Tag Archives: Melissa Leo

Oblivion (“My Comic Book Origin Story”)

8 May


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)


Olympus Has Fallen (“My Romantic Weekend In Laguna Beach”)

6 Apr


Synopsis: “Disgraced former Presidential guard Mike Banning finds himself trapped inside the White House in the wake of a terrorist attack; using his inside knowledge, Banning works with national security to rescue the President from his kidnappers.” (Rated R; 1 hour, 40 minutes)

Just see this movie. It won’t be winning any awards, but see this movie. The dialogue is ridiculous, and the characters are silly caricatures, but see this movie. Wait, you don’t like action movies? Okay, fine, DON”T see this movie in that case. But if you do enjoy an absolutely brainless “yippee-ki-yay” action movie, where all that matters is that the good guy gets as many bad guys as possible to kill, and has the craziest obstacles to overcome, then this is your movie. And yes, that means this was my type of movie, and I hope yours too! Apparently Adi and I had our own adventures to deal with just getting to the theater, so before I get into the review I’ll give you my own ridiculous context…

Here we were having an absolutely lovely and beautiful weekend in Laguna Beach, an extravagant engagement present from dear friends Melissa & Anthony. Friday night was spent eating the fabulous dinner Adi had packed up, as well as walking around the quiet streets of Laguna; this included a proverbial romantic walk on the beach. Saturday (aka our Jewish Sabbath day) was spent walking around town, looking at tide-pools and lying on beach-chairs on the sand. The weather was perfect, the setting was lovely, it was paradise for us! Well, for Adi that is…for this crazy movie-fan, what took this weekend from being fun to being sublime was when Adi suggested, “if we can find a movie that starts at the right time, we can see something Saturday night after dinner”. For those of you who don’t know me, that may sound like a normal statement for someone to offer for a Saturday night out. But for those who DO know me, the statement was no different than telling a child, “Timmy, if you behave I’ll let you have ice cream and candy and this bucket of sugar tonight”. Little Timmy is about to be the best kid you’ve ever seen, just as I was about to make sure a movie happened…it was a foregone conclusion.

“Look movies up tonight” Adi suggested, but no, I needed to find a newspaper NOW and look up showtimes. Thankfully, the hotel’s office had complimentary LA Times for the guests, so that was easy enough. And after Adi realized that there was a sushi place she wanted to eat at in Fashion Island, I found that there was a movie theater at the mall showing Admission at 10:20pm. Okay, same location…we had a plan: we’d leave Laguna at 845pm sharp, and it would be tight but should work out!

8pm – Not so fast, the Sabbath ended and the first thing I (obviously) needed to do was check my fantasy basketball lineup. Come on people, I may have been on an engagement weekend in Laguna Beach but Sunday (the next day) was the last day of the fantasy basketball season, and I was neck and neck with Yoni in the finals. Clearly coming in first place should still be the priority, right?! So what was the problem? The internet. The frustrating, infuriating internet. The hotel’s Wi-Fi didn’t work. Not even after they called technical support and sent their in-staff engineer to the room. I pretty much went through every stage of the following chart other than “acceptance”.


830pm – They then tried to give me free access to the pay-computer in the lobby, but even that didn’t work. Amazingly it was for an unrelated technical reason. C’mon, the clock was ticking…

835pm – They sheepishly apologized and offered me use of their work-computers. You know, the ones behind the desk where only employees stand and apologize to other guests for their internet being down. “Thank you, I’ll take it, I just need to update my fantasy roster” I explained to the manager (who amazingly sympathized and told me that he loves playing fantasy sports himself, thus validating my Laguna Beach priorities). Eureka, there was working internet! Loading Yahoo’s fantasy sports page…”FORBIDDEN – YOU ARE TRYING TO ACCESS A SITE THAT IS NOT ALLOWED” What??? “Oh”, the manager realized, “They block a lot of websites here so the employees don’t waste time on the job, I’m so sorry! Let me think if I have any other ideas for you…”

Access Denied

840pm – The manager then called in a favor from the Holiday Inn across the street, telling them about the internet being down and said, “I have a guest at our hotel who is very important and has some business to deal with online, can you please give him access to your WiFi tonight?” Access granted!

845pm – I set up my computer at the Holiday Inn across the street, where I was greeted with reverence: “Mr. Hepner, we’re very sorry about the inconvenience. Please sit anywhere you’d like. Can we get you anything? Coffee? Lemonade? Popcorn?” Oh my goodness, there was literally a popcorn machine in the corner of the lobby, staring at me with all of its bitter irony, mocking me for potentially ruining my chances to see a movie at 1020pm; and choosing fantasy basketball over its seductive past-time. My phone buzzed…it was Adi. “Where are you? We have to leave. If we’re late I hope you realize we’re skipping the movie, NOT dinner.” I replied, “Okay, I get it, I’ll make it work, I finally have internet access, let me do this quickly!” I made my basketball updates, and ran back to the hotel. (Pictured below is the actual lobby where I did my “very important business”, taken during daylight hours.)


905pm – We were finally off speeding toward our dinner. Yikes, we were running late. Adi reminded me, “If we don’t make the movie, then we don’t; it’s as simple as that.” Yes Adi, and if a drug addict doesn’t get his hit that night, it’s not a big deal, right?

925pm – Dinner. We ran in, and had a lovely time. They were even sweet when they saw Adi’s engagement ring and brought out a congratulatory piece of cake that neither of us could eat (Adi because she’s gluten free, and I because of my kosher diet). Below is a cute photo they took, printed out and gave us before we left!


1018pm – “Check please, we have to run!” I said. Adi rolled her eyes but played the part of an amazing  fiancée and dashed out with me toward the movie theater on the other end of the mall.

1030pm – I ran…panting…out of breath…

Boaz: “Are the previews still playing for Admission or has it started?”

Manager: “There are another 90 seconds to go before it starts.”

Boaz: “Fantastic! 2 tickets please!”

On the seating chart, I saw we were the only people in the theater. I chose our seats.

Manager: “39 dollars please.”

I laughed, assuming he had misheard what I said.

Boaz: “No, I only need two tickets to Admission.”

Manager: “It’s 19.50 per ticket.”

Boaz: “EXCUSE ME? How is that even possible?!”

Manager: “It’s a Saturday night, and we are a premium theater experience.”

Boaz: “Saturday night? You’re empty. Literally nobody is here, I can’t see a single person anywhere, and there are zero tickets sold. How does that justify charging more?”

Manager: “Sorry, we are also a premium theater. We have comfortable seats and cup holders and will even bring you alcohol if you order it.”

Boaz: “You have comfortable seats and cup holders? How is that something to brag about? That’s like saying this new car is the luxury model because it has automatic windows. That may have been a luxury 15 years ago but now that’s just normal. And I don’t want any alcohol.”

Manager: “Sorry sir, I know it’s expensive, that’s just how it is. So do you want to buy the tickets?”

Boaz: “No. I wanted to see a movie badly, but on principle this is just kind of gross. It isn’t your fault of course, I assume you don’t set the prices, but seriously this is worse than rip-off LA prices. What happens now if we don’t come? There are no tickets sold for the movie, so can you at least turn it off and save electricity and go home early?”

Manager (laughing): “I wish, that would make so much sense. No, they have a contract with the theaters that the movies will play a certain number of times each day. So legally they have to play it from start to finish even if nobody comes to watch it.”

Boaz: “That’s hilarious, what a waste of electricity and your time.”

Manager: “Yep, I totally agree, this whole thing is silly, and the prices are insane. Do you want me to see if I can find another theater still showing movies nearby? They should all be normal prices.”

At that moment, my spectacular fiancée interjected that she was looking up things on her phone during this silly exchange, and found Olympus Has Fallen a few blocks away at 1030pm. We could try! The manager wished us luck, and we ran out the door back to the car.

1040pm – We arrived at the theater, bought tickets (only $12.50 each, “normal” prices again!) and ran inside with enough time to catch 4 previews before our movie began! Does my entire story make me look nuts? Yes. Should I have sucked it up and just paid the insane ticket price for the first movie after all that? Probably. Was it all worth it at the end? Absolutely.

Did I mention to go see this movie if you enjoy any sort of action? You really should. This is what the latest, awful Die Hard sequel SHOULD have been. An entertaining movie that puts the “F” not only in curse words, but in “FUN”. It had the violent action of Commando mixed with the one-man-against-everyone-in-the-building premise of Die Hard, with a strong dash of the patriotic silliness of Air Force One and Independence Day. The hero was Gerard Butler, doing a great job impersonating Steven Seagal in his prime, mercilessly (and heroically) killing everyone who got in his way. Even Jack Bauer wouldn’t stand a chance. The only thing I would have changed was him NOT playing yet another American, because he still has one of the weakest accents out there if you ask me. But otherwise he was awesome, and it would have been hard to justify a Scotsman playing a high ranking secret service agent I suppose. But no more-so than most of the other plot-lines.

I would love to dedicate an entire paragraph just to listing the silly flaws in the logic of the story, but most of them would act as spoilers so I will just say to see it yourself. Though I will point out that the “noble” decisions that the president made throughout the movie were awful, awful decisions; but in movie-land it made him a great and inspiring leader. So I’ll just leave it alone and swallow that logic along with the rest of the movie…this is after all a flick where the entire secret service literally ran out of the White House INTO machine gun fire one after the other after the other…everyone except for Gerard Butler of course, who realized that NOT walking into a machine gun slaughter was actually the better tactic, that’s why he’s the hero!

Do I sound like I’m making fun of the movie? I really don’t mean to, because I’m not being sarcastic when I write that it’s a damn entertaining piece of film-making, and I want to believe that every part of it was intended to be. Gerard Butler was meant to be the only character with the sense and know-how to beat the endless stream of (Korean) bad guys. Morgan Freeman (who becomes the acting president) was meant to be a natural and amazing decision-maker; he should be since he was the President in Deep Impact. Angela Bassett was meant to be…actually, I don’t know what her purpose was in the movie. She was kind of wasted in a role as one of the people in the War Room looking concerned throughout the movie. Besides her there was Robert Forster and Sean O’Bryan playing some of the douche-bag politicians and generals who had the audacity to question Gerard Butler; you just knew that every decision they made would be wrong, and when Gerard Butler called them idiots you had to cheer. (Hooray for insulting your superiors!)

No, this wasn’t an intelligent movie. Most of the characters were as clichéd and silly and predictable as they come. But the action was simply awesome, the thrills were actually thrilling, and you were excited to watch it play out. There are times where not being believable in a movie can really ruin the experience, but this wasn’t one of them. When are those times? I would give that the same answer as how Justice Potter Stewart famously defined pornography in 1964, “I know it when I see it”. And I certainly knew this wasn’t it.

Antoine Fuqua has made some gritty action films (Training Day) but here he provided the audience with a good old-fashioned experience that reminded me of the fun I had watching a prep school kid kill countless bad guys in Toy Soldiers. This is what going to the movies is for: having a hell of a great time.

As for Adi? She had a great time watching it as well, and we each had a wonderful weekend in Laguna Beach. Clearly, it was a restful, peaceful and romantic experience; with just the sun, the beach, the lack of internet, my fantasy basketball and the rush to the movie theater adding to the experience. And no, it’s not lost on me how lucky I am to have someone put up with all of what you read!

The movie was better than A Good Day To Die Hard, which I reviewed here. In fact it’s basically the sequel that should have been made in the first place. It still doesn’t match up to the perfection that was the original Die Hard, which is a model for so many great action movies that modeled themselves after it.

Quality Rating: B+ (Unless I can actually hear Antoine Fuqua claim that he meant to have every absurd part of the movie turn out that way, in which case it gets a solid A)

Boaz Rating: A+ (As if you couldn’t predict that)