Monday, April 27, 2015

The Age of Adaline (2015)

Not to be confused with The Age of Ultron, even though this does start with a fairy tale/sci-fi quality to it. I wish it had keep that feel throughout the film.

The premise is interesting enough, but the themes aren't exactly new. After an accident Adaline learns she no longer ages. To avoid being captured and studied, she moves around a lot and changes her identity frequently, but always manages to come back to San Francisco. You'd think anyone looking for her would just keep an eye out in SF for someone that looks like her. It doesn't help that she has a few distinguishing physical characteristics that would give her away.

I like how she used her limitless time to learn. She knew many languages, was a student of history and had all kinds of skills. I'd like to think that if anyone had this kind of time, you'd use it to improve in a similar fashion. Then again, a good majority of us don't use our time like this. How many 80-90 year olds can you think of that can speak lots of languages and remember all kinds of trivia? I guess her condition would allow her to stay sharp though.

The film seemed to care more about showing you how it's really a lonely, miserable experience instead. Everyone you've ever known continues to grow old and die. Can you risk falling in love under those circumstances? It's a tough thing to deal with, for sure, but the movie starts to drag as it repeats this theme over and over.

Blake Lively was charming, but a little flat. I think that's just how she comes off to me. Maybe cold is a better way to describe her. It probably didn't help that her character was kind of a dick. When she meets a guy, she quickly blows them off, sometimes very rudely. If you're so worried about hurting feelings or leading someone on, why not just wear a fake wedding ring to scare off most potential suitors. Hell, she had a wedding ring as she was married before this all happened to her. Nobody needs to know he died a long time ago. Just tell them you're married and then move on. Seems like a simple solution to a complex problem. This guy won't take no for an answer though and just wears her down. When I do that, it's called 'stalking'.

I'd be a little worried about hooking up, too. What if you catch something and you're stuck with it forever.

I also thought it was odd that she appeared to get the same type of dog over and over. You're worried about the heartbreak of falling in love, but you're willing to put yourself through the loss of a dog every few years?

Then, there's a 'twist' towards the end that give the film a super icky quality, and I couldn't take it seriously at all from that point.

It's a okay enough movie. A little too sad and creepy to be a good date movie. Judging by the crowd I saw it with, it seems like something you'd maybe want to take your grandparents to see.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Ex Machina (2015)

If you know what the Turing Test is, that's the basic premise here. I was initially bugged by the fact that you can see, even from the commercials, that all parties are aware of what's going on. He knows he's talking to a machine, and she knows she's being tested. That would generally invalidate the whole point of the Turing Test, but they handwave that away right up front by saying they've moved past the blind stage, and they clearly have. This is next level AI here.

As the movie builds, you realize there is more going on than meets the eye. Attraction, manipulation, mind games and ulterior motives. It's creepy and fascinating at the same time. The film takes it's time, but never feels slow. I was glued to the screen to the point where I had to remind myself to blink.

The performances are great. Oscar Isaac is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors. Even though the focus is on the AI, he's just as interesting as she is. The AI, Ava, is played by Alicia Vikander and I can't recall her from other films she's been in, but she's able to sell that balance between innocence and sensuality.

The effects are fantastic. It's so seemless at times that you forget it's an effect. I can't imagine that this was a big budget film, so what they were able to accomplish is truly amazing.

Another thing I really enjoyed was the contrast of the cold, artificialness of the inside compared to when they'd venture outside for a talk. Wherever they filmed this was a gorgeous location that seemed like something from another planet at times.

I'm trying to keep it short as I don't want to spoil anything. Overall, I thought it was an intelligent thriller and one of the best sci-fi movies I've seen in a long time. Probably the best film I've seen this year.

5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Danny Collins (2015)

I almost didn't see this because there just wasn't a lot of interest on my part. Then I saw a lot of good reviews and was like, all right, like I have anything better to do on a Sunday.

This is a good example of why I still try to see most everything. You never know when a movie is going to catch you by surprise, and Danny Collins was a pleasant one. First, it winks at the whole 'based on a true story' thing by adding 'sort of' to it, which I thought was a nice touch. Everyone knows these 'based on a true story' movies are heavily embellished. At least they're being honest about it this time.

Al Pacino plays a washed up, Neil Diamond-type singer. He's a coked-up boozer, which I can understand when you hear his first song, a 'Sweet Caroline' soundalike that I would never be able to play or listen to night after night. He's got a girlfriend half his age and extravagant lifestyle that he can't maintain.

The 'true' part of the story is that the folk singer this was based on (someone I've never heard of, or his music) was sent a letter from John Lennon nearly 40 years prior and he never got it. When 'Danny' gets the letter, he laments that his career would have likely gone on a different path had he gotten it when it was originally sent. He tries to clean up, reclaim his art, all while trying to reconnect with his son and family.

It sounds schmaltzy as hell, and it is, but what makes it work is that the dialog is pretty sharp, and the supporting cast is fantastic. It was written and directed by Dan Fogelman, who you'd probably know best for writing Crazy. Stupid. Love. You can really see his influence on the pacing, tone, and overall humor. When Pacino isn't trying to catch up with his family, he's aggressively hitting on Annette Bening at every opportunity. It's the most charming I've seen Pacino be in a long time. He tries his hardest to not play a variation of that over-the-top version of himself we've gotten in his more recent films.

The story wraps up a little too cleanly (much like Crazy. Stupid. Love), but overall I thought it was a fun and entertaining film. A pretty good date movie, in fact. I recommend checking it out.

3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Friday, April 17, 2015

Unfriended (2015)

As stupid as the name is, and as bad as the trailer looked, I have to admit that Unfriended wasn't that bad. It's not the least bit scary, but it was surprisingly effective with its gimmick. It also serves as an anti-bullying message. Be nice to people or a cyberghost is going kill you on Skype. I'm not sure that's the product placement Skype is going for.

Did you all see that Modern Family episode a while back where the entire episode was done through FaceTime and various devices? This is pretty much the movie version of that, only with dire consequences.

This would have worked really well as a episode of the Twilight Zone or something similar. It's mercifully short at just 82 minutes, and even then it probably should have been about 10 minutes shorter as it starts to drag a bit towards the end. Tighten up the editing, make time for commercials, and there you go.

I don't think the gimmick is going to hold up even a few years from now, but I'm sure it won't stop a bunch of copycat films. The technology will change and improve, so a lot of the stuff they do here will look really dated. There's a lot of glitching out and video issues used for effect. You'll watch this years from now and go, "It's been forever since my video did that, srsly!" "OMG! Nobody uses Skype anymore! Everyone uses BananaChatDeluxe." Like there's a scene where a character tries to get help from some rando on Chatroulette. Is that still a thing people use?

As far as the characters go, they were all fairly annoying and unlikeable, which for teens is basically the default. The cast itself was fine, and wouldn't be surprised to see a few of these guys pop up in other stuff down the line. As the story unfolds, you realize these aren't the greatest people, so when they start losing their shit over what's happening, it's kind of funny to see and strangely satisfying.

Unfriended isn't something you need to rush out and see in the theater, but I think fun enough to get some friends together and watch MST3K/Rifftrax-style.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Friday, April 3, 2015

Furious 7 (2015)

Make no mistake about it, Furious 7 is a silly-dumb-bad movie. The story is a mess, the dialog is a joke and the acting made me cringe at times. Is it entertaining though? Yes!

I can't fault a movie whose only goal is to entertain with action scenes. It achieves exactly what it sets out to do. This isn't Oscar bait here. You got a little bit of everything: car chases, karate, lots of 'splosions. They even brought in Ronda Rousey and Tony Jaa to add some additional fight cred. The action is over-the-top ridiculous, and I even laughed more than a few times at the implausibility of it. Doesn't mean it wasn't fun to watch though.

Ugh, the dialog though. So many terrible ways to say they are going to kick someone's ass. Here's a fun drinking game, do a shot everytime someone says "family". You'll die from alcohol poisoning about halfway through. Want a real challenge? Drink any time you notice obvious product placement. The conversation highlight to me was Kurt Russell discussing the merits of belgian beer and trying to switch Vin Diesel to switch from Corona. I don't even like belgian beer all that much, but anything to get people to stop drinking Corona. At least there's that.

For those curious, they do handle Paul Walker's death in a nice way. I won't spoil it, but fans of his (which I have to admit, I never really was one) should feel good about it.

My main disappointment is that The Rock isn't in it that much. Looks like he was on set long enough to get a pump on and his supply of UnderArmor shirts. That's gotta be in his contract or something.

Look, if you aren't already a fan, there's nothing here that's going to make you one. If you've enjoyed the series, especially 5 and 6, then this is just more of it. I'd say 5 and 6 were probably better though.

Bring on Furious 8! Or will they shorten it even further to just 8? F&F8 will be in theaters May 2017.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars

The return of AngryVader...

Or should it be revenge?

So after a long hiatus, I decided to start updating the blog again. I had just gotten burnt out on forcing myself to sit through a series of shitty movies and I was killing myself trying to keep up with it. I'm not a natural writer, so it was taking me dozens of hours a week to keep it updated.

I've been posting short reviews on my Facebook page for a year or so, so I'll basically be cut and pasting that stuff here. They'll be much shorter and a little more based on my feel rathern than nitpicking critique. I always felt like I was talking out of my ass when going on about things like direction and cinematography. Like I have any experience with that stuff.

It should be more fun this time around, so I hope you all enjoy the (new) blog.

Hope to hear from you all...

- Vader