Saturday, April 20, 2013

Movie Review: "Oblivion"

Tron: Legacy director, Joseph Kosinski's latest, is a sci-fi flick based on his own graphic novel, starring Tom Cruise, called Oblivion

After Earth was attacked by aliens, humanity had no choice but to use nukes, in so doing they won the war but made Earth uninhabitable.  Cut forward to 60 years later, where we meet Tom Cruise's Jack Harper, a drone repairman living on Earth in a glass tower high up in the sky.  His job is to repair the drones that protect the machines harvesting Earth's remaining water for the humans that moved to Saturn's moon, Titan.  However, when a mysterious spacecraft crashlands on Earth, Jack finds human survivors in the wreckage, spurring everything to change.

Harking back to 1970's science fiction films like Logan's Run or THX 1138, nothing in Oblivion is ever what it seems.  There are so many twist and turns to this movie, it would be very easy to get lost, if you didn't see every one of them coming.  Almost every twist has been done before in other sci-fi films, with far more realistic thinking as to what the repercussions of such discoveries truly would have on a person.  Of course a big part to this is that the script just doesn't give enough information.  They often gloss over things in one line that needed to be explained to be understood fully, and that might have made a few more of the character's actions make sense.  Even with all of this said, there is a lot of good about Oblivion.

The cinematography by Claudio Miranda is just hauntingly beautiful.  Miranda and Kosinski's use of the Icelandic landscapes standing in for ruined America, were expertly used to create a scope that has been sorely lacking from almost every other sci-fi film over the past few decades.  Not to mention the design work of this film, which is architecturally stunning, just like Kosinski's Tron: Legacy was.  As well, even though the plot twists often murk up the story, the characters are always so likable and intriguing, you keep going along with them, and a large part of that is due to the good performances of its cast.  Tom Cruise is easy to root for in this movie, but the write home performance is Andrea Riseborough, who plays Jack's partner up in the sky tower, Victoria.  Riseborough makes simple three word lines of dialogue have far more weight than the script gave them because one can tell that she is always applying subtext through the tone of her voice and her facial mannerisms.  Riseborough truly deserves more international notice of her talents.

Ultimately, while you've seen everything in Oblivion before, and done with more satisfying results, Oblivion is still a good, enjoyable sci-fi film worth seeing on the big screen thanks to great performances from its cast that make the most of their characters and the gigantic canvas that the film is set against.

I give Oblivion a C+!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

2013 Summer Movie Preview

While Spring has just sprung and Summer doesn't technically roll around till June, ever since Jaws hit theaters in 1975, there has been this thing known as the Summer movie season, starting at the first of May and lasting till the end of August.  These are the four months out of the year where the movie studios will release their biggest, most expensive, most flashy product to try and thrill audiences worldwide.  For me, while I love Award's Season and predicting the Oscars, Summer movie season is my true favorite time of the year.  Ever since I was little, going to see the latest blockbuster at a packed movie theater, getting a brief respite from the Summer heat, has spawned some of my most memorable moviegoing memories, and this Summer's crop could possibly create more.

There are so many big movies coming out this Summer, and yet, unlike last Summer where there was The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, two movies which were pretty much guaranteed to rule the box office, there are more question marks about the films of this Summer.  The thing with the movies that are hitting this Summer is that there are a lot of films that are sort of rolling the dice.  From the return of Superman, to Guillermo Del Toro's monsters vs. giant robots mash-up, all the way to Pixar making a prequel to a movie that has never necessarily been their most beloved work, there are just a lot of movies coming out this Summer that could literally go any which way.  Even movies like Star Trek Into Darkness and The Wolverine aren't guaranteed smashes, considering the fact that they are sequels to movies that didn't bust blocks necessarily.  Honestly, the only sure fire hit I see so far is Iron Man 3, beyond that, what movies that will really resonate this Summer and what films wont, is anyone's guess, which is why I'm going to do a little preview of the 10 Summer movies that I think are shaping up the best.

As per usual with a list like this, I'm ranking these movies from some of the ones that I feel are riding the fence for me all the way to number one, which is the film I am most excited for this Summer.  So with all this said, let's take a look at what Summer has to offer us.

10.  After Earth
M. Night Shyamalan is not a name that most tend to associate with good movies anymore, but I still believe in him as both a writer and a director.  What I'm really digging about After Earth, is that it's Shyamalan in different territory than he's ever been before.  It's a sci-fi adventure film set in the future, where humanity fled Earth 1,000 years ago.  When a father and son crashland on Earth, they find it filled with mutated creatures, having to survive whilst trying to signal for help.  The film stars Will Smith and his son, Jaden.  The movie is based on a story treatment created by Will Smith, and was written by sci-fi expert, Gary Whitta, alongside Shyamalan.  This is one of the first films in Shyamalan's career where he isn't receiving sole screenwriting credit, and I think that's a good thing.  Shyamalan is a great idea man, but when it comes to executing them on the page, it doesn't quite pan out.  Personally, I feel this movie could be a welcome return to form for Shyamalan, by his doing something vastly different, and I am very intrigued to see it.
(After Earth hits theaters on June 7th)

9.  Epic
Every Summer there are a lot of animated films that come out, some good, some bad. While Pixar has had a monopoly on the Summer box office when it comes to animated films over the past decade, their offering this Summer, Monsters University, a prequel to Monsters Inc., just isn't doing anything for me. Over the past few years, 20th Century Fox's Blue Sky Studios have delivered movies that have rivaled the best of Pixar and Dreamworks Animation, such as their hit, Rio. Blue Sky's latest, Epic, has genuinely piqued my interest. While the film isn't that original in concept, I mean, a girl being shrunk to the size of an insect and meeting a clan of tiny warriors fighting to save their woodlands doesn't scream innovation, but it's the visual splendor that every trailer so far has shown off that makes me want to see this movie. This movie looks wildly inventive in how the filmmakers are rethinking the everyday things that we all see, such as leaves and snails on a scale as if they're life size. While the title, Epic, leaves a little to be desired, this may be one to watch for.
(Epic hits theaters on May 24th)

8.  Elysium
From District 9 writer/director Neil Blomkamp, comes another socially conscious sci-fi action flick.  In the future the rich live on a space colony called Elysium, and the poor live on a ravaged Earth.  When Matt Damon is diagnosed with an illness, his only hope is to get to Elysium and be cured, but those rich folks up in space don't much like it when the poor try to ascend.  While I was not a huge fan of District 9, I appreciate Blomkamp as a director and his sheer ability to make films made for shoestring budgets look like large scale blockbusters.  District 9 was made for $30 million and looked better than most $200 million movies, and with a $100 million budget for Elysium, I can scarcely imagine what Blomkamp does.  Plus, I am always rooting for any big budget movie that is an original script and not based on a book, comic book, video game, or any other sort of media.
(Elysium hits theaters on August 9th)

7.  Now You See Me
This movie just looks fun.  It has an amazing cast, from Jesse Eisenberg to Woody Harrelson to Mark Ruffalo, all the way to Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine.  As well, I love films that deal with magicians and magic, and this Robin Hood-like story of a group of magicians who use their magic shows to perform robberies is an original enough concept to make me want to see this.  This could be a sleeper hit this Summer that will benefit heavily from word-of-mouth.
(Now You See Me hits theaters on May 31st)

6.  Red 2
The first Red was just a blast.  Bringing together heavyweight actors as eclectic as Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, and Helen Mirren, all representing retired CIA agents who had to clear their names, it just made the film a fun ride that reminded audiences that age doesn't necessarily mean anything.  The sequel reunites the cast of the first film with new folks like Anthony Hopkins, only making me more amped to see so many actors who typically don't do action or comedy just having fun, and when you can tell an actor onscreen was having fun, that often translates to the audience.  Can these retired CIA agents kick butt and win over audiences again?  We'll see when it hits in July.
(Red 2 hits theaters on July 19th)

5.  Pacific Rim
Director Guillermo del Toro has not made a film since Pan's Labyrinth that has matched that movies' originality and sheer jaw-dropping awesomeness, and here is hoping that Pacific Rim does just that.  In the near future, when gigantic monsters known as kaiju emerge from the sea, humans have to build giant robots to fight in order to save humanity.  Being billed as Godzilla meets Transformers, with a talent like del Toro behind the camera, it could easily make this movie more than just that.  Besides, what film fan doesn't love a good giant monster attacks the city yarn?  Not only is this one of the most original ideas in years, mashing together two subgenres of science fiction (the giant monster and giant robot), like Elysium above, I'm always pulling for any big budget movie that's not based on anything pre-existing.
(Pacific Rim hits theaters on July 12th)

4.  The Wolverine
The last time X-Men star Wolverine had his own movie, 2009's X-Men: Origins - Wolverine, it was a complete and utter train wreck.  The great thing is everybody, from star Hugh Jackman, to the producers, to the studio, realized how bad that movie was and they seem to be going for broke here to really entice and please the fans of the comic books.  The Wolverine is based on one of the most famous comic book storylines of all-time, where Wolverine travels to Japan, falls in love, and gets mixed up with samurai and the Yakuza.  The movie looks visually striking, thanks to director James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma), not to mention I'm intrigued by Mangold's statement a few months ago that unlike most superhero movies, this movie wont have clear cut good and bad guys, and almost every character will be in some sort of morally grey area.  That is an idea that hasn't really been explored in a superhero film yet, and it just proves that this small subgenre of film is still growing and can possibly still do new things.
(The Wolverine hits theaters on July 26th)

3.  Iron Man 3
The official start of Marvel's Phase Two, and the first movie to follow last Summer's The Avengers, Iron Man 3 has shaped up very nicely over the past few months and I can't wait to see this one.  What I feel The Avengers did for all of the Marvel movies being made after it, is it made movies like Iron Man 3 feel like they really have to raise the stakes and bring their A-game in order to get audiences into theaters to see only Iron Man without the Hulk, Thor, or Captain America.  This movie promises to be the most character centric of all the Robert Downey, Jr., Tony Stark appearances, and I'm all for that.  I like the idea of breaking Tony Stark and having him return to that man in the cave in the first movie who built a suit out of scraps, as Jeff Bridges' character so simply put it, and that is what this movie seems to be going for with all that I've heard about its story and from what I've gleaned from trailers.  Plus, it's our first chance to see how the events of The Avengers really rocked this shared cinematic universe that Marvel has built, and also see how Tony responds to now realizing that Norse Gods and aliens do exist.  My only fear is that they don't go too serious and lose a lot of the humor that has made the Iron Man movies so popular, but even if it isn't as funny, recent comments from The Avengers writer/director, Joss Whedon, upon seeing Iron Man 3, has only made me more excited.
(Iron Man 3 hits theaters on May 3rd)

2.  Man of Steel
Superman makes his long awaited return to the silver screen with this movie written by Batman Begins writer, David Goyer, produced by The Dark Knight trilogy director, Christopher Nolan, and directed by Watchmen director, Zack Snyder.  For a long while I've been on the fence about this one.  First I had fears that it was going to be too dark and realistic, trying to capitalize off of what Nolan and Goyer did with Batman.  Then there was the hiring of Snyder to direct, a person who has never quite made an amazing movie to me.  Let's not even start on the casting of a Brit to play Superman, or the fact that Laurence Fishbourne is playing Perry White, or that the rumors are that Jimmy Olsen is represented as a girl in this movie.  Even though I've been skeptical, if the movie is amazing does any of that matter to me?  Honestly, no.  I don't care if it's a Brit playing Superman or if Jimmy's a girl, as long as the character of Superman is done well, and the latest trailer (posted below) has helped to alleviate many of my fears and made me genuinely excited for this movie to where I want to see it now.  For starters, the movie looks action packed, but what I loved about this new trailer that none of the others had done so far, was that it showed that this movie isn't about a dark, brooding Superman, and actually looks to have a little fun while making you believe once more a man can fly, even in our cynical age.  There's one scene in particular, the final scene, between Henry Cavill's Superman and Amy Adams' Lois Lane, that sold me.  It was their chemistry, the banter between the two, that didn't feel corny, but felt as if the two were having fun playing off of one another.  For me, June 14th can't come soon enough.
(Man of Steel hits theaters on June 14th)

1.  Star Trek Into Darkness
J.J. Abrams' Star Trek from 2009 was my favorite movie of that year, so to say I'm excited for its sequel would be an understatement.  Star Trek Into Darkness is just shaping up to be one of those quintessential Summer blockbusters.  It looks to have tons of action, tons of emotion, and lots of surprises.  Of course, the main reason I am so psyched for this movie is because I honestly don't know anything about it, other than the fact that a terrorist attacks Earth and the crew of the USS Enterprise chase him into space to bring him to justice.  The real identity of actor Benedict Cumberbatch's villain is still in question.  While the studio is saying his name is John Harrison, many fans still believe him to be Abrams' version of the classic Trek villain, Khan, not to mention that Abrams and his crew helped the rumor along with a nod to Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan at the end of one of the early trailers, possibly hinting at the death of Spock.  Is Cumberbatch Khan?  Or is he John Harrison, who was a character in the original series as well?  And let's not forget...  Will Spock die?  Or will it be somebody else?  Admiral Pike?  Chekov?  Sulu?  Uhura?  Scotty?  Captain Kirk!?!  I don't know, and that is why I am so filled with anticipation for this movie.  So many movies come out nowadays and release so many trailers and TV spots, they pretty much give away the entire movie before it's released.  I feel I've already seen so much of Iron Man  3 that there really aren't any surprises left, but so far Abrams and company have been so super secretive, that I am really believing I may be able to actually step into the theater on May 17th and genuinely be surprised and unspoiled.  Here's hoping no movie critic spoils anything for me between now and then as they so aptly love to do.
(Star Trek Into Darkness hits theaters on May 17th)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Lessons Learned from First "Catching Fire" Trailer

The first trailer for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire premiered last night at the MTV Movie Awards, and while the trailer was billed as a teaser trailer, it actually gave a good look as to what can be expected from the change of directors and how they're approaching the material.

When I heard that the first film's director, Gary Ross (coincidentally the winner of my Best Director award from last year), was not returning to do the sequel, I was worried.  Then, when they hired I Am Legend director Francis Lawrence to fill in, I was even more worried, seeing as how Lawrence just doesn't have as stellar of a track record as Ross did, not to mention the usual fears that are associated whenever a franchise changes directors.

It's my biggest complaint with the Harry Potter movies.  Tonally the films changed a lot from the first movie to the last.  For example, the first two movies were made with the intention in costuming and set design that this was a movie that could have been set in the 1940s or modern day.  They kept everything timeless in feel, but as the director of the first two movies, Chris Columbus, left the series and other directors came in, the other directors kept making the movies more and more modern, and by the time the movies ended it was as if you were watching a completely different world at times.  It led to a feeling by many fans who loved the style of the first movie, that there was something missing.  All of that to say, this was my fear for Catching Fire with the change of director.  This is not to say that I feel Francis Lawrence is a bad director.

While many of Francis Lawrence's movies have never quite connected with me, he has one of the best eyes for visuals of any director currently working in mainstream Hollywood.  All of his films look beautiful, but considering the fact that the first movie was shot entirely with long lenses, handheld cameras, and desaturated colors, I didn't see how his usual visual style would aid Catching Fire.

Okay, fast forward to last night, when I first saw the trailer, and my initial impression of how Francis Lawrence has approached the material is one of relief, and I'm happy to say I was wrong.

You may ask how can I glean so much from a trailer?  And this is a good question to ask in regards to the story and getting a sense of what has been cut, changed, or added, from the book.  I can't really say much of anything about that, though it does look as if the filmmakers are fully relishing in the larger budget and are wholeheartedly embracing the imagery of revolution from the book.  As well, I can already tell that Philip Seymour Hoffman's just going to knock it out of the park with his portrayal of Plutarch Heavensbee.  What I can also affirm though from just these brief 2 and a 1/2 minutes is that Francis Lawrence has managed to find a visual style that makes these movies his own, but is in keeping with the original film.

The first movie's muted color palette is once more applied to the country of Panem, and Lawrence seems to be utilizing an if-it-aint-broke-don't-fix-it mentality with the costume and set designs from the first movie, which I like, seeing as how the design work was one of my favorite things about the first movie.  However, what I loved the most about Lawrence's visual approach was his use of wider lenses and more static cameras.  I kept on racking my brain hoping he wasn't going to just try and copycat Gary Ross's style and not do as good, but I also was hoping he wasn't going to go too fanciful either and add tons of unnecessary camera movement, losing some of the grit that Ross's style lent the first movie.  In many of the shots shown in the trailer, the images appear as if they are being shot by some unnamed character that's just behind the camera filming footage for the Capitol, not by an omniscient camera operator.  You still get the feeling of grit that you're watching reality unfold, while getting a little bit more bang for your buck in that you're seeing and comprehending more of the magnificent design work that's being put into these movies.

Personally, I'm psyched.  Catching Fire is my favorite installment of the series, and upon seeing this trailer I am no longer worried about Francis Lawrence.  I can't wait for November, when the movie is released, but for now, enjoy the first trailer:

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Movie Review: "42"

42 tells the story of famed baseball player, Jackie Robinson, and his becoming the first major league black ballplayer for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  42 checks all of the boxes expected from a biopic such as this, it's historically fascinating and inspirational, featuring solid performances from its cast.  Chadwick Boseman does a fine job as Jackie Robinson, but the real standouts in the cast are Alan Tudyk as rascist  Philadelphia Phillies' manager Ben Chapman and Harrison Ford as Dodger's owner, Branch Rickey.  This is the first performance I have seen Ford do in nearly a decade where I actually enjoyed the choices he made as an actor, though I still can't figure out that growl.  While the movie takes a long while in the first hour simply laying out small one minute scenes to give the historical facts necessary for the rest of the movie to work causing the film to have a lack of focus as to who the real main character of the movie is, Robinson or Rickey, once Robinson joins the Dodgers, writer/director Brian Helgeland finally takes the time to take root in scenes and explore them in great detail to create emotion rather than just hammering home a fact like a history book.  Even though 42 is not a complete homerun, it's an enjoyable movie that is affecting and will win over crowds.

I give 42 a C+!