Monday, July 28, 2014

Hercules: Not At All What You'd Expect, Except Exactly What You'd Expect

Let me begin by explaining that I never thought that I would ever be writing this review.  Like ever.  Because if I'm writing this review then I have seen a movie called Hercules starring an ex-wrestler.  Granted, he's an ex-wrestler who is incredibly charismatic and charming, and he's establishing himself as an acting staple... but still.  It's Hercules.  And The Rock.  And Brett Ratner.  It should never work.  Like ever.  Like ever ever.  Then came the trailer that played before EVERY movie I've seen this summer.  And my suspicions were confirmed.  Yes, it looked terrible.  The Rock with a testicle-hair beard and a flowing head of hair fighting CGI monsters isn't really even a great idea in theory, honestly.  However, the reviews starting coming in.  Yes, I know, a reviewer who reads reviews... how meta.  And they were positive. They weren't slamming the film like I assumed they were going to.  In fact, the only descriptions I kept reading were of how "thrilling" and "smart" and "fun" the movie was.  After that... I just had to know.

Everything you've seen in the previews... the fighting of the giant lion, the three headed dog, the serpents in the lake, etc. are all done as folklore and myth and shown in the first five minutes of the movie.  Sorry.  If you were looking for two hours of that... you're already going to be let down.  This is about Hercules, the man.  Dwayne Johnson (the actor formerly known as the wrestler The Rock) plays Hercules, a mercenary for hire who thrives off the legends told about him.  In actuality, he's just a really big mofo with some skilled friends who can boast his stories to make him actually appear demi-God-like.  He's not necessarily NOT a demi-God, but there's no saying if he is either.  It's really left up to interpretation.  So, he and his band of misfits are recruited by Lord Cotus (John Hurt) and his struggling kingdom in order to use his mythology against the rival kingdom headed by Rhesus (who may or may not be a centaur).  The kingdom is compiled of inept farmers, not soldiers.  So, after a few failures and some standard training montages, they're ready to fight by Hercules' side.

What separates this movie from other films like it such as Immortals, The Legend of Hercules, 300: Rise of an Empire is the personality.  This film is very aware that it's got an ex-wrestler actor portraying a mythological character and it, more or less, runs with this attitude.  It's silly, but not to the point of dumb.  It's campy, but not to the point of unwatchable.  It's funny, but on purpose.  It's got good action, good adventure, and good laughs.  It's a well-written film that knows it wants to be better than the aforementioned passionless films.  So, it's nothing like what you'd expect from the trailer because it's actually succeeds in achieving it's aims.  But, it's also exactly what you should expect from The Rock in a mythological action film.  He's nothing but charming.  Even when he's trying to act like a badass, you can tell he and the band of misfits have the most fun because they have a natural chemistry.  And the villains... you know what... I don't need to spend two or three more paragraphs analyzing the specifics of what makes Hercules, not just simply a watchable film, but a film that most will enjoy if they're willing to let go of that judgement you know you hold inside of you after seeing the trailer.  If you can release that Kraken... you WILL have a good time.

PS-- I will now watch The Rock in anything.  Anything.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Snowpiercer: The Best Movie This Summer You Haven't Heard Of

Big budgets and no soul.  This epitomizes summer movie faire.  Normally, there's one or two decent big budget movies that sneak by and entertain a lot more than you expected it should (this year it was Edge of Tomorrow) and there's four or five indie movies that come out to select theaters that fly under the radar that really should get more attention it deserves.  And very rarely... you get both.  The successful combination of what appears to be a big budget "popcorn" flick with that indie feel is what Snowpiercer ends up being.  It's a fantastic sci-fi from director Bong Joon-ho (The Host, no not that Stephanie Meyer shit) that is the most unique and fun action movies this year.

The premise is one that in the hands of a lesser writer/director could've gone Transformers very easily.  The government has manufactured a chemical element they believe if they shoot into the atmosphere will end global warming altogether.  They were correct... except that the chemical, once mixed with Earth's atmosphere turned the Earth into an eternal winter.  This, in turn, kills off every living being on the Earth.  The only select few who've survived reside on the Snowpiercer, a high speed train that continuously circles the Earth.  We begin in the lower class car, the back of the train, where we get to know Curtis (Chris Evans) who has plans to take over the train, by way of making his way from the back to the front, killing everything in his path.  The back of the train is overpopulated, it's run almost like an internment camp with daily executions and food rations coming in a small gelatinous protein brick.  The head of the soldier's guarding each door is Mason (Tilda Swinton) who comes off looking more like a Japanese cartoon than a real person, yet she may be the creepiest person on board.

The passengers in the back of the car are tired of their everyday routines.  They're starving, they're tattered, and they want what those in the upper class cars have: a pleasant life. The rest of the film revolves around Curtis and his band of "soldiers" moving their way from car to car in order to take over the engine.  Because he who runs the engine... runs the train.  Each car has something new hidden in it, a new challenge, a new discovery.  Watching these people navigate the train and overcoming incredibly creative obstacles makes for one damn fun movie.

To add to the success of the writing and directing, the cast is superb.  Chris Evans is quickly establishing himself in Hollywood as a very bankable actor.  He exceeded expectations in the Captain America films and he's even grittier and better in this film.  Tilda Swinton, as always is flawless.  

The term "popcorn flick" generally implies that a movie will visually stun you, keep you entertained, while providing little to no substance.  Snowpiercer defies this stigma by providing everything a great movie has to offer.  Yes, there's a few CGI'd scenes that could use a little touch up, but with a budget this low, director Joon-Ho does everything in his power to give his audiences the best summer movie that has yet to be seen.  This is the movie that should've had the powerful July 4th opening weekend instead of sneaking into a local AMC theater, watched by a select few who heard about it via word of mouth instead of being riddled by trailers over movies and TV.  I don't know if it's that easily accessible anymore... it is available on Video On Demand... but however the format, I highly recommend this film.  It's a little strange, it's a bit bizarre, but it's a ton of fun.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Lucy: For A Movie About Obtaining A Higher Intelligence... I Feel Significantly Dumber

I would love to sit here and discuss each and every reason why Lucy isn't just the worst movie of the year, but one of the worst movies I've ever seen in my life... however, according to the film, since I only access 10% of my cerebral capacity, and the film is THAT much smarter than I am, I guess I won't be able to do so.  I can tell you this:

Lucy is beyond awful.

Lucy makes absolutely no sense.

Lucy allows you to care about no one.

Lucy does everything it can to appear intelligent... when, in actuality, a monkey throwing shit at another monkey makes more sense than anything in this film.

Lucy will fail once word of mouth has gotten around.

Lucy is a movie that I'm actually very happy I saw as I haven't hated something this much in quite awhile.

Lucy guesses what science stuff actually does... and misses the mark badly.

Lucy would like you to believe that anything they tell you in it is remotely possible.  But, you're much smarter than that and won't buy into it even for a second.

Lucy is far beneath the talent it has employed.

Lucy is one of the only movies I could've walked out of, at any point, and not cared about what happened.

Lucy literally needs no side characters in the film as no one, including the title character, has any agenda or goals.

Lucy doesn't have the cerebral capacity to understand the concept of cerebral capacity.

Lucy has just received Big Peck's Cineflex's very first...


Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Purge: Anarchy: Resist The Urge To Purge... Again

There are so many things wrong with The Purge franchise that should be right.  The concept for the films are great.  A new law in America allows all citizens one 12-hour night to commit any and all crimes without punishment.  This, in turn, has made the unemployment rate down to less than five percent and crime down to almost 99 percent.  It seems to be a good incentive to Americans who need to commit crime in order to purge their darkest desires in one government-decreed night.  There is SO much potential here to make a riveting film.  Unfortunately, in the first film we have all of America out doing whatever the hell they want to do centralized into a single home.  Not exactly the best of scenarios, but it could've worked had a few pieces actually fit together to make a decent movie.  It did not.  So, writer/director James DeMonaco actually took the criticisms from the first movie and expanded the universe out into the streets.  Yes, if America is out purging on the night of the purge, we want to be everywhere.  We want to see every crime committed by heinous human beings acting out their government-given right.  We want to see how terrifying it would be if someone's car happened to break down miles from their home, just minutes before the purge is to begin.  We want to see how innocents escaping from purgers handle themselves outdoors while trying to survive the night.  We want to see any and all purge scenarios (and there are limitless amounts) because the concept is so great.  And while DeMonaco does a great job in this sequel with his newest concepts... much like the first film, it isn't executed well at all.

This may be the first time in my life's movie history that I despised an original film, then, less than a year later saw a trailer for it's sequel and got excited about it again.  Fool me twice, DeMonaco, that's on me.  It seemed like for everything DeMonaco did right in this film, he did three things wrong.  Perhaps under the guise of a studio (and I will hardly ever say anything like this) it may have been a better film.  But, this falls under the case of the director and the writer being the same person, so there's no one with better judgement looking over the shoulder offering better ideas. This time around, yes, we have expanded the universe from a house to the streets.  We are following a mother and daughter who's apartment is under siege from men dressed all in black with automatic weapons.  There's also a fighting couple who's car has broken down on a bridge right before the purge begins.  Then, finally we're following a single man, willingly outdoors during the purge with an agenda not made entirely clear.  Somehow... and this is where credulity is strained... these people all end up together in the same car and forced to stick together to stay alive during the night. 

It's a stretch to put the only five alive innocents on the streets of (I think) LA.  The film would've served better if it was a series of vignettes put together to show different purge stories and actually give us some cool characters and some truly evil characters put together.  However, we were given three interwoven stories, so we'll stick with these.  The first thing everyone in the theater should notice about this film is how atrocious the dialogue is.  Again, if the director is also the writer, there's no one standing over the shoulders explaining that the dialogue truly needed a beefing up.  It's really bad.  Not one character is apparently allowed to have an independent thought in their head without expelling it out of their mouths.  "I'm scared."  "I think they're here."  "I'm running."  "My heart is beating."  "My acting choices are questionable."  It's all exposition.  We, as an audience, are apparently not allowed to infer anything in the film, instead we have to be spoon fed all thought and emotion spoken by each character which makes for some sloppy writing.

The next huge problem I had with the film was with the new political motivations added in by DeMonaco in order to explain the law of the Purge a little more fully.  This is something that was totally unnecessary.  We don't need to know that America is no longer a Presidential dictatorship, but has essentially turned into a society in which the upper class elite run everything through a group of a few men known as the "founding fathers" who are represented mostly as cult leaders rather than political figures. I know we have a pledge of allegiance, and in certain settings can sound almost cult-like when spoken aloud, but now, apparently, all rich people have resigned to "praise" the fathers and America.  So, before acting out a kill, we get this very cult-like prayer about the fathers and America and the right to Purge the shit out of people.  I get how he wanted to explain why America would allow such a law to be passed, but it's more silly than explanatory.  We didn't need an explanation.  We've already strained believability with the concept of the film and accepted it.  No need to add some culty political overtones in order to give a little more credibility to a film that, astoundingly, didn't need it.

Then, it's just a series of poor choices and miscues.  Situations are set up that even during the Purge, I'm inclined to think is just unbelievable. We don't care about any of the characters, and when we start to, they do something that takes away any credibility they'd briefly earned.  It's a script that could've benefited greatly from an edit and a re-write.  It's also not that scary.  There are a few quick scares in the beginning, but then genre lines are crossed and we've gone from horror film to action film to tense thriller film to attempted grindhouse film.  The concept, yes, is terrifying, but then this is what we've been talking about all along-- failure to do anything right with a brilliant concept.  When the film begins to lose steam and become almost laughable, the ability to scare anyone goes right out the window.

Like I said in my review of the first film, had this idea been an episode or two of The Twilight Zone it would've knocked it out of the park.  The film is already doing very well box office-wise, so we can assume that this isn't the final entry of The Purge series.  Perhaps, if the reigns are handed off to someone a little more capable, maybe, then, we'll have the film we've been hoping for since last year.  It does make me wonder, though, how many times I'll be fooled by the concept of the Purge before giving up on it altogether.  Depending on the trailer, I'm guessing at least one more.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Shakespeare With Monkeys

When Rise of the Planet of the Apes first dropped in theaters I was genuinely confused as to why anyone thought there was a market for people who wanted to see a reboot of a movie that is literally about monkeys who can talk and have taken over the Earth.  Oh, people were interested in this forty years ago... I bet they'd be interested to see how it all started.  Shockingly enough, people were.  I don't think it had as much to do with wanting a monkey origin story, but more that the technological advances in CGI implemented in Rise were note-worthy and it was actually a very well-written/directed film. So, naturally when a big summer movie does well (makes a shit ton of money) a sequel is inevitable.  And so, here in 2014 we now have a sequel to a reboot of a movie that was popular over 40 years ago about monkeys that take over the Earth.  And it's fantastic.

There's a fine line to walk when writing a movie about animals vs. humans.  If we're watching animals thriving once a good chunk of the human race has been eradicated do we root for them?  But, we're also humans and I know personally if a bunch of talking monkeys with war paint on their faces tried to kill me, I'd be a little pissed off.  So who do we root for?  The human race or the persecuted/angry monkeys?  Director Matt Reeves has answered this question quite elegantly in that we root for both.  Why not?  Over the course of the film Reeves aims to show that anything animal or human with cognitive abilities and emotion... we're not so different from each other.

This time around, we're ten years in the future since the events of the previous film.  Most of the human race has been killed off and none have emerged for the last two years.  The ape nation has expanded and thrives with their leader Caesar (Andy Serkis).  When a group of forrigers looking for an energy source to power their dying San Francisco city led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke) meet the apes... tensions run high.  The humans in their habitat, helmed by an intimidating Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), and the apes are both weary of one another.  However, Caesar and Malcolm make a pact that if the apes allow the humans to fix the power source at the dam so that humans can begin to rebuild, they will leave the apes alone.  This is much to the chagrin of Dreyfus who wants to wipe out the humans, as well as scarred up ape Koba who only knows humans as emotionless and violent towards apes.  Caesar, who has known the kindness of humans is much more trustworthy, yet he still exercises caution when it comes to the humans.

This when some Shakespeare/Lion King shit goes down.  Koba turns on Caesar and takes control of the colony leading an all-out war against the humans.  It might've been a little too on the nose with Caesar being named so aptly in this film, but considering it was his name in the previous movie before, I'm sure, the brain cells required to make this film aligned, I'll let it slide.  But, Julius Caesar this film could be... you know... with monkeys.  In more ways than one the Apes are more intellectually complex than the humans, yet each have that "wildcard" in the group that can fuck everything up.  Not so different from one another.  What's great about this summer popcorn sequel is that it takes a careful path to reach its climax.  It's not just about getting all of the exposition out of the way so it can finally blow some shit up, the film takes its time.  It leaves a queasy feeling in your stomach because you KNOW that shit will go down, but as humans and apes work together, you really just want everything to work out.  Let's make that movie!  Humans and talking apes hang out and fix shit.  I'd watch that.
"That's what he gets for not hailing to the chimp."

The computer animation is fantastic.  Other than a quick scene in the beginning involving deer and a bear, all of the animals in the film look as real as they possibly could.  If we didn't know in the back of our brains that these were computer created apes, you might be a little scared.  It's also a very intelligent film with a lot of political and evolutionary undertones that don't force-feed you messages of how to make the world better.  It has a lot more insight in it that a summer blockbuster ought to have.  It truly is the platform that all the Michael Bay types ought to template their next films after.  Who says you can't have something to say, something to kill, something to blast, and something to laugh at while still implementing some intelligence into the film?  I highly recommend this as the next movie you make it out to see this truly thin summer.