Sunday, August 31, 2014

The 6th Day (2000) Review:

As time continues to move forward, the technological advances that are made, will too move forward. It's a movement that will never cease and sometimes has the ability to open doors that shouldn't be opened. Today, cloning is a possibility - it's no longer a question of how. The question is when, and would it be a good time to make it available for the public to use. At this time, it's not an easy question to answer. There are numerous pros and cons that need to be looked at before making anything official. The biggest issue however is, who's going to be in control of it and can society trust them to take care of it properly. These specific bottom line questions are the basis to this sci-fi thriller. Unfortunately, with that come other problems.

Hey now,....didn't see that coming
In this future, cloning another human is an illegal act. When Adam Gibson (Arnold Schwarzenegger) discovers that he's been cloned, he finds out that out that one of them needs to be taken out. In some respects the story feels like a carbon copy of Total Recall (1990), a much better Schwarzenegger film involving an identity crisis. With that said, there are aspects to the writing that is different because cloning is the footing to the plot. One of the problems is making this an Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle. It's not to say putting Schwarzenegger in the film was the wrong choice, but making him specifically apart of the plot and not the topic was the wrong decision. If this movie were supposed to raise awareness of cloning, I'm pretty sure people would be more concerned about the topic than an extra Arnold walking around. This is where Roger Spottiswoode misses the mark in his directional skills with this thought-provoking concept.

Nonetheless, cast wise there is only a few actors worth mentioning because every other character is uninteresting. Schwarzenegger still delivers his lines with comedy so at least there are some lighthearted moments. Tony Goldwyn (the voice of Tarzan from Tarzan (1999)) plays Michael Drucker, a billionaire in the realm of cloning technology. This guy is just like a politician even though he's not anywhere close to one. Then there's Robert Duvall playing Dr. Weir, a supporter of cloning. These three characters are the only individuals that have development. The best of these three however is Dr. Weir. There is one specific scene that opens his eyes to reality and its gratifying to see. Oh, there is one other actor worth mentioning here – this is Terry Crews’ film debut. The year 2000 is quite some time ago.

Michael Drucker (Goldwyn)
Other than this, the final elements that complete this movie are not that entertaining. You would think because it stars Arnold Schwarzenegger in a Sci-fi film, it would have decent action. Not here. This movie just contains a lot of laser shootouts. It's really not that exciting. The special effects that coincide with these aren't that spectacular either. Trevor Rabin's synthetic score to the film was average. At times he did emulate the electronic tunes that went well with the genre, but there were also other times where it was just plain and bland. There was no main theme that was memorable. The most obnoxious part of this movie was the editing, and the crew had three editors! It was like they were all fighting for different editing styles. There are numerous cut scenes that zip through the dialog and it’s unclear to what's going on. That was annoying.

The few main cast members give okay performances along with its message of the dangers with cloning. Though other than this, much of it is boring. The action, music and the rest of the cast and crew are dull in a number of ways.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Friday, August 29, 2014

1941 (1979) Review:

Strange projects are common among popular directors. There's always that one oddball of the whole group that stands out from the rest. The thing is, this isn't the good kind of notoriety. These individual ugly ducklings reign supreme of being the film that doesn't fall in the same line as the rest of the director’s efforts. Although Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) wasn't at all written as effectively as Jaws (1975), it had smart visuals and an interesting concept to back it up. That still didn't make it entertaining though. It was a far cry from being good. But, after viewing this, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) at least has a plot in some respects. Here, director Steven Spielberg goes all out with the quality of his production and totally ignores the narrative aspect to this movie. It truly is a bad movie.

It looks like fun,.....but you'd be wrong
Shockingly, Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, the two who would make the ever-popular Back to the Future (1985) trilogy, carried out the writing. It's just baffling though to how here bad the story telling is. The problem is that there is no story. Throughout the entire running time, viewers just follow random events of different groups of individuals until all of their story lines collide at the climax. The only thing connecting them altogether is that it’s the year 1941 - that's a very weak connection. Even worse is the grand magnitude of the casting that was done for this movie. You have Dan Aykroyd, Ned Beatty, John Belushi, Murray Hamilton, Christopher Lee, Treat Williams, Nancy Allen, John Candy, Slim Pickens, Michael McKean, Dick Miller, Mickey Rourke and the list goes on and on. Yet, not one character has any sort of development. Not a shred. They are all just randomly placed characters in a period piece with no exposition to their background or contain much humanity.

Speaking of period piece, who's idea was it to make this a comedy? There were only about three times I chuckled...forget laughing. Was this film supposed to parody that of what America went through during World War II? It wasn't memorable nor did it feel respectful for the people who gave their lives (on either side). What's even more disrespectful is that none of the scenes connect very well or make much sense. There's a city brawl scene that goes on for minutes on end. There are scenes where viewers watch John Belushi fly his plane with little to no reason until much later. Come on guys, make a story. Spielberg's direction is also very questionable this time around. I'm not sure what his angle was but in every scene something is being demolished. It's as if Spielberg was testing to see how many perfectly good-looking set pieces he could destroy. In some ways it feels like the 70s version of a Michael Bay explosion extravaganza. It never stops.

Nothing on Belushi, but this character is just there....
Plus with the editing, the running time, which is only 2 hours, feels like an eternity. Michael Kahn, an editor for several famous movies must've been off his rocker for this one. How did he not think there weren't any scenes to trim? The cinematography isn't very special because majority of the movie is in the dark. Not a very visual experience. The practical effects are good but again with everything else a miss, it's not much praising over. Even John Williams' score was mehh. It definitely had the classic Williams listening experience but for a film that was so hodge-podge it barely makes up for the problems. Plus, I heard no memorable theme. Williams can do better than that.

It has good practical effects, a large cast of famous actors and acceptable music. However, with scenes that barely connect with one another, thin characters, questionable humor and a transparent plot, this is by far Steven Spielberg's worst movies. What was he thinking?

Points Earned -->2:10

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Rocky II (1979) Review:

The world is not always the nicest of place to be, even when things are going your way. This is one of the most important life lessons to be learned from this movie. Rocky (1976) was about an everyday guy that was thrown into the spotlight from individuals from higher places and proved to others that he was something. However, even with all the hype, as time went on, the "Italian Stallion" didn't get very far. It's the sad truth. The public is a tough crowd to please. Once out of the direct visual pathway that is the person's eyes, the memory immediately begins to fade. The old saying stays true no matter what - "Out of sight, out of mind". This is what Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) must overcome again in this installment and it fits in perfectly.

Living the life after his success
After being ignored two films after his debut in Rocky (1976), Stallone incorporated this real-life experience into the screenplay of this entry. Here Stallone brings his fans back to Philadelphia to continue the story of Mr. Balboa. After displaying to the world his ability to box, Rocky decides to hang up the gloves and move on. He marries his love Adrian and begins creating their own life together. Sadly with this comes a cost. Rocky can't find anything lucrative enough to help support Adrian and himself. This aspect of Stallone's writing is reflective to what he went through after his debut and it hits home with force. It's very frustrating to try and start over again and expect to have a different outcome from the previous one. In a way, all this does is remind Rocky of what he's good at - fighting. It's a development that Rocky goes through that makes it all the worth while.

Another part of Rocky's development lies in him becoming a little more civilized. People complain he can't read, so he decides to read more often. It's a nice little addition to show that although Rocky is different, he's listening for suggestions to help make himself a better person. As Stallone's second film as director, it shows that he took careful time to make sure that the arc Rocky goes through is eye opening. The supporting cast from the original return as well. The only problem here is that some characters have motivational changes for certain opinions without a clear reason. There are conclusions that can be drawn to why, but it would be better to have a clear reason. Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) returns for a rematch and is this guy ripped. Weathers really outdid himself this time.

Goin' at it
Talia Shire continues to make Adrian a great supporter of Rocky. Nobody could ask for a better girl. Burt Young as Paulie also supports a little more than the last time. Lastly Burgess Meredith as Micky still is able to stick it to Rocky when he needs it most. He was a key player to begin with so its important that he hung around. The cinematography by Jaws (1975) cameraman Bill Butler, recaptures all the money shots from the first film which is also good. When it came to the fight sequences, the editing was quick to the point and kept things moving. It also made the film that much more entertaining. Finally, Bill Conti's second score to the movie was just emotional as the last. There were tracks that were repeated but at least the tracks weren't edited or mixed with others. I think Conti even made a few new tracks as well, which is always good. A worthy follow-up.

Aside from having some unclear motivational changes, the continuation of the life of Rocky successfully continues to push the character to different heights. This and the strong direction, entertaining match sequences emotional music and likable supporting cast makes it all more enticing to see.

Points Earned --> 9:10

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Above the Law (1988) Review:

The 1980s were a decade of Hollywood being claimed by several different actors and franchises. Horror films exploded and action stars became the next thing. The biggest of action stars to turn up at the time would be the obvious, like Sylvester Stallone & Arnold Schwarzenegger. Then came other actors like Chuck Norris, Dolph Lundgren, Bruce Willis and Jean Claude-Van Damme. All of which these actors had played some type of action role prior to the film that made their action star debut. As for Steven Seagal, his debut was an action film with nothing prior to it either. He was lucky because if he had started any later, who knows if his career would've taken off. To most, audiences find this to be one of Seagal's best. It is by no means executed badly but there are various problems.

That face,....looks like it means business
In his film debut, Seagal plays a cop named Nico Toscani who like many other cop films at the time, considered themselves to have the authority to do whatever they felt was right. Upon being introduced to Nico, viewers are also dropped into what seems to be a very convoluted plot that at times is clear, while other times is confusing. I'm surprised the three writers couldn't handle this, considering Ronald Shusett writer of Alien (1979) and Total Recall (1990) was apart of the trio. What isn't clear is the main plot. Nico begins to think the department he works for is corrupt, but on what exactly they are dealing with is foggy. The elements involve drugs and politics, yet the order at which its described is all over the place which makes it hard to follow. That like other police thrillers, so many names are referenced at which half don't mean squat or are connected thinly to the plot.

What the writers did accomplish was fleshing out Seagal's character nicely. At the very least, audiences will understand why Nico thinks his say is the final say. Understandably, after what he went through early in life, who wouldn't feel the same way? Seagal in his first role performs well. He is not able to spout out lines as memorable as his other action counterparts but there are times where his charm does shine through. The supporting cast is all right. None of them are bad and none stand out either. The only two actresses that are worth mentioning is a young Sharon Stone (before she was famous) and Pam Grier. Never saw that coming. Background wise, these characters don't go through much an arc but they at least give human performances that blend with Seagal's showing.

Sharon Stone
Since this is also Seagal's first movie it was certainly important that he displayed his skills and he does do that. His hand-to-hand combat skills are phenomenal. The introduction that shows him in slow motion implementing these moves is mesmerizing. It'll have people saying to themselves, "I want to learn how to do that". I know I did, it looked awesome. The only downside to this, is that the action doesn't happen as frequently as one would think. For an hour and forty minutes, the action is spread out. Why? This is Seagal we are showing here. Along with that is the steady camerawork and editing. The music provided by David Michael Frank was nice too. Again, his forte is more in synthetic instruments (i.e. Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991)), but that doesn't mean it's bad quality. Frank contains a main theme and the Asian element at which co-exists in Nico's background is appropriate. It did work as movie, it just had more issues than expected.

It has appropriate music, visually appealing hand-to-hand combat and a good first performance as Steven Seagal's film debut. Unfortunately, it could've been stronger if the plot wasn't so muddled with vague details.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Friday the 13th Part II (1981) Review:

Even though Friday the 13th (1980) was not the most original of ideas, it still maintained a level of entertainment that came as a surprise, considering that it took the main premise from Halloween (1978). Although the style was also parallel, the story was different which helped it stand out from other horror films at the time. Jason Vorhees - who would've known that would become a common name? Of course this wasn't revealed until close to the ending of the first film. Plus, by the ending viewers were introduced to a melancholy ending about where the remains of Mr.Vorhees were. It wasn't the fullest of closure but it did end the tragic story rather well. Apparently Paramount felt that wasn't enough closure.

A new cast of no name actors
What Part II decides to do is bring the story full circle. This idea is successful in some respects, while at other times the execution leaves more questions instead of answering them. One of the best parts about this sequel is its continuity. If there's one thing a sequel should get right, it's sticking to the story it originally told. It has got to and thankfully the filmmakers accomplished that. This is accomplished by showing and explaining to its audience what happened to the girl from the original. Then, the story sets itself up with a new cast of camp counselors. Unfortunately this is where things began to head south. For one, the characters are flat. There is barely a character that makes themselves feel any different from the last bunch of counselors fans viewed from the first film.

Along with that are individual story lines to these characters that go unfinished. Unlike the first entry, which ended with a decent amount of closure (with a few loose ends), this entry misses even more, with absent explanations on a few of the main characters. Ron Kurz writing is very uneven. He keeps continuity but forgets to keep this work in line. As Steve Miner's debut, his direction is fairly predictable sadly on a lot of cases. Much of the execution relies on copying its predecessor with no creativity or uniqueness this time. Not even its cinematography by Peter Stein grabs the attention. Stein likes to keep his cameras hidden in the brush so that its impossible to get a feeling for all the surroundings. There isn't much to be see this time.

That same faceless danger though....
Besides continuity being one of its strong points, the violence, background concept and music are commendable. Although the gore has been edited quicker, the bloodshed is still heavy and gruesome. The background concept to what happened to Jason and being expanded upon is interesting. It dilutes Jason's motivations a bit and lacks clarity but it still is an eye grabber. Music was again produced by composer Harry Manfredini. For the most part, Manfredini keeps everything the same. Still screeching strings and whispering ghostly voices. It is nice keeping the signature feeling but incorporating some tunes would've been better. It's not a terrible entry but it could've had the bumps smoothed out.

The sequel manages to keep clear continuity with its parent yet fails to clear up anything for the current entry. With a cast resembling a carbon copy of its first set of characters, the execution feels too similar except for a few parts like its violence and background concepts.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Monday, August 18, 2014

Grave Encounters 2 (2012) Review:

Some particular acts are just hard to follow - even if the original wasn't the best to begin with. Grave Encounters (2011) was an independent horror film that gained traction after having an interesting premise which was having a setting in an abandoned asylum. It did have a number of issues like hardly likable characters and continuity errors but on an entertainment level, it did have quite a bit of smaller thrills. For one, its production design looked great and the mythology behind the asylum had a creepy factor that made it hard to resist. Surprisingly, it warranted this sequel which has a couple of areas that felt like it could've went somewhere. However, the entirety of the story is much less believable.

Doesn't Alex Wright looks like such
an interesting character?
One key aspect that this sequel does maintain is continuity with the original. Thankfully, the script doesn't rehash everything but it's not enough either. Now, viewers are introduced to a different group of filmmakers. What's the age range of these filmmakers - cliche #1, teenagers. Naive, unlikable and annoying teenagers. The "leader", if you want to call him that, Alex Wright (Richard Harmon) is a vlogger who reviewed the original Grave Encounters (2011) film and began doing research on it. Soon he learns that the actual footage might be real and  decides that he should go to the same asylum to confirm his hunch. This particular plot line is certainly no longer original, but what makes it even less effective is the build up to that particular plot point.

The first third of the film spends its time getting its audience familiar with the characters before even getting to the asylum. And by familiar, I mean understanding that none of these individuals are likable, have any type of development and act in some of the most despicable ways. The rest of the cast that joins Alex Wright are by no means more interesting than one another. There's one character named Trevor Thompson (Dylan Playfair) who is by far the most obnoxious and dimwitted of the group. Right from the beginning, Trevor is portrayed as nothing else but a dummy. That's a great way to introduce our main cast. Richard Harmon as Alex Wright is nothing close to likable. He's just a geeky wannabe film director who goes looking for trouble. Does he do anything for anyone else in the running time? Nope. Yeah, our protagonist everyone.

The only plus there is for casting is having Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson) return. Even though from the first film he didn't give much charm, his character has far more than the rest in this movie. However, the real missed opportunity to this sequel was having the teenagers be even more prepared for the asylum. There were actual parts that showed the teenagers devising a couple tricks to make sure they knew how to exit if necessary, but it wasn't for long. Once set up, the play out isn't any different from the original, if not worse. You think if these kids really wanted to be prepared, they would've done nothing that was done in the original film. Plus, they have no excuse because in this particular universe, the main characters also saw the movie. This means they saw 100% of what the real audience (us) saw.

Yes because the color green is so terrifying
Horror wise, there's nothing to be creeped out about now. The mythology behind the asylum is dropped which is a big reason to why this claim is made. To begin with, the asylum was already explained in the original so there's nothing the audience hasn't seen. Next is the lack of tension, for this entry, the new director wastes no time diving into its blatant jump scares and recycled ghouls. There's only one scene where something new is done and that’s some specter having an agenda. This is only revealed much later on. The violence is probably on the same level as the last but it's not effective enough to create any scares. However, like the original there are a few twists. Unfortunately the twists aren't as effective either because of their lack of physical knowledge. Music was again absent 99% of the time due to its genre but again, with this kind of story, it doesn't help.

There are some points in the running time that are done differently from that of the original but that's not saying a whole lot. The characters are even less likable than the last batch and the tension barely exists. It could've gone somewhere but its poorly written script did not permit that.

Points Earned --> 3:10

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Night at the Museum (2006) Review:

Ben Stiller has been in the film industry for quite some time. Weird thing is, the man has aged nicely. He has a rounded out career of taking part in family productions all the way up to flat out adult content. He's a versatile actor / write / producer / director. Then there's director Shawn Levy. A man with a number of films under his belt that most people would consider are decent films. As for the one that really kicked his career into gear,...that was probably this one - thanks to Stiller. Before that Levy had directed a few other theatrical releases but garnered little respect. Films like The Pink Panther (2006) remake and Big Fat Liar (2002) had more viewers rolling their eyes than actually praising it. However, although this movie still has its issues, it definitely hit a high mark because it has two sequels.

Yes because a European understands you....
Going back to the start, viewers are introduced to Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) a divorced father who's having a tough time in life finding a promising career. He has a young son and his wife lives with? Is married to? I don’t know,...there's another guy who's with Larry's wife and kid. Up to this point, Larry's son is losing faith in his father. Hoping not to lose him entirely, Larry finds a job as a night guard at the Museum of Natural History. There he meets the veteran guard crew that includes actors Mickey Rooney, Dick Van Dyke and Bill Cobbs. What Larry doesn't realize is that the museum is more special than he thinks. Every night, the museum ends up pulling a Toy Story (1995) moment where all the objects in the room come to life. However it is only for the night, when the sun rises it's back to normal. My question is, apparently this phenomena has been going on for 54 years. 54 years! How did they keep this secret for so long and not a peep? Surely someone told somebody else on the outside.

This is a big hole in its story. But there a number of other issues as well. First, the back-story to Mr. Daley is very cliched. Larry is just another recycled character that has been used before. A down on his luck person finds something that changes his life forever. It is really overused. Second is communication. When Larry begins to realize about the museum's secret, several characters that do not speak the same language confront him. So how is it that later on they are able to understand him clearly if he or they still didn't learn the other person's language? The continuity is all over the place specifically with that. Last is comedy.  It's not that it doesn't work but there are times where what Stiller considers being funny, comes off more obnoxious than comical. This pretty much comes down to Stiller just being clueless in a lot of scenes. That is until he learns how to try and handle the work he's given. That's when he becomes funny.

In spite of that, what really sells this movie are the other various celebrity appearances. The old crew of guards are one. Then there's Brad Garrett who voices an Easter island head. More importantly viewers will enjoy Owen Wilson's uncredited appearance as Jedediah who constantly bashes heads with Roman emperor Octavius (Steve Coogan). Both of these two are funny especially when they are doing human related tasks because of their literal height challenge. Finally is Teddy Roosevelt played by the ever popular and manic actor, Robin Williams. Williams unfortunately does not go all out but there are tidbits of his humor that we all know and love. It was smart of the casting department to grab a hold of him. And with all these actors, their special effects counterparts do blend in nicely. Nothing looks dated after all this time, which is good.

Break it down guys!
One thing that'll stand out a lot though is the production design. Most of the set was a sound stage,...but that fooled me and probably a lot of other viewers. The set honestly looks like they filmed the inside the Museum of Natural History. Credit goes to Claude Paré who would later demonstrate his talent even more in the Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) reboot. Lastly comes Alan Silvestri's score to the film, which quite frankly is a deviation from most of his usual work. Because this isn't an action film, Alan Silvestri's similar themes used for those kinds of sequences aren't propelled like one would think. In fact, Silvestri includes more soft tunes and a more wondrous feel to the museum like atmosphere. This is more appropriate since a museum is supposed to evoke those kinds of feelings. Well done. I do believe there was a main theme but it wasn't the most memorable but overall Silvestri had it.

Looking at its story and plot, it's a largely standard family affair. It will entertain but it's the good special effects, music and character placement of various popular actors that help make it above mediocre.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Expendables 3 (2014) Review:

What made Sylvester Stallone's original entry The Expendables (2010) unique, was that it combined its cast with a number of actors that were from his time and on. According to Stallone, the first film was not blended well with its genres. He didn't know what he wanted it to be; more comedic, more dramatic - he was unsure. Then came the anticipated sequel The Expendables 2(2012) which pleased fans even more by garnering up even more veteran actors, bigger action and a more solid tone. Yet again, according to Stallone, he wasn't totally convinced of the genre it went into. After reading several updates about the movie, Stallone had stated that this entry had found the perfect balance between what he wanted in this franchise. The weird thing is, it's even less clear. But this is the least of the problems. There's a lot more here that needs to be addressed.

This happens less frequent now, and..... 
After the events from the last film, Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his crew find themselves running low on manpower. With only Ceaser (Terry Crews), Toll Road (Randy Couture), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) and Gunner (Dolph Lundgren) left, although the only one absent temporarily is Yin Yang (Jet Li), the team begins to feel a little worn. Luckily they break out an old friend named Doc (Wesley Snipes), someone from Ross' past. There they team up for a manhunt on an individual Ross & Co. never saw coming. The person they end up finding is Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), an ex-expendable. Then, with no foresight, Barney and his team are hit hard. This sends Barney into a mode where he wants to finish the job but without losing his team members. So he sets out to find a younger set of expendables. The idea is thoughtful for how it'll continue with new blood but unfortunately its execution has issues.

The biggest problem is that the movie is over saturated with characters. There are too many additions for every character to be developed decently. There's nothing wrong with Mel Gibson playing a villain - the problem is showing its audience practically nothing about him. He's a villain, so of course he's going to be rude and heartless but other than that, all fans will understand is that he sells boring paintings to buyers,...or something like that. Even, Eric Roberts from the first film and Jean-Claude Van Damme from the second had clear motivations. Here, Gibson is just a black market dealer,..maybe an explanation isn’t given other than his past. Gibson really doesn't even do that much until getting near the finale. However, this is nothing compared to Harrison Ford's, Arnold Schwarzenegger's or Jet Li's appearances. If you, the viewer, were expecting more time with these characters, I apologize but that isn't the case. Even Antonio Banderas is shortchanged for a good portion. There is just not enough time to fit in every single character properly. Most of their screen time is dedicated to the finale, which is nice but still will leave the audience feeling gipted.

Don't get me wrong, seeing all these different actors come together on the same screen is awesome but it would've been better to introduce over a longer period that just being thrown in all at once. The old cast is able to maintain their usual charm along with the new veteran additions. This goes for the younger set or "new blood" as their called. They all perform nicely. The direction is what slows the movie down, almost to 2 hours. With this new young cast, the recruitment takes time, which makes the movie feel longer and bloated. When the action finally arrives, it does entertain to a point but even then there are mishaps. That being the special effects - you'd think with a less gruesome rating of PG-13, the effects would look better and perfected. When in fact, not only do some places look untouched, but also there are some action shots that are repeated,...REPEATED.

Recruitment is taking over....
Cinematography is nice at times but there were frequent changes in location so it's hard to tell and doesn't give its audience a solid ground to where the home plate is. Music is disappointing too. Brian Tyler, a composer who normally produces entertaining scores has gone into dormancy. There were only a couple times I heard a unique theme. One was when Barney worked with the younger crew, Tyler made the expendables theme sound more electronic as if to make it sound more up-to-date than as quoted by one of the new bloods "from 1985" - which would be the original theme, which is also maintained. The argument is that Tyler doesn't do much of anything else except recycle the same tracks from the past films. Tyler is a great composer, so why he had to be lazy, looks bad. Sigh, this is an entry that works but its stakes were raised too high this time.

Stallone's third entry is fun because of how many faces in can jam into its running time, but this is also its biggest flaw. The action and music entertains to a point, but with so many characters, development takes a back seat. There are also other places that feel cheap, like its special effects and cast appearance time.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Monday, August 11, 2014

Lethal Weapon (1987) Review:

Buddy Cop films were not uncommon in the 80s for several reasons. A big reason was that they permitted heavy violence with comical one liners. Another reason though was to pair up two odd ball actors together in one movie. It was a big grab because it allowed for audiences to see interactions between stars that were not normally seen in other genres. Among all the productions that were made, the most popular and critically praised was Richard Donner's Lethal Weapon (1987), the director best known for Superman (1978) and The Goonies (1985) up to that point. Then, attach writer Shane Black to the production and it became an instant hit. Shane Black is the more successful brother of Terry Black, the writer behind Dead Heat (1988).

Danny Glover
Black's set up to the main story is for the most part like any other buddy cop film. Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) is an older police officer on the force getting close to retirement. Officer Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) is widower who can't be handled by his coworkers. Ever since he lost his wife, Riggs has been on the edge and no one wants to be partnered up with him. That is until he gets assigned to be with Murtaugh. Once Riggs meets Murtaugh, there is initial friction but they soon grow on each other with emotional backstories that are developed enough for the audience to care and understand. Aside from that, both Glover and Gibson give their characters a decent dose of charm. Glover is great at being the tired elderly cop and Gibson is great at being all over the place and bouncing off the walls. These contrasts are fun especially when they share the screen together.

There's also a number of supporting actors cast in this movie. Gary Busey and Tom Atkins also have significant roles to play. Tom Atkins plays key a part in a homicide that Riggs and Murtaugh have to figure out. Gary Busey doesn't play a unique individual but makes his performance interesting because he's not all out crazy. He's a bit disturbing but not loony. That's Gibson's role anyway. Sadly there isn't much to say about cinematography or editing. It is competently done though. The cinematographer was Stephen Goldblatt (who might be editor Mark Goldblatt's brother?). The editor was Stuart Baird, who also worked with Donner on Superman (1978). Other than that, there's nothing to say that really stood out.

Mel's crazy face
The action was handled well especially when it came to fight sequences. Mel Gibson sure knew how to throw a punch. As for shootings and car chases, nothing there felt special either, I actually expected more. Musically related, Michael Kamen produced the score  while collaborating with Eric Clapton. Was it memorable? Ehh, not really. However, the sound was different than most scores. This particular score highlighted the most saxophone in it than any other score I've listened too. This made it unique, sadly not enough to remember though. I don't even recall a main theme. However, there were some scenes that were effective - like Mel Gibson's emotional trauma. That worked, but it worked on occasion. It is still a well-made action film no doubt.

It has a good cast of actors, fun action and a well-written story. Music and camerawork are good too but nothing to be amazed over. Fun fun.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) Review:

Some particular characters just have trouble coming back to movies. It happens even to the most popular of characters. After Batman & Robin (1997), it took almost a whole decade before the caped crusader returned in Batman Begins (2005). Clark Kent was another; after Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), it wasn't until Superman Returns (2006) that fans saw the man of steel of again. A big chunk of the reason why these characters went into hibernation was due to poor box office numbers and critical responses at the time. The same can be said for the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. After Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993), nobody saw another live-action theatrical release until now. What a wait, and after all this time, has the time paid off? In some ways yes, but in other ways no.

The design is unique from that of the early stages,...
When Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993) failed to bring in any acclaim, it was time to head back to the beginning. Time travel was no longer an option. The introduction starts off somewhat similar to that of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990), with a city terrorized by a mysterious gang known as the Foot Clan and April O'Neil (Megan Fox) is going to be the reporter to reveal the truth. Or at least so she wants to be, and this is where things get different. O'Neil is no longer a top news anchor, she's low of the low, struggling to make it to the top. The weird thing is, it’s hard to feel much for any particular character. She has been molded into somewhat of a pushover. Ouch. Accompanying her is coworker Vernon (Will Arnett) who has a thing for April (gee what a surprise - but isn't he kind of old?) and together they make a discovery they never thought was possible.

Enter the turtles Raphael, Donatello, Leonardo and Michelangelo. Four very large muscular reptiles that have quite a new look. For one thing, their personalities and design are more exaggerated than before which helps viewers identify them easier (even though the masks were enough). Noticeably, they look like what could've been the next generation turtles that were going to be used for the dropped TMNT sequel to number III. Thankfully, their back stories for the most part are not tampered with. They also all still have their respective personalities and mannerisms. The voices behind the CGI characters are commendable. They do fit the turtles nicely. Still, it would've been better to use as many practical effects instead of relying entirely on CGI. Those Jim Henson costumes were groundbreaking.

Aside from this though, not many other characters have much to care about. First off, where is Casey Jones? Second, the villains in this film are averagely written. The Foot Clan itself has been changed drastically - they no longer are trained ninjas. They now carry pistols and machine guns. This cuts down on the hand-to-hand combat drastically and that's bad because this is a ninja theme based movie right? The infamous Shredder has now traded in background for looks. Yes, no doubt his suit is deadly,...perhaps too deadly. The writers were so focused on how much armor overload they could put on him instead of making a decent villain. Instead, his motivation to harm the turtles has no personal connection thus making him feel like a henchman. William Fichtner also has a particular role to play yet vanishes at the end with no closure of what his fate was.

But seriously,....armor overload.....
The plot is another unclear element. It isn't bloated with subplots but it doesn't come across as a plot that makes much sense. The comedy is a hit and miss as well. The comedic moments work the most when the turtles are in action. Other times like including fart gags and contemporary TV references feels a bit randomly thrown in. There was one scene that frustrated me. When Rapheal begins to emote to his brothers passionately about how he feels, this emotional moment ends on a gag. It undermines the whole scene! Back to action, several scenes do entertain but are not very tense. The best scene was the snow mountain chase, which looked like fun. Helping to make this "superhero" film as good as it could be was Brian Tyler's score. Uncommonly, Tyler does have a main theme for the franchise but doesn't reiterate it enough through the film to make it stick as the protagonists' head tune - and Tyler is better than this. Iron Man 3 (2013) and The Expendables (2010)? This should've been a walk in the park. Does it entertain yes,...but is it good as it could've been for a reboot, no.

The turtles and the shredder receive astounding image upgrades and do have some energetic action sequences but only the turtles themselves have any shred of humanity. The human characters, plot, comical elements and music aren't developed enough to be truly special.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Friday, August 8, 2014

Eight Below (2006) Review:

Almost everyone has a pet at some point in his or her life. Even an imaginary friend can be remotely close to that in some cases. They are animals that share a special connection with its owner. Something of which only the owner and pet could understand. Out of these various animals that constitute as pets, the most domesticated and common of all is the dog. Regularly labeled as "man's best friend", the dog continues to be the one of the few animals that can garner enough people to come out and see them in movies. Yes cats are also popular but besides Garfield (2004), who isn't even real, what other films have portrayed cats in a positive manner as of recent? Majority of the time, they are portrayed as antagonists.

The dog team!
There's also nothing better than pairing up a dog with almost any girl's dream guy and a guy’s right hand man, Paul Walker, who by this time was already well known thanks to The Fast and the Furious (2001) franchise. Here, Walker plays Jerry Shepard (huh, how appropriate) a field guide for a station in Antarctica. There he uses his trusty husky dogs to get around. On a normal day, Jerry is introduced to Dr. McClaren (Bruce Greenwood), a scientist hoping to find a special rock fragment that came from planet Mercury. On their travels they end up running into a snowstorm that drives them back to base. Dismally with no other choice when being evacuated, Jerry is told he has to leave his huskies behind. Once left alone, the dogs begin their journey of survival and Jerry begins his struggle to return to retrieve his pals.

The writing to this movie is astoundingly well rounded. I'm surprised that David DiGilio hasn't gotten much work after this. Supposedly he's penning the slow moving Tron: Legacy (2010) sequel but that's it. Each character has their moment of development when it comes to the fuzzy snow dogs. Supporting Jerry in his emotional troubles are Katie (Moon Bloodgood), who also has a closer attachment to Jerry than everyone else for apparent reasons. There's also Cooper played by Jason Biggs who keeps his humor light and comical since he's better known for being in the American Pie (1999) series. Dr. McClaren's development is the most satisfying though. Be that as it may, the dogs are the ones who earn big props for the things they do in this film.

In fact, along with the running time, viewers may learn some helpful safety tips if one were to be in such situations. I know I did. For one thing, they too get some development. At the beginning Jerry introduces the dog team to Dr. McClaren. From there, if one can remember  most of the names, the viewer will be able to see a number of the dogs grow in character. All the same, the performances behind these dogs are spot on. They reminisce that of the dog actors from The Thing (1982), very well trained. This particular credit belongs to Michael Alexander, an animal trainer who has worked in several other feature films involving animals. His ability to have these dogs act so believable and human like is mind-boggling. Imagine how many hours that took just to get one action performed correctly! Holy cow!

Let's find us some dogs....10-4
The cinematography is another breathtaking element to the film. Weather can be a problematic issue when it comes to making movies. How they filmed the Antarctic scenes is beyond comprehension. It must've been so cold, yet, Don Burgess was able to film large panning shots of the landscape. Snow dunes or frozen lakes, by golly was it magnificent. Burgess is also the guy who worked for Spider-Man (2002), Cast Away (2000) and Forrest Gump (1994). And then there’s Mark Isham's score to the film. Isham is mostly a composer who enjoys adding texture like sound mixes in his music. In spite of that, Isham actually provided a theme for the dogs and used soft piano chords to emote the proper feelings for the dogs. My only complaint was that theme isn't easy to recall. Surely this could not have been that hard to do. Other than that Isham still provided great music. If you enjoy a good adventure of survival, this is it.

Its music lacks a recognizable main theme but it still is powerfully effective along with its likable set of characters and emotional quest of endurance.

Points Earned --> 9:10

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Deep Cover (1992) Review:

Urban crime and the politics that drive it is never a good mix. Nor are they the easiest of situations for an individual to get out of clean free.  It's amazing though to how at the flick of a switch a decision can change the entire game plan. Taking down crime is a tough issue too. It's astonishing to how difficult it is to make a difference. When it comes to this particular realization, for some it takes all of a day, while others believe in one thing and later on discover they should've listened to their instinct. It's sad because it squanders people who could potentially do something better in the future. Laurence Fishburne plays a character somewhat like this.

This was Fishburne before that really him?!
Here, we see Russell Stevens (Larry Fishburne, as he was called back then) as a much leaner and fast paced officer of the law who looked to make a difference in society. The reason behind this - his father was a drug addict and witnessed his death. So in order to never become what his father was, he joins the force headed by the questionable Carver (Charles Martin Smith) for having a mentality that feels racist without publicly stating it. What Carver ends up having Stevens do is pose as a drug dealer so he can get inside the lead crime circle founded by a man named Gallegos. The interesting part of this story element is that Stevens is doing exactly what he'd hoped he never get close to. His motivations are clear but his judgement is clouded.

Perhaps the only thing that's confusing about Fishburne's performance is that with the optimistic outlook that he carries, is barely portrayed with the proper emotion. Most of the time he plays it straight face, with an occasional tone raises here and there. A problem that does arise in the writing is the numerous characters that have little significance to the plot. As for the characters that do have significance, they on the other hand are developed to that of mediocrity. Victoria Dillard plays Betty, some exotic mask seller who also works in the drug ring, I guess. She also has no background or motivation. She also has a thing for Stevens, what a surprise. Then there's Jeff Goldblum who plays a happily married father who also works in the drug ring and sleeps with various other women from time to time. Oh and he enjoys having awkward conversations with Stevens about their freaky sexual experiences,......ok. This isn't a comedy.

This is Goldblum's character pretending to be clean
But if there's one thing that director Bill Duke did right was showing the progression at which how bad things can get. As the running time continues, the audience sees the changes at which Stevens has to make so he can match the crime lord that he's after. It's a big mess though, the title really should've been called Deep Crap or something because the further Stevens stays in the game, it feels harder for him leave. The cinematography by Bojan Bazelli is shockingly not captivating this time.  I guess urban landscape isn't his forte. Music related, Michel Colombier's score had an interesting main theme by giving it that early 90s soul feel with bongo drums. Sadly though it wasn't memorable. More could've been done to actually give some emotion to the scenes that were filmed.

This intellectual thriller has moments of clever writing and direction but it doesn't occur often enough. The story contains too many unnecessary characters, its leads are mostly underwritten and the music is forgettable.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Grave Encounters (2011) Review:

When The Blair Witch Project (1999) was released, it opened the gates to a new type of horror genre. This new genre would be called "Found Footage" where the film would play out like it was made on or actually filmed with a hand held camcorder. At the time, it was a new look at how horror films could be captured and presented to viewers. The idea behind this method of filmmaking was to have audiences believe that the events taking place actually happened with no tampering or editing. Then came Paranormal Activity (2007), which many people find rejuvenated the genre. Four years after that with a couple sequels following, the genre again experienced a boom. This film is one these productions that wanted to ride the coat tail. Thankfully, it is nominally entertaining. It's not gold, but it is somewhat captivating.

Lance Preston & his professional team,....
For most found footage films, the horror revolves around people experiencing ghost like events. Paranormal Activity (2007) and several other knock offs took place in a familiar setting, such as a house. What's different here however is that the setting takes place in a mental asylum, long since closed down. Audiences are introduced to Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson) a "professional" ghost hunter who has his own reality series of following ghostly activity. The only interesting actor that was cast was Mackenzie Gray, Jax-Ur from Man of Steel (2013). With them are a couple other characters that barely have any kind of charm. The dialog that these characters are given are quite limited. Mostly from dropping four letter words or complaining relentlessly.

The writing (which includes the dialog) is inconsistent with its intelligence. The dialog is one of them, the pacing is another and the common sense among cast members seems evidently full of hot air. There are moments where people have trouble communicating yet don't think twice about using anything around them to help communicate (at least maybe not till later). Seriously, how clueless are you? And it’s because of these silly actions that slow down the pacing. That and the countless bickering that goes on between the group members. The run time is only an hour and a half, yet the execution feels longer than that. Also there's continuity issues involving what's real and what isn't. However the thing that is notable, writing related, is how the film exposes possible truths about reality shows. It's surprising sometimes to what gets done behind the production.

that is, least when they're rolling
Again, the setting is something new as well. The production design by Paul McCulloch is great. The inside of the asylum looks dingy and worn. It reminisces that of a mix between underwater relics in the Titanic and the visual appeal of the video game Outlast (2014). It is a bit eerie being inside. Once the group is inside they are exposed to number of twists that I didn't see coming. But this also goes back to continuity and how reality isn't what it seems to be. And shouldn't there have been an epilogue because it started with a prologue? The horror elements are mostly jump scares and some violence but it’s not terrible or too cliché (although some is). That and the mix of decent special effects compared to its budget. It could've been worse. The only credit I am questioning is Quynne Alana Paxa as composer. There was no music that I heard of and rightfully so considering the genre. So again why the credit?

Its setting is what helps it be as effective as it can be, with interesting twists and a creepy production design. Don't hope on having any characters that stand out too much though, they're about as generic as they come.

Points Earned --> 6:10