Film, Uncategorized

Review on G.I. Joe: Retaliation

I confess on how baffled I get about why Hollywood apparently considers it necessary to employ the dumbest possible screenplays for movies like this. One expects a certain amount of stupidity to go along with lots of explosions and special effects. It goes with the territory and, to a degree, is not only acceptable, but welcomed. After all, you wouldn’t always want to spend two hours attempting to decode a  complex narrative while being bombarded with dizzying visuals. This was written for kids and it’s hard to believe how any adult could manage to enjoy the storyline. Back in the mid-’90s, I used to play with G.I. Joe “action figures” (the accepted male-oriented term for “dolls”). I can say with some level of confidence that the scenarios I constructed were better thought out than the ones depicted in G.I. Joe: Retaliation.

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But there’s a lot of action, right? Yes – this is an eye candy special. Jon M. Chu has made a careful study of Michael Bay films and, as a result, this looks suspiciously like one. It would be foolish if you didn’t notice the extremely huge explosions and the “WANNGGG” sound effects throughout the film. But there’s a problem with action. Unless it involves tension, which often comes from putting well-liked characters in some sort of legitimate danger, it falls flat. Everything in G.I. Joe: Retaliation is perfunctory – technically proficient but rather soulless. It’s not exciting type of action, but rather boring. You can enjoy action in a film like G.I. Joe, but you can’t really enjoy non-stop action for a hour and a half. The movie is semi-violent, but it’s on a teen-friendly level. Violence without blood is like steak without a knife.

How does the sequel connect to its predecessor, G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra? Not very solidly. Disappointed by the box office performance of the 2009 film, Paramount ordered a near-reboot. Majority of the actors/characters from the first film are gone, although the lead, Channing Tatum, made the cut. Then comes Dwayne John aka. “The Rock” and Bruce Willis, two go-to action guys. Johnson ends up doing his Rock-y thing, flexing muscles, shooting guns, and thumping bad guys – sort of like Arnold back in the ’80s. Willis has less screen time than in The Expendables 2, looks bored, and is evidently on hand because he was offered a too-good to refuse salary. Meanwhile, Tatum’s sudden, meteoric rise to stardom encouraged last-minute reshoots that pushed back the opening date from June 2012 to March 2013. Tatum’s new scenes are evident since they come across as filler unrelated to the main storyline and, despite gaining about ten minutes of additional screen time, his character is mistreated by Retaliation. The sequel is all about burying the past and (almost) pretending like the first one never happened. I wasn’t a fan of G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra, but it may have been a better movie than this one. That may be because it was at least more fun.

Retaliation illustrates how 3-D can be a bad thing even when its implementation is competent. The 3-D used here is very much of the “in your face” kind. It’s frequently splashy and showy and I found it to be slightly distracting, but not completely bothersome. The problem may be that the storyline is very weak that I was inordinately focused on the visuals, but even then was I occasionally finding myself to lose track of what was happening because of the 3-D. This 3-D isn’t “bad” in the sense that much 3-D is bad – many of the usual problems aren’t evident – but it does a disservice to the film as a means of telling a story.

To be fair, G.I. Joe: Retaliation does enough things right to avoid falling into the “unwatchable” category, but still at the edge of a cliff. The action scenes, although lacking in excitement, are cleanly straightforward. There’s a fair amount of cutting, but not so much that they become incoherent. The rock climbing ninja fight is inventive and deserves points for ingenuity. The destruction of London, while entirely excessive, is nicely handled – it’s refreshing to see a city other than New York or Washington D.C. being crushed. And there’s genuine humor in the “gun browsing” sequence at General Colton’s house.

Director Chu comes to this project without a solid action film résumé. His previous behind-the-camera efforts include a couple of the Step Up sequels and the Justin Bieber documentary-esque movie. This may in part explain why the action scenes, although effectively choreographed, are lacking when it comes to suspense and tension. The movie as a whole is poorly balanced, with a clunky, uneven beginning, too much exposition and too much bland, by-the-book action sequences. I think my 7-year old self would have enjoyed G.I. Joe: Retaliation.

Uncategorized

Ninja Turtles Identities Revealed?

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Looks like the Ninja Turtles are cast.

There are reports that all four Turtles have been cast as Pete Ploszek’s Leonardo, Noel Fisher’s Michelangelo and Jeremy Howard’s Donatello are set to join Alan Ritchson’s Raphael and Megan Fox’s April O’Neil.

It’s an interesting route that Paramount is taking by not choosing to go with any big names for the movie, but the Turtles themselves should be enough to sell the movie no matter who’s playing them. That also means Paramount was able to pick the best actors for the roles rather than just their fame. Whatever money they used will be put into perfecting the CG for the film.

All four Turtles will be created using motion-capture and CG, while the rest of the film will be in live-action. The four brothers join Megan Fox, who will play the loyal turtle ally from above the sewer, April O’Neil. Surprisingly, the latest report doesn’t mention human Casey Jones at all, he was previously rumored to be in the film. That could mean that plan has been scrapped, or simply that the role isn’t ready to be filled yet. Who knows especially with the direction they want to go with. I mean, it was stated that it will be the first time that the Kraang will be in it.

The road to Ninja Turtles has been a long one already with its multiple starts and stops, fan outrages over rumored changes to the turtles’ origins and statements from both Eastman and Laird offering praise and criticism. and the casting of Megan Fox.

The film is now expected to start production in April for a June 6th, 2014 release.

What do you guys think?

Film

Olympus Has Fallen: A retro-thriller with guilty pleasures

If you’ve ever wondered if they’ll make another Die Hard or Lethal Weapon movie like they did in the eighties, you should definitely go check out Olympus Has Fallen, an entertaining retro-thriller about well, you know: A blue-collar law-enforcement guy who gets overmatched by a condescending, foreign evil genius, and emerges bloodied but smirking.

Gerard Butler takes a welcome break from his increasingly painful romantic-comedy roles to play the terse presidential bodyguard Mike Banning. The film starts off with a 10-minute opening prologue that establishes him as trusted pal and sparring partner of the U.S. President (Aaron Eckhart), studly protector of the first lady (Ashley Judd), and idol of their son, Connor (Finley Jacobsen). All that falls apart when a disastrous accident leads to tragedy and turns Mike into a pariah, working a desk job in the Treasury Department.

Then, one day he looks out his window to see something unusual going down on the White House lawn. A low-flying cargo plane comes winging in over Virginia, knocking out a couple of Air Force fighter jets, strafing civilians and monuments alike as it heads toward the White House.

Not only is it a national calamity, but a chance for Mike’s redemption. Mike, who knows the White House intimately, sneaks into the building and sets up radio contact, first with the officials on the outside, and later with the bad guys. Then he begins picking off the members of roaming squads of commandos while formulating a plan to stymie the ringleader, Kang (Rick Yune), the rogue terrorist who has masterminded the attack.

Most of what follows is a cat-and-mouse game around the dark hallways, ducts and walls of the White House, and given the premise’s essential absurdity, it’s almost embarrassingly entertaining. Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) has an infectious enthusiasm for the genre’s guilty pleasures, the reductive absurdities, the salty dialogue and the patriotic bushwa. But mostly he’s good at the logistics of working out how one swaggering, underestimated American can flip the bird to his bureaucratic superiors and defeat an army of foreign fanatics without seeming too cartoonish or impossible.

Korean-American actor and former model Yune (who played a similar role in Die Another Day, the last Pierce Brosnan James Bond film) makes a colourful villain – handsome and insufferably assured, and also an unchivalrous sadist who kicks around the Secretary of Defense (Melissa Leo in a pageboy wig) as though she’s a hacky sack.
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Watching all this on a video feed is a circle of overqualified actors playing helpless government officials, with Morgan Freeman as Turnbull, Speaker of the House and now acting president, Angela Bassett as the Secret Service director and Robert Forster as the pit-bull general in charge of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mostly, they’re required to stare in horror at monitors and yell variations of the f-word at each other, but despite the familiar Austin Powers setup, they provide a welcome shot of gusto to the generic proceedings.

Occasionally comic, Olympus Has Fallen is not entirely guilt-free. The action is brutal – the corridors of power pile up with corpses – and its use of CGI images that echo 9/11 carnage borders on exploitation. Yet the paranoia is also timely. The movie is released the same week that a new North Korean propaganda video shows an imaginary missile attack on Washington (ripped off from an American video game), including the destruction of the White House.

After the brief, self-imposed Hollywood-studio moratorium on disaster movies post-9/11, the wheel seems to have finally turned; transforming catastrophes into snappy wish-fulfillment fantasies is okay again. Still too soon? On the contrary, Olympus Has Fallen seems to have arrived right on time.

Film, Uncategorized

My thoughts on Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the Great and Powerful is the prequel to The Wizard of Oz. This new vision of The Land of Oz is an imaginative mix of live-action and CGI that pays homage to the iconic images and timeless sense of wonder in the classic The Wizard of Oz without being too deferential. It’s familiar enough to be comfortable, but not so familiar that it feels worn and repetitive. Although L. Frank Baum’s original book is in the public domain, but MGM owns the rights to many of the specific visual interpretations of elements from the novel, thereby limiting how closely Oz the Great and Powerful could be linked to The Wizard of Oz. For example, don’t expect to hear any of the beloved musical cues. Also missing is the Wicked Witch of the West’s mole.

It’s not unreasonable to expect Oz the Great and Powerful to be the first film in a family franchise. Although remaking The Wizard of Oz would introduce a series of legal hurdles, it could be managed and Baum wrote thirteen other tales of Oz, so there’s no shortage of material. With that in mind, Oz the Great and Powerful functions as something of an “origin story” for certain characters, detailing how both of the Wicked Witches (East and West) got their starts and how the Wizard attained his exalted position. Although there’s no Dorothy or Toto, you’ll catch the Cowardly Lion and Scarecrow making their cameos.

Raimi manages to make the viewers nostalgic throughout the film. The Yellow Brick Road and Emerald City recall their 1939 counterparts. Oscar Diggs, who goes by the stage name of Oz (James Franco), is given companions on his trek, including a flying monkey, Finley (Zach Braff), and a China Girl (Joey King). The movie also employs its predecessor’s tactic of using black-and-white (with a 4:3 aspect ratio) for the Earth-bound scenes and brilliant Technicolor (with 2.35:1) for Oz. And, as in The Wizard of Oz, actors play dual roles: parts in the 1905 Kansas prologue and larger roles in Oz. This is true of Braff, King, and Michelle Williams for this film as well.

The screenplay uses the thin back-story provided for The Wizard in Baum’s series to develop the framework for a full movie. On Earth, Oz is a failed conjurer traveling with the “Baum Brothers” circus who’s more interested in seducing his assistants than expanding his repertoire. One day, while escaping in a hot air balloon from an enraged strongman, Oz is caught in a tornado and deposited in Oz.

Visually, Oz the Great and Powerful delivers in 2-D and 3-D. The color is scintillating and the CGI is used to good effect to represent a technological update to the look and feel of the 1939 film without tarting things up too much. Raimi includes plenty of visuals that allow the 3-D to pay off with things flying out of the screen at the audience and a tornado that breaks through the screen and seems to be hovering in the front of the theater. Still, the 2-D offers more “pop” where the color is concerned.

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Oz the Great and Powerful is in the tradition of Tim Burton’s recent Alice in Wonderland: a beloved classic story that finds new life brought to life by a director with a strong vision and an understanding of how to appeal to family audiences. Raimi tones down any ghoulish tendencies in favor of a film that is only a little frightening.

Oz the Great and Powerful doesn’t offer much in the way of suspense or surprises. It is, after all, working toward a known conclusion: getting all the pieces in place for Dorothy’s arrival. Still, it’s a well-crafted story told with plenty of imagination and energy, and more than a little heart. The movie runs a little over two hours but doesn’t wear out its welcome and there’s some ingenuity in how the climax unfolds. As they skulk away toward the end of Oz the Great and Powerful, we know that a greater adventure awaits.

Film

No go on the feathered dinosaurs

With a lot to base off from real evidence of how dinosaurs actually looked or how their behavior was, it looks like Colin Trevorrow is looking to keep the dinos in their natural state. Trevorrow is a fan of the JP series and was chosen to bring the franchise back up.

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Although the 2001’s Jurassic Park III, did have Velociraptors with feathers, there were many concerns on whether it would be the similar if not the same approach, but Trevorrow has confirmed, “no feathers” for the sequel. With the selection of not having feathers, what are your thoughts?