204-208: Movies on an airplane

Watching movies on an airplane is never the most beneficial way. The screen is way too small and the movie itself is cropped, if not downright censored by the airline. But it does give you the opportunity to watch those movies that you never were intending to watch anyway. Recently I found myself on a round trip to Europe (a ten-hour flight), so I had some catching up to do. I ended up watching five movies all the way through and one, Madagascar 3, which I will finish at a later opportunity, because that movie was just bat shit crazy. The five movies I watched were:

204: Rock of Ages

rock-of-agesHoly smokes, this was a mixed bag of good and bad feelings. I love ‘80s music, I love a good musical now and then and I generally like it when Tom Cruise goes balls to the wall. But Rock of Ages was just too much for me. Some of the songs I could get through, because to be honest some of the originals just deserve to be butchered, youth sentiment or not. Other songs were just too horrendous for words. For example, Malin Akerman and Cruise trying to create some sort of horrible version of Foreigner’s I Want to Know What Love Is (one of my favorite songs ever) made me jump to the screen to find the fast forward button. It was that horrendous. Besides the mostly not-so-good renditions of the songs the screenplay in itself had nothing new to bring to the table and started to irritate me after a while. In the end Rock of Ages just felt like an experiment gone wrong.

205: The Sweeney

the-sweeneyThe British are a rough bunch and The Sweeney proves that you don’t want to get on the wrong side of the law over there. Ray Winstone plays Regan, a hard-nosed cop who leads a team of officers who have their own particular brand of law enforcement. They don’t shy away from methods that are by many deemed less than desirable, but they get the job done and for some that is the only thing that counts. Regan comes under fire from Internal Affairs exactly because of his methods and to complicate his situation even further he is having an affair with the investigator from IA and an old adversary suddenly decides to return to the scene. With a pulse-pounding soundtrack, moody photography and excellent acting The Sweeney proves it is a force to be reckoned with. The Sweeney combines the style of Michael Mann, the bombast of Christopher Nolan and the mindless action of Michael Bay to create a whole that is thoroughly entertaining.

206: Men in Black 3

men-in-black-3I was never a big fan of Men in Black. I found it to be really on the nose and most of the time not that funny. I was, however, impressed by the chemistry between Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. In Men in Black 2 some of that chemistry was there, but it was overshadowed by an extremely bad screenplay that wasn’t able to reproduce any of the good stuff from the first movie. Now, several years later, we get a third installment, and I must say that the the people behind the scenes have redeemed themselves. This is a very funny and even in some way emotional return to the characters we liked so much in part one. Especially Josh Brolin as a younger version of Tommy Lee Jones is a home run. The movie has enough momentum to move along at a brisk pace with an ending that took me completely by surprise. I did not see that twist coming, but maybe that was a stuffy atmosphere in the airplane playing tricks on me.

207: The Bourne Legacy

the-bourne-legacyI like the original Bourne Trilogy very much. Matt Damon managed to create a character that was on one hand a terminator and on the other a human being searching for his identity. All the machinations around him made these movies even more compelling, but it was really Damon who sold them. With The Bourne Ultimatum Paul Greengrass finished the trilogy in a very satisfying manner, so why would we need a fourth Bourne movie? Beats me, and The Bourne Legacy didn’t make me a believer either. We are led to believe that there are more people like Bourne out there, which is not really a stretch, and that they are controlled by a Jurassic Park-like scheme revolving around mysterious chems without which the agents can’t really perform. Legacy starts out decent with Jeremy Renner proving he is certainly up to the task to perform the physical part of the role, but director Tony Gilroy (writer of the original trilogy) can’t keep up the pace and he gets bogged down in a run-of-the-mill story that in no way can hold a candle to the Damon-Bourne movies. For the most part I was pretty much bored to tears by The Bourne Legacy.

208: The Watch

the-watchWhen The Watch was released in theaters I had the feeling I had already seen the best parts of the movie by seeing the trailer several times. And I wasn’t far off, because that was almost entirely true. Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and relative newcomer Richard Ayoade are all members of the neighborhood watch, while they don’t really share the same intentions for this extracurricular activity. As it so happens an alien invasion is about to go down in their neighborhood and they seem to be the last line of defense for the human race. The one thing that is great about The Watch is director Akiva Schaffer’s willingness to let his cast go off the rails most of the time. I got the feeling that a lot of what is shown in The Watch was actually improvised by the comedians during shooting. The most hilarious moments come when Vaughn and Hill are let loose, these guys are improve masters and it shows. If only the rest of the movie was as good as those moments. The Watch is long, largely not very funny and ultimately unsatisfying. Given the cast and crew involved this could have been a slam dunk, now… not so much.

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082: The Avengers

This is the culmination of four years of brilliant moviemaking by Marvel Studios. This studio has had the vision of making this particular movie and having all their other properties work in favor of it. References to The Avengers were placed left and right in Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger (something not everybody was cool with). These are all fine movies in their own right (yes, I liked The Incredible Hulk), but seeing them work together to create The Avengers lifts them to an even higher plain. And if the very last scene is to be believed, Marvel is anything but done with The Avengers.

Joss Whedon has taken the reins for this particular installment. And you can clearly see why. He is somebody who can juggle a lot of characters and have them all feel like they are the star of the show. He did this with Firefly (and Serenity) and Toy Story, in which you feel his influence in the witty banter between all the toys. In The Avengers all the superheroes feel equal. Of course Captain America, Iron Man and Thor are running the show, but even minor characters like Hawkeye and Black Widow are given pivotal scenes. This is really clever writing by Zak Penn and Whedon. Penn was also responsible for X2, one of the best comic movies ever. That should tell you enough, right?

Another thing Penn and Whedon got exactly right was the dynamic between the heroes. These are not heroes who are bound by some unifying force, like The X-Men and the oppression of mutants. These guys don’t like each other much and that has always been one of the elements that made the Avengers comic so attractive. They are never on the same page, but when push comes to shove they stand their ground and get the job done. I loved how Whedon used this dynamic. You are never quite sure who is going to end up in the team and who is going to bail. The roster in the comics tended to fluctuate constantly as well. It is as if they have a rolodex with all the heroes in it and they get everybody who is available at that time. I can’t wait for what they are planning to do with that. Let there be petty squabbles, I say.

In spite of the running time of 142 minutes the time sure flew by. I was not exactly sure if would be able to keep myself awake for so long, but that turned out to not be a problem at all. Whedon managed to keep the pace going and keep the boring exposition to a minimum. There was a surprising lack of backtracking for uninitiated audiences. There were some hints at what transpired before, but nothing that would bore the hell out of the audiences who know exactly what is going on. That is not to say you are lost when you have not seen all of the movies that came before (are there people like that out there?). The story is kept open enough for everybody to get into it while not dumbing it down for establishes audiences. Again, an impressive feat on the part of the writers.

The cast we all know. Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Chris Evans as Captain America, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye. New is Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk, who takes over the role from Edward Norton, who decided not to come back. It is a great cast. They all know their characters to the tee and feel the freedom to let them be a bit more loose than before. There is a lot of witty banter going around and even some comedy that is genuinely funny. Tony Stark poking Bruce Banner to make the latter change into his Hulk form is hilarious. There are lots of little moments like that to make these heroes be more human (even though one of them is a god).

Around them there are a lot of faces we have seen before. Tom Hiddleston as Loki, the main villain in The Avengers, Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson, Cobie Smulders and Agent Hill, Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts and Stellan Skarsgård reprising his role from Thor as Dr. Selvig. Back in a much larger capacity is Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, the force at the center of The Avengers. He is the one who must try to keep this unruly bunch in order. Without him there would not even be a team like the Avengers. It is fun to see him run around with his eye-patch and hear him bark orders to everyone.

And then there are the action sequences and there are lots of them. Iron Man and Thor duking it out in a forest with Captain America intervening was certainly one of my favorites. The end battle in New York is absolutely spectacular. Michael Bay should take a look at this sequence and decide he should quit. Everything Bay does wrong in his Transformers action sequences Whedon does right. We are almost always aware of where everybody is in this battle. Who is battling alongside whom? Who is going where? Who needs help elsewhere? It is all clear to us viewers. This is extremely hard to pull off and Whedon did it. The only problem is the lack of human casualties. Not that I want to see a lot of bodies or senseless violence (and I understand why Paramount wanted a PG-13 rating), but when you blow up a city like New York in the way they did here, you know the streets are going to be strewn with bodies and gore. But then again, comic books never really show you any of that stuff either. Hmmmm…

To expand on that last comment there were some things that didn’t work too well. One of them was the sound. Maybe this was a problem at my theater, but I thought the sound mix was totally out of whack. Sounds that I thought should be loud were very subdued, while other sounds that were less important came up in the forefront. My theater usually has no problems with this technical aspect, but you’ll never know. The other thing that bothered me was the facelessness of the enemies. These were supposed to be fearsome aliens that were coming to destroy the Earth or something. Nothing much was done to elaborate on their motives, other than Loki wanting revenge on his brother. It wasn’t until after the credits that it all made sense to me. What we see then puts it all into perspective. I will not expand on that here, that would be a major spoiler. The problem is that not everybody is going to stay for that scene (about 75% of the audience left immediately) and maybe feel the way I did before I had that information.

But now with that knowledge in my head I can’t wait to see what the Marvel future looks like. With Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 in 2013, Captain America 2 in 2014 and a Nick Fury movie in the works a sequel to The Avengers can’t be far off. Let’s hope it all ties into that little scene at the end. FINGERS CROSSED!

> IMDb

059: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

I really like Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, but that shouldn’t come as such a big surprise. Its director is Brad Bird, the same director who brought us The Incredibles, The Iron Giant and Ratatouille, arguably some of the best animated movies out there. But Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is not an animated movie, or is it? No, of course it isn’t, but it certainly could have been.

There are some breathtaking sequences in this action packed thriller. The scaling of the Burj Khalifa and a chase during a sandstorm are just the tip of an iceberg. These sequences are often so outlandish that it is hard to believe somebody actually performed these stunts, most of them by Tom Cruise himself. That guy is nuts.

The bottom line is that Brad Bird knows how to frame his action sequences and infuse them with an intelligent sense of humor (courtesy of Simon Pegg). He knows how to keep his movies flowing even if they have a running time of nearly two hours. From the first scene to the final battle this is one fun rollercoaster. I hope this franchise stays under control of people like J.J. Abrams, people who know how to handle this type of material, for the foreseeable future.

> IMDb