Thursday, January 28, 2016

Agent Carter: Better Angels

Spoiler warning.

As Peggy () searches for the stolen Zero Matter, she uncovers what may be a huge conspiracy involving a politician, Calvin Chadwick (), who is running for Senator, and his Hollywood star wife Whitney Frost (). She is joined as always by Mr. Jarvis () and Chief Sousa (), but Howard Stark () also drops by in a welcome return, and Chief Thompson () flies in from New York to antagonize their investigation.

Peggy Carter approves of this plot.

I expected we'd see more of Dr. Wilkes () eventually, but I never expected it'd be so fast. He isn't dead, but isn't really very technically  alive either -- he's like a scientific ghost (using the word "scientific" within the parameters of the show's version of science, of course). And I'm sure that they figure out how to bring him back to the physical reality so that the sparks between him and Peggy can be resolved one way or another.

Jarvis happily continues the be Peggy's most constant companion and loyal friend. Howard slipped in like he's always belonged (very characteristic of him) and made all his usual airy quips, sly remarks and fun nods, and I rather wish he'd stay for every episode, but that seems unlikely. He really round out the "team" effect though. Everyone else on the team who had their introductions two episodes ago seem to have eased comfortably into their respective places and found their groove. It's a good one -- this episode may not be the high quality of the average first season episode, but it feels comfortable and natural again.

"You're brilliant!" No, you're brilliant!"

The least natural thing was Thompson -- who may not be a bad guy, but is undoubtedly an antagonist -- coming to pry into our heroes affairs and make matters worse for them. He acts like he's Sousa's boss, and after forcing Peggy to go on the L.A. assignment, threatens to pull her out of it for... reasons I honestly don't remember, but it doesn't matter because the point of everything he does is what he does, not why. If the point were why he does thing, then the character would be much more acceptable and fitting in the narrative.

Peggy continues to be the Peggy we all love and appreciate. When she's adventuring -- sneaking and spying and generally being Peggy -- by herself was the more memorable parts of the show. An I felt the more slowed-down, richer pace I was hoping for in those scenes as well. She and Sousa have a more comfortable dynamic going right now as their drama in put on the back-burner. I approve of this. Don't milk it too hard -- seeing them work well together without tense, romantic undertones is quite enjoyable.

No surprise that the aging Hollywood film darling is the villain, right? ... Right?

Whitney Frost is shaping up to be a big super villain of the season as her efforts to steal the Zero Matter resulted in it implanting itself in her forehead and now she can accidentally kill people by touching them. Crazy. The character is interesting and sufficiently creepy, but I worry for the potential cheesiness of her future. I watch Agents of SHIELD for superhero powers; I watch Agent Carter for throwback stylish mystery solving, so I hope they keep it all firmly grounded in that realm. This episode both begins to look up, and casually threatens to wander even further down.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Blogging-About-Blogs Tag

Thanks to Hamlette for creating and tagging me in this!

Blog that makes me laugh
Hamlette's Soliloquy -- her reviews are often laugh-out-loud funny -- and Through Two Blue Eyes -- she has a great sense of humor and reading her posts never fails to make me smile.

Blog that makes me think
Sarah at A Free Mind posts great, deep things about life that makes me think, and Rath's Reviews challenges the way I think about and judge movies which I really enjoy.

Blog that teaches me things
That would have to be The Edge of the Precipice. I've never learned more at someone's blog than I did with her Hamlet read-along a little while back. 

Blog with beautiful headers
I love the headers that Ivy Miranda makes for her blog, Revealed in Time. Always lovely and stylish. 

Blogger who takes great pictures
Princess Faith is a very talented photographer and I enjoy seeing her work!

Blogger whose recommendations I trust
James of J and J Productions. We seem to have very similar taste in movies, so I can always count on his recommendations being worthy ones.

New blog I'm enjoying
Not sure which is the newest, but I think Josh Taylor's great blog Dear Future Josh is relatively new. Especially compared with how long Blimey Cow has been around!

Blog I've followed the longest
That's gotta be my sister Lizzie's blog, His Redeemed Child. Because sisters.

Blog I've started following the most recently
A to Z -- I found her blog through this tag, and her post about ensemble casts easily won me over!

I'm just gonna tag who I mentioned -- play if you want! I know a lot of you have already been tagged, and some I mentioned don't usually participate in tags.

Monday, January 25, 2016

New "About Me" Page

I say "New About Me Page." I should just say "About Me Page" because I have never had one before now! But since I joined Twitter I've stopped keeping my identity private, so I figured it was about time that I fully introduced myself here.

So, if you have a hankering to see what I look like, to know the origin of this blog's title, or to know a little about my other interests besides movies and writing and movies and movies and movies -- then check it out here, or just above!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Agent Carter: The Lady in the Lake/A View in the Dark

Agent Peggy Carter () is back, relocated to sunny L.A., and after the first two episodes, already operating at break-neck speed. After the first two minutes she was operating a break-neck speed, actually. Hang on to your bright red hats!

Ten more episodes! Here we go!

I'll start out with a petty complaint so I can get it out of the way: I like the location change to L.A. just fine, but why does it require everything to be quite so glaring? What with the white spots of sunlight during the day (I get it -- it's sunny there) and the rings of lens flares off the lights at night, my eyes were aching pretty fast. Hey, I said it was petty. Moving on...

After the promising possible beginning of romance for him and Peggy, Agent Daniel Sousa () has moved to L.A. to start an SSR branch there. He catches a mysterious case where a body is found in a frozen lake -- on one of the hottest days of the year. Understaffed with green agents, he calls Thompson () now the Chief of the NY branch requesting assistance. Thompson sends Peggy, even though she just managed to track down and catch Evil Dottie () and is sure she is the only person capable of getting information from her. But orders are orders, so she goes. Luckily Jarvis () is there to drive her around and give her a residence and just like that, the band is back together.

In season 1, he was head over heels for her; now, she's head over heels for him. What gives?

For what it's worth, I've been over that whole shtick -- where a potential couple on a TV show must go through endless, unnecessary drama just to drag out their story -- for a long, long time now. So long, in fact, that it almost doesn't bother me anymore (notice I said almost), so while I wish Carter and Sousa would just get together (or not) already, I'll still be involved in the drama where he now has a serious girlfriend (Sarah Bolger) and inexplicably never pursued Peggy past asking her for a drink that one time. I will, because I'm a sucker. All I can hope is that I'll enjoy it.

As far as new additions go, I'm not convinced that as Dr. Wilkes won't be showing back up, but I'll leave that for when it happens, if it happens. Besides, there's Mrs. Jarvis to talk about! Ana () is chipper and quirky, and somewhat lacking in real chemistry with her hubby so far, but we'll see how things go. Right now, she's more the much-needed friend, and less-needed-but-fun stylist for Peggy which works well.

The dynamic duo returns!

Jarvis himself seems to have increased in silliness, which is totally unnecessary from my viewpoint, but it's early days yet, and hopefully he has some good development coming and won't just be the one-dimensional sidekick. I expected that to be his function in the first season, and now that he's already proved to be so much more, if would be a terrible let-down to take steps backwards. He and Peggy's signature dynamic is alive and kicking at least. You can really tell that the cast is having fun -- but does their fun translate directly to ours?

These first two episodes certainly were fun and enjoyable, but it's the second season, and we, the audience have come to expect things. The writers seem to be trying to pander to our collective "taste" by amplifying things we've already approved of. Mostly the fun, lighthearted, breezy, snappiness of it all, which is something I loved about the show too, but too much of a good thing can still equal a bad thing, and I missed the deeper, quieter side. It feels like Agent Carter and co. are rushing to have as much lighthearted fun as they possibly can before the season's over, and I'm doing my best just to keep up. It isn't at the point where it's actually bad, and it's possible that it has a lot to do with the first two episodes being paired together, but please, can we have some slower, more meaningful, honest moments soon? I hope it's not too much to ask.

With two more episodes to fill than the first season had, you'd think they'd have time for a breather.

One thing that is undoubtedly still in top form is our swanky heroine, Peggy. Hayley Atwell obviously knows this character inside and out, and is always on top of the way she should be, giving us a solid and thoughtful performance along with all the fun and humor and action. And I'm very glad that Sousa has moved up in the world -- running his own branch, and becoming the undisputed third main character, after the last season of sitting at a desk and being who-knows-what-number. Will he get more to worry about and chew on than his love triangle with the girlfriend and Peggy? If they know anything, he'd better.

So this wound up being more or less a checklist of all the things I hope and expect to see out of the next eight episodes. And I'll keep hoping, but at this point all I can really do is sit back and enjoy the adventure. Here's to it being a worthy one!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

This review is Spoiler-free.

Melancholy, loner boy meets dazzling, free-spirit girl in this strange, strangely poignant science fiction romance, that cinematically encapsulates the old adage, "it's better to have loved and lost than to ever have loved at all" in a whole new way. Penned by Charlie Kaufman and starring an unexpectedly bright line-up of supporting stars -- , , , and -- but most importantly as it's two leads, the classy and elegant Brit as the crazy and confident American girl with no filter, and the king of wacky, goofball comedy himself, , as the reserved nice guy who falls for her.

Both play against type, and it's a big part of the movie's brilliance.

I absolutely adore Jim Carrey in dramatic roles. They never seem to waste his comic abilities or extremely expressive facial expressions, yet, they always have a truly great, deep and emotional performance attached to them. In this film I particularly liked how strongly you could sense Joel's head-over-heels fall for Clementine. His introverted, insecure character is very easy to relate to, and is fantastically melancholy, but we also are cleverly shown us the humor of his character and situation as well. He internalizes a lot, but we get to know him immediately through narration.

Kate Winslet is a delight. Her character of Clementine was perfect for her, not that you would ever expect it to be, and I was tickled pink (and blue and orange) to watch her completely own such a neat, wild character. She's not quite as much against type as Carrey, as she has quite the knack for passionate characters, but Clementine still breaks the mold in other ways. She has a certain quality of looseness, and casualness, but mostly, she's loud -- in a sometimes brazen way, but more often quite dazzling and alluring, and Winslet was the perfect choice to hit that exact balance -- if not the only person who even could.

Top two things I love about this movie: Pictured.

I was surprised to see so many familiar faces in the supporting roles, and even more surprised at how important they all were to the plot. None of them needed to be very likable and I enjoyed being allowed to dislike Kirsten Dunst, but the biggest surprise came when I found that I really liked her character by the end. Elijah Wood seems quite suited to being a brainless kid, Mark Ruffalo was super weird in a weirdly not-obvious way, and of course Tom Wilkinson was great, as he always is.

I'm keeping things very spoiler-free here because I enjoyed not knowing anything going in, but after twenty minutes of straight-up romance, things get very sci-fi very fast. And then they stay there. I enjoyed the plot all-around, but found the extreme way the sci-fi was portrayed to be slightly overwhelming, and a little more slightly distracting. It seemed like too much time was spent bouncing around and being strange and trippy and not quite enough was spent in the more deeply mellow style of the first twenty minutes. Not to say I think it was wrong one way and right the other, but I did prefer and enjoy the one way that less time was spent on more.

First of all -- Mark Ruffalo's hair. Second of all -- nothing else matters right now.

The science fiction element allowed for a few intriguing questions to be posed, and then for a nice change from the typical sci-fi mantra, answers are given. Certainly the movie does have plenty of interesting tidbits and details that one could meditate on, but from my perspective, the film's main theme was quite central and very important. It felt like the movie's sole existence was meant to make that point, and it was a point made very well -- and it was a good point to make. After thinking about it, I want to take it a little deeper than the film did, but the mere fact that it made me consider what I thought is enough to clue me in to how much I liked it. This is why I love science fiction.

Top two things that make this movie great: Jim Carrey being deep, and science fiction making it possible.

Eventually I got my wish of more unencumbered time with the protagonists when the film's closing section reverts back to the smoother tone of the beginning and gives us that wonderfully simple, earnest ending that is satisfyingly both artistic and romantic. Some of the middle I found unnecessary, and I'll always prefer the more reality-based moments of nuanced performances to other things the film offers, but wrapped up as a whole, the result has a unique and off-kilter charm that cannot be denied. Enhanced simply by the existence of science fiction element, Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet shine with spectacularly entertaining chemistry, and deftly portray the movie's thoughtful drama about relationships, and love and loss, and the supposed idea of the eternal sunshine of the spotless mind.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Man in the High Castle

Some Spoilers beyond.

First of all, can we just talk about that opening? That beautiful, beautiful credit sequence that starts off each episode where a lady quietly sings "Edelweiss" and black and white images are projected over statues, and oh my goodness I can't even describe how amazing and beautiful it is and I just want to watch it over and over?

And that's just the first thirty seconds or so.

In this alternate reality, it's 1962, WWII is over and done, and the world has settled back into a "normal." But nothing is really normal, because the Axis powers -- the Nazis and their Japanese allies -- won the war. They've taken the United States and split it in two. The East Coast and the Midwest is part of the Nazi Greater Reich, and the West Coast is the Japanese Pacific States, with a small neutral zone separating them.

Juliana () lives in San Francisco (essentially now San Fransokyo!) with her boyfriend Frank (), trying to feel at home in this new world. When her sister runs into her, and gives her a film only to be shot to death by Japanese soldiers seconds later it starts Juliana's life on a course that could change the world. The film shows footage from the end of the war, but it's not right; it shows the Allies winning. Juliana takes the film and her sister's place, leaves for the Neutral Zone and begins a search for answers -- and the elusive "Man in the High Castle."

How can the films be? Where do they come from, and why are they so important? And who is the man in the high castle? After the first season of this refined sci-fi slow-burner.... none of these questions have been answered. But if it isn't beautiful and entertaining while it keep us in suspense!

Our heroine, Juliana Crain

Science fiction is my bread and butter, but this kind of science fiction -- cerebral, elegant, understated and mystifying, set in its own world, playing unforgettably by its own rules -- is more like a decadent cake; with multiple layers, topped with whipped cream, ice cream and a cherry for good measure. In short, (and like I would have said in the first place if I weren't hungry) this show is a treat. Truly. It's hard to describe the perfectly balanced tonal flavor exactly, but it is what is at the center of the show that makes it great. The best I could think of to describe it is, "elegantly heavy." It gives us a lot of brutal darkness -- as it must -- but presents it all with a refined formality.

After the tone is set, everything else just seems to fall naturally into place. The story is based on the Philip K. Dick novel, which I haven't read, so I can't judge on how accurate a portrayal it is, but it's at least his basic premise, and whether it is filled in with his story line or restructured and rethought by writer and show creator , or even re-imagined totally, it seems to be the right choice to go with.

The Man in the High Castle is an Amazon Prime series. A second season is coming and I eagerly anticipate its arrival!

There are multiple plot lines to follow. The lead is Juliana, though she probably gets equal time and attention as several others, she is the lead and the show's heroine for three reasons. One: she is the only character with totally clear, completely uncompromising morals. Two: she causes, or is closely connected to every other plot line in the show. And three: she reflects the show's tone. This is the thing that I always notice and love to see in the main character, and in this case, it's impressive, as the shows tone is hard to quantify and seems like it would be hard to personify as well, but she does. She is elegant, and she is heavy; deep and graceful and somber and determined.

There's also Joe () a fellow from New York who also has a film and meets and befriends her in the Neutral Zone -- but secretly works as a spy for the Nazis to bring down the rebellion, but also, maybe, doesn't. Actually, for the first few episodes I was confused, trying to figure out if he was truly a good guy or bad guy. There was compelling evidence for both sides. It took me a while, but finally I realized that he himself didn't actually know. He was stuck in a in between of a job that would give him power, security, and comfort, and becoming a traitor, ruining his life, but doing what is right. And for a long time, he tries to get away with doing both. Once I realized that, he became one of the most interesting characters.

I do mean that as a complement, but it isn't saying much what with all these incredibly interesting characters!

There's a plot for Juliana's boyfriend Frank as her disappearance sends repercussions to him that escalate dangerously while he stubbornly remains a reluctant hero. Frank just wants to go on with life; he doesn't see that there might possibly be a way out of it; and as the grandson of a Jew, keeping his head down is a top priority. But he gets a harsh wake up call, and we watch him slowly grow a backbone, and a will to fight back of his own -- some of it is channeled in the total wrong direction, but eventually he seems to head in the right way. is a supporting character in his plot line as his pesky friend, Ed, and in fact, each story line really does feel like its own stand-alone tale. So if Juliana is the readymade hero of the show, then perhaps for Frank this first season was just an origin story.

 "I've got a gun; you've got a time machine. What the hell? Let's kill Hitler."

I never in a million years thought I'd sympathize with someone who was a Nazi, but then there was Obergruppenf├╝rer John Smith (). John is Joe's boss in New York, a family man, and American who even fought for the Allies, but then willingly gave in to the new leadership. At first, he is the highest powered character around, and he coolly destroys everyone in his path as he searching out rebels. He is cunning and calculating and totally unfeeling -- or so it would seem. The moment one of his superiors from the Motherland shows up, he suddenly seems as much of a good guy as Joe does compared to him. It got to the point where I had to stop and wonder if I was crazy to want to cheer for this guy, and I realized that I wasn't. Rufus Sewell always makes a great villain, but his conflicted baddie here is top notch.

I love his villains but have always preferred his protagonists. Now, he's both!

Then there's political tension as the impending death of the F├╝hrer threatens to spark war between the Nazis and the Japanese. The drama that comes through all this and the characters that fill it are all so complex I want to re-watch the whole show just to understand it all better (and then again for the enjoyment). This plot give us Tagomi (), the Trade Minister of the Pacific States; a calm and structured gentleman who hides everything from everyone, including us. He conspires with a high ranking Nazi traitor Rudolph Wegener () to keep the Japanese in play once Hitler is gone. There's also Kido (), a Japanese police inspector who has a blind and stone cold respect for tradition and rules, and his loyal Sergeant (). They find themselves in over their heads in a sensitive investigation, and slowly fade from villainous antagonists to endearing characters as we get to know them.

You'd think (what with the Nazis and all) that this story would have a stark line between the good and the bad, but there's an unexpected amount of grey.

There is one technical aspect to cover; the show's rating. It's rated MA, and ticks most of the available content boxes. There's disturbing violence, which one could hardly get around, but unlike say, Daredevil, this show didn't stop once it got going into the R territory; it also drops a handful of language per episode and even sneaks in a little very brief nudity. Both of which I found completely unnecessary, but at the same time I gratefully realize it could have been much worse.

A few last things: Cliffhangers. Oh my goodness those cliffhangers. If it were possible to die of cliffhangers... RIP me. And even though it caused me to not understand it all as much as I usually would the first go-around, I love that this show makes you think for yourself and doesn't spoon-feed you everything. And I love that it's slightly controversial by making characters that you can identify with Nazis. Since when is does that even happen? In this incredibly real, uncomfortably close to home alternate universe it does. So, with its premise that's just so amazingly, ideally sci-fi that it makes me giddy just thinking about it, its large cast of talent playing and endless line of fantastically deep characters, and its immaculate, refined tone, the future for The Man in the High Castle is looking deliciously dark.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

2015 movies I've seen!

Mostly for my own information, I collected together all the movies I've seen that were released in 2015. There were 20, which was more than I expected. I missed a few like The Man from UNCLE and Brooklyn that I still need to see, but not bad, considering how great and packed a year for movies it was! I thought I'd share the list with you guys, so here they all are in order of release, with some brief thoughts and the star-rating I gave them.

* = saw it twice in theaters.

** = saw it at home, not in the theater.

No link = I never reviewed that one.

**Jupiter Ascending -- How much of a movie do you have to see for it to count? For this one I missed a bit near the beginning and slept through the climactic battle... but I know it was terrible! 2 stars.

Old Fashioned -- Wouldn't care to ever watch it again, but I enjoyed it the one time, and appreciated what they were trying to do. 3 stars.

Cinderella* -- First love of the year. Adored this one from top to bottom! 4.5 stars. Could have maybe been a 5.

Insurgent -- I knew it wasn't great when I saw it but since then, the number of times I forgot about it tells me that it deserves less than the 3.5 stars it got from me.

**While We're Young -- Almost started to review this one. I thoroughly enjoyed it, particularly, in retrospect, Adam Driver's character. 3 stars.

**The Age of Adaline -- Liked some of it, scoffed at some of it. Typical reaction to romantic dramas. 3 stars.

Avengers: Age of Ultron -- Gave it 5 stars because it was exactly the same as The Avengers. Upon the second viewing I realized I just didn't like it that much. 4.5 would be a fair adjustment.

Far From the Madding Crowd -- Memorable period drama with excellent characters. Inspired me to read the book! 4 stars.

**Ride -- Typical indie comedy made memorable by surfing, Luke Wilson, and Helen Hunt's clingy, stuck-up mom character. Good, but not great. 3 stars.

**Aloha -- I tried to like this one, but only wound up caring about John Krasinski's silent character, and he wasn't in it all that much. 2.5 stars.

Jurassic World -- Chris Pratt rules; beats up dinosaurs. 4 stars. 5 star enjoyment!

**Inside Out -- The one where I'm not mainstream and didn't absolutely adore this movie. The middle section bored me, and I didn't appreciate having my emotions toyed with. 3.5 stars.

Ant-Man -- Second love of the year! Awesome small-scale superhero flick that reminded me why I love superhero flicks in the first place. 4.5 stars.

Paper Towns -- Not a terrible movie, but a huge disappointment after that stunning novel. 2.5 stars.

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation* -- Third love! Couldn't get enough of the loveable characters and the amazing, thrilling action! 5 stars!

**Before We Go -- Chris Evans and Alice Eve make this one a memorable small-scale charmer. 3.5 stars.

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials -- Keeps the series going strong and in a unique direction. Dystopia. Mind games. Non-stop pace. Freaky zombies. 4 stars.

The Martian* -- Fourth love. It gleaned some of my love for the novel, but is a beautiful, moving, groovy, and faithful adaptation. 5 stars!

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 -- Makes a semi-valiant effort to redeem Part 1. Ugh, I'm just glad it's over at this point. 3.5 stars.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens* -- Fifth, and final love. I felt like I did as a kid falling in love with the original trilogy. Totally and completely blown away. 5 stars!

For 2016 I should make it a goal to review all the 2016-released movie I see. Out of the 7 new movies I saw at home, I only actually reviewed 3 of them. Must do better!

How did your movie stats for 2015 work out? Excited for the 2016 movie year?

Friday, January 8, 2016

District B13 & Brick Mansions

 These reviews are Spoiler-free.

District B13 (Banlieue 13) is a 2004 French action film starring and , which was remade in America in 2014 as Brick Mansions, starring in place of Raffaelli, but keeping David Belle. I watched the original, then the remake, and shall now review them side by side.

The plots are essentially the same -- in the near future (2010 and 2018, respectively) there is a city so overrun with criminals and corruption that the way it is dealt with is there's a wall built around it, to keep people from coming and going freely so as not to spread the crime further. The city is run by a crime lord who gets his hands on a large bomb with a ticking timer. To get the bomb back before it detonates, Damien, a cop form the outside (Raffaelli/Walker) goes undercover and teams up with an ex-con from the inside (Belle) Lieto/Lino, who's sister (girlfriend in BM) is being held hostage by the crime lord.

Both films were written by . (Photo from B13.)

But there is one important thing that sets this film and remake apart from other straightforward action flicks like it -- parkour. David Belle is literally the inventor of parkour, and his showcased incredible abilities is the best of both films. If he wasn't in the remake it would have been a gigantic flop. Well -- it was pretty big flop. Though the two movies are so similar it's actually kinda trippy, B13 is a brisk, thrilling and fun ride, while Brick Mansions goes through the motions in fits and starts, half-heartedly trying to to give it some new tweaks and lifts, and failing to capture the same exciting essence.

So where did Brick Mansions go wrong? It had about twice the budget and a bankable star, but perhaps it wasn't really aware of what it was that made B13 so great, because most of that greatness was cut out. Obviously Paul Walker is the main character in his film, but in the original, David Belle's character was more prominent and had more invested in the plot. The remake gives us a few scenes to establish and develop Walker's character so he'd work as the hero, but the additions didn't tie in with the plot at all, cut into the excitement and action with drama, and weren't all that good to begin with. Then David Belle's character had to take the cuts necessary to add that useless drama, and is only there, it seems, to do parkour stuff.

I really like the music in B13 for some reason. It fits the film perfectly. (Photo from B13.)

In District B13, the wary buddy-cop vibe between to two leads was quite fun; easy and engaging and definitely cool. Raffaelli may have been the second lead by a hair, but his role didn't feel forced that way -- it's just what came naturally out of the script. His introduction is action-based -- as opposed to Walker's drama-based -- and came off in a cool and unexpected and completely not-fussy kind of way. B13 never fusses. Belle's introduction is about the same both times, but from some reason the parkour stunts in B13 feel way cooler and way freakier.

Raffaelli did his own stunts too, focusing more on fighting stunts over parkour though. He fights like Captain America. He also choreographed the fights. These guys knew the value of doing what you know. For BM, the action proved to be a bigger problem than you'd expect. There was one guy jumping from crazy heights and climbing things you'd think would be impossible to climb, while the other guy... punches people's faces... in fast moving quick-cuts -- you know, the classic lazy solution for fighting and action scenes. Except it wasn't necessary. He was Paul Walker; he was good at action. Still, the other guys were better, and when compared with one, and contrasted side by side with the other, the lesser quality that came from Walker's side was noticeable. Once they used it as an opportunity for a funny gag though, which was smart.

Strange -- usually, he'd be the one who's best at all that action stuff. (Photo from Brick Mansions.)

Another main difference is that B13 got a R rating, while BM stuck with the PG-13. Usually, I'll appreciate the PG-13 choice more every time, but interestingly, not this time. B13 did earn it's R through blood splatter and language, but was certainly on the low side of the R scale. Brick Mansions' violence was practically the same, just less realistic, and was only short B13's language by a mere handful. It, however, was weirdly and creepily -- and completely unnecessarily -- sexualized in an extended plot line, which I gladly would have traded in for increased blood and F-bombs. Gladly.

And even though B13 was in French so I had to read along with the subtitles the whole time, it didn't detract from the experience at all, and the script quite sharp. Even before I had anything to compare it to, I was impressed by how refined it was, being an action film that could have got away with less effort in that area. I laughed several times unexpectedly from the sharp wit. BM had its occasional funny moment as well, but felt much more contrite generally. They took a very fresh feeling film, and basically adapted it to but just another stale American action film. I don't know if its being foreign-made had a hand at all in its stand-out presentation, but B13 is a quality film, and one of the more memorable straight-up action flicks I've seen in a long time. It plays by its own rules; mirroring the unique, quick and efficient style of the super cool discipline is centers around.

Just to be clear, the 2 star rating goes to Brick Mansions, and the 4 to District B13. (Photo from Ultimatum.)

I should have waited to write all that, because now I've also seen the sequel to B13, District 13: Ultimatum. I won't try to go back and rewrite to fit it in, because there's not much to add:

After a kinda slow and questionable start, the sequel is a mixture of action sequences that live up to the original standards, stacked in between a political and too lengthy plot development. The pacing suffers. And there's a bit more iffy content. But, the two leads keep their buddy-cop chemistry going strong, and the script adds a few new laughs and cool stunts. Since it came out in 09, it should be no surprise that Brick Mansions borrowed a few elements for their own use (and now that I know they weren't being original with those parts, I'm even more disappointed). The scale was much bigger in this one, and I think that got it their way. But when it was fun and action-y it was absolutely fun; a worthy sequel, and I'm giving it 3 stars.

So unless you just have to see Paul Walker in that hand-me-down role, or unless you think it's worth it to see David Belle do variations of the same stunt-filled scenes (actually, it kinda is), I'd recommend you just stick to the French versions.

Just for kicks: here's David Belle in a commercial for BBC One. Fun stuff (but there's cooler stuff in all three of these movies. Just sayin'.)

Friday, January 1, 2016

Upcoming Movie Roundup - January

Happy 2016, friends! December was a wonderful movie month even though I only saw one new release, because that one new release was Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and it lived up to it's hype. I saw it on Fri, which was earlier than I expected to be able to, and even had to stand in line for the theater which was a first for me. It blew me away, and now I've seen it twice, with plans for a third, and you can read all about how much and why I loved it in my review here.

January movies never inspire much confidence for quality, but there are a few that have caught my eye. Are any January movies on your radar? And have you seen Star Wars yet???

Sherlock: The Abominable Bride
Jan 1st, 9:00 EST on PBS
One thing that is not practically guaranteed to be sub-par -- the Sherlock Christmas special! The Abominable Bride. No doubt it'll be fun and Sherlock-y, even if it is set in the 1890's. And also looks like a scary one, which is always a win. I'm very interested to see if there's any explanation for the era change, but either way I'm prepared to thoroughly enjoy it, and even more prepared to be annoyed at how long the wait for season 4 is as soon as it's over!

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
Jan 15th; R
This is a Michael Bay movie. And yet... it looks like a decent film. Or maybe I'm just too trusting. Michael Bay has a terrible track record of really terrible movies, but hey, at least this one breaks a few patterns. It's not a Transformers movie for one (though if it were secretly a Transformers movie, it would be the best movie ever), and it has an R rating, which at least caters it to a slightly different crowd. And it stars John Krasinski sporting his new action-hero look -- a look I definitely approve of. The only bad sign (besides the director's name) is how long the subtitle is. We don't need all that -- 13 Hours alone is much cooler.

The 5th Wave
Jan 15th; PG-13
Every time I am force to sit through this increasingly annoying trailer in order to watch The Force Awakens again, I say jokingly that I have to see this, because it had Liev Shreiber in it. I'm really only half joking. Perfectly timed to fill the void left by the Hunger Games, and attract fans who are floating around listlessly waiting for the next Divergent film, the newest dystopian-type film lead by a teenage girl is here! Now that the Hunger Games is over, these movies don't have to have the pretense of being good anymore, and good thing too, because this one does not look good. It's status as a knockoff is quite obvious, trying to be noticed by mashing together all the forms of dystopia; natural disaster, contagion, alien invasion, teens fighting in a war... all that's missing is zombies. Or maybe they're just missing from the trailer -- or in the next book, because you know this is a series. I just hope it's bad enough to be good fun to make fun of the badness!

Jan 22nd; R
Okay, well... honestly this movie looks absolutely terrible, and the trailer gave away pretty much everything it seems except who's gonna survive, and who's gonna die. But I have to see it, because Oscar Isaac is in it and that means I'll enjoy it, no matter how terrible it is. Oscar Isaac and Garrett Hedlund trading cliched intimidating western dialogue and trying to kill each other... sounds good to me.

Jane Got a Gun
Jan 29th; R
I remember reading about all the trouble this movie had during production, so now I'm a little curious. It doesn't look like the kind of movie I'd really like, but it does have two bonuses -- two cool dudes named Joel Edgerton and Ewan McGregor. Will their draw balance out the repulsion of Natalie Portman playing the lead? Eh, it'll probably depend on how bored I am. Right now I'm much more interested in seeing a tomatometer score. The trailer is not very promising.