Monthly Archives: May 2015

Movie Review: Tomorrowland

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line:  Another “only you can save us” teen drama.  Pretty well done, but in a crowded field.  An enjoyable movie with not much else to comment on.

“Tomorrowland” starts of in the realm of a kid’s movie.  Fluffy, light, and enjoyable for all ages.  I was worried.  It got better.  It follows the predictable teen movie pattern that is all the rage these days since Harry Potter first appeared on the scene.  Special teen kid.  Destined for greatness.  Doubts self.  Finds confidence.  Saves day.  Sure, we’ve seen it all before, but it’s a damn successful formula.  All it takes is a bit of nuance and some originality thrown in and you have yourself an acceptable movie.  And acceptable “Tomorrowland” is.

Unsurprisingly, the movie got good when George Clooney showed up.  He plays Frank Walker, a man exiled from Tomorrowland who must help Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) get to Tomorrowland so she can save the world.  Clooney is just a hell of an actor and he and Robertson have some decent chemistry together.  I’m not sure how they got Clooney to star in this movie.  Or Hugh Laurie for that matter.  It really doesn’t seem like their thing.  The movie must have looked much better on paper than in execution.

The story is interesting enough.  The bad guy, Nix (Hugh Laurie), is actually a sympathetic villain.  Almost all his motivations, I’m thinking to myself, “Well, that’s totally reasonable.”  This is a formulaic movie so they also must make him do formulaic bad guy stuff, but Nix is really just a guy with good intentions which had unfortunate side effects.

There is a surprising amount of violence in this movie and quite a bit of death, especially for a Disney tagged movie.  Much of it is gratuitous.  It’s all people being evaporated so there’s no blood, but the callousness of it is still surprising.

Is “Tomorrowland” worth seeing?  Meh, maybe?  It was certainly enjoyable and much of the futuristic effects were pretty cool.  If you enjoy all the other “teen saves the world” stuff like “Hunger Games” and “Divergent”, you’ll likely get something out of “Tomorrowland” as well.  If not, you should probably find your entertainment elsewhere.

Movie Review: Mad Max: Fury Road

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: A taut non-stop action packed extravaganza.  Sharp visuals.  Perfect soundtrack.  Deeply interesting mythos.

You want to see this film.  I want to see this film again.  Not since the original “The Matrix” movie has there been such beautifully choreographed action scenes.  I’ll have to watch the two together when “Fury Road” gets released on DVD to see which reigns supreme.

The world of Mad Max is perfect for the big screen.  It is both shallow and easy to understand while hiding a lot of depth and complexity just ripe for exploring.  “Fury Road” tackles both aspects of the mythos for maximum effect.  It is amazing to me how much is packed into the two hour run-time of this movie.  Normally, two hours would be a really long time to sit through what can only be described as a single chase scene, but so much interesting story matter is thrown in that you don’t feel like you’ve sat in your seat for two hours.  The pacing is near perfect.

What’s also very interesting is how little dialogue there is in the movie.  Tom Hardy, who plays Max, grunts his way through the entire movie more than he speaks and yet he speaks volumes.  It is a shame that he won’t be nominated for Best Supporting Actor because he does such a good job of emoting.  It really is brilliant.  And notice that I say Best SUPPORTING Actor because that’s what he is in this movie.  Max is more a bystander thrown into events beyond his control than the instigator of the story.  The star is without a doubt the war machine driving, ass-kicking Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron).  Furiosa does quite a bit more talking than Max does, but it is again the emoting that shows through the most.

What makes the movie even better is all the women kick all the ass.  The damsels in distress are rescued by a woman and don’t waste any time jumping into the fight as they race their way to freedom.  They are eventually joined by motorcycle riding grannies who also kick so much ass.  It’s sad that it is so rare for Hollywood to produce a movie, let alone an action movie, with a plethora of three-dimensional women that it becomes necessary to note it when it happens.  More of this please, Hollywood.

This was such a fun movie.  It is certainly one that can be enjoyed again and again.  There are also almost certainly aspects of the movie that will be missed on first viewing since there is so much going on.  It is without a doubt a visual extravaganza.  Go experience it.

Movie Review: Ex Machina

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: A very effective minimalist movie with high production value. A character driven look into what it means to be human.  The ending is a bit flawed.

What does it mean to be human?  Where is that line and when does one cross it?  “Ex Machina” provides a compelling narrative that focuses on those questions.  A young programmer, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), works at a fictional Google-like company and he wins a lottery which allows him to visit the reclusive brilliant owner of the company, Nathan (Oscar Issac), at his isolated retreat for a week.  It is soon revealed that the real reason Caleb is there is so he can perform a Turing Test on Nathan’s super-secret artificial intelligence, Ava (Alicia Vikander).  A Turing Test is a thought exercise in which a human interacts with an artificial intelligence (AI) to see if the AI exhibits any traits of being non-human.

The movie is broken down into a series of meetings between Caleb and Ava and then a follow-up on the events between Caleb and Nathan.  When you have a movie that consists almost entirely of one-on-one interactions, the dialogue better be good and “Ex Machina” provides a wonderful script.  To back up the wonderful writing, there is a perfectly themed musical score that helps establish the mood and leads to a deeper sense of tension and foreboding.  Movement, language, and music combine into a single on-screen entity.  It is near masterful.

Then comes the ending.  The ending isn’t bad, it’s just kind of unfulfilling.  There are a bunch of loose ends that don’t make much sense.  There is a moment when the end should have occurred, but it kept on going.  I always blame endings like this on test audiences and studio executives.  A good movie got made, but the ending was the price the director paid to get it made in the first place.

Despite the less than fulfilling ending, “Ex Machina” is worth seeing.  You don’t get many compelling, dialogue driven movies these days what with the superheroes and the explosions so it’s good to see the United States is still capable of creating compelling movies that deviate from the norm.

Movie Review: Avengers: Age Of Ultron

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: Too many heroes spoils the plot.  Sufficiently comic-y action sequences.  Some good self-effacing humor.

This is the Avengers I was afraid of.  “Age of Ultron” is a “cram everything in so it’s stuffed full of what everyone wants” type of movie that leaves you feeling a bit empty.  It’s not that it wasn’t fun, because it certainly was at times, it’s more that it’s forgettable.  The movie is also not helped by the flimsy narrative which doesn’t give much to build on for the Marvel uninitiated.  I am somewhere in between and I was often left with a questioning look at various parts of the movie.  This often happens with the closing credit easter eggs that foretell the next movies, but to have these moments in the middle of a movie is inexcusable.  For instance, there is a new superhero introduced over half way through the film.  If like me you do not know the mythology, you will be completely lost as to how they fail to give him a name throughout even though he ends up joining the Avengers at the end.

The action in the movie is equal parts fun and sensory overload.  There’s lots of comic-y stuff going on for the overly geeky.  Lots of combo moves that you know damn well have names to them that “in the know” comic book geeks everywhere are cackling gleefully about as they occur on the screen.  The problem is that when you have a group of superpowered superheroes doing battle with a mostly pedestrian villain, the only way to make fights even remotely interesting is to throw the kitchen sink at them.  This leads to a garbled mess of a fight that can only be enjoyed by showing a once in the while slow motion vingette of action.

The one part where “Age of Ultron” shines is in its humor.  This is all Joss Whedon.  He is equal parts superfan and able to recognize the absurdity of the genre and he uses that gift with great results.  There is some great Thor’s hammer humor as well as Hawkeye’s self-effacing recognitions of how underpowered he is.

The biggest problem is Ultron.  His creation is poorly explained, his motivations are childish, the Avengers’ reactions to him make little sense, and he’s just not that interesting of a villain as a result.  I blame this on having too many A-list superheroes in the same movie all of whom need their individual moments of glory.  That’s how you end up with a two and a half hour movie with a shoestring plot.

Yes, the movie was fun.  Yes, you should see it if you’re a fan of superhero movies.  No, you will likely not look back at it with the fondness of the first Avengers movie.  Ultron ain’t no Loki.