Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Under the Skin - 3 stars

This movie is really interesting.  Scarlett Johansson plays an alien who preys on young men in Scotland.  She seems to have no emotions, but she is able to smile and flirt when trying to pick up her victims.  She drives around in a van and asks men for directions.  If she convinces them to get in her van, she takes them somewhere and they don't come back.

I know this sounds like Species, but it couldn't be more different.  This is like Species if it was made by Stanley Kubrick.  Director Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast, Birth) likes to shoot long, unnerving takes.  The first five minutes of the movie seems to be an eyeball being formed while we listen to her trying to speak like a human for the first time. 

There are some really cool, creepy sequences in this movie.  I love the way she leads her victims to ... wherever it is they go.  I'm not sure if what we're seeing is supposed to be literal, or just representative of what's happening to them, but it's fascinating to watch.  I also love the sound design.  Sometimes it's hard to tell whether you're hearing sound effects or musical score, but the sounds all help create this atmosphere that's very unique to this movie.

Some people will be bored watching it.  It takes it's time, and there isn't a whole lot of dialogue for long stretches at a time.  It isn't a traditional narrative, and the movie leaves you with a lot of questions.  In the hands of a less talented director, that could be a problem.  But the movie just works so well that none of that bothered me.  It's been two weeks since I've seen it, and there are things I just can't get out of my head.  I really need to see this again. 

The Other Woman - 1 1/2 stars

Cameron Diaz is sleeping with this guy.  One night, she surprises him at his house and discovers that he's married.  His wife (Leslie Mann) is very upset when she learns that her husband is cheating on her, but she's not mad at Cameron Diaz.  She understands that Diaz had no idea that he was married.

The two become good friends and eventually decide to get revenge on him.  They follow him on a "business trip" and discover that he has another mistress (Kate Upton).  They recruit her, and "hijinks" ensue. 

How are they going to teach him a lesson, you ask?  Well, how about putting hair removal cream in his shampoo, and putting a laxative in his wine while he's at a fancy restaurant.  Hilarious!  And you just know that Girls Just Want to Have Fun is going to play over a montage of them planning their schemes. 

This movie just isn't very good.  It's supposed to be a comedy, but I didn't laugh much.  Leslie Mann made me chuckle now and then, but she had to work really hard for those laughs.  Cameron Diaz bored me, but Kate Upton did okay. 

Brick Mansions - 2 stars

The late Paul Walker stars as Damien Collier, an undercover cop.  Set in the near future, Brick Mansions is the most dangerous section of Detroit.  It's become overrun with crime and the city has sectioned it off from the rest of the city in order to keep the good people of Detroit safe.  Officer Collier is sent in to find and disarm a neutron bomb which could wipe out the entire city.

In his efforts, Collier teams up with Lino Dupree (David Belle).  Lino's girlfriend is being held hostage by Tremaine Alexander (RZA), a crime lord who also happens to be the one in possession of the bomb. 

The best thing about the movie is the action.  David Belle is one of the founders of Parkour, and he's a lot of fun to watch.  The opening 10 minutes of this movie are a great showcase of what Parkour is all about and it's great.  He runs across buildings and climbs up walls like Spiderman.  It's great stuff, but it does feel a little dated.  It seems like Parkour was a big deal about 10 years ago.  There was that great Parkour sequence in Casino Royale, and The Office did a bit about it as well. 

Dated or not, it's still fun to watch.  But all of Belle's dialogue is dubbed, and it's so bad it's distracting.  His French accent must be pretty strong, and the filmmakers worried that the Fast & Furious fans wouldn't like it.  Speaking of F&F, this feels a lot like those movies.  Paul Walker is basically playing the same character, and once again he falls in with criminals who turn out to be pretty nice guys.  By the end, they're all one big family.  I was just waiting for the scene where they all have a barbecue together.

The movie doesn't suck, but it's nothing special.  A little humor here and there, but not much.  Good action, but filmed and edited in that shaky cam, close up fashion like every other action movie these days.  I wish once in a while they would hold the camera still and film the action in a wide shot so that we can see the choreography play out.

Oh yeah, one more thing.  You know how in movies like this, the bad guys can't hit anything?  There can be 10 guys with machine guns firing at Paul Walker, and all he has to do is hunch over like he's trying to get out of the rain.  I can deal with that.  But at one point, there's a guy on a two-story roof with a sniper rifle, and he still can't hit Paul Walker.  That's just ridiculous. 

Transcendence - 1 1/2 stars

Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is a scientist working on artificial intelligence.  He works with his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and friend Max (Paul Bettany).  One day, he is shot and poisoned by luddite terrorists.  When he realizes he has less than a month to live, he decides to upload his consciousness into his computer system.  His wife supports this idea, but Max is skeptical. 

Obviously it works, or we wouldn't have a movie.  Once he's in the computer, he immediately wants to be connected to the internet.  Max, being a rational scientists, thinks they should take their time.  Evelyn, no longer rational, says "How dare you?  Get out!" and immediately uploads her husband's consciousness onto the web. 

Is it really him, or is it just his memory patterns?  The movie doesn't really sweat these details.  You would think that Evelyn would be so overjoyed to have her dead husband back that she would talk to him.  You would think she would ask what it feels like.  But no, she just turns into his willing servant, doing whatever she can to help him.  That's probably my biggest complaint about this movie.  No one has a conversation.  Every line of dialogue is movie speak which only serves to further the plot.  No characters are developed in any way.

There is a lot of potential to this premise, but the movie isn't smart enough to know what to do with it.  Instead it just becomes a dumb action movie.  Evelyn goes to a small town in the middle of nowhere and starts building some technological utopia.  Using nanotechnology, the virtual Dr. Caster starts to heal the townspeople of whatever ails them, then turns them into super soldiers.  Max is captured by the luddite terrorists, and eventually seems to join them (although that isn't really clear).  Morgan Freeman is also in this movie.  At first he is a researcher, but in the second half of the movie it seems like he has joined the FBI.

I have a lot of problems with this movie.  I already mentioned the lack of normal, human conversations.  Besides that, the movie jumps ahead two years without any good reason or explanation about what's been happening.  The characters' motivations make no sense.  I don't care how distraught Evelyn was when her husband dies, or how shocked he might be when he returns in virtual form.  I just can't believe that she would go along with everything he says without any hesitation or questioning.  Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy are totally wasted in this movie.  And Johnny Depp looks as bored in this movie as I was watching it.

Oculus - 3 1/2 stars

This is a movie about a haunted mirror that possesses people and makes them kill.  Seriously.

When Kaylie and Tim were kids, their father purchased an antique mirror and hung it in his study.  Gradually, their parents went insane and bad stuff happened.  Eleven years later, Tim is being released from a mental hospital.  He is greeted by Kaylie who reminds him that he made a promise to help her destroy the mirror when they found it again.  Well, she has found it, and tonight's the night.

The premise sounds kind of ridiculous, but the movie is an incredibly effective horror movie.  One thing I really liked about it was the way it connected the events of the past with the events of the present and told both stories simultaneously.  We don't learn what happened to them as kids until near the end of the movie, and by that point they are hallucinating so much that we aren't sure whether we are watching a flashback, or whether the characters are seeing themselves as kids. 

There's really nothing more I can say about the movie without spoiling the surprises.  There seems to be another possession movie or Paranormal Activity knock off every few months.  This movie puts them all to shame.  If you like horror movies, go see it. 

Draft Day - 3 1/2 stars

It's Draft Day in the NFL.  The GM of the Cleveland Browns, Sonny Weaver Jr. (Costner) is in for a hell of a day.  He's under a lot of pressure to draft a player who will save the franchise.  He makes a trade to move up in the draft, but the trade he makes pisses everyone off, including the coach (Dennis Leary) and his mom (Ellen Burstyn).  His father also died a week before.  His dad was the previous coach of the Browns until he was fired (Sonny did the firing).  On top of all that, his girlfriend (Jennifer Garner) has just told him that she's pregnant.  She works in the office with him, but their relationship is a secret.

I don't care much for football, but I loved this movie.  Costner is great as a man who's doing the best he can under tremendous pressure.  His scenes with Leary are great, especially the scene where Leary comes into Costner's office after setting the team playbook on fire.  I did get a little tired of Costner and Garner sneaking around all the time.  It seems like every 10 minutes, he pulls her into a closet so they'll have some privacy and be able to talk about the baby.  It gets a little old, but that's a minor complaint.

This movie was just a lot of fun.  There is a lot of humor, including Costner always yelling at Garner's new intern.  The humor was a bit broad at times, but it still made me chuckle.

This is the perfect role for Kevin Costner.  He always seems to do his best when he's in a sports movie or a western, and this is his best work since Open Range in 2003.  The movie builds to a great climax where the draft is under way, the clock is ticking, and he has to make phone calls to other GMs and really think on his feet.  Everything wraps up a little too nicely, but by that point I was so invested in his character that I wanted to see everything work out for him.  This is just a delightful movie.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier - 3 stars

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger, and the ninth movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Set two years after the events in The Avengers, Captain Steve Rogers works for SHIELD and is trying to adapt to a contemporary society.  

After an action packed opening where Captain America and a bunch of SHIELD agents rescue hostages from a ship that’s been hijacked by Algerian pirates, Rogers discovers SHIELDS newest plan, Project Insight.  It consists of three Helicarriers linked to spy satellites and designed to preemptively eliminate threats.  When he asks too many questions, he’s targeted by SHIELD as a traitor and he’s forced to go on the run.  The only people he can trust are Black Widow (Scarlett Johanssen), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and his newest friend, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie).

There’s a great sequence early in the movie where Rogers is at SHIELD headquarters, alone in an elevator and a bunch of soldiers get in with him.  He quickly realizes that they’re preparing to jump him, so he says “Before we get started, does anyone want to get off?”  What follows is a really cool fight between Rogers and like 10 soldiers in a small elevator.

One problem with the movie is it’s 2 ½ hours long – it really doesn’t need to be.  There are a few too many scenes of characters having the same discussion over and over.  And every line spoken by Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) is stilted and lame movie-speak.  Not that Redford does a bad job, he just doesn't have much to work with.

 But the action scenes were pretty cool.  There’s a scene where Nick Fury is ambushed on the streets by a bunch of soldiers with machine guns, and we get to see how resourceful and cool under pressure Fury is, as well as all the cool gadgets he has in his car.  

One of my favorite scenes is when Rogers meets Sam Wilson for the first time.  Rogers says he’s trying to catch up on everything he missed over the last 70 years.  Wilson tells him to check out a Morris Day and the Time album, and Rogers pulls out his little notebook where he has a list of things he missed, like Disco, Rocky and Star Wars.

The ending is a little overblown.  Just like in every big action movie nowadays, they have to have a finale where buildings are destroyed.  The ending goes on a little too long, and I got a little tired of Captain America's fights with the Winter Soldier.  The first fight was great, because we see how strong he is and how Rogers may be no match for this guy.  But by the end, he's fought him like five times and it gets a little too routine.

As in all Marvel movies, you have to stick around after the credits for a couple of scenes teasing upcoming movies.  I have no idea what they mean and I need to find a comic book geek to explain it to me, but it's a fun way for the movie to say "On the next episode of The Avengers ..."