Sunday, May 31, 2009

Terminator: Salvation

I was really on the fence about seeing this movie. The trailers looked great and you can't deny that it elevated the status of the film once Christian Bale stepped into John Connors boots. But my concerns really begin and end with McG. I absolutely have hated every movie he has touched from Charlie's Angels to We Are Marshall. I had been hearing mixed things for weeks but my friend Speck seemed to think it was really fun (and I know how tough he is to please) so I thought what the hell. Let me just say right off the bat I wasn't disappointed, it was a fun flick. No where near to the greatness of the first two but it completely buries the third flick in the dust.The future is now as John Connor (Christian Bale) tries to set things right in the war against the machines and Skynet. He is also looking for his father, who is just a teenager, Kyle Reece, (Anton Yelchin) before the machines get their metal claws on him. The drifter Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) complicates the mission as he holds a secret that could endanger Connor and everyone around him.The pacing isn't bad, the action was pretty close to what I thought this future would look like. The characters however are not particularly interesting. The rapper Common looks tough, but his character is pretty basic. Moon Bloodgood is there to fill the hotness quota and she succeeds but her character isn't given much to do either. Oh, and Bryce Dallas Howard as Connor's pregnant/Doctor/wife fills a handy purpose but again not much going on with her personality. Christian Bale does his best as an action hero but he isn't really allowed much acting. He grumbles and growls and yells pretty much like Batman. Frankly I think the screenwriters dropped the ball. John Connor should be an interesting character. He is supposed to be a resiliant leader of the resistance against the machines. He is touched by destiny as the "chosen one" and he, by a strange twist, has to live with the fact that if he doesn't protect his younger father in the future he will cease to exist. That's a pretty heavy thing to have to deal with I think. The new character Marcus Wright is interesting too and he is played well by Sam Worthington but it still rings a bit hollow when his character is confronted with his true nature. I actually was really impressed with Anton Yelchin's Kyle Reece--I was really against this casting when I originally heard about it but Yelchin is really great at replicating Michael Biehn's character from the first film. He isn't just a silly kid he's tough and he's smart and I wish we could have seen more of him. There were also some great touches with Linda Hamilton reprising the voice of Sarah Connor on tape that made it feel in line with the first and second films. I really enjoyed the climax of the film though and the Connor fight with the T-800 was awesome. They did some great CGI work, I had forgotten how young Schwarzenegger was when he first starred in the film. But it was just a really great scene and it didn't feel forced--it made sense the T-800 had to show up sometime.Is this the best Terminator ever?--No not even close. But it was a fun ride and much better than that shitty third installment, Rise of the Machines. If you want a solid flick with fun action and some great CGI go and check this one out, honestly it's much more enjoyable than Wolverine or Angels & Demons.Grade: 3 Buckets

Monday, May 25, 2009

Jeff's Top Ten Flicks for Memorial Day

In honor of Memorial Day I thought it would be a good idea to list my top 10 films about our men and women in Uniform. Each of these movies are unique as they bring us insight to the perils and pitfalls as well as the honor and glory of serving in our Armed Forces. As you may notice right away that excellent films like Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, Glory, Platoon, etc. are not represented here. There was a particular tone I was avoiding with this particular top 10 and that is why they are not here.

Before we begin I just wanted to recognize my cousin's husband, Zack who was recently sent back to Iraq with the National Guard. "Good luck, man and come home safe."

10. Top Gun (1986) "I feel the need, the need for speed."

This was a great ride, as a kid I loved the aerial battles in this flick. Anthony Edward's Goose has to go down in the books as the most beloved tragic sidekick. And the calls signs--I loved these names: Maverick, Goose, Viper, Wolfman, Jester, Ice Man etc.. Who could forget Tim Robbins immortal role as Merlin. Yes there was a sense of sexual tension between Maverick (Tom Cruise) and Ice Man (Val Kilmer) and it sometimes overpowered the so-called romance between Maverick and Charlie (Kelly McGillis) but that is not the point. After the movie was released Air Force and Naval recruitment went through the roof. Everybody was humming Highway to the Danger Zone as they were doing barrel roles over the Pacific. The power of Kenny Loggins knows no bounds.

9. Navy Seals (1990) "There's no reason to thank us because we don't exist. You never saw us. This never happened."

Charlie Sheen and Michael Biehn play a couple of highly trained Navy Seals tasked with taking out a group of terrorists who have in their possession a weapon of mass destruction. Yes it's a little short on character and plot but it makes up for it in sheer bad ass action. After watching this movie you almost want to join up with the Navy and take on the challenge of what is considered to be the most dangerous training program in the world. Nah, on second thought I'll just enjoy the movie and pretend to be a kick ass soldier who can almost breathe underwater.

8. Blackhawk Down (2001) "Once that first bullet goes past your head, politics and all that shit just goes right out the window."

Urban warfare at it's most hellish. It's the early 90's as U.S. troops are sent in to raid and capture two extremists. When two Blackhawk Helicopters are shot down in the middle of the Market in Mogadishu the mission parameters change to a rescue op. Yes, this is based on a true story. Yes it was a colossal blunder that cost American lives. But it is also a harrowing tale of survival in the middle of a war zone. You've seen all of those campy Chuck Norris Delta Force movies, but these Deltas in Blackhawk were the real deal. They make Chucky look like a pre-stare recruit.

7. The Rock (1996) (Any Michael Bay Film) "General, we've spilled the same blood in the same mud. And you know Goddamn well I cannot give that order."

Nobody gives their props to the men in women in uniform better than Michael Bay. Hell half the movies he makes are glorified promotions for the Armed Services. The Rock is no exception. You have rogue Marines doing bad things. But you have plucky Stanley Goodspeed (Nicholas Cage) and a tough former MI-6 agent John Mason (Sean Connery) to set things a-right. Plus it was nice to see Michael Biehn as a tough as nails Seal Commando again. Whether it's the Rock, Pearl Harbor or Transformers Michael Bay makes our Military forces look sleek and unbeatable.

6. Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) "It looks good on paper, but for God's sake... that's not a paper fleet sitting out there."

This extraordinary film that shows both sides, the Japanese and the Americans before the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. As the 2001 film Pearl Harbor was sleek, shiny and somewhat unrealistic, Tora! Tora! Tora! shows in a documentary format the blunders leading up to the day of infamy. An exceptional cast with E.G. Marshall, Joe Cotton, Jason Robards, James Whitmore as Admiral Halsey and Junya Usami as Admiral Yoshida. The film pushed to exonorate General Short(Robards) and Admiral Kimmell (Martin Balsam) as they did their best with little or no communication from their superiors.

5. Good Morning Vietnam (1987) "Excuse me sir. Seeing as how the V.P is such a V.I.P., shouldn't we keep the P.C. on the Q.T.? Cause if it leaks to the V.C. he could end up M.I.A., and then we'd all be put out in K.P."

It's the only film that has captured the horrors of the Vietnam War while keeping the funny. Based on the life of Armed Forces radio jock Adrien Cronauer (Robin Williams). Cronauer claims he wasn't as funny or wild as Robin Williams but he did bring smiles to the faces of our boys as they endured the hardships of Vietnam. There are some great performances from Forrest Whitaker, Bruno Kirby and J.T. Walsh. I really enjoyed this movie and have seen it many times since. Cronauer is an airman but he kind of represents us, the civilians, looking at this war through our eyes as he tries to make sense of all the chaos.

4. The Hunt For Red October (1990) "Ryan, some things in here don't react well to bullets." "Yeah, like me. I don't react well to bullets."

Who doesn't love a good nautical thriller? I've actually grown fond of Crimson Tide, as a fun submarine flick, but it pales in comparison to Red October. The first film of the Jack Ryan series and is still the best of the bunch. It's hard to watch this film and not want to be a Submarine Commander. This was a great cast with Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan, Sean Connery, James Earl Jones, Scott Glenn and Sam Neill. I also would give a shout out to Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. Both are good in their own right and of course it's Harrison Ford. Writer Clancy understands the capabilities of our armed forces and he shows it with this great cold war flick.

3. A Few Good Men (1992) "Sam, we have softball games and marching bands. They work at a place where you have to wear camouflage or they might get shot!"

This is one of my favorite movies written by one of my favorite writers, Aaron Sorkin. The banter is so excellent that it makes Tom Cruise seem super smart and witty. A Few Good Men is a great morality play. Two honorable soldiers who inadvertently kill a fellow Marine while following orders. We get to see how difficult it is to operate a base so close to the enemy. I never thought a courtroom drama could be so good. Having Jack Nicholson helped I'm sure. Overall, fine performances all around and a film that can be admired and enjoyed for years to come.

2. The Great Escape (1963) "I haven't seen Berlin yet, from the ground or from the air, and I plan on doing both before the war is over."

This has to be Steve McQueen's best movie of all time. He was the "Cooler King." Everytime they played the theme song, someone tosses him his ball and glove and they march him into the Cooler you know you are watching something special. This is an international cast with British actors Richard Attenborough and Donald Pleaseance and James Coburn playing an Aussie. I can't remember what nationality Charles Bronson was playing but it definitely wasn't American. Then you've got the Yanks. McQueen, of course, and James Garner as the scrounger. Some of the best sequences were the bike scenes, where McQueen actually did most of his stunts, jumping over barbed wire. When I was a kid I must have seen the movie fifty times. I wore out the tape. This also was based on a true story. As D-Day approached the men captured in the POW camps confounded the Germans by trying to break out as many prisoners as possible. This was a major part of D-Day's initial success. How they came up with these elaborate schemes within the camps to dig their way out was just incredible. And through that effort they were able to break out 70 POW's in one night. This film makes a valiant effort to honor the 50 brave men that were re-captured and killed. A great tribute and a classic film.

1. Saving Private Ryan (1998) "I just know that every man I kill, the farther away from home I feel."

This film showed us, the uninitiated, what war was really like. What sacrifice was all about and why it was so important to protect the guy next to you. I remember being in the theatre when this came out and I sat next to a nice elderly gentleman. As the D-Day sequence began I noticed the man had gripped the edge of the armrest and he seemed pained by watching what was unfolding on screen. I was getting nervous I thought he was going to have a heart attack but he seemed to calm down moments later and as the credits began to roll at the end of the film he leaned over to me and he said, "That's truly the way it was." That was all he needed to say. I can only imagine my own Grandfather, who fought in the Philippians, going through this Nightmarish experience. How the hell did he survive that, how did any of them?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Angels and Demons

I really could have gone to see Star Trek again but Tamar would have none of that. She hadn't seen a movie with me in a few weeks and was actually jonesing to see something. I offered up Terminator: Salvation. After the mind blowing awesomeness of the second Terminator she wasn't willing to tempt fate and watch a bad Terminator. (At least this is what I think she was meaning when she said, "Not a chance in hell.") The trailers for A&D actually looked pretty good, much better than it's predecessor Da Vinci Code. But I was skeptical, even the wife didn't like the book version for A&D. She kept ranting about how she couldn't believe that Langdon, a professor at Harvard, didn't know about the Collider. And it really ticked her off that Langdon kept saying that the Catholic Church was anti-science for centuries. This was incorrect of course--it has only been in the last 500 years or so that the Catholic Church has bucked the scientific community. Even with this list of grievances with the book she was still excited to see the movie.Dr. Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) has been asked to come to the Vatican as a terror group, calling themselves the Illuminati, has taken the four Preferitti hostage and is threatening to blow an anti-matter bomb in the middle of Vatican City within a matter of hours. Langdon receives help from the aide to the Pope, the Camerlengo, Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor) and a scientist Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer). Because of his last adventure he has garnered some enemies from within Vatican city. Namely the head of the Swiss Guard Commander Richter (Stellan Skarsgard). Langdon sets off through Vatican city to track the clues of the Illuminati in order to save the Cardinals who are being bumped off one after another and to find the bomb before the city is destroyed.I can say right away that this was a far better film than Da Vinci Code. The pacing was better, the cinematography was fast and exciting. The only problem is this story was not nearly as interesting as the Da Vinci Code. Again Robert Langdon has the character development of a piece of wood. I'm sorry, I love Tom Hanks but Langdon has to be one of the most boring characters in all of fiction. He has no real personality he is just this really smart Professor who looks like Tom Hanks, and that's it. Ewan McGregor's character was interesting and he really tries to do something with this role but it all just feels hollow and very manufactured. They also under utilized the very talented Ayelet Zurer, all she was capable of mostly was to follow Langdon around on his wild goose chase. The same can be said of Stellan Skarsgard's Commander Richter character who just grumbles about Langdon and his wild hunches and skulks off to be seen again later. I really did enjoy all of the tidbits about the Papacy and the inside workings of the Vatican. I thought that stuff was fascinating, but it just wasn't enough. They certainly ramped up the action sequences in this film compared to the last one but it's hard to get excited when your leader character can't even throw a punch much less fire a weapon. Indiana Jones, he is not.

If you are looking for something with a little intrigue, great production value and Tom Hanks then you might find something of interest here. But if you want a good action movie or suspense film then Star Trek and Terminator may be more up your alley.

Grade: 2 1/2 Buckets

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Star Trek

It's taken me longer than I expected to write up my review for Star Trek and I blame these damn spring allergies. It reminds me of that episode of Original Trek where the crew gets a dose of Alien pollen causing everyone on-board, except Kirk, to be lazy asses. I have seen the new film twice now and I am determined to fight through this and get my damn review. Before seeing Star Trek I was nervous about what J.J. Abrams and company were going to do with my beloved Trek. I can call it my Star Trek because, like the Yankees, it has been passed down Father to son. My Dad did it right too he started me off with The Wrath of Khan. As soon as I saw Kirk (William Shatner) walking out of the light and into the simulator room I was hooked forever. I truly loved these characters but as I grew I realized that not everyone saw the crew the same way I did. This became abundantly clear when I showed my wife The Wrath of Khan. Let's just say the reaction was far different than mine. How could she hate this I thought to myself--doesn't she get the sheer awesomeness of Captain Kirk and company. Sure they can be a little melodramatic and talky. So what, it doesn't mean it's any less great. She tried to be nice but I knew I couldn't get her into it. It was frustrating but now I can say all of that is now in the past/ As I write this I can happily say that J.J. Abrams has done what no other Trek writer/Director could do, he has convinced my wife that Star Trek, put simply, is--Awesome.A vengeful Romulan miner named Nero (Eric Bana) finds himself time traveling back to the early part of the 23rd century and proceeds to blow shit up thus creating an alternate Trek universe. We are shown the backstory for both Kirk and Spock and how they have been affected by Nero's actions. Kirk, (Chris Pine) tries to rebound from his fractured childhood by joining Starfleet. Spock (Zachary Quinto) finds his loyalties are torn between his Father's (Ben Cross) homeworld on Vulcan and his Mother's (Winona Ryder) on Earth.I truly enjoyed the fast pace and snappy dialogue. If you are a fan of the original show the characters are true to their original incarnations and I can even say that some of the smaller character roles have actually been improved upon. Like Sulu (John Cho), Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) all got a bit more to do in the new film. Chekov, especially, got some fun comedic moments reminicent of the old show. Kirk, Spock, McCoy (Karl Urban), Scotty (Simon Pegg) were always well defined in the original show, as they are here. Plus it was great fun watching Karl Urban's crotchety McCoy. It was a nice tribute to Deforest Kelly, who originated the role. Chris Pine has breathed new life into Captain Kirk in ways I wasn't expecting. He has the arrogance with an added chip on his shoulder. Not to mention his constant randiness. This guy is always looking to get laid. Pine really pushes the accelerator on Kirk's personality. He's got the smarts and the instincts to get the job done. Especially in the training seminar scene. I won't go into too much detail but it was a blast watching the legend unfold. Pine is unflappable, funny and nails the scene. As much as I love William Shatner, I really felt this kid filled his shoes perfectly without skipping a beat. The pacing is fast but you do get some great moments in the begining with the origin stories and between the crew members especially between Uhura and Spock. I also really loved Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood), who provides leadership and guidance to his young crew. Also I really appreciated the scenes with, as they call him, Spock Prime (Leonard Nimoy). There have been many objections to Nimoy's appearance in the film but I felt that when the movie changed something from the original continuity Spock Prime was there to set the record straight. In a sense he was there for the die-hard Trek fans. He was the comforting hand that asks us to be patient and to try to go along with it. For the most part I think the strategy worked.I truly did love this movie, front to back, but there were a few things that just didn't work. For starters what was the point of the creatures on the ice planet. Kirk is stranded on an ice planet and is pursued by a big nasty monster creature that eventually get's eaten by an even larger creature. That felt a bit too much like Empire Strikes Back or the Phantom Menace. I get that they want non-stop action but this sequence was really unecessary. Also Kirk got promoted through the ranks pretty quickly. Now this didn't bother me that much--I get it. But it was a bit of a stretch for him to go to cadet to first officer without ever serving on a ship before. I also didn't think the last sequence where Spock Prime reveals himself to Young Spock was that necessary? I was always told it was a bad thing to encounter yourself while time travelling, something about the space time continuem being distrupted thereby destroying life as we know it. Words of wisdom I think.This was a great ride and it truly pumped new life into this series. It was a great homage to the show and it really paid tribute to the best film in the series, The Wrath of Khan. I really can't wait to see what they'll do with the sequel. So if you are looking for a great slam-bam action flick with awesome characters and some great Space battles, then go and check this one out. I promise you won't be disappointed.

Grade 5 Buckets

Sunday, May 03, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

The Summer Movie Blockbusters have begun and I actually got to see the first one on time. In some ways I almost wish I had been a little late. I knew going in that Wolverine was getting bad reviews and that most critics believed it to be lacking what some may call a plot. But I thought what the hell, I'll take a chance. Wolverine ended the weekend at 87 million but, honestly, I think they could have made 80 million if Hugh Jackman ran half naked through the movie just yelling with his eyebrow slightly raised. Cause that's almost what this was.This is supposed to be Wolverine's big origin story about Weapon X and when he was born and so forth. We see Wolvie as a cub, for some un-explainable reason, he is ill and his father, who looks like Hugh Jackman, is concerned. In less than a minute there is an arguement and some guy, who kind of looks like Liev Schreiber, has apparently killed Wolvie's pop and acknowledges that the guy dead on the ground, who looks like Hugh Jackman, is actually not Wolverine's father. --Huh?-- Little Wolvie is so angry that he stabs to death his new found daddy with his bony claws and runs off with his new brother, the stable boy, Victor. Begin war montage now. This has to be the most convuluted and idiotic origin I have ever seen. What was the purpose of any of this other than to establish that Wolverine and Sabertooth, aka. Victor Creed, are brothers. I know they cribbed that from Wolverine's Origin comic book but my question is why? There is a larger story there but I guess they weren't interested in telling that story in detail. Which is the overall problem with this movie they tell bits and pieces of stories from the comics but never fully flesh them out to have them make sense in the context of the film. Which brings me back to the war montage--it looked kind of cool--Civil War, World War 1, WW2, Vietnam -- but was that it, is that all they have done with their immortality? What did they do between wars?I will say most of the action pieces were entertaining but given that almost everyone fighting is un-killable it kind of takes the suspense out of the scenes. Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool was really fun--for the ten minutes he was on screen. And I won't go into the mess they make of his character near the end of the film. Of course we get to see the young William Stryker (Danny Huston) spend billions of dollars making Wolverine indestructable then quickly turning on him after the operation with the intent to kill. Again, wha? What was the point of spending all of that money on Adamantium if you weren't gonna let him use it? In the end it was a showcase of characters you recognize from the comics, all thrown in for shits and giggles, but given nothing of real substance to do. The Blob (Kevin Durand), John Wraith (Will.i.Am), Emma Frost/White Queen (Tahyna Tozzi), Cyclops (Tim Pocock), Silver Fox/Kayla (Lynn Collins), Bolt (Dominic Monaghan), Zero (Daniel Henney) and Gambit (Taylor Kitsch). We got to see a hint of their power so we can say oh, yeah cool mark him/her off the list and then we move on. This is not how they should be making comic book movies. I would have thought Producer Hugh Jackman would have at least understood this. The crazy thing about the whole endeavor is that I really enjoyed Sabertooth/Victor Creed (Liev Schreiber) in fact he was the bright spot of the whole movie. The only problem -- how does this version of Victor Creed fit into the continuity of the other films? As my friend Cody pointed out to me -- Liev is way smaller than Tyler Mane from the first movie and of course looks nothing like him. But Tyler Mane's Sabertooth was a brutish idiot who spoke two lines. Wolverine's Sabertooth was brutal sure but he didn't seem like a fool--not to mention he was a little blabby. In my humble opinion they should have just re-booted the X-series. Start out fresh and tell the story right for Christ-sakes. From the looks of the after-credit scenes it looks like they will be re-visiting Wolverine in Japan--could be cool just this time keep out the mutants that don't belong there ok.If you are looking for some mindless action and some pretty so-so special effects go and see Wolverine. If you are in any way invested in the character or the previous films I would avoid it like the plague because you will be disappointed.
Grade 2 and a half buckets