The Rock (1996)

The Rock

John Mason (Sean Connery) and Stanley Goodspeed (Nicholas Cage) defusing a missile.

The upcoming generation (as well as my fellow millenials) will find it hard to believe there was once a movie as entertaining as The Rock. Afterall, it is hard to find phrases these days like “quality Michael Bay movie” or “entertaining Nicholas Cage film” (the latter has had better films).

Revisiting The Rock since I first saw it multiple times as a child, I realize it does still have flaws. There are the explosions that have come to define a Michael Bay movie, but at least they are there for a reason (as opposed to something like The Transformers franchise, where the explosions are there for us to look at, not because it adds to the story). There are also some rather stereotypical characters (such as the black trolley driver) as well as a huge embrace of the military (which this movie actually does with more heart than any other movie Bay has made). Still, if there is one reason to see this film, it is because of Sean Connery.

This may have actually been the first movie I ever saw with Connery in it (leading me to his work as the best Bond ever). I remember watching him, thinking I was looking at a true myth, a legend. That is actually the aspect of his character. When a war Hero, General Hummell (Ed Harris) finds out that the government will not pay for the efforts and recognition of men who have died under his command, he steals missiles with toxic gas that he threatens to shoot at San Francisco from Alcatraz (which he is holding 81 hostages on). The best person at working with this toxic gas is a FBI chemistry specialist, Stanley Goodspeed (Nicholas Cage). Still, the FBI needs to know how to maneuver under the island, so they release the only known man to have escaped it, John Mason (Connery).

A lot of readers know how it has been a rough many years for Cage (don’t get me started on Left Behind), but there was truly a time when he was a great actor. Here, he does his normal, over the top craziness, but only when needed (he actually only swears one time). Harris’s General is a villain, but not entirely cruel (notice he makes sure the kids leave the island before he takes it over). He does not want to kill so much as just right a wrong. Still, it is Connery who steals the show,  proving his myth and legend as a movie star.

Parents, the movie is rated R mainly for swearing and violence (though it would be violence like that of a hard PG-13 movie nowadays). There is also a brief sex scene (totally not needed) without any nudity, but a lot of sound effects. Skip that scene, and I would say middle school and above.

It is hard to think of any other Michael Bay movie that is better than The Rock. Sure, it had begun with some of the negative aspects we now see too much of in his films, but it is still a blast of a movie over two decades later.

 

Overall: Three and a Half Stars *** 1/2

Okja (2017)

Okja

Mija (newcomer Seo-Hyun Ahn) and her pet Okja…

Before I watched Okja, I noticed a number of negative reviews from users on Netflix. The main accusation: It is not for children. I could not agree more, but that does not mean the movie is bad. My conclusion is that those who did not like Okja just noticed the fact that it had a little girl and a (very big) pet pig, therefore thinking it would be a family friendly fare.

The movie begins in 2007, with the head of the Mirando Corporation Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) announcing the discovery of making super sized pigs in the effort to stop world hunger. She sends 26 of these pigs to different farm locations on the globe, stating that they will be ready for consumption in ten years.

Fast forward ten years, and we meet Mija (a young and talented actress named Seo-Hyun Ahn), who lives on a farm in the mountains of South Korea with her Grandfather and pet super pig, Okja. It is clear that Mija and Okja are best of friends (their scenes reminded me a little of My Neighbor Totoro).

One day, they are visited by the host of a TV show sponsored by Mirando, Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal). They announce that Okja has been selected as the winner of the competition, and will be shipped off to America. When Mija finds out that Okja will be slaughtered for meat, she rushes after him.

Along the way, we get some rather impressive action sequences (Mija is shown on top of a moving truck), witty dialogue (the truck driver hates his job), and rather stunning imagery. Mija also encounters animal rights activists called ALF (including great actors like Paul Dano and Steven Yeun), who want to put an end to the Mirando Corporation.

Legendary Acting teacher Sanford Meisner said, “Acting is fun. Don’t let that get around.” It can be clearly shown here in Okja. Tilda Swinton, an Oscar winner, is known for picking roles that are considered a little strange and unusual, and while her performance (as well as that of Paul Dano) seemed like it was written for them, I for one was very surprised at the performance of Jake Gyllenhaal. He has always been a great actor (underrated, in my opinion), but I never thought he could play the goof ball like he does here, and still make us forget it is him behind the mustache. It is rather brilliant work.

Parents, the TV-MA on Netflix is more than appropriate. Consider the film an R rating.  There is no sex in the film, but there is a lot of swearing. There is also a lot of disturbing imagery (especially at the end, knowing what happens to animals when they are killed for meat). Totally not a movie for kids. High School and above (maybe mature middle schoolers).

One thing about Okja you cannot deny is the originality. If a movie keeps you glued because you have no knowledge of what will happen next, it is because the movie has been completly void of any cliches one would think could happen. That alone is worthy of praise for any movie.

 

Overall: Three and a Half Stars *** 1/2

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

Pirates of the Caribbean DMTNT

Javier Bardem’s Captain Salazar is out for Depp’s Sparrow in the 5th Caribbean flick.

There are fewer movie characters of the 21st century more notable, original, entertaining, or recognizable than Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. It is sometimes hard to remember how impacting he was in the original film fourteen years ago (the role earned him an Oscar nomination and SAG award). Now, in the fifth film, I feel sad to say that this character has been stretched to his limit.

At some point, all film franchises are to have an end point: It is a matter of whether to end it on a solid note (as the original Star Wars Trilogy did) or on a whimper (if only The Terminator franchise did not go past the second film, and The Transformers franchise was….well, never mind). Undoubtably, it is all about making money, so sequels are going to happen one way or another.

Enter the newest film in the universe (or seas?) of the Pirates of the Caribbean films (I still have yet to see the fourth one in its entirety, but the third at least gave us a solid ending to it all). Depp is back as Sparrow (if he wasn’t, there would be no audience), and he is basically the same, nothing more or less. After a bank robbery (which I could not believe at all was plausible) goes wrong, his crew abandons him (many of the same actors since the first film). Eventually, Jack comes across Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a scientist (though accused by others for being a witch) on the search for Poseidon’s Trident. Also on the search is Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), son of Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley). Whoever gains the trident can reverse any curse (in Henry’s case, he wants to free his father from the curse he has had since the third movie). The trouble is that hot on their trail is Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), out to kill Sparrow for cursing him (curse the curses!) to be a half ghost creature along with his crew. He has asked for the help of Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush).

As I think of it, one of the nice things of the film is that the story is not that hard to follow (which can happen a lot in summer blockbusters). Each character has his/her reason for reaching Poseidon’s Macguffin (oops, I mean Trident), and none are totally completely complicated reasons.

The special effects are nice, but, again, nothing we have not actually seen before in the other movies. There are a few exceptions, and the one I wish to talk about is one of the more unrealistic action sequences I have seen in some time. A certain character is in a guillotine, about to have their head sliced off. In the chaos of being rescued, this character is having the blade inch toward his/her neck back and forth. I sat there, wondering how any of that could happen in real life.

Some of the CGI is neat, mainly of Salazar’s crew. The bodies are not skeletal remains (as was the case in the first film), but just sections of skin we might see. This does give a bit more menace to Bardem’s performance as the villain, but I kept thinking that he came into the series too late for me to take him completely seriously enough.

Parents, if your kids have seen the original film, then they should be fine. However, there are some suggestive comments made with the humor, which, for the record, I hardly smiled at all during.

Sadly, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is doing what The Hobbit trilogy did to the original Lord of the Rings Trilogy. It seems to be staying way past its welcome (and I mean WAY past, so much so that I made it in caps and everything.) In my mind, I kept thinking the title should have read “Dead movie franchises should stop telling tales”.

Throughout most of the movie, only one word came to mind.

Lame

Overall: One and a Half Stars * 1/2

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

 

Kong Skull Island

The King has returned.

Were he alive, I would think my dad would have loved this movie.

Back as a kid, he got me hooked on King Kong with the 1962 Japanese film King Kong vs. Godzilla (a movie you can never convince me is anything but great). If I remember correctly, I wanted Kong to win while my older brother was rooting for Godzilla (SPOILER: Kong wins).

Over the years, I have seen a few other monster movies, from the great King Kong remake in 2005 (a film my dad did not like) to the Godzilla films of 1998 (a let down) and 2014 (mildly good).

In Kong: Skull Island, the movie is set in the 1970s just after the Vietnam War. A researcher Bill (John Goodman) and his assistant Houston (Corey Hawkins) get the ok to explore a new island found on satellite photos. Of course, they need a military escort, which is led by Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson, of course). Joining their crew is tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston, proving he can be more than Thor’s adopted brother Loki) and photographer Mason Weaver (Oscar winner Brie Larson).

What I liked about this film was that, unlike other films when we had to wait a while to see the star (and really, who else would steal the show over Kong?), director Jordan Vogt-Roberts gives us a look at him rather soon into the movie. The same can also be said about some of the other creatures in the movie (I feel I should note there are some giant ants that look like spiders, for those of you who have arachnophobia).

Parents, the movie is rated PG-13 mainly for the swearing (I counted one F bomb) and the action (the violence is there, but is not any worse than that of The Lord of the Rings movies). Middle School and up is fine.

There are some scenes that seem tacked on that make the movie go on a lot longer than it needs to, but there are plenty of action scenes that make the movie more that worth recommending. There are some scary moments, but not any that will haunt your kids for days. If anything, they are the sequences that make kids turn away, yet look back in an instant.

To see the cast and crew treat a film icon like King Kong with this much honor and respect (which is really all Kong ever wanted) is a breath of fresh air.

(Note: There is a scene after the credits, which, if it is telling the truth, will have me buying tickets in a heartbeat).

 

Overall: Three and a Half Stars ***1/2

 

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

adventures of robin hood

Errol Flynn is still the definitive Robin Hood.

For the life of me, I still find it hard to believe that the original choice for Robin Hood was James Cagney. While he was undoubtably talented and remains one of Hollywood’s greatest legendary stars, The Adventures of Robin Hood would have been a totally different movie. Fortunately, he walked out, and in stepped the pinnacle of swashbucklers, Errol Flynn.

While I have not seen all of the films based off of the mythical archer, I still say this film is the best. True, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves  (1991) did at least have a great villain played by Alan Rickman (which almost overshadowed the horrible accent by Kevin Costner in the title role), the Disney film from 1973 is still very underrated, and I have heard ok things about the 2010 film with Russel Crowe. Still, no one could have brought the swashbuckling charm like Flynn did back in the day (besides, who else could enter the castle by beating up the guards with a deer carcass? Exactly.)

The story is virtually known to everyone: Robin Hood (Flynn) is an outlaw after King Richard (Ian Hunter) is out on his crusade and his brother Prince John (Claude Rains, one of the best supporting actors of the golden age) is put in charge. His taxation of the people knows no bounds. Helped by Sir Guy of Gisboure (Basil Rathbone, of course), only Robin Hood (and the merry men) of Sherwood stand in their way.

In the scene where Robin Hood enters with the deer to the dining hall, Flynn’s charisma is on full display. He owns the entire room, carrying for no one in the room. That is, of course, until he meets Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland, who, at the time of this review, is still alive at the ripe age of 100). That they fall for each other goes without question.

Most film buffs (myself included) agree that the best year in movies was 1939, giving us such films as Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, both landmarks in progressing color films. The Adventures of Robin Hood was made a year earlier and in Technicolor. It is truly a glorious film to behold even before you consider the story. The colors of the film jump out at you as much as the action on-screen.

Parents, this film is ok for any kid who can sit through a movie. There is action, some characters die, but there is no blood. It might also be a bit educational in a way: you get to see a film where the actors are actually doing the action themselves.

Originally, a sequel was going to be planned, but World War Two occurred, and by the end, the actors were no longer members at Warner Brothers. The only true problem with the film is that I wanted more. Directed by Michael Curtiz (who would later go on to do classics like Yankee Doodle Dandy and Casablanca), it truly is too short of a film. When it comes to great action, wonderful visuals, stellar performances, and grand storytelling, The Adventures of Robin Hood is a bullseye every time you watch it.

As the man himself might say, “Fluently”.

Overall: Five Stars *****

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

x-men Apocalypse

The younger versions of Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-Mcphee) and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan).

X-Men: Apocalypse is sure to dazzle the biggest fanboy (or girl), but it is almost generic in being a summer film, one that may not completly be remembered by the end of the year.

After the brilliance of X-Men: Days of Future Past two years ago (I still have yet to see X-Men: First Class from 2011), we fast foward ten years and are introduced to the biggest baddie in all mutant history (also the first), En Sabah Nur (Oscar Issac), also known as Apocalypse (though I don’t think he is called anything else in the movie). His ability is to move his conscience into other beings, picking up their powers along the way (at least that is what I gathered: I was a fan of X-Men as a nineties kid, but never got around to Apocalypse).

Meanwhile, we see familiar faces such as Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), who is still running his school for the gifted with the help of Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult). Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) is leading a normal life with a wife and daughter, though still working in a steel mill seems awkward for the man once known as Magneto. Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), also known as Mystique, has become kind of a folklore legend, but refuses to be seen as a hero. We also see three young versions of familiar heroes; Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Bush), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). However, Apocalypse has also managed to recruit some mutants of his own, including Angel (Ben Hardy), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), and Psylocke (Olivia Munn).

Still, as it was with Days of Future Past, my favorite is still Evan Peters as Quicksilver. It is a difference character than the one we met in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), and a better one (and not the because of the reason you think). He is witty, smart, funny, yet still has a tortured soul. He has a scene reminiscant of the one he had in Days of Future Past, and, as was the case in the previous movie, it is the best scene of this film as well.

All actors give strong performances (I did especially enjoy the chemistry between Sheridan, Bush, and Smit-McPhee), and the action sequences were very cool. Still, the story itself was just luke warm to me. Even at nearly two and a half hours (which it did not drag on as much as I thought it would), I feel they could have added a few more levels of depth to each character, as well as give a little more sinister-ness to the villian (though Issac does a fine job here).

Parents, the movie does have some revealing clothing, and some nudity (all Mystique, though the nudity is always her in blue). There is also some swearing (including one F bomb, though it is well placed). Basically, the PG-13 rating is justified, though it could have been rated R.

I will end by saying do still feel I liked this film better than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, though not nearly as much as Captain America: Civil War. I understand not all comic book stories are light and fun: some can be dark. I feel there is still some room left for another X-Men film or two (which will more than likely happen), but they need to stop looking at the horizon and take a leap of faith.

 

Overall: Three Stars ***

Into the Wild (2007)

Into the Wild

Emile Hirsch goes “Into the Wild”

It takes me a while to finally get in the mood to see a movie sometimes, mainly when someone ruins it for me. Such is the case with Into the Wild.

Spoilers, as I will not be able to review the film without mentioning really what happens. The movie (based off of the book of the same name) tells the story of a real life student and athlete named Chris McCandless (played wonderfully by Emile Hirsch). After graduating from Emory University and endless doors opened for his future, he decides to leave it all behind and venture towards Alaska into the wild. The more the film talks about him, the more we realize that he is not likely to survive (he does not).

We hear the story mainly narrated by his sister Carine (Jena Malone), who was the only real person he could connect to growing up. We learn of the past his parents (William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden) have tried to hide from them, and how they made much of his life growing up miserable.

The movie has many characters to introduce us to (as well as Chris). There are two hippies, Rainey (Brian Dierker) and Jan (the irreplaceable Catherine Keener), Wayne (a rare dramatic role for Vince Vaughn, and done rather well), Kristen Stewart as Tracy, a young singer who catches Chris’s eye, and, most heartbreaking of all, Hal Holbrook as Ron (which gained Holbrook an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor). Their last scene is as moving as any well acted scene I can remember. The movie also stars Zach Galifianakis, but I admit I was so involved I did not even notice him (this was before The Hangover made him a star).

The characters that did not add to the film, I feel, were Mads (Thure Lindhardt) and Sonja (Signe Egholm Olsen). We meet them while Chris is traveling the Colorado River. He is there for a bit, but has to leave because the authorities are after him (he is traveling the river without a license).

The movie is directed by acting icon Sean Penn (who also did the screenplay), who adds more than just his acting advice (all the actors had to have been influenced by him because all are on their A game here). He seems to remind us of the beauty of nature without having to add to it (no camera trickery is used).

Parents, the movie is not for kids, as there is a good amount of swearing and some nudity (which I don’t think was really needed at all). I would say the most mature of High Schoolers and above are ok with it).

Looking up some information online, I realized a lot of people have become fans of Chris McCandless (some, sadly, have even died trying to find the place where he lost his life). I am not an outdoors person myself that much, but I would be interested to go. I, too, would not only want to see what Chris did, but feel I need to see it as well.

Overall: Four Stars ****