Thursday, May 30, 2013

REVIEW: Now You See Me

One of my teachers from college wanted our class to define the word "cool." Cool, as in "Cool Brah, that was a sick a gnarly skateboarding stunt." And, really, the whole thing is that you can't really come up with a tangible thing and give a definite answer of why something is cool. It's really something that's whatever is trendy at the moment.

The definition I created was "What people want." I still stand by it too as it's about as tangible as you can get on describing what is cool.

I bring all of this up because the word "cool" can handily describe Now You See Me.

Now You See Me feels like a movie that's design to be the coolest movie ever. It's got a cast involving Jesse  Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo(The Hulk from The Avengers), Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, it's plot involves stealing money with flashy magic tricks, and the story is built off of twists, mysteries, surprises, and other pesky story telling tricks that have seemed to be popping up in every movie now. Usually, this seems like a movie that can go disastrously wrong. A movie that just sort of plugs in a lot of things in order to make this moving picture showing off a lot of flashy tricks to entertain the audience but also forgetting how to make a movie with an actual story(*cough* The Amazing Spider-Man *cough*)

But, somehow, they've manage to pull this off.

Now You See Me is thoroughly entertaining movie. I wouldn't necessarily say that it's a great movie, but it's a good movie that is worth watching and a lot of fun to watch. In fact, I'll even go on record by saying that this is a better movie than Star Trek Into Darkness(and I still can't get over how dumb that title is. Into Darkness? Seriously?). It's an entertaining fun romp that knows what it is and what it's trying to accomplish while doing it quite well.

Seeing the trailers, I really didn't know what to expect other than that it felt like it was going to be a sort of high concept film that involved stealing money with a magic show. And, that's basically what the entire movie is. Four supposedly great magicians get cards from a mysterious figure to all meet at the same place and to follow directions in order to pull of these highly elaborate heists. During the mean while, the movie follows Mark Ruffalo, an officer trying to stop these people in the act.

That's basically the entire setup of the movie. The rest goes of the movie is done through a lot twists and turns that'll keep you second guessing yourself, but the movie is never confusing and is easy to follow along. It does a really good job engaging the audience, and, unlike Oblivion, all of the turns and twists that happen in this movie aren't there just for the sake of being there as they actually mean something for the story. It gives a clear plot with a clear goal and characters with clear motivations. See Hollywood? It isn't that hard to make this crap work.

It's not that the movie doesn't have its problems though, as (like a lot of the magic tricks you're probably familiar with) there's nothing really to this movie. This is where the problem comes in when a movie is trying too hard to be cool, because, even if it's a really well made light show that's engaging all the way through, there's very little substance behind this movie even if it is a well told story.

The problem comes with the main cast itself as they aren't really characters but more of plot tools in order to make sure that stuff actually happens in the movie. In the respect of actually keeping the story moving forward, they serve their part really well. But, when you get past the fact that they're cool magicians with a lot up their sleeve and big on style, they are pretty paper thin as characters. Their only defining feature is the kind of magic they like to do. Jesse Eisenberg likes to do card tricks and deception, Woody Harrelson shares the same psychic powers as Shawn Spencer but with ability to hypnotize people as well, Dave Franco is the guy who picks locks, and Isla Fisher is the girl. Seriously, that's her only defining trait in this movie as she is never really given anything to do other than to just be the girl of the group. And then there's Melaine Laurent who is mainly there to be Mark Ruffalo's love interest. Jeez, thanks! Way to add female characters, who if you took out, wouldn't have any significant changes to the plot.

Also, it seems like the entire movie was shot with a hand held camera, and no matter what the scene was, even the quiet conversation scenes, the camera is a bit shaky. It's not an entirely big problem and it isn't all that noticeable, but I noticed it.

All problems aside, it's still a fun movie to go see that I'd say is a good time at the theater. Because of the lack of substance behind this movie, I doubt anyone is really going to remember that this movie even existed a few months down the line, but it's good enough for me to give a recommendation.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness, I'm confused. Why is this movie called "Into Darkness?" Man, what a hack movie!

I got to see this at a double feature where they showed the first movie as well. Because I haven't seen the first movie since...well, probably since the year it came out(though, I watched it a lot of times when it came out), watching it for the first time since then kind of brought back that excitement I had when I did see it for the first time. It was an exciting action movie while also being a good Star Trek movie. You could point out that it didn't really like to follow the logic of its own universe and that it was spoon feeding the audience information with archetypal characters and a really basic plot, but taking that approach was probably the best thing they could do for rebooting a franchise. It was about setting up all of the pieces together for how all of the characters ended up together. Now, with all of the pieces assembled, they can take the series in new and interesting directions.

Maybe that'll happen in a couple of more movies, but, until then, Star Trek: (Insert generic title here to badly try to hide the fact that they couldn't call it the Wrath of Khan again) is a really good action movie and is even better than its predecessor.

After seeing the first movie in theater, during our break, I over heard guys having a conversation about Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan 2.4 the Re-Make and it kind of went something like this.

Guy 1: Well, that was pretty good, it was better than 1st one.
Guy 2: Yeah, it felt more like a Star Trek movie.
Guy 1: Yeah, it used more of the standard tropes.
Guy 2: Yep....
Guy 1: Mhmm

And that's as far as the conversation went. I kind of felt like these guys wanted to say more about it but they kind of couldn't because there really wasn't much else to talk about. It's good, it feels a bit more like Star Trek, and it's an incredibly fun action movie.

The best thing this movie has going for, though, is Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan. Some of you might know him as Sherlock Holmes from Sherlock but he's also been in other movies, with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy coming to mind, but, now, we finally get to see him in a really big role where he gets to display his talent to the general audience. He is absolutely great and entertaining to watch as he actually gives us a memorable bad guy as opposed to that one guy from the first movie(quick, tell me the bad guy's name without looking it up).

If it's another thing that I really like about this movie is how it doesn't try to "raise the stakes" from the last film. The first movie involved a giant space ship that could destroy planets and it had scary looking tentacles that also involved galaxies getting destroyed. In the sequel, however, the entire movie is made up of two space ships at battle with each other and that's pretty much it. And it's great too as they manage to do so much with just a simple concept. There are still a lot of different ways where they keep on raising the stakes but the keep the movie a little more character focused when it comes to these stakes. Instead of just involving the destruction of planets or galaxies, they opt for keeping the whole battle contained and keeping it  involved with characters we actually know.

Okay, there's actually a lot I would like to talk about when it comes to these actions scenes, but it's one of those things where you're just going to see for yourselves. Though, what I will say is that the action scenes are extremely well directed and it's pacing is really good as well. All of the intense battles and life threatening situations are well shot and they make sure that you actually see everything you need to.

With all of the good this movie has going for it, it does feel incredibly held back with not all that good screenplay. This is where things get frustrating as it has all of the pieces for an incredibly great movie, but once they can actually get good writers on board, we've yet to come across anything special. The problem lies in the fact that the story is told in one of the laziest ways possible. The first movie had this problem as well, but, like I said, it might have been necessary since it was all about putting everything together. Now, though, it's kind of disheartening to see how hard these guys seem to be actually trying. 

I guess it shouldn't be too surprising as the guys behind the screenplay are also behind Transformers, but the things that happen are quite baffling when you think about it. The dialogue in the movie is serviceable and it can get pretty funny when it tries humor(they do sarcasm pretty well), but when it comes to the plotting it gets pretty dumb. The problem is the over reliance on Chekhov's Gun, that all important plot device where a scene screams "THIS WILL BE IMPORTANT LATER ON IN THE FILM" and everything in the movie gets resolved this way. Seriously! It makes me wonder if these guys can do anything else besides playing on coincidences and the unlikely. I think they try to bring in destiny to explain this but that's even worse as that really is an excuse for lazy screen writing.

When you get right down to it, though, this is still a really fun movie to watch. Although I'm convinced that they really need to get better writers on board before they can start really going anywhere with this franchise, it's still a great action movie.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

REVIEW: The Great Gatsby

And...summer 2013 continues...with this movie for some reason. Oh wait, it's being directed by that one guy who likes to infuse modern day music with old timey settings to make the "I can't relate to this, it takes place during a time when the internet didn't exist" movie into something that might get kids to actually get their butts in the theater to see the movie.

Okay, let's see what I can make of this.

This is something I'm really hesitant to dive into. A movie based on a book that's considered to be one of the great American Novels, except, not really for its time though. When you look back at the history, you'll find out that this book wasn't exactly the most well received book. In fact how critics were reacting to this book are actually pretty similar to how critics today are reacting to this movie. But, after a while, the book started to develop an underground following and it gradually caught on and, now, kids are forced to read this book in High School.

I'm not trying to make a point that the book isn't as good as most people seem to think it is just because it wasn't the most well like even for its time. After all, that's what happened to The Lord of the Rings, where those books never really found an audience until hippies got a hold of it. And, sure, you can point out that Tolkien wasn't really a writer(he was more of a linguist who wrote the books for his created Elven language) and The Lord of the Rings books are a bit drawn out and verbose when you get right down to it, but it is easy to see why the book did catch on with it's audience, presenting a different, made up world that was pretty fascinating and wondrous, and I'm willing to bet that the people who made the book popular in the first place really liked the idea of The Shire.

So, while I'm in no way(ok, maybe some way) inferring that this book might be bad, I still have to wonder how this book really caught on the way it did, especially considering that there are a lot of people who are put off by it(I mean, other than the fact that it was another one of those books you had to read in High School). At the same time, I've seen comments from guys who loved it and others who hated it, with the people who hated it pointing out that the characters were one dimensional and incredibly unlikable.

As for me, I didn't really have a reaction after reading the book, which actually did make me dislike it pretty strongly. Explaining why might get some people telling me that it's supposed to be this way and it's really intended for me to look for the deeper meanings in the book, but it doesn't really matter to me because I didn't like it enough to care. And here's why...

The story(or the thing in this book that resembles a story) is about this one guy named Nick Carraway who watches rich people make idiots of themselves. However, for some reason he is fond of this particular fellow named Gatsby, who likes to throw parties. But, it turns out that Gatsby got rich from illegal activity and he throws these parties in order to impress Daisy. Other things happen and then Gatsby eventually gets shot. You guys probably know the story by now.

The thing is, I actually probably would have liked it if I did end up having a feeling for any of the characters, even if I would have ended up hating them. There's a lot to discuss about how to make people actually care about the characters with things like making them likable or relate-able or personality-able, but it all really comes down to just understanding the character and knowing where he is coming from. A character doesn't have to be likable to be a good character, in fact, there are a lot of great stories that thrive on the fact that their characters are guys you'd like to punch in the face. But it all requires a connection to the audience or, in this case, the reader, and the best way to create this connection is to have a sort of character that the reader can experience with vicariously. He doesn't have to be your every day average schmo or someone who people can relate to, he just needs to be someone that we understand and someone who can help take us through the plot of the story. You know, someone like a PROTAGONIST!

The Great Gatsby doesn't really have one. Sure, there's a guy who narrates the story and he has a name and everything, but if you take out Nick from the story then it would be roughly the same experience. What we have is some guy who we sort of know who has a couple of opinions and comments to make(though, it's never clear why he holds the views he does) but he goes through the story in a sort of unnoticeable state. The book gives us some guy who we don't really know or understand that gets surrounded by more characters who we really don't know or understand.

I'm not trying to say that every story needs to work the same way in order to be good, but if you're wondering why some people just can't seem to grasp "the genius" behind the book, I'd say this is the main issue. There's really no connection to the reader. It just throws characters together while putting them through a couple of events and says "Make what you will of it" While there may be people who are fascinated by these events and they will put a lot of conjecture into them, people like me are just going to walk away with a cold feeling with not a whole lot to get because the book makes no attempt to involve the reader.

So, yes, we finally get to the movie, and this is a pretty faithful adaption, meaning that any criticisms I have of the movie might leave one screaming "Haven't you read the book?" So, for those people who might point out that I can't really criticize the movie for doing something in a certain way because that's how the book did it, well, rest assured that I read the book and that's why I was largely talking about my issues with it. But, even then, things that work in books does not mean it will work well in a movie. Granted, there are things that can make people baffled because of how wrong they seem to got it from the book, but, really, think about it for a second. Take The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for example. If you made a movie that happened exactly the way it did in the books it wouldn't really make movie that would work as the book is entirely made up of events random events that aren't really connected with each other and there really isn't much of a story when you get down to it. This is why the TV Show that was adapted from the book was able to work better as that kind of format allows for some room to tell it's story in unconnected ways. Still, I'll maintain the movie we eventually got did keep a lot of cleverness and insight from the original source material and was still pretty damn awesome

Wow, look at me dancing around the topic of the actual movie I'm supposed to be talking about.

Well, it's pretty much what the book is like and I'll gather that people who liked the book are probably going to like this movie because it's a faithful adaptation. I will say that they actually did try a couple of things in order to make it work better as a movie. For one thing, the main character, Nick, is actually given some personality and he feels like a decent protagonist for a while, but it falls apart because he gets shoved off to the side as we're supposed to see the affairs of the Great and Powerful Oz...err, Gatsby. Also, the movie was made in a way where the audience is supposed to root for Gatsby and Daisy getting together even if Daisy is shallow, materialistic, and probably not worth getting killed over...

I did like that they implemented Rhapsody in Blue in the movie though.

So, in the end, fans of the book might like the movie but I do doubt that people are going to remember that this adaptation actually existed in a couple of months. Sure, people may be still talking about the book(even more so since this movie is out) but if people do remember this movie, it's going to be because it was directed by that one guy who just can't help but modernize things in a way that just can't seem to connect with modern audiences.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

REVIEW: Iron Man 3

Woohoo! Summer Blockbuster time!

Now I get to experience rushed movies with big stars who are only there for the paycheck. It doesn't matter if the movie was an rancid abomination with writing so poor and rote that it will question your sense of humanity. All of the people will just come flocking to the bland action movie that's only there to make profit, and it seems to work no matter how high that number is at the end of a title. Who cares? It's got big explosions, hard action, and maybe some other things while I'm texting my friends in the middle of the movie.

Luckily, Fast and Furious 6 isn't out yet, so, let's talk about Iron Man 3!

I wasn't sure how they were going to pull this one off, since this is only after The Avengers, IE the coolest damn thing ever! It is probably leaving a lot of people thinking "Where can one go after a movie like The Avengers?" Everything before that big event has been leading up to that big event. Four protagonists in five superhero movies to team up in one massive action movie that was so good that The Oscars completely ignored it. I felt sorry for anyone having to follow up on that.

Thankfully, the people behind this whole Marvel project really know what they are doing with, Iron Man 3 being an incredibly great film. People knew that they couldn't top The Avengers with just an Iron Man movie, that would be an insane task to even try to do. What they go for instead is a movie that takes the whole comic continuity experiment into darker and stranger places that makes it feel unique and necessary to the whole series.

Iron Man 2 has been getting a bad reputation, not entirely without merit as the movie was basically just kind of waiting around for the other movies to get things going. I'm probably one of five people that actually liked Iron Man 2 and thought it was about as good as the first one. I can start hearing people preparing a mob to gather around as I typed that sentence, but I feel like that probably the reason why we liked the first Iron Man as much as we did was because it was the start to this whole thing with the surprise appearance of Nick Fury, being played by Samuel L. Jackson, letting us know that "Yes, The Avengers is really happening!" Iron Man 2 didn't have that kind of surprise weapon to help back itself up, leaving them to just sort of let things play out while throwing in a lot of Easter Eggs.

The reason why I brought all of that up is because not only is Iron Man 3 a good movie that doesn't need to support itself with a lot of exciting surprises or big twists, but that it's a great film on its own merits and definitely the best Iron Man movie out of the three.

I guess there is supposed to be a point where I talk about the story to give people an idea on what the whole movie is about, but, this time, you're really just going to have to see it for yourselves. Not because the whole movie is built off of surprises and twists, but that it's a film that requires to grab a hold of your attention and to just let you fall into the experience. Trust me, with this kind of movie, you'll be better off knowing as little as possible, even if you have already seen the trailers.

However, one of the best things Iron Man 3 has going for is that it's incredibly sharply written. Granted, the Marvel movies tied in with The Avengers have all been really well written with The Avengers having a fantastic screenplay by Joss Whedon, but maybe having The Avengers before hand actually helped Iron Man 3 be as good as it is. Now that The Avengers have shown us how much better action moves are when they actually have characters with real depth to them, Iron Man 3 goes for the same thing, giving us a great deal of time with Tony Stark, the main character, and how he is after the events of The Avengers. But, it's also worth noting how unique this movie really is when it's being directed by the same guy behind Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

You know, it's kind of weird what happens when the people making action movies actually care about how good it's going to be.

At the end of the day, this instant I walked out of the theater, seeing Iron Man 3, the first thought that came to mind was "Damn, I gotta see it again!" This movie shows us that, yes, there are still things you can do after The Avengers. It's a great movie and everyone should definitely go see it.

Now, I just feel sorry for all of the summer popcorn munchers that have to come out after this movie.