Friday, May 30, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Review

I was not originally excited about the Spider-Man reboot only five years after the awful Spider-Man 3, but The Amazing Spider-Man completely blew me away and I was chomping at the bit to see the next installment. Finally The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) hit theaters. While not quite as amazing as its predecessor, it was a great fun to watch.
Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is getting the hang of being Spider-Man. There's nothing quite like web slinging between skyscrapers, embracing being the hero, and spending time with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Formidable villains keep appearing and threaten New York City. With the emergence of Electro (Jamie Foxx), Peter is confronted with a foe far more powerful than he is. Amidst the ensuing chaos, Peter's old friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) returns. Harry had been sent away by his father Norman (Chris Cooper) to a boarding school around the same time Peter's parents disappeared. Peter comes to realize that all of his enemies have one thing in common: Oscorp, which Harry is inheriting. Peter's Aunt May (Sally Field) is struggling to support the two of them and is worried about the secrets of Peter's parents that begin to bubble up. Spider-Man's greatest conflict has always been the struggle between the ordinary obligations of Peter Parker and the extraordinary responsibilities of Spider-Man. As Peter's past unfolds, the dividing line between them starts to becomes oblique.
First off, let me clear something up. The promo posters for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 showed not one, not two, but three villains for old web head to face. The last time we did that in Spider-Man 3 it was awful. The story was all cluttered, nothing had enough screen time for proper development, and it looked like Amazing Spider-Man 2 was going to shoot itself in the foot like Spider-Man 3 did. There is actually one central villain in this movie: Electro. There's a second villain that shows up late in the movie, which was a weak move as far as story structure goes. Then there's the third one thrown in for the sole purpose of being a teaser for the next movie, but I'm not going to tell you which is which. On the one hand, we get a good, solid, interesting bad guy with some depth and back story. But on the other hand, the other two felt as if they were shoehorned into the movie just to get us to want buy tickets for the next movie before this one is over.
Peter and Gwen are great characters. They bounce of each other beautifully, they make up for flaws the other one has, they're cute together, and it takes both of them to fight the bad guys. Gwen is almost like a sidekick to Spider-Man, she played a big role in stopping The Lizard in the previous film and her brains help Peter figure out how to fight Electro. Unfortunately, we spend a lot of time with an on-again-off-again relationship the two of them have. I feel like that story arch could have been condensed. They could have simply had Peter stick to his decision in the previous movie to stay away from Gwen, and then have to seek her out and ask for help and start the relationship anew. Instead they keep flip-flopping between being together and being apart, and it takes up a lot of the story in the movie. Spider-Man has always been about juggling his dual roles, so things are inevitably going to become complicated. The "are we really together" subplot became tedious at times.
Electro: Movie vs. Comics
Jamie Foxx as Max Dillon was great. He's a nobody who works as an electrical engineer for Oscorp and he idolizes Spider-Man. It quickly becomes an unhealthy obsession after being saved by Spider-Man. I've loved Spider-Man since I was four years old and I was never that bad. After Max Dillon obtains electrical superpowers, becoming Electro, Spider-Man tries to help, but things go awry and Max's borderline crazy escalates into arrogant insanity. The movie Electro looks nothing at all like the comic book Electro; he looks way better! His skin is translucent and teeming with electricity. It's excellent watching how this character goes from being a good hearted loser into a powerful villain. It is logical development of the character, and you can empathies with him on some level. That's how you make a good bad guy.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was fun, although wasn't as good as the previous film. The story wandered around aimlessly several times, it had some subplots that could easily have been condensed, and it leaves a lot of unresolved issues for the next movie to pick up. It also has a great cast, some solid characters, some outstanding special effects, and moments that are touching and others that will shock you. Seriously, there was one moment in the movie when I was staring agape at what happened. I'm starting to think Andrew Garfield is a better Peter Parker than Toby Maguire was; Garfield has more of the sassy intelligent smart mouth thing going on which was always a major part of the Spider-Man character. It may not be as good as the first Amazing Spider-Man, but it's a good time and worth catching in theaters. You can bet I'll be getting a copy on blu-ray when it's available. Make sure you stick around for the mid-credits preview of X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Several Spider-Man villains were hinted at in this movie, which one are you most looking forward to? Comment below and tell me why!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Godzilla Review

Godzilla is one of the most recognizable symbols of Japanese pop culture worldwide and is a major icon in cinema history. America tried to make their own movie featuring the giant lizard back in 1998 which, frankly, wasn't very good. Hollywood decided to take another crack at it and we have Godzilla (2014).
When a Japanese nuclear plant goes into meltdown mode and the wife of Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) gets caught on the wrong side of the containment door, a massive cover-up ensues. Fifteen years later, Joe's son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has become a bomb-disposal expert in the U.S. military. After returning home to his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and their son Sam (Carson Bolde) he gets word that Joe has been arrested in Japan. Ford ventures to Japan and reluctantly agrees to join Joe in traveling to their old home in the quarantine zone. The pair are taken into custody end up in the plant where Joe used to work, and where Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) is studying a massive cocoon-like structure that appears to feed on radiation. The situation turns critical when the events of the present mirror those of the past and a terrifying winged-creature dubbed "MUTO" is unleashed. Meanwhile, as the military attempts to devise a plan to destroy the beast, signals indicate that is has been calling out to something before it broke free, and the scientists learn that is has awoken a towering godlike leviathan that has lain dormant for centuries.
In the original 1954 Godzilla movie, Godzilla represented the fears that many Japanese held about the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the possibility of recurrence. While the movie featured a rubber suit monster stomping on cardboard buildings, it primarily focused on the humans being affected by the trauma and disaster, and it was poignant. I think that's what the goal was in this 2014 movie, but the story arches for all but Joe's character were flat and uninteresting. Joe was fanatical about uncovering what he believed to be a massive cover-up that caused the death of his wife for whom he still grieves. Ford was conveniently a military character so we see what the military was doing. His wife's character was conveniently a medical civilian in San Francisco so we could see the people affected by the monster fights. Everything that makes up Ford and Elle is the fact that they want to see each other again. Joe really is the only character that's even remotely interesting. Stronger and more interesting human characters would have made the whole movie much better.
But who goes to see a Godzilla movie to watch the human characters? The monsters were amazing in this movie! The MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) was huge and scary looking, and seemingly unstoppable as it travels across continents seeking out radiation to consume. Godzilla himself was incredible! We don't get a real good shot of him until about halfway through the movie, but it's worth the wait. All of Godzilla's previous incarnations were used for inspiration during design, making this Godzilla resemble the classic sci-fi monster we all love rather than that goofy, long-legged iguana in the 1998 film. They even revamped the original Godzilla "roar" for this movie. Since the terrible human storylines take up a lot of movie time, we don't see a whole lot of monster fights. They take place in the background while the human drama takes center stage. I really think this movie would have been better with more monster action, but what we do get to see is nothing short of jaw-dropping.
In the storyline, Godzilla is an apex predator and arrives to protect his territory from rival predators. He doesn't want them encroaching on his food source (radiation). He's not there just to stomp on major cities and cause trouble. Thematically, Godzilla is nature's force for balance. The military is conflicted about the wisdom of allowing Godzilla to attack the MUTO, but Dr. Serizawa states, " The arrogance of men is thinking nature is in their control and not the other way around. Let them fight." The colossal beasts fight, and Godzilla ends up looking like the best chance for survival since the military weapons seem to have no affect on the monsters at all. The monsters aren't out to specifically destroy things, it's just cities happen to get in the way of their animal behavior.
There is a lot about this new Godzilla movie to praise. This is only Gareth Edwards' second feature film to direct, but he has a masterful grasp of camera work and cinematography. The visuals are stunning to say the least, even when there aren't colossal monsters stomping around. The score is as epic as a movie featuring a legendary one hundred meter-tall behemoth. The CGI rendered monsters are incredible and are animated to illustrate the sheer magnitude and weight these giants have, comparable to that of Pacific Rim. It is an absolute delight to watch.
Godzilla was pretty darn good despite some writing flaws. The monotonous, non-developing human characters were tedious to endure and took center stage a bit too often. Even when they were moving along their weak story arches, it remains a visually striking and gorgeous movie to watch. It borrows from the "Spielbergian" style from the way the camera moves, to the use of music, to the gradual rolling out of the big effects. The action is tense, the monsters are larger-than-life, and the music is outstanding! Props to Gareth Edwards for taking what has for decades been a loved but albeit laughable franchise and made it into something audiences will flock to see. This is worth catching in theaters; Godzilla just won't look as amazing on a small TV screen. I might consider getting this on Blu-Ray eventually, but it's certainly worth watching at least once.

Which classic Godzilla monster is your favorite? Apart from the King of Monsters himself, I like Mothra a lot. Comment below and tell me yours!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Trigun: Badlands Rumble Movie Review

I've mentioned before that there isn't a lot of anime I can honestly say I enjoy. It's mostly the anime movies I've seen that shine, rather than the TV series. An exception would be the Trigun series. I loved it! Naturally, I was anxious to see Vash the Stampede back in action for Trigun: Badlands Rumble (2010). Unfortunately, it was a bit of a letdown.
In a town surrounded by quicksand, an outlaw from Vash the Stampede's (Johnny Yong Bosch) past has resurfaced after twenty years. His name is Gasback Gallon Getaway (John Swasey) - and he's looking to cause a little trouble. It seems Gasback has a serious beef with the town's mayor, who is paying dozens of bounty hunters to protect his turf from Gasback. One of those hired guns is a beautiful woman named Amelia Ann McFly (Colleen Clinkenbeard) with a vendetta against Gasback. Will she get a shot at revenge? Maybe if she can get through Gasback's Bodyguard, Nicholas D. Wolfwood (Brad Hawkins). Meryl Stryfe (Luci Christian) and Milly Thompson (Trina Nishimura) are also in town representing the Bernardelli Insurance Society who is concerned about the safety of the mayor's investments through their company. But what does Vash have to do with this mess? Nothing much - except for the fact that he personally set off the entire chain of events two decades ago.
Badlands Rumble relies heavily on the assumption that you've seen the TV series. Apart from Vash himself and the characters unique to the movie, no one is granted much character development at all. Also, this doesn't act as a sequel to the series. I had to look it up, but this storyline is considered canon and occurs sometime between episodes nine and eleven; it's after Vash has met Wolfwood in the series but before the villain Legato closes in, if that makes any difference to you. Having said that, this isn't a movie you would feel satisfied with had you not watched at least the first third of the series.
What makes the Trigun series so fun is Vash. He's a jovial pacifist gunman. He foils outlaw's robberies and holdups by acting like a complete buffoon who is innocently getting in the way, but is very sneakily disarming and distracting the bad guys and helping to stop them with no one getting hurt. Vash does that several times in Badlands Rumble. In the prologue, Vash acts distraught that Gasback stepped on his donut during a bank robbery and gets in between Gasback and the hostages and begging for a replacement donut, thus helping to keep the hostages from being shot. There are plenty of other references and running gags from the series; Meryl and Milly offer donuts as a gift to their clients, that black cat shows up in the background a couple of times, and no one believes that Vash is actually the man with the sixty billion double dollar bounty on his head even when he admits it. Interestingly, Johnny Yong Bosch is the only English voice actor to reprise his role from the original series.
Generally when an animated movie is made based on an animated TV show, the quality of animation is improved for the movie. There were several scenes in Badlands Rumble that boasted some really great animation with a high frame rate. There were other scenes that looked more like the animation quality on the half-hour anime show; decent, but lacking in some detail and shading. The animation averaged out to be just okay on the whole.
While there are several simple story lines converging on one another, the overall plot is pretty simple. There aren't really any plot twists or surprises you don't see coming. Trigun is meant to be an action/adventure of sorts, but this particular story has a whole lot of exposition and less action than one would expect. Normally the stakes are higher in a movie, but that doesn't seem to be the case here. It has an interesting theme; our good intentions can lead to bad outcomes, but good things can still come from tragic circumstances. That's a great lesson to learn, but we only arrive at that conclusion after long exchanges of dialogue at gunpoint.
It truly was fun to see Vash the Stampede in action again as well as the interesting sci-fi/western/steampunk-ish setting he inhabits. Overall Trigun: Badlands Rumble was drawn out and rather slow, and does not really expand on the Trigun universe or its characters. The animation is a bit spotty; occasionally good, but usually average. The rock music score is outstanding and the occasional twangy acoustic guitar fits into the western motif beautifully.  Since the movie relies on the assumption that you've seen the series, you'll probably be pretty lost if this is your first exposure to Trigun. It seems that Badlands Rumble was made specifically for the hardcore fanboys out there, the likes of which I am not. I can't recommend seeing this movie unless you're a fan of Trigun, and even then I don't recommend getting your hopes up too high over it.

What is your favorite movie based on a TV show? Comment below and tell me about it!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Inception Movie Review

There is an adage called Sturgeon's Law which states that, "ninety percent of everything is crap." This is how we end up with awful movies. There is that glorious ten percent that is something completely unique, original, and stands above the rest. These movies are few and far between and they blow your mind. Inception (2010) is an example of this from within the last five years.
Dominick Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a skilled thief, the absolute best in the science of "extraction" - inserting oneself into a subject's dreams to obtain hidden information without the subject knowing. Cobb has given up being the dream architect for reasons he won't disclose. Cobb's primary associate, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), believes it has something to do with Cobb's deceased wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard), who often figures prominently and violently in those dreams. Cobb's work is generally in corporate espionage and since the subjects don't want the information to get into the wrong hands, the clients have zero tolerance for failure. Cobb is also a wanted man as some of his past subjects have learned what Cobb has done to them. One of these subjects, Mr. Saito (Ken Watanabe), offers Cobb a job he can't refuse; to take the concept one step further into "inception." Planting thoughts into the subject's dream without them knowing. Inception can fundamentally alter that person as a being. Saito's target is Robert Michael Fischer (Cillian Murphy), the heir to an energy business empire, which has the potential to rule the world if continued on the current trajectory. Beyond the complex logistics of the dream architecture of the case and some unknowns concerning Fischer himself, the biggest obstacles in success for the team is worrying about one aspect of inception which Cobb fails to disclose to the other team members prior to the job. Additionally, Cobb's new associate Ariadne (Ellen Page) believes that Cobb's own subconscious, especially as it relates to Mal, may be taking over what happens in the dream.
Inception is pretty much a perfect movie for my preferences. Let's make an amazing action movie, that is also very cerebral and forces you to think. It should be written and directed by Christopher Nolan who also wrote and directed Memento and The Dark Knight trilogy. It should keep viewers on the edge of their seat, and keep them engaged with every little plot twist. We should use some outstanding actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Ellen Page, and Michael Caine. It must have state-of-the-art mind blowing special effects, as well as some inconceivable practical effects. It also needs an amazing score by Hans Zimmer since he's among the best in the industry. It should be specific enough to follow and understand the unique setting, yet abstract enough to prompt discussion and personal interpretation. Boom! Inception.
While there are few people I know who did not enjoy Inception, I occasionally hear complaints about how it was confusing, or that Nolan has mistaken needless complexity for good writing. I don't agree with this at all. I loved Inception right from the first time I saw it in theaters, but it took at least two more viewings before I pieced it all together in my mind. Even then, I still argue and discuss the cryptic way the movie ends and what it means with other fans of the movie. Even Nolan himself has said he's read some very off-the-wall interpretation. It's not so much confusing as it is detailed; it's much more complicated than your average movie and forces you to think about what you're seeing. It is confusing if you only watch it once and take it at face value, but Inception is much more complicated than that. There is just a whole lot to take in, and it's not likely you'll take in all of it with one viewing. I can think of few examples of movies that are so specific in story development and yet still so open to interpretation. That is a strong indication of high quality art.
Inception is an excellent piece of writing. Since there is so many rules unique to this world setting, there is a whole lot of exposition required to explain everything. Inception has this continuous exposition explaining how things work almost right up to the end. Yet it's interwoven into the action so remarkably well that we are never bored by the dialogue. We get just enough of an understanding to carry us over into the next scene. The dialogue is detailed and intelligently written, the pacing is fast but even, and the intricate story unfolds in such a way to keep us engaged and interested the whole time.
Inception is simply incredible. It has a stellar cast, an amazing story, astonishing special effects, and an incredible writer and director. Nolan has cemented himself among the great filmmakers of our time, not only with Inception but with most of his other works as well. Like any movie, Inception has it's weak points, but it's mostly miniscule nit-picky things; I don't think cognitive psychology was consulted much in the development of this film, for example. That's unimportant since the particular rules of this unique world setting are so meticulously explained to us. There is a lot to like about Inception and Nolan keeps his eye on the ball throughout, offering up a lush treat of a thriller with nerve and wit. The Inception Blu-Ray is already sitting on my shelf next to other favorites of mine. I highly recommend this movie; it's worth owning and seeing multiple times. It only becomes more interesting when you know the end from the beginning.

What is your favorite Christopher Nolan movie? Comment below and tell me why!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Muppets Most Wanted

And now for my second Muppet movie in a row. Only three years after The Muppets, we've got a sequel; Muppets Most Wanted (2014). This particular Muppet movie parodies a lot of other films while retaining vaudeville and musical numbers that are Muppet signatures. It ended up being pretty good.
Picking up at the exact moment the previous movie left off, Kermit the Frog and friends are elated by their revival's success and are approached by Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) to go on a world tour. Unknown to them, this is all part of a sinister plan of Constantine, the world's most evil frog, to become the greatest thief of all time. After making sure that Kermit is jailed as himself, Constantine impersonates him to use the Muppet's tour as a cover for his scheme. While Sam the Eagle of the CIA and Inspector Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell) of Interpol investigate, the Muppets find their boss seems strangely changed even as Kermit desperately attempts to escape only to be thwarted by prison guard Nadya (Tina Fey). Only when Walter, Fozzie, and Animal realize the truth is there a chance to prevent Constantine from pulling off the crime of the century.
Muppets Most Wanted is a caper movie. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of sketch comedy and musical numbers included and it still has that variety show vibe that The Muppets are known for. I was actually worried that there would be less of that since the main plot was about the hero being swapped with the villain and trying to rob museums. But as per tradition, there are plenty of bits of surreal humor, meta-references, catchy songs, and a prolific use of cameos. I'll only mention two here because it would ruin some of the gags in the movie to reveal more of them. Many times the cameo is the punch line, after all. Lady Gaga and Tom Hiddleston both make appearances in this movie. Tom Hiddleston is an inmate at the prison after being jailed in Thor: The Dark World.
Most Wanted makes many references to other movies, including spy movies, prison movies, and crime capers of the 60's and 70's. It was clearly inspired by The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppets Take Manhattan and The Pink Panther. The movie starts out with a song "We're Doing a Sequel" which is not only funny and catchy, but it also comments on movies and the film industry. There's a line in the song that goes, "And everybody knows the sequel's never quite as good." It's funny to have a movie actually say that, but I hope it wasn't an attempt to excuse the film for possibly being a bomb. While trying to pitch ideas for this sequel, The Swedish Chef appears in a spoofed scene from the old Swedish film The Seventh Seal playing chess with death. The idea is shot down because Americans don't like to read subtitles. Other movies that are referenced include The Shawshank Redemption, Citizen Kane, Gone With the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, The Spy Who Loved Me, A Chorus Line, The Silence of the Lambs, and Mission: Impossible among others. They're easy to miss if you haven't seen those movies. I haven't seen some of the movies referenced, but I could still identify them because they are classics. The references will go over kids' heads, but adults will probably get a kick out of them. I  mean, seeing Kermit wearing a Hannibal Lecter face mask while in prison is just funny.
Watching The Muppet Show as a kid, I thought it was weird that we'd see these singing and dancing characters, but rarely see their feet as they danced. That seemed like an important part of dancing to me. There's a scene in Most Wanted that features Constantine and Badguy singing and dancing. Constantine, basically the Kermit puppet, is doing some pretty impressive dance moves for a puppet. I'm truly not sure how this was managed, it doesn't look like CGI or anything. Maybe one or more puppeteers were in "green screen suits" and edited out afterwards? The Muppets excel most when special effects are kept to a minimum and allow the magic and novelty of the puppeteering to shine. And shine it does! The puppet work was amazing. The Constantine and Badguy scene was remarkable. Others were impressive but you could tell where the puppeteers where probably hidden. A lot of scenes made me want to watch the special features on the DVD when it comes out to see how they actually pulled off some of the scenes.
As Kermit said, the sequel isn't quite as good. It's predecessor was better, but Muppets Most Wanted was a good time and a decent movie. It lacked the nostalgia of previous Muppet movies, but I still think The Muppets are moving in a good direction. There is a lot of fun songs and laughs to be had with this film; I laughed a lot at the gags and jokes because it's my kind of weird humor. The many cameos were hilarious and fun to watch for since many appear so unexpectedly. This is a decent movie that parents and kids will get a kick out of. It's worth getting a copy to enjoy as a family if you are fans of The Muppets. If not, it's still worth renting for a few laughs.

Who is your favorite Muppet? Comment below and tell me why!