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The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951 & 2008) – Review

19 Feb

Science fiction, like all the other genres of film, can be done in one of two ways. On one side you there’s movies like Barbarella that have no real thought provoking qualities of any kind and serve as mindless entertainment. On the other hand, there’s films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, which challenges the viewers to expand their minds and discuss the themes and implications that are artfully shown. In 1951, the movie world got one of the most revered and thoughtful science fiction films ever made up until that point. That movie is Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still, a movie which came with a heavy and relevant message. As with many classics, it also got the remake treatment in 2008, but my response to that may surprise some people.

Let’s start this review by looking at the classic original film.

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The world is sent into a frenzy when a mysterious UFO lands in Washington D.C. early one morning. The occupants of the ship are a humanoid alien named Klaatu (Michael Rennie) and his 8 foot tall robotic sentry, Gort (Lock Martin). Klaatu is here on a very important mission, and he makes it clear that he must speak to all the leaders of the world at once instead of talking to them one at a time out of fear that it would be seen as him taking a particular side. This idea is completely ruled out which forces him to escape his government overseers and hide out in a small boarding house. There he meets a woman named Helen (Patricia Neal) and her highly curious son, Bobby (Billy Gray), who soon become the only people he can trust. Now on the run from the government, Klaatu teams up with the world renowned scientist, Prof. Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe) to organize a meeting with all of the great thinkers, scientists, and philosophers from around the world to hear Klaatu’s message that could save the planet from catastrophe.

The Day the Earth Stood Still is widely regarded as one of the best science fiction films ever made, and with good reason. This film came out at a very complicated time in history, and it showed the follies of the situation with a lot more intelligence than its counterparts. The 1950s was loaded with alien invasion movies due to the fear that surrounded the Red Scare, but The Day the Earth Stood Still gives us a hero that looks at the situation calmly and tries to offer a solution. All this intelligent writing is made complete by a strong cast of characters and some really cool moments of science fiction. I can’t help but smile whenever I hear the words “Klaatu barada nikto” or thinking about the destruction Gort could unleash upon the world if need be. Let’s not forget Bernard Hermann’s eerie, theremin heavy score that sets the mood just right. This film perfectly encapsulates everything that is to be loved about this era of science fiction.

One minor complaint here has to do with the final message of the movie. The whole story clearly has a message of peace, open-mindedness, and acceptance, but Klaatu’s wording can get a little…should I say…awkward? His big speech at the end mentions how the planets he represents agreed to peace and are protected by a race of robots like Gort that act as law enforcement. The thing is that he kind of describes something resembling a police state. I don’t really think this is what the writers had in mind, but it does come off as kind of weird and never fails to pull me out of the movie.

Awkward wording aside, The Day the Earth Stood Still is a timeless tale of caution that should be praised for its clear, outspoken message to the masses of the time. The special effects, performances, and music are all exactly what this movie needs and it has earned the right to be called one of the best science fiction films ever made and to also have become an iconic landmark in film history. It’s intelligent and exciting and I find it hard to imagine there can be people that exist that don’t like this movie.

Final Grade: A-

Like it or not, the cinematic world was given the weight of a remake of a movie that has become a classic. While there was some judgement before going into it, I tried to keep as open a mind as possible.

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Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) is a professor of astrobiology who also has the challenge of single handedly raising her stepson, Jacob (Jaden Smith). Out of the blue, government agents arrive at her house and whisks her away to a secret facility that’s been tracking a UFO. The UFO finally lands in Manhattan, and a single figure emerges that identifies himself as Klaatu (Keanu Reeves). Klaatu is not alone however, as he also has with him a 28 foot tall robot sentry that is soon named GORT. After it’s clear the United States government will not listen to Klaatu’s warnings, Dr. Benson helps him flee from the government with the hopes that he will finish his mission to save the earth. What remains unclear, however, is if Klaatu’s mission will save the earth, but at the expense of the entire human race.

Like I said, I went into this movie with an open mind even after hearing mostly negative reviews from most of the critics I follow on the internet. I wanted to make my own assessment of the movie, and I think I have. The remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, despite some serious issues with the plot and characters, isn’t that bad of a movie. It isn’t that great of a movie, but I can’t just say I hate the movie solely because it’s a remake no one really asked for of a classic science fiction film. Keanu Reeves as Klaatu was a really good choice, especially for the direction that the filmmakers wanted to take the character in. It’s also a very good looking movie, which wasn’t too surprising since the director, Scott Derrickson, was responsible for one of the best looking movies of 2016, Doctor Strange. It may not have the best special effects, but there’s something really appealing about them, especially the first time we see GORT. His monstrous size combined with the ship behind him made it a very memorable scene.

So while I do like the visuals in this movie, I will say that this is much more style than it is substance, which is kind of disappointing considering how thought provoking the original was. The remake, however, is much more of a CGI spectacle and the story sometimes gets lost amongst it all, especially towards the end. I also really couldn’t stand Jaden Smith’s character in this movie. Like not even a little bit. He does nothing but slow the action down and really only succeeds at getting the characters in more trouble than they should probably be in. If he wasn’t in this movie, it would be all the better for it. Something sort of nit pickey is also the fact that they changed the conflict in the movie to something that doesn’t involve violence, which is still relevant for the time, but I liked the idea that these aliens were coming because of our misuse of weapons and our constant states of war.

With all these problems, I still had a pretty good time with The Day the Earth Stood Still. It certainly is a movie that has been forgotten over the years since its release, and I’m not going to forcefully remind people that it exists and they should see it, but it also really doesn’t deserve the hate that it gets. It’s a movie that works best as a time waster for a boring afternoon, and that’s it. That’s more than can be said about a lot of other remakes.

Final Grade: C+

In conclusion, the original The Day the Earth Stood Still is a landmark science fiction film that deserves to be respected. It’s one of the best there is and that’s that. The remake, however, doesn’t hit the right spots like the original did, but it’s still a pretty fun and disposable movie. If you’re going to just watch one, make it the original.

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Point Break (1991 & 2015) – Review

17 Nov

I’ve talked about cult classics on here many times, because those are some of my favorite kinds of movies. I don’t know how I could’ve been writing these for so long and leave out one of the kings of the cult classics: Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 film Point Break. It’s an over the top thrill ride that still has people talking and laughing about. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that it would eventually be remade in 2015 to overwhelmingly negative critical responses. Today I’m gonna take a look at both movies and see where they both went right and where they might have went wrong.

Let’s start it off with the original 1991 classic.

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FBI rookie Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) might have been at the top of his class at the academy, but he soon learns that he’s going to have to prove his skills when he’s assigned to the robbery squad in Los Angeles. Partnered with burnt out veteran Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey), the two begin their investigation on a group of professional bank robbers known only as the “Ex-Presidents” thanks to their interesting choice of disguises. They soon deduce that the Ex-Presidents are more than likely a group of surfers, so Utah goes undercover to infiltrate the surfing community and find their guys. After being trained by surfer Tyler (Lori Petty), Utah meets one of the most respected people on the beach who goes by Bodhi (Patrick Swayze). As Utah’s respect becomes more apparent for Bodhi’s philosophies, he starts to stray further from his connection to the FBI, but a shocking discovery about Bodhi’s involvements in the robberies changes everything.

Point Break is one of the purest definitions of the term “action movie.” It has everything from skydiving and surfing to fist fights and car chases. Not only that, but it has a whole lot of attitude to back it all up. While there’s a lot of adrenaline coursing through this movie, it isn’t anything perfect. First of all, Keanu Reeves’ acting can only be described as sub-par. Some of his lines are absolutely cringe worthy, which is something he can’t be completely blamed for. It’s also pretty uneven in terms of its action and excitement. The build up of the story can often feel disjointed and slightly distracted, but there’s a point that is highlighted by an exceptional foot chase that really brings the action up to 11. From then on, the action and the excitement doesn’t let up, and as silly as a lot of it is, Kathryn Bigelow films it with such style that Point Break has earned a spot as a cult classic.

Bigelow’s style is what really sets Point Break above the rest. First of all, the look of the Ex-Presidents is fantastic and original and I really can’t get enough of it. Other than the beautiful way the action is filmed along with the stunts that really get the adrenaline pumping, this movie has the nostalgic joy of the true MTV generation. The extreme sports along with the music and fast paced editing succeeds at putting the viewer in a certain mindset. While there are some major storytelling flaws and the writing often gets far too cheesy, this is a cult classic for a reason and required viewing for any action junkie.

Final Grade: B-

In 2015 came the remake that no one could have conceived of nor had any desire to have it be made. While this may be true about the remake of Point Break, it doesn’t change the fact that it made a good amount of money. Why does this happen?

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After seeing his friend die during one of their extreme sports performances, Johnny Utah (Luke Bracey) decides to give it all up and join the FBI. After years of training, he’s temporarily made into an agent to investigate a string of heists that include motorcycles, parachuting, and skydiving. Utah is sent to France to meet up with his new partner, Angelo Pappas (Ray Winstone), and the two soon stumble upon a polyathlete named Bodhi (Édgar Ramirez) and his crew. As Utah earns the group’s trust and follows them around the world to engage in their extreme challenges that they believe will bring them close to nirvana, Utah starts to find their way of life refreshing. After things unexpectedly turn violent, Utah must re-asses the situation and start to once again think like an agent of the FBI.

While the characters and overall idea of this version of Point Break has similarities to the original, this does feel like a very different movie, and I can really respect that. This is a remake that’s trying to take chances and be different from the original. With the globe traveling, there’s more awesome stunts and death defying action to satisfy anyone. That’s where the positives for this movie end, so it was fun while it lasted. Somehow, Luke Bracey is even blander than Reeves was and I was dying just to see Reeves, Swayze, and Busey for their respective roles. I like Ray Winstone as an actor but he was completely underutilized here. As For Édgar Ramirez’s Bodhi: He was a jerk and I couldn’t stand him. All of Bodhi’s crew are such pompous asses with very little going for them to make them likable and make Utah’s job harder.

You know what else really bothers me about this and any movie guilty of this? I hate when movies try to preach to me and make me believe some certain agenda even if I happen to agree with it. This film is loaded with the sappiest “save the Earth” dialogue and faux mysticism. All of this talk happens in between the really cool action sequences which made the movie somehow even more boring than it would have been. When they aren’t talking this drivel, the screenplay tries to build the characters up with backstories and the like, but none of these scenes work well either. The only reason I can think of to see this movie are the parts when the characters are sky diving or snow boarding or whatever it is they do. This is one of the sillier movies I’ve seen fail so hard by taking itself so seriously.

Final Grade: D+

So there you have it. What I hope people take away from this is that it’s perfectly cool to go into the original Point Break and expect just to have fun. It’s not great, but it’s better than the sorry excuse for a remake. Stick with the original and you’ll be fine.

Street Kings & Street Kings 2: Motor City – Review

28 Jul

Crime movies are some of my favorite kinds of stories. Wether it’s told from the side of the criminals, the police, or both, these movies tend to excite me and grip me until the very end so long as the story is good enough. For this review, I’m going to be looking at Street Kings and its sequel Street Kings 2: Motor City. I can’t really say my feelings at this point on the sequel, but I was very excited to see the original Street Kings. I heard a lot of great stuff about it, and now that I’ve finally seen it, I’m honestly a little underwhelmed.

As always, we’ll be starting with the original 2008 film by David Ayer.

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Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) is a star in the LAPD, but his unorthodox techniques and his heavy drinking is starting to get the better of him even with the support of his police unit, run by the affable Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker). What only adds more to Ludlow’s stress and drinking is the fact that his old partner (Terry Crews) is informing on him to an internal affairs captain, James Biggs (Hugh Laurie). When Ludlow is at the scene of his ex-partner’s murder, Biggs really sets his sights hard on Ludlow who is now determined more than ever to find the real killers. With the help of homicide detective Paul Diskant (Chris Evans), Ludlow starts a small war with the criminal element of L.A. in hopes to force the murderers into the open, but the corruption plaguing the police force goes deeper than Ludlow ever anticipated.

It’s clear that Street Kings has all of the makings of a really cool cop thriller. There’s a strong cast, David Ayer in the director’s chair, and the original story was written by James Ellroy, who is known for penning the modern classic L.A. Confidential. Well, Street Kings doesn’t quite live up the hype that I’ve been exposed to. So many people have told me that this is a must see movie, and honestly, it’s just alright. It certainly isn’t a bad movie, but you have to admit, it’s pretty derivative. Reeves’ character is a cop who most certainly doesn’t play by the rules, and then has to clear his name and weed out the corruption in the police force. It’s so many different clichés rolled up to form an even bigger cliché in the form of a two hour movie. Everything that happens in the movie has been seen before time and time again.

I don’t want to make it sound like Street Kings is a total waste of time, because that’s not the case. In fact, it’s a pretty competent movie for the most part. The cast really does their best with the material that’s given to them with Whitaker and Evans really stealing the show. David Ayer also has a really gritty eye, which is why he’s really good with this genre. The streets of L.A. really takes a life of their own and the presence of violence and death always feels like it’s lingering amongst the fog or right around the corner on a dark urban night. There’s plenty of style and Ayers captures it perfectly. I’m really only disappointed in the writing. I don’t know what Ellroy’s original screenplay was like before other writers hopped on to add their own take on things, but if it’s as clichéd as the final product, I’m pretty disappointed.

If you’re looking for an easy way to kill a couple hours, then Street Kings is a fine choice. You really don’t have to think to hard because the story and characters are all so familiar. As a movie to watch and review, I have to say it’s a bit of a disappointment. I’m not upset that I watched it, but I really have no need or desire to watch it again.

Street Kings is one of those movies that needs no sequel, but it ended up getting one that a lot of people probably never noticed. They took the themes and changed the city, the characters, and the story and released it straight to DVD. This is 2001 film, Street Kings 2: Motor City.

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Now taking place in Detroit instead of L.A., the story revolves around an aging narcotics  detective Marty Kingston (Ray Liotta), who doesn’t have the cleanest record on the force but is known for a couple huge busts. After his  partner (Scott Norman) is gunned down after leaving a night club, Kingston teams up with a young homicide detective, Dan Sullivan (Shawn Hatosy). At first Sullivan is wary of his new partner, but after more officers are killed in the same way, the two put aside their differences and begin acting together to find the culprit. Once again, however, the corruption in the police department runs deep and both men find their lives uprooted as the investigation comes closer to a conclusion.

This being a direct to DVD release, you have to take everything I say about Street Kings 2 with a grain of salt. Some of these straight to video releases can be good, but there’s normally a reason, wether it’s budget or otherwise, it didn’t get a theatrical run. For what it is, this movie isn’t too awful, but it is pretty bad. One thing good that came from it is that the story, at it’s core, is pretty much the same exact one as the original, which is automatic points off. It does, however, make some changes that I really liked and added a new sense of suspense and tension that wasn’t in the original. It’s also always cool to see Ray Liotta, and he did good in this film, but it’s a sad reminder that his career didn’t exactly go in the right direction.

Everything else about this movie is a bit of a joke. While some elements of the story might have been good, the writing in general is far from acceptable. There are some horrendous lines of dialogue that are shamelessly over expository. There are some lines delivered that are downright laughable. Ray Liotta is really the only actor in this movie who isn’t cringeworthy. Shawn Hatosy and Clifton Powell are probably the worst offenders in the acting department for this particular film. I already said that the story is pretty much exactly the same as the first movie which makes this one a copy cat of a movie that was already copying other movies. That made this an occasional chore to sit through.

Street Kings 2: Motor City is a coherent movie, but that’s really all I can say about it. The acting is awful, the story is clichéd, and there’s nothing of real substance to be found. A few scenes worked well, but most of them fell flat on their faces. Stick with the first one and leave this sequel well enough alone.

It seems that not too much can be said for Street Kings or it’s sequel. The first on is a mediocre cop movie that may be worth seeing once, and the sequel is just a goofy attempt at a drama. Only people who are really into this genre should check out the original. Other than that, there’s nothing else to really discuss.

The Devil’s Advocate – Review

11 Sep

Films that put religious or mythology in modern times has a real draw to me since I don’t think it is really easy to connect them. The Devil’s Advocate doesn’t just do that, but it also exposes a rather hated view of the judicial system and the laws that make up our nation, but also connections between religion and mental illness. This was a great multi-layered supernatural drama that never took itself too seriously, but still manages to be intelligent.

Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) is a defense attorney he appears to have the perfect life. He has a beautiful wife, Mary Ann (Charlize Theron), a 64-0 case record and now the chance to work for one of the leading law firms in New York. Upon arrival, Lomax gets close to the boss, John Milton (Al Pacino) who quickly take him under his wing. Despite the pleas for their old life from his wife, Kevin decides to stay and begin his rise to the top. Soon a strange evil seems to blanket over Kevin and Mary Ann, and it appears that John Milton isn’t just a defense lawyer, but the Prince of Darkness himself.

The writing was the first thing that struck me about this film. The introduction is a real slap in the face when it comes to real world problems, disgusting human beings, and the moral dilemma that defense attorneys must face. Only a certain type of person can be a defense attorney as this movie clearly states in an almost condemning way. Are they all terrible people? No, but they have to understand that they might defending a horrible human being.

The pacing of the film is great. It’s a slow movie that adds layers upon layers of new characters and story lines to wrap your head around, it isn’t difficult to find yourself lost and totally engrossed in the story. Pacino’s character isn’t revealed right away, but instead we have to wait. This is a great way of building up the character, and let me tell you he is fantastic. This looks to be the most fun Pacino has had since Scarface, and his best performance he’s had since.

The entire film is filled with random supernatural occurrences that remind me very much of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, especially the scenes involving Mary Ann. The scene that really lingers with the viewer, however, is the outstanding climax. Of course I won’t reveal what happens, but I will say that Al Pacino kills it. I feel like I’m talking about him a lot in this review, but it’s warranted since this is practically his show. He really runs the entire movie.

What almost soured the entire film was the very end. It seemed that I was going to have to spend an immense amount of my night brooding over how gut wrenchingly awful it was. Now, it wasn’t as bad as I originally thought, but it was still pretty unsatisfying. There are ways to analyze it that make it seem more “plausible” or at the very least appropriate, but something about it just doesn’t sit right with me. It’s really unfortunate considering everything that happens before it, and we are rewarded with a strictly forced and mediocre ending.

The Devil’s Advocate is smart, accusatory, chilling, and at times darkly comedic. Unfortunately it doesn’t have a strong conclusion to support the rest of the movie. It got me thinking about how strange it is that a bad ending can really detract from a movie or piece of literature. They are so important to the rest of the story, and endings are usually a big thing to be remembered. Still, 98% of this movie is excellent and should really be checked out, especially for Pacino’s performance.

A Scanner Darkly – Review

14 May

Living in a world where our every move could be closely monitored by the government without our knowing is a terrifying concept. For all we know, this may be happening already. I could be under surveillance as I sit here writing this review. Then again, maybe I’m just being paranoid; moreover, this paranoia is the essence of A Scanner Darkly.

Seven years into the future, nothing is secret and everything is questionable. Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) is a police officer working deeply undercover amongst a group of junkies addicted to a new drug, Substance D. These junkies consist of the clever and possibly homicidal Barris (Robert Downey, Jr.), the spaced out loser Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson), the paranoid Charles Freck (Rory Cochrane), and the dealer of the group Donna Hawthorne (Winona Ryder). Soon enough, due to a suit that hides the officers identity while at the precinct, Arctor is assigned to spy on himself, and deal with the junkie turned informant, Barris. As this vicious conundrum of identity and trust keeps unraveling, Arctor soon beings to lose control of who he is due to “cerebral cross chatter” and the other effects of Substance D.

The initial main drawing point of A Scanner Darkly is the bizarre and intriguingly surreal animation. After the film had been shot it was than edited over a period of 15 months using Rotoshop, which the director, Richard Linklater, had used in a previous film, Waking Life. This stunning use of animation gives the film an other worldly feel that I’ve never experienced before with a movie. It was realistic, than at the same time, was artificial.

With films like Requiem for a Dream and Trainspotting, the theme of drug addiction and withdrawal is not new. What A Scanner Darkly does differently is explore this theme with a deeper level of subtlety. The film doesn’t use eerie music or impressive camera techniques to make the viewer uncomfortable. The Rotoshop animation helps, but what I feel is the driving force of paranoia is the way the story is told. Up until the very end, the viewer has very vague impressions of what is real and what is not. The story is expertly told from both the sides of the police and the junkies, so when these worlds collide, it’s enough to make your brain split down the middle.

This story is definitely classified as science fiction, but a lot of what occurs in the film is funny. Robert Downey, Jr, Woody Harrelson, and Rory Cochrane are fantastic at playing the three most paranoid characters I may have ever seen. The way these characters handle themselves using the backwards logic of drug use is very entertaining, yet in no way condones the use of drugs.

The government in this semi-futuristic society only adds to the paranoia backing up the film. Sure, the characters are nervous, but shouldn’t we be just as nervous? I can honestly say that I have no idea just how deep the government, the FBI, the CIA, etc. can probe into the lives of everyday citizens. I wouldn’t call my uncertainty fear, but I would say that there is a good chance that we very well may be watched by “Big Brother” sometime in the near future.

I love how everything about A Scanner Darkly relates back to paranoia. The psychology behind Arctor, the drug abuse, and the overpowering government are incredibly fascinating.  As a film, A Scanner Darkly succeeds in making the audience feel strange and nervous, all while telling an intricate narrative. I’m definitely interested in going out and finding my own copy of Philip K. Dick’s original novel, which this story is based on, and seeing how Dick tells the story. For now though, I highly recommend A Scanner Darkly. It is a fantastic film.