Starship Troopers (1997)

Starship-Troopers

Original Theatrical Release Date: November 7, 1997
Director: Paul Verhoeven

In the distant future, the world is a fascist and militaristic society where a person can only become a citizen by joining the military and its never ending fight against an insectoid alien race looking to destroy humanity. Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) is the son of two wealthy non-citizens who is looking to join his girlfriend Carmen (Denise Richards) in the armed forces in order to be with her and to gain his citizenship. Soon, though, the realities of military life and the hardships of the war separate Johnny, Carmen, and their friends from one another and they must overcome the chitinous tide of the Bugs if they are ever to reunite.

This film is based on the (much better) science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein – adapted to the screen by Edward Neumeier.

It’s been a while since the last time I watched this movie, but my brother gave me the DVD for my birthday this year. I was kind of interested to see how all the special effects and everything held up over the last 17 years. I was not disappointed to find out that most of it still looked pretty decent after all that time. The only thing that seemed dated at times was the retro-futuristic 1950’s-as-interpreted-by-the-late-1990’s hairdos and clothing styles for the characters. Other than that, though, I was transported through the film’s fun tongue-in-cheek narrative style.

I still have no idea where Casper Van Dien went to after the late 1990’s – but as Johnny Rico he was decent (if somewhat unbelievable) as the screaming, gun-firing, tough-guy lead. Denise Richards co-stars with her full and pouty lips as the always-effervescent (but still wooden) pilot Carmen Ibanez. Also, I was shocked to see Neil Patrick Harris in his role as Carl Jenkins – a role I forgot he’d done. (The last thing I remember him in was Harold And Kumar)

The bugs were creepy and not cheesy. The “internet” – style videos interspersed throughout the film add a nice touch, though the internet of the “future” looks pretty dated compared to our own, now. There is a creepy and unbelievable love triangle in the movie, but the real draw is the action sequences – which are peppered liberally throughout the movie. Still, the movie is a bit too long for an action flick.

All in all, not a perfect movie – but a nice flick to come back to every now and then if you want some sci-fi action.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Movie Trailer For Starship Troopers

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Gone Girl (2014)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: October 3, 2014
Director: David Fincher

Author Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) arrives home on the eve of his 5th wedding anniversary to find his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) is missing under mysterious circumstances. After calling the police, Nick finds himself in the middle of an intense media circus as the search for Amy goes underway. Soon, the clues begin to pile up and fingers begin to point Nick’s way.

I went to see this film with a couple of friends last night as I’d been hearing good things about it. I’ve never read the novel it’s based on by Gillian Flynn (who also penned the screenplay) but according to online sources, the movie differs only slightly in some ways from the book version. Movies always differ from their book counterparts, though, so this shouldn’t really be a surprise to anyone.

It’s rare for me to want to watch a hyper-realistic crime movie – they aren’t my thing. Still, all the good things I heard about the various performances given by the actors made me want to check it out, so that’s what I did. Every single one of the actors in this movie, even Ben Affleck, really turned it up a notch. Affleck kept his cool just enough during the film to make me waffle on whether or not he had anything to do with Amy’s disappearance. Rosamund Pike, however, carried this movie with her role (in my opinion). She is not only accessible and sexy – but also terrifying. Another surprise was Neil Patrick Harris in his short role which added a lot of subtext to the film, regardless of how small a part his character played in the overall story.

The direction was great – Fincher hardly ever fails at that (except maybe with Mulholland Drive). The music was low-key enough to not interfere but still added just enough mood for a thriller. The length was a bit too long, however, clocking in at a whopping 149 minutes. The only real reason I’m giving this film four stars instead of five is the ending – which I felt was maybe a little rushed. I dunno if it was due to time, or due to something else – but the entire movie built up the characters to be solid and absolutely believable within the context of the story, except for the last half hour or so, which was unbelievable and completely took me out of the movie. I’d love to see a director’s cut in the future to see if maybe the motivations of the characters were a little more clear before some of the film hit the cutting room floor.

All in all this is one worth watching at least a couple times so you can catch all the little “easter eggs” (like the Scott Peterson novel one of the characters are reading at one point) and nuances in background scenes and in the subtleties of the characters and their actions. Good job again, Fincher – you do great work.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Movie Trailer For Gone Girl

How To Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

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Original Theatrical Release: June 13, 2014
Director: Jean DeBlois

Five years have gone by on the Viking island of Berk since the heroic deeds of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his dragon Toothless resulted in the once-feared beasts becoming allies and pets. During a training flight to help train Toothless to maneuver better, Hiccup discovers a sect of dragon hunters who are led by the insane Drago (Djimon Hounsou), who has a desire to subjugate dragons at any cost, including all-out war.  Add that to pressures from his father Stoick (Gerard Butler) to take on the throne and the appearance of a mysterious dragon rider who steals dragons in the night and young Hiccup certainly has his hands full.

This is obviously a sequel and I loved How To Train Your Dragon so much that it was out of the question for me to miss this movie. I haven’t read the books by Cressida Cowell, but I hope to check them out soon.

The animation, as always, was fantastic. Toothless has never been cuter and there were some new things to look at in the form of new armor, new weapons and new dragons. All the old cast has returned including the aforementioned Hiccup and Stoick, and aside from the sinister Drago there are a handful of new characters as well.

The best part of this film is that it has more complexity to it than the original. In the last one, both Hiccup and Toothless were younger. Though it’s only five years that have gone by, the characters have grown. As a result, the mood of this sequel is a bit darker than the previous entry. There are darker themes and concepts and I think it provides a richer film experience. The relationships between characters have also grown, with Stoick becoming warmer toward Hiccup as well as Astrid and Hiccup being more mature in their romantic relationship – which is not overdone and sappy but you can still tell how much they care for one another. Hiccup’s mother is introduced, as well – which provides for a new dynamic between Hiccup and his parents. (Not giving anything away…it’s in the trailer.)

There were a couple of things I felt could have been improved, but they are sort of trifling. It was a bit too long for my tastes, and the pacing felt chunky at times but mostly because of all the interwoven narratives happening simultaneously. I took my young nephew and he sort of needed to get up and move around before the movie had ended, so watch out if you bring the kiddos. It may be too long for them to sit still. However, with all the cool dragons flying around on screen it’s hard for anyone to not be captivated.

Overall it was a great film and a sequel that I believe is mostly superior to the original, which is rare in many cases. It’s fun, it’s rich, it’s exciting. It’s definitely an adventure.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For How To Train Your Dragon 2

 

Hello, Again

For those of you who don’t know me too well, I’m in my fourth semester with an MFA program called Stonecoast. Well, I’m stopping in to say that due to all the work associated with this program, I’ve been away for a couple weeks and over the next six months until I graduate, I’ll be working on my thesis – so I won’t be able to do as many reviews as I normally do.

Stonecoast has been amazing, thus far. I’ve had the opportunity to work with many different and talented authors including Dolen Perkins-Valdez (Wench), Nancy Holder (Resurrection, Domino Lady, Buffy) , Michael Kimball (Undone), David Anthony Durham (Acacia: The Sacred Band), James Patrick Kelly (The Wreck of the Godspeed and Other Stories), Elizabeth Hand (Radiant Days) and Elizabeth Searle (Girl Held In Home) (. I’ve also had the pleasure of working closely with authors such as Mur Lafferty (Shambling Guide To New York City), Thomas Morrissey (Faustus Resurrectus), Laura Navarre (By Royal Command) and Magdalen Braden (Blackjack and Moonlight) among other many talented writers of all genres.

This is not to say that I won’t be doing any reviews, though. I have a backlog of both new and old pop culture items to post reviews on. Until then, here are a couple pictures of me at my residency in Freeport, Maine:

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Good Kids (2013)

Good Kids (2013)

Josh Paquette and Khadijah Silverglate-Dunn are two fifteen year old kids living in the 1990’s. Josh’s father and Khadijah’s mother are having an affair and because of this, the two teens vow never to cheat on anyone for the rest of their lives. Later, when Josh and Khadijah are in their twenties and meet again after a long time apart, they are each engaged to other people and have a difficult time keeping true to their childhood vows to one another once the spark is re-ignited and they find themselves becoming entangled with one another.

Benjamin Nugent, author of American Nerd, has crafted a mostly-effective tale which is part dramedy and part coming-of-age that will have you re-living your childhood if you’re a nineties kid and even if you’re not, it will strike a chord with anyone who’s ever tried to forge their own adult life and deal with the sea of complex nuances that come with it.

Nugent’s writing is pretty solid and had me laughing out loud and sharing passages (one involving a cock ring of all things) with people I was on a road trip with. If I had any complaints it would be that for some reason, the latter half of the book didn’t really contain the same punch as the beginning half. The book was pretty short and seemed almost more of a novella, so I think it could have been drawn out a little longer to wrap things up more neatly.

Still, if you’re a fan of Baumbach films, this book would be for you. It has that same sort of feel that you get when you watch The Squid And The Whale or The Life Aquatic.

Check it out.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

The Sword of Shannara (1977)

The Sword of Shannara (1977)

The Sword of Shannara is the flagship novel of author Terry Brooks’ Shannara series. (First King of Shannara actually takes place before The Sword of Shannara, but he didn’t publish that until later on).

Shea and Flick Ohmsford live in Shady Vale, a quiet community of hard-working folk living in peace. When evil from the North comes looking for the last living descendant of Jerle Shannara, aka Shea Ohmsford, a mysterious Druid by the name of Allanon arrives to help the two escape and embark on an epic quest to find the fabled Sword of Shannara, which has the power to destroy the evil Warlock Lord.

Many critics (and a few of my friends) have universally panned this novel because some say that it’s a blatant rip-off of Tolkien. Admittedly, there are heavy imprints of Tolkien’s influence at work here, but it’s only at the beginning. Towards the end, you begin to truly get a sense of what Brooks is trying to do with his characters, and especially in later novels when he expands to areas that Tolkien never touched and you get to see other elements besides Tolkien’s writing which he drew on, like mythology and history.

I would liken this series to the lovechild of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, actually.

If you look past the initial similarities (and assuming you like Brooks’ writing style) what you’ll find is an enjoyable romp through the Four Lands and the beginnings of an epic fantasy adventure that seems to be more and more rare these days.

The characters are memorable, the settings are great, the monsters are scary. What more can you ask for?

JOE Rating: ★★★★

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Original Theatrical Release: December 14, 2012
Director: Peter Jackson

Before Bilbo Baggins’ (Martin Freeman) nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood) ever set his hairy hobbit feet outside the Shire, Bilbo had an adventure of his own, and this was its beginning. Approached by the mysterious wizard, Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan), Bilbo is enlisted as a thief and lockpick because of his diminutive size to aid in the reclamation of Erebor for the Dwarven war party that comes crashing into his home. Along the way, Bilbo and his party must overcome great obstacles before reaching the mighty dragon, Smaug.

Okay, so this is a Lord of the Rings/Peter Jackson movie. I had extremely high hopes, and I will tell you that I wasn’t disappointed.

Overall, the film kept me engaged. The visuals were the same great quality I came to know while watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Sweeping vistas, interesting creatures (especially a compelling encounter with Ian McShane as the Goblin King). We also got to see some neat tie-ins to the later movies, and I think when they’re all finished it will all fit together very nicely.

I know some purists will take issue with the content of the film’s story structure. That’s fine, but you must remember that the films and the books are still two separate entities no matter how close they get to the original source material.

The story moved a little bit slow, and I am not sure I liked the comedic aspect of the dwarves very much. Some of the dwarves looked like they were wearing prosthetic face applications while others looked like male models…not sure what the reasoning behind that was. Radagast (Sylvester McCoy) was also maybe a bit too silly, to be taken seriously as well. I know The Hobbit was more of a children’s tale, but it still had a serious heart. The dwarves were actually very unlikable in the film’s opening sequence, to be honest.

As the story unfolds, though, you are swept up in it and I think the coming sequels are going to be worth the wait.

JOE Rating:

Movie Trailer For The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey