Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Russell Crowe heeds the call to save all creatures great and small and learns some important things about himself in Darren Aronofsky's Noah.
ARTH VADER (AV): The world needed to be cleansed of evil and wickedness. One man is tasked with saving two of each creature of the earth. According to biblical scripture. And so the stage is set for Darren “Black Swan” Aronofsky’s Noah. Religious affiliations aside, the great Rudyard Kipling (yes that one, of The Jungle Book fame) once said; “if no part of the Bible is true, then it is a colossal waste of time, but, if even a small portion of it has any truth to is, it is the most important document ever written.” With that as this film’s backdrop, Aronofsky retells one of the Bible’s most famous tales with incredible artistic license, even veering toward the controversial. Thought’s pontificator?
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): About continuity Vader? What continuity? This film barely resembles the source material, which doesn’t surprise me at all given the story was written by self proclaimed “humanist” Darren Aronofsky. It’s not that you have to “believe" to make a great film, but with the amount of liberties taken here…it might as well have been called something else entirely. Maybe “The Crazy Man on the Water” would have been good.
CASTING, DIRECTING AND ACTING
AV: Though I question some of the film’s characterizations, this cast is so powerfully presented and star A-Listers all the way down the line, it is hard not to appreciate this film based on the credentials of the film’s stars. So who are the players? Russell “I am Gladiator!” Crowe plays a driven Noah alongside onscreen wifey Jennifer “Betty Ross” Connelly, as Noah’s wife Naameh. Also, in a characterization I did NOT see coming, the greta Sir Anthony “Hannibal Lector” Hopkins plays the wise old Methuselah, Noah grandfather. Even the great Nick “48 Hours” Nolte lends his talents to voice the fallen angel Samyaza. Emma “Harry potter who?” Watson and Ray “Hugo” Winstone help complete a powerful cast to round out Aronofsky’s powerful vision of the world’s cleansing. The direction was ritzy, filled with powerfully real effects shots, environments and landscapes, portraying a world gone sour and filled with darns and despair. Ponty, would did you think of the casting?
AV: The visual effects were stunning in Noah. The pre-flood landscapes were portrayed as industrial wastelands (again, you have to acknowledge some personal takes on the story and backdrops). The most surprising elements were the fallen (angels), portrayed as grotesque rock trolls with flaming eyes and a towering presence. The forest that springs from the ground to provide the wood for Noah and (spoiler alert!) the Fallen to build the Ark. Most compelling of though, were the animals. Ponty, I have a special place in my heart for well-done visual effects and the animals in Noah, slithering, crawling and flying toward the ark were up-lifting. Last but not least, the flood itself. Beautiful and terrifying and the ocean itself afterward was splendid, it was hard not to appreciate and since I am sure no real Ark was built, even the ark had very natural splendor to it, wouldn’t you say?
TAKING A DEEPER LOOK
AV: The story of Noah is powerful one that has–literally–been around for thousands and thousands of years. There are evidences of the great Ark purportedly found in the Himalayan mountains. While this is hardly a place to take theological stand for or against, this movie was well-done. I am a sucker for any film Russell Crowe or Anthony Hopkins appear in. The first part of this film was just short of brilliant, the landscapes, the sense of hopelessness, oppressive environment that made the audience feel the oppression. The second part was much less so, visually captivating and almost void of all the intelligence an rich storytelling from the first hour. Noah’s character damn near falls apart by the end of the movie threatening to kill his own grandchildren (twin baby girls) and becomes a man caught in his own zealot-like reality. The films ignites important discussions on everything from the nature of man, to the nature of spirituality to what is right and wrong. What more can I ask for Ponty?
AV: Normally I would be want to say that this movie has no sequel but there really could be. Both from after the landing of the Ark and the release of the animals as tides subside, or other brooks form the Bible that follow the saga of the great flood. For some I know this content is hallowed ground but Hollywood has not backed off of this content, knowing it will draw millions at the box office. If movies like The Ten Commandments, The Last Temptation Of Christ and The Greatest Story Ever Told are any indication, I have a strong suspicion we will see many more biblical stories brought to life on the big screen.
ARTH VADER rates Noah: While 2014 sputtered out of the gate with mediocrity, this movie is worth a watch. A good home theater will deliver the same riveting experience found in a theater and is highly entertain gin and certainly worth the 138 minute runtime. Falling short of being an ‘epic’ and not without it’s fair share of flaws but Noah washes away seven (7) busted blocks with the promise of a new day.
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
The #1 Bestselling Profile Of A Pre-Ordained Future Shines A Light On All Of Us
ARTH VADER (AV): Based on the incredibly popular first book in a series so popular, nearly every teenager in North America has a grasp on it, Divergent is a story based on the first in eerie sod books that portray a post-apocalyptic society, hell-bent on deceit, control and compartmentalization of the human spirit. Like the book, the story centers around a society re-structured in “old” Chicago after ‘the war’ (as identified in the movie). Clearly something awful happened and this new society has rooted itself in the ashes of the old one. In this choking and sobering dystopia, people are split into five factions; Abnegation (selfless), Amity (peaceful), Candor (truthful), Erudite (intelligent) and Dauntless (brave), based on their personalities. As a citizen of this “New Chicago” (“Buck Rogers in The 25th Century” much?), your personality must conform to one of these factions, pointy, or else.
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): This film is just slightly “divergent” from the novel of the same title, written by Veronica Roth. The areas where it differs aren’t really make or break points for the purposes of the film but no doubt fans of the book will likely have issues anyway. The idea of it all was intriguing to me as diversity is part of the human condition, a fact both embraced and rebuffed by this future society.
CASTING, DIRECTING AND ACTING
AV: There are some terrific casting decisions made for Divergent, Ponty. Shailene “The Secret life Of An American Teenager” Woodley plays the lead as Tris and heads up an impressive and surprisingly well-casted array of actors to help bring Divergent to life. Jai “I, Frankenstein” Courtney is fast becoming a go-to onscreen bad ass as Eric, the crooked training instructor. Who else is in this film you ask? Glad you did Ponty because I enjoyed Mikhi “8-mile” Pfier as the sinister Max. The other-worldly beauty of Maggie “Nikkita” Q, Kate “Titanic” Winsett as the devious Jeanine and Ray “Punisher oh, wait, i mean Thor” Stevensen as Marcus. Even an heiress to music royalty, Zoë “After Earth” Kravitz appears as the lovely and chaotic Christina and last but certainly not least is the stunning Ashley “Kiss The Girls” Judd as Tris’ Mom, Natalie.
TP: The casting was well done and the actors convinced me of the realness of their characters. Shailene Woodley’s “Tris” was a character I found myself rooting for as she navigated the demands of her faction within the larger scheme of the plot. I was also intrigued by “Four”, played by Theo James. His portrayal as a catalyst and mystery kept me interested in his fate, especially as it related to the machinations of “Eric” (played by Jai Courtney). Courtney is paving the road to being known for menacing roles, and his work here is certainly more ground work for that. Kate Winslet was also menacing, but in a much more subtle, yet more dangerous, way. Moving at a moderate pace, director Neil Burger didn’t let me fall asleep.
AV: Depicting the blasted out remnants of ‘old’ Chicago was a CGI-flavored victory here, my friend. The beautifully rendered ‘reclaimed’ Chicago is breathtaking to behold. The visual effects largely support the story–what there is of it–and that is as it should be. The ‘dream’ sequences were eye-popping and stunning to behold. I tend to gravitate toward SF/X that are invisible in the tapestry of a story and this movie does great by the viewer by not having social effects–by design or by chance–that get in the way.
TP: There was nothing new added to the special effects seen in films today, but there was also nothing by way of effects that detracted from the film. The effects used moved the story along and in the end, this film was not made or broken by effects.
TAKING DEEPER LOOK
AV: So here’s where I weigh-in on this film, Pontificator. I root for really strong female leads and Divergent come strong with Tris, a ‘Divergent’ (that’s someone who doesn’t conform to any of the five factions, yet shows strong tendencies toward all of them) who represents a threat to this new societal order. Inserting the dopey onscreen love interest of Theo “Underworld” James felt forced, and unnecessary. So much so that I feel Tris would be a stronger character without him. Furthermore, I found myself relating deeply to the main character’s plight. As a writer, designer and artist, I would NOT be one to conform to this system, and would likely be put down with a bullet to my head. I won’t give away major plot points here but I will share that the message of ‘don’t be labeled by society’ and don’t conform like cattle’ was very refreshing to me as the parallels to Nazi German society were haunting. The foreshadowing to the film’s “great wall of protection” made me want to know more and the film smartly, doesn’t engage my curiosity but instead chooses to tease me about an impending danger. So while I still struggle with this movie as another “young in’ saves our world” storyline, I must say, I enjoyed this film. P-Man?
TP: Well Vader, despite my enjoyment of this film, there was always an underlying feel that there was so much more going on that I wanted to know. For me, it was the society in general that intrigued me the most. The idea of society being separated and broken down into five factions had me salivating for more on how they interacted and made it all work… Abnegation, for the selfless; Amity, for the peaceful; Candor, for the honest; Dauntless, for the brave; and Erudite, for the Intelligent. Let’s face it, the idea that you had to be a part of Candor to be a lawyer just floored me. Although I loved the details of Dauntless, how did they interact with the rest of society as protectors and police? Since Erudite felt they should run things (an obvious progression if you are part of a faction created for your intellect) it was no surprise that they came up with the science to do just that. What was confusing, however, was why the leaders of Dauntless would go along with their scheme. Why would they give control of their entire faction personnel over to the leaders of Erudite, with no oversight themselves? What was the gain for them to do that? What would stop the Erudite from eliminating the Dauntless leaders and why hadn't the leaders of Dauntless considered this? What happens to those aging in Dauntless? Are they discarded to be faction less?With so many unanswered questions, I felt a lot was missing from the story.
AV: Obviously there is more to come. The Divergent series of books is a hugely literary success with young people and since both “Insurgent” (book 2) and “Allegiant” (book #3?) are in pre-production (as of the writing of this blog) I think it is a fair bet that future releases are inevitable. Let’s hope that means more fiercely independent development of Tris and not more love-smitten shenanigans over the hot-boy-of-the-hour. This movie–this story–has a greater potential I pray it lives up to it.
ARTH VADER rates Divergent: Perhaps it was the rich-diversity in the casting, maybe it was the simplistic character development or maybe my expectations were just low but this film was enjoyable. While I could hardly urge our readers to go to the theaters for this one, it is good, solid and morally sound Sci-Fi. From one Divergent to another, I give this one a dystopian-skewed 7 busted blocks and keep my fingers crossed this franchise gets better as it goes.
THE PONTIFICATOR rates Divergent: A good movie with moderate action and intriguing story, “Divergent” was certainly entertaining. My need for answers to my questions detracted a bit from the film, but it was still able to bust six (6) blocks in it’s attempt to diverge itself from other films.
Saturday, April 5, 2014
Greece fights the Persian Army, Bureaucracy And Itself in the visually compelling 300: Rise of an Empire
ARTH VADER (AV): Those wacky Spartans are at it again, Pontificator. This time, the kinsmen of the ‘brave 300’ are rallying to overcome invasion, inner turmoil and a lackluster screenplay in this all-new tales of Sparta installment. The film does deviate from the original as it does NOT focus primarily on Sparta. All of Greece is under attack by the powerful Persian horde that vanquished King Leonidas and his 299 ‘body guards.’ How faithful this film is to the actual invasion of Greece by Persia is a discussion left to much more scholarly folk than I, but the bonding element is the threat of Greece falling by subjugation to Persia.
CASTING, DIRECTING AND ACTING
AV: Some of our surviving favorites return like Leena “I’m still queen Gorgo” Headey and dreamy David “One-eyed Farimir” Wenham. Lest we forget the raining champion of so-what villains, Rodrigo “Tullio” Santoro as Xerxes. I won’t lie, though Ponty, this movie played a bit funky for me. Sullivan “Gangster Squad” Stapleton headlined as the likable noble warrior-leader Themistocles. Israeli-born director Noam Murro continues the near 100% CGI look of 33:RoaE. While the lighting is graphic novel-quality and stunning, it all just felt a little too… fake. I can suspend disbelief quite a bit, but this movie just asked a bit too much. Pontifcator?
AV: The film’s first-rate effects were masterful if not erring on the side of the stupid. Over-the-top gore is not new but the amount of blood gushing from each vengeful slash and gash is just comical. The land and cityscapes were fine (all-3D rendered of course) but the real visual victory here were the sea warfare scenes. Tense, beautifully shot and well realized, for me this was the “why” of this movie.
TAKING A DEEPER LOOK
AV: Not sure this film lived up to the sequel of 300. I enjoyed the visuals, the gladiatorial-style blood-letting, the revenge-driven actions of both sides. But, there was some misfires here, too. First, the movie is almost COMPLETELY devoid of Spartans, the very group whose defiance led to this conflict enveloping all of Greece. Second, the film is almost entirely based on the open sea and the impossibly small number of Greek defenders hold out against a massive sea-borne armada that covers the ocean. Next, (Spoiler Alert!) Xerxes escapes! Really? Shutting him down shuts down this whole conflict. Are we trying that hard for a third film? Ugh. Lastly, speaking of Xerxes, his whole quickie origin was so shoddily handled, we should have been given an entire stand-alone movie of his beginnings. So close, Hollywood, so close…
TP: No matter how deep you go, you will always come back to incredible and abundant action and special effects. I didn’t walk into this film saying show me the Spartans. I walked into the film saying show me the action…and I got it! Trust me, I saw it twice already. Even with all of that going for the film, they were able to squeeze in the origin of Xerxes assault on Greece, the origin of Xerxes, and the origin of Artemisia. They even managed to squeeze in a sex scene (at least I think it was a sex scene). With tremendous sea battles, it just speaks volumes of this film to have been shot entirely in a green room…and never once on the water, the main environment of the film. I was absolutely flabbergasted to learn this. The next level in filming has been displayed, and it comes broad chested holding a sword.
AV: It is likely this movie, though not entirely deserving, will see a third installment to round out a trilogy. If that happens, the merits will still rely largely on the success of the first film. Still, all said, I am a sucker for this genre and Frank Miller’s original 300 (graphic novel) is a certified graphic novel masterpiece. I could do without the angry sex sequence though.
ARTH VADER rates 300: Rise of an Empire: This movie had it’s moments but we are living in the age of the sequels and prequels. While hardly a worthy predecessor to the first 300 film, Rise of an Empire does satisfy, somehow. The action is shoveled at us from the word go and is full of cool but relatively forgettable combat action shots. Still fun, and even though I feel gypped for seeing this flick in 3D (so not worth it) the overall experience is a good one. And thus, I hack and slash at six (6) busted blocks and I am left standing in a sea of heroes’ blood. (Eww.)
THE PONTIFICATOR rates 300: Rise of an Empire: With new ground being broken in effects and fighting sequences, this film surpasses the first one, and with an Athenian being the main character, that says a lot! I’ve 3D IMAXed myself to this film twice already, and am certain there will be a third showing in my future…it’s just that good. Without any reservations, this film cleaves nine (9) bloody blocks, for the freedom of Greece.
Sunday, March 16, 2014
Even The Terrifying Might Of Mount Vesuvius Struggled To Make This Movie Matter
ARTH VADER (AV): So, in 79 A.D., the Roman city of Pompeii and it’s surrounding cities and towns were mostly destroyed and/or buried by more 15 ft of volcanic ash. The hauntingly beautiful remains of those caught in the fury of this devastating natural disaster are preserved forever in stone as a testament to the unrelenting power of this event. The nearly 12,000 inhabitants succumbed to terrifying might of nature in one of history’s most famous catastrophes. In similar fashion, the recent release of Pompeii is an equal catastrophic event of it’s own. Disappointing since the trailer implied a much better filmgoing experience. What did you think, old friend?
CASTING, DIRECTING & ACTING
AV: A compelling cast to be sure, I enjoyed the role players, the cinematography and camerawork of Pompeii. As for the acting itself, well, hmm. The leading role portrayed by the devilishly handsome and talented Kit “Hi, I’m John Snow” Harrington, felt overly brooding and forced. The love interest, played by Emily “I’ve been Sucker-Punched again” Browning did little more than bat her eye lashes and portrayed her best Juliet impression to bad boy Harrington’s Romeo. But all is not lost, Ponty! I did enjoy two characterizations in Pompeii. First is Adeewale “Just call me Kurse” Akinnuoye-Agbaje who plays the prophetic and powerful Atticus, and Sacha “welcome to Warehouse 13” Roiz plays the badass Roman warrior, Proculus. These are a few of the names the round out a particularly impressive cast that deliver a particularly unimpressive screenplay of Director Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil series and the Death Race 2000 films). Casting thoughts, Pontificator?
TP: Well paced and easy to watch, the film employed some pretty good acting talent and delivered an entertaining film Vader. Kit Harington (best known from Game of Thrones) showed that he has the chops for a lead (in this type of film anyway) and seems to have taken his first steps toward “action star.” Carrie-Anne Moss was more subdued in the role of mother and wife, not something I’m used to seeing her do, but she did it well enough. Her onscreen husband, Jared Harris was excellent and delivered, convincingly, concerned and loving father put into a very precarious situation. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje didn’t have much to do but convince us that he was badass in the arena…which was easy for him to do but he also added some depth to his character, Atticus. I had mixed feelings about Kiefer Sutherland here as I’m not used to seeing him in the role of the bad guy, and he did is so well. It’s a testament to his ability to invoke disdain in me for his character portrayal.
AV: This movie is the reigning 2014 grand-champion of disaster porn! The standards of disaster effects here are as good as I have seen (too bad it doesn’t really move the needle by way of the story quality). It’s true that great visual effects can enhance the movie-going experience but oh man, with that said, this movie looks great! The cityscape, the explosion of the volcano and my favorite, the rising up to crush the city and shore line, even as volcanic debris pummels escaping ships quite exciting stuff, wouldn’t you agree P-Man?
TAKING A DEEPER LOOK
AV: The sad truth here is that Pompeii fizzled where it could have roared. Using the historically famous eruption as a backdrop for a much more complex story about the vanity of ancient Rome could have gone somewhere great. Instead, this movie took the weak action route and added a revenge/prodigal son twist. NOT a great idea. The screenplay (and in no small part the editing left the viewer uncaring and disconnected concerning the fate of the main character and I personally was left feeling indifferent about the fate of the people of Pompeii and I had little left than a semi-emotional shoulder-shrug once the final credits rolled. While there are interesting character and dialogue-driven moments between Atticus and Kit, as well as the solid performance of the tense relationship between Browning and Kiefer “Bored until the new 24” Sutherland, the movie just misses the mark on engagement. The film lacks the ability to build any interest on the behalf of the audience, and that, like Mount Vesuvius, doomed the city–and film–of Pompeii.
TP: Every indication of this film was that it was a love story centered around the story of the destruction of Pompeii, and while it was that…it was also more than that. When I discuss this film with people, they are surprised to hear me refer to it as a gladiator film. The marketing of this movie hurt it I think as more people would have gone to see it if they knew it was a gladiatorial based, with a bit of love and destruction mixed in for good measure. This wouldn't be the first time Hollywood has dropped the ball with marketing, nor will it be the last. It’s just a shame that so many never gave this film a chance because they had no interest in seeing a love story…not realizing that it had some excellent action in it.
TP: Nope…I don’t see a sequel on the horizon. With the destruction of the city, and death of everyone… absolutely everyone, a sequel just doesn’t seem likely.
ARTH VADER rates Pompeii: What makes this film watchable is the inconsequential arena battles, the opening northern European village savaged by Roman troops and the sense of redemption in a poorly spun hero’s journey. While there is simply no way I would recommend our readers go see this movie in the theater, it could make for a good rental. With that, Pompeii covers 5 busted blocks in a sea of volcanic ash that will bury this movie in an overwhelming pile of molten forgettability.
Pompeii: 5.5 / 10 Busted Blocks
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
ROBOCOP Reboot Wins Fans, Fails It's Legacy
ARTH VADER (AV): So a hard-nosed, hard-working Detroit cop gets a little too close to some ugly truths and gets a near-fatal dose of injustice. In order to save his life and/or turn a profit, fictional tech giant OmniCorp (OCP) creates a super-bionic android that who becomes a bad-ass bastion of 21st century vengeance in Robobcop. While this movie is hardly a down-the-line remake it holds significant links to the 1980's cult classic of the same name by Paul "yes I also directed Starship Troopers" Verhoeven. How did this remake hold up for you Pontificator?
CASTING, DIRECTING AND ACTING
AV: This was a stellar cast that included silver screen giants like Michael "I'm Batman" Keaton, Gary "Commissioner Gordon" Oldman and Samuel L. "Mace Windu is Dead" Jackson. Michael K. “It’s Omar from the Wire” Williams also comes in and does a stellar job as Detective Alex Murphy's streetwise partner, Jack lewis. Joel Kinnaman takes the lead of Alex Murphy and helps put us into a trance-like state with some below-the-bar acting in the lead role. Veteran foreign and indie film director José Padilla unveils a fascinating vision of the violent, not-too-distant future world of Robocop. That vision is powerful, frightening and beautiful all at once. The intensity of the opening scenes in Tehran are some of the best in the film and that was all in the cinematography. What did you see, Ponty?
TP: I don’t have much to say about the flat performance of Joel Kinnaman except that he was better as Robocop than he was Murphy. For some reason, I just keep seeing Bruce Wayne when I watch Michael Keaton and I don’t know if it’s a nod to his performance in that role, or a slight to his performance in this one. Gary Oldman, on the other hand, was believable as Dr. Norton and delivered his character. Of course, Samuel L. Jackson’s Pat Novak was just what I expected it to be…right down to the “motherf#@&er” exclaimed at the end. I do believe that word is in his contract, no matter what he does.
AV: With a few stand-out exceptions, this movie doesn't really move the needle on innovation in visual effects. What is eerie and exceptionally well done are the effects of Murphy's remaining body parts–namely his head, brain, lungs, heart, throat and right hand which are kept alive cybernetically and the visuals are disturbingly well rendered. A showdown with the ED209's near the film's climax is major and visually breathtaking. Highly polished and streamlined. As an added note in the win column for effects, the visual effects in the TV show hosted by fictional right-wing nut job, Pat Novak (Sam Jackson) are impressively fluid. Pontificator, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the effects.
TAKING A DEEPER LOOK
AV: To be clear, I didn't hate this movie. That said, I didn't love it either. Simply put this movie just didn't need to be made. Robocop belongs to the 1980's as Paul Verhoeven's screenplay is witty, violent and timely with what was–for the time–leading edge effects. It was a freakish reimagining of Frankenstein’s monster and it worked. Not so with this reboot. As reboots go this was one of the better ones–so far this year–but that's where the praise stops. Main actor, Joel Kinnaman has a boring screen presence and the screenplay is just riddled with holes (ha-ha, get it?) with a host of continuity issues. But the story does entertain. Director José Padiha is rumored to have walked off set several time over studio meddling. If such rumors are true, it transferred into the final cut. But if you want empty-headed, visual effects action, then the Robocop reboot is your movie.
TP: Despite the light hearted attempt to remake Robocop with a PG-13 rating, there was a very profound underlying theme that did not escape me. The idea of replacing man with machine for dangerous work is not a new one. Indeed, the whole uproar over the real life use of drones underscores exactly what the film was dealing with. The film went a step further by showing the complete subjugation of another people at the hands of superior technology and in the name of providing “freedom.” What I saw was order, but not much freedom. The scary part was the argument being made to bring that same type of “order” to our cities. We have to ask ourselves how far off from this fantasy is our reality…and are we prepared to accept such a lifestyle, and if not…what are we prepared to do to stop it?
AV: Like it’s predecessor, this movie would be fine if left alone. The story has already been told, no need to hammer us with it. Movies in the sci-fi action drama category tend to see lots of sequels even if they are duds. While at the core, this movie was decent, lets not overdue it here, Hollywood, ok? In the words of Robocop (1987) just, “Drop it!”
TP: It likely that Robocop is set to return in the near future. I can only hope that it comes with a better storyline, but with the same profound interest in it’s underlying vision.
ARTH VADER rates Robocop: Not a travesty but far from a victory, Robocop (2014) offers nothing new to the franchise, the genre or the movie-going experience. You could do worse things with $10 then to go see this movie.With cool effects, decent star power and a story that just plain doesn’t matter, RoboCop (2014) bionically delivers five (5) busted blocks.
THE PONTIFICATOR rates Robocop: While it will never be the classic the original was, despite the better effects, it was very entertaining. It was just good enough to avoid being a total bomb, but not quite good enough to be a true blockbuster, only shooting six (6) busted blocks in the name of the law.