I was in Toronto this week, and my late night flight in on Sunday wore me out. By late Monday afternoon, the coffees were barely helping. After I left the office, my wife and I took care of a last minute mortgage-related document request (she at home, me in the hotel Business Center), then I had to catch up on work at a nearby 24 hour Tim Hortons with free WiFi.
After all that, I rested a bit in the hotel, then decided to take a walk and find some dinner. It was past 9pm at this point. I ended up on Younge St near the Toronto Eaton Centre, and got some thai fast food dinner at the mall food court. They also had free WiFi, so I had an oppportunity to chat with my wife via Google Hangout.
While I was deciding on food choices, I discovered there was a movie theater upstairs, and I ended up catching the new Godzilla flick. The 9:50pm showing was only available in 3D, but I figured why not see it anyway. Although the film came out in May, there were quite a handful of people in the audience, including a strange older man who kept talking to himself loudly.
Gareth Edwards directed the film, but I have never watched any of his previous works. The film primarily stars Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Ken Watanabe. Elizabeth Olsen, David Strathairn, and Juliette Binoche also have minor roles in the film. The film starts off in 1999 when there is a strange discovery large fossils within an underground cavern at a mining site in the Philippines. Soon after, there is a mysterious accident at the Janjira nuclear power plant that levels the entire plant. Bryan Cranston’s character loses his wife in this “accident”, and then spends the next 14 years attempting to discover the truth.
As the film progresses, both Godzilla and the other monsters glimpsed in the film trailers are fully revealed and eventually do battle. Humankind, however, can do nothing but do its best to not get run over. It’s an entertaining film, and you get your monster battles. There are a lot of plot holes, but you need to let those go so you can enjoy the film.
I’m in sunny Florida this week, having taken a Boeing 767-400 through United down to Orlando. Flight time is a relatively short 2+ hour, but I got some work done while watching Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) on the seat back monitors. Note to United: really nice plane and the complimentary screen with viewing options is a nice amenity for the passenger. The flight was delayed an hour taking off from Newark, and the crying children weren’t my choice, but I shamefully liked that it was a half empty flight. Funny, because when I attempted to book it, the flight appeared full. Instead, I get a window seat and two seats to myself.
Anyway, so I watched one of Chris Pine’s latest Hollywood films. I do love a good Tom Clancy / Jack Ryan film. I missed the previous film The Sum of All Fears (2002) starring Ben Affleck. I don’t think it reviewed or performed well, as I don’t recall much interest or buzz when it came out. Fast forward to 2014 and we Chris Pine stepping into the role. Directed by Kenneth Brannaugh, the 2014 film is a prequel or reboot of sorts. As I read the history on this film, it turns out this is the first Jack Ryan film that isn’t based on any of Clancy’s original works. It’s a prequel about Jack Ryans’ start within the CIA.
Without giving out any key spoilers, I found the dastardly villainous plot to be a little… anti-climactic. I was also surprised at how quickly “Jack Ryan the 1st year junior CIA analyst” got turned into a field agent with such limited training and experience. I mean, I love Jack Ryan as much as any self-respecting red-blooded American would, but geez, doesn’t the CIA have more experienced assets to put up in the field to battle wits with Kenneth Branaugh’s villainous Cherevin and his FASB cronies?
Kiera Knightley stars as Jack’s fiance then young wife. She’s okay. Kevin Costner stars as Jack’s handler or manager or whatever. He’s also okay. The action in the film got a little hinky and unbelievable towards the end, again, because Jack is an now an analyst with previously unknown action star abilities and reflexes.
What I found ironic was the movie tagline: “Trust no one.” Spoiler alert! You can easily identify the bad guys, and you can trust all of the good guys. The writer and director (and Marketing Dept) warn you that you shouldn’t trust anyone, but really, there are no big twists. Rather disappointing and misleading. Once you realize that, it made the film plot even more anti-climactic.
I thought the debut of the 2nd Captain America film would never get here. It’s been been three years since Cap’s first film in the official Marvel movie universe, Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). Notice what I did there? I am completely glossing over the early 1980s Captain America film with the motorcycle and the see – thru transparent shield. And all the baked-in cheesiness. It was on par with the equally cheesy 1970s Spiderman films of that era. The new Marvel Cap was an extremely likeable and heroic star of the original 2012 film. The long wait since his last appearance in The Avengers (2012).
What I initially liked about this film, prior to even watching a single minute of the film, was that it wasn’t a film about a single hero up against insurmountable odds. I like a good ensemble, and there’s a good sized supporting cast of characters working for and against Captain America. Besides Chris Evans as Cap, this sequel strongly features Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Nick Fury (Sam Jackson), and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders). You will also see some familiar and unfamiliar baddies, including the mysterious assassin the Winter Soldier.
While the first film combined both heart, action, and humor, this one does much of the same. Maybe that’s the secret sauce for the new Marvel universe. This film pumps up the action but there are plenty of character moments to keep you interested on a secondary level.
Did you ever say to yourself, “Hey, I haven’t seen a famous Sandra Bullock film in a while. I wonder what’s available on Netflix, starring Sandra Bullock, circa 2000?”
That’s not quite happened here, but I did happen to see 28 Days available for streaming / “instantaneous visual consumption” on Netflix earlier this month, so I thought it would be worth 103 minutes of my time. This is one of her early films from 2000, playing a young woman from NYC named Gwen with some fairly serious binging issues. The film sets up the story with an interesting / slightly heavy-handed introduction. She’s out on some late 1990′s style bender at a late 1990′s cliched visualization of a night club. I didn’t really do too much clubbing back in the day, but whatever one she was in, looked more Los Angeles than New York. Anyways…… she stays fairly drunk throughout her sister’s wedding (as a bridesmaid), and causes quite a mess of the wedding. She eventually steals a limo, wrecks it, and is offered either a jail term or 28 days at a drug and alcohol rehab center somewhere in the woods.
She is, of course, rather unwilling and unrepentant alcoholic, so much of the film is her bucking and fighting her confinement at a center where she doesn’t believe she belongs. I’ll say that Sandra Bullock was alright in this film, but the film as a whole felt like more of a tv-movie, and less of a great theatrical film. Also, while Sandra Bullock normally comes across the role of the “every woman”, she still looked a bit too glamorous to be a Manhattan-based newspaper columnist. I made it through the entire film, but I wasn’t all that wowed by either the acting or the story line. It just felt too much like, “Hey, it’s Sandra Bullock as a woman in rehab!” I don’t know — it was the little things about this film that pulled me out from being engrossed in this film.
Last year, I watched for the first time Before Sunrise (1995), an interesting, intimate film by Richard Linklater from the 90′s. A lot of talking, mind you, but I was amazed by how intimate and real the film was. A simple film about two people without manufactured melodrama, a contrived plot, or what I would describe as a Hollywood ending. Starring only Ethan Hawks and Julie Delpy, I thought it was a really good film, but you wanted to know what happened next.
Nine years later (in 2004), Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke, reunited to jointly write the screenplay and put together a sequel, Before Sunset (2004). And I have to say that I liked this film better than the original. Taking place nine years later, much like the actual film, Hawke and Delpy are older and more mature, and they meet by happenstance in Paris. They spend a brief afternoon walking the streets of Paris trying to catch up. You learn about the truth of the past nine years for both of them. These two are nine years older, but you can still feel the love, the attraction, the connection. You can see that longing for each other, and for that happiness steaming from that one night in Vienna, right behind their eyes when they look at each other.
I liked that. That earnestness of it all. Life is not this carefree love affair. It is real and immediate. And they had lost each other for nine years. And all of a sudden, they were back in each other’s lives again. For that brief afternoon, what would happen?
While everyone else was watching Frozen for the umpteenth time, I went to see American Hustle. This is the 2013 film directed by David O. Russell. I’ve only seen three of this prior films, with mixed opinions:
- Three Kings  – Starring George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, and Spike Jonze, I barely remember the film, but I thought it was so-so, whenever I watched it between 2000 and 2002.
- I Heart Huckabees  – I watched this as a rental back in July 2005. My brief review: “This movie sucked. It was quirky, and I don’t actually mind quirky. However, I found it to be a pointless 105 minutes, and frankly, a bit weird for the sake of being weird.”
- Silver Linings Playbook  – The single film of his that I do remember, because we watched it last March. Now, this film, I did like. Quirky in a way, because of Bradley Cooper’s bipolar character, but we thought it was an interesting and engaging film.
Which brings us to the present day. The film takes place in New York 1978, and primarily about two con artists (Christian Bale and Amy Adams) who meet and start a partnership to con people out of money by agreeing to supply loans to desperate shmucks. They eventually get rolled up in an FBI sting led by Bradley Cooper’s character. Jeremy Renner and Jennifer Lawrence play supporting characters, but I won’t reveal too many details. The events of the film are loosely based on the FBI ABSCAM operation of the late 1970s and early 1980s. They don’t reveal this little tidbit until about halfway through the film, which honestly blew my mind, because I had heard about ABSCAM, but didn’t remember the particular details. I wonder if this came up in my 11th grade American History AP class one day, and I had been out that day?
Strong performances throughout the film, including Jennifer Lawrence. There was a pretty good soundtrack of 1970s-era disco music, so if you’re interested in a little retro music, go see the film. It’s not a deep or life-changing film, but it’s not a bad way to pass the time.
WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.
You know, I wanted to see Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) when it came out in 2012, but the stars weren’t aligned. We were looking for a good movie to watch New Year’s Eve (as is our annual tradition), and we decided on this little indie flick. The film stars Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, and Karan Soni. The premise of the film is based on an early Internet meme about this crazy online newspaper ad that an editor once posted as filler, but it caught some unexpected attention from the masses.
In this film produced by Mark and Jay Duplass, a magazine is looking for ideas for articles, and one writer (Jake Johnson) discovers a Craigslist a seeking a companion for time travel. He takes two interns (Plaza, Soni) along to perform the research. John son’s character really only wants to go to look up an old flame of his, and his initial encounter with the fellow who wrote the ad (Duplass) goes poorly. Aubrey Plaza’s character is sent in instead, and she and the “time traveler” eventually hit it off.
They (and the audience) do spend most of the film wondering if this guy is for real, or if he’s crazy, which is one storyline. There are three other stories weaved in around each of the characters of Plaza, Johnson, and Soni. I admit to falling asleep halfway through the film, but I blame on having wine and watching a film late at night. We finished the film a day later, and i have to say that I really liked the film. It’s good writing, and the characters are all interesting.
Last December, the entire Ipe family went with great expectations to see The Hobbit. While the kids liked it well enough, my wife and I were decidedly underwhelmed with the bloated plot, long run time, and the overabundance of CGI chase scenes. Not happy for sure, but disappointed would also be an apt way to describe my feelings about the film. I didn’t mind seeing the film broken out into two or three films, but the story is so bloated that it goes on forever. I’m certain that financial considerations by the studio prompted this decision.
With less enthusiasm, I took the kids tonight to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the second film in this children’s book-turned-into-a-trilogy-that-is-now-a-foreboding-and-ominus-prequel-for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. Yes, I said less enthusiasm. The reviews via word of mouth were better, so I attended with more hope. In addition, our friend Vijay met us at the Menlo Park mall and went to the AMC Dine-In
Fork & Screen theater. If I’m going to sit through another 2 hour film, I’m gonna do it as comfortably and hydrated as possible. In case you were wondering, we saw the film in standard 48fps, no 3D.
The film begins with a flashback one year earlier, which I remember was described in one of the LoTR appendices about the 3rd Age, of the initial meeting between Gandalf and Thorin Oakenshield in Bree. It’s fine, and then fast-forwards to the dwarven party (plus one hobbit) attempting to escape orc hunting parties. They meet Beorn, travel through Mirkwood Forest, meet the woodland elves ruled by King Thranduill, and so on. They eventually make their way to Erebor (“The Lonely Mountain”) to confront the dragon Smaug.
Let’s get this out of the way first – purists may be pained to know that Team Jackson / Walsh / Boyens continues to embellish the original story with material from the appendices. Not a crime from my perspective, but there is a lot of embellishment and rewriting of the tale. It’s nice to see a female character, so I’m okay with it.
I still feel that the film drags on for much too long. There is still way too much “Run for your lives!” Also, I’m sad to say, while Smaug looks good and sounds good, the scenes between him, Bilbo, and the dwarves drag on for quite a while. Smaug has this long soliloquy with Bilbo, and then there is this long game of cat and mouse (dragon and dwarf?) as Smaug attempts to kill them. After a long time, I had flashbacks of Money Python and the Holy Grail.
“Get on with it!”
I was at our local library last Sunday afternoon, perusing the DVD / Movies section, and found the Argo on Blu-ray. Ooooh, that’s interesting. When this film came out last year, there was a lot of good buzz around the film. Yes, despite being directed by, and starring, Ben Affleck, an actor who has received a lot of critical ribbing in the past few years since Daredevil and Gigli. I don’t have strong opinions about Ben Affleck, so I could care less.
The movie Argo is either based on, or inspired by, true events surrounding the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the later storming of the U.S Embassy in Tehran. Not all of the Embassy employees/staff were taken hostage — six managed to escape undetected during the siege, and took residence up with the Canadian ambassador. With time running out before their likely discovery before long, an “exfiltration expert” Tony Mendez (portrayed by Ben Affleck) devised a crazy but daring plan: to create a phony Canadian film project looking to shoot in Iran and smuggle the Americans out as its production crew. Mendez contacts some trusted Hollywood types that he’s used in the past to help with his plan. Mendez also heads to Iran as the film’s associate producer, but to also make contact with the six U.S. citizens. While all this is happening, Iranian security forces begin closing in on the six.
The film is pretty good, I have to say. Good pacing, and the story doesn’t get too schmaltzy or anything. Affleck’s acting was fine, as was the acting by John Goodman and the other actors. You do get a sense of how crazy Iran was during in the midst of the revolution. We watched it on Blu-ray, so we watched it in the highest quality presentation: the video was pretty flawless in 1080p, and the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 helped to set the mood of the riots, the crowds, and the background chaos.
So, continuing in my tradition of watching and catching up on classic films that I missed for various reasons, I recently requested 12 Angry Men. It’s a 1957 film with an all-star cast, directed by famed director Sidney Lumet. It’s a pretty powerful film. If you’ve never heard of it, here’s a synopsis that I pulled off from IMDB:
The defense and the prosecution have rested and the jury is filing into the jury room to decide if a young man n is guilty or innocent of murdering his father. What begins as an open-and-shut case of murder soon becomes a mini-drama of each of the jurors’ prejudices and preconceptions about the trial, the accused, and each other. Based on the play, all of the action takes place on the stage of the jury room.
Based on a 1954 teleplay by a fellow named Reginald Rose, it later became a play and this film as well. Who knew? I found this film interesting on so many levels. First off, besides the beginning and scenes, the entire film takes place in a small jury room. Apart from some ancillary characters at the beginning to set up the story, the twelve men in the jury are the main cast. Secondly, the cast contains a veritable “Who’s Who” of famous male actors of that era, and that I have seen in one role or another. I didn’t know or recognize some of them, but these were ones I was surprised to see:
- Jack Klugman
- Henry Fonda
- Martin Balsam
- Ed Begley
- John Fiedler
- Lee J. Cobb
- Jack Warden
I don’t want to give away the plot, so I will say that it was interesting to watch each actor’s bring the characters to life. What seemed like a quick deliberation becomes a big discussion on the innocence or guilt of the young man on trial that you only catch a glimpse of at the beginning of the film. The film’s tight script, fine acting, directing, lighting, editing, were all phenomenal and powerfully effective. Good stuff. The best film that I have seen all year. Highly recommend it.