Saturday, July 25, 2015

Summer Movie Season: Minions is more Wolverine than X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Sequels are a funny thing. Everyone wants to find a way to duplicate success, particularly if it can help their eyes turn into dollar signs and build them large Scrooge McDuck Style vaults in their backyards. This has resulted in some funky sequels, like Highlander 2, which took the central premise of the first movie “there can only be one,” threw it out, and decided that there were many, and screw it give us money to see this again, please. Then there’s great sequels, like 22 Jump Street, which decided, “we’re making a sequel, and you can all just deal with it” and then made a sequel about a sequel. 

Then there’s the elusive spin-off movie, which isn’t really a sequel but takes things that are really, really, really popular from the first or second movie, and then makes it a completely new movie with new characters. But this is a tricky prospect; for every The Wolverine there’s a Wolverine Origins. Everyone remember the last Marvel Cinematic Universe attempt with Elecktra? No? Great, better for the rest of us.

So, naturally, I was wondering if the Despicable Me spinoff Minions was going to be worth it. Walking in I wondered, will I be treated to the moral complexities and action sequences in The Wolverine? Or would I be treated to another, less Despicable Me movie that used the B-list of all the characters in an attempt to replicate the success of the others as in X-Men Origins: Wolverine?

The result was somewhere in the middle. 

Minions is about those yellow gibberish spouting creatures that worked under the care of Gru, the titular “despicable” character in the Despicable Me movies. First as minions of evil as he decided to steal the moon, then as the minions of... well, not quite good, but “less evil” as he found love and decided to settle down. So, how did they come into the care of Gru?

That’s right, kids, settle in because it’s a prequel!

The movie begins as the characters are nothing more than single celled organisms working to serve the other, bigger single celled organisms before they climbed out of the primordial ooze. Apparently the Minions have always wanted to serve the biggest, baddest master out their, which is a little dark when you think about it. These cute little cuddly creatures are essentially pre-disposed to evil. 

Soon, after some mix-ups in a hilarious montage narrated as if it were a nature documentary by Geoffery Rush, they find themselves building a civilization in a nearby cave where they can no longer do any damage to anyone. But, this life, while fruitful, bores them. Once again, we’re treated to the darkness that is if they’re not doing evil, then they’re just not doing something worthwhile to them. Dark. 

Eventually, three brave Minions decide to go out and find a new dark master for them to serve! Margo, Edith, and Agnes Kevin, Stuart, and young Bob head out into the world, and find themselves in 1960’s New York. They eventually learn about Villain Con, an international meeting of Villains designed smartly like Comic-Con, and the biggest, baddest villain of them all, Scarlett Overkill, voiced with enthusiasm by Sandra Bullock, and her husband Herb Overkill, voiced with less enthusiasm by John Hamm. It’s ok, though, the character calls for it, so it’s actually quite funny.

From the she asks them to steal the crown jewels. Hijinks ensue. 

Minions overall isn’t a bad movie. It has some genuinely funny moments, such as when Bob pulls the sword from the stone, when they encounter a family of bank robbers, or just about anything Herb Overkill does. (Seriously, you want another spinoff? I’d watch him just lazing about England as his wife tries to take over the world.) But part of the problem is that it hasn’t decided what kind of movie that it wants to be, and just throws everything against the wall to see what sticks. Which is impressive as it’s one of the shorter movies I’ve seen this summer, clocking in at about an hour and a half. 

The movie starts, interestingly enough, with that nature-like documentary narrated by Rush. This could have been expanded and really made to shine, especially as it is revealed that the Minions served a T-Rex, Dracula, and Napoleon. Yes. The General. But these are all glossed over so we can get right back into what we’ve seen in the first two movies: Villainous hijinks. 

This means rushing to Villain Con, and rushing right toward getting these guys in front of a bad guy to be bossed around. Which I get is the purpose of the characters, but we don’t spend enough time with them.

The movie itself is very episodic in nature, moving from one moment to another very quickly, not spending much time establishing itself. Part of the charm of the first two Despicable Me movies was a heart at the core. Gru was Despicable, yes, but he was mostly harmless. We don’t get that as much with Scarlett, an over the top villain who hides rockets within the folds of her fancy gowns. (Of course, this is one of the better parts of the character. And it’s pretty awesome, I’m not going to lie.) 

That being said, the movie is funny in little moments, like when Kevin is raising his exploring crew, or Bob with his little bear Tim that he carries around. Even Stuart gets in some good moments as the very laid back, guitar playing character that doesn’t really want anything so much as he’s just going along with whatever people are asking him to do. 

Bottom line, the movie is amusing overall, but would have probably worked better as a TV Series. Of course, it’s currently raking in Elevenity Billion Dollars, so what do I know?

Six and a half out of Ten.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Summer Movie Season: Self/Less Trades Hunky Ben Kingsly for Hunky Ryan Reynolds

Immortality is all the rage. Even if you don’t actively think “I’d really not like to die one day” we all do little things to stave off the icy hand of death for one day. Maybe we put a special moisturizer on our faces to avoid the wrinkles. Maybe we dye our hair. Maybe you avoid a certain food because a celebrity said that they avoid it, and they look good, so obviously, that has to be it. The movie Self/Less takes it one step further.

Note: As I delve into this movie I find myself hitting up the age old debate, is it a spoiler or is it part of the plot. Many would argue with me that this is a spoiler, not a part of the plot that’s carefully doled out early on, I’m going with what I want, because it’s my blog. If you want to hide all spoilers, then by all means, start your own blog named after a line of dialogue in the Expendables

Self/Less is a movie about death, and our fear of dying. It’s about a man named Damian (Ben Kingsly) who is dying of cancer. He mysteriously learns about a project called “shedding” which will allow him to transfer his brain into a genetically engineered younger body for a mere $250 Million. Of course, he doesn’t ask where he gets this card from (that part IS a real spoiler) nor does he think about why this genetically engineered younger body already has a scar on it, so he decides to go for it. 

After trying to make things good with his daughter and speeding up the dying process by drinking coffee laced with peanuts (because of his severe peanut allergy) he finds himself now in the body of Ryan Reynolds, and able to do all the cool things he wanted to do while living in New Orleans and not questioning why the guy he met on the basketball court named Anton (Derek Luke in a terrific role) suddenly wants to be his friend.

Then the hallucinations start. He’s given special drugs he has to take to ward them off, and can never miss one, or else... Of course, these wildly specific hallucinations of a young woman (Natalie Martinez) and her daughter all calling him “daddy” near a water tower. He soon discovers that the bodies aren’t genetically engineered but are volunteers who are given a large cash settlement for their families. The drugs essentially kill the personalities and memories of the people who the new bodies inhabit. Damian is in the body of a young military officer. Of course, once he figures this out, can they let him live? (No. The answer is no. If you didn’t know that then you don’t watch movies.)

This wasn’t a terrible movie. I qualify this one as one of those movies that was on a passing joke on the Simpsons, “Free Movie with Air Conditioning.” It was a thriller, largely designed to play off the idea that Damian was inhabiting the body of a man that wasn’t technically dead. Ryan Reynolds plays this off well, but it’s really difficult for him to show anything off until (spoiler) the final scene when he awakens as the man he once was. Then you get the true capabilities of his acting, as even the walk over to the computer screams that this is a different person. 

The problem is that after raising this question about the new body that Damain inhabiting. There is some lip service given to the morals of whether or not Damian deserves to live or not, but it’s never really explored. Every time it’s brought up, usually between Madaline and Damian, it’s quickly dismissed under a hail of gunfire or another twist after another twist. But in order for Damian to live, the man who’s body he is inhabiting must essentially “die.” He’s not really dead, mind you, he’s just sort of... lurking, I guess? I don’t demand the most solid explanations of brain switching movies, but I need a little bit more than this new host will be beaten out by the old host because science reasons, take your medicine. 

Moral questions aside, there’s also the fact that the stakes are incredibly low in this movie. It’s limited to a family drama with a man who’s past we don’t know too much about taking on a system that he knew very little about to begin with. There’s no real foreshadowing that Damian is any kind of action star, and it could have been played off a lot better as a man who was way out of his depth dealing with a new world around him. The movie was so interested in selling itself as a thriller it didn’t think to emphasize the more interesting parts of the movie: The moral questions or the fish out of water aspect of it, which could have carried a lot more weight as a man who was dying, from an older generation (we see glimpses of this early on in conversations with his daughter, and this is dropped so he can be nice to his new, ready-made daughter) or even the moral implications of death.

But all these get swept under the rug for more shoot-em-up bang bang action sequences.

One thing that this movie does excel at, and does need some focus, is the idea of identity. Damian has to deal with his new identity as not Damian anymore, but of a younger man unable to go to his own home, see his old friends, or even is daughter. Many of the introductory shots are done through mirrors, and the climatic scene involves a mirror quite literally melting in front of someone. I like the way it used all of these things. 

Not a bad movie for the summer, it just squanders some really great ideas and moments to get to more action sequences. 

Five out of Ten

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Summer Movie Season: Ant-Man

Settle in Boys and Girls… this will be long, but worth it.

Once upon a time, Marvel Comics had a plan. They released a movie called Iron Man which featured a pretty popular but not well known outside of comics superhero played by the awesomely awesome Robert Downey, Jr. It should be known at this point that when cast, RDJ was known as that once high profile actor guy who had been fired from Ally McBeal. 

But, they had a plan! What if, instead of just having Robert Downey, Jr. play Tony Stark, billionaire industrialist playboy who built a suit of armor to atone for his sins, what if… WHAT IF… they introduced the OTHER people he shared a team with? And they made fun little references to the properties own by Marvel Studios (who owns who is tricky business, kids. I went over it once, but the bottom line: Marvel Studios doesn’t own everyone in the comic books. Don’t think about it for this post.) So at the end of Iron Man, Tony Stark meets up with Nick Fury, who tells him about the Avengers

Then, not knowing if that little trick would work, Marvel took another gamble. They referenced Nick Fury, Avengers, and Tony Stark in the front of The Incredible Hulk… THEN HAD ROBERT DOWNEY JR SHOW UP AS TONY STARK. This happened a little over a month after the Iron Man movie, which meant it was filmed well before they knew that Nick Fury's one minute cameo went over well with everyone. Audiences went pretty nuts for this. Here was Iron Man in a non-Iron Man movie, telling us that the Hulk was going to be in the Avengers! This was incredible.

It kept going like this: Iron Man 2 featured heavy references to Captain America and Thor. Nick Fury and Black Widow were characters. Thor, despite being off-world still managed to throw in sly references to Ant-Man (Henry Pym), Tony Stark, and the post credits sequence tied in directly to the Avengers. Captain America set the rest in motion which brought us to the Avengers, an action packed movie that brought everyone else together and hinted at even more danger. That was Phase 1.

But that’s all history. Why am I bringing this up here?

Because Phase 2 blew it all to hell, and got rid of half the fun.

Iron Man 3 was along slog about how Iron Man doesn’t want to be Iron Man anymore, how he’s got PTSD, and all at a time where we were supposed to be blaming Man of Steel for being too dark. (When one of your characters asks “When are we going to talk about the Avengers?” that’s not cute, it’s what the audience is thinking.) Thor 2 made a quick reference to Captain America and Guardians of the Galaxy.  Of course, that movie had no interest in being associated with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, despite a lot of table setting for the way long off third and fourth Avengers movies, and all attempts to get references to it (The Hulk and Iron Man were both supposed to show up at different times) were removed in favor of funny shots of Groot dancing and Howard the Freakin' Duck. Captain America 2 made the most references to the other movies, leading into Avengers 2 and with a brief mention of Steven Strange (that elicited way too strong a response because we’d just watched three movies not want to talk about anything Avengers or larger universe) . But overall, the series was more interested in re-establishing the heroes as single characters instead of a team, removing all those fun references that sucked us into Phase 1. Even Avengers 2 cut out it’s end credits scene! We live for those end credits scenes. Basically Marvel said, “You know what worked in Phase 1? Let’s remove all of that from Phase 2.”

This is a long way to tell you what I thought about Ant-Man, technically the end of Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

Ladies and Gentlenerds… the fun is back in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I loved this movie. Loved it. Loved it. Loved it. (Spoilers to follow.)

Ant-Man is the story of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd, in his most Paul Ruddiest role to date.), former thief who, after a stint in prison, is given a second chance by the first Ant-Man, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas, spouting dialogue he never thought he’d have to say.) He has to don the suit of Ant-Man, a shrinking hero who was active during World War 2 and had to retire and hide his suit because well... THE WRONG HANDS! (seriously, though, so much time is spent thinking about how these advancements in these movies might fall into the wrong hands, maybe they should stop inventing them at some point.)  He needs Scott to steal a suit being developed by his protege, who wants to build an army of shrinking super-soldiers in a world that needs super soldiers of any variety. This takes place post-Avengers 2, so a lot of references are made to the fact that a freaking city was just dropped by an evil robot.

Let’s get the good out of the way first, because there’s a lot of it: This movie is not afraid to reference the fact that it is taking place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It starts with Hank Pym quitting SHIELD, along with appearances from Peggy Carter and Howard Stark. That’s the first five minutes. Later, when Hank is describing the problems with having a shrinking technology out their, Scott doesn’t hesitate, he says “bring in the Avengers.” The DNA of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is all over this movie. There are references to the events of the Avengers 2, Spider-Man, and even a fight scene with an actualAvenger, which is likely to happen when someone else with superpowers shows up on the scene. An actual, honest to goodness, “hey this is the first time we’re meeting so let’s fight” scene. Remember how much we all enjoyed that in the first Avengers movie? We do. Did Marvel remember? No. But Ant-Man remembers.

This movie avoids a lot of Phase 2 problems by simply having fun with the premise. There’s the initial issue with the fact that this main character’s power is to shrink and control ants… what’s the point? The point is that he can sneak into anywhere, and is pretty powerful, despite the jokes about his name. There’s the heist factor, where he’s got a pretty funny team with him. Michael Pena as his old cellmate Luis stole every scene that he was in. I’m not the first person to claim that, I know, but that’s because it’s true. Michael Pena is the type of actor who’s funny, but is interested in making everyone around him look good. The movie is better for having him in it. I can’t say that about every character in every movie, even ones I love. But he’s simply perfect.

There even is a dramatic sub-plot. Why, you may ask, does Henry Pym simply not ask his daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lily) to don the Ant-Man suit? (Spoilers). After teasing us for a little bit, it was revealed that Hank had a partner (as he did in the comics): The Wasp, who sacrificed herself for the greater good, and Henry needs someone “expendable” in Scott Lang if something goes wrong. He can’t sacrifice his daughter. 

It’s that attention to detail that makes the movie perfect. It’s that moment of drama that pulls us into the movie, but then gives us enough humor to take us back out and remind us that it is a superhero movie about a guy that controls ants. 

I could go on. The special effects weren’t just great but unique, giving us a look into a shrinking hero that uses his power to fight crime. The pacing was spot on, not spending too much time in one location for us to get bored. It doesn’t take itself too seriously… it’s a movie about a shrinking hero. It establishes a history not just within the story itself, but in the larger Marvel Universe. And the post credits scenes are used to establish upcoming stories for Hope, Ant-Man, AND the Marvel Universe as a whole, rather than making a joke or trying to distance itself from the larger world being created. 

What’s bad about this movie? What’s bad is at the time of this writing it’s currently the second lowest grossing Marvel Movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fans of comedy: go see this movie. Fans of comics: Go out and see this movie. Fans of good movies: Go out and see this movie. Please. We need more like it. We need to remind Marvel of when their movies were fun, and when their movies spent time not only on the hero, but in setting up a bigger world for itself. 

I’m VERY proud to announce that Ant-Man is my first 10 out of 10 for the Summer Movie Season.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Summer Movie Season: Ted 2.

Let’s get this out of the way at the top: Ted 2 isn’t the funniest movie of the Summer. (That honor still goes to Spy.) It’s not the funniest movie of the year. It may not be the funniest movie in the theaters about a talking bear right now. But it certainly has some of the funniest moments of any movie out there. The problem is that the movie can’t sustain them into a single coherent piece. 

Ted 2 continues the story of John, (Mark Wahlberg with his thickest Boston Accent) and his Teddy Bear, Ted (voiced by the silver tongued and in this case once again heavily Boston Accented Seth MacFarlane) who was magically brought to life by his wish as a child. Not back is Mila Kunis, who’s pregnancy forced her out of this movie, but who’s presence is felt in the fact that John is depressed for a large portion of the movie. She’s replaced by Amanda Seyfried, playing a lawyer named Sam Jackson who… I’ll get to that. 

Ted finally marries his longtime love, Tami-Lyn, and in an extremely dark opening that doesn’t remotely match the rest of the film, they quickly devolve into a constantly fighting, real housewives type family. Seriously, the beginning was so incredibly dark I thought we were going to jump to a joke that it was all a set up for a reality show, which, let’s face it, would probably have happened if a talking sentient teddy bear ended up marrying anyone. Ted decides that the best way to solve everything was for them to have a baby, first from a sperm donor (which does lead to a pretty awesome Tom Brady Cameo) to having John donate (do you think it leads to hijinks in the Sperm Bank? It leads to hijinks in the sperm bank) and finally adoption. However, this plan is ruined not because of hijinks but because Ted’s legal status as a “person” is in doubt. 

Why these doubts never come into question when he’s a local celebrity, or when he’s getting married, or when he’s kidnapped in the first movie is never answered. 

Anyway, what follows is a legal battle: Is Ted a person? Even if he is property, isn’t he technically John’s Property that he can do whatever he want with? Will Sam and John fall in love? (Yes. Yes they will. I’d say spoilers but come on. Have you ever even WATCHED a movie?) Which celebrities will cameo next? And what about the sub-plot with the President of Hasbro and the creepy guy from the first movie that’s clearly not put in to pad time? Just what will happen next? 

Ok, let’s start with some spoilers: Some of the funniest moments in this movie do involve the bevy of celebrity cameos, particularly Patrick Warburton and Michael Dorn, lovers who show up at a comic-con fueled ending that have them dressed, respectively as The Tick and Worf. The funniest cameo goes to Liam Neeson, as… well, Liam Neeson, who just wants to buy a box of Trix. When superlatives comes around, I’ll find a hard time listing anything else as “funniest” as the line of questions that come out of his mouth.

The problem is that the movie relies way too heavily on these celebrity cameos. Every time the script veers off into something workable, it gets distracted by having, for instance, Tom Brady show up. It offsets the very real problem presented: Tami-Lynn and Ted want a baby; with cartoonish sub-plots. Yes, it’s great to see Michael Dorn messing around Comic Con dressed as Worf, but when there’s a real threat of Ted missing and losing all hope in becoming a person, this cameo distracts from all the emotional beats we just witnessed.

This also points to the larger problem of the retread of an old plot point: why is that creepy guy trying to kidnap Ted again? If you’re worried they forgot about his kid, let me assure you: They did. He’s not really mentioned. Or acknowledged. This time with the help from Hasbro! It just brings us back to what we saw in the first movie, with the same type of danger in a movie that didn’t need danger, it was trying to be a legal drama. Ish. As much as it can be with a talking Teddy Bear.

The real problem with Ted 2, and what I think has been bothering me is the plot. The first movie was hilarious, mostly because everyone just sort of accepted Ted as a person. He was wished to life. There was a media circus around it. Then the media circus left, and he could do things like drive, or bum around with his friend, and no one really questioned it. That was most of the humor. At it’s core, it was a movie about a kid with his favorite toy that grew up with him, and everyone just said, “Sure, why not?” in the world of the movie. The problem with the sequel is that it removes everything that made the first movie that much more charming. No longer are we just dealing with this fun thing, there are real dramatic stakes: Ted is not a person and everyone is questioning his status as a person. To be honest with you, it took me out of the movie from the get-go; because this fun thing is now being questioned when we really didn’t need any answers.

There really was a lot of potential for Ted 2. I’m sorry to see it wasted on this movie, really. We don’t need the seriousness. We don’t need to question whether Ted is a person or not, because he’s a talking Teddy Bear that just wants to hang out with his Thunderbuddy. if we could get back to the core: Just two buddies hanging out and no one really questioning the fact that one of them is a Teddy Bear, I think I could get in for Ted 3. But most of the fun of the first one was getting past the funny premise, and just accepting it. Constantly calling attention to it just isn’t as fun.

Five out of Ten. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Book Report: Helen and Troy's Epic Road Quest

I’m a proud nerd, one who grew up with the old classic stories of Orcs, Goblins, and all sorts of fun things that are cool now, but really weren’t at one time. But that’s another post. Anyway, before the geek inherited the Earth, we all read these cool stories where a cool hero would undertake a quest, usually an epic one to save an old timey land and a king, along the way he’d pick up a few companions, maybe shoot off a one liner or so, and save the world with a wink and a smile. 

But these all had one thing in common, they took place in the olden days of swords and dragons. What would happen to these worlds when time moves on (if it does… it’s up to the epic heroes to ensure that it does) and eventually things are in the modern age? How does a Minotaur use snapchat? What about Elves and what will they end up doing? 

Fortunately, Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest by A. Lee Martinez is here to answer all those questions. Or at least post them in an more entertaining manner than I was able to do in a few sentences.

Helen and Troy is about… well, pretty much that. Helen and Troy, two friends who set out on an epic road quest to save the world. Or destroy it. They don’t know for much of the novel. Helen is a 19 year old Minotaur who works at a fast food restaurant with her friend, the exceedingly handsome Troy. He’s very, very handsome because it’s mentioned on every page. One day, Helen’s elf-manager attempts to sacrifice herself to his god, and ends up being sacrificed himself and curses both Helen and Troy to go out on an quest to find the ancient artifacts that will bring him back into this world. Reluctantly, the pair takes up this mission. They get added along the way by the very official Department of Questing, which would have been useful in some of those other books I read. They’re also pursued by a group of Orcs who formed a biker club, but weren’t really sure about what to do with it until they’re asked to stop the pair. 

This book reminded me of all those old questing books I used to read. I mean that as a high compliment, actually. Despite the fact that it is sent in mostly present day, I enjoyed the throwback feel to it: the evil god appearing to two young questers, finding artifacts and needing them to move onto the next part of the quest, even the rules set forth by certain characters. It just all fit in with the book. 

I also enjoyed the humor in this book, particularly when it came to some of the more modern uses for older things. When the old god is first summoned, he appears using ground beef in the fast food restaurant because that’s all there was. The Sisters of Fate now own a knick-knack store, and Future is always off behind a counter somewhere, just out of sight. Even little moments, like Helen talking about how difficult it was getting shirts over the horns in her head. Martinez always takes time out to show a little bit of humor.

However, some movements of this humor fell a little flat. For instance, Helen refers to herself as an “Enchanted American” and every time she did I just sort of cringed a little. Also, if one refers to herself as an Enchanted American, I would have liked to have seen more regular Americans and how they react to a world with magic. Troy is supposedly “normal” but the reactions to his infinite beauty led me to believe that we’d get some kind of revelation that he was actually enchanted in some way. 

There’s also Helen, who very much dislikes herself because she is a minotaur. It’s explained early on that she’s one of the only of her kind to be so much of a minotaur, as it’s a gene that’s been passed down and she just happened to get it worse than her mother. But so much of the book is dedicated to how much she hates herself because she is so minotaur like, it can get kind of distracting. I understand that accepting yourself is part of the story, but her self-hatred goes up almost until the end, which I felt tok away from too much of the book. 

Overall, it was an enjoyable book, one I would pick up again, (if a bag malfunction didn’t require me to leave it in Ireland… enjoy it, whoever will read it next!) but I wish there was more questing, and a lot less self-loathing.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Bad Shakespeare Takes the World: World Domination

At the time I’m writing this, It’s been about two weeks since I last stepped food in the green fields that made up Ireland. And I have to say… it’s hot. Like, seriously. Muggy, too. I’m not really sure how I survived in the past, because I’m a lot more indoors than I want to be right now, but, man, that heat.

Heat aside, when I wrapped up my Ireland trip, I wondered how it was going to affect my experiences writing about London. After all, this is an entirely new trip, and for one glorious month I thought about Ireland, I wrote about Ireland, taking only a brief break to also write about Nicolas Cage taking over the world. (By the way, I’ve changed the name of the actor to someone fictional. It gives me more freedom. Nicolas Cage is heavily referenced, though.) I mean, will the experience dilute my travels across the world?

It hasn’t. When we left England, there was a quote Professor Davis asked us to consider. He asked us to think about the quote, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” The thing is, I have to agree. I loved my time in London which was different than my time in Ireland, which will be different in whatever country I end up going to next. (I’m thinking Australia. The spiders in America aren’t terrifying me as much lately.) They’re just different places.

My trip to London featured a very spiritual element in that I got to walk along the same streets that William Shakespeare walked along. At one point I know I actually stepped on stones that Shakespeare himself would have stepped on. And, as Rick Davis may have said, “I don’t claim that the stones themselves reverberate with the spirit of Shakespeare” I did feel it. Ireland, too, had it’s spiritual element, in that I was more connected to a land that believed in spirits and fairies. It was easy to see that connection there. It is easy to accept that their is an element of magic when going to those lands, and believing that there’s more there than what you actually see. Plus, the Celtic rituals we took part in really hit me in a way I didn’t think was possible. 

So, for a while I did have a bit of a worry that Bad Shakespeare Takes Ireland would somehow change my view of Bad Shakespeare Takes England. The thing is, they’re two very different experiences. And I’m not really sure where to start with either now that I’ve re-started my blog to include a lot of different things, not just Ireland. And to be honest with you, there are still a few things I want to write about that happened in Ireland, I just never got to. (I was there for class.)  which is why this post is a little self indulgent, but I’m announcing the launch of a brand new Wednesday Series:

Bad Shakespeare Takes The World. 

It’s going to cover both of my overseas trips, as well as anything else that may pop up between now and when I no longer write this blog. It may be nothing. I did travel overseas for a month twice this year. I can say I’ve spent more time in Europe this year than I have in America. It’s kind of crazy.

Anyway, let’s start with that quote I threw out above “When a Man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” That was the first quote that Professor Davis threw out to us well before we took our trip to England. He wanted us to keep it in the back of our minds, and think about what it meant to us. And he was right, the trip was bigger than just checking out a few plays and thinking good thoughts about them. (Or talking about Shakespeare and other stuff for 20 minutes, as we did.)

London is a big city, and it’s filled with a lot of people. Like most cities. What makes London so unique is the fact that it’s an older city, but the old and the new are so wrapped up together it creates something completely unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. A modern designed building near something that’s been there since the dawn of time itself (that’s when England was founded, right? I’m fuzzy on my English History.)

I pondered the question “Tired of London/Tired of life” while I was there. I can see why getting tired of this city, where anything could happen at any moment, It just has a unique feel to it. I could tell just by walking through it that it felt different. It “felt” like London. The thing is, it was impossible to walk through Dublin without experiencing the same sort of “Feel” that it was different. To me, a lot of cities seem the same, but London just had a different feel to it. And the surprising thing was that by the end of my journey, I could actually navigate the city like I owned it. It was incredible.

So, what to make all of this? I just threw out a lot of information, some of it conflicting. I think what to bring out of it is the education that I received went beyond “plays” and “writing” for these particular trips. I think the education I received is a reminder that I’m more a citizen of the world than I like to admit, and that I like to explore more than I’d like to think about. I need to get out there. Find out what is waiting for me. And I have to grab it soon, because I know it’s not going to wait for very long. 

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m curious as to what my next adventure is going to be…

Monday, July 6, 2015

Summer Movie Season: Terminator Genisys

Will there be humor as the Terminator learns emotion? You betcha!

The words are iconic. “I’ll be back,” spoken in a heavy Austrian accent. Said by a robot that had previously said very little, but slowly became more and more heroic as the actor that played him became more and more of an icon. But let the depressing truth be spoken: despite the fact that there was a giant explosion setting forth a new future, the fact that this is the fifth entry into the Terminator franchise, I’m led to believe that Terminator: Genisys is not going to be the last in the franchise.

(This is going to contain spoilers. More than what the trailers give away. Of course, it didn’t give away anything so… plot, I guess.)

Terminator: Genisys is the fifth entry into the Terminator Franchise, which started as a fun science fiction/horror movie that dared to ask the question: What if someone went back in time to kill the mother of a great leader, and ended up starting the whole war to begin with? Of course, these brutal killing machines have yet to kill a waitress, a young boy, and the young boy’s future wife, so you just have to wonder how effective they are at their jobs. But I digress. In an effort to reboot but not really reboot anything because we can use time travel (re: Star Trek, the 2009 reboot but not really because… Spock!), Terminator: Genisys tells the story of Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) who’s sent back in time by the leader of the human resistance, John Conner (Jason Clarke) to fight an evil robot played by Arnold Schwarzenegger (Henchforth known as Arnold, because I’m only spelling his last name once.) sent to kill his mother, Sarah Conner, played by Emilia Clarke. (no relation to Jason Clarke. In real life. In the movie, they’re actually mother and son.) If this sounds familiar, it should, because it’s the plot of the original Terminator

But there’s a twist!

As soon as Kyle shows up in 1984, he’s attacked by an evil T-1000, the robot from the second movie who wasn’t invented until CGI caught up with his superpower of being liquid metal. And the evil Arnold Terminator Robot, using some impressive special effects, ends up being attacked by an older Arnold Terminator Robot (codename: Pops) and is immediately destroyed. It turns out that Sarah Conner was attacked when she was nine by a T-1000 robot, and saved by a good guy Arnold Robot, thus preparing her even earlier to be a soldier/mother of the resistance. 

For the record, this now means this evil race of robots can’t destroy a nine year old girl, either. And yet they’ve enslaved humanity. 

Anyway, there’s more time travel where they go even further ahead to 2017, because things have changed, and they learn that Skynet is going to take over the world thanks to our dependence on Apps, and the person who’s leading the charge is (twist again) an evil version of John Conner who has been taken over by Terminators. Will they be able to beat him? Will they destroy the evil App? (Yes. If you say no, you haven’t been watching any of the other movies.) 

Overall, I enjoyed this movie. It wasn’t wonderful, a lot of the innovativeness of the first two movies has been undone by countless attempts to do something with the timeline. Quite frankly, the whole timeline is a mess when it comes to Terminator movies, and the fact that these killer robots don’t just wage war on the past is a little laughable at this point. Also the fact that the Arnold version of the terminator is still in use, as the default is “hey let’s reprogram it.” 

The real problem with this movie lies in it’s most interesting twists that get hand waved over. One is the inclusion of Pops, the good Terminator sent back to Sarah Conner when she’s a nine year old girl. There’s a real mystery of who sent him back in time, who programmed him, and why he’s helping out so much, even forming an emotional attachment with her. It’s a big departure from the series, where a lot of the tension came from the fact that she was a simple waitress who didn’t realize she was going to become the mother of the leader of the human race, who later did train herself to fight the robots. A lot of that is left off screen. But the mystery is raised only briefly, and then we get the Austin Powers look at the screen moment, “it’s best not to think about it too much.” 

The second twist, also spoiled by trailers… I’m going to take a moment to defend the spoiling of these twists by the trailers. On the one hand, yes, the trailers spoiled these moments. On the other, another version of “we have to go back to stop Skynet and save Sarah Conner and oh by the way here’s another good Terminator played by Arnold” is a tough sell. Basically it’s the same movie as the original Terminator, mixed with Terminator 2, and ignoring all the other Terminator movies and T.V. Shows. It just threw the changes out there.

Anyway, the second twist involves John Conner… becoming a Terminator himself! This was another wasted potential, something that should have happened earlier in the film. It turns out that he’s a mix of man and machine now, and is actually somewhat anti-Skynet, despite the fact that he was trying to build Skynet. He was also, for unknown reasons other than we need a way to blow things up, building a time machine. So, there’s a big mystery as to why he was building one, along with the fact that this new technology upgraded machines to the point that they were integrated with humans. It’s an interesting idea that needed to be explored a little bit more. 

Overall, not a terrible movie, but I felt it left a lot of it’s best bits on the cutting room floor. It’s actually an odd combination of a movie, trying to stuff in a lot… hey we need to reboot the franchise! But we’re doing a sequel! But we’re using time travel to change everything! But we’re going to throw in all these new ideas! And frustrating mysteries that seem to say, “hey… we know you’re going to see this… we’ll start working on the sequel now.” 

Seven out of Ten.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Summer Movie Season: Aloha

Top Gun 2 Casting Directors: Take note.

I’ve mentioned this before, but my favorite actor is Bill Murray. I can argue that there’s better actors, or even funnier actors, but my first memory at the movie theatre was still seeing Bill Murray in Ghostbusters. I’ve seen plenty of movies I’ve disliked that has had Bill Murray in it… I’m looking at you Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties… but I still can’t think of a performance of Bill Murray’s that I didn’t enjoy. From classics Ghostbusters to Groundhog Day to Stripes, to even clunkers like Larger than Life or even his brief cameo in Zombieland, Bill Murray has been a signal to me that there would be something in a movie that will make me enjoy it.

I’m happy to say that he keeps that up as the villain (I guess) in Aloha, a movie that… let’s just say needs some work.

Aloha is the story of Brian Gilcrest, (Bradley Cooper), hunky contractor who returns to Hawaii to do… contractor things, I guess. I think he had to negotiate a blessing from a local Hawaiian Chief, but don’t worry if you cant get this plot, there’s like, 90 others to follow as well. Anyway, there he reconnects with the one that got away, Tracy (Rachel McAdams) and her two precocious kids, one of whom we quickly learn is 12 along with the information that they broke up 13 years ago, and then we all feign surprise when we find out that she’s his daughter! (cue gasps. It’s ok, he learns how to be a father in the twenty minutes he gets this information. Brian is team dup with Allison Ng (Emma Stone) who’s 1/4 Hawaiian, and because she’s played by pale, blonde, Emma Stone, they remind you every few minutes that she’s 1/4 Hawaiian. (There was apparently more controversy around this because she doesn’t “look Hawaiian”. Made me sad to keep seeing more and more controversies pop up, because a good portion of the movie is discussing her lack of Hawaiian looking.) Anyway, Brian has to negotiate some kind of deal, get in the good graces of his boss Carson Welch (Bill Murray) finally, and… well, there’s a lot of stuff that happens in this movie. I’ll get to it in the review section. 

The rest of this post contains spoilers for a movie you probably weren’t going to see anyway. So, if you’re going to go see it, then do so, then read the rest of this review.

I like to start with positives, so let me start with a positive: the last twenty minutes of this movie would have been a fantastic movie. Most of the movie is the buildup to Brian discovering that Carson was actually going to put weapons up in his new satellite. Allison finds out about it because she happens to stop Tracy’s house one day when one of her precocious children, who’s obsessed with Hawaiian myths when the script needs him to be, accidentally films one of those weapons being loaded onto the satellite. Accidentally. Bringing into question a lot of things about security, because either this kid wandered into a secure location or they were doing it an event everyone was attending. 

Oh, and during these twenty minutes when Brian is getting is butt handed to him by everyone for destroying the satellite after launch, Allison doesn’t think to say “hey, I have evidence that will exonerate him.” Despite the fact that they’re now in love. 

Like I said, there’s a lot stuffed into this film. Let’s break it down a little bit.

On the one hand, there’s the reconnection of Brian and Tracy. It’s played well, and the hints that Tracy’s daughter is actually Brian’s and not her husband’s are laid out SO HEAVILY during the movie that when it gets around to the narrative point of actually revealing it, it’s not a revelation. It’s the opposite. Plus, it happens so incredibly late in the movie that the only resolution that we get to it is a sweet hug at the end.

Speaking of Tracy, her husband Woody, played by John Krasinski, is probably one of the best characters in the movie, and even his introduction is ruined. One of the running jokes is that he doesn’t speak, but Brian can understand him. The end of the movie features a subtitled conversation between Woody and Brian, both of them “not speaking” to each other. I wish this idea had been developed, because it was so hilarious, and it wired with the two characters. I mention that his introduction is ruined because it starts with a silent moment, then… he speaks! It’s almost as if it was added later. 

Then there’s the relationship between Allison and Brian. It’s actually organic, even if she starts off kind of wooden. It’s a nice relationship, and had the movie decided it was going to be just about that, it could have been a lot better movie. The problem is when ex-girlfriends and missile conspiracies pop up, along with the daughter subpot, it’s just too overstuffed.

Oh, and my favorite, Bill Murray. Yes, he’s the “Bad Guy” of the movie. He starts out as kind of good, the eccentric Billionaire of late Bill Murray movies where Bill murray has decided to play pretty much Bill Murray. His shift to evil is QUICK. Faster than we might have expected from any other movie. Suddenly he’s threatening Brian. It’s good acting, but again, way. Too. Fast.

The thing is, I do enjoy bad movies. Even mediocre movies. Seventh Son was terrible, but I’d watch it again, because that’s what it was: A bad movie. The problem with Aloha is that it has the potential to be a great movie. It has a million fantastic actors, all mentioned, and I haven’t even gotten to Danny McBride and Alec Baldwin. The problem is that it has potential. Potential to be a great movie. 

Let’s go back to those twenty minutes I said was great. In those 20 minutes, Brian: gets together with Allison, decides to do something about the missiles on board the satellite, destroys them, gets chewed out by Alec Baldwin (in a hilarious scene) loses Allison (he’s toxic), makes peace with his ex, finds out that he has a daughter, GETS exonerated for blowing up the satellite, makes nice with Woody, and gets back together with Allison. That’s the last twenty minutes. That doesn’t include Bill Murray getting arrested. Imagine that stretched out with more of the movie dropped, like the romantic tension between Brian and Tracy, and the second kid that we see bonding with Brian more and more to the point that it becomes uncomfortable, then dropped completely. 

This movie had the potential to be great. Sadly, it just sort of fizzled out. 

Five out of Ten. Extra point for Bill Murray’s dancing scene with Emma Stone.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Summer Movie Season Review: San Andreas

For some reason, I’m really fascinated with disaster movies. I don’t mean, “aliens come in and blow stuff up” or “giant dinosaurs rampaging through the planet” or even the movie Aloha. (Review coming soon!) I mean, “something bad has happened and it’s not like we can do anything about it.” It’s sort of like man vs. nature on the spectrum of movie plots, but I like to go further and even go beyond that, where there really isn’t any type of antagonist. Alec Baldwin and Anthony Hopkins fighting a bear is technically man vs. nature, but there’s an enemy in the bear. Sharks get sucked up into a tornado again, technically is a disaster (for many reasons) but people are still able to fight the sharks. However, put people against a raging inferno or an Earthquake, like in San Andreas, well, there’s less to fight, and it’s sort of “how can we survive.” 

San Andreas is about… well, pretty much what the title implies. The San Andreas fault goes wonky. The Rock… I’m sorry, Dwayne Johnson (because advertising the movie as The Rock vs. THE ROCKING would have been stupid) is a badass rescue helicopter pilot named Ray. He’s going through a nasty divorce with his wife Emma (Carla Gugino)  dealing with his daughter, Blake ( Alexandra Daddario) is going off to college, and his wife is about to shack up with a rich dude that oozes evil from the first second we meet him. Because, well, we have to hate someone, and it’s difficult to hate tectonic plates for doing what they’ve been doing since well before a mosquito sucked the blood of a dinosaur and got trapped in amber, allowing for eventually Chris Pratt to tame Velociraptors. (review also coming.) Oh, and Paul Giamatti gracefully hands over the action parts to Dwayne Johnson and settles in for his role as guy who explains everything to the audience a Caltech scientist who can predict when Earthquakes are going to hit and periodically shows up to tell how things are going to get worse. Anyway, bad earthquakes hit, Blake is stuck in San Francisco with a hunky British Dude and his brother, and we know that San Francisco is going to get hit hard because Paul Giamatti keeps reminding us that it’s going to get hard. Ray hijacks a helicopter to go save her, presumably ignoring all of the other people that need rescuing along the way.

Where do I start? How about this: I liked how the movie focused on a smaller family, rather than trying to make Love, Actually: Earthquake Edition by having us focus on about 90 story lines at once. Also, by focusing on a family unit, it helps bring some actual emotion into the script as opposed to just waiting for the next CGI building to fall in an impressive manner. This also allows the movie to be more about a family than it does an Earthquake, which make sense as this presumably takes place in the real world as opposed to a world in which The Rock is going to raise his eyebrow, run across San Francisco, and lay the People’s Elbow down on those tectonic plates that are causing so much trouble. 

Hey, he started as a Wrestler. I’m going to acknowledge that. There’s no reason to be ashamed of his past. He started with 8 bucks now he’s the richest movie star on the planet. Good for him. Just because he had to throw guys in tights against metal cages to get there is nothing to be ashamed of. The WWE is quality entertainment. 

The Rock is likable as always, and I threw in the part about him ignoring people but it never comes up. Also, he doesn’t really ignore anyone, I just wondered why they never really talked about how an entire helicopter was missing, or how all of those people he worked with in the beginning of the movie and had a great friendship with never showed up or were really mentioned again. I would have liked to have seen them all fly out together, and work as a team, even if it was to save Blake from the evil Earthquake. 

Ah, Blake’s story. Let’s get to that, shall we. She flies off early on with evil boyfriend dude (played by Ioan Gruffudd, in his most wasted role to date, and he played Mr. Fantastic in the Fantastic Four movies.) The writers add some pathos to her scenes by reminding us that she once had a sister who drowned while out white water rafting one day, raising the stakes for her to survive. But they’re bogged down because she’s almost immediately abandoned by evil boyfriend dude (I don’t even remember his name. As is sole job is to make us hate SOMEONE in a movie full of people that band together in the wake of a huge natural disaster, I don’t really care to look it up.) who then spends a good portion of the movie wandering around various scenes, upping his evil level by ensuring his survival until (spoilers) he’s unceremoniously killed by a falling container, never to be mentioned again.

Blake’s story actually isn’t very bad, as it ensures the survival of the guy that risks his life to save her despite meeting her exactly seven minutes before the earthquakes hit. And she does rise above the initial point of the character as a MacGuffin for The Rock and his ex-wife to go find and save, thus ensuring that they don’t have another daughter they have to bury. 

Overall, movies like San Andreas are difficult for me to review. I didn’t love it, like Inside Out, Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl, The Avengers, or Spy. But I didn’t absolutely hate it, wanting to buy every copy of the film, burning them, then salting the Earth so nothing can grow in it’s place. It sits in that rare middling ground, one that movies enjoy before they go sit on FX all hours of the day. 

Six out of 10.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Summer Movie Season: Inside Out

I’m curious as to what it’s like in the Pixar writing room. Sometimes, I wonder if they have a well thought out plan that carefully puts together each movie, or if it’s just done on a dare. “Hey, what if TOYS have feelings?” they say one day. Then they wonder about cars, and their inner feelings. Then the wonder if the Scottish have feelings. Until eventually, someone says, “Hey, screw it, let’s just do a movie about feelings.” And then they came up with Inside Out, a totally unique movie with a subject matter that wasn’t tackled in the 90’s with the sitcom Herman’s Head. 

Pictured: Originality

Inside Out tells the tale of Riley, who is held hostage by a tyrant named Joy who rules over her other emotions with an iron fist. As she keeps her rule by ensuring every moment of Riley’s life is a happy one, she relegates one of her other emotions, Sadness, off to a small corner of her mind. One day, Sadness and Joy get lost in the recesses of Riley’s Mind, just as Riley is moving to San Francisco. The pair have to team up with her old imaginary friend Bing Bong to eventually get back to HQ, where Joy learns a valuable lesson in the vein of every other Pixar movie, ever. 

I’ve thrown in several jokes, but this really was one of Pixar’s best movies, if not one of it’s darkest to date. 

Let’s start with Joy. She’s played with all of the exuberance one comes to expect from Amy Poehler, but in terms of Pixar heroes she’s one of the most unlikeable and darkest. (That has zero to do with Ms. Poehler, who could probably voice Darth Vader in such a way that we’d all start rooting for him.) She’s written to be a control freak, someone who doesn’t want Riley to ever experience sadness, and takes away from her really experiencing life. It works towards Riley’s detriment, and the movie is not afraid to really show how Joy’s constant meddling make things that much more difficult for Riley, who can’t cope when Joy isn’t around. Yes, she becomes much more bearable by the time the credits roll, but as she constantly shoves Sadness around, it’s difficult to feel sympathy for her. Which is the point, I get it. I just can’t remember a Pixar hero that needed to learn their lesson so deeply that they were so unlikeable for most of the movie with the exception of maybe Woody at the start of the Toy Story, but even then he quickly realized his mistake and moved on. (and was forcibly removed, but still.) But most of the time I was rooting for Sadness more than I was rooting for Joy.

Sadness, played by Phyllis Smith, best known for her role as… well, Phyllis on the Office, (They weren’t too creative with their names on that show…) brings out not only the sadness of Sadness, but the character who is trying to do her job. There’s one scene in particular where Sadness is talking to Bing Bong, helping him through an existential crisis of being an imaginary friend. She has the harder task of most of the cast, having to justify the existence of Sadness in a world where we want to be happy all the time. But the way she interacts with Bing Bong really helps to bring the idea that we all need to be sad some time. She brings a level of compassion to the scene that’s difficult to really express from any other actor. While Amy Poehler and Joy are going to be getting a lot of press, I really hope that come award time, they talk about Phyllis and her role as Sadness and her ability to bring a level of gravity to the role. 

There’s the rest of the cast, too such as Richard Kind as imaginary friend Bing Bong, Bill Hader as Fear, Mindy Kaling as Disgust, and Lewis Black as Anger who all bring their respective feelings to life in a wonderfully imaginative way. I imagine the talk for Pixar Casting was to find someone Lewis Black-like for Anger, only to be followed with “let’s just get Lewis Black.” He kind of steals the show once Sadness and Joy are lost in the recesses of Riley’s mind.

I mentioned the darkness of the movie earlier. It is a little darker in that it moves away from the idea that all things are black and white. Joy is “good” while Sadness is “bad”. Too often we get lost in the idea that we have to be one way or the other, but Riley is really thrown off when she’s forced to confront her other emotions. It’s not until the emotions learn to work together, and she realizes that she doesn’t have to be “happy” all the time or “sad” is a bad thing. She’s allowed to miss the home that she moved from, she doesn’t have to simply accept that everything is all right. I just like the idea that we are all allowed to have our emotions, and sometimes even the “negative” ones can lead to positive results, if we allow ourselves to feel them and not try to suppress them. Like the sheer tears of joy that I swear I wasn’t crying at the end of this one.

I normally try to find something negative with a movie to talk about. Like I said, other than dealing with the fact that I didn’t like Joy for a large section of this movie (and maybe that’s a talent in and of itself… I hated happiness… how can you manage to do that?) there’s not much to hate about this.

Quick note: like all great Pixar films, this does run with an animated short called Lava, which is about two volcanoes that fall in love through a song that’s based mostly on a pun. Yeah… it’s pretty awesome. I really feel that Pixar is just daring itself now. If we can get a rat that wants to be a chef and a bunch of ants that play Three Amigos, sure…. let’s have two volcanoes fall in love over hundreds of years.

Inside Out rating 9 out of 10.
Lava rating 9 out of 10.