Posts Tagged ‘action-adventure movie’

Spielberg’s action-packed adaptation ‘Ready Player One’ verges on making a digital silk purse out of primarily 1980s pop culture

April 2, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 2, 2018

There are moments during Steven Spielberg’s entertaining new feature, Ready Player One, when I marveled that the man who is arguably cinema’s greatest living director had the audacity to make a movie that was entirely computer-generated.

That’s not actually the case, of course: Only about two-thirds of the film takes place in the Oasis, an expansive virtual-reality realm that allows the populace of an overcrowded, under-resourced Earth to escape from the dismal reality around them. But it’s the virtual-reality sequences of the movie, based on the 2011 best-seller by Ernest Cline, where Spielberg and his team unleash their creativity. During the set pieces — a no-holds-barred road race through a simulated New York City, a paramilitary raid in a digital nightclub with a zero-gravity dance area and a battle royale outside a fantasy castle on “Planet Doom” — Spielberg packs every square inch with dynamic digital creations and pop-culture references. A team of experts in science fiction, comic books, anime, television and other pop-culture subgenres might need to work around the clock for a year to identify and annotate all the references that have been stuffed into the movie, often for just a fraction of a second.

It’s to the credit of Spielberg and his screenwriters, Cline and Zak Penn (The Last Action Hero, The Avengers and other comic-book movies) that the characters and story don’t get lost amid all the visual turmoil. The protagonist is 20-something Ohio native Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan, who played Cyclops in X-Men: Apocalypse), whose Oasis “avatar” is an anime-style loner named Parzival. Watts is a devotee of the late James Halliday, an introverted computer scientist. The nerdy Halliday (Mark Rylance) made his fortune and fame by creating and launching the immersive, addictive Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation (Oasis for short) in the 2020s, right as the real world was beginning to fall apart.

Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

Double-Oh-Seven is by turns callow and caring in 2015’s fine but largely unsurprising spy thriller ‘Spectre’

February 9, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 9, 2018

Skyfall was released in November 2012, about five months after I launched this blog. It was Daniel Craig’s third appearance as James Bond, and director Sam Mendes’s first contribution to the long-running film franchise based on Ian Fleming’s espionage novels and stories. The plot wasn’t super-original — there’s a list of spies that could become public, à la the first Mission: Impossible movie; there’s someone from one of the main character’s pasts, out for vengeance, à la at least half of all action-adventure movies ever — but the action was well-executed and Craig, Dame Judi Dench, Javier Bardem and Ralph Fiennes lent the proceedings an air of excitement and gravity.

Skyfall also put into place some of the traditional elements of the Bond franchise that had been absent from the Craig movies, which are a sort of series reboot. (Bond had yet to earn his license to kill as Casino Royale opened.) We met Bond’s new quartermaster, Q (Ben Whishaw), a figure who I believe was missing from Craig’s previous pictures, and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), who had definitely been missing from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. Moreover, a successor for Dench’s embattled spymaster, M, was established in the form of Fiennes’s Gareth Mallory.

Read the rest of this entry »

‘Aeon Flux,’ a live-action movie based on an MTV cartoon, winds up seeming a little flat

January 26, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 26, 2018

Aeon Flux was an animated series that ran for four years on MTV in the early 1990s. I can’t recall ever having watched a full episode, although I’m sure I caught snippets. I do have a distinct — albeit incomplete — memory of being in a club in Chapel Hill in the mid–oughts and staring at a TV that was silently playing installments of the show.

I never figured out much about the program beyond the basics. The title character, I knew, was a lithe, lethal spy in an oppressive futuristic society. Her foil was the unctuous dictator Trevor Goodchild, who seemed to shift abruptly from being Flux’s assassination target to being her lover and/or person who reveals important truths about Flux herself and the society in which they live.

The 2005 movie Aeon Flux brought the property into movie theaters with a live-action adaptation. I’ve no idea how faithful it is to the original series; for what it’s worth, animation writer/director Peter Chung (the main character designer for the long-running Rugrats TV series that debuted in 1993) is credited here for “characters.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Tom Cruise and company stick to a tried-and-true formula in the quick-moving ‘Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation’

January 24, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 24, 2018

Author’s note: I interrupt my string of Scrabble tournament recaps for at least one movie review. Don’t worry, I’ll recap this year’s “late-bird” event shortly. As always, thanks for reading! MEM

2015’s Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, the fifth in the action-adventure series based on the old American TV series, has got all its moves down pat. The Tom Cruise vehicle efficiently delivers plenty of fights, thrills, gadgets and clever plot twists, along with a side of comic banter involving Simon Pegg and other supporting actors.

There’s nothing particularly eye-opening or surprising about Rogue Nation, but it’s fun, undemanding entertainment. The plot briskly transports superspy Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and cohorts from London to Vienna to Casablanca and back to London again. There are also brief stops in Havana and Paris and some repeat trips to Washington, D.C., for bureaucratic wrangling between vindictive CIA director Alan Hunlee (Alec Baldwin) and Impossible Mission Force chief William Brandt (Jeremy Renner, reprising his role from the 2011 outing Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol).

Read the rest of this entry »

Wooden leads weigh down the dynamic script and direction of ‘Terminator Genisys’

December 15, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 15, 2017

Terminator Genisys, the would-be 2015 blockbuster, does its best to invigorate an action-adventure franchise that James Cameron unwittingly launched back in 1984. Alas, the movie falls flat — an immense soufflé prepared by a chef who lacked just one or two vital ingredients.

The plot is complex but holds up as long as the viewer simply accepts it as the necessary mishegas that propels the movie from one set piece to another. The action opens in the year 2029, just as John Connor (Jason Clarke of Zero Dark Thirty, Everest and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) is on the brink of leading humanity to a decisive victory over the evil computer Skynet and its legion of murderous Terminator robots.

As the last battle is seemingly won, humans seize a large machine-built device that the near-prescient Connor somehow knows is capable of sending people (and flesh-covered machines) back in time. Connor uses it to dispatch his right-hand man, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney, Bruce Willis’s son in A Good Day to Die Hard and a key character in the Divergent movies), to the year 1984. Reese’s mission is to protect John’s mother from a Terminator that’s been dispatched to kill her and thus crush humanity’s rebellion even before it can reach the cradle.

Read the rest of this entry »

Diana of the Amazons gets the royal treatment in Patty Jenkins’s spectacular ‘Wonder Woman’

August 12, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 12, 2017

Previously, I wrote about the movie rivalry between DC and Marvel Comics. Left unmentioned in my screed was the iconic comic-book character of Wonder Woman, who — at least for my generation — is probably the foremost female superhero.

There was a very good reason for that omission; actually, there were two of them. One was that I’d planned to compose this review. (Well, to be honest, I’d intended for my DC-Marvel movie rivalry recap to be an introduction to this review, but it took on a life of its own in the writing.) The other was that Wonder Woman hadn’t had a proper live-action movie until this June, although her appearance in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was hailed as perhaps that 2016 film’s only bright spot.

Previously, the character’s main live-action incarnation had been in the television series Wonder Woman, which spanned three seasons from 1975 through 1979. I have very vague memories of the program; they mainly center around Wonder Woman fighting Russians and my having a huge crush on the show’s star, Lynda Carter. The current obscurity of the series speaks to what I presume was its dearth of progressive gender politics, convincing special effects and overall quality. The same could probably be said of 1974 and 2011 TV movies respectively starring Cathy Lee Crosby and Adrianne Palicki and of the (rogue?) 2014 micro-budgeted movie fronted by Veronica Pierce.

Thankfully, the spectacular cinematic staging of the warrior Diana’s origin story in the new Wonder Woman is everything that the previous versions evidently were not. Moreover, this thoroughly impressive production could mark a turning of the tide in DC and Marvel’s movie feud.

Read the rest of this entry »

DC vs. Marvel at the movies

August 5, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 5, 2017

Author’s note: A few hours after I published this post, I added a note to my ersatz table indicating that two of the listings included ticket sales from the same Marvel movie. MEM

East Coast vs. West Coast, New York vs. Boston, Apple vs. Microsoft, DC vs. Marvel: Each one of these rivalries is famous and hard-fought. But over the past decade or so, perhaps none of these have been so one-sided as that between the two titans of comic books.

Although DC’s Superman and Batman are inarguably the best-known superheroes of all time, Marvel’s superhero teams — the X-Men, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four and, in recent years, the Guardians of the Galaxy — are by far more popular. Moreover, Marvel comics are generally thought to have more artistic merit and to be more socially relevant than DC products.

To add insult to injury, Marvel has been kicking DC’s heinie on the film front for a decade or more. This is despite the fact that DC’s flagship characters were phenomenally successful at the box office and helped establish the comic-book movie as a genre on the strength of productions such as Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980), Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) and Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) and its 2008 and 2012 sequels.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Enterprise crew takes an entertaining but inessential voyage in ‘Star Trek Beyond’

April 13, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 13, 2017

Star Trek Beyond, the third entry in J.J. Abrams’s reboot of the venerable science fiction franchise, is a pleasant but ultimately inessential way to pass two hours.

As the picture begins, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and the intrepid crew of the starship Enterprise are roughly three years into their five-year mission. But Kirk has grown weary of deep-space exploration (there’s an amusing shot of him opening his closet to see several hangers displaying identical uniforms). Meanwhile, his first officer, Spock (Zachary Quinto), feels compelled to break off his relationship with the human communications officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana) because of his wish to help propagate the Vulcan species. This longing is only magnified when he learns of the death of Ambassador Spock (the late Leonard Nimoy, glimpsed in stills), his counterpart from and link to the original Star Trek TV series.

When Enterprise puts in for resupplying, rest and recreation at the remote (and oddly named) Starbase Yorktown after an unsuccessful attempt to broker peace between two warring alien races, there’s a distinct air of discontent about the ship. And yet Kirk remains up for a challenge; when the alien Kalara (Lydia Wilson) rockets toward Yorktown on an escape pod spinning a tale about how her crew has been marooned on an even more remote planet named Altamid, the captain gathers his crew for a voyage through an uncharted nebula.

Read the rest of this entry »

The strangely entertaining ‘The Accountant’ tests preconceived notions about autism and action-adventure movies

November 17, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 17, 2016

The Accountant is a cleverly constructed and strangely likable action-adventure movie built on an unusual premise: That an autistic child can be groomed to become a businessman with the acumen of Bruce Wayne, an assassin with the skill of James Bond, a criminal with the morality of Robin Hood and a ladies’ man with the swagger of… well, of a celibate monk.

Ben Affleck plays the eponymous accountant, who goes by the name Christian Wolff. He runs an unremarkable tax firm in an unremarkable strip mall in Illinois, but that’s really a cover — “Wolff” mainly earns his keep by serving as a forensic accountant for shadowy criminals, businessmen and governments the world over. The Accountant’s main action begins when he’s called in by Lamar Black (John Lithgow), the founder and head of an advanced prosthetics manufacturer called Living Robotics, in an attempt to sniff out some financial anomalies that have been discovered by one of the company’s junior bookkeepers, Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick).

Read the rest of this entry »

On the artistic and cinematic merits of ‘Aliens’

December 21, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 21, 2015

Back in July, I referred to James Cameron’s 1986 movie Aliens as seminal. I actually called it that twice, first in my review of Edge of Tomorrow (a.k.a. Live Die Repeat) and then in my writeup of Nick Cole’s 2014 novel, Soda Pop Soldier, which happens to pay homage to the Cameron film. (Rather improbably, the narrator of the book has not seen the movie.)

When I wrote those blog posts, I wanted to link to something that would back up my assertion about the importance of the movie. But I couldn’t find something that struck me as definitive, such as an entry on one of the American Film Institute’s lists of the top movies, and I didn’t want to get bogged down.

So I did what I often do when I’m looking into a topic: I opened a bunch of links and then I left the tabs open in my web browser for months.

Read the rest of this entry »

‘Jurassic World’ and the action-movie paradox: About movie portrayals of violence

June 21, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 21, 2015

The other day, in my review of Jurassic World, I wrote this:

What’s not honest is the way Jurassic World deals with the human toll of violence: It wants the audience to think they can eat their cake and have it, too. All the individuals who are killed are essentially unknown to the viewer or have been depicted as bad people. The filmmakers want us to be thrilled when a flock of flying dinosaurs are unleashed on a panicked pack of tourists, but the scene is remarkably bloodless for all that.

I meant that last sentence literally: As the fliers assault unarmed people and are shot out of the sky by a contingent of overwhelmed guards, there’s hardly a drop of crimson liquid on display.

Another incident in the sequence also bothered me tremendously because of what it didn’t show. It’s during the fliers’ attack that the only remotely sympathetic character in the movie to fall victim to a dino — or at least, the only remotely sympathetic person to be eaten whose name the audience is ever told — is chomped.

Read the rest of this entry »

Scaly injustice: Gene-spliced dinosaurs rampage through a crowded theme park in ‘Jurassic World’

June 19, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 19, 2015

Twenty-two years after Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park thrilled audiences with its computer-animated dinosaurs run amok, the franchise is back. Jurassic World is the fourth installment in the series, and for my money, it’s by far the best of the sequels — not that that’s saying much.

(Quick disclaimer: I arrived a few minutes late to the screening. Did I miss anything important? Um, I hope not. I mean, I’m pretty sure I didn’t.)

The story has a lot of moving parts, but it boils down to this: A large, powerful and mean dinosaur breaks loose in a crowded theme park; action ensues.

Yes, yes, yes — it defies all logic, but there it is. Despite the chaos and carnage inflicted by reanimated reptilians in the original 1993 blockbuster, the 1997 follow-up The Lost World: Jurassic Park (which loosed a Tyrannosaurus rex on San Diego, for heaven’s sake) and 2001’s Jurassic Park III, the late John Hammond’s vision of a theme park populated by extinct species has been built. And not only built: This incarnation of his vision has opened for business. It’s adding animals and attractions every few years.

Jurassic World, as this luxury vacation destination is called, is quite popular; it’s raking in buckets of visitor revenue from an easily distracted public. It turns out, however, that in the name of increasing profits, the park’s operators have been pushing the limits of both safety and sanity — not to mention, some human-interest subplots show us, the boundaries of sentimentality, too.

Read the rest of this entry »

Adventures in libertarian utopia: ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ puts its violent antihero through a vicious, violent and dynamic wringer

June 4, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 4, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road, the new science fiction action movie from George Miller, is a brutal, kinetic, testosterone-powered thrill ride that finds cause to recognize (and even celebrate) women as something more than sex objects.

This is the fourth film in Miller’s series about a warrior who roams a twisted post-apocalyptic Australian desert landscape. While watching it, I couldn’t help but be reminded of this apt dismissal of an entry in James Cameron’s franchise starring an Austrian as a post-apocalyptic warrior: “Terminator 2 probably ranks as the most violent tribute ever made to peace.”

The title character here is portrayed by the versatile English actor Tom Hardy, who played the petulant Shinzon in Star Trek: Nemesis, the puckish Eames in Inception and the murderous Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Hardy steps in for Mel Gibson, the Australian-American whose star was made in no small part by Mad Max (1979), Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), all of which Miller wrote and directed. I’ve only seen the first of the earlier movies in its entirety (and many years ago — the details are quite hazy), although I’m of an age where snippets of the 1985 film couldn’t help but impose themselves on my adolescence.

But familiarity with Mad Max’s previous outings isn’t a prerequisite for watching Mad Max: Fury Road. The important thing is that the viewer enjoy watching cars and trucks race towards and past one another while various (mostly heavily muscled) characters direct guns, harpoons, explosive-tipped spears, chainsaws, knives and fisticuffs at one another.

Read the rest of this entry »

Guess who’s coming to invade? Revisiting ‘Independence Day’

February 3, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 3, 2015

Aliens are coming! Aliens are coming! And they’re going to blow up the White House, the Empire State Building and some skyscraper in Los Angeles!

That’s the elevator pitch for Independence Day, the blockbuster action-adventure movie directed by Roland Emmerich and co-written by Emmerich and Dean Devlin. ID4, as it was dubbed in marketing materials, was the top-grossing film of 1996 and to this day has the 12th-biggest Independence Day weekend opening of all time.

I remember watching Independence Day when it first came out and thinking that it was good, corny entertainment. (Confession: I’m almost positive that I owned, and eagerly read, the novelization of this movie.)

It was not without reservations that I sat down to re-watch Independence Day one night last week. After all, I’d recently read a rather indifferent assessment of the movie at Moria, Richard Scheib’s invaluable website for fans of science fiction, horror and fantasy films.

Read the rest of this entry »

Nobody knows his face, but everybody knows his name (and story): Revisiting Christopher Nolan’s ‘Batman Begins’

December 6, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 6, 2014

Everyone knows the basic setup of the world of Batman, one of the great comic-book heroes. Heck, millions of people could recite it in their sleep. It goes like this:

Bruce Wayne, the only son of billionaires, was orphaned by a gunman at an early age and raised by Alfred Pennyworth, the Wayne family’s loyal butler. Determined to fight the endemic crime of his native Gotham, the so-called Dark Knight dons a cape and cowl and equips himself with a cornucopia of fantastic gadgets in order to help Jim Gordon, the city’s trustworthy police commissioner, apprehend bizarre and menacing villains.

In 1989, the quirky director Tim Burton launched a Batman film franchise, featuring an unlikely choice — mild-mannered comedic actor Michael Keaton, a.k.a. Mr. Mom — in the lead role. Burton’s quirky, sometimes over-the-top gothic realization of this noir-ish comic-book universe proved to be immensely popular. Batman garnered $40.5 million in its first weekend, dwarfing the previous best opening of a superhero movie (Superman II, which took in $14.1 million in 1982).

Burton’s quite excellent Batman went on to total earnings of more than $250 million and helped spawn a legion of superhero movies. They included Batman Returns, which saw Burton and Keaton reuniting for a decent 1992 feature, and two extremely cheesy, greatly inferior further sequels: Batman Forever (1995), directed by Joel Schumacher and starring Val Kilmer in the title role; and Batman & Robin (1997), again directed by Schumacher but this time starring George Clooney.

When, in 2005, Christopher Nolan came out with the insipidly named Batman Begins, a cinematic reboot of the Caped Crusader, I wondered why, exactly, the movie was necessary. What novelty could be mined from the genesis of Batman, whose origin story even the highest-browed of potential moviegoers knows by heart?

I never did see Batman Begins in the movie theater. But I did watch it, on a fiasco of a date, at a free outdoor screening in Raleigh’s Moore Square Park in the summer of 2005 or 2006 (if memory serves).

Read the rest of this entry »

The bomb at the far end of the galaxy: Why is ‘Supernova’ so bad, and why can’t I stop liking it?

October 9, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 9, 2014

Oh, Supernova. You could have been so, so good. Instead, you were so completely awful.

Supernova, the 2000 science fiction/horror movie, is a famously bad film. Its credited director is Thomas Lee, the pseudonym chosen to replace Alan Smithee after the cover of that moniker was blown by 1997’s An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn. According to the Internet Movie Database, the actual main director of Supernova was Walter Hill, the writer-director of 48 Hrs. and a producer of Aliens and several lesser science-fiction movies. IMDB also says that Supernova had uncredited directorial and/or editing contributions from cinema immortal Francis Ford Coppola (yes, the man who filmed The Godfather and Apocalypse Now!) and B-movie director Jack Sholder (The Hidden, which I actually remember as being quite good).

(Spoilers ahead.)

The movie’s setup is fairly straightforward. As ambulance vessel Nightingale patrols remote areas of deep space, its crew slowly adjusts to its newest member — pilot Nick Vanzant (James Spader), a former military man who recently finished rehabilitation for his addiction to a futuristic drug named hazen. The crew finds Vanzant to be cool and distant; he finds them to be gruff and unorthodox.

Captain A.J. Marley (Robert Forster) is working on his doctorate in anthropology, a pursuit that requires him to watch (and comment disparagingly about) violent 20th century cartoons. Benj Sotomejor (Wilson Cruz), who is either the ship’s navigator or its information technology guy — it’s never made clear — has reprogrammed and is becoming emotionally intimate with the Nightingale’s computer, Sweetie (voiced by Vanessa Marshall). Paramedics Danika Lund (Robin Tunney) and Yerzy Penalosa (Lou Diamond Phillips) are rutting like rabbits and considering whether to have a child together. (He’s gung-ho; she’s reluctant.) Dr. Kaela Evers (Angela Bassett), who had a hurtful relationship years ago with a hazen addict, seems to spend most of her time glowering and lecturing Vanzant.

Read the rest of this entry »

An atomic supervillain conquers Gotham in Christopher Nolan’s impressive, oppressive ‘The Dark Knight Rises’

September 23, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Sept. 23, 2014

Pity poor billionaire Bruce Wayne. At the start of The Dark Knight Rises, the 2012 blockbuster feature film based on DC Comics’s popular characters, the former bon vivant is a recluse with a limp and slightly shaggy facial hair. The troubled metropolis of Gotham has cleaned up its act in the eight years since the death of district attorney Harvey Dent at the end of The Dark Knight.

But Wayne (Christian Bale) keeps to himself, either unwilling or unable to move on after the Joker killed the love of his life, Rachel Dawes. And Wayne’s crime-fighting alter ego, Batman, whom most Gothamites unfairly blame for Dent’s death, hasn’t been seen since that the prosecutor’s demise.

The eponymous dark knight will be needed, however, because a new menace is approaching. The chief villain of British director Christopher Nolan’s third Batman movie is Bane (Tom Hardy), a mysterious masked man whose ruthlessness, strength and intelligence are only matched by his (and Nolan’s) ardor for labyrinthine plots. The Dark Knight Rises’s fast-paced beginning introduces Bane through an impressive midair hijacking in which he captures nuclear physicist Leonid Pavel and kills the CIA crew that had taken Pavel into custody. Bane also leaves behind one of his minions, noting that the authorities will expect a certain number of bodies in the wreckage. The henchmen obeys willingly, thereby enhancing the caper’s already ominous air.

There are a few other new characters (or new to Nolan’s Batverse, anyway). One is the impossibly limber Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a seductive thief whom we first see flirting with a local congressman. Moments later, she spars — verbally and otherwise — with the reclusive Wayne while attempting to steal his late mother’s string of pearls. Wayne is understandably captivated by the cat burglar, whom even casual fans will recognize as Catwoman despite the word not being uttered onscreen.

Read the rest of this entry »

Funny? Meh. Fun? Yeah!!! (In which I explain why you should probably have seen ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ already.)

September 4, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Sept. 4, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy, the most recent release from the Marvel Comics movie empire, is a fun, light-hearted science-fiction action-adventure film that you probably should have seen several weeks ago if you have any interest in that type of thing.

The movie’s protagonist is the wise-cracking, bubble-gum-chewing Peter Quill (Chris Pratt). In a brief prologue set in the 1980s, Peter is abducted from Earth by an alien group known as the Ravagers moments after the death of his mother. This isn’t quite as shocking to Quill as it might have been to the ordinary middle school student, since his mother had always told him that his father was an extraterrestrial.

Roughly two decades later, we find Quill visiting an abandoned alien city, where he combines advanced technology and 1970s aesthetics. On his way to recovering a mysterious orb, Quill dances to a portable tape cassette playing one of numerous vintage songs featured in the movie.

With the job nearly accomplished, Quill (or Star-Lord, as he sometimes calls himself) is accosted by some second-tier alien villains whose names I did not catch. (I thought of them as Chief Henchman and the Expendables; all are employed by a notorious religious fanatic named Ronan the Accuser.) The human uses skill, daring, clever gadgets and luck to make his escape, but his troubles are only beginning.

Read the rest of this entry »

Up in the air: J.J. Abrams juggles balls aplenty in a dynamic, overstuffed ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’

August 28, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 28, 2014

Star Trek Into Darkness, director J.J. Abrams’s second entry in the rebooted Star Trek series, is packed to the gills with characters, plot threads and action. Unfortunately, the 2013 film is guilty of trying to do a bit too much.

Into Darkness is fun, no doubt. It recapitulates one of the most popular narratives in the Star Trek oeuvre: The story of Khan Noonien Singh, a genetically engineered warlord who was frozen in a cryogenic tube and exiled from Earth after the bloody Eugenics Wars of the late 20th century. Gene Roddenberry’s pioneering 1966 television show featured Khan as the villain of the week in “Space Seed,” a first-season Star Trek episode; 16 years later, the character formed the dark heart of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which many still consider to be the best of the franchise’s dozen movies.

Abrams’s movie combines elements of both outings while adding plenty of new twists. Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch, charismatic but far paler than any man playing a character named Khan should be) and his frozen coterie of superhumans are discovered by a Starfleet commander other than the Enterprise’s James T. Kirk, and Khan’s 23rd-century machinations take quite a bit of unraveling as our heroes seek to learn just who he is and what he’s about. (As superfans already know, the movie is chockablock with dangerous newfangled torpedoes, and there are a pair of characters named Marcus, but there are no signs of the U.S.S. Reliant or the planet-shattering Genesis project.)

The film begins with an action sequence on the planet Nibiru, where Kirk (Chris Pine) breaks all the rules to preserve a primitive civilization and the life of his first officer, Spock (Zachary Quinto). The opening act sets up several character arcs by displaying Kirk’s immaturity and Spock’s refusal to engage with the emotional needs of his friend (Kirk) and lover (communications officer Uhura, played by Zoe Saldana).

A few minutes later, a Starfleet facility in London is destroyed and a gunship kills several officers at fleet headquarters in San Francisco. This prompts a furious Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) to dispatch Kirk to the Klingon home world, Qo’noS (pronounced Kronos), with orders to kill the fugitive responsible for both attacks. But it turns out that the fugitive is not who he seems, and neither are some of the other characters who are either crewing or focusing their attention on the Enterprise.

Read the rest of this entry »

272 add title-category-keywords-text

July 22, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 18, 2014

=

With a great character comes…alas, just a decent superhero movie: Revisiting 2002’s ‘Spider-Man’

July 14, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 14, 2014

In 2002, Columbia Pictures released a movie titled, simply, Spider-Man. It was a pretty fun outing starring Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst as, respectively, the eponymous hero ( Peter Parker) and his longtime next-door neighbor and not-so-secret crush, Mary Jane Watson.

What few people could have foreseen was that Spider-Man would unleash a cinematic infestation of, well, Spider-Man movies. The wall-crawler’s first big-budget cinematic outing was followed in 2004 by Spider-Man 2 and in 2007 by Spider-Man 3, all of which starred Maguire and Dunst and were directed by Sam Raimi.

The first two movies in the series, especially the 2004 release, received a decent critical reception. The third feature, which I’ve never seen, is widely considered to be a sprawling mess.

Still, it was a bit of a surprise when, in 2012 — not a decade after the debut of the first Spider-Man — Columbia released a reboot of the series. The Amazing Spider-Man starred Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, and it was fun, even though there hadn’t seem to be an urgent need for it. Earlier this year, we got The Amazing Spider-Man 2which was also enjoyable, if a bit overstuffed. Both films evidently did well at the box office, and I gather that another sequel is on its way.

Read the rest of this entry »

Apocalypse now (and again and again and again): Time loops, action and drama mount in the science fiction/action hybrid ‘Edge of Tomorrow’

June 26, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 26, 2014

Author’s note: This post originally indicated that the novel on which Edge of Tomorrow is based was first published in 2009. However, that was the year that the first English-language edition of the book appeared; in July 2015, I changed the post to show the year of the book’s actual debut, which was 2004. MEM 

Edge of Tomorrow is an action-packed science-fiction movie that could be remembered as a classic of its kind.

The elevator pitch for Edge of Tomorrow is basically Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers, only it’s far better than either of those predecessors. I rather dislike Groundhog Day, but its premise closely tracks Edge’s.

The man at the center of the action is one Maj. William Cage (American superstar Tom Cruise, looking much younger than his 51 years), a public-relations specialist. In the not-too-distant future, Cage is suddenly drafted into what is supposed to be a surprise counterattack against the murderous aliens who have colonized most of Europe. The operation is a complete disaster, but humanity gets a stroke of luck: The bumbling Cage comes face to face with a special variety of one of the aliens and is able to kill it.

In doing so, Cage co-opts the alien’s power to warp time — that is, to reset the day. Every time he dies, he finds himself shunted back to a moment before the operation starts, which gives him a chance to try different tactics in the battle against the alien species, called mimics. (If the movie ever explained why the invaders have that name, I missed it.)

Cage’s efforts to turn the tide of battle seem hopeless at first, but then he gains an ally: the beautiful, charismatic and deadly Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a ruthless soldier whose heroic efforts spearheaded the first successful counterattack against the mimics. She’s uniquely suited to help Cage, not just because of her proficiency at killing but because she previously possessed the time-bending power.

Read the rest of this entry »

War as entertainment: ‘Battle: Los Angeles’ nearly succeeds in making mass destruction seem fun and entertaining

June 2, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 2, 2014

If one wanted to put an interesting spin on Battle: Los Angeles, the 2011 war flick directed by Jonathan Liebesman, one could imagine it as a romantic comedy rather than the straight-up action-adventure movie that it is.

In this reading, the protagonist, Staff Sgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), is not the haunted veteran who has just officially signed papers to retire from the U.S. Marines; he is an emotionally distant but fundamentally decent man who just needs the love of a good woman to let go of the dark, hazy past that is weighing him down. 2nd Lt. William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) isn’t a newly minted officer so green that he and his very pregnant wife struggle to attach his insignia properly to his uniform; he’s the pretty young class president with a boyfriend in college who needs to grapple with adversity in order to learn about leadership, and who inspires her deputy (Nantz). Michelle (Bridget Moynahan) is no longer a frightened veterinarian rescued by Martinez and Nantz’s platoon, but the age-appropriate potential love interest who helps Nantz rediscover his emotional side.

And the uncommunicative, relentlessly violent alien invaders (portrayed by countless special effects and props), rather than being extraterrestrial invaders who blast everything in their path, are… Um, maybe they’re the arrogant rich-kid sorority girls from the snobbish private university who are competing with Martinez and Nantz’s group for a $30,000 prize that the motley public university group needs to save an orphanage, but which the obnoxious sorority girls intend to invest in a McDonald’s that requires the demolition of an animal shelter stocked with exceedingly cute, well-behaved puppies and kittens?

Well, perhaps it’s a mistake to depict Battle: Los Angeles as anything other than it is: a pretty effective straight-up action-adventure romp that revels in violence, male bonding and other hallmarks of war movies.

Read the rest of this entry »

‘Godzilla’ brings the monsters and action but leaves characters (plus a potentially important environmental subtext) behind

May 26, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 26, 2014

The opening credits of the new film Godzilla follow a conceit. We are viewing classified photographs and footage from the 1940s and 1950s, accompanied by snippets of text from formerly secret documents. As is typical when governments release such papers publicly, many of the words are censored — thick lines appear before our eyes, obscuring material that is still deemed secret. The words that remain are names and titles. (For example, we’ll see “music,” censor lines and then “Alexandre Desplat,” the name of the film’s composer.)

I found this to be an amusing approach to the material at hand, which incorporates real-life nuclear weapons tests into its fictional story. We’re told, for instance, that the bombs detonated in the Pacific were actually strikes against Godzilla, an enormous prehistoric predacious lizard that was somehow discovered in the 20th century. Would that the film had been able to be so consistently clever throughout. Alas…

The film opens in 1999 when scientists Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) walk into the remains of a long-dead Godzilla-type creature that has just been discovered at a remote mining operation. Inside the immense corpse, they find two pods. One is intact and evidently dormant; the other, apparently catalyzed by exposure to air, has just hatched, releasing…something. The scientists, who work for a secret project known as Monarch, gape in amazement at the trail of flattened trees left in the something’s wake.

Read the rest of this entry »

George Clooney’s arty party can’t quite come together in tale of ‘The Monuments Men’ of World War II

February 8, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 8, 2014

A sequence in The Monuments Men captures the key problem with the new feature directed, co-written by and starring George Clooney.

As sculptor Walter Garfield (John Goodman) and Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin) are questioning a clergyman about the fate of historic artwork stolen by the Nazis, a sniper begins shooting at them. Garfield and Clermont comically argue about which of them will provide suppressive fire and which will attempt to infiltrate the structure where the gunman is located. After that matter is settled, Clermont races toward a gutted building as Garfield covers him.

Once the Frenchman is inside, his fate comes down to whether he can outfox — and outshoot — the sniper. Clermont advances to the second floor, hugs a door frame and pivots, rifle-muzzle-first, into the space that he thinks contains the shooter. It’s empty.

Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: