Thursday, January 30, 2014

Escape Plan

***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! At no point, did we get a pithy one-liner that said, "All part of the plan."  I feel robbed.

Escape Plan – 3 out of 5

How can you have a piece of media about escaping prison and not throw in getting a ridiculous full body tattoo on a guy that hides a map of the prison? What is that? Amateur hour?

Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) is the greatest prison escape artist to ever exist. The man wrote the book on it. Hell, prisons actually hire his security firm and have Breslin incarcerated then wait and hope that he can’t get out. However, one day he gets a job to try and break out of a private prison that promises to be escape proof. After being drugged, Breslin wakes up in a state of the art prison at a secret location. Dazed and lost, Breslin befriends a fellow inmate; Emil Rottmayer (who has a name of a cheap hot dog brand you would get at a gas station and is played by Arnold Schwarzenegger), he then slowly reveals who he is and his plans to escape. However, the sadistic warden (Jim Caviezel) and his equally sadistic henchman (Vinnie Jones) also discover who he is and specifically designed the prison to be Breslin escape-proof—Breslin’s book all but told them how to design the damn place. Quickly, Breslin learns that there’s an ulterior motive for him being in the prison and escape becomes far more important than just testing the jail.

When your prison looks like this, there is no doubt that James Bond is
fighting some henchmen somewhere in there.

I half expected to hate this film when I sat down with it. Not to sound mean but Arnold and Sly’s time has passed. While they have done so much great work in the past, all their current stuff has been kinda embarrassing (like watching Stallone run down the pier with bad knees in The Expendables). However, sometimes I’ve been surprised; like the incredibly fun and bloody return of Rambo and The Last Stand with Arnold was stupidly good fun. However, although I didn’t find the film to hold up to some of the guys’ older work, Escape Plan wasn’t that bad.

"So, you wanna get a smoothie when we're done filming this?"

The story is simple but effective. Right off the bat, the movie starts off interesting as you see Breslin pull off a slick escape from a maximum security prison and trying to see him figure out how to escape from the technological wonder that this new prison seems full to the brim with potential. Not to mention that seeing Arnold and Sly share a film together is pretty fun too and harkens back to their glory days.

It’s clear that Schwarzenegger and Stallone are having a good time filming together; there’s no doubt that this dynamic can easily be picked up when you see them sharing a scene. It is also very clear that Arnold is having the time of his life playing Emil Rottmayer and his enthusiasm, I will admit, made the jump from the screen and right into my brain and assisted me in having a good time with the film. Granted, neither of these action giants are thespians but for the roles they usually play, they work out fine (especially when arm wrestling is an important plot point). In Escape Plan, both men perform their jobs extremely well and both really sell their characters terrifically.

"There's got to be a way to work arm wrestling into my escape..."

Hell, most of the performances are great in this film. Vincent D’Onofrio plays one of Breslin’s cohorts at his Escapes ‘R Us company and he’s entertaining in the few scenes he’s in. Sam Neill plays a doctor at the super secret prison and, even though he also only has a few scenes, he’s decent. For spit’s sake, 50 “Bullet Magnet” Cent is in the film (like the others, in a small role) and I fully expected him to suck because a lot of rappers who try to make the jump to acting don’t realize that they can’t do it; however, I was surprised by the fact he was fairly decent—granted, he only had three or four scenes and very little dialogue, so that might have been the key to success.

50 got shot three more times in this scene alone.  That guy has been shot A LOT!

The movie even offers up a great antagonist in the form of the evil warden played by Jim Caviezel. There’s a cold cockiness about the guy that makes it easy to hate him…although, his fantastic suits he wears during the film makes it difficult to do that. The only problem with this character is the fact Caviezel decided to pretty much whisper all his lines and it made it hard to take him as a threat during some scenes when I found myself saying, “WHAT? What did you say?”

Eh, I don't care what you said as long as you tell me where you get your suits.

The only downside in the cast was Vinnie Jones as the guard Drake. There was a time when I was a Vinnie Jones fan—during the time when he was Guy Ritchie’s go-to tough guy. However, as the years passed and Jones became more desperate for work, his tough guy persona became less and less believable—mostly due to his loss of wit that came with it; the wit we saw in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. At this point in his career, I don’t find him to be that entertaining anymore and he just keeps pushing the same character over and over again to the point he’s no longer interesting to me…the fake abs and his bullshit portrayal of Juggernaut in X3 didn’t help my opinion of him either.

Wouldn't it be cool if he came back for X-men:  Days of Future Past or for
Apocalypse?  No, no it wouldn't and why would you say such horrible things?

Escape Plan works for what it is but it lost me towards the end when it stopped being what it was working towards and ended up becoming something else. Through most of the film, the story is a slick, sorta clever prison escape movie that starred two grandfathers of the action genre; however, as the film hit its third act and the escape was put into motion, the cleverness of getting out of the unbreakable prison in a unique, sneaky way is just tossed aside and the film becomes a generic action film and Breslin and Rottmayer just decide to say, “Fuck all,” and decided to just blast their way out with as many bullets as they can load into the clip. The action isn’t terrible but it isn’t memorable enough to justify the sudden shift from being clever to just using brute strength and violence to escape.

Pretty soon those damn raptors are going to learn how to commit crimes in order
to learn how to escape from prisons.

The final issue I had with the film is the fact that once the explosions, smoke and bullets are done exploding, dissipating and embedding themselves into walls and the soft squishy flesh of some bad guys, the movie has a lot of plot threads it needs to weave into the wooly sweater that is Escape Plan. While the actual escape should have been the end, the movie needs to resolve these established plot points and it does so in a quick, kinda messy way that ultimately made the film have an unsatisfying conclusion.

Vincent D'Onofrio, seen here looking like he's trying to hold in a fart.

Escape Plan isn’t perfect but it was far from terrible. While the movie unravels badly at the end and it has the unfortunately distinction of casting Vinnie Jones in it, Sly and Arnold are great together and the film is just interesting and entertaining enough to give it a shot. And you can probably give it a shot once it starts airing on Spike or FX because this movie seems destined for that. Now, hopefully, we don’t get a sequel and the whole thing starts all over again…Prison Break already cornered the market on the whole “Get into prison, escape from said prison and get into another one to escape from after just escaping the last one.”

Free Birds

***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! The epic solo in the song "Free Bird" feels ashamed to have its name be so similar to this movie.

Free Birds – 1 out of 5

Whatever drugs were used to make this film needs to be outlawed. Furthermore, the asshole producers and executives who decided that the entire film would be one giant product placement weaved into a heavy-handed moral that is too mature for kids to understand needs to be fired and kept away from the movie business for a lifetime. Usually animated films don’t piss me off but Free Birds irritated me to no end.

The movie made me look like this...only angrier and less turkey-like.

Tea Baggers might enjoy this film because the President
is white in the film.
Reggie (Owen Wilson) is a rebellious turkey who isn’t as dumb (his words) as the other turkeys. When Reggie reveals that they are only being fattened up by the farmer to become the centerpiece in the Thanksgiving feast, the turkeys give up Reggie for the sacrifice but, as all gosh darn luck would have it, he becomes the turkey that is pardoned by the President. It looks like Reggie is on his way to the sweet life until an oddly defiant turkey shows up at his door named Jake (Woody Harrelson). Jake takes Reggie to a secret facility that houses a time machine (at this point, I need to emphasize that I am not making this up and I urge you to stick with me on this one). Together, Jake and Reggie use the machine—named S.T.E.V.E. (and voice by, Oh My, George Takei)—and they travel back to the first Thanksgiving in order to stop having turkeys on the menu.

"Roads?  Where we're going we won't need roads...because we're turkeys
and we can't drive."

If you saw the trailer for this generic animated film and are not a wee widdle child—and possibly contained the thought, “I kinda want to see that.”—you might want to skip this review because I am going to throw out spoilers in this one. And since a lot of people act like spoilers are the worst thing in all of existence in this day and age when it’s literally impossible to keep anything a secret, I don’t want a bunch of angry Free Birds fans to go, “Spoiler Alert, brah! I wanted to be surprised by the film’s blatant commercialization it does at the end.”

A.I.M. infiltrates another animated film...

Everything about this movie (except one saving grace) is terrible and generic. We are living in a golden age of animated films where adults and kids can laugh as one and enjoy the colorful spectacles but Free Birds may have destroyed that age. First off, the film looks cheap as shit. While the animation isn’t inherently bad, the film doesn’t look much different from any generic 3D cartoon you might see on the Disney channel, Nickelodeon or in those budget bin DVD animated features that I’m 90% sure that no one purchases but very confused grandparents buying them for their grandkids. Nothing about the animation looks special or unique…and it only looks even cheaper when you compare it to something DreamWorks or Pixar would make. Hell, there are probably independent animated features made by random dudes on YouTube that look less cookie-cutter than Free Birds.

Dude, they totally stole those steps from Flight of the Navigator.

Then you have the painfully ridiculous story. Time travel with turkeys? I guess I will write that one off and say, “Well, if little kids find it entertaining, then it doesn’t matter,” but this movie decides it wants to throw in a heavy handed message and make some parallels with the turkeys and all but make them Native Americans. The symbolism isn’t subtle in the least…

Okay, we get it.  The turkeys are suppose to be Indians.

While, on paper, the points the writers are making aren’t exactly bad but the target audience for the film just isn’t going to get them. However, all the morals and lessons this film throws at you instantly become meaningless when you get to the end of the film and you have to endure the most ridiculous product placement in a kid’s film. Since the turkeys want the settlers and Native Americans to not eat their tasty bodies, Reggie introduces them to pizza…from Chuck E. “Fucking” Cheese’s.

Seriously, fuck you Free Birds. 

That’s right; the whole point of this film was to sell kids on pizza from a restaurant that comes equipped with a mechanical mouse that looks like he isn’t allowed within 500 of schools...and it has Skee-Ball (I actually like Skee-Ball). Up until this point, I was going to give the film a 2 and just settle on the fact it was an unimaginative work of fluff to make kids giggle with its terribly unfunny jokes (they even work in an Angry Birds gag that is more likely to fill a person with murderous rage than laughter…even a child would probably groan at that one) but once the blatant hocking of Chuck E. Cheese shows up, I instantly regretted sitting through the entire film and wanted to get my own time machine called S.T.E.V.E. and stop this film from ever happening and keep the creation of the pizza play palace from every being conceived. I get that product placement is a part of films and often I laugh at it but to have your entire film’s plot resolved by picking up some pies from a robot mouse that sings pizza-themed covers of established rock songs is just insulting to the viewer.

If only S.T.E.V.E.'s reactor went nuclear at the end of the movie...

The only redeeming factor to Free Birds is the film has a great cast and, despite the film being a complete worthless piece of turkey poo, they are giving their all and doing very well with their characters. However, with its stupid story, infuriating ending and heavy handed morals and themes that just FLY over the heads of their audience, great voicing from talented actors like Harrelson, Wilson, Amy Poehler, George Takei, Colm Meaney, Keith David, Dan Fogler and more, it’s just not enough to make this film even remotely passable.

Because pizza (buy pizza from Chuck E. Cheese) solves (buy pizza) everything (buy pizza)!

Free Birds isn’t a movie; it’s just a product that Chuck E. Cheese probably paid way too much to slap their name on and, even if you can ignore how the film is one gigantic time travelling paradox that takes no effort in resolving, you can’t ignore that the film was made for no other reason than to push cheese pizzas onto the Thanksgiving table. The concept is so stupid and misguided you would think PETA had a hand in it.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Runner Runner

***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! You would think that a movie about gambling and crime would be willing to take some risks.  

Runner Runner – 2 out of 5

The closest I’ve come to playing poker was hitting the video poker machine when I got too bored of playing the slots, started to feel too overwhelmed trying to do math in public with blackjack and had my fill of getting business cards for escort services when I was on my last trip to Las Vegas.  I’ll be honest; I don’t really know the game very well.  Straights, royal flushes, hands, folding, bluffing; it’s all foreign to me…but that won’t stop me from watching a movie about poker and crimes that may ensue because of it.

Unless I am mistaken, this is a poker table.

Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) is trying to make it through his Ivy League education on what little money he got from his days on Wall Street.  However, it’s not enough (it never is), so he works for an online gambling site and works to convince his fellow students to bet it all on black (you do that in poker, right?  Did I get my gambling reference correct?  No?  Okay, moving on).  In order to pay his own tuition, Furst decides to do a little online poker himself and ends up losing it all—however he runs the numbers and learns he was cheated on the website.  With nothing else to lose, Furst travels to Costa Rica to confront the owner of the site; Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), and inform him that someone had cheated him on his site.  This wins over Block and he brings Furst in on the action.  However, after being confronted by an F.B.I. agent (Anthony Mackie), Furst learns that Block is using his site for criminal activities and now must save his ass by finding the evidence needed to arrest the man.

You know...some actors shouldn't sing and some singers shouldn't act.

I can only assume that Runner Runner was made completely on the first draft of the script and, when asked if some rewrites or a second draft was considered, it was decided there was no time for it and the world needed the release of the online poker crime thriller starring the dude who brought sexy back after all of reality decided we didn’t need or want sexy again and the man who will be our next Batman (and caused the butthurt of a million, billion fanboys who will tell you, without any anticipation of being wrong, that he will be a terrible Batman without even having the need to see him in a single scene of the upcoming film…just like how these people KNEW Heath Ledger was going to be a terrible Joker).  Not having a second draft to the script is the only scenario I can think of to explain why the film has no tension, suspense, drama or even feel like an effort was placed into it.

Right now, I'm picturing the mask on him...

While visually and, from a pure technical standpoint, the film is very well put together.  The camera work, while not flashy or memorable, does its job well and the editing, while seemingly jarring thanks to a poorly constructed narrative, is alright.  However, the film falls very, very flat thanks to its story being incredibly weak and the plot being terribly messy...some terrible performances don’t help either.

Drama and anything that isn't a comedy or hosting SNL may not be your thang when
it comes to acting, JT.

Even though Runner Runner wants desperately to be a slick, gambling thriller that mixes in the element of cyber-crime thanks to its plot element of online gambling, the movie feels like it flat out refuses to infuse any sort of drama, tension or suspense.  Even when the story throws in twists like Furst’s father being bought by Block in order to keep Furst on a short leash, the end result feels like it happens and then the movie doesn’t know what to do with it so it just goes to the next scene.  That’s what the entire film feels like.  It puts something in the story, is completely unclear on how to properly utilize it and then decides to just run away to the next scene.  The end result of this was a story I just couldn’t get interested in because it felt like it just didn’t know how to create any thrills or tension.

But the movie does have some sex appeal.

It doesn’t help matters that there isn’t a single well developed character in the film, either.  Justine Timberlake is suppose to be the “hero” of the film and you know this because he tries unbearably hard to be cool and, despite a single beating his character takes, the production (but more like Timberlake’s agent amybe) won’t allow a single moment to occur to the character that could make him look weak or relatable.  Every single moment, his character is calm, collected, has everything in order and is trying way to hard to look cool while doing it…but Timberlake isn’t convincing with this.  He looks uncomfortable trying to be cool and all the poker jargon that gets tossed around the film like it was purchased at wholesale doesn’t do any favors with making his character look believable.  

Then you have a love interest that is awkwardly placed in the story and forgot about almost instantaneously until the end.  Gemma Arterton plays the woman who is, essentially, property of Ivan Block but becomes enamored with Furst.  You would think this could create a great deal of tension in the story as Furst starts boinking Block’s babe but, because this film almost feels allergic to anything that could possibly resemble drama, Arterton quickly disappears from the story and only appears again towards the end.

"Hello, I heard the plot needs me again..."

Part of this devoid of excitement, flat rollercoaster ride this film has missing is any real antagonist.  With a terribly unconvincing protagonist, you think the movie would have made sure to get the bad guy right but, being allergic to drama and tension, the movie settles for a flat performance from Ben Affleck.  I enjoy Affleck as a director and as an actor as well (and yes, I’m excited to see him as Batman) but it looked like Affleck just didn’t care or the character just wasn’t written well enough for him to figure out what to do with him.  While, at times, Affleck looks like the charismatic criminal who wants to give his mark the world while he is secretly stabbing him in the back and putting things in motion for him to take the fall BUT, the rest of the time, Affleck just gave a terribly flat performance that made it look like he just didn’t care about the project.

Or he was contractually obligated to do the film.

The only real decent performance that I saw came from Anthony Mackie who played F.B.I. Agent Shavers.  Mackie is a terrific actor and he really took the character that had almost nothing going for it and made it work to the best extent he could.  Sadly for this movie, that doesn’t really help the film much because his character barely has a presence...because, if he did, that might get dramatic and the movie can't have that.

"Look, we're not trying to make a movie that's watchable or entertaining here."

Runner Runner is a thrill-less thriller and a drama-less drama that only gets the crime part right about its genre.  Boring, flat and unconvincing performances only add to the films lack of spectacle and it spends its entire running length with about as much ceremony as the uneventful ending that just ended up looking like the director and writers were tired and say, “Eh, let’s wrap it up…it’s good enough as is.”  However, it wasn’t good enough…not by a long shot.

Captain Phillips

***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! When are we getting a Cap'n Crunch adaptation? 

Captain Phillips – 5 out of 5

Whenever I hear about pirates, my first reaction is that there are peg-legged, parrot perching mounts of scurvy, barnacles and beards that still roam the water looking for treasure, fighting krakens and looking for comely wenches to bed…then I hear the Somalia part and I’m instantly heartbroken because those guys don’t say, “Arrr, mateys” and I’m pretty sure they don’t wear eye patches.

Not a single eye patch.

Not to give them any ideas but playing "Ride of the Valkyries"
might help their approach.
Captain Phillips tells the real life story about Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) and the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama freighter ship off the coast of Africa by pirates in 2009.  Knowing that his route will take him knee-deep in pirate territory, Captain Phillips decides to push on and make sure all safety measures are in place to protect his crew.  While running a drill, two skiffs are spotted coming up behind them.  Eventually, they scared them off but one boat, piloted by the ambitious Muse (Barkhad Abdi), pushes forward and successfully boards, hijacks and takes Captain Phillips hostage. Now it’s a game of life or death as the Navy is called in to save him.

Let's be honest, if Tom Hanks is captured, we are going to do everything possible to save him.

Oh shit!  The thing in the briefcase from Pulp Fiction is ahead
of them!
I always try to disconnect myself when I watch a movie that is “based on a true story” because of the fact that Hollywood loves to stretch the facts.  However, this one I had a harder time than others because I read the story of Captain Phillips and I heard how his own ego and disregard ended up causing his situation he foundhimself in.  Hearing this and trying to turn off these preconceived notions while watching the film—even seeing the Captain go out of his way to make sure the boat is safe and see how the film depicts the crew as lazy and cowardly (even though all the reports from the crew on his boat—except Phillips’—says otherwise)—became so flippin’ hard.  However, ignoring how hard director Paul Greengrass is making Phillips look like the very definition of heroic and cautious, the film is truly incredible.

"Look Captain, this is where the lady falls out of the berry-smashing wine thing and starts
making these weird pain noises..."

Even if the events take place as the film shows or if the accounts of the crew are the true version, the story is incredible and one about the triumph of the human spirit.  It’s easy to get behind it as you see Phillips in over his head and doing everything he can to protect his crew.  Then when the film gets to the actual rescue from the Navy SEALS, the film gets all kinds of exciting and the climax of the film is just filled with delicious and very satisfying drama and tension.

"We've located the yellow submarine, sir.  It seems Paul is dead."

However, as exciting as it was to see Phillips get rescued, my favorite aspect of the film’s story was the interaction between Phillips and Muse.  While essentially enemies, the connection these two men go through during the ordeal goes beyond the usual sights.  There is an actual level of (or an attempt at) understanding between these two men and it came off like a legitimate and authentic “We’re not so different, you and I,” thing you see in fictional adversaries.  It was only improved by the fact that Hanks and Abdi were just fucking incredible in the film.

"Roger that, we were pretty much assured some Academy Awards the minute
we started making this film."

It’s no surprise that Tom Hanks was awesome.  It’s a given.  Sometimes it’s disgustingly ridiculous how talented the guy is.  Hanks is a national treasure and I’m pretty sure he smells like fresh baked chocolate chip cookies all the time.  Despite how it’s pretty much a scientific fact that Hanks is awesome at all times, he took this role to a whole new level and really showed us the God-like superpowers he contains with his acting.  Throughout the film, he’s amazing but the part that literally floored me and literally brought me to tears was seeing the shock he was in when he was finally rescued.  Movies often show their heroes as untouchable—even by emotions; however, what follows after Phillips is saved is the most realistic acting I have ever seen from not just Hanks, but probably ever.  The moment his shock causes him to cry and realize that he made it out alive, I lost it and bawled like a child who found out that there really is no farm two counties over where their dog is running around and playing with other dogs.  Hanks performance, specifically at this moment, was hauntingly real and it resonated in me like nothing I’ve ever seen.

I'm not even going to make a joke here, he was that awesome in this scene.

Keeping up with Hanks was Barkhad Abdi.  He took the pirate Muse and made him a tragic figure who was more than just a generic Somalian pirate out for a score.  Abdi was intense and intelligent with his portrayal and he showed it in spades.  Whenever he and Hanks had to interact, it was such an overload of acting prowess that I found myself just getting lost in their portrayals and seeing them not as the actors playing the roles but rather the roles themselves.  Honestly, words fail me to describe how realistic Abdi came off and how incredible he was in the film.

If he doesn't have a long career after this, there clearly is no God.

Captain Phillips is powerful, griping, exciting and all the other buzzwords that fill up the commercials for the film that sell the Blu-Rays and DVDs.  However, it really was all that and more.  The story sucks you in and it only becomes that much more exciting as it reached its climax and the performances are on a whole new level.  Regardless if the projected bravado of Captain Phillips is accurate or not, the film is exciting and emotional.