Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Thor: The Dark World Sheds Exciting New Light On Some Familiar Faces And Gives Us A Glimpse Of A Wider Marvel Universe
ARTH VADER (AV): Marvel's Phase 2 is rolling like so much thunder (get it?). Thor: The Dark World carves a deeper swath into the lore of Thor, Asgard and the mythos of the 9 realms. Derived from a story buried waist-deep in Marvel cannon (history), Thor 2 unleashes the full creativity of Marvel Comics, Marvel Characters and of course, Marvel Studios, Bringing the audience for a showdown with the villainous Malekith the Accursed, Marvel continues to tap it's deep, rich well of original stories and content that has been in creation since the 1960's, With some noticeable yet easy-to-overlook differences between the books and the screen, this movie leads the audience on one heck of an intensely exciting ride. Pontificator, you're up.
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Continuity has become something made up for the films, but at least this film was consistent with the first and all the new characters weren’t just made up for the film, but real existing characters from the comics.The translations of the characters from comic book to film was very well done and with such a long and rich history in the books, Thor has been handled like a deity (from Asgard… get it?).
CASTING, DIRECTING AND ACTING
AV: All the usual suspects return to the big screen for the sophomore installment of Thor 2. While I will let me esteemed and accomplished partner delve deeper in the cast, I want to first comment on the movie direction. Alan (Game of Thrones) Taylor and James (Guardians of The Galaxy) Gunn co-direct arguably the the most entertaining Thor so far and thread their unique cocktail of comedy, drama, sci-fi, huge battle-sequences, teaser content and eye-popping special effects into one fun and memorable fan-boy joy ride. With a scope as grand as the 9 realms, this movie is paced exceedingly well and keeps the viewer on seat's edge darn-near the entire film. For this Marvel-ite, the movie was a real thrill.
TP: The cast was, in a word, excellent. I’ll start at Chris Hemsworth in his return to the role of Thunder God, and move onto the return of Natalie Portman and Sir Anthony Hopkins in their roles as Thor love interest Jane Foster and All-Father Odin. Loki was a show stealer, easily usurping the screen every time Tom Hiddleston became the villain. Christopher Eccleston (best known to me as the 9th Doctor Who) was superb as the menacing Malekith. Once again, Idris Elba delivered as Heimdall. There was no place this film went wrong with acting and with the steady pace of humor and action, was very much what it set out to be… a blockbuster.
CAUTION: Spoilers, dead ahead!
AV: Okay Ponty, for me, to even discuss SF/X in a movie, I need to see something I haven't seen before. Not landmark, just a story prop that pushes (or even just nudges) the movie-going experience in a new direction. Thor:TDW does that. The trans-dimensional slug-fest that is the movie's grand final is furiously fast and fun. Watching Loki morph into several noted characters and even into the star-spangled Steve "Captain America" Rogers, was terrific. The fight scenes were big, bad-ass and bold. Seeing the 9 realms collapsing in on one another was awesome. The top notch effects were stunning and I dare say, 3D made it just that much better. Pontificator, your thoughts?
TP: I expected no less than awesome Vader, and this film delivered like the mailman. I don’t know where to begin, and the film didn’t know where to end (literally). The weapons of the Dark Elves were jaw-dropping and the landscapes of the realms were spectacularly rendered. I shouldn’t have to mention that a film like this should be seen in IMAX 3D because the sound and effects are soooo much better! I know it’s an often overlooked part of the effects, but costume design goes a long way to set the tone of the film and adds to the overall effect, that makes the film special.
TAKING A DEEPER LOOK
AV: This movie goes deep, Ponty. Real deep. Forget the greater exploration of Asgard or the heavily discussed mid-credit scene with the Collector. I want to look to two different examples specifically. First, let's talk about Erik Selvin's blackboard. This one scene could be harbinger of years of forthcoming Marvel movies! On this board, Erik outlines The Fault (Planet Hulk anyone?), the Crossroads (hello, Inhumans!) and the board even went as far to call out Earth 616. Good lord, Ponty!
Second, the visuals of the Nine Realms converging in on Each other. Did we see the 'flaming realm', Muspelheim? The realm ruled by the 900-foot evil of Surtur and his legion of Fire Demons? Are you kidding me? This is one fan-boy about to plotz over the implications of this board! Pontificator, please tell me I'm not alone here!
TP: You are not alone Vader. Looking deeper, it was clear this film had so much more of all the elements that made the first film so good. There was no shortage of humor, I mean the kind that has you laughing out loud…but it was well contrasted to the dire feel of imminent doom the Dark Elves represented, and spectacular action sequences that broadened the scope of the film. At times it felt like a war film, at other times a buddy flick. There have been many times in the books where the brothers have teamed together for a common goal, and the betrayal of Thor by Loki is always an inevitable end. I was very pleased how those elements were played out onscreen and even knowing the scenario, was presented as fresh as the first time it ever happened.
To add to your “nugget list” Vader…how about the rock creature Thor dispatched at the beginning being from the very first Thor comic book appearance, Journey Into Mystery #83…? Want more? The same creature was seen in the Planet Hulk animated movie, so now we actually have two ties to some future smashing seen in this film. Sounds like we’re coming full circle here.
AV: I have always said; "The greatest trick Marvel ever played was to convince the world Thor was legit." – and this movie (ahem) hammers that point home–in spades. As an obscure Marvel character, the success of Thor and Thor TDW are true testament that Marvel is capable of making fun, engaging movies that entertain and build the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The truth is, Thor has been developed over 50 years (debuting in 1962 in Journey into Mystery #83) and if Marvel makes this movie matter, they have a rich and plentiful reserve from which they can pull new stories, new characters and new blockbusters. Bring me more Thor!
TP: Well it goes without saying that Marvel is going big for its onscreen universe and this film sets up for the story to continue, in so many ways than the obvious.
ARTH VADER rates Thor: The Dark World: For the sake of full disclosure, there are some continuity problems with this film and their are a ton of places the uninitiated casual moviegoer can get completely lost. But even if you were unable to follow the story, the movie is entertaining and delights with a careful formula of whimsical dialogue, character-driven intrigue, and enough special effects to appease even the most dissuaded sci-fi fan. In short, Thor TDW delivers. So with a mighty burst of lightening, Thor: The Dark world electrifies 9 (9) busted—and vaguely Tesseract-looking–busted blocks. Ponty?
THE PONTIFICATOR rates Thor: The Dark World: This film was better than the first in nearly every category, except maybe the romance… but I didn’t come to see the God of Thunder get soft over a mortal. I came for pulse-pounding action, worlds in peril… and Loki, and I got all three! With a great story to fill the interim before Marvel onscreen explodes, great special effects and superb character acting, this film thunders in at nine (9) busted blocks.
BUT WAIT—THERE'S MORE! (This part is purely for the geeks. Oh and uh… SPOILERS!)
AV: So we do have to speak for just a moment, on the mid-credit scene shot by director James Gunn. The scene was curious fro me, Ponty. To those who missed it or forgot, Lady Sif (Jamie Alexander) and Volstagg (Ra Stevenson) deliver one of the Infinity Gems to The Collector (Benicio Del Toro) in an effort to keep more than one from being in Asgard (there are six total). The Tesseract (from the Avengers) is widely believed to be the Mind Gem. If indeed this scene holds true to Marvel cannon, then the red gem that was turned over was the Power Gem. This is an awesome development.
In the scene, an untold number of intergalactic items of interest can be viewed by including a member of the Flora Colossus, if not Groot himself of Gunn's forthcoming Guardians of The Galaxy. And then of course, is the cocoon. IS Adam Warlock inside? Wearing the Soul Gem? Ponty, help me out here, because I honestly can barely keep it together
TP: I’ve seen this film a few times, and always sit there and try like heck to figure out what I’m looking at in that scene. I know there are nuggets there…and worse still, they are probably the most obvious one’s we’re overlooking.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
With lots of effects, little substance and a few shinning moments, Ender's Game offers a lot for the audience to ponder.
ARTH VADER (AV): Well, old friend, Hollywood's done it again. From the ranks of fan favoritism, Hollywood snatches mediocrity from the jaws of potential awesomeness. Based on the beloved military sci-fi novel series of the same name by Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game attempts to make social commentary through Earth's repelling of an alien invasion from the mysterious bug-like 'Formics.' By training young cadets to become nearly clairvoyant strategists, Earth's defense forces hope to tap into a latent hidden power in humans to win the day. As a subtext for the misalignment for military, humane and scientific imperatives, Ender's Game is a complicated context for survival and the human condition the movie attempts to give us a concise overview.
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): The film seems to be a blend of “Ender’s Game” and “Ender’s Shadow,” although heavier on the latter. Continuity will certainly suffer a bit in a situation like this, but the result of being able to tell a story that works for the silver screen and entertains may well be worth it.
CASTING DIRECTING & ACTING
AV: What if they gave a movie and no big name actors came? Sure this movie has a super-studded cast of acting/sci-fi all-stars like Harrison (Han-Shot-First) Ford, Sir Ben (Don't call me the real Mandarin) Kingsley and the lovely and talented Viola (State-of-Play) Davis. These folks drop some credibility up in Ender's Game but I don't know if the movie is better or worse for it. I'm slowly migrating to the belief that some star power actually hurts a movie. Asa Butterfield's Ender is curious. The portrayal at times is passionate, at others overacted. While it was great to see Harry Ford return to our beloved sci-fi genre, he edged more toward grumpy old guy and less seasoned space-war vet. Director Gavin Wood paced the movie competently but leaves gaps in the storytelling big enough to drive a space cruiser through. Pontificator?
AV: Ponty, I am about ready to cry "Uncle" with the overdone visual effects of today's Hollywood. While everything looks stunning in this movie, the plastic and fiberglass-looking environments look woefully uninviting. We would be better served to spend more of the movie time in the half-human and half-fornic base or the Fornic hive near the end of the film. Most of the time was spent on the zero gravity training sessions and that was just all-out boring to me (especially given that Gravity came out just last month). The visual effects were quite good but just overdone for me.
TAKING A DEEPER LOOK
AV: Science Fiction is starting to find a different voice. With beginnings in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and through the Earth-as-an-Alien target story arcs of today, Sci-Fi hasn't proven to be a particularly kind genre to mankind. But things are changing. Such is the case with Ender's Game. The age-old tale of the sacrifice of a select few for the greater good–and survival of us all–is the story of Ender Wiggin's place in our fictional future. Does the survival of man justify the genocide of an other-worldly species... even if they did throw the first punch? Does survival dictate that we sacrifice the innocence and lives of a few for the good of all over a perceived threat? Do the people we chose to fight our wars deserve full disclosure of the context and consequences of their actions? There is even a subtext of survival of the fittest as well. The story broker's better conversation than the movie suggests–or delivers.
TP: There was much to see in this film. The portrayal of Ender as a strategic genius by the various situations he was manipulated into, was riveting. As a fan of Sherlock Holmes and Batman, “figuring it out” really appeals to me. This helped me cope with the planet-sized plot holes at the end of the film. The twist ending that the “games” weren’t really games was excellent. The shock and awe this realization had on Ender, after he ended the war with a brilliant, but genocidal strategy, was heavy. His breakdown coincided with the breakdown of all sense for the film after that. The thought that this minor, in that mental state, would be left alone to roam and wander freely didn’t make sense. That he would find a live Formic and queen embryo just a short walk from the military base, didn’t make sense. Bringing the embryo back to the base undetected… yup, no sense. Promoted and left on his own wandering through space with said embryo, nope… not a shred of sense to that either. A rushed ending if ever there was one.
AV: The movie implies that Ender's journey is not over. Author Orson Scott Card wrote a series of adventures and trials further chronicling Ender's travels. Perhaps later installments deserve a deeper, more authentic view of the universe of conflict and morality this story starts us on. I would be interested but the experience of the next movie cannot rival the first. There is an opportunity here to tell a much better story than that of the 'young gifted hero who saves us all'—but Hollywood will have to take a chance on a script that doesn't follow the 'good guy always wins' convention. Ponty, what did you think?
ARTH VADER rates Ender's Game: This movie has its moments. There are times I have empathy and even respect for the hero and there are other times that, as a viewer, I could care less about what happens next. Though slow and at times witless, the story and statements are indeed weightier than the film itself. Certainly worth a watch, but this movie's lack of unique identity and story gaps are filled in with long sessions of so-what space training that leaves this fan hopeful that the next installment of the Ender's Game saga fares better than the six (6) busted blocks of the first film.
THE PONTIFICATOR rates Ender’s Game: This film wasn’t a terrible film, in fact it was downright excellent with great effects, superb acting, intriguing story and a pace that kept me locked in. I found myself surprised at how enjoyable the film was given the fact it was mainly driven by child actors, with some excellent Harrison Ford sprinkled in. That said, I think the ending was rushed and dropped the ball, a tactical error, which strategically busted only seven (7) blocks… when it could have done much better.
Ender's Game: 6.5 / 10 Busted Blocks
Monday, October 14, 2013
A dazzling array of effects and an unbeatable performance from two prolific actors makes Gravity a box office pull.
Warning: Spoilers aplenty ahead! To fully discuss this film we will need to divulge
story detail so if you haven't seen Gravity, please do so first.
story detail so if you haven't seen Gravity, please do so first.
ARTH VADER (AV): The Gravity screenplay was written by acclaimed director Alfonso Cuaron (Harry Potter, Children of Men) with his son, Jonas. This movie was rumored to have been "in the can" for years, because incumbent movie house, Warner Brothers supposedly didn't know what to do with it so it was shelved until a recent push got it in rotation for release. This beautifully crafted stand-alone story happens in no particular time but it's story arc depends on the use of the Space Shuttle Endeavor (SSE) – now grounded (in the real world) along with the rest of the Space Shuttle fleet. The film even implies the International Space Station (ISS) is unfinished. So we know it's frame of context is a few years ago. What did you think of this movie's premise, Pontificator?
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): I think this film is the closest representation of actually being is space of any other film ever made. The only way this can be improved would be to install some Disney-like mechanism to simulate weightlessness and add movement. I couldn’t help but to reflect about how real this film made space...and how real scary space is.
CASTING, DIRECTING AND ACTING
AV: This movie's entire experience revolves around two characters; Astronauts Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) as the two characters maintain a complex and engaging relationship. The two then suddenly are forced to work through cataclysmic events that fictionally occur some 90 miles above the Earth. Which brings me to the scenery. I have just one thing to say about the cinematography in Gravity: OMG.
AV: While it is fair to say this entire movie is one big effects shot, I have got to say, I barely noticed. The viewer is totaled immersed into an unexpected orbital drama as it unfolds. Gravity was shot in 3D and was intended to be a total immersion into the environment and the pure beauty and splendor of the Earth as a backdrop makes for a gripping, visually stunning film. Watching Bullock's tears break free of her tear duct and come spiraling toward me in 3D is a movie visual I will not soon forget. Tell me where you weigh-in here, Ponty, but the scenes incorporating the spacewalks, miles above the Earth will be as memorable 20 years form now as they were the night I first watched this film.
TP: This is where the film takes off Vader. As if having a great story and stellar performances wasn’t enough, the special effects brought space into the theater. As is my new standard, I will always opt to see a film in IMAX 3D... and for this film, there really is no better way to experience it. I can’t count the number of times I winced and flinched as debris leapt off the screen. It was pure brilliance when the camera, focused from outside the space suit, kept zooming in and subtly rotated, putting you inside the suit... feeling very claustrophobic and disoriented (constant spinning will do that). This film displayed the type of CGI that makes a movie exceptional, the type that simply cannot be detected and for which you don’t give a single thought about as the movie swallows your mind and emotions.
TAKING A DEEPER LOOK
AV: This was the first film, at least in 2013, that made me feel emotional connectivity to the characters. This was also the first movie in a long time that made me hang up my hang ups and just enjoy what was being presented. I dare say this was also the first 3D movie that made me jump and dodge when debris and shrapnel came barreling at me through events of the film. This film didn't make me watch, it made me emotionally invested in characters that had depth, meaning and shortcomings. To me, Ponty, this film epitomizes why we watch movies. The experience mattered.
TP: I looked very deeply at this film Vader. I had no choice as I struggled to survive my ordeal in space. I was horrified at the death of my colleagues and was unprepared for the finality that punctuates the cold of space. I wanted to immediately put out that small pocket of fire I passed as I went into the next section of the station, I know how dangerous fire can be... especially in space, but I didn’t, and almost got toasted. I was sure I could save Matt, but he didn’t think so and took the decision out of my hands. I was sure I was hallucinating after he returned, when he opened the hatch and exposed me to space unprotected... and I didn’t die. I went through a lot to get back to Earth, and live life again... at least I think it was me. Such was the effect of this film, the power in both performance and cinematography that in taking a profound gaze, I became a part of everything that was going on. This is the type of experience all films should give us, but only a few can accomplish.
AV: My first response to this is no sequels, please, it's simply not that kind of film. If one views all movies as fodder for becoming cinematic series, trilogies or franchises, then we miss opportunities to tell rich, engaging and notable single stories that are free of follow-ups and t-shirt endorsements. Gravity also matters because it shares a potent story of human perseverance and we don't need sequels for that, we just need more of it. P-Man?
ARTH VADER rates Gravity: This film marks the first true cinematic Sci-Fi experience of 2013. An unbeatable set of very human performances from Clooney and Bullock, visual effects we will be talking about for years to come coupled with a frightening and heroic original story makes Gravity the must-see cinematic experience of the fall. This is what movies should be. I don't give perfect film reviews out lightly but gravity, sends ten (10) busted blocks into the stratosphere… and I expect this film will do quite well come award show season.
Friday, October 4, 2013
ARTH VADER (AV): Completing the so-called "…" trilogy (Paul apparently doesn't count) Simon Pegg's third big movie is World's End. Being a fan mean loving the content and the people behind it. I guess I qualify. In the vein of epic world-ending tales–heck, this one even says it right in the title–World's End continues to off-track, situational comedy and British humor sensibility make this movie unpredictable and downright entertaining. I tend to be leery of any movie that is heralded as "laugh-out-loud-funny" (because it means it usually isn't) but this film delivered the goods, following in the footsteps of some pretty well-loved its. Ponty, did you think World's End synched up with it's Pegg predecessors?
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Straight from the brains of Egdar Wright and Simon Pegg, there are no books or previous material featuring the events or characters in this film. I didn’t see the previous two films Vader, that said, I’m a fan of British humor and the only continuity I saw that counts is in the film, and I didn’t see any errors in that department.
CASTING, ACTING AND DIRECTING
AV: All the usual Simon Pegg suspects arrive for this twisted boys-night-out tryst. Nick Frost plays Andy, Simon Pegg (or "Gary")'s best bud, but cast is superb. Gary's is stuck in 1990, reliving what even he proclaims in the best time of his life. He solicits life-long buddies Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steve (Paddy Considine) and Peter (Eddie Marsan)–along with Andy–to these hometown to finish a pub crawl. Hi jinks ensue when just as the festivities begin, an alien plot to take over the world and replace us with android duplicates is revealed. Things are further complicated as Gary long-lost love interest and ex-high school fling Tracey (Rose Reynolds) joins in and events really unravel.
AV: The World's End does very little in the vein of special effects, For this kind of movie, effects take a huge backseat to the story and in the spirit of expediency, I have little else to say. Ponty?
TP: The special effects were better than I expected for a film that had a very reserved feel to it Vader. Kudos to the filmmakers for keeping the effects simple, but using them in such a way as to be very effective in conveying the urgency of the plight of the characters. The CGI wasn’t groundbreaking, but again, was very effective for driving home the point of “alien invasion.” There was a kind of “Doctor Who” feel to it all wherein the effects didn’t blow you away, nor did it seem they were supposed to... but were good enough so you get the emotional connection to the situation as intended.
TAKING A CLOSER LOOK
AV: What I most enjoy about Simon Pegg's films is the lighthearted approach to VERY dark subject matter. Taking hallowed and favored genres like Sci-fi and zombie hour thrillers and even cop comedies (Hot Fuzz) and making them believable inclusions in to those genres while still making the comedy and the story you want to make is a talent for sure. I do have to say the end of this movie is an eye-rolling train wreck as the explanation from the *SPOILER!* great alien intellect shares high hopes for a bright future for humanity to the drunken remnants of the pub crawler's party.
For me, the ending was downright ridiculous, bordering on senseless. The post-apocalyptic part was even more contrived and I kind of felt the film was off the rails and spinning wildly out of control at this point. Kind of a downer since I really enjoyed the movie up to the end…
TP: For a sci-fi comedy set it Britain with a bit of a slapstick humorous feel, there is a lot going on. Gary King (Pegg) is trying to reclaim his youth, reconcile relationships, and achieve a sense of accomplishment, as a way to deal with his addiction, which becomes a focal point of the film as he becomes hell bent on completing the task of having a pint at twelve pubs... culminating at the last pub, The World’s End, even in the face of the dire circumstance of an alien invasion. It’s a classic, but yet original story, of divergent life journeys' from a youthful point, that for King, is the absolute highlight of his entire life.This path of reconciliation is shared with his friends making the film dig even deeper as they become more than just supporting characters, but tangible people the audience can identify with. Added to this the fact that there is an alien invasion underway and you have a film with serious juxtaposition delivering a unique flavor with an ending that is anything but... if life as we know it is the expected conclusion.
AV: Lets pray that this story begins and ends with The World's End. Again, with the word 'End' right in the title. Let's hope this doesn't begin some needless strain of films hell-bent on forcing us to laugh at things that just aren't funny. Forced humor is the worst kind. Pontificator, you're up.
ARTH VADER rates The World's End: I found this movie more entertaining than I was initially wanting to give it credit for. The character-driven storyline helped move along a pretty ho-hum story that got progressively more engaging I found myself caring more than halfway through about what would happen next. Lot's of genuine laughs, good campy dialogue and ridiculously fun story makes The World's End a good time at the big screen. With that, I give this movie seven (7) Busted Blocks as I down a flagon o' mead with me buds. P-Man?