Archive for the ‘Action’ Category

beauty and the beast live

A headstrong, well-read French village girl named Belle (Emma Watson) is tired of life in her small village and can’t help but think that life has more to offer than her small town gives her.  She is relentlessly pursued by town hunk and resident harasser, Gaston, (Luke Evans) who she cleverly avoids. Belle is very close to her father, Maurice, (Kevin Kline) who raised her after Belle’s mom passed away.  When she visits Maurice, Belle asks her dad for a rose, and he promises to get her one. On a snowy night, Maurice loses his way and gets captured by a Beast (Dan Stevens) who has been cursed  by an Enchantress (Hattie Morahan) for his superficiality.  Belle hears that his father has been captured and rides off to save him.  She switches places with Maurice, and traps herself with the Beast.

Gaston sees an opportunity to be the hero, and rides off to save Belle with Maurice.  But Maurice refuses to let him marry Belle, and Gaston accuses Maurice of being crazy and wants to send him to an asylum.  In the castle, Belle and the Beast are becoming closer.  Lumiere, (Ewan McGregor) the candelabra Cogsworth ( Ian McKellan) the clock, Mrs. Potts, the teapot, and Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald) the wardrobe, are doing all they can to make the mood as romantic as possible.  They hope Bellle professes her love for the beast, because that will break the Enchantress’ spell on them too.  Things are going swimmingly until Belle checks on her father in a magic mirror, and sees that he is being taken away.  What does she do?  What happens to the Beast and his enchanted staff?

I was disappointed by Beauty and The Beast.  How could I not like a delightful movie such as this, you ask?  Easy, it was too much like its animated namesake, the live action movie followed the story of the animated movie, line for line shot for shot and scene for scene.  When Disney made a live action Jungle Book movie, they created a whole new story that was in every way better than the animated film.  That made me want to watch The Jungle Book, because I didn’t know what was coming with the next scene.  Since I had seen the animated Beauty before, not only did I know the scenes, I knew the songs, I knew the ending, I knew everything.  The few jokes that were added  for Josh Gad’s character weren’t that funny, and didn’t add much to the film.  Why is almost every actor speaking in a British accent, if the film is set in France?  Why does the Beast have blue eyes, is that important? The writers could have done a flashback and embellished the Beast’s character before the curse, and what made him such a superficial person, in the first place something to make it distinctive, anything.

The acting was good.  Emma Watson does the best she can with quite a limiting role, she is supposed to be an independent woman, headstrong, yet falling in love with a cursed Prince.  There is an inherent  contradiction in the role, but Watson is pleasant enough, and sings well enough to make Belle somewhat interesting.  Dan Stevens is pretty dull as the Beast, he doesn’t really bring much to the role.  Kevin Kline plays his role as comedy relief. Luke Evans is actually very good as Gaston, funny and evil at the same time, he put some real life into his role.  Of the Best’s household staff, only Ewan McGregor s Lumiere stands out, he infuses the role with humor and joy and a little sadness, he is truly a great actor.  Audra McDonald has a great operatic voice, I wish they gave her more songs to sing.

The direction is a mixed bag.  The visuals on some of the exteriors are visually appealing.  One of the opening scenes reminded  me very much of The Sound of Music, it was unintentionally humorous.  While the visuals were intriguing, the pacing is extremely slow, two hours seemed  more like four, and the performances were somewhat mixed.  The songs were great, just like the animated film,  but the CGI was overdone.

Beauty and The Beast:  It didn’t ring my Belle.

wonder woman

Diana, (Lilly Aspell, Emily Carey, Gal Gadot) is princess of the Amazons, a band of fierce female warriors, who live on an island, with no men.  She wants to train to be a warrior, but her mother Queen Hippolyta  (Connie Nielson) forbids it.  So Diana gets training from General Antiope (Robin Wright) behind her mother’s back.  One day, American pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes through the barrier that keeps the island from being visible to others and into the ocean.  Diana saves Steve and learns that Steve is an American spy on a mission to end a secret German chemical weapons program, spearheaded by General  Ludendorf (Danny Huston) and Dr. Maru, (Elena Anaya)  and end World War I.  Steve has Dr. Maru’s formula for the mustard gas, and has to deliver the book to British intelligence.  Diana believes that someone on the German side is really the Greek God of War Aries, who is trying to prolong the war and kill as many humans as possible.  Diana’s mission is to find and kill Aries. Does Hippolyta allow Diana to leave the Amazon’s island and travel with Steve to the front?  Does Steve accomplish his mission to stop the chemical weapons from being used?

This could have been a classic movie, but it sends all kinds of mixed messages.  One is a message of a woman imbued with great powers to stop the human race from annihilating itself, which is a wonderful message.  But if Wonder Woman is so powerful, why does she need help from a man?  Then, the writers want to superimpose some kind of messy love story within the superhero genre.  This kind of genre mixing rarely ever works. It’s been tried in Superman with Lois Lane, and Spiderman with Maryjane, with varying degrees of success.  In the context of this movie, the love story actually undercuts the female empowerment story.  There are also silly scenes that overemphasize Diana’s femininity.  Other than the lead character being a woman, this is a pretty generic superhero film, and the ending is pretty generic as well.  And if anyone thinks that being a woman makes Diana a pacifist, you haven’t watched a Hollywood superhero movie lately, this movie is very violent.

There is one redeeming aspect to Wonder Woman, and it is the performance of Gal Gadot as Diana Prince.  Her earnest, sincere, heartfelt, and serious (that’s a compliment) performance make this movie worth watching.  While most superhero actors are looking for a tagline, Gadot conveys the genuine feeling to the audience that Diana only wants to help people.  Her naiveté is refreshing as well.  If this movie stands out, it is because of her.  Chris Pine is not so lucky, he gives the standard hero performance, but he’s supposed to be an American spy who infiltrates the German military not once but twice.  He doesn’t even try a British accent to blend in to British society, and his German accent is weak.  His ham handed performance almost steals the movie from Gadot, Chris Pine, this wasn’t your movie.  He seems to have forgotten that Gadot is the focus of the film.  Robin Wright has a small role as the woman who trains Diana, but the role is too small to make an impression.

A big deal was made that Wonder Woman was directed by a woman.  The fact is Patty Jenkins added very little to this movie that is different from a man directing the same film.  There’s a backstory, an over reliance on special effects, and a long, long running time.  What exactly is the difference between this movie and Captain America’s origin story?  Not much and so why should Patty Jenkins deserve credit for directing a standard issue superhero movie?  She shouldn’t.  The only outstanding performance is by Gadot, and the pacing is slow at times.

Wonder Woman:  Wondering Why It Wasn’t Better.

logan

In the year 2029, the mutant population has shrunken dramatically, and Logan (Hugh Jackman) is finding life difficult now that the X-men have disbanded.  He is working as a chauffeur, and medicating himself by drinking quite a bit.  He realizes after fending off an attack from a group of youths trying to steal his car, that his ability to heal is vastly depleted.  Logan tries to maintain his loyalty to Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) by taking care of him in his older years.  Xavier is suffering from either Alzheimer’s disease or ALS, and if these diseases are not treated with medication, Xavier’s powers go haywire.  Logan is aided by Caliban, (Stephen Merchant) as the three learn to deal with the fragilities of aging bodies.

Adding to the chaos that’s become Logan’s everyday life, a woman named Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez) is desperate for Logan to help her.  She is a nurse and she is taking care of a pre-teen girl named Laura.(Daphne Keen)  There is a story that Gabriella adamently wants to tell Logan, what is the story?  Who is Gabriella?  Who is Laura?  Why do they need Logan’s help?  Does Logan help them?

Logan is a very interesting story about men who used to have superhuman abilities who is now learning to cope with his mortality.  It’s also part Western (with a telling reference to the movie Shane) part odd mutant nuclear family story, and part road trip, its settings seem like they are post-apocalyptic, and they may be for mutants, but the roads are mostly empty in the small rural towns where the film is focused.  That seems purposeful.   It is far from the traditional superhero movie where the heroes team up to stop some catastrophe, instead it’s a very personal story about being mortal, after living as an immoral.  It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s touching, nothing anyone would expect from a superhero film, but all qualities that abound in this film.  All the more reason to watch it.

The acting in Logan is superb.  Hugh Jackman is an amazing actor who knows this character so intimately, that he knows how to play him in every circumstance, and in this circumstance the role requires different emotions for Jackman to draw upon, and he does so successfully.  I can’t imagine anyone else playing Logan or Wolverine.  I know it will happen, eventually  but I won’t like it. Patrick Stewart also gave a standout performance.  He is no longer the cool, calm, collected mentor of the X-Men he is a man on the verge of losing his mental faculties and watching his powers spiral out of control. Stewart conveys the desperation of that situation well, but manages to maintain the character’s dignity, humor and compassion. Daphne Keen is ok as Laura, but she us silent for much of the movie, then screams for more, she is just not given much to do.

The direction is very effective in conveying that this is not one of those epic end of the world movies. James Mangold wrote and directed this movie, as well as the previous movie Wolverine, so he knows this territory.  He also  directed  3:10 to Yuma so he knows how to direct a Western too. The scenes in the rural countryside give a sense that this is a modern day Western, and also a quieter movie devoid  of the massive amounts of special effects that are so prevalent in movies like this.  This is a long movie because there is a lot of exposition and there needs to be because there are a lot of pieces to put together, but when the pieces come together, it is a very satisfying film.  He gets good performances from the leads, and the ending is satisfying as well.

Logan:  The claws that refresh.

guardians of the galaxy 2

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and the Guardians, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) Drax (Dave Bautista) Rocket  (Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) are tasked by the Sovereign to protect space age batteries from alien monsters who want to steal them.  The Guardians fend off the monsters, and Gamora is set to collect a bounty on her sister, Nebula, (Karen Gillan) but Rocket steals some of the batteries for himself, and Ayesha (Elizabeth Debecki) leader of the Sovereign orders an attack on the Guardians.  The Guardians barely escape to the nearest inhabitable planet.  A ship follows Peter and lands on the planet, the pilot of the ship is Ego, (Kurt Russell) and he claims to be Peter’s dad. Ego takes Peter to Ego’s planet, Gamora and Drax tag along with Peter, while Groot and Rocket stay behind.

Ayesha,  still angry that her batteries were stolen, hires Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker) to find Peter and the rest of the Guardians.  Yondu captures Rocket and Baby Groot and then ends up in jail himself after a mutiny by Taserface. (Chris Sullivan)  Yondu Rocket and Baby Groot manage to escape with Nebula’s help, but Taserface tips off the Sovereign, who chase after the two Guardians, while they try to find Peter on Ego’s planet.  Nebula just wants revenge on Gamora.  Is Peter convinced of his lineage by Ego?  Do Gamora and Nebula bury the hatchet?  Does Ayesha get her revenge?

Guardians of the Galaxy volume 2 works very well as a comedy, but then the script calls for everyone to get in touch with their feelings, and this is where the movie descends into an Oprah stained hell.  Peter has daddy issues, Gamora has sibling rivalry issues with Nebula, and Rocket the snarkiest character if all is made to confront deep seated feelings of inadequacy.  When a summer popcorn film wades into the nature vs nurture debate, it’s gone a bridge too far. The ending is predictable, even the post ending credits are predictable.   The comedy was better than the first movie, the family drama was wholly unnecessary.

The acting varies wildly in this film.  Chris Pratt will never be a leading man, no matter how hard Hollywood tries to foist him on an unsuspecting public.  He is ill-equipped to handle the more emotional scenes in the movie.  Zoe Saldana is a good actress, but she wan’t given enough to do, she is pushed into a romance with Pratt, and she battles her sister literally and figuratively in the movie.  Bradley Cooper is a great actor, but they made him emote as a CGI raccoon, that doesn’t work for me.  I wish he was playing Peter Quill and Pratt was playing the raccoon, I think that would have worked out better.  Dave Bautista is surprisingly funny as Drax, and is just sullen when not laughing insanely. Karen Gillan was also very good as Nebula, her intensity never relents, in a difficult role.  She plays a villain, with sympathetic touches. Kurt Russell hams it up relentlessly as Ego, an aptly named character if ever there was one. The only performance worse than Russell’s  was Sylvester Stallone’s performance as Stakar Ogord.  He is barely intelligible.  He had more trouble with the English language than Korean actress Pom Klementieff.  Her acting was better than Stallone’s but not by much.

Director James Gunn does a pretty good job as a director, the pacing is good, the special effects are good, without being overwhelming, he gets some good performances, but he also gets overwhelmed by subplots and lengeth, and that drags the pacing down to a crawl by the second half of the movie, by the end of the film I was looking at my watch, never a good sign.  Gunn also gets points off as writer for overindulging in melodrama.  I walked into a sci-fi movie, and a Tyler Perry movie broke out.That’s Gunn’s fault, for not keeping the drama to a minimum.

The Star Lord burns out.

 

SUICIDE SQUAD

Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) wants to put together a group of criminals for a secret mission.  Deadshot (Will Smith) is a hitman, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) was a psychiatrist, who went crazy treating the Joker. (Jared Leto) Killer Croc,(Adewale Akinnuoye  Agbage) some kind of hybrid between a human and a crocodile.  Diablo, (Jay Hernandez) a man who can conjure fire instantly.  June Moone, (Cara Delveigne) an anthropologist, whose soul is occupied by a witch named Enchantress. Rick Flag, (Joel Kinnaman) June’s military boyfriend. George Harkness, an Australian criminal, serving a triple life sentence, and Katana, a female ninja avenging the death of her husband.  All these shady characters agree to this mission for time off their sentences, and Rick assumes he can control June, but Enchantress has her own ideas. What is the mission that the Suicide Squad agrees to?  Do they succeed?

The difference between a great superhero film, and a run of the mill superhero film are numerous.  In a great superhero film, the protagonist well-drawn, and sympathetic, the viewer wants this character to succeed.  In a great superhero film, the storyline becomes about much more than who wins or who loses, it becomes about larger themes like the nature of man.  In a great superhero film, the climax fit the rest of the story, and the viewer feels thrilled, and awaits the ending.  Suicide Squad is not a great superhero film, the characters are paper thin, the plot inches along looking for excitement, and finds none, the climax is as exciting as a shrug of the shoulders, and the ending is routine.  The movie needed a lot more backstory for character development, and a deeper more exciting plot, but the viewer doesn’t get that. Combine a dull plot with bad acting and you’ve got this film.

Viola Davis is the best actor in this film.  She at least held my attention.  Will Smith is still trying desperately to regain the mojo that made him bankable box office in the mid 1990’s, but this film won’t do it.  His character at least has two dimensions most of the characters aren’t that well-developed. But Smith has lost that swagger from his early movies, and he hasn’t really replaced it with anything.  I liked Margot Robbie in the Wolf of Wall Street,  but she plays Harley Quinn like a total airhead. And her Aussie accent sneaks in once in a while. Jared Leto plays the Joker like a low rent Heath Ledger, it’s a pale imitation of Heath Ledger’s masterful performance, but Leto never makes it his own. Leto is a better actor than he shows in this role and that is a disappointment.  The other actors are not worth mentioning because the characters are so poorly drawn that these actors could not bring anything to them.

David Ayer is the director and writer of this film.  He wrote Training Day, so he is capable of writing a good film, but his writing is bad in this film,  and his direction is also poor.  The pacing of this film is very slow, it’s a long film that takes forever to get where its going and when it gets there, the viewer can’t help but wonder if that is all there was to the movie. He gets terrible performances and the special effects are underwhelming.

Suicide Squad: Killing the careers of its actors.

kubo-and-the-two-strings

Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a Japanese boy who lives in a cave near a small village in Japan with his sickly and forlorn mother, his father has passed on to the next world.  Kubo makes what little money they have by telling stories of the exploits of a great warrior, Hanzo, who fought the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) with his armor made up of The Sword Unbreakable, The Breastplate Impenetrable and the Helmet Invulnerable. The villagers all enjoy Kubo’s tales.

One day, while at the Obon Festival, Kubo tries to summon the spirit of his dead father, but he stays after sunset, and he is attacked by his evil aunts, known as The Sisters. (Rooney Mara) Kubo’s mother holds off her sisters with a powerful spell that knocks Kubo unconscious.  By the time Kubo wakes up his mother is gone, and his monkey charm has come to life. Monkey (Charlize Theron) Kubo, and Little Hanzo, the origami figure that came to life in Kubo’s tales, find Beetle, (Matthew McConaughey ) a samurai warrior who fought with Hanzo, and was turned into a beetle as a curse for his bravery. Kubo must now find the Sword Unbreakable, the Breastplate Impenetrable, and the Helmet Invulnerable with the help of Monkey, Beetle and Little Hanzo, before The Sisters find him and turn him over to the Moon King. Will he find the armor and be prepared to fight the Moon King?

I love this movie, not only is it an epic adventure in the spirit of the Iliad and the Odyssey, but it is also a love story, and a family reunification story.  It blends these three complex storylines with humor, heartache, some scares and some Eastern religious teachings about life and death.  To top it off, the animation is spellbinding, beautiful artistic scenery, and flights of fancy, like Fantasia, Words do this film no justice, it must be viewed to be enjoyed. This is the same studio that did Coroline and The Boxtrolls, if you liked those movies, you will love this one.

The acting is superb.  Charlize Theron is as good as I’ve seen her in anything.  She expresses her love for Kubo by being a protective shield over him, and her love for him is as intense and heartfelt as anything I’ve seen on film.  She also expresses her love for Kubo’s father in a pure, uncomplicated way.  Matthew McConaughey also gives an amazing performance as a simpleton Beetle who must protect Kubo above all, he infuses Beetle with a kind of down-home Texas delivery, that is charming and disarming.  Rooney Mara is intriguingly creepy as The Sisters,  I wish there were more Asian people in lead roles to give the story more authenticity, the Asian actors seem like bystanders in their own story.  Having said that, the acting could not have been better, there was a real emotional connection made between the viewers and these actors.

I know nothing about how to direct an animated film, but however it’s done, the director did what he needed to do, the pacing is good, the performances are very good, and the visuals are good. This is Travis Knight’s first directorial job, but he’s had jobs as an animator in movies like ParaNorman, Coraline, and The Boxtrolls.  He also did animation for Kubo.  The results of his work are beautiful.

Kubo and The Two Strings:  Zing Went The Strings of My Heart

jason-bourne

Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is no longer suffering from amnesia and is off the grid, making a living by fighting illegally in Greece.  Former CIA analyst Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) is now working with hacktivist Christian Dussault (Vinzenz Kiefer) in Iceland.  Nicky hacks files related to the Treadstone operation, and finds out that Bourne’s father was involved in Treadstone. Nicky and Jason meet during a violent demonstration in Greece, where they are being tailed by a CIA assassin, nicknamed the Asset. (Vincent Cassell)  The asset shoots Nicky, but Jason escapes to Berlin to meet Dussalt.  In Berlin, Jason learns that ex-CIA agent Malcolm Smith (Bill Camp) was intimately involved in Operation Treadstone.  In London, Jason meets Smith, all the while being followed by The Asset.  As the chase continues, divisions grow between CIA director Dewey, (Tommy Lee Jones) and his protégé Heather Lee. (Alicia Wikander )  Lee believes she can bring Bourne back to the CIA without violence, while Dewey wants Bourne dead or alive.

While tailing Bourne, CIA Director Dewey is also meeting with tech wiz Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed) founder of Deep Dream.  Kallor says that Deep Dream is all about internet privacy, but if that’s true, why is he talking to Dewey?  What does Jason learn from Malcolm about Treadstone and his father’s involvement in Treadstone?  Does The Asset find Jason Bourne?

Jason Bourne doesn’t give the audience much for continuity.  The last time Bourne was seen he was swimming away, the movie doesn’t say how he got to Greece.  It’s just an article of faith that he does get away.  There are element of this movie that are interesting, the personal aspect of Bourne’s fight, the involvement of his father, the re-emergence of Nicky Parsons, the distancing of Bourne from the hacker character.  Bourne is not interested in bringing down the CIA, even though he could.  I liked that aspect of the movie.  There are things I didn’t like about the plot, the illegal fighting scene seemed to be more a vanity scene than integral to the plot.  Also the sub-plot with Dewey and Kalloor was underdeveloped, and really seemed unnecessary, and the ending was left open-ended, for yet another sequel, which will happen, because of the commercial success of this movie.

Matt Damon is perfectly suited to play Jason Bourne, the stoic action hero.  Damon uses the economy of words to his advantage, when he speaks it commands attention.  He’s very much in the Clint Eastwood mold in the Bourne movies, he doesn’t say much, but his character acts when necessary.  He’s one of the few people who can play an intelligent action hero.  It’s nice to see Julia Stiles again, she and Damon have a nice onscreen chemistry.  Tommy Lee Jones plays the CIA Director as a no-nonsense gritty character who gets the job done whatever means necessary, something about him playing people in positions of authority, just makes sense.  Alicia Vikander is an interesting addition, her character is not going by the book here, she wants to bring Bourne in alive, but she also wants to impress the CIA director. Vikander walks the tightrope well, but the accent she uses is odd. Riz Ahmed doesn’t fare well here, because the role is underwritten.

The direction is superb, this is first and foremost an action film, and it works as an action film, despite underdeveloped characters and continuity plot holes. Director Paul Greengrass  who’s directed all four of these films knows this territory well, and keeps the action surging forward.  There are two big action scenes one in Greece, one in Las Vegas, and Greengrass keeps the pacing quick enough to keep the movie interesting enough to get to the big Vegas action scene.  He gets mostly good performances from the top-notch cast.  Greengrass also directed United 93, and Captain Phillips, two great movies in their own right.

Jason Bourne:  The action hero born again.