Saturday, October 29, 2016

New(ish) Releases: Zootopia (2016); In the Heart of the Sea (2016)

Zootopia (2016)

Directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Jared Bush

I wouldn't call it a hands-down classic, but Zootopia is a highly respectable entry into the canon of modern animated family films that don't condescend to younger viewers.

The movie mostly follows the story of Judy Hopps, an upbeat rabbit with dreams of being a police officer in the cosmopolitan super-city Zootopia, where all species of animals live in ostensible harmony. The world Hopps lives in is populated by all manner of animals who have long since evolved beyond their basic predator/prey hardwiring. Instead, they live in civilized manners, with jobs, homes, and families. This does not mean, however, that certain problems and prejudices don't exist. Some animals types are presumed to have or lack certain skills for certain tasks. In the case of Judy Hopps, as a rabbit, she is assumed not to have the strength, tenacity, or instincts to be a police officer. She has her chance to prove everyone wrong when she finds herself in the middle of a case of several missing animals in Zootopia.

The very clear theme running throughout the movie is that individuals shouldn't be stereotyped or generalized. While this may seem trite to mature adults, the movie sends the message in rather savvy ways. There is also the added depth of the larger notion that certain types of individuals are more prone to bestial, primitive behavior than others. This clearly touches on racism and other dangerous ideas which are still relevant topics, even early in the 21st century. As someone who didn't watch this movie with any children - just his fellow Generation X wife - we both felt that the movie was rather clever in how it got its points across.

But is the movie funny? It is, after all, and animated family film. The answer is yes - it is funny. I wouldn't put it on the same plane as the very best Pixar movies or other animated films of that caliber, but there are plenty of funny lines and visual gags. There are more than a few jokes and references that are clearly designed with older viewers in mind, but children should never feel lost or bored. The voice-actors all do great work, and the visuals are eye-popping in their vibrancy. There are also plenty of clever visual gags, often relating to how the various animals of different sizes and physcial needs all co-exist within the city of Zootopia.

This was a really enjoyable animated movie. I imagine that kids would love it, and adults are likely to enjoy it plenty, as well.

Movie posters like this one promised a sense of awe at the
incredible profession of classic whale hunting. Some of this
came through, but not nearly as much as I had hoped.
In the Heart of the Sea (2016)

Director: Ron Howard

With so many excellent ingredients there for a great movie, it was surprising to see that this one didn't totally manage to live up to its potential.

The movie is a dramatization of many true events which befell the Nantucket whaling ship the Essex, whose sinking inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick. We start with Herman Melville in the late 1840s, convincing an aging man to tell of his time as a cabin boy on the Essex, a whaling ship surrounded by strange rumours. Melville's interviewee eventually tells the author the tale of how the Essex, thanks to the desperation and frustration of its at-odds captain and first mate, went dangerously far out into the Pacific Ocean and were attacked by a massive, frighteningly aggressive white whale. The Essex was sunk, and the crew had to endure the harrowing ordeal of finding some means of rescue while drifting along in tiny boats, well over a thousand miles from any inhabited shore.

The movie doesn't do anything poorly, but I didn't find that it did anything exceptionally well, either. The cast is strong, including the likes of Chris Hemsworth, Tom Holland, Cilian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, and several other less-know but equally capable actors. All of them do just fine with what they were given, though the script seemed to be lacking the snap that would elevate it above adequate. The tale itself also contains the compelling power struggle between the captain and first mate, which provides some amount of drama, but it feels as if it falls just a bit short of reaching truly gripping heights.

First mate Owen Chase (right) and his friend, Matthew Joy.
The bond between Chase and Joy is more hinted at than ever
fully explored, diluting some of the film's impact.
The pacing seemed to feel a little bit off in certain places, as well. Once the Essex sets out on its journey, we get the excitement of seeing just how complicated the task of operating a whaling vessel is. Anyone with the slightest curiosity for seafaring is likely to be engaged in the ship's departure from port and how it heads into its first major squall. After this, though, it seems as if the story was a bit rushed. The friction between the captain and first mate didn't have enough time to fully simmer before it came to a real head. And when crewmen eventually start dying for various reasons, it felt as if it lacked as much emotional punch as it could have had. Perhaps this could have been improved with a few more scenes of the crewmen relaxing or working on the ship, where we could have seen their personalities a bit more. Whatever the case, the reasonable 122-minute running time could have used a good ten to fifteen more creative minutes to add some emotional heft.

The visuals are probably the strongest aspect of the  movie, but like the other aspects, they weren't as captivating as possible. The majesty of seafaring and, at times, the whales which the Essex hunts are sometimes captured well, and you get a sense of the enormity and grandeur of the oceans and traversing them. And there are a few clever shots here and there. However, I found some of the sequences during the actual hunting to be less exciting than I had hoped. Having read Moby Dick not long ago, I can easily recall how exciting a really well-done film adaptation could be of a whale hunt. In the Heart of the Sea conveys some of this adventure, but here also I couldn't help but be a tad underwhelmed by something which should truly inspire awe. I suppose seeing the movie in a theater may have helped this, but I feel that my television screen should still have been conveying more awe from certain scenes.

This movie was just on the right side of the question "Is it worth your time?" My wife and I certainly didn't feel that we wasted our time watching it, but neither of us will ever return to it. I would recommend it with the slight caveat not to expect greatness. Truthfully, the only lasting effect the movie had on me was making me want to re-watch the underrated Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World from 2003. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Idiot Boxing: Ash vs Evil Dead, season 1 (2015); Luke Cage, season 1 (2016)

Oh, how very, very long have we waited to see Ash back and
smashing ghouls in the face with the butt of his shotgun?
Far too long, I says.
Ash vs Evil Dead, season 1 (2015)

The comedy horror genre is such an interesting one, in that it is deceptively tough to master. Still, one of its great pioneers, Sam Raimi, has shown us that he can still tap into the magic formula and give us some hilariously violent gore and one-liners with this first season of a show that was a long time in coming.

Ages ago (1987, to be precise), a friend of mine with a truly quirky sense of humor became obsessed with the movie Evil Dead II - an odd flick that had plenty of truly creepy elements to it, but also had a ton of bizarre and comical flourishes. I confess that I really didn't understand my friend's undying devotion, although I did watch the movie with him no fewer than a half dozen times. Clearly, there was something that was compelling about it, even if I couldn't fully grasp what it was. Years later, though, I was able to go back and see just how singularly brilliant writer and director Sam Raimi was, and just how entertaining and unique leading man Bruce Campbell was. They teamed up for the sequel Army of Darkness several years later in 1992, and it was fun if not quite the novel, odd masterpiece that was Evil Dead II. Still, the entire trilogy had inspired a strong cult following - one which constantly asked for more from the dynamic duo of Raimi and Campbell.

Nearly 25 years later, those wishes came true. Last year was the first season of Ash vs. Evil Dead. It picks up roughly 30 years after Evil Dead II (the continuity never addresses the events in Army of Darkness). Ash Williams is living in a trailer home and is essentially a loser in every sense of the word, although you would hardly know it from the swagger that he has. Despite living hand-to-mouth in a broken down single-wide and working as a lowly clerk at a discount retail chain store, he struts about and grins as if he were God's gift to humanity. Especially female humanity. While he hasn't had to battle the forces of evil in nearly three decades, this all changes when he foolishly and accidentally unleashes the Deadites upon the earth once again. He is forced to team up with two of his coworkers - Pablo and Kelly - to take down the ghoulish monsters yet again.

Ash with his new partners in Deadite slaying - Kelly and
Pablo. These two are pretty solid as slightly more grounded
comic relief. They make for a good trio. 
The show hits all of the marks that fans of the films would be looking for. While not every gag hits and not every sequence is noteworthy, there is enough in each episode to keep it all entertaining. And nearly every episode has at least one classic, laugh-out-loud moment. And while much of the plot serves as an excuse to just have Ash and his companions shooting and chopping up Deadites, there is actually a story arc happening. It's certainly not as tight as some of the very best horror or science-fiction out there, but slick, meticulously crafted stories are not what you come to this party for. You tune into Ash vs Evil Dead to see Bruce Campbell trade one-liners and bloody shots with hellish creatures. And that's what the show gives you.

The first season is not on par with Evil Dead II, but it would be unfair to expect it to be. That cult classic can never truly be equalled, even by its own creator Sam Raimi (who is a major part of this new show). Still, Ash vs Evil Dead does a really nice job tapping into a horror vein that we really haven't seen since Army of Darkness. And it certainly does feel good to take another hit from the king, baby.

Luke Cage, season 1 (2016)

Arguably the best Netflix Marvel show yet, which is saying something.

The character Luke Cage was introduced in last year's A.K.A. Jessica Jones, also on Netflix. While Cage played a fairly key role in that series, he was ultimately a secondary character who was in a handful of episodes and ultimately was sidelined during the season's grande finale showdown. He was an intriguing character who begged to have some of the questions about him answered, and Luke Cage does an exceptional job of it.

We last saw Cage recovering from a point-blank shotgun blast in Hell's Kitchen, where he was assisting Jessica Jones in her pursuit of Kilgrave. We now find him a little farther north, in Harlem, where he is laying quite low, working two rather menial jobs as a barbershop janitor and a restaurant dishwasher. Soon, however, he finds himself in the middle of a gang war involving Harlem natives whose cirminal enterprises are deeply entrenched in the drug trade and politics of the region.

This show is easily one of, if not the best, of the four Netflix Marvel show seasons yet (I'll probably need to rewatch the first season of Daredevil before I make that claim, as it was the reigning leader). The tone of the Netflix shows is now abundantly clear - they will take their time and focus on characters far more than the movies can. It was done extremely well with the first seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage does arguably an even better job of it. Cage was shown to be a powerful, intriguing character with depths hinted at during his appearances in Jessica Jones. In his own show, all of those hints are fully realized, as we get a very well-rounded, conflicted character whose reluctance to use his powers comes from a very understandable place. And Cage is wonderfully fleshed out through the quips and charm that he displays when he does let his guard down, not unlike what was shown in Jessica Jones.

As much as the title character, Luke Cage makes the location of Harlem its own character. The show spends plenty of time digging into the extremely rich history of the African-American presence in the area, including its politics, art, sports, and music. Oh, the music. But I'll get to that later. It was nice to finally see a high-quality fantasy action film or show that features a mostly minority cast. Nearly all of the characters are tied to the African-American roots and traditions that are either deep within Harlem itself, or deep within the general experience of being black in the United States. Many of these themes are right out in the open, such as the importance of men's barber shops as safe, comforting places, or finding a workable definition of being a righteous man amidst chaotic conditions. Others are perhaps hinted at, such as Luke Cage wearing a hoodie, which could be seen as a recognition of the Trayvon Martin slaying several years ago. In so many places, Luke Cage looks racial issues squarely in the face, and the show is better for it.

Luke in front of Pop's Barbershop - a very authentic feeling
slice of Harlem, where Cage, Pop, and the locals talk sports,
politics, the neighborhood, or just bust balls.
Of course, it is a Marvel Cinematic Universe show, not a social science documentary. And Luke Cage gets the fun comic book stuff right. Cage's powers of super strength and unbreakable skin might not be the flashiest or most creative, but the writers of the show made entertaining use of his abilities and showing them off. While there are several excellent fights and show-downs, my favorite occurred in episode 3 - "Who's Gonna Take the Weight?" Here, Cage walks right into a heavily fortified Harlem building with nothing more than a grim face and a really bad attitude. While bullets deflect harmlessly off of him and he hurls one thug after another out of his way, the fun is immeasurably enhanced by the background track "Bring the Ruckus" by New York City natives The Wu-Tang Clan. The sequence was, for me, as fun, impressive, and satisfying as the single-take warehouse beatdown sequence in the first season of Daredevil. I've even gone back to rewatch that sequence a few times, and I still love it.

Mentioning the Wu brings up one area of Luke Cage that is head and shoulders above every Marvel film or show done to date - the music. From the opening theme to the closing credit music, Luke Cage features the baddest and most appropriately attitude-laden tunes in the MCU. While many of the jams fall in the genres of hip hop, rap, or modern rhythm and blues, there are more than a few songs that throwback to the great jazz and funk tunes of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Guardians of the Galaxy has a great soundtrack, but it is intentionally out of place with its setting, in ways that are as goofy as they are effective. From the singles to the orignal score, the soundtrack of Luke Cage completely belongs right where it is, and will be hard for other shows to match.

My only complaint about Luke Cage is one that I can level at the other three Netflix Marvel shows - that they haven't yet seemed to completely master the 13-episode season. I do greatly appreciate that the shows, with roughly 11 hours of time to work with, are able to dig deeply into the characters and their environments. Still, all four shows have had moments where things seemed to be dragging just a bit. Luke Cage was not an exception. It's not necessarily that the shows are getting off on tangents or getting repetitive; it is more the case of certain scenes and sequences featuring dialogue or character exchanges that lack the sharp drama or sizzle of the very best parts of the season. Such things tend to stand out if you watch the entire season over the course of a few days.

Obviously, I was impressed by Luke Cage. The Netflix wing of the MCU is clearly in great shape right now, with only one more character to introduce before Cage, Daredevil, Jones, and Iron Fist team up in the Defenders mini-series slated for later next year. I'm excited for it. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Before I Die #585*: The Thief of Bagdad (1924)

This is the 585th film I've seen from the 1,187 movies on the "Before You Die" list that I'm gradually working my way through. *Once again, the people at the "Before You Die" crew have updated their list by adding 10 more movies to the list, seven of which I have already seen. Hence the jump of numbers between this film and the previous "Before You Die" film that I reviewed. 

Director: Raoul Walsh

Quite the spectacle which must have set a new bar for film back in its time. Still, it is a silent movie, and The Thief of Bagdad now suffers from several of that era's limitations.

The story draws from the world famous Tales of the Arabian Nights, combining several elements from various tales to create the character of The Thief, played by Douglass Fairbanks. The Thief (his real name is never revealed) is a carefree pickpocket and robber who manages to take what he wants and evade capture at every turn, laughing the entire time. He eventually decides to try his most ambitious scheme - to win the hand of the beautiful princess of Bagdad (sic) by posing as a prince and competing with other monarchs from Mongolia, Persia, and India for her hand. Each must try and procure a "rare object" from somewhere in the world and present it to the king, who will give his daughter to the man who obtains the object he deems the rarest and most precious.

As far as silent movies go, I found The Thief of Bagdad far more watchable than most of its contemporaries, if not exactly the most profound of films. While it is long (nearly two-and-a-half hours), the story continues to move and change at a fairly vigorous pace. In the spirit of classical epic adventures, the hero must travel to faraway and strange lands, battle adversaries both human and inhuman, and brave all manner of peril. Although the actual elements of danger are nothing new to modern viewers, I couldn't help but be impressed at just how many innovations director Raoul Walsh utilized to dazzle the audience. Yes, they will seem almost laughably rudimentary to us now, over 90 years later, but compared to its contemporaries, this movie must have seemed like the Avatar of its day.

This still shows just how much work went into the sets and
costumes on this massive production. It's as lavish and eye-
catching as anything you will see from this era of movies. 
I think another reason I found this movie more enjoyable than other massive-scale silent films is that it clearly is not taking itself seriously. It is pure fantasy, meant for pure entertainment. Because of this, it is far easier to excuse a lack of character depth or plot sophistication. When you are dealing with fantastic tales meant mostly for children, you can't really criticize a film the same way you would a humanist drama, such as Foolish Wives or The Wheel. Such films were aiming high in terms of studying the human condition, but could only do so much due to a lack of sound and acting techniques still rooted a little too much in theater. And it certainly doesn't hurt that Douglas Fairbanks was clearly a great actor for this type of role, flashing a proto-Clark Gable grin as he artfully dances and escapes from one precarious pitfall to another.

A curious note to me is that the movie was directed by Raoul Walsh, whom I previously only knew for the classic gangster movies he would oversee later - The Roaring Twenties, High Sierra, and White Heat. I guess it goes to show that great directors really can do anything, whether it's hard-nosed crime flicks or swashbuckling family movies. I wouldn't recommend this movie to anyone but hard-core film buffs or true aficionados of silent film, but it was still rather fun.

That's 585 movies down. Only 602 to go before I can die. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Idiot Boxing: Orphan Black, season 4 (2016); Ballers, season 1 (2015)

Orphan Black, season 4 (2016)

A quality return to the strong roots of the show, after what I found to be an overly expansive third season.

In the wake of the overwhleming revelations about more Lida clones, in addition to a whole parcel of psychotic, soldier Castor clones in season 3, season 4 gets back to some of the basics laid out in the first season. Namely, what Neolution was ever truly after, and how Sarah and her sisters can avoid death via the latent illness built into their DNA. Blessedly, the tale narrows its focus more on a smaller amount of characters and goes back to the very beginning of the story and even before, when we get to see what led up to Beth Childs's suicide - the event which drew Sarah into the entire affair way back in the pilot episode.

I have to admit that, after not having watched the show since the end of the previous season, it helped that the pace slowed down and returned to familiar territory. Later in this season, my mind was actually racing to recall certain characters and events which I hadn't seen or thought about in at least a year, but starting this fourth season a bit more slowly was a great help. And while the end of this season did raise a few puzzling questions and may not have offered the satisfaction that you might hope for from a season finale, the pieces are clearly in place for the fifth season - reportedly the shows last.

Sarah (left) and relative newcomer to "Clone Club," Crystal.
The bimbo Crystal is definitely a comic relief, but they don't
overdo her presence - just one of many examples of how this
season gets the tricky balancing act of the show correct.
The story in season 4 focuses more on the power struggle within Neolution regarding the future of their genetic engineering and eugenics projects. The primary players are the young a eerily exotic-looking Evie Cho, and Lida clone Rachel Duncan, who is still recovering from her attack at the hands of Sarah. As Evie and Rachel try to out-maneuver one another, Sarah and her sisters attempt to uncover more truths about their place in the entire affair. While the plot points can get a bit convoluted at times, the important points clarify by season's end.

Like many such briskly-paced thrillers, Orphan Black will occasionally make use of the speed of its narrative to gloss over actions or points that don't always add up. Characters will sometimes act in ways that do not show the intelligence or foresight that their characters are meant to possess, usually in the name of creating interesting dynamics or moving the plot forward. Fortunately, these aspects do not hamstring the show, as they are usually relatively minor points that never sabotage the major themes or motivations.

It's almost a given at this point, but the acting is tremendous. Tatiana Maslany hasn't slackened a bit in her acting gymnastics of playing seven different, very distinct clones. She finally won an Emmy for it, as well, which is beyond well-deserved, if not a year or two late. The rest of the cast holds just as well, but Maslany truly is the show.

I was really pleased with this season. After season three, which had expanded the character roster and scope to almost dizzying size, I was afraid that I was watching a show that had no real end-game plan and was just spinning out ideas in order to keep the show running for as long as they could. Season four, however, showed that there was always a clear plan in mind, and the show is heading towards its ultimate resolution. If the final season even comes close to living up to this promise, this will become a classic of modern speculative fiction.

Ballers, season 1 (2015)

It's not a game-changing, mind-blowing sports drama/comedy, but Ballers had just enough surprises to be engaging.

Starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as a recently-retired former star NFL linebacker Spencer Strasmore, the show follows "Spence", who is based in Miami, as he tries to forge a new career as a financial planner for current NFL players. The show draws on the antics of rich, immature athletes for much of its entertainment value. A fist fight in a club over a verbal insult. Raucous parties with booze, drugs, and women. More than one athlete too self-absorbed to realize how ridiculous his behavior is. These are not exactly new grounds being broken. While I didn't find many of the athletes' antics particularly hilarious or revelatory, I will admit that there are more than a few good lines of dialogue sprinkled in.

Rather than the inside look at the daily insanity of the lives of some wealthy pro athletes, it is the character of Spence and what revolves around him that gives the show a dash of novelty. Spence represents that segment of athletes that make for the sadder stories. The gifted athlete who forged a great career, but has far less to show for it than he probably should. Although very accomplished as a player, Spence has very little of the financial security that other modern athletes of his caliber ought to have. His attempt to forge a new career as a financial planner seems to be a form of redemption as much as a way to pay his bills. In trying to find his very first clients, he sees men not much younger or further from their post-playing days than Spence is, and he is trying to help them avoid the mistakes that he made. This is, of course, easier said than done when dealing with extremely competitive, egotistical personalities. The drama arising from Spence's attempts to make his clients, and sometimes their delusional entourages, see the light is often compelling, humorous, or both. One memorable example is watching Spence's incredulity when having to tell one of his star clients why its not a good idea to be snorting cocaine off of a woman's breasts in front of dozens of people on a party boat. Such scenes' humor is often carried by Dwayne Johnson's acting and wonderfully expressive face, which bears every ounce of frustration that a parent would have trying to talk sense into a four year old. The Rock has shown his acting chops before this, and Ballers just further confirms that he is far more than just a tall pile of muscles.

Spence and Ricky Jerret, Spence's most volatile client. Much
of this first season focuses on Spence working to not only get
Ricky a solid contract but also helping Ricky avoid acting
like an adolescent in ways that harm his brand.
Another unexpected layer is that Spence himself is also dealing with the physical toll left by his many years playing football. The concern hovering over Spence for much of this first season is the possibility of head trauma - a condition for which he is highly reluctant to get checked out. While the resolution does come, it offers a rather palatable outcome that perhaps undercuts the seriousness of this issue. I only hope that it is revisited in future episodes, if not with Spence directly, then with one or more of his clients. There is also the Spence's ongoing use/abuse of painkilling medication, which is not fully addressed in this season, but is clearly presented as an issue which will be further explored.

I actually liked this first season more than I had expected, although it is hardly breaking breaking any new ground. While it is interesting to focus on the off-the-field issues of professional athletes, much of Ballers is relatively light fare, some but not all of which is entertaining. I'll be checking out the second season to see how it evolves, and if it lives up to the potential this first season shows. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

New(ish) Releases: The Lobster (2015); X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

Sure, the reviews are in Italian, but this
poster is one of the best ones I found that
conveys some sense of the "Wes Anderson
meets Franz Kafka" tone.
The Lobster (2015)

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

A rather brilliant, if often cold, piece of speculative, dystopian fiction.

Set at an unspecified time and place but one which seems not terribly far removed from our reality in the early 21st century, The Lobster follows David, a man whose wife is no longer with him. In this alternate world, adults are not allowed to be single. Instead, when their partner leaves through death or choice, the newly-single person is taken to a hotel where they are given forty-five days to find a new mate among the other single people at the hotel. If they are unable to find a mate, they will be turned into an animal of their own choosing.

If that description sounds strange, then it should. And there are plenty of other details that emerge about the bizarre world of the film that add to the unnerving oddity of it all. David, played by Colin Farrell, is an empathetic if mostly pathetic protagonist, who trudges along the pathways laid out by society. That is, until desperation leads him down a far more dangerous path. Seeing him try to negotiate his very limited and thoroughly unappealing options can be compelling, if ultimately depressing in nearly every way.

There is humor that runs throughout nearly the entire picture, although it is of an extremely dry and dark strain of comedy. The tone and crisp, careful cinematography of the movie put me in mind of several of Stanley Kubrick's films, in particular A Clockwork Orange, another terrifying dystopian story that has its own disturbing humor and internal logic. Like A Clockwork Orange, the overarching theme of The Lobster is society's control over individuals, although the latter focuses on romantic relationships between individuals, rather than looking at aberrant, violent criminal behavior. For this reason, The Lobster has far more intellectual food for thought to offer a larger audience, even if that audience will have to put in some serious mental energy to get beyond the strangeness of the proceedings. Imagine if Wes Anderson did a film adaptation of a Franz Kafka tale, and you get some idea. This is not to say that the movie is without a soul - it most certainly has it. But by the very nature of the film's themes, it must only give it out in very brief, small portions.

The denizens of the hotel go out for their daily hunting
expedition. What they are hunting and why is one of the many
darkly humorous and outlandish elements of the story.
The technical aspects of this movie are incredible. The cinematography captures the sad beauty of the settings and costumes perfectly, and the acting is pitch-perfect. Colin Farrell once again shows that he is far more than just a pretty face, as he plays the sad sack David wonderfully. Rachel Weisz is also her typically strong self, as are all of the other actors, minor and major alike. While the film's mood never asks the actors to emote very much, completely by design, the cast is able to add the subtle layers necessary to prevent the entire affair from coming off like robots on film.

This is a difficult movie to widely recommend. I found it quite fascinating, and well worth watching the one time. I am unlikely to watch it again, but I think that viewers who are unafraid of challenging movies that appeal far more to logos rather than pathos would find a lot in it. Whether I ever watch it again or not, The Lobster is certainly one of a kind, and a film that is extremely well-crafted.

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

Director: Bryan Singer

Despite being aware of the poor reviews, I was stunned at how weak this X-Men movie was, given who was at the helm and the resources he was working with.

Not long ago, I did a complete rundown of the primary X-Men movies, with a separate review of Days of Future Past. My takeaway is that, of the seven X-Men movies released before Apocalypse, there were three really good movies, two decent ones, and two really bad ones. Considering that Brian Singer had directed the three best (and one of the decent) movies in the series, I was confident that the recent entry would be solid. Yet somehow, Singer tumbled into a couple of the major pitfalls that he had skillfully avoided prior to Apocalypse.

Continuing with the retracing of the steps of the X-Men which was begun with First Class, Apocalypse picks up in 1983 - nearly ten years after the events of Days of Future Past. Mystique is a rogue who protects victimized mutants, and Magneto is off the grid, living the quiet life of a family man in Poland, under an alias. Charles Xavier's school in New York is thriving, with dozens of young mutants receiving an education while learning how to use their superhuman abilities. Meanwhile, in the middle of Egypt, a ancient mutant named En Sabah Nur is awakened after being buried for thousands of years. En Sabah Nur, also known as Apocalypse, is a virtually-immortal mutant who is able to transfer his consciousness into other mutants, not only avoiding death but also absorbing their abilities. He is also convinced that he is meant to rule the entire world, and goes about seeing this vision become a reality immediately after he is awakened in 1983. To this end, he starts to dominate and recruit powerful mutants, including Magneto and other faces familiar to fans of the X-Men comic books from decades past.

While the movie does boast a few good scenes and strong performances by its highly formidable cast, there are too many messy or sloppy elements. Apocalypse himself is yet another one-dimensional comic book villain with plans for world domination. And there is quite literally nothing else we ever learn about his motivations beyond this. This is what made Days of Future Past so strong - even the adversaries like Bolivar Trask and ultimately Magneto had motivations that were complex and provided some real drama. Using another megalomaniac as the arch enemy in the sequel film simply feels like a step backwards, as it merely served as an excuse for one battle scene after another. I can appreciate well-done fight sequences in this type of movie, but there is always a saturation point. Apocalypse hit mine by the midway point of the movie, which isn't good with a film that clocks in at nearly two-and-a-half hours. Such tedium probably wouldn't have set in had the action scenes shown a little more creativity, but they didn't. Case in point is the Quicksilver scene, in which his power is on display in order to save the students at Xavier's Academy. It's somewhat fun, but it's really just a lengthier retread of the same visual effect which was so much fun in the previous movie, during Magneto's breakout of the Pentagon. What was novel and entertaining the first time felt a little bit like the writers had run out of new ideas in the follow-up movie.

Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, and Cyclops. Just three of way too
many "newcomers" who have long histories within the X-Men
mythology. In trying to give nearly all of them their moments,
the movie ultimately fails to give any of them any truly
meaningful ones. Or any worhtwhile depth, for that matter.
And then there is the fault that was one of the most glaring with X-Men 3 back in 2006 - character overload. I can only guess at how Singer allowed this to happen, as he so carefully avoided it in the previous movie. In Days of Future Past, despite including a couple dozen mutant characters, the movie felt tight thanks to its focus on only three or four of the stongest ones. Unfortunately, no such focus occurs in Apocalypse, where we constantly jump from one character to another, with no one's deeper stories teased out or elaborated upon.

I try never to be so arrogant to believe that I could come up with a better movie than the actual professionals, but I can't help it with this movie. I can't shake the feeling that this movie would have been far better served if it spent more time telling the back story of En Sabah Nur - about how his powers gradually increased and why he decided that he was fit to dominate the entire world. From that, a slower build of the threat and menace of Apocalypse would likely have had much greater impact. Instead, we get a tale that felt rushed and jammed with far too many characters to care enough about any of them, particularly the newcomers to the reboot trilogy.

I must remind everyone (including myself) that Apocalypse does have some fun ideas and solid sequences in it. For fans of the series, it is worth checking out, to be sure. I would simply caution anyone who saw and liked the previous two films to keep a tight rein on your expectations. I found Apocalypse to easily be the weakest of the reboot trilogy, and ultimately a missed opportunity that wasted, if not exactly all, then many of its vast resources. 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

New Release! Hell or High Water (2016)

Director: David Mackenzie

An absolutely brilliant movie that gives a very familiar genre - the Western - an update that stays completely true to the spirit of the very best classics.

Hell or High Water tells the story of two brothers in west Texas who rob several banks in small, depressed towns of those desolate plains. One of the brothers, Tanner Howard, is reluctant but seems driven by some unspoken motivation for the crime spree, while his brother (and ex-con) Toby clearly revels in being a true modern outlaw. After they rob two banks within a very short span, the attention of the Texas Rangers is drawn. In particular, Ranger Marcus Hamilton, who is only a few weeks away from retirement but takes the case as a way to still feel useful before he hangs up his badge for good.

The basic plot is nothing novel, but this hardly matters. This movie is far more about characters and what they represent in today's world. There is some heady social commentary made about modern poverty and desperation, and some heavy implications about guns and violence.  All of these themes have the potential to be overly dense, but the film uses them skillfully, without being heavy-handed or contrived. For the most part, the revelations about the Tanner brothers' spree and its motivation create enough compelling drama. Their pursuit by Ranger Hamilton and his partner Alberto adds a cat-and-mouse element that is at first entertaining but becomes deadly serious by film's end. And like many great stories, we are not left with nice, pat answers about the ultimate resolution, which leaves us with some serious questions about not only the main characters in the story but also the world in which they live. The script is amazingly tight, with every scene feeling absolutely essential, whether it is one of intense action, sly or tongue-in-cheek humor, or quiet drama.

Even seemingly placid scenes such as this one are eminently
watchable, thanks to great shot composition, great acting, and
compelling dialogue.
As strong as the writing and direction are, the acting is just as commendable. Ben Foster is masterful as the charismatic but ultimately murderous Toby. And I'm probably far from the only person surprised at the outstanding performance of Chris Pine - an impossibly handsome leading man who is mostly known for starring in big-budget movies like the recent Star Trek reboots. Here, though, Pine turns in a nuanced, award-worthy performance as the tortured Tanner Howard. Less surprising is that Jeff Bridges is amazing as Ranger Hamilton. While he could be accused of channeling a little too heavily from his own take on Rooster Cogburn from True Grit, he imbues Hamilton with an impressively authentic, old-school, light-hearted but immensely capable Texan. While Hamilton evokes laughter for much of the film, it is frighteningly easy to feel his pain and anger once things get lethally serious during the film's third act.

I must also mention the setting and cinematography. Being from Texas, albeit San Antonio in the center of the state, I am familiar enough with the west Texas area to recognize that David Mackenzie does an amazing job conveying the desolation and beauty of the region. The openness of those dry plains can inspire both limitless hopes and dire fears, both of which play into the story of this film. All of this is further enhanced by a memorable but never invasive music score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.

This is one of the best films I've seen in some time. I'll certainly watch it again, and I already plan to go back and watch director Mackenzie's earlier works. I can't recommend this one highly enough. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Mission: Impossible series

This is yet another film franchise which I recently felt the urge to work through. I had only ever seen the original, back during its theatrical release in 1996. I remember enjoying it well enough back then, but I never felt the need to see it again. With the positive reviews of the more recent films in the series, I felt like taking them all in. My thoughts:

Mission: Impossible (1996)

Director: Brian De Palma

This one has not aged very well. With espionage suspense thrillers growing smarter and more sophisticated, the original M:I movie seems a bit like a clumsy relic, despite being only 20 years old. 

For those who haven't seen it in a while, here's a quick plot summary: Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team of secret agents are sent on a mission that goes horribly wrong. In the middle of the mission, several of the members are killed, seemingly due to a mole within the group. Hunt is blamed and goes on the run. he learns that the betrayal was connected to a furtive deal to sell the list of all M:I agents throughout the world to an outside party. Hunt recruits two discharged agents to help him and the one survivor of his original team to obtain the list and find who killed his team members and set him up.

The basic plot serves well enough for such a movie. The initial betrayal still has some impact, as it is rather dark and sets the stakes high enough to be compelling. And the tale of a highly-trained, highly capable secret agent using his skills to pull off amazing feats is intriguing here. But the moment one looks closely at or thinks a bit about the execution of the plot details, the movie is rather shallow. There are even times when it brushes with being unintentionally campy. 

A good spy thriller needs to have some smarts, especially with its details. With M:I, the plot whisks you along so quickly that you might forget to ask questions like, "Why are Hunt and his entire team so oddly chipper at the beginning? Are they going on a black op or a golf retreat?" Or maybe "How does the CIA headquarters not have a far safer security protocols in the event of a fire?" Or how about "Why the hell did a long-standing fellow member of his team just sell out the entire crew, aside from money (which wasn't really that much, anyway)?" The movie just pulls us along from one sequence and scene to the next, hoping that we won't notice how shoddy several elements of it are. 

The break-in of the C.I.A. headquarters is still the best and
most iconic sequence of the entire film. It's a shame that the
rest of the movie doesn't hold up nearly as well.
I will say that the data heist in the CIA headquarters still has a decent amount of tension. Aside from that 10-odd minutes or so, I now find the movie rather dull. The heroes and villains are all no more than two-dimensional (mostly one-dimensional). And here I must confess that this is one of the more annoying performances Cruise ever turned in. I'm fairly ambivalent about him, finding him to be fine at times, annoying at others, and far from a "great" actor due to a limited range. In M:I, he is at his most smug and condescending, while thinking he's being playful. 

The movie also showed several of director Brian De Palma's hallmarks which I do not appreciate. He uses tilted camera angles in an attempt to make things look different, or perhaps to convey disorientation; really, it just seemed contrived to me. And contrivances were not limited to the camerawork - the plot is filled with them. It is almost as if the writers thought up the stunts and action sequences they wanted to do, and then worked backwards to put together some questionable excuse to get the plot to the necessary set piece. Some of the action sequences are ridiculous enough to fit right in with a Fast and Furious movie. The acting, probably due to both the directing and a weak script, can be painful at times. Most obvious is Emanuelle Bearte, who seems to have been cast almost solely for her pretty face, pouty lips, and French accent. Even established actors like Cruise, Jon Voigt, Ving Rhames, and Jean Reno have more than a few lame lines they have to sell, with very mixed results.

All of my little complaints add up to me seeing the original Mission: Impossible as a rather dated and even ham-fisted spy thriller, masquerading as a slick and cunning movie.

This image sums up a lot of what this movie is about - massive
explosions and Tom Cruise's long hair blowing in the wind.
Mission: Impossible 2 (2000)

Director: John Woo

Back in the mid and late 1990's, John Woo had finally garnered some serious attention with U.S. audiences. After being an absolute legend of action film directing in his native Hong Kong and China all through the 1980s, he had a few solid commercial, Hollywood hit action movies, including Broken Arrow in '96 and the even bigger Face/Off the following year. I suppose the success of those films is why he was handed the reins on the sequel to the mediocre-but-money-making original M:I film. I will admit to not being much of a John Woo fan. Having seen a few of his Hong Kong movies, as well as the aforementioned Hollywood hits, his style is simply not to my tastes. His skill and technique in his preferred genre are abundantly clear, but I've found his films to heavily favor style over substance. With this in mind, I was not hopeful about enjoying M:I-2.

I found M:I-2 neither better nor worse than the original, but it is certainly very different in ways that make for an interesting contrast.

The story finds Ethan Hunt on a mission to penetrate the circumstances around the death of an eminent biochemist and virologist. Hunt enlists a notorious thief, Naya (Thandie Newton), to help him infiltrate the crew of the key suspect, the former Impossible Mission Force (IMF) operative Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott). Ambrose is a dangerously capable sociopath out for his own gain, even if it puts millions of lives at risk. Along with the wildcard Naya, Hunt re-enlists IMF hacker Luther (Ving Rhames again) and Billy (John Polson) to help him find and stop Ambrose.

The story and unfolding of it are much more in line with a typical James Bond tale - a global threat is posed by a villainous adversary, with the hero using his cunning, gadgetry, and fighting prowess to save the multitudes. The story shows a bit more sophistication than the first tale, and the chess match between Hunt and Ambrose is much more compelling than the confrontation between Hunt and Phelps in the first film. There are a few well-done turns of one-upmanship which keep the narrative from being a one-sided affair in which Hunt is always a step ahead. Rather, the equally clever Ambrose anticipates many of Hunt's moves, adding some intrigue to the proceedings. And Dougray Scott plays the part of the villain quite well.

The character of Naya was an attempt to offer a female
character who had some strength and depth. Epic fail there,
as she is little more than a pawn with a pretty face. 
But here is where the merits of the story end. The movie force-feeds us a romance angle between Naya and Hunt that is laughably rushed. The two see each other once, get caught up in a brief and tense situation, and then they are apparently madly in love. No true reason is given for this, aside from the fact that they are both beautiful people who excite in dangerous situations. Another annoying aspect is that John Woo clearly fell in love with the face-mask gadget. In the original film, it was a relatively cutting-edge prop that added some fun, but Woo uses it no less than 5 times in this movie. By the end, you can see its use coming from a mile away, and it has lost all effect as a surprise. I suppose we should have seen this coming from the director behind Face-Off, which Woo had done a few years earlier.

I must admit that the movie certainly looks far better than the original. In terms of lighting and camerawork, Woo blows De Palma out of the water. M:I-2 looks vastly more polished than the almost hyper-colored work of the first movie. This, at least, makes the movie more pleasurable to take in, for the most part.

But then there is Woo and his action sequences. The man is so enamored of slow-motion and explosions that Michael Bay would probably tell him to tone it down. I haven't done the calculations, but I'm fairly certain that if all of the slow-mo action sequences were sped up to real time, the movie would be reduced by a good 20 to 30 minutes. Fans of that type of action filming would probably enjoy many of these scenes, but they usually bore me. M:I-2 was no exception.

So campared to the first movie, the sequel is a wash. M:I-2 looks better and has a cohesiveness to it that the original lacked, but it's a great example of style over substance. This is great if the style is to your liking, but Woo's style is not for me.

In the very first scene, the villainous Owen Davien shows us
just how little concern he has for human life. Hoffman goes a
long way towards creating a more menacing air in this entry.
Mission: Impossible 3 (2006)

Director: J.J. Abrams

It's not a great movie, but M:I-3 is a noticeable step up from the first two M:I flicks.

Basically following "real" time of the movies, we jump forward five or six years in the life of Ethan Hunt, who has retired from field work and is a trainer for the Impossible Mission Force. He is now engaged to Julia, a nurse with no idea of Hunt's secretive and highly dangerous profession. Just as he begins to feel that he will be able to take on a safer and more comfortable life, one of his trainees is taken by the mysterious and lethal figure Owen Davien (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Hunt reluctantly returns to the field to rescue his former pupil, only to have her die just after she reveals Davien's plan to sell some sort of doomsday device, referred to as "The Rabbit's Foot," to the highest bidder. Complicating matters further is the possibility that Davien is receiving help from within IMF. Hunt rapidly pursues and captures Davien, but soon has the tables turned on him when Davien not only escapes but also kidnaps Julia and forces Hunt to retrieve the Rabbit's Foot for him.

Right from the jump, the movie sets a tone that is darker and more consistently intense than the previous two movies. The sly little smiles and one-liners are almost completely absent, which robs the movie of some potential charm but also helps it avoid pitfalls of goofiness or camp. Instead, the stakes are set rather high and remain so throughout. Aside from the placid establishment of Hunt's life in the suburbs early in the picture, the action clicks along at a very brisk pace, with no wasted scenes or slow-motion editing to gum up the flow. These improvements alone make M:I-3 superior to its predecessors.

I must admit, though, that while the movie doesn't make any crucial errors, there is not enough there for me to consider it anything but a solid action movie. Yes, the acting is quality, but only one role called for anything beyond panic and determination - that of Owen Davien, played brilliantly by Philip Seymour Hoffman. But even Davien was surprisingly one-dimensional. He is certainly imposing in his menacing drive to crush anyone who gets in the way of his plans, and he is played with chilling effect by the ever-amazing Hoffman. But just like previous M:I villains, there is no exploration of his character beyond the fact that he is evil and must be stopped. The same goes for nearly every other character. We do see Hunt far more vulnerable than he was in the first two movies, which is welcome. It would have been nicer to see this depth applied to at least one or two other characters, though.

The M:I movies have, up to this point, been action movies. And M:I-3 has some outstanding action sequences. Instead of relying mostly on wildly conceived fight choreography, endless massive explosions, or slow-motion, director J.J. Abrams went for more wide shots of lighting-speed exchanges. It works really well, in many instances. Davien getting dangled from a plane in the air. Hunt getting blasted into a car by an missile explosion behind him. Hunt having to lean low out of a speeding car to get off some well-placed pistol shots. These scenes could very easily have been filmed in dull ways, but Abrams used clever angles and expert filming to add some serious thrill to them. I will say that Abrams's use of a shaky cam during many of the scenes, both action sequences and others, got on my nerves (see my complaints about this in my reviews of the Bourne series of movies by Paul Greengrass), but it wasn't overly distracting. I also felt that the non-reveal of the Rabbit's Foot was a cheeky cop-out way of admitting to the use of a McGuffin.

Of the first three movies I've watched so far, this is the first that I would actually watch again. Maybe not right away or even more than a second viewing, but it was good enough for a re-watch. This is one of the better things that I can say about any film.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011)

Director: Brad Bird

A very strange viewing experience, in that Ghost Protocol exhibits the veneer of an action-adventure movie that's doing many of the right things for the genre, and yet somehow left me feeling that it fell well short of its potential.

Following the continuity set in place by M:I-3, we start with Ethan Hunt being broken out of a Russian prison by a few I.M.F. agents. Although Hunt had been considered disavowed by the agency, he has been brought back in order to track down and put a stop to Hendricks, a doomsday fanatic on the verge of acquiring a nuclear weapon and starting a global war. No sooner is Hunt made aware of the severity of the threat Hendricks poses than his small team is blamed for an explosion near the Kremlin. The I.M.F. is completely disavowed, cut off, and Hunt's crew must try to stop the frighteningly intelligent Hendricks with only a small cache of gadgets and their wits.

So many great things are in place for a brilliant story that I'm still somewhat surprised that I didn't like this movie more. This movie had a much more James Bond tone than any previous M:I film, and this wasn't necessarily a bad thing. There were gadgets, a megalomanical villain with world-wide terror on the brain, and globe trotting galore. And yet the details and cohesion came up short a little too often for me to feel like this movie was anything more than a missed opportunity. It reminds me that, if you're going to try and update or build upon the James Bond template, you do it the way that Matthew Vaughan did it in Kingsman: The Secret Service a few years ago. Ghost Protocol just lacked a consistent tone that weakened it noticeably.

Like much of this movie, the "Spider-Man" gloves set up the
stunning visuals of Hunt climbing a massive tower in Dubai.
But their existence and usage don't hold up very well under
intelligent scrutiny.
The tale itself is actually fine. I'm alright with the standard "nutjob wants to kill most of the known world" storyline as an excuse to watched badass agents go to work. But the actual methods and tools employed left a few things to be desired. Some of the gadgets were actually interesting, like the optical illusion screen, which provided for some fun visuals. But others seemed contrived or half-baked. The "Spider-Man" gloves were clearly a silly idea that were a thin excuse to create almost-literal cliffhanger scenarios, and something like a balloon camera seems a bit unimaginative for a film like this.

More than the tech, though, was a general lack of consistency with the characters and the mood of the film. It seemed as if director Brad Bird didn't have a tight grasp on who he wanted the characters to be or how he wanted audiences to feel about them. The almost-always brilliant Simon Pegg gets a solid secondary role as a field agent, but he often acts like a dopey, jittery clown. More painfully obvious, though, is the Ethan Hunt character. In his opening scenes, he's depicted as a steely-eyed, nigh-invincible tactician and combatant, single-handedly fighting his way through a horde or Russian prison inmates and guards. Later, though, he shows signs of anxiety and uncertainty in ways that were clearly meant for comic effect. And towards the end, Hunt somehow has trouble besting the aged statistician villain in a hand-to-hand fight. Such lack of integrity takes me out of movies, and this was the case with Ghost Protocol.

I can't say that the movie is terrible by any means - it just didn't all come together. Despite some decent visuals, ideas, and performances, this was was actually less than the sum of its parts. Knowing that Brad Bird is the man behind The Incredibles (my favorite of the many great Pixar movies, it should be noted), I can't help but think that ideas which would work in the medium of animated family films didn't translate into live action the way that he was hoping.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015)

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

In my eyes, Rogue Nation is easily the best of the series. It finally gets the entire balance right and gives us a solid espionage action-thriller with some smarts and cohesive characters, narrative, and tone.

In keeping with the "real time" continuity set up in the previous few movies, Rogue Nation takes place about four years after the events of Ghost Protocol. Ethan Hunt is on the trail of a shadowy group he refers to as The Syndicate, which he believes is an organization bent on creating chaos throughout the world. His superiors doubt the existence of the group, and Hunt is forced to flee from them when he is blamed for the death of a field agent and the I.M.F. is absorbed by the C.I.A. Hunt then recruits a few former colleagues to help him find and stop The Syndicate, which is a very real group comprised of former black operative spies from governments around the world. As if finding and taking down The Syndicate weren't difficult enough, Hunt and his team must also evade the C.I.A., who has declared them enemies of the state.

More than any of the previous M:I movie, Rogue Nation sets up and maintains an excellent balance between intensity and fun, with the emphasis on the former. The intrigue is laid out rather quickly, with Hunt being captured by The Syndicate, only to be set free by Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) - a member of the Syndicate who has an unknown agenda. Far more dangerous than Faust is Lane, the former British MI6 agent who founded the Syndicate and is now using his resources to cause global unrest to enrich himself and bring down a system which he despises. The cat-and-mouse game between Lane and Faust is the best of the M:I movies. While M:I-3 had a solid villain in Owen Davien, the character was never quite the force that Lane is in Rogue Nation. The final showdown is very tense in a somewhat unconventional way, which was very welcome.

The action is extremely effective. While there may not be quite as many clever shots or sequences as M:I-3, the stunt scenes are well-done and entertaining. There are also several great set pieces, my favorite probably being the water tank security system break-in. Sure, it's contrived, but it's a fun contrivance that I found engaging. And I fully appreciate the movie thumbing its nose at the mere suggestion of using the face-mask gadget yet again. That little prop's time has clearly come and gone, and Rogue Nation tosses it aside in humorous fashion.

Ilsa Faust gets on top of the situation. Yes, Rebecca Ferguson
is sexy as hell, but Faust is written and played with a tough-
ness and depth that are far more genuine and compelling
than any previous female character in the M:I series. 
The characters are handled very well in this entry, as well. Unlike Ghost Protocol, every character shows ability and stays in his or her lane. Simon Pegg's Benji is funny but not goofy. Ethan Hunt is highly capable but never a superman. And I loved Rebecca Ferguson's turn as Ilsa Faust, while Sean Harris exudes all of the iciness that the Lane character requires. If I had to gripe about anything, it is that I felt Jeremy Renner's William Brandt character a tad underutilized, but only since it was established in the previous film that he is a skilled field agent. Only for this reason was it a little disappointing to see him almost exclusively in a suit and tie, having verbal tete-a-tetes in Washington D.C. through most of the picture.

I really enjoyed this one, which was a bit surprising, despite all of the hype around it. Given my general dislike of most Hollywood action flicks and the spotty history of this franchise, it was a very pleasant surprise to find an espionage thriller that is of a quality of the very best of its kind.

Franchise Roundup

I rank the five Mission: Impossible movies thus:

1. Rogue Nation
2. M:I-3
3. Ghost Protocol
4. Mission Impossible
5. M:I-2

I'll note that there is a pretty steep dropoff between M:I-3 and Ghost Protocol. The two best films in this series are, to me, noticeably superior to all of the others. The others were commercially successful and had a few merits, but I have no reason to ever watch them again.

The Mission: Impossible series is very unique. I can't think of another large-scale, big-budget movie series that has spanned 20 years, with five movies helmed by five different directors, all starring the same leading actor. This is one thing, but the fact that the series has generally gotten better over the years is truly remarkable. While there are only two of the series that I would watch again, they are both two of the most recent three to be released. And with Rogue Nation director Christopher McQuarrie tapped to direct the next one, I will likely go to see it in the theater - a first for me since the original movie was released back in 1996.