Sunday, November 2, 2014

Nightcrawler - Take a Walk on the Creepy Side With Jake Gyllenhaal (Spoiler Free)

It was several months ago when I first heard something about Nightcrawler and about how good Jake Gyllenhaal was in it.  I’ve liked him in other movies, so that did get my attention even though I had no clue what the movie was about.  Even once I started to see previews, I wasn’t completely sure of the plot, but I wanted to see the movie. 

I am only going to briefly discuss the plot of Nightcrawler and I will not be sharing any major spoilers.

**Minor Plot Discussion**

Louis Bloom is doing somewhat questionable work in Los Angeles while being on the look out for something that could become a career.  By chance, he sees someone, Joe Loder, show up at the scene of an accident and start filming.  Lou learns that Joe goes to the scenes of accidents or crimes, films footage, and then sells the footage to whichever local news station will pay him the most.  Lou decides to try that type of work, gets an older video camera and scanner, and starts filming.  He gets footage his first night that Nina Romina, the night news director of a local television station likes and buys.  She says that Lou has a good eye, tells him to bring her anything else he gets, and suggests that he gets a better camera.

It isn’t long before Lou gets himself an assistant, Rick.  Lou continues to provide footage to Nina and he makes enough money to get better equipment and a new flashy, fast car.  Lou learns more about the news business in general and uses that knowledge to his advantage in his relationship with Nina.  Lou does have a talent for the work, but he starts to do questionable things to get footage at times, and that eventually lands him on the radar of the police.

**End of Minor Plot Discussion**

Nightcrawler is an entertaining, though somewhat disturbing, thriller that is well worth watching.  Things do start off a little slow as Lou is introduced and the situation is set up.   The slower pace at that point works for the story, showing how Lou begins his new career.  Things do pick up in certain scenes, like when Lou is driving like a maniac through Los Angeles to try to be the first at a scene while Rick freaks out in the passenger seat.  The plot is interesting and it is entertaining even though there are disturbing elements to it.  There are some graphic things shown at times, mostly connected to the stuff that Lou records and some swearing.  The movie does deserve the R rating and it is not a movie for children.

I have no idea how accurate the work that Lou got into is depicted in the movie.  I know large cities have more crime and more accidents.  I don’t live in a big city, though I do get local stations from one and there are stories about local crime and accidents.  I honestly don’t know if those stations send their own crews to those different locations or if they get footage from a freelance journalist like Lou.  It seems believable, and I know that the paparazzi sort of does the same thing, just by following celebrities instead of crimes.  Several scenes do take place at the station where Lou sells his videos.  Nina is a bit manipulative with the stories she edits and she is willing to use stories and footage that are questionable if she thinks it will get the station better ratings.  Later in the movie, she does talk to someone else at the station about what they can legally air, but even then, she talks about being willing to get fines for airing the footage.  Some of the news broadcasts are shown.  Early in the movie, Lou is captivated by seeing his footage on the news at home.  There are at least a few real broadcasters from Los Angeles in a few scenes here and there.  It does seem like Nina is willing to show stuff that is more graphic than what can actually air, though I know some stations keep trying to push that line. 

While I think that Nightcrawler is a thriller, there really isn’t any mystery to what is going on.  Lou’s background is a complete mystery since really nothing about his past is shared.  He does mention at one point that he didn’t go to college, but he took at least one class online.  Lou does several unexpected things throughout the movie which does keep things interesting.  The movie is definitely not predictable.  I don’t think the movie is action packed, though action does turn up in some scenes, usually when Lou is driving like a bat out of you know where to get somewhere in a hurry.  Later in the movie there is definitely building tension to what is going on.  At one point, Lou is chasing other vehicles involved in a high speed chase.  That sequence is very well done.  There is a little bit of humor here and there that briefly lightens the mood, but the movie is far from being a comedy.

Most of the movie takes place during the night when Lou is working.  He is shown filming several things, though he spends more time in his car, driving around while listening to the scanner.  That may sound boring, but it truly isn't.  Just about all the interactions between Lou and Rick happen in the car.  Even the scenes that take place at the television studio take place during the night, and there is dark lighting there as well, almost as if the station can’t afford to use lights at night.  That does cause some interesting lighting to be used throughout the movie.  At times the lighting does intensify Lou’s creepy look.  I did recognize some of the street names mentioned, though I have no idea if scenes were actually filmed in those places. 

Nightcrawler revolves around Lou and he is probably the most unique character I’ve seen in a movie in a long time.  He is ambitious and willing to do just about anything to reach his goals.  He is smart and he learns things quickly, which does help him in his new career.  It also helps him to do some of the more questionable things he does as well.  He can talk the talk, and while not everyone buys his line, he does convince several people to do what he wants.  This guy could probably sell igloos to Eskimos.  Lou does have a talent for getting the type of footage that Nina wants.  He wants to be the best at his work, and when something doesn’t go his way, he can get unpleasant.  Lou remains calm and seems to be polite with people he is upset with, but that doesn’t stop him from issuing threats while still talking in a calm tone with a pleasant - for him anyway - expression on his face.  He is twisted and creepy in a whole different way because of that.  He really isn’t a likable character at all, but he is fascinating.

Jake Gyllenhaal is absolutely amazing as Lou and he makes the movie.  He has a somewhat different look for the character, with hair that is an odd length - too long to really be short, but not long enough to really be long - and a gaunt look to his face from losing twenty pounds.  The weight loss make his eyes look slightly sunken, which adds to the creepy look.  Even when he smiles, he still looks creepy.  In some ways, he is even creepier when smiling.  At times, as things happen, this sort of crazed look comes into his eyes, making him look borderline psychotic, extremely creepy, and borderline crazy.  I have no idea how he did that, but it is very effective.  I will be surprised if Gyllenhaal doesn’t get award nominations for this performance.

Nina is the news director that first buys Lou’s footage.  She likes his work, including that he gets graphic, bloody, images at times.  She seems willing to put just about anything on air if it will get ratings.  Nina does try to establish some boundaries with Lou, but that ultimately doesn’t work.  At times she seems just about as crazed as Lou.  Renee Russo is really good in the part, though I wasn’t fond of the dark eye makeup she always wears.  A few other people around the station turn up every so often, but none of them receive as much attention as Nina. 

Rick is desperate for a job when Lou hires him.  Rick is in charge of navigation to get them to the different scenes while Lou drives like a maniac.  Rick buys into what Lou tells him during the interview, though he starts to have concerns about certain things tied to the way Lou does things.  He seems nice enough, though he doesn’t get much development.  Riz Ahmed handles the part well.  Joe Loder is the freelance video journalist that ends up getting Lou interested in the work to begin with.  Joe has been doing the work for a long time.  At one point he shares plans for expanding his business.  Joe does seem to feel threatened as Lou gets better at the work.  Bill Paxton is only in a few scenes, but he handles the part well. 

Nightcrawler is a very well done, somewhat disturbing thriller.  It probably won’t appeal to everyone, but it is definitely worth checking out, especially for fans of Gyllenhaal.  I do think it is worth checking out in theaters.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Expendables 3 Suffers From a Bloated Cast



3 Out of 5 Stars

I do like action movies and don’t even mind some that have major plot issues at times.  I have enjoyed a lot of movies that Sylvester Stallone has been in over the years.  I really enjoyed The Expendables when it came out and I enjoyed the sequel The Expendables 2 as well.  That is why I was interested in seeing The Expendables 3 even before I knew much about the plot.  I did enjoy the movie when I had the chance to see it, but I don’t like it as much as the first two movies.  This one has more issues.

Barney Ross and the team are on a mission to rescue former Expendable Doc.  He has been held prisoner for several years and is currently being moved on a train.  Doc was one of the first members of the Expendables and none of the other guys know him.  The next mission goes bad when Barney recognized Conrad Stonebanks, the man who started the Expendables with Barney originally.  Conrad went rogue and Barney has believed him dead for years.  One of the guys is injured, and feeling guilty and wanting to avoid that happening again, basically fires everyone and then recruits new, younger mercenaries.  Eventually everyone has to work together in an attempt to face Conrad.

There is no indication of how much time is supposed to have passed since the end of the second movie when The Expendables 3 begins.  There isn’t any sort of recap to anything that happened in the previous movies.  The events in this movie don’t directly build on the first two movies since there is no continuing story line.  It is kind of interesting to find out a little more about the founding of the group, but even with finding out about Conrad, there isn’t that much shared.  Barney and Conrad’s conflict works well enough as a story even though it isn’t developed as well as it could have been.  Much of what happens seems to be an excuse for more and more wild action scenes.  It just would have been nice if the story had been a little stronger.  There are attempts at humor throughout the movie, with some working better than others.

Over the top action scenes turn up throughout the movie.  There is all kinds of shooting as well as some fist fights.  Doc uses knives, much like Lee, which causes some conflicts between them.  As the movie continues, the action sequences just get bigger until there is absolutely no hint of believability to what is going on.  A handful of people with limited weapons is supposed to take out what amounts to an army, complete with helicopters and tanks.  It does get a bit ridiculous.  All sorts of nameless characters are injured or killed in some way, especially later in the movie.  Despite that, the movie is rated PG-13 instead of R like the first two in an attempt to get more younger viewers to see the movie in the theater.  It is true that there is very little if any blood shown even with all the injuries and killings, but the rating still doesn’t seem right to me with how high the body count is.

A lot of the cast has been in all three movies, but this one also has several new, younger members.   Frankly, too much time is spent with the new members at the expense of the returning characters.  The new members don’t stand out at all really.  One of them is a woman bouncer and another one is a former member of the military who doesn’t like taking orders and seems a bit moody.  I didn’t particularly like or care about any of them.  I liked the characters from the first two movies so I wanted to see more of them, not younger moody people I don’t care about.  Before seeing the movie, I didn’t realize that the younger members of the cast were going to receive the most attention, with the older members being shoved to the background for the most part while the new guys crack jokes that involve calling the older members Grandpa.  I wouldn’t have minded so much if there was just one or two younger characters added, but a whole new younger team was overkill.  That, along with adding Doc, Bonaparte, Galgo, Drummer, and having Trench around a bit more, has the cast just too big.  That results in none of the characters getting enough attention and there really isn’t any character development.  By trying to feature every member of such a large cast, it ends up with no one really featured.

The set up with Doc and how they rescue him is interesting, then in no time, that is forgotten to focus on the new team.  A big part of the appeal of the first two movies was the fact that they featured several older action stars together in one movie.  This movie went to far off track that idea by focusing so much on the new younger team.  Adding Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford would have been more than enough and would have fit in more with the original set up. 

Ronda Rousey, a mixed martial arts figher who currently has at least one title, plays Luna, the woman bouncer that Barney adds to the new team.  Really the only thing that stands out about her is that she is a woman who acts tough.  I didn’t particularly care about the character and I wasn’t that impressed with her acting.  It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great either.  Kellan Lutz, who played one of the moody, sparkly, vampires in the Twilight movies is John, the kind of moody former Marine.  I do wonder if anyone involved in the casting was hoping that some of the Twilight fans would follow Lutz to this one.  Thorn is some kind of veteran who is really good with computers and Mars is a sharpshooter who has a fear of heights. 

Lee, Yin, Gunner, Toll Road, Hale Caesar, and Trench are all back, with some of them doing more than others.  They were all fine in what they were able to do.  Doc starts off looking like a bit of a wild man.  He quickly proves that he still has his work skills.  Wesley Snipes is good in the part.  Galgo is a kind of older mercenary who is desperately trying to get on a team again.  He talks a lot.  I liked Antonio Banderas in the part.  Bonaparte is someone that Barney knows who is helping find the new team.  It seems like Bonaparte has done mercenary work in the past.  Kelsey Grammar only has a few scenes.  Harrison Ford is in a few scenes as Drummer, a CIA agent that gives Barney missions.  Drummer is replacing Church, the character the Bruce Willis played in the first two movies.  Willis was originally going to be back, but then he wanted more money for only four days of shooting, so the character was removed.

Conrad started the Expendables with Barney years ago.  Somewhere along the way, Conrad starting turning more and more to the criminal side.  There was some sort of confrontation and Barney believed that he killed Conrad.  Instead, Conrad was able to become a huge arms dealer and he lives a lavish life.  He is ruthless and he decides that he is going to take out Barney and the team.  Mel Gibson does a good job with the part.  This is the first time I’ve seen him play a bad guy, but he handles it well.

Overall, The Expendables 3 is entertaining though it does have story issues and too many of the cast - the ones that many people probably want to see - are under used.  I have heard that there are plans for a fourth movie.  If that moves forward, I think it needs to return to the main cast from the first two movies and get the cast size back under control. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Robin Williams - A Farewell to My Favorite Entertainer

I am still a bit shocked and very sad about the passing of Robin Williams.  He has been my favorite actor for most of my life and I even did a paper on him in college.  I don’t know how well I can articulate everything I have been feeling since learning about it, but I decided I needed to try.  My thoughts may jump around a bit, but that seems fitting since that is frequently what Robin did.  At this point, I have been working on this off and on for a few days because it has taken me this long to get my thoughts in some semblance of order.

I went about my day on Monday August 11, 2014, running errands and things.  I didn’t bother to watch the news - I don’t watch the news all the time because I just get tired of hearing about all the crime and negative stuff.  That night, I was minding my own business, looking through some posts on Facebook when I was stunned to read one about Robin Williams dying.  I immediately went to other sites, hoping not to find confirmation that it had happened - not that I think the friend that posted would have made it up, but I just didn’t want to believe it.  I still don’t. 

Over the years I have felt sad when different celebrities have passed away without getting too upset or crying.  I almost always end up shedding a few tears during the memorial segments on different award shows.  This time it is different.  I have cried several times over the last several days, and that will probably continue to happen for a while.  The only other time the passing of a celebrity has hit me this hard was with Jim Henson.  I grew up watching Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, and since Henson was responsible for so many of those characters, it was like they died too at that point.  Mork & Mindy is one of the few shows I remember watching from the early 80s, so I guess I connect Mork, and therefore Robin with my childhood as well, which may be part of  why this has hit me so hard.  It may also be because it is just so sad that such a talented and gifted man is gone.  Finding out that it was suicide and that he had been severely depressed lately makes it sadder.

I am not in any way judging him for this.  It just makes me sadder that his depression got to such a point where he felt this was his only way to deal with it.  Unfortunately, it seems like others are judging.  I have seen nasty comments left on articles and videos.  There are people who are calling Robin a coward and selfish because of this.  He is a man who spent the majority of his life making other people happy.  He has done all kinds of work for various charities, a lot of which he didn’t talk about because he wasn’t doing it for the publicity.  He did it because he cared, something a selfish person wouldn’t do.  He was suffering from an illness that still has a stigma attached to it.  Someone who seems to be a well known blogger wrote something about it that I chose not to read because just the title ticked me off.  It seems like most of the people who have been posting these rude, judgmental, and even nasty things are people who have never had to deal with the type of severe depression that Robin was battling.  They have no idea what type of torment he felt or how he suffered.  They should be glad they haven’t.  Thankfully I have never had to deal with depression, and I hope I never do.  I do understand that it is an illness that people should not be criticized for having.  Some of the things that some people have said online, or even in some of the “news” reports have the potential to be harmful to people dealing with depression.

Over the years, Robin has battled addiction and depression.  Some of that has come out in his work, with him referencing the battles in his stand up.  He has played characters that have problems with depression.  There was even an episode of Mork & Mindy in which Mork learns about loneliness, and the episode does have some serious moments.   Years ago I saw either an interview or read one in which he talked about having insecurities.  It can be hard for people to grasp that someone who was as funny as Robin was could have insecurities and suffer from depression.  It seems like many funny people, and gifted people as well, end up dealing with some form of depression.  Having money or a successful career doesn’t make a person immune to depression. 

Depression does not discriminate and it can be incredibly hard for people to overcome.  It isn’t just feeling sad and people can’t just make themselves happy.  It isn’t like a cold where a person can wait it out or get some type of medicine to deal with the symptoms until it is gone.  There is no magic cure or magic pill.  What helps one person won’t necessarily help another.  While there are medications that can help, it can take a long time to find the right balance.  A medicine that had been helping can stop for whatever reason, starting the search for the balance all over again.  If a person also has to take other medications, they could cause interactions that mess things up.  Medications interact with each other in weird ways at times that can cause complications.   The side effects for a lot of medications mention depression, including some medicine used to treat depression.  There is at least one medicine used to treat depression - I can’t remember which one, but I have seen a bunch of commercials for it - that mentions, in addition to increased depression, suicidal thoughts and actions as side effects. 

On Wednesday, I was horrified to read that some people attacked his daughter for what she has and hasn’t shared online about him, claiming that she hadn’t shared enough pictures of him or some such nonsense.  No one, no matter how famous, is obligated to share every part of their life with the world.  No one has to take pictures of their every waking moment and post them online.  Famous people have a right to privacy too.  No one should be attacked for not sharing enough about their personal life online ever, and it certainly shouldn’t happen after someone has died. 
Friends and family members of someone who has died should not be attacked or criticized for how they grieve.  I don’t understand how or why those people have been doing this.  What is the matter with people?  That is an extra special level of cruel.

Robin Williams made the world a funnier, happier place.  I feel lucky to have been able to watch his many wonderful performances over the years and to have been touched by his brilliance in that way.  I have seen recordings of some of his stand up performances that I enjoyed greatly, but I was never lucky enough to have seen him perform in person.  That would have been something very special.  It would have truly been an honor to have been able to meet him, even for a brief time.  I was thrilled when he was in a new comedy series, and then disgusted when CBS cancelled it while renewing the ever more horrible Two and a Half Men.   Now that he is gone, the world is a sadder place.

I always loved to see Robin on talk shows.  He was the most entertaining guest, bouncing from thought to thought at lightening speed.  He was greatness in action.  When he would crack up over something, his laugh was infectious.  Not all comedians can really do improv, even though many of them seem to think they can.  It takes a very special type of talent to consistently be able to do that in front of a live audience and actually be funny. Robin was the best at it.  That is very different from certain actors who think doing improv is doing take after take after take until they decide something is funny when filming a movie.  Robin was a truly gifted, talented performer.  He was a comedy genius the likes of which I don’t think we will ever see again.

Not only was he hilarious, he was also very good at more serious roles.  One of his early movies was more serious - The World According to Garp - and it was made during the time he was playing Mork.  I haven’t seen all of his movies, but I have seen a lot of them.  I traveled about an hour and a half to get to a theater to see One Hour Photo because it wasn’t at the local theater.  The main reason I wanted to see the movie was because he was in it.  Even many of his funny performances have serious, emotional or downright sad moments in them.  In Mrs. Doubtfire, he was hilarious dressing up as an elderly Scottish nanny, and those outrageous moments are probably what many people remember the most from the movie.  I remember that his character dearly loved his children and would do anything to stay a part of their lives.  Late in the movie, during a court scene, he is absolutely heartbreaking talking about how much his children mean to him. 

I have several of his movies on DVD and I will probably pick up more of them at some point.  I actually did look a few up on Amazon only to discover that they are out of stock right now so they got added to my wish list.  I do sort of feel like having a marathon, starting with the three seasons of Mork & Mindy I have on DVD - I have been hoping for years that the fourth will be released - and continuing with the movies, but I also feel like it is a little too soon for me to do that just yet.  I have watched some clips from some things I hadn’t seen before, and others I had over the last few days.  While they have made me laugh hysterically again, I have also ended up crying again and again and again for various reasons, like just that he is gone or because of something sweet or touching said or done.  I know that I will lose it at the end of Aladdin the next time I watch it, but I will watch it again, along with his many other movies.  I will laugh again, sometimes hysterically until I can’t catch my breath, and I will cry again.  What I won’t do is ever forget him or the joy he has brought me. 

Robin Williams was a very special, talented man who was able to touch his fans in ways that left an impact.  That is why so many of us are so sad right now.  Even though we never actually met him, it feels like we have lost someone close to us.  It takes a special type of person to be able to make that sort of connection to so many people. 

Robin Williams will live on . . . as a grown up Peter Pan, a dedicated English teacher, an outrageous disc jockey, Popeye, a troubled homeless man, a few psychiatrists, a Russian defector, a disturbed photo technician, a killer, animated penguins, the President, Teddy Roosevelt, various doctors, the author son of a feminist, a firefighter who moves to the Caribbean, a banker stuck in the past, a used car salesman, an animated bat, a goofy toy maker, an actor who dresses up as an older Scottish, female nanny, a boy trapped in a game for twenty-six years, a boy who ages four times faster than normal, a flamboyant gay night club owner, a distracted professor, an android, an animated robot, the twisted, corrupt host of a children’s show, a man taking a vacation with his family, a man struggling with the aftermath of loss, an eccentric minister, a father trying to protect his son after death, an advertising executive, a centuries old genie who ultimately gains freedom, and a sweet, kind, gentle, loving alien from Ork. 

Robin Williams will not be forgotten, but he will be greatly missed.

Nanu nanu.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy is Still Awesome on Second Viewing



When I really enjoy a movie, I will watch it multiple times.  That is why I have as many movies on DVD and Blu-ray as I do.  I usually only see a movie in the theater once, but I am willing to see some movies more than once while in the theater.  So far, the most I have gone to the theater to see a movie is four times for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.  Over the years, I have seen several movies twice at the theater.  I haven’t done it as often in the last few years, partly because of opportunity and partly because there weren’t as many movies I was interested in seeing at the theater twice.  Earlier in the week, I decided to see Guardians of the Galaxy again.

I absolutely loved Guardians of the Galaxy when I saw it on opening day.  The movie is fun and entertaining with a great soundtrack. Probably within a day of seeing the movie, I was thinking about trying to go see it again.  I ended up waiting until Tuesday because I was going to have several hours in between two work related classes and I didn’t want to make two trips into the office.  If that hadn’t been happening, I think I would have gone again on Monday. 

There weren’t as many people there the second time, but it was a decent amount for early afternoon, especially considering it was a 3D showing.  For whatever reason, there are only two show times at the local theater for Guardians of the Galaxy that aren’t in 3D.  The very first showing every day is discounted even more on top of the matinee price, so there could have been more at that time - I missed that showing because of the first class.  Everyone in the theater seemed to really enjoy the movie - all of us stayed through the credits for the extra scene.  Yes I had already seen it, but I wanted to see it again too. 

I noticed a few more things here and there that I had missed the first time I saw the movie.  I noticed how Yondu’s mohawk turns red at times, especially when he is using his whistle controlled arrow.  I paid more attention to one character when he turned up because I figured out from reading the credits the first time that Nathan Fillion did the voice for that character.  The voice really sounds nothing like Fillion.  I noticed more cool things with the special effects, including with the 3D.  Since there weren’t as many people there, I was able to hear a few lines that I had missed previously thanks to the laughter of the audience.  I did notice the one character from the scene after the credits earlier in the movie - no I’m not saying who it is.  The character in question can be seen in the background when the main characters go to see the Collector.  There isn’t a closeup of the character or anything like that.  It is really just a silhouette, but that is enough to make it clear who it is.

Guardians of the Galaxy holds up very well on a second viewing.  I enjoyed the movie just as much as I did the first time.   Honestly, I would be see it in the theater again if I got the chance.  I would even pay the higher price for a 3D showing again.  This is one of the most entertaining movies I’ve seen in a long time.  I will definitely be adding this to my movie collection.

This review is part of elvisdo’s 7th Annual Funny Pages Write off.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy is Awesome (Spoiler Free)



5 out of 5 Stars

Guardians of the Galaxy is the latest Marvel movie.  I have been looking forward to seeing it for months, ever since I saw the first trailer that has Hooked on a Feeling playing.  The movie is very fun and entertaining and it is definitely worth checking out.  It does build on what has happened in previous Marvel movies and sets up things for future movies while still standing alone fairly well. 

I am only going to briefly discuss the plot for Guardians of the Galaxy.  People who prefer not to know anything about the plot before seeing the movie should skip the next paragraph.

** Minor Plot Discussion **
Peter Quill is abducted from Earth in 1988, just minutes after his mother passes away.  Twenty-six years later, he is calling himself Star Lord.  He ends up in a world of trouble when he manages to find an orb that Ronan, a Kree, is trying to retrieve for Thanos.  Ronan sends Gamora, an assassin and Thanos’s adopted daughter, after Peter.  Gamora and Peter end up in prison along with Groot and Rocket, where they meet Drax.  The five decide to work together to get out so they will have a chance to stop Ronan and Thanos.

** End of Minor Plot Discussion **
There is a cute scene at the end of the movie, just as the credits are starting.  There is a scene after the credits that ties back into something that happens during the movie.  All of the Marvel movies have done this, and with most of them, the extra scenes hint at something that will be coming in some way in a future movie.  Another Marvel character is introduced in the short scene.  I did recognize the character, but I have no idea what is being planned there.  I honestly never expected to see that character show up, and I am now wondering what Marvel is planning since all the other characters introduced in this way have turned up in later movies so far.

Guardians of the Galaxy is the based on the Marvel comic book.  I have never read it, so I have no idea what has stayed the same and what has been changed.  I hadn’t even heard of Guardians of the Galaxy before Marvel announced that they were making the movie.  I didn’t know what to expect from the movie, even after seeing the first few trailers, but I still wanted to see the movie.  I’m very glad that I saw it. This is one of the best movies of the year.

Peter is first shown as a child in 1988.  The movie only spends a few minutes on that point in his life, but it is a rough few minutes.  The movie then jumps forward twenty-six years to show Peter as he is finding the orb.  From that point on, things move at a fairly good pace without feeling rushed.  The story works well overall.  It is very interesting and entertaining, blending in some touching moments with really funny things.  Some of what happens is just flat out bizarre - one of the characters is a talking raccoon and another one is a sort of tree that can only say I am Groot  - but it all works perfectly to make an awesome movie. 

All of the main characters say and do things that are funny in some way.  All the humor gives a movie a lighter feel overall even with the emotional moments.  Music also plays a part in what is going on since Peter’s most treasured possession is the mix tape his mother made for him of songs from the 70s and 80s.  Those songs actually work very well with what is going on when they are heard.  I am slightly disappointed that more of Hooked on a Feeling isn’t heard during the movie like it was in one or two trailers.  Other characters react oddly to Peter’s music, and at one point, he even uses it during a confrontation in an unexpected way.  In another scene, Peter shares the legend of Footlose and hero Kevin Bacon.  The music also serves as a connection to Earth and his mother for Peter, so it is understandable why he is so protective of his walkman and the mix tape.  I do wonder where he got batteries for the walkman over the years.

I ended up seeing Guardians of the Galaxy in 3D because of the show times.  For whatever reason, all but two of the show times are in 3D at the local theater.  I do think the 3D was pretty good and that it added to a few cool images.  I think the movie is also showing in IMAX 3D at some locations.  Everything looks wonderful throughout the movie.  Several things are created with special effects that are done well. 

There is a decent amount of action to what is going on without things getting too graphically violent overall.  A few things happen that are more violent and could be upsetting or even disturbing to some viewers.  There are different fights, including a few involving space ships, that are done well.  I think there is a decent amount of action in the movie overall.  I think of the movie mostly as a fun action adventure in space.  The movie is rated PG-13, so parents should keep that in mind when deciding on taking kids to see it.  There is some swearing, though nothing extreme and the word that rhymes with luck is not used.  Peter does make an obscene gesture at one point, though it is done in a funny way. 

Guardians of the Galaxy has an interesting group of unique characters.  Peter, Gamora, Rocket, Groot, and Drax are basically misfits who are thrown together by circumstances and end up finding a way to work together.  They ultimately become friends and discover that their individual strengths compliment each other, making them stronger together.  Peter is a bit of an outlaw who has a rather inflated view of his own reputation.  Chris Pratt is perfect in the part. 

Gamora was raised by Thanos and turned into an assassin after he killed her family.  She sees the current situation as her way of getting away from him.  She is very good at fighting and does have some trust issues.  Zoe Saldana is good in the part.  Nebula, who is part cyborg,  was raised with Gamora and the two have issues.  Nebula has issues with Thanos as well, though she seems loyal to him.  Karen Gillian is really good in the part.  I don’t think I would have recognized her if I hadn’t know she was playing the part since she looks so different. 

Rocket and Groot have been working together for a while as some sort of bounty hunters/mercenaries.   Rocket is a raccoon that has been experimented on, giving him the ability to talk.  He is very fond of large weapons.  The voice Bradley Cooper does for the character fits him very well.  Groot is basically a walking tree who is very good in fights.  Vin Diesel provides his voice even though he only says one thing.  He does say it in different ways, and it seems like Rocket is able to pick up on more other things that Groot means.  Drax is after vengeance for his family.  He wants to kill Ronan and even go after Thanos, and his need for vengeance causes him to make some stupid decisions at times.  Dave Bautista is fine in the part. 

Ronan is the main villain of the movie.  He wants revenge against enemies of the Kree, and he is determined to get it.  Most people are afraid of him since he will not hesitate to use deadly force.  Lee Pace does well with the part.  Thanos is just briefly in the movie, though it is clear that he has bigger plans.  I believe that Thanos will be playing a bigger part in future movies.  Josh Brolin performed as the character for motion capture and provided his voice. 

Yondu is a bandit that has basically raised Peter.  The two have some conflicts.  Yondu isn’t really a bad guy, but he isn’t really a good guy either.  Michael Rooker does well with the character.  Glenn Close is in a few scenes as Nova Prime, the leader of the Nova Corps who are in charge of protecting the planet Xandar.  John C. Reilly turns up in a few scenes as Rhomann Dey, a member of the Nova Corps. Benicio Del Toro is The Collector in a few short scenes.  Stan Lee makes another short appearance somewhat early in the movie.  Nathan Fillion has a small cameo, though I think, now that I figured out which character it was, that he just did the voice.  Director James Gunn has a cameo too, though I didn’t manage to spot him.

Guardians of the Galaxy is absolutely awesome and definitely worth seeing in the theater.  People who have liked the other Marvel movies will probably enjoy this one as well even though it is a bit different.  This is one of the best movies of the year.

This review is part of elvisdo’s 7th Annual Funny Pages Write off

Thursday, July 31, 2014

22 Jump Street - Overload of Crude Humor



2 out of 5 Stars

I try to keep an open mind about new movies.  I tend to give most movies a chance, even when I am not particularly fond of members of the cast.  With some actors and actresses, it is a little harder for me to do that.  Originally I really wasn’t interested in seeing 22 Jump Street.  I only recently saw the first movie, and, well, it wasn’t a favorite.  I don’t really like Jonah Hill, though I have managed to like some of his movies.  I ended up going to see 22 Jump Street.  I should have followed my initial instincts and avoided it.

After somehow managing to be successful with their assignment out of 21 Jump Street that sent them back to high school looking for drug dealers, partners Jenko and Schmidt have trouble with other assignments.  They get a lead on Ghost, a drug dealer, but mess up in a big way and are sent to 22 Jump Street - across the street in a different abandoned church from 21 Jump Street.  Captain Dickson assigns Jenko and Schmidt to go undercover at the local college to find who is suppling a new drug called WHYPHY that has been linked to the death of a student.

It doesn’t take long for Jenko to start up a friendship with Zook and Rooster, fraternity brother football players.  Schmidt doesn’t fit in with them at all and he starts feeling left out.  He does manage to start a relationship with art student Maya even while being looked down on by Maya’s roommate Mercedes.  Jenko and Schmidt start to drift apart and the investigation, as well as their friendship, suffers.

During the first several minutes of the credits, there are a series of clips from fake sequels that have Jenko and Schmidt going undercover in other schools, like medical school, culinary school, and a seminary - in which Seth Rogen replaces Jonah Hill as Schmidt because of “contract negations”.   The clips are amusing.  At the end of the credits there is a short scene that ties back into something that happened earlier during the movie.  I’m guessing it was supposed to be funny, but I didn’t think it was.  It was just an attempt at a joke being taken too far yet again.

While I did laugh here and there at things happening in 22 Jump Street, I didn’t find the movie that funny overall.  Far too often, the “jokes” fell flat for me.  From very early in the movie there are a lot of jokes about movie sequels being exactly the same as the first movies, how a bigger budget doesn’t guarantee success, and how all sequels stink.  The movie is very self aware, including through the clips during the credits.  That stuff is fine at first, but it gets old fast.  The same thing happens any other time something actually funny happens.  The writers didn’t know when to quit.  Mercedes spends just about every minute she is on screen making cracks about old people and how ancient Schmidt is.  That was just stupid.

There are a lot of gay jokes tied to the relationship between Jenko and Schmidt.  There are some tied to Jenko’s growing friendship with Zook as well later in the movie.  The first few of those jokes was fine, but again, the writers didn’t know when to quit.  It got to a point where it was uncomfortable that they were resorting to that sort of joke again.  The humor would have worked better overall if there wasn’t so much overkill with certain types of jokes going on.   It is almost like someone decided that if it was funny once, then doing the same sort of joke 900 more times will be absolutely hilarious.  It isn’t.  I don’t mind dumb comedies or silly movies at times.  This one just didn’t work for me.  There some pop culture type references, including references to Batman, Robin, and Spider-man.  Sexual references, some of which are rather vulgar, are used throughout the movie.  They are something else that I think were intended to be funny that weren’t.

I don’t know if everything in the movie was actually scripted or if improvisation went on during filming.  Jonah Hill is part of a group of male actors who do a lot of improvisation during their movies.  They seem to think anything they think up on the spot is hilarious no matter how stupid it is.  Saying whatever pops into your head and then laughing doesn’t make something funny.  Some people are really, really good at improvisation, but not everyone is.  Hill - and the group of actors that includes Seth Rogen - isn’t that good at it.  I have seen extras on some DVDs that have actors going on and on and on, trying to come up with something funny by just spewing nonsense.  A lot of the stuff that Mercedes says about how old Schmidt is has that sort of feel to it. 

The few action scenes do seem a bit exaggerated and over the top.  There is sort of a chase at the beginning, and a longer chase later that has Jenko and Schmidt going after two different suspects.  The action does take a back seat to the attempts at humor.  Some violence is in a few scenes without the movie being violent overall.  The word that rhymes with luck, along with variations of it, are used by just about every character, something else that is over done.  Drugs play a part in what is going on, including when Jenko and Schmidt unknowingly ingest some and have a weird trip.  The movie does deserve the R rating, and it isn’t one that children of any age should see.

I didn’t think any of the characters were that interesting.  Jenko is good looking and becomes popular at college, but he is dumber than a box of rocks.  That makes it harder to believe him as a college student than the fact that he is older than his classmates.  Schmidt is overly needy and clingy where Jenko is concerned, but he is still somehow able to hook up with Maya, a girl well out of his league.  Jonah Hill didn’t annoy me as much as he has in other movies, but he still isn’t funny.  Channing Tatum really isn’t funny either. 

Maya is just a pretty art student who has a family member that could add complications.  Mercedes is a waste most of the time.  She and Schmidt get into a fight at one point that is just ridiculous.  Captain Dickson is only around in a few scenes.  He mostly is yelling about something.  The Ghost is a drug dealer the guys are after at the beginning who may or may not turn up again later.  Rooster and Zook are the football playing frat brothers.  Neither of them seem that bright either.  Zook is around a little more since he becomes more of a friend to Jenko.  I didn’t realize that Wyatt Russell was playing Zook when watching the movie.  Different students are around briefly without them adding anything to the movie.

22 Jump Street has a few moments here and there that work or that are funny, but overall, it just isn’t funny.  I know the movie has gotten a lot of good reviews, but I don’t understand that.  I don’t get what is so good or entertaining about it.  This is definitely not a movie for everyone.

This review is part of elvisdo’s 7th Annual Funny Pages Write off because of the references to Batman, Robin, and Spider-man.   

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Tammy



3 out of 5 Stars

Melissa McCarthy has become very popular in the last few years.  I think she is very funny and have enjoyed movies she was in, so I have wanted to see Tammy, her new movie.

The day is already going bad - car issues and being fired - when Tammy arrives home and discovers that her husband is romancing another woman.  Tammy packs up a few things and heads two houses down to her parents’ home.  When her mom won’t turn over a car, Tammy decides she can take her grandmother’s car.  Pearl is willing, but only if she goes with Tammy.  The two head off on what ends up being a wild road trip, complete with drinking and a robbery.

A few short things are shown during the first few minutes of the credits, including one blooper.  There are no additional scenes at the end of the credits.  There isn’t a 3D option for this one.

Things start happening within the first few minutes of Tammy, setting up that this is just the most recent bad day that Tammy has had.  It quickly becomes clear that her life isn’t the greatest.  Some of that is her own fault and other things aren’t.  There are times when I felt really bad for her.  Pearl has her own issues that come to light during the trip.  That does sort of add a few complications to what is going on, but the plot is fairly straightforward, though it isn’t completely predictable since there are a few small surprises here and there.  Some people could be disappointed by the fairly simple plot. 

Not everyone is going to like or appreciate the humor in Tammy.  Some of it is rather crude or rude, involving obscene gestures or language.  The word that rhymes with luck, along with some variations are used repeatedly throughout the movie by just about every character.  All the foul language may offend some people.  I don’t mind if that sort of thing is done a few times, but it does get old after a certain point.  Bad language by itself isn’t funny.  I do think that Tammy is funny overall, though it could have been funnier.  There are funny things that weren’t in the trailers, but there is also something that has been in trailers that wasn’t in the movie for some reason.  A few references are used at times as well, mostly to things that a younger person will not get.  The only one I can remember now is when Tammy mentions the old tv show Falcon Crest

Tammy is not a family friendly movie, though when I saw it, someone decided to bring a herd of children, who ended up sitting just one seat away from me.  The movie is rated R for a reason, and young children really should not be seeing it.  The movie is probably all right for teenagers.  Parents should check the movie out first.  In addition to all the swearing, there are some sexual remarks and a few borderline sexual situations as well.  At one point, Pearl is picked up by Earl while Tammy and Earl’s son Bobby watch.  Pearl and Earle end up in the backseat of the car before locking Tammy out of the hotel room.  Pearl demonstrates more bad behavior by offering Tammy beer when Tammy is driving and spending a lot time drunk.  The two women share a few things, some of which are a bit disturbing. 

Pearl and Tammy serve as the main characters and each of them have some issues.  Pearl spends a lot of time drunk, and at least once, she is shown starting to drink really early in the day.  Pearl is a bit wild at times, especially where Earl is concerned.  Susan Sarandon is all right in the part, though she doesn’t seem old enough to have a granddaughter Tammy’s age - or daughter the age of Deb for that matter.  It is a little odd to see Sarandon in this type of part, but I think she handles the comedy well.  I do think she was funnier in the few episodes of Mike & Molly she was in last year.  Deb and Don are Tammy’s parents.  Deb is not happy about the road trip at all and she doesn’t come across as that supportive at times.  Alison Janney is fine in the part even though she isn’t old enough to have a daughter the age of McCarthy.  Don only shows up very briefly late in the movie, so Dan Aykroyd don’t get much to do.

Lenore is Pearl’s cousin who ends up helping Pearl and Tammy at one point.  Kathy Bates is fine in the part even though she doesn’t have much to do.  Sandra Oh has even less to do as Susanne, Lenore’s partner.  Earl is a drunken mess and a mostly flat character.  Gary Cole really just has to stumble around and make out with Sarandon.  Bobby is Earl’s sort of responsible son - Bobby did take Earl out drinking after all.  Bobby doesn’t get much attention either, but he seems nice enough.  Missi is the woman that Tammy’s husband Greg is seeing.  They are only in a few short scenes, so Toni Collette is wasted in the part.  Ben Falcone is good as Keith, Tammy’s jerk boss. 
Tammy, as the main character that the movie is named after, ends up with the most to do.  She has a fairly crappy life.  She tends to complain about things without doing much to try to change things.  She isn’t the brightest crayon in the box and she clearly has issues.  She usually makes bad decisions, though at one point, she does that with good intentions.  She still manages to be mostly likable even though she has some moments when it is difficult to like her.  Melissa McCarthy is fine in the part.  She, along with her husband Ben Falcone, wrote the movie and he directed it.  I do think it could have been better.  Tammy really isn’t that different from the parts she has played in Identity Thief and The Heat, so I can see why some people say they are getting tired of her doing the same thing over and over. 

Tammy has problems and could have been a lot better, but it isn't as bad as some have said.  It does manage to be funny and entertaining, but it isn’t as good as The Heat.  Fans of McCarthy will probably want to check out of the movie.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Simpsons Movie - Homer Hits the Big Screen




5 out of 5 Stars

The animated television series The Simpsons is the longest running television show.  It became very popular from the time it began to air in 1989 on FOX.  The characters appeared on all kinds of merchandise, games, and comic books.  It was years later before I started to watch the show because I didn’t have FOX in 1989.  I quickly got hooked on the show and have been watching it ever since.  I have all the DVD sets that have been released and I went to see The Simpsons Movie on opening day in 2007.  I just watched the movie again. 

Springfield is facing a dangerous situation.  Lisa convinces everyone to do something to fix the situation.  Things start to get better until the day that Homer gets distracted by free donuts and does something that dooms the town.  He then has to try to find a way to redeem himself and possibly save the town. 

The Simpsons Movie begins showing many of the characters in a movie theater watching an Itchy & Scratchy movie.  During the credits, there are a few little bits of animation, including Maggie’s first word, but there really aren’t any actual extra scenes during or after the credits.  There wasn’t an animated short before the movie, unless you count the few minutes of Itchy & Scratchy. 

While the plot for the movie does build on things from the series, it is self contained.  There really haven’t been any continuing storylines in the series, so there wasn’t anything like that to carry into the movie.  Everything is resolved by the end of the movie.  Some things that happened in the movie have been referenced in the series since then once or twice.  When the new season started in the fall of 2007, something is shown that connects to the ending of the movie.  People who haven’t seen the series could enjoy the movie though they probably won’t know all the characters or get why certain things happen.  The movie is really aimed at fans of the show.  

Subplots turn up in many episodes of the series, some of which end up not being connected to the main plot of the episode in any way.  The Simpsons Movie has a few subplots that do end up tying back into the main plot.  For a few of the subplots, it only becomes clear late in the movie how they connect to the main plot.  Things remain true to the series and what has been established in it and no one acts out of character.  The things that happen are believable for the world of the series.     

The movie uses the same type of humor that the series uses and I think the movie is funny.  That does mean that some jokes are silly and there is some gross humor as well.  This type of humor doesn’t appeal to everyone, but I think it works for the movie just like it works for the series.  Anyone that has had a problem with the humor in the show will probably have a problem with it in the movie too.  Some of the humor relies on things that Homer says or does, again like the show.  It just wouldn’t seem right to me if Homer didn’t bumble into something and cause some sort of problem.  It would have been weird if the movie changed the humor too much from what is used in the series.   From what I remember, the trailers and previews didn’t show the funniest moments.  There are a few pop culture references without the movie being loaded down with too many of them like has happened with other movies.  Homer gets a pig at one point that he calls Spider Pig and later calls Harry Plopper, in what seem to be references to Spider-Man and Harry Potter.  Homer even makes up a Spider Pig song.

The Simpsons Movie is rated PG-13, so it is able to get away with a little more than an episode of the series is.  At one point, Homer makes an obscene gesture with each hand and there is a little bit of swearing.  The word that rhymes with luck isn’t used.  There is some animated nudity at one point that did shock me when I first saw the movie.  I hadn’t expected it to go as far as it did.  Parents should definitely check out the movie before letting their kids see it, even if their kids regularly watch the series.  Things are a little more suggestive in a few other scenes.  The movie isn’t good for all children just because it is animated. 

The animation for the movie has the same basic look as the series.  All the characters and locations look the same, though it is slightly different from how the series looked up to the point of the movie being released.  The series is now in high definition, something that started with season twenty in 2009.  The animation for the movie is done very well though it isn’t on the same level as what Pixar does. 

By the time this movie came out, the series had aired for eighteen years.   That gave it the time to have richly developed main characters and a large, fairly strong cast of supporting characters.  There isn’t much in the way of character development in the movie, but that didn’t bother me since I was already familiar with the characters.  Anyone who hasn’t watched the show may feel differently.  The movie, like the series, is mainly focused on the five members of the Simpsons family, so they end up with the most to do.   

While several supporting characters are around, none of them do as much which is a little disappointing even though it is understandable.  There are a few scenes that include large crowds, which is the only time some of the various characters are actually seen.  Some of the characters only get a line or two while others don’t have any.   Several locations, like the church, Krusty Burger, and the comic book store, turn up as well.  Comic Book Guy shows up in a few scenes and is actually attempting to help Marge figure something out at one point.  Apu, Moe, Millhouse, Chief Wiggum, and Mr. Burns briefly stand out in short scenes.  There are a few new characters, with Russ Cargill having the most to do since he is involved in the main plot.  The voices of the characters are all done by the voice actors who have done them for the series for years.  It would have just been strange if the voices had been different.  Albert Brooks, credited as A. Brooks, does a good job with the voice of Russ.  One very famous actor basically does a cameo as himself at one point. 

DVD INFORMATION

The Simpsons Movie is available on DVD and Blu-ray.  I have the DVD.  The picture quality looks beautiful on my HDTV.  There are a few commentaries that I haven’t taken the time to listen to yet.  There are five or six short deleted scenes, including a slightly alternate ending, that really don’t add much, though they would have given a few other characters some screen time.  The different trailers are included as well.  Special stuff includes little extra bits, like Homer introducing American Idol and Homer, Marge, and Lisa acting as the American Idol judges while Simon Cowell auditions.  None of them are very long, though they are cute.  Since I don’t have the Blu-ray, I don’t know what sort of extras are included with that version.

The Simpsons Movie is a very fun, entertaining movie.  I really enjoyed it and think it is true to the series.  It is definitely worth checking out for fans of the series.  People who don’t like the series should probably just skip this movie.

This review is part of Elvisdo’s 7th Annual Funny Pages Write Off because of Comic Book Guy, the reference to Spider-Man, and the fact that there are Simpsons comic books.

I posted a review of this movie on Epinions on July 27, 2007 - after seeing the movie in the theater - as dragonfire88.  When I watched the movie again recently, I decided to write a new review.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Independence Day - Will Smith Battles Aliens



4 out of 5 Stars

Eighteen years ago in 1996, Independence Day was the big blockbuster of the summer.  I did see the movie two or three times in the theater and I got the movie on VHS before eventually picking up the DVD.  I have no idea how many times I’ve seen this movie.  I ended up leaving the movie on when I found it on one of the Encore channels on the 4th of July. 

On July 2, satellites start having issues and a huge space ship is discovered orbiting Earth.  Smaller ships break off the big ship and move above major cities all around the world.  A few groups of people around the country, including the President and his wife, are shown dealing with the initial situation and then the aftermath of horrible attacks on the various major cities.  Not everyone that is introduced survives.  Eventually the different groups of people end up at Area 51.  David, who works for a cable company, plays a big part in developing a plan of attack that is launched on July 4th.   

At first, it might seem like Independence Day is a complicated movie.  A lot is going on, but it is all tied to the spaceships and the attempts to deal with that.  The plot ends up being rather simple and predictable, but it does work overall as an entertaining movie.  Things start off a little slower as all the various characters are introduced.  The movie jumps around among all the characters throughout the movie, showing little bits of what is going on with them before jumping to the next group of characters.  All the jumping around does get a little old and things don’t flow as well as they probably could.  The story itself of aliens showing up has a lot of potential.  It just isn’t as developed as it could have been.

There is a lot of action throughout Independence Day in the form of various fights and some explosions.  All the characters are in danger at some point, some more than once.  Air Force One barely takes off ahead of a massive fireball from the attack.  Another character, Jasmine, somehow finds the one spot that will withstand a similar fireball in Los Angeles with seconds to spare.  There are a few air fights with smaller attack type ships that deploy from the larger ships hovering over the cities.  The action is a bit over the top at times, but those scenes are entertaining.  The aliens are seen and look suitably creepy.  One or two scenes featuring an alien is a bit gross.  Some scenes have a bit of violence, but there really isn’t that much violence overall considering how much action there is.  The movie is rated PG-13, so parents should probably check the movie out before letting children see it.  There is an attempt to add humor to what is going on, usually through what some characters say.  That happens even during action scenes at times which can mess with the flow of the scene.  Some of the lines are more cheesy and some of the other dialogue that isn’t trying to be funny isn’t that great.

I’m sure that a lot of things were created with special effects throughout the movie.  The effects are done well and have held up well for the most part without looking really dated.  When I watched again this time I did notice a few things with the effects that I didn’t before.  It was mainly that the edges around people or objects - like when the fireballs were approaching -  looked a little off in scenes that must have used green screen.  I may have noticed this time because I was watching on an HDTV.  I think the last time I watched a few years ago was on an older tv.  The Encore channel was HD as well.  I have no idea if Encore was using a high definition copy of the movie or not though.  The overall picture quality was good and it didn’t look like grainy or anything like that.    

Since making Independence Day, director Roland Emmerich has made two more disaster movies, 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow.  He also made the 1998 Godzilla, which is kind of a combination of monster and disaster movie.  Those movies have followed the same basic formula, with different disasters for the characters to face.  There is even a plane taking off barely ahead of a fireball in 2012 along with a limo that somehow manages to outrun fire, explosions, and massive falling debris.  I think there was more than one escape just barely ahead of a fireball in that movie, but I don’t remember for sure.  I think I have blocked a lot of that out.  I’ve seen all four of these movies and I notice a lot of similarities in them.  It really seems like Emmerich has used this movie as a template for others because the structure of the other three movies is so similar.  There are groups of characters that the movies jump between, showing how they all are dealing with the disaster.  None of the characters are that developed and they mostly just fill a certain type of role.  There is one scientist type character who figures out what is going on that no one will listen to until it is too late.  Someone will give a rousing speech just when things seem to be the worst that inspires everyone.  There tend to be one couple that is estranged for some reason who realize they still love each other by the end.  Most of these movies have also had another couple who start out happy, somehow survive everything, and end up eve closer.  The story and the set up of everything works all right for this movie, but it would be nice if he would try more originality.  He has done other things that were very different, but he seems to keep returning to this formula time after time.

I didn’t notice it when I first saw the movie, but the alien ships look a lot like the ships from V, a television mini series about aliens that come to Earth that aired in the 80s.  There was a new version of the series on a few years ago that I also watched.  When the new series started to air, there was some criticism that the show was just copying things from Independence Day.  Evidently the people that claimed that never saw or knew about the original V, which came out well before this movie.  It was around that time that I realized how much the ships look like the ones from V.  I watched V when it originally aired, but enough time had passed before this movie came out that I didn’t pick up on the similar look. 

There is such a large group of characters in Independence Day that really none of them are that developed.  They just sort of fill certain characteristics without any depth being added to them.  Several of the characters are nice enough, but they are very flat.  David works for a cable company is very intelligent.  He discovers something early on tied to the aliens, but of course, no one will listen to him at that point.  He is still in love in with ex-wife and still wears his wedding ring.  Jeff Goldblum does fine with the part.  Julius is David’s father who ends up going along.  Judd Hirsch is wonderful in the role and has some of the best lines even though he doesn’t get much to do overall.

Constance is David’s ex-wife who works for the president.  She doesn’t listen at first, but she starts acting differently and seems to still love David.  From what was said in a few scenes, it seemed like she had put her job first.  It also didn’t help that David had some trust issues and even punched Thomas at some point.  Margaret Colin is fine in the part.  Thomas Whitmore is the president.  He fought in the Gulf War which seems to have been a big reason why people elected him.  When things begin, people aren’t happy with how he has been doing his job.  David and Thomas still have issues.  Bull Pullman is fine in the part.  Marilyn is Thomas’s wife.  She is in Los Angeles when the attack happens.  Mary McDonnell does well with what she has to work with.  Albert Nimzicki works with the president and has his own ideas about how to deal with the situation.  He is a former CIA agent who may know than he admits at first.  James Rebhorn does fine with the part.

Steve is somewhat cocky, but he is a talented pilot.  He wants to be an astronaut, but he keeps getting turning down.  Will Smith does well with the part.  Jasmine is Steve’s girlfriend.  She is an exotic dancer.  At one point she mentions doing it because she makes good money and her son is worth it.  Jasmine is nice enough.  Vivica A. Fox is fine in the part, though nothing special.  Harry Connick Jr. is in a few scenes as Jimmy Wilder, a pilot and friend of Steve’s. 

Russell is a crop duster who tends to be drunk most of the time.  He is sort of considered a local crackpot because of how he acts and the fact that he talks about being abducted by aliens just about every chance he gets.  Randy Quaid is a bit over the top with his performance, though that does sort of fit the character.  Miguel, Alicia, and Troy are Russell’s children.  Miguel is really fed up with Russell.  Robert Loggia is in several scenes as William Grey, a general who is involved in the situation.  Adam Baldwin has a small part as Major Mitchell, someone stationed at Area 51.  Harvey Fierstein and Brent Spinner also have small parts and only turn up in a few scenes.

DVD Information

I have seen a few different DVD versions of Independence Day.  I have a two disc version that has several extras tied to the making of the movie on the second disc.  I’m not sure what sort of extras are on the other DVD versions.  The movie is available on Blu-ray, though since I don’t have that version, I don’t know what sort of extras it has.  The movie does air on various cable channels at times, especially near or on the fourth of July.  Depending on which channel it is on, it could be edited.  When commercial breaks are added on some channels, it makes the movie almost unbearably long, especially with how often the commercials are.  It is better to watch it from the DVD, Blu-ray, or a channel that doesn’t have commercials.  The movie is long enough by itself.  One of the Encore movie channels aired the movie all day on the 4th of July this year (2014).  I don’t know exactly what time the marathon started, but I’m guessing that it lasted twenty four hours.

Independence Day has some flaws, but it is an entertaining movie overall that has held up fairly well and is still worth watching.  Fans of the cast or people who like disaster movies will probably find something to like about the movie.  Anyone who doesn’t care for disaster movies or mindless action movies will want to skip this one.  It is one of the few movies I own or have seen that is set around the fourth of July.

I originally posted this review on Epinions on July 4, 2010 as dragonfire88.  I made changes to the review before posting it here.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Plans for This Blog

I have decided that I am going to start posting some of the reviews that I originally posted on Epinions here.  I think that most of the time when I do that, I’ll probably make at least a few changes.  When I do repost one of those reviews, I will mention that it was originally posted on Epinions.  If I have recently rewatched the movie, then I might just do a whole new review.  I think I will still mention that I had previously posted a review of the book at Epinions in that case as well. 

I have managed to watch more movies recently and I hope to get some reviews posted soon.  I have mostly kept up with posting about the movies I have seen in the theater in the last few months, so that is something.  At times, I think I will make shorter posts about what I have watched recently.  If I have already done a longer review on that movie, then I will link back to it.  I may also do posts at times about what movies will be coming out soon and which ones I want to try to see.

I want to set up a page, or maybe it will just be a few posts, that list the books I have reviewed along with links to the reviews.  I had something like set up for my reviews at Epinions as well.  I will be doing that for each of my blogs.  I know I don’t have many posts on any of them right now, but I figure that this is a good time to get started on that.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction - Another Michael Bay Action Extravaganza



3 out of 5 Stars

Michael Bay is known for directing action packed movies that focus on action and CGI to the detriment of the plot.  Despite that, I have managed to enjoy his movies over the years.  They can be entertaining mindless action movies.  I have seen the first three Transformers movies and enjoyed them to varying degrees even while finding various flaws.  I honestly wasn’t sure I wanted to see the fourth movie, Transformers: Age of Extinction.  I ultimately decided to go see the movie and I got more of the same - a mindless action movie that is mostly entertaining.

Five years after the battle between the Autobots and Decepticons in Chicago, the US army is no longer working with the Autobots.  Harold Attinger is in charge of a top secret CIA black op that involves tracking down the remaining Decepticons.  Unknown to just about everyone, Autobots are also being hunted as part of the op.  Attinger sees all Transformers as a threat that he intends to eliminate to protect the country. 

Cade Yeager is a struggling inventor who salvages stuff in an attempt to make a living.  His daughter Tessa is furious when he comes home with a battered semi that he hopes to sell for parts.  It turns out the truck is Optimus Prime.  Cade decides to try to fix him, but soon mysterious agents are swarming his farm.  He and Tessa end up on the run with Shane, Tessa’s secret boyfriend rally car driver, and the few remaining Autobots.

There are no extra scenes during or after the credits.  I saw the normal version of the movie.  It is also showing in 3D - including IMAX 3D - in some theaters.  Depending on how the 3D was done, there are some scenes and images that have the potential to look cool in 3D.  I did notice 3D conversion listed in the credits, so I think it was shot normally and then converted to 3D.  

 I was first introduced to the Transformers through the cartoon that aired in the 80s.  I knew there were toys, but I never had any of them.  Over the years, there has been an animated movie connected to that cartoon series, other cartoons, and comic books.  I don’t think the story from this movie has been used in any of the comics or cartoons.

Transformers: Age of Extinction is the longest of the Transformers movies at almost three hours long.  I don’t mind longer movies if there is enough going on to support the longer run time.  That isn’t the case with this movie, just like it wasn’t with the first three.  The movie is mostly a series of jerky action scenes, loosely connected by a thin plot.  I wasn’t expecting the plot to be stronger or make me think.  The fact that the movie is so long makes the plot weakness a bigger problem because there just isn’t enough to the plot to justify a movie this long.  Yes some of the action scenes were cool - like when Optimus Prime rides another Transformer that is a fire breathing dinosaur - but there is such a thing as too much action.  After a certain point, it all blends together and the audience is left watching as one giant robot beats the crap out of another giant robot while destroying a city.   The movie would have been more entertaining if it weren’t so bloated with action scenes. 

The pacing is a bit uneven, dragging in some places, and moving lightening quick in others.  Bay uses slow motion in the middle of many action scenes.  It is overused in this movie and for the most part, I find the change to slow motion like that a bit jarring.  There are even a few sequences that seem to be pulled from the first movies - like people flying through the air because Bumblebee just has to transform out of his car form.  There is violence in several scenes, though it is mostly robots being hurt.  Younger children may not have the attention span to watch a movie this long, something that parents should consider.  The movie is rated PG-13 because of the action scenes and violence.  One character does use the word that rhymes with luck once in a somewhat funny way.  A few characters make suggestive remarks every so often that are more stupid than anything.  Those references would probably pass unnoticed by children.

There are attempts to add a bit of humor here and there to what is going on in Transformers: Age of Extinction through things that different characters say.  Some of them are mildly, and I do mean mildly, funny.  More often than not, the quips fall flat or are just stupid.  I noticed several product placements, some of which seem out of place.  At one point, a male scientist is holding a version of Rainbow Dash, one of the My Little Ponies.  At another point, things practically come to a stand still for Cade to spout something stupid and drink a Bud Light that just happens to be conveniently there.  Several of the action scenes are fine and I don’t mind the CGI for the most part.  There are entirely too many quick cuts during them though, something that Bay has in pretty much every movie he’s directed.  The point of view jumps around so much at times, it is impossible to keep track of where certain characters are, or even which one is which when it comes to the robots.  I hate when that happens and find it highly aggravating.  There is jerky camera work at times too, though it isn’t as bad as it has been in some movies.  In scenes when the Transformers, mostly the Autobots, are shown driving in vehicle form, there are all these sweeping shots that sort of zoom around, barely showing the vehicles.  That is a huge waste given what types of cars some of them transform into.

There are new Transformers in this movie, and some of them turn into some pretty awesome cars if you can manage to spot them.  One of them, Drift, turns into a Bugatti Veyron, one of the fastest cars in the world, that is extremely expensive and very cool.  Too bad Drift is barely in the form of the Veyron.  I actually had to look it up to find out that Crosshairs turns into a Corvette Stingray.  He wasn’t in that form long enough for me to recognize what type of sports car he was.  Stinger, another new character, is a Pagani Huayra, another very expensive and very fast car from Italy.  The Pagani is seen a little more, but mostly in scenes when it is sitting still.  I recognized the Veyron and Pagani from seeing them on Top Gear, a British show about cars.  Lockdown turns into a Lamborghini Aventador.  It almost seems like Bay or the screenwriter - or both - has seen Top Gear and decided that they just had to use some of the fastest cars featured on the show, never mind that they cost millions of dollars and that the cars themselves would end up having less than five minutes of screen time.  

It is said fairly early in the movie that things are happening five years after the battle in Chicago.  That battle, and the destruction, changed how some people viewed the Transformers, including the Autobots.  Some people still saw the Autobots as allies because of what they have done to help humans previously, but others, like Attinger, see things differently.  There are signs near where Cade and his daughter live in Texas about reporting alien activity.  When Chicago is seen again - and some important scenes take place there - it doesn’t look like there is any lingering damage from the battle, despite what the story tired to establish.  It just seems like the idea of backlash over what happened in Chicago is just used as an excuse for Attinger to be running his top secret op before being forgotten.  It is just another bit of story sacrificed at the altar of action and CGI.  Even with the barely there plot, the movie somehow manages to leave a few things unanswered in what is an obvious set up for yet another movie.

Things connected with Cade, Tessa, and Shane attempt to add other complications to Transformers: Age of Extinction.  Cade is trying his best to provide for his daughter, while she comes off as unappreciative and judgmental.  She thinks nothing of telling her father off for something, putting him down, and ignoring him.  She has been involved with Shane in some way for years, yet Cade only meets him when they are in the middle of running for their lives.  Cade is justifiably upset, especially when finding out that Shane is twenty - Tessa is only seventeen.  Shane pulls out a laminated copy of the Romeo & Juliet law in Texas that says if they the couple were together when they were both underage, then there is nothing illegal about the relationship.  That is a bit ridiculous, especially with how much Tessa seems to like the idea of her and Shane being Romeo and Juliet.  She seems to have forgotten that those two end up dead.  There really isn’t too much to the relationship between Shane and Tessa.  It mostly just serves as a reason for Tessa to clash with her dad and for Shane to make some cracks as well.

None of the characters have much in the way of development, something else that I figured would happen.  Cade is nice enough and it is clear that he loves his daughter more than anything.  Mark Wahlberg is fine in the part.  He seems to be doing the best he can with the material.  He is also much better than Shia LaBeouf.  Tessa comes across as a bratty teenager who has no respect for her father.  She is constantly putting down his efforts to make money and she questions his judgment.  She has kept a boyfriend from her father for years.  While Cade is a bit overprotective that still doesn’t justify her actions.  I don’t like her at all.  She wears super short cut off shorts that I think may even be shorter than ones Megan Fox wore in the first movie, something I didn’t think was possible before.  At least there were no shots lingering on her backside while she bent over or shot angled up, making it seem like some sort of personal medical exam was going on like was done in the previous movies.  While I am no fan of Fox, her character was more likable and memorable.  Nicola Peltz is nothing special in the part.  

Shane is a rally car driver originally from Ireland.  It isn’t said how long he has been in Texas, but it must have been at least three years for him and Tessa to be able to claim that the Romeo & Juliet law applies to them.  Shane is a bit mouthy at times and a very good driver.  Jack Reynor is fine in the part.  Stanley Tucci is pretty good as Joshua Joyce, a rather arrogant business owner who is mixed up in what is going on.  Attinger is a CIA agent who is in charge of the secret op to track down Transformers.  He doesn’t see a difference between Autobots and Decepticons.  He is willing to do whatever is necessary to achieve his goal.  Kelsey Grammar does well with the part and makes a good villain. 

Optimus Prime is back and still leading the Autobots, or at least who is left of them.  His faith in humans has been strained, though Cade’s actions help to fix that.  Peter Cullen returns to provide the voice of Optimus Prime.  Cullen originated the voice of Optimus Prime in the 1980's cartoon.  He has done other voice work over the years and has done the voice of Optimus again since the release of the first Transformers movie in 2007.  Optimus changes into a semi truck.  When he is first seen in this movie, he looks like a much older cab that is very damaged.  It isn’t long before he upgrades to a newer model semi.  Bumblebee is back too, first as an older Camero before also upgrading to a newer model.  He continues to be a bit sensitive about his appearance at times and he is unable to talk.  He uses sound clips to communicate.

Hound is somewhat large and transforms into some sort of military vehicle.  He does crack a lot of jokes, most of which really aren’t that funny.  John Goodman provides his voice.  He wasn’t in any of the previous movies.  Drift looks like a Samurai in robot form.  He can also change into a helicopter in addition to the Veyron.  Ken Watanabe’s voice works for the character.  Crosshairs is pessimistic about most things, including the other Autobots.  John DiMaggio provides his voice.  I don’t think Hound, Drift, or Crosshairs has been in any of the previous movies. 

Galvatron is a new robot who may have a connection with Megatron.  Frank Welker does his voice.  Stinger, as well as other robots who seem to be new Decepticons, don’t talk.  Stinger is the only one I remember.  Lockdown is neither Autobot or Decepticon.  He is basically a bounty hunter on a job.  Mary Ryan does his voice.   Later in the movie, ancient Transformers are found who turn into robotic dinosaurs instead of cars.  Optimus rides one of them, a tyrannosaurus rex that breaths fire, into battle.  The others also take part in the battle.  They aren’t identified by name, though I thought I heard Crosshairs call one of them Spike at one point. 

Transformers: Age of Extinction has issues with plot and acting, much like the first three movies.  It is also entirely too long.  Despite those things I did enjoy the movie overall.  For a mindless action movie, it is ok.  This is not a movie that everyone will like.  People who liked the first movies may also like this one.  People who didn’t like them should probably skip this one.  I didn’t love or hate this movie.  It isn’t great, but it isn’t awful either - I have seen much worse. 

This review is part of Elvisdo’s 7th Annual Funny Pages Write Off.  Elvisdo is another former Epinions member, and he hosted this write off there for six years.  It was something that several members - myself included - looked forward to each year.  I am very happy that he has decided to do it again.



Friday, May 30, 2014

Maleficent - Angelina Jolie is Magnificent (Spoiler Free)


Disney has created many wonderful animated movie, fully of memorable characters, some good some evil.  One of the most memorable characters from a Disney movie - Sleeping Beauty - is Maleficent, the villain of that story.  On May 30, 2014, the live action movie Maleficent was released.

I am only going to briefly discuss the plot of Maleficent.  I will probably mention some things that could be spoilers for people who haven’t seen Sleeping Beauty or who don’t know the story. 

** Minor Plot Discussion **
A young and powerful fairy, Maleficent, lives in the magical land of The Moors which is next to a human kingdom.  The two lands do not get along and the people of each have no contact with each other.  One day Maleficent meets a boy, Stefan and they develop a friendship that lasts for years.  Stefan eventually betrays her in order to be named the next king.  Maleficent turns darker which causes changes to The Moors.  When she learns that Stefan, now the king, has a daughter, Maleficent shows up uninvited and curses Aurora.  Maleficent and Stefan spend the next sixteen years dealing with the consequences of the curse.
** End of Minor Plot Discussion **

Maleficent is being shown in 3D and 2D.  I ended up seeing the movie in 3D because of when the show times were.  The 3D is more subtle, which could disappoint some viewers.  It mainly adds depth to the various scenes, especially the ones set outside.  There really aren’t any images coming out of the screen, something else that could be disappointing to some people.  Personally, I like when that is done in 3D and think it looks cool.  There are definitely points in the movie when that could have been done.

This movie is based on Disney’s animated Sleeping Beauty as well as a few fairytale versions of the story.  I have seen the animated movie several times - it is actually one of my favorites - but I have never read any of the fairytales.  The movie is definitely connected to the animated movie, telling the same main story focused on Maleficent instead of Aurora, but there are differences as well.  Some people may not like the differences or that certain things have been changed.  I really enjoyed the movie and like the different take on the character.  I guess I am able to look at this as a different version of the story, so I am able to appreciate the changes the story take.  Other people may not be able to do that.  I have had issues with that sort of thing in other movies, but I think it works well this time.

The movie starts by showing Maleficent as a child before showing the betrayal that ultimately causes her to curse Aurora.  I have always thought that Maleficent was intriguing, so I have been interested in seeing this movie since I first heard about it.  A few younger versions of her are briefly shown early in the movie.  She is an adult for the majority of the movie.  I had thought that her horns were just part of a headdress when watching the animated movie.  This movie shows that the horns are part of her.  Younger versions of Aurora are in a few scenes, with the older version seen the most for her too.  Slightly different versions of other characters from Sleeping Beauty turn up as well, including King Stefan, who is shown at different ages.  Versions of Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather appear as well, though they have different names - Knotgrass, Thistletwit, and  Flittle - and they are pixies.  I remember them being called fairies in the animated movie.  I think the story is straightforward and makes sense, though others may not agree.  It is interesting and entertaining.  The story is somewhat dark, so parents should keep that in mind when making a choice for this movie.  It is possible that some people won’t think that the movie is dark enough.

Special effects are used throughout Maleficent to show magic different characters use as well as to show fairies, pixies, and other magical creatures of The Moors flying.  Certain parts of the movie wouldn’t have worked without the special effects.  They were done well overall, though one thing seemed a little off or odd.  The pixies start off small and then later in the movie they make themselves human size to blend in.  When they are small, something with their heads look a little off.  Action turns up in some scenes as well without making the movie action packed. 

The characters are interesting overall, though some of them, like the Queen, are barely shown and have no development.  The pixies seem to mean well, but they are far from the best caretakers for a child.  Stefan seems to be nice at first, but his ambition takes over, twisting him into someone different.  Aurora is shown to be sweet, loving, curious, kind, and gentle even though she doesn’t receive as much development.  In this version of the story, she is more of a supporting character.  Elle Fanning is good in the part.  Diaval is a crow who becomes Maleficent’s servant when she saves him.  She uses magic to transform him into a man or any other creature that would be helpful in a situation.

This version of Maleficent is much more complex than the version from the animated movie.  While that version is one of the great Disney villains, she really is kind of flat.  That is not the case here.  She starts off kind and trusting before she is betrayed.  She is justifiably angry while also showing a softer side every so often.  Angelina Jolie is absolutely stunning and magnificent as Maleficent.  She is perfect in the part and makes the movie.  I honestly don’t think anyone else could have portrayed this character.  I know that some people don’t care for Jolie, so those people may want to avoid this movie.

Maleficent is a very entertaining movie that gives a different take on a classic Disney movie.  Some may not like that difference, but I think it is well worth checking out.  Angelina Jolie is absolutely magnificent as Maleficent.