Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Heat (2013)

The Heat is another film I haven't really been looking forward to.  I've been seeing trailers for this since maybe as early as last December, and it was the same, terrible trailer over and over.  I could tell even from the trailer that it was going to be an extremely predictable film.

Fifteen to twenty minutes into The Heat, I wasn't too optimistic that I was going to enjoy it.  I felt like they made Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy's characters so unlikeable that I didn't see how the film was going to have any redeeming qualities.  However, it was about that point that McCarthy had what seemed to be an unscripted rant, and I couldn't help but laugh.

Sarah Ashburn (Bullock) is an agent for the FBI.  She's good at what she does, but maybe a little too good.  She lacks humility, is a know-it-all, and rubs her success in the noses of her fellow agents.  As you may guess, nobody likes her, and her boss (Demián Bichir) tells her as much.  Shannon Mullins (McCarthy) is a Boston cop that's a borderline psychopath.  Everyone is afraid of her, despite her not being not much taller than Danny Devito.  If you cross her, then she berates you until you're a shell of yourself.

Ashburn in sent to Boston to investigate a drug lord.  She's forced to pair with Mullins as she knows the area and there's overlap in their current investigations.  The clearly don't like each other, but we all know that won't last.  This is a standard buddy cop movie as far as that goes.  The Heat focuses so much on their relationship that there's really not much of a story, and you never really feel any threat from the bad guys, or even really care about their investigation.

Instead, The Heat is more concerned with making you laugh and throwing out as many jokes as they can at you.  This is a comedy though. so that's kind of the point.  Like many comedies, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.  I laughed more than a few times, and the crowd seemed to be enjoying themselves as well.  Most of the laughs are from Melissa McCarthy and the stream of profanity that comes from her.  Your enjoyment of The Heat is going to depend on if that kind of humor works for you.  I tend to like this kind of humor, but as much as I laughed, even I started to feel like it was a little too much as the film went on.

The Heat was written by Katie Dippold, who's a writer for Parks and Recreation, but this is her first feature. I've already mentioned a few issues with the story, but overall it is pretty predictable and cliched.  I don't mind that so much, as this type of movie is a pretty tried and true formula.  Predictability is fine if they do it well or the other elements of the film are strong.  I'm curious as to how much of Melissa McCarthy's performance was due to Dippold's script, or improv by McCarthy.

Overall, I thought Melissa McCarthy was really funny and really enjoyed her performance.  After the crap fest that was Identity Thief, I wasn't convinced she could carry a movie.  She did a great job though, and it felt like she was giving it her all.  My only complaint is that her performance was a little too 'one note' at times.  She seems to work well with director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) though, and he really let her go for it.

One of my complaints with Feig's direction is that he needed to cut this down.  Considering the lack of an original story, there's simply no reason for this to be almost two hours.  This should have been between 95 and 100 minutes at maximum.  It also would have helped with how repetitive it started to feel.

I thought Bullock's character was written a little inconsistently as well.  She seemed like too much of a goody two-shoes to be involved with law enforcement in the first place.  There are times where she's written as the smartest person in the room, yet is constantly outsmarted by McCarthy, or lacks common sense or basic social skills.  I didn't mind her performance overall though and her natural charm eventually shone through.  She got a few times to get some laughs herself.

A lot of the supporting performances were funny.  I was happy to see Bill Burr in this, but he's not given a lot of screen time.  Michael Rapaport is dependable as always.  Dan Bakkedahl had a couple of really funny moments as an albino DEA agent.  Tony Hale, Jane Curtin, Taran Killam, Micheal McDonald, Kaitlin Olson and Thomas F. Wilson (Biff from Back to the Future).  Ironically, Marlon Wayans has a small role where he plays it straight the whole time.  It's a strong overall cast where they all seem to have a good line or moment, but you wish they could have been in it more or given more opportunities to be funny.

The Heat is a predictable and cliched buddy cop movie, but it definitely has its moments.  Melissa McCarthy gives a funny performance, and Sandra Bullock plays a good "straight man" against her.  If you don't mind crass and vulgar humor, then this might be right up your alley.  This one's a good candidate for having a few beers before watching and catching it with a group of friends.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars - Matinee

Friday, June 28, 2013

White House Down (2013)

Didn't I just see this film earlier this year?  Yes, the movie studios are at it again.  Seems like once a year (sometimes more), studios race out two similarly themed films, whether it's asteroids, volcanoes, or some various disaster.  This year is "White House under siege" films.

This entry in the category stars Channing Tatum as John Cale, a military veteran now working on a security detail for the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins).  He's the classic character where he's had issues with authority, and has never realized his full potential.  Wanting to make some changes and improve his life, he interviews for a Secret Service position at the White House, and takes his daughter Emily (Joey King) along.  Why would he take his daughter, you ask?  Well, they don't have a great relationship (shocker!), and it turns out she's a junkie for politics, so he figures the trip to the White House might begin to repair their relationship.

While on a tour of the White House, a group of mercenaries take over, killing all of the security forces and taking the remaining people as hostage.  One difference here is that this time the threat is a domestic force, rather than a foreign one.  It's not clear what they want, and even the mercenaries all seem to have different ideas of what the end goal is.

John is able to get loose in the White House and starts picking off some of the mercs.  He eventually finds President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx, yes you heard that right), and attempts to get him to safety.  John can't leave without his daughter though, so now you have the two of them running around simultaneously trying to escape, evade bad guys, and attempt to rescue John's daughter.

Olympus Has, um, I mean White House Down features just about every action movie cliche you could pull out of a hat.  At times the story has way too much going on, too many subplots, and wraps them up way too neatly and quickly at the end.  Every twist is telegraphed, sometimes simply by the people cast in the roles.  The second you see Jason Clarke as a someone that's there to install a new sound system in the White House theater, you know he's really up to no good.  You can't cast James Woods as the head of the President's Secret Service detail without that leading to something.  Don't worry, I'm not spoiling anything.  This all plays out very early in the film.

Here's the thing though: I actually had a lot of fun watching White House Down.  Once the action gets going, it doesn't let up for an instant.  There are great action scenes throughout the film.  Director Roland Emmerich seems to have a knack for high-octane action that's so silly you can't help but still have fun with it.  I'm not even sure if the overall silliness of some of these scenes is intentional or not.  My favorite scene of the film features a chase on the White House lawn, where it basically looks like several cars doing donuts.  It's ridiculous and hilarious, and everyone seemed to be having a good time with it.

The tone of White House Down is drastically different from Olympus Has Fallen.  Where Olympus Has Fallen has some very brutal violence, and overall more serous tone, White House Down seems to go out of it's way to throw one-liners at you at every opportunity.  Some work, some don't, and there's some pretty cringe worthy dialog at times.  I'll give writer James Vanderbilt credit for trying either way.

This film could have been edited better though.  Despite all the action, there are a few lulls here and there, and there's really no reason for this to be almost 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Channing Tatum manages to pull off another decent lead in an action film.  I was a little iffy on him as first as his character seemed to be a little too much of a screw up for his own good, but once the action gets going, he carries himself well.  Jamie Foxx is playing it pretty straight here, so he's not able to be as funny as we know he can be.  He might have been trying a little too hard to be presidential though.  The supporting cast is surprisingly strong, actually too strong for what they're given to do.  Maggie Gyllenhaal outclasses the material here, as well as Agent Broyles (Lance Reddick).  I really hope Reddick hasn't fallen into being type cast as "stern, military/law enforcement guy".  Lastly, I was really impressed with Joey King.  I've only seen her in a few small roles, but she really gets a chance to stretch here, and I think she's a young actress that's going to be one to watch for a while.

One weak part was John's ex, played by Rachelle Lefevre.  She's playing it way too calm and emotionless for the situation they are in.  I would expect a mother to be crying and screaming her head off the whole time knowing her ex-husband and daughter are inside the White House as all these explosions are happening around her, but she's way too calm.  It really stood out to me as odd.

White House Down is a dumb, cliched action film.  However, there are some great, crazy action scenes, and the film manages to be fun and entertaining.  If you haven't gotten your action fix this Summer, give this a shot.  If you go in with low expectations, you should have a good time.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars - Matinee-ish

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing (2013)

If I had been introduced to Shakespeare like this, I might have actually paid attention in High School.

That's pretty much what I tweeted right after seeing Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing, a modern take on William Shakespeare's play.  I've never read Much Ado About Nothing, or any of Shakespeare's other comedies.  I've only read a few of his tragedies (Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Julius Caesar), and those were required reading in High School, so not exactly something I was terribly invested or interested in.  I don't think I've even seen that many movies based on the works of Shakespeare.

I mainly saw this because I'm an admitted Whedon fanboy.  I've heard various members of the cast talk about this on various podcasts over the past year, so I was curious to see a modern take from a writer/director that could give it that spin that might hold my interest.  I also found it fascinating Whedon filmed this over a 12 day period in his own home (nice house, by the way), relying on actors whom you'll mainly recognize from other Whedon projects.  I affectionately call them the "Whedon Players".

I'm not even going to attempt to give a plot synopsis.  You can read about it here.

Much Ado... took me a bit to get into.  Since it's been a while since I've read Shakespeare, it was a little jarring to hear the Shakespearean style of speaking.  They also spoke really fast at times, and despite that it's English, I still had to do a translation in my head.  I could have used some subtitles.  Even then, there were times where I had no idea what they were saying, but I could at least catch the meaning from the tone.  I had to really pay attention to keep up.  I'm not saying it was work to watch Much Ado About Nothing though.  I kind of equate it to how you have to get used to reading subtitles in a foreign film, and then after 20 minutes or so, you just kind of absorb them.  Lastly, I was seeing this at my favorite theater, Vine Cinema in Livermore (, so that means beer was in the mix while watching.

I found the story engaging and funny.  It's actually very funny in parts, particularly when Nathan Fillion shows up.  I wasn't sure what to expect going in, but it's really a story of love and sexual politics that has all kinds of subtleties and nuance about it.

I was impressed with many of the performances.  Aside from Nathan Fillion humorous performance, I got a real kick out of Alexis Denisof as Benedick.  He seemed a little effeminate at times, but I guess it's hard to look super masculine reciting Shakespearean lines.  Clark Gregg was great as well.  He's a rock, and I can't wait to see him in the upcoming Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Fran Kranz surprised me the most as Claudio.  I always see him playing nerdy types or stoners, but he really helped carry the film in one of the main romantic roles.  Lastly, I also really loved Amy Acker as Beatrice.  She's mainly stuck to TV, but I've never understood why she hasn't been bigger in film.  She's such a cutie pie.  Maybe with recent roles in this and Cabin in the Woods we might get to see a little more of her on the big screen.  She seems like a good fit for a rom-com.

What can I say about Joss Whedon at this point?  He has such a knack for telling a story in a way that hits all the right notes and is entertaining.  Is there any genre or style he can't do?  Another nice touch was his choice of filming this in black and white.  It helped keep things simple and focused on the characters and dialog.  It's the second movie I've seen this month that was filmed in black and white (the other being Frances Ha, which I'm still trying to write my review for), and it worked for both of them.

Much Ado About Nothing is a modern take on a classic Shakespeare comedy that really was a blast to watch.  It's lively, fun, and you don't need to be a big Shakespeare buff to get something out of it.  This is one the best movies I've seen all year and look forward to watching it again soon.

4.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Before Midnight (2013)

I never thought I'd find a film about a couple talking and arguing for almost two hours so fascinating.  I hate to contradict Judd Apatow, but no, this is 40!

I was a little nervous about seeing Before Midnight.  I've never seen the previous films in the series: Before Sunrise and Before Sunset.  The first film came out all the way back in 1995, so with that much history behind the film, I was afraid I might be lost without seeing the previous entries.

However, I've generally enjoyed writer/director Richard Linklater's films, so I thought I'd give it a shot.  I'm glad I did.  One of the great things about Before Midnight is that you don't have to see the previous films to understand what's going on or care about the characters.  The story is so relatable that it doesn't matter.  Whether you're married with kids, divorced or in a new relationship, you're going to find something familiar to latch on to here.

There's a very basic plot, as it's more of a character driven story.  Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) are still a couple, and parents to twin girls.  Jesse has a son from a previous marriage, and the film begins with him sending him back to the U.S. after spending time with them in Greece.  Jesse is a successful author, but Celine is considering taking a new job.  Concerned about being there for his son as he begins high school, Jesse debates whether or not they should consider a move back to the U.S.  He never comes right out and says it though.  Celine, on the other hand, really would like this new job, which means they'd have to stay put.  This seed of an argument eventually sprouts as the movie goes on.

Linklater shared writing credits with Delpy and Hawke, and I have to wonder how much of this was letting the two of them just sink into the characters and let the dialog flow.  It has some of the most natural feeling dialog I can recall seeing in a while.  When these two are arguing, it really feels like they're a couple that's been together for 20 years.  It also has some of the most creative insults I've seen.  They're kind of insults that only people that have known each other a long time can throw at each other.

At some points you'll feel uncomfortable, like when you go out to dinner with a couple and then they start to fight, and you don't want them to fight, but you know exactly where it's coming from.  Or worse yet, you've had this argument before.  That's pretty much the last half of the film.  Another thing that made latter half of the film uncomfortable, is that it starts with the two of them attempting to have sex.  Delpy is naked, and Hawke is digging in, but then the phone rings, and that ends up triggering an epic argument.

It's not just all Hawke and Delpy though.  Earlier in the film, there's a dinner scene with several couples where they are have a deep conversation about life and love and it's absolutely fascinating.  I think the scene went on for a good 20 minutes, but I completely lost track of time as I was involved in the scene.  I ended up wishing I could have been sitting at that table and engaging in this great conversation.  This part of the film would be great to watch with friends as a launching point for your own conversation about the same.  I point this part out to note that it's not all completely serious.  There's definitely some funny dialog, so you don't walk out of this film depressed or bummed out.

Before Midnight was an absolute pleasure to watch.  It's smart, brilliantly written and acted, sometimes funny, and is easily one of the best films of 2013.  I highly recommend it to anyone that wants to watch a great film about life, love and relationships.  This one's likely going to end up in my top ten of the year.

5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Epic (2013)

You may have noticed that I have kind of a blind spot when it comes to kids films.  Not having any kids, the appeal or desire to see some of these films just isn't there sometimes.  Epic is an example of why I tend to avoid them.  It's not that Epic is a bad film, but it's definitely a film geared towards a younger audience, and as far as the story, isn't anything you haven't seen before.

M.K. (Amanda Seyfried) moves in with her father, after the recent death of her mother.  Her father, Professor Bomba (Jason Sudeikis), is an eccentric scientist obsessed with finding evidence of tiny humans living in the forest.  They do a pretty good job of making M.K. unlikable, giving her no tolerance or compassion towards her father.  She just thinks he's weird and wants him to give it up.  She's so frustrated that after like a day, she bails on him.  I don't know where she was planning on going, being only 17, and walking out on her remaining parent.  Leave it to angsty teens to have a thought out plan, right?

Anyway, as M.K. is leaving, she chases their half-blind, three-legged dog (I'm not making that up) into the woods.  She finds the queen of the forest, Tara (Beyoncé Knowles), dying.  Tara gives her a pod that was part of a ritual to name her heir, and shrinks her down to their size.  Her dying request is that M.K. take this pod to someone to complete the ritual.  She joins up with Ronin (Colin Farrell), a commanding soldier; a snail and slug, Grub (Chris O'Dowd) and Mub (Aziz Ansari); and a rebellious soldier named Nod (Josh Hutcherson) to complete this task.  Their primary threat are the Boggans, a race of creatures that seek to destroy the forest.  They are led by the evil Mandrake (Christoph Waltz).

It's a standard adventure story from there.  People overcome their differences, characters grow up and learn lessons, etc.  It's all pretty predictable and familiar.  It's almost ironic to call this Epic, as it didn't feel too epic to me.  If anything I'd expect some indie film to use the title ironically.  Epic was based off the William Joyce book The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs, but it was director Chris Wedge's goal to adapt the story to make it more of an action-adventure.  It looks like something got a little lost in the adaptation as the whole story felt thin to me.  There's not a lot of depth to the story or characters.  I'm sure having five (five?!) screenwriters didn't help either.

Again, I'm not saying Epic is a bad movie, or even has a that bad of a story.  I just never got invested in what was going on or found myself caring about any of the characters.  I spent more time keeping all the character's names straight in my head, and when I wasn't doing that, I was trying to figure out who the voices of all the main characters were.  For the record, I only guessed four right: Beyoncé, Aziz Ansari, Colin Farrell, and Christoph Waltz.

Most of the attempts at humor fell flat.  It seemed to be working for the kids though, and that's really all Epic can aim for, an average kids film.  I see this being something you can put on the TV, and it'll entertain your kids for 100 minutes, but I don't see them falling in love with it and watching it over and over.  It's just not that memorable.

I did enjoy the CG though.  The design of the world was very interesting and there were a lot of nice details with the characters and settings.  The animation was very fluid, with the exception of how they animated Professor Bomba.  He had a very jerky and unnatural way of moment that was too cartoonish and seemed too much of a contrast from everyone else.

Epic isn't a complete waste of time, but it's yet another middle of the road animated film that borrows heavily from many other films and themes.  Unlike some stronger animated films, it's gonna struggle to hold the attention of anyone over the age of 10.  It's a solid kid's film though and one you can feel confident with letting them watch unattended.  Epic is a rental.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Monday, June 24, 2013

Monsters University (2013)

What is it with rehashes of Revenge of the Nerds lately?  Monsters University is the second movie I've seen in the past month (The Internship being the other) that borrows heavily from Nerds.

Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) was inspired at a young age to become a scarer.  He studied harder than everyone and eventually got accepted to Monsters University.  Despite knowing the ins and outs of scaring, Mike has a lot of doubters that don't believe he has the innate ability to be a good scarer.  Jake Sullivan (John Goodman), on the other hand, comes from a well known scaring family and has all the physical attributes you'd want to have.  Mike and Jake start out at odds, competing to see who's the better scarer.  Sully thinks Mike just doesn't have what it takes, and Mike thinks Sully is just relying on his family's name and natural ability to get by.

Their competition gets the better of them though, and both are eventually kicked out of the scare program by the Dean (Helen Mirren).  Their only chance back in is to win the Scare Games, a series of contests that pit all the various fraternities and sororities against each other.  Mike and Sully are forced to put their differences aside and join the fraternity full of castoffs in order to compete in the Games.  Nobody thinks their fraternity has even the slightest chance, but Mike thinks he can whip them into shape.  Sounds all too familiar, eh?

Even though it follows a familiar format and contains familiar themes, I still enjoyed Monsters University.  This is one of those times where I wasn't bothered by all the reused tropes and plot elements.  I tend to enjoy underdog stories, even though they tend to be predictable.  It's also a prequel that works.  I liked seeing how Mike and Sully started out and eventually became the friends we know from Monsters, Inc.  It also serves to make them both more sympathetic characters when you see the issues they had to overcome.  Although one of the issues with doing a prequel so long after the fact is that many of the characters we spend time getting to know in Monsters University aren't mentioned or seen in Monsters, Inc.  There are a few common characters like Randy (Steve Buscemi) though.  On the other hand, it really won't matter what order you watch either of these films.  There's nothing really spoiled or ruined by watching them in a particular order.

If they ever do decide to do a third film, I'd like to see them do something far in the future.  Maybe base it around Boo as a college student herself, whose long forgotten her adventure with Kitty and and Mike Wazowski.

The humor is pretty standard and definitely geared towards the family.  Most of the families sitting around me all laughed at various points.  I didn't find it particularly funny myself, but not because it was childish.  Just not quite enough bite for my tastes.  However, there's a great sequence at the end that fans of horror films will really appreciate.  I don't know which of the three writers wrote that section (Robert L. Baird, Daniel Gerson, and director Dan Scanlon), but it was a smart sequence that was best part of the film for me.

As you'd expect with a Pixar film, the animation is top notch.  When you compare this with Monsters, Inc. it really is amazing to see how far it's come.  There are times where things are so realistic looking - particularly with the short film before the main feature - that you may think real sets are used with the characters added in after.  It truly is beautiful, and worth watching just for the animation if that's your thing.

Monsters University is one of the rare examples of a prequel that's on par with original, and I actually enjoyed it a little more than Monsters, Inc.  While it's definitely not Pixar's best work, and dives a little too deep into familiar territory, it's still a fun and engaging film that the whole family can enjoy together.  Easy matinee recommendation for this one.

3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Friday, June 21, 2013

World War Z (2013)

Let the debate between the fast-moving zombie versus the traditional, slow-moving zombie commence...

To be honest with you, the whole fast-moving zombie thing has never really bugged me.  Since zombies aren't real, you can pretty much do anything you want with them.  It don't care either way, and there are great examples of either type being effective and terrifying.  That wasn't what worried me about World War Z.  I was more concerned with how bad the CG looked, and that it was PG-13, leading me to think the movie would be very tame and pedestrian.  I also heard fans of the book were upset with the changes made to the point where some have said the only thing the book and film have in common are the title.  I haven't read the book, so I won't be commenting on that part though.  Fortunately, World War Z wasn't as bad as I feared, but it misses the mark about as much as it hits.

We meet Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) as he prepares for a regular day with the family.  Gerry's retired recently so he could spend more time with his wife (Mireille Enos) and kids.  Even though we don't see much of them, I liked this part as it did a good job of setting up the Lane's as a loving family, and gives you something to care about.  I am a little disappointed Mireille Enos wasn't given more to do though.  I'm a big fan of The Killing and thought World War Z might let a larger audience see what she can do, but most people are probably going to remember her as "Brad Pitt's wife from that zombie movie."

Shortly after, we see them sitting in traffic.  An explosion happens in the distance, and everyone's in a panic to escape what appears to be a rapidly growing wave of zombies attacking everything in their path.  They kind of reminded me of a Zerg swarm.  Gerry and his family narrowly escape the city and end up on a military vessel where we learn more about the zombie outbreak and how widespread it's become.

The military forces Gerry back into action, as he's the best as what he does.  What is he the best at, you ask?  Kicking ass?  Wrong!  Investigating stuff...for the UN!  Gerry goes from location to location in an effort to track down the source of the infection, or "Patient Zero".

What I liked about World War Z is that despite that most of the film to this point is pretty much exactly what you see in the trailer, it still managed to be very intense and thrilling.  WWZ wastes no time getting to the point.  We're barely five minutes into the film before the outbreak begins.  I also felt like the film was a realistic depiction of the early stages of a zombie invasion.  We see there's still a command structure and military force.  There's a pointed effort to find the cause and hopefully find a cure.  People make decisions that are much more pragmatic (there's a great example of this at the midway point), and you thankfully don't see a majority of the characters do stupid things once the shit hits the fan.  The cast does a good job of taking the material seriously, and the movie avoids any camp or silliness.

On the other hand I think striving for a PG-13 rating detracted from that realism.  When the outbreak happens, I'd expect to see people screaming and swearing their heads off, but I don't think I heard anyone swear.  Also, the movie is almost completely bloodless, which I find odd for a zombie film.  All points of impact are cut away from, and there are other times where you can see someone struggling against something that's off screen.  You can see gorier stuff each week on The Walking Dead.  Some might appreciate the lack of gore, but not seeing any blood when people are being bitten and hacked doesn't work for me.  I think the decisions director Marc Forster made at times seemed to be geared towards getting more people in the theater rather than making a zombie film strictly for fans of the genre. That isn't a bad thing necessarily, but it usually means you have to make some sacrifices, and I think those sacrifices hurt the film.

Finally, we get to the end, and it's very abrupt and unsatisfying.  I sat there thinking, "Really?  That's it?"  It felt like they didn't know how they wanted to end it.  I heard they did a large amount of reshoots to get us to the current ending, as well.  If this was the improved ending after all the reshoots, I can't imagine how bad the original ending was.  I'll be curious if there's an alternate cut when the Blu-Ray comes out.  For example, Matthew Fox has a bizarre cameo where you barely see his face on screen.  It makes he think he might have had a bigger role and was a casualty of all the reshoots.  I'm guessing having four writers didn't help with the ending (Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof, J. Michael Straczynski).  I've heard there may have even been more writers involved that weren't credited.  That helps explain why it's so uneven.

The special effects didn't help either.  While not as bad as what the trailer made it look like, there were still lots of times I felt the zombies looked artificial and rubbery.  Even when standing around they moved as if they suffered from Tourette's, twitching and chomping their teeth.  This caused a lot uncomfortable laughter at times.  I suppose it helped break the tension a bit though.

World War Z is a mainstream zombie film, but I think that's part of what holds it back.  While it manages to entertain and keep a high level of tension, the rating keeps this a tame affair.  It's a shame as there are some smart and realistic ideas in there, but the ending leaves you disappointed and wish there had been more.  I'm right on the border of rental and matinee on this one.  It's not a bad film, but it's really going to depend on how much you want to see it.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Friday, June 14, 2013

Man of Steel (2013)

Kneel before him...

I was a little nervous when I heard that Zack Snyder's Man of Steel was going to be based around yet another origin story for Superman.  Even with David S. Goyer's writing and producer Christopher Nolan's involvement, I didn't think it needed to be told again.  Is there really anyone out there that has no familiarity at all with Superman's origin?  Even the recent "All-Star Superman" comic was able to beautifully summarize his origin in a single page.

This might have some minor spoilers, so be warned.  It's a lengthy review, so strap in...

Despite my reservations on another reboot of a well known superhero, I enjoyed the few twists and changes made to the origin told in Man of Steel.  Beginning on Krypton, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) warns Krypton's leaders regarding its destruction.  General Zod (Michael Shannon) stages a coup, and Jor-El uses the opportunity to launch a ship containing Kal-El and Kryptonian data to Earth.  Zod's coup fails, and he and his followers are banished to the Phantom Zone.  Kal-El lands on Earth, and well, you know the rest.

Superman's origin as told in All-Star Superman
Where Man of Steel differs is rather than give you a linear backstory, we catch up with Clark (Henry Cavill) as a 33-year-old wanderer, occasionally using his powers to save those in need before moving on.  We get flashbacks of Clark growing up and dealing with the manifestation of his powers, as well as his relationship with Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane).  Much of the film's emotional depth comes from these flashbacks, not just because they give you more insight into why Clark is who is, but because of the great performances of Costner and Lane.  Jonathan is convinced the world is not ready for Clark to reveal himself, and Clark has been spending much of his life trying to figure out what his purpose is and where he fits in.

Another departure from the Superman mythos was how Lois Lane was handled.  Lois, a journalist for the Daily Planet, is following a related story when she encounters Clark.  She investigates further, and is able to determine his true identity.  If you've ever been bugged by the fact that an investigative journalist never figured out that Clark Kent and Superman were the same person, then I think you'll really enjoy this twist.  She even actively protects his identity once she realizes the threat to him and his family.  Amy Adams was an inspired choice for Lois as well.  She had the right combo of smarts, maturity, toughness and ambition for the role.  The movie shines every time she's on-screen.

Zod eventually catches up to Kal-El and the promise of a super-powered smackdown between multiple Kryptonians is finally realized.  If you're like me and complained that Superman Returns didn't have enough action, Man of Steel makes up for that, and then some.  The last 40 minutes of the movie is all action, and it's the type of spectacle you hope for in an action blockbuster.  There's so much action, that it's a little exhausting to watch, but I still enjoyed every minute of it.  It was a joy to see Superman fly around and punch people at super speed.  The effects are fantastic, and there were only a few times where I thought the characters had too much of a CG appearance to them.  They are really getting the look of this stuff down!

Man of Steel is not perfect though.  I thought some of the things it does with the powers regarding atmosphere were a little odd.  Also, I was kind of bugged that the other Kryptonians seemed to be as powerful as Superman.  Superman has been absorbing solar energy for decades, as opposed to days for the other Kryptonians.  While he does show a greater mastery of his powers, I still think he should have had a bigger advantage as far as overall strength, while the Kryptonians should have had an advantage with combat skills.

Another issue I had was that the dialog isn't particularly good.  There's not a ton of dialog in the first place, but some of the lines are really clunky to the point where you'll hear something said and just go, "Huh?"  It definitely could have used a little punch up, as the film is so serious from beginning to end.  There's really much in the way of humor, but I also appreciated the fact that it wasn't silly.  I'm surprised that David S. Goyer didn't find more of a balance in his screenplay.

As much I loved Michael Shannon as Zod, I was a little disappointed he didn't get to have a great line that can be associated with his performance.  We don't even get a 'kneel' reference.  On the other hand, Zod's henchman, Faora (Antje Traue) was totally badass and sexy.  I wish there would have been a little more depth to her character though.  It was awesome to see someone hold their own against Superman like she did.

I also thought the romance between Clark and Lois wasn't handled well.  It happens way too quick without much in the way of flirtation.  I get them being attracted to each other, but it doesn't seem like there's any reason for them to get together other than convenience.  This is the one angle where the changes to the story didn't work as well.  Rather than see their relationship develop over time in the workspace, they are just kind of thrown together and it didn't feel natural.

I enjoyed Henry Cavill as Superman.  I said after seeing him in Immortals that I thought he had the right stature and commanding presence to play the Man of Steel, and I'm glad to see he proved me right.  First off, credit to Cavill and his trainer.  He clearly bulked up for the role, and physically speaking he's the best we've seen to date in the suit.  He's not playing the Clark Kent we're used to seeing, so there's not much of a true comparison to Christopher Reeve or even Brandon Routh's performances.  It's a different role as far as I'm concerned.  It's like comparing Michael Keaton's Batman to Christian Bale's.

The rest of the cast is strong.  I liked the choice of Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, but he's not in the film much.  They try to shoehorn a moment for him toward the end in an effort to give him something to do, and that felt a little odd.  I'm sure in the sequel he'll have a little more screentime if they spent more time at the Daily Planet.  Christopher Meloni as Colonel Hardy was good, and I also liked Ayelet Zurer as Lara Lor-Van.

Some will complain about all of the city-wide destruction and how Clark doesn't really appear to be too concerned about saving anyone, but that didn't really bother me.  While I would have liked to see him save a few people here and there, most of the time he's fighting multiple, super-powered people at once, and these fights happen at hyperspeed.  Man of Steel doesn't really show Superman as having full mastery of his powers yet, so it may not have been possible for him to avoid damaging his surroundings.  You don't see a lot of the Kryptonians directly threatening humans while he's around, so with the speed of the battles, his immediate surroundings might not have always been on the top of his mind.  Plus, he just put on the suit, so he's still growing into the role while attempting to earn the trust of humanity.  I would suspect we'll get more of that in the sequel.

Another thing I liked, and this will probably bug the Superman purists out there, was the fact that they show him conflicted.  I've read the comics off and on, watched the various cartoons and movies, and sat through all ten seasons of Smallville, and the one thing that's always bugged me about Superman is how much of a humorless, sometimes emotionless, boy scout he is.  I love the idea of seeing him start from a darker place and then eventually becoming that ideal.  Some will argue that I or the movie doesn't understand the character of Superman.  Okay, fine, go watch a different Superman cartoon or movie then.  In case you're wondering, I'm old enough to remember seeing Donner's Superman in the theater, and watch Donner's cut of Superman 2 frequently.  I like them all.

There's nothing post-credits, by the way, despite seeing online that there was supposed to be.  This was probably leaked by the effects crew that just wanted everyone to sit through the credits so we could see their names.  I didn't see it in 3D either, but since it wasn't shot in 3D you can go in knowing that's it's not going to add anything to the movie anyway.

Speaking of the visuals, this is another area where I thought the film excelled.  Man of Steel is gorgeous, and I'm not just talking about how dreamy Henry Cavill is.  Some shots may linger on a little too much, but I thought it was a vibrant film and creative looking.  You can always tell what's going on, even during the faster paced fight scenes.  I think Zack Snyder's style and aesthetic really lent itself to the film, and he even avoided his excessive use of slow motion, which I actually wouldn't have minded if he had thrown a little more of that in.  I'm probably in minority of people that enjoy just about all of Snyder's films.  I even like Sucker Punch on a certain level.  I loved the redesigned Krypton.  It looked suitably alien without being a direct copy or reference to previous films.  Also, the suit looked much better on screen than in photos.  The texture of the suit worked well, and I stopped noticing the lack of red trunks pretty early on.

Oh and I almost forgot to mention Hans Zimmer's score, which is hard to believe since he really outdid himself this time.  The score is practically a character all on it's own.  I've been listening to the full soundtrack on Spotify and I really love it.

While somewhat flawed, Man of Steel delivers on the promise of a Superman movie with more emotional depth, and the super-powered smackdown we've been waiting to see in the modern era.  Zack Snyder and co gave us a Superman that's more relatable and realistic for our time.  It would have benefit from a little more humor, but this is made up for by the cast and their performances.  I anxiously await a sequel.  Full price for me.

4.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

(Note: Was originally a four Death Star rating, but I just got back from seeing again and loved it even more, so I'm bumping it half a point.)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

This Is the End (2013)

If this really is the end, I can't think of many better ways than being trapped with a group of your best friends, or a bunch of funnymen.

This'll be a quick one as there's not much to say about the film.  Not that This Is the End is a bad movie, but it's because there really isn't that much to the plot.  Even that's not really a bad thing as sometimes that's not the point.  It's clear that writers, and first time directors, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg just wanted to make a fun film with their friends that exists strictly to make us laugh.  That's This Is the End in a nutshell.

There's so little to the story, that they didn't even bother with creating characters.  All of the actors are playing exaggerated versions of themselves.  In some cases extremely exaggerated versions of themselves - I'm looking at you Michael Cera - to hilarious effect.  I enjoyed the fact that I could take the night off as far as paying attention to character names.

Jay Baruchel arrives in L.A. to visit Seth Rogen.  They've been friends for a long time, but Jay's not a big fan of L.A., so he doesn't visit much.  Seth wants Jay to bond with his group of friends more, so they head to a party at James Franco's new house.  Much like you'd expect in Hollywood, the party is full of celebrities, and while it's funny to watch, you'll spend as much time seeing how many cameos and people you recognize.  Jay and Seth step out for cigarettes, and all hell breaks loose, literally.

They get back to Franco's house, where they haven't noticed what's going on around them yet, but it quickly catches up.  The remaining group - Seth, Jay, James, Jonah Hill and Craig Robinson - board up in Franco's house while they wait for rescue.  Jay believes this is the apocalypse, while the rest think he's overreacting and it's just a bad earthquake.

That's all there is to it.  This Is the End is all about the frenetic pace and rapid-fire jokes.  This is one of those films where the laughs happen so frequently that many times the laughter of the crowd drowns out the next thing said.  Multiple views are likely going to be required.  However, I'm betting this is a release that will have a nice unrated cut.  If not, the deleted/gag reel on the Blu-Ray is going to be insane.

Anothing thing I loved about the film is that most of the best moments of the film are not spoiled by the trailer or commercials.  Rogen stated this in an interview recently, which I was skeptical of, but he was not bullshitting us.  Hallelujah!  It's so refreshing to see a movie that doesn't ruin every gag before you've even seen it.  Part of the reason is that many of the funniest moments are not suitable for trailers or commercials, but at the same time I didn't find the movie that crude.

A majority of This Is the End felt like improv, and you're watching a bunch of friends ripping on each other.  Considering the company that's a good thing.  These guys have done plenty of shitty movies that give them lots of ammo to make fun of.  They probably filmed hours of material and then realized they need to advance the plot, or something, so they started editing the film down to keep the runtime bearable.  About an hour into the film my friend finally leans over to me and goes, "I think that's the first plot related thing they've done."  Despite that there's not much of a story, it never really bugged me.  I was too busy laughing.  I've said recently that this is a weak year for comedy, but this is the funniest film I've seen this year.  I feel like I'm giving a lot of back-handed compliments here.

Rogen and Goldberg have hit home runs before as far as writing, so it's natural they step into directing the same genre.  I'm happy to say they seem to have the same sensibility directing as they've had when writing films like Superbad or Pineapple Express.  They know who their audience is and taylor the movie to that crowd.

I know I'm not giving you much to go on, but This Is the End is the easily the funniest film of the year.  I said last week that The Internship was going to be the most successful comedy of the summer, but this deserves that title.  If you're a fan of films like Superbad and Pineapple Express, then this is going to hit with you.  Full price all the way, and definitely a film that lends itself to an 'altered state' with some friends.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars

V/H/S/2 (2013)

I was somewhat critical of last year's V/H/S.  While I appreciated the return of "Anthology Horror", I felt that the stories were too much of a mixed bag, featuring too many unlikeable characters.  Horror works better when you aren't actively rooting for the people on screen to get what's coming to them.

V/H/S/2 doesn't completely address all of my issues with the first, but it is definitely a step up across the board this time around.  The overall format is the same, you have a 'framing story' that contains the main arc, with several short stories shown throughout.

The framing story, "Tape 49" (written and directed by Simon Barrett), is already an improvement over the framing story from first film.  This time, we follow two private investigators hired to find a missing student (as opposed to following a bunch of punks vandalizing and committing sexual assault).  They break into his home and find a stack of TVs with various VHS tapes.  As Larry (Lawrence Michael Levine) searches the rest of the house, Ayesha (Kelsy Abbott) starts watching the tapes hoping they may have more clues.  Also left behind is a laptop with a video recorded by the missing student saying the tapes need to be watched in the correct order in order to have an effect.

The first tape, "Clinical Trials" (written and directed by Adam Wingard) is about a man (also played by Wingard) that gets an experimental eye transplant after an accident cost him his sight.  The eye also has a recording device implanted in it, so they can track him for the experiment.  It's not long after he arrives home before he starts seeing things.  I thought this was the most effective story as far as actual scares go.  It's just a man alone in his home, and that generally gets to me when watching alone with the lights off.  Plus, this story has boobs (provided by Hannah Hughes), so bonus.

The second tape, "A Ride in the Park", features a mountain biker with a helmet-mounted cam getting in a quick ride before meeting with his fiance.  He's not on the trail before too long before he's stopped by a hysterical woman covered in blood.  She's screaming about her boyfriend, and then the rider notices a pack of zombies approaching.  Yes, zombies!  Written by Jamie Nash and Eduardo Sánchez and directed by Gregg Hale and Sánchez, it seems like a bit of overkill considering this is basically a short zombie film shot.  It's suitably gory and fun, but I don't find zombie stories all that scary these days.  At least they are traditional, slow moving zombies.  The highlight of "Ride" is it's perspective, which is all I'll say about it (no spoilers).

The third tape, "Safe Haven" (written and directed by Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto), features a film crew interview the leader of a cult.  They travel to his compound to conduct further interviews.  As you may guess, it's not long before shit hits the fan and all hell breaks loose.  I'd say this one was the creepiest of the stories for a few reasons, which I won't go into to keep it spoiler-free.  It's also the most involved as far as character details and overall scope of the story.  You could easily see this one being expanded into a full length film.  This is one also has some good moments of gore.

The final tape, "Alien Abduction Slumber Party" (written and directed by Jason Eisener), pretty much says it all.  A boy and his friends are having a slumber party while their parents are out of town, playing various practical jokes on his older sister and her friends.  When they plan to retaliate, aliens show up and attempt to abduct the group.  It's pretty straightforward, but this story probably bugged the most with how it was filmed.  There were lots of strobe effects and too much shaky handheld camera stuff.  The aliens would randomly appear and disappear at various distances for no real reason.  I think I would have enjoyed this one a little more if it was filmed differently.  I've said this before, but why are aliens always naked when they attempt to abduct humans?  I'm starting to believe this is all done by drunk aliens that think it would be funny to strip naked and then abduct and probe us.  They're just messing with us like jocks picking on nerds.

We come back to the conclusion of the framing story.  Again, there are some creepy elements, but I was a little irritated with some of the character decisions at this point.  Just typical horror stuff where you can't help but wonder why the guy doesn't call the police or get out of the house.  Instead he hangs around and watches more tapes.

I still want to know who's putting these digital formats back onto VHS.  Some demonic hipster who insists that the curse from the VHS tapes have more warmth to them?  Outside of that point, many of the technical aspects of the first film were handled more elegantly this time, where it makes sense that people would be filming or have hidden or mounted cameras for a reason.  However, with all of the handheld camera work, you have a lot of really bad shaky-camera moments.  It made a few of the stories hard to follow or watch at times.

Overall, I felt the quality of the stories was better than the first V/H/S, and they weren't quite so random.  There's more humor and personality, and I found myself actually liking many of these characters and wanting to see more of them.  Each story was much tighter and the overall runtime has been cut down, which was another improvement.  At over two hours, I really thought the first started to drag as it went on, where with V/H/S/2 the pacing is brisk.  It's kind of ironic as many of the short stories in V/H/S/2 could be fleshed out into full length films, but I'm glad they stuck with the short format.

V/H/S/2 is a great horror film to watch with a group of friends, as there's a little something for everyone.  Both creepy and gory, it also manages to be scary and fun.  It's the rare example of a sequel being a definite improvement over it's predecessor.  Fans of horror should definitely check it out.  It's likely going to be the best horror of 2013.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Purge (2013)

In the year 2022, unemployment is down to 1%, crime is at an all time low, and the economy is booming again.  There's a catch for all this prosperity though: once a year, from 7 PM to 7 AM, all crime is legal.   "The Purge" allows for members of society to get all their pent up anger, frustration, or whatever out.  You don't have to participate though, and many just bunker up in large homes with elaborate security systems.  One interesting point of the film is how the poor, the homeless, etc. don't have the means to protect themselves and are usually the most likely victims of "The Purge".  I guess it's easy to eliminate unemployment and homelessness if the wealthier can just kill them off once a year, eh?

It's a shaky premise, but I can accept it as long as they commit to it.  The problem is that too many things are referenced that aren't explained, and these ideas aren't explored enough.  Like they constantly make reference to the New Founding Fathers, but never elaborate on this.  And this is set is just 2022?  Society has crumbled such a short period of time to allow for a different form of government or something?  This isn't the first Purge either.  It's clear that his has been going on for at least a few years.  The points they make about the poor are barely glossed over, and are thrown by the wayside once the story decides it wants to be a home-invasion thriller.  I know I'm overthinking it a bit, but these are the things that I can't help but ponder while watching, especially when the characters are so flat and uninteresting.  Sometimes a movie's flaws aren't apparent until you reflect on it afterwards.  Other times, a movie slaps you in the face with them. The Purge made me feel like I spent an evening at a bar delivering bad pickup lines.

Oh yes, there will be spoilers, and I apologize if this post reads as a little ranty.  This movie just bugged the hell out of me.

James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) is an wealthy security system salesman that's clearly benefit from this new society with all the need for ultra-home security.  He has a loving wife (Lena Headey), and two kids - older daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane), and younger son Charlie (Max Burkholder) - that right off the bat you know are going to cause problems as the movie goes on.

We barely meet the family before "The Purge" begins, and shortly after that a bloody stranger (Edwin Hodge) pleading for help is let in by his son.  I had a hard time getting my head around why the son would have the ability and passcode to disable the security and let this guy in.  You'd think a security system owned by the very guy that sells them would have some built in safeguards or something, right?  He should have the top of the line model, too.

Shortly after letting the bloody stranger in, a masked group of weirdos shows up and asks James to give up the stranger.  If they give him up, they'll leave the Sandins alone.  This lynch mob has reinforcements on the way, and assures James they'll be able to get into the house.  The leader of this group (Rhys Wakefield) looks like a combination of Ralph Fiennes, John Malkovich and Crispin Glover, but somehow creepier looking.  The first thing the mob does though after giving this ultimatum is cut the power to the house.  Um, hey idiots, did you consider that the motorized door barricades might require power to operate?  Also, the stranger is now hiding, so without lights, he's proving difficult to find, as the house is quite large.  This is made more frustrating by the fact that James never communicates to the mob's leader that it might be easier to find the guy if they could use the lights.  Also, the idiot son that let the stranger in is continuing to help him hide, and seems to have zero guilt about the danger he's put in family in.

Time runs out and the mob is able to get into the house.  This also bugged me because they were able to simultaneously pull every heavy metal door off the house.  How did they even attach the chains to all the metal doors?  Did they all have convenient hooks on the outside?  Anyway, despite not knowing anything about the home, they run around making all kinds of noise without any care in the world.  Aren't they concerned about charging into a home where the occupants are likely armed (and they were), don't know how many they are up against, and don't know anything about the layout of the house?  Why the Sandins weren't hiding in strategic points in the house waiting for them, I don't understand either.  I also don't get how this security system wasn't designed with any defenses or ability to shoot at trespassers while they're still outside.  The Sandin family should have been able to take out half of these guys before they even got in.

Oh, I almost forgot.  Just as they let the bloody stranger in, we see that Zoey's much older boyfriend (Tony Oller) was hiding inside the house.  He tells Zoey he wants to take advantage of the lockdown to confront James and convince him he loves his daughter.  Only when he goes to do this, he immediately pulls out a gun and attempts to shoot James, 'cause you know, the best way to impress your girlfriend is to kill her dad, right?  The dumb boyfriend gets shot, and for some reason his daughter runs off with him as if on his side or protecting him.  She's upset when he dies.  Huh?  Your boyfriend just tried to kill your dad.  Do you even understand what is going on?

Ethan Hawke does get to kick ass a little during one scene, so that part was cool.  The movie takes a lot of predictable turns otherwise.  The Purge is guilty of one pet peeve of mine where when a bad guy is killed and they don't take his weapon or ammo.  I can't stand that!  The bloody stranger is also seen wearing dog tags, so you can assume he was in the military.  He likely has some weapons training, and may be able to help you defend the house, but that never even comes up.  However, the most irritating thing about the film is that there are three distinct times (which I won't spoil) at the end the film where they could have done something really cool that would have at least let me leave on a high note and somewhat satisfied, but none were taken.  It just ends and everything goes back to normal.  Whatever...

Written and directed by James DeMonaco, The Purge is a complete misfire.  This is something that would have worked much better if it was under an hour and you didn't have as much time to pick it apart as it happened.  The setup is an attempt at social commentary, but it's not developed.  For example, they show that despite living in a affluent, gated community, the Sandin's neighbors appear to be deeply resentful of their success and how they have more than they do.  Well, maybe you guys should have gotten into the home security business then.  It's not like Sandin invented "The Purge" as a scheme to get rich.  He saw an opportunity to make money and took it.  He doesn't even own the company he works for.  He's just an employee.  It's not like he's doing anything illegal.  He has too much so we don't like him!  Jealousy is an ugly color, bank-farter.

Then, I thought about the actual Purge and how it's supposed to create some catharsis, post-Purge, but are you really creating a better society when you're basically rewarding people that are harboring deep psychopathic urges or need to commit violent crimes?  Do you really think one night is going to get it completely out of their systems?  Don't you watch Dexter?  The Dark Passenger doesn't just go away.  I think it would have been interesting to show that after a few years, law enforcement started secretly killing anyone they saw participating in "The Purge", removing those with violent tendencies from society.

The Purge is a mess of a film, and I wish I could purge it from my memory.  The setup has a kernel of an interesting social commentary, but it's dropped as the film devolves into a lame home-invasion thriller, relying on cheap jump scares, and typical conventions where characters do incredibly stupid things.  Finally, it has a terribly unsatisfying ending.  I could see this being slightly more effective while watching at home, but it's such a stupid film that it's really not worth the watch.  If you must see it, save it for rental, but otherwise, there's no need to watch this.

1 (out of 5) Death Stars

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Internship (2013)

My old, cynical self watched the first 20 minutes or so of The Internship with my arms folded across my chest, without so much as a smile on my face.  It's not that The Internship wasn't funny at all, it was that nearly every laugh during this time were all things I've seen in the trailer.  Then I thought, is that really the movie's fault?  Everyone else is laughing, and I'm betting these people don't see nearly as many movies as I do.  Would I be laughing more if I hadn't seen that trailer like 20 times this year?

After The Internship blows its trailer-wad, I warmed up to it a bit.  Don't get me wrong, it's not a great film, but I found myself chuckling a few times.  The humor's a little one-note though, and some gags are repeated a few too many times.  It's easy to say that the film is really trying to get by on the charm of Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson.  I'm sure that's what Vaughn thought when coming up with the story and co-writing the screenplay (co-wrote with Jared Stern).  The Internship hits all the typical beats, and busts out every underdog, and some rom-com, cliche they could throw at you.  Even the soundtrack has a cheesy, familiar feel to it.  Director Shawn Levy's resume doesn't exactly strike you with the number of huge hits, and he really doesn't take any chances here.  It's all very paint-by-numbers.

The Internship recycles so many plot elements that you'll have the whole movie figured out within that first 20 minutes.  I realized around that point that I was basically watching a retread of any high-school or college comedy where competing cliques or frats go at each other.  It's like a mix of Revenge of the Nerds, only the jocks are just type-A nerds, and Old School, where the dean is replaced by a snooty, disapproving boss (Aasif Mandvi).

Watch salesmen Nick (Wilson) and Billy (Vaughn) find themselves out of work after their owner (John Goodman, who's in everything these days) decides to close up shop without warning.   Unsure what to do next, Billy decides to dream big and takes a chance at getting an internship at Google.  The condition of the internship at Google is that they are grouped up and given a series of challenges.  The team with the best score gets guaranteed jobs.  Nobody wants to get paired with the old dudes, so Nick and Billy end up with a group of cast-offs.  Even the cast-offs aren't wild about being grouped up with fast talking guys with no tech skills.  Do you think the group will eventually come together and rally?  Oh, the suspense...

On a side note, I live fairly close to Google (as well as use their blog software), but I've never heard anything about their actual internships being as cutthroat or competition based as in the movie.  My research shows that while they got the culture part right about Google, the competition is mostly a fabrication likely added for dramatic purposes.  Everyone I've ever talked to has said it truly is the most amazing place to work.

What needs to be said about Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson at this point?  They give you exactly what you expect from them: Vaughn's hypercharged, stream-of-consciousness rants, and Wilson's aw-shucks charm.  They are pretty much playing the same characters they've always played.  At one point there's a reference to the fact that they've known each other since they were kids, and I couldn't help but think that wasn't that also the case in Wedding Crashers.  They might as well have named the characters the same and just called it John and Jeremy go to Google.  The next film can be John and Jeremy join the Army and it can be a retread of Stripes.

The rest of the cast is fine.  The group rounded out with Dylan O'Brien, Tiya Sircar, Josh Brener and Tobit Raphael.  I thought Raphael was funny, in particular.  Max Minghella effectly plays the main antagonist, and you want to just punch his character in the face the whole film.  Rose Byrne also stars as Owen Wilson's main crush.  I could have used a little more Byrne in the film, but that's probably due to my crush on her.

The Internship isn't reinventing the wheel, and for some of you this may feel all too familiar.  I do think that it's a crowd-pleasing film, but a lot of it is going to come down to whether or not you're tired of Vaughn and Wilson's act, or this formula in general.  I warmed it up to it as it went on, and got a few laughs out of it, so I guess I can't quit these guys just yet.  This hasn't been a good year for comedy, but I'm guessing this is going to likely to be the most successful of the Summer due to it's mainstream appeal.  I call it a matinee.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

(Note: Originally I gave this 3 Death Stars, but upon reflecting, I'm knocking this down a bit.)

Monday, June 3, 2013

Now You See Me (2013)

I actually saw Now You See Me several days ago, but I had a detour in Las Vegas, where money magically disappeared from my wallet.  While in Vegas I thought about the last movie based on magicians I saw, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, which was set in Vegas, whereas Now You See Me varies the locale throughout the film.

Despite having a few days to reflect on the film, I find I don't have that much more to say about it, or that my opinion has changed all that much.  I did, however, realize that despite that Now You See Me wasn't a comedy, I actually laughed more than I did while watching Burt Wonderstone.

Now You See Me is an example of a movie that I was expecting to be so awful that I'm probably giving this a little more credit than I should simply because it wasn't a disaster.  The setup alone was already something that was making me cringe a little.  Four magicians of various skill sets - played by Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Woody Harrelson - are brought together by an unknown benefactor.  A year after meeting they perform in Vegas rebranded as "The Four Horsemen".  During their performance, they are able to rob a bank in Paris, giving the money back to the audience in attendance.

FBI Agent Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is brought in to investigate along with Interpol Agent Vargas (Mélanie Laurent).  They aren't able to make anything stick to the Four Horsemen, and charging them with the crime would indicate that the FBI now believes in magic.  Knowing there's an explanation for all of this, Rhodes and Vargas meets with Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), and ex-magician that makes a living by exposing the secrets of other magicians.  Bradley explains to Rhodes how they pulled off the first trick, but that the Four Horsemen have been planning for a long time and will likely always be a step ahead of the FBI.

You'll find that the story spends more time focusing on Mark Ruffalo's and his Keystone Cops antics than the Horsemen.  His character also seemed to be excessively angry at times, although some of that made a little sense by the end of the film.  Overall, the plot gets little muddled as it goes on and inconsistencies pop up.  I felt like resolution of the film wasn't very satisfying and a few things were left unanswered.  Oddly, this didn't bug me that much, and that's probably due to the fact that I had enjoyed the movie so much up until that point, that a few inconsistencies weren't enough to ruin it for me.

The main reason why I enjoyed the film so much is that the dialog is actually very snappy and funny.  I was really expecting a much more serious film, so the humor was a pleasant surprise.  The pace of the film is also very brisk with more action and chases than I expected.  I didn't realize going into Now You See Me that it was directed by Louis Leterrier, who's directed films like the first two Transporter films and Unleashed.  It looks like he went into his bag of tricks to add some action elements and it served the film well.  You know what I just realized?  Louis Leterrier directed Edward Norton's The Incredible Hulk, and directed Mark Ruffalo in this film, who was The Avengers' Hulk.  Does mean we should expect Eric Bana in Leterrier's next film?

Another really strong element of the film was that there's great chemistry between the Four Horseman.  The cast, especially Woody Harrelson, seemed to be having a lot of fun together and you really feel that on screen.  Despite the good chemistry, there's not a lot of character development.  At the end of the film, we really don't know nothing about this group of people. Again, I wasn't terribly upset by this, but fleshing out the foursome would have been nice.

Now You See Me is a surprisingly entertaining film, that has a great pace, funny dialog, and a good cast that plays well off each other.  The story is definitely the weak point, but I think you'll have enough fun with the film that you won't notice or bug you too much.  I think it's worth a matinee.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars