Monday, June 29, 2015

Fantastic Four (2015)



There seems to be a lot of hate heading toward the Fantastic Four, and for good reason. It's yet another shallow reboot attempt that's sole purpose is to keep ahold of a copyright. This time they take a crack at the Marvel Ultimate version of the FF story. We have to trudge through another long-winded origin story instead of dropping us off into the action. Director Josh Trank previously impressed me with his work on Chronicle. He needs to go back to that franchise and leave Fox to hoarding the unsold Fantastic Four paraphernalia. I bet the studio heads are all wondering why this one didn't work. I am guessing it’s because instead of letting talented people do what they do best they figured that as they are paying for it they need to have creative control as well.
 

I am going to list all of the good things about this film.

If we are going for the Ultimate look then the casting was spot on. A younger cast looks like they walked off a set of a CW series. Miles Teller does a great Reed Richards. Kate Mara and Michael B. Jordan bring the Storms to life quite well. Jamie Bell has a moody take on The Thing, dark but well played. The Doom is brought to life by Toby Kebbell and is dag-nasty evil in this telling of the fab four.

The set design was really wonderful. The other dimension and the labs look great. The costumes were basic but I think as an origin film they didn't need to get into the whole blue spandex thing, at least not yet.

and... that's it....the end of my list of what they hit the mark on.

There were other good performances with the Reg E. Cathy playing Dr. Storm, Johnny and Sue’s father. Even more impressive because they had to work with a completely flat and lifeless story. It takes too long to explain how Ben and Reed are friends when we can really just take it on faith that they are friends. That time could have been better spent.

The company Dr. Storm work for seems to be a front for a shadow organization. The dimensional portal that the team has made is up and working and the company seems bent on getting NASA Involved in doing jumps to another dimension. Before they hand over the machine the young intrepid scientists decide to go on a jump of their own. Things go drastically wrong, and Victor Von Doom gets left behind. The remaining three get spirited away to an Area 51 esque military base. Reed Richards escapes and starts to try and find a cure for the effects of the journey to the other dimension. Ben, Sue and Johnny are left behind and start working for the shadow group.

Like the earlier film the “heroes” are not doing anything heroic. They are only cleaning up their own mess. If they hadn't used the machine they wouldn't have created Doom. If they hadn't brought Doom back to try and save him, he wouldn't have created a wormhole that ate a town. When they finally put an end to Dr. Doom’s diabolical scheme, the government agency that was using them as black ops team is now sucking up to them. They are given a secluded high tech lab to run even more dubious experiments in. With all the damage these folks have done, I wouldn't be so quick to give them more ammunition. It’s easy to look heroic when you’re cleaning up a huge mess that you created. Come to think of it my son may be taking this tack when he is bragging about cleaning his room.
 

Doctor Doom is a very dark bad guy that has no care for human life. He goes through the military base exploding heads. His rationale being that humanity ruined this world and he can make his world a better one. I don't know if I am a fan of the eco-warrior vein they have him written in.

Josh Trank is better than this film. He has shown that given space to work he can do a very compelling hero movie. His first film was really strong storytelling despite the cliched “found footage” aspect.
 I get the feeling that he was brought in to breathe life into this franchise that is on its last legs. But instead of the studio heads giving him resources to do what he does best, he was hampered by the “Old Studio” formula where every executive thinks they should have creative control over things. They should have really just stepped back and let the talented people work.

What leads me to think that non-creative people had a hand in the downfall of this film? It could be the fact that the studio required a reshoot after Trank had finished the film.  Sue’s wig is a dead giveaway that time has passed and she has moved on to a new hairstyle. The pacing is completely off in the film. There was a huge uproar about the leaked information about the original Dr. Doom and the nerd sphere pressured the studio so they changed the story to fit the desires of the fandom.

You can tell by the way Fox Studios cranks out a Fantastic Four movie just before their rights to the material expires that they aren’t interested in making this a great franchise. They are just trying to keep the copyright and the subsequent merchandising revenue. In the long run it would be more profitable for them to sell the rights back to Marvel and have something to show for it instead of trying to fake their way through a story.

Some studios never learn.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Fletch Posted on Web Wombat


Fletch - 98min - PG

Chevy Chase is Fletch, It's a shame that they didn't make more of these.  As I understand there are plans for a reboot. See what I say about Here in my article for Web Wombat. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Bajrangi Bhaijaan



Bajrangi Bhaijaan 163 min NR

I took a trip to India and did some research on Indian culture and found out they love moves almost as much as I do. I made it my goal to watch a few Bollywood movies to get ready for my trip. It was during that research I fell in love with Bollywood films. They are epic compared to our blockbuster popcorn films. Its interesting that American movies are popular over in India. Ours do well but I figured with their rich move culture that our films wouldnt rate much. The two different styles are so diverse they arent really competing.

Bajrangi Bhaijaan is a great example of the India masala film. It has touches of everything. Some joy, sadness, humor, drama, dancing and singing. Most of these movies are going to be long, so long they provide you with an intermission in the middle. Intermission is a lost concept on the American movie audience. But if you are going to commit to a three hour film you need a break in the middle. Its just more humane. The theater could benefit by giving their customers a break to go more snacks.

They are written in two halves to give you more of an understanding of the characters going into the second half of the movie. The second half is more action and conclusion to the stories. Masala movies weave a vivid tapestry from the characters. You get to know them very well before the major action happens in the film. You will also have some musical numbers mixed in with the story, sometimes its blended in with the story sometimes it happens spontaneously. In most cases its completely in line with the story. Now its odd that everyone on the street would know the intricate dance moves but it is so catchy you just go with it.

This film challenges the division between Pakistan and India. There is a huge cultural divide between the two countries that have a shared history. This movie takes a young mute Pakistani girl, Shahida (Hershaali Malthotra), and strands her in India. She wonders into a town and finds Pawan (Salman Khan) who is a kind hearted Hanuman Bhakt. devotee (they believe in living a true and honest life in order to develop the divine in your own spirit). Together they find a way to communicate and once Shahidas origins are discovered, Pawan has to take a great risk to himself to safely return her to her family. Pawan isnt the smartest tool in the toolbox but he is the most honest and the strongest.

Hershaali Malthotra silently captures the audience with her powerful presence on the screen. She is adorable and through her eyes she makes a connection with the viewer. Its really difficult for a performer to convey thought and feelings without speaking but she makes it look easy. Salman Khan is a superstar in India and shows off that he is an accomplished performer: singing (or at least some spot on lip syncing) , dancing, fighting and making us cry.


A catchy Bollywood dance number, your welcome. 

His character's total innocence and brutal devotion to honesty is so endearing and makes you want him to succeed. The Director (Kabir Khan) gives both sides of the border a touch of humanity. Political and fundamental problems between those two countries aside, this movie shows that families are families regardless of what side of a fence you are born on. Its a great story, showing how absurd politics and devotion to bureaucracies are.

Films can help transform the social landscape, sometimes for good. I think more of these stories will help soften the dialog between the two countries. It speaks to the viewer and shows them we are more alike than unalike. Once we see more humanity we see in our enemies the easier the peace process can be.

I recommend watching this movie. If you have never seen a masala film before this would be a good introduction. Then I can share a few others with you.

What other countries' films should I start watching?


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Horns Posted to Web Wombat

Horns - 120min - R

A great movie that makes you think about the power of good and evil. The lines between revenge and justice get blurred in this film.  Take a look at my review Here on web wombat.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Trainwreck


Trainwreck - 125min - R

My readers know that I am not a fan of crass humor. Crossing the good taste line just to make a joke and say, "look, I made a dirty joke, laugh at me" never impress me. Amy Schumer uses these themes but seems to play on just this side of the good taste line. I like it. I have never seen her show, primarily because I don't have cable but I am going to have to give her a look. She just made my watch list. Knowing what is good and what is crossing the line makes this a green light story.

Stories with character growth, either good or bad are super appealing to me. They are engaging. You take the journey with the characters. Amy starts out as a person who puts on the veneer of being fine and in control of her life but she looks and seems to be hurting and looking for something. She is a party girl and embraces the stereotype. She works as a journalist at a shallow mens magazine (Sorry if I was being redundant there). She has to do a story on someone who is not her type but who she has a connection with. They start a relationship and Amy really starts to take control of her life because of it.

Amy Schumer's character is enjoyable to watch. When I explained the premise, I know that it seems to have an anti feminist tone. She meets a man and he changes her for the better. I had a conversation about this with my wife and she said the story sounds like its switching up the guy is a playboy and finds the right girl to change him. I have to agree that if the genders were reversed we wouldn't be having this conversation. She meets him at a time in her life when she is ready for a change. She sees that her life isn't what it should be but she trapped by the attitudes and personalities of the people she works with. Their relationship is the new territory that she is trying out as she has never been ready for a real relationship.

Bill Hader plays Dr. Aaron perfectly. He has a great screen presence. He plays the straight guy to Amy's shenanigans in a way that is real. He blends the common man persona with specific hints of humor that accentuate the absurdity of the scenes without sounding condescending. Bill Hader is charming and intelligent in this role. He needs to get more work.

One bit that really ruins the movie for me is one scene at her father's funeral. Vanessa Bayer plays a work friend who is shallow and inappropriate. Her performance of this character is spot on, great character work. She makes a ham-handed attempt to pick up on a person of color in a completely racist way. It was played to be over the top, fine, but it completely ruined the emotional moment of the funeral scene. There was plenty of humor before the sequence and even during the eulogy Amy gives for her father. The emotional moment was at a perfect length without having to have a relief from the sad emotion. It was completely unneeded and cheapened the genuine emotion they were building up to.

I found that scene to be disrespectful. It was not that she was hitting on him at a funeral. It was not that it was racist. It was that the filmmakers were disrespectful to the emotional connection that the audience had with that scene. Because of that poor attempt at a joke we lose the gravity of the eulogy that Amy gives her father. That scene could have been so much more powerful if they hadn't wasted the momentum with that little throw away joke.

But one mistake in the entire film is not enough to tarnish the genuine fun this movie is. From my normal recommendations this is one that you leave the kids at home and anyone who is uncomfortable at a blue show and take your friends and enjoy this ride through one woman's growth and journey to a mature relationship.

What movie have you seen and enjoyed that is out pf character for your normal viewing?


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Daredevil Posted to Web Wombat


Daredevil - Season 1 - TV-MA

It is absolute genius to put this story on Netflix.  I have seen this series twice and am looking at starting a third. completely spot on on all points.  Take a look at the  review on Web Wombat 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Pixels


Pixels - 105 Min - PG-13

It's really hard to write this review. There is so much about this film that is so over the top absurd that it’s even hard to take it. It looks back at the arcade life not with nostalgia but with ridicule. There is absolutely nothing interesting or redeemable in this film. My twelve year old son enjoyed it. Usually he is my scale and I reflect if I’m judging a movie too harshly. Not in this case. He and I are going to have to agree to disagree on this one I had an hour and forty five minutes of misery but he enjoyed it. Full disclosure, I come from the era in gaming where you saved your money to go to an arcade and had to line up your quarters to play the fun new game this movie should be playing to my age.

I can sum up in two words why my son enjoyed it: special effects. Admittedly they were really good. When you see items disintegrating into pixels and video game characters fighting and interacting with real world environment, it’s seamless. It’s visually stunning. I was right there with him on the major eye candy.

Effects alone do not a movie make. You need a story and some good characters and some conflict and resolution to make a story. By the strictest sense of the definitions you can say that this film has those things but only if you look at it squinting and hold your head just right.

I think the biggest disappointment is the way “nerds” are tied to every 80’s stereotype. Yes this movie originates in the 80’s but the mindset of the world that the movie takes place in hasn’t progressed past the point of jocks looking down on geeks and nerds. It’s poking fun at nerds in a mean-spirited way.

Kevin James plays the president and it’s only through their childhood friendship that Adam Sandler's character is allowed to help. Yep it’s good to have friends in high places. Even Kevin James’s sad sack routine isn't enough to engage us in the movie. Adam Sandler plays his angry curmudgeon slinging zingers and one liners but it’s nothing new.

Peter Dinklage playas Eddie or “Fireball” as he likes to be called. Eddie took the title at the world video game championship. But he won because he used cheat codes. Well he decides he can use them in a real life fight with some real video game monsters. So he does, and this is where you lose me as a viewer.

In a video game you can use a code and change how you interact with the video game environment. He is playing in real life version of Pac Man, so the cheat codes shouldn't make him warp through solid buildings and jump around the game board that is the streets of New York. If cheat codes worked in real life I would totally use them. Here is another reason I don't care for the film. The fact I am debating cheat codes used in a real life fight with Pack Man.

Peter Dinklage can turn even a supporting role into cinematic gold but there is only so much he can do to pull the movie out of the pits. All of the performers did the best they could but the material was just not good. No matter how much your polish a turd it’s still a turd.

There seems to be no end to the just the odd jokes and awkward situations that were crammed into this movie without any regard to balance or structure. I would equate this movie to the Atari video game version of ET. Yes it has all of the same elements of a movie but it’s just not good. Adam Sandler should have deleted this script instead of trying to level it up.

If you need a memorable walk down video game lane go back and watch Wreck it Ralph it’s a much better film about video games. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Kill Me Three Times Posted to Web Wombat

Kill Me Three Times - 90 min - R

A movie that takes a story and cuts it into thee different versions of the same day.  its a good attempt but a little too light in the bad guy department. See the review in Web Wombat. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Pitch Perfect 2




This is the second sequel I have seen in the last few weeks without seeing the original. Maybe seeing them in reverse order gives you a clearer picture of movies by themselves. This was a really good film. Fun? Yes. Entertaining? Yes. Funny and at times sappy? Yes... but in a good way. I am going to give this film a green light for its completely wonderful expression of love of the unaccompanied human voice. A cappella is a wonderful art that gets ribbing but should be respected for the level of difficulty in making it good. 

The Barden Bellas are at a command performance for the President at the Kennedy center.  A wardrobe malfunction causes the Bellas to lose their position and they are on the brink of getting shut down completely. Their only hope is to compete and win the international a cappella championships. If they win they get their standing back. If they lose they are no more.  They struggle to retain the magic in spite of their shaken confidence.

Boil it down and this is a film about a group of friends, or sisters rather, in a sorority setting. The relationships and camaraderie makes the emotional connection to the group feel real. Without having anything from the original to go off of I get the feeling that this does show the progression of the characters. They are graduating and on the cusp of confronting reality but knowing they are ready and they will not face life alone. They have their group of friends to help them.

The other theme of the movie was the loss of confidence and struggling to retain your identity. I liked the fact that the Bella's needed to re-find themselves. The competitors Das Sound Machine, the German team, were flashy and great performers but the Belles were more pure and way more talented. This is a great metaphor for life. It's easy to get lost in the flash of someone else's performance but you can't copy them. You have to be true to your own art and talent.

Director Elizabeth Banks has a good sense of comedic timing--adding just the right touch of adult humor without beating it like a drum. Many filmmakers can't find that good balance. She understands that you can hit a good double entendre and walk away: those who are bright enough and quick enough can catch will appreciate it. She provides a comedic smorgasbord with something for everyone.

Anna Kendrick continues to delight as the adorkable Beca. Her natural charm on the screen adds a layer of reality to her performances. It's the humanity she adds to the character that elevates her performance from acting to performing.  She doesn't need any butt confidence she is a super star.

One of my favorite scenes was the underground a cappella sing off.  That could be a freaking game show. I would watch the hell of that if it was on TV. It would be much better than any of the reality singing competitions.  Five teams enter and one team leaves with massive bragging rights and a gift card to Dave and Busters.


Did you see the first one? Did Pitch Perfect 2 hit the right notes?