Mediocre Start to 2014 at the movies

I know that I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks but I really haven’t had anything to get excited about. Okay here’s the thing. I’ve  been really disappointed about the recent fair at the movies in this first quarter of 2014. Here are the movies that I’ve seen so far this year and my some what flippant rating system.

47 RONIN: A trite American fantasy version of a Japanese classic; based on a real life tragedy, and a part of Japans cultural history. It would have worked better as a simple fantasy with out the disrespectful attachment to the actual story of the 47 RONIN. I rate this as a moderate disappointment.

I FRANKENSTEIN: A new take on an old story and yet another graphic novel screen adaptation. I hope that this wasn’t a career killer for Aaron Eckhart, who was great in Battle: Los Angeles. Disappointment moderate. I didn’t walk out on this one but I left the theater feeling empty.

AMERICAN HUSTLE:  I rated this one better than average, to very good with solid performances by the entire cast but it wasn’t great.

MONUMENTS MEN: My kind of movie intelligent, informative and based on historical events. I rated this one excellent.

THREE DAYS TO KILL: This was an adequate Kevin Costner vehicle in the action genre, with some sentimental hokum thrown in for good measure. I rated this one fair to middling in quality.

LONE SURVIVOR: Good action yarn based on a real life Navy seal’s fight for survival. As an ex GI I found this movie hard to watch because I feel for the families of the men that didn’t survive this doomed mission. I rated this one good.

300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE: This was for me the biggest disappointment of the year so far. In spite of all of the fancy CGI it lacked heart and pacing.  It was mostly mindless slaughter except this time it was on ships instead of on dry land. I didm’t root for the good guys or the bad guys. If you leave a movie with out an opinion on whether you like it or not then it’s probably a mediocre movie.  I rated this movie Blah.

NEED FOR SPEED: Movies based on video games usually don’t work and this movie was no exception. Poor Aaron Paul what a way to start a career as a leading man. I went to see this movie because I’m a fan of Breaking Bad and Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman an awesome character. Unfortunately this movie lacked the depth of character and the intricate story line need to make it anything more than an adequate, but predictable popcorn movie.  I rate this move Okay I guess. 

NOTE: I purposely staid away from The Butler, Fruitvale Station and Twelve years a slave, because I am a thin-skinned old curmudgeon and I don’t go to movies that might raise my blood pressure, or rouse me to anger. So please take into account that my life has been hard enough and I really do get emotionally involved when watching well crafted movies about serious subjects. 

 

The Monuments Men (Movie Review)

Once again Actor/Director George  Clooney has raided the vault of history to bring  us another fine film. Unless you are a history buff, chances are you might not have heard of the pillaging of Europe’s art by Hitler’s SS organization. This is the story of the Monuments men, a small group of art experts appointed by FDR, to find and recover stolen art taken from the Nazi occupied countries. Even though the war is in the last stages, after the normandy Invasion, they are still in great danger. These are all middle-aged men who otherwise would be at home and not in harms way, doing their bit for America and the world at great cost. They get their name from the real life MFAA (Monuments Fine Arts and Archives) section of the United States Army. They aren’t stuck in the rear with the gear they enter some towns either on the heels of the Germans, or before the Germans are completely gone.

While the Monuments men are trying to recover the art, the germans are working to destroy it.The Russians who are fast approaching Berlin are busy trying to recapture as many priceless pieces as they can, for war reparations; that’s the official line anyway. It is literally a race against time to save the great art works of western civilization.

I found the movie to be very entertaining and chock full of character actor goodness. John Goodman, Bob Balaban and Bill Murray are always interesting guys to watch and this was a great vehicle for all three. George Clooney, Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett all put in respectable performances, as did Hugh Bonneville and Jean Dujardin. This movie is not only informative but a welcome change from the usual mindless claptrap that spews forth from H-Wood. You can always count on intelligent works coming from Clooney, I’ve been a big fan ever since Good Night and Good luck (2005). The Monuments men is well worth the five dollars that I spent on the Matinee. If you haven’t already, go see it. If you want to know about the real monuments men check out this link http://www.monumentsmen.com

3D HEAD ACHE (PACIFIC RIM)

Because I hate seeing movies on the opening weekend, I went to see Pacific Rim on the monday after. Mondays can be one of two things; it can be an indicator of a movie’s popularity or an indicator of its ultimate box office demise, especially during the summer months. During the winter months Mondays are always slow movie going days, especially for the matinees because most people are at work and the kids are at school. However in the good old summertime Monday matinees can be a strong indicator of word of mouth advertising. I like Mondays because it can be like the poor mans version of a private screening, unless it is a very popular movie like the Hunger Games and then even Monday or midweek screenings are crowded. 

This particular Monday I sat in a mostly empty theater (maybe 10 people tops) and watched a movie that was like the theater mostly empty. As much as I love watching Idris Elba, his character was a cartoon cutout of the hardcore commander and the resident dead bro walking trope. The only other characters that I found even remotely interesting were Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy) with a strong showing from a limited role by Max Martini (the Unit). Rinko Kikuchi who was nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actress in Babel (2006), gave a stilted performance as a stereotypical Japanese maiden with Kung fu grip. I blame all of the bad acting on the direction and the script, since most of the people are pretty accomplished actors. 

As far as the cinematography was concerned I thought it was a jumbled mess. I couldn’t tell what I was looking at half the time. The interior shots were laughable and the Monster physics were not believable. Monsters and machines of such immense size would be inundated or crushed by gravity.  Some post war heavy Tanks were deemed to heavy for American roads and city streets so imagine what kind  damage these gigantic Robots and monsters would do to any urban area’s underground infrastructure. 

This has always been my problem with Mechas. At least they didn’t transform into trucks or jet aircraft, But they did manage to bring out the old sword for this one. Hey when modern missiles and plasma cannons don’t work just pull out your primitive pointy thing. One good thing that I can say about this flick is that it wasn’t as annoyingly loud as anything that Michael Bay has produced.

All of that aside, here are my other beefs with this flick. Number one is that I hate 3D. Until they can create the technology of an actual 3 dimensional screen I think that they should leave it alone. I remember the 3D fad of the early 1960’s and it was fun and fascinating and you got those little white cardboard glasses with the red and blue lenses as a neat souvenir. You didn’t have to worry about wearing some one else’s germs, or heaven forbid inherit their recycled vermin.The new method is, at the end of the movie you dump your glasses in what looks to me like a waste disposal barrel for bio-hazardous material.

Supposedly some one sprays them with some kind of anti- bacterial cleaner before redistributing them to the next group of suckers. The pair I got still had some kind of goop on the lenses and I traded them for a hopefully clean pair.

The last Real D or 3D movie that I saw was Beowulf  and I had forgotten what a terrible headache that it gave me from eye strain. I wasn’t trying to watch the movie without the glasses, what gave me the headache was watching with the glasses. Once I had removed my glasses the headache went away. Because of the discomfort I have stayed away from any and all Movies in 3D.  This time around I did not have the option of watching the non 3D version (Thanks AMC), so I had to endure this faulty fake advancement in movie technology once again. Ten minutes into the movie I began to get a serious headache and I said to myself, “I hope this isn’t the future of movies because it hurts me to watch”. I promptly removed my flimsy glasses; (they’ve gotten a whole lot cheaper since 2007), and watched the rest of the movie in my prescription sunglasses which seemed to work just fine. I noticed very little blurring and no eyestrain. I am usually without glasses of any kind watching movies so the eyestrain can not be attributed to my going without them. This head ache is purely a side effect of the faulty tech of the so called modern 3D lenses.

Seriously I can do without the 3D effects; they are nothing more than a gimmicky annoyance anyway. They do nothing to enhance the action or the performance and the special effects look even cheesier to my jaded eyes than normal. I say give me the options of seeing regular movies which are immersive enough without this garbage and get rid of this fad until it is truly perfected.  My final verdict, wait for this one to come out on cable where you have the option to channel surf when you get bored.

Oblivion

I’m no professional so unfortunately I don’t have the privilege of seeing early screenings of the newest flicks. So like everyone else I have to wait. So here is my belated review of the new Tom Cruise movie Oblivion. The movie takes place in a post apocalyptic world that was ravaged by the destruction of the moon and followed by an alien invasion. Blowing up the moon should have been enough, to pretty much destroy all humans. Well the earth men did what any group of Survivors of a horrendous cataclysm would do they dropped nukes on the offending Aliens, making the earth even more uninhabitable and thus winning a pyrrhic victory. This is the story that is revealed to us in the opening narration, by the main character Jack, a humble drone repairman. The drones were supposedly designed to take out pockets of alien invaders still roaming the planet.

Jack and his curvy tech support vicky, are biding their time while awaiting the end of their three year tour on earth. In two weeks they are due to join the rest of humanity on Triton, a totally unsuitable ice ball with Cryovolcanos and nitrogen spewing geysers. Why not Europa or Mars? This doesn’t seem to bother Jack or Vicky, nor does the fact that a decimated race that teeters on the edge of extinction, could muster the resources and manpower to build a giant space station.

Although the earth is supposedly too toxic for habitation Jack manages to find a hidey hole surrounded by mountains and greenery with his own private fishing pond out back. He goes there when he wants to get away and shoots baskets, reads books and listens to old albums on his phonograph.

Obviously the movie is called Oblivion, because Jack is totally oblivious to the evidence all around him, that suggest that Earth is not the unlivable radio active wasteland, that he has been led to believe. The rest of the movie after the intro focuses on Jacks journey of discovery, learning the truth and the meaning behind his recurring dreams about a beautiful mystery woman, (Olga Kurylenko). Poor Vicky doesn’t stand a chance. Jack is more or less an unquestioning tool of his masters; he doesn’t even question the reasons for his memory wipe, which is suspicious on every level. That’s all I’m going to reveal about the plot. You’ll have to see it for yourself if you haven’t already.

You can probably tell by the tone of my synopsis, that I didn’t find Oblivion as entertaining as the trailers had led me to believe it was. I can usually tell if a movie is going to be bad within the first fifteen minutes. However  the premise of this movie was interesting enough to make me believe that the best was yet to come. Oh, how wrong I was! It dragged on and on with the annoyingly perky Boss Sally, asking the same question in scene after scene, “Are we and effective team?” The answer should have been. “Are you an annoying jerk?”

There is some superfluous nudity and male female bonding and no backstory until toward the end of the movie. I found the pacing slow and the scenes in between the action boring, and the plot full of logic holes and inconsistencies. One of the biggest inconsistencies was the fact that in one scene the drones seemed fairly easy to take down; which was the reason for his constant repair jobs. while in others they were almost indestructible. The same could be said about Jack; he takes a forty foot fall onto a hard surface and doesn’t die or get knocked unconscious, but can’t take a hit from a rifle butt that wasn’t meant to kill. Why did they even need to hit him anyway? Actually either one should have killed him or at least given him a fractured skull.

When Jack finally comes face to face with his dream girl she is hesitant to tell him the purpose of the mission which he was a part of . Get real they were on the same mission! So why was she hesitant to tell him the truth? They should have been exchanging stories just out of curiosity,  and we would have gotten to the truth of the matter sooner rather than later. I hate it when movies try to be suspenseful and do it so awkwardly ; this was that kind of movie.

The best thing about this movie wasn’t Tom Cruise; it was Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko and Nicholaj Coster-Waldau, who should have had a bigger part, rather than wasting time watching Tom Cruise shoot baskets and look wistful, while listening to Procol Harum. I guess that it’s normal in Cruise land that everyone else is relegated to minor significance.

On the upside the movie was beautifully shot, and the special effects were excellent. The set designs were reminiscent  of the Jetsons but were very cool. Over all I’d give this movie a C- Since I didn’t get up and leave the theater grumbling to myself.

Zero Dark Thirty

The controversy about the movie, Zero Dark Thirty, was purely based on a misconception, at least in my opinion. Maybe the critics were watching a different version of the movie than I was, or maybe it’s just that each brain works differently. To me it was obvious that the protagonist got very little information from torture. The fact that they had tortured detainees for a decade, and never got any closer to Osama Bin Laden proves that it wasn’t  the violence that bore fruit, but the non violent types of interrogation, that actually proved useful. Proper and thorough  detective  work carried out by analyst who actually examined the mountains of information compiled, combined with humane treatment of prisoners and some bribery, yielded the final results that led to finding and killing Bin Laden.

The real controversy should be why did our government employ such archaic, brutal and ultimately useless methods to gather intelligence. Not everyone talks under torture some people just die. Others resist but more often, people will say whatever the torturer wants them to say just to stop the pain. Torture isn’t a reliable source of information. Another thing about the movie that bothered me, was that they received a vital lead from a minor al Qaeda operative, that he had seen Bin Laden in Pakistan, but then failed to investigate that lead. Ultimately Bin Laden was found in Pakistan. It wasn’t the first time that the intelligence service has screwed up and probably not the last; the movie clearly points out this fact.

The criticism that Kathryn Bigelow was some how crediting the discovery of the whereabouts of Bin Laden to torture methods, is in my opinion unfounded. What I saw on screen was an hours worth of horrible interrogation methods, that yielded few results. From an objective point of view the director did not seem to take one point of view over another, but much like a journalist was simply reporting what was happening. We  now know, that torture was used, but even the experts agree that none of the information obtained from torture led to the final results.

It was pointed out to me by an unnamed source, that some of the criticism may be gender bias. Women directors in Hollywood have always had a harder time than men, and Bigelow is infringing on typically male territory. the war/action/thriller. This is Kathryn Bigelow’s second foray into the Iraq war, her first being the Hurt locker (2008) about an EOD team. So there may be some  credence to this theory.

Politics aside, I found the movie’s opening disturbing. The 911 calls of the panic stricken victims of the World Trade center made me want to cry. It was emotional overkill for me, because the last time I was in New York, was on july fourth 2001, when the twin towers were still standing. If I had never actually seen those buildings in reality, the impact of their destruction might have been blunted. Any director worth their salt knows how push the right buttons to draw the audience into the story. The opening did just what it was supposed to do, even though it was a bit heavy handed.

Most of the rest of the movie was depictions of torture, or of the protagonist viewing torture on a monitor. I found it to be redundant and draining and on the verge of boring. The high spots in the movie were the scenes that depicted inter office politics and maneuvering, together with brainwork and investigation. I think the movie would have been more interesting, if more of the foot work of the intelligence community had been revealed to the audience.

The movie picks up again in the last forty-five minutes when the big boys finally decide to do something. After analyzing and agonizing over the information, Seal team Six is finally give the go ahead to conduct an operation, in the territory of another  sovereign nation, without their knowledge or consent. This in it self was not only dangerous, but could and did create an international incident. Bigelow created the perfect blend of  the tension and confusion that comes with the fog of war. By making everything so dark the viewer was stumbling around in the dark trying desperately to keep up with the action on the screen. She resisted the urge to shoot the entire scene through the eerie green light of a night vision scope, which made the situation even more tense.

All in all this was a fairly decent movie although I could have done without all of the torture. I don’t think that it added much to the movie beyond the first uncomfortable visit by the movie’s female protagonist.