Saturday, August 30, 2014
Marvels Studio's visually-intense Guardians of The Galaxy offers viewers an interesting new take on sci-fi
ARTH VADER (AV): At this point, we should all embrace that all Marvel (Studios) films are kissing cousins. The eco-system of Marvel is brilliantly manifested as all films that reference, acknowledge and wink at other Marvel flicks, either previous or that are yet released (or even made!). While non-fantasy film critics tend to get all fussy over Marvel’s “formula” I, old friend, am all about it. And after only 10 films, Marvel Studios is now THE definitive, undisputed most successful movie franchise of all time. BY the numbers, that means it bests James Bond, Star Trek, Born Identity—even Star Wars, as the definitive collection of the most influential box office success in the history of film making.
CASTING, DIRECTING & ACTING
AV: Once again, the mighty Marvel movie machine strikes gold with a cast of characters that are just downright perfect. We all know the headliners but the support cast comes in off the bench and hits another one out the park. John C. Riley and Glen Close come in as reps to the infamous Nova Corps, we get a Nathan Fillion cameo early on, Lee Pace whupping backsides and taking names as Ronin(!), and lest we forget, Josh Brolin’s Thanos which was solid. James Gunn’s vision was stellar. While the direction was good, the visuals were a sensory overload. But the direction was detail-laden and rich. Thoughts, Pontificator?
AV: Ok, I have not seen a movie that has looked this good in a long time. That says a lot, even for a Marvel movie. The sets and environments were–naturally–out-of this-world. The colors were beyond gorgeous and the environments and landscapes were terrific. The animated characters of Groot (Vin “Fast 6” Diesel) and Rocket (Bradley “Hangover” Cooper) were especially well done and characters like Ronin, The Collector (Benicio “Wolfman” Del Toro) simply brought Guardians off the screen and into your mind. The space scenes were just good and the quirkiness of Peter Quill’s Starlord was endearing and funny.
TAKING A CLOSER LOOK
AV: As Marvel Studio’s 10th film, it represents some really special concepts. First, it shows that as formulaic as the Marvel masterminds are a accused of being, this film is a real gamble. It is NOT a super hero movie, but exists squarely in the hero universe. So many concepts were reintroduced in this film, the Kree (who created the Inhumans), the Celestials (ancient God-Like galactic beings) and even the hint at Adam Warlock’s cocoon. I am sorry if you don’t understand these references, dear reader but I have been waiting for these films to hit the big budget screen my whole life. I am in heaven. A year ago, I predicted that this film would be a billion dollar film. After three weeks in theaters, the films has grossed $421,9 million. It has NOT yet opened in several major overseas markets. What this film–and it’s success–ultimately mean, is Marvel can mine it’s near-endless well of properties and tap the skills of fan favorite or A-List talent for their films and make magic happen. This film is a delight on so many levels, it boggles the Earth-bound mind.
AV: Are you kidding me? With the pseudo cliff-hanger we were left with? Who is Quill’s father? Is there a new Groot? Will Rocket find love? Will we see the Nova Corps and will Drax come face-to-face with Thanos? James Gunn has already official gone on record to discuss the next Guardians flick. Guardians of the Galaxy 2, so… yeah. P-Man?
TP: This movie wraps up Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and there will certainly be another (and probably more) as Marvel expands their onscreen universe in their quest to bring one of the most pivotal story lines to the silver screen (Infinity Gauntlet). Salivate on that Vader!
ARTH VADER rates Guardians of the Galaxy: Salivate? Oh man, I need a full-body bib, Ponty! Ever since the announcement off this film at ComiCon San Diego, I predicted this film was going to be huge. With the perfect meld of sci-fi, comedy, terrific appearances and characterizations (Groot, Rocket) and super-hero awesomeness, Guardians is fun. And the winning result of Marvel’s ‘grand gamble’ and if at all possible, see this bad boy in IMAX 3D. So I dance the dance of the Baby Groot around 10 Busted Blocks.
THE PONTIFICATOR rates Guardians of the Galaxy: This film is easily one of the best Marvel has made and that says a lot when you consider the subject matter and characters presented. With a perfect mix of action, comedy, and drama this film takes the audience on a magnificent ride, steadily destroying nine (9) busted blocks along the way.
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
ARTH VADER (AV): Even with a better-than-expected story, Hercules struggles to be relevant. Based on the fabled son of Zeus, Hercules does account for a number of his fabled trials. The giant Boar, overcoming the Hydra, even the unusually large Lion, they’re all spoken of. The film goes a step further in suggesting that those incredible and heroic feats were myths. A series of stories shared to embellish and bolster the legend of Hercules. This slight (but significant) deviation of the Hercules mythos implies he just might NOT have been the son of the Gods. Thoughts Pontificator?
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): The story of Hercules has been told so many times that it’s difficult for any film to tell it with a fresh perspective Vader. I never expect much when seeing “another” telling of the legendary Hercules, and fortunately this time I was very surprised as this film managed to tell the story from a fresh perspective.
CASTING, DIRECTION & ACTING
AV: Well said, sir, and with a smattering of familiar faces, I think it should be said that ‘The Rock’ is the only true ‘star’ in this film. There is some value to the cinematography in this movie but the wide-angle shots that are comprised of hundreds of marching, assembling and sometimes fighting CGI soldiers does not a movie make. Casting–at best–is a shoulder shrug. As is the acting effort for that matter.
TP: I’m a Dwayne Johnson fan so I’ll try not to let the bias show, but I just find him entertaining to watch, even though there was nothing about his role worthy of any accolades. He played a good Hercules and took the role as far as the script allowed. John Hurt has been around for awhile and played a great antagonist in this film, showing evil as another side to his already lengthy acting chops. Ian McShane is a very versatile actor and his role here was a great offset to Hercules as he brought some comic relief along with his interesting portrayal of the mystic Amphiaraus. I’d be remiss not to mention Rufus Sewell, known to me for his many bad guy roles…and true to form, even in this film as one of the heroes, he was the one that cast some doubt on the morality of his character. The film flowed well enough to keep my attention, but the script certainly could have been tighter given the scope of the characters.
AV: The majority of the visual effects in Hercules seem to occur in the opening scenes. Which I was strangely ok with. It was refreshing to have the visual effects fade into the background as it quickly morphed into a work-a-day action flick. Lots of wide-angle shots of the battlefield? Check.. Cliché scenes I’ve seen like a kazillion times before? Check. I also noticed the visual effects were choppy. Watching the long lines of marching soldiers, one could tell they were poorly rendered and the animation looked sickly and very rushed. Not good news in these days of outstanding visual effects. How about you old friend, was the Pontificator “blown away” with the visual effects in Hercules?
TAKING A DEEPER LOOK
AV: It’s very difficult for me to pinpoint exactly why this movie was made, Pontificator. Sure, it’s fun–at times anyway. But the comedy is very one-dimensional. The acting is flat. Even at times of trauma, I just can’t seem to take ‘The Rock’ seriously, even in ‘serious’ moments. The real value of this film lies in it’s implication that Hercules was just a strong dude who was fortunate in battle. His stories were shared (by his cousin) to build his ‘legend’ — all to increase his ‘marketplace value’ as a mercenary. Even this though, fails because its not fully explored. His merry band is little more than comic relief and logistical support in fights. The humor is constant, if not clever, and even though you can see the plot points coming like a freight train, the movie-for the most part-is at best–palatable.
TP: Despite the simplicity of this film, there was a lot to look at profoundly. I was really intrigued about how they portrayed the man in the face of the every growing myth. If you see this film, stay and watch the end credits as they round out the whole point of all the stories that were told about Hercules and they use stop motion animation to show what really happened during the labors they show at the beginning. I thought this was very interesting and a great twist to drive home the point of the importance of his companions. Speaking of his companions, I have some issues with Autolycus (Rufus Sewell’s character). Earlier in the film Hercules introduces him as being from Sparta, later Autolycus reveals that he and Hercules grew up together on the streets of Athens. I chalk that up to shoddy script writing, but to even mention “Sparta” in this film had me looking at this character with expectations of Three Hundred-esque fighting ability…and what I got was anything but. Note to future filmmakers… don’t even mention the word Sparta unless you can deliver the goods!
AV: Clearly I wasn’t this film’s biggest fan but the movie does hold a certain charm that is hard to pin down. It’s there but damned if I know what it is. Box office performance may decide the fate of future installments but I can honestly say while I wouldn’t hold my breath, Hollywood certainly has given us some train wreck franchises and stand-alones in recent years so, to a sequel I say… meh.
TP: Of course there are many more stories that can be told using Hercules, but if the intent of this film was to provoke some thoughtful discussion over the man versus the myth, then mission accomplished. I doubt the box office performance of this film will generate another go round.
ARTH VADER rates Hercules: The best critique I can give this movie is—“well, I didn’t hate it.” The nothing new screenplay and dialed-in performances brought down what was at best a mediocre film to begin with. The Rock is fun but his Lion’s-head-wearing Herc was a yawn-induing crock pot full of missed opportunity. For that, Hercules, the fabled Lion-killing son-of-a deity hefts up only three (3) disappointed Busted Blocks.
THE PONTIFICATOR rates Hercules: Well, this film was certainly better than the earlier version that preceded it, but that isn’t saying very much. The performances were entertaining even though the script could have been better and it’s always fun to watch the Rock beat people up. That said, this film could only lift six (6) busted blocks and could certainly have used more godly strength.
Monday, August 11, 2014
A smart thriller with little identity and poor execution puts Lucy on the road to nowhere.
ARTH VADER (AV): Get some aggressive,action-packed trailers to showcase a sci-fi / fantasy sweetheart Scarlet Johannsen with super-powers and the magic just happens. Doesn’t it? An original (sounding) idea and a big budget sci-fi screenplay with a couple of heavy box office hitters should have been gold but the story of “Lucy” is a solid swing and a miss. and if we are talking about the continuity of the trailer’s promise and the final film, that would be strike two. What do you say, Ponty? Did you have any Continuity thoughts for this movie?
ACTING, DIRECTING AND CASTING
AV: Lucy needed a complete screenplay re-write to become a movie that would matter. The pacing was a mess. The tempo was a train wreck and the direction, oh P-Man, the direction. While the concept was VERY good, running complimentary imagery to run in tandem with the storytelling was a truly unique idea. One that was handled very badly. The fast cuts, the out-of-synch pacing made what could have been movie gold a veritable train wreck. Morgan “Voice of God” Freeman and Scarlet “Black Widow” Johansen are two box office titans who could have almost carried this murky movie idea forward.
AV: Expected effects for Lucy I’m afraid old friend. There are a few moments of visual effects brilliance, but for the most part there were the standard, entry level effects that did little more than push the story forward. The ‘super AI ultra computer’ that moved amorphously in black with ominous red back lighting was cool but did little for the film in the end.
TP: The special effects were good, but nothing we haven’t seen before. I think they made better use of the analogous footage of wildlife than they did with the actual effects. Some of the scenery clips were amazing, but didn’t really advance the story (as if anything could). With no breakthroughs in effects, no really breathtaking effects… I think this part of the film was a missed opportunity to compensate for the story.
TAKING A DEEPER LOOK
AV: Lucy was a movie that just wasn’t finished baking, Pontificator. Yep, director Luc “The Professional” Besson could have had a stellar flick on his hands but this film just felt rushed and thrown together. Hardly Scarlet or Morgan’s finest hour, this movie toyed with some great concepts that were never quite realized. The onscreen countdown to the amount of brain capacity Lucy was able to access throughout the film became predictable and annoying. It would have been better as a running count-up clock that was cycling up at the lower right corner of the screen.
Whether it was the techinicolor space explosions in Scarlet’s bloodstream or her decomposing cell-restructuring in an airplane lavatory, the movie just seemed like it was a bunch of first or second takes. An excellent story arc in these days of the coming singularity, we get no sense of impending danger of any kind. The poor plot and dialed-in acting made for a movie that was one the summer’s biggest disappointments. Even the film’s end message was cryptically frustrating… “[we were gifted with life a million years ago now you know what to do with it.]” No, Lucy. No, I don’t. Unless, of course, it is to NOT make a poorly written, under performing film.
TP: I’m hoping they let this one rest in peace and don’t attempt to clarify this film with another one. Leave us all confused and scratching our heads… so at least that way we are thinking about it instead of it being forgotten as soon as we leave the theater.
ARTH VADER rates Lucy: In the footprint of this movie one can easily see the earmark of greatness. But no one watches a movie for what it could have been. The movie is somewhat entertaining but is a mere shadow of what the movie’s trailers and ad campaign had promised. The bogus screenplay coupled with yawn-inducing dialogue and nothing-new visual effects forces me to use only 10% of my brain’s capacity and give Lucy on 30% (3) of our total capacity of Busted Blocks.
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Apes make audiences go bananas in the powerfully
well-told Dawn of The Planet of The Apes
well-told Dawn of The Planet of The Apes
ARTH VADER (AV): Picking up ten years where the last film (Rise of The Planet of The Apes) leaves off, this movie does indeed borrow from iconic imagery from classic Ape films but quickly makes this universe it’s own. The Apes in past franchise installments, we learned that the Apes took over the Earth, but we never got to know why. Now we have those answers and it’s terrifying because of the possibility of how close to reality the prospect of this story really is. Read on to learn my theory that will blow your mind. Pontificator, what were your thoughts on the new Ape flick?
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Picking up ten years after the first film, this film flows seamlessly in continuing the story of the world on the verge of man being replaced by apes as the dominant species. While being a departure from the story of the original films of the 1970’s, there are a number of nods to that series for fans of the original series to enjoy.
CASTING, DIRECTING & ACTING
AV: The amazing Andy “Golum!” Serkis reprises his role as the infamous Cesar, wise and terrible ruler of the Ape nation. The performance of Serkis is worth the prices of admission alone. Gary “Commish Gordon” Oldman is a disappointment as the mostly stale leader of the human colony in San Francisco. He simply doesn’t deliver the passion we all know he’s capable of. But he doesn’t matter as the cinematography is breathtaking. What’s more the film making masterwork of Matt “Let Me In” Reeves is truly breathtaking, P-man. The opening and closing cinematic sequences are so cool my heart skipped a beat. Seriously. And my favorite sequence, during the first Ape attack, involving the blood-lustful Koba riding a bradley fighting vehicle, whose turret is spinning wildly to of control, is some of the most amazing film -making I have seen in a long time. The camera pans the battlefield along with the turret. Like I said old friend, breathtaking.
Agreed Vader. Andy Serkis leads the cast with a brilliant performance as Caesar. He has become a master at captivating our attention and conveying character information using only his eyes. Jason Clarke does well in his role as the “sympathetic human,” Malcolm, trying to find his way in a world torn us under by plague and warfare. Gary Oldman is always a great actor to watch and drives home the role of that human (Dreyfus) willing to do whatever he has to in order for humanity to remain dominant. Of course there is an ape antagonist matching this role (Koba), and he is brilliantly played by Toby Kebbell. Dare I say, he was just as interesting and engaging as Serkis… a testament to his tremendous talent.
AV: Oh my stars and garters, this movie is the CGI event of 2014. Yep, you read it hear first folks. It would not surprise me if this film doesn’t win some awards for it’s visual effects. Every one of the thousands of Apes are individually rendered, no visible duplicates. The Redwoods are rendered and the scenes of the post-famine San Francisco are beyond description. And then, then there are the Apes. My God in heaven, this is a CGI spectacle. You know I always state old friend, I’m only impressed with visual effects that give me something I haven’t seen before–and this film delivers, in spades! It’s stunning how larger-than-life the Apes are throughout. As the viewers, we accept them as living, breathing beings. That is the earmark of greatness.
TP: Let me sum up the special effects of this film in one word; awesome. The best CGI is the CGI you never knew was there. Watching this film, it never occurred to me that there was CGI in some of the more obvious places where it would have to be used. That’s how great the film was, and how awesome the CGI was. It looked like every animal in the film was real, and I don’t think a single one was. Kudos to the set designer’s also as the settings for this movie only added to it’s realism…as if the 3D weren’t enough. This film was a shining example of using special effects to further the story, and hit a home run with the experience.
TAKING A DEEPER LOOK
AV: I can say with every certainty, this is the first Apes film, in the entire genre, that is told from the perspective of the Apes. The iconic opening to this film pits the Apes hunting using only eye movements and sign language. The opening sequence is over 10 minutes long and involves the Apes hunting and immersing us in their world. The world of the Apes, driven by Ceasar’s philosophy of strength in numbers and family loyalty are mirrored at times on the human side but we are quite bit more deficient in those thoughts as a species. What is a grand–and very human, if not intelligent revelation Cesar makes is the disappointed realization of how alike Apes are to humans.
ARTH VADER’S SPECIAL APES THEORY: So here it is the brilliance of these films. Unlike the largely disastrous Tim “Batman” Burton Planet Of The Apes, starring Marky “I think we’ve found a Transformer!” Mark Wahlberg, this (soon-to-be) trilogy, fits quite nicely into the continuity of the Apes movies of the late 1960’s through the 1970’s. In my theory (yes Ponty, it’s MINE!) Charlton “You blew it up!” Heston and his two astro-cronies are still out in space somewhere. In the original Planet Of The Apes, three astronauts land on a planet ruled by Apes–which we later discover is Earth, but we are told HOW the Apes took control. At the end of this present series, Chuck Heston & his space-buds can still land, thousands of years from now. Mind: Blown.
TP: Interesting theory O’ Dark One, but methinks the “how” of the original apes ascension was covered in “Escape from the Planet of the Apes” where it is said the ape revolution is led by a talking ape named Aldo that revolted against his human masters. Of course, that could just be the faulty recollection, and your theory could be the actual truth as events and “recorded” events often differ depending on who is in charge at the time of the recollection.
TP: There was a lot going on in this film, and while much of it could be described as cliché, the presentation was so powerful that I never felt cheated. Of course we were presented with the parallels between the human and the apes to contrast and compare and ultimately come to the conclusion that they are much more similar than they are different. Caesar is the wise ape, careful in his decisions, a parallel to Malcolm. We also have the antagonists, Koba for the apes and Carver for the humans, both having a deep disdain for the other species and willing to do things to further their personal beliefs. Ironically, it was the “humanizing” of the apes that made this film as great as it was. On another note, the many nods to the original films was just a great touch for the real hardcore fans of the film franchise. I won’t go into any of them here, but if you are a fan like I am, you know exactly what they were.
TP: I am very excited about what will be offered next. With a human army on the march, and Caesar preparing his apes for war, I get goosebumps just thinking about where they will go next to finally present us with an Earth solely in the domain of the apes.
ARTH VADER rates Dawn of The Planet of The Apes: There’s so much to love, even if you are NOT familiar with other Apes flicks. The story, the quality of the movies making and the over-the-top awesome visual effects are the stuff of great entertainment. The screenplay alone is reason-enough to see this flick but if you were wondering why or how the Apes came to power, this movie is a must. For that I say this film swings 10 Busted Blocks from the branches.
THE PONTIFICATOR rates Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: With a great story, brilliant acting by the lead apes, and awesome special effects, this film was truly a gem on the silver screen. It was the type of film that had me thinking profoundly when it was done, easily dominating eight (8) busted blocks, by Caesar’s command.
Monday, July 21, 2014
Michael Bay spares no expense keeping the Autobots on their heels with new friends and old adversaries in the noticeably terrible Transformers: Age Of Extinction
ARTH VADER (AV): The Transformers are changing before our eyes. They are morphing,altering their DNA, becoming newer, bigger and badder. It’s downright Darwinian, Ponty. Moving the established Transformers cinematic universe (TCU) forward. Director Michael Bay introduces a whole new strain of enemies (and some ancient allies) to offer 2 hours and 45 minutes of some of the most beautiful eye-gasming, hi-tech, empty-headed disaster porn this side of Day After Tomorrow (ply or minus one hunky, frosty Dennis Quaid). The action is intense and it shows so many flags and lens flares, you would think J.J. Abrams got together with Betsy Ross. And indeed, in this fourth installment of the TCU, we are bombarded with hi-tech (and other!) eye candy.
CASTING, DIRECTING & ACTING
AV: So after three blockbuster TCU movies, actor-turned-whack-a-do-head case, Shiaf LaBouff is done. So is Megan “Hey, my eyes are up here” Fox, letting us in on a whole new cast of dim-witted robo-sidekicks. Heading up this new list of TCU humans is Mark “Good Vibrations” Wahlberg as the new leading guy with immortal words “I think we’ve found a transformer” (I think so, too, btw). Wonderfully perplexing actor extraordinaire Kelsey Grammar is the evil G-Man who hates transformers as Stan "I am the 1%" Tucci uses his tech and skills (and some help from some not-so-nice off-worlders) make Optimus Prime's life a poo-storm.
TP: There was a LOT of talent in this cast. Leading off with Mark Wahlberg with support by Stanley Tucci and Kelsey Grammer, it was hard for me to fathom why this film didn’t absolutely blow me away. Add the voice talents of John Goodman and Ken Wantanabe and all you really have to do is provide great material for a hit. Granted, this was not the type of film that was ever going to win Oscar’s for acting, but it certainly could have been better with a better script and more focused directing.
AV: If I was in the turd-shinning business, I would be rich beyond my wildest dreams working on the visual effects for this movie, old friend. Say what you will about this film's attempt at a plot but this movie looks incredible! The ships, the fights, the Dinobots, a second Transformer invasion of Chicago–not to mention the incredible interiors on the adversaries giant spaceship simply take your breath away.
TP: Special effects is the bread and butter of this film and for the most part they blew me away…as expected. What I didn’t expect was to see any hint or sign of shoddy CGI work anywhere on the screen…after all, this is the fourth Transformers film and if they can’t figure it out now, something is wrong. Well, something is wrong. I was flabbergasted that in the scene where Yeager (Wahlberg) is being chased down the side of a high rise building in China by Savoy (Titus Welliver) it looked as fake on the pullback shot as the first few years of film CGI. Really…?
TAKING A DEEPER LOOK
AV: Okay so if it's not evident by now, I was not a fan of this movie. It did not have a plot, a story that mattered, waaay too many flags and lens flares for my liking and I have learned not to expect much from these films and got exactly that…not much. How many Autobots are there? Every film says there only a few but we have dozens in each film. According to this film, the Transformers were 'seeded' to Earth by a race of cybernetic-enhanced beings. Where did they come from? Are there others? Were they defeated? Why the hell can Optimus Prime Fly all of a sudden? And why couldn't he just do so in the past? So Megatron is now Galvatron? Ugh! This stuff is so frustrating–I can suspend disbelief only so far. This movie goes way beyond that line.
AV: I am sure there is another in the works already. Don't know how excited I am for it, though. I mean honestly, if this film was the 'Age of Extinction' –who died? No one became extinct. I know, don' t be so literal. I get it, P–Man, I really do. It's a misnomer, not a title. TV Commercial director-turned-Hollywood blockbuster madman, Michael Bay has such a love for the military, scantily clad skirts on near-underage fillies and American flags, he will be busy, I'm sure, getting hard to work on T5: Age of (yawn) .. oh who cares at this point. Pontificator?
ARTH VADER rates Transformers: Age Of Extinction: At two hours and 45 minutes runtime, there is very little positive I can say about his film. It's long, cumbersome, horribly cliché and full of itself in so many way its too hard to suggest otherwise. At an expensive of more than $220 million, you could hire a few writers. Shame on you Mr. Bay and shame on Hollywood. Nearly 3-hours and $220 million and we are none the worse for wear. (Sigh) So Transformers: Age Of Extinction morphs two (2) busted blocks into energon cubes with just enough power to make me want to know, begrudgingly, where the Dinobots ran off too. Scratch that, I don't want to know.