Thursday, June 30, 2016

Movie Review: "The Legend of Tarzan"

More and more lately I am discovering a disconnect between myself and the vast majority of movie critics.  I have loved a lot of movies this year that they've hated, and that trend continues here with The Legend of Tarzan.  As far as live-action interpretations of Tarzan go, this and Greystoke are the two champs, with The Legend of Tarzan edging out Greystoke by a teeny bit.

The Legend of Tarzan is unique in that it's not an origin story.  While the origins of Tarzan are explored in a few flashback scenes (reminding me a lot of Batman Begins), the movie is really about John Clayton, Lord of Greystoke (aka Tarzan's real name and title).  Tarzan has been living in England with Jane for the past few years and has left the jungle behind him, but when he is asked to help expose a slavery ring in the Congo, he is drawn back to Africa.

Harry Potter director, David Yates, manages to breathe new life into Tarzan thanks to the modern technological wizardry that CGI enables.  The vast majority of this movie was all shot on sets in England, with pretty much all of the animals and African environments created by a computer.  This sells the reality of the story, much in the same way that The Jungle Book did a few months back.  Of course what really makes this movie resonant is not the craft on display, but the story between Tarzan and Jane.

Alexander Skarsgard and Margot Robbie portray Tarzan and Jane in this movie, and they actually make you care about these two characters.  Skarsgard plays Tarzan as a stoic gentleman trying not to be the animal he was raised to be, while Robbie portrays the feistiest Jane you've ever seen.  Then there's the charisma and humor of Samuel L. Jackson as real-life historical figure, Dr. George Washington Williams, who joins Tarzan on his quest to save the Congo.  Couple that with Christoph Waltz being Christoph Waltz as the bad guy, Leon Rom, and you've got a fun, emotionally resonant pulp adventure that Tarzan author, Edgar Rice Burroughs, would most likely be proud of.

When it gets right down to it, don't listen to the critics on this one.  Your enjoyment of The Legend of Tarzan all relies on how much you enjoy the idea of Tarzan in general.  If you think Tarzan is hokey, then this movie probably isn't for you, but there is nothing wrong with the movie itself.  The script is good, the movie is well directed, the cinematography and musical score are beautiful, and there are many well choreographed action sequences.  The bottom line is, if you have an affinity for the character, The Legend of Tarzan is the Tarzan movie you've been looking for.

I give The Legend of Tarzan an 8 out of 10!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Movie Review: "Independence Day: Resurgence"

It has been 20 years since the first Independence Day hit theaters, and now we have a sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence.  Pretty much every major character is back (sans Will Smith), with Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman reprising their iconic roles from the first movie.  In story time, it too has been 20 years, with humanity having united to repurpose the alien technology left behind to improve our own weapons in preparation.  In preparation for what, you might ask?  The aliens inevitable return, of course.

All in all, Independence Day: Resurgence is a fun movie, but it pales in comparison to its predecessor, which has taken on a massive level of iconography for children of the Nineties.  While there are tons of explosions and one-liners, there seems to be something missing.  That something is the indescribable x-factor that movies like this often have that transforms them into cultural touchstones.  Now none of this is to say that Resurgence is a bad movie or a poor sequel, the filmmakers simply failed to catch lightning in a bottle again.  That is a very hard thing to do, and it only makes you more appreciate the movie franchises that have been able to do it multiple times.  Now with all that out of the way, here is where Resurgence really shines, with the new cast of young characters.

Liam Hemsworth leads a talented cast of 20-somethings -- including Maika Monroe and Jesse Usher, as Bill Pullman's daughter and Will Smith's stepson --  that steal the show.  These new characters are a mixture of orphans and children of the heroes from the first Independence Day who have the kind of resolve reminiscent of young men and women from the Greatest Generation.  It is in the scenes with these new characters that I actually found myself most engaged with the movie, which I did not think would happen going in.  However, this does not mean that the returning cast of Goldblum, Pullman, and the rest don't have good standout moments (with welcome returns from Judd Hirsch and Brent Spiner as well), but the filmmakers do a nice job of creating new heroes for a potential sequel.  Another area in which the movie succeeds is in the area of visual effects.

The first Independence Day had amazing visual effects, but the two decades since have really unshackled the filmmakers to let their imaginations run wild.  Things that would have been too expensive to do 20 years ago, can now be done.  While that could have easily been a negative, it actually works as a positive because director Roland Emmerich shows enough restraint to never make the visual effects look like visual effects.  As well, the better visual effects allow the filmmakers to show us more of the aliens this time about.  In the original movie, the aliens were only ever seen in fleeting glimpses or from the waist up.  In this one, there are multiple full body shots of the aliens, which helps to sell the reality of them better.

At the end of the day, if you were a fan of Independence Day, you will probably enjoy this more cartoonish sequel, but I use the word cartoonish in the best possible way.  The first movie had a more realistic tone, whereas this movie reminds me a lot of Japanese animated TV shows I watched growing up in the Nineties and early Aughts.  There seems to be an understanding this go around that it's all fake and meant to just be fun, and while that drains the movie of some of its intensity, it does cause you to childishly grin for most of the runtime.

I give Independence Day: Resurgence a 7 out of 10!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Movie Review: "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows"

As a fan of the heroes in a half-shell, I guess I'm just gonna have to accept that this is about as good as this iteration of the Ninja Turtles will get.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is better than its 2014 reboot, but only by a teeny bit.

Out of the Shadows finds the turtles trying to stop the evil Shredder from bringing an alien from another dimension to Earth in order to take over.  Along the way, the turtles make a new ally in Casey Jones (played likably by Stephen Amell), go toe-to-toe with two new mutant minions of Shredder (the fan favorite characters Bebop and Rocksteady), and may have run across a mutagen that could potentially turn them into humans.

There is a lot going on here and it's actually a miracle that the movie makes sense for most of its runtime.  While there are a few plot holes here and there, there are none quite as gaping as the multiple ones that the first movie had.  On top of that, there are some genuinely thrilling action sequences in the movie, with the standout one involving the turtles in their tricked out garbage truck trying to stop Shredder from escaping the 18-wheeler that is transporting him to a different prison.

When it's all said and done, once the original Ninja Turtles theme song plays over the end credits, you realize you actually had fun with Out of the Shadows.  While neither of the two movies in this particular iteration match up to the first two Ninja Turtles movies from the Nineties, Out of the Shadows will entertain.

I give Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows a 7 out of 10!