Sunday, July 28, 2013

The depressing, yet inspiring Road

We all swooned and fell in love with Viggo Mortenson in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but you’ve never seen him like this.   In The Road, Viggo plays a wilted father who travels to the coast in the south with his son in 2929, after some kind of end-of-the-world event happens.  We never quite know exactly what happened, but it has devastated the United States at least, and killed most humans, plants, and animals.

I was reading some emergency preparedness articles the other day about how to survive an apocalyptic event that some predict is coming to the earth soon.  There was mention of the movie The Road, and since I had never seen it when it came out in theaters, I finally watched a PG-13 version of this 2009 haunting movie on my computer.

My son had read Cormac McCarthy’s book of the same name and confirmed that the movie is very similar to what’s on the pages, and the depressing grey tones in every frame are true to the dark feeling the author tried to create. 
While the film is certainly depressing, the father and son’s journey is really one of hope.  When everything around you falls apart, the human soul’s natural desire is to hope that it will get better.  Some how.  Some day.  The story is painfully bleak, yet inspiring.

The beloved Robert Duvall makes a brief appearance, as does character actor, turned action hero, Guy Pearce, but it’s Viggo Mortenson’s powerful performance that truly carries the film.  His son is played excellently by Kodi Smit-McPhee and his wife is portrayed by the beautiful Charlize Theron. 

As a Christian, I’m confident the world isn’t going to end any time soon; however, I also believe it’s going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.  Being prepared for any kind of emergency, whether it’s a natural disaster, terrorism, job loss, or city riots is crucial to feeling peace in a world gone crazy.

If you’re into the whole Doomsday Prepper stuff, check out my other son’s new web site where you can build your own custom-made 72 hour kit for bugging out at:

Rated R for disturbing images and horrific content.  You see the rear of Viggo a couple of times as he’s heading into a lake and the ocean, but his son remains modestly covered.  

Grade = A-

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Grown Ups 2 is a waste of your money and time

Well, I hate to disappoint you, but Grown Ups 2 isn’t going to win any Oscar’s.  Big surprise, right?  While the first installment of Adam Sandler and his buddies pretending to be responsible parents was a fun, goofy flick, this return will bore and disgust you.  The script appears to have been written on a cocktail napkin while Sandler and his actor pals were all drunk out of their minds.

The all-star comedy cast shows that Saturday Night Live bonds last for many years.  I’m glad they’re all having fun and making millions together, but their humor really should be a little bit more grown up by now, don’t you think?  The film is full of crude jokes about barfs, farts, and every body part imaginable.  Fake boobs and coarse, exaggerated antics fill the screen, along with inane dialogue and gags that dwell too long.

Adam Sandler’s character, Lenny Feder, moves back to where he grew up with all of his buddies played by Chris Rock, Kevin James, and David Spade.  Other favorites in the cast include Salma Hayek Pinault, Maya Rudolph, Steve Buscemi, Colin Quinn, Jon Lovitz, Shaquille O’Neal and, of course, Rob Schneider.  Twilight lovers will cringe when they see Taylor Lautner playing a dumb, mean frat boy with lines that include such gems as “farthead.”


Adam Sandler attempts to recapture his youth by spewing out the most juvenile plot while insulting his audience.  It’s vulgar and definitely NOT funny.  Are all of the stars in the movie afraid to tell Sandler how bad this movie really is or do they simply not care?

PG-13 for being stupid and offensive, in addition to all of the other reasons.

Grade = F

The Wolverine shows summer movie-goers what a fun superhero movie should look like

Don’t you just love Hugh Jackman?  He’s like an action figure that can sing and dance.   The Wolverine is a journey into one of X-Men’s most conflicted and developed characters on screen.  If you love Wolverine, you’re going to love this movie.  If you’re not familiar with the famous steel-taloned superhero from the comic books, you’ll still be entertained.

Within the first ten minutes of the show, the audience is treated with some background story, amazing CGI of the blast at Nagasaki and a close-up view of how a superhero recovers from atomic burns.  Wolverine saves a young Japanese soldier from the bomb, who later wants to repay his kindness before dying as an old man…a rich old man.  Most of the film takes place in Japan, combining ancient Japanese tradition with the ageless history of Wolverine.

For the ladies, Hugh Jackman is often topless, revealing an impressively sculpted body and evidence of a hard-working actor.  Movie critic Roger Ebert calls him a “metal-clawed mountain of muscle.”  For the guys, Jackman shows off some cool action moves and quick fighting sequences, enough to match skills with the most awesome of ninjas.  And yes, there ARE ninjas in the movie.  Who doesn’t like a good ninja?  Well, unfortunately, the ones in this movie are all bad.

The Wolverine battles with lots of bad guys in this movie, as well as himself, as he decides what is worth living for in his immortal life or what is worth dying for.  Logan must decide whether or not to accept the gift of mortality from his old friend, Kenuichio Harada who is now a billionaire and head of a technology company that can help the Wolverine get the thing he wants most: death. 

Hugh Jackman and director James Mangold worked together before in Kate & Leopold.  The writers provide Logan with lots of flashbacks and moments to reflect, sometimes making you want to yell at the screen “Just snap out of it already and be awesome!”

Rila Fukushima plays Yukio, a young Manga-inspired body-guard, complete with red hair, rockin black boots, and admirable loyalty.  Tao Okamoto plays Mariko, the grand-daughter of Harada and heir to his fortune. While Wolverine struggles with guilt from his lost love, Jean, he carefully falls for Mariko and is sworn to protect her.

Russian actress Svetlana Khodchenkova plays Viper, a mutant doctor who wears ridiculously sexy outfits to hold the audience’s attention, yet doesn’t have much depth to her character.  Maybe in a sequel we’ll learn more about her?  While she gets lots of cute fashion ensembles, Wolverine is either topless or sports a wife-beater t-shirt a la Bruce Willis in the Die Hard movies.  I like the way his hair tweaks out on the sides to make him look like the comic book figure.

The bath tub scene is pretty cute where some female Japanese servants help transform the scruffy Logan from a cave man who hangs out in the wilderness into a clean superhero.     Another funny scene is when the Minister of Justice gets thrown out of a window wearing red underwear.

The impressive fight scene atop a bullet train in Japan makes the recent Lone Ranger train scenes pale in comparison.  Unfortunately, the ending was a bit cheesy, as well as a few lame lines like when Wolverine says “Don’t hit my friends” or when he answers the question “What kind of monster are you?” with “The Wolverine.”  Since I’m a mom of 4 boys, I hate it when the hero has to drop F-bombs to make an impact, like when he says “Go F___ yourself, Pretty Boy.”  Yeah, the audience laughed, but surely the writers could have come up with something more witty and appropriate for young boys everywhere to mimic for weeks after watching the film.

The end of the movie presents a Pacific Rim Samurai version of a robot that is kind of cool.   A line often repeated by Rila Fukushima in the movie describes it well….”interesting.”  Hamada calls Logan a “ronin”, a Samurai without a master.  Interestingly, before the movie began a trailer played for an upcoming movie entitled “47 Ronin” which should offer some impressive fight scenes that even the Wolverine would want to join in on.

PG-13, 120 minutes.

Grade = B+

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Little Tykes will love Turbo

Turbo is an example of a trailer that didn’t make the movie look as good as it is.  I mean, a movie about a fast garden snail?  Unlike Ryan Reynold’s other movie released this weekend, R.I.P.D., this fun flick is sure to please the whole family.  It has heart and illustrates the feel-good message that all you need is one good friend to believe in you in order to succeed.  No dream is too big and no dreamer is too small.  Sweet.

Voice and acting talent Paul Giamatti plays Chet, Turbo the snail’s best friend and brother, but it’s Tito (Michael Pena) who first believes in Turbo’s dream to race in the Indianapolis 500.  Tito and his brother own a taco shop called “Dos Bros Tacos” when Tito discovers the quick escargot and hopes to create a “tacovolution” that will draw more hungry customers to their little restaurant.

The unmistakable voice of Samuel L. Jackson brings “Whiplash” to life, another fast snail who befriends Turbo and helps him reach his goal.  “Smoove Move” embodies Snoop Dogg’s snail persona, complete with a pair of dice swinging from his slender, snaily neck.

You’ll also hear the voices of other fan favorites such as Michelle Rodriguez (Paz) and Ken Jeong (Kim Ly), who both own shops in the same small strip mall as Dos Bros Tacos.

This is the first project of director and co-writer David Soren, who pleases young audiences with colorful characters, an underdog story, and lots of silliness.  Kids aren’t too hard to please, after all.  Adults will be amused, however, by a few clever lines and gags.  Watch for the funny mean kid on the Big Wheel, the mustache made out of grass, Taco Man and his sidekick “Churro”, “Snail up!”, “Snailed it”, and the label on a hot sauce bottle that says “Product causes death.”

It’s amazing how a good animation team can create such detailed facial expressions on slimy insects, but they succeed.   It’s not worth the extra money to pay to see it in 3D.   The language is clean, although there are a few risqué jokes that should fly over most little one’s head.  “Your trash talk is needlessly complicated” is a funny line geared towards adults, but still evokes a laugh out of kids for reasons they don’t even understand.

Suspend your disbelief and enjoy the fast ride with your kids and a bucket of popcorn.  Not in to insects?  Go see Monsters University instead.

Grade = B

May R.I.P.D rest in peace

Think Men in Black, Ghostbusters, and Ghost all mixed together.  Add in Jeff Bridges as a crusty old law man from the 1800’s (Roy), Ryan Reynolds as a rookie cop who is killed before he can right a wrong, and a go-go boot wearing Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker) somewhere in limbo and you’ve got R.I.P.D.   Oh yeah, and Kevin Bacon.  We’re always only 6 degrees away from Kevin Bacon.

R.I.P.D duals the “Rest In Peace Department” against the “dead-os” in this CGI-filled comedy action film that takes place in modern-day Boston.  The dead-os have a cartoony feel to them and the film falls short of the magic found in other movies where earthlings are oblivious to the supernatural threats around them.

Kind of a “universe protection program”, the R.I.P.D mission is to capture dead-os and send them where they belong.  Nick (the corrupt cop who dies) is taken to a sterile afterlife police department where Steely Dan is always playing because “it relaxes people.”  From there he is sent back to earth to bag dead-os.  These undead hardly compete with their counterparts in this summer’s blockbuster World War Z. 

Jeff Bridges’ old coot character has some fun lines like “She billy-goated me” when Mary-Louise Parker bites his gruffy beard, calling his Asian helper “Panda Express”, and “Boody Hoo” when he’s trying to get his young partner to man up, but his mouth sounded like it was full of chewing tobacco the entire time and I wished he would just spit and get it over with. 

Fenway Park, the Boston Commonwealth, and Boston’s Finest in uniform were proudly shown off, as well as cannolis from Mike’s Pastry shop, a popular bakery I visited a couple of years ago when I was in town.  I absolutely love Boston.  How does that merchandising work anyway?  A bottle of Fresca almost overshadowed Mary-Louise Parker in her introductory scene.  And what about all that cumin?  It was Indian food and spices which transformed the dead-o’s from regular-looking citizens into Saturday morning monsters.

One of the running gags in the film is that living humans perceive Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds to be a gorgeous blonde and an old Asian man.  The audience laughed every time at the ridiculous duo, but they were also looking at their cell phones and watches as the movie slugged along for 96 minutes.  Mary-Louise Parker's Botox is still full strength in Red 2, but she steals some scenes in that fun flick.

This supernatural movie is rated PG-13 for violence (mostly bloodless) and a heck of a lot of potty-mouths, mostly Jeff Bridges’.   The movie had its amusing moments, but my mind often wandered and thought my long laundry list of things I needed to get done as soon as the movie was over.  May this movie R.I.P.

Grade = C+

Red 2 movie review

The last time we saw John Malkovich in Red, he was wearing blonde braids and being pushed in a wooden cart through a field in Maldova with bombs going off all around him, while being chased by dozens of armed soldiers. 

Red 2 reunites John Malkovich’s paranoid and retired CIA-Agent (Marvin) with his old partner, Frank Moses, played by Bruce Willis.  You have to love a Hollywood movie where all of the stars are over 50.  I watched the first installment of the 2010 sleeper hit Red this week to refresh my memory of the fun story and quirky characters in preparation for the sequel, and enjoyed it as much as I did the first time, but you don’t have to see it to still get a kick out of Red 2.  You’ll miss a few inside jokes and some relationship background, but you’ll catch on quickly enough to enjoy the goofy action.

Although the original poster to advertise Red was actually red, it’s actually an acronym which stands for “Retired Extremely Dangerous”, a label some “thumb sucker” used on a file when Frank and Marvin retired from the CIA.  The color red is actually highlighted more in this second film, as well as a more comic-book feel.  The campy 70’s music from the original is replaced with a more current twist, often using popular musical snippets to underscore comedic moments.

Red 2 opens in Costco, where Marvin and his girlfriend (Mary-Louise Parker) are shopping for giant bags of shrimp to take home to their quiet, boring life in the ‘burbs.  It doesn’t take long for bullets to start flying and a mysterious crime to call them into action. 

The film is rated PG-13 for lots and lots of violence (mostly bloodless).  It has it all: awesome explosions, car crashes in impressive chase scenes in Paris, tons of shooting with various weapons, hand-to-hand combat, and even a guy getting killed with a lethal origami bird.  You’ll hear some profanity in the heat of the moment, but no F-bombs.  Oh, and lots and lots of kissing.  Frank’s girlfriend often resorts to kissing the bad guys when she can’t think of anything else to do.  She’s an enthusiastic accomplice, successfully donning short skirts during most of the movie, eagerly taking tactical tips from Marvin when Frank isn’t looking.  It’s important to have fun activities to do together as a couple.

Speaking of Frank’s girlfriend (Sarah Ross) played by Mary-Louise Parker, I wish Hollywood actresses would stop messing with their faces and just age gracefully.  I always admired Mary-Louise Parker for her feminine beauty before she had “work” done, including Botox which leaves her acting more reliant upon voice inflection than facial expression.  She’s a terrific actress, also starring in this weekend’s arrival of R.I.P.D. directed by Robert Schwentke, who directed the first Red, but not the sequel.  Marvin comments that she has something that neither he nor Frank have: people like her.  And they do…in both Red 2 and R.I.P.D.

Frank’s romantic kryptonite is revealed in the “dusky femme fatale”, Russian Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones).   What happens in the Kremlin, stays in the Kremlin.  I’ll bet you didn’t know there was a Papa John’s right next door to Soviet headquarters, did you?  The beloved Anthony Hopkins graces the screen as a brilliant scientist who can unlock the secrets to the “Project Nightshade” dilemma, but alas, he has been put under I.C.E. (Incarcerated Can’t Execute). 

Helen Mirren’s character, MI6 agent Victor, offers relationship advice to Sarah and skillfully takes out enemies while looking fabulous the entire time.  Marvin encourages Frank to run to emotional safety, explaining “I know one thing: women and covert ops.”  Frank protests “But that’s two things.”  Marvin, in his great wisdom, opines “No Grasshopper.  It is not.”

As our favorite cool, yet deadly, retired agents all come together again, Han (Byung-hun Lee) appears in the least convenient times to put a hit on Frank.  Their fights are pretty impressive, especially considering the age difference between the two.

My husband has a hard time enjoying movies that are completely implausible, and there are quite a few critics out there who are also annoyed by the film’s holes, but imagine the actors and director with their tongue firmly planted in their cheeks and you’ll be entertained.  By the way, Maldova gets a shout-out in the movie, and John Malkovich ends the movie wearing fruit on his head, dressed as a dancer in their next adventure in Caracas.  Red 3?

Grade = A-

Monday, July 15, 2013

Pacific Rim floods senses with special effects

Transformers meet Godzilla with an inspiring speech worthy of Independence Day.  There, now you know the whole plot of Pacific Rim, the summer’s latest popcorn blockbuster.  My movie buff son absolutely loved it and said “I’d give it a TEN and see it AGAIN!”  This is one that movie goers will line up for again and again.

My son who is currently an animation student in college said it included all of his favorite things: giant robots kicking alien butt in the Lovecraft genre style of horror, complete with lots of explosions, a cute Asian girl, Japanese references, Director Guillermo del Toro, and amazing CGI.  He even got a kick out of hearing the same actress who voices the popular video game “Portal.”  He said the only thing he thought the movie lacked was Liam Neeson.  Ha ha

You probably won’t recognize a lot of the actors, such as big screen newbies Charlie Hunnam and Diego Klattenhoff, who play brothers whose minds become linked when fighting inside a giant robot called a Jaeger, designed to fight cool alien creatures from the sea.  The actors actually look alike, as does Burn Gorman, another Jaeger fighter who tries to save the world from threatening monsters.  You will, however, get a kick out of seeing Hellboy’s Ron Perlman, who plays Hannibal Chau, named after his favorite historical figure and second-favorite restaurant in Brooklyn.  Director Guillermo del Toro admitted that if he could ever form a neural handshake with anyone that it would be Ron Perlman.  Yeah.  Ron Perlman has been in every single one of Guillermo del Toro’s movies.

The movie has that “Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots” feel to it and is even a little comic book clichéd, but it has enough incredible CGI special effects to fill the Pacific Ocean.   Watching it in 3D will keep you right inside the action, but if you’re sitting too close to an IMAX screen you will get swallowed up by it. 

Unlike some alien movies, you get to see a LOT of these creatures up close.  They’re super cool-looking, scary, and even have some pretty Avatar blue streaks and ooze.  Director Guillermo del Toro includes a whirling mixture of digital, analog, complicated mechanisms, iconic big Russians, funky science with alien body parts, Iron Man mobility, and Steam Punk.  The sound effects are beyond big and cool.  Rinko Kikuchi as a little girl is the cutest thing ever.

Idris Elba’s delightful accent underscores the movies theme that it takes the whole world’s efforts to save itself.   The “drift” introduces the idea of two people’s minds united in a common cause.  Who would YOU want to join with in the “drift”?  No spoiler alert here: the world is saved and you’ll leave the theater with a silly grin on your face.

Two fun quotes from the flick that show how it doesn’t take itself too seriously:

“We can either sit here and do nothing or we can grab those flare guns and go out there and do something really stupid.”  (Herc Hansen)

“Today, at the edge of our hope, at the end of our time, we have chosen not only to believe in ourselves, but in each other.  Today we face the monsters that are at our door.  Today we are canceling the apocalypse!”   (Stacker Pentecost)

Grade:  A-

Mike and Sully go to lovable Monster's University

I imagined the director and producers of Monster’s Inc sitting around a board room table, trying to come up with a plot for the next installment of the Pixar’s lovable monster flick.  During the brainstorm, someone in the room must have said “Monsters scare you….Scare U” and suddenly the college template was framed for the newly released prequel.

How the one-eyed Mike Guzowski and furry “kitty” giant, James Sullivan (Sully), first met in college is a ragtag underdog story that includes party monsters in frat houses, a rousing alma mater fight song with spunky cheerleaders, jocks, boring Ferris Bueller-esque professors, and inspiring competition between students who want to win the annual Scare Games.  The campus is full of all the clichéd groups you ever saw during your undergrad years, complete with an emo Goth goul and dragon-winged, centipede-bodied dean who is easily the scariest monster in the entire school.  You know you had a dean like that.

Randy Newman’s theme song gets you in the mood for some magical monster animation from beginning to end.  And by the way, be sure to stick around at the end of the rolling credits for the final touch.  I love it when movies reward their diehard fans who want just a little bit more and are willing to stay in their seats until the bitter end.  

The cast includes the exceptional voice talents of Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Helen Mirren, Sean Hayes, Bonnie Hunt, and Jennifer Tilly.  Mike and Sully are fleshed out with back-story details that leave us loving them even more.  Can you say “Merchandising Jackpot!”?

One of my sons is currently an animation student in college, so I always love to hear his opinion on the artistry and CGI in films.  He gave Monster’s University two big thumbs up and bows to Pixar’s talent and creativity.  Fingers crossed my son can get a job with Pixar when he graduates next spring!
The film doesn’t rely on the fans’ love of the first movie; it introduces new characters you’ll fall in love with, as well as new dimensions to the Monsters’ world that are sure to create new areas in theme parks.

It’s an adorable movie that the entire family will enjoy.

Grade:   A-

Double movie review with Richard Gere

Which way now? That’s the question you’ll ask at the end of the movie Double, starring the aging-well Richard Gere. This fun spy thriller has some clever twists and turns, which I love. Even though I love a solid ending, I also love the conversation-starting rush that leaves you wondering what happens next. You think you know, but you might be wrong. Sure, it opens the movie up for a possible sequel or it could just be a fun way to leave you hanging.

My husband and I just discovered Double on Netflix last night. Directed by Michael Brandt and released late in 2011, the movie received mixed reviews. Richard Gere fans will be impressed that he runs and keeps up with the young FBI agent played by Topher Grace. Martin Sheen fans will get a kick out of his authoritative performance as the head of the CIA. (I miss The West Wing.)

Gere plays a retired CIA agent who is called back to help find a Soviet assassin claimed to have killed a U.S. senator. The Cold War is alive and well. One of my sons decided to start learning Russian lately, so it was fun to recognize some of the words he taught me. Thankfully, there are subtitles during the few moments the Slavic language is spoken in the movie. The plot solves a mystery early in the movie, to some movie-goers’ chagrin, but there are more crimes to solve as the movie rolls along the streets of Washington D.C. The director likes to zoom in on waving American flags, but the plot will make you wonder if our country’s intelligence has Sputnik-sized holes in it.

You’ll watch a bad guy swallow two batteries and see lots of bullets fly, but otherwise, there are no F-bombs, sex, or nudity, earning a solid PG-13 rating. No, it didn’t win any awards, but it passes for 1 ½ hours of interesting entertainment.

Grade = B+