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Movie Review – Ghost in the Shell

Grade: A-

This is a really, really pretty movie. It’s also a seamless use of CGI, and I’m normally really hard on films that rely extensively on computer animation. It totally works in this one.

Ghost in the Shell is an origin story for a comic book character called Major, and apparently this isn’t a case of ‘Asian whitewashing’ if you are an established fan. Johannson does a good job carrying the film, giving us a stoic, understated hero, struggling to understand whether she has any humanity left. Don’t expect a lot of humor – the main lighthearted moments are reserved for her friend and coworker Bantou, who really is the best part of the film. I smiled whenever he entered a scene.

Everyone else is deadly serious. I’m not a huge fan of deadly serious stories, but understand how the themes in GitS are relatively mature – presenting the nature of man, and the ethics of cybernetic enhancements. Where exactly do we draw the line in upgrading one’s given body, in pursuit of perfect health, upgraded skills…or frivolity (for example, getting an implant that lets you drink too much, so you don’t get hung over)? If you like the works of Philip K Dick, you’ll relate to this story. I do wish it had been a bit lighter in tone, however.

It’s a relatively short origin superhero tale (at one hour and 47 minutes), with an efficient pace. The action is exciting, reliable, and easy to follow. There’s a tremendous amount of dialog though, making it tough to find Peetimes. If I had to relate this movie to others, I’d say it has elements of Blade Runner, Minority Report, and a bit of The Matrix. Ghost in the Shell doesn’t achieve any of the bars set by those films, but is a respectable offering for what I expect to be a new franchise. I wasn’t disappointed, and sometimes that’s all you need.

Movie Review – Passengers

Grade: A+

I am exhausted from a long, late night movie, so I will be short and sweet tonite. Mainly, I want to say: SEE THIS FILM. I never give an A+ rating, and this movie deserves it.

Chris Pratt is a treasure; Jennifer Lawrence brings her A-game, and this movie is a pure delightful mix of romance, science fiction, adventure, and just…beauty. It was hard to find Peetimes, since each moment was a pleasure and a joy.

I saw this film in a rear corner, in a mediocre room, with a small screen and tinny sounds, and it still knocked my socks off. I swear; I cannot find my socks. See this in a great theater, with 3D, with good sound…I will get out to see this properly again as soon as possible. FANTASTIC.

UPDATE: I just saw this film again, in 3D. I recommend the 3D version, even though it wasn’t filmed with that in mind, simply because this movie is so beautiful. On a 3D screen, the space scenes really made me feel like I was there, which is a sort of wish-fulfillment for my geeky soul. The glasses didn’t make anything noticeably darker. It just made everything in space prettier.

NEW NOTE: It seems that if you loved Gravity, you may not like Passengers. And vice-versa. You can tell where I fall on this spectrum. To those berating Jim’s big decision, I ask you – what would YOU have done in his situation? Sometimes I think the critics judge too harshly, without taking human nature into account. In any case, this film is a lot more like The Martian than Gravity, or any of those other uber-serious sci fi films.

Movie review – Battle: Los Angeles

[ No Spoilers ]

Battle: Los Angeles is an amazingly fun, action packed, and gut wrenching movie. There was nothing that I didn’t like about the film. It has a lot in common with the other modern alien invasion movies: District 9, Independence Day, etc. But it is closer to District 9 in it’s grittyness.

The movie follows a platoon of marines starting 24 hours before the invasion through about a day or so of fighting. Once the action starts there is hardly a chance to catch your breath until the credits – making it hard to find peetimes! 🙂

One word of warning that I’d offer is that many of the shots are done with a shaky handheld camera. You won’t want to sit too close to the screen for this film. I sat in the back row and it hardly bothered me at all.

What I appreciated the most about the film is how well they avoided the need to go over the top with impossible action shots – as in ID4. They also avoided any unnecessary need to trudge up any fake romances or inappropriate humor. As much as an alien invasion movie is fiction this seemed real – which made it all the more gripping.

The only exposition comes from just a few short news clips that we watch with the marines. So we know what they know and that’s it. There’s no jumping around to different groups of people. Halfway through the movie you’ll be able to feel like your a member of the squad as well.

The movie is graphic but not over the top. There are no shots of limbs being blown off – as in Saving Private Ryan. There is only one scene in the movie that might seem gross – the alien autopsy – but even that is pretty tame.

I’m not a military veteran but if you are this movie will make you feel proud. The marines are the good guys out fighting to save their country and it’s citizens. Hooah!

Movie review : Avatar

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[ No Spoilers ]

As soon as this movie was over I knew that it was in my top 10 all time favorites. After some careful consideration I’d put it in the top 3 – with Return of the King and The Matrix.

A word about 3D
I get motion sick fairly easy. So I was a bit apprehensive going in to see this in 3D. I usually avoid 3D screens, and on the occasions that I have experienced them it was bad. Usually 3D movies show a few scenes here and there in 3D, but the majority of the time you’re wearing those funky glasses for nothing.

Well that’s not the case here. Cameron waited 10 years to make this movie because he wanted to do it right – which means he wanted to do it his way. The movie is 3D from beginning to end. And not just that, but it’s good 3D. Cameron doesn’t go for cheap gimmicks by randomly throwing things at the audience. Oh, sure there are a few, very few, times that something might make you flinch, but for the most part the 3D experience just brings you deeper into the scene.

And I completely forgot that I was wearing the glasses and watching a 3D movie after about the first 30 minutes. The movie is that good. So see it in 3D or don’t even bother seeing it.

Stunningly beautiful
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that there has never been a more beautiful movie ever made. Pandora is breathtaking. You get that from the previews but you see so much more in the movie.

Pacing and story
Cameron is a master at pacing. No, he is the master at pacing. You’ll get pulled into the story and forget that you’re sitting in a movie theater even though the movie is 2 hours and 40 minutes long. The movie seamlessly switches back and forth between the avatar and non-avatar world. You’re never in a scene too long that it begins to drag. The action scenes are just long enough. Cameron never interjects additional action just to show off. He’s here to tell a story that he has worked and re-worked for years. That makes it tight.

Acting
Nothing more to say than it was perfect.

Bottom line
Cameron has secured himself in the director pantheon. In my opinion, he and Spielberg sit alone at the pinnacle of Mt. Director. Cameron put everything on the line and risked a great deal of money and his reputation. Both are going to get a huge boost from Avatar.

Oh, and Mr. George Lucas: You need to attend any workshops on directing that Cameron might offer. You could learn a thing or two from this man.

What did you think about Avatar? Share your thoughts about the movie in the comments below.

Are Modern Movies Too Long?

Bladder Bursting Blockbusters – are modern movies too long?

As Alfred Hitchcock said, “The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.” Beautifully said and appropriate for most films. wikipedia creative commons film photo

The above-linked Yahoo News Story lists wonderful films clocking in at 90 minutes – Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark – films that would have foundered at longer lengths (like their very own sequels/prequels, actually). Hitchcock wisdom aside, I ‘m not sure 90 minutes is the magic minute number for all films.

The Lord of the Rings films are, inarguably, verrrrry loooong. But the Lord of the Rings book is thousands of pages! Thousands. That trilogy needs the length to explain things properly, and still many of the movie version’s storylines are compressed. Tom Bombadill was eliminated as a plot point – which I am okay with, granted – but when favorite characters like Faramir and Theoden get short shrift, it irks. The poignantly dark story of Denethor was reduced to a joke. Saruman’s film farewell was just unfortunate, compared to his kick-ass denoument in the novel. My point is, the movies could have been even longer in this case, but not shorter.

Titanic was also very well told, despite the seemingly-excessive screen time. It’s a clean story with a good pace; I would have hated to miss any of it. Titanic is long, yes, but somehow stays fresh with every viewing.

The Color Purple is another classic long film without fat. Shawshank Redemption fills its running time nicely; The Abyss is just about right…so, not every long film is a tedious bore.

wikipedia creative commons peter jacksonBut then there are the films that really could have – nay, should have – been shorter. Peter Jackson, fresh off the Oscar success of Lord of the Rings, was granted much too much leeway to directorially dictate King Kong.

Jackson’s overweening Kong story clunks along with frequent gratuitious interludes, like the psychotic bug swamp gross-fest. By the time the gorilla gets to NYC, you’ve long since stopped caring about anyone but the girl, and you wish Jack Black would just die already.

Did you know King Kong is actually the movie that inspired the creation of RunPee in the first place?

We really should make an award for that.

So what is the answer? Besides being armed with a list of good PeeTimes?

Well, directors should hire excellent film editors, for a start – people who know when a story starts to sag but don’t keep you breathless for the whole ride, either. A movie like The Bourne Identity got it right – not slow, but not exhausting. Aliens got it right and so did Pitch Black (even though, once again, their sequels forgot how to tell their stories properly). Finding Nemo is just about perfect. Australia didn’t get it right: sitting through it feels like watching three unrelated, rather tedious films.

What movies do you think are too long? Is it only epic and adventure films that suffer from poor editing? What movies do you think got it right?

New Transformers Review posted on RunPee

RunPee has a new movie reviewer for Science Fiction movies in the esteemed Michelle Taylor, Science Fiction Movies Editor at BellaOnline.com.

She’s posted her Transformers review on our blog –> Transformers : Revenge of the Fallen <– (it’s a cool review)

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From Michelle Taylor’s bio on BellaOnline.com: Michelle Taylor, Science Fiction Movie Guru

As far as movies go, I am not the “girly-girl” type. If the word “romance” is in the description of the movie, you are not going to find me in the theatre.

However, if there are amazing special effects, kick-butt fight scenes, and the promise of some kind of monster or alien – well, sign me up!

Like many of you, I cut my teeth on “Star Wars” in the early 70s and haven’t looked back. I am also an avid Marvel comics fan (with a major collection of X-men and related universe titles) and so the production of comic books into movies is right up my alley! I also love reading, so I grew up with the epic tales like “Lord of the Rings” and was thrilled to see those adaptations. And finally the roles of women in Scifi/Fantasy have been growing and strengthening ever since the movies of “Alien” and “Terminator”. These are all things that keep me coming back to the theatre.

We are excited to welcome Michelle to our growing list of reviewers at RunPee and look forward to reading her POV on sci fi!

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Transformers

What do you think about Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen? Share your thoughts about the movie in the comments below.

Review: Transformers – Revenge of the Fallen

The sequel to the 2007 blockbuster “Transformers” is out and it is rockin!

When I see trailers for movies I decide (because of my ever-shrinking budget) whether it is going to be a “wait for the DVD” movie or “go see it in the theatre” movie. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” was a “Go see it in the IMAX, baby!!!” And I am certainly glad I shelled out the extra bucks to do so. Getting caught up in the special effects and sound was worth it, because that is at least half of what make this movie so great! I am not saying it in the snide, put down way that “bite the hand that feeds you” Megan Fox did. (What the heck was she thinking?)

The movie critic “Movie Mom” said of the 1st Transformers “the robots are just so cool!” She was right then, and it hasn’t changed now. They’ve gotten even cooler with way more personality.

Let’s talk personality. Bumblebee – come on, that is one hot car and if he were human I would totally want to date him. Courageous, loyal, sensitive, strong – everything a woman wants. But there was one thing in the movie that confused me; what happened to his voice? They made a big deal out of giving him James Earl Jones’ voice at the end of the first movie and gave some lame excuse as to why it doesn’t work now. Don’t get me wrong, I adore him without the voice, he expresses way more through radio and song – but it was a little cheesy the way they glossed it over. And while I am pet peeving on this; James Earl Jones as the voice for a hot car like Bee? No way! JEJ has the voice for Kings and Gods, not a hottie like Bee. Let’s think along the lines of Samuel L. Jackson, or Ice T., or even Vin Diesel. That would be a tough voice!

I’ll go ahead and get my other problem with the movie out of the way. This is not quite a spoiler; but if you haven’t seen the movie yet, skip this paragraph. I could have thought of at least 3 different ways to help Sam in the desert without going all mystical like they did (OK, 1 and if I thought really, really hard I could come up with 2 others, but you get my point). It reminded me so much of the way The Matrix was ruined by trying to take it to some “higher purpose” when the purpose was already high enough! Come on guys, is uniting 2 alien races not enough for you? We can’t even get peace on one planet; I would think engendering trust between 2 planets is a huge deal. Why the great beyond stuff?

OK – spoiler part over, you can read again.

Things I adored;

Sam’s Mom: this woman is hilarious! Between crying over sending her only child to college and sampling some of the “special” brownies being sold at the bake sale – she will have you dying. Do not drink too much Coke, you will have to go to the bathroom from laughing so hard.

The Twins: they almost destroy as many things fighting each other as they do the Decepticons, but do not attack one of them. They are brothers, and you do not mess with brothers.

Transformers hiding: just like in the first movie, the Transformers attempt to hide. I have no idea why I find this so funny, but I do. It reminds me of my 6 year old standing up straight as he can behind the tree in hopes I won’t kill him for using my china for flying saucers.

Sam: he is just great. Every tiny expression is perfect. You can tell just how nuts he thinks his roommates are to just how devastated he is by a great loss he experiences, and how much guilt he feels over this loss.

Bumblebee: I love this car, I want this car. I will even take the old beat-up version of this car as long as I get one that cries when I say I am going to leave him behind. Oh and that comes out shooting military grade bombs at any adversaries. I think he would be great in Atlanta traffic.

The plot was not great in this movie. There were some pretty Swiss cheese type holes. But the acting and the special effects more than made up for it in my opinion. Michael Bay was not going for Drama of the year or an Oscar with this film, he was looking to give us all a good time – and he succeeded with that spectacularly.

Can I have my Bumblebee now, please?

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action violence, language, some crude and sexual material, and brief drug material. The twins’ language is particularly “street” foul language. I would definitely pay attention to the “13” part of it. Your 5 and 6 year olds are going to beg to see this because it looks so cool, but unless you want to spend the entire movie going “don’t repeat that” – then you will probably want to hold off until the DVD version.

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Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

What do you think about Transformers Revenge of the Fallen? Share your thoughts about the movie in the comments below.

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