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ThisTV Movie Review: Short Circuit

41J58RCYG9L._SY300_I had a giant crush on Steve Guttenberg when I was younger.

Don’t judge me. He was the Man in the 80s.

Police Academy. Three Men and a Baby. Cocoon. That crazy Village People movie (watch paired with Xanadu as it was meant to be seen, and then ask yourself “why?” while curled up in the fetal position).

Steve Guttenberg was hilarious but nice and always getting one up on the buttholes of the world. He might not have been as handsome as Tom Selleck or famous as Ted Danson. But he was still adorable and I still kind of adored him.

At least until I fell madly in love with Kyle MacLachlan, but that is another story for another time.

Short Circuit is probably my favorite of the Steve Guttenberg oeuvre. Here he gets a chance to play the romantic leading man with only a robot that has achieved consciousness to rival him. It’s no wonder he ends up getting the girl in the end. How can a robot compete with all that ‘Gute’ charm, after all?

The plot basically breaks down like this: Because it’s the 80s and it is pretty much required by law, a robotics company has used a nerdy genius’s genius to create killer robots that can be shipped out to the front lines in battle scenarios. He isn’t terribly impressed by this but is going along with it anyway because plot development. A flashy twist of fate changes all that when robot Number 5 is struck by lightning and becomes self-aware. He escapes the clutches of his creators and goes on a journey of self-discovery that includes a fair amount of disco dancing, bug squashing, bad driving, Three Stooges hijinks, military shoot outs, and Ally Sheedy.

I must have seen this movie dozens of times while growing up, and I’ve seen it at least a half dozen times since reaching adulthood. It’s just so dang cute. Number Five is a messy, curious, dangerous but ultimately lovable character. Ally Sheedy is cute and maternal and willing to put up with Number Five and all the danger he brings with him. And, of course, Steve Guttenberg is adorable as an anti-social geek forced to head out into the big bad world and interact with not only a robot who is bucking his programming but a perky young lady he (almost immediately) has the hots for.

Short_Circuit_Still_08Of course as I’ve gotten older I’ve noticed the Important Messages scattered throughout this little family flick. The questions of what makes us human, where the line exists between ‘alive’ and ‘not alive,’ and how responsible we are for the beings we create that see themselves as individuals are very much apparent now that I’m focusing more on the story and less on the fact that a robot is driving a food truck (very badly).

But luckily with a great soundtrack, special effects that hold up surprisingly well, computer interfaces that are totally dated, and a healthy dose of Steve Guttenberg throughout, Short Circuit is just too dang cute to be dragged down by those Important Messages.

- Mia V.

Short Circuit, Rated PG, 1986
Starring Steve Guttenberg, Ally Sheedy, Fisher Stevens, GW Bailey
Directed by John Badham
Written by SS Wilson, Brent Maddock

*Watch Short Circuit on ThisTV: Friday 6/20 at 7p, Sunday 6/22 at 11a

 

(SOURCE – image)
(SOURCE – image)

 

TRANSCENDENCE (PG-13)

 

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The plot of TRANSCENDENCE hinges on Luddite terrorists that are tech-phobic enough to murder software engineers, but tech-savvy enough to lace their bullets with radioactive material.
That’s the first gut-punch to your suspension of disbelief, and it’s only ten minutes in. TRANSCENDENCE is just warming up.
Johnny Depp is renowned scientist Dr. Will Caster and he’s close to achieving his life’s work: creating a self-aware artificial intelligence, because we all know SKYNET went so famously well. On his way out of a public exposition-delivering appearance, Caster is ambushed and shot with a radioactive bullet by the aforementioned terrorists in a coordinated attack also involving computer bombs and a poisoned birthday cake (did Dr. Doom help these guys out or something?). Luckily, the resulting radiation poisoning gives a dying Dr. Caster just enough time to upload his consciousness onto his computer.
This new Cyber-Depp quickly escapes and infects the internet as a rapidly evolving, sentient computer virus with unknown goals. As the singularity incorporates every electronic device on earth, Caster’s former colleagues, the FBI, and even that terrorist group find themselves in an uneasy three-way alliance. Caster is clearly no longer human – but does he have any humanity left at all? And if not, can he even be stopped?
I wanted to love TRANSCENDENCE. Melding a human soul with software is heady, thought-provoking stuff, but the unfocused shotgun blast of a screenplay fails to cohere into much of anything. We’re left with a sprawling mess that introduces fascinating ideas and then immediately drops them to jaggedly rush into the next scene. The storytelling is as smooth as a dryer with a brick in it. It can’t even seem to decide on a genre – so we get a drama without enough character development and a thriller without enough danger.
Because the script is such a mess, the outlandish scifi concepts aren’t given the attention they need to work. At a breathless pace, TRANSCENDENCE introduces nanotechnology via raindrops, superhuman hybrids, and a climactic computer virus with baffling consequences. It’s just too much fi and not enough sci to ground everything. By the time the third act rolled around and Cyber-Depp started attacking everyone with magic CG tentacles, my mind had wandered back to the low-key narrative riddles of OCULUS, which was playing in the theater next door.
And that’s too bad, because TRANSCENDENCE also has some real strengths. The cinematography is starkly beautiful, the ideas are big, and the cast is terrific. If you adjust your expectations a few rungs, you can still salvage an okay time with this one. Some individual scenes work pretty well, and there’s no denying the coolness of the stuff on display.
But Michael Crichton could have written it way better.
And he’s dead.

2stars

-Taylor Adams

Photo Source: https://movies.yahoo.com/blogs/yahoo-movies/johnny-depp-goes-digital-in-new–transcendence–poster-180357010.html

300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE (R)

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The human body is seventy percent water. According to 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE, the other thirty percent must be ketchup.
People don’t just bleed in this hyper-stylized movie. They explode. Gallons of red stuff splash and spurt with every death, all rendered in CGI too cartoonish to be disturbing. Every character is basically a human-shaped water balloon swollen with blood, ready to burst at the slightest poke. It’s pretty awesome.
Yep, I liked it. 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE is a shamelessly entertaining semi-sequel to the 2007 hit. Running parallel to the events of that film, we follow Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) as he defends Greece against an invading Persian fleet, masterminded by the memorably psychotic naval commander Artemesia (Eva Green, who steals every scene she’s in). Because this is a Frank Miller adaptation, expect troubled heroes, gory action, and epic speeches. And because this is ancient Greece, expect character names that will take several tries to pronounce on the drive home.
The broader scope of the story is both good and bad. It’s nice to see more of this colorful, blood-drenched world, but it loses some of the focus and against-all-odds oomph that made the original film resonate. Even with Eva Green’s gloriously deranged performance, I doubt it will become a cult classic.
No worries, though, because 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE is single-mindedly driven toward one goal: being awesome. Every aspect of this production - from the indulgent slow-motion kills to the booming Black Sabbath credits song – is designed for maximum spectacle. Early on, we see Persian warships surfing into battle atop a hundred-foot tidal wave. It’s a fundamental misunderstanding of how water works, but that doesn’t matter because it’s just so awesome.
I enjoyed the heck out of this film. You might, too. Like Zack Snyder’s original, it’s a bloody, fist-pumping war cartoon; a take-it-or-leave-it experience that’s utterly impervious to logic. I’m not even sure I can call this an acquired taste, because lots of people will have no interest in ever acquiring it. But for me? After a long day at work, sometimes a stylish, slow-motion decapitation just hits the spot.
Please don’t quote me on that.

stars

-Taylor Adams

NON-STOP (PG-13)

NONSTOP

NON-STOP is basically two hours of Liam Neeson playing “Clue” on an airplane.

Alcoholic air marshal Bill Marks (Neeson) needs to find out who’s murdering people on his flight. Fast. Every twenty minutes, another passenger will die unless $150 million is deposited in the mystery killer’s bank account. As the body count rises, everyone aboard the plane becomes a suspect – Bill included, when the authorities realize the bank account is (gasp) his. Against a ticking clock, our haggard hero must save the plane, stop the killings, and punch whoever’s responsible in the throat.

It’s a fun, twisty mystery for a while. The film presents a whole crowd of murder suspects, all exchanging shifty glances and red herrings. Every time the ingenious script seems to paint itself into a corner, it knocks down a wall. Major plot twists are hidden inside smaller ones, carefully arranged like narrative time bombs (and one literal one). The direction is marvelous, too – one particular shot halfway through the film gracefully swoops from end of the plane to another, eavesdropping on a half-dozen characters with evolving agendas. A lot of skill went into this film, and it’s easy to get swept up in the suspense.

But it’s hard to stick with it. How’s your suspension of disbelief? Because NON-STOP will put it through a triathlon. It’s not just the numerous plot holes (don’t even try to count them) – it’s the jarring tonal difference between where it starts and where it ends. The first half is a plausible, low-key murder mystery at 40,000 feet, and the second half descends to LEGO MOVIE absurdity. Poison darts? Check. Fighter jets? Check. Zero-gravity shootout? Double-check.

The last fifteen minutes drop to face-palm altitude. When the criminal mastermind is finally unmasked, he/she delivers a forced and bewildering “how I did it and why” speech, like an unusually violent episode of Scooby Doo. I guess the villain’s motivation doesn’t matter that much; it’s the end of the movie and Liam Neeson is in a neck-breaking mood.

NON-STOP isn’t a bad thriller – it’s just hard to love. It’s too smart to be mindless fun and too stupid to be anything more. Heck, 2008′s TAKEN delivered twice the butt-kicking with half the fuss.

I guess I like Liam Neeson better when he’s creating the body count – not cleaning up after it.

2stars

-Taylor Adams

ThisTV Movie Review: Eagle Vs. Shark

eagle-vs-sharkLove can be awkward and strange and painful and funny and sometimes only makes sense to those involved in the relationship.

Never has that been made more apparent than in Eagle Vs Shark. This romantic comedy from Loren Taylor and at least one of the writers of Flight of the Conchords is not your typical rom-com fair. Jemaine Clement (Jarrod) is hilarious but not the first thing that comes to mind when you think ‘romantic lead,’ and Loren Taylor (Lily) is adorable but just so strange. It’s hard to picture her acting opposite the usual handsome love interests like Matthew McConaughey or Bradley Cooper (which actually makes Jemaine kind of perfect for her).

The plot to Eagle Vs Shark basically breaks down like this: Lily is quiet and awkward and madly in love with Jarrod, who comes in to the fast food restaurant where she works in order to pick up her co-worker, who is not at all interested. Determined to make her love known, Lily crashes Jarrod’s costume party, almost defeats him at his favorite video game, and pretty much inserts herself into his life from there on. Of course the path to true love does not go smoothly for Lily and Jarrod, and soon they are traipsing across the country to exact revenge on Jarrod’s old nemesis, prove their worth to friends and family, and finally (hopefully) find what they are looking for in each other.

eagle_vs_shark3If you are a fan of Flight of the Conchords, or comedy from New Zealand, or that wonderfully hard to watch type of comedy that makes you feel uncomfortable and embarrassed for the characters, Eagle Vs Shark should be right up your alley. There are quite a few moments in this film where you find yourself desperately wanting to look away or take a bathroom break or even pretend you are asleep. They’re funny, but you feel almost bad for laughing.

There are also some amazingly sweet moments where you watch the two leads reach out to each other in quiet, emotionally stilted ways. Ways that you can find yourself relating to because they seem so realistic. We’ve all had those moments in a relationship, especially at the beginning, where we want to connect to another person but have no idea how to make it happen without some awkwardness thrown in. It isn’t huge and flashy and exciting when it finally does happen for Lily and Jarrod. But in its soft and strange simplicity it’s pretty much perfect.

- Mia V

Eagle Vs Shark, 2007, rated R
Starring Loren Taylor, Jemaine Clement, Joel Tobeck
Directed by: Taika Waititi
Written by: Loren Taylor, Taika Waititi

Watch Eagle Vs Shark on ThisTV!
Monday March 3rd at 3pm or(again) Friday March 14th at 9am.

POMPEII (PG-13)

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I have never rooted so hard for a volcano before.

W.S. Anderson’s POMPEII spends most of its runtime copying other movies – and not even the right ones. Surprisingly, the disaster itself is largely sidelined so we can get a poor man’s GLADIATOR crossed with a stupid man’s TITANIC. Our star-crossed lovers are Milo (Kitt Harrington), a Celtic gladiator with a murdered family to avenge, and Cassia (Emily Browning), the daughter of Pompeii’s ruler. She’s being blackmailed into marrying the third corner of this love triangle: Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland), a snarling Roman senator. Who will survive the coming disaster? More importantly, who cares?

That’s POMPEII’s biggest problem. None of the characters are written or acted well enough to earn our sympathy. They just sort of stand there, posed in various scenes cribbed from better films, and recite stilted dialogue like kids in a school play. It’s a bizarrely lifeless movie. Worse, it wastes a full hour on tedious stage-setting while the volcano impatiently grumbles in the background. Milo and Cassia’s chemistry-free romance feels like a studio-mandated attempt to please a demographic that wouldn’t be caught dead in a W.S. Anderson movie anyway.

Eventually Mount Vesuvius erupts, possibly because it’s as sick of the characters as we are, and delivers the flaming rocks, pyroclastic flows, and tsunamis promised by the trailer. It suffers a bit in comparison to 1997′s DANTE’S PEAK, but at least Anderson is finally copying the right movie. The city’s fiery demise is undeniably cool, but in a glossy, digital way. It feels more like a PS4 game than a real-life disaster. We don’t see any of the blood, grit, or burns, so our heroes might as well be fleeing a giant wall of cotton candy.

The movie does have its guilty pleasures, though. Anderson shoots a handful of kinetic fight scenes with some memorable (PG-13-rated) spills, and Kiefer Sutherland seems to be the only actor here with a pulse. He sinks his teeth into the cardboard role of Corvus, delivering every line with mustache-twirling evil and a baffling accent. Of course, it’s bad acting, but it’s so bad, it transcends badness and becomes kind of awesome. POMPEII needed more of Sutherland’s energy.

At least the volcano wins.

stars

 

Review By: Taylor Adams

THE LEGO MOVIE (PG, 2014)

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I was going to start this review with “I can’t believe I liked a movie based on a toy,” but then I remembered that I enjoyed TRANSFORMERS.

So… I can’t believe I liked another movie based on a toy.

Emmet (Chris Pratt) is an anonymous construction worker in a perfect (vaguely fascist) Lego metropolis where the coffee is $37 and the number one sitcom is “Where’s My Pants?” Every day is choreographed to an excruciatingly catchy Tegan and Sara song and overseen by the Orwellian President Business (Will Ferrell), sold separately. When Emmet stumbles onto a mysterious artifact, he sets in motion an ancient prophecy that could save – or destroy – not just his Lego universe, but all of them. He soon allies with an ensemble cast including Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), and Batman (Will Arnett). And Abraham Lincoln. And pirates. And a unicorn-cat thing.

I promise, it’s funny.  Funnier than anything I’ve seen in a long time. THE LEGO MOVIE boasts a razor-sharp script and a canny sense of the absurd, hurling joke after joke and challenging you to keep up. Chris Pratt’s empty-headed but sincere hero is a standout comedic performance in a cast full of them. Who’d have known a movie about a toy brand would have more laughs than both HANGOVER sequels?

Visually it’s stunning, although not always for the right reasons. Every inch of the Lego world is lovingly animated, right down to the authentic smudges and imperfections on the pieces. Even the dust and smoke is made of tiny bricks. It’s imaginative and vibrant, but also a little overwhelming. Every frame is crowded with so many small touches of genius, and it’s all edited so blisteringly fast, that THE LEGO MOVIE sometimes looks like a colorful headache. But it’s a headache worth having.

This excess of creative passion is why I like this movie so much. It overachieves. It works hard. The plot is lightyears ahead of competing fare, eventually launching its third act into a sort of CABIN IN THE WOODS-ish meta-narrative. Few movies are brave enough to even try this, and even fewer stick the landing. To be fair, THE LEGO MOVIE does stumble a little bit toward the end, when the cleverness reaches a sort of critical mass, the fourth wall falls, and the story grinds to a halt so we can be force-fed a moral about the importance of individuality. Cue the hugs.

The real moral is “buy Legos.” It’s the funniest, best Lego commercial ever.

stars

 

By: Taylor Adams

F/X (R, 1986)

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Don’t mess with Hollywood special effects guys.

The villains in F/X make this mistake, and spend the next ninety minutes paying for it in increasingly hilarious ways. This is a clever popcorn thriller with some great payoffs.

Our hero is effects wizard Rollie Tyler (Bryan Brown), reluctantly recruited by the Justice Department to fake the assassination of DeFranco, a New York mob informant. Compared to goblins and car flips, this looks like easy money for Rollie – just a restaurant, some blood packs, and a .38 loaded with blanks.

Or… were they blanks?

Now Rollie is on the run, DeFranco is really dead, and the Justice Department is “tying off loose ends.” Hunted by corrupt spooks and a detective with an agenda of his own (Brian Dennehy), Rollie must untangle the conspiracy and learn who framed him and why. Along the way he uses every trick in his arsenal (accumulated over a long career of gory B-movies such as “I Dismember Mama”) to outwit his pursuers, and eventually, fight back.

The script is entertaining and well-paced, serving up a constant supply of problems, solutions, and even few major twists. Early on, F/X surprised me by killing of a character I assumed to be protected by plot armor, and a late double-cross involving Dennehy’s detective had me laughing. The tone walks a careful tightrope – dark enough to build real suspense, but light and goofy enough to be fun.

Dennehy is great as a Dirty Harry-esque cop, but it’s Bryan Brown’s show and he makes a charmingly unconventional action hero. He’s basically an ordinary guy with an extraordinary talent for deception, so the obligatory shootouts and fistfights are handled creatively. Being an eighties film, Rollie’s portfolio is refreshingly free of the high-tech stuff we’ve grown so accustomed to in recent movies. It’s strictly hardware – mirrors, latex masks, pyrotechnics, and good old superglue – and F/X is all the better for it as we watch Rollie jerry rig a lethal surprise with little more than the contents of his trunk.

Sure, his tactics are so immaculately timed and staged (particularly in the final thirty minutes) that he seems to possess some mild form of precognition. Many of his ruses depend on the bad guys reacting in a very precise way – and not, for example, putting an additional bullet into an apparently dead body just to be sure. But why pick at improbabilities? It’s a piece of entertainment, not a thesis paper. At one point in F/X, Rollie literally kills a man with a balloon.

A balloon.

To see how he accomplishes this, check out F/X this Saturday at 9pm on ThisTV (or catch an encore on February 25th or 27th).

stars

 

 

Review By: Taylor Adams