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Movie Review – Interstellar

If you watched the TV series Firefly, you’ll recall the basic facts of how humans found themselves in the ‘Verse:  Earth got “used up”, and humans had to find a new home.  Interstellar could be the story of how that happened.

Plot Synopsis, with minimal spoilers:

Interstellar is set in the not too near, but not too far, future, where the nations of the world have had to give up their strife in order to concentrate on basic survival.  A “blight” has destroyed the world’s wheat crops entirely, and is slowly working its way through the rest of the staple crops, such as okra and corn.  Human population is crashing, with one character remarking about how it’s hard to imagine 6 billion people.  Add to that dust storms that are reminiscent of the 1930’s American Dust Bowl, and you can see why the world isn’t that great a place.  A secret program to find a better place is underway, and former pilot/astronaut Cooper is drawn into it in a desperate attempt to save his family.

Analysis:

The plot isn’t a techno-thriller, but it has an amazing amount of tension throughout most of the movie.  There are exciting semi-action scenes scattered through the movie, but they are neither over the top nor out-of-place.  They all happen for a reason, and they all support the furthering of the story.  While there is no overall antagonist, other than the “We have to save the world”, the conflicts, both big and small, between the characters fill that gap.  The movie clocks in at almost 3 hours, and by the end of it, you’ve noticed.  But don’t take that to mean that you’ll be bored and wanting to get it over with.  While the last 30 minutes or so definitely tie up all the loose ends and finish the story, it doesn’t feel too contrived.  This is a thinking movie, not a lens-flare and big explosions movie.

What I liked:

The casting is, for the most part, outstanding.  Matthew McConaughey plays the main character, Cooper.  Michael Caine plays Professor Brand, the leader of the effort to save humanity.  Anne Hathaway plays Brand’s daughter, who is a scientist and accompanies Cooper on his voyage.  John Lithgow plays Cooper’s father-in-law, who stays behind to look after his children, and puts in one of the better character roles I’ve seen in a while.  All of these actors seemed to fit into their roles extremely well, and they all turned in good performances, with Caine and McConaughey being the best in a crowd of experts.

The cinematography and visual effects in this movie were outstanding.  The space scenes look almost like something that NASA might beam back from the ISS, while the settings on alien worlds look photo-realistic.  If CGI was used as a backdrop to live actors, I couldn’t tell.

Something else that I liked was that the technology, especially the interiors of the space ships and habitats, looked real and lived-in.  Things are dirty and scuffed from use.  Things go wrong, and the characters have to live within the limits of their mission and the resources aboard their ship.  There is very little suspension of belief about how they travel, and where we have to take their word for something, it’s explained using plausible terms, rather than a semi-mystical talk of hyper-conductive crystals.

What I didn’t like:

There were only two things that I didn’t care for in this movie. One was Matt Damon, and the other one wasn’t.  Damon plays Dr. Mann, who is an astronaut who was sent on an earlier mission to scout for a habitable world and hasn’t seen another human being in years.  His performance was forced and heavy-handed, and I had a hard time believing that a man who had put himself into suspended animation after his supplies ran out would be pudgy.  This was the one place where I think the casting was wrong in this movie, and it distracted me from an important part of the story.

The other thing is really a quibble, and one I don’t think most people will notice or care about.  There is a scene late in the movie where one of the minor characters arms himself to protect against someone who he thinks will harm him or Cooper’s now-adult daughter.  They had travelled a long way from their secure area, through a world that is quickly coming apart, and the best weapon he has is a tire iron.  Maybe it’s just me, but if I was going to be traveling alone with a pretty woman across a landscape that is populated mostly with dying farms and refugees, I’d have brought something a little more ballistic for both of us.  For a movie that put a lot of thought and effort into making the space-based storyline realistic and plausible, this stuck out for me.

Overall, I’d give this movie an A.  As you can see, what I disliked in it was, to be honest, minor, and there is a lot to like.  If you like relatively hard science fiction without too much Buck Rogers, you will definitely enjoy this one.

Discussion:  (Warning, spoilers ahead)

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Movie Review – How To Train Your Dragon 2

Since it’s hot, muggy, and Father’s Day, I decided today was a good day to go watch a family movie, and this one hit it out of the park.

How To Train Your Dragon 2, the sequel to the 2010 hit, picks up about five years after the original.  Dragons have been fully integrated into the Viking society of Burk, and all of the teenage heroes of the first film are now on the cusp of adulthood, complete with romance and fitting themselves into adult roles.  While exploring, Toothless and Hiccup learn of an evil warrior who enslaves dragons, and the story follow on from there. (Sorry for the crappy synopsis.  I’m trying to not give too many spoilers, because I want y’all to enjoy this movie as much as I did)

The story is very well paced and written.  There were very few places where it slowed down, and those were done for excellent reasons.  Having all of the original voice actors back to make the sequel helped to create a continuity that is missing from a lot of second efforts.  Since I have a six year old son, I’ve seen a lot of the TV cartoons based on the first movie, which fill in holes from the intervening five years in the story, but this didn’t make things boring to me and Boo, and you can enjoy and understand the movie even if you haven’t seen the TV show.  Boo sat quietly for the entire movie, and I never felt bored at all.

The animation was outstanding, leaving the first movie far behind.  Because all of the characters have aged, the makers were able to update their animation a bit, making them some of the most detailed animated humans I’ve ever seen.  The backgrounds and creature animation are almost lifelike in a lot of ways.

The theme of the first movie revolves around the first steps a child takes into adolescence, and this movie continues that with adolescents taking their first steps into adulthood.  It’s done at a level that people of all ages can understand, so it’s kind of thick in places, but it’s done very well for the most part.

The music in the movie was similar to that of the first, but had a little more ‘poppy’ feel to it in places.  I found that a bit distracting, but not so much that I fell out of the movie.

I definitely recommend this movie, either as a matinee with the kids or as a date night with your sweetheart.  We will definitely be purchasing it when it comes out on DVD.

Coming Soon

Here is what was advertised at the movies today:

Home – A cuddly-looking purple alien race takes over the world, and a plucky young girl pairs up with an alien outcast to try to find harmony between humanity and the conquerors.  Looks kind of annoying, but might give this one a shot at a matinee or DVD rental.

The BoxTrolls – A human orphan raised by cute creatures of the night takes on an evil human villain and figures out his humanity.  Probably pass, because I’ve seen this movie the last 15 times it was made.

Earth to Echo – A group of young boys and girls follow a map sent to their cell phones to find an alien probe and try to safeguard the cute robot in it from evil adults.  Think ET with the cinematography of an iPhone.  Since I don’t like the idea of being motion sick while watching a sicky-sweet ripoff of a movie I didn’t like in the first place, I’ll pass.

Annie – Really?  No, seriously, someone spent millions of dollars to remake and reset a 1970’s cineturd?  Albert Finney singing and dancing wasn’t bad enough, so now we have to be subjected to Jamie Foxx acting like a New York politician who is cashing in on the cute and rambunctious title character?  At least Daddy Warbucks didn’t try to unseat FDR by pimping the little redhead out to the press.  Pass, and since it’s a Christmas movie, I’m going to be inundated with advertisements for this abomination for six bloody months.  Oh, frabulous joy!

Dolphin Tale 2 – A sequel to a movie I didn’t see, and I’m OK with that, because I won’t be seeing this one either.  The dolphin with the prosthetic tail is depressed because it’s in an enclosed tank 24 hours a day, so the evil government inspector tells her keepers that they’ll have to either subject another dolphin to the same hellish experience or do something with the first dolphin.  By something, I’m guessing he means euthenasia, which might be better than spending the rest of your life swimming in circles in the same featureless blue swimming pool, and you can’t send robodolphin out into the wild without expecting her to either drown, starve, or become Purina Shark Chow.  So, after finding a baby dolphin who’s lost her mommy, the keepers argue over whether to let the two suffer together or separately.  Since they tell us in the trailer that the younger dolphin is put in with the dolphin with the prosthetic, and nobody makes a movie about putting a dolphin to sleep, I’m guessing we all will learn a valuable lesson about family, responsibility, and love by watching two dolphins swim in circles together and slowly descend into madness over the next decade.  Pass, and I will mock anyone who supports this kind of dreck by buying tickets or paying for a rental.

Seriously, Hollywood, if this is the best you can do for children’s movies this year, I’m going to introduce Boo to Bollywood and let him do dance numbers in the living room.

Movie Review – Lone Survivor

On Friday night, I joined a group of my friends and co-workers to watch a screening of “Lone Survivor“.  The film is a dramatization of the book of the same name by Marcus Lattrell and Patrick Robinson.  It is one of the better war movies I’ve ever seen, and the way that it deals with real heroes and how they faced duty, life, and death makes it one of the best movies I’ve seen in the past few years.

Plot Summary  (Spoiler Alert)

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Coming Soon

  • Non-Stop – Liam Neeson plays an air marshal who is being framed for being the hijacker of a flight he’s guarding.  Looks interesting, but why must they put the entire plot of the movie in the trailer?  Something tells me that this one won’t be making the rounds on in-flight entertainment.  Probably a rental.
  • Transcendence – Visionary scientist gets assassinated by a bunch of neo-luddite terrorists, but his wife downloads his mind into a computer, from which he appears to start remaking the real world.  Looks really good, but it’s a Johnny Depp movie not directed by Tim Burton.  To be honest, I don’t want to watch the grittier reboot of Max Headroom that much.  Probably a rental.
  • The Railway Man – A World War II ex-POW goes hunting for the Japanese soldiers who tormented him while he was used as slave labor.  This looks like something I’m going to have to go see.  May make a good date-night movie.
  • Neighbors – A young couple has their quiet, suburban life destroyed when a bunch of rowdy frat boys move in next door.  To me, this looks like a lame ripoff of a John Belushi movie of the same name, with a healthy ripoff of Animal House thrown in for good measure.  Pass.
  • That Awkward Moment – A buddy movie built around dating and relationships.  In other words, a gender-reversed chick flick, complete with eating ice cream to deal with depression.  If you go see this movie, I don’t want to know you anymore.  Yes, I’m being harsh and judgmental after watching a two minute trailer, but after sitting through 20 minutes of commercials and then having this gilded turd shown to me, I got a little irritable.

Movie Review – American Hustle

Short version – A well made movie that I didn’t enjoy much.

American Hustle is a fictionalized telling of Abscam, the FBI operation to entrap politicians into corruption charges in the late 1970’s.  It tells the story of Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), a small-time con-man, Sidney Prosser (Amy Adams), his mistress and business partner, and Richie Dimaso (Bradley Cooper), an FBI agent who forces the other two into his schemes. Jeremy Renner plays Carmine Polito, a New Jersey politician who is the first victim of DiMaso’s megalomania, and Jennifer Lawrence plays Rosalyn Rosenfeld, Irving’s wife.

The casting for this movie was excellent.  There was no real effort in believing that each of the characters were portrayed exactly the way they should have been.  Cooper’s DiMaso is the perfect over-reaching government goon, high on power.  Lawrence’s portrayal of a manipulative wife is spot-on.  All of the actors in the movie are established and talented, and I don’t think anyone gave less than full effort.

The soundtrack for the movie, done by Danny Elfman, is mostly popular music from the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Some of it gave me that “Hey, I like that tune” feeling, while others made me cringe.  However, all of the music fit perfectly with the scene and direction in which they were used.

Costumes were actually a high point of the movie.  Every inch of cloth was used to show just how cheap and tacky the characters wearing them were, and where the clothes were tasteful, so were the characters.

As for the plot and pacing, it could have used a bit of work.  The movie comes in at 138 minutes, and there were a lot of scenes that I think could have been trimmed.  The movie starts slow, and while there is quite a bit of tension after the mid-point, it’s a thinker, not a doer.  After an hour, I was looking at my watch and wondering how much longer the movie would last.

Like I said before, I didn’t really enjoy this movie, but it was a good movie.  The only character that I connected with was Carmine, the New Jersey politician, and that was only because he was basically a good guy who let himself get mixed up in something smarmy and I pitied him.  The rest of the characters were pathetic.  Honestly, I was hoping for some sort of catastrophic die-off in the end.

If you’ve seen Goodfellas or Summer of Sam, you’ve seen the look and feel of this movie, and if you liked them, you should at least find this movie interesting.  Just like those two movies, however, this is an adult movie for adults.  I wouldn’t suggest this movie for even teenagers, unless you want to explain some of the more sordid details.  There is a lot of language in this movie, and a few sex scenes, but other than extremely low-cut blouses made with thin, sheer material, I don’t remember any nudity.

I’ll give this one a B-.  It’s a good movie, it just wasn’t for me.

Coming Soon

Here are some of the previews from tonight:

  • Mr. Peabody and Sherman – An iconic American cartoon character from the Bullwinkle and Rocky menagerie is brought to life in a feature length film.  Yeah, nothing can go wrong here.  This may be one I take Boo to see, but I think I can get better entertainment from the DVD box set of the television show.  Note – This wasn’t a preview.  It was a crummy commercial they made me sit through to get to the previews.  Nothing like paying $30 in tickets and drinks to see commercials, huh?
  • Million Dollar Arm – A washed up sports agent goes to India to get cricket pitchers (Is that the correct term?) to try out for Major League Baseball.  Jerry Maguire meets Bollywood.  Pass.  I don’t do feel good sports dramas.
  • The Wolf of Wall Street – A charismatic stock broker sleezes his way to the top.  Looks interesting, and I like Scorsese movies.  Probably watch this one as a rental.
  • Lone Survivor – True story of a SEAL team that gets decimated in Afghanistan.  Definitely going to see this one.
  • Her – Joaquin Phoenix plays a schlub who falls in love with his smartphone in a “year after next” timeframe.  I hate to break this to the writer and director of this film, but that situation happens every day in the halls of geekdom all over the world.  Pass.  I don’t do romances, much less human-machine romances.
  • The Other Woman – A guuuurrrrlll buddy movie starring Cameron Diaz and Kate Upton’s breasts.  Sleezeball businessman cheats on his wife, his mistress, and his other mistress.  Together, they conspire to ruin his life, which he so richly deserves, and bond as friends.  If I do a review of this one, rest assured that Irish Woman had to call in a huge number of favors to get my carcass into the theater.
  • RoboCop – A reboot of the 1980’s action movie.  I was going to pass on this one, but after seeing the cast of supporting actors, it might actually be worth a matinee.  I may buy that for a dollar, or rather 8 dollars for a ticket.

Coming Soon

Here are the movies that had previews last night:

  • The Monuments Men – Art experts are sent on missions behind Nazi lines to try to save the art treasures of Europe during the death throes of the Third Reich.  Looks interesting, but I think I’d enjoy a non-fiction book about the program more.  Looks like it had an interesting ensemble cast, though.
  • Holiday Classics – Classics like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Christmas Vacation” are coming back for a showing on the big screen.  Definitely going to have to find the time to go see a couple of these.  Although, whoever decided that “Elf” is a classic needs to be drug out into the street and horsewhipped.
  • Jupiter Ascending – Sci-fi action movie with what looks like some of the best visual effects ever seen.  May go to a matinee just to enjoy the scenery.
  • 47 Ronin – A Keanu Reeves movie that looks like it might have been written by Larry Correia and his friends.  Might be an interesting matinee.
  • Edge of Tomorrow – Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers.  It’s a Tom Cruise film, so I’m going to have to pass.
  • Amazing Spiderman 2 – Your friendly neighborhood Spiderman goes up against a foe that looks like it’s going to squash him like a bug.  I’m sure there will be a lot of teenagerish angst and a hot girlfriend that will somehow repeatedly get herself into some life threatening situation.  You can probably tell that I’m absolutely pawing at the ground to see this one.  If only I’d seen the first movie in this, the umpteenth reboot of the Spiderman franchise.
  • Captain America:  The Winter Soldier – Captain America continues his work with SHIELD, which apparently includes beating up people in an elevator and exploding flying aircraft carriers.  He’s probably still pissed from when he found out that the Dodgers moved to LA.
  • Earth To Echo – A group of kids find what might be an alien, or maybe a baby squirrel.  Not sure, but whatever it is they were fooling with was making some kind of annoying sound.  Probably pass.  I don’t do cute, heartwarming science fiction, and I noticed a distinct lack of ooze, tentacles, teeth, or screaming in the trailer.

Movie Review – The Desolation Of Smaug

Imagine that one of the best cinematic storytellers of his generation announces that he is going to tell the story of Romeo and Juliet.  Now, you love Shakespeare, and you’re excited to see how a writer and director who has always done things that you enjoy will imagine the Bard’s great love story.  As things get moving on the movie, he announces that instead of one movie, he’s making three, and will be filling out the story with expository material that Shakespeare wrote, but left out of the published work.  Shrugging, you go to see the first movie, and it’s really good.  It tells the story of the young lovers up to the famous balcony scene in its multi-hour arc, and even though there are a few extra things thrown in, you enjoy it and look forward to the next movie.  After a year’s wait, you go to see the next movie, and even though it’s a well-told story, has great acting, and has outstanding visual effects and scenery, it’s not Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet anymore.  This middle movie, in order to jazz up and fill out the story just a bit more, has a subplot of swashbuckling where Puck, the jokester from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is searching the sewers of Verona for an ancient artifact that will settle the feud between the Montagues and Capulets.  In order to make things a little easier to film, the fight between Mercutio and Tybalt is turned from a duel with swords into a hand-to-hand martial arts fight, and when Romeo kills Tybalt, it’s more of an accident.  Plus, Mercutio and Tybalt were secretly gay lovers.  The movie ends just as Romeo buys his poison, and you are left with the last 10 pages of the play to fill out the next three-hour movie.

Now, change Shakespeare to Tolkien, and change Romeo and Juliet to The Hobbit, and you have my experience last night with The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.  To be blunt, I enjoyed this movie immensely, but I left the theater pissed off.  Peter Jackson, who is an excellent storyteller, writer, and movie maker, took the framework of a children’s bedtime story, filled in plot elements from Tolkien’s other works to make it into an adult movie, and then iced the cake with characters that weren’t in the original story, including a love triangle that doesn’t belong.

I’m not going to add a plot synopsis, because like I said when I wrote about the first movie in the series, if you haven’t read The Hobbit, you’re cheating yourself and I don’t want to ruin it for you.  There may be a few spoilers in the last couple of paragraphs here, but I’ll make sure to warn you before they begin.

Just as in the first movie, the acting in this installment was outstanding.  The returning actors from the Lord of the Rings trilogy picked up just where they left off, and the new characters (principally the dwarves) are almost exactly as I envision them when I read the book.  Benedict Cumberbatch, who provides the voice of Smaug, was an excellent choice, and turns in what is probably the best performance of the movie.  Unfortunately, the character of Bilbo is a bit diminished in this chapter.  Even though he is supposed to be the principle character of the story, I kind of feel that this movie becomes the story of Thorin, and Bilbo is just a supporting character.  Yes, he still has a part in all the important scenes, but I don’t get the feeling I had in the first movie that it’s about the actions and development of Bilbo anymore.

Even though this is a three-hour movie, it doesn’t feel like it.  Even with all of the additional material and downright padding that Jackson has put in to stretch what should have been either one really long movie or two kind-of long movies into three long movies, I never noticed how long I’d been sitting in my seat.  However, the place that Jackson chose to end this chapter and begin the third movie leads me to believe that the next installment will have a lot more padding and additional material.  Honestly, if you’re tracking the story with the book as the movies go on, there are less than 100 pages left for Jackson to fill three hours with.

As expected, the visual effects are outstanding.  Jackson is a master of knitting CGI with live action, and Howard Shore’s score is woven expertly throughout the movie.  Irish Woman commented about how the visuals in this movie were better than even the first chapter of the trilogy, which came out only a year ago.

Overall, if you’re looking for an action movie with good acting, great visuals, and an enjoyable plot, this one is worth paying full price at the movie theater.  It’s not for young kids, but the theater had everything from teenagers up to senior citizens in the seats.

However, if you’re a long-time fan of J.R.R. Tolkien, there are a few things you should know.  (Avast, ye swabs!  There be spoilers ahead!  Read on at yer own risk!)

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Movie Review – Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2

Sony and Columbia have decided to shake the money tree again and see what falls out.  Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2 is the sequel to the pretty good 2009 original, and picks up about where the first one ended.

Plot Synopsis:

Flint Lockwood and Sam Sparks have disabled the infernal food machine, and are making plans for the future when Flint’s childhood hero, Chester V, appears.  His Live Corp has been contracted by the U.N. to clean up the mess on the remote fishing island where the first movie was set, and instructs all of the inhabitants to leave for a little while.  A little while apparently turns into months and months, as Flint, Sam, and the rest of the characters are all able to find jobs and get on with life in an over-crowded city setting.  Little does Flint know that Chester V has nefarious plans for him and his invention.  Chester V sends Flint back to his home to find the food machine, and Flint brings along the principle characters from the original movie.  Chester V and some of his minions follow, and they all see wonderous food-animal creations that now inhabit the island.  Flint eventually figures out that Chester V has been using him, and we all learn a deep lesson about family and trust.

Cloudy 2 reunites most of the cast from the original movie and adds a few new characters.  Voicing is done extremely well for all of them, including Bill Hader (Flint Lockwood), Anna Faris (Sam Sparks), Will Forte (Chester V), and Neil Patrick Harris, who turns in an Oscar worthy performance as Steve, the monkey with the brain scanning headband.  All of the characters were about as dimensional as the animation, but it’s a movie for children, so we’re not looking for Brando-esque acting.  The great thing about the characters and actors was that not a single one of the voices isn’t perfect for the character, which is something I can rarely say.

The story arc is pretty much like a Jurassic Park sequel formatted for kindergarteners.  There is a lot of physical humor and plays on words.  The most blatant of these are the names given to the food-animal hybrids (Watermelephants, shrimpanzees), and while the first few of these were humorous, after five or six, they got tedious to me.  Boo, on the other hand, was rolling in the aisles over them.  Terry Crews turns in a great performance as Earl, the policeman, but a lot of his jokes are rehashed from the first movie.  One interesting scene is where Earl is using his fingers to make a pistol as he “clears” an area, which surprised me.  I’d have thought that the studio would have removes such a blatant example of violent, anti-social behavior from a children’s movie.  \<\/sarcasm\>

The animation was pretty good.  I’ve seen the original a few times, and the characters that appear in both movies don’t seem to have changed much at all.  All of them and the new characters and animals all blend very well into the food jungle on the island.

Cloudy 2 clocks in at 95 minutes, and the pacing was, to me, a bit slow at times.  However, my 5-year-old, after consuming fruit chewies and a small popcorn, sat quietly through the whole thing.  Again, it’s a movie designed for young children, and while there are jokes and plot elements for adults, don’t go expecting that the 40-year-old will enjoy it as much as the five-year-old.

One theme that was put through it was mistrust of large businesses.  Tim, Flint’s father, is a small business owner who is one of the heroes of the movie.  Chester V, who appears to be modeled on Steve Jobs, is the oily, new-age hipster head of a mega-corporation.  There’s even a sideways swipe at the U.N. at the beginning, in that they’ve contracted with LiveCorp to clean up the mess from the first movie, and by that authority all of the residents have to get off the island and into the urban refugee camp of SanFranJose.

Overall, I’d give this one a B or B-.   It was enjoyable, but a lot of the plot elements and humor is rehashed from the first movie, and what is new is pretty heavy-handed and gets repeated a lot.  Again, it’s a kids movie, so take that into account when going to see it.  It’s definitely worth a rental fee, and if your kids liked the original, then might be worth a matinée.  God willing, we’ll all be back here in four years to talk about the completion of the trilogy, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 3:  The Search For More Money.

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