Thursday, August 29, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

I caught this on amazon instant video last night. So if it is not on redbox yet, it should be soon. The last Star Trek movie came out in 2009, I manged to see that one in the theaters opening weekend. I have not seen it since, and I even own it. So I did not go into this one with the greatest of hopes, I figured it would be a good popcorn flick. Heavy on action, light on everything else. I wouldn't say I was correct on that assumption, but I wasn't to far off. The easiest way to recommend this film would be to simply ask, how would you rate the first one? Drop a star, or half a star off and go with that. If that still sounds like your kind of movie, great! Go out and rent this one, you will enjoy it. If however you found the first film lacking, or not really to your taste....this one will do nothing to win you over.

The story focuses on Khan, who was one of the bigger villains for the franchise from what I understand. I never really got into Star Trek as a show, or any of the following series. Khan launches a terrorist attack on military archives, killing quite a few people in the process. He then goes after some of the higher ups in starfleet using the previous attack to draw them out. Starfleet figures out where he has gone and sends Kirk and the Enterprise after him. Their mission is to kill him and leave the area before the locals find out. Khan is hiding on the Klingon home world, and Starfleet does not wish to start a war. Obviously a lot more happens, but we are already in spoiler territory, so let me just leave it at that for now.

Let me start with the Klingons, I always thought they looked horrible on the tv show. However in the movie they have been redone. They have this really cool looking armor on that covers their entire head. And when they take it off, instead of the odd makeup job that Warf was, we get some pretty tough looking bad guys. Everything in the movie looks well done, from the individual aliens to the special effects used in space. You do have the excessive lens flare that people liked to joke about from the first movie, though it did seemed slightly toned down.  The visuals were always stunning, and the opening scene used contrasting colors very nicely to draw you in. Even the final showdown which takes place on top of a moving transport came out nicely. As far as the effects and designs go, I had nothing to fault them on. It was a very visually appealing movie.

As far as acting goes, really no complaints there either. I will always see Quinto as Sylar, or more recently Dr. Oliver Thredson from American Horror. So him as Spock always just throws me. Frankly I prefer him in the more sinister roles, but he always puts forth a good performance regardless. The big addition to this movie was Benedict Cumberbatch, famous more recently for the tv show Sherlock. He did really well with the role of Khan. He has a vibe about him that just seems off, that plus his natural talent made him easily the high point of the film. Peter Weller did come across kind of flat in some of his scenes, but overall the acting was very good. They really do have a good cast for these movies, filled with easily recognizable faces and notable actors.

So far I have been giving the movie mostly praises, and if I talked about the action sequences that would probably continue, however earlier I came off as not really liking it. If it was not the acting, the effects, or even the action then....what was it? It is honestly a bit hard to discuss without going into the spoilers, so I will just say this vague statement. The movie has no consequences, and it gives away its big ending in a scene that was very out of place. The next paragraph will go into more details, so please skip it if you don't want to know key plot points of the film.

Once again, this paragraph will contain spoilers for the ending of the film. Dr McCoy, or Bones, has a scene where he is playing with a dead Tribble. If I remember correctly, Starfleet does not allow transportation of Tribbles, but maybe because it was dead nobody cared. Bones decides he can use Khans super blood to bring the Tribble back to life. This is all given to you between a scene where the Enterprise has just been basically captured. Kirk has decided to align with Khan and take over the enemy ship. The whole scene was very out of place, and just seemed tacked on. It also tells you, hey we can bring dead things back to life.....gosh I wonder what will happen next. This takes any sort of tension out of the big ending, and Kirk killing himself to save everybody just loses its impact. I am sitting there going, yeah but they can just bring him back to life. All they have to do is beat the bad guy, which I had a feeling they were going to do anyways. There was also a scene were Khan could have killed Spock and got away, but instead decided to help him up onto the moving transport so he could fight him. The entire ending seemed off, and poorly thought out.

Spoilers are over, please continue from this point.

So we have a weak finish, and a movie that looses all steam mid way through. The action scenes are decent, but nothing special. And I don't recall much if any space combat other then one very short scene. There was some humor in the movie, but overall the entire package just felt lacking. I also own this movie, paid full price for it. But after viewing it one time, I can safely say I have no interest in seeing it again. I am sure the franchise will continue, and in a few years I will be sitting here writing about Star Trek 3. And I am also sure they will continue to be mediocre at best.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Olympus Has Fallen

Aaron Eckhart plays the president of the united states, and Gerard Butler starts off by playing the head of his secret service detail. The movie opens up with the two of them boxing, with Butler getting the better of it. Suddenly I am seeing visions of the president knocking out terrorist left and right later in the film. Sadly that never happens, the president actually is portrayed rather weakly in this film. More on that later though, for now back to the story.

The movie starts out rather quickly, there is a situation that requires a snap judgement. Butler goes with protocol, and what would be viewed as the correct decision by most. The President wanted him to go against that, and as such has him removed from his station. The whole movie is based around this one point, and hinges on it greatly. You already know we lose the white house, its in the title and every preview you see for the film. However the only reason it happens is because Butler's replacement can't do what he did. He is unable to follow protocol and instead gives into what the President wanted. If not for that, the situation would have been vastly different. I wouldn't say it was a issue for the film, but it was something I kept thinking about. One issue I did have though was the scene in which the house is taken. A small group of North Koreans use their superior military strength and tactics to take the most well guarded building in less then 15 minutes. They use a plane to start the attack and set up the ground forces. You see the white house use some of its anti air weaponry against it, and it fails. However they do not use everything they have, a point which is made quite clear later on in the film when we try to do the same thing to take it back. Suddenly the house has a new weapon which is much more efficient in that situation, why didn't we use that before during the attack? 

Another issue is the President as a character. The terrorist want something, the President basically hands it to them throughout the movie. He is shown as weak, and because of that the country is put in great jeopardy. In a movie that only really works because of the patriotic vibe it has going, this just seemed like a poor decision. I think they were trying to make him more likable, as he was worried more about his staff then keeping our secrets. But in the end it just pissed me off. There is a scene where one of his female staff is being beaten by the main villain. She is bloody and you can tell its getting bad, but she doesn't break. Seeing the president order her to give up the information that can compromise the nation just made me dislike him.

Thankfully the movie isn't entirely about the President, it is mostly about Butler. As a matter of fact, it is mostly about Butler beating people to death. And in that regard, it does very well. Butler is brutal, and even made me think of Liam Neeson from Taken more then once. He has a scene where he "interrogates" two terrorist for info that was just superb. Really his inclusion makes this film so much harder to judge. Seeing the Terrorist kill and murder cops and civilians makes you angry. You have a patriotic surge of emotion when you see certain things going on in the film. Butler goes berserk and you get some good action and fight sequences. All in all, it sounds like a winner. But its not, or at least it wasn't for me. The movie was built on to many uncertainties. Simple things like the white houses defenses not all being used during the attack. The President breaking protocol to unknowingly aid the terrorist. Butler being sent to another position early on in the film, taking him away from the main event. When your film has a handful of events that are not planned, but magically happen allowing your dastardly plan to succeed....well there is a issue. It feels weird saying I want to believe North Korea could take down the white house and capture the President. However if any of those events had not magically occurred, the movie would have been very different and a lot shorter. Heck, they probably could use the "Team America" catch phrase as the title of that short film. 

So in closing we are presented with a enjoyable and emotional ride through a film filled with annoyances. If it would have just been Butler stabbing and punching people, it would have rated higher probably. However President Eckhart just drags the whole thing down. Add in in circumstances that just make you shake your head, and you get a okay film at best. For a redbox rental, it is not to bad. I wouldn't buy it though, pay the 1.27 and just watch it for the action. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Pacific Rim

Kaiju is translated from Japanese to read, strange creature. However most people just give it the meaning of monster. Kaiju is a culture, a genre of film that is centered around these massive monsters. Chances are even if you're not familiar with the term, you are familiar with the genre. Recently you have stuff like "The Host" which was a Korean film where a monster came from the sea and kidnapped a small girl. Her family tracked the monster down and ended up fighting it to get her back. You have the american film "Cloverfield" which had one of the better marketing teams behind it. J.J. Abrams kept people in the dark for what felt like a eternity on this film. You have the classics like Gamera who is a personal favorite of mine. You have stuff like Kamen Rider, or Power Rangers which quite a few of us grew up with. But the most well known is undoubtedly Godzilla, who has a new movie in the works right now. Kaiju films are timeless, as are most of the stories they tell. So when I heard Guillermo del Toro was heading up Pacific Rim, I knew I had to see it.

The story to this film, is actually very simple. A rift is found in the ocean which somehow acts like a dimensional portal. It links our world to the world of the Kaiju, which is the term they use for the monsters in the film. Years ago the first attack occurred, we were unprepared for it. It was a single kaiju and it took 6 days and 3 cities before we were able to bring it down. 6 months later another attack, and then more at increasing intervals. The nations of the world come together and put aside the past to make the Jaegers, which are giant robots. The Jaeger program allows us to fight back, and for awhile it looks like the tide of the war has changed. However with no way to stop the increasing attacks, issues arise.

The next part could be a spoiler, however it all happens in the first 15 minutes of the film and as such I do not consider it as one. Still it may be worth skipping the next paragraph.

The Kaiju get bigger and stronger with each attack. The Jaeger pilots start to get beaten, and soon the world government decides it is no longer the best option. They come up with a plan that anybody can see would not work, and decide to decommission the jaeger program to build a huge wall around the sea the Kaiju come out of. The first Kaiju takes a hour to get past the wall, but the government fails to see the error, or simply refuses to admit they were wrong. The Jaeger project converts to a resistance group and continues to fight for the people without the funding and support of the rest of the world. They are weakened greatly by this, and as such devise a single plan to end the war. The majority of the film is about that plan, and takes place over the span of a few days. There is a doomsday clock ticking down, and in less then a week one side will have won.

This film thrives on emotion, in ways I would have never thought it would. While it is a great action film, and has some amazing CGI and fights scenes, the emotion is what really makes it work. Like most Kaiju films, the monsters are the draw, however the people are what the story is about. A lot of this comes from the way the Jaegers work. They require 2 pilots to operate, and use a neural interface. The two pilots have their minds basically combined in order to be one super brain. One pilot is in charge of one side of the Robot, the second takes the other side. There is a line in the film about the stronger the bond, the stronger the link is. As such most pilots are connected in some way. Father and son, or brothers for example. Adding that bond makes the characters feel more complete, and gives you another attachment to them. People die in this film, it is inevitable in war. When everybody has that kind of bond though, it gives it more of a impact. Especially since most of the characters are very likable and well done. It is weird to think a film like this can bring a tear to your eyes. But it manages to do so in multiple ways, and that was something I was unprepared for. Idris Elba delivers a great speech near the end of the movie that is the perfect example of this. He draws you into it, and after a pretty horrible battle he rallies the troops. It evokes a reaction from you, and then the film rides that into the finally.

The cast of the film is a odd thing. I would say most of them are experience actors, however they are also not overly well known. You have people like Charlie Day who has a good following, but has not really reached mainstream status. You have Charlie Hunnam who I had never heard of before, and after looking at his past work....can not remember from anything else. For me the most well known person was Ron Perlman, and he had a rather small role in the film. So when I was looking at the line up for this movie, I was a little worried. I had no reason to be however, as they all did a wonderful job with their roles. Idris Elba seemed to steal the show however. He plays the leader of the Jaeger project, Marshel Stacker Pentecost. He is pretty much what you would expect a military higher up to be, but he brings so much intensity to the role. Other notable roles are Charlie Day as Dr. Newt, the crazy researcher for the jaeger project. He is twitchy, and just really plays crazy well. He spends a good bit of time along side Ron Perlman, and they add most of the comical aspect to the film.

The CGI looks great, just watch the trailer and you can see that. The fights are brutal, and have some crazy stuff to them. Every robot fights differently, which adds some nice variety to it. You have the Russian jaeger which is more of a power house bralwer. Then you have the more precise Japanese design wich has 3 arms instead of two, each equipped with a huge buzz saw. You really do get some memorable moments from the film. Every fight seems to have something in it that sets it apart from the others. And the final two scenes in particular were simply fantastic. The movie makes it quite clear the good guys can lose, and at times you actually feel like they might.

Final thoughts.....The movie takes risks. The plot is easy enough, but some of the story is over the top. It pulls it off, however there are a few missteps. There is a small romance sub plot which felt awkward at times, however it is never fully developed in the film as it was not a major focus. The complaints though are few, and easily over shadowed by everything else. The action is intense and grand in scale. It manages to elicit emotion from the action, the dialogue, and pretty much whenever else it wants. The movie never feels forced, and the acting was great. The visuals were all amazing, and I am very happy I managed to finally see it on the big screen instead of at my house. This is the first movie I have seen in theaters in quite some time, that I know I will buy when it is released. I don't do half stars, but for this film alone I wish I did. I struggled with the score for awhile, but I finally decided on this.

It is not perfect, but for me it was pretty damn close.

Also stick around after the credits for a extra scene. It is about 3 minutes in, and lasts probably 20 seconds. Serves no real purpose, but it did put a smile on my face.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Bunraku is a form of traditional Japanese puppet theater. While I have never seen it, from reading wikipedia and a few other sources, it all seems very extravagant. Bunraku the movie draws inspiration from its namesake, using it to create something very unique in the process. We get a movie exuding style, but not at the cost of content. It reminded me of Sin City, mixed with a dash of Afro Samurai. You have a good narrative that is accompanied by a cast of experience actors. And a story that while in no way new, feels fresh at the same time. This movie is in no way for everybody, but I feel you can easily tell if it is for you.

Josh Hartnett plays a drifter who comes into town on a train. Also on that train is a samurai played by Gackt. I have no clue who that is, but he was impressive in this role. They are both looking for the same man, though they do not know it. The samurai Yoshi is trying to find honor, while keeping to his Bushido code. The drifter simply wants to kill somebody. They are brought together by Woody Harrelson who plays a bar tender, and acts as sort of a mentor to them. Ron Perlman plays the leader of the WoodCutters, a gang who runs the town the movie takes place in. He has under him 9 other killers who are all very accomplished fighters. Both of the Heroes paths lead to Perlman, and the 9 killers stand in their way.

This movie is about violence, and committing in a grand way. The fight scenes are flashy, and for the most part technical. The drifter is a brawler with fast and heavy hands. He can kill a man with a single punch, and uses very little finesse when fighting. Yoshi is the opposite, refined and precise. Each hero has multiple fights, and each is done in a different style. The action is well handled, and can get rather creative. In one scene the Samurai is facing off against another swordsman, while the drifter is fighting a acrobat. We have a more standard sword fight going on, while we see Hartnett fighting on a trapeze and trampoline. While not every killer is a grand fight, each is highlighted and delightful to see brought down. It has been awhile since I saw a good martial arts film, and this one exceeded my expectations.

The scenery in this movie was very interesting. It takes place mostly in a city, however we are treated to some very pleasant visuals. Some of the structures appear to be made of paper, and the sky is usually made of it as well. We see what looks like tissue paper painted to look like the background, with the actors dropped into that world. Merging those visuals with real sets create a surreal image that really became the look of the movie.  It is hard to explain, but if you watch the trailer below it should be a little more clear. By using these sets, and adding in color and lighting that add to the surrealism, the movie comes off looking more like art in certain scenes.

The story is predictable, and the few big reveals are nothing special. You should have them already figured out way in advance. The movie never really tries to hide them though, so maybe they are not meant to be surprising in any way. Still the story works well, and managed to grab my attention pretty quickly. While I have seen the same story told many different times, I enjoyed Bunraku's take on it. Add in the artistic style, and the well done fight scenes....and you get a movie that frankly I can't believe I had not heard of before. If you like martial arts flicks, or just want something that isn't your standard action film, give it a try. It is on netflix instant view, so chances are you already have access to it.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Iron Man: Rise of Technovore

This is a animated film that in no way is associated with the big screen Iron Man films of the past few years. While it does have some of the same characters in it, it exists in its own separate world from those films. It is also a very different movie in both tone and content, and as such has been receiving some pretty negative feedback on user submitted sites. for example is filled with user reviews complaining about how the movie is not in English. Most of the issues people seem to take with this one are not un-founded, however simply reading the description of the film would solve most of there confusion. What this is, is a Iron Man movie made in japan, and it contains none of the actors from the other films. It has a more adult tone, and lacks the comedic atmosphere of the live action films. And while yes it is in Japanese, the dvd has English tracks on it that are very well done and some of the better dubs I have seen. So if you are reading this because you are interested in the film, you now know pretty much everything you need to before moving on.

The story revolves around a satellite Stark is trying to launch into orbit. It will allow him to monitor pretty much everybody on planet 24 hours a day. Some people are calling it a invasion of privacy, while he claims it should allows us to prevent and respond to situations in a more efficient manor. While trying to launch said satellite, a terrorist group attacks and they are lead by a young boy who uses a suit far more advanced then even Tony's. His suit is able to take over other technology, and is the Technovore. The majority of the movie is Tony trying to track the kid and suit down, while running from Shield. The story comes off as ambitious, but about half way into the movie you start to realize they are doing nothing with it. Most of the film has nothing to do with the main villain, and seems to be more about Cameos then anything else. We see Stark Teaming up with the Punisher for a small portion, and we see Hawkeye and Widow working together for awhile. Rhodey, or War Machine, also has a major role in the film. While it is neat to see all these characters interacting with each other, it feels like the villain should have been a bigger focus. He honestly only has one real attack, and then a showdown at the end. The way they tell the story just felt disconnected, and poorly paced. The villain gets all of his development at the end of the film, and spends the rest of the time not really doing anything.

The action makes up for this, and the animated style really helped out as well. The movie opens up with a race between Iron Man and War Machine, and like most of the fighting sequences, it is fast and fluid. The animation is much better in this then the american marvel animated films, though there are a few hiccups. Certain sequences just look cheap and poorly done, mostly when using what appears to be 3d models along side the drawn portions. The contrast between the two styles is very obvious, but overall it is a small complaint. While the visuals are very Japanese, I really did like how most of the characters came out. While Technovore looked like a 80's anime villain, pretty much everybody else exuded style. Seeing Iron Man vs Gatchaman was odd, but you go into anime movies expecting stuff like that.

Closing thoughts, this was a neat experience for me. I have not had any experience with the Marvel anime since they started. I know they have a few series, and maybe even other movies, but I have not seen them. I did not know what to expect, and what I got was pretty decent. The first half of the movie was far better then the second, and the story didn't deliver like I would have hoped. But seeing Iron Man in this setting I was not used to felt fresh and new. While the movie does have a few cliches from other anime, such as the villain having multiple did well enough for itself and kept me entertained. For a redbox rental, I think it was well worth the price. It is not one I will be going out and buying, but I am glad I saw it. I enjoyed it more then the last theatrical Iron Man, though that is not saying much.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

G.I. Joe Retaliation

I had reservations about seeing this film after watching the first one. It had a lot of issues that needed to be addressed, and frankly I figured this one would simply be more of the same. However when the film hit theaters, it had a better buzz about it then the original. People were saying it improved upon what the first film was. And to be honest, they are correct.

The basic story for this movie goes something like this. The president has been kidnapped and replaced with a Cobra operative. He uses his powers to have the majority of the Joe forces taken out. The rest of the movie is the remaining few trying to figure out what else he is up to.

While it is odd to see them simply get rid of so many roles from the first film, it actually works very well in the end. For most of the film we follow two groups of smaller Joe teams. The main Team has 3 members and is led by the Rock as "Roadblock." The other is led by Ray Park as "Snake Eyes," and has 2 members. By focusing on smaller groups, the different characters are able to actually shine. While the finally does add a few more people to the mix, it really does not detract from anything. They have already established who the extras are at that point, and it all feels rather natural.

While that is certainly a point in the positive column, the movie quickly loses its step by forgetting realism at every turn. I understand they have some very high tech stuff, and ninjas are hard to call realistic. However the movie fails to work even within the much larger limits that things like that bring with them. In the opening scene the Joe team is in stealth mode to break into a compound. They are all dressed in black, and making a night entry. To get past the fence they break out these heat gloves. They melt the wires by turning them into a bright orange molten substance. It lights up the area, and really stands out. There is a reason people use clippers in these situations, it is stealthy. That may seem like a small complaint, but it is simply a example of constant issues within the movie. Having a ninja use a machine gun to shoot ninja stars out of the air looks neat. However when he is shooting straight ahead of him while waving the gun around, his bullets would travel down the hallway and hit the other ninja 10 feet away from him. I could name quite a few more, but by now you should get the basic idea of what I am saying. The movie has moments that simply make no sense, or do not work within reality.

So how is the action? Well that actually is another positive point from me. I enjoyed the ninja fight portions for the most part. Byung-hun Lee as Storm Shadow is a great fit, and he does very well with the combat stuff. Sadly he does not get many fights in the movie, and he acts more as a punching bag for most of the film. The Rock though truly surprised me. Usually his fighting is over exaggerated, looking at you fast and furious franchise. But he had by far my favorite fight in this movie. He has a fight with Ray Stevenson near the end where they break out the Hong Kong Gun Fu. I never expected to see the Rock doing something like that, and it worked really well. If you are unfamiliar with gun fu, think of John woo and Chow yun-fat. There were some bland action scenes, but for the most part they were all entertaining.

So we have smaller groups with more time for each role, we have good action, and poor logic. Sounds like a decent movie, however I have to mention the ending. I won't say what happens, but it is idiotic. It may not annoy you as much as it did me. But the more you think about it, the worse it gets. However we are talking about redbox rentals here, a dollar 27 after tax. For that price, the movie is not bad, just not great. If you are a joe fan, and felt burned by the original....well you may enjoy this one. It came off as more serious, and felt like a plot that could have actually been in the comics. It still has flaws, so don't go into it expecting it to live up to the Joe glory days you remember. But if you have a open mind, I think you can find something to like about it.