Monday, August 31, 2015

Ant-Man – review

With the Marvel Universe constantly expanding it is becoming more impressive what genres the studios are covering under the guise of superhero action films. With Captain America: The Winter Soldier audiences got a spy film and with Guardians of the Galaxy audiences were treated to a space action/comedy. With Ant-Man the superhero genre comes into a heist movie and it works really well.

Scott Lang, played by Paul Rudd, is a thief released from prison. Down on his luck and just wanting to have a relationship with his estranged daughter, he takes a burglary job to steal from Dr. Hank Pym, played by Michael Douglas. As it turns out the job was actually a challenge to see if he would be capable enough to steal some technology from Hank’s former company.  To assist in this venture Scott becomes the superhero, Ant-Man. He is capable of controlling ants mentally as well as shrinking to microscopic size and re-growing at will.

If this were a typical heist movie it would have fallen into cliché. However, since the element of superheroes is involved it makes the movie fresh and seems like a unique take on the genre. The action is fun to watch and the effects make it believable that this character can do the fantastic things he can do.  There are some silly moments like a battle on a Thomas the Tank Engine train set that looks epic in small scale but like nothing when in normal size, but it adds to the entertainment as a whole.

The actors for the movie are all believable and likeable. Paul Rudd has clearly come a long way at his age to have a superhero body. Michael Douglas is also incredibly enjoyable as the first Ant-Man who experienced a great loss and has an estranged relationship with his daughter Hope, played by Evangeline Lilly. Corey Stroll is great as the villain. While we have seen him more as a jerk in a lot of other films, he portrays a lot of menace that comes off as threatening.  It was also particularly nice to see Bobby Cannavale not cast as a jerk for a change.

Ant-Man is a unique movie that accepts its challenge to entertain and succeeds. There are so many brooding and dark themes in superhero movies and a fun heist movie is absolutely the new blood this genre needs. I completely recommend seeing this movie. It is a fun inclusion to the Marvel Universe and it will be great to see where this character goes in future features.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Top Ten Movies That Bombed

Movie bombs are not always terrible. By the same token not all good movies do well in the box office. In fact there are quite a few movies that have had reputations for being box office bombs. If the box office were an accurate display of what was good or not many more Oscar winning movies would be chosen by the public over summer blockbusters.

10. Treasure Planet
Budget $140 million
Box office $109.6 million
Disney’s Treasure Planet is a fun take on the Treasure Island story. Adding a sci-fi theme to the story it melds hand drawn animation with computer animation. The movie is creative and lovely. Maybe the science fiction element scared off folks. Any family with kids should give it a try.

9. Heathers
Budget $2 million
Box office $1.1million
Heathers is a dark and sardonic look at the high school experience. The movie is about school students killing each other so perhaps the subject material was just a bit too harsh for audiences. I certainly couldn’t imagine this movie getting greenlit today. If you are a high school senior this is a must watch.

8. Big Trouble in Little China
Budget $20 million
Box office $11.1 million
Director John Carpenter has collaborated with actor Kurt Russell on multiple occasions. This movie is big on laughs and high on slapstick action. Kurt Russell brings his A-game as reluctant hero, trucker Jack Burton, who gets his truck stolen in Chinatown and must retrieve it from a mystical foe. It is a fun movie that must not have found the right audience.

7. Sunshine
Budget $40 million
Box office $32 million
Sunshine is a suspenseful sci-fi movie about a crew attempting to re-start a dying sun. The cast is great and the story is gripping. My guess is that not a lot of people heard about it because it is considered a British film. This is a worthwhile movie for anyone who enjoys a dark or thought-provoking cinema with a mix of slasher elements for good measure.

6. Highlander
Budget $19 million
Box office $12.9 million
Highlander is a beautiful movie. Full to the brim with lovely landscape shots and decapitating action. I imagine that the constant time shifting between the scenes caused confusion with some folks. Still, this movie is enjoyable, quotable, and has a great soundtrack. See it if you are in the mood for a modern fantasy.

5. Children of Men
Budget $76 million
Box office $70 million
Children of Men tells the story of a dystopian society where children are no longer born. Suddenly a refugee brings hope because she is pregnant. The world that is created is depressing but well constructed and had some impressive shots and a very memorable chase scene. There are few movies like it but it is worth seeing since the director has since moved onto much bigger scale movies like Gravity.

4. Grindhouse
Budget $53 million
Box office $25.4
Two great directors put forth a fantastic movie. Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino both direct different features and yet Grindhouse bombed. Why? My guess is the incredible length of the two films combined with the fake trailers really scared off a lot of people. Three hours was still considered a long sit for 2007. Now it is almost a normal expectation.

3. Ed Wood
Budget $18 million
Box office $5.9
Ed Wood tells the story of a notoriously bad director and his dreams of making movies. It is possibly one of Tim Burton’s best films. If there were a couple of reasons this movie didn’t do well it would probably be because it was shot in black and white and people don’t really know who Ed Wood is.

2. The Iron Giant
Budget $70 million
Box office 31.3 million
The Iron Giant is a fantastic movie. The animation is wonderful, the story is original and the characters are likable. It didn’t do well at all in the box-office but has gained a following that is growing and the director Brad Bird has gone on to making many Pixar classics like Ratatouille and The Incredibles. If you are young or old you should check out The Iron Giant.

1. Dredd
Budget $45 million
Box office $41.5
This action packed siege movie caught many by surprise. It has gained a lot of good publicity since coming to DVD but it didn’t do well at the box office at all. If I had to guess it would be because people thought it would be a lot like the previous version that Sylvester Stallone starred in. The effects and the script are solid for this movie and it is a lot of fun. If you are an action fan this movie is right up your alley.

If anything this shows that the public as a whole is not always right about the quality of a film. All of these movies are completely worth seeing. The best policy is just using your best judgment. What is popular is not always going to be good and what is good is certainly not always going to be popular.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Top Ten Most Memorable Musical Moments In Movies

Music is an important part of film- so much so that often a single perfect song choice on the soundtrack becomes an extraordinary pop culture moment in itself. This is even more impressive given the genres of the movies in these lists do not include musicals. This list encompasses what I believe captures that element of a perfect song placement in a film. It is difficult to do, but when it is done correctly it makes a moment for the ages.

10. Beetlejuice – Day-O (Banana Boat song)
A group of yuppies are enjoying their dinner in their haunted house. Out of nowhere and apropos of nothing, the hostess begins singing Harry Belafonte’s song “Day-O.” She seems possessed as do the rest of the guests judging by their reactions, dancing and lip-syncing to the song.  The reaction the ghost couple wanted of scaring the yuppie Deetz family out of their old home does not quite work out as planned which forces them to call upon the bio-exorcist, Beetlejuice.

9. Reservoir Dogs – Stuck In The Middle With You
After a diamond heist gets violent, Mr. Blonde captures a young police officer.  As he turns on the radio “Stuck In The Middle With You” comes on and we witness Mr. Blonde sadistically torture the officer while smiling, dancing and making wise cracks. It is a tense moment made memorable in the contrast to the upbeat song.

8. Risky Business – Old Time Rock And Roll
What is a young teenager to do when his parents are out of town? Open up a brothel in his home of course. However, Joel Goodson starts his fun on a much lighter note. He gets drunk and dances around in his underwear to the Bob Seger classic “Old Time Rock And Roll.” It is a memorable scene that predicts the behavior that will cause the events that unfold in the film.

7. The Graduate –The Sounds Of Silence
Benjamin Braddock has just swooped into Elaine’s wedding and stolen the bride. It is an impulsive, and somewhat romantic moment. As the two board a bus they stare off into space and Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sounds Of Silence” play in the background. It leaves the audience with an unsure feeling about the young lovers. Do they regret their impulsive decisions? We don’t know. The ambiguity is felt in the haunting lyrics.

6. Easy Rider – Born To Be Wild
As Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper cruise down the road in their choppers at the beginning of this film. Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild” plays. The road movie takes them on many adventures through the counter-culture of the American 1960s. The song choices is perfect since it underlines how these men live to be free and are like the cowboys of their generation. Riding the road and meeting people that make up America for good or ill.

5. Apocalypse Now – The End
Apocalypse Now is a dark and nihilistic film about the Vietnam War. Captain Willard played by Martin Sheen, flashbacks to helicopters dropping napalm in the jungle. All juxtaposed with him sweating in a crappy hotel room thinking about his new mission to kill Colonel Kurtz who has gone insane.  Listening to this song and seeing the images that director Francis Coppola has chosen puts the audience in a dark and depressing mood.

4. Rocky III – Eye Of The Tiger
In the third Rocky film Rocky has lost a title match against Clubber Lang. His trainer Mickey has passed away and former opponent Apollo Creed has agreed to train him. According to Apollo, Rocky has lost his edge that he had when they first fought. It was the eye of the tiger. The song worked as a perfect fight song for Rocky Balboa. It pumps you up and, for lack of better terms, brings out the tiger in you.

3. Almost Famous – Tiny Dancer
While following the fictitious band Stillwater for Rolling Stone magazine, young William Miller feels over-his-head. While the band’s bus is driving away from a house party. The mood is somewhat melancholy until Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” comes on. Soon everyone in the bus is singing along with the lyrics and spirits are lifted.

2. Wayne’s World – Bohemian Rhapsody
As Wayne’s World begins we are introduced to Wayne, Garth, and their friends. As they drive down the road Wayne snaps in a tape of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Suddenly the car erupts into operatic song as they sing along with the tape. It is a funny and memorable moment that wins the crowd from the start and lead to so many kids in my class learning the lyrics so that they could do the same.

1. Saturday Night Fever – Stayin’ Alive
A dark story of New York’s disco scene in the 1970s there are few more iconic moments in film than Tony Manero strutting down the street with a paint can while the Bee Gee’s sing “Stayin’ Alive.” The movie itself is nihilistic and disillusioning but that moment has been so ingrained in pop culture that it has been parodied countless times.

Honorable Mentions

American Psycho – Hip To Be Square
Patrick Bateman plans on killing Paul Allen because he has a better business card and can get into exclusive restaurants. Patrick has prepped his living room with newspaper and donned a raincoat. In order to cover the noise of the murder he plays the Huey Lewis and the News song “Hip To Be Square.” It is a darkly funny moment that is becomes memorable in the sheer gory nature of the horrific scene.

An American Werewolf In London – Blue Moon
A werewolf has recently bitten David Kessler. On the night of a full moon he is bored and roaming around his love interests apartment. As night comes “Blue Moon” begins to play and David falls to the ground and painfully transforms into a werewolf. The contrast in the calm music and the horrific turn of events transpiring make the scene somewhat humorous and completely unforgettable.

The Big Lebowski – Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)
During a dream sequence The Dude envisions himself in a porno titled Gutterballs while the Kenny Rogers song “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” plays in the background. The dream features many of the characters The Dude has come across in his neo-noir adventure however he doesn’t really gain any new knowledge from the dream.  It is a funny moment that will go through your mind whenever you hear the song.

Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb – We’ll Meet Again
As the atomic bombs drop and the mushroom clouds flourish the Vera Miles song “We’ll Meet Again” plays in the background. It is a moment of juxtaposing sweet farewells and fiery death. Director Stanley Kubrick truly had a dark sense of humor that translated well to film.

Many movies have notable songs that stick in the public consciousness.  These songs have an almost mnemonic ability to remind us of the movies. Perhaps that is the power of the film to cement that into our memory. Even so it has lead to greatly entertaining hours of joy, fear, sadness, and anger as we can to connect the songs with these stories. Hopefully, there will be many more great moments to come in future films.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Vacation (2015) – review

Normally comedic movies get a pass from a lot of my criticism since comedy, as a genre itself, is incredibly subjective. Vacation, considers itself to be apart of a beloved franchise and wants to appear to stand-alone. It fails on both counts. The characters are grating and unlikable and the writing is stale and lifeless.

Grown up Rusty Griswold, played by Ed Helms, decides for a change of pace to take the family on a road trip from Chicago to California to visit Walley World just like his family did when he was a kid. His wife, Debbie, played by Christina Applegate, is unhappy and his sons are two horrible saps. The younger is a foul-mouthed bully while the older is a whiny intellectual who is always mocked. The boys are constantly fighting so he hopes that this trip will bring them all closer as a family.

I struggle to find anything good to say about this movie. It is devoid of originality and the characters feel like charm sponges, draining the scene of any interest or fun that could be had and leaving a husk remaining.  The movie actually tells the audience in an off-hand way that this movie is different from the original Vacation movie and that this one will stand on its own. That would be clever, if it wasn’t an outright lie.

Instead we are given scenes that are taken from the original but are wildly less funny since Ed Helms is not a leading man and his family is comprised of people you don’t want to see on screen. Scenes like:
-The Father showing everyone the crappy car’s features
- The redneck stealing from the family
- The car having an altercation with a semi-truck
-The dad’s angry blow out at the family
-The psychotic meltdown
-The car breakdown in the dessert
-The cute girl next to the car in a red Ferrari
-The misunderstanding at the pool
-The parents trying to make love but being interrupted
-Running at Wally World to the theme from Chariots of Fire
Between this unoriginal garbage is a heaping helping of poop and vomit jokes that would make any middle school student pleased.

Even when characters from the original like Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo show up it is only a grim reminder that we are watching something that doesn’t want to try very hard.  Maybe this would have worked better had it not had a beloved franchise attached to it. This movie depressed me because I enjoy the original John Hughes characters so much and to see them turned into such losers is really sad.

Vacation is not worth seeing. Watch the original movie. Hell, watch all of the original movies and they are wildly better than this. If it has Cousin Eddie in it, that is an even safer bet. This movie felt like a series of SNL throwaway skits. The jokes are obvious and juvenile. It will leave you angry and disappointed and generally you expect more out of your comedic movies.