Category Archives: Adventure Films

King Kong-1933

King Kong-1933

Director-Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack

Starring-Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong

Reviewed March 11, 2017

Grade: A

The original, black and white, 1933 version of King Kong (a few other remakes or reboots followed) is a masterful achievement in special effects never before done in film and is also a great horror/adventure film that is timeless in its look and feel, capturing 1930’s New York City, especially, in majestic fashion. Some of the dialogue and scenes now dated or slightly racist, it still holds up well as an overall lesson in film exploration and is a treasure to watch time and time again. The film is a take on the classic tale, Beauty and the Beast, sans the happy ending.

In the watery harbors of New York City, film maker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) prepares to embark, via ship, on a journey to film his latest picture. Known for films about exotic wildlife, he has a film to end all films in mind, and reluctantly, is talked into casting a female lead in the part. He scours the streets of New York City, finding broke and hungry Ann (Fay Wray)- a struggling actress unable to find work. She agrees to the role and off they go headed towards destination unknown. Weeks later, he reveals to the crew that they are headed for Skull Island, a secret island known for pre-historic creatures and a beast only known as “Kong”.

Amid the voyage to the island, Ann and First Mate Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) fall madly in love with each other giving the film a nice romantic slant along with the male driven adventure story. The adventure really begins when the crew arrive at Skull Island to find a weird, ancient ritual marriage occurring by the tribal people and all hell breaks loose when the dangerous “King Kong” escapes from captivity and falls in love with Ann. Mixed in with the story are enormous dinosaurs who destroy everything in their paths including many of the men from the island and the film crew.

As I watched the film in 2017, not too far out from 100 years past the films incarnation, I oftentimes sat in wonderment, amazed at how the film makers were able to achieve the luminous special effects throughout the second half of the film. Given the film is in black and white, the contrast of the dark, enormous ape (Kong) and the bright New York City, and the majestic Empire State Building, prominently featured in the final, climactic, act.

Scenes of a struggling Ann in the hand of King Kong seem flawless and believable and I marvel at how these scenes were shot and the enormous amount of effort to make them dramatic and not hokey looking. Since the film was made “pre code”, several shocking scenes exist- when Kong rips off Ann’s clothes as she struggles in his palm and Kong’s stepping on and squashing men are featured sparing no graphic details.

In addition to the great adventure story that is King Kong, also lies a tender love story and a bit of melancholy too. King Kong is not so much a dangerous creature, rather, has fallen in love with Ann and serves as her protector. He is a scared animal, chained and confined and subsequently shown to a stuffy Broadway crowd as entertainment- he becomes angry. I find Kong to be a sympathetic, misunderstood character, and because the human beings in the story are frightened, he becomes their enemy. He adores Ann and would not harm her in any way, but he is perceived as vicious, which he is not.

It can be argued who the real villain of the story is. Would it not be film maker Carl, intent on exploiting King Kong and gaining profit from it? Is it the tribe people who keep Kong locked up or is it for their own protection?

My favorite scene is the climax of the film. After taking Ann from a hotel room, he scales the Empire State building and is pursued by four military airplanes. When he sets Ann down on the rooftop ledge, he battles the planes, only to sadly topple down to the ground- dead. As he swipes at the planes and succumbs to gunshot wounds, it is a sad and powerful scene.

King Kong is a legendary film.  A film where audiences will empathize with the “villain” of the story and be impressed by the nuances on the technical side as well as enjoy the conventional and the unconventional love stories presented. One thing is for sure, King Kong is one of the most influential films ever made.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest-2006

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest-2006

Director-Gore Verbinski

Starring-Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom

Reviewed August 7, 2008

Grade: B-

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, the follow-up to the original Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, from 2003. The sequel is decent, but certainly inferior to Curse of the Black Pearl. The visual effects are spectacular, and the budget very high, but the story wasn’t really there. The film drags along at times as well as being a bit confusing.

Johnny Depp gives his all to his role of Jack Sparrow, performing with gusto and is clearly the highlight of the franchise. The supporting characters, Bloom as Will Turner, and Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Swann, are fine, but not on the level of Depp. Otherwise, the performances are all okay, but just a carbon copy of the first film.

Story-wise, Will and Elizabeth are arrested for aiding Jack Sparrow’s escape execution, and the plot involves the attempts at locating Sparrow along with the typical adventure aspects of a film like this and the stock character villains, with grimaces, heavy makeup, and over-acting, but I expected as much.

Not a bad sequel, certain to entertain the masses, and guaranteed to make a ton of money, inevitably ensuring another sequel will be made, with little doubt of being even less compelling.

Sherlock Holmes-2009

Sherlock Holmes-2009

Director-Guy Ritchie

Starring-Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law

Reviewed January 15, 2010

Grade: B-

From a technical perspective. Sherlock Holmes, a 2009 attempt at revitalizing the famous detective story into something of a modern franchise for the masses, achieves a measure of success in style and editing, but ultimately fails in character development or story. Traditionalist fans of the detective and his partner will undoubtedly be displeased with this film.

This film is very well made, with snappy editing, fast-paced wit, and attempts at humor, but it really does not work all so well when put together as a film. The re-birth of Sherlock Holmes was clearly made to entice modern audiences. Director Guy Ritchie even brings in superhero elements to Sherlock Holmes- suddenly he can kick ass as well as solve a complex mystery, which is so far removed from the original character.

Downey Jr. and Jude Law as Sherlock Holmes and partner Watson, have some humorous moments, but the chemistry is not really wholly there-it appears they are both trying too hard to create some magic where there is none.

All in all, though a well made, entertaining two hours spent, the story and characterization ultimately do not work. Downey Jr. gives a great performance and shows why he is one of today’s most versatile actors, but this cannot ultimately make the entire film a success.

Clash of the Titans-2010

Clash of the Titans-2010

Director-Louis Leterrier

Starring-Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson

Reviewed April 6, 2010

Grade: B

Though I went to the theater begrudgingly to see Clash of the Titans (fantasy blockbusters are not typically my cup of tea), I have to confess to being moderately impressed by this film. I had no real expectations other than it is a tale loosely based on the Greek myth of Perseus.

I have heard some people compare it to the original in an unfavorable way, but I have not seen the original- released in 1981 so any comparisons are a moot point. At one hour and fifty minutes the film is a perfect length and does not drag.

The plot is basic and focused. Perseus (Sam Worthington)  must save the life of the beautiful Princess Andromeda, as he leads a team of warriors into battle against vicious enemies. Some of the creatures they meet along the way are fascinating and interesting.

Clash of the Titans is not fine cinema, and the acting is not spectacular, but the effects are worth mentioning and the look of the film is impressive.

My only real criticisms are the way Medusa is portrayed (said to be ugly, she really is a beautiful woman with snakes on her head) and the 3-D, which really was pretty much unnecessary- this is probably an attempt by the studios to capitalize for profit.

Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens-2015

Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens-2015

Director-J.J. Abrams

Starring-Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher

Reviewed December 8, 2016

Grade: B

As a youngster who grew up exposed to the original three Star Wars films (admittedly, I cannot keep track nor care enough to learn the exact chronological order of the films in the franchise), the 2016 reincarnation is very nostalgic for me. Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi were magical films for a kid to enjoy and be bedazzled by. Sadly, The Phantom Menace in 1999 was a rather forgettable endeavor and did nothing to draw new fans to the franchise- nor keep existing fans engaged.

Taking center stage in this installment are beloved stalwart character’s Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in a nostalgic trip down memory lane. A slight gripe is the shamefully under-use of one of these characters. The visual effects are very impressive, the main villain is okay, and the action sequences adequate, but it is the ode to past history that keeps the long-time viewer engaged  the most. In a way, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is aptly title as it is a rebirth of sorts for the storied franchise.

Legendary actor Max von Sydow is shamefully under-utilized in a throwaway part in the films first sequence. Ironic is that he resembles deceased actor Alec Guinness, made famous all over again in the 1970’s when he appeared in the first Star Wars. A co-incidence?

It would seem that film makers are going for a modern reboot of episode IV (the 1977 Star Wars). The main character of Rey (Daisy Ridley) is clearly meant to be the new Luke Skywalker, who is known as a Jedi hero in the land, and has been missing for years. Rey has special powers and is accompanied by her sidekick droid, BB-8, a similar character as R2-D2. The villain is Kylo-Ren, son of Han Solo and Princess (now General) Leia, and reminiscent to Darth Vader. The film is a classic tale of good versus evil as the evil First Order battles the good Resistance.

I enjoyed the good storytelling most of all and prominent roles for Han Solo and Leia were good choices for the storied franchise. Newcomers Rey and her love interest, Finn, are appealing, as are fighter pilot, Poe, played by Oscar Isaac. Reportedly, this film is the start of another trio of films so we will undoubtedly see more of these characters in the films ahead.

I could not help but notice the Nazi similarities of the First Order and their soldiers- the Stormtroopers. Possessing a red quality and a Nazi- like salute to their supreme leader, they even look German in appearance. Kylo-Ren, raven haired, pale, and clad in a dark black cape, was clearly derived from Darth Vader, especially when he appeared in mask attire. He almost could have been his son.

Set thirty years since the original Star Wars, the plot is more or less similar, and I think this is a wise move in introducing the franchise to a new audience, while staying true to the rich history of the central characters and their offspring. Han Solo and Leia discuss their love affair, past adventures, and of course, their son, who has been hypnotized to the dark side. They struggle to concoct a way to rescue him and hope to persuade him that aligning with the Resistance is the only way to go.

Favorite scenes of mine include the ultimate showdown between Rey and Kylo-Ren. Set in a snowy, wintry forest, with their glistening and glowing light sabers, the scene is gorgeous from a visual perspective, as are the many scenes in one battle station or another. The re-appearance of comical C-3PO is darling.

As with the original Star Wars, humor is mixed in to lighten the mood. Han Solo and his dedicated side-kick Chewbacca, gently spar, and when Han Solo takes the group to a saloon filled with interesting creatures, the scene is light and fun. 

The real drawback for me is that the film is not all that compelling save for the nostalgia aspects. It is merely a classic battle of two wills, but otherwise, offers nothing very new and exciting. Sure there are a few new characters, but the plot is rather basic and what one would expect. 

I, personally, am not truly invested in the franchise, despite zillions of die-hard fans being fanatics of the films and their intricacies, so that is more of an opinion than a criticism of the films merits. Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens  will undoubtedly please fans and introduce new ones to a world of galaxies, and the indelible “force”. Still, a satisfying trip down memory lane.

Oz The Great and Powerful-2013

Oz The Great and Powerful-2013

Director-Sam Raimi

Starring-James Franco, Mila Kunis

70243359

Reviewed April 29, 2013

Grade: B

Being a huge fan of the original The Wizard of Oz epic classic from 1939, I was interested in seeing this extension of the original version. While it has its moments of charm and good old fashioned adventure, it is ultimately good, but nothing great.

James Franco is fantastic as the Wizard of Oz, the highest point of the film,  and has great charisma in the role. He brings a fun flair and is quite appealing. The witch characters are okay, but not terribly interesting or deeply explored. Further character depth might have been helpful as I did not notice much rooting value for either of them.

On a positive note, I loved the first sequence, which was in black and white, true to the original and the twister scene is impressively done. The set/art design in this sequence and once the setting was Oz were beautifully done.

Toward the end of the film, though, the story becomes more of a silly fantasy action series which drew away from the heart of the original. The first half excels, the second disappoints.

Life of Pi-2012

Life Of Pi-2012

Director-Ang Lee

Starring-Suraj Sharma

70213509

Reviewed June 29, 2013

Grade: B

Life of Pi is a visual masterpiece. It is a beautiful piece of filmmaking and lovely to look at. There are several majestic scenes, mostly in the ocean sequences that one will marvel at.

I did not see this movie in 3-D so I am unsure what difference, if any, it would have made. A good portion of the film is CGI laden, which I am typically not a fan of, but in this case it works wonders. What an adventure the main character has!

The actual story, and the acting, is nothing special and has been done before, and slightly stereotypical if truth be told, though I did enjoy the ending. It’s a wonderful adventure tale, one made very, very well.

The main reason to see this is for its Direction (Ang Lee) and the visual spectacle that it is.

Earthquake-1974

Earthquake-1974

Director-Mark Robson

Starring-Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner

60030175

Reviewed June 2, 2016

Grade: B+

One of the several disaster films to populate film screens in the early to mid 1970’s, Earthquake is one of the “main four” blockbusters (The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, and Airport being the others), that still resonate with viewers in modern times and are nostalgic to watch. In fact, one might argue that the aforementioned few largely influenced Earthquake since it was the last of the group to be filmed. Certainly, the influence is apparent.

Earthquake is a classic, traditional, disaster film containing many stock characters (or types) and is clearly an ensemble piece- as disaster films always are- frequently containing stars of yesteryear attempting exposure in the modern cinema.  The gender roles in Earthquake are quite mainstream for the day as the females are all clearly  “damsels in distress” types and the men portrayed as the heroes.

The action begins as we witness a Los Angeles based middle-aged couple (the central couple if you will) engaging in a dispute. Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner play Stewart and Remy Graff, an affluent couple, he a former football star, she a boozy socialite. Her father is the wealthy Sam Royce, played by Lorne Greene. Stewart is carrying on an affair with young actress, Denise Marshall, creating a soap-opera style romantic triangle, adding drama to the film. We meet other characters who round out the character’s stories- LAPD Sgt. Slade (George Kennedy) shares a flirtation with Rosa (Victoria Principal), while drunkard Walter Matthau and evil kineval character Richard Roundtree provide comic relief. These stories are merely filler until the inevitable earthquake arrives.

The earthquake is really the main character in the film just like the tidal wave, the fire, and the airline peril is in the other same genre films. The characters trivial relationships soon take a back seat to the action as the earthquake shatters the city in subsequent onsets and aftershocks, destroying buildings and resulting in many deaths. The very lengthy main earthquake sequence is second to none and hovers around the twenty minute mark. We see many characters in peril. The scene goes on and on, but is hardly redundant. The scene is masterful and well done. The effects, cinematography, and visuals alone hold up well today and must have been breathtaking circa 1974.

In one particularly thrilling scene, a group of office workers on the thirtieth floor of a skyscraper desperately try to scramble to the elevator as the building shakes and shimmies. One businessman shoves a secretary out of the way and selfishly immerses himself in the crowded elevator as others desperately pound on the elevator door to escape. Things do not end well for the folks on the elevator as bolts loosen and the car crashes to the ground. An animated blood splat fills the screen in a lighthearted, comical way. The film wisely does not take itself too seriously.

As fantastic as the destruction sequence is, Earthquake is not a film without a few flaws, mostly from a character standpoint. Unbelievable is Heston playing Greene’s son in law and Gardner being assumed to be young enough to be his daughter- they appear to be around the same age. A strange character, Jody, a store clerk, suddenly dresses as a soldier, wearing a wig, following the destruction and, assumed to be gay by thugs, is teased, which prompts him to shoot them with a machine gun. He subsequently becomes obsessed with and nearly rapes Rosa. The sub-plot seems uneven and very unnecessary.

With spectacular special effects, Earthquake is a must see disaster film with a slightly downcast, hopeless tone. It does its job well- it entertains, thrills, and features an all star cast of former Hollywood elite and a few rising stars. A fun time will be had.

The Martian-2015

The Martian-2015

Director-Ridley Scott

Starring-Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain

80058399

Reviewed February 19, 2016

Grade: C-

The latest film from heralded director Ridley Scott (notable for classics Blade Runner and Alien), The Martian is a science-fiction/space adventure involving a believed dead astronaut (Matt Damon) trapped on Mars after being thought dead by his fellow team. NASA and a crew of rescuers fervently attempt to save him as supplies run out. Extremely resourceful, Mark Watney cleverly avoids death by using his wits to survive and even prosper on the challenging planet.

Hot on the heels of several other modern science fiction, high profile offerings, such as Interstellar and Gravity, The Martian features a big Hollywood star in the lead role. Much of the action is Watney on his own, attempting to grow produce, ration food, and keep his sanity- think Tom Hanks in Castaway except on another planet, and with a “Hab”, an indoor operations station left by his abandoned crew.

The Martian has received lots of accolades- winning the Golden Globe for Best Musical or Comedy Film- though that is poor categorization in my opinion. The film has snippets of humor and a few songs in the background, but that is really it. Unless some late 1970’s disco songs constitute a musical.

I found The Martian to be a Hollywood mainstream film in every sense- to some that may be a high compliment, but to me, I expect a bit more from a film. It is not that The Martian is a bad film- it is not, but it is mediocre in my opinion and has all the elements of an average film. The film was going for an emotional experience that I did not experience- I had little doubt that the ending would be a sweet one, wrapped in a bow.

Mark Watney is the typical all-american character in a “guy film”. He hates disco and loves ketchup. The film makes him a guys guy, so therefore the average film-goer will relate to him. He is in good shape, cracks jokes, and is likable. But that is also a problem with the character specifically and The Martian as a whole. He lacks substance. We know little about him except he has parents who never appear on-screen. The way that the film touts him as the hero and is cheered and praised, while in real-life would be warranted, in the film it just feels forced and contrived. This is not a knock against Matt Damon, who does a decent job. My beef is that the character is not fleshed out.  The well-built Damon in the beginning of the film versus a scrawny Damon at the conclusion is completely a facade as clearly a body double was used in the latter scenes. This lack of authenticity disappointed me.

I expected more from the supporting cast given the talent involved- Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Kristen Wiig all play one-note types that any actor could have played. Why were big stars cast at all? Chastain as a mission commander, Daniels as Director of NASA, Ejiofor as NASA mission commander, and Wiig as a Public Relations specialist. The casting, in particular, of Wiig in the straight-laced, stale was mysterious to me, and it was not a  particularly good portrayal….and I am a Wiig fan.

The humorous parts in The Martian border on contrived and not dissimilar to countless other films with the smart-ass remarks all containing a bland quality. Lines like “eat your heart out Neil Armstrong” seem silly and unnecessary. I expected more wit.

Let me be fair- the visual effects (it is space after all) are impressive, and it was fairly interesting to see what is supposed to be the planet of Mars, but really in this day and age of CGI effects the film is not that spectacular. I would much rather be given a compelling story than visual treats any day of the week.

My review of The Martian may seem a tad harsh, but that is only because I expected a great deal more from it than I was given. With several Oscar nominations including for Best Picture, I anticipated a top-notch film, and The Martian did not come close. Mediocrity, straightforward, and predictable describe The Martian film. I have heard, however, that the novel is fantastic. I have added it to my reading list.

Jurassic World-2015

Jurassic World-2015

Director-Colin Trevorrow

Starring-Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard

80029196

Reviewed December 23, 2015

Grade: C

Jurassic World is a film that I expected to like much more than I did. Sure, it is a summer, blockbuster, popcorn flick, but based on the success of the earlier franchise efforts,  and, if memory serves, finding enjoyment in the 1993 original, Jurassic Park, I expected a fun ride. Unfortunately, I was treated to a formulaic, escapade with uninteresting characters and mediocre writing.

The premise is standard- a behemoth of an amusement park exists in Central America, on the island of Isla Nublar, where a dinosaur theme park has been running without incident for ten years. A genetically modified dinosaur, created because a magnificent new attraction is needed, breaks loose and runs rampant.  A silly love story exists between the two leads Owen and Claire (Chris Pratt and Dallas Bryce Howard), as well as the inclusion of two young boys (Zach and Gray) sent by their divorcing parents to be with their Aunt Claire, who works as the Operations Manager at the park. Owen is the dinosaur trainer. Predictably, there are “bad guys” who are greedy and/or desiring to advance science at the risk of human life.

The special effects are fine, albeit completely CGI laden, which is to be expected- the main stars are dinosaurs after all. I did, however, expect better writing or, at least, more of a creative attempt at coming up with something a bit edgy. The story was completely redundant. Where was the character development? There was none. We know very little about any of the principal characters except on a superficial level. One might argue that an adventure film does not necessitate this, but I disagree- I think it is important. We know that Claire is a workaholic and has none time for her nephews- why? What makes her tick?

Here is a slight complaint- Why kill off only extremely minor characters or villains? I could see this (and the ending) a mile away. The whole film just seemed forced and sloppy.

Jurassic World is also filled with clichés- Owen and Claire initially dislike each other having had one unsuccessful first day back in the day. The film tries to push the love/hate, opposites attract element and it seems contrived. How many times have we seen this in film history? Also, Chris Pratt is perfect as the hunky, muscular “hero saves the day” type, and Dallas Bryce Howard running through the forest in a tight tank top is not unintentional.

This is not to say that the film is bad. It is a decent adventure film and the special effects are kind of cool. I did enjoy the homage to the original 1993 version as the boys stumble upon the original visitor station complete with the 1992 jeep from the original Jurassic Park film. I thought this was a neat little nod to history and I love that in franchise film, but that is really it for the positives.

Yes, this film was a blockbuster smash and made oodles of money. It, however, felt forced and clichéd and quite formulaic. I was hoping for much more and deeper, stronger, material.

 

Guardians of the Galaxy-2014

Guardians of the Galaxy-2014

Director-James Gunn

Starring-Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana

70301645

Reviewed October 9, 2015

Grade: C-

The summer blockbuster hit of 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy, a Marvel comics film popular among fans and critics alike, disappointed this viewer. Too many superhero films are overly conventional, by the numbers fare, and this one certainly contained the aforementioned characteristics. Presumably targeted for teens (I would think), the film has cute jokes and decent special effects, but a bland, mediocre screenplay that lacks any edginess.

Handsome Chris Platt plays Peter Quill, a space pilot from Earth, who is abducted as a young boy by a pirate group named the Ravagers. Now a grown man, Peter attempts to steal a mysterious and powerful Orb known for special powers, for monetary gain. The Orb is desired by many, including the evil Ronan, and his daughter Gamora. Predictably, events turn into a battle of good vs. evil as Peter and Gamora (who turns good) team up with misfits Drax (a strongman), Groot (a tree), and Rocket (a raccoon) to thwart intentions by Ronan of destroying a peaceful planet, Nova Empire. The meat of the story involves the teams journey from imprisonment and escape to their efforts saving the world. As traditional with these types of films, there is inevitable romantic chemistry between Peter and Gamora, who at first are rivals, but slowly develop a fondness for each other when it is revealed that she is plotting against Ronan, and has valiant efforts.

Strengths of the film are the 1970’s soundtrack and the incorporation of a cassette player and Walkman, unheard of in today’s modern world, to the story. I loved how this was not simply background music, but referenced throughout the film in various situations. For example, when Peter comically explains to a clueless bad guy what his treasured cassette tape consists of and how he cannot bare to part with it, this impressed me. The creative sets and bright colors are another high point of Guardians of the Galaxy. The Xander planet, specifically, is portrayed as clean, bright, and progressive, which counterbalanced the dark, dreary nature of where Ronan and his entourage live.

However, the film is too conventional and not the least bit edgy or out of the ordinary in any way story wise. Let’s take the hero for example. He is clean-cut, all American, and is humorous. But, why exactly is he the hero? He inevitably saves the world, but makes him go from a pirate who is a thief, to a golden boy leading a team to save a relatively unknown planet. There is, of course, a scene involving a backstory of his mother dying of cancer and his regret over not taking her hand one final time. This is assumed to make him kind hearted and one of the good guys. This felt forced to me and what we have seem time after time in super-hero films. The message I received from the film was basic- powerful, strong, masculine guy with a sense of humor mixed in for good measure, saves the world from the bad guys, while including a bunch of tag-alongs. This is fine, but albeit predictable.

I was left with some questions. What were Ronan’s and Tharos’s motivations? They were simply evil with not much explanation as to why. What led them down this path? Did they each want theirs to be the only planet remaining in the galaxy?

A tender moment towards the end of the film when one of the team members dies is done in a rushed way that it was a missed opportunity for more emotion.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a mediocre superhero/action film, one that might have been better if further fleshed out. This film contains a blandness that left me forgetting about it soon after the credits rolled.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes-2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes-2014

Director-Matt Reeves

Starring-Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman

70300076

Reviewed March 29, 2015

Grade: C+

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a summer blockbuster hit that knocks it out of the park from a visual perspective- it is magnificent to look at with creative sets and realistic images, but the story is mediocre and predictable. I think the filmmaker’s true intent was to focus on the look of this film, which is a splendid feature. The film is a slightly better than average big screen adventure with more style than substance.

Set in San Francisco- or what was once San Francisco- the film is set in futuristic times and the apes have forged a new civilization after the deadly virus has eliminated 90% of the human population. The apes are highly intelligent and manage a happy, unified existence. Then, one day, a human is encountered and, scared, shoots one of the apes. This leads to a peaceful resolution between Caesar- leader of the apes- and the humans, to each stay in their respective territories. However, the humans need access to a dam in the Apes area in order to provide electricity for themselves. Mutual distrust leads to tension, but the civilized apes and humans reach a truce. Naturally, there is further conflict as sinister humans and apes vow revenge on each other. This leads to a waging war while the peaceful apes and humans strive to work things out. A further angle of the story is the hunger for power within the ranks of the Apes which is reminiscent of Lord of the Flies. The human protagonists of the film- Malcolm and Ellie- played by Jason Clarke and Keri Russell- are a wholesome, decent couple.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a far cry from the original 1968 masterpiece, Planet of the Apes, starring Charlton Heston. To compare the two is unfair since, sadly, this one has nothing to do with the original. It is simply the same franchise tag. However, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is weaker than its predecessor- 2010’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. In that one, we have a charismatic star- James Franco- and an interesting story- the apes are experimented on and their intelligence is a strong angle. With the sequel, the story if rather one note and has a machismo, us against them angle, that is not unique.

The main drawback to this film is the story limitations. All of the characters are portrayed as a) the good and sympathetic humans, b) the evil and destructive humans, c) the good and heroic apes, or finally, d) the evil, bad ape. Everyone is clearly defined for the audience and there is no ambiguity or complexities within the characters. This is a bit limiting. The evil ape Koba is purely bad and the drunken, gun-happy, humans are also purely bad.

This is not to say that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not enjoyable- it is. It is a fun, entertaining flick. For what it is, it is fine and there is a somewhat message in the film, that there is a way to find peace and love between different species and types of people. Hopefully the audience gets that message.

The film is a summer blockbuster action/sci-fi flick that many will enjoy, however it is clearly plot driven extravaganza that could have been superior had it contained more layers to the story and more shape to some of the characters. It is worth seeing as a visual cinema treat, but scarcely more than that.

The Poseidon Adventure-1972

The Poseidon Adventure-1972

Director-Ronald Neame

Starring-Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Shelley Winters

Top 100 Films-#12

867891

Reviewed January 17, 2015

Grade: A

The disaster genre, mainly encompassing the 1970’s in film, include some of my personal favorite films of all time and The Poseidon Adventure is easily at the top of the pile. Set on a lavish ocean liner, the SS Poseidon, on New Year’s Eve, the doomed ship falls victim to a powerful tsunami while sailing from New York to Athens on its final voyage, causing it to topple over and leaving a handful of survivors to meander through the bowels of the ship in an attempt to find a way out and be rescued. They are led by a stubborn preacher, played by Gene Hackman.

The appeal of The Poseidon Adventure is, of course, watching the cast of characters in peril and guessing which ones will meet their fates and how- think a slasher film without the horror component. Featuring an ensemble cast of Hollywood celebs of the day, the characters are introduced to the audience before the tidal wave erupts, so therefore we care for them immensely. There is the former hooker with the heart of gold married to a gruff cop (Stella Stevens and Ernest Borgnine as Mike and Linda Rogo). Then there is the sweet natured older couple on the cruise to see their grandchild (Shelley Winters and Jack Albertson as Manny and Belle Rosen). Pamela Sue Martin plays the teen girl, Susan, who falls madly in love with the preacher- Reverend Scott. Along with her younger brother, Robin, they are traveling to see their parents, who await their arrival. Roddy McDowall plays a waiter named Acres. Lastly, Red Buttons plays James Martin, a health conscious bachelor and Carol Lynley plays shy singer Nonnie. Reverend Scott is the moral focal point of the film and questions god several times throughout.

The sets are extraordinary- the colorful Christmas tree in the grand dining room is fantastic. In fact, the entire New Year’s Eve party scene is my favorite- it is festive, extravagant, and mixed in with a scene where the ominous tsunami is rapidly approaching. The festive celebration quickly turns into confusion as the sirens begin to sound, and finally to panic as furniture begins to fly. Visually this scene is the most intricate- the ship turns upside down after the crash, thus giving the illusion that the bottom of the ship is the top. Tricky. From this point on all of the sets to follow are actually intended to be upside down- a crafty and effective style, but none more than the dining room scene. A victim toppling and crashing into a giant clock is a memorable scene.

As the group of survivors haggardly make their way throughout the ship they encounter underwater explosions, dead bodies, rushing water, and disputes, mainly between Reverend Scott and Rogo, as to how to proceed to safety. One by one a handful of the group meets their fates in gruesome fashion- falling into a fire, a heart attack, and falling to one’s death.

Shelley Winters is the comic relief of the film with her humorous quips about her weight, and her death scene brings me to tears each time I experience it. A heavyset older woman who at one time was a dynamite high school swimmer, she attempts to help the group by holding her breath and swimming underneath the engine room, which is blocked- she does inevitably save the Reverend Scott’s life, but succumbs to a heart attack shortly thereafter. It is a powerful, heartbreaking scene.

The film is a great adventure. What makes The Poseidon Adventure so timeless and continue to bring so much pleasure? Certainly not high-brow nor high art, but it does not need to be. It is simply meant to be enjoyed for what it is- a thrilling, fun, entertainment ride.

The Towering Inferno-1974

The Towering Inferno-1974

Director-John Guillermin

Starring-Paul Newman, Steve McQueen

Top 100 Films-#43

1059232

Reviewed November 12, 2014

Grade: A

The Towering Inferno epitomizes the disaster film craze heaped on audiences throughout the 1970’s (Airport, Airport ‘75 and ‘77, The Poseidon Adventure, and Earthquake to name a few). I am (guilt-free) a huge fan of this 1970’s movie genre, though some certainly look down on it, I am not one of them, and feel The Towering Inferno is one of the greats. The film is enormous and has such a sense of adventure and danger.

The grand film tells of the trials and tribulations of an enormous cast of characters trapped inside an inferno flamed skyscraper – led by Paul Newman and Steve McQueen (fun fact- the two actors reportedly despised each other). An incredible skyscraper is erected in San Francisco, at 138 floors it is professed to be the tallest building in the world and incredibly state of the art. At the ribbon cutting ceremony, an elaborate party is held atop the building overlooking the gorgeous Pacific Ocean. Due to faulty electrical wiring, the building catches fire and the cast of characters face one challenge after another to escape the grips of death. The stellar cast features stars like William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Robert Wagner, Jennifer Jones, O.J. Simpson in addition to Newman and McQueen.

The film is quite soap opera style- numerous characters are introduced, many having affairs with each other or suffering some sort of conflict with each other- Wagner having a torrid office romance with his secretary played by then up and coming star Susan Flannery is deliciously sexy. Holden’s son-in-law is responsible for the faulty electrical system yet blames his father-in-law for cutting budgets. Another subplot involves Astaire’s character attempting to swindle Jones’s character, but then falling in love with her. The plots are so melodramatic that, given the time period of the film, it has a definite primetime television soap opera style to it- think Dallas or Dynasty in a state of peril.

I enjoyed the enormous cast and trying to guess who will be killed off next and in what elaborate way the film will create to burn them to death is a joy to watch- several victims fall or jump to their deaths, which eerily (and sadly) bring back morbid images of jumpers from the World Trade towers on 9/11. The beginning of the film shows a dedication to firemen everywhere and the film has a definite moral and hero quality to the firemen sent to rescue the people in the building. They are portrayed as heroes and intended not to be forgotten in the midst of all the drama encompassing the story. This is admirable.

The special effects are elaborate and quite impressive- the glass elevator rescue scene is amazing! The beautiful set designs are a treat to watch as each lobby, apartment, or lounge in the skyscraper is exquisitely designed in the height of 1970’s style. Every sofa or carpet featured is plush, colorful, and sophisticated. The skyscraper, made of glass, is an amazing element of the film and the aerial views of the building, especially while ablaze are impressive to say the least- remember- 1974 was long before CGI. I am assuming small replicas of the building were used, but what an achievement from a visual perspective. The effects certainly champion the syrupy story elements.

My only small gripe with The Towering Inferno is, assumed to be 138 stories high, the action taking place at the top of the tower- the rooftop as well as the party scenes on the top floor- do not feel that high- The scenic outlook overlooking the water and some land feel about 25 stories high not 138. Some find The Towering Inferno to be nothing more than schmaltzy drama- I say schmaltz was never done better. Enjoy this feast of a big film.

Jack the Giant Slayer-2013

Jack the Giant Slayer-2013

Director-Bryan Singer

Starring-Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson

70213512

Reviewed August 7, 2013

Grade: C

Jack the Giant Slayer is a fantasy, CGI laden film most likely targeted for a young audience. It tells the story of Jack, a farmhand who must rescue a beautiful princess from the world of giants after an accident causes a gateway to open to their world.

The film is loosely based on the fairy tale “Jack and the Beanstalk”. The special effects in the land of the Giants are the most impressive aspect of the film. Otherwise, it is a love story mixed with adventure and the story is simply not very engaging and very predictable. Heavyweights Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci appear in over-the-top performances and the acting of the princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) is shockingly wooden.

The finale is mildly entertaining as a chase through the castle occurs, but the film is so weighted down by the effects and the lack of good story that overall it was a very middle of the road film.

The African Queen-1951

The African Queen-1951

Director-John Huston

Starring-Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn

60011001

Reviewed September 26, 2013

Grade: B-

The African Queen is a difficult film to review. Revered and appearing on many greatest films of all time lists, overall this film is disappointing to me. Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn star as a couple  who despise each other, stranded  together on a tugboat in Africa on the eve of World war I.

Sure, the chemistry between Bogart and Hepburn (Hollywood royalty in their day) is there and the opposites attracting has a definite rooting value as the passion between them oozes off the screen. He is a grizzled alcoholic, American. She is a repressed, puritanical British woman. The locales of Africa as the couple traverse on a makeshift boat are gorgeous to view. That is it for me though- nothing else about the film is spectacular.

The plot is rather silly and unrealistic and the two are obviously thrown together purely for plot purposes. The adventure seems quite secondary to the love story at hand. How far-fetched that an “old maid” and a sailor could build torpedoes and blow up an enormous German warship.

The film is a decent, old fashioned romantic adventure film, but little more and that disappoints, because I was expecting much, much more due to the films accolades. Bogart won the 1951 Best Actor Oscar for this performance.

Captain Phillips-2013

Captain Phillips-2013

Director-Paul Greengrass

Starring-Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi

70243460

Reviewed February 27, 2014

Grade: B

Captain Phillips is an intense, gripping, action/adventure/thriller type film nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. As much as I enjoyed the film, I do not think a nomination for the top honor is warranted. I feel like I have seen this type of film many times before and the underlining tone of “USA- good, other countries- bad”, whether intentional or unintentional, distracted me. Another distraction I noticed was that all the protagonists are white whereas all of the antagonists are African. This is based on a true story, yes, but it seems to be glorified. I felt like the target audience had to be older, white, conservative men, who would surely revel in this type of film.

To be fair, Tom Hanks is great and his performance during the last 15 minutes of the movie should have cemented him an Oscar nod. The main villain, played by complete unknown, Barkhad Abdi, was excellent, especially considering the actor had no acting experience. What a big break! Overall, interesting, exciting experience, but falls short of the Oscar glory.

Noah-2014

Noah-2014

Director-Darren Aronofsky

Starring-Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly

70295061

Reviewed June 16, 2014

Grade: B+

Upon hearing that Darren Aronofsky, a very dark director (Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream, and The Wrestler), would be tackling a religious film piqued my curiosity. Those expecting an uplifting, happy film about “god” will be disappointed. Apparently this film is generating a great deal of controversy from the religious folks, which I find interesting, but nobody wants me to go off on a religious tangent.

The film tells the tale of the biblical figure, Noah, and his quest to do God’s will through signs he is given. It takes incredible talent to make a film like this not seem silly and Aronofsky, Russell Crowe, and Jennifer Connelly succeed.

The film is quite dark and at times Noah comes off like more of a madman than a savior. The visual effects and the musical score are wonderfully effective. A few plots holes, but a nice fantasy/apocalypse type film.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire-2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire-2013

Director-Francis Lawrence

Starring-Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson

70278934

Reviewed June 16, 2014 

Grade: B-

I confess to not having read any of the Hunger Games books so I am critiquing the film on its film merits only with no knowledge of the books. Interestingly, I graded the first Hunger Games film a B- and that is what I am giving this one, almost for the same reason.

The first hour of the film sets up the second hour, but it is unnecessarily drawn out. In fact, at times it’s slightly dull. The meat of the film then takes off and the film is quite good though the film still does not completely hold my attention throughout.

First and foremost, Jennifer Lawrence is the best part of the film- she has the charisma and likability to carry it off. The chemistry between the 2 leads (Lawrence and Hutcherson) is there so there is certainly rooting value for the couple. The third part of the triangle is weak (Liam Hemsworth has far too little screen time to make him a viable rooting factor). Donald Sutherland is wonderful as the evil President, but Philip Seymour Hoffman seems to phone in his performance and the character is not all that intriguing.

The mood of the film and visuals (fog, train sequences) are great- there is modern darkness to the film and the premise and wondering who will die next during the games is interesting. The somewhat twist at the end was effective.

To summarize: nice characters/acting, great looking film, mediocre story and slow pacing in the first act.