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Guardians of the Galaxy

Oh the buzz! People who have never heard of this bizarre Marvel series are suddenly flocking to the nearest novelty shop of their choosing for plush raccoons! Madness! Not gonna lie, after watching this, I was soon browsing Amazon for my own Rocket plush – but that’s besides the point. Guardians of the Galaxy has charmed the nation with its weirdness, and for a good reason – it’s pretty damn good, minor irkables aside.

This is the story of Peter Quill (a buffed up Chris Pratt), a space rogue who stumbles upon an ancient relic – the very relic desired by a warlord hell-bent on revenge (glad to see you again, Lee Pace). With everyone either after Quill or the magical deus ex machina ball, Quill manages to scrounge up a motley crew to fight against the baddies, and save his own hide in the process.

Space shenanigans!

Admittedly, I haven’t read the original material or its successors, and I’ve heard things here and there about Guardians being a Star Wars ripoff, or just like another Pratt film. Sure I can see the similarities, but this no way hinders one’s viewing experience.

Aw yeah.

Aw yeah.

This ensemble, well, this cast, is incredibly enjoyable – practically each character brings charm and originality, even the tree who can only say “I am Groot.”

In my opinion, the main weak link is Gamora (Zoe Saldana). Why can no badass female in an ensemble not hook up with anyone? Okay, technically it’s a “will they/won’t they” scenario, but it’s just so vexing. I also felt that she was the least defined out the group, like a green Black Widow.

On the note of bothersome things, I really did have a problem with the deus ex machina ball. I felt as if they overlooked exactly how it works or how it’s controlled – because I thought I knew how it worked, but then they lost me. But I guess everything can be written off as space magic, so I guess that’s okay.

Amy was never the same after meeting the Doctor.

Amy was never the same after meeting the Doctor.

Furthermore, I don’t want to spoil anything this time around, but due to my misunderstanding, and perhaps my cold, heartless nature, I kind of found the climax cheesy. But none-the-less fun to watch.

Frankly, I found myself with a doofy grin throughout this movie, even with the annoying things – not unlike Pacific Rim. We have amazing visuals, the pacing is great, the soundtrack is well, awesome, and the one-liners are just icing on the cake. Treat yourself and go see this movie.

Final Grade: A-

Elysium

Neill Blomkamp is a director who loves his social commentary, and I respect that. I also respect his originality. For instance, with District 9, the story was relatively simple to follow, the effects were awesome, and above all, there were layers. You know where Elysium screwed up? Too much stuff too fast, in-your-face commentary, and very little development. Sorry, minor spoilers ahead – I have to get some things off my chest.

The year is 2154, and at some point the earth was plagued by disease and destruction, leaving the elite to escape Earth and build a safe-haven satellite known as Elysium. Our protagonist, Max, is an ex-con turned factory worker, with dreams of earning enough to join those up above. One day while building robo-cops, Max is exposed to a deadly amount of radiation, leaving him only five days to live. Why the robo-cops are radiated is beyond me. Coincidentally, this is also when we discover that Max’s love interest, Frey, has a daughter dying of leukemia. The technology to fix such ailments is harbored on Elysium, so Max strikes a deal with his former crime-boss guy in order to get up there and the rest is in the movie – let’s get on with it.

Aren't you supposed to be crazy-smart? How did you not see this coming?

Aren’t you supposed to be crazy-smart? How did you not see this coming?

My main issues with Elysium lie solely in the technology. Okay I lied, it’s mostly the technology and then the characters. Even though the effects were pretty good (perhaps too much slow-mo for my taste), the quantity of gadgets left much to be desired. For instance, you’re telling me that there was a way for the bad guys to read whatever technobabble was flowing into Max’s head, but you couldn’t find him hiding under a pig pen? Also if you’re harboring a dangerous man in an exoskeleton (Elysium medics, I’m talking to you now), why not remove the exoskeleton? It’s not like you don’t have that kind of technology – just saw off the bits on his arms and legs and keep the brain-bit intact. Sheesh. It’s also amazing how an exoskeleton makes you forget you have radiation poisoning and keeps you going for hours after getting stabbed in the stomach. (Yes, I know he was medicated, but we should not ignore the fact that he was deathly ill.)

Amidst all this technobabble we lose sight of our characters – which really isn’t that hard. I don’t know if it’s because Max is the everyman or because Frey was thrown in so the only female isn’t a villain, but there really wasn’t anything that interesting going on there – that whole dynamic seemed awkward and rushed. I’ll go right out and say it, I thought her daughter was annoying. There, I’m a monster. What I guess makes me more of a monster is that I want to know more about our baddies, Delacourt and Kuger.

And what was with the drunk English socialite accent, Jodie?

And what was with the drunk English socialite accent, Jodie?

Specifically, I want to know how Elysium was built – how did this sickness come to be? And why was Delacourt so evil? I understand that the rich are conditioned to believe that Earth citizens are, well, the scum of the Earth, but why so vicious? What made her tick? Are we supposed to believe that the way things are in this film are simply the way things are now with the current state of elitism and healthcare? Because that is really just such a cheap shot – I want my mind blown, dammit! Okay, let’s say it really is that basic, Earthlings are the 99% and the Elysiumites are the 1% – what does that make folks like Kruger?

Sharlto Copely is always a plus.

Sharlto Copely is always a plus.

 

 

 

I think this is why I liked Kruger so much: he was an original, terrifying character that was actually interesting. It seems like the only reason Delacourt wanted Kruger on her side is because he only lives for bloodlust, but she should have known a guy this crazy isn’t the best to have around. What I want to know is what is a South African mercenary doing with a katana? What’s the story there?

Honestly, I think because Blomkamp was so caught up making us hate rich people that he forgot to give us some lore to go on (ironic considering the budget was so huge). We’ve seen dystopian Earth before, what’s going to make this one different? Sometimes simplicity is the best option.

Considering the run-time, I sincerely believe that Elysium would have made a really cool TV series – at least then there would have been time to fix continuity errors and to develop lore, backstory and most of all, empathy.

Final Grade: C+

The Wolverine

Yeh know, I really wish Darren Aronofsky directed this one as originally planned – R-rating and everything. I mean, can you imagine how warped this would’ve gotten? Or how poignant for that matter? Too bad, didn’t happen. 

In this sixth installment of the X-Men franchise, Logan is faced with his actions from The Last Stand, i.e. haunted by visions of Jean Grey in negligee – hey, that rhymed – as well as flashbacks to his war days, mainly witnessing the bombing of Nagasaki. Coincidentally, he is called back to Japan when he learns that the officer he saved back in the day is dying and wants to say farewell. Bait-and-switch! The dying man, Yashida, is offering a chance for Logan to give up his cursed life of immortality if he helps him become immortal. Logan declines this offer, and then the plot thickens with the kidnapping of Yashida’s granddaughter and yakuza and ninjas and stuff. Oh, and this crazy Viper chick comes in and weakens Logan’s healing factor. Significantly.

And yet, Wolverine battling ninjas is not as satisfying as it ought to be.

And yet, Wolverine battling ninjas is not as satisfying as it ought to be.

This movie could have been awesome, considering that the idea of Wolverine (an anarchic anachronism of sorts) entering a land of honor and tradition has many-an-opportunity for character arcs and development. I didn’t even read the comic and I could figure this stuff out. Instead, we’re given preposterous fights on bullet trains, ostentatious ninjas, lots of rain and samurai romanticism.  Not to say that there isn’t some development, but it takes a long time to get to what little there is – I’d be distracted too if all sorts of loosely explained things were flying at me.

The practicality of a teal pleather onesie escapes me.

The practicality of a green pleather onesie escapes me.

Spoilers ahoy!

Speaking of which, I’ve got a bone to pick with the Viper/Yashida plot: how exactly is Logan’s healing factor extracted from his skeleton? Also, why not kidnap him when Viper had him all doped up to stick the bug in his body? How did those little bugs work – slow, continuous toxin release? I personally hate long villainous dialogue, but if you’re going to suspend my disbelief at least give me some sci-fi mumbo-jumbo to go on. Also, why did the Viper lady take her skin off? The consistency of her abilities kind of went over my head a little. …And are side-flips really the best method for stealthy ninja transport?

Okay, done.

I have to admit, other than the cinematography, the best part of the whole feature was Hugh Jackman’s performance. You can tell he was giving it his all in this one: prime physical condition, tortured demeanor – this is a point in Logan’s life when he is worn and weathered and wants to wander off alone like a dying dog, and he makes you believe it. It’s just a shame everything else kind of fell apart around him.

Lackluster but not totally awful, it was still better than Origins.

Final Grade: B-

(Seriously, Jackman’s performance is this movie’s saving grace – oh, and the stinger’s pretty cool. I’m stoked for Days of Future Past.)

 

Pacific Rim

I think it’s fair to say that my first impression of Pacific Rim was less than enthusiastic. I’m talking about teaser trailer first impression. Then as various NPR and Nerdist interviews began to surface, my curiosity grew – after all, this is modern auteur Guillermo Del Toro we’re talking about. I even did the whole 3D IMAX thing. Go big or go home.

Jax Teller and a strong female? You have my attention.

Jax Teller and a strong female lead? You have my attention.

I think going into this movie with classic kaiju films in mind definitely helps set the tone. Guillermo effortlessly flings us into a scifi adventure chocked full of excitement wrapped around this sort of intangible nostalgic core. Even though this is a movie about mechs and monsters, there’s a small but surprising amount of poignancy – just enough to remind us that the threat is very real.

Pictured: wacky scientist.

Pictured: wacky scientist.

At the same time, there are some very predictable elements going on. We’ve got the rebellious, scathed underdog, a rookie, a pair of wacky scientists, and no-nonsense military personnel with the quirky tech guy. We know these characters in and out. Perhaps it was the visual grandeur (the CGI is absolutely gorgeous), or maybe the heart and humor of a loved project, but I was still completely engaged.

It’s like classic Godzilla with modern conventions, as crafted by the fantasy master Guillermo Del Toro. Unfortunately, I think it lacks that truly dynamic oomph that we’ve come to expect. Still a great time, though – just keep your mind open for a complete suspension of disbelief (I mean, it is an aliens and robots movie), and ears peeled for a neat little GLaDOS cameo.

Final Grade: A-

This is the End

“Man-child pack” really doesn’t roll off the tongue as well as the rat pack or the brat pack, but I’m really not sure how else to describe this group of mostly Goldenberg-ites as of now, so let’s go with it. We’ve got Seth Rogan, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill and Danny McBride together as themselves, during the apocalypse.

Shenanigans ensue.

Shenanigans ensue.

All around, this movie was a good time. This is the End doesn’t try to be anything more than it is – man-children growing up a little. Little social commentary is needed or wanted for that matter. It helps to know a thing or two about these guys, but really in this cebraculture we’re immersed in, that really isn’t much of an issue, is it?

This is the most satisfying performance of Michael Cera's career.

This is the most satisfying performance of Michael Cera’s career.

It’s arguable that they tried too hard to go that extra mile about what it means to be a good person, but really, during the Apocalypse, I can’t say I blame them. Everything makes sense for the situation at hand, and we’re given some decent extremes – considering McBride’s douchebaggery and Baruchel’s piousness. Sometimes people are just assholes no matter what – but as we learn from James Franco, the intention outweighs the action. There’s a lesson for all of us I suppose.

Overall, this is a great little romp of a movie. It’s a bit predictable come the crunch, but the antics are incredibly entertaining. So if you’re into pop-culture references and dick jokes ahoy, go for it. If not, well, at least you’ll have a good time.

Final Grade: B+

Star Trek Into Darkness

Toasty!

Toasty!

Alright folks, Kirk and his crew is back for another adventure – this time with baddie Benedict Cumberbatch as a new adversary.  Okay, as it turns out, he’s not that “new.”  I’m not going to spoil anything, so this review will be a bit shorter than it really should be – I’ll say right off the back that it’s worth seeing.

Minus a substantial amount of lens flares, this installment’s very much like the first: we have terrific performances by an incredible cast, combined with nods to the original series.  Only this time, there are a lot more explosions to interrupt any moments of interesting dialogue.

Dat voice.

He may look weird, but goddamn Cumberbatch has a beautiful voice.

Without giving too much away, I would like to note and perhaps forewarn audiences that again, like the first, we’re dealing with alternative timelines here.  This in mind, the climax, though well-acted, distracts those who understand the reference.  Which is to say, it’s really good, but played off much goofier than it was probably intended to be.

On the upside, we do get more of the side characters, namely Scottie and McCoy.  That being said, a the character troupe as a whole felt a lot more dynamic, almost fraternal in a sense.  This heightened the risk of Kirk’s actions splendidly.

Star Trek Into Darkness presents a well-rounded story sure to keep anyone on the edge of your seat.  It’s classic sci-fi brought to the now.  But I’m afraid with this amount of bangs, glitz and CGI, JJ might be closely breaching Michael Bay territory.

Final Grade: A-

The Great Gatsby

One word comes to mind when I think of director Baz Luhrmann: spectacle.  However, behind such spectacle usually shines a small glimmer of originality, allowing his projects to be enjoyed and typically register as guilty pleasures in the audiences’ minds.  Or at least, this has been my experience.  Now he has taken on a great American novel, or rather the great American novel, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.  Dear sweet baby Jeebus can this get any worse.

Mmm yes, shallow and pedantic.

Mmm yes, shallow and pedantic.

No doubt Gatsby is indeed a spectacle, and that’s really it.  We can end it right there and you can live on in the grandiose illusion that it would seem Gatsby himself made.  But let’s face it, Luhrmann isn’t that deep.

For fans of the book, it’s a straight-up slap in the face.  What the hell is Carraway doing in a sanitarium?  It’s decisions such as this that give the story a completely superfluously somber approach.  Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  But you know, I have a nasty habit of harping on book comparisons a little too much, so I’ll just leave it there.

So much potential.

So much potential.

Gatsby as a film, well…it’s okay.  The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous, I’ll give it that.  Everything else was just mediocre.  Essentially we’re given a clumsy mash of Romeo + JulietAmadeus and Citizen Kane.  Major emphasis on clumsy.  In addition, the pacing was so strange, it was difficult to determine the tonality of some of the scenes.  I mean, I don’t think the part where Joel Edgerton punches Isla Fisher was supposed to be funny.

Speaking of performances, I’m a fan of Carey Mulligan, but all the poor thing did was cry the whole time.  Such a waste.  Granted, she represents many-a-woman caught in the trials of aristocracy, but c’mon, you could at least make her interesting.

But it sure looks pretty.

But it sure looks pretty.

So if you’re looking to waste away two hours looking at pretty things and putting up with Tobey Maguire’s voice, I’m sure you’ll love it.  But for a tale so layered, it’s best to stick to the book.  At least that way you’ll have the choice to listen to Jay-Z.  Just saying.

Final Grade: C+

 

 

Iron Man 3

I’m just going to say it: there is no better way to kick off the summer movie season than checking out Iron Man 3.  Forget everything that the second one did to you – 3 takes everything back to where it should be and then gives you some more.  And also forget everything about Tony Stark being all dark and foreboding – really considering the whole wormhole thing in Avengers, I don’t doubt he’d have a little of the PTSD, but I’ll get to that later.  Before I gush, I’ll warn some people off with a minor spoiler alert.  Got it?  Okay, let’s have fun.

Merchandising, merchandising!

Merchandising, merchandising!

Okay, so basically  Avengers happens and now Tony’s a little screwed in the head – so now he hobbies away making prototype upon prototype of Iron Man suits.  Meanwhile, a terrorist by the name of Mandarin has been setting off strings of explosions around the US, but lack of forensic evidence has authorities scratching their heads.  When Happy, Tony’s lead security, gets caught in the crossfire, it’s go-time.  Oh, and there’s friction with Pepper because Tony’s been a little on the kooky side, with the suits and the insomnia and all that angsty jazz.  But like I said, can you blame the guy?

I hate Mondays.

I hate Mondays.

As if it wasn’t all about Tony before, this time it seems as if his recklessness finally caught up to him (don’t worry, he’s still oh so delightfully reckless).  I’m not sure if he really needed three movies to do this, or if I can blame him.  I mean, he does have a lot of baggage, so I think this psych-profile business was a great way to meld the Iron Man franchise with Avengers.

On the upside, there’s plenty of humor – casual and otherwise – to offset the heaviness and remind viewers that this is indeed a comic book movie.  Also with director Shane Black behind this (who you might recognize for this gem), you know you’re in for an action/comedy treat.

It's all about pizzaz.

It’s all about pizzaz.

The thing is though, I think I found a lot of things funnier than I should have.  I was really digging the intensity of Mandarin’s videos…until he said “Amurica.”  He had a presence, but he wasn’t at all intimidating – like when he threatened a man, it just seemed like deadpan humor.  As silly as it was, Ben Kingsley’s performance is nothing less than enjoyable.

Then this happened.  I lost it a little.  This is really more of an example of the comic-book aesthetic of the film, but you would think that little perk would come into play later.  Speaking of which, what was going on with the credits?  Why did I just watch a montage of franchise highlights?  Regardless, whatever you do, stay til the end.  It’s worth it.

So is this really the end?  I mean, things seem pretty definitive, but since there’s another Avengers on the way, who’s to say about Iron Man?  I hope they don’t ruin a good thing.  Seriously, great job guys.

Final Grade: A-

ParaNorman

This toothbrush. I want it.

ParaNorman is the story of Norman Babcock, an eleven-year old boy who was born with the ability to speak with the dead.  Naturally, everyone thinks he’s crazy – especially because he’s one of those hooligans who loves old zombie movies and has a mild obsession with the mentioned undead.  Unbeknownst to Norman, he isn’t the only one with this gift, and soon he will be put to the test in order to put an end to a 300 year-old curse on the town of Blithe Hollow.

This is honestly a movie you cannot afford to miss.  It’s just that good.  The story and characters are interesting and dynamic, and there were honestly bits that had me laughing out loud.  Not to mention, there were some moments that were also legitimately creepy.  And even though this film seems to beat you senseless with the importance of empathy, that didn’t manage to make it any less touching (which is a rarity nowadays).

It broke my heart when I learned Henry Selick didn’t have a hand in this. Then I just shrugged it off.

True, I did not see the movie in 3D, the visuals were still absolutely stunning.  Perhaps I’m biased because I simply adore the art of stop-motion, but this film’s aesthetic completely blew me away.

I need to stop myself before I gush on how pretty it was: go, see ParaNorman, have fun, I hope you like it as much as I did.  If you didn’t like it, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

Final Grade: A

The Campaign

After an embarrassing scandal, North Carolina district congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) has become less popular with the public, let alone big CEOs interested in the district.  In order to land a major “in-sourcing” deal, said CEOs turn to a new candidate to bring in the votes.  In a bout of desperation, they turn to Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), the black sheep son of one of their oldest associates.

There’s a bad Metal Gear Solid reference in here somewhere…I know it.

The Campaign is basically what would happen if Man of the Year didn’t suck (or lie to us for that matter).  However, I have noticed a basic pattern with Will Ferrell characters, no matter what the movie – we get a hotshot who does something ridiculous, allowing him to leave the spotlight for some time, and then he returns a much better person (for the most part).  It’s a simplified and overused version of the basic initiation-seperation-return plot, as evident it movies such as Talladega Nights, Anchorman, and Blades of Glory to name a few (granted Anchorman was quite the exception – though a parody it used the formula none-the-less).

I’m not sure if it’s just that if Ferrell doesn’t have a character that uses this pattern he will got to some sort of static character limbo, but really I feel as if Cam needed a little more umph.  Maybe I’m not giving Ferrell enough credit – after all, he was in the whole political-thing for so long, that just became who he is, and we do get some glimpses of life before campaign-hood, which was probably my favorite part of his character.

It’s just like My Fair Lady.

Now Marty, on the other hand, I loved this character.  I don’t know if it’s because I have a thing for Zach Galifianakis and pugs or what, but I totally fell for the empathy this guy was presented with.  Marty is a man who learns that he is way out of his league, and with the help of his manager Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) he becomes a new man, for better or for worse.

On that note, though it was a blast watching a pair of comedy giants duke it out, what won this movie over for me was the side characters.  Other than McDermott, I also really dug John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd as the fore-mentioned CEOs, as well as Brian Cox as Marty’s father, Raymond.  I honestly think this movie is worth checking out for these actors alone, which also includes a hilarious performance by Karen Maruyama.

They have my vote.

Overall, this movie’s worth checking out – sure the antics sometimes get a little old, but like I said, it’s worth checking out for the characters – including a cameo from Uggie of The Artist.  Or just stay for the pugs, Muffins and Poundcake, who I personally hope to see again.

Final Grade: B+