Saturday, May 17, 2014

Godzilla (2014)

So Godzilla and I have a spotty track record at best. My first real introduction to him, was by Mystery Science Theater. A show that watched old movies, and makes fun of them while they play. It is fantastic, but it does not paint the classic films in a great light. It wasn't until I was older and started to become interested in the Kaiju culture that I went back and watched the films without the comedy track on top of it. The older films can be quite hard to watch, but they have their own merit to them. Godzilla had a purpose, he was not simply a monster. He was a warning about mans folly, and the dangers that nuclear war could bring. Godzilla was created by a atom bomb, something this movie never really alluded to sadly. It does however set up that this was not our first contact with Godzilla. I thought that was a nice touch, it acts as a continuation of the franchise instead of a origin.

The most recent American Godzilla film was quite hard for me to watch, I honestly don't remember if I ever finished it. So when a new one was announced, I was a bit worried about the final product. The first trailer was shown at comic con, and not released to the public...not a great sign. Slowly however, more and more news started to come out. We got casting decisions, and our first look at the King of Monsters. Things began to look up, and I began to get excited. Gone was the overly lizard like creature we got in 98. He was replaced by a larger, more bulky and truer to the original, monstrous creature. This Godzilla looks like the original, if the original didn't make you laugh. He has a similar body shape, the smaller head, and walks on his two feet like a human. It may not sound like a great idea on paper, but it worked wonderfully in the movie. It really did add a lot seeing the design being influenced by the original suit. And hearing the name spoken for the first time in the movie by somebody who wasn't white, was a cool moment. Godzilla was first called Gojira, but I can't say it that way in public way without coming off a little racist. I would swear to you though, that was what came out of Actor Ken Watanabe's mouth, and it was glorious.

The story of this particular movie, was not what I expected. Godzilla is already established, and the movie takes place after we have already tried to kill him before. They don't dwell on that to much, but tit does go over it in the intro with minimal details. We are then introduced to Bryan Cranston's character Joe Brody. He is a american working in a nuclear plant in japan. We are given our first taste of what is to come, but no real proof or sign of a monster. It is simply a set up and a tease, something we get used to throughout the movie. We are then moved forward a dozen years or so, and now we are introduced to Brody's grown up son, Ford. Ford and his Dad end up at the center of the initial monster attack, and given his dads past history, get roped into helping the military. From there it is a movie about us trying to stop the Monsters as they destroy everything put in front of them.

The movie introduces a new Monster, or Kaiju, simply titled M.U.T.O. Yes that stands for something, and no I don't recall exactly what. They said it once, and I was to busy being excited about destruction to focus properly. Something something terrestrial object....Mobile maybe? The new monster though was very well done. It had huge legs similar to a insect, and could fly. It had a hard shell much like armor, instead of flesh. Very angular in its design, with nice sharp edges that stood out. Toho and Legendary Pictures really came up with something great here. I am hoping I can find a small toy or statue of it along side the new Godzilla for my desk. It may not reach the level of some of the classic monsters, but it can stand on its own. M.U.T.O. serves as the villain of the film. I was under the impression this would be us against Godzilla, so this was great news for me. Watching tanks and planes fight a monster is alright, but seeing monsters fighting each other is much better. Which brings me to my next topic, effects.

If Godzilla looked fake, it would be hard to take the movie serious. When the main appeal of your film is a computer generated creature, it had better look damn impressive. And thankfully this one did. We are treated to quite a few shots of the different monsters in the film. And although they do use some tricks from time to time, they always look impressive. They also manage to establish a scale of each monster, which really helped sell the whole, were screwed vibe the film had going. The cinematography really shined in these scenes. Having shots from the view of the soldiers or civilians as the monsters fought above them created a powerful image. Even in scenes were no monsters were present, the camera work did a great job of drawing you in. Sometimes it was simple framing, such as a shot of a vehicle where you could see stuff going on in the side mirrors. Or the truly breath taking scene where the military is air dropped into the city around the final battle. Pretty much every aspect of this movie was wonderfully done, you could tell a lot of care went into it.

Something fun you may have missed in the movie, don't worry, it is not a spoiler. There is a scene were the Brody family returns to their house in japan, you can see a moth in what looks like a fish tank. On it is a piece of tape with the word "Mothra" written on it. Mothra being another Toho Monster from the 60's who had his own film as well as one with Godzilla back in 64.

Looking at the actors, we do have some choices that seemed to put off people before the movie came out. Aaron Taylor-Johnson who played "Kick-Ass" being one of the major ones. Kick-ass was far from a serious role, and for most people that is all they know him from. As the human aspect of this movie revolves around his character, people were worried he would not be able to step up to the role. After watching it, I can see where that criticism comes from. He doesn't have the greatest presence, but he still managed to do quite well with it. He won me over, and I had no real complaints with him. Elizabeth Olsen played his wife in this film, kind of funny since they were siblings in Captain America 2. If you have seen Elizabeth's work before, you know she has some talent. This role was not huge, but she did well enough with it. Ken Watanabe always puts on a good show, and continued to do so here. I do wish Cranston had a bigger role, but what little screen time he had, he delivered on. It was also nice to see him with hair again.

Godzilla (2014) at its core is a film that holds true to the belief of the original, nuclear war is bad. It goes about it in a more subtle way, but it still stands behind that belief. Nuclear energy is a huge plot device that extends throughout the entire film. The movie had constant nods to the early films. Godzilla and M.U.T.O. look awesome, and we are given a strong story driven film with great visuals. So what is the downside? Well this one is subjective, but I would say they teased the audience to many times. There were multiple times we get the feeling a big showdown is about to start up, then we see it happening.....and then cut away. Two times you don't see the big fight, just the beginning and the aftermath. Granted it is all about building to that final scene, but it did piss me off both times. Still there was plenty of action, and I was kept very entertained and happy. So a minor complaint, nothing more.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

I, Frankenstein

I saw a preview for this movie in theaters awhile back. I remember thinking, that kind of looks like the newer Resident Evil films. But then I saw Aaron Eckhart and remembered he was a good actor, so I figured I would give it a chance. A redbox rental is pretty cheap after all. I went into this hoping for something on the level of the recent Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters. It seemed like a pretty acceptable bar to set, not great but not garbage. So either I apparently liked Witch Hunters more then I remember, or I, Frankenstein really was just that bad. The movie had all the right ingredients to me passable, it just failed to use them properly.

The story is nothing like the Frankenstein I remember, but that should have worked in its favor. The monster is born, and he is cast out. Frankenstein did not love him, and that was something the monster did not know how to deal with. So he kills Frankenstein's new wife out of hate. The Dr then chases the monster into the wild, however he is unable to deal with the cold, and freezes to death. The monster then decides to bury his father in his families grave plot. While doing this he is attacked by demons, and then rescued by Gargoyles. Yeah Gargoyles, they are apparently angels in this movie. The Monster is given the name of Adam, which I believe was his name in the original Frankenstein writings. The gargoyles ask him to help them in in their holy war against he demons.

So far not a bad start. We have a fresh take on a old story, and a set up for some good action. As a fan of the Underworld movies, I don't need great scripts to enjoy myself. I just need to see some good monster action and killer fight scenes. So when Bill Nighy and Kevin Grevioux show up, both from Underworld, I got very excited. Bill Nighy is the perfect villain, and he did great with what he was given. He is the leader of the demon faction, and came off as a total bad ass. Grevioux appeared to be his second in command, but he never really got to do to much in the movie. When you have such a great talker like Nighy, you really don't spoil it by giving others those lines. So where does the movie go wrong? Well Aaron Eckhart was a major factor in that.

Eckhart is a good actor, we have seen him deliver great performances before. So seeing him in this film is simply baffling. He was awful in it, no emotion and he seemed very amateurish. It was like he wasn't trying, or just didn't care about it. Since he is the main character, having him just bring pretty much every scene down is a huge problem. He does alright with the action sequences, but any time he tries to talk and convey something important, it just falls apart. I was supposed to see him go from this murderous monster, to a hero. We are supposed to see that he cared for Frankenstein, and he is trying to find out about his past. But he never comes off as believable, so we never come to care for him. I would have actually been fine with Nighy killing him in the end, and the demons winning. They were oddly more likable then the heroes.

The effects were also lacking, though not horrible. Demons die, and instead of blood and guts, they turn into fire and fly off into the sky. It looked neat the first time, but it just got annoying and distracting as the movie goes on. We have a few large scale battles, but instead of actually showing anything, the screen is filled with raising fire and blue light. The blue light is a gargoyle dying, or ascending into heaven. When a demon dies, it is called "Descending." The gargoyles do look neat, but in no way do they look real. And the battle sequences with them just look and feel cheap. I can understand why they would transform to fight, the stone form would be much stronger. But when they fight in the Human form, it just looked better and made for a better scene. The gargoyles are not the only ones that looked disappointing however. The demon form also looked rather poor. Your demons should look scary, not silly. It takes away from any soft of menace they had.

So I, Frankenstein, somehow not worth the $1.25 to rent it. A good setup for a monster fight movie, that just fails to deliver. It has a established quality actor in both its lead Villain and Hero role, and still it fails to do anything with them. The story is not developed, and it seems as if the movie goes out of its way to not further it. No real emotion is every used, and we never come to care about the Monster Adam. My original assumption that this would be similar to the later Resident Evil films was sadly correct. If you liked the last one of those, you may enjoy this. But for most viewer, it is simply not worth your time.

Odd Thomas

I didn't know while watching it, but this movie was based off of a book written by Dean Koontz. It involves a guy who is named Odd Thomas, and yes that is his real name. He has the ability to see spirits who are lingering in our world waiting to move on. He can also see other spirits that are more dangerous. At its core this is a mystery more then a horror movie, but it does have some great horror elements in it. Odd can see spirits that follow those around who are about to do harm. The more spirits, the worse the event and person is. Odd knows something horrible is going to happen, and he and his Girlfriend Stormy try to figure out how to stop it.

This movie had some very dark themes to it. Nothing to horrible, but given recent events and the context of it, I could see it offending some people. The movie deals with people killing other people, but in a public way. You are told many people will die, it will be in a public place, and it will be awful. You see bits and pieces of it happening in Odd's visions and dreams, but until the very end you don't have to see the actual events. Without saying what exactly the ending is, since the mystery of who what and why is the driving force behind the movie, I will say it lives up to those claims. If you are squeamish, the movie has some gore, but nothing over the top. No real scares, but it does have a few possible scenes that may make you jump. Overall the horror elements are just used in the story and overall design of the film.

Speaking of design and style, the cgi in this film was pretty damn good. For a movie I had never heard of, I was not expecting great effects. But everything looked good, and the evil spirits looked pretty cool. There was a scene where a portal of corruption appears on a wall and just shoots forth evil entities. These smoke like creatures always looked good, and everything about them was fantastic.

The actors all did well with their roles, most of them I had seen before in other things. Odd is played by Anton Yelchin who you will remember from the newer star trek films. He plays Chekov who nobody can understand. Thankfully in this film he speaks very clearly, though it would have been funny for awhile to see him using the other accent while trying to be all serious. Addison Timlin plays the girlfriend Stormy. She looked very familiar, but after looking at her past roles, I can't honestly say as I have seen her in anything else. She did very well in this role however, and was one of the stronger characters because of it. Willem Dafoe was also in this, playing the local police chief. As was Patton Oswalt, who is always a delight to see.

If you want a decent mystery, some good effects, and a great story, give Odd Thomas a chance. It is on netflix, so honestly what do you have to lose? While there was some slow down near the middle, the movie did mostly keep me interested. And once things started coming together, I was with it until the end.

Justice League: War

Justice League: War is a animated movie that serves as the set up for the new DC animated continuity. What that means is, moving forward, the DC animated films will fall into the same universe. Similar to how Marvel's live action films all take place along side each other now. It also serves as a new Origin for the Justice League, and is based off of the "New 52" version of them. Two years ago DC decided to relaunch all their series, and most restarted with new beginnings or Origins. This film is establishing those changes, and does so in a spectacular way. If you are a fan of the comics, you will notice Aquaman is not present in this film. He was replaced by Shazam, another established hero who has been associated with the JL in the past. Also worth knowing, this is not really a kids movie. I assume most people will be renting it for children, but the language is fairly bad in this. While hearing Green Lantern call Batman a douchebag made me laugh, they do say shit a few times as well as some other words. Given the context it makes sense, these are supposed to be real modern people in horrible situations. But if you don't like your kids hearing some bad words, and seeing some blood, maybe keep them away from this one.

The story is very interesting in this, and features the villain DarkSeid. He is using a teleportation system to send his minions into our world where they are trying to plant various devices around the globe. The various hero's, who at this point are unfamiliar with each other, start to find the devices and are trying to figure out what they do. Batman being the genius he is, puts it all together pretty quickly. He also brings most of the Heroes together to form the team. It turns into a war of sorts, and the action takes off. There is a sort of Mystery vibe to it, but it never really focuses on that. Still we get to see a side of Batman that the live action films has completely neglected. Batman is after all the Worlds Greatest Detective, and even DC stands for Detective Comics because of him. This is one reason I think the animated films come out so much better then the DC live action ones do. They don't try to change everything, and that makes the characters really shine.

The animation style was....well it was alright. For the most part, everything looks really good. The faces were odd to me though, something about the spacing and the way they did Green lanterns mask. Still a minor complaint. The scenery though, and all the action sequences were very well done. It had its own style, and if this is how they continue to animate going forward, I would be very happy with it. You can tell a lot of pride and effort went into this, and it really helped further my enjoyment of it.

In movies like this, voice acting can make or break a character. Thankfully they got everyone pretty much right in this. Green Lanterns voice was very different from any of the other actors they have used before, but once I got accustomed to it, the voice actually seemed to fit him pretty well. The only real stand out was Wonder Woman. She talked with a weird speech inflection or cadence that just sounded odd and unnatural. They have toyed around with this before in the other movies, but it always came across sounding much more natural in those. It got to the point I would get annoyed if she said more then a few words.

The story was very well done, and there are a few emotional moments tossed in. Seeing each hero and be introduced to them was a treat. We are not given much information on them however, so if you are unfamiliar with anybody other then Cyborg, you may be lost. Cyborg is given a origin story however, and for me it was one of the stronger sequences in the movie. If you like animated films, action, and have any interest in the heroes portrayed, this one is for you. I would also recommend you check out DC's other animated features if you enjoy it. Also be on the lookout for "Son of Batman" which should be popping up in redbox over the next month.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

47 Ronin (2013)

This was a odd film for me, it was one I was really interested in at one point. But then after more an more news came out, my interest very quickly died off. It went from being a day one viewing, to a redbox rental pretty much over night. Now that I have finally seen the film, I can say I may have been to harsh on it. However many of my fears were justified, and the end result was far from the original film it was intended to be. Some back story on this, 47 Ronin is a true story. That being said this movie goes way off tracks from the truth. Originally though, not so much. The film was written by a Chris Morgan and directed by..well somebody else. The original story had Keanu Reeves character Kai, in the film very little. He was a secondary role, where as Oishi played by Hirouki Sanada was the main lead. My understanding is the film was pretty much done, but the higher up didn't like that it stared a Asian actor that most people were unfamiliar with. They wanted Reeves to be the lead, and had them do many re-shoots to establish this. This also greatly changed the story and the overall film, to the extent the Director either Walked or was Fired depending on which site you are reading. I will talk more about this later, but it plays such a huge role in why the film did not manage to reach its full potential.

So the story of the 47 Ronin? Their Lord Asano Naganori was tricked into attacking a court official Kira Yoshinaka. His punishment was death, and he was stripped of all his lands. This lead to all of his samurai becoming Ronin, or a masterless samurai. According to wikipedia, the modern day equivalent of a Ronin in japan, is somebody who lost their job. There is far more to it then that, but it should give you a idea. Kira, who was behind the death of Asano, was given no punishment. Asano was allowed to commit Seppuku, a form of suicide that retains honor. His men saw the injustice in this and plotted in secrecy to kill Kira for his part. The 47 were not simply out for revenge, but were hoping the Shogun would return the families lands and thus give the other Ronin back there title. In the movie this was not the case. Asano was tricked into attacking the Official by witchcraft. He was not stripped of his lands, but his samurai were made into Ronin. His daughter was then given to the Official as a wife in order to join the two families. She is also in love with Reeves character Kai. The idea behind the movie is not about saving the other Ronin and bringing back their honor, but simply Killing Kira to keep him from marrying Asano's daughter.

So the story is kind of a mess, it had a strong structure to build off of. But ended up going for something much less meaningful. Reeves plays Kai, a half asina man who was raised by Tengu, or demons. Asano takes him in as a child and raises him. However as he is a foreigner, and referred to as a half breed, he is unable to have a title or rank. He is looked down on by everybody, but the movie focuses on Oishi the most. This is because Oishi was originally the lead, and we are supposed to be seeing his journey. After Asano's death, Oishi joins up with Kai and puts the past behind him. The Racism towards Kai is a constant in the film. Though eventually the Ronin do accept him, after he does pretty much all the work getting ready.

So since the story isn't great, how does the rest of the movie hold up? The writing was weird, but not bad. The movie starts off with a big scene, but the next few are slow. They try to establish the different roles, and bring some emotion to the screen. However they don't really get you to connect to the different characters. It ends up just feeling drawn out, and leaves you waiting for the next bit of excitement. The acting wasn't bad, but it rarely excelled. The movie seemed to be relying on its CGI and battle sequences to get it over. In some regards this worked, but the inconsistency of the CGI was baffling. We had a really cool looking creature in the opening scene, followed up by some very horrible looking Tengu later on. Some of the CGI looked almost real, some looked laughable. The battles were no better. The fights between the Samurai were entertaining, however when Reeves starts to use his Demon abilities it all falls apart. Also the final fight between him and the witch was just awful.

Back to the re-shoots. There are multiple times in the film where you can tell Reeves was a afterthought. Group shots of the Ronin with no white man in sight, then a line delivered by Reeves as he is the only person in the shot. It is odd and really seems out of place. I can understand them wanting a established actor having a larger presence, but it really does detract form it. His journey is not all that interesting, and he only wants the girl. Oishi who is fighting for something much greater is pushed to the side, and often overlooked. However the ending to the film did focus on him. And he was given the final fight against Kira, even if it was greatly overshadowed by the lesser fight between Reeves and the witch. The ending was actually the strongest part of the film. Even if it did a poor job of explaining why it ended the way it does. You will remember that part of the film, far greater the rest of it.

In the end I can't say I hated 47 Ronin. While it reeked of missed opportunities, it still delivered some good action. And I love a good asian film, it is something we don't get enough of here. While those who are aware of the history of the film will outright hate it, those who are not should be able to find something enjoyable in it. I particularly liked the witch in most of her scenes. Played by Rinko Kikuchi who you may recognize from Pacific Rim. If you didn't make that connection don't feel bad, I have seen Pacific Rim multiple times this year and had no clue until after the fact. Much like Reeves, the Rinko felt like she should have been used less in the film. However she was usually pretty crazy, and added some unintentional comedic moments.

The battle scenes were for the most part entertaining. And seeing the 47 sneak into Kira's house was very enjoyable. With a strong ending, and some cool sets, there were high points to the film. In the end it feel greatly short, but I didn't regret the $1.25 I spent to watch it.

No lego trailer for you today. Sorry

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug

So after owning this movie for a while, I finally managed to make time to watch it with the wife. Three hours of free time, with a 1 year old and conflicting schedules, can be a bit tough. Not to mention a lack of excitement after the first Hobbit film. Did the 2nd one manage to raise the bar for the franchise? Or did it falter every time it started to pick up, much like the original.

The story for this movie, is basically the same as the first. They are trying to get to the mountain to claim the arkenstone, which would allow the leader of their company to claim his place as King under the Mountain. Or basically King of where the dragon is....not the best thought out plan. The big difference, is this one has them finally getting to the mountain. And then going, on crap there is a dragon here. Why did we not plan for this occurrence? If you read the book, you know what happens after that. If not, well the ending to this film will either piss you off or make you smile. Much like the original, there is no finality in the ending. And it sets up the third movie in a way that makes you wish you could dive right into it. Or at least see how that final scene plays out.

On the way to the mountain though, the Company meets with many mishaps and disasters. If you read the Hobbit, you know it is a book about Bilbo pretty much saving everybody over and over again for most of the story. Honestly the Dwarfs seem to just get in the way, or screw everything up. The movies have gone out of there way to lesson that effect, and make them all seem meaningful. In the first one, they did somewhat accomplish this, but in this film they go in a different direction. They included Legolas played by more of a cartoon then Orlando Bloom. Hobbits in trouble, people are dying? Legolas shows up and kills the opposition. There is a line about there being 40 orcs between them and their goal. Legolas seems scared, and I am thinking, haven't I seen him kill more then that in this film already? Bilbo still comes out looking like competent, but Legolas was a forced inclusion that backfired for me in a big way. Also as he is younger in these films then Lord of the Rings, they used CGI to alter his appearance. You got a fake looking person, who was more creepy then anything else. Which leads me to my next point....

CGI in this film was for the most part, better used then in the first. The first film had multiple scenes where everybody became CGI for a few seconds. They were accompanied by over the top movement that just ripped me from the immersion and ruined a few of the bigger scenes for me. In this movie they seemed to have toned those moments down. There were times you could tell when cgi was being used, but overall it was much more subtle. Also CGI Legolas made me worried about how Smaug would look, but it was a meaningless fear. The dragon looked great, and was a high point of the movie. He had this great effect where his belly would light up before he shot fire. You could see it travel up his chest and through his neck before he fired it off. Great work all around on him, and Benedict Cumberbatch was a great addition as his voice. It is sad to say, these movies will never look as good as the LoTR ones given they are coming out years after. But this one was a step in the right direction.

Additions to the movie, or stuff that was not in the books. It is a common thing to do in these cases, but the Hobbit does seem to go further then most. I guess when you are trying to fill the same amount of screen time as the 3 LoTR novels, with a single book shorter then any of those, it has to happen. They were smart by adding in stuff from other Tolkien works, but as with using Legolas, there are always some missed. One of my favorite additions was the female wood elf Tauriel played by Evangeline Lilly. She was a character created for the movie, and her story really added to it in a positive way. Legolas, who was not in the books was the opposite for me. He felt forced, and was used multiple times as a out for a problem that they had created usually by also going off the text. They had a showdown at the end that was laughable, and was meaningless. Without ruining anything, just try not to take it to serious. They also added a lot more to the Bard character, I think that will end up a positive when we get to the next film though.

So for a fun kids book, we get a pretty aggressive and somewhat violent film. Not a bad one, but not a great one. I still pull out my LoTR blue ray set every few months, I will probably never watch this one again. That says a lot right there. While some of the changes worked well, others did not. And it felt like at times they were simply padding the running time. Still the movie has some strong moments, and while it downplays its own main character, it raises others up higher then the book ever did. If you enjoyed the first, you will enjoy this one. If the first one bothered you, well this one won't fix that. It shares many of the same issues, though it does try to address at least one of them.

And a lego version, because I wish I could do that.