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, September 26, 2016

Movie Review: The Magnificent Seven (PG13 – 133 minutes)

Westerns are a peculiar thing - you either enjoy them and you don't, and honestly, they work best nowadays with simple story, and clean action.  They can feel a bit dated and 'out-of-touch'.
The original version of this particular story is from Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 film about a poor village under attack by bandits who then recruits seven unemployed samurai to help them defend themselves.

In 1960, an American Western version of the story was released and renamed The Magnificent Seven.  A bandit was terrorizing a small Mexican farming village each year.  Several of the village elders end three of the farmers into the United States to search for gunmen to defend them.  They end up with seven, with each one agreeing for a different reason. They help to prepare the town to battle the army of 30 bandits that are about to arrive and plunder the village. 

It starred Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter, and James Coburn. Apparently, Akira Kurosawa was so impressed, he sent director John Sturges a ceremonial sword as a gift.  It seems to have been Brynner’s idea to remake Seven Samurai as a Western, and recommended casting McQueen – then regretted it as McQueen constantly found ways to try to upstage him by pulling focus to himself in scenes they had together.  They made up years later, but the cast at filming time was a bit contentious and competitive - or maybe just really into character.

Personally, I was most familiar with the Magnificent Seven as a TV show from 1998 – 2000, starring Eric Close, Michael Biehn, Ron Perlman, Andrew Kavovit, Dale Midkiff, Anthony Starke, Rick Worthy, and Laurie Holden.

This current version directed by Antoine Fuqua that hit theaters last week is a simple, straightforward story, well-crafted and well-executed, and honestly, updated/rebooted in the right way. 

We encounter the California town of Rose Creek as the inhabitants are having a meeting in the church about mining baron Bartholomew Bogue.  He’s become a western-movie-cliche-type problem, and is looking to remove everyone from the town so that he can mine the land - for gold, I think.  He busts into the church meeting, offering the people $20 each for their land, and letting them know he will return from Sacramento in 3 weeks to get their answers, and that they better be the answer he wants! Or else! He then roughs up the preacher and has his goons set the church on fire, causing generic townsperson with a good heart Matthew Cullen to stand up to him, which of course, results in Bogue shooting Cullen and others dead in front of his wife and the other townspeople.  To further convince you he's terrible, he then tells the sheriff (who is in his pocket) to let the bodies stay in the street for a few days - to make a point.  Bogue and company ride out, as Emma Cullen and her friend Teddy watch them ride away.

We then meet Sam Chisholm as he rides into a different town – I’m not going to lie, this ride-into-town bit did remind me of Cleavon Little’s ride into town in Blazing Saddles.  We don’t see his face for a solid 5 minutes or so as we spend time on his horse, saddle, hat, and other accoutrements. As he approaches the saloon, we spend some introductory time with card player Josh Faraday who is sitting in the bar.  Chisholm enters the bar, looking for information on a fella – this of course turns into a swift elimination of said fella and a few others by Chisholm who then tells everyone to go get the sheriff.  Turns out he’s a bounty hunter, and just closed out a bounty he was after.  As he is about to  ride out of town, Emma and Teddy approach him, tell him about their town, and beg him for assistance.  He seems bent on not helping, until they mention that the villain they are after is Bartholomew Bogue, a name that gets a swift affirmative reaction from Chisholm.  He recruits Faraday – and they begin adding to their numbers.

Chisholm sends Faraday and Teddy to go pick up the legendary Goodnight Robicheaux, while he heads off in search of Vasquez, another bounty that he basically conscripts. Faraday and Teddy successfully find Robicheaux, who is hanging out with skilled knifesman/assassin Billy Rocks – and when they return to meet up with Chisholm and Emma, they all encounter Jack Horne – who seems to be a half-crazed mountain man who is recently retired from “injun-hunting” or something like that.  Horne at first declines the offer to join the group – but then as they are camping for the night – he shows up, having been tracking them – to warn them they are being watched by a Comanche warrior.  The warrior introduces himself to Chisholm as Red Harvest, and after sharing a freshly killed deer liver with Chisholm (ewwww) agrees to join their squad.  That brings them up to seven, and they head back to Rose Creek. 

Upon arrival, they promptly pick a fight with the hired goons Bogue left in charge, leaving only one alive to send a message to Bogue.  Then, they set about training the townspeople to fight for their town in what will surely be a massive confrontation with Bogue and his crew when they return.

That’s really about it – a dude and his crew help fight off a villain for a town.  What really makes the movie enjoyable is the execution of this same story that you’ve seen time and time again.  Director Antoine Fuqua excels at directing action, but is careful to allow that action to enhance the story, not overwhelm the story. He’s also done The Replacement Killers, Bait, Training Day, Tears of the Sun, King Arthur, Shooter, Olympus Has Fallen, Brooklyn’s Finest, The Equalizer, and Southpaw.   I will also say that he’s super smart in using actors he’s worked with several times before, it makes the shorthand more effective, and can get some really interesting performances with actors who enjoy working together.  I genuinely felt that the seven leads of this movie had a really good time together making this movie – which incidentally, they did outside of Baton Rouge, not anywhere near the west – old or current!

  • This may be Denzel Washinton’s first Western, but he seems to fit right into this role, sliding into cool, calm, and collected cowboy hero fairly easily.  The over-the-top hero’s entrance actually really fits his character, and helps to establish him as a man not to be trifled with.  At no point is Denzel not Denzel, but it really works well here. It’s very easy to buy him as dangerous man, charismatic enough to pull together this team of oddballs to get the job done. 

  • Chris Pratt plays a cowboy with an inherent ease that makes you believe he really should have been playing cowboy heroes this whole time – of course, Starlord is a bit of a space cowboy, so it does feel similar.  He’s just so charming and slick that he immediately draws your attention when he’s on screen.  His warm charm fits perfectly next to Denzel’s cool confidence.

  • Ethan Hawke plays Goodnight Robicheaux, a former Confederate sharpshooter who is friends with Chisholm from way back, despite Chisholm having been a Union soldier.  That’s really the only backstory you get on the characters, and it’s really all that is necessary (but what would that prequel story look like?). Robicheaux seems to be dealing with some pretty severe PTSD as a result of the war, and is having trouble keeping it together.  This job from Chisholm proves to be the opportunity for redemption that he needs.

  • Vincent D’Onofrio is always interesting on-screen, and here, as Jack Horne, he’s completely nuts – but in a really interesting way.  I can’t help but wonder if his portrayal of the character was choice or direction, but either way – it really works.

  • Byung-hun Lee plays Billy Rocks, and I have loved him in everything I’ve seen him in, and he continues to be smooth, slick, and sexy – even in the old west.  I will say, at no point does his shirt come off in this, which is disappointing, as it usually comes off pretty quickly in his movies.  He plays Rocks as a killer with  absolute confidence that is necessary to keep Robicheaux from falling apart. He’s also fantastic with the non-verbal eye acting. 

  • Mexican actor Manuel Garcia-Rulfo plays Mexican badass Vasquez. He’s big, loud, and fun in this, and again – not much backstory on the character, but none really needed.

  • Martin Sensmeier is Native Alaskan (Tlingit), who plays Red Harvest – a Comanche who is following his own path, which runs directly into our assembling group of heroes.  Working as a scout and sniper, he really comes in handy in the battles. Also - be sure to be impressed with his skills riding a horse bareback - which he worked on specifically for this movie. 

  • Haley Bennett plays Emma Cullen – and aside from a little confusion on my part about why all her tops were so low-cut (seriously, it’s the old west, it just seems impractical), she did a good job.  She wasn’t nearly as interesting as the other characters – but didn’t need to be.  She needs an iron will to get the justice she seeks – and she did a great job of portraying that.

  • Luke Grimes plays Teddy, who honestly is just there to provide an escort to Emma from time to time and help convey the seriousness of the situation to anyone who asks.  He does what he can to help fight the baddies.  Was he her husband's brother? Is he her brother? Is he just some guy?  No idea.

  • Matt Bomer plays Matthew Cullen, very very briefly.  Again – he’s there just to establish the villainy-ness of the villain. 

  • Speaking of which, Peter Sarsgaard plays Bartholomew Bogue, and does an excellent job of making you hate him so much.  He’s slimy and evil for almost no reason from the beginning of the movie, from forcing a kid to put his hand in a jar (which I was sure was going to result in a scorpion bite or something like that) of dirt, to killing Matthew, to being all cocky about these seven heroes defying him.  It’s always important in a movie where you have an ensemble of heroes that the villain is strong enough to justify having all those heroes oppose him (see Loki).  Sarsgaard definitely fits that bill.

  • Cam Gigandet shows up briefly as one of Bogue’s henchmen.  It surprised me, so I’m mentioning it!
  • And yes, The iconic theme from the 1960 version by Elmer Bernstein does play over the closing credits… 

The movie is fun, elegant, and cool.  Fuqua has done a great job of updating the movie without changing the essence of it.  Spoiler-alert, not all of the seven make it – but when they go out, they do get hero’s deaths, which is always important.  And yes, the bad guy gets his.  I also have to say that I really appreciated the PG13 nature of this movie.  An R-rated movie would have had more unnecessary gratuitous violence, sex (it’s the old west, there are whorehouses all over the place - even in this PG13 version), cursing, etc.  If it was R, Bogue’s terrorizing of the town would have surely included more rape and torture.  That would have been distracting and more than a little tough to take, and yes, would have demonstrated his evil – but Sarsgaard is talented enough to have that come across without crossing that line. This didn’t need to, and I found myself really appreciating that.  Check it out – I think you’ll really enjoy it.

8 out of 10 – taking away a point for D’Onofrio’s voice, but I probably should add that back in for Pratt’s line after meeting him, “I believe that bear was wearing people clothes.”
Cast Interviews:

Bonus – I always liked Fuqua’s King Arthur – a bit of a different take on the traditional story, and the only thing in which I can tolerate Clive Owen – but just barely.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Movie Review: Mechanic Resurrection (R – 98 minutes)

There are perfectly serviceable quick action movies with big time stars that are released direct to DVD (or now, direct to streaming) every week.  I am not sure why this was not one of them.

The original Mechanic (did you know there was an original Mechanic, which was actually a remake of a 1972 Charles Bronson movie?) was released in 2011, and directed by big-time action director Simon West (ConAir, Expendables 2, Tomb Raider), and starred Jason Statham, Ben Foster, and Donald Sutherland.  Basically, Statham plays Arthur Bishop – an assassin whose specialty is making his hits look like accidents.  In the movie, he trains an apprentice of sorts when things go a bit sideways.

I saw that one in the theater, and it was just fine, but a bit forgettable.  This one, is slightly less than fine and even more forgettable – incidentally it’s called Mechanic Resurrection because he faked his death at the end of the last one.

We catch up with Arthur Bishop as he’s living a life of semi-relaxing leisure in Brazil – or at least in front of blue screens that will have Brazil on them later.  He’s suddenly tracked down by someone working for ‘Cain’, who wants to hire him to perform three kills.  He refuses, and runs again.
Taking refuge in Thailand with his friend Mei, he encounters a young woman, Gina, who seems to be in the midst of a domestic abuse situation that he rescues her from – only to learn that she’s actually bait.  She runs a school for refugee children in Cambodia (of course she does), but Cain threatened to shut all that down if she didn’t come seduce Bishop into doing what he wants.  Well aware this is the plan, Bishop and Gina seem to play right into it, falling for one another (unless that’s a trick?), giving Gina time to swim around in a bikini – for literally no other reason that shots of her in a bikini. 

Gina gets snatched by Cain – and Cain says he’ll kill her unless Bishop does the three kills that need to look like accidents (which is why he needs Bishop to do it, and can’t do it himself). 

From this point on, the movie plays like a game of Hitman, with Cain giving Bishop the information on each target in a voiceover as Bishop preps for the hit.  The first is in an impenetrable prison, so Bishop has to get thrown in, and then escape.  

The second lives in an impenetrable fortress-like penthouse apartment with an infinity swimming pool.  

The third lives on the coast of the black sea in an impenetrable old communism monument.  Bishop successfully takes out one and two – and then attempts to snatch Gina back from the yacht on which she’s being held, but his stealth game is not up to par – so that entire sequence basically ends with him going back to doing what Cain told him to do.

He realizes that Cain is having him take out his ‘arms dealing’ competition, so reaches the third victim, and instead of killing him, makes a deal with him – in an attempt to get to Cain and rescue Gina from Cain's huge yacht. 

This movie is directed by Dennis Gansel, a German director.  The story is simple, the action is good, and the movie is short.  So – it’s not terrible, but it’s also not very good.  The cast is fine for this type of movie.
  • Jason Statham carries the movie by doing exactly what he does best – grumbling and beating people up.  There’s not a ton of growth and development for Bishop in this movie, to say nothing about any kind of story arc.  I wasn’t sure he really felt anything for Gina, since he knew really early on that she was working for Cain, so couldn’t he just let her go? But, he doesn’t want anything to happen to her, so he goes through with Cain’s request.  I did appreciate his stunt-ability, the prison sequence was silly – but I enjoyed watching him dive out (he used to be an Olympic-level diver), and the pool sequence was really amazing.

  • Jessica Alba plays Gina – and while female ‘characters’ are always poorly developed in these types of movies, this one was really bad.  She states she was a soldier, but upon leaving service, opened the school for refugees.  That is enough to win over Bishop – but if she was a soldier, she really should have had some fighting skills and should have been able to defend herself.  Was it part of the plan that she get captured so that Bishop could finally track down Cain?  That seems to be overthinking it a bit.  I wanted her to be as capable as her backstory indicated she was.

  • Tommy Lee Jones – for reasons unknown – is in this movie and plays the third hit – Max Adams, with whom Bishop makes the deal.  He has a ridiculous soul patch - and an even more ridiculous wardrobe, but honestly – he’s really entertaining in this and brings some life to the third act.

  • Michelle Yeoh is completely and totally wasted in this as Mei – basically Bishop’s friend who runs a beach community.  She’s an incredible action star – why didn’t she get an action scenes?  Why have Michelle Yeoh in a movie is you’re not going to allow her to kick some ass?

  • Sam Hazeldine plays Crain, and he’s done some episodes of Peaky Blinders – and apparently was in Huntsman: Winter’s War – but I don’t remember him in that at all.  He’s very British and evil in this, and spends a lot of time ding voice-overs of the hits while Bishop works.  There’s a bit of a backstory where he and Bishop were both captured while they were young, and Bishop escaped, but he didn’t – so he’s angry and holding a grudge.

  • Toby Eddington plays Adrian Cook – hit number two - in the crazy pool – that was an interesting scene and Femi Elufowoju Jr. plays Krill – hit number one – in the crazy prison – not that interesting a scene.
Overall, the movie was average – some of the action was visually interesting, but the story was not that interesting.  Hey – at least it was short!

5 out of 10 – a passable way to spend an hour and a half.  Gained points for Tommy Lee Jones being weird, and reminding me of his Under Siege character.

Cast Interviews:

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Movie Review: Bad Moms (R – 100 minutes)

Every once in a while, you find an R-rated comedy that is really well put together, with a surprising amount of heart.  Bad Moms is one of those.

The movie focuses on Amy, a young mother of two middle school aged kids who is completely overwhelmed between making the kids’ lunches, getting them to school, getting to work, picking the kids up then taking them to their extra-curriculars, and making dinner for everyone at home, including her husband, who is barely engaged in the situation.  She also has multiple PTA meetings after all that run by the Queen Mother of the school – Gwendolyn, who ensures that every mother tries to be as perfect as she is.

One day Amy hits her breaking point, after kicking out her husband who has been having an online affair for 10 months, and being requested to be part of the ‘snack police’ at a PTA meeting.  She quits the PTA, shocking Gwendolyn and her henchwomen, Stacy and Vicki, and heads to a bar to unwind.  

While there, young stressed-out mother Kiki joins her, and they encounter  - let’s just call her loose – mother Carla.  The three realize that it is impossible to live up to the expectations of society for good mothers, and decide to be ‘bad moms’ for a bit – in order to relax. Hijinks ensue – and I mean, the hijinks are hilarious.  They go to a movie during the day, they meet for lunch and drinks, they tear up a grocery store – and attempt to get Amy a date, which goes really awkwardly until she runs into the young, hot widower that all the moms have been crushing on, who just so happens to be crushing on her. 

In the process, Amy realizes that she can’t be a perfect mom, but being a bad mom is no good either, so she learns to find a balance, to allow her kids to be more self-reliant, and give herself a break now and then when she makes a mistake.  Oh, and she also runs for PTA president against Gwendolyn, toppling Gwendolyn’s empire in front of all the mothers of the school.

The movie is short, hilarious, and touching.  It’s directed by Jon Lucas, who has really only directed episodes of the show mixology up to this point – but he did write all three of the Hangover movies, if that gives you any sense of his comedic tendencies.  He also wrote the new Office Christmas Party movie, and if you’ve seen the trailers for that, it looks raunchy and hilarious – which is how I would classify Bad Moms as well.  It’s a simple story, directed well, and the material is elevated by the strong cast.

  • It really is a Mila Kunis movie, which is a bit of a surprise, I think I expected more of an ensemble piece, but she really carries the movie well, and does a wonderful job of portraying Amy as a woman who got married and had kids really young, and missed out on her twenties, and is now unsure how to get back to herself.  Kunis is really skilled at raunchy comedy, and is fantastic here.

  • Kathryn Hahn has been so good for so long, it was really nice to see her get the chance to shine a bit more in this movie.  She plays the wild and loose Carla, and really helps the other two enjoy their lives a bit more.  She’s sort of a bad influence, and at first comes off as annoyed with her own child, but then lets her true self show as she comes to trust the ladies, and tells them how much she really does love her son.  She is loud and hilarious, and overdue for getting credit for her skill!

  • Kristen Bell plays a similar character to her character in The Boss – just a little more high-strung here.  Her husband is completely dominating, she’s completely overwhelmed and sheepish – and as soon as the other two ladies help her realize she doesn’t have to be that way – the moment she tells off her husband was worth of applause.

  • Christina Applegate was the perfect choice for Gwendolyn, icy and dominating, she rules over the PTA with an iron fist.  She’s so evil, that I actually was upset she didn’t get more of a comeuppance or punishment for her behavior at the end of the movie, but that wouldn’t really fit with the ‘lesson’.  Man, I wanted her to get what was coming to her! So evil!

  • Jada Pinkett Smith plays Gwenolyn’s right hand woman Stacy – equally evil, but not as Alpha.  She’s really fun in this as the sidekick who is there to enforce Gwendolyn’s tyranny!

  • Annie Mumolo, who co-wrote Bridesmaids, plays Vicky, Gwendolyn’s other henchwoman, she’s a  bit dim, but gets some really funny one-liners.

  • David Walton who is that guy you know from that one failed sitcom, plays Amy’s husband Mike.  He comes off as a dumb jerk, but once they go through some fun counseling with Wanda Sykes, you realize they both made a mistake – love their kids, but not necessarily one another, and really, I was impressed with the movie for making the separation feel like a positive thing.  It was a delicate line to tread, and it was done well. Mike could have been a villain, but instead, ended up an okay guy.

  • Clark Duke plays Amy’s boss Dale, who is a very Clark Duke-like guy.  He’s a bit of a hipster at a coffee company, where it seems that Amy is the only one doing any actual work, even though she’s supposed to be part time. 
  • Jay Hernandez plays Jessie – the hot widower, and as he stole Suicide Squad for me, he stole the scenes he’s in this movie as well.  Genuine, sweet, kind, and ideal – he’s really wonderful here.  Plus, when did he get so hot?  I just remember him as that kid from Torque.

  • The wonderful Wendell Pierce plays the principal of the school – he has very little to do, but he’s fun for the few scenes he’s in.

Overall the movie is short and fun – and well worth a watching, even if (like me) you’re not a mom!  The best part is that over the closing credits, the six lead actresses are interviewed with their real-life moms, talking about how they did, and how they are now doing as they are all moms.  It’s really sweet, and very touching, and the perfect way to end the movie!

8 out of 10 – Gained points for J.J. Watt playing the soccer coach.  J. J. Watt!

Bonus:  Cast Interviews:

the Office Christmas Party trailer – like I said, really raunchy, but hilarious!