Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ghost Rider: Spirit of ....A Bad 80's Action Movie?


    Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) is back with his flaming hell cycle to serve justice to the wicked. Most people bashed Cage's first outing as the Devil's Bounty Hunter. I found it to be average. This time he is running from the curse of the rider and hiding in Easter Europe. He's spent years trying to control it and stays sheltered away from people until Moreau comes calling. The warrior monk played by Idris Elba needs Cage's help to find and protect a child from the devil.

  The devil made a deal similar to the one made with Johnny Blaze only for a child. The boys mother Nadya (Violante Placido) agrees , but like every deal with the devil, things go wrong. Moreau offers to free Cage from his curse in exchange for helping. The child is named Danny, but there's never a clear explanation as to whether he is the future Ghost Rider, Dan Ketch.

  The plot is simple and I am OK with that. Blackout is done very well. The effects aren't great , but they are watchable and Johnny Whitworth is entertaining. Christopher Lambert has a small role as a tattooed monk and it was about as cheesy as his role in Mortal Kombat. Minus the magical powers. The story to me seems rushed and Cage appears to be going through the motions for a paycheck. He is supposedly a guy who loves comic books, but I don't see nearly the love for the character this time around. He is also really showing his age. It lacks depth. It is very small scale. In fact, beyond the ten or twelve actors it seems like no one is in Eastern Europe. The retelling of the origin is similar , but not exact and the ending is abrupt.

The new hell cycle worked for me. Grunge and mean. The bike looked gritty and well used. The new look of Ghost Rider worked as well. I did prefer the chains in the original. The rider moved in a " Frankenstein" manner sometimes, but it was OK too. The freeway chase on the hell cycle was done very well and the 3D was OK. I think my real problem with this was vibe. It simply had none.  Marvel has done well with it's last few movies and this one feels like a let down. Most people will have assumed as much. Ghost Rider has history and deserved a better showing than this. It is a February release for a reason, but with tough competition this weekend, I doubt it tops the box office. We have most likely watched the rider head off into the sunset for the foreseeable future.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Star Wars Episode 1 -revisited in 3D.......worth it?

There is something about the Orchestral John Williams' score during the opening crawl that makes anyone feel like a kid again. Star Wars is as much a part of American Culture as Chevrolet and Baseball. Some would say this isn't Star Wars. Fans would call it the first of the dreaded Prequel Trilogy. Is it as bad as people say? In 1999 this was THE event. Is it possible for anything to live up to the kind of hype that was generated by this franchise. No. Even if Lucas wrote exactly what the fans wanted, the answer would still be no. This is not the Star Wars that you probably grew up with, but it is the beginning of what some would call a fantastic story of good versus evil.

If you can put away fan boy expectations and look at it for what it is, this isn't a horrible movie. Does it have some flaws? Absolutely. Let's start with the story. It is a set up to something bigger. The movie was formed off George's cliff notes about character backstory. If this would've come first, I don't think we would have the same stoic franchise. The Jedi are in their prime. The republic has problems. The galaxy is on the verge of a war that they didn't know was coming. A trade negotiation goes wrong and puts into motion the bigger plot. We are introduced to new characters and younger versions of some familiar ones. There are worlds to explore and dangers to face. In the end we are left with a feeling of peace, but warned of a looming threat.

Let's start with what worked? Liam Neeson. I dug the Qui Gon character. He was the one that followed the rules, but bent them if necessary for the greater good. I see him as a rogue politician. I could go on forever about the political innuendos in Star Wars, but I won't. Obi Wan was also good. Seeing the younger him in action was something that all original trilogy fans looked forward to. I had one problem with him in this film. It's one line of dialogue, "Why do I sense we are picking up yet another pathetic life form?" The line just seems out of character for someone who seemed to rigidly follow the Jedi Code. Beyond that, I think that McGregor did a fine job as the future mentor of Luke Skywalker.

The introduction of R2-D2 and C-3P0 was fun to watch. They may not be the favorites, but they are the glue to all of the films. The fact that R2 is seen on Tatooine explains why he seemed to know exactly where he was going before being captured by Jawas in episode 4. I will forever question how I feel about Vader creating 3PO, but it doesn't ruin things for me.

Queen Amidala worked and I loved the majority of the scenes on Naboo. This film still impresses me with the CGI used for that planet. The detail in the landscapes is amazing. The young queen gave us our first look at how the senate we had heard about operated. It was cool to see the chamber and the Republic Capitol.

The pod race was fun to watch, but I will always feel was done as a nod to NASCAR, which was in its prime during the film's release. I was a bit let down by the 3D during the race, but we will come back to that later. The young version of Greedo was still mildly humorous and so was Watto.

The plot of this film often gets blasted, but I never minded it. The Emporer needed an army. The Trade Federation had an army of droids and was easily manipulated. This was a learning experience for him. After seeing how easily the army was defeated, he began adjusting his plan and eventually leading us into the Clone Wars. The villain is simple and that's what works. While he is very powerful, he is a master manipulator and most of our own world’s greatest villains were the same way.

No matter how much you may loathe Lucas, he has now given us two of the greatest movie villains of all time. Vader being the first and now Darth Maul. If this movie had any lasting impressions it would be him. The look was spot on. The double bladed light saber was the coolest weapon in the universe. The fact that he barely spoke and radiated bad a$$. Watch his face during the final battle and you get it. This guy is not to be messed with.

This brings us to the best part of this movie. The final light saber battle. This is what Star Wars fans wanted. Jedi and Sith, twirling light sabers and using the force with precision and control. The speed and grace of this fight was fantastic. It is exactly what we wanted from prequels. People don't like it, but Darth Maul had to die. He wasn't what Palpatine needed. Maul was just a weapon with no connections. Over throwing a government takes connections and this guy was just a warrior. A good one, but He is a very one dimensional one. On the other side of the coin, Qui Gon had to die as well. Imagine how different Anakin may have been under Qui Gon's training? Vader me never have come to be, but we all know that couldn't happen. There is great foreshadowing here. Obi Wan killing Maul fuels the dislike that Palpatine later reveals towards the Jedi Master as the story continues.

I didn't hate Jar Jar. I can appreciate what he is/should have been. Comic relief. He was supposed to be the bumbling idiot that 3PO was in the first trilogy. He is always getting into trouble. My biggest problem with Jar Jar was his voice. Nails on chalkboard. I think Lucas was so excited that he got his CGI character to work, that he became a victim of overkill. If Jar Jar would have been toned down, we as adults would have been more accepting of him. The annoying voice and unnecessary getting into trouble became tiring, but the kids I sat in the theatre with still loved him. George Lucas has always said these are kid’s movies. This is a point that will forever be debated.

Binks wasn't my biggest problem with Episode One. Jake Lloyd was. I liked some of the other actors who screen tested so much better. I get the idea of a no name, but Jake was horrible. The acting was bad and I never really liked the character of Anakin as a boy. Child actors are tough, but I found this one to be annoying. His delivery was awful and I think made bad dialogue more painful.

This movie is supposed to be the backstory of Vader. Who, as stated by George, was always the main character. I hated the "immaculate conception," story. When I watched this again there are some key close ups on Anakin's mother that make me wonder if there was another direction that they intended to go in. My biggest disappointment is that we never get more info on the father. Too late to fix it now.

Is it worth it in 3D? Yes. It's not the greatest 3D conversion, but for a movie that was never intended to be done in 3D, it's pretty good. The characters stand out a little more and things certainly look cool, but I don't think the 3D is why I liked seeing it again. The starship fight is a bit underwhelming, but the movie on the big screen with sound still resonated. Star Wars will always be better viewed on the big screen. People will continue to hate this movie. People will continue to despise George Lucas, but I appreciate what he did. He gave us another story. It might not be exactly how we envisioned, but it was never really our vision was it? He gave us light sabers, droids, and took us back to a galaxy far far away. Is it my favorite? No, but for two hours I was a kid again and I appreciate that. The movie is still worth the watch and if you can separate yourself from Lucas hate for two hours, you might even like it a little more. May the force be with you.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Chronicle...of a good movie.

  Let me apologize for the delay in this review, but sometimes life can get in the way.   

 The fad of the moment is Super Hero movies. Some are good, Captain America. Some are bad, Green Lantern. Some are better than expected, X-Men: First Class. Chronicle is pretty good. It can be tough to take characters that are original and be a successful movie. Sci-fi is a turn off for some mainstream movie goers. Chronicle is very science fiction, but it is also very not. Teen angst, economic pressure, and everyday problems are running wild through this one.

  The story features a cast you are probably not familiar with. Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly, and Alex Russell are the three leads. Andrew decides from the opening frame to begin filming his life. Hence the name “Chronicle.” I am quickly getting tired of the “fake documentary” style of filmmaking, but I do admit this one works pretty well. Andrew has issues from the minute. He doesn’t fit in at school. He gets bullied, is a loner with an abusive father and terminally ill mother. His only friend is his cousin Matt who seems to come across being his friend out of guilt. He is convinced to a rave with Matt and the future class president Steve. The three stumble on some kind of sink hole and find an alien rock. Yes an alien rock.

  They touch the rock and come out of the hole with telekinesis. The discovery of their powers and their “training,” is straight out of an episode of “jackass,” but again it works. The scenes where they learn to fly are entertaining. Low budget, but it does make you wish you had the same talent. Andrew’s life causes him to become angry and abuse his powers. He starts fitting in, but uncontrollable vomiting before sex causes him to be ridiculed. He painfully takes revenge on the school bully and continues to harm innocent people. Matt then has no choice but to stop him. Andrew is the villain, but his intentions are at times pretty good.

  The critic on my show said that it borrows heavily from “Akira,” he is dead on. It works and to non anime fans, it will go unnoticed. The big battle in downtown Seattle is borrowed from Super Man 2, but again it works. It sometimes can look a bit cheesy but it is still cool to watch. The alien rock isn’t explained and that doesn’t bother me. Nose bleeds and vomiting are not explained either and I was left wishing they were. The movie is left open for a sequel and does end with a lot being left to explain. Josh Trank isn’t exactly a house hold name director and there are a lot of similarities with J.J. Abrams. It does come across like a show that belongs on the CW, but Chronicle does prove that sometimes low-budget can still be fun.