Thursday, August 21, 2014

Mini-Reviewmania: Into The Storm/Let's Be Cops/The Giver

            It’s the hazy last act days of summer, and so sometimes one does not want to devote whole review to movies. Thus, here we have a REVIEWMANIA!!! :
            Into the Storm:  I’ll call this one “Netflixesque-so-meh-it’s-good” quality. Has a simultaneously interesting and jarring mix of “found footage” and traditional style shots.   What is good is its tornado destruction shots which save it from a kinda dumb story although filled with some emotional acting from Richard Armitage.   6.5 out of 10
            Let’s Be Cops:  Get ready for a couple hours of the same joke since literally everyone and anyone believes the heroes are cops. That’s fine though, as there are some pretty funny scenes.  Damon Wayans is pretty funny,  but Jake Johnson is actually funnier for better or worse. Some silly times and rough edges but some fun inside.  6.65 out of 10
            The Giver: Surprisingly, it adapts a book which would seem ill-suited to being done.  Wonderful art direction/visuals with its slowly disappearing  black and white look. Great performances from Jeff Bridges as the Giver and  Brenton Thwaites as Jonas.  Quality pacing, and new elements that don’t detract from the original story however this is not always effective. Does what it sets out to do more or less and filled with emotion. 8.05 out of 10

Till next time true believers…

Monday, August 11, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Review

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Cast Headliners: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, Johnny Knoxville
Original Release Date: August 8th, 2014
Everyone loves the Teenage Mutant Ninjas Turtles. Maybe however the word would be loved the “classic” TMNT franchise.  Hollywood has come again to grab a nostalgic IP and drag it out with a reboot, and the four green brothers are its next victim.  After many years in development hell and rumors of radical changes (aliens! Other planets! Removing “teenage” and “mutant “from the name!)  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) is here with Michael Bay producing in tow. It’s….. an interesting movie.
            The premise is one that’s been seen many times across many adaptations of turtles. The Foot Clan lead by Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) is causing ruckus in New York City and there are reports of vigilantes who aim to step them.   The human heroine of the film is April O Neil, a lead played by Megan Fox which is not a very good starting point for the quality of the film.
Technically April as a character is just about the same character as she usually is, but Miss Fox has stooped to a new low of lameness even past the Transformers films. She literally either just stands there, asks plot exposition, or mainly just screaming and running.  However the movie isn’t all about her; it isn’t about other “goofy” characters like Will Arnett’s Vernon Fenwick or Whoopi Goldberg’s Bernadette Thompson. It’s about ninja turtles.
Several things are gotten right about the turtle brothers but yet also they are imperfect.  Raphael (Alan Ritchson) is in classic angry form and his vocal performance is good, but for some reason he has sun glasses with no explanation.  He otherwise seems right out of the old cartons, along with the mostly humorous Michelangelo (Noel Fisher).  For some reason Leonardo was motion captured by one actor (Pete Ploszek) but voiced by another (Johnny Knoxville) but it works out as he’s as calm and collected as ever.  The character who has been ruined though is Donatello (Jeremy Howard). Before he had been the intelligent and shy one, but never taken to these extremes. He’s been given a pair of taped up glasses, and a extremely annoying “nerdy” voice and personality. It’s an irritating part of the film though he gets an alright line or two. This purple banded one had been my favorite though so it’s personally irksome. 
The CGI effects on the turtles look pretty fluid aside from design changes. The effects are also quality on Splinter ( co-acted/played by Danny Woodburn and Tony Shalhoub) and the mentioned Shredder who is as vile as ever. It’s a shame that some quality characters and interactions are drowned out by shallow villains like William Fichtner as business mogul Erick Sacks or Minae Noji as Karai(who is way less awesome than usual).
The movie has a lot of weird moments of attempted but failed humor. Sometimes humor comes through but is majorly immature. Too many pop culture references are used.  Action sequences are sometimes way too dark or confusing.  However, there are occasionally truly fun action sequences such as a standout part on an icy mountain slope (side note: in New York state in March, what the heck?) and the film’s surprisingly semi-intense final showdown.  Sometimes the action was indecipherable. 
Overall the movie is a “mixed bag.”  Even though it wasn’t directly directed by Michael Bay (instead by Battle: Los Angeles director Jonathan Liebesman) it shares many tropes with the Transformers film series.  Luckily weird alterations weren’t made to the premise since it’s in many ways a near remake of the ideas from the first ninja turtles film. But it’s very messy, and sits in a weird position between being entertaining and being laughably bad. It’s just extremely “meh.”  7 out of 10

Dragonball Z: Battle of Gods Review

Dragonball Z: Battle of Gods
Director: Masahiro Hosoda
Cast Headliners: Various
Original  Japanese Release Date: 2013

American Release Date: August 5th, 2014

  Dragon Ball whether in its original arcs or in Z or GT incarnations, was one of the cornerstone action animes of the 1990’s and 2000’s.  The storyline finished and it’s been awhile, but now a new film has reached its way in English stateside with Dragonball Z: Battle of Gods. It’s like 14 years since the last film release have never even passed.
            The main antagonist of the movie is a pair of new villains named Beerus and Whis. Beerus is a Egyptian Anubis/cat/rabbit like god of destruction and has been woken up by his assistant Whis after an extremely long slumber.  He wants to fight a Super Saiyan God, and will scour the universe till he finds one. Typical DBZ movie stuff:  a new villain raises the bar for being a threat and the Z-fighters have to stop them.
            This one is a bit different however. Simultaneously, it’s Bulma’s birthday party and all of the old crew is gathered to celebrate. The movie is really a love letter to fans and reunion for the series. Every old voice actor and actress are back, and there are a lot of references and jokes to the series’ past.  This is surprisingly funny, and the humor is something even a non-fan could enjoy.

            This is supplemented by beautiful new animation and thrilling action scenes. It’s more of a light hearted reunion comedy than a dark epic, but that’s a fine thing. It’s a gift to DBZ who have been waiting YEARS for something new. Beerus is a classic new villain, and this movie is a new classic entry.  With another scheduled for 2015, it looks like the Year of the Dragon may have begun again.  8.85 out of 10

Hercules Review

Director: Brett Ratner
Cast Headliner: Dwayne Johnson
Original Release Date: July 25, 2014
            Hollywood is filled with all kinds of reboots and remakes, but one of the oldest characters OF ALL TIME is Hercules. He’s had tales told about him for literally many hundreds of years, and here we are with yet another one.  But this one will be different because it has Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson right?  Well, he’s a good asset but otherwise this film is even more generic and stale than the Scorpion King movies.
            Apparently the movie is based upon Radical Comics “Hercules: The Thracian Wars” graphic novel series so there are some twists to this ancient tale. Hercules/(The Rock) may or may not be the true son of Zeus since the film has a unclear message about whether the myths and gods are true. Don’t expect to see Hercules fighting cool creatures much since that’s only in a short series of montages and dreams, the trailer lied to audiences.
            The story that is here is about Hercule’s mercenary band (?!?!!?) who have more (slightly) more flavor than the hero. There’s future vision seeing Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), knife using short tempered Autolycus(Rufus Sewell), beastly norseman-like Tydeus(Aksel Hennie),  Amazon women archer Atalanta(Ingrid Bolso Berdal), and Hercules’ nephew (?!?!) Iolaus (Reece Ritchie). They work for Lord Cotys(John Hurt) to defend the Greek city-state of Thrace from invaders.
            These one-note players are interesting because they at least embody their traits hard, if sometimes to the point of annoyance.  This is unlike Hercules. Because sure he is strong and fierce and boisterous, but only barely so. The usually entertaining Johnson gives off here one of his most basic performances in his career, not seen since his early WWE days. He’s decent, but that’s it.  At least he … looks cool in his costume?
            The characters are dumb, the story is dumb, but what is entertaining is the action. This redeems the film and sure it’s all human on human scuffles but there manages to be a plentiful variety of action sequences.  Big dumb moments happen, such as when Hercules punches an enemy yards backwards with merely his fist. But it’s all part of the expectations of this formula.  One can’t say the movie isn’t at least a bit entertaining.
            This movie could have been so much more, but it’s not horrible. The spectacle of the clashing armies is cool and there are actually a couple of surprising twists in the plot.  Dwayne Johnson is of course decent when fighting against armies, but is even better when the rare emotional scenes about his departed family arise.  There are a couple gems in this rough film, and it should have had more. But still a good “rental” movie or so.  7.06 out of 10

Guardians of the Galaxy Review

Guardians of the Galaxy
Director: James Gunn
Cast Headliners:  Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper
Original Release Date: August 1st, 2014
            Marvel Studios has built a massive cinematic empire which has really, for the first time, been successful at fusing together different storylines and worlds.  It’s not just a brand but an entire “Cinematic universe.”   They’ve gone and told the stories of the Avengers and all that; in this process they’ve made an incredible amount of money and this has allowed them to experiment. This first experiment is Guardians of the Galaxy, based upon a semi-obscure comic book series.  Can anything they touch turn out good even if obscure, will audiences react well, does it feel like a Marvel film with no superheroes? The answer to all these questions is a resounding YES.
            The film begins with an emotional scene in the 1980’s on Earth as a young Peter Quill loses his mother. After running from the hospital he is abducted by an alien ship and brought far from his home.   26 years later an older Peter has grown up into a space pirate by the name of Star-Lord (Chris Pratt). Star-Lord finds himself involved in the war between Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace)’s forces and those of the Nova Empire after he steals an ancient artifact.  He also has to contend with his “stepfather” Yondu (Michael Rooker) who wants his head as well.
            Events soon transpire to where he begrudgingly teams up with fellow space renegades including the fierce assassin Gamora(Zoe Saldana), the brutish Drax (Dave Bautista), the plant-based Groot( mocapped and voiced by Vin Diesel), and the wise guy animal Rocket Racoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper).  
            The absolute highlight element of the film is the interplay between these characters. Every single one of them is hilarious in their own ways because they’re so unique. Drax’s species does not understand metaphors. Groot can only say “I am groot”. Rocket is a roguish raccoon with expertise and big guns and explosives. Traits such as these make every line of dialogue joyish to hear. Star-Lord is the one who ties them together, and Pratt was a perfect choice to be the lead. He has a charisma and attitude not seen since Harrison Ford was on a interstellar adventure.   He and his peers even make the Avengers seem a bit dull, probably because they were scripted from the ground up to have great interactions with each other with this first movie.
            The great charactization extends to the supporting cast as well.  John C Reilly and Glenn Close are funny and fierce respectively as Nova Corps leaders. Michael Rooker offers his usual gruff performance yet fits in wonderfully into the humor of the movie.  The villains are vile, from Lee Pace in standard firey self as Ronan to his assistants Nebula (Karen Gillian) and Korath(Djimon Hounsou).  Even Thanos’ brief appearance , recast as Josh Brolin, or Benicio Del Toro as The Collector are awesome. 
            Thanos is the connective tissue to the primary Marvel series, since otherwise this could be a fantastic standalone science fiction comedy adventure. Some locations from the Avengers are seen as well as the Macguffins from movies like Captain America and Thor 2.   What is obvious are the usual Marvel film elements like amazing visuals, plentiful action, and snappy dialogue.
            The movie feels like a gem in the Marvel universe because of its director however. James Gunn has had an interesting career but has never made a blockbuster like this. But one can tell the  huge amount of passion that went into this project. The humor is really edgy even for Marvel, and the soundtrack is largely composed of hand-picked 1970’s and 1980’s funky/soul songs which give the movie a unique atmosphere.  It’s a sleeker, funnier, more entertaining take on the Marvel style and Gunn deserves praise for it.
            The Guardians of the Galaxy is incredible because it works both as a stellar example of a Marvel film, but yet also as a standalone space opera. It might be the Star Wars of our time, and even if not it is an awesome movie.  A 9.5 out of 10