Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Mini-Review: "Mad Max: Fury Road"

So, before I start the actual review, I have to rant a bit. I am an AMC Theater regular. I cross state lines to see a movie at the closest AMC. The actual nearest cinema used to be a United Artists theatre, renovated about 10 years ago to include stadium seating in its relatively small auditoriums. The last movie I saw there (which was the first in a long time) was Lemony Snicket... More recently, it was acquired by Regal and re-renovated to include assigned seating in exceptionally plush recliners! Because J was at my house, and neither of two closest AMCs were showing Mad Max: Fury Road in 2D, we ended up in the Regal and J couldn't help but give in to the plush, falling asleep twice. But... I blame the seat, not the movie.


Original creator/writer/director George Miller (Gremlins; Babe) is back with the latest in the continuing adventures of a character he created nearly 40 years ago. Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) takes over for Mel Gibson in the title role, joined by Academy Award winner Charlize Theron and X-Men's Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies) in what is basically a 2 hour car chase through the Australian (South African) desert. Captured by the sadistic Immortan Joe, AKA 'Daddy' (Hugh Keays-Byrne - of the original film), Max is branded and tattooed an 'O+  Universal Donor' and soon finds himself caged as a living "blood bag" for a cancer-ridden 'War Boy' named Nux (Hoult). When Daddy's best war-machine driver Imperator Furiosa (Theron) goes rogue, Nux sets out in pursuit to win Daddy's favor, strapping Max to the front of his car. Furiosa is also soon in pursuit by The People Eater and The Bullet Farmer, impeding the deal she'd made to ensure safe passage for her cargo, Daddy's concubines (one of whom is very pregnant). As with Miller's previous films in the series, Max's will to survive is paramount, though his compassion and his need to do the right thing overrides his personal well being and he ends up helping Furiosa to defeat to tyrant (Not-Such-A-Spolier-Alert).

Of course, the story (as in all the Mad Max films) is really secondary to the action and stunts, and Fury Road delivers plenty of that! J and I particularly liked the guys on the poles who were able to reach in and snatch people out their vehicles. The performances are fine all around, though Hardy's Max sounds an awful lot like his Bane, particularly near the end. Theron continues to build her repertoire of tough bitches and Hoult is obviously having fun as the lost soul redeemed by love. The effects are superlative (I believed Theron was an amputee) and the visuals quite often amazing. Sadly, while Fury Road is most certainly a Mad Max movie worthy of the franchise, it can't compare to the franchise's decidedly best entry, The Road Warrior. Still, it was great, loud, mindless fun and the chance to hold hands in the dark with a certain special someone (even if those evil seats made him fall asleep twice)!  

Fans of the franchise won't be disappointed, though after all these years, I had hoped Miller might have something new to say about the character. *** (Three Out of Four Stars). Mad Max: Fury Road is rated "R" by the MPAA for "intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images."

More, anon.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Retro Review - "Hercules"

"Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?" ~ Captain Oveur (Peter Graves) in Airplane!

I really have to hand it to Dwayne Johnson. The Samoan superstar who started out as a professional "wrestler" has become a household name (though I promise more people refer to him as "The Rock" than Dwayne) through a very successful and eclectic film career. He has done well in both action and family films and has a stellar reputation as a genuinely nice person and a very professional performer. And while he may be very unlikely to win an Oscar, genre awards are certainly within his reach. Last summer, Johnson hit theatres in terrible action director Brett Ratmner's Hercules (the second of 2 Hercules movies last year; the other starred the Aryanesque Kellen Lutz and was directed by rival terrible action director Renny Harlin). Based on a graphic novel by Steve Moore, this version is a rationalist's delight with a dash of 'magic' which results in a very mixed bag of a movie and happily surprising, not at all what J and I were expecting when we sat down to watch it Friday night.

Johnson's Hercules is a the leader of a band of mercenaries, all devoted to him and to promoting the legend of his own creation. When hired by the beautiful Ergenia (Rebecca Ferghuson), daughter of Lord Cotys (John Hurt) to unite Thrace and free the land from a monstrous army of 'demons' and 'centaurs' led by the vicious Rhesus (Tobias Santelmann), the group sets out for a promised payout of twice Hercules' weight in gold, enough for all of them to retire and live out their lives in peace. Among team Herc are mystic warrior Amphiaraus (Ian McShane); Autolycus, King of Thieves (Rufus Sewell); Amazon warrior Atalanta (Ingrid Bolso Berdal); nephew and story-teller/barker Iolaus (cutie-pie Reece Ritchie) and silent berserker Tydeus (Aksel Hennie). Also on hand is Joseph Fienes in the small but pivotal role of King Eurystheus, for whom Hercules slew the 'Hydra.'  

Almost everything (except McShane's drug-induced predictions) is refreshingly given a very rational and sensible explanation (I'm not sure if I liked the 'Hydra,' the 'demons' or the 'centaurs' more). The fairly good CGI is equally used to create gigantic sets and armies as well as a few hallucinogenic creatures. There are several violent and bloody battles which (I reluctantly must admit) Ratner's team actually handles quite well, with none of the blurring and confusion generated  in so many similar battle/fight sequences. The massive Johnson* (who looks about as Greek as I do) holds his own in uncomplicated role, while McShane and Sewell are more than up to the task of pulling off some of the sillier bits. Unfortunately not even Fiennes' appearance (last seen in "American Horror Story: Asylum") can make up for some of truly ridiculous things in that keep this movie from being worthy of a higher rating. For example...

J and I continue to grow closer and literally had the following same comments/complaints at the same time:

"If this is Ancient Greece, why does everybody except Hercules have a British accent?" (somewhat excusable, I suppose, given the mostly British cast)**

"How does everyone know who he is without every having seen him before?"**

"She (Ingrid) needs to play Nicole Kidman's younger sister."**

"A training montage in 2014?"**

"Saw THAT coming fifteen minutes into the movie."**

Action/Fantasy fans should have a good time with their brains in 'park.' There are all sorts of different eye-candies to go around for everyone but if you're expecting the kind of cheesy beefcake provided by Steve Reeves in the 50's and 60's, this isn't what you're looking for.  Let me put it this way:  Looking for a new take on classical story that provides loads of action liberally peppered with humor and rationalism? Enjoy. Looking for the classical Greek myth? Don't watch this or Sam Raimi's 90's TV show of the same name. **1/2 (Two and a Half Stars). Hercules is rated PG-13 in the U.S. for "epic battle sequences, violence, suggestive comments, brief strong language and partial nudity." It is available on Showtime OnDemand.

*He-he! I said "massive Johnson!" 

** Paraphrased/consolidated from similar comments/thoughts J and I shared about the movie.

More, anon.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Retro Review: "Big Hero 6"

So, J and I had a three lovely nights and 2 and a half days together this weekend. We shopped for and planted my flower garden, cooked and lazed and even gave one another hickeys (yes, "EW!"). We also watched Disney's take on Anime, Big Hero 6, a movie that hit theaters not long after he and I started dating and now available OnDemand.

Hiro (voiced by Ryan Potter) is a young genius bored by school and obsessed with battling robots until tricked by his brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) into accompanying him to his "Nerd Lab" at a prestigious tech college where Professor Callaghan (James Cromwell) encourages Hiro to enter a contest for a full scholarship. Inspired by Tadashi's health care bot, "Baymax"  ("30 Rock" alum Scott Adsit) and his own Battle Bot, Hiro creates a set of thousands of microbots that can form any shape their controller can imagine. When Tadashi is killed in an explosion at the lab, Hiro gives up his dream of attending school, much to the dismay of his Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph) and the displeasure of tech millionaire Alistair Krei (Alan Tudyk) who wants to buy Hiro's tech. Hiro soon discovers that his microbots have been stolen and are now being used for seemingly nefarious purposes. Aided by an up-graded version of Baymax and his brother's nerdy friends Fred (T.J. Miller); Go Go (Jamie Chung); Wasabi (Damon Wayons, Jr.) and Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), Hiro sets on a mission to not only retrieve his invention but to also stop the mysterious Kabuki-masked villain who is apparently using them for revenge.

Based on the graphic novel "Man of Action" by Duncan Rouleau and Steven T. Seagle and co-directed by Disney veterans Don Hall and Chris Williams, Big Hero 6 is a delightful take on both the Superhero and Robot Sci-Fi genres. Baymax (an auto-inflatable health care bot programmed to ensure the well-being of its patients), a delightful, childlike robot with much to learn about the world outside of boo-boos and fevers, is especially amusing when deflating or running low on battery power. Hiro (with his over-sized, Anime-style eyes) is a typical rebellious Disney teen who learns to take responsibility for himself only after a tragedy. Among the supporting characters, Fred (whose father turns out to be - SPOILER ALERT - none other than the one and only Stan Lee) and Callaghan are the standouts.

J and I both thoroughly enjoyed Big Hero 6 and are honestly looking forward to the further adventures of the Superhero team that comes into its own at the end. And certainly (like almost every animated Disney movie), terrific animation, clever jokes and sly references to other genre films outweigh the cliches and tropes associated with Anime; Superheros; Sci-Fi and Coming-of-Age stories. Sit back, park our brain and just enjoy this latest entry n the growing number of non-Pixar Disney CGA films. Big Hero 6 is loads of fun for fanboys and families. **** (Four Out of Four Stars) Big Hero 6 is rated PG in the U.S. for "action and peril, some rude humor, and thematic elements."

More, anon.

PS - Watch for the cleverly hidden Frozen Easter-egg early on at the police station... 


Saturday, May 2, 2015

Review "The Avengers: Age of Ultron"

Holy cow! I'm actually blogging! In fact, I may blog several times this month as there are at least two other movies coming out and another currently playing on my Must See list and I am determined to see at least two. But that's another post.

So today marked several significant things for your Uncle P.  It was the first movie I've seen in a theater since Christmas; it was the first 'Tentpole' movie of the season; it was the next Marvel movie in an increasingly interconnected series unlike anything that's ever been attempted before and (most importantly) it was the first time that J and I went to the movies together. I love that while J doesn't quite share my enthusiasm for movies, he likes that I have that enthusiasm. The last movie he'd seen in a theater was a Harry Potter movie and he had never seen a 3D movie (poor, sheltered thing - LOL - I love you, Honey!) so it was more than just out first movie together for him, too (yes, we're saving our ticket stubs - we're mushy that way!).

Sorry... You want to know what I thought of the movie. Or, at least I hope you do. Any way...

When we last saw The Avengers as a team, they were eating schwarma after defeating Loki and the alien invaders, much to the chagrin of first-glimpsed villain, Thanos. The Avengers now operate as an independent team under the direction of Steve "Captain America" Rogers (Chris Evans) and we join them in the midst of an assault on a HYRDA compound in Eastern Europe to recover Loki's scepter. Once recovered, Tony "Iron Man" Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) asks to study the sceptor for 3 days before Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns it to Asgaard. When Stark's computer, Jarvis (Paul Bettany) studies the staff, it discovers the gem inside (one of the 'Infinity Stones' which have featured in several of the films) houses an artificial intelligence. Seeing this as an opportunity to create a sentry for humanity, Stark and and Bruce "Hulk" Banner (Mark Ruffalo) attempt to interface Jarvis and the AI to create what is intended to be a world-wide guardian named Ultron* (James Spader). Of course, as in any good Frankenstein story, a monster arises, instead.

Thankfully, Age of Ultron manages to just barely avoid the Marvel plot formulas that were becoming a little too familiar and this time around we get to learn more about the humans inside the Superheros, particularly Clint "Hawkeye" Barton (Jeremy Renner) and a seemingly impossible romance for Banner and Natasha "Black Widow" Romanov (Scarlett Johansson). There is plenty of the usual Marvel action and banter, with lots of tension-relieving jokes and one-liners in between the grand-scale destruction and over-the-top action sequences (a very funny scene about them all trying to lift Mjölnir turns into an important plot point later on). We are also introduced (I won't say how or when) to the character Vision (Bettany) and a pair of 'enhanced' twins (Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver** and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch). Add appearances from Marvel regulars Idris Elba; Hayley Atwell; Don Cheadle; Cobie Smulders; Anthony Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson and you have a very entertaining movie, indeed. But I must give a special nod to Spader's voice performance, which is dead-on. I knew but had forgotten that Spader was cast, and both J and I were going crazy trying to figure out whose voice it was, because his smarmy inflections and turns of phrase were so very familiar. When the credits rolled we both said "D'oh!"

Yes, we both very much enjoyed the movie, though I thought the 3D was completely unnecessary. It honestly did nothing to enhance the movie and at the end of the 141 minute run-time, my eyes were very tired and J had a headache (he said, "I don't ever need to see another 3D movie, Honey"). Truth be told, I liked the first Avengers movie much better. Writer/Director Joss Whedon obviously has a vision for the franchise and I expect the next film in the series (Infinity Wars) will be the Empire Strikes Back of the series.  *** 1/2 (Three and a Half Stars). 

The Avengers: Age of Ultron is rated PG-13 for "intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive comments." 

*In the original comics, Ultron was invented by Hank Pym, the original "Ant-Man." One of the trailers we saw before the movie was for Marvel's next 'Phase Two' movie Ant-Man starring Paul Rudd ("Oh, Paul!") and Michael Douglas as... Hank Pym!

**We previously saw a very different version of Quicksilver as played by Evan Peters in X-Men: Days of Future Past, apparently the result of multiple studios owning various rights to the character, though Taylor-Johnson's version remains truer to the comics.

Well, this was fun. I'm pretty sure you'll hear from me again this month!

More, anon.