30 July 2012

Movies: Safe House

Safe House (2012) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1599348/

Action Espionage Thriller

Young Matt Weston is a CIA agent that spent the last 12 months uneventfully managing a "safe house" in South Africa. After rogue CIA agent Tobin Frost turns himself in to the U.S. consulate, Matt finds himself in a position to do more than just answer the phone.  Soon after Frost arrives at the safe house armed gunmen storm the place looking for Frost. Weston escapes with Frost in tow, trying to deliver Frost safely to CIA control.

There's a bit more going on in to spur the story along, but I'll leave those details to the viewers. Those details do provide an engine to drive this story.

Stars Ryan Reynolds (Green Lantern, Blade 3, Buried, Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Van Wilder, etc) as Weston. Denzel Washington (all kinds of good stuff) as Frost. Plus Brendan Gleeson (Harry Potter's Mad-Eye Moody) and Vera Farmiga (Source Code, Orphan*, etc).

Technically - very good film. Good camera work, good settings, great action and fight sequences, very admirable car chase scene. Acting - out of the park. Reynolds can really deliver a performance when needed and held up well next to Washington. The story - most folks can probably figure out the way things are going to go and who's behind what, but it doesn't detract. We've just seen too many films that work out that way.

A good choice for an action or thriller film mood.


* Note: I haven't reviewed Orphan but I'm going to take a moment to plug it. See the film. It's bonkers.

06 July 2012

Movies: Ghost Rider + sequel

Ghost Rider (2007) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0259324/

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1071875/

Comic adaptation Action

Johnny Blaze sells his soul to the devil and becomes the devil's bounty hunter.  He has a flaming skull - flaming with the fires of hell - and rides a souped-up chopper that leaves a trail of fire behind.
The first film covers Johnny's origin as the Ghost Rider, the Devil sending him to fight the Devil's son to prevent him from establishing Hell on Earth, and how he turned down the chance to give up being the rider and instead made it his life's mission to work against the devil.

The second film the Ghost Rider is trying to save the Devil's son from the Devil. Not the same son as the first film, this is a human-born son that the Devil plans to 'empty out' and occupy. Something about the shells the Devil occupies in our world can't handle the Devil's power, but the human-born son of the Devil can, so the Devil is gonna scoop him out so he live be more powerfully here.

The second film is every bit as good as the first film, if not slightly better.

And by every bit as good as the first film, well, let me say this. I didn't particularly like the first Ghost Rider and I'm not especially jazzed by the sequel.  I did make a point of re-watching the first film before the second, just to be fair, even though I hadn't planned on watching Ghost Rider ever again. Curiosity got the better of me.

Ghost Rider:
Peter Fonda as the Devil - obvious stunt-casting to refer to his Easy Rider role.
Eva Mendes as Johnny Blaze love interest Roxanne. :/ I'll just say her acting was much better in "Training Day" (awesome must-see film)  and I don't remember "We Own the Night" well enough to recall how she was in that.
Sam Elliott as a previous Ghost Rider dude - he's Sam Elliott and does what exactly what Sam Elliott does and is great at doing in films - being grizzled mustachioed Sam Elliott.
Nick Cage as Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider. Okay. I suppose. Not any particular reason why he had to do it, but if they wanna pay out that sort of cash, okay.
Special effects were okay. It's an okay comic book adaptation action film, but not especially a must see film.  Worth it once, sortof like watching fireworks.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
The second film is a sequel to the first, in some ways. Except it ignores everything from the first film. The only thing in common with the first film is Nick Cage as Johnny Blaze.  They ignored the "Team Blaze" support folks from the first film, they ignored his love interest. They pretty much ignored the existence of the first film, even his choice to continue to be the Ghost Rider.
The second film does spend a short bit of time to remind folks how Johnny Blaze became the Ghost Rider, which they should, except instead of using clips from the first film and references to the mythology the first film establishes, it made comicbook-like panels for the flashback and redid the whole soul-selling sequence. They even replaced the Devil for the flashback.  Now, I could accept the Devil has taken on a new skin to occupy as he seems to wear them out. Except the flashback uses the new skin for the soul-selling event, and uses the new skin's name (Roarke) instead of the first film's name (Mephistopheles).
Nick Cage's portrayal of Johnny Blaze in this one is way in the 'off his rocker' territory, unlike the first film where he seemed a bit more in control. The Ghost Rider was not especially under Johnny's control in this one either. They sort of try to explain it, I guess. Johnny is all ready to get out from under the Ghost Rider's curse again, like he was during the first film.
Ciaran Hinds as the Devil (Roarke) is perfect. That guy can play anything effectively. There's also a bit of Christopher Lambert in the film.  Sort of an odd mix of well known American actors, lesser-known-to-us foreign actors. Folks seemed to do fine.

The Ghost Rider special effects were a bit better in the second film, I think. Much darker. The camera work was completely different than in the first film. A lot more wide-angle shots, noticeably so. Grittier too. I liked the locations used in this film a lot better - more real, more organic.

Regardless, there's nothing special about either film to warrant the money they spent on some of the bigger name cast members. Lesser-knowns could probably have effectively delivered the same scripts.  I never did read the Ghost Rider comics, so I have no clue if either film's story is anywhere close to how the Ghost Rider comics worked. I'm not especially inclined to care either.

So, if you're in just one of 'those moods' the films might be entertaining enough and all, if you have any sort of passing interest in comic book adaptation films, or seek out Nick Cage films. Nick is still a hit-or-miss actor, he didn't do anything especially great or awful in either of these films. I'm still reminded to question why he bothered making "Drive Angry". I swear that guy's just cashing paychecks. Hey, at least it wasn't the Wicker Man remake again. I'm still fighting off the urge to watch the original and remake of the Wicker Man to compare them. Seeing both of 'em once already was enough.

05 July 2012

Movies: The Adventures of Tintin

The Adventures of Tintin (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0983193/

Animated action adventure

Tintin is an investigative reporter, has a white fox terrier named Snowy, is friends with Thomson and Thompson, police detectives. While the bumbling-ish detectives try to track down a pickpocket, Tintin purchases a model ship. Another man named Sakharine (yes, phonetically the artificial sweetener) wants to buy the ship from Tintin, who refuses to sell it. So of course after Tintin puts it in his apartment, someone breaks in and steals it. And a world-running adventure begins involving ships, airships, desert treks, whatnots.

If you've not watched the animated series or read the comics growing up, as I haven't, you'll be coming in to this film with no cultural frame of reference. However that won't stop one from enjoying the show.

The animation style - a close to realistic 3D thing that's far removed from the original Tintin comics style - was annoying to me at first. It is square in uncanny valley, especially as they take care to put nose hairs in Captain Haddock's nostrils, little short hairs on people's necks, stubbles, etc. But I got over it. Once you can get past and watch it for being a movie the animation really is top-notch. The 'camera direction' made a point of doing things real cameras with real actors couldn't possibly do. Almost like they're showing off. Especially one very long action sequence done in 'one take' that would be impossible with live action. It sort of straddles the suspension of disbelief one grants animation vs. live action, and at times that bugged me, but like I said I got past it.  I'm probably too ingrained in oldschool animation to be quick to feeling comfortable watching some of the newer computer generated styles.

The voice cast did well, they fit their characters instead of insisting, "hey it's ME voicing this part, can't you tell". Especially when you have names like Daniel Craig, Andy Serkis, Nick Frost, Simon Pegg working it, just to name a few.

Aside from my animation style gripes, it really is an enjoyable film, an enjoyable story. Good direction too, you can see an experienced live action director had their hands in directing this film.* It has good action sequences, should go over well with the young'uns. As for how real Tintin fans receive the film? I have no idea. But I liked it.  Good film.

* After I wrote that sentence I took a look and saw that Steven Spielberg himself directed the film. I dunno how I missed that in the credits, I figured he just produced or something. I also see that the writing credits go to Steven Moffat (of Doctor Who and Sherlock fame) and Edgar Wright (of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs the World and other stuff fame). So yeah - some very talented folks behind this animated film, and it shows.
The John Williams score was, well, exactly like one would expect for an animated adventure film. But that's the thing, it didn't sound like John Williams, it sounded like every animated adventure film. Sort of on the fence on whether that's a brilliant thing on his part or not.