Blinded by the Light
His Dark Materials
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This movies goes into the "I was pleasantly surprised" category for those movies that are better-than-you-expected. The trailer was a yawner and the apparent premise initially screamed "overdone!" (Family is creeped out by a a bunch of weird, unexplainable things happening in their suburban home.) While this movie is not original in any way as a whole, there are surprisingly original and creepy scenes to entertain even the most jaded horror fan. While at first it feels like a "made-for-TV" movie, the performances start growing on you and as you finally get an idea of what is really going on, you're hooked. Compared to Director Scott Stewart's previous outings, "Legion" and "Priest," this is the best of the bunch, and frankly, the best of the most recent suburban, lamely titled fright-flicks like "Possession."
17 years ago "Independence Day" put Will Smith and Roland Emmerich on the map. Will Smith became the summer blockbuster hero while Emmerich became the guy who made popcorn flicks where he got to destroy stuff (most of Washington DC, national monuments, New York City, the world and more).
This summer both Smith and Emmerich had big movies ... "After Earth" and "White House Down." Both of these movies had really stupid titles but Roland delivered the goods while Will got sucked into the M Night Shamalayan's sinkhole (box office results notwithstanding).
White House Down is a blatant rip off of Die Hard, but it tweaks the premise just enough to make it different enough and wildly entertaining. Channing Tatum doesn't try to be Bruce Willis (even if he eventually gets in the same bloodied tank top) but combines his witty "21 Jump Street" humor with his "GI Joe" bad-ass-ness. The addition of Jamie Foxx as the "Obama" president and, no joke, side-kick to Tatum, adds for some great comedic moments.
Most of Emmerich's films are entertaining. Even Godzilla, his worst movie, is a mostly fun ride. But he seems to have matured to a point that all of his typical formulaic elements are made more cohesive. This formula typically goes: 1) character introduction, 2) action/destroy things, 3) quieter character development, 4) action and then an episodic cycle of 3 and 4 until the ultimate sappy happy-ending climax. The formula is there but it's better integrated and faster-moving. And he's found a way to reduce the sappiness.
It helps to have the talents of Jamie Foxx, Channing Tatum, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Six Feet Under's Richard Jenkins who all put in great performances.
If you wanted "24" to be a movie, this is it. They definitely borrow 24's "the terrorist in the end is not the terrorist in the beginning" twists and turns.
You will be entertained.
"This is the End" is a laugh riot. Has Seth Rogen ever been in a bad movie? His lowest rated movie per RottenTomatoes is "The Watch" (16%), but I thought that was a pretty funny and entertaining movie. I think "The Green Hornet" is the limpest of the bunch. If you are offended by that adjective, you definitely should NOT watch this movie as there are more male body/sex/potty jokes than I've seen in any other movie in my lifetime (and I am old enough to remember Porky's).
At face value, it seems like it would be pretty hard to screw this movie up with Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Michael Cera and a dozen others playing themselves during the "Apocalypse." Even Rihanna and Harry Potter's Emma-freaking-Watson have extended cameos. There is one cameo that is so absurd and crazy that it would be a major spoiler to reveal it.
Speaking of spoiler alerts, you'd think that the cause of the Apocalypse wouldn't be revealed, but that hasn't been the case with one reviewer mentioning that it as a literal interpretation of the Bible's Book of Revelations. You're at least 45 minutes into the movie before they reveal what is really happening (unless you are, or were, raised Catholic. Then you get it pretty early on).
Yeah, it's also a riff on the egocentricity of Hollywood celebrities, but who really cares unless you are an avid reader of TMZ or Perez Hilton. The real brilliance is in the dialogue, a ton of which has to be ad-lib/improv. There are so many jokes in this movie told in the context of the story it would fill a TV comedy series for multiple seasons.
This is a two-hour comedy movie. Do they make any comedy movie that long? I just hope it has a "Lord of the Rings" style Extended Edition on DVD.
I had low expectations going into "Man of Steel" given the mediocre reviews (57% on RottenTomatoes) and Zack Snyder's track record that started to look a bit like M. Night Shyamalan's. After his break-out debut with the "Dawn of the Dead" re-make and followed by the eye-popping "300," he started to stumble with the mind-bending "The Watchmen," a cartoon movie about owls, and the disposable "Sucker Punch." But I was hopeful given the guiding hand of producer/screenwriter Christopher Nolan and screenwriter David S. Goyer.
Man of Steel was a pleasant surprise that was vigorous and entertaining.
Russell Crowe nearly resurrects his Gladiator greatness as Kal-El's/Clark's/Superman's reserved but badass father on Krypton. The deeper dive into the chapter of Krypton's demise is absolutely captivating with the addition of a ton of science fiction elements.
Instead of re-treading Superman's back-story on earth which has been covered abundantly already, the use of flashbacks between the adult and young Clark works really well. Henry Cavill as Superman does a decent job switching from brooding to giddy to serious, although when he's not in his suit his sculpted body looks totally unreal. Amy Adams as Lois Lane plays the part of a strong female lead well while putting the character, as always, in completely ridiculous situations requiring the classic save by Superman.
Michael Shannon from HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" is solid as the maniacal and ethnocentric General Zod.
Unfortunately, the movie falls into tedium and redundancy during the "smash-things" climax where Superman and Zod (and his minions) do 20-times more smashing and destruction than all of "The Hulk" movies combined. The Avengers smash-things climax was even longer (I think) but 20-times more entertaining because they smashed things in very different ways. There is a limit to how many times you can watch invincible beings get hurled through buildings.
Ultimately, even these flaws can't diminish a well-crafted reboot of the oldest super hero of all time. Zack Snyder may have just got his mojo back.
I guess we now know where the so-so-but-still-entertaining 2011 movie "Into the Darkness" got it's premise: Brad Anderson's obscure "Vanishing on 7th Street." Anderson's other endeavors "The Machinist" (Hey, Christine Bale can get really skinny!), Session 9 (yes, abandoned mental health institutions are very creepy!) and TransSiberian (don't trust the suave Spanish guy or the Russians!) are all pretty good. And the premise of this flick is also decent. BUT ... SPOILER ALERT, and, CAVEAT! If you haven't seen the movie, watch it before you read my review. And if you have never seen the classic "Ghost" or don't know what "The Rapture" is, you'll probably really enjoy this flick. If this applies to you, go here for a good review: http://www.fearnet.com/news/review/tiff-2010-review-vanishing-7th-street
The premise starts out promising. Nearly everybody disappears at one point leaving just their clothes behind. The "survivors" need to stay in the light which continues to dwindle as the movie progresses (batteries don't last that long, "daytime" gets shorter and shorter).
Then, it get's very derivative. The ominous shadows which constantly encroach the antagonists sometimes appear as human figures. Anderson clearly saw the classic movie "Ghost," and the "shadow-monsters" have the same look-and-feel and ominous groans as "Ghost's" shadow-monsters had as they dragged the bad guys to hell. Then Thandie Newton's character starts praying and the shadow monsters retreat. People disappear and leave their clothes behind and that doesn't ring a "religious" bell? If you don't remember "The Rapture," it was an evangelistic (and absurd) belief that God will whisk the virtuous to heaven wherever they may be while leaving the rest of the planet to rot in hell. Well, I guess most of the planet is virtuous given that the majority of people get "beamed up" leaving their clothes behind, and a handful of folks are left to fight off the shadow-monsters. And if you are still unconvinced, why was the only survivor a kid who curled up in a church and the only other person left was a little girl (the new "Adam and Eve" to populate the planet). And they road off into the sunset, I mean, "shadows," together.
I originally had low expectations for this movie (even as a huge fan of
the Walking Dead, I'm feeling "zombie-fatigued"). But the idea that
zombies are both fast and "swarm" (like ants crawling on top of each
other) to climb a huge wall is a unique twist that could make this
movie fun to watch (written May 2013).
And it ended up being a blast. It introduced an original story-line to
the zombie-apocalypse genre. First, an origin to why the zombie plague
started. Second, the potential for a cure? And lastly, Brad Pitt as the
best dad/survivalist ever. If I had to pick my team to battle the
zombie apocalypse, I'd want Brad on my team, no matter that he is 20
times more handsome than me. (written July 2013)
Afternote: If you saw the movie, don't read the book. In this rare
case, the book falls short of the movie. The book is told in
"documentary-style" based on memos etc. that recall the events "after"
World War Z. The movie tells it in real-time which is how it should be
The new Evil Dead movie could be a litmus test for true fans of the horror genre. As Entertainment Weekly's review stated so well: the new Evil Dead is "the bloodiest, goriest, slapstickiest horror movie since, well, The Evil Dead." Horror fans would grin or laugh gleefully at most of the goriest scenes because a) most are truly unique and different than what we've scene before, and b) we've seen EVERYTHING before. Anybody else would shut their eyes, grimace, flee the theater, or just wouldn't go. And it's not that horror fans are gore junkies. Blood, gore and violence are irrelevant and tedious if it's not weaved into a captivating story with decent acting, great directing, and creative plotting. And that's exactly what the new Evil Dead delivers. Most die-hard horror aficionados know the original Evil Dead by heart. To re-do the first and deliver a new and different version while staying within the bounds of the original is no easy task. But Fede Alvarez in his directorial debut knocks it out of the park. It strikes that fine balance between reverance to the original (with both overt and subtle references) and newness/uniqueness to keep us captivated and excited (and excitement is key as most of us are definitely looking for a cerebral adrenaline rush). Just modernizing a classic with a bigger budget takes no creativity and falls into the tedium and redundancy which most horror fan's hate. Gus Van Sant's Psycho re-make, where nearly every scene is "copied exactly," is a perfect example of this. One word: BORING. The last, great horror re-make was 2004's "Dawn of the Dead" which at the time was the best re-make since David Cronenberg's "The Fly" in 1986. That's why us horror fans are rejoicing to have a new movie to re-watch 10 times until the next good one.
Horror fans really should thank Gus Van Sant for his experimental "copy exactly" approach to re-making the horror classic Psycho. Just modernizing the original with a bigger budget takes no creativity and falls into the tedium and redundancy which most horror fan's hate. Gus Van Sant's Psycho remake, where nearly every scene is "copied exactly," is a perfect example of this. It was simply BORING.
Even for those that never saw this first, the pacing is just too slow for the high-octane generations of the 90's and beyond.
For a re-make to resonate with an audience that knows the original by heart, it has to deliver a new and different version while staying within the bounds of the original framework.
We should be thankful because no director will try this again. For the secret formula to successful horror re-makes, watch 2012's The Evil Dead, 2004's Dawn of the Dead or David Cronenberg's The Fly (1986).
This movie had such great potential. If it just followed the compelling short description of the movie, instead of making that short description nearly EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS IN THE MOVIE, it would be intriguing. This was the most tedious, redundant and gratuitous movie I've seen in a very long time. I expected the gratuitous ... it opened with an extended "Girls Gone Wild" sequence. But then it showed that sequence again, and again and again, then again, and again and again! This would be a "one-star" without James Franco. Once he is introduced you are captivated by his transformation into a wannabe gangsta rapper, especially given his tame, Disney-esque acting in "Oz, the Great and Powerful." But then the tedious redundancy corrupted even his performance. The cinematography is interesting but with little plot and the unrelenting repetitiveness, even that became another irritant. If they removed all of the redundant scenes I think the movie would have been 30 minutes long.