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Archive for June 2011

The Terminator (1984)

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Post-apocalyptic 2029.  The world looks pretty dark and gray.  The only thing stopping artificially intelligent beings from completely exterminating the human race is a handful of rebels led by John Connor.  Robots plan of action will execute itself on the battlefield of 1984, where a Cyborg Terminator (Arnold Schwartgenegger) is sent on a deadly mission to eliminate Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the mother of the future’s rebel-leader.  Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) is sent from the rebel’s side to detail Sarah and keep her safe.

I finally saw James Cameron’s sci-fi magnum opus, and Schwartzenegger’s defining performance as an actor before he became, you know, governor and stuff.  I always thought that Terminator would be one of those movies that gets its awesomeness because it’s nostalgic.. not because it’s actually good.  Well, this movie bears zero nostalgia for me and I absolutely loved it.  So I guess Cameron DID do a few things pre-Titanic.  I don’t know, maybe it’s just my nerdy fixation with sci-fi and dystopian societies.  Actually, that probably is it, but I still think that Terminator is a good movie.

First of all, while I’m not a huge Arnold fan in general, he is pretty boss as the ruthless killing machine.  His lines are few, but weighty.  “I’ll be back.”  He’s got some serious presence.  Annnnnd, he’ll probably be nothing but The Terminator.  The limited speaking fits the limited acting talent.  No offense.  The others are pretty good too – Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn in particular.  They didn’t shine necessarily, but they still were fine in a movie where the acting REALLY doesn’t matter that much.  Their interactions with each other?  Mehh.  Whatever.  Indifferent.

I guess what it boils down to is some serious surpassing of expectations.  Coming into this for the first time (finally, I might add) I was expecting some action-packed explosive kinda movie.  Lots of shooting… lots of blowing up… things like that.  Of course, there was definitely some of that junk.  I guess what I didn’t expect was the intrigue and mystique behind all the action.  The jumping back and forth through time and the detailed machines.  The dark thrill, the fear.  A computerized killing machine, programmed to do nothing but.  Man this crap is awesome.  It makes me proud to be a sci-fi nerd.

A word that keeps coming to mind is convincing.  I feel like the movie believes its own tale.  It believes in this world that we are so unfamiliar with it we hardly know to be scared out of our pants.  It convinces us that this could happen, it sucks us into this land of incredulity.  We’ve got Kyle to explain us the ups and downs (man I love those scenes where someone unfolds every detail for the audience).

And I could rave for days about the music.  Er, the main title anyway.  It’s such a quintessentially deep science fiction feeling.  I… adore it.  There’s nothing quite so captivating as a good score, and this nails that aspect.  The credits are rolling and I’m sitting there wide-eyed and drooling from my open mouth I feel so much from the music.  Yeah, I’m going crazy.  The main theme’s just really cool, okay?

What I found fascinating was how truly apprehensive I felt at the climax.  I am not one to jump or scream, but I was near holding my breath as our heros ran from the killing machine.  His seemingly human appearance is slowly unveiled and with that, the wall between comfort and terror.  His arm inching towards Sarah with such slow tension.  Yeah, I was kinda scared.  That rarely happens – and for it to occur in a freaking action movie with Arny was, well, remarkable.  The camerawork and special effects are also fantastic, as well as James Cameron’s craftsmanship behind the scenes.  I’m AMAZED at the low budget, it’s really top-notch even with the lack of funding.

The Terminator was ahead of its time.  Though one could still recognize it by some rather obvious 80’s labels, it does manage to achieve a level of timelessness still.  It will always be iconic, and it will always be parodied.  It will always be freaking awesome.  8/10

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Written by laurenthejukebox17

June 21, 2011 at 9:07 pm

Cars 2 (2011)

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In this next installment in the world of vehicles, Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) ropes his best-buddy celebrity Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) into racing at the Grand Prix against the open-wheeled race-car Italian stud Francesco (John Turturro).  The Grand Prix, however, is full of surprises, especially when Mater gets a little too involved behind the scenes with some spicy spy cars (Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer, guys..).

Yeah kids, I totes saw a pre-screening for Cars 2.  It’s definitely one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my life.  Thanks to Derrick at The Pixar Podcast for the sweet hookup.  I never felt so official before… Listen to our initial responses and the discussion of the film here.

With a few clichés that bug, Pixar has still managed to keep that perfect track record through entertainment, and funny gags.  For someone who’s not a huge fan of Cars, I would definitely recommend this sequel that blows its predecessor away.  7/10

Written by laurenthejukebox17

June 21, 2011 at 6:16 am

The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

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The greatest disappointment was the gross lack of Chuck Norris jokes…

David Norris (see what I mean? oh, and Matt Damon), with the charming smile in one pocket and a sketchy past in the other, rises from his grungy upbringing to run for Senator of New York.  Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) is a professional ballet dancer, spunky and sassy.  After Norris is slaughtered in the election, he stumbles upon Elise in the men’s room (oh, it’s cool, she’s just hiding from security after crashing a wedding).  Their chemistry is fizzling instantly, and their spontaneous kiss is magical.  Her fire and spirit inspire David to give the best speech of his career – catapulting him to a lead in the next election.

The next day, after failing to spill his coffee according to some agenda that a fairly attractive, skinny black man in a hat (Anthony Mackle) is in charge of, he runs into Elise again.  But that wasn’t supposed to happen.  He was never supposed to see her again.  He was never supposed to arrive at work when he did.

More men in hats confront David.  They explain some religious hoo-dah about “men upstairs,” “the chairman,” life-plans that keep the universe in check, human-beings can’t make decisions… stuff like that.  They swear David to secrecy about their existence, otherwise he gets some serious “reset” lobotomy, oh, and he can never have Elise.

Even three years later when chance takes over and he bumps into her again.  It’s not according to plan.  But then this Thompson dude (Terence Stamp) ups the ante.  If they get together, David will never be president, and Elise will never have the dance career that she would have had.  And he decides to show his omnipotence by forcing a sprained ankle on Elise.  David is faced with following his heart vs. following destiny.

Superb premise.  Once things got cooking in the bathroom I was hooked.  Men with hats observing from above, stalking a potential presidential candidate.  The whole thing with the coffee spilling at 7:05 or the world keels over is pretty awesome.  My first question (of many): are we all observed?  The entire bureau seems to focus all efforts on these TWO people.  I mean, that’s cool, that’s a movie, but they barely put forth the effort to make it look like they observed anyone else at all.  The “big reveal” or whatever missed the opportunity to make this look like a universal organization, encompassing every human being who missteps.  Oh well.

Free agency vs. pre-determined destiny.  Being religious myself, these underlying themes are fascinating.  While many believe “the chairman” to be God as we know him, I think of this chairman dude as being a lot more like the devil.  Obviously this isn’t the real world, and in this real world I do choose to believe that God is watching over upstairs.  But he doesn’t intervene in our affairs like those in The Adjustment Bureau do, he gave us choice.  Satan, or whatever, wouldn’t give us that choice.  And that makes us slaves to him.  This is a dystopian society, and things AREN’T supposed to be like that.

Which is where my main problem comes from.  (Sorry for the religious rant in there, bee-tee-dubs.  I couldn’t help it).  Spoilers.  After all their cat and dog antics, David determines his decision.  He wants to be with Elise no matter the cost.  His decision is made and no “chairman” is going to tell him what to do.  So, in an escapade of brilliance, he and Elise depart hand in hand to confront the man who writes the plans, since no one else seems to know why they can’t be together.

Call me a realist, but I wanted there to be a face to the responsibility.  I’m so pleased that this dude came to his humane side and changed the plan just for them to be together.  He’s a real sweetheart.  But, as anticlimactic as it is, I wanted some kind of confrontation between the good guys and the messed-in-the-heads.  Some big speech about letting us choose our destiny, no one can force us to do anything blabbity blah.  But instead, we get some immediate resolution between Elise and David’s story… and nothing for the bigger picture.  What happens to the next person who unknowingly never meets the person of their dreams?  The future remains sadly unaffected and I guess I had a problem with that.

Anyways.

Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are a fantastic duo, and I knew that would be so two years ago when I first HEARD about this movie.  I’m not even going to attempt to deny my girl-crush on Emily Blunt, she’s a terribly versatile actress and I’ll bank on any film of hers nowadays.  And, well, who doesn’t love everybody’s man Matt Damon.

The theme and mood of the film is a perfect balance between drama and adventurous excitement.  The music is a wonderful accompaniment to the mood, Thomas Newman is a stud.  The pace too was captivating the entire way (though perhaps with one too many jumps to the future), and I was intrigued until the end with its outcome.  It’s a thinker, and everyone knows that I dig that kind thing.

And again, the plot itself was original and fantastically enthralling.  Walking through doors, super hats, men in suits nonchalantly controlling everything.  Though it perhaps didn’t achieve its potential, it is still worth the watch and an exciting ride.  7/10

Written by laurenthejukebox17

June 11, 2011 at 9:55 am

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

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Remember when I wrote this and this?  Well, go ahead and get yourself in the mood with those year-old opinions.  My coworker who loves Star Wars even more than I do (if that’s possible) suggested a May tradition of Star Wars lovin’.  I highly approve, and so I’ve been going through them again.  Here’s the next installment that I managed to not write a review of…

*CAUTION* This summary is written under the pretense that, well, all of you know the what’s up of Anakin Skywalker in the Star-verse.  If you don’t know the ending, well, stop reading and join the real world and watch some Star Wars.

K anyways.  Three years after the commencement of the Clone Wars, Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) are still teamed up and kicking Separatist trash.  Aside from the war, Anakin’s got more problems.  His secret marriage with Padme (Natalie Portman) reaches new levels when Padme gets pregnant.  Anakin, after more crazy premonitiondreams, is worried that his wife will suffer a similar fate to his mothers and Emp, I mean Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is still taking a special interest in young Skywalker.  The Jedi army aids the clones across the galaxy on various star systems, and Chancellor Palpatine has his own all-but innocent agenda to seize control.

First of all, III is associated with one of my favorite Star Wars memories.  My mom let me skip SCHOOL to see this on opening day back in ’05, and I have my brother to thank for planting that genius idea in my mother’s head.  It was so exciting, and so sad to see it all come to an end… and a pretty tragic end at that.  I believe I will feel similarly after this next Harry Potter installment is released next month.  But seriously, that was amazing.  And I was enamored with the entire movie.  With perhaps a few flaws, this is by far the best of the new trilogy and my opinion is largely the same (though not quite as obsessed).

Let’s talk Anakin.  And let’s talk HUGE IMPROVEMENT over II.  Allow me to reiterate from my last review – if Anakin hadn’t been such a douche in Attack of the Clones, then this third bit would make so much more sense.  Make Episode II Anakin into a nice though still cocky boy, willing to follow orders and inherently good.  THEN in Episode III he can defy the council, kill sand people and be an overall angry person.  But alas.  I did think that he played a confused, and scared young adult playing with fire very well.  His fall to the dark side, though initially implausible because his relationship with Padme is so unbelievable, is emotionally driven and powerful by the end.  Palpatine is a devilish snake, working Anakin like a puppet.  “Remember what you told me about your mother and the sand people?”  He “sees greatness in Anakin” but still reminds him of past mistakes.  He embodies the dark side of the force in the most literal way I could imagine.  He knows just how to play him, how to build him up and butter his ego, and make him more his servant.  It gives Darth Vader’s relationship to the Emp an entirely new meaning in the later trilogy – DV was never more than a slave.  Did I let the cat out of the bag too early?

Natalie Portman is solid as the mother of the future – rockin’ the princess Leia ‘do and everything.  But how could Anakin and Padme expect to keep their marriage a secret if A) they lived together and B) they were having kids!  Is prego Senators the norm in the Star-verse?  Did that affect her rep AT ALL?  I feel like they didn’t think things through very clearly.  Oh well, Natalie Portman is still good.  And beautiful and stuff (as the boy I was watching the movie with mentioned every few minutes…)

Ewan McGregor manages to emulate Sir Alec Guinness to perfection.  He’s fantastic as the scruffy Jedi-master.  I was pissed when he was tossed about so easily by Count Dooku… just like the last one.  Please don’t mess with one of my favorite characters.  I beg of you.  That’s all irrelevant though, because by the end he’s tossing General GRIEVOUS about like his cough were pneumonia and with more style than Anakin could ever have.  He’s a fantastic leader and you gotta feel his anguish by the end.  Poor guy.  I practically get teary (but not really) when Anakin and Obi-Wan part before their final showdown and Anakin bids the force be with him one last time…  So sad.  Yoda (Frank Oz) too is a bad-A green guy – it doesn’t get any cooler than nonchalantly outing Emperor Palpatine’s familiar red guards at the door.  So cool.  And the battle between the two of them is pretty sick, but I HATED Palpatine’s earlier battle with Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) and co.  Seriously? There’s no way that his pathetic swordsmanship could have bested all three of Windu’s buddies.  And Mace is MUCH too cool for the death he was given.  Fail.

Anakin and Obi-Wan’s battle is arguably the best in the whole series.  Granted, Darth Maul is the best Sith Lord the franchise has seen, but this is so emotional.  The blue on blue, the music oh the music (I could practically write a paper just on the J. Williams himself…), the lava land, the sadness.  Granted, Hayden is a little over the top once he loses his legs, but Ewan manages to keep it smooth and classy.  Overall it’s a fantastic scene and it gives Ep IV an entirely new twist.  III strikes the perfect tone leading into the old trilogy.  It makes you realize that the entire saga is really just a story about Anakin and his path as “the chosen one.”  He just took a little 20-year detour in a bad-A breathing suit.

Other cool things:

  • The order 66 execution.  And just like that, everything turns Darth Sidious’ way.  Pretty cool way to get rid of all the Jedi…
  • The continual expansion of the Star-verse.  Mustafaar, Kashyyk, whatever else.
  • Chewbacca’s cameo.
  • R2D2 further establishes himself as the number one selection for your team against the Zombie Apocalypse.  What can’t that little droid do?  That opening scene is excellent, and almost manages to capture the charm and wit of the original trilogy.  Almost.  But yeah, R2D2 is boss.
  • NO JAR JAR.
  • Awesome special effects.
  • Don’t tell me you didn’t get the chills when Darth Vader drew his first breath.  Or when James Earl Jones spoke his first words.
I’d ALMOST venture to say that this one’s better than Return of the Jedi.  Almost.  I’ll be rewatching that one sometime this week, so I guess I’ll see what my final opinion entails.  But whatever Lucas destroyed in the first two, he redeems in Episode III.  And hey, I’m not a hater of any of them.  This is the perfect bridge to the old trilogy and makes me feel good about being a Star Wars fan…atic.  8/10

A Place in the Sun (1951)

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So that George Stevens is pretty cool, huh?

George Eastman (Montgomery Clift) lands a job at his rich uncle’s factory, perks excluded.  His humble beginnings spark a relationship with his fellow packaging buddy, Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters) in his “eff this” mindset against the taboo no-relationships-in-the-workplace policy.  Alice, or “Al”, is fixated with George, dazzled with his dashing good looks and personality (who wouldn’t be?)  Things get crazy when George meets the enchanting Angela (Elizabeth Taylor), a high-society beauty with rich friends and influence to boot.  Alice is all-but thrown out the window once the chemistry between George and Angela starts fizzling.  But Alice isn’t done with George.  Not even close.  She’s determined to win him back, and she’s got a pretty convincing argument after she ends up pregnant.  But George has other plans.  [don don don…]

This was not was I was expecting.  I expected some sweeping romance between Clift and Taylor, with lots of passionate kissing and emotional music and beautiful scenery.  While this isn’t entirely untrue, haunting romanticism and tragedy encompass the plot.  When Elizabeth Taylor died just a few months ago, this was the first movie I wanted to watch since I had never seen it before (and it’s another one I can check off the AFI top 100 list…)  Go even further back to when I discovered Montgomery Clift, my mom told me that I needed to see A Place in the Sun if I wanted to see one of the most beautiful on-screen couples ever.  Boy was she right.  Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift, two beautiful people with beautiful faces and beautiful bone structure, were meant to be together on screen.  I’d argue that this is one of Taylor’s most beautiful films.  She’s classy, refined, and elegant.  And Clift is, well, movie-star dreamy.  Don’t judge.  I am a girl, you know.  I won’t tell you whether or not I drooled at his on-screen presence.  I’ll leave that up to you to figure out.  All handsomeness aside, he’s fantastic in this role.  Just sayin.

The real hero here, however, is George Stevens (won an Oscar).  Somehow he manages to paint the movie on screen.  The cinematography (also won an Oscar) is magnificent and breath taking.  Every camera angle contributes to Stevens’ ideals and overall feel of the story line.  I also feel like Stevens has a remarkably sensitive approach to the subject which, by the end of the film, is pretty grim.  He allows us to connect with the characters and feel the angst and pain.  But he also reminds us of what it’s like to be in love, and that confused hormones aren’t just reserved for teenagers.

This is a remake of the 1931 film An American Tragedy.  Though I have not seen the original, it intrigued me that Stevens’ version features a different title. A Place in the Sun.  After I finished, the title seemed to take on an entirely new meaning.  It was poetic.  Sunshine and warmth in the midst of tragedy.  Finding solace in the heat of a new and exciting relationship and forgetting about the pressing problems of life.  On such a high, one wouldn’t believe how fast it could come crashing down.  But oh it does.

One must not forget Shelley Winters – she’s not easy to overlook with her plain features and feisty, whiny mannerisms.  You can relate to her insecurity concerning the L-Taylor and her bubbling hope that things will work out with George.  Her performance, though not as widely recognized for her lack of star-power, is a highlight and earned her an Oscar nom.

Haunting and tragic, A Place in the Sun is a beautiful film, albeit kind of difficult to watch by the end.  8/10

Written by laurenthejukebox17

June 8, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Limitless (2011)

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Makes you wish you were smarter huh?

Bradley Cooper stars as  our hero, Eddie Morra, a snazzy, sharp looking man with a slick apartment.  And yet at the beginning of the movie, standing on the ledge of a forty-story building, it appears he’s about to give it all up and jump.  What could possibly push him to disregard his life, someone who appears to have it all?  Flash back six months, and we can see that Eddie’s climb to the top really started at the bottom. Unkempt, long-haired, broken-hearted, and baggy clothed he shuffles down the streets of New York only to run into his sketchy ex-brother-in-law Vernon (Johnny Whitworth).  They chat about Eddie’s difficulty getting  his book off the ground (writer is, after all, the international homo-career in cinema), have a few laughs, and then Vernon offers Eddie a pill to help in his distress.  NZT, he called it, FDA approved and on the brink of tearing the market apart, just some paperwork to finish up.

Eddie reluctantly takes the clear tablet and they part ways.  Things get real when his landlord’s hot wife gets on his case for being late to pay rent… Eddie starts getting nervous and sweating, and in a fit of emotional instability pops the pill.  What ensues is arguably the best scene in the film.  Hottie keeps talking, but we hear no words.  The darkened hallway begins to glow, every single detail of the room is emphasized in this new light – as if Eddie were once blind and can now see… everything.  The world seemed to stop around him – all that mattered was this new vision.  He easily evades the situation (and gets some) and things are only just getting started.

Some drug, huh?  He wakes up the next day, as stupid (er, normal – just relatively stupid) as ever but still with a finished first draft of his novel.  He’s dying for another fix, so he sets out to find Vernon.  Vernon ends up dead by some third party, but Eddie ends up with a large bagful of NZT  – so no harm done, right?  Oddly evading the cops, Eddie become famous with this drug and his record-breaking climb to the top.

I think its intent was to be mind-blowing, but I’ll be honest I wasn’t googly eyed and drooling like I was for Inception.  The premise was still trippy though, and I enjoyed that for what it was.  Ever since I saw Bradley Cooper for the first time in Alias I’ve liked him, and Limitless was no exception.  I like to see smarts in action – and watching Eddie become quicker and smarter throughout the movie is sick stuff.  The other actors are good contributions as well (when is Robert De Niro NOT good), though I’m not a huge fan of Abbie Cornish.  Their relationship actually kinda blew. “Oh, you’re a bum so it’s time to break up.” “Oh, now you’re hott and powerful, so I want to sleep with you again.” “Oh you’re going crazy now?  Well, see ya!”  Yeah, I don’t dig that.

It’s engaging, and it does make you think a little bit.  Though the moral implications of such a drug are virtually left untouched, it does allow you to pick at your own brain a little, and if anything else makes you want to learn how to focus better.  Though we may never be super humans, we can develop our brain to serve us better, train our minds to do harder things.  I mean, I don’t know about you guys, but I went home feeling like I should read the dictionary or study economics rather than watch TV…

Also, the camera work ROCKS.  From mystery to thriller, the camera serves the story well.  Eye candy at its best.

Unfortunately, the movie’s greatest flaw is the story’s drive from plot, not character.  Eddie is cool stuff, but we don’t see him grow that much.  There are multiple plot holes (not that I was counting, that’s not how I roll), but there was a significant enough number for me to take note.  But, let’s face it, the plot holes don’t matter.  Focusing on the flaws just makes every movie horrible.    So whatever.  It’s just too bad that it couldn’t have gone deeper with the characters.

In regards to the end… I won’t say much except that I didn’t really like it.  It ended quickly and… well, just not how I would have ended it.  It needed more ambiguity.  There, ’nuff said.

Entertaining, great movie to see in the theater, and I’d watch it again.  I’m glad that Brad the man’s doing more things now.  7/10

Written by laurenthejukebox17

June 2, 2011 at 7:52 pm