Tag Archives: Movie Review

Desolation of smaug

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug – Movie Review

Desolation of smaug

The Desolation of Smaug – Movie Review

Summary

The Desolation of Smaug is the second movie in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy. Yeah, I know “The Hobbit” wasn’t a trilogy when it was written. It was a longer novel-type thing that meandered about an imaginary countryside and assaulted the reader with Hobbit travelling poetry. The book is actually better than I just described it, but I was scarred by the poetry. Anyway, Mr. Jackson has seen fit, or seen enough profit, to warrant stretching this one book into something close to 9 hours of cinema. This movie is the middle section, the “Return of the Jedi”, the morose middle child of the series. In the first movie, our hero, Bilbo Baggins, is talked into going on an adventure as a burglar to assist a group of dwarves to regain their ancestral home. Adventures ensue: escape from Ogres, escape from Goblin King, and escape from Gollum. Plot is layed: The vengeful orc, the Necromancer, Big Dragon in the mountain. Character is established: Bilbo has inner strength, Thorin is a bit of a dick, Radagast is a shroomer. So in this movie our party continues their journey towards and reaching the Lonely Mountain on the one day when they can find the keyhole to the secret passage. Along the way they meet up with the Slyvan/Wild Elf King (it doesn’t go well for the short dudes), get chased by Orcs, get smuggled into Laketown, meddle in local politics, get inside the mountain, and, finally, antagonize the dragon with dire consequences.

The Good

This is a heck of an adventure. There nothing left out, in fact most of this movie was not in the book. There are fights with orcs, fights with spiders, and a cat and mouse game in a treasure strewn dwarven citadel with a dragon. You get your money’s worth in this film. The scenery is lush, the settings are magnificent. The Elven king’s stronghold is only bested by the depth and scope of the dwarven home under the mountain. There is enough geeky eye-candy here to give you ocular cavities big enough to park a cave troll in.

The Bad

Two elves cut through about one-hundred and fifty orcs with minimal effort. I’m not so sure why anybody is scared of orcs being around. Maybe they move in to the neighborhood, never cut their grass and leave junk cars in their yard. The point is, they are not a threat to anybody or anything, except maybe property values.

The elf girl-dwarf boy romance  – I don’t buy it. I can see how she would be interested in him and his stories of the outside world since she has rarely ventured out and has a wider view than the elves around her. I don’t think they played up this part of her enough to make her seem like someone who would fall for the dwarf. As for the dwarf, well, they each have so little character that it’s hard to tell what they would or wouldn’t do.

The Other

This is a nearly 3 hour movie. A lot happens. In most movies, the narrative arc clues you into when the story takes turns, when it starts the middle section where things are difficult, when it starts the final battle, and when it starts the ending. There is so much going on in this film that I lost track of the narrative arc. I didn’t have any feeling, other than that from my bladder, as to when the movie should end.

I don’t get dragons. Something that huge would need a considerable amount of nourishment. Yet he simply sleeps under a pile of gold rather than heading out periodically to roast an Oliphant with his fire breath or raze a village and snack on the inhabitants like at atapas bar, or demand human tribute from the idiots who built Laketown right next to his home when they knew he was there. And the gold…why? He cannot spend it, he can’t buy a new Ipad with it, he didn’t do any dragon sized redecorating to his home which was built on a dwarf scale. He just wants to sleep in it? Hell, at least Scrooge McDuck invested his money as well as swam in it.

How did Bilbo keep a hold of his sword all through the barrel ride and getting captured in Laketown? And, I think that the ring keep hopping from pocket to pocket.

I saw this movie in 3D. The 3D is done quite well, but didn’t add much to the movie and I thought is made the movie feel a big small, like I was watching it through a window. I cannot recommend it.

Final Verdict

Yeah, I enjoyed this movie. Being a geek who first got hooked on the Tolkien thing in his teen years I really cannot help but enjoy this movie. I even liked the cartoon versions from way back when. It’s not art, it’s not great cinema. But it is a lot of fun. If you go, see it on a big screen, and avoid the big fountain drink. It’s a long movie so bladder management will be key.

Movie Review – Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim 1 Pacific Rim 2

Summary

I like to preface things, so I am going to do so here. (It’s probably an ego thing, but lets not delve deep where I have no depth, ok?) While I do not consider myself a giant monster or giant robot fanboy, I have seen quite of bit of both genres. Maybe it’s because of Chicago’s UHF TV stations playing them during my youth, or my never ending search for odd films in the video stores in my 20s, or maybe I just in the closet about the whole fanboy thing. Anyway, this review will be viewed through the filter of someone who watches this stuff, not through the lens of someone who is out for seeing great cinema. Oh, and by the way this review may contain spoilers.

Now, Pacific Rim is a movie about giant monsters and giant robots that has more than a head nod to the Godzilla (or Gojira) movies from the distant past. The director, Mr. Del Toro, wasa big fan of these movies growing up and he apparently wanted to update the genre. The premise here is that an extra-dimensional rift has opened up on the floor of the Pacific Ocean and that allows giant monsters (called Kaiju) to pop into our world and wreak havoc. (Why is “wreak havoc” the default mode for most extra dimensional beings anyway? Why don’t they ever come here to get some really good fudge, or catch Cirque du Soleil show, or even just spend a day reading on the beach? Their tourism bears a striking resemblance to American foreign policy actually…). In response Earth bands together to build giant robots, called Jaegers (German for hunter) to fight the monsters. We seem to hold our own for a while, until the critters come through more often and start to adapt their bodies and tactics to our efforts. We shut the Jaeger program down and start building walls around the ocean. There are a few Jaegers left, a few pilots left, and a leader who has a plan to end the monsters once and for all. That’s the basics.

The Good

This movie looks good. Yeah, that sounds stupid, but that’s the best I can do. Everything in it, all the set and prop details look really good. Much, much of it is CGI, but it is too the point where the CGI is not at all noticeable. I think this little fact goes a long way towards making this an enjoyable movie. Much like Lord of the Rings looked “real”, which made it easier to watch. Ok, now you are saying “it’s a movie with giant monsters and giant robots and this knob is going on and on about the scenery!”, I hear you, but don’t overlook the scenery here.

The giant monsters are cool, but I think that the robots are the better of the two. In the old monster movies you saw a lot of the monsters, full shots, as they smashed up model Tokyo. In this movie your rarely see a whole monster, or see them for very long. It is all in little bits and pieces, a bit like “Jaws” actually. Only here it does not build suspense like in Jaws, here I think it really only exists to keep costs down. You see more of the robots, but still a lot of the details are left out – I will get into an explanation of that later. The fight scenes between the Kaiju and Jaegers are fun, but a little confusing. When there are multiple robots or monster involved it is kind of hard to tell who is doing what to whom. The fights keep you in the story though, and why else would you watch a movie like this anyway?

The Bad

All that beautiful scenery is covering up a mountain of plot holes and impossibilities that are going to make George Lucas think he made this film, or at least make him mad that he didn’t. I am not going to enumerate them here, but I will talk about them further in the “Other” section.

Acting. I hear that people in movies do this. If that is so, this was not a movie. Interesting dialog. That must be something that happens in plays I guess. Characters with motivations who grow. If I squint my eyes and turn sideways, I can see where some of that may have been present in this movie.

The Other

If you willingly went to a movie that features the idea of extra-dimensional monsters on this scale, humungous robots piloted by pairs of pilots through mind control, and a dimensional rift on the bottom of the ocean then you are on thin ice when you complain about plot holes and impossibilities when it comes to the details. No debris or clouds of silt just after you detonate a nuclear weapon on the bottom of the ocean? Don’t worry about it… look a giant monster! 8 helicopters carrying a giant robot that weighs hundreds of tons? Whatcoo talkin ‘bout Willis – and hey look another giant monster! Not mentioning the giant sword weapon to your partner until it is narratively necessary? You are thinking too much… hey look, giant monster guts! An EMP shutting down parts of a city, but the streetlights are still on? Ok, well that’s just dumb.
My point is that this might be the ultimate suspension of disbelief movie, on par with professional wrestling or a presidential debate. It is one of those where to enjoy it, you have to tone down that critical thinking part of your brain, and just let the art wash over you.

Final Verdict

Yeah, I enjoyed this movie. I saw in on one of those giant 80’ movie screens and I am so happy I did. If you like this type of thing, and you can turn off that logic critic, go see this movie. Do not wait for it to be streamed somewhere, unless you happen to have access to a giant screen of your own. This movie will not move your emotions, tell you anything about the human condition, or even make you like any of the characters. It will give you the thrill of giant robots flinging giant monsters around a big wet neon infused city though, and if that isn’t entertainment I don’t know what is.

Movie Review – Star Trek Into Darkness. Who let the Trek out?

Star Trek – Into Darkness

Into Darkness 1 INto Darkness 2

Summary

Picking up a year or so after the last Star Trek film we find the re-boot versions of the original crew stranded on an island after a three hour tour hits a bad storm….no, wait. That’s not it. That was what I dreamt after eating strip mall sushi and seeing the movie. It wasn’t actually the movie. In the actual movie a villain commits terrorist like acts against the Federation and it is up to the Enterprise crew to find the fugitive and dish out a little justice. They come to learn more about their fugitive, about internal Federation struggles, and about how lax Klingon security is around their homeworld.

This is a different type of review. I am a Star Trek fanboy and long-coat-and-scarf wearing geek. We have a cat named Pippen and I can recite Rutger Hauer’s speech at the end of Blade Runner by heart. I also love movies of all types. So, if this review gets too schizo, flashing from movie geek to true geek, just think about Ginger putting some sunscreen on Uhura while they are trapped on the island…oh. Sorry.

The Good

This is a pretty rip roaring action film. Lots of big explosions, dizzy high speed action, beautiful scenery and space, the final frontier. Ol’ JJ can put a tent-pole movie together alright. He also has moved the franchise back into accessibility for most people. You don’t have to know anything about the “City on the Edge of Tomorrow” to understand and enjoy this film. The relationships are ok, but the one between Spock and Kirk, the most important one and the one that launched the whole concept of slash fiction, is pretty good. They are both intensely loyal people who come to recognize the value of someone who is not just like themselves. They grow during the movie, and that doesn’t often happen in movies. Scotty is another good point in the film. The actor, Simon Pegg, really knows how to deliver a line. His timing and delivery of some of the silliest lines is spot on. And there is Uhura. The camera could linger on Zoe for weeks and I would not get bored. All in all, this re-boot is very similar to the Bond film re-boots. They are good films that don’t require you to have seen any of the other films.

The Bad

While it’s a good film, it is not a good Star Trek film, in exactly the same way the Bond films are good films but they are not Bond films. This film has all the trappings of a Star Trek film without any of the soul of one. You might say, “Good riddance! All that soul every got us was a string of painful film experiences all in the name of staying true to the franchise!”. I will grant that most of the other movies spent too much time on the Star Trek and not enough time on the movie, but this one left me, the fanboy, flat. Dr. Merrick’s gratuitous skin shot didn’t belong in this movie, Kirk waking up with two cat girls didn’t belong in this movie, and Spock mind melding so he can experience death did not belong in this movie. The plot had more holes than a Tholian Web – Klingons letting a ship just pop down to their home planet? An admiral building a giant starship outside of Jupiter unnoticed? Scotty just grabbing a shuttle and going to Jupiter? You can beam someone into a cell in the Brig? AHHHHHHH! (Fanboy geek rage). Then, they go and ruin Holmes for me. Benedict Cumberbatch (difficult, but fun to type) please, show a bit of restraint. I adore you as Holmes, and your first couple of scenes were wonderful. Then, you had your second scene in the brig and you went all late years Al Pacino on us. Chomp, chomp, chomp, mmmm good scenery. Spoiler time: While the whole re-doing the Khan movie is an interesting idea, here is just seems like they couldn’t think of anything worthwhile to write and thought “Hmmm, if we leak that it is Khan, then the fanboys won’t be able to resist, thus strong opening weekend, then the rest of the populace will just flock to the poplular movie. Brilliant strategy. Damn, I’m brilliant. Where is someone eager to curry my favor by bringing me a mocha-hito?” I, for one, was disappointed.

The Other

There is no other. Well, maybe there is. Peine does some interesting acting where he seems to be mimicking some of Shatners movies and looks here and there. Maybe I was just imagining  it. The tribbles make an appearance, and maybe explain how they become what they later are. We get to see what is later referred to as a Jefferies Tube – a nod to old school trek lovers. And Kirk dies. It’s a bit like the Pan-Far accident, but different.

Final Verdict

This movie is on par with the Iron Man movie for entertainment value, but falls short on heart for me. I wanted a good Star Trek movie, but got a good movie using Star Trek sets and characters. Maybe I should have expected this as it was a logical direction given the first film, but still I had hoped for better. This does nothing the ease my mind about the Star Wars movie. In fact, it makes me wish the future of that franchise was still unknown. If there is a third Star Trek, it will have to get blisteringly great reviews or promise an Uhura mud-wrestling scene for me to spend money at the theatre to see it. I give this 1 and a half stars.

Engage, Make it So, Live Long and Prosper. Just don’t go see this movie with any Star Trek related expectations.

Movie Review – Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3

 

Summary

Tony Stark is back after his origin story, his second act, and a stint with an ensemble cast to fight the bad guys, be a bad boy, and make witty quips to his AI butler. And we are back to watch it. It’s a superhero film, so if you came in expecting deep characters, biting dialog, and introspection you have come to the wrong place. Lots of unrealistic fights, grand implausible world threatening schemes, and a super-nova’s worth of explosions are on the menu for this film.

The Good

It’s possible that no role is better suited to an actor than Iron Man is to Robert Downey Jr. While the whole premise, as with any superhero film, is silly, I still buy the act and root for him. He may be forever known for this role, overshadowing his magnificent Chaplin, but the fit is so good that it is hard to argue. The second good part is the Stark/Pepper Potts dialog interplay. They are really close to having a screwball comedy a la the ‘50s. When Tony and Pepper are arguing with the plant girl there, the dialog, the timing and the inflections are nearly magic. I would love to see a small film with Tony and Pepper on a date. The third good part is Ben Kingsley. He give two really good performances. More about that later.

The Bad

They take a twist on the villain that not everybody is going to be happy with. I understand why they did it, but I think they could have used any generic villain name to do it rather than using an established villain from the comics. Second Bad – Tony’s angst really gets annoying. In order to understand it, you have to remember what happened at the end of the Avengers. Suffice it to say that Tony is shaken. While Downey makes us believe in Tony, he really does not pull off the brooding, tortured Tony too well and it slows down the movie. The third bad is the ending. All I can say without spoilers is that I hope to hell they are setting up stuff for the other movies, otherwise they really cut some corners on it.

The Other

Guy Pearce is good in this film, but he really isn’t given much to work with. All of his character development happened before the movie started, we just get to see the results. There is a kid in the show who is decent, but his backstory is a bit heavy. Don’t waste your time on the 3-d version, nothing to see there, move along.

Final Verdict

He’s a rich, genius, playboy with a superhero suit. Angst does not fit him and it was boring. The interplay with Pepper and Tony was at times wonderful. Villains were so-so but Kingsley was fun to watch. I’m not sorry I paid the money for the theatre, but I am sorry I watched it in 3-d. Overall it was a solid superhero film, a little better than the second film,  and just a touch worse than the Captain America film. Still better than Thor. Three stars just after seeing it, but probably closer to 2.5 stars in the future.

Movie Review – Men In Black 3

MIB3

Men In Black III

Summary

Those black suited alien control agents are back for another adventure. If you saw MIB 2, that thought might not thrill you. MIB 2 was many of the things people hate about sequels – rehash of first film, weak plot, thrown together feel, over reliant on effects… you know the drill. Anyway, MIB 3 is all those things, but it is still better than MIB 2.

In the third film, K is depressed and J is needy. Then an arch villain from K’s past breaks out of the Lunar Prison and heads back to earth with vengeance on his mind, and a time travel plan to pull it off. Eventually, J has to go back in time and work with a younger K to twart this diabolical plan (yup, I used both thwart and diabolical in one sentence. Put my name on the Pulitzer).

The Good

The action sequence in the last third of the film is pretty engaging. The special effects were solid. Towards the end, the relationship between K and J that was so magical in the first film and was still present in the second one starts to poke its little head out of it’s shell, but that’s all we get of that.

The Bad

The first third of this film is painful to watch. I have never seen Will Smith look uncomfortable in a movie, and in this one it looks like he is wearing porcupine underwear. The interplay between J and K was one of the magic parts of the first film, but in this one it is like these two don’t know each other and don’t like to be in the same room. Every line is flat. They have a lot of opportunity for Will Smith to comment on the late ‘60s, but they barely do any of it. They have new aliens and side characters, but they aren’t interesting or even part of the plot.

The Other

Emma Thompson is a non-entity in her role, neither good nor bad. I never thought I would write that sentence. Seeing K with a love interest was good, but underplayed. The sight gags involving aliens were decent, but it was stuff we have seen before. Though, the bowling scene was one of the few where Will Smith looked like he was having fun. It was a candle in the darkness, yet I still cursed.

Final Verdict

At it’s core, this should be a buddy film, and this story should make up a pretty good one. It fails. It was not a bad film all the way through, and the last third went a long way towards making my overall movie experience one that I did not regret. Watch the movie, if you can get it free. Otherwise, don’t pay for it unless you are on a plane or trapped with kids.

Movie Review – Django Unchained

Django 1 Django 2

Django Unchained

Summary

Let me come clean to start with – I tend to like Tarantino films. He writes very entertaining and cool sounding dialog. It may be a gimmick, or a schtick, but it is one that generally works for me. ‘Nuff said.

Django Unchained is a film set just before the civil war. A bounty hunter needs help in identifying some criminals, so he seeks out a slave (Django) who knows what they look like for help. The hunter and the now ex-slave end up working together in the bounty hunting business. Their grand adventure starts when they set out to go get and free Django’s wife. As with any Tarantino film, there is good dialog, weird plot twists, sensible and senseless violence, and a fitting soundtrack.

The Good

Tarantino loves the ‘70s, and that love influences all of his work. Django might be the most ‘70s-ish movie he has made. From the title cards, to the music, and even to many of the camera angles he chooses, this feels a lot like a ‘70s film, minus the pacing issues many of those films had. It is a solid story with just enough plot twists to keep you guessing.

The Bad

The first thing you expect in a Tarantino film is excellent dialog. His first two films are masters classes in interesting dialog. This film has some great monologs – by both the Bounty Hunter and the Plantation owner, but the dialogs are lacking. Also, there were several instances of really clumsy lighting, dim rooms with an angelic soft white light drawing your eye into the focus. They were so obvious as to be out of place in this movie.

The Other

It’s a violent, bloody film that uses the “N-word” a lot. If any of that bothers you, steer clear of this movie. It’s rare for me to say this, but I thought the violence was just a bit gratuitous, as if he had to use up all the stage blood before he could stop shooting. It was all fitting within the plot and the genre, but it could have had a bit more impact if there was a bit less of it.

Final Verdict

If you like Tarantino films, this one will not disappoint you. It had most of what you want in one of his films, but this is an acquired taste, and not neccesarily a sign of good taste. I enjoyed it enough that I don’t feel let down, but I think it isn’t as good as the first two films, or Kill Bill, or even Inglorious Bastards.

Movie Review – Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the Great and powerful

Saw the Oz movie last night. Makes the recent Alice in Wonderland movie seem Oscar worthy.

If you get past the wooden acting and moronic dialog you are left with a ridiculous plot, color saturated visuals, and a couple of feeble attempts at mirth. Even multiple close ups of Mila Kunis’ eyes couldn’t make this thing entertaining. The most believable acting was done by the animated china girl. This only way this movie could be considered a success would be if the goal of the people who made it was to damage James Franco’s career.

Avoid with prejudice