Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

     Had anyone ever heard of the guardians of the galaxy before buzz about the movie began? I mean, besides to comic book nerds, these badass "heroes" have flown generally under the radar of your typical viewer, even your more advanced geek. Either way, trailers had me very excited, and that was bolstered by the fact that literally everyone—professional critic or good friend—I talked to really enjoyed it. So, I bought tickets too see it on a monday two days in advance. First time I've had the whole theater to choose from. Naturally, I took the two in the middle where you can put your feet up on the bar in front. Who wouldn't?

     James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy provides brains as well as brawn. As we have come to expect in Marvel's flicks, this movie really blended well action packed scenes with above-par comedy. A lot of this humor stemmed from lead Chris Pratt, playing the role of Peter Quill, aka "Starlord, man!"
. Pratt, who has history of being a funny man (really recommend Parks and Rec), really pulled out the big guns: replacing fat with muscle, nailing the bad-assery. I've actually been hearing a lot of comparisons between him and Harrison Ford's Han Solo around the internet lately, and honestly, I have to agree. He's cool, laid back, funny, tough, and a real ladies man. I have to emphasize the cool, because I think behind everything that defines his character, cool stands out the most. And I think it was a perfect casting job, choosing Pratt, who is just as cool in real life.
     Guardians is a bit more of an origin story than I expected, however. More than half of the movie is spent "assembling the team": Star Lord and the rest of the gang only really come together after all breaking out of the same prison, and even then, there are some inter-squad squabbles. This fact, I think, could be a problem for some viewers out there, who are used to marvel's constant spewing of action from the beginning of the film onwards. An origin story like this one is a bit more sophisticated and requires a bit more focus, but I think pays off to make a better, more compelling action movie. One where you actually do care about the characters' well being, and about the bond of the team. A big downside to an origin-type storyline, which we saw a lot of, is confusion when introducing characters, exposition, etc. I found it a bit difficult keeping track of different races and planets, and deciphering who is at war with whom. On one hand, there is the obviously evil Ronan and the Kree race, but then there are the
C'mon, Yondu
Xandar, and the Nova Core, and Yondu and his goons, and they all seem to be against Star Lord and gang. This confusion is easy to look past, though, as all we really need to do is root for the Guardians and against anyone fighting them. Eventually, it all comes down to Ronan trying to destroy Xandar, and it all becomes pretty clear who the good and bad guys are. Near the end, after Star Lord defeats Ronan, we are rewarded with a chill-inducing line from Pratt, "You already said it bitch, we're the guardians of the galaxy". I wanted to stand up right there and applaud but there were still 20 minutes left.

     There were a few really interesting aspects to Guardians that really set it apart from the rest of the Marvel films, and other superhero movies in general. One thing that stood out to me was its' use of music. Every song seemed so expertly selected, and not only was the audio aspect of it implemented well, but all of the music's importance to the storyline, namely Peter Quill's, was pretty powerful. Quill has this mixtape called Awesome Mix vol 1, given to him by his dying mother, and he listens to it while idle. And these idle times come at pretty key points, and I felt pretty moved whenever that music began playing.  At the end of the flick, Quill opens a present from his mom, revealing a second awesome mix. *queue tears*. Another thing that caught my eye was the incredibly animated cgi heroes, Groot and Rocket. This is the second movie in a row which has had tender cgi moments that has made me a bit misty eyed. In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, we saw Caesar and Malcolm have a touching eye to eye connection. In Galaxy, Groot sacrifices himself to save the rest of the team. As this happens he locks eyes with a crying Rocket, whom up to that point had been a sarcastic, cold blooded machine. If that didn't pull at at least one of your heartstrings, then you have no heartstrings to pull.

     Did you think I would leave the Guardians out? Nah. While The Avengers might have more firepower than this dysfunctional group, it is the Guardians who lead with determination, heart, and real teamwork. While they worked great as a group, these guardians also stood out individually. I've already talked about the stud mcmuffin Chris Pratt, who is the glue holding these hoodlums together.
Zoe Saldana, to be perfectly honest, kind of bothered me. It seemed like she over dramatized everything, and I couldn't get over the fact that she was green. If you can remember, Saldana's roommate in Star Trek happened to be green too. Just me being nit-picky I guess. Dave Buatista, wow. This guy has some range. He is a WWE fighter who may have been the funniest character in the movie. He covered a pretty sad backstory, too. I know, he was kind of stupid to have in the movie but his ironically sophisticated humor had me reeling the whole time. Onto Groot and Rocket. These two, voiced by Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper, respectively, stole every scene they were in. This is the best super-duo since Batman and Robin. But they take a bit of a different approach to the super-duo mentality. With Groot as the muscle and Rocket as the wit, there's a lot more room for diversity and a more fun viewing experience. They are truly best buds, and although Groot can only say three words, they bring real depth to the team.

    Every aspect of Guardians of the Galaxy worked for me, and it kept me entertained, immersed,  even, throughout the whole film. It nailed the Marvel formula, and then some. It proved that people can go to see a movie because of the Marvel production, and leave satisfied because of the content, not the name. It deserves sequels, prequels, anything that can be thrown at it (hopefully these don't ruin the franchise), and to get you guys even more excited, they will probably be featured in an Avengers movie in the near future, considering they're all part of the same universe.

For the record, my Marvel preferences are as follows:

1. Iron Man
2. Guardians of the Galaxy
3. The Avengers
4. Captain America: Winter Soldier

Saturday, July 26, 2014


     Do people see movies alone? I feel like Richard Linklater's Boyhood could be the type of movie to see alone.

     The one thing that I must say before I start is that everyone should see this film. It transcends the confines of a "movie" and delves into the realm of art more than anything i've ever seen. Hence, as a production, this movie is a masterpiece. Hands down. Linklater filmed over a span of 12 years, using the same actors during that whole time... Unheard of. There are so many risks to this approach, with an uncertain reward at the end of the road. But at a completely objective, analytical standpoint, Boyhood was just an above average film. Which is why I have to look at it in those two different lights: as a production, and as a film.

    Director Richard Linklater stabbed at an idea that could be either hit or miss, and he made pretty solid contact. Like I said, using the same actors over a span of a few years is quite crazy and ambitious, but Linklater is no rookie to the concept. He is responsible for the love stories Before Sunrise, Sunset, and Midnight. These movies starred the same two leads (one of them being Ethan Hawke, the come-around father of the lead, Mason, in Boyhood) throughout the three films, whose release dates were 1995, 2004, and 2013, respectively. He is also the director of classics such as Bad News Bears, School of Rock, and a personal favorite: Bernie.

Really, with that hair?
Now really try to think about what Linklater did with Boyhood. Over 12 years, an actors perspective, talent, and look can all change pretty drastically, and it's his job to keep that contained. But one of the genius things about that is—and I think Linklater knew this—that this way of filming is the only way to capture the true transformations of a human, mentally and physically. Skills flourish and wane. Puberty naturally comes into effect. Physique fluctuates. Most importantly, hairstyles change. Drastically. But Linklater creates these transitions happen so fluidly on screen, allowing the real life transformations of the actors to become something more. An alum from my high school observes this well in his review: "Eventually, the film focuses squarely on Mason, brilliantly timed to coincide with Coltrane coming into his own as an actor. This is the section of the film where we truly start to see linearity in Linklater’s selective and specific choice of moments". Seamless transitions and natural growth are what allow viewers to submerse themselves in Mason's world and life, and are what change the experience entirely.  Without Linklater's guidance, this film would have been an unorganized coming of age story, but instead it is something so much more personal. We feel like we have known mason all of his life, grew up with him, perhaps even raised him. We hate seeing him fall under bad influences and love seeing his character evolve. This experience is so unique and special and can't really be appreciated while viewing a "normal" movie.

     As a film, I think Boyhood deserves a bit less praise. However, it did many things right, connecting with the audience, drawing sympathy, and creating a character we can root for; everything we can expect out of a good Drama. It's timeline made it relatable to many age demographic, as every kid could connect with a certain age, and the struggle of divorced parents could speak to those divorcees watching the film, as well as kids with a similar domestic stance.  Boyhood covered well some daunting concepts such as that of relationships and time, but fell short on ones like consequences and meaning. I think the most powerful message this film displays is one that time is the only truly independent variable. It really proves that with the blink of an eye, years can fly by without giving you a real chance to grasp what's meaningful. The cuts between years worked to Linklater's disadvantage at times but proved helpful in others: on one hand, it created some confusing timelines and seemingly pointless changes, while on another, it provided us with a sense of longing, one similar to that felt by a mother missing her child's younger years. I say confusing timelines because we sometimes didn't know how a romance started or ended, and curious changes can be seen in the likes of Mason's sister, Samantha, becoming emo for no apparent reason. Although I said this is a weak point, I want to contradict myself here. This style can be a testament to the fact that time has no biases, judgements, or preferences, and it's impact on everyone's lives can be felt so abruptly. It also made viewers feel more connected, missing, perhaps yearning to return to times when Mason didn't have to deal with the temptations of drugs or alcohol, under the cover of naiveté. 

     Speaking of drugs and alcohol, is it just me, or are teenagers always portrayed as irresponsible assholes who have literally no regard for their own or others' lives? (American Pie, Superbad, Project X) While Mason grew up, from 8th grade onwards, he was constantly barraged with peer pressure to drink and smoke. From personal experience, I can vouch that it isn't that bad, and most guys don't talk about girls like that and call people faggots so frequently (and mean it). It all just seemed a bit forced. But that wasn't the only strife that seemed manufactured. Throughout the film we see that Mason's mom, played by Patricia Arquette, has a questionable taste in men. Time after time she is courted successfully by men who appear nice, but are real scumbags after a year or so of marriage. The scenes where these stepdads  lash out are very scary ones, don't get me wrong. But to see two husbands of equally asshole-ish degree seems a bit like forced conflict, as if Linklater needed to add some insecurity to the lives of Mason and Samantha. What made it seem even more fake was the fact that these relationships seemed to work themselves out, breakups or fights appearing off-screen. This seemed like a bit of a theme. Any problem Mason or his family had, typically got better without leaving any real mark or causing any repercussion. Mason, for example, besides some drunk and disapproving stepdads, in a way coasts through life seemingly having things handed to him. Nothing bad ever happens to him after falling under the influence of drugs and alcohol. After a stern talk from his photography teacher saying he will go nowhere, he lands a scholarship to a photography school. Everywhere he goes, Mason has a very attractive girl who is into him. And the one thing that seemed too perfect was after the mom told a plumber that he was smart and should go to school, he later ends up owning a restaurant they visit. The only reason I have a problem with things working themselves out in this way is because it makes it harder to become immersed in the story, it takes a bit of the realism out of a film where realism is the main objective.

     While Boyhood eventually revolves solely around Mason, it starts of as move of a movie about family, tracking everyones lives and just giving insight into a day in the life of  a family of four (albeit with an estranged father). But really quality performances from Hawke and Arquette tie the first half together, while Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, strengthens his acting to become a bit more layered during the back half. So while the film is in majority one about Mason growing up, the beginning focuses more evenly on the parenting aspect. Here, we see Arquette, a house-poor mom struggling to keep up with her two kids and her own life. She must be stern with them most of the time, and has very little time to just take them out and have fun. Enter Ethan Hawke, the stepdad whose job is to pick the kids up every weekend in his GTO and have fun with them. How can this be fair to mom? Now i did not grow up with this type of parenting, but it seems fairly common, and Boyhood once again depicts a pretty complex concept during normal everyday lives. I thought Hawke's was such an important influence on Masons life, constantly giving little tidbits of advice, and as Hawke evolved as a dad, so did Mason into a young man. Hawke stole every scene he was in, and he seemed to be the only redeeming factor in Mason's life. I relished the moments where they were together, and longed for him when Mason needed guidance. Arquette, after all of the bullshit with second husbands, going to school, finally can just be a mom near the end of the film. But she, more than anyone, is left, empty handed, with nothing but questions. There is a scene that really spoke to me, as a second child about to fly the coop and leave my parents all alone. When Mason is packing up for college, we find mom crying, asking him, "Is that it?". She rolls over all the big moments in hers and Mason's lives, and begins to realize that the next big landmark is her own death. How is that supposed to make Mason feel? Or for that matter, any guy my age who is essentially abandoning their mother? As a tear rolled down my eye, I was really forced to think about life and time in a different perspective.

      It's hard to tell with Mason. Hard to tell if he's meaningful, hard to tell how real he is. Fairly introspective throughout his adolescence, he becomes a soft spoken, suave guy as he nears college. Because age is marked via haircuts and popular songs at the time, we get a clear sense of when Mason grows, and that allows us to analyze his change specifically. I think he's fairly likable throughout, and he goes through phases in the form of girlfriends, outlooks on life, etc. As the naiveté of young Mason begins to shed, he begins asking important questions, ones that we struggle to answer every day. He brings up modern conflicts such as society and technology, and we see his relationship with his girlfriend reach its pinnacle, and its downfall. His storyline, character arc all fit in well and are both compelling, but to me, lacks passion and direction. I would credit this to the fact that Linklater didn't want to give Coltrane direction, instead, he let Coltrane's real life changes dictate the progress of the movie. This, while creating a lot of lulls, was a powerful tool that let us witness the real growth of intelligence and maturity of a young man. But, time and time again, we get the sense that he just doesn't really care about much.

    Excusing the cringe-worthy acting/writing during that scene in the abandoned house, there wasn't any one thing too distracting. A well woven storyline and unparalleled idea helped turn what is an above average film into a piece of art that does exactly what Linklater wants. Boyhood puts time into a new perspective, makes the viewer analyze its impact on a single subject, and afterwards, analyze its impact on themselves. What really matters after seeing this film is that we begin to ask questions, we begin to try to relate our lives with others, and we start to realize that once our lives are set in motion, everything counts, and nothing matters.

Monday, July 14, 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2

     Guys. I went to my first party that somehow drew the attention of a police helicopter. I think that alone can make any night exciting and worth having. I say this because although the every other part of my day/night was pretty much boring, I'll still refer to it in stories for years to come. That helicopter reminded me of a dragon, so I went to see How to Train Your Dragon 2. No, no, that's a terrible transition. How about: watching that World Cup Final flying back and forth reminded me of a dragon, so I went to see... No. To be honest, theres no good transition, because this was very impromptu. A sunday night movie with a friend. I ditched my dad for the third night in a row, which normally I wouldn't feel bad about, but in this case, he's had nobody to hang with (my mom has been on a "girlfriends' retreat"). So, yeah. Also, just saying, no matter what type of movie watcher you are, if you don't take a moment every so often to see an uplifting animated movie, then you're a monster.
    Dragon 2. Behind the beautifully fluid animation lies multiple serious undertones that I can imagine would resonate with kids from pre teens to young adults. Concepts like abandonment, coming of age, and the loss of a loved one offer plenty to think about and bring a sense of maturity to the film, but are well balanced with playful writing and beautiful scenes. What I was most impressed with was how they continued the story line after the first movie. In some cases, a sequel's plot can seem forced and confusing, but writer and director Dean DeBlois created a seamless transition. I really like how now, with the help of the dragons, the citizens of Berk thrive and our protagonist, Hiccup, has begun to explore and map out uncharted territories. Hiccup, along with the rest of his friends from the first movie, have all grown up a bit, donning the preview of facial hair and a bit deeper of voices. But Hiccup is a troubled soul. On top of his mommy issues, he now anxiously anticipates his inauguration into chiefhood. This struggle is similar to the one he faces in Dragon 1, in the sense that he feels pressured to be like his "perfect Dad", but doesn't know how. But with the help of his friends and the reunion of his father and long lost mother, Hiccup becomes the man he was meant to be, although in a rather cliche manner.

The Alpha next to Hiccup and Valka
    The movie's message comes across clearly and cleverly, but wouldn't keep the attention of the kids without magnificent visuals and malevolent baddies. Animation never ceases to amaze me, with its ever increasing potential for greatness. Each wide shot more stunning than the one before, and the capability to capture epic scale warfare. Each flying scene blew the audience away, really taking us through the scares and pleasures of what Hiccup must have been feeling. And during one of the more intense periods, we get a real treat: a dragon sanctuary with a magnificent alpha dragon at its center. Scenes like these are, at least for me, what really draw me in to see animations.

    Aditionally, if you think for a second that an animated flick will be short of stars, think again. The movie stars Jay Baruchel (She's Out of My League, This is the End). Baruchel is annoying to say the least, but very fitting to his character, and with any other voice, Hiccup would lose his genuine nature. Aside Baruchel are big names such as Gerard Butler, Cate Blanchett, Jonah Hill, McLovin, Jon Snow, and Kristen Wiig, among others. Chances are, if you think you recognize the voice of one of the characters, you probably actually do. These actors arent just a big clump of names put together, either. They really blended well in Dragon 2, providing one liners and hilarious banter left and right. Christopher Mintz-Platz and Jonah Hill battle over the heart of Kristen Wiig, all while her twin brother, T.J. Miller (She's Out of My League, Silicon Valley) jabs at the both of them. And all of these lovable characters really come together, as a display of teamwork ends up being the only thing to get them out of tough situations.

     Dragon 2 also tried to tackle some pretty tough subjects, especially for a kids movie: strong female roles, and the death of a father/main character. It succeeds with one of the two. Stoic, Hiccup's father, plays a role ambiguous enough to resemble many fathers out there—strong, protective, supportive, but with high expectations. We love him for his humor and for his love for Hiccup. But then the Dreamworks studio does what hasn't been done for a long time: (SPOILER ALERT) they kill Stoic. This was a complete shock to everyone, there was no foreshadowing leading up to this event, this was not an inevitable demise. It tore at my emotions, and yet, I loved it.
Just look at that armor damn... Statue of Liberty meets
Infinity Blade
This relatively small gesture did wonders to chip at the veil media has held over children's eyes. This type of thing was a bit more common years ago, with deaths like Mufasa's, and Bambi's mother, and real scary scenes like those in Snow White and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Stoic's death isn't going to start any sort of revolution, but I am glad to see a step away from overly sugar-coating children's movies. Now, onto the strong female roles. As seen in Disney's Frozen, the era of charming prince saving princess is losing grasp, and girls now have stronger characters to look up to. I think DeBlois tried to do something like this in Dragon 2. He establishes two pretty perfect candidates, the strong of mind and body Astrid (s/o to Asterix comic), voiced by America Ferrera, and the mysteriously powerful Valka, voiced by Blanchett. Astrid, a girl Hiccups age, continuously shows her prowess on the back of a dragon, beating out all the boys during competitions. However, when it comes down to the real battle scenes, she does little to contribute to the outcome, and she is reduced to yelling "go get em' babe!" to Hiccup. She even had the potential to become chief, as Hiccup was apprehensive at first, but that never materialized. I really thought they had it with Hiccup's mom, Valka. She seemed so badass upon first meeting, a masked mystery-man-turned-woman. She knew all the dragon tricks, and was an inhabitant of the epic dragon sanctuary. But, when it counted, she disappointed, just like Astrid. I think it was a solid attempt to bring something new to the table, but in the end it failed. But, besides that, How to Train Your Dragon 2 succeeded as a sequel, and as a movie itself, building upon past concepts while bringing forth original and worthwhile new ones. Go see it.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

     Are there more important things in life than movies? I'm not sure. I had this past week off of work. I originally intended to use this time wisely—exercise, spend some time with friends and family, make a dent in my summer schoolwork—but instead, I kind of just sat at home watching a ton of movies via Netflix and listening to weird music (and playing weird video games don't judge me). I watched The Machinist, Glengarry Glen Ross, and Following. I would strongly recommend all three. Since they are older films, I feel like I shouldn't review them because this blog is about more current ones, but if my masses of fans want to see some reviews then feel free to comment that. Here are some songs you could listen to while reading this, if you're feeling it (this is a Mount Kimbie minimix thats 20 mins long).

     In an effort to compensate for my poor timing before Edge of Tomorrow, I arrived at the theater early for Dawn. Perhaps a bit too early. I had to kill 20 minutes on iPhone games while waiting to sit down for trailers. But when the film started I was immediately impressed. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes opened with a stunning and concise montage explaining the events between the ending of Rise and the beginning of Dawn: most humans die out and governments collapse due to the spread of the simian virus. It was a clever and beautiful way to spew exposition, and I didn't mind it at all. But then, queue 20 minutes of Apes talking and being smart? this footage didn't really do what I think it wanted to do. The audience knows how intelligent the apes have become from the first film, they don't need a very long sequence showing off their new brainpower. There is some very touching but painfully obvious parallels between the apes and men, i.e. father son bonding, making it abundantly clear that apes are becoming more like humans, but being a bit too transparent about it ("think before you act, son"). It's all good and fine, but I think it would have been more mysterious and powerful had the opening just tracked the humans' expedition into the forest, only to discover that there is that whole colony of evolved apes living there. Maybe that would have even helped me form a connection to the human characters which was lacking during the film's entirety.

     Before the summer started, I was faced with a very tough decision: do I watch dinosaur transformers or do I watch apes on horses shooting guns? Rotten Tomatoes helped me make the decision: not even Marky Mark can save that franchise. However, Matt Reeves, the new director for Dawn, found a way to build upon the success of Rupert Wyatt's Rise, while also making a completely different film. In Rise, we saw a relationship story between a young, naive Caesar and James Franco. This installment established the grounds for the virus as well as the building blocks for the "monkey uprising". But what made it so special was the real emotion between man and ape. And this is what Reeves did very well in Dawn. He lacks in the human to human and even ape to ape connection, though not for lack of trying. But there really was magic in the formerly mentioned circumstance.
I was very impressed with Jason Clarke (Malcolm), whom we've seen a bit of talent from in Zero Dark Thirty, and unsurprisingly impressed by the insanely talented Andy Serkis (Caesar). Together, they go from enemies to brothers, and Malcolm shows Caesar that his ignorant loyalty to his own species is unwise. But most importantly, the two made me feel double the emotion than any same-species interaction did, which I think is so important and aligned with the whole message of the film.

     Let's talk about the two assholes of the movie. Such a cliche to have a character who is so stubborn, selfish, or stupid that they alone can ruin things for everyone else. Some examples: Iceman inadvertently killing Goose, Frodo almost turning on Sam, Cypher betraying the matrix squad... In Dawn, we get two of them: Carver and Koba. If these two didnt exist, the humans and apes could live together. Period. But, you know, evil human is evil. He has to shoot the first ape and bring a gun when
he knows he's not supposed to. And, you know, evil ape is evil. He has to steal guns and usurp the simian throne. And I know that these sequences are completely necessary plot drivers, but it just pisses me off so much when things could go right but one dude ruins it for the rest. On top of that, there are so many damn miscommunications that could be solved if the apes weren't so stubborn. We know you're primal, but do you really need to scream and hit things at the slightest hint of a red herring? It's obnoxious.

    Can we talk about the CGI for a second? It really blew me away. It's one thing to have, for example, a werewolf flick with one really well done monster, fully detailed in every shot. But in Dawn, the crew transformed actors in body suits into some very convincing apes. On a massive scale. While Maurice, Koba, and Caesar got their fair share of close up screen time, it was the large battles and scenes with upwards of 200 weapon yielding monkeys that showed off the prowess of our technological advancement. Comparing this type of filmmaking to the 1968 Planet of the Apes, which at the time, received world acclaim for its makeup effects, is like comparing a Tesla to a horse drawn carriage. And I know there are some people out there who don't like CGI, and would rather have the makeup of the old days, then they don't deserve the awe-inducing talent of computer geniuses. One last thing though. I want to say a thing or two about the two big names in this film: Gary Oldman and Keri Russel.
Coulda used a Dark Knight
Basically, every human besides Clarke and Oldman was pointless to the plot. Especially Keri Russel. She brought nothing but a whiney attitude and a very fake phd. In fact, every time she opened her mouth, I just didn't listen, because I knew it would be unimportant. Shut up, Keri Russel. Oldman was fine. Until he turned into a dick. Then, I didn't like Oldman.

This dark epic, while lacking in human emotion, excelled in computer imagery and showed real interspecies compassion while making me legitimately worried about a simian uprising.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow

     So after the USA vs. Belgium game left a hole in my heart, I decided to get my anger at the gym. This was super effective and I was able to crank out some serious sweat, but unfortunately it made me late for this movie. I know. Faux pas. Whatever, I only missed like the first 5 minutes (which were probably pretty crucial to the exposition) so give me a break. Anyways, a new thing I want to do is link songs that you could listen to while reading this, so here they are. Keep in mind, they have nothing to do with the mood or plot of the movie in any way. Oh also, check out two series on comedy central called "Nathan for You" and "Drunk History", for they are epic and fun and funny.
     Edge of Tomorrow. Action movie with a badass Tom Cruise ~ fine, normal. Action movie with a badass Emily Blunt ~ what!? I'll be honest, when I first saw a trailer for this flick, I was totally turned off. A drawn out formula of an alien race attacking earth, Tom friggin Cruise in another world saving role (Shouts out to Oblivion), Emily friggin Blunt as an action star (stick to Devil Wears Prada?), and the same friggin song used in the trailer for Battle: Los Angeles. For frame of reference, Battle LA got a 35% on Rotten Tomatoes. That was generous. Literally the only thing that made me buy tickets was the consistently positive word of mouth. And the more I thought about it, the more I started to respect their twist on the washed up Earth is in danger plot.
These things can absorb and dodge bullets to equal
For one, this Alien race seems pretty unkillable even without their time travelling abilities, as seen in this clip. In addition, the relationship between Cruise and Blunt actually seems pretty genuine, which I credit to the fact that it isn't completely centered around unrealistic love; they only ever actually kiss for a brief second *cliche af*. But most of all, they utilize the most original plot driver since Groundhog Day. However, I can't tell if it was clever to use the "repeat the same day" idea or just lazy, because there was so much of the same damn footage in this movie. In the end, I was once again pleasantly surprised.

     Before talking about Emily Blunt of Tommy the Scientologist, I just want to mention that there were essentially no other characters in this movie. I say this because every supporting role was entirely expendable. Maybe three guys did anything to drive this plot, and these tasks could have most likely been carried out by the time traveling Cruise anyhow. But more on Cruise. He'll never regain the action magic he brought to the screen in Mission Impossible or Top Gun, but he came pretty damned close during the 113 minute film. There was some refreshing passion we didn't get to see in his recent work in Jack Reacher or Oblivion. His comedic timing was pretty on point, and he really nailed the look of confusion he often wore. But one thing anyone in his role had to do the most of is wake up, as also seen in Groundhog Day. Cruise most likely took lessons from Peter Gilroy to have that on such a tight lock. Emily Blunt taught me a few things about herself through her inspiring preformance. She honestly had one of the first true strong leading female actino roles done well. Sorry Katniss. I really didnt think Blunt had it in her. She was commanding, intimidating, and really stole most of the scenes she was in. I also learned that, by God, she is hot! When she first did that little push up shot I was like damn. Then she did it about 6 more times due to the time travel, and I was like hot damn. Anyways, the two had excellent chemistry, which really helped make the viewing more enjoyable.
    One thing worth noting is that this movie isn't a fluke hit. Obviously all viewers know Cruise as a big name action star, but he has produced more flops than successes, especially as of late. Besides quality preformances from him and Blunt, a major factor adding to the appeal was Doug Liman, the director. Some of you may not recognize the name, which is understandable. Allow me to refresh your memories. Liman directed a top three all time action thriller: Bourne Identity. Also producing the following two in the trilogy, Liman has quite a bit on his resume. While the plot to Edge of Tomorrow differs a lot from Bourne's, you can really feel Liman's influence throughout the action sequences, as well as during the in between dialogues.

     However, this movie wasn't all roses. There were some pretty long chunks scattered around the movie that left me bored and let my mind drift into other thoughts. This was mostly a result of the character's goals not being very clear until quite late in the film, which is typically fine in an action flick, but this one wasn't quiiiite entertaining enough for that. But the thing that pissed me off the most was the ending. I had a similar problem with the X-Men: Days of Future Past ending. This is a common flaw in big budget American film: a need for a happy ending. Even visionary directors succumb to the draw of a "more popular movie". In Edge of Tomorrow, Blunt's and Cruise's last ditch suicide ends up being all for naught—they kill the bad guy and still manage to live for some ridiculous reason. Honestly, some ridiculous reason. I cant think of one thing that would cause this miraculous hero-creating time travel if not to please the audience. But whatever, money is money, so I understand. In the end, this movie was a success because Cruise and Blunt put in serious work both acting wise and kicking mimic butt wise, as well as because the script didn't try to do too much with the time travel aspect. Don't forget your vegetables

Monday, June 16, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past

      To all my fan(s) out there, my apologies for the long hiatus. I've been pretty busy over the last few months with graduating high school and preparing for the next chapter of my life. But don't worry, I've been watching plenty of movies. I've got a lot to say about the latest kaiju movie, Godzilla, but that's for another day. Anyways, over the last nine days, I've been on an outdoors trip which did its best to culminate my high school career and provide a nice segue between my irresponsible adolescence and college. It also snapped me back into a creative mindset, because I spent all this time around three friends who only talked about media, literature, and writing. During which time struggled to keep up. Hence here I am again with you all. This is, hopefully, the resurgence of Not Another Movie Review. 

    So, onto X-Men: Days of Future Past (DOFP). We all know it. Brian Singer's first two shots at Marvel's mutated crew were shams. The X-Men was ok, but X2 left much to be desired (although worlds better than Last Stand). Since then, there have been plenty of shitty X-Men movies tarnishing the franchise, like Origins: Wolverine. But X-Men: First Class was somewhat of a gem. Great Director/Writer in Matthew Vaughn, and new talented actors like James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, and in turn a new hope for the series. However, when I had heard that Brian Singer would be resuming his directing role in the sequel, I thought everything would fall apart. I was pleasantly surprised. DOFP impressed me with a compelling (if unbelievable) storyline, a creative blend of old and new age heroes, and a certain air of dedication and enthusiasm that Singer lacked in his previous installments. Granted, some of that might be due to more writing help from Vaughn.

     However, there were a lot of disappointing and confusing plot points/holes, and forgive me because this might take a while and be a bit incoherent. First of all, since when can Kitty Pryde do anything other than phase herself and others through matter? Why does magneto seem to have so much more power in the past (and almost useless in the "present"), when he is younger and less experienced? Most importantly, why wont anyone listen to Peter Dinklage? He's, like, the most commanding dwarf known to man. The biggest bother to me, however, is the time travel aspect. Supposedly, Pryde can send someone's consciousness back in time. The "present" X-men intend to use this to give past Wolverine the information that "present" Wolverine has. This would allow past Wolverine to know what happens in the future and give him a plan to stop it. What I can't figure out is why Logan needs to be under this trance state during the process. Essentially, once past Logan alters the timeline, "present" Logan and everyone with him should dissappear and reappear somewhere else depending on what past Logan does. If your argument is that Logan's consciousness needs to be there the whole time to carry out the task, then I must bring this up. Past Wolverine is all but killed 15-20 minutes before Mystique shoots Magneto and saves the future timeline from destruction. Therefore, no more need for Wolverine. And don't even get me started on Jean. Jean's transformation into Phoenix is due in large part to manipulation from Magneto. In the end of the movie, Magneto walks off, still a bad guy, and in the "present" timeline, Jean is still alive and not evil. On top of that, Charles read's Wolverines mind, therefore knowing everything that will happen from that point on. In effect, no more X1, 2, or 3.

     But enough about that, it made for good drama and an exciting plot. There are a few things that are necessary to bring up. 1: Michael Fassbender is an incredible villain, and an even better Magneto. 2: McAvoy should never try heroin. 3: Bobby is lame and so are the random new mutants. Oh, and Evan Peters makes a perfect Quicksilver. His laid back attitude juxtaposes nicely with his quick wit and mutant ability. I loved him in the American Horror Stories series, and couldn't wait to see him in this film, and he didn't disappoint, proving to be funny yet effective. Peter Dinklage also provided a typically awesome supporting role, although he doesn't really triumph at any point in the film. If you want more, check out some great lines from Game of Thrones. What really tied the movie together was a combination of strong performances from the guys you'd expect. While Hugh Jackman continues to get more jacked, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart can finally pass the torch confidently to Fassbender and McAvoy, whose portrayals did them justice.

     Even with the somewhat confusing plot, X-Men: Days of Future Past really shines through the thick of the other movies in the franchise. While I wouldn't put it ahead of First Class, I would say it is a worthy continuation of the reboot. As far as I'm concerned, as long as Matthew Vaughn is somehow contributing to the script and the director and actors have as much enthusiasm as in this film, we are good to go.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The LEGO Movie

    Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller must be psychic, because this movie was almost perfect for me, and has quickly become my most recommended flick. It has incredible depth; not only does it combine combine rich and unique comedy with surprisingly thrilling (and not to mention equally unique) action sequences, it also appeals just as much to me as the 8 year old kids who flocked in to see their dream movie. On top of all that, the stunning animating and wonderful voice acting (along with some very exciting cameos) left me with a giddy smile for the whole 100 minutes, which stayed on my face well after I pulled back into my driveway.

   As an aspiring animator myself, the thing that stuck out most to me during the film was the animation. Lord and Miller also worked on the stunning Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, which had animation closer to the norm. But what makes The Lego Movie's animation so unique is the illusion of stop-motion technique. Throughout the film, I was sitting in my chair not knowing whether to devote my attention to the art or the laughs. It is seriously impressive that they were able to make their computer animations look like production-level real LEGO stop motion movies. (There are some very impressive home made videos out there). They imitated this style by only using sequences that would work under the laws of LEGO. i.e. feet had to be placed in the holes on the floor, hands couldn't hold anything that didn't have a holding bar, etc. This really drew sympathy from me and all of those who struggled with the limitations of live LEGOs. In addition, the attention to detail was very impressive: they even went so far as to use some real lego sets and to make some of the characters hold imperfections so as to look used. To note the detail and incredible artwork, you don't even have to look further than the trailer. Please, please take a second and just focus on each small movement. Then watch it again for the hilarious writing.

   Lord and Miller went with a fairly safe storyline in making this movie: a seemingly normal guy who turns out to be "the one", featuring the plot driving (and cleverly named) piece de resistance—the only weapon to stop the Kraggle. I think, however, that this relatively overdone plot is acceptable in this situation. The movie is, advertised at least, for kids, so the story would be easily lost in the minds of the youngsters anyways. That also leaves more room to appreciate the animation and comedic talent featured in the film. Adding to the story were some great LEGO (not acting) cameos that not everyone can truly appreciate.
DC United
There is a very satisfying appearance made by some quality Justice League characters (Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Superman, and Flash), with Batman playing a more permanent role. A lesser known Ninjago shows up in the forum, a new addition to the LEGO family. The 2002 NBA All Stars! What could be better? Oh, I don't know, maybe a nerdgasm-inducing fly-by featuring the Millennium Falcon and crew? I think it's safe to say there was plenty to keep you occupied during viewing.

   Did you notice all of the voices behind the pasted on faces of the LEGOs? My guess is you didn't, because there were 14 people that I would consider "stars". Can I name them all for you? I'm going to anyways (in order of their role's importance): Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Will Ferrel, Liam Neeson, Will Arnett, Charlie Day, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Jonah Hill, Will Forte, Keegan Michael Key (sans Peele), and finally, oh yeah, Shaq. Shaq's digital presence has been almost as massive as his suits lately. Will Ferrel, a king of comedy, in a movie with some of my favorite tv stars in Day, Pratt, Key, and Brie. Every new character put me further and further in awe. The fact that big names such as Hill and Forte only have one line goes to show how impressive this cast is. And paired with the animators, they nailed every punch line. Every new scene sent the audience roaring with laughter, while subtle jokes kept a constant giggle. This isn't much of a surprise, seeing how Lord and Miller were also responsible for the 21 Jump Street reboot, a film with endless re-watching potential. Plus, the depth of the film was overwhelming.
Starbucks, anyone?
One one hand, there were a multitude of jokes clearly not meant for the little kids: references to pricy coffee, an old quote from Abe Lincoln, the 2002 NBA all star team, a sly homage to Terminator ("come with me if you want to not die"), an Austin Powers reference baby, a perfectly timed Bionicles touch, and not to mention one that sent me off my seat: Batman's "he's the hero you deserve", which is a hilarious nod to the brilliant scene in Batman: The Dark Knight. On the other hand, there were subtle nuances and themes of existential crises, as well as multi layered conversations that some weren't in the mood to analyze.

   However, I can't finish this post without asking the one burning question i had walking out of the theater: why the live action sequence? Look, I get what you were trying to do. Transcend the fantasy world to show that the themes in the movie can apply to real life. Maybe just to have real world resolve between childish father and son, to show that the magic of the movie can apply to real life. But to be perfectly honest, it really didn't translate well into live action. First of all, I'm a massive fan of Will Ferrel, but I don't want to see him getting all sentimental. Secondly, it turned what was an incredibly well thought out and fantastical movie that allowed us to suspend our disbelief, to a movie about the imaginings of an everyday kid. Somehow, it just made it so much less special and personal.

    That being said, The LEGO Movie is one that was expertly crafted on all fronts, and although it was basically a massive ad for LEGO, it was one that can bring a surplus of laughs upon multiple re-viewings.