Monthly Archives: June 2011

Rental Corner: “Green Hornet” + “Guardians” = Mostly Harmless Night

 

Legends of the Guardians

Mostly Harmless Owl Pic

Zack Snyder has tackeled remakes and graphic novels with a unique visual style and it shows in “Legends of the Guardians.” To be honest, I wasn’t hyped to see this in theaters and when I viewed it, I wasn’t excited either. Needless to say, it was an ok watch. “Guardians” is your basic “coming of age” story about a barn owl that believes in a series of tales about a squad of noble warrior owls that fought against an evil race known as the “Pure Ones.” As you might have guessed, he gets in the middle of this when he and his brother are captured and forced to be slaves for the group. The material with the “Pure Ones” home is somewhat similar to how the slaving in “Temple of Doom” was. Here, these “slaves” are somehow hypnotized through a sleep under the full moon and result stuck in a dead-like state.

That is the first flaw with the film. The elements are there, but nothing is explained into full detail. There are mystical elements that on par with a basic fantasy film, but things are glanced over as opposed to taking time with the explination of certain things, like the magical metal flecks that are used as the owl’s “kryptonite.” Things just appear and are either explained in short detail or just simply brushed over.

However, “Guardians” does have its share of good concepts such as the two brothers that go their seperate ways. It’s a basic cliche of one being good and the other going to evil, but it works perfectly and is excecuted very well. There is not much else I can say about this bird flick seeing it follows that basic formula of a journey film, aside from the impressive animation. I would go into great detail how near life-like these creatures are, but it would take up an entire novel to critical praise. That and I feel it can be a downflaw to a movie like this. When Disney did “Dinosaur,” they took little care into characters and plot while giving life to amazing and “then-ground breaking” imagery. I feel at times the same can be said for “Guardians,” but there are moments where the characters are fleshed out and the plot does feel a bit well-worked. But it moves too fast at a 90 mins length and I feel it limiting it’s darker moments so it can be seen for kids.

While it’s a triumpth in visuals, “Legends of the Guardians” is just a movie that does great wonders with the computer, but still falls to the way the story plays out. It probably might have been a treat to see in 3D, but on the small screen, it’s harmless fantasy flick that has a few things to tweak. While it’s not spectacular, it’s ok to watch.

Seth Rogan has gone from heroic druggies to crude aliens in a short time of his career. In between is a genere I never thought he would work well in. When a comedy actor works in the superhero field, they mostly bring their funny with them. The same can be said here, but “The Green Hornet” tends to work like “Kick-Ass” and be a tounge-in-cheek parody.

While not a perfect superhero adaptation, it does have it’s share of good moments, like JayChou’s character that practly steals the show as Kato, a matial arts and weapon expert that make some amazing gadgets and delicious expressso. To put it simple, “Green Hornet” is one of those “leave your brain at the door” films that reflects the campy side of the mighty and muscular genre.

While it does have good laughs and great action scenes, the only problem is the basic structure. The main villian of the film, a Russian gangster, is seen never doing anything and the love interest (Cameron Diaz) has little to no purpose and does very little after he introduction. “Hornet” mostly focuses on the action and comical abilities while falling short of following the tradition of a superhero film. While not perfect, its still worth a rent at least. But if this section was called “Rent This, Not That,” I would recommend the 1990 adaption of “Dick Tracy” more in comparision to how a radio show icon can be potrayed on the big screen.

“Super 8”: A slice of nostalgia heaven

The following review is “Spoiler-Free” as possible.

Super 8

Super 8 is a wonder

After much build-up and hype, “Super 8” was one film I made dead sure I would never be spoiled about and interestingly enough, almost everyone did their part. Critics gave away only the basic premise and didn’t dig further and even the advertising kept everything a mystery. When I walked into the theater and the flick began, it wouldn’t be long till everything was answered. At least everything that was being seen in trailers.

The story centers around Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) who is dealing with the loss of his mother, which appears to be the blame of his father’s friend. Come summer and his friend of a horror buff wants his help on a movie for the local film festival that deals with zombies. Unfortunately, filming doesn’t go well as planned when a massive train wreck gets in the way and unleashes a monster of great destruction upon the town. Soon, people are missing, dogs strangely leave the town, electronic devices get missing from left and right, and even the Military Air Base gets involved into this strange case bringing things to a panic.

All the while, these four kids just see this as an opportunity to make their feature and are eager to finish it, disaster or not. What is unique about these “mini-Spielbergs” is how they want to get this dream project made, but things keep getting in the way. And yet, they see this as an opportunity to use it as “production value” and work around it. The kicker is how creative these guys are and the enthusiasm they have to finish this “masterpiece” of theirs. However, it’s not long till “production” has to end when things begin to go wrong in their hometown and soon each answer is revealed with each frame of the film.

“Super 8” is the ultimate nostalgia flick for fans of Steven Spielberg’s work, who also produced the movie interestingly enough. Each scene feels like a nod and homage to the alien encounters and spectacles that the famed director put his personal touches to. One can tell the influence as moments of “E.T,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and even “Jurassic Park” pass by and make their presence known. The basic theme dwells on how strong the power of influence is through moments of everyday life or something phenomenal and how it can change someone.

It’s the nostalgia factor of how a film or one thing can inspire us to make a movie of it or reflect upon ourselves. In the end, it’s not about the monster causing chaos, but the young film makers that are in the middle of it. You want to see them finish their movie and get through the worst of life with natural disasters, loss of loved ones, and letting go of the past. Truly, it’s an original beast that is more about the journey and inspiration as opposed to what is lurking behind the shadows as they go about their daily lives.

In fact, I wish I could tell you the connections it has to Spielberg’s work like the timid townspeople from Jaws or the wonder and mysterious actions that were in Close Encounters, but that would be giving the entire feature away. The bottom line is the less said the better, because this is one hell of a blockbuster that is sure to please many by the end, with the exception of a special treat during the end credits that is worthy of staying for.

But what I can say is that for those who plan to take their children to see this movie, should think other wise. While I can’t spoil the dark and intense moments of the “monster,” what I can say is that those scenes are worthy for giving kids ages 9 and below nightmares. While there is certainly a lot of mystery and frightening build-up to this hulking mammoth, my recommendation is rent “Explorers.” A film with the same ideas and themes, but with a more light-hearted approach with the mysterious extraterestrials. On the plus side, “Super 8” itself doesn’t seem to go too deep into the “Gremlins” feel when the monster is about, but plays it a bit too serious and scary. While it doesn’t outdo the true message of the film, it plays along nicely and fits in with “Super 8” ‘s charm and whimsical moments of Speilberg-ish wonder. Either way, it’s a worthy trip to the box-office some will find little to be disappointed over.

Rental Corner: “Iron Man 2” saves while “Stuart” is somewhat serious

Iron Man 2

Iron Man wins...again

To start things off, Robert Downey Jr. is Iron Man. There is not other actor that can portray a Marvel character that has to go through the troubles and obstacles of being a true hero. While the first feature setup his heroic ego coming to play, “Iron Man 2” digs deeper as he comes full circle from being a typical playboy with a metal suit to a savior with a metal suit. This time, he does more than face another villain with plans to overcome him, but has to deal with the government, competition, and the inner struggle.

That is the clever thing about this follow-up. Instead of another typical superhero sequel, it plays off with Tony Stark going against certain elements that fuel his actions. First is Ivan Vanko (Micky Rouke), a Russian physicist  that is out for vengeance as he creates his own suit, which features a set of electronic whips. On paper is sounds silly, but in terms of how it’s executed it really impressing as they make a simple idea like that look dangerous and not something to snicker with. Ivan is basically the “Captain Ahab” of the feature as all he wants is to seek the destruction of Tony and his legacy and nothing more.

If that wasn’t enough, a rival weapons manufacturer (Sam Rockwell) sees an opportunity in hiring on Ivan and plans to compete with Tony’s “un-shared weapon” by creating a defense project of robotic suits that match Iron Man’s ability. I find this strange considering how “clueless” Sam’s character is on how he doesn’t understand Ivan’s true ambition of “vengeance” and most of their scenes are basically just building filler to an epic climax.

Aside from that, Tony faces an even bigger foe as he goes against himself and how he is treating his entire life. For the first film, there was hint that he knew about changing his ways, but here everything gets analyzed and presented as he tries to find out if he’s following his father’s footsteps of being the next “Einstein” or choosing what he feels is for the best. Don Cheadle is also along for the ride (replacing Terrence Howard’s performance as Lt. Colonel Rhodes) and acts as the “conscious” to Tony as he not only gets him out of every situation he’s placed in, but tries to reason with his actions.

Overall, “Iron Man 2” is a perfect follow-up and take things to the next level. While at times, it does feel like similar themes from the first film are being placed in, they do expand more on his character and the responsibilities he has to take up. At times, some scenes play as filler or even go on a bit too long, but still it’s a sequel that’s worthy of checking out.

Stuart Saves His Family

A comedy with smarts and laughs

Now, when I heard there was a movie called “Stuart Saves His Family,” I dismissed it as a science-fiction, B-movie and didn’t progress any further. The poster art for the DVD cover had the main character himself holding up a giant boulder with the film’s title, almost similar to the spaghetti planet logo for “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” But later, I would never realize it was just another way for Saturday Night Live to create another sketch-based film and the underrated quality truly shows.

The original sketches centered on Stuart Smalley, a self-help guru portrayed by Al Franken that has his own public access show and would attempt to help those in trouble. Interestingly enough, Al himself was clever enough to “do his homework” with learing about these “self-help” programs and even going through a 12 step program himself. The movie, however, is a different turn when Stuart gets his show canceled and has to deal with the most dysfunctional family you’ll ever see since The Simpsons.

His family is a complete mess that ranges from an alcoholic father, a stressed mother, a sister that feels hopeless, and a brother that is so consumed in drugs and lazy activities to the point where his self-esteem is low. Throughout the flick, we understand the character of Stuart himself is depressing, even when he is optimistic of the worst. While resourceful and well-meaning, the life he has is just sad but quite funny to watch. We can relate to the insanity he has to deal with and how nuts our family can be at times. For this reason, I think that’s what makes the enjoyment work. Your not looking at a character and his sad life, but a reflection of yours or what could be.

Still, the feature doesn’t spend time being straight-up serious and offers a good variety of laughs. The biggest highlights are when we flashback to his childhood and find the source of what made his times as a kid such shambles. But then, things take a different tone as it ends with an “intervention” as the entire family goes to group counseling. It’s interesting how a comedy goes from a hardy set of laughs to such serious subject matter and I applaud it for this choice. Still, this is a movie that doesn’t take things too seriously and very straight forward at times. The comedy works because it’s not cartoony or slapstick-ish. It relates to the realistic tone it’s using, which sets it apart from most of SNL’s adaptations.

The result is an ending that is sad but yet happy at the same time. Stuart doesn’t save his family, but at least it concludes on a hopeful note that he tried and things will slowly change. It’s not one’s right to be told of what to change and that’s their decision to do so or not. Again, I applaud “Stuart” for this. It doesn’t sugar coat itself and say things can happen like a fairy tale where people resolve their ways in a second. It’s a slow process for those that know the hardships they must endure in order to overcome the choice of changing their ways or just remain being who they are. And that’s a rare thing to find in films like this one these days.

As a result, we get a movie that is smart, doesn’t hold back what it’s getting across, and proves to entertaining while the moral is well-managed. While the film itself is hard to find, it’s worth a view no matter where you can find it.

Rental Corner: “Fockers” fail while “Dilemma” laughs

Little Fockers

Avoid at all costs

I would like to say that I never saw “Meet the Parents.” I am aware of the premise and creative idea it has of the horrors in meeting future in-laws. Instead, I caught “Meet the Fockers,” which wasn’t too bad and did have an assortment of laughs. While not terrible, at least it was light hearted compared to the dismal entry “Little Fockers.” To viewers, its another sequel, but to the cast and crew, its just an excuse to earn a paycheck.

From the title, you think it would focus on the kids Greg (Ben Stiller) and his wife had. That would have been a great concept seeing the son following in the dad’s shoes or having tables turn with Greg in the role of the “protective father” as in “Meet the Parents.” Instead, the script focuses on themes of divorce and death that make this movie more of a dark comedy and less of the light-hearted feel the previous ones had. In fact, everything about this movie is dark from the cinematography to the tastless and poorly written gags like Greg slicing the tip of his finger off on a turkey dinner and have Rober DiNero covered with a streak of blood. You heard me right! That was written, because they thought a painful action like that would be hilarious. Personally, it makes the booby traps in Home Alone 2 look painless.

But what’s more, turns out Greg has a hot assistant at the hosptial as they copy “The Last Temptation of Homer” episode with some “Focker” changes. Even having Owen Willson as an ex-fiance doesn’t help the picture as his antics of being Yoda-ish are awkward and annoying to the point of wishing his role to be a cameo. I almost didn’t finish this movie and was going to stop it at an hour in because of one gag that pushed it too far. All I can say is that once I find out who wrote the idea of having Rober DiNero taking an erictile dysfunction drug and having Ben Stiller inject a decreasing stimulant into his  “Captain Winky” and having it be witnessed on accident by his younger son ought to go back to Comedy 101 and know the rights and wrongs in creating such filth. Not even a fist fight between these two at the climax can save this dismal and snail-paced picture. The jokes are not worth a laugh, the pacing feels slow and rushed, evey frame that goes by feels like an embarrassing baby picture being uploaded to Facebook, and above all is about as unclean as Rob Riener’s “North.”

The only good highlight of the evening was Ron Howard’s “The Dilemma,” where Vince Vaughn and Kevin James play Ronny and Nick,  two friends in auto design and try to keep their love lives in order. However, things get rocky when Ronny spies Nick’s girl (Winona Ryder) cheating and plans to tell his friend the news if Nick wasn’t doing the same thing.

At first, the pacing feels somewhat slow as characters are established and the plot is set, but midway it manages to pick up a bit and prove to be entertaining. While not the best of Ron Howard’s work, it manages to have some solid moments and knows when to be funny and when to be serious. The jokes are not in your face and build around the subject matter as opposed to mocking it to the bone.

In many ways, “Dilemma” can be seen as a comical version of “Rear Window” in the second half as Ronny digs too deep into Nick’s relationship and finds out quite a lot. The movie as a whole is a safe watch and while slow at times knows how to be funny and how to be serious as we are treated to an “intervention” with the characters that sets off a really clever twist. Above all, “The Dilemma” is one rental you won’t regret.

“Pirates” gets a little stranger

On Stranger Tides

"On Stranger Tides" indeed.....

In order to understand my thoughts on the new Pirates of the Caribbean flick, here is a quick rundown on what I think of the “trilogy” overall. The first one was flawless in my opinion. The plot felt like a throwback to the ride, the characters themeselves were memorable, and it made a big impact on the pirate genre. But then things began to get a little wierd with the second one and much darker than the last with Davy Jones making a really good villian, but building to a sequel as opposed to a satisfying conculsion. “At World’s End” failed to resolve what happened to the Pirates film with a dragging pace and confusion among the plot. I felt with the sequels they tried to topple the epic and adventure of “Curse of the Black Pearl” and didn’t achive matching the power it had. While they weren’t too bad, they managed to be quite creative with what they had, yet lagging in making something simple and being too complex.

“Stranger Tides” takes a different turn and manages to bring a fresh start to the Pirates franchise. This time, Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack is made the leading character and feels more bolder than ever. This time, he has to reach a mystical element called the Foutain of Youth, before others manage to discover is. In the chase is Barbossa who is not only missing a leg, but is less of the villian he was. The spotlight this time is on Blackbeard (Ian McShane) who hopes to find it as well as remain forever youthfull. Ian’s Blackbeard doesn’t seem to leave much of an impact and plays as more of a laidback pirate rather then menacing and blood thirsty. He comes more off as a gentleman and not convincly frighting as most of Disney’s past villians.

At his side is Penelope Cruz playing Blackbeard’s daughter who has an ongoing love/hate relationship with Jack that is harder to make out than a Rubix cube. At times, the two seem to go against each other, but the chemistry between them works well with the never-ending theme of betrayle in the franchise.  While the payoff to her character in the end appears harsh, Cruz comes off as likeable and probably a good addition to the tale of Captain Jack.

Aside from new faces, things start to tred water with the complexity of the plot comes into play as they have to locate two cups from a treasure room to use for the foutain. However, there is more to it as Blackbeard and the gang go “literally” fishing for mermaids, for their tears are the secret ingreident to make the process work. If that wasn’t enough, they capture one of the sirens that proves to be hard to deal with and begins to have a blossoming love story with the ship’s missionary, which feels like something for another movie. Again, simplify the complex. It’s not a hard thing to do in writing or editing.

But going back a bit, the mermaids are not what you think. This is far different from seeing a cute Ariel on the big screen. Here, these beautiful fish are a milestone as they break the mold from the cutsey stereotype who know today and sticks to its brutal origins. I can’t spoil much about these fiery flounders expect that, in my opinion, they are the most intense and frightening thing to ever come in the Pirates films, but I like it.

However, aside from the goods, there are a few other flaws that surface such as the addition of a group of Spanish explorers that also get caught in the mix. Time is spent between Jack treking with Blackbeard and Barbossa racing to the finish line, the viewer looses track or remembers them until the final act of the picture. They didn’t leave that much of an impact and once they make their purpose known, they literally leave the movie. If they were that important, why not make their presence key as opposed to dumbing them down.

Aside from all that, “Stranger Tides” feels like a new chapter into the Pirates franchise that almost makes the second and third appear like it never happened. Aside from one or two problems, it plays itself safe and keeps the viewer entranced with its siren song and captures the spirit of the first rather than dominating it. For those who have wished for a new start to the franchise, this is that film. But for those who feel they should sink this series, I’d play it safe and wait to rent it if you are that squeemish.

“Thor” is a hammer hit

Thor

Thor is a smash hit!

Year after year, Hollywood would crank out flicks in the summer season that would boast to be big and epic. But on the inside, they are nothing but explosions and big named celebrities flubbing it up. And to be honest, I never thought Marvel’s Norse god would be executed good on the big screen. From the start, I had doubts it would be the top hit at the box-office and mocked how it’s poster was remensisant of “Titus.” But then, once the reviews came in, I began to get curious about what the praise was all about. Even seeing it at number one in box-office charts drew my curiosity.

So, I ventured to the theater and to my surprise, I felt the spirt of the summer blockbuster was not dead after all. “Thor” is a unique and well-done comic adapation that may not surpass the classics, but has the ambition and entertainment of Iron Man. Chris Hemsworth plays the almighty son of Odin (Anthoney Hopkins), who rule the world of Asgard. While Thor has the energy and power of a great warrior, he places brawn over brain and causes some trouble with a bunch of creatures that live in a world of ice. For punishment, he is exiled to Earth, where we are treated to a clever “fish out of water” story where he bumps into a group of scientists that thing they have the discovery of a lifetime.

It’s here “Thor” begins to transition from a massive opera to a basic and beefed action flick, but yet it still managed to be entertaining. Chris’s potrayle comes off as being sympathetic and plays the meat-headed attitude well. Had the main chracter been brainy would have killed any great use of the three act sturcture as the “now mortal” god has to live among the people he wants to control and lean how to be more compassionate with them.

His brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) on the other hand is on the same level as his muscular fighter of a sibling, but to a degree. While a trickster, he gets broken when he finds the truth that he was really being fostered by Odin and used to bring peace to his original family. The interesting aspect is how Loki is a villan, but yet one can feel sympathetic for him. He doesn’t want to rule the world in chliched fashion, but is a misfit that is understood and wants what is best for himself.

When him and Thor interact, there is a sadness to there conflict seeing how these brothers got along fine, till they are driven to the point where they go seperate ways. Almost like “Prince of Egypt,” they don’t wish to fight, but still be together and want things to be the way they once were. It comes off as a believable connection and fleshes the characters out more.

As far as Kenneth Branagh goes with the overall execution, it does feel “over-the-top” at times but not to the point of hammy material. The comedy is well-timed, the sets feel like more than digital effects, and everything is at a stead pace that is neither slow or rushed. All I have left to say is that if there is one summer flick you must catch before it’s all over, don’t miss out on this hit.