Tuesday, May 29, 2012

MouseHunt Movie Review

Dreamworks Studios was started in 1994 by Steven Spielberg, Jeffery Katzenberg, and David Geffen to create a new Hollywood studio of which they would own 72%. Dreamworks has gone on to make movies, video games, and television programming. In 1997, they released  their first family film, MouseHunt directed by Gore Verbinski.
 After the death of their father, Rudolph Smuntz (William Hickey), Ernie (Nathan Lane) and Lars Smuntz (Lee Evans) inherit the family business, an old string factory. Ernie wants to sell it immediately in hopes they can get any kind of profit from it. Lars wants to keep the business running in honor of their deceased father’s wishes. The brothers also inherit an old mansion their father never mentioned before. Upon getting the house apprised they learn that is the last house built by Charles Lyle LaRue, which was until then thought to be a rumor. The house dubbed “The Missing LaRue” draws the attention of architectural enthusiasts and LaRue collectors. The Brothers agree to restore the house and put it up for auction in hopes of earning millions of dollars. But the house is inhabited by a very intelligent and mischievous mouse. Fearing another vermin-related incident that caused Ernie to lose his restaurant job, the two set out to get rid of the mouse. This proves to be an insurmountable challenge, pushing the Smuntz brothers to more and more extreme tactics as the auction draws ever nearer.
MouseHunt is unquestionably a comedy; it’s full of physical humor and slapstick. Part of the appeal of MouseHunt is that it uses common physical gags that you would normally find in an old cat-and-mouse cartoon in a live action movie. It’s like Home Alone (1990) meets the Tom and Jerry cartoons with a dash of The Money Pit (1986) thrown in. A cat the Smuntz brothers purchase chases the mouse into a piano, playing musical notes as they run around inside it. Lars gets a mousetrap caught on his lips.  Ernie is fired out of the chimney like a cannonball due to a gas leak. Various characters are hit with frying pans. There are also explosions involving a septic tank; what family comedy is complete without potty humor?
The characters in MouseHunt are amusing, but simple. Normally simple characters are a weakness in a film, but not in this one. MouseHunt really is going for a simple Saturday morning cartoon quality. Having deep, dynamic characters that end up falling downstairs, out the front door, and sledding down a snowy hill in a Jacuzzi tub would just be stupid. While the characters are simple, they are not annoying or pointless. Often times child characters are thrown into films in an attempt to appeal to child audiences. There aren’t any major child character in this movie, and there doesn’t need to be. Kid characters are always depicted as being more intelligent than the adults and manage to avoid any pratfalls. That would have weakened MouseHunt considerably. The characters are all adults, but they are expressive and interesting enough to keep child viewers interested.
Kids may recognize Nathan Lane’s voice as Timon from The Lion King (1994). MouseHunt makes a couple of subtle references to this role. Ernie Smuntz bows to a sheik who is attending the auction of the house. In doing so, he greets him with “Hakuna Matata,” referencing a song he sings in The Lion King. The actor Ernie Sabella, the voice of Pumbaa, makes a cameo appearance as the pound owner where the Smuntz’ purchase “catzilla” to help rid them of the mouse. Young viewers probably won’t catch these details, but it’s worth noting.
The only weakness in MouseHunt is a lack of a villain. You’re never quite sure who to be rooting for; The cute little mischievous mouse or the down on their luck Smuntz brothers. There is plenty of conflict, but who do we want to win? The movie itself doesn’t seem to know, and by extension, neither do we. This is a fairly trivial detail, the movie doesn’t take itself any more seriously than a Tom and Jerry cartoon, and neither should we.
MouseHunt is a fun movie. It has funny characters, wacky comedy, slapstick, and some amazing visual effects. Kids will want to watch it again and again. It is directed by the same director who did Rango (2011) and the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies, if that is any indicator of MouseHunt’s quality. There are a couple of scenes that might be a bit scary for younger viewers; the cat is pretty funny, but might scare some youngsters. It’s probably good for about ages six and up. If you have kids, this is worth purchasing. If not, it’s still a fun movie to watch sometime.

Did you see MouseHunt? Did you like it? Was it too “cartoony” for your tastes? Comment below and tell me why!

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Village Movie Review

In most cases, directors go from bad or mediocre films to good films as they progress in their career. M. Night Shyamalan seems to have managed to do the opposite. He gained renown with The Sixth Sense (1999), but his movies started to fizzle out with Signs (2002). He really began to lose credibility with audiences after The Happening (2008). When The Village (2004) was released, we still had high expectations, but it was with The Village that he really started to disappoint.
There is a small village of about 60 puritans in rural Pennsylvania. For the most part these puritan settlers live a quiet and peaceful life, but fear the terrible creatures that lurk just outside the borders of the village. The villagers have reached an agreement with these beasts in which each side allowed to go about their business as long as neither one crosses the village’s boundaries.  This delicate balance is upset when a young man, Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Pheonix), ventures into the forest to see what lies beyond the borders. Animal carcasses, stripped of their fur, being to appear around the village, causing the council of elders to fear for the safety of the village, the agreement with the creatures, and more. After Lucius gets injured, the village patriarch, Edward Walker (William Hurt), sends his daughter Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard) through the woods to retrieve medicine from the outside towns. Ivy is blind and cannot tell where she is going or where the prowling creatures might be.
All the characters in this movie are pretty flat and uninteresting. They don’t develop, they aren’t deep, and they are remarkably reserved. It’s almost as if the puritan qualities of simplicity and humility are over insinuated upon the characters to the point that they are scarcely even one-dimensional. Everyone gets along with such ease that they end up feeling unrealistic. The characters (and the tone of the movie itself) are so somber that they almost seem afraid to make the audience aware of their presence.
The best part of The Village is when we are focused on Ivy. About halfway through the movie, Ivy becomes the central figure; she gets to learn about some of the village secrets and she stumbles around in the woods, completely blind. To put the viewer on the same level as Ivy, we see her hand stretched forth to the edge of the screen as she tries to feel her way around. When she comes across something, she feels it with her hand and then it comes into full view on the screen only after Ivy figures out what it is. We are shown shots of the front of Ivy’s feet as she walks through the unfamiliar forest; we (like Ivy) cannot see where she is going or what obstacles may be in her way. Not only is this a brilliant way to visually depict the world through Ivy’s perspective, it also intensifies the sense of being completely lost in the woods and amps up the suspense.
M. Night Shyamalan is known for his twist endings. Generally, a good twist ending blows your mind as you realize all the subtle little things previously in the movie all add up to a big surprise at the end. The twist in The Village was completely out of the blue. There was no logical build up to it, no hints leading up to it, and no subtle clues to take into account. It’s established that there are secrets in the village, but when we see the big secret it’s just too out of place with the story, and even the setting, such that that it’s impossible to swallow.
The Village was the movie that caused M. Night Shyamalan’s credibility as a director and writer to take a significant downswing. The story is pretty forgettable. In fact the only thing that seems to stick out in people’s minds even years after seeing it is how unjustified the ending was and how disconcerted it made them feel. The only redeeming value is the creative camera work while the blind girl stumbles around in the woods. If you haven’t seen The Village, you’re only really missing out on a disappointing product of a formerly good writer and director. If you did see The Village years ago, you probably only remember how non-sequitur the conclusion was. This movie is “okay” at best, but isn’t really worth going out of your way to see.

What did you think of The Village? Did it have some endearing qualities? Did you think the twist ending was acceptable? Comment below and tell me why!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Fight Club Movie Review

Most dramas tend to center around philosophical discussion about life and what it means to be human, and feature characters displaying emotional depth. Good dramas are great, but generally don’t appeal much to masculine viewers who revel in violence and explosions. Yet all of that is present in David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999); it’s a drama for men.
Edward Norton stars as a depressed insomniac (named in the credits only as “Narrator”) who is just another cog in the world of big business. He hates his job and receives no sense of accomplishment from it. He tries to find fulfillment in creating the “perfect” apartment. His doctor refuses to give him medication for depression or insomnia, and the Narrator seeks out support group meetings for conditions that he doesn’t have. Here he is able to find a level of emotional release that allows him to sleep and function normally. One day on a business trip he meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a charming but rebellious soul who sells soap. Tyler puts no stock in the materialistic world, and believes that one can learn a great deal through pain, misfortune, and chaos. Later, Tyler challenges the Narrator to a fist fight and the Narrator finds that the the bare-knuckle brawling makes him feel more alive than he has in years. This ultimately leads to the two becoming friends and roommates who engage in informal fights once a week. More men join in the “fight club” and it becomes an underground sensation and a closely guarded secret among the participants. As the Narrator and Tyler bond through violence, things become strange when Tyler becomes involved with Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter) whom the Narrator met in the support groups and developed a love-hate relationship. Things get even stranger as the Narrator sees Tyler’s anti-establishment views become more and more extreme, eventually leading to vandalism and worse.
The premise in Fight Club is compelling. When we feel lost and dissatisfied with our job, the world, and the system society has set up, we feel dead inside. The idea of violence leading to personal fulfillment is unconventional, but interesting. The violence in the fight club doesn’t serve to promote or glorify physical combat, but for the participant to experience feeling in a society where they are otherwise numb. The fighting between these men strips away their fear of pain and their reliance on material signifiers of self-worth. Fight Club almost makes you want to get in a good fist fight so you can feel better about the world and your place in it.
Making a broad generalization about sex scenes in movies, they are typically included to develop the characters and a connection they are forming. There are plenty of scenes in Fight Club that achieve this sort of development between the characters; raw, naked emotions being exchanged, and connections and relationship are forming between men. But it’s done through brawl fighting, not sex. These fights are achieving the same thing that sex scenes normally achieve, but in a much more “masculine” way of bonding and showing emotion. Once again, it’s a drama for men.
Tyler Durden is such a unique character. He bucks the system, he has atypical values, and extremely different methods of finding enlightenment. He’s also a dangerous maniac whom you would dread to meet in real life. In one scene Tyler has a convenience store worker on his knees at gun point. After going through the man’s wallet and finding an expired college ID, Tyler asks what the man was attending college for and what he had dreamed of doing. Once Tyler gets an answer, he commands the man to go home, and threatens to kill the man in six weeks if he has not doing everything in his power to work towards his dream of becoming a veterinarian. Once the man is gone, Tyler says to the Narrator “Tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of Raymond K. Hessel's life. His breakfast will taste better than any meal you and I have ever tasted.” Tyler is sort of a likeable psychopath, along the same vein as the character Rorschach in Watchmen (2009).
Fight Club is a good movie with complex and interesting characters, some thought-provoking ideas, and some philosophical concepts dropped in unpredictable ways. As you may have guessed, there’s quite a bit of violence in this movie. There’s also some language and sex scenes (though not between men, as this review may have been unintentionally insinuated). It’s a drama for men; most women viewers probably wouldn’t enjoying it, and it’s too graphic for younger viewers. It’s still good and if you aren’t too put off by this kind of material, it worth seeing twice.

Can you think of another “manly” drama like Fight Club? What was it and what did you think about it? Comment below and tell me why.

Friday, May 18, 2012

UHF Movie Review

Several decades ago, MTV actually played music videos instead of asinine “reality” shows. This was great because it kept musicians too busy to make terrible movies. Had MTV come along sooner, we’d have fewer awful Elvis Presley films. There are still some “music video” movies made to glorify allegedly talented musicians, such as Spice World (1997) featuring The Spice Girls. "Weird Al" Yankovic, known for his humorous song parodies that make light of popular culture, starred in a movie called UHF (1989). Unlike Spice World or Presley’s G.I. Blues (1960), UHF wasn’t simply publicity for Weird Al, and was actually pretty funny.
Imaginative George Newman ("Weird Al" Yankovic) and his friend Bob (David Bowe) have just been fired from their jobs at Burger World. George’s Uncle Harvey (Stanley Brock) recently won a nearly bankrupt UHF television station in a poker game and consents to let George and Bob manage it. George turns the station into a success by letting the janitor, Stanley Spadowski (Michael Richards), host a kid’s show. George fills the broadcast day with wacky programs which bring the ratings up, saving the station. This threatens R.J. Fletcher (Kevin McCarthy), CEO of rival station Channel 8. Fletcher tries to buy the station off of Uncle Harvey who is in thousands of dollars in debt from gambling losses. George must come up with a way to save the TV station.
UHF didn’t receive much critical acclaim, but it has become a cult classic. It’s full of slapstick physical comedy that would fit well into a Saturday morning cartoon. It starts off with an Indiana Jones parody where George (dressed as Indy) is trying to retrieve an Oscar Award from some Aztec ruins. He is chased by a giant boulder out of the ruins, through various non-sequitur scenic backgrounds, and all the way to New York City where he is flattened like a pancake. The comedy is often surreal and weird; you’ll probably need to have a weird sense of humor to really enjoy the film, or maybe have just enjoyed Bugs Bunny cartoons as a kid.
The story is fairly weak, and really only serves to string together the wacky physical gags and jokes. There is a lot of satire in UHF, poking fun mostly at TV and movies. When a host for an animal show receives a delivery he says, “Badgers? We don't need no stinking badgers!” a reference to Blazing Saddles (1974). There is a scene where George imagines a rescue attempt being something like a Rambo movie; a gunshot kills more enemies than is physically possible and he catches bullets fired at him with his teeth. There are commercials for other wacky shows like “Conan the Librarian” and businesses like “Spatula City.” The references are a bit dated, but are still relatable to contemporary television. There is a talk show scene which parodies Geraldo (which itself was a precursor to Jerry Springer). Television hasn’t changed all that much since the 80’s, it seems.
Most movies that feature “music artists” take every chance it can to cram their latest hit down your throat. While Weird Al dose some songs in UHF, they are primarily in the background. George has a dream sequence which is essentially a music video of Weird Al’s Beverly Hillbillies song. This isn’t a shameless self promotion on Weird Al’s part; it really is an actual movie. It’s not a great movie, but we can’t expect something deep or profound from a movie that features a game show called “Wheel of Fish.”
UHF is a completely silly movie that has a lot of similar qualities to a Saturday morning cartoon show. You really have to have a weird sense of humor and appreciate slapstick to enjoy this movie. It’s really stupid, but lots of fun. It’s on par with movies such as Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993), The Naked Gun (1988), Hot Shots! (1991), and Blazing Saddles. It’s a pretty clean movie, too. It’s probably suitable for ages eight and up; kids would probably enjoy this movie a lot. UHF is a good time and worth some laughs. This cult classic is worth owning if you are into this kind of humor.

Here is a clip of the Rambo scene to help illustrate how ridiculous and hilarious UHF is:

Can you think of some good “music video” movies? Not musicals, but movies made to showcase a popular musician or a music group? Were there any good ones? Comment below and tell about them!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Lost in Translation Movie Review

Bill Murray has been appearing mostly in independent films and as cameos in bigger budget films. For Lost in Translation (2003) director Sofia Coppola wrote the lead role specifically for Bill Murray, and later said that if Murray turned it down, she wouldn't have done the movie.  In fact, she wasn’t even sure if Bill Murray was going to do the film, only having a verbal confirmation. It was on the first day of filming that Murray actually showed up.
Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is an American film actor who is far past his prime. He visits Tokyo, Japan to appear in some celebrity endorsed commercials. While at his hotel he meets Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), the young wife of a visiting photographer. Charlotte is trying to find her place in life, and Bob is tolerating a mediocre marriage back in the States. Charlotte is puzzled with how much her husband, John (Giovanni Ribisi), has changed in their two years of marriage, while she's been unable to launch a creative career of her own. The spark has gone out of Bob's marriage, and he's become disillusioned with his career. Bob and Charlotte end up being perfect, yet improbable traveling companions. Both suffer confusion and some amusing antics due to the cultural and language barriers  between themselves and the Japanese. As their companionship deepens, they come to the realization that their visits to Japan (and each other) will soon end. But does it need to?
Murray’s and Johansson’s characters were both well developed and interesting. Bob was inundated with mundane domestics; even while he was in Japan, his wife sent him carpet samples though FedEx so he could decide what color to re-carpet the home office. She also faxed him samples of shelves to decide how to redecorate their home. Phone calls with his wife usually involved her being frantic about home decorations and screaming children, and not listening to anything Bob has to say.
Charlotte is stuck at a hotel while her negligent husband is doing photo shoots for celebrities. He doesn’t seem interested in his wife of only 2 years. When Charlotte and John run into a celebrity  acquaintance (played by Anna Faris), John jumps at the opportunity to do a one-on-one “photo shoot” with her and tells Charlotte that “he'll be working, and she won't have a good time if she comes along with him.” So Charlotte is constantly left on her own to mope around the hotel and wonder what her place in life is.
These are relatable issues, yet other issues bring to mind the “First World Problems” internet jokes where pictures of people crying are coupled with captions like, “had to park far from the door.” Bob is a celebrity! Who hasn’t dreamed of being interviewed on talk shows, having people snap photos of you, and asking for your autograph? Charlotte is visiting Japan! What percentage of Americans get to travel overseas, let alone to Japan? If I were there I’d be on the streets every day touring and exploring everything I could, regardless of how busy my self-absorbed spouse was. That was a theme in the movie; the attitude you have towards events in your life really affect your feelings about life. These characters were literally doing what many people dream of and were still despondent.
Over the course of the film, several things get “lost in translation.” In a particularly funny scene while Bob is working on a commercial, the Japanese director uses lots of hand gestures and long bits of instructions in Japanese. An interpreter translates this to Bob as, “He wants you to turn, look in camera. OK?” Bob looks bewildered and asks, “…is that all he said?” The characters themselves are lost, too; lost in the alien Japanese culture, lost in their own lives, and lost in their relationships.
The relationship that Bob and Charlotte form is interesting. It’s almost expected that if (in movies) two characters of the opposite sex form a relationship it will always be a sexual one, maybe even a romantic one. But the relationship that Bob and Charlotte form is a platonic relationship. They share something deeply personal with each other; their true feelings, rather than something as commonplace as their genitals. Their relationship was fascinating to see, and I would love to see more relationships like this in movies. In fact, the only sexually explicit content in the movie is some topless strippers in the background when the two are exploring Tokyo.
The scenery captured in Lost in Translation is so gorgeous! There are strange locations that captivated the feel of Japan, and the movie really explored Japanese culture. In the context of the characters being tremendously out of place, everything looked amazing and defies description. From simple family-run restaurants to flashy casinos and arcades to tranquil Zen monasteries, everything was eye-catching and beautiful to see. I’m ready to go visit.
Lost in Translation was a good movie, though I don’t think it would appeal to everyone. It’s pretty slow moving and dramatic. The visuals are stunning, and I think it’s worth watching for that aspect. Most of the “adult” elements (apart from the previously mentioned strippers) are only talked about, not visually depicted. It’s a fairly clean movie. It ended with the characters simply feeling better, but their problems remained unresolved. That felt a bit anticlimactic, but still complimented the theme of attitude affecting your view of life. This was a well done movie, but I wouldn’t rush out to see it unless you enjoy drama films.

Can you think of a movie that really captivates the essence of a certain culture? What's the movie and what's the culture? Comment below and tell me about it!

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Terminator Movie Review

Arnold Schwarzenegger is probably best known for his iconic role in The Terminator (1984). In fact, the movie's line "I'll be back." was voted as the #37 movie quote by the American Film Institute (out of 100), and as #95 of "The 100 Greatest Movie Lines" by Premiere in 2007. It’s also one of the few examples of a good movie that has an even better sequel.
The film starts out in a post-apocalyptic 2029. Los Angeles has been reduced to a rubble-strewn battlefield under the thumb of all-powerful ruling machines. Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), a member of a human resistance movement, is sent back in time to 1984. His mission is to protect Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton), the mother of the man who will lead the future rebels against the tyrannical machines, from being assassinated before she can give birth. Also sent back to 1984 is The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a an emotionless and efficient killing machine with a powerful metal endoskeleton, but with an external layer of living tissue that makes it resemble a human being. The Terminator is programmed to kill “Sarah Connor,” and begins killing off every Sarah Conner in the phone book. It’s a non-stop manhunt as Sarah and Reese struggle to stay ahead of the relentless killing machine.
The 1980’s was full of ridiculous and awesome action movies. They generally featured ridiculous muscular action heroes, often Sylvester Stallone (as Rambo) or Schwarzenegger (in other roles). These movies featured highly unrealistic, masculine, tank-like heroes that could take just about any kind of abuse and keep going. They would also never seem to run out of bullets and would instantly kill nearly anyone they shot at. These were the heroes of the 80’s action movie. It is interesting to see this same kind of character portrayed as the antagonist in The Terminator. The hero is much weaker and has finite recourses, while the antagonist has an arsenal at his disposal and will not tire nor stop pursuing his target.
The Terminator is one of writer and director James Cameron’s early films. Cameron is known most recently for Titanic (1997) and Avatar (2009). He hasn’t directed a whole lot of movies, but the ones he has done are quite good, including Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). If you watch closely you can see some similarities in The Terminator that show up in some of his other films. For example, in the 2029 scene there are hovering, flying robots attacking the human base that look a lot like the hovering gunships in Avatar.
We’re accustomed to seeing high end special effects in James Cameron’s movies. The Terminator is no different. The effects are a bit dated today, but they are still good. There’s a Schwarzenegger puppet that is used when The Terminator is repairing itself to avoid detection. It’s pretty convincing, though it’s still clearly a puppet. When all the living tissue is removed from The Terminator there is a frightening skeletal machine that still chases Sarah and Reese. A metallic puppet is used for close up shots and a smaller stop-motion puppet is used for wider shots. Even when Sarah is being chased by a stop-motion metal man, it’s still suspenseful. There’s also plenty of practical effects; like some beautiful pyrotechnics in the explosions. Modern movies often use too much computer graphic enhancement in their explosions and it ultimately weakens the impact. The Terminator was made in a time where explosions looked really good, before computers started messing with them.
The Terminator was James Cameron’s first iconic film and a movie that solidified the stardom of Arnold Schwarzenegger. There have been lots of other movies that tried to imitate The Terminator’s success, and there have even been several spoofs done on Saturday morning cartoons. It did spawn a couple of sequels (after the excellent Terminator 2) and a TV series that weren’t so memorable. Still, as a pop culture icon, The Terminator is worth seeing at least once, and possibly worth adding a Blu-Ray copy to your home collection if you’re into 80’s action movies.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Jumper Movie Review

Haden Christensen delivered to us an insulting, lackluster, and unnecessary character of Anakin Skywalker in two of the prequel Star Wars movies. George Lucas is obviously to blame for that. Surely Haden Christensen could recover from such a terrible role, right? Well… maybe not.
High school student David Rice (Haden Christensen) lives in Anne Arbor. At the age of five, he was abandoned by his mother, so he lives with his alcoholic father. He’s got a crush on Millie (Rachel Bilson), and is picked on by at least one other kid at school. One winters' day, David becomes trapped under the ice on the river. Just before drowning, he discovers he can transport himself instantaneously to any place on earth. He leaves town, goes to New York City, robs a bank vault, and comes to the attention of a shadowy group called “The Paladins.” Eight years later The Paladins, lead by the murderous Roland Cox (Samuel L. Jackson), get a fix on David. Attempting to flee, David returns home to invite Millie to travel with him as far away as he can get. But he soon realizes that Roland and The Paladins are even more obsessive and deadly than he thought, and are bent on eliminating “Jumpers” like David. David finds another Jumper named Griffin (Jamie Bell) who is at war with The Paladins. Simply wanting to be free of The Paladins, David attempts to join Griffin, but ends up being more of a hindrance than anything.
Haden Christensen doesn’t seem to be able to act very well. He’s got this very forced style that seems on par with a high school drama student. He acts a lot like he did in Star Wars but without such “profound” dialogue. David's character is a thief, a coward, selfish, uninteresting, non-developing, and seems devoid of social graces, relying on his good looks to get him laid. No one in the movie seems to like David; Griffin doesn’t like him because David screws up Griffin’s plans and makes bumbling mistakes. Millie wants to like David, but he acts so weird and secretive that she doesn’t feel safe around him nor does she trust him. David’s father is an abusive alcoholic who beat David as a kid, and his mother flat out abandoned him. It’s a wonder that more of the cast aren’t siding with the villain; At least Roland takes the initiative to try to kill David.
It’s hard to take the story or characters very seriously because there never seem to be consequences for anything. David transports himself all over the globe, occasionally causing damage. When David “jumps” sometimes he busts up the floors and walls generating lots of dust or water damage, and sometimes he doesn’t. David appears in a crowd of people in the middle of a large city and no one bats an eye. A new car is teleported out of a dealership. A house is demolished when half of it is transported into a river. Still, not one person ever seems affected by any of this. If all this random damage and confusion doesn’t matter to anyone in the movie, why should it matter to us?
I have to admit the premise of having people who are able to teleport at random and what kind of a person that might create is interesting. Why The Paladins think it’s such an abomination and an affront to God isn’t really addressed. They are bad guys for the sake of being bad guys. But then, the Jumpers we see in the movie are rather unscrupulous scoundrels. Is Jumper really about a band of government-sponsored heroes tracking down some international petty thieves and law breakers? It isn’t framed that way, but it certainly looks to be the case.
Jumper had some potential to be a decent story. It could have made some social commentary similar to that of X-Men or Spider-Man: the injustice of attacking those different from you or “with great power comes great responsibility.” But it didn’t. Jumper just shows us a vaguely interesting premise, some half-decent special effects, some uninteresting characters, and a story with a very weak plot. Is it worth seeing? Maybe, but I wouldn’t take the effort to seek out the movie yourself. The only reason I saw it was someone gave me their copy of the movie because they didn’t want it. That alone should tell you something about the film.

If you could have any one superpower (like teleporting anywhere in the world) what power would you want? What would you do with it? Comment below and tell me the whole story!

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Avengers Movie Review

Ever since the post credits scene at the end of Iron Man (2008) where Nick Fury discusses “The Avengers Initiative”, Marvel fans have been anticipating an Avengers movie. There was a five-movie build up to this event, including two Iron Man movies (2008, 2010), The Incredible Hulk (2008), Thor (2010) and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). Having already built a fandom around these characters, we have high expectations for Joss Whedon’s Superhero mash-up, The Avengers (2012). Even with our expectations set so high, they are still exceeded by this movie.
S.H.I.E.L.D. is a global peacekeeping espionage organization, with  Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) as its director. Exiled Norse god Loki (Tom Hiddleston) infiltrates S.H.I.E.L.D. and steals The Tesseract, and item of immense power that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been protecting. Loki has formed an alien army and will use the limitless power of the Tesseract to open a portal across the galaxy to bring them here and destroy Earth. Fury instigates The Avengers Initiative to gather the superheroes he has contacted over the past several years to help S.H.I.E.L.D.  protect Earth should the world stand in dire need. These heroes include Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) who can transform into The Hulk; genius billionaire playboy Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and his mechanical battle suit he which dons to become Iron Man; Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), who is the iconic World War II symbol Captain America; the Norse god Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns to Earth to aid in stopping his adoptive brother Loki; and two S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) codenamed Black Widow and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) codenamed Hawkeye.  But The Avengers are divided over how to approach Loki and the revelation that S.H.I.E.L.D. plans to harness the Tesseract to develop weapons. The team of superpowers must overcome their differences and combine forces to stop the immanent global threat.
Traditionally, the term “Epic Film” meant that a movie had a large scale, huge cast, sweeping scope, high budget, and often a run time that exceeds two hours. Some examples include Schindler's List (1993), Ben-Hur (1959), and Saving Private Ryan (1998). Recently, movie studios decided that dividing up an Epic into multiple shorter films makes the franchise last longer and earns the studios more money. That’s part of the reason for The Lord of the Rings to have been divided up into three movies, and the whole reason Quentin Tarantino’s epic Kill Bill (2003, 2004) was divided into two films. The five movies leading up to The Avengers were overlapping stories culminating in this one movie. With the dramatic combination of superpowers and a huge scale, I think it’s arguable that The Avengers and its related films could be considered an Epic by the traditional meaning of the term.
There were a few things I was worried would happen with The Avengers. I was concerned that the movie would rely on the assumption that the viewer has seen the five movies leading up to it and throw our heroes at us without bothering to develop them as characters. I was worried each of these characters were simply going to accept each other and rush off to fight the villain without question. I was also worried that only one or two of our heroes were going to get a bulk of the screen time. That would have been some seriously sloppy writing. I am deliriously happy to say that none of that happened! Joss Whedon co-wrote and directed The Avengers, and he is well known for his multi-character driven stories.
Each of our heroes has dynamic personalities and values; they don’t always see eye to eye, and they don’t trust each other. There’s a three-way fight early on between Iron Man and Thor. Each one exhibits some amazing feats, and even when Captain America tries intervene, you can’t decide who to root for most. Seeing these superheroes fight and their personalities clash makes them all the more interesting. Each character is developed enough for us to be emotionally invested in them; we know what they are capable of, we know what their strengths and weaknesses are, and we want to see them pushed to their limits! We are not left disappointed.
Every good hero needs a good villain; the nastier and more devious the villain, the more interesting the conflict. Loki returns after his defeat in Thor. He wants revenge and he wants to strike Thor where it would hurt the most: by enslaving Earth which Thor has come to love. Once the manipulative Loki sets his plan in motion, you can’t imagine how he could possibly be stopped. He is an outstanding villain who uses power and leverage to get what he wants. When he kills, he makes it meaningful and personal. He lies, manipulates, and is positively cruel to others. You just love to hate this villain, and you want to see him get it in the end.
The Avengers doesn’t shy away from showing us the kind of high end superhero action we want to see. We’re given gorgeously clear action that is over the top and amazing. We are held at the edge of our seat for a lot of the movie. Every character gets some great dialogue and humorous lines. The visual effects are brilliant. There is one scene later on that has a long, sweeping shot where the camera snakes around and over buildings showing us our heroes smack down enemies in their own distinct style in one dynamic swoop. There is so much energy and excitement packed into the camera work, the script, and the characters you can’t help but get caught up in the movie.
To summarize this movie in one word, it is “satisfying.” It shows us what we were expecting to see, and then goes several steps beyond that. You will applaud and cheer for your favorite heroes. You will be captivated by the action. You will be highly satisfied with this movie. There are a couple of minor parts of the story that seemed a bit too easily resolved; but you can forgive it because it pales in comparison to the good qualities in the film. The Avengers is fun, funny, exciting, and so satisfying. You really must see this in the theaters if you’ve ever liked Marvel superheroes or superhero movies at all. It’s an epic movie that you really should be a part of. You don’t necessarily need to see the five movies that built up to The Avengers, but you’d be doing yourself a disservice by missing them. Go see it in theaters as soon as you can, and then buy a copy of it on Blu-ray when it’s available. You can bet I will.

If The Avengers were to assemble again for another movie, what Marvel villain would you love to see them pitted against? Comment below and tell me why!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Yellow Submarine Movie Review

I love animation. Though it seems that most animators choose to animate objective reality. There’s nothing wrong with that, but Disney showed us with Fantasia (1940) that anything can be animated. Fantasia showed us abstract moving shapes and images that were strange but pleasant to behold. The only other movie I can think of that animates abstract art is Yellow Submarine (1968).
The tranquil paradise of Pepperland is protected by Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by performing music. When the land falls under attack by The Blue Meanies, the band is trapped inside a music-proof bubble. The Blue Meanies continue the attack and in so doing drain Pepperland of color and joy. Captain Fred (Lance Percival) manages to escape in a yellow submarine and travels to Liverpool seeking help. He finds Ringo (Paul Angelis) aimlessly wandering around, whom he persuades to help save Pepperland. They round up Ringo’s “mates”, John (John Clive),  George (Peter Batten), and Paul (Geoffrey Hughes). They set out for Pepperland in the yellow submarine, passing many strange and bizarre regions such as The Sea of Time, The Sea of Monsters, and The Sea of Nothing, where they meet another friend, Jeremy Hilary Boob, Ph.D (Dick Emery) Learning that The Blue Meanies are repelled by music, The Fab Four retaliates against Pepperland’s oppressors using classic titles by The Beatles.
I once had a Beatles themed birthday party where I served a 6-foot “Yellow Submarine” sandwich, we watched Yellow Submarine, and played The Beatles: Rock Band. As we watched the movie, my cousin asked, “Do you need to be high to get this movie?” I must respond with an empathic “No!” Yes, this movie is full of some of the strangest imagery I’ve ever seen in a movie, and I suspect that’s what confuses some viewers. We’re accustomed to seeing reality represented in movies, even animated features which quite literally could animate anything. Yellow Submarine takes a bold step by actually showing us anything; abstract art is shown in vivid color and it is quite eye-catching to behold. Recreational pharmaceuticals may alter your viewing of Yellow Submarine, but I don’t recommend it; I enjoyed the animation just fine without it.
Yellow Submarine is a landmark in the development of animation. Some of the abstract visuals and characters presented to us have influenced contemporary cartoons. The Chief Blue Meanie was a basis for The Gromble in Nickelodeon’s 1990’s cartoon series, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters as well as HIM in Cartoon Network’s series The Powerpuff Girls. I’ve seen The Sea of Holes represented in various cartoons like Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, and probably influenced Valve Corporation’s hit video game Portal to some degree. Yellow Submarine is worth watching, if for no other reason than to see where other media drew their influence.
As a product of both the 1960’s and The Beatles, Yellow Submarine has a lot of 1960’s cultural influences, psychedelic animation aside. The aged Lord Mayor of Pepperland refuses to believe that The Blue Meanies would invade until they are upon him. His lack of understanding and acknowledgement of his surroundings represents the hippie views of the older generation. Jeremy represents the pseudo-intellectuals toiling away with their old values of science, literature, and art; he’s not is really up with the times and the “higher thinking” that the younger countercultural generation believed it brought. The Beatles bring salvation to Pepperland through their modern music and messages of love; a very hippie notion, indeed. The Blue Meanies, of course, representing war, hate, and bullying in general are generic villains, but are still influenced by 1960’s concepts and values.
Yellow Submarine is a totally weird, but fun animated movie that has had a great deal of cultural impact. It’s full of classic Beatles songs and groaner puns. This is a nice, clean movie that even the youngest of audiences could appreciate. The surrealist abstract art animation would probably dissuade some viewers, and understandably so. This movie is pretty unique as far as art direction goes. It’s so different even today, that I could easily understand some viewers thinking they would need to be high in order to appreciate the film (but again, I don’t recommend it). Having said that, I think the movie is worth seeing at least once if you can find a copy, but it’s certainly not for everyone. Most of my party guests didn’t care for it and wanted to return to playing Rock Band.

Take a look at the trailer to see what kind of surreal visuals you can expect in Yellow Submarine.

Can you think of another movie that use abstract art? What was it? Comment below and tell me what you thought.