Saturday, March 29, 2014

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013)

Directed By: Thor Freudenthal

Rating: PG

Runtime: 106 minutes

We're back with the follow-up to 2010's Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. Once again, we are taken on a journey with our half-blood trio including Percy (Logan Lerman), Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) and Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario).

The film begins at the camp where the half-bloods seek refuge - for the camp has a magical shield that prevents nasty creatures from entering its grounds. Only one day, that shield is broken, thus leaving the camp unguarded.

And so, Percy Jackson comes to learn about his destiny, which involves a golden fleece, a cyclops or two, a creature feature, and of course let's not forget the gods themselves. A quick re-cap, without spoiling anything, Percy ventures to seek out the golden fleece. Why is this fleece so special? It has the power to heal and they just so happen to need it to restore the magic shield around camp. The story behind the fleece? Let's just say that the history of the gods does not prove to be all that pleasant.

The god Kronos had many children. Apparently he was rather crazy and began eating his children. Luckily, three children escaped - Zeus, Hades and Poseidon. These three gods teamed up to destroy Kronos and that's exactly what they did. The question is, will the golden fleece be used for good, to help heal that which is lost? Or will the fleece be used for evil, to give life back to the one god that will bring the ultimate destruction and chaos to Olympus and beyond?

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters is a fun experience, appropriate for the whole family. I give praise to the cast as well as the CGI team responsible for making all the creatures we see come to life. This film caters to fans of other fantasy features such as Harry Potter, Eragon, and the Lord of the Rings. So sit back and enjoy the show.  

Thumbs UP

Monday, December 17, 2012

Brave (2012)

Directed By: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman & Steve Purcell

Rating: PG

Runtime: 93 minutes

Disney and Pixar are at it again with the release of 2012's "Brave," a story about a young girl named Merida (voiced by Kelly MacDonald) who just doesn't accept the rules and regulations expected of the young women of her time. Of course it doesn't help that she also happens to be the Princess of Scotland and thus the term 'lady-like' is synonymous with her upbringing. But let's face it, Merida is anything but lady-like as she goes galavanting off into the forest with her bow and arrow, conducting target practice while her curly red mane is tossed about wildly in the wind.

As a wild child with a stubbornness that cannot be matched, Merida is bound and determined to prove that she's better off left alone when presented with three eligible suitors from other reigning lands. And I have to admit, her prospects are pretty dim and gave me a good chuckle - perhaps in the time of lords and ladies these stories might have been someone's reality... or nightmare. Alas, Merida's mother, Queen Elinor (voiced by Emma Thompson) will not accept her daughter's tempered attitude. As mother and daughter often do, they get into an argument and Merida stomps off into the gloomy night acting like a toddler who had just been spanked.

So life isn't fair... at least in the world according to Merida, where the boys have all the fun and all the non-royal girls get to do whatever they want! And that leaves poor little Merida alone, left to sulk in her self-invented misery. As she walks along an unguided path, she happens upon the shanty of a witch. There's a little double double toil and trouble and all of the sudden Merida is carrying a delectible dessert that will 'change' her mom. What she envisioned 'change' meant I cannot say, but after her mother eats some of the dessert she metamorphoses into a grizzly 1-ton... oops better not spoil the surprise!

"Brave" is a nice story that is fit for the whole family. It will surely keep the children entertained, while the adults may develop a disinterest at both the lack of originality as well as the predictability of the story. There were a few laughing moments that I could count out on one hand, and as a whole, character development was lacking to the point where I had trouble recalling main character names such as Merida. Perhaps that fiery red hair was too distracting!

Thumbs UP 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Skyfall (2012)

Directed By: Sam Mendes

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 143 minutes

"So Mr. Bond, we meet again..."

Back on the big screen is our favorite 007 agent, played once again by Daniel Craig, whom we've seen as James Bond in "Quantum of Solace" (2008) and "Casino Royale" (2006). As we've come to learn from previous films, James Bond is not complete without his supporting team at MI6, including M (Judy Dench) and Q (Ben Whishaw). And let's not forget the leading ladies, Eve (Naomi Harris) and Severine (Berenice Marlohe). Lastly, add a dash of villainy in Silva, played by Javier Bardem, and you're ready to go!

James Bond has been around the block for quite some time. He's well practiced in his trade and appears to make all the right moves - at least that's what we perceive when we watch him in action. But even super agents can be vulnerable, can be damaged, and possibly even repaired. This is our introduction to "Skyfall," where our beloved 007 is thrown from atop a speeding train and plunges into the river, complete with a bullet lodged in his chest. A decision had to be acted upon and M ordered that the shot be taken - and so it was. Shortly thereafter, we find Bond alive and taking shots, alcoholic ones that is, at some island getaway, drowning his woes with the local townspeople. Some time later, upon learning that MI6 had been bombed, he suddenly gets a moment of clarity and rushes back to London. 

A list of agents has been stolen from MI6 and the terrorist group that has it is revealing the identities, resulting in a massive amount of agent deaths around the globe. M is held responsible for the mishap and enlists Bond to help track down the one responsible. Introduce Silva, one of the creepier Bond villains I can remember. No, this man doesn't have steel jaws, doesn't paint women gold, and doesn't have an eye that randomly leaks blood. This man is a psychopath with some very obvious mother issues. His suicidal tendencies make him an even greater risk to the organization, where he is hell bent on seeking revenge on M for being ousted from MI6 some time ago. And let's not forget the scene where he pulls his teeth out and half his face droops down - some kind of chemical exposure thing, but very very creepy. As we've seen Bardem before in "No Country For Old Men," it didn't take much convincing that he would make a fine villain, and that he did. 

"Skyfall" was a surprise due to the fact that it didn't follow the standard James Bond plot formula. This was not a film where Bond is whisked from one end of the globe to the other in order to deactivate a satellite that's going to set off a nuclear reactor in an ocean rift and create the next world war. Instead, the plot was much simpler than that, much more "real" according to Bond standards. As James Bond has taken the toll of what it means to be a veteran agent, so begins a new 007 story. 

Thumbs UP


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Tall Man (2012)

Directed By: Pascal Laugier

Rating: R

Runtime: 106 minutes

So, it's been entirely way too long since my last review. Nevertheless, I'm here, back in action - pardon my absence. And now to "The Tall Man," the 2012 suspense thriller thrown in with a little bit of terror and real-life drama. This film surprised me, simply for the fact that it turned out to be everything I thought it wasn't, and I mean this in a positive way.

The film stars Jessica Biel, who plays Julia Denning, a compassionate young woman who appears to be a figure apart from the down and out circumstance of those living in Cold Rock. Most of screenshots that showcase this community include shanteys, trailers, and houses in severe disrepair, complete with yards littered by stray garbage and various other unused outdoor fixtures, presumed to be a permanent exhibit on decoration for all to see. Cold Rock is not a warm, cozy place where tourists gather. And I'm sure the random passerby would probably not give this town a second glance. Unfortunately, these people and their hardships have been left behind long ago. Lucky for this little sore spot, Julia Denning and her husband, Dr. Denning, had made Cold Rock their own kind of humanitarian mission. Although her husband has been dead for some years, Julia never managed to leave the town, and works as the local nurse.

But just when you think Cold Rock couldn't possibly be any more misfortunate than it already is, we learn of the legendary curse that plagues the town. It is said that the Tall Man kidnaps young children and steals them away in the night, their parents never seeing them again. Some are believers, while others simply dismiss the tale as absurd, at least that's Julia Denning's opinion. Her eyes didn't open to the truth of the matter until the night her son was kidnapped by a dark figure, presumably a man, wearing a hooded cloak. In the events that follow, Denning does everything a mother would do to get her child back; she falls off a truck, attacks a dog, breaks through a window, wreaks a truck, and walks injured and half-concious through a creepy dark forest in the middle of the night in pursuit of this madman kidnapper, who we have no idea is human, alien, or some kind of supernatural being.

At this point, the story begins to unravel and take some very pointed turns in an entirely different direction, under the pretense of a motive that I had not seen coming. For the sake of spoilers, I'm not going to say anymore on the subject. What I liked about this film is Laugier's ability to create a tense horrific thrill and then spin it into a series of events that leaves us questioning who's side are we really on? "The Tall Man" was not predictable. It's a film that evolves and transforms itself from one theme into another, and it does so quite effectively. The freedom of choice and the way you choose to live your life is something that we often take for granted. But at what age are we able to make such a choice?

Thumbs UP

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Killer Inside Me (2010)

Directed By: Michael Winterbottom

Rating: R

Runtime: 109 minutes

"The Killer Inside Me" is not for the faint of heart. This film is raw, bloody, and downright grisly. My initial attraction to watching the film was the cast line-up, including Casey Affleck (Lou Ford), Kate Hudson (Amy Stanton), Jessica Alba (Joyce Lakeland), and Simon Baker (Howard Hendricks). 

In its opening scene, we are introduced to the small town of Central City in west Texas during the 1950's - a town of little consequence, where everyone knows everyone... or so they thought. Introduce Lou Ford, played by Casey Affleck, the seemingly do-gooder sheriff deputy who holds a deep dark secret - he's a psychopathic masochistic raving lunatic serial killer! A man with way too many issues to even attempt to unravel and explain, Lou commits a series of murders that appear too convenient and clean for out-of-town detective Howard Hendricks, played by Simon Baker. The victims? A prostitute and the Construction Magnate's son. Appearing as a love to hate relationship that went seriously seriously wrong, Hendricks isn't convinced that the killing was the case of mutual mayhem. As the clues come together, the evidence begins to point to... sheriff deputy Lou Ford. 

In what would appear as a case of clean-cut guilt that should have led to Ford getting the death penalty, we are left wondering how the law is so dysfunctional in this small town and how the hell does this man continue killing? With a beginning that was full of such intrigue and gruesome visuals that made me cover my eyes, the film lost something in its pace. I think it began to drag and left us with the repeating visuals of the 1950's town setting, which if you ask me my opinion, didn't feel much like the 1950s aside from the old-fashioned cars that were parked on the streets. 

Affleck did a commendable job in his role playing Lou the predator. For such an unassuming young man, I was terrified of Lou within the first 30 minutes of the film. What I do not understand is how a man can get away with such leniency and manage to play the system to the degree that he does. Are we to assume that all small towns have a backwards judicial system where people can get away with murder in broad daylight, where they chase their victim down only to have a fellow police officer shoot the victim, for example? "The Killer Inside Me" began as a film with working potential, but managed to fall short of its initial hype. 

Thumbs DOWN 

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Hunger Games (2012)

Directed By: Gary Ross

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 142 minutes

I never did make it to the theaters to see this one, but believe me, I heard all about "The Hunger Games." A few months before the theatrical release, I picked up the novel and gave it a try. The book was interesting and held my attention, just like the film. If you're the kind of person who enjoys a bit of imagination, then sit back and enjoy yourself for this dystopian adventure. 

I always cringe when I hear people talk about how much better the book was than the movie. I love writing fiction and I most certainly love watching film, but I respect the two as being completely different art forms. Providing imagery and character development in a book is much different than shooting it for the screen. That being said, I was impressed with this film adaptation. This may have had something to do with Suzanne Collins' co-writing the screenplay - it's always nice to let the author in on the script just to make sure the story runs smoothly. But let's face it, your average novel has around 75,000 words to come up with a story, whereas the film does it in 142 minutes. Some may have considered this length to be too long, while others too short - I think it was appropriate. 

"The Hunger Games" is the first installment in the trilogy written by Suzanne Collins. After a long period of war and devastation, the United States has broken up into twelve Districts, with a centerfold of wealth and power situated in the Capitol. Each District is responsible for producing or contributing something to the sustenance of the northern territory. Our focus is directed on District 12, the coal miner's district, where people are overworked, hungry, and don't know the meaning of "the good life," for it's been absent for far too long. One family in particular who has dealt with loss and hardship is the Everdeen family. Katniss, played by Jennifer Lawrence, is older sister to Primrose. Their father having passed away in a mining accident, Katniss has taken over the role as the family protector, taking care of her mother and sister who both appear helpless and scared. 

Each year, in order to honor the memory of the war that resulted in this "peaceful" time, one boy and one girl are chosen from each of the twelve Districts to compete in the Hunger Games. The games entail a test of survival as the tributes battle one another in a controlled environment until only one person remains. The Capitol explains that these tributes are a test of honor and sacrifice, but we come to learn that it's more about power and authority, as is the case with most government-type regimes. 

So there they are, all the prospective tributes, gathered together in District 12, waiting for the name to be pulled from the bowl. And the name is... Primrose Everdeen. The chance of Katniss' 12-year old sister being picked is slim, but the realization throws her into a panic and Katniss volunteers to take Prim's place as tribute. Shortly thereafter, she is torn away from everything that she knows and is transported to the Capitol, in a world that reminded me of "The Fifth Element" meets "The Running Man." I'll leave the rest of the film for your enjoyment as you weigh the stakes on Katniss Everdeen and her ability to stay alive long enough to maybe win the competition? 

Thumbs UP


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Wrath of the Titans (2012)

Directed By: Jonathan Liebesman

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 99 minutes

It's all about the family values in "Wrath of the Titans," the sequel to 2010's "Clash of the Titans." Returning to the screen once again, we have Perseus (Sam Worthington), Zeus (Liam Neeson) and Hades (Ralph Fiennes). With the blockbuster popularity of "Clash of the Titans" I was curious to see whether "Wrath..." could follow suit and continue to strengthen the franchise. Unfortunately, I was left with mixed feelings. 

An avid fan of ancient Greek mythology, I love these kinds of stories - the rabid two-headed monster, the giant Cyclops, Gods and Goddesses, the magical trident, the Underworld, cold steel against molten lava. It's all present and accounted for in this film, but could have been so much better if executed in a different manner. 

The story opens with a view into the life of now humble and ordinary fisherman Perseus and his son Helius. Looking upon his wife's grave, Perseus reflects upon his promise to her that he will be there for their son no matter what. It is apparent that this demigod has thrown in the towel on his fighting days and traded the sword and shield for the fishing pole and bait bucket. We presume that Perseus has gone full-blown mortal, complete with the mundane everyday routine.

One day Perseus is visited by Zeus, who brings some troubling news. Apparently the mortals are no longer praying to the gods anymore. What does this mean? As the Gods become less useful to man, their powers begin to diminish until there's nothing left. And the catch? If the Gods lose their strength, they will no longer be able to withhold all those evil forces they've locked away for so many years - the titans! Zeus believes that Perseus is an integral key to making things right. Exactly why he is convinced of this I'm not quite sure. Yes, Perseus is a demigod, but he's still a mortal man. 

It's at this point in the film where I begin to question what the heck is going on with Mount Olympus. Did I miss something? If I recall correctly, there's a whole hoard of Gods and Goddesses to be called upon in a time of need, but none of them are mentioned in this film save for Hades, ruler of the Underworld, Ares, the God of War, and Poseidon, the God of the Sea. Perhaps this was something addressed in "Clash of the Titans" and I don't remember, but for me this was a major plot hole. 

Moving on, in a scheme to maintain immortality, there is a double cross and all the sudden Zeus is held prisoner in the Underworld. The big plan, Kronos, leader of the vile Titans as well as father to Zeus and Hades, plans to drain Zeus of his power and break free from his bonds to wreak havoc on the mortals. Some of the best moments we get of Kronos occur during a vivid dream sequence of Perseus'. A big molten lava mass that resembles that of a gigantic man, Kronos is not nearly as terrifying as some of the other CGI monsters that we encounter, which is such a disappointment. Sure Kronos is big and has a grumbly voice and makes all kinds of smoke and fireworks, but we've seen it before in the beginning of the film so it's just not as effective the second time around. 

I think "Wrath of the Titans" put too much emphasis in the special effects and too little time in the script. With a "love conquers all" theme throughout the entirety of the film, I had to roll my eyes at times because of the cliche and rather tacky dialogue. Yes, I agree, family is ever-so-important and reconciliation is a great thing. But this is war and when you're up to your neck on the battlefield, you either man up or be put to rest, because adrenaline is about the only thing running through your veins. If I saw a little bit more of this, then perhaps I wouldn't be so reluctant to give this film a thumbs up. 

Thumbs UP