Friday, October 18, 2013

The Hopper #4

Let it be known that I did not watch these three films consecutively. Rather, I went to the movie theater three times over the past week, but due to a multitude of things getting in the way, I haven’t found the time to write reviews on any of them until now.

Still, I like to think that “The Hopper” has become my style of reviewing new releases or films that are still in theaters, even if I don’t watch them back-to-back.

“Captain Phillips” (2013)

It appears that 2013 is or will become the year of Tom Hanks.

With the release of “Captain Phillips” and Hanks’ portrayal of the real man who stood up to Somalian pirates and never backed down even after being trapped on small contained lifeboat with them for days, as well as the impending release of “Saving Mr. Banks” and Hanks attempting to pull off a loving imitation of Walt Disney, I can honestly see yet another Best Actor nomination in his future. 

Whether it’ll be for “Captain Phillips” or “Saving Mr. Banks” remains to be seen, but I’d have no qualms if he was nominated for either one. Or both.

Hey, if Meryl Streep could do it, so could Tom Hanks.

Hanks has often been branded as the modern day equivalent of James Stewart, well known for roles such as “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.” While I see plenty of similarities between Hanks and Stewart, mostly their ability to pull off the “every man” so effectively, I see Hanks as a far different actor. 

“Captain Phillips” is more than enough of an example to show Hanks’ diversity as an actor. I cannot see James Stewart pulling off a role like this, with his calm and pleasant demeanor. Hanks, on the other hand, isn’t afraid to shut off the kindness of his roles in “Forrest Gump” and “Big” and stare at these pirates with strength yet sincerity. 

Phillips works his crew hard once he learns that pirates might be lurking and the crew doesn’t take kindly to this, even calling him a hard-ass. In fact, during one scene where he openly talks to the crew of his freight ship and members speak up against Phillips, he doesn’t want to hear any of it and goes on his merry way. 

Yet under all of that fierce exterior lies a man who only wishes to protect everyone under his command. This side of him shows when the pirates finally board the ship, when he complies with their demands to the best of his ability but never revealing anything about his crew. He keeps them safe and hidden from harm, all without raising a gun or forcing anything upon the Somalians. 

Tom Hanks is able to keep the loving and caring nature of his acting style, but is also able to embrace the strength and coldness needed to pull of his role in “Captain Phillips.” That is where the strength of this film thrives. 

Final Grade: B-

“Machete Kills” (2013)

There is a distinct advantage to a film that never takes itself seriously. For one, you can go in with zero expectations and often end up having a blast with how over-the-top and cheesy the movie can be. Much like junk food, these types of movies aren’t that great for you, but they’re a blast to enjoy while you feast upon it.

“Machete Kills” is one such film, taking every opportunity to make the audience roll with laughter at how ridiculous the one-liners, action sequences and caricature characters can get. This is an absurdly stupid movie, but Robert Rodriguez and company know this and just roll with the punches.

The movie follows an agent of the Mexican government, known only as Machete (Danny Trejo), an unstoppable wall of knives and muscle, as he is sent on a mission by the President of the United States (Charlie Sheen...we’re all doomed) to stop a Mexican revolutionist who has a nuclear mission pointed at Washington D.C. As he gets closer to his target, new information comes to light that shows there may be more people in on this plan, including weapon designer Voz (Mel Gibson).

To give some idea how many crazy pills went around the film set, here are just some of the side characters. Sofia Vegera plays the owner a brothel in Mexico, who is determined to kill Machete after he leaves her place of business without paying, while also going by the nickname “Man-eater.” Vegera takes every opportunity to thrust her lady parts at the audience and have as many sexual weapons as possible. 

Then you have Charlie Sheen (credited as Carlos Estevez) and Mel Gibson, who have both become parodies of themselves at this point. Charlie Sheen plays how most people have imagined him nowadays, with beds full of women, drugs constantly being thrown around and insane dialogue that’ll make you wonder how Sheen isn’t in a mental hospital. The only difference is that he’s now President Rathcock (yes, that’s his name). I wouldn’t be surprised if Sheen came up with that name on his own.

As for Gibson, he plays the stereotypical mustache-twirling villain, Voz. He has everything you could imagine at his disposal, including legions of cloned super soldiers, at least three nuclear missiles pointed at the U.S., guns that vaporize people at the atomic level and a space ship ready to be launched at any moment. The only difference between Voz and Lex Luther is that Voz has hair.

In the end, “Machete Kills” is one of the stupidest films I’ve seen in a long time and it is enjoyable for that very same reason. While I wouldn’t want to see many movies like this, silly stupid films have their time and place. Watch this one with friends and a beer and you’ll have a blast. 

Final Grade: C+

“Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2”

Puns. Puns galore. 

Here’s the thing about puns. While they’re often said to be the lowest form of comedy, that’s only the case for bad puns. Ones where you can’t help but roll your eyes at the absurdity of what you just listened to, such as any one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s lines in “Batman And Robin.”

Good puns, on the other hand, can make you laugh just as hard as any other good joke. It’s all about execution. For example, “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic” takes loads of opportunities to make puns about their pony-filled world, like having the names of their cities include Fillydelphia, Las Pegasus, Manehattan and Saddle Arabia. 

“Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2” takes every chance it can get to make puns, combining the names of a food and an animal together, for example Shrimpanzees, Watermelephants and Mosquitoasts. It’s this kind of humor that keeps the film fresh and distinct from its predecessor. Unfortunately, that’s about the only thing keeping it afloat. 

Taking place directly after the events of the first “Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs,” Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) is approached by his childhood hero, Chester V (Will Forte), the world’s greatest inventor, to join his company, Live Corp., and become the scientist that he had dreamed about. But when it turns out the machine responsible for the food storms is still active, it’s up to Flint and his friends to return to Swallow Falls and stop the food animals from leaving the island and taking over the world.

While the characters are still as enjoyable in this film as they were in the first one, there are some noticeable down grades. The town’s local cop is no longer voiced by Mr. T and is instead replaced by Terry Crews. Let’s face it, anyone is a downgrade from Mr. T. 

Tim Lockwood (James Caan), has a considerably reduced role from the first film, where he was a constant reminder of Flint’s failure and continued need to succeed. Here, he mostly serves as comic relief as he teaches some of the local food animals (or foodimals) how to fish.

That might be why the film doesn’t win me over as much as the first movie did, with far too much focus on comic relief. While in the first one, every character had their moment of comedy, it varied and didn’t tend to repeat itself. The comedy from characters felt natural without going too over the top. Here, there are at least five different main characters are used for comic relief, not including most of the foodimals. 

As a result, the characters don’t feel nearly as developed or fleshed out, as they seem to exist only to provide jokes rather than to play an active part in the story.

Still, I can’t find any reason to hate any of the returning characters, especially Flint and Sam Sparks, the comedy is still fresh and clever and the visuals for the food and animal combinations is wonderful at times, especially on the much larger ones. It’s just disappointing that after the forerunner did so well at balancing characters who were funny, interesting and active in the story, we have the follow-up and its desire to have these characters simply make puns.

Final Grade: C

Final Thoughts: 

Oddly enough, the winner of this set of movie visits was “Captain Phillips.” I honestly didn’t expect a whole lot going into that, due to the director, Paul Greengrass, known for directing the Bourne movies. After watching the trailer, I knew most of the shots would be in the traditional Greengrass fashion: Shaky-Cam. 

Here’s a lesson to all you aspiring filmmakers. If you want to make an action sequence, and by extension a movie, look clear and focused, avoid shaky-cam. While the effect does make the audience feel like they’re apart of the action, it comes at the cost of being able to tell what the hell is going on. Most instances of shaky-cam have the camera far too close to the action and move around so much that it’s sometimes impossible to recognize individuals. Far too many filmmakers use this style these days and it has quickly become one of my pet peeves. 

That might have painted an image of “Captain Phillips” in my head that didn’t make the movie that desirable to me. Once the film started, I pushed that image aside and enjoyed the film for what it was. In the end, that was the right thing to do and I’m glad I did.

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