Friday, July 26, 2013

21 & Over

21 & Over is a party movie, and for that reason it has been getting some negative reviews. Party movies are played out, it is just another hangover. Seeing as how it was written by the some people, I can sort of see why those comparisons are being made. I have seen many movies get blasted online, only to enjoy them myself. But the question is, am I wrong?

Jeff Chang is turning 21, his friends Casey and Miller decide to visit him at college for the occasion. Unfortunately Jeff Chang has his big Med School interview the next morning. The movie sort of follows the Hangover formula, friends get messed up and bad stuff happens, but it is fresh and feels different enough. The 3 friends get drunk, and Jeff Chang passes out leaving the other 2 to watch over him. They spend most of the movie trying to figure out where he lives so they can get him home and ready for his interview. Much like the Hangover movies, crazy stuff happens to them on the journey. However this movie is rather tame compared to those, and honestly it works better for this setting. Hangover is about grand events that could never happen, 21 & over is not. While I would not say this would happen, it does feel more realistic, and fits in nicely with the college town setting.

The acting in the movie is about what you would expect. If you are unfamiliar with the cast, the 3 leads all have some acting credit to their names. Justin Chon is credited in all the twilight movies, and has done tv shows and work with disney in the past. Skylar Astin was recently in Pitch Perfect as the male lead. And Miles Teller as Miller, was one of the main roles in the remake of Footloose. Astin and Teller take the two main roles, and they work really well together. While Chon does get a few moments to shine, he is pretty much left out of most of the movie.

Is this the movie for you? Well it is written by the Hangover people, but it is not as raunchy. I would say if you are fine with those movies, this will not bother you. The humor is similar though, so if you did not enjoy those, you may want to pass on this one. I personally enjoyed it far more then I thought it would. It had a charm to it, I felt other movies in the genre have lost. I enjoyed seeing the 3 friends grow and evolve as the movie went on. Even Jeff Chang who was unconscious most of the film managed to develop his character. As much as I would love to talk about the ending, it just seems like it would be wrong of me to do so. So I will just say that I enjoyed the film for its duration, and feel it has been overlooked.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Burt Wonderstone is a Vegas Magician along side his best friend, Anton Marvelton. The movie opens up with the two as children, and shows how magic brought them together. We now skip forward and see them still doing shows together, and still seemingly best of friends. Once the show is over though that all goes away. The broken friendship puts a strain on their  act, as does new comer magician Steve Gray played by Jim Carrey.

While this is a comedy, one thing you must ask yourself is simply do you like Steve Carell? I for one am not a fan of him or his movies, and while this movie works well regardless of that, it is something to consider. He plays this role just like he does every other one, which turned me off at first. However with a strong supporting cast of Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, and Jim Carrey, I was able to find other reasons to keep watching. Most of the comedy comes in 2 flavors, awkward or grotesque. Watching Carell and Buscemi interact will make you cringe, but in a good way. They work well together, and provide some of the more memorable scenes. This is where the awkward comedy comes into play, easy example would be the magic show. Watching them grind on their assistant and having Carell make creepy advances on every attractive female will make you cringe. The grotesque humor comes from Carrey who is a more modern magician. He is ripping off the "Mind Freak" gimmick, and does similar street magic that is more based off of style then substance. He goes by the handle of Steve Gray, mind rapist. You will see him cut himself, burn and scar himself, and many other fun things as ways of getting you to laugh and be disgusted at the same time.

The story is forgettable, but the laughs are there. This is not a great comedy you will want to own and watch over and over, but it does well enough for a red box rental.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Conjuring

Ed and Lorraine Warren, names you may be familiar with as they are real people. They are some of the only investigators allowed to work in the Amityville house, which you have probably seen a movie or two on. The couple play a key role in this film, so much so that it detracts from the overall presentation. You see, they are not the main roles. That honor belongs to the Perron family. In this film the Warrens, try to assist the Perron family in ridding their house of some sort of evil entity. Coming to you from the director of "Insidious", can The Conjuring recapture what made that film work so well?

A family of 7 move into a new house in the country. The Perron family consist of a mother and father, and 5 daughters. The house is old, and has quite a history, however they bought it at action and don't know anything about that. While playing a variation of hide and seek, the daughters find a boarded up cellar and the father re-opens it. Shortly after weird stuff starts to happen to the family, until it escalates enough forcing them to seek outside assistance. This is how the Warren family is brought into their lives, and also serves as my biggest complaint against the film.

The beginning scene has two young nurses telling Ed Warren a story about a doll named Annabelle. If you are already familiar with Annabelle, being this is also a real event, know that they made her far more creepy in the film. The nurses are being haunted by a being who is trying to possess a doll to interact with them. This serves as a way to introduce the audience to the Warren family and tell you what they do. We see them teaching or giving some sort of lecture, and they explain about demonic possession. It all comes off rather forced, and only feels there so we will know who they are later. After that the movie moves over to the Perron family, and it feels normal again. However the movie keeps moving over to the Warren side of things, and you soon realize we are getting two stories that eventually intertwine. The Warren segments are neat, but feel out of place. They seem as if they were added as a homage to the real life couple, and not to further the actual film. While it is neat seeing the museum where they keep all there demonic artifacts, all of their scenes could have easily been reworked into a shorter single scene. It would have made the first half of the film far more natural, and enjoyable.

The acting is not bad, and in no way detracts from the film. The visuals and camera work do add quite a bit though. You can not talk about this film, without comparing it to insidious. Heck they mentioned that movie in pretty much every add for this one. But just like that film, The Conjuring uses creative camera and audio work to create a great and creepy environment or atmosphere. It also uses some good visual effects to produce tension. Such as looking in a mirror to help you see a entity. The mirror is out of focus at first, but slowly begins to become more clear. You know as soon as you can see perfectly, something will happen. By drawing it out, it seems to heighten the moment. There are also moments where you can see something, but the film in no way highlights it. I found myself asking my wife if she saw somebody in the background, and I was further drawn into the film. These may seem like small things, but I watch a lot of horror, and they are tricks most films seem to have forgotten. In a genre seemingly based on jump scares or gore these days, it was nice to see some good build up and atmosphere try to provide the actual scares.

So, is the movie scary? Well I would say no, but it did seem to effect my wife much more then me. It was creepy, it felt like it could be scary. But in the end, it seemed more interested in telling the story it wanted to. Once again I reference Insidious, I would put it on that level of scariness. You will not go home and cower under the covers, but you will jump a few times in the theater and get a good laugh when you do. Does that matter though? This is a horror film that does so much right, the overall lack of scare moments did not matter to me. Horror to me is a feeling, and it is not simply limited to me not sleeping at night. The Conjuring provided a great atmosphere, and a very disturbing vibe in the second half of the film that alone made it worth my money.

When ever a movie starts off by telling you "Based on a true story", I tend to get skeptical real quick. However in this case, it actually does have real events it pulls from. The main family in the movie is real, you can see some of them in the trailer I linked below. The two paranormal investigators are real, and rather well known in those circles. And the Events depicted, are based off of a real case involving both parties. After seeing the movie I did some research, trying to figure out what was truth and what was embellishment. Honestly it is hard to find out, while some of the people involved have done interviews, they did not say to much. The real Lorraine Warren is said to have been involved in the movie pretty heavily. And the oldest Perron daughter has said the movie houses many truths, as well as some fiction. The biggest difference is the time frame. The movie takes place over a small span of time, the real event lasted about 9 years. There is more, but I won't spoil it for you. Just go into the movie knowing that it is honestly based off of real events. And then look up the rest afterwards, you will enjoy it more that way.

So we have a film with a slow and convoluted start, but with a strong finish. One based on real events, and influenced by some of the people who experienced them. We have some jump scares, and some really cool moments. While it does not live up to Insidious, it does come off as a strong film in the genre. If you like horror, I would say give it a shot. This one is hard for me to grade, as the first 30 minutes or so were boring. But the rest came out strong and made up for it. I would say

Fast and the Furious 6

This is oddly enough, the 6th movie in the fast and the furious franchise. They have changed so much though from where the franchise started. The first 2 films were very big on car culture, but that is a thing of the past. The newer films are more action orientated, with the cars taking a back row seat to the actual characters themselves. I don't see anything wrong with that, but I do wish they would put more focus on the vehicles moving forward. This movie had some very cool cars in it, but you only really see them for a few minutes. Worse, they don't even tell you what some of the more obscure ones are. While I did really enjoy this movie, every new one just makes me miss the early days of the franchise. For a series that used to be about street racing, and driving sequences, this movie is lacking in both areas. We have 1 race between Dom and Letty that shows more in car shots then exterior. Thankfully the other driving portions of the movie more then make up for it, even if they do have a few problems.

For those not familiar with the story, they do a really nice re-cap of the first few movies in the opening. This movie deals with Dominic Toretto's (Vin Diesel) ex girlfriend Letty though. In one of the earlier films she is murdered, however we never actually see her being killed. We witness it in a very odd moment were Dom is looking at the scene of the crash and piecing everything together in his mind. Apparently his CSI skills are lacking, and he was a little off. In the last film we learned she was alive, and Brian (Paul Walker) was running her as a undercover informant before her alleged death. For this movie however, she is finally back and running with the bad guys crew. The Rock reprises his role as Hobbs the super-cop and gets the help of Dom and his team to capture said villains.

One thing I really like about these movies are the messages. Dom is very big on family, and he brings that to each film. The entire point of this one was "You never give up on family." Even after Letty sides against them and tries to take out a few of the heroes, he refuses to give up on her. While there is a lot going on during the film, the real story is about those 2. The whole team vs team car battle is just a secondary plot. We also get to see Brian's kid in this movie, and some of the more enjoyable scenes come from that. Seeing Dom and Brian argue over what the kids first car will be for example. Family is a constant theme in this movie, and the driving point for the good guys through out.

Normally I would talk about the acting, but you know what to expect from these kind of movies. We do get MMA fighter Gina Carano though as Agent Riley, playing along side the Rock. I have not seen anything she was in before, but she held her own nicely. And the MMA experience came in handy in the fight scenes. Seeing her hit a flying armbar was pretty damn neat, and she seemed far more scrappy then the others. The Rock on the other hand was almost painful to watch in some of his scenes. They tend to want him coming off like the Hulk, so when he fights he tosses people around. They over sell it though, and it just looks horrible. Seeing him toss a guy from the ground to the ceiling for example, you can clearly see the flight path the wires used. It just looks so unnatural, it honestly made me laugh the first time. After that though it was just a eyesore. The best fights are from the oddest sources though. Paul Walker has a nice prison brawl that looked very well done. And Tyrese Gibson and Sung Kang (Roman and Han) have a great fight in the subway. They should take the minimalist approach they put into those, and use it on the others. Just because the Rock is huge, doesn't mean everything has to be exaggerated to the extreme.

Next, the vehicle scenes, because that is what we all care about. There are 3 big ones, and a few smaller ones. The first major one introduces the villains and shows them battling the good guys in some custom flip cars. The flip cars look like very low profile dragsters that have amazing handling and speed. Fun fact, the flipping portion is fully functional. They wanted the cars to really work to make it more believable. They can drive at another car, and get underneath them. The front is ramp shaped, and has a directional wing they can use to toss the car in a certain direction. We get a crazy chase scene where the bad guys are tossing cars at Dom and the others, very cool stuff. The first sequence was pretty well done, but had no where near the hectic pace of the finale. Without spoiling anything, it involves a air strip that seems to go on forever. We have them driving at high speeds for about 10 minutes without running out of landing strip. Not very believable, but fun non the less. You have teams moving from vehicle to vehicle, vehicle to plane....really they are just all over the place. While these tend to be over the top, and contain the most unbelievable moments, they really are a lot of fun and are pulled off well. There is also a part with a tank that really took me by surprise. All in all great action, and that makes a good movie.

Closing thoughts. A good movie does not play it safe, and this movie does not do that at all. It kills off some of the good guys, and ends on a big negative. Han finally goes to Tokyo at the end of this film, which if you are a fan of the franchise you will remember from Tokyo Drift. The final scene during the credits is actually taken from that movie. They finally put the films in order and fit his death into the main series. Seeing one of the better characters die is rough, but they alter the scene to be a murder instead of a accident. We get the villain of the next film stepping out of the car afterwards. If you still don't know who that is, I won't tell you, but it made a sad moment rather nice in the end. It is odd to think that scene first showed up in 2006, and only now 7 years later actually occurs. Because of that they are able to set up another movie, which is already set to be released in 2014.

This movie had good action, decent story, good messages, and cool cars. If you are a fan of the others films, I have no trouble telling you to check this one out as well. If the last few did nothing for you though, give it a pass. For me though, it was a

World War Z

Based off of the book, slightly but not really....or at all. This movie started gaining some steam once pics and story tidbits started to hit the net. However that is also when it started to have issues. The book was something quite fantastic, and something you don't see in most zombie tales. It dealt with the psychology of a zombie outbreak in every facet of life. It did not follow one person, but multiple groups of people from all over the world, so as to give a complete view of the "World War" against the zombies. The movie is about Brad Pitt trying to figure out a way to stop the virus, and follows him around the world in doing so. Because it deviated so far, and seemed to leave out the entire point of the book, I had no interest in seeing this film. The question is, was I wrong? 

The story is simple, viral outbreak and zombies a plenty. Brad Pitt is a family man who used to work for the government in hot zones in hostile territories. They never really say just what he did, but it made him a very needed commodity in the current situation. He comes out of retirement in order to give his family a safe place to stay, and starts looking for a cure or way to stop the outbreak.

The zombies were rather unique in this movie. They reminded me of the aliens in Star Ship Troopers more then anything else. They ran straight on, and seemed to have some sort of hive mind intelligence. They even steal a scene pretty much straight out of that movie which probably helped a lot with that association. They are not your normal slow Z's though. They appeared faster when they turn, think 28 days later but stepped up a notch.

At its core, it really is a action movie instead of a drama or mystery. There is the overall story point of how to stop the Z's. However it takes the backseat to the action seemingly ever few minutes. We get huge battle scenes where the Z's are taking over entire cities, and you see surges of them very similar to waves just thrashing against the masses. While these are some of the cooler parts of the film, I also felt they were the weakest. The CGI is not great, and it suffers from the same error the Hobbit film did. The Zombies do not look realistic when they CG them. They use exaggerated movements that would look at home in anime or other animation. But in live action movie they just look jarring and out of place. I understand the need for CGI in order to accomplish what they wanted, but the animation issues really stand out. Any sense of Terror quickly fell away when watching these portions, and that should never happen.

The movie was at its strongest when dealing with a small number of Z's. They were more vicious, and seemed far more realistic and thus more terrifying. The movie never becomes horror, but it does have some good jump moments. The action is decent, and there is a lot here to like. I would not call it the ultimate Zombie film, but it was much better then I thought it would be.

In closing, the movie may have failed to live up to the ideas of the book. However it never tries to, and instead makes its own vision and does well with that. The smaller scale action sequences are great, but the larger ones suffer somewhat. That is not to say they detract from the overall enjoyment greatly, but they do remove you from the moment. What you end up with, is a good zombie flick with a decent story and a nice cast. While there were some miss-steps, the movie still delivered a good time and was worth the ticket price.

Side Effects, Redbox Edition

A couple are reunited when the husband is released from prison, however the wife is having trouble dealing with depression and tries to hurt herself. This ends up with her seeing a psychiatrist played by Jude Law, and she ends up on a drug that has....side effects. She ends up attacking her Husband while sleep walking, due to the drug, and faces charges. The main plot is Jude Law dealing with whether it was his fault, and trying to figure out if there is more to this then what we are seeing. 

You get a good little drama with some neat plot point, but no real mystery. You should have it mostly figured out before he does, but there is still enjoyment from watching it all fall into place. Anything more then that would ruin the movie, but I will say the story was well thought out. 

The acting is good, when you have names like Jude Law and Catherine Zeta-Jones you kind of expect that. I didn't really have any issues with this film, other then the slow start. But in a drama that is not unusual, and it more then made up for it later. 

For the price of a redbox, you can do far worse. It is not for everybody, but if you like dramas, I think you will enjoy it

The Last Exorcism Part II, Redbox Edition

This is a follow up to a pretty decent found footage horror movie from a few years back. Sadly they dropped the found footage format and went with a more traditional one. In the first movie we followed a film crew as they tried to prove a possession was being faked, and they all ended up being killed. It was a good ending, and had some very creepy moments. This film is about the young girl who was possessed and how her life is now that those events are over. The demon Ablam is no longer in control of her, and she is basically in rehab while trying to get her life together. 

Is this movie scary? That is the question you must ask of every horror film. The short answer, no. This movie is the ultimate compromise. The first movie had a great atmosphere, creepy settings, and some very nice effects. It made you uncomfortable, and put you on edge. This movie failed on every one of those fronts. We don't have a creepy family or farmhouse. We have a decent house in a good neighborhood, and a group of younger girls all hanging out. We don't get a decent story with good characters, we get a hour of nothing happening and no real build up. Even the big scene was just a let down. 

In the first film you had the exorcism scene which was well done. And you also had the barn scene where the demon really ramps up. In this movie you have a few small deaths, and then one big scene at the end. None of these managed to come close to what the original movie had to offer. The exorcism is this movie was just awful, and most of that was oddly due to how unique it tried to be. Without spoiling anything, it had a weird dialogue that just detracted from everything they were trying to do. The big chaos scene after was done in a manor so you did not see any of the violence, which in a film like this is just idiotic. And the ending lacked any of the charm of the original. How do you manage to make a horror film, and not show any of the horror? 

Skip it, and if you enjoyed the original, pretend this one never existed. 

Beautiful Creatures, Redbox Edition

This movie is taken from the first book in the "Caster Chronicles," so thank goodness we could get a few more of them. The story is simple enough, a young boy wants to leave his boring town for something better. A new girl moves into town and he falls in love with her. Sound familiar? 

Turns out she is a caster, or witch. And on her 16th birthday she will be claimed by darkness or light. Oddly enough, Male witches get to decide if they are good or evil, females do not. They had a throw away line kind of saying why that was, but they never really do more then just saying "that is how it is." She also happens to be cursed, and will be evil regardless. Can love find a way to overcome the obstacles put before it? 

This movie was bland, everything about it was lackluster. You would expect a magic based movie to have good effects, but anytime the casters started to show off, it was laughable at best. One magic battle resulted in the room spinning around while people yelled at each other for example. The only really good effects were wasted on a dream sequence that was the high point of the movie. The story was poorly done, and you never really come to care about the main players. I was also told the southern accents were very over the top, to the point of being annoying. The one good thing the movie had going for it was the ending, and then they copped out on that one. I do understand however that is due to it being a adaptation from a book. 

The crowd this movie would appeal to will have more then likely have issues with it as well. It does have a love story, but it is poorly written. It also hits every cliche you can imagine in quick succession. You eventually get tired of knowing what will happen next. The one good thing I can say for it, the relationship was at least fairly healthy unlike other similar movies. If you are a fan of the books, maybe this movie is for you. If you are a young girl, you may enjoy it. If you are everybody else, save the 1.25 and pass on it. 

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Redbox Edition

Somebody once told me, you could tell within the first 5 minutes of a movie if it was for you or not. I don't quite know where that cut off was in the film, but judging from the opening scenes I would assume he was correct. Hansel and Gretel are forced into the woods, seemingly abandoned by their parents. They find the candy cottage and the rest of the story plays out like you remember. The witch captures them, and then they kill her. The actual movie and story are what happens after that, and mostly because of it. Seeing the little kids kill the witch elicits a very interesting reaction. You will either be turned off by the blood, and overall cheesiness of the scene. Or you will smile and turn your brain off for the next 90 minutes. I chose to do the later, and so should you.

 For $1.25 you get a movie very similar to Van Helsing, and about as poorly received. This movie suffers from a lot of the same issues as Van Helsing sadly. It is corny, poorly written, tends to go to far with CGI. But it also shares a lot of the same strengths. Good action, neat weapons and concepts, and lovely atmosphere. It also pulls off the Horror comedy role pretty decently. From Hansel having Diabetes from being force fed candy while younger, to the stalker superfan that just wants to be part of the team. The movie gets quite a few laughs, and kept me entertained for its duration.

If you are not a fan of blood, feel free to pass this one up. It is by no means a gory film, but it does have more then most films these days. Seeing witches cut into many different pieces flying at the screen for example. I bet that scene made good use of the 3D offered in theaters.

If you still are not convinced if this is a movie for you, Let me leave you with the best line from it. "I hate to break this to you, but this isn't gonna be an open casket." If that line doesn't do it for you, nothing else in this movie will.