Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Host of Inner Demons

Hearts grow fonder amidst an alien invasion in the film adaptation of Stephanie Meyer's The Host


ARTH VADER (AV): This story is the first sci-fi effort for writer Stephanie Meyer, a veteran of the supernatural/love story arena. This time the Twilight mastermind spins a curious tale of human subjugation by an alien invasion in the form of possession. This story is an odd  merging of well-known Sci-Fi franchises but with the relationship/love-story angle pumped all the way to 10. Think of this film as the mutated offspring of Invasion of The Body Snatchers-meets-Twilight-meets-THX-1138. In the vain of Meyer's now near-legendary formula of the supernatural merged with the super-emotional, The Host is a minimalist view of a subjugated humanity occupied by alien invaders who mean to submit our bodies–and our world–to their rule. 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): I haven’t read the book, so I can’t make an accurate comparison to the source material. All I can hope to contribute is that if they make another film, it stays in continuity to this one... and that they answer some very fundamental questions that arose for me.


AV: The only truly identifiable face here was the lovely and talented Rachel Roberts. Otherwise, this movie is populated with largely D-Listers, newcomers and other relatively new or low-recognition actors. While the acting is sound, this movie will win approximately zero awards–especially for acting–but it is not bad, per se. For me, the direction is very flat and painstakingly 2-dimensional. The minimalist nature of the sets, the number of people shown in any one scene and the fact that the movie purposely takes place far away from major metropolitan centers is divisive and somewhat vapid. Sorry, Ponty, this kind of acting with sparse backdrops and environments are a 1970's throwback to when it was too expensive to build full sets — your thoughts? 

TP: I think it was a good move to shy away from A-List actors to carry this film Vader. The fact that I only recognized one actor in it... and that he is such a great actor, brought the film to life for me as I took it as watching ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Saoirse Ronan was great, having to play herself as two characters at the same time. Diane Kruger was also great, doing the same thing, but much more subtly while increasingly becoming more antagonistic. William Hurt was perfect in his role as a man that sees and knows a lot more than he tells. The pace of the film was very steady, but with a constant ominous feel.

AV: Before I go all medieval style on the SFX, let's just say that this is just NOT that kind of movie. A few CGI shots of.. uh… space jelly fish animations and a few dozen pairs of white colored contact lenses is just not enough to weigh in on this topic for this film. That's too bad because the inclusion of some decent effects could have made this film more engaging. In The Host, there was very little to hint at a sense of impending doom, of an ominous threat or that what was going was even so bad. SF/X could have added greatly to the movie's overall experience. 

TP: The special effects were very good, but relatively easy considering the setting didn’t really call for much to go over-the-top. The aliens were simple enough as where the vessels that contained them. The bulk of the effects were things we see in virtually every movie, like car accidents and gunshots. Tough to screw any of those up. If there was one “effect” I found outstanding, it was the music. Very bold and catchy for this film.


AV: Truth be told, this movie is an interesting (alternative?) view of an alien overrun of our world. Instead of death rays, spaceships and mystical technologies, the invasion comes in the softer–and more believable–form of a bloodless takeover by the pacifistic 'Souls'. The premise is clean and would be believable if the film didn't focus so much on the constant love-smitten dialogue of a near-impossible to follow love triangle. What should be a sense of overwhelming oppression and dread gives way to almost laughable dialogue between Melanie Strider (Saiorise Ronan) and her alien counterpart, the Soul Wanderer. The minimalistic vision of Meyer's world gone to alien subjugation is sterile and misses becoming one of the true grounding elements of the film. Much like Lucas's pre-Star Wars cult fav, THX-1138, the politics of a post 'next generation'  society helps play a role as a storytelling device that should be both eerie and unsettling. Unfortunately, the audience never quite gets a sense of this and that becomes this movie's single greatest tragedy. 

TP: There was a lot to see in this film, but it really aroused more questions than it answered. From the onset, humanity is a done deal. The numbers game just doesn’t add up, and there seems to be no hope for the human race ( a million to one odds isn’t hopeful). The obvious question in all of this is how in the heck did it all come to be this way? The aliens need to be surgically inserted into a human host, so what human was the first to do this procedure, why did they do it.... and how did they even know to do it given the communication barrier presented by the aliens in their natural form? Given all of this, why did the humans simply not kill anyone infected as they are easy to spot by their eyes and behavior? How do you get to a million to one odds by surgical procedures performed by passive aliens? This was a HUGE hole in the film for me.


AV: While there is a strong implication for a 'what could happen next' in the storyline, the movie ends with a feel-good "this ain't over yet" kind of message. The movie's pacing is moderate at best and forces any lover of action/drama to reign-in their wants and absorb a slow-paced, methodical story. I could see–remotely–that a follow-up is possible... but I for one am not looking forward to it. Pontificator? 

TP: Sequel? No... try prequel to explain how it all began, cause at a million to one odds, we already know how it’s going to end.


ARTH VADER rates The Host: While decidedly NOT my cup of tea, The Host is an interesting deviation from the sci-fi invasion-from-space cannon. It misses key opportunities to engage the audience and at 2 hours and 5 minutes, that's big. If future installments are forthcoming, the screenwriters need to make a stronger effort to engage the viewer. This movie needed more time in the cooker for it to matter more. That said, the voices in my head urge that The Host assimilates four (4) weakly-contested busted blocks. 

THE PONTIFICATOR rates The Host: This was not a bad film, but it wasn’t stellar either. I found it to be very interesting and constantly ominous as the situation was just insurmountable. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was watching the last moments of humanity. Although the idea wasn’t original (Invasion of the Body Snatchers), the presentation was intriguing enough to take over six (6) busted blocks. 

The Host: 5/10 Busted Blocks
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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Not Your Average Joe

With a bevy of bullets, brawn and bad-assery, GI JOE: Retaliation delivers a better-than-to-be-expected thrill


ARTH VADER (AV): On the heels of a disappointing first big-budget effort (GI JOE: The Rise of Cobra, 2009), this next movie was actually slated for release nearly a year ago. The rumor was that the movie was just simply not ready. Glad they waited! This movie was stellar by comparison and does a good job of merging an expansive toy universe with modern day headline topics like terrorism and next-generation weaponry. To be a hundred percent honest, Ponty, I was expecting munch worse. 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Then maybe I saw what you expected Vader.The Joe’s have a long history and even the recent version of them has extensive story from which to draw material. That said, there is almost never a need to draw directly from previous material...almost. This film follows the events of the first one, it’s just the places it takes you that’s the issue. Keeping continuity isn’t always better than a reboot.


AV: I am glad they took the extra time to polish this movie, because with the addition of new "JOE" stars, Dwayne Johnson (ROADBLOCK) and Bruce Willis (Original JOE) we got the movie we should have had in the first place. Fun, fast-paced and frivolous, this movie has started down the (long!) road to redemption for this short but potentially fun franchise. The movie's pacing and direction kept you engaged for the whole ride and the camera work was strong. 

TP: I don’t have a good thing to say about any of the three categories in this section. I thought the casting was shoddy, as was the acting...and the movie, although paced adequately, seemed disjointed as if some important parts were left on the cutting room floor. Although Dwayne Johnson continues to be a box office draw, I failed to see why anyone was drawn to him in this film. Adrianne Palicki was uneventful as was the brief appearance by Channing Tatum. The best performances were from Jonathan Pryce, especially in his dual role which was quietly comedic, and Byung-hun Lee. Lee brought the only real drama to the film as he seemed to be the only one taking his role serious. It seemed like Bruce Willis was just there to collect a drawing a few more fans from name recognition. 

AV: The effects shots were handled well–not too many and nothing terribly over the top. The orbital platform scenes were impressive and the destruction of London was impressive CGI—making the experience and the threat believable. Perhaps my favorite effects sequence is the battle in the mountain monastery with "Snake Eyes" (Ray "Darth Maul" Park) and the Red Ninjas. As many who know me well can attest, as a big action/sci-fi/fantasy movie fan, my favorite effects shots are always the ones that don't make me THINK I'm watching an effect shot. 

TP: The 3D was very nice and the other special effects were everything one could, at the very least, expect from a film like this. The action sequences were very good with the expected martial arts displays and larger-than-life explosions, but what caught my eye the most as done particularly well were the costume designs. I especially favored Storm Shadow and Cobra Commander’s wardrobe and thought what was lacking in substance, was made up in appearance.


AV: While I was horribly disappointed at the first JOE, this movie was fun. As I have told many in my corner of the world, 'this was a better movie than it deserved to be.' By that I mean the acting and story line were solid, action was good, pacing was sound and the effects were first-rate. The glitches for me were in scenes where the President is calling on the "GI JOEs" to be heroes. Lame. Or when the primary villain is identified as "Cobra Commander". I know these are the names but this does NOT go over well in dialogue onscreen and feels more childish and ridiculous when put into a serious story-telling context. Furthermore, the preposterous nature of "COBRA" commanding a fleet of new-age orbital weapons that no one else even knows is there is… well, stupid, That said, the movie was fun and I most definitely recommend seeing this one in 3D. When was the last time you heard me say THAT Potificator? 

TP: Indeed Vader, while I always recommend 3D, it’s taking time for you to warm to it. I looked deeply at this film, and that’s where it all fell apart. I never bought the relationship between Duke (Tatum) and Roadblock (Johnson) because they didn’t sell it. In fact it was very painful to watch as it seemed more forced with each passing scene. It was actually a relief when Duke was eliminated as I didn’t have to be subjected to the pain any longer. It was the same story with nearly everyone in the film, and the sooner they stopped talking and started shooting, the better. The bulk of the appeal of this film is with the action and effects. I realize that a film like this is supposed to be shallow and rely on the dazzle, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a good story and believable performances. 


AV: This movie was is a hit and even if it performed moderately at the box office, I gotta believe a third installment isn't far, if not inevitable. I honestly do think a better title for this movie would have been  GI JOE: Redemption both because of the story of how the JOEs redeem their honor and the fact that this is light years beyond their first onscreen debacle. I dare say, I am looking forward to another… 

TP: Of course they could make another, and another, and another...but really, why? They left the door wide open for a third installment, and with so many Joe characters that have yet to make an appearance, it’s probable we’ll have another round of flip kicks and explosions. Anything for money... smh. 


Arth Vader rates  GI JOE: Retaliation: While it is just too much of a stretch for me to suggest anyone should accept the sheer silliness of this movie's story and the ridiculousness of it's premise, the flick goes a long way to entertain and I must admit, I liked it. In the end, that's all any entertainment effort wants you to walk away with. So, JOE, mission: accomplished. Thus, for me, this better-than-expected follow-up pulls a solid seven (7) Cobra-catching, busted blocks.

THE PONTIFICATOR rates G.I Joe Retaliation: A movie that’s only bread and butter are special effects and action isn’t really a bad thing. I really enjoy those types of movies, if they are done well. This film wasn’t done particularly well when it came to characters and choice of actors and the action sequences were bridges over shoddy story and poor performances. This film was thoroughly five busted blocks...if not for the innovative action sequences which exploded an additional block for a total of six (6) busted blocks. 

G.I. Joe: Retaliation: 6.5/10 Busted Blocks

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Oz, Great, But Not So Powerful

  Dazzling Effects Help Make Oz The Great And Powerful A Wholesome Return To A Place Of Unhindered Imagination


ARTH VADER (AV): this rather odd, and potentially disastrous prequel to The Wizard of Oz, one of history's most beloved films, is an interesting attempt to tell the story of how the the great and powerful wizard came to be loved...and everyone in this magically enchanted realm. The visual effects reign supreme in this film, Ponty. The oddly enchanting Black and White film treatment that starts the movie is an excellent way to bridge the time and visual effects gap. As for the movie keeping in line as a prequel, well, it was a commendable effort but to me, there is little that can truly be done to bridge an 80-year generational gap that would work.

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): I have never read any of the books, so the only reference I have for continuity is the 1939 movie...and Disney was unable to use many specific elements of that film since it’s owned by Warner Brothers. Still, it made a terrific prequel to that film Vader, despite having no association with it. Makes no sense, really, but again, the film is my only reference with the subject matter.


AV: As the Hollywood rumor-mill goes, I understand that Robert Downey Jr., was originally slated for the role of the Wizard over James Franco. Honestly, that would have made this a complete film. And I dare say, probably better. That said, Director Sam Raimi has assembled an all-star line-up to bring Oz back to life. Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz as the wicked witch sisters and Michelle Williams as the angelic Glenda. And SCRUBS TV comedy titan, Zack Braff is a perfect assistant and voice-over companion. The (ethnically) diverse nature of the citizens of Oz makes for a refreshingly new look to this stunningly rich world.

TP: Kudos on the steady direction of this film that remained engaging always and moved right along. The casting was also well done. James Franco was a commanding screen presence, really selling Oscar Diggs (Oz) as a flawed man reluctantly willing to step up to greatness, by simply being good. Rachel Weisz (Evanora) does a great job of conveying such a dangerous and veiled evil, subtle in her performance, yet profound in her affect. Michelle Williams (Glinda) seems to channel the original performance of the character, but with a hint of realism as she often reminds Oz of his shortcomings, while accenting his true potential. Mila Kunis (Theodora) is the most tragic character in the film...and she does an excellent job of conveying a character both naive and profound in her inability to come to terms with her own feelings.


AV: As of the writing of this post, this movie is still in theaters and if at all possible, I strongly suggest seeing this film in 3D. As my partner in crime knows, I am usually not an advocate for 3D movies, but this film has dimensionality in its DNA. The colors and overall vision of the new Oz is breathtaking. No words can relay the visual assault on the senses this movie delivers but it is impressive. And wait until you see the small porcelain doll-girl; best visual character of the year. As cliché as it sounds, it needs to be seen to be believed. Thoughts, Pontificator?

TP: In one word Vader...awesome. The visuals of this film are truly bright and inspiring, just as the dark moments are truly ominous. Kudos to the special effects department that brought a girl made of china to life, and made a talking winged monkey a viable character. The landscapes really bring the Land of Oz to life. The powers of the characters and the costume design were absolutely excellent and made this PG film something that everyone of all ages could enjoy. I usually always advocate seeing a film in 3D, as this medium keeps getting better, but if you  Vader, are advocating the same, that REALLY does say something!


AV: Sadly, this section, at least for me, is going to be light. This movie was ambitious, visually over the top and even fun, but that's where it ends. Upon closer inspection, it is hard to take Franco's Wizard to heart. He's somewhat despicable and Franco comes off disingenuous. The flying baboons are far beyond scary and Mila Kunis' witch is plastic and one-dimensional. And worst of all, the implied musical number is so offensively bad, it made me noticeably ill. The finale is underwhelming and the "message" is a stew of Hollywood clichés

TP: I was enthralled with the personal struggles of all the characters. Oz, a flawed, womanizing man, wishing to be a great man...on par with Thomas Edison in the annals of history, but instead thrust into the Land of Oz and given the opportunity to be good man. In doing so, he becomes the greatest man the land has ever known. Theodora’s personal struggle is just as profound, although her life journey is not nearly as optimistic. Not having been exposed to the simplest act of dancing, the very human reaction of Oz to her leaves her scarred in a way she is unprepared to handle...and that her sister Evanora, takes full advantage of. Even the China Girl and Zach Braff’s portrayal of the winged monkey Frank, have deep issues to overcome, both looking for family and a friend respectively. In the end (and this is where it really all comes together as a connection to the first film) Oz rewards all those that were pivotal in freeing Emerald City, giving each very thoughtful gifts ala the first film. Although it will be many years before Dorothy’s arrival, the die is cast for the events that take place in the beginning of the 1939 classic.


AV: To be brutally honest, this movie was an ill-advised trist and something that should NEVER have gotten off the ground without at least another year in development. To be fair, Sam Raimi is one of those directors that could make a follow-up matter. With that, though I would personally not advise it, a sequel would prove interesting... 

TP: I’ve heard this was the first of a trilogy. If so, I’m very excited about the next two films and hope they are just as engaging and entertaining as this one was.


ARTH VADER Rates Oz the Great and Powerful: In the end, this movie was light-(or empty?) headed fun. A star-studded cast that couldn't quite deliver the knockout blow, despite the cast's best efforts and brilliant visual effects. Stupendously visual, OTGAP (aren't acronyms fun?!) whisks away six busted blocks, sent aloft on a tornado of brightly colored mediocrity. How say you, old friend?

THE PONTIFICATOR Oz the Great and Powerful: An entertaining film like this that can be enjoyed by everyone is a rare thing. The story is light, but profound. The characters are simple, yet complex. The visuals are magical and tap into our childhood imaginations. This film easily sweeps up and delivers seven (7) busted blocks on top of the wicked witch.

Oz the Great And Powerful 6.5/10 Busted Blocks: