Thursday, June 27, 2013

Movie Review: "White House Down"

White House Down is what Summer movies are all about -- fun.  Does it feature the greatest script ever written?  Not in the slightest, but it has so much over-the-top action and ridiculously awesome one-liners, how can you really complain?

Channing Tatum plays John Cale, a man interviewing for a job with the secret service just as bad guys take over the White House.  Coincidence?  I think not.  After all, the script said so.  What follows is a buddy cop movie between a wanna be-secret service agent and the President of the United States, played by Jamie Foxx.

To cut to the chase, White House Down is not the next Die Hard, it's not going to be a classic of cinema fifty years from now, but it does exactly what it intends to do, which is entertain.  White House Down is just fun, you like the heroes, you hate the bad guys, and you're laughing at one liners whilst biting your nails all the way to the finale.  It's the kind of movie that I would gladly watch again and again, the same way I keep eating that bad-for-you popcorn whilst watching.  It satisfies that cinematic desire that only a movie like this can, and when it's clear that everyone in the cast was having this much fun while making it, it's infectious.  Everyone from Tatum to James Woods, to nearly every character actor in Hollywood, they all were seemingly having a blast doing this movie and I had a blast watching them.  Sure, it's got plot holes, and the first act takes a bit too long to get to the action, but these are things that can be easily overlooked if you just know how to actually have fun.

I give White House Down a B+!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Movie Review: "World War Z"

World War Z is one of those rare films that is so terrifying and thrilling, that even through all the panic inducement, you can't stop watching.  Brad Pitt is believable as Gerry Lane, an ex-UN investigator who quit to spend time with his kids, but when the zombie apocalypse begins, Lane is re-enlisted to investigate the source of the zombie outbreak.  You may say you've seen zombie movies before, but you've never seen one like this before.

This film has such a massive scope and scale, and that's what separates it from every other zombie movie I've ever seen.  The film plays out on the world's stage, with Lane jetting from continent to continent in his investigation, seeing how different parts of the world have been ravaged by the pandemic.  This large canvas allows World War Z to induce a greater feeling of hopelessness than if we simply were told the rest of the world was dark, but actually seeing it creates more fear in the realization that nowhere is safe.  The other factor that marks World War Z as a benchmark in the zombie genre is the way the zombies are represented.

While this is not the first time we have ever seen zombies run and not shuffle, the way director Marc Forster chose to have the zombies working together in ravenous packs, to where they're more like starved animals hunting prey, makes the proceedings actually feel more realistic.  By infusing the zombies with real animal-like behavior found in nature, Forster simply reverses the notion that becoming a zombie makes you a brainsucking goon and rather reverts humans to animals.  Of course, this a Summer blockbuster, and what really makes this worth the admission are all of the aforementioned things coming together to create large action set pieces that are memorable and frightening.

The action in this film is on par with any major Hollywood action movie, with tons of explosions, destruction, and mayhem.  Forster edits the film in such a way that we don't really get a very good look at the zombies till nearly halfway through the movie, creating this fear of what we don't know, wreaking havoc in the world that we do know.  It was a brilliant move that may not payoff for folks wanting to see the zombies in full the moment they first appear, but these cryptic glimpses make the action all the more intense.  Plus, it helps that pretty much everything bad that could happen in a zombie apocalypse, does happen.  Such as zombies on an airplane, or zombies climbing on top of one another to vault over a wall, or a ton of zombies ramming into a bus.

World War Z is just a great film that is packed with thrills from start to finish.  I've never felt more anxious while watching a film, and yet I would gladly watch this movie again.  While I have not read the book, and can understand why a person who has would be disappointed, I was thoroughly impressed by World War Z.  I think it's the story that really intrigued me, the way that the filmmakers cleverly created a large scale tale of survival and desperation that pays off in the end with an ending that is not cheesy, but believable and feels well earned.  For a film that had so many production woes, with countless rewrites and pricey reshoots, World War Z actually works and manages to be emotional, scary, and cool.

I give World War Z an A!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Movie Review: "Monsters University"

There has been lots of talk the past few years about Pixar losing their mojo, and if anything, Monsters University proves those naysayers wrong.  Monsters University is vintage Pixar, through and through.  It is a heartfelt film that is highly inventive, laugh-out loud hilarious, and worthy to stand alongside each and every Pixar classic.

The film, a prequel to Monsters, Inc., follows the Billy Crystal-voiced Mike Wazowski from childhood to his early days working for Monsters, Inc.  Of course, the road to that point is not that easy for our favorite one-eyed cretin, as Mike wants nothing more than to be a scarer, and the thing is, he just isn't scary.  As Mike goes to college at Monsters University, the point becomes even more clear as he develops an antagonistic relationship with slacker, yet natural scarer, James P. Sullivan, otherwise known as Sully (voiced by John Goodman).  Now, as we all know, Sully and Mike wind up being best friends by the start of Monsters, Inc., but they weren't always that way, and that's what this film shows.  It shows us how they met and how they became friends, and that's the true value of Monsters University.

Here's what I absolutely love about Pixar and what they do with their films.  Even when they make a sequel, or in this case, a prequel, they don't simply redo what they did the first time out.  They only do a sequel when there is an intriguing story that shows a different facet of the world they created.  Honestly, I've always been a fan of Monsters, Inc., and nearly a decade and a half later, it still stands as one of Pixar's most imaginative worlds they've ever created.  When a world is that imaginative, there are so many different avenues the story can go, and there are only so many that can actually make it into the film.

What Monsters University does so well is how it further expands the world of Monsters, Inc.  There are so many new kinds of monsters we see in this film that we never saw in the first one, all of whom are so original, yet so simple in design, it feels as if they were the monsters we saw under our beds as children.  Once again, Pixar has managed to tap into the childhood experience to craft a masterwork, but what Pixar has always done phenomenally is not just make films that speak to the experience of children, but to life experience in general.  This film does that as well.

What makes Monsters University so funny and different from other Pixar movies, is that while kids will undoubtedly love it, due to the humor involved, so much of the humor's focus on college hijinks makes the film just as funny, if not funnier for adults who went to college and have already had that experience.  While Monsters University does seem to have a greater focus on comedy than its predecessor, don't be fooled into thinking that there isn't a heart to this film, or lessons to be had.

Like all Pixar films, the lessons aren't always simple to grasp and speak to the larger life experience I previously mentioned.  One must applaud Pixar for not making another narrative telling kids you can be whatever you set your mind to.  Mike has set his mind to being a scarer, it does not mean he is good at it, and if you've seen Monsters, Inc., you know he doesn't become one.  As depressing as this may sound, you do not always achieve your dreams, but what it teaches, which is something adults can learn as well, is that if you're open to alternatives, you may wind up in a place better than you ever imagined.

At the end of the day though, Monsters University is simply a great film about friendship that has you laughing throughout its entirety whilst having your heart warmed.

I give Monsters University an A+!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Movie Review: "Man of Steel"


Warner Bros. attempts to reboot the Superman franchise with director Zack Snyder's Man of Steel, a reimagining of the Superman origin story we all know and love stripped of everything that makes Superman, well, Superman.  We all know the story of of the film, there is no need to rehash that here.  The bottom line of Man of Steel is simple, it's just not a good Superman movie.

The thing with Man of Steel is that it's a movie that has a lot of intriguing ideas and an exceptional cast, but it's missing a fantastic script.  Where screenwriter David Goyer struck it rich with Batman Begins, he fails to find with Superman.  The plot is murky, often not expanding or fully exploring the ideas presented, and the characters are never given much to do.  The story is simply like a Greatest Hits album of Superman's early years, jumping from action scene to action scene, with few scenes that step back and attempt to create character.  The end result is a story that left me emotionally cold and often confused, because I did not fully understand what was going on and I just did not love any of the characters because I was never given a reason to love them.  Then, there's the fact that Superman actually kills the bad guy at the end of the movie!  You can defend that any way you want, but the Superman I've always known and loved would use his intellect to find another way to save the day.

Ultimately, as a diehard Superman fan, I was greatly disappointed.  The casting was pitch perfect, in particular Henry Cavill as Superman, as well, the design work was stellar, but the filmmakers just seemed to have ignored all that has always made Superman who he is.  Now, to clarify, I am biased here.  To an average moviegoer, this may be a fantastic movie, but for me this movie just did not scratch that itch, so take that into account if you plan on seeing this movie.

I give Man of Steel a D-!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Movie Review: "Much Ado About Nothing"

Director, Joss Whedon's follow-up to The Avengers is a modern day, black-and-white adaptation of William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, while the film is not the ideal follow-up, in my personal opinion, it was obviously made with lots of energy and care.  Whedon and his cast of regulars mange to evoke what makes the Shakespearean text so beloved by many by doing a straight interpretation that does not change any of the Bard's words.  While it's often difficult to decipher and understand, particularly when talking about Lords and Princes in modern day Los Angeles, Whedon's decision to do a modern interpretation of the material seems like a sheer stroke of genius when you realize that the play's jokes on romance, and the cynicism of Hero and Benedict, are timely in a modern world where irony and cynicism rule our own love lives.

I give Much Ado About Nothing a B-!