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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Friday, September 2, 2011

Simply Barbaric to Watch

Cutting through a sea of uninteresting adversaries, the bloody reboot of Conan The Barbarian dares viewers to try to follow a wandering tirade of unfocused vengeance and lackluster storytelling.


Arth Vader (AV): Conan is truly one of the few characters that can withstand a near endless horde of re-boot attempts and still remain intact. The telling (or re-imagining) of the tale of a young Barbarian boy in his journey to become the fabled warrior-king of Cimmeria almost begs us to engage in his trials and adversities from boy to he-man. Conan The Barbarian ignores earlier renditions (along with other key details like how to tell a story and how to keep the audience interested) and asks the viewer to enjoy a fruitless ride. What do you think, P-Man?
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Continuity is really something that can’t be destroyed with material like this. There has been so much written about the character, that muscles, a sword, and much blood will satisfy the criteria. Compared to the first film with Schwarzenegger, it takes a different direction and follows a path that could be viewed as not Conan-like when making the comparison.
Casting, Directing and Acting
TP: The casting was ridiculous. After I spotted Bob Sapp, I knew it was going to be a long movie. Stephen Lang and Ron Perlman were the only established actors in the movie and they weren’t given much else to do but scream while swinging a sword. In fact, that’s all anyone did in this movie...a testament to the absurd directing and thoughtless acting. The script seemed like it was written by a barbarian, as if that would give it some kind of authenticity. Everything else after that was downhill. What do you think Vader?
AV: This is where this movie comes apart for me, too, Pontificator. This movie's casting seems to just randomly throw actors at me who simply don't seem to work at all in their roles. Lead man, Game of Thrones hunk, Jason Momoa is an Olive-skinned Adonis who is easy on the eyes and seems to be a decent choice – until he opens his mouth! Once he speaks, he sounds less like a warrior and more like an east coast nightclub Guido on the prowl for "hotties". Mentored by supposed "Warlord/Dad" Ron "Hell Boy" Perlman, (who I think held better onscreen presence than Mamoa) the movie moves haphazardly from one random set of events to the next.
TP: High marks for the gore factor. Unfortunately, the movie was so bad, I didn’t care. Besides a couple of scenes in particular, there wasn’t much need for any effects apart from spurting streams of blood and enveloping splatter. There was no new ground broken and some very old terrain was trod upon again. I failed to see the need for 3D as, again, it was underutilized in a film that could have done so much more with it.
AV: Agreed. The SFX highlight of this movie comes as the surprisingly well-executed battle with the sorcery-empowered sand men. For me, this surpasses every other sequence of the movie. Conan seems like a golden opportunity to tell a story that would scream for monsters, over-the-top panoramic scenes and demonic creatures. That opportunity, like so many others in this movie, is squandered.
Taking A Deeper Look
TP: The deeper I looked, the less I saw. I was not impressed with Momoa’s physique, and I should have been if I’m to believe he’s Conan. I was impressed with how articulate barbarians are...better than some scholars, but they shouldn’t be. The plot was laughable and the story took the character in so many directions, it became a chore to watch as I lost interest in his motivation. I was expecting to be entertained by the swordplay...after all, it’s Conan. Instead I was treated to tight camera angles that badly hid the fact nobody wanted to put any serious effort into the fight scenes. I was never convinced that Conan was the barbarian that shouldn’t be angered. He was more impressive as a child than anything I saw him do as an adult...and here I was thinking he’d be better later on having traveled the world and gained so much experience.
AV: Well stated, Ponty! This movie makes little sense. We are forced to accept Conan's pointless casting decisions and not question things like lineage or ethnicity. Bronze-skinned Momoa would not have been sired by two parents of clearly northern European lineage, raised in a snowy tundra. While I cannot even begin to determine if Conan takes place in our world or a fictional 'Middle-Earth' setting, everyone seems to be white. Even for what is clearly a tropical/sub-Saharan environment.
TP: The motivation of the villain fell in line with all the greats (ruling the world) but fell short of convincing since the meeting between he and Conan was anticlimactic and the great weapon to conquer the World was just as unimpressive as everything else in the movie. All that time and effort to get a mask, to resurrect your she can make you into a god? Yawn! Vader, you were saying something about ethnicity?
AV: This is hardly the place to discuss racial imperatives in modern media but, this movie does a horrible job in casting believable actors – even down to ethnic origin. If the movie takes place in a tropical climate, where people's skin color tends to be darker, it should be ok to show that. It's ok Hollywood, really. It's 2011, we have an African American President. Times have changed, try to keep up?
The Governator
Looking Ahead: Sequels
AV: I for one could either take or leave any follow-up Conan attempt. This movie tried so hard and ended up leaving me so indifferent, if the word Conan was never mentioned again, I for one would be ok. Pretty sad, too, since the intellectual property of Conan has endless possibilities. That could be the biggest let down of them all for this movie. Pontificator?
TP: Please don’t let them make a sequel! I’m not even interested in a reboot. I’m very much content with watching the Governator do his thing all those years ago...and hopefully I can forget this recent mistake. The truth is, with a character like Conan, there could always be a sequel looming as he wanders the earth looking for something to do. If we’re lucky, he’ll keep wandering and never find a thing to get into.
ARTH VADER Rates Conan The Barbarian: A host of brand name, A-list talent – including a monologue and prologue voiceover by Morgan Freeman – couldn't save this movie from imploding. To be fair, the movie has its moments and would not be a bad rental, but watching Conan unravel before your eyes is a disappointing, laborious chore at best. Cheesy acting, poor casting and a less-than interesting script deflates what could otherwise have been a fun and exciting fantasy/adventure film. I begrudgingly give Conan The Barbarian a mostly undeserved four-and-a-half busted blocks.
THE PONTIFICATOR Rates Conan The Barbarian: I’d have to be a barbarian to like this film any higher than three and a half busted blocks...and I’m being generous.
Conan The Barbarian: 4/10 Busted Blocks
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