Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Need for Speed (2014)

Need for Speed is a video game franchise that has been around for 20 years. The game do have some sort of story in the more recent versions, however I don't remember them being connected. The movie is based off of the franchise, but not a game in particular. They basically took ideas from the games, and tried to create a story or setting around those. It is a interesting idea on how to make a video game movie. On the one hand, you will not anger fans by tampering with a story or character they already know. But on the other, you are not really connecting with those fans either. What we end up with, is a movie that could easily have been named anything else. The only real connection between the two here is racing.

The story for the film was actually better then I thought it would be. Aaron Paul plays Toby Marshall, a kid who can drive very well. There was a line in the beginning about how he has so much talent, but can't get a car good enough to keep up with him. He runs a auto shop that was once owned by his father, who is also the one that taught him to drive. The shop is not doing well, so when his old rival Dino Brewster shows up offering him 500K plus, he is forced to take the job. The idea is that Carroll Shelby was designing one last car before he died and Dino got his hands on it. Toby and his shop take in 25% of the profit if they can finish building it. Car gets finished, money is made, and tempers flair back up. Dino is a pro race driver, and Toby is not. However Dino is told Toby is better, and of course challenges him to a race. The car ended up selling for 3 million, so winner takes the entire pot. Something happens and Dino ends up running off while leaving Toby behind. Toby takes the fall and does a few years in prison before getting out. The movie is about Toby challenging Dino to one big race and beating him. The race is across the country and Toby has to break parole to get there. He goes knowing the ending is him going to back prison, but it is worth it to him. There is a line near the end about spending a few more months in jail, being worth it to prove your innocence in the end. That is the entire theme of the movie.

Toby is given 44 hours to get from New York to California. He is given the Shelby car he completed in order to do it in. The race is a illegal street race where the winner gets all the cars involved. When each entrant is over the Million dollar mark, that is a lot of money to be made. The new owner of the Shelby is sponsoring him, so he would get all the money. Toby is solely in it for revenge, which I felt helped further his character. He has nothing to gain from this, at least nothing physical. The car is a Custom 2013 Shelby GT500. It has 900 Horsepower, top speed just over 230mph. As far as cars go, it was a good choice for the main one in the film. It has a iconic enough look to be recognized by most people. The made up stats for it sound good enough on paper to be able to accomplish what it needs to. But not good enough to make it not a underdog story. It will be going up against cars with much higher Top speeds, and much more power. The final race has a car who goes almost 270 and is on a road with many straights. However the main rival is in a Lambo that only goes about 190, and you know they will be the final two. The cars are all great, and fun to look at. But the balance of them is just off. When your big scene is a race with 2 cars that go 270, and they are being beaten by one that doesn't even break 200....well it does make you shake your head a little. Granted I am sure the Lambo had a lot of work done on it, I just wish they put more time into telling us that. One thing I like about the Fast and the Furious movies, they would always toss in a line about modifications to make you go "oh I guess maybe that car could do that then".

Fun story, cool cars, and a known Lead actor. Aaron Paul does well enough with the role. He mostly just sits there quietly brooding. He has some lines, but most of the humor comes from his team instead of him. He always looks serious, and put off. Dominic Cooper plays Dino, and he is just awful. He also played Tony Starks father in the marvel movies. In those he comes off as stuck up and Smarmy, it worked. In this he just comes off roughly the same, but without the charm. It feels forced and not natural. It was a poor performance on his part. The other main role was Imogen Poots as Julia Maddon. She was saddled with Toby in the Shelby for most of the film. She was the sponsors employee and was looking after the investment. She did well enough with the role, though never really stood out. Unlike other roles, she did not detract from the film. However unlike the rest of the team, I don't feel she really added much either. Harrison Gilbertson, Scott Mescudi, Rami Malek, and Ramon Rodriguez on the other hand are the ones who really made the film enjoyable. They played the other members of Toby's crew and handled much of the humor in the movie. Mescudi was their pilot, flying above to give them traffic and cop warnings. He was constantly referred to as "liar 1" for obvious reasons. He was always joking around, and was one of the more enjoyable roles. There is one scene were he shows how far he is willing to go for their mission, and it really made me like him that much more. Mescudi's ability to go from the jovial to the more serious tone sold it wonderfully. I think if the movie had focused more on this group, it would have done better overall.

Aaron Paul mentioned in a interview that they were staying away from CGI. Everything was done with practical effects. If a car looks like it was destroyed, well then they really trashed a multi million dollar vehicle. That makes some of the scenes both much better, and much harder to watch. Everything looks good, and the lack of CGI really helped out. But I do wonder how much damage was done to those poor cars. I know they used small scale models, so hopefully not much. Still though, practical effects will always be the better option in movies like this. I was glad to see them go that route. If you don't believe me, look at the Hobbit films. CGI detracts from those far to much, making them a pale comparison to the much older Lord of the Rings films. I applaud them for not taking the easy way out on this one.

Now comes the hard part, how much did I like this film? I have to compare it to Fast and the Furious, there is just no way not to. I would say Fast is a better offering, but I would say Need for Speed was better then Tokyo Drift, and the 2nd Fast movie. There was a lot to like here, but also a lot not to. The main villain just never worked for me. He was easy to dislike, but the acting just brought down any scene involving him. I did enjoy the idea that Toby was on borrowed time though. Once he was finished, he was going back to prison. That really helped me like his character more, it seemed to make his convictions stronger. Actually seeing the entire Crew rally around that cause made the movie worth watching to me. I had a lot of fun with it. No it is not a instant classic, but I was entertained and got to see some cool moments.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Summer Wars (2009)

A older movie today, well older in the sense it did not just come out on dvd or at theaters. When I was a kid I was obsessed with Digimon. They were monsters that lived inside computers, and they had tv shows, toys, card and video games. One of the movies titled "Our War Game" came out int he late 90s and was directed by Mamoru Hosoda. When released state side it was slightly edited down and put along side 2 other feature films to create the US digimon movie. Our War Game stood out from the rest of the film however. It had a much more interesting animation style and over all story then the other two. So years later when Mamoru Hosoda directed another film that was being called a much grander version of that same story, it caught my interest. I have been sitting on a copy of Summer Wars for a few years now. But my fondness for the Digimon one kept me from watching it. That may seem odd to most, but as somebody who still plays the old digimon games and watches the shows, I didn't see how it could provide anything better then what I had seen.

The story for this film is very similar to the Digimon one. A online company has created a digital world called Oz. In Oz you can do pretty much anything you could think of online. You can watch movies, play games, chat using a advance program that instantly translates speech into any language. You can buy items from any online store, you can pay your taxes and buy a car. You get the idea, Oz has grown so large that pretty much everything internet related has been attached to it in one way or another. Kenji and his friend are spending their summer working maintenance on Oz. However a girl from their school named Natsuki begs for one of them to take her up on a part time job. She needs somebody to accompany her into the country for 4 days while she visits her family. Kenji ends up going with her, unsure as to what exactly is expected of him. We find out Natsuki's grandmother is turning 90, and the entire family is trying to get together for the party. Natsuki is part of the Jin'nôchi family, a old family from back in the Tokugawa period (Samurai). It turns out Kenji was hired to play as Natsuki's fiance. The logic behind it seemed poor, but she wanted her grandmother to be happy. It sounds as if she thinks she will die soon, however she also says she will claim they broke up shortly after the trip is over.

So we have what appears to be a normal romance story with some comedic tones. However Kenji is a math wiz, and loves solving math problems. He receives a text from Oz with a few thousand numbers and is simply tasked with solving it. Thinking it is some sort of game event, he does just that. The next morning his picture is all over the news as a cyber terrorist. What he solved was the encryption to Oz, and now his account has full access to every ones user info. Who ever has taken over his account uses it to start causing wipe spread panic across the globe. Everything internet related goes through Oz. Gps system stop working. Traffic lights go crazy. Those alert buttons old people keep in their homes, they all go off. Fire alarms start ringing in around the clock, with no actual fires. The world falls into chaos as the internet is now working against us. The movie is about Kenji trying to figure out what exactly he has done, and how to fix it before to many people die.

The movie raises a interesting point. Just how dependent are we on the internet? It was neat to see how the different parties reacted to what was going on around them. Some didn't believe that what was happening was real, others tried to band together to fight the threat. But what really made the movie work, was how we had just as much time outside of Oz as we did in it. There were multiple stories going on at once, but it never lost focus on what it was trying to do. Everybody got their time to shine, and each character was fleshed out in at least some detail. For the large cast this movie had, that alone was impressive. I also enjoyed how Oz was filled with games, which allowed for them to make the computer sequences more action orientated. One of the main heroes was a champion in the Oz fighting games. His avatar was a giant rabbit who used Shaolin Kung Fu. He challenges the villian, who goes by the name "Love Machine" to a game. They then have a very over the top and well animated battle. By having Oz as the fighting ground, we are able to see them compete against the threat in a variety of ways that would not normally be present in a computer hacking movie. It all comes together in a final showdown where they essentially play a card game against the Villain while betting user accounts instead of money. It is just so absurd, but it works flawlessly in the confines of the film.

The story has its emotional moments, it has good action, and it is very touching and relatable at times. It uses the two different worlds quite well, and I enjoyed seeing the digital representations of each family member as they appeared. At its core though, this is a movie about family. We have the 20ish members of the Jin'nôchi family all helping each other out in this conflict. They are actually the ones who declare war on the Villain and give the title to the movie. The Jin'nôchi have been around for many generations, and have many different jobs in our current society. A fire fighter, a EMT, a doctor, a police officer, and more. We get to see the havoc from their perspective as they try to assist and help as many people as they can before coming together to make a final stand. It was actually quite interesting how the main Character Kenji had so little to do most of the film. Really the Jin'nôchi were the stars here, and they did most of the work while Kenji was on the sidelines.

The animation was handled by Madhouse who has a very extensive list of works. They did a wonderful job with this one. There were two very distinctive styles that differed depending on which world they were in. The world of Oz was by far the most visually impressive. Vibrant colors, and harsh shading to create a distinctive look I have not seen outside of this film. Well other then in "Our War Game". In the real world they went with a more realist approach, and subtler line work. But even that world was beautiful. The scenery shots were fantastic, and frankly I have no idea how one draws like that. Madhouse really delivered on this one. The different avatars for each of the characters in Oz were varied and unique. They presented a different look at the personality of each of the characters. Each avatar was carefully constructed to reflect each of the different people. Even all the background avatars seemed unique and interesting. The world of Oz was truly the visual highlight of the film.

A strong story, with different tales to tell. A romantic story filled with action and a few laughs. A few tears and powerful moments, mixed with very impressive animation. Summer Wars really does deliver on all fronts. If your a fan of anime, or even just animated films in general, give it a shot. I am sorry I waited so long to. While it was a very similar movie to the digimon one, it had so much more going for it.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Flash. The pilot

Marvel might be out classing DC in the theater, but in the tv front they are complete oposites. Marvel has Agents of Shield, which while good, has yet to build the type of following most DC shows end up with. Most recent being "Arrow". With the success of this show DC has decided to bring out 3 new shows based on other comics, Flash, Constantine, and Gothom City before the batman. All 3 have a pilot episode that has been released, and today I finally got to sit down and watch "The Flash". This variation follows Barry Allen played by Grant Gustin, who was introduced in "The Arrow" sometime in season 2. Barry as a young boy watches his mothers murder, but represses or simply does not understand what really happened that night. The show does not deal with it to much in the first episode, but it does start to unravel some of the mystery behind it. Barry's father is charged with the murder, and Barry makes it his life goal to see him free. This leads him into police work, where he acts as a Crime Scene Investigator. The episode goes over all this very quickly, and we move onto the present and the rest of Barry's story very quickly. The pacing on the show was rather well done, and never seemed to get bogged down while presenting quite a bit of information.

There is a accident that puts Barry in a coma for 9 months, and he of course wakes up with super powers. They do not explain his powers, where they come from and how they work. Though to be fair that is something they can continue to explore as the show goes on. For now he is getting the hang of using them, and we are seeing him grow into his full potential. This episode is about him finding out about what happened to him, and the consequences it created. He is not the only super powered, or "Meta-Human" to come out of the disaster.

We get to see Barry teamed up with a few others who try to help him learn to use his powers. Somebody to build his tech and gadgets for him. And two scientist who help him understand how and why things are helping him. It feels like they are trying to recreate the success they found in Arrow when creating a team in that show as well. The Flash actually feels a lot like Arrow as it continues. Heck we even see Arrow show up in this episode. Also like Arrow, The Flash is filled with nods to the comics that fans will surely enjoy. Seeing a torn cage with the name Grodd on it for example. On the negative side, you will know who the murderer is, thus killing what I assume is the big build for the end of season one. Still the nods are nice, and really help draw in the long time fans.

Flash creates lightning when he runs, he is a blur of energy. I was curious how well they would handle the speed in the show, and am glad to say they did a good job with it. Flash still leaves his trail behind him, and he is covered in lightning while running. They do use some slow motion effects to show things from his perspective, and it worked rather well. Everything in the show just made me more excited to finally see the rest of what they came up with.

The Pilot episode has a good story, and doesn't waste to much time on the origin. It gives it the attention it needs, but then moves straight into the present. We get to see Barry adapt to his powers, and start to become the hero he wants to be. The show ends on a high note and serves as a contained story of its own. Filled with some nods and references that fan will enjoy, and great effects, there really isn't much to complain about here. If they can keep this up, The Flash will find success.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Deliver Us from Evil (2014)

Inspired by the actual accounts of a NYPD sergeant. Deliver us from Evil follows Sgt. Ralph Sarchie, played by Eric Bana. Sarchie is a actual person, as is his family in the film. Sarchie has a ability to tell when a something is about to turn bad, a talent that he claims to have in real life as well. His partner played by Joel McHale is a thrill seeker, and loves what he calls his partners "radar." They are on patrol when said radar goes off, and end up en route to a domestic disturbance. The husband seems off however, and it starts a trend in the movie. The next call they receive that night is about a women who tossed her child into the lions den at the zoo. When they find her she is clawing at the ground and incoherent. They get another call and the pattern continues. This movie is about trying to figure out what is going on with these people, and how it is all connected.

Eric Bana is established, chances are you know who he is and something he has been in. He does well in this role, and played it with some good emotion. His wife is played by Olivia Munn who you are also more then likely familiar with. She didn't seem to do much with the role however. Her emotions ranged from not caring, to slightly bothered. It felt like a misstep for her, and scenes with her felt lacking. Joel McHale was the surprising stand out for me. I can not remember his characters name, as I just referred to him as "Winger" for the duration of the film. If you are a fan of the show Community, you will enjoy Joel here. He has a similar style of humor, and plays his role as a more violent and aggressive Jeff Winger. He constantly made me laugh, and I can't think of a single time I did not enjoy having him on screen. My wife did have issues with some of his choices however. His desire to go into a knife fight instead of drawing his gun did seem odd for a cop, but it fit with the character he was portraying. This is a guy wearing a Red Sox hat while patrolling New York's crappiest neighborhoods after all. Edgar Ramirez played father Mendoza, a priest who smokes and drinks. He did well with the role, and was one of the more memorable characters we were given.

One thing that works so well for this movie, was the sound of it. The theater I was at had great surround sound, and at times I found myself checking my shoulders to see if the noise was truly coming from the movie. I could hear flies buzzing around me, hear the sounds of static and children's voices raising up along me. It brought me into the movie, and created a lot of the tension I felt while watching it.

The movie is a demon film, and as such there is a exorcism. The exorcism was actually the main reason I wanted to see this. Earlier this month the Pope decided to start practicing Exorcisms again within the Catholic faith. If that doesn't get you excited, we are vastly different types of people. So going into this film, based off of a Catholic who has taken part in exorcisms, I was really hoping they would nail that scene. Given the R rating, they could have done quite a bit more with it. However the exorcism was decently handled, and it seemed like a fresh take on it. They try to inject some comedy into it, which thankfully didn't detract as it was used very sparingly. It came across as a more exciting then horrifying scene though, which might have been the biggest fault of the movie.

The horror in this film is pretty non existent. It does have a few jump scares, but that is all it offers. It sets a very good tone, and has a creepy feeling to it. However it never crosses over from that into actual horror. It seems complacent in simply being tense, and resorting to jump scares as opposed to creating actual ones. I don't think that really works against it, as it tells a good story and does well with what it offers. So what if the movie didn't keep me up when I got home, it still entertained me. It did feel like it was building up to a big scene however. Something that would truly terrify, or at least unsettle the viewer. Instead we get a tamed exorcism as mentioned above.

Deliver Us from Evil is a movie that tries to show a more exaggerated side of a true events. I just wish they would have taken it a step further. Used the R rating to its full advantage, and made something that would actually frighten me. I scare easy, I hate horror because of it. A jump every now and then is not horror, it is simply lack luster. If you go into the movie expecting it to fit into the Horror Genre, you may be disappointed. I still enjoyed the film, but it was lacking in some areas.

As a side note, if you don't handle violence towards children well you may want to skip this movie. You do see a dead baby, and it is reference multiple times in the film. There is also a scene where a mother tries to kill her child who I would put around 6 or 7 years old.

Whats that, a half star? Yes I decided to finally add them. I noticed a few movies were receiving the same amount of stars, when one was vastly superior to the other. Trying to fit everything int a 3 star category didn't seem fair to some.

I have found one of those owl toys, for $400 sadly. Guess I will not be picking one up. Missed opportunity for marketing there.

Inspired by the actual accounts of a NYPD sergeant. That was the line they put on all the posters, and the line the film opened with. It sets a tone for us going into it, this movie is about real people who had to deal with real evil in their lives. However inspired by and based off of true events are different. After researching Sgt Ralph Sarchie I was a little let down. The idea for this movie comes from many cases he worked in his career. The main story for this movie is about a group of soldiers, and that case was not a real one. Sarchie did believe he could sense evil though, and did work on exorcisms. But most of the movie is indeed false. The only real high point to that knowledge, is the Marvin scene was not real.