Prisoners

As the father of two girls, I approached this film with a great deal of trepidation. Although my kids are grown, I know what a horrible feeling it would be to have your children disappear. The nightmare that these two families face gets worse with every minute that the children are gone.  I was not sure that this would be the kind of film that I would be able to stomach. If you are a parent and wary of seeing this because it might hit too close to home, then you are better off skipping down to the next start time and seeing a good family film or a thriller where child abduction is not the starting point. In the long run the story will reveal it’s secrets and there will be moments of redemption, but they come at a great cost.

Usually I avoid reading other reviews before I see a film, but this past week on the radio and on a podcast that I listen to, both viewers mentioned the same tell. They each generally liked the film but they said they knew who was responsible for the crime based on a well known trait of film making most recognizable on dramatic TV programs. (I won’t tell you what the clue is because I don’t want you to have the same issue that I did). As a result of hearing this info, I spent a chunk of the movie watching for the give away instead of just following the story. As it turns out, it did not matter because I did not recognize the an actor playing a key character and I was diverted from the tell at the beginning. After I settled down to watch the story unfold, I did find myself caught up in the details of the plot. It is a complicated set of events and the resolution follows some strong plotting techniques but also some typical movie shortcuts. There are a couple of glaring coincidences that help things move forward, but there are also so many side issues and red herrings that those contrivances do not matter much.

All of the advertising for the film has already revealed that the parents of the kidnapped children are willing to go to extreme lengths to try and find them. This raised some pretty tough moral issues and there are some scenes of brutality that are hard to take. We are spared the visualization of the process for the most part but we do get a lot of the after effects and it isn’t pretty. Hugh Jackman’s character is a self sufficient type, prepared for emergencies, able to provide for his family and the owner of his own business. His portrayal of a father pushed to the breaking point and pushing back is the strength of the story, but it is Jake Gyllenhaal’s police detective that is the strength of the movie. Jackman’s intensity is understandable from the beginning and he goes on full Wolverine mode at times to get what he wants. Detective Loki, is a different matter. As the story progresses he becomes less detached, more volatile and a lot more conflicted in his motivations. Gyllenhaal is impressive playing a completely different type of dogged determination than he played in “Zodiac” as a man obsessed with finding the identity of a killer. The script lets him down in a couple of places, but his work pulls us back into the story and away from the conventional tools that might unwrap the mystery.

The scenes where the two fathers pursue their own project to get information are solid but rarely a surprise. The false trails and secondary characters that seem to create a diversion are actually all cleverly tied into each other. I thought it was a very solid job of plotting. There are two outstanding “thrill” moments which occur as those threads are being unraveled and then some other moments of dramatic fireworks as well. It is unfortunate that the resolution does not have quite the same spark to it, although there is a much darker element and personality revealed. The personality of our heroes is shown in the most naked circumstances and this is where the redemption comes through for them. You have to have been paying attention to have it all make sense and there are still a couple of small bits of info that I would like clarified, but it was overall satisfying.

The other thing I heard talk of before I saw the movie was the running time. It is two and a half hours. Both of the commentators I happened across suggested that it could lose nearly an hour of run time. I did not notice that the story moved slowly. I think if the pace had been quicker, then there would be even more difficulty in making sense of the plot. This feels like an attempt at creating an original piece of story telling and not simply a programmer like those 1990s Paramount films that crammed plot, thrills and Ashley Judd into ninety minutes. I can’t say it was perfect but I did think it worked very well and despite my hesitation over the subject matter, I was glad I saw it and I think most of you will be as well.

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The Wizard of Oz IMAX 3D

There is nothing I can say that has not already been said about this film. It is the quintessential family entertainment of the last century and a masterpiece from that greatest of years 1939. I do think that makes this “75th” Anniversary Release a bit premature but I am not complaining. This morning I skipped down the Yellow Brick Road with Dorothy and her friends and although I have seen the movie dozens of times it was like a new adventure. It was just a few short years ago that the film was re-mastered for high definition release but a little something extra was added this time. This was a 3D IMAX film.

We ended up seeing it in Fauxmax because I could not bring myself to drive down to Hollywood after the last couple of long days. The the local upgrades to neighborhood theaters that claim to be IMAX screens do provide a nice picture and superior sound, but they do not have the enveloping scope of the real IMAX screens that are seven stories high and require audience seating at a stiff 45 degree angle. There were other films that I might have seen this weekend but this is a one week engagement and those others can wait.

A picture to show that I am a “Musical” lover, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

 The colors when they appear are brilliant and the clarity is amazing. If you were not able to see it before, the Scarecrow actually has burlap cross weave in the makeup on his face. You can see all the birds in the background during the” apples” sequence and the flying monkeys will creep you out even more because they still look real. The 3D conversion is competent and it adds a nice texture to a special occasion but it is not needed. This movie just rocks.

No rainbows here in Southern California this weekend

The songs are wonderful and all of you who play the slots in Vegas or some other casino, you know how the sound can be addicting. The Video slot versions of the Wizard of Oz use the sound to suck you in and keep you playing, just to hear that sweet music again and again. I continue to deny the explanation at the end. Everyone else thinks it was just a dream but Dorothy, Toto and us all know that OZ is a real place that you get to over the rainbow. If you don’t have any rain on your horizon in the next few days and thus no chance of rainbow, the other way you get to Oz is by plopping down your $15 bucks and putting on some geeky glasses. This week, it is the shorter route.

Riddick

The drought is officially over. No, not the dearth of good films, just my absence from movie theaters. As the summer ends and we creep into fall, a confluence of circumstances has come together to keep me away from my holy temple for three long weeks, 21 days, 504 hours (not that I was counting or anything). I have returned to school and that limits opportunities. Football has restarted and now the holy ground of the L.A. Coliseum calls to me many Saturdays, we will ignore the desecration that took place two weeks ago. Finally, good movies have dried up, making a trip to the theater difficult to plan unless I want to repeat something or trek forty miles to see something new that I might be interested in. “Riddick” represents a methadone injection, it scratches the itch but is not as satisfying as an addict might want. I saw “Pitch Black” when it came out ten years ago, and I thought it was an effective piece of science fiction/horror hokum. I only saw it the one time so I can’t recall any details. “The Chronicles of Riddick” made it onto my plate as a Saturday afternoon satellite film. Since I subscribe to everything, it came up and I watched. Again, just the one time and my memory of it is even fuzzier, though it was the more recent experience. So if I am not a big fan you ask, why did this new film draw me back to theaters?  Well it turns out that my delightful oldest child is a fan and we seldom get to go together to the movies anymore. We do share some tastes and when an opportunity knocks I am going to open the door. As a bonus, today we were joined by her husband, a rather large man who seldom travels to a movie so it was a fun change of pace.

One of the nice things about a movie like this is that the history of the character is mostly irrelevant to the story that is being told. “Betrayed again, shoulda seen it coming. Especially since the first time it happened was the day I was born.” That is the opening line of the movie and it is as much as you really need to know. Riddick is a badass who has crappy things happen to him and then he solves those problems with extreme prejudice. He has killed something in front of our eyes before we have even seen him, so you know what is coming. There is a short flashback sequence to explain how he was abandoned on this hostile planet. This is the only sequence that Karl Urban appears in so if he is the reason you are thinking of taking a flyer on this film, don’t. He has maybe ninety seconds of screen time. The first half of the movie is pretty much Vin Diesel doing his growling thing. When you pay to see a movie starring Vin, it is unlikely that dialogue is what you want to see and hear. You want action sequences and hard guy attitude. Well, you will get the hard guy attitude, but the action sequences are not quite as involving as they could be.

So Riddick is trapped on the planet and has to figure out how to survive. This entails scoping out the landscape, assessing the local monsters and figuring out how to shelter himself. One of the ways in which he integrates himself into the world is by doing Will Smith in “I am Legend”. His CGI costar is actually kind of fun, but you know in the long run it isn’t going to be a happy ending. It is standard man in the wilderness film making except that the wilderness is a giant planet teeming with vicious creatures that special effects computers render in abundance. The look of the movie is interesting but you can notice at times that they cut some corners on visual effects in order to make them inexpensive. It won’t undermine your enjoyment of the movie any unless you are uptight like that. Once Riddick has figured out that there is a mercenary way station on the planet (a sort of bounty hunters cabin in the woods), he sends out a notice that he is there, basically trying to get a ride off the planet. For reasons that are never gone into, Riddick is the most notorious criminal in the universe and every planet seems to have put out a bounty on him. As soon as he makes himself known, two competing crews of mercenaries show up to capture and kill him. Of course the bounty hunters will not only be outmatched by Riddick himself, we are going to get a repeat of the first film where the monsters come out at night and Riddick is their only hope.

There is not much need for character development. Hairstyles and clothing manage to tell us all we need to know about the bounty hunters. One group is cruel and probably as big a group of criminals as our hero himself. The second group is tough and more professional and they have a hidden agenda to go along with their story. Heads will butt, testosterone will flow freely and Riddick will kill enough of them to show he means business and then have the remainder to potentially save. There are a few clever tricks in Riddicks handling of the two crews. The guy has the biggest cojones in the universe and he does a good job trying to intimidate the others, although they frequently continue to underestimate him. When the CGI space creatures show up, the movie slips into auto pilot and gives us random shoot outs, sudden deaths and lots of screaming critters in the dark. The creatures are not scary the way I remember similar creatures being in “Pitch Black” but they will do for an adversary that brings competing forces together. The last section of the film feels a little rushed and incomplete which is odd because so much time was taken in the first hour to set things up.

If I was thirteen or fourteen, and seeing this stuff for the first time, I’d be excited as heck about it. This is juicy Sci Fi action and a tough guy character that every adolescent boy would probably want to emulate. Somewhere inside of me, that kid still survives. He got a kick out of the cheesy space motorcycles in the film. He liked the vicious payoff of the main antagonist in the story. He is also a sucker for a good dog and even if this one was a virtual pet, it was still something to enjoy. The older version of that kid thought the movie was fine for a Sunday afternoon and I will probably not remember any of it in a couple of months. That will make it better when someone down the road suggests a “Riddick” marathon on a rainy weekend. It will be like new for me, and then I can repeat all of these jokes.