Sucker Punch (2011)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: March 25, 2011
Director: Zack Snyder

Babydoll (Emily Browning) has to deal with her abusive father. He goes too far one night and directs his attention toward her younger sister in retaliation, forcing Babydoll to take drastic action. When her attempt to kill him fails, she is placed in an institution. Attempting to cope with her new situation, Babydoll escapes into her own mind and tries to find a way out of her new prison.

I really, really wanted to like this film more than I did. Zack Snyder, because he did 300 – said he wanted to do a movie with mostly women. I liked 300 and thought this could be great. It had beautiful women in scant clothing, intense action scenes, appealing music, and fantastic imagery. It seems like the perfect formula, but unfortunately the film fell short in many places.

First off – the pacing. I’m a fan of the occasional slow-motion sequence every now and then but in Sucker Punch, I felt like the entire movie was in slow motion…and most of it literally was. If done correctly, slow-motion can be a powerful tool. However, this film almost seemed more like a music video. Actually, that’s really what it became, when you look at it objectively. Lots of slow-motion sequences set to popular music. Scantily-clad women. Fantastical action sequences. Throw in some hair metal and you’re good to go.

The story was threadbare, and Babydoll’s journey felt tedious and repetitious when it should have been exciting. The action scenes were cool for the most part but the heavy use of CGI takes you out of the established narrative sometimes, creating a break in the link between belief and disbelief. The only real reason I can think of that would make anyone want to watch this film more than once is just to see the beautiful actresses doing their thing. I can admit that I’ve now seen it a few times, because that’s where the film does succeed – visuals (and I’m a visual person). All the work the artists put into creating the various worlds inhabiting the Sucker Punch universe was very good and interesting. My main question, though, is why wasn’t this movie turned into a video game? It would almost certainly be more interesting than the movie.

For all its epic aspirations, this film could have been a lot better. See it if you must, appreciate it for its visuals, but I’m sure you’ll come away feeling sort of empty and blah. Perhaps even like you’ve been….SUCKER PUNCHED?! Hahahahahahahahaha…….. *ahem* ha.

JOE Rating: ★★

Movie Trailer for Sucker Punch

 

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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

 

47 Ronin (2013)

47 Ronin (2013)

After a treacherous and brutal warlord, Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano), has their master assassinated and banishes them all from their land, a band of 47 ronin (masterless samurai) assemble once again with the aid of an outcast half-breed, Kai (Keanu Reeves), to take revenge for their fallen leader and restore honor to their province.

Before I begin this review, let me just say that this is not the worst movie I’ve ever seen. It’s based, largely in part, on actual events. Unfortunately, it was only “based” on actual events and the film got a bunch of things incorrect. It’s too long to go into here, but if you check out this post on the History News Network, you’ll see what I mean ===> CLICK HERE

Now, with that out of the way, and disregarding all of the historical inaccuracies, I’ll get into just reviewing it on the basis of film conventions.

Story: There isn’t a ton of substance here. I’m sure if they stuck with the actual tale, it might have been more compelling. As it is, I think most American movie-goers will have a cultural disconnect and not be able to take it as seriously as, say, someone in Japan. Not sure how true that is, but there is only one connection for American audiences and that connection comes in the form of Keanu Reeves’ character, Kai. One interesting aspect is that Keanu wasn’t made to steal the show. It reminded me of how Antonio Banderas’ character in 13th Warrior was essential but didn’t drive all of the forward action. I liked that, in both films. BUT – since there wasn’t a ton of great story, it watched more like a very well-shot music video. Think about the movie Sucker Punch. Yeah, it has that kind of vibe.

Acting: The stony-faced Keanu Reeves did an okay job. Most of the other talented cast were amazing, but all were reduced to their base components and so weren’t able to develop much as characters. Rinko Kikuchi played an amazing foil to the main characters, being both seductive and evil, equally.

Special Effects: They were actually really, really good for the most part – but they were overused and as a result took me out of the movie at some points.

Length: It was a bit too long for my tastes. It would have been tolerable if there had been more action, but the few fight scenes there were took place sort of at the beginning and end of the film, with sparse scenes of a similar nature in-between.

Overall, I didn’t enjoy this film but it was nice to look at. I bet that’s how it’d be to live with Megan Fox.

JOE Rating: ★★

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Following close on the heels of the previous installment, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), the adventure picks up as Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan) and the dwarves – led by the king-to-be; Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) finally find themselves close to Erebor, which they must reclaim from the terrifying dragon, Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch).

After Journey, I honestly didn’t have much hope for the second installment. While the first film was “ok” – it felt bloated and it was pretty boring overall, even though Jackson tried to spice things up by throwing bits from The Lord of the Rings in there. Thankfully, they amped up the action in this middle chapter (which makes total sense because the content in the film covers the middle, and most exciting, part of the book). This is a good thing in many ways, but I honestly felt like they could have summed up the first film with only a few scenes included in this second film (that was almost three hours as it was, I’ll give you that) and tacked it on, rather than Jackson making three films out of the book (which people seem to despise). This second installment really only covers five chapters worth of material, so the development still feels a bit thin in the big picture – just when the steam starts gathering, the film ends.

The other side of this is that Jackson introduced a new character, Tauriel, (Evangeline Lilly) in order to “expand the world of the Elves” and to create another female character in a mostly male-dominated character cast – which has been proven to be pretty controversial.

To be clear: I love Tauriel. Evangeline Lilly is great to look at, is very dynamic and kick-ass, and although her acting style hasn’t seemed to change much since her days on Lost, she brings another dynamic to the stuffy ways of the Elves. If you’re a Tolkien purist, you’re going to probably hate Tauriel – but in terms of cinematic enjoyment, she is the epitome. The true adaptation was lost in the first film, anyway, with lots of different aspects that Jackson introduced. As a separate entity that still pays homage to the original, I believe this film and the Tauriel character succeeds.

Still, the movie could have been a little shorter and on a side note: did Orlando Bloom look kind of puffy and weird in this film, or was that just me? Also, keep an eye out in Lake Town to see if you can spot Stephen Colbert! Yup. He’s in it!

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Reign Of Fire (2002)

Reign Of Fire (2002)

Original Theatrical Release: July 12, 2002
Director: Rob Bowman

Humanity has been decimated by dragons; creatures thought to only have existed in myths and fairy tales. Quinn Abercromby (Christian Bale) and Creedy (Gerard Butler) lead a ragtag group of survivors living in an abandoned castle in the English countryside, trying to survive day by day. When a group of American warriors led by Denton Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey) shows up and claim to be able to slay the dragons once and for all, Quinn has to decide if they can do what they say they can do.

This is one of those movies I always seem to forget about, and I think a lot of other people do, too. I recently re-watched it because my girlfriend had never seen it so I figured what the heck.

The first half of the movie is really interesting and draws you in, but then it seems to lose focus in the later half. I appreciate the dark feel of the film and I think the idea behind the “Archangels” is really great, where specialized shock troops jump out of the helicopter to attack the dragons. (Life expectancy of an Archangel: 17 Seconds) And hooray for the Star Wars reference, as well!

Bale and McConaughey are actually really great in this, playing off one another and bringing their acting chops into this action film, which is always refreshing. Butler is good, too, as well as Izabella Scorupco as Alex Jensen – the pilot of the chopper – though they don’t really get as much screen time as Bale and McConaughey.

For a film that’s around ten years old, the special effects hold up surprisingly well. There are only a few instances where you can tell they were using a green screen, which, in the scheme of things isn’t too shabby. It could’ve been a lot worse! My only other gripe is that one of the characters, toward the end, dies in a really anti-climactic way. My jaw dropped open and I just sat there in disbelief in how lame it was.

This film is a fun option if you’ve been jonesing for a dragon movie, but it has its own particular take on the dragon species and there may be other films out there like How To Train Your Dragon that provides a better dragon experience, especially for the kiddos – because this is definitely not a kid’s flick. (But it is a completely different flavor of movie so I guess it’s like comparing apples to oranges.)

JOE Rating: ★★★

Movie Trailer For Reign Of Fire

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