Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Sin City: A Dame for the Kill Doesn't Kill

Sin City: A Dame for the Kill is a prequel coming in the middle of the two main storylines of the first movie Sin City.  It is based on Frank Miller's truly graphic, graphic novels by the same name.  We are again brought into the world of Sin City and Old Town where crime and life are dark, edgy and eventually the city will devour its residents.  Many of the same characters from the first movie including Powers Boothe as the evil Senator Roark, Mickey Rourke as the brutal but loving killer Marv, Jessica Alba as the mistreated Nancy and Bruce Willis as Hartigan.  And yes you're right many of those characters died in the first movie.

A Dame for a Kill is actually built around two stories.  The first is the settling of  scores from the original movie between primarily Nancy and Senator Roark.  The second story is a new one following the beast and seductress plot staring Eva Green and Josh Brolin as Ava and Dwight. Both stories are joined together a character that became a favorite in the first movie, Marv.  

That said, the new addition is just an okay movie.  Where the first movie had a dark edge and dark humor that permeated from most of the stories, A Dame for the Kill, while still having some of those moments, is often just violent.  Where the first movie had stilted language and over-the-top delivery, A Dame for the Kill has the same stylized deliver but too often the dialog was not just stilted but incredibly trite.

The second movie also seems to contain plot lines that serve only weak purpose.  It is not tight storytelling. I don't really get the point of the storyline involving the Senator and Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). There was also a  story of the seduced cop (Christopher Meloni) and Ava (Eva Green), which seems to have only the purpose of showing how cruel Ava the film's femme fatale.  Another storyline with little connection to the two main stories was the killing of evil "frat boys" by Marv. I kept feeling there was a link missing.  Perhaps they were relying on the audience member's knowledge of the graphic novels.  Unfortunately, I don't really have the knowledge.

There is nothing really new about the stylized special effects photography that was the one of the big attractions of the original.  There are even a few places that it is even over-done.   I suppose the biggest problem is that we have seen this movie before.  There is nothing really new.   It is also well deserved of its "R rating." It is violent and has no shortage of nudity.  Overall, Sin City: A Dame for a Kill is only okay.  Nothing really new to see.  

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Memories from The Giver

I have never read the book The Giver. I should.  It looks like it wouldn't take very long.  At any rate, my wife who has read the book assures me the book and the movie are equal in preachy theme and the movie is a pretty good adaptation. That said, I enjoyed the movie despite its highly overstated themes.

Jeff Bridges is perfect as the Giver and Brenton Thwaites is good as the Receiver, Jonas. The cast is actually pretty exceptional when you consider that Jonas' pseudo parents are played by Alexander SkarsgĂ„rd and Katie Holmes and the antagonist of the movie, the Chief Elder is the inestimable Meryl Streep.  It is also the film debut of Taylor Swift.  It is indeed a strong cast.  Bridges seems to grow as an actor with everything he does and the more I see of him the more I am impressed with his skills.

Bridges was also one of the producers of the film, and for him, it is a labor of love.  He has been trying to bring the movie to the big screen for several years.  Originally he had envisioned that his father Lloyd would play the Giver, but alas too many road blocks and by the time the book was finally produced by the Weinstein Company, Lloyd had passed on and Jeff was now old enough the role.

I liked the simpleness of the movie.  I know other reviewers have complained that they have aged the characters from the book.  In the book, Jonas is 12.  Others have complained about how quickly they jump into the giving of memories, but it's a movie.  They only have so much time to set the plot.  The movie revels in the ideas of what is good in us must come with the bad and without passion there is only existence.

Is it a deep movie.  No, but I gather the book really isn't that deep.  The only thing that bothered me was that while The Giver was written well before Divergent, as far as adolescent dystopic movies, there is a real easy comparison to be made between the two.  The Giver, however, is better acted and has far fewer plot holes than Divergent.  Is it one of the great films of the summer? No, but I liked and became emotionally involved in it.  The movie is rated PG13 for some violence.  I don't regret having spent the money on a ticket.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Freedom of Speech and Consequence?

A week or two ago a picture went viral of a guy named Thomas Mcguinness who was pointing a gun at a cat as apparently a crude joke. He was located and the animal involved was verified as okay.  What caught my eye was not the continued outrage at this twisted joke but was one of the comments about free speech. "Freedom of speech. Yeah, the guy has a twisted sense of humor, but if they now know he hasn't harmed any animals, then the judgmentalism (sic) needs to be put away" wrote one of the commentators. You can look him up on the link.

Then came the passing of Robin Williams.  Most of us were hit hard by the loss of such a legendary talent.  I say most because a few nationally known talking heads actually decided to use the death as sick and twisted talking political points or to demonstrate their complete lack of understanding of the devastating disease that is clinically severe depression.  It is not something that anyone would choose.  I am planning a more detailed blog about these fools later. No, what I wanted to point out was that trolls decided it would be "fun" to send Robin Williams' daughter, Zelda, some sick pics and twisted tweets.  The result is that she is leaving the on-line community perhaps for good.  It took the unexpected death that shook up many a person and the terrible treatment of his family to get Twitter to finally look at its "Use Policy."

I am sure that those accounts that were suspended had much the same reaction as the guy in comments about the photo.  "Hey, it's freedom of speech." Perhaps other social networks whether it is Tumblr or Instagram or Facebook will also start patrolling the trolls. Understand that when an account is suspended for hate trolling, it is not limiting freedom of speech.  It is the folks in the room announcing they do not have to listen to this malarkey, and they are showing that person where the exit is.  We also have freedom not to put up with hate or stupidity.  It is the equivalent of changing the channel.

I wrote about trolls a few weeks back.  I don't think that many trolls even know they are trolls.  They think they are witty and clever.   The point is though that we need to remember that the person on the other end is not an digital entity, but a real flesh and blood.  It is high time that social sites began to monitor the trolls and make their accounts disappear.  Yes, it will be an unending task, but it really needs to be done.

You see it all goes back to that "freedom of speech" statement.  Freedom does not mean without consequence.  With freedom comes responsibility, and far too often, it seems, folks on the extreme have forgotten this.  You are actually free to yell "FIRE" in a crowded movie theater when there isn't one.  The fact is that you will face the consequence for such an action.  Whether it's carrying a gun or expressing your opinion or practicing your religion, these freedoms have consequence.  They have weight.  They are not just something floating around without effect in the digital ether.  Occasionally we need to remind ourselves that with any freedom we have consequences.  So the next time you fire up that profanity filled rant or personal attack on someone remember that there are consequences.

To blatantly steal and paraphrase: With great Freedoms comes great Responsibility.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy: Marvel's Black Sheep

What has always attracted me to certain heroes in the comic book world is that some of the best are broken. They can lose.  They can die.  They hide their pain behind quick wit, vengeful pride, or a host of other psychological shields.  Yes I know I am mixing my comics, but perhaps the most broken of them was Batman.  While I love movies like Thor and even an occasional Supeman movie, it is the ones like Batman, Ironman, Spider-Man and Captain America that attract me.  They are humans.  Okay two are genetically modified humans, but both are human and in the comics both have died and been replaced by another.  If you didn't know when Captain America, Steve Rogers, died in the comics his replacement was the Winter Soldier. There is also Wolverine, and even if he is nearly indestructible, he is also truly broken.

For me it was always a struggle to buy into the Superman universe because the comics had to come up with such elaborate ways to even make it seem like he was in danger. Thor is...well he is a Norse god and in the earlier comics more than a little egotistical.  

It is the broken, the damaged and often something of an antihero that makes for me a really good comic book or comic book movie. In the movies, the writers and directors occasionally forget this. It is not how cool the effects are or how many villains the hero must face.  It is how he or she overcomes this damage.  And so it is with Marvel Studio's newest band of broken misfits, Guardians of the Galaxy.

Guardians of the Galaxy is one of those comics I had never really heard of until the multitude of geek sites I follow started to buzz about the movie a couple of years ago.  So you know up front, I have no history with this series.  I have no idea how the movie relates to the comic book storyline.  I do know that Guardians is not one of Marvel's more mainstream lines and that the movie has been called the black sheep of the Marvel franchises.  Its placement in tail end of the summer movie season should give us an idea that hopes were not as high for this franchise as it was for Winter Soldier or X-Men Days of Future Past.  With it actually having the third largest opening this summer, it is a definite hit and the sequel has already been confirmed.

The characters of the movie are not only broken, but also, unlike the Marvel mainstream movies, Guardians has more of a kindred spirit with, as one friend put it, the original Star Wars.  While I don't think it has the same impact the first Star Wars had, its has that same feel.  The characters are living in a world that they don't want to be in, but they don't fit into the world they would like to live in.  They are sly and witty and fun.  While the characters are two dimensional at most, they are classic forms of science fiction heroes.  For Marvel Studios, Guardians is really their first venture into a true scifi space movie.

There are more Guardians to be perhaps added in the future, but the central five of this movie are Star-Lord or Peter Quill played by Chris Pratt, Gamora played by Zoe Saldana, Drax the Destroyer played by Dave Batista, Rocket who is a genetically engineered racoon voiced by Bradly Cooper, and Groot who is a tree being voiced by Vin Diesel.  Each is broken in his own way.  Peter Quill hides behind wit and a Walkman while Gamora was tortured by the future villain of the Avenger series, Thanos, into becoming a living weapon.  Rocket knows deep down that he is not what he is supposed to be, and Drax is driven by vengeance and honor while missing the more subtle nature of life.  Last is the simple and loyal Groot.  He has, with only one notable change, the ability to only say, "I am Groot," which often communicates more emotion than other parts of the movie.

Together these five unlikely heroes must fight the evil Ronan played Lee Pace.  He seeks to control one of the infinity stones, and it is in this movie that we actually get the first real explanation of the six infinity stones that are actually a standard part of the Marvel universe.  For those of you who have not read the comics, you have been introduced to two other stones in the movies.  The first was contained in the Tesseract (the space stone) in Captain America.  The next was in the Aether (the reality stone) from Thor: The Dark World.  The third (the power stone), contained in the Orb, makes its appearance in Guardians.  There are three more stones in the Marvel universe to be introduced.  They are all sought after by Thanos (Josh Brolin), a Titan, who has allied himself with Ronan in Guardians and Loki in Avengers.  Through the entire movie we watch as our heroes try to become a cohesive unit. They have always been wanted felons, and now they must become the Guardians of the Galaxy.

The movie works.  It is fun, and I cared about the characters and understood why they are who they are. As the black sheep of the more mainstream family of Marvel Studios, the humor that only makes occasional appearance in the other movies is on full display in Guardians.  Just as I became involved in the adventure of the story, I laughed out loud as well.  It is a clever and entertaining with plenty of Easter eggs for comic book fans. As I loved the darker side of Winter Soldier, I love the feel and look of this movie.  It is worth the watch and so is the cost to see it in 3D.  I will buy the Blu-ray.