Archive for the Film Reviews Category

Should Have Spent More Time Being it’s Namesake; Divergent, in Review

Posted in Film Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 31/03/2014 by Kevin Entrekin

divergentMany times on this site, I have gone back and forth on what I think a good book adaptation is. Honestly, I feel like if you are going to make a book into a film, I kind of expect you to make it your own. Stay true to the story but make it your own. If I want the story that is available in the book, then I’d rather use my imagination and read the book. But I guess that would be an “inspired by” situation and not an adaptation, such as Divergent.

In the distant future, a great war ravaged the United States and has left the entire country in an apocalyptic state. In a wall-in city that was once Chicago (the place of choice for destruction in literature now), a society of people have decided on a class system that keeps everything (and everyone) in order. People are divided into five subcategories, called factions: Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the truthful), Erudite (the intelligent), and Dauntless (the brave).

Fast forward many years and Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley), the daughter of an Abnegation government official, is preparing to take the test that will suggest what faction she should join. But when her test reveals that she doesn’t fit into any of the factions, called Divergent, she is warned not to tell anyone and to choose the faction she comes from. Will Beatrice carve her own path or stay in Abnegation during a turbulent time for the factions.

I’ve read all three books in the Divergent series, which I enjoyed far more than most young adult fantasy books that have been coming out lately, including The Hunger Games. Maybe the final book in the series, Allegiant, fell flat but still enjoyable all the same. So you would think with this great source material, Summit Entertainment could produce a real competitor for Katniss Everdeen…

But instead of trying to carve its own path, Divergent decides not to be divergent at all. Instead it has been branded, marketed, and filmed as “the next Hunger Games” when it should have tried being original or more faithful to the source material.

Potentially this film could have been both edgy and grown up, but instead decides to play it safe. Why director Neil Burger stays so complacent for a film about being different and revolution is beyond me. I’m not saying R-rated violence or substance is needed, but I none-the-less find it distracting when someone gets a bullet wound and nothing comes out. When did the young adult genre get redefined and overtaken by pubescent preteens?

The standout performance comes from Kate Winslet, which is a bit sad because Shailene Woodley should be the strongest of the bunch. I’m not saying miss Woodley is not strong or puts forth a good performance, but I maintain that she isn’t the best choice for this role. What young actress would have been stronger, though? I can’t really say. Maybe Emma Watson? Regardless, there is a certain amount of verve that is missing for this strong and feminine character. But much to my surprise, I actually enjoyed Theo James as Four/Tobias. That is when he is not attempting to let his English accent stray into whatever androgynous accent he was aiming for.

*Spoilers in this next paragraph. Be thee warned.

As for the rest of the cast, they are mostly forgettable. This really is not their fault though. Again, the fault lies with straying from a strong character-driven story with plenty of action to a film focused more so on the action. This leaves the viewer with murky relationships and without fully understanding the characters. So when Will is gunned down by  Tris, you really don’t feel anything because you don’t really feel any connection to the character. Or when Al kills himself by diving into the chasm, you don’t really feel sorry for the lad. Or who even remembers what happened to Edward.

There was a lot of potential here. And a lot of it was wasted. Where there could have been a new king over the YA genre; instead it is just a forgettable foot soldier.

Verdict: Rent it!

*Rated PG-13/ UK: 12A for intense violence and action, thematic elements, and some sensuality. 139 minutes. Directed by Neil Burger (The Illusionist, Limitless).

**Thanks to my friend Cody for seeing this with me.

Totally Straight, Sweaty, Muscular, Dude Action: 300: Rise of An Empire in Review

Posted in Film Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on 23/03/2014 by Kevin Entrekin

300I never fully understood the appeal of 300. Or most of Zach Snyder’s directed or produced films, frankly. Especially Sucker Punch, which a lot of people misguidedly consider some sort of feminism manifesto, even though it is created by a male manifestation of the song “Blurred Lines”. But that’s a discussion for another time. I understand these films have the trifecta of macho man stuff- blood, boobs, and brahs (and latent homosexual feelings). But why these historically inaccurate films seem to continue stimulating young men across the land continues to baffle.

Set during the same time King Leonidas is being massacred at Thermopylae, legendary general Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) is waging war against the Persians on the Aegean Sea. His fight is against Artemisia (Eva Green), A Naval Commander with a hatred for Greece. With a small fleet compared to Artemisias, Themistocles must prove his legendary status and unite the Greeks as one.

There really isn’t much more to this story. The rest is filled with what you expect from this sort of show. Graphic decapitations and delimbings with unrealistic spurts of muddy CGI “blood” abound. Scantily clad muscular dudes running in slow motion (but don’t worry bros, this usually happens as some maimed body part flies across the screen. Totally not homoerotic. I mean, Eva Green totally show her tits, yo). There are such witty dialogue such as “You’ve come a long way to stroke your cock while real men train” and “You fight much harder than you f**k”. And thinly veiled misogyny, to round out the substance over story structure.

Which, with all that stated above, technically makes this film a success in its own way. The first film, which is nothing more than a dumb lump of time during bong rips, is all show and no story. This is more or less the same. And like the first, can be fun while drifting between consciousness and wondering what the other recent Bond girls have been up to. And the primary crowd, guys wearing wrinkled Affliction shirts and backward hats stumbling out of frat houses, don’t expect any more out of a film anyways.

But where the first film was memorable, Rise really isn’t. It looks like 300. It is dumb and cheesy like 300. But it just doesn’t fully feel like 300. Imitation is flattering, so it is said, and I guess it’s not really difficult for director Noam Murro to imitate Snyder’s previous work. But as odd as it is to say, something just seems to be missing from this mass bloodletting. Maybe the slow-motion debauchery was not orchestrated well enough. Or maybe limbs just didn’t float across the screen with enough garish gusto.

I think the problem really lies with originality- in that there is none here. This is just a rehashing of a film that came out in 2006, and it feels exactly as if it has been sitting on a shelf for eight years. There is nothing memorable, except for the sex battle between Green and Stapleton. And you read that correctly- it is a “fight” between both parties while said parties are engaging in sex.

Casting is a plus, if you like films with unknown faces who are just as easily forgettable. The only stand out is Eva Green, but even that praise is just a reminder that she is better than this. I believe Sullivan Stapleton could be an effective actor (even lead) in the future, much in the same vein Sam Worthington or Gerard Butler. Maybe with time we could see.

When I go into a film that I intend to review, I try to remind myself that I have to go into it in the eyes of the target audience. And through the eyes of the people who would be willing to pay $12.50+ to see this film, I would recommend just waiting until this comes out on Redbox. While it has enough here to satisfy the blood lust of the American youth, it lacks the penache that made the original memorable and fun.

Verdict: Rent it!

*Rated R/UK: 15 for strong sustained sequences of stylized bloody violence throughout, a sex scene, nudity, and some language. 102 minutes. Directed by Noam Murro (Smart People).

**Thanks to Cody for seeing this with me.

I Saw A Film Today… Robocop

Posted in Film Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 20/02/2014 by Kevin Entrekin

roboI’m not opposed to remakes. Done properly, they can be impressive. I’ve said it before, and I’m positive I’ll have to reference it again in the future, but Dredd is a perfect example of this. The ’95 version was both a critical and commercial failure. But following a truer version of the 2000 A.D. character and lo and behold, a brilliant film is born. Why a sequel isn’t being produced yet is a mystery. But back to the present, with each remake I’m always apprehensive as well, as time and time again Hollywood studios have shown they are willing to milk a franchise dry if there might be some profit made.

Set in a fictitious future world, where instead of crime depleting [as stats are showing now in the actual present (early plot hole)], the conglomerate OmniCorp and it’s CEO Raymond Sellers (Michael Keaton) has cornered the market in mass producing drones and man-less droids to police the world over.

Except in the good ole U.S. of A. A pasty-faced frump Senator Dreyfus (Zach Grenier) has blocked such types of totalitarian policing stateside. But not one to take no for an answer, Sellers instead offers not a machine but, a man in a machine, Or vice versa, as a way to show robots can police.

Insert Detroit detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), who recently was burned over 80% of his body after his car exploded. After his wife is badgered into signing him into the Robocop experiment, in no time at all Alex is off and fighting crime in the streets of Detroit. Well, I mean if you consider spending half the film not doing much of anything a “no time” time frame.

I don’t plan to harp on the differences of this film compared to that of the 1987 Paul Verhoeven classic. I believe every film should be judged by its own merits, but it is important to recognize the source material. What makes the ’87 film so brilliant was it’s brilliant social satire of the American 80’s , as well as being a well crafted violent science fiction work. Some social themes, such as corruption, gentrification, and over-saturation of media still resonate today, and for all time I imagine sadly.

When it comes to this remake, you get a soggy and dull version of those ideas. You briefly get a glimmer of hope of a social commentary at the onset of the movie, much like the original. It starts off in a US-oppressed Tehran, Iran that looks like the wet dreams of Tea Baggers and Republicans alike. Robots are shown doing “random” stop-and-frisks of citizens on the street. And this is what is best for the future of America, according to a Fox News-esque rouser voiced by non-other than Mr. Sam Jackson. Somewhat effective use of satire. But after this scene, any type of modern social relevance is only a limp crutch to keep the film on its unbalanced feet.

But the biggest crutch of Robocop is the fact that it is really dull and lumbering. I’m not really a big fan of mindless non-stop action usually, mainly because they are rarely done well. But when you sell a film as a mindless non-stop caliber action movie, its kind of called for to have both mindless action and for it to be non-stop. Instead, you get uninspired moments of bland violence and gunfights in between scenes of uninspired dialogue you can find nearly anywhere on a DVD shelf with a PG-13 label.

Okay, I lied. I’m going to take a moment here to harp on differences between the original and this. Because it is within the nearly two hours of mindless scenes that you have time to think on the pitfalls and plot holes of this rehash. Such as, why make this film PG-13? The original was strengthened by bloody gore. It illustrated the bleakness of the satirical. Plus, most of the crowd coming to see this want to see crimson explosions bursting from human bodies. Here, it holds back the full potential of that with safe cutaways. Another aspect is the remake tries to focus more on the family. Which you would think would make this more interesting, but it puts a damp towel on the entire story. Now I understand why Verhoevan left most of that out in the original.

Maybe this would have been better as well if it didn’t feel like everyone involved phoned in performances. Except for Gary Oldman and Samuel L. Jackson, who always brings an inspired performance. Well, maybe Jackson is just really good at yelling stuff. But the rest of the cast really has no excuse for their blandness. Which is sad, especially for greats like the above mentioned and the subtles greats like Michael K. Williams and Jackie Earle Haley. Maybe it was a form of typecasting. Maybe they just saw this as a nice payday. Whatever the case, they contributed very little.

I hoped that this film could at least be an entertaining blockbuster. I didn’t really expect more from it. But in the end, where was the entertainment?

Verdict: Skip it!

*Rated PG-13/UK: 12A for intense sequences of action including frenetic gun violence throughout, brief strong language, sensuality, and some drug material. 117 minutes. Directed by José Padilha (Bus 174, The Elite Squad).

** Thanks to Cody for seeing this with me.

I Saw A Film Today… The Lego Movie

Posted in Film Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 20/02/2014 by Kevin Entrekin

legomondoLike many young and supposedly ADD afflicted boys in the 90’s, I had, and continue to have, an affinity for Legos. And, if I can take the rare moment to commend myself, had quite a talent at building. Too bad I didn’t realize at the time that I could turn this hobby into a career, because that would be a “dream job”. Thankfully, Legos lives on, and now has a firm stand in cinemas with a strong freshman film.

Everything is awesome for Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt). He lives in a metropolis, works construction, and purchases over-priced coffee everyday. He is happy being a pawn under the awesome Orwellian utopia he calls life, all under the control of President Business (Will Ferrell).

But when Emmet decides to stray from his precious rules in pursuit of a strange girl named Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), he stumbles upon more than a foxy block-y lady. He comes across an odd artifact called “the Piece of Resistance”, a device that will stop President Business from using the Kragle to end the world.

Now Emmet teams up with Wyldstyle, Batman (Will Arnett), Superman (Channing “Alloverher” Tatum), Wonder Woman (Cobie Smulders), Green Lantern (Jonah Hill), Unikitty (Alison Brie), 1980’s-something astronaut Benny (Charlie Day), and Metal Beard (Nick Offerman) to fight President Business and Good Cop/Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) for the many Lego Worlds.

A movie for everyone is the best way to describe The Lego Movie I believe. It has, well, all the stuff that kids love about animated movies. The film is a full-fledged energy shot thrill ride injected right into the blood stream that clocks in around just at a hundred minutes with credits. It’s plenty of fun and comedy for all ages and all types. Unless you don’t like legos and humor.

The vibrant colors pop off the screen with brilliance, with no help from the stereoscopic 3-D. Sadly, save your cash and just see this in 2-D. Aside from a moment or two during an action sequence, wearing the plastic wayfairers only serves to not make your movie blurry. You know, because there is so much 3-Dness.

The themes in this film are something unexpected, being this film is on the outside a seemingly cash cow blockbuster. There is a heart here and not an empty soul. For children, there are life themes like being original and not just a cog in society. For adults, there is the reminder that imagination and fun doesn’t die with age. All beautifully culminate in the third act of the film, where the differences between legos and  homo-sapiens are very little.

I usually reserve the latter part of my reviews for performances… which is usually quite difficult when it comes to American animated films. In fact, it’s pretty much useless nowadays with modern recording technology. I can tell you how great a match Chris Pratt was for the Emmet character. Or how Liam Neeson does a Good Cop/Bad Cop. Or Will Arnett for Batman. Really, I guess you should really congratulate the casting office instead of the actors really. So kudos to those people, because everyone was a brilliant match.

The term “the years first must-see film of the year” gets thrown around a lot around this time. I usually hate it, but because it’s true, The Lego Movie is indeed the years first must-see film of the year.

Verdict: See it!

*Rated PG/UK:U for mild action and rude humor. 100 minutes. Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.

** Thanks to my friend Cody for seeing this with me.

I Saw A Film Today… Her

Posted in Film Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 25/01/2014 by Kevin Entrekin

her-veronavarroWhy do I love movies? It is something I know but can’t explain. It is something that is constantly evolving and morphing in definition. A good film will transform you I believe, make you a more whole person or give you a new outlook on the purpose of life. You have to experience them completely the way the filmmaker intended you to. You have to blindly jump head first into the unknown abyssal beginning and let it encompass your whole being for two hours until the credits roll.

Maybe that makes me odd, that films affect me and shape me like that. I can see the glazing eyes and draining interest when trying to talk to a “normal” person about some symbolism or interpretation in something I recently saw. It’s uncomfortable and embarrassing mostly, but what parts of anyone’s life are not really?

I guess to tie this up neatly, we all have personal philosophies. For some it comes from a singular source. Some many. Some well founded. Many dangerous. But they are our philosophies. They are why we live, why we love, why we hate, why we lift ourselves up in the morning.  Mine happens to be movies. I live for movies. And I live for movies like Her.

In a slightly distant future Los Angeles, Theodore Twombly (joaquin Phoenix) makes his living writing personal letters for people who have trouble articulating emotions. Outside of his job, Theodore is an introverted man still having trouble getting over the split from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara).

Looking for something that will lift him from his slump, Theodore get an OS- an artificially intelligent operating system. His system is named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), and they both quickly fall in love with each other.

The idea to make a film of a man falling in love with, basically, a phone app is quite a bold concept. But I was admittedly puzzled when talking with many people before it came out. They scoffed at that concept, someone falling in love with technology. But it’s not really all that strange if you think about it. Think of that one person you know who constantly is buried in a smart phone or tablet- is it so implausible that a human could fall in love with technology in an intimate way?

What really made this madly enjoyable film work is that director Spike Jonze simultaneously makes you recognize the hurdles of loving an artificial life and making you forget that Samantha is artificial at all. She is as real to the audience as she is to Theodore. The nakedness of sharing. The joy of a kiss. The electricity of the first time skin touches skin. The insecurity of staleness. The sadness of distance. The abandoned tundra of loss. Jonze breathes a quirk and irresistible smile or frown into these facets of the life experiment of love.

The cast of this film, which if broken down into a pie chart, the majority of the circle would be Joaquin Phoenix. A smaller portion would be Scarlett Johansson’s voice. And an even smaller portion would be miscellaneous other fair-skinned people (you’d really think there would be less white people, eh?) such as brilliant ladies Rooney Mara and Amy Adams. The chemistry between Phoenix and Johansson, as previously mentioned, is the magic of the film. Phoenix has now fully stepped out of the madness of the I’m Still Here era of his career, which is nice to see honestly.

Her is a truly great love film, one that reminds of Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, and just as good.

Verdict: See it!

*Rated R/UK:15 for language, sexual content, and brief graphic nudity. 126 minutes. Directed by Spike Jonze (Where the Wild Things Are, Being John Malkovich).

** Poster by Vero Navarro (unconfirmed).

*** Thanks to my friend Cody for screening this with me.

I Saw A Film Today… The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Posted in Film Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 28/12/2013 by Kevin Entrekin

The Hobbit The Desolation Of Smaug by Harlan ElamAnyone who frequents this site [insert low readership joke here] knows that this year I have had a habit of not finishing a few reviews. And I really don’t have an excuse for not finishing them, especially Out of the Furnace. I intend to finish it, but later than expected. But regardless, Furnace is a great film. Set in real Rust Belt town Braddock, PA, it’s a gritty revenge tale that isn’t your typical type of revenge flick. It’s raw and believable. So I do recommend checking it out if you have the time.

Desolation of Smaug picks up where Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian Mckellan), the Dwarf gang left off at the end of the last movie. With Azog the Orc and his pack on their tail and nowhere to go, the band of travelers travel through forest of spiders and elves, laketowns of lake people, and finally meet the end of their quest. But the quest isn’t going to go down without a fight, and Bilbo must be on his toes to live up to his thief title.

It is apparent to me after rewatching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and rereading my review of said film, I was overly kind in regards to it. Maybe I had sepia-tinted eyes when I saw it in theaters. But in truth Unexpected Journey is circuitous and dull. The first hour of the film drags itself through the mud before finding any type of traction. Even then it’s a lumbering stumble.

The Desolation of Smaug is a bit better than that, in that it’s not quite as boring and long-winded as its predecessor. The pace has found a more fluid pace, but still sags to a glacial speed at many moments. It is a bit of a chore to trudge through to the fourth quarter of this film, which is sadly where things get good. And just as abrupt as the fun begins, the credit seem to start rolling and Ed Sheeran begins screeching.

Again, I wonder why these films are in fact films, instead of a singular film. To take a book that is slimmer than any of the Lord of the Rings books, which all received single adaptations, and force feed it miniscule details from ROTK‘s appendices and decade-old nostalgia until it spews from its gills is saddening. Now seeing Peter Jackson as a greedy and crazed man trying to squeeze every last bit of cash out of Tolkien’s epic tale just leaves a sour taste in the mouths of most fans.

The cast is just about the same this time around as before, except for some new additions. Apparently it has been a little longer than I remember since I last read Tolkien’s classic novel that this film takes liberties from, because I don’t exactly remember Legolas (portrayed here again by Orlando Bloom) making an appearance in said book. Nor do I remember Sauron, just to name another. Further proof of Jackson’s misguided attempt to connect these films to his previous works.

But Evangeline Lilly’s Tauriel and Lee Pace’ Thranduil were in the books, and were enjoyable to an extent. The love triangle between Bloom, Lilly, and Aidan Turner’s Dwarf Kili is more enjoyable than most unnecessary love side-stories. Benedict Cumberbatch is the star of this film though. Morphing from just a murky figure in the first film, Cumberbatch’s voice is bone-chilling and commanding. The tango between him and Martin is almost worth a movie ticket. Almost. And that’s only if you’re seeing the matinée 2-D showing. Just as a side note, I did see this in 3-D and it’s not worth the ticket to see it that way.

Basically what you get with The Hobbit: DoS, and what I imagine will be the entire Hobbit film series, is a failure on many planes. What Jackson attempts to do is offer LOTR fan boys in need of a fix hardcore porn. What you get instead is a 1950’s beach party film except this time someone has a nip slip (when Bilbo meets Smaug). If you enjoyed the first film, well, this one will knock your socks off I guess.

Verdict: Rent it!

*Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense family action violence (whatever the hell “family action violence” is), and frightening images. 161 minutes. Directed by Peter Jackson (The Hobbit: An Unexpected journey and The Lord of the Rings trilogy).

** Poster by Harlan Elam.

*** Thanks to my friend Cody for seeing this with me.

 

 

I Saw A Film Today… Catching Fire

Posted in Film Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 09/12/2013 by Kevin Entrekin

catching-fire-imax-poster-610x903I really love Jennifer Lawrence. Maybe she just has a good agent who found an untapped niche, but she is one of the most earthy and genuine actresses to come along in years. And it helps she is also one of the most talented. Many like her come and fade away from the limelight. Olivia Thirlby comes to mind, yet maybe we will see her once again as Judge Anderson if a sequel to Dredd ever gets made. Regardless, Ms. Lawrence’ enjoyable goofiness I’m sure will continue to grace us for years to come, even after the end of the Hunger Games theatrically ends. Although the studios are trying to extent that period of time by taking a page out of The Hobbit playbook and splitting the final book into two movies. The almighty power of the dollar shouldn’t be underrated.

Catching Fire picks right up months after the events of the first film. Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) is preparing for a victors tour with her faux beau Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). But after the events of the games, Katniss has started something she never expected- an uprising within the other eleven districts. This fact has not gone past President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who makes it clear that unless Katniss can calm the revolution building against him, there will be hell to pay.

When this fails, Snow decides that it’s time for the previous victors of the Hunger Games need to fight one another in a special game. And guess who is to participate?

Catching Fire is a real smorgasbord of just about everything you expect from a film in this genre. Is it anything original or inspired? No. A Dystopian post-apocalyptic nation run by the tyrannical rich isn’t exactly fresh material, but don’t tell the fandom that. Those are fighting words.

But you get what you expect from this well crafted young adult tale. There is enough love triangle drama to satisfy the fluttering hearts of the Twilight fans. There is enough feminine empowerment to make dim-witted men nervous. And when you do finally get to the hunger games, there are biblical levels of mayhem and death. Only thing missing was a sacrificial lamb. Then again, you could argue that there were a few metaphorical ones.

Director Francis Lawrence takes this feast of emotions, action, and themes and produces a slickly made film. While the rough hand-held cinematography of director Gary Ross (from The Hunger Games) is mildly missed here, Lawrence still retains the almost voyeuristic rhythm and pace from the previous film. The portion that actually takes place in the games is barely a quarter of the film, which I’ve heard is upsetting for some, but the pace and sharpness of this film is never wavering.

The cast is really the glue of this film. Jennifer Lawrence, minus whatever I’ve already said, is the heart and soul of this film. She’s more relaxed and precise in this film than the original. Same could be said about Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, and the character development of Elizabeth Banks’ Effie.

There are great additions to this franchise also, most notably Jena Malone. I’ve always found her to be an extremely underrated actress and I’m glad she is receiving some love, at least from the fandom. The rest of the supporting cast, which touts the talents of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Toby Jones, Lenny Kravitz, and Stanley Tucci, you’re bound to have a moment or two of magic.

Catching Fire is far from original, but it is an enjoyable popcorn flick. Now to wait for part one of Mockingjay…because, you know, the book was so long and warrants being split in two.

Verdict: See it!

*Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, and a suggestion situation and language. 146 minutes. Directed by Francis Lawrence (Constantine, Water for Elephants).

** Thanks to my friend Cody for watching this with me.