Tag Archives: 2.5 stars

Way late review: If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front

The Earth Liberation Front is considered a terrorist group by the FBI. They have been linked to numerous destructive activities over the years. They are a radical environmental group that takes no prisoners when it comes to defending their cause – protecting the earth. Their acronym is ELF. Yep, ELF. What could possibly be better than a documentary that covers the case of Daniel McGowan, an ELF member, who was arrested for setting fire to two timber companies? Quite a bit.

The biggest problem with If a Tree Falls is that it’s main character is a bore. This is not Philippe Petit, Mr. Brainwash, Steve Wiebe, Billy Mitchell, etc. This is a guy who is about as intriguing as watching a tree grow. The filmmakers, Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman, seem to sense this and do their best to move our attention to the more exciting parts of ELF – the odd characters, their mission, their interactions with law enforcement. The footage of ELF members going through extreme conditions and treatment is pretty amazing. Watching someone laying on the floor in peaceful protest only to be held down while their eyes are sprayed with mace is brutal. Watching McGowan mope around in his sister’s apartment and talk about his plight is even more brutal but in the worst way – brutally boring.

Since the filmmakers committed to telling McGowan’s story first and weaving the tales of ELF in between, it’s a tough doc to enjoy. Every time things pick up with exciting tales of planning an attack on a timber company’s headquarters or detailing the history of various peaceful protests turned violent, we’re dragged back into McGowan’s legal matter. And it doesn’t help that McGowan is under house arrest for the bulk of the movie so almost every scene he’s in we’re getting the same stale setting.Elf

While watching If a Tree Falls I couldn’t help but run through various “what if” scenarios in my head. What if the movie was told more like Man on Wire? What if the narrative played out like David vs. Goliath, with ELF as David and the corporations and US government playing the part of Goliath? What if you found just about any other member of ELF and focused on him? What if you could get Will Ferrel to put his elf suit back on and have him perform reenactments of famous ELF acts of destruction?

At last, we’re left with a promising premise for a documentary with no shortage of exciting characters and stories to tell, only to be given one of the least interesting subjects one would think to find in such a fascinating group as the Earth Liberation Front.

 ★★½☆☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. See more reviews here.


Way late review: X-Men: First Class

OK, I get it. Reboots are hip. Retelling superhero origin stories is popular Hollywood sport. I think I’m burnt out already and this is before we get a Spiderman reboot next year. Wait, weren’t there Spiderman and X-Men series out in the past ten years? Sigh. I digress. X-Men: First Class is a reboot. We have the retelling of the origin story. The biggest difference this time around is it’s set in the 60’s and starts with younger versions of the X-Men.

Beast

Thundercats Hoooo!

I love the look of X-Men: First Class overall. The costumes are spot on, aside from Beast, who looks like a Thundercat raised in Fraggle Rock. The aesthetics were 60’s all the way, which made for a more compelling setting to watch a superhero origin story take place. Unfortunately, it’s an origin story for X-Men, a gang of characters that aren’t terribly interesting. The idea of X-Men, mutants, some of whom have great powers, living in our world is more intriguing than the X-Men themselves. And since there are numerous characters in the bunch, the time spent on any one is short, making it difficult to connect to any one of them.

Much like Captain America: The First Avenger, we have another wasted opportunity of superheros interacting with real history. We get a convoluted plot involving a former Nazi scientist, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), who is responsible for the escalation of the Cuban missile crisis. Bacon plays a decent bad guy but that doesn’t change the fact that his character seems totally unnecessary.

The rest of the X-Men cast is solid, though limited by the screenplay and a general shallowness of the characters themselves. Each back story feels like a retread being told only to move us to the major conflict. The most fun I had was watching the X-Men come together to train and harness each of their individual powers. After that comes the obligatory big last battle and the tease for the follow up movie.

Another ho-hum 2011 superhero movie. Sigh.

 ★★½☆☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.


Way late review: Captain America: The First Avenger

Superhero movies are all the rage. At least they were during the summer of 2011. When I saw the superhero movie lineup before the summer began, I was most interested in Captain America: The First Avenger. One, it wasn’t a remake/reboot. Two, it was set in the past, World War II. Seeing a superhero’s story told within the context of a real historical setting was different. Learning how a superhero helped make history rather than exist in his own version of a world like ours was an exciting proposition for me. Don’t get me wrong, I like the comic book superhero movies. Tim Burton’s Batman, Spiderman 1 & 2, Superman 1,2,3 are all movies that I enjoyed and each existed in its own version of reality, a comic book world. But, that’s been done and done well. Then we have films like Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, which is grittier yet still set in its own world. A darker world, sure, but still not close to the one you and I live in. There’s nothing wrong with any of these approaches. But both have been done and I was looking forward to Captain America doing something different by living in and impacting a real period of time. A superhero period piece of sorts.

Maybe my expectations were wrong and that set me up for disappointment. Captain America is a rather generic superhero movie set in WWII but ignoring much of the historical significance. Apparently Nazis and the fate of the world at stake weren’t good enough. Captain America creates a replacement for Hitler in Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), who captures a mysterious glowing cube. The cube is supernatural and leads to the transformation of Weaving from a Nazi to the ultra strong Red Skull. Think Darth Maul minus the lightsaber. Red Skull creates super weapons based on the cube’s power. These weapons don’t just kill people, they make them explode and disappear at impact. With a comic book villain and weapons from a galaxy far, far away in place, we have the creation of HYDRA. Goodbye Nazis, hello HYDRA.

Meanwhile the US knows about HYDRA and has a refugee German scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) who is working on a super soldier program of his own. Dr. Erskine runs into the future Captain America, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans). He discovers that the puny Rogers has attempted to join the armed forces numerous times, even going so far as to lie on his applications. Dr. Erksine decides that Rogers is the right man for his super soldier experiment. Rogers goes to training camp, shows a lot of heart but little physical prowess. Throw Rudy into WWII era basic training and you’ve got the idea. Dr. Erksine finally runs the experiment on Rogers, which transforms Rogers into a tall muscular man capable of superhuman tricks. The experiment appears to be a success and this should lead to an army of new soldiers for the US Army, but a HYDRA operative steals the special sauce and kills Dr. Erksine.

Instead of using Rogers in the fight against the Nazis, oops, HYDRA, the US government uses him as propaganda for pushing the sale of war bonds. He’s Captain America, complete with the costume and shield. That goes on for a while until Rogers takes his act on the road for the troops where he is promptly laughed off the stage. This upsets Rogers and gets him in the mood to use his powers for more than just selling government backed paper. Once he learns that his best friend, Bucky (Sebastian Stan), has gone missing behind enemy lines, he takes matters into his own hands and has Iron Man’s dad fly him to HYDRA headquarters. From there Captain America the superhero is born. We see him use his powers as he rescues a large group of soldiers, including Bucky, from Red Skull’s labyrinth.

The story goes on from there and ultimately leads to where all modern day Marvel movies lead, the birth of The Avengers. The details aren’t all that important. Some not so spectacular action sequences take place and we get to the end of the movie. WWII is ultimately rendered unimportant. What we’re left with is a solid origin story followed up by a lackluster retelling of one of the most exciting and dangerous times in (modern) world history.

While this probably makes it seem like I hated Captain America, I didn’t. I enjoyed Chris Evans’ performance throughout the film. I liked his budding relationship with Stanley Tucci’s Dr. Erskine. I even enjoyed seeing how Captain America went from mere propaganda to full blown superhero. The problem became the unnecessary invention of a villain (as if Hitler wasn’t evil enough), a silly magical cube that powers unreal weapons and the wasted opportunity of WWII as a setting. The second half of the movie was only somewhat entertaining as a result and felt like it was only there to fast forward us to next summer’s big event, The Avengers. I can’t say I’m all that excited.

 ★★½☆☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.