Movie Review – One of the Best Movies I’ve Ever Seen, and “Predators”

Let’s get this out of the way first: “Predators” is a perfectly fine summer movie that most people will have a decent time attending.  You read that and probably come to the conclusion that I’m lukewarm on the movie, and you would be correct.  The movie is an entertaining reboot/continuation of the Predator franchise, a saga that is linked with the far superior Aliens series due to two terrible “Aliens vs. Predator” movies.  Luckily, no Aliens in the new Predators movie, but we do get a buff Adrian Brody, which is, well, something I guess.  To tell you the truth, I probably wouldn’t have seen this if it weren’t for my two friends, Wheel and Giles, who are 80’s action movie savants and capable of quoting long stretches of dialogue from such classics as “Commando” or “Delta Force.”  To tell you the truth, I envy their ability to enjoy without irony some of the worst movies of all time (I’m looking right at your appreciation of “Rat Race”, Wheel).  So, when I got the call about a screening with these two, one of whom can recreate the Predator vocalization, I couldn’t wait for the experience.

So, what was enjoyable? First, sneaking in beers to a multiplex was surprisingly easy and fun throw back to teenage years.  Second, the “Machete” trailer (an upcoming Robert Rodriguez action splatterfest), which led to the best moment of the movie: at the beginning of “Predators,” we meet the cast of characters as they encounter each other while walking through a foreign jungle and the camera comes upon gun-toting Danny Trejo, who happens to be the star of “Machete.”  Giles, recognizing Trejo, enunciates Ma-chet-te, getting several of the audience to laugh.  Third, the overt nods to the previous Predator movies were especially satisfying, especially connections to Arnold’s original character (Brody’s mud covered homage of “Come on! Kill me! I’m here!” was particularly awesome). 

For the most part, the movie isn’t that bad.  The acting is fine, with Topher Grace properly slimy, Adrian Brody effectively mercenary-ish, and Laurence Fishburn delightfully bat-shit.  The action is decent, though a bit subdued for a sequel-type movie: I actually wanted more elaborate set pieces, something as memorable as Jesse Ventura’s kill sequence (the production attempted an equally epic samurai showdown, but the battle was a bit of a letdown).  The plot, the dialogue, the everything else of the movie left me with a distinct flavor of “mehhhh,” a watery nothingness that wasn’t unpleasant.  The only disgust – leaving out the best shot from the trailer…read this explaining Rodriguez’s decision to film a scene that was never intended to be a part of the finished film.

Watch this movie if you are a fan of the Predator movies or if you want a mindless summer escape (this movie has got to be 10 times better than A-Team or crap of that ilk).  Other than that, skip it for the movie below.

“Predators” gets a 2 1/2 out of 5 for me.  Check out a matinee if you want.  I would nominate this film for Best Series Resurrection After Some Bad Sequels (the honorary “Dark Knight” after “Batman and Robin” Award), Best Movie Made Better By Beer, Best Machete Tie-In, and Best Unexpected Reason to Have a Debate on Evolutionary Divergence (Two Species?!!).

By now, you’ve heard about this little $60 million weekend box office smash film called “Inception.”  There’s so much going for this film (A-list writer/director Christopher Nolan, A-list actor Leonardo DiCaprio, A-list ironic pregnant teen/pedophile killer/commercial star Ellen Page, A-list martian Joseph Gordon-Leavitt) that going into the screening, I have to admit some nervousness.  The last movie I went into knowing little about the story yet shrouded with high expectation was James Cameron’s “Avatar,” a visually stunning but ultimately forgetable movie — “Inception” had a possibility of being a looker with a terrible story.  Thankfully, Nolan delivers a genuinely great film, a satisfying story told with great acting and mind melting cinematography.  There are points in this film where I literally was at the edge of my seat with a smile from ear to ear, enthralled by the evidence on screen of the audacity of Christopher Nolan’s imagination.  There are scenes that will make you fall in love with movie making again — the rotating hallway fight sequences are seminal shots that will be studied by film students from this point on.  The entire dream-within-dream concept is dizzying, yet surprisingly clear in the editing.  There’s no way around it, I have to simply say that I love this film — just give it the Best Picture award right now.

That said, there are some serious problems with the movie.  First, if your idea of summer entertainment doesn’t include using your brain, then you will want to skip this picture.  As we were walking out of our screening (which at one point had ~25% of the audience asleep; in their defense, it was midnight), we overheard several people expressing confusion or disinterest in the plot.  Admittedly, the first half of the movie can be confusing as there is a lot of (necessary) plot exposition the occurs before the main caper begins, and the film does drag a bit for the middle 30 minutes.  Yet, the payoff (the last hour) is well worth the investment of your attention, if you have the desire and/or ability.  For those of you who don’t want to think or find science fiction elements in a story nerdy or boring will not like this movie — you can always wait for the eminently more accessible Bourne-lite “Salt” opening this Friday. 

This is not a perfect movie (holes in the plot are easy to find) but this is a thrilling, inventive, excellent film.

“Inception” is a Five out of Five — this will be the best picture winning for 2010.   I nominate this film for all of the top awards at the Oscars, plus Best Easy Paycheck Role for Michael Caine, Best Method to Revive Interest in M.C. Escher, Best Way to Make Hummers Cool Again, Best Sarcastic Use of the Word “Darling.”

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Movie Reviews: Toy Story 3, Despicable Me, and Avatar: the Last Airbender

The last three movies I’ve watched in the theater are children/family pictures.  The last few movies that I’ve actually enjoyed have been children/family pictures, usually of the animated variety.  The Pixar and Dreamworks animated features have had better writing and more enjoyable visuals that recently viewed live action blockbusters – I’m looking straight at you, Iron Man 2.   Plus, the In Theaters Now lineup right now is woefully thin.  You couldn’t get me in copter Hannibal, I’m not sure who in Knight and Day’s target demographic but I’ll guess it isn’t me, and the only Eclipse I want to watch is this.  Thus, you’re getting reviews of Toy Story 3, Despicable Me, and Avatar: the Last Airbender.

Toy Story 3

If you liked the previous two episodes of the adventures of Woody and Buzz, then you’ll love Toy Story 3.  You get the return of most of the beloved characters, including a newly voiced Slinky Dog.  More importantly, you get the always dependable Pixar film formula:  beautiful graphics, wit and heart, and surprising complimentary voice acting all serving to tell a great story.  Sure, the main story was a bit sappy, and sure the end’s curtain call just seems unnecessary, but there are surprises and joy in bounds with this movie.  One thing to note, I watched the movie in 2D so I can’t claim anything about the relative value of a 3D showing.

This is a solid 4 1/2 out of 5 for me.  I would nominate this film for Best Use of a Clown Toy soliloquy, Best Creative Tortilla Effects, Best Animated Feature, and Best Cameo By a Glow Worm.

Despicable Me

A solid turn by the Universal animation group, I have to admit walking into this film with low expectations.  Much of that was due to the trailer that I saw much too often with the redneck American family touring the inflated Great Pyramids to the dulcet tones of Lynard Skynard.  I hate Lynard Skynard.  If you love Lynard Skynard, I hate you too.

I digress.  The film is a tremendous amount of misanthropic fun.  The characters are constantly inflicting both psychological and cartoonishly physical pain on each other, and if you enjoy that kind of thing, this is a blast.  There’s a main story about the lead villian, Gru, learning to love, but that’s beside the point.  Gru’s minions, yellow pills with stubby appendages and goggled eyes, are walking punching bags, fun little cartoon humanoids that get punched, flicked, kicked, exploded, and launched into orbit, all for our summer movie watching delight.  I applaud the film makers for staying away from most non-Pixar animated film crutches, primarily bathroom humor.  This is a pretty good movie, even if the supporting voices don’t really get much to work with (all the funny lines go to Steve Carrell’s Gru, Jason Segal’s Vector, Elsie Fisher’s scene stealing baby, Agnes, and the minions).  Russell Brand, Kristin Wiig, Will Arnett, etc are all wasted.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5.  I would nominate this film for Best Use of a Freeze Ray at a Coffee Shop, Best Parallel Parking Job, Best Cookie Technical Direction, and Best Reading of a line containing the words “Fluffy Unicorn” Ever.

Avatar: The Last Airbender

Oh, M. Night Shyamalan, how you’ve turned into a punchline of a director/writer/producer.  From “swing away,” tree-caused suicide, Ron Howard’s daughter in water, and a shitty village, we’ve come to this, a terrible live-action adaptation of a Nickelodeon cartoon.  If you must know, there are four nations who are each linked to one element (fire, water, air, earth: apparently they don’t care to unleash Captain Planet and have left out heart).  The evil Fire people, who appear to be of Indian descent, have killed all the Air people (Tibetans), enslaved the Earth people (Far East Asians), and fighting a war with the Water folk (a combination of Caucasians and Eskimos).  Those dastardly Fire people will stop at nothing to conquer the world, even trying to kill the Avatar, a superhuman Dalai lama who reincarnates to keep the world at balance.

The story is fine.  It’s what Shyamalan does to the story with his horrendously stiff writing and direction that makes “The Last Airbender” one of the longest 103 minute movies you’ll ever have to sit through.  Through  scene after scene  of stilted dialogue only used for forced plot exposition, Shyamalan has finally proven that he doesn’t know how to write dialogue anymore.  The characters don’t talk with one another, they talk at  the audience, much like tour bus operators.  Like most tour bus operators, you grow to hate the characters within the first five minutes.  I don’t understand why Shyamalan cast dynamic actors like Aasif Mandvi or Dev Patel only to have them read lines that are not salvageable.

Of course, this is an effects movie of action, so we can forgive the terrible, absolutely awful dialogue.  Some of the effects are pretty great, with the lead character’s actor, young Noah Ringer, performing some great looking martial arts.  Also, the CG was pretty good, with some impressive fire and water effects.  However, even the fight scenes were clumsily staged and paced.  The first major battle scene has absolutely no flow or logic.  A potentially great set piece where the Avatar is rescued by Dev Patel’s character has so little actual action that it makes no sense.  The bad guys don’t attack when they should, and they run away when most conquering victorious armies would not.  The bad guy leaders are horribly unskilled tactically and even practically – everyone know that you don’t leave a spirit killing mission until you’ve actually killed the spirit, right?

They leave the movie open for a sequel. I hope they make it. I just hope they don’t let Shyamalan participate.  Enough already.

Rating: 2 out of 5.  I would nominate this film for Worst Dialogue in a Motion Picture (the honorary Showgirls award), Best Creature that Looks Like a Blend of Falkor and My Neighbor Totoro, Worst Father Ever (Cliff Curtis/Fire Lord), and Worst Director/Writer/Producer In the World.