Archive for June, 2015

In Harm’s Way

Posted in Classics, Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 29, 2015 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

John Wayne stars as U.S. Navy Captain Rockwell “Rock” Torrey, a divorced “second generation Navy” son of a career Chief Petty Officer. A Naval Academy graduate and career officer, Torrey is removed from command of his heavy cruiser for “throwing away the book” when pursuing the enemy and then being torpedoed by a Japanese submarine shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Kirk Douglas portrays Torrey’s executive officer, Commander (later Captain) Paul Eddington, a wayward sort of career officer who has resigned as a Naval Aviator and returned to the Surface Navy because of an unhappy marriage. His wife’s numerous “love” affairs and drunken escapades have become the talk of Honolulu and her death during the Pearl Harbor attack – in the company of an Army Air Corps Officer (Hugh O’Brian), with whom she just had a wild fling on a local beach – drives Eddington into a bar brawl with a group of other Army Air Corps officers, a subsequent stint in the Pearl Harbor brig, and exile as the “…officer in charge of piers and warehouses…” in what he calls a “backwater island purgatory.”

After several months of desk duty ashore in Hawaii and recuperation from a broken arm he suffered in the attack on his cruiser, Torrey finds his way into a romance with a divorced Navy Nurse Corps Lieutenant named Maggie Haynes (Patricia Neal), who tells him that his estranged son Jeremiah (Brandon De Wilde) is now an Ensign in the Naval Reserve on active duty, assigned to a PT boat, and dating Maggie’s roommate, a Nurse Corps Ensign. A brief and strained visit with Jeremiah brings Torrey in on a South Pacific island-hopping offensive codenamed “Skyhook”, which is under command of the overly cautious and micro-managing Vice Admiral B.T. Broderick (Dana Andrews). On additional information from his BOQ roommate, Commander Egan Powell (Burgess Meredith), a thrice-divorced Hollywood film writer and Naval Reserve intelligence officer recalled to active duty, Torrey guesses that the aim of Skyhook is to capture a strategic island named Levu-Vana, whose central plain would make an ideal airfield site for Army Air Forces B-17 squadrons. Shortly thereafter, Maggie informs him that her unit is to be shipped out to the same area in preparation for the offensive.

Maggie’s roommate, a young nurse, Ensign Annalee Dohrn (Jill Haworth), has been dating Torrey’s son. Jere is arrogant and conspiring with a superior officer, a former congressman named Commander Neal Owynn (Patrick O’Neal), to do as little as possible in combat. Dohrn’s romance with Jere ends and Eddington develops an interest in her. In the meantime, Torrey’s loyal and resourceful young flag lieutenant, Lieutenant Commander William “Mac” McConnell (Tom Tryon), uses a 30-day leave to get reacquainted with wife Beverly (Paula Prentiss), a civilian observer for the Navy who worries that Mac will be killed in action and wants a child.

Come the summer of 1942, Torrey is promoted to Rear Admiral by the Pacific fleet’s commander-in-chief (Henry Fonda), who then gives him tactical command of Skyhook, an assignment requiring the same sort of guts and gallantry he previously displayed as commanding officer of his cruiser. Torrey personally selects Paul Eddington to be his Chief of Staff, and infuriates Broderick by immediately planning and executing an operation to overrun Gavabutu, an island to be used as a staging base for the invasion of Levu-Vana. Owynn is now Broderick’s aide, with Jere still by his side.

The Japanese have withdrawn their garrisons from Gavabutu, making it an easy capture. But as Torrey turns his undivided attention to Levu-Vana, his attempts to secure more material and manpower are frustrated by General Douglas MacArthur’s simultaneous and much larger campaign in the Solomon Islands. Reconnaissance aircraft prove especially difficult to come by, and surface combatant forces amount to little more than several cruisers and destroyers, including Torrey’s former command. When the mission succeeds, Jere recognizes the disloyalty of Owynn and Broderick and gains a new regard for his father.

Eddington’s instability drives him to rape Dohrn, who is now engaged to Torrey’s son. The traumatized nurse, fearing she might be pregnant, tries to tell him but he doesn’t believe her. She then commits suicide with an overdose of sleeping pills. As the truth is about to be revealed, Eddington – still a qualified aviator – commandeers a PBJ patrol bomber and flies solo on an unauthorized reconnaissance flight to locate elements of the Japanese fleet. Engaged, shot and killed by Japanese Zero fighters, he goes down in a fiery death in a redeeming act of sacrifice, finding and giving advance warning of a large Japanese task force centered around the super-battleship Yamato, on its way to blast Torrey’s much smaller force off the islands.

Despite the new seaborne threat, Torrey nevertheless mounts the invasion of Levu-Vana and proceeds with a nothing-to-be-lost attempt to turn back the enemy force. Tragically, his son Jere is killed during a nighttime PT boat action when he is rammed by a Japanese destroyer. The following morning sees a pitched surface action off the shores of Levu-Vana, with the Americans drawing first blood and the Yamato decimating much of the U.S. force in response. Many lives are lost, Powell’s among them. Severely injured at the height of the battle resulting in the amputation of his left leg, Torrey is rescued by his flag lieutenant, LCDR McConnell, and is returned to Pearl Harbor aboard a Navy hospital ship under Maggie’s care. Expecting to be court-martialed, Torrey is instead congratulated by CINCPAC for successfully repelling the Japanese advance and allowing his Marines to take Levu-Vana. Although Torrey has lost a leg, he is told he will get a metal leg and then command a task force and ‘stump his way to Tokyo’ with the rest of the Americans forces. Torrey is happy for the moment and lapses into sleep.

REVIEW:

On Friday, I lost a friend who actually fought in World War II. Oh, the stories that man, at 92 years young, could tell. It got me thinking, especially with everything going on in this country over race, gay rights, etc. The “greatest generation” is dying off, and this is what they are seeing in their final days? Ugh! At any rate, I felt I needed to go back to a WWII film, so this is we have In Harm’s Way.

What is this about?

This World War II epic focuses on the effect the Pearl Harbor attack had on military lives. After a failed counterstrike on the Japanese, Capt. Torrey gets shore duty, finds love with a nurse, reconciles with his son and is finally sent back to sea.

What did I like?

On the ground. History is well documented as to what happened December 7, 1941. In movies, pictures, etc., we see the planes flying over, boats ready to attack, and the military springing to action. What we don’t normally see is what happened to the normal people who lived on this island as the attack was happening. Many of them were killed just for living on the island, others ran in fear in hopes of finding someplace safe. I’m sure there are other films that show this aspect of the attack, but this is the first one that really accentuates it, at least that I’ve seen.

Stand still. Patricia Neal is not an actress I would consider “conventional leading lady beauty.” What I mean by that is that she falls somewhere between Peggy from Man Men and a mix of Lauren Bacall and Bette Davis. Not unattractive, just not on the level of the likes of Ava Gardner, Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, etc. With that said, one cannot question that she earned this role and held her own with it…and most of her scenes were with John Wayne!!! I was impressed that she was able to do the romantic stuff because the only other thing I’ve seen her in is The Day the Earth Stood Still. The main character in there is devoid of emotions and the man she starts out in a relationship with just has no chemistry with her. I guess nearly 15 years is enough to learn how to emote on screen a bit.

Cast of characters. This is an expansive and impressive cast with names like John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Henry Fonda, Caroll O’Connor, Burgess Meredith, Patricia Neal, Barbara Bouchet, etc. Those names are impressive on their own, but what is more of a feat is that the script was smart enough to give them each an independent story, without sacrificing screen time. Yes, Wayne is the star, but there’s plenty of room for Meredith and O’Connor’s characters, and more. Maybe some of today’s screenwriters should take note on how to budget out time for each character without losing valuable plot time.

What didn’t I like?

Fight. You would think that in this nearly 3 hour film, I would be chomping at the bit for the action scenes, right? Well, surprisingly, that would be a wrong assumption. Normally, I’d be getting antsy, just waiting for something to happen in a film like thins, but because it is written so well, I found the battle scenes to be nothing more than just some kids out there playing with their toys. Did this have to be? No, but the filmmakers obviously weren’t well-versed in filming action scenes and they just didn’t have that extra punch that was needed to get the audience into the climax.

Rape. There is rape in this film, or at least as much rape as one can get away with on-screen in the early 60s. Kirk Douglas’ character gets agitated at a young nurse on the beach and has his way with her. As it turns out, she gets pregnant and eventually kills herself. Believe it or not, it isn’t the rape that I have issue with, though let me be clear that rape is not something I condone. It is the fact that Douglas is able to get away with it without anyone even suspecting him of anything until it is too late. Basically, he gets away with it! WTF?!?

Period piece. The opening scene is a party of some sort. Ok, this is before the bomb drops on Pearl Harbor, so no big deal, right? Wrong! This is a film set in the 40s, but there were many modern (remember this was made in 1965) clothes and hairstyles to be seen, including the dress that Barbara Bouchet’s character was wearing. This isn’t the only time modern-day made it into this film. Some of the boats and weaponry weren’t period accurate, either. What kind of trick were they trying to pull here?

The last World War II movie, excluding documentaries, that I watched and really enjoyed was Pearl Harbor, I believe. In Harm’s Way may very well be a better film. I need to watch both films again to give a fair comparison. While a bit longer than I feel it needs to be, this a film that tells a tale from the days leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor to the US entering the war. John Wayne is a scaled back version of what we are used to, as he isn’t playing up the macho hero, instead he is flexing his acting chops (and showing he can do things outside of westerns). This is an incredible film with very few flaws that I highly recommend!

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

3 Days to Kill

Posted in Action/Adventure, Movie Reviews, Thrillers/Mystery with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 27, 2015 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Experienced CIA agent Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner), originally from Pittsburgh, works with a team to capture the Albino, lieutenant to an arms trafficker called the Wolf, as he is selling a dirty bomb to some terrorists.[6] The Albino deduces the trap when he recognizes one of the agents, whom he kills. Renner is able to cripple the Albino by shooting him in the leg, but not capture him. Meanwhile, elite CIA assassin Vivi Delay (Amber Heard), who has been personally assigned by the Director to kill the Wolf, monitors the operation and notices Renner has unknowingly seen the Wolf.

Renner is nearly disabled by an extreme cough, which is diagnosed as terminal brain cancer which has spread to his lungs. He is given only a few months to live, and will not see the next Christmas. For decades he has kept his dangerous career a carefully guarded secret from his wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) and daughter Zooey (Hailee Steinfeld), at the cost of losing them. He decides to spend his remaining time trying to fix his relationship with his estranged daughter, and if possible, his ex-wife. He returns to Paris, where he and his family live separately, to find the Réunion family of Jules is squatting in his apartment. He is told by the government that he is not permitted to evict indigent squatters until after the winter.

He makes an awkward reconnection with Christine and Zooey, and tells Christine of his terminal illness. She allows him to reconnect with Zooey, and when she has to go out of the country on business, she is forced to let him look after Zooey. Vivi recruits him to find and kill the Wolf, in exchange for an experimental drug that could extend his life significantly. Renner reluctantly accepts, to get more time with his family. Vivi tells him the way to trap the Wolf is by getting the Albino, in turn by getting his accountant, in turn by kidnapping the gang’s limousine driver.

All the while Renner is fighting the hallucinogenic effect of the medicine, which occurs whenever his heart rate goes too high, and which he can only control by consuming alcohol. He must also deal with Zooey’s school problems, including her habit of lying so she can sneak out partying. He manages to keep her out of trouble, and slowly reestablishes a father relationship with her, which impresses his wife.

He tracks the Wolf and the Albino into the subway, but they gain the upper hand when he is disabled by the hallucinations. The Albino attempts to kill him by pushing him in front of an oncoming train, but Renner manages to push the Albino on the track instead. The Wolf escapes.

The family is invited to a party thrown by Zooey’s boyfriend’s father, who happens to be the Wolf’s business partner. Renner manages to protect Christine and Zooey, kill all the Wolf’s men, and trap the Wolf in an elevator before breaking the cable. The Wolf manages to survive, wounded, but Renner is again disabled and drops his gun where the Wolf can get it. Vivi kicks the gun back to Renner, telling him to finish the job and kill the Wolf, but he decides not to, because “I promised my wife I’d quit.” Vivi then kills the Wolf.

At last retired, Renner survives to Christmas, which he is spending at a beach house with Zooey and Christine. He discovers a small, red wrapped gift package, which contains another vial of the cancer medicine. Vivi is seen on a hill behind the house smiling as Renner opens the package.

REVIEW:

Well, here it is Saturday afternoon. It just rained a little bit and, for those of you that know what it is like down here in south Louisiana, I don’t need to tell you what this did to the humidity on this already hot and sticky summer day. So, why not watch something that has been sitting in my Netflix queue for quite some time now, 3 Days to Kill.

What is this about?

After a terminally ill secret agent retires to spend his remaining time with his family, he’s asked to complete a dangerous last mission in exchange for an experimental drug that might save him — if he can survive its hallucinatory side effects.

What did I like?

Father knows best. While the plot of this film is about an aging CIA agent on one last mission, it is the relationship he has with his daughter that may be the true selling point of this film. Costner’s character is a man who left his wife and child in Paris for 5 years without returning, only making the occasional phone call once a year, if that. Needless to say, this causes some sever friction with his daughter, who is willing to forgive, but in time. She is a teenager, after all!

Getting too old for this. The last few years have brought us a slew of films starring aging action stars ranging from Stallone and Schwarzenegger all the way to Liam Neeson. It appears that Kevin Costner wants to get in on the action, so to speak. While the guy has lost more than a step since his days as Robin of Locksley in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, he still is able to deliver a performance that makes audiences believe he could be a badass.

Comic relief. Going into this, I was expecting some dark, super serious action packed crime thriller with little to no moments of levity. Imagine my surprise when there happens to be some jokes here and there, including a character who, once he serves his purpose, exists only as comic relief. A film like this needs that change in tone, if only for a few minutes, just so audiences can relax for a bit and then get back into the intensity.

What didn’t I like?

Albino. There is a villain, the right hand man of our main antagonist, known as the Albino. I have two issues with this guy. First off, the actor portraying him, Tomas Lemarquis, has a unique look, but he isn’t an Albino. Second, this guy has a sadistic streak in him that would have been nice to see more of but, at the same time, I don’t think it would have fit the tone of this film. I’m not so sure the scenes of extreme violence he did have fit.

Focus. As I said before, I appreciate the father/daughter bonding, but it did take over a good chunk of the film. I had almost forgotten that this wasn’t some family drama, but rather and action film involving a CIA agent. The whole plot point of him searching for this guy known as The Wolf took a backseat.

You Heard me? The film opens with a mysterious meeting involving Amber Heard and a couple of important looking fellows. This is the most demure and professional Heard looks in the film, as every scene she’s in from that point on, she seems to wear shorter and shorter dresses that get tighter and tighter. Obviously, she is playing up the sexiness angle, but for what reason? Her character is basically Mirage from The Incredibles, in some ways. Her job could very well have been done my e-mail or text. Granted, those messages wouldn’t have looked as good in tight dresses.

Final thoughts on 3 Days to Kill? Well, Kevin Costner sure does get a lot done in a short amount of time. How many of us can say the same? I know it takes me about a month or so just to clean the apartment! All in all this is a film that will please some that want some sort of action drama, but those that were more in the mood for straight action will be disappointed, as there isn’t as much as we would like. That said, I believe that this is a quality picture worth a shot, especially on lazy Saturday. Give it a go sometime, why don’t you?

4 out of 5 stars

Trailer Thursday 6/25

Posted in Trailer Thursday with tags on June 25, 2015 by Mystery Man

It’s Trailer Thursday!

I was stumped as to what today’s trailer was going to be, but then this came to me! With the success of Daredevil on Netflix, people have all but forgotten the movie (which I actually liked). News broke last week that The Punisher will be joining him in the new season and probably get his own show in the future.

There have 3 Punisher movies, but Punisher: War Zone is my favorite and, in its own weird way, is the most accurate portrayal, according to some “scholars.” Enjoy the trailer!

Revisited: Hamlet 2

Posted in Movie Reviews, Revisited with tags , , , , , on June 24, 2015 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Dana Marschz is a recovering alcoholic and failed actor who has become a high school drama teacher in Tucson, Arizona, “where dreams go to die”. Despite considering himself an inspirational figure, he only has two enthusiastic students, Rand Posin and Epiphany Sellars, and a history of producing poorly received school plays that are essentially stage adaptations of popular Hollywood films (his latest being Erin Brockovich). When the new term begins, a new intake of students are forced to transfer into his class as it is the only remaining arts elective available due to budget cutbacks; they are generally unenthusiastic and unconvinced by Dana’s pretensions, and Dana comes into conflict with Octavio, one of the new students.

Dana is floored when Principal Rocker notifies him that the drama program is to be shut down at the end of the term. Seeking to inspire his students, Dana undertakes to write and produce an original play: a sequel to Hamlet featuring time travel to avoid the deaths of the characters, and new, more controversial content, including the introduction of Jesus Christ as one of the characters, complete with a song-and-dance number titled “Rock Me Sexy Jesus”. The kids gradually warm to the project, but Rand – cast as a bi-curious Laertes and overshadowed by Octavio as Hamlet – storms out of the drama group and provides a copy of the play’s script to Principal Rocker, who orders Dana to stop the controversial production.

Dana is further traumatized when his wife Brie leaves him for the uninteresting, but fertile, boarder Gary they had taken into their home to supplement their modest income, and reveals that he himself is infertile. Despondent, Dana falls off the wagon and tries to abandon the project, but his students encourage him to continue, arranging an abandoned warehouse and rave spot, technical assistance, and security being provided by the high school’s football and wrestling teams. Dana also learns that the cancellation of the play has become a civil liberties issue encouraged by fanatical ACLU activist Cricket Feldstein. As a result, the play opens to a sold-out house, including a critic from The New York Times. Rand returns to the group, apologizing for his desertion; Dana allows him to return to the role of Laertes.

The play itself initially meets with a mixed reception, due to its controversial content and mangling of the original play; in keeping with a running joke throughout the movie, much of the content revolves around the characters using time travel to mend their troubled relationships with their fathers; it ends with both Hamlet and Jesus forgiving their fathers for the wrongs done to them. Although initially reluctant to engage with the play, with several protesters infiltrating the audience to stage a direct protest, the play gradually wins the audience over. The film ends with Dana and his favorite actress, Elisabeth Shue – whom he is now dating – meeting Dana’s students to prepare for the show’s Broadway opening, complete with original cast.

REVIEW:

I’m pretty sure when William Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, he did not have any notion that there would ever be a “sequel” to it. Well folks, here have Hamlet 2, but fret not, the film is not a sequel to Shakespeare’s play. The title comes from a play that is performed during the film. Confused yet?

What is this about?

With his department in danger of being cut, high school drama teacher Dana Marschz pens a heretical sequel to William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and exhorts his students to stage it in this sardonic comedy that riffs on the “inspirational teacher” genre.

What did I like?

Support the arts. There is a real problem in this country, and it involves the eradication of arts programs in schools, while sports and other activities go untouched. Without going into “preachy” territory, this film touches on how this very subject, when it is said that the theater department will be cut at the end of term. Also, Steve Coogan’s character apparently doesn’t get paid for teaching. How that happened, I don’t quite know. It is nice to see a film bring about awareness to the general public, though.

Push the boundaries. Remember the days when people weren’t walking on eggshells? A time when we weren’t afraid of offending anyone and if we did, so what? When did we get so soft and easily offended, I wonder? At any rate, this titular play is a mess, I won’t dispute that, but the hodge-podge of characters, including a modern take on Jesus is what we need today. Something that will remind everyone that it is ok to laugh and not be offended, as long as the comedy isn’t malicious. This makes me glad that this film was very limited in its release because, much in the same way the school cracked down on the play, I can imagine studios would have had a cow about the subject matter and demanded it be changed.

Babysitter. Remember Elisabeth Shue? Well, she may best be known as the babysitter in Adventures in Babysitting. She did a few films after that, but for the most part she disappeared from the business, only to resurface in this playing herself. While she hasn’t become a huge star since, her career has benefitted, as she has had a couple of lead roles, most notable in Piranha 3D. Say what you will about this flick, and celebrities making comebacks in small independent films playing themselves (remember Neil Patrick Harris in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle), it seems to work.

What didn’t I like?

Home life. In school, did you ever think about what kind of home life your teachers had? I know I didn’t, with the exception of pregnancies, divorces, etc. Life changing events like that, you can’t help but wonder. I’m sure these students are no different, especially the ones that were just shoved into that class because they couldn’t put them anywhere else. So, if the kids don’t care, why should we? Someone didn’t get this memo, because anytime they could slip in Coogan’s wife, their roommate, and various other personal problems, they did. Was this meant to develop his character? Perhaps, but I’m not sure that is succeeded.

Acting…or overacting. Playing a theater teacher can’t exactly have been easy. I say this because on top of conventional acting, one has to overact. With this character Coogan is playing, he really has to overdo it, but I wonder if it was too much. The eccentricities of this character are well-known before we’re even half-way through the picture. Does Coogan need to go as overboard as he does? That really is up to the individual to judge, but I wasn’t a fan.

Class. This is what appears to be a fairly large high school. How is it that only 2 kids sign up for drama each year? I can understand the shoving of the other kids into that class. That kind of thing happens at all schools. What doesn’t happen, though, is the complete lack of students. If this kind of thing went on in any other place, the drama teacher would have been fired, or the program cut due to lack of interest.

Hamlet 2, the independent comedy that had all the promise in the world, but fell flat on its face. Still, it has developed a bit of a cult following. People, such as myself, will watch, no matter what. Do I recommend this? Yes, it is the kind of film that will start plenty of discussion around the water cooler.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Big Top Pee-Wee

Posted in Comedy, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 22, 2015 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Pee-wee Herman has a dream of being a famous singer. He makes his exit by disguising himself as Abraham Lincoln. One of the fans asks him for his autograph, but his disguise is promptly exposed. They chase after him and he flies off to his ranch. Pee-wee finally awakens from his dream that morning to work on his farm with Vance the pig. Later, he has lunch with his fiancée, schoolteacher Winnie Johnson. Next, he races Vance to a general store owned by Mr. Ryan to order a cheese sandwich with a pickle.

The sheriff warns everyone of a large storm approaching town. After the storm ends, Pee-wee emerges from his storm shelter to discover that an entire traveling circus has been blown into his backyard. Befriended by Cabrini Circus manager Mace Montana, Pee-wee is hoping to impress Gina Piccolapupula, a trapeze artist and the circus’ star attraction, thereby incurring the jealousy of his Winnie until she meets Gina’s older brothers: The Piccolapupula Brothers. Gina leaves Pee-wee when she finds out about Winnie, but later returns to him when she realizes that Pee-wee actually loves her.

Pee-wee wants to join the circus, but his attempts fail. Gina then tells Pee-wee about her deceased father Papa Piccolapupula who was a famous aerialist who suffered a fall performing the Spiral of Death. Gina states that Pee-wee should try walking the tightrope in his honor.

Mace comes up with a brilliant idea: to stage a three-ring spectacular saluting the American Farm. The problem is that the majority of the town’s residents are disgruntled, uncaring elderly people who have been demanding the circus Pee-wee is helping leave town.

The Sheriff and the townspeople show up and attempts to arrest Pee-wee, The Sheriff promises to drop the charges if the circus leaves town. While the Circus is packing, Mace tells Pee-wee they will do the circus somewhere else to prevent Pee-wee from going to jail, but Pee-wee saves the day when he sneaks modified cocktail weenies from his hot-dog tree to the townspeople, causing them to become children once again. Without any memories of what happened, the children watch Mace’s circus and Pee-wee perform

REVIEW:

Pee-Wee Herman returns, complete with red bow-tie and small grey suit, to entertain audiences with another adventure. Big Top Pee-Wee is a film that I remember seeing when it came out, but don’t recall a thing about it. Guess that means I’ll have a fresh perspective on this cinematic tour de force, right?

What is this about?

Pee-Wee Herman joins the circus when a giant storm deposits a big-top tent — and the menagerie to go with it — in his front yard. Now it’s up to Pee-Wee, the animals and a troupe of circus performers to put on the best show the town’s ever seen.

What did I like?

Absurd. Those familiar with the work of Pee-Wee Herman are more than aware that it is anything but serious. As a matter of fact, it can be over the top. I mean, we are talking about a grown man who acts as like child while no one bats an eye. It is this detachment from reality that I really appreciated. This is a film that has cows producing chocolate milk, hot dogs growing on trees, etc. How can one not be drawn into the absurdity?

Small town. Living in a big city these last few years, I have come to realize that I miss small town life. As a matter of fact, in the town that I grew up in, they are having a peach festival this week. You don’t get that kind of down home activity anywhere but in small town, USA. So, perhaps that is why I identify so much with these small town folks. A handful of individuals who seem to know any and everything. No chain supermarket, but a general store (though it did have name brand products). A school taught by just one teacher. Ok, that seemed out of place and time, but you get the idea with the nostalgia for the perfect small town that I’m sure was the idea when this town was created for the film.

Talking pig. I actually did a bit of research the other day about talking pigs, and there aren’t as many films about them as you may think. Don’t ask why I was doing the research, just do with it. At any rate, Pee-Wee’s pig doesn’t spend the whole film talking, nor does he try to steal the show. He actually plays a sidekick role to Herman, which surprisingly works, even though we know him to be more of a solo act.

What didn’t I like?

Circus hate. For some reason, the people of the town hate the circus. It is never really said why, but they hate it so much that they do refuse service to the performers, attempt to have Pee-Wee arrested on some fabricated charges, and all but run the operation out of town before they even get settled. I couldn’t help but think that there was a story, or at least a flashback, that should have been shown to the audience explaining all of this to us.

All you need is love. There are just some things that are not meant to happen. Pee-Wee Herman having a love life is one of them. Having an innocent romance is fine, but this film has him cheating on his fiancée, dealing with relationship issues, and we see him kiss a girl. That kiss goes on for a good 5 minutes or so. It was very uncomfortable to watch. Do I not want Pee-Wee to find happiness in the arms of a good woman? That isn’t what I’m saying. I just don’t think of Pee-Wee as a sexual being, much in the same way Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory was before they ruined his character by bringing in Amy, but that’s a topic for whole different post.

Farm mystery. Where did Pee-Wee get this farm from? In Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, he was living in a small house in the city. Did a relative pass away and leave him some land? Did he get tired of the city life and move out in the country? What happened here? It just seems sudden for him to be in a totally different setting but, considering the different directors, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, should I?

Big Top Pee-Wee gets a lot of hate from fans and critics. Make no mistake, this is not a good film, but it doesn’t deserve the vitriol many spew towards it. The circus and farm plot actually work for me, but I can’t pardon the un-Pee-Weeing of Pee-Wee. A love story, a science angle, and he becomes an acrobat? What happened to him just being a goofy social outcast? Do I recommend this? Not really. If you want to see Pee-Wee, either watch the previous film or go on Netflix and watch some episodes of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.

3 out of 5 stars

A Trip to the Moon

Posted in Classics, Movie Reviews, Sci-Fi/Fantasy with tags , , , , , , on June 21, 2015 by Mystery Man

A Trip to the Moon

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

At a meeting of the Astronomic Club, its president, Professor Barbenfouillis, proposes a trip to the Moon. After addressing some dissent, five other brave astronomers—Nostradamus, Alcofrisbas, Omega, Micromegas and Parafaragaramus—agree to the plan. They build a space capsule in the shape of a bullet, and a huge cannon to shoot it into space. The astronomers embark and their capsule is fired from the cannon with the help of “marines”, most of whom are played by a bevy of young women in sailors’ outfits. The Man in the Moon watches the capsule as it approaches, and it hits him in the eye.

Landing safely on the Moon, the astronomers get out of the capsule (without the need of space suits) and watch the Earth rise in the distance. Exhausted by their journey, they unroll their blankets and sleep. As they sleep, a comet passes, the Big Dipper appears with human faces peering out of each star, old Saturn leans out of a window in his ringed planet, and Phoebe, goddess of the Moon, appears seated in a crescent-moon swing. Phoebe causes a snowfall that awakens the astronomers, and they seek shelter in a cavern where they discover giant mushrooms. One astronomer opens his umbrella; it promptly takes root and turns into a giant mushroom itself.

At this point, a Selenite (an insectoid alien inhabitant of the Moon, named after one of the Greek moon goddesses, Selene) appears, but it is killed easily by an astronomer, as the creatures explode if they are hit with force. More Selenites appear and it becomes increasingly difficult for the astronomers to destroy them as they are surrounded. The Selenites capture the astronomers and take them to the palace of their king. An astronomer lifts the Selenite King off his throne and throws him to the ground, causing him to explode.

The astronomers run back to their capsule while continuing to hit the pursuing Selenites, and five get inside. The sixth astronomer, Barbenfouillis himself, uses a rope to tip the capsule over a ledge on the Moon and into space. A Selenite tries to seize the capsule at the last minute. Astronomer, capsule, and Selenite fall through space and land in an ocean on Earth, where they are rescued by a ship and towed ashore. The final sequence (missing from some prints of the film) depicts a celebratory parade in honor of the travelers’ return, including a display of the captive Selenite and the unveiling of a commemorative statue bearing the motto “Labor omnia vincit”.

REVIEW:

I do believe in all my years of watching movies, A Trip to the Moon is the oldest and shortest film that I have seen. Does that mean it isn’t quality filmmaking or superior? Not necessarily, it was just an observation. As this is a short film, this will be a short review…at least that is the plan, anyway.

What is this about?

An association of astronomers has convened to listen to the plan of Professor Barbenfouillis, their president, to fly to the moon. With the one dissenting voice quashed by Barbenfouillis and the other members, the plan is approved with Barbenfouillis choosing five others to accompany him. Most of the preparation for the trip is in building the vessel and launching mechanism, which resemble a large bullet and a large gun respectively. Hitting the moon in the eye, the six land safely at their destination. They find that much about the moon is wonderful and fantastical, but also that much is not what they would have liked to encounter as it is life threatening. They have to find a way to get out of their alien predicament to get back home safely.

What did I like?

Then and now. Last night, in my review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I mentioned how far CG has come. Well, that is nothing compared to how far filmmaking in general has evolved. Here we have one of the first pictured to be put on film, so obviously it isn’t going to look or feel like what we get everytime we watch a movie today, but the history that is on display while watching this picture is a sight to behold. Be it the way it plays out like a stage play, the plot about man traveling to the moon (60 years or so before it happens), or the simple camera work. I was in awe.

Bullet time. Why can’t spaceships, shaped like bullets and fired by a group of sexy female sailors, today randomly transport a group of people to the moon? Who dropped the ball with that technology? Seriously, though Professor Barbenfouillis’ plan to explore the moon is way ahead of its time, as good science fiction tends to be. I’m actually a bit surprised he only shot for the moon and not another planet. As fantastical as this version of the moon was, complete with alien creatures, dream flares, etc., one can only imagine what they would have encountered elsewhere.

What didn’t I like?

Silence is golden. This may actually be a complaint aimed more towards Netflix, but for a silent film, this wasn’t very silent. Someone was narrating and delivering these lines, and not very convincingly. Realizing that some people just don’t like to read, I can fully understand why they did this, but some of us do enjoy silent films for what they are. Surely there should be an option, yes? I hear this film is on Youtube, I may have to go check it out there. Hopefully, it will be the silent version.

Let me be clear about one thing, A Trip to the Moon is a weird film. It may not have been back in the time it was released, but today it is just odd. That oddity, though, is what gives it a distinctive charm. Thanks to the film Hugo, new generations are discovering this picture and some are loving it. What did I think of it? Well, it is a bit strange to be sure, but it is a story of space travel. How many of those are “normal”? Do I recommend this? Yes, while not the creates film in the world, it is an important part of cinema history. Give it a shot!

4 out of 5 stars

 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Posted in Action/Adventure, Movie Reviews, Sci-Fi/Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 20, 2015 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Ten years after the worldwide pandemic of the deadly ALZ-113 virus (known as the Simian Flu), human civilization is completely destroyed following martial law, civil unrest and the economic collapse of every country in the world. Over 90% of the human population has died in the pandemic, while apes with genetically enhanced intelligence have started to build a civilization of their own.

In the ruins of San Francisco, Caesar leads and governs an ape colony located in the Muir Woods. While walking through the forest, Caesar’s son Blue Eyes and his friend Ash encounter a human named Carver, who panics and shoots Ash, wounding him. Carver calls for the rest of his small party of armed survivors, led by a man named Malcolm, while Blue Eyes calls for the other apes. Caesar orders the humans to leave. The remaining humans in San Francisco, who are genetically immune to the virus, are living in a guarded and unfinished high-rise tower within the ruined city. Prompted by Koba, a scarred bonobo who holds a grudge against humans for his mistreatment, Caesar brings an army of apes to the city tower where he conveys the message that while the apes do not want war, they will fight to defend their home. He demands that the humans stay in their territory and states the apes will stay in theirs too.

Malcolm convinces his fellow leader Dreyfus to give him three days to reconcile with the apes to gain access to a hydroelectric dam in their territory, which could provide long-term power to the city. Dreyfus, distrustful of the apes, arms survivors using an abandoned armory. Malcolm then travels into the ape village, but is captured by gorilla guards, who bring him to Caesar. After a tense discussion, Caesar allows Malcolm to work on the dam’s generator, if they surrender their guns. As Malcolm, his wife Ellie and son Alexander work, they bond with the apes. Mutual distrust of both sides gradually subsides; the truce is endangered when Caesar’s infant son discovers a shotgun smuggled in by Carver, but the two sides reconcile when Ellie offers to help treat Caesar’s ill wife Cornelia with antibiotics. Meanwhile, Koba discovers the armory and confronts Caesar, questioning his allegiance and taunting him over his “love” for humans. In response, Caesar severely beats Koba, but at the last moment refrains from killing him; adhering to his philosophy that “ape not kill ape,” Caesar hesitantly forgives Koba. The furious Koba then returns to the armory, where he steals an assault rifle and murders two human guards. Returning home, he secretly kills Carver, stealing his lighter and cap.

The dam is eventually repaired, restoring power to the city. During the celebration, Koba sets fire to the apes’ home, then, unseen to anyone else, shoots Caesar in the shoulder, causing him to fall from the settlement’s main tree. In the panic of the loss of the alpha and the fire, Koba takes charge, and having planted Carver’s cap at the scene of the shooting, urging the apes to fight against the humans. Malcolm’s group hides as Koba leads the apes into San Francisco. The apes plunder the armory and charge the tower’s gates. Despite heavy casualties, the apes breach the gates using a hijacked tank, overrun the tower and imprison all the humans as Dreyfus flees underground. When Ash refuses Koba’s orders to kill unarmed humans, citing Caesar’s teachings, Koba kills Ash and imprisons all those known to be loyal to Caesar.

Malcolm’s group finds Caesar barely alive and transport him to his former home in San Francisco. Caesar reveals to Malcolm that Koba shot him, realizing his notion that apes were better than humans was naïve and that apes can be as violent as humans. Malcolm leaves the group and heads to the city to find medical supplies for Caesar. While looking for medical supplies, Malcolm encounters Blue Eyes; disenchanted with Koba’s leadership, the young ape spares Malcolm’s life and returns to the house with him, where he reconciles with his father. Caesar grows nostalgic watching a video clip from his childhood of his former owner and father figure Will Rodman on his old camcorder as Malcolm learns of Caesar’s past. A plan is put into action: Blue Eyes returns to the tower and frees the caged humans and apes loyal to Caesar, then Malcolm leads the apes, unseen, into the tower from below. After accomplishing this, Malcolm encounters Dreyfus, who informs him that his men have made radio contact with more survivors at a military base to the north, who are on their way to help fight the apes. Caesar confronts Koba at the top of the tower, but as they battle, Dreyfus detonates C-4 charges he has planted beneath the tower. The resulting explosion kills him and collapses part of the tower. Caesar overpowers Koba, with Koba hanging over the edge of the tower. Pleading for his life, Koba reminds Caesar that apes do not kill apes, but Caesar states that Koba is not an ape and lets him fall to his death.

Malcolm informs Caesar of the impending arrival of human military reinforcements and both lament the lost opportunity for peace. Caesar tells Malcolm that the humans will never forgive the apes for the war they started and advises him to leave with his family for safety as the two of them acknowledge their friendship. As Malcolm disappears into the shadows, Caesar stands before a kneeling mass of apes, awaiting the war to come.

REVIEW:

As much as I hate and detest remakes/reboots, I will admit that sometimes they have a good idea, such as in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Because someone in Hollywood pulled their heads out of their ass and came up with an actual idea, we now have a franchise on our hands. The second film, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, promises to be more action and less exposition, but is it worth watching?

What is this about?

A decade after their escape, Caesar and his fellow super-intelligent apes strike a tenuous peace with human survivors of the simian virus. But all-out war is on the horizon, a conflict that will determine which species will dominate the planet.

What did I like?

Little humans. In films such as the Transformers franchise and others where the stars are obviously NOT the humans, we get the opposite of what we paid to see. Instead, we are force-fed human characters in a veiled attempt to save money on CG. That is not the case with this film, as it spares no expense with the apes, nor does it shove humans down our throats. Sure, we get some human stuff, but it is just enough to create plot and conflict. Maybe some other films should take note, I’m just saying.

Mirroring viewpoints. Heading into the climax, I noticed that the faction of humans and apes were mirroring each other in their viewpoints. On one side, there was Caesar and Malcolm, played by Jason Clarke, who wanted peace and harmony, while on the other side there was Koba and Dreyfus, played by Gary Oldman, who wanted to bring about a great war. This is especially obvious during the final confrontation between Caesar and Koba because at the same time they are slugging it out, Clarke and Oldman’s characters are having a discussion about their opposing views and who is right and wrong. It really is a nice touch to show these things happening at the same time.

Apes. I’m more of a practical effects/stop motion guy. If you’re an avid reader of this blog, I think you can tell than by now. With that said, though, I cannot deny that CG technology is ever improving. Looking at the apes, I was impressed with how lifelike they were, both in design and portrayal. Tell me, when was the last time you looked into a CG apes eyes and saw raw emotion? Why is it Andy Serkis didn’t win an Oscar for this, again? The man was robbed!!!

What didn’t I like?

Wife and kid. Keri Russell and Kodi Smit-McPhee, who play the wife and kid to Jason Clarke’s character try to insert themselves and be relevant to the plot, but it just wasn’t happening for me. That isn’t my issue, though. As the film closes, they just suddenly disappear. Where did they go? It never is mentioned where they disappeared to, nor are they even mentioned. They were just here one scene and gone the next.

Apism. Not to sound like an ape racist (would that be an apist?), but all these apes looked the same to me, save for Koba and Blue Eyes. The only reason those two stood out was because of their scars. Do I think they needed name tags? No, but surely as these apes learn more and more to be their own society some individuality has to start to show, at least for the sake of the audience. At least the gorilla and the orange orangutan had no problem being recognized, as they are the only ones.

That one guy. Yep, there is always that one guy. You know, the one that just wants to see the world burn because he doesn’t like or is scared of something? The first human we see, turns out to be a giant asshole. He shoots an ape just because he was frightened, which becomes the catalyst for this whole film in some respects, around the campfire he talks about how much he hates them, and the next day he is shown to have smuggled a gun up to the dam, when Caesar had forbidden them (made worse by the fact that it was Caesar’s infant son that found it!) As far as being one of the most hated characters in the film, he succeeds. Was he necessary? Maybe for a couple of scenes, but that was it. I feel this guy got way too much screentime, while Gary Oldman was given just a couple of minutes more than James Franco’s clips from the first film!

Let’s see…the apes have risen and we’ve seen the dawn of their dominance. War is next! Seriously, that is the name of the next film. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes had the unenviable task of serving as a sequel and filler until we get to said war. Not many films in this spot end up as successes, but there is one that stands out amongst all the others, Empire Strikes Back! Now, this isn’t in the same league as the piece of cinematic perfection, nothing is, but it does seem to be in the same ballpark. This is a film that has great direction, writers who actually care about the project and the people who will be watching it, and great actors. Mix those factors together and you’re sure to get a great film. The issues I have are few and far between, so do I recommend this? Yes, very much so, but I advise you to watch the first film if it has been awhile, if for no other reason than to refresh your memory.

4 3/4 out of 5 stars