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super steve’s reviews

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Top 40 Comic Book Film Actors


It’s been awhile since I last posted, so here’s a doosey of a list to make up for it.  The Top 40 actors who have appeared as different characters in comic book films.


40.  Ben Affleck – Too soon?  I’m probably in the minority here, but I actually enjoyed Affleck as blind lawyer, Matt Murdock by day, titular superhero by night in Daredevil (2003).  His announcement as the next Bruce Wayne in Batman vs. Superman (2016) has the Internet a-buzzing.  I think he’ll impress; as for the movie itself – not a chance in hell.


39.  Hugh Jackman – Okay, so he’s only portrayed one comic book character, but that one character is figgin’ Wolverine, and like the ol’ knucklehead, he’s the best at what he does.  Jackman has been able to take that one character and build a complete franchise; he’s starred as Wolverine in 7 films, X-Men (2000), X2 (2003), X-Men:  The Last Stand (2006), X-Men Origins:  Wolverine (2009), X-Men:  First Class (2011), The Wolverine (2013), and now X-Men:  Days of Future Past (2014).  That’s approaching Harry Potter-like territory.


38. Halle BerryI would just as rather like to block out of my memory her portrayal of Catwoman (2004) and Storm in the X-Men films (2000 – 2014).


37.  Daniel Craig – Before he was blasting away aliens in Cowboys and Aliens (2011), Craig was blasting away Tom Hank’s family in Road to Perdition (2002).


36. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje – He was Heavy Duty in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009), and at one point (in my mind at least), a front-runner to play Black Panther, though sadly his entrance into the Marvel Cinematic Universe was not so memorable as a masked henchman in Thor:  The Dark World (2013).


35.  Hugo Weaving – Always good to provide some dramatic flair to any role, he caused havoc in V for Vendetta (2005) and continued the streak of chaos as Cap’s nemesis, Red Skull, in Captain America (2011).


34. James Marsden – Marsden cut short his coveted Cyclops role in the third film of the X-Men trilogy (2000 – 2006) for a really boring role as Lois Lane’s boyfriend in Superman Returns (2006).


33. Anthony Hopkins – Hopkins dazzled as the alfather in Thor (2011) and Thor:  The Dark World (2013).  He throws down with all the other award-winning geriatrics in Red 2 (2013).


32.  John Malkovich – This crazy old man wants to destroy the government that’s out to get him in both Red (2010), and Jonah Hex (2010).  His particular brand of wackiness returns in Red 2 (2013).


31. Parker Posey – Another of my personal favorites.  Her deviousness first appeared in Josie and the Pussycats (2001).  She then tormented Hannibal King with her vampire-fanged vagina in Blade II (2002).  She continued to annoy Supes, Lex, and the audience alike in Superman Returns (2006).  But I have to ask:  What’s with the Pomeranian pooches?


30.  Natalie Portman - My would-be wife in another life starred as a wide-eyed damsel in V for Vendetta (2005), and then went on to star as a wide-eyed damsel in Thor (2011).  She reprises her ‘You Jane; Me Thor’ role in Thor:  The Dark World (2013).


29.  Megan Fox – As her list of comic book film credits grows, so too does my lack of interest in her in general.  Fox slunk onto the scene in Transformers (2007), and again in Transformers:  Revenge of the Fallen (2009). Despite being replaced for the third Transformer film, she wrangled a role in Jonah Hex (2010).  See her next as redheaded April O’Neil in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014).


28.  Eva Green – Green blasts onto the comic book film scene with two flicks this year.  She’s the battle-hungry babe, Artemisia, in 300:  Rise of an Empire (2014) and the title character in Sin City:  A Dame to Kill For (2014).  It’s all about those dark, mysterious eyes!


27. Mickey Rourke – Though he failed to bring it as Whiplash in Iron Man 2 (2010), much of the success of Sin City (2005) rests solely on the awesomeness of Rourke’s bad-ass character, Marv.  He reprises the role Sin City:  A Dame to Kill For (2014).


26.  Jim Carrey -  A flamboyant overacter already, I was surprised to find Carrey had only a few comic books movies to his list of credits.  He of course played the Riddler in Batman Forever (1995), but look for his, albeit brief, comic book comeback as Colonel Stripes and Stars in Kick-Ass 2 (2013).


25.  Lena Headey – She’s awesome as Queen Cersei in HBO’s Game of Thrones (2011 -), but that’s not the first time she’s played a queen; she was the sexy Queen to Leonidas in 300 (2006), and Slo-Mo drug queen Ma-Ma in Dredd (2012).


24.  James McAvoy –  He’s the young Professor X (with hair) in X-Men:  First Class (2011) and X-Men:  Days of Future Past (2014).  He’s also the bullet-curving protagonist in Wanted (2008).


23.  Nicholas Cage - Oh boy.  A self-admitted comic book fanboy, Cage is no stranger to the comic book film world.  He’s played the definitive title character for Ghost Rider (2007) and the sequel, Ghost Rider:  Spirit of Vengeance (2011).  He was also kinda excellent in Kick-Ass (2010).  But the coup de grace here would have been Tim Burton’s now infamously failed Superman project starring Cage as the Big Blue Boy Scout.  That would have been a train wreck.


22.  Ray Park – Stuntman by trade, Park was made some inroads into the limelight, though sadly they are characters which are usually mute or dubbed over.  He played Brotherhood of Evil Mutant, Toad in X-Men (2000), and Snake Eyes in both G.I. Joe:  Rise of Cobra (2009) – with lips, and G.I. Joe:  Retaliation (2013) – no lips.  Lips to no lips:  that’s about as much character development Ray Park is ever going to get.


21.  Jessica Alba – A bit of a yawn here, but I guess when you got a hot body you don’t have to be able to act.  Alba played the Invisible Woman in Fantastic Four (2005) and the sequel, Fantastic Four:  Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007).  I look forward to seeing her reprise her Sin City (2005) pole-dancing role in this year’s Sin City:  A Dame to Kill For (2014).


20.  Jon Favreau – Before this actor turned director, Favreau starred opposite Ben Affleck as Matt Murdock’s law partner, Foggy Nelson in Daredevil (2003).  Since then he’s had a reoccurring role as Tony Stark’s bodyguard/driver, Happy Hogan, in all three Iron Man films (2008 – 2013).  That’s so money!


19.  Jeffery Dean Morgan – With a name suitable for president assassination, he did just that as the Comedian in Watchmen (2009).  He also led The Losers (2010) and had an uncredited bit part in Jonah Hex (2010).


18.  Josh Brolin – Relatively new to the comic book film scene, he’s been racking up some impressive credits, including the younger version of Tommy Lee Jones’ K in Men in Black III (2012), this year’s Sin City:  A Dame to Kill For (2014), and the title character in Jonah Hex (2010).


17.  Michael Clarke Duncan – May he rest in peace.  Gone before his time, Duncan had imposing figure and deep resonating voice which was a natural fit for big screen comic book characters.  He played the arch-nemesis, Kingpin in Daredevil (2003), an all-too similar Kingpin-esque baddie in Sin City (2005), and voiced the Green Lantern Corps member, Kiowog in Green Lantern (2011).


16.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt - A fantastic actor, whose chance to shine in a comic book film was only teased in the final shot of The Dark Knight Rises (2012).  He’s only briefly seen (sans make-up or mask) in G.I. Joe:  Rise of Cobra (2009), and has a role among the ensemble cast of Sin City:  A Dame to Kill For (2014).


15.  Brandon Routh – This one-note actor on his way to obscurity had the title role in Dylan Dog:  Dead of Night (2010), and as Supes in the now forgettable, Superman Returns (2006).  He was also one of Ramona seven evil exes in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010).


14. Edris Elba – This guy seems to be everywhere these days, but sadly, most often than not, only as a supporting character.  He was a one of The Losers (2010).  He was also some kind of fighting priest in Ghost Rider:  Spirit of Vengeance (2011).  But by far his best role so far has been Heimdall in Thor (2011) and Thor:  The Dark World (2013).


13.  Rosario Dawson – A favorite among the comic community, Dawson draws a big crowd at conventions.  She played the damsel/alien princess in Men in Black II (2002), my warrior woman, my Valkyrie, Gail in Sin City (2005), and its sequel, and lest we forget, a core member of Josie and the Pussycats (2001).


12.  Arnold Schwarzenegger – “Kill the heroes!”  Before he created a soundboard solely from his quotes as Mr. Freeze in Batman and Robin (1997), Arnold cut his teeth as the title character in Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Conan the Destroyer (1984).  Essentially reprising Conan in everything but name, Arnie technically plays a totally different character in the spin-off film, Red Sonja (1985).


11.  Thomas Jane –  Another fan favorite, Jane has been riding the fanboy wave ever since he rocked as The Punisher (2004).  He was also a Vegan Police Office in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), and was in The Crow:  City of Angels (1996).  Bonus points for reprising the Frank Castle role in fan flick, The Punisher:  Dirty Laundry (2012).


10.  Samuel L. Jackson – As patch-sporting Nick Fury, Jackson is the glue that has bound the Marvel Cinematic Universe films together even since he popped up in the credits of Iron Man (2006).  He was also the big baddy in The Spirit (2008).


9.  Michael Fassbender – As an excellent young Magneto, Fassbender far exceeded his X-Men:  First Class (2011) co-stars.  He had one of the best comeback lines in 300 (2006), second only to ‘This is SPARTA!”  And he apparently had a role in Jonah Hex (2010), I guess… did anyone even see this movie?  Seriously.


8.  Ray Stevenson - Another awesome character actor.  He was the latest iteration of Frank Castle in Punisher:  War Zone (2008).  He was also Cobra henchman, Firefly, in G.I. Joe:  Retaliation (2013), and the largest of the Warrior’s Three, Volstagg, in Thor (2011) and Thor:  The Dark World (2013).


7.  Tommy Lee Jones – I’m just as surprised as you that ol’ sour puss face is as high on this list as he is, but his credits don’t lie.  He partnered with Will Smith for three Men in Black films (1997 – 2012), was Two-Face in Batman Forever (1995), and had a brief role in Captain America:  The First Avenger (2011).


6.  Morgan Freeman – If you ask me, Morgan Freeman should be in every film; he’s fantastic.  As Lucius Fox, he brought a touch of realism to all three films in the Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise (2005 – 2012).  He was the Loom of Fate transcriber in Wanted (2008), and an aging secret agent in Red (2010).


5.  Scarlett Johansson – I’m crushin’ on Johansson.  Yeah, she’s hot, but I was pleasantly surprised by how good she was as Black Window in Iron Man 2 (2010), The Avengers (2012), and Captain America:  The Winter Soldier (2014).  She plays a femme fatale in The Spirit (2008) and was in a little indie, Ghost World (2001), based on the comic book with the same name.


4.  Ron Perlman – One of my personal favs.  Not only is he the big, red monkey in Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy II:  The Golden Army (2008), but was mesmerizing as leader of the Bloodpack in Blade II (2002). He also plays Conan’s father in opening 10 minutes of the most recent Conan the Barbarian (2011).  As always, bonus points for being in The Punisher:  Dirty Laundry (2012).


3.  Ryan Reynolds – As comic book film whores go, Reynolds may just top the list.  He’s a likable enough guy, but every role he takes seems to go to shit real fast.  Case in point, he played Deadpool in X-Men Origins:  Wolverine (2009), the title character in Green Lantern (2011), and foul-mouthed Hannibal King in Blade:  Trinity (2004).  Little known fact:  He also had a role in Sabrina, the Teenage Witch (1996) made-for-TV movie which launch the series.  That counts!


2.  Bruce Willis - The Everyman Action Hero just won’t quit, and indeed, has had something of a resurgence in his twilight years, playing an aging detective in Sin City (2005) and Sin City:  A Dame to Kill For (2014), and aging and retired secret agent in Red (2010) and Red 2 (2013), and an aging and retired Joe in G.I. Joe:  Retaliation (2013).  I’m sensing a theme.  He has a similar role in Surrogates (2009).

1.  Chris Evans – The top spot goes to my body double, Chris Evans.  He started off as Human Torch in Fantastic Four (2005) and Fantastic Four:  Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007).  Not content, he went on to star in The Losers (2010), and as one of Ramona’s evil exes in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010).  He then smoothly transitioned into one of the most iconic roles of the Marvel universe, as Steve Rogers in Captain America:  The First Avenger (2011), The Avengers (2012), and Captain America:  The Winter Soldier (2014).

-05/05/2014

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Comparison Review:  Mortal Kombat


The original arcade game debuted in 1992, with only 7 playable characters.  Hailed as a gory alternative to the equally popular Street Fighter, the Mortal Kombat game was an instant classic and exploded onto the assorted consoles-market the following year.  The game franchise would go on to spawn a slew of sequels, prequels, and spin-offs expanding both the one-note plot and cast, which now nears upwards to 64 playable characters including a crossover with DC Comics (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc), Kratos from God of War video game series, and Nightmare on Elm Street‘s Freddy Krueger.


Looking beyond the games, how well has this franchise, and its legacy, held up?  I attempt to answer this question in the reviews below.

 

Mortal Kombat (1995) - With the success of the video game, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood rushed forth a film.  Mortal Kombat was directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, who is now (in)famous for working on film adaptations of video games, including Mortal KombatDOA:  Dead or Alive, and no less than six incarnations of Resident Evil, starring actor/wife, Milla Jovovich.  As adaptations go, I must admit this one was fairly true to the original source material, so much so that much of the campiness and simplistic-nature I attribute back to the game, not the film.  Highlander‘s (1986) Christopher Lambert plays Lord Rayden who ushers together a motley cast of B- and C-list actors to protect Earthrealm.  Among the protectors:  long-legged Sonya Blade, who was originally going to be played by Cameron Diaz (now that would have been interesting); unfortunately, the role is handed to Bridgette Wilson, whose only real claim to fame seems to be that she won Miss Teen USA in 1990 and would go on to marry tennis pro, Pete Sampras, in 2000.  Look for great character actor, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, hamming it up as villain, Shang Tsung; he would go on to reprise this role eighteen years later in Mortal Kombat:  Legacy II.

 

Mortal Kombat:  Defenders of the Realm (1996) - This animated series lasted only one season with a run of 13 episodes.  Intended as a sequel to the 1995 film, there are constant flashbacks, animated recreations of scenes directly lifted from the film.  I would make a strong argument that the animated format is a better fit for these colorful, superhero-like characters than most of the laughable live action attempts.  In the first episode, our heroes, the titular Defenders of Earthrealm, fight an army of robot ninjas, minions of Sektor and Cyrax.  Taking the same approach as the robotic foot soldiers in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, our heroes can decapitate and dismember at will while still maintaining a safe-for-Saturday-morning-cartoons G rating.  The voice cast includes some recognizable character actors like Clancy Brown, Luke Perry, Brook Peters, John Rhys-Davies and Ron Perlman.  Now that’s a cast I would actually pay to see in a Mortal Kombat film.  As a bonus, the voice of Sonya Blade is played by hotty, Olivia d’Abo, which, while the name is unfamiliar, has had a long career in television and film, including Kevin Arnold’s sister on The Wonder Years, and Amanda Rogers on the “True Q” episode of Star Trek:  The Next Generation.  In 2011, 1UP.com called the series a “terrible, one-liner-packed train wreck of a kids’ show,” and GameFront called it an “abomination.”  I guess the show didn’t meet their expectations of what Mortal Kombat should be.  Critics aside, in lasting only 4 short months in the Fall of 1996, this series was a blink-and-you-missed-it blip on the Mortal Kombat legacy.

 

Mortal Kombat:  Annihilation (1997) - Though a direct sequel, starting seconds where the 1995 film ended, nearly all the main characters are inexplicable replaced by other actors.  Rayden is now played by James Remar (The Warriors, and one of Samantha Jones’ many love interests in Sex in the City).  Sonya Blade is now played by Sandra Hess, who is most notable for roles on TV soap operas, General Hospital and The Young and the Restless.  Johnny Cage is also replaced but that hardly matters as his character is pointlessly killed off in the first five minutes of the film.  Speaking of pointless, anyone remember the mud fight between Sonya Blade and Mileena?  I, of all people, appreciate good gratuitous girl-on-girl action, but even this scene was a stretch (Pam Grier did it better in the blaxplotation flick, The Big Doll House).  And with the tournament structure of the first film removed for a more chaotic Hell-on-Earth story line, this film feels like a free-for-all - cramming in as many characters from the video games as possible, irregardless of plot or sense.  There’s no denying:  this film is bad.  There are several reasons for this, but the most glaring is the failed overuse of blue screen and awful CGI.  I don’t know if the filmmakers were overly ambitious or just inept.  Let’s be honest, it was this Mortal Kombat that landed a fatality to the franchise, as no more feature films were made after this.  And for that, I hate you, Annihilation.

 

Mortal Kombat:  Conquest (1998-1999) - A prequel to the first film, Conquest was a live-action series which ran for one season (22 episodes) before being canceled due to budget issues.  The only actor I immediately recognized here is a young Kristanna Loken who later played the Terminatrix in Terminator 3:  Rise of the Machines (2003).  Hotty, Jamie Pressly also stars.  Apparently, Loken and Pressly, along with 12 other actresses in this series have all posed nude for “Playboy,” and like, magazines.  I regard that as a lot missed opportunities to have the type of Mortal Kombat series that I want to see – violence, nudity and gore; something more akin to Starz’s Spartacus.  Instead, this series was filmed on the Disney Studio lots and was shown on basic cable – TNT, directly following WCW Monday Nitro.  As you would expect, to appeal to that crowd, the series showcased well-choreographed martial arts, but little else aside from overwrought dialogue, and the thinnest of plots.  Quite torturous to watch.

 

Mortal Kombat:  Rebirth (2010) - After a long hiatus, Mortal Kombat made a resurgence on YouTube, all thanks to a fan-made film by director/writer Kevin Tancharoen.  Tancharoen directed the Fame remake in 2009 and Glee:  The 3D Concert Movie in 2011.  Much like director Jon M. Chu (G.I. Joe:  Retaliation, Step Up 2:  The Streets, and The LXD), Tancharoen’s love for dance choreography naturally transitioned into full-on action films focusing on fight sequences – perfect for Mortal Kombat.  The 7:49 minute Rebirth short film/trailer was intended as a pitch to Warner Bros. studios, who holds the rights to the Mortal Kombat property, to fund a full-length feature film.  More so than any previous Mortal Kombat incarnation, this short was far grittier and grounded in grim reality.  Police detectives, Jax and Sonya Blade, investigate a string of grizzly murders, including that of Johnny Cage.  Why are they always killing this guy off? Nice character designs and world building for Reptile and Baraka.  Sadly, most of these ideas are dropped, never to be seen again.

 

Mortal Kombat:  Legacy (2011) - Miraculously, Warner Bros. gave their blessing and at least some kind of funding to director Kevin Tancharoen to develop more.  Now re-imagined as a live action web series, Legacy was a chance to explore the Mortal Kombat universe in the long form.  Returning from Rebirth, the series stars Michael Jai White and Jeri Ryan as Jax and Sonya Blade, respectively.  For the most part, the episodes are self-contained sub-plots, each focusing on specific characters and rivalries:  Jax, Sonya, and Kano; Johnny Cage; Kitana & Mileena; Raiden; Scorpion and Sub Zero; and Cyrax and Sektor.  The series is not the greatest, because it is a slow build, but it is highly imaginative and fun.  It scratches that nostalgic itch.

 

Mortal Kombat:  Legacy II (2013) - Season two of the Mortal Kombat:  Legacy series.  The ten episodes, each under ten minutes long, takes place ten years after the original tournament.  Much has happened in the last ten years.  Some of the original characters have fallen on hard times, allowing other characters from the game franchise to have their chance in the spotlight.  Absent from this season are Michael Jai White and Meg Ryan.  Now the ‘big’ named actors are Mark Dacascos from Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001) and Food Networks’ Iron Chef America (2004-2013) and Casper Van Dien of Starship Troopers (1997).  Perhaps all-too appropriately, Van Dien plays Johnny Cage, a D-List action star.  My complaints for the second season are similar to season one:  It’s a slow burn with way too much dialogue and not enough action.  Legacy II ends with a “Too Be Kontinued…” though recent developments brings the future of this franchise into question.  Series champion and steward, Kevin Tacharoen, has decided to move on, leading some to suspect conflicts with the studio and/or creative differences in the vision going forward.  Mortal Kombat, then, may slip back to development hell.  See you in another eighteen years?

-01/06/14

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Most Anticipated Films of 2014

 

Captain America:  Winter Soldier

Anticipation Factor:  The way Marvel/Disney keeps pouring money into these movies, you know at the very least, it will be visually spectacular.

Disappointment Factor:  WWII all-American patriot fights brainwashed Cold War operative…  Two time-displaced soldiers?  What is this, Demolition Man?

Potential:  Marvel is overdue for a flop.  On par with Iron Man 2.

 

X-Men:  Days of Future Past

Anticipation Factor:  The cast of X-Men:  First Class combine forces with the cast of the original X-Men trilogy.  Bryan Singer’s been stealing my wet dreams.

Disappointment Factor:  None.

Potential:  Oh Hell to the Yeah!!!  Best movie of the year.

 

The Edge of Tomorrow

Anticipation Factor:  Based solely on the trailer, looks like the film takes some of the best elements from Groundhog Day, Source Code, Elysium, and the Halo video game.  All-in-all, not too shabby.  Tom Cruise in a sci-fi.  This year’s Oblivion!

Disappointment Factor:  Exo-suits are always a little clunky; case in point, the epic fail that was G. I. Joe:  Rise of Cobra.

Potential:  I could have gone with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 for an all-comic book film list, but I wanted to take bet on the dark horse.  Speaking of which, Paul Giamatti’s Rhino also wears an exo-suit in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  Exo-suit showdown this summer!

 

Guardians of the Galaxy

Anticipation Factor:  A new team of intergalactic heroes with wacky, sci-fi fun.  I’m feeling a Serenity vibe.

Disappointment Factor:  If the Thor:  The Dark World mid-credit scene is an example of what to expect…  Yeesh.

Potential:  With a team of heroes completely unknown to the mass audiences, it’s Marvel’s biggest gamble yet.  As both a Marvel fanboy and sci-fi lover, I’m naively hopeful.

 

Sin City:  A Dame to Kill For

Anticipation Factor:  It was this or the other ultra-stylized comic book movie sequel written by Frank Miller, 300:  Rise of an Empire.

Disappointment Factor:  The film’s been in development hell since the first Sin City.  It doesn’t help that two of the original actors (Brittany Murphy and Michael Clarke Duncan) have since died, forcing recasts.  Does not bode well.

Potential:  In Robert Rodriguez we trust.

-12/30/13

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Best of 2013

 

Honorable Mention:  Spartacus:  War of the Damned - Not bad for something whose ending was theoretically 100% predictable.  The most impressive element of the show for this season was the intricate camerawork.  In this season, moreso than in previous seasons, the camera becomes its own character, frantically swirling around to capture all the blood-spewing action in glorious slow-mo.  In terms of capturing action in slow motion, the show’s expanded on what 300 started back in 2006 (and The Matrix before that) and is infinitely better than the sad 3D ‘slo-mo’ effects of 2012′s Dredd.  As an added bonus (but only for those interested in such things), I figure this show, with its super-muscled men in armor and loincloths, is the closest thing we’ll get to a live-action Warhammer 40K Space Marine movie.  As someone who is actively reading the Horus Heresy series of books, I find the parallels of keen interest, especially towards the end of the season when it is primarch vs primarch and legion vs legion.

 

5. Ender’s Game - My response to Ender’s Game is similar, though not nearly as galvanized, as the other sci-fi flick on this list, Oblivion.  There are many elements of this novel-to-film adaptation that could have gone wrong, and I was all prepared to list Ender’s Game as one of this year’s Most Disappointed.  Surprisingly, though, the film is genuinely faithful to the book, unlike, say, this summer’s World War Z.  Therefore, if you like the book, then chances are, you will like this film.  If you didn’t read the book, then this film probably rates an ‘okay’ to the average film-goer.  While the film revolves around kids, don’t let the naysayers convince you that this is some Harry Potter/Twilight/Hunger Game knock-off.  Indeed, the novel, Ender’s Game, which predates all those other franchises, has more in common with Robert A. Heinlein’s futuristic military novel, Starship Troopers, and Stanley Kubrick’s R-rated war film, Full Metal Jacket, than those Young Adult series.  Like Oblivion, the great visuals and moving soundtrack secure a spot for Ender’s Game on my Top 5.

 

4. Orange is the New Black - A highly entertaining Netflix Original series, with all 13 hour-long episodes of the first season now available for streaming on Netflix.  Orange is the New Black is an all-female, minimal security version of HBO’s Oz.  Advertised as a dark comedy, there’s actually very little that I find funny here, yet I am still engrossed in the brutal reality of prison-life.  The biggest name attached is Jason Biggs of American Pie fame in a supporting role.  Laura Prepon from That ’70s Show has a large (and truly excellent) role, completely different from her sitcom roles.  But the standout for me is Kate Mulgrew as the Russian kitchen boss.  Mulgrew (Captain Janeway from Star Trek:  Voyager) is actually more believable captaining a prison kitchen than she is a Federation starship.  Much too dark for some, but like Oz, stay for the wacky characters and random plot twists.  Season two has already been greenlit.

 

3. Thor:  The Dark World – Thor 2, or rather Loki 3, depending on who you view as the film’s true protagonist, quickly sucks you back into Norse mythology fantasyland and unapologetically takes you on a journey into mystery.  While there are plenty of throwback references to the tent-pole The Avengers, the Thor films remain distinctly apart, tucked away in their ‘little’ corner of the Marvel U.  This is both a detriment and a blessing to the franchise. When the fate of the nine realms are at the brink of peril, I found myself asking, “Where the hell are the Avengers?”  On the other hand, the Thor-centric sandbox is greatly expanded, reuniting us with the host of colorful characters previous established in Thor.  Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, and Rene Russo gain a greater prominence; thank you very much (the filmmakers obviously read my critic of the first Thor).  The special effects are flawless.  Still, not as good as the first Thor, but as stand alone stories go, it beats out Marvel Studio’s other film this year, Iron Man 3, though that could be argued.  My reasoning:  Iron Man 3 works best as a bookend for the saga that is Tony Stark.  Thor… well, Thor is Thor.  It’s a goddamn statement.  (I like to imagine that Thor speaks of himself in the third person.)  Thor is mighty.  Thor walks softly and carries big hammer.  Thor stands Jane up for two years with nary a phone call.  Jane is pissed.  Thor must be going now.

 

2. Oblivion - The surprise pick and Best Movie of the Year.  After seeing this movie in theater in Germany, I liked it enough to send out a mass email recommending it to all; that alone probably tells you how I fell about it.  It’s just an all around good sci-fi flick; probably the best that I’ve seen in awhile (we’re talking about years here).  There’s a perfect blend of high-concept science fiction, coupled with action.  I love the idea of this being a grown-up version of Pixar’s Wall-E – both films start in the same place, but quickly veer off down two wildly different paths.  Tom Cruise is acceptable here.  His co-worker, Victoria, is equal parts dry (like a co-worker should be), at times extremely sexy hot, and best of all, terribly scary (hell hath no fury like a woman scorned).  Morgan Freeman plays an OLD version of Morpheus – a little boring here; I was expecting more.  Jaime Lannister, straight out of HBO’s Game of Thrones, makes an appearance.  Oh and Zoe Bell, stuntwoman turned actor, inexplicably pops up in the last scene, having spoken no lines nor being previously introduced (maybe her scenes got cut?).  In the tradition of Get Shorty, Oblivion retains its PG-13 rating by uttering only a single F-bomb, an instant classic:  ”Sally, fuck you!”

 

1. Game of Thrones, Season 3 - Yep.  This pick’s a no-brainer, as each of the previous seasons has held firm the top spot on my Best Of lists since the series’ entrance in 2011.  Because Game of Thrones is a finite story, the fate of the characters are at the sole whim of author, George R. R. Martin.  Unlike most TV dramas or sitcoms that maintain a status quo to establish franchise characters, Game of Thrones, with its ensemble cast, is not afraid to kill off any number of protagonists, which often allows for some rather shocking moments.  And Season 3 has its share, culminating with the Red Wedding (or as I like to call it, the day the collective internet said “OMG!”).  Having already read the third book, I kinda spoiled myself here.  And while the books do provide greater detail and an advanced lesson in creative world building, HBO has done an amazing job with the series, on par with, if not exceeding, the best of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

-12/23/13

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Most Disappointing of 2013


5. The Walking Dead, Season 3 – I was truly excited when this series first appeared onto the scene. Following on the footsteps of Heroes, we finally get an actual comic-to-TV adaptation. Comics are naturally geared for episodic storytelling, so it was about time. Unfortunately, The Walking Dead was not a property that I personally had read nor had much interest in reading. Not to say the property is bad. In fact, there are many elements which I find particularly intriguing. In homage to George A. Romero’s classic genre-defining Zombie film, Night of the Living Dead (1968), the word ‘zombie’ is never uttered by the characters in The Walking Dead. But the main drawback for me is that all the characters are flawed. This makes them more realistic, perhaps, but I don’t really care for anyone all that much, especially the character of Andrea, who in season 3, was brought more to the forefront. With that said, series creator, Robert Kirkman, stated that he thinks the fourth season will be the best of the series, and with what I’ve seen so far of the first half of the season 4, looks like this show is set to rise from the dead once more.

 

4. Vikings, Season 1 – For the second year in a row the History Channel warrants a mentioned spot on my list of entertainment favorites. Unfortunately, this time, season one of their original series drama, Vikings, falls short of expectations, despite, or perhaps due to, my love for all things sword and sorcery (LoTR, Spartacus, Game of Thrones, etc). Unlike the well-documented rivalry of last year’s Hatfields and McCoys, the History Channel struggled to find historical references for these Scandinavia seafarers. Vikings did not have a written language of their own and so provided no first-person point-of-view accounts. What modern society knows of Vikings are told in the writings of the Christians monks, themselves victims of ‘savage’ Viking raids of rape and plunder. As such, all the Vikings, including our ‘hero’ character, are hard to root for. The set design and costuming are awesome; the characters and acting, not so much. And though quite aware I was witnessing a train wreck, I felt obligated to watch all nine episodes of the first season in hopes the series got better over time. Sadly, it did not. I will most likely skip season two. Perhaps because both protagonists are blond hellions, as an alternative, I suggest FX’s Sons of Anarchy as a modern-day take on the warrior tribe in the form of biker gangs instead of Vikings. I think you’ll find the unintended similarities are rather uncanny.

 

3. Arrested Development, Season 4 – After seven years off air, the cult following show returns for a fourth season, with all 15 episodes available for streaming via Netflix. In celebration, Claudia and I sat down on Sunday, May 26, for a seven and a half hour Arrested Development marathon. The surprise resurrection was not unlike Joss Whedon’s return to the Firefly-verse with the Serenity feature film. As you might have guessed, with its inclusion on my Most Disappointing list, the comeback fell short of expectations, though not for lack of trying. Similar to Quentin Tarantino’s style of interweaving scenes from different angles, season four plays out like one big episode told from different perspectives, a feat easily accomplished with an ensemble cast, though I would suspect, a nightmare to plan and film from a production standpoint. Kudos for even attempting the endeavor. My real disappointment is the disconnect and complete collapse of the relationship between the father and son characters, played by Jason Bateman and Michael Cera. As the only true backbone to the chaotic and dysfunctional family, their fallout was not cool. Needs another season to make right, though there is no guarantee another season will ever happen. I automatically think about the ending of Sopranos and the desire for a follow-up feature film, which now, with the death of leading man, James Gandolfini, will never become a reality. Overall, some laughs to be found and terrific production work, but again, not cool.

 

2. Man of Steel – I blame Avatar. All ills can find their root in that James Cameron ‘Pocahontas in Space’ knock-off. In the years directly following 9/11, movies purposely shied away from depicting mass destruction of metropolitan buildings out of respect – the ‘too soon’ factor. Avatar (in 3D) was the first movie I saw which touched a nerve. The mindless destruction of the life-tree and the resulting ash cloud which caked the Na’vi was very reminiscent of 9/11 footage. Now that we are past the decade mark, it seems like open season for this level of CG violence. I refer to Chicago in Transformers: Dark of the Moon, London in G.I. Joe: Retaliation, San Francisco in Star Trek Into Darkness, and even New York City in last year’s The Avengers. Looking beyond the failings of Man of Steel, where do we go from here? By that I mean: Now that whole parts of Smallville and Metropolis are all but destroyed and the fate of the entire planet Earth saved, how do you one-up-it for a sequel or even a Justice League of America film? What greater threat would cause all of the DCU heroes to unite?

 

1. Star Trek Into Darkness – Some say let the haters hate. Well I’m one of the haters. Let me start by saying that I loved the 2009 reboot. It was a perfect blend of introducing a new, younger audience to the world of Trek, while at the same time, providing enough callbacks to the original series for the veteran fans. As reboots go, J. J. Abrams pulled off the impossible, by presenting a new timeline/sandbox for endless possibilities of boldly going where no one has gone before. Instead of going forward, however, for the sequel Abrams went back to the original movies and rehashed his version of Star Trek: Wrath of Khan. Why, when you could do anything, would you go back to what has already been done? And let me stress, this is a blatant rehash, right down to reusing some of the same dialogue, same shots, same tropes. For the first film, I can understand relying on those references, but not for the sequel. Just awful and lazy. Is there anything I liked? Frankly, no. Kirk’s demotion was pointless, because he gets his Captaincy back in the next scene. Peter Weller’s Admiral Marcus and Section 31: I don’t like the Federation as bad guys; I feel it is not inline with Gene Roddenberry’s vision. Carol Marcus was god-awful and also pointless (since when is she an advance weapons expert?). Not since Star Trek: The Motion Picture has the Klingons been as ineffectual and lackluster. And every scene which hearkens back to Wrath of Khan, makes me wish I was watching that movie instead. Notice I have yet to mention Benedict (-10 Charisma) Cumberbatch – yawn; he’s no Ricardo Montalban! And while I did appreciate the film more upon second viewing, I must stick to my guns: This was the biggest disappoint of the year!

-12/16/13

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Comic Book Films of 2013


G.I. Joe: Retaliation - With a total worldwide opening weekend of $139 million, I’d say the sequel of the Hasbro toy franchise was an undisputed success. As someone who contributed to that number (9 EUR for the 3D English version in a two-theater hole in the wall in Stuttgart, Germany), I am of mixed opinion. Certainly, the sequel was better than the first one. Better stunts, better action, better camerawork – basically better movement. Not surprising for a film helmed by Jon M. Chu, the director of  Step Up 2:  The Streets, Step Up 3D, and the web-series, LXD:  The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers, which I still endorse wholeheartedly.  And there are plenty of fanboy nods like a 10 minute ninjas vs. ninjas scene sans dialogue which honors the classic 1984 G.I. Joe #21 comic book, in which Storm Shadow and Snakes Eyes battle for the entire issue without a single dialogue box.  But in the end, this film suffers from the same tropes as the first.  Lots of mindless explosions, awful, cringing dialogue, over-the-top characters (RZA being the worst), and the film can not go two minutes without introducing a new vehicle or wardrobe change – blunt advertisement to sell more toys to the mindless consumers!  Mindless is probably the best way to go here; the same advice I had for The Expendables.  Retaliation is basically a PG-13 version of the The Expendables.  Hell, one of the Expendables even makes an appearance, though Bruce Willis looks absolutely frail and elderly standing next to Dwayne Johnson – keep those two out of the same shot.


Oblivion – Technically, the story for this film appeared as an ashcan comic first distributed at San Diego Comic Con 2008 for free. While this was really nothing more than concept art for Tron: Legacy director, Joseph Kosinski’s next project, the ashcan ended up in the hands of Tom Cruise’s people who pushed for the project to get made with Cruise in the lead role, of course. Though Kosinski originally envisioned a younger actor, Cruise’s enthusiasm greenlit the 50 year old as the glorified tech repair main of the near future. Oblivion, therefore, is one of the genuinely rare success stories in comics, one in which all independent comic creators secretly desire – a free, self-published ashcan to major motion picture, seemingly overnight.

 

Iron Man 3 – When Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man trilogy came out, I agreed when people complained that in every final fight Spider-Man’s mask miraculously tore away so we could see the actor’s face – more Maguire and less Spider-Man. For Iron Man 3, Tony Stark definitely spends more time out of the suit than in it, but in this case, I think it works. Stark is conflicted. Does the suit make the man, or does the man make the suit? Well, when everything gets blowed up, the man must go back to basics, in a scene that is very reminiscent of the Iron Man’s origin of being hastily scraped together in a cave in the first film. There’s a nice juxtaposition there as we find that the villain has biologically augmented himself to be more super – Final Boss Fight: Tony vs. Nega-Tony! On a more serious note, I have to say one thing for the Iron Man films: they are very timely in their depiction of terrorism. The capture of Tony Stark in Afghanistan in Iron Man was eerily similar to the webcast of Nick Berg’s beheading in 2004. This film depicts a terrorist bombing in a public place, directly on the heels of the Boston Marathon bombings. The Mandarin, as a new world terrorist, was truly terrifying; it would be nice to have seen how that plays that, but alas… Better than Iron Man 2, but not better than The Avengers or the first Iron Man. A nice bookend to wrap up the Iron Man trilogy.

 

Man of Steel – The Kryptonian mini movie at the beginning was great: great costumes, great design, and Russel Crowe’s Jor-El and Michael Shannon’s General Zod (at least in this part of the film) were memorizing. Of course, if I didn’t know I was watching a Superman movie, this could easily have been a sequel to John Carter. The first act involving an emo Clark Kent was captivating. Bearded and buff Henry Cavill reminded me of Wolverine wandering the Canadian frontier. I wanted to spend more time in the Ma and Pa Kent flashbacks. I was happy here – like drinking iced tea while laying on a porch hammock on a hot summer day. Then came the second and third acts of the film, which were nothing more than slug fests, first in Smallville, then Metropolis. Through much of that, Supes was moving so fast I could hardly tell he was wearing the red and blue, which is so iconic to the character. Again, if I didn’t know I was watching a Superman movie, this could have been any number of big budget, special effects laden blockbusters of late. The shift in tone following the reemergence of Zod was a stark contrast to everything I was enjoying up to that point. Why was the word ‘Superman’ only uttered once? Is it like the word ‘Zombie;’ are we not suppose to mention it? Ghostly tour guide Russel Crowe was weak – not nearly as powerful as Marlon Brando’s giant floating head and graveled voice. And while I generally liked General Zod, he and his two-dimensional posse (Ursa and Non rip-offs?) lacked luster. As cheesy as the effects of 1980′s Superman II, at least the villain trio had character. Henry Cavill was okay. Amy Adams, not so much. Sadly the best characters were Jor-El, Pa Kent, and Zod, and I don’t expect any of them to be back for a sequel.

 

Red 2 – Not sure if anyone watched this film; it kind of slipped under the radar. As it was, I recently picked it up on Netflix. In all honesty, it was more entertaining than I expected. In the same vein as Expendables, aging stars prove they can do action and, in doing so, stay relevant with today’s more youthful audience. Bruce Willis and his geriatric crew return for this sequel to Red (2010), originally a DC comics property. The film opens with a motion comic credits sequence, which is a nice nod to the source material. The plot plays out like a heist film – more Ocean’s Twelve than Expendables. It probably didn’t help that both Bruce Willis and Catherine Zeta-Jones were in Ocean’s Twelve, so that connection got stuck in my head. The stand-outs: Youthful Byung-hun Lee (Storm Shadow from the G. I. Joe film series) provides the best action scenes. Crazy John Malkovich is great. Mary-Louise Parker is cute. And at this point, Bruce Willis is just cashing in a paycheck playing himself; no acting required. I miss the days of smart-ass John McClane from Die Hard circa 1998, at least then, he was trying.

 

The Wolverine – Starting with the positives: This is Hugh Jackman’s sixth outing as Wolverine; next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past will mark his seventh. Suffice to say, he’s got the role down to near perfection by now, and at least for his part, can do no wrong. The Japanese backdrop was a nice change of scenery. The return of Famke Janssen is always a plus. Though this film references X-Men 3, you are not required to have prior knowledge of it (which is good for those of us who have blocked it out our memory); everything you need to know is explained here. Now onto the negatives: The plot was convoluted and I never quite understood everyone’s motivation, especially Viper’s and Asian Hawkeye’s. CGI bear, ’nuff said. Going forward, Wolvie’s sidekick, Yukio, seems to replace the role I would have like to seen Jubilee in – a small nitpick. And then there are the plot holes. In X-Men, we established that Logan can not remember anything from his past beyond the most recent 15 years, yet he feels honor bound for something he did during WWII. I’m also not convinced with the physics of the bullet train sequence; in desperate need of a special Mythbusters debunking. But really the greatest thing this film (and the character of Wolverine) brings to the table is how it links all the X-Men films together into one shared universe. Stay tuned for the bonus mid-credits sequence. And Wolvie’s now patented “Go fuck yourself” line, still not as good as the F-bomb dropped in Oblivion.

 

Kick-Ass 2 – Not nearly as good as the first Kick-Ass, which is a shame because this film raises the stakes and increases both the good guy and bad guy rosters quite colorfully. Unfortunately, while the emotional beats are there, they miss the mark more often than not. And the culminating epic good versus evil battle royale throwdown at the end was a bit of a dud. You would think that the obvious stand out was Jim Carrey, but you’d be wrong. Much like Nic Cage in the first Kick-Ass, Carrey brings a big name to an unlikely role. For once, Carrey, known for his over-the-top performances, plays it fairly straight, and his character’s charm suffers because of that choice. Ultimately though, the fact that Jim Carrey has less than 8 minutes of screen time may also diminish the audience’s overall rapport for the character. Alternatively, I rather enjoyed John Leguizamo quiet performance. And if I may go on a tangent: Jim Carrey refused to promote this film due to its violence. Anyone going to see Kick-Ass 2 is well aware of the level of violence. More likely, Carrey wanted to distance himself from a vigilante flick and the controversy surrounding the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman. Which begs the question: Is this a case of art imitating life, life imitating art, or a sign of the times?

 

Thor: The Dark World – Worlds collide! More appropriately, the nine realms align, an event that only happens every 5000 years much like the ever elusive Thanksgivukkah. The whole fish-out-of-water table is overturned for the Thor sequel as midgardian, Jane Foster, visits Asgard. There, Natalie Portman meets Thor’s mom, Rene Russo, instantly renewing all my mother/daughter kink fantasies. The filmmakers sure know what the fans like. For instance, this film expands the screen time of fan favorites Idris Elba (Pacific Rim, Prometheus), Kat Dennings (2 Broke Girls), and disheveled, only-slightly mad scientist, Stellan Skarsgard. Newcomers include Alice Krige (Star Trek: First Contact, HBO’s Deadwood), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (HBO’s Oz, G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra, Lost), and as the most bizarre, mid-credits cameo, Benicio Del Toro (Sin City, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). As for the movie, itself? An overwrought plot is painfully explained by some Star Trek-like techno-babble. Yo, filmmakers, I’m watching a Thor movie; ‘it’s magic’ will suffice as a perfectly acceptable explanation for any situation. By now it’s clear, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is the real draw here. He’s just a pleasure to watch and his smooth slyness upstages blunt meathead Chris Hemsworth in every scene. They either play off each other very well or Hiddleston is truly the better actor. For our purposes, it doesn’t matter – it works. I look forward to a future Thor & Loki buddy cop movie.

-12/09/13

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Comparison Review:  Starship Troopers


Continuing my examination of R rated films that had greatly impacted on my adolescent self, I point my reflective gaze at 1997′s Starship Troopers.  Excessive violence?  Check.  Gratuitous nudity?  Check.  And the trifecta:  fantastical sci-fi elements?  Check, check, and check.  This film seems to fit right into my wheelhouse.

How well has this monumental film, and its legacy, held up?  I attempt to answer this question in the reviews below.

 

Starship Troopers (1997) – Loosely based on the Robert A. Heinlein book of the same title.  To start, I can say I read the book and aside from lifting out the most generic of elements (troopers, bugs, and a totalitarian society), the film shares little with the source material, which was more a commentary on the mundanity and worthlessness of a soldier’s life (see Jarhead (2005) for that film).  The filmmakers here, instead, spiced up the action and sex appeal considerably for a modern day audience, quite successfully I might add.  The film is chock full of gory dismemberment, badass moments, and most surprisingly, humor.  Our cast of all-stars include chiseled-jaw Casper Van Dien, spunky Dina Meyer, still new hotness Denise Richards, veteran to sci-fi, grizzled Michael Ironside and Doogie Howser, M.D., before he reinvented himself as the bro’s bro, NPH.  The nudity in this film is near-perfect.  The communal shower scene is bordering on gratuitous, but it appears early enough in the film that it, along with the dialogue in the scene, is still part of the world-building that’s meant for introducing this society.  I must say, I’m intrigued by the sardonic depiction of the militaristic chaos and the accompanying propaganda machine.  It’s very similar in message to the contemporary Chuck Palahniuk novel, Fight Club (1996) and the subsequent film (1999).  Both films were products of their time.  I’m curious as to how the reception of Starship Troopers would have been if released in the patriotic-centric world directly following 9/11.  In the same situation, Fight Club, with its home-brewed terrorism, would surely have flopped, or be so heavily altered by a fearful studio as to be left impotent.  A timely discussion considering the date, but one that deserves further thought, for another time.  ”Would you like to know more?”

 

Roughnecks:  The Starship Troopers Chronicles (1999) – This CGI animated television series is definitely the most exploratory bit of entertainment of everything on this list.  Comprised of forty 22-minute episodes, the series has the time and depth to start over from scratch, and this time, more closely follow the original source material, the novel by Robert A. Heinlein.  The expanded universe introduces more characters and locations and the format of the series fits neatly into 5 episode arcs titled, “Pluto,” “Hydora,” “Tophet,” “Tesca,” “Zephyr,” “Klendathu,” “Trackers,” and “Homefront.”  In addition to creating new, imaginatively interesting bugs, the series introduces Skinnies, power armor suits, and drop pods, all straight out of the book.  I’m not sure if I should admit this, but I also listened to the commentary for each episode (that’s over 29 hours of mindless TV watching).  The commentary focuses on the voice acting, which is a whole micro-industry I’m only vaguely aware exists.  Case in point, the voice director was Susan Blu, who played Arcee in the awesome Transformers:  The Movie (1986) and has had a hand in pretty much every morning cartoon, ever.  Sadly the cult series ran into production house issues and distribution problems forcing the story to run short of completion – in actuality, only 36 episodes were made with 4 clip shows to equal out the as-contracted 40 episodes.  As such, the series ended on a cliffhanger and was cancelled without a satisfying resolution.

 

Starship Troopers 2:  Hero of the Federation (2004) – This direct-to-video sequel is available on Netflix’s Watch Instantly, though that’s not an endorsement to go watch it by any means.  Starship Troopers 2 feels less like a direct sequel and more like a cobbled collection of ideas from other films.  There are strong hints of Aliens (1986) mixed with elements from a first season Farscape (1999-2003) episode, “Exodus From Genesis,” and the now classic Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1998) first season episode, “Conspiracy.”  All have insectoid creatures scurrying about trying to impregnate/take over members of the crew.  The most telling factoid for this film is that it was made for 5% the cost of the original Starship Troopers.  Shot entirely on one set, it has the look and feel of a bottle episode of a TV show.  Indeed, our titular hero is played by Richard Burgi, mainly known for his TV work; I know him best as the lead in the short-running The Sentinel (1996-1999).  How come this guy never found a spot on the big screen?  The nudity, what little there is, seems forced and strictly involves a succubus-like Kelly Carlson of TV’s Nip/Tuck (2003-2010).  And to continue my previous discussion of rape, there’s a scene where one woman is forcibly held down by a several others while an alien bug inserts itself into her.  The whole scene is rather vulgar and unnecessary and serves no purpose by that time in the film.

 

Starship Troopers 3:  Marauder (2008) – As bad as Starship Troopers 2 was, this one was worse.  Casper Van Dien reprises his role as Johnny Rico for what I can only assume, was an easy paycheck.  Ramping up the corporal punishment of the original film to capital punishment, Rico barely escapes death by hanging in this ultra-totalitarian future.  His character seesaws between hero/anti-hero/dick so much, I could care less if he died on the gallows.   Trekkies will no doubt fan over Jolene Blalock (Vulcan Sub-Commander T’Pol from Enterprise (2001-2005)) inclusion into this sci-fi franchise.  Unfortunately, she is not a good actor.  Her woodenness as a Vulcan apparently is just her playing herself.  Again, the nudity seems forced.  Prior to getting fitted for exo-suits, five or six elite soldiers (Rico included), strip down and are analyzed on screen like G.I. Joe power stat cards.  It’s worth Google Image searching “Starship Troopers 3 nudity” for the scene.  What pushes this film over the cliff of poor taste, however, is the abundance of overt religious dialogue.  I can’t tell if the filmmakers are making a joke here or not.  The original Starship Troopers was such a tongue-in-cheek satire of what passes for ‘military intelligence’ that the God as Savior references must be the same, no?  Either way, the heaviness of religious themes ruins what I want out of a Starship Troopers film. The best character, hands down, is the single pole ladder prop which is reused in nearly every scene.  Without fault, someone either ascends or descends this prop, which becomes a fun drinking game as it is quite obvious that both the ladder and the stage set ends just out of the view of the camera.  Hilarious.

 

Starship Troopers:  Invasion (2012) – After the wondrous CGI animated series of 1999, I had high hopes for this latest incarnation into the Starship Troopers franchise, that promised the look of CGI anime similar to Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001).  Appearing mysteriously 15 years after the original film, I was curious as to what this was, exactly.  Apparently this is, indeed, intended to be Starship Troopers 4, though where it fits into continuity I’m not sure, though in truth, does it matter?  Despite, or due to, the use of motion capture, the CGI is rather clunky.  There’s a lengthy sparring scene between two soldiers that is just hard to watch.  In addition, there’s also two separate nudie scenes, one featuring a topless makeout session, the other, a shower scene where the voyeuristic camera slowly pans over exposed, wet breasts, like the nude mod for Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball Xbox video game.  I felt like a creepy old man watching these scenes.  As for the plot (there’s a plot?), it’s all a bit repetitive by now:  A group of armored space marines run down the grated corridors in an against-all-odds situation vs. alien bugs.  Isn’t that the synopsis of any number sci-fi properties?  Aliens, Blizzard’s Starcraft, Game-Workshop’s Space Hulk, etc.  Yawn.

-09/11/13

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Comparison Review:  Wild Things


Talking about R rated films recently got me thinking about what R rated films inspired me personally (and perhaps my generation, though I find it difficult to speak on behalf of an entire generation, and terribly hubristic on my part to think I could).  There are definitely a couple films which even today influence my television and film watching preferences, one of which was the 1998 thriller, Wild Things.  This film had the right amount of violence coupled with gratuitous T&A.  Added to the mix was a bit of the fantastical:  convoluted plot twists and backstabbing, elements which are still prevalent in the entertainment that I like today.  Looking at my Top 5 list so far for this year, modern day equivalents are Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, Starz’s Spartacus, and HBO’s Game of Thrones.

How well has this monumental film, and its legacy, held up?  I attempt to answer this question in the reviews below.

 

Wild Things (1998) – A classic.  Now before you criticize me for bestowing such honors on an obvious exploitative shit of a film, let me explain the process here.  I started by watching the sequels first, and left the viewing of the original for last.  By comparison, Wild Things is a masterpiece.  The cast is incredible.  At the height of their popularity, there is:  Scream (1996) queen, Neve Campbell; the newest hotness, soon-to-be Bond Girl, Denise Richards; Matt Dillon (who also stars in the that year’s There’s Something About Mary), and lest we forget, cameo by Kevin Bacon’s penis.  Richards walks around the entire film in either a bra, wet t-shirt, or bathing suit – it’s awesome.  Aside from Denise Richard’s tits, the only other stand out is Bill Murray, who I find more entertaining each time I rewatch this film.  Bill Murray is basically playing himself, hilariously ad libbing in a way only Bill Murray knows how.  Sadly, his character gets lost in the mess of twisting plots, which even now, still does not make any sense to me.  Shot on-location in Florida, there’s some great mood-setting locales and beautiful cinematography.  Great original score by George S. Clinton.  And one of the best opening lines of film ever:  ”Fuck off.”  Sets the tone, no?

 

Wild Things 2 (2004) – This straight-to-video flick is basically a direct clone of the original Wild Things minus the star power.  Set in the Florida everglades, two high-schoolers, snobby, high-crust girl and trashy, swamp rat, hatch a plan to get rich quick, with just as many confusing twists and backstabbing ploys.  Includes a threesome make-out session that is shot-for-shot out the 1998 original.  With a cast that includes mostly one-note TV actors, there’s not much draw here.  Watch the original; skip this one.

 

Wild Things:  Diamonds in the Rough (2005) – I’ve finally figured out the Wild Things formula.  All these movies begin with the same scenario.  Like a game of Fiasco, all the pieces are in place:  An unlikely pair of high school hotties plot to screw over the slimeball adults in their life.  Then, when all things seem to be going as planned, the third act throws in a monkey wrench.  I actually had fun trying to figure out how the filmmakers were going to go out of their way to F with the audience.  At the end of the second act, the girls were scott-free, but due to an incredibly complex, years in the making, twist, all the pieces both fall apart and back together perfectly for the ‘happy ending.’  The best part of the film, and the now classic staple for all in the Wild Things franchise, are the mid-credit scenes which fill in the blanks not seen during the movie itself.  These are like the alternative scenes reimagining the film you just spent 90 minutes watching that totally throw the whole experience on its ear.  Very reminiscent of the alternative scenarios in Clue (1985), though without the comedic elements.  Special appearance by Dina Meyer, the redhead in Starship Troopers (1997).  Though she sadly does not flash her tits in this film, it’s a nice nod to original Wild Thing, Denise Richards, who co-starred with Meyer in Starship Troopers.

 

Wild Things:  Foursome (2010) – Another straight-to-video release.  Unlike Wild Things 2, which at times looks like it was shot on a sound stage, the filmmakers for this film spent some money.  There’s a lengthy speedboat race, a NASCAR style car crash, and a fireball explosion (the first pyrotechnics for the series, yeah).  The ‘foursome’ to which the title refers includes a third girl thrown into the formulaic mix, though she only appears in a total of four scenes and has even less lines.  Pretty to look at, but with the one-two punch of obviously orchestrated plot twists and bad acting, this is the worst outing since the confusing sequel/remake of the second one.

 

A final note:  Because all these films basically share the same storyline, I found it difficult to stomach ‘rape’ as a repetitive plot point.  Neither the actual act of rape, nor the accusation of rape as these girls used like the boy who cried wolf, are cool.  That said, I do find the barbaric act interesting as a commentary on the human condition – that rape persists presumably from caveman days, to the ‘enlightened’ Roman age as depicted in the latest season of Spartacus, and sadly continuing into modern times.  From that perspective, humanity has not evolved all that much from the most base animal, or in this case… wild thing.

-09/10/13

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Most Anticipated Films of 2013

 

Iron Man 3

Anticipation Factor: First Marvel Studio film since the awesomeness that was / still is The Avengers. Keep it up!

Disappointment Factor: Appears to be a ‘darker’ film, which traditionally is a good thing for franchises (ie. The Dark Knight and Star Wars:  Empire Strikes Back), but Downey is best at comedy, which might be drowned out by a moody story. Plus Sir Ben Kingsley in the Mandarin costume looks ridiculous. He’s a Knight for Pete’s sake!

Potential: It will be better than Iron Man 2 (can’t possibly be worse).

 

Star Trek Into Darkness

Anticipation Factor: Over-hyped already, and I’m the target audience gladly sucking down the Cool-Aid.

Disappointment Factor: Khan or no Khan? I feel as if it’s a lose/lose situation either way.

Potential: Best movie of the year.

 

Man of Steel

Anticipation Factor: Trailer looks great, like a warm bowl of stick-to-your-ribs Americana narrated by Kevin Costner.

Disappointment Factor: Did you see the last Superman outing?

Potential: The pressure’s on for DC to push towards a JLA (Justice League of America) film. Will we see hints of it here? Will it matter?

 

Ender’s Game

Anticipation Factor: Great book by Orson Scott Card.

Disappointment Factor: Surprisingly relatively low. From what I have seen the kids look age appropriate. Plus Harrison Ford channels a little R. Lee Ermey a la Full Metal Jacket.

Potential: Genius kids wanted for tactical space school. Where do I sign up?

 

Thor: The Dark World

Anticipation Factor: Thor holds a spot near the top of my list for favorite superhero films of all time.

Disappointment Factor: Much like Ender’s Game, even if it strays a little off the deep end, deep into suspension of disbelief territory, I still expect a good story.

Potential: Only good things.

-01/08/13

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Best of 2012

 

Honorable Mention: Hatfields and McCoys – The History Channel’s six-hour biopic of America’s most infamous family feud. When it comes to television, I rarely step out of my comfort zone of premium, commercial-free programming of HBO, Showtime, and Starz, with AMC’s The Walking Dead as the lone exception, but this ambitious, three-part miniseries caught my eye. Kevin Costner (who won an Emmy for the role) and Bill Paxton star as the patriarchal heads of two rival families along the West Virginia/Kentucky border following the American Civil War. Even the supporting cast sports some big names: Tom Berenger (Platoon, Gettysburg), Powers Boothe (HBO’s Deadwood, Tombstone), and Jena Malone (one of the femme fatales in last year’s Sucker Punch, Donnie Darko). The miniseries, for the most part, accurately depicts all the little events that snowballed into the outright massacre of two families. While this is a worthy watch, it’s far too depressing to include within the Top 5.

 

5. The Cabin in the Woods – For horror aficionados, this film is boss! In the same way that Scream (1996) outlined the governing rules of the average American horror film in direct, simplified terms, The Cabin in the Woods deconstructs the entire horror film genre, while at the same time adding to the grander mythology – no small feat. The film is both blatant and subtle in revealing mainstay horror staples. One of the more obvious reference is to the character archetypes: the jock, the flirt, the fool, the brains, and the virgin. I love archetypes; reminds me of The Breakfast Club (1985). A more subtle reference is when the Harbinger character is presenting the obligatory ‘Death Curse,’ an element usually reserved for the likes of fantastic actor, Tony Todd (Hatchet, Final Destination). As someone who works in a cubicle day in and day out, I love the mundane nature of the behind-the-scenes office workers, even if they are dealing with gruesome, gory deaths (and like the film, my office often starts up office pools for everything: sports games, baby due dates, etc.). I can just see Jason Voorhees asking for TPS Reports or Freddy Krueger cursing, “PC Load Letter? What the fuck does that mean?”

 

4. Argo – I was a little late getting this list out, mainly because I was holding out for the opportunity of seeing this film on the off chance I could include it in my 2012 Top 5. It was worth the wait. Argo is part spy film, along the same lines as 2011′s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and the eco-doc thriller The Cove (2009), and part sci-fi – a mash-up of two genres which sends this fanboy’s interests into overdrive. Ben Affleck’s directing has never been better. To get the look and feel of the time period, Affleck shot on film and blew the image up 200% to increase the graininess. Even better, I saw Argo at AFI Silver instead of the local AMC 20-theater multiplex, which means I saw it on actual film rather than digital. In much the same way New Yorkers watch films set in New York City, I ate up every shot of DC, the State Department building, Dulles Airport, and dare I say, the madness that is security checkpoints in foreign countries. Cons: Affleck’s acting is one-note and very dry; the guy has one blank expression throughout the entire film. Also the speed in which the U.S. Government moves in this universe amazes me, but really I think that’s more to keep the tension running high, which this film does in spades, from beginning to end. Great supporting cast of Alan Arkin and John Goodman. And the far out wackiness of Hollywood vs. the very real hostage situation half a world away is a great juxtaposition for an overall view of the world in before-I-was-even-born 1980.
Surviving Argo concept art by Marvel legend, Jack Kirby.

 

3. The Dark Knight Rises – As some of you know I ended up seeing this film twice in rapid succession on the day it was released. At the conclusion of the first time I saw the film I was ready to tout it as the best movie of the year, hands down. I found the ending very satisfying as a perfect cap to the Nolan trilogy with each recurring character having a few seconds of screen time to reflect on how Batman/Bruce Wayne affected their lives. Very personal; very moving. I teared up. Upon second viewing, however, some of the mysteries had lost their wonder and that ending didn’t have the same punch as it did before. The Dark Knight Rises is an excellent film when viewed together with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight as a complete trilogy, much like Lord of the Rings: Return of the King holds so much more depth when considering the complete arc depicted in the previous two LoTR films. And though I have the unique perspective that I saw this film twice before hearing the tragic news, I’d be remiss not to include the fact that the IRL events surrounding the midnight showing in Aurora, CO soured all future viewings of this film. So unlike Return of the King scoring big at awards’ time, I don’t expect much attention for DK2; I don’t think Hollywood will want to drudge up memories of the past, and instead will politely let this latest Batman installment slip into the annals of time.
iFanboy reaction to The Dark Knight Rises.

 

2. The Avengers – The ultimate superhero comic to film adaptation, and coincidentally the second film on this list co-written by Joss Whedon and co-starring Chris Hemsworth. This film delivered a satisfying payoff that was first teased in the end of credits scene of Iron Man (2008) when Nick Fury mentions the Avengers Initiative. With a cast of big name actors and big egos, every character was nicely developed and had their time to shine. So much of the Marvel universe was featured in this film that I really felt I had slipped into the 616 universe and half expected to see Spidey and the FF swoop in to help out our heroes at the end (sadly this was not the case, nor will it come to fruition in any discernible near future). That said, I see great things for the future of Marvel Studio films and the continued adventures of Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, and the rest of the Avengers on the horizon.

 

1. Game of Thrones, Season 2 – This HBO fantasy series is the only TV show where I found myself on-the-seat-of-my-pants eager to see what happens week after week. After a sensational first season, I was sure the second season would have trouble topping it, and indeed with the slow build at the beginning of season two I thought all hope lost. However the last couple episodes of the season pulled it back up to the greatness I had come to expect. Another Emmy is sure to go to Peter Dinklage for his role as the ‘half-man’, Tyrion Lannister. The juggling of multiple storylines and the plethora of characters makes me wanting more and more – in a good way. It also helps that I’m also reading the Song of Fire and Ice series of books, while concurrently playing Skyrim, and writing my own D&D choose-your-own-adventure novel. Suffice to say, my mind is firmly set in the various worlds of fantasy, making this an easy number one pick for me.

-01/07/2013

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Most Disappointing of 2012

 

(Dis)honorable Mention: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – My excitement for this film waned more and more as its release date neared. I kept asking myself, With the perfection that is the LoTR trilogy, do I really need to dip back into the world of Middle-Earth? The Tolkien completist in me says, Yes. But for the average Joe, this film will be a disappointing rehash of what Peter Jackson has already done. The locales are the same, and a majority of the characters and the actors who portray them are the same. And there’s a cleaning the dishes scene that is eye-gaugingly awful. So what does the film do good? The score is fantastic. As with all the LoTR films, composer Howard Shore knows how to set the mood. Also with the advance of technology, the computer animated special effects are better and more seamless. Still, The Hobbit does not rank high in my opinion and may warrant a pass altogether for its next ill-titled iteration in 2013, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Plus, if I see one more dues ex machina involving giant eagles, I swear…

 

5. Spartacus: Vengeance - This is the first time in the last three outings that Spartacus has not ended up on my Top 5 Best list, so it’s with a heavy heart that I relegate my favorite sex and violence series to the Disappointing category. Not to say that this season was outright bad, but it was missing something, or more appropriately, someone. When I tried to explain Vengeance to someone, I began by saying the season focused on the supporting characters. And while this was definitely true in the last year’s prequel miniseries (pre-Spartacus), I kept forgetting that Spartacus was an integral part of this season. It just wasn’t the same Spartacus, figuratively and literally. With new actor, Liam McIntyre, replacing the title character this season, he was a constant reminder of the passing of previous actor, Andy Whitfield, and how much he brought to the role. It was announced earlier this year, that the series will end after this last season beginning in January 2013, and perhaps, it’s just as well.

 

4. American ReunionThere’s this old saying: ‘You can never go home again.’  I would say that the cast and crew of the American Pie series have never heard this saying, but after watching this film it was painfully obvious that yes, they had, and yet despite the warning(s), ignored it anyway in a lame attempt to make a buck. The idea of sucking a franchise dry is not unfamiliar here as there are no less than seven sequels/spin offs of the original, fantastic American Pie (1999).  American Reunion reunites the original cast and attempts to rekindle that old humorous spark mostly through the absurd antics of crude goofball Stifler, to which the rest of the cast, along with the audience, shook their head at in sad disbelief. Case it point: there’s a scene where Stifler destroys a couple wave riders (aka Sea-Doos). While this same scene might have been funny if involving daredeviling teenagers, as adults, Stifler and company are now committing dangerous criminal acts with blatant disregard for any actual consequences. To conclude, either I grew up and no longer find the same things as enjoyable, or the film failed to grow up with the target audience and thus delivered a subpar product. Either way, much like my own high school reunion, a quiet disappointment.

 

3. Red TailsA film about the all African American squadron, the Tuskegee Airmen in WWII. Let me start by explaining why this film should be Great (that’s ‘great’ with a capital ‘G’). Executive Producer = George Lucas. This film is really Lucas’ long-time pet project and main inspiration for the X-Wings in Star Wars; even Luke Skywalker and Wedge Antillies’ call signs, Red Five and Red Two, respectively, are a callback to codenames for the Red Tail fighter pilots. Screenplay co-written by Aaron McGruder. McGruder is the mastermind behind the oft-controversial comic strip The Boondocks. The smartly written strip, featuring an African American cast, does not shy from discussing race, politics, and current events as seen through the eyes of the black culture. The writing talent alone should be perfect for the racially charged setting of inherent prejudices and desire for respect and acceptance of black fighter pilots in WWII. And then there are the top billed actors of Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding, Jr. Where it went wrong? ALL the acting was terrible. Let’s be honest, Cuba Gooding, Jr. has not been a good actor since he accepted the lead role in 2002′s Snow Dogs. Even his token role in 2001′s Pearl Harbor (another WWII film) was overly brief and weak. The other actors did what they could, but most of the film takes place sitting in a cramped cockpit in front of a green screen, facing straight into the camera. The lines of dialogue were rough and the acting stiff as cardboard. The plot was cliched and self-contained, meaning there was no grand overarching heft that viewers could take away with them after watching the film. This was no Saving Private Ryan, or even Memphis Belle, or any of the dozens of better-made WWII films.

 

2. The Amazing Spider-ManThe more I think about it, the more I feel like Sony and Fox are purposefully out to dupe the average consumer with the lowest common denominator drivel of sequels and reboots. This is probably closer to the truth than I know considering both Sony and Fox are in a mad dash to retain the rights of their Marvel franchises lest the properties revert to back to Marvel Studios and Disney holdings. So we’re left with poorly written rush jobs out to capitalize on the character name recognition alone; story and faithfulness to the property be damned. This film, for instance, is a re-hash of the 2002 Sam Rami version, almost scene for scene, indicating a complete lack of originality. The real crime: not once does Uncle Ben utter the line, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” This single line of dialogue becomes a mantra for why Peter Parker dons the costume in the first place and is as much as important to Spider-Man character as anything else. It hearkens back to when Bryan Singer removed “the American Way” from the line, “Does he still stand for truth, justice, and all that stuff,” in his 2006 Superman Returns. Sacrilegious! Shame on you, Sony. Following in the shadow of a true Marvel masterpiece, The Avengers, I expected more.

 

1. PrometheusAs one of the most anticipated films of 2012, I was eager to revisit the universe and genre-defining franchise that Ridley Scott helped create 33 years ago. I’m always amazed when a film that debuted before I was even born captures my imagination and is retained, in fond memory, in my pop cultural awareness decades later. Alien (1979) is one of those films. And like Star Wars (1977) before it and John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) a couple years later, these films defined a generation of science fiction fans. Recent attempts at making prequels to these icon films have painfully fallen flat. The prequels, undoubtedly look cleaner and more high-tech than their antiquated counterparts, which jars continuity. Prometheus, sadly, falls into this category. Whereas Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley became the bad-ass heroine the audience could root for, Prometheus‘ protagonist, Elizabeth Shaw, played by Noomi Rapace, seems like a scared and confused child walking amongst the shadows of gods. This is no small part due to the breathtaking cinematics, which feature tiny humans upon a vast alien landscape. Compare that to the close quarters scrambling and tightly-framed shots in Alien. The filming, itself, created a sense of tension – of what was lurking around the corner – that was utterly lacking in Prometheus. As such, I didn’t feel a sense of danger and I didn’t care about the characters or their story. A real let down.
Red Letter Media questions Prometheus.

-12/27/2012

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Comic Book Films of 2012

 

The Adventures of Tintin (2011) – Technically this one came out right before the New Year, but since I saw it in 2012, I’m including it in this list. Based on the internationally-acclaimed Belgium comic strip by Hergé, the film features a sleuth reporter named Tintin and his faithful fox terrier, Snowy. The computer animation is superb; however, the over-complicated plot and some of the characters, like drunken Captain Haddock, are down right silly. And while silly characters are expected in a kid’s film, I would argue that Tintin is a bit dark for children and more appropriate for an young adult age bracket. The continent-hopping adventuring and action reminded me greatly of Indiana Jones and fans of that series should check this out, but because of that Haddock character, don’t expect to be blown away. Actually, I’ll split the difference and make this film’s more silly humor and fantastical elements more akin to the popular Lego Indiana Jones video games, which seem to be as much as an inspiration as the original comic strip.

 

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance – If you thought the first Ghost Rider (2007) was bad, then you may be scratching your head as to why anyone would want to make a sequel. And more specifically, why Nicolas Cage would agree to reprise this role. Well don’t ask me; I’m right there with you. As much as I’m not trying to quantify film as bad… it was. The problem is this film is not even on the same playing field as the other films on this list; it’s not comparable. The plot is basically T2: A chase film with a bad-ass on a motorcycle, a kid in danger, a gun-totting mother in tow… oh and in Eastern Europe, for some reason (it’s cheaper to film movies in Eastern Europe and this film makes no effort to hide that fact). A road movie for a character defined by his motorcycle makes perfect sense, but let’s face it, Nic is no Arnie; the chick (Vilante Placido, whatever) is no Linda Hamilton; even the kid falls pale in comparison to whiny Edward Furlong: now that’s saying something! There’s some crazy, bad acting by Nic Cage. At one point he has a line about bees, which I can’t help but think about another film famous for his bad acting, The Wicker Man. Other actors of note: Idris Elba (Thor, Prometheus) has an extensive role, Ciaran Hinds (John Carter, Munich) plays the ‘devil,’ and Christopher Lambert (Highlander) has a terribly weak cameo (What happen to this guy? He used to be the shit back in the day.). I will say the Ghost Rider SFX were great, but the real deciding factor for me is the fact that I actually fell asleep at several points watching this film. And I don’t feel an overwhelming need to rewatch the film to see what I missed.
Nic Cage as Everyone.

 

John Carter – I was dreading the prospect of watching this movie for a number of reasons. First and foremost, this film has been in development hell for 79 years! I guess that means people realized that this was a good property but the technology and wherewithal didn’t exist to do it proper justice. Secondly, the $250 million production made only $30.6 in its opening weekend, officially making it a box office flop. Based on the 100 year old short-form serials, written by Edgar Rice Borroughs, the same guy who wrote Tarzan, I admit the film turned out better than I expected. The Martian elements were great, from the barren landscape to the designs of the alien cities and culture. I love the touch of white ape fur as a fashion/status statement. As an avid HBO watcher, the casting drew my interest. The warring factions included Dominic West (The Wire) vs. the reunited team of James Purefoy and Ciaran Hinds (Mark Antony and Julius Caesar in Rome). Even the ‘engineers,’ primarily played by Mark Strong (Sinestro in last year’s Green Lantern), are infinitely more interesting than the ones present in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. And yes, George Lucas blatantly lifted whole elements in making Star Wars, especially for the prequel episodes I & II. I wasn’t all that taken by the title character played by Taylor Kitsch (Gambit in X-Men Origins: Wolverine), but I am terribly fascinated in his back story which is only glimpsed upon in flashbacks and in the opening and closing bookends. I want more of that story, the one on Earth hunting down fake companies that refer to Two Moons in search of treasure. Throw Martian elements into every episodes and I can see it being a one or two season television series along the same lines as The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles or The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.

 

The Avengers – The more I think about this film, the more I appreciate the artistry involved in making a comic book movie for the fans. After years of subpar superhero films, Marvel has finally given fans what they wanted, a comic book movie that is true to the source material.  The Avengers is full of little nods to the die hard comic book readers, everything from “Hulk, smash” to Life Model Decoys to the origin of the Avengers Tower. A perfect culmination of the loose threads concerning the ‘Avengers Initiative’ teased in no less than five previous Marvel films, Iron Man (2008), The Incredible Hulk (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011), and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). I do recommend watching those feeder films for fear of being completely lost, but I’m sure that is by design, and what Marvel would want you to do anyway. I’m giddy with the thought that this is only the beginning for future Marvel films!

 

Men in Black III – Despite the long years between sequels, MiB3 hardly misses a beat as J, K, and the Earth (which apparently is consistently seconds from utter destruction) are back for round three! I have to give credit to Will Smith; ever the consummate ringleader to this circus, Smith aptly juggles the out-of-this-world wackiness with his usual charm as we, the audience, follows J on an adventure through time and space. As the young K, Josh Brolin excels, picking up on the minute mannerisms defined by Tommy Lee Jones. But despite the grandiose plot line, the story is ho-hum. In an industry quick to reboot franchises, this continuing story merely feels like a throwback to the glory days of yore, which in itself has become formulaic; see James Bond’s Skyfall for a similar example.

 

The Amazing Spider-Man – “Deja vu. (n) – the feeling that you are having exactly the same experience as one you have had before.” That’s the best description of Sony’s reboot of the 10 year old Spider-Man franchise. As a reboot we get to see Spider-Man’s origin story again: photojournalist Peter Parker getting bit by a spider again, Uncle Ben dying again, and even a brief scene with a pro-wrestling ring, minus the awesome Randy ‘Bone Saw McGraw’ Savage. The film has slight changes from the 2002 Sam Rami version, but they are hardly significant to be considered original or interesting. Mechanical web shooters instead of biological. The love interest, Gwen Stacy instead of Mary Jane; the name has changed but the role and function of the character remains the same. The mad scientist here is not Norman Osborn/Green Goblin, but rather, Dr. Curt Connors aka the Lizard, though Connors does work for Oscorp. Oscorp is featured heavily in the film and not-so-subtle references to Norman Osborn, including a head-scratching mid-credits scene, suggest the Green Goblin will make an appearance in the next outing. There’s even a funeral at the end where Peter must break up with his girlfriend in order to protect her; the whole time I was thinking, Haven’t I seen this before? Indeed, this was my favorite scene in the 2002 version and perhaps in the entire original trilogy, so I was left with an unsatisfactory and cheapened feeling at the film’s conclusion. Not a good feeling when walking out of the theater.

 

The Dark Knight Rises – Chris Nolan is Batman. Forget Christian Bale; I never liked him and his gravely voice as Bats anyway. Nolan, on the other hand, had the vision to create a 3 part epic that, whether through careful plotting or happy accident, seamlessly fit so well. From the first scenes in Gotham depicting the fallen White Knight to the ending scene showcasing a sky’s-the-limit Batcave, the third Batman film ties in the previous two installments perfectly. Continuing the exploration of the human condition under pressure, the people of Gotham are once again challenged by new-age terrorists: in Batman Begins, Scarecrow introduced biological agents into the city water supply; in The Dark Knight the Joker held hostage two ferries; this film ups the ante with a several months-long siege combined with looming nuclear threat. Sure there were some silly/fantastical elements to an otherwise realistic portrayal of Gotham under siege, like waiting until the very last moment to find and disable a nuclear weapon, but that’s for dramatic effect. Notice the Occupy Wall Street terrorists are your shoe shiners and janitors, as if depicting the 99% rising up to take down the system from within. Batman’s uneasy love/hate relationship with the Gotham Police Department is an interesting evolution throughout the three films. Someone suggested a live action Gotham Central TV show; CSI in the world of Batman. I’d be down with that.

 

Dredd – I had high hopes for this film, mostly due to my guilty pleasure crush for the 1995 Sylvester Stallone cult classic, Judge Dredd. Replacing Sly for the reboot is Karl Urban, who is by now a veteran in the sci-fi/fantasy realm with such films as LoTR, Star Trek, Pathfinder, Priest and Doom. Aside from a gravely voice and over-exaggerated sneers, Urban brings little to the Dredd character, though it should be noted that he is limited by the role as it is written, which is frankly a two dimensional character in a helmet. Removing Dredd from the equation for the time being, the film, itself, fails to deliver. Co-star, Olivia Thirlby, is Dredd’s rookie buddy cop, which, while boring, is necessary as a sounding board for Dredd and in some regards as an entry-level character for the audience, though to be perfectly honest, anyone going to see Dredd is geeky enough to know everything about Mega City One and their preferred method of dispensing judge, jury, and execution and therefore do not need to be spoon-fed the particulars. Bad gal, Lena Headey, is also disappointing as hooker turned drug kingpin, Ma-Ma. Gone is the cool, calculating villain as seen in her role as Cersei Lannister in HBO’s Game of Thrones, nor do we get any sweet Lena nudity, which we know she’s capable of as previously seen in full sepia-colored, puffy-nipple glory in 300. The plot is a week rehash of The Raid: Redemption (2011) and/or the end of Punisher: War Zone (2008). There are no other characters of note in the film, which is a far cry from the array of colorful personalities seen in the ’95 version. To add salt to the wound, I shelled out $14.50 to see this in 3D. Even with the three scenes which highlight the effects of the Slo-Mo drug, an element seemly geared for 3D audiences, still… not worth the (wallet) squeeze.

-11/26/2012

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Retro Review: Attila (2001)


Huh, you may be asking? Never heard of it? Well, that’s not surprising… Some background description may be required. Attila, a bio-pic of Attila the Hun, is a USA network made-for-TV miniseries from 2001. What would possess me to watch such a thing? Granted, I was just as skeptic at first, but this 3 hour (was 4 with commercials) epic is worthy for a number of reasons – each more joyfully surprising than the last.

First and foremost is the superb cast. The lead, Attila, is played by Gerard Butler! This was five years prior to his breakout role as King Leonidas in 300. Then relatively unknown, buff-bodied Butler channels big haired, crazy-eyed Mel Gibson from the first Lethal Weapon. Joining him are the talents of Powers Boothe (Tombstone, HBO’s Deadwood), Alice Krige (the Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact, HBO’s Deadwood), Tommy Flanagan (Gladiator, FX’s Sons of Anarchy) and a pitifully underused Tim Curry.

Second, the massive scope. When the initial title screen appeared I almost laughed. The graphics looked awful, like bad ’80s sci-fi. This instantly had a negative effect as I quickly formed low expectations. I mean, how impressive of a production value can a made-for-TV movie have anyway? It took awhile, but as the story expanded so did the grandiose scale. A triumphant parade down the avenues of Rome; grand battle sequences featuring thousands of extras; siege warfare including working battering rams and trebuchets! This was epic. On par with Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, minus the cheesy computer generated orc hordes and ectoplasmic green Army of the Dead. Because USA networks did not throw a ton of money at film, the effects were completely physical. A flaming rock barreling down the hillside knocking guys over is the real deal, not some computer generated trickery. The behind the scenes featurette depict how the film crew leveraged local extras for the big shots. Filmed on location in Lithuania, the Lithuania Army stood in rigid formation as Roman soldiers while the local mounted police force performed as the Calvary.

And lastly, the overall appeal really drove home that this was something special. Now I know different people have different interests, so what appeals to me may not necessarily appeal to the next guy. That said, I have a particular itch when it comes to historical period pieces – Braveheart, Valhalla Rising, Kingdom of Heaven, Gladiator, The Eagle, The Centurion, and HBO’s Rome just to name a few. I’m a sucker for it all, which is the reason I added Attila to my Netflix queue in the first place despite not knowing a thing about it. I like to think that Attila, more so than HBO’s Rome, was the precursor for Starz’ Spartacus series. Both Attila and Spartacus pit the struggles of the savage warrior against the wealth and opulence of the more civilized Roman Empire. Complete with battle sequences, assassinations, political maneuvering, backstabbing, and bath orgies, Attila has potential to be on the same level as Spartacus and HBO’s Game of Thrones, however, network television limits the options of violence and nudity. Consider, then, this the PG version of those cable shows.

-08/01/2012

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Top Five: Casting Choices for Black Panther


Marvel recently announced via twitter that the next Marvel Studio’s film after Captain America 2 will take place in Wakanda. Far from an official release statement, but that could only mean one thing in my mind: Black Panther!

Hints that have been dropped so far: The country of Wakanda showed up on a map in Iron Man 2 and Captain America’s shield is made from Vibranium, which (though not explained in any film) also hails from Wakanda.  My Top 5 Casting Choices for Black Panther:

 

1. Chiwetel Ejiofor – My front-runner choice to play BP. His previous roles in Salt (2010) and Children of Men (2006) draw a fine line between villain/hero which is the perfect gray area for playing Black Panther, a superhero with admittedly self-serving nationalistic interests. I loved him as the mysterious assassin known only as the Operative in Serenity (2005). And we know he can DO action from the mixed martial arts centric Redbelt (2008).

 

2. Idris Elba – In terms of popularity, Elba is the hottest actor on this list, though I still feel he has yet to break into the mainstream consciousness. We know he’s up for it for he’s been all over the comic book movies: The Losers (2010), Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012), and the scene-steeling Heimdall in Thor (2011). He was also in this year’s high-profiled Prometheus. And if you’re worried he’s only good for roles as secondary characters, he was the lead in BBC’s Luther (2010-2011).

 

3. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje – I know AAA originally as the bad-ass, hat wearing Adebisi in HBO’s Oz (1997-2000), but he caught mainstream appeal as Mr. Eko in Lost (2005-2006). He was also Heavy Duty in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009), but I won’t hold that against him. I do know that Akinnuoye-Agbaje lobbied hard for this role a couple years back, so the fanboy devotion is definitely there.

 

4. Djimon Hounsou – Hounsou voice-acted BP in Viacom/BET’s Black Panther 6-part motion comic TV show in 2010, so we know he’s already in consideration in the minds of the studio heads, at least he was at one point. But as the oldest on this list, nearing 50, he seems like a long shot. Best known for Maximus’ shackled, arena partner in Gladiator (2000) and lead slave defendant in Steven Spielberg’s Amistad (1997).

 

5. John Boyega – On the opposite of the age spectrum, this 19 year old proved his acting chops in the already cult classic Attack the Block (2011). Quiet and steely-eyed, Boyega expertly channeled a young Clint Eastwood, demonstrating acting skills beyond his years, making his co-stars look like the mere children they were in comparison. If Marvel leans more youthful, then Boyega’s my most likely candidate.

-06/20/2012

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Solo Review: The Avengers (2012)


Well, there’s no arguing that The Avengers was a box office hit!  The all-star superhero movie reportedly grossed a unprecedented $200.3 million in its Friday-Sunday box-office debut, making it the first to break the $200 million mark in an opening three days!  A fitting result for a film that was first teased in the credits of Iron Man (2008) and continued building in four other feeder films:  The Incredible Hulk (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011), and Captain America:  The First Avenger (2011).  That’s quite a build up.  As such, I pity anyone coming in fresh, having not watched the other Marvel films leading up to this one.  While we have plenty of time with each of the characters, little is explained in terms of their back stories.  What’s S.H.I.E.L.D. exactly?  What’s Loki’s problem with Thor/Earth?  Who and what are Black Widow & Hawkeye?  The movie is two and a half hours long and it still doesn’t take the time to answer some basic questions.  That said, there are plenty of subtle references that scream, ‘hey if you like this guy and want to know more, check out some of the previous films.’  In that regard, Marvel sure knows how to market.

For those who like hero vs hero action, a long standing staple in Marvel comics, as emphasized in the current Marvel comic event, Avengers vs. X-Men (AvX), this film is a must watch, as there are beats of Thor vs. Iron Man, Thor vs. Captain America, Black Widow vs. Hawkeye, Black Widow vs. Hulk, Hulk vs. Thor.  While most reviews highlight the performance of Mark Ruffalo as the latest actor to take on the Bruce Banner/Hulk personae, I was most pleasantly surprised with Scarlett Johansson.  She shines in the role and definitely works that skin-tight cat suit; Anne Hathaway has some competition this summer.  I’m still not a fan of Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury or the lackluster, Maria Hill character.  And much like how Samuel L. Jackson was the template for Ultimate Comics’ line Nick Fury, I always thought Maria Hill in the comics was fashioned after a young Angelina Jolie, circa Hackers (1995), and I would have loved for a Jolie cameo.  It would have been better than her appearance in that other comic book film, Wanted (2008).

Much of the film takes place inside the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier and I definitely got a Joss Whedon Serenity feel.  And while there are plenty of action sequences throughout the time the group is on the helicarrier, the action feels a bit forced.  It’s not until the final 20 minutes of the film, does the action, for the first time, feel like the real deal; where the danger is amped up.  As the faceless alien swarm began to zoom through the city, the chaos of quick cuts definitely has a Michael Bay Transformer:  Dark of the Moon (2011) quality, though I haven’t heard of anyone else complaining, so maybe it’s just me.

All in all, an enjoyable film.  I strongly suggest a Marvel film marathon refresher prior to seeing The Avengers.  And stay until the end of the credits for a final and hilarious just-for-the-fans scene.

-05/16/2012

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Comparison Review:  The Thing vs. The Thing vs. The Thing


Having recently watched the latest The Thing, the 2011 prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing, I thought I would write a review.  This evolved (there’s a appropriate pun for you) in me exploring all the different versions of The Thing through cinematic history.  It’s important to note that all the films are adaptations from an original 1938 novella, Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr.  Campbell has been called the Father of Modern Science Fiction and has helped launch the careers of Robert A. Heinlein, Issac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, A.E. van Vogt, and Theodore Strurgeon.

 

The Thing from Another World (1951) – Here’s a classic example of old school sci-fi.  This black and white film can only be described as a product of its time and features many of the tropes found in other films of this era.  An Alaskan station tracks the crash landing of an unidentified flying object.  Right off the bat, they suspect Russian involvement, but just as easily accepts that the UFO is none other than the stereotypical flying saucer, complete with Martian invader.  Whether through sheer incompetence or blatant disregard for any sense of preservation, the military destroys the spaceship and absconds with its alien pilot, frozen in a block of ice.  The alien soon breaks free of the ice and begins to terrorize the occupants of the base.  Two humans are killed, notably off-screen, and a few snow dogs get f’ed up (always picking on the poor dogs).  The over-the-top bad acting, head scientist determines the Thing is actually a carnivorous plant that feeds on human blood, here to colonize the planet – sounds more like the plot to Little Shop of Horrors (1986).  After an all too slow beginning, the film quickly wraps up with a spine-tingling warning to be vigilant and “Watch the skies, everywhere! Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!”  This final line, though powerful, highlights the rampant paranoia of the Cold War era.  Best scene of the film:  The Alaskan crew douse the Thing with kerosene and light it on fire producing a huge fireball that engulfs the entire room – the whole thing looks seriously dangerous not only for the stunt man in the Thing suit, but to all the other actors in the room as well.  Ballsy!

 

John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) – In the tradition of my Retro Review of Die Hard (1988), here’s another action flick from my early years for which that I have fond memories, and likewise, upon closer review the film does not hold up as well as I once remembered.  Apparently, this version of the Thing is more true to the original story than the 1951 version, in that the creature takes on the physical appearance of its human victims, creating a more suspenseful and paranoid situation rather than just the run-of-the-mill, traditional humans vs. the monster movie.  The differences do not stop there.  For one, the film has amazing creature effects; ranking right up there with the previous year’s An American Werewolf in London (1981).  Other notable difference include:  The setting takes place in Antarctica instead of Alaska and whereas the original film had a strong military presence, Carpenter’s version seems to just have a single Captain, who is just as inept and trigger happy when the shit hits the fan.  Our hero/antihero is played by Kurt Russell, fresh off of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York (1981).  Russell must still think he’s Snake Plissken as he doesn’t take take lip from anyone.  When the computer tells him he’s in checkmate during a game of Chess Wizard, Russell pours his drink into the drive bay, frying the computer.  What a rebel; take that, you “cheating bitch!”  These guys are pretty isolated with limited resources and destroying a government-owned computer seems like an impulsively dumb move.  Maybe this scene is to introduce to the audience the fact that everyone’s a bit stir crazy to begin with, so that paranoia and rash actions can run fast and furious later on without excessively exploring the motivations behind such actions.  Case in point, towards the end of the film Russell’s character decides that the best course of action is the burn the whole base to the ground.  How is this a good idea?  They are in the middle of Antarctica… during Winter.  Other elements of note:  More dogs die – a series staple at this point.  And the first scene introduces the ‘flying saucer’ crashing to earth; a scene that is uncannily recreated at the beginning of Predator (1987) several years later.

 

The Thing (2011) – I was originally going to give this film a pass and convinced myself that I am destine to hate any remakes, reboots, and/or sequels/prequels that Hollywood is spewing forth these days.  So the film already had marks against it from the very start.  The overuse of bad computer-generated special effects also did not help.  Why use CGI in a film franchise known for its awesome practical effects?  It’s the equivalent of CGI werewolves in An American Werewolf in Paris (1997) vs. the practical effects in the previously mentioned An American Werewolf in London (1981).  I was also confused by the Kurt Russell lookalike character played by Joel Edgerton.  Um, why?  Regardless of its blatant flaws, the film makers did an amazing job in answering lingering questions proposed in the 1982 film, often recreating sets and scenes pulled straight out of that film in meticulous detail.  This film is a true prequel in that it focuses on the Norwegian camp that is briefly seen abandoned and derelict in Carpenter’s film.  And like any good addition to a film franchise, this film expands on the mythos of the Thing, without going so far off the deep end, like for example, Jason in Space in Jason X (2001).  A great companion film to watch back to back with the ’82 film.  My only lasting critic, however, is that the prequel looks newer/shinier than its gritty, old school sequel counterpart; like how the Star Wars prequels are cleaner than the later installments:  episodes IV, V, and VI.  It’s a definite distraction.  Oh, and more dogs die.

-04/27/2012

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Retro Review: Die Hard (1988)


“The fire has been called off, my friend.”

Now I know that nit-picking the original Die Hard (1988) might be sacrilegious for some people, but I found watching the film after all these years just way too much fun not to comment on it. As an action flick, I had always switched off the logic areas of my brain and wholly accepted everything the film presented. Looking back with a critical eye, however, is not so kind.

The first thing I noticed, which I actually give a thumbs up to, are the parallels to another Bruce Willis flick, the excellent Unbreakable (2000). Both films start with B. Willi traveling on a vehicle of mass travel (plane/train) coming from New York City, and having an uncomfortable conversation with the person next to him. Both Bruce Willis characters are married with kid(s) but are on the outs with the wife. Both are in a protection services profession (police officer/security guard). And by the end of the film, he will have saved the hostages and get back with his wife. The similarities are uncanny.

When McClane first arrives at the Nakatomi Plaza office building, he asks the security guard at the front desk for the whereabouts of Holly McClane. The guard instructs him to type the name into the touchscreen computer console. McClane finally finds her under her maiden name as Holly Gennero, on the 30th floor. The guard then informs McClane they’re throwing a holiday party and that they’re the only ones left in the building. What a minute. If the security guard knows that the only people in the building are on the 30th floor, why doesn’t he just instruct McClane to go straight up? It’s pretty clear that everyone who shows up at the building is there for the party; especially some guy who rolls up in a limo. Why does he make him use the corporate directory first? I tell you why in movie terms, though logically, it makes no sense in the real world. This is all exposition for the benefit of the audience. First, you learn that Holly’s retaining her maiden name. Well, her maiden name is also plastered on her office door, seen moments later, so that’s a bit of a repetitious excuse. Second, you learn that there’s no extraneous people roaming the other floors of the building – no extra help to be found. The problem with this one is why can’t we just make the assumption that there are no extra people. After all, the terrorists assume there’s no other people in the building – when John McClane is going cowboy on them they even ask if it’s a security guard that they might have missed. Why do they not assume it’s Office Bob from the 3rd floor working late or Juan the Janitor finishing his rounds vacuuming floors 7-9? And lastly, the film wanted to present the uber-technology of a touch screen directory, which may have been state of the art back then, but is commonplace now so it’s kinda funny retrospectively. (Note I’m currently typing this email on my iPad.)

Technology features very heavily in this film, a fact I completely forgot about. I scoffed at the absurd use of technology in the most recent addition to the franchise, Live Free or Die Hard (2007), but it seems John McClane has a long history with cutting-edge tech. Though truth be told, Die Hard suffers the same fate as the notorious Hackers (1995) in that it does not hold up well when it comes to the ‘amazing’ technology of the day. Argyle’s description of his awesome limo is full of antiquated technology by today’s standards: cassette tape deck, VHS player, car phone, etc. It’s important to note that cell phones don’t exists yet, so when the baddies cut the land lines, everyone’s pretty much f’ed. The film goes through a lot of trouble to point out how this one office building is the most technologically advanced building ever, as first referenced by the touch screen directory. With 7 layers of protection around the main vault, this office is more secure than Fort Knox. And as corporations go, Nakatomi is more akin to the Umbrella Corporation from Resident Evil. What do they got in there – the Zombie virus? And let’s not forget the unmentioned 8th layer of protection – the rose bush perimeter. Seriously, the brief throwaway scene where the SWAT/QRT team member gets scratched up by the roses as he assaults the building had me bawling with laughter. This scene was only in the film to reiterate the ineptitude of the local police force, which is later replaced with the ineptitude of the FBI. McClane, therefore, is really the only hope here, single-handily taking out each terrorist. Actually, McClane kills more people than the terrorist do, so what’s that say about our ‘hero?’ And let’s not overlook the consequential 100-page after-action report and potential legal troubles facing an off-duty and out-of-jurisdiction McClane. Get the F.O.P. lawyer ready.

“Karl, schieß dem Fenster… Shoot the glass.”

My buddy, Mike, was always fond of pointing out the scene where Hans yells to Carl to shoot the glass above McClane’s head, essentially creating a sole-slicing minefield for our bare foot hero. The problem with this one is that Hans yells out in German, and Carl gives him a quizzical look. Hans has to yell out in English before Carl understands. Doesn’t Carl speak German? Again this is more for the benefit of the non-German speaking audience, but by this point the beating-over-the-head approach to film making is becoming quite painful.

The last 20 minutes really picks up the pace. The focus on technology is quickly forgotten and it evolves/devolves to a pure bare knuckle action flick. Early on, the film makes references to Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo and Arnold Schwarzenegger, purposefully placing Bruce Willis’ John McClane on par with the action heroes of the day. Willis’ status as an action hero is cemented as he is shot, sliced, punched, kicked and practically ‘splodded before the end. It’s important to note that nearly a quarter of a century later, Willis is starring along side fellow action veterans, Sly and Arnie, in The Expendables 2 (2012). The beat cop, played by Family Matters (1989) Reginald VelJohnson, has a bit of redemption at the very end, gunning down a previously presumed dead terrorist, in much the same fashion (aka exactly the same fashion) that Mel Gibson and Danny Glover disposed of Gary Busey at the conclusion of the previous year’s Lethal Weapon (1987).

As a final note, I’d like to give props to goatee-sporting baddie, Alan Rickman. Considering that Hans Gruber is one of the best villains of all time, I’m amazed that this is Alan Rickman’s debut feature film!

“Yippie-ki-yay, motherfucker!”

-03/23/2012

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Solo Review: This Means War (2012)


I caught a sneak peak of This Means War earlier this week in DC. The film stars Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, and Reese Witherspoon and is about two CIA agent partners dating the same woman. From what I saw from the trailer, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this film. Is it an action film with chick flick elements or a chick flick with action elements? As it turns out, it’s a little of both. It’s probably a little more romantic-comedy than action flick, but the rom-com elements are surprisingly raunchy, which I think, appeals more to the male audience. As a male, I got to say that I enjoyed this film immensely, but that won’t stop me from applying my usual healthy dose of nitpicking.

We can all agree the title sucks. This Means War tells me nothing about the film. Some of the posters have a tagline of Spy vs Spy, which is more appropriate, but I’m sure DC Entertainment and MAD magazine have a stranglehold on that title. Ninety percent of the film involves the two agents trying to win over the heart of Reese – a plot, which on the surface, sounds like every other chick flick ever made, but here the agents put to use a few illegal, undercover surveillance techniques to gain the courtship upper hand, aka your tax dollars hard at work. The other 10% is an action subplot which bookends the film. It’s so superfluous and tacked on that I think the film might have been better without it, but I guess the filmmakers wanted to remind the audience that there’s a reason the two leads are spies. By the end of the film I’ve suspended my level of disbelief enough that any attempt at reasoning is wholly unnecessary.

Watching the love/hate relationship of the two agents, I definitely got a Bad Boys (1995) vibe, almost as if this film is this generation’s Bad Boys or an all Caucasian-version of Bad Boys. So I wasn’t surprised to see Will Smith’s name attached as one of the film’s Producers. The film’s director is McG; his biggest film is probably Terminator Salvation (2009). I know McG can do action, but it’s obvious he didn’t have the same budget here that he had for Terminator, especially for the last action sequence which was a bit anti-climatic. As for the actors, Reese was so-so. Most female roles are written one dimensionally, so it’s really up to the actress to make the role worthwhile. My test for this is fairly simple: if I can easily replace an actress with another and it be the same role, then it’s a fail. Olivia Wilde in Cowboys and Aliens for instance, brought nothing to the table except maybe a pretty face (and that’s coming from a fan of Olivia going back to the short lived TV show The Black Donnellys (2007)). Reese, as ever, is cute, and truthfully, a smart choice for the role. Though her foul-mouthed, best friend, played by Chelsea Handler, steals the show in ever scene the two are in.

As for the main two… This film might be the closest you’ll ever get in knowing the answer to the age-old question, who would win: Kirk vs. Pichard! Chris Pine played the alternate timeline version of Captain Kirk in the latest Star Trek (2009) whereas Tom Hardy played the Captain Pichard clone, Shinzon, in Star Trek: Nemisis (2002). Fanboys rejoice. By now, Chris Pine’s acting style is synonymous with Captain Kirk – smarmy and a touch over-the-top. Here he’s played exactly the same, to the point where there are more than a few Trek references, including the song “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys, which famously introduces a young James Tiberius Kirk in Star Trek. Tom Hardy, first introduced in HBO’s Band of Brothers, has made quite a name for himself recently. From Inception (2010) to a lead in last year’s mixed martial arts film, Warrior, he’s sure to make a splash in this year’s Dark Knight Rises as the main villain, Bane!

Overall, a good film that will most likely fall under the radar due to the strange mix of genres and the unfocused trailer(s). By the way, there’s also a quick paintball battle scene… well worth watching, if for that alone!

-01/27/2012

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Top Five Most Anticipated Films of 2012

 

1.  The Dark Knight Rises

Anticipation Factor:  The third and last film in the Chris Nolan blockbuster trilogy.  Batman, Catwoman, Bane…  Will Robin make an appearance?

Disappointment Factor:  The trailer, though powerfully moving with it’s blaring horns that were so frequently featured in Nolan’s Inception, failed to excite the fanboy in me.  Where was Catwoman fully decked out in full slinky catsuit?  For that matter, where was Batman?  I saw a lot of Bruce Wayne.  And Bane’s garbled dialogue… We thought Christian Bale’s Batman voice was bad; get a load of this one.

Potential:  Could be Amazing!

 

2.  The Avengers

Anticipation Factor:  All the Marvel superheroes in one film!  This has been building since Iron Man (2008).

Disappointment Factor:  Just because you put a group of Type A personalities together in one room does not make for good team – look at any Real World type reality show.

Potential:  For now, leave it at Good.

 

3.  The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey

Anticipation Factor:  Peter Jackson back to playing in the Middle Earth sandbox.  However it turns out, you know it ain’t going to be bad.

Disappointment Factor:  The story is a part one of two, so don’t expect a clean, feel good ending.

Potential:  Good to Fair.

 

4.  Prometheus

Anticipation Factor:  Ridley Scott returns to the universe he created with Alien (1979).

Disappointment Factor:  Scott has stated that while this movie will take place in the same universe as Alien, and greatly reference that movie, it will be an original movie and not a direct prequel.  What the hell does that mean?

Potential:  Alien and Predator spin-offs rarely live up to the original.  Could be disastrous.
Five most provocative things from the Prometheus trailer.

 

5.  The Amazing Spider-Man

Anticipation Factor:  Reboots are hot right now.  Worked for X-Men:  First Class.  Hey, at least the web shooters are back.

Disappointment Factor:  Reboots are hot right now, as in, there’s too many of them.  Not really interested in another origins story.

Potential:  Good to Blah before you can say “Your friendly neighborhood spider…”

-12/28/2011

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Best of 2011

 

Honorable Mention:  Californication – After an awesome first season, Showtime’s David Dachovny vehicle has been waning over the last couple seasons.  This season, season four, brings the greatness back full circle.  Filled with sexual debauchery, nudity, drugs, and foul language, this series could almost translate as the modern day version of Spartacus… now what’s that tell you about the evolution of the modern man and society as a whole?  Season four completes the main story arc that began in the very first episode of Californication, so much so, that I wholeheartedly believe this series should end with this season – A perfect little four season capsule.  Unfortunately the show was picked up for another season and only time will tell if that was the mistake I fear it will be (see my list of Biggest Disappointments of 2011 for proof of how badly Showtime can mess up a perfectly good series).

 

5.  The Help – This year’s feel good movie of the year NOT featuring monster mayhem.  Sara and I caught this film as one of our many free screenings down in DC.  Set in the 1960s, the film explores racial segregation in the deep South, and though the ethical message is quite clear, the reveal of it subtly evolves over the course of the film – making for a very smart, intelligent film (as oppose to an in-your-face lecture).  I had little expectations going in and so was thoroughly amazed by this great film.  Opposite to Thor, all the women in this film shine.  Emma Stone is a particular good protagonist, and like any good foil, Bryce Dallas Howard is equally great in terms of oozing villainy as the film’s main antagonist.  As an interesting side note, both these redheads play the blond Gwen Stacey in Spider-Man films.  The ending was a bit strange though – very 2008 Rambo-esque – I kept waiting for something horrible to happen.  Perhaps that is just the pessimist in me. Given the chance, I would rework the ending.

 

4.  Super 8 – This year’s feel good movie of the year featuring train wrecks, government cover-ups and one pissed-off alien.  Set in 1979 in small town America, this film is a coming of age story that revolves around a boy and his first encounter with the third kind.  If this sounds familiar, it’s not by mistake and would be a great companion double feature with Steven Spielberg’s E.T.:  The Extra-Terrestrial.  Writer/director, J. J. Abrams, strokes the harp strings from the very first shot and continues to amaze to the very end.  The biggest beef people have with the film is that it’s not original; nothing new.  These are probably the same people who go see every remake and sequel without question.  Those people can go to H.E.double hockey sticks; I, for one, enjoyed this nostalgic, fun flick.

 

3.  Thor – The surprise hit of the summer superhero blockbusters!  Hats off to director Kenneth Branagh for making one of Marvel’s most unrealistic characters (he is a god after all) totally believable.  I always said that the most difficult feat for the film would be to sell Asgard as a real place, and boy, do they.  Asgard, rainbow bridge and all, looks infinitely better than the podunk New Mexican town that represents Midgard/Earth in the film.  In comparison, no wonder the Asgardians think of us as lesser beings.  Chris Hemsworth rocks the Thor guise.  Anthony Hopkins, who was so bad in last year’s The Wolfman remake, brings an air of regal authority to his role as Odin, the All Father.  If there is a downside to the film it is that all the women are a bore.  There is an underutilized Rene Russo as Thor’s mother; an uninteresting Sif, which should have been a love interest of Thor, but I saw zero chemistry; and Natalie Portman, which I’m normally head over heels for, but didn’t do much for me here.  A decidedly step down from her amazing performance in last year’s Black Swan.

 

2.  Spartacus:  Gods of the Arena – Though technically a prequel to Starz’ Spartacus:  Blood and Sand, this miniseries unabashedly spoils season one, so I wouldn’t recommend watching the series in chronological order.  With shows like Lost, there seems to be a trend in Hollywood to use flashbacks to flush out character depth; this whole season can be defined as a flashback and it indeed flushes out characters prior to Spartacus’ arrival.  Without Andy Whitfield (Spartacus) in the picture, many of the other actors shine, none moresothan the awesome Peter Mensah aka the unlucky messenger in 300 (“This is Sparta!”).  Also, fanboy favorite Lucy Lawless’ character shows her villainous claws for the first time.  Lot’s of violence and nudity here, including a nice little naked threesome with Lawless.

 

1.  Game of Thrones – HBO’s newest fantasy series is a win on all levels.  Based on the novels by George R. R. Martin, this show has character depth, political intrigue, sword fighting, and a fair amount of both violence and nudity, which automatically scores bonus points for this particular viewer.  The first season is a bit of an information dump, in that it explores all the main kingdoms and factions throughout the land, but doesn’t dwell on any one long enough for you to get the whole back story, so I constantly feel as if I’m missing out on some important tidbit of knowledge or history.  Just know that everyone hates/distrusts everyone else and you should be good to go from there.  My one major nitpick:  like HBO’s Rome, all the battle sequences happen off-screen, most likely due to the cost and logistics of filming such a feat, but it does become increasingly annoying.

-12/21/2011

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Most Disappointing of 2011

 

5.  Green Hornet – As a film that is one part superhero flick and one part comedy, it sadly fails on both accounts.  I’d like to know at what point did this project go so wrong?  Albeit my knowledge of the Green Hornet and Kato is limited to their two-parter episode appearance in the 1960′s Batman TV show.  But even in a show that was all about camp, I got the feeling this superhero pair was serious stuff.  The only serious thing in this Green Hornet film is the car, the Black Beauty, but even so, it’s not as cool as, say, the Batmobile or the X-Men’s SR-71 Blackbird.  A wholly forgettable, blah film.

 

4.  Terra Nova – Haha - Fail!  This show died before it left the gate.  I was out of the country for most of the buildup to the series premiere but even I couldn’t escape the hype around this time-traveling Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World-clone.  With Steven ‘Jurassic Park/Lost World‘ Spielberg as an Executive Producer and special effects being what they are, Terra Nova was expected to be TV’s version of Avatar, or at the very least, the next Lost.  How sad, then, our first glimpse of CG Carnosaur is pitifully underwhelming.  The acting is another sour spot for this series.  The main dude, Jason O’Mara, has taken the Taylor Lautner approach to acting, by removing his shirt at every conceivable opportunity and letting his chiseled, 8 pack abs do the talking for him.  Seriously, the best actor on the show is Stephen Lang, who is basically reprising his Gung-Ho Avatar role.  The show’s colonial elements remind me of 1994′s Earth 2, which was cancelled after the first season, or better yet, 1991′s TV version of Land of the Lost, (pre-Will Ferrell and Danny McBride), which in itself is a remake of a 1974 series with the same name.  So it seems that every generation has their version of displaced peoples battling the elements, but the outcomes remain the same:  Early cancellation.

 

3.  United States of Tara – The third season turned out to be the last for this flailing Showtime series.  This show started pretty strong with focus on lead Toni Collette suffering from dissociative identity disorder aka split personalities - playing up to 8 different roles!  Now that’s an actor!  In fact, this show won her both a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress – Comedy Series and a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy.  Unfortunately, while the acting was superb, the storylines sucked and never went anywhere.  The supporting characters were all mainly filler, and for the most part, unlikable.  Even the role filled by fan favorite, veteran actor, John Corbett, of Northern Exposure, Sex in the City, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame, felt like a waste.

 

2.  Sucker Punch – For me, this was 2011′s most anticipated film.  As a teenage boys’ wet dream come true, this film had everything that is awesomely cool thrown in a blender and turned to extreme!  Machine gun-toting school girls battling ninjas, dragons, and robot nazis!  How is this not the best film ever?  How, indeed.  What sounds good on paper and with images that are great for a computer desktop wallpaper, do not necessarily translate into the perfect movie.  Far from it; the separate ‘cool’ elements fail to form a cohesive bond and the breaks between settings are offensively jarring.  This film might have done better as a series of webisodes as I did enjoy the animated short films that were available online as teasers leading up to the release of the main film.

 

1.  Transformers 3:  The Dark of the Moon – As for the worst film for 2011, that title must go to the second sequel of a horribly imagined bastardization of my beloved childhood memories, the Transformers.  Curse you, Michael Bay!  As the third film of a trilogy, Dark of the Moon (stupid title), actually improves from the second film, but not enough to save the series.  With 3D filming in mind, gone are the days of shaky-cam and non-discernible close-up shots; however, what remains are the same old cringe-worthy elements of the other films, including:  Shia LeBeuf’s speed talking, racially stereotyped autobots, poorly flushed out badguys, off the wall secondary characters, and Michael Bay’s unexplainable belief that he’s shooting hour long commercials for the U.S Armed Forces.  I’ve complained already about Optimus Prime’s multiple failings from surly moodiness, to dumbfounded naivete, to Rambo-esque bot killing via his favorite method, apparently, Deception decapitation.  But I have a more serious complaint to make:  the retched misuse of Leonard Nimoy.  It’s clear that the writers have a vague recollection of the totally awesome 1986 animated movie, Transformers the Movie, after all they brought back Peter Cullen as the voice of Optimus, they reused exact lines in the first film, and they kinda (poorly) recreated Optimus’ death in the second film.  So for this outing, the inclusion of Leonard Nimoy must be a direct reference to his role as Galvatron, a comparatively complex and worthy nemesis in the animated film – that should have been your first clue as his ”sudden but inevitable betrayal” (thank you, Wash).  But then the writers have Nimoy reference his role as Spock in Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan, when he purposefully bastardizes his famous line, “the good of the many, outweigh the good of the few.”  Just who is the audience here?  Surely, not me, and those who love Star Trek and the old Transformers series, not with such blatant bastardizations.  And yes, I have now used forms of the word ’bastard’ multiple times in my description of this film to emphasis my particular feelings on the subject.  I weep for the generation of children whose only knowledge of Transformers come from these films.

-12/20/2011

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Comic Book Films of 2011

 

At the end of the year I usually put together a Best and Worst list of films.  However, this summer seemed to pack an impressive amount of superhero blockbusters - mostly run-of-the-mill popcorn flicks which may or may not have qualified for the contention of my best or worst.  So I thought I should single those films out specifically and give my two cents.

 

Green Hornet – Awful.  Who thought Seth Rogen would make for a good superhero?  Even after losing 30 lbs, Rogen still looks and acts like a fat slob.  Along with Rogen, the film is full of uninteresting characters/actors:  Cameron Diaz is blah; Christoph Waltz who was so good as the baddie in QT’s Inglorious Basterds, plays the worst caricature of a supervillian since Jim Carrey’s Riddler; and Jay Chao’s Kato is utterly unimpressive in a role previously played by the master of screen presence, Bruce Lee!  The best actor in the film is Tom Wilkinson and he dies within the first few minutes.  This type of B-grade comedy/superhero film is usually reserved for a Wayans Borthers production, and might have been better if it was.

 

Thor – This Norse god/superhero film started the summer off right.  Not since Iron Man, has a Marvel film hit on some many levels.  Props to Chris Hemsworth for pulling off first, a believable god, and in addition, a man displaced and out of his element once banished – all in the same film no less.  Clark Gregg’s S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson gets more screen time too; I’m liking him more than Samuel L.’s Fury at this moment.  I’ve heard criticism that complain that the New Mexico town looked like a one-block backlot set more typical of old westerns than a big budget blockbuster film, but I found the sparseness of the ‘Midgard’ town a nice contrast to the opulence of Asgard.  I agree that some of the other elements were off, but Hemsworth is the real ‘hero’ of the film much like Downey was to Iron Man.

 

Priest – Wow, what a stinker.  Mind you, this overall dull film is not without some very cool sci-fi elements, but most are recycled from other comic book film franchises.  Priest takes place in an apocalyptic future where humanity is centered within an overly crowded, walled city which is policed by a motorcycle-riding, all-in-one judge/jury/executioner governing force.  Leaving the confines of the metropolis, our stoic hero goes it alone, venturing out onto the barren landscape to bring justice to the unlawful - Judge Dredd (1995) anyone?  I also liked that the film makes a distinction between true vampires (demon-looking creatures) and humans bitten by vampires, aka familiars – though slightly more interesting here, the term ‘familiars’ first appeared in Blade (1998).  And explained in an almost throwaway line, we’re told that the vampires build their own hives from secreted resin – um, Aliens (1986).  Paul Bettany, sans British accent, was uninteresting; the romantic subplot, a bore; and as for the ending, it was left unresolved in the hopes for a sequel that I have no intentions of watching.  Priest aside, I am intrigued to see Karl Urban as the new Judge Dredd in next year’s Dredd reboot.

 

Green Lantern – Not horrible.  To tell you the truth I was expecting a whole lot worse.  I would say that I’m tired of seeing Ryan Renolds in superhero films as he was also Hannibal King in Blade:  Trinity, Deadpool in X-Men Origins:  Wolverine, and now Hal Jordan in this, but what can I say - I’m sucker for his innate charm.  Many people enjoyed Peter Sarsgaard’s creepy performance as the anti-Hal Jordan, but at the end of the day he was a throwaway character (figuratively and literally).  Definitely not the best Green Lantern I’ve seen; for that, try the DC animated films Green Lantern:  First Flight or Justice League:  The New Frontier, both of which tell Jordan’s origin story and initial training in a more interesting way than it’s live action counterpart.

 

X-Men:  First Class – Thanks to director Matthew Vaughn for bringing the X-Men franchise back to form.  As a prequel, audiences are not required to have seen the other X-Men films, indeed, some in the audience would prefer to forget some of those films altogether.  But like Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels, it helps to know that Eric Lehnsherr is the man who would become Magneto prior to walking into the theater.  In fact, this film is truly a vehicle for highlighting the rise and fall of Magneto, excellently played by Michael Fassbender, so much so that I surmise that in all likelihood this script was originally titled, X-Men Origins:  Magneto.

 

Transformers 3:  Dark of the Moon – Worst film of the summer.  Oh sure, it looks nice and shiny, but Michael Bay’s trilogy has rubbed me the wrong way since the very beginning.  Shia LeBeuff is back with even more quirky humans at his side.  Their adherence for overacting induce eye-rolling to the point of nausea (moresothan any shaky-cam).  But really the downfall of this film is simply two words:  Optimus Prime.  From this film I learned that Optimus is a moody prick; a gullible sucker; and single-handedly, the destroyer of all Decepticons.  Seriously when did Optimus, beloved leader of the benevolent Autobots and one of my personal childhood heroes, become such a violent, pissy a-hole?

 

Cowboys and Aliens – Cowboys.  Aliens.  Two elements that cannot be more different, so it’s no surprise that a film that mashes them both together is a hot mess.  The first half of the film is a slow-paced western complete with all the stereotypes:  a silent stranger walking into a frontier town saloon, gun play, sheriffs and outlaws, cattle ranchers and Indians.  The second half of the film, however, is a fast paced, sci-fi action/thriller with CGI aliens and spacecraft zooming about.  I wasn’t impressed by the plethora of one-dimensional characters played by recognizable actors, including Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Clancy Brown, Paul Dano, Adam Beach, Keith Carradine, and Walton Goggins.  On the other hand, I did enjoy the few moments where aging action hero, Harrison Ford, subtly passed the torch to the new breed, Daniel Craig, much like he did for Shia LaBeouf in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  Hot mess.

 

Captain America:  First Avenger – I watched this film on the plane ride to London, UK, so the movie watching conditions may not have ideal.  Nonetheless, I was properly entertained for two hours.  Definitely not as good as Thor.  As origin stories go, this one is mainly forgettable aside from a few fanboy touches – I liked how the filmmakers manage to get Cap punching out Hitler and that our first view of Dr. Zola is a disconnected, projected image of his face (you have to read some Cap comics for the references).  I never quite understand the Red Skull or his motivations, only that he was bad and he had an all-powerful bad guy-like device – about on par with your typical Bond villain I guess.  The minor differences like Bucky’s fate irks me a little.  It also would have been nice to see the Defenders, Namor and the original Human Torch, fighting Nazis.  Slow in parts and too quick in others.

 

Conan the Barbarian – It’s been 27 years since Conan was portrayed on screen (Conan the Destroyer (1984)) by the one and only Arnold Schwarzenegger.  So how does the new Conan, Jason Momoa, compare to Arnold?  While the 6′ 4″ Hawaiian may fit the role physically, he lacks the general bad-assery that I expected from Conan, which is surprising considering I thought Momoa was pretty bad-ass as Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones.  While the script is solidly put together (gone are the blatant plot holes and overall campiness), I was disappointed that this was a by-the-book origin story.  I mean, at one part I felt like I was watching Peter Parker witnessing Uncle Ben die, than I did a rock ‘em, sock ‘em, sword and sorcery flick.  I did enjoy the video game-esque element of Conan facing off against various bosses at each new location (level).  Overall, a little disappointing, but not a bad film.  I’ll stick with the original.

-12/18/2011

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Comparison Review:  Werewolves


The Wolf Man (1941) – Surely any respectable werewolf film review must start with the original.  Universal Studio’s first Wolf Man developed most of the werewolf mythos that is still around today and is topped with a healthy amount of atmosphere:  foggy forests, Gothic mansions and crypts, and colorful Gypsy encampments.  This is going back, way back to Old School Hollywood.  As such, I gave The Wolf Man the benefit of the doubt in most things.  For instance, the film is shot entirely on a sound stage, which was commonplace in that era of film making, ie. Casablanca (1942) and Wizard of Oz (1939), and the transformation special effects are… what they are.  What bothered me more was the questionable setting.  The village appears to be set in Eastern Europe and the roving gypsies lend credit to that, but then Scotland Yard is mentioned, so I was thinking somewhere in England.  On the other hand, the majority of the actors speak Americanized English, so I’m really confused – all very strange.  Despite these nagging nick-picks, the film is rather simple (to appeal to a simple audience, perhaps).  The film starts with a dictionary definition of ‘lycanthrope,’ and between the incessant rants of the old gypsy woman and the local physician, the audience is beat over the head with all the knowledge of what is a werewolf, how does one become a werewolf, how to kill a werewolf, and so forth.  Overall, The Wolf Man is so-so and probably garners more props than deserved if only because it came first.   There’s no denying the appeal of the original:  Lon Chaney, Jr. is to the Wolf Man as Bela Lugosi is to Dracula.  Tagline:  “His hideous howl a dirge of death!”

 

The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) – Let me start this review with a question.  What does it say when a werewolf film has three acts, and the best of the three is the first one, which coincidentally doesn’t feature any werewolves?  Well that’s what we get here.  The first act starts great – good atmosphere, great old world setting, and lively characters.  The audience is first introduced to a poor beggar for which I truly felt sympathetic towards.  He is soon thrown into prison, where over the course of many years (several decades perhaps), he is broken and regresses from a man to become more bestial.  He then rapes the jailer’s voluptuous daughter and dies.  End act one.  So the first character the audience is introduced to devolves into a disrespectable shell of a man that is dead within 30 minutes.  The film goes downhill from there.  I actually fell asleep in parts, but here’s the gist:  Full moon.  Slaughter lambs/people.  Chased by angry mob.  Death by silver bullet.  The end.

 

Mark of the Wolfman (1968) – This is a low budget Spanish film which also goes by the better known title, Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror, yet doesn’t feature the good doctor or his Monster.  Instead we get a fun free-for-all werewolf/vampire slug fest, half a century prior to Stephenie Meyer’s The Twilight SagaMark of the Wolfman is chock full of supernatural goodness including Satanism, Gypsies, grave robbing, and sinister vampires.  Indeed, a haunted castle, the dark woods, the over-the-top Gypsies, the werewolf vs human/werewolf/vampire fights, and yes, the vampiress’ cleavage, which another reviewer (Tenebrous Kate) referred to as ”creamy, quivering inter-bosom chasms” are all elements which puts this film above most werewolf flicks.  Count Waldemar Daninsky looks like Gossip Girl‘s Chuck Bass; conniving, dark, brooding, and all this is before he became a creature of the night.  All in all, a good monster flick, but suffers by being way too campy by today’s standards.
Nod to Love Train for the Tenebrous Empire:  Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror review.

 

American Werewolf in London (1981) – An American Werewolf in London (AWIL) is what I consider to be the definitive werewolf classic.  One of the best human/werewolf transformations ever, made all the more impressive due to the use of only physical effects; pre-CGI.  AWIL’s werewolf transformation scene is the one to which all others must be compared.  The Pre-CGI, physical effects are the creations of make-up artist, Rick Baker.  So impressed, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences decided to create a new Best Makeup awards category at the 1981 Oscars specifically for this film.  Rick Baker has the honor of being the first to be awarded an Oscar in this category.  While the David Kessler character plays a convincing lost American tourist, he’s puny compared to his infinitely more interesting, hairy alter ego.  David Kessler played upon the traditional theme of the reluctant werewolf, a theme helped established by Lon Chaney, Jr.’s original portrayal.  I love the camaraderie between the two American teenagers, David and Jack.  The Brits in the Slaughter Lamb, Dr. Hirsch, and even the bumbling Sergeant McManus are great secondary characters.  The pop score’s juxtaposition to the horrific visuals is eerily unique.  And best of all, AWIL had Nazi werewolves sporting Uzis long before the Grindhouse trailer, Werewolf Women of the S.S. My only negative criticism is that AWIL suffers from an all too abrupt ending.  I wanted more.  Or at least some kind of closure.  Maybe a spectral reunion of David and Jack a la Return of the Jedi.  AWIL’s director is John Landis.  Landis is known for his comedies Animal House, Blues Brothers, and Coming to America, but perhaps is most famous for previously directing the Michael Jackson music video Thriller.  AWIL is an undisputed cult classic horror film, which successfully marriages comedy, special effects, gore and location filming using London’s Tottenham Court Road station, Trafalgar Square, and Picadilly Circus.  Still the best.

 

The Howling (1981) – Awful.  Just awful.  I never realized how bad this film actually was until I rewatched it recently.  Robert Picardo (ST:  Voy’s EMH Doctor), who plays the main werewolf Eddie Quist, ‘dies’ in the first scene and is missing through the majority of the film.  How’s that for screen presence?  The film follows a ditsy news anchorwoman played by Dee Wallace (Elliot’s mother in E.T.:  The Extra-Terrestrial).  Like a bad version of Friday the 13th’s Camp Crystal Lake, the ditsy dame goes to a private retreat in the woods populated entirely by werewolves.  The acting’s bad.  The score’s bad.  The make-up/special effects are dated.  It might have scared me back when I was kid, but looking at it now, it’s all around bad.  Fans credit The Howling and An American Werewolf in London (both released in 1981) as revolutionizing lycanthropy pictures in postmodern horror cinema (post-Psycho). This film was banned in some countries for “serious concerns about the portrayal of sexual violence” = naked transforming werewolf sex!

 

Wolfen (1981) – Apparently 1981 was a big year for werewolf resurgence, though technically, Wolfen is not a werewolf film, much like Brotherhood of the Wolf is not a werewolf film (no actual werewolves involved).  Wolfen is based on a book by the same name, and explores the integral balance between man and nature; something that was understood by the Native Americans, but is lost by today’s greedy, industrial culture.  The wolf spirits are angry!  Some very unique cinematography on top of NYC’s Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges that would never be allowed now – post 9/11; by comparison, makes the climatic battle on the Brooklyn bridge in Spider-Man look like the sad sound stage that it is.  The James Horner score is eerily reminiscent of his battle music for Star Trek II and Aliens, and the ‘wolfen’-vision special effect is duplicated exactly for 1987′s Predator.  The most interesting thing about this film is the special features on the DVD which details the history of werewolves on film, listing the majority of the films that I’ve now reviewed.

 

Teen Wolf (1985) – Michael J. Fox plays Scott Howard in ’80s classic Teen Wolf.  Early in the film, Scott realizes that he’s a werewolf (genetically inherited).  Initially unpopular, Scott embraces the transformation to become the cool kid and the high school’s basketball star.  Three words spring to mind:  Surfing the Wolfmobile!  Teen Wolf spawned a sequel and a morning cartoon show, but aside from a small blip on Michael J. Fox’s early career, is entirely forgettable. The only outlasting reminisce is the full frontal goof where an extra exposes himself.  I’m not kidding; look it up.

 

Wolf (1994) – Wolf has the one ingredient that all other werewolf films do not:  Jack ‘friggin’ Nicholson.  The man who dazzled us with over-the-top and truly powerful performances in Batman, The Shining, and A Few Good Men, is uncharacteristically subdued in Wolf.  Indeed, Wolf is not the conventional werewolf film.  The focus on corporate power and double-crossing resembles Wall Street more than it does your typical horror film.  Favorite scene:  Jack Nicholson’s character, Will Randal, whips it out in the workplace to mark his territory – classic!  A mostly forgettable film, unless you are a Batman fan, then you get to see Bat-villains, Joker (Jack Nicholson) and Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) in the same flick.

 

MST3K:  Werewolf (1999) – Hahaha.  I had to throw this in just for the laughs.  Mystery Science Theater 3000 was originally on Comedy Central and then moved to the Sci-Fi Channel after Season 7.  MST3K:  Werewolf aired during Season 10 and spoofs 1996′s Werewolf aka Arizona Werewolf, aka quite possibly one of the worst films ever made.  Bad acting, bad hair and wardrobe, bad werewolf costuming, and because it needs mentioning twice, more bad acting.  Speaking of bad acting, the film features Martin Sheen’s younger brother, Joe Estevez, in a bit part that is quickly forgotten, and a slew of Euro-imported actors with a minimum grasp for the English language – “wahrwilf!”  As Crow T. Robot states, “You know, it’s economical not to have a storyline, cause then you can just film people saying things.”
Favorite moments from MST3K:  Werewolf.

 

Ginger Snaps (2000) – Ginger Snaps uses werewolfism as a metaphor for puberty.  On the night Ginger has her first period, a werewolf attacks and bites her. Within a few days, some serious changes happen to her body and her temperament.  That’s certainly a different take.  The reviews I’ve read state that this is a real horror film; genuinely unsettling and disturbing and not for the faint of heart, especially the scene discovering the family dog torn to pieces.  The film actually won some awards.  Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 89%.  And Harry Knowles from Ain’t It Cool News writes, “THIS IS HORROR with… all the intelligence and heart and realness that the best possible teen films ever get to be.” Believe me, if Harry doesn’t like a film, he would have said so; take for instance, his review of Star Wars, Episode II:  The Clone Wars, “I hated the score, the animation, the shots, the characters and most of all the retarded ******** idiot story.  I hated the film. HATED IT. REALLY HATED IT.”  I watched Ginger Snaps on YouTube – all 15 7-minute parts of it!  Ginger Snaps is a high school horror flick along the same lines as The Faculty though slightly better.  Snaps started off and ended strong, but the action wavered in the parts in between.  It doesn’t have the jump-out-of-your-seat chills as I got from, say another high school horror film, Scream.   Most fascinating, Ginger’s transformation is not instantaneous as all other werewolf movies, but rather, spans the entire length of the film.  Had to Urban Dictionary the word ‘gonch.’  With a canine body count of 8, Ginger Snaps is a win.

 

Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001) – Now I own Brotherhood of the Wolf.  I consider it a decent action film.  The film attempts to explain the real life mystery of the Beast of Gevaudan, which supposedly killed over 100 people in 18th century France.  The myth tells of a werewolf, but as we come to find out in a mid-movie reveal, Brotherhood’s Beast, is not a werewolf at all.  Brotherhood of the Wolf is disqualified from further review for not meeting the requirements.

 

Dog Soldiers (2002) -  I saw Dog Soldiers and was not impressed.  In a film which features guys in rubber suits, the main werewolf, Captain Richard Ryan (whoever he is?) is, frankly, forgettable.  HBO’s Rome’s Kevin McKidd, the film’s hero, is the only positive element.  Seriously, the lack of budget may have been a factor, because most the time the werewolves only appear as flailing hairy arms coming in through a window or half broken door.  The film had potential, but overall, not worth my time.

 

Mexican Werewolf in Texas (2005) – I picked this one up because I liked the title, but Mexican Werewolf in Texas disappointed me more than any of the other films on this list.  First of all, the film title (the only part that I did like) is deceiving.  Like Brotherhood of the Wolf and Wolfen, there is no werewolf in the film.  Rather, the Mexican werewolf here turns out to be a legendary chupacabra.  Some would say this a matter of semantics, but I argue that one monster is not a proper replacement for the other.  Werewolves, man transforming into beast, are a fantastical explanation for a deeper critic on the duality of human nature – civility vs. the basest of animal instincts.  A chupacabra is just another animal and the film does nothing to explain what it is or from where it came.  Don’t waste your time.

 

Werewolf Women of the S.S. (2007) - Hahaha… Werewolf Women of the S.S. is one of the faux trailers, directed by Rob Zombie, and featured in Quinten Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse.  The downside here is that it is only a couple minutes long.  Gretchen Krupp of Werewolf Women of the S.S., on the other hand, does have the Third Reich, equally hot twin sister, Eva (the She-Devils of Belzac), and legendary mad scientist, Dr. Fu Manchu, on her side.  Sadly, 1 minute 41 seconds is all there is for a proper comparison.

 

Trick ‘r Treat (2008) – Cute.  Well, as cute as a Halloween-themed horror flick can be, that is.  Actually, Trick ‘r Treat is one of the best movies about the legends and traditions of Halloween.  The film entwines five stories a la Pulp Fiction all set on Halloween night.  One of the stories features the always cute Anna Paquin playing Laurie, a shy 22 year old virgin.  In a clever twist, ‘virgin’ here means she has yet to have her first kill as a werewolf.  The Anna Paquin she-wolf story is a big waste of my time.  The only thing of note here is that the werewolves peel off their human skin to reveal a fully-formed, hairy beast underneath; that’s unique to the werewolf genre.  And while at the time Anna Paquin might have been cute as the innocent ‘victim’ in this supernatural tale, HBO’s True Blood has now secured Paquin in this role to the point that is no longer that surprising or interesting to watch.  The werewolf story is the weakest element of Trick ‘r Treat.  The other story lines are much more exciting and kudos to Brian Cox for his one-man performance vs. a creepy Jack-o-Lantern puppet.

 

The Twilight Saga (2008 – 2012) – The latest films featuring the recent resurgence in the werewolf craze.  Jacob Black is a member of the Native American Quileute Tribe in La Push, Washington.  The tribe is descended from wolves and as such are natural enemies of vampires.  Buff-bodied Jacob makes up one side of the human/vampire/werewolf love triangle that is so prominent in the films.  The Twilight Saga, is just that:  a saga, incorporating a series of books, films, soundtracks, and enough branded merchandise to keep many a Twihards happily satisfied for years to come.  With the later films, Team Jacob gets a much needed boost by compounding upon Bella’s ever-present sexual tension while Edward’s away doing what he does best… sulking, but ultimately Jacob doesn’t do much, unless standing around with your shirt off counts.  His bare torso should have had its own line in the end credits.  Even as a fully formed werewolf, he tussles a bit with his pack mates, but otherwise is not that threatening.  But here’s to rooting for the underdog.

 

The Wolf Man (2010) – A loyal remake whose charm can only be fully realized if you’ve seen the 1941 original.  The film manages to slide in all the necessary elements:  the wolf-headed cane, the telescope, the antique shop, and gypsies.  Aside from the spot on special effects, the film does not have much going for it.  The characters are ho-hum despite some big name stars.  Benicio Del Toro’s constant sleepy-eyed expression had me wishing for a full moon just to have the wolf man make-up cover up his face.  For all intents and purposes, Emily Blunt could have been replaced by a wet mop.  What caught me most off guard is that this newest wolf man film did nothing to add to the werewolf mythos.  Sure there were silver bullets, but no explanation as to why.  No scene of the pentagram (a werewolf staple).  And all but the slightest mention of lycanthrope; a far cry from the 1941′s encyclopedia definition still shot that lasted over half a minute.  Sadly, despite my hopes, not the greatest werewolf film ever.

-11/28/2011

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Top Five: Movies That Should Have Ended Sooner


Every now and then, I’ll be watching a film and the film gets to a point that feels like a natural ending or conclusion. Unfortunately some films continue on for another 15-20 minutes, dragging out the storyline in an effort to wrap things up nicely, but more often than not, end up muddling the feeling of excitement obtained from the film’s climax. For an example of a film done right, I refer to George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977). Death Star blows up; award ceremony on Yavin IV; credits. It’s concise. That feeling of elation is still with you when you leave the theater.

For this experiment I will be taking on the mantle of a creative editor with limited powers – unable to reshoot scenes, merely cut out scenes from the ending that will then make for, in my eyes, a better film. Here’s my list of recent movies that should have ended earlier.

 

5. Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001) – This French film successfully mixes period-piece, werewolf horror, mystery, and martial-art elements into one awesome action/thriller. Unfortunately for this film, my recommendation to people has always been to watch the first half and then turn it off. That’s because the film’s mood, and even genre, distinctly changes between Acts. Full Metal Jacket (1987) is another example of this, but whereas Full Metal Jacket‘s two parts are interesting in their own ways, the last 40 minutes of Brotherhood of the Wolf amounts to nothing more than pre-French Revolutionary religious-political drivel. Watch it for 1) Mark Dacascos’ general bad-assery, 2) Monica Bellucci’s exposed breasts, and 3) the Beast, but once those elements are out of the picture, don’t be afraid to say, “au revoir” to Le Pacte des Loups.

 

4. Up (2009) – As Pixar’s catalog of films grow, it’s easy to compare and contrast what works with what doesn’t. What Pixar excels at everytime is the short form film. Their shorts often have little dialog, and so must rely on musical score and character expressions to tell the story. The beginning of Up has just that. Young adventurers, Carl and Ellie, meet for the first time, share in their similar interests, fall in love, and grow old together in the span of 5 minutes. Ellie’s quiet death is heart-wrenching and even now brings tears to eyes. Damn if that’s not a perfect film right there. Roll credits. Sure I just regulated an hour and 20 minutes of the film to the editing room floor, but the rest of the film sucked in comparison. Unless you prefer a premise that involves a buddy road movie between a crotchety old man, a chubby Asian boyscout and talking dogs – how’d a pitch like that ever get the green light?

 

3. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) – I recently rewatch this film, and despite it’s entry on my list of most disappointing films of 2010, it’s not that bad. It’s actually pretty fun with some killer action sequences. My distaste for the film is the chemistry, or lack of, between our hero, Scott Pilgrim, and his love interest, Ramona Flowers. Of course, if you remove Ramona from the film, and therefore her 7 evil exes, there’s no longer a premise. So I figured it out that with the tiniest of cuts, indeed, of this entire list, I can make the film more desirable. At the end, Romona admits that Scott and Knives “make a good combo” together and I happen to agree. Once Scott amiably defeats NegaScott, cute couple Knives and Scott watch Ramona walk away and out of Scott’s life. Mission complete. Roll credits. Scott Dude, let her go. It’s kinda like once Mario conquers all 8 worlds of the Mushroom Kingdom and defeats King Koopa, Princess Toadstool (the fucking tease that she is) gives him a kiss on the cheek (WTF? I risked my life for a kiss? On the cheek?) and wanders off only to be kidnapped by some other toolbag later, fulfilling her perpetual role as dumbass damsel in distress. See? Totally not worth it.

 

2. Toy Story 3 (2010) – As the second Pixar entry on the list, this film also qualifies for my most drastic cut. Imagine, if you will, the scene where our toys are in the junkyard, unable to escape the merciless tug of the conveyor belt full of trash set to be incinerated. Our pint-sized heroes, defiantly locked hand-in-hand, look upon the maw of scorching fire and doom. Woody turns to Buzz with a look of understanding; Buzz returns the look, accepting of their ultimate fate. Got the scene in your head? Yes? Okay. Now, cut to black. Hang there for awhile… Soprano’s style. Yeah… you see where I’m going with this? Roll credits and listen to the small building roar of whimpers as the theater crowd of children slowly realize what they just witnessed.

 

1. Repo Men (2010) – Awesome sci-fi movie starring Jude Law and Forest Whitaker. Though it starts slow, the film shines in a climatic scene of gory ‘internal probing’ that is both violent and sexual. It just may be one of my favorite scenes in all of film, if only because it blends that line of attraction/repulsion, the likes of which are only ever touch upon perhaps in lame horror movies. I would have ended the film after this scene; cut to black; roll credits. Sure our characters are still stuck in the heart of a government facility, bleeding profusely probably, and seconds from a Bonnie and Clyde-type death, but at least for that short amount of time, they are free. Truly free. Reminds me of the ambiguous ending to Lucas’ THX 1138 (1971) or Planet of the Apes (1968) – yeah, you’re finally free, but you’re still kinda screwed. The tacked on ending as is, takes away that freedom and spoils the exhilaration of that awesome climatic scene. If you haven’t seen it, do.

-05/25/2011

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Comparison Review:  Antiquity


Spartacus: Gods of the Arena (2011) – My favorite gladiator show returns for another season! What can only be described as a sinful pleasure of gratuitous nudity, violence, and outrageous CGI gore is back for more. This miniseries, however is received with mixed feelings. The format is different in that this is actually a prequel to Season One. The real world reasoning behind this temporal switch-up is due to the fact that the main actor, Andy Whitfield, who plays Spartacus, is dealing with a serious bout of cancer – so much so that the Spartacus character has been replaced by another actor going forward. This season – a 6 episode prequel miniseries – requires and assumes the audience has seen the first season. Much like in the same way that the Star Wars prequels elude to the boy who would become Darth, Gods of the Arena hints at things to come. And even though I don’t know exactly the method of their demise, I know that people not featured in the first season, it’s a good bet that they are not long for this world. Still, Lucy Lawless is a bona fide goddess so I can’t complain too much.

 

The Centurion (2010) – Moving forward from 73 BC of Spartacus’ time to 120 AD, The Centurion recounts one explanation for the complete and utter disappearance of the Roman Ninth Legion along the furthest border of the Roman Empire in northern England. Like an antiquated version of Black Hawk Down (2001) a splinter group of Roman soldiers fight for their lives behind enemy lines after their legion is decimated in a devastating guerrilla attack. The rag-tag group of Roman soldiers who survive the ambush are chased relentlessly by a hunting party of savage Picts, led by an extremely attractive but mute warrior woman. It’s no surprise that there are strong female roles as is the case with The Descent (2005) and Doomsday (2008), other movies directed by Neil Marshall. The film’s not bad by itself, but it definitely pairs well when viewed along side my next film.

 

The Eagle (2011) – Set twenty years after the unexplained disappearance of the Ninth Legion, young centurion Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) arrives from Rome to solve the mystery and restore the reputation of the legion by finding the legion’s fabled lost relic, a golden eagle that sat atop the standard. With Tatum at the lead, I didn’t expect much from the film, but if you wanted to look hard, there are several levels that this film touches upon; much more than The Centurion. Accompanied only by his slave, the film takes on an unusual guise – one part buddy film, one part road trip film with clashes of class and cultural differences. To bring it back to Spartacus, there’s a gladiator fight scene, albeit only a small one.

 

Valhalla Rising (2009) – This art house film is the bastard love child of Braveheart (1995) meets The New World (2005). The film is an export from Denmark, and as such features, Norse Vikings in 1000 AD, I guess, but could just as easily be warring Scots straight out of Braveheart. The lead character is a one-eyed, mute slave (what’s with all the mute savages?) played by Mads Mikkelsen, the Texas Hold ‘Em playing bad guy in James Bond’s Casino Royale (2006). Come to think of it, he had a bad eye in that film too (if you consider oozing blood from your tear duct bad, that is). One-Eye meets up with some Christian crusaders out to bring His word and/or wrath upon the holy land of Jerusalem. Um, they get lost on the way to the Middle East and end up in the Americas – how is that even possible? – and are instantly set upon by the ‘savage’ natives. Watch the first half of the film; ditch the rest.

 

I threw ‘savage’ in quotations because with Valhalla Rising and truly all the reviews above tend to point out that even the most sophisticated of societies are just as bad if not worse as the ‘savages’ that they are facing. Indeed, all my recent entertainment have similar themes: class differences, violence, obsession… What’s that say about me? Eh, I’m not too concerned.

-02/26/2011

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Best of 2010

 

Honorable Mention – The Walking Dead – From a long line of utter crap that the networks try to pass off as decent live-action comic book-esque TV shows, M.A.N.T.I.S. (1994), Witchblade (2001), Birds of Prey (2002), Blade: The Series (2006), No Ordinary Family (2010) and The Cape (2011 – yes, I’m already including this pile of poo), Walking Dead proves that comic book adaptation can work. I’ll admit Heroes (2006) started out great, but quickly faltered after season one and the only other shows that seemed to do well for itself is Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993) and Smallville (2001) – though, I mark up that success to the recognizable lead of the big blue boy scout. With the recent vampire craze, it’s nice to see the oldie, but goodie, slow, yet purposeful antagonist, zombie. This survivalist series asks the question, what happens after the zombie apocalypse? What you may find out is that the biggest dangers come not from the undead walkers but from your fellow surviving human beings. Season One is only 6 episodes long so expect a slow burn for this series.

 

5. Predators – An excellent direct sequel to the 1987 original. The film manages to both ignore all the awful sequel/prequel AVP mess and at the same time give proper nods to the original series. Lead, Adrien Brody, is far from the muscle-bound hulk, Schwarzenegger, but manages to carry an air of gravitas, despite an over-exaggerated gravel voice a la Christian Bale’s Batman. The human characters are unique and interesting, but the alien predators are not nearly flushed out enough – I would have been okay with a few more scenes following the aliens around or some more Predator-vision POV shots, which was severely underutilized. Between the jungle location, the rag-tag group of mercenaries, and the score, which hearkens back to the original, all are elements for the perfect Predator formula. Of course for me the predators turned prey turned predators concept (The Most Dangerous Game) is always interesting.

 

4. Tron: Legacy – In much the same way that Avatar made my Top 5 list last year, Tron‘s audio and visual mastery far exceeds any of the film’s inherent faults. This was my first IMAX 3D feature film since our local theater installed an IMAX last month. The 3D I could do without; the lifespan of that fad is long overdue. The IMAX experience, however, was totally worth it. The visuals were larger than life while the audio was vibrating my seat. The original score by Daft Punk is absolutely amazing (the French electronic music duo actually make an appearance in the film)! Though a sequel, the film recreates all the fan favorite sequences and vehicles from the original film – the disc games, light bikes, the solar sailer, and the Space Paranoids’ recognizers. While not a direct homage, the film clearly references The Matrix and Star Wars franchises, and hey, those films are not too shabby, no? At one point, I was even waiting for the line, “Great kid; don’t get cocky.” And like The Matrix and Star Wars series, there are some pretty overt religious themes throughout with words like the creator (God) and the son of the creator (Jesus). The technical computer jargon is toned down from the original presumable to appeal to a larger audience. My biggest problem with the film is the very distracting, de-aged computer-animated Jeff Bridges which is a weird mix between a de-aged Patrick Stewart in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) and the cast of Warner Bros.’ animated film, The Polar Express (2004).

 

3. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse – Seriously? Yes. The third installation of the teenage werewolf vs vampire sensation is the best yet. The special effects have greatly improved since the first film, especially with the vampires shattering upon injury or death. The three main characters successfully recreates the Luke/Leia/Han love triangle. The usual awkwardness which tends to permeate from the teenage drama was transformed into actual tension as the film culminates with a huge werewolf/vampire supernatural battle. And as long as we are on the topic of the supernatural, Bella, the only human in the trio, proves that she, ironically, holds the most power. She uses her womanly ways to influence her will over the sexually frustrated boys. That’s right – a woman who is sexually manipulative; who’d a thunk it? The point is that this franchise went places far beyond my preconceived notions for what started as nothing more than a Harry Potter novels-to-film knock-off.

 

2. Spartacus: Blood and Sand - I’ve been raving about this series since it’s premiere back in January. It’s 300 (2006) meets Gladiator (2000) with copious amounts of gratuitous violence and nudity – ’nuff said. Season one highlights, John Hannah (The Mummy), Lucy Lawless (Xena: Princess Warrior), and Peter Mensah (300), return for the highly-anticipated prequel season, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena starting in January 2011. I can’t wait!

 

1. Inception – Leave it to Christopher Nolan to surprise us yet again; the man can do no wrong. As director of such mind-blowing films as Memento (2000), Insomnia (2002), The Prestige (2006), and the critically-acclaimed Batman reboot films, Nolan pulls out another winner. This film has all the fresh, visually stimulating bad-ass-ery of the first Matrix (1999). Nolan’s go-to supporting actors, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, and Michael Caine shine. Ellen Paige is so-so; not the right role for her. And forget Leo DiCaprio; the real star is Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whose good looks and physical prowess pits him right up there at the 007 James Bond level. Easily the best film of the year. Hands down.

-12/29/2010

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Most Disappointing of 2010

 

(Dis)Honorable Mention: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – I blame myself for this one. I, in retrospect, tragically played into the promoted hype of this ‘Epic of Epic Epicness’ and was rewarded with a unfulfilled pile of phony pop-culture poo. Scott Pilgrim played by my boy, Michael Cera, had all the charm of a lamp shade, and his new love interest, Romona Flowers, should have came with a special I-have-baggage warning sticker. A contest to defeat Romona’s seven evil exes is a cool concept, but in the end, not really worth the hassle. Sadly, I found the side characters like Scott’s roommate, Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin) and Scott’s sister, Stacey Pilgrim (Anna Kendrick), vastly more interesting. Perhaps there’s room for a spin-off crossover, Knives vs. Kick-Ass‘s Hit-Girl.

 

5. The Expendables – It’s almost not fair for me to judge movies that are, for all intent and purposes, to be fun, mindless romps. I call them popcorn flicks – films where you sit back, turn off that part of your brain that controls basic logic and reason, and enjoy. The Expendables falls into this category and normally I would give it a bye except for its’ over-inflated role call of A-list action stars. If the movie poster is any indication, the whole pull of the film is it’s roster of Stallone, Statham, Li, Lundgren, Couture, Austin, Crews, Rourke, and Willis. Before I get all ranty, props to Stallone for making an ensemble action film – I got no problem with that, in fact, I give him two thumbs up for even attempting such a colossal feat. Now for the ranty bit: The film banks on the assumption that its audience has seen all the action films from each of the cast members. Dolph Lundgren’s character in The Expendables is a psycho asshole that I care nothing for and he should probably die a death most horrible. That is, unless I know going into the film that Dolph Lundgren is also Frank ‘the Punisher’ Castle, Rocky-nemesis Ivan Drago, and Master of the f’ing Universe He-Man; in other words: a total badass! Similarly, Let Li’s character is a short Asian with no character depth. While not specifically mentioned, it is assumed we know that he is the premiere Chinese martial artist whose renown badass-ery is featured in such films as Lethal Weapon 4, The One, Hero, etc. When these two characters, Li’s and Lundgren’s, face-off against one another, it’s not some nameless Asian vs. coked-up Goliath, it’s East vs. West; it’s brute strength vs. lightening-fast speed; it’s action/adventure worlds colliding with raw awesomeness! Without this inherent knowledge, the film, on it’s own, is what it is, which is not necessarily bad, but I was expecting more.

 

4. Dexter – In terms of utter disappointments, this one takes the cake. Dexter, a show about a serial killer with a twisted moral code (to only kill other killers), is a wholly unique concept, the likes of which, has never before been seen on TV. Actor, Michael C. Hall, who made his chops after 5 seasons of HBO’s Six Feet Under, embodies the dual role of lovable family man, Dexter Morgan, and his dark, alter-ego passenger. The show, however, jumped the shark a couple times now with the addition of 1) a marriage and 2) a baby. Now on the back-pedal to fix the errors of their ways, the writers have, over the last couple seasons, attempted to re-invigorate the series by introducing big name stars, John Lithgow and Julia Stiles, only to manage to bring the series back to a pseudo status-quo, like the old adage: the more things change, the more it stays the same. Now in season six, with a greenlight for season seven, Dexter has finally sucked me dry of all interest… like blood drained from a corpse.

 

3. Boardwalk Empire – This fall, HBO debuted their latest and greatest series, sparing no expense with big name producers, Martin Scorsese and Mark Wahlberg. With canceled series, Carnivale, Rome, and Deadwood, HBO has not had much luck with period pieces, so I was quite surprised that they would go back to that troubled well. With the basic premise of The Soprano‘s in the 1920s prohibition era, I’m sure HBO is banking for a similar success for this crime drama. As I’ve said before, though, mob boss, Steve Buscemi does not have the same gravitas as James Gandolfini. And while Buscemi is a great character actor, especially for roles that lean towards the more eccentric, his straight-laced Atlantic City businessman performance is plain awful. The other characters are just as forgettable. Despite a slow start, Boardwalk Empire is guaranteed a second season, so only time will tell if the series can pull through it’s self created slump.

 

2. Alice in Wonderland - After the disaster that was Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I should have known better than to expect much from yet another re-imaged remake. Alice in Wonderland is similar to Avatar in that it is pretty to look at. I don’t think anyone can disagree that Burton clearly has vision when creating fantastical worlds, from Batman to Beetlejuice and Nightmare Before Christmas to Sleepy Hallow – it’s all truly amazing to behold. So what went wrong? While both the environment and the characters were overly flamboyant, they were also rather uninspired. A fully CGI world, in 3D vision no less, is a gimmick we’ve seen before as in the previously mentioned Avatar. Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter is a kindergarten crafts project gone wrong and his typical over-the-top acting is long past annoying. With the recent influx of children stories turned film (The Chronicles of Narnia, The Golden Compass, Where the Wild Things Are) this one is just a cookie cutter bore.

 

1. The Pacific – Strike two for HBO. To most, the highly anticipated, 10-part HBO miniseries focusing on American Marines during WWII in the Pacific, fell flat. The series, produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, was toted as Band of Brothers for the Pacific Campaign. Whether or not it is fair or even right to compare it to Band of Brothers is arguable, but I can’t help but draw comparisons, and in this family of brothers, The Pacific is the red-headed step-child. I’m trying to decide if my disappointment with The Pacific is the fault of the filmmakers or my own swaying perceptions. For sure, the action was intense and the warfare appropriately gritty. The filmmakers did not shy from showing the horrors of war. But the filmmakers failed to counterbalance that oppressive sadness with the reassuring camaraderie that was so thematically prevalent in Brothers. My favorite is episode 3: “Melbourne,” which sees our troops enjoying much needed shore leave in allied Australia. This episode had the most heart of the series and best character moments for former The Black Donnellys actor, James Badge Dale. Interesting to note: the best episode of this war drama coincidentally features no fighting. Ironic or sad? I’ll let you decide.

-12/27/2010

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Top Ten: Beheadings


In honor of Halloween this year, I thought I should do something slightly different: Something rightfully wicked while still in the spirit of my usual randomness. Therefore, I present to you a Top Ten list of films featuring Beheadings!

 

10. Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity (1987) – Got to love the title. This B-movie from the ’80s features just the right amount of bad acting, nudity, and a touch of uniqueness to quantify it as true, classic Camp. The sex scenes are laughable; the dude’s obviously wearing a flesh-colored thong. The special effects are nothing more than duct tape and a fog machine. Surprisingly the plot, a sci-fi version of the 1924 short story The Most Dangerous Game, holds the most merit. And as tradition dictates, the game hunter proudly displays his kills by wall-mounting their decapitated heads as trophies of the hunt. Not terribly original.

 

9. The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) and Braveheart (1995) – I combined this twofer for the simple reason that the beheadings are for the same purpose – the ever-classic, historically accurate, public execution. In Medieval Europe beheadings were all the rage, particularly as punishment for high treason or for the personal amusement of the King. It’s good to be the King. The problem here is that right before the beheadings, the scenes shift away and the actual decapitations are merely implied; not that I have a strong desire to see decapitations, it’s just a little bit of a lackluster ending for characters that the audience has been following for the entire film.

 

8. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002) – I think we can all agree that the Star Wars prequels were disappointing, to say the least. The films focused on special effects, a convoluted plot, and at times, seem geared for a younger audience (Jar-Jar Binks, anyone?). So it was to great amazement and genuine surprise when Jedi Knight Mace Windu lops off bounty hunter Jango Fetts’ helmeted dome. And perhaps for the first time since the Episode 1 trailer, old school fans had a did-you-see-that moment as, in shadow only mind you, Jango’s dismembered head actually slides out of his helmet as it flies through the air!

 

7. Girly aka Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny, and Girly (1970) – I watched this British film on a whim and found it so inexplicably intriguing. Based on the horror-comedy stage play entitled Happy Family, the film features a dysfunctional family along the same lines as the cannibalistic family in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). The film’s rated R, but despite the murders and sexual situations, there is no nudity and hardly any blood; it’s actually rather tame by today’s standards. In the pinnacle moment of the film, when the audience realizes that Girly has gone off the deep end, Girly is sitting at the kitchen table starring at a boiling pot on the stove while singing, “Nasty Nanny is no good! Chop her up for fire wood! When she’s dead, boil her head, make it into gingerbread!” The audience never sees what’s in the pot, but for me, it’s one of the most terrifying beheadings I’ve never seen.

 

6. Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (2001) – The LoTR trilogy has several examples of satisfying decapitations against the dark minions of Middle-Earth baddie, Sauron, but none as great as that first one. In the climatic final battle of the Fellowship of the Ring, Aragorn confronts Uruk-Hai leader, Lurtz. The fight that follows is fast and furious with no quarter given or taken; a brutal fight to the death that is perfectly accented with a clean, old fashion beheading. It’s a staple finishing move for Aragorn, as he uses it again in the extended edition of The Return of the King forever silencing the Mouth of Sauron.

 

5. 300 (2006) – Much like LoTR, this film is chock full of decapitations, depicted in gory, blood-spewing, slow-motion detail. Here we get our first on-screen hero beheading (he’s a minor character, but whatever). The decapitation that stands out in my mind most is when Leonidas slices through the Uber Immortal Giant’s thick neck. In slow-mo, the giant’s head tips backwards relieving tendons, muscles, and blood vessels, and then finally due to gravity, the head peals off from the last piece of attached skin which, now free from it’s heavy burden, quivers a bit. Just sick, yet eerily beautiful.

 

4. Sleepy Hallow (1999) – Hahaha, say what you will about this film, but no headless list would be complete with this noggin-lopping romp. Director Tim Burton, in his signature gothic style, re-images this American fairy tale about a headless horseman, who returns from hell to take the heads of the villagers of Sleepy Hallow. Unfortunately what should be a terrifying horror flick is offset by the rather comedic view of disembodied heads flying through the air. But I must give credit where credit is due. This film makes the list based on sheer quantity alone; there are a total of 18 decapitations.

 

3. Jaws (1975) – You know I can’t do a Top 10 list without including my favorite. This decap is rather subtle as it happens off-screen, but I would argue that that is the modus operandi for our Great White serial killer. Taking a cue from Jack the Ripper hiding in the shadows, Jaws pops out of the murky waters when least expected to dismember a tasty boater. Who can forget the tense scene where Hooper is expecting Ben Gardner’s busted up boat at night only to have Ben’s decapitated head (complete with missing eye) float down. It’s a classic scare shot accented with a musical cue and a canned scream. Who exactly is screaming like a girl here? Hooper? The head? Who care; it’s damn scary!

 

2. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) – Steven Spielberg’s second entry on this list. This one’s not very scary, but ranks high due to some great foley sound effects. At the first trial that guards the Holy Grail, one of many poor bastards loses his head, which then goes on to roll two hundred feet down some steps, pass some Nazi, and stops inches from our heroes in hiding – all the while: thwap, thwap, thwap!

 

1. Se7en (1995) – All I have to say here is: “What’s in the box?” In a film that progressively gets more horrifying with each kill, the audience, erroneously, breathes a sigh of relief when the killer turns himself in, supposedly ending his reign of terror. But as our heroes escort the killer, John Doe, on a seemingly endless drive to the middle of nowhere, and then wait even further for the delivery of ‘the box,’ the tension gradually builds to the point of utter insanity. The ending, in which Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman go from being in total control to realizing that they were never in control to begin with, makes for one of the best in cinematic history. This was voted the eighth scariest film of all time by Entertainment Weekly (Jaws was voted fifth on the same list).

 

Note: In retrospective, I should have included Highlander considering decapitation was a major plot factor, in turn knocking Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity off the list, but as my buddy, Scott, pointed out, “It’s hard to demote anything titled Slave Girls.”

-11/01/2010

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Solo Review:  Spartacus: Blood and Sand


Spartacus: Blood and Sand season finale aired. Great ending to a great season. As quite evident in the pilot episode, this Starz Original is an unapologetic rip-off of other recent ancient-culture period films and TV shows. Imagine if 300 and Gladiator spawned not a baby, but some twisted and demented garbage pail kid instead – that would be Spartacus. The cinematography uses 90% blue screen backdrop and loads of slow-motion shots, made popular by 300, and admittedly the first two episodes are an exact rehash of Gladiator, but once you get past the first few episodes, Spartacus runs out of pre-existing source material (the aforementioned Gladiator) and starts developing it’s own characters and storyline.

The characters are crude, two-dimensional caricatures similar to the inmates in HBO’s Oz. And the Roman master/slave hierarchy and social/political backstabbing reminds me of HBO’s Rome, albeit, a poor-man’s version. It’s true that all the characters live in the grey area of morality. No one is perfectly innocent or outrageously evil. In the world of gladitors, everyone has blood on their hands. Speaking of blood, there’s sword fighting (to the death, of course) in every episode, which I would think would get boring after awhile, but the show manages to keep it new and refreshing – no two fights are alike.

Overwrought with excessive amounts of violence, nudity, and language – definitely not for everyone. We’re talking complete dismemberment, full-frontal for both males and females, and enough swearing to rival that of Al Swearengen from HBO’s Deadwood. On the plus side, Xena: Princess Warrior fanboys finally get to see Lucy Lawless in the buff, who I am pleased to say, has aged very well indeed! For those looking for a particular fix, Spartacus: Blood and Sand, fills the void.

There’s talk for a season two, but season one is a complete beginning/middle/end storyline done in 13 episodes and I would be happy if the series ended there.

-04/21/2010

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-Super Steve.