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

Comics, Comix & Graphic Novels: A History Of Comic Art (1996)

Comics, Comix & Graphic Novels: A History Of Comic Art (1996)

Author Roger Sabin weaves together a tight narrative of the entire history of the comic book medium, moving from its beginnings in the Middle Ages (yes, that’s right, way back in medieval times) and how it has evolved into the art form and pop culture powerhouse we know and love today. Explore how the comic book moved from being newspaper fodder to hard-hitting social commentary and how it fell from grace before rising like a phoenix once the comic book witch hunt ended after the 1950’s. With plenty of great full-cover photo references to go along with the narrative, Sabin creates a helpful tome of comic book knowledge that will give you a one-up on all of your nerdy comic book friends who THINK they’ve heard everything there is to hear about comic books. I picked this book up at the library because I was writing a research paper and was pleased with just how much information was packed into its pages. It provided a good chunk of my research content and on top of that, I learned a ton of new stuff.

I have seen some folks posting about this, saying it was biased or what have you, but I didn’t really get any of those vibes from anything within. It was a great trip down memory lane, too, seeing all the old comic book covers and comic book pages displayed throughout the entirety of the book.

Give this a shot if you can find it. I think it’s on Amazon.com. It would make a killer addition to the coffee table collection, or in an office somewhere.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

After Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) emerge victorious (and both alive) from the 74th Annual Hunger Games, they return home for a short while before being enlisted to embark on a “Winner’s Tour” and are forced to travel to all the other districts to congratulate them on their fallen tributes from the Games. However, Katniss and Peeta’s defiance in the face of President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has attracted the attention and imaginations of a new wave of rebels, determined to bring down the morally corrupt government around them. This forces Snow to arrange for a twist to the games – and on the 75th year, all previous surviving winners are made to participate in the Games once more, including Katniss and Peeta.

This second installment was far better than the first. While Hunger Games set up the franchise, it didn’t paint a complete picture of the plights of the common people and their struggles. Catching Fire is much more intimate and lets us in on the futility of resistance but also on the hope these people embrace whenever it arises.

The acting by the two main characters was much more polished, and Katniss has gone from being a bit of an annoyance (Screaming, running out into the open because she can’t control her emotions) to actually being a kickass, strong female character. Likewise, Peeta hasn’t all of a sudden become a master combatant after one stint in the games as I’d expected him to do, but he does hold his own. Respectable abilities, but not unbelievable.

The movie is pretty long (two and a half hours….phew) but the director, Francis Lawrence, does such a great job of pacing the film that it doesn’t really feel as long while you’re watching, and by the end you’re going to want to see what happens next (though there seemed to be some ripped-off elements of The Matrix there).

One other notable addition to this film is that of Philip Seymour Hoffman – who usually turns any performance into gold. His role had a subtlety to it that I think you’d have to watch the film multiple times to get.

In closing, go see this film even if you didn’t really like the first film, The Hunger Games. This is really what the first film SHOULD have been. It does everything the first film did but does it better. It’s a little long, but worth it.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

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 Sandman Volume 1: Preludes & Nocturnes (1991)

The Sandman Volume 1: Preludes & Nocturnes (1988)

Publisher: DC/Vertigo
Creative Team: Neil Gaiman, Sam Keith, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III

Set in the DC Universe, The Sandman Volume 1 collects issues 1-8 of the comic book series written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Sam Keith, Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones III.

A wizard who wants to live forever attempts to summon and trap Death, but inadvertantly traps her younger brother, Dream (aka Morpheus). Fearing retaliation, the wizard and his cohorts keep Morpheus imprisoned in a magical cell for a couple of lifetimes. When his captors make a mistake and Morpheus breaks free, he is weak from his time in imprisonment and also finds that his captors have stolen and have sold three of his possessions which help give him power. His helm, his bag of dust and his ruby pendant. With these items he will be close to full strength again, so he sets out to find them…but they are spread wide and though he is a god, Morpheus finds that some of them are guarded more closely than he would think. Teaming with well-known DC Comics characters like John Constantine and Martian Manhunter, Morpheus must go to Hell and back to find his things. Literally.

While this is not the strongest entry in the Sandman series, issues 1-8 are a great introduction to the world Morpheus inhabits and is a good set up to the wonderment that follows in later volumes. The artwork is great, but the colors in the collection versus the originals are a little bit off, a little bit darker. This might be problematic for some purists, but I think for the tone of the piece, the colors suit it well. Then again, the original colors were more dreamlike. It’s a coin toss on which you’ll like better.

This beginning collection is a story about starting over. Morpheus was content with where he was and with his station, overconfident that he had everything nailed down. When this was proven false by his imprisonment by a bunch of mortals, it shook him up a little. Weakened and forced to find alternate ways to deal with things, Morpheus becomes a compelling character. Though a god, he is still fallible.

The characters are all really interesting. We get to meet the perky character of Death, we get to see a new and frightening/sad interpretation of Cain and Abel. There are dangerous and fantastical dream creatures and lots of magic thrown in.

If other DC characters weren’t tossed into the mix, you wouldn’t even think of it as a comic book story that exists in the world of superheroes, but Neil Gaiman has seamlessly integrated Morpheus and his mythos into the existing DC canon.

Give this a read, and especially the later collections.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Check Out This Sample Page From Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes!
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