Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Million Dollar Arm

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion, that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching! Judging by my pitch...I'd say I have about a dollar fifty arm.

Million Dollar Arm – 3 out of 5

If you follow my blog or know me personally, you probably know that I don’t really know much about sports.  I don’t watch the stuff and, to be honest, they sorta confuse and frighten me.  However, despite my complete lack of enthusiasm and total ignorance of all things sport, I do enjoy a great inspiration film about overcoming adversity and sporting as hard as one can sport.  Sometimes these films are amazing and fill me with pride for a competition that clearly goes over my head as to why it is so popular and, other times, they are just kinda…mediocre and have the same level of excitement I have when I’m forced to go to a sporting arena by friends/family and made to watch the sports match..

Of course, having Don Draper in the sports film didn't hurt me wanting to watch it.

He stood like that for an entire hour...and the movie shows
it in real time.

Million Dollar Arm tells the true story of famed MLB (which, thanks to Google, I found means Major League Baseball…which is a sport, I’ve heard) pitchers Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel.  While on the verge of hitting rock bottom, sports agent J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) and his partner Aash (Aasif Mandvi) decide that they are going to discover the next great baseball pitcher by diving into the pool of cricket players (which, I’ve also heard, is another sport that was not named after the bug).  So, JB heads to where cricket is huge; India.  There, a reality show is done in order to find the right players who can pitch fast and accurate enough to be trained to play with the big dogs.  After what feels like an endeavor in the pointless, JB and a retired major league scout (Alan Arkin) finally find Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal) and take them to train under veteran pitching trainer Tom House (Bill Paxton).  However, as time grows closer for the boys to try out for Major League Baseball, they start to wonder if they are actually players JB believes in or if they were just some publicity gimmick meant to strengthen JB’s fledgling career.

With Alan Arkin in the film, you know you are going to laugh with every scene that
contains him.  It's a scientific fact.

Despite my complete lack of understanding when sports come into play, I won’t pass up a sports drama because they can be so damn inspiring.  Sure, they don’t inspire me to go to a Packers game or bother to learn the rules of basketball but they can make me swell with pride over the indomitable human spirit and its endless drive to compete, succeed, and do end-zone dancing.  Sadly, Million Dollar Arm isn’t that inspiring.

Even Aasif Mandvi is checking out Jon Hamm's awesomeness.

Someday, all jobs will be determined by a reality TV show
For the most part, this film (even though it is based on a true story) seems to follow the pattern of sports dramas to the very letter.  The drama, the characters, the unfolding plot all move in the exact sequence that you would predict it to move.  There are no real surprises here.  JB’s move from jerk go-getter businessman to compassionate area of support for the two pitchers is called from the moment the story gets going and the love story that feels completely tacked on (yes, I know it’s based on a true story and is there because it happened) all play out like it was some sort of Fill-in-the-Blanks sports drama script purchased from a script store and Disney just got a director and the actors needed.  This doesn’t necessarily make the film bad; it just makes it predictable and pretty cliché.  This does, however, make the drama and uplifting moments feel empty and devoid of any real punch.

He's dying to say that it's "Game Over" for Rinku and Dinesh's chances in Major
League Baseball.

He's about to do something sports related...look, I really
don't understand sports at all.
Aside from having a story that you can see coming a mile away, the film does have a tremendous cast.  Sure, all the characters are like the story and play out the way you expect them to but guys like Jon Hamm, Alan Arkin, Bill Paxton, Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal, and Aasif Mandvi all do their jobs and don’t look like they are going through the motions.  Heck, even with all its formulaic glory, the film still has some very amusing scenes with the characters of Rinku, Dinesh, and an eager character who desperately wants to coach baseball and becomes JB’s basic apprentice named Amit (played by Pitobash).  The only thing I didn’t care for in the cast was Lake Bell as the love interest Brenda.  Bell plays every emotion, whether it is happiness, joy, sadness, or even irritation, exactly the same.  She doesn’t really have that strong of a screen presence and comes off so bland that I couldn’t quite figure out what the character of JB saw in her…other than the fact that the romance angle had to happen because it happened in the real life story.

I never thought I would say this but it might have been better to get rid of the Brenda
character and add more sports.

Million Dollar Arm isn’t the worst sports film I’ve seen but it’s far from the best.  A lot of drama and heart fall flat due to the predictable nature of the story and the fact that it is trying to oversell the drama and heart doesn’t help things.  However, the film still has its moments of fun and the cast is very enjoyable.  

"And now it disappeared..."

"I thought you were suppose to be pumping us up for this tryout?"

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion, that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching.  *Sigh*  Goodbye, Middle-earth.  I'll miss you...and visit you again when you hit Blu-Ray.

The Hobbit:  The Battle of the Five Armies – 4 out of 5

It’s sad to see that my three year engagement to return to Middle-earth is now over…again.  While denizens of the internet screamed with violent rage about Peter Jackson milking The Hobbit franchise by splitting up a film that could have easily existed in a single film (or make two really great films that left room for the expansion that Jackson was truly craving for this franchise), I saw this as an opportunity to head to one of my favorite geek locales for a guaranteed three years—so having three Hobbit films didn’t really bother me but rather excited me and filled me with anticipation.  So, anyway, the final film—The Battle of the Five Armies—has been released and it was a bittersweet farewell to say the least.

                                                       New Line Cinema/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/WingNut Films
"Wake up, I know you're faking."

When we last left the adventures of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and the company of dwarves he was with that was lead by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), we watched as the devious dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) was forced from the Lonely Mountain and he soared towards Lake Town.  The beginning of the film sees Bard (Luke Evans) fulfilling his destiny and slaying Smaug but, with the death of the dragon, word has spread all over the lands that the Lonely Mountain and its vast collection of treasure is now left in the hands of only a few dwarves.  Quickly, armies of men, elves, and orcs converge on the land and a mighty war takes place for control of the wealth.  Can Bilbo Baggins survive long enough where he can pass down the One Ring to Frodo and the events of The Lord of the Rings can happen?  Actually, that’s a stupid question because we all know he does survive and I apologize for trying to be mysterious.

                                                       New Line Cinema/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/WingNut Films
No make-up selfies, amirite?!?

I am so sorry for that terrible joke.  It was in really bad taste.

While I was one of the few who didn’t get upset when it was announced that Peter Jackson was making the short adventure of Bilbo Baggins into three gigantic epic films, I have to say that this final film in the series was the first time it really felt like a needless move for the franchise.  I absolutely love An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug but this will go down as my least favorite in the franchise.  Of course, as you can see from the score, that doesn’t mean I don’t like it; there were just things about this one that kept me from giving it the perfect score I gave the other two.

                                                        New Line Cinema/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/WingNut Films
Please don't hurt me for a slight drop in score, Thorin.

I know there has been a lot of trash talking on the ‘net about the computer effects in these films but, in Journey and Desolation, I never felt the special effects looked terrible.  Sure, the melted gold that coated Smaug in the second film looked cheesy but, for the most part, I really dug the special effects.  However, this time around I did find some elements of the effects to be distracting; mostly the large group of battlers in the war.  Too often my eyes would catch large groups of soldiers (whether it be orc, dwarf, or elf) all moving in a very creepy unison.  Their footfalls all matched, the way their arms swung when running matched, and they even all seem to be wearing frighteningly identical armor and wielding clone weapons.  It looked a little lazy to me because you see a swarm of attackers all moving like they went for a copy and paste style visual effect.  However, this never took me out of the film because the mo-cap and other elements like Smaug’s complete obliteration of Lake Town were an utter feast for my old eyeballs.  And since I mentioned the battle…

                                                        New Line Cinema/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/WingNut Films
All battles should be fought while riding an armored ram, in my opinion.

The battle of Gondor, the fight at the Black Gates, and Helm’s Deep in LOTR has become icons.  They were huge, exciting, amusing, fun, and kicked all kinds of ass.  It’s hard to top that because these battles happened with characters that you cared deeply for and you weren’t just watching the battle, you were experiencing it because you were a part of the Fellowship.  The Battle of the Five Armies isn’t any of these battles but felt like a lackluster spectacle of gratuity.  The core dwarves that have worked hard to reclaim Erebor don’t come in until the end, Bilbo and Gandalf only have a minor presence in the fight, and the only character that you really care about in the skirmish is Bard.  Aside from this, the film is mostly just faceless dwarves, elves, and orcs battling.  Too many elements of the battle, as well, are quickly thrown in and done nothing with.  For example, when the eagles arrive we see the good Doctor Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) riding one and we get to see the Skin-Changer Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt) rain down death as a bear but they are only shown briefly and so much more could have been shown with them (hopefully, the extended cut has more action with these two).  Sure, some of the sequences are really cool and there’s even some humor thrown in but, for the most part, it just felt empty.  However, it did allow us to finally see Billy Connolly as the dwarf Dain and his scenes in the battle were very entertaining…of course, it would be hard for them not to be because it’s Billy Freakin’ Connolly and if you don’t like him I don’t want to know you or have your negativity infect my life.

                                                        New Line Cinema/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/WingNut Films
Also, Billy Connolly rides a pig...somehow reality didn't collapse from such awesomeness.

My final negative I have about the film is the fact I didn’t like how they changed the process of Bard eliminating Smaug from this mortal coil.  I’m not going to get all fanboy and whine about how it wasn’t true to the book because I’m a realist and understand that direct translation will never happen 100% because it just doesn’t work that way.  Often changes have to happen and sometimes I think the changes are better than the source material.  For example, I really like the inclusion of the brand new character Tauriel.  Evangeline Lilly was fantastic as the newly created elf and the budding romance she has with Kili (Ardan Turner) was a source of great drama, amusement, and entertainment.  However, I just didn’t dig the new way Bard took out Smaug.  Yes, he still kills him with an arrow to the scale-less portion of Smaug’s chest but it just wasn’t the same.  I’m trying to be vague here because I know how freaked out people are about spoilers (shit, me just saying that Smaug dies at Bard’s hand might piss some off even though it’s from the book that is now nearly 80 years old) but they added Bard’s family into the mix and, while this may illicit a decent emotional reaction to it, the end product came off a tad silly.

                                                        New Line Cinema/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/WingNut Films silly can it be when you have a dragon that badass?

Now, enough of the bad and let’s get to what I loved about the film!

                                                       New Line Cinema/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/WingNut Films
What I loved?  The undeniable sex appeal this one had.

Like the previous two journeys, sets, costumes, and locales are once again spot on and made me feel like no time had passed between the moments Frodo tossed Gollum and the One Ring into the fires of Mount Doom and when Bilbo first told Gandalf “good morning” when the wizard came wandering into Hobbiton.  The locations are so breathtaking and gorgeous and the attention to detail that is done with the costumes had me trying to take in every single aspect of the surroundings and characters; it made for a, once again, very engrossing theater experience.  Also, it allowed me to catch a glimpse of Gloin (Peter Hambleton) sporting the armor we will later see Gimli rocking in LOTR.  And that's just fun and possibly a spoiler for the whinier types on the 'net.

                                                        New Line Cinema/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/WingNut Films
"Bilbo, I've called you hear to tell me the gold a bit gaudy?

Again, the film has a very impressive cast and all of them are bringing their lovable fantasy characters to life and really making the pages feel like they came to the screen seamlessly.  The insanity that Thorin goes through and his realization of how wrong he is was done perfectly by Richard Armitage, Lee Pace is absolutely captivating as the Elf King Thranduil, Evangeline Lilly is once again amazing, the entire cast of the dwarves (although not as prevalent as in the previous films) as still a fun group, and old favorites who have had the privilege of being in this trilogy and the other trilogy—like Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, and Hugo Weaving—come off like they’ve never taken a day off from being Gandalf, Legolas, Galadriel, Saruman, and Elrond.  Hell, even the completely mo-capped actors like Manu Bennett and Lawrence Makoare as Bolg the son of Azog are incredible to watch because they are a great marriage of talented acting and incredible special effects.  Then, of course, there’s there likes of Stephen Fry and Billy Connolly in the film—neither are around long but the two men are unforgettable.  And, finally, you can’t NOT talk about Martin Freeman as Bilbo.

                                                        New Line Cinema/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/WingNut Films
"Guys, check it out!  Those wargs are doing it!"

YES!!!  Re-used that joke for all three reviews of The Hobbit!

I’m a big fan of Martin Freeman.  Loved him in The Office and Sherlock might be one of the greatest shows ever produced in history—plus, he was in the film adaptation of one of my favorite books!  Actually, make that two of my favorite books!  (In case you’re wondering, I’m talking about The Hobbit and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.)  Freeman had some big hobbit feet to fill when he took over playing the role from Ian Holm.  Yes, the character is younger but Ian Holm is an amazing actor and was incredible in his short appearances as the hobbit in LOTR.  Since the first film, Freeman really proved he had what it took to play the role and make him sympathetic and a joy to watch.  There’s no denying the charm that Freeman has as an actor and he brings that to Bilbo and he continued to use that in order to make Bilbo the person you wanted to be with on this journey.  Finally, he really made for some amazing tender moments in the film when he is forced to say goodbye to not only someone who became his good friend but to say goodbye to the adventurer’s life.  Not bad for a people who aren’t known for their adventures!  Also, this happened and made me love him more.

                                                        New Line Cinema/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/WingNut Films
Poor Bilbo just realized he left all the lights on in his hobbit-hole when he left.

Now, while I admit the big battle itself wasn’t that exciting for me, the final fight scenes were incredibly amazing in The Battle of the Five Armies.  When the fights rolled away from being army against army and ended up being Legolas versus Bolg and we got to see the final brawl between Thorin and Azog (granted, these battles were not canon but who cares?  Not I.).  These fights, which also included Kili and Tauriel (to further move away from canon, I guess) were fist-pumpingly good and were all kinds of flashy and fun.  They were everything the main battle wasn’t and it really saved the film from a mediocre and kinda boring middle.

                                                        New Line Cinema/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/WingNut Films
Not to take away from the fight but check out that codpiece.

While The Battle of the Five Armies might not be my favorite in the series, it did provide a great closure to the trilogy and fantastic start up to LOTR.  Seeing Bilbo say goodbye to Gandalf with the One Ring in hand and seeing the beginning of the events that would see the king return to the realm of men was very satisfying and pretty emotional.  The images of Bilbo returning to his home and trying to settle back to the easy life of a hobbit were very bittersweet and I’d be lying if I said that a few tears didn’t escaped my eyes.  This also made up for an intro that, ultimately, felt like it should have been the end of the second film.  But that complaint isn’t that bad because I still got to see some Smaug action in this one and that’s enough for this geek!

                                                       New Line Cinema/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/WingNut Films
You know one of them has an itchy nose right now.

Okay, sure, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies isn’t the best one in the series and it didn’t get my perfect score like the other two but it was still a great movie.  It had its shortcomings that I couldn’t overlook but the film is still fun, funny, exciting, entertaining, and, most of all, another great excuse to take a vacation to Middle-earth.  It’s shorter running length came as a bit of a surprise and might have made the argument that this franchise could have been easily edited into two films if some elements were eliminated (like all the Sauron set-up, maybe) but it didn’t let itself drag out too bad or suffer from having too many endings (like a lot of people complain about in The Return of the King).  Overall, the film was a great closure to an eternal story.

                                                       New Line Cinema/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/WingNut Films
Yep, that's how I looked when I realized I won't be seeing a Tolkien film next year.

Friday, December 12, 2014

As Above, So Below

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion, that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching! It's pretty amazing how the supernatural elements in films like this don't just stop the cameras from recording all together.

As Above, So Below – 2 out of 5

When the trailer for this one came out, my first thought was that this was just another generic “found footage” film that was, realistically, going to be no different than the hundreds of other ones that have been released.  However, I was a little surprised to find myself thinking that this film actually had a decent story working for it and actually held some real potential to be a great film…so, what went wrong?

It's not a spoiler to say he dies.  Some horror film clichés won't go matter
what year it is.

Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) is a young alchemy scholar and she is out to find a special stone that her father died trying to find.  Somewhere deep in the catacombs of France, among all the bones and underneath the streets, lies the philosopher’s stone—a stone that can turn lead to gold and grant eternal life.  With the determination of Indiana Jones out to stop Nazis from getting such power, Scarlett enlists the help of a former love named George (Ben Feldman) and a group of French residents that are extremely knowledgeable of the catacombs.  However, once she finds what she is looking for, Scarlett is horrified to discover that the group may have stumbled upon the gates of Hell.

"I'm excited to toy with things I don't understand!"

I admit I had very low expectations going into As Above, So Below but was thrown back by how much I was getting into the story.  The concept of the group Tomb Raider-ing their asses accidentally into Hell while on a mission to collect an ancient stone was actually kinda cool and the actors who made up the cast were very excellent and did their jobs well.  Additionally, it was neat that this production was the first to get permission to film in the catacombs and that locale is both interesting and creepy as shit.  There were only two things that really held the film back for me.

I would say those glasses held the film back but that would be a lie.
That shit is steampunk as hell!

Good thing they got the devilishly handsome Frenchman
who has intricate knowledge of the catacombs and not
some fugly turd.
First off, the ending is very lackluster and anticlimactic.  The film just kinda squirts out its ending and, even worse, it ends on an uplifting, positive note.  As Above, So Below could have left such a bigger impact had the film ended the way most horror films should end; on a negative note.  Without giving away too much, had the group doomed themselves to an eternity in Hell, there would have been some intrigue and interest at the end but, with the survival ending, I was left saying, “That’s it?”  It felt empty and like it was tacked on after test audiences complained.  Of course, this would have left a gigantic plot hole with the next element that I felt bruised the film...

"This stone should heal you...shit, this isn't the right stone.  This is a kidney stone."

Man, who would have thought that exploring around an
area where so many bodies were buried would have
ended so badly?
Finally, the last thing that really hurt the film (and I mean hurt it badly) was the “found footage” element.  Way too often horror films tack on this gimmick thinking it will make the film scarier but too often it just takes me out of the action.  It’s impossible to find fear, care for the survival of the characters (even though I wanted them all to be doomed to the underworld), or even see what the fuck is going on when you are bombarded with spinning cameras and needlessly added video interference.  Too much of As Above, So Below’s visual narrative is interrupted by camera play and it made it almost impossible to tell what the living hell was going on a lot of the times.  While some viewers may find this element in all “found footage” films to be what makes them more realistic than your average horror film and more engrossing, I find them to be tedious and elements of annoyance that hurt the overall presentation and unfolding story and plot.  As Above, So Below did this a lot worse than most “found footage” films and it made for a great many scenes to be incomprehensible messes that can only be interpreted thanks to conveniently placed dialogue that immediately follows the car wreck.  It ends up taking away from not only the story but from a lot of potentially terrifying scenes that end up just being pointless jump scares.

Okay...that is a bit creepy.  I give the film that.

Well...he did say he'd be right down...
I'll be here all week!
However, despite this, I can’t deny the things this film did right and the potential it had to be a truly fantastic horror film.  I already stated the acting is really good and the story is very interesting but one thing that really stood out to me what the sound editing.  Not only are the sounds from the underground and the unearthly and ghoulish noises that compose the soundtrack easily creating a breeding ground for tension and chills but also proved to be the only working element of the “found footage” gimmick.  There’s a single scene where the sound becomes mottled and stuffy and the characters are clueless to what is going on.  It sounds great and it initially makes you think that the camera’s microphone is fucking up and, most of all, the scene works quite well.  Ultimately, however, it proves to be the only scene that justifies the use of “found footage” and the effect could have probably worked just as well without the attachment of this gimmick.

Scary woman in the film or a dead-eyed audience member who just walked out
from seeing the film?

While I liked As Above, So Below, I was also greatly, greatly disappointed with it.  It had all the potential to be an absolutely amazing horror film that could have made great use of its premise to craft chilling scares but, instead, it settled on being a run-of-the-mill, generic horror film that is almost completely indistinguishable from the other crap “found footage” films that get churned out every year.  It’s really time to retire this gimmick and get back to proper horror film movie-making.