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A Good Day To Die Hard Review: A Sin To The Franchise

a_good_day_to_die_hard_bruce_willis_jai_courtneyJohn McTiernan’s Die Hard ranks as one of my top five favorite movies of all time.  Subsequent sequels (Die Hard 2: Die Harder, Die Hard With A Vengeance, and Live Free Or Die Hard) have not been as good as the original but they are still good, fun action movies.  The main reason for that is Bruce Willis’ ability to keep the John McClane character consistent through them all.  So how does the fifth installment of the Die Hard franchise stack up?

A brief introduction to the plot of A Good Day To Die Hard is as follows:  When research on the whereabouts of his estranged son Jack (Jai Courtney) is going to be on trial in Russia, John McClane (Bruce Willis) catches a flight in an effort to mend their difference and support his son  in what should be a tough time.  Upon arrival John finds himself in familiar territory of explosions as he discovered his son was undercover for the CIA in an effort to prevent a scientist from being used in a nuclear heist.  But John arrival throws a wrench into the CIA’s plan and now the master of improvised crime fighting must aid his son in stopping the heist.  Click here for the trailer.

Some thought that choosing Len Wiseman to direct Live Free Or Die Hard was a risky choice but I think that skepticism will most definitely be silenced after what John Moore did with A Good Day To Die Hard.  I do not know where to begin to explain all the places that this movie failed.  Which is no surprise considering the guy directed Max Payne and Flight of the Phoenix.

A good place to star is with the story.  It never really explains why now is the time for John McClane to show interest in his son’s whereabouts.  Is there something wrong with Jack’s mother or sister? Or maybe John is planning on retiring and he wanted to tell Jack this so they could catch up?  No real reason is given.  Next when he gets to Russia and he sees his son in the midst of escaping a prison on the run from people trying to kill him John wants to stop and talk but when Jack refuses to talk John obliges himself into bumping bumpers with terrorists on the Russian streets he does not know.  Okay the driving in streets he does not know I will let slip because if I nit-picked on that I might as well nitpick on that in just about every action movie.

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Perhaps the most glaring problem with the story is that the characters are not good.  I did not think it was possible but John McClane did not feel like John McClane.  He felt like some generic action character.  One of the things I liked most about McClane in the previous installments is that you could tell he was improvising by looking around seeing what he could utilize to his advantage.  But with this one there was none if that.  Him and his son would jump out a window on a without knowing what would be there to break their fall.  Which leads me to another character qualm I had with Jack, he is CIA and John is NYPD.  Who would you think would call the shots in Russia?

Last thing about the story then I will move on is the lack of a villain.  When my friends and I left the theater we talked about Willis and the action but when I asked them who the villain was there was a long pause before anyone could think of who it was.  Most of the movie there really is not a villain just the McClanes running from bad guys with guns but nothing to hate or fear about them.

Story aside, for how well choreographed the action scenes were they were poorly shot.  I could not stand the rapid zoom-ins and the snappy editing which is a shame because the car chase in the beginning was very exciting but it gives you a headache trying to piece together the action.  As weird as this may sound, the rest of the action was very CGI heavy that gave me the feeling of Moore trying to make this movie too big for its own good.

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“Too big” is a phrase I rarely use especially when describing an action movie.  But when you look at the Die Hard franchise, that have a runtime of over two hours and they do not nearly reach the ridiculous action heights that A Good Day To Die Hard.  Well I guess Live Free Or Die Hard did but it just a better all around movie with a villain, story, and direction.  This installment runs just shy of an hour and forty minutes and it shows in the lack of development.  I think that is why I would describe it as too big because it all feels rushed to get through the plot just to show some more action.

Overall, A Good Day To Die Hard is a major let down.  Part of me wants a sixth Die Hard movie so the franchise does not end on such a sour note.  It does not feel like John McClane and the frequent old man on vacation jokes get stale quick.  I give A Good Day To Die Hard a 4/10 and that is being generous.

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Side Effects Review: Soderbergh’s Silver Screen Swan Song?

side_effects_soderberg_mara_jude_law_ablixaSteven Soderbergh keeps saying he is nearing the end of his directing days when suddenly his name gets attached to something but as of right now Side Effects appears to be his final directorial piece to grace theaters.  The question now is if Soderbergh went out on a good note with Side Effects.

A brief introduction to Side Effects is as follows:  Soon after Emily Taylor’s (Rooney Mara) husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), is released from prison for insider trading her behavior become bizarre to the point she appears to try to commit suicide by driving her into a concrete wall.  While escaping uninjured from the incident she meet a respected psychiatrist, Dr Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), who begin puts her on medicine and meets with her periodically.  This prescription however seems to make her moods worse.  A co-workers tells Emily about a new drug on the market and after consulting her former doctor, Dr Victoria Siebert, Dr Banks write her this new subscription that causes her to sleepwalk and commit a heinous crime that puts Emily and Dr Banks in trouble with the law.  Click here for the trailer.

(Warning the following paragraph contains minor S P O I L E R S)

Side Effects tells an interesting story with a lot of tide changes.  At first you feel very sympathetic for Emily.  She is in a troubled place emotionally as she ponders what awaits her when her husband gets out of jail and starts talking about opportunities to get back to where they once were financially.  She is happy Martin is back in her life but you can see the passion is not quite what it was at least under Dr Banks who comes off as arrogant and influenced to diagnose patients to take a new prescription drug that is offering him money to test on patients.  I will not give away any twists but it is amazing to see the reversal in circumstances and the audience goes from pulling for one character to start to hope for their downfall then the one you were suspicious of becomes the actual protagonist.

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I will be the first to admit that I do not like most of Soderbergh’s films although I do like the way they are shot.  To be honest I cannot pin point why.  But I have always liked his choice for camera angles where you are almost always looking up at the characters during dialogue.  That may sound like a weird thing to appreciate but it keeps me more focused on the character and does a better job of what the actors are trying to bring to the scene.

The acting is so-so at best.  Rooney Mara tip-toes one being overly subtle or bland with Emily’s emotions in the first half of the movie.  Half way through the movies I thought that could she really be playing this role that plain but the second half of the movie is where she shows the talent she displayed in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  Jude Law is phenomenal as always the whole way through the movie.  He nails the arrogant and secure doctor that at the flip of the switch he becomes relentlessly vengeful and paranoid.  As for Tatum, there is not a more popular actor today that could deliver his lines more flat especially here in Side Effects.  As for Zeta-Jones, I could not see much of her acting behind those ridiculous giant framed glasses.

Overall, Side Effects delivers what most Soderbergh will expect of a taut dramatic thriller.  As someone who is not keen on of his movies usually, I was plessantly surprised by how good of a thriller it was but I still had my issues with the pacing and chopping editing.  I give Side Effects a 7/10.

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Review of The Impossible

the_impossible_movie_review_poster_naomi_watts_maria_belonGood disaster movies are few and far between and often feel exaggerated.  But after seeing actual footage of the tsunami in Japan almost two years ago it is breathe taking how real life can look more devastating than Hollywood depicts and The Impossible captures that.

A brief introduction to the plot of The Impossible is as follows:  Based on the real life experience of Maria Belon and her family caught in the tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004.  While on Christmas vacation in Thailand their luxurious resort gets bombarded by monstrous waves pulling parents, Maria (Naomi Watts) and Henry (Ewan McGregor), apart along with their three sons Lucas, Thomas, and Simon.  In order to reunite, the family must overcome many obstacles.  Click here for the trailer.

The first twenty minutes of The Impossible are extremely intense and gut-wrenching.  Watching the water viciously knock down civilians, destroy buildings, and rip trees out of the ground crushing the thrashing civilians was flat out gut-wrenching.  I could not imagine not only the physical pain of the situation but the emotional pain as well for watching your loved ones being swept away amongst all the wreckage.

At this point I think everyone knows that Naomi Watts got an Oscar nomination for this movie and the acting really was top notch from all the actors.  I will be honest that I am not sure she necessarily deserved a nomination.  She was great, do not get me wrong.  But the whole second half of the movie she lied in a bed with her eyes half open and whispered and a lot of the acting really came from the makeup they put on her when she was ill.  McGregor was fantastic especially when he breaks down on the phone call to Maria’s parents.  But the performance of the movie belonged to Tom Holland as the eldest son Lucas, a boy strength beyond his age.

A major problem I had with the second half of The Impossible is that it loses its pace thanks to some questionable parental choices.  There comes a point where Henry sends his two youngest children with a bunch of strangers in a pickup truck to head up in the mountains/hills while he stayed to search for his wife and other son Lucas.  After what just happened you really want to send your kids away?  Really?  Then he runs into the person that he sent his kids away with in the pickup and they had no idea or care where his kids were.  I am not a parent but I never would have done that nor do I think I could have done it.  Since I got hung up on these choices the second half just dragged.

Overall, The Impossible has one of the most jaw dropping natural disaster scenes I have ever seen and pulls at the heart strings with a remarkable true story.  But the second half moved slow to me and it is worth a watch but not a movie I plan to revisit too often.  I give The Impossible a 6/10.

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Warm Bodies Review: Wise Men Say Only Fools Rush In…

warm_bodies_zombie_romance_comedyZombie movies to this point have been action movies, horror movies, even comedies but with the release of Warm Bodies we can add romance movies to that list.  Guess we should have seen this coming after all the Twilight movies that took iconic horror characters, vampires and werewolves, and had them fall irrationally head-over-heels in love with a human.  Well unlike the Twilight movies, at least Warm Bodies recognizes the fact that it is a comedy.

A brief introduction to the plot of Warm Bodies is as follows:  A zombie simply named R (Nicholas Hoult) has been a zombie for he does not know how long and neither does he know how he become one or a life before being a zombie for that matter.  On a hunt for food R and other zombies stumble upon a group of teenagers gathering medical supplies for the few still living in militaristic seclusion.  While eating the brains of one of his victims he has a vision (the memory of the victim) and falls in love with Julie (the victim’s girlfriend).  R rescues Julie (Teresa Palmer) from an attack and takes her to his new home, an airplane decorated in music memorabilia.  This spawns a journey that slowly makes R become human again.  Click here for the trailer.

Hands down the best thing about Warm Bodies is in the writing.  R’s narrative both for storytelling purposes as well as comedic relief made the movie as enjoyable as it was.  Since he cannot verbally communicate, his thoughts offer some interesting insight to the mind of a zombie.  Wandering aimlessly around at snail pace with nothing to care about other than when his next meal will be, explaining the differences between his breed of zombie versus the boney’s, and wanting to say/do the right thing to impress a girl he just met was done with a lot of wit which I appreciated.  I just wish the romance has been as cleverly written.

If you have read my Safety Not Guaranteed review you know that romantic comedies are not my favorite genre simply because a lot of them are over the top “romantic.”  What I mean by that is the ninety percent of the time they are too lovie-dovie and sappy.  Warm Bodies straddles the line of having a sappy/cheesy beginning.  R sees Julie and his heart gives a single beat of potential life.  Initially it came off more lustful than love which a lot of movies fall victim to.  R lusted for Julie when he knew nothing about her but that changes as he got to know her later by eating more of her boyfriend’s brain (clever concept by the way).  By the way it bothered me a little when I thought she was completely in love with her boyfriend Perry but does not dwell on him for long on his death.  This illustrated a character flaw I found in Julie.

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Julie I found to be difficult to like.  I completely see how R could have lusted for her since Teresa Palmer is a pretty lady.  But the fact that she was not hung up on the boyfriend she loved being eaten alive foreshadowed a decision she makes later.  The part I am talking about is when Julie and R had broken in the suburban home and Julie invites R to sleep upstairs with her but tells him not to look as she changes out of her wet clothes.  Naturally he cannot help but look even though as a member of the living dead I doubt he would have been able to get it up.  Then the next morning she ditches!  Next we see Julie confessing to her friend that she regretted leaving him but takes him in when he shows up outside her window.  Two questions popped in my head (1) why did that not creep her hell out? And (2) how could R want to pursue her after she had led him on like that?  It made little sense to me.

Maybe the reason I feel that way is I felt bad for R was because he was played brilliantly by Nicholas Hoult.  You saw on the outside he was like any other zombie but the inner dialogue and subtle facial tics showed he was doing his best to change what was left of life in his body.  Other than him most of the actors could have been easily replace.  Not to say they did a poor job but it was nothing special.  Palmer was a much better love interest than Kristen Stewart but I don’t think she brought anything to her character that other actresses could not have.  Sadly I felt the same way about John Malkovich as her military leader father.  The movie was a horror/comedy and Malkovich has proven how funny or scary he can be depending on the role but he did neither in his role.  He was just stern and stubborn, a waste of his talent.  I should also note Rob Corddry and Analeigh Tiption were solid in their roles as the friends that questioned the legitimacy of the protagonists love but did their best to support it.

My final thoughts on Warm Bodies are that it is worth a watch simply for Nicholas Hoult and the witty take on the zombie way of life.  I was not completely sold on the zombie romance of that love concurs all and brings them slowly back to life but it has its cute moments.  I give Warm Bodies a 6/10.

 

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Dark Skies Review: Familiar Fun

dark_skies_aliens_the_greys_movie_reviewDark Skies is one of many horror movies of the last two years sporting the label “from the producers of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and INSIDIOUS” that it is starting to lose value.  But Dark Skies lives up to that label and may be able to add its name to it.  While the producers seemed to focus on the spiritual scares with their previous efforts this one tabs into a different realm of scares, foreign beings outer space.  If you are getting tired of all the ghost stories, vampire/werewolf tales, or zombies (like I am starting to) then a good alien movie like Dark Skies will entertain you.

A brief introduction to the plot of Dark Skies is as follows:  The Barrett’s were just your average suburban family in a struggling U.S. economy.  Parents Daniel and Lacy (Josh Hamilton and Keri Russell respectively) experience spooky break-ins on top of their youngest of two sons, Sam (Kadan Rockett), begins speaking to the mythical Sandman late at night.  The break-ins escalate to the point the home security company cannot explain it which soon becomes the least of their worries when they lose control of their minds and bodies.  Click here for the trailer.

The makers of Paranormal Activity and Insidious have gotten a fair amount of flack for their lack of originality.  Is Dark Skies any different?  Not really and that is okay.  I have said before that a movie does not have to completely be original for me to enjoy it as long as it is not the same scene to scene as a previous film.  To best explain this film would be Insidious meets Signs.  The plot and pace feels a lot like Insidious at times and has the subtle shock of Signs.  Another thing that it does not quite stray from is the alien mythos that has been already been established.  I do not want to elaborate on that too much because for those of you that have not seen it yet I would be giving you a check list of things to expect which would ruin the experience.  But all those supposed negatives did not bother me one bit.

Director/writer Scott Stewart tells a good story with Dark Skies.  The Barrett’s really felt like an everyday family that just moved up in the world in this nice new house when the Josh Hamilton’s character loses his job, Keri Russell’s character, a real-estate agent, cannot sell their old house, and their oldest son is hanging with an older yet more immature jerk.  All these everyday things suck to handle enough as it is before all hell breaks loose with youngest talking to the “sandman,” personal items rearranging or going missing, and unexplained blackouts where they are physically harmed.  Stewart’s directing credits are limited and most of his resume is visual effects and it showed with the appearance of the aliens.  It is similar to Signs in that you are given a rough outline of what they look like but they are never shown with great detail which I loved.

If there are any downfalls, it’s that Josh Hamilton as the father was a real douche.  He seemed very conceited and dismissal of anything dispute how obvious of a conclusion he should have drawn.  Then when he finally accepts the reality he acts completely illogically.  But then again if I was in his situation I probably would not think clearly either.

Final thoughts, I am a sucker for most alien movies and Dark Skies definitely strikes familiar chords but that never bothers me.  There are some good jump scares but this is more thriller than horror.  I give Dark Skies a 7/10.

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Review of Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

hansel_and_gretel_witch_hunters_movie_review_posterYou would think with all the action movie success Jeremy Renner has been having with The Avengers, The Town, and Bourne Legacy on top of his more dramatic roles that he may finally get to the point where he did not have to star in an action movie with a ridiculous title.  Guess not.  It sounds like something off the Syfy Channel but despite the primitive title this movie has its share of perks.  Hansel & Gretel:  Witch Hunters mutates the familiar elements of the fairy tale into a bloody adventure.

A brief introduction to the plot of Hansel & Getel:  Witch Hunters is as follows:  After being orphaned at a young age, siblings Hansel and Gretel (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton respectively) grow to become bounty hunters seeking to avenge their parents by taking out every witch possible.  The brother/sister duo meet their match when the evil witch called Muriel (Famke Janssen) who is collecting children born in different months before the Blood Moon approaches to make witches everywhere immune to Hansel and Gretel’s murderous methods.  Click here for the trailer.

As I stated above, this movie feels very much like a Syfy Channel original… except with a budget.  I say that because it has a really fast pace that tells a decent story but has flat acting and little character development.  But what makes this movie superior to Syfy’s run of the mill films is the quality of the sets, make-up of the creatures/witches, and special effects.  They looked so cool on the big screen and not that cheesy CGI look that filmmakers seem to prefer these days especially when it came the troll character, Edward.  By actually putting an actor underneath the makeup and props it made him feel real.  In addition I appreciate the choreography of the fight scenes.  Again they avoided the easy CGI effects or shaky camera to make the action appear to be happening fast but took advantage of good old fashion choreography and wiring.

Visuals is about the only perks the movie has.  The story is imaginative but at the same time bland and predictable.  Like Hansel’s flaw of being diabetic or in need of a sugar shoot because of poisoned candy that a witch gave him as a kid.  You knew exactly when that would play a role.  Or why it was that they were able to fight the witches successfully where others have failed.  Then because the story was standard the acting suffered.  Renner I think did what he could with Hansel as a know it all and wanna be loner but Arterton was near unlikeable and annoying at times with how she approached the character.  Plus the almost seemed more like a couple than siblings until Hansel found a love interest.  Janssen clearly had a fun time playing the conniving witch because it was fun watching her.

Overall, whether or not you see it in 3D Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters the visuals will impress you or at least it did for me.  It moves along a good pace despite being predictable with boring characters.  I give Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters a 6/10.

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Sliver Linings Playbook Review: Golden Characters & Acting

silver_linings_playbook_review_movie_posterI am definitely late to the party getting to see David O. Russell’s latest film to hit theaters, Silver Linings Playbook.  Russell’s success with The Fighter has shown his ability to draw the best performances possible out of his actors to tell a complex and character driven story.  If after watching The Fighter you thought they had some family issues, wait until you see Silver Linings Playbook.  Even though the family is considerably smaller that does not mean the problems are any less.  What Russell again manages to do is really make these characters relatable even if you would not fin yourself having too much in common with them.  If I had to make a comparison it is like Benny & Joon meets Little Miss Sunshine.

A brief introduction to the plot of Silver Linings Playbook is as follows:  Against the judgments of the doctors, the court allows Dolores (Jacki Weaver) to take her bipolar son, Pat (Bradley Cooper), back home from a psychological institute much to the surprise of her gambling addicted, obsessive compulsive/superstitious husband Pat Sr. (Robert DeNiro).  Determined to win back his wife who has a restraining order against him due too his emotional and violent outburst that sent him the the institute, Pat read up on her favorite books and reconnect with their friends.  In the process he meets a widowed young, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), and the two develop an unconventional friendship to help the other get to where the other wants to be.  Click here for the trailer.

I cannot praise Russell’s talent for a great narrative and character development enough.  The first half of this movie is heavily devoted to developing the characters to set up the events of the second half of the movie where most of the plot happens.  Not going to lie the first half had me wondering “what have I gotten myself into” because there is just a lot of yelling over other people yelling which nearly gave me a headache but luckily it never reaches that point.  A lot of the characters are headstrong and set in there ways.  Pat Sr. believes in a set order to things to get the best possible outcome, Pat wants to change things about himself to optimize his chancing of getting his wife back, Dolores wants things to be like they used to where everyone she cares about coexisted, and Tiffany wants comfort/positive attention to cope with the loss of her husband.

Being a character driven movie, this movie is only as good as its actors and their performances were flawless.  To this point we all knew the talents of Lawrence, DeNiro, and Weaver so I will not go too into detail about them but I must say Bradley Cooper and Chris Tucker proved a lot in this movie.  Until now I only thought Cooper had a limited range with the in comedies and some action/thrillers but Silver Linings Playbook proved not only that he is a capable leading man but that he can give characters depth with different levels of emotion.  As for Tucker, one I am glad to see him in a movie again and two he took a role we had not seen him play before.  Yes he was a comedic supporting role, which is nothing new, but I thought he did a fantastic job of making his character kind of deceitful yet sincerely kind at the same time.

My only trouble with the movie is how it looks and feels.  The camera work was very unusual.  The close ups were too frequent.  I do not mind when filmmakers do close ups from the neck to the top of people’s heads but I cannot stand chin to eyebrow.  That is way closer than I need to be especially during screaming matches between Pat and Tiffany.  Then the way the camera would move back and forth between bantering characters (even if they were right across the table from each other) felt messy to me and at times disorienting.  This is as oppose to the way Tarantino usually does it of a wide-angle shot and letting the actors work or cut from actor to actor instead of moving the camera side to side.  I know that’s picky but I am not a fan of that sort of camera work.

Overall, Silver Linings Playbook well deserves of all the attention its director and actors are receiving.  It is a roller coaster of feelings so real that you forget you are watching a movie at times.  I give Silver Linings Playbook an 8/10.

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