Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Riddick-ulously cool

Returning to his Pitch Black roots, Vin Diesel's
Riddick is a surprisingly fun, if not familiar, action flick


ARTH VADER (AV): Vin Diesel's Riddick returns for a third big screen adventure in Riddick, the movie meant to not-so-subtly re-boot the Riddick franchise. Though based on a series of books I have NOT read, this richly detailed and highly acclaimed series of books is highly regarded but I cannot speak to the alignment of the this movie to the books (Ironic I know because this section is call  "On Continuity"). This Riddick feels like the character that was so richly portrayed in 2000's Pitch Black. While I did enjoy the second film, I found 2004's The Chronicles of RIddick too cumbersome and too hard  to follow, though I understand it followed the book quite closely. The RIddick universe is complex indeed with direct-to-video installments, Video-games and books all contributing, it makes for a complicated history for Riddick, wouldn't you say, Pontificator? 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): I agree Vader, and I also have not read any of the books. This film takes place directly after the events in “Chronicles of Riddick.” As far as continuity goes, this movie sticks with everything that has come before it (with strong ties to “Pitch Black”)... even giving Karl Urban a bit part just to make sure all the dots are connected.

AV: In Riddick, Vin Diesel returns to the franchise he now owns (I will speak to that point shortly). This film holds such a rich sci-fi roll call it was hard not to 'geek out' right there in the theater. Bad-ass Battlestar fan-fav Katie "Starbuck" Sackhoff is an intensely fierce–though admittedly one dimensional–bounty hunter named Dahl. We also get a lightening-fast screen cameo from Karl "McCoy" Urban (Judge Dredd, Star Trek) and Steve Bautista (Drax The Destroyer from next summer's Guardians of The Galaxy) as another bounty hunting bad boy. The deadly sun-scorched environment, while almost entirely CGI, was fun to look at and the cinematic vision of sci-fi director ace David Twohy (Pitch Black, The Fugitive) was on point to keep viewers engaged and the story moving. P-Man, were you as star struck for Riddick as I was? 

TP: Well Vader,  Vin Diesel is Riddick... do I need to say anything more than that? Oh, right... there were other people in the film. The movie was cast well enough for what it was trying to do (keep Vin Diesel bankable) and although there were no other A-List actors in the film, I noted the talents of two of my personal favorites, Bokeem Woodbine and Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck!!). The direction of the film seemed a tad inconsistent and didn’t maintain the emotional grip the opening sequence commanded. This was probably due to spending too much time developing the other characters, instead of showing me the plethora of ways Riddick could kill them.

AV: Riddick is quite creature-heavy. Flying lizard things, space dogs and giant bipedal scorpions with huge tails and huger teeth delivered a solid sense of uneasiness throughout the film. The alien landscapes were stunning and seeing as *SPOILER ALERT!* The first 30 minutes of this movie is Riddick in the wilds of this harsh world filled with tons of things that want to hunt, dissolve, catch or eat him. The hover bikes introduced about mid-movie (think Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars E2: Attack of The Clones) were cool if not tad trite, and while the film offered really nothing new in the visual effects arena it was fun to watch. Pontificator, thoughts? 

TP: The special effects don’t disappoint... although they don’t break new ground either. The costume designs were very well done and added to the overall look of the film as they contrasted each other, and the harsh environment of the planet the film is set on. The CGI was very nice in all aspects (ships and indigenous life) and I really have no complaints about any of the visuals in the film Vader. Well... aside from it seemingly ripping off itself (Pitch Black), but that’s for the next section.


AV: At some point along the way, Riddick became Dominic Torretto from the Fast & Furious franchise. Riddick narrates this film during segments that I felt needed no narration–or at least a lot less. He also delivers poorly written one-liners and unnecessary tough-guy bravado that brings what could have been a great movie down. Pitch Black–and Riddick–work best when he is quiet, brooding and mysterious. Not full of tough-guy quips and statements like "… when these chains come off, you're gonna be the first to die…" Really Riddick? That's what you've got? While this movie rekindled my fondness of the Riddick character, I could have done without all the machismo. Dominic need not apply (himself). Ponty? 

TP: I hate to be so critical of this film since I really like the character and have enjoyed the two previous films, but some things just can’t be overlooked... like the fact that we’ve already seen this film, when it was called “Pitch Black.” Riddick on a desolate planet with people that fear him, facing imminent danger from the indigenous life that strike en masse when the sun is not shining. Heck, even the monsters are similar, except this time they added poison to the mix. But wait... there’s more! They even linked it directly to the first film by having the father (Boss Johns) of that film’s bounty hunter (William J. Johns) show up to get Riddick believing (and rightly so... but for the wrong reasons) that he is responsible for the death of his son. It’s not that I didn’t like “Pitch Black,” in fact, I loved it. It’s just that I wasn’t counting on watching it again under a different title.

Now I have to speak about two more areas that left me feeling salty. The first is the miraculous healing powers of Riddick, not seen in prior films, that he can heal completely from a broken leg with no medical treatment beyond sticking contaminated screws into his legs. Truly he has become a super man... except for my second salty area that sees Riddick needing to be saved from certain death... a departure from the complete and utter baddass the character has come to be known as. Color me confused... and let me write the next film.


AV: Just like his Fast & Furious persona, Vin Diesel's RIddick will be back. Perhaps this time with a lot less macho and a greater sense of mystery and menace. Honestly, there's too much money to be made not to. Give or take another Necromonger Empire storyline, I really think that Riddick has a lot more in store for us.

TP: As long as Vin Diesel is willing to do them, I’m sure the studio will be willing to make them... provided the profit margin is met. Really though, where else can they go with this? I have some ideas, but I’m not the one making the films. Those in charge seem to be running out of ideas and are content with regurgitating material we have already seen in the franchise. You can only go to that well so much before it runs dry.


ARTH VADER rates Riddick: When all is said and done, this movie holds lots for anyone looking for a good time, some eye-popping action and a host of popular sci-fi actors that bring an interesting chemistry to the big screen. I would even contest that Riddick is the true sequel to Pitch Black. So with a lot of cool characters, impressive effects and a whole lot of attitude, Riddick slips on some light sensitive goggles and pounds seven (7) busted blocks into a harsh, unforgiving alien landscape. 

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Riddick: I’m a fan of Riddick, no question, but I had some reservations with this film that detracted slightly from my overall enjoyment. It was entertaining, but too cliché as it borrowed from the very first film in too many areas and never felt like it was moving in a new direction, just going over old material. That said, Riddick still did what was expected of him, easily taking out seven (7) busted blocks.

Riddick 7 / 10 Busted Blocks 
Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

City Of Bones: Complicated, No Bones About It

The world is a complicated place in
The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones.


ARTH VADER (AV): As the first installment to the The Mortal Instruments series of books, City of Bones chronicles 15 year-old Clarissa Fray as she discovers a mystical world woven into our own, shrouded by magic, mystery and mayhem. Wrought with danger and peril at every turn, the young 'Clay' must accept her widening role as a Shadow hunter, a gifted slayers of vampires and demons. According to my 16-year-old daughter, this film is extremely faithful to the source material. Though I have NOT read the series—written by renowned urban teen fantasy writer, Cassandra Clare–my daughter has read the series several times over and she can indeed confirm the authenticity and alignment of the movie. 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): I have never read any of the novels by Cassandra Clare, so I have no frame of reference with which to compare the accuracy of the film... although I will certainly take your daughter’s word Vader, as gospel. It seems that there are a plethora of novels, so I assume there may be more films... which would help to explain all the loose ends in this one.


AV: With a cast of mostly young, unknown up-and-comers, this movie holds a delightful energy. The more senior roles, such as CCH Pounder (The Wire) and Jared Harris (Mad men, Resident Evil) help lend their considerable acting chops to City of Bones, the direction, was–for me–a bit heavy-handed at times, but was remarkably well paced and the shot framing kept pace with the film's tempo and story arc. Director Harald Zwart (Karate Kid, Agent Cody Banks) handled a complex story line like a pro. Ponty, you're up… 

TP: The casting wasn’t significant as there were no really big names attached to the film. Lena Headey (300) got to sleep for most of the film and Jared Harris (Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows) certainly wasn’t delivering as he did when he was Professor Moriarty. If I had to sum up the rest of the actors in one word... unremarkable would be that word. To round out the trifecta... the direction of this film was all over the place. I struggled to keep pace with who was who and what was what as the film just kept throwing half thought out ideas and lame dialogue at me for the better part of two hours.

AV: City of Bones delivers a rich tapestry of visual effects set designs, CGI and audio effects. A few paragraphs ago I mentioned heavy handedness as a note on this film. Now to my eyes, the visual presentation is terrific but in all honesty, it is a bit much. There are sequences that are downright overdone as the "City" is revealed to the audience and the reliance on heavy effects shots is commonly a concern but this movie makes no effort to disguise it's true nature (as is the movie's story) and dazzles the viewer with an array of dizzying effects shots. Overall, I was impressed with the film's handling of SF/X. What did you think my friend? 

TP: Wake me up when they add a component to the effects that make them “special” Vader. Really, no new ground was broken and the stuff we’ve already seen wasn’t even done well. I’m sorry, but there is a barometer now for werewolves and vampires since they’ve been done so much...and the filmmakers should have taken notes. The demons were just ridiculous and made no sense as I wondered if they were just Resident Evil rejects. You’d figure the money saved on getting some talent would have at least been spent to dazzle us.


AV:  While this moving fits snugly into a growlingly aggravating genre for me—namely the "special-teenager-saves-the-world-because-the-stupid-adults-can't" genre—I can see why this film and book series is so popular. It's the single 'mysterious' Mom (with brooding past intact) raising a rebellious, fiercely independent daughter in a broken home, with all kinds of hijinks and interesting characters, mystical and not-so-much, all around her. There's romance, danger and the hint of ancient evil infused in her family tree that dates back for eon's–literally since the distinction between good and evil was defined–which is a familiar and quite frankly, uninspired storytelling approach. In fact, there are no real original thoughts here but the story and the approach taken to tell it are passionate. P-Man, what did you think of this latest teenager-turned-savior adventure? 

TP: Ok... half the film to answer the “who am I question” and the other half to change the answer we finally got. I just don’t think the writers should be smoking the good stuff while planning these films. Character development was tragic and I never felt connected to anyone in this film... indeed, I began rooting for the bad guy just so it could all be over... painfully. I don’t think I have enough fingers to count all the loose ends... worse still, is I don’t really care. Simon was probably the most interesting character to me as he was the “mundane”...the regular human in the pack of half-angel warriors...dealing with repressed love as the desire of his affection fell for her... brother? We never get to see the resolution or development of poor Simon after his abduction and rescue from vampires... as he was obviously changing in some way from the bite he sustained. The bite Clary discovers, but says absolutely nothing about despite knowing it came from vampires (weird). Weirder still is the insinuation that Clary and Jace might still go forward with their feelings... even after finding out they are siblings (ugh). I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since her half-angel mother was shacking up with a werewolf (ugh again).

I still can’t figure out the title... as they spent about two minutes in the actual City of Bones and the significance of the visit was lost the moment they left. That’s like calling Star Wars “Star Wars: Greedo’s Revenge” based on his brief bar scene. I think the point of this film was NOT to make sense. 


AV: This movie is sequel-bond as, down to it's DNA, it is engineered as the launchpad for a trilogy (or greater sum) of films. While this movie doesn't wholly appeal to the adult movie-goer, it conveniently–and competently–fills the hungry teen and tween market-space for fantasy and drama. I am interested to see more as the fantasy element is highly engaging and ventures further into more mature arenas than simply teen love fests between super-empowered kids who are 'learning their true destiny'. I know my daughter is certainly giddy for the next installment. Pontificator, what were your thoughts? 

TP: My thoughts Vader...? I know there are a plethora of books out there with more material that can be shown... I’m just hoping they don’t bother to show it.


ARTH VADER rates The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones: The truth is this movie is fun to watch, if not a hair overcomplicated but, according to my trusted–if not totally biased 16-year-old info source–this movie actually covers all of book 1 and part of the follow-up installment, City of Ashes. While not entirely original, this movie delights and leaves the viewer cued up for future installments. So having not read the series, this sci-fi/fantasy movie-lover gives The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones seven (7) busted, if not somewhat enchanted, Busted Blocks. 

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Mortal Instruments: City of Bones: I disliked this movie. Granted, it wasn’t the worst film I have ever scene, but it sure was among the most annoying. The story was dumb, the acting was tortuous... and it didn’t even have the gall to make sense. It tried to slice it’s way to the top, but could only manage to cut four (4) busted blocks... and they didn’t even bleed. 

Mortal Instruments: City of Bones 5.5 / 10 Busted Blocks

Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Kick Ass Returns To Kick Butt, Too.

Leaving audiences with a strangely satisfying black eye, Kick Ass 2 strong-arms its way into theaters. 


ARTH VADER (AV): Teenager-turned-crime fighter Dave Lizewski (played by Aaron Taylor-Thomas) is at it again. Furthering the adventurous R-rated hi jinks of the urban legend/hero Kick Ass, Kick Ass 2 offers an amped-up, laughably twisted continuance of the New York City crime-buster. Ironically, this is what the movie tries to sell us but their a curious twist that is added, fairly early on—that this movie is really about Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) and her plight to become worthy of her psychotic father-turned-martyr, Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage). I enjoyed the first KA and expected more of the same but I think we got something a bit different, wouldn't you say Ponty? 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Well Vader, the Kick Ass films have been pretty good at following the comic books they were made from, so I got what I expected. Of course there will always be some changes, but for the most part... many of the changes in this film are very minor and stick pretty close to the source material.


AV: I am going to dedicate my portion of this segment to saying how absolutely remarkable Jim Carrey was as Colonel Star and Stripes. I am going to go on record, right and say, this was one of his best performances. I am not a fan of Carrey's comedy and while the first Ace Ventura movie and the dopey Liar, Liar movie showed promise, I have mostly been disappointed in Jim and his characters of the years (okay, so Lemony Snickets A Series Of Unfortunate Events and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind were both stellar too, Ponty but I'm making a point here, sir). Carrey was so good int his role that I forgot it was him...when was the last time you heard someone say THAT? About any actor? Colonel Stars and Stripes was so good, I wish he had played a bigger role. P-Man, what were your thoughts?

TP: The usual suspects are back and have delivered as good, if not better, performances than the first film. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is a buffed up Kick-Ass and Chloë Grace Moretz returns as Hit-Girl, assassinator of bad guys in the coolest ways. Also returning is the arch nemesis, Christopher Mintz-Plasse with a new name and costume, but the same plan of destruction and revenge... but with some really cool and deadly new henchmen. With the likes of Donald Faison and Jim Carrey rounding out the cast, this film moved right along Vader.


AV: For me, this movie didn't move the meter at all in the effects department. If there were significant effects shots, they were so well handled, I didn't notice them and those–as we've said time and again in this blog–are the best kind of effects.

TP: Agreed Vader... without the need for excessive CGI and bigger than life explosions, the special effects of this film were tailored to fit the material and bring these characters off the comic page and onto the silver screen. No new ground was broken, but the basic approach to shooting great action scenes refined as supporting story devices was brilliantly done.


AV: This movie kind of did it for me, Pontificator. It was, at it's core, a Hit-Girl movie, all the way through. In my want to see Kick Ass mature, it never occurred to me that I didn't see this coming. Hit-Girl holds way more depth and watching her struggle with being a high school teenager by day as she severed hands and broke limbs by night, gave this movie an edge and a purpose even it's predecessor couldn't touch. This made Kick Ass 2 far more relevant and the loss of those who take up the mantle because of and for him, have that much more character depth and meaning. While I hated the shallow nature of the main villain (Christopher "Red Mist" Mintz-Plasse turned into "The Motherf**ker"), I cherished John Leguizamo's blind allegiance to money and the power of the twisted Dimico family. A solid film, I would say, P-Man. 

TP: Ever wonder what would happen if people tried to become real life super heroes Vader? Well, this film isn’t it. There are actually people that dress up and patrol the streets in search of crime and the opportunity to do good, but they never come close to the sensationalized story of Kick-Ass... and thank goodness for that. The more I analyzed this film, the more I was convinced that putting on a costume and galavanting through the city is the mother of bad ideas. Not only do you run the risk of extreme trauma ala the business end of Hit-Girl, but f you’re lucky, you’ll just get beat down ala Kick-Ass. Of course, there’s the simple end of being gunned down by some hardcore by some Mafia types that have no time to facilitate fanboy dreams. Realistically, the government tracks you down faster than you can say Spider-Man and locks you up. Thank goodness for a film like this to put things in perspective, I’d hate to have gone through all that training and spent so much time on a costume for nothing. 


AV: I must admit after the first movie, based on the highly acclaimed comic by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., I was not in the mind space to care about a sequel. However, after seeing Kick Ass 2, I found a number of reasons and ways this story has tooth to progress. Make no bones about it, this movie has some SERIOUS flaws, but as a fan, I can overlook them and give it a chance. A sequel might prove… interesting

TP: The comics have continued with Kick-Ass 3, so it’s conceivable that more films can be on the way. As long as new material is being written, there is always a possibility it could find it’s way to the silver screen.


ARTH VADER rates Kick Ass 2: This movie is a curious piece of cinema to me. It has depth of character but no meaningful content. It makes a point about choosing your own path for the right reasons, while having no clear direction to the screenplay. It almost makes me want to put on a mask and cape while half the time I'm left wondering what the hell I was looking at with listless dialogue and a meandering screenplay. But if you like your heroes gritty (or even bloody) and your action packed, Kick Ass 2 is the movie for you. Better than the first and better than expected, Kick Ass 2 busts six (6) Busted Blocks right in the mouth. 

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Kick-Ass 2: Great entertainment with plenty of action and gratuitous violence, comedy, and even some occasional sex for good measure, this film does what it sets out to do...capture your attention with realistically displayed fantasy. There doesn’t need to be much depth with so much blood and mayhem being offered, so I'm letting this film kick the crap out of seven (7) busted blocks. 

Kick Ass 2 / 6.5 Busted Blocks

Enhanced by Zemanta