Thursday, December 29, 2011

Our Top-Ten for 2012

It’s hard to dispute that 2011 was a very good year for geek-a-zoid flicks–but the best is yet to come! As the year comes to a close, we felt it was only fitting to take a quick peek under-the-skirt at some of the very best sci-fi, action and of course, super hero films coming on the 2012 horizon.

1. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance: (February 17, 2012) The Pontificator (TP) - Nicholas Cage returns to the big screen as Johnny Blaze and I can't wait to see if Hollywood has learned from all the other super hero success. The Devil (Ciaran Hinds) is back (just like the bad penny he is) and wants to take human form and only the Ghost Rider can stop him. This time he's in Europe, so strap on cause I have a feeling speed isn't going to be an issue. The word is that the special effects have seen some major upgrades, so here's hoping the story can match. It doesn't hurt that Idris Elba is in this as well.

2. Prometheus: (June 8, 2012) Arth Vader (AV)–the legendary Ridley Scott returns to direct another installment to his definitive Alien franchise. The prequel horror/thriller, Prometheus chronicles a team of space explorers who discover a clue to mankind’s origins on Earth, leading them on a deep space journey to discover some dark (and acid-for-blood-filled) secrets. With an awesome cast that includes Michael “Magneto” Fassbender, lovely Charlize Theron and the stunning Noomi Rapace, we will be treated to more of H.R. Giger's incredibly creepy, surrealist and fascinating Alien creations. This will be one for the record books, Ponty; “ … game over, man, game over!!”

3. Amazing Spider-Man: (July 3, 2012) TP - After seeing the trailer, I can hardly wait for this new installment of Spider-Man. Putting us in Spidey's perspective is simply brilliant and adds a new and exciting feel to the character. I admit, at first I couldn't get excited, but Andrew Garfield looks great as both Peter Parker and Spidey. Add Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey and introduce the Lizard (Rhys Ifans)...finally, and this is looking more and more like a bonafide summer blockbuster! They even completed the package with the traditional cameo appearance of Stan how cool is that!

4. The Dark Knight Rises: (July 20, 2012) AV– Holy Bat-gasm–it’s another Dark Kight flick! Christopher Nolan will bring his prolific Dark Knight trilogy to a close with The Dark Knight Rises, taking place eight years after the events of The Dark Knight. The villainous Bane (Tom Hardy) descends on Gotham, forcing the Batman to resurface after being the fall guy for Harvey Dent. Christian Bale returns as Bats accompanied by franchise favs Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman and joined by the beautiful and talented Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle a.k.a. Catwoman. I’ll admit, I’m more than a little giddy over this one.

5. Superman: Man of Steel: (June 14, 2013) TP - Even though it's not coming out until 2013, I'm "super" excited now. Why? Lets count the ways. 1.) Director of Watchmen and 300, Jack Snyder. 2.) Immortals star Henry Cavill as Superman. 3.) Russel Crowe, Kevin Costner and Laurence Fishburne all in the same film! 4.) No more Lex Luthor, we're getting General Zod right from the jump! Played by Michael Shannon, his hardcore sinister look alone has given me kryptonite goosebumps. This movie is taking everything back to the drawing board and for once...I agree with the idea. Here's hoping Warner Brothers can recapture the magic of Superman and take it to a level that exceeds every previous rendition. Up, up and away!

6. The Avengers: (May 4, 2012) AV–“And there came a day…” when the granddaddy of ALL super-hero movies hit the big screen! Banding together for the first time, Earth’s mightiest heroes, The Avengers comes to wallop a cineplex box office near you. Change your shorts now kids, this one’s got Iron Man (Robert Doweny, Jr), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chirs Hemsworth), The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson–xoxo), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and a CGI-ed Hulk (with Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner and–gulp!Lou Ferigno as the voice of Hulk!) who all band together under the watchful eye (pun intended) of Nick (Sam Jackson) Fury. I dare say, as an avid Avengers reader since 1975, my heart skips a beat just thinking about this one! I predict an obliterated box office to the tune of more than $400 million—Fan boys Assemble!

7. The Hobbit : (December 14, 2012) TP - With the worldwide success of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, this movie has to be one of the most anticipated films of 2012. Peter jackson returns once again to take us on a wild adventure through Middle Earth. speaking of "returns", Cate Blanchett, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis, Ian McKellen, Hugo Weaving, Orlando Bloom and Christopher Lee are all on deck once again! This will be the first of two films with the second one coming out sometime in 2013. The magic of these movies in undeniable and it's expected that this movie will meet all expectations that the trilogy has imbedded into fans everywhere. With goblins, trolls and the dragon, Gollum and the One Ring, I can't fathom this movie being anything less than absolutely epic.

8. John Carter: (March 9, 2012) AV–ask Arth Vader about the new John Carter and a series of colorful animated question marks start swirling around his head. Almost as legendary as Tarzan, Sci-fi mage Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars is reimagined by–uhh, Disney?–for the big screen. The off-world adventures of ex-confederate soldier John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) looks awesome in the debut trailer(s), if not a little pointless. While Disney holds a long, credible history for visually stunning movies, their movies run the gamut from WOW! To WTF?!? The veteran talents of Bryan Cranston, Willem Dafoe, Lynn Collins, Thomas Hayden Church and the heart-stopping Polly Walker should help. Here’s to hoping…

9. Underworld: Awakening: (January 20, 2012) TP - Kate Beckinsale returns as the vampire Selene in this fourth installment of the Underworld movies. This time around, she awakens to find that humanity has discovered the existence of both the Vampires and the Lycans and has set out to eradicate both species. I don't expect this to be anything like Twilight and I'm glad it won't be. Selene is coming with knives, swords, guns and an array of martial arts moves to kick some serious human and Lycan butt. Hopefully it isn't all just more of the same, although that was good, and they break some new ground in every aspect of the film.

10. Men In Black 3: (May 25, 2012) AV–Director Barry Sonnenfeld (finally!) will round out the MIB franchise with Men in Black 3. The film chronicles Agent J’s time-travel to the early days of Agent K with a stunning all-star cast. The usual MIB suspects Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and Rip Torn are joined by the lovely Alice Eve, silly Billy Hader, the elegant Emma Thompson and Josh Brolin as young Agent K (with voice-overs by Jones that will be both funny and disturbing). I wonder if Smith or newcomer, actress and singing diva Nicole Scherzinger will spearhead the soundtrack. Either way, MIB3 should be… (ahem) out-of-this-world fun.

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Monday, December 26, 2011

Game of Shadows Plays Well

Just in time for the 2011 holiday movie blitz, the latest Holmes is a fun, convoluted and wildly unrealistic ride—sounds like another box office hit!

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): There has been so much material presented over the years for Sherlock Holmes, but there does appear to be a “canon” continuity. Sir Arthur (not our Arth Vader) Conan Doyle is the creator of Holmes and wrote fifty-six short stories and four novel’s about the character. Although this movie presents the very first meeting between Holmes and his archenemy, Professor Moriarty, it carried many elements from the real written record of Doyle’s account of the first meeting between Holmes and Moriarty. Both the book, “The Final Problem” and movie “Game of Shadows”, end with both men going over a water fall in Switzerland, seemingly to their deaths. Kudos to the writers for researching the character and not just completely making something up out of thin air.

ARTH VADER (AV): Well, Pontificator, Guy Ritchie's has done it again. By somehow avoiding the traditional 'sophomore slump' and common pitfalls of follow-up or poorly planned sequels, Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows is a delightful indulgence. One would have a pretty difficult time finding parallels between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's prolifically gifted British super-sleuth and the overly-clever, itching-for-a-fight , semi-inebriated manic depressive portrayed by the living legend of acting, Robert Downey Jr. The movie, takes a grossly unrealistic swipe at history, suggesting key villain Moriarty (Jared Harris) is fixing to start the first world war more then 20 years before the the real thing. This concept blurs the already muddy historical context of arguably the most gruesome war known to man. If you're looking for historical accuracy, you will need to steer away from this film, Ponty.
Casting, Directing and Acting
AV: Returning as the perpetually perturbed Dr. Watson, Jude Law balances Downey's flamboyantly eccentric Holmes as the two struggle with the implied dissolution of their partnership due to Watson's impending nuptuals to the lovely Kelly Reilly who plays Watson's oddly attuned fiancée. Terrorist/anarchist Moriarty is a fitting adversary for the film's ridiculously convoluted story line. Also appearing in a disappointingly brief on-screen performance is the stunning Rachel MacAdams. Finally, Girl with the Dragon Tatoo's Noomi Rapace appears in an elusive role as the traveling gypsy-turned- reluctant ally, Madam Simza Heron. Despite the presence of three strong females actors, a female lead is honestly nowhere to be found. How about you, Pontificator?

The casting was superb. Robert Downey Jr was excellent as Sherlock Holmes. His portrayal of the sleuth is the best I’ve ever seen as he nails the furious and scattered, yet precise genius, of the character. Jude Law was also great as Dr. John Watson in what I see as an excellent departure from the short, round tradition of the character. The big surprise was Jared Harris. Professor James Moriarty needed to be sinister, scary and every bit the equal and opposite of Holmes...and Harris nailed this.
Special Effects
TP: Spectacular. The special effects bring this movie right in your face in the most wonderful way. The use of slow motion with normal speed filming is simply brilliant. The best part of it is that it isn’t overused, but used precisely at the right times to highlight the action and heighten the effect. The fight scenes are specifically enhanced by this technique.

AV: Pontificator, I too found the over-the-top, special-effects-laden story-telling technique quite enjoyable. Ritchie's vision–which feels oddly misplaced–is terrifically realized. Holmes' pre-cognitive ability to foresee the outcome of an impending conflict is fun and well-handled. With the use of eye-numbing freeze-forward film techniques, the movie also has no shortage of gun play, fisticuffs and a surprisingly reserved number of explosions. Though I will admit, the real indulgence of the Sherlock Holmes movies is the still-shot-into-woodcut illustration effect in each movie's closing credits. Now, I am sure it is some Adobe After Effects filter applied in post-production, it is so beautifully done, I almost wish the film's transitions would have been handled the same way.

Taking A Deeper Look
TP: It’s all here...drama, comedy and action. They even threw in a healthy dose of mystery as icing on this very tasty cake. Any movie that has all these qualities and delivers them well will have wide audience it’s a no-brainer this was a winner. It was made all the better for me because this movie made me doubt what I should never have doubted...namely Holmes himself. Moriarty was every bit the villain he should have been and to see Holmes operate from a disadvantage was s great story twist to present from. The interaction between Watson and Holmes was powerful and accented the real danger of the mind of Moriarty.

AV: It's hard not to dislike these movies–but what the hell, I'll give it a shot! Throughout the movie I feel like I am in a time warp. I am watching Victorian-era English characters tool around in pre-20th century Europe with the sensation that the storytelling technique is too fast-paced, too laden with effects and honestly, downright too cool for this movie. Don't misunderstand here, old friend, because I love the ride it takes you on but I honestly can't help shake the feeling that the whole film is just a bit... off.

Looking Ahead: Sequels
AV: What would a trilogy be without an impending third installment? Of course they will make another one, this movie is busting up the holiday box-office and is another runaway smash hit. Hollywood's slave-to-the-almighty dollar personae will not allow the powers that be avoid making another Holmes installment. I just can't help but ask... why? Having said that, I look forward to be dazzled by another senses-stunning foray into the action-packed world of industrialized, post-Victorian era England.

Of course there could be a third installment...but I have to wonder where they can go from here. I’m seeing Moriarty as the pinnacle of villainy and a very hard act to follow...unless, well...I’ll leave my speculation in the wind and defer to the mind of Vader.
THE PONTIFICATOR Rates Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows: I loved the first movie and this one was even better. The story was top rate, the action was spectacular and the elements of humor and mystery made it easy to follow the clues to the eight and a half blocks this movie busted.

ARTH VADER rates Sherlock Holems: Game of Shadows: The half-baked script, delightfully over-the-top special effects and overly complex–if not implausible–story don't seem to derail the runaway train of success that is the Sherlock Holmes holiday franchise. On the surface the movie is fun, fast and deliciously overindulgent, and despite its flaws–and Ponty, there are some noticeable flaws–I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it and if you are looking for a good time without too much reflection, then this movie is worth a seat and a bag of popcorn–and I am willing to drop seven and one half busted blocks to back it up. Whatever you do, stay for the closing credits.

Oh, and you might want to bring a little ibuprofen, just in case.

Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows:
8/10 Busted Blocks

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Immortals: A Matter of Life & Death

Immortals thunders onto the big screen with a legion of special effects and an undying army of interesting characters.


ARTH VADER (AV): Despite it's title, this movie was all-too human for me, Pontificator. Immortals showed little substance and offered near-endless fluff in the pointless tale of the hapless misadventures of the boring, one-dimensional exploits of the anti-hero, Theseus. Sound too convoluted to follow? So is this movie! But again, that's just me...

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): I guess the guiding standard would be Greek Mythology...and although I’m not an expert, I think they did a fabulous job of being true to the material. The main pantheon of gods were represented well and the entire film had a very “Greek” feel to it...a particular feel that hasn’t been seen in most films dealing in the subject matter. I have a nagging suspicion that you feel differently Vader...

(AV): The Greek God/Demi-God mythos is a rich universe of possibility offering endless opportunity for storytelling magic. Unfortunately, for me at least, there was not much magic to be found in Immortals as once again, Hollywood blows a perfect opportunity to make a great adventure.

AV: Unfortunately, a quality cast, including one of my all-time modern cinema favorites, Mickey Rourke (playing the misguided tyrant King Hyperion) couldn't save this movie from itself. Even my not-so-secret crush on Frieda Pinto (playing the alluring seer Phaedra) didn't move the meter of mediocrity on this movie. Direction of this movie was nothing short of epic, as Tarsem Singh, known for the oddly compelling 2000 film, the Cell, starring Jennifer (J-LO) Lopez, uses effects shots and visually stunning wide-angle world and fight scenes to dazzle the viewer. The scenes from 'on high' in Mount Olympus are stunning. Leading front men, Henry Cavill (best known for his stellar role in the Showtime network series, The Tudors) was empty and shallow. As for the casting of the Gods themselves though, it was hard for me to find this movie's deity casting believable. The Gods felt more like a hodgepodge cast of extras from various seasons of MTV's "The Real World" than being actual Greek lords but, they were beautiful to look at, all scantily clad and stuff.

TP: Allow me to disagree Your Vaderness. I thought the casting was well done, but films like this aren't made with “actors awards” in mind. That said I enjoyed Henry Cavill as Theseus as he brought the character to life with some very real issues seen in everyday people. Mickey Rourke was fantastic as King Hyperion and was just fun to watch as you never knew what he was going to do next...but you knew he was going to do something. Freida Pinto brought beauty to the film...literally.

AV: We interrupt Arth Vader's relentless movie-bashing to offer a ray of hope: The special effects in Immortals, is terrific! Clearly shot with the concept of 3D in mind, this movie is visually fun, fast-moving and captivating. The clashing armies, the delightfully well-choreographed fight sequences rival segments found in 300 (and almost as gory!). The tasteful (albeit plentiful) use of 1/4 speed action shots was fun and skillfully handled. *Spoiler Alert!* The finale's final fight sequence between the Gods and the Titans is cool, bloody and intense. The art direction and camera work blend seamlessly to offer one of the true highlights in an otherwise empty movie. We now return you to Vader's Immortal's bashing, already in progress…

TP: The only bashing I’m doing is being recounted in the film...but I feel your pain Vader. The special effects of this movie were nothing less than fantastic. Although I thought the costumes of the gods were a bit over-the-top, they didn’t hinder or detract at all when it came time for gods to hand out divine and bloody mayhem. I was really impressed with the scenery of Theseus’s village, being built into a cliffside...I thought it was very imaginative and filmed very well to give off a “whoa” feeling, merged with a bit of “what the heck?” Like “300”, the slow motion effect was awesome. Unlike “300”, the sped up motion within the slow motion was absolutely epic.

AV: Hollywood pulled every trick in the book to disguise the emptiness of this film. The ad campaign was nauseatingly intense, with an ominous start date of 11.11.11 that the only offered matinees (at least in Phoenix) were 3D screenings, causing me to pay and additional $3 for glasses and hyping up a thrill-a-minute mythological adventure that was anything but. Recent genre flops like Clash of The Titans and Conan The Barbarian didn't foreshadow high anticipation, but as always I gave it the benefit of the doubt. Now, I have even MORE doubt in Hollywood. They simply can't create quality content in this idea space.
TP: I always weigh a film based on the three elements of action, drama and humor...and how those elements mesh together within the film. I didn’t laugh too much and my emotions weren’t overtly provoked by the acting...much, but I was impressed with the action. Upon closer inspection though, I did discover that the title was very telling for much of the philosophy of the idea of immortality. The immortality of the gods was offset by Theseus’s belief that one can become divinely immortal through deeds while King Hyperion’s idea of leaving his mark upon the world would make him immortal, rounded out the various themes the title of this movie embraced.

AV: Let's hope that, *Spoiler Alert!* like many of the Gods in this movie, the studio will kill off any thoughts of a follow-up. As I stated, the Greek God genre is ripe with opportunity and given the capabilities of today's special effects wizards, we would love to see what would happen if the scripts and storytelling rivaled the budgets and talent. Ponty?

TP: This film could easily foster a sequel and even alludes to one. Dealing with Greek mythology leaves the door wide open for an almost “anything goes” approach when it comes to making a movie around a simple idea of good versus evil...with plenty of blood and gore, and many powerful god-like characters.

ARTH VADER Rates Immortals: Not the worst movie of the year, but you may want to wait until pay-per-view, NetFlix, HBO or some other movie service offers this film up for viewing. Fun but vapid, this movie just doesn't deliver and that's why I can't offer more than five busted blocks for the ambitious, though mostly disappointing, Immortals.

THE PONTIFICATOR Rates Immortals: A very fun movie to watch filled with great action sequences, plenty of blood and excellent special effects. The story is simple and the mythology is familiar, but it gives us a little more than just swords and shields....and thunders a godly rating of seven obliterated blocks.

Immortals: 6/10 Busted Blocks

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Spider-Man Sticks With Audiences

Spider-Man weaves a tangled web of exciting, well-directed acting and near-perfect casting to help audiences swing into theaters.

ARTH VADER (AV): This one's an instant classic! I'm going to jump right in here, Pontificator. Director Sam Raimi in this now-classic example of a superhero movie from 2002, is riveting. The origin of ol' web head is as close to the original as any on-screen portrayal of any on-film, this side of Superman: The Movie (1977 Christopher Reeves, R.I.P.). Spidey is one of the most iconic fictional characters of the 20th century. Peter Parker's mix of teenage angst meets nerdy solitude is the perfect coming-of-age tale we can all relate to. Unrealized love (or passion) for the unattainable Mary-Jane Watson (played by the stunning and well-casted Kirsten Dunst), this movie did more than re-kindle our fascination with the mythos of Spider_Man…this movie was just plain fun.
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Very nice leap Vader! Surprisingly this movie stuck relatively close to the comics. All the major elements are presented and were blended together very well. The minor changes didn’t detract from the movie at all. It simply wasn’t an issue that his webs were organic instead of his special blend of formula stored in cartridges. All told, it was one of the closest representations of a comic coming to the silver screen.

AV: James Franco as Harry Osborn, Willem DaFoe and Mr Pleasantville himself, Tobey McGuire in the lead made this film a joy to watch. Each character was believable and grounded. A solid corps of acting veterans, including J.K. Simmons (now the lead face-man in the currently running Farmers Insurance ad campaign) and the talented Bill Nunn (Radio Rahiem!) as Robbie Robertson. Simmon's fast-paced, witty, rambling banter as the intolerable J. Jonah Jameson was a pleasant surprise and channels the fever-pitch chaotic nature of a big city newspaper editor.
TP: The casting and acting was awesome. Tobey Maguire was the perfect Peter Parker...had this been wrong, it would have unraveled the entire movie. Willem Dafoe was a pleasure to watch both as Norman Osborne and the Green Goblin. I always find him to be a menacing presence when he sinks his talent into such roles. Nobody in the entire cast did less than spectacular...but I was really impressed with J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson. His quick answers and impulsive reactions were an absolute riot and very true to the character.
AV: Subsequently, the direction of this movie is also quite stunning. Really. Consider Raimi's liberal use of special effects, particularly in the cops & robbers chase sequence, it is fast-paced and filled with action and off-the-chart tempo pacing but keeps the viewer engaged and delighted throughout the entire event. Well handled fiction movie-making at it's finest. Mr. Raimi, my hat is off to you!

AV: Ah, special effects. The make-or-break of any modern science fiction, fantasy or action movie these days. The special effects in Sider-Man did an incredible job of keeping the viewer seeing things from multiple view points. While this is an extension of Raimi's directing talents, the movie tracks flawlessly as a life-as-comic book experience exposing the viewer to events from the POV of bystanders, antagonists, the hero(s) and pivotal characters alike. Like a comic book, these varied viewpoints seamlessly take me from one perspective to the next – often in the same scene! – and moves us through the adventure more as a participant than an observer. What does this have to do with SPFX? Well, everything in my eyes. I just don't think this movie could have been done in the 1990's. The camera work, great acting (amazingly well engineered sound design!) and effects shots blend so seamlessly, the film accomplishes a very tall order – to make the viewer believe this young man has the powers of a spider.
TP: The effects were very well done and brought Spidey to life like never before. There were a few scenes where I could tell that the CGI was...well, CGI. Running over the rooftops was one such scene, and it looked too obvious. However, the rest of the effects were stunning from the flips to Spidey swinging into action. The fight scenes were particularly done well as the use of slow motion was very refined and enhanced all the scenes it was used in.
AV: Hey, Pontificator, I must say, the depth of this movie blew me away on DVD even after nearly ten years from seeing it in the theater. Why? It's the best example I can think of that represents a well-handled, well developed super hero movie. While there are some that have transcended the cape-and-tights stigma, most still start getting overly ambitious and make the entire experience confusing or even worse…forgettable. Too many details, over-the-top special effects and no coherent writing (kind of like our blog!). Spider-Man weaves a delightful yet sobering tale that is end-capped with the now classic catch-phrase "…with great power comes great responsibility". Even the cage-match wrestling sequence sticks like cobwebs to the original story (a masterfully written and drawn story by the God-father of comic books, Stan Lee and the late, trailblazing artistry of Steve Ditko).
TP: I agree Vader, this film stands the test of time very well. This was the first super hero movie to “have it all.” It’s always been my theory that it did so well when it was released because it had something for everyone. Action junkies got their fix, romance seekers found love, and comedy criminals were arrested by laughter. Admittedly, this should be one of the easiest movies to make just for the fact it only had one hero and villain. However, it seems that attention to detail in even the smallest part, was meticulously laid out and filmed to perfection. All this...and a Stan Lee cameo for icing.
A Tribute From Arth Vader & The Pontificator: We want to take this moment to pay a special Boxed Office salute to the "Macho Man" Randy Savage. Playing the perfectly-casted role of 'Bonesaw McGraw' in Spider-Man, the late Mr. Savage was a delightful larger-than-life character from our childhood and early formative years. Those not familiar with him would do well to learn of his impact on the entertainment world, a life that was grounded in professional wrestling but was a terrific and colorful life of triumph and tragedy but a true champion and a man whose presence is missed even today. "Macho-Man" Randy Savage , taken all too quickly from us – November 15, 1952 – May 20, 2011. Rest in Peace.
AV: Well we know about his one, folks. At least kind of. Spider-Man 2 had moments of greatness –coupled with almost many WTF moment! – and may very well end up being a future "classic" review here at the boxed office. I won't even acknowledge the cinematic train wreck that is the disaster known as Spider-Man 3. Though, as the writing of this post, Ponty, I understand "The Amazing Spider-Man" series re-boot is doing quite well and looks just frackin' hot! Thankfully, like the comic books, this character has traction and depth that transcends one or two bad installments (kind of like the comic books). It is a shame (sorry to beat a dead horse folks) that Marvel Studios couldn't re-capture the rights to ole' web head movies and do this right but us Fan Boys will take what we can get. I foresee nothing but a bright future for the Spider-Man cinema franchise for many years to come.
TP: Of course there was enough material for a sequel. There is enough Spider-Man material to make a dozen more movies... even though they settled on three before doing a reboot. I won’t get into any of the other movies just yet...but those reviews should be very interesting if I’ve read you correctly Arth.
ARTH VADER rates Spider-Man: This movie is a case-study for following through on what works. Spider-Man first weaved his web of awesomeness in Amazing Fantasy #15 more than 50 years ago (1962). There is a reason his story has survived for half-a-century. He has depth and volume as a character, and is one we can all relate to – the under dog – with a chance to overcome his greatest limitations…including himself. Well-acted, superbly directed and delightfully produced with a storyline that closely mirrors the original tale from 1962, I give our friendly neighborhood Spider-man (2002) an amazing 9 out of 10 busted blocks.
THE PONTIFICATOR Rates Spider-Man: A superb movie...easily in the top ten best ever super hero movies, if not in the top five. This movie spins a web capable of supporting eight, very big and very heavy, busted blocks.
Spider-Man: 8.5/10 Busted Blocks

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

"Wolverine"...Makes the Cut!

FOX Studios continues to hit the jackpot with hunky Hugh Jackman as everyone's favorite manic manicured X-Man in X-MEN Origins: Wolverine.

On Continuity

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Expecting it to follow the comic is a high expectation, but it at least stays consistent with the three “X-Movies” that precede it...and that is a plus for me. While there are some elements of Wolverine’s true origin within this film, it quickly deviated from canon within the first sixty-seconds of the film.

ARTH VADER (AV): Well, what can I say Pontificator? True to FOX Studios form, the producers of this movie tried every trick in the book to make this movie unwatchable. Yet, as a testament to the depth and quality of the original content, I found this movie, despite it's many WTF moments, a particularly good time. Really. Continuity with the Marvel Universe? C'mon, NONE of the FOX X-Men movies pay a lick of attention to the original source material. It didn't matter though, because this movie did a lot of things right, at least from an entertainment standpoint.

Casting, Directing and Acting

TP: Hugh Jackman has made Wolverine his own. I enjoyed Liev Schreiber as Victor Creed (a.k.a. Sabertooth) and thought his version was a very plausible rendition of a young (relatively speaking) Creed before the obvious further mutation into the first X-Men movie version. It seemed as though this Colonel Stryker (Danny Huston) studied his predecessor from X2 as some of the mannerisms and speech patterns were so on point, they were eerie.

AV: Director Gavin Hood brought a great character with a mediocre screenplay to life, so Gavin, my hat's off to you, sir. Joining heart throb Hugh, is a well-casted assortment of mutant players. The characterizations were good, I won't lie, but the story was just an odd mix of butchered Marvel content and pointless Hollywood movie dribble. Lovely
Lynn Collins plays Silverfox and became a pivotal character in the film. This movie's ending has GOT to be one of modern cinema's greatest WTF-moments. That said, I agree with you, P-man, Liev Schrieber as Victor Creed (Sabertoooth) was masterful. And rounding out the vast array of mutants, Will I. Am's John Wraith was pretty... ok. My biggest issue? Too many mutants!
*ARTH VADER ADDRESS FOX STUDIOS DIRECTLY*: Guys, can we talk? I mean, seriously, let's calm the frack down here, huh? We don't have to stick all of Marvel's hundreds of mutant characters into_one_fricken'_movie. Ok? C'mon, Heather Hudson? Really? I can't even follow these movies and I've been reading The X-MEN since 1976! I can't begin to imagine what the public at large thinks of these abominations of comic book content. Please, let the audience into the fold slowly. You're driving us all nuts with this! Don't make me have to contact the
M.M.M.S.! I'll do it!

Special Effects

AV: This movie is not just augmented by special effects, Ponty, it's made by them. I think it safe to say this movie was not possible twenty years ago. Not simply due to the SFX themselves, but the seamless clarity of the effects work, how believable they are to the eye and the story content made possible by the ability of the SFX and the quality of the post-production. The near-mesmerizing portrayal of Fred J. Dukes (The Blob) by Kevin Durand is just captivating. The movie is almost worth seeing just for the portrayal. I simply won't comment on the disastrous excuse for a finale that is presented at the end of this movie but suffice it say... I am simply lost.
TP: The special effects were excellent and were consistent with the caliber of effects I’ve come to expect from the X-films. In films like these it’s mostly about the powers, and though done very was also about the stunts, which were also done very well. There was a slight detection of “cheese” during one segment of Wolverine’s fight with Gambit...but the sour taste didn’t linger too long.
Taking A Deeper Look
AV: So terrible ending aside Pontificator, this movie does have some juicy moments. Visually and even theatrically. I must first call out the absolutely stellar job the Director and SFX folks did with the time-lapse adventure sequence in the opening of the movie. Frankly, I could watch this sequence over and over, it's that well-done.

TP: Agreed Vader, this movie had one of the best opening sequences I have ever seen, excellently chronicling the life and times of Wolverine and Creed through the wars they fought together. Very heavy on the action and moderately
so on the humor, there wasn’t any serious drama beyond the “holy cow” feeling I got from trying to fathom being through most every war since the Civil War. Ryan Reynolds was a showcase of his brand of humor early...and dazzled with the action throughout.

AV: Next, the mid-movie battle scene with Colonel Stryker's helicopter henchmen, was breathtaking. Watching Hugh leap through the air, claws extended, at an oncoming Helicopter; THAT"S the stuff of masterpieces! And stopping his motorcycle by jamming his claws into the ground then spinning to face his adversary? Awesome! It almost allows me to forgive that debacle of an ending we were forced to endure. Almost.
Looking Ahead: Sequels
TP: There are a lot of places to go with a sequel should they ever decide to make one. Gambit was underutilized in this film so there is always room to expand upon him, although that seems unlikely since the movie ended with Wolverine in Japan. I’d say the Silver Samurai would be a good candidate for an appearance if they decide to explore Logan’s time abroad in Japan. I’d be surprised, though pleased, if they even decided to introduce Sunfire...since there is great groundwork already laid for the effects thanks to the Human Torch in Fantastic Four.

AV: Both excellent suggestions Pontificator! I agree. In fact, I'd bet my regenerative mutant fast-healing factor this won't be the last Logan movie. Done with the proper vision and sense of perspective, the Wolverine Franchise can live on ad infinitum, like James Bond. Jackman's portrayal of Wolverine is delightful and strongly casted, but Hugh, I gotta' tell you buddy, Wolverine is actually bigger than you are. He will be a viable story-telling vessel long after you've "snikt'd" your last claw. The future forward teaser that is shown at the end-of the credits is enough fodder for me to get all giddy for future Wolvie installments. What do you say, Hollywood? Wanna make another easy $200 Million? How about another Wolverine flick already! Pontificator, what do you think?
TP: I think you’re onto something Vader...and Hollywood needs to be reading our blog!
THE PONTIFICATOR Rates X-Men Origins: Wolverine: There have been many mixed reviews on this film...most of them less than flattering, but I must admit I enjoyed this film more than most. Maybe they hooked me with the opening sequence and I became more than partial to Liev Schreiber’s Sabertooth...but even with the spotty plot, this film busted seven blocks for me.

ARTH VADER rates X-MEN Origins: Wolverine: Let's face it, old-friend, all-in-all, this was a good movie. Weird story sequencing, a downright awful ending, over-casting characters and poorly sequenced chronology couldn't sink the the battleship that is the Legend of Wolverine. After all, he's still the best there is at what he does. With a few tweaks, this franchise could be a as solid as this first effort tried to be. I'm compelled to give this movie eight solid busted blocks, Bub.

X-MEN Origins: Wolverine: 7.5/10 Busted Blocks

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens Reaches For The Sky!

Six-eyed varmints meet six-gun kids when the wild, wild west gets a visit from some out-of-this-world desperadoes.


ARTH VADER (AV): There seems to be no shortage of Hollywood-spun graphic novel film adaptations in theaters these days. Ready for another one, Pontificator? I hope so, because Cowboys and Aliens is the next in a new breed graphic-novel-inspired movie that takes great actors, terrific special effects and unusual stories that are riveting and strive to preserve the integrity of the original material. In that respect, this movies does a competent job of trying to keep consistent with the original source content. At least in the name.
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): The only thing similar to the graphic novel is the name. This movie was almost a complete departure from the original content. It had cowboys, it had aliens...and that is pretty much where the similarity ends.
Casting, Directing and Acting
AV: Daniel Craig? Awesome. I mean, honestly, isn’t he the perfect anti-hero? And the hauntingly beautiful Olivia Wilde as the mysterious and alluring alien ally and of course, fan-boy living legend, Harrison Ford rounds out a cast that's (sorry about this folks) out of this world! The right cast puts every good sci-fi flick on the right path, but there are other factors – and this movie’s got ‘em.
You can't go wrong shooting digital cinema in the American southwest. Parts of the high desert on the scorching Arizona landscape are indeed breathtaking (I should know since I live there!). The incredibly beautiful sun-drenched landscape is the stage for one of the year's most unusual movies. If nothing else, the viewer gets a real taste for the splendor of the Arizona desert.

TP: A movie like this isn’t going to win any awards, except the “summer fun prize of enjoyment” but despite that, the casting was solid as was the acting. Daniel Craig is very good and I shouldn’t have to say that Harrison Ford always delivers. I was pleased to see Clancy Brown in the role of a good guy...a complete 180 from most of his work. Jon Favreau, again, delivers excellent direction.
TP: The effects were very...effective at delivering the juxtaposition of the old west with life from another planet.The aliens were somewhat unique and were nicely done along with the space crafts. I always enjoy explosions...and creepy aliens ripping through humans is always a welcome sight. With the arrival of 3D and so many movies doing it, it was a welcome experience to not see this film in 3D. CGI has come a long way and was done very well here.
AV: Jon Favreau knew he had a winner on his hands with this one, Sir Ponty. The repulsive nature of the aliens here were just delightful. (Sorry, is ‘delightful’ too touchy-feely? Ok let's say they were terrifically terrifying.) Along with a host of alien space ship sequences and healthy helping of nail-biting scare scenes in the caverns of the alien mining ship, Cowboys & Aliens serves up a healthy supply of shock and awe. Some real digitally enhanced eye candy!
Taking A Deeper Look
TP: Although the movie departed from the graphic novel in all but the name, it was very well done and quite enjoyable. The action was both big with explosions and laser fire, and small with Craig throwing down like the wild west version of James Bond. There was some compelling drama thrown in when we see the respect and love an adopted Native American had for Ford’s character as the father/son dynamic was explored. Of course, with Jon Favreau directing, there were excellent moments of levity.

AV: I agree, Cowboys and Aliens takes us on quite a ride. We gallop through the old west with a new twist; the primary villains (in a sea of them, actually) are gruesome, bug-eyed aliens who have traveled to Earth to steal our gold (I guess they've been watching the markets, too!), along with our sense of celestial security. But here's where this movie shines; solid actors, with well-crafted script and special effects that are at times, almost so well integrated, they melt into the fabric of the experience.

TP: As an afterthought, I was wondering how long the aliens needed to study humanity before discovering that they could have wiped out everyone on the planet?
Looking Ahead: Sequels
TP: The graphic novel left itself wide open to a larger story continuing....the movie, not so much. I can still see potential in a sequel though just based on the fact that more aliens can simply return to earth and continue their mission. In the graphic novel there were other alien races subjugated by the main antagonist aliens and a resistance effort was formed. That can still be explored in a sequel if someone wanted to do some really crafty writing and make a little more money on this idea.
AV: Many movies are groomed these days to birth sequels. Anyone Sci-Fi fan can see this movie simply does not warrant one, but here's what I would like to see. More movies taking on this kind of ambitious, obscure content and try to make movie magic. While there is no justifiable reason for a Cowboys and Aliens 2, there are just tons of available stories ripe for consideration in this mind space.
THE PONTIFICATOR Rates Cowboys and Aliens: The summer is winding down, but the fun isn’t stopping. This movie may not be a “must see”, but it certainly is a “should see” if you’re interested in a good time...and a movie that busts six and a half blocks, out of ten.
ARTH VADER rates Cowboys and Aliens: This movie has not tracked well with reviewers. Having pulled roughly $70 million as of the writing of this blog. That’s too bad. This is a mediocre box office performance in a summer stacked with super big screen sci-fi blockbusters, it is understandable that audiences might be catching their collective breaths.
I don’t care! I had a good time with this movie, its fun, thrilling and engaging. Hey, any chance to see Harry Ford bust up some alien baddies, well, count me in. And you can count on a healthy seven-and-one-half busted blocks from me for Cowboys and Aliens.
Cowboys & Aliens: 7/10 Busted Blocks
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