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Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Inside Llewyn Davis: Skip to my Llew!
Llewyn Davis, (Oscar Issac) a struggling folk singer, travels from New York to Chicago in the 1960's to try to establish a solo singing career, amid many obstacles.
This is a very complex movie. It is a funny movie, at first I thought it was a straight out comedy, but then it tackles serious issues, love, but not in the way a typical movie deals with it, loss in a more traditional sense and even symbolism. I was actually ruminating on the symbolism of a cat. This movie handles comedy and drama so adeptly, that it feels like real life. Life is sometimes funny, sometimes tragic and this movie echoes both extremes really well. The scenes are punctuated by hauntingly beautiful music, that adds to the overall mood of the film. The ending is appropriate to the overall film, and that's all that needs to be said. I did not go into detail on the plot, because any details would ruin your enjoyment of the film.
The acting is superb. The cast is led by Oscar Isaac, who plays the darkly comic, sometimes morose Llewyn Davis with an innate sense of self. He knows this character inside and out. Carey Mulligan is also outstanding as the vituperative, venomous Jean, although her American accent slips every once in a while. Mulligan also has a great singing voice, as does Isaac. Justin Timberlake has a terrific singing voice, but he's still a wooden actor, and yet he gets these plum roles, inexplicable.
The Coen Brothers are especially visual in this film, underscoring the claustrophobic feeling of living in New York City, filming down stairways, and between narrow hallways. The pacing is perfect, and the music is interspersed beautifully within the film. The brothers get beautiful, heart wrenching performances from a largely unknown cast. It reminded me somewhat of another Coen brothers film, O Brother Where Art Thou, with its comedic touches and music, but Inside LLewyn Davis is a much darker film.
This is a must-see.
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Citizen Four: A Snow job.
I had heard that this movie is compelling filmmaking, that director Laura Poitras really brought the story of Edward Snowden to life. Trust me, it is not compelling viewing, it is run of the mill interviewing, and Snowden gets into a lot of technical jargon that the average viewer wouldn't understand or care about. The film is quite boring most of the time, and unintentionally funny at other times with Glenn Greenwald speaking horrible Portuguese with a thick American accent. The subject is compelling, but the movie is not. Laura Poitras has been detained, before ever making this movie, so she is hardly objective. As to why this movie received an Academy Award, I bet half the academy voters didn't even see the movie. They read a synopsis, and voted.
The movie did remind me that Snowden wasn't even the original NSA leaker. The original leaker was William Binney, who resigned from the NSA in 2001, and leaked documents to the New York Times. The resulting Times story in 2005 was met with a collective yawn and people went on with their lives. This time, the perpetual Obama haters were joined by the handwringing liberals, who never liked the idea of government spying, and that gave the story legs for a while, but in the end nothing changed. If people give government vast power in the times of a national crisis, it's very hard to take that power away, and as long as people want to be constantly connected, texting and tweeting and facebooking, and blogging, the NSA will be listening. Get used to it. I object to the NSA listening programs for two fundamental reasons, it's a violation of privacy, and if the NSA is listening to my phone calls and reading my emails, they are wasting the country's time and money. But I have resigned myself to the fact that there is nothing I can do to change it. Enjoy my blog, NSA.
My objections to the NSA program notwithstanding, I don't like Edward Snowden. He is no hero. He is a smug, sanctimonious megalomaniac. But instead of namecalling, let me tell you what would have made him a hero in my eyes. If Edward Snowden had released all that material to Greenwald and did not run away, first to Hong Kong, and then to Russia, and went to jail in the US, he would have been a hero, but instead, he is a coward. Snowden said many times in the film that he left clues to get caught, so what happens when he lets his identity be known, he runs away. Martin Luther King went to jail for his beliefs, Civil Rights laws were eventually passed, Gandhi went to jail for fighting British colonialism, the British ultimately left India. But Snowden, going to Russia, and feeding Putin our sources and methods, and being Putin's 'useful idiot' does not help the cause of ending the NSA spying on its own citizens, in fact it hurts it. Snowden should ask Boris Nemstov how tolerant Putin is of opposing views. I guess he can't do that now. Civil disobedience requires bravery, and Snowden has none. I'm sure the irony of living in a police state like Russia, with no freedom of speech or press, hasn't been lost on Snowden. He deserves his fate.
Hello Ladies: Goodbye boredom.
Stuart (Stephen Merchant) is a gangly, awkward British web developer and landlord, who had a British girlfriend, named Trudy (Henrietta Miere) who started dating a jerk from work named Mike (Adam Campbell) breaking Stuart's heart. After Trudy breaks his heart and gets married to Mike, Stuart moves to L.A., finds a clumsy wingman named Wade, and rents an apartment to a former actress named Jessica. (Christine Woods) Stuart has acquired a taste for fashion models during his time in Los Angeles. Stuart meets a Russian model named Tatiana (Stephanie Cornielieussen) and plans to make Trudy jealous with his conquest. At the last minute, Tatiana breaks the date. Desperate for a date to impress Trudy, Stuart asks Jessica to step in, does Jessica agree? Is Trudy jealous?
There are so many funny scenes in this movie, laugh-out loud funny scenes. Christine's audition for a yogurt commercial, Stuart trying to pick up the Russian model on a boat party. and an unforgettable cameo from Nicole Kidman, The plot is predictable from beginning to end, but the jokes are so funny that the plot hardly matters. I never saw the TV show that this movie is based on, but this movie does a good job of explaining the backstory of the the TV show and being a stand alone movie of its own.
Writer and lead actor Stephen Merchant builds a world where a geeky, freakishily tall man can date Russian models, and it seems almost plausible. His delivery is so deadpan, that it makes the jokes even more funny. Christine Woods has a definite Julia Louis Dreyfuss quality about her and has excellent comic timing. The rest of the ensemble plays their roles to a tee and makes the entire movie a pleasant experience.
The movie is not long, and perfectly paced for a comedy. Sit back and enjoy.
That Awkward Moment (2014)
That Awkward Moment: Ef-Wrong for So Many Reasons
Jason (Zac Efron) is a commitment-phobic man who meets Ellie (Imogeen Potts) in a bar and sleeps with her. Jason inexplicably concludes that Ellie is a hooker, and Ellie inexplicably forgives him for his idiotic conclusion. Daniel (Miles Teller) is Jason's wingman and he has a friend with benefits named Chelsea. (Mackenzie Davis) Another of Jason's friends Mikey (Michael B. Jordan is going through a painful divorce with his wife Vera. (Jessica Lucas) Jason and Daniel vow to stay single for as long as Mikey is single, but what about Jason's relationship with Ellie, and Daniel's relationship with Chelsea?
That Awkward Moment stumbles from one awkward moment to another. It starts with the Jason character jumping to a wickedly off base conclusion, and Ellie being angry for about five minutes, and forgiving him. What beautiful girl forgives a guy for calling her a prostitute? No girl, that's who. This movie further departs from reality when Ellie visits Jason with a bottle of scotch on her birthday, and plays video games with his friends. This is obviously a male writer's fantasy of what a girlfriend is, it has no relation to reality whatsoever. Daniel a plain looking guy, has a gorgeous friend, who he sleeps with and wants to meet even more gorgeous women, and Mikey has the most gorgeous wife in the world and meets an equally gorgeous girl at the bar who hands him her number, in the matter of a minute. Where is this bar? I'd like to go. And what is Jason's job, he designs book covers for a publishing house? Is that a job? I know what an illustrator is, what is a book jacket designer? Then when all seems to be well, there is a truly embarrassing scene at Ellie's house with her parents, and still the relationship persists. So he has a dream job, can sleep with any woman he wants, consequence free, and has a girlfriend who's so desperate for his affection that she keeps going out with him, despite the lack of commitment. And this is related to reality how? This movie is trying to be a Judd Apatow film, that is neither as funny as an Apatow film or as well-written as some of Apatow's films. When the film stops being asinine, it starts being morose, and the transition is so sudden that the viewer doesn't know what hit him.
Is anyone watching this supposed to be happy to see Zac Efron, the star of High School Musical, in a grown up role, featuring cursing and sleeping around? Efron tries mightily to be funny and charming with a quip always at the ready, but ultimately, the script fails him. Miles Teller brings nothing to this role, except a snarky attitude, why would anyone date this guy? Michael B. Jordan plays a sad sack who can't seem to forget his wife, no matter what. He has nowhere to go with this role. I feel badly for the women in this movie, who are led by the nose by these men. Imogeen Potts ties to make Ellie sophisticated, but comes across as desperate and cloying.
The movie is long, and the pacing is slow, but the bad script and not the direction that sinks this movie.
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The Book Thief (2013)
Classic Movie Review: The Book Thief (2013)
Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nelisse) is a German girl who has been given up for adoption by her mother (Heike Makatsch) who can no longer afford to take care of her. Her adoptive father, Hans (Geoffrey Rush) is a kindly old accordion player, who loves Liesel at first sight. Her adoptive mother. Rosa (Emily Watson) is a strict taskmaster, who demands obedience and not love. Liesel develops a friendship with the boy next door, named Rudy (Nico Liersch) but is bullied by the rest of the kids in school, especially Franz (Levin Liam) an ardent member of the Nazi youth . Liesel learns to read with the help of Hans, who starts a dictionary for Liesel on the walls of his basement. Liesel attends a book burning, but she would much rather read books than burn the, also there are hints that her mother is a Communist, so she is already feeling like an outsider to the Nazi regime.
After Kristallnacht, a young Jewish man named Max (Ben Schnetzer) runs away from his mother's house fearing for his life. He asks for refuge at Hans' house. Hans feels obligated to Max's father, because Max's father saved Hans' life during WWI and gave him his accordion for safe keeping. Hans takes Max in and hides him in the basement, where he and Liesel strike up a friendship based on their mutual disdain for Hitler. Max also teaches Liesel to read and write in descriptive language. Max gives her a book as a present. Rudy throws the book into the river during a fight with Franz rather than hand the book to Franz. Franz informs the Nazis about the book and they are soon at Hans' door to search his basement. Do the Nazis find Max or do Hans, Rosa and Liesel continue to hide him?
This is a great movie, because it not only shows the Nazi atrocities, book burning, Kristallnacht and the segregation of Jews by forcing them to wear what is called the Jewish badge, it shows the absolute change in German attitudes towards the war as the war dragged on. At first, the German kids are running through the streets excited to fight, as the fighting continues, there is a palpable sense of war weariness, and futility about the war. Of course the filmmakers take the anti-Nazi sentiment too far, It's doubtful that there were kids yelling "I hate Hitler!" as the film portrays, but the underlying anti-war theme is a powerful one, underscored by the voice of death narrating the film. Liesel learning to read is a metaphor for her learning about the ugliness of life in the Nazi regime, but there's also a sense that learning is the only way that people can bring down oppressive regimes, that is a very subtle point made by the movie. The ending is emotional, with a mix of emotions, nothing more needs to be said.
The acting is superb. Geoffrey Rush is lyrical almost poetic as Hans, he wants to be an oasis of sanity for Liesel n the insane world around him. Emily Watson is excellent, as the stern matriarch, who has layers of depth beneath that stern exterior. Sophie Nelisse s exceptional in an intricate role that demands her to play the role with the simplicity of a child but the emotional complexity of an adult. There are many great supporting performances to go along with the strong lead performances, just an outstanding ensemble cast.
The direction is great, the cinematography is clear and picturesque the viewer really does feel like he is spending a winter in Germany. The scenes of Nazi atrocities come in short, sharp bursts, as if to increase the shock value of Kristallnacht or wearing the Jewish badge. These scenes are a sudden jolt to remind viewers, that yes this is Nazi Germany and yes people are being killed for their religious beliefs.
Movies like The Book Thief need to continue to be made, we must never forget the horror that is the Holocaust.
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Interstellar: Shoots for the stars.
Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is an engineer by training, relegated to being a farmer because a blight has ravaged the country and the world and farmers are a necessity. Cooper and his daughter Murph (McKenzie Foy, Jessica Chastain, Ellen Burstyn) is led by gravitational anomalies, to a secret NASA installation, where a professor named Brand (Michael Caine) is working on a formula that makes interstellar travel possible. The same gravitational anomalies that brought Cooper and Murph to the NASA installation has opened up a wormhole and revealed three habitable planets in a galaxy that is suddenly within reach to a human population who desperately needs it. Are the gravitational anomalies naturally occurring, or is humankind being led by a heretofore undiscovered intelligence? Does Cooper accept the challenge of finding these new worlds and finding one habitable enough to colonize?
There are so many themes explored in Interstellar, that it's difficult to encapsulate them all here. First and foremost, it's a character study, about what motivates man. Is it self-preservation, animated by dark motives, or is it selflessness motivated by love of self and others? The choice is up to mankind. The movie also infers environmental issues by visually recalling the Dust Bowl, there are parts of this movie that seem to use snippets of the Ken Burns documentary The Dust Bowl. There are issues of the government conscripting people, limiting their intellectual mobility, and whitewashing scientific accomplishments of the past. Why does NASA have to operate in secret in this society? That fact in itself speaks volumes. Overlaying all of this is the interplay of father and daughter, the sense of betrayal she feels. Betrayal is a huge theme in this movie explored through many characters in many situations. The story unfolds so beautifully and the science fiction elements are so interestingly intertwined in the film, and so thoughtfully explained that it enhances the movie greatly. The robots are humorous and one resembles and ambulatory monolith a tip of the cap to 2001: A Space Odyssey. I did have a problem with the ending, Chris Nolan does try to tie up some loose ends with the ending, but it strains credulity.
The acting is top drawer. McConaughey continues a wonderful string of roles starting with Mud. He gives a nice understated urgency to his role. He leads by example and people are drawn to his leadership. Anne Hathaway turns in another powerhouse performance, with a complex character portrayal of Professor Brand's daughter, Amelia. She has issues of guilt, that her character has to deal with, not only is she not a damsel in distress, she acts heroically at points in the movie. Jessica Chastain plays another complex character, building on her strong roles in Zero Dark Thirty, Mama and The Debt. In this movie, her character has to overcome abandonment issues and pursue her natural love of science. Matt Damon has a small but interesting role, that is integral to the movie. I love his performance.
The cinematography is amazing, even before the viewer gets to space. The space scenes are really reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey, there are lot of silent scenes, in space and that reminded me of 2001, It's as visually astonishing as Gravity, and all done without green screen or CGI. The movie is nearly 3 hours, but the pacing is exquisite, I never looked at my watch, I just watched the multi- generational space epic unfold before me.
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Fury Infuriatingly bad film-making.
Tank Commander Don Collier (Brad Pitt) leads a group of soldiers on a mission to hold a crossroads from a Nazi SS division in 1945. His loyal subordinates have fought with him from Africa to France on D- Day and now into Germany. The veterans, Boyd Swan, (Shia La Bouf) Trini Garcia, (Michael Pena) and Grady Travis (Jon Bernthal) try to break in a new assistant tank driver, Norman Ellison (Logan Lehrman) who used to be a clerk typist before entering combat. Can the tank soldiers hold the crossroads until reinforcements arrive?
I have heard that Fury is based on a number of true stories from World War II. If that is the case, the collection of stories seem awfully disjointed, and lacking in continuity. Every movie about WWII had a mission to complete. In Saving Private Ryan, the soldiers try to recover a missing soldier, in the Great Escape, a group of allied POW's try to escape a Nazi POW camp, In Stalag 17, the allies try to uncover a Nazi spy in their midst, and probably the best of these is Band of Brothers, which follows the exploits of Easy Company the first parachute infantry regiment during World War II. There is no mission here, no cohesive story, the soldiers just hop from mission to mission, with seemingly no rhyme or reason. It's supposed to be a character study, but the characters are paper thin. Pitt is the leader of the group, but why do these soldiers follow him around through the whole war, and why are they willing to lay their lives on the line for him. The rest of the characters are little more than stereotypes, Swan spouts scripture at every turn, which is an insult to a true Christian. Garcia is a loutish Hispanic character, Grady Travis is the stereotypical Hollywood redneck, which is an insult to Southern people. And Lehrman is the new guy being put through the requisite amount of hazing before being accepted by the group. To top it off, the ending is shockingly unrealistic. If it wanted to concentrate on how muddy, and filthy and bloody war is they succeeded, but again, what kind of story do they want to tell, a heroic war story or a gritty anti-war war movie? The length of the movie, is far too long, and one scene, where the soldiers hold two women prisoner, encapsulates the problem. The scene goes on and on, and doesn't provide any insight to these men, or why they behave they way they do. 2 hours and 14 minutes is horrendously long for a movie with seemingly no point.
The acting is underwhelming. Pitt gives a dull, listless performance, and expects the audience to follow him regardless. It's like he's saying, "I'm a star, that's why you should spend 2+ hours watching me." Sorry, that's not good enough. After two lackluster performances in 12 Years A Slave, and World War Z, I'm beginning to have serious doubts about Pitt's acting ability. He is capable of giving a good performance, he did give a great performance in Inglorious Basterds, ironically a World War II movie. Logan Lehrman gives the best performance, but the character is so hackneyed and clichéd, that it's hard to appreciate his performance. Shia La Bouf easily gives the most insincere performance of his life as a Bible thumping evangelical, and Michael Pena should be ashamed of the lines he has to say. If I want a sermon, I'll go to church, if I want a negative Latino stereotype, I'll watch John Leguizamo.
There is one scene with outstanding cinematography, unfortunately it's the first scene, and then the rest of the movie is filled with a dull sepia imbued film. This is undoubtedly done for effect, but instead of illustrating an uplifting tone, it adds to a depressing tone. The pacing is slow and ponderous, much like a tank ride though Germany. The story meanders for a long time, before trying to build to an exciting ending. It doesn't.
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Gone Girl (2014)
Gone Girl: Girl Gone Wild.
When Nick Dunne (Ben AffflecK) meets Amy Oliver (Rosamund Pike) at a New York City party, the attraction is instantaneous. She is smart, witty, and beautiful. Nick is handsome, and funny in his own right. Amy is the successful writer of the Amazing Amy series of books, and has a trust fund. Nick writes for a men's magazine, the future looks golden for both of them. They get married, it starts out well, but in five years, the magic is gone. Amy is writing quizzes for a women's magazine Nick is unemployed, the trust fund money is gone, and they have moved from New York City to Missouri to care for Nick's mom, who later dies of cancer. Nick opens a bar with his sister Margo (Carrie Coon) the bar is losing money. On their fifth anniversary, Amy disappears. Nick is immediately suspected, but did he actually kill Amy?
I did not like the book, and I do not like the movie Gone Girl. There is a reveal in both book and movie. After the reveal, both book and movie grind to a slow and painful stop. It's supposed to be an indictment of the reality show, feeding frenzy court TV mentality, every time there is a murder of the century in America or worldwide. But this is more a parody of the American realty TV culture than it is a serious indictment. There are many clichés in this movie, I won't bother to name them, but even the characters fall into cliché territory. The Tanner Bolt character is Johnnie Cochran, the Ellen Abbott character is Nancy Grace. The tone of the story is inconsistent, is it a suspense movie, or is it a dark comedy? What I like least about this story is that it savages both lead characters, if neither character is sympathetic, the viewer stops caring about either of them, and that's exactly what happened here. I will lay all the plot flaws at the feet of author and screenwriter Gillian Flynn, who created a carbon copy of her book with the screenplay. A better, more satirical version of this movie is To Die For, with Nicole Kidman. Watch that instead.
The acting is not bad. I don't like Ben Affleck, when Tyler Perry, playing his lawyer, gave him a direction not to be so wooden, it is ironically funny. But Ben uses what I dislike about him most, the glib, smug, pretty boy to good effect here to play a pretty despicable character. Rosamund Pike is very good at maintaining a cool and calm exterior while constantly thinking to stay one step of the collapsing situation around her. She makes her character almost believable, and that is saying something. Tyler Perry also does a pretty good job of playing a cartoonish character. Neil Patrick Harris does not fare as well playing Desi Collings another poorly written character.
Part of the responsibility of the profoundly poor quality of this film resides with the director David Fincher. Fincher has directed some really good films, like the Social Network and the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, but this is not an epic story, and does not require a 2 ½ hour running time. Fincher could have easily edited the running time by a half hour or 45 minutes and not lost the essence of the story, but he did not, and so the story drags.
Fincher also gave the film a dark look trying to make it feel more sinister, but maybe because of the gallows humor or because I knew the story from the book, the movie never felt sinister to me.
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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Still draggin' along
Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is continuing his trek to Lonely Mountain, accompanying Bilbo are the 13 elves, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) the wizard, and Thorin (Richard Armitage) the King of the dwarfs. Once they find the mountain, they have to use the Key of Thorin to open a door carved into the Lonely Mountain. He must also find the Arkenstone, the royal gem of Erebor, and take on Smaug, the dragon. And he must do all this before sunset on Durin's Day. Before he gets to Lonely Mountain, there are many obstacles in Bilbo's way. He seeks refuge with Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt) and then has to fight giant spiders in Mirkwood Forest. They escape the spiders only to be arrested by the Elvin King, Thanduil. (Lee Price) Bilbo and company escapes the Elvin prison in barrels only to run into a band of Orcs. The attack is repelled by Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly)
Meanwhile, Gandalf has split from the group with Radagast (Sylvester McCoy) to find the Necromacer, also known as Sauron. Before getting to Lonely Mountain, Bilbo and the dwarfs must go through the burgh of Laketown with the help of Bard, (Luke Evans) to get weapons. Thorin also tries to negotiate the return of Laketown to the dwarfs, Thorin promises to share the gold from Lonely Mountain with the people of Laketown. They accept Thorin's proposal. By the time Bilbo and the dwarfs gets to Lonely Mountain, the sun is setting, and they cannot find the keyhole. Bilbo has the ring which gives him invisibility, but will he get a chance to use it against Smaug? Does Gandalf find Sauron?
The last 40 minutes if the Desolation of Smaug is well worth watching. The chemistry between Freeman and Cumberbatch crackles with tension. Getting to that last 40 minutes, however is a long, hard slog. Peter Jackson has again taken a simple story, and made it a bloated, unrecognizable mess. He could have scaled back on Legolas and Tauriel, he could have scaled back on Laketown and skipped the love triangle between Legolas, Tauriel and Kili altogether, but all the minutia was there. I haven't read the Hobbit or any other Tolkien, but all the minutia made for dull watching. The problem is, every sci-fi movie since Star Wars has to be an epic trilogy, the Lord of the Rings was an epic trilogy, so the movie makers, for purely pecuniary reasons, made the Hobbit a trilogy, and it's the audience who suffers. The Hobbit movies also suffer by comparison to the Lord of the Rings trilogy which was a rich tapestry of story and characters, which built to an incredible climax, the Hobbit will never match the magic of the Lord of the Rings movies.
The acting is fine, especially by Cumberbatch, Freeman, and Ian McKellen. The movie is best when the three are on screen. When the movie shifts away from the three characters they play, the movie suffers. Evangeline Lilly and Orlando Bloom do their best, but their storyline just didn't interest me. Richard Armitage is pretty forgettable as Thorin.
The pacing is very slow at points, and I noticed that the landscapes, which were pretty spectacular in the first Hobbit movie, were somewhat ordinary, the CGI budget seemed mostly to be poured into the talking spiders, and Smaug, and I must say, Smaug is a special effects marvel, but still not spectacular enough to maintain a 2 hour and 20 minute movie.
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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Guardians of The Galaxy: Spoiled Milk-y Way.
Soon after losing his mother to cancer, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is transported from Earth by Yondu Udonta. (Michael Rocker) Twenty-six years later on the planet Morag, Peter steals an orb which is valued at 4 billion units and intends to sell it on the planet Xandar. Ronan (Lee Price) wants the orbs to threaten extinction to the planet Xandar. Ronan sends an assassin named Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to Xandar to retrieve the orb. Two bounty hunters named Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) are sent by Yondu to capture Peter, and take the orb for himself. Drax (Dave Buatista) a prisoner on Xandar wants to kill Gamora, because Ronan killed his wife and daughter. Peter proposes to take the orb to the collector (Benicio Del Toro) and split the proceeds five ways. Does Peter keep the orb away from Yondu and Ronan? Do the others team up with Peter? Does Ronan get the orb and destroy Xandar?
This could have been a really good movie but the story is too muddled, there are too many characters, too many worlds and outposts, which further adds to the confusion. Also, the movie can't decide if it wants to make the audience laugh or shed a tear. The opening scenes depict young Peter losing his mother to cancer, and then he's abducted for a laugh filled space adventure. This movie is trying to have it both ways, be a light-hearted action adventure, and a sentimental drama, but it can't do both, and it doesn't do both well. The characters are paper thin, and instead of using the 2 plus hours of the movie to develop the characters, Hollywood uses its favorite filler, fight scenes and explosions to fill in any slow spots in the movie. Ultimately the movie makes no sense , in 1988 humanoids are supposed to have mastered the extraordinary skills to achieve intergalactic space travel. In 26 years, space flight becomes as easy as taking a bus. Ludicrous. Somewhere Stan Lee is smiling, because even the comics that no one has heard of are making him tons of money.
The acting and chemistry between the cast is just good enough to make some of this movie enjoyable, although if you're looking for great acting from the likes of Vin Diesel and ex-wrestler Dave Bautista, you're probably hoping for too much. Chris Pratt is good enough as an unlikely hero, he won't make anyone forget Harrison Ford, he was better in the Lego Movie. Bradley Cooper overdoes the non-distinct New York City mobster accent. He may not be as good an actor as I thought. Vin Diesel's one line of dialogue is both a godsend and a running gag that goes on too long. Dave Bautista is a good actor for a wrestler, or is he a good wrestler for an actor? It matters not. Zoe Saldana is funny as both foil and romantic interest for Pratt's character, and she handles the action scenes well. It's somewhat disconcerting to see a beautiful woman like Saldana covered in face and body paint, from the looks of the box office, she'll be making two more of these movies and two more Avatar movies where she's covered in blue paint for a change. If the Avatar movies ever come out, that is. Between this movie, Avatar and Star Trek, she risks being the poster girl for nerds worldwide. I just hope Saldana doesn't get typecast.
This movie suffers from too much hype, both from fans and critics, it is not the funniest movie in the world, it is certainly not profound even when it tries a serious tone. It is an ordinary movie that somehow got great reviews and word of mouth. Take my word for it, don't believe the hype, if you must watch it, rent it. The 3D is not worth it, for the most part.
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The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)
The 100 Foot Journey. A long, and sometimes enjoyable journey.
After his wife (Juhi Chawla) dies in a spate of religious violence, the patriarch of the Kadam family (Om Puri) moves his family to Europe, where they finally settle in a small town in France. Papa Kadam finds a plot of land, which he spontaneously buys without consulting his children. Papa Kadam plans to build an Indian restaurant on the plot of land he just purchased. There is a fly in the ointment, however, and the problem is that a world renowned French restaurant resides 100 feet away from the place where Papa Kadam wants to open his Indian restaurant, and the people in the small French village have never eaten Indian food before. The owner of the French restaurant, Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) thinks her new neighbors are noisy and plans to crush the new competition to her restaurant. Papa has a secret weapon, his son, Hassan (Manish Dayal) has learned all his mother's recipes, and a pretty sous-chef, named Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) from Madame Mallory's restaurant helps Hassan learn French cooking. Can Hassan and his skill as a chef challenge the award winning French restaurant 100 feet away?
The 100 Foot Journey is a decidedly mixed bag of a movie. It handles the lighthearted themes of the competition well, it handles the heavier themes of immigrants in a new land, and a son trying to gain the acceptance of his father well, but it takes too long to develop the main character, every character should have a dramatic arc, but the main character in this movie, Hassan, seemed very gradual in learning about cooking and life, and that was to the movie's detriment. The movie has its share of ludicrous scenes as well, like the ubiquitous montage, where the Indian restaurant goes from an idea to a fully functioning restaurant complete with Taj Mahal-esque wooden façade, in the span of the montage. The Indian restaurant goes from empty to a full house on the first day, that would certainly never happen. There is a clunky romance between Hassan and Marguerite, that seems forced, and the ending is predictable. It tries hard to be The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but is not nearly as good.
The acting ranges widely in this film. Helen Mirren is very good, and she modulates her performance from nasty, uptight competitor to likable, helpful friend, and she does it so subtly, that it's fun to watch the transformation. Indian actor Om Puri has the deep voice and the gravitas to pull off the patriarchal role well. Manish Dayal is unfortunately dull and flat as Hassan, in a role than needed charm and a light touch, his performance comes off as heavy handed, and since he is the center of the movie, his performance drags the movie down. Charlotte Le Bon is vibrant and pretty, she doesn't have the acting chops of Marion Cotillard yet, but she was refreshing to watch. Unfortunately, Dayal and Le Bon have no chemistry, and that hurts the movie as well.
The cinematography is wonderful, the beautiful shots of that picturesque village in France made me want to visit there. The external shots of a vegetable market in India were inviting and full of color. But the movie is too long, and the pacing is too slow, a half hour of this movie should have been edited out.
One final note, there was nobody in the theater to watch this, save an elderly couple, who were decidedly not Indian. If Indian people do not support Indian themed movies made in Hollywood, there will be no more Indian themed movies in Hollywood. This movie was only made because of the success of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, if studios see no profit in movies like this, they won't make them.
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Lo imposible (2012)
The Impossible: Great acting and incredible visuals make the impossible possible.
Henry (Ewan McGregor) works for a Japanese company, and takes his wife, Maria (Naomi Watts) and three kids, Lucas (Tom Holland)Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oakley Pendergast to Thailand on vacation. No sooner do they get settled in their hotel, and start swimming in the pool, when a monster tsunami hits Thailand, Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka, and devastates everything in its path. The tsunami splits up Henry and the family, Lucas and Maria end up together. Maria is gravely hurt, somehow they climb a tree with another young toddler in tow and wait an agonizingly long time for help to arrive.
Maria and Lucas are finally taken to a hospital, but Maria is too badly injured to be taken to surgery. In the interim, Lucas takes down names of strangers who are missing family members, and even re-unites a man with his son. One day, Lucas arrives where his mother was resting only to find his mother gone. A friendly caretaker (Ploy Jindachote) helps Lucas find his mother but she is still too weak for surgery. Can the doctors stabilize her enough to operate on her? Where are Henry, Thomas and Simon? Are their lives taken by the devastating tsunami?
I wanted to watch The Impossible because I wanted to remember what I felt like almost ten years ago when that tsunami devastated Indonesia, India, Thailand and Sri Lanka. I was in shock that one natural disaster could take such a heavy toll. This movie does an excellent job of physically recreating the damage done by the tsunami, and I give the filmmakers credit for tackling a story that's extremely difficult to tell, but this is a movie with surprisingly many shortcomings. It's based on a true story, but the real family was Spanish, the movie family is British, so again, like The Butler, how many liberties did the writers take with the actual story? I didn't like the ethnocentric focus of this movie, if viewers knew nothing about the tsunami of 2004, they would think that all the victims were European, because Europeans are the only victims shown in this movie. The reality is that hundreds of thousands of people died as a result of the 2004 tsunami, most of whom were Asian. Other than the caretaker, and a nurse, none of the characters in the movie were Asian, that's not right. This is a movie that almost demands a tragic ending, to reflect the tragic circumstances of the storm, I won't tell you the ending, you have to watch it yourself to see if it's fitting. The writers even write in some product placement involving a can of Coke, hardly appropriate for a tragedy of this magnitude.
One big reason to watch this movie, despite whatever shortcomings the script may have, are the performances. Naomi Watts has a physically grueling and emotionally taxing performance. She gives her all in this performance, there is nothing left behind, no physical or emotional pain unmined. She is the soul of this movie. Ewan McGregor gives a similarly strong and emotional performance. He is such a versatile actor, and is so good in so many different roles, Big Fish, Salmon Fishing in The Yemen, Attack of the Clones Revenge of the Sith, he brings an incredible vitality and humanity to all his roles. The kids are all very good also, they are very mature at times, yet very vulnerable at others.
The story is long, but the pacing is good, so the movie doesn't drag. The visuals speak for themselves. The scenes of devastation speak in ways that words cannot express. Those scenes by themselves make the movie worth watching.
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The Lego Movie (2014)
The Lego Movie: All the pieces fit to make a very good film.
President Business (Will Ferrell) steals the Kragle, an object of unlimited power, from Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) a prophet who predicts that someone called the Special , will find another object called the Piece of Resistance, that has the ability to stop the all-powerful Kragle from inflicting any harm. An average construction worker named Emmitt Brickowski (Chris Pratt) is so good at fitting in, and following all the rules, that he doesn't leave an impression on anyone.
Emmitt is happy listening to his favorite song, "Everything Is Awesome" and watching his favorite show, "Where Are My Pants" both produced by the Octan corporation, whose CEO is President Business. He follows the blueprints to build everything, and is perfectly content to go on living the way he lives. Emmitt is at the construction site after hours, telling someone to leave because it's against the rules. All of a sudden, he realizes that the intruder is the most beautiful girl he's ever seen. Her name is Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and she's after the Piece of Resistance. While Emmitt is transfixed by Wildstyle the Piece of Resistance becomes permanently affixed to Emmitt, and he can't take it off. Now that Emmitt has the Piece of Resistance he becomes a target of President Business and his loyal foot soldier Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) President Business is planning to use the Kragle to immobilize the citizens of his realm on Taco Tuesday, because he is a rigid dictator. Can Emmitt evade Bad Cop and get the Piece of Resistance to the top of the Octan Tower before President Business uses the Kragle on his populace? Is Emmitt the Special? Does he fulfill the prophesy?
This is a wonderful movie. The Everyman has a chance to rise to the occasion, and become the Special. That might be a hackneyed premise, it may even be borrowed from movies like Star Wars and The Matrix, but that's what makes this movie so endearing, it doesn't take itself too seriously at all. It's even subtly subversive, OK obviously subversive, anti-corporate and wackily anti-conformist. The Lego Movie does lose its focus a bit when it becomes solely about product placement when Emmitt zooms around the different playsets, but unlike Transformers (Similar toy, worse movies) The Lego Movie finds its footing, and has a satisfying ending, which is neither cloying nor saccharine, but heartfelt. More important than all the adult themes kids learn the importance of individuality, and also working together when necessary. Those themes may seem contradictory, but they are not in this movie.
The voice talent is amazing in this movie. Chris Pratt plays Emmitt as a low key hero. Morgan Freeman is splendid, just hearing his golden voice as the prophet Vitruvius is worth the price of a rental. Will Ferrell redeems himself after a string of lousy movies, as the evil President Business, but there's more to his character than initially appears. Elizabeth Banks has a great voice, she conveys a sense of innocence, and yet her voice sounds sexy. Can I say she has a sexy voice in a movie aimed at kids? Well it's true. Will Arnett is hilarious as Batman, and Liam Neeson makes a nice comedic turn as Bad Cop. There are cameos by a few Star Wars stars, Anthony Daniels and Billy Dee Williams add to the laughs, and professional voice actor Keith Ferguson does a pretty serviceable Harrison Ford impression as Han Solo. Shaquille O' Neal even shows up as himself. All the actors understood how much fun this movie was, and joined in the spirit of making a truly entertaining film.
The pacing of this movie is more like an action film than an animated film, so the 1 hour 40 minute length goes by in a flash, rent it and watch it with your kids, or watch it with your friends, it's that funny.
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The Butler (2013)
The Butler: Serves no purpose.
Cecil Gaines (Michael Rainey Jr. Amil Ameen, Forrest Whitaker) grows up as a sharecropper on a cotton farm in Georgia. His father is shot, and his mother Hattie (Mariah Carey) is raped by Thomas Westfall , (Alex Pettyfer) the son of the owner. Cecil is taken in by the family matriarch Annabeth (Vanessa Redgrave) and made a house servant. At 15, Cecil is hungry and breaks into a hotel for a piece of cake, and a kindly waiter named Maynard (Clarence Williams III) takes him under his wing and teaches Cecil how to be a waiter and bartender. Maynard gets a call from the White House and instead of taking the job, he recommends Cecil.
Cecil begins his White House career in 1957, in the Eisenhower Administration. Eisenhower (Robin Williams) is concerned about the civil rights storm brewing as a result of Brown V. Board of Education. John F. Kennedy (James Marsden) beats Ike's VP, Richard Nixon (John Cusack) in 1960. Kennedy doesn't really do much on civil rights, and is shot by Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963, Cecil is taken aback by JFK's assassination. LBJ ( Liev Schriber) passes the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Richard Nixon vows to bring down the Black Panthers before Watergate takes him down. Cecil serves Ford, Carter, and Reagan before resigning in 1987.
Cecil's home life does not go nearly as smoothly as his work. His wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) has an affair with her neighbor named Howard (Terrance Howard) and develops a drinking problem. His son Louis David Oyelowo) leaves the house to join the lunch counter protests and the Freedom Rides in the South. Louis even joins the Black Panthers before getting disenchanted with the organization. Do Cecil and Louis ever reconcile?
Guess what? I Googled Cecil Gaines for a little background and Cecil's real name is Eugene Allen, and he started in the White House in 1952, not 1957. If the writers can't get basic facts about this man's life right why even bother to say, based on a true story? The history is sloppy, the most affecting scene is the lunch counter scene, but that is undercut by the Freedom Riders scene which begins by showing a white guy flirting with a black girl. The Freedom Rides were NOT I repeat NOT a booty call. The Black Panthers scene is undercut by the impression that Louis joins the Panthers, and the Civil Rights movement to impress a girl. How shallow can the writers be? The presidents are portrayed basically as well-meaning dolts. LBJ arguably did more to try to lift people out of poverty than anyone. What is the movie version of LBJ? LBJ sitting on the toilet, sounding constipated. Nixon is portrayed as someone who wants to empower black businesses, Watergate is never mentioned. Reagan is portrayed as a president who gives his own money to anyone who asks. Iran Contra? Hello? Do not get your history from the movies, especially not this movie. I can only imagine what liberties these writers took with Mr. Allen's life, if they're not using his real name, chances are, many liberties.
This movie aspired to be Forrest Gump, with Whitaker in the happy simpleton Gump role and his son in the sophisticated worldly Jenny role. Gump was a movie with a simple worldview, and it wasn't such a great movie, but Hanks and Robin Wright and the rest of the cast made it better than its material, sadly the actors in The Butler do not rise to the occasion.
Who cast the presidents? Robin Williams as Ike? John Cusack as Nixon? Was there drinking going on during the casting of this film? Those selections make a mockery of history.
The acting is abysmal. It should be much better with such a stellar cast. Forrest Whitaker, with his lackadaisical delivery and Elmer Fudd voice, put me to sleep. He was so good in The Last King of Scotland, as Idi Amin, what's happened to him since? Oprah Winfrey was Oprah Winfrey playing a character, I never forgot that she was Oprah, good actors can disappear in their roles, Oprah did not. Terrence Howard is a good actor, he was mesmerizing in Hustle and Flow, he is reduced to Oprah's lecherous next door neighbor.
The movie was long, 2 hours and fifteen minutes and the pacing was torturous, Lee Daniels just quit directing and producing altogether, you should have quit after the horrendous Paperboy movie. What a stinking heap of compost that was.
So please, don't waste your time and money on this movie. Buy Eyes on the Prize the 1987 book by Juan Williams if you really want to know about the Civil Rights movement.
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Planet of the Apes (1968)
Planet of the Apes The original doesn't monkey around with CGI.
George Taylor (Charlton Heston) and his fellow astronauts, Landon (Robert Gunner) and Dodge (Jeff Burton) take off with a female astronaut Stewart (Diane Stanley) to test theories about time in deep space. They fall asleep and wake up to discover they've crash landed in an ocean on some planet in the year 3978. Stewart dies at some point while they were sleeping, and Taylor, Landon and Dodge barely make it out of the spaceship before it sinks. They make it ashore, and traverse a huge desert where nothing can grow. They've got three days to find food, or they die, they find a flower, then some weird looking scarecrows and finally trees and a flowing stream of water. The astronauts make it to a corn field where they see some mute prehistoric humans. Taylor thinks he'll be running this planet in no time. But then things grow eerily quiet, there's gunfire and creatures on horseback. The humans all instinctively run, the creatures hunting the humans are gorillas, and they mean to kill every last human they see.
Taylor and Landon survive the hunt, but Dodge does not. Taylor is shot in the throat during the hunt, and loses the ability to speak. taken to Ape City where he's given a blood transfusion, and survives. Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter) is a chimpanzee animal psychologist who is fascinated by Taylor's attempts to speak. Her boyfriend Cornelius (Roddy McDowell) is a chimp archaeologist, who's done some interesting digs to find out about the origins of the simian society.
Taylor communicates to Zira and Cornelius through handwritten notes, a human who can communicate is a direct threat to the order of the society that Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) Chief Science Officer and Defender of the Faith has built. Zaius orders that Taylor be neutered, immediately. Taylor learns of the plan and escapes the cage where he is kept, after a long chase, just when all seems lost for Taylor, his voice comes back and he cannot be killed now because he can speak.
Taylor is given a show trial, and remanded to Zaius' custody where he promises to spare Taylor if he outs his talking human colony. Taylor says there are no others and faces certain death. Does Taylor die at the hands of Dr. Zaius? Does Taylor ever find out more about this strange planet where apes rule over mute men?
I first watched this movie on TV in the 1970's, when I was around five years old, to my five year old mind, gorillas riding around on horseback hunting humans was the coolest thing ever. As I got older, I understood the many complex issues discussed in this movie, nuclear war, evolution, the tension between faith and science (very timely these days) time travel, animal experimentation, even the cruel treatment of animals in captivity. The trial of George Taylor was similar to the Scopes trial, with apes arguing over evolution instead of humans, there was even a social pecking order in the ape world, with orangutans having most of the powerful government functions, chimps doing the scientific work, as it were, and gorillas doing the military work. All these facets in the story and the fact that the screenplay was co-written by Rod Serling, the genius behind The Twilight Zone made this movie endlessly entertaining and fascinating. The other co-writer Michael Wilson, co- wrote such classics as Lawrence of Arabia and Bridge on the River Kwai, The iconic line "Take your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape", comes at such a pivotal point in the movie, and is so perfectly delivered by Heston, that the viewer cannot help but cheer that line. The script is not perfect however, most notably regarding women, the female astronaut is killed before ever leaving the ship, Nova is mute, and once Taylor talks to her, he says some incredibly sexist things to her. The strongest feminist voice belongs to Zira, who in a lot of ways is not only Cornelius equal, but superior to him, prodding him to act when he is too timid.
The acting especially by Heston is superb, he doesn't play his usual epic hero, like Moses in the Ten Commandments or Ben Hur, in this movie he is an anti-hero, much in keeping with the times, the turbulent 1960's. Heston's character George Taylor didn't like people much, he didn't even like his fellow crewmembers, he thought he had all the answers, in other words, he is a character in search of a comeuppance, and boy does he ever get one. But as the last intelligent member of humankind, the viewer can't help but root for Taylor despite all his shortcomings. Roddy McDowell was still feeling his way in this movie, he has some good lines but he plays the chimp Caesar with much more command in the later movies. Kim Hunter gives an exceptionally strong performance, I just realized that when watching it now, she is the one who moves the story along, and she has some of the best lines, including a comedic one to Heston. She played Stella in Streetcar opposite Brando, so obviously she can act. Maurice Evans was also superb as Dr. Zaius, the tension was palpable in the scene between him and Heston in their scene alone in Zaius office.
The direction was eye-catching by Franklin Schaffner, who directed Patton and the Boys From Brazil, another favorite of mine. Schaffner adds many unique touches to this film, The plane crash in the beginning of the film, grabs the viewer immediately, the chase scene that ends up with Heston speaking is gripping, how he waits till the last possible second to show the apes in the hunt scene to get the full shock value is amazing, and of course the last scene is one the most iconic in movie history.
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The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
The Grand Budapest Hotel: Check in, and check it out.
In 1932, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) is a concierge at the Grand Budapest Hotel. Gustave takes a young lobby boy named Zero (Tony Revolori) under his wing and trains him to be a more professional lobby boy. Gustave has a proclivity for dating older women. One of the older women he's dating, Madame D (Tilda Swinton) ends up dead. Madame D leaves Gustave a priceless painting, Called Boy With Apple and Madame D's son, Dimitri (Adrien Brody) suspects Gustave of murder. Moreover, Dimitri produces a witness produces a witness named Serge X (Mathieu Amalric) who implicates Gustave in the murder. Gustave is imprisoned by police officer Henkels, (Edward Norton) but breaks out of prison with the help of Zero and his girlfriend, Agatha. (Saoirse Ronan) The fugitive Gustave is hunted not only by Henkels, but also by Joplin (Willem Dafoe) a hit-man hired by Dimitri.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is a very intricate movie, the viewer must follow the story very closely to fully appreciate the humor and pathos of the movie. Some of the comedy is broadly absurd, some more subtle. Underneath all the humor this is a story about the relationship between Zero and Gustave which starts out as a mentor mentee relationship, and evolves into a close friendship. The dialogue is typical Wes Anderson, stilted sentences, deadpan delivery, and a new wrinkle a lot of cursing for comedic effect. I've seen a lot Wes Anderson films, some I've liked, others not, but this and Moonrise Kingdom are two of his best.
Anderson is a very visual director, every frame of this movie is infused with bright, vibrant colors, which is a hallmark of all his films and make his films stand out in comparison to other films. The animated exteriors add to the whimsical, ethereal nature of the film. Anderson has done animated exteriors before in movies like the Life Aquatic, but not to this extent.
The acting is superb, led by Ralph Fiennes, who is hilarious as Gustave the concierge. He often waxes poetic in the movie only to be interrupted by more urgent circumstances. Fiennes shows a lot of range in his relationship with Zero, he is almost a surrogate father to the young immigrant. Adrien Brody is as lively as I've seen him in as Dimitri, Madame D's greedy cutthroat son. Edward Norton is good too, as a Keystone Cop type trying to find the truth of what happened to Madame D. Saoirse Ronan and Tony Revolori are really convincing as young lovers, falling in love in the middle of this madness, and trying to keep their love alive. F Murray Abraham is excellent as the adult Zero, and makes a great narrator. There are also many fine actors in smaller roles, Tilda Swinton as Madame D, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Wilkenson, and more all contribute to a very enjoyable film.
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Gravity: Falls apart, after an promising start.
Russian space debris strikes the space shuttle and strands an astronaut named Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and a medical engineer, Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) stranded in space. The shuttle is destroyed, and both Kowalski and Stone are running out of oxygen and must get to the International Space station before they run out of oxygen, but what awaits them in the Space Station and beyond? Does the pair make it back to Earth safely?
Gravity is a technical marvel, the question that arises is, how did director Alfonso Cuaron simulate the space sequences so spectacularly? Movies are certainly a visual medium, and this movie has some eye- popping visuals, the view of earth from outer space, the debris hitting the Space Shuttle, the scenes in space on the whole are incredible.
But as visually arresting as Gravity is, the story is not credible, and worst of all predictable. The characters, specifically Stone, goes from disaster to disaster, one step ahead of being blown to smithereens. There is some thin backstory about Stone losing a child, and questioning her own desire to live, but overall, there is very little character development and plot development, and the question that occurred to me about the story was, doesn't anybody maintain their space stations? I'm not going to get into the space flight errors that were made in the story, because I don't know enough about space vehicles to know better, but I read that there were errors. In a movie as visual as this, those kind of errors should be kept to a minimum. But I don't need to be an astrophysicist to know when a movie is boring.
The acting is fair, but the actors aren't given a lot to do, Bullock alternates between gasping for air, or screaming helplessly, or just floating there in space, doing somersaults. Clooney regales Bullock with a series of stories, meant to be amusing but when delivered with Clooney's trademark monotone, deadpan delivery, the stories turn boring. The script tries to make light of Clooney's pretty boy image, but fails. This movie stretches to get to its 90 minute running time, and the story is used as filler for the stunning visuals, and it's not very entertaining filler.
When I think about the fact that there was a lot of buzz about Gravity winning a Best Picture Oscar that is galling. Gravity is one-third of a good movie, it's Cuaron's visual playground, but the effects are not able to sustain a movie, with no story, and actors with very little to say. 12 Years A Slave on the other hand was based on a true story, had outstanding acting and its share of visual resonance. 12 Years a Slave was a complete film.
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Frozen: It will melt your heart.
Elsa (Eva Bella, Idina Menzel) is the future queen of Arendelle, a fictional Scandinavian kingdom. Elsa has the power to turn everything into ice. She freezes her sister Anna's (Libby Steubenrauch) head as a child, and almost kills her. Anna is saved by a troll, who also removes all memories of Elsa's special power. Elsa's parents lock Elsa in her room for reasons Anna no longer understands, and Elsa becomes afraid of her powers and feels like she has to hide them, and hide herself, which causes Elsa a lot of stress. At her coronation, all the doors of the castle are thrown open and Elsa has been made queen, but Anna has news over her own, she is going to marry Prince Hans. (Santino Fortana) This announcement is too much for Elsa, doesn't want anyone else to find out her secret, Elsa also feels that Anna is rushing into a marriage, when she doesn't really understand. Under duress, Elsa can't control her powers and turns Arendelle into a place with a perpetual winter. Unable to cope with the results of her unfettered powers, Elsa runs off to North Mountain and builds a castle from ice.
Anna is convinced that she can bring Elsa back from the North Mountain and stop the perpetual winter plaguing Arendelle. With the help of a mountaineer named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and a magical snowman named Olaf, (Josh Gad) who Elsa created as a child, Anna tries to convince Elsa that she belongs in Arendelle. But when Anna gets to the castle, Elsa freezes her heart, and only an act of true love can save Anna.
Sure, Frozen is a kids movie, there are adorable characters like the trolls (reminiscent of the seven dwarfs) and a snowman called Olaf, but behind the cuteness is a complex story about the meaning of true love, and a pair of self-sufficient princesses, one who uses her powers to defend herself, and one who saves Kristoff from falling down the mountain. The question of what is true love resolves itself in an unexpected way, which reflects the increased sensitivity of Disney writers to the roles of women in today's society. That's a lot of ground for a kids' movie to cover, but Frozen deftly adds touches of humor and music to make it entertaining for both kids and adults alike. The music is outstanding and sets the mood for many scenes as well as propelling the story forward. The animation is amazing, which is the Disney standard, the animation is filled with beauty, the Aurora Borealis is a series of dreamy streaks in the sky, the ice castle is a palace of shimmering beauty.
The acting is superb, Idina Menzel, previously only known as a Broadway star, rocketed to fame as the singer of the Academy Award winning song, "Let It Go." She has become a household name because of this movie (to everyone except John Travolta) and her fame is well deserved. Her voice soars in "Let it Go" and the song is the standout of a very good soundtrack. Menzel also handles a very tough role adroitly, she is the Ice Princess literally and figuratively, she is emotionally detached from her sister, because she thinks that will protect her. Kristen Bell deserves a lot of credit for her under-appreciated role of Anna, she is carefree and loving, and the emotional center of this movie. Bell plays her perfectly, and she also has a superb voice. Jonathan Groff beautifully underplays Kristoff, Josh Gad is full of joy as Olaf, the snowman who ironically loves summer.
The movie is a long one, but the pacing is handled so well that the movie never drags. Stunning animation makes the movie visually appealing, and a captivating story will leave everyone happy.
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The Counselor (2013)
The Counselor. Has No Appeal.
The Counselor (Michael Fassbender) is a lawyer who is deeply in love with Laura. (Penelope Cruz) He wants to marry Laura, and buys her a prohibitively expensive engagement ring, and seems to be set for a life filled with happiness. The Counselor inexplicably wants to become a part of the drug trade in Juarez Mexico. He meets with his friend Reiner, (Javier Bardem) and a middle man named Westray (Brad Pitt) and despite their warnings, the Counselor goes ahead with his plan to make 20 million dollars on a drug deal. When a drug courier is killed, and the drug shipment disappears, the kingpin, Jefe (Reuben Blades) goes after Laura. Does Laura survive? Who has the drug shipment?
A movie with this kind of star power, directed by Ridley Scott should not be this appallingly bad. I blame the writer Cormac McCarthy, I've read The Road and seen the film, I saw No Country For Old Men, and now there's this movie, all three gave me a massive headache. McCarthy's writing style is enigmatic. There is no cohesive story, no central theme to build a story around. Is it a cautionary tale about drugs or money or is it an exciting drama about the drug war with sexual overtones? It tries to be both, it ends up being a muddled mess. The characters are spouting, flowery almost poetic language one minute, and spouting four letter words the next. Neither the flowery language or the sex talk or PG-13 sex scenes move the story along one iota, and only serves to confuse matters even further. McCarthy never answers the question why. Why does a lawyer, with a beautiful fiancé have a desire to join the drug trade? The characters aren't clearly drawn or delineated, and so the Counselor has great actors, a great director just begging for a good story.
This is the first time I've seen Michael Fassbender and his acting wasn't compelling to me. Brad Pitt gives a dull, listless rendering of Westray the middle man. He has a very limited range of skills, limited to comedic action roles. Javier Bardem looks like a troll, I liked Bardem in Skyfall, his character was funny and a nice change of pace. But this is supposed to be a different movie in tone than Skyfall, and Bardem plays ostensibly the same character, and it doesn't work in this instance. Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz, who can be great actresses are used as little more than eye candy. The other Latinos, Blades, Rosie Perez, John Leguizamo are all stereotypically portrayed as criminals, and there is not one heroic character of any race in the entire film, just men with varying degrees of murderous avarice.
The cinematography is stellar. El Paso Texas and Salt Lake City Utah look glorious doubling for Juarez Mexico, it's those opening shots the draw the viewer in, just as much the dialogue repels the viewer. It's a pity that a great visual director like Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Alien) had to waste his time trying to breathe life into a lifeless script.
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Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Thor: The Dark World. The writers must have been hammered.
Maleikith (Christopher Eccleston) leader of the Dark Elves possesses the Aether, a weapon with which he intends to destroy Asgard. Thor, (Chris Hemsworth) prince of the Nine Realms, doesn't want to be King of the Nine Realms, but neither does he trust his evil brother Loki (Tom Huddleston) to be King of the Nine Realms either. When trying to slip through a wormhole to try to meet Thor, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is infused with the Aether, and given supernatural powers. Malekith wants to retrieve the Aether from Jane to destroy Asgard and the Nine Realms. Thor can't kill Malekith by himself, he needs the help of his brother Loki. Does Loki help Thor or join forces with Malekith? What happens to the Aether?
Thor is when the Marvel cannon of characters hits the bottom of the barrel. Thor is the weakest of all the Marvel superheroes in my opinion, a Norse god with a hammer as a weapon. What's so super about that? The mythology around him is weak, Asgard is not exactly Krypton, Thor is hardly Batman, or even Spiderman, there is nothing compelling about the character, and unlike Iron Man, neither the story nor the character draw the viewer in. I don't care about Thor, or his rivalry with Loki, so what is left is a story with no plot development, no character development, and a movie that jumps form action sequence to action sequence, from special effect to special effect, with no rhyme or reason. And the terminology just sounds like so much gobbledygook. What the heck is Aether, the convergence, the Dark Elves, the Nine Realms? What do the Dark Elves do? Bake evil cookies? This movie suffers from the same problem as the Avengers, a scant plot, underdeveloped characters, and a rush to get to the action scenes and special effects. Again, it took six people to write this dreck, did they take turns writing in crayon?
Chris Helmworth is a wooden actor, he brings no dimension to this character. Hemsworth seems only interested in creating a larger than life character, but he brings nothing else to the role. Tom Huddleston is not a menacing presence, neither is Christopher Eccleston. Natalie Portman can be a good actress when given a good script, but she's back in Queen Amidalla mode here, she has very little to say, trying to sound important but is only used as a love interest and damsel in distress. Anthony Hopkins is brought in once again to try to class up the proceedings, it doesn't work.
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Blue Jasmine (2013)
Blue Jasmine: Left me green under the gills.
Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) is a wealthy socialite living in Manhattan. She's got everyone's idea of a dream life. She has lots of money, a handsome investment banker husband named Hal ,(Alec Baldwin) and a son Danny, (Charlie Tahan, Alden Ehrenreich) going to Harvard. Slowly, the dream turns into a nightmare as Jasmine hears rumors of government investigations into Hal's business dealings, and rumors of his illicit affairs with other women. Jasmine pretends to be blissfully unaware as long as she can maintain her posh lifestyle. Both rumors are true, and Hal is dragged off to jail where he unceremoniously hangs himself. Jasmine is devastated by the turn of events, and decides to live with her blue collar sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) and her husband, Augie. (Andrew Dice Clay) Augie loses a bundle in one of Hal's investments, and leaves Ginger. Ginger starts living with a guy named Chili (Bobby Carnavale)
Jasmine tries to re-invent herself by taking night classes to learn how to be computer literate, and working at the front desk at a dental office. That plan goes horribly awry when the dentist, Dr. Flicker (Michael Stuhlberg) attacks Jasmine after she rebuffs his many advances. She quits her job and begins dating Dwight, (Peter Sarsgaard) a diplomat and a recent widower. Jasmine lies to Dwight about her occupation, the circumstances of her husband's death and her not having children, but plans to marry him anyway. Does the truth come out about Hal and Danny? Are Jasmine's plans for wedded bliss headed for ruin?
Blue Jasmine is another pedestrian effort by writer director Woody Allen. It seems like a lot of the critics like this movie, because it is written by Allen, and stars such A-List talent like Cate Blanchett. This movie aims to be the Philadelphia Story, but misses by a lot. Cate Blanchett tries to play the Katherine Hepburn role of wealthy socialite who has to mingle with the rabble, but Kate Hepburn plays a haughty diva much better than Cate Blanchett, and The Philadelphia Story is a much funnier film. Blue Jasmine feels trite, and perfunctory, it tries to adapt the same class-based themes as The Philadelphia Story without nearly as many laughs. Allen doesn't really have an ear for other ethnicities, so the Italian characters sound like stereotypes.
Blanchet is good playing an aristocratic condescending snob, but then writer Allen adds another wrinkle to her role, and now she becomes, pill popping, neurotic, aristocrat who talks to herself, and that's too much for even Blanchett to handle. She overplays the crazy lady part, and that ruined an otherwise good performance. Director Allen probably encouraged her over the top craziness, because that's how Allen played those roles himself in his early films. Sally Hawkins is horribly miscast as Blanchett's blue-collar sister. Blue collar British yes, blue collar New Yorker, no. She was fighting her accent a lot in this movie. Alec Baldwin plays Hal as a caricature of a super-rich businessman, much the same way he played Jack Donoghy on 30 Rock. But I thought Baldwin was aware of the satire in 30 Rock, but apparently not. Andrew Dice Clay plays Andrew Dice Clay, which is to say, he is a walking stereotype. Peter Sarsgaard plays the same whimpering imp he plays in all his roles. Louis CK is woefully underutilized.
One last bone I have to pick with director Allen is the pacing of this film, it's dreadfully slow, it clocked in at under two hours , but it felt much longer. The Ginger/Chili subplot was wholly unnecessary and made the story meander. Some editing would have helped pick up the pace.
Blue Jasmine: Left me green under the gills.
Ride Along (2014)
Ride Along. A bumpy ride, at best.
Ben (Kevin Hart) is a high-school security guard who dreams of attending the police academy and joining the police force in Atlanta. The closest Ben has ever gotten to a gun, however, is playing Tour of Duty at home. Ben is in love with Angela (Tika Sumpter) and wants Angela's brother, James, (Ice Cube) to give them his blessing to get married. James, who is a cop on the Atlanta police force, has a better idea. Take Ben on a ride along with him to show him how dangerous police work is. James is on a case tracking a gun-runner named Omar (Laurence Fishburne) who nobody has ever seen. Does James find the elusive Omar, and does Ben help him or give up his dream of being a police officer?
Why does Hollywood keep churning out this derivative junk? If you've seen Beverly Hills Cop, 48 Hours, Silver Streak, Rush Hour, or the Lethal Weapon movies, you have seen better versions of Ride Along. Hollywood has taken a formula, the cop buddy movie, a formula that used to work, and watered it down into some messy amalgam of a threadbare story, some gun play, car chases, and explosions, typical Hollywood filler. The formula worked primarily because Richard Pryor, Gene Wilder, Mel Gibson, Eddie Murphy and Jackie Chan are much more talented than Kevin Hart. And worst of all, it took five guys to write this inane drivel.
Kevin Hart didn't make me laugh once, I've never seen any of his stand- up routines, but I hope for his sake, they are better than this horrid film. Hey Kevin Hart, Chris Tucker called, he wants his career back. You took all his short, screechy, annoying black guy roles away from him. I've seen Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor do stand up and their movies did not even come close to capturing the genius of their stand- up. I doubt if anyone is calling Kevin Hart's comedy routines genius. I know what Kevin Hart is doing, he's making as many movies as he can, before somebody finds out how unfunny he is. It worked for Tyler Perry, it will work for Kevin Hart.
Ice Cube plays what he always plays, the Angry Black Guy, complete with Scowl. John Leguizamo plays the token Latino, as if he's sleepwalking. And Laurence Fishburne is throwing his career away for a buck. Gone is the perfect elocution of the Matrix movies, replaced by some cheap Justin Timberlake blackcent that doesn't suit Laurence Fishburne at all. To give the character street cred? Come on!
Please save 100 minutes of your life, don't watch this movie.
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X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
X-men Days of Future Past. Happy Days, indeed.
The future is bleak for mutants and the humans who help them. Robots, named sentinels are hunting down mutants to the point of extinction. Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellan) are holed up in a bunker with the last few surviving mutants. They decide to send Logan (Hugh Jackman) back to 1973, with the help of Kitty Pride (Ellen Page) who has the ability to teleport people's consciousness back in time. Logan is chosen because his mind is the only mind strong enough to withstand the process.
Logan must go back to 1973 to convince Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) not to shoot the inventor of the sentinels, Dr. Bolivar Trask. (Peter Dinklage) He must also find and reunite the younger Xavier (James McAvoy) and Eric (Michael Fassbender) and convince them to work together to bring Raven back from the precipice of being an assassin. With the help of Peter/Quicksilver, (Even Peters) Logan breaks Eric out of a prison in the Pentagon. Xavier meanwhile has become somewhat of a recluse, living in his school for mutants, which is now in disrepair, with Hank/Beast (Nicholas Hoult) Hank has cured Xavier's paralysis, but the serum he uses, robs Xavier of his mental acuity. Moreover, Xavier doesn't want anything to do with his powers anymore, he blames his powers, and Eric for losing Raven, and causing his paralysis. Can Logan convince these former friends, now rivals to bury the hatchet, find Raven, and convince her not to kill Dr. Trask? Or do Xavier and Eric's doubts about themselves and human beings overwhelm them?
I love this movie. There are simply not enough superlatives to tell you how good this movie is. It integrates the best of the first series of X-Men movies with the best of the reboot. The sentinels do remind me a bit of the robots from the Terminator movies, and there is the usual time travel caveat about changing the future, but this time they want to change the future. There's also a good bit of historical fiction about the Vietnam War, the Kennedy assassination and the Nixon administration, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Nixon is a villain in this movie, and that will either enrage you or delight you depending on your political views. This kind of historical fiction was tried in the movie The Watchmen, but I found that history muddled and incomprehensible, the flashbacks to the 70's was a loving, nostalgic look at an era I look back on with fondness. Days of Future Past is also disarmingly funny, the script had me laughing out loud at times. Other than Nolan's Dark Knight movies, this is the best superhero film I've seen in a very long time.
What can I say about the acting? It is first rate. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan bring the same heft and gravitas to these characters that made me love them in the first place. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are put in a tough position, being in the same movie playing the same characters as these iconic actors, but they not only hold their own, but make the characters their own. Michel Fassbender is becoming a great actor in his own right, it's getting to the point where I could watch him in any movie he makes. Hugh Jackman has played Logan/Wolverine in at least seven movies now, and I can't imagine anyone else playing him, he is Wolverine. Nicholas Hoult is good as Beast, Xavier's right hand man, Ellen Page brings some Inception style earnestness to her role. Evan Peters is very funny as Quicksilver, and Peter Dinklage gives a standout performance as the evil Dr. Trask. The only fly in the ointment was Jenner Lawrence, she actually made me realize how good Rebecca Romiijn was as Raven, she was much more edgy and mature. Jennifer Lawrence seems like she's trying really hard to be edgy, but doesn't quite make it. I think she is too young for this role, not to mention her role in American Hustle.
The direction is good, fast paced and action packed, the 2 hours and 10 minutes flew by. The 3D effects, didn't really add much I'm sorry to say. There is violence and nudity, so don't bring the young kids, they won't like seeing Hugh Jackman's bare posterior as much as their mothers might.
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Million Dollar Arm (2014)
Million Dollar Arm. Making a pitch for a new audience.
JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm) is a sports agent, venturing out on his own to start his own sports management agency, with his partner Aash (Aasif Mandvi). He has represented stars like Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders, but they have long since retired. JB is looking to sign a lineman named Popo (Ray Maualuga) but Popo signs with another agent, so JB is left with no clients, and no prospects. While watching a cricket match and Britain's Got Talent, JB hatches an idea to sign an Indian baseball player, and turn it into a reality contest, called Million Dollar Arm.
After finding a crotchety, old, retired baseball scout named Ray, (Alan Arkin) JB heads to India to find his prospects. He and Ray find 20 prospects, and whittle it down to two, Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Maddhur Mittal) and a translator named Amit (Pitobash) who dreams of being a baseball coach. Together, the four go back to Los Angeles, where pitching coach Tom House (Bill Paxton agrees to work with Rinku and Dinesh, and they have a year to get a tryout, or the deal with their financier, Chang (Tzi Ma) falls through. Do Rinku and Dinesh succeed? Is JB more interested in the deal or in Rinku or Dinesh as people?
Disney is marketing this movie as a cross between Slumdog Millionaire and Jerry Maguire. It is very much like Jerry Maguire, but it's more like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, because the Brits are openly contemptuous of India and Indians much like JB is, but gradually a transformation occurs and the Brits in Marigold Hotel learn to love the country and its customs. Does the same transformation happen here? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. But let me say this Marigold Hotel is a much better movie, a much more deep and profound movie. Maybe Million Dollar Arm is neither deep nor profound, but it is entertaining. There are laughs to be had here, and it's a different kind of baseball movie. It's fun to see two people who've never thrown a baseball before pick up a vital aspect of the game in such a short time. If you don't like baseball, this movie won't hold much entertainment for you, and while it's not Field of Dreams or Bull Durham, it is fun.
There's a lot of culture clash/fish out of water humor, both with Hamm's character and the Indian boys. I don't particularly enjoy fish out of water humor, and it doesn't particularly work here, but the movie works because of the acting, and not so much the script. Is it an entertaining movie? Yes it is. Is it worth going to the movies to see? No it's not. But it is worth the price of a rental.
Jon Hamm is good, he doesn't stray too far from his Don Draper character, believe it or not. He plays JB as a superficial womanizer who only dates models. He plays a "Grade A Jerk" in the words of this movie, and if I was JB Bernstein, I wouldn't be too flattered by this portrayal. Lake Bell plays a woman who rents a room from Hamm's character and serves as some comedy relief and eventually a love interest, but the love story is clunky. Lake Bell reminds me of Amanda Peet, a pretty girl who's trying too hard to be funny. Alan Arkin plays a crusty old curmudgeon again. He seems to have found a niche. Asif Mandvi is less funny than I thought he'd be, and therefore disappointing.
The best actors in the film are the Indian actors, Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal and Pitobash as the translator. Their natural performances add a lot of depth and emotional weight to the film. The boys are away from home, they miss their families, but they have a once in a lifetime chance. Their performances are complex in ways I didn't expect. And Pitobash shows sincerity in this performance, he really wants to learn about baseball. He has a dream too, and he's realizing it through his countrymen. Bill Paxton does an excellent job as pitching coach Tom House. He doesn't want this to be a publicity stunt, he wants this to work for everyone involved. Paxton plays House with a no-nonsense intensity, which is refreshing.
Finally here's a non-animated film that you can watch with your family, and it's worth seeing. Was Disney doing a little marketing themselves? Selling this movie to the growing Indian community in the US and a huge international audience in India? I didn't see many Indian people in the audience at my theater, but it made 10 million dollars in it's first week, not bad for a film going up against Godzilla.
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Pacific Rim (2013)
Pacific Rim. Brimming with fun.
For 10 years, the earth has been under attack by Kaiju, dinosaur like creatures that lived under the plates in the Pacific Rim, and came to the surface through what's called the beach, a portal between our two worlds. Mankind put their differences past them, and built jaegars, huge robots to fight the kaiju. The world got really good at fighting the kaiju, until the monsters evolved and started destroying the jaegars. Two of the best jaegar piliots are Yancy Becket (Diego Klattenhoff) and his brother, Raleigh. (Charlie Hunnam) One day, during another wave of kaiju attacks, Yancy is killed, the public is starting to lose faith in the jaegars, and the latest idea is to build a wall to stop the kaiju, decommission the jaegers, send them to Hong Kong and send the commander of the jaegar program, Stacker Pentecost, (Idris Elba) into early retirement.
But Pentecost has other ideas, it is months before they can finish the wall, and the kaiju seem to be penetrating the wall like a hot knife through butter, so Pentecost relies on what he knows best, the jaegar program. He wants Raleigh to control the jaegar, but Raleigh needs a co-pilot because the drift or melding of minds is too much for one brain. The best candidate is Mako Mori (Rinko Kakuchi) a girl Pentecost saved from a kaiju attack years before. Mako is traumatized by the attack she witnessed as a child, but can she bury those memories long enough to work with Raleigh? Will Pentecost stop being protective about Mako long enough to let her pilot the jaegar with Raleigh? Will Pentecost's plan work?
I like Pacific Rim. I know, I know it's a cross between Godzilla and the Transformers, but there are lots of influences that shape this movie, it's part Godzilla, part Transformers, but I also see elements of movies like Avatar, Independence Day, the Matrix, and yes even Star Wars in this movie. So what makes this movie better than just a cheap rip off of other sci fi movies? It's the characters. Mako has to fight Raleigh in a martial arts duel before she can co-pilot the jaegar, Pentecost has fatherly feelings for Mako, there's a rivalry between two scientists, one who specializes in predicting the attacks, and the other who wants to learn about the keiju biology. There's also a smarmy guy who deals in selling parts of the dead keiju for profit. These are fun characters, and I enjoyed seeing them interact. If there is a drawback to the story it is that the movie is too long and indulges in too many special effects. It's also easy as a Star Trek episode to tell who the extras are, but that's a minor quibble.
The acting makes this movie even better. Charlie Hunnam is good as the action hero Raleigh, brave yet sensitive because of the death of his brother. Rinko Kakuchi is also good as Mako, part sidekick, part love interest, though thankfully, the writers don't delve too deeply into the love interest portion of their characters but it's definitely hinted at. Idris Elba is good as part action hero being put out to pasture part father figure. Elba injects this character with a 'my way or the highway' attitude that definitely adds some dimension to the character. But it is Charlie Day and Ron Perlman who absolutely steal this movie and make it a pleasure to watch. Day revels in playing the fast- talking, combative biologist whose scientific curiosity is only superseded by his survival instinct. Ron Perlman happily wades into the swamp to find his character, complete with gold shoes that make him look like the neighborhood pimp.
This is not writer/director Guillermo Del Toro's best film, that would be Pan's Labyrinth, but it may be his most entertaining film. I only wish he had cut the length and the special effects. Other than that, it's a damn good summer popcorn action flick.