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Category Archives: Alex Morales
I am no Trekkie. I’m not. Yes … I’ve seen all the movies. I’ve watched some of the original television series – mostly to make fun of them – and I’ve enjoyed going back through old episodes of Next Generation … mainly for the all the sexy-time undertones (or overtones.) But, I am no Trekkie. Basically I know enough to have conversations with our KC Studio editor and be dangerous to other teams at a pub quiz. Thankfully, you don’t have to be a uniform-wearing, “Phasers set to stun” kind-of-a-person to enjoy the newly released, action-packed, thrill-ride that is JJ Abrams’ second installment into the Star Trek universe.
With all the crew from the 2009 reboot coming back, Star Trek Into Darkness jumps right in and never looks back. Timelines and canon be damned, this is not the Star Trek of before. While the first film was successful, yet highly criticized by devotees of the franchise, this film is really going to piss some Prime Directive Zealots off.
Of course, there are plot lines to the film that are extremely spoilerific and by me mentioning them here, will ruin the fun. So here are the bare essentials of the story: Still brash and headstrong, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his team aboard the Starship Enterprise are traveling on missions and getting into trouble all throughout space. Unluckily for him, a threat he and the rest of Starfleet never considered is waiting for them right under their noses. By enacting a terrorist attack in futuristic London and potentially causing war between the Federation and the Klingons, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) walks the line between good and evil. What are his true intentions and who is he really? Well it’s up to Kirk to find out.
And … that’s all you get.
With hilarious dialogue that I found smart, witty and near Empire Strikes Back levels, I genuinely enjoyed this film experience. Strong acting from all the principle characters with Easter eggs scattered throughout for fans of the fiction and pop culture jokes, I know mass audiences will be wolfing down popcorn and enjoying every Gorn-fearing minute of it.
In terms of the cast, the writers do a great job giving us what we want. With eight characters needing appropriate attention and purpose, I found the screen-time both balanced and interesting. Standing out above the rest is Zachary Quinto as Spock and Simon Pegg as Scotty. Yes, Karl Urban is great, once again channeling Bones and Zoë Saldana’s sleek Uhura makes being smart sexier than it already is, but in this film, it’s all Spock and Scotty. A close second is John Cho as Sulu and that really is based on one scene where he shows a level of bassassery that this actor never gets to show.
Quinto as Spock is excellent and a shining reason to see this film. While not only capturing the overall feeling of the character, Quinto also does an impressive job expressing emotion while keeping Spock’s deadpan, serious personality.
And then there’s Cumberbatch. As an adversarial-type character, Cumberbatch exudes self-confidence and commands every second he is shown on screen. Almost computer-like you can see him assessing ever detail in front of him in a way that makes everyone around him uncomfortable. And I liked it.
In terms of the action and special effects, I was blown away by the size and pace of the film. I could feel myself leaning forward with giddiness wanting more and enjoying the eye candy dancing across the screen. Were there explosions? Hell yeah! Was there running and jumping and fighting and stuff? Hell yeah! Was it loud with lens flares? Um … yeah. But so what? Above all, this is where most Trek fans are going to get annoyed. Big explosions to some equate to big dumbness and that’s not always true. Usually true. See Transformers for proof. But was Next Generation … with a Klingon (gasp) on board just like the original series … no. This is for new audiences and while clearly there are films I do not like because of these very reasons, Into Darkness is not one of those films.
While Into Darkess does borrow a great deal from another Star Trek film of the past, I enjoyed how the story brought the overall arc back to near it’s roots. Again, this is where many of devoted fans may also have some very big problems and you know what, they may be right. However, it’s clear that in trying to make this new arm of the franchise, the filmmakers do have a love and respect for the original series.
As always, there are holes in the story and as a narrative, it does sag a bit in the middle. However the solid acting, kinetic pacing and action all help keep it on a track that I believe mass audiences will love. I do, however with the camera was a little more stationary. Critics give Michael Bay a bunch of crap form constantly keeping the camera in motion and in that sense, I feel Abrams deserves similar criticism. Along with that, clearly this is a project Damon Lindelof worked on because there a few holes in logic that would make Spock raise an eyebrow.
Overall, I really enjoyed this film. It’s a space adventure and everything that Episodes 1, 2, and 3 of Star Wars was not. Building on the success of the 2009 film, Abrams has added solid addition to the franchise. Some will call Star Trek Into Darkness a dumbed-down version of a beloved series that is to be worshiped forevermore … and that’s just not true. At its center, there is a wonderful focus on friendship, the importance of the team and the capacity of sacrifice that people will give for the one’s they love. Plus you get explosions, a Klingon or two, Tribbles and a few reveals that, while may seem obvious to some, pay off well in the end. Audiences will love the crew and leave highly entertained.
Lastly … the 3D. If you know me … you have heard me complain countless times that I dislike 3D. It’s a ploy to get people to pay more for an overrated experience. Since 3D found its way back on the scene, I have only had a handful of good experiences … Avatar, Hugo, the Avengers, Life of Pi and maybe, possible, kind of The Hobbit. With that being said, I was very impressed with the 3D on this film. It was clear, crisp and added an enhanced to the viewing. I still think it’s overrated but, I would recommend seeing this film in that format.
4 out of 5 Red Shirts on an Away Mission
Nope. Not at all. Not even a little. Maybe for a second but then, poof, gone. Boring. Fake. Not even close to past work. Uninteresting with horrible editing.
Yup … that’s what I think.
I could go on with sentences like these – if that’s even what you could call them. It would be easy. And yet, even in this hateful prose style, my review would still have more substance than Baz Luhrmann’s newest film experience The Great Gatsby.
To say that I did not enjoy this experience … would be an understatement.
Strictly Ballroom, William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge each hold solid places in my “filmophile” heart. I understand the criticisms and agree with some, but the overall experiments in terms of color, music and acting all made for an unusual and interesting movie watching experience that I, still to do this day enjoy.
Not the case here.
With source material that drowns itself in the excess of wealth that New York was seeing in the early 1900s and the flowing booze of Prohibition, the visual potential of Luhrmann’s over-the-top, sensory overload of sound and color style would seemingly be the perfect choice. Alas, special effects that look fake-as-hell (and by fake I mean really bad-fake), a soundtrack that is extremely distracting and an overall heavy handedness in terms of dialogue and acting that treats the audience like a bunch of idiots all contribute to a film experience that was both disappointing and irritating.
Flat and emotionless, the actors and actresses are pushed into scenes that seemingly have no focus and no real meaning. Which is an extreme shame considering the cast that Luhrmann and his team have brought together. Leonardo DiCaprio, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan. Really. Do I need to say more?
DiCaprio alone is usually worth the cost of admission. I mean, come one. As the title character, DiCaprio was the perfect casting choice. Classically handsome, strong acting chops and that ability to pull off social arrogance had me convinced that this was his chance at Oscar contention after being passed over so many times before. I was wrong. A poor script and worse direction took that away. Tobey Maguire, with his … his … well, whatever … should have been great as the wide-eyed Nick Carraway. And yet … no. Again, a poor script and, well his inability to be a narrator ruined that. On and on, it’s so easy to give give kudos and cheers to the cast for past work, but in this film they are left stranded by their leader with clearly no sense of how to either emote the scenes they in or what thematically they should be focusing on for their characters.
Yes this film is based on F. Scott Fitgerald’s classic (some would say in terms of story I would say only in terms of age) novel of the same name, so criticizing the overall story is a little unfair, but, how the director chooses to represent that story is another matter entirely.
Let’s talk about the visuals. Flat and horrible. Nothing near the splendor of Moulin Rouge, Gatsby just plods from scene to scene with effects that want to be cool but end up just looking more and more fake as the film goes on. Yeah, I get it. The visuals are part of the theme that Gatsby as a character represents … yes. Fake. Yes. But I can put my dog’s paws in paint and say that the tracks he makes are meaningful themes on an insignificant animal in terms of the overall existence of life on planet Earth but that doesn’t make it high art and that doesn’t mean I deserve to waste people’s time by making them suffer through the presentation.
And then … the music. What the hell is up with the music? My apologies to my keyboard but with furious anger I type these words … WHAT THE HELL?!? Layered noise that added nothing to the overall experience pounded my eardrums that gave me nothing but a few chuckles and resounding headache.
And that’s not even the least of it.
I could go on and on, but why. This film has already taken up enough of my life and seriously, I would rather have been changing diapers and folding laundry then spending my time being bored listening to Maguire’s narration tell me about what I was already watching while (fingers beginning to tense with irritation while typing again) wispy words in handwritten script also flows across the screen making you read what Maguire is describing while it is happening.
Oh … oh! Do not see this movie in 3D. Eye-numbingly bad. It’s obvious that the film was not made with the 3D in mind while it was being filmed and the transfer is awful.
Should of … could of … would of. That’s all this film left me with.
2 out of 5 Green Lights Bobbing in the Water
A Film Review of Iron Man 3 by Alexander Morales
Everyone loves Tony Stark. I mean, what’s not to love … right? He’s smart, funny, handsome and worth piles and piles of money. Stark is the dude at the party you want to be seen with and the guy most girls want to go home to. He’s awesome. Fantastic. Yes, his ego is pretty much completely out of control and his lack of appropriate behavior is near childlike while he dashes from person to person forgetting who they are, playing with their emotions like a cat finding a small mouse to terrorize before gobbling it down with a smile … but come on … what’s not to like … right?
Well wrong. Apparently there is a lot of stuff to hate about Tony Stark and in director Shane Black’s (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) first flight into the Marvel Universe, we get to see just how much and what lengths some people may go for a little revenge.
Based loosely on the 2005 Extremis story arc from the Iron Man comic books, the new film once again unites Robert Downey Jr. (Stark), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts, Stark Industries CEO and love interest for our hero) and Don Cheadle (Colonel James Rhodes, pilot of the War Machine Armor and friend) against a whole new level of terrorism.
So here’s the skinny: After a quick flashback to New Years Eve 1999, we find Tony being Tony. Boozing it up, being the guy everyone knew prior to the events in the first Iron Man movie. While putting the moves on young scientist Dr. Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), an awkward Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) approaches with some new ideas. However, Tony being his usual brash self, takes the opportunity to show how clever he is and before breakfast the next morning potentially burns bridges against two of the top minds in the world.
Fast forward to now and the world has a whole person to be afraid of – The Mandarin (a remarkable and wonderful Ben Kingsley), a human horror that has taken shape in the shadow of the alien invasion thwarted by the Avengers in New York. In seemingly a passionate hate for the United States, the Mandarin is producing acts or terror throughout the world, all targeting U.S. forces or civilians.
At the same time, back from outer space … literally, Tony is having some issues. Panic attacks and a fear of not being prepared for every possible threat have made him a bit of a tech-hermit much to the dismay of Pepper. Unluckily for Tony, into Stark Industries walks a now, unawkward Killian who has more than new technology that he’d like to show off to Tony’s love interest.
And then … boom. Explosions, mayhem, personal vendettas get explained, terrorism and more happen all culminating in perhaps the best individual hero story that Marvel has produced to date.
This film is solid. Entertaining, tense during the action scenes, funny and engaging are all the top layer ways to describe the overall film. As always, Downey, Jr. is spot on as the quick-witted hero and with great performances by secondary characters like Pearce and Kingsley, the film feels well-rounded and smart. At the same time, the dialogue throughout the film is strong for nearly every character including the random bad guy goons making all people involved seem more real and somewhat intelligent. Why is this important you ask? Well, because the old, tired scene where the hero is caught and surrounded by armed guards becomes a memorable, hilarious sequence where throw-away guards are able to be people and not just cardboard tough-guys who are there just to be pulverized by the hero. It’s the little things that matter and this film is, for the most part, full of them.
Along with that, in comparison to Iron Man and Iron Man 2, this film’s structure and story is much more compelling and better. It, unlike its predecessors, does not fall apart during its climaxes and, as a whole, better humanizes the hero as a character. This continues to other characters and even adds some wonderful twists that, in my opinion, ground the villain in realism that I both appreciated and loved.
However, not everything is all shiny with the armor. Like always, I think the film is too long and with action scenes that are breath-tauntingly fun, there is just too much time in between them. Along with that a new side character is introduced and to my dismay, it’s a kid. Yuck. Not to say that Ty Simpkins is a bad actor, but the story seemingly forces him into it and everything about him feels convenient, heavy-handed and at times irritating. Seriously, out of every kid that Tony Stark can bump into, it’s the one that has an understanding of electronics and physics? The dialogue between them saves the experience, but for me, too much, too long and too yuck.
Also, while very fun to watch, there is a battle that is very much a rehash from Iron Man 2 and, in a way, kind of pussifies the integrity of the Iron Man armor and makes you wonder how Tony’s lasted so long during the Chitauri invasion from the Avengers.
It’s only after over-thinking and reflecting on the film after the credits roll that I realized there are a few more holes in the script that, in the end could have made the experience so much better. I won’t go into detail here because they involve major plot lines and may spoil the fun, but I will say that if this film is the fist step to what Marvel Comics is calling Phase 2 for the film franchise, they missed out on including more from the Avengers and overall character universe.
With that being said, mass audiences are going to eat this film up with a spoon and ask for seconds. The inclusion of all the different types of armor is a toy and marketing goldmine that Disney is already capitalizing on with the Hall of Armor exhibit at Disneyland. Solid acting, a quality, compelling story with wonderful dialogue and fun action sequences will make this the summer movie to beat. With few gripes and more good, fans of the series will enjoy the film and even hardcore nerds will put down their 20-sided die to give it the praise it needs. There a few character choices that some may hate, but I found to be refreshing and brave. On a cold, blustery May day in Kansas City, this film is a great way to get you out of the weather and into a warm, action adventure.
3.75 out of 5 giant, stuffed bunny rabbits
Wait … I think I’ve seen this before. Post apocalyptic future … check. Robots doing clean-up on a desolated and deserted planet … check. Tom Cruise doing stuff that Tom Cruise does … double check.
Yup I’ve seen it before. But, ah heck, I’ll watch it again.
Directed by Joseph Kosinski, the visual mastermind behind Tron:Legacy, Oblivion brings together a hodgepodge of nearly ever successful sci-fi story and theme that we have been witness to over the last, oh say, 25 years or so. Based on a unpublished graphic novel of the same name, Oblivion is highly successful in certain aspects, but falls short in a few others. Luckily, the good stuff easily makes up for the bad.
Picture this: the year is 2077 and Earth is a quiet wasteland, watched over by the last two humans on the planet. In the aftermath of an intergalactic war, humans have won but alas, have had to leave our precious planet due to the fallout. Now, giant moisture machines draw necessary resources from the sea and are closely guarded by Tech 49, Jack Harper (Tom Cruise), his communications officer, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) and their intimidating, well armed army of flying drones. Their mission: Protect the resources getting drawn from the planet by keeping the drones working. Their only contact: A daily video feed from Sally (Melissa Leo), the missions control officer who is housed on the giant “Death Star”-like way station called the Tet, that stores the resources prior to sending them off to the newly inhabited planet or moon. With relief coming in two weeks, the affects of a memory wipe (a tool used to aid the duo in keeping focused on the mission) are starting to wear off and Jack is starting to remember something … or someone. Like all good things, something bad happens and Jack finds out there is much more to his mission than meets the eye.
As a leading man, you can’t get any better than Tom Cruise. Seriously, the man is 50 and looks like I want to look. He’s charismatic, likeable and, like always, he plays the confused hero perfectly. Coupled with the highly sexual Riseborough, the two play off each other nicely – him using his instincts to succeed on the ground and her for keeping him … ahem … stimulated above. It’s not until more of the human cast is introduced that the film begins to waiver.
With little dialogue (for most of the film) the soundtrack crafted for the film is out of this world (sigh … did I really just type that?). Music aficionados will probably say different, and while not quite near the level of what Daft Punk did for Tron: Legacy, I still contend that the score by Anthony Gonzalez (M83) and Joe Trapanese is strong. Coupled with the spectacular sound effects – specifically from the drones – the audience is given a mood enhancing background that becomes as much a character as it’s physical counterparts.
At the same time, the technology and special effects are consistently strong. While clearly inspired by the video games Portal and Portal 2, the look and feel of the film is gorgeous. While futuristic white and grey have been over-used, the overall designs fit well together and luckily, will never go out of fashion. I especially liked the drones. Like I said before, the sound effects from the drones are fantastic and the way they interact, move and sound in the environment is both fun to watch and menacing at the same time. When I saw it draw its weapons for the first time, I immediately thought of the Enforcement Droid 209 (ED-209) from the Robocop franchise.
And then there’s the action. While few and far between, when the action heats up, it really gets going. Always at the core of the action, the drones add a very high level of tension due to their lack of emotion and every time they spring into action, your eyes are glued to the screen. At the same time, as the movie evolves, the tension and emotion, surprisingly grows and while most people will be able to figure out what’s really happening 10 minutes into the film, I still found myself happily interested in the development of Jack and his his motivations.
The film is just way too long. We get it … he flies in his ship. We get it … he remembers something. We get it. Move along please. Over and over the audience is bashed over the head with scenes of him traveling or him remembering a moment on the Empire State Building and it just gets old. Maybe this was a device to represent the monotonous aspects of the mission but damn … move along please.
At the same time and as I mentioned before, once other humans are introduced, the dialogue and overall intrigue kind of goes away. I was fascinated by the relationship between Jack and Victoria, and this neat triangle thing happens half way through the film. However, when Morpheous … I mean Morgan Freeman shows up with Jaime Lannister … shoot, did it again … I mean Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, stuff gets convoluted for a bit and honestly, I just started to lose interest. Luckily those incredible action scenes happen, and I found myself right back in.
Lastily, the story is … a bit weak. Not in terms of its overall arch, but in terms of holes. I can’t get really into it without spoiling the plot, but if people have negative opinions of the film, the story will get the brunt of it.
Nothing. There’s nothing ugly about this film. It looks good, sounds good and most of all it will fit well into a season of big-budget movies.
While not perfect, Oblivion is a solid outing for Kosinski. Cruise keeps the epic from getting out of control and grounded in belief while the supporting special effects and score heighten the experience. As the film progresses, other human characters kind of get in the way, but overall still an entertaining movie experience. Critics will dissect for not being terribly original and for its transparent story, but audiences will be kinder and find more enjoyment from this futuristic tale.
3.5 out 5 Stuffed Gorillas Seemingly Just a Little Dirty and Hardly Worn Out After 60 Some Years
When you say the words Evil and Dead together … extremely specific things come to mind. For many horror fans, the first is, of course, Ash. The iconic, tortured hero played proudly by the one and only Briscoe County Junior – Bruce Campbell – “The Chin” himself. Secondly and strangely, after that, it’s love. Love for a movie that, since originally being released has inspired countless fans and professionals to mimic, gush over and above all watch and rewatch and throw parties over and recite dialogue from and laugh and be horrified and … well, you get the idea.
For those of you unaware or a little lost in the mythos, Evil Dead (1983), was one of powerhouse director and producer Sam Raimi’s (Spider-Man, Oz the Great and Powerful) early works. Low budget, full of schtick and completely bonkers, this was appointment television after midnight for kids like me. True story – as a kid, I once set my alarm to wake me up 10 minutes before Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2 came on Cinemax at 2 a.m. so that I could sneak downstairs and get lost in the carnage.
Fast-forward years later and of course the Hollywood remake machine gets refueled, refired and reworked for a whole new generation of horror fans. Luckily (and unluckily … weird how this happens) back for another run at the ole cabin in the woods is Sam Raimi, this time as an executive producer, with newcomer Fede Alvarez at the helm.
Okay, so it’s a remake … yada, yada … what’s it about? Well, it’s about 5 kids, a bad book and one idiot that decides not to follow directions. Something gets woken up … and bad things start to happen. Really bad things. Enjoy.
Haven’t we’ve seen this before? I mean, isn’t that the basis for almost every horror film out there. Bad decisions lead to bad things?
Well … yeah … but it’s Evil Dead … So … you know. Hush.
Besides, this time out, with a much larger budget and a fan-base itching for more, more, more, Alvarez ups the gore to a new level and tries to push the envelope in terms of what his poor victims can take.
Filled with cringe-inducing moments overflowing with spurting blood, chunky demon/zombie vomit and nail gun wounds, I couldn’t help myself but giggle nervously as more and more pain was dished out to the young quintet. This film is not for everyone. While mass audiences will swarm looking for the next big thing, this is the kind of horror and gruesome imagery that only a select hub of people can enjoy and happily, I am one of them.
Filling out the cast is a group that some people will recognize but most people won’t. Unfortunately, in a film like this, there is only one or two characters that really matter so luckily, everyone does their parts effectively. Along with that, instead of just wandering to place filled with evil or deciding to go on a little trip to, quite possible, the worst place to relax, the filmmakers have given the young offerings a reason to be there and best of all a reason to not get the hell out of there right away when the bloody poop hits the fan. Smart.
However there are two places that I think this film falls short. The style with which the film is made and the last act of the film. Clearly, Alvarez is a fan of the original. At the same time, it’s clear that he is extremely talented. The film looks great. Technically sound with solid pacing – for most of the film – this version of Evil Dead would be a good horror film on its own. However, throughout the film are techniques that are very specific to Raimi’s style of filmmaking and sadly, I think it actually holds the new director back a little. Immediately a certain tone is set for the film and at times, I feel as though these particular techniques unbalance and undermine the director’s work. Nostalgically, I understand why they were used – but for me, they just didn’t fit in this new vision.
In terms of the second act, it’s just a little too long. I’m all for more, more, more, but (and please note that I am not giving any spoilers away) but at the end a decision is made for a character that can best be described as and then, and then, and then. It’s gets a little too long for me and not as satisfying when the end credits started to roll.
Overall, yes, please check this movie out. As executive producer, I believe that this is the film Raimi wanted to originally make. Over the top, shocking at times and completely gruesome, the remake of Evil Dead is enjoyable, is worth of the iconic title and will be in every horror fan’s collections. While perhaps not at as groundbreakingly jaw dropping as the original proved to be (in its time), this version is solid entry into the horror genre and a fantastic outing for a new director like Alvarez.
3.9 out of 5 dead hanging cat corpses
A film review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey by Alexander Morales
The main thing you need to know about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is that it is long. I mean real long. Like 15 minutes shy of 3 hours long. Like, make sure you go to the bathroom before you find your seat and then make sure you go again right before the last preview ends kind of long. That’s how long it is. And that’s a bit of a shame considering the source material is not as bloated as this film seems to make it.
But let’s back up a bit.
Returning to the land of Middle-Earth, visionary director and producer Peter Jackson has once again taken the helm and worked his film magic to bring us another chapter in the J.R.R. Tolkien library of legend. Almost 10 years have past – yet seems less with the expanded DVDs, Bluray and return to theaters that the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy has earned – and luckily (and near immediately) audiences will be swept right back into the nostalgia those films created. Which is great for the success of the film, but bad because it may have turned the overall focus of the tale in the wrong direction.
Acted extremely well, shot just as beautifully as almost every film Jackson has developed and with an extremely high production-value, The Hobbit’s only two downfalls is its choice to fatten up the source material into three films and it’s sometimes too familiar choices in storytelling.
Beginning with the wealth of the great Dwarf kingdom Erebor, through the destruction that the dragon Smaug brings and the journey of one Hobbit and his strange band of forgettable dwarfs, The Hobbit is the first in a set of three films (yet one book … one 276 + or -) that will tell Bilbo Baggins’ (played by an always fantastic Martin Freeman) amazing story of how he, an insignificant creature, would change the balance of his world.
Bringing back some of the original cast and reengaging the audience with familiarity, The Hobbit succeeds in making the audience feel like this is the same Middle-Earth that we have experienced before. The highly emotional music, rousing sword fights and gruesome monsters of the land are all there and honestly, I loved it.
It wasn’t until after the film was over that I realized, “wait a minute?!”
Pulling the source material like a rubber band that has lost its elasticity, The Hobbit begins to fall short in that it loses its main purpose. Instead of focusing on Bilbo and his personal, introverted journey against a cast of extroverted adventurers (?), we are given the grand Fellowship-type saga that shows off the huge landscape of the world more than the personal, small story that the Hobbit represents. It’s Bilbo’s lack of confidence and his personal sense of insignificance versus his later blossoming that is inspiring. Like layers of an onion, the world opens up to Bilbo during this journey and yet, since we’ve been here already, we lose that sense of discovery.
Along with that, we are told, time and time again, that he is small, the world is large and, like an echo from Lord of the Rings, how he as a Hobbit can’t do this or that because they (Hobbits) are cowardly creatures. It becomes a wasted argument in the end, because, less we forget, these dwarfs and Gandalf showed up at Bilbo’s door and told him they needed him … not the other way around.
At the same time, while clearly a fan favorite and nearly the most popular of all the Lord of the Rings characters, the film at times feels more like Gandalf’s (played once again by the excellent Ian McKellen) story or, in contrast, more about Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage.) It’s a difficult balance to find, but none-the-less, this is called The Hobbit.
Of course that is until we get to meet our old friend Gollum.
Short of giving any details away, this scene between Bilbo and Gollum is truly epic and honestly the linchpin that keeps this film together. Luckily, it is acted, shot and edited so well, that fans will be mesmerized.
Overall, I think fans will eat this up and ask for seconds. The Hobbit has everything that audiences will expect. Fantastic sets, smart dialogue and truly invested actors make this feel and interact with the previous films with ease. Expanding the giant world and bringing us back to known places help in keeping fans engaged even against the just as monstrous running time. Those not as familiar with the book will have no problem with the additions/changes and probably find those critiques from overly familiar nerds a bit irritating, however, there is no denying that the upcoming films need to be tightened up quite a bit. Even with its downfalls, it is still as high quality a film as we would expect from Jackson and company, but after some inspection, a notch down from the standard that Return of the King set.
Of course, I also have to quickly address the choice to film this movie at 48 frames per second versus the regular 24 – something that most movie goers will care nothing about. It doesn’t matter. Like it or not, it makes this film the clearest 3D I have every seen and while, yes, it does reveal a few flaws in production, it’s like watching real life on a screen. Is it odd? Yes. At times does it remind you of old BBC or soap opera television … possibly. But as a first step in delivering a new technology to movie screens, I think it worked fine and could, like everything use some improvement.
Extremely expected and a bit too long for a film about people walking, I still enjoyed it so far.
4 out of 5 Riddles in the Dark
Well, there really is no way to say this without sounding rude so I’m just going to say it … Red Dawn is not good. To be exact … it’s a silly, poorly written, badly acted, easily dismissed mess, that honestly, should have stayed on the shelf that it’s been sitting on. Originally scheduled to be released in 2010, it’s clear, after watching, why the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s company had so many financial issues several years ago.
A remake of the 1984 (some say) classic that brought together a who’s who of young actors and actresses such as Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, Charlie Sheen and Jennifer Grey, the 2012 version of Red Dawn is just more a who’s who of young actors and actresses that nobody really cares about. Well, except for Chris Hemsworth, but I’ll get to him in a minute.
Basically, the film focuses on a band of teens that fight back when a foreign military force enters and takes over United States soil. In 1984, it was the Soviet Union … in 2012, it’s North Koreans … with some leftover Soviet Union officers. Who knew that Spokane, Washington was so integral to outside forces. Anyway, the enemy invades, half the town is imprisoned in concentration camps while the rest are able to come and go as they please with the opportunity to still eat at a Subway (yeah … apparently North Koreans love to eat fresh) while, not so secretly, our rebel band of teenagers reek havoc in the name of their beloved high school’s mascot – The Wolverines!
Loud, lame and ludicrous, Red Dawn falls short in nearly every category that makes a film worth watching. Nearly. Chris Hemsworth (come on … you know … Thor) as Jed, the older of the two rebel leaders and main characters, is, as always, fantastic to watch. This will be the second film of his that’s been brought back to life after being shelved and his charisma is nearly enough to make the film worth watching. Unfortunately, he’s paired with a younger brother character named Matt, played by Josh Peck who is so irritatingly unwatchable, that he can only be described as a female Kristen Stewart. Completely lacking any other emotion than confusion, Peck mouth-breathes through all his scenes and you can’t help but hope that he gets captured.
The rest of the cast is OK, with Connor Cruise getting some buzz because of his mommy and daddy while Josh Hutcherson (Hunger Games) still proves that if he and Quagmire from Family Guy had a “Whose Jaw is More Impressive Contest,” he would still win. But, for the most part, the rest of the cast is as minimal as they come. It’s pretty clear right away who’s going to make it and who is not so … you know. I will say, my secret crush on Adrianne Palicki (Friday Night Lights) is still as strong as ever, so for me, she can do no wrong and I’m a little biased.
In terms of the rest of the film, while it looks quality, I find it incredibly dumb. Extremely poor dialogue and character choices make it predictable and hypocritical. I have very specific thoughts about the terrorism these teens start to represent but this is seriously not the place to get into it. Feel free to comment if you would like to hear more.
After that, there’s really nothing left to say. I mean … I saw it. Sadly, I’m pretty sure that’s all the rest of the viewing audiences will be left with as well. Rather than having details to share or any real moment to tell friends about, audiences will leave with a sense of emptiness and a barrage of scenes that never really move you to think one way or the other. The movie will end, the lights will come up and they’ll think … man, I should have seen something else.
Never being able to find its focus and being lead astray by a half of the leading duo, Red Dawn is a disappointment in execution and another lesson in why some movies should stay shelved. Sorry Wolverines … you just lost.
2 out 5 School buses randomly driving prisoners around town only to take them right back to the concentration camp where they were being held, making it seem like part of the bad guys scheme to uproot the rebels but doesn’t make sense because the main baddie doesn’t know the importance of one specific prisoner on the bus so why would a main character jeopardize the team if he knew it would probably be easier and safer for everyone to break into the prison instead of waging all out war in the streets where obviously he is outgunned, out-manned and out-flanked at all positions … I mean come on … has he not played any of the Call of Duty games?
Look, if you read my stuff, you know I’m a nerd. A geek. I’m a pop cultural junkie who has already downloaded Angry Birds Star Wars, watched the previews for World War Z and Warm Bodies 20 times over and make my children watch, quite regularly, She-Ra, Jem, Fraggle Rock and a variety of other shows that filled my youth with pleasure. My DVR is packed with American Horror Story and The Walking Dead. My daughter was Princess Leia for Halloween a few years ago and she thinks her younger brother would make a great Yoda (or Yogurt as she likes to refer to him in a new attempt to irritate me.) What the hell does this have to do with James Bond you ask …? Well, there should be no shock when I say that I have seen every Bond film several times over and openly wanted to be a secret agent as a young boy (and maybe I still do) – even going so far as to try and make a Swiss Army shoe and professional business cards.
So with that being said … I love James Bond. And yes … before one of my friends decides to make a snappy comment at my expense – it’s in an unhealthy, stalker and sometimes a little lusty kind of love.
Don’t judge me.
Regardless, every time a new Bond films come out, I have to see it. Thankfully, Bond’s newest addition to the canon, Skyfall, celebrates everything that has made Bond magnificent over the past 50 years. Boldness, bravery and babes!
The base story, this time around, is a little blah for me. Not because it’s poorly constructed or anything. Just because I’ve seen it before. Mission Impossible parts 1 and 4, Alias, etc. Luckily, some strong characterization, bad-ass action and a solid pace make up for it.
A list … always a list … has gotten into the wrong hands and of course, all hell will break loose if the good guys don’t get it back. Immediately thrown into the action, Bond and his newbie sidekick agent Eve (Naomie Harris) weave their way through a foreign landscape only to lose the package … and a whole lot more. Months later, M (the always posh and snarky Dame Judi Dench) and her team of MI:6ers get a lead on the list, only to get infiltrated and terrorized by a hidden enemy. Ooooohhhh. The plot is thickening.
Thankfully, for everything that Quantum of Solace got wrong, Skyfall gets right. Less the overbearing, high-society shadow network of rich badness, Skyfall chooses a more personal, tight look into the lives of Bond and M and keeps the overall structure nice and simple. Much more a personal matter than business.
As the primary antagonist, Javier Bardem’s Silva is a perfect reflection of the Bond character. It’s exactly what was attempted with the Alec Trevelyan character (played by the always exceptional Sean Bean) in the 1995 Golden Eye, only way better. Not because Sean Bean did a bad job or anything, but because Bardem’s take is so nuanced and special, that it blows most of the stereotypical roster of Bond baddies away. Directly connected to M’s past, Silva represents everything that Bond is – only in the negative. Oozing with confidence and driven by a perceived betrayal, Bardem’s mission is not only to murder, but to humiliate, discredit and destroy everything that M stands and works for.
Of course, Daniel Craig in the title character’s role is fantastic once again. Cool as ice and hard-edged when needed, Craig devours every scene and gives some much needed humanity to a role that has always been larger than life. At the same time, viewers are given a look into Bond’s past adding even more layers of realism to a person that has been shrouded in mystery throughout his long career.
Adding to the goodness, I can’t say enough about Dench’s take on M. Strong willed decisive, intelligent, professional … the positive adjectives just keep coming and while flawed as any person is, Dench commands her agency with a power that I wish all politicians could demand. Dench’s scenes with Craig are so good and smart that you can’t help but smile as snipe each other with the dialogue.
Yet, as strong as these three actors/characters are, you can’t deny that their accompanying cast is just as kick ass. Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw, the before mentioned Harris and newest Bond girl Bérénice Marlohe all add such strong performances that this film is overflowing with excellence.
At the same time, the direction is exceptionally solid. Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) has grabbed a hold of the reigns and proven that Bond is just as relevant today as he was fifty years ago. It’s clear that Mendes and the writing team of Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan (two of which also wrote Quantum of Solace) took their time to craft a Bond film that would be worth making and proving that Bond is a franchise that can continue for another half century.
Along with that, the rest of the behind the scenes team needs some solid recognition. From the gorgeous cinematography to the art direction, this film is one layer on top of another layer of sweetness. Nothing seems half-assed in this film and along with the work the actors are putting in, every environment adds to the overall accomplishment.
On the flip side of this lovefest, it is a bit long. With a running time of 2 hours and 23 minutes, better not have to go pee. At the same time, as with most films, a big section of the film is based on a master plan and it’s a little hard to believe that every little piece could fall perfectly into place in order to for it to happen. Similar to the Joker getting arrested in The Dark Knight. Yeah is all works in the script, but after some dissection, it gets even more far fetched than it already is.
But you know, whatever. Realism isn’t something Bond is known for.
Fifty years of anything in this day and age is pretty impressive. This is especially true if it can stay relevant the entire time. Skyfall is a highly entertaining explosion of excellence that near perfectly brings Bond back to pure excellence. With Easter Eggs and nods to his past, Skyfall reaches to the future and proves that Daniel Craig is the right man for Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
4.5 out 5 miles of hidden tunnels under the city of London
Some of you may disagree with me when I say this, but it has been a while since Hollywood has pushed out anything that was even close to catching my attention. Droughts of bad horror movies, geriatric heroes and want-to-be teenybopper “Glees” have done nothing to stimulate my inner movie snob.
“Looper,” written and directed by Rian Johnson (“Brick”), is a stylish, smart and extremely well made sci-fi epic that is layered with goodness. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“The Dark Knight Rises”), Bruce Willis (come on, you know who he is), Emily Blunt (“The Adjustment Bureau”) and Jeff Daniels (HBO’s “The Newsroom”), “Looper” brings a classic, intelligent approach to the overly used and nearly never done right, use of time travel.
In 2072, things done changed. Time travel has been discovered and, almost immediately outlawed, so naturally the world’s finest criminals have started using it for their own means. Need someone whacked? Yup? Send them back in time 30 years. Why you ask? Well because a group of assassins, named Loopers, have been hired on contract to kill whatever comes back. No questions. No fuss. Just a quick shot, dispose of the body and collect your silver earnings. Easy-peasy. Right? Well, sort of. Every now and then, a Looper ends of taking their future self out as a way of “closing the loop.” A “Thanks for your work, but your services are no longer needed” kind-of-a-thing. It’s the mob’s way of cleaning up the system.
And so, our hero Joe (Gordon-Levitt), is called upon to “close his loop,” but … umm, things go a little awry.
I think you see where this is going … or do you?
Rich in details, Johnson’s story quickly drops a few mental bombs on the audience when present-time Joe and future Joe (Willis) find themselves at odds. Both men, determined on their own goals, take you on a roller coaster ride that never really lets up and continually has you asking questions.
If both men do bad things, which one’s the hero? Is future Joe right? Wait, did he just shoot that … ? Holy $***, did that kid just …?
Stylistically, the movie is gorgeous. A hip, GQ Magazine quality of dress for the Loopers and (especially) our hero juxtaposed against a degrading society of graffiti, martial law and crime works so well together, that it’s extremely difficult to take you eyes away from the screen. Gordon-Levitt strides through every scene and makes doing bad look very good. It’s nearly sickening how good that dude looks in clothes. Not overly pretentious in forward-looking alien-wear, a classic noir style is used that, in my opinion, always makes something seem a little more special.
Along with that, all the actors give themselves to the story, making one hell of an ensemble cast. Willis is back to true bad ass form and is as much scary in his devotion to killing the “bad guy” “s he is heart-breaking in his devotion to the woman he loves. At the same time, Blunt knows how to carry herself and is strikingly strong as a mother barely keeping it together trying to protect her child. Of course Gordon-Levitt is the true star and his charisma brings it all together even in the slower-paced moments.
Of course, there are a few not so good moments. The story takes an odd turn that could turn a lot of audience members off. I liked it … a lot … but as the story evolves, it quickly turns its focus to a child and, while the kid is cute at first (and honestly, kind of cool) he quickly becomes creepy in an “Akira” or “Chronicle” kind-of-way. Along with that, there is a diversion for one of the characters that is a little too convenient that it makes you groan a little but, quickly redeems itself when the outcome turns into one of the best action scenes in the film.
But that’s nearly it. Well, except for the … well … never mind, I don’t want to say too much because, that’s how good the movie is and I think you should see it for yourself.
Visually gorgeous with a cast of characters that add a bold richness to the story, “Looper” is a film that definitely lives up to its hype. Never falling victim to holes that most time travel stories fall into, Johnson keeps the film as simple as he can and keeps the action moving forward. While maybe a little slow in a few places (maybe,) it’s clear that Johnson was in command of the story and knew exactly what kind of film he wanted to make. Gordon-Levitt shines as the lead and Willis adds a depth of bad-assery that few can match.
It’s about time audiences were treated to a smart, well-made and original idea.
4.0 out 5 hits of eye-dropper drugs
Yes. That’s the best way I think I can describe Christopher Nolan’s final entry into the Batman legend.
From the opening sequence to the ending credits, “The Dark Knight Rises” is incredibly dense with tension. Much like it’s successful sibling “The Dark Knight,” Nolan and his team of film experts have crafted a movie that is much more than your average, run-of-the-mill hero flick and overfilled with a reality that borders both the comics and our real life realms.
This is not the “Avengers.” This is not “The Amazing Spider-Man.” This is Batman and once again, Nolan, along with writers Jonathan Nolan and Davis S. Goyer, brings the pain and delivers the darkest, on screen tale yet of Gotham’s Masked Crusader.
Dark? Yes. The best … eh.
Set eight years after the events of “The Dark Knight,” Batman and Bruce Wayne have seemingly disappeared from the world. Crime has become a thing of the past in Gotham and thanks to a little hero worship of the deceased Harvey Dent and the vilification of the Batman, local government has won the war on the streets. However, below, something more sinister is growing and unfortunately, it has both the Batman and the city in it’s sites.
Coming full circle from the events that occurred in “Batman Begins,” terrorism is once again given shape in the form of a one man wrecking ball named Bane. Famous in the comics for defeating Batman at one time, here, we are given a slightly different take on the character. Where Heath Ledger’s Joker was unpredictable and seemingly psychotic, Tom Hardy’s Bane is controlled and dangerous. As a character, he is methodical in his approach to the “plan” and is disturbing in his “black and white” approach to it’s strategy. As a character, this version of Bane is wonderful against Christian Bale’s Batman. Both characters are driven by their sense of justice and while, polar opposites on the scale, both represent the delicate balance between structure and chaos.
In my opinion, this film really shines in two places – the music and the acting. Hans Zimmer … amazing. Consistently throughout his run on Nolan’s trilogy, Zimmer has over-delivered greatness. Much like in “Knight,” the score of “Rises” is alive and as much a character as the actors throughout the film. Powerful, emotional and exceptional, Zimmer’s score holds the key to the tension and he and Nolan are relentless in how they layer it throughout the film. I am a big fan of the “chant” heard throughout the film and if you listen close, you can hear it peppered quietly in the background when certain characters are around.
Along with that, the lead cast is phenomenal. Bale, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman once again give us strong performance, but by far, the three best are Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Caine.
By far, Hathaway’s Selina Kyle is the best I’ve ever seen on screen. Far removed from the old days, this version of Kyle is the master thief that is closer to her roots in the comics than the over-the-top cat suit wearing version represented by Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether Eartha Kitt, Michelle Pfeiffer and Halle Berry. (Don’t believe me? Read Batman #1.) Highly confident in her abilities, Hathaway slinks through every scene and effortlessly proves a match to the caped crusader.
At the same time, Gordon-Levitt’s Officer John Blake, is very much the core of the film. Where Batman was symbol for Gotham to use, Blake is a grounded man looking for change in a system that is becoming bloated with over-confidence. The relationship that develops between Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon and Blake is touching and very much needed when everything around them starts to crumble.
And yet, Caine’s heart-breaking performance as Alfred is by far the crown-jewel of this film. Nearly on the brink of tears, Caine is still able to put the Batman and Bruce Wayne in his place at will and bring him back to the realities of the world. Clearly the backbone to the Batman character, Alfred’s spirits are as much broken as Bruce Wayne’s and their relationship is integral to the success of the hero.
Is the film flawed. Oh yeah, big time. But for the most part, due to the excellent abilities of the actors and the compelling nature of the root story, for me, it is a little easier to get over them. My biggest gripes come with Bane’s voice, the curving nature of the storyline and the extremely long running time.
In terms of Bane, while Hardy is excellent in the role, his voice grated on my nerves. Early test screenings had viewers crying foul because, with the mask, Bane was too difficult to understand. So … they fixed the problem. Which kind of stinks. I think now, with his slightly clear, posh Darth Vader impression, he loses a little power. In contrast, I wish that they kept it hard to understand him. A personae represented here like Bane, deserves a more mysterious, quieter menace that I think would have been better achieved with less dialogue and more anger in his voice. Clearly, Hardy swaggers through every scene with the confidence of a bulldozer, but the clarity of his voice makes it seem like he’s out of gas.
At the same time, with a running time near three hours, “Rises” is just too long. Filled with subplots, extra scenes and character development, this film could easily have been trimmed by about half an hour if not more. Which, is kind of funny because, most other films find critics yammering for character development. Yet, here, while nice to see some of the quieter moments and have some of that overall tension released, the subplots and sub-character actions start to get in the way and thus make the movie start to blur a little on it’s focus.
Also, for me, eight years is just too long. As a society, we forget what happened yesterday as easily as what happened last year so for the Batman to be gone for that long and peace in Gotham city to continue isn’t very realistic. I’m sure that Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” was part of the inspiration for the film, but in this day and age it’s just not reasonable.
Overall, “The Dark Knight Rises” is a solid movie going experience. Excellent performances kept this film strong throughout while a storyline that curved just a little too much kept it from being great. Casual movie fans will enjoy this film and it’s expansive feeling, while comic book fans will more than likely tear it a part because … well … because that’s what we do. While not better than the achievement set by “The Dark Knight,” “Rises” is still a fantastic movie experience and good close to director Christopher Nolan’s view of Gotham City.
4 out of 5 Choruses of “Deh-shay, deh-shay bah-sah-rah, bah-sah-rah”
Sorry to start with a rant … oh wait, who am I kidding … no I’m not. To say that Oliver Stone’s new film “Savages” is overly violent is a little silly. Why do you ask … ? Well let’s look at the source material. Mexican drug cartels are crazy, evil organizations that not only spread illegal narcotics across multiple countries, but also corrupt, hijack and murder thousands of people a year. Mexico’s drug issues make a beautiful country a hotbed for crime and making it extremely difficult for regular citizens to live a daily existence. While Good Morning America chooses to dedicate itself to an inside look at Katie Holmes’ secret separation and divorce from Tom Cruise by getting every possible interview with every possible moron caught up in their lives, a cartel operative named “La Bonita” (an alleged member of La Familia) was picked up by authorities and in Texas, Jose Trevino Morales (brother to to the alleged leaders of Zetas – arguably Mexico’s most powerful cartel) was detained for his alleged involvement in a money-laundering scheme based in Oklahoma. Both of these organizations, La Familia and Zetas brutally kill, terrorize and spread fear across our borders and Oliver Stone’s film is too violent? Regularly, decapitated corpses of rivals cartel members, unsupportive community members and anyone else who gets in their way are unearthed and this film is too violent?
I know, I know … not the right place to make my personal believes front and center … but I’m calling BS.
Anyway … on with the review.
Drugs, money, sex … more sex and death. Not completely the basis for Don Winslow’s 2010 novel, but a vicious backdrop for a new age love story. Three friends – two men and one woman – share a bond that while highly sexual, proves stronger than just kinky evening play.
Best friends for life, Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson) build a drug empire in Southern California that is equal parts “Breaking Bad” and “Weeds.” Living a lifestyle of freedom and entrepreneurship, cannibus creativity has established the doobie duo as the supreme vendors for high-end kush in the area. Two different sides of the spectrum, Chon’s soldier skills make him the perfect enforcer while Ben’s peaceful, scientific smarts keep the operation growing. They both share a deep love for the same woman – Ophelia or O as she is referred to throughout the film (Blake Lively.) Odd yes, but somehow, it all works.
This is where the whole rant at the beginning fits it.
Due to their amazing success, a Northern Mexico Baja Cartel, lead by Elena “La Reina”(Salma Hayek) and her enforcer Lado (Benicio Del Toro), have made an offer that has no room for negotiation. Let the bloodshed begin.
Extremely intriguing, the trio’s story will have you from the beginning. While Lively’s narration is slightly annoying and very cliche at first, the characters are all introduced in dynamic or interesting ways. Especially our two leads. In all aspects of how they present themselves and how they are presented, it’s clear that their success is based on the duality of their personalities and their affection for one another. I found myself caring about them very quickly and wanting them to do what’s right in this world of wrong.
On the flipside, Hayek and Del Toro are viscous destroyers and for most of the film fantastic. Del Toro plays evil so well and every scene he is in commands attention. Morally corrupt, the character Lado is moves like a predator and is as unpredictable as he is deadly. Hayek on the other hand is soft and extremely beautiful on the outside but internally hardcore and able to delete anything she sees fit. Calmly she can be the elegant lady while striking fear in her soldiers or enemies with a snap of a finger. Awesome.
Filled with characters, the rest of the film is sprinkled with co-star goodness. Not just pretty faces, each character introduced has a purpose and is reasonably part of a bigger picture. John Travolta shows up as a double-dealing DEA agent with an all too-real for many people backstory, while Emile Hirsch, Leonard Roberts and Joel David Moore keep the party going.
Less “Oliver Stone-esque” and more Tony Scott, “Savages” appealed to me probably because it was very “True Romance”-like. Lots of solid characters, quirky dialogue, violence and an odd love story all compiling into that one final scene that could tip to tragedy. While easily the techniques Stone uses harken back to “Natural Born Killers” and “Any Given Sunday,” the hyper realism of some of the scenes seemed more like a cross between “Man on Fire” and “Domino” with a lot less MTV mixed in.
A little too long for my taste, overuse of the word savages throughout and a twist that will either get your eyes rolling or make you want more, “Savages” is an extremely well-made film with a lot more pros than cons. All the leads give some fantastic performances (thank you Taylor Kitsch, this almost makes up for “Battleship” and “John Carter” … almost) and a timely take on current cheeba events, help make this film highly engaging, informative and a quality film to watch. While I don’t really get the appeal of Lively, I would still give positive marks for her performance as her character is pivotal to the flow of the film – just don’t get put off by her narration.
Not even close to skimming the surface of the modern mayhem involved with drug trafficking and very pale in comparison to the real violence happening every day, there is intense levels of broccoli business that many people may have a hard time watching so beware. However, if you are looking for a film with a solid filmmaker behind it and that isn’t a reboot of something we’ve all already seen, then go a little native this weekend.
4 out 5 Dia de los Muertos Masks