Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Steel Vision

Krypton's favorite son comes of age in the Superman movie we've all been waiting for in Warner Brother's Man Of Steel


ARTH VADER (AV): Finally! the summer blockbuster the world has been anticipating has arrived on earth! Opening to solid (if not somewhat mixed) reviews, Chris Nolan and Zack Snyder's Man Of Steel opened on June 14 and helped us all get a glimpse of what a 'real' Superman movie could do. Following the hugely under-performing (but NOT awful) Superman Returns (2006) starring Brandon Roth, this Superman is a lot less ridiculous and lot more dark and gritty. Not since Christopher Reeves Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980) have we had a thoroughly entertaining Kal-El story. I for one was excited when I entered the theater. What was your take old friend?

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): This film only roughly follows any storyline that I’ve ever seen in any comic book. When I say rough, I mean really rough. The element of Zod trying to take control of Krypton, being defeated and imprisoned in the Phantom Zone...and later released from it to travel to Earth are still present. Everything else in the film, apart from Kal-El being raised by Ma and Pa Kent, is liberal embellishment made to entertain us...and succeeding in super fashion!


AV: To be fair, there were some casting blunders in this film, namely the casting of Laurence Fishburne as Perry White and Amy Adams as Lois Lane. While neither felt like those characters to me, both were decent performances. The true miscast of this movie was Diane Lane as Martha Kent, she just didn't feel right in that role...BUT none of these hurts the overall experience of Man Of Steel. In fact my favorite cast member was Russell Crowe (Jor-El). While I thought Henry Cavill was stunning, Crowe's performance stole the show. The other directing points was the jump-around story sequencing, which was an interesting takes but many times borderline confusing to follow. Pontificator? 

TP: The casting of this film is superb Vader. Henry Cavill has carved out his own brand of Superman. Michael Shannon had me actually sympathizing with General Zod. Russell Crowe has resurfaced his talent. Antje Traue was menacing while sizzling up the screen. Christopher Meloni played up the hard edged Colonel role convincingly. Kevin Costner has finally emerged from obscurity as one of the best versions of Jonathan Kent. Round all that out with Laurence Fishburne... and this movie boasted some serious performing substance. The direction of the film had a calculated momentum and I found the flashbacks to be well timed and relevant to character development. The only detraction for me was the choice of Lois Lane. At the very least they could have at least dyed her hair black if they weren’t going to use someone more suitable for the role.


AV: Ponty, I have made a decision, I want to move to Krypton! Well, pre-planet-exploding Krypton more specifically. The first (roughly) 30 minutes of this movie take place on Superman's home world, pre-final disaster. Those effects shots were some of the most stunning imagery in the film (or in any recent film) and took my breath away. This was the jump start to many breathtaking effects shots, most notably, the final fight sequence. At more than 30 minutes, the final showdown between General Zod and his rebel Kryptonian cronies is almost physically breathtaking. Watching entire city blocks get pulverized and seeing whole skyscrapers tumble under the onslaught of the Kryptonian Gods among us, was waaayy worth the price of admission. Ponty, did you survive?

TP: Outstanding Vader... I live! Take away Superman, and you still have a spectacular science fiction film complete with all the special effects trimmings. Once again I treated myself to IMAX 3D, and loved every minute of it. The CGI is flawless as space ships race across the screen and buildings tumble like a bad Jenga move. The world of Krypton was well done, conveying a decadent advanced technological society, sufficiently alien even though the inhabitants sparked familiarity. The Kryptonian powers were done brilliantly from the simplest displays of flight to the riveting sequences of super speed. Overall, and epic display of SFX.


AV: Well, Pontifcator, I must say that, while not a perfect film, Man Of Steel does not disappoint. This tale shares a darker, grittier, more conflicted Superman. One who is unsure of whether to lead, follow or get out of the way. He is on an adopted home world but–films end–is the harbinger of the entire DNA of Krypotn's dead race. This adds an incredible burden to Superman's very existence and adds a level of tension and turmoil not ever before seen in a Superman cinematic or televised story line. While I could argue this movie is far from a precursor to the greatness of Nolan Dark Knight trilogy or a rumored Justice League starter point, Man Of Steel is a strong franchise reboot. 

TP: I admit that I saw this film twice already...and will probably see it a third time, so please forgive my indulgence here. The humor was sparse and I think adding more of it to the film would have taken away from the overall seriousness that gave it so much (dare I say) gravity. The flashback sequences were an excellent way to show us why Kal-El struggled with the issue of trust when faced with the choice between his people and the people of Earth. A lifetime of human cruelty will have you doing a lot of soul searching when you’re a resident alien. On that same issue of trust, one of the films most dramatic and touching scenes comes from Clark having implicit trust in his adoptive father... to the point of letting him die when it was within his power to save him. Unlike past stories where Clark must grapple with the limitations of his powers because of his inability to save his father (i.e. heart attack), here he must grapple with the limitations of his all too human spirit... living with the agony of a choice made from profound trust in a person he loved and admired. I believe all this is what gave him the strength to make another tough choice at the end of the film.

Labeling General Zod as a “villain” really wasn’t accurate until the end of the film. Although his methods were extreme in the service of his goal, the irony of it all is that he was the exact opposite of Superman, being devoid of any real ability to make a choice that ran counter to what he was specifically genetically engineered to do. A tornado isn’t a villain, it is an act of nature. Zod was also a natural occurrence, of his societal ecosystem, and this made him far more dangerous than some petty villain.


AV: Oh, I am quite sure this movie will enjoy stellar box office success and become the lynch-pin for at least a strong trilogy of films to come. To this effect, one of the last scenes had a meager-looking Clark Kent show up in the Daily Planet's newsroom but Lois (Amy Adams) knows its him and plays along beautifully. This dispels the unbelievable notion and frustrating myth that Superman can simply put on a pair of horn-rimmed specs and 'blend in.' A master stroke of genius from the film's brain trust.

TP: The word is that this is the first of a trilogy, and I’m very excited to see where they go from here. With the bar set so high, I’m hoping they didn’t take us to the apex only to steadily decline over the next two films. That said, I’m giddy with excitement at the thought of this film being the least of the three... because that means the next two films will be a step beyond epic.


ARTH VADER rates Man of Steel: Not without a few continuity and casting holes, most of which are not even worth calling out, Man Of Steel brings a steady dose of ass-kicking, hi-octane, white knuckled action and blasts it at you faster than a speeding bullet. A worthy installment in the Superman franchise and a heck of a re-boot, Man of Steel easily leaps nine (9) busted blocks in a single bound. 

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Man of Steel: I knew way back in our year end post two years ago that this film was going to be something special...  I just didn’t know how special. After all the years of presenting Superman in a way that didn’t quite fit with the rest of the real world, it was refreshing to see him taken seriously and given an honest representation in the society we live in. This film super punches, then uses heat vision to melt nine (9) blocks into oblivion.

Man of Steel—9/10 Busted Blocks

Enhanced by Zemanta

Saturday, June 15, 2013

After Thought

The post-apocalyptic After Earth weighs in as a far-future tale that is both gritty and adventurous in its mediocrity.

ARTH VADER (AV):  After Earth is an original screenplay that doesn't play well, Pontificator. In a summer loaded with already seen and as yet to be seen fallen-Earth storylines, this movie struggles to be relevant in a sea of standout summer sci-fi blockbusters. After Earth is eerily close in story to this spring's Oblivion (Tom Cruise) and the forthcoming Elysium (Matt Damon) among others, and fails to truly establish it's own unique tale. While it has sparks of legitimacy and even moments of brilliance, After Earth–for me–fails to engage the viewer and offers a rather empty overall moviegoing experience. 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): An original story, the only continuity to be followed are the events within the film itself. With that, I only had one question about the history in the film Vader, and that was the whereabouts of the aliens that originally unleashed the Ursa into the human population.


AV: With a screenplay that was clearly developed for the Smith family, this movie's big reveal is the direction of the controversial M. Night Shaymalan. This was slipped in way under the radar of all but the most ardent movie watchers. The downplay of this director's interaction was almost deceptive given M. Night's recent track record of under-performing films. The real story here though Ponty, is Jaden Smith.

Big Daddy Big Willie Style (Will Smith) was a stunning, believable badass general–Cypher Raige, mentoring his prodigy, the up-and-coming ranger-want-to-be, Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith). This film–which focuses almost 90% of it's energy on Jaden/Kitai fails because young Jaden carries neither the acting maturity nor the onscreen presence to make this character relevant. P-Man, how say you?>

TP: Will Smith is an excellent actor, without a doubt one of the premier talents in the industry. Here he is asked to limit his range (after all, how hard is it to play a rigid military type?) and still try to convey some embers of actual humanity. Jaden Smith did very well here, but again, the main role was to be constantly scared once he reached Earth. Since I was annoyed at the character throughout the film, I’d say he pulled it off. The direction of the film kept it moving forward, even though the story was predictable, the delivery still had some surprises.


AV: In a movie like this, special effects matter. After Earth is wholly reliant in the effects as a story-telling element and they don't disappoint. The animals are captivating and look great but the winning effects shots in After Earth are clearly the environments. Dark caves, lava pools, frozen Tundra and impressively expansive Conifer forests make the world(s) of After Earth breathtakingly beautiful and remarkably both Alien and familiar at the same time. 

TP: For a film that doesn’t seem to be doing very well at the box office, the special effects were absolutely beautiful. The future tech was very interesting and didn’t come off as cheesy or ridiculous mainly because the CGI was flawless in these endeavors. Some of the animal shots, particularly the big cats, still didn’t sell me as real, but just real good CGI. The scenery was incredible and really showed how beauty can hide extreme danger. I was particularly fascinated with the smart fabric body suit both regarding the costume design and with the CGI that gave it “intelligence.”


AV: For all the great hype, look and original screenplay, this movie was flat. It was very hard to care about the characters—even Kitai (J. Smith)—whose onscreen presence was whiny and stiff. There were moments there downright awkward to watch, notably the "I won't fail" speech on top of a mountain the character has with his Dad. Insipid, empty and vapid. Which in the end is surprising, both because Will Smith as Dad (both onscreen and for reals) and the fact that Jaden has acting chops he's displayed previously (The Pursuit of Happyness, The Day The Earth Stood Still and the Karate Kid). Hopefully this is just a bump in a what should be a bright and promising career.

TP: Aside from my earlier question about the whereabouts of the aliens that unleashed the Ursa to eradicate humanity, this film was more than just a science fiction popcorn film, it was a story about the relationship between a father and his son. Despite the box office reviews and ratings, I think there are many that can identify with the sometimes turbulent bond between a man and his son. Here, we have a boy that needs the nurturing of his father as only a father can, and doesn’t know how to get it any other way than by emulating who he thinks his father is. His father doesn’t understand the needs of his son, and doesn’t know how to fill those needs, even after they are brought to his attention. As much as this film is about seeking a way to survive and be rescued from Earth, it is about two people seeking each other and trying to rescue their relationship.


AV: Just when you thought you've had enough of this lackluster story, After Earth 2 has a scheduled 2015 release date, Ponty. Personally, I am neutral as this film did NOT engage me emotionally nor did I hate it.  Backed by the entire Smith clan (both Will and Jada Pinkett Smith are co-producers and co-storytellers) this one remains to be seen (or unseen).

TP: The story completes itself and really doesn’t call for a sequel. That said, I can certainly see a door here that can be opened wide provided somebody wants to do a follow-up (and apparently, they do). I’m talking, once again, about the missing aliens that are responsible for the Ursa. Returning them to Nova Prime will have you instantly back into a Will Smith science fiction war film which can revisit the father and son dynamic of the first... or just be a visual popcorn action blockbuster.


ARTH VADER rates After Earth: Even though it's a Sci-Fi wonder with incredibly interesting ammorphic, alternative material-looking tech, this movie never quite takes off. Shoddy, peace-meal storytelling, sloppy acting and an empty seen-it-before premise, After Earth–for me–offers little. In all fairness, I did like the movie, but nothing to write home (world) about overall. And even though fear is a choice, I'm afraid my choice is to release just 5 busted blocks for After Earth. 

THE PONTIFICATOR rates After Earth: A great film visually, although the conclusion of the story was predictable, the road to the end was full of surprises. The exploration of the father and son resolution was nice and added more depth to what was an easily predictable film. With great special effects and good performances, this film busted seven (7) untamed Earth blocks.

After Earth – 6/10 Busted Blocks:

Enhanced by Zemanta

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Rhymes with Awesomeness!

JJ Abrams sends viewers ahead Warp Factor 9.5 with his latest Trekkie eye-gasm,Star Trek: Into Darkness.

WARNING! The post is riddled with spoilers! If you care even a hair about the film
and the story, please go see it first. You have been warned.


ARTH VADER (AV): This series of films puts a volley of photon torpedoes into the gut of any fan trying to follow any sort of continuity, especially with the earlier movies and TV shows. As the second installment of one of the most talked about franchise reboots in modern times, this movie continues a hyper-jazzed story arc that keeps the viewer riveted and left with no recourse but to hang on to their seat like a Ferengi meeting a new young girl. Ahem. Keeping true to the Star Trek cannon we're treated to everything from a trip to Kronos (gulp!) to a meeting with arguably the most famous single villain the Enterprise and her crew have EVER squared off against. Ponty? 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Continuity is an interesting subject when it comes to the new Star Trek films Vader, since continuity is exactly what has been rewritten. Sure we have the same players as the original series, but they are being shown from a different perspective...and it’s surprisingly refreshing. The best part is that there is enough of the original continuity to ground the film in familiar territory, while taking us where no “Trek” has gone before.


AV: I gotta say, JJ Abrams continues to impress the living Tribbles out of me! As the entire cast returns, led by dreamy, heart throb bad-boy Chris Pine in his role as the iconic Captain Kirk, there are two notably stand-out performers I would mention. First, Zachary Quinto's work as the ever-emotionally unstable Spock is worth the price of admission alone. Going through extensive physical training for the climatic ending was duly noted and as my inspired moniker would say "most impressive." The other call out, Pontificator, is Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan Noonien Singh (gasp!) the iconic man-out-of-time and would-be worlds-conqueror. Abrams continues his fast-paced, high-energy camera work–complete with lens flares in nearly every major scene–to keep every moment relevant and engaging. Heck, even writing this I want to go see it again. Thoughts, Pont-man? 

TP: Indeed Vader, the entire cast has returned, and it’s no surprise that they have delivered stellar performances. The channeling of the original characterizations of the original cast has continued without being deliberate two dimensional copies. The direction of the film gave it a pace that was diversely exciting in delivering every aspect a great movie should have. The real story here though is Benedict Cumberbatch. Understand, I am a stalwart fan of Ricardo Montalbán’s rendition of Khan Noonien Singh (both in 1967 and 1982) and it will always be classic, but Cumberbatch has given the character new life... and made it his own.

AV: As my daughter would say on the Facebooks "OMG!" Again, my favorite SFX treatment continues to be the sort that is not the story but enhances it. This could easily be one of those all souped-up sci-fi deals where it dazzles you with how good it looks in the absence of a story. That said, the trip to the Klingon homeward (Kronos) and the ensuing fight that follows is breath-taking. The bad-ass Klingon commandos are a rush and the mostly one-sided slugfest between the Enterprise and the giant Stealth Federation ship was spectacular. That's right, I said it… spectacular! And then there is the end fight sequence.. way over the top but a cargo-bay full of fun. Pontificator, my Ngo Jup* did you also feel the effects shots were Dun-yay**?
[*"pronounced No Jupe" from the Klingon meaning "old friend"]
[**"pronounced Dune-yay" from the Klingon for 'wonderful victory']

TP: Vader they were, in a word, superb. Honestly, I never expected anything less than superb as I knew this film would nail it in the SFX department. What went way beyond my expectations was seeing the film in an IMAX theater. All the things that bring the film to life (in this case sound and 3D) are like Khan...better! If you are going to watch a superior man wreak havoc for two hours, you might as well do it watching a superior picture with superior sound. The bar has been set very high here.


AV: So let's talk about JJ Abrams' vision for Star Trek. While I am a lover of all things Sci-Fi, Star Trek has always been a distant second love to me from key genre franchises like BattlesStar Galactica, Alien and of course, Star Wars. Star Trek had always felt too stuffy, too 'Star Fleet' and too political so I was never quite able to get connected with the Trek universe. Maybe it's my ADD, maybe it's my inability to embrace Trekkie Culture but JJ's new twist makes me want to re-invest myself in the voyages and get all jiggy with the history again. And how about that Khan? I did NOT see that one coming and those of us who were able to relate to Star Trek II all but flew out of our seats for this unexpected development. A masterstroke of brilliance Mr. Abrams. How say you oh, Ponficatorious one? 

TP: I say the right mix of drama, action and comedy carry this film to the top of the summer blockbuster pile Vader-Nader. Now that this is established, allow me to “Trek” out on you. I looked very deeply in this film, and found a plethora of original Trek lore and homage to the original material...and loved it! From the appearance of the Klingons to the appearance of Tribbles, I found myself in Trekker heaven. There was even dialogue lifted from previous films and television episodes. The most telling was Kirk’s death scene which was a paraphrased flip of Spock’s death scene in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” Having seen this scene before made it no less dramatic or touching. In fact, it was the bridge to another sequence that answered a question I’ve had for a very long time... since Khan first appeared in the original series episode,“Space Seed.” I can’t be the only one that has been asking the question “Who would win in a fight between Spock and Khan?” I hope I’m not the only one thoroughly pleased with the (obvious) answer... after all, he did say he was better at... everything.


AV: Bring 'em on! Already stoked for installment number three. It feels as though the highly anticipated "five-year-journey" is about to begin, as McCoy references near the end of the movie. This is a hot bed of opportunity for the franchise, you to "boldly go" where no set of movies have gone before. I eagerly anticipate the next film. Permission to board, Mr.Pontificator? 

TP: Permission granted O’ Dark One. Of course there will be more to come, but what do you do that will top the savage superiority of a classic villain that can take out an entire platoon of Klingons (ships included) all by himself? I would dread having to be the writer tasked with topping this film. That said, we can only hope what comes next continues to take us where no man has gone before.


ARTH VADER rates Star Trek Into Darkness: Experiencing Star Trek Into Darkness is like eating a box of Pop Rocks and Drinking a 32 oz Mountain Dew—there's a lot of energy and it never really settles down once it starts. Fun, furiously witty and filled with lots of stuff for both beginning Trekkies as well as long-time Star Fleet veterans, this movie has loads of Moxey. If you can forgive the laughable scene where Quinto bellows "Khaaaan!" then bring the kids, bring the Romulans and bring high expectations because I saw reason not to beam 9.5 Busted Blocks directly onto the bridge. Engage.

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Star Trek Into Darkness: Truly the first summer blockbuster film, the bar has been set and the gauntlet has been thrown, challenging all other movies that follow. You don’t have to be a fan of the genre to enjoy it as it’s just one of the most entertaining films to grace the silver screen in a long time. I knew it was going to be a great film, I didn’t know that it would fire a spread of photon torpedoes (at warp speed) that totally incinerate nine and a half (9.5) interstellar blocks! A film genetically engineered to be superior. 

Star Trek: Into Darkness – 9.5 / 10 Busted Blocks:

Enhanced by Zemanta