Wednesday, February 22, 2012

PCP on DVD - 5-pack of 2011 Action flicks

Thanks for coming back to CRAPOLA.  It’s time for your next hit of PCP – Pop Culture Panorama.  Today I’ll be posting reviews of 5 2011 action movies that I caught on DVD recently, obviously after my big 2011 review clearout that you can read here.  They are:  Abduction; Cowboys & Aliens; Pirates of the Caribbean 4; Rise of the Planet of the Apes; & The Thing.  These films were a mix of boring, disappointing, surprisingly good, and average, in some cases all at once at the same time.  Read on to see which are worth watching, and which are not worth your time.

Abduction – 2011, Rated PG-13.  106 minutes.  Starring:  Taylor Lautner, Lily Collins, Alfred Molina, Maria Bello, Jason Isaacs, Sigourney Weaver, & Michael Nyqvist.  My rating:  5 out of 10.

Abduction is Hollywood’s attempt to cash in on the Twilight franchise and turn Taylor Lautner into an action star in his own right, without him having to turn into a werewolf.  In this film, he plays the son of Maria Bello & Jason Isaacs, or at least that is what he thinks.  However, he finds himself on a missing children’s website and realizes his parents aren’t who he thought they were.  Without spoiling too many details of the plot, it turns out that yes they weren’t his parents, but they weren’t the bad guys either, they were instead his bodyguards as his real dad is apparently someone really important to the U.S. government.  This means that the title of the film is false, there is no actual abduction, and we learn that about a quarter of the way into the movie.  Maybe a better title of the movie would have been something else, I dunno.

Lautner is forced to go on the run when the bad guys show up and off his bodyguards/parents, and he takes with him Lily Collins (daughter of singer Phil Collins) and her enormous eyebrows.  Seriously, that girl needs to pluck or wax or something.  If I didn’t know she was Phil Collins’ daughter, I’d think she was Martin Scorsese’s, they’re that huge, bushy and dark.  They’re also incredibly distracting and any time she is on screen my wife and I were laughing at how badly she needs a plucking.  Anyways, so Lautner & Collins are on the run, and the film follows typical action move tropes.  Lautner does show that he is capable of a good fight though, both in an early sparring match with Isaacs and later with a villain on a train.  Sigourney Weaver, Alfred Molina & Michael Nyqvist (playing the villain for the 2nd time in 2011, he also was the baddie of Mission Impossible 4) also turn up in the film in supporting roles.  It’s amazing that they were able to get so many quality actors to turn up in such an average movie.  Overall, this movie probably only will appeal to people on Team Jacob, or to teenagers in general.  To everyone else, don’t waste your time.

Cowboys & Aliens – 2011, Rated PG-13.  119 minutes.  Starring:  Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, & Sam Rockwell.  My rating:  5 out of 10.

When I first heard about this movie, bringing together James Bond, Indiana Jones/Han Solo, Thirteen, & directed by the director of Iron Man, I got really excited about the movie.  I like sci-fi, I like westerns, & I like the people involved in this flick.  I circled the date on the calendar that this would come out in theaters (although I had to wait for it on DVD) and I thought to myself at the time “what could possibly go wrong?”

The answer to that – a lot.  The film doesn’t do a great job of explaining things, it sort of just expects viewers to just sit back and watch Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford take names and kick alien ass.  Unfortunately, they’re not exactly sympathetic characters.  Ford in fact is pretty much a total douche for the majority of the movie.  It’s kind of painful to watch one of my favorite screen heroes playing such an awful character, when you’re so used to him being such a lovable icon.  They also don’t explain until way close to the end what the deal is with Olivia Wilde, and also how Daniel Craig has amnesia and got the alien weapon grafted on to his wrist.  Also, way too many of the scenes with the aliens take place in the dark, and as such there are not a lot of good looks at them.  It almost seems low-budget, or they are compensating for crappy CGI.  But when they do show the aliens, they look cool, so I wish they had shown more of them.  Also, the film never really explains why the aliens are abducting people.  That’s just left unresolved.  And finally, the film for good stretches is just boring or cliché.  Of all the movies in 2011 that I was most looking forward to, this one wound up being the most disappointing.

Read the other 3 reviews after the jump!

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – 2011, Rated PG-13.  136 minutes.  Starring:  Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, & Ian McShane.  My rating:  6 out of 10.

Johnny Depp returns to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise as Captain Jack Sparrow.  The more movies they make in the franchise, the more the character is starting to become a caricature of itself.  He’s playing the same Captain Jack here that he’s played in the previous 3 movies, and while he’s entertaining, it is starting to get boring.  I was a huge fan of the first (and best) film in this series, but each subsequent sequel has been duller and more pointless.  At least the franchise had the sense to shed the dead weight of Keira Knightley & Orlando Bloom and inject some new blood into the series.  Depp isn’t the only familiar returning face however.  Geoffrey Rush is back, hamming it up as Barbossa, and Kevin McNally also returns as Depp’s faithful right hand man Gibbs.  New to the franchise are Ian McShane as the legendary pirate Blackbeard, who is here turned into a voodoo sorcerer as opposed to just the awesome pirate he was, and Penelope Cruz as his daughter and an old flame of Depp’s.

This time, the film has the characters chasing the fountain of youth.  As is customary with this franchise, there are betrayals and doublecrosses, and plots within plots.  There is also the supernatural, this time with voodoo zombies (the slave type, not the brain eating type) and homicidal mermaids.  Also, the fountain of youth only can grant life to the user by taking life from someone else.  This means that whoever drinks from the fountain has to have someone else drink as well, to steal their life force in a special ritual.  It really doesn’t matter though, as most people are just here to watch Johnny Depp play Jack Sparrow once again, and at least he’s entertaining.  The scene where he meets and fights his impostor in London is actually quite funny, as it is Penelope Cruz, pulling off a very good Sparrow impression.  Also funny are the brief cameos from Keith Richards and Judi Dench (Judi Dench?!) when they have brief encounters with Depp.  Unfortunately, the good moments in this movie are balanced by the bad, turning the film into a perfectly average movie.  It’s really only worth watching if you’re a huge fan of Depp’s Jack Sparrow, but if you’re not a fan of this franchise, then don’t waste your time.  Enough people must be a fan though, as they’re considering a 5th and 6th film in this series.  I’m not sure how many story lines there are left to plumb from this concept, however, so I’m not that excited to sail with Captain Jack once or twice more.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes – 2011, Rated PG-13.  Starring James Franco, Frieda Pinto, Andy Serkis, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, & John Lithgow.  My rating:  8 out of 10.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes actually really surprised me.  While the original Planet of the Apes with Charlton Heston is a classic film, the sequels were never that good, and the 2001 remake wasn’t anything spectacular either.  So, my expectations for Rise were very low.  It turns out that this is one of the better films from the 2011 summer.  James Franco stars as a scientist working on a cure for Alzheimer’s, and he is testing his drug ALZ-112 on the apes in his lab.  One chimp took very well to the treatment, but was put down when she went on a rampage in the lab.  It turns out that she had been pregnant, and was just protecting her newborn baby chimp from the perceived threat and was not going berserk because of the drug.  That chimp would be adopted by Franco, given the name Caesar, and it inherited genetically the brain improvements that his mother had received from the ALZ-112.  In fact, Caesar turns out to be a super-genius chimp, with brain skills that are off the charts.  Caesar is played in motion-capture by Andy Serkis, who is best known for doing the motion-capture for Gollum in the Lord of the Rings series and King Kong in the 2005 remake.  Serkis is seriously the master of motion-capture, and he brings emotion to Caesar that is just incredible.

Franco raises Caesar in his home, where he lives with his father John Lithgow, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, which is why he’s so desperate to find a cure.  I don’t want to spoil all the details of how we get to the uprising mentioned in the title, but the journey getting there is great, with an especially nice post-Harry Potter series performance from Tom Felton, playing a guy who is even a bigger tool than his Draco Malfoy.  Testing in the lab of the Alzheimer’s drugs progresses on to ALZ-113, after the apparent failure of 112, but it turns out that 113 has a devastating side effect to humans – death.  I don’t think it is spoiling too much of the film to announce that humanity is doomed, as given the franchise in question that is being rebooted, everyone should know by now that eventually the majority of humanity is going to get wiped somehow and apes will take over the planet.  By the end of the movie, the wheels for that are being set in motion by Caesar’s uprising of apes that he dosed with ALZ-112 and the spread of the viral and fatal ALZ-113 among humanity.  The closing credits of the film are actually a great way of showing how a viral outbreak can spread drastically because of how interlinked humanity is through its network of airports.  Also, in blink and you miss them moments, on the background of some scenes there is a discussion on the news of a launch of an astronaut mission to space, and then of that ship mysteriously vanishing.  Thus, the film sets up the inevitable sequel to this reboot, where those astronauts who fell into a wormhole will return to Earth to find it as not the Earth they left.  Based on how solid of a foundation for the reboot is laid here with this film, I’m looking forward to the next entry in the series.  All in all, this was a surprisingly good film that I am definitely glad I watched.  If you missed this one in theaters, go see it, it’s a lot better than the trailers made it out to be.

The Thing – 2011, Rated R.  103 minutes.  Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, & Eric Christian Olsen.  My rating:  7 out of 10. 

The Thing is a prequel to the 1982 John Carpenter horror classic of the same name.  I was actually under the impression going in to this film that it was a remake/reboot, but it turns out it was a prequel.  Having not (yet) seen the original movie (though it is now in my Netflix queue), I went in to this movie only vaguely knowing things about the franchise – namely what I know from pop culture which is that scientists find an alien that can take human forms, so the alien is among us and killing people off, but no one knows who the alien really is.  A webcomic I love to read, Multiplex, summed up the concept for this film excellently in this strip here

Despite being almost lazy in terms of how much of the plot of the original this film steals, the film is actually pretty decent.  The film keeps you guessing as to who is human and who has been replaced by an alien, and it does a decent job of piling on the tension and stress as well.  The scares are good, and the special effects are pretty cool looking as well, and from what I’ve read, the prequel does a good job of explaining some things for the original, little details like how an axe got embedded in a wall.  The filmmakers also apparently did their best to recreate the sets from the original, so they’d match up properly.  Until I see the original though, I don’t know how good of a job they did.  For the most part though, this version of The Thing is a decent sci-fi survivalist horror flick, worth taking the time to watch if you’re a fan of that genre of film.

Ok that’s all for today here at CRAPOLA, thanks for dropping by!  Also, tell me what you think of these films in the comments, and tell me your thoughts on this post in the quick vote buttons below also!

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