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Review of Mission: Impossible III

Posted : 4 years, 10 months ago on 17 March 2014 12:16 (A review of Mission: Impossible III (2006))

The first 3 minutes alone of Mission: Impossible III are better than anything in the previous two Mission: Impossible films. After a middling original, and an unwatchably boring sequel, Mission: Impossible III is a breath of fresh air. The action sequences are tight, the performances are great, and the film is all around fun from start to finish.

Ethan Hunt is on yet another "impossible" mission, though this time, things are complicated due to his recent marriage. Hunt is on the search for a "rabbit's foot" that is also being targeted by the villainous Owen Davian.

While portions of the plot seem relatively familiar to the first two installments, Mission: Impossible III is a significant improvement over the Brian de Palma's (and an infinite improvement over the disastrous Mission: Impossible II). Any and all of the problems with the previous two films are completely fixed here. Thus, Mission: Impossible III is one smooth ride.

The action sequences are fantastic. Some of them are great fun, while others provide impressive tension. Indeed, there are a number of "edge-of-your-seat" moments- something that the first two films were sorely lacking. And thankfully, these sequences are never too long. The second film suffered from (among other things) tedious action scenes that lasted far too long, whereas Mission: Impossible III does a much better job of keeping them tight and manageable.

And surprisingly, the stuff inbetween the action isn't so bad either! That's called "story," yes? It's nice to see that in an action film. It's not as absurdly convoluted as the first Mission: Impossible, nor as insultingly simplistic as the second film. Mission: Impossible III strikes a nice balance to avoid being a massive chore, or a massive bore.

The tone of this film seems a bit more gritty than the previous two films (though it still allots time for fun). With the addition of a spouse, Ethan Hunt is in a much more stressful situation then before (this sort of thing was attempted in Mission: Impossible II, but it failed to provide anything more than a half-baked love triangle). And the villain, Owen Davian is far more menacing and memorable than the villains in any of the previous Mission: Impossible films.

Also, I should add that the screenplay is great. Unlike the first two films, where the combined dialogue highlight was "Hasta lasagna, don't get any on ya," there are some really snappy lines here. Characters are allowed amusing banter and clever quips that make the primary cast more likable, and the downtime between action sequences just as entertaining as the explosions and gunfire.

None of the performances are on auto-pilot here. Tom Cruise gives a performance that far exceeds the depth of his previous engagements with this franchise, and Ving Rhames reprises his role of Luther Stickell (a character that's given a much better script this time around). Laurence Fishburne as the head of IMF is very entertaining in his role, and Simon Pegg in his two scenes alone make this film worth watching. Billy Crudup, Michelle Monaghan, and Keri Russel also provide notable performances, but the acting highlight is Philip Seymour Hoffman as the antagonist, Owen Davian. He's completely despicable and menacing, and brutally unforgiving portraying the most interesting and memorable Mission: Impossible villain of the film series thus far.

The score is composed by Michael Giacchino- thankfully, with an orchestra this time, unlike Zimmer's electric guitar garbage that provided the music for Mission: Impossible II. While full uses of the classic Mission: Impossible theme are used sparingly, Giacchino's own material is entertaining enough to easily forgive this. In fact, it's probably the most engaging and entertaining score of the franchise so far. That said, though, one gets the feeling that Giacchino could probably right this stuff in his sleep. Still, it's good fun.

It's hard to complain about a movie that fixes everything that its predecessors did wrong. That's not to say that Mission: Impossible III is a perfect movie, but it's closer to being one than the previous two films. Simply said, Mission: Impossible III provides what's most important for this kind of film: Fun. But it's certainly appreciated that it manages to add an ounce of intelligence and craft to the offerings as well.

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Review of Iron Man

Posted : 4 years, 10 months ago on 9 March 2014 01:06 (A review of Iron Man)

It is not uncommon for a film to take its time to really "start." It sets up the back story, establishes the characters, etc. When done right, this can be a rewarding way to begin a film. When done wrong, you get Iron Man. And when I say this film gets it wrong, I mean it like this: This film never starts. I quite literally waited the entire 2 hour run time for this film to really get moving, and it never did. One could make an argument that this is, in fact, an origin movie, and as a result, it is likely to be more slow-moving than other action-comedies. But there have been many origin stories (Spider-Man immediately comes to mind) that have managed to be thoroughly entertaining, and getting the point and origin of the main character across. Needless to say, Iron Man is no Spider-Man.

As I have mentioned Iron Man is an origin story, specifically about a "playboy, philanthropist, genius" named Tony Stark. He gets seriously injured and captured by terrorists, so an electromagnet is planted in his chest to keep him from dying. In order to escape the terrorists, he builds a suit of armor, which then allows him to become (you got it) Iron Man.

This is a story that could have been comfortably told in a single hour. And yet, it the run time is over 2 hours. Approximately 10 minutes of that represents the action sequences of the film. The rest of the movie is lots and lots of talking. I was amazed by how much meaningless dialogue there was in this film. The plot is simple enough. The characters are actually too simple. So I really don't understand why the majority of this film had to be devoted to conversation regarding the politics of war and weapons, and the formulaic romance between Tony Stark and his assistant Pepper Potts. It's a waste of time and an utter bore. Half of the dialogue could have been removed from the film, and nothing would be lost on the audience.

Thankfully, not quite all of the conversation is unnecessary exposition. There are a meager handful of comedic scenes, that are actually very effective. Frankly, I wish there had been a greater focus on the comedy in Iron Man, because these short bursts of humor and chuckles were far more enjoyable than the rest of the film.

Because even when the conversations have temporarily stopped to make way for flashy action sequences, the film is still a bore. The early action scenes with Iron Man are horribly dull, because he's essentially invincible. And even the climatic fight scene, involving Iron Man vs. the villain in his own Iron Man suit, is remarkably pedestrian; containing all the thrill and tension of a Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots match.

The characters are hugely under developed. Pepper Potts and Lt. Colonel James Rhodes (close friend of Tony Stark), have no personality to speak of. Tony Stark is also a fairly one-dimensional character, but he's likable enough, and receives the lion's share of the humor. The villain (the identity of which I'm really not sure is a spoiler or not, so I'll play it safe) has no distinguishing personality traits, but he's just menacing enough to suffice. And his performance is also pretty solid.

The acting is decent all around. Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark is a perfect fit for the snarky hero. Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stone is also surprisingly good in his role. And thanks to undeveloped characters, Terrence Howard and Gwyneth Paltrow are utterly forgettable. As expected, Stan Lee has a quick cameo that earns a chuckle.

The score, composed by Ramin Djawadi, is fairly bad. In part, because it's completely unmemorable, and also because of its rock music emphasis. The use of electric guitars, while arguably appropriate for the film, are never pleasant to hear, and all attempts at emotional or suspenseful music are generic and bland.

Not so much flawed as it is dull, Iron Man is a long 2 hours. While snippets of comedy throughout are more than welcome, everything inbetween is tedious and uninteresting. Iron Man simply lacks almost any form of excitement, tension, or fun. The special effects may be shiny and pretty, but the entertainment just isn't there.

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Review of The Kid

Posted : 4 years, 10 months ago on 2 March 2014 11:51 (A review of The Kid (1921))

Note: For this review, I watched the original 1921 version of The Kid (as opposed to the 1971 cut, which includes a musical score composed by Charlie Chaplin).

Silent films have always fascinated and impressed me for as long as I can remember. Modern cinema has the advantage of words and improved cinematography, effects, etc., that makes it easier and easier to draw the audience into the world that the director envisions. In the case of Charlie Chaplin's The Kid, it has no audible words or flashy effects. It doesn't even have music. For 68 minutes, the film does not make a single sound. And yet, it's ultimately more engaging and entertaining than the majority of films released today. It is a testament to the acting, the directing, and even the cinematography; all doing their part to create an experience that is both wonderfully comedic, and surprisingly emotional. A triumphant achievement.

A young woman decides to abandon her baby boy, and leaving him only with a note that simply requests that the person who finds the boy will care and love him. He is discovered by The Tramp (Charlie Chaplin), and after some deliberation, he decides to take the baby in, and names him John. Meanwhile, the woman at the beginning has grown very famous, but she is still reminded of her little boy, whom she misses terribly.

The story is very simple, but in this case, less is more. While these plot points and story ideas have been done to death nowadays, The Kid remains an engaging experience. It's remarkable how fresh the film feels, despite its now cliched story concept. The Kid is truly a timeless picture.

As previously mentioned, there is no music in this film (or sound of any kind). A film's musical score is often responsible for setting the tone or mood of the scene. And so, without the advanced cinematography and effects we have today, The Kid should be emotionless in theory. And yet, it is quite the opposite. You will laugh. And you will cry.

While the cinematography (while simplistic) and directing are supporting factors in this, the real reason why The Kid manages to succeed emotionally and comically, is due to the acting. There a number of fine performances here. The obvious one is Charlie Chaplin himself as the The Tramp. His comic scenes are nothing short of hilarious, and even his more subtle comedic ideas are chuckle-worthy. And yet, his evident care and love for the child he adopts is very sweet, and gives the character (and performance) layers. The child he adopts, John, is portrayed by Jackie Coogan. Coogan was only 6 years old when he performed in this film, and yet, his performance is nothing less than perfect. Like Chaplin, his comedic bits are very good, but it's really his emotional pieces that sell the performance. His performance would have been noteworthy no matter how old he was, but the fact that he was only 6 is unbelievable. A miracle, even.

The Kid is an utter delight from start to finish. Very funny, very poignant, and boasting some fine performances, The Kid is a winner through and through. It gives you the laughs, the tears, and the craft to provide a very satisfying 68 minutes. Absolutely timeless, and an absolute must-see for anyone.

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Review of Mission: Impossible II

Posted : 4 years, 11 months ago on 24 February 2014 02:11 (A review of Mission: Impossible II (2000))

Mission Impossible 2 is a very difficult film to review, because for the most part, it's let down by a single issue: it's unspeakably boring. It seems that director John Woo was more interested in directing a generic love-story than a spy flick, resulting in a weirdly slow (and uneventful) first hour. During the second hour, Woo must have realized how crushingly dull the first half of his film was, and crammed as much action as he could into the second hour. But even then, these action scenes only add up to lots and lots of mindless shooting, a car/motorcycle chase that lasts far too long, and a well-choreographed (but ultimately tedious) hand-to-hand fight scene. The first hour is a bore, but the second is so mindlessly constructed and even pointless, that one almost wishes to return to the plodding first half.

In the process of recruiting Nyah Nordoff-Hall, agent Ethan Hunt falls in love with her, creating an unfortunate complication. The complication is that Nyah is to go meet up with an old love named Sean Ambrose, in hopes of attaining a dangerous virus that Ambrose plans on releasing into the world.

I'm all up for a good romance, even if I was expecting an action-packed thriller. But when a romance is written as poorly as this one, it's hard to hold one's interest (some lines are even cringe-worthy). The problem here, is that everything about Ethan and Nyah's relationship is predictable and familiar. There is nothing unique or intriguing about their relationship, nor the circumstances surrounding it, ultimately dooming the first half of the film.

The second half focuses far less on Ethan and Nyah's love-story, and chooses instead to hone in on the primary strength of the first film; meaning action sequences. Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, the action sequences (while generous in screen-time) are criminally tedious. One extended sequence literally just involves people shooting at each other, to the point where it's impossible to tell what's going on.

And, as mentioned, there is a chase sequence where Ethan Hunt is trying to get away on a motorcycle, but it quickly becomes monotonous and repetitive. With this sequence, and a car chase from Jack Reacher in mind, I can only conclude that chase sequences should be banned from any and all Tom Cruise films to limit extended periods of boredom.

As far as positives go, I suppose it's notable that the plot isn't even close to as convoluted as that of the first. However, the first half of the film actually goes to the extreme opposite, with a plot and script so simplistic, it's legitimately insulting. The sweeping cinematography might be worth praising too, had it not been for the excessive amount of slo-mo.

All the actors involved seem to be on auto-pilot (with a single exception). Thanks in part to bland, and lifeless characters, Tom Cruise, Dougray Scott, and Thandie Newton fail to make any lasting (or even temporary) impressions in their performances. Only Anthony Hopkins (as Mission Commander Swanbeck) is especially notable, and in any other film, he might not have been. His two scenes provided more entertainment than the rest of the film combined.

The score, composed by Hans Zimmer, is simply, terrible. It's the worst score I've heard in a very long time. Emphasizing on electric guitars (and even wailing middle-eastern vocals), this rock-oriented score is nothing short of unbearable. It also commits one of the worst crimes a musical score can be found guilty of. And that, of course, is hurting the film itself. I was tempted to hit the "mute" button on multiple occasions, out of sheer disgust of the repulsive rock music. Also interesting is the lack of Lalo Schifrin's original theme- making only two, fleeting appearances.

Mission Impossible 2 just isn't any fun. The script is bad, the performances are weak, and the action sequences are a total snooze. While it's not as needlessly convoluted as Brian De Palma's original, it also lacks the over-the-top fun that the first at least sporadically achieved. I can't recommend it for much more than an antidote for insomnia.

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Review of Jack and Jill

Posted : 4 years, 11 months ago on 22 February 2014 08:49 (A review of Jack and Jill)

I cannot even begin to imagine what the makers of Jack and Jill were thinking (assuming they were thinking at all, of course). I'm not referring to the nightmarish gimmick of Adam Sandler portraying a man named Jack and his twin sister, Jill, as there is clearly a market for this kind of "comedy" (mostly restricted to children in the single-digit age-range). Rather, I am referring to the absurd amount of offensive humor in this supposed family film, including jokes about Mexicans, Christians, terrorists, etc. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. There is not a single funny gag in this film, and there is rarely a moment where the events onscreen aren't utterly grating or unbearable. My fascination with awful cinema knows no bounds, but Jack and Jill took my patience to the breaking point. I'm forever scarred. There's no going back; I will never be the same.

Jack and Jill are twin siblings (as I mentioned before, they are both portrayed by Adam Sandler). Jack cannot stand his nutty and emotional sister, but Jack's wife insists on letting Jill stay with them over the holidays, as Jill is clearly very lonely. Jack is especially crabby because Al Pacino (yes, Al Pacino is in an Adam Sandler movie) has refused to be a part of a Dunkin' Donuts commercial that Jack is directing. However, Jill becomes very useful to Jack when Al Pacino develops an intense love for Jill (?!?!?!), and the whole film gets worse and worse from there.

Now, to be fair, this film was never good. From the first second, to the last, Jack and Jill is just a long grind. A long grind that somehow manages to get worse and worse as the film goes on. A miraculous achievement (don't you dare take this sentence out of context). Just when you think Jack and Jill can't get any more offensive or awful, you get another racism joke. Another weird scene where 70 year old Al Pacino is trying to romance a 40 year old Adam Sandler in drag. Another celebrity cameo that makes you scream at the screen, "What obscene amount of money were you offered to accept a role in this train wreck?!"

And come to think of it, calling this film a train wreck may be a perfect analogy. Yes, it's horrible. Yes, it's depressing. But one can only watch in morbid curiosity to see what happens next.

And perhaps curiosity is fair. That is, after all, what drew me to this film. When a film has such an infamous reputation as this one, one cannot help but be drawn in. But there are numerous pleasures in this film, other than Adam Sandler portraying two of the most unlikable characters in all of cinema. In what other film can you see Shaquille O'Neal sensually licking a frozen ham? In what other movie can you Adam Sandler (as a woman) debating God's existence with an atheist? And in what other movie will you hear Al Pacino shot this most memorable line of dialogue: "I can smelly horny across the ocean!" Yes, this movie is actually PG.

I'm trying to figure out what the thought-process was behind the makers of this "film." Why is it a good idea to have so many offensive/raunchy jokes in a PG rated family film? At least in the first 10 minutes of the film (which feel more like 10 years), I felt like I was watching a family movie. After that, the screenwriters must have realized the idiocy of their decision to sign onto this movie, and decided to shoot for the stars, hoping to at least earn some "edginess points" in the process.

And yet, we still have the common staples of bad children's entertainment. Including (but not limited to), poop jokes, (dozens of) fart jokes, silly dancing, and slapstick.

Even the special effects used in this film to make it so Jack and Jill can be in the same scenes are done poorly. They're almost never in the same shot, and when they are, you can only see one of their faces. I can probably count on my hands the amount of times they both appear onscreen at the same time. Heck, The Parent Trap with Lindsay Lohan from 16 years ago pulled the "twin" effect off better than this film.

Adam Sandler (who won the Golden Razzie award for Worst Actor and Worst Actress for this film) is, needless to say, atrocious. The character of Jack, is almost unbelievably rude, and a total jerk. Jill, on the other hand, is as obnoxious as you would expect, with the single most annoying and ear-bleedingly terrible laugh in the history of cinema (and you will hear this laugh numerous times in this film).

Al Pacino gets a surprisingly large role in this film, and while his performance isn't bad, per-say, he comes across as terrible anyways, purely because of the script. His role in this film seems somewhat ironic, interestingly, because he says in this film that he would never stoop so low, as to allow himself to be in a Dunkin' Donuts commercial. And yet, here he is, dating Adam Sandler in Jack and Jill!

Other celebrity cameos only leaves the audience wondering what Oscar contender they lost a bet on. The biggest question seems to be why Johnny Depp has a scene in this film, despite not saying anything funny (or anything that's supposed to be funny). Also, he's wearing a Justin Bieber shirt, because, you know, why not?

So, if you can't wait to see Adam Sandler in heels, making a run for the toiler screaming, "it's the chimichangas! They're making a run for the border!," then this will be all kinds of fun for you. But for the more sensible remainder of the population, this will be an intolerable slog. I think Al Pacino says it best at the end of the film: "Burn this. This cannot be seen. By anyone."

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Review of Arachnophobia

Posted : 4 years, 11 months ago on 15 February 2014 06:53 (A review of Arachnophobia (1990))

The title should be a hint, but if spiders give you the willies, Arachnophobia will be your own personal horror show. The icky factor is dialed to a 10, providing some effective moments of skin-crawling. In other words, Arachnophobia is a deliciously fun ride, with genuine thrills and legitimate laughs.

The amusingly self-aware plot is that by unfortunate chance, a deadly Venezuelan spider was transported to a small town where the spiders quickly multiplied and begin killing various town residents. The nest is, rather coincidentally, located in the farm of arachno-phobic, Ross Jennings.

It is so rare to see a film get this mix of comedy, chills, and thrills down so perfect. Never does one element seem to outweigh the other. The tongue-in-cheek delivery of the story is highly enjoyable, and there are some genuinely creepy-crawly scenes. All of this leads up to a thrilling (and chilling) climax that is fantastic fun.

There is a lot of mastery in the build-up in this film. Spiders are often dancing around potential victims, tantalizing the audience with another gruesome death. Will it bite her? Will she notice it? We watch with morbid curiosity and a grin as we writhe with anticipation and (perhaps slightly twisted) delight.

The spiders are nearly as creepy as they could possibly be. They're silent and quick. They can jump (which adds a whole new layer of terror). And some are quite large. We see them hide in food, and exit out of victim's nostrils. Arachnophobia creates a sense of paranoia that will stay with you long after the film has ended.

And yet, the creepiness is kept from getting too nerve-wracking thanks to its self-aware attitude and campy spirit, which insures a fun time, even when you're chewing your nails away and intermittently brushing off your shoulder.

Jeff Daniels as Ross Jennings isn't given as much to work with as some of the other cast members, but he makes for a likable lead. The real stand-out, however, is John Goodman as Delbert McClintock, who provides the biggest laughs of the film, and steals all of his scenes. He's woefully underused, however, as he appears in just a handful of short scenes. The supporting cast also has their share of funny bits, including Stuart Pankin, Roy Brocksmith, and Kathy Kinney.

Trevor Jones' score is surprisingly fun. The cheesy and dated music (an unintended result that has come with age) adds to the fun, and the pleasant town melodies make the comic build-up to the spiders' reign even more chuckle-worthy.

Arachnophobia is a surprisingly clever and smartly made movie. It provides a satisfying blend of comedy and suspense, coupled with solid performances and a hot heaping of camp. It's fun, it's reasonably creepy, and just a really good time. Watch it with friends and have a blast.

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Review of The Lone Ranger

Posted : 4 years, 11 months ago on 10 February 2014 04:40 (A review of The Lone Ranger)

When one walks into a film directed by Gore Verbinski and starring Johnny Depp, one has to be prepared to suspend their disbelief once in a while during outrageous action scenes. The Lone Ranger is no exception, but this movie pushes the boundaries of ignorance even farther than the Pirates of the Caribbean films. The number of ridiculous coincidences, miraculous death escapes, and dumb luck in this picture is too large to count. It falls past the mark of forgiveness and into the vast unknown of sheer absurdity. For that reason (among others), The Lone Ranger can be easily enjoyed as an embarrassment to the names of everyone involved. But there's just enough legitimately good stuff in this movie to make one yearn for the fun film it could have been.

So, I'm not quite sure what the film was all about; the whole affair just seemed like a blur of dull conversations, sporadic weird-ness, and the occasional (and preposterous) action scene. As far as I can tell, this movie is about John Reid, a lawyer who is out to find the men that killed his brother. And also, there's Johnny Depp talking to a horse now and then. That's more or less, the gist of this film.

The Pirates of the Caribbean films, while mindless and often remarkably stupid, still manage to be decent fun most of the time, providing colorful characters are impressive action sequences. Some of this is still true of The Lone Ranger, but in considerably smaller increments- with the exception being the stupidity, which has been massively inflated, resulting in a treasure trove of unintentional comedy.

The extent of the stupidity knows no bound. The script- which contains more than its fare share of bad dialogue- is all over the place. It never keeps the tone consistent, and the same goes for the character personalities (the exception being Tonto, though his personality is no more elaborate than Jack Sparrow with a dead bird on his head). There are various needlessly convoluted conversations (which are therefore, needlessly dull), and the attempts at comedy are often embarrassingly juvenile. In other words, there are poop jokes.

What's more, the script is terribly lazy. Many, many incidents are left unexplained. Example: During one scene, John Reid wakes up, and finds himself on a small platform that is several hundred feet high (you've likely seen this bit in the trailer). The next scene, he is no longer on the platform, but speaking with Tonto. It is never explained how he got off of the platform, and for that matter, it's never explained why he was there to begin with. This is only a single example, but there are numerous.

Furthermore, the script has the bizarre idea to have the entire story narrated by Tonto over 60 years in the future to a young boy. The film will randomly cut back to Tonto and the young boy, and these cuts back never feel natural, and they always take one completely out of the story (or at least what passes for a story in this film).

As I briefly touched upon before, this film is everywhere tonally. While it's often a fun, light-hearted adventure, it randomly cavorts into the dark and oddly depressing. One extensive massacre of seemingly hundreds of Native Americans is an unfortunate example of this.

And did I mention that the love interest of the title character is actually his sister-in-law, whom his brother married? What?!

There are action sequences in this film, but they're not as large in number as one might hope. Most of the film is devoted to tedious conversations and hit-or-miss comedy. What action scenes are there tend to be fairly forgettable. The highlight of these sequences (and the of the film) is one extensive train/horse chase/fight near the end. It's still preposterous, but it is undeniably fun.

If more of the film had focused on this care-free, high-energy mood, this could have been as fun as the best of the Pirates films. Unfortunately, too much of this film is focused on convoluted plot details, and weird Depp antics.

The acting in this film is often embarrassing. Armie Hammer as John Reid never hits the right note. He always feels out of place in this film, and never gets into the role. Of course, considering the script he had to work with, it's unlikely even the best of actors could have made this look good. Johnny Depp as Tonto is sporadically entertaining, but occasionally terrible. Some of his comedic bits work, and others are cringe-worthy. Scenes that involve him talking to horses are especially bad. The other performances are generally lifeless.

The score, composed by Hans Zimmer, is fun at times. But it's constantly quoting his score from Inception (and more infrequently, Sherlock Holmes and Rango). It's frustrating, and distracting. However, the extensive use of the William Tell Overture during the action sequence at the end is clever, and very entertaining.

As much as I'm tearing The Lone Ranger apart, I didn't hate it. Because of its preposterous nature and numerous unintentional laughs, The Lone Ranger is reasonably entertaining. Unfortunately, the comic nature of some scenes and sequences aren't fully embraced consistently. The film often gets too caught up in uninteresting plot threads and tedious dialogue to focus on just having a good time. The key to getting the most out of The Lone Ranger, is to see it with friends. You'll all laugh aloud at the film's absurdity, and hopefully get a kick out of the end. If you're watching on your own, expect to doze off, zone out, or wonder aloud why Johnny Depp would allow himself to be humiliated in this way.

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Review of The Lego Movie

Posted : 4 years, 11 months ago on 8 February 2014 03:17 (A review of The Lego Movie)

I know there's still nearly 11 months of the year remaining, but I am convinced that no other 2014 release will make me laugh as much, or as hard, as The Lego Movie. The gags come at a furious rate, the film features eye-popping animation, and there are enough clever easter-eggs to justify second, third, and fourth viewings for any fan (or former fan) of Legos. For 80 minutes of this movie, I almost never stopped smiling or laughing. Which makes it terribly unfortunate that the last 20 minutes threatens to unravel every perfect thing that The Lego Movie did in the preceding one-and-a-quarter hour.

Emmet, just an ordinary construction worker, falls down a hole (a la Alice in Wonderland), and discovers a crazy world, totally unlike his own. Emmet is even more shocked when he learns that he is the "Specialist," the fulfillment of a prophecy that will save the entire universe from Lord Business, who threatens to destroy the world on Taco Tuesday.

So, if you've seen any of the trailers, you know that The Lego Movie takes place in a world composed entirely of the Lego brand construction toy. But this is no mere marketing gimmick. The animation includes hundreds upon hundreds of clever Lego references that kept my eyes moving in vain hopes of catching every detail. I can only assume that I have only discovered a fraction of the intense detail put into this film. Not to mention a slew of amusing sight-gags that rival that of Aardman. The Lego Movie demands repeat viewings. And I am more than happy to meet this demand.

For the first 80 minutes of the film, the gags literally do not stop. I'd say there's at least 5 gags to a minute (not counting little easter-eggs in the background), and if you multiply that by 80, you get- well, a lot of laughs. The gags range from slap-stick, to satire humor, social commentary, pop culture references, visual gags, etc.

The satire and parody elements stand out, often downright mocking other similar films. Unfortunately, The Lego Movie falls into a very common pitfall for films that rely heavily on parody humor: It ultimately becomes the very subject of its mockery.

This is when we get to the last 20 minutes which are, not necessarily bad, but a dramatic departure from what came before. The gags seem to stop. They're actually still there in moderate supply, but because of how frequently they came before, the whole film seems to slow down. And the ending becomes something remarkably pedestrian and predictable in a way that one thinks that it MUST be intentional self-parody. But it isn't. For a film as ridiculous as this one, it's a shame it chooses to take itself so seriously at the end.

All of my problems with the last 20 minutes root back to the "twist." This is a spoiler-free review, so I won't give the game away, but let's just say that it's almost nothing a twist should be. In other words, it's not shocking, it's not inventive, and it's not good. I am convinced that The Lego Movie would be vastly improved had the twist been absent.

The voice cast is clearly having a lot of fun with their characters- all of which are extremely fun, and very memorable. Christ Pratt in the lead as Emmet gives an appropriately chipper performance, and Elizabeth Banks manages to expand upon the generic tough-girl, Wyldstyle- the most uninteresting of the main cast. The highlights, however, are indisputably Morgan Freeman as Vitruvius (featuring one of the best character designs in recent memory), as well as Will Arnett, Will Ferrell, Liam Neeson, Alison Brie, Charlie Day, and many others. There are dozens of hilarious cameos as well, often voiced by major celebrities (but I'll let you discover them on your own). A brief cameo by Abraham Lincoln also gets a laugh, but one can't help but wonder if Daniel Day-Lewis was ever offered the role.

The score, composed by Mark Mothersbaugh, is an effective parody score. It jumps from genre to genre, amplifying the chaotic and hilarious environments. And yet, while it's amusing in the picture, I doubt it will provide a satisfying listen outside of the film.

The Lego Movie is 80 minutes of the funniest, most inventive, and ingenious animated cinema to grace the screen in years, and 20 minutes that is merely okay. The Lego Movie is so close to being a near-masterpiece, that it's painful for me to merely label it as a near-near-masterpiece. But all issues with the end aside, The Lego Movie is a must-see, not just for Lego fans and youngsters, but for audiences of all ages. The sheer amount of joy and fun contained within this film is unmatched by any animated film that was released last year. My face still hurts from smiling.

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Review of TRON

Posted : 4 years, 12 months ago on 23 January 2014 11:35 (A review of TRON (1982))

Had I not known before watching the film (or had I somehow missed the remarkably obvious "hidden Mickey"), I would have never guessed TRON to be a Disney film. It simply has little to nothing in common to anything else Disney has ever made. And I'm not referring to the lack of musical numbers or princesses, but rather the lack of humor, coherent plot, memorable characters, and basically anything resembling entertainment. TRON is a mess. A boring mess. Its cult classic status is a mystery to me.

Normally I'd explain the plot of the film right about now, except I have no idea what the movie was about. Somebody named Flynn gets sucked into a computer game, and has to figure out how to defeat something called Master Control Program. But there are so many points of confusion and tedious chase scenes mish-mashed throughout the film, that the plot gets totally lost at times.

Perhaps I would have a better understanding of the story if the dialogue wasn't so terribly dull. The script is composed of incredibly bland exposition and tedious tech-talk, making it a chore to listen to.

While TRON is only 96 minutes long, it's fairly dull from the very start. There are some slightly intriguing elements early on, but by the time TRON hits the 45 minute mark, it becomes a certified snore-fest. Frankly, I was just about bored to tears.

TRON is often praised for its "incredible" visuals. But they look so horrendous that I can't imagine they are appreciated as anything more than as a lesson in how NOT to create special effects. I understand that this film is over 30 years old, but surely the intense ugliness of this production was evident at the time of its release.

The effects are frightfully messy looking. Once we enter the video-game world, everything from the backgrounds to the (laughably bad) costumes are digitally created. This makes the film appear muddy and shoddy. So muddy, in fact, that I frequently mixed up the identities of certain characters, merely because the special effects caused their faces to be difficult to see clearly.

The acting ranges from bland to campy. Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner and Cindy Morgan fall into the former category. David Warner falls into the latter.

The score, composed by Wendy Carlos, is delightfully retro, yet simultaneously obnoxious as a result. The electronic elements are amusing, but they become excessive and irritating as the film progresses.

A mess of a film, TRON features disastrously ugly special effects, terrible dialogue, weak acting, and a confusing story that isn't worth trying to follow. On top of that, it's just a big bore, lacking the fun and excitement of the films it's so clearly trying to imitate (namely Star Wars). If you want to see a better video-game oriented Disney film, watch Wreck-It Ralph. If you've already seen Wreck-It Ralph and you want to see if Disney can find success in the same pattern twice, here's your answer: no. Go watch Wreck-It Ralph.

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Review of Now You See Me

Posted : 5 years ago on 19 January 2014 10:19 (A review of Now You See Me)

Now You See Me is reminiscent of a magic act I once saw. The magician was very funny, and he frequently had me laughing and smiling quite widely. Alas, the "magic" portion of his act was a bit weak. I would have been very happy to have seen this magician devote his entire stage-time on comedy, but seeing as he was- in fact- a magician, he was inclined to perform some magic. Now You See Me is the same way. The comedy works, and it's a lot of fun at times. But it ultimately falls short when it tries to incorporate the twists and tricks that would be expected of a film like this.

Four independent magicians are called together by an unknown person to pull of a caper of magnificent proportions. The caper takes place over the course of three performances, and they all end in the audience receiving massive amounts of money from various sources. As a result, the FBI is attempting to crack down on the magicians, while repeatedly being made a fool of.

So at first, Now You See Me sounds like a light comedy/caper film. But that's only part of it. The comedy works very well, and there are definitely some laughs to be had. The chemistry between the magicians is often entertaining, and there are definitely some clever lines.

Alas, the film falters when it wants to be more than a comedy. What seems to be the whole point of the film, is discovering who is behind the entire caper, and what will happen when the job is finished. And to what purpose? These questions are answered in the twist ending which, frankly, is incredibly weak.

Granted, it's not predictable. I'll admit that the ending surprised me. But it's just not a good twist, and it's hard to explain why without spoilers. The main issue is that it's just unsatisfying, and it's not thought out. It seems that the makers of this film merely decided to choose an ending that would seem the most surprising to audience members, without it really changing the preceding events.

The fact that the whole film is supposed to be a sort of build-up to the end makes the twist all the more disappointing. But the ending is made even worse by the fact that it's padded out in a way that seems almost conceited. The filmmakers are clearly reveling in their own genius at the end of the film, but the twist is so lacking in said genius that the ending is just one big egotistical flop.

And even the rest of the film, while rarely dull, is heavily flawed. The four magicians, for instance, are only partially developed. J. Daniel Atlas' personality doesn't go beyond having a bit of an ego (he's essentially the Tony Stark of a magician's version of SHIELD). Merritt McKinney is the most entertaining of the four, being a clever, but mischievous psychic. The other two magicians- Henley Reeves and Jack Wilder- have no personality at all. The former of which is actually entirely unnecessary to the story.

I'm not even kidding- Henley does not impact the story in any way, shape, or form. The movie would not be any different if she was not in the film, and that's a clear problem. Jack Wilder, on the other hand, is merely a plot device. The only reason Henley Reeves and Jack Wilder are in this film, is to complete the four-magician group. During one bit at the beginning, the film seems to be even acknowledging the weakness of these two characters by writing them completely out of a scene where all four magicians are interrogated by the police. We see J. Daniel and Merritt questioned, but not Henley or Jack.

And I should also point out one of my least favorite things to see in films aimed at audiences 13 and up: Childish humor! This film has it all; cartoon-ish villains (those wascally magicians are always one step ahead), slapstick, a hypnotic spell that causes victims to become passionate violinists, and one man has an blunt object thrown at his crotch. Granted, the latter three elements are relatively brief, but they don't need to be here at all in a film that's PG-13, and therefore aiming at teens and up.

The cast is filled with big names, and while the performances aren't great (undoubtedly hindered by the mediocre script), they suffice. Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson are the standouts from the main cast. Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, and Mark Ruffalo (as the FBI agent assigned to investigate the caper) are very weak in their roles, but not terrible. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are predictably solid in supporting roles.

The score, composed by Brian Tyler, has a definite personality and a distinctive feel that makes it easy to identify and associate it with the film. And yet, there isn't a single moment in the film where the music especially stood out or impressed me. It works for the film, but it's hard to say how it would fare as a solo listening experience.

The comedy mostly works (except for any of the physical comedy/slap stick), but the film is empty. With the exception of the ending, Now You See Me is entirely predictable. The film clearly thinks it's smarter than it really is, which hurts the film a lot (especially during the far too drawn-out ending). If this film had just settled for being a simple comedy/caper in the vein of the Ocean's movies, Now You See Me would've been a fun time. But the predictable twists, botched ending, and weak characters bog the film down. It's tempting to make a pun about "not seeing" a movie called Now You See Me, but I'll pass for the sake of good taste.

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