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Hercules – movie review

HerculesGrade: C-

I hate giving bad reviews to movies with my favorite actors. But there’s no escaping it, “Hercules” wasn’t very good.

Lets start with the battle scenes. They were the worst filmed battles I’ve seen in decades. The cinematography was bland, and the choreography was redundant. I honestly got bored during the battle in the village and thought, “How much longer can this go on?”

“Troy” had it’s flaws but they nailed the battle/fight scenes. If a director can’t think of anything original then I’d suggest they do their best to emulate the style of “Troy.”

There was a suitable amount of levity added to the movie. Fortunately that’s one of Dwayne Johnson’s best talents so those scenes worked well.

Movies that involve mythic stories can go either one of two ways: acknowledge that the myths are only the beliefs of the people, such as in “Troy,” or they can treat them as real, “Clash of the Titans” style. I think the biggest mistake they made in “Hercules” is trying to mix the two. I’m not talking about Hercules himself and whether he’s actually half god, but how they built up the antagonist in the beginning. Especially the soldiers they fought in the first battle. It was presented that they were under some spell by the antagonist, and they fought that way, but then…well, I don’t want to give anything away but that really doesn’t fit with the rest of the story.

Maybe the writers forgot which direction they were going with the myth/reality thing and confused themselves. Or maybe they were just tired of rewrites and decided to just go with it. Whatever the case may be, the story needed more work. And that’s a shame, because there’s the scaffolding here for a really good story. It just needs a little more work.

LUCY – movie review

lucyGrade: B-
“Lucy” is like two movies mashed together: one is enjoyable and explores interesting questions; the other is lame and hyper-violent. Rating this movie is a question of how to balance these two.

Where this movie really fails is in it’s brevity. Not including the credits it’s only an hour and twenty-two minutes long. That’s far too short a time to do any substantial character and plot development. At least one of them will have to be sacrificed. In this case it’s the characters who get the short shrift.

The movie begins just minutes before Lucy goes through her transformation. It would have been nice to have just a brief scene with her in her normal habitat, who she is, what she’s doing, what her dreams are. But we only get the tiniest of glimpses into that portion of her character.

I may be slightly biased – and that’s an understatement – but I thought Scarlett Johansson did a wonderful job of evolving her character as she went through the transformation. One thing she does particularly well is act without speaking. She can say a great deal through facial expressions and body posture without overdoing it. For instance, some actors have their “surprised face” but they overdo it. Scarlett is great at expressing both the surface and subsurface expression simultaneously: being surprised and yet trying to comprehend what she’s surprised about.

Morgan Freeman was his usual awesome self. The gravitas he brings to his roles was essential for this movie since there was zero character development for him to work with. We’ve seen Freeman playing the authoritative role often enough that we can easily form an amalgamation of his previous characters in our minds to define his character in this movie. That’s poor story telling but at least Freeman can pull it off.

In the end I wish I could give the screen writers and director a D and the actors an A. I guess I’ll average them out and give it a C+, or a B- because Scarlett is my favorite actress.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – movie review

DawnOfThePlanetOfTheApesGrade: A

Lets put aside the acting and the story for just a moment, both of which were great, and consider that there were no apes, no real apes at least, in this movie. There wasn’t a single moment, not one frame, that I saw where I thought, “Oh yeah, the apes are all computer graphics.” That is astounding considering the large number of extreme closeups.

Note: I saw the movie in 2D. I don’t know if the same can be said of the 3D version.

The thing I liked most is that the plot revolves around the character development instead of the other way around. Summertime blockbusters are typically thought of as heavy on the action and lite on the story (Cough-cough-Transformers). And wintertime movies are usually the obverse – Peter Jackson movies withstanding – heavy on story and character development and lite on action. With DotPotA we get the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of movies.

Dear Hollywood, More like this please.

The only thing I can think of to grip about (I have to be critical of something, right?) in this movie is that I thought it was rather predictable. Not that that’s such a bad thing. It’s hard to tell a story that focuses on character development that isn’t predictable. But if they could have somehow managed it I’d given them the first A+ movie rating in over 2 years. As it is they’re going to have to suffer with only an A.

Earth To Echo – movie review

EarthToEchoGrade: C+

If it wasn’t obvious from the previews “Earth To Echo” is essentially a retelling of “ET”. But I’m pretty sure it won’t be remembered as one of the classics.

This is definitely a kids movie. There’s not much for adults to cling to. The story centers around the close friendship of three boys who are each outsiders at school. As the movie starts we learn that a freeway is being built through their neighborhood and everyone is relocating. Two of the boy’s families are moving away, ending their friendship.

Echo, the alien, is really just a prop to explore the boy’s friendship as they have one last adventure together. Any kid who feels like an outsider, or misunderstood, will have something to relate to in this movie.

Transformers: Age of Extinction, movie review

TransformersAOEGrade: B-

There’s not a lot to say about Transformers: Age of Extinction. (TAOE) It’s a Transformers movie with bits of awesome, a dash of humor, and loads of plot holes. But as we’ve seen before, Transformers can effortlessly jump over plot holes.

When comparing TAOE with the other Transformer movies I’d have to put this one at the top. TAOE can hold it’s own in the awesome moments category (They had me at Dinobots!) while completely trouncing the installments for acting. The cast, specifically Mark Wahlberg and Stanley Tucci, are a huge improvement over the former cast. That right there gives TAOE a leg up.

The other improvement I noticed is the lack of ridiculous attempts at humor. There wasn’t anything like the John Turturro in a jockstrap gag, or the endless puerile humor of Shia LaBeouf in the first movie. Perhaps the more mature and talented cast inspired Michael Bay to make a movie aimed at 20 year old men instead of 12 year old boys.

On the topic of humor I have to say that John Goodman as the voice of Hound was a fantastic choice. His lines alone accounted for 50% of the laughs. Picturing Goodman as a Transformer provided the other 50%. 🙂

I didn’t see TAOE in 3D – it’s hard to watch 3D movies and take notes.

Edge of Tomorrow – movie review

edge-of-tomorrowGrade: B

I love Groundhog Day stories and I’ve been looking forward to this movie since the first time I saw the previews. I was *hoping* it would rank as one of the classic Sci-Fi movies. However, I expected it would just be a good movie that might be worth rewatching again a year from now.

I didn’t get what I hoped for, but at least I got what I expected.

I’m really impressed with the writers. Most notably Christopher McQuarrie who wrote *The Usual Suspects*. Sci-Fi is littered with stories that either make things up as they go along, or rely on overly complex rules that are hard to follow. *Edge of Tomorrow* hits the sweet spot. The “rules” were clearly expressed, without heavy handed exposition, and they stuck to them.

The action and special effects were well done and fit into the story nicely without over doing it. The beach scenes were especially well done, capturing the confusion and chaos of the battle.

If there’s one place I think the movie could be improved it would be with the relationship development between the main characters. I know what they were aiming for, but think they needed another 10-15 minutes of movie to really flesh out some of the nuances instead of relying on a short montage.

There were plenty of humorous scenes to keep it lively and entertaining. Another thumbs up to the writers and especially Tom Cruise for his comedic timing.

Maleficent – movie review

MaleficentGrade: B-

After seeing what Maleficent – Angelina Jolie – looked like in the previews I had hopes this was going to be a strictly adult oriented movie. That’s not the case. The movie, especially the first 30 minutes, is very much oriented toward children.

There is a frequent voice over that tells us what’s going on, who people are, and why they do the things they do. Starting out the story is very heavy handed – like reading a kids book.

It starts to get better, after about 30 minutes, and improves right to the end. So starting out I thought, “Oy, I’m going to have to sit through 90 minutes of this?” By the end I wished the movie could have gone on a little longer. But, like many movies oriented for children, it’s just less than 90 minutes long – not counting the credits.

I wasn’t particularly impressed with Elle Fanning, as Aurora. She wasn’t bad, but didn’t exactly impress.

Sharlto Copley, as Stefan, was also less than inspiring. For one thing he has a thick South African accent and was pretty much the only character in the story with any accent whatsoever. That seemed oddly out of place.

Fortunately Angelina Jolie was fantastic. She added subtleties to Maleficent that created a sympathetic character, exactly as the role required.

Robert Stromberg, the director, brought a nice vision to the movie, contrasting the world of man with the magical world, but I’m not sure he got everything out of his actors that they may have had to offer.

X-Men: Days of Future Pasted – movie review

X-MenDOFPGrade: A

Brian Singer (director), and the writers, set the bar sky high in this film. It’s going to be a chore to top this in the scheduled X-Men sequel, due May 27, 2016.

The acting was spectacular. All the main characters are reprising roles that they have already performed with aplomb. However, I think Hugh Jackman stands out, and I’m not just saying that because I know he loves the RunPee app. Okay – maybe I’m saying it partly because of that. 🙂

Until now, the character of Logan has been consistently defined by incessant pessimism. But that changes in DOFP. Logan helps build a team instead of tearing it apart, and that requires Hugh Jackman to evolve his portrayal of a character that he’s grown accustomed to. I’m no actor, but I can appreciate how scary that must be, because there’s lots of room for that to go horribly wrong. Kudos to Jackman for pulling it off.

The action is fantastic! One of the best action scenes comes right at the beginning of the movie…so don’t be late to this one. Another of the action scenes – the wonderful “Time in a Bottle” sequence – was so good the entire audience erupted in spontaneous, enthusiastic applause as it ended. I can’t remember the last time that happened.

The plot is easy to follow and feels logical throughout. There isn’t anything confusing or contradicting in the story, which is quite an accomplishment for a time travel tale.

High marks should be given to the director, writers, and actors; they did a great job adding humor to such a serious theme. This movie’s appeal would diminish considerably if you subtracted out the numerous cute chuckles and downright hilarious scenes. This is a film worth seeing in the theater.

I would give this movie an A+ but I’m going to save that, hopefully, for X-Men: Apocalypse.

Million Dollar Arm

MillionDallarArmGrade: B-

Million Dollar Arm was a good movie, but I doubt anyone’s going to put it on their list of favorite inspirational sports movies.

The performances were all solid. John Hamm especially stood out, which is good since he’s the main character. He does a good job with his expressions saying more than his dialog. Alan Arkin, as expected, takes a little role and gives it the polish and perfection he does with everything. He pretty much owns every scene he’s in.

There are some amusing scenes but that’s about as good as the humor gets.

The story is predictable but the pacing of the movie kept me engaged. I think where the movie falls short is that there’s not enough at stake for any of the characters. Even if the boys from India don’t make it, they still end up with a great experience and more money than they could have ever hoped for. JB (John Hamm) has a lot riding on the success of his plan, and if he fails then he might lose his company and amazing house, but it’s not like he’s going to be impoverished. Basically, if the story ended with the worst case scenario it wouldn’t be a tragedy. I think that’s what holds the story back from being truly inspirational.

Godzilla – movie review

GodzillaGrade: C

Let me say up front that I enjoyed Godzilla. The movie rolled along at a decent pace and had a few good visual scenes. And I think the creators did a decent job of bridging the classic feel of the Godzilla movies with modern movie making.  That being said, I thought the movie fell way short of being awesome. This is a GODZILLA. I don’t want a good movie. I want a, “Holy cow did you just see what Godzilla did?” I got that feeling exactly once.

I would agree with what many Japanese critics are saying, that Godzilla looks a little too – how to say this politely – bulky. I’m not saying I want a Roland Emmerich Godzilla, which was svelte by comparison, but this Godzilla is a little too plodding.

I wasn’t impressed with the Godzilla fight scenes. I felt like the action took place from too far away. We never got up close and personal and felt like we were in the fight. Also, they didn’t do anything to make me want to root for Godzilla. I think they should have taken a lesson from Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong and made us feel more connected with the beast. I didn’t get any of that in this movie.

Lastly, the human characters in the story were a total waste. I didn’t care about any of them either. Take for instance Elle, the wife of the main character, she had a decent amount of screen time but didn’t do anything to advance the plot. She was never heroic, or in need of being saved, nothing. Her character could have been completely removed from the story without losing anything.

One good thing about Godzilla, it made me like Pacific Rim that much more.