Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Maze Runner (2014)

I remember a few years ago standing in a book store with my fiance. She was looking for books on Tarot for her mother, and I was bored out of my mind. I picked up a book and started reading the back of it. The story sounded interesting so I carried it around for awhile. After seeing my wife on the floor going through shelf after shelf, I figured I had time and started to read. The book was The Maze Runner, and it turned me off quicker then any other book I have ever read. Shank this, Klunk that, greenie greenie greenie. The book has its own slang, which I am guessing was to get around the kids constantly cursing. It just annoyed me how often it was used. It sounded stupid and I put the book back. Think I ended up with a comic or something. Hell I always end up with a comic book. That is just who I am. Years later the book is now a movie, and I had no interest in seeing it. That is until I saw it stared Dylan O'Brien from Mtv's Teen Wolf. If you have ever sat through a episode of Teen Wolf you probably remember Stiles Stilinski, the one good character the show has. Stiles is funny, and he seemed like a good actor from the only other thing I have ever seen him in. The first Time back in 2012. So after being told that the movie actually improved on the book, and had far less shank and klunk in it, I gave it a shot.

The story is simple. Every month a boy and some supplies are lifted into a enclosed area by a elevator. That area is surrounded by a maze. A society has been slowing forming for 3 years from the boys and is living off of the supplies and what they can find in the environment they were placed in. The live in a giant open field surrounded by jungle and stone walls. They send people called Runners into the maze ever day to try and figure out how to escape.

The movie follows Thomas, played by Dylan "Stiles" O'Brien, who is the new Greenie or new kid. He is curious about the maze, which is apparently unheard of. He becomes a runner and enters the maze and has far better luck then any of the others in solving the mystery. Bad things begin to happen once he starts progressing however. This is good for us, as the movie becomes rather action packed for awhile. We are introduced to the residents of the maze, and they are frightening. Giant mechanical spider monsters who ruthlessly kill the boys or infect them with some sort of disease that slowly kills them.

The action was actually something that took me off guard in the movie. The boys can't really fight the monsters as they don't have any effective weapons. They use sharp sticks and some small blades. So you know when they do try to fight back, it is not going to go well. I was impressed at how well they filmed those scenes how ever. Whether it was them running in fear through the maze, or actually trying to band together to take on the threat. It was always exciting, and it always looked visually interesting. The maze had to just be a huge green screen set, but it felt almost alive and looks imposing. The monsters were disgusting and looked pretty damn real most of the time.

One complaint I heard about the movie was the cast. Not that they were bad, because they weren't. But that it was mostly males, which it was. The movie has one female who plays a substantial role, and a smaller part played by another. The rest is all male, including all the major roles. It did create a odd atmosphere, and I could see why it would bother some. It didn't offend them or anything like that. Simply it just felt odd seeing a movie with a all male focus.

The acting was solid, nothing award winning but still quite good. There was no huge dramatic moments, and the guys and gal did great with what they had. I really liked the character Chuck played by Blake Cooper. He did a great job of getting me to really care about his role. Thomas Brodie-Sangster from Game of Thrones played the second in command Newt. Ki Hong Lee played Minho, one of the other runners. They both had larger roles and had memorable performances. The main antagonist other then the maze was Gally played by Will Poulter. He was a good pick for this role. He has a face that just begs you to punch it, which made him very easy to dislike. There really were not weak links in the cast, which helped the movie out greatly.

The ending is something you have to talk about to give a score, but I won't put any spoilers. I thought it was interesting, and frankly I had no idea what the movie was doing half the time. Since I stopped reading very early on, the maze was a big mystery to me. I enjoyed figuring it out along side them. And I liked that even though this is a trilogy, it still felt like a contained story.

The Maze Runner surprised me. It was a enjoyable film from beginning to end. It had good characters and a cool concept. It did its best to answer any questions it created, and the ending made sense. I actually thought of buying the 2nd book as soon as the movie was over. I didn't, but I did price it. For a rental, it is a solid choice. And if I had paid to see it in theaters, I would have left happy.

The Giver (2014)

I saw the Giver about two weeks ago, never wrote about it. What that means is I don't remember a lot of the details of it at this point. So this will be a short review dealing on how I felt about the film. But without a lot of the extra stuff thrown in. Their will be some spoilers, but not a lot.

The Giver is a based off of a book written by Lois Lowry published in 1993. I remember reading it in middle school, but don't really remember much about the book other then I enjoyed it. I can not tell you how different the movie is from the book. I do know from what others have said, that there are a fair share of differences. But for the most part people seem to be okay with them.

The idea for the story is a new society that has stripped away emotions and memories of the past. This allows them to easier control the residents and curb crime and violence. Without emotions we don't get angry, we also don't feel jealously and other things that cause issues within people. You are assigned to families, and then you are assigned a job when you are of age. I am guessing you would be assigned a partner to, but I don't recall it going over that. The main character is Jonas and he has been chosen to be "The Giver." The giver is the holder of the memories. They use the knowledge of before to help guide the elders in the choices they make for moving forward. It also gives Jonas a few added perks such as now being able to lie. The current Giver transmits the memories into the new one using super powers it appeared. They looked psychically linked when transmitting. The old giver loses the memory then, which is the one thing I recall from the book. Don't believe the movie touched on that, which made no sense at it added more emotion to certain scenes.

With these new memories, and his returning emotions, Jonas decides his society is a issue. He and the current Giver come up with a plan to return the memories to the people. Nobody stops to think if this is a good idea, and frankly I don't think it was. However they go forward with their plan, and that is what the movie is about. How do they return the memories? Well there are magic towers that create a barrier around the settlement. If the memories leave that barrier, it breaks and everybody gets all the memories. This includes memories of war, murder, and may other violent acts. Imagine a society that has no concept of these. That has jobs where you actually kill people, but you do not understand what you are doing. Imagine if that subject now gains that knowledge. How would they act now knowing they have murdered 100's if not thousands in their lifetime? How about a society that does not feel love or lust. They suddenly know all about lust, and desires. The movie never deals with these types of questions. It just goes, the Giver is correct. Believe in the Giver. And we get a crap ending that does not deal with the part of the story that should have been the most interesting.

Acting was solid all around. Jeff Bridges, Mery Streep, Alexander get what you expect here. The lead was played by Brenton Thwaites who was fine. He was never really likable though, and oddly forgettable. Much like he was in Oculus. Did anybody remember he was in that? Does anybody remember anything from that movie other then Karen Gillan? The light-bulb apple, and the scene at the end. Honestly all I can remember about that movie is her doing crazy stuff. Odeya Rush played the love interest, and she was also fine. Her character was void of emotions most of the movie. She played that rather well, but never really got a chance to step up and show any ranger. Not her fault, just how that role was written.

Interesting story that took off running, only to fall on its face just before the finish line. Good acting by the supporting cast. And Taylor Swift was there for a few moments, Taylor Swift is always a plus in my book. Skarsgard said they would all get together and play piano and sing while drinking after a long day. They should put that on the DVD. The ending left much to be desired, and really seemed to detract from the overall message the film was trying to get across. Somebody told me the Giver  is an interesting story that is slightly traffic yet beautiful. I think they meant tragic, but that is a direct quote. I think it was tragic, but it never became beautiful to me. They focused on all the wrong aspects of it. This movie could have told a wonderful story. It just didn't try to be in the end. It was a lazy attempt that lost its focus and only delivered a forgettable experience. I wish I could remember the book better. Or more what I liked about it. Maybe I wasn't as cynical back then. Or maybe the book was just genuinely that much better.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Into the Storm (2014)

Okay let's go ahead and get it out of the way, twister is a better movie. There it is over with, now we can talk about Into the Storm, a movie that is about tornadoes and how much they suck in general. The idea is that a small town is assaulted by a few of these bad boys back to back, before the mega Tornado comes in and just destroys everything in its path. That is the entire story, sorry I just ruined it for you. Then again you are not watching this movie for a story, you are watching it for the effects. And it does a good job there, but was that enough to keep me happy for the fairly short duration of the film?

The movie follows 3 groups of people. A father and his two kids who are making a video for a time capsule. A group of storm hunters who are driving around in the batmobile trying to get video from inside a tornado. And two intoxicated Rednecks who are by far the more entertaining of the three. One neat thing is each group has a camera, but it is not all done in the traditional found footage style. It will often go from them filming, to the standard film angles used in most movies. Where the crew is shooting, and you are not supposed to feel like one of the characters is. Using the two different styles and switching between them often was not confusing, but it did create a odd and annoying visual style. Also there were times when we were looking through a camera being held by one of the characters in the film. But we could see all the characters in the frame....who was the phantom camera man we never met?

Each group had their own side story that ultimately was just filler. The father and his sons didn't really get along anymore. The older son was in love with a girl who didn't really know him. The storm hunters were running out of money and needed some good footage. The rednecks were drunk and wanted to have fun. Thankfully the magic Tornado fixed most of said issues, as it was a benevolent storm. The side stories provided the majority of the "acting" and took up a good 2/3rds of the film. I didn't care for any of the groups other then the rednecks led by comedian Jon Reep. The father and his two kids felt forced, and the fact that the son gets trapped with his love interest was far to convenient. I did like Matt Walsh as the boss of the storm hunters, as he was more interested in his own agenda then helping and saving the victims of the storm. Frankly though, if people were on the screen and not a storm, the movie was at its weakest.

Visually speaking, this movie was pretty impressive. I have never been in a tornado, I don't know much about them. But I can tell you if this movie was accurate, they are horrible horrible things. We see vehicles and planes lifted into the air, people sucked up and shot out. One neat thing was every time the main group got a new person who was not named, they died shortly after. It was like they were filling the ranks with fodder so they would not have to kill anybody with a story. It frankly made the deaths meaningless and detracted from any sort of tension. Still seeing all the carnage was awesome, and the destruction it left in its path was very well portrayed.

The actors were fine, I think it was mostly the writing. Still with me not caring about the majority of the cast, some of that blame has to fall on them. There were multiple times when one of the main roles was in a bad situation, but I never really felt worried. It was not that I thought they wouldn't die, it was that I simply didn't care if they did. Not being able to build any attachment to them really made it hard to enjoy the movie. The whole journey just didn't matter to me.

Kind of a quick write up, but I am tired and I don't feel it deserves much more. Story was pretty bland, but the visuals tried their best to make up for it. The storm scenes were all pretty cool, and they kept me happy. I would say for a rental, why not. You will see some cool things, and you can fast forward if the in between bits start to bother you. I would never buy this film though.

Look at this trailer, it will get you hyped for this film. Sadly the actual product does not deliver, very glad I decided to see how to train your dragon 2 in theaters instead of this.

The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

The original purge wasn't a horrible movie, it just wan't a good one either. It has a decent premise, but it just failed to really do anything with it. One day out of the year, oddly enough my daughters birthday, all crime is legal for 12 hours. There are rules such as what kind of weapons you can use, but pretty much anything goes. Certain high level officials are off limits, but all law enforcement and medical services are suspended until the purge is over. The idea is that crime got so far out of hand, that giving people this one night allowed them to get it out of their system. And it actually worked, crime rates have dropped. The first movie was about a single family on Purge night. They were targeted for saving a groups purge target. As such the movie was a invasion film, and really did nothing new or special. People break into the house, and they try and defend themselves. It ended up being a fairly tame and boring film. The Purge Anarchy takes the criticism against the first film, and tries to rework the franchise into what it should have always been. A look into the outside world during the purge.

The movie is about a a group who get stuck outside during the purge, they have to band together to try and survive through the night. Each has their own reason for being out there, and I won't spoil them here. But the 5 come together and have to fight back against there on individual tormentors. One couple is being chased by a band of masked riders led by the silent "I am God." While the other 3 are being hunted by somebody only known as "Big Daddy," a guy with a semi and a Gatling gun. The different stories and reasons don't really matter for the most part, as it is all about survival and not what got them to that point. By focusing on something so simple, the movie is able to better explore what is going on with them. There is also a sub plot involving Michael Kenneth Williams character, Carmelo Johns, but even that mostly just serves as a way to give the viewer a idea of how the rest of the world feels about the conflict.

The story is much tighter this time around, due mostly to the lack of one. And that is not the only way the movie has improved. It gets rid of the tense atmosphere and stops trying to be scary, and instead goes the action route. It focuses more on the violence and the terror of the situation. We see our survivors go from normal people who would never even think of purging, to killers who are out there for a reason. You see character development as ones motives change and they receive a huge moment as the film goes on. We even get a better look into the minds of the purgers and learn more about the process then we did in the original. One really neat thing I liked was how they addressed the different classes and how they purge. As well as the question of would people really do this if it was a real thing. Seeing everything come together at the end was really cool, even if you did see it coming long before then. And even though the purgers are well within their legal right, it is made easy to view them as villains. The Rich and upper class are by far the easiest to hate, and that whole portion of the film was just fantastic.

Acting was good, no real complaints. I was unfamiliar with most of the people in here, but they all were more then adequate for this type of film. Frank Grillo played the nameless lead, and he was brutal and fun to watch. Carmen Ejogo and Zoe Soul played the family, and were easy to relate to. Zoe was the odd one out, as I really didn't care for her. However even that I feel was intentional as she was a very opinionated teenager who you just wanted to shut up at most points. Michael Kenneth Williams killed it with his Radical anti political rally speeches, and the various purgers were all kinds of creepy and intimidating.

So we have a much better story, a film with a stronger focus. It spends more time dealing with the purge itself, and explores the concept and the way people deal and participate in it. We get a much broader understanding of the event, and the movie was far better for it. Acting that doesn't take you out of the moment, and some cool and violent moments. Add in themes that 90% of the population can get behind and identify with, and you have a pretty solid movie. When I heard there was going to be a second Purge I had no interest in it. Now if I hear there will be a third, I may actually see it in the theater. That is the best praise I can give this one, it changed my opinion and proved me wrong.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Let's be Cops (2014)

Was going to do a write up today on Let's be Cops. It releases on dvd in a few days, and should be heading to redbox shortly. Sadly I could not finish the movie, I made it about 45 minutes into it. It never really became funny, and the story was moving far to slowly. Jake Johnson was not entertaining, and it seemed as if most of the humor was supposed to be coming from his character. Wayans did try to play the straight man, while getting in some jokes of his own. However nothing ever really worked for me.

The idea for the film was a good one, but it was just poorly executed. I don't have a did not finish graphic...maybe I should make one.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

I grew up with the Turtles. For Halloween my friends and I went as a group costume multiple years in a row. My parents let me skip school to go see one of the movies in theaters. I had every official figure that came out for years, and many of the comics as well. I still have the original series and the movies on dvd, and a bunch of the trading cards in a binder. When this new movie first came out, I was very uncertain about it. The original plot about them now being Aliens instead of mutants, and my distaste for anything Michael Bay related didn't help. But as time went on, it did get some good buzz. So I decided to finally give it a chance, and put by bias aside. Oddley enough, after a few minutes the small things didn't really bother me anymore. Yes the turtles look ridiculous, but you get used to them pretty quickly. Even Donnie's god awful voice actor stopped being a sour point. But did the film win me over and deliver a memorable outing?

Let's start with the story. The foot clan, who are no longer ninjas but simply soldiers, are trying to find the turtles. We know they are trying to take over the city, but we are not sure how. Shredder is still the leader, but everything else about the story has been changed for this movie. Explaining the back-stories would count as a spoiler though, so I will leave a good portion of it out. The basic idea though is the Turtles were not accidents, but purposefully created to test a antidote that would allow for stronger better humans. Also the enjoyable scene where Splinter is still a rat and learning Karate by watching his master is no longer in. Instead they picked that up along with all their training from a book on ninjutsu.Granted that sounds far fetched, but when you take into account the added abilities these turtles have, and that is all they have been doing for 15 actually seems plausible. They have internet and better technology then normal people, so they have other means of learning as well.

Speaking of which, these are not the old school turtles. They don't say Cowabunga, except simply to fit it into the movie that one time. They also are never really in danger while fighting the foot clan, which tends to lessen a lot of the movie. They are bullet proof, and the foot only really  use guns. The only real time you feel they could be in danger is when they are fighting Shredder. Shredder also if very different, as he fights in a giant robotic suit with blades for fingers. It was actually kind of neat and one of the few changes that didn't really bother me. The Turtles having super strength though on the other hand, well that just felt very out of place. You have to accept that this isn't the same franchise you grew up with. If you can't look past that, you will hate this movie more and more as it continues on.

A interesting thing to me, the turtles were all mo-capped while wearing huge turtle suits. For the most part it was done by the guys doing there voices as well. The only odd one out being Leonardo, who was voiced by Johnny Knoxville but acted out by Pete Ploszek. All the voices for the turtles really did seem to fit the different types of characters they were, though I felt they went overboard with Donatello. He was a nerd, but he had huge glasses that gave him bug eyes. And his voice sounded very high pitched and like he was always afraid. Yes he had some good moments, but it was just annoying anytime he talked. Leonardo was also a odd choice. Johnny Knoxville is a funny guy, but he is not the serious and focused leader type. Granted you look at how much money he has made from his previous career, he clearly has those qualities. But they don't come across in his acting, and he didn't really work for that role. Alan Ritchson played Raphael, and he did a good job with it. There was a nice moment where he was doing his bet batman voice early on, but it was simply a gag and he settled into a voice that fit the character quite nicely. I will admit I wanted him to use his Blue Mountain State voice, but That Castle the ninja turtle would have never honestly worked.

All of the...well I guess people actors, those who were not mostly CG, did pretty well. Megan Fox will probably never been known as a amazing dramatic marvel, but I had no real issues with her performance here. She was center stage for a lot of the film, but her being joined by Will Arnett really benefited the performance. He plays the same kind of role he always does, and he has perfected it over the years. Seeing their interactions were some of the better moments in the movie, and he was easily one of the better characters. The villain was played by William Fichtner, who did good, but was given little screen time when compared to how big his role was.

The only real issues I had with any of the characters stemmed from the writing and not the actors. April was witness to multiple foot clan attacks, but instead of ever calling the police, she always tried to get pictures of them with her phone. Granted as a journalist, that would not be out of character. However I think they would still call if they saw known terrorist, and then try to get a picture. The turtles also had trouble winning me over. Michelangelo is introduced to us by way of him making a Erection joke in regards to how hot April is. There was a fart joke, and the scenes that focused solely on the turtles and Splinter were usually weaker then the others. The turtles formed their personas based off of television they saw in the last 15 years, so they came off as almost parodies of every kid you ever hated. Half the time you just didn't like them, and that caused issues. I will also say, I could never get used to how Splinter looked. It was just awful, and his CGI was notably worse then any other part of the film. When he was fighting Shredder, I was actually hoping the bad guy would come out on top. Just so maybe I wouldn't have to see him for the rest of the film.

Turtles love pizza, but only from Pizza Hut. I do admit, if pizza hut actually sold pizza that looked like it did in the movie, maybe I would like them to. One thing the movie did right was nods like that. The turtles are brothers, but one of them gave the other three up for pizza. Will Arnett makes a joke about heroes in a half shell. They even had a line that could have been a reference to the original Alien plot. These moments made me smile, and were enjoyable when ever they rose up.

The only thing to really talk about now are the action sequences. As stated earlier, the turtles are bullet proof. That alone pretty much made the first few not as good as they could have been. The fights with Shredder were toned down due to his movement in the super suit not being great. He was more about shooting blades and big blows. It was cool, but for a karate movie it did detract from it overall. There was one scene though that was either amazing or awful depending on how you view physics. A downhill fight on a snowy mountain with the turtles fighting the foot and a few vehicles. It was very well shot, and the effects and visuals were well done. But the whole scene was just horribly impossible. The final fight was also kind of odd, but I won't spoil that one for you. If you like the bay Transformers movies, you will enjoy this. If those just make you shake your head, you may have issues with this one to.

So we have a story that is lackluster. I don't mind them changing it up from the original, but it was notably worse. The acting was good enough for this kind of movie, it wasn't a epic drama or anything special. The humor was hit or miss, and the turtles were more annoying then not. Ralph was the stand out, but they did all have their moments. Visuals were not bad, but there were low points such as Splinter. The movie had decent pacing, but it just didn't make sense at times. The physics were just off, and the powered up turtles pissed me off. To be fair though, I did enjoy the movie. It was so bad at times it was endearing, and other scenes worked very well. I would probally watch it again, but it was certainly not a classic. And it will not replace the originals.

Better then I thought, still not worth buying.