Review – Jack Reacher (Advanced Screening)

jackreacherLast night I saw an advanced screening of “Jack Reacher” with Tom Cruise at the AMC Mercado 20 in Santa Clara. I wish I could say that AMC and/or Paramount invited me because I was an awesome blogger and I sat in the reserved seating for THE PRESS. Didn’t happen that way. Being a AMC Stubs member, I got an email about this event and requested the FREE tickets last week. I sat with a rowdy crowd that cut across a wide demographic spectrum that’s unusual for a Tom Cruise movie. As for the motley crew that sat in the reserved seating for THE PRESS, only one guy had a notebook out and looked like a reviewer in his corduroy coat.

Other than being a Tom Cruise movie, I had no clue what “Jack Reacher” was about beyond viewing a movie trailer a while back. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the movie was based on the novel, “One Shot” by Lee Child, which happens to be from the middle of the Jack Reacher mystery series. That’s odd. Glancing through the plot summaries for the other novels in the series, this particular novel may be the most accessible to bring to the big screen.

The movie begins with the going back-and-forth between a man assembling rifle bullets in a workshop and driving a van to a water-front garage. He parks the van and puts a quarter into the parking meter. He fires six shots to randomly kill five people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time and leaves behind a single shell casing. The police arrives to find the shell casing and the quarter with a clear finger print. An arrest is made in what appears to be a slam dunk case for the detective and the district attorney. Except the suspect asks to see Jack Reacher.

Who the hell is Jack Reacher?

A former military police investigator from the Army who tried to put the suspect away for killing civilians with a sniper rifle during the Iraq War. The suspect escapes punishment due to the “murkiness” of war. After seeing the shooting and suspect’s mug shot reported on the news, Jack Reacher shows up at the DA’s office to make sure that the suspect is put away for good this time.

The defense attorney, who happens to be the DA’s daughter, convinces him to investigate the shooting. He starts unraveling the set up for the shooting from the perspective of a professional sniper, determines that not all the victims were entirely random, and the person most threaten by exposure is the DA. The violence, killings and car chases escalates to a very satisfying conclusion.

Tom Cruise was brilliant as Jack Reacher. I never read the novels so I can’t make a direct comparison between the two. Rosamund Pike as the defense attorney gave a nuanced emotional performance when the camera did a close-up on her face. I haven’t enjoyed a movie like this in ages.

Review – Battleship (Redbox DVD)

Battleship The MovieA summer popcorn movie demands that you park you brain into neutral, sit back, relax and enjoy the show. Almost. When “Battleship” became available on Redbox, I was thankful that I didn’t spend any money to see this movie in the theater. (Redbox provided a 50-cent off promo code that reduced the one-night rental to $0.76 USD.) You’re not supposed to think too hard about the underlying premise of a popcorn movie. If you do, the whole movie unravels. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. The science fiction in this alien invasion movie was seriously lacking.

Since I saw “Battleship” on a small analog TV screen, the tiny intro text at the beginning of the movie was unreadable. Without reading that, the science doesn’t make any sense. After playing the DVD on my PC to review the opening sequence, the science still doesn’t make any sense.

In 2005, scientist discovers an Earth-like planet in another solar system. No details on where this solar was located (i.e., how many light years from Earth).

In 2006, NASA has a new communication satellite that can send a laser beam to the newly discovered planet that is five times as powerful than anything before. What does “five times as powerful” mean? I don’t know. Let’s assume that the laser beam travels at five times the speed of light, which may technically be possible.

In 2012, five extraterrestrial ships arrives at Earth. One ship collides with a satellite, breaks up in the atmosphere and destroys much of Hong Kong. This turns out to be the communication ship. The other four ships lands in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii, throws up a huge force field and take over the satellite station on the island. You would think that the aliens would have brought a spare cellphone to call home.

Within the six year time frame of the movie, the laser beam has to travel through space to reach the planet, be decoded by the repetailian-like aliens with spiky goatees, and a handful of ships are sent in response to kick ass on Earth.

From a speculative scientific point of view, the alien planet has to be within a 25-light-year radius (five years X five times the speed of light = 25 light years) from Earth. The Gliese 581 G planet is 22 light years away and the red drawf star would be consistent with the aliens intolerance of the Earth’s brighter yellow sun. Let’s give the aliens a year to decode the laser beam and assemble an invasion fleet that travels like hell in the remaining time left.

With the aliens being interstellar neighbors, wouldn’t 60 years of television and radio signals being broadcast into space be enough to provoke the aliens into attacking Earth without NASA sending a laser beam?

As for the rest of the movie, the military action and the dialog was entirely predictable. That the museum battleship, U.S.S. Missouri, just happened to have a half-dozen live rounds on board was also implausible. Based loosely on the game, no battleship was sunk.

Two New Splatter Fest Movies For The Holidays

I’m looking forward to seeing two new splatter fest movies that are coming out for Christmas and New Year. The trailers were shown before “Resident Evil: Retribution” (read review) last week. Blood splatter, if done right to provoke laughs at a horrific moment, is an art form unto itself and an acquired taste.

The first movie is “Django Unchained,” coming out on Christmas 2012. Quentin Tarantino’s take on the Old West genre with a black slave becoming a bounty hunter, killing white people for money and searching every Southern plantation for his missing wife. This is the first Western movie to tackle slavery head on, a subject seldom acknowledged even though the Old West has everything to do with the American Civil War.

The other movie is “Hansel And Gretal: Witch Hunters,” coming out in January 2013. The children of the fairy tale grow up to become witch hunters with an arsenal of fantastic weapons. I saw the red band trailer in the theater that was more gorier than the video above. The witches don’t go up in smoke and flames like sparkling vampires, they explode in a back splatter of bright crimson.

However, if splatter fest movies are too much for your fine sensibilities, check out the new Kia Motors America hamster video as an 18th-century opera theater is invaded by the 2013 Kia Soul SUV, hip hop music and a laser light show. I have never liked the hamster videos until this video came along with this catchy tune and surreal situation.

Review – Resident Evil Retribution

Resident Evil: RetributionI kept my expectations low for “Resident Evil: Retribution,” the fifth movie in the zombie/chic flick series, by not reading any of the reviews before seeing it at the Vallco Shopping Mall. I was pleasantly surprised by how different this movie was even though it covered the same zombie-infested territory of the last four movies.

The opening sequence has Alice (Milla Jovovich) plunging into the ocean, as if embracing Death, and then everything runs backwards in slow motion as explosions disappear, bullets weren’t fired and people didn’t panic as attack helicopters from Umbrella Corporation (UC) disappear over the horizon. Alice introduces herself in a virtual video screen, recaps what happened from the previous movies, and the attack sequence resumes at normal speed as the ship with escaping survivors is destroyed.

Alice wakes up in bed as if everything was a bad dream, realizing that she has a husband and a young daughter to get ready for the day. This domestic bliss is soon interrupted when a zombie breaks into the kitchen to attack her husband. Being a normal woman with maternal instincts, she grabs her daughter to escape through the attic and out into the street to find the Raccoon City neighborhood under attack from zombies. Rain (Michelle Rodriguez as a gun-adverse neighbor, later reprises her role as a military hard ass) drives by to pick them up. The car crashes after being hit from behind by a truck. Alice and her daughter escape to another house, where she attacks a zombie for threatening her child.

Alice wakes up again in a UC prison cell and being interrogated by Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory), wanting to know who she worked for. A nonsensical question. A high pitch sound renders Alice in pain for failing to answer. This goes on until a power outage unlocks the door and opens a secret compartment with body armor and boots that fits her perfectly. Escaping from her cell to the outside world, she finds herself in downtown Tokyo and watches as a dazed Japanese woman suddenly attack a business man to start the zombie outbreak.

She runs into Ada Wong (Li Bingbing), who explains that they are inside the UC facility underneath an old Soviet submarine base in the frozen Arctic Sea. The facility is divided into zones that represent Tokyo, Moscow and Suburbia, where the Red Queen—the homicidal artificial intelligence from the first movie—run simulations to improve the biological agent responsible for the zombies. As a strike team infiltrates the facility from the outside, Alice and Ada try to rendezvous with them to escape.

I loved how everything from the previous movies is put into doubt. It could be nothing more than an elaborate simulation by the Red Queen. Even Alice is unnerved by how far UC would go when she finds the dead body of her domestic self and a daughter clinging to her in the Suburbia zone. Although without her superpowers from the zombie virus, maternal instincts fuel her thirst for retribution.

Movie Hangout Spots At Vallco Shopping Mall

To be or not to be? That is the question!After Borders closed at Santana Row and Oakridge Mall, and Micro Center closed at the Mercado, it seems unlikely that there would be any movie theaters left in Silicon Valley that had a decent hangout spot within reasonable driving distance from my home. Showing up to see only a movie is somewhat boring. There has to be a decent hangout spot to go to before or after the movie to prep yourself for what critics are panning as a bad movie or dissect a good movie that gone horribly wrong. Shopping is a nice bonus.

My friend and I went to see “Raiders of The Lost Ark” in IMAX at the AMC Cupertino Square 16 theater in Vallco Shopping Mall. The last time we visited this movie theater was when the U2 3D movie came out in 2008, when 3D movies were still new and not yet mainstream. Then and now, we came back to this mall to see a movie that was only available at this particular theater.

The mall has been in a state of decline for several decades. I used to live down the street in the late 1990’s when the mall was filled with stores from end to end. I remembered the ballyhoo back in 1999 when the mall planned to renovate by going upscale and getting rid of all the downscale stores, which started the trend of stores leaving the mall without being replaced. After the dot com bubble in 2000, the mall sat mostly empty, going through several ownership and names changes, for the last decade.

We scoped out the mall as a potential movie hangout spot. The lower level is blocked off by temporary walls, which, ironically, was an expansion to increase the size of the mall in the late 1980’s. The ground level is filled with stores that you would typically find in any strip mall in Silicon Valley. The renovated food court next to J.C. Penny’s was virtually empty of restaurants. If this mall was in revival, it still has both feet in the grave.

But we did find a couple of  hangout spots.

Armor Geddon, a store that sells armor, swords and other medieval knick-knacks, is as thread-bare in selection as the mall is in stores. All the wonderful chess sets that I saw in the late 1990’s were reduced to a handful today. I did picked up a skull coin bank for my writing desk. If you’re a writer, you really need one for those “to be or not to be” Shakespearian moments.

Legends Comics & Games is actually located in two locations across from each other near Sears, with comics on one side and gaming on the other. Being hardcore comic fans, we gravitated over there. I love browsing through the indie comics to find trashy pulp ideas to incorporate into my own short stories. A comic shop is better than any bookstore.

Vallco Shopping Mall has become the new place to go see movies—for now.

Raiders Of The Lost Ark In IMAX

If you haven’t seen “Indiana Jones and Raiders of The Lost Ark” on the big screen, now is the time to see the restored version as it appears on the digital IMAX screens for a one-week engagement before the Blu-Ray collection comes out next week.

As a child growing up in a “poor” family (i.e., cable TV to watch MTV was the dividing line for poverty in middle school), going to the movies was a luxury that my parents couldn’t afford. (Except for “Conan The Barbarian” with Arnold Schwarzenegger that my father took me too see at the tender age of 12, where I learned that having sex with a witch can be extremely hazardous to one’s health.) I never saw “Raiders” when it first came out in the theaters in 1981, and watching it on the small screen over the years doesn’t do it justice.

Restored from the original film negative and the audio track updated for surround sound, “Raiders” looked wonderful on the digital IMAX screen. Despite coming out 31 years ago, and set in the the late 1930’s before World War II, the story of an archaeologist trying to prevent the Nazis from capturing the ark of the covenant held up quite well.

Michael “Worf” Dorn’s New Kickstarter Project

Michael Dorn, Mr. Worf from “Star Trek: The Next Generation TV” series, started a Kickstarter project to raise $750,000 USD for a new romantic-comedy movie, “Through The Fire,” featuring a who’s who cast from the Star Trek universe.

If you’re not familiar with Kickstarter, you can make a pledge to fund a creative project. If the project meets its initial funding goal after 60 days, the project gets funded and your credit card gets charged. There are different pledge levels with various incentives. The more you pledge, the cooler the incentives.

The coolest incentive for this particular project is a “Star Trek: The Next Generation” pinball machine signed by the ST:TNG cast for a $5,000 USD pledge. Alas, it’s out of my price range. I pledged $35 USD for an autographed picture of Michael Dorn, my name in the credits and a digital copy of the movie.

Updated 24 September 2012: This Kickstarter project was cancelled after it became obvious that the minimum funding goal would fall short by $700,000 USD.

Something Missing From Three Obituraries

Three veteran actors passed away this month: Andy Griffith (7/3/2012), Ernest Borgnine (7/8/2012) and Sherman Hemsley (7/25/2012). All three were my favorite TV actors when I was growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s. After reading their obituaries with great interest, I noticed a trend among the obituaries for all three. They made no mention of the specific TV show or movie that I came to love each of these actors for.

Although I enjoyed watching “The Andy Griffith Show” as a young child, I was more of a Don Knotts fan back then. I didn’t appreciate Andy Griffith until he appeared in “Salvage 1” that ran for one season in 1979, about a junkman who builds his own rocket to recover all the junk left by NASA on the Moon. This series aired before the fiery demise of Skylab and the beginning of the space shuttle program. Ordinary citizens building a workable spaceship despite the federal government’s monopoly on spaceflight was an intriguing idea back then, and more so now that private spaceflight is becoming a reality.

Ernest Borgnine had a famous face that appeared in many movies and TV shows long before I was born. Until he appeared along with Jan-Michael Vincent (“Damnation Alley”) in “Airwolf,” I never took noticed of him. As the father figure and mentor to a reclusive Viet Nam veteran fighter pilot who stole an advanced military helicopter, I wished I had someone like him when I was growing up as a teenager.

I first saw Sherman Hemsley in “All In The Family” as the black neighbors who tormented Archie Bunker in his bigotry, and became a huge fan with “The Jeffersons” about being a successful businessman. But that’s not the role I remembered him best for. It’s in the movie, “Love At First Bite,” as a Harlem minister performing a funeral at a black church, when Count Dracula (George Hamiliton) pops open the coffin. Needless to say, a dead black man coming back to life as an undead white man is very unsettling. Mrs. Jefferson (Isabel Sanford) also makes an appearance as a court judge in this movie.

Review – The Amazing Spiderman

The Amazing Spider-Man MovieI was expecting to be disappointed with “The Amazing Spider-Man” as it was another reboot. If Sony haven’t made this movie, the rights would have reverted back to Marvel. That’s the problem with superhero movies these days. Hollywood wants to recycle the origin story more than once a generation—the Superman franchise is on its third reboot—to create a trilogy of movies that brings in boatloads of money. Worst, with the success of the Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, the reboot has to be dark and gritty as the hero suffers from profound parental issues.

I never liked Tobey McGuire’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man since he came across as a likeable wimp in the throes of teenage angst. Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man is a smart ass who is unafraid to walk into a situation and get his ass handed back to him. The first time we meet Peter, he’s taking pictures of Stacy Gwen (Emma Stone) from a safe distance. When he noticed that the class bully was tormenting a smaller student, he steps in and gets stomped on. As the movie progresses, the smart ass recedes into the background as a responsible young man emerges.

Previous incarnations of Spider-Man had never bothered to explain why he was raised by his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen). This movie introduces the backstory that sets up the requisite parental issues that all superheroes must face these days. Rather than being antsy about getting the girl, its about avenging absent parents on the criminal elements.

The movie opens with a very young Peter Parker playing hide and seek with his parents. Entering his father’s study after it was ransacked in an apparent burglary, he cries out for his parents and they come rushing in. His father removes scientific documents hidden inside the desk and stashes them into a briefcase. An hour later, he’s left at his aunt and uncle’s place as his parents disappear into the night. After discovering the briefcase years later in the basement, an older Peter searches for his father’s coworker at a scientific research lab and becomes bitten by a radioactive spider that gives him his superpowers.

The cameo by Marvel founder Stan Lee was quite charming. As a school librarian listening to classical music with oversized headphones and straightening up the music table, he’s oblivious to Spider-Man and Lizard trashing the school library behind him. The 3D was put to excellent use as objects were hurled from the background to be caught by Spider-Man at the last moment in the foreground.

This movie wasn’t afraid to leave loose ends hanging in the wind. The disappearance of Peter Parker’s parents was still unresolved. The killer of Uncle Ben was never found despite Spider-Man’s best effort to round up the criminals for the police. Only one reference was made to the front page of The Daily Bugle, whom Peter Parker haven’t yet wandered over to get a job as a photographer. Overall, a very different Spider-Man movie.