Review: No Love for Hateful Eight

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Okay, it’s not strictly true to say we have no love for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, but while there are some things we like about this over-cooked mess of a movie, there is plenty we don’t like. It’s lovingly produced, carefully crafted, and it takes some provocative pokes at the hornets’ nests of race and gender, but ultimately, I have to ask–to what end?

Ike2 It’s definitely a movie that raises some questions. Like, why is it being billed as “the eighth film by  Quentin Tarantino”?

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Yeah. By my count, he’s directed nine.

Ike2 Maybe they’re not counting Death Proof. That’s definitely one I’d like to forget.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Well, that was originally just one-half of Grindhouse, so maybe they figure it doesn’t count as a whole film, kind of like “The Man from Hollywood” segment he directed for Four Rooms.

Ike2 Or maybe they’re counting Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 as one film?

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Or maybe it’s just a marketing ploy, and nobody really cares what the exact count is. The double-barreled 8’s do give the whole thing a nice, symmetrical ring. It’s also a nice play on The Magnificent Seven, which is obviously a major inspiration.

Ike2 It’s not really a western, though. It’s more like a cross between The Magnificent Seven and Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians. It’s a locked-room mystery dressed up like a western.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Which raises another question–why did Tarantino shoot what is basically a stage play in super-wide screen 70 mm?

Ike2 It looks great, though.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration It does. I’m not saying it doesn’t work; it’s just weird that he would do that. The movie starts out with the kind of epic vistas you’d expect from 70 mm, as Kurt Russell’s stage coach rumbles through the snowy landscape, but then the stage stops to pick up Samuel Jackson, and it’s basically just a scene in a play.

Ike2 A long scene. With a lot of talking.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration And then the stage moves along until it stops for another guy, and we have another long scene.

Ike2 With a lot of talking.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration And then it’s on to Minnie’s Haberdashery, the roadside lodge where the rest of the movie takes place.

Ike2 And we have a lot more talking.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration But then we have a lot of shooting.

Ike2 A LOT of shooting. And don’t forget the vomiting. Spoiler alert! There’s a lot of vomiting.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Which made me wish we could go back to the talking.

Ike2 Okay, so there’s a lot of talking. It’s a Tarantino movie. What did you expect?

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration I guess. Tarantino writes some great dialogue, but it gets pretty schticky sometimes. Why do his characters always have to be so pleased with how clever they think they are?

Ike2 Well, sometimes they are clever.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Yeah, sometimes. But sometimes I feel like it’s all an elaborate joke. Like, can’t Tarantino even try for period authenticity in his dialogue? When Samuel L. Jackson asks Kurt Russell if he’s “being paranoid” that takes me right out of the scene. That’s not even a good line in a contemporary story, much less one supposedly set in the 1800s.

Ike2 But isn’t Tarantino all about the artificiality of cinema? Doesn’t he always call attention to storytelling conventions? Instead of pretending to verisimilitude–or even to create an alternative reality that exists only within the frame of the screen–isn’t Tarantino more about creating films that are in dialogue with the film canon and the creative process itself?

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration What is this, an audition for Canines du Cinema?

Ike2 Sorry, I–I don’t know what came over me.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration You make a good point, actually. But for me, Tarantino’s best films are the ones that tell a good story, like Jackie Brown, Reservoir Dogs, even Inglourious Basterds. I enjoyed the first half of The Hateful Eight, but I can’t see myself ever sitting through the second half again.

Ike2 It really did build a nice sense of mystery and suspense, especially when they get to Minnie’s and the snow storm keeps them all locked up in that one room.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Yeah, and there’s great tension between the characters. You don’t quite know whose story to believe, or even who to like. Kurt Russell is totally believable as the abrasive, but oddly lovable, bounty hunter John Ruth.

Ike2 Kurt Russell is always totally believable. I even believed it when he was Snake Plissken.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration And Samuel L. Jackson is at his Samuel L. Jacksoniest as Major Marquis Warren, bounty hunter and Civil War hero–or war criminal, depending on one’s point of view.

Ike2 I liked the way Jackson’s checkered past is doled out bit by bit, so you never know for sure just how you feel about him. Although, in comparison to the bad guys, I guess there’s never any doubt whose side we’re supposed to be on.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration It was good to see Bruce Dern again. As a bad guy. Again. And Tim Roth, as the foppish hangman, was a perfect stand-in for Christoph Waltz–who I assume was busy shooting Spectre. The acting is uniformly excellent.

Ike2 I’m glad to see Jennifer Jason Leigh finally get an Oscar nod, but I wish it was for a better role.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Yeah, she has fun as the scabrous Daisy Domergue, but frankly, I didn’t think the role gave her that much to do. She mostly just gets beat up and slimed. Which brings me to my chief gripe about the movie: If I want to see a second-rate movie horror movie, I’ll go see a second-rate horror movie, okay? I don’t need one breaking out in the middle of a western.

Ike2 Yeah, I didn’t really get the point of all the blood. And it’s so silly. The way people’s heads were exploding, it was like one of those videos where the guys are shooting watermelons with machine guns.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration I’m at a point in my life where there are certain images I just don’t need to see. I don’t need to see exploding heads, and I don’t need to see Kurt Russell vomiting blood into the face of Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Ike2 I didn’t even get why Daisy was supposed to be so bad anyway, except she was kind of gross. Although to be fair, not many women can pull off the dripping-brains-and-blood look.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration That was another thing that bothered me about the movie. It’s like, the one thing that can unite the bitterest of enemies–male enemies–is the mutual hatred toward an unappealing woman. In a movie without a single truly virtuous character, why, exactly, was she supposedly the worst of the worst? I don’t get it.

Ike2 Like I said, the movie leaves you with a lot of questions. Usually, that’s a good thing.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Usually. But the main question shouldn’t be: “What the heck was the filmmaker thinking?”

Our Review:

Bloody

Yucky

Some fun, but ultimately pointless

Two tail-wags out of five

 

 

 

Review – The Force Awakens: Glad You’re Up, Now Get Some Coffee

Ben1 For the three people who haven’t seen new Star Wars yet, this review contains spoilers.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Almost as big as the hype surrounding Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the controversy generated by three notorious reviews of the movie.

Ike2 Well, you know what they say: “Mustafar hath no fury like a nerd scorned.”

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Indeed. First, there was Seth Abramson’s 40 Unforgivable Plot Holes in ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ in The Huffington Post–which unfortunately, contains a couple of unforgivable errors; then there was Matty Granger’s rebuttal, AT LONG LAST…MY “STAR WARS: EPISODE VII” REVIEW. THE FORCE AWAKENS & THE RISE OF IDIOT JOURNALISM, which–as the all-caps title indicates–is more of a profanity-laced rant than a reasoned counter argument…

Ike2 But you gotta love how he tells us in the title how long we’ve all been anticipating his review.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Yeah…although, to be fair, if he had one person anticipating his review, that is probably one more than how many have been anticipating ours.

Ike2 Good point.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Anyway, if that weren’t enough, now we have the Vatican’s own Emilio Ranzato calling Papal bull, labeling the movie a “tacky reboot” that is–as they say in Rome–Confuso e Sfocato.

Ben1 Editor’s Note: For those of you who don’t read Italian, you might prefer Stephen Colbert’s summary:

Ike2 That Vatican guy is tough. He gave J.J. Abrams a real Catholic nun-style rap on the knuckles.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration I thought he was off base about the use of real locations, as opposed to CGI backdrops. He called them “anonymous,” but there was nothing anonymous about Luke Skywalker’s hideout, shot on Skellig Michael, off the coast of Ireland:

Ike2 That picture makes me dizzy, but it looks EXACTLY how I imagined Luke’s hideout. I liked the forest sequences, too. Seeing the characters stomping around on real leaves and grass is a nice change from all the spaceship and desert stuff.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Signore Ranzato made a good point about the villains, though. Kylo Ren might be an interesting character, in that he is conflicted and all–and Supreme Leader Snoke may be supremely mysterious–but compared to Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine, they’re pretty lame.

Ike2 Not to mention Captain Phasma. She looks cool, but underneath the glitzy armor, she’s just another incompetent Storm Trooper.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Yeah, “incompetent” is the word. I get it that Kylo Ren is unstable and full of self-doubt, but how big of a doofus does he have to be to suffer a butt-kicking at the hands of two lightsaber newbies like Finn and Rey?

Ike2 In the original trilogy, Luke and the gang were real underdogs. You KNEW they could never beat the Empire in a toe-to-toe fight, and the fun was in seeing how they could come out on top, mostly by being brave and unpredictable. In the end, it was Darth that did in the Emperor, and that was a twist you didn’t necessarily see coming.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Right. But in The Force Awakens, the defeat of the First Order (whatever that is) seems inevitable.

Ike2 You know why don’t you? Instead of “The Force Awakens,” they should have called this episode: Death Star Revisited Redux: Third Time’s the Charm, Amiright?

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Yeah, that well needs to be capped and never visited again. Part of the charm of Force is the deja vu it elicits from all the references to the original trilogy, but that’s also part of the problem. I almost dropped my popcorn when I realized the plan of attack on the Death Planet, or whatever they called it, was EXACTLY THE SAME as the plan the two previous times!

Ike2 “Hey, guys, this thing’s impenetrable! Well, except there is this one spot, that if you hit it a couple of times, the whole thing will blow up.”

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration They tried to throw in a couple of minute variations to change things up, but only the most literal-minded of fanboys could possibly argue it wasn’t the same-old same-old.

Ike2 I could have done without some of the wink-wink moments.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration I could have done without the whole father-turning-against the son thing, too.

Ike2 Yeah, how many more times can that happen?

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration So Kylo Ren goes from son of Leia and Han and pupil of Luke Skywalker–the three best people in the universe–to the Order’s Evil Sith Lord #1? That’s a heck of a back story. I’d like to see that movie, but instead it’s just like, “Hey, guess what? This happened.”

Ike2 At least we get the movie’s one legitimate shock out of it.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Yeah, but even that was predictable, and the set-up was so thin the emotional impact has more to do with the audience’s investment in the franchise than in the relationship between the characters–of which there was basically none.

Ike2 Kylo was pretty cool, though–up to a point. I have to say, the moment when he pulls off his mask to reveal the horror that is…Adam Driver! That was the greatest comic reveal since Jerry Lewis went from Nutty Professor to Buddy Love.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration A laugh-out-loud moment for sure–and that’s not a knock against Adam Driver, who is actually pretty scary even without the mask. In fact, all of the actors are good, although I would have liked to have seen more of Leia.

Ike2 Yeah, maybe there wouldn’t have been so much attention on how Carrie Fisher has aged if they had given her character something interesting to do.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration And did anybody notice that, while Carrie Fisher is indeed older, Harrison Ford is actually old? He’s one of the best things about the movie, but his inner geezer comes out a couple of times in those action sequences. That’s an angle they could have played up, but instead they just gloss over it.

Ike2 But overall, I’d say they did a good job of passing the baton on to the younger generation. I’m glad Oscar Isaac’s character survived, because he has that devil-may-care, Han Solo thing the series needs.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration I tell ya, that Oscar Isaac kid is going places. He was fantastic in Inside Llewyn Davis, and in terms of his screen presence, he stands head and shoulders above the rest of the new crop of young Star Wars cast members–all of whom, by the way, I thought were terrific.

Ike2 Cast-wise, the series is on solid ground.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Agreed. Director and producer-wise, too, although I’d say there were a number of missteps. Nothing fatal, though. I actually think Episode VIII may be even better.

Ike2 Okay, so the Abramson guy liked the movie but thought it had a ridiculous amount of plot holes; Granger, I guess, thinks everything about the movie is super-peachy; and Ranzato thinks it’s a flop. So where do you come down? I liked it.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Me, too, although I’m most in agreement with Abramson. As I watched the movie, I was thinking many of the same things he brings out in his review. There were a lot of “Hey, wait a minute” moments. But he blew it on a couple of points. Like the rathtar thing. He questions how they got loose, but it’s very clear Rey released them when she pulled the wrong thingamabob.

Ike2 He got a little nit-picky, too. If he’d cut it to twenty-five plot holes he would have been rock solid.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Twenty-five plot holes ought to be enough for any movie, but I understand he’s got a new article with twenty more plot holes. Oh well. Let’s face it, the Star Wars movies are fluff, and fluff is easy to pick apart, if that’s what you want to do.

Ike2 I’m glad we never do that!

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Anyway, on a scale of one to seven, I put it at #4–behind the original trilogy, but ahead of the three prequels.

Ike2 Really? You put it behind Return of the Jedi?

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration I do. Jedi gets a bad rap because of the Ewoks, but there was a lot of great stuff in that episode. I didn’t see anything in Force that measured up to the speeder bike chase in Jedi, or the fight on board Jabba’s ship, for that matter.

Ike2 Maybe, but J.J. Abrams and company got a lot of things right in my book.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration I agree, including the most important thing of all. They made Star Wars fun again.

Our Rating:

Four tail-wags out of five.

 

 

 

The Martian: Mission Mostly Accomplished

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration The movie of my fourteen-year-old dreams has finally made it to the multiplexes. Unfortunately, I’m not fourteen any more.

Ike2 My doggy sense tells me there are quibbles coming.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Well, you have to admit that the fact the air is so thin on Mars it could barely rustle a leaf, much less sweep Matt Damon off his feet, is a pretty big deal–considering the whole movie is based on that happening!

Ike2 I believe the filmmakers said they thought real windy winds would be more dramatic than the gentle breezy winds all the scientist nit-pickers keep talking about.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Sure, it’s more dramatic, if dramatic just means more special effects. Like, hey, Steven Spielberg, wouldn’t Saving Private Ryan be more dramatic if Tom Hanks and his men swooped down in jet packs and grabbed Matt Damon out of the jaws of a dragon instead of all this boring walking around and shooting rifles at Nazis?

Ike2 I’m pretty sure that’s not the same thing, but you bring up an interesting point. Like, first it’s Saving Private Ryan, then Interstellar, and now The Martian? Just how many times do we have to rescue Matt Damon?

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Yeah, one more and we’ll have another Bourne franchise.

Ike2 See Matt Damon in Up a Tree!

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration See Matt Damon in Down a Well!

Ike2 See Matt Damon in Project Greenlight: Saving Matt from Himself!

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Now, that was totally uncalled for. Bad dog!

Ike2 Right, like most people will even get that joke.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Matt will.

Ike2 Well, when Matt Damon is bothering to pass the time reading this blog, he’ll have more to worry about than our hurtful little jokes.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Wow, somebody got up on the wrong side of his little doggy bed this morning, didn’t he?

Ike2 Moving on. What else ya got?

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Let’s just say the “Iron Man Scenario” would not work as depicted.

Ike2 Duly noted.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration I see what you did there. But anyway, it’s not the scientific quibbles so much that left me underwhelmed. Actually, the science was super-cool, well worked out, and for my money the best part of the movie. It was fun to try to guess ahead what they were going to do. I’m not a scientist, but I like to pretend I am, so I was pretty pleased that I was able to figure out some of the strategies before they were revealed.

Ike2 So what’s the problem, then? The movie had good science, great special effects, an intriguing story, a fine cast, and plenty of drama and humor. What more could you ask for?

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Actually, I could have done with a little less humor. Didn’t you feel it was a bit strained in spots?

Ike2 Well, I could have done without the disco music. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if I was watching The Martian or having flashbacks to Guardians of the Galaxy.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration That’s what I mean. I felt the tone was off, pretty much from start to finish. It didn’t have to be grim, but let’s face it, it was a grim situation. The movie didn’t necessarily have to take itself as seriously as, say, Apollo 13, or Silent Running, but they kept the mood so jokey and light that I never felt like there was really anything at stake.

Ike2 It did have kind of a gee-whiz, kids, let’s go to Mars! kind of quality to it, but I thought that was part of the charm.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Actually, I agree, I just think they went too far in that direction. Matt Damon is perfectly cast as the nerdy-cool scientist, but his monologues tended to sound too much like performances for an audience, as if he is so sure everything is going to turn out all right that he’s never really worried.

Ike2 But isn’t one of the good things about the movie that it makes NASA cool again? After it was over, I was like, Yeah! Shoot me up there! Let’s go to Mars!

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Absolutely. For me, it really captures the sense of adventure and good-old American can-do spirit that I felt as a kid watching all the space launches, from John Glen all the way to Neil Armstrong.

Ike2 John Glenn? Dude, how old are you anyway?

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration Never mind. Despite my quibbles, I thought the movie was great fun and, ultimately, had a great message of personal perseverance and international cooperation.

Our Review:

Sciency, quibbly, but mostly realistic.

Humorous to a fault.

Inspiring and uplifting without being schmaltzy.

Solid entertainment.

Four tail-wags out of five.

 

Review: Mad Max: Feel the Furious…Disappointment

MadMAX

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationSo. Mad Max: Fury Road…

Ike2More like, Mad Max: Dejected Road of Admittedly Unrealistic but Still Crushed Expectations.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationMad Max: I Could Have Been Perfectly Happy Without This.

Ike2Mad Max: Bet You Never Thought You’d Miss Mel Gibson.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationNow that one hurts. I really hate to say this, because I love Tom Hardy, but here goes: Tom Hardy, you’re no Mel Gibson.

Ike2And not just in the good way.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationI always thought the ‘Mad’ in Mad Max implied anger as much as craziness, but in MMFR it seems to mean literal psychosis. This guy is so broken he’s hallucinating, and he’s laconic to point of ‘Feral Child’ muteness.

Ike2Hardy’s great in the action sequences, though. Lots of good shooting, punching, and flying through the air.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationYeah, but the whole way through I thought what Max really wanted to do was curl up in a fetal ball.

Ike2Not exactly what you’re looking for in a hero. But it’s not all Tom Hardy’s fault. He spends the first third of the movie chained up and gagged, gaping with big, baby-blue eyes at people being mean to him.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationTrue, it’s Charlize Theron’s movie. Her Imperator Furiosa is the emotional and moral core, on a mission to save five young women from the fate of being ‘breeders’ for the repulsive Immortan Joe. Max has played the reluctant facilitator to good before, but here he is such a second-fiddle wind-up toy he comes dangerously close to playing third fiddle to Nicholous Hoult’s Nux. Not only is the conflicted war-boy compelling to watch, but Nux has an actual character arc.

Ike2And isn’t sensitive character portrayals what we really want in a Mad Max movie?

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationPoint taken. Is it plot summary time?

Ike2Please, seeing Mad Max for the plot is like going to a rodeo for the animal husbandry.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationThey do blow up things good.

Ike2They blow up things real good.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationBut did they have to blow up so much? And so often? Couldn’t there have been more than five minutes without something disintegrating into a ball of fire?

Ike2You exaggerate, sir. There was that scene when they were camped under the stars. And that scene when they were just driving. And that other scene when they were just driving.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationYeah, but Max has one of his psycho nightmares during one driving scene, so it hardly counts.

Ike2But it wasn’t an EXPLODING psycho nightmare!

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationHonestly, it’s not that there is too much gonzo, tire-shredding, car-smashing, body-tossing action–it’s that there is TOO MUCH CGI. There, I said it.

Ike2But everybody knows that Director George Miller’s use of CGI is minimal, mostly to hide the stunt rigging and enhance the Namibian landscape!*

Ben1*Editor’s note: According to IMDb, Rolling Stone, Wired, and others.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationI hate to break it to you, pal, but that one-mile high, fifty-miles wide, sand-and-lightning storm that sweeps up dozens of vehicles into the air, turning them into pinwheeling fireballs, did a little more than ‘enhance the Namibian landscape.’ And I get it that there were hundreds of practical effects with real trucks and motorcycles, but when the bodies and debris are floating through the air and bouncing off the rocks with flaming balletic perfection, that ain’t real. Do you know how much CGI was in Road Warrior?

Ike2Two?

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationNone! Wait–what do you mean, ‘two’?

Ike2But it isn’t just the CGI that’s too much, right? Like, cool, Immortan Joe’s army has a rolling back-up band led by a heavy metal guitarist with a mountain of amps, but did the guitar have to shoot flames? Did the guitarist have to be an eyeless gargoyle? Over-the-top is what we expected, but did they have to go over-the-over-the-top? Squared?

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationRight, and here’s Exhibit A:

ImmortanJoe

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationThat’s the great Hugh Keays-Byrne as Immortan Joe. Every time I saw his face, all I could think was Insane Clown Posse. The make-up is memorable, I guess, and he looks boo-scary and all, but anybody who has seen the original Mad Max knows that Hugh Keays-Byrne needs no vampire clown make-up to terrify you. Basically, Immortan Joe is just an amped-up Humungus from Road Warrior, which is a waste of acting talent.

Ike2Is it weird that one of my favorite things was the explody color bombs?

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationThe signal flares! Me too! You know why? Because I’ve never seen them before, and they were REAL. You could see that they were actual things in the actual air of the Namibian desert. Like the old motorcycle ladies’ weather-beaten faces. Some of the best effects in the picture.

Ike2But we got our money’s worth, I guess.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationBoy, did we. As over-produced, over-stuffed, computer-enhanced live-action cartoons go, MMFR delivers the goods, and then some. Nobody’s going to leave the theater feeling shortchanged.

Ike2Or wanting more.

Our Review:

Too little ‘Mad’

Just the right Charlize

Too much everything else

Very explody

Three tail wags out of five

 

 

Review: ‘Captain Phillips’ a Brilliantly Executed Thriller

 

 

CaptainPhillips

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationAfter 2010’s disappointing Green Zone, director Paul Greengrass is back in top form with the relentlessly suspenseful and moving Captain Phillips.

Ike2Green Zone? More like Political Agenda Zone, am I right?

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationCaptain Phillips is more in the mold of his riveting United 93, with Greengrass again employing his Bourne Identity suspense-meister skills in the service of a serious you-are-there retelling of recent historical events.

Ike2Plot summary, please.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationCaptain Phillips tells the story of the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the container ship Maersk Alabama, based on the book A Captain’s Duty, by Richard Phillips. Unlike the months-long ordeals of maddening back-and-forth negotiations that characterize many of these incidents–

Ike2As depicted in the brilliant 2012 Danish film A Hijacking

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationIndeed. The pirates in this case had no serious hope of receiving any ransom, and it was only five days before Navy Seals literally swooped in and took down three of the four pirates, who were holding Phillips in a lifeboat. The fourth pirate, Abduwali Muse, was taken prisoner on the destroyer USS Bainbridge, under the ruse of meeting with his tribal elders, and is currently serving time in federal prison.

Ike2We saw this movie the same weekend we saw Gravity, and as intense as that film was, I thought Captain Phillips just blew it out of the water. So to speak.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationI agree. Some critics have dismissed the movie as following some sort of Paul Greengrass formula, as if his technique amounts to nothing more than pointing a shaky camera at conspicuously sweaty actors. I’m absolutely in awe of how the guy is able to take a complicated, emotionally supercharged story and drain it of every ounce of claptrap to get to the pure essence of the drama. For my money, Greengrass shows a lot of faith in the simple truth of the moment and doesn’t feel the need to lead his audience by the nose on every point he wants to drive home.

Ike2Which might be one reason why the film has come under so much criticism. Supposedly, it fudges the facts, it falsely paints Phillips as a hero, and it’s even racist.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationIn a word, baloney, on every point. It amazes me that some of the same people who fawned over the factually challenged Argo are now attacking a film that is clearly much more careful in its depiction of the truth. I read an article in Slate, for example, that points out that members of the crew are claiming Phillips is not only not a hero, but that he recklessly risked taking the ship through pirate waters when he didn’t have to. In fact, they have filed a lawsuit over it. Of course, this very dispute is portrayed in the film.

Ike2The Slate guy also doesn’t like it that there is no mention in the movie of the fact that the $30,000 in ransom went missing, or that the Navy Seals apparently fired quite a few shots after the three that first took the pirates down.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationThose are interesting details, but to me, investigating them is arguably more suitable for a Congressional investigation than a two-hour movie. Similarly, the quibble that the historical realities behind Somali piracy are not adequately dealt with is disingenuous, because they are expressly stated by the pirates, and the duress under which the pirates live and operate is vividly depicted when local warlords essentially order them to the boats under threat of death. I really don’t know what these critics want, except that they apparently want a different movie.

Ike2It seems like some of them don’t want the pirates to be Somalis either. Or pirates. I appreciated the fact that Greengrass got actual Somali actors–who are terrific, by the way–to play the roles. (Shout-outs to Barkhad Abdi, Faysal Ahmed, and Barkhad Abdirahman.) I actually felt for the pirates. The movie doesn’t dwell on their stories, but I thought their humanity came through.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationPersonally, I loved the interplay between Abdi, as the reluctant leader, Muse, and Abdirahman as the violence-prone Bilal. They both knew they were doomed and being lied to by the American negotiators, but Muse reacted by passively hoping for a miracle while Bilal reacted by lashing out. Then we had the naive, injured Najee, caught in the middle.

Ike2Which brings us to the one detail in the movie that was apparently completely made up–the bare-footed Najee being cut up by a broken-glass booby trap. For shame, Paul Greengrass!

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationI gotta say, though, I am so tired of seeing characters in movies shooting locks off of doors with their guns. I was so distracted by that it almost ruined the hijacking scene for me. These are AK-47s, people, not bolt cutters! Haven’t you heard of ricochets?

Ike2Do I detect a pet peeve?

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationMaybe. And while we’re peeving, what was up with that opening scene?

Ike2You mean, the most boring, pointless, driving-to-the-airport scene since the original Solaris?

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationYes! Did we really need Catherine Keener for that scene? Did Tom Hanks actually need a ride to the airport and Catherine Keener just happened to be on hand?

Ike2Sure, and the camera man hopped in the back seat and accidentally hit “record.” Of course, none of that explains how the scene made it into the movie.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationOne last point on the critics. Some have complained that the film unselfconciously roots for the Goliath of the U.S. Navy against the Somali Davids. But to me, the mismatch is there for anyone to see, and Greengrass just shows it. The pathetic hopelessness and naivete of the pirates underscores it. The fact that some members in the audience are too dense to get it–and yes, some people do actually cheer when the pirates are taken down–falls more under the category of their problem.

Ike2Still, it might not have hurt to add just a line of dialogue from one of the pirates–something like, “Your President is African like me, but he sends the whole U.S. Navy to destroy us.”

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationNot bad! A little on-the-nose.

Ike2Hey, some people need the hammer over the head to see the obvious. But let’s talk about Tom Hanks for a minute. He’s great all the way through, but his pre-post traumatic stress breakdown at the end will be the stuff of legend.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationMaybe my favorite moment of the film–possibly fictitious–but utterly True, with a capital T, as only art can do it. And it totally deflates anybody’s comfy notions about what a hero is. This guy is clearly no John Wayne.

Ike2And that’s a good thing. What this country needs, IMHP, is more Captain Phillips types, and fewer strutting bullies. Funny thing, though, when I saw the real Richard Phillips on 60 Minutes I kept thinking, “You know, Tom Hanks does a better accent.”

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationYeah, me too! Much crisper. More believable.

Ike2Weird, huh?

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationWeird.

Our Review: 

Trademark Greengrass execution

Flawlessly acted

Taut, tense, almost excruciating

Ignore the critical nitpicks

Don’t cheer!

Five tail wags out of five.

 

 

Review: “Prisoners” a Tense, Brooding Thriller

Prisoners

Ike2Yep, that poster captures it. Lots of moments with people giving each other long, creepy stares.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationBut unlike other movies with angst-filled, brooding characters (like, I don’t know, every Ryan Gosling movie you’ve ever seen), when the characters in this movie go silent you don’t get the feeling it’s just because they don’t have anything to say. In Prisoners, those silences instead seem always to represent thoughts too awful to express–thoughts that set the audience squirming in their seats trying not to imagine.

Ike2And I, for one, imagined plenty. I like that the movie pulls back from some of the worst things it could have shown, but it’s almost cruel sometimes the way it forces the audience to fill in the blanks. People in the audience were actually shouting at the end–but partly in appreciation, I thought.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationI agree. We know what happens, so we don’t have to see it–

Ike2But we want to see it–

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationBut by that time, we’re in on the movie’s game, so it’s cool. Is it time for the plot summary?

Ike2Past time, I think. Prisoners is the story of two couples–pitch-perfectly played by Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello, and Terrence Howard and Viola Davis–whose two angelic daughters are kidnapped on Thanksgiving day. Jake Gyllenhaal plays the detective assigned to a case that he seems driven to solve as much out of ego as duty or compassion. Paul Dano plays uber-creepy Suspect No. One, and Melissa Leo is his tea-sipping adoptive mother. I don’t think I can say much more about the plot without giving things away.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationSuffice it to say, the story is full of twists and turns, but a key element is that Hugh Jackman’s character, a recovering alcoholic and gun-happy survivalist, is not satisfied with the way Gyllenhaal is handling the case and decides to take matters into his own hands. He starts out as a sympathetic character, but as his actions become more extreme, he progresses almost beyond sympathy.

Ike2But his victim isn’t exactly a sympathetic type either. In fact, no one in the movie is a one-hundred percent sympathetic character, except for the kids. Even Maria Bello’s character, who is the only adult who is uncompromised, strains our compassion by basically taking a week-long nap during the family’s time of need.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationYeah, I kept wanting her to wake up and grab a shotgun–like she does in Carjacked!

Ike2Plug! (Mike and Sherry wrote the script.)

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationIt’s a tough role in a movie with so many other showy parts. Jackman and Dano steal the show, but Howard is heart-breaking as the tortured father who wants to do the right thing, and Viola Davis is great as the wife with the backbone of steel. Then there’s Melissa Leo. I can’t say much about her character, but she’s great, as always.

Ike2And let’s not forget David Dastmalchian, whose innocuous dialogue with Jake Gyllenhaal is one of the most chilling exchanges of the film. Dang it, I want to say more about his character, but I can’t!

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationYeah, movie-goers might think for a while that Prisoners is all about character development and reflections on difficult moral questions, but about midway through you realize it’s also very much a twisty, and somewhat contrived, mystery. The more things tie together, the more implausible some of the elements become.

Ike2On that point of implausibility, I just want to say one thing. If I open a box, and I find that it is full of what look like deadly snakes, the first thing I am going to do is–CLOSE THAT BOX!

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationPoint taken. There are a few quibbles one could make here and there–like the SUPER OBVIOUS CLUE that the detective overlooks for way too long. But this is a movie that is both serious and–well, I can’t say entertaining.

Ike2More like excruciating. But in a good way! And although everything does tie together a bit neatly, it works, because nothing is overly explained. The audience still has to do a lot of the work to make sense of it.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationA moving and thought-provoking film.

Our Review:

Brooding, tense drama.

Great performances all around.

Darker moments handled with restraint.

Twisty mystery.

Four-and-a-half tail wags out of five.

 

 

 

Review: ‘Closed Circuit’ Shorts Its Own Seriousness

ClosedCircuit

 

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationIf you’re looking for some cool entertainment on a hot summer’s day, you could do worse than Closed Circuit.

Ike2As long as Grown Ups 2 is still out there, that’s pretty much a given, isn’t it?

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationTrue, but let’s assume the target audience for Closed Circuit is actual grown-ups looking for grown-up entertainment.

Ike2Right, meaning the lack of poop jokes would not be considered a mark against it.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationThat’s one way to put it. So let’s say instead that, like me, a movie-goer has seen the ads that say, “From the producers of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” and thinks, “Okay, Closed Circuit will be worth seeing if it’s only half that good.”

Ike2Well, then I’d say, “Mission accomplished.”

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationYeah. Not that it’s a bad movie; it’s just not on that level. Like Tinker, Tailor, it wants to be an anti-Bond sort of spy movie–meaning no unkillable hero, no scenery-chomping villains, no physics-defying derring-do, and of course, no “Bond girls.”

Ike2Check, check, check, and double-check. But the movie isn’t boring. And it’s got a good premise–two lawyers appointed by the British Crown to defend the lone, surviving suspect in a terrorist bombing discover a cover-up involving military intelligence.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationAnd it’s clear from the details we get about the inner workings of the legal system involving cases with national security implications that director Steven Knight and writer John Crowley want us to take the story seriously as a critique of government overreach. Unfortunately, the story is hampered by some cliche plot elements.

Ike2The big one being the relationship between the two ex-lover defense lawyers, played by Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall.  How many times have we seen that set-up?

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationAnd I can’t believe they seriously did the three-way-we’re-not-talking-to-each-other bit. You know: “Will you please inform Mr. Smith that I said he can jump in the lake?” “Will you please tell Ms. Jones that I said ‘ladies first’?”

Ike2Yeah, the technicality that they were legally barred from communicating wasn’t quite enough to make you forget you were watching an old I Love Lucy routine. Just like the fact that we find out they were chosen for the case partly because of their past relationship didn’t make the “romantic tension” any less a distraction from the real story.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationAnd maybe I’m naive, but I just can’t take seriously any movie that assumes the government just willy-nilly offs any person who is in a position to reveal the inconvenient facts of some conspiracy.

Ike2Really? Haven’t you heard of Woodward and Berstein and Johnson and Grimes and Berkowitz and Kelley?

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationWell, I’ve heard of Woodward and Bernstein.

Ike2Exactly.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationOkay, here’s where I point out that Jim Broadbent and Ciaran Hinds are great in supporting roles. I’d see it again just for them.

Ike2The recurring surveillance motif was okay.

SherryIcon2Did you boys notice anything about the surveillance of the two lawyers? How we kept seeing scenes of the woman being watched in a voyeuristic way, but we never saw similar scenes of the man being watched?

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationYou mean like a ‘male gaze’ kind of perspective?

SherryIcon2The whole thing was out of balance. We even had a scene, which seemed to serve no real purpose, of the woman in the shower.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationHuh.

Ike2Now that you mention it…

SherryIcon2The whole romance angle in thrillers makes me tired.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationBut it’s not like they spent half the movie in a clench. It was mostly back-story.

SherryIcon2So why bother? It’s like the surveillance thing–tired and pointless. And of course, the damsel in distress had to be saved by Eric Bana in the end.

Ike2Spoiler alert!

SherryIcon2Not really. I saw it coming a mile away.

Our Review:

Good premise, unimaginatively handled

Strong supporting performances

Intelligent entertainment, undermined by cliche

Two-and-a-half tail-wags out of five

Review: Elysium a Cure for Summer Movie Blues

MV5BNDc2NjU0MTcwNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjg4MDg2OQ@@._V1_SX214_

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationMan, I love science fiction movies that take science fiction seriously.

Ike2Do you, nerd-boy?

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationYes, I do, and I freely admit it. Anybody up for watching Primer again tonight?

Ike2Oh, God…

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationFor those not in the know,  Elysium marks the much-anticipated return of Neill Blomkamp, the South African geek hero who directed the truly awesome District 9. Plot summary, please.

Ike2Elysium is set in a seen-better-days Los Angeles at a time when the one percent have absconded with their platinum-plated health care services to a geo-synchronous satellite paradise, leaving the unwashed ninety-nine percent to live out their nasty, brutish, and short lives in HMO Hell.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart Illustration‘Geo-synchronous,’ I like it.

Ike2Matt Damon plays a former car thief trying to go straight who gets radiated at the robot manufacturing plant. Did I mention that HMO Hell is policed by an army of robots who have no appreciation for dry humor?

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationA detail that causes Matt Damon some difficulty.

Ike2Anyway, unless he can get to Elysium to take advantage of medical technology so sophisticated it can even cure a bomb-induced face-ectomy, he’s going to be dead in five days.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationThrow in a former girl friend with a dying child, an Elysium coups d’état, and a couple of scenery-chomping villains, and you’ve got yourself a movie.

Ike2A movie that is actually tighter and more exciting than District 9, although not as original.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationOne big difference between the two is in the central characters. Matt Damon does a fine job as Max, a likable but pretty standard action-movie underdog hero. But compare that character to Sharlto Copley’s dippy, drippy, and terminally hapless character in District 9.

Ike2Who is named Wikus Van De Merwe, by the way. For all the sci-fi action candy in District 9, my favorite thing in it is Wikus.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationYeah, we definitely had never seen anything like that before. So Elysium is populated with basic, familiar types, although the performances themselves are, shall we say, interesting.

Ike2Wagner Moura, as Spider, was so manic I thought he was going to break the movie.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationYeah, but it was the villains that were the real problem. First, in the William Fitchner role, I thought William Fitchner was totally wasted. I love him as an actor, but in this one he may as well have been a cardboard cut-out.

Ike2I give him credit, though. A cardboard cut-out could never have delivered that dialogue without laughing.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationSharlto Copley, as the scenery-chomping, maniacal mercenary, at least seemed to be having a good time with his role.

Ike2Which brings us to Jodi Foster, an actress we have great respect for.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationAn actress who has brought us many hours of film-going pleasure.

Ike2An actress sporting an accent in this movie that could only exist in space.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationWasn’t it weird that she was so natural and believable when she was speaking French and German, but when she switched to English she turned into a female Snidely Whiplash?

Ike2To be fair, she was hampered by HILARIOUSLY evil one-liners. And the lack of a mustache to twirl.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationShe was not well served by the writer or director. I found the role similar to the one she played to great effect in Spike Lee’s Inside Job. But that was a more nuanced, subtly written character.

Ike2So for various reasons the characters are uneven–but who goes to see a sci-fi extravaganza for the characters?

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationThe real show here is in the imagination and depth of detail of the world Blomkamp has created. The squalid, robot-policed slum of Los Angeles, with Elysium floating in the sky like a mystic moon, is as fully realized as the depictions of similar environments in such films as City of God, Tsotsi, or Trainspotting.

Ike2And the effects are–if I may borrow one of your words–impeccable. The aircraft are real, the robots are real, Elysium is real–and the weapons and violence are way too real.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationBlomkamp has an interesting approach to violence. It’s very graphic, but it’s not in-your-face graphic–

Ike2Except for when the guy’s face got blown off.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationOkay, but most of it is very off-hand, in a way. Very sudden and rarely center frame. It’s not played for fun, like with Tarantino, or for supposedly higher artistic aspirations, like with Scorsese. It tends to be so fast and so spectacular you sometimes question whether you saw what you thought you saw.

Ike2But let’s be honest–it’s still violence for entertainment. That’s a topic for another day, I guess.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationDefinitely a worthy topic for discussion. But I want to end where we started, with science. I implied earlier that Elysium takes science fiction seriously, and it does up to a point. The gee-whizziness of its technology does overwhelm scientific realities at times.

Ike2You kind of just have to go with the cure-booths.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationThey are kind of silly–but no magical medical cures, no movie. I’m thinking of the exoskeleton Spider surgically implants onto Matt Damon. It’s cool and all, but it occurred to me that it would be like having a hundred inter-locking hydraulic presses strapped to your back and along your various appendages.

Ike2So?

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationSo when Matt Damon rips the door off a car or something, it’s the hydraulic presses that are actually grabbing the metal and ripping it away. But what is between those metal presses and that metal door? Matt Damon’s squishy little fingers. I’m thinking the exoskeleton would have killed him before the bad guys got the chance.

Ike2Sounds like a job for Mythbusters.

Our Review:

Blomkamp scores again

Fully realized sci-fi world

Spectacular, realistic effects

Fast-paced, violent action

Over-the-top villains and uneven characterization

Gee-whizzy

Four tail-wags out of five

Review: ‘Wolverine’ Makes Hugh Jackman an Indestructible Star

Wolverine

 

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationFor the sixth time and counting, Hugh Jackman plays Marvel mutant superhero The Wolverine.

Ike2What the heck is a wolverine, anyway?

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationLike Lugosi and Dracula, or Karloff and Frankenstein, Hugh Jackman personifies The Wolverine, a.k.a. Logan. It’s hard to imagine any other actor playing the role, yet with high-profile appearances in pictures like The Prestige and Les Miserables, Jackman has somehow managed to avoid the typecasting trap many before him have fallen into.

Ike2Here’s a picture of a wolverine, if anybody is interested: Portrait of Wolverine Captive Summer Canada

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationHmm. Between the claws and the frowny-face, I definitely see a resemblance.

Ike2Plot summary, please.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationWell, The Wolverine is your basic boy-has-immortality, boy loses immortality, boy gets immortality-back scenario.

Ike2That’s the best you can do? I thought it actually had a pretty good story.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationIt does. which makes you wonder how it came out so muddled. A mega-wealthy Japanese industrialist offers Wolverine the “gift” of mortality in a ploy to steal his powers of regeneration so that he himself may live forever. The whole thing of Wolverine becoming vulnerable and facing real, life-threatening danger should have made for a more compelling film, but it’s weighed down with too many characters and confused motivations.

Ike2Like, what was the deal with the Ninja Guy? Whose side was he on? And all those ninjas dancing around and turning flips–they looked like extras from Beverly Hills Ninja.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationThe ninjas were oddly comical. And just to give an idea of what a head-scratcher this movie could be, we are specifically told at one point that Evil Dad (these characters do have actual names, but who cares?) is just  “all right” as a swordsman. So when he gets in a fight with our super-powered hero, we expect him to go down pretty quick, right? Wrong. It soon becomes obvious the only way the regenerating Wolverine is going to beat this guy is if he wears out his sword slicing up Logan’s mutant hide.

Ike2Which made it all the more gracious of Wolvey to allow Evil Dad the “punishment” of living with himself.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationAnd may I please ask, if the bad guys want Logan’s powers, why go through all the rigamarole of making him vulnerable and risking him getting killed, and then taking his powers, when they could have just taken the powers right off and let it go at that?

Ike2But then we would have missed the amazing three-hundred-mile-an-hour bullet train fight!

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationYeah, that was pretty great. Totally unbelievable, but imaginative and entertaining.

Ike2I liked that the movie is set in Japan. That added some real flavor.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationThe tie-in to Nagasaki was nice, too–especially since they didn’t just drop it after the first reel.

Ike2Pardon me, Cecil B. DeMille, did you say, “The first reel?”

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationThey still use that term.

Ike2Do they? Well, it’s an epic motion picture with colossal special effects and a swell supporting cast. The box office should be boffo.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationI’ll ignore that and go with your mention of the supporting cast. Rila Fukushima, as Logan’s red-haired, pint-sized bodyguard, swings a mean sword.

Ike2I thought she should have kicked a little more butt, though.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationYeah, and Tao Okamoto was effectively poignant as the corporate heir caught in the middle. She showed she could hold her own in a fight, too, although some aspects of her role troubled me.

Ike2The love-interest bit? Didn’t you think she and Logan were actually kind of good together?

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationThey were, except for two things: Hugh Jackman is old enough to be her father, and Logan is old enough to be her grandfather.

Ike2And he was supposed to be protecting her. Nice ethics, dude!

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationWe should also mention Svetlana Khodchenkova as Viper. Every second she was on the screen, she owned it.

Ike2I never could figure out what her character was up to, exactly, but Viper was awesome. Also, she demonstrated once again the super-hero movie principle of “Pulverize the villain one time–no problem. Pulverize the villain later at a more plot-convenient time–instant death.”

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationWell, now you’re just being nit-picky.

Our Review:

Wolverine franchise keeps regenerating

Fresh setting, new faces add interest

Good story hook, muddled execution

Some fine action sequences

Dancing ninjas

Three tail-wags out of five

Review: ‘Fruitvale Station’ Is Powerful, Sadly Familiar

fruitvale

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationI’ll come right out and say that I not only recommend people go see this film; I really want people to go see it. We were fortunate enough to hear writer/director Ryan Coogler speak a few weeks ago at a Los Angeles Film Festival seminar, and I was deeply impressed.

Ike2I thought you were going to run up on stage and hug him.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationI’m man enough to admit I wanted to. He came across as so genuine, thoughtful, and sincere–

Ike2Not to mention adorably shy–

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationHe’s like the polite, hard-working neighbor’s kid parents secretly wish they could trade their own under-achieving kid for.

Ben1 [Editor’s Note: This is a metaphorical statement. Any resemblance to actual, under-achieving kids of actual parents is purely coincidental.]

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationAnd while it’s become a cliche, since the Zimmerman trial, for urban youth of all races to proclaim, ‘I am Trayvon,’ Ryan grew up not far from where the film’s subject, Oscar Grant, was shot. He knows the neighborhood and its people, and he knows the pain they felt over the incident, because he felt it too, not as an outside observer but as one of them. When he said at the seminar that this is a personal story for him, that he could have been Oscar, it was clear to me he was speaking from the heart.

Ike2Absolutely. But we don’t want people to get the wrong idea. Fruitvale Station isn’t just some heart-on-the-sleeve message movie; it’s way too honest for that.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationIt sure is. Not to harp too much on the 27-year-old filmmaker’s age, but the film has a maturity of execution and viewpoint that is all too rare in today’s movie houses. It’s stylish without being flashy; gritty without being degrading; and it somehow manages to be very warm towards its characters without sugar-coating their flaws.

Ike2For those unfamiliar with the story, Fruitvale Station stars a very engaging Michael B. Jordan as Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old African American who was fatally shot while in the custody of Oakland, CA, transit police early on New Years Day in 2009. The film also stars Octavia Spencer as his mother, and Melonie Diaz as his girlfriend and the mother of his young daughter.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationThe film opens with cell phone footage of the actual shooting, underscoring the sense of inevitability many audience members will likely bring into the theater. The bulk of what follows is a straightforward chronicle of Oscar Grant’s day, meticulously reconstructed from interviews Coogler conducted with family, friends, and eyewitnesses. One of the extraordinary things about this film is the community participation in its creation. Even BART, the Bay Area Rapid Transit authority, whose officers were ultimately held responsible for the shooting, cooperated with the filming.

Ike2The movie really serves as a portrait of Oscar Grant, and he’s so fully realized onscreen as someone that you could imagine as a neighbor, family member, or friend, that–even if somehow you don’t like him–you still have to feel sad and outraged at his senseless death.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationJordan does a great job bringing to life a young man who has a good heart and a winning personality, who wants to turn his life around, but whose immaturity and impatience for forgiveness from those he has hurt often thwart his best intentions.

Ike2I thought a key moment was when his girlfriend learns he lost his job without telling her, because he thought he could go back after a couple of weeks and talk the manager into rehiring him. Pointing out that people don’t rehire people they fire just because you ask, she says he thinks life is  joke.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationOne of the sad things about the film is that, although Oscar knows he has to straighten himself out, it’s clear he has no clue how to set his life on a sustainable course. That’s not so unusual for a twenty-two-year-old, but as the film shows, there is less room for error in life for those at the bottom of the social and economic ladder.

Ike2My favorite scene was the flashback to Oscar’s time in jail, when his mother visits him.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationThat was tremendous. When Oscar is taunted by a white inmate, the mother watches her loving baby boy transform so fully into a prison-hardened tough that he can’t even hear or see her sitting right in front of him. Even after he sits down and looks at her, Jordan is able to convey with his eyes that his mind is miles away, until it’s as if she suddenly appears out of nowhere and he’s happy to see her again.

Ike2Then it’s even more heart-breaking when the mother tells him she won’t be coming back, and he goes right back to being a little boy, begging for a hug as the guards drag him away.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationIt’s an Oscar-worthy moment for both Jordan and Octavia Spencer. Spencer beautifully conveys the helplessness the mother feels in protecting her child. Even her best advice–to take the BART on New Year’s Eve so Oscar won’t be driving and drinking, only leads to tragedy.

Ike2You hit on it when you mentioned inevitability a moment ago. As you watch the bad choices of Oscar’s life pile up, it’s hard not to see every move he makes as leading him straight to disaster.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationIt’s partly the way the film is constructed, and partly the sad familiarity of the thumbnail sketch of Oscar’s life–unwed father, dealing marijuana, time in jail, cheating on his girlfriend, losing his job. The fully fleshed-out characterization of Oscar takes him well beyond that stereotype, and it shows how the steps he was taking to turn things around were tragically cut short before he had a real chance to follow through on them.

Ike2This is not to imply that Oscar was in any way responsible for his own death.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationNo. In fact, when the showdown occurs, it is Oscar who is trying to calm everyone down. But that moment also shows the dilemma a black male in America too often faces–how one is to react, knowing the danger of talking back to police, yet burning with outrage at being singled out and abused. One thing the film made me think about was my own youthful encounters with the law and how protected I was from the direst consequences of what I said and did because of the color of my skin.

Ike2I’ll bet you were a real hard case.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationFar from it, and the cops knew it. But would they have seen so readily how non-threatening I was if I had been black?

Ike2This would be a great movie to screen in classrooms, because of the discussions it will generate.

Happy Red Haired Freckled Boy With Missing Front Teeth, Laughing Retro Clipart IllustrationBut with its artistry, humor, and emotional impact, anyone can appreciate Fruitvale Station as a piece of high-level entertainment.

Ike2Go see it.

Our Review:

Mature, honest filmmaking.

Sensitive, well acted portrayals.

Powerful, thought-provoking, and sad.

Five tail-wags out of five.

%d bloggers like this: