Sunday, June 30, 2013

Movie Review: White House Down

Check your knowledge of civics and government at the door, and go into White House Down purely for the action. Do it that way and once it gets going, you’ll have a good time; otherwise, you’ll end up saying “WTF???” over and over again.

Starring and executive produced by Channing Tatum, Channing plays John Cale, a Capitol policeman who wants to be a Secret Service agent and who won’t be winning Dad of the Year. His precocious 11-year old daughter Emily (Joey King) calls him John. But he’s trying to win points with her by taking her on a tour of the White House (she’s a political junkie and knows as much about the White House as the obviously flustered tour guide). Meanwhile, head of Secret Service Finnery (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is wishing her mentor Walker (James Wood) a happy retirement. President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) is brokering a controversial Middle East peace plan. And then … well … and then all hell breaks loose.

Led by homegrown terrorist Stenz (Jason Clarke) and uber-hacker Tyler (Jimmi Simpson), first the Capitol and then the White House go under full assault.

It took a while to get going. In fact, there was way too much exposition. We got it five minutes in. The president is working on a controversial peace plan. After looking at my watch (theoretically because I don’t really own a watch and it is rude to do the phone thing in a dark theater) several times, the action finally started rolling. And when it did, it never really stopped.

I truly hope the people guarding the president and the members of congress are more skilled than what we saw in this film. It is if the baddies just walked in and killed EVERYONE on the president’s detail without breaking a sweat. Seriously, they made it look easy. Not to mention, there is one glaring plot hole at the end. And I usually get swept away in the movie enough to gloss over a few plot holes so this one had to be major (and it was).

Yet, Tatum and Foxx have great chemistry and little Joey King held her own as the plucky, smart daughter. But the plot took itself way too seriously and got increasingly over-the-top as it went on. The politics were a little too obvious and easy. President Obama Sawyer … good, anyone that doesn’t agree with him … bad. In this movie, not agreeing with the president makes you an extreme right-winger hell bent on destroying the country. It was just a little too pat for me.
The casting almost made it too easy to tell who would end up being a bad guy. There are just some actors that you know, right off the bat, will end up on the wrong side by the end. That was true in spades here. As characters made their first appearances, I knew they'd end up bad just based on casting.
I enjoyed it but that is because I saw it at an early matinee. Not sure I would have enjoyed it as much if I had paid full price.



Sunday, June 23, 2013

Movie Review: World War Z

 Before I get into the review, I have two things to say. First, within the ‘monster universe’ I like Zombies the least. At least vampires are seductive and sexy. Werewolves are animalistic and .. sexy. Ghoest are terrifying but kind of cool. Zombies? Zombies are unattractive, not especially bright, have no charm to speak of and their cannibals… Gross!

Having said that, I went into World War Z with an open mind. As always, I saw it at a morning show. It’s always a good thing for a film’s box office when a 10:15 a.m. has a healthy audience. It is also good for the film when there is spontaneous applause when the credits begin to roll. What that says to me is that regardless of what the critics say, if this is your kind of movie. Then you’ll probably like it.

We never find out exactly how World War Z started. Basically former UN operative Gerry (Brad Pitt) and his wife Karen (Mireille Enos) are the happy parents of two happy daughters. While taken then to school, all hell breaks loose. Really it does. A traffic jam turns into madness and mayhem when zombies take to the street and begin turning people into zombies.

Brad Pitt gets called back to duty and before we know it, he’s jet-setting around the world – from South Korea to Israel to Europe in search of Patient Zero or some kind of cure.

The action starts and never stops. However, there is a great deal of humanity to the activities that make the action more than just gratuitous scenes action for the sake of action. I also appreciated the fact that the gory was kept to a minimum. Flesh-eating zombies can give filmmakers carte blache to get all bloody and gory and gross. Thankfully, they didn’t go that route.

Can’t say I loved it but I liked it a lot more than I thought I would.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Movie Review: Man of Steel

Superman is not the easiest hero to bring to the screen. Lately, with Iron Man, Spiderman, and of course, Batman, it was achingly obvious that he was the one most in need of a reboot. What makes Superman so hard to bring to the screen is his perfection. While we all strive for perfection, no one wants to see a movie about a perfect flawless hero. Batman is just dark. Spiderman has teenage angst, awkwardness and the guilt from losing Uncle Ben to contend with. Iron Man has to grapple with his ego and his daddy issues. And the Hulk? Well, it would be an understatement to say that he has anger issues. Superman with his chiseled good looks, strong morals and indestructibility, makes for difficult character development.

So, with Man of Steel we begin again. We see how Clark Kent a.k.a  Kal-El (Henry Cavill) got to earth. We meet his parents Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Faora-Ul (Antje Traue). As their planet imploded, they sent their newborn Kal-El off into the unknown while they perished with their planet. However, before their demise, they thwarted a last minute coup from General Zod (Michael Shannon) and his group of power hungry Kryptonians. Zod and crew escaped the end of their civilization by being sent away in a prison shuttle doomed to an eternity of frozen solitude.

We see Clark’s earthy parents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane). And as a child and young adult, he struggled with his powers and, more importantly, with hiding his true nature (and strength) from the residents of Smallville, Kansas who wouldn’t know what to make of this superhuman alien in their midst.

So as an adult, Clark roams. From fishing boatman to busboy, he bounces from scene to scene. Once he displays his powers – to save a group of men on an exploding oil rig or to come to the aid of an overworked waitress – he has to move on.

He ends up at the South Pole, helping a group of military types who have an unidentified object on their hand. It piques his interest and it should. It’s the last vestiges of his home planet. There, he meets his father, or his memory, and is able to learn about the last days of his people. As fate would have it, a nosy reporter, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is on this case and follows Clark. She learns the truth about him, though no one wants to believe her. Meanwhile, Zod has managed to locate Clark on earth. He holds the planet hostage until they can get a hold of him.

Christopher Nolan, of The Dark Knight Trilogy, produced Man of Steel, but he clearly didn’t direct it. I wanted desperately to love this movie. Henry Cavill was a solid Superman and a very good casting decision. I even liked Crowe, Costner and Lane as his parents. Normally, I can take or leave Amy Adams but she was a plucky Lois Lane. So what was the problem?

I enjoyed the scenes on Krypton and as Clark was growing up. They had heart. However, that heart was lost of the modern day scenes. And heart was needed in the Kent-Lane relationship, in particular, and in these scenes in general. The last half-hour is just a series of explosions and special effects. It went on so long that the intensity was replaced with boredom.

A little romance, or at least a little levity would have been nice. Because Superman is not a Dark Knight, it would have been appropriate to have a little bit of humor. My introduction to Superman wasn’t the comics. It wasn’t the George Reaves of the old black-and-white television show. It was Christopher Reeve, whose Superman was romantic and charming.  A dose of that would have gone a long way in this film.

Having said all of that, I will be back in my seat, munching on my popcorn when the next installment comes out. Speaking of being in your seat, you can leave yours when the credits start as there is no post-credit scene to wait around for.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Movie Review: Hangover 3

I went into The Hangover 3 with high hopes … even though part of me knew better. Comedy trilogies, in my open lose steam with each version. The first is always the funniest. The second is still funny but doesn’t quite have the magic of the first and the third? Well, the third is always the least funny of the bunch. This is exactly what happened with the Hangover series.

This is a departure from the first two in that there is no major blackout involved. They know what is going on the entire time. Long story short … when Alan’s (Zach Galifianakis) father dies, he goes off of his meds and is in dire need of an intervention. So the Wolf Pack reunites: Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha). The group is responsible for taking Alan to the rehab facility in Arizona.

But, a funny thing happens on the way to the facility. They run into Marshall (John Goodman) and Black Doug (Mike Epps). Apparently the Wolf Packs hijinx from the first two films ended up with Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) stealing $21 million in gold bars from Marshall … and he wants his gold back. Since Alan has been writing to Chow throughout his stay in a Bangkok prison, Marshall determines that The Wolf Pack are his best bet for tracking Chow down and retrieving his gold.

They start in Tijuana and, of course, end up in Vegas where the Wold Pack saga comes to a close.
I had some chuckles but I don’t think I had any real laugh out loud moments. Unfortunately, Hangover 3 suffers from trailer-it is – when all the best parts show up in the trailer. You knew the funniest moments were coming a mile away. I would have loved to see a cameo from Mike Tyson, we do get a scene with Heather Graham but it wasn’t all that funny. What was funny were the scenes with Alan and his lady love Cassie (Melissa McCarthy) but then again, the best part of that scene was featured in the trailer too.

I have to say, I’ve never been a huge Bradley Cooper fan but he was definitely bringing the hotness here. Is it wrong to say that I would have loved to see him shirtless? Nevertheless, the end of the Wolf Pack saga was a satisfying one. I just wish it had been a funnier journey.

In the previous Hangover movies, the best outtakes were shown during the credits. While you don’t get outtakes here, there is one great scene that probably had the only real laugh out loud moment (okay there was ONE).

Monday, May 20, 2013

American Idol Reboot

The Dawg is already gone, Ms. Mariah needs more than tight
dresses to stay at the judges table. Ryan - aint goin' nowhere.
Nicki? We all know she's already gone. Keith Urban, the only
one I would want to see again next season.
I've been watching American Idol since the beginning. I have to admit, the past few years have been a challenge - lackluster contestants (with Adam Lambert being an exception and probably Philip Philips) and a parade of 'celebrity' judges who have not earned their large paychecks. With the lowest ratings in the show's history for this past season, Idol producers need to take note. Do something different. Do something completely different.

So what happened?

I get it. A lot of reality shows thrive on tension and drama ... but American Idol isn't one of those shows. The immature conflicts between Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey was painful to watch. So guess what? A lot of people opted not to. Take a look at The Voice which has benefitted from the great and positive chemstry between judges (and a note to Voice producers, keep this foursome!).

Out of the four, the only one I could possibly see coming back would be Keith Urban. Randy has already bowed out. Nicki Minaj has ticked so many people off that she won't be back and really, I know she's 'Mariah' but I don't think she needs to be back either. The best judge isn't even a judge, it's Jimmy Iovine. He knows what he's talking about and gives targeted feedback.

Then there are the contestants. It ended well, (love me some Candice) but getting there was at times painful. Zonette? Really? Some of the people that made it to the live shows had me questioning the judges' train of thought.


Go back to basics. When Idol started, no one knew who Simon Cowell or Randy Jackson were. I'm pretty sure they didn't break the bank to get Paula Abdul. Yet, it became the #1 show. AI made Simon and Randy stars and revived Paula's career.

Find several industry-insiders who can provide some Jimmy Iovine-style credibility and personality and put them at the judges table. Add a star that is past their heyday, but who has some knowledge and put them at the table. Yes, this would be a Paula Abdul-like role, but don't look for the next Paula Abdul.

Save the Drama for your Mama. And truth be told, your mama probably doesn't want to hear all that mess either. Have judges that actually get along.

Enough of the Judges Already! American Idol is at its best when it operates as a singing competition. In other words, make it about the contestants again and less about the judges. Find contestants that the audience can root for. We should be tuning in each week to see what the singers are going to sing not which diva is going to act the bigger fool.

Current Theme Weeks: After this season when the contestants relieved their painful ignorance of archaic, little known acts like The Beatles, I propose losing the decade-based themes. Instead go with different kinds of themes: Best Break-Up Songs, Diva Week, Acoustic/A Capella Week, Best High School Song.

If Idol wants to dominate the ratings again, they will have to do more than a little tweaking.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Movie Review: Star Trek: Into Darkness

Weather wise it hasn’t even really started to heat up yet, but the Summer Movie Season is underway. This week’s major release was the second in the J.J. Abrams Star Trek series, Star Trek: Into Darkness. I enjoyed it but I expected it to be pretty good (just not great).

Jim Kirk (Chris Pine) is still a renegade, ignoring orders and doing things his way. The problem, at least in the beginning is that Dr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is still, well, Spock – logical, pragmatic and unable to tell a lie. So after Kirk goes against order and saves Spock’s life, Spock gets him in trouble for it! Of course, there are bigger problems afoot when John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) shows up with quite an explosive entry. In fact, his actions threaten to start a war between the Federation and the Klingons. Never fear, the faithful Enterprise crew is here: Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban), Scotty (Simon Pegg), Checkov (Anton Yelchin), and Sulu (John Cho).

The performances were good – especially Pine and Quinto who have an easy chemistry with each other – and Cumberbatch who has the intensity necessary of an action movie villian. However, this movie was all about the effects and the action. It starts at the beginning and never lets up. This is a good thing; however, a little more attention to the plot and the story would have made a good thing a whole lot better.

I saw this in 3-D and it was worth it. This is the kind of movie that needs to be in 3-D. It isn’t gimmicky but essential to this kind of movie. I will tell you this upfront, don’t bother staying though the credits. There is no teaser or aster-the-credits extra scene. So when the credits roll, so can you.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Movie Review: The Great Gatsby

 I haven’t seen Les Miserables and, despite the great reviews, I don’t know if I ever will. You see, some 20+ years ago, I was forced to read about Jean Valjean and Cosette and the whole very sad, very miserable crew and I hated every minute of it. I hated it so much that decades later I can’t even bear the thought of a cinematic version. It was the exact opposite with The Great Gatsby. I read it in high school and I loved it. I enjoyed the adaptation with Robert Redford (Gatsby), Mia Farrow (Daisy) and Sam Waterson (Nick). I couldn’t wait to see this one.

For the most part, I wasn’t disappointed. Leonardo DiCaprio did a great job of capturing Jay Gatsby’s determination and hopeless hopefulness. Normally, I’m not a huge Tobey McGuire fan but he did a solid job of capturing the role of the trying-to-be-objective narrator, Nick Carraway. For those who aren’t familiar with the story, five years earlier, a penniless Gatsby met Daisy Buchanan and fell head-over-heels with the beautiful young privileged girl. He went off to war and made Daisy (Carey Mulligan) promise that she’d wait.

Daisy, however, broke that promise and married Tom (Joel Edgerton) a boorish, philandering man who, like her, came from old money. If she would have waited, Gatsby would have come back. It was always his plan. In the years he was away, he earned millions, enough wealth, he thought, to earn Daisy’s heart.

With Tom’s constant cheating, Daisy seemed like she might be ready for what Gatsby had to offer but as Nick warned his friend, "You can’t recreate the past."

As I said, I really enjoyed DiCaprio as Gatsby the hopeful dreamer who, you could tell, wasn’t afraid to be ruthless to get what he wanted. Like his character in Catch Me If You Can, DiCaprio (and the character of Gatsby) have mastered the art of reinvention. Edgerton's Tom also proved to be a formidable challenger for Daisy’s heart.

Now, the movie opens and closes in a snowy asylum where Nick pins The Great Gatsby as part of his therapy. What? Hey, kids, if you want to bypass the book and just use the film instead, know that this little artistic license did not happen in the novel. I didn’t understand why Nick, for one, would end up in an asylum and, two, why the book would have to be written there. Couldn’t it just be a memoir based on an important and pivotal time in his life?

Then there is the matter of Daisy. I thought Carey Mulligan was good but I left wondering if someone else could have been better in that role. Mulligan was good but not great. Director/co-writer Luhrmann gave Daisy a lot more depth than she had in the book. As she was written by Fitzgerald, Daisy just wasn't the kind of woman who would ever be capable of the kind of love that Gatsby demands … and never was. Part of the tragedy is that the past Gatsby so desperately wanted to create was never there.

Yet this is a Baz Luhrmann spectacle and he brings on the dazzling visuals. The infamous parties Gatsby is known for as well as the speakeasies and mansions give him a colorful playground to romp and play in. The soundtrack, has more than a nod to executive producer Sean “Jay-Z” Carter. It is a mash-up of rap and current songs with a 20’s feel. Jay-z, Beyonce, and Will-I-Am are featured. There is even a 20’s version of Amy  Winehouse classic Back to Black.

Gatsby is a kinetic visual spectacle with a few really strong performances. We saw it in 2-D, if I could have done it again, I’d do the 3-D version.