Quick Movie Review: The Men Who Stare At Goats (2009)

I really wanted to love The Men Who Stare At Goats. It’s got George Clooney, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey who I love and tons of Star Wars references including star Ewan McGregor having actually played a Jedi. Unfortunately this story about supposedly true military factions devoted to creating soldiers who are intuned with nature and can use their minds to fog enemy minds and possibly run through walls. I like the premise and the performances, but I think the film falters in the way it tries to tell the story. See, McGregor plays a reporter who starts following Clooney around while we get flshbacks to Clooney’s days with this faction a few years back. That’s where Bridges and Spacey come into play. While traveling through Iraq, Clooney and McGregor get into some trouble and somehow end up with Spacey who has taken over for Bridges when it comes to running the super soldier program. I’ll be honest, the movie never grabbed me and I started walking around and working on other things while it was on. With the story bouncing back and forth I found myself transported back to watching the second season of Lost when I just wanted to focus on what the hell was going on on the island and didn’t care about their pasts (I was watching the first two seasons at the same time, so I wasn’t used to the story structure yet). In this case, I found it difficult to care about Clooney’s character in the present because I was kind of resenting him for taking time away from the flashback stories which mostly got told in voiceover. I think that was what really caused the separation for me. I wanted the story to flow better and zoom in on the more focused on the interesting stuff. Aw well, it wasn’t a total loss, but I also wasn’t riveted.

Quick Movie Review: Angels & Demons (2009)

Here’s my brief history with Dan Brown’s books and the movies based on them. I read DaVinci Code back when it was a big deal after the missus (who wasn’t the missus back then) read it and passed it to me. I liked it. It’s a great, page turning adventure book. Then, of course, they made a movie, casting Tom Hanks which didn’t fit with my mental image of him. I didn’t see that movie, nor have I read its prequel Angels and Demons or its sequel The Lost Symbol (the missus as read them all). She mentioned she wanted to watch A&D, it popped up on Instant Watch and we weren’t doing anything so we checked it out. It’s pretty good.

A&D has a few things going for it that I liked. First off, the Large Hadron Collider plays prominently in the beginning story. It seemed to match up with what I had read about it, but I’m no expert. At least it looked cool. The movie also has Hanks who I kind of forgot I liked this much. Of course, it’s also got a ton of Catholic Church history, which I’m interested in as a lapsed Catholic who went through Catholic grade and high school, then studied the Church’s history in a few classics and history classes in college. It was fun hearing Hanks’s Robert Langdon talk about things I had studied to some extent. The story involves the Church calling Langdon in to help them find the four leading candidates for the next Pope and some antimatter from the Collider. The idea is that each candidate will be killed in an Illuminati-related secret place every hour until midnight when the antimatter case’s batter will expire and everything goes kablammo. Of course, it’s not that simple.

I did have a few problems though. First off, and this isn’t the movie’s fault, it wasn’t as fun as either National Treasure movie, which I love. Obviously, they’re different movies with A&D being a lot more serious and full of death, and I get that the NT movies came out to capitalize on the popularity of DaVinci Code, but I couldn’t help shaking the thought that I’d rather see Hanks in a National Treasure movie, being the cool fun guy, than being Langdon, who seems like a cool fun guy whose stuck in some pretty serious business. The other problem with the movie is that it’s a bit too long, which not only gave me time to get bored with the movie (how many times do they need to be sitting around not doing anything between murders?) AND start thinking about it too much. I’m not saying I don’t want movies to make me think, but with all the breathing room A&D gave me–and the knowledge that there was still a lot of time as they started racing towards the deadline–I knew something was up and figured it out pretty quickly. In fact, I not only figure out who the real bad guy was, but had the whole ugly affair sorted out with about 20 minutes left. Now, I like the feeling of knowing what’s going on before the characters do, but it shouldn’t take them so much longer to figure it out than me. It should be a few minutes thing. Otherwise you start wondering what the hell these people are in charge for anyway. Hell, if I’m just a freelance pop culture writer and I nailed it while the experts can’t, I’m bored and don’t care to watch anymore.

The missus said it seemed pretty close to the book, so I’ll probably steer clear for a while, though I am interested to read it. I’m looking for a book that really keeps me interested. I’m reading Terry Pratchet’s Soul Music right now which is really good, but for some reason, it’s not absorbing me. Anyway, watching this made me want to check out DaVinci Code again (the book). After she liked it to much I got the missus a version with images of the paintings and statues, which really helps because you’re not running to the computer every few pages. Anyone know if there are versions of Lost Symbol and A&D like that?

Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci Are Awesome!

Damn, these guys are awesome. For those of you who might not know, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci are the screenwriters behind Transformers, it’s upcoming sequel (which I’m very excited about), The Legend of Zorro, Mission Impossible III, Fringe, Star Trek and The Island, the last two I watched recently.

Right off the bat, I’ve got to admit that I don’t really remember Legend of Zorro or MI3, so I can’t speak to their ability writing those or for shows like Xena, Hercules, Jack Of All Trades and Alias, but everything else I’ve seen that they’re written has been rad. As you might have noticed, Kurtzman and Orci have a history of working with producer, writer and director extraordinaire J.J. Abrams (Alias, Fringe and Trek). Not shabby company to keep if you ask me.

What I love about these guys is how thoroughly they think through genre stories that, a few years ago, would have probably been tossed to guys who were just looking to get a paycheck. Transformers didn’t have to be a good movie (and many of you might disagree with me on this), but it was. It was also full of crazy fun action scenes. Aside from the incredible stories you see on the screen, I’ve heard a number of interviews with the writing duo thanks to the Creative Screenwriting Podcast. Most recently I listened to the Star Trek one and it blew me away at how well they were able to address and answer logically many of the geek and logic-based questions. A few holes in the movie were filled in the original writing stage, but were later cut and there’s all kinds of other information they have to offer in these interviews. I highly recommend them.

Like I said, I watched The Island (2005) and Star Trek (2009) last week. I’m thinking of going back and listening to the Island podcast interview actually because I’m curious to hear what they have to say about their first original movie, which ended up getting directed by Michael Bay (who I’ve gone on record as loving). The Island is a very cool movie though it seems at first to have a ton of plot holes (how do they go from naive teenage-level beings to pulling off this crazy scheme?). But, the more I think about the various apparent holes, the more I can explain them. Ewan McGregor’s character is growing memories right? So maybe he’s growing a few character traits here and there. It’s these kinds of questions I think would be addressed in the podcast, which I will, now that I think about it, definitely be downloading from iTunes tomorrow.

What I do know just from watching the movie without any background is that it was clearly influenced by some of the classic 70s sci-fi flicks I watched back in January. It was fun watching the movie, kind of knowing what the twist was, but not really knowing how completely it would flip. SPOILER: I knew they were clones, but I didn’t know the details, like that they were living in a complex created by someone who saw Logan’s Run a time or two too many. Even knowing what I knew, I still couldn’t figure how it would be revealed, so that’s a testament to the writing.

I definitely recommend The Island to anyone. It’s got the assumed Michael Bay chases and explosions. Even a car chase with a truck dropping big scary things while being chased by a smaller vehicle (cars in Bad Boys II, train wheels here). Plus you get McGregor, Djimon Hounsou, Sean Bean and Steve Buscemi who are always good, and Scarlett Johansson who’s at least nice to look at. Plus if you like their later movies, I think it’s always cool to go back and see how they broke into the movie business.

So, from their first to their latest, I have to throw my hat in with just about everyone else in the world and say I really dug Star Trek. I didn’t come out of it feeling like I did when I left Iron Man (PUMPED!), but I still really enjoyed it. It might be because I’m not a Star Trek fan. Before trying to tackle the Original Series this past year, I had seen only a handful of episodes from any of the series’ (that one episode of DS9 where they Tag and Bink their way through the Tribble episode) and the movies starring the original cast. I knew the basics, it’s hard not to when you’ve worked for some of the geekiest magazines in the world (don’t forget, I was in the research department while InQuest was still around). But, even not knowing much, I had no problem watching this flick, which was great, but I still got some of the nods to past stories.

I appreciate the amount of thought that Kurtzman and Orci along with director J.J. Abrams and producer Damon Lindelof put into this epic story, especially the way they made everything you know still make sense while starting this new continuity. Honestly, I really wish this cast would get together and just do a TV series. How cool would that be? Just forget about Heroes (I dislike that show so much that I actually wanted to hate Zachary Quinto as Spock, but he was so damn good I just couldn’t) and fly Simon Pegg and John Cho in between movie roles and get that DONE!

Also, how cool was that drill scene? I started laughing as soon as the guy in the red suit showed up while Sulu and Kirk were wearing different colors. Em asked me what I was laughing at and I whispered “That guy’s gonna die.” She asked me how I knew and I told her just to watch and, man, they did NOT disappoint with that moment. Even better, though, was how Sulu and Kirk handled themselves given a crappy situation. I love how Chris Pine perfectly embodies that “never say die no matter how bad things look” mentality. Obviously, I’d like to see everyone return for a sequel, but I really hope Pine does a superhero movie. He could do justice to a bunch of heroes.

So, next up from Kurtzman and Orci will be Transformers: Rise of the Fallen and the last two episodes of Fringe that I missed and I’m pretty psyched about both.