Tuesday, July 3, 2012

It Came From The Cineplex: Men In Black 3, Snow White & The Huntsman, Battleship, Prometheus, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

You've been warned.

Men In Black 3
A troubled production from the get go that happily turned out to be the best of the series. 

It's a fun little romp that just may surpass the first two installments. It was definitely miles above Men In Black 2 and I think I even liked it better than the first one.

According to internet reports (which as we all know are of course unimpeachable), director Barry Sonnenfeld started filming the movie without a completed script. They had the first act written but no second or third acts. They even built a hiatus into the shooting schedule so that they could stop filming in order to figure out the storyline and finish the script! 

Who does this? Who starts a project that costs hundreds of millions of dollars without having an ending to the story? I will never understand this attitude. Studios think nothing of spending millions on sets and special effects, but God forbid they spend more than $1.98 on a decent script.

Despite all this backstage turmoil, the film somehow turned out pretty darned good. I wouldn't recommend that any future film makers try it though.

Josh Brolin's performance as the Young Agent K is nothing short of astonishing. He absolutely nails the look, speech patterns and mannerisms of Tommy Lee Jones. In was downright eerie at times. I truly believed I was watching a younger Jones. I don't know if his performance was Oscar™ worthy or not, but he definitely deserves some kind of award for his work.

Just an observation: I am assuming that this movie takes place in the present day. Agent K says he's 29 years old in 1969. That would make him 72 in 2012. Don't MIB agents ever get to retire? Also, without getting too spoilery, there is evidence in the movie that Agent J was 5 or 6 years old back in 1969. That would make him 48 or 49 in the present day. Is he really supposed to be that old?

Part of me wonders if introducing a younger version of Agent K was a sneaky way of ensuring the continuation of the franchise, should Tommy Lee Jones decide to retire. They could easily figure out some way to snatch the young Agent K from the past and bring him permanently into the present. Time will tell, I guess.

The MIB Agency gets a new Chief in this movie, as Agent O (played by both Emma Thompson and Alice Eve) replaces Agent Zed (played by Rip Torn in the first two movies). I have to wonder if Zed's "death" was written into the script in response to the recent legal and criminal problems that have plagued actor Rip Torn in the past few years? Did they not want to deal with him and his many legal troubles? Or did they just want to provide a love interest for Agent K? 

Some of the time travel in the movie was a little wonky (especially the part where Agent J gets a do-over when fighting Boris), but that's par for the course in any movie that deals with traveling to the past, and I was willing to overlook it.

The Plot:
In the present day, Boris the Animal, last of the alien Boglodite race, escapes from the LunarMax colony on Earth's moon. He was placed there back in 1969 after being captured and losing his left arm to Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), thus preventing a Boglodite invasion of Earth. Boris plans to go back in time and kill K, thus preventing his incarceration and allowing the invasion of Earth to succeed this time.

Boris' plan works and all traces of Agent K are wiped from the present day. Curiously only Agent J (Will Smith) remembers K and goes back in time to prevent him from being killed in the past. 

In 1969, Agent J meets a young (well, youngish) Agent K (now played by Josh Brolin) and the two have to team up to save Earth and restore the timeline.

• Josh Brolin is amazing as Tommy Lee Jones as Agent K. 

• Better than the first two movies. 

• Interesting production design and aliens, as always. 

• A surprisingly heartfelt ending. 

• Honestly, I got nothing.

A rare case of the third leg of a trilogy turning out better than the first two. I give it a B+. 

Snow White And The Huntsman
Snow White gets the Lord of the Rings treatment.

Seriously, this movie has some severe Lord of the Rings envy. Don't believe me? The end credits say they even used MASSIVE, a computer animation program that simulates realistic crowds and armies. The very same program that Peter Jackson used in all three Lord of the Rings movies to depict battles between humans and orcs. This film practically sprains itself trying to remind us of Tolkien.

Overall it's not a terrible movie, but it could move along a bit more quickly. One way they could have streamlined the script: by removing the completely superfluous character of William, Snow White's childhood friend and later rival for her hand. He serves absolutely no purpose in the movie whatsoever, except perhaps to provide very weak competition to the Huntsman for Snow's affections. I'm sure he was included to try and work a Twlightian love triangle into the proceedings, but honestly every one of his scenes could have been excised without damaging the plot in the least.

One other complaint: The Snow White vs. Ravenna face off is built up all through the movie, and when the two finally confront one another, poof! The battle's over in thirty seconds. Their showdown should have been a bit more epic and drawn out.

Recent reports declare that Kristen Stewart is now the highest paid actress in the country. I don't begrudge Ms. Stewart her millions as I'm sure she worked hard for them, but I will say that I honestly don't get it. I just don't understand her appeal. She's attractive enough I suppose, but she seems to wear the same expression of blank bemusement in every single scene.

Supposedly the "Little People of America" organization is protesting this movie. They're riled because the film cast actors of normal stature for the parts of the dwarves and digitally shrank them, instead of hiring actual little people. Sigh... OK, suppose we go ahead and appease these people and exclusively hire only little persons to fill the eight roles (yeah, there were eight dwarves, not seven. Don't ask). Let's see, who could we hire? Well there's Peter Dinklage of course. And then there's... um... Oh, yeah, the guy in the Willy Wonka remake! Deep Roy or something. OK, there's two. Let's see, who else? Umm... the black guy from Bad Santa? OK, that's three. Still need five more... Billy Barty's dead... Vern Troyer I guess, although he's probably too little to be a proper dwarf.

See the problem? I'm sure the producers would have been more than happy to hire actual short statured actors but there just ain't a whole lot of them out there right now.

The Plot:
Snow White (Kristen Stewart) is the daughter of King Magnus and Queen Eleanor. After the Queen's untimely death, the on-the-rebound King marries the beautiful but treacherous Ravenna (Charlize Theron), who kills him and takes over his kingdom. She then imprisons young Snow White in a cell for years instead of killing her outright, like you'd expect an evil Queen to do.

Ravenna controls a dark army made of glass (yeah, glass) and needs to periodically drain the youth from young women in order to maintain her beauty. Her Magic Mirror tells her that if she consumes Snow White's heart, she will gain immortality. Darn the luck, Snow escapes her cell right before Ravenna can rip open her chest.

Ravenna hires Eric the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth, who is having one hell of a year, appearing in three movies this summer) to track down Snow White. He finds her, but ends up siding with her because she reminds him of his late wife or something. 

It takes forever, but eventually the Seven (actually Eight) Dwarves finally show up, giving the film a much needed dose of humor. Then Snow White eats the poison apple, she falls into a coma and the Huntsman comes along and plants one on her kisser and wakes her up. Then Snow White, who's spent most of her life locked away in a dungeon all by herself, reveals that she is in fact a master tactician and takes control of a neighboring kingdom's army. She storms the castle, defeats Ravenna and becomes Queen.

• The Seven or Eight Dwarves were a hoot and added some much needed humor into the proceedings. 

• Nice production design. 

• A little too long. 

• The final battle between the two gals was over a little too soon. 

A stylish adult take on the classic fairy tale. I give it a B-.

Well, it's come to this. 5,000 years of human civilization has brought us to this point: a movie based on the board game Battleship.

When the opening credits of a movie read, "Universal and Hasbro present," well, then you know you're not in for Shakespeare.

I would dearly love to know the genesis of this project. I strongly suspect that a year or two ago a Hollywood movie producer went back his childhood home in rural Idaho or Kansas for Xmas. His retired parents didn't have cable or any copies of Variety laying about and bored out of his mind, he accepted his young nephew's offer to play his newly received copy of Battleship with him. As the producer played the nautical strategy game for the first time he thought to himself, "Where has this amazing game been my entire life? The intense strategies involved! The suspense! The thrills! This would make an exciting and compelling motion picture! I'm writing up a treatment as soon as I get back to civilization!" That's how I'm assuming it happened anyway, until I find evidence to the contrary.

The whole thing is a love letter to the Navy and has a healthy respect for the armed forces in general, especially veterans. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Battleship also stars Liam Neeson, Taylor Kitsch and god help us, someone named Rihanna. If you're a Neeson fan (and who isn't) prepare to be disappointed. He's in the movie for a grand total of ten minutes. Apparently he needed a yacht payment and stopped by the set for a couple of hours.

Poor Taylor Kitsch. First he starred in the horribly named John Carter which is on track to become the biggest money-losing movie in history. Then he follows it up a couple of months later with this movie, which isn't exactly setting the cineplex on fire. He needs an agent transplant, STAT!

Why, oh why is Rihanna in this movie? Is it some kind of stunt casting, in a feeble attempt to draw young girls into this male-skewing film? It reminds me of how 1960s Westerns would star Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart and then Fabian. 

To say Rihanna is miscast is an understatement. This is the kind of part that Michelle Rodriguez has made a career playing and there's no reason she shouldn't have been in this movie instead. In fact the next time I see it, I'm just going to imagine Michelle Rodriguez is actually on screen every time I see Rihanna pop up. 

One standout in the cast: Army Colonel Greg Gadson. Gadson is a real life double leg amputee (and not a cgi creation as some nimrods think) and makes his acting debut in the movie as, what else, a wounded veteran. He does a pretty good job too, especially in a scene where he and his group are confronted by aliens and he says, "I got this," quickly dispatching one of the hapless extraterrestrials. 

I found the soundtrack of the movie to be extremely annoying. This isn't a movie that has a traditional instrumental soundtrack that enhances the action; instead it's the kind that blares a different rock song for a few seconds at the beginning of every scene change. We're in the admiral's office, so they play a few seconds of Boston. We switch to a scene on the bridge of a destroyer and we hear a few bars of AC/DC. I hate this type of soundtrack. It's lazy and the only reason they do it is to pad the soundtrack so they can sell it on CD. 

Well, we now have a taste of what a Halo movie might look like should one ever get made. The aliens' armored suits bear a very strong resemblance to the ones worn in the Halo video game franchise. 

Surprisingly there are a few parts of the movie that don't quite make sense. Taylor Kitsch's character is shown to be a directionless slacker who is forced into joining the Navy by his responsible brother. Somehow Kitsch rises up in the ranks and becomes some kind of commander. I don't think so.

 At one point we learn that the invading aliens can't handle Earth's bright sunlight. Yet during a night battle we find out that they can't see the human destroyer attacking them. So they can't see in the light and can't see in the dark either. These aliens have some definite sight issues. 

Most importantly, they didn't say it. You know what I'm talking about. If you've ever played Battleship even once in your life, you know that when you lose a game piece you're supposed to cry, "You Sunk My Battleship!" just like in the toy commercial. The entire point of making a movie like this is to see Liam Neeson growl that iconic line. Yes, I know that  most of the ships in the movie were destroyers and not actually battleships. You want accuracy from a movie like this? People wanted to hear the line! And it never came! The closest we got was some 90 year old veteran who says, "They'll never sink this battleship!" Close but not ever remotely the same. Director Peter Berg says he considered adding the line, but was afraid the audience would laugh. Really? You just made a movie based on a board game and you're afraid people will laugh? It's far too late to start worrying about that. I'm going to go ahead and blame the movie's poor box office performance on the absence of the Line. 

Lastly I would be remiss if I didn't comment on the song played over the end credits. As the movie ends, the soundtrack surges up to 11 and blares "Fortunate Son" by Creedance. Um... that's certainly an unusual choice. This is very definitely a pro-military, pro-soldier movie, so of course it only makes sense that they'd end it by playing a famous anti-war protest song. Did the producers not listen to the lyrics? Didn't they read the liner notes? It's a song about a guy who's angry about being drafted because he's not "fortunate" enough to be the son of a rich senator or businessman who could buy his way out of the draft. The perfect way to end your pro-war movie!  

Despite the fact that the entire world (and me) is ragging on this movie, I actually kind of liked it. They somehow managed to base a movie on a freakin' board game but still told a semi-coherent story. I will admit there's nothing deep here, but it entertained me for two hours, and in the end isn't that what a movie's supposed to do?

The Plot:
Several years ago a group of scientists, led by a guy doing his best Jeff Goldblum impression, sent a signal to a planet they suspect could contain life. Apparently the message they sent was, "Aliens, Start Your Invasion," because that's just what they do. An alien force sends a scouting party to Earth to scope out the planet and see if it's ripe for a good takeover. The alien ships land in the Pacific near Hawaii and proceed to enclose the area inside a huge forcefield bubble, trapping several Navy destroyers inside with them. 

The alien ships have superior fire power of course, which consists of bombs that look like giant versions of the pegs in the game. I sh*t you not. The bombs look exactly like the game pieces. It actually took my mind several seconds to fully comprehend what I was seeing on the screen and that I wasn't hallucinating. Let me just emphasize it one more time: the alien's bombs look exactly like the pegs in the game. 

The alien ships also hover a few feet over the water, as if they're afraid of getting their feet wet. The ships don't fly, instead they leapfrog over the human ships because of course they do. I assume this was to make them act more like the ships in the game, which of course don't ever move and aren't of alien origin. So now that I think about it, I have no idea why the ships leapfrog and hover. 

The alien ships make short work of all but one of the destroyers, which is helmed by our hero Lt. Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), a free-spirited slacker who somehow became a naval officer. The aliens begin building an antenna to beam the "Invasion is a go" message back home, adding a countdown to the movie and giving our heroes something tangible that they can blow up. During a battle the destroyer is, well, destroyed, but not before it takes out the dome and all but one of the alien ships. The surviving crew, including our hero Hopper, then head for the last battleship in existence or something, the mothballed Missouri. 

But wait! It's an old ship full of outdated technology! Who could possibly show them how to use it? Why, none other than a squad of retired geriatric sailors, who whip the ship into shape with the power of a montage. The Battleship then takes on the final alien ship and wins the day. 

• As good a movie that's based on a board game that you're likely to get. 

• Does a good job of working the game play into the plot. 

•  A love letter to Navy veterans. 

• Col. Greg Gadson. Despite the fact that he has no legs, I firmly believe he could still kick my ass.

• Goofy, but fun. 

• A hopelessly miscast Rihanna torpedoes every scene she's in. Where's Michelle Rodriguez when you need her?

• The Jeff Goldblum knockoff wasn't nearly as funny as he thought he was.

• Annoying soundtrack.

• Very bizarre choice of closing song. Someone on the staff needs to listen more closely to "Fortunate Son."


A cross between Independence Day and a watchable Transformers. I give it a B-.

Directory Ridley Scott returns to the universe he created in 1979's ALIEN. For months before the movie's release the internet was abuzz about it, speculating as to whether it was a sequel, prequel or a new story set in the same universe. Scott didn't help matters any by remaining coy on the subject, saying only that it "shared strands of ALIEN's DNA, so to speak." Whatever the hell that means.

In the end he gave us a story that's definitely set in the same universe, and sort of is, but kind of isn't, a prequel. Do yourself a favor and just don't worry about it. You'll live a happier life that way.

Prometheus very much wants to be a thinking man's sci-fi movie, but unfortunately most of the ideas it toys with are of ripped straight out of Chariots of the Gods and not all that interesting. It raises many questions about the origin of life and humanity's place in the universe, but then doesn't bother to answer them. When I saw that the film was co-written by Damon Lindelof of LOST fame, it made perfect sense. LOST was never big on serving up answers to the endless questions it raised and the same goes double here. Unanswered questions aren't necessarily a bad thing as they can jumpstart audience discussion, but here I get the impression the filmmakers thought vagueness equaled cleverness.

Unfortunately there's some wonky science going on in the movie too. At the beginning of the film one of the Engineers appears to willingly dissolve his body so that his disassembled DNA can jump-start life on Earth. If that's really what happened then where did single celled life forms, dinosaurs, mammoths and all those type of things that appeared before man come from? Why didn't humans just spring up out of the muck, fully formed?

Also at one point the scientists study a sample of the Engineer DNA and proclaim that it's IDENTICAL to that of humans. Um... no. The Engineers are giant musclebound blue humanoids; to even suggest that their DNA is the same as ours is beyond ridiculous. I would be willing to buy that it's similar, but identical? Someone on the writing staff needs to read a textbook.

Guy Pearce plays Peter Weyland, the trillionaire sponsor of the expedition, in some truly horrendous 1970s era old age makeup. It's really bad. So bad that it stops the story dead in its tracks while you sit there and think, "They couldn't have found a real old man for this role?" Supposedly they chose a young actor to play the part of an ancient man because they filmed some flashback scenes between a younger Weyland and David the android, but they were cut for time. Strange how every other aspect of the production is top notch, but the old age makeup, a technology that's been around since the silent movie era, is so subpar.

Even though Prometheus is presented as "sort of" a prequel, what Scott actually gave us was much closer to a remake of the original film. Consider:

Mining ship receives a distress signal, is rerouted to investigate.
Humans discover cave paintings that they decode as a map, or signal if you will, and send a ship to investigate.

Ship lands on the hostile moon of a ringed planet.
Ship lands on the hostile moon of a ringed planet. 

Crew dons space suits and investigates weird bio-organic caverns. 
Crew dons space suits and investigates weird bio-organic caverns. 

Crew finds chamber full of leathery alien eggs.
Crew finds chamber full of vases containing DNA altering black sludge.

Crew member is infected. Commanding officer doesn't want to let him in but is overridden. Infected crew member gives birth to alien entity.
Crew member is infected. CO doesn't want to let him in and kills him. Another crew member is secretly infected and gives birth to alien entity.

Android is programmed to retrieve alien specimen by company as a possible bioweapon.
Android is programmed to retrieve alien specimen by company as a possible means of immortality.

Android gets his head torn off, but is still conscious and can speak.
Android gets his head torn off, but is still conscious and can speak.


Entire crew is killed except for lone female officer, who kills marauding alien, leaving her the sole survivor of the Nostromo.
Entire crew is killed except for lone female officer, who kills marauding alien, leaving her the sole survivor of the Prometheus.

Sounds a bit familiar, eh?

The end of the movie seems to be making an effort to link everything up to the start of ALIEN: the Engineer puts on his elephant helmet, sits down at his control station that looks like a giant gun and attempts to blast off in his ship. His ship then crashes in the exact same position as the one we eventually see in ALIENS. All well and good, except that as I mentioned earlier this is NOT LV-426, the planet seen in ALIEN & ALIENS. So apparently the exact same failed takeoff events happened on two different planets. Why even bother ending the movie with this scene and confusing the audience further? 

If you're a regular reader of my blog (and frankly who isn't) you know by now that one of my pet peeves is sci-fi movies with fantastic technology that take place too close to the present day. Prometheus is one of these movies. It takes place in the unimaginably distant year of 2089 ( a whole 77 years from now) yet features faster than light space ships with artificial gravity as well as a self-aware android virtually indistinguishable from humans. NASA couldn't launch a spacecraft to the moon right now if there was a gun to their collective heads; there's no way in hell that we could ever possibly have anything even close to the movie's technology in 77 short years. I'm assuming they placed the movie when they did because according to the ALIEN DVD, that movie takes place in 2122, which is also too damned soon.

The Plot: 
Two scientists discover a series of similar cave paintings in various areas on Earth. Making a very large   and unscientific intuitive leap, they deduce that the paintings are an "invitation" from aliens they dub "The Engineers," whom they believe to be the forefathers of humanity. For some reason they believe the Engineers want us to come and pay them a visit. 

Somehow they convince the huge and powerful Weyland Corporation (in the days before they became Weyland-Yutani) to fund the creation of the science vessel Prometheus in order to follow the map and meet humanity's makers.

They arrive at the distant moon LV-223 (which you will note is a completely different moon from LV-426, which is where the events of ALIEN and ALIENS took place) and find remains of several alien structures there. They investigate the structures, finding various bizarre life forms inside. Against all logic and scientific protocol they bring the head of one of the aliens inside Prometheus, while several of the other crew members are infected with other life forms.

Soon all hell breaks loose as the cast is picked off one by one and the scientists realize that the planet is actually one big military weapons base. Even worse, one of the Engineers is still alive and aims to take his ship full of bio-weapons back to Earth. Why? We're never given a compelling reason, other than perhaps that the Engineers are a bunch of space assholes. It's then up to the remaining crew of the Prometheus to stop the ship and save the Earth.

• Visually stunning.

•  Michael Fassbender is excellent as David the android. 

• Some really bad science on display, especially involving DNA.

• Really bad old age makeup on Guy Pearce.

• Despite all the crowing about its original story, the film is a virtual remake of ALIEN.

While I welcome the return of the ALIEN universe, the story could have been better. I give it a B

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter
Seth Grahame-Smith does it again. A few years back he "wrote" Pride And Prejudice and Zombies, a classic literature/horror mashup that basically consisted of him taking Jane Austen's novel and injecting zombies into it every couple of chapters.

He did the same thing a couple of years later with Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.

I will be honest-- I am not a fan of the book. It's written in the form of a series of letters and essays from Lincoln with vampires thrown in now and then. I was bored stiff by it. 

Naturally since I was less than enthusiastic about the book, I had little interest in the movie. Then I saw the trailer and it looked like they'd ramped up the action considerably, giving me hope that it might actually be good. Alas, my hopes were dashed yet again by the finished product.

The main problem with the film is that it absolutely races through Lincoln's life, skipping over decades of important details. He starts out at age nine. In an instant ten years pass and he's nineteen. The movie then completely skips over his first love Ann Rutlidge (and her subsequent death), who isn't even mentioned in passing. Then he decides to "put away his axe to concentrate on his political career. Boom, he's now fifty years old and president, completely leaving out his years as a senator! They show us Lincoln's son Willy, but never mention the fact that he had three other children. OK, so I didn't expect a movie like this to be an accurate historical record, but if you didn't know anything about Lincoln before seeing this movie, you're not going to much more by the end. 

The cast does a decent enough job I suppose. Benjamin Walker is top notch as Abe, and looks very much like a young Liam Neeson. Dominic Cooper and Rufus Sewell round out the cast as dueling vampires.

Just look at the two of them! Why, they could almost pass as sisters!

One bit of casting I did find unintentionally hilarious: Lincoln's only wife was Mary Todd Lincoln, and by all accounts she was not an easy woman to look at. So of course in the movie she's portrayed by the stunning Mary Elizabeth Winstead. The resemblance is uncanny, I tell you!

I'm a little curious as to why the author chose vampires as the enemy of choice here. Maybe because he'd already used zombies in his previous work? The reason I bring it up is because they don't seem to act much like traditional vampires. Sure, they suck blood, do their best to bite you and can turn invisible, but other than that... the sun doesn't seem to bother them much (other than causing them to wear sunglasses) and no one ever brings up the notion of jamming stakes into their hearts. They're also susceptible to silver, which is usually associated with werewolves. Vampire movies need rules if they're going to work. The audience needs to know if sunlight causes them to burst into flames or just give them a bad headache. Do stakes in the chest work, or must they be decapitated? It's important to lay down rules for your monsters and then stick with them. 

The film brings up some interesting ideas, but the aforementioned breakneck pace ensures that they're never around long enough to appreciate. The concept of an unstoppable Confederate army made up of the undead? How cool is that? Too bad we only get to see it for a scant thirty seconds or so before it's on to the next big setpiece.

The movie ends with Lincoln riding off to Ford's theater, completely ignoring the book's ending in which we find out that Abe is still alive in the present day, turned into an immortal vampire by his mentor because he's "too interesting to let die."

Normally I shun 3D and avoid it like the plague. Due to unimportant circumstances I was forced to see this movie in glorious post-converted three dimensions. It added absolutely NOTHING to the film or the movie going experience (as usual). The only thing it did is remove an extra three dollars from my wallet. Half the time I forgot I was supposed to be watching a 3D movie; the only thing that occasionally reminded me of the fact were the floating dust motes present in every single scene. Lincoln apparently lived in the glorious Age of Dust, as nearly every scene in the movie features several dozen dust motes drifting lazily across the screen in front of the action. In fact after a time I began watching the dust motes more than I did the actors. Hey, it's only natural, they were haniging right there mere inches from my face. I wish I was a member of the Motion Picture Academy so I could nominate the Dust Motes for best supporting actors.

The Plot:
Abraham Lincoln hunts vampires.

• Some cool concepts that ultimately weren't given enough screen time.

• Decent performances.

•  If your anger is intense enough, you can cut through a tree with a single axe stroke.

• Leaves out too many details.

• Takes itself WAY too seriously.

• Needs some vampire rules.

A mediocre adaptation of a book I didn't particularly care for. I give it a C.

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