Saturday, August 30, 2014

Marvel’s Fantastic Space Gamble

Marvels Studio's visually-intense Guardians of The Galaxy offers viewers an interesting new take on sci-fi 


ARTH VADER (AV): I'm hooked on a feeling! And while no part of this film shares any connective tissue with the books, at this point, we should acknowledge that all Marvel (Studios) films are kissing cousins. The eco-system of Marvel is brilliantly manifested as all films that reference and wink at other Marvel flicks. While non-fantasy film critics tend to get all fussy over Marvel’s “formula” I, sir, am all about it. And after only 10 films, Marvel Studios is now THE definitive, undisputed most successful movie franchise of all time. By the numbers, that means it bests James Bond, Star Trek, Borne franchise—even Star —as the definitive collection of the most influential box office success in the history of film making. 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Wow Vader…just, wow. Well, in terms of continuity with the books for this film.… there is none. In the books they banded together to oppose the Phalanx, not Ronan. Yondu in the books is also as far from his film iteration as a character could be. That said, continuity with the books isn’t an issue when you aren’t trying to stick to it and are bringing something entirely new and fresh to the big screen, in the Marvel cinematic universe. This film fits the events in previous Marvel films, and thus preserves the continuity of the Marvel cinematic universe. 


AV: Once again, the mighty Marvel movie machine strikes gold with a cast of characters that are just downright perfect. We all know the headliners but the support cast comes in off the bench and hits another one out the park. John C. Riley and Glen Close come in as reps to the infamous Nova Corps, we get a Nathan Fillion cameo early on, Lee Pace whupping backsides and taking names as Ronin(!), and lest we forget, Josh Brolin’s Thanos which was solid. James Gunn’s vision was stellar. While the direction was good, the visuals were a sensory overload. But the direction was detail-laden and rich. Thoughts, Pontificator?  

TP: Casting for this film was superb! Marvel has a magic to picking the right people for the right roles and this film is no exception. The full cast is an extensive list of talent lead by a great performance by Chris Pratt. The characterization of Rocket Raccoon by Bradley Cooper was just as stellar making it hard for anyone else to break out, but not impossible. I was particularly invested in the performance of both Lee Pace and Michael Rooker in their specific contributions. Dave Bautista certainly deserves credit for bringing Drax to life, a reflection of the hard work he put into upgrading is acting skills. For a film introducing largely unknown characters to the general public, the direction was spot on and delivered an energized and steady pace that kept me constantly engaged. 


AV: Ok, I have not seen a movie that has looked this good in a long time. That says a lot, even for a Marvel movie. The sets and environments were–naturally–out-of this-world. The colors were beyond gorgeous and the environments and landscapes were terrific. The animated characters of Groot (Vin “Fast 6” Diesel) and Rocket (Bradley “Hangover” Cooper) were especially well done and characters like Ronin, The Collector (Benicio “Wolfman” Del Toro) simply brought Guardians off the screen and into your mind. The space scenes were just good and the quirkiness of Peter Quill’s Starlord was endearing and funny. 

TP: Unbelievably real. The CGI goes to another level as Marvel is making millions from a talking raccoon. There is no part of the film where my mind wandered and thought about the realness of the effects…it just accepted that everything I was seeing, was real. In a film completely loaded with effects in literally every frame, this is a serious testament to how well they were done. The 3D effects were not overdone or later forgotten (as happens in many films) and to see this movie in anything less than IMAX 3D is a travesty. This film is an excellent example of all the lessons learned in earlier films coming to a head and delivering a superior product. 


AV: As Marvel Studio’s 10th film, it represents some really special concepts. First, it shows that as formulaic as the Marvel masterminds are a accused of being, this film is a real gamble. It is NOT a super hero movie, but exists squarely in the hero universe. So many concepts were reintroduced in this film, the Kree (who created the Inhumans), the Celestials (ancient God-Like galactic beings) and even the hint at Adam Warlock’s cocoon. I am sorry if you don’t understand these references, dear reader but I have been waiting for these films to hit the big budget screen my whole life. I am in heaven. A year ago, I predicted that this film would be a billion dollar film. After three weeks in theaters, the films has grossed $421,9 million. It has NOT yet opened in several major overseas markets. What this film–and it’s success–ultimately mean, is Marvel can mine it’s near-endless well of properties and tap the skills of fan favorite or A-List talent for their films and make magic happen. This film is a delight on so many levels, it boggles the Earth-bound mind. 

TP: There are a lot of places to look here as Marvel begins phase two of their cinematic universe, but the real story is not all the nods and eggs placed throughout the film. The story isn’t the awesome effects used to bring epic awesomeness to the silver screen. The story isn’t how a taking raccoon can rake in millions of dollars seemingly cementing the fact that Marvel can do no wrong. The real story is the dedication of the cast to make this film one of the best so far. Chris Pratt said he would lose fifty pounds for the role…and lost sixty instead! Dave Bautista teared up upon getting the role of Drax and committed himself to further acting lessons to enhance his performance. Djimon Hounsou took the role of Korath the Pursuer to be an example to his son. There are probably more such stories scattered throughout the rest of the cast and crew, and I wouldn’t be surprised if so…but it’s these personal stories of motivation and dedication that truly bring the greatness of this film as reflected in the finished product. 


AV: Are you kidding me? With the pseudo cliff-hanger we were left with? Who is Quill’s father? Is there a new Groot? Will Rocket find love? Will we see the Nova Corps and will Drax come face-to-face with Thanos? James Gunn has already official gone on record to discuss the next Guardians flick. Guardians of the Galaxy 2, so… yeah. P-Man?

TP: This movie wraps up Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and there will certainly be another (and probably more) as Marvel expands their onscreen universe in their quest to bring one of the most pivotal story lines to the silver screen (Infinity Gauntlet). Salivate on that Vader!

ARTH VADER rates Guardians of the Galaxy: Salivate? Oh man, I need a full-body bib, Ponty! Ever since the announcement off this film at ComiCon San Diego, I predicted this film was going to be huge. With the perfect meld of sci-fi, comedy, terrific appearances and characterizations (Groot, Rocket) and super-hero awesomeness, Guardians is fun. And the winning result of Marvel’s ‘grand gamble’ and if at all possible, see this bad boy in IMAX 3D. So I dance the dance of the Baby Groot around 10 Busted Blocks. 

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Guardians of the Galaxy: This film is easily one of the best Marvel has made and that says a lot when you consider the subject matter and characters presented. With a perfect mix of action, comedy, and drama this film takes the audience on a magnificent ride, steadily destroying nine (9) busted blocks along the way.

Guardians of the Galaxy: 9.5 / 10 Busted Blocks 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hercules Surprisingly Weak

Even with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson,
the latest Hercules is anything but solid


ARTH VADER (AV): Even with a better-than-expected story, Hercules struggles to be relevant. Based on the fabled son of Zeus, Hercules does account for a number of his fabled trials. The giant Boar, overcoming the Hydra, even the unusually large Lion, they’re all spoken of. The film goes a step further in suggesting that those incredible and heroic feats were myths. A series of stories shared to embellish and bolster the legend of Hercules. This slight (but significant) deviation of the Hercules mythos implies he just might NOT have been the son of the Gods. Thoughts Pontificator? 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): The story of Hercules has been told so many times that it’s difficult for any film to tell it with a fresh perspective Vader. I never expect much when seeing “another” telling of the legendary Hercules, and fortunately this time I was very surprised as this film managed to tell the story from a fresh perspective.


AV: Well said, sir, and with a smattering of familiar faces, I think it should be said that ‘The Rock’ is the only true ‘star’ in this film. There is some value to the cinematography in this movie but the wide-angle shots that are comprised of hundreds of marching, assembling and sometimes fighting CGI soldiers does not a movie make. Casting–at best–is a shoulder shrug. As is the acting effort for that matter. 

TP: I’m a Dwayne Johnson fan so I’ll try not to let the bias show, but I just find him entertaining to watch, even though there was nothing about his role worthy of any accolades. He played a good Hercules and took the role as far as the script allowed. John Hurt has been around for awhile and played a great antagonist in this film, showing evil as another side to his already lengthy acting chops. Ian McShane is a very versatile actor and his role here was a great offset to Hercules as he brought some comic relief along with his interesting portrayal of the mystic Amphiaraus. I’d be remiss not to mention Rufus Sewell, known to me for his many bad guy roles…and true to form, even in this film as one of the heroes, he was the one that cast some doubt on the morality of his character. The film flowed well enough to keep my attention, but the script certainly could have been tighter given the scope of the characters.


AV: The majority of the visual effects in Hercules seem to occur in the opening scenes. Which I was strangely ok with. It was refreshing to have the visual effects fade into the background as it quickly morphed into a work-a-day action flick. Lots of wide-angle shots of the battlefield? Check.. Cliché scenes I’ve seen like a kazillion times before? Check. I also noticed the visual effects were choppy. Watching the long lines of marching soldiers, one could tell they were poorly rendered and the animation looked sickly and very rushed. Not good news in these days of outstanding visual effects. How about you old friend, was the Pontificator “blown away” with the visual effects in Hercules?  

TP: The special effects were good and most of the big ones happened early on setting the stage for the crux of the story. There was nothing ground breaking here and fortunately, nothing real big was needed to advance the story. The strength of Hercules was done well and the few times they took advantage of the 3D effects were well done. Blown away? Certainly not. Adequate? Certainly. 


AV: It’s very difficult for me to pinpoint exactly why this movie was made, Pontificator. Sure, it’s fun–at times anyway. But the comedy is very one-dimensional. The acting is flat. Even at times of trauma, I just can’t seem to take ‘The Rock’ seriously, even in ‘serious’ moments. The real value of this film lies in it’s implication that Hercules was just a strong dude who was fortunate in battle. His stories were shared (by his cousin) to build his ‘legend’ — all to increase his ‘marketplace value’ as a mercenary. Even this though, fails because its not fully explored. His merry band is little more than comic relief and logistical support in fights. The humor is constant, if not clever, and even though you can see the plot points coming like a freight train, the movie-for the most part-is at best–palatable. 

TP: Despite the simplicity of this film, there was a lot to look at profoundly. I was really intrigued about how they portrayed the man in the face of the every growing myth. If you see this film, stay and watch the end credits as they round out the whole point of all the stories that were told about Hercules and they use stop motion animation to show what really happened during the labors they show at the beginning. I thought this was very interesting and a great twist to drive home the point of the importance of his companions. Speaking of his companions, I have some issues with Autolycus (Rufus Sewell’s character). Earlier in the film Hercules introduces him as being from Sparta, later Autolycus reveals that he and Hercules grew up together on the streets of Athens. I chalk that up to shoddy script writing, but to even mention “Sparta” in this film had me looking at this character with expectations of Three Hundred-esque fighting ability…and what I got was anything but. Note to future filmmakers… don’t even mention the word Sparta unless you can deliver the goods!


AV: Clearly I wasn’t this film’s biggest fan but the movie does hold a certain charm that is hard to pin down. It’s there but damned if I know what it is. Box office performance may decide the fate of future installments but I can honestly say while I wouldn’t hold my breath, Hollywood certainly has given us some train wreck franchises and stand-alones in recent years so, to a sequel I say… meh. 

TP: Of course there are many more stories that can be told using Hercules, but if the intent of this film was to provoke some thoughtful discussion over the man versus the myth, then mission accomplished. I doubt the box office performance of this film will generate another go round.


ARTH VADER rates Hercules: The best critique I can give this movie is—“well, I didn’t hate it.” The nothing new screenplay and dialed-in performances brought down what was at best a mediocre film to begin with. The Rock is fun but his Lion’s-head-wearing Herc was a yawn-induing crock pot full of missed opportunity. For that, Hercules, the fabled Lion-killing son-of-a deity hefts up only three (3) disappointed Busted Blocks. 

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Hercules: Well, this film was certainly better than the earlier version that preceded it, but that isn’t saying very much. The performances were entertaining even though the script could have been better and it’s always fun to watch the Rock beat people up. That said, this film could only lift six (6) busted blocks and could certainly have used more godly strength.

Hercules: 4.5 / 10 Busted Blocks

Monday, August 11, 2014

Lucy: A hot mess of intelligent musings

A smart thriller with little identity and poor execution puts Lucy on the road to nowhere.


ARTH VADER (AV): Get some aggressive,action-packed trailers to showcase a sci-fi / fantasy sweetheart Scarlet Johannsen with super-powers and the magic just happens. Doesn’t it? An original (sounding) idea and a big budget sci-fi screenplay with a couple of heavy box office hitters should have been gold but the story of “Lucy” is a solid swing and a miss. and if we are talking about the continuity of the trailer’s promise and the final film, that would be strike two. What do you say, Ponty? Did you have any Continuity thoughts for this movie

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Lucy seems to be an original story Vader…but I was very much reminded of “Transcendence,” even down to the Morgan Freeman appearance. Apparently going “everywhere” is all the rage these days… everybody’s doing it.


AV: Lucy needed a complete screenplay re-write to become a movie that would matter. The pacing was a mess. The tempo was a train wreck and the direction, oh P-Man, the direction. While the concept was VERY good, running complimentary imagery to run in tandem with the  storytelling was a truly unique idea. One that was handled very badly. The fast cuts, the out-of-synch pacing made what could have been movie gold a veritable train wreck. Morgan “Voice of God” Freeman and Scarlet “Black Widow” Johansen are two box office titans who could have almost carried this murky movie idea forward. 

TP: Honestly, I like Scarlett Johansson better when she’s wearing black tights and hanging out with Captain America. This role just didn’t have enough depth for her to shine (except for the very beginning) and her performance seemed somewhat flat as the film progressed. I get that she was becoming something more than human, but she didn’t make me care. It seems these days Morgan Freeman is being used just to fill theater seats. His role was (once again) cursory and didn’t allow for the use of his considerable acting skills. Most of all what was wrong with this film began and ended with the script and not even the best talent can overcome that. 

AV: Expected effects for Lucy I’m afraid old friend. There are a few moments of visual effects brilliance, but for the most part there were the standard, entry level effects that did little more than push the story forward. The ‘super AI ultra computer’ that moved amorphously in black with ominous red back lighting was cool but did little for the film in the end. 

TP: The special effects were good, but nothing we haven’t seen before. I think they made better use of the analogous footage of wildlife than they did with the actual effects. Some of the scenery clips were amazing, but didn’t really advance the story (as if anything could). With no breakthroughs in effects, no really breathtaking effects… I think this part of the film was a missed opportunity to compensate for the story.


AV: Lucy was a movie that just wasn’t finished baking, Pontificator. Yep, director Luc “The Professional” Besson could have had a stellar flick on his hands but this film just felt rushed and thrown together. Hardly Scarlet or Morgan’s finest hour, this movie toyed with some great concepts that were never quite realized. The onscreen countdown to the amount of brain capacity Lucy was able to access throughout the film became predictable and annoying. It would have been better as a running count-up clock that was cycling up at the lower right corner of the screen. 

Whether it was the techinicolor space explosions in Scarlet’s bloodstream or her decomposing cell-restructuring in an airplane lavatory, the movie just seemed like it was a bunch of first or second takes. An excellent story arc in these days of the coming singularity, we get no sense of impending danger of any kind. The poor plot and dialed-in acting made for a movie that was one the summer’s biggest disappointments. Even the film’s end message was cryptically frustrating… “[we were gifted with life a million years ago now you know what to do with it.]” No, Lucy. No, I don’t. Unless, of course, it is to NOT make a poorly written, under performing film. 

TP: I can only imagine the number of people that just didn’t get this film Vader. There were people actually walking out of the theater during the film when I went to see it. The science (or pseudo science) was very heavy and detracted from the overall enjoyment. I mean, if I have to sit and ponder what I’m being told, it’s taking away from the following seen (cause I’m pondering). Some parts of the film just didn’t make sense…like why even leave the drug kingpin alive after you kill all his personal guards, stick knives in both his hands, and rape his mind for information? Increased brain power and intellect makes this a good idea? How about later when you are nearing godhood, and you don’t just wipe put all the bad guys so you can conduct your business unmolested? Instead you leave the task to an ill-equipped and outgunned police force? Speaking of guns…should I take this film as a sign that in Europe you can walk around with guns visible and nobody will even blink at the spectacle? I’m sorry, but there is no amount of explosions or displays of power that can cover up such huge plot holes.


AV: What would be the point? Seriously? Just... no.  

TP: I’m hoping they let this one rest in peace and don’t attempt to clarify this film with another one. Leave us all confused and scratching our heads… so at least that way we are thinking about it instead of it being forgotten as soon as we leave the theater.


ARTH VADER rates Lucy: In the footprint of this movie one can easily see the earmark of greatness. But no one watches a movie for what it could have been. The movie is somewhat entertaining but is a mere shadow of what the movie’s trailers and ad campaign had promised. The bogus screenplay coupled with yawn-inducing dialogue and nothing-new visual effects forces me to use only 10% of my brain’s capacity and give Lucy on 30% (3) of our total capacity of Busted Blocks. 

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Lucy: With plot holes big enough to drive a truck through and a shoddy script, there was no amount of talent available to improve this film. Despite some great scenery shots and interesting use of file footage, this film could only evolve five (5) busted blocks… leaving the other five lost somewhere in the script. 

Lucy: 4 / 10 Busted Blocks