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Life, Death, Beth

Life After Beth looks at love and zombies. Unlike a similar zombie love story, Life After Beth does not get existential nor does it give a point about life. Instead the dark comedy starts off entertaining but then plods along like a zombie in the last stages of decay.

Zach is emotionally lost after his girlfriend Beth dies from a snake bite. He visits with her parents and plays chess with her father to help them both mourn. Then suddenly the Slocums stop answering the door or the phone. Zach finds out that Beth is alive. At first he thinks Beth’s death was a hoax but then it becomes apparent that the girl he knew has changed. She is in fact a zombie. Zach is faced with conflicting feeling: relief that she is back and fear for what she has become.

The set up for the movie is great. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy loses girl. Girl comes back to life. Boy gets girl back.

It’s an interesting concept that makes you think about what it would be like if your loved one did come back. The movie is balanced with humor to keep it from becoming a mushy mess. But then the movie takes a weird turn leaving behind the emotional struggle Zach goes through.. A second love interest is awkwardly added in and more zombies arrive.  . Had the movie the movie just followed Beth and Zach, the film’s themes would have been more clear and the movie would have been more enjoyable.tumblr_n8vggp44841qgbfyko4_1280

The best part of the film is Matthew Gray Gubler as Zach’s spaz of a brother.  A security guard for the neighborhood, Kyle pines for more and is always ready to put a perp down. Gubler captures the spaz aspect easily and it is fun to see him more than the nerdy Reid from Criminal Minds. Gubler handles the humor with ease and gives the best performance in the film. John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon dazzle as Beth’s confused parents but the rest of the cast falls short of truly capturing their character with finesse and grace.

Funny but often absurd, Life after Beth tries too hard to be more than a typical zombie flick.  What begins as a supernatural dark comedy turns into a zombie cliché mess. It’s worth a watch but it isn’t going to be a landmark of the genre.

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The True Gift of the Giver

In 1993, Lois Lowry wrote the world of dystopian future in a way that children could understand. Most of these tales were saved for adults reading science fiction, making statements to people who had already grown into their world. The Giver gets on the level of the younger generation helping them develop real ideas about free will, love, and hate.  This novel is a segue for future authors such as Suzanne Collins. This Newbery Medal winning book is the latest in YA adaptions.

The big screen adaptation brings the story of Jonah to life. As he graduates from school, Jonah learns a lot about his world he never knew. Set in the future, the peaceful Community follows specific rules that keep people from deviating from the norm and doing anything that could crush the delicate peace. The Community knows that it must not forget the past, and designates one person to be the Receiver of Memories. Jonah is chosen as the next Keeper, and he trains with the current Keeper. Jonah learns about colors, love, war and free will. He realizes that the Community is not as perfect as it claims to be.

The Giver has faced a lot of criticism for its lack of thrills. But this movie is not The Hunger Games or Lord of the Flies. The central themes are about peace and free will. It is a statement about violence without using violence to combat it.  Jonah is motivated by love to change the world. He sees the whole spectrum of what can happen when humans have emotions and he decides it’s a gift people need. The book is twenty years old but it still applies today. We have a lack of empathy for our fellow man as a society and often fall on negative emotions and rely on violence as our answer.Jeff-Bridges-Brenton-Thwaites-The-Giver-Movie

The movie is also visually attractive and different from others in the genre. The Community starts in black and white and colors only revel themselves as Jonah learns about them. This gives a very organic feel to how one dimensional the society is.  Unlike many dystopian socials, the set is not barren and desolate. The homes look futuristic but real, and there is plant life prominently featured. This set dressing gives a distinguished look of a very different kind of story.

The Giver is a poignant story that deals in emotions. Emotions of the characters as well as emotions of the viewer. Seeing the world again through Jonah’s eyes gives hope.  And that is the true gift of The Giver.

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Locke In

Tom Hardy has received massive critical acclaim in his newest movie Locke. An indie British flick, Hardy is the only man you see on screen. The movie is thought provoking but lacks the bite it needs.

Locke follows Ivan Locke on his hour and a half drive to London.  On that drive Locke decides that he must do the right thing so someone’s life does not end up like his. But as he drives he must deal with the fallout in his life and has to realize how many other lives are on the line. Locke finds that not only his home life but his work life is on the line as well.

It’s clear to see why the critics love Locke. Hardy is a magnificent actors and this real time excursion allows him to showcase his full acting tool box. He easily and believably runs the gamut of emotions and makes viewers feel each one. Because of this the movie leaves you with a visceral feeling as your drive away from the theater (or from your home as the case may be). Viewers truly see how easy it is too lose everything you know; how one mistake can cause you to loose your job, your family. Locke excels at making you think and feel.

What Locke does not do is giving viewers a satisfying ending for a man and his transgressions. Ivan Locke is unlikeable. It’s hard to imagine that he was ever more than he portrays himself in the movie though it is fun to see him move towards a nervous breakdown. But there is no payout.  His punishment is too pedestrian to be art and that is what viewers expect from this film.

Hardy walks the fine line of commercial and critical success even though he is not yet a household name. He chooses roles that allow him to fully become the character, but sometimes that isn’t enough Sometimes viewers just need to feel good about a movie.

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Some Girls Just Seem Smart

Every so often, a body of work comes along that is truly a great example of a certain genre or medium. Often the producers of such work cannot recreate subsequent projects with the same quality no matter how much the fans the want it. Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element is a masterpiece in the science fiction genre that combines a fantastic story with brilliant execution. But many of his subsequent movies leave a lot to be desired. Lucy is a perfect example of this.

Scarlett Johansson stars as the titular Lucy, a girl caught up with the wrong crowd. She inadvertently delivers a batch of new drugs to a kingpin who then uses her as a mule to transport them. But Lucy is beaten and the drugs leak into her system overriding her neurons and activating new parts of her brain. She develops amazing powers but learns she must have the drug or her body will literally dissipate.

The move is odd and hard to describe. The goal was to be an intelligent look at something that is often theorized in science. What if humans could use all their bran instead of just 10 percent we currently use? But the movie isn’t as smart as it thinks it is.

The biggest issues are the multitude of plot holes. She can tell what’s going to happen outside a building because she can read everything around her? Great. But then how come she doesn’t know someone a block away is following her? This is just one of the many instances that Besson just changes the facts to suite his plot purposes. Even Lucy’s words ate the end of the film are contradictory to points the made earlier in the movie.j4b3g305e1nl-is-scarlett-johansson-s-lucy-just-going-to-do-this-the-entire-movie

On top of this, the movie is interspersed with other aspects of the animal world to parallel human evolution. They are implanted into the movie jarring you away from the actual action of the movie. The filmmakers throw the comparisons in your face making sure you understand what they were trying to say.  The movie is about as subtle as Shark ado.

The film tries hard to balance humor, action, and dramatic plot line but it can’t seem to handle all three. The climax goes very much into the metaphysical leaving you confused of its purpose. Had Lucy just been cool action flick or a sci-fi drama, think I would have enjoyed it more. And no, Lucy, I don’t know what you are trying to say.

Foundation of a Legend

Legends touts Sean Bean’s return to television and uses his notorious habit of dying in his various projects as hype for the show. The hash tags for the show? #dontkillseanbean

This is a stroke of genius and allows TNT to cash of Game of Thrones by directly referencing to being beheading in their promotional material. It engages fans and makes them invested in the show’s main character. Don’t kill Sean Bean!

zap-legends-season-1-premiere-pilot-photos-201-006How does the pilot live up to the wonderful hype and social media engagement? It’s a little under whelming. Pilots often are because they have to set up for multiple arcs and give you back ground. Legends sets the basic foundation without too much information. We learn Martin is an undercover FBI agent and he has an ex-wife and child. His world is then rocked when someone tells him that he is not who he thinks he is; that his undercover life has completely taken over his real life.

This is where the meat of the story gets interesting though the idea isn’t delved into too deeply. Legends (or their undercover egos) aren’t really explained. I feel like it’s much more than just an uncover identity and see some very Dollhouse-like aspects popping up in the FBI’s program. But the show is vague (I am hoping intentionally vague).

The pilot does help you connect to the character past the original Sean Bean base. Martin wears every man “Lincoln Dittman” who joins a terrorist militia because everything in his life has gone to crap. Martin is easily able to spin his story on the fly and adapt to surrounding making him a kind of super spy even though many of his coworkers don’t like him. This includes the female lead.

Alli Larter plays Crystal an exlover, current coworker who has trouble working with Martin. He goes off script often and will disappear from contact when he goes deep undercover. She is also concerned because he failed all but one psychological exam to be fit for duty. That one he passed? It claimed he was the best candidate for this kind of job.

The writers have no problem finding a way to sexy up Larter. Though she is a gorgeous woman and I am sure the male fans were excited, I felt like it demeaned her role as operative and as a professional woman. Hopefully, the show can create in her character a beautiful, forceful woman without too much gratuitous T&A.

Legends has lots of potential especially as the show expands into Martin’s various personalities and how they bleed into each other and his “real” life.  I look forward to seeing how the next few episodes unfold.

Watch This Not That

Watch This…

Olympus Has Fallen

olympus-has-fallen-gerard-butler-aaron-eckhartLast year two White House terrorist movies were released.  As far as quality movies go, Olympus Has Fallen was able to combine humor, action and familial love effortlessly. Brining in a high profile cast, the movie had stronger characters brought to life by a talented cast. Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Ashley Judd, Angela Basset, and to round things out Morgan Freeman gave life to the terrorist crisis. Director Antoine Fugua was able to focus on the action while mixing in emotions and humor without losing sight of the film’s plot.  Exciting, engaging, and entertaining Olympus Has Fallen has gotten a sequel to take place in London. Here’s hoping the team can recreate that same style.

 

…Not That

White House Down

816rBuBLsjL._SL1500_While it had a bigger gross at the box office (and a way bigger budget), White House Down falls short at fulfilling its scope in an emotional and exciting way. One of the biggest problems is that Channing Tatum is not a good actor. He’s good looking (I’d watch him in Magic Mike all day long) but he is not a quality actor. The movie also meanders along and it’s quite sure where it is going and when to end.  It’s heavy on the FX and that is what really steals the show. Like so many Roland Emmerich movies, this one looks good but fails at being a quality film.

 

 

Watch This…

300

300-Rise-of-an-Empire_zpsf2428956_1398972388300 took a graphic novel and made an inspiring underdog story and entertaining film. It didn’t focuses on gore, and Zack Snyder gave it a distinctive color palate to help mimic the look of a graphic novel. Mostly unknown Gerard Butler showed us he could be an action hero and Olympus Has Fallen continues to show that. Rounded out with Lena Headey and Dominic West, the movie’s cast captures the emotion of the characters without being sappy.  Well thought out and smart, the film stands on its own merits—even if it isn’t very factual.

 

…Not That

300: Rise of an Empire

300-rise-of-an-empire-movie-poster-3The problem with this sequel is that it is a spectacle movie. Rise of an Empire is not about the story, it’s not about the character; it’s about getting your attention with blood, gore and nudity.  Director Noam Murro tries to outdo himself adding in special filtering techniques and using slow motion way too often. Unlike the first film, it’s not a story of an underdog to inspire the ages. It just wants to push the envelope. Sorry it takes more than Eva Green’s breasts to entertain me.

Our Vampires, Our Selves

ONLY-LOVERS-LEFT-ALIVEVampires are windows to our souls. The fascination with the creatures of the night has always been ingrained in human history and psychology. The stories started with our lack of medical knowledge and what happens to our bodies after we die. Many a poor body was mutilated for fears that they were actually vampires. But as medical knowledge prevailed, we stopped putting stakes in hearts or bricks in mouth to keep the body from rising. Instead, they became an existential study of our selves. Human are drawn to these supernatural tales as a way to come to grips with their own mortality. We have romanticized them right into pop culture.

Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lover Left Alive is a perfect example of using the supernatural to reflect the fears of the natural. The story follows Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton), a husband and wife who truly love each other after centuries together. Eve returns home to despondent and suicidal Adam. He is tired of the world and how the humans treat it. His life is only made more complicated when Eve’s “sister” visits them.

The movie is beautiful allegory for drugs and rock and roll. These vampires are almost hippy like with their vintage music and soul charging highs. A search for the purest source is like that of a true drug aficionado—not just some crack whore. It’s the typical drug story just trapped with vampire edges and dark humor. Chaos and death reign in this world even though Eve and Adam only want to spend their time enjoying the world and each other. But like all drug tales, the source dries up and Adam must come face to face with an inevitable death.

The casting is superb. Hiddleston is so much more than the impish Loki of the Marvel universe. H nails the suicidal rocker on the head giving more depth to a character that could be one sided. His chemistry with Swinton is tight, and Swinton herself is, as always, superb. Mia Wasikowska plays the younger and fickle sister infusing chaos perfectly into the couple’s tiny world. And  Anton Yelchin evokes his best Matthew Gray Gubler as Adam’s minion who is a needed source of comic relief.only-lovers-left-alive-jim-jarmusch-05

The only issue with the movie is that Jarmusch wears his symbolism on his sleeve. He forces the use of spinning imagery upon the viewer wasting an endless amount of time with either dancers or spinning records. These sequencing using music are used to drive the story, but it really just slows it down. By the time you get to the end of the movie and a music sequence that was vital to the story, the viewer has lost interest and ready to move on.

Despite of these, Only Lovers Left Alive is a captivating and complex tale mirrors our human emotions in the faces of vampires. If they can find both self-love and romantic love why can’t we? But at what prices do we pay for our lives when we are just seeking out our next high?

Without All the Powers of Hell

Maleficent is based on the classic Disney animated feature Sleeping Beauty. The new film gives a new view point on Disney’s scariest villain. But in the process, the movie completely changes the character and the ending of a vintage tale.

The basic is story is the same. Maleficent casts a curse foretelling that the young princess will prick her finger on a spinning wheel on her sixteenth birthday and fall into death-like sleep. But then the story abruptly changes and the tale is rewritten.  The bad fairy’s heart is softened by the child. Maleficent comes to regret the curse but does not have the power to change the outcome. Instead she tries her best to break the spell. The king becomes the de-facto maleficentvillain as he sinks into further paranoia after the curse is set.

Maleficent, at first glance, is a grand tribute to the original picture. The production, make-up and costume crew pay great attention to detail. Angelina Jolie brings Maleficent to life working with a dialogue coach to mimic the distinctive tone Eleanor Audley gave the character in the original. The costume team recreates the basic iconic look of the character when she visits the baby princess. It was refreshing to see that instead of making Maleficent into Angelina Jolie, the production team turned her into Maleficent. And it worked well, Jolie enveloping the character and giving it new life.

But Jolie is the only great performer. Supposedly the cast was chosen based on the fact that they looked like the original characters but Prince Phillip looks like someone from One Direction and his character is minimized greatly. The film spends more time on Sharlto Copley as King Stefan instead. Unfortunately, Copley is flat, uninspiring and quite grating. Even Elle Fanning doesn’t blow you away with the stereotypical angelic child with a lack of fear and no idea of true evil.

This could all be overlooked if the film didn’t get all hippy dippy (for a lack of a more politically correct word) and rewrite the story. The idea of “True Love’s Kiss” is flipped 180, and Maleficent actually becomes quite found of the child. Even her most famous line “And all the powers of Hell!” is erased in this over-family-friendly adaptation.

The bright spot is the guardian fairies. While the iconic dress battle is not included, their ineptitude for carrying for the child infuses humor at each turn. These fairies aren’t the brightest of the forest blooms but they just might be the nicest.

Overall, Maleficent is a good movie if you can separate this film from the Disney classic you grew up with. But anyone expected the badass Maleficent will be sorely disappointed. But at least there is a dragon.

Godzilla Leaves Only a Slight Rumble In Its Wake

He has a star on the walk of fame, an MTV Lifetime Achievement Award and his own cartoon. He is Godzilla.

In over 30 movies, he has had a son, fought King Kong, and flattened countless buildings. Godzilla (Gojira in the original Japanese release) started as a cautionary tale about nuclear war that grew into its own franchise.  Like so many pop icons, Hollywood had to getting on the action. The original Japanese releases and several others of his films were reedited to add American elements. In 1998, Hollywood decided to create an All-American movie. The Matthew Broderick vehicle was critically lambasted and fans of the franchise were horrified (Put it this way: when RiffTrax set out to purchase the right to riff this version, the Kickstarter campaign met its goal in 16 hours).

Then Hollywood tried again this year. Awakened and rejuvenated by a nuclear power plant, a large insect like creature attacks Tokyo and heads to American to reconnect with its mating partner in Yucca Flats. These events cause Godzilla to awaken in order to restore peace to the planet. Viewers follow a father and son who know something is terribly wrong with the current earthquakes shaking Japan.

The movie tries to pay homage and treat Monster Zero with respect and reverence but fails. The biggest issue is that the movie spends too much time on flat characters no one cares about. While Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche do well with what hey have, the writers didn’t give them much to work with.  The lead is horribly flat. Aaron Taylor-Johnson has one expression and voice tone throughout the movie, unable to show vacillating human emotion. To be fair, the producers asked him to try to compete with a giant dinosaur.  Only Ken Watanabe’s character gives the proper awe and respect to the monster. His performance is spot on as always.

Unbalanced and capricious, the movie obscures the kaiju battles only letting viewers peek in on the monster bashing action. There are many, many shots of kaiju feet and scared looks by the stereotypical characters (even Frank Darabont couldn’t bring suspense to these scenes). When the battle is finally the focal point, destruction and mayhem take the stage. This is what Godzilla should be: monsters beating the crap out of each other and destroying things.

While Godzilla isn’t a bad film, it fails to capture the thrill and reverence of this iconic creature. If the sequels can lend more toward action at the end of the film instead of the characters, the movies could be everything viewers want them to be. We’ll see if director Gareth Edwards understands this and brings it into the other films.

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X-Men Proves That to Go Forward Sometimes You Have to Go Back

After several sequels dragged down the X-Men franchise, it is refreshing to see the latest movies prove that super hero movies can have deep themes and human context. Days of Future Past balances character development with action for an enjoyable movie.

The sequel begins in the future as viewers catch up with their favorite mutants and a host of new ones. Wolverine, Xavier, Magneto and Storm connect with Kitty Pride and her group of refugee mutants hiding from the giant machines meant to kill mutants. Hugh-Jackman-X-Men-Days-of-Future-PastThey need Kitty’s help to send Logan back in time to keep the Sentinels from destroying just not the mutant, but the human world.  Logan is transported into his body to the ‘70s and must keep a young mystique from killing Bolivar Trask the creator of the Sentinels. But to do so he will need the help of young Xavier who is at odds with his powers.

Like First Class, the film does well harking back to themes in the original X-men movie. The film delves into social norms and how we use our gifts when they are against those norms. Xavier and Mystique both fight with their powers and how to use them. It’s about accepting your differences and focusing on whether you express these differences with love or hate.

The film reverses the role of Xavier and Wolverine, and it’s interesting to see these characters outside pre-defined boundaries. The best moment? When Xavier throws Wolverine’s words in his own face.  But for everything we see these two overcome, viewers are still face with an inevitable end with Mystique and Magneto. Or are we?  The movie lags as Magneto rages out against the humans even though this becomes turning point for Mystique. Yes, he is full of rage and hate. We get that by now.  We know what becomes of these characters and of their predestined roles as villains.

But the ending proves we know nothing. The last few minutes of the movies make up for any mistakes made in the last X-Men movie and leaves viewers wondering how much of the X-Men cannon has changed now that the past has been altered. This makes the franchise ripe for the taking. Instead of a new Wolverine, the producers should focus on these changes within the X-Men world. There is so much room to expand whether in the present time or in the First Class world.

X-Men Days of Future Past is thrilling and fun. Though it has one lag, the last minutes of the film make up for any issues with the movie. This franchise can keep going and be successful.