Saturday, May 27, 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Spoiler Free Review

An improvement over the original, taking out unnecessary romance and replacing it with a pure search for a mystical artifact that had some romantic tensions here and there, but nothing too forced like the previous one. We kick off with a kid sinking himself to the bottom of the sea, only to come back up with a ship: the Flying Dutchman. We’re reunited with Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) for the first time in a decade, but he’s not happy to see the boy who is in fact, his son Henry. Fast forward nine years, and Henry (Brenton Thwaites) sails the seas with the British, and after being shamed and imprisoned for trying to order the captain around, he’s thrown in jail until Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) kills everyone except him to send a message, because dead men tell no tales. We’re then reunited with our main protagonist: Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), as he and his crew rob a bank by taking the vault and building with them on the Colonial equivalent of a car chase. Long story short, the crew abandons him due to a lack of a real ship to be captain of, and he realizes how washed up he is, until Henry rescues him, along with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), an aspiring astronomer the men accused of being a witch. They then go on the search for the trident of Poseidon, so Henry can end the curse of the Flying Dutchman. These new characters are likable, and while seeming like carbon copies of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan, Henry (being their actual son) thrusts himself into the pirate’s life while Will wanted to live honorably until he learned the truth of his father. Carina is a modern woman trapped in a time when women couldn’t do squat, like Elizabeth Swan, but she’s not as apologetic as her, and as a result, is sentenced to hanging for “witchcraft.” Put simply: Jack is on his last legs as a pirate and must restore his honor while being hunted by the enemy that made him who he is today, Henry seeks Jack to help find Poseidon’s trident and free his father/Jack’s old friend, and Carina wants to find the trident to do what the diary her father left her had instructions to do. The rest of the crew is really just there, and Captain Salazar proves to be an scary antagonist with strong ties to Jack Sparrow. I’d just like to note it’s really cool how they got his hair to look like it was floating in water when he was on a ship over water, just one of the many amazing visual effects this movie had to offer, from the return of the Queen Anne’s Revenge and the Black Pearl. It all suites the story quite well, and pays off the set-up from On Stranger Tides. Geoff Zenelli takes the reigns from Hans Zimmer for the soundtrack, and provides another epic score: high-octane music with setting-appropriate instruments in sequences like the bank robbery, that slow, casual theme for Jack Sparrow, and slow, eerie music for Salazar. All around, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales tells this rather over-long tale with a nice sense of humor throughout, and proves to be a solid installment in a film series based on a theme park ride.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Baywatch Spoiler Free Review

Welcome to Baywatch, a hilarious movie with a few cheap shots, but an otherwise fun summer beach movie. We open with Mitch Buchanon (Dwayne Johnson) starting a day of lifeguard duty with Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera) and C.J. (Kelly Rohrbach), not just any day, but tryout day to fill new positions. Many try out, but three advance: Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario) and Ronnie (Jon Bass) get in for being good and showing potential, while Brody (Zac Efron) is thrown in there because he has to do community service for something stupid he did, and not puking in an Olympic pool and making an ass of himself in front of the whole world. Throughout the first half, Mitch notices drugs washing up on shore and just has to investigate. What follows is a hilarious movie-based-on-a-TV-show that does what no broadcast show could ever get away with and has some likable and funny characters to follow. It’s a bit lengthy, but so hilarious, it balances out, and the humor doesn’t feel forced, just part of the team (the team being the plot). In terms of detective story and beach comedy, this feels like a well-balanced blend of both, although they do lean towards the comedy angle more. Mitch and Brody are our main characters, with everyone else being in the background, but not all of them are just there for being there. My only issue is that some of the underwater shots or the more intense scenes had a cheap feel to them, whether it was green screens or fire, some of the imagery was clearly fake. What felt genuine to the setting was Christopher Lennertz’ soundtrack and the way it felt right for the parties and the beach, aided by some other pop songs because why not? Overall, Baywatch is a hilarious comedy full of sailor talk and meta references here and there. So if you need to get away from all those big budget, heavy CGI blockbusters, look no further than Baywatch.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

This Week's Movie Chats

Check out this week's episodes of Movie Chat, with spoilers for Tropic Thunder and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides Spoiler Free Review

Pirates of the Caribbean, 5/20/17, 4 Stars.
Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s movie for me to endure while thinking “ugh, this doesn’t need to be there,” or “get to the bleedin’ fountain of youth!” We open with the Spanish discovering a way to the fountain of youth when a fisherman fishes out some rambling guy who knows the way. We then see Joshamee Gibbs (Kevin McNally) be put on trial as Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) who poses as the judge who commutes the sentence to life in prison. Long story short, they seemingly escape, get captured, then Jack escapes on his own in a fun chase scene, ending with him in some tavern where he meets the woman posing as him to assemble a crew to get to the fountain of youth: Angelica (Penelope Cruz), a former lover of his who gets him captured by Blackbeard (Ian McShane) aboard the Queen Anne’s Revenge. What follows is Gibbs getting the pro-crown Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to take him on the search for the fountain of youth. What follows is a bloated parody of Tim Powers’ novel “On Stranger Tides” using Pirates of the Caribbean.  (Fun fact: Disney bought the rights of the novel so they could make this) I call it bloated because it wastes our time with man-on-mermaid romance between missionary Philip Swift (Sam Claflin) and Serena the mermaid (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey) that really didn’t need to be there, as well as maybe a few crazy chase scenes too many, but mostly the most boring romance since Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala, without the necessity of being the parents of two children who will save the galaxy. There are also a few shots that were definitely pushing the 3D this film was released in, but just feels painfully obvious in 2D. The semi-awkward humor actually feels in perfect place for this movie when you look at the series as a whole, so I’ll only penalize the bad romance for slowing down the plot and wasting our time when the only romance of any interest is between Jack and Angelica. Otherwise, the visual effects are top notch, and Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack captures the thrill of the chase scenes, the intensity of the villain, and appropriately includes some more Spanish instruments with the inclusion of Angelica and the Spaniards. Johnny Depp’s fourth outing as Captain Jack Sparrow is bogged down with a whole romance subplot between two characters who didn’t really need to be featured like that. Either take it away completely, or put the screen time towards Jack and Angelica’s relationship, that one would have been more interesting. Aside from pacing issues and excessive big action with maybe a few too many moments of dumb luck, it’s not a bad voyage to take.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Tropic Thunder Spoiler Free Review

Tropic Thunder, 5/19/17, 4.5 Stars.

Has Hollywood really run out of ideas? Because Ben Stiller brings us a hilariously original satire of Hollywood. Basically, it’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back set to the backdrop of filming a war film based on an in-movie book. They waste no time establishing the characters through fake ads for their products and films before getting to the movie. We open with the aforementioned fake ads before the logo of the studio behind this film, which feels jarring, but is oddly unique, and the pacing stabilizes sooner rather than later. We then get right to the shooting of the war movie that ends with a botched scene and falling a month behind schedule in five days. We meet our cast here: Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), Alpha Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), and Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), none of whom can really do what director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) asks of them, resulting in a new type of filmmaking: planting cameras in the jungle, and making the actors do their thing by creating a more realistic environment. What follows after the director is blown up by a landmine is a rip roaringly hilarious tale of Hollywood actors getting a more real taste of war than dressing up and playing soldier in front of a camera could ever get them. Each member of the group has their moment, especially one between Alpha Chino and Kirk Lazarus that addresses the blackface controversy by having Alpha say what’s on a lot of viewers’ minds. To be clear, RDJ is not trying to play a black guy: he is playing a white guy cast as a black guy who surgically alters his skin to accommodate the role. He doesn’t wear blackface to mock the race, but to mock the use of blackface in movies, because fun fact: early films with black characters sometimes had white actors do just that, such as in Birth of a Nation from 1915. There’s a whole lot of stuff that shouldn’t make sense in this movie, but this is an over-the-top world, so just roll with the laughs. They aren’t trying to force this believable world on us, just doing what the story asks to make fun of Hollywood and have a good laugh at it. My only complaint would be some cheap effects, and not ones that were part of the movie shoot within the movie. I think they were supposed to be that way, but I feel like they forced too much out of that. Otherwise, everything else goes down for a reason, keeping this film from being a sequence of incoherent babble and laughter. Another great way they keep the audience engaged is through Theodore Shapiro’s soundtrack, which captures the wild nature of the big action sequences with electric guitar tunes I just can’t help but laugh at with the scenes they’re paired with. Tropic Thunder brings the laughs in every darn way possible, with sailor language and dirty jokes throughout. They have fun while making fun at the same time.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith Spoiler Free Review

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, 5/13/17 4.5 Stars out of 5.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…
Star Wars Review
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Great! The first two prequels were watchable, and this film proved to be superior to them. First off, not enough obviously fake green-screens to take me out of the moment. Still one or two, but enough believable ones to make me absolve them of that sin. It lets you appreciate the scope of the CGI scenery, even if it lacks the heart the original and sequel trilogy had with practical sets. Next is that we get more action. We open right up with the battle over Coruscant. Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) lead a group of clone pilots (all clones played by Temuera Morrison throughout) to rescue Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) from Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) and General Grievous (Matthew Wood). The first twenty minutes of Revenge of the Sith is actually an exciting, occasionally humorous, rescue mission that begin the final stages of Anakin’s turn to the dark side. If you watched the character in The Clone Wars TV show, then it enhances the experience, but is not absolutely necessary. After saving the Chancellor and finally getting the war to wind down while the story slows down. Anakin gets the bombshell reveal that his secret wife Padme (Natalie Portman) is pregnant, and what follows is a solid half-hour of sluggish talking scenes that could have been either punctuated with more visual action or mostly, if not completely cut out without ruining the plot’s coherence. What follows is Anakin’s final turn to the dark side and the tragedy that Obi-Wan described in A New Hope. There are a few moments you will have to chalk up to “the force” or mild error in clarity. Character development comes to a full head, and if you haven’t watched The Clone Wars series, it kind of sinks in, but is enhanced by said show. Padme is benched by her pregnancy, only showing up to be the one Palpatine uses against him to scare him into the dark side, as well as an expectant mother this time around. Anakin’s desire to save her from what he thinks will be her fate is something any of us could relate to, it’s something that creates instant sympathy in I would assume at least 90% of the audience could too. We’ve seen enough of Anakin over the course of three movies to care enough about his fate, and Star Wars is the story of the Skywalker saga. Everything in the plot comes back to his turn to the dark side, and that’s fine by me. What’s also fine by me in Star Wars, no matter what, is John Williams’ amazing soundtrack. The choir in the music underscoring Anakin’s turn to the dark side, the opera he attends with Palpatine where he learns of Darth Plagueis, the scene where he and Padme stare across Coruscant towards each other, and Battle of the Heroes deepens the humanity thanks to literal human voices, and is used only in such scenes. In other soundtrack news, the opening crawl is as spectacular as ever and the music for the opening battle is as grand as Coruscant. Revenge of the Sith strikes back against the first two prequels with a poetic, albeit poorly-paced, conclusion to the prequel trilogy.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Wet Hot American Summer Spoiler Free Review

Wet Hot American Summer, 5/12/17, 4 Stars out of 5.

The year is 1981, a looser time for all. It’s the last day of camp at Camp Firewood (real original name), and camp director Beth (Janeane Garofalo) is trying to keep the camp running. Meanwhile, many other camp stories go on, some of which are left unresolved, others are wrapped into a neat little bow. There’s romance, teen drama, and just plain weirdness throughout. The plot moves as casually as a summer day, which works for it because like a hot summer day, the plot moves this way, that way and every other way. There are a lot of characters they follow, and some storylines go unresolved, and the climax comes from out of nowhere, which is both as absurd as classic summer vacations can be and just plain dumb at the same time. Look, the plot’s a mess in terms of coherence, but the pace reflecting summer days works out. Most adult viewers will be able to relate to the main characters in some way, whether it’s the laid back guys, the girls, Professor Henry Newman (David Hyde Pierce), or any of the kids, because this is a classic summer vacation movie. The main characters you really care about are Beth and Henry, but everyone else just takes up time that could be spent on them. Otherwise, character development is weak due to too many characters they try to focus on, but some of their arcs go unresolved, or just feel shoehorned in. However, the film was hilarious, whether it was the wild dialogue from Gene (Christopher Meloni) and his “friend” the can of peas (H. Jon Benjamin). There’s plenty of sight gags and zany dialogue to keep you entertained, even if you think afterward “that was really stupid.” Theodore Shapiro and Craig Wedren make an orchestral score, but with great 80s songs put to good use, we don’t hear much of that. All the music sets the mood and is appropriate to the scene. And there were also a lot of swears. Wow, that was as random as this movie, which may be the unique charm that doesn’t sink my rating of it.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Movie Chat: American Sniper

Programming note: I am not posting on SoundCloud or MixCloud until I can afford to pay the money to increase my uploads. Otherwise, watch and see if I felt Clint Eastwood hit his directing targets.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Spoiler Free Review

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, 5(.5) Stars out of 5, 5/6/17.

Lightning does strike twice, and in larger, yet more intimate proportions. The Guardians of the Galaxy are back, and funnier than ever. We open with Star Lord’s mother (Laura Haddock) and father (a de-aged Kurt Russell) going to Dairy Queen, then the woods behind it. And when a boy loves a girl, well… fast forward 34 years, and we see the giant monster scene from the trailers, featuring Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) squaring off against it while Baby Groot runs around dancing to Star Lord’s tunes. After they best it, it’s time to save the galaxy twice. After the Guardians get Nebula (Karen Gillan) from the Sovereign race. After that, Rocket insults their queen Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) despite warnings from the rest of the team. After finding out he stole the easily stealable batteries from them, they go all Liam Neeson on them in galactic proportions, leading them to crash on a planet and discover his real father: Ego the Living Planet (a not-de-aged Kurt Russell). Yes, you read that right, a living planet. Not a huge spoiler because they revealed it a long time ago, and in the movie, they explain the logistics of it believably, though I’ll let you dissect the nitty gritty details when you watch it yourself. It moves briskly through that, and then takes its time while keeping we the audience engaged in the action, whether it’s the characters or the amazing and colorful visuals of galactic proportions, whether it is Ego’s planet, the space battles, or just the great detail in Rocket Raccoon and Groot. In this follow up, we trade pure good vs. evil for family drama, everything advances that narrative, develops a character, or is just so plain fun that I don’t care if it adds to the narrative or not, and it works out. The old characters are just as fun as they were last time, and the new characters bring a new depth to the story, such as Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and her chemistry with Drax, the larger scope of the ravagers revealed with Stakar Ogord (Sylvester Stallone) being introduced as the leader of all the ravager factions. They all blend well, have great chemistry. We learn more about the old ones (especially Star Lord) and learn enough about the new ones to ready them for Infinity War and/or Volume 3. Unlike characters, the music is all new (except for the original theme in the orchestral score), and we finally get to hear what’s on Awesome Mix Vol. 2 (though if you pay attention to the first movie, “I Want You Back” was on Volume 2 when Star Lord hit play at the end of that one), and it both fits the scenes it plays over and is just plain fun to listen to. I know what I’m playing on my car radio until Volume 3! Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy is as hilarious as the first one while still having a legitimate story to tell instead of being two hours of space beings doing funny things. Though I’d totally go see a movie where just that happened! For the parents, there are a few swears (all from Rocket), but otherwise, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is wholesome family fun if wholesome family fun includes planetary biology lessons. You rarely get a chance to see lightning strike twice, so take it, and after that, you can jack up your viewer’s hype for Infinity War!

Friday, May 5, 2017

American Sniper Spoiler Free Review

American Sniper, 5/5/17, 4.5 Stars out of 5.

Ready. Aim. Review! The true story of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) comes to life in the almost-true-to-life film adaptation of his completely-true-to-life memoirs of the same name. We open with the Islamic call to prayer playing over the logos and establishing shots of troops in Iraq, followed by Chris aiming at a woman and child who bring out an rocket powered grenade and we are left in suspense as to what happens, because it’s time to see how he got there. We go all the way back to when he was a kid, which shows how his character is formed, then we meet him as a cowboy who rides a bucking bull in a rodeo on weekends, after which, he walks in on his girlfriend cheating on him, kicks her out, and eventually enlists in the Navy Seals after discussing the 1998 US embassy bombings. He undergoes BUDS, the Navy Seal training program for those who have not read the book (spoiler alert: I did), and one night at a bar, he meets Taya (Sienna Miller), holds her hair as she barfs after they bond, and eventually date each other before marrying. After seeing the 9/11 attacks on TV, he is sent to Iraq when they invade. Before I continue, I just want to say they skim over quite a bit of detail, such as a medical issue that almost kept him out, his college experience, his ranch job, etc. I highly recommend checking out the book for more on that, because it also gives a more insightful look into Taya’s thoughts during the four tours, because she actually contributed to the book. They also left out him getting pulled over when called into action on 9/11, and getting an escort instead of a ticket when he explains the situation. That aside, they do a great job of adapting the actual story, and while I won’t say either the book or this movie provide a perfect look at what life as a Navy Seal is like, let me put it this way: this movie does a great job visualizing it and showing what kind of hell a warzone is, and the book captures the psychological aspect better. The first tour takes us back to where we started: Chris trying to decide if he should snipe a woman and child with an explosive, and in a suspenseful scene such as that, he does what he has to, and what follows is a rotation between his tours and stateside scenes that follows him literally to the day he dies. Throughout this story, Chris is the only real developed or relatable character here, and everyone else is simply part of his tours and post-discharge life, whether it be his family or brothers-in-arms, and they do exactly what they need to do, and nothing more. This is his story. What did you expect, perfect development of every character? Ok, anyone who has lived through similar situations will likely relate to them, while outsiders may feel instant sympathy because of the intensity of it, and because this really happened. Chris Kyle is the center of our attention, and Clint Eastwood keeps it that way. Despite all this, I have to penalize the plot for one slightly minor error: Chris’ beard while deployed. It was distracting throughout because last I checked, active soldiers aren’t allowed to have beards, and I double checked when I finished watching, and can say they did make a plot foul in this case, and even if it weren’t the case, I searched for actual pictures of Chris Kyle when he was active, and he clearly does not have facial hair. For his active duty scenes, I really don’t know what they were thinking, but this movie still did a lot right, so I won’t dwell on it. Regulation violating beards aside, the action is captured brilliantly, and they don’t hold back on how grotesque and violent war is. To quote General Sherman “War is hell,” and Clint Eastwood, along with Tom Stern as cinematographer, bring that hell to life in a truly believable manner. I’ve never been in combat, so I have no right to comment on accuracy of that kind of imagery. Everything from the general scenarios (especially the kid some of the Iraqis kill with a drill) to the realistic touches of blood in the combat scenes contribute to the realism of the imagery, and every scene advances the story of Chris Kyle’s life story. The soundtrack also contributes to the suspense of Chris lining up his shot, and sits out the more intimate scenes and one of the larger action pieces to bring focus to what’s going on. We also get a sense of a Navy Seal’s sense of humor through the soldier-to-soldier banter that humanize Chris and his brothers-in-arms, some of which is definitely not suited to younger audiences, but I will not penalize it, because it brings a sense of realism. Overall, American Sniper hits most of its targets, with a major foul-up in historical accuracy and military regulation accuracy, but is still worth watching to see the reenactment of the real life heroics of Chris Kyle, a true American Hero.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Monday, May 1, 2017

Movie Chat: The Woodsman

This week on Movie Chat, I take on a movie with heavier content than ever before. I've reviewed deep but fun movies like Logan, lighthearted ones like Way of the Dragon and Caddyshack, and serious ones like The Matrix trilogy and Unforgettable. Now I tackle some really mature material this week. Also, I'm using a real camera now, so enjoy my face in high definition!

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