CASTING DIRECTING & ACTING
Sunday, January 25, 2015
Exodus Gods & Kings makes two lost hours feel like wandering the desert for 40 years.
ARTH VADER (AV): I guess to be completely forthcoming, the epic biblical tale of Moses, the Egyptian prince who learns of (and eventually embraces) his hebrew heritage to herald God’s word to lead the Jewish slaves out of captivity and on a path to the promised land is the framework of this film. While the Christian Bible can be (in some circles) grounds for controversy and interpretation, the story follows the book of Exodus rather loosely. As is the case with all film adaptations, this movie takes some ‘creative liberties’ with the screenplay. But this, as the saying goes, is just the beginning. How did this movie hold up for you, old friend?
CASTING DIRECTING & ACTING
AV: Christian “Batman” Bale plays the leading role of Moses, Prince of Egypt (and not very well I might say). The casting is in short, a hot mess. John “Is there another Transformers movie coming?” Turturro is cast as the Pharaoh Seti and Aaron “Jesie” Paul is cast as Joshua. If those sound like baffling casting calls (and they ALL are) try Sigourney “Ripley” Weaver who shifts in for a hot minute as Tuya. Director Ridley “Please stick to Aliens” Scott does share a stunning vision of ancient Egypt that is curiously not offensive and is a cinematic spectacle. That is to say it looks incredible. As for the acting… in a word; “meh”. What’d you think, Pontificator?
AV: Though I did leave the theater with my socks on, the visual effects were quite impressive. From the CGI armies in the opening conflict to the parting of the Red Sea in the film’s finale, the VFX are a spectacle to behold and gives the viewer a grand sense of scope and impressive vision. Most notable were the seven plagues that are unleashed upon the Nile and Egypt; one does a get a sense that these plagues and natural disasters are indeed overwhelming.
TP: The special effects were done well, but I think by leaving the source material (the Bible) so far behind, it was a missed opportunity to really do some wonderful things onscreen. I really enjoyed the costuming and while no new ground was broken with the effects, there was certainly an opportunity to do much better than was done.
AV: Soapbox time here kiddies! Honestly, how many more movies must we wade through of prominent Black roles being portrayed by White actors? Christian Bale as Moses? C’mon Hollywood! Does it strike anyone as whacko that there are no prominent actors of color in movie that takes place in Africa? Whats next, redoing the Godfather with all Asian actors speaking in an Italian-American brogue? It’s getting ridiculous. And that is the word I would use to describe this whole film. Even deeper–because this is the deeper part of the review–the film seems to go out of its way to portray Moses as a crazy person and not a biblical character of historical importance. In short, the film seems to take a very neutral stance on the subjects of God, Miracles and the character of Moses himself. Spirituality aside, it’s hard to enjoy a film that has no sense of self conviction. Thoughts, P-Man?
TP: Look... the fact that Moses and Ramses II were separated historically by 200 years is just the tip-off the iceberg for me Vader. This presentation of Moses being some schizophrenic that apparently sees children that aren’t really there was absolutely idiotic. The presentation of the plagues as some kind of explainable natural occurrences that happened by happenstance was equally idiotic. I absolutely lost it when they showed Moses chiseling the ten commandments… I mean what??? The Bible says God wrote them with his finger, but the message here is a crazy old guy that sees imaginary people somehow came up with the moral backbone of civilized society. Ridley Scott took out the very thing that makes this story so alluring and exciting… God. I honestly would have gotten more enjoyment out of watching a remastered presentation of “The Ten Commandments!”
AV: Biblical spectaculars are an emerging genre in Hollywood but I don’t know if they should. This film was like a warm cup of tap water. Bland, hard to swallow, does the job but with no flavor or flair of any kind, and as you’re taking it in, you just know it could be so much better. With any luck, this will be Ridley Scott’s only biblical endeavor, seeing as how it was dedicated to his deceased brother. I will respectfully not offer any more negative feedback.
ARTH VADER rates Exodus: Gods & Kings: So if you like biblical spectaculars (plus or minus the spectacular) than you give this flick a go. A forgettable experience to be sure but not without some merit. Also, if you like watching movies that depict horrific scenes of horse violence, then you have a winner here. I swear, Ponty more horses are killed in this film than a little bit. Still, if you’re in the mood to watch a batch of A-Listers dial-in some mediocre performances, then Exodus:God & Kings is waiting. Afterward, you’ll see why I parted with only three (3) busted blocks and was all too happy to find the promised land—namely the theater exit.
Friday, January 9, 2015
Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies Is A Surprisingly Exciting Finale
ARTH VADER (AV): In what has likely been described as a horrific re-interpretation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel that chronicles gentle Bilbo’s discovery of Sauron’s ring of power, The hobbit films have been a mish–mash of too much CGI, over-inflated plot and drawn-out story telling. Tolkien’s grand prequel to the great ‘war of the ring’ has been studied in middle-schools and high schools all over the world for nearly 40 years. The continuity of this film with it’s two predecessors is in alignment, though they have scant little to do with the original content but lets face it, these days that just doesn’t matter anymore, does it Pontificator?
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): There is little to discuss here with regards to continuity Vader, since the films left the books a long time ago. Legolas is not even in the Hobbit, nor is Tauriel…but it was still entertaining to see them in this film. If it’s about accuracy to the book…we’ll have to read the book. This film was not made for accuracy, but to deliver entertainment and rake in dollars, and it does a modicum both.
CASTING, DIRECTION & ACTING
AV: Nothing really new on the casting front for this film, old friend. The acting was solid, as each character reprises their roles from the previous films with some interesting introspection from Richard (Thorin Oakenshield) Armitage and Benedict (Dr. Strange) Cumberbach; as both the dragon Smaug and the frightening Necromancer. In his portrayal of the Dwarf lord struggling with his own inner turmoil, Armitage puts on a somewhat cardboard but nonetheless convincing tortured soul, adding to the old adage ‘heavy is the head that wears the crown.’
One thing that must be reiterated is how much of a master Peter Jackson is at depicting epic battles where massive armies collide, pan in, bring us into the battle up close and personal and then back out, is breathtaking.
TP: There is really nothing to say concerning the casting and acting in this film–both were superb. I was especially pleased with Thorin (Richard Armitage) and Bard (Luke Evans). The directing could have been better though as I had some issues with the way the battle unfolded but I’ll get into that later.
AV: Here is where every Lord of The Rings film excels, P-Man. The opening engagement with Smaug The Terrible is CGI at its finest. While not breaking any new ground in the digital visual effects arena, the entire film is as impressive as ever. Say what you want about Jackson’s film making but these films are a wonder to behold. From the fantastic beasts to the grotesque monsters, movie-goers will be astounded at how good these films look.
TAKING A DEEPER LOOK
AV: I must confess, that after the last film (The Desolation of Smaug) I was very much expecting another visually compelling flop. What we got was a pretty good action flick, but one devoid of story, dialogue, and ultimately merit. What this says to me is we got exactly what many thought we were going to get—a long, drawn-out over-indulgent, over-blown and over-the-top series of films that told in nearly eight hours what should have taken about half that time. The Hollywood self-inflicted formula of three-film trilogy franchises makes great sense to investors, producers and the studios, Not so much for film integrity. Fantasy film giants like George Lucas (prequel trilogy) or Peter Jackson (LOTR) seem to take truly landmark works and destroy their own legacies. It’s very literally snatching defeat form the jaws of victory. And Pontificator, it is so demoralizing. How say you?
TP: Battle of the Five Armies had me expecting to see the most epic fight scenes… ever. I mean, both “300” films and “Troy” stand out for the fights and battles. Now I’m not suggesting that there be more blood and gore, that would have detracted from the film, but I am suggesting that Jackson should have taken FULL advantage of presenting an ARMY of Elves. Why didn’t we see wave upon wave of Orcs being obliterated by the more agile and skilled Elves? Look at all the Elves armed with bows and realize there is not a single arrow shot from them during the entire forty-five minutes of battle. Although there was a great showing for the Dwarven King, there should have been incredible showings for any Elf on screen. I just didn’t get the sense that the Elves were the absolute elite and most feared combatants on Middle-Earth, and that’s exactly what anyone watching the film should have gotten…from the battle, not the formation displays before the battle.
Also, where was the resolution at the end? Did the Elves get what they came to mountain for? Did the men get what was promised? Why did the battle end when the good guys were so clearly outnumbered…even with the introduction if the Eagles? There were just too many open questions the battle created instead of resolutions to the problems at hand. Am I also the only one that noticed the premier Orcs were played by indigenous New Zealanders’ Manu Bennet and John Tui (message?)?
Thank you for the wonderful experiences Mr. Jackson, I'm happy we went there and back again with you. Now lets just move on shall we? I’m sure Mr. Jackson has more tales to spin and this Tolkien world / franchise has been tapped out. That said, I vote ‘no’ to further Hobbit-flavored sequels. P-Man?
ARTH VADER rates The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies: The best thing I can (probably) say about this film – and hopefully the franchise – is that its over. This last film was a fun watch from a visual effects standpoint but it was a hot mess, no story and even less reason for being. I'm happy to have seen them all and I’m done. Still, the movie could have been worse (hardly a selling point) so for that, I give Battle of the Five Armies a fitting five (5) Busted Blocks.
The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies 6 /10 Busted Blocks
Monday, December 22, 2014
With the next installment of The Hunger Games franchise, Katniss & company try really hard to keep audiences engaged.
ARTH VADER (AV): The numbers are in and The Hunger Games will go down as one of the most beloved movie franchises in Hollywood history. Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen–heroine of the downtrodden–takes on political corruption and societal oppression in this landmark series of fiction books–and now films. As installment three in what is (presently) a four-film story arc, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is clearly the set-up for the ‘beginning of the end’ of the terror-riddled reign of the Capitol over the 13 enslaved districts. The story picks up some time after the end of THG: Catching Fire. Speaking of fire, were you burning with desire to see this flick Mr. Pontificator?
CASTING, DIRECTING & ACTING
AV: You know, it would, Pontificator. It might even make the franchise more compelling. Like all modern futuristic fantasy flicks of late, the cinematography of the Hunger Games movies is terrific. The visual effects are very good. And the cast is, well, all the usual suspects. J-Law brings her normal well-presented intensity to her Heroine. Woody (I still can’t jump) Harrelson joins all the pretty young faces to reprise their classic roles. The great Donald (President Snow) Sutherland and the late (and also great) Phillip Seymour Hoffman round out the super cast of Mockingjay, part 1. Surprisingly, Vienna-born Director Francis Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer) who has directed such sci-fi hits such as I Am Legend, Constantine and Catching Fire, tries like heck to bring a rather boring, calculated screenplay to a better place but to no avail. Thoughts Mr. P?
AV: Oh I wish I could agree, sir. Perhaps you are a more insightful movie watcher than I am. When it comes to SFX, the visual effects in this film are decent but the story is so muddled, I found it hard to simply sit-still and try to endure the onset of wrist-watching, yawning and the fluttering ever-heavier eyelids, For me, Mockingjay just never really took off. There is frighteningly little that can be called a visual effects in this film as everything simply feels like something I've seen in the past. Would you agree P-Man?
TP: I would have to disagree, oh Dark One, about the sentiments in the beginning of your paragraph, but agree on the latter. Great special effects is what I expected, and that’s exactly what I got. There was no new ground broken here, just everything we have seen before done the same way as before. That in itself might be a detraction since with every new film we hope to find better effects than the last, but I submit that it is also a blessing to not be subjected to worse effects than previous films. There isn’t too much to say about explosions and the plethora of aircraft shots except that they were consistent to expectations…as was the set designs and costuming.
TAKING A DEEPER LOOK
AV: What surprised me the most was how downright boring this film was. I watch a good number of films over the course off a year and they range from blockbusters to indie films and beyond. The film seemed to only set the stage for the next one. It served no viable storytelling purpose as the characters sort of saunter from scene to scene. Whats more, I have a ton of additional concerns that were left unanswered that leave this film hanging for me. First, no one else has called it out so I will; it is IMPOSSIBLE to bring down two advanced, state-of-the-art fighter jets with an explosive tip arrow. Could you do this to an F-35 or an F-22 Raptor? No. In one of the film’s three (yes, 3) action scenes, Katniss brings down two jet fighters with an arrow. Wha–!?
Here is the deeper issue for me. This film is targeted to young people (mostly young girls), tweens to early 20’s. This franchise speaks to political unfairness. The injustices the elite visit upon the downtrodden and social inequities of a violent caste system that forces young people to eviscerate each other for sport because the government “says so.” Are any of these young women even ‘getting’ this? Do they even care? Or is this just more “cool warrior chick” stuff like a Ripley, Sarah Connor or that dopey Twilight girl that has already faded from memory? And if not, why does this film series even bother?
And the dialogue, oh God. Listen old friend, I struggle as it is with many of this year’s films in this genre. The two Hercules films, Transformers 4, The Giver and Sin City 2. This has NOT been a stellar year for the spoken word onscreen for sci-fi flicks. This movie is no different. Katniss goes from refusing to be the voice/face of the rebellion to essentially “ok I’ll do it” inside of 20 just minutes. Here’s a hint Hollywood, we already knew she would agree. Please stop wasting our time. Help me out here, Pontificator, please tell me I'm on the wrong track.
TP: Well… clearly I wasn’t nearly as displeased as you were old friend, so I don’t think I’m going to be much help. This film departs from the disturbing subject matter of children killing children and instead gets grounded in the more palatable struggle of an oppressed society seeking to break free of their oppressors. This is a familiar story that has been seen in reality many times…and it’s just eerie how the film parallels much of the current climate of out of control law enforcement. Just as profound as that is the use of the media in the film (and similarly in reality) to paint carefully crafted pictures of what special interests want others to believe as truth. This was the draw of the film for me as watching it simply highlighted the state of the world today, although not yet to the degree that Panem is. Yes the film had less violence and action as the previous ones, but the reflection it gave was so much more interesting… and relevant.
AV: Unfortunately, the inane use of the term “Part 1” right in the title implies their are subsequent follow-up “parts.” (Sigh) That means we all have to sit through another 2+ hours of J-Law making more uninteresting speeches about rising up against the capitol, something no one in the world should even need to have to hear. The real depressing news is that we can likely expect more of the same in “Part 2.”
ARTH VADER rates The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1: Audiences have already spoken with their wallets and their attendance so my review may be moot. However, if you haven’t seen this film, I would encourage waiting for it to come to HBO/NetFlix/Red Box or whatever post-theater viewing venue you prefer. For me, this film is NOT good. Its’ boring with a paper-thin plot, amateurish dialogue, and woefully poor story pacing. And while I freely admit I’m outside the demographic of this film–or even this franchise–I couldn’t stomach giving this installment of Hunger Games more than three (3) Busted Blocks.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: 5 / 10 Busted Blocks
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Disney delights us again with another animated spectacular, this time with a little–known Marvel tale about a boy and his robot.
ARTH VADER (AV): Based on the the short-run Marvel Comic of the same name, Big Hero 6 (BH6) is about a haphazard collection of reluctant, would-be heroes and their quest to do right with skills and powers they newly acquire. Once wrung through the Disney filter of family-centric storytelling, BH6 quickly detracts from it’s original source material but does in such a way as to give the film a unique charm all it’s own. Though stacked with Marvel talent on the consultant and writing side (Joe Quesada & Jeff Loeb we’re looking at you guys) the film feels uniquely Disney and truth be told, there is no Marvel co-branding in the identity and marketing of this movie. An interesting move wouldn’t you say, Pontificator?
CASTING, DIRECTION & ACTING
Damon (The Other Guys) Wayans Jr., Comedian TJ Miller and Ryan (Hiro) Potter were all great but it was the flat out brilliant voice work of Scott (We’re The Millers) Adsit that was the runaway hit. Portraying the sensible, sublime and low-key robo-oaf Baymax. He was certainly my fav, P-Man.
TAKING A CLOSER LOOK
Big Hero 6: In case it’s not clear at this point, I really enjoyed this movie. Doing what it does best, Disney has carefully crafted another winner that is a clear modern story that is richly diverse in culture and character that makes a strong case for making more films with this kind of formula. Colorful, fun and insightfully glib, Big Hero 6 is a solid film for everyone. So with a handful of Nano-bots, I toss nine (9) Busted Blocks right through the portal and watch for more films like this in the future.
Monday, December 8, 2014
With no shortage of quirky speed bumps, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar takes mankind (and audiences) on a trip that is literally out of this world.
ARTH VADER (AV): The big day arrives and interstellar opens to a $50 million (domestic) weekend. Christopher (Dark Knight) Nolan delivers an original but all-too-familiar plot of an Earth dying out and withering natural planetary resources, Interstellar offers a new twist on an old science fiction story, would you agree Pontificator?
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Interstellar is a human driven story about extraordinary circumstances Vader. It grounds us with situations we can understand and relate to…like family, but also bombards us with things we can’t quite wrap our heads around…like time paradoxes. That said, the continuity of the film is great, until you try to figure out the “how” of it all…then you’re just lost cause the film never finds this either.
CASTING, DIRECTION AND ACTING
AV: With an oscar-worthy cast flitting across the screen like so many… (ahem) stars, I had higher hopes for this film’s story. The quality of the screenplay is middle-of-the-road, with enough holes in the plot to foment and entire year’s worth of swiss cheese. The cast is first rate (I will leave the casting call inhale very capable hands of my co-blogger) but the acting was–at best–dialed. The forced ‘your-line-is-read-here’ dialogue is mostly flat and predictable. The story pacing is good and Nolan’s now-famous cinematography does not disappoint. P-Man, tell us more about this (Inter)stellar cast.
TP: The casting of this film was excellent as was the acting. There was a tremendous amount of talent in this film (Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway, even a surprise appearance of Matt Damon) but don’t fool yourself for a moment into thinking this film wasn’t carried by Matthew McConaughey. He absolutely set the tone of the film and the directing gave it a pace that complimented his style and allowed everyone else to present their talent.
AV: If you’re going to journey to the stars, your movie has got to look good. This movie, looks good. What I struggled with was the old Star Wars-esque vision of worlds defined by one geographic feature (Jungle planets, Ice planets, etc,) At first, the explores touchdown on a gravity-dense world defined by 1000-foot tides that sweep across the planet. While that science is horribly flawed, the visual effect is astounding. But all this planet stuff pales next to this film’s biggest visual effect – the robots! Hot damn, if I could have a robot like CASE or TARS I dare say my life would be pretty darn sweet! Well-written and even better imagined, Nolan’s vision of super-funny, supper-enabled ‘bots is a definite film highlight.
TAKING A CLOSER LOOK
AV: There is a lot not right with Interstellar. Too many plot holes, time gaps, implausible science and downright confusing character motivations. For one, I struggle with trying to determine some hard dot ignore points. First, Why would you send so many humans out when you had such sophisticated robots to do the hard stuff better and faster? How did Cooper to stumble across a secret NASA facility just down the road? Why was he then the single most important person for the mission? Do you mean to tell me that after spending nearly 80 (Earth) years struggling to get back in touch with each other that 98-year-old Murph and 124 year-old Coop spend just 3 minutes together before he decides to shoot off into space to find a stranded Anne Hathaway?
Too many things that don’t come together (which we can expect in Nolan films, remember: Inception, Dark Knight Rises) but there does come a point when I can no longer gorge myself on a steady diet of unexplainable plot points and non-sensical science. I did truly enjoy the film but this one goes onto the shelf for me. Ponty?
AV: Umm, no. This is a stand-alone film. One that will do particularly well at the box office but I don’t ever need to relive any part of this film or story again. Good film, one and done.
TP: A great film that could certainly stand alone…I can certainly see how a sequel could be made, given the unanswered (or should I say unsatisfactorily answer) of how it all came about and the leaving off of where it all goes from here. That said, given one of the main points of the film was to save humanity, I’d say accomplishing that closes the door on a sequel.
THE PONTIFICATOR rates Interstellar: A fine film filled with heavy drama and great acting, then accented with killer special effects, there isn’t too that can be said about it that isn’t positive. It takes you on a journey not only into space, but into our own humanity as well… and delivers eight (8) busted blocks just in time to save us all.