Friday, June 26, 2015
George Clooney leads audiences on a lackluster trip to a dismal future in Disney’s Tomorrowland.
ARTH VADER (AV): Inspired by the famed Disneyland ride/attraction of the same name, Tomorrowland focuses on a dream–inspired future-topia where people are whisked away, to enjoy all the comforts of a technological paradise where they even get to fly around on personal jet packs. While many of those concepts are derived from the Disney themed ride, the movie attempts to foreshadow a pretty terrific future wouldn't you say Pontificator?
CASTING, ACTING AND DIRECTING
AV: George “Gravity” Clooney heads up a pretty ho-hum cast that includes Hugh “House” Laurie and well. honestly it doesn’t matter. Sure, the cast was fine. But ex-Power Ranger Britt Robinson spends so time screaming at 'things that shouldn't be', her character quickly became annoying. The grizzled Clooney is a bit too young to pull off the grumpy old professor thing as he attempts to mentor a gifted young girl through her mundane life. The direction by famed family film director, Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Up, Ratatouille) was competent but also transparent. Pontificator, the acting was near appalling but I did manage to sit all the way through it and trust me, that was no easy task.
ON SPECIAL EFFECTS
AV: The visual effects were ok. While breaking no new ground, the effects attempted to do more than they should have. A time-stopping freeze gun is a great idea that is used in a toy store and then never heard from again. A rocket ship hidden within the Eiffel Tower is a great idea, until you attempt to execute it. Then, it’s just a dumb, forgettable visual dud. The rocket jet packs had a moment but once you’ve seen the Rocketeer (1991) you’ve seen what you needed to see from that particular piece of technology. P-Man?
TP: Seeing this film in IMAX 3D was a great decision. Disney is certainly dependable when it comes to special effects and this film did not disappoint. In fact, the effects were another high point that helped it along and kept it interesting.
TAKING A CLOSER LOOK
AV: Why on Earth this film was ever green-lighted is far beyond this mere mortal. Things happen that aren't explained, like the distribution and use of special pins that are the key to Tomorrowland are introduced but aren't explained. So you get one that's rare and then you go places. Huh?
And while there are tons of sci-fi nods to Star Wars, The Day The Earth Stood Still (the classic one) and a host of others–these props do little more than complicate an already confusing string of events. A pedestrian screenplay, lack-luster cast, downright mediocre script and characters too dull to even mention (Tim McGraw, I’m looking at you m’man) I found that the most redeeming quality of this film was the end-credit graphics. Fun and engaging, they are everything the movie is not.TP: Well…I could get really deep here with all the subliminal nuggets and real world foreshadowing, but instead let me just say that the commentary given in this film about the state of the best humanity has to offer is a message no child should be subjected to. I think it’s disturbing given the message Disney just sent with Avengers: Age of Ultron (remember Ultron was on the internet for five minutes and decided humanity had to go the way of the Dodo). In this film the commentary continues as to why Ultron would think that as the best minds of humanity have managed to screw up “paradise” and in so doing, doomed the planet whom they view as in need of destruction anyway! It all works out in the end, but that doesn’t change everything we had to go through to get there.
AV: No reason for that.
TP:They could… but probably shouldn’t. This film was fine for what it was, but should stay in “yesterday” and avoid “tomorrow.”
ARTH VADER rates Tomorrowland: Swing and a miss, Disney. If you’re looking for a way to siphon 90 minutes from your life that you’ll never get back, then Tomorrowland is for you. This movie tries to matter–it really does, but in the end… it just doesn't. A huge disappointment despite the reported size of Clooney’s payday. I was barely able to strap on two (2) Busted Blocks as jet engines to jettison the sleep-inducing snooze-fest called Tomorrowland into the heavens, never to be seen or heard from again.
THE PONTIFICATOR rates Tomorrowland: Good performances (for the target audience) and great special effects made this a very enjoyable film to watch. The lackluster story though, prevented this film from being better than it was. In the end, this movie traveled into tomorrow and only returned to today with six (6) busted blocks.
Friday, June 19, 2015
Director George Miller Returns To The Franchise He Spawned Telling A New Tale of Post Apocalyptic Survival In Mad Max: Fury Road
ARTH VADER (AV): Mad Max: Fury Road (MM:FR) takes us somewhere a Mad Max Film has never taken its audience; a place gender equality. I start with that line, Pontificator, because of all the downright chauvinistic press this film got. Hopefully, They are so turned off, those sexist idiots have clicked off and now the rest of us can have a cogent chat about this movie.
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): The continuity of this film has been brought into question from day one. George Miller refuses to call the film a sequel or reboot….but it clearly is just that, a reboot. Even though the film has flashbacks to the original, there is no series of events that can merge this film into the continuity of the others.
CASTING, ACTING AND DIRECTING
AV: A decent cast to be sure and what little true ‘acting’ there was, was good but I want to delve, face first into the direction. I mean props to the amazing onscreen presence to Charlize “Prometheus” Theron and Tom “Bane” Hardy but this films true hero was neither. It was the return of George Miller, Godfather of the Mad Max franchise. You know, it’s hard to envision that the guy responsible for Babe: Pig in the city, Happy Feet and Happy Feet 2 is the mastermind behind the Mad Max franchise. His vision of a harsh wasteland world has held our collective attention for a generation being powerful and provocative. And only a handful of story arcs have been capable of that.
TP: I enjoyed the first two of the original three films and think Miller did a great job directing this film. The pace was steady and engaging. The casting was also very good even though the film didn’t give Max (Tom Hardy) any real chance for depth and Furiosa (Charlize Theron) stole the show. Nicholas Hoult (Nux) was a welcome addition and it was great to see Hugh Keays-Byrne (Toecutter from the original film, Immortan Joe in this one) back again for another “Max” film.
ON SPECIAL EFFECTS
AV: While visual effects were quite prominent is MM:FR, we have a genuine effects mash-up here my friend. It is reported that most stunts in this movie are live action, with stunt men and actual pyrotechnics. Can’t tell you how long its been since we described a significant action film with those terms. Its real and it feels it. It works as a visual spectacular because the live-action effects elements are integrated as part of the story-telling, not as the primary storytelling device. In that way, to me, these are VERY special effects indeed, P-Man.
TP: I totally agree Vader, the special effects were outstanding in this film. More than the effects in the traditional sense, was the cinematography and real stunts pulled off onscreen. Miller has always been one for really showing what you are watching and some of the stuff here was just pure excellence! Of course IMAX 3D was the only way for me to see this film…and it was, once again, a great decision.
TAKING A CLOSER LOOK
AV: It took a bit of time for me to sort out what I saw with this movie. What I first saw was a rambling listless film with point, little direction and some downright tired storytelling elements a la the ‘ghost girl’ sequences throughout the film where we are never actually told who she is but is the implied ;most daughter from Mad Max. But this film has far greater merit than its flaws. Set aside the jaw-dropping stunts, better-than-usual art direction and an unusual hero’s journey that saw Max in chains for almost a quarter of the film and put him to be—at best—a supporting role. I thought the minimalist dialogue and girl-power-gone-right perspective was way more than refreshing, it was badass and actually gave greater depth to the hero. A smart twist and a smarter film than most probably saw coming.
TP: I must admit it took me a while to warm to to this film. Having seen the three previous Max films, I was unprepared for the levels this film took me. The opening shot alone had me quickly disassociating myself from the subject as I couldn’t identify with such an existence. Further, destroying the car so quickly just made me…mad (see what I did there?). Although I didn’t get back into my own skin until halfway through the film, the sheer scope of the cinematography and awesome imagining that went into the vehicles had me hooked. I think the film could have been better by exploring Max more, but the fact that it took off from the opening and didn’t stop until the end gave new meaning to having a film take you for a… ride (heh…did it again).
AV: The next 'new' Mad Max sequel is in production even as we speak. Mad Max: Wasteland will hit theaters in 2017. If we can expect more of this kind of filmmaking (I understand George Miller is Executive producing), I’m all in. The real trick will be to refine what this film did well and build on it.
TP: Word is that Hardy has signed for two more films... and hopefully they will elevate Max’s story without dropping the entertainment ball.
ARTH VADER rates Mad Max: Fury Road: A surprisingly entertaining film, George Miller put his passion into this next installment, and it shows. We don't need a timeline, flashbacks or silly flash-cuts of (presumed) long-dead loved ones (feel free to remove that nonsense in the Director's cut, George). While short on dialogue, this movie long on entertainment is smarter than it might seem at first watch. So I grab a warm cup of Mother's milk, jump on a 20 ft. pole to do some live-action stunts that should net eight (8) solid Busted Blocks for Mad Max: Fury Road.
THE PONTIFICATOR rates Mad Max: Fury Road: This film was stunning on so many levels, but I think the highest compliment I can give it was that it was something I didn’t expect and left me feeling that I had seen something unique. That is a feeling that is very hard to come by when you watch as many films as I do. This film angrily sped off with eight (8) high octane blocks… in search of paradise.
Monday, June 15, 2015
The Latest Avengers Tale Is Visually Arresting But Shows Some Chinks In Marvel’s Usually Infallible Armor
ARTH VADER (AV): For Marvel Comics geeks everywhere, the Age of Ultron is one of the more profound story arcs published in recent memory. As the Avengers most complex and pervasive villain, Ultron represents a morbid take on the coming singularity. As an A.I. built for the greater good gone horribly wrong, Ultron becomes self–aware and endeavors to work to eradicating mankind and his first mandate is to eliminate mankind’s best line of defense—the Avengers. However, the origin in the cannon is far different than that oath film and that, I would argue, is the crux of this film’s flaws. Ponty?
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): I disagree Vader. The continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is excellent as it stays true to itself and not the books. Anyone watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. saw Director Coulson locate Loki’s scepter in the season finale and contact the Avengers to get it….which was the opening scene in the film. Continuity….flawless!
AV: The cast of Avengers: Age of Ultron (AoU) is so stacked with returning and new actors, the film is almost mind-numbing. With more than 15 primary actors and major supporting cast members, the movie is a massive mash-up. Joss Whedon’s complex vision of the Avengers squaring off against their ultimate foe is impressive. Voiced by the undeniable talents of James “Blacklist” Spader, Ultron has an edge unlike any A.I. ever seen onscreen. I do offer a special note about seeing Paul "Vision" Bettany onscreen as the Vision really made me shudder with delight! While the cinematography is spectacular, it's overwhelming when cobbled together with an an almost relentless amount of CGI. I also noted, Ponty, that the screenplay was a hot mess, which in-turn, affected the storytelling, the pacing and the overall quality of the story. Thoughts?
AV: While it is well known that all Marvel movies are visual spectaculars, this was the first MCU film that felt overdone. Don’t get it twisted, NO ONE was more excited to see eight (8!) Avengers onscreen battling never-ending wave of Ultron bots than I was. Its true. Since the age of seven, the Vision has been my favorite super hero. He's cool, conflicted but honest about both his nature as a synthetic being and his (eventual) love for the Scarlet Witch. Watching him deal blazing pain to Ultron with the Mind Gem onscreen was almost more than this poor little geek child from Boston could handle. However, a co-worker mentioned recently that she felt-though she liked the film–if she blinked she’d miss something. I couldn’t agree more. And that frantic soup of action in the opening sequence was purely for the fans — fun, but ultimately too much to focus on in too little time.
TP: It seems Marvel can do no wrong when it comes to special effects, and as usual, there was no other way to see this film except in IMAX 3D. I was pleased Marvel Studios did not copy Fox in doing the effects of Quicksilver. Although those effects were awesome, I enjoyed seeing it done differently and while no new ground was broken, it’s always a pleasure to see everything done flawlessly. As for too much happening…. that is a great reason to see the film more than once to take it all in.
AV: So let’s establish that on opening night (April 30th, 2015 for me–!), I was squealing like a school-girl at watching AoU. And let’s face it, The Avengers (2012) is a damn-near perfect action movie. In its genre, it has no equal. Truly. This also means it has some pretty darn big shoes to fill. But the film had some serious issues. First, too much. Too many dream sequences (3 for Thor alone!), the introduction of Hawkeye’s ‘secret family’, the re-introduction of Nick Fury, Cameo’s by War Machine and Falcon, flying cities, Wakanda, flashes of the Infinity Gems, Ulysses Klaw and… well, you see my point. AoU is the first film where I felt the movie was conscious of itself as a bridge from earlier stories to future Marvel properties. That is a very good way to loose audience members fast and that's troubling to me, P-Man.
TP: The mixed reviews of this film has not stopped it from being a billion dollar film…and rightly so. I have heard several complaints about a lack of story, but I think the story speaks volumes. Ultron gets on the internet for five minutes and decides that humanity must be destroyed (message!). I think it’s impossible to make this film with the same punch the first film had simply because the first film introduced us to something we have never seen before, and seeing that again just can’t have the same impact as the first time. I was not one of those people looking for that first high, I was just looking to be entertained while enjoying the continuing story of the Marvel Cinematic Universe…and this film delivered.
AV: Two follow-up Avengers flicks are in production even as we speak; Avengers Infinity War 1 & 2 (a bad choice for naming if you ask me, folks–which you didn’t). I hope that Captain America: Civil War (also commonly referred to as Avengers 2.5) is due in April of 2016, will be another epic super mash-up from the directorial masters who brought us Captain America: The Winter Soldier–The Russo brothers. I am hoping Marvel doesn’t hobble them as much as they clearly did Mr. Whedon.
ARTH VADER rates Avengers: Age of Ultron: When all is said and done, Avengers: Age of Ultron is a fun. fast-paced visual spectacular that is a joy for the entrenched fan. It will be a fun streaming download and is highly re-watachable. My concern is the (flagrant) Marvel continuity issues, too many different story arcs and the rampant formula problems, which will hopefully die with this film. Still, I eagerly anticipate someone yelling “Avengers Assemble!” I smile and watch this visual epic assemble eight (8) Busted Blocks as we all prepare for the arrival of the Mad Titan.
THE PONTIFICATOR rates Avengers: Age of Ultron: This film was absolutely excellent and while it wasn’t as good as the very first film, it was good enough to destroy nine (9) busted blocks as it continues Marvel Studio’s dominance at the box office.
Avengers: Age Of Ultron – 8.5 / 10 Busted Blocks
Monday, May 18, 2015
Ex Machina Raises Eyebrows And Questions About The Singularity And The Nature Of Man And Machine
ARTH VADER (AV): A mostly original screenplay from sci-fi director/writer Alex “28 Days Later” Garland, Ex Machina explores a complex world of human/AI relations. While not directly emulating any existing sci-fi story this film feeds Hollywood’s almost morbid fascination with The Singularity, Garland’s sterile, almost asylum-like portrayal of a future AI development program is eerie and compelling. Thoughts, Pontificator.
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Ex Machina is an original take on a very old science fiction theme of man playing God through replicating the creation of life. Although not the first film to touch on this subject, the delivery is unique, entertaining, and downright creepy at times. There is a lesson to be learned here that it seems the hubris of man will never allow to be learned.
CASTING, ACTING AND DIRECTION
AV: With a minimalist cast that works seamlessly, led by frontman Oscar “Inside Llewyn Davis” Isaac (also soon to be fully sci-fi indoctrinated in the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII), who portrays the visionary/whack-job mad scientist Nathan who is out to create the next stage in AI evolution… the perfect human-like woman. Let talk direction for a moment, though, Ponty. I was blown away but the subtlety of this film and the minimalist environment of this film. In truth, the sci-fi/fantasy genre could use a whole lot more of this kind f storytelling. P-Man?
AV: As always my friends, the best visual effects are the ones you can barely identify, if not, that are down-right invisible... as Ex Machina excels at subtlety. The subterfuge of this movie is in concealing whats in plain view, women (“fembots” if one remembers THAT obscure reference) who are manipulative because they are fighting for their place in the world that turn out to be closet (literally closeted) psychopaths. With interchangeable body parts like layered skin and removable appendages, the visual effects are top notch and are subversively threaded throughout the film.
TP: The special effects were outstanding! Without the need for big explosions or massive amounts of CGI, this film presented Ava as a real machine built on the cutting edge of technology. Although no new ground was broken, the mastery with which all the old tricks were used was absolutely breathtaking.
TAKING A DEEPER LOOK
AV: I was discussing this film recently with a friend of mine and one of his statements properly sums up the overall impact of this film. Hollywood needs more films like this. Not since 2014’s ‘Her’ has a film taken such a personal approach to the relationship between man and technology. Very soon–if not all ready the case–mankind will have a profound, evolutionary convergence with his technology. This film is deeply disturbing and exhilarating all at once. Just like the subject matter. Such a smart, next-level movie has done surprisingly well at the box office which makes me think our intellect is at least partially intact. Maybe we won’t be such easy pickings for the Robo-master race we are creating. If this is the face of sci-fi for the foreseeable future—then bring it on!
AV: If we are at all lucky, this movie will be a stand-alone story. As most should be. This story has been told with no need for follow-up. Its predecessor should be a film of a completely different voice, of the same calibre.
TP: There could certainly be a sequel to this film if they so desired, but like many classics.…this installment alone can stand on it’s own merit and by leaving us with some questions to Ava’s ultimate fate, we are forced to ponder the film long after the end credits finish.
ARTH VADER rates Ex Machina: For those who like their sci-fi filled with explosions, lame one-liners, over-the-top CGI, laser swords and giant, galaxy-spanning spaceships, would do well to avoid this film. However, if you’re of the ilk that likes intelligent, introspective and engaging films that keep you guessing and offer simple but smart dialogue, then Ex Machina is a must-see. If you’d like a glimpse of what Sci-Fi as genre is capable of and what expert story-telling can do, put on your artificial skin cover a full ten Busted Blocks for this surprisingly intelligent movie.
THE PONTIFICATOR rates Ex Machina: Although a bit slow and more story–oriented than action focused, this was an excellent film filled with tension and mystery. Most of the fun in watching was spent not only trying to figure out Ava, but also Nathan and the effect their machinations were having on Caleb. In the end, this film escaped to the real world with seven (7) busted blocks.
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Another teenage girl threatening to save us all? Say it isn’t so!
ARTH VADER (AV): Following in the foot-steps of the first in the series installment, Divergent, Insurgent furthers the tale of super-special super kid, Tris who’s out to save the world (wonder if her room is clean). I get the sense these days that having a successful movie means establishing a franchise then hammering the idea of the movie over and over and over until moviegoers cry ‘uncle’ and just go. This is the distribution tactic that drives Insurgent. What did you think, Ponty?
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): When talking about a film adapted from a novel, there will always seem to be continuity issues Vader. This film is no exception as it took several liberties in retelling events in the book, from making major characters minor to leaving characters from the books out of the film altogether. Despite the many changes from that page to the screen, some might even say outright departure from the literary source, this film managed to get where it was going.
CASTING, ACTING & DIRECTING
AV: The cast from Divergent returns to Insurgent (Duh). Shailene “Tris” Woodly and Theo “Four” James reprise their roles and B-Listers Kate Winslet, Jai Courtney, Ashley Judd, Mekhi Phifer and Zoe Kravitz all come back as the story blunders in a society divided by walls, mistrust and deceit based on the division of the five virtues. The idea is ok but the execution is kind of hoo-hum. Neil Burger’s direction is compelling and the film is a joy to watch cinematographically.
ON SPECIAL EFFECTS
AV: With no shortage of visual effects to try and amaze the audience, Insurgent is a good looking movie that puts you in the thick of this selectively post-apocalyptic future-gone-wrong city of Chicago. Sure it looks great but nothing we haven’t seen before, Pontificator. Sci-Fi effects, as we have discussed in other reviews, has matured to an impressive standard and these flicks all look good. Really good actually, but that said, these rocking visual effects are so good, we are desensitized to their awesomeness. But what does that say about visual effects–and a movie–that is just this side of forgettable almost as soon as I leave the theater?
TP: The special effects were very good in this film. As is my custom, I always see a film in IMAX 3D when available and such a decision usually only enhances the special effects and moviegoing experience. This film took advantage of the medium, especially during the simulation sequences where there was a lot more latitude to use them. Overall, the effects enhanced the film and while nothing ground breaking was done, they didn’t drop the ball either.
TAKING A CLOSER LOOK
AV: Hard to know when us movie-goers will get to see a decent original story in our beloved sci-fi and fantasy space but until then, we have these franchise money grabs. I am not qualified to proclaim the legitimacy of this films and their place in the cultural tapestry. I am qualified to let you know if I like them or not. I don’t. While I do hold a special place in my fan boy heart for all things Sci-fi and fantasy, these do not count among them. This is not an example of the hero’s journey that is particularly interesting or inspiring in any way.
AV: I am sure the story of how Tris “saves us all” needs to be wrapped up with a pretty little CGI bow and brought to conclusion. We need that, we want it and dozens of vaguely compelled teenage girls are clamoring (somewhat) for it. So by all means Hollywood, give us more.
TP: Well… if the box office numbers are large enough, we will likely see a film adaption of the third novel in the trilogy, Allegiant. I do, however, like how that this film ended in such a way that if a third film is not coming, the story can stand as is.
ARTH VADER rates Insurgent: In all fairness, I didn’t hate this flick (I know, its not like you’d ever know it by my crit), but the disingenuous story, grossly overacted characterizations and safe and predictable screenplay didn’t suck all the life out of what could have been an incredible story but it didn’t do anything to help it either. This franchise feels like a great CW (tv) series waiting to happen. With that, I grab my Divergent buddies and bust five (5) Busted Blocks for Insurgent in glass-shattering slow-motion.
Divergent – 5.5 / 10 Busted Blocks