Friday, April 10, 2015

Parallels (2015)

Starring: Mark Hapka, Jessica Rothe, Eric Jungmann, & Constance Wu
Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

After the highly successful mini-series, The Lost Room, Writer/Director, Christopher Leone, decided to develop one of his stories into a TV series. Parallels was that show and while it was very well received, the networks rejected it, because the premise of the show was too much like the show Sliders. I always thought Sliders had a bit too much comedy for what it was, and would be a much better show without it. Parallels not only did that, but it also modernized the story, and I think it would have been an amazing show, but the networks didn't agree. The story follows a brother and sister who are summoned to an abandoned building by their father. When they get there, they find strange writing all over the walls and are soon transported somewhere else. They come to learn that the building is a dimensional portal that takes them to different Earth's that can be slightly different or extremely different from our own. The pair search for their father only to find another traveler, who tells them, the building travels uncontrollably and they are stuck bouncing between parallel universes, unless they decide not to return to the building within 72 hours, in which case they are stuck wherever they've stopped. The story here is so deep and had so many different elements to it that I was in love within the first 20 minutes. Similar to the Lost Room, the story could have gone in a thousand different directions and was completely unpredictable. The cast is terrific as well, and is as diverse as the story itself. The only negative I have about this film, is that when it was finally decided that instead of a series it would be released as a film, the pilot wasn't change at all and nothing new was filmed. The movie should have been a synopsis of what the entire first season would have been, instead it was the just the first episode. The result is a lot of scenes that were too long for such a short movie, and a whole bunch of unanswered questions, that may never be answered. If I learned anything from Parallels, it's that similar doesn't mean the same, just like the different Earth's they travel to, Parallels is similar to Sliders, but it's not the same show, in fact, I think it would have been a whole lot better.

The Firm (1993)

Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeanne Tripplehorn, & Gene Hackman
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I am a huge John Grisham fan, but I never cared much for The Firm. I finally decided to watch it as part of a paper for my film class, because as the first adaptation of a Grisham novel, it was important to the paper, but I still can't explain why it was the first novel they decided to turn into a movie. The story follows a younger lawyer who is graduating at the top of his Harvard Law class. As the offers pour in, he has a tough decision to make, and finally settles on a small Nashville firm, that has made him an offer that is too good to be true. As he starts working for The Firm, Mitch McDeere (Tom Cruise) comes to realize that their only client is an organized crime syndicate and he's trapped inside. Eventually, the FBI comes to McDeere and tries to recruit him as a whistle blower, and his response is somewhat unorthodox. What I never understood about this story is why McDeere went to the lengths he did. He could have achieved the same outcome by simply complying with one side or the other. He jumps through all these hoops and does all these secretive things in order to achieve the same outcome. To me, this always made the second half of the book and film to be pretty much pointless. Tom Cruise stars and shines in the type of role that defined his early career. At this point in his career, if Tom Cruise is not starring as a dark loner or a sci-fi action hero, there isn't any point to watching his movies, but back in the early 90s he really had that special spark that has garnered him the reputation he has today. Cruise was paired with Gene Hackman, making the perfect dynamic of the old star, turning things over to the new. It was a bold move that didn't work out so well for the Indiana Jones franchise, but here it was one of the most interesting things about this film. The acting is terrific and a Grisham film is always very clever and well written, but as I said I've never been a fan of The Firm. The second half of the story just doesn't sit right with me and I'll continue to say it no matter how good the cast is.

The Running Man (1987)

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Conchita Alonso, & Richard Dawson
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In this futuristic world, it's 2017 and The United States government has collapsed. Along with the government, gone are personal freedoms, including freedom of speech. The smallest infraction can get a person thrown into a prison work camp for life, with their only refuge being the worlds most popular TV game show, The Running Man. Ben Richards (Schwarzenegger) is a member of the new military police force. When he's ordered to fire on a group of unarmed civilians and refuses, he's locked away. Following a brief escape, Richards is recaptured and chosen for The Running Man game show, where he can compete for a chance at freedom. In the 1980s, adding Arnold Schwarzenegger's name to an action film meant big bucks for the studio, but not all those movies were worth watching. The Running Man, however, was one of his better films, as Arnold plays a role that was seemingly perfect for him. The film, based on a book by Stephen King, is of course very well written, and features a lot more than simply the game and the man trying to win it. Even Schwarzengger himself was quoted as saying the film was good, but didn't do the book justice. Having not read the book, I can't say either way, but regardless, I did enjoy the story I saw. It was extremely unique and a whole lot of fun. As I said Arnold was perfect for the part of Richards. His Co-star, Maria Conchita Alonso, was the complete opposite, as clearly she was picked for her looks and popularity at the time. Besides hardly being able to understand her, she doesn't seem like a woman who is in this huge fight of her life, she's making jokes and trying to be sexy in situations that certainly don't call for it. I really wasn't impressed by her at all, but it doesn't hurt the film all that much. Doing an adaptation of a Stephen King novel is a Herculean task, given the fact that even his short novels are routinely 500 pages or more. Of course there were plenty of things that had to be excluded, but even so, I thought they did an excellent job of both screen writing and casting. The Running Man may not be that shocking or unique in 2017, but in 1987 it pushed the limits and thrilled audiences. While the shock may have been lost over time, the thrill and excitement are still there and easily makes the film a must see classic!

Behind a unique film is usually a interesting story, and the history of The Running Man certainly qualifies. Believe it or not, this is actually one of Stephen King's first film adaptations, but he's not listed as the author. As The Running Man was one of King's first non-horror novels, he wrote it under a pseudonym. When the book was finally turned into a film, the original Director, Andrew Davis, was fired within three days and replaced by Paul Michael Glaser, AKA Starsky of Starsky & Hutch fame. Glaser changed much of the story to be more film friendly, which angered it's star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who then insisted it be changed back to be more like the book. Eventually, a compromised was reached and the film was released, becoming a Science Fiction classic, listed near the top of most critics top 100 Science Fiction films of all-time.

The Bag Man (2014)

Starring: John Cusack, Rebecca Da Costa, & Robert De Niro
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The Bag Man is one of these incredibly weird and twisted movies, that you really don't want to sit through, but once you start it, you'll finish it, because you'll want to know what's in that bag?! During a secret meeting, a mob boss gives his hit man a seemingly easy job. Pick up a bag, go to a motel in the middle of nowhere, and wait there until the boss comes to pick it up. The hit man does as he's told and gets a room at this motel, which is not only in the middle of nowhere, but is also filled with a group of ridiculously strange people, who all want this mysterious bag. John Cusack stars and no matter the role or the film, he's always fun to watch. There is just something about him that always makes his films entertaining and it's a good thing, especially in a film like this. While Cusack is along for the ride, it is very hard to follow along and like what you're seeing, because the film is just so bizarre. The cast of characters coming for this secret bag, include a pimp, a Russian midget, a corrupt sheriff, and a very weird guy in a wheelchair just to name a few. As the night wears on it becomes harder and harder to protect this bag, and in the end, when the bag is finally opened, you'll realize, that you just wasted 90 minutes for that!? I admire anything John Cusack does, De Niro is always terrific as a gangster, and if nothing else, The Bag Man is unique, but not for it's story. The hook, the thing that really drags you into this is that mysterious bag, which in the end, isn't as special as are you're lead to believe.

Monday, March 30, 2015

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Starring: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, & Jennifer Lawrence
Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

I love science fiction and I hate superheroes, but I credit the X-Men series with giving me an appreciation for them. X-Men has showed me that in the proper context, with some great writers, superheroes movies don't have to be the lowest form of sci-fi entertainment. Days of Future Past seemed to confuse some people, as it's not part of the trilogy and therefore it's timeline is off. The ending of the film also creates a paradox, which eliminates certain mistakes made in the other films. In layman's terms, some of the things that happen in the other X-Men movies, never happen, because of Days of Future Past. In an undetermined era, sometime between the end of the original film and Last Stand, a new enemy has been targeting mutants. These machines, meant to eliminate the mutants have malfunctioned and are now targeting humans as well. The machines are made with mutant DNA and therefore have the combined forces of all the mutants it's come in contact with, making them unstoppable. The only chance the X-Men have is for one of them to go back in time and stop the machines from ever being built. Wolverine is the only one with a mind strong enough to survive the trip and is sent back to the 1970s, where he meets the cast of X-Men: First Class. While difficult for non-sci-fi aficionados to understand, this film was not only extremely well written, but serves dual purposes for the series. First, it brings both casts together in an extreme fashion and it's a tremendous gift for the fans. Second, it allows the writers to undo mistakes from The Last Stand, which was at the time, set to be the final X-Men film. The ending to Days of Future Past, effectively explain that everything that happened in Last Stand, never happened, as it was part of an alternate timeline. This allows the writers to bring back characters like Prof. X (who is seen killed in that film) for possible future films. It really was an ingenious move for the franchises future, but it also allowed fans to experience the "old timers" and the "new class" working together, in a huge, diverse, and very impressive cast. Seldom are superheroes films so complicated or as well written as Days of Future Past. The writing is out of this world, the cast is full of stars, and the special effects were absolutely amazing. Love it or hate it, superheroes are part of the science fiction genre, but Days of Future Past was simply incredible and for that, it's our latest must see movie!

The Interview (2014)

Starring: Seth Rogan & James Franco
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

No film in the history of cinema has had more press than the Interview. It almost started a war and made world headlines for almost a week, still it lost money, and is considered to be one of the biggest flops in recent history. In The Interview, the hottest duo in comedy, Seth Rogan and James Franco team up for their third feature film together. This time the pair play a TV talk show host and his producer respectively. Their show is like a combination of Maury and TMZ, and is considered by most in the media to be a joke. Wanting to change that image, the team decide to get in contact with the reclusive leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, for his first televised interview. Once announced, the duo is contacted by the CIA, who wishes to recruit them to take Un out. The first time I saw Rogan and Franco together was in Pineapple Express, and I thought it was one of the funniest films I'd ever seen. They have terrific chemistry and I expected great things from them in the future. It might have something to do with the fact that their characters are always so similar, but the more I've seen them together, the less impressed I've been. Seth Rogan is kind of annoying to begin with, especially that chuckle of his, but it's usual balanced out by Franco's extreme behavior. In the Interview, this dynamic didn't work, as Franco's character and portrayal was even more annoying than Rogan's. The cameos may have been impressive and so was all the attention this film received, but the truth is that many of the jokes were amateurish, and the film was a giant step back from Pineapple Express. When people work together, especially comedic duos, the films are supposed to keep getting funnier and more outrageous, but Rogan and Franco seem to be going the other way. The Interview isn't a great story and it isn't that funny, in fact, it's more frustrating than anything else. I love both Seth Rogan and James Franco, they've both given me hours of quality entertainment, but sadly enough, I can't add the Interview to that list, as it's bark was much worse than it's bite.

Dark Skies (2013)

Starring: Keri Russell, Josh Hamilton, & Dakota Goyo
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Despite my love of Science Fiction, I had no desire to see Dark Skies. Someone from the groups Facebook page messaged me, telling me it was right up my alley, so I decided to give it a shot, and you know what, they were right! Dark Skies is portrayed as something completely different in the trailers and ads. I was under the impression that it was another of these crazy awful demonic possession films, but it was a whole lot more interesting than that. The Barrett family is experiencing some weird occurrences in their home that they can't explain. At first it seems like the kids are pulling pranks, but they come to realize it's much more serious than that. The family has become the target of an alien race known as the grays, and are fearing an eventual abduction. Felicity herself, Keri Russell, gives an interesting performance with a cold, quiet, intensity that was something to see, but the real star of the movie was young Dakota Goyo. Goyo is best known as the annoying little kid in Reel Steel, but he's grown up quickly, and was simply the most realistic character in the whole film. What makes Dark Skies unique is it's fantastic ending, which was very unexpected, and much more eclectic than one would expect to see in a film like this. Some fans complained that the ending was too reminiscent to that of 1408, and while it was similar, unlike 1408, the ending of Dark Skies wasn't nearly as predictable. The ending comes out of nowhere and as far as I'm concerned, it's the cherry on the sundae. Dark Skies wasn't as technical or scientific as the most of the Sci-Fi I like, but it was still quite entertaining and the ending made a good film that much better.