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Best. Trilogy. Ever?

23 Jul

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Synopsis: “After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind.” (Rated PG-13; 2 hours, 20 minutes)
The Planet of the Apes trilogy that just concluded was one of the absolute BEST trilogies I’ve EVER seen…and in case it’s not evident, I’ve seen quite a few movies.
Beginning, middle and end, it was just so damn powerful. Yes, for anyone who assumes a big budget movie about simians has to be stupid, don’t judge it by its poster, nor the cheesy fun Charlton Heston films, nor the really mediocre remake by Tim Burton (who I generally love).
No, this trilogy by Matt Reeves is fantastic. The heartbreaking first one Rise of the Planet of the Apes with a tragically wonderful performance by John lithgow (whom I get to meet in a few months thanks to Adi!!!), the great second one Dawn of the Planet of the Apes which shows a hell of an internal conflict among the apes, and now the final chapter War for the Planet of the Apes, which has Woody Harrelson doing a hell of a Martin Sheen circa Apocalypse Now impression.
Throughout the trilogy, the perennially Oscar-snubbed Andy Serkis is PERFECTION as the Caesar. The visuals are flawless, the drama is taut, and other than Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, I honestly can’t think of another trilogy that goes so wonderfully together. (Sorry, I love all of Back to the Future but the third is a huge loss in quality, the drop-off between the first two Godfather movies and the third is astounding, and many others including Harry Potter and James Bond have more than three great movies but they aren’t actually 3-story arcs, they simply have good and weaker chapters.)
Most people I know get annoyed when sequels are made to good movies, and I get that; they don’t want to see something great degrade in quality, so leave well enough alone. And I get that mentality, I do, I just happen to be a movie-LOVER and not a movie-SNOB (as evidenced by this blog), so I’m ALWAYS excited by the prospect of sequels (if I like the original), continuing stories and characters that I have loved and am excited to see continue. Sure, more often than not it disappoints (Zoolander 2, Independence Day: Resurgence, and countless other examples) but sometimes it exceeds expectations (each subsequent Captain America movie, Terminator 2) and sometimes it’s just bonkers and insanely different from the first one (Gremlins 2 was basically a Looney Tunes cartoon!), but I’m Boaz, and I proudly enjoy seeing what they do with it, and in most examples I enjoy the experience of seeing it play out. A disappointing sequel does not detract from my opinion of a great original. But this Apes trilogy was a different animal. It’s not just an excuse for a sequel, it was designed to have a start, middle and end. Not one part of any of it felt like an excuse to find more material to work with. And man oh man did it fire on all cylinders.
Anyway, see them. In order. Preferably on a big screen with good sound.
Oh, and the way this latest one started with a recap was so simple in design that it amazed me it’s never been done before. Sometimes it’s the little things that go unnoticed…

It was much better than any previous Planet of the Apes incarnation, and just as good as the previous two in the trilogy, which is a high bar.

Quality Rating: A+ (What did you expect from a post about putting it up there with Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings as the best trilogy I’ve ever seen?)

Boaz Rating: A+ (I was gripped from the first to the last minute, it had me laughing the few rare times of humor, and crying at the somber moments.)

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Oblivion (“My Comic Book Origin Story”)

8 May

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Synopsis: “A veteran assigned to extract Earth’s remaining resources begins to question what he knows about his mission and himself.” (Rated PG-13; 2 hours, 5 minutes)

Why on God’s green-earth isn’t this smart science-fiction movie getting more love? This time I not only refer to the critics, but also the people I personally know who have seen and disliked it. I went to see Oblivion with the knowledge that a group of 3 of my friends (Ephraim, Mike and Jared) had gone to see it, and reported being really bored by it. Ephraim, who admits he gets impatient watching movies, said he was intrigued by the first half but then it lost him. They predicted that I’d like it, seemingly because I enjoy most movies, but were ready to mock me for doing so. Well, I’m sorry guys, but not only did I think it was good, I REALLY really liked it.

The movie was like a cross between 2001: A Space Odyssey, I Am Legend and WALL-E. First of all, let me address the slow-pacing of the movie. This made me feel like I was watching the classic Stanley Kubrick film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Most people to see that movie know it wasn’t exactly an exciting, fast-paced movie, but the brilliant build-up of tension as man realized more and more that he needed to battle machine…wow. And no, I’m not suggesting this movie had the extremely slow pacing of Kubrick, but each scene was certainly deliberate, thoughtful and highly suspenseful. Considering the movie was set on a desolate planet Earth, you should be able to visualize that there were long portions with very little dialogue, and it became more about man versus beast…or machine. Personally I find this technique amazing when it works, such as with Cast Away, or even the aforementioned WALL-E or I Am Legend. A film-maker who is able to create a world where you are watching a one-man play for long chunks of the time, and keep you glued to your seats…I absolutely love and admire that.

Without spoiling anything, the basic premise in Oblivion involves Tom Cruise and Andrea Riseborough as a two people who have their memories wiped, and are assigned to monitor Earth to help protect it from creatures who have been sabotaging it. All of this takes place in a post-apocalyptic future, where the two of them have a home-base that looks like a scaled-back version of The Jetsons apartment in the sky, while the rest of the world remains bare and desolate.

The visuals were simply awesome. This applied to both the fantastic set design, and also the absurdly great visual effects. My goodness half of this movie involves rocket ships and robots flying around, and it looked amazing. I was swept away in a world where menacing, flying drone robots existed, and Tom Cruise was like Maverick from Top Gun if he’d gotten amnesia and was flying around aimlessly trying to find his purpose in life. In fact, I didn’t know anything about the movie other than the previews, and it made perfect sense to find out that it was based on a graphic novel.

I grew up with an expensive hobby, and comic books be thy name. As with many addictions, it started quite innocently…It was the summer of 1994, I had just turned 15, and my best friend Seth asked me to join him for a comic book signing. Although it sounded like a boring day of nothing but waiting in line, we passed time on lazy Shabbos afternoons often enough that I didn’t mind doing it for the sake of spending time with my buddy. My immediate impressions were of amusement at the people surrounding us in the line. There was one memorable middle-aged man with a twitchy mustache who kept raving about a comic book named Shi, Seth and I joked about this for years to come. Hours passed by, and we finally got inside Golden Apple, the popular comic book store on Melrose Avenue. About 5 steps into the store an Asian man got my attention:

Asian man – Hey! You plan on signing anything?

Boaz – Oh, I’m just here to hang with my friend. Why, where do we finally do that?

Golden Apple Employee – Dude, that’s Jim Lee!

Boaz – Umm, who?

Asian man/Jim Lee – Bursts out laughing

Seth – Nice Boaz, way to embarrass me. He’s the head of Image Comics and the one everyone’s waiting to meet!

Boaz – Oh, sorry, I don’t collect comics, but I’ve been waiting in line long enough that I guess I’ll buy one and get your autograph, sure.

Entire Crowd – Laughs hysterically

When I saw there were about 3 issues released of his comic Wetworks, I bought all three, he signed them, and the next thing I knew I was shopping at Golden Apple once a week, getting about 20 comics at a time. This hobby lasted years, gathered me hundreds to thousands of comic books (I never counted) and all of my babysitting money. As with movies, some were fantastic, others were lousy, some were interesting but slow, and others were dumb fun action. (My favorites were anything written by Garth Ennis, the comic book equivalent of Quentin Tarantino.) The universes that some of these artists managed to create would bring fantasy worlds to life that were near-impossible to bring to the big screen. They were too grand and vast, technology simply couldn’t handle such a feat…yet. Cut ahead to the continued perfection of special effects and CGI, and more and more we got to see movies like Avatar and John Carter which actually transported us to different worlds. I’m happy to report that Oblivion joins the club, as it so effectively transported me to a dark, new world.

The graphic novel had been written by Joseph Kosinski, and I’m thrilled that he was also chosen to direct it, as he was given the chance to realize his original vision. Kosinski had only directed commercials before being given the chance to direct the long-awaited Tron: Legacy. While that movie was a bit of a let-down, it LOOKED fantastic, and most of its flaws were in the writing. Here he was given his second movie, it was based on his own material, and it just worked as a smart, twisty story.

As interesting as I found it from the start, the movie really became incredible about halfway through, after a huge reveal. I was incredibly relieved to have seen it with my friend Yoni, because unlike our other three friends who hated it, Yoni and I both loved the film and had a great experience watching it. Bear in mind that he is the same friend who watched Tyler Perry’s Temptation with me, and helped me make fun of that one from start to finish. For the two hours that Oblivion was playing, I don’t think we said a word, other than our mutual disappointment that our friends hated it.

I tell you, when a certain twist in the movie occurred, in spite of usually figuring things out I was totally caught off-guard, and was blown away from that point onward. I’m not saying every piece to the puzzle was shocking. There were elements to the story that I saw a mile away that were meant to be giant reveals, but that didn’t take away from the overall cool factor. And the love story that ensued was quite touching, giving this sci-fi movie more brains, heart and ominous tension than most ever achieve. Between the incredible visuals and the spectacular sound, this warranted being seen on a giant screen, in a great theater. Thankfully we caught it in the amazing (and overpriced) Arclight theater. I doubt it’ll actually happen, since I’m limited with my time, but I would even consider seeing it again. Trust me, that’s high praise for someone who tries to see 150 different movies each year.

The movie was better than I Am Legend, the enjoyably flawed Will Smith movie, where he scours the Earth on his own, trying to stay alive. Thought it wasn’t as perfect as Cast Away, which was truly a one-man feat performed by Tom Hanks.

Quality Rating: A-

Boaz Rating: A+ (The first half was fascinating, but from the second half onward I was absolutely mesmerized)

Jurassic Park (3D) (“My Research & Adulation About The Masterpiece”)

30 Apr

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Synopsis: “During a preview tour, a theme park suffers a major power breakdown that allows its cloned dinosaur exhibits to run amok.” (Rated PG-13; 2 hours, 7 minutes)

Steven Spielberg is a God. Is that too sacrilegious a statement for an observant Jew to make? Fine, I’ll clarify it and say he’s just a god among men. How else to describe the fantasy that he has helped bring to life SO many times over the years with movie spectacle after movie spectacle.

It’s not just his budgets that create wondrous blockbusters, because numerous directors get hundreds of millions of dollars to play with, and their movies may be cool and fun, but they sure aren’t magical (I’m talking to you, Michael Bay). And he certainly doesn’t exclusively choose Oscar-bait material, because many of his movies would have been second-rate in other peoples’ hands. Imagine Jaws directed by anyone else. What are the chances  that the LACK of seeing the shark would be what scares the bejesus out of us. (I was one of countless kids who for years still had lingering twinges of fear when I’d dip my toes into a swimming pool!) How about Saving Private Ryan; do you think anyone else would have given you the terrifying sense of “being there” that you had during its initial 20 minute D-Day scene? In my opinion that scene escalates the film so much, that I consider it to be the greatest war movie ever made. I could honestly go on and on about my all-time favorite director, but let’s focus my attention on the brilliant blockbuster at hand, Jurassic Park. Oh what an awesome movie it was. And I’m happy to report that it stands the test of time. Seeing it on the big screen once again was exhilarating;  it was as scary, thrilling and (yes) funny as ever.

I need to mention the fact that Adi went with me to see the movie in 3D. For anyone who is unaware, I am incredibly critical of the 3D experience in movies, and my feelings generally range from hatred to mild apathy. Whether it’s about the distractions of the glasses constantly slipping off my nose, or how they feel pressed against my own glasses underneath, or the dulled tones and colors that result from the 3D effect…I despise the format. But for the sake of this particular blog post, I will write about the movie and not mention the 3D aspect again; one of these days I will revisit the topic and address/attack it as its own article.

Unlike most of my posts, the vast majority of people reading this blog will have seen the movie in the past, so I don’t need to convince anyone that it’s worth checking out. What I would like to do is remind people about some of the more brilliant aspects of the movie, and possibly offer some new information I’ve compiled from my research.

The Music

As soon as you saw the poster above, didn’t you start playing the music inside your head (or out loud for that matter)? If not, I welcome you to get in the mood and listen to it right here (at the start of the YouTube clip as well as the 2:25 minute mark). John Williams composed the score for all of Spielbergs’ movies, and has thus created some of the most memorable melodies in film history. He managed to somehow make 2 notes absolutely terrifying with his Jaws theme. He gave a platform to world-renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman, who was forever immortalized in the beautifully haunting Schindler’s List theme. As Spielberg created another piece of cinematic history, so often John Williams followed. The melody for Jurassic Park was an instant-classic, and you would hear people singing it as soon as they’d leave the theater. To say it set the mood for the wonders on the screen would be a glaring example of understatement.

The Special Effects

It’s been 20 years since the movie came out. There have been so many advances in technology, computers and special effects, and nobody would even try to contest that statement. Then why on earth do these effects hold up as better and more “real” than the majority of big budget movies today? The amount of thought, care and dedication that went into the visual arts of this movie are astonishing. As fantastic as some of the CGI (computer-generated imagery) movies have gotten, so many film-makers have abused it to the point where it’s not uncommon to hear “CGI-heavy” as a descriptor for a movie – and it’s rarely meant as a compliment. (I’m looking at you Transformers!) Although Jurassic Park had plenty of CGI (and essentially revolutionized it), some of their key moments and characters were mechanical, touchable, animatronic dinosaurs – amazingly REAL ones I might add. When Sam Neill hugged the sick Triceretops? He wasn’t hugging a blue screen, the creature was created for the movie, and it was as if dinosaurs were alive and real…you can’t replace that realism! What about the giant Tyrannosaurus Rex that moved around snapping and snarling and darting rapidly? It was usually a robot. Holy cow-eating dinosaur! In fact it was SUCH a feat of brilliance creating the T. Rex that I invite you to watch these videos that were recently released here; they show the thought and genius that went into it, led by the world-famous special effects pioneer Stan Winston. There are 3 segments at 4 minutes apiece, and you may not understand all of the technical terms they’re using, but you will be amazed by their inventiveness! Are you curious to read a fun National Geographic piece about how the T. Rex from the movie compares to what we actually know about the monstrous creature? I am happy to provide you with a fun piece of reading material here!

Spielberg had originally hired Phil Tippett to use his go-motion animation technology to move the dinosaurs around. Tippett had previously created numerous famous go-motion effects, including the Imperial Walkers during The Empire Strikes Back. Spielberg wasn’t happy with the end-result’s lack of realism in Jurassic Park, and when they saw initial CGI footage of the T. Rex running around and hunting the stampede of other dinosaurs, he famously said to Tippett, “You’re out of a job”, to which the go-motion wizard responded, “Don’t you mean extinct?”. That witty exchange of course made it into the movie itself! As for the shots when the dinosaurs WERE computer generated? I have no explanation as to why they still seem more real than most modern day effects. They just do.

The Script

It sure doesn’t hurt when the author is also one of the screenwriters, and that’s what happened here. Michael Crichton was hired to adapt his own screenplay, and David Koepp came in later and made some very clever changes to its final product. For example, there had been a lot of exposition in the book (and Crichton’s screenplay) about the backstory of HOW it was scientifically possible to bring dinosaurs back to life. Koepp solved this by creating the cute cartoon that was shown to the characters that explains it all. This and other changes took the meat of the clever story, and made it flow so darn well in a 2 plus hour movie. He also took Richard Attenborough’s owner-of-the-island character and made him a sweet, misguided, well-meaning old man instead of a ruthless billionaire. Trust me, when you watch the movie again you’ll realize just how many lines are now classic, and the comic timing is hilarious, especially when Jeff Goldblum speaks. Although I must admit I was rolling my eyes at the ridiculousness of the script where Goldblum’s character Dr. Ian Malcolm asks Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) if she’s heard of chaos theory, and then later the butterfly effect. In both cases neither she nor anyone else is even familiar with the concepts. Seriously?! What the hell sort of schools did these other scientists go to? I was a lazy student in high school but even I had heard of both, c’mon! In spite of that slight lapse in judgment, the script was fun, memorable and well written by the author himself and Koepp. Other notable movies that Koepp has written include Mission: Impossible,  Spider-Man, and last year’s underrated popcorn flick Premium Rush.

The Actors

I would have never thought Sam Neill could be such a great hero, but he really pulled it off. It’s funny, because I don’t associate him with roles like this, as he’s usually a bit stodgy or serious, but here he fit the hat of an Indiana Jones-type perfectly. And it’s ironic, because Harrison Ford was actually Spielberg’s first choice. As the director once reported, “My first choice was Harrison. I went to the art department and I had them do a photo-realistic painting of the T-Rex chasing Harrison… and I put Harrison’s face on the character of the archaeologist, and sent the script, the book, and the picture to Harrison. The next day I got a call and he said, ‘This is not for me, pal.'” So as often seems to occur with famous roles, it could have gone to someone else and now we can’t really imagine it any other way. (William Hurt was also considered for the role before Sam Neill turned up.) Laura Dern was an interesting choice to make since she was mostly doing indie flicks at the time. According to a recent Entertainment Weekly article, she got the script while working on Wild At Heart, and only accepted the role when Nicolas Cage told her that it was his dream to work on a dinosaur movie and she’d be CRAZY to turn it down. And don’t get me started on Jeff Goldblum, his unique delivery is an acting class in itself.

Did You Know?

Pieces of information I wasn’t aware of until yesterday include:

-At the start of their automated tour of Jurassic Park, Richard Attenborough’s character tells everyone, “”The voice you’re now hearing is Richard Kiley. We’ve spared no expense.” I assumed Richard Kiley must have been a well-known actor from the days of yore, but there’s more to it. In the book, Chrichton wrote that Kiley was the narrator of the tour, so fittingly Spielberg was able to get him to actually do it for the movie.

-When they showed dinosaurs entire bodies moving around, or more distant shots, it was usually CGI. Most close-ups of them were animatronic though, including the majority of the climactic velociraptor-kitchen scene, which most people falsely believe was CGI. In fact during that scene Joseph Mazzello at one point ran into one of them and got injured. The seamless blend of computers with fleshy animatronics works so darn well, and that scene was terrifying!

-During filming a massive hurricane hit Kauai, causing the entire crew to flee. The pilot who took them off the island was Fred Sorenson. Who’s that? He was the same pilot who flew Indiana Jones away during the opening scene of Spielberg’s own Raiders Of The Lost Ark!

The Director

This brings us full circle back to the genius himself, Steven Spielberg. Seeing the movie on the big screen after all these years, I was able to see countless details and moments that demonstrate his mastery of the film-making craft. I will give some examples of this from just one famous scene in the movie, the T. Rex encounter: The cup of water rippling each time the T. Rex took a step…iconic. The rear-view mirror vibrating out-of-focus during that same thunderous sequence…brilliant. The close-up of the side-mirror showing the T. Rex chasing their vehicle, and almost caught up, with a funny focus on the words, “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear”!

There were truly endless moments of masterful film-making throughout the film, and as Adi said to me, it did two things that most movies never achieve: It scared her, and it made her care. The animatronics and CGI were able to make these dinosaurs more real than it had seemed imaginable, and the script was able to provide a hell of a fun story; but it’s only thanks to Steven Spielberg that each moment was actually suspenseful, touching and highly effective. The movie fires on all cylinders, and I can’t wait to see what he does in the next chapter of his illustrious career.

The movie was better than its sequels, including the Spielberg directed The Lost World. That one was certainly entertaining, but never as brilliantly innovative as the original. It wasn’t as good as…geez, do I really have to pick a better movie than a classic? Sure, okay, technically it wasn’t as fantastic as his own Schindler’s List. Are you happy now? I need to go wash my hands after that dirty, dirty comparison…

Quality Rating: A+(After everything I’ve written here, was there ever any doubt?)

Boaz Rating: A+

The Host (“My Rant About The Twilight Movies”)

2 Apr

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Synopsis: “When an unseen enemy threatens mankind by taking over their bodies and erasing their memories, Melanie will risk everything to protect the people she cares most about, proving that love can conquer all in a dangerous new world.” (Rated PG-13; 2 hours, 5 minutes)

If going into a movie with lowered expectations was a goal, The Host achieved it perfectly. First of all, this is the movie adaptation of a book by Stephenie Meyer. As in the author of the Twilight novels. As in the person who wrote the books that I’ll admit I didn’t read, but that were made into some of the absolute WORST big budget extravaganzas I’ve seen in years. Every…single…one of them.

I saw each of those awful movies with my friend Ephraim. Let me explain: If there’s one friend who I have to be careful NOT to sit next to in a movie it’s Ephraim. He will talk, scoff, and make fun of just about any movie, and he won’t do it quietly. This makes him one of the most entertaining people to spend time and see movies with IF you don’t care about creating a Mystery Science Theater 3000 experience; but for someone like me who enjoys MOST movies, it isn’t exactly ideal. So I’ve learned that I need to make him promise not to talk if I’m sitting next to him in a movie, which results in him talking only slightly more than Adi watching a horror movie (“Don’t go in there!!!”). But the Twilight movies were SO bad that the only reason I actually enjoyed watching each one of them was because I WAS sitting next to him making fun of them each time. (I know, I know, this post will surely alienate me from a certain percentage of my audience who thinks that the Twilight books were Citizen Kane and would be offended if I gave them a “B” instead of an “A” grade. Sorry, I’m not going to pander to anyone, and to have given any of those movies anything above a C would have been as dumb as saying Back To The Future II was a bad sequel. Obviously that movie rocks…and clearly hover-boards are real…and where can I buy one???)

Where was I? Right. The Twilight movies (and presumably books) were terrible, and a waste of a few hundred million dollars. And nobody could have possibly been worse than Kristen Stewart, and her wooden performance. In fact, describing her that way may be disrespectful to all forms of wood (something Curb Your Enthusiasm taught us is a crime). In fact I’ll bring up something else: My friend Yoni likes to say that he’s willing to bet that he could shoot free throws better than certain awful NBA shooters, like DeAndre Jordan. I’d like to propose my own version of that bet: With absolutely zero acting experience I, Boaz Hepner, could have acted better than Kristen Stewart. I could have put on a dress, used a stereotypically dreadful, high-pitched voice to mimic a girl, and read my lines from cue cards…and still given a better performance. Now that I’ve successfully lost 20% of my readership just to make a point, please allow me to continue…

For all of these reasons, plus the fact that The Host was a far less successful book by Stephenie Meyer, PLUS overall lousy reviews (including Entertainment Weekly giving it a ZERO, and calling it “a dramatic sinkhole”)…I certainly went into the movie with lowered expectations. Thus how lovely it was when I ended up enjoying this sci-fi movie epic! It didn’t really even feel like a movie; it was much more like watching a sci-fi miniseries that’s made for television, but one that I’d really enjoy watching. First of all it wasn’t short, so it felt like the movie was able to take its time and develop the story. Please realize that when I write about developing characters, I’m still doing so on a TV miniseries quality level, something like the show V. In other words, there’s no great acting, the dialogue is simply adequate, but for a fan of sci-fi with an intense dash of romance (like many CW/WB shows) it’s a very appealing thing to watch.

First of all Saoirse Ronan is actually a good young actress. If you missed the movie Hanna, go see it. It was an exciting Bourne Identity-type movie starring a young girl, and done amazingly, thrillingly well. It was an absolutely underrated movie from 2011. She was also great in Atonement, another film that I think was fantastic. So having the lead actress be competent was already a step up from Kristen Stewart, and she was actually quite good…except for her voice-over. To be fair, it’s not her fault that the voice-over was an awkward device of the movie; it was the choice of the author and the director, but boy did it come across as hokey! Let me explain the basic premise of the movie so you’ll understand what I mean: When the movie begins her character is taken over by an alien parasite who body-snatches her. This has been happening all over the world to almost the entire human race; they have been body-snatched. What makes her unique is that her consciousness remains within her body, and throughout the movie you hear her voice talking to the (friendly) alien parasite and they literally have conversations. I can see how this device could work in a novel, but watching it unfold in a movie was somewhat painfully silly. And every time you’d see Saoirse Ronan on screen it would be this dichotomy of a good acting performance having a conversation with her own inner voice which would make you roll your eyes. Not the desired effect that director Andrew Niccol could have wanted.

Speaking of the director, he has made two very entertaining, underrated sci-fi movies in the past, starting with Gattaca, and most recently with the surprisingly fun In Time. I like his movies, and love the genre, but this was still the least good of those three. Nonetheless, he depicted a universe that intrigued the sci-fi fan in me, and I really enjoyed the movie in spite of its hokey voice-over device.

Another thing that I really appreciated was that none of it was ruined by the previews I’d seen. In previews you saw her as a free human, falling in love, eventually captured and taken over by the aliens, and finally fighting back from within her own body. A fair assumption would be that you just saw the first half of the movie. The good news was that this all happened within the first 5 minutes! Somehow the previews remained spoiler-free, and I was able to enjoy the movie much more as a direct result.

William Hurt played a major role, and you always get the feeling he’s method-acting every role. If so, he must have been holed up in the desert somewhere playing a crazy survivalist. And yes, he was good in the role as the caring leader of these few surviving humans. The three good looking young guys were all blonde-haired and hard to tell apart at times. Two of them became love-interests (Stephenie Meyer seems to have an inner desire for polygamy) and I kind of ended up rooting for the one who you’re clearly supposed to root for LESS. Kind of…you’ll see.

I saw it with Jared at the end, not Ephraim. And I’m glad it worked out that way since I actually did enjoy watching all of it uninterrupted, with all of its flaws (I didn’t even mention that the special effects were somewhat cheesy too). It won’t be for everyone, but hopefully I described it enough to know if it’s for you.

The movie was better than Twilight by a landslide. It wasn’t as good as the Steve Martin comedy All Of Me. Why do I make such a random comparison? Because throughout The Host, whenever the main character would talk to herself and you’d hear her talk back internally, I kept thinking of how funny it was in All Of Me where Lily Tomlin was trapped inside Steve Martin’s body, and you’d hear HER talking to him. That worked like a bizarre buddy-comedy, but I think in part it worked because it was not only a comedy, but also a different actor’s voice. It’s much tougher to take it seriously when the same voice talks back.

Quality Rating: B-

Boaz Rating: B+

Dark Skies

10 Mar

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Synopsis: “As the Barret family’s peaceful suburban life is rocked by an escalating series of disturbing events, they come to learn that a terrifying and deadly force is after them.” (Rated PG-13; 1 hour 37 minutes)

My fiancée confuses me. Adi loves even the dumbest of horror movies. Murderer going after dumb teenagers? She loves it. Demons and possessions? Those are her favorite type. Creepy children? Nothing scares her more for some reason (except possibly for spiders, she does seem to have a real-life arachnophobia that rears its girly head every week or two). But aliens? For some reason, that suddenly makes it a “sci-fi” movie, and she walks out of something like Dark Skies exclaiming, “that was kind of dumb”. Why? Because the scary premise is about aliens.

I then present her with the most logical scenario I can come up with: “Let’s pretend everything in this movie had been the same: the same family, the same actors, the same director, the same scary moments and scenes and imagery, but instead of it being caused by aliens it was all due to demons…” She laughed and responded that she’d probably love it.

So we’ve established one thing: she may not be the most logical person in the world to take over my movie blog when I need a replacement. (I was tempted to make a crack about how her lack of logic in this regard simply proves that she’s a woman, but would rather not alienate every single female reader I currently am lucky to have!)

So how was Dark Skies as a (sci-fi) horror flick? Quite good actually, and I’ll attempt to explain why: the characters. Watching a movie like this you expect the characters to be completely uncomplicated clichés, the kids are either brats or super good, the parents are either skeptical or believers, and whatever passes for character development lacks in any depth whatsoever. That wasn’t the case here at all.

I really cared about the Barret family throughout Dark Skies. The first glimpse of the older child made me assume he would play the typical rebellious tweener; but I was happily proven wrong and watched him throughout the movie maintain a relationship with his younger brother that was surprisingly touching, while he was going through his own coming-of-age awkwardness. He was played by Dakota Goyo, who most notably starred in the really fun and underrated Real Steel, as Hugh Jackman’s son. The parents had a complex and interesting marriage that I rooted for, as the father was looking for work and struggling financially, while the mother (played by Keri Russell) tried to be supportive. Unlike most horror movies where I could hardly care less about what happens to the people, and it is all about the scares, I actually wanted this family to make it through in one piece.

I credit not only the acting but of course the writing and direction, which were both done by Scott Stewart. Who is Scott Stewart you  probably wonder? It turns out he is the same director who made the dreadful apocalyptic sci-fi trash Legion, followed by another movie that looked similar (but I admittedly didn’t see) called Priest. Both starred Paul Bettany, and both bombed. It really shocks me that he went from those to making something as surprisingly nuanced as this one, and I certainly hope he continues in this direction.

The scares in this movie weren’t really “jumping out at you” horror movie moments, but more-so an escalating series of disturbing events, and a very eerie tone that certainly managed to disturb me. The plot developed in a somewhat predictable way, and the movie still had plenty of actual clichés (seeking the “expert” to help explain their horrible situation, little brother disturbingly knowing what’s going on before anyone else does). But overall I was impressed; even the side characters were well portrayed as real people actually supporting the movie, and not just there to fill time.

I do hope that writing about how much I liked the Barret family in this movie wasn’t at the expense of making fun of my own. Sorry Adi, but this movie was still quite good, even though the demons happened to be played by aliens this time around.

The movie is better than Paranormal Activity, a movie with a clever gimmick that never really evolved beyond that. I bring it up not only because it is from the same producer, but because a major part of the movie involves setting up cameras and watching what goes bump in the night – as with Paranormal Activity. The movie is not as good as Signs, an overrated but still interesting M. Night Shyamalan movie about a family dealing with scary aliens.

Quality Rating: B+ 

Boaz Rating: A-

John Dies At The End

4 Feb

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Synopsis: “A new street drug that sends its users across time and dimensions has one drawback: some people return as no longer human. Can two college dropouts save humankind from this silent, otherworldly invasion?” (Rated R; 1 hour 39 minutes)

What in the heck did I just finish watching?! I was excited to see the followup movie 10 years later from the director who made Bubba Ho-Tep (which I recently discussed in my Stand Up Guys review), a funny and quirky monster movie comedy. This…was a letdown.

I don’t know if I can possibly describe this or defend why I didn’t like it as compared to other bizarre movies, but it just….didn’t work for me. Was it weird? Absolutely. Over-the-top silly gore? You bet. And that’s often a great combo for horror comedies. I’ve absolutely loved Evil Dead 2, Army of Darkness, Slither, Drag Me To Hell, Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil and more, but one thing those movies all had going for them was that I was laughing most of the time, and the plots managed to make sense even when they didn’t quite make any sense….am I making sense yet?!

This bizarre movie was as confusing as Donnie Darko, but either it never ended up making any sense, or I just didn’t care enough about it to try to piece it all together. I’ll even give the filmmakers their due and say that it was creative and maybe they did make it all work; but if both Mike & myself as movie-lovers of any genre couldn’t be motivated to figure it out, and we just wanted it to be over by the end – then that’s a real problem. To put it another way, confusing plots are welcome in movies where you’re supposed to give a damn what’s happening; dumb horror comedies are where you want to just see dumb, entertaining shit happen on the screen, and turn your brain OFF.

There were moments scattered throughout this flick that were ridiculous and funny, times where I felt like I was watching scenes from Men In Black or The Evil Dead; but that feeling only came in glimpses, and most of the movie was “clever” exposition about this strange drug that brought creatures from another dimension to their world, or something like that, and I was simply lost.

On the plus side, the creatures were ridiculous, bloody, rubbery little amusing effects, the nudity was bizarre, the plot had some nifty scenes involving humans mutated into crazy creatures, and the acting was so over-the-top campy that I think the filmmakers wanted to make an instant Saturday night cult classic, and perhaps they did. The problem is that you don’t generally make those movies intentionally, they come from earnestly made films that people later laugh at; this movie clearly knew it was trying to be that, but it was also trying to get people to laugh WITH it, and you can’t have it both ways.

The movie was better than The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, a weird 80’s cult classic where the heroes fought aliens from another dimension as well. I never got into that one either, and just remember being super bored by it in spite of hearing about its strong cult following. It was less good than just about any Sam Raimi movie, as well as Slither, an under-watched horror comedy where aliens also turn people into weird mutated creatures.

Quality Rating: C (Gets points for being creative and quirky)

Boaz Rating: D+ (Loses a ton of points not because it was campy or badly acted, but because it takes a very rare horror comedy to bore me, and this one almost did)