Review – Turbo

Turbo Poster

Turbo is a film that doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be. Is it the type of story where the character isn’t satisfied with their existence and hopes for something more from life (such as A Bug’s Life)? Is it a racing movie where the lead character needs to grow up a little (such as Cars)? Is it a super hero origin movie (such as Spider-Man)? Unfortunately this movie is all three, and it doesn’t do a good job with any of them.

Theo / Turbo is a garden snail who happens to live next to the current Indy 500 champion. As such he obsesses and dreams of being a professional racer. After nearly killing himself a few times, trying to prove he is faster than he is, he sets out on a rainy night to get away from his sad slow existence. Eventually he accidently finds himself involved in an illegal drag race. When the driver hits his nitrous oxide Theo / Turbo undergoes a Spider-Man type transformation that turns him into some kind car / snail hybrid. Rather than just making him fast, it also gives him headlights, taillights, a radio, and a backup beeper. From there a series of even more improbable events leads him to have an opportunity to fulfill this dreams.

It is somewhat distracting to me that all of the snails can understand English being spoken by humans. From our perspective the snails also speak English, but of course none of the humans can hear or understand them. It is also distracting that once the nature of this special snail is revealed to the public (and the world at large) that the scientific community doesn’t appear to be at all interested in it.

Overall this movie was not very good. I remember only thinking a couple of things were funny or clever. I saw this movie at a drive-in theater with a number of children. In general those kids were bored and were more interested in snacks than laughing at the movie. I don’t remember really hearing any laughter at all through the film. So even as a movie just for kids I don’t think it delivers well. It reminds me of Bee Movie, which also felt flat.

So in the end this is a movie that is trying to be A Bug’s Life without the diverse bug characters, Cars without the growing up, Spider-Man without the character development, and Bee Movie will all its so called comedy. Maybe there is a demographic who is looking for that kind of movie, but it isn’t adults or children.

Review – World War Z

Warning – This review may contain spoilers or information not immediately obvious from the trailers.

World War Z poster

Like many people when I read the book I was caught up by the all the stories of before, during, and after the zombie apocalypse. The individual stories, the psychological, political, and societal reactions from the characters brought a feeling of how real and terrible the breakdown of society would be.

When I saw the movie I immediately recognized that a lot of that had been taken out in order to create a fast paced action movie. It reminded me of the movie 2012. In that movie you follow a family as they race from one disaster to another trying to escape the destruction of the Earth. World War Z felt very similar. Instead of seeing many accounts across the entire world we follow one man, Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), and his family while he goes from one disaster to another looking for a solution to the zombie problem.

In the book there isn’t a cure (although there are stories around people claiming to have them). Subsequently the book is about survival. When the book ends societies and the Earth as a whole are forever changed because of the apocalypse. In the movie things are obviously going to be different, but I get the feeling not in the same way.

Everyone everywhere has been talking about how the movie has nothing in common with the book except for the title. Here are some of the things that are in fact the same.

  • Both have zombies.
  • Israel abandons some disputed territories and builds a wall around their protected zones.
  • The initial outbreak area is in East Asia.
  • Major cities fall with people trying to flee to the sea.

Here are some things I think the movie does a poor job of explaining or takes too far.

  • From infection to becoming zombified is super fast sometimes and really slow or non-existent other times. Once that stuff is in your blood it shouldn’t take long for it to latch onto your soul.
  • The portrayal of how bad the teeth are in England (it is too horrifying).
  • The zombies working together to overcome barriers.
  • Zombies are attracted to some sounds, but not other sounds (like sounds made by other Zombies). These zombies are apparently smart enough to distinguish sounds by their origin (even when it is a pop can knocked over by a human that ultimately bursts open).
Zombie with bad teeth.
The real horror here is the dentistry in England.

Overall I felt it was a decent enough zombie action movie. The one question both the book and the movie fail to answer is: If these zombies have unlimited energy why doesn’t anyone think to trap them in giant mount wheel that turns a turbine and get unlimited energy forever? You’d just need a guy or two standing behind a secure window to entice the zombies to move towards you. Think people! Think!

Review – Man Of Steel

Although I went into the film with a few spoilers (having listened to a movie review podcast and seeing a few questions on SciFi.StackExchange) I was surprised by the amount of information I didn’t already know.

Man of Steel
Man of Steel gets arrested after numerous FAA violations.

 

Man of Steel presents a more science fiction origin to Superman than we have previously seen in films. In the comics and cartoons we know that Krypton was technologically advanced and Superman reaps some of the benefits of that, but in the movies the Kryptonian technology seems to be based primarily on crystals and their ability to make houses. In Superman Returns Lex Luthor captures some crystal growing technology and attempts to create a new continent. When asked how he is going to defend it he says he’ll use the advanced technology. Considering it is just him and his idiot henchmen, I have no confidence in his ability to do this. I have great confidence in Zod, because with Man of Steel the technological superiority of the Kryptonians is obvious. Also, they are all supermen.

Superman’s powers are giving a slight polish to the established canon.  Having evolved from a significantly harsher planet, Kryptonians on a whole are highly adaptable. Martha Kent describes the baby Clark Kent as wheezing and coughing through the night as his lungs tried to process Earth air. He gains super strength and speed from the Earth’s young sun. His additional abilities of x-ray vision, heat vision, and telescopic vision are a result of the Earth’s atmosphere. Superman now loses some powers when he is removed from that environment (somewhat… inconsistently). Hopefully the great Superman powers race won’t begin where in every new movie he needs more and more ridiculous abilities (I’m looking at you, Superman IV).

For the first time on film we see the super speed and destructive strength of a super charged Kryptonian at work. The almost teleporting nature of the attacks is what I imagine The Flash would look like.  Speaking of other characters, there are at least two Easter eggs in the film. One referring to Lex Luthor and another referring to Wayne Enterprises. With the exception of the Easter egg billboard in I Am Legend I am not aware of any cross references between any DC heroes before in the films. Everyone knows that DC and WB would love to see the same kind of money from a Justice League movie as Marvel did with The Avengers. Green Lantern didn’t do well, but maybe if Man of Steel does extremely well JL will still happen. If DC wants to do an origin story for every member of the Justice League they still need to do 5 (Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, and presumably Batman).

What did I think of it? I felt the movie was fairly slow throughout the middle. The intense action scenes at the start and end seemed to compound the feeling on nothing happening in-between. I find myself frustrated by the mentality of Hollywood that every super hero must reveal their identity on screen (or at all). Batman has told so many people that he is Bruce Wayne he has probably just started printing it in on this business cards.

Secret Identity Card
Secret Identity Card

Sadly the same may be true for poor onscreen Superman.  The action of the film was both amazing and horrifying. This isn’t the same kind of Superman we saw in the 70s and 80s. I walked out thinking the movie was okay.

 

Review: Iron Man 3

I finally saw Iron Man 3.  Better late than never, right?

I’m actually not so sure.

The movie wasn’t bad, but it definitely wasn’t good.  I really liked the original Iron Man, and felt that Robert Downey, Jr. had really nailed the character of Tony Stark. Iron Man 2 was a bit of a disappointment, but Mickey Rourke’s performance was a redeeming factor. Iron Man 3, however, had no comparable standout performances.

I don’t mean to detract from Ben Kingsley’s acting abilities; indeed, he did an admirable job.  Similarly, I cannot fault Guy Pearce in his portrayal of Aldrich Killian.

Rather, I place the blame on the characters themselves.

While I admittedly am not intimately familiar with the comic book series, I know enough about the franchise to have been very interested in seeing The Mandarin introduced as Tony Stark’s latest nemesis.

The Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley
Nice shades!

The Mandarin, as depicted in Iron Man 3, is a total dud.   To say the character lacked depth is a massive understatement.  The buildup of mystery and menace the movie endeavors to enshroud him in is deliberately and intentionally sacrificed as a major plot device, yet the result of that sacrifice is the revelation of a far lesser menace.

It is clearly supposed to be a surprise twist (I am trying to avoid spoilers), yet the only surprise seems to be “hey, guess what?  The situation is not nearly as interesting as you thought it was. Bet you never saw that coming!”  Yay?

The other major character introduced is Aldrich Killian.  He’s intended to be a brilliant mind in his own right, and the very beginning of the movie clearly shows that the character is supposed to be a foil, and potential antagonist, to the flamboyant genius and showmanship of Tony Stark.  However, the character turns out to be remarkably one-dimensional, and his motivations and overall role turn out to be decidedly generic.

The titular character also lacks the depth seen in the previous titles.  Clearly there is intent to add depth, by highlighting Tony Stark’s insecurities and emotional sensitivities, yet it seems that either the true character-building elements were largely cut from the final production, or what exists was tacked on as an afterthought.

Within the first 20 minutes of the movie, it is established that Tony is having some residual problems from the events at the end of The Avengers.  These problems crop up a couple of times during the movie, yet are never actually resolved in a meaningful way.  Instead, it’s just “stuff he’s dealing with”, and doesn’t really accomplish anything towards adding depth to the character.

Indeed, it feels like it may be tacked on strictly to provide some links to The Avengers, which appears to be a common theme in Marvel Studios’ recent titles.  It seems like they are trying to bring the same breadth and depth to the Marvel Universe on screen that the comics enjoy.  However, instead of meaningful cross-over appearances and side stories that play integral parts of individual story arcs, as seen in many of the printed titles, they are peppering the movies with just enough references for someone who has seen the other films to say “oh, yeah… I know what they’re talking about.”

Unfortunately, this also means that those who have not seen the other films will just find the references confusing or uninteresting.

The movie itself does have some redeeming qualities.  In particular, we are treated to lots of explosions, and some eye-catching special effects.  The confrontation at the conclusion of the movie attempts to incorporate some of these special effects in a meaningful way into the plot, but it doesn’t really make up for a somewhat anticlimactic battle.

The basic plot, however, is somewhat interesting, and we do see some interesting characters along the way.    Harley Keener, played by Ty Simpkins, was perhaps the standout of the movie, and I found the scenes with him better than most of the dialogues with the more prominent characters.

The fight scenes were well-coordinated, and the abilities of the protagonists are both eye-catching and distinctive.

All in all, I found the movie to be a significant disappointment.  It failed to achieve the appeal of the preceding entries in the series, and certainly fell far short of the bar set by The Avengers.

Tony Stark sitting next to his Iron Man suit.
Yeah, it’s that exciting.
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