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.
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
ARTH VADER (AV): Derived from the wildly popular Manga graphic novel “All you need is kill” heralding from Japan, Edge of Tomorrow shares a gritty and intriguing story of a soldier rushed to the front-line of an intergalactic war between humanity and a horrifying alien invader who seem to know every move even before we make it. I firmly believe “All You Need is Kill” is likely a poor translation of the Japanese mother IP (Intellectual Property), the story is compelling, pitting the Major William Cage (Cruise) against a ticking clock that resets every time he is killed. Pontificator, this movie has infinite storytelling potential and I am not sure this one wasn’t one of my favorites of the year. What did you think?
CASTING, DIRECTING & ACTING
AV: Cruise and Blunt are phenomenal to be sure, but one of my favorite characters in this film is Maj. Sergeant Farell played by Bill Paxton. Playing one of the most predictably atypical archetypes of the over-the-top American drill Sgt. who will bust heads, bust balls and bust a move on any enlisted man who steps out of line. Directed by Doug “Bourne Identity” Liman, this movie has a distinctive look and photographic essence that is unique to this film. Liman’s choice not to start each new ‘day’’ systematically makes for a surprisingly fresh visual approach that kept me guessing if this day is new for us or new for the character. And need I say, Brandon “Braveheart” Gleeson plays the stalwart General Brigham and is a totally solid character that adds nothing but depth and character color.
TP: Tom Cruise is still a box office draw and is able to deliver in the capacity of “action hero” with his own brand of wit and those coveted “Cruise” moments. Emily Blunt is great at playing a hardcore role and really sells her character, even better than Cruise. It was also fun to see Bill Paxton, adding to his trend of recent exposure. The film moved at a quick pace, never staying too long in one place and stayed interesting even as it revisited the same situations.
AV: Edge of Tomorrow is a visual spectacular, worthy of 3D and certainly worth a look. If you like big-budget films, lots of action and some grounded and clever writing, then this film has them all. The onscreen presence of the mimics (the aliens) is terrifying and awe-inspiring. The combat suits are classically cool and action sequences where the human counterattack is the main plot point, are visually spectacular and add to the nail-biting intensity. What’s more, the visual effects are a tool to the storytelling and not the primary focal point. Thoughts, Ponty?
TAKING A CLOSER LOOK
AV: Here’s what I loved, Pontificator. I loved watching an American big budget movie go way out on a limb to tell a very unexpected and quite frankly, very non-american story. I loved watching the untold depths of rich content in the international graphic novel arena deliver surprisingly good content to American audiences. I also loved that this movie does NOT show a traditional Hollywood ‘Happy Ending’ unless you chose to interpret it that way. What I hated was; poor marketing, a misunderstood film premise and a bad choice of movie title. Honestly, this movie could be anything; Star Wars: Episode VIII Edge of Tomorrow. Star Trek III: Edge of Tomorrow, Ian Fleming’s James Bond in Edge of Tomorrow. See? The title isn’t a title, it’s nondescript. I am convinced audiences didn’t know what the heck an “Edge of Tomorrow” was.
AV: There is no sequel to this story. Though a caveat to this could be to continue to port over original graphic novels and foreign fiction from around the world. Though given the mediocre reception this film received, that may be a tall order.
ARTH VADER rates Edge Of Tomorrow: Going out on a limb here but intelligent action movies tend NOT to fair well in American cinema. This is one such case. If you like your sci-fi with action, comic relief, a strong female and male lead, tons of effects and ‘splosions, then you need look no further than Edge of Tomorrow. That’s why I am giving this movie seven (7) solid busted blocks. And when I wake up tomorrow, I plan to give it the same, all over again.
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Disney reimagines yet another of its cherished properties with a darker, richer take on the antagonist to Sleeping Beauty
ARTH VADER (AV): In 1959, Disney’s classic tale of a young girl deceived by a malevolent sorceress became a an instant classic with children, specifically with young adolescent and teen girls. The classic victim/damsel in distress tale captured the hearts and minds of generations and has spurned a whole new take by the creators themselves. As for this film’s alignment with it’s original manifestation, it’s close enough and does a compelling job of updating the fable with new actors, new effects and a new take on an old tale. As for continuity, it is the second in what looks to be an ongoing series of re-boots of classic Disney properties including the upcoming Cinderella in 2015 and John Faveraau’s The Jungle Book already in production. Personally, I think this is all exciting stuff for Disney whose properties, quite frankly, have grown stale. P-Man?
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): “Sleeping Beauty” has never been told like this! In life I have found it true that there is always another side to a story, sometimes, many sides. This film tells the other side of this classic tale and enlightens the audience that everything isn’t a clear cut case of “good versus evil.”
CASTING, DIRECTING & ACTING
AV: For me, there is only one name that matters in this film and that’s Angelina Jolie. While not a brilliant performance, her characterization was richly portrayed and she brought a confusingly complex and delightfully troubled woman to the screen. Gone are the days when a character is defined by one simple, one-dimensional character trait (read: ‘she’s evil’). Maleficent is a kaleidoscope of personality contradictions. And that is exactly how we are all made. Most characters in the film run a steady faucet of either chaotic good to untempered rage while Jolie’s Maleficent is often merciful and other times ruthless, bitter when she need be and oddly forgiving and even whimsical to downright playful. Director Robert “ hunger Games” Stromberg brought continuously volatile camerawork to bear to devastating 3D-enhancing effect to the world of Maleficent, would you agree Pontificator?
AV: Castles and fairy-folk and woodland creatures live aplenty in Stromberg’s Maleficent. While none are trend-setting or ‘next-generation defining’, all are handsomely handled and bring the magical world of this film right into the viewer’s psyche. It may be that both my daughter and I both have an affinity for dragons, we were beside ourselves with the dragon sequence. The enchanted environment came to life in small part due to exceptional visual effects.
TAKING A DEEPER LOOK
AV: Like Alice in Wonderland before it, Disney seems to be doubling down on its core properties with re-boots and “re-imaginings” of their ‘princess properties.’ This is a necessary effort in this world of Disney-owned super-IP’s like Star Wars & Marvel studios. Classic IP’s like Cinderella, Snow White and all of them really, run the very real risk of becoming obsolete. In an age of digital animation, high-gloss visual effects and a notoriously endless number of re-boots and re-imaginings. While I would strongly question the staying power of these films in the mind space of their core audience (namely pre-teen and early teen girls), these films keep these characters in the hearts and on the lips of us all. And while the screenplay could use a bit more polishing, I think it handsomely accomplishes its task of staying relevant in an increasingly attention-deficient world.
AV: Having pulled more than $500 million in box office revenue worldwide (as of the writing of this post), Maleficent 2 is presently undergoing initial script writing. Disney is in the business of entertainment and nearly 20 million people the world over saw great value in this film, and Disney is hot to strike while the proverbial fire is hot. This film needed to be re-made and for the greater part of things, that part was done well. I am pretty unconvinced that a follow-up is necessary at all and would rather see that money and effort go to the development of original properties and additional ‘re-boots.’ Our daughters are hungrily consuming far lesser-quality movies and franchises, so a Maleficent sequels isn’t the worst idea I’ve ever heard.
ARTH VADER rates Maleficent: This movie is entertaining is if you can keep your composure through almost two hours of intensive emoting, voiceover and dialogue, the action sequence are compelling and the story, while familiar, is told well. There are moments of greatness tempered by moments of sheer boredom. The presence of Jolie onscreen is impressive but the comic relief to the three fairy Godmothers is just this side of bearable. Still, fun with something everyone and a strong, if not heavy-handed re-boot, Maleficent casts its spell over eight (8) magical busted blocks and starts something wickedly wonderful.