Friday, April 26, 2013

Pain & Gain

Rated R / Runtime 2 hr 10 min / Action, Comedy, Crime

These guys like to work out, but working out doesn't pay the bills.  Physical Trainer Daniel Lugo (played by Mark Wahlberg) has an idea to change all of that.  A self-help seminar motivates him to take action.  He decides to kidnap Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), and make him sign over all of his belongings.  He recruits his best friend Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and ex-con Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) to help with his nefarious plans.

The acting in this movie is top notch.  Wahlberg's ability to not laugh while maintaining his roided out intensity helps make some truly hilarious moments.  The Rock also does a great job playing a deeply religious junkie that has a violent streak.  Shalhoub is excellent as the unlikable hostage.  The scene where he first speaks with the police is priceless.  Mackie's performance has to be considered the weak link.  He does a good job, but I think someone like Terry Crews would have made a better choice for the role.  Ed Harris lends his experience to the movie as well in a semi-minor role.  There are several other minor characters who fill their roles well enough, but none really have much of an impact.  I did enjoy the eye candy provided by Bar Paly and some of the other females in the movie.

This movie is very funny.  Even at over 2 hours long, it never really drags.  Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson really make this movie what it is.  The three main characters are all idiots, but Daniel Lugo (Wahlberg) has convinced the other two that he is a genius.  Their bumbling and stumbling the whole time make it highly entertaining.  The script is well crafted giving the actors a chance to shine.  At points the movie even has to remind us all that it is based on a true story.  That's how ridiculous it gets.  

The most surprising thing about this movie is that it's directed by Michael Bay.  He is best known for making vapid action movies that replace plot with large loud explosions.  The kind of movies that require a complete shutdown of the brain to enjoy.  This one was a pleasant surprise for me.  The previews looked like it would be a mildly amusing film.  Also with the name Michael Bay attached to it I wasn't expecting much.  He should make more films like this.  It was like watching a modern non-slapstick version of the Three Stooges on steroids..  literally.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Oblivion

Oblivion
Rated PG-13 / Runtime 2 hr 6 min / Action, Adventure, Mystery / Sci-Fi

An alien force was detected approaching from space, and they are not friendly.  They destroyed the Moon.  This caused major earthquakes all over the planet.  Giant tsunamis and tidal waves abused the coasts.  Humankind survived underground.  Once the earthquakes and the oceans calmed, the alien Skavs invaded.  We used nukes to win the war.  The fallout from the nukes made many areas uninhabitable.  Humankind has moved to a spaceship called the Tet with the purpose of moving on to Titan, the largest moon of Saturn.

Tom Cruise plays Jack.  Jack is a drone repairman on Earth.  There are resource gathering structures that are sucking up water from the oceans for use in fusion reactors on the Tet spaceship.  Cruise gives a strong and believable performance in spite of his age and size disadvantages.  This is a movie that is dominated by him.  Most of the other characters don't have much of a chance to bloom.  Andrea Riseborough who plays Victoria is the only exception.  She helps coordinate Jack's repair efforts with the people on the Tet.  Andrea does a great job of playing a character that is afraid.  Afraid of breaking the rules and rejection.  Melissa Leo, Olga Kurylenko and Morgan Freeman round out the cast.  They all play characters integral to the story, but they are not given a chance to really shine. Olga Kurylenko looks even more beautiful than in her previous movies if that is even possible.  She also looks much much younger than Cruise which makes their love scenes seem awkward.  

I really wish I had gone into this movie without seeing the previews of it.  The trailers for the movie just give too much away.  Within the movie there is enough foreshadowing to make it predictable.  If it had been done the right way Oblivion could have been a much better movie.  The story is still interesting, but it does tend to drag in parts. The script also has a few holes that are never truly explained, but are necessary for the plot of the movie.  The action scenes and special effects are fantastic as you would expect in a Tom Cruise movie.  Visually the movie hits on all cylinders.

I really enjoyed this movie in spite of the plot holes and predictability.  The back story is interesting enough to get you hooked at the beginning.  Tom Cruise does his best to keep you there.  It doesn't hurt that every scene is a visual feast.  While not a great movie and a bit longer than it should be, it is still worth a watch.

Friday, April 12, 2013

42

Rated PG-13 / Runtime 2 hr 8 min / Biography, Drama, Sports

I went into this movie thinking it was going to be a stylized version of a baseball story backed by lyrics from modern rap artists.  That's the impression I got from the previews, but that's not the path that this movie takes.  This is based on the life of Jackie Robinson.  The first black man to play professionally in the major leagues.  Of course there are all kinds of bigots and racists that are crying because of it.

Chadwick Boseman plays Jackie Robinson.  Physically he looks the part.  His performance is uneven throughout the movie.  He looks like a deer caught in headlights in one scene, and in the next he's overly emotional.  It reminds me of Kanye West talking about Beyonce having one of the best videos ever.  I think it is mostly a product of the script and directing.  The actors playing his teammates for the most part might as well be cardboard cutouts for all that they add to the movie.  Thankfully they are minor characters.  Harrison Ford easily steals every scene he is in as Branch Rickey.  He once again shows that he is one of the best actors of his generation.  The only other performance that is memmorable is from Alan Tudyk.  He plays Ben Chapman in the most memmorable scene in the entire movie.  You expect racial tension in a movie like this, and Tudyk provides it more than any other character in the movie.

This is a sanitized version of the story of Jackie Robinson.  The script, which is written by the director Brian Helgeland, lacks the edge that you would expect from a story like this.  There is plenty of comic relief which helps make it entertaining.  Whenever the movie threatens to turn dark, there is a swift resolution to bring back the good time feeling.  There is very little tension in a story that you would think would be filled with it.  There is not enough adversity portrayed in this movie to make you root for the protagonist as much as I wanted to.  The whole story is just so vanilla that it sucks the heart and soul out of what this movie could be.  The one scene that provides the most tension is easily the most offensive as well.  At some point it feels like the movie is less about Jackie Robinson's struggle, and more about all of the people that helped him get through his rookie season.

The bottom line is that this movie is a mostly entertaining almost Disney version of how Jackie Robinson got into the Major Leagues and became a national icon.  The movie has flashes of brilliance, but it makes the struggle that Jackie went through look easy when it had to be the opposite.  This could have been an inspirational triumph.  It falls short of that. It's still worth a look if you are a fan of Robinson, and if not then you might want to wait for it to come out on DVD.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Evil Dead

Rated R / Runtime 1 hr 31 min / Horror

This is a remake of one of Sam Raimi's first films that became a cult classic.  If you have seen the original then you know why it became popular.  It's an interesting original story that was done on a very low budget.  There are some good scares, and some parts that are just plain hilarious whether it is intentional or not.  The story for this new one follows a similar formula.  Some young 20-somethings go to a cabin in the woods to try to help their friend Mia kick her drug problem by going cold-turkey.  One of them discovers the Book of the Dead in the basement wrapped in barbed wire and bound in human skin.  Of course curiousity gets the best of them, and they start messing with it which we all know is probably a bad idea.

Mia played by Jane Levy is the only truly memmorable performance.  All of the other actors give serviceable performances, but there is nothing special about them.  Jane Levy has moments that are quite good at times, but others bring her back down to earth.  While the acting is the weak point of the movie, it isn't bad to the point where it makes the movie less entertaining in any way.  For a horror movie these days you expect terrible acting, so it's pleasantly surprising when you get slightly subpar to decent performances out of most of the cast.

Nearly everything else about this movie is excellent.  The script is written to follow a similar storyline to the original which is to be expected with a remake or reboot.  It has been tweaked and refined over the years.  The director's attention to detail is fantastic.  There are also several subtle and a few not so subtle nods to the original.  This is not meant to be the same as the original though.  The campiness of Bruce Campbell is completely gone.  This is a serious horror movie with a good blend of jump scares and terrifying scenes with lots of gore.  As the movie went on the tension built up more and more.  There are some scenes where I couldn't tear my eyes away.  It is a little slow at first when they are setting up the back story between Mia and her brother, but thankfully it's just long enough to help set up the mayhem to come.

I have read some negative reviews of this movie, and most of them are from people who were expecting Bruce Campbell style of cheesiness.  If you want that then there is a movie that is already available to own that just happens to have the same title as this movie.  It's unfair to expect this new movie to be exactly like the original.  This reimagining of The Evil Dead is a serious horror movie. I really enjoyed it too.  This is the best horror movie I have seen in a while.  There are usually 2 or 3 really good horror movies to come out throughout the year, but you have to wade through dozens of others to find one of the good ones.  This is one of the good ones.  If you like horror movies then this is a must watch.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Writer's Block

This blog post is about the bane of all writers.  That itch in the middle of your back that you just can't seem to scratch.  Those automated calls that you get that are just advertisements. That dog that won't stop yapping at 3 AM.  No that's not what this is all about.  I'm talking about writer's block.

So what is the cause of writer's block?  What makes is so impossible to put word after word down?  I define writer's block as anything that prevents me from writing when I am trying to write.  I can think of several reasons that it occurs for me, and what I do to get around the problem.  Most times it is something that can easily be fixed.  Below is my list of the three most common causes of writer's block.

  • Distractions! 
I like to write with music or a movie playing in the background, but there are a ton of other things that can be distracting.  Alerts on your smartphone, roommates, pets, children, etc...  It seems pretty straightforward to get rid of distractions, but it can be tricky.  If your mind doesn't want to work on writing then it can be distracted by the smallest things.  Maintaining focus can be rough at times.  For me vitamin B is great for keeping me alert and focused.  For everything else it's sometimes just better to turn the TV or music off, put the pet outside, put the phone on the charger in another room, and put the "Do Not Disturb" sign up.  It won't kill you to let it go to voicemail.  Ok it might, but at least you'll get some writing done first.

  • Losing Interest 
This is linked to having distractions.  If you lose interest in what you are writing then you are probably going to find distractions to keep your mind busy.  There are several ways to get around this.  You can move on to a different part of the story.  A part that excites you more than what you are currently writing.  You could start another story.  It sometimes helps to write more than one thing at a time.  I would suggest not taking on too many things at once though.  I've done that many times, and you could end up abandoning your original story.  Sometimes it's good to have these fragments, and you can pick them up again later to use them.  Sometimes you just end up having a lot of unfinished projects which is not a good thing.  The best solution to this for me is to just think of how you can make this part exciting again.  Think of what happens next, and what you can do to make it fun to write again.

  • Lack of inspiration
It's hard to come up with good ideas sometimes.  This is where it is good to have an outline.  If you have a good outline then you at least have a starting and ending point.  When you don't have any good ideas, write your bad ideas.  You can always come back to it in another draft.  You can ask someone else for ideas.  It's good to get a second opinion when you're not happy with what you have.  There are times when I'm writing that I spend 30 minutes to an hour thinking things through before the words start flowing.  It can be time consuming to get going at times.  That is part of the reason I like to have movies playing in the background while I write.  Reading can help to provide ideas as well. Inspiration can be found all around you, and taking a short break can be the key to getting the words to come.  Sometimes the minute you stop thinking about it is when the solution presents itself.  This can be the most frustrating of the bunch, but it is also the one that I encounter the least.

So what causes you to have those painful moments when your fingers stop tapping on that keyboard?  Writer's block can attack us all at times, and I'd like to hear what you all think.