Saturday, May 30, 2015

San Andreas (2015)

This has been said before, but can you really slam a dumb movie for delivering on exactly what was advertised? I have a hard time doing it. San Andreas is exactly what you'd expect. A two-hour roller coaster ride of destruction porn. This isn't rocket science here. It's not even seismology (don't even get me started on the science).

Fortunately, it doesn't waste much time with setup or character backstory. Sure, it's there, but San Andreas isn't about that, and I'm glad it didn't focus on that too much. It helped that it does have a great cast that seemed committed, despite the ridiculousness of it all. I saw an unexpected emotional range from The Rock. He's really trying, at least, and he's an easy guy to root for. My only complaint about his performance is that he didn't try to punch the ground in an attempt to stop the quake. That's what the Hulk would've done anyway.

As with most of these disaster movies, there are a few too many moments of amazing coincidence. How are the main characters always so fortunate to avoid getting crushed or killed? How do they always luck out and find each other just at the right moment? There's also the typical asshole character that the quake manages to provide comeuppance.

There were a few times the effects looked a little sloppy and unfinished, but for the most part it all looked pretty great. For as much destruction as there was, I'm surprised it looked as good as it did. Whatever the budget was, it clearly went all to the effects.

The pacing is great and I never once felt bored or checked my phone to see how much time was left. That alone is a good thing. I have to admit that I found it thrilling. You're not really given much time to think about it, as you're assaulted by the visuals.

If disaster porn is your kind of thing, then San Andreas is right up your alley. It's entertaining and delivers on exactly what was promised. Definitely worth a matinee.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars

Friday, May 15, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

It's basically a two hour car chase wrapped in a slick music video (with a little bit of the Man of Steel soundtrack thrown in). At times Fury Road feels like some kind of fever dream or drug trip. A campy B-movie done extremely well. It felt very much like something born out of the 80's.

If you're looking for story or character development, you won't get that here. This is all crazy action from the get go and it never lets up. I was tense in my seat for a majority of the film. You'll notice that despite the speed of it all, you can follow all the action. It's shot extremely well, with no shaky cam or quick cuts. There were a few times there seemed to be some artificial sped-up effect going on, but that was kept to a minimum.

There's also great stunt work here, and it's so refreshing to see what appears to be all practical effects. This isn't a CG-fest. It's a gorgeous film, with great use of contrast in color. Fury Road is a visual feast, and it's mesmerizing.

As much as I was excited about Tom Hardy being cast as Mad Max, I just didn't get much from him. I felt the real driving force was Charlize Theron. She's a total badass! Expect a lot of cosplay as Furiosa in the future. I also thought Riley Keough stood out, but that might have been how her hair and eye color popped on screen.

I think the story issue for me is that the whole post-apocalyptic, 'we're out of oil/gas' thing doesn't work for me anymore. I think a more realistic story would be to have a future where while we are out of oil, Elon Musk has now seized control and is aligned or at war with Google.

Fury Road is highly entertaining and definitely worth seeing on the big screen, but for me it just lacked a little to really sink my teeth into. Honestly, I don't really see me watching it again. Maybe if I start doing drugs and need something to watch...

4 (out of 5) Death Stars

While We're Young (2015)

As it began, I really identified with how Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts feel isolated or disconnected from their friends as they move into parenthood and that chapter of their lives. They've chosen to focus on their careers and not have kids, and it seems that their friends resent that they haven't grown up.

When they meet a young couple (played by Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried), they are captivated by their energy. They form a friendship and it helps them recapture their zest for life. You could tell they were in a rut and happy to get out of it. The younger couple is impressed by what the older couple has accomplished. It's a mutual admiration society. To their older friends, they look like hipster dinks.

This is all fun to watch for about two-thirds of the film, then it decides to shoehorn a plot that just didn't do anything for the experience. It was almost confusing trying to follow what was going on. This didn't need a weird conspiracy angle thrown in.

Adam Driver is great though. He's perfect for films like this. I'm really curious to see how he's going to play as a villain in The Force Awakens though. It might be a real inspired casting choice. Anyway, it's also nice to see Amanda Seyfried in something good. I can't think of too many films she's been in that I've enjoyed. I don't know what it is about Ben Stiller that he always seems to play a character that you end up having no sympathy for. I don't know if it's the roles he chooses, or the way he chooses to play them. Maybe he's just one of those people that come off as unlikable.

Overall, I still thought it was a fun date-type movie. I just wish the third act had been a little stronger. Worth a rental.

3 (out of) 5 Death Stars

Friday, May 1, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

I guess we should get all the obvious stuff out of the way first. Is it as good as the first one? Is it as fun? Is it darker? I'd say, "Yes!" Alright guys, thanks for reading. That's the entire review.

Seriously though, it's easy to say that Ultron isn't as good as The Avengers. Clearly some of the "wow" factor is gone due to the fact that we've gotten past the idea of even seeing all of these guys on screen together, and a (finally) good Hulk. Ultron does seem less fun somehow, despite having as many one liners.

I feel like Ultron is more of the continuing adventures of The Avengers. An extended Saturday morning cartoon. Ultron has the advantage of familiarity, so we can focus on developing the characters and giving more screen time to people not named Thor or Iron Man.

There's a bit of sequelitis here, with bigger action sequences and the typical raising of the stakes. It is a little darker in tone, but that's probably not a surprise to anyone.

A lot of people seem to forget that the first 40 minutes or so of The Avengers was kinda boring. Not much happens. In Ultron, no time is wasted getting to the action, and there are at least 3-4 extended fighting scenes. There are a few times where there's too much going on, and I would imagine that it would be harder to track it all in 3D. I skipped on the 3D, but will likely check it out on IMAX in the next week or so.

I loved the new additions to the cast, particularly James Spader's voice work as Ultron. For the comic purists, there are few things that'll probably irritate you, but I try not to focus on that kind of stuff anymore.

I hear that Whedon's original cut of this was over 3 hours long and that we're going to get an extended cut with an alternate ending when it comes out on Blu-Ray. I cannot wait for that. I'll probably watch Ultron more on Blu-Ray than I do The Avengers.

So, yeah, I liked it. A lot! If you're a fan, go see it. If you're not, why are you reading this in the first place?

4.5 (out of 5) Death Stars