Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

When it was first announced that a live-action TMNT movie was in the works and that Michael Bay was involved, a lot of concerned fans made their voices heard. Worry quickly escalated to fear once it was revealed that the shell-sporting heroes would no longer be mutants, but in fact extra-terrestrials. Now that the film has arrived, I think it's safe to say that, while it isn't quite the popular disaster many were anticipating, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lacks the soul and joy to make up for its poor casting and overly brooding tone.

While this dark 'Turtles' reboot isn't exactly directed by Michael Bay, his presence is heavily felt. The martial arts master is obviously inspired by the long-lasting Asian stereotype, as is his nemesis. A lot of the action sequences, and even a few non-action, feature camera work that's so dizzying that, on more than one occasion, I had to look away from the screen. Dutch angles abound and there are more pointless, large-scale explosions than I could count on my hands. But perhaps the worse Bay offense comes from the casting (and eventual objectification) of Megan Fox.

For the first thirty minutes or so, Fox's April O'Neil takes center stage. She's a B-news reporter with a passion for the truth who is fully dedicated to her job. She runs around in her yellow jacket, digging for news scraps wherever and whenever she can. Her sidekick and cameraman, Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett), exists as the obligatory comic relief who is more creepy than funny. Now the problem with Fox is, well, she's not a very good actress. She only seems capable of one expression and incapable of selling the roll of the inspired reporter who literally runs towards danger, even as everyone else is running away, all for the sake of a good story. Fox's soulless performance sucks any possible joy that could have and would have made this film more enjoyable had anyone else played the role instead.

Things get more interesting once April's introduced to Splinter and the turtles. This is where Tony Schalhoub's rat master of ninjutsu spews forth yet more exposition about his rat-pack's (pun intended) journey; just in case you missed the first five minutes of the film, which outlines the same events. However, Schalhoub's Splinter is the highlight of the film and I didn't mind indulging the redundancy of it all. As for the turtles, the tone becomes less oppressive once they become the main focus of the film and Fox's April disappears almost completely. However, their comradery, while entertaining at times, felt unbalanced. For most of the movie Raphael was a jerk who seemed to hold a disdain for his reptilian brethren. By the end, their not-so-brotherly bond couldn't fully combatant the overly serious tone and look of the film.

On a lighter note, the visuals are impressive and the 3D was often put to good use, even if most of the film is dark. The revamped Shredder suit becomes less a dorky spectacle and more a sweet piece of high-tech badassery as the film progresses through its many martial arts-based actions sequences. Sadly, the poor casting and unejoyable tone leave us with is a shell (again, pun intended) of what could have been a fairly entertaining, cheesy action romp.

Grade: C-

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

Marvel's latest, Guardians of the Galaxy, is the most fun you'll have at the movies all summer, bar none. Director James Gunn's "crash-bang!" entry into the ever-expanding Marvel superhero universe is a fresh, often hilarious, action-packed thrill ride full of colorful, eye-popping visuals and purely delightful performances.

In a cinematic universe full of super-powered baddies looking to conqueror and destroy, Marvel's superhero films all tell the same tale: saving the day. In this way  'Guardians' follows suit. However, no Marvel film has been able to tell this tale in such a fresh, exciting way since Joss Whedon's The Avengers, so far proving that more is in fact better.

What makes Gunn's film stand apart from other Marvel superhero movies is its consistent brand of self-referential, outright hilarious tongue-in-cheek humor; not to mention its brilliant use of some of the cheesiest classic songs of the 1970s. Even from its amusing title sequence featuring Chris Pratt's endearing Star-lord letting loose to Redbone's "Come And Get Your Love," it's clear that Director James Gunn is interested in showing his audiences a good time.

The casting of this band of misfits tells you everything you need to know about the offbeat tone of this movie. From Chris Pratt's charming take on Star-lord to Zoe Saldana's straight-faced Gamora; to Vin Diesel's Groot, who is capable of communicating so much with such a limited vocabulary; through even Dave Bautista's tormented Drax, who also gets a lot of laughs. However, it is Bradley Cooper's wisecracking Rocket Racoon who steals the show. Each character in this motley crew is given a plethora of opportunities to make us laugh out loud as well as garner our sympathies in a handful of truly touching, heartfelt moments.

The good times keep on rolling with some of the best choreographed action sequences this year. From beginning to end, there is an abundance of "crash-bang!" action. Combine that with these first-rate visuals and you've got yourself one aesthetically pleasing picture.

Even if you find yourself scratching your head at some of the more complex details of the story, such as the Kree (did I say that right?) peace treaty or the origin of the universe and its infinity relics, Guardians of the Galaxy is a pleasurable outing for anyone looking to have a good time at the movies.

Grade: A

Friday, July 25, 2014

Review: Hercules

Hercules, or more correctly "Heracles," is one of mythology's most powerful and most iconic tragic heroes. He has slain the Nemean Lion, severed the many heads of the beastly hydra, and, perhaps most sickeningly, washed clean the Augean stables in a single day. Despite his numerous triumphs, however, there still remains one labor that the mighty son of Zeus just cannot seem to conqueror: Hollywood.

Despite past trials, the demigod has not wrought much success out of box offices. Least I remind you of the god-awful (pun intended) flop that was this year's The Legend of Hercules? Let us not forget either the Disney animated feature that was beloved by the children of its generation and laughed at by everyone else. Praise the gods we have Dwayne Johnson and Brett Ratner!

Caught somewhere between Disney's light-hearted, happy meal affair and Renny Harlin's overly dark blunder, Ratner's Hercules is a hammy production that walks the line between a fresh retelling of the myth and a comedic spoof.

Dwayne (as I call him, because we're on a first-name basis) rocks a sendoff of the mythic hero as if he was born to play him. On the outside Hercules struts his well-sculpted, well-oiled physique to waves of adoring villagers like a rock star taking it all in, but on the inside he's tormented by his past and Dwayne express all of it poetically, lending credence to the longevity of his wrestler-to-actor career.

Now having accomplished his twelve labors, Hercules now lives life off his reputation as a contracted killer. He's hired by the King of Thrace, brilliantly portrayed by John Hurt, to lead a band of would-be soldiers against a warlord who threatens his lands. Hercules goes about his business, cutting through armies like butter, tipping over horses, and snapping the jaws of rare breeds of blood-thirsty wolves as if there were nothing, all the while we're lead to believe that he's not really the son of Zeus, he's really a mortal, and that his warrior friends helped him accomplish all those labors. Yeah, right.

Despite the committed performances from both Dwayne and Hurt, the true Scene-stealer Award goes to Ian McShane. He plays Amphiaraus, a well-known oracle of sorts who catches fragments of what's to come from the gods. In  addition to providing a large bulk of the comedic relief, Amphiaraus also provides a large majority of the heartfelt exchanges with Hercules. From consoling Hercules on his demons to motivating him in dire times of need,  McShane's Amphiaraus is an all-around pleasure.

And perhaps that's the best thing about this film: not only does it deliver as a solid bit of popcorn entertainment, but it's also full of heart and nobody in the bizz does tormented teddy bear better than Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Add to that Ratner, who can also string together cohesive action sequences as good as anybody, and you've got yourself a well-balanced romp.

Grade: B

Monday, November 5, 2012

Why 'Breaking Bad' is still a better show than 'The Walking Dead'

With the last half of the last season of Breaking Bad hitting the fan this coming summer and The Walking Dead having just started its third season, it's probably safe to say that television has hit one of its highest points within the past decade or so. But with all this talk of either of these shows being the "Best show on television," the question becomes: "Which of these shows is TRULY the best show on television?" Surely there is only room for one best!

Some will agree and some will argue (to no avail, says I) but the true and clear so-called "Best show on television" is none other than Vince Gilligan's Breaking Bad. Let me make it clear, however, that there is indeed more than one show that is argued for the title of "Best show on television" (I'd hoped that was obvious). What I am doing in this article is simply arguing for why Breaking Bad is a better selection than The Walking Dead for "Best show on television"  as opposed to trying to argue Breaking Bad against every other show on television (for that would entail a much larger task than I care for; however, I feel safe in assuming that we can universally rule out Jersey Shore).

Now that that's all cleared up...

If you ask somebody what makes a good television show, chances are they will answer, if they answer at all, by saying "Characters." So if we are going by that criteria, Breaking Bad definitely has shines brighter than The Walking Dead.

"Wait! The Walking Dead has Rick, Lori, Daryl, T-Dog, and Glenn- especially Glenn!" says the loyal Dead Head. To which I must ask: "Come on. Is Lori really all that interesting?"

Yes, The Walking Dead has A LOT of characters, but quantity is not the same as quality. Sure there are a few characters on this show who do intriguing/exciting things under the circumstances (like having sex in an abandoned pharmacy after just killing a zombie), but in its third season, how much do we ACTUALLY know about Glenn, one of the most popular characters on the show? The same could be asked of any of these characters:

1.) Other than riding in the same cop car, what experiences did Rick and Shane share that bonded them so closely, as we are told, so many times, that they are?

2.) Daryl talks a lot about finding his brother, Merle, because they're supposedly close; however, when Daryl has a hallucination about Merle in Season 2, Merle seems to be treating him pretty poorly. Why does Daryl admire Merle as much as he says he does?

3.) In Season 3 it becomes evident that the relationship between Lori and Rick has almost completely diminished and the writers, for all their talents, almost never explore what is going on the minds of this married couple and when they do, it results in an exchange of empty glares between the two. They say actions are more powerful than words, but the two of them do almost nothing! 

The list could go on.

Yes The Walking Dead is only in its third season and more about what makes these characters tick is slowly coming to light, but, watching this show, I can't help but feel like these people are still strangers to me.

So I've explored why The Walking Dead falls short of the title "Best show on television"; according to the intangible rules of argument, I must put forth my reasoning for why Breaking Bad is indeed a better choice for that same title.

Using the same standard of "characters" set forth earlier in my argument...

This show is a lush, fertile landscape for character development. And what makes this soil so lush and ripe for character development? A simplistic story.

Where The Walking Dead is epic in scale and open to a world (literally) of possibilities, Breaking Bad is the simplistic, yet enticing, story of one man's transition from good guy to bad guy. That's it. Yes his transition affects the people closest to him, but it's still about HIS transition.

Just a handful of characters is all that is needed to tell the story of this transition and this allows for a much deeper, more focused area of writing: Start with one man, his transition, and spread out from there to how everyone around him is affected by the choices that he makes. It's a more effective way of developing characters than opposed to starting outward with a global tragedy and working inward to see how that one massive event has affected, not just a particular group of characters, but everyone they come across. This expands the story you're trying to tell and diminishes the focus on individual character development.

So if you're going based off of characters and how interesting they are, Breaking Bad obviously takes the cake. However, if character development isn't important to you then you're probably a fan of Girl on the Loose, in which case you've just wasted your time.

This is just the opinion of one humble viewer. What do you think?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Franchises that deserve sequels

On movie blogs you always read lists about movies that shouldn't get sequels and a lot of posts that make sequels seem like they're a bad thing; almost as if the word "sequel" is a dirty word to movie fanatics. Well, I happen to enjoy many sequels and believe that there are certain movies that deserve them. Allow me to share with you a few particular franchises that I believe still have a bit of gas left in them.


Yes, it's finally been confirmed that a sequel to Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy is coming out next year but fans of this cult classic have been waiting almost a decade to see this dream realized.

21 Jump Street (2012)

Again, a sequel to this year's 21 Jump Street reboot had already been green lighted before the first one was ever released, but after seeing it for myself it's easy to understand why.

Pitch Perfect

The characters in this movie are so sincere and so funny that when it was over, I immediately wanted more. Sure, I'll see it a few times to try and satisfy this need, but eventually I am going to want to see these characters take on something else. Here's hoping that they actually do!

Mission Impossible

A fifth installment for a franchise is pushing it, I'll grant you; however, it is rare for every installment in a franchise to be a this good. Not only is Ghost Protocol an awesome movie, but you could argue that it's the best of the four. Having said that, I think the only way I'd be open to another Mission Impossible is if it had the same cast from 'Protocol'. 

The Incredibles

Sure Pixar doesn't have a great track record with sequels (outside of Toy Story), but if there was ever going to be a sequel to one of their movies, it'd be this one! Superheroes hardly ever get just one movie, so the idea of a FAMILY of superheroes just begs for (at least) a sequel. Not to mention, the ending obviously suggests that the Incredibles are up for more!

Jeepers Creepers

Sure it's been almost a decade since the last Jeepers Creepers came out, but I think it's about time for a closer to a trilogy. The idea of this "Creeper" is about as original an idea we've had in the monster movie field in a long time and there's still more ground to be covered with it, if only for one last movie. Besides, the ending of number two hinted at a sequel.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

2012: The top 23 movies so far!

"23?" You might say that this is an odd number for a "top" list. Yes. Yes it is. I was aiming for "Top 25", but I couldn't find two more movies that I liked enough to include in my favorites list. Anywho, just thought I'd share with you the handful of movies that I enjoyed the most so far this year!

23.) Moonrise Kingdom

I wasn't crazy about this movie like most people. 

22.) Hope Springs

Oldies but goodies. 

21.) The Five-Year Engagement 

It'd be higher on my list if it wasn't so depressing.

20.) American Reunion

I'm glad the gang got back together again.

19.) Rock of Ages

If ever I had a guilty pleasure...

18.) Safe House

I was pleasantly surprised!

17.) The Words

It's not as smart as it thinks it is, but I still like it.

16.) Jeff Who Lives at Home

The Brothers Desplat are no longer a one-hit wonder.

15.) Pitch Perfect

There's more here than just a pretty face!

14.) Ted

It's probably a good thing I like Family Guy...

13.) Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

It's got sort of a naive charm!

12.) The Master

If for nothing else, see this movie for Hoffman's stache.

11.) Dredd 3D

An action movie that takes its time and delivers on the one-liners. Wait, it promised those, right? 

10.) Wanderlust

One of the best ensemble casts this year!

9.) The Campaign 

This is what nuts feel like.

8.) The Avengers

Nerd pornography.

7.) Perks of Being a Wallflower

It scores its points for being so genuine. 

6.) End of Watch

The biggest surprise for me this year!

5.) 21 Jump Street

Funniest movie of the year.

4.) Seven Psychopaths

Marketed as a comedy, but it achieves so much more.

3.) The Grey

What's better than an hour and a half of Liam Nesson punching wolves? This movie!

2.) The Cabin in the Woods

A horror movie this far up on my list this far into the year?

1.) Argo

Smart, funny, insightful and well acted. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

God-awful sequels I love to hate

In honor of this week's release of Taken 2, I am listing off some of my most hated sequels to have followed up a movie that I love.

Son of the Mask

I hate this movie so much, that I don't even care to post a picture of it on my blog.

Robocop 3

It's not even the real Murphy...

Jeepers Creepers 2

I tried to avoid putting horror movies on this list just because if I was going to name off all the horrible sequels I hate, then this list would have been a lot longer. Jeepers Creepers is special to me, however. The original is a creative mixed-bag monster flick and the Jeepers Creepers 2... isn't. 

Any JAWS sequel

Not that I have anything against green screen sharks, it's just that they were all SO bad that I couldn't pick just one of them (although Jaws 3D came close...)

Transformers 2 & 3

Those who know me know that I love the Transformers, have ever since I was a youngling. Those same people also know that I am a fan of Michael Bay's first Transformers movie; however, the last two are practically- scratch that- they ARE unwatchable.

The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight is probably one of my favorite movies. It's just so sad that the conclusion of what could have been such a fantastic trilogy ended with such a cop out, among many other flaws.

Taken 2

My dog has made terds smarter than this movie... (review pending)