Friday, February 27, 2015

Jupiter Ascending Review

The Wachoswkis are known for some outstanding  films and a few bombs. The Matrix Trilogy is an example of great movie, a mediocre movie, and a dumb movie (in that order, in fact.) I really loved their work in Cloud Atlas, and I'm a fan of V for Vendetta. The trailer for their latest movie, Jupiter Ascending (2015), looked as riveting as any of their other works, but ended up being surprisingly dull and uninteresting.
 Jupiter Jones was born under a night sky, with signs predicting that she was destined for great things. Now grown, Jupiter (Mila Kunis) dreams of the stars but wakes up to the cold reality of a job cleaning other people's houses and an endless run of bad breaks. Only when Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), a genetically engineered ex-military hunter, arrives on Earth to track her down, does Jupiter begin to glimpse the fate that has been waiting for her all along - her genetic signature marks her as the next in line for an extraordinary inheritance that could alter the balance of the cosmos. But the children of House Abrasax, the most powerful of the alien dynasties, Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Kalique (Tuppence Middleton), and Titus (Douglas Booth), quarrel over the same inheritance and seek out Jupiter to help meet their own agendas.
I love a good sci-fi flick as much as the next geek. Good science fiction makes commentary on contemporary issues in a unique, metaphorical way. One could argue that looking at how our science fiction stories have changed over the years is just as telling of our history and social issues than history books are. Even a sci-fi/fantasy romp that intends to tell an action packed story rather than critique contemporary society is fun from time to time; the original Star Wars trilogy for example. I am truly not sure which end of the spectrum Jupiter Ascending was aiming for. It mostly revolves around the action, even if the context for said action is a bit nebulous. It seem to try to say something about indulgence and consumption, but never draws a thematic conclusion. In fact, the resource everyone is seeking is developed to be a precious commodity but seems to be a sustainable industry, questionable as it may be. Thematically, Jupiter Ascending simply doesn't seem to know where it is or where it's going.
The story seems haphazardly stuck together. There's lots of sci-fi stuff happening and I wasn't able to discern a reason for a lot of it. At its most basic elements, the story is fairly straightforward, but there's so much extra stuff going on peripherally to the main storyline that it becomes confusing and hard to follow. A lot of time is spent on subplot devices that have little or no effect on the bigger story. It ends up being sci-fi for the sake of being sci-fi, but it's a poorly written and developed sci-fi to the point that it resembles the campy old Flash Gordon movies.
I wasn't impressed with the cast either. The only other movie I've seen Mila Kunis in was Oz The Great and Powerful, and that was pretty bad, too. I've really liked Channing Tatum in most of his movies, but after seeing Jupiter Ascending, I'm convinced he's just good at playing Channing Tatum rather than being a decent character actor. I was most disappointed in Eddie Redmayne. He was up for an Oscar for Best Actor for his incredible performance in The Theory of Everything, but here it's as if all his acting skills fell out before they started shooting. He is a skilled actor, but doesn't seem cut out for action roles, or maybe he's just not good at playing a villain. I want to say that overall everyone just had poor material to work with, but most everyone really was bad in this movie.
Jupiter Ascending was not what I had hoped it would be. The story was a weak and befuddled narrative, the characters were shallow and uninteresting, the acting was bad, and the theme was confusing. I know The Wachoswkis and most of the cast can do better than this; and that made the movie all the more disappointing. The special effects were fantastic, and most fight scenes were not bad, but that's about where the good qualities of the movie end. It's sci-fi for the sake of sci-fi. Overall, I cannot recommend seeing Jupiter Ascending. The only way you'd enjoy it is if you're looking for a senseless action movie that doesn't require any thought on your end and if you enjoy special effects more than story or characters. If that's the case, I'd still wait until you can rent it. It's not worth the cost of a movie ticket.

What was a movie that you were particularly disappointed in? Comment below and tell me why!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service Review

I have a confession to make; I'm not much of a fan of spy movies, and I've never seen a James Bond movie I can honestly say I liked. I saw the trailer for Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) and I was torn. It looked funny, but it also looked too much like a James Bond rip off for me to enjoy it.  I watched it anyway, and it was nothing like I expected. It's a very tongue-in-cheek spy movie that both satirizes Bond movies and acts as an innovative action spy movie.
Harry Hart (Colin Firth), code named Galahad, works for a top secret spy organization called The Kingsman. When one of Hart's compatriots dies in a failed attempt to rescue scientist James Arnold (Mark Hamill), The Kingsman have an opening in their ranks. Hart recruits Gary "Eggsy" Unwin (Taron Egerton) an unrefined but promising street kid, and son of a former Kingsman, into the agency's ultra-competitive training program. During Eggsy's training, internet billionaire and philanthropist Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) is reaching out to politicians, celebrities, and other persons of status to support him in his idea to put an end to global warming which correlates with his promotion of SIM cards that will provide the world with free internet and phone service. Concerned about the connection between Valentine and the death of his compatriot, Hart discovers a global threat behind Valentine's seeming generosity. Can Hart whip Eggsy into proper gentleman and spy to help save the world?
Kingsman was a ton of fun. It's almost like Men in Black meets James Bond but without aliens. If James Bond were completely rebuilt from the ground up for this generation, we'd have Kingsman. The movie both makes fun of spy movies while paying homage to them. It's self aware and makes literal references to spy movies. In some scintillatingly well done dialogue between Hart and Valentine, they say something to the effects of "If this were a movie, wouldn't [insert spy movie trope here] happen?"  This is followed by "This isn't that kind of a movie." And then they'd do something outside the usual structure of a spy movie. They really push on the fourth wall without actually breaking fourth wall in the interest of commentating on the spy movie genre. It gets a bit meta and self-referential without such commentary seeming out of sorts with the story itself.
Further homage include Valentine being made of the same stuff as a James Bond style villain but with a modern flair. He's got weirdly endearing quirks; he has an odd lisp, pays for all his ridiculous gadgets with his inheritance and earnings through online business, and he can't stand the sight of violence and becomes ill at the sight of blood. He's even got a ridiculous henchman; an amputee woman named Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) who wears bladed prosthetic legs. It's just like an over the top James Bond Villain, but modernized, silly, and interesting.
Hart is positively delightful. He's a superbly proper British gentleman with a crisp Queen's English accent. He's dapper, well dressed, eloquent, and can fight amazingly well. He's the kind of gentleman who would hold the door open for a lady and kick the trash out of her scumbag boyfriend. This was perfectly played out by Colin Firth, he seemed practically tailor made for the role. The role of Eggsy was also good, I've never heard of Taron Egerton before, but he was excellent, and I expect to see him in a lot more movies in the furutre. He played a streetwise petty thug with a chip on his shoulder and a thick cockney accent, and he allowed the character to develop and grow gradually and become a likable character. He's not terribly deep, you can't help but root for him.
The action is very intense in Kingsman. While there are moments of rising and falling action, the action rarely lets up. It's the action and some language that give the movie its R rating. Some of it is fairly cringe-worthy, but the camera doesn't dwell on the shots of gore hardly at all. It gives you just enough time to register what happened before moving on to another shot. This made it more watchable, I think, but no less shocking. But even some of the violent imagery tends to be hilarious at times. The action scenes were well choreographed and captured on camera. There's some shaky camera work in a few action scenes, but it was reasonably well done; the camera followed the action well enough to know what was going on without making me motion sick.
I thought Kingsman: The Secret Service was very enjoyable. Non-stop action, fun characters, a witty script full of commentary on spy movies, self-referential comedy, and lots of laughs. I'd say this wasn't a deep movie if not for the meta-spy movie quality it has, that makes Kingsman work on the level of a simple action movie and on the level of an interesting critique of the genre. I was both laughing and sitting on the edge of my seat throughout. This works well as a self contained story; there's no open end for a sequel to follow. I liked it enough to want to see more, but I don't think a sequel is necessary. Leaving this as a one off movie would be just perfect. If you do not like violent films or are put off by profanity, you won't like this one at all. But it that doesn't bother you too much, I recommend seeing this movie. I enjoyed it enough to want a copy on blu-ray once it's available.

Can you think of another good meta-movie? Surely there are others. Comment below and let me know!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Kung Pow: Enter the Fist Review

I got together with some guys a few weeks ago for a movie night. I introduced them to a personal favorite of mine that they had tragically never heard of. It is one of the weirder movies out there, caters to my particularly weird sense of humor, and is so gosh dang much fun it's hard not to like it. I am, of course, referring to the movie which now has a cult following, Kung Pow: Enter the Fist (2002). This movie is so ridiculous that it's only going to appeal to a certain demographic of viewers who have a bizarre sense of humor.
Our hero, literally named "The Chosen One" (Steve Oedekerk), is a kung fu prodegy even from the womb, who grows up to seek vengeance on the evil, legendary Master Pain (Fei Lung) who murdered his parents. Along the way, The Chosen One is aided in his quest by the kindly, wizened Master Tang (Hui Lou Chen), Tang's student Ling (Ling Ling Tse), as well as Whoa (Jennifer Tung), a martial arts queen with a cleavage problem. The Chosen One is also called upon to employ his unique fighting styles which include, but is not limited to, "gopher chucks." He faces not only Master Pain, but a variety of wacky enemies such as the lethal lactation of a deadly, karate-chopping cow.
It's hard to describe just how ridiculous this movie is; that summary simply doesn't do it justice. As if the story wasn't weird enough, the production is pretty eccentric, too. Steve Oedekerk directs, produces, writes, and stars in the movie. Roughly half of the scenes were filmed by Oedekerk himself, the other half was stock footage from a 1976 Hong Kong martial arts movie, Tiger and Crane Fist (Savage Killers in the English dubbed version). For many of the stock footage scenes Jimmy Wang Yu, the lead actor in Tiger and Crane Fist, was digitally replaced with Oedekerk so it appears that the actor is interacting with the characters from the old movie. With the exception of a body double used for a couple of shots, the characters of Ling, Master Pain, and Master Tang were all from the old stock footage.
Furthermore, in order to replicate the notoriously poor English dubbing of old kung fu flicks, Oedekerk and other actors followed one script full of nonsense so that their lip movement would be obviously out of sync with the dubbing for Kung Pow's actual script. For example, during filming Oedekerk had to scream the line, "I'm sombody's mommy!" which was later dubbed over with Oedekerk calmly saying, "I implore you to reconsider." This really helped to lampoon old kung fu flicks while making the newly shot footage and the stock footage blend seamlessly. The dialogue in Kung Pow, highly silly as it is, sounds even sillier since Oedekerk does all the voices, except for that of Whoa.
The humor in Kung Pow is over-the-top, juvenile, occasionally a bit crude, and just so gosh darn silly! Some of The Chosen One's fighting moves defy what the human body is physically capable of. The physical gags are on par with that of Loony Tunes cartoons. The Chosen One make a pair of Nun Chucks out of gophers, he punches a perfectly circular hole through a henchman, and does pushups with no hands among many other things. There's even a brief scene where bags of Taco Bell fast food are put into a shot make it look like villagers of ancient China are eating fast food. The sheer ridiculousness of it all is what makes it so funny.
The script is so full of little gems of stupidity that make it very quotable. At one point Master Tang dismisses one of his students and says, "Pay no attention to Wimp Lo, we purposely trained him wrong... as a joke." At another point, The Chosen One is helping a mortally wounded man into town to get medical attention, the man tells The Chosen One, "Let me know if you see a Radio Shack." Moments later when the man is brought before Master Tang, Master Tang asks "Where? Where does it hurt?" The man responds by saying, "Oh, pretty much around the big bloody spot." It becomes easily as quotable as a Monty Python movie and will have you chuckling at it for days afterwards.
As I said before, Kung Pow: Enter the Fist is so ridiculous that it's only going to appeal to a certain demographic of viewers who have a bizarre sense of humor. You are completely missing the point if you try to take this movie seriously on any level. From a critical perspective, it's just inconceivably stupid. But as a delightfully funny, light movie to kick back and laugh at with friends, this movie is gold. Kung Pow has garnered a strong cult following because of its camp style and silly, over-the-top humor, and its lampooning of the traditionally poorly-overdubbed Hong Kong kung fu films, which, in itself, has a strong cult following. I highly recommend watching this movie if you can find it. I've already got a copy sitting on my shelf along with other favorites.

Here's the movie trailer to give you a better idea of what this movie is like:

What are some other cult classics you are fond of? Comment below and let me know!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Unbroken Review

Hollywood has been spamming us with biopics for the upcoming Oscar season. We had Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, Margaret Kane in Big Eyes, and Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma. Some were outstanding, and others were blatant Oscar bait. The final biopic of the season, as far as I know, is about Louis Zamperini in Unbroken (2014). Louie was a USA Olympian athlete who was a prisoner of war in Japan during World War II. While the movie was overall good, it had some weak points that made it something less than what it was striving to be.
Sometime after setting a world record at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany Louis "Louie" Zamperini (Jack O'Connell) joins the US Military as a bombardier. In 1943, Louie and a crew are sent out on a search and rescue mission in a plane that had previously been used for spare parts. During the mission, both engines fail causing them to crash in the ocean. Louie, Francis "Mac" McNamara (Finn Wittrock), and Russell "Phil" Phillips (Domhnall Gleeson) are the only survivors and last for an incredible forty-seven days in a raft only to be caught by the Japanese Navy and sent to different prisoner-of-war camps. The camp in Tokyo, where Louie is sent, is headed by Japanese corporal Mutsuhiro "The Bird" Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara). Watanabe is cruel and sadistic and is bent on breaking the spirit of this US Olympian, but he has his work cut out for him when faced Louie's relentless determination to survive.
Unbroken was directed by Angelina Jolie and written by Joel and Ethan Coen. This is Jolie's second directorial work and she does a great job. It's a visually striking movie, bleak and dark, and elegantly filmed with intensity. There was virtually no part of the movie that didn't look excellent. The Coen Brothers are known for writing and directing some excellent movies including No Country For Old Men, The Big Lebowski, and True Grit. Together this team ought to have made a stellar movie. They did make a pretty good one, but it's a one trick pony.
The story is well organized with flashbacks to Louie's childhood, showing us where he learned his resilience, and details his experience in World War II. While this is interesting and even inspiring, it's as if each scene serves to illustrate only one point; that Louie is very determined. We see Louie stand up to bullies, he's determined. Louie sets a world record at the Olympics, he's determined. He survives a crash landing, he's determined. He survives on a raft, he's determined. It goes on like this for the whole movie. By the end, you'll know that Louie was very determined. Even when Watanabe and Louie are fiercely at odds with one another, we still get the point that Louie is determined. For the sort of prestige this movie was going for, it doesn't really delve into commentary about life or the human condition. It's almost like a long epic version of a motivational poster. It had great opportunity to explore man's cruelty to man or comment on the human spirit, but it was content to simply show us how extraordinarily determined Louie was, and that weakened the story in terms of depth and theme.  This isn't to say that it was bad, I really did enjoy it. It was just surprisingly simple for something the Coen Brothers had written.
The movie is based on the biography of Louis Zamperini. I have not yet read it, but after seeing some of the things Louie went through, I'm very curious to read more about him. I'm sure there was more to the man than simply being determined. This depiction of Louie was a shining example of values and bravery that people had back in the day, or at least what we fondly like to think they had. This is an artist's depiction of a real person and real events tied together with a central theme. Because this is an artistic interpretation, creative liberties were probably taken. Though it being based on a biography, there were probably very few. This depiction of Louie failed to be a three-dimensional character, even though it praised his integrity as a person.
When compared to the other biopics that were released this awards season Unbroken has barely made a mark, which is too bad since it was an enjoyable and interesting movie. There were some fine performances and well-staged sequences, especially during the bombing of the Japanese-held island of Nauru. Zamperini's story becomes strangely dull thanks to the length and repetitiveness of many of the sequences. Interesting, but dull. Jolie has talent as a director, make no mistake! After seeing this, I fully expect to see her make a truly outstanding film one day. Unbroken doesn't hold a candle up to The Imitation Game or Selma, but I still recommend seeing it. For what it was, it was good.

What has been your favorite movie this Oscar season? Comment below and tell me why!