Monday, October 19, 2015

Toaster's Summer Movie Round-Up (part 2)

Wow, I really meant to get this up sooner. Life just gets in the way. Oh well. Here's part two:

Minions - While Minions made a buttload of money, it really isn't as good as either of the Despicable Me films it spun off from. A large part of this rings true for any spin-off of a popular character. The minions brought a silly level of comic relief to offset the dark humor of Gru, and in smaller doses it worked amazingly. However, when your protagonists don't really speak English, it limits how effectively you can tell the story and what humor you can get across to the audience. With Minions, it was mostly slapstick and a lot of silly humor.

That said, I did enjoy Minions for what it was. It was funny and there were some really clever jokes throughout. There was a good voice cast and (SPOILER)...

...a young Gru does appear at the end. It makes me wonder if future installments of the franchise will be about Little Gru and the Minions. I'm sure there will be more installments as this is a cash cow that just keeps giving.

Ant-Man - Jonny Prophet is convinced that Ant-Man would have been better if Edgar Wright had stayed with the project. While I think he may be right, we will never know... unless maybe Wright's original script is someday released. As it stands, Ant-Man was entertaining, funny and pretty good.

I have two big complaints about Ant-Man. The first is that there are moments were the humor style seems out of place. An example of this is at the beginning when Scott Lang (Rudd) is seemingly about to be in a very bad fight against a large gentleman while in prison, only to find out it's all some friendly ass-kicking ritual to commemorate Lang getting released. I felt like this clashed with Wright's usual mix of witty dialogue and physical humor. Paul Rudd and Adam McKay, two more of the overall seven credited script-writers, definitely added a lot of their own style of humor. Usually this wasn't a big deal, but occasionally the humor fell flat as it seemed out of place. With seven screenwriters and changing hands from one director to a new one (Wright had worked on Ant-Man for years), honestly I am surprised the movie was as good as it was.

The other complaint is one that I have heard a lot about this movie and many other Marvel superhero films... the villain. I really feel like Corey Stoll was underutilized. He seems like a good actor and definitely had a great screen presence, but his Darren Cross was nothing but a cliché. He was sick of being in Hank Pym's shadow and did unethical and outright illegal things to become the greater scientist. Worse yet, his Yellowjacket persona was basically just another evil reversal of the hero like Iron Monger to Iron Man and Abomination to Hulk. It would have been nice to have more from Yellowjacket, he looked cool, but we never see his transformation into a villain. If not for Pym saying once that repeated use of the shrinking power messes with your brain and personality, I never would have known why Cross would have gone into full on lunatic mode by the end of the movie. We needed more, it was too jarring of a leap even for him to go from megalomaniac scientist trying to best his mentor to "I'm going to go to this guy's house and kill his daughter"!

Like I said, though, I enjoyed the movie for the most part. The cast worked. Paul Rudd is great as the "trying to go straight" ex-felon and in certain moments you can genuinely feel for the guy and understand why he and so many other reformed criminals would go back to a life of crime. Evangeline Lily played well off of him and makes me eager to see her as Wasp someday. Michael Douglas was surprisingly good as Dr. Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man and current bitter asshole scientist. You can imagine that Pym is what Tony Stark will become in another twenty years. Oh, I also want to poiunt out that this was the first movie I have seen Bobby Cannavale not be a bad guy... he is a really good actor, loved him on Boardwalk Empire. Ant-Man was also really funny at points, especially when Lang is training to use the shrinking suit and the final fight against Yellowjacket in Scott's daughter's bedroom.

So maybe Edgar Wright would have given us a better Ant-Man movie, maybe not. The one we got, while far from perfect, was definitely what the makers aimed for... a funny superhero movie that doesn't take itself too seriously.

Paper Towns - My wife and I are fans of 'coming-of-age' movies and Paper Towns was... alright. It wasn't great, certainly not as good as The Fault in our Stars, which also had Nat Wolff in a supporting role. However, it wasn't bad either. It hit a lot of the points for those coming-of-age teen movies, some feeling like clichés such as the hot girl that wants to be known for more than looks falling in love with a loser. Paper Towns was well acted, Cara Delevingne has real potential as a successful actress beyond her modeling career. It was funny and it had heart. So what was the problem?

My problem with Paper Towns is that I don't think the translation to film ended up well. Granted, I have not read the book so I don't know for certain, but it feels like there was a lot cut out from the story that would have made a more well rounded film. I got the impression that we were missing something, like if I had more time with these characters, I might have understood why the main character Quentin was obsessed enough with Margo that he would set out on a quest to find her when she disappears. Maybe it would have felt more natural for hot girl Lacey to fall for Ben, the rambunctious loser with limited social skills.

If the film had another twenty or thirty minutes, I think it would have made a lot of difference in the overall result. As it stands, it isn't bad, but falls far short of more classic "coming-of-age" films like Stand By Me and The Sandlot, or more recent films like The Perks of Being a Wallflower or It's Kind of a Funny Story.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation - The fifth movie in Tom Cruise's one successful film franchise was the best I have seen of the set. Now to be fair, I didn't see the third or fourth films, but Rogue Nation was better than the first two. The addition of a crew for Ethan Hunt to work with really adds to the film; it takes a lot of the focus off of Cruise and allows for more levity. This was my biggest gripe with the original... the movie started with Hunt having a crew including Emilio Estevez, Jean Reno and Ving Rhames. By the end of the movie only Rhames was still with him and thankfully has appeared in every movie since. Now we also have Jeremy Renner and Simon Pegg, who between them provide a lot of comic relief. That's nice because let's face it, two hours of Tom Cruise is a lot to take.

Rogue Nation felt like a non-stop action roller coaster. This had two effects. The first was the exciting movie experience, full of pulse-pounding stunts and sequences. The other was that there was never a time where the story felt like it could take shape. Right off the bat we are thrown into the plot, a situation that Cruise's Ethan Hunt has been tracking for months. We, the audience, are just sort of expected to root for the good guys and boo the bad guys without really having a firm grasp of what was going on. I would compare it to starting to watch the series Breaking Bad eight episodes in. Yeah, they give you a recap and it isn't impossible to learn what's going on, but getting invested in the story at that point will be pretty difficult.

I enjoyed Rogue Nation. It was the fast-paced popcorn movie that I figured it was.  However, if you are looking for a spy movie with real substance... look somewhere else.

The Gift - I have to say I am really liking Joel Edgerton. Not only is he a good actor, but his work behind the camera is impressing me as well. He came up with the story to the film The Rover, which I enjoyed, and he wrote and directed The Gift.

The Gift is a psychological thriller that keeps you guessing and actually has a few good twists thrown in for good measure. I don't want to go into the plot too much, just know that it involves a married couple (played by Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall) that start getting frequent visits from the husband's old classmate, a man that may be mentally unstable.

One thing I really liked about The Gift was Bateman's performance. Jason Bateman shows that he has a lot of range, playing a role that I have never seen him play before. Like I said, it's a pretty good thriller, worth checking out if you get the chance.

Shaun the Sheep Movie - At times it seems like Aardman Animations can do no wrong. They are certainly masters of stop-motion animation and make some extremely clever and funny films. Consider this, the Shaun the Sheep Movie is feature length (85 minutes) and features absolutely no dialogue. That is not an easy task, especially for a film ,marketed for children!

I really enjoyed the Shaun the Sheep Movie, but then again I like the show itself. This was like a really long episode, but never felt long on the story or had tired humor. It was a fun movie and definitely one we will be owning. It was also the first movie we took the Little Toaster to, twice actually. He saw it with TivoGirl first and when I expressed interest in seeing it too, Little Toaster was willing to see it again. (He fell asleep when he saw it with me.)

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. - I was bound to see this movie simply because it's a Guy Ritchie movie and I will see any Guy Ritchie movie (unless it features his ex-wife Madonna). I really liked this movie. It was a stylish 60's retro spy movie with some great action sequences and some hilarious moments.

I agree with many critics that the plot was a little thin. It was the basic rinse and repeat story involving terrorists trying to get nuclear weapons and the love interest whose father is a scientists being forced to work for the bad guys. However, I would argue that the plot is pretty reminiscent of plots from 60's spy shows like The Man from U.N.C.L.E., even down to the on screen establishing text that looks like it came straight out of an episode.

The movie actually does an amazing job with setting the tone of the early 60's cold war era with the cars, fashions and music. When you combine that with the great performances of Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer and Alicia Vikander fluently mixing action with comedy, it makes for what I felt was a highly entertaining movie... easily one that can be added to my list of favorite films adapted from television shows. Seriously, some of the comedy in the movie is uproariously funny, I don't want to spoil anything, just trust me and see the movie. Oh, and I also want to add that I want to see more of Jared Harris and his tough guy New Yorker accent. Hell, just more Jared Harris in general would make me happy. 

So that's it for now. Until next time, Stay Strange.

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