Saturday, August 20, 2011

Spartans Almost Perfect!

History comes alive in this vibrant, true life-inspired Hollywood re-telling of the amazing battle of Thermopylae.

ARTH VADER (AV): 300 is far more than a story. It’s a legend, a timeless tale of a few standing against many. A handful of brave Greek souls defies slavery, tyranny and oppression in the face of overwhelming odds. The time of the great Greek city-states was brutal both in war and politics, a time when opponents met eye-to-eye on the battlefield. This is the setting for Frank Miller's epic Graphic Novel masterpiece, 300 and the movie does jaw-dropping justice to Miller's award-winning storytelling with an eerie re-interpretation of this infamous tale. Pontificator, I know you have some thoughts on this one.
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): I do indeed Vader...if there’s one movie that’s been made as if it came straight out of the comic book and onto the silver screen...this one is it. Panel for panel and with all the dialogue, “300” stayed so true to the book that the only distinguishable difference between the movie and book were the seat I was sitting in when I viewed them.
Casting, Directing and Acting:
AV: While admittedly, some of the acting is a bit overdone (alright, more than a bit), I have to remind myself that 300 is an adaptation of an over-ambitious comic book. The movie is no different. I contest that the acting matches the epic storytelling. Director Zack Snyder’s vision engulfs the viewer in his over-the-top style and larger-than-life personalities. We connect immediately with the Gerard Butler’s cunning, bold and outspoken Warrior-King, Leonidas, along with his beautiful queen Grogo (Lena Heady) and the oddly enthralling narrative by Dilios (David "Faramir" Wenham) gives what would be an otherwise grim tale, life and substance. Somehow, the hammy, over-dramatic narration fits right in with the story’s pacing and personality. Really, Ponty, I found the casting to be first rate.
TP: Indeed Vaderman, the casting was superb. Gerard Butler was the perfect choice for King Leonidas and all the supporting characters fit comfortably around him as his performance carried this movie. The real story of excellence was in the directing. The unique style of directing is what brought the comic pages to life onscreen. From the purposeful use of shadow, to the slow motion... even in the constant narration, the direction of this film kept me engaged and on the edge.
Special Effects:
AV: Schwing! Anyone even vaguely familiar with Frank Miller's gothic, contrast-rich style of art and storytelling knows whose movie this is. There are extensive accounts (see 300 director's cut) of the comic frames acting as the movie's cinematic storyboards. Literally, panoramic and action shots were crafted to emulate Frank's storytelling. Folks, no movie has done this – ever. This is what makes 300 so spellbinding. The visual content is both overwhelming and spectacular, it masks any other potential flaws. The graphic depictions of violence make this movie all but downright wrong for anyone under 13. Heck, I wonder if anyone under 17 could even fully appreciate this movie. How say you, Pontificator?
TP: I say that we agree. The beauty of this film is that the special effects rested in the unique way it was filmed, directed and edited. The story itself didn’t call for huge explosions, dramatic crashes or over-the-top CGI. It was simple and very much to the...”point”...and all the special effects that were used enhanced what was already enthralling. Blood, decapitations and amputations reached a whole new level of shock with the clarity and attention to detail those scenes were given. Being a character driven movie, the effect that was most special was the performance.
Taking A Deeper Look
TP: I was an instant fan of the books when they hit the shelf some years ago and to see the books come to life in this movie was exhilarating for me. That said, I have to say that 300 carried a very dark tone to it that was barely scratched by the little bit of levity the movie had. It wasn’t a balanced movie by any means, but also couldn’t be if the goal was to bring the book to life.
AV: 300 is considered one of the best graphic novels of all time and rightly so. It rivals (if not eclipses) DC's The Dark Knight, another Miller masterpiece. The true brilliance of this movie lies in it's ability to completely transfix the viewer and believe things that, though based in historical fact, are wildly implausible. One particular scene shows a teenage Leonidas squaring off against an anatomically impossible black wolf-like abomination. It’s impossible size and glowing eyes are an on-screen travesty – and we don't care! It's Frank Miller's style and it's cool and that makes 300 transcend Hollywood convention. Why is there a giant hole in the ground (a well?) big enough to drive a truck into? Who cares! Small animals (like elephants!) falling to their death in bottomless pits are of no concern in the tragic world of Miller. It is detailed content like this that fuels the movie’s magic.
TP: This movie is what I call situational specific. That simply means the entirety of the film revolves around one particular kind of situation, even the scenes away from the battle are about the battle. Films like this are either going to be loved for what they are, or hated for what they're not. I happen to enjoy dark, gritty films laced with the gore of slow motion battle and superb fighting techniques. This film was very heavy in that department and delivered the intended effect.
Looking Ahead: Sequels
AV: The follow-up to 300 is the victory of the Greek City-States over the invading Persian Armies. 300 does NOT plug into the Hollywood sequel engine. It doesn't need to. Hey, if you really want to know what happened, Google "Battle of Thermopylae". I see Frank as a visionary entertainer/storyteller, on the order of Steven Speilberg. So while the story of 300 has been told, Miller has much more of his vision to share.
TP: Agreed Your Vaderness...there is no need to do a sequel. The story of “The 300” predates this movie and has been a self contained story of defiance in the name of freedom with the only sequel being the rest of history that follows. Is that history grounds for a continuation of “300”? I don’t think so. Some stories are best left to one movie...and this story certainly qualifies for that approach.

ARTH VADER rates 300:
Action, passionate love, standing for what’s right in the face of overwhelming odds, both at home and on the battlefield, this movie delivers in spades. 300 reminds us that the purpose of entertainment is to move us viscerally and emotionally. Whether you are Spartan, American or simply a fan of doing what’s right, you can find no better example than telling of the story of the 300. I give 300 a perfect 10 busted blocks – and in the immortal words of the great storyteller, Stan Lee, “Nuff’ said!”
THE PONTIFICATOR Rates 300: A perfect 10 Vader? Well, we agree that this movie was awesome. A great retelling of a very old story in a way that would make learning history much more exciting than it’s being taught now. Since giving it three hundred busted blocks would break the scale, I’ll have to settle for giving it eight blocks busted...out of ten.
300: 9/10 Busted Blocks

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Apes Rise to Brilliance!

Amazing effects and a brooding hint at a coming primate apocalypse helps Rise of The Planet of The Apes swing into theaters with high hopes.
As is the case with all our posts, this blog presumes the reader has either seen the movie or doesn't mind having details revealed. We regret if our writing gives away anything significant. We will refine our posts to be less revealing for future installments.
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): There is ample “Apes” material for which to compare this movie. The most recent is Planet of the Apes made in 2001for which this film has no connection. It better fits the original movies and is intended as a reboot of the fourth film in the series, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. Indeed, Liberty One has become the Icarus in this film and one of the reasons Taylor (Charlton Heston) sites for human absence in the beginning of Planet of the Apes, becomes the real reason in this film (stay through the ending). The movie “fits” continuity as well as any re-imagined reboot can.
ARTH VADER (AV): I couldn't agree more, Pontificator! With a long, hairy history of apes on film, it seems the makers of Rise of The Planet of The Apes had taken a chance with a franchise on the ropes (vines?). This series has seen more random installments and re-boots than hair sutures on Roddey McDowell's dressing room floor. The end product however, leaves the audience gasping for more.

Casting, Directing and Acting

TP: Superb casting, acting and directing. James Franco and John Lithgow were excellent choices and played their roles very well. If there is a standout here though, it has to be Andy Serkis. His superb acting conveyed tremendous emotion, often doing so only with his eyes. Kudos to him for bringing Caesar to life with only four spoken words and sign language. What’s your take Vader?

AV: A surprisingly good cast for sure, Ponty, but the on-screen chemistry between James Franco and Dad, (Lithgow) is bland and borderline unbelievable. Even the romance between Franco's scientist character and uber-hot zoo vet, Frieda Pinto is also less than passionate. I must say the acting is sub-par, but let's face it, we didn't come to this flick to be swept up into a love story or a tale of family closeness, now did we Pontificator?
Special Effects
TP: The special effects were great and captured the feeling and movements of apes with precision. In a movie like this, special effects are very subtle while at the same time being a huge part of the experience. This movie has the realest looking apes of any of it’s predecessors...a testament to how far technology has come in the film industry.

AV: Ok, the SFX in this flick are just short of stunning, and like a number of recent Sci-Fi films, is near invisible. I am completely mesmerized by which Apes are CGI and which aren't – and you know what? I'm pretty sure it doesn't matter. For the record, I caught some points where 'young or baby Caesar' were obvious onscreen add-ins, but I just didn't mind. Again, a decent Apes movie can (and did!) go a long way.
Taking A Deeper Look
TP: This movie has it all...and delivers! The drama is extremely touching and brilliant in the fact that it tugs on the hearts of the audience when using animals to solicit sympathetic feelings. People were cheering for Caesar in situations that they would not for a human being. There are also bright spots of levity and innocence that help move the story along to the point where we are immersed in action. As a fan of the series, I loved all the nuggets paying homage to the original content...and there was plenty.
AV: Ok, so no Ape flick would be complete without an Ape Army/Human Army showdown, right? While you won't be disappointed in this movie for that, I personally don't need to see this in my Ape movies. Yes, yes it makes for an exciting end sequence and truthfully, only one thing really bugged me in this film (beyond Franco's seeming insincerity), and that was the implication that a few dozen "super Apes" were the foundation of a new Ape society (something implied by the franchise, though, only hinted at in the film). A group of newly liberated scientifically enhanced primates breaking a handful of simian brutes out of the San Francisco Zoo is pretty far fetched, but again, its an Ape movie so we give it a pass.
TP: Although it is a reboot, this film clearly was a re-imagined parallel of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and updates itself with issues we deal with today instead of those prevalent in the 1970’s. The struggle for civil rights was still very fresh back then while today there is a strong emphasis on curing diseases which rage almost out of control...while still trying to turn a profit. Both movies are reflections of their respective times.
AV: Excellent point, sir! However, I've got to call Hollywood out on something here; the story felt very rushed at the end and the seemingly ineffectual stand the police took against the primate pirates was hard to stomach (a .50 caliber machine gun rips up flesh no matter how dense the victim's muscle mass is). And I'm sorry but you need an awful lot of 800-lb. gorillas in the room to topple human civilization. Yeah I saw the end implying some sort of virus that spreads everywhere (playing on our fears about AIDS, Ebola and other 'killer-viruses', much like the civil rights sub-plot you spoke of in earlier Apes movies). Needless to say, I will be interested to see where the sequels go from here.

Looking Ahead: Sequels
TP: This magnificent update to the whole idea of apes ruling the Earth kicks the door wide open for a sequel...and puts down a door stop so it can’t close again. With a space flight reported being lost on the news, it sets up the premise of the very first Planet of the Apes movie. It then goes on to set up the perfect reason of why and how the apes come to dominance by the time this lost ship will presumably return to earth in the you already pointed out Vader. They could easily get three films out of this by showing us the transition of dominance from humans to apes in the next film and then the return of the lost astronauts in the third. From there...the door is still wide open!
AV: It would be a tragedy to let this movie be a one-hit wonder. A whole new generation of movie goers will be introduced to the horror and fascination of a Human/Ape society that rises from the ashes of the inevitable Monkey-doomsday, as evidenced by the 'missing' astronaut story quickly tossed at us over the course of the movie. This story begs for sequels and we will "fight like Apes" to see them!
THE PONTIFICATOR Rates Rise of the Planet of the Apes: I’ll get right to the point...nine and a half busted blocks for this one. Just in case anyone is wondering...the half comes because I am an absolute fan of the Planet of the Apes franchise.
ARTH VADER rates Rise of The Planet of The Apes: Wow! Ok, while my critique of this film has probably come off a bit harsh, I really did like it! If you want smart sci-fi fun, you'll go bananas for this flick! Its really a well done and entertaining film and is arguably on par with the original (all props due to Chuck Heston not withstanding). With my eyes sparkling Green in anticipation of a series of Apes-sequels, I pound my chest in salute to this movie and award Rise of The Planet of The Apes eight and a half busted blocks.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes: 9/10 Busted Blocks

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Shield of Excellence

Marvel Studio’s Captain America The First Avenger Means Bad News For Nazis and Good News for Fans of Fun and Excitement!

On Continuity
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Something is always changed, but rarely do those changes take anything away from the original material and stays close enough that all the original elements are covered. Call this movie a rarity because it did just that. Skinny reject from NewYork becomes the icon of a country saving the world from an evil madman bent on world domination, that somehow, always gets his hands on the Cosmic Cube. After saving the world, he is frozen and revived to continue being the icon of a country in present times...yup, it’s all there.
ARTH VADER (AV): Pontificator, the magic of Captain America, are the characters, hands down. Once again, Hollywood picks GREAT source material, but unlike so many other comic or graphic novel movies, Cap clings tight to the original story thread. This is the stuff of great super-hero movies. Originally conceived in World War II, Marvel gained the rights to WWII’s living legend, Silver Age of Comics Captain America in the early 1960's. This acquisition paved the way for the and brought about a super-hero renaissance. Instead of sidestepping the bright-colored patriotic garb and swash-buckling boots, Marvel chooses to use this as a storytelling tool that just further legitimizes the movie adaptation for me.
Casting, Directing and Acting
AV: Casting Chris Evans was pivotal, Ponty. There was some pretty raucous fan-boy uproar over this choice since Evans had previously portrayed Johnny Storm a.k.a. The Human Torch in 2005’s Fantastic Four. There are other Gems in Captain America though, dear readers. The venerable Tommy Lee Jones, the sensual Hayley Atwell and cool movie titan Hugo Weaving round out a star-spangled cast. A healthy nod to director Joe Johnston’s vision that made this movie slip from good and flirt with great.

Chris Evans has erased any doubt that he isn’t Captain America and Hugo Weaving didn’t do any less as the Red Skull. Dominic Cooper nailed who I thought Howard Stark would be based off seeing his son Tony, for two movies. Everyone brought depth to their roles, giving the casting and acting first rate status. The directing was just as superb, the film flowed so smoothly I was barely aware I had been sitting for two hours. The movie drew me in and refused to let me catch my breath...and that’s just the direction I want to go in.

Special Effects
AV: I don’t know how to explain exactly how deep the special effects were in this movie but I promise to be brief. SFX are just short of spellbinding these days, but in Captain America they are deceptively genius. Most notably is the hauntingly seamless portrayal of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) as a 98 lb. weakling. It is hard to describe the effect as it is understated and so well executed that our eyes accept what we see as real. Suffice it to say it is some of the most mystifying SFX work I have seen to date.
TP: Agreed Vader...I too was mystified. The movie wasn’t bogged down with over-the-top effects.They were subtle and yet realistic. The presentation of Howard Stark’s “car of the future” shows it all...plausible with that “whoa” effect. The Captain himself embodied this since everything he did was plausible, but still made you say “whoa.” The advanced vehicles of Hydra were outstanding and the vaporizing effect of the weapons was just pure “wow.” How can any effects conversation happen without mentioning the shield? It can’t...the shield was awesome and when Cap threw it...I can only imagine the number of wet seats in the theater where every fanboy was letting loose.
Taking A Deeper Look
TP: The mark of a great film embodies ample amounts of humor, drama and action. Mark this paragraph, Captain America: The First Avenger is a great film. There were plenty of laugh-out-loud sequences, emotion swelling drama...and ample amounts of action. We got all that so smooth and connected that I was hard pressed to find any flaws. Anyone that was ever bullied, been the underdog, or been the little guy was instantly connected with Steve Rogers. Stanley Tucci was powerful as Dr. Abraham Erskine in his conviction of Rogers being a “good man” and delivered powerful thought food when he said “Most people forget that the first towns the Nazis invaded were their own.” Setting this film during World War II was exactly what needed to happen to accurately convey who Steve Rogers was and why Captain America was important.

Couldn't agree more, old friend! Captain America is a resounding success. That said, as a fanboy, I can’t help but wonder what this movie means in the face of continuity of this latest Marvel franchise. Did the Invaders happen? Will we be introduced to Baron Zemo? Will we see the like of [the original] Human Torch or the Sub Mariner? These all offer fascinating quandaries into the Captain America/Avengers mega-sphere. While the Red Skull, Cap’s arch nemesis, is clearly slated to be a super-baddy in future story lines, this movie does a handsome job of setting the stage for all kinds of sequel story lines and possibilities.

Looking Ahead: Sequels

TP: The only sequel I’m looking for is “Avengers!” After that, you can talk to me about Captain America II. There is no shortage of material in the Captain America mythos and thus, no shortage of potential screen material. I would like to see Baron Zemo, but the direction the first film took would make him an awkward choice now. No doubt Hydra continues on so Baron von Strucker might make an appearance as might Arnim Zola. I would be thrilled, with any sequel that features a Taskmaster versus Cap situation.

You and I are of a like mind here, Pontificator. The saga of Captain America isn’t told in one shot – not with the ending they gave us! As an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., he has incredible traction as both an Avenger and a super-agent. And let’s discuss the Avengers for a moment. This is going to be the THE greatest super-hero movie ever made. Even the sub-title for this movie, The First Avenger, implies the coming of this epic super-hero event in 2012. Furthermore, the Avengers means the introduction of scores of new characters (and new potential movie franchises!) such as Hawkeye the archer (Jeremy Renner), Russian super-spy Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and other possible additions like The Black Panther (rumored to be back in production), Ant-man & The Wasp, The Scarlett Witch and Quicksilver, among many others. Suffice it to say, I am so dang excited I could plotz! I can wait to see how it all unfolds.The Avengers, they are assembling…
THE PONTIFICATOR Rates Captain America: The First Avenger: An excellent movie...possibly one of the best hero films ever made, makes it easy to give it nine busted blocks.
Arth Vader rates Captain America: At a time in our nation’s history when many Americans feel divided and uncertain about the future of this country, this movie reminds us of the virtues of dedication, sacrifice and true patriotism. It does a good (and timely!) job of helping us remember what it means to stand in the face of adversity and give it a good right hook. Captain America is a family-friendly delight and a must-see on the big screen. I salute Marvel’s Captain America with a solid nine busted blocks. Good fun, great time and oh – whatever you do – STAY through the closing credits!

Captain America – The First Avenger: 9/10 Busted Blocks