Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Marvel Goes Big Time With A Little Help From A Little-Known Avenger
ARTH VADER (AV): As one of the founding members of the original Marvel Comics Avengers, Ant-Man’s been a big part of the Avengers since 1963. While being strangely absent from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Hank Pym (aka Ant-Man, Giant Man, Goliath and Yellow Jacket) has been a key Avenger on Numerous occasions, though hardly a character on any comic fan’s ‘top five favorite heroes’ list. So it stands to reason that Ant-Man is only just now getting rolled into the MCU fold. The continuity is loose at best wouldn’t you say, Ponty?
CASTING, ACTING & DIRECTION
AV: A curiously delightful cast makes this film breath with a life of its own. Comedy front-man Paul “Ant-Man” Rudd is a solid choice for the Scott Lang role. Academy Award winner Michael Douglas appears as the MCU’s original Hank Pam, and one of my favorites of the film Michael “Fury” Pena brings the now expected Marvel brevity to the screen in a very unexpected way. Director Peyton “Bring It On” Reed made this a part hero, part heist, part world-building film for Marvel and it I would think was fairly successful. Pontificator, what did you think of this movie’s casting?
TP: This film was well cast and very well acted Vader. With Paul Rudd taking the helm, he actually held his position in the film and complimented veteran actor Michael Douglas (Hank Pym). With both actors elevating their roles, it was that much easier for Evangeline Lilly (Hope Van Dyne) to play the daughter/reluctant love interest roles. Corey Stoll was a great villain and unexpectedly so since he constantly plays the hero on television’s “The Strain.” Michael Pena was both brilliant and memorable and really put the icing on the cake of this film.
ON SPECIAL EFFECTS
AV: As a Marvel movie, Ant-Man spared no expensive in making Ant-Man a delight to watch. Watching the Pym Particles in action was another movie milestone every comic nerd has longed for. As a kid reading about Ant-Man (and later Yellow Jacket) the eye-dizzying amazement that comes from watching Scott Lang run with a swarm of ants and then zip seamlessly back and forth from the little world to the big, was visual effects triumph that was so fluid, I couldn’t help but be awestruck over. Was it the same for you P-Man?
TP: IMAX 3D. There…said it Vader. The effects were stellar and expected to be so this late in the game when it comes to a Marvel film. Usually there is nothing new to discuss, but here we have effects that give us a new perspective for a Marvel film (although not new to films in general) and they are brilliantly done, especially using…IMAX 3D. There…said it again.
TAKING A CLOSER LOOK
AV: Here’s the big news, Ant-Man is fun, a bit kooky, highly MCU connected and unexpected. Marvel took the same gamble with Ant-Man as it did a year ago with Guardians of the Galaxy. As the number one movie studio on Earth, Marvel can–and MUST–experiment outside the traditional hero formula. It’s how the genre matures, moves on and lasts. In all fairness, the movie is kind of a clown romp, Scott Lang is a buffoon, as are his comedy relief, Heist cronies. The film is silly an feels very rushed at the end with a VERY odd ‘world-within-worlds’ sequence that feels almost dreamlike.
AV: This is a tough one to call of ram, Ponty. Ant-Man is good, make no mistake, its fun and is a great Marvel movie follow-up to the intensity of The Avengers: Age of Ultron. We are given all kinds of hints at the potential for more tiny Avengers, aka The Wasp (played by Evangeline Lily), but while this films performed at a solid $375 million (better than each of the Thor films, BTW) I wonder how vested audiences would be in an Ant-Man sequel. That remains to be seen (likely with a microscope).
ARTH VADER rates Marvel’s Ant-Man: The magic of the MCU is alive and well and live large (ahem) in Ant-Man. A light-hearted, slightly forgettable film that has some strong ties to future MCU events (can anyone say “Captain America: Winter Soldier?”). The ‘fight’ between The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Ant-Man is onscreen gold. While not without it’s small (sorry) shortcomings, I think Ant-Man was a big hit. That’s why Ant-Man swat’s eight (8) Busted Blocks.
Marvel’s Ant-Man: 8 / 10 Busted Blocks
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
The body-double thriller Self/Less plays with heartstrings and plays mind games with characters and audiences alike.
ARTH VADER (AV): Based on an original screenplay by Barcelona-born horror screen vets David “out of the dark” Pastor and Alex “Carriers” Pastor, Self/Less is a psychological thriller in the vain of The Andromeda strain, this film looks to spotlight immortality for the super rich. Billionaire Damian Hale has terminal cancer and turns to a radical medical procedure called "shedding," where his mind is transferred to a younger, healthier body. soon, he starts a new life in New Orleans an becomes engulfed in disturbing recurring images of the past life of his surrogate body.
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Body snatching is not new to the sci-fi genre, but this film does it in a way that makes it interesting and uniquely entertaining. The fact that the “snatch” can only be permanent by meeting certain conditions, kept me wondering who was going to make it to the end.
AV: The cast is a quality ensemble of A-Listers and up-and-comers. Ryan “Deadpool” Reynolds plays the role of young Damian, Ben “Mandarin” Kingsly is the terminally ill real estate mogul, Damian with Natalie “Deathrace” Martinez and perennial bad guy we love that, Matthew “Ozymandias” Goode. The competent direction of Tarsem “Immortals” Singh delivered a visually tense aura to the movie and lends itself soundly to the dramatic thriller genre. The acting was kind of expected to me, but that by no means the film showed poorly. There were other things that helped that along. How say you old friend?
TP: The cast was very good and it was a stroke of genius to hook the audience first with Ben Kingsley as his performance was stellar for the short time he graced the silver screen Vader. I’ve always liked Ryan Reynolds although he is better in some films than others depending on the material. In this film he was pretty good and it helped that he was supposed to be channeling Kingsley because his performance kept bringing me back to that. The beautiful Natalie Martinez was very good as was Matthew Goode (whom I have not seen since “Watchmen” despite his doing lots of work since then).
AV: It is my grounded belief that visual effects are an integrated part of the sci-fi movie making process. What distinguishes one take on visual effects over another is part budget, part story and part director’s vision. In self/Less, there is an effort to make the flashback experience different, especially since it is a deep-seeded memories are less true flashbacks and more memory fragments. This film presented those moments expertly. Anything new here? No, however, in context, not in anyway disappointing.
TP: This film did not call for too much special effects leaving it to spend a lot of time developing the characters and delivering a great story. The effects that were in the film helped bring it along and complimented the story. It’s hard to mess up a few fight scenes, car chases and explosions.…and making the mind swap aspect very simplistic, this film was a sci-fi thriller that was very light on “sci" and heavy of the “fi.”
AV: Above/Average. This film offers little new narrative to speak of but that didn’t make it a bad movie. Its not terribly inventive, not overall clever and bores and challenges your suspension of disbelief so often you wonder why you are still along for the ride. In truth, Self/Less has its moments–a good number of them, actually–but fails to deliver a knockout blow, or enough “WOW” moments that send me over the top and riding off into the sunset. Kingsley is terrific and its hard not to love Reynolds in nearly anything, but in truth, for me, Self/Less is just sort of there. Parts are near stellar and Matthew Goode is flawless and mostly liked the film. A worthy rental and certainly worth another viewing wouldn’t you say Ponty?
TP: Well Vader, if you blinked, this film got passed you as a science-fiction thriller that told a very well thought out story with lots of drama. The idea of immortality is not new, but this take on it was very unique. I enjoyed the fact that this was a story-driven film that told a multiple stories at the same time. The fact that the basis for the film started out as a search to live forever, but ended up as a story about love makes this one of the most engaging films I have seen this summer. It is also one of the few films where the trailer does it absolutely no justice at all and those that decided to pass on it because of the trailer have been wronged by shoddy marketing.
AV: There are many reasons to further explore this genre of movie-making and story-telling. There are few reasons to follow up on this film, though. The mind is a fertile landscape to craft a sci-fi master piece (Please allow Chris Nolan’s Inception as exhibit ‘A’, Minority Report as exhibit “B”). Psychological thrillers are no stranger to the sci-fi genre, but I truly feel this story has been told and I don’t need any more. What were your thoughts, Pontificator?
TP: Well Vader, I don’t think a sequel is likely as the movie wrapped up nice and neat and stands independently as a great story about two fathers that love their daughters.
ARTH VADER rates Self/Less: An intelligently positioned, near-future, cautionary tale set to some unique and original locations in New Orleans, Self/Less is a mind transfer thriller that exceeded my expectations but didn’t fully realize it's own potential. With lots of thought-provoking thrills, the intelligent, action/thriller thoughtfully transfers six (6) Busted Blocks from one host to the next.
Self/Less: 7:0 / 10 Busted Blocks
Tuesday, September 1, 2015
Alternate Timelines and Zany Franchise Twists Re-Direct Audiences To Foggy New Directions For Terminator
ARTH VADER (AV): Time travel is a tricky thing, Ponty–and science fiction is inundated with with time travels stories. One could argue that the Terminator series is built on the concept and it would be a heart discussion. So it comes as no surprise that the core story arc of Terminator: Genysis (T:G) is about the alternative timeline that emerges form all the Terminator time traveling that occurs in the previous films and TV series (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was pretty darn good after all). I always have mixed emotions on the time travels in movies. I mean what parameters are there if they can just be erased because time travel occurred and changed the time stream, right? T:G puts some interesting twists into motion would you agree, Pontificator?
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): The continuity of this film is a complete mess Vader. I won’t even attempt to explain it as it has splintered into so many different timelines with two films and the television series being completely ignored by this film, this movie creates far more questions than it answers.
CASTING, DIRECTING & ACTING
AV: Can you give a good Terminator flick without Arnold “I’ll Be Back” Schwarzenggar? Honestly we don’t know and this isn’t the film where we find out. Arnie is an integral part of the action and even offers some decent satire to the story. Jai “Insurgent” Courtney’s take eon Kyle Reese feels flat and disinteresting. Emilia “Daenerys Targaryen” Clarke also has a rather dry delivery as Sarah Connor. Director Alan “Thor: The Dark World” Taylor has a grounded vision that honestly an interesting take on the John Connor spectacle. With fairly decent cast, I felt the film didn’t take itself too seriously which might have been a saving grace.
AV: Visual effects shots helped make this a palatable ride, Ponty. The opening combat sequence is strong, if not a bit over-the-top and borderline frivolous. The revival of the 1980’s–style Terminator world was by far the visual effects accomplishment of this movie. With key liquid metal and robo-terminators to vibe on, T:G offers some exciting visuals for audiences looking to get their next fix on the Terminator franchise. To note, the ‘liquid Arnold’ sequence is particularly enjoyable and my favorite CGI moment by far was watching ‘young’ Arnold Terminator and ‘veteran’ Arnold go toe-to-toe. Complete with grenades, rockets and exposed Terminator exoskeletons, the scene is smile-inducing, wouldn’t you say Ponty?
TAKING A DEEPER LOOK
AV: As Hollywood screenwriters scramble to shoe-horn new Terminator stories into a somewhat shaky franchise to begin with (c’mon, think about it), this is an arguably sound movie. It meanders, confuses and takes way too long to tell a story that could have been told better and more succinctly. It all fairness, the story holds and makes for a mostly enjoyable film. The thought that scent–now in the form of the new Genysis operating system–clearly a light-hearted jab at my beloved Apple OS–and imparts the cautionary tale of a new form of a singularity event, hellbent on mankind’s termination. As much as I tend to repel time travel stories, the Terminator franchise offers something others can’t; continuous story arc reboots within the continuum.
TP: Watching this film,I had to just take it for what it was and enjoy whatever I could out of it. Trying to figure out the continuity was pointless (as any Google search will tell you) and even though there are tons of nuggets in the film and nods to some of the others, it just seems this issue with Skynet trying to take over the world and exterminate all humans will never ever end (and why should it when Hollywood is cashing in large?) The film was two hours of more of what we have already seen in the previous films and brought nothing new to the series… just some adequate summer fun layered in explosions and one-liners.
AV: Hard to envision a Hollywood in the near-future (see what I did there?!) without some kind of Terminator film in play. We are most assuredly going to get more tales of futuristic robots traveling back to our time period to kill, maim and re-write history. The films do well, they entertain and give new insight to a franchise that continuously refreshes itself with the same threat wrapped in a new package. To be honest, if I could have more Terminator films without a robe-John Connor, I’d be fine.
ARTH VADER rates Terminator Genysis: Not the summer’s biggest blockbuster, but this film does scratch your Terminator itch, if there is such a thing. While the robot-John Connor was quite nearly a deal-breaker for me, I, like most who love these films, was able to get past it and (mostly) enjoy this film. Worthy of a Saturday night rental, Terminator: Genysis offers a subdued, alternate vision of the Terminator universe that earns a skynet-defying six (6) Busted Blocks.
THE PONTIFICATOR rates Terminator: Genisys: This was a fun film and was just about what I expected it to be.…meaning there were plenty of missed opportunities to make this into something much better. With the technology and competitive film industry, I was very surprised that this film was “just” good… only sending back six (6) busted blocks back through time.
Terminator: Genysis: 6 / 10 Busted Blocks
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Chris Pratt and His Posse of Trained Velociraptors is a Certified Bad Ass in The Overwhelmingly Fun Jurassic World
ARTH VADER (AV): The Jurassic Park series of films is one of the tried and true (and mostly successful) of Hollywood’s formulas. Inspired by Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park series of New York Times best-selling books, the story of a park of genetically produced dinosaurs that goes way off the rails has been a hit for an entire generation. The story hits on beats that were established in earlier films while keeping a surprisingly fresh perspective.
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): A continuation from the original film, this movie takes place 22 years after the original and keeps the continuity of the cinematic world that is Jurassic Park alive and well. There is even an original cast from the first film here…still splicing together the DNA of dinosaurs…and still clueless as to why you should not do that.
AV: I firmly believe that the casting of Chris “Starboard” Pratt and the on-screen chemistry he clearly has with steamy lead actress Bryce Dallas “Gwen Stacey” Howard and likable villain Vincent “Wilson Fisk” D’Onofrio, Jurassic World was doomed to succeed. Sure, sure doom isn’t the most ideal word but it is fitting seeing as the that’s where the franchise was headed. And relative newcomer director, Colin Trevorrow, brought Site A (Isla Nublar) come alive onscreen. Pratt’s raptor trainer was so fun and made was such a preposterous possibility, it was a delight. How say you my dino-watching co-host?
AV: True to Jurassic form, Jurassic World was a top-notch visual spectacular. The film was chuck full of dino-tastic effects. Old friends such as the Velociraptors, the trikes (Triceratops) and Pterodactyls all returned to the story, brought to life once more by the magic of CGI-enhanced cinema. The film stimulated audiences further with he introduction of several more species but in all fairness, the effects were an integral but not ‘primal’ part of the storytelling and while the movie does rely on a great deal of content from the visual effects folks. Was the Pontificator blown away by the dino-rich visuals?
TP: I keep ringing the IMAX 3D bell…but don’t know if anyone is hearing me Vader. The special effects were awesome. They were in-your-face and make-you-jump and I loved every bit of it. Sometimes, new ground need not be broken if you do all the present techniques perfectly. There is a reason JW is breaking records!
AV: How do you take a failing iconic franchise and breath new life into it? Add liberal amounts of Chris Pratt, stir and repeat. Chris is a stunning addition to the Jurassic cast of adventurers and we all but hope that he continues on to some kind of consistent appearance in the franchise. Just about everyone else is a throw-away character, so it goes. The revitalization of this great franchise is in the new synergy of the cast, new dino-dangers and some great sci-fi-a-storic writing. While the film follows the classic formula of new dino-park, something goes wrong, dins eat people, showdown and the kids survive. Did I miss anything? Likely not but Jurassic World flourishes under this all-too familiar formula wouldn’t you sap, P-Man?
TP: People love dinosaurs done right Vader. Really, there was nothing new here. Scientists were still splicing dino’s and tampering with forces they should not have been, leading to chaos and death, and resolved by the very creations responsible for the problem in the first place. If you take a moment to really reflect on the film, everything we saw has already been seen and easily predicted. I think it speaks volumes about the film that this is so…and it was STILL so enjoyable to watch! I could put it all on the I-Rex, but I had already guessed about that long before they revealed it’s origins. No…it has to be the total formula that is “Jurassic” that is drawing people to the theater out of love for the previous films…and hooking them with the same (but updated) formula of tried and true success.
AV: Where do you take a franchise struggling to find new engaging story content? Well definitely off of Isla Nublar. Several folks I have talked to have formulated a pretty sound theory; Jurassic War. It stands to reason that IN-GEN, now backed by the military, will be ready to step up its monster-warrior program. Velociraptors with rocket launchers on their shoulders… what could possibly go wrong?
TP: Honestly…I think as long as they make a good story that makes enough sense, they can always do a “Jurassic” film. As it turns out, some dino DNA has escaped destruction and some dino’s remain on the island, leaving the door wide open to continue the franchise.
ARTH VADER rates Jurassic World: A refreshing, fun journey through a lost world of new monsters, old problems, new technology and mayhem, Jurassic World delivers. Overcoming some downright silly moments–like when Chris Pratt is tooling through the jungle with his pack of Velociraptors, is more than ridiculously over-the-top but it somehow works. With that, this is one dino-loving fanboy who had a thoroughly good time and strapped nine (9) Busted Blocks to some Raptors and watched the fun unfold.
Friday, June 26, 2015
George Clooney leads audiences on a lackluster trip to a dismal future in Disney’s Tomorrowland.
ARTH VADER (AV): Inspired by the famed Disneyland ride/attraction of the same name, Tomorrowland focuses on a dream–inspired future-topia where people are whisked away, to enjoy all the comforts of a technological paradise where they even get to fly around on personal jet packs. While many of those concepts are derived from the Disney themed ride, the movie attempts to foreshadow a pretty terrific future wouldn't you say Pontificator?
CASTING, ACTING AND DIRECTING
AV: George “Gravity” Clooney heads up a pretty ho-hum cast that includes Hugh “House” Laurie and well. honestly it doesn’t matter. Sure, the cast was fine. But ex-Power Ranger Britt Robinson spends so time screaming at 'things that shouldn't be', her character quickly became annoying. The grizzled Clooney is a bit too young to pull off the grumpy old professor thing as he attempts to mentor a gifted young girl through her mundane life. The direction by famed family film director, Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Up, Ratatouille) was competent but also transparent. Pontificator, the acting was near appalling but I did manage to sit all the way through it and trust me, that was no easy task.
ON SPECIAL EFFECTS
AV: The visual effects were ok. While breaking no new ground, the effects attempted to do more than they should have. A time-stopping freeze gun is a great idea that is used in a toy store and then never heard from again. A rocket ship hidden within the Eiffel Tower is a great idea, until you attempt to execute it. Then, it’s just a dumb, forgettable visual dud. The rocket jet packs had a moment but once you’ve seen the Rocketeer (1991) you’ve seen what you needed to see from that particular piece of technology. P-Man?
TP: Seeing this film in IMAX 3D was a great decision. Disney is certainly dependable when it comes to special effects and this film did not disappoint. In fact, the effects were another high point that helped it along and kept it interesting.
TAKING A CLOSER LOOK
AV: Why on Earth this film was ever green-lighted is far beyond this mere mortal. Things happen that aren't explained, like the distribution and use of special pins that are the key to Tomorrowland are introduced but aren't explained. So you get one that's rare and then you go places. Huh?
And while there are tons of sci-fi nods to Star Wars, The Day The Earth Stood Still (the classic one) and a host of others–these props do little more than complicate an already confusing string of events. A pedestrian screenplay, lack-luster cast, downright mediocre script and characters too dull to even mention (Tim McGraw, I’m looking at you m’man) I found that the most redeeming quality of this film was the end-credit graphics. Fun and engaging, they are everything the movie is not.TP: Well…I could get really deep here with all the subliminal nuggets and real world foreshadowing, but instead let me just say that the commentary given in this film about the state of the best humanity has to offer is a message no child should be subjected to. I think it’s disturbing given the message Disney just sent with Avengers: Age of Ultron (remember Ultron was on the internet for five minutes and decided humanity had to go the way of the Dodo). In this film the commentary continues as to why Ultron would think that as the best minds of humanity have managed to screw up “paradise” and in so doing, doomed the planet whom they view as in need of destruction anyway! It all works out in the end, but that doesn’t change everything we had to go through to get there.
AV: No reason for that.
TP:They could… but probably shouldn’t. This film was fine for what it was, but should stay in “yesterday” and avoid “tomorrow.”
ARTH VADER rates Tomorrowland: Swing and a miss, Disney. If you’re looking for a way to siphon 90 minutes from your life that you’ll never get back, then Tomorrowland is for you. This movie tries to matter–it really does, but in the end… it just doesn't. A huge disappointment despite the reported size of Clooney’s payday. I was barely able to strap on two (2) Busted Blocks as jet engines to jettison the sleep-inducing snooze-fest called Tomorrowland into the heavens, never to be seen or heard from again.
THE PONTIFICATOR rates Tomorrowland: Good performances (for the target audience) and great special effects made this a very enjoyable film to watch. The lackluster story though, prevented this film from being better than it was. In the end, this movie traveled into tomorrow and only returned to today with six (6) busted blocks.