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.