Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Red 2 (2013)

To start with my wife and I are fans of the first movie, and so Reds 2 was an inevitable for us to see, and I have to say that Reds 2 is a good popcorn movie.  Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louis Parker, and Helen Mirren are all back as our favorite retired but extremely dangerous assassins.  Even though the movie has it's funny parts it doesn't work as well as the original movie did.  Malkovich and Willis are the anchors to this story.  Their banter between each other is hilarious, and it really works.  It is when the story goes into Frank's (Willis) relationship with Sarah (Parker) that the story seems to drag.  In the beginning of the movie we see that Frank and Sarah are trying to have a normal life, and it's killing Frank, but he loves Sarah so he does what most normal people do and not kill anyone.  The movie is funny, but it jumps around from one location to another as our hero's try to piece together why everyone connected to a project called "nightshade" is dying, and why they themselves are targets.

 Simple plot, and yet it seems all forced.  Reds 2 works when we are laughing at the antics of our assassins as they go about their business.  The humor is dark, and that's what Reds is all about.  It's based on the DC comic which is rooted in dark humor.  But Reds 2 tries to be PC, and straddle the line of political correctness, and the problem is that it was never suppose to be that way.  The original film was rated R, and Reds 2 is rated PG-13, and I believe that's not a mistake.  I'm sure the studio wanted a PG-13 film so younger people could see it.  I'm not arguing why they did it, but for a film about retired assassins to be rated PG-13 seems to defeat it's own purpose.  I'm sure the hardcore fans were not happy, and to try and water down material that in itself is violent seems to be counter intuitive.  The series is based on those violent events, and how easy our assassins dispatch their nemesis.  The comedy comes from how they do so, and that their assassins with heart.  Now Willis and Malkovich are great at this.  So is Ms Mirren, as Victoria.  In fact some of her scenes are the best and the funniest, and that's because she plays against her type.  We think of Mirren as this demure older women when she is a vibrant and passionate assassin.  Some characters make a re-appearance from the first one, but I wanted to see more of them.  I wanted to see more of Brian Cox as Ivan.

The story also seems to be forced.  It seemed more like a video game where you collect clues and advance to the next part of the story.  Byung-hun Lee as Han Cho Bai is wasted here.  He's like Willy E Coyote chasing the Roadrunner, and then he becomes part of the team.  Catherine-Zeta Jones looks great, and has some funny scenes with Willis, but again she isn't in it enough for my taste.  Anthony Hopkins on the other hand is great here.  He chews the scenery up along with Willis and Malkovich.   Simply put Hopkins makes a great villain.

So did I like this film or not?  I had to say I enjoyed it.  But it's far from being a great film, and it seems as though it could have been so much more.  That's my problem.  The plot points are as big as ever and one could drive a semi through them, but again there are parts where my wife and I had a good laugh.  I can't fault a film for doing that, so that's why I like the movie.  I just wish it could have been better.  I don't know why the filmmakers don't use more of the comic book since that's what Reds is based on.  Maybe it's too dark for general audiences, but when you water down material so it plays better with a the general public you defeat what Reds is all about.

All I can say is that the movie could have been better, but maybe they'll release it with additional footage that they cut out for time or footage that they deemed to hardcore for a PG-13.  But for a fun escapist night or afternoon Reds 2 isn't that bad.  It's just not that great also, and that's it's problem.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Dennis Farina (1944-2013)

Dennis Farina passed away Monday Morning in Scottsdale Arizona.  Mr. Farina was born in Chicago, and became a Chicago police officer for 18 years in the cities Burglary division.  It was while Mr Farina was a consultant for Michael Mann's film entitled "Thief" that Mann gave him a brief role in the movie.

Farina continued to do parts while he was a police officer in the Chicago theater scene.  It wasn't until Mann cast Farina as a lead in his series "Crime Story" that Farina made the full transition to actor.

He later played many different parts.  Some as police officers and other as mobsters.  Farina was a life long cubs fan, and he eventually took the part of Detective Joe Fontana on the series of Law & Order.

I was always enamoured by Mr. Farina's style of acting.  He was a natural, and you could see he was having fun.  He did a stint on a show called "In-Laws" which showed his comic timing, and how well he did in comedy.  It only lasted 15 episodes, but they were funny and it showed that Mr. Farina had range in his acting.  

He was taken from us too early, and our condolences to his family on their loss.  He will be surely missed.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Despicable Me 2

So it's July 4th week-end, and what's more American then going to the movies, and so we did.  I'm a big fan of the first movie, and I have to say I loved the whole story.  Having said that I was a bit disappointed by the 2nd film.  That's not to say that I hated it.  I enjoyed seeing the film with my family, and we all laughed at bits in the film, but it is no where near the movie the first one is.

Why is that?  Why was I a bit disappointed at the film?  Simply put it was the story.  They were on the right track.  After all our main character Gru is now out of the super villain business because he has his new family that he loves.  Making him a superhero is the right thing to do, but the story seemed to be too simplistic.  The movie did have some cute elements in the story which is one thing that made the first film so endearing, but it all seemed forced which is sad since you would think that Universal Studios would give more thought to the story of one of their super successful franchise.

That being said I did like seeing once again our favorite characters Gru, Edith, Margo, Agnes, and even Dr. Nefario. And who doesn't love those lovable minions which is one of the films strong points.  In this film Gru is recruited to discover who the  villain is that is threatening the world, and the problem is that we all know who it is.  Even Gru knows but is ignored because he is more concerned about some boy being interested in one of the girls.  This is cute, but so drawn out.  It distracts from the plot a bit.  After all WE all know who it is, yet it is the sub-plots that distract the audience. The sub-plots only seem to lengthen the story and not contribute to it.  It just seemed to take away from the story, and it kind of insults its audience.  There are holes in the story you could drive a semi through, and it is this that I had a problem with.  Sure Despicable Me 2 is a children's film, but the first film was a film that did not ignore it's adult audience, and at times Despicable Me 2 seems to forget that.

But I did say I liked the movie, so how can I criticize a movie I enjoyed?  Easy I just wanted more from this film.  What I got is a watered down version of the first movie.  The authors could have done better that's all.  Are some of the skits funny?  I'd have to say yes, but they could have been better, and maybe focusing on the family would give Gru more of a reason to fight our arch villain who seemed a bit wimpy and not as threatening as villains should be.

Again I did like seeing this film.  Hearing everyone laugh at the antics of the minions, and seeing Gru fall in love with Lucy is enjoyable.  It is even very sentimental at the end, which is really what I liked.  So yes Despicable Me 2 isn't what the original film was, but its close, and because of that it's fun to watch.  It's also a good film to take the kids to and laugh out loud.  There aren't too many films out there that you can do that to, so I have to say I would recommend Despicable Me 2, after all those minions are funny to watch, and their so damn cute!

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

World War Z (2013)

I just had to go see World War Z being an avid "zombie" genre film fan.  I had never read the book by Max Brooks, about eyewitnesses account of the zombie outbreak, but I have read a few chapters here and there and what I read seemed interesting.  What the movie does is compile all those survivors accounts into one character's view of the outbreak.  Gerry Lane played by Brad Pitt is a former employee of the UN's health organization.  He is seen in the first scene of the movie making breakfast for his family.  He has two daughters, and a wife, and we find out that he quit his job due to what it was doing to him.  But that is latter on in the movie, and in the beginning of the movie we see Pitt interacting with his family while making breakfast.  We hear on the radio and on the TV that things are happening in the world, but like all news with a 24 hour cycle it is background noise to the characters.  For us the audience we all know that something is coming, and that it will impact out characters shortly.

Why do I set this all up?  Well it's the bases of the whole movie.  How does our hero and his family survive this outbreak?  To not give anything away I will say that it does start immediately, and the director Marc Foster leaps into the story with both feet.  This is the movies strength.  We quickly identify with Pitt's character, and his family and we want to see him survive.  I do believe that Pitt himself brings his own persona into the movie as well.  Pitt is known for being a consummate actor, and a family man in his personal life.  It is these factors which makes us buy his character so quickly.   I wondered a bit if we were given someone else other then Pitt would we so quickly tie our emotions to the character.  This is not insignificant and something that should not be looked at lightly.  The book is about several characters.  The movie is about one character and his family.  In the first few minutes of the movie Pitt's character defends his family from on coming Zombies, and lawless people while still all maintaining his humanity.  It is no wonder we identify with him so much.  We want to be him, and we want him to succeed in getting out of plight.  While others run around and loot and destroy our hero maintains civility.  You see this when he shoots an attacker and when a police officer enters the scene he holds his rifle up in a non threatening way, but all the police officer see and wants is what's in the store.  This scene symbolizes the breakdown of civilization, but not the breakdown of our characters civility.

I would have enjoyed seeing and hearing the different types of survivors that the book concentrates on.  It would be a much different movie then, and one I would think that would be longer.   The movie is 116 minutes and the movie is well paced.  There are some really stunning set pieces that Pitt's character gets into, and some of the side characters that he interacts with seem to be worthy of their own film, but since this story is focused on Pitt's character we are only given his perspective.  It is because of this I really think the movie works.  Maybe a HBO limited cable series could be made about the other events that happen in the book?  There is certainly enough material to do so, and an audience for it, but I'm afraid that AMC's "The Walking Dead" has taken that territory successfully and there may not be that much more material that the public could stomach about a zombie outbreak or maybe I'm wrong and there is more of an apatite for zombie stories.  HBO take note and time to do some more focus groups on that.

Being a fan of George Romero I would be remiss here to mention him, and his films.  What makes them so unique is that there is a message in them, and in a Romero movie all characters are subject to dying certain deaths.  In most of Romero's films the characters that you may identify with become zombie food.  Not here in World War Z.    Forster does this to some of his side characters but not our hero Brad Pitt.  Pitt's character goes through some hair raising events and your on the edge of your seat as he does so, but in the end we know that our hero must prevail because his objective is to learn about the plague, and get back to his family.  So the story is as old as some Greek myths where the hero must slay the enemy and get back to his family.   There is nothing wrong with that, and like I Forster's pace and sense of tension he has throughout the film.  In fact I think that it is the films strength, and can only describe the film as tension ridden.

Also what this does unlike any other zombie film is keep the gore to a minimum, and hence the PG-13 rating.  I've heard people like the film who are not into such films, and that's a credit to the director again.  Unlike the zombies of yesteryear these zombies are quick, and multiply quickly.  A human who is bitten has 15 seconds before he or she changes, so hence this is a different zombie then what has been presented to us in the past.  Danny Boyle's "28 Days later" is a film that more reflects "World War Z" zombie.  But in Boyle's film he does not say zombie.  In Boyle's film the people are called the "infected", and the infection is transferred by not a bite, but by the blood.  Boyle's film is really well done, and what he does on a small budget Forster does on a big budget.  What can be done on a bigger budget you ask?  Well a whole host of things.  How about confronting zombies on an airplane?  or what happens when a wall of a city is breached by zombies?  The set pieces in "World War Z" are amazing to see, and you truly are amazed at how the filmmakers pull it off.  I enjoyed the film, and yes there is a ending to this plague, and it's kind of unique so I won't spoil it for the rest of you who will be seeing it.

The one thing that kind of got me was how the film tried to tie everything in a nice bow.  There is no doubt that the filmmakers had to show our hero re-uniting with his family, but how it does so seems forced.  I guess wanting the audience wanting more is a good thing, but sometimes it's a killer, and that can kill the pace of a film quickly, so I understand why the filmmakers ended the film the way they did.  I do believe that the audience seeing the film will enjoy it, and will come away from the film on a positive note.  After all for almost two hours the audience is subjected to nothing but tension.  The release of this tension happens when we see our hero is triumphant, but most zombie films end on a cautionary tale.  The book certainly ends more on a cautionary note then the movie and maybe that's what I missed.  Can I recommend this film?   I most certainly can.  It's a good entertaining popcorn film that you'll enjoy watching, and Brad Pitt carries this film all the way.  So enjoy and get ready for the zombie apocalypse.  Never has the apocalypse been so exciting and riveting.  You'll enjoy the ride.