Tag Archive: Independence Day


Having seen many of my most-anticipated movies of summer that have been released so far, I’m now catching “other” flicks that are out there. It’s a great way to beat the heat, which is hanging around those triple digits here in Arizona.

I recently re-watched Despicable Me (2010), which is SO adorable and beautifully made, with plenty of adult jokes thrown in. One my favorites is the sign, “Bank of Evil (Formerly Lehman Brothers).” My mom watched with me and instantly fell in love with the minions.  So, we had to go see Despicable Me 2. The theater was filled with kids (well-behaved ones!) on a day-camp field trip, and it was precious to hear them laugh and mimic the minions.

Then a friend wanted to see White House Down, which I hadn’t planned to watch at all. You know, it’s kind of like reading whatever the book club chooses as the book of the month—you get to explore tomes you might not have picked up otherwise.

So here are some thoughts about these mid-July movies.

176.image.despicable-me-2-posterDespicable Me 2

Where do you go with a story once the villain’s heart has been transformed, Scrooge-like or Grinch-esque? Our antihero, Gru, went from venomous villain to doting daddy in the first film, and I wondered what the sequel could possibly contain to justify his still being called “despicable.”

despicable-me-2_17Well, Gru isn’t exactly despicable anymore—that would be a step backwards—but he does continue in his habit of thinking he can outsmart others, often failing. In this way, the writers hit the nail on the head to help make the character able to transform once more, without actually taking him back to attempting any dastardly deeds. And the character grows in other ways: he actually has a love interest, and he helps to foil the plotting of another arch-villain. Nice, and nowhere near despicable.

Despicable-Me-2-081The real achievement of the sequel, though, is exploiting moviegoers’ obsession with the minions, those lovable yet rough-around-the-edges little yellow pill people from another planet. They are the stars of this movie. I’d say I predict a spinoff, but it’s already a done deal: the movie Minions is in preproduction for release in 2014.

To me, the first film was better if simply for the facts that the characters were new for audiences and the initial premise of Gru going from despicable to lovable was achieved. I also found the original more effective at including some adult-aimed funnies, something I’ve always appreciated in my animation (Bugs Bunny cartoons perhaps did it best).

25070440Still, this sequel has the same wonderful voice cast (including Steve Carell, Pierre Coffin, Russell Brand, Miranda Cosgrove, Kristen Wiig, and Julie Andrews) with a few additions (like Benjamin Bratt), plus the increased involvement of those weird and wacky little minions. It’s fast-paced, good for laughs, and includes something for all ages. What more could you want from a summer flick?

B+

 

white-house-downWhite House Down

This is a typical Hollywood action movie, and there is not much more to say about it. It’s basically Die Hard (kick-ass dad saves the day) meets Independence Day (White House blows up), but with none of the heart or remarkable characters of those iconic films. The plot is predictable and regurgitated, the premise is much less shocking than today’s real-life headlines, and the fact that there is a black president in the white house—well, that’s been done already too.

215561-White-House-Down-Poster1As a vehicle for Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx, and propelling young Joey King into the limelight, it does its job. The effects are grand, the action is fast, and everyone in it does a decent job of portraying their superficially sketched characters. But the problem is that everything is just tossed lightly together, like a summer salad, with the obvious intent of just getting it overwith and getting on with the action scenes. 1183878 - WHITE HOUSE DOWNOnly then is much more attention paid to the crashes, the explosions, and Tatum’s abs flying across the screen.  It might as well just be one long trailer for all the character development and story depth we get.

White-house-down-james-woodsCaught in vortex of what’s lacking are veteran actors like James Woods and Richard Jenkins.  Personally, I cringe when this happens—the misuse of genuine talent is a real crime in my book.  Maggie Gyllenhaal is either miscast or else she realized her role was lean and phoned it in, and Rachelle Lefevre is completely wasted in her miniscule role.

As often happens in not-so-awesome movies, one seemingly less-important character really stood: Nicholas Wright plays Donnie the tour guide with emotional honesty and humorous abandon. I expect we’ll see more of this young man who has, up until now, mainly appeared in TV movies and series.  white-house-down-cale-emily-donnie

As you might expect, with this “Summer Sizzlers” series being all about entertaining summer movies, this film gets somewhat of a pass simply for being an engaging action movie at a time when  many of us desire such mindless distraction. This one is almost good enough to meet that need. Luckily, there are much more substantial action films out there or coming soon that can satisfy our hunger after this fluffy but innutritious morsel.

C

It’s time for fun in the sun!  And not just in the sun, but also in the cavernous over-air-conditioned confines of local theaters. The “Season of Blockbusters” has begun. I hope you all have seen my list of most-anticipated films on Cinefessions. I will try to see as many as I can, and I will review them here. Without further ado, here are my initial entries.

oblivion-posterOblivion

Another post-apocalyptic adventure, which become so popular whenever the public is afraid of what’s going on in real life. And like the atomic bomb scare and all the alien-attack films that were produced then, or the epidemic and zombie films that proliferate as we find new strains of diseases, now is a really scary time in the world.

The production value, effects, and pacing of Oblivion are spot-on. Overall it’s a fun movie to watch. The acting is decent, though a bit stilted at times. But I’ll bet it’s most entertaining for people who have never seen another movie like this in their lives. For those of us who have, it’s a kind of a hotchpotch of every other sci-fi/dystopia/conspiracy story ever made. I didn’t read the graphic novel on which the story is based (maybe because it was never published), so I can’t speak for the original plot and how it “borrows” from existing stories.  But the film certainly does.

I saw scenes and vignettes in this film from many iconic and obscure movies alike. If you haven’t seen this film but plan to, you might want to avoid the following possible spoilers.

li-oblivion-freeman-waldau-cp-04293048Apparent to movie and/or TV mavens are events and themes from Silent Running (1972 – rarity of plant life); the Matrix series (1999-2003 – secret underground survivors who know “the truth”); Independence Day (1996) and V (1984-85 – alien overlords); Gattaca (1986) and Code 46 (2003 – cloning); Moon (2009 – an isolated space-traveler’s struggle); Logan’s Run (1976) and many others (forbidden zones); Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (1990), and others (implanted memories and identity in general) … the list goes on and on. There is just nothing, and I mean nothing, original about this film.

So, let’s be nice and call this movie an homage to all the sci-fi we know and love. Yeah, that’s it.

C

 

Iron Man 3

As a big fan of Marvel movie adaptations, I enjoy all of these films about our favorite heroes and villains. MV5BMjIzMzAzMjQyM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzM2NjcyOQ@@._V1_SX214_Admittedly, though, some are not the gems that the majority turn out to be (I’ll bet The Hulk popped into many minds just now). Most of the time, sequels run that risk more than original projects, so I think we all view them a bit more cautiously.

After an auspiciously marvelous beginning with the first Iron Man (2008), which invigorated the strained career of Robert Downey Jr., this franchise had a tiny blip with its sequel, Iron Man 2 (2010). It was a terrific film – successful at the box office and pretty well critically received – but it didn’t quite have the spark of the first film. It was a bit jolting that Don Cheadle replaced Terrence Howard as Tony Stark’s friend and eventual sidekick, and with Stark “near death” and considering stepping away from his life throughout the movie, it wasn’t quite as much fun. To be fair, that is the case with the vast majority of sequels that follow fantastically powerful debuts, which Iron Man certainly had been.

That fun and power are back in Iron Man 3. The film features Stark back on top of his game (with the exception of some PTSD, thanks to his adventure with the Avengers) and facing a mercurial and deadly villain.  Performances by all involved are excellent, the action is exciting and well paced, and the interplay with the storyline of The Avengers (2012) is well done.

iron_man_3_tyOn top of that, there is a relationship and subplot in this movie that was the highpoint for me: Tony Stark meeting Harley Keener (Ty Simpkins). The boy is adorable and fresh and wise-assed beyond his years. They say that cute kids and cuddly animals can upstage anyone, but in this case it brings out the best and worst (in a very good way) in Stark and, well, produces magic.

Iron Man 3 is sure to remain one of the highlights of this summer movie season.

A

 

leonardo dicaprio the great gatsbyThe Great Gatsby

This was one of my most-anticipated films of summer, so I hoped it would indeed be great. I am a fan of both Leonardo DiCaprio and director Baz Luhrmann, but I knew from Luhrmann’s body of work (Romeo + Juliet, 1996; Moulin Rouge!, 2001; Australia, 2008) that he plays fast and loose with material he’s adapting and favors lavish spectacle. I wondered just how far his vision of Gatsby would veer from the classic novel.

I was pleasantly surprised by the loving care taken to tell the story of Nick, Jay, Daisy, and all of their companions. Yet there was not much sacrifice of the Luhrmann over-the-top style and panache. However, it seems to take a backseat and defer to the storytelling with careful control.

The narration by Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) moved more slowly than did Christian’s relating of his woeful tale in Moulin Rouge!, but it fits and sets a more melancholy tone. The atmosphere of the movie is absolutely stunning: It conveys the opulent decadence of the era which thinly veils the precarious despair under the surface.

Upon first hearing about this project, I thought from the beginning that DiCaprio was a brilliant choice to play Gatsby; his performance supports that judgment. The-Great-Gatsby_06He flawlessly captures the self-deluded air of our antihero from determination through devastation. Daisy (Carey Mulligan) also is perfectly cast, and all of the performances are superb. At first, Maguire’s half-goofy, half-stiff portrayal of Carraway threw me a bit, but it worked in the end, since he was unobtrusive within the drama playing itself out, as the narrator of this story should be.

Finally, I will be quite surprised if this film doesn’t win Oscars in such categories as costuming and art direction. It is truly a treat for all the senses.

A

Report Card: Mid July 2011

It’s been a  good movie-watching month so far, and I hope to keep it up all summer!  Let me know what good flicks you’re seeing as you seek the AC inside those theaters.  I’ve been bringing a hoodie along every time I go — brrr!  But it’s all right if it’s cold as long as the movies are hot. Am I right?

Film Grade Comment
True Grit (2010)

A

Excellent adaptation. The original will always rule, but this is (one of least favorite terms but applicable here) an instant classic.  The Coen Brothers seldom disappoint, and Jeff Bridges abides.
Super 8 (2011)

A

Spielberg strikes again. Nothing new here, but fun and well-made. It’s a little bit Goonies, a little E.T., even a little Stand By Me … and it’s non-stop watchable.
Independence Day (1996)

A-

Watched on July 4, of course!  Fun, schmaltzy, “Aliens invade and humans band together” flick. Favorite line: Cpt. Hillen (Will Smith) telling alien invader “Welcome to Earth!” and then clocking him.
X-Men: First Class (2011)

A

A terrific addition to the X-Men films for all us Marvel geeks.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

A+

A perennial favorite!  “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Thanks for the reminder.  Save Ferris!
The Breakfast Club (1985)

A++

One of my favorite movies EVER.  The defectives of Shermer High always entertain.
Cat Ballou (1965)

B+

Hysterically silly “western” worth watching for Lee Marvin’s performance alone.
Eagle Eye (2008)

B+

Rewatching this riveting thriller reminded me I’d liked it the first time, and I still do. Fun weekend entertainment … and Shia LeBeouf.
127 Hours (2010)

A-

Watched grudgingly, only because I’m a fan of director Danny Boyle. I didn’t go see this in the theater in last year’s Oscar rush because I don’t really see Ralston (real person the movie is about) as any kind of hero. But I’d be a big hypocrite if I didn’t separate eh film from the real-life story, and the film is good. Kudos to James Franco for his one-man show (thought only Sam Rockwell could do that, ha!).
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

A-

Johnny Depp maintains command as Jack Sparrow (er, sorry, there should be a Captain in there somewhere). I wasn’t expected that much, but this movie is very entertaining. Ian McShane is a hoot, and I’m happy to see more of Sam Claflin (The Pillars of the Earth).
Horrible Bosses (2011)

B+

Hilarious!  Didn’t blow me away, but great fun.
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