Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Movies 2014, Science Fiction

            There were only 4 science fiction movies that I wanted to see but failed to make it to the theater for.  "The Signal", it looks ominous and I imagine has some horror elements to it, I was intrigued but did not see it playing anywhere; "Hunger Games, Mockingjay pt1" I was disappointed in the first movie, I loved the second movie, and... I think it was silly to break this into two movies I will eventually get around to seeing it; "The Zero Theorem" I cannot say that I like Terry Gilliam's presentation of material (having only really enjoyed "12 Monkeys") but I like that he is a creative force in the industry and this is probably an interesting film that looks amazing; and then there is "Lucy" which I mostly avoided because of the "we only use 10% of our brains" myth that is the core of the movie, that falsehood needs to die and I am sure that I am being a dick about something... I will just have to mentally edit the movie to "her mind is mutating to use 10x the energy of a typical human"... Not much better but whatever.

Godzilla (Lies of a Trailer)                                                         
            I already wrote a lengthy review of this that was rather rambling and mostly complained about how derivative it was of "Man of Steel" of all things.  I disliked it immensely.  You can be boring but smart, or dumb but exciting, but you can't be boring and dumb.
Overall: 3/10
Marketed with Legendary skill.
            The biggest problem this movie has is that it is called "Robocop" inviting comparison to a classic science fiction movie from the 80's which holds up today from both a scripting and social commentary angle.  This movie in many ways is a microcosm of modern Hollywood, let's take a concept from years ago that because of its uniqueness is fondly remembered, then we will sand off and paint over that uniqueness, making things all black, soulless, and designed by corporate committee.  If I thought that was the intentional subtext of the movie I would call this movie a work of meta-textual genius... I have no faith in the creators to assume that was their goal.
            What did I like?  I really liked the scene in which they show him how little of his body remains, it is sad and strange.  I like aspects of the corporate design process (again meta-textual commentary).  I like a good portion of the investigative technology, in which he becomes a walking talking crime database that can hunt down and crush crime quickly and with results.
            What did I dislike, the stupid ending of "love conquers all", I dislike the general stupidity of Michael Keaton's character toward the end as thru most of the movie he is seen as a crass businessman, but you can see where he is coming from and how his actions make a lot of sense in the world, but then for no reason he turns into Norman Osborne, taunting the hero and threatening innocent people, stupid ending that taints the character.  There is a lack of world building, everything is very bland, there is no violent gang war, no new super drug ("Dredd" had Slow-Mo, which was amazing), there is no formidable bad guy aside from the nameless ED-209 (which in the original movie were a joke, and in this movie they are played straight).
            Honestly if you have the inclination just watch the 80's movie it is quite good.  So I will give this one two ratings, 5/10 if you like the original, and a 6/10 if you just want a generic soulless hack science fiction film.
Overall: 5/10 (6/10)
I find this poster poorly made because of the poorly rendered image of his mouth, like they edited it on in photoshop.  That and it is a really boring picture, most of them are like this.
Edge of Tomorrow                                        
            I liked this movie so much I went out and read the book.  And I want everyone to know beyond a shadow of a doubt: THE MOVIE IS BETTER.  All the book has going for it is the premise of space invasion and time loop, great premise, but the characters are dull, and due to translation issues I am certain all the humor and wit has been sucked out.  To show how translation errors are probably at work, the original title of the book directly translated to English from Japanese is, "All you need is Kill", and if that is not ENGRISH then I do not know what is.  Though the "Edge of Tomorrow" title is pretty meaningless too, and it should have been called "Live, Die, Repeat" like it is now on DVD... I am wasting time on this comparison.
            Once again I find Tom Cruise to be a great actor surrounded by great actors who make a premise that should be bonkers seem down to earth and accessible.  Emily Blunt is properly tough, Bill Paxton is salty, and Cruise is funny.  That all being said this is another science fiction movie (the other being "Oblivion") in which Cruise is miscast in the role and too much of the script exists just to justify his age, compelling a 50 year old borderline civilian press monkey into being on the front lines during an invasion is stupid, and symptomatic of other stupid decisions made down the line, as apparently all the competent military leaders in the world are all dead and we are left with General Brigham, played by Brendan Gleeson; who when confronted with proof of time travel being used by the aliens to gain an advantage in the war he ignores the implications and pushes forward with a suicidal plan.  I do not know, the movie has bad leadership so that the can do spirit of the troops can be shown as the true key to victory... Maybe.
            Something notable I did not like: The design of the aliens.  What were they thinking?  A chaotic mass of tentacles and claws that is in constant movement, I have no idea what I am looking at half the time, they move so fast and are so confusing that I find them annoying rather than threatening or cool.  Maybe I was spoiled by the Tripods in "War of the Worlds", those things are menacing, mysterious, and I know what the hell I am looking at.  Or the Xenomorph in "Alien".  Of the Bugs from "Starship Troopers".  This movie tried too hard on the designs and it is just a mess.  By contrast the battle armor used is strangely awesome, and seems to resemble current proto-types in real life, but with less polish.
            So overall the cast is great, the premise intriguing, the plot is a little contrived (there is a full blown plot hole at a key moment in the movie), and the monsters are stupid looking.  The goods outweigh the bad.
Overall: 7/10
I am strangely okay with this poster.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes                                   
            My issues with this movie begin and end with one character, some nearly nameless jerk who is prejudiced against the Apes because the plague that caused the fall of humanity was dubbed "The Ape Flu".  That is the stupidest reason I have ever heard of for disliking something, that is like being racist against black people because a member of your family was attacked by Africanized bees, or disliking Egyptians because you know someone who caught West Nile Virus.  The character's transparent stupidity is so out of place compared to the logical and well thought out motivations of the main villain and the heroes that he actually harms the movie with his presence.
This guy.  I don't blame the actor, the character's reasoning is the issue, it makes no sense.
            Aside from that one major failing the movie is fantastic.  Fantastic characters with political dynamics, character interactions, a unique sci-fi premise extended logically so as to create a world that feels real because of how it looks and how the characters live within it.  If the shitty character had not been in there, or just had a logical reason for his hostility then I would have ranked this movie even higher.  As is it is a fun movie with a lot of daring plot developments.  Maybe the last confrontation is a little trite?  Maybe some characters become too tunnel visioned?  Maybe.  But the movie works.
Overall: 8/10
This is an awesome poster.
            This is the sort of instant classic that flew under most people's radars and should be receiving more attention and praise.  As an action movie it is gorgeous, with dynamic action in a cool environment.  As political satire it is laser focused.  Dialogue is clear, concise, and does not explain too much or leave out important context, allowing the full picture of what is happening to become clear as the movie progresses.
            The movie I most want to compare this to is "Elysium" which I felt had more problems.  And these two movies are similar in a lot of ways.  Mostly in that "Elysium" has the same message of the unwashed masses being cruelly neglected by some powerful overseers.  I thought that "Elysium" had poorer villains, the environment was not as cool, the cast seemed weaker, and the dialogue is weaker.  I also prefer the bleaker and more unpleasant ending of "Snowpiercer" to the very pat to the point of naive ending of "Elysium".  While the two are both have similar messages and even similar plot points, "Snowpiecer" is just a higher quality film that does the subject matter more justice.

Overall: 8/10
This link, is an article mostly about the changing economics of film distribution and is flat wrong about most of it, using concepts such as the cost of printing reels (which with digital projectors and networked computers is an issue that no longer exists) as justification for why theater releases are not as viable anymore.  Though the irony of a movie about a populist uprising on a vehicle that exists to break thru the frozen waste being the breakout of the old economic model would be ironic.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Movies 2014, Crime

            I have a love for movies that focus on criminality.  I like mysteries and conspiracies.  I like to see the mindset of criminals and the heroic lengths that detectives must go to in order to stop the reign of terror.  "LA Confidential", "Chinatown" , and "The Dark Knight" are some of my favorite movies, as such I consider crime to be its own genre and I often rope the few espionage movies released because they are highly related.  The only movie in this genre that I did not see but sort of wanted to last year was "Filth", which is about a corrupt cop in Scotland; "Filth" is on Netflix but it is kind of a 2013 movie, so I did not prioritize watching it, it slipped thru the cracks.  As for those I did see...

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For                           
            Way to strike while the iron is still... Not hot... actually it has been 10 years since the first "Sin City" so the iron is dusty, tarnished, and lost in a shed somewhere.  This movie is so late to the show that there are 5th graders who were not born when the first one was released (not that you would want a 5th grader to watch it).
            The only thing I can really compare this movie to is the first one which I remember quite well.  The visuals were striking at the time, and they are striking now, the technology has evolved and this iteration definitely looks better than the first one.  Smoother movement, cleaner CGI integration, and characters with great make up and costumes.  This world makes Batman's Gotham look like Superman's Smallville, it looks like the Grey Wastes of Hades.  So needless to say I like the look.
            I also like the characters and the anthology style.  Taking a look at the broader world from numerous angles that crisscross over the course of a few nights.... I just dislike the stories that they were stuck with.  The first movie took the better three stories and unfortunately the way this is all told is a mess.  The main bad guy suffers humiliation (and causing that humiliation costs the hero his life, it is supposed to be viewed as a little guy striking against the big guy which would be fine), in the next story the villain is killed and in no way is the humiliation a factor in that defeat.  That sort of break in the narrative happens a lot and the movie suffers for it.  There is also a section of the movie in which Josh Brolin is supposed to get plastic surgery to look like Clive Owen... So they just give him a hair cut; because apparently Clive Owen was too busy to come back to reprise his role?  I don't know, but it is a major weakness in the best of the three (four?) stories.  I will say that Eva Green is just as sexy and dangerous in this as she was in the other Frank Miller Adaptation I reviewed "300: Rise of an Empire" and her presence raises the movie a few notches.
Overall: 5/10
Let me be clear, Eva is the best character in the movie.

            I feel the need to ask why certain fictitious Cold War heroes still exist.  James Bond is one of them, the other is Jack Ryan.  The last James Bond movie, "Skyfall" was all about questioning whether James Bond was physically up to the task of espionage, he was getting older; that was paralleled with the government questioning if they should even have agents like James Bond around at all, that his form of spycraft was now of a bygone era.  That questioning gave a lot of depth to the character and made the end of the movie, James' rebirth into the world of spies all the more triumphant.  Jack Ryan does not have that.
            Jack Ryan is played by a young actor and dropped into the modern world, spurred into patriotism by 9/11.  I actually think that is a good way to start a modern spy movie, and the idea of a character being a veteran, but also a genius economist who investigates covert financial warfare is a cool pitch... Was any of this in the books?  It couldn't have been because they were written during the Cold War, and while the Russians in the movie would fit in a movie made with a Cold War backdrop, nowadays they just seem like paranoid delusions.  The movie's plot was Russians using financial trickery to ruin the US economy... Hate to make you question your world views, but the US is currently destroying the Russian economy by manipulating the energy market.  The plot to this movie seems 30 years out of date and it came out last year.
            Overall it has some good aspects, the scenes of working undercover are well put together, the action is good (especially the body guard fight in the hotel room), but there were other parts I was disappointed in, a helicopter crash seems almost comical in execution.  The movie is fine, but nothing special, and is hurt by seeming very out of touch with current geo political reality.
Overall: 6/10
I wonder if this poster design was meant to evoc Enron?

            Speaking of Cold War leftovers.  Apparently the Equalizer was an 80's TV show about a retired British secret agent fighting for the little guy.  This movie is a modern adaptation of that concept and it really shows how it would have worked a lot better as a TV show (preferably as a Netflix series).  This movie starts as him trying to help a prostitute escape the life, and ends with him taking down the entire Russian mafia... No joke the movie ends with him murdering the head of the Russian Mafia in his mansion in Russia.  Mother Fucker, Marvel Super Heroes have difficulty pulling off that kind of stuff in a franchise, this is one movie.  And it is clear by the ending that this is going to be a franchise, but he has already destroyed so much that there is no way that any sequel will be able to challenge him and remain in the "reality" this movie tries to establish.
            If this had been a 10 episode series with each of the mini-stories in this movie pumped up to a full episode it would have built to the final much better and would have been really awesome.  There is a lot of room to grow the extended cast's contributions to the narrative and I thought the character was really great.  I like characters who are positive forces in the lives of those around them, unquestionably the Equalizer is.
            There is some silly aspects to the movie, mostly in what I like to call "Short hand symbolism".  This is when blatant references to other works of fiction are thrown into the narrative as a way of telling the audience themes.  In this movie they have Denzel Washington reading the "100 books you should read in your lifetime" and several are referenced and explained to the audience, most notably "The Old Man and the Sea".  A story about an old man who goes out to face one more great test of his strength and ability and even though he does not catch the fish he learns that he is still able to?  I wonder what that could symbolize in a story about a retired spy being called back into action by a friend in need of the skills he used so skillfully in his youth?  Yeah, they also name check "The Invisible Man" as he tries to live in anonymity.  While I do consider this lazy on some levels, I get why it is done, and maybe for some people it lends some profundity to the narrative, even as Denzel stabs a man to death with cork screws.
            I would say this movie is cut from the same cloth as "Jack Reacher" and "Taken" so if you liked those movies you will definitely like this.
Overall: 7/10
Moviebob described this movie as a "Dad Movie", and judging by how much my dad liked it that seems accurate. (Poster)

            I chock this up to being the biggest surprise of the year.  I kind of hated the first one as the premise is hardly explored at all and the metaphor of a poor black veteran being preyed upon by white landed elites seemed a bit on the nose for the only metaphor in the whole thing.  This thing kind of blows the roof off of that.
            It helps that there is a strong central character with a goal that drives the plot.  The plot being a running tour of the various Purge festivities.  In a world without law would you break into other people's houses to rape them?  Would you hunt down and lynch the wall street broker who destroyed your retirement account?  How about hunting the homeless for sport?  Lots of little mini-episodes all get touched upon, and a larger background plot of an anti-Purge rebellion that hints at a larger franchise plan makes this whole thing much better than the first, so much so that the first "The Purge" seems like the rushed and cheap cash grab sequel that a studio would hammer out to capitalize on the success of this movie.
            I will not say it is at all perfect.  I still think this thing lacks a lot of teeth in places (especially the digital blood effects).  They also completely ignore the issue of child safety in this world (un-fun fact, children are most often abused by family members, so on a day in which crime is condoned, logically a lot of off screen children are getting raped horribly).  I actually think you could clean up some of the logical hiccups of the movie by saying it takes place in an alternate timeline, hint that Reagan was responsible, rather than the nebulous NEW FOUNDING FATHERS.  I and must further reiterate that Paul Verhoeven would be a great director for one of these, or John Carpenter maybe.
Overall: 7/10
The best poster of the year?

            I saw this movie months ago and still do not have really solid feelings about it.  It is well produced with great acting, great lighting, and its structure is rock solid, information is revealed at a flawless pacing adding twist-twist-twist to the whole thing, which keeps you engaged the whole time.
            Since this is a movie built on twists I will just give it a recommendation and leave it at that.  Maybe down the line I will write a long spoiler filled review, but as of now I do not want to.  It is worth watching.
Overall: 8/10

This one is pretty good too.  Evidence, arc words, and the time frame of the movie, a lot of information in here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Movies 2014, Good Super Heroes

            I liked this movie.  It does a lot to correct what I think are some issues with how Disney has been managing Marvel, 1) most of Marvel's animated properties are frothy mugs of poop, and 2) serious lack of diversity on the macro scale, especially considering how many diverse Marvel characters there are.
            This movie is colorful, has likable characters who have a lot of visual personality, with clothing and costumes that give the audience quick insights into their characters.  He's precise (and works with lasers), she is bubbly (and works with bubbles of strange chemicals), he wears a beanie and is clearly the stupidest person in the film.  It is all very clean and uncomplicated allowing for them to put in a lot of action, gags, and cool inventions.  And I really liked the robot, I like pretty much all robots in fiction, but this one especially.
I love Baymax.  I feel his existence is damn near an absolute good.,
            That being said there are a lot of little things about this movie that drag it down.  The bad guy is so obvious that the red herring they threw out seemed insulting to my intelligence. There is also some clunky dialogue that tells the audience explicitly what they already knew by implication, they live with their aunt so their parents are gone, he bult a robot so he is really smart and wastes his genius... but one brother tells the other brother, "Our dead parents would not want you to waste your super smart brain, dur, dur, dur".  That is lazy writing.
            There are sections that I think missed a gag (at one point a character has to spin at super speed to escape a slowly crushing space, she gets out and is then fine... I wanted her to say, "Yeah, I am *Hurk*" and puke, that would have been a good punctuation to the scene).  Even in a world of super science some of the things the characters do stretch believability (the main character whips up about 7,500 lbs of tiny robots in his garage in two weeks... Bull shit, even writing the soft ware for such a program... THAT READS THOUGHTS would require more time than that) when your movie starts to make Iron Man look like a drooling buffoon you might want to dial things back toward reality. 
            And now for some SPOILER discussion because I want to talk more about the bad guy.  In them movie the college professor who I consider to be too obvious a villain is a villain, he does this because his daughter was ostensibly killed while testing a teleportation device.  Except that is not foreshadowed, he is working with numerous young geniuses and not once do you see him wistfully look at them like they were his own kids, not once does he let slip a remark about missing his daughter, and at no point do you see a picture or memento that would hint to the audience that he had any personal tragedy.  It is revealed at the end of act two.  That is weak writing.
            STILL SPOILERS: Also, the professor is a weak pick for the bad guy.  The main character only knew him for two weeks, not long enough to form a bond, so when the opportunity for bloody revenge comes along (the professor having caused the death of the main character's brother) of course the protagonist attempts to kill him without moral consideration... and in most instances he would be totally right, the bad guy has a doomsday weapon and is a real danger to lots of people, and it could be argued that he deserves to die for his reckless violent behavior causing the deaths of others.
            STILL SPOILERS:  Here is a better idea for a villain: make it the main character's brother.  Have it so the fire at the beginning kills the professor and it is revealed that the reason the brother went bad is that the rich guy of the movie caused the death of he and the main character's parents in a reckless experiment.  So now you have the brother (who built a healthcare robot) using the main character's robots as a weapon for evil, and the main character using the healthcare robot to fight back.  You have parallels, and a moral question as to whether you stop you brother from avenging your family.  There is complexity.
            In a way this movie fails the same way "Rise of the Guardians" failed in that there is just a much better, deeper, richer movie that could have been made from the same parts... and they didn't.
Overall: 7/10 
I actually find this poster to be rather awesome.
            Bryan Singer hated all the movies following his departure (with good reason) so he killed them... and the original movies he made that spawned them.  This thing has so much going on that I wrote a trillion random thoughts down in a mild haze and am trying to connect them together into a coherent whole... Like this movie tried to do with the rest of the franchise.
            (So are spinal injuries a super power in this universe?)
            It felt like two movies... The final two movies for the franchise.
            The first was "Wolverine sent back in time to stop an assassination" it has the stakes (multiple X-Men murdered by robots in the future), it shows the means (psychic time travel to rewrite reality), it has the players (Magneto who is in prison and Charles who has no powers will need to convince Raven from killing Bolivar), Wolverine goes into the past, finds Charles, they gather allies (Beast, and more importantly Quicksilver), they spring Magneto, go to the assassination, stop it, and then the climax happens (Wolverine freaks out, Magneto takes the practical unethical measures, Charles is the powerless idealist, and Beast is a blue wolf man), then that movie ends, with the bad guys getting away, the group broken up and the assassination stopped.
Think about this for a second.  The cast is so large, that Emmy Winner Kelsey Grammer is an uncredited cameo.
It is so big that Anna Paquin has an Oscar, but no lines.  They got talent coming out of their ears and ass over here.
            (Why did they kill all the villains from the first movie off?  Why did they do that off screen?)
            Then the next movie starts.  They show the stakes (still killer robots), they have the means (Raven's DNA which will ultimately make for deadlier robots), they have the players (Raven, Magneto, Xavier, Wolverine, and Trask), they rally their forces (Xavier commits to using his telepathy, Magneto gets his helmet and sabotages the original Robots), then they collide, and then that movie ends with half the "bad guys" getting away and the killer robots defeated.
            Seriously, its like they had two movies and just put them together.  Like they were going to have trilogy of First Class films and this is the last two of that series combined.  It erases a lot of continuity (thank the gods) and makes things smoother and all tied up.  You could end the entire franchise here because it shows the brighter world of tomorrow at the end, all of the sins of the first few movies got resolved.  There is nothing left to say.  Really, if they wanted to shake things up they should have just killed Wolverine for real and left the future up to interpretation.  That would have shaken the franchise to the core.  Wolverine dying would have changed everything and been a lot more ambiguous.  Instead, not only does he get a happy ending.... Everyone does including a lot of people who died.
            (Why were there so few returning characters from "First Class" [Banshee is gone, Moria is gone, White Queen is gone], and so many new ones that had nothing to do?)
            This movie has the exact same themes as "Captain America: Winter Soldier".  Drones in the sky killing extraordinary people who would upset the status quo.  Wolverine and Cap are the heroes of different eras (though Charles is really more the hero than Wolverine toward the end).  Bucky and Mystique are the wild card middle men who need to be stopped/saved.  Beast and Falcon are the ones encouraging the hero to just take out the bad guy rather than save them.  Black Widow and Nick Fury take the role of Magneto, more ambiguous characters who are about practical mission objectives.
            (Why would Mystique's DNA help make robots that can steal powers?  She can't mimic powers... And ROBOTS DON"T HAVE DNA!)
Just for your knowledge, this type of Sentinel is called a Nimrod.  In the comics they were damn near unstoppable.
            Magneto's plan would have worked better had he just covertly used the sentinels to kill President Nixon, his staff, and a lot of civilians, and then just let the humans eventually kill the robots.  People would have blamed the MUTANT TARGETING SYSTEM as being unable to tell the difference between humans and mutants and then scrap the idea of robot soldiers altogether.  And he wouldn't of declared war on behalf of mutants like a crazy asshole.  Also, all humans are mutants, blonde hair, dimples, webbed toes, and nearly any genetic trait is a mutation... so is dwarfism.  The main villain is a dwarf and the idea that he creates a robot apocalypse because he got stunted growth rather than laser eyes and well defined abs is an interesting idea left bubbling under the surface of the movie, but it also asks the obvious question of how a mutant detector would work and why it doesn't kill everyone.
            (Why did they write the movie to send Wolverine back to the past?  Yeah he is a popular character but the last movie did fine with only a cameo by him.  Why not send back some of the cool new characters and Ellen Page' Shadow Cat?  Would have done a lot to further the idea of minority rights by having some characters who are minorities in the picture.)
            This movie has both a great ending, and a bad one.  Because, they clearly want sequels, but you already know what is going to happen ultimately as it shows a future with the X-Men triumphant in a utopia... so I guess the next movie is not going to have any affect on that?  Is Apocalypse not going to do anything?  That is not good.
            The movie holds together so well though, and has depth and themes explored by skilled actors with good effects, and a sense of scope and creativity that makes it so good that I forgive the flaws (mostly).
Overall: 8/10
I would also like to point out that several of the predictions I made for this movie were right.  Though I cast a wide net and thus was bound to catch something.  (Poster)
            I do not know why everyone thought this movie was going to be a huge gamble.  Everyone kept saying that an obscure comic book would never be able to carry a movie... But let's be honest, pretty much 99% of comics are obscure, and 99% of movies are adapted from books or TV shows and other mediums that have audiences of less than 1,000,000 people.  And original movies have no audience till release.  So why would something like Guardians be seen as so out of the box?  Because it has aliens?  Shit, that has been around since the silent era.  Because it is more of a comedy?  I think there is a clear track record in modern history that comedies can be about anything ("Galaxy Quest", "Shaun of the Dead"... hell, look back to the 80's and you have "The Princess Bride").  I was looking at it assuming it would be an interesting addition to the Marvel movies and guess what: IT WAS!
Look at this.  It is the severed head of a god that floats in space and is a city.  How is my life not enriched by this?
            This movie is gorgeous.  The dialogue pops.  It is funny.  It has heart.  It has broad appeal with a big diverse cast of characters traveling thru beautiful living environments dealing with a villain that is clearly out of their weight class.  Leading a rag tag group in resistance to a total planetary genocide.  It is awesome.  Even the cheezy part where they use the power of friendship to beat the bad guy like it is a freaking "My Little Pony" episode (Though I guess Nightmare Moon was more like Malakith in "Thor: The Dark World" with the eternal darkness and all).
            I am not going to say this movie touched me on some deeper level, but it did its job well, and I am glad that Marvel feels that space is a much more creatively free place for the Marvel universe to be silly and strange.  I look forward to the sequel which I am sure will be even better.  (Here is my pitch for it, they are employed to break into Asgard and steal the Tesseract in hopes of keeping it out of Loki's hands... and inadvertently put it into the hands of Thanos.  It could be a heist movie, "Guardians of the Galaxy: The Asgardian Caper").

Overall: 8/10
This is a third party poster.  One of many alternate designs that these people whipped together.  Check them out.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Movies 2014, Bad Super Heroes

            I really do not think that I have the same nostalgia for this property that other people seem to have.  I had lots and lots of toys of the turtles, I watched different cartoons, and I watched the older movies growing up.  I never read the comics.  Regardless, while they are a fixture of my childhood I do not consider them sacred or high art, they are a bit of goofy fun that you watch, laugh a little, and then move on.  But this movie takes a lot of missteps and no real excuse for it, because the Turtles have been portrayed so many times so consistently that the failures are all the more obnoxious.
            First off I find that all of the Turtles themselves are well acted and well animated.  They look suitably monstrous with enough visual distinction to tell them apart.  Splinter is well acted, his voice oozes wisdom and concern.  Both of those things are good.
            I have real problems with the scope of the movie, the hack plot, and the bad guys.  Picture for a moment a tree, the tree branches out in numerous directions, with a big central trunk, then several large branches, then little branches, each with their own leaves.  When building a universe, whether it is a fantasy world like Westros or Middle Earth, a space voyage like Star Wars or Star Trek, or a world of superheroes like the Avengers or the Turtles you have to grow the universe the same way.  A central storyline: Fight Shredder and the Foot Clan; then secondary stories: Fight street crime with Casey Jones and April O'Neil, Fight monsters from Dimension X, Time Travel, Aliens, etc.  This movie doesn't branch.
            April saved them from the lab they were experimented on, the same lab that is working with the Shredder.  See, you took what could have been 3 branches: Shredder, April, and the Lab, and turned them into more trunk.  Rather than the story being able to go in a lot of different directions instead it goes in one direction.  Lack of scope.
            The plot is incredibly hack, a product of two of the biggest hacks in Hollywood, the same guys who did the Transformers series, modern Star Trek, and the Amazing Spiderman.... and holy shit is the climax of this movie look like the climax to Spiderman, with a strange mutagenic gas about to be released over New York, the tower to launch it falling off the building, and a fight taking place in a lab between the female protagonist (April here, Gwen there) to secure a chemical.  There is also magic blood (Star Trek Into Darkness and Amazing Spiderman 2), an action scene based around falling (Star Trek and Star Trek into Darkness, though I guess this is down a mountain rather than thru a debris field in space), and saving a mentor figure who is badly injured (Master Splinter here, Captain Pike in Star Trek).  So many elements that have been used before.
            Lastly, the villains are just flat and boring.  Their plan is to create a plague to sell the cure.... Which was the plot in a million other movies and Shredder is a mecha samurai.... just like the Silver Samurai was in "The Wolverine".  It is a boring plot, with boring motivation, and it once again echoes the sentiment of "9/11 Truther" movements which one of the writers is an outspoken member of.  None of the bad guys have any personality and only Shredder ever posses any physical threat to the Turtles.  Boring and unthreatening.  Very weak.
            I really wish some other creative teams could get their feet in the door of these types of movies.  I would not mind the Turtles fighting Krang or the Triceratops aliens, or just some big street gang.  Something other than this.
It's not like this was ever high art.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2                            
            This movie has serious issues, but first the positives.   I still think that Andrew Garfield is great in the role, clearly having a love of playing the character, and his real life chemistry with Emma Stone translates to the screen as a very sincere romance that in many ways makes the movie worth watching, and Emma Stone's Gwen Stacey is a competent active character that makes all other love interests in superhero fiction look weak by comparison.  A simple movie about them getting back together after breaking up in the first one, maybe while taking classes at NYU and Peter reconnecting with his friend Harry Osborn and battling a small gang of super villains (the Enforcers or Syndicate) would have worked wonders as a fun movie.  That is not what this was.
            This thing is two or maybe even three scripts shuffled together and they suffer for it greatly.  Clearly the Electro story was separate, starting off with Gwen and Peter broken up, Peter meets Electro initially as he works with Gwen as he is trying to get her back, Electro's obsession with Peter mirroring the unhealthy attraction Peter now has toward Gwen following her and taking pictures without talking to her.  Ultimately she helps to defeat Electro and Peter and her get together, her making a conscious choice to accept the dangers of his life as part of hers.  Maybe the introduction of Mary Jane to add a new love interest and give Peter temptation to leave Gwen be.
            The other script had to do with Osborn dying, and the army of super bad guy equipment that had been produced as a side effect of that research, that script had Harry kill Gwen as revenge for Peter failing to help him find a cure for the goblin condition, This running alongside the real story of Gwen deciding whether or not to go to the UK and Peter having to decide if he will follow, her death robbing him of direction in life and the movie ultimately ends with him recommitting to being Spiderman when the Rhino attacks.
            Each of those stories would have worked on its own, but they got mixed up and staggered so they just fail.  There are two showdowns within seconds of each other, the first with Electro, the second with Harry, you are so tired from the fight with Electro.... It is like eating a big meal and then having someone jam a funnel down your throat and pouring in a milkshake.  TOO MUCH.
            These two stories are shuffled together and their themes run counter to each other, one is about reconciliation between Peter and Gwen, the other is about them being broken apart.  A house divided cannot stand.  This is a whole that is less than the sum of its parts.
            This thing is cluttered and incoherent and a huge waste of talent as the special effects and action are on great and the actors are well cast, all of the stars are for Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone which this franchise utterly fails to live up to.

Overall: 4/10
This is a fan made poster.  All of the actual posters are inaccurate, in that they show it as a show down between Spiderman and Electro... That is not the core of the movie.  Gwen and Peter are the core.  I feel like I will have more to say about this movie in time.  Much like I did with "Man of Steel".

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Movies of 2014, Horror pt1

            First I will list a few movies that fit into this bandwidth that I haven't seen just to give a more complete look at what I have and have not covered, mostly because I think several of these are not straight up horror and many straight up horror movies did come out this year.  "Deliver Us From Evil" and "Dracula Untold" are the only other horror movies I would want to watch, the others seem like the sort of hack crap put out to keep a franchise in a holding pattern or to capitalize on momentary trends, "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones", "Annabelle", and "Devil's Due".
            Let me start with the best, and then work toward what I think of as the worst, even though my bottom picks (for the year) are both showing up on top 10 lists for some critics I follow and I disagree completely.

"Oculus" (I am intentionally not linking to the trailer, as it is rubbish)
            It was basically this or "Babadook" for best horror movie and this one just did a better job in my opinion.  The acting is good, the premise is good, the balance of psychological versus outright supernatural elements is well done.  And it (along with "Babadook") joins a long list of movies in recent times that was obviously inspired by "The Shining" but deftly avoids being a boring slog.
            I have no deep complaints I can point to, it is just a well made film that I highly recommend to people.
Overall: 8/10
Not a bad poster.  Symbolic of what is happening in the movie.
            Much like "Oculus" this movie is pretty well done.  But while I feel that it has some higher highs (and is more resonant with themes) it also has some lower lows.  First the highs, the idea that the monster in question is some compulsion that gets inside of you and causes you to harm your loved ones, and that maybe the monster is not a monster it is just that the mother is cracking like an egg because her insufferable child is ruining her life... That is really strong.
            But...  They end up showing the monster too much to the point of it being a little silly.  There is also the name Babadook, initially the name seems to indicate door noises "baba" being a mild rumbling of a door in its frame and the "dook dook dook" being an ominous knocking... and then they have the monster saying "Babadook" like it is a freaking pokemon.  And I really did not understand the final confrontation or ultimate resolution to the story which I won't spoil, maybe I just need to meditate on it a bit.  It is a good movie definitely worth watching.
Overall: 7/10 
This is a good poster, but boarders on being too minimalist.
"Odd Thomas" (Awful trailer)
            I already talked about and rated this one (I initially gave it an 8/10, having seen it in the lagging months of June and July, leading to me liking it more than I do in retrospect).  Really I feel mostly the same about it now as I did then and still think people should see it.  It is a lot of fun especially to people who like shows like "Supernatural", "Sleepy Hollow", or "Grimm".
Overall: 7/10
Another shit poster.
            Strangely not the worst movie I saw all year this movie has the sort of self serious bullshit attitude that I loath with characters being overly macho and stiff for no reason.  The movie has no humor and is mostly just a grim dark obnoxious tour thru... I honestly have no idea where this takes place, clearly an alternate history of some kind, I do not feel like I should complain about that because at the very least a world in which a 700ft tall cathedral is the tallest structure for what seems like miles of maze like houses is actually a cool thing.  The strange otherworldly city and the fight scenes are pretty much all I can complement this movie on.
            Boring hack plot with a bad guy who is just awful at management, characters seem to make decisions at random with zero development or characterization.  It is a mess.
Overall: 2/10
Good Poster.  I actually feel this is not all that horror-ish, more of an action movie much like "Dracula Untold" almost certainly is, but of all my arbitrary groupings this seemed the best fit.
            Last year my favorite movie was "Prisoners" a dark and intensely well acted movie about the kidnapping of children and the means people use to try and get them back.  It was engaging and straight forward so that I had no trouble following the characters thru the story as the mystery unraveled.  "Enemy" is made by the same director and one of the stars, I wanted to like this.
            Heavy handed imagery, a plot that makes no sense, and an ultimate resolution that left me baffled.  I do not care for this sort of boring obtuse crap.  I sat thru the whole thing, but I have no idea how I managed that.  I hated this movie.
Overall: 1/10 
            Here is another one that looked interesting that ultimately disappointed me.  I walked out.
            This movie is sold on two gimmicks 1) Nudity, most notably the nudity of mega-star Scarlet Johansen; and 2) Hidden Camera Improv.
            The premise of the movie is that Scarlet plays a woman going around and picking up strangers by offering them a ride leading them back to a mysterious black room in which they are put into a stasis and then processed into blood and meat.  The people she is talking to are real people, not actors, she has to interact with and seduce them.  After a while Scarlet grows to empathize with humans and... THIS IS SO BORING.
            I have seen and heard this type of story so many times that the only thing the movie has going for it are the gimmicks and the nudity is the least sexy, most fumbling, medical type exam that you can imagine.  She is an alien and as she tries to explore what makes humans human she stumbles around in a daze with no one to talk to and no voice over... MARVEL AS SHE ATTEMPTS TO EAT CAKE AND FINDS IT MAKES HER SICK... I DON'T CARE!
            This movie has enough story for a 40 minute episode of the "Twilight Zone" or "Outer Limits", it did not have to be and 1 hour and 48 minutes.
Overall: 1/10

Not perfect, but still good.  Why are good movies saddled with shit posters and bad movies get good posters?

The long overdue part 2 to the Horror of 2014.

If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Movies of 2014, Fantasy

Fantasy Movies
            First I will list a few movies that fit into this bandwidth that I haven't seen just to give a more complete look at what I have and have not covered, mostly because I have only 3 entries here and there were more out there to watch.  "Winter's Tale," widely considered one of the worst movies released all year I wanted to see it to be disappointed in how it probably was not as bad as people say; "How to Train Your Dragon 2," I actually want to see the first one before seeing this one, it looks like something I would love; "Maleficent," I have no real desire to watch this; "Horns," I do not even know if this came out anywhere, much like "The Lady in Black" it looks to be a Danny Radcliffe movie I will not enjoy; and "Exodus: Gods and Kings" I have no trouble appreciating Biblical stories as a sort of mythology, but this particular story has been done definatively twice before so why again, how about a movie of Joshua taking over Jericho?  And on to the main events.

            While "Exodus" has had definitive telling in the past Noah hasn't and for a big release this is a very challenging presentation of the material.  The hero is driven mad with religious fervor, a world so corrupt and failing that its destruction does not seem like an over reaction, non-traditional portrayals of esoteric material, and a favorable depiction of evolution and environmentalism.  The idea that dominion over nature means stewardship rather than a right to exploit is actually a good counter argument to a lot of drill-baby-drill perspectives held by religious people.
            The movie is far from perfect, it is boring, there are clear instances of a story break (making it to the mountain of Methuselah, escaping the flood on the ark, and ultimately the movies actual ending on dry land), maybe my patience with stories being told in multiple parts has made me more critical of epics like this being told in a single installment.  I can also see this movie as being too dark or violent for people who are expecting a biblical story for the family, though I do not think that a planetary holocaust should be your first choice in that venue.
Overall: 6/10 
God awful movie poster.

            This is an odd one, and I am glad that Frank Miller had very little creative input on the subject.  While the original "300" was a fun movie about a tiny nation trying to rally against a larger empire to secure their way of life dedicated to reason... Let's be clear, it is propaganda.  The glorious white people with their sculpted abs, brilliant minds, and bloodlines pure of the deformities of other cultures fighting against the multi-ethnic force who in real life expressly forbid slavery while the Spartans had the largest slave population in all of Greece.  Frank Miller is a deplorable racist, and while his artistic contributions to comic books are begrudgingly acknowledged we should all take a step back and look at how he has gone crazy and all of his work has had undercurrents of racism and misogyny, because "300: Rise of an Empire" kind of does take a step back and look at how complex things were.
            The Spartans are looked at as violent but useful to the more tactical Greeks, and the Greek people are seen (rightly) as villains in need of conquest by the Persians.  Eva Green's character was abused in Greek society and saved by the Persians, her hate makes sense.  Things are messy and it is cool to see that underlined in a sequel to one of the most incorrectly black and white morality films ever made.
            Much like Noah there are lots of issues.  The timeline is all over the place, unlike in the first where the strange (anachronistic) technology of the Persians are defeated in montage they are the center piece of the film and if goofy steam punk battle is not your thing then this will be boring, Eva Green is good but many might object to how sexually and literally aggressive she is considering the historical figure she portrays was cautious and levelheaded, one of the few Persian captains that was not taken in by the Athenian naval trap that broke the Persian campaign.  It is a strange movie, and years too late to be an effective follow up (much like "Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For" which also came out this year, and is also a stylized Frank Miller story with a topless sexually aggressive Eva Green as the star).
Overall: 6/10 
A decent poster in which it is about the movie, not a particular actor in it.
            The best of the Hobbit movies, so much so that it make s me like the others less.  The movie has focus as the plot threads and characters shown in the previous movies all start moving toward the ultimate goal of controlling the golden horde beneath the Lonely Mountain.  All of the principle characters, Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin, and Legolas get their moments to shine (I still consider the addition of the elves to be beneficial to the story).  The monsters are inventive and cool, the various steeds of the heroes are cool, the armor, the ruins, nearly all of the visuals work (yeah the CGI gets a bit much here and there but not as noticeably as the last one).  The heroic sacrifices are good (not perfect, I was expecting Thorin's final action in the story to be a bigger move), and the added weight of character death makes them movie hit harder.  The Elves are as always cool and work perfectly, they are both generous, but have their own desires.
            There are of course downsides, as I mentioned before Thorin's final battle while fine could have been better, there is a scene in which the party of 13 dwarves storms out of the mountain and rallies the dwarf army that is losing ground... That makes no sense to me as they are not the Avengers, they are just 13 guys, some of which are not warriors, but it turns the tide.  Humans are woefully out gunned and rather than cleverly beating back the bad guys they mostly just keep fighting and inexplicably not dying.  There are sections in which a lot of proper nouns are thrown around.
            I would also like to maintain that these movies should have been called "Middle Earth" not "The Hobbit", and should have been marketed differently.  Peter Jackson should have said, "We are going to use 'The Hobbit' as a framing device, but since this will likely be the last movies set in this universe for this generation of filmmakers, I saw it as both fun and necessary to explore other aspects of the world. Lots of characters exist, and a lot of magic, action, and world is there.  If I don't put those things into this movie, then it won't fit in anywhere.  Some people have talked about 'The Silmarillion' and I do not think it would work, better to take what we have and put it in here where we can and enjoy as much of the universe as possible with this story as a backbone."  But they didn't do that and so we have people complaining that there isn't enough story to fill three movies even though these movies are packed with content.

This poster rides the line, it shows what the movie is about, but clearly puts a focus on the various characters rather than the world of Middle Earth, the true star of the movie.