Archive for Movies

Star Trek Beyond

startrekbeyondposterAfter Star Trek: Into Darkness, I had reservations about this movie. My hopes were for a return to a movie more in line with the original Star Trek where the action was was used in service to the themes at play throughout the movie. I didn’t want the action to be the theme of the movie. The trailer showed a move that was action packed and left me with little hope for Beyond being the type of Star Trek movie that I want.

I was surprised to discover that I liked Star Trek Beyond much more than I expected. It has problems but comes closer to the Star Trek that I want than the previous two movies.

Let us begin with the good stuff.

First, we are given much more time with the characters in this story. Action abounds but the characters are given space to breath and interact which is priceless. The opening sequence is just small peek into the mind of Captain Kirk but it stands out as a unique view that was missing from the Star Trek Universe. We get Kirk’s log playing over a view of life on the Enterprise. The crew is three years into their five year mission. Kirk speaks about the small things that are normal business on a ship of this size. He speaks of the vastness of space and the small speck that he and his ship represent in this vast unknown and wonders at the reason behind the mission. Why seek to learn more when the unknown is seemingly infinite. A deep question from a Captain that has appeared to be uninterested in introspection.

I love that we get to watch as McCoy interacts with both Kirk and Spock at length. Urban embodies the role with heart and soul and ache at the loss of the Original bones due to his genuine performance. He comes across and gruff and irascible while still being caring and supportive. In particular, I loved the interaction between Spock and McCoy. They are given a large amount of time together in this movie and we get to watch their gruff exchanges and see the underlying friendship blossom. There is a point where Spock openly states that, despite the argumentative nature of their relationship, his esteem for McCoy was never in doubt.

This hit me right in the feels.

I also appreciate that Star Trek is attempting to give us a diverse future. Uhura is still allowed to retain agency. She does not wait around to be rescued and makes choices that influence the course of the movie. In addition, she is allowed to be out point of view several times throughout the movie which I like. On top of this, we quietly get a gay main member of the crew. In the sequence where Kirk is talking about the life of the crew on the ship, we get to see Sulu with a picture of his daughter at his station. A bit anachronistic, but still touching. When they arrive on Yorktown, we get to see Sulu run off into the crowd to embrace his husband and his child. No muss, no fuss, just like a normal family.

This is what I want to see in my media. I want to see myself and others presented just like everyone else. This is why these things in this movie are so important. They take place in a Franchise that is so big that it lifts us up out of the shadows and gives us the treatment we deserve.

All the feels.

Star Trek Beyond is not without it’s flaws though.

Did we really need to destroy the enterprise again? The United Federation Of Planets coffers must be overflowing since they do not seem to mind building a new ship for the the crew of the Enterprise. Especially since every time they get on a ship it ends up destroyed. don’t get me wrong, the battle that destroyed the ship was epic and fun to watch, just not necessary. It felt like a lazy way to show the ingenuity of the crew and overtly emotionally manipulative.

The villain of the piece is yet again a nihilist. He is on a quest to show the federation that conflict is not something to be avoided, but to be embraced. The villains motivations for this are shrouded in mystery until the around the end of the movie. Uhura catches a glimpse of Captain of the ship that is discovered hidden on this unknown planet. The crew learns that this man had been soldier whom had fought many battles before the beginning of the Federation. The captain and his crew crashed on this planet and only a few survived to live on as part of an ancient machine that changed them. It left them nothing but a thirst for revenge posited as a mission.

It makes little sense.

During the final battle between Kirk and this captain, we get more of an explanation. It sounds more of a man without a purpose. The reasoning behind wanting to watch the world burn is bad and doesn’t hold up to the dramatic weight that the movie tries to give it.

On top of this, the villain is played by Idris Elba. I knew he was in the movie but he was unrecognizable as the villain. He is layered in prosthetics and his voice is altered. Elba is given nothing that calls for his immense talents which means he gets not time to shine. his character murders crew members throughout the movie and the purpose is not easily evident. It requires Uhura to tell us that he kills people and changes as he absorbs something from them. Really? Did we spend so much on destroying the Enterprise that we didn’t have enough to make the effects clear on the villain to make him make more sense?

Disappointing.

I would give Star Trek Beyond three bear paws out of four. It gives me more of the Star trek that I want in movie form than I have gotten from the last two movie. It provides some diversity in the story line that plucked at my heart strings. If the flaws had been handled better, this would have been an even better movie. Still worth seeing at the theater for a matinee.

 

 

Ghostbusters 2016

ghostbusters_ver6I went and saw the new Ghostbusters recently.

I was optimistic going in as I have enjoyed The Heat and his episodes of Nurse Jackie.

After coming out of the theater, I will say that I loved the movie. I laughed, I cheered, and I came out wanting to see the movie again.

The part that I enjoyed the most about this movie were the characters. In the same vein as the original, Erin, Abby, Holtzmann, and Patty each fulfills a particular role. We have the scientist, the idea person, the mad scientist, and the worker. Each actress embodies their role while also providing a driving motivation. Erin wants to be seen as a scientist while still believing in the paranormal. Abby wants to be able to pursue her love of the paranormal as a viable job. Holtzmann wants to be able to continue to create her bizarre technological creations. Patty wants to be a part of a group that values her and what she has to contribute. Each of these pieces seem disparate and disjointed. Like a pile of jigsaw pieces stack upon one another, the image is discordant. As the movie movie proceeds we get to watch as the pieces move about and shows the individual scene placed atop each one. Then we watch as they find their places among the other pieces to create an even larger picture.

Delightful!

I enjoyed the action movie aspects of this movie as well. In this version of the Ghostbusters, we are presented with the group before they have perfected their craft. There is no containment unit so the ghosts that are trapped are stuck in the trap until they can develop something. The story progresses so that trapping the ghosts is not a viable option. Hotlzmann designs gadgets that will allow the group to deal with the threat in a way that is tailored to each member of the team. In particular, I love the ghost destroying cestus that are designed for Abby. They hit that action hero feel in the way that they are look and are used in the movie.

An adrenalin pumping moment in the film.

Holtzmann and Patty made me love this film as well. Holtzmann is the quintessential mad scientist. She is brilliant and weird and nice and unapologetic about all of these things. She comes up with the ideas for the gadgets that allow the group to do what they do but works well with the group to make sure everyone is prepared for what comes next. Patty is the strong outsider that is confident in her identity. She knows that she is not a scientist but understand that what she does know will help the group. She presents her knowledge and experience in a manner that demands attention and gains her the respect that she deserves. Neither are the driving force of the Ghostbusters but each, in their own way, makes it possible for Abby and Erin to keep the group going. I can identify with both of these characters.

Ghostbusters gets four bear paws out of four from me. It blends characters, comedy, action and story to create a fun and entertaining movie. If you have time, I highly recommend seeing Ghostbusters on the big screen. You will not be disappointed.

Also, stay through  the credits to watch the bits and pieces of music video-like scene that didn’t make it into the movie. Hilarious!

X-Men: Apocalypse

XmenAIf you have not guessed, I am a fan of comics and superheroes. I knew that I was going to see X-Men: Apocalypse as I had enjoyed the last two X-Men movies. What I wasn’t sure of was whether I would enjoy it or not.

After seeing X-Men: Apocalypse I would say that it was enjoyable but just okay.

I know that doesn’t seem to make sense so let me explain.

I enjoy a good action movie and X-Men: Apocalypse delivers on this part of the bargain. There are spectacular fights that range from intense two person battles to combats that range across several city blocks as well as the vistas of the mind. The effects are done well and the choreography is what I would expect based on the first two movies in this new X-Men canon.

In addition to the fast paced action, we get good performance from James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence. Each of these actors have stellar acting chops and even when the writing is trite and lacking in originality, these three are able to give their characters life that elevates the characters that we are watching on the screen. In particular, this movie provides us with another Magneto redemption storyline. Fassbender gives a depth to both Eric’s desire to form a family as well as heat of his rage as it is all taken away from him. Lawrence provides a similarly powerful performance as the lone woman working to save the lost mutants that have been forgotten.

These same strengths point out the failings of the movie and keep it from being anything other than okay for me. Each of these scenes, and a few others are good to watch. They just lack a cohesive connector that maintains the level of investment I made to the surroundings scenes. Apocalypse could be an incredible over-the-top villain but what the audience is given is a character that seems to be attempting to make an impression with minimum effort. It felt like a Oscar Isaac was wasted in the role as he was not allowed to be bold and outrageous as one would want from Apocalypse.

the movie also inundates us with origins. We get Storm, psylocke, Nightcrawler, Cyclops, Jean, and further looks into Wolverine’s past. Each story is interesting but feels like a distraction from the big tent pole that is taking place in the background. It felt much like playing Final Fantasy 7, all this time is spent raising chocobos to get Knight’s of the Round when supposedly the clock is ticking down. It takes away from the drama and adds little to the overall theme of the movie.

I give X-Men: Apocalypse two bear paws out of four. It is a collection of vignettes that are entertaining on their own but point out the lackluster quality of the movie over all. There are several good performances that aren’t able to lift the rest of the movie from mediocrity. Definitely worth waiting for Bluray to watch in the comfort of your own home.

 

Warcraft: The Beginning

WarcraftI have played Warcraft and World of Warcraft for years. I was in a raiding guild for a time and left the game when time was just not available to play. I rejoined to level up a new character with friends while they wait for the new expansion to drop later in the year.

Hearing of the movie based on this game gave me chills. There has been only one good movie based on a game. Sadly Clue is many decades old at this point and each new attempt at a movie based on a game has been bad. Most do not even reach the level of fun B movies. So,my hopes were not high.

It turns out that Warcraft is an entertaining movie.

This is the story of the Orcs arrival on Azeroth. The Orcs original homeworld has been devastated. There is little life left to support them their. One leader, Gul’dan, has discovered a way to save them. By sacrificing the lives of thousands of captives, he will open a gate to a new world and establish an outpost for the Orcs. His band of Orcs pillage the land and capture as many prisoners as possible because the sacrifice needed to bring the rest of the Orcs through will be prodigious. It will be up to a few to unite the kingdoms of Azeroth with those few among the Orcs that see what is happening as wrong.

Warcraft plays out the story of Medivh, Khadgar, Anduin, Garona, Durotan, and Gul’dan. If you have not payed any of these games these names will not mean much. Luckily, Duncan Jones does a good job of introducing these characters to the audience and breathing life into a tale that could have been stale for those of us that had played the game for many years.

There were several things that made me enjoy Warcraft: The Beginning.

First, there is Ben Foster. He plays the powerful magical Guardian, Medivh. I have enjoyed him in movies such as 3:10 to Yuma, Lone Survivor, and 30 days of Night. He chews the scenery effectively as the brooding Archmage. Foster does dark and brooding well and his turn as Medivh is no different.

Next, there is Paula Patton as Garona. It took me a moment to realize where I had seen her before and it was in Ghost protocol. Here she lends a dose of humanity to a legion of Orcs that are done in CGI. She plays what appears to be a half orc. She embraces the part of creature with no home very well and gives a glimpse of both the brutality and empathy that can be found in the orcs. A wonderful choice of actress to fill this important role.

Finally, the animation that is ubiquitous in the film is well done. The film is littered with CGI Characters. The characters and creatures are well rendered and do not cross the boundary into the cartoonish or the uncanny valley. The fight scenes are handled with skill so that things are not hard to follow and there isn’t normally horrible lack of properly functioning anatomy that one would see in other movies.

Warcraft: the Beginning is a good fantasy movie that hits on the tropes one expects without being boring and repetitive. The effects are well done and the performances are solid. definitely worth seeing at a Matinee.

I give Warcraft: The Beginning two bear paws out of four. Worth seeing at the movies but not worth seeing again.

Captain America: Civil War

Spoiler Warnings On!

 

 

I was able to go out and see Captain America: Civil War twice this weekend. I had been anticipating it’s release as I have enjoyed both of the prior Captain America movies. Winter Soldier ranks as my second favorite Marvel movie. My only concern was about the storyline. I had not enjoyed Civil War in the comics and wondered how it would translate to the MCU.

My concerns were unfounded as I loved it!

There are many reasons to love Captain America: Civil War. The ones that stood out for me were how it deals with the big issues, great characterization, Black Panther, and all the nice flourishes throughout.

captain-america-civil-war-poster-team-capIn Civil War, the audience gets to see how our heroes  deal with the consequences of their actions, the ideas of friendships and loyalty, and staying true to themselves. The operation in Lagos going sideways is where it all begins. In an effort to stop a violent arms dealer, the team engages Crossbones as he tries to get a biological weapon out of the country. He was horrifically scarred during the incident at Sokovia and his hatred for Captain America overwhelms his sense of self preservation. In the middle of a busy market place in the middle of the city, Crossbones attempts to blow himself and Cap into little bits only to have Scarlet Witch whisk him into the air. Captain America and many others are spared but innocents still die and Wanda is devastated by her actions.

This destruction has international consequences as eleven of the victims were aid workers from the Kingdom of Wakanda. Tony arrives with Secretary of State Ross who comes bearing the Sokovia Accords. It is a treaty between 117 nations requiring the Avengers to subject themselves to UN oversight and control. Captain America can not see himself giving up the freedom to make the choices necessary in the cases where the Avengers are needed. He also doesn’t want to give up the responsibility that comes with the powers that each of them has. Iron Man sees the Avengers as weapons that have a devastating effect wherever they go. He sees this as a responsibility that shouldn’t be shoulder by the Avengers alone. These two viewpoints create the battle lines that arise in Civil War. There are those that see themselves as weapons that need to be monitored and those that would continue doing the work and taking the responsibility onto their own shoulders. Thus are friendships and loyalties tested.

Despite the weight of the material presented, the characters remain true to themselves. Captain America has been set up throughout the movies as both loyal and independent. He does the right thing without the need of orders to make it happen. Cap will also defy orders to do that which is right and that continues to play out in Civil War. Tony is still the egotistical man child but he is undergoing a growth spurt. This transition is leaving him vulnerable and emotionally stretched beyond his capacity. He is still the smartest man in any room that he walks into but his moral compass is clouded by emotional distress that he is under. This idea is particularly highlighted for me in the big tent pole fight between sides. Black Widow and Hawkeye are struggling with each other and Natasha takes the time to check in and ask that they are still friends. Hawkeye answers with a wink, “It depends on how hard you hit me?” The two most grounded members of the Avengers understand that this is just a moment in time that will pass and the important issue is that they still have each other.

I also loved how the movie handled all these issues while subtly siding with Captain America. The best example of how the movie does this is with Secretary Ross. Ross was the man who was tasked with hunting down the Hulk. While doing this, he put his daughter in danger, created a monster, and allowed things to get out of hand so that part of Harlem was destroyed. He waltzes into the Avengers to point out to them the destruction which has followed them with the air of self-righteousness despite being the architect of such destruction on his own. In his conversation about the Sokovia Accords he then asks the group about the whereabouts of Hulk and Thor. He then states that there would be repercussions if he lost a 30 megaton nuclear weapon. Ross completely ignores that these two are people and aren’t under arrest so don’t owe it to anyone to make their whereabout known. Ross illustrates Cap’s point eloquently.

Black Panther is another reason to love this movie. In the character of Black Panther we get are introduced to a hero without getting his origin. We get to meet T’chala as he accompanies his father, King T’chaka to the Sokovia accords. Despite skipping the origin, Black Panther gets a full story arc told in miniature in this movie. We get to watch as he takes up the mantle of king and vengeance after the death of his father. T’chala gets to show off his powers as he goes up against both Captain America and Winter Soldier in his quest for revenge. We watch as he sees the price of vengeance and power and makes the choice to not be consumed by either. It is a very powerful moment when we get to see him have the true mastermind of his father’s demise at his fingertips. He retracts his claws and refuses to allow Zemo to commit suicide to avoid the consequences of what he has done.

So Good!

Finally, I love this movie for all the little bits that are so amazing that make the whole so good. We get to see every hero on the screen have their own moments. Hawkeye and Ant Man aren’t given as much screen time as the Cap and Iron Man but presence it felt and remembered. Then there is Spider-Man. He too, is given a limited amount of screen time but still shines. Tom Holland does an excellent job of capturing both Peter Parker and Spider-Man in his performance. I love how it blends the Bourne Identity with superheroes with such ease. The chase scene feels like an homage to the Bourne Identity and other spy movies. The transitions to the scene from December 1991 to present day keeps the tension building so that in the final reveal of the awful truth of what happened that day and who knew about it is both a relief and devastating at the same time. There is also the scene where Black widow is waiting to speak to T’chala at his car. One of his royal guards tells her to move or I will move you. This was awesome because Black Panther’s royal guards are the elite warriors of Wakanda and on par with Black Widow. It is a small easter egg that T’chala acknowledges when he says he would like to see that and then has his guard stand down.

Also, all the powers on display. Squee!

I give Captain America: Civil War four bear paws out four. The acting throughout the movie is top notch, the effects are awesome, and the story is good. It may lean a bit to the dark side with the material covered but this can be forgiven as it makes sure to keep the darkness from becoming overwhelming while keeping hope for a better day alive throughout. Definitely worth seeing at the theater. I know I plan on seeing it at least one more time.

 

 

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

batman_v_superman__dawn_of_justice_poster__3_by_burakrall-d93u60uBatman and Superman are not my favorite DC Comics characters. Green Lantern holds that coveted spot. Sadly, the Green Lantern movie was not good and I must content myself with these two for my big screen DC fare.

Going in, I had low expectations because I am not invested in these characters. I was not impressed with Man of Steel which further moved the bar lower for my expectations for this movie. After sitting through the end of the credits and having nothing to wait for, I have to say that I am mostly whelmed with Batman v Superman. Not overwhelmed nor underwhelmed…just whelmed.

Be warned, spoilers ahead.

This movie picks up sometime after the end of Man of Steel. Metropolis is recovering from the aftermath of dealing with the Kryptonians, congress is trying to deal with the threat that Superman represents, and the world as a whole is undecided as to how view Superman. the audience is treated to watching as Lois Lane places herself in harms way for an interview in the middle east. The interview goes south quickly and she is taken captive. This brings Superman to her rescue which causes an international uproar.

The audience is also treated to an abbreviated origin story for Batman. We get to see through flashbacks and dreams Batman’s inciting incident as well as the cause for his current hatred of Superman. We get to watch as he speeds through Metropolis to get to his building in the hopes of helping his employees evacuate. He is not in time. He is only able to help rescue one man whom is trapped under a fallen I beam. The despair, anguish, and anger are plain upon his face as this scene comes to a close.

The audience is also introduced to the villain of the piece, Lex Luthor. He is a young entrepreneur who is at the top of his game. He has his own corporation that rivals Bruce Wayne’s. He is able to meet with Clark Kent and quip about whether he owns the daily planet or not. On top of this, despite having no powers, he manipulate the system to pit the two titular heroes against one another while putting a fail safe plan in motion as well. all this while appearing quite insane.

I walked out of the movie, not disappointed per se, but that there was so much that was left on the table. This movie presents to the world what is, in the DC Universe, the trinity. The three most powerful and iconic heroes of DC Comics. After some thought I’ve decided that this is what frustrates me about this movie. It presents not one trinity, but two.

The first trinity is Batman, Superman, and Lex Luthor. They are the heavy handed characters of the film. Every move they make is filmed with a loving lens that lingers longingly. There is a scene where Superman has flown Doomsday into the upper atmosphere and is hit by a nuclear weapon. Doomsday plummets to the earth while Superman drifts in space seemingly dead. The audience gets to watch as the sun lovingly caresses his form and returns him to life. This is repeated for both Batman and Lex Luthor throughout the movie. It takes what are important plot points and extends them into the grating range. I understand most are needed to set up the next movies but a little bit of restraint would have been appreciated.

It feels like Snyder has went to great lengths to have each one of these characters represent the White Man’s fears. Start with Batman. He is the ultimate rich white guy with everything he wants and is the Batman on top pf all that. Superman comes along and demonstrates that for all intents and purposes that there are always things beyond a person’s control. What is Batman’s response? That which takes control away from me should be destroyed. Superman on the other hand does have the ultimate power. Whatever he wants is not out of reach. He just has to reach out and take it. This power leads him to be seemingly paralyzed at points about what to do. His every action analyzed for the possible unforeseen consequences. The only time this is not a problem is when the one he loves is put in danger and then all thought of consequences are dropped and action is swift and final. Lex appears to represent grasping avarice. He sees things that he believes others have missed and decides to take action unilaterally without even consulting those that he purports to be saving. He knows better than anyone else what is best and the consequences of his actions be damned.

This is in stark contrast to the other trinity you can find in the movie. This one being Lois Lane, Martha Kent, and Wonder Woman. Each of these women goes about their lives with a quiet strength. Martha Kent is now a widow that works as a waitress while keeping up the farm. She does all this and has time to be there for Kal El and dispense motherly wisdom to help free himself from his analysis paralysis. she stays strong even in the face of death as she knows that her son has to save the world and that he has to make the right choice. Lois presents this same strength from the very beginning. She goes into the heart of danger to follow a story. She does this knowing that even though she is beloved at Superman, there are situations that even he can not save her. She does not avoid these situations but continues to do her job despite this knowledge. Wonder Woman, though in the movie briefly, epitomizes the hero. She dances lithely through the story when she appears, doing what she has came to do and moving on. When the circumstances get dire, she gets off the plane, puts on her bracers and tiara, goes to work. She shows no hesitation in facing the monster. On the contrary, she revels in her role as hero that fights the monster. She knows who she is an why she does and holds nothing in reserve. She provides a role model for the other two heroes to live up too.

I loved the story that you see playing out with the three women in the movie. It is subtle and overshadowed by the melodrama that is the tow heroes and the villain. It took a bit to realize that this is what bugs me. Snyder has both of these stories going on but leans so heavily on Batman and Superman that you wonder why he bothered to have the other story present. I wanted to see more of Wonder Woman, Lois, and Ma Kent. Hell, Alfred was a solid character that provided grounding for Bruce Wayne and was underutilized in this movie.

Despite all of my complaints, it is a solid movie. The acting is good. The effects are well done. The technical aspects of the movie are handle with Aplomb. It just could have done with a little more discipline in the editing and cinematography. Cut some of the time dedicated to the angst driven heroes and show us more of those that support them.

I give Batman v Superman two bear paws out of four. It was an okay movie that just felt meh. More time spent with Wonder Woman, Lois, and Ma Kent would have made the movie live up to the hype that had preceded it.

Deadpool

Deadpool1Going into Deadpool, I was only tangentially aware of the character. I am a comic reader and he has appeared in several of the titles I have read in my long and storied history with comics. I knew he was crazy with a penchant for breaking the fourth wall and leaving a trail of dead bodies behind him. Ryan Reynolds had played the first iteration of Wade Wilson in the horrible movie, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and did a great job of capturing the essence of the character.

I was looking forward to seeing a take on this character that was rated R so that there would be no watering down of what the character could be for his big screen debut. I had my doubts about the movie as the second two X-Men movies and the aforementioned Wolverine had been horrendous. I went in expecting the worst.

I was so wrong.

Deadpool takes superhero action, satire, and romantic comedy and pitches them into a blender. What comes out is raucous and riotous good time. The movie refuses to take itself serious and this starts  with the opening credits and never lets up. In your usual opening, you get to see the big names listed over top of an appropriate set piece. On the face of it, this is True for Deadpool. A fight scene is frozen in time and explored in loving detail to the tune of Angel of the Morning. The scene is hilarious in the slapstick quality that we get to see. Then, the titles begin. Instead of the names of the stars and producers and writes, a descriptor is given. These range from Hot Chick, Moody Teen, CGI Character, to Douche Bag that gets paid way to much. Hilarious! This skewering of the genre, the industry, and the tropes starts here and follows through out the movie.

There is a lot to love here. Tim Miller takes a character that is over-the-top and does not water him down. Instead, they take the time to use the caustic humor in a satirical manner that punches holes in all the over-inflated egos and self-important tropes. All of this while still creating characters that are relatable humans at their core and that you come to care about through the course of the movie. Wade Wilson, Deadpool’s secret identity was a highly trained special forces soldier that did terrible things in the line of duty. He leaves that job behind to take up the mantle of mercenary doing jobs that keeps people safe. Despite this turn of events, he is still quite crazy and a hard pill to swallow. When he finds that someone that fits with him, it is heartwarming in a crazy sort of way. How the two characters describe love is both funny and enlightening. The analogy is that of jigsaw puzzle pieces. Each has their own crazy with weird curves but together they fit together to show another picture out of the combined crazy. Funny but true.

The most touching moment hidden inside this loud and raunchy comedy is even more touching. Wade is diagnoses with several terminal cancers. Throughout this time, despite the humor, he accepts the horror that is coming and struggles with how this will affect Vanessa. There is a scene where it is the depth of the night and Wade is contemplating what to do. The overwhelming nature of the problem leads to tears. I found this to be incredible as the male lead in a superhero movie would normally never be allowed to be seen crying over a choice that is so personal and so difficult.

My main quibble is that the satirical nature of the movie is something that could easily be missed. The humor is caustic and leaves no one untouched. It would be easy to walk into this movie and come out offended by some of the jokes that thrown about. The satire isn’t subtle but the same over-the-top nature of the film easily distracts from the skewering nature of the jokes that fly fast and furious in Deadpool.

Like I mentioned earlier, I loved Deadpool! I give it four bear paws out of four. A movie well worth seeing twice at the theaters.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

13 hoursI belong to a local social group called the Movie Bears. We get together once or twice a month and do dinner and a movie. It is a nice way to meet other bears in the area for some low impact fun and socializing.

The holidays made it difficult to get together. Our January meeting was the first one in over two months. The movie that we went to see was 13 hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. The trailers showed plenty of explosions, gun battles, and hot bearded men which made it a good choice for a movie bears night.

My only concern going into the movie is that it was going to be heavy handed political piece about Benghazi. I was pleasantly surprised to find 13 Hours was not about the politics behind the Benghazi attacks.

I am not going to go into the actual history of what happened at Benghazi. you can Google it and pick the news source that you prefer. This movie takes the tack of giving the perspective of six contract operators employed by the CIA. The movie does a good job of giving the audience a connection to these men. Each one is introduced and given a depth that one doers not expect from a movie that is focused on highly trained military operatives. Sure, there is still the ultra masculine camaraderie that is a hallmark of this sort of film. The flip side is that it takes the time to illustrate the human element of each man.

In particular, there is a moment when Jack, played by John Krasinski, is being briefed by the station chief. The chief notes that Jack, like the other operators, is married but doesn’t wear his wedding ring. The chief wonders why he, and all the operators do this. Jack points out that part of his job is dealing with possible enemies. It is never a good idea to give an enemy another tool that could be used against you. This focus of family is a thread that is weaved throughout the men’s interactions throughout the movie and connect the audience to these characters.

13 hours is a good movie with some problems. It is an action thriller that delivers what one expects from this genre. There are plenty of good fight scenes and tense interactions between characters as things go south. My concern was that the movie would have difficulty maintaining the tension when the ending is well known. This is not the case. The connection to the characters that the movie creates draws you in and allows you to just be in the moment and the tension is right there. This is possible because Krasinski, Fumua, Dale, and the others performances are all solid. What could have been easily very stereotypical performances are given a depth which was nice to see.

The problem arises from the movies heavy handed message of elitism. throughout the movie, the six operators are portrayed as the long-suffering parental types. Each has been through similar circumstances and knows how the enemy works and is trying their best to protect their charges. The CIA operatives are portrayed as viewing these men as nothing more than attack dogs to be let off the leash sparingly. There is one scene where the leader of the Six is trying to convince to allow the and his men to do something. The chief points around the room citing degrees from places like MIT and Harvard and that maybe the thinking should be left to those better prepared for it. The movie hammers home that this elitism is what costs so much life in the end without ever seeing that this perspective is just as elitist.

I would give 13 Hours two bear paws out of four. Definitely worth seeing as a matinee viewing but does not require extra viewing.

The Revenant

the-revenant_character-poster_tom-hardyI recently went to see leonardo DiCaprio’s new Movie. I had seen the preview for the movie a few times when at the theater and it seemed interesting. It appeared to be in the vein of Legends of the Fall or The Last of the Mohicans. Stunning natural vistas threaded through with an underlying story of vengeance.

I can get behind a good vengeance story.

Let me start off by pointing out that this movie has a running time of 156 minutes. I do not mind long movies. A good long movies makes you feel like no time passed while you were watching it. That was not the case with the Revenant. It felt like all of those minutes and then some. It appeared that Inarritu wanted the audience to feel the weight of time in this movie and he accomplished this goal but not in a positive fashion.

The Revenant tells the tale of Hugh Grant. Hugh is a scout on a trapping expedition in the wilds of America during our early history. He and his son are assisting the band of trappers with getting their goods safely from the wilds back to civilization. The expedition is brutally attacked by local native Americans and are forced to flee to the river after having lost over half of their men.

The main story is that of Hugh Glass. He helps the remaining men find a path that will lead them to safety. In so doing, he is brutally attacked by a mother bear protecting her cubs. The band discovers his almost lifeless body under the corpse of the bear and attempt to take him with them on their trek to safety. Finding this impossible, Hugh is left with Fitzgerald, Bridger, and his son, Hawk. They are to see him to his end, bury him, then catch up with the group. The waiting is interminable and Fitzgerald decides to send Hugh to his creator early and is interrupted by Hugh’s son, Hawk. Hawk is murdered and dragged deeper into the woods and Fitzgerald convinces Bridger that they will soon be overrun and they place Hugh in a shallow grave. What follows is the story of Glass struggling for survival while trying to make his way to the fort that should be housing the murderer of his son.

I mentioned above the stunning natural vistas. They are as much a character in this movie as Glass or Fitzgerald. There is a scene where set at a waterfall. The camera lovingly explores the beauty of the ice and the water in, through, and around it. The focus coming ever closer to single circular point of ice through which the water burbles. This care is given to scenery throughout the movie. Inarritu sets up the background as both beautiful but uncaring background witness to the suffering of Glass. It is as if nature is saying, “Suffer…my beauty is unmarred by it and will endure.” An extra layer of darkness in a bleak movie. Still, these scenes are visually stunning.

My problem was that I had difficulty buying DiCaprio as the man driven by vengeance to endure such privation. his dialogue is sparse so that as a character he feels shallow. The flashbacks that are to give us a glimpse of what made him this person are more confusing than enlightening. As the movie progresses, the audience is treated to hallucinations that speak of a spirituality that seems to have no root. when it blossoms at the end, it feels false and tacked on. Tom Hardy delivers an excellent performance as the antagonist though. He makes horrible decisions for which we get to see the reasoning behind as well as the consequences. His dialogue, though sparse as well, still informs the audience who Fitzgerald is. His performance actually highlights the weaknesses that were very apparent in DiCaprio’s time upon the screen.

Overall, I would say that The Revenant was a good movie. It has the feel of Oscar bait for DiCaprio, which it most certainly is. It provides a cinematic experience filled with natural beauty and suffering ensured for revenge. In the end, I was unconcerned about the outcome as it was a forgone conclusion. I just wished the conclusion could have come sooner. The Revenant gets two out of four bear paws from me. It was good but could have been a bit less self indulgent. Time spent on nature could have been cut while still making me more connected to someone other than the villain of the piece.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

star-wars-force-awakens-official-posterI sense a disturbance in the Force.

It was as if a million voices cried out. Finally!

Star Wars: The Force Awakens has finally premiered in theaters this past weekend. It was the last movie that I was looking forward to seeing this year.

I was not disappointed.

 

First, I need to be transparent. I was going into this movie with much trepidation. I went to the midnight showings of the Episodes 1 through 3 and was mightily disappointed in those movies. The hype behind this iteration of Star Wars has been building for a year. It was hard for me to be open minded when we were getting ready to see this movie in the theater.

I and two of my best friends went to see it on a Saturday afternoon in a theater that had 21 and up seating which always makes movie-going a nice experience.

When the final credits rolled off the screen, I had fallen in love with Star Wars again.

the things that struck me at the end of the movie that I had missed in the prior movies was that this was Star Wars. It had the feelings backed in that I had experienced when watching Episode 4 through 6 when I was a much younger. The Force Awakens captures this essence and blends in a more modern sensibility that feels natural and right.

I love the two new heroes that are setting out to save the galaxy from the evil of The First Order. Finn, a storm trooper that has decided that he can no longer follow the orders of an organization that will slaughter innocents.  Rey, A scavenger left behind on a desert world waiting for the return of family that she doesn’t clearly remember. Each of them is struggling to survive in place that seeks to subvert them. Finn flees the First Order that punishes any independent thought and Rey does what is right despite the thought she may miss the return of her missing family.

I like that we get to watch as both Rey and Finn struggle with these two contradictory drives. Finn wants to be his own person but that has the cost of being subject to the whims of the First Order. He flees them knowing that what they are doing is wrong and his means of escape is to do something right. Finn still has to understand that to do what’s right means standing your ground sometimes. the audience gets to see as he has to work through this as he and Rey struggle to get BB-8 back to the Resistance. Rey struggles with the idea that she can not leave the desert planet for fear of losing a family that might return. Rey still does the right thing despite the fear that she is going to miss them while she is gone. She has to come to terms that this idea that she has been nurturing is nothing but a fantasy. Rey has to step out of this illusion and become something other than a scavenger waiting for something that will never come.

On top of all this, Star Wars is still a space opera. It has thrilling chases, exciting space battles, and beautiful explosions. The movie is a visual delight that mixes practical effects, matte painted backgrounds, and CGI in a fashion that allows these movies to capture the feel of the first Star Wars and still look gorgeous.

If I had to quibble, I missed seeing more of the original cast in this movie. I had the feeling going in that this would be more of a torch passing movie that what it really is. We get to meet the villains and the new heroes and see what they both are made of in The Force Awakens. I love all the new characters but I expected more of the old.

Despite this minor quibble, I loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I plan on seeing it at least one more time in the theater. I give it four bear paws out of four. A definite must see for any geek out there.