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The Great Wall – Review

3 Mar

I recently did a review for Zhang Yimou’s 2011 war drama, The Flowers of War. In that review, I mention that Yimou is a very respectable film maker who has an especially strong talent for filming what I believe to be some of the most beautiful looking movies I’ve ever seen. His latest film is The Great Wall, a monster movie that involves protecting the Imperial City from creatures hell bent on destroying civilization as we know it. That combined with Yimou’s colorful and sweeping directorial style kind of made this a must see for me. Well, all I can say is that this film definitely looks great. That’s pretty much where the compliments end.

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William (Matt Damon) and Pero (Pedro Pascal) are two mercenaries scouring the East looking for “black powder,” which we now know as gunpowder. During their search, they end up at the Great Wall of China and are questioned about their intentions immediately upon their arrival. The two partners soon learn why the soldiers at the wall are so concerned about their motives. During a seemingly quiet afternoon, the wall is raided by alien monsters called the Tao Tie, whose goal is to penetrate the wall and continue on to the Imperial City. It doesn’t take long for William to come to a decision as to wether he wants to escape with Pero and another Englishman, Sir Ballard (Willem Dafoe), or if he would rather stay and defend the Great Wall with the newly appointed general, Lin Mae (Jing Tian).

I was excited for this movie for multiple reasons. First off, I was pumped to see Zhang Yimou tackle a big budget monster movie and have his style painted all over the movie. I was also just pumped to see another monster movie from Legendary, which has pretty much become the monster movie company for America. In these ways, the movie does succeed. When battles start happening, I got really into it. The special effects look kind of cartoony, but for some reason, that didn’t really bother me. I was taken aback by Yimou’s use of color and framing scenes to make them look as epic as possible. One of these shots in particular happened in the very first battle where you can see most of the battle in one super wide shot. Another really cool thing are the different regiments of the soldiers and the uniforms they wear to identify themselves. Honestly, in terms of style and scope, this movie stands tall.

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Like I said before, that’s pretty much where all of the good stuff ends. The Great Wall really isn’t all that good of a movie despite having a really cool premise. My biggest problem was the characters. I haven’t seen such poor development and writing in a really long time. Any scene that didn’t involve a battle or special effect of some kind fell flat. Like completely, utterly flat. It’s incredible how an epic period piece featuring alien monsters attacking the Great Wall of China could be so boring. There are a few characters worth something, but that’s not saying to much. William’s partner Pero has a good amount of one liners and a story that at least attempts to go somewhere before that’s shut down by some idiotic decisions from the writers. Lin Mae is also a pretty cool character who feels the most human out of anyone else. The worst offender of characters not worth anything is Sir Ballard. If you were to take Willem Dafoe out of this movie, nothing would be different. He’s completely wasted here.

I was also really bothered by the acting in this movie, but part of this also has to fall on the writers. There was so much clunky and awkward dialogue in this movie which only made me more distracted during the down time that I’ve already complained was boring enough. Like I said before, the only exceptions from this are Pero and Lin Mae. They weren’t perfect, but they were better than the rest. Honestly though, I was mostly shocked at how flat and uninspired Matt Damon was. I didn’t know until the end of the movie that he was supposed to be European, and I still don’t know exactly where he’s supposed to be from. His accent is on and off throughout the whole movie, and the way he delivers his lines is cringeworthy. Aside from his weird accent, he uses this over the top tough guy voice that wore thin on me after the second line of dialogue he had.

The Great Wall is a very disappointing movie. Throughout its run time, I saw a lot of hope for potential, but nothing really came of it. I will say that this is a fantastic looking movie with cool creature design and some excellent use of lighting and costume design. Everything else from the characters and their development to the structure of the narrative is flat, recycled, or just plain boring. As a monster movie, it works at the most basic of levels. As a movie to be appreciated and viewed for something more than that, it’s a failure.

Final Grade: C-

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The X-Files: Fight the Future – Review

7 Dec

On September 10, 1993, the pilot episode of The X-Files aired on Fox and over the years has become one of the most iconic television shows of all time. Over the first 5 seasons, viewers saw the relationship between FBI Agents Mulder and Scully build, secrets and dangers arise, and many different creatures and entities you saw in your nightmares later that night. To bridge the gap from the cliffhanger ending of season 5 to the beginning of season 6, show creator Christ Carter and long time X-Files director Rob Bowman created The X-Files: Fight the Future. This film was met with some good reviews and some not good ones, but I want to believe that it deepened the lore of the show in ways that weren’t done before, while answering a few questions and raising many others.

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After the X-Files are closed, Special Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) are reassigned to other projects. After a federal building is blown up in Dallas and the bodies of a couple of fire fighters and a kid are discovered, the two agents are blamed for breaking protocol. Mulder isn’t satisfied with this responsibility so along with Scully, they begin investigating and find the people were dead before they even arrived in Dallas. This investigation stirs the attention of a mysterious doctor named Kurtzweil (Martin Landau) and also forces the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) to come out of hiding to assist the Syndicate to help cover up this incident and make sure no one out of their reach learns of the work they’re doing with the recurring threat of the black oil and what they are trying to achieve with hidden extraterrestrial colonists.

When this movie first came out, Chris Carter said that he wanted it to appeal to fans of the show and give them more than what an average episode could, but he also wanted the movie to attract new audiences and work well as a stand alone story. While it can be argued that it succeeds in doing that, it really works best for fans of the show. There are so many really cool nods and references to the show and by this point the lore is so deep and twisted that it would be hard to dive right into the movie and expect to get everything. That being said, fans of the show should really enjoy this movie because favorite characters are brought back for an adventure on a much bigger scale and we finally get some answers about the black oil and what’s really going on with the alien colonists. Don’t expect all of your questions to be answered by the end, however. There was still a lot more show to come at that point.

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Like I said, one of the main reasons to watch The X-Files: Fight the Future is to see your favorite characters standing up to another adventure. Duchovny and Anderson prove that they have what it took to be big screen stars, and this wasn’t the last time they would star in a big budget X-Files movie. They would return to theaters once again in 2008 for the film The X-Files: I Want to Believe. Mulder and Scully have become beloved characters over the years and their partnership one of the strongest on t.v. Not only do we get two of our favorite agents, but also William B. Davis, John Neville, and Mitch Pileggi return as The Cigarette Smoking Man, The Well Manicured Man, and Walter Skinner respectively. That would have been enough to please me, but throw an actor like Martin Landau into the mix in a completely new role for the story, and you got yourself a great and memorable cast.

A lot of people have said that this film felt underwhelming because it played like a long episode of the series. Since this isn’t the big finale, I’m fine with it feeling like an extended episode. Of course, there are scenes that are a lot more impressive than anything you’d see on the show. A couple of examples include a helicopter chasing the agents through a corn field and a U.F.O. flying high over the heads of the agents. What this movie does is tie up the cliffhanger that ended season 5 and also get the audience deeper into the lore for their journey into the show’s sixth season.

The X-Files: Fight the Future is a must see for any fan of the show. It shakes up the lore while also tying up loose ends and throwing in some twists that you never saw coming. It features all my favorite characters from the show and offers a lot of new questions and directions the overall plot may be heading towards. For people new to the world of The X-Files, it would probably feel more confusing and unfulfilling than anything else, and that’s really the only negative thing I can say. It felt like a great extended episode of the series with a huge budget and a lot of talent working behind the scenes and onscreen.

Final Grade: A-

Starship Troopers Series – Review: Part 2

24 Sep

Here we come to the conclusion of my review for the Starship Troopers movie series. To recap, I gave the original film an A- because of its perfect blend of satire and over the top sci-fi action. It’s one of Verhoeven’s best and stands as a classic of the 1990s. It’s sequel was lucky enough to slide by with a since it completely lacked all of the great stuff from the original and felt like such a huge departure from what this series should be. Now we have Starship Troopers 3: Marauder and Starship Troopers: Invasion to pick up the slack. They have a lot riding on them after the abysmal second film, so let’s see how much the can do for the series.

In 2008, Starship Troopers 3: Marauders was released on DVD, making this the first film in the series to go right to DVD after the first film was a major theatrical release and the second was a TV movie. Luckily, this film, despite its direct to DVD status, picks up some of the slack.

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The war with the Bugs has been going on for over a decade, and the Federation is still unable to outgun the overwhelming numbers of their enemy. On the planet of Roku San, Col. Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) is in charge of a large military base that is being inspected by his old friend Gen. Dix (Boris Kodjoe) and Sky Marshal Anoke (Stephen Hogan). When the Bugs get through the perimeter of the base, the Sky Marshal is forced to leave on his ship which is soon shot out of the sky leaving him and a small crew stuck on a desert planet. Under the leadership of Capt. Lola Beck (Jolene Balock), this crew starts moving towards a section of their broken ship to call for evacuation while avoiding the Bug swarm. Meanwhile, Dix recruits Rico to lead the new Marauder program, which would put him at the head of a unit of soldiers donning mech-like power armor to go to the planet’s surface and rescue the survivors before it’s too late.

After Hero of the Federation deviated from the structure and style of the first Starship Troopers film, it was a nice surprise to see Marauder return things to what they once were, for the most part. This is another direct to DVD release, so there’s a major limit on what can be done, but this movie and the film makers behind it clearly have some major ambition. The writer of the first and second films, Edward Neumeier, returns again to write the screenplay but also takes a spot in the director’s chair. That being said, he did a pretty good job all around. It was great to see the character of Johnny Rico come back, especially with Casper Van Dien reprising the role. This helped this film really feel like it fit in nicely with the original. More attention is also given to the idea of psychic soldiers, and the satirical humor makes a lot more of a comeback than it did in the previous film. The Federation as a whole is front and center at this one, which also gave me a clearer and wider look at the world these movies occupy.

While this movie does fix a lot of problems from the second one, like being more interesting, better looking, and having better special effects, there’s still glaring problems to be seen here. First off, Johnny Rico is established in the beginning, and it was great to see him again. After a while though, he takes a back seat to the people stranded on the planet. I figured that would all be fine because when he takes command of the Marauders, it’s gonna be awesome. Well it kinda sorta was. The ending of this movie is very anti-climactic and I was pretty disappointed. When the mech suits land on the planet, I was so ready for a big throw down with the Bugs, but it was over before it even began and nothing that cool even really happened. It was a wasted opportunity that should have been part of the movie more. Finally, there’s this weird theme about religion that is beat over the viewer’s head, but in the end, the film can’t seem to figure out its stance on the subject which just makes it really annoying. These are some major problems in an otherwise good film.

Starship Troopers 3: Marauder is a really impressive direct to DVD movie and it a pretty worthy successor to the original for what it is. It still suffers from the low budget that most, if not all, direct to DVD movies suffer from, but the ambition overshadows that. There’s a lot of great ideas in this movie, but there’s unfortunately a lot of problems holding it back from reaching its full potential. If you’re a fan of the original Starship Troopers, this movie continues the story and the mood much better than the second film and works well as fleeting entertainment. It’s not great, but it’s alright.

Final Grade: C+

With three live action feature films, it would’ve made sense to leave this series as a trilogy, but in 2012 we got another entry. This film was released in theaters in Japan and direct to DVD in the United States. Surprisingly enough, Starship Troopers: Invasion was a pretty cool addition to the series.

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As the war rages on, the Bugs have begun attacking more Federation outposts like the asteroid base, Fort Casey. While the Bugs are in the middle of their siege, and elite team of the mobile infantry lands to rescue the crew and destroy the base so no Bugs can escape. Along with the infantry, pilot Capt. Ibanez (Luci Christian) and Minister of Paranormal Warfare Carl Jenkins (Justin Doran) escape the base, but Jenkins commandeers Ibanez’s starship before mysteriously going dark. Before Ibanez and the soldiers can get home, Gen. Johnny Rico (David Matranga) orders them back to find the starship that went dark and investigate what went wrong. After finding the ship, the infantry and Ibanez find the crew wiped out and Jenkins hidden away in the cargo hold. Soon, the Bugs make themselves known and the fight for survival begins as a Queen takes command of the ship and directs it onto a crash course for Earth.

The first thing you may notice about this movie is that it is completely computer animated. This could have either helped or hindered the movie, but in this case I think it helped. The animation isn’t anything special but it works well enough for the story, and the actors were all motion captured which gives the characters a little bit more life in their animation than they otherwise would have. This being a computer animated movie, there’s also a lot that could be done that otherwise couldn’t have been without an insanely huge budget. For one thing, the power suits finally get to do a lot, and we finally get to see how powerful and useful they really are. We got a glimpse of them in Marauder, but with Invasion you finally get to to really see them in action.

Speaking of action, this movie has plenty of it, and that’s both a good and bad thing. There’s plenty of scenes where the Bugs chase the troopers down endless corridors and trap them in seemingly impossible situations that they have to fight their way out of, but it does get a little repetitive after a while. There’s no grand battle scene or anything like that to shake things up. There’s also a lot of characters in this movie that don’t have a chance to get fully developed, so when some of them do die, it feels like a wasted potential for some real drama. This is something that the original Starship Troopers did well, but none of the others could quite match. Still, when the action picks up, especially towards the end, it does get to be a lot of fun and is the kind of stuff that this series is based on.

Starship Troopers: Invasion is oddly enough the best film in this series since the original, but it still doesn’t quite live up to that one in many ways. There are some cool characters, the animation looks good, and there’s plenty of action to keep die hard fans of the series entertained. It was also cool to see more of the original characters make a return. Unfortunately, the lack of character development and the repetitive nature of the action stop this movie from becoming something of a cult classic. Fans of the series will probably enjoy this one while people unfamiliar with the world may not see anything too special.

Final Grade: B-

Well, there you have it. All in all, this is a pretty lackluster series. The first film was an outstanding, satirical sci-fi/war film while the second one has a special spot at the very bottom of the bargain bin for all eternity. Some redemption was found with the third and fourth, but not enough to really hearken back to the original film. These movies can be an interesting watch, but it may be best to just stick with the 1997 original by Paul Verhoeven.

Starship Troopers Series – Review: Part 1

15 Sep

Science fiction is one of my favorite genres of film, and when you add the themes of war and militarization along with the enemies being giant bugs from another planet, I’m completely on board. This makes the Starship Troopers movies right up my alley, but not all of them have gotten much praise. Based off of a 1959 novel by Robert Heinlein, the story of humanity in a utopian, yet oddly fascist, world in the 23rd century who go to war against a race known as the Bugs provided a lot of heavy handed messages that the author believed in. It seems pretty ripe for feature film story telling, and in some ways it worked. This series, like many others, certainly has its fair share of ups and downs.

Let’s start with Paul Verhoeven’s original cult classic from 1997, Starship Troopers.

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By the 23rd century, the Earth is now classified as a federation that is ruled in a fascistic and militaristic way. It’s a strange utopia that condones violence to survive and the only way to become a citizen is to serve in some branch of the military. That’s exactly what Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) intends to do once he graduates high school. Along with his friends Carl (Neil Patrick Harris), Carmen (Denise Richards) and Dizzy (Dina Meyer), Rico joins the military and is assigned with Dizzy to Mobile Infantry. After a race of giant insects called the Bugs shoot an asteroid across the galaxy and completely wipe out Buenos Aires, the Mobile Infantry and the Federation’s air fleet mobilize to the Bug planet of Klendathu, where a bloody war begins for the survival of the human race.

When it was first released, Starship Troopers was not met with too much success critically and the box office return was less than what was expected. Over the years, however it’s gained a status as a cult classic. When the film first begins and a lot of time is spent at the high school and basic training, I was worried that this would be an uneven mess with a disappointingly low amount of action. The first 45 minutes seemed to drag, but when the action does begin, I became thankful for all the time setting up the characters’ personalities and relationships. This makes the war scenes all the more impactful, and when someone gets hurt or is killed, I really felt like something was lost. Believe it or not, this is not a mindless movie and does evoke some real emotion, even though the acting is less than stellar.

Let’s face it, though, this is a sci-fi war film, so let’s get into the real nitty gritty. Paul Verhoeven may have had some missteps as a film maker, but it’s much easier to remember his films like Starship TroopersTotal Recall, and RoboCop. This movie stands as one of his achievements. The special effects are out of this world for the time and were even nominated for an Academy Award. When the Bugs swarm the soldiers, the movie gets so intense and action packed, which is where it really shines. There’s also lots of what I like to call “Verhoeven gore,” which, if your like me, adds some fun to the movie. He just seems to love blowing people up. Finally, this film works great as a satire of fascism and blind love and devotion to the military. The 1959 novel this film is based on got a lot of flack for seemingly glorifying a Nazi-like utopia. Verhoeven used this, flipped it on its head, and created bitingly funny satire that’s the backbone of this entire movie.

While I was planning on not really liking this movie when it first started up, I ended up loving it as the credits began rolling. It’s such a fun movie loaded with action, great special effects, and hilarious satire that starts in the very first scene. I was even surprised with how much I cared for the characters, despite some rather tone deaf performances. This is a movie I wish did better when it was first released so Verhoeven would have returned for a sequel. Nevertheless, it is what it is and this particular movie is a total sci-fi blast.

Final Grade: A-

I feel like I was just talking about direct to video movies with my review of the Darkman films, and here I go again. The original Starship Troopers was the only film to make it to theaters, and all the sequels went right for the home viewers. Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation premiered on Encore (now known as Starz Encore) in 2004, and then went on DVD a few months later. The reasons can not be more clear.

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The war against the Bugs has been raging for nearly 5 years, and while the humans are victorious in many places, there are fronts where the Bugs have the clear upper hand. On one such planets, a group of troopers are overrun by a swarm of Bugs and are forced to retreat to an abandoned outpost called Hotel 1-8-5. With their commanding officer, General Shepard (Ed Lauter), missing, the squad is under the new leadership of psychic Lt. Dill (Lawrence Monoson) and Sgt. Rake (Brenda Strong). As the Bugs find the outpost and prepare to attack, Pvt. Sahara (Colleen Porch) releases an imprisoned officer, Captain Dax (Richard Burgi), in the outpost to help fight against the swarm. What these troopers don’t know is that the Bugs can now infect people and infiltrate squads from within, which spells danger for these soldiers confined to this small area.

With Hero of the Federation, we go from the knock out action, special effects, and satire from the first one and just downgrade it to what comes close to the lowest it can possibly get. I understand that a t.v. movie isn’t going to have the budget of a Hollywood feature film, but my goodness this movie looks hideous. Aside from the fact that it was shot on HD video, it’s just a dark and colorless film. All of the exterior shots are filmed at night with only a small area lit or sand completely covering up any scenery that could’ve given me an idea of where everything was taking place. Once the soldiers get into Hotel 1-8-5, things remain dark and colorless, but everything now just looks old and gross. I give the film makers credit for the claustrophobic feeling, which is nailed really well, but this is just not an easy movie to look at.

Phil Tippett, who is known for his special effects work on Jurassic Park and the first Starship Troopers, returns to direct this film which helps in a lot of ways. For one thing, for a t.v. movie that’s then released right to DVD, the special effects are really good. They aren’t stunning, but there are some scenes that had really impressive practical work. I can’t really say the same about his work with the actors. The acting in the first film really wasn’t anything special, but this is a different story completely. There are some line deliveries that made me either cringe or burst out laughing. The fact that this isn’t a big budget film really isn’t much of an excuse since I’ve seen t.v. movies with impressive performances. I feel like the ambition of this project just didn’t meet the standards of what was actually possible in making a good movie.

Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation is more than a disappointing sequel. It hardly even registers as a sequel. Not only was it released almost 8 years after the original, but it was also a t.v. movie that loses a lot in translation to the small screen. The acting is subpar, the cinematography is bland, and the only saving grace is some cool special effects and an action filled ending. If you want to watch a movie with close to the exact same storyline, watch The Thing, or forget this storyline and just put on the original Starship Troopers.

Final Grade: D

So far we have a one great movie and one that really bugged the hell out of me, pun definitely intended. We still have a few more movies to go with this series, but that review will be coming soon. For now, stick with the original.

The Blob (1958 & 1988) – Review

22 Aug

When I think about movies from the 1950s, I immediately think of alien invasion films. There are classics like The Day the Earth Stood Still and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and then there are those that are classics for totally different reasons like Plan 9 from Outer Space. Arguably one of the most celebrated of these invasion films is the 1958 cult smash, The Blob. Like many sci-fi and horror films, it got a remake in 1988, but surprisingly enough, it stands up to and in many ways surpasses the original.

Let’s look at the original version first.

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Steve Andrews (Steve McQueen) and Jane Martin (Aneta Corseaut) are out on a date one night in rural Pennsylvania. The night seems ordinary enough, until Steve notices what looks like a meteor hurtling towards the woods. When the contents of the meteor, a small gelatinous blob, is inadvertently brought into town by an old hermit (Olin Howland) people begin disappearing. Steven finally notices the blob, which has grown a lot bigger, consuming the town’s doctor, but when he begins telling people, only Jane seems to believe him. As the night goes on and more and more people begin disappearing, the blob finally grabs the town’s attention when it attacks people in a movie theatre in its iconic climax.

What could have been a pretty standard B-grade alien invasion story is bolstered into becoming something of a genre masterpiece. But what is it that really puts The Blob a step above the rest? Like a lot of these genre films from this time, there’s an underlying theme of communism making its way into the American way of life, but it’s done with what I think is the most simple but affective way. The blob, which is red, literally consumes everybody and becomes bigger and bigger. This blob, by the way, is a real achievement of special effects. Sure it looks dated now, but there’s certain scenes that made me excited at the clever usage of practical effects.

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The 1958 version of The Blob is a lot of fun. So much fun that there’s even a festival named after it which is dedicated to celebrating the film and other movies like it. It’s also fun to see a young Steve McQueen, who would go on to be an action megastar, in probably his most timid role. Unfortunately, this movie really won’t appeal to everyone. You have to be a fan of the genre to really appreciate what this movie was trying to do and the ways it succeeded. Still, it remains a cult classic that will never be forgotten.

There was a sequel to this film in 1972 called Beware! The Blob, but I’ve never seen that one, and I really have no interest in seeing it. Instead, I’m gonna jump ahead to 1988 to look at the remake.

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At the risk of sounding like a broken record, a meteor crashes in Arborville, California (that’s new) and is soon brought to the city by and old homeless man (Billy Beck) who gets it stuck on his arm. The amorphous, acidic substance soon disintegrates and consumes the man and begins working its way through the small town, growing larger and larger as it consumes more people. Brian Flagg (Kevin Dillon) and Meg Penny (Shawnee Smith) are two teens caught in the middle of all of the chaos which only gets worse when scientists and military personnel, led by Dr. Meddows (Joe Seneca), get involved and reveal a large government conspiracy that could be the end of the world.

Just like the original fit in nicely with other 1950s alien invasion films, this version of The Blob fits in great with the sci-fi/horror film of the 1980s. Like a lot of those films what really stands out to me in this movie is the special effects. The blob is much larger and much more aggressive, so the death scenes in this movie are much more explicit. This means we get a lot more of those practical effects I was talking about, except a whole lot better. People are disintegrated, snapped like twigs, limbs are pulled off, and faces are melted all in the name of cheesy horror.

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Another thing this version has is a great sense of humor that borders on the line of self awareness. There are a lot of jokes in this movie that genuinely made me laugh, and it’s pretty safe to say that everything that happens in this movie is done in a sort of tongue in cheek kind of way. That being said, the humor makes for characters that are easy to like which causes a reaction when one of them dies. Let me just say also, that this movie has some guts in killing off the people it does and when. There are plenty of shocks, laughs, scares, and great special effects that makes The Blob from 1988 not just a good remake, but a great and, dare I say, superior remake.

For both of the films, you have to already like the genre or be open to the idea of liking the genre. With the silliness of the first one and the excessive gore of the second one, these movies aren’t for everyone, but both have garnered praise and celebration which is all well deserved.

Edge of Tomorrow – Review

15 May

Summer blockbusters usually go one of two ways. Either they are a special effects extravaganza with a little movie on the side, or they are a well thought out movie that just so happens to employ a high amount of special effects to help tell an engaging story. The first time I saw the trailer for Edge of Tomorrow, I automatically assumed it was going to be a flop, but it turns out, like so many times before, I was dead wrong. In fact, it was highly successful. Well, I’ve finally gotten around to watching it, and I have to say it’s one hell of an exhilarating ride that gives the popcorn movie a hefty boost.

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In the not too distant future, the human race is engaged in a war to defend Earth against an alien race called the Mimics. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is a public relations officer who is assigned by General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) to the front lines of what is supposed to be the final pushback against the Mimics. Pretty much as soon as Cage is dropped into battle he is killed, but he then finds himself waking up at the beginning of that day. Sgt. Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who once was in the same situation as Cage, recruits him to train him herself. The two find themselves repeating the same day and learning the ins and outs of the same battle with the mission to get to the Omega, the brain that is keeping all of the Mimics alive.

Right away, this seems like a really unique idea for a movie, but for some reason I just couldn’t immediately wrap my head around how it was going to work. Then I made the smart decision and just watched the movie, and now I get it. Not only is the story unique, but it’s told in such a way that I was engaged for the entire movie. While the story of trying to find and destroy the Omega and save the Earth was really exciting stuff, I have to give the movie credit for going even deeper than that. There’s also a great story involving William Cage’s character arc. Cage starts out as a Major in the United States army who really only works with the press. He is then thrown into battle and we see, as the movie progresses, him grow as a character and earn the rank that he was given. It’s excellent story telling.

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For a movie that’s packed to the brim with special effects, I have to say that they are some of the best that I’ve seen in a few years. That’s because the crew utilized a smart combination of CGI and practical effects and blended them together just right. The aliens and the ships are all CGI of course, but most of what you see at ground level is actually practically achieved. The beach is exactly what it is, a section of beach with trenches dug into it, with a wall of green screen around it to enhance the effect. The exo-suits  were all worn by the cast and hooked up with cables to make them move like they do. It’s perfectly executed and only made me get into the movie more. In fact, there was one scene that looked so great, I had to rewind and watch it again a few times.

Credit also has to be given to Tom Cruise for working so well in this role. Like I said, part of this movie is seeing his character evolve from an unauthentic face for the military into an actual battle hardened soldier. Cruise’s acting and the script both make this change happen gradually and it was great to actually see the changes happening as he lived and died over and over again. Again, it’s a great way to tell a story, because if something happens to immediately, I’m not going to believe it actually happened. I guess what it really comes down to is that even though Edge of Tomorrow is science fiction, it was still very believable, and that’s a high compliment to pay a work of sci-fi.

Edge of Tomorrow is like a textbook definition for how a summer blockbuster should be properly executed. It’s an entertaining, action packed thrill ride that supplies a hefty amount of depth and character development. This isn’t a movie where you turn your brain off and just look at how pretty it is. It’s also a movie that’s fun to talk about once it’s over and even more fun to watch it again to pick up on things you might have missed. I know that’s what I’m going to do. I loved Edge of Tomorrow.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind – Review

23 Nov

What can be said about Steven Spielberg? He has this way with movies that can only be described as “immensely imaginative.” You always know when you’re watching one of his movies just by the grand scope matched only by equally memorable characters. Close Encounters of the Third Kind was Spielberg’s second blockbuster after the mega hit Jaws, and further solidified Spielberg’s career.

 

The movie mysteriously begins with a team of investigators finding the planes from Flight 19 which was lost over the Bermuda Triangle in 1944. These investigators, led by Claude Lacombe (Fransçois Truffaut), begin piecing together that extraterrestrial involvement is highly likely and start a process of deciphering their messages in hopes of more advanced communication. The other story involves suburban father and line worker, Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), who becomes obsessed with discovering the alien’s secrets after a chance encounter with their ships one late night.

Any nerd or film buff will tell you that this is one of the best science fiction films ever to be made. After the massive amount of alien invasion movies of the 1950s and 1960s, it was probably nice to see a new kind of alien film where the visitors aren’t seeking global invasion, but more interested in scientific curiosity. It also tells a more human story. One where the world isn’t able to fully comprehend what’s happening without going into a state of panic and military control.

 

Speaking of human, Richard Dreyfuss gives a stand out performance. Spielberg said that he wanted someone in touch with the kid inside them, and there isn’t a bigger kid than Dreyfuss. His childlike excitement and fascination with the UFOs is a marvel to watch. Never is he really scared, just confused and excited. François Truffaut also deserves a lot of credit for breaking his language barrier and learning some English for his part. When these two interact together, although it is only a few times, it is natural and sincere.

This is also a beautiful movie with special effects done by Douglas Trumbull, who previously worked with Kubrick on 2001: A Space Odyssey. Trumbull truly outdoes himself with a grand scale finale featuring multiple UFOs and one enormous mothership that is a colorful light show of red and blue, coupled with John Williams’ musical score. It is a scene not easily forgotten and one of the most iconic scenes in film history as the ship slowly rises above Devil’s Tower.

 

Spielberg has crafted a fantastic picture with themes of science, religion, peace, and government cover ups that he has revisited to improve many times. It answers the age old question and shows that we are not alone. I found it easy to compare this movie to E.T., a movie that I have always disliked. Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the far superior film with adult content that never loses its grasp on childlike awe. Forget phoning home, and instead enter the ship for intergalactic drama.