Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Hellish Ride

Poor direction, shotty writing and an incomprehensible character ensures Ghost Rider goes down in flames.

On Continuity
ARTH VADER (AV): So young stunt man, Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) makes a pact with the Devil (Peter Fonda) and gives up his soul. In exchange, Satan cures Johnny’s father of cancer. When Satan’s son, Blackheart (Wes Bentley), wants to conquer the Earth, Johnny becomes Ghost Rider, the leather-clad, flaming skull-for-a-head biker of vengeance. Mission? Stop Blackheart and his three naughty minions, save Johnny’s old flame (ha-ha, get it?), Roxanne (Eva Mendes), from the clutches of evil and save the world. (Hey, stay awake!)

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): (Yawn)...this was surprisingly close to the origin and character source material than I thought it would be. The minor changes were very minor and there was room left for the character to grow and reveal, as was done in the comic. Unfortunately, it wasn't done on screen and the source material is really outdated.

AV: Zarathos, what were you thinking? The continuity with the comic books was close but in an entertainment sphere dominated by special effects, this was the best we could do? The whole premise of Ghost Rider is silly to me. I never connected with the whole biker/leather pants/chains/flaming skull bit. I believe the comic was popular at one time, probably due to the flaming skull thing. This movie’s lame-o special effects coupled with one of the most ridiculous hero scripts ever written, makes it really hard to understand why this movie (or this character!) was ever made. Does the movie align with the comic books? I guess... but does anyone care?
Casting, Directing and Acting
TP: The casting could have been better. This was not the role for Nicolas Cage. I never felt like he was Johnny Blaze, just Nicolas Cage attempting to play Johnny Blaze. I like Eva Mendez but she brought nothing to her character besides good looks. Peter Fonda came off as trying to be too smooth instead of evilly being cool.The directing was better than both the casting and the acting, but that isn't saying much considering how poor both were.

AV: I couldn't agree more, Pontificator! To start, I am NOT the world’s greatest Nic Cage fan. I think certain stars can transcend themselves onscreen, others simply appear to be playing a role. Mr. Cage gives one such performance. Johnny Blaze comes off as a flat, pasty, cardboard replica of a personality. Eva Mendes, who I absolutely adore, is a very unlikely damsel in distress. Together the two have as much on-screen energy as an old AA battery with that gooey white crap coming out of it. In fact, I haven’t had to stomach such an unbelievable pairing since Natalie Portman and Hayden Christiansen. Peter Fonda’s Satan is neither menacing nor particularly bad. Director Mark Steven Johnson has dialed in another yawn-fest (also known for making us all roll our collective eyes during his first hero film travesty, Daredevil).
TP: This is the area where the movie shines. The bike was awesome and the effects it had on the surrounding environment were well done. Ghost Rider himself looked very nice and if you always keep in mind that he is engulfed in hellfire, not real fire, then it’s easy to accept why water has no effect on the flame and why there is a flame trail behind the bike. The film did very well with the quick reveals of the true nature of the evil characters, adding some well proven techniques from serious horror movies. Are you on board with that Arth?

AV: Can't ride in the sidecar with you this one old friend. Special Effects? Hello? Anyone home? Someone forgot to tell the effects folks to come to work the first week of post-production for Ghost Rider. A bike leaving a trail of flame? Chains that become snake-like serpents of steel? Really? The Special Effects are rushed and border on cheese ball to me. The best SFX in this film have nothing to do with Ghost Rider himself. The “Evil Knievel” stunts, the driving, even the Shadow Horse ride in the desert, all are better than the character effects. Very disappointing.
Taking A Deeper Look

AV:
Now granted, one expects a certain level of ridiculousness from a superhero flick, but this film went to hell-in-a-hand-basket from the opening credits. The laughable predictability of the action sequences are only eclipsed by the torture of having to watch Ghost Rider battle evil minions, one-by-one, before facing off against Blackheart for the finale.
TP: This movie had a finale Vader? I must have missed it...one of the many things this film lacked. It also lacked humor. Cage isn’t funny regardless of how hard he tried to be and the poor script wasn’t helpful in making anyone else funny. Without humor, it wasn’t well rounded and became a campy horror film with really cool special effects. I found myself growing tired of the seemingly forced romance and always looking forward to seeing the Ghost Rider...although his adversaries weren’t nearly as engaging or interesting as he was.

AV:
I know. For me, Ghost Rider was a gimmick from the start. I believe this character was engineered to appeal to an ultra-macho audience that never connected with comic books in the first place. Ask any kid who their favorite super hero is and 998 out of 1,000 would say anybody other than GHOST RIDER. He’s a kinder, gentler demon, who is really doing God’s work (aww, see he’s really a good guy, Momma!). That premise alone should have been all the indication we would ever need to determine the feasibility of this movie.

Looking Ahead: Sequels
TP: Please don’t. If Ghost Rider should ever come to the screen again it should be a reboot with perhaps the Danny Ketch version of Ghost Rider...complete with flame-tired, ninja racing style bike...and a better script with unknown actors hungry to make their mark in Hollywood. I just think there are more mystical artifacts laying around than there are traveling carnivals with stunt bikers doing the impossible.

AV: I am sorry to announce that this waste of digital space is gearing up for a sequel and Nic Cage is returning to reprise his role. Look here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1071875/ – hey, I guess we can think if it as a kind of Hell-on-earth!



THE PONTIFICATOR Rates Ghost Rider: Great special effects, but not much else is offered in this film. Let this be a lesson that when you make a deal with the Devil...you get burned with four out of ten busted blocks.

ARTH VADER Rates Ghost Rider:
Neither Sam Elliot’s gritty narrative, nor Eva Mendes’ beauty and savvy characterization even come close to making this movie matter. I cried uncle by minute five. After the stunts, the only thing to applaud for in Ghost Rider was the roll of the end-credits. I guess if this movie were on TNT late night, I wouldn’t rush to find the clicker to change the station. 1.5 busted blocks – oh ok, two but not one-half block more.

Ghost Rider: 3/10 Busted Blocks
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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Summer Fun Goes Green

Green Lantern is an Illuminating experience with campy dialogue and super cool special effects that flys rings around this year’s collection of super hero movies.

Continuity

The Green Lantern Corps
ARTH VADER (AV): What appeared to be a valiant effort in explaining the Guardians and a history of the Corps, the opening dialogue was simply unnecessary. There was just too much introduction; the fans already know this crap and the general public zoned out after the second sentence. The Ferris/Jordan/(implied) S.T.A.R. Labs interwoven thread was modified but well presented, making this movie, despite continuity tampering with the DC universe, fairly easy to follow.

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): There are always changes to continuity and this was no exception. I applaud the minor changes made, having to take over 60 years of history and cram it into two hours. The essence of the origin stayed untouched even though Abin Sur crashed for another reason in the comics and Parallax seemed to be an alternate version of Krona. Hector Hammond became a means to an end...his own, but this divergence from continuity was simply a plot device. I was never a Hammond fan anyway...

Casting, Directing and Acting

TP: It was cast well enough and Ryan Reynolds played the role I expected him to play, dramatic with his own brand of one-line humor...not a far stretch from a young Hal Jordan. The real performance came from Mark Strong as Sinestro and although his screen time was far too sparse, he commanded the screen whenever he was on it. His presence was incredible as evidenced from the deep impression left from a character that offered no real emotional range at all save arrogance and disgust. One of the highest testaments I can give is that I wanted to see more Sinestro. The directing...needs a deeper look.
Kilowog and Tomar-Re

AV: Yes, I agree, the directing was transparent. Lots of wide-angle shots (esp. of the corps), sweeping effects rolls and soft lighting on emotional moments. The camera work was very one-dimensional and expected, even the dramatic shot. As for casting, well who doesn’t love Ryan Reynolds – he was born to play Hal Jordan. Blake Lively as Carol Ferris (!) was great. Loved Michael Clark Duncan as Kilowog and all the voice characterizations were splendid. To add to your Sinestro comments, Pontificator, I loved that I didn’t O.D. on Sinestro. Like Boba Fett in Empire Strikes Back, you just want more. *Spoiler Alert! And according to the scene in the end credits, we will!

Special Effects

The Guardians on Oa
TP: Incredible, awesome and fascinating all in one. The manipulation and adaptation of the green Oan energy from comic to film was terrific. The costumes, the aliens, the stellar backdrops...all these brought Sector 2814 to life. There were some shortcomings in this film, but the effects weren’t one of them. A ring that can manifest whatever the mind can imagine is an awesome special effects challenge...and that challenge was met successfully.

Hal Jordan (Reynolds) and Tomar-Re



AV: Wellll… ok. I am going to be uncharacteristically harsh on this point. The effects were very, very good, no doubt (after all, Warner Brothers dumped an initial $9 Million into the effects of this movie in post production!), but your comments on Green Energy not-withstanding, some effects shots were just… not right. I am going catch a big green boot in the butt on this one but when Sinestro, Tomar-Re and Kilowog come to Hal’s side (conveniently when the coast is clear) the lighting on the faces was pure studio. No green aura to let us know how they survive in space, and I had no real sense, and for me this is key, that OA was this huge, densely populated planet with a sprawling metropolis with billions of beings under the Guardian’s watchful protection. The visual effects were spellbinding, but nothing special about them in helping the audience have a believable experience.

Taking A Deeper Look

TP: There was humor, drama and action...and the blending of these really needed some solid directing. The movie felt choppy and lacked a cohesive flow. The remedy to this is probably on the cutting room floor. Hector Hammond was a complete plot device and could have been removed altogether in deference to more interaction between Jordan and Sinestro. The build up of Hammond, only to be killed, felt like a waste. It would have been better to see more of Hal’s training at the hands of Kilowog and Sinestro instead of giving the impression that the sum of his training lasted ten minutes.

Mark Strong as Sinestro
AV: I’m loving your earlier statements here, Ponty. Trying to cram 60 years of historical backstory and source material is an act in futility. The backgrounds are too rich and too complex to do any justice to in context. That said, this is also why we can’t judge the movies too harshly, because they can’t let us interact as the viewer or reader where we can engage our intellect. To participate, we have to buy, entirely, on the director’s vision (and therefore grasp) of the material. Not bad on this effort, honestly. Though I found it hard to connect with who the Corps was and through them, Hal as well.

TP: Being an intergalactic police force gave the writers all the excuse they needed to deliver a space battle worth talking about...in a good way, instead of leaving me guessing how Sinestro escaped Parallax after watching four of his comrades get toasted with ease. There were many missed opportunities to bring us into the Corps along with Jordan so that we could experience his wonderment with him...and that should have been the story being told.

Looking Ahead: Sequels

Sinestro
AV: This one’s a no-brainer. This movie will score big in the box office and Reynold’s three-movie option will get cemented and will kick into high gear. The Green Lantern is not a stand alone cop but he’s a part of much larger force for good and justice (like Judge Dredd). Sequels need to explore this further and perform as well as the origin movie to make the franchise solid. What say you, P-man?

TP: One word: Sinestro. Done correctly Sinestro could very well steal the film much like Jack Nicholson stole the first Batman... and Heath Ledger stole the last one...transforming this sequel into a true summer blockbuster.

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Green Lantern: There is a fine line between a good movie and a great one – and this film flirted with that line but didn’t quite cross it. It couldn't decide if it wanted to be story driven or a summer blockbuster. And while trying to be a blend of both, became neither and left me feeling like there should have been more. It was a good time that had all the potential to be a great time... and busted seven and a half blocks out of ten.

ARTH VADER rates Green Lantern: Ouch. Can’t disagree, though. However, Reynolds makes Hal Jordan come to life, Sinestro is bad-ass and I must say Blake Lively and the timeless beauty of Angela Bassett – I am going to be a little more forgiving and give Green Lantern… eight and a half busted blocks.
Green Lantern: 8/10 Busted Blocks

Friday, June 17, 2011

Super 8... Super Great!

Steven Spielberg and J.J Abrams
J.J Abrams and Steven Spielberg team up to scare us with a cautionary tale of tolerance, acceptance and good old fashioned monsters from outer space.

On Originality

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): I’ve seen this before. An alien comes to earth and terrorizes a small town. No wait...an alien comes to a small town and a group of children have to discover the truth. No...hold on, only a child can make an alien understand that all humans aren’t bad and that he can go home again. Okay, so I’ve seen this before, just not all in the same movie. While Super 8 has many elements of films I’ve seen before, this particular blend and the delivery of such, is unique enough to be called an original movie. I didn’t sit through this film thinking or comparing it to other movies...I was too busy engrossed in this unique presentation.

ARTH VADER (AV): "Unique presentation" huh? I can't ride THAT boxcar with you Pontificator, but this movie was quite familiar. I think I found SUPER 8's true originality was in it's take on a familiar story. *Spoiler Alert!* I have always loved the idea of the 'misunderstood alien' but I didn't need all the clichés; the hometown cop-turned-unwilling hero, the evil military industrial complex and it's mindless minions, the not-so-mad mad scientist. The kid's are the ones with the 'real story' trying to convince us stupid adults of what's really going on. Too many hollywood stereo types to try and edge by.

Casting, Directing and Acting

AV: I really dug the casting and fresh new faces of the actors, especially the kids. There a moments that are purely overacted for me but I didn't mind as it had a very 1950's red-menace/martians are coming flavor.That ain't all bad because the directing was razor sharp, playing to the audience's willingness to accept and gullibility, we jumped when we saw "the monster" and laughed when we were supposed to. When it's J.J. Abrams, I don't mind being manipulated (oh, that doesn't sound right). Pontificator, what were your thoughts?

TP: The casting was perfect. There wasn’t an instant when I felt an actor didn’t fit the role being played. This was not a film of mega stars, but everyone in it became a star, completely submerged into the character being played...a testament to top notch acting of everyone involved. Nobody stood out, and everyone stood out...and the audience was the fortunate recipient of this. The directing was superb and everything I expected from the big names attached to this movie.

Special Effects

TP:
Awesome. The movie was story driven from the onset, but when it was time for effects, it delivered. My jaw dropped during the train wreck scene...easily the best action sequence and special effects scene of the entire movie. Being mostly driven by the story and subplots, there wasn’t a huge need for over-the-top special effects. Instead, crafty camera angles and direction did much of the work to convey the “effect” intended. More effects arrived later in the movie and didn’t looked rushed, shoddy or fake. A very good job all-around.

AV: Now I'm on board with you! That train sequence was first rate. It went on for like four minutes and felt like it happened in a flash. Very real sense of danger as sound played a VERY key role during this segment. The grinding metal and the banging thud of train parts raining down from being blown into the air was riveting. The alien *spoiler alert!* in true J.J.Abrams form was hideous and fascinating all at once, terrifying yet oddly compelling, just like the now classic pants-filler Cloverfield, I was on my seat's edge.

Taking A Deeper Look

TP: This movie had it all. It started off dramatically with a child dealing with the death of his mother...and subsequently, how his father copes with the loss. Then my mind was blown away by the incredible action of the train wreck. The comedy was prevalent throughout, sometimes happening unexpectedly. An example is when the alien is attacking a military bus and killing soldiers while our heroes, a group of children, are trying to escape out the back from inside the caged section of the bus. As the alien crushes another soldier to a pulp, one of them screams “Another one...dead!”...totally hilarious in his delivery ala “we’re all going to die...there’s no hope” mixed with “hurry the hell up and get us outta here.” The laughter during the scene was audible throughout the theater.

AP: Not too much here for me with this movie but I will say this: I had an odd feeling in this movie that the alien 'monster' was oddly similar to the big bad crawly thingie in Cloverfield. Could this be (gulp!) a prequel? Hard to say, Ponty, but he was awfully familiar. I know you had some thoughts on the time period, Pontificator?

TP: It was a good call to set this movie back in the 1970’s giving a feel of innocence and wonderment that has been lost in the decades since. Missing microwaves blamed on a Soviet invasion?...classic. I felt sympathy for the alien after learning the truth, and it was brilliance to offset this with the realization that he was taking people for his food supply for the trip home. The juxtaposition of emotions was... fascinating.

Looking Ahead: Sequels

AV:
If I could be so bold as to stand on my box of suds here for a second, there is no viable follow-up here. The movie, like E.T., is a stand-alone story. We all regret being trained by the Hollywood autocracy to look for the "part II" of every movie, especially if we like it. But sometimes, the final curtain should be just that...final.

TP: Agreed Arth, there could be a sequel...but the fantastic part is that it was such a great, well-rounded story with no loose ends, that there really doesn’t have to be. I say leave it as is...and just enjoy the ride.

THE PONTIFICATOR Rates Super 8: A great story to humanize the movie from just being an alien monster film, great special effects that blow the mind and keeps your attention, and superb directing and acting that round this movie out to be great entertainment. With nothing derogatory to say, I have no choice but to give it nine busted blocks...out of ten.

ARTH VADER Rates Super 8:
Special effects are really good in SUPER 8, acting by fresh new faces and a few familiar ones, makes this movie refreshingly… human, if not a bit campy. I can't say it gets high marks from me for originality but in the end, SUPER is... SUPER. I give it a seven, giving it a combo score of... eight busted blocks.

Super8: 8/10 Busted Blocks
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Monday, June 13, 2011

“It’s Clobberin’ Time!”

The Fantastic Four chronicles the origin of Marvel’s first family of new age heroes.

ON CONTINUITY WITH THE MARVEL UNIVERSE:

ARTH VADER (AV): It’s 1961 in Cold-War-gripped America and two story-telling visionaries set out, not to change the world but widen our understanding of who heroes really are, sets the comic book genre in wild new directions. The debut of Marvel’s Fantastic Four, created by comic book legends Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, used established characters (like the Human Torch) merged with familiar hero archetypes like a monster strong man, The Thing or Plastic-man knock-off, Mr. Fantastic along with the stealthy Invisible girl/Woman. How do you think this movie held up, Pontificator?

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Not many movies line up exactly with the comic continuity, but this one comes close enough that the disparities aren’t really issues. Were they in a ship in the comics and not a space station?...yes. Was Victor Von Doom with them and subject to the same accident?...no. Did the changes work for the movie and deliver a good time?... yes, case closed.

(AV): Agreed! Best friends Reed Richards and Ben Grimm (Mr.F & Thing) and Reed’s girlfriend Sue Storm along with her “hot-headed” (ha-ha, get it?) brother, Johnny Storm, form a close-knit interpersonal team of unlikely heroes, flawed and real, that has captured imaginations and endured for decades. The Fantastic Four is a modern day re-imagining of one of the best pulp fantasy story lines of our time.

CASTING, DIRECTING & ACTING:

(AV): Pontificator, casting is where this movie was a little off. Jessica Alba as Sue Storm? Really? Now don't get me wrong, I fawn over lovely Ms. Alba at every opportunity but she just wouldn’t have been my first choice. Chris Evans’s hunky Human Torch is solid and while I liked Michael Chiklis’s ‘Thing’ while Julian McMahon’s Dr. Doom was too cute and smug for me.

(TP): Arth, I have to disagree with you about Alba... I thought she was great as Sue Storm and the chemistry between here and Gruffudd was very nice. Evans was an absolute riot and my buddy Mike Chiklis (our local compadre from Lowell, Mass) did a... fantastic... job as Ben Grimm. McMahon’s Doom fell a little short. Though entertaining as Victor, none of that translated as truly sinister or scary as Doom.

(AV): The movie direction was as invisible as Sue Storm. FF has lots of cool effects shots but not particularly engaging cinematography. This, like many comic hero movies, needed to feel a bit larger-than-life – instead, it’s quirky and over-acted while the onscreen personalities seemed oddly disconnected.

(TP): Agreed Vader, the direction got a dose of cosmic rays and disappeared almost as much as Sue Storm did. The movie fell short with some campy and cliche parts that seemed deliberate, but could have worked had they not been meant to be so jocular. It just didn’t flow and felt very forced at times.

SPECIAL EFFECTS (SFX):

(TP):
The special effects are great and everyone’s power and representation was very well done. Mr. Fantastic had to be the toughest to make believable, along with the Human Torch, and both were handled well enough not to be distractions. The Invisible Woman was handled superbly in our ability to see what we knew couldn’t be seen. It would have been very easy to cop out of her effects and show nothing at all...so I’m very glad they made the effort, and it paid off.

(AV): The SFX in Fantastic Four are very good. It’s hard to write a review six and a half years later when so many strides have been made in visual effects even in the short half-decade since this movie was made. While there was a little cheese in Mr. Fantastic’s effects, the thing and the Torch both looked great. Dr. D was a menacing bad-ass but I must say, hats off the visual effects people for The Invisible Woman's portrayal as a more ghosted apparition, than as simply a person who was no there.

TAKING A DEEPER LOOK:

(AV): This movie is deceptively good, at least on the surface. There are some notable flaws but as I re-watched this flick, it is genuinely true to the original source material, campy, fun and quirky, and each character interacted well with each other. Sure, Ioan Gruffudd’s Mr. Fantastic is a little cardboard but for once, Hollywood didn’t vary much from the original story and – surprise! – it worked. The banter between Ben & Johnny is classic FF and Sue playing the affectionate girlfriend are decent.

(TP): Yes Vader-Nader, I too thought the overall chemistry between certain characters and among the group was very well done, spot on, and gave this film a very unique quality. The mix of drama, action and comedy was very well proportioned although the drama wasn’t very heavy at all. The comedy was brought out by the character driven performances making it feel more like personality quirks instead of punchlines. I found myself laughing at the character more than the joke...even when there wasn’t any.

(AV): I realize that the Invisible girl/woman was created in 1961 but she seemed the most modern to me. Historically, 1961 is still the 1950’s. The woman is beautiful, gentle and commonly seen and not heard in western society. This character does NOT follow that stereotype, literally she is heard but not seen. I like the euphemism a lot! Women’s voices need to be heard and even though she is invisible, her power protects while also having the greatest versatility, (evidenced in the end fight sequence). I wanted to shout out a big “You go, girl friend!” in the theater, but thought better of it for fear of audience reprisal. Hats off, though, for one of the most outspoken heroines in modern comics Marvel. Stan, as ever, you’re the man!

(TP): I would have loved to see a more sinister and driven Doctor Doom with serious motivations for why he must be the one to lead humanity and why that role called for the elimination of Reed Richards. As it was, I never cared about what drove Doom...heck, I didn’t even know he was on the road. This made the final battle anticlimactic because Doom winning didn’t mean anything to anyone except Doom himself. No public or world peril...just petty motivations. On a brighter note, Kerri Washington’s performance didn’t take away from changing Alicia Masters to a black woman, and Stan Lee got some good speaking lines!

Annihilus
ON SEQUELS:

(TP):
Yep...there was one. Yep...we’ll talk about it...and thoroughly discuss how Rise of the Silver Surfer was a fall that didn’t need to happen. If something else comes along with these characters, and I don’t see any alternative besides reboot or extensive overhaul, there is no excuse for not making a true blockbuster. The makers need to take heed of the lessons already learned. It’s simple really, give the people what they want.

(AV): The follow-up effort; Rise of the Silver Surfer was a movie that held tons of promise – BEFORE hitting theaters! The talks over an FF re-boot have been tabled for months. It should be done. It needs to be done. There is too much to explore with these characters and too many cool villains like the Mole Man, The Skrulls, The frightful four and my favorite FF baddie – Annihilus! How say you, P-Nice?

(TP):
Just as long as they don’t make him a swarm of obscure bugs and give you, one of the people I was referring to above, what you want... then that will be one pitfall avoided.

THE PONTIFICATOR Rates The Fantastic Four:

Despite all the shortcomings this movie had with a Doctor Doom that never gave a sense of... well, doom... poor directing, and a basic story that never broke the ceiling most super hero movies crash through, let alone even reached... this was still a very fun movie. The effects were nice and the heroes were funny and depicted well, earning this film seven busted blocks.

ARTH VADER Rates The Fantastic Four:

Loads of misfires in this movie, shotty casting, mediocre writing and dismal storytelling all conspire to muddy the possibility of greatness. That said, I agree with the Pontificator, the Fantastic Four is a pretty good time. Fan-boys can't look too deep if they intend to enjoy this one, as I had to. All-in-all, I give the FF a solid eight busted blocks.
Fantastic Four: 7.5/10 Busted Blocks

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

X-Men: First Class – High Marks For A First Class Effort

With an all star cast, 20th Century Fox unveils their newest X-flick with the summer's latest tale of mutant strife – X-MEN: First Class.

Continuity with the Marvel (Comic Book) Universe
The First Class
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Continuity for X-Men movies is a bad joke at best and this movie hits a new level...it doesn’t have the continuity with the other X-movies. Billed as a prequel within the continuity of the films, I watched it under that pretense. How foolish of me.
ARTH VADER (AV): Even though FOX completely re-wrote every shred of Marvel comic book continuity in this movie, for once, I’ve got to say – and you're going to kill me for this Pontificator – I didn't mind it. Look, the X-MEN story lines run too deep and take on too many sub-plots to make any sense to the layman. Now, as a comic purist, I was appalled. Yet, I was able (somehow!) to put away the continuity crisis – prevalent in all FOX hero movies – the movie is a good time.
(TP): Not killing you yet Vadster, but with terms like “preboot” (prequel/reboot) and “requel” (reboot/prequel) describing the film, I should’ have known it was trouble. There was very little in this film from the comic except the characters themselves. Wait...I retract that, Beast was in the first class.
(AV): I missed Scottish brogues from both Moira McTaggart (played by the lovely Rose Byrne) and from Banshee, a.k.a. Sean Cassidy (played by newcomer, Caleb Landry Jones) that I heard in my head as a kid reading X-MEN. The twists of Mystique and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) being adoptive siblings and the Hellfire club being a Vegas brothel – well they were just two of many bitter pills to swallow. So I shut that part of my brain off and just watched.

Casting, Directing and Acting
(AV): This is where First Class really shines, Tiffy! I couldn't ask for better casting. This film is so stacked with talent, minus the very flat (by delivery, I mean!) performance of January Jones, as The White Queen and the odd but solid performance of Raven/Mystique (played by Jennifer Lawrence).
(TP): These were the best performances I’ve seen in a comic film and had very dramatic moments dealing with pain and loss. Michael Fassbender had my undivided attention with every scene. I understood Magneto’s pain and philosophical position...and I even found myself agreeing with it! (yes, I became an evil mutant watching this film).
(AV): First rate acting and stunning direction were assets as the VFX folks outdid themselves as always, but the camera work, the exponentially increased story pacing and cinematography were all... first class – err – rate. P-Man?
(TP): Kevin Bacon turned Sebastian Shaw into the biggest menace I’ve seen in a movie in a long time and his resolve gave me chills. Jennifer Lawrence brought more to Mystique than I’ve seen in the other films combined. All other cast were terrific despite missed opportunities for more depth. With top notch directing, I only questioned the aerial battle between Banshee and Angel...but my misgivings are minor compared to the excellence delivered by great casting, superb directing, and incredible acting.
Special Effects
(TP): Excellent and plentiful, Arth. Sebastian Shaw absorbs energy and Emma Frost transforms into diamond...and I turned to mush every time I saw it. All the powers were believable and awesome. I thought Darwin’s power manifestation was the most interesting.
(AV): Stunning, Ponty, absolutely stunning. To me, if a Movie handles effects right, it can march right up to that red line between believability and plausibility. I believe there is a definitive difference between Special Effects (SFX) and Visual Effects (VFX). SFX show me the cool stuff that’s possible while VFX let me experience it. I felt as though I was flying with Banshee over the Soviet Fleet, or that I had to duck every time Havok used his power or cringe in terror every time Azazel would drop a CIA agent from 500 feet. This, along with some impressive audio effects, made this movie shine like Xavier’s cranium.
(TP):The (VFX) were indeed impressive Vader-Nader. Simple acts were done creatively enough that large displays of power put me beside myself with excitement. The movie delivered when it came to powers and when it came to Magneto...a simple coin turned out to be the deadliest display of all.
Taking a Deeper Look
(TP): This film had humor, action and profound drama. Xavier’s exploration of Magneto’s pain is touching and their chemistry is epic. That said, it failed as a prequel to the other movies. Plagued by continuity errors, it should have been a reboot.
(AV): This is where we separate homo superior from homo sapiens, folks. The hard truth is that the folks over at FOX are NOT in the business of making good movies. Their business is to make money, and true to the Hollywood mantra, they assimilate, butcher or consume anything that will turn a profit. From best selling novels, comic books, graphic novels (yes, there IS a difference!), plays, poems, short stories, Broadway plays and musicals, nothing is sacred. Or as good as the original. When was the last time anyone left a theater saying; "Whoa! That was better then the book!"
(TP): Yeah...and it goes deeper. Beast built Cerebro but in X2 it was Xavier and Magneto. Not a biggie, Xavier lied. Emma Frost is a teenager in X-Men Origins: Wolverine but here she’s an adult. Xavier seemingly forgets about Magneto’s helmet here in X-Men. In the opening of X-Men: The Last Stand and the end of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Xavier is walking and bald...being in a wheelchair with hair in this film is twenty years too soon. Storm and Cyclops are children here which makes them older in X-Men than depicted (giving credence to my assertion that Angela Basset should have played Storm!). The history here between Mystique and Xavier is completely new, but we’ve already established Xavier is a liar, so I’m sure he makes omissions too. In X-Men he told Logan he met Erik at seventeen...and now we know they met in his twenties. Charles is clearly a habitual liar.
(AV): Ouch. So, X-MEN: First Class will fall short of a much greater potential. However, as a story with an underlying subtext for greed, intolerance and overcoming personal adversity, this movie actually hovers near relevance. Pontificator, you and I may disagree on this, but when it comes to the thrill of seeing these characters on the big screen with top-bill actors (Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw? Brilliant!), I’m still as giddy as a nine year old in a comic book store.
(TP): Darwin is easily the most interesting character introduced in a long time, his demise is cliche and, given the nature of his power, dumb. Although Wikipedia stated “ After the credits roll, he is seen reforming his body into energy on the moon” (they have recently changed the wording here since it didn't happen) this never manifested itself when the credits stopped rolling.
Looking Ahead: Sequels
Bastion (Nimrod Sentinel)
(TP): If they dare to make a sequel to this prequel, I can only cringe at the further continuity issues that will arise. Kudos to whomever cast Michael Ironside, I’m a big fan and want him in the next one. There is so much material to source from that it’s just ridiculous to repeat anything.
(AV): Sequels? This one's easy. Since FOX bought the rights to co-produce the X-MEN, Fantastic Four and Spider-Man with Marvel Studios, their screenwriters are concerned with selling tickets. After five movies it's safe to say they have some winners on hand, and with screen plays on deck for X-MEN Origins: Deadpool and X-MEN Origins: Magneto, FOX isn't stupid. With a $50 Million opening weekend, movies like X-MEN: First Class are here to stay. With an endless well of sub-plots, story lines and characters, FOX has a limitless vault of concepts to butcher. The source material is way better than FOX’s dopey ideas, in-cohesive time-lines and pointless stories. Yes, I know a movie is a different animal, but when you ride that original source material into the sunset (Spider-Man, Iron-Man, Thor) you get really fantastic films that everyone loves. Pontificator, how say you?
Apocalypse
(TP): Show me Sentinels! Shock me and make it the future sentinel, Nimrod...attached to a really cool future storyline. Trick me and go in the opposite direction taking the story to the past with Apocalypse...Mr. Sinister in tow as his henchman. Of course, that would require we go further back than X-Men Origins: Wolverine did, all the way to ancient Egypt to understand En Sabah Nur (Apocalypse for those that don’t know his real name), but I’m up for the trip. It can be the sequel that’s a prequel to the prequel. Heck, give me Nimrod in the same story and we can have it be an epilogue too!
THE PONTIFICATOR rates X-Men: First Class: This is tough since I was taken out of the game early. I went to a prequel and got a pre-boot. So all through the movie every inconsistency was magnified a thousand fold. I struggled to like this film and there was much about it to enjoy. Thinking back, I feel better now reflecting than I did when the credits were rolling.
ARTH VADER Rates X-MEN: First Class: I know my esteemed partner will lambaste me on this, but I liked this movie. Filled with could have beens, should have beens and would have beens, this was the most poignant, best scripted, most closely aligned and best cast X-MEN to date. Yes, serious re-tooling is needed to get these movies to live even close to their potential, but that would take a wholesale buyout from Marvel studios – and that just isn’t going to happen, even with Disney backing. Fun, engaging and filled with beautiful, cool and deadly mutants of every creed and one the best movie-pacing efforts of the genre, I give this film a solid eight busted blocks
(TP): Consider yourself lambasted your Vader-ness, but I concede the excellent special effects, superb acting and parts that still have me thinking, like Azazel’s use of teleportation to make it rain men...literally. The profound exploration of pain and loss.The brilliant writing that put Xavier in the position of savior to all mankind, at the cost of being an accomplice to murder. That scene alone rattled my brain. Initially I rated five blocks busted, but have reconsidered and give it six.
X-MEN First Class: 7/10 Busted Blocks



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Saturday, June 4, 2011

Daredevil: Missed the Bullseye

Marvel dared us all to take a leap of faith in the 2003 summer big screen debut of DareDevil. With successful Marvel franchise movies like The Fantastic Four, X-MEN & Blade, 20th Century Fox looked to the crimson leather-clad knight of the night to get audiences to buy into Ben Affleck as the man without fear.
Continuity with the Marvel (Comic Book) Universe
ARTH VADER (AV): Ok, Ponty, I gotta say, this movie had real promise... when it was a trailer! While not the hugest Daredevil fan, I love the concept of Daredevil. Unfortunately, this movie downgraded this character for me. He's cool, a thief-in-the-night kind of guy that beats up New York's worst baddies and turns them into true believers. As a Marvel movie, it simply missed the mark by being so horribly out of step with the original comic books that there were times I almost forget who and what I was watching.


THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): As we know Vader, there are always elements of the comic that make it to the silver screen just as there are always elements that never do. The only question is do the omissions hurt the movie or should some source material have been left out. In the case of Daredevil, omissions hurt it more than keeping anything from the book could help it. To start...where was Stick? Instead of finding a way to incorporate his contribution to the character, he is simply cut out altogether and we’re to believe that young Matt Murdock acquired all his martial skill along with his powers. It may seem like a minor issue, but I’m making it because I just don’t see someone reaching that level of skill without training...especially when that training process is such a huge part of who the character really is.
Wilson Fisk a.k.a. The Kingpin
AV: Daredevil is a classic case of having too much fantastic source material – and ignoring every bit of it. DD continues the FOX trend of taking deeply developed, personality-rich characters that took decades to establish and applying a kid-in-a-candy-store story-telling technique that just flat lines. Matt Murdock himself could have written a better script (sorry about that one). I hated that, again true to FOX form, they stuffed four great characters; DD, Elektra, Bullseye and Kingpin-into 100+ minutes of pointless, in-cohesive dribble that leaves me staring at my watch-less wrist, looking for some clue as to when this pointless nonsense would end.
TP: I’m sure you’ll mention this later Arth, but changing the race of a character is usually grounds for groans of dismay because such changes are glaring beacons of leaving continuity. It can go either way depending on the performance. Nick Fury and Heimdall are changes that are not missed because the performances are solid. Here, I was missing the Wilson Fisk of the comics.
Casting, Directing and Acting
PONTIFICATOR: Everything that was wrong with this movie started with the casting, exacerbated with the acting, and culminated with the directing. Ben Affleck is a decent actor, but couldn’t be more wrong for Daredevil, although he played at being blind very well. A wiry red head with a fighter’s demeanor and moves like a lethal ballerina – Ben is not. Jennifer Garner is also a decent actress, but doesn’t even begin to capture the allure and danger that makes a man quiver when just looking at Elektra. Michael Clark Duncan has done many roles...but none of them prepared him to fill the awesome shoes of Wilson Fisk a.k.a. The Kingpin. I never once felt his presence to be menacing or inevitable in any way. The only bright spots were John Favreau as Foggy Nelson, as he brought the only levity to the film, and Colin Farrel, who may not have captured Bulllseye as fully as the books present him, but delivered an entertaining performance anyway.
ARTH VADER: Colin Farrel's Bullseye and Michael Clarke Duncan's (MCD) Kingpin were both odd for me. I just can't wrap my mind around the Kingpin being a black guy, sorry. For me, Wilson Fisk will always be a big doughy white guy. Collin's Bullseye? Too charismatic and hip. This is a guy who is supposed to be an ace psychotic killer, not a wise cracking funny man with clever quips. Dear friends, this casting just didn't work.
TP: Many things didn’t work in this film Vader. Where casting and acting put this movie on the precipice, the directing sent it tumbling over the edge. I’ve said it before and will say it again...tight camera angles are terrible for great fight scenes. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the constant strobe effect and overuse of shadow, particularly with the bar room fight scene, is just a waste of opportunity to hook us with DD’s fighting skills. It is, however, perfect to hide the fact that nobody took the time to train Ben in any. At least the film was consistent because nobody trained Jennifer either. What are your thoughts on Jennifer as a super-heroine Arth?
Duncan as Fisk
AV: Oh yeah, those strobes drove me nuts. Jennifer Garner makes for a terrible super heroine. Garner is a beautiful, charming intelligent and commanding actress – except for her role as Elektra in Daredevil. (She also stars in the oddly intriguing but equally pointless spin-off film, "Elektra".) I think M. Clark Duncan would make a terrific Rhino or maybe Bishop (my personal favorite hero!), but he just fell flat as the Kingpin. Finally, there's big Ben. I don't know gang, he just... he just didn't pull it off. It is true that over the years I have grown quite fond of my fellow Bostonian, but this whole performance was trite, forced and flat. I'm afraid Ben's just not the man without fear.
Special Effects
ARTH VADER: In a word... "Meh". Sure there are some great fight scenes. The opening bar room brawl has some cool moments, for sure. But it all left me with a general sense of 'so what'. That's pretty bad for super duper movie. Now don't get me wrong, the flips and tumbles were all cool but even that wasn't quite handled right. Look, if we buy into DD as an avenging shadow in the darkness, I really don't think we should see very much of him. The fact that I saw him, in full light, so much onscreen was disheartening and cast doubts on his mythos as a ranger of the night. There are even times we are treated to the sound of his leather making that annoying leather sound when he moves. Ugh. The CGI was transparent, which is ideal, but in this case, it was probably because there wasn't very much of it.
Bullseye
THE PONTIFICATOR: There were special effects in this movie? Really though, the effects weren’t very special at all...and while I agree with the Vadermeister that there wasn’t very much CGI, what little there was of it was anything but transparent. It was obvious and poorly done and the incredible leaps and fluid motion of it was so sharply in contrast to the stiff choppy movement of Affleck, that I had to chuckle every time I saw it. On a positive note, the way they portrayed DD’s radar sense was very interesting, if not entirely accurate.
Taking A Deeper Look
THE PONTIFICATOR: I like to look at the overall balance of a movie but this movie was so much of a task to watch that it really doesn’t matter...but I’ll share anyway. What little comedy there was came from John Favreau’s portrayal of Foggy Nelson and, admittedly, he’s a funny guy and his injection of humor into this train wreck...er...film was a relief. I never took the film’s attempt at drama seriously because it was so badly done and while some of the action was interesting, too much of it was not and left me feeling robbed of an opportunity to have a good time.
ARTH VADER: Ok, so at this point, it's no secret that this movie was a disappointment to us – I just don't understand why. With the special effects available even as of the shooting of this movie back in 2002, this is the best you got? Really guys? C'mon Hollywood, there are millions of fans waiting to boost these movies on our shoulders with pride waiting for you to just get it right. If we can agree that comic book heroes are - in a way - a new host of urban myths, then why does this movie suck so bad? And how the heck did it make $78 million?!
TP: Arth, for the answer to your question of why this movie sucked so bad, please read our blog “The Boxed Office” where we, self proclaimed experts on the subject, give a very detailed analysis on the best and worst in super hero and science fiction movies. Oh wait...I don’t have to plug the blog, our readers are already here...my mistake. The answer to your other question as to how this movie made $78 million is easy, we were all robbed!
AV: I'm filing a police report! Its sort of like the prominent excelling student that gets a full ride scholarship to an Ivy League school and then drops out to become a stoner. Ok, to each his own, but man, what a lost opportunity for greatness.
Looking Ahead: Sequels
ARTH VADER: Can anyone say "reboot"? As of the writing of this blog (June 2011), David Slade is slated to direct the Daredevil reboot utilizing Frank Miller's "Born-again" seven-issue story line at it's core. I'm willing to give it another nod, (us comic guys, we do that) but we must establish some ground rules. First, no Ben Affleck. B-Dog, I love you buddy, you're just no Matt Murdock. You go do you. Next! Second, loose the tight, expensive-looking leather outfit. It's dumb. He needs to be more like a devil and less like a guy trying to look cool dressed as a devil. Blood red, not maroon. Lastly, I should see very little of him when he becomes DD, he needs to be like those fish photos we always see when they catch those weird things from the bottom of the ocean; a curious, erie and terrible sight to behold, yet oddly fascinating. Make me believe!
THE PONTIFICATOR: Wait!...you didn’t like the costume? That was one of the few things I did like about the film. The transition of comic costumes to film is always a tough sell, but if a man decided to dress up like a devil and fight crime, he’d probably have to go with leather and anything brighter would make crime laugh...not stop. There was so much wrong with this movie that I have to agree with my heavy breathing colleague...reboot! I don’t usually advocate this way, especially because there is an ongoing trend now to reboot everything. Even movies that were excellent are being rebooted...and I think that’s dumb. In this case though, it would be dumb not to reboot Daredevil and make it, at least, a movie worth watching.
THE PONTIFICATOR Rates Daredevil: Where do I begin? A good measure of any experience is to ask yourself if you would recommend it to a friend. I think in this case, if you’re considering this movie for a recommendation, the real question is do you want to keep your friend? Vader, we’re friends...would you recommend this movie to me?
ARTH VADER Rates Daredevil: Recommend Daredevil? I just can't, 'cator. I want to but even in watching this move (that I shamefully admit I own), I can't wait until it's over. As one review put it for this movie "Daredevil is 103 minutes I will never get back!". The most merciful thing thing about this flick is the closing credits, not even worth the classic Marvel studios wait-until-the-credits-are-over sneak peak. *SPOILER ALERT* I'll save you the suspense; Bullseye's not dead.
So I give DareDevil two busted blocks. One for effort, one for not making two hours. (You may now return to your yawning, already in progress.)
TP: Thanks Vader!...for keeping me as a friend by not recommending this film to me. Daredevil had all the potential in the world to be a good movie and chipped away at that potential by poor casting, a departure from good material, and shoddy directing. The special effects couldn’t save the film because they weren’t there and the only fix now is go back to the drawing board...literally!
I’m giving this movie a block for effort, a block for the Stan Lee cameo (always a pleasure to see) and a block for the music score...for a total of three busted blocks. Granted, I’m being generous, but that’s just the fanboy in me.
Daredevil: 2.5/10 Busted Blocks
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