Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Million Ways To Die In The West - Review

A Million Ways to Die in the West – Review

Director Seth MacFarlane who knocked it out of the park 2 years ago in the hilarious comedic movie “Ted” takes another turn in the Director’s chair to bring his humorous perspective on the old west in “A Million Ways to Die in the West”.

With an all-star cast including MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Neil Patrick Harris, Amanda Seyfried, Sarah Silverman and a few surprising cameos, the movie takes place in a small Arizona town in the year 1882 telling the story of a simple but honest man named “Albert”. “Albert” is a warm and personable man who still lives with his aging parents who also has established a pretty decent working life for himself by raising sheep. He also seemly has the attention of one of the town’s most eligible women named “Amanda”. But early on when “Albert” backs out of a gun fight “Amanda” realizes that she is not ready to settle down to a life with a shy cowardly sheep rancher for a husband. So she decides to break off their relationship to pursue a more dynamic bachelor in town named “Foy” who has a promising career as a mustache wax salesman. Funny!

With Albert feeling constantly depressed, his spirits are lifted a bit when a mysterious gorgeous woman comes to town who not only helps him feel better about himself, he also discovers he is starting to fall in love with her as well. What he doesn’t know is she is already married to one of the most notorious outlaws in the territory by the name of “Clinch” who has a bad temper and kills anyone who gets in his way. And with that measure of the story, predictably the film goes down the path you can already imagine of where “the good guy who gains his courage back also gets the girl in the end”. Trust me I didn’t ruin the ending; you already knew this was going to be the conclusion when you went into the theater. What is the real question is was the movie good enough for you to see?

Well, “AMWTDITW” has a few moments that were just gut busting hilarious and then there were other scenes that simply were way too contemporary to work its spin in a western film. And while the film is hardly laugh free, MacFarlane the Director seemed at times to rely way too much on crass humor to guide the film’s story with writing that made certain scenes fall flat in its delivery.

Still, there were more than ample enough times to chuckle throughout its 2 hour running time, but in the end “AMWTDITW” was in need of a lot better editing and a little less reliance of over the top one note gags that were feeble attempts of  masquerading a scene as something being smart with biting humor.

On a positive note this film showcased better than any film I have ever seen the area in and around New Mexico, Arizona and specifically Monument Valley. The cinematography in this movie was beyond breath taking; it was 2 hours of the most beautiful examples of the grandeur of nature in its simplest forms. The scenery of the canyons, mountains and desert in this movie are above anything you could imagine. It was simply exquisite to see that part of the country in amazingly rich digital detail. Uhhhhh.

“AMWTDITW” has some good moments, so I can’t say I wasn’t entertained, but if there was ever a time to go see a slightly less than adequate movie for ample enough chuckles and at the same time with a backdrop of sheer exquisite natural beauty, this is the one you drive and buy a ticket to see on that big screen. Uhhhhh.

2 – 3/4 Stars

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Godzilla - Review

“Godzilla” - Review    

“Godzilla” maybe the most universally known iconic monster in cinematic history. And in 2014 he makes his triumphant return to the big screen in a nonstop modern special effects film fest with stunning visuals in this reboot to his legendary tale (pardon the pun).

Running just about 2 hours, what I learned early on the film was the name “Godzilla” translates from Japanese to English to mean “Lester is about to waste 2 hours of his precious time”. Oh, you think I am being a bit harsh just because people in the theater clapped when the film was over. Well, let me tell you as much as I can of what this utterly implausible and incoherent plot was actually all about.

Somewhere in the Pacific a mining company is digging for uranium (I believe) where they find a cavern that apparently when exposed to air released something that flies off to parts unknown. They also find something what looks like (I am not lying) a giant dirty human toe nail clipping that apparently glows when it is near radiation. In fact it appears to thrive on radiation (I think).

When the toe nail looking object is moved to a more controlled location in Japan near a nuclear power plant (nope not making this up), the scientists there who are studying it (secretly of course) tragically learn that it may be more of a threat to humans than they had imagine. So as result of this discovery they decide to destroy it. But of course it’s way too late as the toe nail looking object has now hatched to evolve into what can be best described as a giant steely gray looking Chesapeake Bay crab with a turtles mouth and multiple legs and feet in the shape of a crow bar.

At this point it is referred to as the “Moto” and after hatching it precedes to tear up some of Japan’s cities. It also starts to send out a radio wave signal to the other flying creature apparently another “Moto” to meet in San Francisco (I think). Why? Well the “Moto’ that flies is apparently a male “Moto” and the other one that walks is a female “Moto” and she is super horny and she wants to hook up so to speak to lay some eggs. I am not making this up. The only thing missing from this absurdity thus far was the music of Tony Bennett singing “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”. But why SF? More sources of radiation I guess? It’s either that or they want to eat Chicken and Waffles for a change.

Of course the “Motos” moving on their separate paths over and under the ocean eventually make it to the West Coast where the American Navy and Army are waiting. But after much failure and destruction in battling them conventionally the decision is made to use a nuclear bomb to kill them. Why? Because the intense radiation signature of the device will draw the “Motos” as a food source and lure them eventually out to sea to detonate the bomb hopefully killing them both in the process. Again, not making this up. So, what ensues from this point is to place this doomsday plan into operation with endless scenes of carnage, rampage and destruction of cities, building, bridges and iconic hotels.

Huh? You say where is Godzilla in all of this story? Again, not making this up. Apparently the military and scientist always knew Godzilla existed and he and humans have had a cool relationship with each other all these many years since the 1950s. He gets to eat all the Krill he wants in the Pacific Ocean buffet and the humans don’t bother him (I made that part up). But well into an hour of this movie apparently somehow (I am not sure how) Godzilla gets wind of the “Motos” causing havoc all over place to find the proper place to have sex, which apparently is more than Godzilla can bare. So he takes out after them both to do battle. Why? How the hell do I know at this point, I guess maybe it’s because they are just not the right kind of monsters Godzilla wants to associate with in his peaceful Pacific Ocean neighborhood. Wow, who figured this story out; Godzilla as the savor to all of humanity.

Godzilla the actor in this movie is less the feature headliner and more like a Marlon Brando-esque “Apocalypse Now” supporting role character. Or think of it as a huge aging rock star sitting in the stands of a high school football game who makes a sudden cameo appearance on the field to sing one of his hit songs with the high school marching band at half time.

I guess if you still want to see this movie you can and if you have read this I probably have given too much of the plot away. Of course in my mind I am saving you, in that this film while visually stunning as I stated before, everyone in this film and I mean everyone are nothing but the equivalent of a 50 story building bore. The humans are like robotic stick figures reciting lines any 12 year old could recite and the technical lavish battles scenes seem to offer less in excitement and more in the way of eye fatigue in that for some mysterious reason the Director shot most of the monster battles and general action sequences at night. Leaving the theater I thought the monsters appeared to look more like muddy, slimy and shadowy figures instead of real monsters with real discernable horrifying features.

Godzilla does have a few entertaining moments, but overall from a screenplay and directing stand point it is lazy, corny and vacuous and ultimately in the end an inconsequential multimillion dollar disappointment.

2 – 1/2 Stars 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Belle - Review

“Belle” – Review

“Belle” is the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, played luminously wonderful by newcomer actor Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and her real life accounts as an illegitimate bi-racial child raised in the upper crusts of England’s aristocracy during the late 1700’s. The story largely revolves around the difficulties of the established Mansfield’s family headed by Belle’s great uncle Lord Mansfield played equally wonderfully by British actor Tom Wilkinson to raise Dido as a proper English lady through the films subplot prism of England being the world’s leader in the human slave trade at that time.

“Belle” the movie is many things. On one hand it is foremost a touching and tender story of her eventual acceptance by her white biological family and their unwavering adulation and respect for her, adorning her fully of all the benefits of wealth and privilege her Mansfield’s name has achieved from many generations. It also at times a story of the scarlet shame the Dido’s family had to bare raising her as an equal and yet stumbling in the process through the occasional unfortunate need for adherence to long established social protocols and traditions, resulting in keeping Dido hidden and diminished away from public display.

Also what transpires over the 95 minute running time is a rather revealing story of the all too many political intricacies certain established English families would calculatingly maneuver within to make sure that proper marriages were arranged in order to secure future wealth, property and social standing. With Dido being assured of securing a tidy inheritance from her father, she under normal circumstances would be seen by most suitors as a highly viable candidate as a bride for the right English gentleman. Only in Dido’s case she has the unique misfortune to being born both with status and “exotically black”.

What I like most about “Belle” is that on the surface it is a relative small slice of life story that evolves from its initially diminutive tale to a story that played a very important and huge role in the dismantling and eventual abolishment of the commercial slave trade around the world. Also, Belle is an exquisitely pristine and flawlessly rich looking film to watch. It’s cinematography, from horse drawn carriages, finely tailored dresses and jewels, manicured streets and grounds, showcases Belle as a very stately and beautiful film to watch as well.

My only major complaint is the screenplay of melding Dido’s unique standing as bi-racial woman of status through the backdrop of the height of slavery was at time executed a bit clunky, choppy and at times with some confusing transitions from scene to scene leaving me wondering the relevance.  

In the end “Belle” is about romance and race; status and politics. It is also a fabulously entertaining and sophisticated effort of a strong willed woman surviving somewhat isolated and away from others who looked like her, exhibiting and executing her own life’s path as best she could with an abundance of grace, elegance, dignity, compassion and strength. I found “Belle’ to be obviously beautiful, but also enduringly moving and uplifting.

3 – 3/4 Stars     


Friday, May 9, 2014

Locke – Review

Locke – Review

“Locke” is the best movie I have seen for 2014. Starring Tom Hardy, more known as the gravelly voiced - crab claw masked villain “Bain” in “Batman – The Dark Knight Rises”, British actor Hardy gives the film “Locke” a Best Actor Oscar worthy and charismatic nominating performance in what initially is a minimalist and somewhat subdued tale of a solitary man behind the wheel of his car that turns into one of this year’s most powerful cinematic emotional efforts.

“Locke” masterful reminds us that great stories – great movie stories begin and end with the written word. And it’s the use of the written word throughout “Locke” that grabs hold both of our imagination and our thoughts tapping into mature universal themes that are all too familiar to us as viewers. It relies not on technical pyrotechnics, racing cars or flashy explosions, but instead adroitly showcases very cleverly the unpredictable and sometime volcanic quality of human emotions to thrill and mesmerize us.

The principle and only visible human character we see in the entire 90 minute film is a construction site manager named Ivan Locke who is in charge of a lucrative project north of London. As he leaves work late one evening, we see him with a somewhat somber look on his face. As Locke gets into his BMW SUV we are lead to presume his somber mood is a reflection that he is simply tired and is heading home to get some much needed rest after a long hard day at work preparing for the critically complex and preparatory task of pouring reinforced concrete for the building’s foundation the next day. But what we discover early on as Locke starts to drive away is that he is not heading home, but rather is making an unexpected mad dash to London. What happens for the remainder of the film is an ingenuous soloist tale of Locke managing three separate phone calls in his car. One call from his home involving his wife and son, another phone call from an assistant at his construction work site and another call from an acquaintance in London that he is rushing to see.

We the viewers watch this movie and listen to these phone calls not simply as a fly on the wall but more as a curious voyeur in the other front seat of his car, as theses three separate phone calls go from being separate and sublime; seemingly having no relation and connection to one another and instead turn into a more redeveloped, more revealing and more fascinating connected conversational story of their symbiotic interdependence to one another as we see Locke’s’ spiral downward into an inextricable entanglement of raw emotions, embarrassing stress, contemporary intrigue and human angst.

I can’t say much more here about the plot, but I will say that come next January when the Oscar nominations come out, Tom Hardy will probably be forgotten for this stellar performance as the Academy has shown to have the unfortunate propensity to remember only those films that come out only after Labor Day. The same applies to the Director Steven Knight who also wrote the screenplay to “Locke” that from my perspective is a uniquely imaginative modern story about a contemporary man forced to handle personal matters from both the cocoon isolation of his car and through the impersonal connectivity of modern wireless phones. “Locke” reminds us as that technology both helps and hurts when we have the urgent need to interact with one another especially with the people we care about and love

I loved “Locke” because it’s smart, creative and thought provoking. It made me think what if William Shakespeare and Alfred Hitchcock came up with an idea for a film what would it be like. I have no doubt it would be a one man play like “Locke”.

4 Stars