Category Archives: Movie Review

A review of a movie in the fantasy genre.

Movie Review: Dracula Untold (4 *’s) (2014)

Dracula Untold is the latest vampire story to hit the theatres. It purports to be the origin story of the most famous vampire of all time: Count Dracula (but not a real life account of Vlad Tepes, obviously). As such, it returns the traditional notion of a vampire: a potent force of darkness and slayer of men. The title role is played by Luke Evans, the guy who plays Bard in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. There are a number of other actors, of course, but I didn’t recognize any of them.

 

The story begins with a brief recap of the young Vlad Tepes’ early life. He was given, along with nine-hundred ninety-nine fellow children, as tribute to the Turkish caliphate. Here he was raised and trained as a ruthless warrior, a profession at which he excelled. Fast forward to the later years of Vlad’s life. The central conflict of the story is between the fully human Count Dracula, that is, Vlad Tepes and the ruler of the Turkish caliphate, Mehmed. Vlad and Mehmed were once the best of friends. Now, as caliph, Mehmed demands tribute. Vlad is happy to comply when such is just money. But, Mehmed is not satisfied with simple wealth. He wants a thousand young boys to train to replenish his army, one of them being Vlad’s own son, Ingeras. That goes too far and Vlad rebels. In desperation he seeks out the aid of an unholy vampire, but such aid may come at the cost of his soul.

 

Strengths: the plot held together well, the acting was fine, and the special effects were well-placed and perfectly respectable. The count’s desperation was well-exemplified and well portrayed. And although there was romance in the film, it was not of the cheesy Twilight variety. Vlad’s vampire nature did not make him more romantic; the romance was beset with tragedy. Vlad’s vampire nature was not regarded as a blessing or in any way positive. Weaknesses: I would almost call the fight between Vlad and Mehmed at the end a weakness. Vlad, as a vampire, should have ripped right through Mehmed. But the movie made clear that the silver present weakened Vlad, so the climactic fight could be, in fact, a struggle. I can’t think of any other true or pseudo weaknesses at all. I liked this film.

 

I’ll give Dracula Untolda grand total of four stars out of five.

Movie Review: Left Behind (4*’s) (2014)

Left Behind is the latest Hollywood release that focuses on a fundamentally Christian event, although one that supposedly occurs in our future and not one from the distant past. The event: The Rapture: where Jesus of Nazareth gathers the worthy up into the sky so they don’t have to face the final tribulations before the end of the world. It’s based on the novel of the same name which is the beginning of a series of novels about the end of the world and the experiences of those people left behind from the Rapture. If you can accept the premise, it’s actually a good movie. Non-Christians, obviously, will probably find the movie to be too “Biblely” in concept, but I enjoyed it. There are a number of main characters in the movie: Rayford Steele (Nicholas Cage), Chloe Steele (Cassi Thomson), Buck Williams (Chad Michael Murray), and several others of less importance.

 

The movie begins with Chloe Steele flying home into an airport to visit her family for her father’s birthday party. Unfortunately, her father Rayford, a pilot, has been called in to work so he will be flying out soon. They meet each other at the airport and have a brief, tense, conversation. Chloe is angry that Rayford is working while she’s visiting. At the airport, Chloe also meets Buck Williams a famous, investigative journalist for the news and there is a little bit of romantic tension. There is also a ‘bible-thumper’ who is on-screen only for a couple minutes to relay the usual spiel that all the wars and disasters are signs of the Second Coming. Chloe tells her off, and she does not reappear in the film. Of course, a short while later, while Chloe is at the mall with her brother, and Rayford is flying a plane, the Rapture occurs. There is an initial bout of pure chaos as the people of the world try to cope with millions of people simultaneously disappearing in the blink of an eye. The story follows Chloe and Rayford in their search for answers and the desperate attempt to land Rayford’s plane.

 

Strengths: like I said, you have to accept the premise. Once you do so, this is a pretty good film. It held my attention the whole way through. It was religiously motivated, but it didn’t seem too over the top—at least to me. The characters were just average people dealing with a very unusual situation. Weaknesses: I don’t think there were many weaknesses. The only thing I’ll say is that it probably won’t appeal to non-religious, or non-Christian people, at least in concept. Those with an open mind, however, might like it.

 

Over all, I’ll give Left Behind a solid four stars out of five.

Movie Review: Hercules (4 *’s) (2014)

Hercules is the latest reimagining of the amazing Greek hero of antiquity of the same name. Finally, it is played by an actor who actually looks the part (although that could be said of The Legend of Hercules, too). I mean, I loved Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys but he’s just not quite as buffed up as I would have preferred. After all, Hercules was known for his great strength. Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. The Rock of wrestling fame, is so ripped, it’s ridiculous. He looks the part. Dwayne Johnson is supported by a small cast of actors who make up Hercules’ traveling company. Unfortunately, I didn’t recognize anyone else except Ian McShane, who I’ve seen somewhere else, but I couldn’t quite place. Going by the credits, it could be Pirates of the Caribbean, or a few other things. Also, there was John Hurt who played Lord Cotys (spoiler alert), the true villain of the movie. I’ve seen John Hurt in a number of things and like him as an actor.

Anyway, the movie tells the story of a single adventure of Hercules’. There are references to his twelve labors, but this is not one of them. In actuality, the movie takes a “realistic” perspective of Hercules. He is a man of great strength, with a number of companions. One of them is the bard-in-training, Iolaus, who has the task of magnifying and spreading the Hercules legend. It’s kind of funny, tongue-in-cheek type stuff. Basically, Iolaus exaggerates the events that occurred, building up Hercules’ legend to demoralize enemies. It’s a different, and refreshing take on the legend. I think I prefer the Hercules as semi-divine hero story, to the Hercules as just a really strong man story, but I’ve always been biased toward fantasy. Anyway, the story revolves around Hercules’ encounter with Lord Cotys, a man who originally hires Hercules to train his army and bring to justice a rival warlord. Little does he know, that the warlord is really an honorable rebel, and Cotys is the diabolical tyrant.

Strengths: the acting was fine, the special effects were good, and the plot, although predictable to a certain extent, was still enjoyable and coherent. Weaknesses: if you are looking for magic and sorcery, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Like I said, the story plays up the realism angle. You are never convinced that Hercules really is the son of Zeus or not. The feats he performs, though, are sufficient to give you cause to believe such if you so choose. I kind of like that theory, so I’m sticking to it.

Overall, the movie was quite good and I’ll give it four out of five stars.

Movie Review: Oculus (4 *’s) (2013)

Oculus has an intriguing concept for a movie. Basically, there is a cursed/demonic mirror responsible for a string of deaths reaching back several hundred years. Two twenty-somethings, a brother and a sister, who witnessed the deaths of their own parents, are preparing to prove the mirrors culpability to the world, and, hopefully, destroy the mirror in the process. The movie stars Karen Gillan (playing Kaylie Russell), Brenton Thwaites (Tim Russell), Katie Sackhoff (Marie Russell—the mom), and Rory Cochrane (Alan Russell—the dad). The only one of those I’ve seen elsewhere is Katie Sackhoff who plays Starbuck in the remake of Battlestar Gallactica and a mercenary in Riddick (the third movie in featuring the dark hero played by Vin Diesel).

 

The movie begins with the psychological evaluation and subsequent release of Tim Russell. He is now an adult, having been confined to a criminal sanitarium for the murders of his father and mother. He meets his sister and they have a brief joyous reunion. Then, things start to turn dark. Tim’s nearly decade of psychological treatment has succeeded in warping his true memories of the seemingly impossible events of his parents’ deaths. He no longer believes in the mirror. Now, he has accepted the responsibility as the murderer of his parents. The sister, however, who has never undergone therapy, has not forgotten the true events and, after much research and hard work, she has found the location of the mirror. The first half of the movie consists of Tim and Kaylie arguing over the truth or falsity of their experiences. Tim says it didn’t happen; Kaylie says it did. Kaylie has set up an elaborate quasi-scientific experiment to prove to all the naysayers that his brother was innocent and that true culprit was the horrid power of the mirror. Woven into this dialogue are the reawakening memories of Tim regarding the horrid events of his past. It is seamlessly woven together and combined it makes for an intriguing trek. The tension builds throughout until reaching the deadly climax.

 

Strengths: the acting was fine; the plot was intriguing and very well done; and the shifts in timeline were well orchestrated. The special effects were well-placed and not overdone. Weaknesses: maybe I’ve seen too many of these, but I was never really scared watching the film. Startled a few times, perhaps, but not really frightened. Of course, I saw it on the TV and not in a theatre and that has an impact. Regardless, the movie held my attention throughout and it was very suspenseful if not frightful.

 

Overall, I’ll give the film Oculus a rating of four out of five stars … maybe even four and a half stars.

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy (4 *’s) (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxyis the latest film adapted from Marvel Comics. I thought this movie was going to be horrible going by the trailer which did not impress me at all. Originally, I had no intention of seeing it. But I heard a few good things about it, so I figured I would give it a gander. It tells the story of a motley group of galactic heroes who, through happenstance and conscious choice, find themselves working together to save the Galaxy. It stars Chris Pratt as Peter Quill (aka Starlord), Zoe Saldana as Gamora, Dave Bautista as Drax, Vin Diesel as the voice of Groot, and Bradley Cooper as the voice of Rocket (the genetically modified raccoon).

 

The main character is, of course, Peter Quill, aka Starlord, a half-human, half-alien (although he looks completely human) who was abducted from Earth shortly after his mother’s death when he was about 10 years old. The story begins as Peter Quill is recovering an orb for a galactic outlaw. What is in the orb, he doesn’t know. But soon, he’s caught up in a chaotic struggle as the orb is stolen, re-stolen, and re-stolen again. Everyone wants the orb, but he doesn’t know why. The struggle brings him into contact with Gamora, Drax, Groot, and Rocket. They are a motley collection of miscreants who eventually decide to work together—but only after they have beaten each other senseless in their own efforts to get the orb. They wind up in prison together and must learn to trust each other in order to escape.

 

Strengths: the acting was good, the plot coherent, the special effects well done and well placed, and the characters were memorable. My favorite character turned out to be Rocket the Raccoon. Going by the trailer, I thought he’d just be stupid; but I was pleasantly surprised. That said, I liked all the characters and enjoyed the action and intrigue in the film. Weaknesses: this was a PG-13 movie—I’m not sure it had to be, but it was. There was some mild profanity which was fine by the PG-13 rating, but which really didn’t fit the overall tone of the movie. It’s like they put the profanity in as an afterthought to earn that type of rating, maybe. I don’t know. But it just didn’t seem to fit the characters, because for the bulk of the movie, the dialogue was clean. Anyway, it was still a good movie.

 

I’ll give Guardians of the Galaxyfour stars out of five.

Movie Review: Edge of Tomorrow: (3 ½ stars) (2014)

The Edge of Tomorrow is the latest sci-fi action film starring Tom Cruise. He plays the role of Officer Cage, a military newsman who gets on the bad side of a certain general, General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), when he refuses a direct order and then tries to blackmail the general. He quickly finds himself arrested and deposited on the front lines of a war with the rank of private. There he encounters the other star of the film, Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt). Together they must join forces to defeat a ruthless army of aliens who are slowly, methodically conquering the earth. By the beginning of the film, the aliens have already conquered most of Europe.

 

Completely out of his depth, Officer Cage finds himself in the midst of a horrible military assault on a beach. There, after a brief encounter with an even stranger alien, he dies, only to wake up back in time at the beginning of his bad day. He finds his day repeating. The same events occur as before. He is not sure how to deal with this. He finds that he still has an active will and that he can change things to a limited extent; but the outcome of the battle seems to be inevitable: the annihilation of the human forces. However, he has joined forces with Rita Vrataski, a female soldier who went through a similar experience in a prior battle. Together, perhaps, they will be able to unlock the secrets of Cage’s repeating experiences and devise a means of defeating this nearly invincible enemy.

 

Strengths: if you can accept the basic premise of the movie (time travel), this is a remarkably fun movie: lots of action, explosions, and bizarre aliens. The acting was good; the special effects were excellent, and the storyline held together well. This film effectively avoided the “I’ve seen it before so it’s boring” pitfall that can sometimes infiltrate films where time travel leading to repetitive experiences is involved. Different segments of the same day were repeated, but they were spiced up a bit with different actions and events, and then entirely new experiences were shown based on completely unique choices that Cage made. Weaknesses: I can’t really specify a particular weakness, but the overall film, while good, was not excellent. It’s nothing I can nail down in words, I just don’t think it’s worth a full five stars.

 

I’ll give The Edge of Tomorrow three and a half, or maybe even four, stars out of five.

 

Movie Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) (4 ½ *’s)

X-Men: Days of Future Pastis the latest installment in the X-Men series of movies from Marvel Comics. It is directed by Bryan Singer and stars the usual people as the X-men mutants: Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Patrick Stewart as Professor Xavier (older), James McAvoy as Professor Xavier (younger), Ian McKellen as Magneto (older), Michael Fassbender as Magneto (younger), Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique/Raven (younger) and many more. The main character is, of course, Wolverine who has his consciousness sent back in time in the hopes of thwarting a massive war against the mutants with a new, deadly technology.

 

The movie begins in the future where the mutants are on the run from killer robots which have been designed by the brilliant scientist Dr. Bolivar Trask (played by Peter Dinklage) and unleashed to wipe out all the mutants, good, bad, and indifferent. The robots have been designed with the capability to transform to counter any mutant’s ability whatsoever. That trait comes from and is based on Mystique’s DNA, obtained by the humans in 1973 when Mystique tries to kill Dr. Trask but is captured in the process. It is Wolverine’s goal to go back in time and stop Mystique from her assassination attempt. In such an attempt, he will need the help of both Professor Xavier and Magneto at the height of their rivalry. So, while the other mutants prepare to hold off the final onslaught of deadly robots, Wolverine prepares for his journey, a journey which will take him into his past to a time and place where he does not have his legendary adamantium skeleton. He is simply bone and flesh: still formidable, but not quite as indestructable as he’s used to.

 

Strengths: the acting was good, the plot was engaging, the special effects were great, of course, and the action non-stop. I remain impressed by James McAvoy’s performance; he does a remarkable job as the young Professor Xavier—not that anyone else had a poor performance, I just think Mr. McAvoy stood out. Weaknesses: I can’t think of any specific weaknesses in the film except a trace of confusion concerning how and why Wolverine’s consciousness plopped into the time and place that it did at the end of the movie; it wasn’t made fully clear, at least to me. Besides that, everything flowed well, and if you can accept the basic premises of the movie (mutants and time travel) it made an exceptionally well-crafted tale.

 

Overall, I’ll give X-men: Days of Future Pastfour and a half stars out of five.

Movie Review: Maleficent (2014) (4 *’s)

Disney’s Maleficent is the latest reimagining of a Disney children’s tale as a rated PG film—more palatable for adults, but not quite as intense as a PG-13 or higher film. It is based on the Disney classic Sleeping Beauty, my favorite as a young child (I mean, it has a dragon! What more do you want?) Maleficent stars Angelina Jolie in the title role, Elle Fanning as the Princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), and Sharlto Copley as King Stefan.

 

The story begins with the younger years of Maleficent, a female human-sized fairy living in the fairy moor right next door to the human kingdom. One day she finds a young human boy who is trying to steal a small gem from fairyland. She makes him give it back and the two of them become friends. As time goes by, their relationship deepens. When Maleficent turns sixteen, Stefan gives her what he says is true love’s kiss. Unfortunately, things don’t last and he becomes an infrequent visitor lured away by the honors, riches, and desires that dominate the human world. Maleficent is hurt, of course, but she survives. She goes on with her life. But soon the king of the human kingdom turns his eye toward her moor and conflict ensues. This conflict forms the backdrop of the entire Sleeping Beauty story. But it’s Sleeping Beauty with a twist. Maleficent is set up as a sympathetic character for the movie.

 

Strengths: the acting was good, the plot good, and the special effects were quite remarkable. I couldn’t find any logical holes in a single viewing. The life lessons were decent; the message about love well-taken. Weaknesses: my biggest problem with the film is that since it is based on Sleeping Beauty it would likely draw a very young crowd in spite of the PG rating. It’s not as bad as a PG-13 rating, but even so, redefining Maleficent as a misunderstood heroine will likely be confusing to the very young who are familiar with the original tale. Further, I felt that Disney missed an opportunity to reconcile King Stefan with Maleficent—such would have made a powerful tale of forgiveness that would have been very instructive. As it was, the ending was okay, but perhaps a little dark for the very young.

Anyway, I’ll give Disney’s Maleficent four stars out of five with a warning that some of the plot may be too mature for the very young. Still, it was a good movie.

Movie Review: Odd Thomas (2013) (3 ½ *’s)

Odd Thomas is a movie based on the novel of the same name by Dean R. Koontz. I haven’t read much of Dean R. Koontz’s work, just The Watchers and maybe one other book which I don’t recall. I was always impressed by the caliber of his writing, so a friend and I figured we’d give this movie a look (he’d actually read the book and said that he liked it). The movie tells the story of a young man living in a small town by the name of Odd Thomas. Yes, his first name is Odd. This is the result of a typo at birth; his parents were originally going to call him Todd.

Anyway, Odd has a number of special abilities, all psychic in nature. He can see the dead; he can see these evil demonic spirits that flock to chaos and death, and he can find people he’s looking for—provided they are relevant to his current psychic case—simply by wandering around town. He’s also a heck of a good fist-fighter. The story begins with him encountering the ghost of a girl who was recently slain. She leads him to her murderer, who he promptly chases down and beats into submission for the police to take care of. That’s just the intro. From there, the plot thickens when he notices a man at his restaurant who is attracting an unusually high number of demonic spirits. This portends a massacre in the making. And that is something he has stop. The other characters in the film include his girlfriend Stormy, the police captain, a number of policemen, a single mother of two, and a few others.

 

Strengths: the movie had good plot, good characters, and decent special effects. I didn’t notice any logical loopholes on a first viewing, nor was the violence gratuitous. And the acting, I thought, was pretty good. Weaknesses: I think it tried to be too clever. There were a number of “twists” which involved additional bad guys, that got a bit tiresome; I walked away thinking they’d used that twist just one too many times. I mean really—was the whole town out to get them? Anyway, it was still a good movie and I’d recommend it to anybody looking for some paranormal mystery-type entertainment.

 

Ultimately, I’ll give Odd Thomas three and a half, or maybe even four stars out of five.

Movie Review: Godzilla (2014) (3 *’s)

Godzillais one of the latest remakes of popular films from the past—well, actually the plot is unique, so perhaps it’s not a remake per se, but just a new story based on that most famous of all monsters: Godzilla. I was a big Godzilla fan when I was a little kid; I even had a big green Godzilla doll/toy that terrorized many a smaller dinosaur figurine in my sandbox in years gone by. Great fun. Anyway, there have been numerous Godzilla movies through the years. Sometimes Godzilla plays a big bad mean monster threatening to destroy the world. Other times he plays a kind of heroic monster that saves humanity from other nasties. In this movie, he plays a good monster.

 

The plot is pretty basic. There are two malevolent prehistoric beasties that kind of remind me of the monster from Cloverfield. They are out and about ravaging the world, heading on a b-line for each other to mate and propagate. And, of course, the female is carrying several hundred eggs which will devastate the world if allowed to hatch. These creatures feed on radiation; in fact, that’s how they were reanimated. Godzilla is an apex predator from those ancient times when such monsters were common on the world. Now, he rises again to hunt the creatures down. But can even he handle two such monsters at the same time?

 

Strengths: it’s always fun watching gigantic monsters tear apart human cities with ease. The plot was simple and easy to follow with a share of twists to increase the tension throughout. The acting was fine and there were no glaring loop holes in the plot. And perhaps the greatest plus: Godzilla used his breath weapon three times! Weaknesses: I think I may have outgrown my youthful zeal for Godzilla and other monsters. I found this film kind of boring. I’m sure the very young, however, will enjoy it. And it is clean—no sex or profanity; I believe it is PG-13 simply because of the violence. The human drama I found tedious. I go to see Godzilla to see Godzilla stomp things—kind of like the same reason I see The Hulk—not to see how normal people deal with the crisis of a moving mountain of death.Maybe I’ve just seen that type of movie too many times. It doesn’t do anything for me anymore.

 

Anyway, if you’re an adult this movie is worth maybe two or two and a half stars out of five. If you’re a little kid, it is probably worth three and a half or so.