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Posts from August 2014

The Expendables 3

I have to be honest, I gave this movie an advantage by accident.  See, I showed up for it a half hour early because I had the wrong start time.  I hate waiting so I walked over to Applebee's, sat at the bar and had a drink.  Well, that turned into three or four drinks and before I knew it, I was drunk.  I staggered over to the theater, bought a popcorn that was too big for me and plopped down for the movie.  When you think about it though, that's a perfect metaphor for The Expendables franchise; you know it's not good for you but you just can't stop yourself from enjoying it.  Sure, you may not feel too well when it's all done but you'll have a pretty good time while you're in it.

This film series that prides itself on being nothing but mindless shoot-em-ups is now in its third installment and it's more of the same.  The only difference is that along with the returning cast members of Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Swarzenegger, Jason Statham (Transporter, Snatch), and Dolph Lundgren (Rocky IV, Masters of the Universe) are joined by a lot of new faces.  The old timers that were added are inspired and brilliant; we have Wesley Snipes (the Blade trilogy, To Wong Foo), Kelsey Grammar (X-Men 2, Fraiser), Antonio Banderas (Desperado, the Shrek films), Harrison Ford and Mel Gibson.

All these A-listers showing up in the series for the first time is excellent and elevates the film to a new level.  Banderas especially is hilarious as an out-of-work mercenary who is thrilled that he's just part of a team again.  His character is stupid and silly but Banderas' commitment to it is pretty awesome.  I also love seeing Gibson in a film again.  I know he's an a-hole in real life but the man is a talented actor and even more talented director; I hate that Hollywood has turned its back on him.  He's the villain in The Expendables 3 and he seems like he hasn't missed a beat during his hiatis.  Like all the characters in this series, it's cliche and paper-thin but Gibson plays it perfectly.

Where the movie is pretty off-putting is the painfully obvious addition of new, younger characters.  I don't mind it when a film franchise is reset with new characters.  If you're a huge fan of the series it's exciting to know that a new team will carry the torch onward.  The first problem with these new characters is that they're played by Kellan Lutz (the Twilight series), Glen Powell (The Dark Knight Rises), professional boxer Victor Ortiz and super sexy MMA fighter Ronda Rousey.  You might be thinking to yourself, "WTF?"  Yeah, that's exactly right.  If these are the people that Stallone has invested his retirement fund in, he's in trouble.  The other problem with it is that, even if they were good actors, which they're not, that's not what makes The Expendables fun.  You watch these movies to see an all-star cast of ghosts of action film past dust off their fists, do some deep stretches and get back out there doing things you thought you'd never see them do again.  Without that, it's just another sh**ty action movie.

It's common that people get disgusted by a franchise that feels like it's squeezing blood from a Stallone...I mean stone.  This film doesn't feel like it yet.  In fact, I think it's the best in the series but that's like being the skinniest kid at Fat Camp.  They're bad films that are fun to watch.  Again, that's why it's appropriate that I watched this with a brain falsely wired on alcohol, salt, sugar and fat.  When I sobered up halfway through, I did feel a little gross enjoying the film as much as I did.  But if you're considering going to see The Expendables 3, you know exactly what you're getting into and you know whether or not you want to see way before you read this sentence.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

One of the most annoying things that dwells in the gloomy cellar-bedrooms of nerd culture are the members among the group that demand that things be done "realistically" or made "dark" or "hardcore" versions of stuff that is absolutely ridiculous.  All of those are real words I've heard used by people when describing their expectations for this film version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  The title alone is stupid and silly.  The characters are the stuff you're suppose to love when you're 10-years-old.  So now that you're a 28-year-old that is sitting behind a keyboard getting ready to crap all over a movie because it "didn't get as real as it should have;" you're pathetic and you need to get a grip.  That being said, this is a pretty bad movie but not for any of those reasons.

I was a child of the '80s and like every boy since that decade, I went through a period of time where I was obsessed with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  I never read the comic series but I watched the show, had the toys, played the video games and pretended to be them (my character of choice was Donatello because every kid could easily get their hands on a broomstick and look legit).  As I grew older, I also grew out of my interest in the heroes in a halfshell because there's no depth to them and you're not suppose to love them as an adult outside of nostalgia.  They're not X-Men that are analogies for racism and hatred in our society.  They're not Batman in that they're characters layered with deep angst.  They're stupid, silly, funny, ninja reptiles.  That much is pulled off successfully in this film but that's about it.

Directory Jonathan Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans, Battlefield Los Angeles) isn't a bad director; he's just a guy cruising for a big payday over making something with merit.  His first film was Darkness Falls which was a pretty cool horror film with an original concept.  Everything he's done since then has been vapid and poorly executed.  Ninja Turtles is no exception and teaming up with Michael Bay (Transformers, Bad Boys) as an Executive Producer didn't help.  Every frame of this movie stinks of Bay's influence and by the time it's over it feels like a Michael Bay movie with its over-the-top action sequences and bloated CGI FX.

Despite taking almost an hour to get to a major action sequence, it's well worth the wait.  The most notable is a fight involving Hummers and a truck falling down the side of a snowy mountain (EXACTLY like what Bay did in Bad Boys 2) that is filled with so many "WTF" moments it almost trumps the level of fun you have while watching it.  This sequence starts a non-stop action orgy till the end credits roll and I enjoyed every second of it for being the eye-candy it's meant to be.  Is it worth sitting through two acts of a boring and pithy movie to get to it?  I think it is but you might disagree.

Despite the CGI in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles being quality and fairly realistic looking, it feels like you're watching a cartoon.  The reason why the 1990 version, directed by Steve Barron, was so much better was that all of it felt organic.  Jim Henson Studios made 100 lbs. rubber suits that actors had to wear and still perform martial arts moves in and that was amazing to see!  What we have here is something that we've seen a hundred times over and done better in most examples.  This should have been made to rekindle nostalgia in us oldheads and launch a whole new generation of fans (which it might do -- all the kids in the audience seemed to love it), but what it did instead was come across like a money-grab and plundering of something that many of us remember fondly.  If you want to whore out my childhood, I'm actually fine with that; but at least make me believe you have good intentions for doing it.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has moments of fun but when it's all over I just felt used, dirty and covered in ooze.

Enter to win the Teeange Mutant Ninja Turtles game for Nintendo 3DS, plus a hat & a t-shirt HERE!


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On of our Giraffes at the Sac Zoo is preggers!

Congrats to mom-to-be Shani, a Masai giraffe who lives at the Sacramento Zoo!  She will be delivering a brand new baby giraffe at some point this November or December.  Chifu, seen in this pic with Shani, is presumed to be the father, seeing that he's the only male out of the 5 giraffes at our zoo!  It will be the first giraffe birth at the zoo since the 80's! 

For those who clicked through from my Facebook post, haha gotcha!!

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Into the Storm

There was a time when diaster movies ruled the cineplexes.  I can remember being in high school and going to the movies with my best friends ready to watch some random city get destroyed by some random thing.  Volcanoes, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, fires, floods, typhoons, plagues, asteriods, whatever!  You name it, we saw it destroy stuff.  I loved those movies because they had cool special FX, identitcal plots and always equaled a good time.  It seems like the drought of disaster porn in recent years is due to an even bigger natural disaster than all those things combined -- the box office profit margin.  After a viewing of Into the Storm, we now know why.

The reason why those other films were so enjoyable was because we could see A-list stars running from cutting-edge technology in CGI FX.  Well now every film has cutting-edge technology in CGI FX and A-listers are too busy earning their money in far less grueling roles.  What we're left with is a movie like Into the Storm that is filled with no A-listers, a horrible plot, cliche everything and FX that you can see on network television (and in some cases better).  In fact, the only difference between Into the Storm and Sharknado, as far as quality is concerned, is a bigger budget and sharks.

The only faces you might recognize is Sarah Wayne Callies, who played Laurie on AMC's The Walking Dead, and the very funny Matt Walsh (The Hangover, Ted) in a role that's not funny, nor meant to be, which makes me think he only took the part for the money.  The rest of the cast is rounded out by a spinning wheel of actors you'd expect in made-for-TV movies and none of which are any good.  The plot is stupid and simple and consists of a few people trying to survive a freak weather condition that causes several tornadoes to wreak havoc on a midwest town.  

I remember when Twister came out and everyone mocked the ending where Bill Pullman and Helen Hunt (speaking of which...where the hell has she been?) survived an F5 tornado by holding on to a leather belt strapped to a pipe.  There is laughable nonsense in Into the Storm that makes that seem like a plausible experiment on Mythbusters.  But stuff like that I can easily overlook just like I did when I was a kid.  Suspension of disbelief is in the marrow of disaster films.  No government would ever send an oil crew to space to blow up an asteriod.  Rubber truck tires would never spin in hot lava.  And ice wouldn't chase two people down hallways when freezing NYC.  Into the Storm is no different in its "c'mon" moments but that's not what makes it bad.

Director Steven Quale (Final Destination 5) made a poorly done "found footage" movie that's got as much story as it has talent; that's to say not very much.  Never for a second do you care about any of these characters which makes their fate irrelevant to you as an audience member.  There are a few moments of excitement but even those are horribly executed and over too quickly.  You get the impression that at some point this script featured a plot that these tornadoes were actual monster aliens who came to earth to harvest humans and the SyFy Channel passed on it so they took all that crap out and just released it in theaters instead.  This is made-for-TV garbage that is trying to trick you into spending $10 to see it instead of watching it for free on your couch while you drink yourself to sleep because you had a fight with your girlfriend.  Go on YouTube and watch real tornado found footage instead -- it's free and features better acting and plot.

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Guardians of the Galaxy

Hollywood is never really known for taking risks, and that's relatively understandable because they peddle in money, not in art.  One thing that nobody saw coming was for Marvel and Disney to take a massive risk on a film franchise that spanned nine movies and grossed billions of dollars.  As of now, the Avengers universe has performed extremely well in both critical reviews and box office gold.  So why would they want to roll the dice on five characters that no one had ever heard of in a wacky, silly space adventure with zero name recognition from even the most passionate comic book fans?  That's a good question, but whatever the reason was, I'm thrilled that they did.

I've gotten into arguments with comic nerds who say things like, "I've been reading the Guardians of the Galaxy series since I was a little kid" because no they haven't!  No one has heard of these characters, and the few that have were never into them because there was almost nothing to get into.  Lots of randoms have been members of the Guardians, but the five awesome characters we see in this movie--played by Chris Pratt (NBC's Parks and Rec, Zero Dark Thirty), Zoe Saldana (Avatar, Crash), professional wrestler Dave Bautista (Riddick) and the voices of Bradly Cooper and Vin Diesel--were created all the way back in 2008.  Ironically (or not so ironically), this was the year that the Marvel master plan started with The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man.

Another risky choice that Marvel/Disney made was casting A-list actors in bit parts and voices for CGI characters, and the live actors you see are unfamiliar and unconventional choices.  It's even more impressive when you realize they also chose James Gunn as the director whose prior films, Slither and Super, have been dark comedies that have amassed a cult fan base at best.  The fact that Gunn has never commanded a film with a budget of more than a few million and that he has never really used massive computer FX is never obvious for a single second in Guardians of the Galaxy.  Gunn has created a fun, colorful, exciting space adventure that is so masterful it makes you feel like you did when you saw Star Wars and Indiana Jones for the first time.  Yes, I know that's a bold statement, but if you put yourself in a 10-year-old's brain while watching it, you can't help but have your mind blown with witty dialogue, big explosions, and interesting characters.

Pulling off a movie this impressive would've been amazing enough, but for anyone educated in the vast Marvel movie world, it's kind of jaw-dropping.  Anyone with enough curiousity to read up and learn comic lore can see how the puzzle of (what is now) six different film franchises are fitting together in one massive story--the scope of which has never been seen in film before and probably won't again (good luck with what you're trying, DC).  Characters that used to be reserved for random teases at the end of the credits are now getting more screen time, such as Josh Brolin (No Country for Old Men, True Grit) as super villain Thanos.  This is the first time we see Brolin as the purple-faced tyrant, and it makes you salivate for him to be the main baddie in The Avengers 3.

Everyone in Guardians of the Galaxy pulls their weight:  from a screenplay with hilarious dialogue, to Gunn's inspired vision, and to an amazing cast that makes it all come to life.  One of the most shocking things was Bastista's performance.  I don't ever expect much from professional wrestlers who try acting, but he's hilarious!  I would say that he's the breakout performence, but there's no such thing in this film.  Everyone shares the same amount of screen time, and everyone takes turn stealing the movie.  Guardians of the Galaxy may have landed on Earth as mysterious and unfamiliar, but it's gonna make its mark, and we'll never forget it now.

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