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DVDs for June 24, 2014

winters tale

Winter’s Tale

I’d have waited until February to release this. Nobody wants to be reminded of winter in the summer, plus it’s the kind of epic love story that people always buy for each other for Valentine’s Day. Oh well. The movie itself is soppy but watchable. It’s part historical fiction set in early 1900s New York and part angels vs demons magical fairy tale/love story. Colin Farrell plays a thief with a magical horse who falls in love with a dying woman then wakes up in the present day to help some little girl with cancer. Read my review for more.

Buy Winter’s Tale on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

300 2

300: Rise of an Empire

If you thought a movie where everybody dies couldn’t possibly have a sequel, you haven’t seen Hamlet 2… or tried to get between a studio and a giant pile of money. Rise of an Empire is basically the same as 300, in that bare chests and slow motion droplets are the stars of the movie and the story consists of some Greeks planting themselves between an army of insane monsters and their homeland. If you like action, this is the movie for you. If you like character, content, or story, pick something else. Literally anything else.

Buy 300: Rise of an Empire on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

enemy

Enemy

In this drama/thiller, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a boring college professor who goes to a show and meets an actor who’s basically a more exciting version of himself (existentially and literally) and ends up stalking the guy/going crazy (as you do). Actors love to stretch their wings by playing two roles in the same movie, but if you want to watch a movie like that, pick Moon instead of this one. It’s less boring (read: not boring), stars Sam Rockwell, and it has an actual story, whereas this one is more of a metaphor.

Buy Enemy on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

blood ties

Blood Ties

At this point, they could release a movie about two brothers/friends on opposite sides of the law and have it be the greatest movie in the history of movies and I would still refuse to see it because these ‘oh noes, do we choose principle or family?’ stories are a dime a dozen. This one stars Clive Owen as the criminal brother and Billy Crudup as the cop brother and it’s the 70s. That’s the only thing that sets it apart from We Own the Night, Mission Park, Line of Duty, Ganga and Yamuna, etc. etc. etc. Randomly select one from the list, or just skip them all and watch something more upbeat.

Buy Blood Ties on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

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Trailer Reviews for June 13, 2014

22 JUMP STREET



21 Jump Street was a comedy I worried would be too dumb for me, but it turned out to be both hilarious and smart. Major points went to it for making fun of the fact that it was a remake. This trailer shows the same level of self awareness. It also made me smile, though the red band trailer is funnier.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2



I loved the first How to Train Your Dragon. It was pretty much a perfect movie. But I felt like when it was over, it was done. It didn’t need a sequel. Any attempt to lengthen the story with another movie would just seem tacked-on. And this trailer hasn’t convinced me otherwise. But Dreamworks has money to make, so I guess we’ll be seeing these for a while until eventually they end up straight-to-video like Land Before Time 27.

THE DOUBLE



Wasn’t there just a movie about two Jake Gyllenhaals? Is this a trend now, that actors don’t feel challenged unless they’re playing against themselves? I’m not a fan of even one Jesse Eisenberg and this movie looks boring and weird. Weird in a way that’s meant to be funny but fails to elicit more than an awkward ‘heh’ from me. I’m skipping it.

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DVDs for June 10, 2014

jack ryan

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

This is the first Jack Ryan movie not based on any of Tom Clancey’s novels, and it shows. It’s a lot less politically sophisticated than the previous Jack Ryan films and a lot more confused in terms of who the Jack Ryan character is and what he can do. Though the filmmakers have tried to update the series by bringing it into the present day, it still feels like a Cold War movie, mostly because the Russians are the bad guys and digital data is treated like hard copy. Rent it if you’re looking for a generic action movie or check out my full review.

Buy Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

nonstop

Non-Stop

Speaking of generic movies, Non-Stop, a generic thriller about a sky marshall trapped on a plane with a terrorist, also releases this week. It’s a good premise for a contained space thriller, but they ruined it by spending most of the movie texting and by having everyone think that the hero was the villain, which made the plot seem convoluted. If you’re looking at Liam Neeson’s picture on the box and thinking it will be like Taken, think again. There’s only one good fist fight in the whole movie. Read my review for more.

Buy Non-Stop on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

cosmos

Cosmos

Judging from the amount of pseudoscientific bullsh** and outright lies being shared by people on my Facebook news feed, a lot more people need to watch this documentary series. It does for physics, astronomy, and ecology what BBC’s Planet Earth did for geography and biology – it makes you want to hear about science. Whether you failed every science class in school or you’re a Popular Science subscriber, TV presenter/real actual scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson has something new to say to you. And it looks pretty. Check it out.

Buy Cosmos on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

devils knot

Devil’s Knot

And now for a non-generic thriller: Devil’s Knot is based on the true story of a trio of teens accused of murdering three little boys as part of a satanic ritual. The film delves into the horror of the murders as well as the controversial aspects of the case, raising the question of whether the teens really killed anyone or if the town is just out to get them for being weird. If you’ve seen the documentaries the film probably won’t offer anything new, but if you’re coming to it fresh you’ll find it really interesting. Check it out.

Buy Devil’s Knot on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

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Trailer Reviews for June 6, 2014

EDGE OF TOMORROW



This movie looks awesome and stupid at the same time. Dying every day and waking up to do a big battle over again until you get it right? Awesome. The suits they wear in said battle? Stupid. They’re clunky and they offer no protection at all (I guess if you just keep waking up again it doesn’t matter if you get shot?) Their only purpose seems to be as a framework for hoisting their massive, ridiculous guns.

THE FAULT IN OUR STARS



Again, I do and I don’t want to see this movie. I’m sure it’s cute and romantic and meaningful, but one or both of them is dying, so there’s no getting around the fact that it’s going to be really f***ing depressing. So I guess the question is: do I want to be sad all weekend?

CHEF



To me, Jon Favreau will always be the guy who made Iron Man hilarious and awesome. But who’s to say he couldn’t make independent dramedies about cooking awesome and hilarious as well?

TRACKS



I’m pretty sure Robyn Davidson is who they were making fun of in Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, when the lady dragging the little blinking light would run by. It’s an inspiring story and Mia Wasikowska is a great actress, but I feel like this movie will have to work really hard not to be boring. Struggling alone makes for a compelling autobiography, but put it on screen and it’s just a woman squinting at the horizon.

WOLFCOP



This movie was some sort of Cineplex contest winner. I’ve been seeing ads for this for months. Looks pretty funny. Maybe I’ll see it someday. Our theater’s not currently on the Wolfcop list.

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DVDs for June 3, 2014

lone-survivor dvd

Lone Survivor

Based on the autobiography of a Navy SEAL who was lost and wounded during a disastrous operation in Afghanistan, Lone Survivor isn’t so much Marcus Luttrell’s survival story as it is a memorial to his fallen brothers. It’s like Saving Private Ryan, only more heartwrenching because it’s true. This makes it a hard movie to watch, but if you can handle it, I think you should do it. You may feel a bit like you’re intruding on the grief of others, but they made the movie because want us to see it.

Buy Lone Survivor on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

robocop dvd

Robocop

This movie is a remake of the classic 1987 film. A critically injured police officer in a city plagued by crime is brought back to the force as a heavily armored robot to do the police department’s bidding, but there’s more of the officer left than they bargained for, and he has an agenda of his own. Debate rages as to whether the original was better, but if you like action movies, cool special effects, and exploring the scientific aspects of your sci-fi (like in Almost Human), you’ll probably like the new Robocop.

Buy Robocop on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

son-of-god dvd

Son of God

If you’re strongly religious and of the Christian persuasion, you MIGHT enjoy this movie. It’s a biopic of Jesus edited down from a miniseries that interprets the bible literally. This movie does not have its tongue in its cheek (like Life of Brian), has no grit (like Passion of the Christ), and takes no chances (like Color of the Cross). However, even if you’re really religious, you still may not like the movie because Jesus is cast as a smirking, laid-back surfer type whose smarmy face begs to be slapped.

Buy Son of God on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

goodbye-world dvd

Goodbye World

Have you been wondering what the guy from Entourage and Ryan from The O.C. have been up to lately? Well the answer is: starring in a movie about what happens after a computer virus destroys civilization. Its an ensemble drama rather than horror or action. Almost the entire plot is devoted to their interpersonal problems (marriage falling apart, friends arguing, neighbors who are suspicious of outsiders). This, for me, is the least interesting thing that could happen in a post-apocalyptic world. But if you like people arguing (so… The Walking Dead?) you might like it.

Buy Goodbye World on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

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DVDs for May 27, 2014

endless love

Endless Love

More like creepy, obsessive love. Gabriella Wilde plays a sheltered rich girl who falls in love with a teenage boy who’s ‘below her station,’ played by Alex Pettyfer (yes, the one from the man-stripper movie). Her parents try to keep them apart, so he goes psycho and burns her house down. At least, he does in the book. In the original film and in this remake, it’s a soppy ‘we were meant for each other, they just don’t understand’ teen love story. Like Twilight. So if you like that, you’ll like this.

Buy Endless Love on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

supercollider

Supercollider

This B-level disaster movie is based on the fear that a really really powerful supercollider could tear apart spacetime. A cliched dad-who-is-not-there-for-his-kids working at an Epcot-looking supercollider begins to suspect that the slew of disasters plaguing the world are the result of the collider accidentally shoving time onto a different track, but of course everyone thinks he’s crazy so he’s the only one that can save them. Good idea, bad execution. Read Jack McDevitt’s book Odyssey instead.

Buy Supercollider on DVD.

gambit

Gambit

Sadly, this movie has nothing to do with my favorite character from X-Men. I guess we’ll have to rely on Channing Tatum (I know. What??) to give us that movie in a few years. This one was written (but not directed) by the Cohen brothers and features a Devil Wears Prada-esque abused employee trying to con his boss into buying a fake painting. Colin Firth loses his pants. Alan Rickman is naked, and Cameron Diaz has a ridiculous accent. If you want to see famous people hamming it up and having fun, check it out.

Buy Gambit on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

birders guide

A Birder’s Guide to Everything

In this coming-of-age dramedy, a group of teens lead by Kodi Smit-McPhee trek into the wilderness to earn a place in the bird watching record books by confirming their sighting of an extinct duck. Sort of like Stand By Me, but with a duck instead of a body. And no danger. And one of them is a girl. And the bad teens are replaced by adult birders trying to steal their thunder. The pace is laconic and the kids’ acting is awkward, but some people find that charming/authentic. If you’re one of them (I’m not), check it out.

Buy A Birder’s Guide to Everything on DVD.

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DVDs for May 19, 2014

pompeii

Pompeii

Attention everybody: buy this movie. My brother worked on it. No, his name’s not in the credits. He was just filling in. Behind the camera. But buy it anyway. What? You want to know about the movie? It’s actually pretty good. Kit Harrington plays a pouty Celt not unlike Jon Snow who is taken to Pompeii as a gladiator, falls in love with the mayor’s daughter, and tries to get revenge on the guy who killed his family. Oh, and a mountain explodes. Spectacularly. In very expensive CGI. Check out my review for more.

Buy Pompeii on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

right kind of wrong

The Right Kind of Wrong

While you’ve got your credit card out, you should buy this movie too. Because a) it’s Canadian and b) it’s actually fun to watch and not depressing at all. Jason from True Blood plays a failed writer who decides to break up Aunt Jenna from The Vampire Diaries and her douchey husband on account of he saw her kick a football one time. It’s both romantic and comedic and the scenery is nice too. Check out my review for more.

Buy The Right Kind of Wrong on DVD.

vampire academy

Vampire Academy

If you watched Twilight and wished there was a teen vampire movie that was less dumb and stalkery, let me introduce you to Vampire Academy. Our hero is a sarcastic, ass-kicking, hard-partying teenage vampire bodyguard who unravels a conspiracy involving secret superpowers and princess-napping. It’s about as far away from Twilight as you can get without becoming Underworld, and the book is good too. Check it out.

Buy Vampire Academy on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

monuments men

The Monuments Men

If you watched Saving Private Ryan and wished there were more art critics puttering around in crumbly basements looking for old paintings, then Monuments Men is for you. While their work was important and deserves recognition, you’ll probably get more out of the book version. The movie tries to be glib and serious at the same time by melding wisecracking characters with the serious subject of trying to rescue cultures the Nazis tried to wipe out, but the film failed to resonate with people.

Buy Monuments Men on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

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Blood of Alexander Book Review

I’ll be stuck in the woods all weekend, so there will be no Godzilla review this Sunday. I did receive an equally implausible free book through Goodreads recently. As a consolation prize, I shall share my impressions with you. It’s an action/adventure novel called Blood of Alexander, recently released by Forge Books.

blood of alexander cover

A globetrotting antiques expert working for a secret organization must save the word from a weaponized artifact in the hands of an evil villain.

I requested Blood of Alexander because I’m a fan of archeology thrillers such as Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons and Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Relic. However, I’m sorry to report that I gave up on The Blood of Alexander about a third of the way through.

The Blood of Alexander ticks all the boxes on the action-thriller genre list. A terrorist plans to use a relic to destroy the world. The only one who can stop him is the main character, a man with more skills and knowledge than the Encyclopedia Britannica. Scarcely a dozen pages go by without a gunfight, and the the chapters all seem to end with cliffhangers. This is exactly what many genre fans are looking for, so that’s great.

However, the book never managed to engage me. The awkward writing prevented me from losing myself in the story. It sacrificed flow in the name of glib irreverence and it made me want to put the book down as soon as I started reading. The story seemed to be built on a very shaky foundation and the characters’ actions were dictated by the needs of the plot rather than what was logical or realistic.

The characters were constantly either fighting or escaping. I like action-oriented thrillers as much as archeological ones (I’m a huge fan of Jack Reacher and Alex Rider) but the battles in The Blood of Alexander seemed to be stalling the plot rather than advancing it. I stopped reading a third of the way through the book, and at that point the characters had only collected one clue. There was still no sign of anything related to Alexander the Great.

I also wasn’t a fan of the main character, Jonathan Blake. Jonathan’s tragic back story and his first person perspective were (I believe) meant to help readers empathize, but I couldn’t connect with him. It seemed like Jonathan was trying to be Indiana Jones and James Bond at the same time, but in my opinion, you can’t be both a scruffy rogue who’s constantly in over his head AND a suave operator who can garotte a henchman with a spool of dental floss.

I would tentatively recommend this book to action-thriller fans who like Hollywood-style high-concept plots and jack-of-all-trades heroes (think Clive Cussler or Ted Bell), but even then you should read the first few pages before you commit to the book.

Given that I wasn’t interested in finishing, I give Blood of Alexander a rating of:

category 0

This review brought to you by:
Indiana Bond and the Temple of Explosions

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DVDs for May 13, 2014

her

Her

The idea behind this movie is great. A lonely man (Joaquin Phoenix) buys the latest technology gimmick (an AI operating system that designs its own personality to suit you) and ends up falling in love with it. The movie explores their relationship as well as its societal implications and just how different a computer-based life form would be from us. Unfortunately, when this great idea was executed, it turned into an awkward, boring film. If you don’t mind that sort of thing, check it out.

Buy Her on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

i frankenstein

I, Frankenstein

Even though it’s terrible, I was actually planning to see this in theaters. Unfortunately (fortunately?) I was thwarted by a broken projector. If you read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and thought: who cares about morality, ethics, science, and the nature of life? Frankenstein’s monster would be way more interesting if he was involved in a giant war between magical ugly things, then this movie is for you. This movie does for classic literature what Legion did for Christian mythology (i.e. made it stupid). Skip it.

Buy I, Frankenstein on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

that awkward moment

That Awkward Moment

This movie is sort of a romantic comedy told from the guys’ perspective – three guys (a womanizer, a nerd, and a married guy) all become single at the same time and decide to make a pact to stay that way – except that all three end up romantically involved with women. It differs from traditional romantic comedies in that it’s got a lot more dick jokes and the characters all act like overgrown frat boys. Some people will find it okay, but most will be put off by the fact that the women could do a lot better than these three.

Buy That Awkward Moment on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

stalingrad

Stalingrad

This is a big-budget Russian film about a vicious urban hellhole of a battle between the Soviets and the Germans in World War II. It looks pretty good, especially for a non-Hollywood movie, and aims for a Band of Brothers feel, with the narrative following a handful of soldiers protecting a local girl. They even give some non-evil screentime to the Germans. Unfortunately, some of the heroism borders on silliness, it doesn’t always make sense, and it glosses over some of the ways Soviet leadership was not awesome to its soldiers. Give it a try though if you liked Enemy at the Gates.

Buy Stalingrad on DVD or on Blu-Ray.

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Sniper’s Honor Review

It’s Random Friday again and I’m still trying to clear my backlog of free Goodreads First Reads books, so today we’ll be talking about Sniper’s Honor, a military/historical thriller by Stephen Hunter. It’s releasing this month from Simon and Schuster.

snipers honor cover

A retired sniper and a newspaper reporter attract deadly notice when they start digging into the history of a female sniper who disappeared from the Ukraine in the closing days of World War II.

I requested Sniper’s Honor because I loved one of Hunter’s other thrillers. When it opened with a quote from The Terminator, I knew we would get along like a house on fire.

I love Sniper’s Honor for a lot of reasons. It’s part World War II novel, part modern-day thriller. The plotting is tight and the prose is clever. The two timelines trade the narrative back and forth as each set of characters discovers clues and encounters setbacks, ensuring that there’s no good place to stop reading. Everything clicks together perfectly, but even though I usually figure thrillers out in a few chapters, I had no idea how Sniper’s Honor was going to end until all the pieces fell into place.

The World War II timeline doesn’t just re-hash the same old American/British victories. It delves into the action on the often ignored Eastern Front, touching on the battles we’ve heard of (Stalingrad, Kursk, the siege of Leningrad) but focusing on the forgotten partisans who fought SS death squads and battle-hardened paratroopers in the remote Ukrainian mountains. The hero of the story is not only a sniper but a female Russian sniper, which I was thrilled about, even if her beauty is the only reason anyone’s interested in her.

I also love that Sniper’s Honor doesn’t fall into the propaganda-movie trap of ‘all Allies good, all Axis bad,’ as there are heroes and villains on both sides. There’s a fair amount of graphic violence, but it didn’t bother me. Violence is necessary to convey the horror and confusion of war and when some of the truly monstrous characters meet their ends, I would even call it satisfying.

In the ‘present day’ timeline, the heroes are a reporter who has grandchildren, a retired sniper with a bad hip, and (in an interlude) a desk jockey who spends all day crunching numbers. None of the three are typical action heroes, which is why it’s such a pleasure to see them stick it to the cocky young guns in the intelligence and organized crime communities who are trying to keep their dark secrets buried.

My only real complaint is that prose was a little technical for me at times. I’m not a firearms expert, and with so many weapons being identified by number-letter combinations, I needed to have Google images near at hand in order to visualize the action. During the wrap-up, I was also a bit confused about what happened to a few of the bit players, but the neat bow tied around the principals more than made up for it.

I would recommend Sniper’s Honor to any history or thriller buff who’s tired of the same old thing (extra points if you’re both). I award it the coveted rating of:

category 5

Before you go, here’s your Sniper’s Honor-related cartoon:
girl sniper meme

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