Welcome to NICKPICKSFLICKS. I am your host for the evening, America's sweetheart, Nick Spake.
5 Stars= Totally Rocks
3 Stars= Rad
2 Stars= Bad
1 Star= Terrible
Zero= Total shit
Just Reviewed 300: Rise of an Empire, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, and Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me-March 7th
Interview with Chiemi Karasawa-March 5th
Just Reviewed Non-Stop and The Wind Rises-February 28th
Just Reviewed 3 Days to Kill-February 21st
Just Reviewed Endless Love-February 14th
Kind of a missed opportunity it wasn't called "300 II" **
When “300” came out almost seven years ago, you probably either thought it was the coolest movie of all time or the lamest movie of all time. While it was dumb and silly, the film’s glorified violence, striking look, and classic one-liners did admittedly have an effect on the macho dinosaur in me. The sad truth is that the style over substance appeal of “300” is only good for one movie. The first time you see such eye candy popping out at the screen, it’s friggin’ awesome. The second time around, it’s about as repetitive as watching Optimus Prime transform over and over again. That’s just one of the reasons why “300: Rise of the Empire” is dead on arrival.
This long awaited sequel of sorts shifts focus from Leonidas and his merry men to the Greek navy. They’re lead by general Themistokles, played by Sullivan Stapleton who can’t hold a candle to Gerard Butler. On the opposing team is Eva Green as Artemisia, a Greek dominatrix now playing for the Persian army. It’s nearly impossible to remember any of these characters by name, as they’re all interchangeable blank slates lacking any humor or personality. Granted, a few have interesting back-stories, such as Rodrigo Santoro as good old Xerxes. However, the exposition is so rushed through dull narration that you never develop an emotional connection to anyone.
But what am I doing using words like “emotion” in a review of “300?” Nobody going to see this movie will care about the character development or the hero’s journey. What they will care about is super slow mo action, CGI blood, pointless nudity, CGI backdrops, unintentionally hilarious sex scenes, CGI everything, speeches ripped-off from superior historical war epics, and more action. What’s really shocking is that “300: Rise of an Empire” can’t even deliver a descent action set piece.
Much of the film takes place on giant, bland ships on the bland, dark sea. Restricting the major battles to one environment backfires big time, making the already repetitive action feel even more repetitive. The vibrant colors of the original film are meanwhile traded in for a grimy look as rain pours on our topless heroes. Director Noam Murro can occasionally produce a nice shot. But for the most part, he’s made quite a lifeless looking film that’s a pale imitation of Zack Snyder’s original.
“300: Rise of an Empire” is without any applause worthy kills. It doesn’t have a single quotable line of dialog. The film isn’t even memorable enough for the likes of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer to “parody.” Halfway through, you’ll find yourself thinking, “This is actually kind of boring.” When it’s all over, you’ll be thinking, “Seriously, that was it?” The fact that a movie such as this isn’t even mindlessly entertaining is the greatest sin of all.
And now here's something we hope you'll really like ***1/2
A few weeks ago we got “The Lego Movie,” an animated feature that looked like a disaster waiting to happen. Since its release, however, the film has become a box office hit and received praise from virtually every human being on the planet, myself included. “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” is another family movie that seemed destined to flop at first glance. A modern day 3D extravaganza based on a 1960’s cartoon that was never even so great to begin with? I smell another “Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.”
Against all the odds, though, “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” is actually a pleasant surprise from DreamWorks Animation. It doesn’t completely hit it out of the park like “The Lego Movie” or the Oscar-winning “Frozen.” But it is much better than any “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” movie has any right to be.
For all those who didn’t grow up watching “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show,” Mr. Peabody is a sophisticated, talking dog who’s a scholar in everything from history, to engineering, to culinary arts, to time traveling. He’s all Brian the dog from “Family Guy” ever aspired to be. Peabody, voiced here by Ty Burrell of “Modern Family,” adopts a young boy named Sherman (Max Charles), who’s always eager to learn although he occasionally forgets to use his brain. Some people question whether it’s ethically right for a dog to raise a child. Of course the more pressing questions are how a dog can talk, why doesn’t the government seize his time machine, and what will happen to Sherman when Mr. Peabody dies at 14 of old age. Then again, none of that really needs to be addressed in a film like this.
Peabody and Sherman have a number of escapades across time in the WACAC Machine. Sherman misguidedly shows the time traveling device to Penny, his classmate/rival voiced by Ariel Winter. From there, the film plays out like a series of vignettes along the lines of “History of the World: Part 1” meets “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” The gang crosses paths with the likes of Stanley Tucci as Leonardo da Vinci, Zach Callison as King Tut, and, best of all, Patrick Warburton as a thickheaded King Agamemnon.
There’s also a nice moral in there about unlikely families and what it means to be a parent. But much like “Despicable Me 2,” “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” is really more about just making the audience laugh and that’s not at all a bad thing. Director Rod Minkoff of “The Lion King” pumps the film with colorful animation, fun characters, clever gags, and plenty of hyper cartoon action to go around. “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” offers no more and no less, delivering exactly what the target audience desires. If that sounds like your cup of tea, the film should be something you’ll really like.
Tell him his mother's here an' she loves him, but not in a queer way ***1/2
To this generation, Elaine Stritch is probably best known for playing Alec Baldwin’s overbearing mother on “30 Rock.” Before she was Colleen Donaghy, however, Stritch already had quite the résumé. In a showbiz career that’s now spanned roughly seven decades, she’s done it all, from movies, to television, to radio, to cabaret. Stritch cemented herself as a performing legend on the Broadway stage, starring in countless plays and finally winning a Tony for her one-woman show back in 2002.
As you might have guessed, Stritch is the focus of “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me,” the debut documentary feature from Chiemi Karasawa. Whether or not you’ll like the film all relies on how much you like Elaine Stritch as a human being. As far as I’m concerned, the notion of somebody not enjoying Elaine’s company is inconceivable. Her various friends, assistants, and colleagues, which includes Tina Fey, Nathan Lane, Cherry Jones, and the late James Gandolfini, seem to agree.
Stritch has always stood out with her eccentric wardrobe of hats, ties, and furs, but no pants. She’s also clearly the most outgoing 87-year-old actress working today. Completely unapologetic, she isn’t afraid to say exactly what’s on her mind to the camera. We get a lot of hilarious incites into Stritch’s personal life as she reminisces of meeting JFK and experiencing her first orgasm. While stocking and sometimes unpredictable, Stritch mainly comes off as a loving individual who cares deeply for the people in her life and the people she’s lost.
The life of the party in public and a riot on stage, one might assume that Stritch could keep going with no end in sight. The sad truth is that Stritch’s age and diabetes have taken a toll on her health in recent years. Being an on again, off again alcoholic hasn’t helped. There are several brave moments when Stritch lets down her defenses and reveals how tired she’s become. Stritch has accepted that her death is inevitable. But that still doesn’t stop her from getting back on stage and putting her own unique spin on “I Feel Pretty.”
Stritch plans to retire in 2014, or 2015, or 2016, or 2017, or 2018. One can only hope Stritch lives forever and keeps performing until the end of time. When Stritch does leave this earth, though, at least she’ll be leaving behind a rich body of work and a film that encourages us all to live life to the fullest. Stritch further reminds us that dying is easy, but comedy is hard.
I recently talked to Chiemi Karasawa, director of the new documentary, “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me.” The film offer’s a glimpse into the life of Stritch, a Broadway legend and clearly the most outgoing actress over 85 working today.
This is what I get for flying Southwest Airlines ***1/2
It’s easy to imagine how the pitch for “Non-Stop,” the latest action thriller starring Liam Neeson, went down. “Okay, guys, how about this? It’s ‘Taken,’ but on an airplane!” The surprise is that “Non-Stop” not only could have been a sequel to “Taken,” but it’s also everything “Taken 2” should have been. The film finds Neeson is a familiar role in a plot that mixes together elements of “Air Force One,” “Flightplan,” and various Hitchcockian thrillers. While this sort of thing has been done before, the result is just fresh enough to standout from all the rest.
Better than Planes ****
Hayao Miyazaki will reportedly be retiring with the release of his latest film, “The Wind Rises.” He said the same thing after finishing “Princess Mononoke” only to come out with “Spirited Away” a few years later. If this is indeed Miyazaki’s last film, at least the Japanese master of animation is going out on a high note. “The Wind Rises” isn’t Miyazaki’s best film. It isn’t even the best film currently up for the Best Animated Feature Oscar, an honor that should rightfully go to “Frozen.” However, it does make for a passionate, romantic, tragic, and occasionally gorgeous final curtain to Miyazaki’s esteemed career…assuming he stays retired this time.
Anybody who’s seen “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind,” “Castle in the Sky,” “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” “Porco Rosso,” and several of his short films knows that Miyazaki adores aviation every bit as much as he loves animation. “The Wind Rises” is Miyazaki’s ultimate tribute to flight, telling the fictionalized story of Jiro Horikoshi (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Born with bad eyesight and dawning thick glasses, the humble Jiro is unable to fulfill his dream of being a pilot. If Jiro can’t fly planes, he wishes to design the most beautiful planes imaginable. Jiro gets his wish as he becomes an engineer and starts designing aircrafts for Japan during World War II.
Aviation is demoted to Jiro’s second love in life when he falls for a painter named Naoko (Emily Blunt). Noako suffers from Tuberculosis and is unlikely to live for long. Jiro devotedly stands by her every step of the way, all while juggling his responsibilities to the Japanese military. As a love story, “The Wind Rises” is sincere, moving, and works wonderfully. Although there is one awkwardly written scene where Jiro proposes to Noako with her hapless father sitting right there.
Outside of a few dream sequences, “The Wind Rises” is pretty much without any blatant magical or fantastic elements. Nevertheless, the hand drawn animation is still stunning to observe. Had Americans made it, the film probably would have been live-action with a lot of CGI planes and hundreds of extras. It also probably would have lacked the intimacy of Miyazaki’s direction.
Miyazaki has brought us some of the finest family movies of all time, including “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Ponyo.” “The Wind Rises,” though, is intended more for adults than it is for children. The Studio Ghibli film it has the most in common with is Isao Takahata’s “Grave of the Fireflies.” Both of these wartime animations are very much grounded in harsh reality, reminding us that not all animated features have to strictly be magical adventures or slapstick comedies. Animation can be used to tell serious dramas too.
The only aspect of “The Wind Rises” that isn’t very effective is the film’s commentary on war. For a movie about a man who designed planes intended for combat, “The Wind Rises” doesn’t make much of an attempt to explain what was going on in Japan at this time or the consequences of the world war. The ending feels particularly rushed, glossing over some of the darker elements of Jiro’s life. Maybe “The Wind Rises” isn’t supposed to really be about the war, though. Maybe it’s supposed to be more about one man’s love for flying and the woman of his dreams. In that sense, “The Wind Rises” is a wonderful flight into the sunset for Miyazaki.
Trained killer by day, father by night *1/2
To be perfectly upfront, I’ve never been a huge Kevin Costner fan. That’s not to say he hasn’t been good in a few movies such as “Field of Dreams.” He’s even directed some great movies…well one great movie at least. Then in the late nineties, Costner seemed to go on a major ego trip, constantly casting himself as mankind’s savior in movies like “Waterworld” and “The Postman.” Now he’s riding the comeback train with effective work in “Hatfields & McCoys” and “Man of Steel.” “3 Days to Kill” is unfortunately a step backwards for Costner. It won’t kill his career again, but it certainly won’t help it either.
Love conquers all...bite me! *
Well it’s February, which means two things. First, we’re going to get a totally lame action picture that wasn’t good enough for a summer release, i.e. “RoboCop.” Second, we’re going to get several predictable romance movies that nobody put any thought into whatsoever. “Endless Love” isn’t just a predictable romance movie. It’s an excruciatingly predictable one. Every character ark and plot point can be seen from several miles away. Watching this seemingly endless parade of clichés will overwhelm any thinking human being with grave frustration, making them want to hurl tomatoes at the screen.