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American Sniper – movie review

AmericanSniperGrade: A-

Just when I thought Bradley Cooper was a great actor he turns in a performance like this one and and makes me consider that he’s a *really* great actor. It seems like every movie I see him in he does something different and keeps doing it at a high level. There are many actors who can play a few roles really well, but not many that can perform with the diversity as Cooper does.

And to think he got his break as a bit character on *Alias*.

It’s really the acting that carries this movie. I thought the story was good, but not great. From what I can tell the “true” parts of the story were the best and most dramatic. I’d recommend looking up the real life man this movie is based on after you’ve seen it. He is truly inspiring.

Maze Runner – movie review

MazeRunnerGrade: D

The movie itself was mediocre — not good or bad. Likewise with the acting. The entire cast is comprised of young inexperienced actors who do an average job — which isn’t a bad thing. No one stood out as great but at the same time no one stood out as horrible.

The best thing I can say about the movie is that the pacing is good and it’s easy to follow.

However, the story is completely unsatisfying. I didn’t read the books but if they’re anything like this movie then I’m perplexed as to why they became popular enough that someone thought they’d make a good movie series.

I realize there will be a series of movies to tell this story, however each movie needs to stand on its own and deliver some sort of satisfactory payoff at the end. Without giving anything away this movie ends with a bigger mystery than it began with. There’s a narrative that explains why they were in the maze but it’s cast in doubt just moments after it’s given. So I have no idea why they were in the maze and what comes next. And to be honest I don’t care. I wouldn’t bother seeing the sequel to this movie unless I had to.

I feel like my time and money were wasted on a cliffhanger so that I’d be compelled to see the next movie.

The November Man – movie review

NovemberManGrade: B+

November Man is a very good movie, compared to other movies in the genre. But lets face it, the spi-thriller genre is heavily littered with disappointments. Being better than average in this genre isn’t a steep hill to climb.

I happen to enjoy this genre pretty well. Thinking back to fairly recent movies I’d say the first Bourne Identity movie is about as good as it gets. (Did Bourne really come out 12 years ago? Eeeek!) Bourne doesn’t have a lot of company at the top of the heap, but November Man is worthy of the second tier below Bourne.

The hardest thing for movies in this genre to achieve is a surprising plot twist — because it’s all been done. The next best thing is to drop enough clues for the audience to anticipate the plot twist before the characters discover it. They did a decent job of that.

I was most impressed with the pacing of the story. It never felt like it was dragging, nor did it feel like they were unnecessarily compressing. Bonus that the action scenes don’t go on too long — a common problem in this genre.

I would have liked it if they could have injected a little more humor but at least they didn’t try and fail.

Another thumbs up that should be mentioned is that a lot of people in this movie have accents but they always did a great job of delivering their lines so that they could be understood. I hate it when I’m watching a movie and someone says something important that is indecipherable.

If you really want to get out and see a movie then this is a pretty good movie. But you’d probably enjoy it just as much at home when it’s on DVD.

By the way, if you do plan on waiting for it on DVD then don’t forget to sign up for the DVD release alert here in the RunPee app — bottom of the Peetimes screen.

When The Game Stands Tall – movie review

WhenTheGameStandsTallGrade: B-

This isn’t a movie for movie fans; it’s a movie for football fans, so that’s how I’m going to review it. (Because I am — Roll Tide!)

There was a high school football team in the theater with me when I watched the movie. They seemed to enjoy the movie and there were lots of “oohs and aahs” during the football scenes – which were well done.
I think the message the movie tries to bring home (Matthew 23:12) was handled well without being too preachy. And it perfectly fit with the trials and tribulations that the team faced.
The scenes that were ancillary to the main football story were dramatic and added depth to the characters. Best of all the story didn’t dwell overly long on those scenes before getting back to the main plot.
This won’t go down as one of the great sports movies, but it a welcome addition to the genre.

Expendables 3 movie review

Ex3Grade: C

Good news: Expendables 3 is much better than Expendables 2, which was horrible.

The plot for Ex3 is about as predictable as a grenade with the pin removed. In this case I’d say that’s a good thing. No one wants plot twists and surprises. Just make up an excuse to amp up the action and let it rip, right?

Speaking of which, the action was pretty good. The ending felt like the last level from a Call Of Duty like game. Personally I’d love to see a behind the scenes feature for this movie. It would probably be the most compelling reason to by the DVD when it comes out.

There wasn’t anything hilarious in the movie. The best they could achieve was a few chuckles here and there.

Wesley Snipes was a nice addition with just enough screen time to be fun without overdoing it.

Mel Gibson was perfect for the antagonist. As an aside: it doesn’t look like he’s aged in the past 20 years, and same could be said for Snipes.

The addition of the new young crew was entirely forgettable.

My recommendation would be to wait for the DVD. Mainly because it would be nice to rewind and watch some of the action scenes again. But if your looking for a fun, action packed, thrill ride then this isn’t a bad option. Then again, watching Guardians Of The Galaxy for a second time might be more enjoyable.

Into The Storm movie review

IntoTheStormGrade: D+
I’m not a big fan of comparing movies but it just makes sense to compare Into The Storm with Twister.

Twister had a better story/plot and much better humor. Into The Storm has better graphics. (They have18 years of CGI improvements to work with so it would be a travesty if it didn’t.) However, the sound for Twister was better than Into The Storm. I would also have to give Twister the nod for better action/drama. And, hands down, Twister gets the nod for better acting. There’s really no comparison. Twister had Bill “Game Over Man” Paxton, Helen Hunt, a young Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Trivia: did you know that the rumbling sound of the tornadoes in Twister came from morphing the sound of a camel’s growl?

If you’re a big disaster film fan – like myself – then it might, barely, be worth seeing this on the big screen just to get the full effect. The visuals and sound are decent. Besides, there just aren’t enough disaster films being made these days. Maybe it’s because there’s so much real life disaster footage on youTube to compete with.

One of the bothersome things about this movie is it’s reliance of being told through handheld cameras. It seems that they wanted to make this movie appear like it was being told through a collection of youTube videos. That’s sort of cool for the first two minutes, but it gets tiresome fast. And, they don’t stick to it at all which is also a little distracting. (Just who was holding the camera when the tornado hit the airport?)

One annoying thing about the movie is that it’s only 84 minutes long – excluding the credits. That’s super short. I’m sure they didn’t have much of a budget to work with but I wish they could have added another 15-20 minutes of awesome tornado destruction to make it worth the price of admission.

Personally, this movie just made me crave watching Twister again.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie review

TMNTGrade: D

Simply put: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a kid’s movie.

I’m not a TMNT fan and never was. I’ve never seen or read any of their cartoons or comics. Therefore, I can’t say how a lifelong fan will feel about the movie and weather it lived up to any expectations. But if you’re like me, take a pass. There’s nothing here for newbies to enjoy.

However, if you have kids I could very well imagine that they’ll enjoy it, maybe even love it. I know the other kids in the theater sitting around me all seemed engaged throughout the movie and excited as they left the theater. And that’s probably why it fails to appeal to a more mature audience. The story was told for kids. It felt like a live action Saturday morning cartoon. At least the ones that I remember.

If you have kids my advice would be to take them to see Guardians Of The Galaxy a second time and just skip over TMNT. At least that way you won’t have another franchise worth of toys to buy for your kids.

Guardians Of The Galaxy

guardiansGrade: A-
Guardians Of The Galaxy was awesome fun; plenty of humor, amazing visuals, and great action sequences. Best of all the story and acting bring everything together in a suspenseful climax.

I often complain that many action movies are too short but that’s not a problem in GOTG. Excluding the credits the movie is about 1:54 long. The story moves along at a rapid pace and the action sequences are just the right length. That’s another area where many movies fail: their action sequences are either too short and choppy or long and tedious. I think James Gunn, the director, nailed it.

The character and relationship development are extremely well done. I never felt like the relationships were forced for the sake of compression.

One thing that I didn’t like is that some of the dialog is difficult to understand. There were numerous lines that I just couldn’t make out because of background noise. I’m looking forward to watching this on DVD so I can rewind over those scenes and try to make out what was said.

The movie also jumps right into the action early on, introducing new characters that have a long and complicated background. It wasn’t immediately clear who was the real bad guy and what their motivation was. Note: I haven’t read any of the comics so I’m coming into this fresh. However I have seen all the Marvel movies and the Easter eggs that relate to GOTG.

There’s no question this is a fun movie that builds on the Marvel universe. Now raise your hand if you’re counting down the days until The Avengers 2 – slated for May 1st 2015.

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Primer for Guardians of the Galaxy

There are some spoilers here but it’s intended as a primer for the first 30 minutes of GOTG that can at times be a little confusing. First, you need to have seen the after credit scene for Thor 2. That’s where Sif and Volstagg – members of the Thor’s warriors – deliver the Aether to a new character named The Collector (Benicio Del Toro).

Long story short: The Aether is one of the six “Infinity Stones”. One of the other Infinity stones is the Tesseract – also called the Cosmic Cube – from Captain America and The Avengers. Basically it’s a bad idea to keep the Infinity Stones together because they are so powerful.

The Collector is an immortal and one of the elders of the universe. They think they can trust him with the Aether but after they leave The Collector says, “One down, five to go.” It’s unknown at this point of the Collector wants to protect the Infinity Stones or use them.

In the end credit scene after the Avengers we meet Thanos, who is after all six Infinity Stones because he can use them to become the ultimate big bad in the universe.

That’s the backstory for Guardians Of The Galaxy. What we discover in the first 30 minutes of the movie is that a new Marvel character named Ronan wants to destroy the Novan civilization – no idea why. His race, the Kree, have been at war with the Novans for ages but they have recently signed a peace treaty. Ronan, one of the highest ranking warriors in the Kree army, ignores the peace treaty and continues to fight against the Novans.

Since Ronan is alone in his battle against the Novans he has made a deal with Thanos. Thanos has agreed to annihilate the Nova Civilization if Ronan will deliver an orb to him. Surprise, the orb happens to be one of the Infinity Stones.

Thanos has sent two of his pseudo daughters – Nebula and Gamora – to help Ronan retrieve the orb.

That should be enough to help keep the plot and character development clear during the first 30 minutes of the movie.

Here’s a link to a youTube video of the post credit scene from Thor 2 where The Collector is introduced.

Thor 2’s After Credits Easter Egg Explained! – Comic History 101

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.