  Max flips sides to the terrorist group, who team up with the government once they realize the threat that Will has become.  But – is it really Will?  Or is it some other A.I. mimicking him to get what it wants?  That being, to ‘transcend’ everyone on the planet to a hybrid A.I. type being.

That sounds pretty interesting, right?  Well, here’s the problem.  It really should have been, but the movie is way too slow, and gets bogged down in itself.  It’s directed by Wally Pfister, who has worked with Christopher Nolan over and over again – that’s why half the cast is Nolan regular players.  I wonder if it would have been better had he directed it himself.  The movie takes way too long to get Will uploaded, and once uploaded, it’s never really clear what exactly he’s doing.  We spend way too long with the anti-technology group without them ever really explaining why they think they way they do.  The strange thing with this movie is that it either needed to be elevated a bit = more on the philosophical side, with more drama, and more questioning of the direction humankind is going …or, it needed to drop down a few clicks = and become more of a sci-fi action flick.  A few more action sequences, more with the nanobots, and more ‘spolsions.  It would be less high-brow, but way more entertaining.  However, the cast of this particular movie would lead it more towards the first option.

  • Johnny Depp long ago slid into the realm of becoming his own punchline.  What was the last Johnny Depp movie you saw that you really liked?  The first Pirates?  He’s really only comfortable playing an over-the-top character with a costume he can disappear into.  When he has to play a real person, he comes off as wooden and un-interesting.  Will Caster is supposed to be a brilliant scientist, and Depp could have pulled that off, but really he just looks bored.  He’s actually way better once Caster ‘transcends’, because then Depp can play the monster part.

  • Rebecca Hall, who was recently in Iron Man 3, but is in this because she worked with Nolan on the Prestige, plays Evelyn.  She is actually pretty good, because she starts out desperate to have Will back, then slowly becomes terrified of what he’s become. 

  • Paul Bettany, who was with Depp in the terrible Tourist, plays Max.  He’s pretty great in almost everything, and does his best here.  He wants to help Evelyn, but he really knows that uploading Will’s consciousness is the wrong thing to do. 

  • Cillian Murphy – who worked with Nolan in Inception and the Dark Knight triology – plays Agent Buchanan, who’s connection was unclear.  He seems to be a government agent who stops by in the beginning of the movie to have things explained to him (thanks for the exposition), and comes by in the end to help bring down the monster that Will becomes.  If you actioned-up this movie, his character would have had more to do.

  • Kate Mara (older sister to Rooney Mara) plays Bree, she’s currently on House of Cards, and will be your new Sue Storm.  Bree is a member of the anti-technology group, and she, with other members, kidnap Max to get him to see what is happening.  Again, in this movie, that is several slow scenes of her and Bettany looking at each other and talking, but if you action-ed up the movie, they would be more running, yelling and escaping from things as she tried to get him to see what was happening.

  • Cole Hauser plays Colonel Stevens, who again seems to be a military person who shows up at the end to help bring down Will. Just imaging how cool his role would have been in the action version of this movie.

  • Clifton Collins Jr. plays one of the residents of the town that Will and Evelyn take over, he’s also the first person that Will ‘transcends’, causing him to be able to have super strength, and crazy regeneration powers, and also – telekinetic connections to Will and other transcended people.  Again, that could have been so cool, but he gets one or two scenes using that.

  • Morgan Freeman, who worked with Nolan in the Dark Knight Trilogy, plays Joseph Tagger, who seems to be a scientist who was working at one of the other labs, and avoids eating the poisoned cake – so he makes it through the attack.  He meets up with Will and Evelyn before Will gets taken out, and then shows up later to visit Evelyn, and warn her that Will is probably not Will.  He hands her a tiny note that says “Run from this place”.  Which is pretty cool – but, again, if you action-ed up the movie, could have been a much more interesting scene.

Overall, it’s another movie that suffers from wasted potential.  I would really like to see the Saturday Night SyFy version of this movie, I bet it would be way more entertaining, with far less shots of people looking shocked, and less shots of sunflowers.  Yes, I understand why we’re looking at the sunflowers, but it didn’t need to be for that long.  The final moment of the movie seemed to imply that the question we were supposed to be asking the whole was “Is it Will? Or is it something else?”, and honestly, that was barely touched on – and when it was, it wasn’t clear.  

5 out of 10 – it really just needed to be sped up.  Gained points for Cillian Murphy, then lost points for him barely being in it.  Gained points for the interesting aspect of a anti-technology terrorist group, but then lost points for not using them all that much.  Gained points for bringing in the government on the sly – but then lost points for not explaining that connection.  Gained points for the creepy way Will cyber-stalks Evelyn around the base – but then lost points for him nano-bot building himself a body, creepy.  Read Prey – it’s good, don’t see this, it’s too slow.

Bonus Video 1:  The Prestige – a really great Nolan movie.

Bonus Video 2:  Now You See Me – the Freeman/Michael Caine movie.

Bonus Video 3:  Transcendence cast interviews