Here’s Jack Blogathon 2017: A Few Good Men

Gill, from Realweegiemidget Reviews, is a huge fan of Jack Nicholson. To celebrate, she has invited bloggers to review as many Nicholson films as possible. A Few Good Men is my entry into her three-day celebration. Click on the banner below to head over to her site to see the rest of the blogathon entries for today.

A Few Good Men movie posterHere's Jack Blogathon 2017 BannerSynopsis
Navy defense attorney Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise), along with JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore) and Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollack), are assigned to prove that Harold Dawson (Wolfgang Bodison) and Louden Downey (James Marshall), two marines accused of murder, are innocent and were merely acting under orders.

Review
I will begin by saying courtroom dramas aren’t really my type of movie. I don’t find them very exciting and think more often than not they are fairly predicable. A Few Good Men is a perfect example of this. Story-wise, I didn’t feel invested in the case that the three attorneys were working on. And honestly, I didn’t care for Tom Cruise’s character, Daniel Kaffee. He is the skilled-but-arrogant character that Cruise played often earlier in his career but it doesn’t feel like he grows very much by the end of the film. His biggest step is actually taking the case instead of trying to make a deal and that happens fairly early. Which brings me to my next point: this movie feels too long. Although, that might be because I just wanted to get through the movie quicker since I wasn’t very interested.

The only thing that really kept me invested in this film was the cast. The main three, Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, and Kevin Pollak, had such great chemistry. Despite my lack of interest in Cruise’s character, I enjoyed his performance. He brought a lot of energy and emotion to the part. The same goes for Moore. Her performance was so emotionally driven that she made for a good counterpart to Cruise. The dialogue between Cruise, Moore, and Pollak felt very real and genuine. Kudos to Aaron Sorkin for writing such believable, and not too ridiculous banter, between the leads. Despite not being in the film for much time, Jack Nicholson is the standout of this movie. The final scene with Nicholson and Cruise battling it out in the courtroom was absolutely riveting and almost made up for the dullness of the rest of the film.

I thought A Few Good Men was OK 😐 My lack of interest in courtroom dramas aside, I found this to be somewhat enjoyable. Although I didn’t much care for Cruise’s character and felt it ran a little longer than necessary, the performances from all of the actors, especially from the main three and Jack Nicholson, kept my attention long enough to finish watching.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Rob Reiner – Director
Aaron Sorkin – Writer
Marc Shaiman – Composer

Tom Cruise – Lt. Daniel Kaffee
Demi Moore – Lt. Cdr. JoAnne Galloway
Kevin Pollak – Lt. (J.G.) Sam Weinberg
Kevin Bacon – Capt. Jack Ross
Jack Nicholson – Col. Nathan R. Jessup
Kiefer Sutherland – 2nd Lt. Jonathan Kendrick
JT Walsh – Lt. Col. Matthew Andrew Markinson
Wolfgang Bodison – Lance Cpl. Harold W. Dawson
James Marshall – Pfc. Louden Downey
JA Preston – Judge Julius Alexander Randolph

Lightning Review: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Ghost in the Shell movie posterSynopsis
Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind: A perfect human / machine hybrid. However, she has no recollection of her past before becoming the weapon she is today. When she confronts a mysterious terrorist known as Kuze (Michael Carmen Pitt), she soon begins looking for answers about the truth of who she really is.

Review
Ghost in the Shell had the difficult task of luring in fans of both the original 1995 animated film and proceeding anime of the same name, as well as a new audience. Because I have yet to see the original film, I fall into the latter, but found myself right away getting drawn into the movie’s world. What hooked me in the beginning was its fantastic science-fiction neo-noir version of Tokyo. The bright colors from the advertisements, signs, cars, and lights create a stark contrast against the more muted-colored buildings. When it comes to sci-fi films, I like to be sold on the world it is looking to create. Almost every character has some sort of cybernetic enhancement and this movie shows how integral these enhancements have become in this world. Say what you will about Scarlett Johansson being cast as Major, she did a great job in the role. She made her movements rigid and less fluid than what you are used to seeing. This motion sold that she had a robotic body despite her appearance as flesh and blood.

As philosophical as this movie wanted to be, it never fully examined the themes it was trying to bring across. They were touched on and hinted at several times through the film but it still felt like the message or commentary it was trying to provide was not delved into as deeply as this movie thought it was. I think it is funny that this is the case because a lot of time was spent on exposition. However, it never seemed to move past a superficial level or into any deep exploration of its themes. This also made the movie feel like it was often not going anywhere because there wasn’t enough action to make up for the lack of depth. It’s a shame these ideas never found much ground because the concepts of artificial intelligence and identity are very interesting to me.

I thought Ghost in the Shell was OK 😐 Its futuristic neo-noir world is extremely well realized and Scarlett Johansson was great casting as Major but despite much of its run time is spent on exposition, the themes and commentary it was trying to bring across aren’t explored past high-level concepts. This movie isn’t bad by any means, but there are flickers of good ideas that never came to fruition to make it something special.

Trivia
Several original voice actors from the 1995 animated Ghost in the Shell reprise their roles for the Japanese dubbed version of this film. Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Otsuka, and Koichi Yamadera voice their parts as Major, Batou, and Togusa respectively.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Rupert Sanders – Director
Jamie Moss – Screenplay
William Wheeler – Screenplay
Ehren Kruger – Screenplay
Lorne Balfe – Composer
Clint Mansell – Composer

Scarlett Johansson – Major
Pilou Asbaek – Batou
Takeshi Kitano – Aramaki
Juliette Binoche – Dr. Ouelet
Michael Carmen Pitt – Kuze
Chin Han – Togusa
Danusia Samal – Ladriya
Lasarus Ratuere – Ishikawa
Yutaka Izumihara – Saito
Tawanda Manyimo – Borma
Peter Ferdinando – Cutter
Anamaria Marinca – Dr. Dahlin

Lightning Review: Predator 2

Predator 2 movie posterSynopsis
In 1997 Los Angeles , Lieutenant Harrigan (Donald Glover) is in the middle of a gang war when, unbeknownst to him, he is targeted by a Predator (Kevin Peter Hall). He must figure out why his squad members are disappearing while dealing with a government official, Special Agent Peter Keyes (Gary Busey), who is taking over his investigation of the cartels.

Review
One of Predator‘s strongest features is its simplicity. A team of commandos is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Predator 2 tries to keep the same simplicity but in an urban jungle instead of a lush, green one. It’s an interesting concept to move to such a dramatically different environment but I don’t think the film fully took advantage of the setting. Maybe it was the way the Predator hunted this time wasn’t as exhilarating or maybe it was the film’s pacing. Either way, I didn’t feel the suspense I felt in the previous movie. The film has a good cast who do what they can with what little script they are given. Danny Glover is a good follow up to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Dutch. I particularly liked Bill Paxton as the quick-talking Jerry Lambert. The character’s attitude is much some of Paxton’s other characters I like, such as Private Hudson in Aliens or even more recently John Garrett in Agents of SHIELD TV series. Similar to the Xenomorphs in Aliens, Predator 2 expands on the Predator’s as a species, apparently called the Yautja (e-wat-ya), more by showing they hunted a variety of species, not just humans, as well as expanding their arsenal.

I thought Predator 2 was OK 😐 It tries to be simple like Predator but it doesn’t have the same thrill or suspense so it ends up feeling dull at times. The great cast does well but they can only do so much with the little material they have to work with. This is a rare case where the plot was too simple and to have a twist or two would have kept it interesting.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Stephen Hopkins – Director
Jim Thomas – Writer
John Thomas – Writer
Alan Silvestri – Composer

Kevin Peter Hall – The Predator
Danny Glover – Lieutenant Mike Harrigan
Gary Busey – Peter Keyes
Ruben Blades – Danny Archuleta
Maria Conchita Alonso – Leona Cantrell
Bill Paxton – Jerry Lambert
Robert Davi – Captain Phil Heinemann
Adam Baldwin – Garber
Kent McCord – Captain B. Pilgrin
Morton Downey Jr. – Tony Pope

Tron Review

TRON movie posterSynopsis
Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is a computer hacker who was fired from the company Encom. When searching for proof that his rival in the company, Ed Dillinger (David Warner), stole his code, he gets transported to inside of the computer system. With the help of a security program called Tron (Bruce Boxleitner), Flynn must make his way to the Master Control Program to escape the system.

Review
With movies like Rogue One and Furious 7 literally reviving diseased actors on screen and recent visual marvels like Doctor Strange, it’s truly impressive to see how far CGI has come in cinema. Considering where we are today, it can be a bit jarring to see animation that was done with less computing power than the phone currently in my pocket. But as the old saying goes, it had to start somewhere. There is a lot to like and be fascinated with in Tron but it has its flaws, too.

Tron‘s director Steven Lisberger was ahead of his time when he wrote Tron, particularly in where he saw the future of computers. Being a programmer myself, I always enjoy when movies try to visualize and create a world inside of computer. In the early 80s, personal computers had just become a thing, with the Apple I and Apple II being released only a few years prior to this film’s released. Most people were in the midst of entering a world where computers were more than just an academic tool used in universities. For Lisberger to imagine this world inside this fledgling technology, as in-depth and detailed as he did, is impressive to me.

Now having geeked out about some computer history, I’m going to disappoint a lot of people. There is a very distinct feel to the world inside of the computer compared to the real world. Everything is monochrome with bright colors running through as highlights. I like the idea of the black and white color palette because it mirrors the binary nature of computer data and the color highlights could be imagined as data flowing through everything. Despite the uniqueness about it, I found it to be very distracting. Other movies have used this type of effect before with beautiful results, so I don’t think it was the idea of black and white with color highlights but rather its execution. It’s not very crisp here and it ends up being a distraction.

I don’t really know what it was but I couldn’t get into the story. With this featuring scientists and computer hackers, you would think this would be something I would be into. As flashy as the visuals are, they merely act as a distraction to catch your eye so you don’t notice the relatively flat characters and uneven pacing. The move is only an hour and a half long, so it breezes through the story quickly. With the two worlds, the computer world and the real world, it has two sets of characters to juggle. As a result, no one gets much development.

All the story focuses on is getting Flynn (Jeff Bridges) from point A to point B within the computer. It never stops to breathe, moving from one computer animated display to the next. This movie is more focused on showing off this new technology rather than using it to enhance the story. One of the reasons that Toy Story works so well is because although it was revolutionary in a similar vein as Tron, it told a story first then put the technology on top of that. I feel like I am watching an extended 1980s tech demo when I am watching Tron.

I thought Tron was OK 😐 At the time, films like Star Wars were pushing the boundaries of special effects while Tron was pioneering what was possible with the infant field of computer animation. It’s not hard to see it hasn’t aged well but to some, that turns into part of the film’s charm. I appreciate this movie for its historical significance and what it accomplished in computer animation but for me, I didn’t get into the story or behind the characters. It is quite the dazzling spectacle, unfortunately that isn’t enough this time to carry the film.

Also check out my review for the sequel, Tron: Legacy.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Steven Lisberger – Director / Writer
Bonnie MacBird – Story Writer
Wendy Carlos – Composer

Jeff Bridges – Kevin Flynn / Clu
Bruce Boxleitner – Alan Bradley / Tron
Cindy Morgan – Lora / Yori
David Warner – Ed Dillinger / Sark / Master Control Program
Barnard Hughes – Dr. Walter Gibbs / Dumont
Dan Shor – Popcorn Co-Worker / Ram
Peter Jurasik – Crom

Assassin’s Creed Review

Assassin's Creed movie posterSynopsis
In 2016, Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) is on death row. When he wakes up after lethal injection, he finds himself at an Abstergo Foundation facility, a modern day front for the Templar Order. Sofia (Marion Cotillard), an Abstergo scientist, informs Cal his death was faked because they need his help to find a mysterious artifact known as the Apple of Eden. In order to locate the artifact, Cal must enter the animus, a device used to explore genetic memories, to relive the memories of his ancestor, Aguilar, during the Spanish Inquisition in 1492.

Review
I am a big fan of the Assassin’s Creed series. I have all of the games (although I have yet to play them all) and have read several of the comic books. At the Toronto Comic-con last year, I picked up an art piece depicting several of the series’ the main characters. Since it is one of my favorite game series, I was really excited to hear that a movie for the series would be made. Better yet, it wasn’t going to be a film adaptation of one game but instead tell a new story that takes place within the already established universe. I think my excitement got the better of me.

I’ll start with some good. In the game, navigating the environment by running through the streets and up and on top of buildings is a signature aspect of the game play. Things like parkouring up walls and running across rooftops was brought over exactly like you see in the games. Even things as simple as stances and body posture when assassins jump onto unsuspecting targets is spot on from the game. And the type of action sequences in general is what you would expect to see in the games. That is exciting to see when a video game film has the look and feel of the source material.

In the group of people I saw this with, I was the only one who had played the games. Actually, I was the only one who knew anything more beyond the fact the film was adapted from a video game. Talking with them after leaving the theater, they seemed to have a good grasp about the Assassin’s Creed universe. Assassin’s Creed did a good job of explaining the larger universe in which the film is set, from the conflict between Assassins and Templars, to the purpose of the animus, even the bleeding effect of prolonged animus use. I’d say the only thing not well explained is exactly what the Apple of Eden is and what it can actually do.

Now this leads into my first gripe with the film. Although it did a great job establishing the movie’s universe, it had to take the time to set it up. There was so much exposition in the first half of the movie, it didn’t feel like it went anywhere. Several action scenes were sprinkled throughout to add a bit of flare but it didn’t help too much. By the time the film got to the meat of the story, it had to play catch-up. As a result, the second half felt rushed. I never got the opportunity to get sucked into the story because it was all over the place.

A problem I often have with movies is sometimes they try to set up future sequels without properly closing its own story first. I understand laying threads to be picked up in the next film but that shouldn’t come at the cost of the current story. When this film ended, I found myself thinking, “Oh, that’s the end?” Saying the story was left open-ended feels like the wrong term but it does feel incomplete. I think the rushed pacing during the second half that I mentioned before forced the script into a quick ending, resulting in an anticlimactic finish to the film.

I thought Assassin’s Creed was OK :-|. Hollywood hasn’t had a great track record with video game adaptations. This had the chance to break that trend since it wasn’t trying to adapt any one game but instead tell its own story within the game’s universe. Even with a star-studded cast, poor pacing and an unengaging story keeps this film reaching the heights I was hoping for from a film based on one of my favorite gaming franchises.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Justin Kurzel – Director
Michael Lesslie – Screenplay
Adam Cooper – Screenplay
Bill Collage – Screenplay
Jed Kurzel – Composer

Michael Fassbender – Callum Lynch / Aguilar
Marion Cotillard – Sofia Rikkin
Jeremy Irons – Alan Rikkin
Denis Menochet – McGowen
Ariane Labed – Maria
Brendan Gleeson – Joseph Lynch
Essie Davis – Mary Lynch
Charlotte Rampling – Ellen Kaye
Michael Kenneth Williams – Moussa
Matias Varela – Emir
Callum Turner – Nathan
Crystal Clarke – Samia
Michelle H. Lin – Lin
Brian Gleeson – Young Joseph Lynch

Lightning Review: Keeping Up with the Joneses

Keeping Up with the Joneses movie posterSynopsis
Jeff Gaffney (Zach Galifianakis) and his wife Karen (Isla Fisher) are an average suburban couple but when Tim (Jon Hamm) and Natalie (Gal Gadot) Jones move in across the street they get mixed into the crazy world of espionage.

Review
I was immediately drawn to Keeping Up with the Joneses once I saw who it starred. With names like Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher, Gal Gadot, and John Hamm, this film boasts a talented cast list. With the exception of Hamm, all of the above actors have been some of my favorite films. Keeping Up with the Joneses offers some pretty good laughs but doesn’t seem to fully utilize the talent its cast possesses. However, that’s not to say they don’t do well. All four of them have great chemistry with each other. Either in pairs or all of them together, each scene made me at least smile with enjoyment, if not laugh a little. But that is all the reaction they earned. I think that was my biggest disappointment in this movie is there aren’t many stand-out or laugh-out-loud moments. It was enjoyable but mostly forgettable. Despite being veterans of comedies, both Galifianakis and Fisher are fairly forgettable when compared to their roles in other films, such as The Hangover or The Wedding Crashers respectively. Hamm and Gadot seem to have fun as the more serious counterparts to Galifianakis and Fisher. They played to their strengths better than the other members of the cast, turning out more of the memorable moments than the others.

I thought Keeping Up with the Joneses was OK :-|. I know I might have painted the picture that I didn’t enjoy the film a whole lot but I did. It just left me underwhelmed where I was expecting more from such a talented cast. Keeping Up with the Joneses plays it safe. It was a good comedy that walks this weird middle ground where it is not too exciting while never becoming drab either. It’s actually pretty impressive how ordinary it is.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Greg Mottola – Director
Michael LeSieur – Writer
Jake Monaco – Composer

Zach Galifianakis – Jeff Gaffney
Isla Fisher – Karen Gaffney
Jon Hamm – Tim Jones
Gal Gadot – Natalie Jones
Matt Walsh – Dan Craverston
Maribeth Monroe – Meg Craverston
Michael Liu – Yang
Kevin Dunn – Carl Pronger
Henry Boston – Patrick
Jack McQuaid – Mikey
Patton Oswalt – Scorpion
Ming Zhao – Scorpion’s Girlfriend