Monday, July 27, 2015

Pixels

I am not an Adam Sandler fan. I think the last movie of his I can say that I legitimately enjoyed was Punch Drunk Love, and before that it was The Wedding Singer. I find his films to be absolutely painful to watch and excruciatingly unfunny no matter who writes, directs or co-stars in his cinematic abortions. So when I saw the trailer for his newest bomb in the making, Pixels, it’s safe to assume that I wasn’t immediately interested. Then I realized what it was – the feature length retelling of an innovative short film by Patrick Jean where alien invaders attack the Earth in the form of video game characters from the early 80s. Sandler’s Happy Madison group purchased the rights to it and turned it into a CGI filed vehicle for their founding member. OH, THE HUMANITY! 

But, I am a massive video game fan. I have a YouTube channel dedicated to my love of them called The Old Ass Retro Gamer for crying out loud! Regardless of my absolute distaste for everything Sandler I felt I should at least give the film a chance to not suck ass and check it out. And once the reviews began to pour in claiming that this was one of the worst films ever made I questioned my thought process, but I don’t usually follow the lemmings off the cliff. I like to make up my own mind so I saw it on opening night.
The plot mirrors the short film to a “T” in that an alien menace attacks the Earth in the guise of old school video game characters, and a select group of former gaming wunderkinds (Adam Sandler, Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage & Kevin James) are the only hope for mankind’s survival.

Well, the short film didn’t star Adam Sandler and his troupe of buffoons. It didn’t star anyone really. It was a CGI demo that was fun and nostalgic and that’s all she wrote. But a movie has to have characters to relate to and the Happy Madison crew is what we got. Funny thing is… they weren’t so bad. And the movie they were starring in… was kind of fun. Sure it was stupid and missed a lot of golden opportunities for hilarity, but I found it to be mildly entertaining on certain levels. At times it aims for the lowest common denominator since it is essentially a kid’s movie featuring a massive nostalgia bomb for adults. But that doesn’t mean it can’t have a certain charm of its own regardless of the lame bodily function jokes.
Director Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Mrs. Doubtfire) is no stranger to the world of children’s films. He’s made some of the most profitable of all time regardless if they were worthy of that landslide of cash or not. Personally, I can’t stand his schmaltzy brand of filmmaking. Out of all of the films on his directorial resume I can only say that I liked Mrs. Doubtfire, and I can only watch that once every five years or so without wanting to barf. But in the case of Pixels he managed to wrangle the insanity of Adam Sandler and his crew and tried to make an actual movie out of what could have been one of his usual crass misfires. He doesn’t succeed most of the time, and sometimes he toned things down a bit too much to the point of events becoming stale and boring, but he gave it a decent try and I was able to overlook his overly sentimental tendencies.

Adam Sandler turns in his most low key performance since The Wedding Singer. Or he could have been on Quaaludes the whole time. I don’t know. All I do know was that he wasn’t screaming random shit at the top of his lungs like he usually does and I was thankful for that. Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones, Knights of Badassdom, The Station Agent) plays his part of the has-been Donkey Kong champion (unsuccessfully ragging on Billy Mitchell from The King of Kong) like Adam Sandler would in that he’s loud and obnoxious every time he’s on screen.  Josh Gad (The Wedding Ringer, Frozen) on the other hand is the one to watch here. His character is unstable, like Sandler usually plays, but reigns in the overacting (except in one classic scene where he yells at a group of Navy SEALS) and is a genuinely fun addition to the cast. Sure he shoehorned in a scene where he sings (thanks Olaf), but his timing is impeccable and he is given the best lines in the film. Kevin James sucks. That is all. And Michelle Monaghan is completely wasted.
But I didn’t spend my hard earned money on this flick for the director or stars. I came to see all the classic video game shenanigans. Does it actually work? Yes. It works extremely well in most cases. Pac-Man is used to great effect at the mid-point of the film for a cool chase scene with appropriately colored Mini Coopers standing in for the ghosts. Centipede was probably my favorite of the bunch as pixelated mushroom fell from the sky while Sandler and Gad shot at the various insects with light cannons. Donkey Kong was alright I guess. That scene sped by so fast that it didn’t leave much of an impression. But I will admit that Galaga and Pong/Arkanoid weren’t given time to shine. I would have loved to have seen Sandler and Co. playing a psychotic game of racquetball for Pong, but I can understand why Galaga wasn’t showcased more since it would be a repeat of the impressive Centipede scene. And while I found the usage of Q-bert as a sidekick to the heroes to be more than a little adorable (except his pissing on himself), the writers didn’t take full advantage of the character. What is the point of his game? He jumps on blocks to change their color until all the blocks on each level match. Well, there is a scene where he is jumping on a trampoline that was ripe to exploit that as a visual joke. In fact, every time he took a step it would have been funny to see the floor temporarily light up and change color like in Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” music video. The Duck Hunt dog was kind of rad too, but more screen time would have been better. All the games highlighted in the epic finale were more than welcome, from Robotron 2084, Tetris, Mario Bros. and Frogger. Nothing but nostalgia bustin’ out all over the place. It’s hit or miss, but it’s a hit for the most part.
Enough of the praises. Let’s talk about the faults. There are plenty of them. The flick is dry for long stretches when there aren’t any video gamey scenarios playing out (there are scenes that have zero energy level… most involving Kevin James), the jokes fall flat 50% of the time (except in Gad’s case since he sells them better than anyone else in the cast), no character is really developed in any sort of way outside of what we know of them from the opening flashback scene and any movie where Kevin James is the playing the POTUS is just asking for an ass whooping. For some reason I had an issue with Michelle Monaghan’s character doing all kinds of crazy gymnastics shit out of nowhere during the finale. One simple little throwaway line would have explained it, but nope. She’s flipping around like a spider monkey because why not. And the hokey “I cheated” subplot is kind of hamfisted and reeks of a Sesame Street moral thrown in for the kids. I never bought into the relationship between Sandler and Monahan as well. It’s forced and they go from disliking each other immensely to being all cuddly within the space of a scene. The same goes for the Valkyrie girl from the non-existent game Gad’s character is in love with. WTF?! What game were those little ninja characters from? The writing is uneven and the direction by Columbus isn’t all that impressive. And aside from all the cool 80s pop tunes being used the actual musical score is lackluster in the extreme.

And then there are the scathing reviews this film is receiving. Are they deserved? Not really in my opinion. Sandler has made much worse movies that haven’t been treated this harshly before. I have a sneaking suspicion that it might have something to do with the insensitive nature of his Netflix film The Ridiculous 6 and the negative publicity it attracted a couple of months back. Or it could just be his turn to be the whipping boy of Hollywood. I don’t know, but even though I had read a number of the reviews before seeing the movie I still didn’t find it completely deserving of the hate. Sure it’s a childish movie. It’s made for kids! It will certainly appeal more to them than an adult since that’s the demographic the filmmakers were aiming for. Anyone taking this flick seriously should have their critic’s membership card revoked. Pixels is way better than anything Sandler has put out over the past 10 years. Not that that would be hard, but it’s something.
I’m not apologizing for Pixels. Far from it. It is a very uneven film and isn’t nearly as clever or funny as it seems to think it is. But it’s a fun little diversion that should enthrall kids as well as people my age who actually remember sinking quarter after quarter into these classic arcade games as a kid ourselves. Critics are slinging mud because they can. Everyone in Hollywood has to be “It” at some point and its Sandler’s turn at bat. This is hardly “The Worst Movie Ever Made” as some are claiming it to be. I still say Battlefield Earth has that dishonor. It’s a mediocre film that just so happens to feature something that sets my geek heart aflutter. I had cheap fun with it and am not embarrassed to say so. Sometimes you just need a greasy cheeseburger instead of that healthy kale smoothie.

3 out of 5

P.S. I hope that the video games used in Pixels will show the youth of America that the games of the past are just as relevant and enjoyable in the present as they were back in the day. And hard as balls. Gamers are pussies nowadays.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Ant-Man

If you haven’t already read my re-review of Avengers: Age of Ultron I’ll sum it up by saying that Marvel didn’t make a movie, they made a Phase 3 commercial. I was so enthralled by all the craziness when I saw it for the first time that I didn’t see what was plainly obvious, but it took a second viewing for me to catch on. I wasn’t pleased and I would say that the kick ass one-two punch of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy was certainly soured in my eyes. 

Ant-Man, the final film in Phase 2 of the MCU, was released this past week and you have to believe that I was not looking forward to it and was extremely cautious. With all the trouble the production of this film went through, from original writer/director Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Shaun of the Dead, The World’s End) quitting over creative differences to the extensive rewrites (some by star Paul Rudd), I was expecting this to be a clusterfuck of epic proportions that would serve as yet another “Here’s what you can look forward to seeing in Phase 3” scenario instead of a complete film.

I was wrong.
Recently paroled thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is recruited by the brilliant scientist Hank Pym (Michael Dougles) to don a suit of his design that will allow him to shrink to the size of an ant to assist his daughter (Evangeline Lily) in stopping his protégé (Corey Stoll) from selling the technology to HYDRA.

Ant-Man is not a top tier character. In fact, the very concept of being able to shrink and talk to ants is kind of a bad idea for a superhero film. Especially when you have characters like Thor, Captain America and The Hulk already in the mix. It’s underwhelming on paper. Thankfully the execution exceeded my expectations completely. I am now firmly in the Ant-Man camp.
The main reasons why I thoroughly enjoyed this fast and fun, yet flawed film is that:
A) It does set up some Phase 3 storylines, but only in a way that would directly affect the characters of this film.
B) It’s not about property damage like the other films. When an epic battle takes place it happens within a 10’x10’ space and not a thriving metropolis like most of the films before it.
C) It takes its time to not only develop the characters properly, but gives interesting backstories to some that have previously been developed in earlier films.
D) It’s genuinely funny.

Paul Rudd (The 40 Year-Old Virgin, This is 40, Role Models) wouldn’t have been my first choice to play a superhero, but he absolutely kills it as an expert thief who resorts to crime in order to take care of his young daughter. He gives a sincere and enthusiastic performance that goes to show that judging a book by its cover isn’t the way to go with these films (and is a theme within the film as well). Marvel knows how to cast their movies perfectly. Well, almost perfectly. By this I refer to Evangeline Lily (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Real Steel) as Hope van Dyne. While I did enjoy her on Lost (the one and a half seasons that I saw of it) she is totally miscast here. She shares no chemistry with Rudd and shows very little interest in the part (except in one particular scene in the end). She looks bored and her hairstyle is atrocious. Corey Stoll (The Strain, Non-Stop) plays a decent, slimy villain as Darren Cross, aka Yellowjacket. He looks a little benign when trying to be menacing every once in a while, but for the most part he works in the part. Michael Douglas (Romancing the Stone, Wall Street) absolutely slays as Hank Pym! You can tell he is having the time of his life being a part of the MCU and he lends the film a touch of old school Hollywood class. Michael Peña (Gracepoint), who is an actor I am not too fond of, is hilarious as Rudd’s thieving sidekick and provides much of the laughter that fills the film.
Director Peyton Reed (Bring It On, Down With Love) may not be someone you’d expect to be the one calling the shots behind the scenes of a superhero film, but like Kenneth Branagh and the Russo Brothers before him, he somehow makes it all work. He’s not exactly the flashiest visual stylist out there, but he gives the Ant-Man scenes a very cool look that puts the backgrounds into a trippy haze in order to focus on the details of the miniature world the main character runs around in. It works wonders to separate the large form the small worlds so if we don’t see Scott shrink onscreen the audience will automatically know if he has or not by the visual cues. He also gets Rudd and Douglas to give some sensational and fun performances, but failed miserably when it comes to Lily. But I absolutely heart how he tackled the exposition scenes involving Michael Peña's character. So. Effing. Funny!

Adam McKay (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Step Brothers) and Paul Rudd’s doctored screenplay, which still includes a handful of material written by Edgar Wright as well as a pass by Joe Cornish (Attack the Block), is a standard superhero origin story that isn’t concerned with histrionic action scenes or world ending apocalypses that need to be averted. It’s a small scale film that focuses on the characters and how their choices affect them and those around them. Sure there are a couple of rad CGI filled explodathons, but as I said before this film isn’t about property damage. The action scenes mostly take place in the miniature world where a table covered with a child’s toys is a massive battleground filled with the same hazards you might encounter while normal size. These scenes are incredibly creative and enjoyable on multiple levels. But if we didn’t give a rat’s ass about the characters it’s all meaningless. Thankfully that’s not the case.
However, there are a couple of major issues. The villain, Cross, perfects his miniaturization process at around the halfway point. Instead of doing anything with it he sits around waiting for Scott to finish his hero training before making his move. It makes little sense and really ruins a good portion of the film. Additionally, Scott goes from someone who can barely throw a punch to a martial arts master in what seems like less than a week. Lame.

As the final film in Phase 2 of the MCU I have to say that Ant-Man sends it off with a healthy dose of laughter and enthusiasm with what is to come. It’s nice to come off a movie that was as busy and unfocused as Avengers: Age of Ultron to something more intimate and flat out fun. I’d compare it to last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy in that it features a character or characters you might not know too much about going in, but by the end you want to see more of them instantly. While it’s not as flat out amazing as Guardians was, Ant-Man is a must-see all the same. And with where the movie leaves the characters I can’t wait to see what the MCU has in store for them next!

4 out of 5

P.S. Stay until the credits are completely over for a second bonus scene!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron (A Second Take on the Film)

I’ve never been compelled to write something like this before, but after seeing Avengers: Age of Ultron again I felt I needed to update my thoughts on this film and post a revisionist review. 

So, when I first saw Avengers: Age of Ultron back when it was released in May of 2015 I was blown away by the multiple story threads, spectacle and diverse characters that were on display. I also think that I bought into it a little too much. Marvel’s last two films, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, were in my top 5 list of films from 2014 with the former being my top pick. Needless to say I was totally aboard the Marvel train at this point and was in a weird headspace upon witnessing all the bluster and bombast as Age of Ultron flashed across my retinas.

But sometimes wanting to relive the experience sours it. This was the case with Avengers: Age of Ultron.



Warning: There will be spoilers ahead.



When I saw it a second time (in IMAX 3D no less) I was completely taken aback by all that was wrong with it. And there was a whole lot of wrong. So much that I was surprised that I hadn’t thought the same when I first saw it, but like I said I was in a weird headspace in regards to these films.

Firstly there is the issue of Ultron himself. I commented in my previous review that his origin was glossed over in order to quickly move on to the next act. I thought that I had missed some crucial piece of information that would explain away what he was and how he came into being. Nope. It’s vague and doesn’t make a lick of sense. He was an A.I. trapped inside the Mind Gem that was already a surly mirror of Tony Stark’s personality complete with pop culture references at the ready as well as some commonly used slang too. When a giant robot says “I just threw up in my mouth a little” you know something’s up. His need to eradicate the inhabitants of the Earth also makes little sense. It boils down to “because I can” and not much else.

Upon a second viewing I also realized that my previous assessment of the film being packed with characters yet never felt too busy was also a mistake. This film has so much going on that it made my head hurt. I think I was just so thrilled to see some of my favorite characters on screen that I let the geekiness wash over me with little thought of if it made sense within the story or not. Well, a lot of it doesn’t. Scarlet  Witch and Quicksilver are fine additions to the cast. Trying to shoehorn in characters from other films in the MCU were not. War Machine and Falcon had no business being here and serve to set up films down the line. And as much as I love seeing the Vision brought to life, he is introduced way too late in the story to really give his character much room to develop. Plus his origin makes about as much sense as Ultron’s. It feels like Joss Whedon wanted Vision to be a part of the team and force fed us a bunch of gobbledygook to make it happen.

Relying on information only divulged if you watch the weekly adventures of the Agents of SHIELD is kind of cool… if you watch the show. Everyone else is S.O.L. The opening action scene was set up in the previous week’s episode, but no information is given within the movie to get those not in the know up to speed. It’s kind of crappy to punish those who don’t tune in to the companion show, which is basically a commercial for these films in the first place.

The overdone set-ups for the further adventures within the Marvel Cinematic Universe gets so freaking tiresome after a while that I realized about halfway through that I wasn’t watching a movie. I was watching a 2 and a half-hour long preview reel for Phase 3. Klaue and Wakanda were basically set-ups for Black Panther. Falcon’s appearance is a set-up for Captain America: Civil War. The lame “Thor has visions in a random cave” scene are a set-up for Avengers: Infinity War Parts 1 and 2. The talk of Kree DNA is setting up Captain Marvel. There’s a reason this film feels all disjointed and contrived. It’s because all these inclusions were forced upon Joss Whedon in order to tie everything together. A lot of times they are pointless and do nothing to move the story of THIS FILM along, and other times they were concessions forced by Marvel upon Whedon in order for him to include scenes he felt were important to THIS FILM (the farmhouse scenes).

There are gigantic leaps in logic and plot holes that you could drive a truck through. So there just so happens to be a factory that can manufacture Ultron drones that the heroes discover in the opening of the film. But how did Ultron know about it? And why did he need drones outside of passing his consciousness in between them? If his ultimate plan was to drop that chunk of rock to create an extinction level event there was no need for an army. He needed them so there could be a huge and flashy finale. At least in the original film Loki had a motivation, the means to carry out his mission and it all made sense. Well, a comic booky sort of sense. The Chitauri were waiting for him to open a wormhole so they could invade. That was the plan. Here it feels like the writers said “If Loki had an army in the first one for the epic final battle why shouldn’t Ultron?” How did Ultron know about the twins and how did they know about him? That scene where they meet for the first time is nonsensical. The whole Vision birthing scene makes no sense and is awkward as all hell. Was Thor trying to destroy Vision with the lightning attack or give him the spark of life? Everything is so rushed and truncated to make room for another Phase 3 ad that I’m surprised anything in this flick makes a lick of sense.

And of course there is the issue of Quicksilver dying. For me it kind of worked ant it kind of didn’t. I like that he sacrificed himself to save Hawkeye and a child from a hail of bullets, but at the same time I also said to myself “Of course he died. Whedon always has to kill off a major character in all his films or final episodes of his television shows”. It’s a Whedon cliché at this point and I’m getting sick of it.

What does work in this mess? The character moments definitely get a thumbs up from me. I love the relationship between Black Widow and Bruce Banner. The controversial scene where she compares herself to a monster for what the Russians did to her for her assassin training was totally taken out of context by most people and I found it to be a touching and tragic scene. Also, when she is kidnapped by Ultron she is hardly a damsel in distress. She’s not a whimpering, scared or helpless woman. She stays true to her character and immediately gets to work on finding a means to escape and really didn’t need Bruce’s help when he finds her as she was pretty close to getting out on her own at that point. The twin’s change of heart worked for me on multiple levels. The Hulkbuster Iron Man vs. Hulk was probably the greatest action scene in the entire film because it served a purpose within the story. The farmhouse scenes are fantastic and make Hawkeye out to be one of the more interesting and likable characters within the group. He needs his own fucking movie. 

Avengers: Age of Ultron is more of an ad for what is to come than a movie. It has a “too many cooks in the kitchen” slapped together feeling that really got on my nerves during my second viewing. There’s way too much going on for a film of this length and it becomes a confusing mess after the halfway point. It sort of implodes under its own weight. I can now fully understand why Joss Whedon left the MCU after this film was completed. Half of it was of his design, the other half was forced upon him by a committee in order to get the fans to salivate at what is to come and not produce the best movie that they possibly could. I hope that this trend does not pass over to Captain America: Civil War, which will feature even more characters and plot threads than this film.

My final assessment… The original The Avengers might have been awkward in certain areas and boring in others, but at least it was a whole movie. I can’t say the same about its sequel.

1.5 out of 5

Monday, July 6, 2015

Terminator: Genisys

We all know that the original The Terminator is a classic. It was one of the first R-Rated films I remember seeing as a child and it holds a special place in my heart due to its tense action, wonderful characters and time travelling storyline thanks to the genius of James Cameron. It was also a movie that made 9-year old me think in ways I hadn’t before. Time paradoxes aren’t something you normally hear being talked about during recess, but I theorized about it with my friends as we made our way across that rickety old playground jungle gym.

So when Terminator 2: Judgment Day was released in the summer of 1991 I was super hyped. It had a lot to live up to in my eyes and it delivered on everything I wanted and more. Returning writer/director James Cameron revisited the heady concepts of the first film and expanded upon them in creative and imaginative ways. Additionally, he not only toyed with the audiences expectations when it came to which of the time travellers was the villain and which was the hero, he also made me care about a robot.
In 2003 audiences received the Cameron-less Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Despite it not having quite the same braininess of the previous two films it was a fun and entertaining entry in the series that featured Arnold Schwarzenegger returning to the role that made him famous while blowing stuff up real good. Plus it had a great, ballsy ending. It wasn’t well received by fans, but I always felt it was a decent film despite the rampant overuse of CGI.

Unfortunately I can say nothing positive about 2009’s Terminator: Salvation. It didn’t look like a Terminator film, it didn’t feel like a Terminator film and worst of all… it didn’t have THE TERMINATOR. Without Schwarzenegger this abomination lost all connection to the franchise, and I don’t count that cheesy CGI Arnold that pops up for 20 seconds in the finale. It was pointless, had one of the worst endings in the history of film and most of the surprises were ruined in the trailers. Boo!
In 2015 we get a film that promises to return the series to its roots. Terminator: Genisys, which serves as a Star Trek styled reboot as well as a full on sequel, was being touted as not only the beginning of a new trilogy of films, but the one that would finally begin to piece together all the loose ends while creating some new ones of its own. And James Cameron gave it his official seal of approval so it has to be good, right?!

Future soldier Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) travels back in time to 1984 to save Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) from being killed by a cyborg (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and thusly her unborn child John (Jason Clarke) who will eventually lead a rebellion against the robots in the years to come. However, when Reese arrives he finds out that the past has been altered; Sarah has been raised by a mysteriously reprogrammed Terminator since she was a child, is as much a warrior as he is and Skynet never came into existence. Together they attempt to stop a computer program called “Genisys” from becoming a new version of Skynet.
While the storyline is very convoluted and introduces a number of plot threads and mysteries that are left open for the planned sequels, I feel that Terminator: Genisys is the best sequel since Terminator 2. It doesn’t even come remotely close to the awesomeness that is T2, but its pretty rad in its own right.

Writers Laeta Kalogridis (Shutter Island, Alexander) and Patrick Lussier (Dracula 2000 Trilogy, My Bloody Valentine 3D) appear to have been given the go ahead to do whatever they saw fit in order to develop the story. They succeed about as often as they fail, but for the most part they keep the events fun and thrilling while giving the fans a few clever pats on the back to show that they haven’t forgotten what makes these films work in the first place. There are some goofy, pulpy bits that seem a little out of place, but I have to say they surprised me with a few of their twists to keep the script fresh and moving in a new direction while not abandoning what came before it.
Director Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones, Thor: The Dark World) certainly upped his game after his highly mediocre pass at one of the better characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There is a confidence at play that wasn’t present in Thor: The Dark World, and thankfully he didn’t attempt to try to get kooky and crazy with the visuals like McG did with Terminator: Salvation. He keeps the film feeling like a natural extension of the original trilogy thanks to cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau and editor Roger Barton. He also gets some fantastic performances out of his reimagined cast. I certainly hope that if the sequels do come to pass he sticks around to direct them. It would be nice to see some directorial continuity much like Cameron’s films.

Seeing Ah-nold back in the saddle as the title character, referred to as “Guardian” in the end credits, is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because he IS this franchise. Not being able to participate due to his duties as Governor of California severely ruined the credibility of Salvation in my eyes. But he’s back (derp) and that is awesome. The curse is that he is more than a little over the hill. He’s 67 now and it’s plainly obvious that he’s not able to perform physical stunts like he used to. Thankfully the writers weaved his age into the story and made it work without drawing much attention to the details. He clearly is having a blast playing his most popular character once again, albeit one that is a little more human and emotional than the other incarnations. It shines through in his performance.
I really liked Emilia Clarke’s (Game of Thrones) take on Sarah Connor. She came off as a nice combination of the character from parts 1 and 2 with a little bit of resentment for not being able to have a normal life after being raised by a robot since she was 9. Her petulance at not wanting to have to be bound by her own fate she knows is to come was an interesting choice, especially when it comes to Reese and his siring of John Connor.

Jai Courtney (Jack Reacher, A Good Day to Die Hard) is a great Reese. Where Michael Biehn’s version of the character was all business, Courtney’s take is a little more of an out of his element sidekick. Thinking that he knew everything beforehand when he travelled to the past, he quickly learns that it means next to nothing since he has no knowledge about the events that have transpired in this alternate timeline. The character’s sense of humor comes out a lot more due to this and Courtney takes it all in stride. He’s great in his action scenes, shares a wonderful chemistry with his co-stars (Emilia Clarke especially) and manage to make the part his own without taking anything away from Biehn’s performance.
I will say that I was definitely not a fan of Jason Clarke’s (Zero Dark Thirty, Death Race) John Connor. His scenes in the opening of the film were perfectly fine and I liked his take on the character. He had a great repartee with Courtney’s Reese and it felt like they had been in the trenches for years fighting alongside each other. However, once the character resurfaces halfway through the film as the evil version of the character I felt like his casting was a huge misstep. Why? He’s not even slightly threatening. He comes off as an arrogant frat boy with motivations that aren’t exactly clear. Does he want to kill Sarah and Reese? If he does that will kill him as well, but he never really gets his point of view across due to some plot holes in the script and Clarke does nothing to help matters. He comes across as more of a robot than Schwarzenegger’s character at times, mechanically reciting his dialogue in a faux charming manner that isn’t scary in the slightest. If he came off as more unhinged I might have liked his performance more, but as it is he kind of sucks and ruins a good portion of the film for me.
While there is some slick action (loved the 1984 Terminator versus Guardian fight), good moments of humor and some clever twists to the franchise timeline I felt there were some glaring issues that kept this from being a “great” addition to the franchise as opposed to a “good” one. Let’s start with J.K. Simmons. His detective character was so out of place and worthless that I wish he was never included in the first place. I liked that the character had his place in some of the events in the past, but where the character ended up going and the conclusions he drew in the future timeline were so badly conceived by the writers it’s embarrassing. Another is the marketing of the film. Specifically the way Matt Smith of Doctor Who fame was being touted as having a huge part in the film. Yeah, well, that was a pack of lies. And why were 75% of the big twists given away in the trailers? Who the fuck thought that was a good idea? Oblivion had great twists that were never ruined in the multiple trailers that were released, so why not keep John Connor’s cyborg transformation a secret for those that actually want to see the film? Shoehorning certain minor characters from the previous films into the script felt like pandering to the fans for an “OMG” moment. And finally I like the fact that the studio wants this to be the first part of a trilogy, but could they just make a self contained film in case the box office take isn’t good enough to warrant follow up films? There are so many unanswered questions when the end credits roll that I’m getting a vibe comparable to when Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles ended its second season with a massive cliffhanger and then was cancelled due to low ratings. I want fucking closure! Don’t anticipate you’re going to have a massive hit on your hands until the money says you do. If this is where the franchise ends I’m going to be uber pissed. Lorne Balfe’s score is underwhelming too.
I won’t spoil the surprises not already ruined for you by the trailers, but I will end this review by saying that this is a very entertaining film despite all the flaws and missteps taken. I do believe that they have reinvigorated this franchise in the same way that Star Trek was in 2009. There are cool places the story can go in the future and mysteries that need to be answered. I just hope this flick is a hit so we can see everything come full circle. It’s certainly not the best film in the series, but its definitely not the worst like most critics are saying. I recommend you check it out and make up your own mind.

3.5 out of 5

P.S. Avoid seeing it in 3D. It is useless.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Spy

I love a good comedy. Some of my favorite movies are comedies. Caddyshack, Airplane!, Son in Law, Burn After Reading… so many that are not only funny but work on multiple levels. One thing that really gets me down is when a movie has the potential to be sidesplittingly funny but ends up falling flat on its face. Spy is one of those films.

The handler (Melissa McCarthy) of a CIA super spy (Jude Law) is placed in the field to uncover the details surrounding his death.
That set-up is rife with possibilities. Fish out of water – one of the most enduring plot devices ever conceived. With a proven comedic actress in place as the lead along with a very impressive supporting cast backing her up this flick had every chance to become the next comedy classic. Nope. Somehow the makers of this movie manage to muck it up at every turn.

How did it all go wrong? Let’s start with writer/director Paul Feig. He’s made two of the most popular female-centric comedies to come out within the past five years – Bridesmaids and The Heat. These were box-office juggernauts, especially Bridesmaids which went on to garner Academy Award nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress for Melissa McCarthy. He attracts great talent and even has amassed a troupe of dedicated actors and actresses that work with him film after film. He must be doing something right, right? Well, I haven’t liked a single one of his films. I thought Bridesmaids was overlong and overhyped, filled with unlikable characters whose moods changed faster than the attention of a hyperactive puppy. I turned The Heat off after the first 20 minutes because it was flat out annoying the fuck out of me. No joke.
Feig’s idea behind Spy is solid. It’s a parody of James Bond flicks with the people who are the super spies being the clueless ones and those backing them up being the real heroes. Like I said, so many possibilities. Feig instead decided to develop the concept as a directionless and obnoxiously crass dud that is on par with The Hangover, Part 3. There is very little that works. The characters all have filthy mouths and say “fuck” at least 4 times per minute, characters are written as unlikable idiots (with two exceptions), the action scenes are terrible and none of the comedy works. It’s embarrassing to see this much raw talent wasted, yet Feig keeps getting more and more high profile projects that get worse and worse in my eyes. He doesn’t seem to know what comedy is, let alone how to make a movie that feels whole. Every scene is disconnected from the one before it and comes across as a convoluted mess that was rapidly thrown together in the editing room. In Hollywood it’s all about the dolla dolla bills, y’all and somehow he keeps raking them in.

And what was up with Feig’s overly rapey male characters who were always grabbing McCarthy’s boobs? What makes it worse is that McCarthy’s character seems to be okay with it every time it happens which is a lot. It was creepy as hell and severely out of place. I hope this isn’t another story of a filmmaker’s weird fetish coming out to play in his work like Quentin Tarantino and his obsession with women’s feet.
I actually used to like Melissa McCarthy until her poor choice of projects tainted her forever in my eyes (ever see the trainwreck known as Tammy?). I used to watch Gilmore Girls back in the day and I found her to be completely adorable and charming as Sookie the chef. When she would pop up in random movies I would smile because she had a fun quirkiness that really did it for me. As the years went on and her roles expanded, culminating in her big break out with Bridesmaids, she really began to lose her luster. Now she comes across as a female Chris Farley whose claim to fame is by screaming obscenities and doing “fat person fall down, go boom” pratfalls. When Spy first started I thought I was seeing a return to form from McCarthy, but as the movie spun on those dreams came crashing down. She seemed to be putting her all into her part of Susan Cooper, but there was nothing there to begin with so it was all for naught. It’s a shame because I know she’s talented and is so much better than this kind of crap.

The main supporting cast sucks as well. Jude Law (Side Effects) looks lost for the whole movie, clearly out of his element as the suave but oblivious spy Bradley Fine. The usually capable Rose Byrne (Insidious: Chapter 2) doesn’t seem to understand comedy either and comes off as straight up annoying.  Even Allison Janney, who has absolutely killed it in comedies like 10 Things I Hate About You and Juno, is just phoning it in.
The story is a jumble of random scenes, most of the characters are asshats, it’s not funny, the action blows… what’s left to like? Well, I did state that not all the characters were asshats. In fact, the only reason to watch this flick is due to the efforts of two supporting actors – Jason Statham (Homefront) and Miranda Hart (Hyperdrive). Statham, who I am a big fan of, basically parodies himself at every turn as the increasingly unstable rogue spy Rick Ford. Some of the batshit crazy dialogue that comes out of his mouth, delivered completely seriously, is absolutely hysterical (“Nothing kills me. I'm immune to 179 different types of poison. I know because I ingested them all at once when I was deep undercover in an underground poison-ingesting crime ring.”). And Miranda Hart is in the charming and overly likable position that I found McCarthy in back on Gilmore Girls as fellow handler Nancy. Her character is written as genuinely funny because she doesn’t come from a place of faux edginess like the rest. She’s adorably awkward and just plain fun to watch.

Two bright spots aside, Spy flat out sucks. None of it really works and there is a strange scene-to-scene disconnect that kills any sort of momentum that there might have been at the start. If this is the future of comedy I think we might be in trouble. The worst part of it is that Feig and McCarthy have teamed up once again for the reboot of Ghostbusters. My faith in that project is at zero after witnessing this epic clusterfuck.

1 out of 5