The Wolverine Delivers Summer Movie Fun!

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The Wolverine is not a perfect film.  Yet, as a showcase for everyone’s favorite mutant, it delivers a solid narrative–a fantastic, new setting–some creative actions sequences–memorable sidekicks and baddies–and mostly, a perfect performance by Hugh Jackman.  He is Wolverine.  Period.  And if you like this character, at all, you will enjoy this outing–considerably better than the last time around, that is for sure.

The success of this character (& the film) lands squarely on Mr. Jackman’s broad, muscular shoulders and he bears it with grace and attitude.  Hard to believe it was 13 years ago that we were first introduced to his iconic turn as Wolverine.  Despite whatever may be going on around him (especially with the sad misstep that was Origins: Wolverine)–Jackman never fails to entertain and delight us with his flawless portrayal.   This time around we get Logan at a crossroads in his existence and again, Jackman draws us in and keeps us invested.   I also loved that he was extra grumpy and irritable, which lead to some genuinely funny moments.

Yes.  This film falls into the same trap as most summer films do, especially Comic Book movies–which is it’s basically the hero’s journey and there are only so many times you can see the structure and not predict the beats and themes that run throughout.  So, it is the execution that distinguishes it and James Mangold does an excellent job keeping our interest here.  Instead of going “big”, Mangold chooses to take the intimate approach. This is a quieter, more contemplative story that focuses on Logan’s inner struggle with his “gifts” and immortality and I loved it.   Trust me, there is plenty of “big” action–but, it is not overwhelming or underwhelming–it is just the right amount.

The script by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank does suffer a little from clichés, plot holes and has some “groaners” sprinkled around yet, I appreciated the arch and journey that Logan takes on this time.   And the setting in Japan is brilliant.  The theme of honor works well and the connection to Wolverine being a solider (Ronin) lost without purpose leads to great inner conflict and revelations.  Japan is a character in this story–from the tragedy of atomic fallout to the technology that runs the city–the setting plays a role in different forms that challenge our hero.

I have to notice that this time around there was a distinct female presence.  From sidekick–lovers and villain–we are surrounded by strong, powerful women.   I like it.  😀   The badass sidekick is beautifully played by newcomer Rila Fukushima.  Her Yukio is layered and complex and a great foil for Logan.   In the lovers domain they are both old and new.  Famke Janssen returns as Jean Grey and is as lovely as ever (although I was never a fan of their romance because she belonged to Cyclops! ;))  and the gorgeous Tao Okamoto is the new love interest Mariko, who awakens feelings long since believed dead for our Wolverine.

In the villain department, Svetlana Khodchenkova kills it as Viper.  I loved the character design and her ice-cold delivery was dead on.  It was also cool to see Will Yun Lee as Harada, the ninja.  Been a fan of his for a while and he does a fine job here.  Add badass Hiroyuki Sanada as Shingen and Hal Yamanouchi as Yashida and you have an awesome supporting cast.

The action is fun and well choreographed.  I am a sucker for sword play and there are some cool sequences.   At times the hand-held jarring effect was a bit much–but unfortunately that is a common trait today.  I truly enjoyed the mixture of old and new–from ninjas to high-speed bullet trains–there were a lot of clever approaches.   Well done.

Bottom line?  I can not say The Wolverine is a perfect film–but, I can say it is a fun and enjoyable summer movie that delivers on its promise–more so than other films this year.   If you love Logan as a character and appreciate Hugh Jackman’s incarnation of Wolverine,  I believe you will have a good time.  Jackman has playing Wolverine down to a science and it’s an awesome thing to behold.

Snikt! Snikt! Slash!!

Pssst!  Stay for a bit during the credits–the teaser is AWESOME!!  So exciting!

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June Movie Watching in Review

I saw a bunch of films at home last month and the year of mediocrity continues.  What can I say?  I have seen more “meh” films this year than good ones.  Hope it is just a fluke and not a trending pattern.

Here we go!

GI Joe: Retaliation

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Well…it had some cool action and fight sequences.  It had some good-looking eye candy.  But, sadly–that is it.

Fluffy summer fun.  Completely forgettable.

42

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The true story of Jackie Robinson is an important part of our history and his breaking of the color barrier in Baseball is inspiring.  Unfortunately, this film is not as  inspiring.  It is an ordinary film about an extraordinary man.  It’s not a bad movie–it is serviceable and safe, but fails to evoke any emotion, which should have been easy with such a topic.  But–hey, Harrison Ford is awesome in this and reminds us that he can act–that is worth the watch.

The Host

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WOW.  So bad.  I was laughing out loud.  The inner dialogue gets old (and hilarious) in two minutes.  The premise and concept are actually promising–but fails in execution.  Writer/Director Andrew Niccol started with a promising career and has been on a downhill slide–his last attempt 2011 In Time also suffered from “good idea–poor execution” syndrome, but at least had a stronger cast.  Saoirse Ronan proves she can indeed act–even with horrible material–and William Hurt shows up here (where have you been Will?) and it was nice to see him.  Everyone else?  Terrible.

Dead Man Down

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I had some expectations going in to Dead Man Down.  I was excited to see what Danish director Niels Arden Oplev (his first American film after the Danish Girl with a Dragon Tattoo) would do with the premise, which was strong and original.  I was excited that J.H. Wyman (Fringe show runner) had written the script–it should be good and clever.  So, I begin and I am liking it–a lot– Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace have wonderful chemistry and are knocking it out of the park.  Cool.  Terrence Howard and Dominic Cooper give us some solid support work.  The film looks great and has some wonderfully tense and well executed scenes.  All good–right?  Well…then it falls apart towards the end.  It becomes heavy with plot exposition–becomes easily predictable and honestly sloppy.  What a shame.

Evil Dead (2013)

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I like being scared.  Really.  It’s like riding a roller coaster–thrilling, scary and yet, safe.  You know you are okay in your home (or theater) and that this will not happen to you (hopefully).  I love watching scary movies with my daughter, Vieve because if it’s really good we will end up curled up together hugging each other tightly.  With Evil Dead we never reached cuddle status.  It started well.  They tried to build some character–the atmosphere was creepy and ominous–but quickly it all evolved into a gore fest.  Hey, that’s fine for some–but it is not my cup of tea.  It just stops being “scary” and just become gross.  By the end, we were nowhere near clasping each other for support–no need.  The original is better.  And also–it’s hard not to watch this and think Cabin in the Woods (yeah…chuckle.)

Bullet to the Head

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Is it 1985??  Because Bullet to the Head is straight out of that decade.  Big, loud, silly fun.  All the parts work.  Stallone is…well Stallone and there is nothing wrong with that.  😀   I enjoyed the cool action sequences and even cooler fist fights. Yes.  I love a creative fist fight and Jason Momoa is not only a good match for Stallone, he is a decent villain.  A solid good time–even for 2013.

Solomon Kane

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Cool action sequences.  That’s it.  I honestly cannot remember anything else.

Identity Thief

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I am a fan of Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy, so I thought this would surely be a good time.  I was wrong.  Neither of these two fine comedians could save this script and the down right silliness required of them.  A waste of fantastic talent.  Identify Thief never quite decides what kind of movie it wants to be and in turn ends up being disjointed and awkward.

Die Hard 5:  A Good Day to Die Hard

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No.  No.  No.  This is NOT the John McClane I love.  That poster alone makes me want to scream–really?  They took a beloved, classic line and what?  Made it cute??  UGH!  That is exactly what they did to this franchise.  Nothing worked for me.  It was big, loud and dumb.  The chemistry was terrible, the action was tired and Bruce Willis looked bored–not that I blame him.  🙂  I hope this ends now.  Either bring back the real McClane or stop it.

The Call

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There was a good movie in there–they just missed it.  A lot of things work in The Call.  Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin are solid and turn in great performances.  The premise is creative and original–911 dispatch is a unique approach and full of possible scenarios.  But so many opportunities were missed because it want to turn into some kind of action thriller?  It all goes down hill the last 30 minutes when they trade reality and drama for implausible and fake tension.  Bummer.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

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What can I say?  I wanted this to be funny.  I like all these guys.  But, no.  It wasn’t very funny.   There were glimpses of funny–but too brief to make any kind of impression.  I appreciated the character driven plot and the homage to magic, but overall I could not be impressed.

See?  A whole bunch of “meh”!  Let’s see what July brings…

Later, guys! 😀

Pacific Rim is pure AWESOMENESS!

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What an epic spectacle!  Pacific Rim is a mixture of creativity, humanity, badassery, monsters and giant robots–yeah…it’s awesome!  My excitement was justified–Guillermo del Toro has fulfilled his and my childhood dreams and reminded us what a summer blockbuster is supposed to be.  As a long time fan of del Toro this is not a surprise, at all!

The story is simple (as most action films are) but it is original and intricate.  The premise by  Travis Beacham and co-written with del Toro is a complete universe with a solid mythology established and it is an exciting discovery.  This is a rare occurrence in Hollywood today–(it does happen sometimes…Daybreakers–Looper–Matrix…to name a few) and Pacific Rim delivers a world so believable and so well thought out to the last detail, that you will find yourself immersed quickly.  (And now, I want to know more! Prequel, maybe?)

I love monsters! I remember fondly watching Godzilla marathons when I was a kid (Mothra shout out!) and now I still find myself drawn to creatures of all shapes and sizes.  I think it is a natural fascination with the unknown and it’s a direct manifestation of imagination and creativity.   And del Toro delivers some of the coolest, most original looking monsters I’ve ever seen.

Kaiju–The word “Kaiju” is a Japanese that literally translates to “strange beast,” but is often translated in English as “monster”.  And these are strange beasts indeed.  Fantastic.  I have to give some kudos to the film’s designers, which  include Wayne BarloweOscar Chichoni, monster sculptors David Meng and Simon Lee, and Hellboy II and The Hobbit designer Francisco Ruiz Velasco.  Amazing.

The trailer tells you all you need to know, so I will not divulge anything extra–(you know how I like to keep you untainted by not revealing too much information).  😀  But, simply–the Kaiju are from another dimension and are now a problem for humanity.  (I do love the time in which del Toro decides to bring us into the narrative–it was unexpected–I thought we were going to see some origin stuff, but no–interesting choice.)

So, humans unite and create our own monsters–giant robots called Jaeger–“Hunter” in German–to fight off the Kaiju. Simple.  Except to operate the Jaeger you need humans–two actually–united (the “Drift”) and their human connectivity fuels and determines the level of their strength.  Nice.  What a clever way to insert heart and soul in a metal shell.  I also enjoyed the new approach to the traditional love story–by having this drift connection it becomes more about inner compatibility than the typical attributes given to love.  It is subtle and interesting.  All in all, the metal shells and their human operation are absolutely awesome!

The genius is in tying humanity to the use and function of these machines.  The Jaeger pilots are the robots.  So when they are in danger–so are our heroes.  It adds a level of investment and risk needed to enhance the action sequences.  These Jaegers are incredible, too.  Beautifully designed and meticulously constructed.  Gypsy Danger is a Rock Star!  (Reading all the design considerations that went into creating them has been quite fascinating.)

But, the fighting…wow!  Not kinetic.  Not sped up.  Not edited down to bits.  Just knock-out-drag-out fights!!  Punches being swung.  Monsters pounding and piercing.  I am sure that my mouth fell open a few times.  Hell–I know once I heard myself say “WTF? Uh-uh!” –out loud! I applauded at few kills–yes, it was mind-blowing.  And all I will say is that the “we do have one more weapon” left moment is–BADASS!!  I may have squealed.  😉

That is another accomplishment–the special effects and monster creations are crazy good!  Industrial Light and Magic continues to impress and creates flawless effects.  I was never taken out of a moment–it all had a realism to it–they made you believe all this could be possible–surreal, but plausible.    

I love the cast.  Mostly, I am happy to see Idris Elba front and center!  “Canceling the Apocalypse” has already become quotable since the trailer and here he does not disappoint.  Elba’s Stacker Pentecost (great name) is the heart of the story really and his performance is perfect.  The lovely Rinko Kikuchi (loved her in Brothers Bloom) is Mako Mori and I found her charming (her character back story is one of the most haunting) and a strong match for our hero.   Charlie Hunnam‘s Raleigh Becket is our hero and although he may be the weakest link (could have been a bit more expressive), the chains are so strong around him that he is able to get by.  The comedy relief is dead on!  Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as resident scientists are hilarious and Mr. Ron Perlman shows up for some required helping of extra awesome.

Oh, I cannot forget to mention how gorgeous this film looked–del Toro reunited with long time collaborator Guillermo Navarro for cinematography and it’s beautiful.  And the music by Ramin Djawadi (Game of Thrones) is fantastic–listening to it now actually–within five minutes I knew I wanted to own it–soaring and sweeping with some cool Tom Morello guitar solos.  Sweet.

It is clear that I can go on and on.  Pacific Rim is a masterpiece.  A masterpiece in scale and scope, but also with heart and originality.  del Toro’s enthusiasm and love for the material is evident and you can’t help but have it rub off on you.  Big, fun, creative and with a beating, human pulse.  Yes.  This is what summer blockbuster should be.  And hopefully now Guillermo del Toro will be able to do whatever he wants!  PLEASE!  (Hellboy 3 has to happen.) 😀

Go!  Have fun!  It’s pure awesomeness!

Pacific Rim – Official Trailer 1 [HD] – YouTube

The Lone Ranger doesn’t even meet my low expectations. It’s just bad.

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It is sad.  I was not expecting much from The Lone Ranger–a Pirates’ film in the west, maybe?  The trailer was bloated–but looked like silly fun.  Nope.  Actually, it was not a bit fun.  Awkward.  Strange.  Convoluted.  Long.  Unfunny.  Those are the first adjectives I would use to describe this film.

There were plenty of WTH? moments.  What?  How?  WHY?!  The prison escape?  The cannibalism?  Silver on the roof?  The bunnies? What the hell is up with those bunnies?  o_O    Yeah.  This whole thing was random and felt like snippets of about 5 different movies–it was very much like watching someone with a multiple personality disorder.  We are going to be a western.  NO.  Campy fun.  NO.  Mystical.  NO.  Funny.  NO.  And boy, was it NOT funny.  When I did laugh it was not with them…

Gore Verbinski is a seasoned director with a fine sense of style and a great eye for action.  Unlike many, I enjoyed all three Pirate movies (the first one is the best, of course) and I LOVED Rango–but, I can not make any excuses for Gore this time around.  Nope.  This is sloppy work.  No character development.  No tension.  No surprises.  Even the action sequences were bland.  I heard the last 30 minutes made the film watchable and I was waiting…and waiting…It never happened for me.  The ending may be better than the rest of the film–but it does not save it.

Now, I must say that I love Johnny Depp.  I respect him as an actor and will see any film he stars in–I have been faithful since he first appeared on my TV set (21 Jump Street).  Yet, lately I have gotten worried.  With Tonto he is not awful–but he is not inspired.   It feels stale and forced.  And sorry, the chemistry between him and Armie Hammer is flat.  I actually feel bad for Hammer.  What a thankless role–he is set up as a “half-wit” and a clown–the butt of all the jokes–well, with that kind of vibe it was hard to see him as the hero.  Even as an origin story it does not work–we see too little of his lone ranger as heroic to care by the end.

The supporting cast would be great (William FichtnerTom WilkinsonRuth WilsonJames Badge DaleBarry PepperHelena Bonham Carte)–if they had anything to work with.  Everyone on this cast was wasted and were barely on screen for 10 minutes each.  The script is credited to six writers–wow–that’s how many it took to come up with so many bad ideas.  I am trying to think of a positive thing to say to balance this review and I can not.  It’s the worst film I have seen this year.  Easily.

So, all I can say is…Go at your own risk!  😀

 

Much Ado About Nothing: Shakespeare and Whedon–what a pair!

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Never have two writers been more appropriately matched.   Joss Whedon‘s trademark wit and charm are perfect for William Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing (one of my favorites) and I enjoyed his adaptation–it wasn’t perfect–but it was a good time.  What was really impressive is that Whedon shot this in 12 days at his home with a group of friends–that is one party I would have loved to attend! 😀

Much Ado About Nothing is a fast paced, witty and hilarious tale of love, misunderstandings, a “merry war” between the sexes and perception.   It has been given the Hollywood treatment before with the 1993 written and directed version by Kenneth Branagh–which I absolutely adore!  It was a star-studded cast and it did not stray far from the written word.  But, honestly, Branagh’s Benedict and Emma Thompson‘s Beatrice are superior to their new version counterparts–not totally dissing the new cast–but they are both able to deliver more nuanced performances (more talented actors??) and capture all the different tones throughout more convincingly.

With that said–I return to 2013.  To say this production is low-key is an understatement and yet, Whedon shines here.  He takes a simple approach that works with the atmosphere established.  He shoots scenes through windows and glass that almost make you feel like you’re in the house watching the shenanigans occur–this approach allows you to feel like you are a guest in the home, that just happens to see and hear everything–which is pretty cool.

The cast is great!  As a fan of the Whedon universe, it was awesome to see all the old friends from all the shows/films over the years and to watch them play with these Shakespearean roles.   Not a bad bunch–I enjoyed them all and they held their own (some a bit better than others, of course) and they were obviously having way too much fun.  Oh, by the way…Nathan Fillion–I love you.   😀   The stand out would have to be Amy Acker‘s Beatrice–(I have always been a fan and think she is sadly under appreciated)–who steals the film.  She is funny and sweet and yet, can cut you with a glance or a word.  Alexis Denisof is a good match for Acker and his Benedict has some of the best laughs.

My only problem with this adaptation is the retention of certain words and a particular theme.  While Whedon changed the time setting to fit the “filming at my house during my vacation” perimeters and for a more contemporary spin and it worked well for most of the story–there was the tiny issue of “purity”.   In 1598, when Shakespeare wrote this comedy it would be expected that a woman remain pure and a maid–in the literal definition–but in 2013??  Uh, not so much.  And I just felt that it was an obvious misstep.  It took me completely out of it–and I was unable to shake it.  Others may just notice the infidelity angle, but the words are quite specific.  It did not ruin the entire film for me–but, it was annoying–really, Joss?  You couldn’t change a few words?  :/

All in all, it was a lovely time with Mr. Whedon and Mr.Shakespeare and if you love either of these guys–you will enjoy yourself, too!  Who knows…maybe these two will pair up again?  Maybe during a vacation period while filming The Avengers 2?  Twelfth Night?  That would be awesome.