Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Geek Peek 2014: Our Next Favorite Movies Are Just Around The Corner
In these final hours, we bid farewell to the 2013 movie year. However, we also look ahead to the amazing cinematic treats Hollywood has in store for the fan boy in all of us. We here at the Boxed Office take our annual peak under the hood at the geek–fest that are our most anticipated films of 2014. We look ahead at some of the biggest sci-fi, super hero and fantasy and CGI films coming soon to a theater near you:
I, Frankenstein (1/24) - TP: I’m used to seeing Frankenstein’s monster as some lumbering misshapen creature that moves like he has lead in his legs (I don’t know that he didn’t) and is about as intelligible as someone speaking Latin with marbles in their mouth. So I’m more than a little intrigued by Kevin Grevioux’s, (co-creator of the Underworld franchise) and Patrick Tatopoulos’s (director of Underworld: Rise of the Lycans) vision of this classic character. Aaron Eckhart will be bringing the monster to life, and from what I’ve seen so far, he is bringing a whole lot of bad-assery to the silver screen. With Bill Nighy playing opposite him, I’m definitely feeling that “Underworld” vibe in this one… and that won’t be such a bad thing come January.
Robocop (2/12) – AV: Yeah, I must confess, I was pretty reluctant to even consider this film worthy when I first heard of this remake more than a year ago. The original was so rich in camp, classic one-liners and Paul Verhoeven’s humor was a cool balance to the hot violence of this 1986 sci-fi classic. But this remake looks bomb-diggity, with first-rate effects and super-badasses like Samuel L. “Jules” Jackson and Michael “I’m Batman” Keaton leading the way, this films will be one to watch. Dead or alive, the Robocop reboot is coming for you in February 2014.
300: Rise of an Empire (3/7) – AV: Leonidas is dead–long live the resistance! In a beautiful–if not empty-headed–and possibly unnecessary follow-up to 2006’s magnificent screen adaptation of Frank Miller’s acclaimed graphic novel, ‘300’, 300:Rise Of An Empire looks to be bigger and more badass than it’s predecessor. With stunning scenes of ancient ‘total–war’ and a premise that could hold some merit (maybe?), Rise of An Empire chronicles the Greek resistance to the invasion by the Persian empire. This fictional account real events will have audiences ‘dining in hell’ this coming March.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (4/4) - TP: I’m positively salivating in anticipation of this film. The trailer was more than enough to hook me, but after being treated to the full elevator scene, this became one of the most anticipated films of 2014 for me. I loved the first film and it seems as though they are bringing that same magic to this one, but with some extra “bang” and a whole lot of extra character treats. Let’s take a tally… Black Widow, Nick Fury, The Falcon, Crossbones, Batroc the Leaper, and of course, the Winter Soldier himself. Chris Evans is owning his role as the First Avenger, and now Anthony Mackie gets an opportunity to write his ticket onscreen in the Marvel Universe… and attach it to some sure money. This movie has all the signs of being the next big thing in super hero films, and will probably set the bar very, very high in April 2014.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (5/2) - TP: I’m already worried. I get worried when I see a trailer and it looks like the film has too many villains. Jamie Foxx playing Electro has already caused enough buzz to build this film up, whether you think he’s great for the role or feel they should not have departed from the source material. Paul Giamatti as the Rhino is just more icing on the cake. However, going beyond that (and they are) I get worried. Something always gets lost, and a film suffers when it’s overcrowded without being designed to be via the source material (ala X-Men). I’m hoping to be wrong about this, and that it lives up to all the hype in April.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (5/23) - TP: Exit director Matthew Vaughn and re-enter Bryan Singer. I’m not overly enthusiastic about this, especially in light of how good First Class was, but I’m intrigued by the sheer size of the cast… and scope of the story. James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Patrick Stewart, Iam Mckellen, Hugh Jackman, and Peter Dinklage for starters. Taking, arguably, the best X-Men story (certainly a classic) and translating it to film with all the gravity and effect of the original is no small task, so I’ve got to give the effort the benefit of the doubt (despite the change in director) and hope for the best. If they pull this off, this could very well be one of the greatest movies ever - hunting you down in May.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (7/11) - TP: Presenting the story of how the apes came to have dominance over humanity, and I haven’t been this excited to see the end of humanity in a long time. Andy Serkis is back as Caesar and I expect, is still as menacing and interesting as he was in the first film. I’m excited also about Gary Oldman being in this. Opening in the summer puts this film in the crosshairs for success as a summer blockbuster and will only have itself to blame if it falls short. I’m optimistic about this film, considering the fact that audiences are enamored with the idea of a planet ruled by apes. Prepare to be dominated this July.
Guardians of the Galaxy (8/1) – AV: Old friend, this is truly the movie event I've been waiting for! Ever since Marvel announced at the 2012 Comicon that this movie was in production, well it was all I could do to contain myself. This one is going to take everyone by surprise. With Chris Pratt as Starlord, the gorgeous Zoe Saldana as Gomora and big, bad Dave Bautista as Drax The Destroyer this movie is going to kick but and take names! Not enough for you? Try Vin Diesel as the voice of Groot and Bradley Cooper voicing Rocket Racoon (hang on, I'm about to plotz!) and a veritable host of Hollywood stars will help bring a legion of Marvel space heroes–and villains–to life. I've pre-ordered my Rocket Racoon T-Shirt, underwear and cereal bowl caddy. No official trailer yet but I'm hooked on the feeling that this one is gonna rock! August 2014 can't get here soon enough, partner!
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (8/22) – AV: While I am excited about this one, Ponty, when a movie keeps get it's release date pulled and reinstated, it is usually not a good sign. If directors Frank "The Original Dark Knight Creator" MIller and Robert "Dusk till Dawn Mastermind" Rodriguez can give us an equally potent follow-up to the original Sin City, we should all leave the theater with a smug smile. Sin City: A Dame To Kill For will be Black, White and Red all over this coming August.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 (11/21) - TP: The action seems to be heating up as the story is nearing its conclusion. Although the last film advanced the story, it didn’t have the same emotional impact on me that the first film did. With Jennifer Lawrence reprising her role as Katniss Everdeen, freed, angry and leading a people on the brink of civil war, this film will probably have more shock value that the last one. Everything seems to ramping up to an epic conclusion, and I’m very optimistic that this movie will continue build the story, while also delivering some big time entertainment come November.
The Hobbit: There and Back Again (12/17) - TP: The fact this movie comes so late in the year aptly underscores the old saying “saving the best for last.” Everybody returns, for what should be, an epic film with IMAX 3D being the preferred medium. After the Lord of the Rings trilogy and two Hobbit films, we all should know exactly what to expect. I’m hoping Peter Jackson knows all this as well, and delivers the unexpected and makes the Battle of Five Armies something well beyond anything we have seen before, and makes us talk about it for years to come. I’ve been waiting for this ending since they first announced the possibility of doing a Hobbit film. All I’m asking is for the delivery to be equal to the anticipated wait. They say to be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it. This is me… asking for it in December!
Thank you all for reading–come back for more in 2014!
Keanu Reeves stars as feudal Japan's 'Great White Hope' in the beautiful and odd 47 Ronin.
ARTH VADER (AV): While this movie does NOT follow a predecessor directly, this story has been told a few time by Hollywood. In the vain of the bumbling westerner (or 'Half-breed" in this case) a non-Japanese hero rises to become a savior. We saw this with Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai, with MIchael Douglas in Black Rain and now again in this film. Also, as the film shares during the end-credit roll, that the story of the 47 Ronin is one that has been passed down through the years and is highly regarded example of Japanese heroism, revered the world over. Did Hollywood do this story justice, Pontificator?
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Well Vader, that depends on whom you ask. Based on “true” accounts, this film strays from the “facts” in many areas. Firstly, Kai (Keanu Reeves) is completely made up for the film. No doubt all the magical stuff is also fictional (but you never really know huh?). Chikara (Oishi’s son) was not spared by the Shogun. There are undoubtedly more inconsistencies, but the film was still very entertaining despite some continuity divergence.
CASTING, DIRECTING AND ACTING
AV: Director Carl Rinsch shoots a handsomely crafted visual experience in 47 Ronin. The cinematic display of this film is gorgeous. As for the casting, well I will say, that the cast is a near-perfect depiction of prominent Japanese and asian actors and actresses that would make this film gripping and authentic in the order of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Kagemucha or The House of Flying Daggers or any number of other Critically acclaimed Asian-only casts (yes I am aware that many of these stories are Chinese in origin, but please savior my point I apologize for any offense). In the case of this film, Keanu is as out of place as Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai. Thoughts?
TP: Keanu Reeves headlines the film as the outcast Kai (a fictional character added for the film) and adds an interesting element to the film as well as an identifiable persona to widen audience interest. However, I’d say he’s more out of place than Cruise was in The Last Samurai. Rinko Kikuchi (last seen in Pacific Rim) plays the Witch, the main proponent of the mystical elements of the film. Hiroyuki Sanada (last seen in The Wolverine) plays Oishi, the lead Ronin (leaderless Samurai) charged with restoring honor to Clan Asano. It was good to see Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Shogun Tsunayoshi, he’s been around for awhile and has always been a great actor. Overall, well cast for what it delivered with directing that made the film flow at a steady pace.
AV: Though I am hard pressed to understand precisely why, 47 Ronin commands some stunning visual effects. Complete with dragons, witches, mystical warriors and giant galloping beasts, not to mention some of thew most gorgeous environmental effects around. There were very cool visual effects sequences, Ponty, I just wasn't sure why they were all there. Am I being too persnickety, P-Man?
TP: Maybe Vader, but I thought there was nothing groundbreaking in the special effects department… at all. In fact, the CGI was sub-par in comparison to what I have become accustomed to. The best effects were the costume design and fight choreography, which gave me sense of watching the classic series Shogun, mixed with The Matrix.The best effects were the simplest ones, while the big stuff suffered… big time.
TAKING A DEEPER LOOK
AV: Wikipedia calls fictionalized accounts of popular japanese literature Chūshingura. This is probably the best way, I can think of Mr. Pontificator, to categorize this film. I know Mr. Reeves was inserted to add a 'familiar western face' to the film's otherwise completely Japanese cast but it comes off as the better-than-everyone-else-white-guy syndrome, also known as the great white hope syndrome and that just turns my stomach here at the end of 2013. C'mon Hollywood, we already have instances of critically acclaimed non-white films that have done well on their own; Hotel Rwanda, Slum-dog Millionaire, the original Old Boy (2004), 3 Idiots, The Life of Pi, and Yojimbo to name a short list of a deep selection of successful and cinematically important non-white films.
TP: This story has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. There is no room, nor any need to do a sequel. If Hollywood is smart, it will leave this classic Japanese story alone (err, too late).
ARTH VADER rates 47 Ronin: Can't in all consciousness suggest that someone go and spend hard-earned money on this movie. Rental? NetFlix? Amazon Prime? Hulu? Maybe but consider this, I am an avid movie goer and mire watcher with a high tolerance for toxically bad films but I fell asleep on this film… twice. Had to go back and see it a second time to fill in the gaps of awfulness. So with that, I turn over just three (3) busted blocks to 47 Ronin.
47 Ronin: 5/10 Busted Blocks
Monday, December 30, 2013
With dragons, leaping elves and frightening creatures aplenty, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is ablaze with thrilling over-the-top fantasy adventure.
ARTH VADER (AV): J.R.R. Tolkien’s world—and the the books and films that comprise it—are the very definition of continuity. While the Hobbit is one of the most beloved and famous fantasy properties of the 20th century, The Desolation of Smaug is the second of three movies to weave the cinematic take of the Hobbit. The movie breathes new, expanded life into Tolkien’s rich pre-ring war world. As a powerful prequel to The Lord of The Rings trilogy, this film really draws out wondrous beauty of Middle-Earth.
CASTING, DIRECTING AND ACTING
AV: Pontificator, the cast features a return of all the players from film one. With a couple of new faces (and voices!) we just have to discuss. First, the characters are, for the most part, one-dimensional. The story telling demands it, and I am ok with it with a cast almost too deep to keep track of, the only new character we really should discuss is the massive dragon, Smaug. Voiced with the infallible voice of Benedict Cumberbatch. Next, we should discuss the rich, unspoiled landscapes of New Zealand, which I am convinced, is a little slice elf heaven on Earth. Like each of Director Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings master pieces, this film features breathtaking landscapes as well as heart-stopping, beautifully rendered CGI environments. More on that in a moment. Because we have to talk about Peter Jackson’s direction. A master of cinematic brilliance, Peter Jackson knows how to engage his audience and delight us with visuals I'm only barely able to be described. Jackson’s cinematic visuals are almost as fantastic as the stories he tells, would you agree, P-Man?
TP: I certainly agree Vader. The cast from the first film have returned, with a few additions. As expected, Martin Freeman continues to deliver as Bilbo. Richard Armitage continues to make Thorin a character that is interesting. Enter now Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel, a Wood Elf and Captain of the Guard, wonderfully played and interestingly used in a love triangle between Legolas and Kili (Aidan Turner). I was especially appreciative of the talent of Luke Evans as Bard, and excellent portrayal. I must admit to being remiss to the fact that Azog, the Orc chieftain and bane of the Dwarves is played by none other than Manu Bennet (Slade Wilson aka Deathstroke the Terminator on the television series Arrow).
AV: In an age when visual effects are beyond stunning, this film is just plain gorgeous Ponty. The environments, the character effects and the fantastic creatures all come to vibrant life. And that’s where the real magic of The Desolation Of Smaug comes to life. Cumberbatch’s hauntingly inspired voice over of the dragon Smaug is some of the best voice work in the history fantasy films. What’s more, the incredible scene where Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is slyly conversing with the dragon makes this whole movie and is honestly worth the price of admission. The lighting, the synchronicity of the creature’s movements and the audio effects of the dragon moving through a veritable sea of gems, coins and treasure is awesome. The cinematic presentation of Smaug is stunning and is quite honestly, for me old friend, the best part of this film. By far.
TP: Before I even get into how great the special effects were (cause you KNOW that’s what I’m going to say), let me just reiterate; if you’re not seeing this film in IMAX 3D, you are doing yourself a disservice and should be criminally prosecuted by the pleasure center of your brain in the court of perceptual euphoria. Yes, read all that again and understand that special effects were perfected for films like this…or this is the perfect film for awesome special effects (pick one). All the awe of the first film’s effects return, but with one added feature… Smaug! In one word… incredible!
TAKING A DEEPER LOOK
AV: After five films, Middle Earth is still wondrous, Ponty but I must say, the magic is waning. Look this movie is a s cool-looking as they get and the usual suspects; Gandalf, the Dwarves, Lady Galadriel yeah, they’re all here but Pontificator, but I gotta say, not feeling this one. Sure it looks great, but the oddities, while subtle, as plentiful. An older-looking (but decidedly younger per the story) Legolas (Orlando Bloom), the over-the-top—and way too long—river fight chase where CGI’d Elves and Orcs battle by the banks of a fast-moving river filled with wine barrels that are whisking our heroes on their adventure is surprisingly amateurish and not well-handled. The story pacing is sporadic but the biggest hole is in how long and drawn out the story is. Tolkien wrote the Hobbit as a quick, world-building prequel. Peter Jackson’s storytelling notwithstanding, this movie tells a story that may be too long and too convoluted for even the most ardent Tolkien fan. This movie is good but I fear looses the audience in too much lore. Ponty, your take?
AV: Well, after a cliff-hanger ending like the one that this movie leaves us in, the next installment is sure to be flying in on the wings of a football field-sized dragon. This elongated story will come to it’s pre-determined climax Christmas of 2014 and Ponty, I am really excited to see how this all comes together for Bilbo and his home–seeking band of brave elves.
TP: I said it in the last review of The Hobbit and I’ll repeat it now… I’m really looking forward to the multi-army battle galore that will take place in 2014! I have been waiting, since opening day, to see how the Battle of Five Armies will play out onscreen and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it will be absolutely epic.
ARTH VADER rates The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug: This movie is fun, big and bold and like all of Jackson’s Middle-Earth sojourns, the audience will not be disappointed at the feature. While the much anticipated prequel of the ‘war of the ring’ is fun, the whole story getting a bit long in the tooth. Still, with eye-popping 3D effects (definitely worth it by the way) and wonder to behold, you would be missing out NOT to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in theaters. That’s why this humble fan reaches into the treasure room of the lonely mountain and pull out eight (8) solid, if not slightly busted blocks.
THE PONTIFICATOR rates The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: I’m an absolute fan of these films and will never understand the mental workings of those that aren’t, although I fully accept the phenomenon. Despite the slight departure from the source material, this film is a visual and audio blockbuster of the highest order and easily takes prominence as one of the best films of the year. Even though it feels like a middle movie, this Middle Earth installment still drives an Elvish sword through nine (9) blocks.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: 8.5 / 10 Busted Blocks
Friday, December 13, 2013
Politics, power and performance propels The Hunger Games: Catching Fire into a must-see end-of year epic
ARTH VADER (AV): Hot on the heels of the highly acclaimed—and super successful—Hunger Games, based on the incredibly popular book series of the same namesake; The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the series follow-up to what is shaping up to becoming an epic set of films. Character progressions are portrayed powerfully and the story progresses as well onscreen as I'm sure they do in the novels (definitely on my to-read list, Ponty!). A new set of twists, takes our heroes in challenging new directions but it is the storytelling that will leave you breathless.
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): There were some minor changes from the page to the screen, but nothing that detracted from the film being something great to watch. Gale’s whipping, for example, didn’t go exactly the same way in the film like it did in the book, but the change in circumstances that caused the incident actually worked better for purposes of having a more profound impact on the theater audience.
CASTING, DIRECTING AND ACTING
AV: With a healthy array of recurring actors, THG:CF is a captivating directorial experience. With the momentum-paced camera work and just downright impressive cinematography, Jennifer "Catniss" Lawrence and Josh "Why was I in the Red Dawn re-boot" Hutcherson have plenty of worries left in the post-victory world of Hunger-Games. The powerful vision of director Francis Lawrence keeps viewers engaged and enthralled in a well-paced and entrenched story. What's more, while I do feel the roles of the primary actors in this movie are all 'dialed-in' (except for Catniss) the personalities of the actors are so strong that nothing is lost.
TP: All the usual suspects are back, Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson and Stanley Tucci…and they all deliver as well, if not better than they did in the first film. Enter new cast members making a splash onscreen and in our memories with excellent performances: Jeffrey Wright as the tech wiz Beetee, Philip Seymour Hoffman as the new game master Plutarch Heavensbee, and Jena Malone as the scene stealing (every one she was in) Johanna Mason. Excellently cast and well directed, although I did find myself restless at times Vader.
AV: The visual effects of today's big budget films is expected to leave the audience bewildered, dazzled and speechless. Does this happen in this movie? Does the film warrant it? The answer is; kind of. While the story–and world–of THG:CF is enormous, the SP/X are appropriately compelling. Make no mistake, the sweeping CGI cityscape, the backgrounds and environments are eye-grabbing. But what this film does well is give us visual effects that are polished but don't overwhelm the scenes. This is a very hard balance to strike and this movie does a remarkable job giving the visual effects the right balance of immersion.
TAKING A DEEPER LOOK
AV: I must confess, I wasn't looking forward to this film, Ponitifcator. I'm not a fan of the story content and do not condone the premise of children killing children–the inescapable reality of the many district "Pledges" in the world of the Hunger Games. I have no problem bearing witness to the blight of human conflict but watching 12 and 13 year-olds getting butchered by 17-and-18 year-olds is beyond gut-wrenching and a hard pill for me to swallow. Once you're past that though, there is real substance here.
While this is far from a perfect film (there are some sequencing and story-transition issues as well as holes in the dialogue which actually deflate the impact of the President's –Donald Sutherland's–villainy). However, this is such an good-looking movie with an enduring message, it is easy to skip over those minor pitfalls, wouldn't you say old friend?
TP: Well Vader, I was expecting the same shock value the first film delivered with regards to the issue of children killing children. Shame on me for not taking an empty cup with me as this film was very different in this area. Obviously with the advent of former tributes being thrown back into the ring, the whole child violence dynamic changed, but I was surprised at what degree the whole level of personal violence was toned down. I must admit it was somewhat pleasant to concentrate on the intricacies of the hidden agendas and forming relationships of the characters rather than the usual gratuitous violence. Of course, the statement the first film made with regards to our current society’s issue with classism continued in force, literally and underscored the reality of a world we all could soon be living in if we are not vigilant.
AV: This series will keep on trucking from here, Ponty. Deep down in it's genetic code, The Hunger Games was engineered to be a multi-movie exposé that gets us (ahem!) fired up—a good thing, too.
Since today's "I can't remember what I did five minutes ago" culture needs to be cattle-prodded into returning to see something we think we remember we liked. This movie could have easily been a three and a half hour epic and while I certainly left the theater wanting to see more, that's exactly how a good movie-going experience should leave you. The third book, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (THG:MJ) is going to be given to us in two more films. Unlike how I was going in to this one, I'm super excited for those next films, P-man. You?
TP: Without question, there will be more films before this ride is done, and like you Vader, I look forward to Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (2014) and Part 2 (2015). Now, if only I could remember what I did five minutes ago… LOL!
ARTH VADER rates The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: To put it in easy terms, I really liked this movie. In fact, much better than I had originally thought I would. Thoroughly captivating story, great screenplay and a powerfully familiar cast help make Catching Fire a great holiday blockbuster and a great way to spend some of your end-of-year film-going dollars. With that, I draw back my compound bow and let a flaming arrow fly to ignite eight (8) busted–but very flammable–blocks.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire 8 / 10 Busted Blocks