Welcome to The Mundane Adventures of a Fangirl

I consider myself a Fangirl. What does that mean, you ask? A "fanboy" in the most common understanding is a hardcore fan of 'genre' based entertainment in particular. In my case - science-fiction and comic book based movies and television. Because I'm a chick - it's fangirl, not fanboy. There you have it! I am a big movie fan, however, not necessarily a 'film' fan. And now - I have the forum to present my opinions to the public! These will mainly be movie reviews -that will always be my opinion - repeat OPINION. Just what I think, and in no way do I present my opinion as fact. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will help you decide what to see at the movie theater this weekend!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Movie Review: Nebraska (R – 115 minutes)

I made a real effort this year to watch the majority of the Awards-Season darlings.  This, in particular, is probably a movie I would never have watched if it hadn’t received the nominations it did.  The marketing campaign didn’t make it look all that interesting, and the last Alexander Payne directed movie I saw was the Descendants, and while that was interesting – I would be just fine never seeing it again. 

I also saw Sideways, which he directed, and hated that movie.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect going into this – especially since it’s in black and white.

I was very surprised.  I really enjoyed this movie.  It’s exceptionally well done, and the black and white helps to demonstrate the beauty of the Great Plains in winter, as well as the bleakness and desperation of the landscape – which is somewhat reflected in Bruce Dern’s character. 

Woody Grant is an aging alcoholic who just received a magazine subscription sweepstakes offer in the mail.  He thinks he just won $1 million, but in order to collect it, he has to head from Billings, Montana to Lincoln Nebraska.  After much arguing with his wife and disbelief from his two sons, one of the sons, David, finally realizes he could use a change of scenery as well as some quality time with his father, so they head out on a road trip to Lincoln, stopping in his father’s hometown of Hawthorne on the way. 

It’s a very simple story, and the surprise for me was exactly how funny it is.  I expected it to be touching, and it is, but I was not expecting to laugh out loud as often as I did.  Payne is exceptional at character studies, and using the master work of Bruce Dern, this movie becomes a funny and touching character study.

  • Bruce Dern delivers what I would consider the performance of a lifetime as Woody.  It’s a very understated and quiet performance, with a lot of the perfection in the non-verbals.  Whether or not Woody is beginning to suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s is not addressed, he’s simply a doddering old man, determined to get his prize so that he can buy a new truck and leave something to his sons.  I particularly love his looks when they visit the house he grew up in – again, not much dialogue, but a fantastic performance.
  • Will Forte surprises everyone with his performance as David.  Or maybe it’s not really a surprise that he’s this good in a drama, maybe it was inevitable.  I have always thought comedians are better at Drama than drama actors (dramadians?) are at comedy.  Forte is perfect in this as an exasperated son trying to reconnect with his father.  Also – his final encounter with his dad’s former friend is fantastic.

  • June Squibb has been nominated for all kinds of awards for her performance as Woody’s wife, Kate.  I think everyone expected the nominations for Dern, and even for Forte, but she was – is – the surprise of this movie.  Kate is a bitch – honestly, there’s no other way to put it, but she loves her family, and loves her husband fiercely.  She has several truly hilarious moments, and was really irritatingly wonderful.

  • Bob Odenkirk continues to expand his wheelhouse as well as audiences expectations of him with a wonderful performance as local newsman and other son Ross.  He and Forte play off each other well, and they get some truly fantastic scenes together.  In particular, the scene where they decide to ‘retrieve’ their father’s air compressor was equal parts sweet and hilarious.

  • Stacy Keach plays Woody’s childhood friend Ed Pegram.   His performance is very good, because definitely by the end I wanted to slap him.  He, and others in the town, once finding out about Woody’s “fortune” suddenly find a lot of reasons that Woody owes them money.

  • Rance Howard and Mary Louise Wilson play Woody’s brother and sister-in-law in Hawthorne where Woody and David stop, then Kate and Ross come down to spend a weekend in an impromptu family reunion.  The scenes in the house between all the Grant brothers are still (I mean that literally, there is almost no movement), and very entertaining.

Of all the Awards-Season movies I have watched this year, this was one of the ones I enjoyed the most.  It absolutely is a very actor-y, Oscar-y type film, but it goes beyond that to be funny and charming.  The cinematography is stunning, and is actually really elevated by the black and white (I never thought I would say that).  It’s still not a comedy – be ready for that, it does have many funny moments, but I would not call it a comedy.  The performances are brilliant, and the end is absolutely wonderful.  See it, it’s well worth it.

7 out of 10:  Gained points for Forte and Odenkirk and that air compressor, one of my favorite scenes.  Lost points for Kate being so blunt, but then gained points for Kate being so blunt… Gained points for the ending, and what David finally is able to give his Dad, and lost points for the two cousins and how mean they were.  “Two days from Billings!”

Bonus Video 1: Clerks – the other black and white movie I really liked.  “I’m not even supposed to be here today!”

Bonus Video 2:  The Burbs – A bizarrely hilarious Tom Hanks movie that features Bruce Dern.

Bonus Video 3:  Cast interviews:

Friday, January 24, 2014

Movie Review: The Hunger Games Catching Fire (PG13 – 146 minutes)

I’m writing this well after the movie has been out, because as you know, my policy with Tween movies is to go see it with friends after it has been out a while.  This allows us to talk and make fun of the movie while it is playing.  It was therefore a surprise to us to find that this movie was very entertaining!  It also surprised us that we went two months after it had been released, and the theater was still mostly full. 

In case you are unfamiliar with this Hunger Games (it must be really uncomfortable living under that rock), let me sum it up for you.  These movies are based on a YA series of books by Suzanne Collins.  The first one was published in 2008.  

Essentially, they take place in the distant future, in a nation now known as Panem (North American), that had been established after the destruction of the civilization due to some apocalyptic event.  The nation consists of a very wealthy Capitol and 12 surrounding districts.  As a punishment for some pas anti-capitol rebellion (during which the 13th district was destroyed), the Capitol now holds the “Hunger Games” annually, where 2 tributes (a boy and a girl between 12 and 18) are selected to go to a designed area and fight to the death. 

In district 12 (used to be Appalachia, thus the coal mining and forests), Katniss Everdeen is a 16 year old who volunteers as tribute in order to protect her younger sister, Primrose, who was selected.  She and Peeta Mellark, the male tribute, go into the games, and receive help from their Mentor Haymitch (the only winner to ever come out of district 12), and Effie, their …I guess I don’t know Effie’s job description – herald?  Unexpectedly, Katniss uses her hunting skill and general forest know-how to both save Peeta (be real, he’s mostly dead weight), befriend weaker tributes, fake a love story to win fans, and win the Hunger Games.  In doing so, so inspires the downtrodden in some of the less well-off districts.  Which, as you know, pisses of the president – because if there’s one thing the elite hate, it’s inspired downtrodden.

That’s the first book.  After watching the first movie over again to go see the second, I have to say, I enjoyed the second more than the first.  Katniss and Peeta are on their “victory tour” of the 12 districts.  The victory is not nearly as fun as you would expect.  Katniss sees the effect her rebellious nature has had on the districts, but the president warns her to help squash this attitude.  She also starts to notice the overbearing reach of the capitol, as it dispatches more “peacekeepers”.  They are basically vicious riot cops in white gear (why white? It just shows the blood more!).   Katniss and Peeta soon try to stick to their pre-written speeches as they realize that when they speak their mind, it inspires people – and inspired people try to rise against the peacekeepers – and then are viciously put down – and I mean viciously.  This movie has some shocking violent moments.

They finish their tour, and take up residence in their new houses (victors get houses – hooray!) in district 12, thinking perhaps they can relax.  Peacekeepers in the town are making that difficult, and unfortunately, President Snow decides he still wants to teach Katniss a lesson.  He does so by having this year’s Hunger Games have special rules (it’s a Quarter Quell – every 25 years).  Essentially the tributes are chosen from the victors in each district.  Well, if you do the math, that means that in district 12, there are only Haymitch, Peeta, and Katniss to pull from – and Katniss being the only female, she’s definitely headed back to the arena.  

She gets to pair up with her stylist Cinna – again, that might not make a ton of sense in the movie, but it’s explained better in the books (in order to survive in the arena, you need sponsors to send you gifts, to get sponsors, you have make an impression – and that’s up to your stylist…on second thought, it’s explained decently in the movie).  She and Peeta head into the arena, and unbeknownst to Katniss, many have conspired around her to set a plan in motion.

This one is directed by Francis Lawrence, and Austrian best known for I Am Legend, Water for Elephants, and Constantine – and several music videos before that.  His vision is dark and moody, which actually fits this story perfectly.   I am thrilled that he is directing the final two movies of this series as well (they are splitting the third book into two movies).
The cast is pretty much the same from the first movie, with a few additions. 
  • Jennifer Lawrence is back as Katniss, and once again, she’s pretty fantastic.  In this story, Katniss is less proactive and more reactive than she was in the first movie, but Lawrence still plays it well.  The final scene in this movie is just a one shot of Lawrence’s face as Katniss receives some news.  She takes it in, and goes from devastated to furious completely non-verbally, and it is amazing.  Also – she’s probably going to win the Oscar for American Hustle, so see that if you haven’t.

  • Hemsworth the lesser (Liam) again plays Gale, and actually has more scenes in this movie.  He attempts to fend off some peacekeepers and gets a lesson in peacekeeper justice.  I’m interested to see what he will do in the third movie, but he really seems to sink his teeth into Gale’s anger in this one.

  • Josh Hutcherson, who you remember from the Journey To movies (no you don’t, because you didn’t see those) plays Peeta.  He does a good job because Peeta goes from a prop to a player in this.  It’s his charm and flair that the audience falls in love with, because Katniss is a bit stiff and dead-behind-the-eyes in her interviews.  He again comes up with a scheme to win them fans in the arena, and Hutcherson’s genuine-ness is what makes Peeta believable.  It’s entirely due to him that in the movies I find Peeta less annoying then I found him in the books.

  • Woody Harrelson plays Haymitch, and again is mostly drunk and letting the wig do the work.  He’s good in this, especially when you get subtle glimpses into the fact that Haymitch is very clever, and that the ‘bewildered drunk’ may be more of an act.  Again, that’s subtle, and it’s Harrleson’s talent that pulls that off.   But seriously, they could find a better wig.

  • Willow Shields plays Primrose, and she starts coming into her own in this movie.  I was pretty impressed with her very little screen time, but very solid impact.

  • Donald Sutherland again quietly chews some scenery as President Snow.  He’s not subtle about being out to get Katniss, so I’m not sure why no one else has picked up on it.  I particularly loved the scenes between Snow and his granddaughter.

  • Elizabeth Banks again gets the best hair/makeup/costumes as Effie.  And again – it’s her talent that brings out the subtle charm and loyalty from Effie when on the surface she’s a superficial capitol groupie.  I loved the butterfly outfit.

  • Lenny Kravitz plays Cinna, and is really wonderful.  He’s the last thing Katniss sees before heading into the arena, so he has to be her rock.  Also – he wears gold eyeliner like nobody else.

  • Stanley Tucci plays TV talk show host Ceasar Flickman.  He is paired with co-host Toby Jones as Claudius Templesmith, and the two of them are ridiculous and over the top.  Tucci’s wig and fake teeth steal most of his performance.  And that’s without mentioning Jones’s wig.

  • For the newcomers, the most notable is Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays Plutarch Heavensbee, the new game-maker or arena-designer.  He’s fine, but lacks the spectacular facial hair that Wes Bentley had in the previous movie.   He seems dastardly from the get-go, but I can’t tell if that’s the character, or just Hoffman, who always creeps me out.  Has he ever played a good guy?  I’ll think that over.
Then there are the new tributes, who are each past winners, so they are far more of a threat than the last time Katniss was in the games.  There was far more description of them in the book than the movie has time for, but they do a pretty good job.  There are only a few that are key.
  • Jeffrey Wright (yes, that Jeffrey Wright!) plays Beetee, and Amanda Plummer plays Wiress.  They are far more intelligent than the other tributes and succeed in the arena by using their brains instead of their brawn.  Katniss recognizes this and wants to ally herself  with them.

  • Jena Malone plays Johanna Mason, and she is pretty awesome from the word go – much more in this than in the super-terrible Suckerpunch.  Vindictive and angry at having to go back into the arena, she’s never really against Katniss, but she’s never really on her side either.  Also, she's very serious about her ax.

  • Sam Clafin plays Finnick Odair, and both he and Johanna will have more to do in the next movie.  He’s handsome and clever, and tries to win over Katniss with his looks.  She’s not fooled, but she is won over by his loyalty to his friends and loved ones, namely an “Annie” he left behind, and Mags, the old woman who goes into the arena with him.

  • The others don’t really get much clock – except for the girl with the filed teeth.  Jack Quaid plays Marvel, Taylor St. Clair plays Ripper, Alan Ritchson (TV’s Arthur Curry) plays Gloss, Stephanie Leigh Schlund plays Cashmere, Meta Golding plays Enobaria.

This movie was the highest grossing film in North America for 2013 – and as such, the only film with a sole female lead to do so since 1973’s Exorcist.  Take that for what you will, but it surprised me by being far more entertaining than I expected.  It moves a little faster than the first, and you really begin to see the evil of the capitol, and the development of the rebellion.  I am now looking forward to the next two, which I was not prior to seeing this.  It is almost three hours long, so may the odds be ever in your favor that you do not have to hit the bathroom in the middle.  See what I did there?
8 of 10.  Gained points for the action sequences, but lost points for the monkeys – scary.  Gained points for Effie’s outfits, lost points Harrleson’s wig.  Lost points for the deadly, deadly fog, and for Katniss thinking maybe she could touch it, and that it wouldn’t be deadly, “what’s this ominous, thick fog that’s rolling towards us in a menacing way?  Perhaps I’ll just reach out and touch it”.  Come on Katniss – you know better.  Gained points for the entertaining sequences at the capitol, but lost points for the drink they have that makes them vomit after they’re full so that they can eat more.  In case you miss the irony of them having that while other districts are starving, Peeta points it out so you can be indignant about it too.  Gained points for Lawrence’s last stare, plus the morphing of the poster for this movie into the poster for the next.

Bonus video 1:  Sam Clafin was in Snow White and the Huntsman, which was rich with potential, but did not really deliver.
Bonus Video 2:  Battle Royale – the Japanese movie that came out in 1999 and is similar in that a group of 9th graders fight to the death.

Bonus Video 3:  Philip Seymour Hoffman was a good guy in Twister!  Well, not really a good guy, just a guy – the bad guy was a tornado with a flying cow inside of it, so by default he’s a good guy.

Bonus Video 3:  The Catching Fire San Deigo Comic-Con 2013 panel.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Movie Review: Dallas Buyers Club (R – 117 minutes)

When AIDS first hit hard in the late 80s and early 90s, it was a death sentence, and there was very little hope in the way of medications and anyone who contracted HIV was doomed to get full-blown AIDS, become an emaciated wreck of a person as their immune system shut down, and eventually die.  Since then, huge advancements have been made in the treatment of HIV and people who contract it are able to live almost normal lives, as long as they take care of themselves.  There have been several movies about the crisis from different points of view, the most well-known of which is Tom Hanks's Oscar-winning Philadelphia.

Dallas Buyers Club tells the true story of a good-ol-boy Texan rodeo rider named Ron Woodroof who was as hetero as they come, and contracted AIDS due to having unprotected sex with as many women as he could find.  He first reacts with shock, as he doesn’t believe he could get the disease, but then he does his research and sets out to find the drugs that will help him survive.  

The problem is that many of the drugs that will help are not yet approved by the FDA, and therefore not exactly legal.  He then sets up a ‘buyers club’.  For a $400 a month membership fee, he provides the meds many HIV and AIDS patients need, but are unable to get at the hospital.  He develops contacts all over the world to help him import these items through various shady methods.   It’s a really fascinating story that is exceptionally portrayed by the actors in this movie and well-crafted by director Jean-Marc Vallee (Café de Flore, The Young Victoria and C.R.A.Z.Y.). 

  • Much has been made of Matthew McConaughey’s terrifying weight loss to portray Woodroof.  It is terrifying, and he is difficult to look at in this movie, but he does a great job playing this character who at first believes he has lost everything as he realizes how foolishly he has lived his life.  The transformation between the person Woodroof is at the beginning of the movie and the person he becomes is amazing, and exceptionally well-acted by McConaughey.  It’s probably the best work I have seen him do, ever.  It did just earn him a Golden Globe.

  • Jared Leto plays Woodroof’s assistant Rayon, a transvestite who helps the homophobic Woodroof become less narrow-minded while helping set up and run the buyers club. While much has been made of McConaughey’s physical transformation, he still is always Matthew McConaughey, just scary-skinny.  However, Leto completely disappears into Rayon, and lost an incredible amount of weight as well.  His performance is equally amazing to McConaughey’s as Rayon senses the end drawing near, and does as much as possible to help Woodroof, while still not quite committing to live as healthy as possible.  This also just earned him a Golden Globe.

  • Jennifer Garner plays Dr. Eve Saks, who attempts to treat both Woodroof and Rayon at the hospital, believing what the hospital is doing is right, until she starts to see the affects that the drug companies, and their money, have on the FDA, and as a result, on the hospital.  Garner doesn’t stretch much, she stays well within her wheelhouse, but does a really good job making Dr. Saks believable and sympathetic.   I keep hearing how she was noticeably the weakest actor in the bunch.  Honestly, I don’t think she was that bad, I think everyone else was just really good.  She did not just win a Golden Globe, but hey, just go back and watch a couple seasons of Alias.

  • Steve Zahn plays Tucker, a local cop who is friends with Woodroof.  It was interesting seeing them together again after they played Dirk Pitt and Al Giordino in Sahara – if you’ve read any of Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt books, you were hoping that did better so there would be more of them.  Zahn doesn’t have many scenes, but those that he does have are memorable.

  • Denis O’Hare plays another doctor at the hospital – Dr. Sevard, who is much less sympathetic to the plight of his customers, and who becomes the focus of Woodroof’s anger.  Whether he’s in the pocket of the drug companies, or simply following hospital policies, it’s hard to not see Russell Edginton every time he’s on screen (don’t trust him!).

This is a really well done movie that stays fact-focused and story based.  It is probably too long; it drags a bit in the beginning.  But it drags where Woodroof is dragging; where he is struggling to believe what has happened to him and is feeling lost.  Once he makes a decision to take action, the movie picks up, so perhaps that was a deliberate choice?   It does have sad moments, and it does have hilarious moments.  It never really falls into the hole that it could have of being a terribly depressing story.  It’s an interesting watch, and McConaughey and Leto in particular are just amazing.

6 out of 10 – Gained points for the sassiness that was Rayon, lost points for Woodroof’s homophobic friends completely turning on him once he gets sick, but then gains points for probably not showing the level of hate that he really experienced.  Lost points for the excessive weight loss, I get that it was probably accurate, but it was really disturbing – and yes, I know that was the point of it.  I can still find it off-putting! 
Bonus Video 1:  Sahara - I read some of the books, including this one, and I thought this movie was great!  It didn't do well, but I'm still half-heartedly hoping they make more.
Bonus Video 2:  Elektra, just in case you forgot...
Bonus Video 3: Cast Interviews

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Movie Review: Legend of Hercules (PG13 – 99 minutes)

There are usually two types of movies in theaters in January/February.  The first are the awards seasons movies, released late December, and getting wide release early in the year to keep them fresh in the voters and viewers minds.  The second are the movies that production companies dump because they aren’t good, and theater sales aren’t high early in the year.  Occasionally you can find a gem in this dumping ground, something so bad it’s good and entertaining – last year’s Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is still one of my favorite movies of last year.  However, more often, you find something so terrible, it’s just straight up terrible – Season of the Witch is an example of this (although, keep in mind, I still found that pretty entertaining – but I can’t recommend it for anyone else).  

The new Legend of Hercules is terrible, and it does look good here and there, it's a perfectly acceptable piece of January entertainment.
It is directed by Renny Harlin, the legendary, I'm sorry, I meant "legendary", director behind Long Kiss Goodnight (one of my favorites), Cutthroat Island (entertaining, but not great - both this and Long Kiss Goodnight were done while Harlin was dating Geena Davis), and Deep Blue Sea (what does a giant shark dream of? - and what is your hat like?).  In case you haven't seen Deep Blue Sea - you really need to, because it features one of the very best Samuel L. Jackson scenes ever, a statement he himself has made. 
If you’re anything like me, then Kevin Sorbo is your Hercules, and he made you want to visit New Zealand long before you knew who Peter Jackson was. You can stream this entire series on Netflix now.  Do yourself a favor and watch a couple of episodes.

Hercules, according to legend, was an ancient greek half-god.  Incidentally, Hercules is the Roman version of the name, in Greek it is Heracles.  Son of Zeus and a human female (Alcmene), he was gifted with inhuman strength and powers.  He set about on 12 ‘labors’ which included slaying the Nemean Lion, killing a Hydra, capturing the Golden Hind, capturing the Erymanthian Boar, cleaning the Augean stables, slaying the Stymphalian Birds, capturing the Cretan Bull, stealing the mares of Diomedes, getting Hippolyta’s (queen of the Amazons – and Wonder Woman’s mother) girdle, taking the cattle of the monster Geryon, stealing the apples of the Hesperides, and finally to capture and bring back Cerberus.  He was a busy guy.

In this particular version, we see Hercules born to his mother Queen Alcmene, after Alcmene willingly gives herself to Zeus to have a son that will overthrow her wicked husband King Amphitryon and his terrible son Iphicles.  See, Amphitryon has just taken over a city through war, and continues to seek out war throughout the land, and she’s tired of it.  We cut to twenty years later and see that Hercules has grown into a hunky heartthrob, while his brother Iphicles has grown into a whiny bitch.  Both the king and queen haven't aged, but they have painted streaks of gray in their hair (hey, when you would rather spend your budget on slow motion action sequences, you can't afford aging makeup, so you make do with streaks of gray).  Hercules is now in love with the princess of a neighboring town, Hebe.  As they get closer, Iphicles gets more jealous, and rigs a contrived situation in which Amphitryon declares that Iphicles will marry Hebe.  Well, this upsets Hercules and Hebe, so they attempt to take off, but don’t get very far.  It is by far the worst escape attempt ever as they get caught in a river.  Amphitryon is pissed, so he ‘rewards’ Hercules by sending him off to war in Egypt, along with Captain Sotiris.   What they don’t know is that Amphitryon has paid the Egyptians to make sure Hercules is killed.  What they do know is that Amphitryon halves their army just before they set out.  The two of them survive, claiming that Hercules is dead.  They get sold into slavery and gladiator their way back into Greece.  They then set out to reclaim what is left of the army and take back the kingdom.

The movie is fairly fast-paced (everybody loves a 90 minute action flick!), and looks slick.  This is yet another movie that demonstrates the influence of Zack Snyder's 300 on the 'sword-n-sandal' genre.  It is out in 3D, and there are a lot of old school 3D fun points.  It opens with a barrage of arrows raining down on you, which on one hand is awesome, but on the other hand, made me duck in my seat, attempting to dodge arrows.  Harlin knows how to direct action, and the movie is non-stop action, which is where its entertainment lies.  It’s the scenes in between, the dialogue moments, where it starts to drag.  Everyone in the movie is good looking, and they pull it off as best they can.
  • Kellan Lutz – best known as Emmett from the Twilight series, plays this version of Hercules, and he’s fine for what’s expected of him.  It's not his first foray into this genre, as he played Poseidon in Immortals.  I suppose he was destined to either move into this genre, or more tween romance type stuff.  This is probably way more fun, and he looks great doing it.  I think he has potential, and I look forward to his next action movie. 

  • Gaia Weiss (no seriously, her name is Gaia) plays the princess Hebe.  She is a pretty standard damsel in distress, but she got interesting later on when she gets angry that she’s being forced to marry Iphicles.  She refuses over and over again – and honestly, her final solve for the issue is pretty badass.

  • Scott Adkins plays the King, and my goodness this dude is ripped.   You probably noticed his rippedness and skill in Expendables 2.  He’s fantastic looking and plays the evil king with a sort of wild abandon.  Or, at least a barely contained abandon.  He really enjoys chewing the scenery, and in a movie like this – you’re better off the more people are doing that.

  • Roxanne McKee plays Queen Alcmene, and she is interesting, she’s bitter and angry and determined to find a way to stop her husband to bring peace to the land. 

  • Liam Garrigan plays Iphicles, and man is this dude creepy.  He does manage to bring a petty vindictiveness to Iphicles, and then can twist that into jealous-ness that his mother loves Hercules but not him. 

  • Liam McIntyre plays essentially the same character he played on Spartacus in his noble Captain Sotiris betrayed by his king.  He’s clearly good at this type of thing because he’ s got the experience.  He’s actually really good in this, and commits completely to the movie.  He probably needs a better vehicle.

  • The fantastic Rade Serbedzija (go watch Snatch again if you haven’t seen it in a while) plays Chiron, who seems to be part teacher, part philosopher, and part nanny.  He keeps watch over the queen until she’s not around anymore, then tries to help the princess.

  • Jonathon Schaech briefly shows up as the Egyptian leader Tarak.  He has very little to do, but I sure enjoyed his costuming.

  • Kenneth Cranham plays the gladiator owner/gambler Lucius, who really is the exact same character from the movie Gladiator and is responsible for bringing Hercules and Sotiris back to Greece. 

Listen, it’s not good – but it’s at least entertaining.  If you’re going to see it, see it in 3D, just watch out for all the arrows, and the occasional spear.
6 out of 10 – Lost points for way too many horse chase sequences.  Gained points for the gladiator fights, they were well done.  Lost points for the prepping the army speech – we’ve seen that way too many times.  Gained points for the Egyptian army helmets.  Lost points for the ending as if there is going to be a sequel – not a chance. Also lost points for the obvious 300 influences.  I know it's an influence, but a little more subtle on that note would be just fine.
Bonus Video 1: Cutthroat Island

Bonus Video 2:  Hercules in New York - seriously.

Bonus Video 3:  Immortals - in case you were wondering about Lutz's version of Poseidon (this was almost the same movie):

Bonus Video 3:  Cast interviews.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Movie Review: Out of the Furnace (R – 116 minutes)

The first trailer I saw of this movie seemed like a story that could have been a direct-to-DVD Jason Statham movie, but then the trailer started listing the actors (Academy Award winner Christian Bale, Academy Award nominee Casey Affleck, etc.), and I wondered if this was an Oscar-bait flick.  Apparently it is, and opposed to the Statham direct to DVD version that would have been all vengeance-action, this is all character studies of these people in a difficult situation – yes, with some vengeance-action thrown in, but very little.

Russell Baze is a hard-working steel town man living in the hills of eastern Pennsylvania.  He is taking care of his dying father with the assistance of his uncle, while his younger brother, Rodney, is shipping back and forth to Afghanistan, serving multiple tours with the army.  He’s got a wonderful girlfriend who wants to start a family with him, and a decent job at the steel mill.  However, his younger brother, when he’s home, is reckless with his money, and his life- probably as a result of PTSD, but that is not delved into too much.  He owes a lot of money to a local loan-shark, and Russell goes to pay his debt.  On the way home, he gets in a car accident, he was drunk, and there’s a fatality in the other car, so he goes to prison for some time.  While he’s away, his brother comes back, his father dies, and his girl leaves him for the local sheriff.  Eventually he gets out, but things are not looking good, and his brother has started underground fighting to win money with the assistance of the same local loan shark.   Rodney begs for a fight up in the hills of New Jersey, and he and the loan shark head up there, successfully throw the fight, but then run into trouble with the local meth-dealer, fight-coordinator, and all around tough-guy jerk.  Russell then has to determine what happened, and get justice.

It’s a bleak story, there’s not really any happy in this movie what-so-ever.  The entire thing is depressing.  Russell is a good guy, but cannot seem to catch a break.  The movie is well done, Director Scott Cooper (he also directed Crazy Heart, and man, did I hate that movie) gets some great subtle performances out of his stars, and makes that area look really beautiful, but still bleak.  It is the cast of this movie that makes it more than it could be, because really - a ton of 80s action movies had this plot.
  • Woody Harrelson plays Harlan DeGroat, a complete sociopathic monster of a person.  He’s terrifying and brutal, with no cause.  Harrelson plays that perfect, but it does seem like something he has done before.  He’s threatening because he’s got no remorse, and I found myself completely uncomfortable every time he was on screen – and that is established in the first 10 minutes of the movie in a scene that has nothing to do with anything else, it is exclusively character development for Harlan.

  • Christian Bale plays Russell Baze, and honestly, I thought he was better in this than in American Hustle, but that may just be because this role is a little more subtle.  Russell is a man determined to do the best with what he’s been given, which is not a lot.  He does what he can to keep his family safe, despite the situation around them.  There is one scene in particular where he finally gets to talk to his girl after getting out of prison that is small, but perfectly played.

  • Casey Affleck plays Rodney Baze, and does an amazing job of losing it every minute, but trying not to let it show.  He is slowly going insane, and cannot acclimate to life back from war.  He takes up the fighting because he doesn’t know what else to do, but struggles to take a dive when instructed, because he shuts off during the fight.  He also has one amazing scene in particular, where Rodney attempts to explain to Russell what he’s dealing with mentally now that he’s back, and it’s heartbreaking.

  • Zoe Saldana plays Lena Taylor – the only woman in this movie.  She does a great job in the few scenes she has, she does love Russell, but once she leaves him, does so because she wants to do what is best for her.  That scene on the bridge with the two of them is really good on both parts.  It’s better than I’ve seen her in a while, and more subtle than I’ve seen her in a while.

  • Sam Shepard shows up in this movie to play Sam Shepard as the uncle.  He has very few scenes, he takes Russell hunting, in a scene that parallels Rodney’s final fight in a very interesting way.  I am sure the symbolism is very important, but I didn’t catch all of it.  The movie seemed to be very serious about intercutting the two scenes, so I’m sure the symbolism was there.

  • Willem Dafoe plays John Petty, the local loan shark who knows better than to get involved with the ‘hill people’, but finally caves to Rodney’s begging and takes him up to New Jersey to fight.  It’s not really anything you haven’t seen him do before, and it’s probably more subtle than you’ve seen him in a while also.  This whole movie is subtle, excepting for the hunting/fight sequence – maybe that’s why I didn’t get the symbolism, everything else was so subtle.

  • Forest Whitaker plays Chief Wesley Barnes, who Lena hooks up with after leaving Russell.  He is doing a strange accent choice, which may or may not be accurate – but is not subtle, so that’s two unsubtle things.  He has the bad fortune of having to tell Russell that Rodney is missing, and that they’re not really sure what they can do about the crazy mountain people up in the mountains of New Jersey.

So you can go ahead and count me as naïve to the fact that 1) there were mountains in New Jersey, and 2) apparently those mountains are filled with crazy meth-cooking underground-fighting hillbillies.  I suppose that area begins to roll into the Appalachian mountains.  In any case, this movie is well-crafted, but super bleak.  I am sure the Statham direct to DVD version would have focused more on the fighting and the revenge, and been an action movie – in fact, I’m pretty sure a movie like that already exists somewhere.  This is about the performances, and they’re good, but I wouldn’t call the movie enjoyable.

5 out of 10 – lost points for everything Harrelson’s character does – including shooting up  between his toes and forcing a woman to deep-throat a hot dog – yes, that happens.  Gained points for the one moment of happiness between Lena and Russell before the movie gets going.  Lost points for the hunting/skinning/butchering of the deer scene, I don’t care how much you intercut it with the fight and make the two scenes parallel – I don’t want to see that.
Bonus Video 1: Columbiana – a vengeance actioner with Zoe Saldana that is much less subtle.  Plus, Maori-New Zealander Cliff Curtis plays a South American.

Bonus Video 2:  Statham’s most recent with James Franco, because it is similar.

Bonus Video 3:  Cast Interviews