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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Undefeated (2012) - review

When it comes down to it, this sounds like just another sports movie. You know the formula, an underdog team that fights to get to the top.  The team is comprised of all the standard characters - Chaviz, the troubled superstar; O.C. Brown, the gentle giant with the skills, but not the grades play college ball; Montrail 'Money' Brown the smart one looking for his ticket to a brighter future and of course, the surly coach with a heart of gold, Coach Bill Courtney.  The difference is, their story is real, the people are real - this is a documentary (please, don't stop reading.)

Undefeated tells their stories, both on and off the field, as well as the story of the Manassas Tigers, a team known for having one of the worst high school football programs in the state of Tennessee.  To this point the team's infamous for being so bad that they have never won a single playoff game. After a several promising players joined the team several years back, Coach Bill thought he was going to see a tremendous turn around - in reality the results were dismal.  Now as those same promising players enter their senior year, he knows it is their last chance to prove themselves or have little to show for their efforts.

That is where the film picks up, senior year - a few weeks before the start of the season with a squad of guys looking to change the face of Manassas Tigers football.   We follow them week after week, through wins, loses, personal successes, altercations and everything else that makes up a football season.  It is an easy film to watch and enjoy, football fan or not.  For fans of the sport, the will they or won't they of each game should be enough to carry you through the film.  It will be the engaging stories of the individual players and their coach that will draw you in you even without the typical manipulative Hollywood polish.  By the time the film was over I was thinking how great it would be if everybody had a Coach Bill in their lives.

 8.0 out of 10

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Iron Man 3 - Review (2013)



Tony Stark's newest suit, Mark 42, is a work in progress.  It possesses all the luster and gadgetry of the original suit, even more so - this one can locate, fly in separate pieces to and assemble itself around Tony.  The problem is it needs some more tinkering.  Once it finally does assemble it does not function as smoothly as Tony would have had hoped.  The Mark 42, is a great metaphor for this film - it has some of the classic elements you loved from the original, it has some great new features - each section of it great alone, but together something just doesn't feel right.

The latest entry in the Tony Stark/Iron Man saga takes place after the often referenced The Battle in New York as seen in the blockbuster, The Avengers.  The whole incident has affected Tony (Robert Downey Jr.,) causing him to suffer through anxiety attacks that, as a result, have negative effects not only on his superhero duties, but also on his relationship with Pepper (Gwenyth Paltrow.)  The timing could not be worse as a new super villain known as The Mandarin (Ben Kinglsey) has started to terrorize the citizens of the United States with a series of untraceable bombings.  Each one is followed by a televised message threatening more violence.  When the bombings strike to close to home Stark opens the flood gates by challenging The Mandarin, putting himself, his wife and the country in danger.


At first glance this looks like quite the setup for some popcorn escapism.  As the film progressed the weakness, like those in the suit, become a bit more obvious.  Much of my criticism revolves around the lack of Iron Man in a film named after him.  There are plenty of variations on the Iron Man suit, but as Tony Stark says. "I am Iron Man."  The suit is an incredibly high-tech piece of equipment, but without Tony Stark inside it is really not that interesting - just a hallow piece of machinery.  You root for the man, not the equipment.  And, for quite a good amount of IM3, Stark is not even in the suit doing the fighting.  Being that there is no human in the suit to suffer the consequences of a battle gone awry, the action offers suffers from a hallow feeling.  It often feels remote - a bit of a cheat.  This may explain the lack of excitement during the later action scenes - empty suits combined with some rule bending just did not deliver the exhilaration I was hoping for.

Which leads me to my next complaint, the villains.  Without providing too much information, the villains lack a definitive set of rules, part of the reason the action (for lack of a better word) is kind of stupid.  Watching unmanned suits engage in combat is bad enough - to have them battling villains that at times are indestructible die so quickly and effortlessly other times strips them of any foundation.  For example, if one vampire (there are no vampires in IM3) is killed by a stake to the heart, they should all die that way.  Not here.  It cheapens the villains and prevents the combat from being as engaging as it can be.  The master plan of the villain is also a bit convoluted.  It may not match the lame agenda of Lex Luthor in "Superman Returns" (something about giant kryptonite crystals and real estate - ugh) but, when all is said and done you would have to think there are more interesting and intelligible ways to use your power.  There are some great elements of a villain at play here, spoiled only by some lazy execution.
 
At times the whole tone of the film comes across as almost too smug or at least too comfortable with its own success.  We are overloaded with a barrage of snarky, cocky Tony Stark comments that are associated with the character.  Sure they are often a hell of a lot of fun, but you can have too much of a good thing.   A little more focus on developing the villain's agenda would have been nice.

Finally, many of the relationships on screen felt forced - Rhodes/Iron Partiot (Don Cheadle, formerly played by Terrance Howard) and Happy Hogan (Jon Farvareau) make appearances that felt more like contractually obligated extended cameos than part of the actual story.  They could easily be removed from the film in their entirety with little or no sacrifice.

Then there is the relationship between Stark and a smart kid with parental issues - ugh.  Spoiler alert - the kid is wise beyond his years, good at building things and at one point is held in the air by a villain as a hostage.   Oh wait, that's not a spoiler, you have seen this character many times before.  Why can't they make kids in film to possess characteristics more fitting of modern times - one whose attention is completely on his smartphone, a victim of our declining educational system, uninterested in anything adults (even Iron Man) has to say, and mildly obese?  I know many kids and they can't hack a computer network, don't know how to pick a lock and can barely climb a fence... oh yeah, suspension of disbelief.

One thing the filmmakers do nail is the Stark/Pepper Potts relationship.  Since the first film, Paltrow and Downey have had surprisingly great chemistry.  When he apologizes to her or she shows her disappointment in him, I believe it - when they flirtatiously exchange barbs I believe even more.  The love the characters have for each other adds needed weight to situations that lost some of it due to previously mentioned mistakes.

Much of the film fails to deliver the pop you would expect - perhaps it has to do with the willingness of the studio to reveal every "cool" moment in the trailers.  I really cannot understand why they must show "all the cool parts" in the trailer.  This film would have made hundreds of millions even if they called it "Iron Man 3: Mall Cop."  Why the hell were some moments that would have been real buzz makers shown in a 2-minute trailer?  Jerks.  If you have not seen the trailer, avoid it. 

I cannot put my finger on why, but something about the film made it feel almost like a TV series to me.  Anyone else have that sensation?

As the film moved along I was hoping for some cohesion between its parts.  It never came.  There is no deeper message, there is no great character arch and not much is added to the character lore.  Was this film fun?  A reasonable yes.  Was it good?  Meh.  It passed the time nicely, but like a hallow piece of Easter candy, there is little to digest here. 

6 out of 10 stars

Not to judge but....



Thanks SL for the submission.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Final Destination 5 - review (2011)

When I chose this film to watch I had to admit I could not get the idea out of my head that something was going to go wrong.  The idea haunted me - no matter how I tried to set aside the fear it kept creeping into my consciousness.  What could be the reason behind this feeling?  Then I figured it out - since I did not see the fourth entry in the series I would be completely lost, playing catchup the whole way through.  That is not a good way to watch a film.  Wait, that couldn't be the source of my fear since every single one of these films was a carbon copy of the previous, if you have seen one you have seen them all.   Phew!  Maybe this terrible feeling was baseless and  I can lay my fears to rest and watch the film without worrying about being completely lost because of intricate plot lines.  All is well.  Oh no!  That is when it came to me.  I remembered exactly what it was that had planted this fear in me - the rest of the series was terrible.   Queue the dramatic music, camera pushes in tight, I scream, blood sprays on the wall - end scene.  Movie fate caught up with me for abusing this site over recent weeks.


It is true, this series completely lacks originality, but it must have something going for it to have made four sequels, right?  I wish the answer was yes.  The film's premise is (as it always is in the series) a group of teenagers survive a tragic accident which was supposed to have taken their lives.  Since they survive, since they cheated death, Death must come knocking and collect on the debt, killing them one by one in bizarrely creative ways.  You simply watch as one after the other meets their demise.  I wish there was more to it.  That's all.

The draw of the film, in its own sadistic way, is always the first sequence showing the tragedy that the cast has avoided.  This time around it is a suspension bridge that begins to self destruct around them - kind of freaky if you are not a fan of bridges.  Besides that, nothing memorable or even worthy of deconstruction.  The acting and plot are both quite shallow.  More time was put into creating just one of the bloody, outrageous deaths than was spent on then entire dialogue.

If you have a 3D set and you are still consider watching this film after reading this you may get a kick out of some of the effects - often cheesy, but a fitting use of the 3D effect for this type of schlock.  The opening credits are quite incredible.

3.5 out of 10