Playing with Time

Doctor Strange

Marvel continues to add characters to its ever growing character pool. But Doctor Strange reaches past space, and reality and pulls in something spiritual.

Stephen Strange is annoying jerk who is a genius with medical injuries. When his arrogance break his body he must find a way to return to level of perfection he once was. He travels vast distances thinking he will be magically healed but he learns from The Ancient One about how to manipulate space and reality. Strange starts to see that is an integral part into the survival of humanity especially when a former students steals spells about affecting time, the only taboo to these people have. Along with the few survivors of his dojo, he must save the world from being absorbed into a dark dimensions.tilda-swinton-benedict-cumberbatch

Doctor Strange is a lot like Deadpool in the fact that it is highly overrated by critics. It has a decent story but it fails to really delve into any true motivations and character development. While Benedict Cumberbatch plays a great intellectual, he is no action hero. The movie works because The Ancient One, played marvelously by Tilda Swinton kicks, major ass and is truly the action star of the film. Mads Mikkelsen works well with the action but he can’t keep his accent straight. I’m not sure why they didn’t just let him speak in his normal voice.

Doctor Strange is up in your face about changing time and realities. Critics love these overly CGI sequences saying it’s visually beautiful. But halfway into the movie, it spends more time trying to dazzle us with CGI instead of the story. It starts to do what I had feared Inception would do by letting special effects over take the story. The good news is that by the end, sequences start to find a good balance between spectral and meaning. Strange ends strong after a sagging middle.

Strange adds a metaphysical layer to the Marvel universe but it needs tweaking to truly break unto the cerebral.

 

 

 

 Arrival

 Arrival is cerebral and doesn’t depend on the typical alien bang, bang shot ’em up to carry the story. It’s the actual idea of using an alien language to communicate with the aliens that propels the story

Louise Banks (Amy Adams) lives alone with wine and memories but when an alien spacecraft lands, she is asked to help unravel the mystery of their language. With the help of a team of scientist including Ian Donnely (Jeremy Renner), she must decode the alien’s purpose for coming to Earth. Their language is not like the human language at all so the team must not only translate the language they must learn the vocabulary all while world military leaders breathe down their neck.

arrival-mit-jeremy-renner-und-amy-adamsArrival is more subtle with its time manipulation than Doctor Strange. Louise is lost in her own personal time loop and each memory she recalls has direct connection with something said or done in the present. By the end of the movie, each scene makes sense and is it tied (almost) neatly with a bow. Plus the conclusion packs an emotional wallop.

Arrival also acts as a modern day fable about global community. The movie looks at the violence and fear that breaks out when countries start keeping scientific knowledge from each other. The answer lies in working together to solve, not just the mystery of the aliens, but also the issue that plaque humanity.

Arrival is well written, well directed and well acted. It’s a quality movie film that makes you think and gets your emotions flowing.

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All We Are Are Spectres in the Wind

Explosions, car chases and gun fights are a plenty as Bond slays an octopus and saves the word. Spectre is a fun ride with a succinct focus that tidily wraps up the Daniel Craig era.
Bond finds a link to an underground organization after a visit to Mexico city where his destruction makes the national news. This is critical mistake for MI6- the 00 Project is threatening to be disband as MI-6 takes over with a new system that watches everyone 24/7. Bond takes no head when, by the help of Q, he sneaks off toff after being grounded by the newest M. But what they don’t know that the previous M left a clue to her death behind. Bond will stop at nothing to avenge her and get to the bottom of Spectre and its intersection in his life.

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The is what viewers love about bond: foreign beauties, ridiculous stunts, and snappy one liners. But t the iconic lines of James Bond fall from Craig’s mouth like stale bread. It is hard to tell if it is the writing or the acting. Craig’s distaste at ever being Bond again is a good thing. This means we don’t habv to watch him an his route performance. As usual, he shows off his body but does nothing on the acting front. Christopher Waltz is great as the typical over acting villain, and Dave Batista has become this generations Tor Johnson. The true standout performance is Ben Whishaw as Q. He is witty, brave and often the humorous release for the film. Whinshaw is the best casting choice since Dame Judi Dench as M.
The plot is thin and shake which is typical of many of the films and the twist at the end you will have seen coming since early in the film. But it truly doesn’t matter. Bond films are known for the thrilling chase scenes and fights. Add in a shake of humor and the movie continues to entertain.
Happily, writers conclude the stories of the last three films forming a common thread for Craig’s time as Bond. This fourth film ties all of them together. Villains past and present have a story that is wrapped in a nice shine bow connecting some of the weaker movies together. Bond finally comes face to the face to the man he has been truly hunting since Casino Royale ending the latest leg of Bond films.
Walking out of the theater leaves a better taste in Skyfall (even if the theme song doesn’t ,measure up). Viewers and Bond get closure as the franchise looks to the future. Until the studio decides on what is next for fond, Spectre is a nice little meal to tide you over.

A Story with Ghosts in It

Guillermo del Toro’s latest film Crimson Peak has picked up a lot of hype as a horror movie. But what is Chrisom Peak exactly? And how does it stack up to his other works.

Edith was visited by the ghost of her mother as a child and it warned her from Crimson Peak. But that cryptic message becomes less of a concern as she grew into adulthood.  Edith must entertain the advances of her childhood friend Dr. Alana McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) and exotic stranger (Tom Hiddleston) with a bad reputation while being shunned as a female author.  After her father dies, she marries Thomas Sharpe despite his bad reputation. They join his sitter in their decrepitated manor England. Once here, the ghosts come back to warn of betrayal and murder.

crimson-peak-posterThe problem with Crimson Peak is that it’s not scary. I had read that it was supposed to be scary and was highly disappointed. There was some violence and gore but no scares. My friend had to point out that it was more Gothic horror than a traditional horror movie, and I have tried to see it in that light. While it helped my perspective of the story, it did not really help with my enjoyment of the film. Del Toro is a fanboy and all his best work emulates his influences and likes but most add his own touch and makes it his. This is a love song to Gothic horror stories but adds very little new ideas other than some horrific violence.  The movie is basically “The Woman in Black” combined with “The House of Yes.” Taking ideas, atmospheres, and stories from a plethora of sources (Poe, Bronte just to name a few) they are hodgepodged together with little subtlety. The writing treats us like children showing us that they are telling a version of Jane Eyre with Mary Shelley undertones. We have to guess nothing that happens as we know how these stories play out. It reminds you in exposition that it is a romance and it is a story with ghosts in it (seemingly to fight off the mislead advertising for the film). This is insulting to the viewers and lacks the nuance of so many of Del Toro’s past works.

Jessica Chastain steals the movie and too much time is spent on Mia Wasikowska’s naive and inspecting lead character that sees specters. It is Chastain that moves the movie forward, the one that gets to play a smart and fierce woman.  But as her character’s persona denigrates, her performance crescendos. The other actors can’t keep up with her Hiddleston and Hunnam are all passable but not overly inspiring. There characters just seem to be fuel for Chastain’s playground There is only one other character that stands out so some much.crimson-peak-jessica-chastain-hiddelston-mia-wasikowska-00063r

Luckily, like most of this genre, the house becomes a character in itself and all the visuals are stunning. The house looks like other you have seen before but the deterioration and the clay that leaks from the walls and floors like blood are eerily creepy. It is the clay that leads to any kind of f horror turning everything a bloody red. The red snow is insanely creepy and is more than just a metaphor for the horrors taking place inside the house. Alas, not everything is treated with such smart double dimensions.

Unfortunately, adverting by the studio cannot contribute to the issues with the film.  Many reading this will say I am wrong, that it perfectly emulates all the classics. This is also its down fall. We del Toro fans hunger for his next project, to see how he puts himself into things that we love how he brings it into our world. But this movie didn’t do that. So the literature fan in me will subside so the nerd girl within me can start pining for Pacific Rim 2.

The Boys Are Back in Town

The speakers blast the opening beats to “Pony”. It can only be one thing: The summer movie that calls to women and lures them in the theaters with the promise of rock hard abs and nice tushes. It’s Magic Mike back in theaters and this time it’s XXL!

In the previous installment, too much time was spent on a lack luster plot that was forced down the audience throats. We didn’t go for a dramatic movie: we went for a good time. Magic Mike XXL learned from the original’s strengths and weaknesses. The second romp is fun with a few moments of sentiment that will put a smile on your face.

Dallas sells out the boy leaving them stranded on their own before the big stripper convention in Myrtle Beach (is this even a real thing, because well….). Mike sees an opportunity to have some fun and re-galvanize his life. The team (Richie, Ken, Tarzan, Tito, and Tobias) set out in a food truck once the prodigal son returns for their last performance. But the ride isn’t that easy. Drag queens, drugs, and girls set the boys off the beaten path as they struggle to find a new MC and some new routines to go out in a “tsunami of dollar bills.”

This movie is pure fun with laughs abound. The plot centers around the Kings of Tampa themselves and not just on Mike and his an unworthy protege. Instead its a buddy movie focusing on the male entertainers themselves. Joe Manganiello kills it as Richie who becomes a de facto leader for the team and has some of the best one liners. He also has one of the best dance sequences in the entire movie.

There are a few moments of tenderness which reminds everyone why women seek out male entertainers. We want to be reminded that we are wanted, that we are beautiful. In the most touching (and one of the few dramatic scenes in the film), Matt Bomber’s Ken breaks out the Bryan Adams to serenade a middle aged Southern Belle reminding her that she is worth love and to have her fantasies come true.magic_mike_joe_manganiello.0

The other thing the movie does well is bringing in strong women. Jada Pinkett Smith is Rome, a feisty
and feminine strip club owner who rules every scene she’s in. Amer Heard plays the scorned photographer who just needs her smile back. And Elizabeth Banks, well, she’s just spectacular. These character balance out the testosterone and proves male entertainment isn’t an all boys club.

What does it do wrong? Well, the plot is as thin as the men’s thongs but its those thongs we came to see. Will it when the actors any acting awards? No, but someone needs to give these boys kudos for their dancing moves. This movie is pure movie escapism.

Magic Mike helps level the playing field when it comes to female sexuality. Forget 50 Shades of Grey where women have to submit to be sexy. These men remind we are beautiful just the way we are and that we should embrace to our sexuality (and those one dollar bills). Hate it if you must, but Magic Mike XXL is great summer movie fun.

As Is Often the Case, Dinosaurs Run Amok

Jurassic World is about being bigger and better. The new park has bigger attractions, bigger dinosaurs, bigger scares. But, as in the spirit of the first film, we learn that bigger doesn’t necessary mean better especially where nature is concerned. Ironically, the script doesn’t understand that lesson. The film tries to out do the original but fails in an entertaining manner.

Over twenty years later, Jurassic World has learned from previous mistakes, designing a new park sparing no expense for awed crows. Claire (played but a surprisingly one dimension Bryce Dallas Howard) helps run the park but has no time for her own family. When her nephews come for vacation, she quickly passes them off to her assistant. She is more concerned with their new dinosaur Indominuscb26e9d8-8468-430b-9503-86ed2d62d9d4

rex who was created from a variety of dinosaur and animal DNA.. The park owner wants hot shot trainer Owen to approve the pen she is kept in. But he arrives too late as Indominus rex terrorizes the park, and Claire’s nephews are lost in the struggle.

If this plot sound familiar you are right. The movie mimics (I hate to say steals) scenes from the original film trying to out do them. From trying to eat children through vehicles to having a greedy scientist try to make off with DNA, the movie fails to exude the terror for the original. Ironically, the film is at its best when it waxes nostalgia. Those first moments you hear the theme song your heart swells. When the boys find the old visitors center an steal a jeep. These feel like the homage the movie should be making.

As a movie on its own, it’s easier to enjoy. There are a few moments of pure terror. As before, it’s hightened when the raptors are let loose. Their ability to think makes them terribly scary and the movie does well using this terror. But director Colin Trevorrow really falls flat when working with the cast. He must have asked Chris Pratt to not be Starlord because Pratt’s performance is stilted which is odd because Owen is the same kind of character as Starlord. Pratt needed a longer leash to truly become the character. This could have helped Howard as the two didn’t play off each other well and chemistry was being forced on them (and the audience.)

Over all the movie is entertaining, but it makes a mistakes in trying to surpass its predecessor. It should have happy just surpassing The Lost World (which proves that even if Michael Crichton was still alive, the plot would not have been much better). Funny at times, frightening at times, Jurassic World leaves you with a “what if…” taste in your mouth.

How Women Defeat Themselves at the Movies

There has been much jaw flapping and anger as of late in regards to the treatment of women in films. Avenger’s director Joss Whedon left Twitter among the complaints about the film’s treatment of Black Widow. But are these arguments justified? Aren’t there other movies that are even more of a farce in regards to feminism? The answers are: No; Yes.

Let’s take a minute to look at The Avengers: Age of Ultron. In the sequel to the comic book based mega production, Tony Stark accidently creates Ultron, an AI that is intent on killing every human on the planet. The Avengers assemble to defeat this great evil. But along the way, much needed character development is introduced and our superheroes stop being one dimensional stereo-types. Thor shows real fear, Cap starts to adapt to his surrounding, and Black Widow and Hawkeye delve into the world of personal relationships. (Stop here if you’re avoiding spoilers).Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-Black-Widow-and-Hulk

It seems that Black Widow having a real conversation about not being able to have children is unfeminist and liking children as a women is unfeminist. I thought it was a great way to round out a character who is tough as nails: having a real conversation with her relationship partner about what may or may not be in her future. She is not whining or pining or acting like that is her only calling in life, she is having a logical conversation about events that have happened in her life. There are other examples against Black Widow, and the movie as a whole, but I would like to make another point.

I know that Black Widow is not a perfect character. Like so many comic women she is over sexualized (and really if she would wear less tight pants she could run faster). These are not faults of Whedon but with the way women are perceived in comic book and Hollywood culture. It’s especially infuriating when women perpetuate it.

I saw Hot Pursuit and came out steaming mad. The movie wasn’t very good but that wasn’t what angered me so much. It was the outright stereotyping of women that had been crying out about after Ultron, but no one was saying anything about it in this movie.

Hot PursuitHot Pursuit tries to flip the usually male-centered cop and detainee story by casting Reese Witherspoon and Sophia Vergara as the stars. Like so many of these stories, a cop is in charge of a member of witness protection but things go south and the two must go on the lam. Include bad cops, rednecks in trucks, and thousands of shots of Vergara’s butt and that is the entirety of the movie’s plot.

The movie is one giant cliché. Weatherspoon plays Cooper who is trying to make it in a man’s world and jokes fly about how girly she is not. There are jokes about her height, her hair and her fashion. Vegara’s character is nothing but the caricatured mamacita with no depth or realism. In the first fourth of the movie, Vergara wears a dress whose top looks just like one of my bras! The movie goes over the top with menstrual jokes and the awkward and creepy romantic relationship Cooper pursues. There was no way Cooper could stay single huh? That was the ultimate make-over for the character: dress in high heels and get a boyfriend.

I shouldn’t have to say that these flaws were at the very heart of the Ultron criticism expect that this movie was directed and produced by women. This was one of Witherspoon’s pet projects. She or director Anne Fletcher could have stood up at any point and say when things went over the line, or could have agreed not to do it at all. This is when feminism is defeated, when women defeat themselves.

So we ask ourselves do we want our females is low cut tops and kicking ass or in see-through dresses making out with each other? The answer: neither, but I will take the girl who is kick ass and rounded as character any day.

Theirs is the Fury

Everyone is talking about David Ayers’ new project Suicide Squad spreading rumors and guessing at casting. But let’s take a minute to look at Fury, Ayer’s World War II tank crew ode. The film is compelling, sad, and brings to life the true courage of those who worked in the tank squads.

During World War II the Axis’ tankers were far superior to those of the Allies. Most tank squad lasted about six weeks but the story follows a team that has been together for four years. When their gunner is killed, the position is filled by Norman Ellison, a military typist. He has not seen battle and is not used to the brutality. But working under “War Daddy” he quickly sees what the war really is: death and destruction. As the tanks move through the German landscape, Ellison bonds with his team and, when it comes to a final show down, they band together to hold off the Germans.

The cast works well together. Each actor takes their role and makes it their own. You’d never believe that they are the guy from Interview with the Vampire and the kid in Percy Jackson and the jackass from The Walking Dead. Brad Pitt, Jon Bernthal, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, and Michael Peña round out Fury’s squad and each one brings something to their role whether it is innocence, leadership or faith.

But is the realm of the movie that affects you. Ayer doesn’t shy away from the hard truth of war: violence and cruelty ran rampant. Soldiers on both sides committed offenses. You see the terror in their eyes. You realize how desperate the Allie was coming for soldiers near the end of the war. You see the struggles of having les advanced equipment. This is not a feel good movie but an ode to those who served.
I had some one tell me the movie was missing something. Not a lot of time is spent the men’s home lives. They don’t reminisce 1413227235_4much about their lives at home but pictures of their loved ones are clearly shown. This helps keep the story in the now and focusing on the present action. But the biggest thing missing is there is no happy conclusion at the end of the film. There is so write up about how the team managed to complete their task and win the war. This is because Fury is a fictional tale. Ayers used a composite of different stories about tank teams to create this one story. So while it doesn’t give you the kind of closure you expect from most war movies, it is still a brutal look at a different section of the military during WWII.

Overall, Fury is a moving film. It looks at the complex world of war with realism. You hate the characters and you love them. It helps us realize what people did to secure our freedom, something we often take for granted.

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?

Snitch is a Surprisingly Good Film

I am not a fan of The Rock, and I am not a fan of Dwayne Johnson. I can never take him seriously as an actor. But I am a huge fan of The Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal and have always been impressed by his performances. Bernthal is what got me to sit down and what Snitch. I was glad I did.

Snitch is the story of a father who must do something unthinkable to save his son from prison. His son was on the receiving end of a drug deal gone badly. Because he had no one to tell on, the son has to go to prison for a minimum of 10 years. John (Johnson) strikes a deal with the DA; he will help them bust a local seller and they will reduce his son’s sentence.

John approaches one of his construction workers who have a history of selling narcotics. But Daniel (Bernthal) is trying to keep his nose clean and stay out of the business. When John offers him a large chunk of change for an introduction, Daniel reluctantly agrees. Daniel unfortunately is sucked into John’s transactions and has no idea that John is working for the police. The simple drug transports gets complicated when a cartel contact becomes involved and the DA set her sights on him.

While the movie has been labeled by some as an action movie, it is more of a drama with some action thrown in. The film is character centric and really focuses on fathers’ love for their family. Both John and Daniel are struggling to take care of their sons, one whose son is in prison and the other trying to keep his son off the street. It is their character growth that really fuels the movie.

Johnson proves that he can actually act. Instead of the fake bravado from his wrestling or Fast and Furious persona, Johnson develops with the character showing toughness but also vulnerability and real emotion. He was able to carry the movie and make you care about his character.

Jon-Bernthal-SnitchWith that being said, the best performance comes from Bernthal. You feel the most for Daniel because he is pawn in this game. Bernthal captures in the inner turmoil of a man who wants the best for his family while trying to be a better person. Like any role he tackles, Bernthal becomes the character completely capturing the motivation and emotions of the role you are watching.

The movie is surprisingly deep. It brushes the surface of the controversy of the mandatory drug laws without becoming preachy. It also characterizes the overly ambitious tendency of some DAs with the war on drugs. It gives a truthful look the violence rife in the drug trade. But the main focus is the desire for fathers to take care of their sons and the plot stays centralized around this theme.

Snitch is a moving drama set within the intense world of the drug trade. Powerful performance by Dwayne Johnson and Jon Bernthal make the movie more than just some action thriller. Snitch is actually a fantastic film.

Fun with Kung Fu

It is rare when a movie finds a sense of balance between satire and a stand alone film. Many films are complete spoofs while movies like Galaxy Quest tell its own story while picking fun at a timeless classic. The Man with the Iron Fists manages to walk along the same line. It gives you best of the kung fu action world while happily making fun of itself the entire time.

This is no Kung Pow. This feature is the love child of RZA. Staring, co-written and directed by the man, it gained the attention of Quentin Tarantino. And it stars big names like Lucy Liu and Russell Crowe because of the dazzling fight scenes and raunchy humor.

In feudal China, the Lion Clan is rebelling against its leader. It seems that the betrayal was caused by the transportation of massive amounts of gold through a small village. The Lion Clan plans to steal the gold and defeat the Gemini Assassins to receive the riches. What they didn’t count on was the leader’s son seeking vengeance, and escaped slave, a British solider and a brothel Madame to get in their way.

RZA and Eli Roth worked for two years on the screen play working out every detail and it shows. The weapons are scary and innovative adding for some kung fu action fun. But if you are looking for detailed historic China, don’t look here. The characters seem as if they would never blend but the tale weaves everyone together. The movie blends together kung fu and hip-hop but like A Knight’s Tale it works. The costumes are not period but neither are the stereotypes. The brothel whores turn out to be the killer Black Widow Clan and Liu’s Madame Blossom is deathly.

The action sequences are stunning. In the kung fu tradition the battles are impossible and graceful. The colors are blended well making it have very sensual appearance. My favorite battles happened to be the ones including women. Watching Liu glide across the ground with her fan was as stunning as the dance scenes from Memoirs of a Geisha.

But the biggest draw is the humor and how the movie subtly makes fun of the genre. No bad dubbing hear, but humorous one liners and injuries nod at the absurdities of the genre.

Need a movie just for fun? The Man With the Iron Fists will awe you with action sequences and humor. Suspend your disbelief and enjoy the ride.