Archive for November, 2011

Mac and Me

Posted in Family, Movie Reviews, Sci-Fi/Fantasy with tags , , , , on November 30, 2011 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

A wheelchair-bound boy helps to reunite an earthbound alien with its extraterrestrial family in this shameless rip-off of Steven Spielberg’s E.T.. Separated from his parents shortly after arriving on planet Earth, a Mysterious Alien Creature (MAC) quickly strikes up a friendship with lonely Eric Cruise (former Easter Seals spokesman Jade Calegory). New to town and in need of a pal after losing his father, Eric discovers just how amazing the universe can be when mischievous MAC takes him on the adventure of a lifetime.

REVIEW:

Around the same time E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial was released, some studio, had the brilliant idea of coming up with their own cute alien who befriends a lonely boy. This formula was tweaked a bit and worked really well years later in Flight of the Navigator, but Mac and Me is nothing more than a wannabe.

I won’t beat around the bush, this is by no means a good movie, but it does have some moments here and there that will keep you at least from wondering why you even bothered watching it in the first place.

The heartbreaking story of Mac and his family will tug at your heartstrings, but the levity that occurs between the time he is separated and hides out with the Cruises and the reunion with his parents.

As with every alien movie, the government wants to do nothing more than capture, dissect, study, and cover up the existence of said aliens. There is no exception here, and these guys serve as nothing more than a nuisance, really, rather than some sort of villains.

I will say, though, that the short dance sequence at McDonald’s was entertaining, but the scene shortly afterwards where Mac and Eric are fleeing the scene was almost straight out of E.T. Hell, I found myself half expecting them to take off and fly.

I must comment on the design of these mysterious alien creatures (MAC). If you remember sea monkeys, that is pretty much what these things look like. Somewhere I read that they were inspired by the alien creatures from the movie Ice Pirates, but I haven’t seen that yet.

So, what is the final verdict on Mac and Me. It is bad, but could be worse. As I said before, it seems to be nothing more than blatant rip off of E.T. coupled, as well as an advertisement for McDonald’s and Skittles. Ironically, when I was little, I got Skittles and Reese’s Pieces mixed up all the time. Should you see this? If you’re in the mood for a good family alien movie and can’t find E.T., then yes, otherwise, there is no real reason to see this.

2 out of 5 stars

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Tekken

Posted in Action/Adventure, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 30, 2011 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In the year 2039, after World Wars have destroyed much of civilization as we know it, territories are no longer run by governments, but by corporations; the mightiest of which is the Tekken Corporation, which controls North America. In order to placate the seething masses of this dystopia, the corporation’s Chairman/CEO, Heihachi Mishima, sponsors the King of Iron Fist Tournament, or Iron Fist – in which fighters battle until one is left standing, who in turn will receive a lifetime of stardom and wealth.

Jin Kazama has been raised in relative peace by his mother, Jun. She has trained him in many styles of martial arts and has been very much a mentor to him, yet mysteriously never speaks of Jin’s father, simply claiming he is dead. Now a rebellious teenage street fighter and contraband runner, Jin witnesses the death of Jun during Tekken’s crackdown on insurgents in Tekken City’s slum area referred to as the Anvil. Grieving the loss of his beloved mother and feeling guilty that he had not been there to protect her, Jin swears revenge. In the ruins of his former home, he finds a Tekken Fighter I.D. belonging to Jun among his late mother’s belongings. Intrigued, he sets off to the Open Call, which allow the masses in the Anvil to pick a fighter for the tournament. After defeating the disgraced fighter Marshall Law, Jin gains sponsorship from former boxer Steve Fox and is hailed by the masses as “The People’s Choice”.

Upon entering the heart of Tekken City, Jin meets and befriends mixed martial artist Christie Monteiro. After witnessing former intelligence agent Raven overpower Capoeira fighter Eddie Gordo in the very first match, Jin wins his match against Miguel Caballero Rojo, nearly killing him in a fit of rage. Heihachi’s son and right-hand man, Kazuya, is impressed and offers Jin a place in Tekken Corp., but Jin flatly refuses. Later that night, after sneaking out with Christie and visiting a nightclub where they flirt and bond, Jin is attacked by the assassin sisters Anna and Nina Williams, who are acting on the orders of Kazuya, who is scheming to take over Tekken Corp and now sees Jin as a possible obstacle. Jin survives the assassination attempt, thanks to Christie’s interference. Steve and Christie both attempt to dissuade Jin from continuing in the tournament, as his life is in danger. Against their wishes, Jin vows to win Iron Fist and kill Heihachi. Meanwhile, Kazuya blackmails the tournament’s current champion Bryan Fury into killing Jin in a match or be exposed as a cyborg, effectively banning him from the tournament for life.

During the quarter-finals, Jin is matched up against the mysterious swordsman Yoshimitsu. Heihachi, taking a shine to this young fighter, deems that this match be reserved for the semi-finals and attempts to change the order. He is stopped by Kazuya, who has gained control of the Jackhammers, or Jacks (high tech soldiers used for peacekeeping and insurgent destruction). Kazuya then has Heihachi imprisoned and orders the match to begin, effectively seizing control of Tekken. Jin narrowly defeats Yoshimitsu, thanks to Heihachi tripping a security alert in the arena. Following the match, Kazuya orders all of the fighters to be detained. He later tells the imprisoned fighters that the rules have changed, wherein they must fight to the death in order to advance. Jin, Christie, and Steve launch an escape along with Raven and Heihachi. Unfortunately Raven is wounded and recaptured, but the rest make it out to the Anvil.

In the Anvil, Heihachi reveals to Jin the true nature of his origin, explaining that many years ago, Kazuya raped Jun and attempted to kill her, effectively making Kazuya Jin’s long-lost father. She survived Kazuya’s assault, but Heihachi found her first and took her out of Tekken City to keep her alive. Heihachi also states that now Jin could potentially become the next chairman of Tekken Corporation and that the corporation’s true purpose is to restore order to the chaos-ridden world and help the people rise again, though Jin expresses disagreement and emanates distrust upon being told this. Heihachi entrusts Jin with the task of defeating Kazuya, but soon after, he and his party are located by Jacks and engage in a quick firefight that results in the death of Steve, and the recapture of the rest. Before taking Jin and Christie back to Iron Fist, Kazuya orders the Jacks to execute Heihachi.

Back in the tournament, an injured and dispirited Jin is forced to fight against Bryan, who had beaten and killed Sergei Dragunov in his last fight, in the finals while Kazuya holds Christie captive in the control room. At first he is outmatched, but inspired by memories of his mother and her teachings, Jin triumphs after a bloody struggle and kills the cyborg. Angered, Kazuya enters the tournament himself, armed with two half moon axes in hand, and begins the final match. The weaponless Jin is battered and seems on the brink of losing, but is saved when Christie escapes, shooting the Jacks guarding her and creating a distraction. This allows Jin to wound and pin down Kazuya, who baits Jin by claiming that he remembers Jun and how “she put up quite a fight”. Kazuya taunts him into inheriting the Mishima Curse (Heihachi imprisoned and killed his father and Kazuya murdered Heihachi), but Jin refrains from killing his father, stating that he is a Kazama, not a Mishima. Christie comes down to the stage and declares Jin the new Iron Fist Champion. Elated, the crowd both in and outside the arena cheer for him. When Christie asks where he will go, he replies that he will go back home to the Anvil. He walks out of Tekken City’s gate and, in a scene reminiscent of Tekken 5, he is saluted by the Jacks – symbolizing his role as the new CEO of Tekken Corp. Jin walks the streets of the Anvil, a crowd follows him. A voiceover from Christie explains that Jin’s victory made the Kazama family name synonymous with hope amongst his people in the Anvil, but that the true legacy of Tekken is only beginning.

In a post-credits scene, a wounded Kazuya walks by the holding cells back at the arena, as the scene shifts back to Heihachi’s execution. A Jack is forcing Heihachi to kneel at gunpoint. His final words are: “I am Mishima Heihachi. I…am…Tekken.” He then commands the Jack to obey, and the Jack does so. Heihachi lives, ready to take back Tekken.

REVIEW:

I’m not too familiar with the Tekken game series. I seem to recall playing it a couple of times in the arcade, but nothing more than that. I’ve always been more of the Mortal Kombat or, to a lesser extent Soul Caliber type of guy. So, when I found out they were making a video game of this very popular franchise, I was curious, but I had my reservations. After all, I had just watched the horrid Street Fighter movie not too long before.

I think you know how this film plays out. We meet the hero, something traumatic happens, he enters a tournament, gets beat down, falls in love with the hot fighter, and then goes on to win the whole thing in dramatic fashion. Yes, it follows that exact formula, without even a slight variation. The difference, though, is that this film seems to focus more on the fighting than anything else.

I’m not quite sure that is a plus or negative. On one hand, I’m glad they chose to emphasize the action above some sappy story they attempted to shoehorn in to make a “better movie”. On the other hand, though, it sort of felt like they were trying too hard to make it feel like the game, and that was a real turn off for me.

The setting of the film, in some dystopian future, didn’t really seem to work. I’m not too familiar with the game, as I said before, but something tells me this isn’t right. It is sort of like the weird setting in Masters of the Universe, and I believe we all know how well that worked, don’t we?

I will say that the fight scenes are sightly impressive, but I’ve seen better. This flick seems to be more concerned with trying to be some sort of MMA advertisement that a film based on a popular video game series. Does this mean it is a bad film? No, not necessarily, but this just isn’t really worth the time to watch. At least, I didn’t find it worth the time. So, I cannot, in good conscious, recommend it, but rather I have to say that it best to be avoided.

2 1/2 out of 5 stars

Wieners

Posted in Comedy, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on November 30, 2011 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Fran Kranz stars as Joel, a guy who has recently been dumped by his girlfriend (on the advice of an abusive television therapist Dr. Dwayne, played by Darrell Hammond), sending him into a spiral of depression. His two friends, Wyatt (Kenan Thompson) and Ben (Zachary Levi), take him on a road trip to lift his spirits and take revenge on Dr. Dwayne. The friends take their trip in Wyatt’s van, which he has customized into a cross-country hotdog stand in an attempt to impress Oscar Meyer and get a job with them. On the way, they encounter an elderly nymphomaniac couple who had a sexual intercourse in front of them. After being dropped off, they realized their wallets are stolen by three women, leaving them with only ten dollars delivered to Wyatt in a 15-year-old birthday card from his grandmother. They use this money to enter en into a hot bod contest, which Ben had a flashback on which his mother constantly yells at him to work hard in competition. After getting advice from a man Walrus Boy, he wins, getting $10,000 for the prize. As they approach their destination, Joel abandons his friends in a fit of hopelessness, winding up drunk in a back alley. His childhood tormenter, Drake Hanswald (Andy Milonakis), appears in a hallucination, and Joel watches helplessly as his younger self is tormented by Drake and all of his other classmates. Realizing that he needs to change his situation and stand up for himself, Joel returns to his friends just in time to save them from the hippies who had previously stolen Wyatt’s hood ornament. The next morning they go to the studio where Dr. Dwayne’s show is filmed and sneak in. After beating up Dr. Dwayne’s decoy, the real Dr. Dwayne appears, revealing that he intentionally caused Joel’s breakup to motivate Joel to take a stand for himself. He also reveals that he has found a rich man that Wyatt had saved from a life of drugs, who is willing to finance Wyatt’s Wieners. Ben makes a speech to the audience and accepts his homosexuality. Now that the friends have all achieved what they needed, they head home, and we learn that Wyatt’s Wieners became the 4th most successful pre-packaged meat company in the U.S. and that he lives in a hotdog-shaped house with his dachsund named Beyonce. Ben went on to become a successful lawyer and cologne designer, and that he currently lives with his “roommate” Johnathan and his two cats. Joel invented “unpantsable” pants, and the three friends take the Wienerwagon on a road trip every year to spread cross-country happiness.

REVIEW:

As usual, I have found a film that few, if any, have even heard of. Usually, when I do this, said picture is about as horrible as one can get. Is this the case with Wieners?

Well, the plot of tis film is 3 loser friends…well, 2 are losers, the other is the semi cool guy who keep them out of trouble. You know the type. Anyway, one of the losers is in funk because he was dumped on national television by his fiancée. The other loser has been rejected by Oscar Meyer 12 times, so he goes out and buys a wiener truck so that he can go around the country selling hot dogs in an attempt to prove himself to the company. Needless to say, this leads to many random adventures, occurrences, and what not along the way.

I have to say that while I thought this was going to be the most horrific films I’ve seen in the past few months, it did have some moments that had me laughing out loud. That being said, it also had some moments that were just like WTF?!?

Having a nice concept just isn’t enough. The script just didn’t work for me, neither did the cast. On their own, they may have worked better, but the chemistry of the three leads didn’t gel. On top of that, Darrell Hammond’s Dr. Dwayne seems to be a watered down mutation of his Bill Clinton impression with a sprinkle of Dr. Phil. Don’t even get me started on Jenny McCarthy’s over the trop random appearance…or why they even go to see their old teacher in the hopes of getting some.

There is also this rivalry with some kind if vegan truck that results is the hood ornament being stolen (and somehow it learns to talk along the way). I’m still pondering whether this was good or bad.

Final verdict on Wieners? Well, now I want a hot dog, that’s for sure. The film itself is surprising in that it isn’t totally horrible, but at the same time, it could have been so much better. There are enjoyable elements, and you are sure to at least get a chuckle here and there, but then there are moments that will remind you why you haven’t heard of this film before now. Do I recommend this? Eh…if you just want a semi-raunchy comedy, then sure, go ahead, but don’t go out of your way to see it.

2 3/4 out of 5 stars

The Lone Ranger

Posted in Action/Adventure, Classics, Movie Reviews, Westerns with tags , , , , , , on November 29, 2011 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

Set in the American Southwest, the territorial governor enlists the help of the Lone Ranger to investigate mysterious raids on white settlers. Native Americans who ride with saddles. Wealthy rancher Reese Kilgore (Lyle Bettger) wants to expand his land to include Spirit Mountain sacred to local tribes. The Lone Ranger realizes these events are related to encourage a war between settlers and natives to scare settlers away so they won’t discover the rich silver deposits on Spirit Mountain.

REVIEW:

It may come as a surprise to some of you out there, but I have actually never seen an episode of Thr Lone Ranger. When I chose this film from instant streaming today, I thought it was a series of episodes, but, as it turns out, this is the first foray on the big screen for the maked rider.

Some people may say that this plays out as nothing more than an extended episode, but if you look at almost every film that came from TV series that were airing at the time, almost all of them play out that way. Remember the 1966 version of Batman?

I really liked the simplistic story here. Nothing too fancy or complicated, just cowboys and indians fighting over land with the Lone Ranger and Tonto doing what they can to keep the peace and, ultimately, save the day.

Yes, that’s all there is to this. See, nothing fancy, but this is The Lone Ranger. Did you really expect something along the lines of How the West Was Won? If so, then you obviously are not familiar with 60s television series.

In the end, The Lone Ranger is one of those pictures that one would have seen in this era at a Saturday afternoon matinee. It isn’t one of those Earth-shattering pictures, nor is it one of these overhyped, CGI laden, overproduced pictures we see these days. It is just good fun, and I highly recommend you check it out.

4 out of 5 stars

Mary Poppins

Posted in Classics, Disney, Family, Movie Reviews, Musicals with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2011 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

The film opens with Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews) perched in a cloud high above London in Spring 1910. The action descends to Earth where Bert (Dick Van Dyke), a Cockney jack-of-all-trades is performing as a one-man band at a park entrance, where he suddenly senses that his good friend is about to return. After the show, he breaks the fourth wall and introduces the audience to the well-to-do but troubled Banks family, headed by the cold and aloof George Banks (David Tomlinson) and the loving but highly distracted suffragette Winifred Banks (Glynis Johns).

The Banks’ latest nanny, Katie Nanna (Elsa Lanchester), quits out of exasperation after the Banks children, Jane (Karen Dotrice) and Michael (Matthew Garber) run off in pursuit of a wayward kite. Mr. Banks returns home from his job at the Dawes Tomes Mousley Grubbs Fidelity Fiduciary Bank, and Mrs. Banks reveals the children are missing. A policeman (Arthur Treacher), arrives with the children, who ask their father to help repair their damaged kite, but he dismisses them and advertises for an authoritarian nanny-replacement. Jane and Michael draft their own advertisement asking for a fun, kind-hearted and caring person, but Mr. Banks tears up the paper and throws it in the fireplace. Unnoticed, the remains of the note float up the dark chimney.

The next day, a queue of elderly and disagreeable looking candidates await at the door. However a strong gust of wind blows the queue away and Mary Poppins floats down, held aloft by her magical umbrella, to apply. Mr. Banks is stunned to see that this calmly defiant new nanny has responded to the children’s ad despite the fact he destroyed it. As he puzzles, Mary Poppins employs herself and begins work, saying that she will stay for a trial period of one week, before deciding if she will take a permanent position. The children face surprises of their own: Mary possesses a bottomless carpetbag, and makes contents of the children’s nursery come to life and tidy themselves (by snapping her fingers).

The trio then meet Bert, who is a close friend of Mary, in the park at work as a screever, where Mary uses one of his chalk pavement drawings as a gateway to an outing in an animated countryside. While in the drawing, the children ride a Merry-Go-Round while Mary and Bert enjoy a stroll though the countryside, during which Bert dances at an outdoor bistro with four penguin waiters. Mary and Bert join the children on the Merry-Go-Round, from which the horses break loose and take their riders on a trip through the countryside. As they pass by a fox hunt, Bert manoeuvres to save an Irish-accented fox from the bloodhounds. Finally the quartet finds themselves in a horse race, which Mary wins. It is here that Mary first employs the nonsense word “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” The outing is interrupted by a rainstorm, which washes away the chalk drawing and returns the travellers to the park pavement.

That evening, the children ask Mary how long she’ll stay with them. With a sombre expression, she replies, “I shall stay until the wind changes”. The next day, they all visit Bert’s jovial Uncle Albert, who floats whenever he laughs, and join him in a tea party in mid-air (though Mary finds it childish and ridiculous).

Mr. Banks grows increasingly irate with his children’s stories of their adventures, but Mary effortlessly inverts his attempted dismissal of her services into a plan to take his children with him to the Dawes Tomes Mousley Grubbs Fidelity Fiduciary Bank, where he is employed. On the way there, as they pass the bank, the children see “The Bird Woman”, and they want to feed the birds, but George will have none of it as he expresses his uninterest in what Mary Poppins says and orders his children to “come along” and not mention her name for the rest of the day. Upon arriving at the bank, Mr. Dawes—Mr. Banks’ extremely elderly employer—aggressively tries to persuade Michael to invest his money in the bank to the point of actually snatching it out of his hand without waiting for his permission. When Michael protests, the other customers misunderstand, and start a run on the bank that forces the bank to suspend business. The children flee and wander into the slums of the East End of London. Fortunately, they run into Bert, now employed as a chimney sweep. He takes them safely home, explaining that their father does not hate them, but that he has problems of his own, and that unlike the children, has no-one to turn to but himself.

At home, a departing Mrs. Banks employs Bert to clean the family’s chimney and mind the children. Mary Poppins arrives back from her day off and warns of the dangers of this activity, but is too late as the children are both sucked up the chimney to the roof. Bert and Mary follow them and lead a tour of the rooftops of London that concludes with a joyful dance with Bert’s chimney-sweep colleagues. A volley of fireworks from the Banks’ eccentric neighbour, Admiral Boom, who mistakes them for Hottentots, sends the entire gathering back down the Banks’ chimney. Mr. Banks arrives home, forcing Mary to conclude the festivities. Banks then receives a phone call from work ordering him to return immediately for disciplinary action. As Mr. Banks gathers his strength, Bert points out that while Mr. Banks does need to make a living, his offspring’s childhood will come and go in a blink of an eye, and he needs to be there for them while he can. The Banks children approach their father to apologize, and Michael gives Mr. Banks his tuppence in the hope that it will make things all right. Banks gently accepts the offering.

A somber and thoughtful Mr. Banks walks alone through the night-time streets, for the first time noticing several of the buildings around him, including the cathedral and steps on which the woman was sitting earlier. At the bank, he is formally humiliated and sacked for causing the first run on the bank since 1773 (it is stated that the bank supplied the money for the shipment of tea destroyed in the Boston Tea Party). However, after being at a loss when ordered to give a statement, Mr. Banks invokes Mary Poppins’ all-purpose word “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!” to tweak Mr. Dawes. He gives Dawes the tuppence, tells the old man one of Bert’s and Uncle Albert’s jokes and raucously departs. Dawes mulls over the joke, finally “gets it” and floats up into the air, laughing.

The next morning, the wind has changed direction, and so Mary must depart. Meanwhile, the Banks adults cannot find Mr. Banks, and fear that he might have become suicidal. However, Mr. Banks, now loving and joyful, reappears with the now-mended kite and cheerfully summons his children. The greatly relieved Mrs. Banks supplies a tail for the kite, using one of her suffragette ribbons. They all leave the house without a backward glance as Mary Poppins watches from a window. In the park with other kite-flyers, Mr. Banks meets Mr. Dawes Jr., who says that his father literally died laughing. Instead of being upset, the son is delighted his father died happy, and re-employs Mr. Banks to fill the opening as partner. Her work done, Mary Poppins takes to the air with a fond farewell from Bert (who was selling kites), telling her not to stay away too long.

REVIEW:

Someone actually suggested this one to me in the spring, but certain personal events put it on hold indefinitely. Today, I finally get the chance to make good on that promise.

Along with the classic hand drawn animation films of its heyday, one the Disney studios greatest productions had to be Mary Poppins.

This is everything one wold expect from a Disney film. It has bright, brilliant colors, great songs, a heart warming story, and that Disney magic. All of which have allowed it to withstand the test of time.

I was not aware, but should not be surprised, that Mary Poppins was actually a book. I suppose I should go the library and check it out. On that note, another nanny that has gained some popularity in recent years has been said to be Mary’s sister, and that is Nanny McPhee. Now, I don’t know how true or false this is, nor do I care to speculate on it, but I will look into it and see. My suspicion, though, is that they are two similar characters and people just want them to be related for some strange reason.

The songs in this film are great. Often times, a musical will have those 1 or two songs that you’ll be singing months after you watch, and the rest will be forgotten soon after they are over. Well, almost all of these songs are sure to be stuck in your head, with a couple of exceptions, and those aren’t necessarily bad, just not as catchy.

When Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was released, they all said it was the first to mix live action with cartoons. Well, those same people need to look at the scenes that take place in the sidewalk chalk art. Unless I’m seeing things, it looks very much like humans interacting with cartoons, in a cartoon world, no less!

As I said before, I have not read the book, but if this story is anywhere close to the source material then it will be a good read, because the audience can’t help but be enthralled by the plights, exploits, and adventures of each member of this cast, and how they all interact with each other.

It appears, though, that Disney altered the characterization of Mary Poppins. I’ve read that she was supposed to be a bit cruel and stern…ironically like the nanny she replaces or yo cold even go so far as to say Nanny McPhee, if you’d like.

I would have liked a bit more emphasis on the mother, but that’s just a personal preference, rather than a slight against the films. Also, the staff seems to be great comic relief. Using them a bit more might have been a good idea, as well.

Julie Andrews at this time was fresh on the scene. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, this is her big screen debut. What a debut, huh? Just think, though, things just went up from here, even if she has spent the majority of her career as either a nanny or in her later years as some sort of regal figure, such as a queen.

Dick Van Dyke is constantly getting flack for his cockney accent. People are saying that it ruins the film. Personally, I like it. His accent works for his character and throws a bit of spice into a cast that all seem to have the same cookie cutter British accent.

So, what is the final verdict on Mary Poppins? Well, this is hands down one of the best non animated Disney films. I think only Old Yeller is anywhere near as good. With a few minor exceptions, I have to say that this film is, to quote Mary Poppins, “Practically perfect in every way”.

5 out of 5 stars

Super 8

Posted in Movie Reviews, Sci-Fi/Fantasy with tags , , , , on November 27, 2011 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In the summer of 1979, Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), a 14-year-old boy living in the fictional town of Lillian, Ohio, has lost his mother in a factory accident. Louis Dainard (Ron Eldard) comes to the wake, but Joe’s father, Deputy Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler), takes Dainard in handcuffs. It is later revealed that Jackson blames Dainard for the former’s wife’s death because he was absent during his shift and she had to fill in for him.

Four months later, Joe’s friend Charles Kaznyk (Riley Griffiths) convinces Dainard’s daughter Alice (Elle Fanning) to be the protagonist’s wife in his low-budget zombie movie on Super 8 film. Both Joe and Charles secretly have crushes on Alice. Alice appropriates her father’s car and takes Joe, Charles, Preston (Zach Mills), Martin (Gabriel Basso), and Cary (Ryan Lee) to an old train depot where the group plans to film a scene.

During the shoot, Joe watches a pick-up truck drive onto the tracks and place itself in the path of an oncoming train, causing a massive derailment. Something breaks open one of the train car’s doors and escapes. In the aftermath of the accident, the kids find the wreck littered with strange white cubes. They approach the truck and discover Dr. Woodward (Glynn Turman), their biology teacher, behind the wheel of the truck, who purposefully sabotaged the train. He instructs them to never talk about what they saw; otherwise, they and their parents will be killed. Moments afterwards, the U.S. Air Force, led by Colonel Nelec (Noah Emmerich), arrives to secure the crash site while the kids flee the scene.

Over the next couple of days, strange phenomena occur: numerous town dogs run away; kitchen appliances, car engines, and power lines vanish, and people begin to disappear. The Air Force deliberately starts a wildfire (Operation Walking Distance) outside of town, giving them a pretext to evacuate the entire town to a nearby base. Upon arriving at the base, Joe finds Dainard, who tells him that a creature abducted Alice. Joe, Charles, Cary, and Martin sneak back into town and head to their school, where they break into Woodward’s stash of confiscated items, thinking he may have hidden documentation about the creature that might help them save Alice. In the papers, film, and audio recordings, they discover that the government imprisoned an extraterrestrial (played by Bruce Greenwood in motion capture sequences) who crashed on Earth in 1958. The alien only wished to rebuild its ship, using the shapeshifting white cubes and return home, but it was instead imprisoned and tortured by the Air Force, who sought to seize its technology. One film shows Woodward, a researcher at the time, being attacked by the alien. This physical contact caused him to form a telepathic bond with the alien, through which he learned that it only wanted to go home. Woodward derailed the train to free it from captivity.

Colonel Nelec and his men storm the school and capture the boys. They place the children on a security bus and head back to the Air Force base, but the alien attacks the bus on the way. Nelec and his men are killed, while Joe and his friends escape. The kids head through the town, which is now under heavy fire from malfunctioning military equipment as the military attempts to battle the alien. In the confusion Martin is injured and Charles stays behind with him while Joe and Cary go to find Alice. They find the alien’s subterranean lair near the cemetery where Joe’s mother is buried, along with several missing people who have been trapped there by the alien, which has apparently kept them for food. The town’s missing electronics are there, too, formed together to create a giant electromagnet underneath the base of the water tower. Joe manages to rescue Alice, but, as they escape, the alien grabs Joe, who tells the creature that it can still live on even after painful events. The alien understands Joe’s meaning through their tactile telepathic connection and lets go of him, allowing him and his friends to escape.

Shortly after, all the cubes (which break free from Air Force transport trucks) as well as loose metal from around the town are attracted to the town’s water tower. The cubes begin to align and a ship begins to take form around the water tower, which the alien then enters. Joe’s metal locket, which contains a picture of him as a baby with his mother, is also drawn towards the tower, and, after a moment, he decides to let it go, finally putting the past behind him. Everyone watches as the ship takes off toward space.

During the end credits, the full movie that Charles and his friends were working on, titled The Case, is shown, with an epilogue in which Charles asks the film festival judges to select his movie, before he is assaulted by a zombie played by Alice.

REVIEW:

This is going to be a bit of a short review, as I am pressed for time.

Super 8 may have flown underneath your radar this summer, what with all the superhero flicks that we have been privy too, but this flick is one of those that may very well have been underrated.

A throwback to the time when sci-films were more about good filmmaking rather than non-stop CGI, this film does something that films in every genre seem to have forgotten over time, and that is entertain the audience.

The plot isn’t half bad. A tale about some kids making a movie and all of a sudden a big explosion happens that derails a freight train carrying some sensitive government stuff (which of course they want hidden from the public). This all leads to some alien stuff that is the basis for the whole picture.

For the most part, the acting is forgettable, but I guarantee you will be blown away by young Elle Fanning, especially her exposition before the train scene. She left my jaw on the floor.

The special effects here are actually not half bad. They add to the experience, rather than divert from the film, the way so many do these days, which is always a plus in my book.

So, the final verdict on Super 8 is that it isn’t half bad. The throwback aspect of it really makes the film worth watching, but it does drag down for a good chunk of the film while it attempts to develop the plot heading into the climactic final scene. Would I recommend this? Yes, it is a worthwhile sci-fi flick that all can enjoy.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Spartacus

Posted in Action/Adventure, Classics, Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 26, 2011 by Mystery Man

 

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Slaves work in the Roman province of Libya. Spartacus (Kirk Douglas), a burly Thracian, comes to the aid of an old man who has fallen down. A Roman soldier whips Spartacus and tells him to get back to work, only to be attacked and bitten on the ankle. For this, Spartacus is tied up and sentenced to death by starvation.

Lentulus Batiatus (Peter Ustinov), a lanista (an impresario of gladiatorial games), arrives looking for recruits for his gladiatorial establishment. He inspects several slaves before finally settling on Spartacus, recognizing his unbroken spirit, along with his good health and physical condition. Batiatus purchases Spartacus and several others, then sails for Capua where his gladiatorial training camp is located. The trainer, Marcellus (Charles McGraw), immediately tries to provoke Spartacus into giving the trainer a reason to kill the Thracian as an example. Spartacus also befriends another gladiator, Crixus (John Ireland).

After several scenes showing gladiator training and life at the school, Crassus (Laurence Olivier) arrives with some companions, wishing to be entertained by watching two pairs of gladiators fight to the death. Spartacus is selected along with Crixus, an Ethiopian named Draba (Woody Strode), and another gladiator named Galino.

Crixus and Galino are the first to fight, and Crixus slays him. Spartacus is next. He duels the mighty Draba and is defeated. Draba, however, refuses to kill him, instead throwing his trident into the elevated spectators’ box and leaping to attack the Romans. During his climb to the box, a guard throws a spear that lands in Draba’s back, wounding him at the feet of Crassus, who quickly dispatches the slave and prepares to depart.

As Crassus leaves, he purchases the pretty slave woman, Varinia (Jean Simmons). Spartacus and Varinia have fallen in love, and in frustration at his loss and the overseer’s callous treatment, Spartacus begins a successful uprising. The gladiators eventually take Capua and all the surrounding districts. Many local slaves flock to the insurgents. Spartacus outlines his plan to escape by sea from the port of Brundisium, aboard the ships of the Cilician pirates, whom he plans to pay from the slaves’ plunder.

In the Senate of Rome, plebeian senator Gaius Sempronius Gracchus (Charles Laughton) cunningly manipulates Crassus’s protege and friend Marcus Glabrus (John Dall) into taking six cohorts of the Garrison of Rome out to crush the revolt, leaving the way open for Gracchus’s ally, Julius Caesar (John Gavin), to take command of the garrison during Glabrus’ absence. In the meantime, Crassus receives new slaves as a gift from the governor of Sicily. Among them is Antoninus (Tony Curtis), a former children’s tutor from Sicily. Crassus intimidates him during a bath with homoerotic allusions causing Antoninus to run away to join Spartacus.

Spartacus and Crixus review some new recruits, assigning them positions according to their skills. Antoninus, who is among them, identifies himself as a poet and illusionist. Later, he entertains the slave army, but he is determined to be a soldier, indirectly commenting on the relation between politics and art. Spartacus is reunited with Varinia, who had escaped from Batiatus, only to end up the property of yet another master.

A humiliated Glabrus returns to Rome, with only fourteen other known survivors of the attack. After a senate hearing, Crassus is forced to banish Glabrus from Rome for his carelessness.

Rome keeps sending armies to put down the rebellion, but Spartacus defeats them all; one such defeat at Metapontum costs the Romans 19,000 men. Crassus resigns from the Senate, supposedly to share the disgrace of his exiled friend Glabrus. However, Gracchus suspects that he is merely waiting for the situation to become so desperate that the senators will make him dictator, thus neutralizing Gracchus’s rival plebeian party. Gracchus, for his own purposes, maneuvers to help the slaves to escape in order to deny Crassus his opportunity. A disgusted Caesar betrays Gracchus, however, and Crassus reaches deep into his own pockets to defeat the plan.

When the former slaves reach the coast, they discover that the Cilicians have been bought off by Crassus. Spartacus finds himself trapped between three Roman armies (Pompey in Calabria, Lucullus in Brundisium and the legions of Crassus in Rome). The Roman deployment has maneuvered Spartacus into a position where he can be trapped between two Roman armies, and his only other choice is to fight his way through to Rome itself, a strategy with little chance of success. Meanwhile, the Senate gives Crassus the sweeping powers he desires. In parallel scenes, Spartacus harangues the slaves, while Crassus warns against the elimination of patrician privileges. Batiatus is hired by Crassus to help him identify Spartacus after his expected capture, and is in turn promised the dealership of the survivors of Spartacus’s army after its defeat.

The climactic battle begins with Spartacus leading his troops, men and women, against Crassus and his own legions. During the fighting, the slaves initially enjoy some success, but later on Crixus is killed, and the slave forces are overwhelmed by the arrival of the armies of Pompey and Lucullus. The battle results in the total defeat of the rebel army, heavy casualties on both sides, and the capture of many survivors, including Spartacus and Antoninus. Crassus promises the captives that they will not be punished if they will identify Spartacus or his body. Spartacus and Antoninus stand up, but before Spartacus can speak, Antoninus shouts “I’m Spartacus!” One by one, each surviving slave stands, shouting out “I’m Spartacus!” Crassus condemns them all to be crucified along the Appian Way from the battlefield to the gates of Rome, against Batiatus’s wishes. He saves Antoninus and Spartacus for last, recognizing the former and recalling the latter’s face and name from his visit to Capua. The slaves are marched along the Appian Way, where, one by one, they are crucified.

Crassus arrives and orders Spartacus and Antoninus to duel to the death, too impatient to wait for the next day’s celebrations in which the pair was to figure, and furious at Spartacus’s refusal to confirm his identity, Crassus declares that the winner will be crucified. Each man tries to kill the other, to spare his companion a slow, agonizing death on the cross. After killing Antoninus, Spartacus is informed that Varinia and her son are slaves of Crassus, and he is then crucified by the walls of Rome. Crassus admits to Caesar that he now and for the first time fears Spartacus, who has become a martyr, even more than he fears Caesar himself, foreshadowing events to come.

Meanwhile, Batiatus sees that the revenge of Crassus denies him the promised lucrative auction of the surviving slaves. Varinia and her first born son, recovered from the battlefield, are taken to Crassus’ home. Crassus tries to use Varinia as a love slave, and he unsuccessfully tries to woo her. In his last act before committing suicide, the disgraced Gracchus generously hires Batiatus to steal Varinia from Crassus, then grants freedom for her and her son, personally writing out manumission documents for them. Before they leave, Varinia kisses Gracchus in gratitude. After they leave, Gracchus examines two daggers, looks at one and says “Hmm… prettier”. Grabbing one dagger and putting down the other, he goes into the adjoining room, closing the curtains behind him as he leaves, and commits suicide offscreen.

Batiatus and Varinia leave for Gaul via the Appian Way and find Spartacus hanging on the last cross by the road, not quite dead. Varinia shows Spartacus their newborn son, vowing that he will grow up a free man, promises to tell her son, “Who his father was, and what he dreamed of,” and bids Spartacus a final farewell. With one last breath, Spartacus’s head slumps back, and Varinia gets back onto the wagon and rides on.

REVIEW:

Before such films as Gladiator, 300, and the recent Immortals, there was the epic masterpiece Spartacus!

Revered as one of the great historical epics in cinematic history, in the past couple of years it actually has fallen by the wayside due to the HBO Spartacus series, which features a grittier, more violent, and above all, more hedonistic view of the same events.

It is no fluke, however, that this film brought home a few Oscars. Say what you will about the Academy as it stands today, in this era, they actually recognized great films (and the quality was much better back then, mind you.)

Now, at 184 minutes, this does seem to drag on a bit. Even the most dedicated film viewer will get a bit antsy viewing, but there is overture and entr’acte to break things up. Does the length affect one’s view on the film?

Well, for me, I though there were a few things they could have done without, but, at the same time, I see why they were included. Still, there are those out there that aren’t as understanding and forgiving as I.

Often time, I say that if you’re expecting sweeping a great story and sweeping cinematography, then you should look elsewhere. Well, this is one of those films that you should look to if you’re into that sort of thing.

Yes, some of the backgrounds are obviously shot on a soundstage, which, unlike most people, I don’t have a problem with, but the scenes that are of the beautiful countryside are breathtaking. Not to mention those times when they pan out and show the entire slave army vs. the Romans.

In this day and age, as we’ve seen in other films that have used massive military units, armies consist of the cast, a handful of extras, and then a ton of CG. Back in this time, though, every single member of those armies was a real person.

Granted, I’m no proponent of CG, but you honestly can’t tell me that it looks better to have a computer generated version of these soldiers, and you especially can’t tell me it is cheaper to use a computer to create them, than it is to give them a few bucks. I’m just saying.

The story, now let me be clear on this, is a weak point for me. Now, I say this because I was actually watching the HBO Spartacus this morning, so there was a bit of conflicting stores there, and I couldn’t help but compare and contrast. However, if I were to have not watched that show this morning, then I’m sure it would not have been a weak link.

Everything you need for a great story is here. The characters are well developed, the damsel in distress falls for the hero, deception, deceit, action, and a love story. What more does one want?

While this is a historical drama, it is not without its action. Granted, the action is one the scale as the more recent Greek/Roman films that we’ve seen, but it is still there. The climactic battle is well worth the wait, as is the final battle Spartacus endures before he is hung on a cross. Well, I should take that back. That one isn’t the greatest, but just that moment makes it feel as if it is better than it actually is.

There really is not a weak link in this cast. They all turn in superior performances that will leave you wondering why actors were able to actually act back then and seem to just fumble through stuff these days.

So, what is my final verdict on Spartacus? Well, on the surface, this epic seems to be a near perfect film, but it does have a few flaws here and there. However, none of them are large enough for me to acknowledge. My issue, though, is that at just a smidge over 3 hours long, the pacing wasn’t a bit more brisk. I actually lost interest in places. Still, I have to say that this is one of those films one should see before they die.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars