Weird as Heck Plot, and Shaky Camera Work

As Above

            This Labor Day weekend is looking a little slow in my area as only two, yes two movies are premiering this weekend. Earlier I reviewed the latest spy novel, but tonight I saw the latest horror movie entitled As Above So Below. After seeing the trailers quite a few times, I was hesitant as to what this tale would bring, with the only certainty being the potential for a shaky camera. However, the glimpses we’ve seen in the trailers promoted a tail that defied the typical wave of terror. Was I impressed? Please read on to find out.

 

As you have seen on the commercials by now, this movie takes place in the Catacombs of France, the world’s largest morgue. Yet why anyone would want to clamber into the hidden chambers of the hopeless area is beyond me. The Dowdle brothers help put a logical, albeit stretched, plot of searching for a long lost treasure that even I had forgotten was myth. In an impressive display of screenplay writing, this movie spends the first half hour setting up the adventure in a manner similar to the National Treasure franchise. Amidst the searching of hidden tunnels and marred exhibits we get some brief background information on our team of explorers. The background is certainly not the most developed, but it isn’t half bad and attempts to set up for the latter part of the film. One of the downsides of this opening, a bit long winded at points, and emotionally flat when they reveal some of the darker shadows of the past.

 

Once in the caves though, the tale takes a twist for the weird as the National Treasure elements continue take a firmer hold, and unfortunately go down a confusing path. The more explaining the characters did, the more I got lost. Whatever was chasing them through the catacombs still remained a mystery, as whatever beast lurked in the hallowed tunnels took the form of various things, many of which were random and didn’t necessarily fit into any part of the story. Within the caves we get more revelations, but the directors forego any drawn out emotion with the sometimes-subtle revelations. Even their logic for escaping is rather ambiguous, tying mythological theology with numerous civilization references that makes for a difficult time at hand. Eventually most of the story gets explained, but the writers hastily wrapped up some of their exuberant stories. Despite the flaws though, the plot is definitely more original than most of the horror movies we’ve seen, deviating from the typical ghost or serial murderer and forging some new ground. They just needed to reign in some things and do a little more explaining on the horror at hand.

 

Speaking of horror, As Above So Below seems to have traded the details for attempts to try to scare and freak you out. The movie has some decent points where things jump out of you, though most of them are predictable or have been ruined by the trailer. Classic techniques such as the sudden silence, the focus on a dark corner, or the justly timed comment are obvious foreshadows for the scares at hand. Instead the real terror comes from the setting itself, with the Catacombs providing the gaping, soulless maw where anything can lurk. My imagination was able to provide most of the chills, painting horrible creatures and spirits from the brief glimpses and sounds. Such simple techniques really provide the best source of fear, and when combined with the dirty, festering bowels of the morgue really gave me chills. Of course the claustrophobic shots of the adventurers moving through the tight knit tunnels, can have you feeling uncomfortable as well. Thus I warn those with the fear of close spaces to avoid this movie.

 

Despite the chills it provides though, the odd things they see diminish a lot of the fear factor. There is no cohesiveness to the things in the catacombs, the weird direction they took leading to random obstacles appearing in no discernible order. Sure they still were creepy, but at times I laughed at the ridiculous things they came up with, especially when some of them were punched in the face with such ease. Yeah you heard me, punched in the face. Somehow, what was lurking in the tunnels was unable to touch some of the people, again ambiguously explained by the ending. However, the worst thing that takes away from the movie is the camera work. Found footage films still have a tendency to bring unstable, shaky scenes, where one is exposed to a lot of the camera darting around to mimic the panicked state of the crew. While I do appreciate their attempts to get us into the scene, I prefer a movie that has a steady focus and only goes into colossal shaking at points. Sure the tremors prevented us from getting a clear look at the denizens of the dark, but still there is a point where it becomes too much. My recommendation though is, if you get sick from movies in first person perspective then avoid this movie at all costs.

 

As Above So Below is a twist on the horror movie genre, which I can greatly appreciate in terms of trying to be original. However, the convoluted plot and shallow character stories make this attempt at uniqueness more complicated than is worth the effort. The shaky camera work also takes away a lot from the movie, and unfortunately for the movie, there isn’t much to offset it. Is this worth a trip to the theater? Not really, and I strongly encourage watching this film in the comforts of your home when the time comes. My scores for this movie are:

 

Horror/Thriller: 6.0

Movie Overall: 4.5

Decent Spy Plot with Controlled Action

The November Man

So I had a little surprise waiting for me after work in the form of yet another movie to review.   This time we drop out of the drama and romantic movies I’ve been seeing lately for something with a little more conspiracy behind it. Yes, I’m talking about the latest spy movie, starring former Bond agent himself Pierce Brosnan, who I thought had retired from the action genre. Instead Mr. Brosnan has hung up his singing and dancing boots, to dive back into the world of mistrust and gunplay in hopes of closing the summer with a bang. However, is his latest project a meal to fill the spy craving audience, or is it just another snack for one that looms further down the road? Let’s get started on my latest review for The November Man.

 

What makes a good spy film? For most it usually involves mixing high-speed car chases, with fictitious weapons blazing at various points, and an occasional explosion. If we’re lucky, those elements are wrapped around a decent plot, but that is not often the case. In the November man however, the balance is shifted more towards the plot element and gives you less bang for your buck. The plot is decent, a good conspiracy story that involves trying to determine the culprit and the crime at hand. Extreme, over the top villains are traded in for low key bad guys who have more smarts than fierce power. The writing cast, including the original author, developed some realistic villains, and helped make a somewhat vile villain that one could actually loathe, with his lack of decency. What I liked also was the rivalry built into the plot between Brosnan and his mentee Luke Bracey. The game the two play with one another acts as the medium to which the action comes out, more on that later. Such a relationship also helps with some character development and provides a little bit of heat to attempt to distract you from the rest of the plot. A few twists were even thrown in to help keep one on their toes, but one might be able to see them a mile away if you pay attention. Yet despite the endearing plot, it still lacks originality and is nothing we haven’t seen a million times in a Bond movie. There are also a few loose ends that get tied up very rapidly, some humorous and others… a bit pointless and rather lacking. Nevertheless, it’s not a bad adventure to take a spin on.

 

Now to the action part! As I said before the flash stunts and over the top gadgets are missing in this film. The action is more controlled, with the top agents actually having the aim to which their legendary status sets them up for. While decently choreographed, despite some of the ridiculous angles, the firefights are very straight and narrow most over in a manner of seconds. Brosnan still has some spark left in him, executing his moves quite flawlessly as he bangs out the poor extras. A few martial arts moves, a little fancy car maneuvering, and some torture are all present in the movie, in a manner similar to Taken, though lacking the suspense. Bracey has the potential to follow up with more spy movies as well, as both his looks and stunts fit the part quite well. The biggest strength of the action is that is keeps the film moving and is fitted into the story well enough to give a natural and smooth flow. Yet, the simplistic fighting style is a little boring at times, and the game of cat and mouse is rather silly at points and a little repetitive. I was hoping for a much more excited conclusion, especially with some of the bigger assassins in this game of deceit. However, I got to the ending and could only just shrug as I left the theater.

 

The final saving grace is the acting of this film, which helps create a cast of characters that are believable. Brosnan brings his suave voice and debonair charm to his character to reincarnate Bond again. Yet, this time his killer’s edge comes out, slowly evolving as he is pushed to the edge numerous times. The spy isn’t invincible, we see him fail a few times and have to rebuild his approach and teach other’s a lesson. Bracey on the other hand plays the role of the eager mentee, whose impatience shaped him into the hot headed and arrogant young agent. He pulled it off well, but still has some polishing to do because some of the vulnerable side is a little overdramatic. Olga Kurylenko perhaps was my favorite of the main characters though. Kurvlenko had the most balanced array of emotions, playing the spectrum well going from an emotionless, bland attitude and evolving into someone much stronger, though still vulnerable as well. Sometimes it was a little overacted, but I thought her character had the most complexity and realism behind it. Of course the chemistry of everyone mixes well, as they play off of one another and build their emotions around the other characters. It’s not the best chemistry I’ve seen, but it’s pretty decent with the complexity of the tale.

 

Overall the November Man is a decent filler flick to help get your action craving fulfilled. However, it is only mildly entertaining and not necessarily worth the price of the movie. Again the story is decent and filled with a few surprises, but there just isn’t enough drive that your favorite bond movie can’t fill, especially one where Pierce Brosnan plays 007. My scores for this movie are:

 

Action/Crime/Thriller: 7.0

Movie Overall: 6.0

 

Preachy Morals with Football Flare

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            Sports movies, a compromise of two great pastimes rolled into one blockbuster smash hit. We’ve had a variety of movies about the various sports from hockey to baseball, however the popular trend in the modern age seems to be football. Why football seems to be the sport where all miracles happen I don’t know, but nevertheless this weekend adds another work to the ever-growing library. My final review to close the weekend out is on When the Game Stands Tall. What does this movie have in store for you? Read on to find out.

 

We know the general formula for a team-based film: team gets built; they start looking good, hit a few obstacles, and come back stronger than ever. This movie is no different in the grand scheme of things, but changes the order slightly to give a little deviation from the norm. At the beginning we get introduced into the legendary De La Salle football team, a high school sports program that goes on a 151 win streak via live footage. From there we meet a few key players in the story, as the passing of the rights as well as the fundamental morals on which the program is built on are told. After that it becomes the familiar drama that seems to accompany this movie, though in this case it is about the Streak. The cultural shock rips away their pride, taking its toll on every member of the team that, when combined with a few other incidents revealed in the trailers, creates the “story”. It’s predictable, and lacks originality, as most football movies are, yet somehow the movie is still entertaining. This may be partly due to the simplistic comedy in the movie. A few of the players have some choice lines that are well timed to maximize their humor. There are also a few comical scenes as well, both in training and on game footage that gave me a few chuckles.

 

However, the story is not really the powerful part of the movie here, but more so the morals within it. The legendary coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel) has a great approach to many of life’s lessons and struggles. Almost every line contains some teaching about finding yourself, understanding the true qualities to appreciate in the given circumstances. Fame, fortune, a winning streak are all addressed by this man and his staff as they try to drive home honest morals into the players. Yet the coach isn’t some holier than thou man, no he has some lessons to learn on his own as well and goes through the journey with his team. But the morals aren’t just loaded into one man’s dialogue, but also in the presentation of numerous scenes. From the combination of music and visuals, the audience will feel the full emotional force of the scene at hand. I found myself getting goose bumps during some of the more inspirational moments, a tribute to the strength movie magic can have. I have to admit that much of this movie is preachy and done in the manner to bring you into the locker room. However it got stale, and loss the shine it held at the beginning of the film, proving once again overuse of any movie aspect can lose effect.

 

As for the game scenes, they too are some of the better sequences I’ve experienced in a long time. Unlike other movies, where one gets glimpses of the game, When the game stands tall manages to create some decent games that are filled with action and flare. Again, music helps bring you into the moment, the symphony from the orchestra psyching you up and filling you with energy. What is even better for me in this film is that this game wasn’t just glorifying the main team, but actually showed their failings too. That’s right we get to see other teams scores in some well coordinated plays to give you a true game, and not a one sided blitz. Overall, these scenes are also dolled up with a lot of movie flare and zest, but it does add more entertainment to break away from the distraught in the drama. That isn’t to say there isn’t drama in the game itself, but it has a different twist to keep things interesting and balanced.

 

When the game stands tall is a decent sports film, still filled with the movie magic flare that Hollywood pumps into it. Those who lack emotion will be bored and find most of the movie cheesy and rather bland. While I didn’t mention the acting, due to the numerous characters, the cast in this film did a great job bringing the team to life, in particular Caviezel who stole most of the show. The biggest audience I can recommend coming to see this film are sports enthusiasts, those who love Remember the Titans, and drama lovers who actually enjoy embracing their emotions. This is a movie filled to the brim with pride, and should be a good fix for those awaiting the next sports masterpiece. However, I would recommend waiting for the movie to come out on DVD/Netflix ,because you can get longer games for practically free on your entertainment console, though I can’t guarantee as much excitement. My scores for When The Game Stands Tall are:

 

Drama/Sport: 7.5-8

Movie Overall: 7.0

A Dame to Watch At Home

Virginia DMV

            Sin City, a place you go to run into trouble, a kingdom of breaking rules and embracing chaos, a place where the corrupt rule and the honorable fall. Such a world is inviting to so much mayhem, and entertained us so much years ago. My second review this weekend is on the second visual installment of Frank Miller’s popular series on unlawful antics. The first feature brought an interesting and fun presentation that made such a dark world both humorous and engaging at the same time. Can a second installment produce similar results, or does yet another movie fall to the sequel syndrome and tarnish the quality. Here are my thoughts.

 

Like always the black and white spread of Sin City is incredibly designed, with the slums having a comic book gloss to it. The design team did it again, recreating the world to maintain the novel splendor Miller created for us, without changing too much. Key elements and details are brought to our attention in color, with all colors of red shining forth on the screen to represent the animosity of the town. It’s vibrant and plain at the same time and helps you get into the spirit of a true crime film. Yet intermingled within the dark and sullen world is some more comical aspects in terms of the characters and blood. Many of the characers have a grotesque quality that paints them as a denizen of the city of evil, each quality perhaps representing the sin they most commit. Most of the looks are impressive, with the makeup and costumes sculpted into a look that is either unique, or stunning. Even when besmirched by artificial blood, the looks maintain their edge and continue to capture the essence of the character.

 

Let’s talk about the story of this movie next. The second installment starts with three unified tales each centered on one of our “heroes”. After a brief opening though, the tales diverge and the audience watches each tale unfold, mostly isolated from the other. Fans of the first series will know all the references and relationship ties in the group, but newcomers will get a brief review to help them catch up. The story still maintains it’s dark edge, with many of the optimistic qualities like hope, happiness, and justice pretty much absent in the entire film. It’s still a tale of greed and revenge, where self control is a virtue that many of the denizens struggle with. Now if you like focusing on one character at a time, then you’ll like this approach again, but this reviewer likes a little more connectivity between the characters in the grand scheme of things. Some of the tales were very rushed, with little happening in terms of plot development other than getting someone angry, or violently dismantling body guards in an overdramatic manner. Ludicrous action scenes attempt to support the story, but in truth it’s merely another opening to spill more blood. While you do expect ridiculous amounts of gore in the series, the mindless slaughtering got a little stale for me by the end of the first tale. However, if you like over the top usage of suspension wires helping scantily clad women kill things, then more reason for you to go.

 

However, what helped offset the split up stories for this reviewer were the characters that were stuck in this world. In particular was Marv played by the rough looking man himself Mickey Rourke. What is perhaps my favorite role he has ever played, Rourke brings life to some of the drab moments. A well placed line, an over the top stunt, and an attitude that is just overall entertaining. Rourke’s roughness finally fits suit and thanks to makeup, makes him look strong and intimidating without looking like he needs a bath. His character is the most “level headed of them all” and has the most balance in terms of skills, bravado, and laughs. Josh Brolin does a decent job as well, his internal monologue perhaps the greatest in terms of explaining the story as well as describing internal strife. Brolin’s desperado and solemn nature are perfect for this role, making the suffering of Dwight ever more alive. Mistress of evil Eva Green is back with her fiery charm, taking her ability to play a devious woman to a whole new level. Like always she has strategy on her side, her cold calculating mind and lack of compassion a perfect mix for the dame that runs the show. While a little more sexual than I would have liked, her character had all the qualities of being a powerful force not to be messed with. Biggest weakness for her character, not enough time in the movie and not enough time to cause some real havoc. Reprising their roles as Nancy and Hartigan, Jessica Alba and Bruce Willis are back with their same style. Alba’s gorgeous as ever, and the woman has some sick dance moves that she graces the screen with. Her character is a little more silent and insane than I’ve seen, but she plays her role quite well. Willis is still as calm as ever, as is most of his roles, but sadly he gets gipped of screen time and any real dialogue. The rest of the cast is good, but I’m running out of space, so let’s wrap this up.

 

Sin City 2 is quite a tale that is meant for those who like the darker side of things. While there is not a uniform tale, it’s got some good plot elements that may hook you into the characters. Action wise it’s not the greatest, but the art style and humor associated with the series explain its ridiculousness. Is it worth a trip to the theater? I don’t think so, especially not worth the 3-D price, so stay home and watch the first one if you need a fix.

 

My scores for this film are:

 

Action/Crime/Thriller: 7.5

Movie Overall: 6.5

If You Should Go…

If I Stay

            Surprise, surprise another weekend, another movie based off of a book. I start my review off this evening with the latest popular drama entitled If I Stay… Why we have yet another somber, emotion engorged screenplay when we just had one, I will never know, but Hollywood is eating up the profits from movies like this. So with the hot little topic these movies are at the moment, I go once more into the dimly lit theater to determine if this movie is worth your hard earned money. What is my verdict? Like always, please read on to find out.

 

The key factor that these movies go for is the ability to bring about some type of emotion. If I stay is no different, though in this flick… you can pretty much guess what emotion is filling the screen. From the trailers, one should be prepared to go in for a tear jerker movie, filled with sad and morbid factors for the whole nine yards. In my theater, there were plenty of emotional fans crying, gasping, sobbing, and any other description you can think of as Mia (Chloë Grace Moretz) faces her trial of choosing to live. Before you turn away though, If I Stay surprisingly has some happy emotions to it as well, spread amongst the misery to help lighten the mood. Perhaps this is what kept me interested in the movie, as the delivery did a nice job balancing both happiness and sadness. Integrating the disaster amidst memories of Mia’s life is a great approach, helping to establish and develop a backstory without giving it all away at the beginning. While I’m sure fans of the book already expected this, but I appreciated the development of the relationships with her family and friends, gradually building up to where the movie starts. The timing of these memories was spot on, each memory slightly deeper as Mia fights to hang on to life, using a different aspect of her life to carry on. Of course, the movie is full of morals about the various components of life, each done in an artistic fashion that is filled with glorified movie magic. One can certainly appreciate what the story has to teach, enough to oversee a little of the cheesiness in some of the scenes and dialog.

 

Of course the balanced emotions are only one part of the strengths of this movie. The acting is not half bad, with Moretz doing a good job at playing the awkward girl role. Moretz is dynamic and I enjoy her broad spectrum of characters she can play and the way she brings her lines to life. In this role she gets to act like a real person, reacting to the situations life deals her as she tries to break out of her comfort zone. Yet, for me there was a little too much crying and weakness in this character, her drawn out rants of crying and screaming a bit taxing for my patience. Of course this fits with the theme of the movie though and helps one relate to the turmoil she is feeling. Playing her opposite is Jamie Blackley who is perhaps the central point in Mia’s world. Blackley’s character is an attempt to represent the wild, unruly side, but his character is more relaxed than wild. The audience will get more than their fill of his songs that fit well with the scene he brings to life. However, some of the songs are simply shoved down our throats in an attempt to promote the actor’s talent at singing songs that sound all the same, (like a Taylor Swift album). Regardless, I like how real his character is, and not some extreme, high on life, rogue whose bad boy attitude has all the girls swooning. The rest of the cast was fine, and well fitted into the story, but they were all rotating around the giant love relationship in this movie.

 

This brings me to the next part of the review, some of the weaker aspects of the movie. Despite the relationship being a little more realistic than others, it still has its moments of sheer fantasy and movie magic that sob lovers will enjoy. The predictable nature of the movie is also a bit old as well. While I did enjoy the balance of memories in the story, it was obvious where the tale was going with the underlying themes in it. Such predictability is overshadowed by the slow pace of this movie, as the lack of any exciting events leads to movie to be slightly boring. I’m still weaning myself away from the action, but this movie seemed to go around in circles instead of covering any forward ground. One minor thing is while I normally love songs that help bring out the emotions in the scene, this was a little too somber for my taste. Soft and classic rock fans will rejoice in the soundtrack, but it just didn’t do much for me in this movie, and once or twice made me very sleepy.

 

Overall If I stay is an emotional tale that drama lovers I feel will love. It’s got great life lessons, an intertwined tale of both joy and sorrow, and some decent acting that fit well to bring the novel on the screen. Yet, don’t let the trailers and commercials overhype the movie, nor should you go in comparing it to the book. While I have not read the novel, my track record leads to usually disappointment, so try and block that mindset if you can. Is it worth a trip to theater? My opinion is not really, as there is very little quality that would look better on a bigger screen. Truth be told it’s a great girls night out movie, or a movie you can treat your significant other too in hopes of getting reciprocation. The scores for the film are:

 

Drama: 7.0

Movie Overall: 6.5

Emotional Memories and Decent Acting Are The Keys Here

The Giver

            Books are a means of allowing the imagination to unfold without a budget to hold back your creativity. Yet in Hollywood they are ultimately a means to write the next big blockbuster to draw people to the theaters. This weekend yet another adapted screenplay comes to life in the form of the Giver. Haven’t heard of the book? Neither had I until about three weeks ago, so I was excited to see what this movie had in store. What were my thoughts on the film? Read on to find out.

 

The Giver is not the most exciting tale, merely another story about a utopia where everything is controlled and all negative aspects have been eliminated. At the beginning of the movie, the pace is a little slow, a mere introduction into the world and all its endeavors. It is not until we meet the Giver (Jeff Bridges) that things begin to pick up and thing become much more interesting. The Giver trains his protégée Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) to take on his new job as the Receiver, learning the memories of the past in order to guide the future. While not the most unique story, this tale is interesting in the way it is executed as both cinematography and acting come together to make a fantastic presentation.

 

We’ll start with the cinematography and editing first. The black and white world hasn’t been seen in a popular movie since the Artist, but this time we have sound to go along with our nostalgic filter.   The lack of color sort of drains you of your emotions, which falls in line with the emotions of the town. As Jonas learns more about the past, things begin to change though and the developing team begins to subtlety introduce colors back to the film. It gradually adds excitement to the film, running parallel to the evolving story and characters within it, until the exciting, albeit downgraded, climax. Perhaps the greatest source of emotion though come from the memories that the two protagonists share. The directors selected great clips to entertain us with, starting simple at first and gradually diving deeper down the rabbit hole. Each memory brings about it a new set of feelings each further developing Jonas to make the choices he makes. Between each of these memories we have Jonas reintroduced back into the world, seeing it through different eyes as he contemplates the inner workings. Often these realizations bring back more colors, as well as further pieces of the puzzle to solve. It is balanced, and very good at teaching us lesson with the emotions that well up with each scene. Here I will warn you to exercise caution with younger minds, for some of the darker memories may be a bit too much, sad or disturbing, for smaller children to handle.

 

Of course the camera can only do so much, and movies require actors to assist in bringing the players to life. Bridges is my favorite of the bunch, his rugged approach to characters providing the right gruff to make anything both funny and serious at the same time. His sarcastic delivery and straight to the point approach provides both entertainment and lesson, helping to alleviate the tension that builds up in the movie. Thwaites’ chemistry with him is good, the boy not only reacting to the new memories, but also trying to handle everything that comes with them. While a bit overacted at parts, Thwaites manages to pull off the role well and was quite enjoyable to watch. While these two are the bread and butter of the movie, the supporting characters have some good acting to further enhance the story. The talented Meryl Streep brings the Chief Elder to life, not necessarily evil, but with evil like qualities she used to maintain order. Streep’s voice was perfect for the role of a supreme leader, and her elegant features complemented the monotone suit well. Playing kind of the second in command is Katie Holmes, whose track record has been mixed in terms of acting quality. For this reviewer, she did a great job playing the stern mother, using her stoic facial features from the past to really bring a sense of threat and discipline. Holmes has played plenty of no nonsense roles and she slips right back into the role that both annoyed and impressed me at the same time. Odeya Rush is a very cute actress, who has a great talent for line delivery, executing her lines with the right emotions with the right emphasis. She does have to work a little on her voice breaking, because some her lines sounded more like whining than acting for me. Yet she does a nice job of changing out her acting style as the characters change. Even Taylor Swift makes an appearance in this movie, though her acting hasn’t greatly changed from her earlier roles.

 

To wrap this review up, The Giver is a thoroughly enjoyable movie by how fantastic the emotions are presented. This is a movie that does a great job at teaching lessons, and doing it without the cheesy dialog that often makes Facebook quotes. The combination of visuals and acting are some of the best I’ve seen in a while, and have not been overshadowed by high explosive special effects. Yet it is not the most exciting movie and has some stretches to accept in order to get the full effect. Is it worth the trip to the theatre? I would say not necessarily so, because there isn’t a lot made for the big screen, though I’m not saying you are wasting your money if you do go see it. My scores for The Giver are:

 

Drama/Sci-Fi: 7.5

Movie Overall: 7.5

Better than 2, but Still Got Things to Do

Expendables 3

            Sylvester Stallone is considered by some to be one of the greatest action legends ever. With movies like Rambo and Rocky, who could blame them? Unlike other stars though, this actor hasn’t stopped doing what he loves, and making sure he is the center of it all. Over the last few years, Stallone has brought back his iconic characters for one last run to close up the chapters, and some of them are done quite well. However, one series of his continues to build steam, with the promise that each installment has more action. That’s right I’m talking about the Expendables, the film collection that gathers the greatest action stars together to do what else…but bring more action. The last installment failed to thrill me, and when I saw yet another sequel I wondered how much more action Stallone could stuff into a two hour time period. Has time withered this series to a moot film, or does Stallone have some magic still left in him?

 

To start Expendables 3 is much better than the second, despite stuffing more action stars into an already overcrowded film. While the opening fight lacked any real bite, a mere display of idealized gun accuracy and a few booms, the action started to pick up. Fans will be thrilled to watch the cast pull out some of the classic moves that we fell in love. Jason Statham and Wesley Snipes in particular had some of my favorite moves of the cast, mixing up the overzealous gunplay with some fancy knife work and mixed martial arts. Stallone also has a little balance, though he glorifies his ability to wield a pistol like a modern day Italian cowboy. Yet the action isn’t just limited to the old cast, but has actually been spread out amongst the newcomers to the group. The young Expendable cadets open up with some decent CGI and choreographed stunts, and then have a mission that is a bit more strategy than gung ho rebellion. However, don’t fret because action and explosion junkies will still get the fight they have been craving in the final fight, which has set the bar high for this reviewer on awesome action. Both old and new alike get their hands dirty with taking down the enemies at hand. Stunts, guns, fists, and other weapons all converge into an epic fight that, if this were to be the last installment, ends the series well.

 

As for the story, well it’s definitely not the worse thing I’ve seen, but it is a simple plot that is built around bringing the boom. It’s a story of revenge and fighting old ghosts as Stallone tries to face his demons with the minimum number of casualties. Of course being a Stallone movie, something always has to go wrong, and as revealed in the trailers, all of the new cadets conveniently get captured. Stallone’s character though does get to share some more backstory and the villain is much better than Van Dam. Mel Gibson is an iconic bad guy, whose qualities consist of strategy, shrewdness, training, and the all-important psychotic edge. All of these features have been honed from his previous roles, and his instability seems natural, and for once not overstretched in the film. He keeps his emotions in check and makes a good target to bind the group together. Even newcomers Kelsey Grammer and Antonio Banderas bring some drama to the works providing again a little more character to the war torn studs.

 

As for the humor, this reviewer loved the comedy the writers wrote for us. The corny puns and one-liners have been replaced with well-timed comedy, either in the form of an insult or sarcasm. Banderas in particular had me cracking up, as his codependent nature and childlike obsessions had him spouting like a comedic fool. Other lines involve making fun of the hilarious quotes from some of the other stars. All of the humor is integrated into the movie well, keeping the action junkie edge going and the brotherhood as strong as ever. Stallone even has a few lines that make you laugh, but whether it’s because of the writing or the fact that he still sounds like he has a mouth full of marbles.

 

Despite the all the improvements in number three though, it is still not perfect. The balance of stars was better, but some of them get little screen time, involvement in this installment. Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, and Terry Crews in particular got gipped the most, only bringing some humorous dialog and an occasional potshot here and there. They still fit in with the team, but this reviewer can’t find much use for all these stars if you are not going to actually use them. Even veterans like Jet Li and Arnold Schwarzenegger are also robbed of their splendor, the latter getting decent screen time, but less action. Li’s stunts and martial arts seem to be a thing in the past, as he’s been reduced to firing a fake gun for his time in the film. Even the ending scene is a bit cheesy for me, though fans who have a similar brotherhood are going to be relating to it and raise their popcorn buckets in honor.

 

Expendables 3 was much better than the middle installment and was a great popcorn-munching blockbuster for the summer. Fans of the series I encourage to go, despite the limitations, because it is a fitting “end” to the series. Even if you are a rookie to the series, the audio effects and explosions make it worth the trip for the action fan. My scores for Stallone’s work are:

 

Action/Adventure/Thriller: 8.0

Movie Overall: 6.5

Let’s Be Stupid…

Let's be Cops

            We’ve seen the dynamic duo comedies, where two guys do some extreme stunt to get some cheap laughs. Where these types of movies use to have some clarity and boundaries, the past two decades however have made those boundaries very thin. The result of removing boundaries is over the top comedies, where law breaking and often alcohol drives a curse-laden dialogue. So when Let’s Be Cops dawned its awkward looking face into theaters I wondered what was in store. What were my impressions on this comedy? Please read on to find out.

 

Let’s start out with the premise of the movie. Two typical guys go out one night dressed as cops for a party, and somehow convince an entire populace they are cops. Using the fame and favor of wearing the uniform, the two nobodies become addicted to the attention and abuse it to no ends. I’ll admit that I didn’t expect much from this adventure, but to my surprise Let’s be Cops had a few more kicks to it then I thought. Despite what the trailers paint, there is a little bit of a story to the madness. This film has some crime drama suspense put in, using a couple of techniques from the various T.V. shows to craft a tale that has all the elements we love. While there is very little mystery to the crime, the collecting of the evidence has a few suspenseful moments that might get you on the edge of your seat. There is a “twist” at one point, but in a comedy like this there really isn’t much room for unpredictable elements, at least not in terms of story. However, there is an action element in this film as well, with a little bit of excitement to help pick up the pace.

 

As I have mentioned though, this is a comedy movie and you want to know about the laughs. For this reviewer, the laugh factor was much smaller than I had hoped, not because the humor wasn’t there, but because the trailers had shown me a lot of the jokes. A lot of the stupid, slapstick humor is revealed in the various, and overplayed ads on T.V., and after seeing them so many times had lost its edge. Luckily, there were still a few tricks left up their sleeves that gave me a chuckle. Some of the scenes have a little extra factor to them in the movie, often a perfect time song, or joke that couldn’t be aired on the T.V. There are also a few scenes that were still fresh, the dialog and comedic timing rather well done and had me laughing. In particular Justin (Damon Wayans Jr.) is the one that was more entertaining for me, as his style was less extreme and overacted than his partner in crime.

 

This brings us to our next topic on the characters and the acting. Another surprise to this movie is that there is actually some character development amidst the crazy antics. Jake Johnson’s character was very similar to one like Kevin Hart, very loud and eccentric and with dialog filled with one-liners. He is the instigator of the bad ideas, continuously scheming to push their luck as to how far they can take the scheme. Yet despite his extreme stupidity and shallowness, there is a little bit of moral and motives behind his ideas, though most of this happens at the end. Wayans on the other hand covers the character spectrum a little more, at first being a partner in crime and gradually developing a conscience that makes him a party pooper, but keeps the humor grounded. When he is not trying to douse the flames though, his character has other parts of his life that provide some variety to fake cop stupidity. Girl trouble, job trouble, and confidence issues are all means for jokes, and often ends up with Wayans screaming like a little girl that starts to get a little annoying as the movie progresses. Despite the high pitched wails, Wayans keeps things from getting too crazy and helps establish the slight story in this comedy. Trying to take the limelight away from the two, we have villain Mossi (James D’Arcy) who looks the part of a grade a sleezeball. However, looks are the only thing I can greatly praise this character on, as the acting is a bit monotone and rather overdone. D’Arcy pretty throws grown up temper tantrums and then simply goes cool and creepy. For being such a crime threat, the guy knows how to waste bullets as well, often blindly spraying lead without even trying to aim. Rob Riggle also makes an appearance in this movie and does a nice job playing the cop that again offsetting the comedy and low I.Q. of the rest of the city.   Yet my favorite part of this movie is actress Nina Dobrev. A combination of beauty and smarts, Dobrev’s character has some attitude, some diversity, and a decent foothold in the overall dynamic of the movie. While definitely the greatest performance I have ever seen, she did nice job being “the girl” and defying the typical damsel in distress we often see.

 

Let’s be cops is pretty much what the trailers promised, over the top, stupid antics condensed in a two hour time period. It’s got a few more surprises to it, but the trailers have given you most of what is in store for this movie. Is it worth a trip to the theater? For this reviewer not really, unless you are looking for some time to kill, as there is nothing theater worthy about it. My scores for this feature is:

 

Comedy: 6.0

Movie Overall: 5.5

A Cultural Cuisine of talent, fun, and balance

100 foot

We wrap up this weekend with a movie with a little more spice and seasoning to it, literally. Diverging from the blockbusters of this weekend, my final review is on the latest production from the legendary Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey entitled The Hundred-Foot Journey. When I first saw the trailers for this movie, I had the story pretty much figured out, but with such an epic cast and production team on the project I held high hopes for this movie. Was I disappointed? As always, read on to find out.

 

The first thing I will say about this film is how cultured it is. Hundred-Foot Journey centers on introducing the audience to the beliefs, lifestyles, and manners of two divers cultures. While food is the main medium, the movie overall does a great job introducing us to so many qualities of Indian and French life. However, unlike a documentary, this film does it in a manner that is entertaining and fun. At the start of the movie we get a brief introduction into why the main character Hassan (Manish Dayal) is obsessed with cooking and how he ends up across the street from the legendary chef Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). Yet after a more serious opening, the laughs begin to roll in as the family begins to face struggles in opening up the restaurant. Yes the first component that makes this movie fun is the humor. The Hundred-Foot Journey is a blend of situational comedy and clever writing that is simple and witty and not overdone. What maximized the laughs for me was the timing of the lines, placed at the right moment to break the drama and lighten up the situation. Often these lines were complaints from Mallory or her Indian rival Papa (Om Puri). Both heads of the household took potshots at one another’s cultures, often in metaphors about the music and food. Puri in particular had some of my favorite lines, with his accent giving his lines a little more spunk and zest.

 

Comedy aside though, the next aspect that it made it fun were the characters themselves. The Hundred-Foot Journey has a cast of characters that are very diverse and realistic. Most modern protagonists are very one dimensional, having one or two qualities complementing their physical features. Yet, the characters on this movie are more dynamic, each of the main characters having dreams, fears, turmoil, and pride all shown. I was able to latch on to the characters, and follow this slower paced tale all the way keeping in time with the journey at hand. The struggles they faced, the accomplishments they made, and the love of family and friends were all well done. Although a bit sappy at parts, the emotion in this movie is not over played, with tears and sobs only used at the most intense moments. Even when racist actions were done, the reactions lacked the steroid induced rage and crying, that Hollywood infuses into their scenes. Such reactions are much more relevant to me, and make for a good cast to present the morals. However, maybe I related to the cast more because both families reminded me of my own.

 

Of course the characters are only as good as the acting, and the casting director should get some serious recognition for this team. As always Mirren brings her talent to the screen, bringing the strict chef out in all the right ways. Intense and controlled dialog, with emphasis on all the right syllables brings back memories of those uptight teachers from school that you didn’t get along with. Yet that intensity melts at times when the colorful cuisines are presented. Puri played the stubborn father role to the letter, his resistance to the obstacles at hand reminding me very much of my own father. While he was the funniest character for me, his humor was only a part of his character not the whole package, and his pride and morals drove the character to do great things. The young aspiring chef protagonist Hassan was greatly portrayed by Dayal, whose charming looks might swoon the ladies. Unlike other pretty boys though, Dayal can act without going to the extremes, and does a nice job of covering the emotional spectrum. Playing his counter part Margaritte is Charlotte Le Bon, who is mousy, energetic, and upbeat that made you feel grand. And again, that is only one component, for she too was susceptible to the less pleasant qualities that dwell within us all. Bottom line is the chemistry for these guys was fantastic and mixed well together to bring the story to life.

 

The story that tied them all together was predictable as expected, but it didn’t matter because all of the above qualities were able to make it fun to go through. And the fact that the culture was brought out through the whole movie in different mediums other than food helped round out the experience. There were plenty of times I was swaying to the music, the fun beats of the Indian music bringing an infectious energy, while the French elegance was capture beautifully in the orchestra. Even the dialog and jokes had cultural relevance and was not gibberish designed to be stupid and overacted.

 

If you can’t tell, I really like this movie a lot and highly recommend many to go see this portrayal of the novel. It is not the most exciting movie, it is not the most original concept, but it is a very balanced movie that has a great familial atmosphere to it. The relatable characters and stories should allow a majority of audience members to latch on to the players in the story and keep you engaged into the tale. My scores for the Hundred Foot Journey are:

 

Drama: 8.5

Movie Overall: 8.0

Dance Number Galore, but Story is a Bore

All In

 

 

Dancing, a simple act of motion that captivates so many people in the world. Hollywood has continuously created movies that encompass those gifted in this art, from classic musicals to today’s modern competitions. One such series is the Step Up series, a film that many years ago lit a fuse that would revolutionize the dancing community. While the first installment actually had a decent plot filled with emotion, the movies to follow became diluted tales where moves, comedy, and predictable love stories became the emphasis. With its fifth installment releasing this weekend, this reviewer is back at the theater to see what was in store. Does Step Up All In defy the trend, or has it just taken its place as another dance flick? Read on to find out.

 

One thing that this series has going for it, is that the main characters are pretty in some way, and this movie is no different. Picking up from the Revolution, All In has a hilarious opening where hopeful dancers are forced to parade around in ridiculous costumes, or shirtless for some. Enter Sean (Ryan Guzman) the justice filled rebel from the last series, who somehow has become quite pig headed since moving to L.A. Guzman wasn’t bad mind you, but his character’s inversed morals were annoying, and lacked the emotional drive to back it up. Leading lady Briana Evigan helped a little, her qualities a bit more realistic and noble, but even her emotional drive was flat. The result, another shallow love story that seems to develop out of thin air, and have the depth of a kiddy pool. Perhaps it was just for the eye candy, or perhaps it was just something to give the primary age group to latch on to. Whatever the case, it was sweet, but nothing I haven’t seen in a hundred other romantic comedies, luckily with less crying. Of course there are some other characters that help bail the movie out. My main man Moose (Adam G. Sevani) has returned to the fray to provide not only amazing moves, but comedy as well. As for the main “bad guy” of this tale Jasper (Stephen Stevo Jones), he is more of a tool than a serious threat, a mere wannabe with a crew whose moves were sick. Other fan favorites return as well, though like always they are more of background characters or a medium for the humorous dialog.

 

Putting acting and characters aside, let’s talk a little about the story. Surprise, surprise it’s plain, simple, and just as predictable as the previous installments. Some of the love is authentic and admirable; helping to address some issues in the process, but for the most part is rather bland. Putting romance aside, truth is that the overall plot is very lacking in both emotion and suspense. The situation is simply winning a contest, and while that can be very tense, is rather boring in this installment. A few twists were attempted to be put into the mix, blatant attempts to put drama into crew to get some ruse out of the crowd. However, the drama lacked tension and heat, issues blowing over in seconds with rather emotionless scenes. Even the backstories leading up to this were underdeveloped, and the fear they tried to instill was absent, again blowing over them with ease. Although I knew it was going to be a predictable mess, I was hoping there would be some better delivery of the inevitable conclusion.

 

The story isn’t what you come to see in these movies though. As I, and the movie production team know, you come for the dancing numbers. Step All In does just that, as the crew brings intense moves on to the screen. From the get go, the gang performs numbers that will have fans amazed with their bouts of strength, flipping and twisting as if it were no big feat. Dance numbers are a blend of flips, twists, and pop and lock that flow into each other effortlessly, a tribute to the fine choreography. Many of the numbers are elaborate, with the participants clothed in themed outfits that are part provocative and matching the songs at the same time. Speaking of the music, All In smashes the speakers with intense beat that are mostly gangster rap, electronic, and a little R&B. While not as diverse as the previous movie, in both music and numbers, I found myself dancing in the seat, as I got lost in the bass filled moments. The edgy music goes along with the nature of the numbers, almost all of them a battle between the groups filled with fake punches, cheesy taunts, and hooting for support. Simple I know, but the special effects they pulled out were fun to watch and most likely would have come at you in the 3-D version. Only once or twice did I find the dancing irrelevant or misplaced, being introduced only to give the audience another filler before the main event. For most though, the relevancy of the numbers won’t matter though, because it’s just more impressive dancing.

 

Step Up All In is a fun flick to watch, and fans of the series will be purely satisfied and entertained. Again it’s a movie made for those who like gorgeous casts acting out simple love and spending the rest of the time dancing. Such a simple formula continues to be successful, so there is a good chance it won’t change. Yet it would be nice if the delivery could be tweaked in some manner to get rid of some of the cheesiness. Overall though, I would recommend waiting to see this movie at home, unless you are looking for a movie to go to as a group. My scores for this movie are:

 

Drama/Music/Romance: 6.0

Movie Overall: 6.0