Thursday, April 25, 2013

Pain & Gain - 2 1/2 stars

After 3 Transformers movies, Michael Bay is taking a break from huge, epic movies where cities are destroyed and giving us a small caper movie.  Small meaning a $25 million budget rather than $200 million.  And no giant robots or asteriods threatening the Earth.

This movie is supposedly based on a true story.  Three bodybuilders (Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Mackie, and Dwayne Johnson) kidnap a rich guy (Tony Shalhoub) and force him to sign all his assets over to him.  Then they try to kill him, but they're so incompetent that he survives.  While he's in the hospital, the police talk to him but they don't believe his story.  Once the kidnappers hear about this, they figure they're home free.  They have his house and his money, and they start living it up.

It may not sound like it, but this is actually a comedy.  Dwayne Johnson plays a born again Christian who's trying to stay out of trouble, besides the whole kidnapping thing.  He also happens to have a cocaine habit.  He's actually a pretty sweet guy, and he's incredibly gullible.  I don't usually like Dwayne Johnson in movies, but I enjoyed his character.

I got tired of Michael Bay's style a long time ago.  The camera never stops moving, and he puts in clever and unique camera angles and movements anywhere he possible can.  The editing is aslo very hectic, especially at the beginning of the movie.  The first 20 minutes felt like a long teaser the way it was cut together, and it was exhausting.  If the movie had stayed like that, I would have been very unhappy. 

Luckily the movie slows down a little once the plot kicks in.  It was very over the top and unbelievable, and it should have been at least 20 minutes shorter.  But I admit I was entertained at times.  There were some funny moments that made me laugh out loud.  This is one of those movies where I have some complaints, and I can't call it a very good movie, but I can almost recommend it.  Almost.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

April reviews

OBLIVION - 3 stars

An enjoyable if somewhat derivative science fiction action movie.  It looks incredible.  The movie takes place on a future Earth that's been decimated by war with an alien race.  After they destroyed the moon, earthquakes and tsunamis killed most of the population and the survivors fled to a moon of Saturn.  Tom Cruise plays Jack, one of the guys working on Earth as the clean up crew.  Just like after World War II when there were pockets of Japanese soldiers hiding in caves keeping the fight going, even though we won the war, there are still alien 'Scavs' who need to be hunted down.  Jack's job is to fix the drones that fly around looking for Scavs.  The drones also protect the gigantic devices that are collecting the water from Earth's oceans.

I saw this in IMAX and I really enjoyed the visuals.  The sound design and music is also really good.  The score reminded me of Inception.  But one problem is the movie seemed to drag in the beginning.  Right off the bat we're told the setup by voiceover narration, and we see Jack get into a really cool ship and fly down to the surface.  But then nothing much happens for 20 minutes or so.  I don't mind a slow, thoughtful sci-fi movie, but the trailers seemed to promise more action. 

You probably won't be surprised by some of the twists, and they're easy to see coming (if it's all true, why was his memory erased?), but that doesn't make it a bad movie.  Just familiar.  Worth seeing but not a game changer.

STARBUCK - 2 stars

Starbuck is a French Canadian movie about David, a deadbeat who owes money all over town.  As a young man he went to a sperm bank hundreds of times, and now 20 years or so later, a lawyer shows up to inform him that he fathered 533 children.  Of those, 142 have joined a class action lawsuit to force the clinic to reveal his identity.  These kids just want to know who their biological dad was.

The movie is played for laughs, but the movie is very uneven.  I didn't laugh much, partly because I couldn't buy the premise.  Once the lawsuit gets into the papers, none of the kids realizes what they are doing.  They want to know who the donor was, but do they want to ruin his life?  The media is running stories on this 'pervert', and he becomes a locally hated (but anonymous) celebrity.  We never meet any of these kids' parents.  It's not like David slept around and left their mothers when they were young.  All these kids were born because a woman or a couple couldn't conceive and went to a sperm bank.  Also, one of the kids finds out who he is and blackmails him into hanging out for a while.  But after 15 - 20 minutes of this kid being in the story, he disappears with no explanation. 

Another complaint is that there are far too many montages.  In fact, the moment I was most looking forward to was played as a montage.  The trial begins and we don't get to hear anything the lawyers or kids say.  It's all played to music.

I didn't enjoy this movie much.  There are a few funny moments, especially in the prologue when he's getting to work at the sperm bank and takes a break to read the articles. 

TRANCE - 3 1/2 stars

There's something satisfying about being in the hands of a good director, and Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 127 Hours) is definitely a good director.  In this movie, Simon (James McAvoy) works at an art auction house which is robbed during the opening credits.  Simon's job in the event of a robbery is to take the most expensive painting, put it in a bag, and drop it in the chute which leads to some time lock safe.  Before he can do that, he is intercepted by the leader of the thieves, Franck (Vincent Cassel).  Franck hits Simon on the head with his shotgun and takes the painting.

Once in the getaway car, Franck opens the bag to find the painting is gone.  Simon hid it before he was intercepted.  So Franck and the gang kidnap Simon to find out where the painting is.  The problem is Simon has amnesia and can't remember that day, so he has no idea where the paiting is.  They take Simon to a hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) to get him to remember. 

This is one of those thrillers that makes you think you are missing something because there seems to be some plot holes.  But as the movie goes along, we get some backstory that fills in those gaps.  That's partly what I meant about being in the hands of a good director.  Even when I was confused by the characters' behavior, I knew that soon we would be told why they were behaving that way.  It isn't a spoiler to reveal that Simon was in on the robbery, or that the hypnotherapist was not chosen at random.  I'm not sure the story really holds together in the end, and I wish there had been at least one plot twist fewer, but I had a great time watching this movie.

EVIL DEAD - 3 stars

I'm a big fan of the original trilogy, and I was apprehensive when I heard about this remake.  For years fans have been asking Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell whether they would ever make Evil Dead 4.  I don't know how I would like seeing a 50 year old Ash running around fighting Deadites, so I guess if we were going to get another Evil Dead, this was the way to go. 

I'm not sure if it's a remake, a reboot, or a sequel.  There is no reason this movie couldn't take place 20 or 30 years after the previous movies in the same cabin, so that's how I look at it. 

One problem is the cast is very bland.  There is only one Bruce Campbell and any actor who tries to imitate him would probably not come across very well, but the actors in this movie are so forgettable.  We have the standard teenagers going to a cabin in the woods, reading from the book of the dead, summoning evil spirits, and mayhem ensues.  The tree rape scene is in there, and it's more gruesome and hard to watch than I remember it in the first movie.  There are buckets and buckets of blood, and people cutting limbs off with carving knives, and a nail gun ...

The movie works as a horror movie.  It doesn't have the same comedic tone the previous movies had, and some times I laughed when I was supposed to be scared.  But it was an enjoyable night at the movies. 

THE HOST - 1 star

The Host is the worst movie I have seen this year.  It takes a traditional body snatchers story idea and completely screws it up.  Just like Stephanie Meyer did with the Twilight saga, she turns a good premise into another excuse for a teenage girl to pine for a boy who won't sleep with her.

Most body snatcher movies take place before anything is wrong.  One day, a character starts behaving strangely.  Then another, then another, until the main character figures out that aliens are taking over, and those people are not themselves anymore.  This movie takes place after this has already happened.  99% of the planet's population have already been taken over by aliens, and they are looking for the remaining humans who are trying to fight back.

To save her brother by distracting the aliens, a girl named Melanie jumps out a window and falls to her death.  But she doesn't die.  Why not?  She has a strong will to live.  They put an alien inside her - the aliens look like these glowing jellyfish that they insert at the back of the neck - and the alien, named Wanderer posesses her body. But since she isn't dead, Melanie is able to communicate with the Wanderer.  This gives the author an easy way to get all Melanie's inner monologue in the movie. 

Melanie convinces Wanderer to escape and leads her to a hideout where the human resistance, including her family and boyfriend, are hiding out.  Of course they immediately want to kill her because they assume it's the alien, and Melanie decides not to tell them she's still alive in there.  And in another nod to Twilight, Wanderer starts to fall for another boy.  So instead of Melanie wanting two different boys, she likes one and Wanderer likes the other.

This movie was just really dumb.  I was bored and irritated almost the entire time.  Stay away from The Host.