Monthly Archives: February 2015

Rental Corner: “Star Trek III” strangely muddles yet enjoyable

A tough act to follow...but it was still fun

A tough act to follow…but it was still fun

“Wrath of Khan” placed Star Trek back in place among viewers. It reminded us what made the series so good and even offered a then edgier take of the series. While “Khan” retained the B-movie feel, it did so at a mature pace with gritty death scenes and clever writing in dialogue and character development. For a sequel, it was a tough act to follow up with considering the climatic ending and surprise killing off of a beloved character. Well, they tried with “The Search for Spock” but I can’t say its a total failure. To me, its an entry that has some good elements and attempted to continue the story but there are some aspects that could have been easily improved.

As much as I hate to spoil, but “Search” picks up where “Khan” ended with the death of Spock. Yeah, everyone’s favorite half-Vulcan saves everyone’s life and his body is shot out into space where it lands on the renewed planet made by the Genesis project. But here is where things get nutty. Kirk is told from Spock’s father that his friend is not dead but in fact still living. Apparently, Spock’s body is still moving about while his spirit is inhabited in the body of someone else. I won’t give away where Spock’s soul is hiding but really let that sink in. The body of one is still alive but his idenity (or soul) is entrapped in another person. I guess they are going for some form of supernatural route but it doesn’t pay off as much. Instead of said person take on the personality of Spock, it plays itself as vague from time to time without much usage.

The Genesis planet as it rapidly ages from a nice spring to a harsh winter

The Genesis planet as it rapidly ages from a nice spring to a harsh winter

But there’s other things to worry about the Genesis device did more damage than it could. Apparently, the new planet is affected so deeply that it keeps rapidly growing as one side looks like a fall season but the next minute it turns into winter. Not a bad concept but it doesn’t feel full fleshed out. Even stranger is how the device somehow managed to effect Spock’s body as he grows from a young Vulcan and painfully ages as the planet does. I guess its supposed to be a connection between Spock’s rapid recession from youth to age but again, it doesn’t pay off as much. The body of Spock gets older as the planet moves on to the next form. Its such a strange analogy having the aging of a person be connected to the life of a planet. Somewhere there is the idea of an independent movie along the lines of “The Little Prince.” Last I would expect that to appear in is a Star Trek movie.

And of course, we have the last minute villain in the form of a Klingon commander played by Christopher Lloyd of Back to the Future fame. He commands his crew to the refurbished planet upon learning of the Genesis device and wants to learn of its secret to make a weapon out of it. Ok, let’s break this down. The Genesis device was “absorbed” into the planet so there is no way of knowing if any fragment survived, let alone a hint of it existing in the planet. Maybe the device is in the core of the earth which would have lead to something interesting but they don’t go that route. And its more ironic how Lloyd’s character is searching for answers that don’t exist which makes his character more pointless enough. To top it all off, a character in the film dismisses the Genesis project as a failure when they see the planet rapidly grow as opposed to how “successful” it appeared at the end of “Khan.” This kills a lot of positive ambiguity from the hopeful ending to such a good sequel. A recon like that which tears at the beauty of another film’s grand moment really peeves me sometimes.

Before Doc Brown, would you believe that Christopher Lloyd knew some Klingon?

Before Doc Brown, would you believe that Christopher Lloyd knew some Klingon?

On the other hand, seeing Christopher Lloyd as a Klingon is a lot of fun to watch. He tries to carry this menace to his character and sort of be this equal to Kirk. He can be manic while also subtle at times but something feels missing here. Again, they give a motive to the character even if it does feel illogical knowing he won’t succeed even if he did but in the previous entry, Khan left such an impact that it makes me wonder what it would have been like if he was the conflict instead of Lloyd. It would made “Search for Spock” a lot stronger considering the one-on-one fight between him and Kirk near the end but alas, Khan’s story ended so a villain has to be made. I want to say he feels tagged on but it lingers in-between.

So for all of the confusion, it sounds like I’m making this out to be a mediocre entry. But for its faults, I still feel this is satisfactory. While its not the strongest, “Search for Spock” does make up for it with entertainment value. You do get a funny scene once in a while and some of the special effects are good to watch. Set pieces like the destruction of the Genesis planet and the Klingon battles can be fun while other moments like the Enterprise being destroyed are memorable with plenty of proper build up. And much like with “Khan,” the pace of “Search” is very laid back and quiet so I got no complaints. I think it knew there was no way it could match the epic quality of something so grand and instead channeled the campier yet fun feel of the original series. In a way it succeed but it left me feeling what it would have been like if it was more coherent. Maybe with a stronger opponent and a story that had more logic would have made this entry an improvement but as it stands, its worth checking out if you want some classic Trek campy fun.

Rental Corner: “Star Trek II” succeeds where no sequel has gone…

They say its the greatest one of the batch....they are right

They say its the greatest one of the batch….they are right

“Star Trek: The Motion Picture” was the first Star Trek film of the old series I recall seeing as a teenager. Seeing this entry I felt affected my view of the old film series as I felt it was too slow and dialogue heavy. In hindsight, it was attempting to be this space experience like “2001: A Space Odyssey” where the environment moves the story as opposed to characters and a narrative. For these reasons, I shut myself of from other Star Trek entries until now when I finally caved in to watch its sequel “The Wrath of Khan.” I had very low expectations aside from the huge amount of praise it has been receiving while some praise it for being the best in the series. And honestly, it deserves it. Not only is it a great entry, but it makes me think what my teenage self would have thought of it. That is if I did see it at that age and ignore the existence of “The Motion Picture”

The story picks up with William Shatner returning as Captain James T. Kirk who is retired from his Enterprise duties and trying to live a life. In a sense that is almost like what The Muppets did for the Muppets, we see the old Enterprise crew off and in different directions like Spock (Leonard Nemoy) teaching new recruits and Checkov (Walter Koenig) is assisting planet scouting for a test on a new device. Its nice to see the old crew again and get an idea of where they will be after their adventures are over. Even more interesting is Kirk’s apartment where he has tons of artifacts mounted on his wall to the point he almost feels like one. Almost an interesting message about how short our lives can be and how much we forgot what makes us who we are.

Khan returns from the famous episode Space Seed in revenge for Kirk. Beautifully played by Ricardo Montalban

Khan returns from the famous episode Space Seed in revenge for Kirk. Beautifully played by Ricardo Montalban

But all that changes when Checkov accidentally bumps into the revenge hungry Khan played by a menacing Ricardo Montalban who sets his sights on making Kirk’s life a living hell in return for his exile on the desert planet. He plans to steal a powerful device made by scientists called Genesis which is said to breath new life into dead planets. With this device in the wrong hands, there’s no telling what might happen if Khan uses it on a living planet. However, a “Moby Dick” influence feud takes place with Khan trying to remain one step ahead of Kirk and see that his nemesis is not just dead but also in living pain.

The glue that holds this movie together is Kirk’s relationships with his crew and Khan’s connection to Kirk. Kirk is the type of guy that fears the loss of his crew even to the point he admits later he feels he has cheated death once too many and possibly why he risks a quiet life at the start of the movie. Getting old is not just a big factor here but even settling down as we find one of the Genesis scientists had a relationship with him and birthed a son. This raises a lot at stake but it somehow doesn’t feel developed. You think he would be excited or overjoyed at the idea of having a kid but this notion is later addressed at the tail end than keep it as a driving force.

Perhaps that is a good move seeing how much we need to establish his loyalty to his crew. Even important is his friendship with Spock which I felt was far more developed and expanded on. He’s not just a right hand man but the reasoning he looks to in case of doubt. And its not long till an important moment in the climax that shows how important the Vulcan means to him. Even if many know about this due to the Internet, I’m still not going to spoil it. I will say its handled very well and you can feel the raw emotion from the two when Kirk knows what the unfortunate outcome will be.

The Enterprise crew back for another adventure

The Enterprise crew back for another adventure

Ricardo Montalban is also an important factor here with a sinister performance that makes you wish he was a superior Bond villain. He has his sights set on more than just Genesis but leaving his personal enemy in pain by doing damage to a semi-stable galaxy. When these two butt-heads on screen, you can feel the tension between the two as they try to outwit each other and see they meet a painful demise for better or worse. The only nitpick I do have is that they never have a big confrontation between each other and instead opt for a cat and mouse chase inside an electronic storm. The climax itself is hard to say if it needs a re-write but its good on its own. As the two spaceships move like submarines going after each other, we are on the edge of seats wondering who will strike first. You do wish there was a scene where Kirk and Khan fight fist to fist but the conclusion is fine as it is.

There are a few other nitpicks I do have but they don’t dim the enjoyment too much. Kirstie Alley makes her film debut as a Vulcan named Saavik and maybe its because I’m used to seeing her in comedies like Look Who’s Talking, but it feels weird seeing her in a Star Trek movie. The feeling is hard to describe as her acting is good but the notion of a comedian as an alien somehow felt off to me. Another thing too is the small subplot involving Kirk and his son which could have really been expanded on. There is this nice scene they share at the end when they come to accept who there are and its nicely build up but it feels like a lot more could have been done. After all, the heart of this movie is Kirk finding his place in his life and Khan trying to seek revenge so maybe setting his son’s story on the sidelines was a safe choice.

Kirk meets Midshipman Preston in the engine room in a cut scene restored for the Director's Edition. It's here we learn he is Scotty's nephew which plays  a big part later on

Kirk meets Midshipman Preston in the engine room in a cut scene restored for the Director’s Edition. It’s here we learn he is Scotty’s nephew which plays a big part later on

Those who are die hard fans of this movie might also want to search after the “Director’s Cut” which is also on DVD. Unlike most extended versions where drastic changes are made, this one is more subtle with only three minutes of added footage. The theatrical cut is fine on its own but there are some good highlights which make this worth checking out. A big highlight among the added scenes is a little more of Midshipman Preston. A minor character but revealed to be Scotty’s nephew in this version. It comes into play later when something happens to Preston’s character that adds more worry to Kirk’s relationship with his son. A family member so close that one can only fear what would happen if they were lost in battle. While again the changes are subtle and don’t drastically alter the pacing of the film, its still worth checking out if you can find a copy.

“Wrath of Khan” is already a perfect movie on its own no matter what version you watch. If there was a Star Trek movie to start with, I highly recommend starting off with this one. As a film on its own, there’s so much character and story at play to the point you wonder how it meshes perfectly. Its not loud or manic like George Lucas and his Star Wars saga but more quiet and often laid back. It doesn’t need big set pieces or fifth Star Cruisers battling each other. “Khan” is a very soft sequel that knows when to be bold and at some points even darker. I was surprised at the body count and even some of the harsher moments that feel tame by today’s standards. But perhaps that is the best thing about this movie. It knows what to deliver and what steps to bring its viewers a fresh entry no matter what journey it takes us to.

Rental Corner: “Boxtrolls” underwhelmingly unpleasent

Eggs and his adoptive family of Minions...I mean, Boxtrolls even if he is human

Eggs and his adoptive family of Minions…I mean, Boxtrolls even if he is human

I have this theory with Laika Studios. Every new movie that comes, the animation gets a huge improvement. But for every new movie, there comes a price in its quality. Coraline is the one that started its journey with memorable characters, amazing animation and a story with many twists, turns and wonders. With the bar so high, ParaNorman only half succeeded in my opinion. Sure the animation got better but with a visual atmosphere that looked unappealing and characters that were either interesting or too mean, it thankfully picked up in the second half to at least save its hide. “The Boxtrolls,” however, takes a back seat so high in the balcony that all we have left to marvel are the visuals and wish the story wasn’t so cliche, slow and brash.

Set in the Victorian era, a small town that has a fascination for cheese and rank social class by tall and colored hats has a problem with creatures known as boxtrolls. Apparently, an urban legend spreads that these monsters come out at night to eat people and took a baby for a late night snack. But as it turns out, these mischievous creatures only scavenge for loose parts for a city they build underground and that’s it. Instead of giving these cute monsters a distinctive personality they feel more like Minion and Gremlins clones voiced by Frank Welker.

But they are not alone as a small boy named Eggs (voiced by Isaac Hempstead-Wright) lives with the boxtrolls to the point he is one. In a Tarzan, Lord of the Apes manner, he guards them like a band of brothers or tries to when a batch of exterminators plan to rid the town of these cutesy creatures to the pleasure of the town. I’d want to say there’s something interesting about the Eggs character but there unfortunately wasn’t.  He just bored me throughout. A typical fish out of water that is raised by a different set of creatures. We never get to understand his role with these beings that much or even get an idea of his understanding between the world above with the humans and his world with the boxtrolls. There’s no support to show what he wants in this story. He only exists as a plot element for a predicable twist later on.

Ben Kingsley smugs it up as a fun villian with ... some... kind of a motive...

Ben Kingsley smugs it up as a fun villian with … some… kind of a motive…

The only thing that is sort of entertaining in this movie is the villain, Archibald Snatcher. Ben Kingsley voices this twisted brute as he plans to capture every boxtroll in the town just to gain higher authority by means of a white tall hat and access to eating all the cheese he wants. The only thing I found at least amusing is the personality. This is the kind of villain I can laugh at for his slick and over the top movements and Ben is a good fit. But the biggest flaw is his motive. All he wants to get higher respect and even then, he has a huge allergy to cheese that makes him look so distorted and gruesome that in comparison The Elephant Man looks like a Saturday date. They also give him this dual cross dressing role but it doesn’t pay off in the end. It just leads to some one note jokes about a man in female’s clothing that I did get a chuckle out of but that’s really all it serves.

The main plot, that is if you can call it one, has Eggs trying to save his underground family from the hideous exterminator and his befundled henchmen (voiced by Richard Ayoade, Nick Frost and a surprisingly unrecognizable Tracy Morgan) who keep questioning if they are good or bad to the point we ourselves wonder what kind of movie it wants to be. Most of the time, it tries to be sweet and innocent like the underground dwellers but there isn’t much of a motive for them. They exist to be cute and act Minion-like as they babble nonsense and hit one another for slapstick. The next minute, it tries to be this dark kid’s film with its grimy sets and ugly character designs but nothing really comes together. One minute, the citizens keep talking about how boxtrolls have piles of bones and rivers of blood (even a whole song dedicated to it) while the next minute some of the adult characters feel like cut-outs from an episode of The Simpsons.

I appreciate the effort....at least....

I appreciate the effort….at least….

I guess the morale of “The Boxtrolls” is “be what you want to be,” but it gets lost under so much complex storytelling and predicable cliches that really drag the film down. With Coraline, it was a simple story that kept getting bigger and bigger without the need for any complex character work. ParaNorman did have some harsh beats but made up for it at the second half with its message of don’t judge a book by its cover. If there was a stronger story and better character motives while being light on the gross and macbe humor, maybe I wouldn’t feel so harsh on The Boxtrolls but so much potential was lost. Here, there’s too many underdeveloped characters and underdeveloped motives that don’t pay off and its form of comedy is so bizarre and strange that it made me scratch my head wondering what this was all building to. Why is the town obsessed with cheese? Why the higher class ranking done by hats? If this was building to a certain point at the end, I fail to see what it was building to in the first place in its weird and unpleasant sense of comedy. The only thing that barley redeems it is the animation and the mechanics behind it but in an animated tale, visuals accompany the story. And here, a weak story can’t be saved. By the time it kept going on and on even throughout the credits when they show how the animation is done in a one-note joke, I just wish it would end or at least have a stronger conclusion. This is probably the first stop-motion film I’ve seen since Corpse Bride where I asked myself just what went wrong behind all those crafted sets and mounds of tiny figures to make me feel so irked and disappointed.

Rental Corner: “St. Vincent” is Bill Murray at his best

Melissa McCarthy tries to give a rundown to her new neighbor played by Bill Murray in St. Vincent

Melissa McCarthy tries to give a rundown to her new neighbor played by Bill Murray in St. Vincent

Once in a while, you come across a movie that doesn’t need to be gripping or complex in order to get your attention. No fancy special effects or bloated budget. This is where “St. Vincent” comes in. On paper, there is some predictability at play. We are talking about the grouch who has a heart of gold but his view on life changes after someone of innocent nature makes him think other wise. Tell me, we have head this one before right? Well, in one way its more of an adult version of Pixar’s Up. Minus the balloons and fantasy elements. In fact, this whole movie is very much like that with almost the same morals but at least done in a more mature manner. And for me, that is what makes this movie so unique.

Bill Murray plays elderly grouch Vincent MacKenna who is up to his ears in debt, drinks a lot and still has a continuous tab going on with a prostitute he keeps seeing. In many ways, I should despise this character off the bat for how much he is wasting his life. But as the story goes along, we see there is this tragic side of him that really makes him human. He’s doing these things because of his self grief and a sick wife with Alzheimer’s disease that pushes him to the edge. Its a tragic character to the point you really want to sit down and comfort the poor guy. Bill is known for performing jerks and people with flaws but this one I think is his best to date since Steve Zissou or Bob Wiley from What About Bob.

Melissa McCarthy also plays his new next door neighbor as she has struggles of her own. Dealing with a struggle over custody with her son (Jaeden Lieberher), she seeks reluctant help in Vincent in watching over her kid while she has work and legal battles withe her ex husband. I’m normal in seeing Melissa doing comedic roles but she does a good job here too. She’s the kind of mother that is no nonsense and wants the best for her kid but the fear of loosing him gets in the way to ensure she is a good mother.

The conflict of that comes when Vincent has to watch over her son and you can already guess what happens. Next minute, they are betting on horses, drinking at bars and even learning how to fight bullies at school. But in a strange way, there’s almost this lesson to it. Like how to defend yourself and dealing with who you are. There’s only so many times you can try to convey how much a great guy you are that there’s really flaws in the surface. Watching “St. Vincent,” reminded me of a relationship between a grandson and a grandfather with the old trying to show the world in their view. I can be a sucker for those kinds of films as long as it done right. And in the end, a lot of it pays off as the kid learns there can be good people despite having a crummy life.

The only flaw I can think of it is that the story does predicable at times. There are elements here and there they toss in like Vincent having a bookie he owes and visits to his wife that sort of foreshadow this on coming event. Chances are if you can predict these outcomes a mile away, you know what will happen. In another sense, you don’t know this movie until you’ve seen it. Part of making a movie is not taking the same cliches and duplicating but taking them and doing something new. That’s this film.

“St. Vincent” shines the most in its characters and the way they play off each other. Its like a movie made on that one bitter neighbor across from you that yells at you to keep off his lawn. Picture that but a whole movie about it. There are times when it knows when to be really funny and times when it can be really heartbreaking. For all that’s worth, I really wish this was number one on my list of films from 2014. That is Wes Anderson didn’t wow me with an amazing hotel and James Gunn bring me to one of the best summer blockbusters I’ve seen in a long time. Give this a good watch and see for yourself what makes this grump so irresistibly entertaining.

Rental Corner: “Gone Girl” is gripping, intense and on the edge

So much to say...but can't be spoiled

So much to say…but can’t be spoiled

“Gone Girl” is a difficult movie to discuss without spoiling the second half which is where a lot of really shines. Based on the novel by Gillian Flynn, it almost seemed impossible to adapt but with the right director and cast, the translation from book to screen is nearly flawless. Just when you think you know where its going, another door opens and you start to realize this is not the direction you thought it would go into.

The basic plot involves Ben Affleck playing Nick Dunne, a man who is going through tough times with his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) to the point their marriage feels unjust and false. But all that changes on their 5th anniversary when Amy is missing with a kidnap at play. No sooner, Nick is unsure how to take this news as the whole town and eventually the nation starts to grow suspicious of him. If that wasn’t enough, he has to deal with the multitude of clues left behind for an anniversary scavenger hunt that just might hold the answer to her disappearance.

And chances are if I continued any further, it would ruin a lot of good surprises. A lot of what makes “Gone Girl” unique is the second act and to the end. Your in a constant struggle wondering what kind of people Amy and Nick are that when the answers start to fall into place, we get the idea and start to fear for the both of them. Nick is especially an interesting character as he doesn’t know how to take the news. On one hand, his wife is missing and considering how miserable their lives were, he should feel happy in a sense. On the other hand, he gets pinned easily as a possible suspect in the disappearance and might have murdered her. With so much at stake, you just wonder if he really did or is there a sense of innocence.

Again, I can’t say for sure or else it would spoil a lot of good twists and turns. And that’s what makes Gone Girl great to watch from beginning to end. You want to see where this all leads. You want to see if your right or wrong. Not too long ago, I saw 50 Shades of Grey in theaters and I kept wondering what this would be like if someone like David Fincher directed it and exploited the tragic and abusive side of relationships to make it a stronger film. In fact, ironic seeing he directed this movie and does a great job.

David Fincher often looks at themes of broken relationships, isolation and sometimes gender roles. A lot of that is present here even considering one character’s actions feel almost diabolical in a sense. Without giving too much away, this character really makes you feel they could be the next Shakespeare villain just based on their actions alone. There’s also Nick’s personal want for being alone and when he gets this, its not the way he expected it. Now, everyone is after him when all he wishes is his peace and to be understood. He’s not a perfect husband but he tries.

To me, this is our generation’s “Psycho.” Its well acted, well shot and very on the end of your seat. Again, a lot of this movie depends on your attitude towards the second act. It can either come as a big shock or just more of an interesting twist. Another factor relies on if you read the actual novel or not. If you did, I say it follows the story fairly close with some minor changes here and there. If you haven’t read it, then prepare yourself for on hell of a roller coaster. By the time its done, you wish it wouldn’t end. And that is the essence of good film making.

“50 Shades of” unintentional comedy

Curious? I certainly was

Curious? I certainly was

The only curious thing about “50 Shades of Grey” is the controversy that has been drummed up. In some reports, its getting censored in foreign territories for its “unnatural” and “sadistic” content. People are trying to make boycotts and protests in regards to the Christian Grey character and how unethical he acts towards woman. Some find the BDSM and sex scenes shocking and too provocative for the big screen. Well, after being warned by my own peers not to see this movie, I only went in to give my own opinion for the better or worse. And honestly, I’m surprised. But while I don’t consider it the worst movie of the year, its certainly not the best.

Based on the erotic novel by E. L. James, Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is a college graduate who conducts an interview with the popular tycoon Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). Doing this to fill in for her best friend who comes down with the flu, Anastasia starts to feel a strange cling towards millionaire as after their first encounter finds Grey constantly following her everywhere she goes. At her job in a hardware store, in a local bar and even at one point her own home. To be fair, the first half with these scenes came across as feeling unintentionally funny to me. After sitting through tons of soap operas as a kid and deal with romance films as a young adult, I actually found myself snickering at the dialogue and the way this relationship is played off. Dare I say it, its Twilight minus the supernatural element but for adults. Strange as many have claimed the novel started as a fan fic for adults but I digress.

What I find really humorous to me is the chemistry between Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson. It feels almost forced during their first scene when they meet and keep hinting at the things that will happen later on like when Grey goes to her shop to buy rope and cable ties or how googly eyed yet cautious Anastasia feels about him till the big reveal. Its the traditional romance fluff one would come to expect with the love at first sight cliche and so forth. There’s even a scene when a shirtless Grey seduces her by taking a bite of her toast while in bed. I don’t know how but that just made me laugh a lot. This is the guy who is constantly watching her and doing all these things for her from getting new laptops and cars. And while he refuses to act like a couple around her, he can’t help it sometimes.

Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson share an intimate moment while unaware of the sequels that lie ahead....

Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson share an intimate moment while unaware of the sequels that lie ahead….

However, there is a catch to all this as Grey wants to use her a playmate for his pleasure. And as much as I want to go into detail, here is the short story and main problem I have with this movie. He wants to not only use her for pleasure but also abuse as he hides a twisted dark side he can’t keep hiding and lets it out through sadomasochism. In fact, he’s done this so many times, it practically feels standard to the point he uses a contract to see she is conformable with his terms. I’m not kidding. There’s this whole scene when they have a business meeting over the disagreements in regards to his planned actions.

What really bugs me is not the story but more of how they are treating the themes of an abusive relationship like romantic fluff. Instead of getting gritty and dark, it feels surprisingly tame. There are moments when I felt it was restraining itself to be this studio polished film and even the sex scenes have this watered down tone like its filmed for a perfume commercial. This could have been so easily done in a manner similar to something like Blue Velvet or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo where it goes into the dangers of giving into dark desires or a twisted relationship. Even mind boggling is how they keep addressing terms to the viewers like “dominant” and “submissive” in a ways that feels more like an awkward sex education class. In fact, when it comes to the sex itself, it feels like a kid’s idea as opposed to a really adult story. The character of Grey feels childish to the point he’s using lease agreements and clinging to Anastasia like a mom and a child. It could have been more interesting if Grey was this complex character with a dark back story or maybe an anti-hero like Alex from A Clockwork Orange. Instead, he comes off as generic as a romantic lead from any chick flick you’ve seen.

The only shot from the "Red Room" that could be used for this blog post...there's really nothing spectacular about it...except the fox tail rump plugs. Seriously, those existed?

The only shot from the “Red Room” that could be used for this blog post…there’s really nothing spectacular about it…except the fox tail rump plugs. Seriously, those existed?

And as for those hungry for something sensual, you will be disappointed to hear that there isn’t much to the sex scenes. We get four of them and each one tries to raise the bar but fails because it feels too safe and tame compared to something like Eyes Wide Shut where it really pushed the envelope for sex in cinema. So what if there is a room full of whips, floggs and animal tail butt plugs (yes…you heard me right). You can add all that in but at least make it interesting. Every “steamy scene” feels way too tame and safe for a movie that is trying to take itself seriously. I wouldn’t mind it so much it at least one or two scenes would either up the ante or don’t hold back.

It may sound like I’m really coming down on this film but like I said, I wasn’t really that offended or really amazed. I was more in the middle. While I didn’t think it was that bad, it certainly wasn’t that good. Once in a while, there is a nice scene between our two leads wither it be flying in glides or dancing to Frank Sinatra but when its trying to be edgy and griping with its “adult themes,” it comes off as childish to me. Somewhere in here is a good movie. Maybe if the “hard scenes” were played out “harder” and didn’t hold back so much while bringing down on the fluff, there could be something gripping here. But I can’t complain when a movie has a decent cinematography and contains some value of popcorn entertainment ranging from lines of unintentional hilarity to even blips of overacting that come out of nowhere like Grey randomly using the f-word to punch his lines up for no reason.

If you want advice from this filmbuff, give it a rental if your really that curious or in the mood for something like The Devil Wears Parada but more crossed with a PG-13 rated tour of a sex shop. I can’t say its offensive seeing this was based from an erotica and the material is fitting with the execution of a fairy tale that tries to be adult. And for everyone out there trying to protest and say this is objective, I have something to say. You have movies like Birth of a Nation, The Last Temptation of Christ, Fatal Attraction and Do The Right Thing that really know their content and end up shaking the world. This is not one of those movies. Instead, its really shaking the shrubbery outside your home.

Rental Corner: “Million Ways To” be unfunny “In the West”

Just when you thought Family Guy couldn't get more audience insulting....

Just when you thought Family Guy couldn’t get more audience insulting….

Death is not funny. Or at least that’s what “A Million Ways to Die in the West” is trying to counter argue. Let me start by saying that I love dark humor and not a prude that thinks all comedy should be slapstick and pies. I’m welcome to all kinds of comedy be it stupid or sophisticated. But the bottom line is that it has be funny or at least chuckle worthy. I’d go into a history lecture on how comedy must have weight and support to give it a solid punchline but I feel this unfunny, mean-spirited and bloated Seth MacFarlane romp is a fitting example of how not to do a comedy. I went into this movie thinking it wasn’t going to be that bad, however I found myself feeling it was worse than I originally thought it would turn out to be.

Seth not only writes and directs but also stars as the protagonist Albert Stark who lives in a dust hole of a western town that is plagued with cowboy cut-outs, sleazy prostitutes and people dying at the drop of a hat. He’s also a cowardly sheep farmer that has no control over his rampant flock as much as his courage when it comes to a pistol duel. On top of that, his girlfriend thinks he’s such a wimp to the point she runs off with Foy (a twisted mustached Neil Patrick Harris.) To win back her heart, he challenges Foy to a duel and with the help of another gunslinger named Anna (Charlize Theron) Albert trains as good as he can to see he can crack a good shot.

It sounds fine at first until you start to add on the other subplots and story lines that could have been so easily trimmed out but make “Million Ways” unnecessarily bloated. Giovanni Ribisi plays a friend of Albert’s that has a prostitute for a girlfriend (Sarah Silverman) which amounts to nothing but a running joke about how he is a virgin and yet his girl is serving hard customers with her own body. Even unneeded is Liam Neeson as an infamous outlaw that feels more like an extended cameo than as opposed to an actual villain. Apparently, he is Anna’s husband and when he finds out she’s been around Albert, he doesn’t hold back and plans to tear the town to shreds until the sheep header challenges him. In fact, if you cut all of Liam’s scenes you wouldn’t be missing much. When it reaches the 90 minute mark, you think its over but no! They have to add on this pointless plot which didn’t have much of a progression.

The biggest problem I feel with this movie is the character of Albert. He’s annoying and not that interesting. In fact, if you just animated Brain the dog from Family Guy, there wouldn’t be much of a difference between the two characters as they share similar traits. They are losers trying to make out of a dull environment while point out constantly to their friends what is bad about the place they are living in. When Seth was on screen, I didn’t see another character. I kept seeing Brian Griffin. At least Ted worked because Seth’s performance was a voice and the technical work of bring a foul-mouthed teddy bear to live meshed well. Here, he can’t carry the torch of being a leading man and it shows. Once in a while, there can be a nice scene between him and Charlize Theron, but its very fluffed in my opinion. I can see someone like Steve Buscemi or Chris Pine doing the role of a weaselly wimp better but having Seth be the straight man just feels self-absorbed to me.

But hey, maybe the jokes can clear that up? After all, humor is a driving force in comedy as plot is cared little of. That would be the case if there were some actual jokes here. The entire theme of “Million Ways” is that living in the west sucks and that’s all it amounts to. I understand that but the way its delivering these jokes make it unfunny. Characters keep explaining the punchline instead of letting us laugh while they keep repeating previous gags on a repetitive nature. One example is the joke where a man gets his head crushed by a block of ice. The gory execution along makes it horrible but then we cut to the man’s funeral where the reverend mentions how they will fondly have icy drinks in his memory. To which Albert says, “I can’t believe they are using the ice that killed him.” We get the punchline. You don’t have to go out and explain the joke to us. We are not little children. This makes Dumb and Dumber To look sophisticated because at least the Farrelly Brothers knew when to limit themselves.  Even a tasteless shooting gallery joke at the fair with cartoon images of African Americans as the targets cement the desperation here. And as more bodies drop at the tip of a hat, so does our sense of humor. Bystanders fall dead, a corpse gets eaten by wolves and patrons get shot at so frequently that it becomes borderline unbarring to sit through.

I only remember three good jokes that I legitimately laughed at and those three I’m taking with me. One is a joke about currency in the West as a one dollar bill was different back then and two flashback scenes that had a decent payoff. One of them involving a Gilbert Gottfried cameo where he plays Abraham Lincoln that I admit got a good laugh out of me. Compared to the surreal idea of Gilbert being a log cabin President, other cameos like Christopher Lloyd reprising his Doc Brown feel really forced and pointless. I remember Brad Jones and a friend of his talking about this movie in a vlog and mentioning how it would have been funnier if the events of Back to the Future Part III unfolded in this movie. Heck, there’s even a scene when Seth’s character gets away on a train from the bad guys. Wouldn’t it be funnier if it cut to an image of the DeLorean in front of the train right after Liam says “That train will be back” seeing we know what happened to the train at the end of BTTF 3? And that’s just an idea of how much potential is lost here.

My only argument is that Seth is trying to do what Blazing Saddles did for Westerns.  But at least Mel Brooks avoided repetition of saying “living in the west sucks” by giving us a commentary on racism and having characters with a dimension that feel like they were taken out of a western. In a way, “Million Ways” tries to be something akin but tries to do a modern spin which feels out of place. Blazing Saddles was funnier in comparison because it took the period piece setting and really satirized how problematic it was compared to our modern life. Seth’s film is just one joke that is said again and again to the point you would rather dip your head in a bucket of piranhas or spontaneously burst into flames. Because at least that is far more interesting than this dull gulch desert of a picture.

“Matrix Trilogy” innovative yet underwhelming

Ummm...this was said to be a great sci fi movie right?

Ummm…this was said to be a great sci fi movie right?

Chances are “The Matrix” is one of those franchise that feels to be this generation’s Star Wars with its “original story” and “unique commentary” about the saturation of technology. Its gotten so popular that it spawned two sequels and has remained a crown jewel in science fiction. As a teenager, I never really saw The Matrix or even thought of it as anything of interest. I do recall seeing bits and pieces  on a television airing and thinking little of it. Now that I’m older and trying to catch up with the times, I can finally say how lackluster this truly was. Perhaps that came out as harsh. The correct term is underwhelming.

The whole idea is that we are living in a dystopian future where humans are being used as an energy source for machines. Instead of just using us at batteries, they create a dream-like reality for us to thrive in so we don’t notice. However, a group of rebellions lead by a cryptic man named Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) try to survive the octopus-like mechanical beings called the sentinels.  There only hope is a computer hacker named Tom Anderson (Keanu Reeves) who goes by the name “Neo” and sure enough wakes up to see the world around him and show how much can change.

And that’s very much the whole move in a nutshell. One minute we’re given a philosophical talk and the next a big action scene takes place. For a movie set in a post-apocalyptic, its very unoriginal. Machines against man is a concept that has been done to death more than once ranging from episodes of The Twilight Zone to The Terminator movies. In fact, we are not presented enough space to soak in the atmosphere. Most of the time, everything is set on this ship scouting through the pipes and we only see glimpses of this desolate wasteland but not enough to soak it in. We get shots of the sentinels “harvesting” crops of human life in these pods but it feels like forced shock value. These are good concepts but there isn’t enough for us to understand this ragged and trashy future.

Ok, what about our cast? Surprisingly, I found everyone to be way too monotone. With a place full of danger, you think they would be aware of their surroundings but instead speak in a way that makes me wonder if they took too much valium. And nowhere near is that more present than Reeves who acts cold and doesn’t show much interest in this vast world he is waking up to. Even Hugo Weaving as an Agent that is part of the Matrix program seems uninteresting as he barley shows any emotion. All he does is act menacing in a deadpan way that almost feels comical. They try to force in some development about him wanting to escape the Matrix but it just comes off as tagged on even when it already near the end.

The only reason I feel this movie was a hit is in part of the action scenes and its look. This was the film everyone was talking about with its “bullet time” action that more perfected compared to previous films that attempted it. And with a bizarre green tint that plagues the scene,  it looks flat and too lifeless. I get what the Wachowskis are trying to do by making an alternate reality look cold and mechanical but it just comes off as stale looking with too many greens and blacks. And in terms of the action, there’s really not much that stands out in my mind. All I remember is a helicopter bouncing off a building and again, the bullet time scenes. There is not really much to talk about here.

In fact, why was this labeled as one of the greatest science fiction films ever made? Sure it has some ideas but they are not fully fleshed out. I just feel these were elements done better before. Still, I guess if it wasn’t for this entry, there wouldn’t be this big demand for dark and gritty anime stylized movies and shows. But I felt cheated and disappointed in the long run as I expected this grand epic and instead it just felt dull and boring. With too much philosophy at play, The Matrix think its trying to be innovative and different when really its just a bore to sit through. I remember attempting to sit down and watch it finding myself midway feeling really tired of the exposition and over the top stunts. I’m sure viewers thinking differently of my words and I don’t blame them.

Still too monotone but getting better...

Still too monotone but getting better…

The sequels, however, are a different story. “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions” appear to be the ones that fans really say is where everything goes downhill. Leaving much to be desired and much left unanswered while a lot is giving an unbalanced edge that doesn’t match the preachy tone of the first film and its dream vs. reality along with its “chosen one” storyline. And I’m going to be dead honest, I went in thinking I was going to hate these two films. I was disappointed with the first film so there was no way my interest would carry through these two. But much to my surprise I found these two entries were in fact ok. Just ok.

“The Matrix Reloaded” is the one fans seem to be dead split on. And I agree, it does go all over the place at times but I feel it expands on the world of Zion and The Matrix a little better. With a great invasion on the rise, Neo has to find a way to save its people but find some problems on the rise. Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) is back and has the ability to clone himself multiple times while his gang tries to find the truth behind this strange reality and who exactly created it. I’m going to start off by saying there is a lot of philosophical talk that takes up a lot of running time. From candy to choices to even one about the pleasures of cake. They really go wordy with this one and it feels about overkill as the first film.

The only reason I feel its a tad improvement is really the eye candy. The action scenes in the first film felt too standard where else here, the stakes are raised through the roof. We get Neo fighting off tons of Agent Smith clones thanks to advanced CGI technology (which at times can look a bit video gamey) and most memorable a chase sequence on a highway causing much havoc and for me nearly saves the film. Its a shame seeing when they try to have characters talk, it feels like filler that could have been cut or worded different to be more interesting. There’s this whole scene where Neo has to get some information from this girl and in order to do it, he has to kiss her like his lover and it feels like a good 10 minutes. Again, some of elements they talk about is really baffling. As said, there’s this scene where they meet a restaurant patron in the Matrix who goes on at one point about the pleasures of eating a slice of cake. But the viewer today can see it as more of flatulence joke considering the way its executed. Its hard to explain the scene in words but apparently, he symbolizes the will of choice to a person eating cake and then it cuts to a CGI animation show its results. The way its done looks more like passing gas than it does a sense of pleasure which is just mind boggling for a movie that wants to be taken seriously.

So close to being a mastepiece and yet so far to say it was a good one...

So close to being a mastepiece and yet so far to say it was a good one…

And then we have “The Matrix Revolutions.” Many where disappointed but after seeing what this franchise was, I can’t say I was too surprised. I went in with low expectations expecting to hate it. There are some elements here and there which make it at least worth a once watch but I can’t say its a good movie much all the rest of them. It continues off where Morpheus and crew are trying to prevent a massive invasion of the sentinels breaking into their base but there’s some troubles ahead. Neo is stuck in a weird part of the Matrix that could be an allegory for limbo, Agent Smith infects someone who is able to escape the Matrix and make some trouble and speaking of which, tons of Angent Smiths slowly start to take over the Matrix.

There is clearly too much going on with the focus all over the map and not well constructed. Even worse is how little attention is paid to Neo throughout this movie. There’s this build up in “Reloaded” to him being a greater asset but its only explored in the final 30 minutes of the movie. In fact, stranger is the set up of this movie as we get much talk and little action while the final hour is set on the huge battle between man and machine. In a way, it makes me wonder how it would have been if both movies were re-edited together seeing “Reloaded” concludes on a cliffhanger. Which brings me to another problem. Both movies are not stand-alone films. Unlike sagas like Star Wars or Back to the Future where each entry feels like a stand-alone in some way, The Matrix sequels are too woven together like a mini-series. No wonder as they were released the same year.

In order to understand “Revolutions,” you had to have seen “Reloaded.” Even then, most of the things they were building up for this “explosive finale” doesn’t give you everything. The question of how Neo uses “some” of his power outside the Matrix is left unanswered as much a strange twist where they try to make the machines the misunderstood good guys but its very tagged on. Again, not much can be said on the action. In all three movies, I can’t think of a time when a certain actor stood out to me like they were really selling this franchise. Its like the others. Cold, dull and monotone to an uninteresting drag.

Again, entertainment value is made up for in that last hour. There’s this big battle that feels strange seeing man are using machines to fight against machines but its not too bad. The bigger highlight for me is the final fight between Neo and Agent Smith. That is what won me more. This is what these movies should have done. Combining poetic imagery with martial arts as the two duke it during a thunderstorm of binary code. At least there is “some” artistic license while doing something visually impressive. But is it enough to save the franchise? No.

Like I said, The Matrix films really tried to be groundbreaking and new were in hindsight, they really aren’t. When it tries to be wise and talk about like a Christopher Nolan character study, that is where it bugs me. Its feels like its trying to be smart and clever when its not. Its making its own themes more obvious as if it was asking to be analyzed on the spot. The only thing that holds up for me is the action scenes, at least in the sequels. Its obvious this was meant to be seen on a big screen or in an IMAX theater and perhaps that is where its more deserving. But at the end of the day, when you need engaging characters, a universe that is unique to look at and a story that is at least good, this is not what I think of in looking for those qualities. There’s a fanbase for this and I won’t act like they don’t exist but to for me, this is one franchise I can personally do without. I’m glad I saw it just to get an opinion but if I wanted stylized atmosphere and over the top mayhem, I’ll just watch anime.