Movie Reviews

Star Wars trailer review: Scratching my head a bit, I am.

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Okay…so I get up this Black Friday morning thinking that I may browse some of the deals online before I get to work on my daily writing goal.  Maybe while “window” shopping I’ll come across an interesting writing prompt to get me warmed up.  I come across the new Star Wars trailer so of course I watch it a time-or-ten.

My reaction? ( Note: it is vitally important to remember that my personal reaction weighs oh so heavily on the Internet and its ultimate well-being).

My reaction is “huh…”  So it appears JJ Abrams is doing what I expected him to.  He’s turned Star Wars into a grittier world much like another movie franchise…now what was that one called again?  Oh, yeah, Star Trek!  Now just throw in a couple of redshirts (color the white stormtroopers red maybe), warp drive, phasers, and teleporters now because they would not be entirely out of place after seeing and hearing the trailer.  Even the voiceover guy, talking about the “awakening force” and whatnot, sounds very much like it could have been recorded for a Star Trek movie trailer.

We did get to see the Millennium Falcon so that was pretty cool.  What was completely missing was any other recognizable character – unless of course you consider tie fighters, storm troopers, and x-wings characters, which I suppose they kinda are.  Where is Luke, Leia, Han, all the hyped up returning folks?  Where is the wookiee roar! For goodness sake?  Where are the stars of Star Wars!?  Where are the stars for that matter?  Everything takes place over sand dunes, a dark forest (I have to admit the bad guys red light saber looks cool – it has to be difficult to imagine a usable bad guy sword for every new Star Wars movie I suppose), and there are even x-wings screaming over what appears to be a lake.  Nothing in space.  Nothing.

So after viewing the trailer I am neither turned on or turned off (okay…maybe there was a little hair standing up on my arms when the Falcon zipped by – been missing her for more than 30-years!) for the upcoming mega-blockbuster-cashcow-in-waiting.  I left more scratching my head trying to swallow the pill that this is Star Trek with the force and guys sweating like crazy under their stormtrooper armor.  Just not entirely thrilled with the initial feel (love it for Star Trek but it has been done!) and not super excited about the look at all.  Even the stormtrooper blasters look wrong.  And what the heck is with the beach ball droid??!!  I hope that droid isn’t a major player because I have a feeling he could be a mechanical Jar-Jar or something.

star_wars_7_movie_poster

Yes, Disney, I’ll pay to watch it…I’ll pay for the Blu-ray to follow most likely.  But I’m not going to say right now that it looks like I’m going to like it.

Just be prepared for the inevitable Star Trek crossover in the future everyone.  Seriously.

Cheers!

J.W.

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Drive – Listen to the sound of awesome. A Movie Review.

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Film Review:  Drive (2011)

My Rating:  5 craft beers on a 6-pack scale (5 ½ if you have an awesome 7.1 sound system).

Genre:  Crime/Drama

Rating:  R

Runtime:  100 mins

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

Writers:  Hossein Amini, James Sallis (book)

Stars:  Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston

First off I’m compelled to share that it is my belief that anything featuring Ryan Gosling should be considered guilty pleasure entertainment.  I don’t know why that is exactly.  He’s far from the greatest thespian to ever grace the silver screen.  He delivers dialogue like he’s ordering a pizza and he has one move: a slowly forming smile coupled with a squint.  Still I have enjoyed nearly everything I’ve ever seen him in.  I wish I could put exactly why into words but I can’t at this time so I won’t even attempt the hunt.

On to Drive.

Drive Movie Poster

Synopsis:

A wannabe race car driver spends his days stunt driving for movie productions and his nights driving the “getaway” car for those requiring his special skills.  He also appears to make some money as a mechanic but money doesn’t seem to be his driving force (more on that later…and spoiler free as always).  There is a married neighbor and some complications with some organized crime folks.  Trouble ensues.  And there is driving.

Drive was a difficult film to review despite my abject love for it.  I saw it the first time streaming on Netflix.  Then a month or two later it arrived in the mail via the Netflix mailer because I forgot to take it off my disc queue (SIDENOTE: Yes I still get discs mailed to me.  Not everything streams and Blu-ray is simply the best media. Period.)  I wasn’t bothered by the arrival of the disc bearing envelope as it gave me another excuse to watch and HEAR the flick but this time in full 7.1 surround.  I’m glad I wasn’t paying close attention to my queue because listening to the Blu-ray audio really introduced a new character I would have otherwise missed in the background minutiae.

This character was the sound and, to state simply, it was incredible.

This is perhaps one of the best films in recent years to take full advantage of a musical score, creative song placement, and outright sound.  It more than made up for the near wooden performance by Gosling.  You will certainly enjoy the “family” drive down the concrete L.A. River.  I simply love the music that plays during this scene.  It feels like a warm memory of a surreal family picnic.  Another scene that takes full advantage of a plus musical score should perhaps have been mentioned first as it is the opening.  The first time I heard this play I looked up from whatever was distracting me (iPad, dog in my lap, etc.) in wonder.  Had I turned on the wrong movie? I wondered to myself.  Nope.  It’s Drive, it says so on the screen.  Now I’d heard Drive receive positive reviews from trusted friends and even trusted family (trusted in that they are movie fans with somewhat discernable tastes) but still I took a long time getting to it.  Too long I now freely admit.

I keep mentioning it but this is a film to watch simply for the sound. I know…I’m beating a dead horse here, cloning it, raising it, and then to die of natural causes only to beat that dead horse yet again.

Remember no spoilers so I won’t go into details while mentioned the vaunted elevator scene.  It is one of the sweetest – yeah I said sweetest – and yet most horrifying scenes I can recall viewing in recent memory.  There.  I mentioned it.  No spoilers.  Proceed.

The scene with Ron Perlman on the beach also stands out because of the near lack of sound.  If I were to give an Oscar performance for Drive I would award it to the sound/music folks for sure.

So the sound was awesome (have I mentioned that yet?).  Now the acting…yeah…the acting.  There had to be some of that in Drive, right?  And there was.  Kinda.  Gosling was only a vehicle (pardon the terrible, terrible pun) for the incredible music/sound and the rather interesting story.  He neither added a great deal nor subtracted same from the movie.  But, because he’s Ryan Gosling, you just sorta buy him, due to his presence, simply because he doesn’t get in the way of the story much.  And because he’s Ryan Gosling.  Could other actors perhaps have added more?  Sure.  Maybe.  It was a tough character to play because, other than a couple allusions to such, he near completely lacks character depth.  That’s not to say the entire cast goes the same however.  Carey Mulligan was rather strong as a wife held hostage by her sense of responsibility and honor while at the same time longing for something else, something more.  She really sold a woman that wanted to scream but accepted that it would do very little.  So she kept it bottled up like a good Irish gal.  Good girl.  Keep that bottled up.  Very healthy.  But, really you can see she has limited choice, especially because she has a young son to consider.  The performance by the almost cookie cutter bad guys, played by Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman, was certainly a weakness and so was the lack of screen time for Bryan Cranston.

A law should be passed that every movie Cranston is cast in, from now until the day after forever, needs to give his character twice as many lines and screen time as anyone else would be allotted.  Did I say he is a fantastic actor?  Well he is.

Watch Drive but even more important…hear Drive.  I’m going to go and pop it into the PS3 right now (yeah I added it to the official collection).

Cheers!

J.W.

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Terribly ugly awfully perfect film.

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Film Review:  Snowpiercer (2013)

My Rating:  5.9 craft beers on a 6-pack scale (no such thing as a perfect 6-pack!).

Genre:  Action/Sci-Fi/Thriller

Rating:  R (not finding a rating but, yeah, I’d give it an R)

Runtime:  126 mins

Directed by:  Joon-ho Bong

Writers:  Joon-ho Bong, Kelly Masterson (others as well but I didn’t want to turn the page)

Stars:  Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton, and John Hurt!!!

Note:  English language film, also Korean, Japanese, French

 

IMDB Snowpiercer
IMDB Snowpiercer

 

Terribly ugly awfully perfect film.  Yeah you read that right.  Wrap your brain around that!

As usual there will be no spoilers in this quick and dirty review.  There may be allusions and feelings (yuck…feelings) but no spoilers herein lie.  

Synopsis:

Silly humans destroy the world.  Only a train with an engine that seems to be able to run forever allows the remnants of silly humanity to survive (you may wonder why bother at the end of this movie though).  To what end I don’t entirely know, but it is not the end that this movie is at all about; it’s absolutely about the journey.  The movie could end abruptly a half-hour or more early and nearly the same effect would have been had.  Still I suggest you watch the whole thing.

I attempt to have my film reviews at under 500-words.  Usually 500 plus or minus a paragraph gets the job done.  I will attempt to do the same here, however I doubt I’ll be successful in this endeavor.  To get us started I begin with this:  I loved this movie so much that I never want to see it again.  Why?  Well…because it made me angry.  And I loved it for it.

Why did it make me angry?  When I say it made me angry I don’t want to convey the notion that I’m upset at the film in anyway, no, not at all.  I’m upset at myself.  I’m upset that I didn’t pay enough attention to my 11th grade English class with Mr. Alan Watt’s.  I remember skipping his class.  I remember sleeping in his class.  But what I don’t remember clearly is Dante’s Inferno because I was simply too cool for school and the likes.  Had I paid closer attention I perhaps would have enjoyed this film even more than I did already.  Thankfully I paid attention in social studies when we were instructed on class systems and the inherent struggles of the proletariat versus the aristocracy and upper class.  Read Dante’s Inferno and then remember your class system struggles studies, and the fact that this is a movie set upon a train in an apocalyptic world (with a humanity that wants to survive but most assuredly does not deserve to do so), and you’ll walk away all the better for having seen this film as first an educated person.

I wanted to watch it again…so I immediately returned it so I wouldn’t get to so as to purposefully torture myself.  A wonderful film that my only regret being is that it took so long to see.

Mary Lou Perfect 10 Gold

Now, why not the perfect rating?  Well ever since the perfect-10 with Mary Lou Retton in the Olympics perfection has been forever tarnished.  The idea of the “perfect-10” is that there is no way at all, ever, ever, ever, that it could be any better.  Since I do not conform to the perfect-10 rating on anything, especially since I am not a corrupt French figure skating judge, I have to point out a couple flaws that kept Snowpiercer, at least in my humble determination from Mary Lou status.

First, John Hurt is wasted.  He has some good lines but then the baton is passed/fumbled to Chris Evans who is trying not to come across as Captain America throughout the length of the picture.  He kinda sorta almost succeeds.  He has one scene where he is definitely NOT Captain America (unless you consider him Captain “Corporate” America…you’ll get the joke hopefully when you see this movie) but other than that he just needs a shield with a star on it and he’s the Marvel superhero we all know and love.

Tilda Swinton

Tilda Swinton is…well, Tilda Swinton.  You can’t stand her and you love her for it.  She is wonderful so she pushed the movie toward the Mary Lou perfect-10 but, like the rather wasteful performance of John Hurt (seriously…was he sick one day during an important scene and they Bong just decided to move on without him?), you’ll then find Jamie Bell’s character wasted.  Sad…almost won the gold with that 10.  Oh well.  A 5.9 is pretty cool in the craftbeer rating world I suppose.

I can’t wait to watch this film again and torture myself by hating myself because it is so terribly awesome.

Cheers!

J.W.

P.S. Perhaps it should be noted that this review was written while I was under the influence of vodka.  You see I’ve had the flu/cold and thought I needed orange juice to help with an infusion of vitamin-C.  BUT, not being a fan of straight OJ, I needed something to make it a little more palatable and thus I’m sure you can now understand the virtue and inclusion of vodka in this situation.  So, for the sake of vodka…

…Cheers once more!

J.W.

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Review: The Awakening – Period Piece Ghost Film That’s Better Than Most

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Film Review:  The Awakening (2011)

My Rating:  5 craft beers on a 6-pack scale.

Genre:  Horror/Thriller

Rating:  R

Runtime:  107 mins

Directed by:  Nick Murphy

Writers:  Stephen Volk, Nick Murphy

Stars:  Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton

Note:  English language film, a UK production.

So I write this a day after watching The Awakening.  Looking at the film a day later I almost wonder at my initial high rating.  Perhaps too high in fact.  When compared to the IMDP and Metascore ratings I see I’m indeed a little elevated.  Perhaps my 5 craft beer score has more to do with the fact that I was on my 5th beer by the end of the movie and again I’m on my 5th brew as I write this now.  Perhaps.  I’m sticking with the rating however so here we go.

IMDB The Awakening

IMDB The Awakening

There will be no spoilers so don’t worry.  Really this review is my impression and not a justification piece to point out what worked and what failed.  This film was pretty darn good.  The thing that’s quite possibly the most scary is the screen presence of Dominic West.  I try to not like him.  I try really, really hard.  But I can’t.  Even when I think about him in Centurion (as a very unbelievable Roman general with a terrible, terrible accent) and The 300 (as a douchebag politician who…well he nailed this one actually) I just don’t like his work very much.  But in The Awakening he’s pretty darn good as a cross between a lead and a supporting actor.  I wish we got a little more about his story, but we got what we got, which was enough to move the story along.

Rebecca Hall was good simply because she wasn’t over-the-top annoying.  She was beyond annoying in The Town (my previous reference film concerning the actress) and I wasn’t thrilled to see she was in this but she managed to not suck so she was therefore good enough.  It was hard sometimes to hear exactly what she was saying but thankfully I had the subtitles on so I could more easily follow what she was saying despite much of it probably being better off as internal narrative.  I have to say that I’m 36 and not hard of hearing.  West came in lough and clear so the subtitles were not needed throughout.  Hall just needs to speak up a bit.  Maybe it wasn’t that bad…but I think it was.

So there is a little blood (in like one rather super violent scene), a little less blood in another violent scene, and a couple of places where you may be a little scared but not royally so (in my opinion).  Oh, and you see a boob and thusly the film is rated “R.”  What really drew me into the film was the setting as a period piece (set in 1921).  The Awakening takes place just three-years or so after the First World War and it did a pretty good job of conveying the psychological scars of a nation with wounds that are far from healed.  To have a generation or two erased from existence due to the horrors of war is a pretty heavy burden for a people to carry.  England is a country of people that want ghosts to exist because there are so many loved ones now absent.

Is this a lights out scary movie?  No.  Not at all really.  What’s best about The Awakening is that it isn’t a super clichéd slasher, buckets of blood, screamfest.  Nope.  It’s just an entertaining thriller with some rather solid acting (West) and a pretty good ending that made me think I should have seen it coming but didn’t.  I like films that surprise me and The Awakening did so.  It’s worth a watch but perhaps my 5-craft beer rating was too high.  I may change it tomorrow.  I’ll sleep on it.

Cheers!

JW

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“HARD TO PUT DOWN!”

“GRABS HOLD AND DOESN’T LET GO.”

“BRILLIANT STUFF.”

REVIEW: The Returned – A different kind of zombie movie.

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Film Review:  The Returned

My Rating:  4 ½ craft beers on a 6-pack scale.

Genre:  Drama/Horror/Sci-Fi

Rating:  N/A

Runtime:  98 mins

Directed by:  Manuel Carballo

Writers:  Hatem Khraiche

Stars:  Kris Holden-Reid, Emily Hampshire, Claudia Bassols

Note:  English language film, shot in Canada, production company based in Spain.  Watched via stream from Netflix.

Want to see a very different take on the zombie apocalypse and the impact it would have on the world?  Well, look no further than the excellent indie film The Returned.  There are NO spoilers below so don’t be worried.

The Returned on IMDB
The Returned on IMDB

This is not a movie with buckets of blood (the first 3-minutes of the title segment notwithstanding), deeply flawed and yet lovable survivors, and nor does it feature the lost child looking for someone to protect and adopt them as their own.  The Returned is a movie about how the world, which survived an outbreak or two already of the zombie plague, managed to hold society together in the aftermath with fears of a new outbreak looming.  Some, but in my opinion, not enough of the flaws of society are exposed here.  But there is certainly enough to have a discussion with fellow zombie lovers afterwards over a bottle of wine or some craft beer (I’m on board with the latter).

The IMDB rating for it is surprisingly low.  When this was written it had an average 5.9/10 rating by the nearly 4700 raters.  The metascore was also lower than I expected.  Much, much lower in fact.   I wonder if these ratings can be attributed to all The Walking Dead and World War Z lovers out there that felt cheated that it wasn’t 98-minutes of skulls being caved in and intestines pulled out of the guts of unlucky folks like scarves from the shirtsleeve of a magician.

Now don’t get me wrong.  This isn’t the end-all be-all greatest zombie movie of all time.  It is just a different kind of zombie movie.  A movie you can watch while your kids are in the other room and if they happen to walk in there’s a 90% chance they won’t be severely traumatized.

In the end I was greatly entertained and left wanting more.  Wanting more not because there was a tremendous lacking in this offering but because this imaginative universe can easily support a sequel and/or a prequel as well.  A wonderful piece for those that love the zombie genre but need a bit of a break from the gritty, bloodbath, and ultra-depressing dystopian/apocalyptic world displayed on our entertainment screens day-in and day-out.

Prediction:  When will we see the first zombie based “reality” TV series?  When creative television is truly dead and the ratings will be off-the-hook no doubt. (You heard it here first).

Cheers!

JW

Oh…and what’s the best thing after a movie?  How about a good read!

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Star Wars Episode VII Guessifications (UPDATED)

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UPDATED CONTENT AT BOTTOM OF POST

As I was walking my wookie this morning (my dog Jack who we call “wookie”) I was thinking about the upcoming Episode VII of the Star Wars franchise.  I think about Star Wars often.  I even watched the best of the first 6 (I have to include the terrible terrible terrible prequels in the 6 I guess) as recently as last night; The Empire Strikes Back.  Even the sometimes glaring silliness of that movie such as Fett and Slave I not being spotted in the rear view mirror by Han, who is an experienced smuggler who is always on the lookout for “the man,” as he jetted away from the dumped trash after the star destroyer departed.  There are several others but that isn’t what this post is about.

And getting to it…

star_wars_7_movie_poster

My first guessification (aka prediction) is that because the Star Wars movies always start with a starship shot, of the craft arriving somewhere – Abrams better not mess with this tradition!!! – the first thing we will all see in Episode VII is…the Millennium Falcon.  I believe that seeing the Falcon, for the first time in more than 30-years!!!!, folks will stand and cheer (with me among them despite not being a “cheery” kinda guy).  This will go a long way towards setting the tone for the new series.  A tone that was last set by leaving the audience with mouths agape at the end of Episode I when folks were trying to come to terms with such a terrible terrible terrible opening for what would be one of the worst trilogies of all time.

Stay tuned for more guessifications as the inspiration strikes.

UPDATED:  So I predicted (guessified) that Episode VII – The Force Awakens (kinda a silly name?? maybe??) will start with a ship traveling/arriving.  Now, more specifically I would like to speculate just what that ship is.  What was missing in the prequels?  Well, an awful lot as we all know, but what I noticed as missing from the theaters was excitement and cheering.  Of coruse there was cheering for those folks that bought tickets months in advance or stood in line all day to get to a midnight showing.  That sort of excitement is expected for such a franchise and its loving followers.  Some of those that saw the prequels the first day probably thought Jar-jar was “fun”…to avoid a tangent I’ll get to the point.  Finally.  That ship we’ll see zooming from an underneath shot will be…the Millennium Falcon of course!  What better craft to bring everyone to their feet in excitement?  There’s your update.

Cheers!

JW

 

A couple of Sunday movies: Non-Stop and Terminator 2

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Non-stop

Yesterday afternoon after the Mariners game (another 1-0 loss after a leadoff solo homerun by the Orioles of course) I decided to watch a couple movies. The first movie I watched was the recent Liam Neeson flick Non-Stop. I won’t go into a long review for that one…as it doesn’t really warrant much of a look. If you are prepared for a rather lame climax then it’s for you. The bad guy is pretty weak, the tension is weak, and much of the acting is just plain weak. Julianne Moore offers nothing and the actress that plays the lead stewardess (I know they are supposed to be called Stewards…but I won’t) offers only a black whole of screen time. Thankfully, if you subtract the credits, the whole movie is only just over an hour and a half. I would have shut it off if it had been longer, which would have been difficult as Neeson is one of my favorite actors. If there’s nothing else to do…maybe watch it or watch paint dry. Same difference.

Onward as this post isn’t about the movie Non-Stop. The second movie I watched yesterday was Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Why? Of all the blu-rays sitting on the shelf and all the items on my watch list on Netflix and Amazon Prime, why was this the movie that called my name as I sat there drinking beer and loading magazines preparing for the target range trip the following day (today)? I don’t know. Maybe it was the chip in my brain. Into the PS3 it went and I began to ask myself after more than two decades since T2 was released will it still hold up? I would have to say “kinda.” The special effects are rather dated in the special effect era we “enjoy” today. The plot wholes are numerous. And the actions by the characters are downright foolish at times. They are trying to save humanity and yet…the crew seems to be trying their best to do the opposite. If the John Connor portrayed in this movie is the same one that grows up and is the beacon of light…I would rather close my eyes and stay in the dark. What REALLY stands out after twenty something years is that the acting is TERRIBLE. All away around the acting was just bad bad bad. Robert Patrick was probably the best because he had to act wooden which isn’t hard to do because that is usually called “bad acting.” It must have been really easy to direct such a performance. The second best work in the film was Arnold who thankfully only had a few lines and again, being a machine, he only had to act wooden and goofy at times to get an easy smile from the audience. The acting of Linda Hamilton, who director James Cameron tried to get an Oscar nomination for, was a constant whining affair.

T2 Poster

I wanted to watch the movie with the volume off and the subtitles on because she was awful to listen to. Edward Furlong…I think he needs to thank that little kid that played Anakin in Star Wars the Phantom Menace for coming along because without little Jake Lloyd there, Edward Furlong would sit alone as perhaps owning the worst child acting performance of the last half century. Harsh words? Watch the movie and try to enjoy his work. Wow. Even the 6th beer of the afternoon couldn’t make him watchable. I’ll take the original Terminator any day of the week.

Trivia: I did notice some new trivia while watching T2 that had not previously been noted in the IMDB trivia section. The two detectives that question Sarah Connor in the asylum are named “Mossberg” and “Weatherby” respectively. Never noticed this before. Both Mossberg and Weatherby are major manufactures of firearms famous for their shotguns, and since James Cameron went to great lengths to provide a signature weapon for Arnold in the movie (a 10-gauge Winchester 1887 shotgun) I can only assume this was very purposeful on the part of the director who must have had a thing for shotguns at the time.

Cheers!

Top 3-Movies

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This isn’t quite a review as this post is categorized.  I think it is important however that any further posts in the review section by me have a baseline for what I feel is a great film.  The following three films I give an “11.”  Why not make 10 the highest number?  I won’t get into that.  The highest number is 11.  If you don’t get that reference then you shouldn’t be reading this blog.

 

Top 3 Films:

3:  SeVen

2: Fight Club

1: Alien

Alien 1979

I will let the few that view this blog think about those three for a bit.  Perhaps stew as to why someone would rank them as their top three.  Later I will come back to this post and argue why but until then, cheers!