Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Jack Ryan is back, this time in the form of Chris Pine, who was hoped to jump-start the old franchise of the CIA analyst-turned-action-hero. But both the hero and the film itself have some big shoes to fill -- in the form of the great Harrison Ford, and the classic with Alec Baldwin, "The Hunt for Red October." And to go about it there are two main options; try to compete with those old versions, or, make everything so fresh and modern that no one will compare them. They chose the latter. Like when Daniel Craig gave new life to the 007 franchise, Pine's Jack Ryan goes back to the beginning, showing us the origin of the reasonably well loved character, but at the same time, making his origin a modern tale.

See? Cellphone, laptop, fashionable suit -- modern.

He enlisted in the service soon after 9/11; soon after that was in a helicopter as it exploded, then spent a lot of time soon after that learning how to walk again, and simultaneously trying to score a date off his pretty physical therapist Cathy. (Keira Knightly) Once he could not only walk again (this is not-so-soon after) but run around like nothing ever happened he does get that date. Unfortunately, that's about the same time he's approached by a mysterious man named Kevin Costner who wants him to join the CIA -- for his analytical skills, of course. Soon after that, (in movie time anyway) you probably have a good idea of what happens; this is an action movie, after all.

The name of Chris Pine is practically synonymous with "action hero," so he is an obvious, not terribly inspired choice to play the part. He portrays him very well, mostly by just being himself, but does nothing particular to set him apart from any other action character, let alone an old Jack Ryan character. Still he's enjoyable and fun to watch, and makes no obvious missteps, especially to the untrained eye of a fan as casual as myself.

"Hi, I'm the hero." "Hello. I am villain. You can tell because I am Russian, and this is American movie."

Kenneth Branagh directed and also starred as the villain -- the Russian villain -- and did about the same at both jobs. I guess he couldn't pass up the opportunity to show off his fabulous Russian accent, but his villain turned out just about as mediocre as the rest of the characters. Granted, he and Pine were certainly the best of the lot. The direction matched; none of it was actually bad, per se, but none of it was particularly gripping or memorable either.

Keira Knightly as Ryan's long-time girlfriend though, I couldn't accept so casually as the previous two. Maybe because she's British, and was playing an American, or maybe because I just don't like her -- and I really don't like her -- I was expecting throughout the whole film for her to suddenly reveal that she's been a bad guy the whole time. Eventually I remembered that the character's in all the previous future films, (no, that's not a paradox) but it was still bothersome.

Another person I do not like is Kevin Costner. Fortunately he was given so little to do that I wasn't able to be driven crazy by his annoying-ness, unlike his role in Man of Steel, for contrast. There aren't many actors I dislike -- in fact Kevin Costner and Keira Knightly might be the only two -- so it's basically a minor miracle I was able to enjoy this movie at all.

You will not find a photo of Costner anywhere here, but here's Knightly and Pine trying to work on their chemistry...

Yet, the things I didn't enjoy didn't specifically come from general annoyance at seeing certain faces. The fact is that what I've been saying about all the characters and the directing being underwhelming and unmemorable while still not going over the line into actual badness is true for all aspects of this film. My overall impression was just a general, lackadaisical "ho-hum." It's hard to pinpoint exactly what, if anything was the particular cause, but I do think that the scene in the restaurant lasted way too long, and the ending was sloppy, cliched, and forgettable. The film took itself too seriously at times as well, and simply didn't move around enough. It had the pace of an older action film, but didn't have the intricate dialogue necessary to hold interest at that pace.

That is, unless it was zipping along in mindless action, which I did prefer.

The best of the film was hands down the fight scene in the hotel room, which was comparatively very exciting and tense -- wouldn't have felt at all out of place in a Bourne film -- and, naturally, showed off Pine's skills as an action hero. He is the best of that scene, the best of the movie, and the best reason to invest time in this movie. Of course, he's been in plenty other movies too, and most of them are actually good or even great movies, making this movie's existence very nearly moot. As a Chris Pine vehicle, or as another installment of the Jack Ryan franchise, there's better to be had elsewhere, though it finds better footing in the former. This flick that is supposed to be thrilling with its spies, and Russian villains, and chase scenes, instead just middles around somewhere between bad and good, not brave enough to take a chance in any direction. Not very much like it's hero at all.

Monday, August 18, 2014

How To Watch A Movie -- now on Facebook!

After a very long time of putting it off with many sad excuses for good reasons, yesterday I finally created a Facebook fan page for this blog of mine. The current plan is to share posts from here, but also to release content exclusively to my fan page that I would consider to not be important enough to devote an entire blog post to, such as small bits of news, or photos, posters, and trailers.

So click here to check it out and "like" it if you so desire!

Also, if you have a Facebook page for your blog, leave a link in the comments, so I can do the same for you!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

 This review is spoiler-free!

The unstoppable force that is the Marvel film industry has yet again done what seemed impossible in theory, and through the hands of James Gunn, has given us a superhero epic so out there it is literally in the far reaches of space, yet so familiar and welcoming that you have laughed and cried and fallen in love even before the opening credits finish.

If you've seen the movie, I'm sure you understand what I mean. After that glorious grin-inducing moment that accompanied the film title, assuring that my highest hopes for this movie were, and would be fulfilled, I sat back, relaxed, and enjoyed the crazy awesome ride.

It's obvious they all know how awesome they are.

Meet Peter Quill, ADKA, (also debatably known as) Star-Lord, AKA, Mr. Everything-is-Awesome-Sauce himself, Chris Pratt, who is now suddenly and universally acknowledged as the greatest action-hero-with-a-sense-of-humor since Harrison Ford was young and pretty. Quill has the cool brood of Hawkeye, the care-free lifestyle of Tony Stark, and the heart of Captain America, but more than that, he has a exuberant style all his own that had me grinning from ear to ear from the moment the character made his debut. Pratt is extraordinarily perfect for the role, and not only because he can dance; he brings a laid-back charm and fun humor, retro-style sci-fi coolness, and just the right amount of underlying heart and heroism. Technically, Guardians is about all five Guardians, but understandably, the film really belongs to Star-Lord; the rest just follow his lead.

Star-Lord. Legendary outlaw.

Gamora is green, but otherwise humanoid, but she more resembles a reptile than anything else. She's lean and lithe and agile, colder than a warm blooded creature has a right to be, and she might as well be covered in spiky scales with how often she lets anyone close to her. But it's all a front that she has built up over the years of a hard life, and underneath there is evidence of life waiting to be rekindled. Zoe Saldana is veteran actor of these types of movie, and this kind of character is her forte; she portrays every detail of her character with elegant ease -- even under all that makeup.

It's not easy being green. ... Is that unoriginal?

But her makeup is nothing compared to David Bautista as the huge, intimidating Drax. He is also green, but his entire ever-shirtless torso is covered in raised red markings. Pro wrestlers aren't exactly known for compelling acting skills, but there's few who could have pulled off this bizarre role as well and honestly as Bautista did, let alone other wrestlers. The Rock? Don't make me laugh. Drax has his own tragic past and a boiling rage as a product of it, but his way of speaking very literally and properly, like an ancient, solemn warrior makes a unique blend, and Bautista controls the balance with grace, and has some killer laugh lines.

"I like your knife I'm keeping it."

Vin Diesel never gets to show his face, but does get a very interesting character to play in the form of Groot. He's a tree. A walking tree with four limbs and a dumb smile. But most limiting is the fact that everything he says is said using three words: "I," "am," and "Groot." If he opens his mouth to speak he always uses his entire vocabulary, and always in the same order -- shortest word to longest. So Diesel, you might think, doesn't have much to do at all, but you might be surprised at how expressive inflections can be, so, combined with some high quality CG effects, he makes a surprisingly sweet and endearing and understandable oaf out of a tangle of wood.

And he has some very useful skills.

It doesn't seem possible, but Groot isn't even the strangest character of the group. That title belongs to Rocket, a raccoon who experimental cybergenetics has turned into a foul-mouthed little ball of fuzzy fury. Raccoons are already suspicious little characters, but when one has an unhealthy interest in explosives and big guns, and has the voice of Bradley Cooper coming out of him, things can get very strange very fast. But Cooper does a great job with the potentially tedious character. He's very often a source of snarky and smart-aleck-y wit, and has his humanized moments too, so we feel more of a connection to him than if he were just a cute but unusually dangerous furball.

Rocket likes the simple pleasures in life, like big guns.

Our main villain is Lee Pace as Ronan who towers over everyone in bright blue maleficence, and uses his epic deep voice to its full potential with power-crazed monologues that could have been terribly cheesy in any other less intimidating actor's hands. His hench-lady Nebula is Doctor Who's Karen Gillan, playing the creepy alien this time for an impressive change. There's no orange hair, or Scottish accent; she's only recognizable by her sarcastic attitude which is in fine form with an extra dose of bitterness in her character.

When they demonstrate how Nebula is a cyborg is super creepy and funny at the same time.

Typically for comedy, a moment is added with the sole purpose of being funny, so if it fails it's not only not funny, it's actually bad, with a pointless existence. With Guardians, the humor is a natural, inseparable part of the characters, and the story, and the ambiance of the whole film, so the "failure" of a joke never had a devastating effect, but every new successful, hilarious line or gag piled on the awesomeness. I also laughed a few times to relive the overwhelming glee from all the awesomeness.

And if there's one thing this movie just oozes with, it's awesomeness. It doesn't do anything halfway -- everything is given to us on a level that could easily overwhelm other aspects, but because everything is on that level, the movie instead soars to incredible heights. The look of the film is almost distinctly Marvel, except that it is almost exclusively set everywhere except Earth, and neither did anywhere conveniently look like Earth. The fullness of the space setting, creative sets, costumes, alien makeup, and the fantastic color scheme set this film as far away from others as it is set from them in distance.

What a view though... from all perspectives.

The plot is the one thing you could maybe say was overwhelmed by the dazzling proportions of other things. I wouldn't though -- to me the simplicity of the storyline was refreshing, and it wasn't at all lazy or predictable. Even though it was simple, it was smart; no confusing plot twists, or mind numbing mysteries, but smart and witty, and straightforward, (but not without its share of subtlety or details) and a little rough around the edges. That last one might sound like a bad thing, but it's not really. I am a firm believer that a film's qualities should mirror its heroes', and if there's one thing all the Guardians are together, it's rough around the edges. Unpolished is the exact right consistency, allowing the fun off-the-cuff feel to lead where it may.

The defining aspect of this film though, hands down, is the soundtrack. There's just something about snazzy 70's pop songs playing in background of a full-fledged modern space adventure that defies my capacity for comprehension of its groovy magnificence. And as if its being magnificent wasn't enough, the music is in the movie; we listen along with the characters, and it draws us in closer to the story. It even holds an important place in the narrative and Quill's character. His attachment to the last remnant of his life on Earth -- a Walkman with a mix tape titled "Awesome Mix Vol 1." -- is oddly profound.

Out for revenge. Also, Star-Lord's mask is the coolest thing EVER.

Now I can't very well review a Marvel film without mentioning the action. This isn't typical Marvel action though, because the biggest sequence is actually a spacecraft battle, which evokes thoughts of Star Wars more than a little, and is therefore a good thing, and also because our heroes aren't extremely super-powered, and usually fight like regular people (who are really good at fighting). Drax and Gamora are the best at hand to hand, but there's only one real hand to hand showdown, and it doesn't get much attention. Otherwise they just pummel people in neat ways. Rocket shoots and yells and Groot yells and grows wooden weapons. Interestingly, Quill is least lethal; though he can whack people with random objects with the best of them, his special weapon is diplomacy, which he uses to talk himself and others out of getting killed -- a skill that gets regular good use.

This was my favorite action sequence; it perfectly showcased everyone's strong suit.

It's an overused word, but it applies so well, so I'm going to use it one more time, and bear in mind that I'm not using it lightly: Guardians of the Galaxy is an awesome movie. It has made a star (and Star-Lord) out of a charming goofball who couldn't deserve it more, and made serious, seriously lovable characters out of an angry raccoon and a communicatively challenged plant. It was involving and engaging throughout just by focusing on having fun, and inviting us to join in the adventurous party. The slick sci-fi and the retro are mixed to astonishing perfection. Never too serious, never too flippant. Brilliant comedy. Explosive adventure. Bursting heart. And obvious spoiler alert: the Guardians save the galaxy.

They went all the way; fooled around and I fell in love with their cherry daydream, but I'm not in love, it's even more -- it's an escape with spirit into the sky. They had their doubters, but now things are gonna get easier, cause we want them back, and there ain't no mountain high enough to keep them from coming and getting the love, because (ooga-chaka ooga ooga) I can't stop this feeling, deep inside of me...

I--I-I--I-I'm (bum bum)
Hooked on a feeling (da da-da daa)
I'm high on believing (da da-da daa)
That you're in love with me!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Upcoming Movie Roundup - August

Last month went as predicted, and I didn't see any new releases. Instead I spent the whole month eagerly anticipating a certain comic book movie, and now, the time has finally come to see it! Are you going to see Guardians of the Galaxy? And is there anything else interesting to you that August has to offer? Here are my thoughts, and some trailers:

Guardians of the Galaxy
Aug. 1st; PG-13
I already wrote an entire post on my excitement for this movie, so really the only thing left to say now is that all that still applies, plus, now the critics are backing up what I was hoping and predicting: that this movie is gonna knock our socks off with its zany characters, gleeful action and visuals, and a big Marvel heart -- to the tune of 70's classics. I'm already planning on my cheeks hurting after the movie from all the smiling I will be doing.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Aug. 8th; PG-13
I was a little out of it as a kid, and never watched the TMNT show. Though I can recall the theme song from the commercials very well. So while being not at all biased based on nostalgic love for these guys, I watched the trailer... *goes and watches trailer* ...and... well... I got bored. It looks like it'll end up in the same category as the Transformers franchise, and I'm not just saying that because of Megan Fox. So it'll be okay movies (I'm assuming sequels will exist soon) for the already existing fans, and make more money than it probably deserves, and hopefully I'll never feel like bothering with it.

Into the Storm
Aug. 8th; PG-13
My brothers and I have started a kind of tradition where we watch fictional disaster movies that come on TV and make fun of them. The Day After Tomorrow was the best. And it looks like this movie will fit the bill perfectly. Giant tornadoes picking up debris, and people, and airplanes... and a determined father sets out with a group of storm chasers to rescue his son and his son's girlfriend from the terrible weather. The only thing is that we'll have to wait a while for it to air on TV. Also, I'd seen the TV spot for this several times before I noticed that Richard Armitage is the main character. So that's a cool bonus. This trailer has captions in a foreign language because I couldn't find this particular trailer on YouTube without it...

The Giver
Aug. 15th; PG-13
Besides Guardians, this is the most interesting August movie for me. I read the children's classic novel after hearing of the movie, and it was... very interesting, although definitely a children's book. The movie ages the main character by about ten years, and I imagine makes several more changes, none of which I feel predisposed to disapprove of. I liked the book just enough to want to see the film version, but not enough to wish the film version exactly like the book. It's a nice medium. Anyway, this was apparently the first dystopian teen novel, and has quite a few cool and original ideas and aspects that haven't been borrowed yet. I don't expect it'll be fantastic or anything, but I do expect to continue wanting to see it until I do.