Saturday, April 26, 2014
Marvel Studios Strikes Gold With The Star Spangled Avenger In His Second Landmark Film
WARNING: Spoilers ‘aplenty!
ARTH VADER (AV): Leaping higher than Batroc right out of the pages of Marvel comic’s biggest legends, this film is as surprisingly original as it is rooted in Marvel cannon. Since Marvel Studios–and it’s films–are essentially Marvel Comics, these films are both bold and solid gold. Bringing down the Hydra was Cap’s job long before there was a S.H.I.E.L.D., so it’s no wonder Captain Rogers has to go back to work against a Hydra. But he can’t do it alone so enlists the help of Marvel spy buster standout Black Widow, Maria Hill, Nick Fury, Sharon Carter and of course, his… AHEM!… wingman, the Falcon. This movie is the live-action embodiment of decades worth of Marvel storytelling, would you agree Pontificator?
CASTING, DIRECTING AND ACTING
AV: The gang’s all here, folks! I will let my esteemed partner rattle-off the big names in this film but I will discuss, instead here, the overall characterizations and near-brilliant cinematography and direction work. First, this cast is built for success from it’s DNA, Robert “All Is NOT Lost” Redford is a seamlessly perfect addition to the film’s mighty ensemble cast and screenplay. Marvel even went as far as to cast geek deity, Stan “The Man” Lee in yet another richly entertaining role. Acclaimed brothers and directors extraordinare, Anthony and Joe Russo, deliver such a meticulous, rich screenplay, there are times the viewer loses sight of the fact that this is a superhero movie.
AV: The seamlessly blended visual effects presentation in this film leaves the audience dumbfounded. The onscreen visuals are so well done, you simply take for granted that three flying aircraft carriers (or ‘heli-carriers’) are slugging to out over a giant fictional government facility called the ‘Triskillion’, high above the skies of Washington D.C. What I love about this movie, is how much physical choreography is blended with state-of the-art special effects. From the fist fights with Batroc and Hydra to the leaping, flipping and jumping of the final fights with the Winter Soldier. Watching the Falcon weave between the flying characters was worth the price of the 3D alone. And the breathtaking scenes of the three heli-carriers shooting themselves apart in the air is a sight I will never forget. Pontificator, what did you think?
TP: In a word Vader; spectacular. The CGI was great (as usual) and woven perfectly into the action. Of course I saw this film in IMAX 3D (is there any other way to go to the movies now?) and it was worth every penny. I’ve heard the filmmakers opted for live-action over CGI whenever possible, and the effort really shows as the unbelievable looks absolutely real as it jumps off the screen and into your lap. This film was a perfect example of taking all the tricks of sfx so far and melding them with live action to make a true blockbuster.
TAKING A DEEPER LOOK
AV: Many critics and fans have called this movie out as the best of the nine (so far) Marvel Studios to date. Being the fan I am, I can’t choose, because I love them all differently for different reasons. I believe what we have seen (and in many ways are still witnessing), is with every Marvel film, the formula keeps getting better. As the films deal with real life issues like PTSD for veterans, Sam Wilson (the Falcon), moderates a discussion group for Veterans of the Middle-Eastern wars. Steve (Cap), as hunky as he is, has a hard time finding a date and even struggles with etching out his place in our ever-evolving technology–saturated world, something we can all relate to as well. This makes the characters less super and far more relatable–and human.
AV: The news is that the brothers Russo are already hard at work on the next Captain America installment. Personally, I could do with about ten more films of this quality and magnitude. If they can make even a fraction of the cylinders fire that they did in this one, it will be a hit. As the formula for what constitutes a great Marvel movie evolves and gets more sophisticated, then moving the Captain America narrative forward is going to be a sight to behold. Bring ‘em on—and “make mine Marvel!”
TP: I’m very much looking forward to Captain America 3 and can’t even imagine where they are going to go in that film. That said, with Sebastian Stan signing a nine film deal, I won’t be at all surprised to see him in Cap’s uniform sometime in the future, although Evans will still be committed to two more movies after Avengers 2.
ARTH VADER rates Captain America:The Winter Soldier: Once again, Marvel Studios has outdone itself, which after nine (9) feature films, says quite a bit. Even those completely unfamiliar with the finer details have had such a good time as many are calling it ‘better than the Avengers.’ While my jury is still out on that thought, this is the first big blockbuster of the summer (well spring anyway) and a must-see for just about any cinema lover. That’s why, when Captain America throws his mighty shield, no one can oppose the incredible box office yield. (That was for all the deep Cap fans) I wouldn’t dream of not giving this film a perfect 10 busted blocks and say to Marvel, ‘keep ‘em coming’
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Russell Crowe heeds the call to save all creatures great and small and learns some important things about himself in Darren Aronofsky's Noah.
ARTH VADER (AV): The world needed to be cleansed of evil and wickedness. One man is tasked with saving two of each creature of the earth. According to biblical scripture. And so the stage is set for Darren “Black Swan” Aronofsky’s Noah. Religious affiliations aside, the great Rudyard Kipling (yes that one, of The Jungle Book fame) once said; “if no part of the Bible is true, then it is a colossal waste of time, but, if even a small portion of it has any truth to is, it is the most important document ever written.” With that as this film’s backdrop, Aronofsky retells one of the Bible’s most famous tales with incredible artistic license, even veering toward the controversial. Thought’s pontificator?
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): About continuity Vader? What continuity? This film barely resembles the source material, which doesn’t surprise me at all given the story was written by self proclaimed “humanist” Darren Aronofsky. It’s not that you have to “believe" to make a great film, but with the amount of liberties taken here…it might as well have been called something else entirely. Maybe “The Crazy Man on the Water” would have been good.
CASTING, DIRECTING AND ACTING
AV: Though I question some of the film’s characterizations, this cast is so powerfully presented and star A-Listers all the way down the line, it is hard not to appreciate this film based on the credentials of the film’s stars. So who are the players? Russell “I am Gladiator!” Crowe plays a driven Noah alongside onscreen wifey Jennifer “Betty Ross” Connelly, as Noah’s wife Naameh. Also, in a characterization I did NOT see coming, the greta Sir Anthony “Hannibal Lector” Hopkins plays the wise old Methuselah, Noah grandfather. Even the great Nick “48 Hours” Nolte lends his talents to voice the fallen angel Samyaza. Emma “Harry potter who?” Watson and Ray “Hugo” Winstone help complete a powerful cast to round out Aronofsky’s powerful vision of the world’s cleansing. The direction was ritzy, filled with powerfully real effects shots, environments and landscapes, portraying a world gone sour and filled with darns and despair. Ponty, would did you think of the casting?
AV: The visual effects were stunning in Noah. The pre-flood landscapes were portrayed as industrial wastelands (again, you have to acknowledge some personal takes on the story and backdrops). The most surprising elements were the fallen (angels), portrayed as grotesque rock trolls with flaming eyes and a towering presence. The forest that springs from the ground to provide the wood for Noah and (spoiler alert!) the Fallen to build the Ark. Most compelling of though, were the animals. Ponty, I have a special place in my heart for well-done visual effects and the animals in Noah, slithering, crawling and flying toward the ark were up-lifting. Last but not least, the flood itself. Beautiful and terrifying and the ocean itself afterward was splendid, it was hard not to appreciate and since I am sure no real Ark was built, even the ark had very natural splendor to it, wouldn’t you say?
TAKING A DEEPER LOOK
AV: The story of Noah is powerful one that has–literally–been around for thousands and thousands of years. There are evidences of the great Ark purportedly found in the Himalayan mountains. While this is hardly a place to take theological stand for or against, this movie was well-done. I am a sucker for any film Russell Crowe or Anthony Hopkins appear in. The first part of this film was just short of brilliant, the landscapes, the sense of hopelessness, oppressive environment that made the audience feel the oppression. The second part was much less so, visually captivating and almost void of all the intelligence an rich storytelling from the first hour. Noah’s character damn near falls apart by the end of the movie threatening to kill his own grandchildren (twin baby girls) and becomes a man caught in his own zealot-like reality. The films ignites important discussions on everything from the nature of man, to the nature of spirituality to what is right and wrong. What more can I ask for Ponty?
AV: Normally I would be want to say that this movie has no sequel but there really could be. Both from after the landing of the Ark and the release of the animals as tides subside, or other brooks form the Bible that follow the saga of the great flood. For some I know this content is hallowed ground but Hollywood has not backed off of this content, knowing it will draw millions at the box office. If movies like The Ten Commandments, The Last Temptation Of Christ and The Greatest Story Ever Told are any indication, I have a strong suspicion we will see many more biblical stories brought to life on the big screen.
ARTH VADER rates Noah: While 2014 sputtered out of the gate with mediocrity, this movie is worth a watch. A good home theater will deliver the same riveting experience found in a theater and is highly entertain gin and certainly worth the 138 minute runtime. Falling short of being an ‘epic’ and not without it’s fair share of flaws but Noah washes away seven (7) busted blocks with the promise of a new day.
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
The #1 Bestselling Profile Of A Pre-Ordained Future Shines A Light On All Of Us
ARTH VADER (AV): Based on the incredibly popular first book in a series so popular, nearly every teenager in North America has a grasp on it, Divergent is a story based on the first in eerie sod books that portray a post-apocalyptic society, hell-bent on deceit, control and compartmentalization of the human spirit. Like the book, the story centers around a society re-structured in “old” Chicago after ‘the war’ (as identified in the movie). Clearly something awful happened and this new society has rooted itself in the ashes of the old one. In this choking and sobering dystopia, people are split into five factions; Abnegation (selfless), Amity (peaceful), Candor (truthful), Erudite (intelligent) and Dauntless (brave), based on their personalities. As a citizen of this “New Chicago” (“Buck Rogers in The 25th Century” much?), your personality must conform to one of these factions, pointy, or else.
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): This film is just slightly “divergent” from the novel of the same title, written by Veronica Roth. The areas where it differs aren’t really make or break points for the purposes of the film but no doubt fans of the book will likely have issues anyway. The idea of it all was intriguing to me as diversity is part of the human condition, a fact both embraced and rebuffed by this future society.
CASTING, DIRECTING AND ACTING
AV: There are some terrific casting decisions made for Divergent, Ponty. Shailene “The Secret life Of An American Teenager” Woodley plays the lead as Tris and heads up an impressive and surprisingly well-casted array of actors to help bring Divergent to life. Jai “I, Frankenstein” Courtney is fast becoming a go-to onscreen bad ass as Eric, the crooked training instructor. Who else is in this film you ask? Glad you did Ponty because I enjoyed Mikhi “8-mile” Pfier as the sinister Max. The other-worldly beauty of Maggie “Nikkita” Q, Kate “Titanic” Winsett as the devious Jeanine and Ray “Punisher oh, wait, i mean Thor” Stevensen as Marcus. Even an heiress to music royalty, Zoë “After Earth” Kravitz appears as the lovely and chaotic Christina and last but certainly not least is the stunning Ashley “Kiss The Girls” Judd as Tris’ Mom, Natalie.
TP: The casting was well done and the actors convinced me of the realness of their characters. Shailene Woodley’s “Tris” was a character I found myself rooting for as she navigated the demands of her faction within the larger scheme of the plot. I was also intrigued by “Four”, played by Theo James. His portrayal as a catalyst and mystery kept me interested in his fate, especially as it related to the machinations of “Eric” (played by Jai Courtney). Courtney is paving the road to being known for menacing roles, and his work here is certainly more ground work for that. Kate Winslet was also menacing, but in a much more subtle, yet more dangerous, way. Moving at a moderate pace, director Neil Burger didn’t let me fall asleep.
AV: Depicting the blasted out remnants of ‘old’ Chicago was a CGI-flavored victory here, my friend. The beautifully rendered ‘reclaimed’ Chicago is breathtaking to behold. The visual effects largely support the story–what there is of it–and that is as it should be. The ‘dream’ sequences were eye-popping and stunning to behold. I tend to gravitate toward SF/X that are invisible in the tapestry of a story and this movie does great by the viewer by not having social effects–by design or by chance–that get in the way.
TP: There was nothing new added to the special effects seen in films today, but there was also nothing by way of effects that detracted from the film. The effects used moved the story along and in the end, this film was not made or broken by effects.
TAKING DEEPER LOOK
AV: So here’s where I weigh-in on this film, Pontificator. I root for really strong female leads and Divergent come strong with Tris, a ‘Divergent’ (that’s someone who doesn’t conform to any of the five factions, yet shows strong tendencies toward all of them) who represents a threat to this new societal order. Inserting the dopey onscreen love interest of Theo “Underworld” James felt forced, and unnecessary. So much so that I feel Tris would be a stronger character without him. Furthermore, I found myself relating deeply to the main character’s plight. As a writer, designer and artist, I would NOT be one to conform to this system, and would likely be put down with a bullet to my head. I won’t give away major plot points here but I will share that the message of ‘don’t be labeled by society’ and don’t conform like cattle’ was very refreshing to me as the parallels to Nazi German society were haunting. The foreshadowing to the film’s “great wall of protection” made me want to know more and the film smartly, doesn’t engage my curiosity but instead chooses to tease me about an impending danger. So while I still struggle with this movie as another “young in’ saves our world” storyline, I must say, I enjoyed this film. P-Man?
TP: Well Vader, despite my enjoyment of this film, there was always an underlying feel that there was so much more going on that I wanted to know. For me, it was the society in general that intrigued me the most. The idea of society being separated and broken down into five factions had me salivating for more on how they interacted and made it all work… Abnegation, for the selfless; Amity, for the peaceful; Candor, for the honest; Dauntless, for the brave; and Erudite, for the Intelligent. Let’s face it, the idea that you had to be a part of Candor to be a lawyer just floored me. Although I loved the details of Dauntless, how did they interact with the rest of society as protectors and police? Since Erudite felt they should run things (an obvious progression if you are part of a faction created for your intellect) it was no surprise that they came up with the science to do just that. What was confusing, however, was why the leaders of Dauntless would go along with their scheme. Why would they give control of their entire faction personnel over to the leaders of Erudite, with no oversight themselves? What was the gain for them to do that? What would stop the Erudite from eliminating the Dauntless leaders and why hadn't the leaders of Dauntless considered this? What happens to those aging in Dauntless? Are they discarded to be faction less?With so many unanswered questions, I felt a lot was missing from the story.
AV: Obviously there is more to come. The Divergent series of books is a hugely literary success with young people and since both “Insurgent” (book 2) and “Allegiant” (book #3?) are in pre-production (as of the writing of this blog) I think it is a fair bet that future releases are inevitable. Let’s hope that means more fiercely independent development of Tris and not more love-smitten shenanigans over the hot-boy-of-the-hour. This movie–this story–has a greater potential I pray it lives up to it.
ARTH VADER rates Divergent: Perhaps it was the rich-diversity in the casting, maybe it was the simplistic character development or maybe my expectations were just low but this film was enjoyable. While I could hardly urge our readers to go to the theaters for this one, it is good, solid and morally sound Sci-Fi. From one Divergent to another, I give this one a dystopian-skewed 7 busted blocks and keep my fingers crossed this franchise gets better as it goes.
THE PONTIFICATOR rates Divergent: A good movie with moderate action and intriguing story, “Divergent” was certainly entertaining. My need for answers to my questions detracted a bit from the film, but it was still able to bust six (6) blocks in it’s attempt to diverge itself from other films.
Saturday, April 5, 2014
Greece fights the Persian Army, Bureaucracy And Itself in the visually compelling 300: Rise of an Empire
ARTH VADER (AV): Those wacky Spartans are at it again, Pontificator. This time, the kinsmen of the ‘brave 300’ are rallying to overcome invasion, inner turmoil and a lackluster screenplay in this all-new tales of Sparta installment. The film does deviate from the original as it does NOT focus primarily on Sparta. All of Greece is under attack by the powerful Persian horde that vanquished King Leonidas and his 299 ‘body guards.’ How faithful this film is to the actual invasion of Greece by Persia is a discussion left to much more scholarly folk than I, but the bonding element is the threat of Greece falling by subjugation to Persia.
CASTING, DIRECTING AND ACTING
AV: Some of our surviving favorites return like Leena “I’m still queen Gorgo” Headey and dreamy David “One-eyed Farimir” Wenham. Lest we forget the raining champion of so-what villains, Rodrigo “Tullio” Santoro as Xerxes. I won’t lie, though Ponty, this movie played a bit funky for me. Sullivan “Gangster Squad” Stapleton headlined as the likable noble warrior-leader Themistocles. Israeli-born director Noam Murro continues the near 100% CGI look of 33:RoaE. While the lighting is graphic novel-quality and stunning, it all just felt a little too… fake. I can suspend disbelief quite a bit, but this movie just asked a bit too much. Pontifcator?
AV: The film’s first-rate effects were masterful if not erring on the side of the stupid. Over-the-top gore is not new but the amount of blood gushing from each vengeful slash and gash is just comical. The land and cityscapes were fine (all-3D rendered of course) but the real visual victory here were the sea warfare scenes. Tense, beautifully shot and well realized, for me this was the “why” of this movie.
TAKING A DEEPER LOOK
AV: Not sure this film lived up to the sequel of 300. I enjoyed the visuals, the gladiatorial-style blood-letting, the revenge-driven actions of both sides. But, there was some misfires here, too. First, the movie is almost COMPLETELY devoid of Spartans, the very group whose defiance led to this conflict enveloping all of Greece. Second, the film is almost entirely based on the open sea and the impossibly small number of Greek defenders hold out against a massive sea-borne armada that covers the ocean. Next, (Spoiler Alert!) Xerxes escapes! Really? Shutting him down shuts down this whole conflict. Are we trying that hard for a third film? Ugh. Lastly, speaking of Xerxes, his whole quickie origin was so shoddily handled, we should have been given an entire stand-alone movie of his beginnings. So close, Hollywood, so close…
TP: No matter how deep you go, you will always come back to incredible and abundant action and special effects. I didn’t walk into this film saying show me the Spartans. I walked into the film saying show me the action…and I got it! Trust me, I saw it twice already. Even with all of that going for the film, they were able to squeeze in the origin of Xerxes assault on Greece, the origin of Xerxes, and the origin of Artemisia. They even managed to squeeze in a sex scene (at least I think it was a sex scene). With tremendous sea battles, it just speaks volumes of this film to have been shot entirely in a green room…and never once on the water, the main environment of the film. I was absolutely flabbergasted to learn this. The next level in filming has been displayed, and it comes broad chested holding a sword.
AV: It is likely this movie, though not entirely deserving, will see a third installment to round out a trilogy. If that happens, the merits will still rely largely on the success of the first film. Still, all said, I am a sucker for this genre and Frank Miller’s original 300 (graphic novel) is a certified graphic novel masterpiece. I could do without the angry sex sequence though.
ARTH VADER rates 300: Rise of an Empire: This movie had it’s moments but we are living in the age of the sequels and prequels. While hardly a worthy predecessor to the first 300 film, Rise of an Empire does satisfy, somehow. The action is shoveled at us from the word go and is full of cool but relatively forgettable combat action shots. Still fun, and even though I feel gypped for seeing this flick in 3D (so not worth it) the overall experience is a good one. And thus, I hack and slash at six (6) busted blocks and I am left standing in a sea of heroes’ blood. (Eww.)
THE PONTIFICATOR rates 300: Rise of an Empire: With new ground being broken in effects and fighting sequences, this film surpasses the first one, and with an Athenian being the main character, that says a lot! I’ve 3D IMAXed myself to this film twice already, and am certain there will be a third showing in my future…it’s just that good. Without any reservations, this film cleaves nine (9) bloody blocks, for the freedom of Greece.