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A Ride Down Fury Road

Reviving an old franchise is difficult especially one where last movie featured Tina Turner (she is amazing don’t get me wrong, but that was a whole other era.). So how do you revive a dead franchise? Do you Indiana Jones it and bring back the aging but iconic star? Do you reboot the series and rewrite its history ala Terminator? Or do you stick with the atmosphere and bring in a brilliant director? (If you’re counting: one of these have succeeded, one failed miserably, while one is yet to be determined). This one sticks with the atmosphere and George Miller, injects all the Mad Max chaos and brutality into Fury Road.

In a post-apocalyptic world, Max is used as a blood bag for one of Immortan Joe’s goons who is on the trail of Imperator Furiosa. What had started as a gas run turns into a quest for freedom as Furiosa tries to escape with the handful of women that are being used as Joe’s breeding chattel. As the chase ensues, Max frees himself and becomes a reluctant partner in Furiosa’s scheme. The two are chased through the vast desert landscape looking for Furiosa’s homeland where freedom will be theirs.

Miller was the perfect director and co-writer for this film as his mind is as chaotic as the movie itself. There have been reports from the actors that script pages changed daily (when there was a script) and Charlize Theron admits to rolling in the dirt for her look. The actors embraced this quality, and the casting was expertly done. Theron shows the earthy side of a Hollywood starlet (Theron, who despite her beauty, never has any problem getting dirty) and Tom Hardy grunts through his lines as the titular Max. Hardy is a chameleon easily sliding into any character role including this one.pacnv9d5s2ov5i0qt2px

The movie biggest it strength is also it weakness. The movie is INTENSE. While it’s easy to follow the plot, it is hard to take everything in. The movie is visually stunning perfectly portraying the wasteland man has created of the earth. Each goon’s vehicle has different flair make them individualized since they themselves all look some much alike. By the last third of the movie, I was mentally exhausted and the movie slows some to give the characters time to grow. But then viewers are whisked away again to a satisfying conclusion. There is no cliff hanger that begs for franchise, but there is a promise of more stories that can be told.

The final third of the film gives the emotional impact that matches the brutal intent in the rest of the movie. This is where you finally learn something about Max and see the characters as more than just one dimensional archetypes. Though it’s called Mad Max, it’s really not about Max at all. The film follows Imperator Furiosa and her personal mission for freedom and the green land. Hardy pretty much spends most of the movie looking pretty (even covered in dirt). In the movie’s final throws, he actually shows some characteristics other than a man bent on survival.

Mad Max Fury Road calls for multiple viewings as well as a look back into the original films. Hardy claims that Mel Gibson gave his blessing, and he should have: this film is a great addition to the franchise. If The Wasteland (Miller’s planned sequel) can be this good, then by all means keep Max coming.

Revenge of the Sequel

The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death

I was excited when I found out that Hammer Films was making a sequel to the Woman in Black. The first movie was charged with energy and scares, and Daniel Radcliffe gave an amazing performance. When I found out the same production team was behind the sequel, I had high expectations. But I shouldn’t have.

woman_in_black_angel_of_death_01The plot takes place during World War 2 when school children have been evacuated to Eel Marsh House to get out of the fighting zones. A young teacher named Eve tries to help the children adapt especially one young man who seems to be haunted by his past. Add a love interest for Eve, and the story starts to go off the rails.

The movie was not at all scary. The best moment was just a repeat of the rocking chair sequence from the first movie. The movie lapses into cheap thrills that every other B horror movie falls back on. Be prepared for creepy hands and eyes that stare at you through holes, but do be worried about being afraid.

The convoluted plot adds nothing to the Woman in Black’s mythos except that if you can’t see her, she can’t hurt you (so I was right as a child?). The plot does not expand on anything related to her or the house’s former owners. Viewers learn things that were in the first film and nothing more. While this makes the sequel self-contained, it’s not really interesting enough to be its own story. This sequel falls flat and the only horror is the price you paid to rent it.

 

Taken 3

Taken 3 follows suit of another popular trilogy (though one funnier and less bloody). The Liam Neeson action franchise ends like the raucous Hangover trilogy. The third movie is so different than its predecessor that truly truly makes the film less like it doesn’t fit into the franchise and therefore is a bad movie.

But Taken 3, like Hangover 3, isn’t a bad movie in its own right. The movie is standard Neeson fare and he continues to kick ass. (Yes, there is a section where he performs the Grandpa Run, but he’s still a bad ass.) But the plot stays state side and becomes a domestic affair. No one is taken, instead his ex-wife is killed and he has been framed. He use his unique set of skills to escape from the police as well as chase down the culprit.

The first Taken was about brutal violence while the second one speaks of mercy. The third is about just enough. Kill downloadthose who need to be killed and only hurt those as much as needed. This installment and its predecessor have been criticized for lack of insane violence paraded in the first film but honestly the violence mimics the journey of this man.

Gone are the sprawling landscapes of faraway places and this also adds to the different tone of the film. I claim that it is not bad, just different. The movie is about home and what is truly in Bryan’s heart. I can understand how these changes negatively affect those looking for over the top violence or exotic destinations. Personally, I am just glad it’s a break from bad spy movies like 3 Days to Kill and Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit.

Life in the Fast Lane

furious-7 (1)The latest in the Fast and Furious franchise is fun and entertaining. It keeps all the elements of the past movies, and expands into new territories. It is not only a fun movie; it is a great send off to an actor who lost his life too soon.

Furious Seven is colored by the death of Paul Walker. The movies has to deal with the loss of his character Brian O’Conner while the cast and crew had to create a finished movie without one of the stars. This isn’t to mention the love and sadness the fans carry with them into the theater early trying to decide what Walker had and had not finished and prepped with tissues for the movie’s conclusion.

After killing Owen Shaw in the previous installment, his brother is out for blood. Anyone related to the team is a target starting with Han.  While Brian adapts to family life, he longs for the thrill of the chase.  Mia worries over him and wants him to stay home with the family. But any plans they had are destroyed, when a bomb is sent to Dom’s house. The team gets back together to take out Shaw so he can’t pick them off one by one.

The movie suffers from too much melodrama. Usually each movie has something a little deeper going on but viewers are wound through too many characters’ emotional stories. To be fair to the writers, this isn’t there fault. I am sure the original story was to deal with Letty’s amnesia and how she fits into the group, but when Walker died a new level of story had to be added. In order to say goodbye to his character, the writers had to find him a way out that didn’t mean death.

The movie wraps up the memorial to Walker beautifully in the final scene. I did, in fact, cry like a body shaking, paulwalkerwailing baby (well maybe not wailing). The tribute is touching and is a power ending to the film (and would have been a great ending to the franchise). Unfortunately, many viewers will try and spot what scenes Walker doesn’t actually appear in. It’s easy enough to tell, but let’s suspend disbelief and enjoys the movie as a complete whole.

Overall, it a fun, fats thrill ride. That is what is so appealing about these movies: they take us out of real life and just let you have some fun. Critics talk about how nonsensical the plot is but apparently they missed all the other installments of the franchise. Fans love the insane; no way is this possible atmosphere of this world. Plus, adding Kurt Russell is never a bad idea.

The next movie has been greenlit but I don’t know how many more I will see. This franchise was supposed to have the breakout role for Walker though Diesel got the biggest boost from them. With that in mind, it’s hard to keep it going without him. As a fan, I really don’t want it to.

The Insurgents Go Factionless

It is always hard to be objective when a literary story is adapted for the big screen. Fans long for certain scenes or are unhappy with certain casting and these opinions can skew a movie. Insurgent is just the next in a long line of adaptations that leave book readers wanting a little more.

download (1)The second entry in the Divergent trilogy comes to life with great force and action. Tris and the other refugees have fled Dauntless and have taken shelter in neighboring factions. Tris, Four and Peter take respite in Amity but peace does not last long as Eric sniffs the fugitives out. The two must meet up with their friends hiding in Candor, but along the way they cross path with the factionless and find out the hidden truth about their leader. Tris must keep fighting in order to cross paths with Jeannie and take her out.

As a book reader, (SPOILERS) there are aspects from the books that I really miss. I feel like these cuts impact the story in negative ways. Viewers do not get the truth about Amity and what is really going on there. Amity seems to be a central theme of reduced material. In fact, in the books, Tris’ defining moment as Amity is when she keeps Tori from killing Jeannie; a more poignant reaction that=n movie portrays.

Removing myself from the material, it is easy to see how this movie would entertain its core audience. The action is candor-insurgentcontinuous and keeps viewers on their toes. But critically, the story fails at real emotion. Tris’ emotions are presented in stereotypical scenes and are very one dimensional. By focusing solely on the action, the character development falls flat.

I also missed Ellie Goulding’s music and vocals. Goulding’s music was used as Tris’ inner dialogue in Divergent and made the emotional aspects of the scenes multidimensional. It truly added a lot to the first movie. Instead, the music is insipid and uninspired. (Forgive my Ellie Goulding bias those that know me.)

Insurgent is thrilling and fun for audience though book fans may be disappointed. While these are not the Hunger Games, these Factions are just as dangerous.

Fifty Shades of Hell No

It is a difficult task to write about 50 Shades of Grey with any objectivity. I am not a fan of the books (I thought the first was horribly written and stopped there), and I have some issues with the content (no, not the sex). But it is fair to say that the movie is better written than the book. That does not mean the movie is good (it’s horrible), but at least it is better than the book.

Since this started as a Twilight fan fiction, you know the plot already. Virginal girl in Washington falls for a strange man who is way out of her league. He takes a strange attraction too her and claims he’s no good for her because of his secret. But instead of being a vampire, he’s a sadist with a “Red Room of Pain.” He takes her through sexual discovery by dominating her in every way. It’s a love story.

The movie thankful does not feature narration by Anastasia “Ana” Steele. Instead, the movie keeps the trite dialogue while more fluidly transitioning from one scene to another. “Goddess” is used only one time, and the “Oh My God”s are kept at a minimum. But there is no way to hide the Twilight parallels in almost every scene. I can just see E.L. James’ lawyer going over the content with a fine tip comb. “O.K., the rescue from the bicycle is different enough from the Tyler’s car but José has to be a different minority.” I would rather have watched Twilight.

fifty-shades-of-grey-movieDakota Johnson makes a good Bella-excuse me-Ana, but Jamie Dornan is horribly miscast as the titular Grey. He is good-looking and has a nice body, but he is not a good fit for the character. The reasons are two-fold. The first is that he looks like a young Colin Firth and that doesn’t go with the Christian Grey persona at all; it’s actually kind of terrifying to think of Firth in this role. The second is that his accent is terrible. If he had a voice acting coach, no other actor needs to hire them. The only good thing about Dornan being in it is that means Charlie Hunnam got out (Thank Goddess!).

There is one good thing about the film: it manages to give Ana more power than she did in the book. My friends tell me everything happened the same way in the book, but the book was so poorly written that it was hard to interpret any nuisances. When Ana goes to the conference room to negotiate the contract in the film, she is confident and forth coming. The movie makes it more apparent there is more of a balance between the two (only ever so slightly though).

While its claim to fame is nudity and sex, it’s the movie’s ability to transcend the book that is its positive aspect. The movie is truly horrible but it’s better than its book counterpart. That is a rare success for any movie.

Pick Up The Drop

Dennis Lehane is a master story teller and his genius as an author has not gone unnoticed by Hollywood. Classics such as Mystic River and Shutter Island have been adapted to the big screen by prominent directors. Lehane has lent his talents to the small screen as well as working on The Wire and Boardwalk Empire. Now, on Blu-ray and DVD, one of his short stories comes to.

The Drop is based on the short story “Animal Rescue” which Lehane expanded it into a novel and adapted it as a feature film. Bob (Tom Hardy) is a quiet bartender whose bar has been taken over by organized crime. The bar is used as a “drop” point, a place where dirty money is held until it can be picked up. When the bar is robbed, Bob and his boss have to deal with the repercussions and angry mobsters. Meanwhile, Bob finds a beaten pit bull in a trash can and decides to adopt it. But trouble ensues after the dog’s original owner comes back wanting the dog. Bob must deal with the pressure on both his personal and professional life.THE-DROP-TOM-HARDY_0

The tale is classic Lehane. Viewers become entangled with characters and react emotionally to them. Viewers feel sympathy for Hardy as Bob and his life begins to unravel. Then, suddenly, the whole tale is flipped on its side and viewers see a new side of the characters, giving them more depth and realism. This keeps the plot from being just another mob movie.

Lehane has been lucky with the casting and directing of his adaptations. When in the skilled hands of Clint Eastwood or Martin Scorsese, these tales come to life in vivid detail. The Drop features unknown Michaël R. Roskam, a more subtle director, who pairs well with the simple Bob. But, what truly makes the film stand out is the cast.

Lehane’s characters are heart breaking, real, and moving when handled by great actors. Shutter Island would have been a wreck if Leonardo DiCaprio had not handled the intricacies of the main character with ease, and the same can be said here. At first, it seems like James Gandolfini gives the strongest performance. He is great as the cranky Marv who wishes his life has been different. Hardy’s understated performance seems very low key for him but once Lehane twists the plot viewers truly see the work Hardy has done with the character. The intensity is balanced with an everyman vibe and Hardy shines. A lesser actor could not have pulled off the performance.

The Drop is a carefully woven tale that proves why Dennis Lehane is a master at his craft. The film is also a wonderful testament to the late James Gandolfini. Pick up this twist on Mobster movies today.

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American Sniper Misses Its Mark

American Sniper garnered great attention when it was nominated for six Oscars. The hype for the film was propelled by critics and viewers alike. But, sadly, the film does not live up to that that hype.

The movie details the military life of Chris Kyle (played by a Texas twanged Bradley Cooper), the deadly American military sniper credited with 160 kills over his four tours. The movie (SPOILER) follows his life from a rodeo ranch hand to his eventual death at the hands of another veteran. Directed by Clint Eastwood, the movie pays homage to the titular Navy Seal.

The film suffers from a horrible screen play. Jason Hall created elements that weren’t in the memoir and changed many things to try to create a typical movie story. This hurts the movie. The lines are cliché and are no different than any other mediocre war film. The movie is disjointed and doesn’t flow. Here’s a scene with the Seals, here’s a scene of Yaya crying on the phone, here’s a scene of Chris holding his baby awkwardly. It’s hard to follow exactly what the story is trying to show. Is it about PTSD? Is it about the legend? Is it about revenge?

Eastwood and Cooper both falter. In the final act, Eastwood gives into Hollywood clichés of a slow motion shot which is meant to amplify the action but it just slows it down. We’ve seen the same shooting/breath sequences in other films; this adds nothing new. Cooper does well with accent never faltering from the Texas twang and impressively bulks up his physical appearance. But there are sequences where he is trying too hard to portray his feeling with his body language and it’s awkward.

But Cooper excels in those few and far between sniper moments. He does well portraying the thoughts that go through Chris’ head as he decides who is a target. Chris is given the authcooper43ority to decide who is a threat and who isn’t. Cooper shows how heavy these decisions are on the man and how it affects his life in and outside of the Seals. The moments where Chris deals with his PTSD are when you feel for him the most; you want to reach out and comfort him.

Speaking of comfort, the movie does a horrible job of portraying the families of our war heroes. The role is written very one sided and Taya Kyle becomes a harpy always screaming at Chris and telling him to move on. When we do truly see the heart ache she feels for his husband, Sienna Miller butchers these moments with insane histrionics.

But, after all, it is the story of Chris’ life.  In the final moments, as you find out his fate and see footage from his memorial and the irony of the situation hits you, it’s deeply moving and brings tears to your eyes. The movie does well with showing you his life, his sacrifices, and his desire to protect our country. That sticks with you as you leave the theater and maybe that’s how it should be. You remember the man, not the movie.

Holiday Big Openers

 The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

In this final installment of The Hobbit adaptation, the story is stretched way beyond the point of APphoto_Film Review The Hobbit The Battle of the Five Armiesentertaining. Peter Jackson uses material from the various appendices by J.R.R. Tolkien himself  to pad the story and just plain makes stuff up.

Laketown must deal with the deadly dragon that was released in the second movie. This hassle is taken of quickly and the story moves on to the fight over the dragon’s treasure. The Dwarves, Elves, Orcs and Humans each want a piece of the treasures held within the Lonely Mountain But the Dwarves, Human, and Elves have to band together to defeat the Orcs and save the legacy of their races.

The problem with this movie is that it is too long. The story suffers at the expense of expanding for three movies.  The entirety of The Hobbit could have easily been two movies while still expanding on Tolkien’s supplemtantal material.

Like the two before it, the movie looks good.  The effects are gorgeous and the make-up is effective. This go-around I did notice something: the two Dwarves we are supposed to empathize with the most  are the two that look the most human.  Quality actors help round out characters but even they can’t smooth over dodgy bits of exposition.

Honestly, I wanted more or the dragon and less of the endless battles. Hell, I just wanted the damn movie to be over.

Into The Woods

Into the Woods follows several well-known fairy tale characters as they try to obtain their greatestdepp-wolf1 wishes. It seems that to have each wish granted, they must enter the spooky woods that surround their homes. The characters find that they help each other achieve their dreams, but then, too late, they learn their wishes were not what they were cut out to be.

Unfortunately, the movie adaption of the Broadway show does not translate well. The story rambles on and changes focus. It becomes preachy and tries too hard to have a moral.  There were some interesting points with the highlight being Johnny’s Depp short appearance as The Wolf. This was the best musical sequence in the whole film.

The casting is the second issue.  James Corden and Emily Blunt are passable but Chris Pine can’t sing even though he’s great at being a charming jerk.  I also don’t understand why everyone loves Anna Kendrick so much, and she does not ever embody Cinderella for me. It seems like the casting was looking for big names instead of talent. But that’s not to say there isn’t some talent there. Meryl Streep was fantastic as was Lilla Crawford who played Red Riding Hood.

I’ll admit it looks good. Director Rob Marshall always manages to make his films look like the worlds they are set whether it is a Cook County Prison, pirate infested jungles, or creepy fairy tale woods.  Marshall does well with what he has, but the biggest issue is that he wasn’t given great material and actors to work with.

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Telltale Tackles Game of Thrones

Telltale forays into TV adaptations bringing Game of Thrones to the video gaming world.  The first installment was released for the PlayStation 3 last week, and fans devoured it.

The six-episode sage follows House Forrester, a less prominent house which the game could really expand on, and how they move through the war ridden world.  The Foresters span the lands giving view points from Ironrath, Kings Landing, The Wall and Mereen as they interact with character prominent in the show. Happily, these characters are voiced by their respective actor.

Iron from Ice introduces player to the key family members in House Forrester. You begin as Gared Tuttle a family squire who delivers the House’s sword when the Lord of the house is killed. The children Ethan, Talia, and Ryon deal with taking over the house and the pressure of Ramsey Snow. Meanwhile, Mira is in King’s landing trying to get help from Margaery Tyrell.

Overall, it is a fantastic game. The controls are fantastic as Tell Tale has learned a lot since that first Walking Dead Episode.  The game is smoother integrating the right and left hand easily. Game-of-Thrones-Telltale-6

The atmosphere is typical of Tell Tale Games, and the opening sequence from the TV show is recreated in the game high lightening the major places on the episode. This is a great homage making the show seem more organic. The only downside to the atmosphere is that many of the background become blurry like hazy paint brush streaks and characters become blurred when walking past these areas.

The plot continues in the Game of Thrones tradition, so be prepared for betrayals and deaths galore. In fact, this episode packs a huge emotional punch reminiscent of the work of George R.R. Martin. Download Telltale Games A Game of Thrones and become immersed in Westeros.