Friday, February 28, 2014

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) Review:

With the help of Paul Walker and Vin Diesel's chemistry and some intense racing scenes, Rob Cohen's The Fast and the Furious (2001) was an instant hit among racing fans. And like most franchises with critical financial success, a sequel started to be put into the works. Similar to many other sequels, it was distributed two years later and it's difficult to say whether it pleased fans as much as the first one did. According to this site, this is lowest score the franchise has. It wasn't bad at all but it was missing a few elements of the first movie, which left a more entertaining feeling.

Paul Walker & his gang
The story follows ex-cop Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) back to Miami from Los Angeles where he's enjoying his time racing street cars only to be pulled back by the authorities that he dropped. Heading the authorities is Agent Bilkins (Thom Barry) from the first installment and this time he wants O'Conner back one more time to take down a drug lord. And O'Conner can't refuse because he'd go to jail if he didn't accept. Plus, if the drug lord is turned in, all of his criminal charges will disappear. Why does this plot sound like Vin Diesel's xXx (2002) plot line (except it doesn't deal with a drug lord)? Speaking of which, why didn't Vin Diesel return? That's one thing that this franchise consistently needs. Paul Walker is the central character but Vin Diesel's presence was the icing on the cake.

Is was nice though that the writers kept the continuity together. The characters do reference material from the first film which shows the producers want to keep the story going and not divert completely from the original. But if there's one thing that comes into question, it is the concept of getting caught having a love interest in the business. This happened in the first movie and it blew O'Conners cover. Here the same thing happens in a similar way. You'd think the lesson was learned. Sigh. The new interest is Eva Mendes and she plays her character well enough. Accompanying O'Conner is Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) an old friend who originally has a grudge for some of his own issues. Even with this though, their chemistry works well.

Cole Hauser
Playing the drug lord is another interesting actor - Cole Hauser. He has a very smooth deep voice and resembles a very young Tom Berenger. He's also able to make his character seem dangerous enough to hurt someone. That's it for characters. The music produced by David Arnold of Stargate (1994) sounded better than BT's score from the first film but it wasn't evident enough. Barely heard a thing. As for action scenes, the racing is still fast paced and contains much of the same film making as the first, which kept the feeling the same. Other than that, the story feels the same as before but without Vin Diesel.

It's not a bad follow up to the first movie, but not casting Vin Diesel wasn't smart - it's like missing a piece to a puzzle. Other than that, it's still a decent watch with better music and well-staged action sequences.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Duplex (2003) Review:

Ben Stiller is one of Hollywood's most talented comedic actors and has proven in other films that he has the ability to make some really great and funny films. But I am extremely confused to how this idea for a story ever sounded hilarious. Never have I witnessed such mean spiritedness to such likeable characters, and to make matters worse have those likeable characters stoop to a level that is degrading enough that it crosses the line between what is funny and what borders on the edge of lunacy. And to top it off, Danny DeVito directed it; this comedy should've worked.

The couple and the old woman
The story is about a young happy couple (Ben Stiller & Drew Barrymore) who decide to buy a bottom floor to a duplex. While on the top floor is an elderly woman who seems fine enough to live with. Hah! It's  a shame to see this movie come to full circle, it's so sad to the point where you regret knowing how things will turn out in the future. Just why? How is it funny? What were they thinking? The only credit I'll give to this movie is for the actors attempting to make the movie funny. That's it. The main actors try and so do some other less important actors but it feels so difficult to accept how low brow the comedy became.

The problem is once the couple has moved in, the old woman on the top floor is everything nobody wanted in their life,...EVER. She consistently asks for help on impossible tasks, forgetting names, playing the television during all hours of the night. You know, something every old person does? It's understandable that stereotypes can be funny but it doesn't work here. All this will do is annoy viewers and feel just as restless as the couple on screen dealing with the same senselessness. And it doesn't get any better. In fact, the comedic elements become so derivative, that at a point in the movie it qualifies the subject of MURDER as an ok thing to do. What? Even Ben Stiller's directed film, The Cable Guy (1996) didn't drop to those immoral levels.

This cop is so gullible!
And with all the time and money spent on trying to rid the duplex of this old woman, the couple could've moved out a long time ago and found a much more suitable place to live. Instead, things become so out of control that it would make the viewer question, "Who in the world would want to live here now?". It's baffling. Also, even though the actors play their characters the best they can, the logic and reasoning behind some of the situations are absolutely absurd - especially if one person is making an accusation against two people and they both witnessed what happened and the situation being described is nothing like the one they took part in. Who is this thickheaded to be convinced of it? How is it believable? How? How? How? Other than this, the production is fine and David Newman's score is ok although it's just another unreleased set of music. It tries but fails badly.

What seems to be a decent comedy turns out to be an extremely incompetent mean spirited story. It also could send out the wrong message about senior citizens.

Points Earned --> 2:10

Friday, February 21, 2014

RoboCop (2014) Review:

RoboCop is a timeless character. His image is a staple in the 1980's sci-fi decade. The first, directed by Paul Verhoeven in 1987 was a smash hit. It's sequel in 1990 followed up with lackluster reviews but still maintained the majority of traits that made the first one a hit. The third one in 1993 fell flat for everyone except for the few forgiving. Once that was over, fans and people in Hollywood alike were curious to when and if the beloved franchise would return. Well here it is and while it isn't bad, it does require some addressing on various elements.

Waking up for the first time.....
The basic plot is similar to the set up of 1987 version but instead of Alex J. Murphy just joining the police dept of Detroit, the audience will be brought in where he's been on the force for quite some time. After being almost killed from an explosion, Alex Murphy is reassembled as the future of law enforcement. But as Murphy soon finds out, things are not all that good. The backbone of this movie and the story is about corruption and how people can not be trusted no matter how nice they come across as. If there's one thing that fans will enjoy is all the tidbits that first time writer Joshua Zetumer included in the screenplay.

The homage is definitely there. You want to see ED-209s? They're in there. You want to see that gun leg attachment RoboCop has? That's in there. You want to hear some of the memorable dialog from the first film? That's also sprinkled across the whole hour and forty-eight minutes too. But one of the things that fans may not agree with is the direction that the story took. Instead of RoboCop actually cleaning up crime in the city, there's lots of scenes dealing with getting used to the new Robo suite, training and setting out on a personal vendetta to find who brought him to near death. The issue of ridding crime is touched upon and a few arrests are made but that isn't the main focus of it. The Murphy family is what has the priority in this film and unfortunately it doesn't feel totally like a RoboCop movie. It should be noted that although it isn't the best decision, it is a direction that was at least fully addressed. Unlike before when it was lightly grazed upon in the first and half finished in the second film.

For characters, the casted actors play the parts well, but I am getting tired of some of them. For example, I understand that Samuel L. Jackson is a very sought out actor, but to see him in almost every popular franchise gets obnoxious. He's not even a main character and he is seen way too much in this movie. Sam Jackson does not need to be in every movie to make it good - it's not necessary. Same goes for Gary Oldman, his character is particularly more significant and gives a more interesting performance even though his presence could've been covered by another actor. However, it was great to see Michael Keaton come back for big role. The last time Keaton was in a theatrically released film was The Other Guys (2010). Wow.

For the most important part, Joel Kinnaman as RoboCop was good. He was able to portray the emotion required to show what a trouble individual he had become. But it was his take on Alex Murphy that had me rather disgusted with. The way Kinnaman portrayed Murphy was more like a cocky hardheaded punk, it just didn't feel right. Peter Weller's interpretation of the character was more soft spoken but still serious. Here, Kinnaman just gets angry and yells consistently. Speaking of which, there are a number of scenes where all the actors are just yelling. Could we stop that please?

Yeah no.....find another movie -___-
Lastly, the action, special effects and score were all integrated. The Robo suit looks great and the dark tactical design was a nice upgrade for the current day appeal. The action sequences were well staged too but I didn't find them anything truly unique. The rating also should have been given an R, not a PG-13. As stated for RoboCop 3 (1993), the world RoboCop lives in is very violent, blood is needed, otherwise, the content and tone is lost. As for music, Pedro Bromfman's score had a Steve Jablonsky / Hans Zimmer -ish feel, which was respectable. Bromfman even briefly plays the original RoboCop theme (which he should have continued). One thing I didn't like was the random insertion of contemporary music. Not needed, especially the end credits. It just shouldn't be for a film like this. Altogether, it plays out well but it has very different feel.

The properties may resemble that of the original but the feeling is different. The actors, music, action and special effects are commendable - the story is where the essence of locking up crime gets corrupted.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Lego Movie (2014) Review:

The Lego company is a toy company that has truly stood the test of time. Not only by staying ahead of its competition, but by also being able to adapt and stretch itself across the entire board of the toy-making domain. Think about it, how many franchises are out there that the Lego company has fed off of and co-produced a series of toys after? Numerous, too many to count. Anyone who's a Lego fan will enjoy this movie. There are lots to find entertaining from its design, creative story, action and characters.

Emmet & Batman (stealing the show)
The story is about the everyday Lego man named Emmet Brickowoski (Chris Pratt). A construction worker who lives his life by the book. Literally, a Lego construction book. And like any other day, his day goes just fine until he makes a discovery that turns his life upside down. The discovery involves a special fragment that could save the Lego universe. Little does Emmet realize is that the world he lives in is a set-up (no pun intended), where a ruler called President Business (Will Ferrell) is a chronic perfectionist who longs to hold a structured order to the Lego universe. And the story only gets more creative from there, partially because of the characters involved. Accompanying Emmet in his journeys is Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), who makes sure Emmet doesn't lose his head and saves him whenever possible. Then there's also the head master known as Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) who gives some very funny scenes.

But the one character who steals the screen the most is Batman (Will Arnett). There are just too many scenes to count where Batman has a line that makes every intended funny scene even more genuinely funny. There's even a Lego spaceman that I can only imagine any person who played with Legos must have had at one point in their life. But that's not all, there are even more cameos than one could count, most of which viewers saw in the upcoming trailers to this movie. They all have their own special parts. Even the bad guys are memorable. President Business had good scenes and his henchman labeled as Bad Cop / Good Cop (Liam Neeson) is one heck of a character. In a way, the character reminded me of Man-E-Faces from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983).

Bad Cop & President Business
What really helps make this movie funny though is the mix of a clever, imaginative story that blends in great with its respective animation. The story was created by Kevin and Dan Hagemen who also worked as writers for the Lego TV series Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu (2011) and Hotel Transylvania (2012) which also was a very entertaining animated family feature. But the reason why their writing works so well is because of the animation. Kudos to the animation department because they did an amazing job by sticking to what Ray Harryhausen would do - stop motion animation. By using the physical Lego pieces and not CGI, helped limit the characters movements making them funnier to watch. Yes it is apparent when the CGI kicks in but boy oh boy do the animators get creative with how the Lego pieces make up every single thing you could imagine of. Plus, isn't that kind of the whole thing behind Legos? It’s also the moral to the story, where Legos were created for people to get creative with.

Finally let's not forget action and music, it is one sweet ride. Much of the action scenes are fast paced, include quick wit dialog and some intense scenes as well. Helping that of course is composer Mark Mothersbaugh's score. It has every single kind of the emotion you would want. Hopefully it will be released for the film score collectors to enjoy too. There's even a theme for the movie even though it's not from the score, that is the song "Everything Is Awesome". It's a very catchy and bumpy song that'll want to make one get up and dance. I did not see one thing to pick about which is rare.

This is one epic Lego film. Every element to the film works great, thanks to its well written screenplay, comic relief given by its voice actors, entertaining action sequences, memorable characters and old fashioned animation.

Points Earned --> 10:10

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Stand Off (2013) Review:

If there's one actor that barely anyone hears about anymore it's actor Brendan Fraser. What now seems eons ago, Fraser was the top man after the hit action movie The Mummy (1999) was released. Not only did it showcase Fraser as a worthy candidate for action movies but it also made him very popular. Then about a decade later, he dropped off the face of the earth. As stated in his filmography, he's still making movies but for the most part it's voice work or live action films but with very limited releases. It's sad because Fraser is a very talented actor. Making things even more melodramatic is this small budget thriller that has trouble keeping everything together.

Brendan Fraser (the baby) & Yaya DeCosta
The story is about a struggling father (Martin McCann) who is looking to pay back a crime boss who lent him money. And like most situations that end up like this, they can't make the payment and are threatened by the boss to pay up or suffer dire consequences. In this case, the threat is the boss taking his son away. This particular plot isn't anything new but it works. And this movie would work out totally fine if that's the only plot that it stuck to. Unfortunately, that's not the case. Terry George the director and writer, along with Thomas Gallagher (another writer who only has one other credit) included a number of other subplots that were not necessary to have. And it's not like Terry George is a bad director, he also headed Hotel Rwanda (2004) which many people favor.

But it's the writing that really takes away the possibilities to this movie. Along with the crime boss plot, there's a subplot about a character being a father and not knowing about it (and in the end that isn't clearly resolved), a character has relations to a mob and tries to flee from their troubles (and that isn't clearly resolved either), and there's also subplot dealing with having to keep a secret from a person they care about. It's just too many stories in one situation and this makes this hour and a half minute thriller feel longer than it's supposed to be. What may confuse viewers though is the genre that this movie is putting itself into.

Here, it is labeled as a comedy and drama. But after viewing it, the audience may consider it more of a thriller and drama. There are a couple of scenes that may have people chuckle but it's questionable whether those moments were intentional or not. I didn't laugh very often because there didn't seem to be anything too funny to laugh at. I can certainly look back and recall the scenes that were supposed to be funny but they didn't carry much charm to them to make the audience laugh. They were very weak attempts. There was definitely drama though, because of all the subplots. And although the subplots were jumbled together, the story line did have some interesting character development. Of course, the effectiveness dropped when the subplots weren't resolved however. The movie may also feel long because the title accurately portrays the majority of the running time. The conflict is presented as a stand off hostage situation.

Colm Meaney
With this kept in mind, it will be obvious to viewers that Mr. Fraser will not be doing much of his action work he did in the past. The main plot doesn't even focus on him which is kind of sad considering he is what would grab people to see this film. As for acting goes, it's alright. Fraser does his best but again because he's not the character of main focus, the audience may feel cheated leaving a disappointed feeling. What was different to experience though was the slew of Irish actors in the cast. Colm Meaney (Law Abiding Citizen (2009) as the detective did have some charm. Also actors Martin McCann (Clash of the Titans (2010)) and David O'Hara (Hotel Rwanda (2004)) were interesting to listen too as well. Even Yaya DeCosta (a Siren from Tron: Legacy (2010)) gave a unique performance as an African refugee.

Every other element to the story was decent too. Because the setting takes place in Ireland, it's nice to see a different set of scenery than always in New York or some other American city. That's credit to Mr. Des Whelan. He also works the camera for many other films recently such as Thor: The Dark World (2013) and The Expendables 2 (2012). Foy Vance's musical composition to the film was ok. Nothing that stands out, considering much of the time it was absent or replaced by what seemed to be Irish folk music. This seemed out of place for the scenes they were inserted into. But there were also some dramatic scenes that did work with his music. That's why my opinion is on the fence for his score. Overall, it's watchable but it can feel cluttered.

Although it includes Fraser in the cast list, his presence feels wasted, even though all the actors have less star power. Along with a script stuffed with numerous subplots, the film may feel longer than it’s supposed to.

Points Earned --> 5:10