Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Captain America: The Winter Soldier...

Check out the new teaser poster for next year's sequel to the 2011 film starring the first Avenger. Judging from this promo, we'll get to see the awesome helicarrier in action once again. Of course, this is Captain America we're talking about here...so why wouldn't Nick Fury allow the shield-welding superhero travel aboard S.H.I.E.L.D.'s signature flagship (especially considering that Steve Rogers can't fly like Iron Man and Thor could)? Captain America: The Winter Soldier gets released in theaters nationwide on April 4, 2014.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Star Wars: The Interdictor Cruiser...

An illustration of the Imperial-class Interdictor Cruiser from the STAR WARS Expanded Universe.

No— The Interdictor Cruiser is not the title for an upcoming Star Wars video game or novel, but the name of an Imperial-class warship that was capable of pulling other vessels out of hyperspace through the Interdictor's four powerful gravity well projectors in the Expanded Universe (EU). The reason why I'm posting this in my Film Notes section is because 1.) I miss playing the old X-Wing CD-ROM video game (the Strategy Guidebook for this game featured a small article on the Interdictor) on my PC in the late 1990s, and 2.) It would be cool if this cruiser was featured in Star Wars: Episode VII. While it has been stated numerous times online that director J.J. Abrams doesn't intend to defer to the EU for any major plot points in the upcoming sequel, it would at least be interesting if Abrams featured some vehicles from the EU...the same way that George Lucas featured Dash Rendar's ship Outrider (from the 1996 Star Wars multimedia campaign, Shadows of the Empire) in the 1997 Special Edition of Star Wars: A New Hope. I'll cross my fingers that the Interdictor (and even the Imperial-class Assault Gunboat from X-Wing CD-ROM) shows up on the big screen in 2015.

An illustration of the Imperial-class Interdictor Cruiser from the STAR WARS Expanded Universe.

An illustration of the Imperial-class Interdictor Cruiser from the STAR WARS Expanded Universe.

An illustration of the Imperial-class Assault Gunboat from the STAR WARS: X-WING CD-ROM video game.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Machete Kills...

Machete (Danny Trejo) welds a machete in MACHETE KILLS.

Last weekend, I watched the sequel to Robert Rodriguez's 2010 grindhouse flick...and I have five words to say: What the hell was THAT? With the first Machete, Rodriguez intentionally set out to make a bad flick that ended up being very campy and entertaining. With Machete Kills, there were still campy and entertaining moments—but just like George Lucas (who either should be flattered or embarrassed by the random Star Wars references), Rodriguez let the success (so to speak) of the first movie get to his head and added even more cheesy and self-indulgent scenes to the latest Danny Trejo pic. As mentioned in the parentheses above, there were a gripload of Star Wars moments...obviously the "sneak preview" at the beginning of the flick showing Trejo welding a lightsaber against the Man with the Silver Mask (not necessarily played by Leonardo DiCaprio... An inside-joke in Machete Kills), the landspeeder-looking golf cart that Mel Gibson used to drive around his company's floor and (spoilers ahead) Michelle Rodriguez being encased in (not-)carbonite by the Man with the Silver Mask in the sequel's climax. If Machete Kills was as wacky and disjointed as The Empire Strikes Back was dark and awesomely epic, one wonders how Machete Kills Again...In Space (assuming it gets made) fares against Return of the Jedi. Oh, and Machete Kills also made a reference to Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove...but how many folks who aren't Kubrick fans or die-hard movie aficionados get that reference?

Machete and Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard) get cozy in MACHETE KILLS.

Considering how twisted and misogynistic Machete Kills was, it's probably safe to say that the only reason why this film was worth watching was because of all the gorgeous actresses in the movie. From Amber Heard, Michelle Rodriguez and Jessica Alba (whose fate in this flick is another reason why this film should be hissed at) to Alexa Vega, Vanessa Hudgens and Sofia Vergara, Machete Kills clearly had a lot more femme fatales in it than the first movie did. I never saw Spy Kids, but I'm sure fans of this film will be jaw-dropped at how much Vega has grown since that 2001 flick, while Vergara goes from being Al Bundy's wife in the hit TV show Modern Family to a brothel-owning "man-eater" (her character's exact words in Machete Kills) who wears armor-plated boob guns and a strap-on that also...fires bullets. Lady Gaga shows up in the flick, but mostly to give an excuse to have Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Antonio Banderas (who played Vega's dad in Spy Kids) join this movie's cast as well.

Machete and Luther Voz (Mel Gibson) drive around in a landspeeder in MACHETE KILLS.

I didn't think my review for Machete Kills would be this long (I'd be ashamed of myself if it ended up being longer than my latest entries for Gravity and Captain Phillips), but I'll end this by saying that Machete Kills could've been better. A lot better. In another randomness for this film, entrepreneur Elon Musk and his SpaceX aerospace company made an appearance in Machete Kills (not so randomly, SpaceX's role is actually integral to the story). I wonder how much Musk was paid to make a cameo in this flick...which, unlike in Iron Man 2 (where Musk appropriately had a run-in with his fictional equivalent, Tony Stark), came out of nowhere. Seeing as how Machete Kills Again...In Space is supposed to happen in um, space, we'll see if more prominent figures in the aerospace industry show up in the second sequel. This is assuming that it gets made; Machete Kills flopped big time on opening weekend. To which Danny Trejo's character can retort, "Machete don't check box office grosses." But I'm sure that Robert Rodriguez does—and the future's not looking bright for our blade-welding Latino antihero... 'Nuff said.

KillJoy (Alexa Vega) strikes a pose in MACHETE KILLS.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Captain Phillips: Movie Review

From the stern of the USS Bainbridge, Navy SEAL snipers monitor a lifeboat carrying Captain Richard Phillips and four Somali pirates holding him hostage in CAPTAIN PHILLIPS.

I watched Paul Greengrass' cinematic take on the 2009 hijacking of the U.S. cargo ship MV Maersk Alabama yesterday, and two things come to mind: God bless America...and Go Navy! Captain Phillips is the latest true-story flick to depict the heroism of U.S. Navy SEALS (right after last year's Oscar-nominated Zero Dark Thirty) as they take on four Somali pirates who kidnapped Captain Richard Phillips and held him hostage aboard a hyperbaric lifeboat for several days. I don't know how much creative license Greengrass took to dramatize this ordeal (I never read in the newspaper that Phillips briefly escaped from the lifeboat and tried to swim towards the USS Bainbridge nearby...only for the pirates to recapture him from the water)...what I do know is that he got the one major detail of this event right. That one detail is the fact that three SEAL team snipers simultaneously fired their rifles and took out the pirates (three were left aboard the lifeboat while the fourth was lured aboard the Bainbridge by a fake deal made by Navy officers, and later arrested) just as they were about to harm Phillips. Even being towed by the Bainbridge, the lifeboat was still rocking drastically in the ocean—and for the snipers to nail their targets from the stern of the Navy destroyer hundreds of feet away was remarkable.

Aboard the bridge of the cargo ship MV Maersk Alabama, Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) confronts the Somali pirate leader Muse (Barkhad Abdi) in CAPTAIN PHILLIPS.

Just as remarkable as the real-life way that the Navy SEALs ended this crisis are the performances of Tom Hanks and the four actors who played the Somali pirates. Hanks' superb acting is to be expected, but the performance of newcomer Barkhad Abdi—who played pirate leader Muse—was memorable. I read online that Abdi mistimed his speaking cues when he acted with Hanks during that scene where the pirates stormed the ship's bridge (which is the first time the two actors met in-person when the movie was being shot... That was an intentional move on Greengrass' part to prevent the first-time Somali performers from being intimidated by Hanks during filming), but that confrontation came off very intense on the big screen. Abdi needs to bulk up if he wants to work in other Hollywood flicks where he won't play a "skinny rat" marauding the high seas, but as far as Captain Phillips is concerned, he was a shoo-in for this role. And don't be surprised if he gets a Best Supporting Actor nomination at an awards ceremony early next year.

Aboard the MV Maersk Alabama, Muse and his gang of Somali pirates search for Captain Richard Phillips' crew in CAPTAIN PHILLIPS.

Following on the heels of Gravity, Captain Phillips is another well-made flick that should make the 2014 awards season very interesting. From Best Adapted Screenplay (since the movie is based on a book written by Richard Phillips himself), a Best Actor nomination for Hanks, a potential Best Supporting Actor nom for Abdi to Best Film Editing and other nods in technical categories, Captain Phillips has the makings of a movie that should make the 86th Academy Awards next March worth watching. The Oscars will be even more fun to watch when you include Alfonso Cuarón's hit space disaster film in the equation. Either way, as long as both films receive the kudos that they deserve in late winter, everything is—as the pirate Muse would say—"gonna be all right." That is all.

Standing at the hatch of the hyperbaric lifeboat, Muse confronts a skiff team dispatched from the navy destroyer USS Bainbridge in CAPTAIN PHILLIPS.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Gravity: Movie Review

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney play two astronauts stranded in space in GRAVITY.

I watched Alfonso Cuarón's newest sci-fi disaster film this past weekend, and needless to say, it was intense. Folks who are space aficionados like myself will be impressed by the amount of work that was put into making the space shuttle, the International Space Station (ISS), the Soyuz and other actual vehicles and satellites look as authentic on-screen as possible. There are lots of creative licenses that Cuarón took with the film—such as the fact the ISS and Hubble Space Telescope (HST) are shown to be in the same orbit (the HST actually orbits more than 340 miles above the Earth while the ISS orbits at an altitude of 220 miles)—but this was obviously done to enhance the well-executed drama in the movie. Also, George Clooney's astronaut, Matt Kowalski, gleefully flies around the HST in that jetpack (modeled after NASA's since-retired Manned Maneuvering Unit)...not caring that one careless mistake could lead to him colliding with the billion-dollar telescope. And in later scenes, we see Sandra Bullock's character Ryan Stone (you would think that Stone would've changed her first name after turning 18 or something) wearing nothing but a tank-top and pajama shorts after removing her 300-pound spacesuit inside the ISS—when in real life, she would have a full-body thermal undergarment underneath her EMU (or Extravehicular Mobility Unit...NASA's fancy term for the spacesuit). Of course, Bullock flaunting her stuff in Gravity is to be expected from the director behind that "kid-friendly" flick, Y Tu Mamá También!

The Hubble Space Telescope is repaired during a fictional space shuttle mission in GRAVITY.

What makes Graviy such a treat to watch for die-hard space geeks is the fact that (potential spoilers ahead) Bullock uses existing spacecraft and their actual functions to make her way back to Earth. As depicted in the movie, the Soyuz does need to separate into three components prior to reentry, and has those landing retrorockets needed to touch down on the ground safely; and China does have a space station (Tiangong-1) orbiting the Earth right now. Explorer, however, is the actual name of a full-scale shuttle mockup currently on display at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. If Cuarón wanted the movie to have a stronger impact (pun unintended) on the audience with its authenticity, he could've named the shuttle after real orbiters (Discovery, Atlantis or Endeavour)...and designate the on-screen Hubble servicing mission as STS-136 instead of STS-157 (the space shuttle program came to an end after STS-135 in 2011).

Mission Specialist Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) tries to seek refuge at the damaged International Space Station in GRAVITY.

The truly terrifying thing about Gravity is that it isn't really going overboard in its depiction of space debris wreaking havoc on the ISS and other orbiting craft in deep space. In real life, it was China that was reckless enough to destroy a satellite with a missile back in 2007...and the ensuing debris still poses a threat to other spacecraft circling the Earth today. Not to veer off-topic since this is only a movie review, but the only hypothetical thing about Gravity is how a fictional astronaut made her way home after experiencing a crippling strike against her spacecraft at the beginning of the movie. What isn't hypothetical is the fact that space junk surrounding the Earth, if left alone, will lead to a calamity that won't be as far-fetched as what we see in Gravity. And that's the message that we should take from Alfonso Cuarón's hit film.

After removing her spacesuit, Ryan Stone floats through the International Space Station in GRAVITY.

Oh—and as for Gravity's Oscar prospects this March, if the brilliant sci-fi film District 9 can receive a Best Picture nomination in 2010, then so can Gravity next year. Like Avatar, Gravity's groundbreaking visual effects (especially the 3-D aspect) should make it the frontrunner to WIN the Best Visual Effects Oscar...along with Best Cinematography and perhaps Best Film Editing as well. Carry on.

Ryan Stone flees from the obliterated International Space Station aboard a Soyuz capsule in GRAVITY.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Tom Clancy (1947-2013)

Military thriller author Tom Clancy.

Rest In Peace, Mr. Clancy... The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger are great films because of your brilliant novels that they're based on. Red October, in particular, will always be fondly remembered; I recall that after I watched this Jack Ryan thriller at the theater in 1990, I drew storyboards for my own submarine action movie. I was 10-years-old at the time, as an FYI. It was these storyboards that, in turn, launched my interest in filmmaking—which I'm still passionate about today.

Tom Clancy passed away at the age of 66 yesterday.

Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin in the 1990 submarine thriller, THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER.