Sat, Jul 27, 2013

: Wolverine

Infinitely better than the previous film. While this has moments of pretentiousness and the plot is somewhat predictable (I saw the twist in the ending coming from miles away), it’s full of fascinating characters.

The story takes place mostly in Japan, where Wolverine has gone to say goodbye to a dying friend, led by a red-haired Japanese fortuneteller who is a fascinating puzzle. While there he meets the old man’s granddaughter, and when her life is threatened, he seeks to protect her. She, too, is intriguing. Then there are the bad guys, particular the snake woman. All the characters are fighters, with their own styles and weapons, which makes for interesting match ups.

A key part of what makes this movie interesting is that Wolverine loses his healing powers and becomes mortal. Unfortunately, he’s still so stupid/pigheaded/reckless that he doesn’t change his fighting style, repeatedly getting shot point blank as though he’s still immortal. I’m not sure what to make of that, but I did like that he’s forced to confront his inner demons and decide if he really wants to die.

There are a few confusing scenes (flashbacks aren’t ideal), some questions weren’t answered, and I kept mixing up a few of the characters, but the film’s vastly clearer than the previous nonsensical mud pit. The action here is subdued and less outrageous, but excellent, and far more interesting with Wolverine being vulnerable. The ending was a little anticlimactic and predictable, but overall this is a fun ride. If you’re a fan of the series or the characters, you’ll enjoy this. It’s a little different with it being almost entirely set in Japan, but I found that refreshing. Two thumbs up.

Topic: [/movie]


Fri, Jul 12, 2013

: Pacific Rim

Director: Guillermo del Toro

I’m a big del Toro fan and I love robots and monster movies, so I was looking forward to this. It really is a fun flick. Absolutely outrageous special effects.

Plot-wise, there’s not much here: giant dinosaur-like monsters 300-feet tall come out of a rift in the earth under the Pacific ocean, apparently from another dimension via a wormhole, and attack our cities. So the countries of the world unite to build 300-foot tall robots controlled by human pilots that basically beat up the beasts. It’s never explained why giant robots are more effective than say, fighter jets with missiles, but you suspend disbelief and go with the flow.

But over time the monsters keep getting bigger and eventually they start to win out over the robots. Eventually there are only a handful left as mankind makes one last desperate attempt to stop the threat of the creatures for good.

The cast of characters isn’t particularly creative — we have our tough military leader, our wounded hero and his love interest, a few top gun jocks, and some geeky scientists — but there are little details that keep things interesting and moments of depth that we don’t usually get in an action movie like this. That’s mostly because of the amazing cast that includes awesome actors like Idris Elba and Rinko Kikuchi.

Overall it’s just a fun, well-done smorgasbord of visuals and action. The opening’s a little soft, being mostly narration over flashbacks, but once the story gets going it’s a blast. The robots and mosters are mind-boggling. It’s Godzilla times 10,000. I can imagine imaging this; I cannot imagine actually thinking that this could ever be filmed. Going in I was worried that we wouldn’t really see that much of the robots and monsters — I figured they’d just be in a few key scenes — but probably 50% of the screen time is robot-monster action.

In the end this is little more than a robot-versus-monster movie, but that’s not a bad thing. This is just sugary fun all the way through. It’s a guilty pleasure that takes you back to childhood midnight monster movies, but without the cheesy special effects.

Topic: [/movie]


Tue, Jul 09, 2013

: The Lone Ranger

The promos for this looked hideous so I wasn’t going to bother, but a friend loved it, and I was in the right mood, so I went. It was definitely far better than I expected, but it is a little weird. It’s more of a comedy, with Depp playing Tonto over-the-top the way he did his pirate character in those pirate movies. (And I just realized they’re by the same director, so that explains that.)

On the one hand, I liked the way they came up with a new origin story for the Lone Ranger and fresh explanations for all the classic Lone Ranger details (like the meaning of Kemo Sabe, which was very clever).

But it also sort of ruined a lot of the good stuff about the Lone Ranger. It’s like Spiderman getting his spider powers via an ancient Mayan curse instead of being bitten by a radioactive spider: it could still work, but it’s not the same.

For example, in this movie Tonto and the Lone Ranger are not friends. They bicker and fight almost the entire movie, and when they do cooperate and help each other, it’s reluctantly. While there’s nothing really wrong with that, and it was well-done, I found it depressing and annoying, and not fun to watch.

Ultimately, while this had a lot of humor (mostly via Tonto), and it was overall a decent film, it didn’t feel very Lone Rangerish. It was something different. Maybe that’s to appeal to a new generation, but frankly, I’d have preferred to watch an episode from the TV show.

Production-wise, this is very impressive: the Old West setting is very authentic, the acting all over is excellent, and the special effects surprisingly subtle and effective (though a few of the fight scenes were clearly done with a green screen).

The plot is also decent: it’s about greedy white men and the construction of the transcontinental railroad and a silver mine. It’s not very complicated and that’s good, though I’d have preferred more depth in the Lone Ranger’s character (i.e. why he becomes the Long Ranger).

In the end, I’d give this one a B-. It’s well-done, interesting, and more fun than I expected, but it sadly isn’t enough “Lone Ranger” for me.

Topic: [/movie]


Wed, Jul 03, 2013

: In My Sleep

I liked the concept of this: a troubled sleepwalker worries he murdered someone while he was asleep (he wakes up covered in blood), but also wonders if someone isn’t trying to set him up by making him think that. The film does a good job of establishing several possibilities (he’s got a stalker, he was having an affair with his best friend’s wife, etc.) and at times is extremely well-done.

Ultimately the film struggles with pace. It’s slow to start, gets the mystery going well in the middle, and then goes down a strange path of investigating the man’s childhood. While that supposedly helped explain his sleepwalking and personality problems, I found it more of a distraction, and it was too convenient and predictable and not believable. I think the filmmaker worked too hard trying to make this a slightly unconventional mystery and it comes across as forced. The best parts are the scenes were the mystery just naturally unfolds.

In the end, though, this isn’t a bad movie at all. I liked many parts of it. The acting is surprisingly excellent, there are many quite impressive scenes, and the mystery (such as it is), is intriguing. Don’t expect too much — keep in mind it’s a small independent film — and you’ll find it enjoyable.

Topic: [/movie]


Tue, Jul 02, 2013

: Joyful Noise

The promos for this emphasized the whole “Dolly Parton versus Queen Latifah” motif, which, while it clearly was the cause for this film being greenlighted, didn’t appeal to me.

But it turns out to be a fairly mature film, sweet and surprisingly religious, but with a modern emphasis that’s not too cloying. The music’s quite good (Keke Palmer is amazing). The plot’s simple enough — conflict over which style of music a church choir should sing as they compete in a national competition. This is complicated with a romance and a few other side stories, not all of which work very well, but the whole isn’t too bad.

There are some surprisingly deep moments, particularly Keke’s character as she rebels against her conservative mother (Latifah). Unfortunately, there’s a lot of fluff, too, as overall the movie’s light-hearted and more comedy than drama.

It was definitely better than I expected. It’s not a classic or anything, but it’s fun, and if you like gospel music you’ll find it worth viewing.

Topic: [/movie]


: Ginger Snaps

I knew next to nothing about this film except that it was in the horror genre and I incorrectly assumed it was just another psycho killer slasher flick. It turns out to be quite different.

It’s a fascinating tale about growing up. Two outcast sisters, who are morbidly fascinated by death and ostracized by their teen peers, are attacked by a strange creature in the night. The eldest is bitten, but survives. Then she slowly begins to transform into a werewolf.

Yeah, we’ve heard the werewolf tale many times, but this one is definitely above average. The combination the girl’s transformation with her struggles to be accepted into her high school society create a wonderful parallel, and is ripe for fascinating social commentary. (It’s similar to the way Romero’s classic Dawn of the Dead creates a link between mindless zombies and mall shoppers. I’d also liken it to Stephen King’s Carrie.)

Ultimately the movie doesn’t quite live up to its lofty expectations: it’s limited by its genre and devolves into a traditionally violent conclusion, but it’s still a worthwhile journey.

Topic: [/movie]


Mon, Jul 01, 2013

: Amanda Knox: Murder on Trail in Italy

I recorded this Lifetime TV movie over two years ago, but hadn’t watched it. Recently I watched the real Amanda Knox interviewed on a news show and it revived my interest in the case and this movie. It was fascinating seeing some of the tiny details she talked about in her interview show up in the film — stuff I hadn’t remembered, such as her performing “gymnastics” while at the police station (she claimed she was growing stiff from sitting still for so long and just needed to stretch and exercise, while the prosecution tried to use that against her, saying she was callous and unfeeling over the death of her roommate).

Overall, while this film isn’t exactly going to set the world on fire in terms of acting and writing, it’s surprisingly good. There were a few odd moments that seemed poorly done and I would have done those differently, but mostly it seemed faithful to the events we know about from the trials. I was particularly impressed by how this showed some scenes from the prosecution’s perspective, allowing us to see how they perceived the crime and how they came to the conclusions they did. I feared this might be an all-out “Amanda’s Innocent!” or “Amanda’s Guilty!” preachy sort of film, but it’s well-balanced and critical of both Amanda and the prosecution.

A good example of this is that my impression of the case was that Amanda was a suspect almost immediately — which always seemed odd to me. But this movie had the prosecution only turning to Amanda after finding some inconsistencies in her story and some other people pointing the finger at her, which seems more reasonable.

The film does lean toward Amanda’s innocence — a view I share after seeing her conviction eventually overturned (remember, this movie was made years before those recent developments). It also makes Amanda seem more composed and intelligent than makes sense considering what happened (she definitely made several poor decisions both before and after the murder) — she was just a naive 20-year-old at the time and assumed the police were on her side.

In the end, I came away with a better understanding of how all this mess happened. I find the case fascinating, both from having lived overseas and knowing how easy miscommunication can be involving other cultures and languages, and from a general societal perspective. Definitely a film worth checking out if you’re interested in the story.

Topic: [/movie]