Star Trek: Into Darkness   Leave a comment

JJ Abrams’ second Trek film is everything the first film was:  it has excellent action, familiar but updated characters, entertaining dialog, and a decent plot.  It was fun to watch and will be fun to watch again.  Benedict Cummerbatch makes a truly excellent villain.  (He’s a familiar villain, too, and I didn’t have any problems with him stepping into that role, either.)

However, Into Darkness is also not everything Star Trek was not.  It’s not really science fiction – it does not explore new ideas raised by technology, and it doesn’t give us a glimpse of a human race that has tried with a great deal of success to move beyond some of its major flaws.  Even the Prime Directive is reduced to little more than a way to drive character development.

It’s completely unabashed Space Opera using Star Trek characters, and I am absolutely fine with that.  Although I hope to see a new true science fiction franchise soon that takes advantage of all this new technology.

Posted May 22, 2013 by davidnjohnson in Film

Iron Man 3   296 comments

Satisfying and entertaining.

The narration for Iron Man 3 tries to make it about one of the many bad choices Tony made on the party circuit, but it’s more about him dealing with the aftermath of him actually making the sacrifice play in The Avengers.  Pepper has taken over running Stark Industries, and moved in with Tony, but he spends all his time in the basement building Iron Man suits.  Then Tony makes yet another one of his spectacularly bad decisions, this time involving a terrorist calling himself “The Mandarin,” and his house gets blown up with him in it.  (All of this is in the previews.)

As far as I’m concerned, Robert Downey, Jr. practically is Tony Stark now.  This is his fourth time playing the role (there’s a good argument that he’s the protagonist of Avengers, too) and he is still perfect in the part.  Tony himself really isn’t doing so well, but between the script and Downey’s acting, watching him struggle is one part inspiring to four parts hilarious.  (Jarvis: “Sir, my diagnosis is that you’re having a panic attack.”  Tony: “ME?”)  There’s also a bit with a kid that manages to actually be pretty good.

Effect-wise, there are a lot of explosions, none of which looked too fake to my admittedly non-expert eye, and none of the hand-to-hand combat was shot with quick cuts that made it impossible to tell what was going on.  Seeing Tony’s house get blown up did make me a little sad, though.  And there’s nothing invincible about the Iron Man suits in this one, either.

There’s a bit with a kid that’s surprisingly awesome- especially since when the kid appeared I was instantly prepared to hate him.  The kid acts like a kid without being too terribly annoying, and a couple of the interactions between him and Tony are just gold.

The bad guys are…  well, they’re comic book bad guys.  And they’re juiced up to the point that they can take on an Iron Man suit one on one.  There’s not really a whole lot going on there, except with Ben Kingsley‘s over the top Mandarin, which has a delicious and hilarious twist.  (It’s going to make anyone who’s too hung up on sticking to the comics crazy, too, but to me that’s just part of the fun.)

My only real complaint, aside from the lack of anything to speculate about in the after the credits short, is that while the events of the Avengers happened, the other participants in those events were notably absent.  At the very least, one of them could have shown up to chastise Tony for doing the VERY stupid thing he did about the Mandarin.  And the final battle was both loud and public, yet no one, S.H.I.E.L.D. or otherwise, intervened.

Last, but certainly not least, there are several good one-liners, and a joke about one-liners that I’m still repeating to myself days later.

All in all, it’s a very solid conclusion to the Iron Man trilogy, and anyone who was a fan of the first movie or who liked the “Actually I’m going to threaten you” scene in Avengers should see it.  If you haven’t seen the first Iron Man or Avengers, and you think you might be interested, you should start with one of those.

Posted May 6, 2013 by davidnjohnson in Film

The Avengers   318 comments

I don’t know what I can say about The Avengers that you probably haven’t heard already.  It’s awesome.  Go see it.

Even if you’ve not seen any of the other Marvel movies about the characters, even if you think that you don’t even like comic book movies.  Go see it.

Posted June 6, 2012 by davidnjohnson in Uncategorized

Snow White and the Huntsman   6,862 comments

After seeing Snow White and the Huntsman and then seeing that it somehow grossed over $50M on its first weekend I am actually inspired to post another one of these.   (I also started a review of Captain America that I hope to finish someday.)

Let me start with the verdict:  Do not waste over two hours of your life watching this movie.

Don’t get me wrong.  Charlize Theron is excellent in the role of the Queen.  She even has a back story to explain both her obsession with her looks and her powers.  She could easily be accused of overacting, but she’s playing an obsessed, hateful character, so the accusation, even if true, doesn’t hold any sting.

The problem isn’t even Kristen Stewart, who can be accused of not acting at all.  She was obviously hired to try to attract a built-in audience in the form of Twilight zombies fans, and that would have been a perfectly valid strategy, except the part was written for someone who actually had to act.  Staring at the Queen, the troll, and a magic deer with the same blank expression might have worked if there’d been some kind of explanation of her power.  Giving a rousing speech to rally the troops for a hopeless charge on the castle is so far beyond Stewart’s abilities that it wasn’t even laughable, just painful.  There’s also a scene where she recites the Lord’s Prayer, even though there’s no other mention of religion in the movie, which seemed rather pointless.

The seven dwarves are present, and provide excellent comic relief and a moment of genuine emotion.

The Huntsman didn’t really do much for me, but then, he wasn’t supposed to.  His increased part in the story seemed forced, and he could have been completely left out without damaging the movie at all.  Although I suppose they would have had to change the title.

Basically, if you deleted every scene with Stewart in it, except the ones that ALSO contain either the dwarves or the Queen, you’d have a fairly decent movie.

Posted June 6, 2012 by davidnjohnson in Film

And I am back.   254 comments

Maybe.  I need to go over what movies I watched the summer, and pick one or two to review.

Posted September 21, 2011 by davidnjohnson in Uncategorized

Inglorious Basterds   292 comments

Sarah reminded me I hadn’t posted here in a while, although I didn’t realize it had been almost a year.I’m also pretty surprised I haven’t covered Inglorious Basterds yet.

Put simply, it’s Quentin Tarantino doing a revenge fantasy version of WWII.  If you’re not familiar with Tarantino’s work, this means gratuitous violence, and witty but generally quite dirty dialog.  Actually, it plays more like several movies that all tell parts of a single story.

The first part is a Nazi officer hunting Jews, and Christoph Waltz does pretty much the best charming evil I have ever seen.  With as many movies as I watch, it’s rare for me to be genuinely creeped out anymore, but this guy…  even if you’re not interested in the rest of the movie, find a clip this part.

After that, the movie passes into more familiar Tarantino territory, with Brad Pitt leading a team of Jewish Americans in murdering Nazis.  He does a passable Appalachian acccent, although Mom informs me his vowels were slightly off.  There are even stories he liked the character so much, he did the accent at all times.  This part is fun to watch if you like Tarantino dialog and violence, and horrible if you don’t.

Those are the best parts of the movie – there’s a subplot with a girl that Waltz’s character was hunting deciding she’s going to murder the entire leadership of the Nazi party, which collides with an Allied plot to do the same thing.  Most of that isn’t as much fun as the rest of the movie, with two exceptions: 1) Pitt saying Italian words in his Appalachian accent, and 2) the culmination of the plot, which is very nearly as spooky as Waltz’s performance at the beginning of the movie.

Verdict:  See it if you like Tarantino’s movies.  (ie, if you’re a guy.)  Even if you don’t, find a clip of Christoph Waltz playing Hans Landa.

Posted December 1, 2010 by davidnjohnson in Film

The Book of Eli   332 comments

I went to see The Book of Eli because seeing Denzel Washington shoot stuff and Gary Oldman be evil are almost always satisfying experiences.  Eli (Washington) is travelling through a post-apocalyptic world caused by a nuclear war, where things have pretty much broken all the way down, but he comes on a town where a guy named Carnegie (Oldman) has used a source of clean water and a lot of ruthlessness to impose some order, though not really very much civilization.  Think Mad Max 3, but without Tina Turner, or a midget.

Carnegie wants to expand his empire, and to do this he's decided he needs a Bible, but they were largely destroyed after the war.  When Eli teaches a girl who was born after the war to pray, he realizes Eli has one, and all the mayhem I wanted ensues.

The movie ends with a nifty twist, too, but it doesn't make it worth seeing if you aren't interested in all the violence in the first place.  (Bonus for fans of Heroes: cameo by Linderman.)

Posted February 11, 2010 by davidnjohnson in Film

From Paris With Love   193 comments

Typical action romp with substandard dialog.  Avoid.  If you're in the mood for a mindless action romp, watch Die Hard again instead.

Posted February 11, 2010 by davidnjohnson in Film

Avatar   234 comments

James Cameron sure does like to wait a long time between movies, although after Titanic I'm sure some people were glad he did.  However, Avatar is a return to his over the top but satisfying movie-making.

In the movie, an ex-marine who lost the use of his legs in battle travels to a moon named Pandora, where he will pilot an Avatar – a cloned version of the locals.  The locals call them Dreamwalkers, which is a much better name, really.  While ostensibly part of a scientific effort, he's offered surgery to fix his legs in exchange for spying on the locals and helping to get them off of a huge deposit of "Unobtainium", a ludicrously expensive floating mineral native to Pandora. Once the marine gets to know the natives, he switches sides and helps them fight off the evil corporation.

Like all good Cameron movies, though, the plot is largely irrelevant.  (In fact, an anti-technology plot in a high technology movie, especially once sponsored by McDonald's, is ironic on a scale as large as the movie.)  It's just an excuse for stunning special effects, and Avatar is one long special effect.  The CGI blends flawlessly into the live action, to the point where visually they are indistinguishable.  And Pandora is gorgeous, especially in 3-D.

Verdict:  See it on the big screen while you can.  If you can bear to spend the extra $5 or so per ticket, see it in 3-D.

Posted December 29, 2009 by davidnjohnson in Film

The Day the Keano Stood Still   4 comments

Actually, this is about The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008), but my version of the title summarizes the movie nicely.  It's a remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), which I have not seen, but that I'm given to understand is about aliens who want to save the Earth from humans destroying it through war.  In the new version, Reeves plays an alien (in a convenient human body) who's come to the Earth to save it from humans who are destroying it with their technology.

Although Keano apparently had all his emotions removed after the Bill & Ted movies, since he's playing an alien who is new to a human body, that actually works for him, and he does manage to show a little bit toward the end of the movie.

Kathy Bates turns in a reasonable performance as the Secretary of Defense, initially paranoid and warlike, but eventually coming around.  And John Cleese has a rare but enjoyable non-comedic role as a scientist, who helps to convince Klaatu that humans might be able to change, but only if they've given a chance to try when things look darkest.

The real star of the movie was the special effects – there are huge glowing space marbles, and Gort, who looks like a giant Cylon, but turns out to be made up of zillions of microscopic metal (but somehow still organic) bugs.  Seeing those bugs rip up a military base, a truck, and finally Central Park are the really entertaining parts of the movie.  Seeing Will Smith's son Jaden hate and then warm up to the alien I could have done without, as could the movie in general.

The ending I'm not sure about.  Klaatu is finally convinced that humans, on the edge of extinction, may be able to change, so instead of destroying the world, he apparently deactivates all our technology.  Cars come to a stop, computers shut down, oil wells stop pumping, and even electric watches stop working.  The problem I have with this is that if all our technology just quit, billions of people would die, as the technology to deliver their food would no longer function.  Could we develop new technology fast enough to save any of us, or would we revert to pre-industrial tech and have to start all over?

But, the movie did leave me thinking at the end, and the visuals were absolutely stunning.  Catch it in the theater some afternoon you have nothing better to do; or if not, then rent it when it hits DVD.

Posted December 18, 2008 by davidnjohnson in Film