Saturday, May 23, 2015

Tomorrowland – Review


Director Brad Bird who won Oscars for Best Animation for “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille” and who also direct the action packed “Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol”, takes on another feature film starring Oscar Winner George Clooney in a mystery adventure story called “Tomorrowland”.

The story has a bit of a time travel plot – component to it. It is also where we find early on Clooney’s character as a 10 year old-ish boy genius named Frank who is obsessed with his jet pack invention. While trying to showcase his jet pack idea at the 1964 World Fair in New York he has an encounter with a mysterious young girl of his own age named Athena, who gives Frank a T shaped pin that catapults him into a realm where it’s the future and people are making wonderful things for the betterment of mankind and the earth as well. 

Meanwhile back on earth years later after Frank had disappeared a super bright and idealistic teenage girl named Casey who sees the world slowly being destroyed has come in possession of the same T shaped pin that Frank received years ago. To her astonishment she discovers that when she touches it she is catapulted (back and forth) to the same dimensional time and place as has happened to Frank when he was a young boy.

So, the story begins as we find a confused Casey going out to solve the mystery of what exactly the magic pin is, where did it come from and why did someone give it to her.

PROS: Tomorrowland has a very good intentioned heart, with real charm and warmth to its basic core which could have you watching it simply for the overall message that the earth is slowly and systematically being destroyed by human’s hands and human procrastination. On the countervailing hand it also has a noble ambition to it cinematic soul, as it wants to convey the eternal optimism that exist within all humans to providing the lasting solutions to the world’s problems and social ills, etc., etc.

CONS: While its plot is well-intentioned and a lot of its message it true, it also is a very preachy film about how current humans are not being good stewards of the earth as we sit by and doing nothing about what is happening around us. And while I have no doubt this film tries to reach the next generation to coming up with imaginative and creative solutions for our blue planet, in the end the film’s effort falls flat on getting the masses really motivated to actually doing something about it.

Conclusion: “Tomorrowland” has three problems. One, it is poorly written and poorly directed, in that it felt like watching someone open a puzzle box that said 100 pieces, only to see when its contents are spilled on to the coffee table it’s actually more like one million pieces. The meandering dialog and direction made this movie going experience overly complicated and frustrating to watch and listen to.

Two, George Clooney and Hugh Laurie are veteran actors who know their craft well and made as much of this limited disjointed plot as interesting as they could. But the drag on the film for me were the kids who annoyed me to no end; especially the lead character Casey who was supposed to be the endearing, smart and  good hearted one to the story. She came across as whinny and a total nuisance to the film, even to the point where there is a scene (which is supposed to be funny) where she beats a robot to death with a bat more than a full minute. It goes without saying I don’t condone any violence on children or women, but I do know why certain species eat their young, especially if they are as annoying as Casey.

Finally three, someone forgot to tell Director Brad Bird he was making a feature film and not an animation film again. For all practical purposes this movie felt like it would have been more suited in the animation format in that it looked like and felt like an animation film, especially with its almost animated look and visions of the future. I am not talking about the concepts or ideas of the future, I mean literally the physical look of the movie looked like special effects animation.

Note to Brad Bird, in the future watch films like “Gravity”, “Mad Max” or any of the recent soon to be release new “Star Wars” film trailers if you ever venture into this kind of technical futuristic script again, they will serve you well for generating ideas. Or maybe he can just find his way to doing more animation films soon.

In the end, I am not sure who the intended audience was for this film. Was it mostly for kids? Mostly for adults? Or both. For either audience I found unfortunately the film to be a mess that missed its mark by being emotionally underwhelming with a wobbly story line that was structurally incoherent.  

“Tomorrowland” made me feel more annoyed and grumpy about an important subject matter rather than optimistic.

2 Stars

Friday, May 15, 2015

Mad Max – Fury Road – Review

Mad Max – Fury Road – Review

It’s been 36 years since “Mad Max” the original low budgeted $400K film that eventually grossed $100M worldwide came to American theaters. It was a landmark film from the imaginative mind of Australian medical doctor turned film Director George Miller who subsequently directed it’s equally successful 1981 sequel in titled “Mad Max 2 - Road Warrior” and the 1985 sequel in titled “Mad Max Beyond The Thunderdome”. Now its 2015 and Director Miller gives theater audiences his latest adaptation in the “Mad Max” story through the same character in highway patrolman “Max Rockatansky” in “Mad Max – Fury Road”.

If you are old enough to be a huge fan of the two originals, as I was, then you will recall the earlier Max films starred unknown Peekskill, New York American born turned transplanted West Pymble, Sydney Australian citizen actor Mel Gibson. It was American movie going audience’s first look at Gibson back then and subsequently his first big break into film stardom.

In this new story we see Gibson’s role of “Max” now played by British actor Tom Hardy, along with Charlize Theron as “Furiosa” and pivotal co-star Nicholas Hoult (About A Boy 2002) as ‘Nux”.  And as with the earlier films the story takes place in the not so distant future of 2060 AD where we see our earth is in ruins from some unexplained apocalyptic catastrophic worldwide calamitous event that has caused the downfall of all civilization.

“Max”, who was a former highway patrolman and whose family was killed during the societal collapse, is just trying to survive when things get even worse for him that thrust him into a chance meeting with a bald woman named “Furiosa” who is desperately attempting to cross an immense desert away from a tyrannical Fascist leader named “King Immortan Joe” and his completely bloodthirsty military force called “The War Boys”, who are also collectively the rulers over a totalitarian desert kingdom they call “The Wasteland”. But why? Well that is the plot of the movie.

For “Max” and “Furiosa” their only hope to ever reaching some safety is with the help of each other and with “Max” expansive knowledge of the desert.

PROS: Since 1979 Director Miller has had plenty time to consider a thorough re-imagining of technical ideas to infuse into this story that were impossible to do with his previous “Max” films. Today at his disposal he has the capacity to use the latest in digital cameras, lightening and special affects software to incorporate those ideas to greater realistic affect.

Also, MM-FR is thematically the same original story; that being a story about a dystopian fictional imagined society of a dehumanizing landscapes and dehumanizing people who exist only to survive in this dire terrain, you ask the bottom line question. Does MM-FR deliver the goods?

Well, I will say let the demented fanatic despairing painful mayhem begin, as this is one of the best summer nonstop action films I have seen in a while and will probably be the best action film you will see this summer period.  

With old story and new technology in hand Director Miller comes out swinging his camera as would an orchestra conductor’s baton with the same hyper elevated action and energy, though I would liken this film’s pacing to the perspective of someone being off their Ritalin for a year while strung out on 18 cups of espresso a day. Everything and everyone is more than just a little jacked up here.

MM-FR makes anything you have seen in the “Fast and Furious” franchise look like small children riding tiny plastic hobby horses on an amusement ride in a rural town on the fair grounds that is next to an abandon burnt out mall. Each and every minute watching MM-FR felt like someone had their foot on top of mine pushing down on my car’s accelerator while driving a 100 miles an hour inside a city with no traffic lights at rush hour.

Acting wise Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron own this movie like two commanders of the same ship. Hardy is the lead character and delivers as solid of a charismatic performance as I have come to expect of him, but surprisingly the real star of this film is Charlize Theron.

Theron is electrifyingly flawless in her execution as “Furiosa”. She’s a warrior and yet while she may look manly with her tall stature and shaved head, there is no mistaking “Furiosa” as some androgynous man or as “the weird looking woman chick” in this film. Theron makes the concerted effort to never letting her character be defined by being just the woman nor be restricted by it in any way as she comes across as one of the toughest and most resilient action heroes since Sigourney Weaver’s “Ripley” jumped into that yellow industrial lift loader in Aliens. Girl friend is straight up stoic ass kicker. And when I say she was great, I mean this could be Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination performance she delivers here.

Also MM – FR is a perfectly executed stand-alone work; meaning you don’t need to revisit the other 3 Max films just to catch up or understand this film at all.

CONS: I got nothing.

CONCLUSION: While there is tons of violence none of it is out of context to simply shocking you purely for the purpose of having a disgusting or graphic impact moment. Each frame of this film made me feel like I was dropped out of thin air into something horrible, foreboding and just plain bad with genuine life and death consequences at stake. And while the film never lets up with a real pause or utilizes any cinematic massaging of the story with preposterously ridiculous computer gymnastics or fake gimmicks, this film looked really difficult to make. It also worked very hard and very well of deliberately getting inside your head that may have you asking “is this real?”

Exquisitely shot, while MM-FR is available in 3-D, I saw it in the normal digital format. It is so imaginative and so well made I really don’t think you need to spend the extras $10 just to have something get temporarily visually embellished inside you mind.

Now for all of you “I will wait to see it” cheap NETFLIX-ers, listen up, don’t bother, you absolutely have to see this film in the theater. Never has isolation and desert with mutant looking humans running amuck’ creating endless chaos and violence against less than mutant looking humans ever look so good.

Finally, OK here I go. Are you ready for this?  “Mad Max – Fury Road” is a masterpiece about what unhinged tribal chaos looks like. More to a contemporary point and analogously speaking, this film is a high octane action packed “western” kind of ride from hell.  And while it is not actually a western, it is one in form, style and attitude just like those old time western films made during the 1950s – 1960’s where you see the line distinctly drawn between the hard charging masked “bad guys”, galloping and shooting at the “good guys” and their stage coach filled with bags of gold. The only “unhinged” difference here is that in MM-FR the people riding on and in that same stage coach with the supposed bags of gold (“the good guys”), well they got guns too and they are just as bad and nasty as the people chasing them.

You have not seen a film like this ever before, as it is constantly drenched in an odd contrast of desert dust, fire, breathless chases, unworldly outfits, scary masks, fireballs, filth, jagged scars, men wearing make-up, women wearing no makeup, strange tattoos, raggedy clothes, androgynous characters, ripped up muscles, rigged out cars, weird looking gasoline trucks, eccentric looking motorbikes, mud and rocks, people swinging on sticks, fire breathing guitars, sexy women and of course blood. And yet with all of this potential mess of assorted visuals for you to contemplate or confuse you, Director Miller never allows a single moment of these background variables to distract you from the plot and enjoyment of his film.

If you see this you will never look at rush hour the same again and from what I can see with a running time of just short of 2 hours MM-FR is a must see film for 2015. It is fabulous to look at, kinetically pleasurable and very intelligently conceived as a lawless demolition grimy freak show ride around, below, above and into hell.

4 Stars Plus

Monday, May 4, 2015

Best Movies About Mothers

Best Movies About Mothers

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)
Angela’s Ashes (1999)
Bambi (1942)
Changeling (2008)
Cinderella (1950)
Delores Claiborne (1995)
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Erin Brockovich (2000)
Forrest Gump (1995)
Freaky Friday (2003)
Frozen River (2008)
Gloria (1980)
Imitation of Life (1959)
Incendies (2010)
Juno (2007)
Mamma Mia (2008)
Mask (1985)

Mother (2009)
Mother and Child (2009)
Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
Ordinary People (1980)
Places in the Heart (1984)
Pride and Prejudice (2005)
Sense and Sensibility (1995)
Sophie's Choice (1982)
Sounder (1972)
Steel Magnolias (1989)
Terms of Endearment (1983)
The Blind Side (2009)
The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
The Joy Luck Club (1993)
The Kids Are All Right (2010)
The Sound of Music (1965)
Volver (2006) 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Its spring time, it’s early in the month of May, fresh popcorn smell is in the air and the perpetually annoying sounds of hundreds of flip flops walking past me are all about. Well, it must be that time again where any movie just two summers ago that made even the slightest profit above the price of a McDonald’s Happy Meal comes out again to our cinematic doorsteps.

Its goal? Well to attempt to titillate, stimulate and hopefully recapture its original magic with the movie going audiences again in the form of Hollywood’s perpetual cash cow effort called the “interminable block buster sequel”. Such is the case with Marvels comic book Avengers cast in the title of “Avengers:  Age of Ultron”
Once again we see Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America, Black Widow, Thor and Hawkeye team up to save the world. What? Did you think they would do anything else like go after inside traders on Wall Street? Obviously I digress as the new story takes us on the journey of saving the world (again) only this time through the cause of one of the Avengers own mistake.

Without too much detail here, when we see Tony Stark trying to jumpstart an artificial intelligence that was dormant into some kind of peacekeeping program, things go terrible awry with global chaotic hell being cut loose. So, again it’s up to our mightiest super heroes to be put to the test again to save the planet from the newly created villainous threat named Ultron. Let the inconsequential, mindless, destructive 2 hours and 11 minutes mayhem begin.

Pros: If you were definitely planning to go the movies this weekend and you and your date have narrowed it down to the choices of “Get Hard”, “Paul Blart: Mall Cop”, “Child 44”, or the “Avengers”, then it’s a no brainer, the Avengers it is. It will hold your entertainment attention.

Also, as actors go I have always been a fan of James Spader. He’s one of the few actors that exude intelligence when he is acting and reciting his lines. He’s in this new Avengers film, but you want see him as he is the voice of the metal Ultron. If you don’t know who James Spader he has some limited success in films such “Stargate”, “2 Days in the Valley” and “Lincoln”. He has garnered more critical success on TV in such successful shows as “The Practice”, “Boston Legal” and currently “The Blacklist”.

Cons: Aaaaaaah where do I begin. Look, this movie is not bad, instead what it is its just bland with no one to really root for or have a visceral connection to. Loki in the previous film as the principle villain was a great counterweight to the well-intended Avengers heroes. He was someone who was equal parts debonair and charming and also devious and diabolical as hell. He was also quite deceptively good in making you the viewer subliminally think that there was the small possibility he might just end his evil ways only to surprise you (metaphorically speaking) by stabbing the audience in its viewing back.

Conclusion: During the creative plot development part of this film by the Disney Executives who produced this film, they appeared to give us an Avengers sequel here as if they could just roll out any old story that they could make up; just fill it with a lot of non-stop action and the audience will eat this up. Well, that may be true, but you can kill off a great franchise rather quickly when you don’t work to keep it fresh and miscast it (aka “The Bourne Legacy” and Jeremy Renner) or you can have a franchise that works well with the hard work of keeping it fresh and innovative thinking (aka the whole 007 James Bond series and Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan to Daniel Craig).

I can't tell you not to see “Avengers: Age of Ultron”; you should see it if you like the cast and the characters from the original and their respective individual franchises. However, if you wanted to see it in the comfort of your home with a pizza delivery on the way, then that would be in my estimation the better call to watching this rather pedestrian effort.

3 Stars