There’s not much I can say about this David Fincher film without spoilers, but I wanted to at least briefly talk about what’s probably the best movie I’ll see this year.

Gone Girl is about a young couple, Nick and Amy. They’re both writers living in Missouri who used to live in New York City. It opens with Amy disappearing. Nick becomes a suspect after a few instances where his behavior appears odd, as well as prodding by the media. There’s a few strange circumstances, he appears to not know is wife’s friend, and there’s a few odd things about the crime scene.

The mystery itself get’s answered part way through, with the remainder of the film dealing with the fallout from the actual truth. We get an examination of celebrity culture, marriages, unreliable narrators, and the nature of the modern news media. Margo is Nick’s twin sister, and is his moral support throughout the movie. One moment I found highly disturbing is was when a cable news anchor woman suggested that these two have an incestuous relationship. Throughout the film talking heads on cable news make outlandish suggestions like this simply because they can.

Several characters in this film seem very disturbed. If there’s one criticism I have it’s that one character in particular immediately seemed messed up which sort of spoiled the mystery for me. Even the way this character spoke seemed otherworldly. Again I can’t say anymore without spoiling things.

Regardless, Gone Girl is pretty suspenseful throughout, and another great entry by Fincher.

TMNT the movie is the latest update of the franchise that started as a 1980s black and white indy comic, and later went on into a long running cartoon, accompanied by various video games, and even a few other movies at one point. This latest film opens with comic book like imagery showing the basics of the turtles origins. While it looked cool in the long run it was unnecessary as we get a story told through reporter April O Neil’s point of view. Ultimately this movie is April’s story of wanting to be a respectable reporter, which I enjoyed.

The Foot Clan, now a paramilitary like criminal army is terrorizing the city. April is a reporter covering ridiculous stories like fly by night fitness trainers etc while she desperately wants a real story. One night she catches the Clan being fought off by someone, and at first she presumes it’s a lone vigilante fighting back. When she discovers the actual truth, it of course makes it even harder for her boss, played by Whoopi Goldberg, to take her seriously. The phrase Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is mixed around a but, and we even get some fan service to the old rumor that they were going to be aliens in this movie. A character actually says that would be stupid.

The turtles themselves are true to how I remember them in the cartoon (The Turtle Van even shows up at the end). Leonardo is the leader, Donatello is the science/gadget whiz. His nerdiness is played up more and I liked that he was physically the smallest of the four. Michelangelo is the party dude I remember from the cartoon. He drops lots of nerd references like Star Wars, Batman, Marvel, etc, along with other jokes and humor. Raphael is the hot head who sometimes doesn’t get a long with the others. This could have been played up more because it culminates in a great emotional moment for him that should have had more impact. Turns out that April has a personal connection from her past to the turtles which tightens the narrative.

The villains plot involves something special about the Turtles which was different. The action scenes were done well. Though I have to say if you really think about it there’s no reason plot wise for Shredder’s armor to exist. One action scene in the subway honest to got brought back memories of Ron Perelman’s Vincent from the 1980s TV show Beauty and the Beast. The best action scene was definitely going down a snowy mountain in a semi truck.

TMNT is one of those movies where the concept is completely ridiculous, and it just takes that concept and runs with it. So all in all I enjoyed it.

Annabelle Film Review

Posted: October 19, 2014 in Movies

Annabelle is a spinoff from last years hit horror film The Conjuring. It opens with part of the opening scene of the Conjuring, where some young nursing students tell the story of how they got this doll that appears to be haunted by an evil spirit. The Warren’s, from the Conjuring, do not appear in the film, but are backhandedly referenced later.

Cut to a year earlier, around 1970, a young couple John and Mia are about to have their first child. Living in California, they hear about the Manson murders and upcoming trial on TV. It is that their next door neighbors have a young daughter that ran off with a Manson like cult. In the meantime, after a brief argument stemming from the pressures of new parenthood and his career path of becoming a Dr., John presents a new doll he bought for his wife. Mia puts the doll among her collection of other dolls.

That night, the daughter, named Annabelle, returns, murders her parents, and is subsequently murdered after an altercation with John and Mia. The violence is generally disturbing, and Annabelle dies with her blood dripping on Mia’s new doll.

After this, the couple moves out of their house and into an apartment complex. Apparently they haven’t moved too far as they still go to the same church. Their baby is born and is perfectly healthy, but strange incidents begin to occur, involving incidents around the home, and with their neighbors. A local bookshop owner is introduced through which we get exposition into demons and such. This character says she’s had a few experiences of this sort in the past, to which I coughed out loud “cough cough spinoff!” in the theater.

Annabelle starts off decent and has some good chills, but at other times seems unintentionally funny. The doll looks outright creepy from the very beginning and caused the audience to laugh out loud several times in the first act as Mia is overjoyed with her new gift and displays it prominently in her home. It is perhaps the only Exorcism type film to fully show a demon in physical form, and while that was effective it came after an elevator scene in which a horror trope was overused to the point of causing laughter. Following the style of the Conjuring, it has that 1970s horror feel, and evokes imagery reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen. One problem at the end was that the climax was resolved by a supporting character and not by the main characters.

Unlike the Conjuring, Annabelle makes no effort to convince you that this particular tale is true. It does end with revealing how the doll gets to the people in the Conjuring, and the doll is shown in the glass case in the Warren home. At that point we get text about how the doll is kept here and blessed twice a month etc, but this is the first and only try to convince the audience of any authenticity.

Through the very making of this spin-off with it’s backhanded reference to the Warren’s and it’s supporting character’s suggested past, it almost seems that they are attempting a horror based film universe in the style of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’d be curious to see a horror based R rated film universe, and if it’s done well than great. Unfortunately this film, while having some good parts, is not nearly as effective as it’s progenitor The Conjuring.

Expendables 3 fulfills a prediction I made 4 years ago, that Sylvester Stallone is now the first person to have the starring role in 3 franchises (A film franchise defined as having at least 3 entries). This third installment explores the origins of the expendables group and offers more drama and character bits than previous entries.

A mission gone bad reveals Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), co-founder of the Expendables, is still alive. Barney (Stallone) and Conrad had a falling out and Barney thought he killed him. Barney now decides that the life he and his fellow Expendables is living can only end in death. It gets very meta at this point. Stallone basically looks at the audience and says on camera that perhaps they’re getting too old for this business. He calls it quits for his team and decides to go after Conrad, recruiting a younger more tech savy team that includes UFC women’s champion Rhonda Rousey.

Harrison Ford replaces the Bruce Willis character, and while he shows up for action at the end (along with Jet Li) he looks really old in earlier scenes in his suit. Arnold also returns for action and also has a meta moment where he says he’s getting out of this business. He also repeats his often imitated line from Predator of “Get to the Choppa!!!” Wesley Snipes is introduced as an old friend of Barneys who has some banter with Jason Statham, and also provides his own meta moment, joking he was in jail for Tax Evasion. However is is Antonio Banderas who steals the show as a skilled warrior who gets on everyone’s nerves as he simply never stops talking.

Expendables seems to be one of the few franchises that started bad but got better with each entry. (In my opinion the only other example is Universals Mummy reboot.) I didn’t like the first one, the second was at least entertaining. It’s a shame that it took this long into the series to get this good, and it may be too late. At the time of this writing Expendables 3 seems to be a flop at the box office. Either way the story sets up possibilities for future installments, as the Expendables crew now has some younger blood. However it is doubtful that future installments will kill off any of the older actors. Expendables faces a problem similar to other franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is the hero characters always survive. There’s one particular character who I think definitely should have died in this, but survives of course, leaving the feeling that there are no real consequences.

Whether more Expendables films are made or not, one thing I always thought would have been fun was to have prequels in the form of video games. This series easily makes for some killer action video games set in the 80s and 90s. The voices of Stallone, Lundgren, etc would make a nice touch for said games. Comics/novels etc could also be fun. There was a comic book about the past of Mickey Rourke’s character when the first movie came out.
By the way, Mickey Rourke seems to have totally disappeared from this series. That’s a shame because he had one of the two good scenes from the first movie. Expendables 3 in particular opens up story possibilities for video games, comics, etc that would be set in the past. It’s a shame these thing probably won’t happen.

Expendables seems to be one of the few franchises that started bad but got better with each entry.

Guardians of the Galaxy, the tenth entry in the seemingly unstoppable juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is another example of the guts, risk taking, and diversity of this franchise. Another studio would have Guardians be it’s own separate series, which makes sense. There are no references to any of the Avengers characters, and only two characters that we’ve seen briefly before have minor parts of this film.

In a Marvel Studios first the Marvel Studios logo bit does not come right away. Things start off right away in 1988 with a young Peter Quill whose mother is dying. Upset, he runs out of the hospital and then is pretty much abducted by aliens. Cut to the Marvel logo, and 26 years later (implying again that the MCU moves in real time) Quill is an adult running around the galaxy as a thief and an outlaw. We also get some nice pop cultural nods including Ninja Turtles and Indiana Jones. (Which I guess Indy is fiction this world, which dissapoints me)

Taking a page from the Avengers, Quill meets other characters that he will eventually team up with, but at first don’t get along. They’re fighting right away, and taking it one step further from the Avengers formula, in one case they literally want to kill each other.

Even though there’s a lot going on the plot itself is fairly simple, but like all these movies it’s about the characters and their relationships which each other. Can’t say much else without spoilers. This is a movie you’ll want to watch at home so you can pause it and look for things in the background. Especially the scene with the Collector, I’m sure there’s tons of Easter eggs there I didn’t catch. One thing I will say is that there seem to be two legitimate character deaths which was pretty good. A few other tidbits, we get a curve ball at the end about Quill’s father, an interesting insight into revenge I’d never heard, and the post credit scene does not advance any plot points but is so off the wall and is completely awesome.

One thing I could complain about, which is a common complain for popular science fiction, is that we’re out in the universe seeing all these aliens, and most of the aliens look humanoid and they all speak English. Early on Quill hooks up with this female with red skin, but in the first shot she was in it honestly looked like just a girl with a sunburn. Many aliens in fact look perfectly human. At least it wasn’t all white people.

Another thing is, in this movie Earth is identified with the name Terra. After the opening prologue I presumed that Peter never returned to Earth simply because he didn’t know how to get there. However, given that he knows the name for his planet, he presumably would know how to get back there.

At the time of this writing Guardians is doing well at the box office. Assuming this trend continues, by the time it finishes its run, the MCU will be just under a billion dollars away from being the most successful film franchise. Harry Potter is currently the most successful at 7.723 billion dollars. This means that all that next years Avengers has to do is make a billion dollars to become the most successful franchise ever. Normally a billion dollars is a tall order for a movie, but the last Avengers made 1.5 billion. So the MCU could take the top spot less than 12 months from now, and a good three years from when I initially predicted. And as I said before, once it takes the number one spot, it may never leave.

The Transformers are back. The latest installment in Michael Bay’s take on Transformers continues to be an improvement over the 2007 film which started the series. This time around, the Transformers are being hunted by the government and many of them have been captured and torn apart so the government can learn to build their own Transformers to defend Earth. The remaining Autobots have been in hiding since the events of the last film in the series, Dark of the Moon, to avoid being captured. Mark Wahlberg plays an inventor who purchases an old truck that turns out to be a damaged Optimus Prime.

From there, the story starts to pick up pace and the fun begins. I will not give away anything to spoil the movie, but I will say that the end of the film could have easily had the words “To Be Continued” as the film ends in a way that lets the viewer know that the story is far from over as a major part of the story is not resolved by the end.

Among the improvements in this film, I can actually tell the robots apart easier than I could in past films. Mark Wahlberg’s character is a concerned father who has learned from his mistakes when he was younger and this is a refreshing change from Sam Witwicky’s potty talk. There is also a huge Chinese influence with this film as some scenes were filmed in mainland China and in Hong Kong.  One major letdown would be the the first ever known use of the F word in a Transformers film. I do not remember hearing that before in Transformers. I think Wheelie almost said it in the last film, but it appears in this film. I am not sold on using that word in a film based on a child’s toy, but how it was used was pretty funny because if you are a foreigner living in China, you will understand. 

X-men: Days of Future Past is the 7th entry in the X-men film franchise, and is also an adaptation of the classic 1981 comic book story. Predating Terminator, the original story had a dystopian future where robot mutant hunting Sentinels took over the world. Kitty Pryde travels back in time to the then present day to try to prevent this future. (At the time this future took place in 2013). The specific event she was to stop was the assassination of Senator Robert Kelly by Mystique.

The film adaptation is mostly similar, except it’s Wolverine that goes back in time. Kitty Pryde can apparently send the conscious of a person back in time (along with her powers to phase through solid objects) a few days or weeks into the past. The plan initially is to send Charles Xavier back to his past self in 1973, which is stated to be 50 years in the past. However, it is feared that such a journey could snap the mind, so Wolverine is chosen since his mind could snap back due to his healing power. Senator Kelly was in the first X-men movie, and was killed. So for this story he must prevent the assassination of Robert Trask, who built the Sentinels.  The Sentinels ability to adapt to mutant powers is linked to Mystique which was cool.

I’ve said in other blogs how I never liked the idea of these films set in the near future. This is the first time we get a suggested specific date. 50 years past 1973 would be 2023, which as I’ve said before, makes Magneto around 100 years old in these movies. From what we know of First Class Xavier wouldn’t be much younger.

Much has been made of Quicksilver being in this movie, and how he’ll also be in Avengers with his sister Scarlet Witch, which of course is in a different film universe in a different studio. In this film his sister is alluded to, and it’s hinted that Magneto is his father. Regarding Magneto he is tied into the JFK assassination, but not the way you’d expect.

Mystique’s powers always bothered me a bit. Changing her appearance is one thing, but she can mimic other people’s clothes? Plus she’s apparently walking around naked all the time, the cold never bothers her? Also she seems to be able to transform into a midget with no problems at all.

When it comes down to it this movie just didn’t grab me. It was kind of boring in a way. At first the dark future looked pretty good, but some of the set pieces just looked weird. SPOILERS here but I thought the end was a lot to believe. The mutants win, the Sentinels are never built, and people accept the mutants. It’s a lot to believe those things happened given the destruction in the third act during which the president was almost killed. As usual there’s good character bits between Xavier, Magneto, and Mystique, but by this point it’s not enough.

One thing it does is attempt to fix/make up for X-men the Last Stand. SPOILERS again but the events of that movie are pretty much erased, as the end sees Cyclops and Jean Grey alive and well. Again Cyclops gets the short end of the stick as the movie plays it off as “YAY Jean Grey’s alive! Oh yeah, Cyclops is too.” Wolverine Origins is foreshadowed, we’ll see how that plays out, since as of 1973 Logan doesn’t have his steel claws yet. I just thought of this now as I’m writing, that while X-men 3 is undone, the ending of that leads into the excellent The Wolverine from 2013. That sucks.

And that’s the thing about this Days of Future Past movie. It’s not a great movie, but while not a horrible movie it’s a bad sequel. I’m not one of those fans that think the movies must be exactly like the comics, far from it, but this franchise’s own consistency is way off. In the beginning of DOFP, Xavier is alive. How is that? Will Wolverine still get his metal claws? Will the government really never build Sentinels after all the mess the public saw? There’s numerous other things I didn’t even think of that are listed here and here. 

If Fox studios would have had the foresight 15 years ago they could have made an X-men film universe from the ground up in the style of the current Marvel Cinematic Universe. Personally I think the first trilogy should have led to Days of Future past, and from there they could have made numerous spinoffs, prequels, and sequels.

The previous two X-men films, The Wolverine, and First Class, were superb. Here’s to hoping whatever follows is decent.