The Bourne Legacy
A legacy is sort of a reputation or asset that someone triesto leave behind in good stead. My legacy for example should, I hope, be an ironclad testament to integrity, investment return, and honor…maybe tequila. The Bourne Legacy is not what you might say is a lasting impression of what came before it. This would be the 4th movie in a franchise that has attempted to single itself out as the U.S. competitor to James Bond but beyond being “cat & mouse” films little has changed over the years. They aren’t in fact much more than chase movies still, no evil is thwarted, no lives are saved and the motivations are always the same for the opposing team. For many years they’ve tried to kill Jason Bourne and keep his story under wraps but it looks as though in the “Legacy” installment things might start to get a bit more hairy and uncontrollable.
The movie starts with the wholesale destruction of the Treadstone and Blackbriar programs. Shit has become unmanageable as Jason Bourne comes to New York and outs the entire program. The project must then be disavowed and destroyed before the government has to answer for its existence. We do learn a great deal more about where Treadstone came from, what it was intended for and where Jason Bourne technically went wrong but the film is now focused on a new character: Aaron Cross.
Aaron (Jeremy Renner) is one of nine deep cover agents experimented on to increase performance and intelligence. There is a pharmaceutical agency in charge of producing time-released viral agents which are responsible for these enhancements. With Blackbriar and Treadstone being demolished all of the agents are “assassinated” and the scientists are murdered. Aaron survives an unsupervised missile attack in a remote stretch of Alaska and one of the main researchers, Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), also lives through her “murder” ordeal leading to two loose ends that the Treadstone “clean up” team must therefore handle. This is where the chase mechanic picks up right where it was left off 5 years ago, and where each Bourne movie seems to get its sense of self.
Aaron must get from Alaska to the East Coast to save the researcher all the while suffering from a potentially deadly withdrawal from the program’s medication. Once he has saved her from a second, almost successful, clean-up attempt they are on their way to solving his existential problems.
It should be noted that Jeremy Renner’s Aaron Cross is a much more dynamic character than Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne. Because Aaron doesn’t have to be an uncaring badass the entire time we warm up to his cause much more quickly. We are also more sure that Aaron is a good guy caught in the wrong place instead of Bourne’s mysterious and nameless secret operative. Aaron is also an orphan, and chemically dependent on the program meds so he’s pretty much pulling all the pity cards.
We do find ourselves traveling to exotic locales in The Bourne Legacy but both Aaron and Marta aren’t really fighting an evil machine, the previous three Bourne films at least had that much going for them. Jason was always trying to fully understand his past and discover what his purpose was. Aaron already knew who he was, what he was support to do and how bad it all was. It seems as though Aaron’s character was there more to make Marta feel guilty for the research and modifications that she did in the name of the project.
One of the things that stuck out for me was the lack of excitement during a fair number of the chase scenes that are seemingly so paramount to a Bourne movie succeeding. At the end of the film Aaron and Marta are chased by a next-generation Treadstone terrorist-operative known only as LARX #3 played by Louis Ozawa Changchien. They escape into the streets of the city Manila in the Philippines going who knows where. Shots are disjointed, action crosses lines and frequently the only emotion portrayed for minutes on end is frustration and fear. LARX #3 chases them on foot, in a car and then a motorcycle nearly killing Aaron in the process. At the end of the film Aaron Cross is disabled by a single bullet in his thigh and LARX #3 is disposed of by Marta kicking him off his motorcycle…so much for the indestructibility of the Treadstone/Blackbriar/LARX operatives. I actually paused at the end of the film and said to myself there must be something more to the final scenes. One second they are chasing each other on motorcycle and the next scene change is the credit sequence. It could be argued that if this was meant to reboot or resuscitate the Bourne franchise it tried to do so using a defunct defibrillator.
The experiment that is the “American Spy Movie” failed pretty spectacularly. We now have four films seemingly dedicated to the assemblage and destruction of a honorless special operatives division of the CIA. Bourne and Aaron can only fight their own government and even then those who they fight are faceless bureaucrats not sinister villains. Even so these bureaucrats aren’t intent on causing harm to normal civilians, yes their work is dirty but you don’t see them holding the world’s water supply hostage or attempting to wipe a country off the face of the planet. For this franchise we have to think in smaller terms. In the Bourne movies usually the person who is the most effective is the person calling the shots from a dark corner of a command center, while this is scary it doesn’t make for an interesting plot once we get to movie 4 or hour 9 in the story.
Here’s some weird stuff that immediately jumped out at me while watching the film and had me saying to myself “that really made it into the script?”. Aaron tells Marta to take the fake passports and money he’s been carrying and that if anything happens to him that she knows how to lay low and basically live off the land. WTF? You mean to tell me that a star scientist in genomic mutations research has the street smarts to navigate the slums of the world all the while avoiding the most sinister secret agency concocted in modern fiction? Was it Aaron trying to give Marta confidence? Was he lying to her? Did he get delusional suddenly and forget who he was escorting? Well it didn’t really come off as any of that at all, it just seems like a stereotypical line a hero would say to someone he’s protecting.
The final lines of the film also bothered me. Marta asks if they “are lost” and then rebuffs Aaron by saying that she sure hoped they could be. Aaron wraps up a nautical chart as if he has a plan and then they sail or rather put put off into the setting sun. So that’s it? You play that crappy song from the previous films as we get the credit sequence like there’s something we’re supposed to get about that interchange but you didn’t tell us what it’s might be? I sat wide eyed until well after the credits hoping there was more to the film. Maybe Matt Damon would show up contacting Aaron and Marta and they would concoct a plan hinting at a 5th installment for the story. Even still maybe Aaron Cross and Jason Bourne could return to the U.S. and re-enter government service outside of the Treadstone/Blackbriar program. At least with one of these endings we won’t be forced to sit through another Bourne movie that has a faceless government agency as the villain. Maybe someday Bourne and Cross will be actual agents instead of disavowed rodents that a bureaucrat wants squashed like a bug.
The Bourne Identity has been perverted beyond repair. If it was intended for a single story or film then it has been stretched way too thin and can never support the weight of a proper spy franchise. With The Bourne Legacy the clean slate script and fresh directing should have given this story new legs but instead it lamely attempts to say to the viewer “see there’s still Jason Bourne’s demons in here somewhere. The American Spy Movie isn’t dead by a long shot. If you want a simple badass hero that saves the day and has the limitless potential for future movies then look no further than Haywire. Gina Carano is Mallory Kane a entirely capable heroine who takes down the corrupt center of her spy agency and is now free to work for the secret government once again. Or Safe House where both Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) and Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) battle their organization’s demons only to come out on top. To put it simply the Bourne series has a lot to live up to now and with James Bond returning in Skyfall later this year it may have been too little too late.
OK Jeremy Renner
Great Edward Norton
Normal Rachel Weisz
Not anything like James Bond
less than Haywire
less than Safe House
The Dark Knight Rises
We knew this day was coming, Batman would invariably have to continue the show to an epic conclusion without Heath Ledger as The Joker. When we last left out caped crusader on film he had captured Joker but hadn’t yet solved how he was going to handle the chaos and unpredictable nature of his crimes. We saw Dr. Crane defeated soundly and reduced to a simple drug peddler as Joker literally tore down Gotham City to the corrupt base roots of its foundation. So what could director Christopher Nolan do finalize his take on the Batman story?
We’ve known about the villains for months, and we’ve been treated to shot after shot of what each character looks like in costume now all that remained was to pile into a theater and see how all the actors lined up. The Dark Knight rises was a modern film opera in the truest sense of the words. A moment of low energy was not sacrificed seemingly for the greater good of the story. The entire “final” saga of this Batman was on display with all of its flaws and heroic moments which may be only rivaled by the David S. Goyer and Nolan backed “Man of Steel”.
Without giving away too much of the film’s final moments, The Dark Knight Rises takes some of Batman’s most memorable characters & villians and repurposes them into what I will henceforth refer to Christopher Nolan’s DC universe as: The Nolanverse. So in The Nolanverse Bane isn’t a South American wrestler, Talia al Ghul’s sole purpose is aligned with her father’s and Robin may come out of left field as someone we never expected. Yes The Nolanverse is a confusing place where we have changed the meaning of the comic book characters and even re-directed their motives to serve the greater narrative that has been written since Batman Begins first debuted in theaters. Is this a bad thing? Not even a little bit and I’ll tell you why.
Batman is a character who has been imagined dozens of different ways since his introduction to the DC family by Bob Kane. Now it is sad to note that the greatest perversions of his character came into existence just before his death in 1998 but his legacy has lived on in countless recreations that have honored his legacy to the creative integrity of Batman. Batman must grapple with intense situations, a lack of superpowers, and has to distance himself from his real-life allies. The Nolanverse is no different. Bruce Wayne has lost his family and a handful of dear friends. Batman has lost his allies one by one and must watch his city slide into chaos while fighting his old demons. If anything this Batman world is just as much a part of the greater Mythos as any other interpretation.
The Dark Knight Rises is a triumph that shows our hero beaten and battered. It gives us our hope dead on arrival and further trashes it in front of us on screen. Bruce Wayne is defeated and Batman is beaten into submission. Only when we have lost all sense of control does the hero rise again to fight for the good people of Gotham. Monumental music accompanies each vignette as we follow the fall and rise of a figurative martyr. Nolan seems to believe that Batman is a representation of what it means to be hopeful in a city as decrepit as Gotham. It therefore befits the hero to die and be reborn as a Christ-like figure that must pay for our sins.
Unfortunately it does not stop there. Christopher Nolan’s previous films have left us with questions as to what really happened at the end of the film. In Inception did Cobb get out of his mind or did he get trapped in his false reality forever? If you are keen and aware then you can pick up on the intricacies of the story. Carefully selected shots guide you to your own answers so that you can experience the story in your own mind. The Dark Knight Rises forgoes much of this experience and instead shows you the answers to any questions you might have had. It completely betrays the sense of wonder that exists at the end of the film instead replacing it with the hope for a sequel or reassurance that everyone is “alright”. This is the type of thing that WB might do when prepping a sequel but it is not the kind of thing that Christopher Nolan is well known for. It begs the question; will there be a director’s cut of the movie that repackages the ending in a manner that truly closes out this trilogy instead of marketing a future continuation of the Batman Nolanverse?
Apart from these minor failings the entire movie is a grand finale. Great music and set design with superb acting by everyone. Of special note here is Michael Caine who played Alfred in all three Nolan films. His emotional connection to both Bruce Wayne as a father figure and Batman as a protector made for probably the strongest points of the film near the end. Alfred must choose how he accepts the Bruce Wayne/Batman character. Can he mend the psyche of a broken child who wants to avenge his parents and fix the business structure of the city? Or should he mentor the anti-hero in time to prevent him sacrificing himself to a monstrous city with an insatiable appetite. In short it is Alfred who does the most changing during the Nolanverse films and Caine should be commended for a fantastic performance. Ohh yah Inception too.
Amazing visuals, poignant music, epic chase scenes. This is just as much a summer movie as Avengers was/is and if you’re a fan of superhero movies then I’d say you’d be a fool to miss out on this much fun. The Dark Knight Rises only missteps once or twice with a still funky Christian Bale gruffy VO for Batman and hitting the viewer on the nose with the secrets at the end of the film. Nolan and WB should allow the viewer to experience the adept story and have their own revelations rather than guiding them shot by shot in the final frames of the film. I left the theater feeling as though Batman was done a sort of justice with the ending of this movie. I sorely wanted for there to be another 2 hours of film showing Robin taking the helm and another return of Batman many many years later.
Alas we don’t have something big for Batman on the horizon. What we do have is the startup of the Justice League which is spearheaded by the reboot of Superman by Sycopy, Christopher Nolan and WB. We will have to see if what comes out of this a few years from now is the legendary debut on screen of the famed justice organization much in same way The Avengers was guided to pasture. We can hope for the time being that DC go the picture. With Marvel’s Avengers dominating the box office this summer hopefully they see now how a superhero team can be assembled. If they see that then maybe someday we can have Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman finally share the same live action screen without the collective audience holding back a chuckle or two.
The Amazing Spiderman
I really only jumped up, walked out and immediately wanted to review one Spiderman movie this decade, The Amazing Spiderman was admittedly not that movie. This film is a reimagining of the superhero movie that debuted nearly 10 years ago to the day and it doesn’t manage to set itself apart at all even with all the time and planning spent on it. That is one of the most poignant things I kept rolling around my mind after walking out of the theater. With hundreds of millions of dollars spent producing and another countless millions spent on marketing it’s shaping up to be an Amazing disappointment for a reboot.
The Amazing Spiderman stars Andrew Garfield as the titular Spiderman who underneath is a troubled boy named Peter Parker who attempts to find the truth about his parents disappearance. Both parents worked for and were chased out of town by Oscorp/Norman Osborn after they failed to give up the details of their advanced genetics research. The clincher is that this research may or may have not included their son as a test bed. I was surprised at first at how well it was “different” from Spiderman (2002) but still conveyed the comic books and the story I had grown to love. Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) wasn’t some pushover spouting stuff about “great powers” and “great responsibilities”, Aunt May (Sally Field) was a little harder and less babying of Peter, and Mary Jane was out while Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) was in! So by the half hour point I was 4 for 4 on addressing my main complaints about the previous films. Then that’s when things got progressively worse with each passing minute.
I started my journey into the world of Andrew Garfield as a Spiderman nearly a year and a half ago as casting rumors and set pictures started to swirl. These pictures showed Andrew with a full blown Edward Cullen hairdo. Initially I let the hair pass, because hey if the movie was good and the action was solid I could care less what the head looked like. I could stomach it even more once the mask went on. But the movie ended up being far worse than I could have expected. Uncle Ben gets shot in much the same manner he has in every iteration, but instead of being heartwrenching and sad we sit in the theater saying to ourselves “well you shouldn’t have done that Ben, you’re 60 and this dude looks like a hardened criminal”. We are also forced to watch Andrew Garfield grimace his way through Peter Parker. In an age where Danny Glover was suggested for the role of Spiderman/Miles Morales why does Uncle Ben have to be shot and why do I get stuck with a smirking Andrew Garfield? Also what reason does Peter have to suddenly take up the mantle of City Protector? At any point during the scriptwriting did someone ask if they really needed Uncle Ben to die to get Spiderman going? The short answer is No, I was fully prepared for Peter to don the mask even without Ben dying. Peter was always searching for a way to belong and his new spider powers allowed him to do something good.
The villain is Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) who was expertly cast as the overzealous scientist who turns himself into a lizard-man in a misguided attempt to regrow one of his arms. The Lizard is a quintessential villain to the Spiderman universe so introducing him was an ok idea after Sam Raimi expired so many of the evil characters Parker has to battle in the Comic Books. After Raimi we were left with an odd assortment including a buzzard, an electrically charged psycho, a scorpion man, Kingpin or the Lizard. While Lizard was a good choice because it represents the scientific side of Peter Parker and his inevitable link to his scholarly pursuits, it was already hinted at in the previous Spiderman films. If this movie was trying to set itself apart then it should have steered well away from a gunshot wounded Uncle Ben and the zealot Lizard.
Following the story elements the music is tired…uninspired even. Sultry piano pieces flow right back onto Emo songs with blunt vocals highlighting the troubles of teen relationships and high school bullies. Scenes towards the end of the film are taken right out of a book on overused movie tropes. One such example is a funeral scene that takes place outside a rainy church with dozens of umbrellas. These severely detract from the movie and instead of enjoying a heartfelt scene between Parker and Stacey you sit there wondering how you could have changed things as a fan so you could enjoy the movie more. A few cuts here, less cheesy music all over, cut out that shot entirely, cut out bad dialogue every other scene. This movie has the viewer wilfully removing large portions of the story and action in order to rectify ideas in their head. Hardly a good reboot if you ask me.
There’s still some interesting parallels between the 2002 Spiderman and this Amazing Spiderman especially when it comes to them being based in New York. There were significant scenes cut from the original movie because of the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The WTC featured prominently in the city, in key scenes from the trailers and seemingly the movie at large. Some of the failings of the 2012 “Amazing” version are directly related to the September 11th attacks and the compensation for them in the film. Near the end of the film there is a scene where Parker has been shot in the leg and must traverse a good number of city blocks to get to the Oscorp tower in time to save the city. The crane workers know Spiderman can’t make it without their help so they move all their crane arms over the city streets to help him swing the rest of the way. It is here where the movie really shows it is trying to substitute a sense of pride for a sense of pity. We aren’t rooting for Spiderman we are pitying the people of New York and lifting them so they can help in turn. It doesn’t come off as genuine instead it seems like a badly written idea that was filmed painstakingly to reinforce how much help Parker needs from the city of New York to finish his job. We throw away the support of his family, the need to save the city, the willingness to risk his life for Gwen Stacey and instead are left with a limp reminder that crane operators are still working to this day to rebuild the city. Yes it is a poorly veiled attempt to show that New York is a city of fortitude and resilience but it falls well short of inspiring hope or heroism. This also doesn’t serve to reference earlier scenes in the film that show Peter Parker should be able to handle himself against both the Lizard and the city cops so he doesn’t need a dozen or so cranes to traverse a few city blocks.
Story, Musical and Graphical elements aside there is one foul member of this cast who deserves the most blame for failing to represent what Spiderman truly is. Andrew Garfield is an atrocious representation of what is wrong with the American nerd. I never woke up one day as a geeky science kid and felt that my hair needed a copious amount of “product”. I wasn’t skateboarding through the hallways in a blatant disregard for the rules. Most importantly I definitely didn’t wander around school moping about my love life even though the hottest girl in school was hopelessly interested in me. This is a Spiderman for mopey people who are endlessly down on themselves! This is not for the bullied or persecuted. This is not a Peter Parker who embraces the ways of science (he merely repurposes it for himself rather haphazardly). This is a sad Spiderman who flops through the film and generally messes up everyone’s life without remorse. There were calls for a complete reboot of the franchise with a Miles Morales version of Spiderman helming the new trilogy. My biggest problem with The Amazing Spiderman now is that I didn’t get to see Danny Glover web his way through Manhattan. Instead I get a floppy Andrew Garfield who in the final moments of the film is flashing a quirky grin after nearly failing to save the city. unfortunately I may be subjected to 2 more movies featuring this lost soul and another generation will grow up with a weak Spiderman who never masters his relationships or his familial problems.
A Quick Note
Some people may have noticed that my works have been popping up with my permission on Nerdluster.com. I have begun reviewing movies and writing movie articles for them in an anonymous capacity and I would not only appreciate it if you looked for my pieces there but also enjoy the site as it already has a few good people working to bring you all sorts of Nerdtastic culture and curios. I will continue to post my reviews here but considering the task of juggling two content management systems you might see stuff pop up there quicker than it does here. Feel free to drop me a line here and as always if you want me to check out a particularly horrible movie just request and I will track it down and watch the heck out of it with my trusty notepad.
Brave is an odd story that mixes a bit of one genre and a select portion of half a dozen others. By the end of the story you might be wondering who the true villain is in all this mess and you’d be right to question your preconceptions of what “evil” really is. Who’s at fault, who should recompense and who might care?
Brave follows a young Celtic princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) as she struggles to define herself in an age and culture where you are ultimately defined by your parents. Merida is different though, her parents are the rightful King and Queen of four individual kingdoms whereas theirs is the 4th and leading kingdom. Being the only firstborn daughter among the Kings of the land she is expected to wed one of the firstborn sons to unite and strengthen the kingdom. Merida is a strong and independent young woman though, a mirror of her father Fergus. Fergus is the strongest and most able of the kings, voiced by Billy Connolly. Merida can ride, shoot and survive better than any of her peers, boy or girl. This independence allows her to break from the mold and begin to make her own decisions in the matter of her life and most importantly her destiny. Destiny is the key marker for Brave as the young princess struggles with how her’s is defined and if she can change it at all.
Merdia is desperate for a way to convince her seemingly overbearing mother Elinor (Emma Thompson) from forcing her to marry one of the three suitors. Unable to fight for her own hand or verbally convince her mother she turns to a mysterious character in the woods, who sells bear carvings and potions, to change her mother’s mind and by proxy her “destiny”. Here’s where the story becomes muddled a bit. The character Merida finds in the woods is The Witch voiced by Julie Walters and she doesn’t seem so evil at all. She dupes Merida into buying all her wares and also produces a potion by which she can convince her mother to “change her fate”. That seems despicable enough though, we all know what happens when a doped apple eaten, or in this case a roofied tart gets digested. Brave tries this tested tale but doesn’t sail right into it, there is a twist near the middle portion of the movie that I didn’t see coming from a mile away.
By the end of the film we realize the mistakes that Merida and Elinor have made some about what they can expect from each other as mother and daughter, but also Queen and Princess. It teaches a good story about independence but also the importance of family. Don’t nearly all Disney/Pixar films do that? Let’s see…Nope they all do that. So what defines Brave apart from its predecessors? Well to start it features a new segment of the Anglo Saxon, European population as the protagonist. It highlights a culture that is often stereotyped but at the same time waters down the true meaning of family and togetherness that is so imbued in that very culture. All that can be said at the end is that this is a story about a mother who expects her daughter to be like her when in reality she takes after her father. You can strip much of the culture and general heritage from this film and place it anywhere and nearly the entire story will stay intact. You could put it in Mongolian Eastern Asia or Aboriginal Australia it all works, that is the shortcoming of the film. If it works anywhere why was it done here? Ratatouille was the only prior film that ventured to a different culture to craft a Pixar story outside English sensibilities. Even there the culture was seemingly whitewashed in an attempt to make it more relatable to English speaking audiences. Why though? Disney has proven that we can be immersed in different cultures so why can’t we immerse ourselves in France, China, Europe, Central America, or Ireland for that matter while watching Pixar films? Hopefully the future will allow Pixar to craft a truly original movie that reflects a particular culture allowing people to experience the wider world and their own unique stories. This has not yet happened though so keep on plugging.
As far as the technical accomplishments, the animation is wonderful but doesn’t seem to impress or pioneer as earlier 3D films have been able to. That withstanding the way the world is produced is brilliant. Greens pop and fill out a fantastical highland that is dominated by a great lake and a dark & mysterious forest. The characters are all well modeled and accurately reflect their emotions but then again these are humans so we’ve had some success already in portraying emotions. Giving fish and toys emotive experiences was Pixar’s animation and modeling achievement thus far this last decade. The characters were well crafted, and the smoothness and naturality of each one was remarkable. This movie gives equal weight and importance to every member of the cast. The Witch, the kings, the princes and the princess they all felt as though they could be featured for hours and not as though they only had a few choice lines.
I saw this movie in a Dolby Atmos theater which not only features the normal Dolby set up with speakers running the length of the theater and a whole host of surround sound technology but a new set of speakers running along the top of the room. Arclight brought out a Dolby representative who explained the benefits of the added speakers and the additional channels. It seems as though Dolby is moving away from discrete audio channels and more towards a true dynamic 3D positional audio system that can aid designers in crafting truly directional sound. The representative said that we should watch out for certain points in the movie and the Dolby Atmos intro logo to see the differences between a normal feature film and conversely a film featuring an Atmos system & soundtrack. The movie benefited from this technology a few times during the film that I could immediately notice. As Merida rode her horse through the forest it felt as though branches and leaves were wisping through the theater, as she climbed a mountain waterfall the water fell around us and we could sense the movement of the mist. The Atmos technology heightened the effect of certain set pieces but I can see it has niche uses now that haven’t been expanded yet to benefit the entire film. It seems as though Dolby is getting closer to allowing sound designers to place sounds in a true 3D environment and forgo the discrete channel system so favored since the introduction of stereo. Dolby Atmos technology aside the film is scored well and the sounds are crisp and brilliant.
Pixar hits on the feeling that the most important feature in any kingdom or realm is family, without family we are weakened. Even if we see an obstacle within our brood we should avoid dismissing them altogether and instead focus on the intense bond we have and not our differences. It’s an oddly simple moral but it does seem to maintain consistency through the final frames of the film. Final thoughts? See Brave if you have little ones. See Brave in 3D or in a Dolby Atmos enabled theater. Pass on Brave and see it on DVD or Rental if you’re 16 or older.
Superb Billy Connolly
Tried and true visuals
Lack of innovation?
Transplantable culture and story (that’s not a good thing)
Rock of Ages
Rock of Ages doesn’t start with its prime steak, it begins while focusing on relatively new talent while promising a slew of veterans who will appear later in the film. You can see it all around town, the marketing and promotional posters featured every other block here in Hollywood feature Tom Cruise and Alec Baldwin front and center. Starting out as a musical in Los Angeles and later moving to Broadway is not always your golden ticket to Hollywood movie success, but in this case the songs and ballads that made Rock of Ages boastful on the stage ended up booming in the theater. Massive dance and musical numbers were made possible by the increase in scope and the addition of set pieces with much greater detail. The acting was superb and the singing was impeccable! If you grew up in the 70’s and 80’s you literally owe it to yourself to get down to a respectable theater and see this movie right now.
Rock of Ages issues some pretty huge blows to boy bands and the dress style circa 1990. My reaction having grown up during that era is not one of disdain but adulation. I knew I looked bad a few years after changing my dress and my music but the Rock of the 70’s and 80’s lived on. You couldn’t fault them for their style, for their taste in music, or their continued success, even today. RoA tackles this transitional period where proper Rock & Roll was fading and an age of Pop and boy bands was cresting (even if just for a scant few years). We are treated over the course of nearly 2 hours to a rise and fall of Rock greats and Rock & Roll wannabes.
Diego Boneta plays Drew Boley an aspiring singer and guitarist who bartends at The Bourbon Room in Hollywood. Julianne Hough plays Sherrie Christian a fresh singer from Oklahoma who needs a basic job and maybe a break to make it big in her new home of Los Angeles. They meet, they fall in love and then the music happens. There are some decent and memorable anthems that are based on very popular original music from Journey, Poison, Foreigner, REO Speedwagon, Twisted Sister & more. After a few minutes of introduction to the protagonist and his love interest we get to the meat and potatoes characters played by Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin and Tom Cruise. It is here where the Rock of Ages movie really gets its wings. These “secondary” actors really make the show float. They are nothing short of amazing and in their best form.
Tom Cruise plays Stacee Jaxx and he doesn’t miss a single beat the entire movie. Cruise is 100% on the entire time delivering a constant stream of whiskey and musk that literally stinks up the entire 400 seat theater from movie start to movie end. Stacee is a waning Rock star struggling to find validation in his life-long career as a star in his field. He is going out in true rocker style by playing his last gig where he first gained success, at The Bourbon Room. The story takes a turn for the worse as Stacee’s manager demands the entire night’s take from the owners of the joint Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) & Lonny (Russell Brand). Most of the characters have, at this point, run aground. But the story picks back up a few months later where each of them have decided it’s time to give their shots at being Rock legends one more shot. You get to follow the figurative rise and fall during final grand performance days of Rock & Roll through an epic journey (no pun intended) alongside some of the greatest songs in Rock history.
The recent outing for Ridley Scott into his science fiction world of Alien is nothing short of a breathtaking look towards a possible apex of life set in the not too distant future. The film stands as a reminder that we can still wonder about our beginnings and create fantastic stories that aren’t too spiritual, scientific or mysterious but instead are filled with horror and wonder.
When the credits rolled on Alien in 1979 no one walked out of the theater thinking that its underpinnings hinted at a mother/daughter relationship. As subsequent films and directors further mutated the sequels to include an overtone of birth and the cycle of life they produced multiple threads of influence which Ridley Scott and Damon Lindelof would reference later in Prometheus. There is a profound sense of birth and the cycle of life that pervades Prometheus. The opening scenes depict the creation of life on earth through the sacrifice of an “alien” being. The main villain in the story is obsessed with his meaning in the world and with the prospect of killing his creator. Noomi Rapace’s character (Elizabeth Shaw) can’t conceive but ends up birthing an alien creature that saves her skin in the final moments of the film. So if you were to take the first and the last films in this seeming anthology you might come away with the feeling that these films are about our creation, the cycle of life, and what might happen long after we’re extinct.
Prometheus is a visual masterwork. They filmed on practical sets nearly 50 feet high and the use of CG seamlessly melded with the set pieces & real world actors. The creature design was unique and fresh even though this film was a “spiritual” prequel to a series influenced with creature designs by the great H. R. Giger. There were homages to Giger’s designs but each element felt unique and new nearly set apart from the original films.
Why was setting this film apart from its predecessors so important? They hired Lindelof to take the script away from the Alien franchise. So to pay homage while staying away from direct or indirect references to your source material is a hard thing to do, Prometheus succeeds in accomplishing this “hard thing” where many other films fail. Countless series grow tired and are optioned for a reboot, most of those reboots fail to entice the movie-going public. Prometheus succeeds here as well with a strong opening weekend and a possible second week of success in the face of a 4 movie blitzkrieg.
The acting was spot on. Charlize Theron was powerful in Snow White and the Huntsman but still fell short of convincing. In Prometheus she seems to be in her element as a cold and brooding commander who grapples with multiple life decisions in the face of utter elimination. There are some tertiary characters who seem dumb and pointless but none that are overtly so as to liken them to “hack and slash” horror character actors. The point I’m trying to make is that there is no token character or “red shirt” even though someone you expect to die does so halfway through the film. Noomi Rapace as Elizabeth Shaw represents the ambiguous/strong woman lead that was pioneered by Sigourney Weaver in the original films. Elizabeth deals with some traumatizing events that would floor any normal hero or heroine, she stands up and fights through multiple obstacles to save herself. In fact at the end Elizabeth Shaw is the only human who might live and actually get answers to her questions of spiritual meaningfulness. Earth maybe still doomed to destruction but she’s going to get her answers one way or another.
The practical set design was brilliant but the practical makeup effects were a little tired. No one is winning an Oscar next year for turning Guy Pearce into an old Peter Weyland. On the good side huge sets transported us to an alien world that not only felt claustrophobic but intensely deadly while maintaining a baron atmosphere. I felt a genuine connection to the alien engineers but an equal amount of trepidation in what lied in store for us in the future had their plans succeeded. This was actually represented in the set design. The throne room felt familiar, as if our ancestors built it somewhere here on Earth. The cuneiform text seemed not alien at all but more an echo of our past. If Ridley and the production team wanted to make us believe that this alien race was our progenitors but also our harbingers of destruction they succeeded wildly.
The music and sound-effects were spot on. Even if the soundtrack sounds as if it might have been borrowed from a Jurassic Park movie it still fits with the monumental scenes we were shown. I’ll admit to buying it as soon as I walked out of the theater. I won’t forget the reaction of the audience as Prometheus set foot on the alien moon. As the theater shook I watched countless people shiver as the thrusters pounded at the ground rumbling the room. It’s rumored that portions of Prometheus embarking from Earth were cut from the film along with other key sci-fi scenes, I would pay handsomely for a release that included these sequences.
One of the more perturbing mysteries that I happened upon in the film has perplexed me even after analyzing all of the possible outcomes. Elizabeth Shaw uses Meredith Vickers’ (Charlize Theron) medical pod to remove the alien impregnation, the pod tells her it’s only configured for male surgeries. What is the point of this information? nearly 100 years into the future and we can’t configure a medical pod that can treat any genders? One of the explanations was that Peter Weyland set it up for himself without telling Ms. Vickers. That explanation is shot to shit considering that Weyland knows he’s going to die soon and wouldn’t need the chamber regardless of his state of health. It’s the sort of thing that I would rather see as an authorization or damage error rather than a gender issue because it leaves dumb non sequitor questions rather than answers.
There’s one or two pretty big holes in the movie’s plot but they are the kind of things you think about days after seeing the film. As a whole the entire movie experience is phenomenal and is definitely worth seeing. The score and effects alone worth a visit to the Big Screen. I’m in the middle of booking my second viewing now and even though my first was in 3D I think I’m going to select 2D this time around to brighten up the beautiful world that Ridley Scott created. If movies are an escape from reality then Prometheus is a 35 light-year journey away to our beginnings with a horrific end that chills you to your bones.
A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas
Right about now we’re reaching the end of times for 3D for the sake of 3D in movies. Meaning, I hope to god over the top gags punching three dimensional audiences on the nose are soon to be a thing of the past. A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas is an obvious attempt to not only created a titular third movie but also a three dimensional laugh fest as well. It does one of those things well and only for the first half of the film. It is funny at times but as we get deeper into the meat and potatoes of why Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) are doing the things that take them on these wild adventures, things just stop making sense. Even someone who was high would use different means to the very same ends, meaning; why is this pair of potentially successful individuals so inept at the simplest of tasks? When it’s time for Harold to stand up to his Father-in-law he fails miserably until the end of the film, are we to assume then that Harold is a spineless wimp but also a successful Wall Street investor? How is Kumar a gifted medical school drop out but also oblivious to his relationship woes? Obviously it is a movie that doesn’t take itself seriously and that is why at times it is fun and enjoyable, but one of the most important things to remember is that even the smallest details can derail a story. When you go so far to explain those small details you must get them right and they must make sense or it will completely pull someone out of the movie, and out of the humor for that matter.
The special effects were pretty ok. I guess as you overlay 3D elements in an effort to highlight the effect even more they better be done well. The 3D explosions (of cocaine mind you), the egg escape at the beginning of the film, and the Wafflebot’s fatality with the waffle-iron at the end of the film…all good use of the sensationalistic 3D elements of any movie with “3D” in the title. Each moment was rendered and/or filmed well, it was hard to tell outright if it was a practical effect or computer generated. Given the cost associated with filming true 3D though I’d wager they were computer generated after the original film was process for the stereoscopic viewing. In an pure entertainment film I feel this stuff can be done without harping on the ridiculous overuse of the third dimension in films nowadays. It does devolve the content making it feel like I’m watching the Muppet*Vision 3D or a Bug’s Life at California Adventure.
The comedy is spot on for the first half of the feature. Great jokes and situations, funny timing and intense comedy. Then things start to get a bit more convoluted and that’s where the comedy breaks down. We revert to mere slap-stick and weed humor. There’s a point where Neil Patrick Harris begs for “poontang” and our once omnipotent Neil Patrick Harris is reduced to a groveling crack addict. NPH has been a hallmark for this series and keeping him confident and powerful is necessary because he is a foil and a guide for the hapless Harold and Kumar. So he isn’t a source of inspiration in this movie save for providing Kumar with the Wafflebot he longed for. Wafflebot was easily the best character in the film. “Kumaaaaaar” he would say and instantly our hearts melted. The over-the-top commercials and even the idea of a roving waffle making robot were obscene but funny. The drug references, Neil Patrick Harris, stereotypical racial humor, and later half of the film were just plain obscene…not funny.
Racial humor is touchy. Most of the time I cringe at the stereotypes and usually I can’t wait for it to end because it makes me uncomfortable because of how overplayed it becomes. When RZA appeared as a Christmas tree salesman though I couldn’t stop laughing. The Cosby sweater, the tonality of him and his “co-worker” were priceless. In a way these characters and this moment are making fun of how easily people accept stereotypes and the two Christmas tree hawkers are taking advantage of people’s gullibility. It’s funny but also you realize for a moment that these Harold and Kumar movies know what they’re doing and thusly should be able to do it better, but they don’t.
One saving grace of this movie are the cut-scenes that describe various characters in the film as or before they are introduced. They are animated well, they’re funny and they evoke a comic book sense of pacing that picks the film up during its duller moments. Sergei Katsov (Elias Koteas) the Russian mob boss has a particularly descriptive intro which sets him up as a vicious character even before you see him. When done effectively in a movie these sorts of things are very enjoyable. Do it too often though and it’s a bit hackneyed and loses its appeal quickly.
The end of the movie wraps up with Santa getting shot, way more drug references, a negative stereotype of the russian mafia, and a fair bit of under-age sex humor. Classy. This coupled with the fact that the 3D in the movie is used only to highlight things flying at the viewer and breaking the “fourth wall” makes this a movie you could easily skip and watch at home…or not at all.
Great explicative cut scenes
Meh John Cho
Meh Neil Patrick Harris
Meh Kal Penn
I’ve been hopelessly wrapped up with other work recently and I’m very much behind on my movie reviews. Initially I was going to just skip all the films I saw and just start up with the most recent releases. Then I decided to just start over from where I left off for two reasons. One is that people don’t see enough films every year that learning of a good or bad one might still affect their decisions or purchasing power. Two is I could use the practice writting and it will bring continuity to the site. So there we are and here we go.
Footloose has the unfortunate luck of being a remake, of which I have little fondness for in my heart. That being said it doesn’t break away from what I totally expected to see. I expected a lackluster reimagining with hip new actors attempting to latch onto the next gen audience. It was exactly that.
Kenny Wormald plays Kevin Baccon who in turn plays Ren MacCormack. MacCormack is a transplanted highschool teen who wants nothing more than to be accepted by his peers and to get the girl. He does both by bringing public dancing back to the small podunk town. We know some of the story if we’ve seen the original but for those of you who haven’t there’s some explaining to be done. Ren MacCormack is a character who was created in the early 80’s for a Kevin Baccon film on dancing. The aforementioned storyline allows for Ren to be the protagonist and the uptight adults of the community to be the antagonist. This all still works but It was never properly updated for the current generation apart from adding in modern dance styles, after all dance has changed a lot in nearly 30 years. Wormald isn’t Kevin Baccon, it does seem however that the director or Wormald himself were attempting to channel the original character rather than create their own. Which is sad, most remakes have become successful by not only re-imagining the content but also, and this is a stretch, re-acting the parts differently. Wormald doesn’t come off as edgy as Kevin Baccon does in the original, he doesn’t evoke the James Dean “I-don’t-give-a-shit” attitude. Instead he emotes an angst filled teen who gains the upper hand at the end of the movie because the community was already willing to abolish the law banning public dance.
Dennis Quaid doesn’t get much further. He plays Reverend Shaw Moore, the father of Ren MacCormack’s love interest Ariel Moore (Julianne Hough). The reverend is on the town council that helped to enact the law and he also has a vested interest in keeping his daughter out of trouble so as to be expected he doesn’t want Ren anywhere near her. That’s all fine and dandy but Quaid doesn’t sell the story. He comes off powerless and a bit short on the morals that would often come with being both the reverend of the local church and also seated on the town council. He played it safe and dialed in his normal character acting which is fine but doesn’t define the originally imagined character it seems.
The Cinematography was well planned and executed and the editing was top notch. There were also redeeming characters in Ariel Moore and Willard (Miles Teller), Ren’s love interest and friend respectively. These characters were genuine and enough so that the film doesn’t fail outright. Supporting roles can sometimes be very effective in holding a film up to standard and in the case of Footloose most of the supporting roles are well played and enjoyable.
Interestingly enough even though the film is a reboot the modernity of the locals, specifically the school and town, don’t need updating. This remake doesn’t attempt to either so it’s a win/win situation. It was fun to see that there was no attempt to throw dozens of cell phones around or modern cars in a gesture to contemporary audiences that they are trying to “connect”. I guess the film wasn’t strapped for cash either as there were no noticeable endorsement deals like a dodge charger used every other shot. There wasn’t a ton of special effects though so alternate funding was probably not required.
Footloose has a decent love story in there somewhere. Julianne Hough does a good job selling the rebellious teenager that loves the big-city rebel who floated into her small-time town. She’s lost her brother so there’s a lot of emotion that the character needs to wade through. Admittedly she seems more stirred up by the loss then Quaid’s character.
In the end Footloose would have to be a pass for me as there are so many competing movies coming out around it. If you have a movie budget and you don’t see all 20-30 movies that come out each month, this movie lands somewhere near the middle of the pack. If you only see one or two movies a month/year it’s definitely a pass.
Ok Kenny Wormald
Great Miles Teller & Julianne Hough
Grumpy old men
Grumpy old Dennis Quaid
What an amazing way to spend Thanksgiving weekend! Reliving your childhood is great when you can go back to the original source like a board game, video game or a VHS of a movie never re-released. Usually when something is brought back for a sequel or a prequel things go bad very very quick. However when the current decade manages to evoke true emotions from times long gone you can’t help but smile a little bit.
The Muppets had me laughing, holding my stomach and even went so far as to cause me to shed a tear. Credit should be given right away for not only the superb directing by James Bobin but the acting and writing of Jason Segel. The new characters Segel added to the Muppet family shone as genuine and likeable immediately.
The story starts with Gary, his Brother Walter, and Mary (Amy Adams) all traveling to Los Angeles to take a vacation. For Gary and Walter though this would also be a pilgrimage to the home of The Muppets, a TV show which they bonded with as children and on into adulthood. This isn’t unique you might say, plenty of children and adults alike have bonded with The Muppets. Walter IS a Muppet though and children his entire life have griefed him for never growing taller or into a more human counterpart to his “twin” brother Gary. Walter has become a bit obsessed with The Muppets as a way of handling his identity crisis. When he gets to LA to find the original group disbanded and the studio in jeopardy he springs into action scrambling to assemble the team one last time.
All of your favorite Muppet characters appear at various moments throughout the film. I’m saddened Gonzo wasn’t as front and center as much the others but he’s had plenty of major screen time in previous Muppet films and has already established himself as the second most popular Muppet behind Kermit. I had to wait until the credit sequence to get a glimpse of my most favorite musician and his band of fluffy Muppaphones but as long as Marvin Suggs gets even a moment of screen time I’ll be a happy camper.
The archetypes are fairly simple, comically even. The evildoer is an old male WASP oil-baron. Our hero is a meek small “Muppet of a man”. Miss Piggy reprises her flippant diva role, and Kermit guides the entire band like an invisible guardian angel set to watch over all of The Muppets. I can’t find anything negative to say about most of the cameos. I was super excited to see Jim Parsons step in to mirror Walter, people literally clapped and cheered as he appeared on screen. That scene made the movie worthwhile to me, I could have seen just that song with Jim Parsons and Jason Segel and it would all have been justified. Not all of the cameos were good though. While Jack Black had some good lines and his delivery was genuine the character wasn’t written for likeability, which is important. I can’t go to a movie and not like Jack Black in it, it just gives you a sour taste. Alan Arkin does a great job as the despondent tour guide at the defunct Muppet Studios, it’s sad his appearance is short but I can’t imagine putting more of that character to film.
And then there’s Rico Rodriguez. I can’t quite express my distaste for this cocky kid in words or capital letters. He never ever seems genuine or likable, he always comes off as some know-it-all who doesn’t know-enough to keep quiet. Who keeps putting him in commercials and movies when he’s perfectly placed on Modern Family? And who keeps directing him to take his Modern Family character to other places and plop himself down in the middle of a perfectly good movie? I’m sure this kid has his moments, and he’s cuddly and kind, but from the last few cameos and commercials I’ve seen he needs to get his act together…the next time I see his smug grin I don’t want to imagine some fake smile from a cocky kid. If he doesn’t fix things I’m sure he’s destined for the “Kid Actor” legacy somewhere down the line.
As some have pointed out over the years since Jim Henson passed The Muppets never have sounded quite the same. Most notably since Jim did the voice of Kermit until 1990 this recent film doesn’t quite evoke the same pep and deep “froggie” voice as on the variety show of the 70’s. It is however a pleasure to see the puppetry retain all of its goofy gaffs and quirky movements. From Kermit’s head shape changing to suit his mood to the wonderfully wild Muppet hair flying all over the place all of the action has literally remained timeless. Jason Segal did a wonderful job imagining a story that truly attempts to revive The Muppets franchise while paying homage to an art form that is near and dear to his heart. It was obvious by the end of Forgetting Sarah Marshall that he had a passion for puppetry in some form or another. To see him get the chance to write and act in The Muppets makes you all warm and fuzzy…or is it Fozzie? Either way it is a story that makes you happy and who doesn’t want to be happy during the holiday season. Get out there and see The Muppets.
Jason Segel is a hero
Walter is a man of a Muppet
Lovable Amy Adams