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    And Now For Something Completely Different: A Review of The Help

    I have 42, the story of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball, waiting for me at home.  I had wanted to see it in the theaters, but never got around to it.  I'll be watching it soon and will have a review up after.  But, in the meantime, I thought I'd share an older review of mine about a very similar subject.  This is not the sort of movie that is normally reviewed on this site and I thought it may be a nice change. 

    A few months ago, my girlfriend mentioned to me that she was reading “The Help”, a book about a young, white woman’s relationship with two black maids in 1960’s Mississippi.  She ended up loving the book, and told me that they were adapting it into a movie.  Therefore, I pretty much accepted the fact that I’d be seeing this movie whether I wanted to or not.  To my surprise, I actually really enjoyed it.

    I’m not going to go into plot details, but I will say that Viola Davis, who plays Aibileen, deserves some sort of nomination for her performance here.  She is absolutely pitch-perfect.  I haven’t read the book, and knew next to nothing about the story going into it, but it took less than five minutes for me to realize that this actress was going to carry the film.  The “it” girl of the moment, Emma Stone, who seems to be in everything short of a biopic on Hulk Hogan, was very good as the main  character, Skeeter.  She is a writer at heart, who gets a job at the local paper as a "homemaker hints" columnist.  She is then able to parlay that into an idea for a book about The Help based on the lives of the maids who have spent their entire life taking care of white children.

    As one can imagine, this was a very controversial stance to take for a book at the time.  I really thought that Skeeter showed great courage continuing through with the book, even though she knew that if she and the maids were ever discovered writing down any negative stories regarding white families, the consequences would be disastrous.

    I’m not really doing a good job of hitting the points I wanted to in this review, as I have made it sound like a typical race relations story set in the early 60’s in the south.  Take my word that the film is anything but.

    There are few things that get under my skin as much as racism and that could be why I had a strong emotional response to this movie.  Once again, it’s not as simple as “Blacks are good and whites are bad” and if that’s the main idea you walk away from this review with, blame me.  The film makes you think on several levels and what is most striking of all is the fact that it really wasn’t that long ago that the treatment of blacks as second class citizens was commonplace.  I would be remiss, if I didn’t mention that there were several lighthearted, comedic parts as well that helped break up the heavy ideas explored.  Octavia Spencer portrays Minnie Jackson, whose outspoken ways have put her in a tough spot.  What really drives her actions and character home, however, is the fact that she is responsible for being both serious and fun, all within a moments notice.  

    The audience that has found this website so far may not be the audience that would normally appreciate a film like The Help.  One of my goals as a writer here is to hopefully open some readers up to experiencing films outside of their comfort zone.  If you see this film, and I recommend you do, don’t see it to help fulfill your chick flick quota with your significant other.  See it for the performances and for the real life situations that may help open your eyes beyond what things are like in your own world.  I think the inward trip the film takes you on is well worth the two hour running time.


    Movie Review: The Wolverine

    Remember X-Men Origins: Wolverine?  Good, because neither does The Wolverine.

    Four years after everyone's favorite adamantium-clawed mutant sputtered a bit (ok, a lot) with his first solo film, Wolverine gets a worthy do-over, courtesy of director James Mangold, a frighteningly intense Hugh Jackman, a talented supporting cast, and with a screenplay by Mark Bomback and Scott Frank.

    Welcome back, Wolverine.  We've missed you.

    The Wolverine manages to find a nice balance between the Japanese saga told in the 1982 Chris Claremont/Frank Miller comics and the established film universe.  Opening with a flashback of Logan as a POW in a Nagasaki prison camp during World War II, he saves a young soldier named Yashida (Ken Yamamura) from a nuclear blast, suffering and healing from gruesome injuries in the process.  In the present day, Logan is a mess.  Distraught, and haunted by nightmares since having to kill Jean Grey during the events at the end of X-Men: The Last Stand, he's gone all scraggly and has retreated to the mountains of Canada.  He's friends with a bear, but even that ends badly.

    But then he's visited by a mysterious woman called Yukio (Rila Fukushima). She's been tasked to bring Wolverine to Japan to visit his old friend Yashida, who became a successful businessman after his life was saved at Nagasaki, but who is now dying of cancer.  Yashida doesn't want to die.  Obsessed with Logan's healing factor, he claims that a way has been found to transfer the mutation to him, which would save his life and release Logan from his own long-suffering, seemingly endless lifespan.

    Logan may be depressed, but he's not interested in giving up his healing factor.  Does he lose it anyway?  Yup.  And of course there are more sinister things at work - like Yashida's scheming son Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada), who's not happy at all that the family business will be left to his daughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto) instead of him, and there are dealings with the Yakuza and other unsavory characters from the Japanese criminal underworld.  Then there's Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), the scientist who's as venomous as her name.

    The trailers we've seen for The Wolverine have been a bit misleading.  Yes, there are some really cool action sequences, like a fight scene on a bullet train, and Wolverine taking on scores of assassins at a funeral.  But there are long stretches of good story in here, and the movie plays less like a traditional superhero movie and more like a crime drama that just happens to have a guy with claws who heals really fast in the middle of everything.

    This is definitely Hugh Jackman's best performance as Wolverine since the first two X-Men movies (and even his First Class cameo).  Where in Origins, he seemed far too polite, this Wolverine swears, has no patience for anyone, gets into fights, and he really, really doesn't want to be forced to take a bath.  For the first time, we see what it's like for him to deal with the terrible losses that come with living such a long life.  And after he's deprived of his healing factor, we get to see him deal with a different kind of fear for the first time.

    Much credit also has to go to the women in this film, particularly Rila Fukushima and Tao Okamoto, who are both making their film debut.  Fukushima is quite a badass, and a sidekick for Wolverine that I'd love to see in more X-Men films.  Wolverine spends a good part of the film on the run with Okamoto's Mariko, and they not only have great chemistry in their scenes together, which are both touching and at times actually very funny.  Famke Janssen also returns in flashback form as Jean Grey, mainly to torment Wolverine, but it's nice to have her back in this series too.

    There's also Svetlana Khodchenkova as Viper, who at times seems the odd one out.  She's the catalyst for a lot of the things that go wrong for Wolverine in the movie, but at times her character seems a bit out of place.  At least, a lot more comic-bookish than any of the other elements of the film, especially in the third act, which has the biggest CGI-action spectacle of the film.  I've heard complaints that the final act goes a bit overboard in that respect, but I enjoyed it, since it had a few surprises that I wasn't expecting (and not the obvious one).

    Major props have to go James Mangold, who picked our flailing Wolverine solo film series back up from adamantium bullets and painfully-obvious CGI claws, and gave us just a beautifully-shot Wolverine movie that respects both the comics and the films.  The Wolverine is nastier and darker than what we've seen in the previous X-Men films, it's violent without being gratuitous about it, there's a bit of romance, it's funny as hell, and has characters that we actually care about - particularly Wolverine himself.

    I can't end this review without mentioning the infamous end-credits scene.  Yes, it's awesome.  No, I'm not giving away what it is.  Just make sure you don't miss it.  Going by the audience response I saw (and participated in) last night to The Wolverine, and their reaction at seeing what's to come...let's just say next summer...there is an overall sense that the X-Men movies are finally back, and that is an amazing thing.


    Review: This Is The End

    "This is judgement day."

    "You mean like Terminator, like Terminator this Skynet...did...did Skynet go live?"

    Probably my favorite of the many clever exchanges of dialogue in Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's This is the End.

    For anyone looking for a movie that's going to change how you think about life or affect you on an emotional level, This is the End is not it.  It is exactly what it's suppose to be: 1 hour and 45 minutes of mindless, dumb, explicit, laughable fun.

    If you've seen the trailers or commercials, you pretty much already know what the film's about: a group of real-life friends playing themselves - including the aforementioned Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride - must survive the apocalypse while bunkering down in a house (James Franco's newly built house, actually).

    The two main character's of the story (I guess), are Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel who, as lifelong best friends, have grown apart as Seth's been living in LA while Jay hasn't.  On a visit to see his ol' buddy, they end up at Seth's newest best friend's housewarming party, James Franco.  Jay doesn't really know any of Seth's other new buddies including Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, or - in a hilarious cameo - Michael Cera (trust me, you'll never look at this guy the same way again), so he decides to exit the party for a drug store, and of course, this is where the apocalypse begins.

    To go into more detail of the plot if probably pointless as this is the kind of movie where you just want to turn your brain off for a solid two hours and just enjoy the ride while not knowing what's going to happen.

    Every member of the cast is great at playing...well themselves, in a heightened reality type of way, though I'd say probably the stand-out is Danny McBride who gets the most laughs in slightly lesser role than everyone else (his verbal exchange with James Franco about 'coming'...priceless).

    The visual effects for the film aren't too shabby either considering the flick was made for a considerably low budget (though be prepared to see a side of apocalyptic monsters you've never seen before).

    Also, trust me when I say there are many famous cameos by plenty of celebrities who likely just wanted to apart of a good ol' time at making a comedy.

    Overall, I'd say This is the End is probably the funniest film I've seen this year (beats the hell out of The Internship), and likely will have a long-shelf life on Blu-ray/DVD as one of those film's that people just want to watch over and over again).

    Grade: B


    Review: PACIFIC RIM


    In the not too distant future, legions of monsters appear from an inter-dimensional drift at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. To combat them, Nations from around the world joined into a group venture, the Pan Pacific Defense Corps, to fight them using Jaegers. Massive mechanical weapons, operated by two pilots in perfect neural synch with each other and the machine.

    When I 'Get Hype' for a movie, it's because I usually follow it from womb to tomb. From the director being picked, to casting, to shooting, to posters, and basically everything in between.There's only been a few movies that I've followed since the very beginning that have lived up to everything I wished they would, and I'm just here to say that in a summer of disappointments (Star Trek Into Darkness, Iron Man 3, World War Z, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, White House Down) PACIFIC RIM does not falter or fail in what it has set out to do from the beginning, and succeeds and amazes more often than it stumbles.

    Guillermo del Toro, going off of a screenplay by Travis Beacham, who apparently wrote half of the good part of 2010's Clash of the Titans, has 'Rim' play out like a larger than life cartoon, full of exaggerated characters and insane action that never feel insulting to the audiences intelligence- a problem so many have with Bay's 'Transformers' series- but never go beyond it either.

    I can't describe anyone in the film in any way other than they all play giant charicatures of a character from an anime, comic, or manga, and that's not an insult to the film or writing because it WORKS.

    Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi, the film's two leads, are really charming to watch on-screen and an important relationship is set up to explore in the (hopefully) inevitable sequel. Hunnam is the angry ex-pilot called into duty again to pilot the old Gipsy Danger, and Rinko is the book-smart and combat-ready younger pilot who dreams of one day strapping into a Jaeger and getting revenge for the death of her family. Some of the writing is a tad hammy; but never groan-inducing or bad pseudo bullshit like The Dark Knight Rises, or anything.

    The supporting cast though, almost ends up stealing the show. Charlie Day and Clifton Collins Jr. play wonderfully off of eachother, and althoughhe;s not in it much, Ron Perlman channels his utter sleaze into Hannibal Chau, and it works so well. Day's character actually has a lot of potential past comic-relif, which you see brief glimpses of, and turns out to be one of the more important characters.

    The action is silly, awesome, pure fun. The Jaegers feel weighty, like actual monoliths constructed by man, and in every swing they take and weapon they fire you literally hear and feel not only the physical weight of the mechanical beast; but also the emotional weight that these are it, these are humanity's last defense.

    The Kaiju, monsters from beyond our world, and terrifying. They're large, super-powered, screaming creatures that are marvelous to look at; but fierce and deadly to where every battle you legitimately become concerned for the pilots up against it.

    Del Toro, as in his previous films, handles all of this action with superb grace and skill. Every frame is a treat to look at, especially in IMAX 3D; and it's a movie that will definitley be used to show off how sweet your new TV is.

    The film also does try really hard at an emotional center, which it reaches more with Mako and Pentecost, and then with the Australian pilots, than it does with Charlie Hunnam's Raleigh Beckett. That's not to say you don't feel for him, it just sees there were character building scenes cut out to save time for both of them; but the film doesn't fall apart because of that, because you still feel and watch the emotional bonds being linked by these characters.

    One especially powerful moment was when a young Mako is running for her life from a giant crab-like Kaiju, and it is both an emotional and absolutely terrifying experience to watch unfold.

    The other being when the father and son Aussie pilots say goodbye to each other, and it struck me and the friends I saw it with very deeply out of nowhere, too.

    I can't think of anything else to say about Pacific Rim other than that the richly detailed and brightly cartoonish world is a welcome break from the grimdark and serious nature of blockbusters these days. None of the heroes have deeply annoying internal struggles, nor are they mopey and sluggish. Even at the world's darkest, when all hope seems lost, not one moment in the film is over-bearing and "LOOK AT HOW SAD THIS IS". It's a welcome return to seeing a summer movie that is without angst; but with genuine fun and heart, that was made just entertain people. I won't go and say Pacific Rim is an intellectually challenging masterpiece; but it's the reason 'summer blockbusters' became a thing, and it's a 'summer blockbuster' that's a return to genuine "holy shit" moments that captivate and wow you.

    This isn't 2 hours of decent wire-fighting and stunt jumps; this is 2 hours of shit you've never seen before, and when you leave the theater you'll think, "I need to see that just one more time" 


    An Oldie but Goodie : Demolition Man Review

    So, I was bored this afternoon and decided to go fishing through my Netflix queue and came across a film I had always meant to watch but never made the time for, Demeolition Man.  

    I am, what I would call, a casual Sly Stallone fan.  I haven’t seen many of his films, outside of the Rocky films which I find brilliant, (well, except for 5 really) but I have always heard this is one of his better movies.

    Quite simply, Demolition Man is everything I heard it was.  There’s action galore of course, but what really surprised me about the film was how funny it was.  I don’t want to go through and explain the plot of the film, that’s what search engines are for, but I will say that it’s often very hard to find a film that is able to balance both action and humor at the same time.  Sometimes, all a film needs to provide are some explosions and some great one-liners and this film has both in spades.

    I’d heard that Wesley Snipes is about as close as you can get to The Joker in The Dark Knight here, but I didn’t get that vibe from him.  Sure, he’s all about causing havoc, and he does seem to react with no regard for consequences, but I never got that sinister feel the way I did with Joker. Not to say he wasn’t good, I totally bought that Stallone was the only guy capable of bringing him down.  The chemistry between the two is what really sells the film.  

    Sandra Bullock is here mostly to provide comic relief, which is alright by me.  Her fascination with late 20th century culture leads to quite a few hilarious lines, as she can never get her point across quite right.  There is also a “sex” scene which is among the strangest things I’ve ever seen in a movie.  I believe Stallone’s facial expressions here were what led to the invention of screencaps. 

    Demolition Man is not a perfect film by any means but for a fun romp that doesn’t take it self seriously and one that is still able to make you think, you can’t find one better.