Category: action

Fast and Furious 6: A Live-Action Pixar Cars Movie

I’ve taken to watching movies when I’m doing my exercise each lunch break. The nice thing about watching movies while you exercise is that I’m not really all that concerned with finding a perfect film. That’s right: I lower my standards a fair bit when I know all I’m going to be doing the whole time is jogging in place while I watch. So I’m actually looking for movies that are diverting and that’s about it. Hence my willingness to give Fast and Furious 6 a shot. I watched the first one way back when, as I recalled, and if they’ve gotten to number 6–with number 7 just around the corner–they can’t be all that bad, right?

And for the first while, it was fun enough as far as explodey action movies go. There were some cool sequences with car chases and car races and car shootings and car driving and car mechanics and car destruction. (It was about this time that I realized that Fast and Furious 6 is essentially a live action version of a Pixar Cars movie. I mean, in Cars 2 Pixar ditched the whole “racing cars” theme, and the characters in Fast and Furious 6 aren’t really that well developed anyway. Mater is pretty much Vin Diesel. Lightning McQueen is Paul Walker.

So I was enjoying the movie, more or less. Thinking not required. Fine. But then came a scene that wouldn’t even work in Toontown. Vin Diesel is driving to rescue his girl, who happens to be driving a tank. Or at least, hitching a ride with a guy who’s driving a tank at race car speeds down a freeway. (Because tanks go wicked fast when they don’t have to drive on sand and stuff, I guess). But there’s this dead car attached to the tank, and Tow Mater’s girlfriend needs to go outside the tank to cut the car off it. (Because I’m sure cutting really thick wire is pretty easy to anyone who’s dating Vin Diesel, and wind resistance is for the weak.)

So there’s the girl, perched precariously on top of a tank going 100mph the wrong way down the freeway, and her tank’s about to get whipped into the air by that dead weight it’s dragging behind it. Vin isn’t scared. Vin is concerned, but confident. You wanna know why? Because Vin has spent the last decade playing Angry Birds nonstop. Vin has made the ability to anticipate trajectories into an art form. So he does a bit of mental math, falling back on his Angry Bird skillz, to know where his girl is going to be, and to know just how to catch her if she flies up into the air. And not just catch her, but be able to traverse a huge chasm between them, and still land on a car to break his fall. Because cars are like pillows when you’re Vin Diesel. And–

Why don’t I just show you the clip?

This is why I’ve started practicing Angry Birds more. Just in case.

Sigh. Even jogging in place, this scene lost me. There was just no possible world where something like this can happen and I believe it. Scratch that–maybe in Cars it would have been fine. Or if there were a roadrunner or a coyote involved. Even in some over-the-top action movies, this might work–if it were played for laughs and acknowledged how ridiculous it was. But in this movie it just knocked me out, revoked the films suspension of disbelief privileges, and derailed the rest of the movie for me.

Have any of you ever had a scene that did that for you? Book, film, TV show, or other? You’re pretty much along for the ride, but then it all falls apart at once? Please share.

And avoid Fast and Furious 6, unless you like your action cartoony and with absolutely no repercussions.

Hunger Games Catching Fire is Flat Out Bad

Netflix has had Catching Fire available for quite some time, and I dutifully added it to my queue back in the day when it first popped up. But each time I had a choice of what to watch, I found myself skipping over this one to go find something else. Anything else.

But finally I decided the time had come. Time to see the movie and find out if it had anything redeeming in it. Anything that would make me glad I watched it.

Why was I so skeptical? I mean, it’s got a 7.7 on imdb. A 75 on metacritic. It couldn’t be that bad, could it?

Yes. Yes, it could.

My biggest fear was lodged in the way the first movie was adapted. They took the book, and made it into a movie in as literal of an adaptation as they could do. For me, this is a textbook example of why this doesn’t always work out the way you think it will. I watched the movie, and I was just bored. It was the book, and the book was great, so why bother with a movie? I knew everything that was going to happen before it happened. I just ended up getting bored–and I love adaptations.

I loved the original book. The sequels? Not as much. The first book was a fun action packed fight to the death between teens. The second book got away from that a great deal, politicizing it far more than was helpful. The third book went even further down that road. (Spoilers ahead!) To make matters worse, I knew Catching Fire ended with a big cliffhanger. Did I really want to watch an entire movie, knowing all along I would be frustrated by the end?

I should have known better.

Hunger Games does best when it’s in the arena. Kids killing kids. Catching Fire still has some of that, and those are the high points of the movie, but even they aren’t that high. And don’t get me started on Pita Bread and Whatshisbucket. To make matters worse, the adaptation highlights some of the flaws of the books. For instance, there’s this huge capital city population, and they apparently run on coal for energy. And yet they have one itty bitty district in charge of coal. It doesn’t add up. Even worse, the film falls back on the horrid motivation for the bad guys: be evil because evil is awesome. Simply put, I don’t believe so many people in the capital would really be so dense to the suffering of other people. Not because I don’t think humans can do that, but because there’s no reason given for it. There’s no ideology underlying all of their beliefs. Hitler and the Nazis were able to prey upon prejudice and hatred to get an entire people to hate another people. There’s none of that here.

It doesn’t add up.

Sad. The film has some great actors. The content just isn’t up to it. At least now I know for sure I don’t have to bother watching either installment of the adaptation of Mockingjay.

4/10 stars. Blarg.

Amazing Spiderman 2 Review

On my way out to Utah, I had the chance to watch The Amazing Spiderman 2. I’d been avoiding it, honestly. None of the trailers had really convinced me it was a good idea, and I was worried it was going to fall victim to the Spiderman 3 problem (did my reviews really use to be that short?) of having just too much in the movie. (Green Goblin and Electro and the Rhino? Not so sure about that . . . ) But the nice thing about a plane is that there literally is nothing better I’m able to do than sit there and watch something. I’m not with it mentally enough to write, I can’t focus too well on reading, so it’s movies or nothing.

My suspicions and worries were confirmed, alas.

Andrew Garfield is a fine Spiderman. I’ve got nothing against him. My beef is with the villains and the storytelling, two problems which are intrinsically connected. There are spoilers in this review, but since the movie is crummy and you shouldn’t see it, I don’t feel too bad about giving them.

Here’s the deal. The film starts with Spiderman chasing the guy who will become the Rhino. Spidey’s happy and enjoying life. He takes care of the guy with no problem. But then we discover Peter Parker’s really sad about Gwen–he’s just pretending. And they need to break up, because. Right off the bat, I’m asking a big question: what is this movie about? Is this a relationship movie? Is it Peter and Gwen figuring stuff out? Not the best topic for a superhero movie, but whatevs.

And then comes Jamie Foxx as Electro. We’ve got this huge big detour to show us how he’s picked on and ignored, and to show how he becomes Electro. And then it’s looking like the movie’s more of a Spiderman vs. Electro sort of thing, except Electro likes Spiderman. Until Spiderman shows up and Electro (for fuzzy reasons) decides actually he doesn’t like Spiderman. (I would have loved to have been present during the pitch for this movie. How in the world did they make this sound appealing?)

But wait! There’s more!

Like the proverbial infomercial of yore, we’re introduced to Harry, who’s friends with Peter but not, and also dying. Also, he becomes the Green Goblin. Spiderman beats Electro, but then there’s Green Goblin waiting to attack. And then when Green Goblin’s gone, then Spiderman still has to overcome his inner demons to show up to beat the Rhino.

Have you gotten confused yet? Fallen asleep? It’s the movie’s fault. There’s just too much going on. Three villains, several character arcs, and a plot where the goal posts keep changing. Imagine watching a football game where once they get to the end zone, they’re still not allowed to score until they kick a field goal, hit a home run, and do the hula on Dancing with the Stars.

The effects were cool, though.

I don’t know why other movie studios are having such trouble with making good superhero movies. (Batman aside.) Pick a hero. Show the hero being heroic. Add humor and a romance subplot. These aren’t terribly difficult to get right–not to make an average superhero movie. But instead they seem to think the steps are

  1. Pick a hero
  2. Get a lot of money
  3. Put the money on the screen
  4. Profit

Lame. Anyone out there want to defend this movie? Feel free. I’d love to hear some different takes on it. As for me and mine, I’m giving it a 4/10, mainly because effects and Andrew Garfield. Sigh. Waste of time.

When Reviews Go Wrong: The Lone Ranger and Elysium

Back in Maine again. Sorry for the absence the last few days. Travel and finally getting sick were a bad combination for me. But I’m somewhat upright, and so I’m here to give you some blog fodder for the day.

I had the chance to watch two films on the plane back from Utah, and together they illustrate something I’ve long thought about the review process: how expectations can drastically affect a film’s final review.

First I watched Elysium. It’s the follow up film to District 9 from Neill Blomkamp–not a sequel, but rather the next movie he made. And now we’ve got Matt Damon and Jodie Foster instead of complete no names, and we’ve got better effects and a bigger budget. I loved District 9. It was a fresh take on sci-fi, and it was very well done. So I was eager to see what Blomkamp did next. It’s got a 6.7 on IMDB and a 47 on Metacritic, so I wasn’t expecting the moon and the stars, but I thought it might be decent.

What a train wreck. The story is simple: in the future, the wealthy build a place off world to go and live the high life while everyone else on Earth is doomed to a life of drudgery and crappery. Matt Damon, car thief with a heart of gold, dreams of going to Elysium. But those nasty rich people shoot down anyone who tries. Damon gets himself in a position where he’s got five days left to live, so he’s desperate: he’ll do anything to get to Elysium, where with a wave of a sci-fi wand he’ll be cured. Action follows.

And the whole movie stinks from start to finish. The writing was horrendous, the acting was lame, the action sequences choppy. I can’t really think of anything about the film that I liked. Some of the special effects were okay, I suppose. A 6.7 is wildly overrated, and a 47 is far too generous. Worse yet (SPOILERS HERE), the movie reveals at the end that all the people on Elysium had the technology and ability to cure everyone on earth, but they didn’t. Why? Because they didn’t feel like it.

I’m sorry, but I don’t buy it. Not all rich people are awful. It would have cost the wealthy nothing to help out the poor in this world. And they didn’t because they’re all just awful human beings with no conscience whatsoever? Please.

This is a garbage movie from start to finish. 2/10. Complete waste of time.

Next up? The Lone Ranger. This was a movie I’d been very excited to see, and then I heard the reviews. It got a ton of negative buzz, and so I became less and less excited to see it. In the end, it settled down at a 6.6 on IMDB and a 45 on Metacritic. Virtually the same scores as Elysium. But I started the movie prepared to not like it at all. Still, it had to be better than Elysium, right?

For the first while, I was ambivalent. Johnny Depp is playing another strange character–a Comanche, no less. The plot seemed stilted and tone deaf at times. The movie was just . . . strange. I couldn’t place my finger on what exactly was off with it. But there was some humor, and the action scenes were fun, and I was enjoying myself for the most part.

But then I hit the climax of the movie, and suddenly, it all snapped into place. It was like one of those 3D pictures where you have to cross your eyes and at first all you see is static, and then there’s a dolphin jumping out of the picture at you.

In The Lone Ranger, there’s a very specific spot where it all came together. (Slight spoilers here): all is going wrong for the good guys. The bad guys have already mowed down the entire Comanche war party that might have stopped them. And now they’ve got another machine gun set up to do the same thing to Tonto and whoever else might foil their plans. The machine gun’s blazing, Tonto’s taken cover, and all seems lost. And then it happens. You hear the tell-tale horse whinny, and the William Tell Overture starts with a bang. The Lone Ranger appears, lashes his whip around the machine gun, and turns it on the bad guys, instead.

That’s when it hit me. This wasn’t a modern movie. This was a throwback to the old Lone Ranger from way back when. It wasn’t trying to put a new spin on anything–it was a straight up adventure movie, the kind of flick the inner-ten year old in me just loves. From that point on, the movie was a complete blast. The entire climax is eye-popping action, excellent enough that as soon as the movie was over, I went back and watched it from that horse whinny on again. I’d like to watch the whole movie again soon with that in mind. I think I’d enjoy it even more.

7/10 for now, though it might go up a bit after I rewatch it. It’s a really fun movie and deserves to be seen. (Side note: While the inner ten-year old loved it, the current Bryce couldn’t help but notice the movie isn’t particularly friendly toward the Comanches in the film. Tonto is crazy, and the rest of them are powerless, unable to do together what a single white man with mask can do all on his lonesome. The women in the movie are also powerless. This could well sink the whole film for some of you. For me, as soon as I started noticing it, that inner ten-year-old yelled at me to shut up and enjoy the movie, which I was clearly able to do. But it’s still worth noting that some tropes that were just fine back in the old adventure movies don’t quite work with today’s sensibilities.)

So what’s the difference between these two films? I think a lot of it has to do with the critics. They were willing to give Blompkamp more of a pass than Verbinski. And so they artificially raised Blomkamp’s score because of pleasant memories of District 9, and they artificially lowered Verbinksi’s because of problems in the film’s production and the feeling that “we’ve been here with Depp and Verbinski before.”

But maybe I’m off. Maybe watching it sick and on a plane skewed my feelings of the films. Any of you out there seen them? Care to chime in? I’d love to hear some other opinions.

The Power of a Captive Audience

Flew out to Utah yesterday, and for once the trip went fairly smoothly. Delayed by about an hour, but for Bryce standards, that almost deserves a gold star. No soccer teams. The kids were well behaved throughout. Even MC handled it all like a champ, though she didn’t sleep hardly at all–true to form for all of our kids on planes, which is true to form to me, so perhaps that’s where they get it.

This also meant I was at the mercies of the travel gods when it came to what sort of entertainment I’d be able to consume. (Well, not entirely–I’d loaded the iPads with some movies for the kids. Because it’s one thing to be bored yourself, but it’s an entirely different thing to be stuck with two bored kids for the whole day.) I watched two movies that I probably wouldn’t have watched otherwise. Well, one that I definitely wouldn’t have, and one that I probably wouldn’t have.

First up was Standing Up, a teen drama about two kids (boy and girl) who get bullied at summer camp. Not exactly up my alley. It’s got one strike against it right off for being a drama. The movie starts out with both kids getting taken off to an island, stripped, and abandoned. That’s the point where I was faced with a tough decision: which would be less pleasurable? Sitting on a bus watching the road for two hours, or watching this movie?

Life is full of tough decisions.

In the end, I decided the nice thing about watching a sappy movie would be that anytime I got really bored, I could just look out the window and remind myself that I had nothing better to do.

The movie turned out okay, more or less. Compared to the alternative, certainly. Still, it was almost devoid of humor, and its plot hinged on adults making really silly decisions. It’s based on The Goats, a YA book that’s been well received. I hope it’s better than the movie, plot-wise. Then again, the movie was well acted, and it wasn’t one of those horrendous movies where people (SPOILERS!) all die at the end. So there’s that going for it. I’d give it a 5.5/10, though people who go for these kinds of movies will likely rate it higher.

Second was on the plane, where I discovered Delta had the genius idea of putting personal entertainment units in each seat . . . and then charging for any movie you tried to watch on them. (Thanks, Delta. That was fun explaining it to my kids.) However, after some trial and experimentation, I found out you could watch TV channels for free. So the kids watched Cartoon Network and I watched FX, which was showing This Means War.

Talk about a horrendous premise. Two BFF spies meet and fall for the same girl, and decide to use her as a playing field of sorts to see who could get her to fall for them. I don’t know–maybe I was just in a bad mood because of the plane ride, but it seemed like such a sexist movie. And of course Reese is okay with everything at the end.

Predictable from start to finish. Weak attempts at humor. Deplorable morals. Not a good movie at all.

But better than sitting on an airplane remembering that I’m sitting on an airplane.

4/10. Avoid.

Watching lame movies kind of makes me want to watch something excellent to get that bad taste out of my mouth. Might be in for a bit of quality Netflixing today . . .

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