Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Movie Review: Ninja Assassin

Please, do not misunderstand what I am about to say and think this movie was bloody. After all, this movie has a healthy dose of Ben Miles, whom you might remember from his role as Patrick in the British sitcom Coupling.

I mean, sure, the opening scene where Raizo (Rain) wipes out a gang for no apparent reason is pretty bloody, with severed arms, legs, heads, trunks, and just general spurts of blood fill the screen.

And then there is the bloody training scene.

And the random fight with the other ninja in the laundromat...that has lots of blood.

And the bloody eating scene.

And the other bloody training scene.

Oh, yeah, and then the scene where he is trying to sleep has the bloody feet.

And then there is that one training scene that is pretty bloody.

And of course his first assassination...that one is extremely bloody.

Oh, I almost forgot the other training scene...I guess it was pretty bloody too, now that I think about it.

And the scene where Raizo turns on his master...it is pretty bloody.

And the scene where he is in prison....that is blood-drenched as well.

Oh, and the final battle has more than its share of blood...

On the bright side, you are unlikely to get too lost in the uncomplicated plot. Raizo was going to be the perfect Ninja until Kiriko (Anna Sawai, Kylie Goldstein) shows him he has a heart. When she is killed by the clan, he decides to wreak vengeance on them.

Now that we have the plot out of the way, it is one fight scene after another.

Unfortunately, they went so heavily on the "Ninjas fight in shadows" theme that is becomes a series of flickering movements in the shadows followed by fountains of blood. At times you are not extremely sure if they really needed actors for this movie.

By the time it is over, you figure you have seen your share of blood for the decade, but still are unfulfilled if you thirst for a good fighting movie.

So-so story, few good lines of sight in combat scenes, and a pedestrian ending leave this one for the Netflix pile.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Movie Review:Law Abiding Citizen

Okay, let's get the plot out of the way early. Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) and his family are victims of a random crime that turns horrific when Clarence Darby (Christian Stolte) turns to rape and murder.
At the trial, conviction rate fanatic Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) makes a plea bargain with Darby over the objections of Shelton that puts Darby back on the street quickly while his less guilty accomplice Rupert Ames (Josh Stewart) gets the death penalty.
10 years later, instead of being executed painlessly, Ames has a violent, painful death which, even though he was being executed, makes it murder.
The trail leads to Darby who turns up dead. In a detective role, Assistant DA Rice tracks it back to Shelton who more or less admits to it, and later admits it with great pride.
Bodies start piling up with Shelton in prison as he tries to make his point that the system is broken. Ultimately the question becomes whether Rice can figure out how to stop him before Shelton kills everyone involved in the trial that set free Darby while killing Ames.
This movie is first and foremost a message movie. It is an indictment of a legal system that is more interested in conviction rates than in true justice. Plea deals, phrases such as "It's not what you know, it is what you can prove", the bail system and much more are the agit-prop targets of the film-makers.
However, to get their message across, they needed a platform, and that platform became a drama/action hybrid with some strange directions.
At first you feel sympathy for Shelton. Here is an involved father and dedicated family man who had his family ripped away in a senseless, brutal crime.

Yet as the movie progresses and his murderous rampage goes ever wider...taking in judges, office assistants, defense attorneys, and basically everyone EXCEPT the guy who made the deal, your sympathy starts to fade and instead he seems more like a guy who has lost his mind.
Nor is Rice an overly sympathetic character.
And the conclusion, while what it must be, is disappointing...simply because they went with what "must be" instead of finding a creative, satisfying conclusion that did not undermine the points they were trying to make throughout the whole movie.
The movie was mildly entertaining but nothing anybody should rush out to see which is disappointing because it has a phenomenal cast, the directing was nicely paced and set a good atmosphere, and they avoided the gore while still portraying the brutality that started the whole thing. Ultimately, it was just a weak script and that it was entertaining is a testament to the skills of Foxx, Butler, and director F. Gary Gray.
Wait for Netflix.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Movie Review:Surrogates

Lately there has been a plethora of movies dealing with ethical issues raised by what many anticipate will be the next generation of Sims-style games.

Sometimes, such as in I, Robot (2004) those concerns revolve around the rights "created life-forms" have. More recently, Gamer seemed from the trailers to revolve around the legitimacy of getting people from death row killed in pursuit of a game, though that is pure conjecture...friends warned me it had so many pornographic overtones they walked out and I took their advice and elected not to see it.

Be that as it may, Surrogates takes the concept to another level.

In this world, virtually every person stays at home, wirelessly controlling surrogate androids that go forth and take part in the world. This will free them from the dangers of disease, accidents, and even warfare as shown in one interesting scene where a soldier who has his surrogate "killed" simply receives another unit from a replacement supply along with a stern warning to be careful, because "these things aren't free".

Certainly, there are advantages to living real life entirely by remote control. You can choose how you look, don't have to suffer unpleasant side effects of deviant behavior...after all, if you murder a surrogate, it is just property damage, not actually taking a life...and so forth.

But there are consequences as well. Director Jonathan Mostow certainly allows plenty of time and returns repeatedly to scenes showing the emotional disconnect that comes from having no actual personal contact or interaction...a charge frequently leveled against serious players of Sims or Massively Multi-player Online games such as World of Warcraft and Everquest.

The movie starts with an episodic look at how Surrogates went from conception to something employed by the vast majority of people, though some people rebel at the concept and form Surrogate-free zones.

Soon it jumps into a look at a young man who goes to a club instead of an opera...only to be killed by real human Miles Strickland (Jack Noseworthy).

Greer (Bruce Willis) and his partner Peters (Radha Mitchell) must solve the murder which leads to a tangled web of deception as they discover someone has invented a weapon which makes it possible to kill the user by killing the surrogate.

More and more powerful forces try to keep Greer from accomplishing his mission until at the end he is faced with a choice; save the surrogates and allow dis-figured and disabled people to live "normal" lives or allow their destruction to force people to act on their own.

The movie is pretty entertaining, has a couple nice action set-pieces and may surprise you at a turn or two...though the clues are there to let you know what is coming.

It is pretty weird seeing the Surrogate version of Willis with the goofy hair and no wrinkles..in fact, at some point the distinct lack of wrinkles on the surrogates almost becomes a character itself.

Is the immersion in virtual and alternate reality worlds a negative thing? How far is too far? These are questions the movie will raise and have no doubt; the writers and director have an answer.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Movie Review:9

If someone told you they wanted you to see a movie with cool animation, some nice special effects, tremendous voice over talent, and an idiotic story, would you go see it?

9 (2009) follows 9 (Elijah Wood) from his "creation" through his coming to life through his first adventure. Let me sum up the plot:

From a plot sense, 9 is brought to life to bring to life The Monster which he keeps the other animated burlap bags from destroying because if they destroy it then the burlap bags the Monster has eaten will not be able to be brought back, so instead he uses a device to destroy the machine which then frees the burlap bags...to fly away and be gone forever.


Don't destroy it so you can destroy it...

This plot had no point.

Okay, if you want a stretch a point, since each numbered burlap bag represented "some part of the human soul" I suppose you could argue Shane Acker (story) and Pamela Pettler (screenplay) are making some morality tale about which elements of the human soul they find worthwhile while simultaneously complaining about advancing technology...highly ironic since the movie is a technological masterpiece...but that is pushing it.

It also misses a key point; to push a morality tale, you have to intrigue the audience enough to care. When you make a vaguely entertaining movie that has a contradictory plot and a lousy denouement, you end up with 9:an unsatisfying, disappointing cinematic effort.

Stay away from this one.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Movie Review: G.I.Joe:The The Rise of Cobra

For whatever reason, movies that spark the nostalgia of childhood always strike my fancy and rank high on my list of movies I am excited to see. Certainly the third installment in the Ice Age franchise was greatly anticipated, and Transformers: The Revenge of the Fallen ranked as must-see cinema for me.

The only reason GI Joe did not rank that was was because this franchise went off the rails in the previews. Whereas the comics I recall and the cartoon when I was able to watch it were more or less set in a "real physics" universe, albeit with A-Team like sparsity of casualties despite constant warfare and gunfire.

Yet in the pre-view they have the absolutely idiotic "Delta 6 Accelerator Suits" which allow them to dodge missiles. Whatever. It was at that moment this tent-pole wannabe franchise went off the rails for me.

I had very conflicted feelings about seeing it. I was going to hate the straying from the "feel" of the GI JOE lore but it did look like a pretty good action flick. Still, it is GI JOE and has a huge brand-name cast so off I went. I was totally prepared to hate this movie.

The flick starts bizarrely in 1641 Medieval France where James McCullen (David Murray) has been arrested by the French for selling weapons to their enemies. Thus the McCullen clan habit of arms dealing and selling weapons to both sides was established.

Click to modern day where General Hawk (Dennis Quaid) is watching a modern day McCullen (Christopher Eccleston) tell NATO of the nanomite warheads he has developed for no apparent reason.

This is one of the myriad of non-sensical plot holes you must ignore if you are to enjoy this movie. Why, exactly, the "peace-keeping" mission of NATO suddenly has them independently paying for Doomsday weapons is never addressed in any way, shape or form. Moving on, nothing to see here but the ripped, torn, bleeding carcass of a gazelle that wandered into a lion pride.

The task of transporting these warheads from Kurgystan or some such random country (see above plot hole comment; why a Scotsmen working for NATO has his lab there is...well...best not to think about it. You won't like the answer anyway.) is assigned to Duke (Channing Tatum) , Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) and their team of anonymous casualties.

Enter the forces of the Baroness (Sienna Miller) and Storm Shadow (Byung-Hun Lee) who try to seize the briefcase, only to be foiled by Scarlett (Rachel Nichols), Heavy Duty (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and some other Joe I cannot remember.

Yes, the characters are introduced so fast and in such large bunches that they are hard to remember...but I am okay with that as at least they were true to that part of the Joe lore. As well as all of them having nick-names, though why Duke is Duke and Ripcord Ripcord prior to becoming Joes is another intriguing mystery best left unexplored.

From there the story takes off. The scenes of exposition are few and far between and widely spaced between some rather intense set-piece action scenes, long chases, huge explosions, and the requisite and awesome Snake Eyes versus Storm Shadow one on one combats which should satisfy any fan of sword play...unless, of course, the viewer has seen the movies from which their fight scenes seem to be almost directly ported over.

It is an open question whether the heavy references in this movie to other movies are "tributes", "homages" or "plagiarism". For your intellectual integrity, do not compare the missile dodging scene to any other recent high profile movies based on toy franchises that had a massive city battle which saw missiles fired at two figures in full chase mode who then contort wildly to avoid them...

There were so many references to many famous movies. In fact, they cribbed so heavily from Black Hawk Down that instead of simply re-shooting scenes down to the same camera angles...they simply took footage from it as you see in the final credits.

In case it is not obvious, even after seeing it I am highly conflicted about this movie.

As a GI JOE movie, it blew great hairy chunks of monkey under arm pit sweat. The unworldly physics of the Accelerator suits, the stupidity of the nanomites and various "pistol that blows up a city block...no wait, it sniper-level hits just the intended target...no wait, it blows up 2 widely dispersed enemies and the entire wall behind them" weapons, the death of a major, major part of the JOE lore...these are major strikes against it.

Not to mention they use the tag line "GI JOE:A Real American Hero" even though it is deliberately an international task force based in Egypt. Oh, and the American President has a very thick, obvious, and not American accent.

At the same time, as an action movie this may have been even more adrenaline-pumped and action packed than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen or even Live Free or Die Hard. The action scenes are long, packed, photographed well with very little of the annoying bouncing that has been all the rage lately. These are action scenes that are filmed so well you can actually, you know....see what is happening. That is outstanding.

But on the negative side are the repeat jokes and the bad acting. Example A: When Cobra attacks in the desert, the camels sense the under-the-surface invasion and react to it. When the Joes attack the Cobra base, the Polar Bear senses the under-the-surface invasion and reacts to it. Tit-for-tat, take that.

And the acting...oh, what happened? Way back when the abominable Punisher:Warzone was out, I complained about the cheesy, cartoon-like acting of Dominic West in the role of primary villain and how it really detracted from what was very nearly a really good Punisher movie.

Enter The Doctor (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who apparently disagrees with me. His walk, his gestures, his vocal inflections...until I looked up the credits I actually thought it was Dominic West. His cartoonish acting was extremely distracting. In his "homage" costume to Star Wars and Hellboy he decided to reference one of the more disappointing Comic Genre movies in recent memory? Why was this allowed?

Marlon Wayans is also pretty uneven, going from playing it straight and in the feel of most of the cast to getting in touch with his prat-fall Three Stooges homage side.

The change of heart Scarlett has is not sold particularly well either, but that is part of having perhaps too many sub-plots.

Ironically, I prefer my movies, even popcorn-fests such as this one, to have a variety of story-lines...provided the director takes the time to develop them and they make sense.

In this case, Director Stephen Sommers was so busy over-using the tired and true (not a typo) flashback device so often used to cover weak story-telling to actually develop current stories.

So in the end we have a real mish-mash. It is a great action flick with a couple real poor performances, interesting but not fascinating story, a nice twist that you may or may not see coming, and a curious (probable) death to a well-loved character and other abuses of the franchise that simultaneously manages to be great and horrific at the same time.

If you insist on your "GI Joe" lore matching the canon, save the 40 bucks a night at the movies will cost you. If you love action movies, go see it today. If you are indifferent...well, you might get distracted.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Movie Review:Ice Age, Dawn of the Dinosaurs

The Ice Age franchise is now in its 3rd installment and, as with most franchises, there have been certain changes. Remember in the first Ice Age how Diego (Denis Leary) was a fierce, dangerous foe for Manny (Ray Romano)?

Remember how Manny himself was a capable fighter when the need arose?

Remember how Sid (John Leguizmo) was really annoying yet somehow endearing?

Remember in the second one how fun the Possum twins were?

Meet the new Ice Age where Manny and Diego are cowards, Sid has lost his annoying ways and is now lacking that sweetness edge, and the new "cool factor" is supplied by Buck (Simon Pegg), the death-defying super-hero/klutz who battles Rudy the Dinosaur...a character so fierce that Manny and Diego have gone from characters who did what was necessary to fear-driven, unfunny guys.

Fortunately, there is still a lot of humor in this new edition. While not quite as original or fun as the first two, it is still a fast-paced, warm-hearted romp through the world of pre-history.

The jokes are, if not as plentiful as in the first two, still funny and the characters still have that little something that makes you want to see how their story turns out. The story arc is entertaining and the resolution everything you are looking for.

I was slightly disappointed with this movie because I loved the first two so much and that indicated to me that this was a franchise dedicated to putting out quality stories instead of trading on franchise recognizability.

I think part of it might be because they have added too much. In the first movie, there were really only three characters they followed; Manny, Sid and Diego. It was their story.

In the second movie, they added Ellie (Queen Latifah), Crash (Seann William Scott) and Eddie (Josh Peck).  

There was still time to explore their characters and relationships, each character was central for a while.

Now, they added Buck, the Dinosaur babies, and left out a lot of the stuff we wanted to see. No Crash and Eddie antics, no Diego-as-force-of-nature, Manny mostly as a bumbling, fearful father, no Ellie as a possum type humor...

Yet it was still fun and entertaining. The Scrat (Chris Wedge) and Scratte (Karen Disher) storyline was a bigger part of the movie and had its own arc which was very, very well done. Buck picked up a lot of the Crash/Eddie type moments. They cribbed a bit from Shrek with the Sid/dinosaur mom story, but that was okay.

Overall, if you like cartoons and good stories, you cannot go wrong going to see Ice Age. Despite the shortcomings mentioned above, it was worth the trip.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Movie Review: Transformers, Revenge of the Fallen

Many people hate the directing of Michael Bay. He uses a lot of explosions, high-energy set-pieces, sensuous camera angles, and so forth to cover for some shaky scripts. He has developed a style that falls enough into the realm of the auteur that he is even being mocked for it on You-tube.

On the other hand, with Bay you know what you are going to get and he seldom fails to deliver. In Transformers:Revenge of the Fallen he has the source material that fits his style. The original cartoon was never overly long on story line and plot but made up for it with a lot of high-octane action. Enter Michael Bay.

Revenge of the Fallen is everything you would expect. Action-packed, full of one-liners, full of plot holes and thoroughly enjoyable. It starts slowly, but once it gets going it doesn't slow down.

The plot is simple; Ancient Decepticon  "The Fallen" wants to return to power. To do that, the last Optimus must be slain. Once that happens, he will be freed to go to earth, find a machine that will kill the sun, and get that power for himself. Meanwhile, the knowledge of The Cube has been internalized by Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf).

So the Decepticons are chasing Sam who is being protected by Bumblebee and accompanied by Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox). Along the way, the specialized military task force has several battles with the Decepticons and the epic conclusion is a long-running battle that delivers everything you would expect from a Michael Bay flick: hot women, big guns, rapid cuts, numerous explosions, and a happy conclusion.

Along the way we encounter a lot of new Transformers that call back the glory days of the cartoon. We see Constructobots, Dinobots, and several others including a wise-cracking duo that get the best lines in the movie.

If you are looking for an intellectual, thought-provoking movie with something to say about today's society, skip this movie. But if you want an action-packed, fun filled action-adventure with a lot of combat, laughs, and fun, go see it. Twice.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Movie Review: The Proposal

We got there early for the sneak peak at the insistence of the Goose. The theatre was filling fast and I said in mild surprise, "I am surprised this many people want to see this train wreck."
"Train wreck? What do you mean? It looks good!"
I smiled. "Well, yeah, it is a rom-com, but it breaks too many rules. Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock don't get to play their normal characters, it is the girl who gets rid of the guy only to realize he was what she wanted....it is a tough sell."

Time to eat my words.

Andrew Paxton (Ryan Reynolds) is the same character Reynolds pretty much always plays. He is the suave, sophisticated, egotistical jackass who has just enough charm to get the girls to swoon.

Margaret Tate (Sandra Bullock), on the other hand, is a different character for recent vintage Sandra Bullock. Gone is the clumsy, sweet, slightly overwhelmed charm girl and in its place is the Ice Princess, a callback to Meryl Streep's wench in The Devil Wears Prada.

The story line is one you have seen before a bunch of times; dominating personality and talented but soul-crushed partner are forced into close proximity, think they hate each other, end up falling in love and getting married.

The contrived plot is unfortunate, because there are several elements in the background that, if explored more deeply, would add depth and texture to what ultimately becomes a mildly touching romp through the normal points a rom-com genre movie should hit.

I would love to see more time spent on the tension between Andrew and his dad Joe, ably played by Joe T. Nelson. They have great chemistry and you definitely believe there is a story and history there. Sometimes those "we have history" scenes are brutal and transparent and can ruin what might otherwise be a watchable movie (for example, the "fireman prank" and "stories of past events together" scenes in the execrable Ladder 49 combined with the horrific acting of Joaquin Phoenix combined to make it a movie that hopefully you don't recognize). In this case, the scenes felt very real and drew you in.

The movie is very well placed, has several hysterically awesome scenes that had people laughing loud enough that you could not catch all the dialogue. That is an excellent sign.

It also shows that Anne Fletcher is an excellent director. She is obviously well versed in the uses of the Kuleshov effect, and her excellent reaction shots bring the movie from predictable and serviceable to extremely enjoyable and worth seeing again should opportunity arise.

Overall, this movie delivered with gorgeous scenery, plentiful laughs, a fun story, and a satisfying conclusion. If you enjoy romantic comedies, go see it.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Movie Review:Up

Up has been heavily marketed for quite some time. The early pictures of a house flying on balloons coupled with more recent commercials showing some funny moments from the movie made it quite clear what this was; a light-hearted, fun, funny movie mostly targeted at the younger demographic.

And so it starts out to be. The sequences of young Carl Fredricksen (Jeremy Leary) worshipping his adventuresome idol Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer) and meeting the equally star-struck and hysterical Ellie (Elie Docter) are everything you were expecting.

You are quickly drawn into the story. The plot is fast-moving, the jokes plentiful, and the classic Disney heart/charm fully in place.

Spoiler Alert
Then, something funny happens. There is a sequence that is quite heart-breaking. With schmaltzy music, they do a montage of Carl and Ellie growing up, getting married, getting ready to have a baby...and then the baby dying, probably a miscarriage. Then Ellie dies.

What? Seriously? It is not that death has not entered feel-good animation before...in Finding Nemo the mother fish and all but one egg are killed. But that was off-screen and by implication. 

Okay, so technically it is off-screen and by implication here, too, but it is much more heavy-handed and with tremendous impact. Not a few snuffles were heard in the theatre, and rightfully so.

On the one hand, that is a very good thing. It means you care about the lead characters. On the other hand...it just did not feel right for a movie targeted at the younger set.

End of Spoiler
Now in his retirement years, Carl (Edward Asner) is ready to move on. He decides to complete his childhood promise to Ellie to go to Paradise Falls where Muntz disappeared. This is where the famous house on balloons scenes come in.

Along with young do-gooder Russell (Jordan Nagai) who stows away unintentionally, he flies to South America. The rest of the movie is primarily his struggle to get the house to the dream location.

Problems crop up when a mysterious bird and several dogs get involved, leading Carl to get involved in the fight to protect the bird, Kevin, from a mysterious pack of dogs with collars that allow them to talk.

Eventually he meets the villain, changes his mind, helps Russell and Kevin battle the villains and brings it all home to a satisfying conclusion.

This movie works on many levels. It has a solid message about realizing that the dream you thought you had may not be the one you get, but that does not mean you should be disappointed. It also carried a nice message about not being so caught up in your own wants that you forget to care for and help others.

It also provided plenty of humor and had a nice story line that was quite entertaining while also being full of heart. The animation was well done, the characters fun and engaging and, most importantly, likable.

If you like good animation and/or soft comedy, this movie is an excellent choice and I highly recommend it.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Movie Review:Night at the Museum:Battle of the Smithsonian

This movie was marketed as a comedy. That was the highlight of all the trailers, with things like the critique of Darth Vader (...simplify. You have too much going on. Your evil, your asthmatic, your a robot. And what's with the cape. Are we going to the opera? I don't think so..") and The Thinker being a self-absorbed body builder.

Unfortunately, if you have seen the trailer you have seen all the funny parts. You have seen all the screen time Vader gets. You have seen  the Custer/Pocahontas scene. The laughs are over.

Left behind are 105 torturous minutes of call-backs to the original that add nothing to the story and are not funny...they seem to be there simply because a call-back is a means to an end in and of itself..., action sequences that end up being silly, and waiting for the villains to do something vaguely villainous. 

For example, the villains pursuing the heroes have spears, lances, tommy guns, and other weapons yet continually allow themselves to get into hissy-fit pushing and shoving fights. What? That makes no sense at all!

Instead they repeatedly capture Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) and then let him wander off whenever he chooses. He and Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) tour the Smithsonian trying to find the code to the tablet. 

If you like seeing famous bits of art interact with people you might enjoy this movie. If you like laughs, good action scenes, intelligent dialogue, a plot that makes sense, or good movies then you probably won't.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Movie Review:Terminator Salvation

If you like sharp, well crafted dialogue with thoughtful, well developed plots, internal consistency, and movies with something deep and meaningful to say about the human condition....this movie may not be the right choice for you.

 On the other hand, if you like action-packed flicks with a surface-deep story and a lot of fun, punch your ticket it is time to go for a ride.

Terminator:Salvation is more about Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) than it is John Connor (Christian Bale) even if the screen time slants slightly towards Bale. 

The movie is set in 2018. In keeping with the dark nature we have seen of the future in the other Terminator movies, it is a bleak world indeed. Standing buildings are a thing of the past, technology other than war machines has seriously regressed, and the humans are at war with the machines.

Somewhere in the ocean the leadership of the human resistance is on a submarine planning a technological attack on Skynet while John Connor is among the ground forces. Up pops Wright, a man who has no knowledge of Judgment Day or what happened to L.A., yet this causes no questions for people such as, "Where were you for the past 18 year?"

This highlights the intrinsic stupidity of the movie. That is a pretty basic question, yet it gets blown off. Another fine example of the lack of attention to detail would be the sequence where Wright hot-wires a car, Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) says he doesn't know how to drive...then manages to steer the vehicle off-road down a ravine, through a complicated set-piece chase scene and ends with a perfect Rockford Files e-brake slide. Not bad for someone who "doesn't know how to drive".

Once you get past the internal logic holes, however, this movie is a lot of fun. It has the elements that made the first couple movies so enjoyable; out-gunned humans being chased by implacable, nigh-indestructible machines and having to find ways to stay alive long enough to figure out how to destroy the machine.

Along the way Wright has to figure out if he is human or machine. This journey is marked by key moments differentiating how other people perceive him.

The movie has some fantastic call-backs to some of the most memorable moments in the first couple movies and some nice cameos that should bring a smile to the face of anyone who likes the franchise.

Overall, it is an action-packed, enjoyable flick that moves the franchise forward and is worth the price of admission for those who are fans of the series. Oh, and if you liked Bale in the Batman series, check out his return to that voice during his "don't bomb Skynet" communique. That laugh alone is worth the price of admission.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Movie Review: X-Men Origins:Wolverine

To say I was not a fan of the X-Men movies is to make a major understatement. I essentially class them in the same way I class the 2003 abomination The Hulk by Ang Lee or The Fantastic Four:Rise of the Silver Surfer or Superman Returns.

All of these may very well be good movies but it is hard to say; they are horrible SUPER-HERO movies. There is a time and place for cerebral movies and they can be very good. But when you ignore what a franchise is about, you kind of shoot yourself in the foot. Or higher.

To be sure the X-men franchise has much to say about discrimination, tolerance, and so forth. The problem is, they forgot to appeal to much of their fan-base. A Super-Hero movie requires super action. 

For example, The Dark Knight had a lot to say about what happens when good people do nothing, about testing boundaries, and about the value of reality versus perception. However, it did what a movie should do; it first entertained in ways that appealed to its fan base, then allowed the message to develop naturally out of that instead of the message coming first and entertainment being left behind.

As a result, I had very low expectations for X-Men Origins:Wolverine. There were certain signs the movie might not disappoint. Throughout the franchise he was consistently the most entertaining character and his popularity among comic book fanboys cannot be overstated. Therefore, there was at least a passing chance the movie might be more super-hero oriented and less cerebral.

The movie starts in the 1800s with the event where Logan (Hugh Jackman) first reveals his powers and learns his friend Victor (Liev Schreiber) is actually his brother.

We then run through a montage of the brothers fighting in war after war until they are made part of a secret organization doing undercover work. Certain incidents finally cause Logan to have enough and he breaks away from the group after they commit an act reminiscent of My Lai, though this one is in Africa.

We then see Logan living a happy life with Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins). This life is soon shattered when one of the former group shows up killing former members of the team and team lead William Stryker (Danny Huston) comes looking for Logan to help.

When he proves incapable of defeating the menace he undergoes the surgery that replaces his bone claws with adamantium, making him all but invincible. However, he then has to face Weapon XI, a mutant with all the abilities of every mutant the villain has been able to get his hands on.

I tried not to reveal too much of the twists, though to be fair I saw every one of them coming. My movie-going partners did not see one of the twists, and you might not either but you very well may.

Wolverine has everything you look for in a super-hero genre flick. There is plenty of action, a good story that moves along at a good clip, a solid resolution and it makes sense within its own universe.

For those familiar with either the X-Men comic books or even the recent movies, there are plenty of Easter Eggs to find much like the fabled Captain America references in Iron Man. The movie has a wry sense of humor and a good sense of how to appeal to action fans without dumbing down the story past the level of cave-man intelligence.

For action fans, comic book fans, and super hero fans, this movie is a must-see.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Movie Review:Fast and Furious

Every so often a franchise goes off the rails. It happened to Batman when Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and Batman and Robin combined to drive hammer blow after hammer blow into the once-entertaining franchise as all the good elements were removed in favor of horrific, cartoonish plots, pathetic villains, and who can forget the infamous nippled Batsuit? Fortunately, it was reinvigorated with Batman Begins and we all know how the sequel to that one went.

It happened to Superman in Superman III and, unfortunately, went much further into the depths of forgettableness with that awful reset Superman Returns. 

Well, somewhere along the line, Fast and Furious lost its cachet. When The Fast and the Furious (itself a remake, by the way...) first hit in 2001, it was very exciting. Featured star Paul Walker was upstaged by newcomer Vin Diesel, the cars were stars, the story entertaining, and the entire package worked really well. 

In 2 Fast 2 Furious it started going off the rails. They tried to replicate the brooding good guy/bad guy coolness of Dom (Vin Diesel) in the first movie with Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson). Unfortunately, the situation was a bit too contrived. Instead of the gritty underground  street racing crowd with a working camaraderie that was believable, it went with the glitz of Miami and focusing the camera on Eva Mendes not to further the story but just because she looks good. Which, of course, she does...but it was gratuitous instead of for a point.

By Tokyo Drift the franchise had lost both primary stars, all the secondary stars, and the "feel" that made the first one so fun and such a pleasant surprise.

In Fast and Furious (2009) the franchise returns to its roots. Once again Dom is the brooding leader of a law-breaking band of pseudo-Robin Hoods. 

There are nice subtle touches such as the Iguana belonging to the truck driver they rob. There is precision driving, a car-load of hot cars, hot driving, fun chases, just enough story to tie it all together, and loads of action.

If there is a quibble with this movie it is that much of the action is filmed in what has been all the rage lately...replacing genuine action scenes, particularly car chases, with hyper-active cuts of such rapidity that you can not always tell who is doing what to whom. That is unfortunate, because what you could see of the car chases, particularly the two that went through the tunnels, was spectacular.

This is a fun movie that somehow, despite the overtly maudlin nature of Dom's motivation, skirts the edge of getting too brooding and corny to deliver an entertaining hour and forty minutes that is well worth seeing if you enjoyed any of the other movies in the franchise.

In bringing back Walker and Diesel they brought back the heart of the franchise and it worked.