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Movie Review: Final Destination 5

August 18th, 2011 Angela Posted in Movies, Review Comments Off on Movie Review: Final Destination 5

Title: Final Destination 5

Director: Steven Quale

Producer: Craig Perry and Warren Zide

Genre: Horror, Thriller

Distributor: Warner Bros.

Series: Final Destination

Release Date: August 12, 2011

Format: 3D

Runtime: 95 Minutes

MPAA Rating: R

Starring: Emma Bell, Nicholas D’Agosto, Miles Fisher, Arlen Escarpeta, and P.J. Byrne

Synopsis (Product Description):

Death stalks a group of co-workers who avoid a grisly demise in a massive suspension bridge collapse after one of them experiences a terrifying premonition in the fifth installment of the popular Final Destination series.

The Review:

It’s another Final Destination movie. Along with the Saw franchise, this is one of Hollywood’s old standbys that’s ridden a pretty original idea into the ground–well not all the way into the ground. It still manages to be fun as long as you manage your expectations.

The Final Destination formula is the same. Right before a major disaster — think plane crash, roller coaster, huge traffic accident — the protagonist has a vivid premonition of things to come. Right after he or she sees their own death they snap back to a point right before the disaster and warn their friends to get off of, or out of whatever, or wherever the disaster is about to strike. The twist is that death doesn’t like to be cheated and through a series of gory Rube Goldberg like accidents, it will claim the lives of anyone who escaped the initial disaster. The protagonist and his circle of friends take a little while to catch on, but inevitably the series of improbable deaths of everyone who escaped the initial disaster clues the dwindling survivors in. At this point some contrivance is discovered by which the remaining survivors might be able to cheat death.

I’ve just described the plot of every Final Destination film, which is kind of why I’ll never recommend you watch any of the later films for the storytelling. The premise of the Final Destination films was fresh until the second sequel. Final Destination is now about one thing and one thing only. That is the insane, weird, and horrible ways in which the cast is killed off. It is a fundamentally shallow movie going experience. There is very little character development, and no proper villain, unless a concept like death can be a villain. This lack of a villain has always made the Final Destination films less about horror than about shock value. Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch and Ring had moments of real terror. Final Destination relies exclusively on shock value. It’s a subtle difference, but why, at least in this viewer’s opinion, it’s not going to rank up there with movies like the aforementioned Paranormal Activity or the more recent Insidious.

Now, while this review has not been glowing, I did in fact have a good time with Final Destination 5. A huge part of that was I saw the film in 3D and the film was shot in 3D. I have also seen all the other movies in the franchise and knew what to expect and what not to expect. In other words, I managed my expectations. Hopefully, this is in fact the final Final Destination, and if it is, the filmmakers have given the series a decent, and even clever ending. I recommend this one for fans of the series and if you do see it, I highly recommend you watch the 3D version.

FTC Advisory: We purchased our own tickets.

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Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

August 9th, 2011 Angela Posted in Movies, Review 4 Comments »

Title: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Director: Rupert Wyatt

Producer: Peter Chernin and Dylan Clark

Genre: Science Fiction

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Series: Reboot

Release Date: August 5, 2011

Format: Standard

Runtime: 105 Minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Starring: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Andy Serkis, and Brian Cox

Synopsis (Product Description):

The Planet of the Apes franchise gets the origin treatment in this 20th Century Fox production from director Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist). The script, written by Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa, concerns a group of American scientists whose genetic experiments lead to an uprising by a race of intelligent apes that they helped create.

The Review:

There have been many larger than life heroes of the silver screen. Kurt Douglas’ Spartacus, Russell Crowes’ Gladiator, and Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. Now to that august company of heroes must be added Andy Serkis’ Caesar from Rise of the Planet of the Apes. But Caesar is unlike any of the others. Though he is every bit as heroic, and in many ways more complex, Caesar is a chimpanzee.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the prequel to the 1968 classic, The Planet of the Apes starring Charleton Heston. Rise tells the story of how it came to pass that our simian cousins skipped ahead of us on the evolutionary ladder. The story of Rise is told in such a way that it fits perfectly within the continuity of the original film. By the way, I highly recommend seeing the original as it really is one of the pillars of dystopian sci-fi. When you watch it, keep in mind that it was made more than 40 years ago and how cutting edge it must have seemed to that audience in terms of both story and special effects.

After seeing the trailers for Rise, I expected a good movie. What I got was a great one and it is my favorite movie of the year so far. From its opening sequence to the closing credits, Rise hits all the high points for which storytellers strive. While I thoroughly enjoyed Thor, Captain America and X-Men First Class, Rise had an emotional impact well beyond what I experienced with those other great movies.

Before the end of Rise you will come to know and love Caesar, a combination of computer generated imagery and the movements of actor, Andy Serkis, who also did the movement for King Kong in Peter Jackson’s amazing film of the same name. Serkis’ performance is all the more amazing since it’s composed almost entirely of his motion captured facial expressions and body movement. Not many actors can do their best work under such restrictions. Andy Serkis is in a class by himself in this regard.

Rise plays on our collective fascination with primates other than ourselves. Chimpanzees are eerily like us. They have personalities, live in groups and even wage war against other groups of chimpanzees. The ability of Rise to tell a story, in which apes and chimpanzees are every bit the star that their human counterparts are, is a rather amazing bit of film making. This is obviously the result of a lot of special effects, but I never once saw anything “fake” about the film’s FX. Yes, intellectually I know that chimps were not taking direction or immersing themselves in the method school of acting. But damned if every scene didn’t look as if real animals were on screen. Only King Kong and Avatar have ever made me forget I was looking at computer generated effects the way Rise did.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes has as much action as any of the blockbusters of the summer of 2011, but it has a lot more heart. Caesar is part superhero, part freedom fighter and part Moses. If that sounds ridiculous, trust me, it isn’t. Rise, by focusing on a non human character manages to explore the very essence of heroism, and our desire to be free. In many ways Caesar is as “human” as any of us. And on that somewhat corny note, the only negative thing I have heard about this movie was from a co-worker, who said he heard that it was “corny.” Well, I am as jaded as almost anyone in the concrete jungle, but I feel sorry for anyone who can’t let themselves enjoy the awesomeness that is Rise of the Planet of the Apes because it’s no longer cool to let a movie move you. For the rest of us–hail Caesar!!

FTC Advisory: We purchased our own tickets.

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Movie Review: Cowboys & Aliens

August 2nd, 2011 Angela Posted in Movies, Review 3 Comments »

Title: Cowboys & Aliens

Director: Jon Favreau

Producer: Brian Grazer and Ron Howard

Genre: Action, Science Fiction

Distributor: Universal Studios

Series: N/A

Release Date: July 29, 2011

Format: Standard

Runtime: 118 Minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Starring: Daniel Craig , Olivia Wilde , Harrison Ford , Sam Rockwell , and Paul Dano

Synopsis (Product Description):

1875. New Mexico Territory. A stranger (Daniel Craig) with no memory of his past stumbles into the hard desert town of Absolution. The only hint to his history is a mysterious shackle that encircles one wrist. What he discovers is that the people of Absolution don’t welcome strangers, and nobody makes a move on its streets unless ordered to do so by the iron-fisted Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). It’s a town that lives in fear.

But Absolution is about to experience fear it can scarcely comprehend as the desolate city is attacked by marauders from the sky. Screaming down with breathtaking velocity and blinding lights to abduct the helpless one by one, these monsters challenge everything the residents have ever known.

Now, the stranger they rejected is their only hope for salvation. As this gunslinger slowly starts to remember who he is and where he’s been, he realizes he holds a secret that could give the town a fighting chance against the alien force. With the help of the elusive traveler Ella (Olivia Wilde), he pulls together a posse comprised of former opponents–townsfolk, Dolarhyde and his boys, outlaws and Apache warriors–all in danger of annihilation. United against a common enemy, they will prepare for an epic showdown for survival.

The Review:

Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford lead the cast of this science fiction western action epic and despite the crazy mixing of film genres, it’s a good movie. Daniel Craig established himself as one of the most dynamic action stars of this decade when he was cast as the new James Bond in Casino Royale. Craig brought a unique, rougher edge and dynamism to the Bond role and carries that edginess over to his role as Jake Lonergan. Lonergan is an amnesiac anti-hero trying to solve the mystery of his lost memory as well as get to the bottom of the strange device attached to his wrist. Harrison Ford, despite being well into his sixties, still kicks butt as Woodrow Dolarhyde, Civil War veteran turned ornery cattle rancher. Ford’s performance is reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s performance in The Unforgiven. That’s to say Dolarhyde has lost a few steps over the years, but has fought many more battles than the younger Jake Lonergan played by Craig. Dolarhyde has his share of character flaws, and apparently so does Lonergan. Craig shares the spotlight quite well with Ford, who is a legendary Hollywood action star.

Cowboys & Aliens‘ plot is summed up by its title. As I try and put into writing why cowboys are fighting aliens the silliness of it all becomes apparent, but more is the fool anyone going to a movie with the words cowboys and aliens in the title expecting the next Memento. The cliff notes, and spoiler free version is that a hostile alien race is kidnapping humans ahead of their planned, full scaled invasion of earth. The aliens possess vastly superior technology to the barely industrialized Americans of the latter half of the nineteenth century. This simple set up sets the stage for some great action and a few nice plot twists. The movie never gets too bogged down in character development. We get just enough of Jake Lonergan’s past via flash back’s so that we can see his character’s evolution from anti-hero to plain hero. Lonergan’s moral development is highlighted by the inclusion of the town preacher played by Clancy Brown, who makes clear early on that he’s “seen good men do bad things and bad men do good things.”

By film’s end, you’ll be treated to every type of action scene except a car chase. It threatens at times to be a bit much for any other movie without cowboys and aliens in the title. It’s perfect summer movie fodder. It’s great fun, with an uncomplicated plot, but simplicity works in its favor and it’s greatly helped by the fact that it boasts two incredible talents in Craig and Ford. Recommended for anyone who wants to tune out and just enjoy a great action movie with a unique, if somewhat offbeat premise — basically those of us who think a western would benefit from the presence of hostile extraterrestrials. In other words, those amongst us who like a little Cowboys with their aliens, or is that aliens with their cowboys? You get the idea.

FTC Advisory: We purchased our own tickets.

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Movie Review: Captain America ~ The First Avenger

July 25th, 2011 Angela Posted in Movies, Review 4 Comments »

Title: Captain America: The First Avenger

Director: Joe Johnston

Producer: Kevin Feige

Genre: Action, Adventure, Science Fiction

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Series: N/A

Release Date: July 22, 2011

Format: Standard

Runtime: 125 Minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Starring: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Sebastian Stan, and Hayley Atwell

Synopsis (Product Description):

Marvel Studios brings their prodigious patriot to the big screen with this WWII-set adventure about a once-meek U.S. soldier-turned-hero who gains strength and agility far beyond that of a normal human being after taking an experimental super-serum.

The Review:

Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones and Hayley Atwell lead the cast of Captain America: The First Avenger and it’s another great movie from Marvel. Captain America finishes the trifecta of this season’s excellent Marvel movies that began with Thor and X-Men: First Class. It also sets the stage for next year’s Avengers film, to be helmed by BtVS and Dollhouse creator, Joss Whedon. Captain America is a comic book icon, but until now he’s appeared in terrible, low budget movies. Captain America: The First Avenger is the first film actually worthy of the icon.

Captain America hits all the high points for a super hero movie, while deftly avoiding the many pitfalls inherent in bringing such an iconic character to the silver screen. It’s an origin story, but it doesn’t get bogged down in the comic book lore. In fact it cleverly makes light of Cap’s hokey comic book origins in a brilliantly self aware bit of movie making. Captain America will be and already is a great success, coming in at number 1 in its opening weekend. This is because in addition to being an action extravaganza, it’s very well written and character focused. I had my doubts when I heard Chris Evans was cast in the title role, but he is the perfect Captain America or more precisely he is the perfect Steve Rogers, the incredibly frail kid from Brooklyn who goes on to become a super soldier.

The first half of the movie focuses on Steve Rogers’ attempts to volunteer for the U.S. Army in order to do his part to combat the Nazis during World War 2. Steve Rogers is physically unfit for service, but goes from city to city trying to sneak through the army screening process. Even though Steve Rogers is obviously patriotic, his heroic appeal runs much deeper than that. He is the eternal underdog and he naturally understands that it takes more than might to make right. His moral strength is what enables him to stand above dozens of physically stronger men and leads him to be chosen for the Super Soldier program that turns him into Captain America. The writers took an incredibly hokey origin story for the prototypical square jawed action hero and humanized Captain America to the point where Steve Rogers’ alter ego takes a back seat to Steve Rogers himself.

As ever, every great hero needs a great villain, and Captain America’s nemesis is Johann Schmidt, aka the Red Skull. Played by Hugo Weaving, who has proven himself an amazing actor even with a mask that completely obscures his face (V for Vendetta). The Red Skull is not misunderstood. He is simply evil. If you have been paying attention to the last few films involving Avengers characters, keep a keen eye out for references to the other films in this series.

Captain America: The First Avenger is every bit as good as Thor. It takes a character who I did not think would translate well to the big screen and makes the transition flawlessly. Great action, a great hero and a sinister villain. Captain America will be enlisting for a second tour of duty in next year’s Avengers.

FTC Advisory: We purchased our own tickets.

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Movie Review: Transformers ~ Dark of the Moon

July 7th, 2011 Angela Posted in Movies, Review 1 Comment »

Title: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Director: Michael Bay

Producer: Steven Spielberg and Don Murphy

Genre: Action, Adventure, Science Fiction

Distributor: Paramount

Series: Transformers, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Release Date: June 29, 2011

Format: Standard

Runtime: 157 Minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Tyrese Gibson, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, and Ken Jeong

Synopsis (Product Description):

The Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, are back in action, taking on the evil Decepticons, who are determined to avenge their defeat in 2009’s Transformers Revenge of the Fallen. In this new movie, the Autobots and Decepticons become involved in a perilous space race between the U.S. and Russia, and once again human Sam Witwicky has to come to the aid of his robot friends. There’s new characters too, including a new villain in the form of Shockwave, a longtime “Transformers” character who rules Cybertron while the Autobots and Decepticons battle it out on Earth.

The Review:

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is the latest and final installment of the film series based on the 1980s line of Hasbro toys that spawned the popular cartoon series and cult animated film. Michael Bay is in full effect here, surpassing the prior live action films in terms of storytelling and explosions—lots and lots of explosions. The first Transformers film was decent, but the follow-up, Revenge of the Fallen was an awful mess. Fortunately, Dark of the Moon makes up for its predecessor with better pacing, excellent fan service, some comic relief, a very clever set up and amazing action sequences.

Shia LaBeouf reprises his role, but Megan Foxx is nowhere to be found, replaced by the equally arresting Rosie Huntington-Whitely.  But more importantly, Optimus Prime, voiced by Peter Cullen, is back. Let’s face it; every human is a bit player standing next to a 20 foot tall robot, who looms even larger in the minds of those of us who watched the cartoons in the 80s.  The Autobots and Decepticons are examples of computer generated actors that routinely upstage their human costars thanks to the wizardry of Industrial Light and Magic. Serious fans of Transformers that recall the original animated movie will recognize the voice talent of Leonard Nimoy, who is the voice of Galvatron from the original animated movie. Look out for the clever reference to another Nimoy character early in the film that foreshadows one of Dark of the Moon’s awesome twists.

The premise of Dark of the Moon is that the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union was a cover to retrieve autobot technology that crash-landed on the moon. Control of that technology will determine not only the victor in the ongoing war between the Autobots and Decepticons, but the fate of mankind as well. Corny? Perhaps, but if I didn’t know better, the production values of Dark of the Moon suggest Michael Bay rented the Space Shuttle Columbia and sent a film crew to film huge chunks of the movie in space. The FX are impeccably done with only one scene early on that looks (forgivably) fake.

At the end of the day, Dark of the Moon is a bombastic action film that is competently written. It succeeds primarily on the strength of its special effects and benefits from favorable comparison to the inferior Revenge of the Fallen which preceded it. The movie is for the most part lighthearted, but in the final act it shifts tone and becomes much darker. It becomes surprisingly violent and pushes the boundaries of its PG-13 rating. Oddly, robot on robot violence seems to give the film makers license to amp up the carnage. The robots are so lifelike that there’s an eerie human quality to their very violent clashes that I found a bit jarring. The violence was also in stark contrast to the films earlier, often comedic moments. If you enjoyed the two prior films then you will enjoy Dark of the Moon which does homage to the spirit of the Transformers in explosive Michael Bay fashion.

FTC Advisory: We purchased our own tickets.

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