Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Who Played It Best? Daredevil

Who Played It Best? Daredevil
Back in 2003 I was walking on air when I heard that a Daredevil movie was to be made. I thought Marvel was on a hot streak, this was after the release of the "Spiderman" and "X-Men" movies. Both of those were big hits at the box office and both were movies that I really enjoyed. I had reservations on Affleck then, but I was willing to give the movie a try. The trailers certainly looked promising and some trusted critics wrote good things. Then the movie came out and it was not at all what I expected. While some will argue that the first "Daredevil" movie was Affleck's fault, I disagree. Marvel clearly thought they were untouchable after the success of "Spiderman" and "X-Men" and the studios they sold characters to just greenlit any script they could get their hands on. Plus, Fox hired people that had no idea who Daredevil was as a character and they really didn't know what to do with him. I like that when Marvel recently got the rights back to the character, they waited a little bit until they used him again. They have spent almost ten years building a great cinematic universe, and their timing has been perfect. Charlie Cox made a huge statement when he played the character for Netflix, but who played the character best?

My Two Cents
I am not sure I can doubt who will be crowned the winner, I am honestly just curious if there is anyone out there who will vote Affleck. Plus, I wonder how many people have actually seen the Netflix show yet. Yes, I am taking a chance here, since the show is not even a month old yet, but I am wildly curious.

Send your votes to my email at bloggershawn@gmail.com or simply comment in the comment section below. Sorry I took a two-week hiatus but I am back and ready to take on some more iconic roles and the actors who played them.

LAST TIME ON WHO PLAYED IT BEST
Two orphan girls battle for the top prize two weeks and I now I will deliver who the best actress to portray Annie was. The results are more than in.
called it.
 


Batman vs. Robin Review

Batman vs. Robin Review
DC Animation has done it again.
 
It's no secret that I am a huge Batman fan. He is an agile and flexible character that has survived several different authors, styles, eras and atmospheres. Batman is a character who can whimsical and witty or dark and brooding. Each style and work based on how you write the character. The most popular characterization is the darker, grittier style and I really feel that is how the character is treated best. While I feel that DC animation has done an astounding job with all the characters in the DC stable, I love a good-old Batman-specific tale.
 
This story revolves around Bruce Wayne and Damien Wayne. I can't remember which number Robin Damien Wayne was, but it is true. Bruce had a ill-legitimate son with Ra's Al-Ghul's daughter Talia. We don't get too much into that, this movie soils itself in the dynamic of Bruce taking on a father role and how he must be Damien's father as well as his trainer. Damien is training to be Batman's new Robin as Dick Grayson takes on his Nightwing persona. While Batman and Robin work well together, it is evident that Damien is at a crossroads with himself. See, not only has Bruce Wayne trained him, but so has his grandfather Ra's, and both men have very different philosophies about how to treat good and evil, and this crisis of conscience in Damien causes friction in the relationship with his father.
 
There relationship is further tested when Robin is approached by a representative of the Court of Owls, a group of mysterious power figures in Gotham who have apparently been protecting the city from evil since the colonial times. The Court sees the strength in this edgier Robin who possesses a willingness to kill, but doesn't use it because of his father. This is the camel that breaks the camels back, and Batman soon finds himself fighting off his own flesh and blood while also investigating the Court of Owls.
 
The style in this movie is off-the-charts cool and kind of blends different styles of the Batman legend together perfectly. If you like the more real-world approach that Nolan coined, there is some of that. The film opens with Batman and Robin rescuing the Dollmaker, a character is becoming very popular thanks to the CW shows. The Dollmaker in this movie is exactly what you'd expect a child-kidnapping, murder would look like and it is kind of horrifying. If you like the comic book elements of Batman, those are here too! There is some stuff that is kind of goofy involving the plot of the Court of Owls. But its not so silly that it will take you out of the movie. If Ben Affleck's Batman looks even remotely like this, it will work big time. They make realism and fantasy blend so well here that it almost feels like a miracle. The fight scenes are also a terrific spectacle and actually feel like they hurt.
 
The voice work is impeccable. Stuart Allen provides for Damien Wayne, Jason O'Mara provides for Bruce Wayne, Sean Maher provides for Nightwing and Jeremy Sisto provides for Talon, the Owl who approaches Robin, all of whom do splendid work. The legendary Kevin Conroy, who originally provided his voice on the 1990's animated series returns for flashback scenes involving Thomas Wayne and I just get Goosebumps every time he speaks. Weird Al Yankovich apparently gave the voice for Dollmaker, which was so affective that I can't believe it was him. These actors really got into the characters and worked it out well.
 
In a world where people are complaining about who is playing who in the upcoming DC Cinematic Universe or how bad they thought the new Joker looks, all I have to say is if Zak Snyder and company take at least a few ideas from the animated DC playbook, they are going to be just fine. This is another solid entry and I can't wait for more.
 
FINAL GRADE: A
 
 
 
 


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

TV REVIEW: "AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D." (EPISODE 19, SEASON 2)

TV REVIEW
 
AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.
 
EPISODE 19, SEASON 2- "THE DIRTY HALF DOZEN"
By the end of tonight's episode of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." I am more pumped and more primed to see "Avengers: Age of Ultron" this weekend.

And that is not because of the exclusive scene we saw of the movie after the episode was over either, tonight's episode was supremely solid.

At the end of last week's episode, Coulson and his company allowed themselves to go back to Agent Gonzalez, who is the leader of Real S.H.I.E.L.D. This week, they make an uneasy pact to go after HYDRA. Real S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson's Team, Grant Ward and Skye all team up in order to track down Lincoln and Deathlok, who were captured last week by HYDRA. Coulson wants to hit HYDRA hard, which is precisely what happens, HYDRA gets hit hard.

How hard? Well, for the first time on the show, Skye kicks some major ass. She does not use her powers too much in the episode. But there is one scene in particular where she stealthily around a big room, killing HYDRA agents with special skills. Its actually quite an amazing scene, something I have a feeling I'll rewatch a couple times once the show hits Netflix. Also, to a surprising degree, Jemma steps up and kicks ass. Well, at least she tries too. Jemma aims for the jugular. There is a scene where Ward attempts to apologize to the team, listing off all the things he know he's done. But it does not matter to Jemma. Jemma tries to kill Ward, but fails. When its Ward's turn to grant revenge, he does not take it. He walks away, it was a big scene for Jemma, but just does not have the big payoff I hoped for.

I had a feeling Ward would not make it out of this episode, but he did. Ward is still one of the shows bigger problems. Simply put, I don't understand how the show can still use him now. Especially since he gets away from S.H.I.E.L.D. and even leaves Agent 33 in S.H.I.E.L.D. custody. What could they possibly do for him now. He may have vindicated himself to a degree, but it still does not matter. He is anchor at this point and his story-arc is already been finished. Just let the guy go already.

But I digress. I love that this episode did not spend too much time in Afterlife, and it allowed Skye to jump right into action. I also loved that the episode did not dwell too much on the rift between Real and Coulson S.H.I.E.L.D. It took some time for everybody to talk to each other, and gather thoughts back, but then it threw us right into the action. This episode featured some of the best action the show has ever unleashed, and that is pretty cool. But I am happy the show didn't stop just to get everybody to make amends. While I feel Gonzalez has some kind of wild card up her sleeve, I think its safe to say that S.H.I.E.L.D. may become one happy family by the time season two comes to a close. We will just have to wait and see how everything progresses. So far, job well done tonight.

What did you all think?


Monday, April 27, 2015

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 Review

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2
I was no particular fan of the first "Paul Blart"

I find Kevin James to be very talented, but much like his friend Adam Sandler, he seems to not like to take chances. The comedies he chooses to star in are safe fluff, as if his filmography has to have one theme only. I thought Kevin James was very good in "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," but the movie was so on-the-nose cute that it was hard for me to really get into it.

If you enjoyed the first Paul Blart: Mall Cop," I am sure you will enjoy this sequel. I found most of it somewhat charming. The film isn't full of "fatboy fall down" jokes, something I really beginning to become sick of. Kevin James once again, throws every ounce of his heart into the movie, and everybody overall does very good work. It is a movie that wants so very hard to be a great endeavor. But once again, it falls short. Its a movie that is too predictable to matter, its too familiar to be engaging, and its too regular to be surprisingly funny.

I don't want it to sound like I don't like "feel-good" movies, because that's simply not the case. There is plenty of cheery, cutsie-poo movies that really hit my sweet spot. But the difference between the best of the "feel-good" movies and something like "Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2" is that the movies I like don't have to try hard, they have enough confidence and charm to win me over every time. I think "Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2" is a very safe movie, and that makes for an experience I feel I have had a million times before. I like the movies I like because they feel timeless, in their own times. I understand that in the year 2015, it is really hard to be original, but making something feel fresh is a whole lot better than playing it safe.

This sequel picks up after Paul's marriage lasts six days and his mother passes away. Down on his luck, he needs something to finally go his way. That something comes in an invitation to a security officers convention in Las Vegas, a convention he takes his daughter (Raini Rodriguez) too. Unbeknownst to Paul, his daughter becomes flirtatious with one of the resort workers (David Henrie), and a criminal named Vincent (Neal McDonough) is planning to steal several pieces of art from the hotel they are staying at. You want to know how Paul catches on to Vincent? Giggle, are you sure? Paul daughter accidently, almost as if out of convenience of the plot, walks in on to the bad guys planning the heist! Giggle! The scene is so random and shows that they just pinched the scene in so that Paul had something to do and save the day. No matter how lazy the scene is, I was glad they did it. By the time the movie really got going, I had enough of the predictable single-father-not-letting-go-of-his-daughter material that literally suffocated the film.

Neal McDonough plays a great villain, he has always been a solid villain. He tries very hard to make this movie count. Heck, Rodriguez, Henrie, Loni Love, Nicholas Turturro, Ana Gasteyer and the rest of the cast tries to make this count, but the story is so cold and dull that it never goes anywhere, despite how well the actors are doing. There are some funny moments, James really shines in several scenes, even scenes I would have expected to fall flat if I were reading the script. There is  also a big showdown between the other security officers and Vincent's henchmen that is somewhat fun, but for most of the running time, I wasn't laughing, I was barely chuckling.

For me, how I judge a comedy comes down to how much I laughed. I am willing to admit that I have a sense of humor that is wide ranged, and I will also admit that I have a tendency to have a very immature sense of humor. I love slapstick of all types, so if Kevin James, who particularly specializes in that type of comedy can barely get me to crack a smile, something is wrong. This won't kill Kevin James' career, I just wish he could get out the typecast syndrome and become a bit more adventurous with his decisions.

FINAL GRADE: C-


Poltergeist Remake Poster

You know, I've been so excited about so many movies coming in the upcoming month that I tend to forget some other stuff.

This weekend is big because "Avengers: Age of Ultron" is coming out, and I've been proactively avoiding some reviews just so nothing gets spoiled for me. I belong to a Marvel Cinematic Universe group on Facebook and I have gone stale on that group ever since the film was released overseas. My excitement is at a level you probably can't believe and I need to see this now. We also have "Mad Max: Fury Road" on the docket for May. I could give a massive list and discuss why I am so excited for several hours. But that is not why I am here tonight, I am here to discuss another horror remake coming out on May 22nd. That remake is "Poltergeist."

I have seen the original "Poltergeist" a few times, and I always found it to be a mixed bag. There is some atmosphere I like and I am certainly a fan of some of the iconic moments, but that's about it. I never found it particularly scary, even the big clown scene near at the very end. It was definitely not something I would ever expect to be remade, but I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. There are several people out there who are fans of the movie, so I guess that helps.

This remake coming out next month features Sam Rockwell, an actor I have loved since as far back as I can remember. So that will definitely draw me to the theater, there has also been some pretty convincing marketing so far. I think I will give this one a try.

A new poster was released today for the film, and it definitely taps into the classic scenes from the original. Telling from this poster and some of the marketing I have seen, I bet the remake is going to reinterpret some of the classic moments from the original. That will either make or break the film, not just for me but probably for diehard fans. What do you all think of the poster?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Overlooked Film of the Week- "The Angriest Man In Brooklyn" (2014)

Overlooked Film of the Week-#98
 
The Angriest Man in Brooklyn
The passing of Robin Williams was terrifically hard on me. He is a rare talent that I find myself missing more and more. He is somebody I feel like we lost way too early, and if "The Angriest Man in Brooklyn" was any indicator, Williams still had plenty of unique characters to create and several more laughs to share.
 
Robin Williams does what he does best in "The Angriest Man in Brooklyn" he plays someone who seems like a huge asshole at first, but then somehow gets the audience to sympathize with him. Meet Henry Altman, a business man who spends more hours out of the day angry about something than any other emotion. As the movie opens, we learn Altman is going to see his doctor, and he learns his usual doctor is not there and his replacement Dr. Sharon Grill ( Mila Kunis) comes to see him. This sets Altman off, but once Dr. Grill informs him of his brain aneurism and how Altman has 90 minutes of life left to live, Altman spends the rest of his day trying to clear the air with the people in his life. That includes his son (Hamish Linklater) who he despises for choosing Dancing over a business career, that includes his estranged wife (Melissa Leo) and that includes an old friend from high school (Richard Kind) who still holds a grudge. All of these personalities crash in gleeful detail, but Dr. Grill is harboring a secret which could change everything.
 
The best part about this movie is how Robin Williams clashes with everybody around him. The argument at Altman's final party with Richard Kind's character is off-the-wall funny. There is also a great scene where Altman confronts his wife and wants to make love to her one last time, which is hard because she has their neighbor over, whom she has been having an affair with. Its a strikingly funny situation and it is very well-written. Williams and Leo and the rest of the cast is able to get the most out of their characters, and Williams in particular is one fire here. It almost seems that the script was written with Williams in mind, because it feels like something written by a person who understood all of his strengths.
 
Mila Kunis is also very good here. A testament to all of her worst critics. When Kunis connects with a character, it is unbelievably good how well she can act. This is a role that blends comedy and drama together and Kunis pulls everything off masterfully. Peter Dinkage, famous from "Game of Thrones" also makes an appearance as Altman's younger brother. This role is nothing like the role he plays on the great HBO series, but it is just as convicting.
 
It breaks my heart that this was one of the final movies of Williams' career, because I feel it was a brand-new outlet to his talents. "The Angriest Man In Brooklyn" is prime example of why Williams mattered so much and it breaks my heart that we will never see more of him again.


Black Mass Trailer

Johnny Depp is famously, and in some cases infamously, known for playing the weird characters. He always finds the weirdest, strangest, most eccentric characters and breathes life into them. He has done this for son long that when a relatively normal character comes along (i.e. "The Tourist" and last years "Transcendence") Depp ends up coming off bored. But, even if most people think Depp as a one-trick pony, he still making lots money, working often, and several are still hailing him as one of the best actors of all time.

Every once in awhile, I feel he allows himself to flourish. One of my all-time favorite Depp movies is "Once Upon A Time In Mexico." Where he plays a CIA agent in Mexico trying to destroy the entire power struggle of the country and have it start anew. He does really great work in it and he is playing a relatively normal character. Yes, I will admit the CIA agent he plays is a little quirky, but the quirk works for the character, not against it. Plus, all movie long, Depp is funny, dramatic and even a little bit badass. I've been hoping for him to catch that vibrant energy he had in the movie and I figured I'd be disappointed forever.

Then I saw the first trailer for "Black Mass" and it seems that after 10+ years, Depp is actually acting again, instead creating a wildly eccentric persona. Johnny Depp will play James J. "Whitey" Bulger. A character you may vaguely remember from "The Departed." Bulger was a real-life mob boss who ran Boston for several decades. One of the key ingredients for his success was his brother who infiltrated the FBI. Eventually, Bulger lost his power and went on the run, and he was number two on the FBI's Most Wanted list until his capture in 2011. I should mention that he was number two only to Osama Bin Laden, which should speak for itself on how powerful and ruthless he was. Bulger wasn't just the worst gangster in Boston, he was one of the worst gangsters of all time. And it seems Depp really wants the audience to see that.

No, this will not be a "Departed 2.0" "The Departed" was actually a remake of a 2003 Hong Kong movie called "Infernal Affairs" which dealt with one man pretending to be a cop for the Triads and another bad-boy as an undercover cop. That film dealt with what happens when those opposing forces find out about each other and I think Martin Scorsese did a good job of translating that out. Jack Nicholson's character was loosely (and I do mean loosely) based on Bulger. Besides some similarities and both movies taking place in Boston, don't expect the same movie twice. "Black Mass" is going to be a historical drama focusing on the real Whitey Bulgber. "The Departed" was a half remake/half historical drama with someone somewhat based on Whitey Bulger. Both movies are going to be different, and after this first trailer, I am wildly excited for "Black Mass."



Saturday, April 25, 2015

The First Look at Jared Leto's Joker & The Importance of Context

For those of you who are not friends with me on my Facebook, I have a confession to make. This morning I saw the first official image of Jared Leto's Joker, which we will see for the first time in "Suicide Squad" in 2016. My reaction to the image was immediate, and instantly hoped on my Facebook account, posted the picture of my wall, and declared it the "Hot Topic Joker." After discussing the image with friends and taking some time to cool off, I kind of feel bad about making that remark.

That happens a lot nowadays when it comes to movies, especially movies are surely to be a big deal like "Suicide Squad." I remember reading about a time when movies were top secret events. Until you saw a trailer, there were no images or set visits or photos or any type of leakage whatsoever. In the digital age, it is an entirely different story. A picture like the one above can make or break a movie, or it can divide people down the center. It seems this first image of Jared Leto as The Joker is doing the latter. While I think its okay to like or not like the image above, I think its tough to say that the movie will be bad or that the "DC Cinematic Universe" is doomed now that this image is polarizing.

Look, there was no doubt that the image above would get a discussion going, and its been raging all day. I get it, The Joker is one of those pop culture villains that is sacred in the hearts of many. Before we saw a trailer or heard his voice, people instantly rejected the idea of Heath Ledger as The Joker. That seems wild at this point, but I remember bringing up that casting to anyone who would listen in that summer of 2007, and I remember getting a lot of blank stares, people instantly writing me off like I was wasn't being serious. But like I said, that was before a trailer or even a clear look at Ledger's Joker, and once we saw the context Christopher Nolan was creating and how committed Ledger was to the material, everyone embraced him.

Whether or not this new Joker works or not boils down to context, at least that is what I think. Its hard to judge how great this new representation will be if we have no idea what context the character is in. Yes, we know bits and pieces about the story director David Ayer is going to tell and we know some stuff just through knowing about "Batman vs. Superman." But that doesn't mean we have a full context, and we won't until we see Jared Leto in action. So I do humbly apologize for making such a crude remark on my social media and I encourage all of us to just "wait and see" before we declare the DC Cinematic Universe dead.

As for me? Well, after looking and thinking about it more, I am still pretty polarized by the image. There are things I like about it and things I don't. I dig some of the tattoos on him, but I find it a little excessive. Especially the tattoos on his face. I like his classic green hair, but I think it's a little too bright. But hey, movie magic in the final product could dim the color down a bit. I am even digging the metal teeth the more I have sat on it, I just hope in the final product they go for a less sleek look and more of a creepy, horror-movie style look. Right now, after discussing it for most of the morning and into the afternoon, I am more curious than ever for a trailer. And "Suicide Squad" is still the DC movie I am looking forward to most.

But remember people, this isn't going to be Jack Nicholson's Joker, nor Heath Ledger's Joker nor the Joker we saw on TV that Mark Hamill provided a voice for. For someone who writes about movies online, hobby or not, I should have kept that in mind and I am not sure I did this morning. I encourage all of you to remember that context matters, and I think one thing is for sure. The Joker that Jared Leto will unleash next year will be unlike anything we have ever seen before, and I think that fact deserves some support.

SOURCE:
http://www.hitfix.com/motion-captured/yep-thats-pretty-much-exactly-what-we-thought-jared-leto-as-joker-would-be

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Duff Review

The Duff Review
As I watched "The Duff" tonight, I couldn't help but think of old John Hughes movies.

This is a movie that deals heavily in high school pressure and anxiety. It examines the new world of clichés and how everything millennial has affected them. There is definitely a big Hughes vibe in throughout the movie and it seems director Ari Sandal was channeling "Sixteen Candles" in particular. Mae Whitman plays Bianca, a "loser," in her senior year of high school whose friends are all more popular than she is. She soon realizes that her two girlfriends Jess (Skyler Samuels) and Casey (Bianca A. Santos) and her best guy-friend Wesley (Robbie Amell) all agree that Bianca is "DUFF" which means the Designated Ugly, Fat Friend. It is the person people use in order to get into the popular social groups. I suppose if we think about it, whether we want to admit it or not, all had a friend like that in high school, or perhaps you were that friend. There is a popular boy in school named Toby (Nick Eversman) who Bianca wants to date and she enlists Wesley help to make her cool in exchange for helping him pass science class and stay on the football team.

Like I said, this is a very "Sixteen Candles" type of movie, with a few differences. But "Sixteen Candles" this movie never becomes.

Look, I did like that the movie tried to approach new world clichés in this movie. Even though the films script makes you want to roll your eyes several times, I think the cast gets the most out of it. I liked the performances by Whitman, Amell, Smauels and Santos very much. I liked the appearances by Allison Janney and Ken Jeong. The thing is, despite the neat approach and all the talent, "The Duff" does not really add up to much.

This is a film that seems to know that it is a homage. But instead of taking something cool from the past and putting a creative spin on it, "The Duff" only wants to stay in homage territory, it never wants to become anything more. You will be able to guess the movie from start to finish and it seems director Ari Sandal doesn't seem to try. This could have been a John Hughes movie for a new audience, but Sandal only wants this to be a Hughes parody, and he goes out of his way to hit that point over our heads.

I will say this, I was expecting the absolute worst judging from the trailers. So I must stand corrected that I was not expecting any redeeming qualities. I just wish this movie was a little more convicted to being different. This had the potential to be something special, something nobody was expecting and it breaks my heart that it never came to be.

FINAL GRADE: C-
 


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Gunman Review

The Gunman Review
Ugh. "The Gunman" is the worst type of action movie.

Sure, it has actors like Sean Penn, Javier Bardem, Idris Elba, Ray Winstone and Mark Rylance in it and they all do fine work. But still, "The Gunman" is the worst type of action movie. Consider that nearly every shootout takes place in an exotic location, consider that authorities of any kind are never anywhere to be found despite taking place in a public place. Consider that our hero Jim Terrier (Penn) is pretty much an invulnerable superhero throughout the entire movie despite having plaque in his brain which is giving him problems. You can bet those problems kick in right when it is convenient for the plot and I suppose authorities do show up right at the very end of the movie, again out of sheer convenience.  These, and a laundry list full of other gripes, makes me wonder why so much talent was attracted to such a profound mess.

Terrier is an ex- Special Forces mercenary who works as an assassin for a multinational corporation working in the Republic of Congo. (Yes, seeing Sean Penn with such huge muscles is actually more funny than it is intimidating.) After a rising leader in the Congo threatens the corporation they send Terrier and his partners (played by Bardem and Rylance) to assassinate the leader, which they pull off. Terrier flees Africa and eight years after the assassination, Terrier's life is in jeopardy. Terrier begins to travel the world in order to find who is killing him and why.

But I bet you can guess where this goes. In a world like this, there are no clean getaways, and you can bet Bardem and Rylance were behind the attempt on Terrier's life. I would use their character names, but really. what's the point? Despite the acting chops of both Bardem and Rylance, they are just playing types and not actual characters. This is a familiar story of betrayal and corruption, and Terrier spends the movie trying to get himself out of it. While I enjoyed the work of Bardem and Rylance as villains, they really had no real characters to play.

Oh, and there is a woman. Jasmine Trinca plays Annie a woman Terrier fell in love with while he was working in Congo. After the assassination, once Terrier fled, he left without telling Annie a single thing because (of course) she had no idea what his real job was. After the eight year break, and once Terrier starts looking for answers, he finds Annie married to Bardem's character, giggle. Once again, Trinca does fine as Annie, but she's nothing more than a damsel in distress. After the last couple of years and after how many badass women we have seen on both TV and in the motion pictures, why resort to such a tired cliché? Why not make Annie a significant part of the plot? Why not give her something worthwhile to do? There is a big "Taken" vibe from this whole movie, and once Annie becomes leverage, the irony of such a idea really hits home.

There are some decent action scenes and anybody who likes a good action movie will be delighted by some of the film's kills. But I do want to stress the word "some." "The Gunman" is a movie that tries to create a few shocking kills, but only ends up coming off laughable. When your main villain is killed by bull's horn, you know you've done something wrong.

Despite a stellar cast and some mediocre action, I was deeply unimpressed by how unimaginative "The Gunman" was. I can only guess that this "Taken" formula will dry out soon and we can get back to unique and cool action pictures. I don't mind a brainless action movie from time to time, but when I leave the theater with a headache, and not the type of headache I get when cheering with glee at the screen, that is where I draw my line.

FINAL GRADE: F


The Woman In Black 2: Angel of Death Review

The Woman In Black 2: Angel of Death Review
Who here saw "The Woman In Black?" Back in 2012?

It was the first big movie featuring Daniel Radcliffe after he was done with all things Harry Potter. I was particularly looking forward to it because it looked to be a gothic horror film that promised to be creepy. I usually enjoy a more gothic feel in my horror films, so that appealed to me personally. Sadly, the movie really wasn't that good. While I felt Radcliffe did as good as he could have done, and I think the film had some interesting atmosphere. But nothing else about the film was good. It was not creepy, or scary, or anything of the above. I sat back at the beginning of 2015, dumbfounded to find that "The Woman In Black" was getting a sequel.

In the first film, Radcliffe's character was haunted by a woman in a house of a village he went to in order to fix an affair. In this sequel, Radcliffe does not return. It is a completely different story. Set during WWII, a deputy headmistress Eve (Phoebe Fox) is helping her children escape London so they are safe of the Nazi attack. Along with Headmistress Jean (Helen McCrory), they plan to take care of their children at the countryside town of Crythin Gifford, the same town that Radcliffe went to in the first film. And the children and the teachers just happen to stay at the same haunted mansion Radcliffe's character did. Soon enough, some of the children, as well as Eve, soon begin seeing visions of some ghoulish woman in the house. Of course, not everybody does, including Jean and that causes friction in the group.

I think you can guess where this is heading. Eve argues there is a ghost in the building, Jean argues against it. Some "creepy" things happen, there is a jerk of a child that keeps getting the good kids in trouble, Eve has some nightmares. Then of course, by the end of the film, everybody figures out that Eve was right all along and they stop the ghost from killing any children. Like most films, there a quick little jolt of creepy right before the credits roll too. There is nothing remotely surprising or different about "The Woman In Black 2," but the thing that bothers me most about it is that it wasn't particularly scary.

I give the film some points. There is once again some great atmosphere created as far as the films mood is concerned. Had the movie had a better script to work with, would have made all the difference. Once again, I feel Fox and McCrory did exactly what they were told to do, and for the most part, they do it well. I think they have a wonderful cast of young actors to work with. There is even a love interest with Eve's character. She falls for a combat pilot named Harry (Jeremy Irvwin) and his fate is the normal horror movie cliché, which I appreciated. Plus, I have noticed that I am a lot more sensitive when it comes to children coming into danger in horror films or just films in general. I never liked seeing children die in movies, but after working at a daycare for the last two years, I feel it affects me more than usual. There are a couple of child suicides in the film that are brutal and disturbing, and they definitely got under my skin.

But besides those couple moments? Nothing much else happens. Eve's dreams, which could have been perfect fodder for big scares, are soft at best. The film is telegraphed by clichéd boo scares, which I have explained several times before, do nothing for me. And they sure did nothing for me this time too. There is not much here that I would refer to as a horror film. Nothing that really sticks or that is everlasting.

So I think its safe to say that we should put this franchise to bed.

FINAL GRADE: D
 


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

TV REVIEW: AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. (EPISODE 17, SEASON 2)

TV REVIEW
 
AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.
 
EPISODE 17, SEASON 2- "FRENEMY OF MY ENEMY"
Well its been awhile since Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) and Director Coulson sat down with each other in good faith. But with rival S.H.I.E.L.D. factions, living on the run and limited resources and people, Coulson has no choice. He tracks and finds Ward, desperate to get another foothold on HYDRA. Coulson sees that despite all that has happened, there is still good in Ward. He has left HYDRA and has started a life with Agent 33. So there is a small part of him he can still trust. Coulson offers that if Ward can get him to HYDRA, he will let Ward walk away. He will wipe his mind of his worst memories and only allow the good person left in him to live.
 
Ward and Agent 33 still have custody of Suni Bakshi (Simon Kassiandis), whom they took from the United States Army a couple episodes ago, and are allowing Coulson to use him to get to HYDRA. This means putting Coulson's team in contact with Dr. List (Henry Goodman). If you saw "Captain America: The Winter Soldier), you know who Dr. List is, he's the guy Strucker spent most of the time talking to in the mid-credit scene of that movie. It seems Dr. List is assisting HYDRA in collecting superpowered people (hence why we also saw Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch in that mid-credit scene). Coulson is ready to lay waste to even more HYDRA personnel. All the while the "real" S.H.I.E.L.D. is onto him. And this real S.H.I.E.L.D. has now won over Melinda May, who spills the beans on Jemma giving the Toolbox to Fitz for save keeping. It seems May is now wondering about the lies and truths of Coulson, and she is genuinely curious. It definitely doesn't help that once Jemma hacks into Deathloks vision system that May clearly sees Coulson and Ward standing arm and arm...
 
 
Ward and Coulson helping each other again was actually a hit for me personally. Just when I was getting bored of Ward altogether, the show gives him something cool to do, and quickly lays down more drama between the rift between S.H.I.E.L.D. factions. The part of the episode that ran slow for me was the stuff on the Afterlife. For a place of safeguard for people with extraordinary powers, it is some of the most boring material so far. Simply because not much goes on there. I sighed of relief once Skye took her father back to Earth, hoping to reconnect with Coulson and crew, unbeknownst of all the craziness going on. Skye, her father, Coulson, and HYDRA all meet in the same place, for one cool shootout. Sadly, it seems Skye ends up right back where I hope she wouldn't and that's too bad.
 
Still though a solid episode, and it seems next week is going to begin dipping into what is ahead of us in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." The Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D. faction story is amazing, but did we get into the Inhumans stuff a little too soon?


Monday, April 20, 2015

Home Review

Home Review
I have not had much faith in DreamWorks Animation for awhile now.

I certainly did not have much faith going into "Home" tonight. I mean the last few years of DreamWorks Animation output (other than "How To Train Your Dragon 2") has been pretty low-budget, according to me. I thought Pixar would rule all for many years to come. I was not a fan of the marketing for "Home." None of the trailers drew me to the movie, which is never a good sign. I was drawn to any of the voice actors. I am one of the very few people on planet Earth who hates "The Big Bang Theory" and I find Jim Parsons in particular to be quite annoying, so a movie with his voice as the lead was scary to me. I am also not fond Jennifer Lopez and was not ready for another singer-turned-voice actor in Rihanna. All "Home" looked like to me was too many red flags.

So I am a little surprised to be reporting that "Home" is actually pretty good. It didn't blow my socks off, it certainly is not "How To Train Your Dragon 2" great, but it has the charms. The screenplay by Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember give each voice actor a lot of wiggle room and plenty of moments to shine. That is exactly what they do, they shine. The direction by Tim Johnson is spot-on and he creates a world that is colorful yet believable at the same time. This is not just another DreamWorks movie where the kids will be in heaven while the parents are bored. There is a lot more to "Home" than just cute fluff.

The story revolves around an evil alien race known as the Gorg who are hunting another alien race called the Boov. The Boov are frantically trying to find a different planet which can sustain all of them and keep them safe. They find a safe haven in Earth. They begin a "friendly invasion" as the Boov begin to move humans to other parts of the Earth so that the Boov can live in their stead. One of these Boov's who finds a new home is Oh (voiced by Parsons) who seems to be overly-excited to be living on Earth. He is so excited that he sends invitations to a welcoming party at his new apartment, the problem is he sends invitations to every alien race in the universe, including the Gorg. Now the Gorg know where the Boov are and this turns Oh into a fugitive. On the run, Oh runs into Tip (voiced by Rihanna) who is down in the dumps because she was separated from her mother, Lucy (voiced by Jennifer Lopez) during the invasion. Oh and Tip make a pact to help each other, Oh is going to clear his name then help Tip find her mom.

Like I said, I was no fan of Jim Parsons leading up to this movie. Based on the trailers, I thought Oh was just going to be a much more kid-friendly, but just as annoying version of Jar Jar Binks. However, Oh is written just right as a character, he spends all of the movie walking on the rope between funny and annoying, but I liked every moment of it. The character never becomes too cheesy, and never becomes too much for the mature people in the audience. I think Parsons does good voice work here, and his somewhat nerdy voice helps the character, instead of hurting it. I love it when a movie can make me see somebody in a completely different light, and I am happy to say that happened here.

I also liked the voice work by Rihanna here. Yes, the movie is filled with Rihanna songs and it seems at times that the movie is selling out a little bit, but it didn't really bother me. I think Rihanna did great voice work here and I'd love to see how her future in film turns out. Jennifer Lopez' character is an important presence in the movie, but not an overwhelming one, so I really never had the time to really get a headache from her involvement. I will say that the moments she has in this movie really are not bad and she really has no room to derail the movie, which is a good thing. Even Steve Martin shows up as Captain Smeck, who is the leader of the Boov race and who leads the charge to find Oh when he becomes a fugitive. Martin has some of the best material in the movie, and you can tell Marin relished every moment of it, very good work being done here.

It's actually kind of amazing that "Home" kind of refers to two different meanings and you may not catch that in the advertising for the movie. Which is another reason why I believe DreamWorks likes to make people think the movies they are selling are going to be garbage, but end up being more every once in awhile. Just as Oh is settling into his new "home," Tip is trying very hard to find her mother, and it seems that wherever her mother is, that's home for her. As Oh becomes a fugitive, he tries very hard to clear his name, because not only does he want to protect himself, but he wants to fight for the newfound land that he has been given. Its amazing to me how a cute kids movie actually has a parallel meaning in its storyline, I found it to be very clever.

"Home" does follow some of the usual kids movie beats that have become cliché over the last few years, but I really did not care. I loved the film's goofy animation, and I was absorbed enough by the storyline to care. I was surprised how well the cast did with this movie and I am glad it was not a total embarrassment. If you have children, definitely take them to see this, they will have a blast (if they somehow have not seen this already). I also think the adults will be surprised just how charming this one is as well.

FINAL GRADE: B


New Jurassic World Trailer

A new trailer has landed today for "Jurassic World" and, for the most part, it looks pretty cool. We see several scenes of Chris Pratt's character in action, and I think Pratt is going to be one of the best things about this movie. He's got great charisma and he's been a good streak lately. No matter what I end up thinking about the movie, I am more than confident to say Pratt will dish out a solid performance. We also see that there is going to be some human vs. dinosaur action, which could be pretty cool. We don't see too much of the fighting, which makes me think we haven't seen all of the "money shots" the movie has to offer and I truly hope that is true.

The thing is that I am still nervous about this movie. The trailer reveals a little bit more about the story, and it still comes off to me as an excuse to set humans on the island, then have the dangerous dinosaurs break out. Each sequel to this series has just come from the same template as the first film. After reading the earlier ideas for "Jurassic Park 4," I knew Universal was playing with the idea of taking the franchise in a different direction, and that was exciting. I am just hoping that after all these years, they didn't wait just to make more of the same. Don't get me wrong. Dinosaurs? Cool. Chris Pratt? Cool. Chris Pratt's character controlling raptors? Even cooler. But I want this coolness to not just be fluff, paving over the same story we have seen three times already.

I hope I am wrong, because I want to love "Jurassic World." They have great visuals, it looks like the movie has some great energy. They have also put together a stellar cast. But will all of this service just another island-style monster movie? I sure hope not.

Check out the trailer:


Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Essentials- The Short Films by Buster Keaton (Part One) (1920-1923)

The Essentials-#97
 
The Short Films by Buster Keaton (Part One)
Due to an unexpected birthday surprise, I was able to get a collection of short films featuring Buster Keaton recently. I watched most of the first disc today, and have decided to dedicate the next three Essentials column to these short films.

In a world where we see believable aliens on film, superheroes with seemingly unlimited power, realistic dragons and animals and digital actors, its tough to remember a time when we did not have that. It is even harder to remember a time when films were just imagery with no dialogue whatsoever. But, every great thing must have a beginning, and this was cinema's beginning. Buster Keaton was like the Tom Cruise of his time. He was easily one of the most popular actors of his generation, and he also happened to be a fabulous stunt performer. It may seem weird thinking of films this old having stunt performers, but after powering through this first disc of short films, I can definitely see why they would be needed. Apparently, Keaton was one of the very best, although I can't find in any of my research him being a worshipper of any alien warlords.

I am probably showing just how big and how weird of a movie addict I am trying to sell to a readership mostly comprised of millennial's the idea that silent films are great. Yes, its true I have an appreciation for old film. But this is rainy afternoon taught me anything, its that the best movies of the silent era can compare to the biggest eye-popping, blockbuster out there. There are things I saw today that I feel I could only see in dreams. I think the best people working at the Lucas ranch right now could not pull off images more realistic than the images I saw today.

For example, in the movie "The High Sign," Buster has a fight with a gang of crooks in what I would describe as a trick house, the perfect place to have a Halloween party. This house is decked out with trap doors, escape roots, but everything seems to circle back to certain rooms in the house. The scene in which Buster tries to fight off these crooks and save his girlfriend is feels surreal, but the choreography of how Buster moves and sets the crooks up for defeat is both funny and astonishing. Its also a lot more visually interesting then seeing digital armies come at each other, and I don't want it to sound like I am slamming those movies. Just after growing up seeing that so much in the theater, it is cool to see how it all began.

There is also another great example in the short film "One Week," as Buster is newly married and him and his new bride are dropped off to their "portable home," which he spends the next week building. Near the end of the week, there is a huge storm and the house begins spinning, as if it on top of a massive rotating device. I can't even begin to comprehend how they pulled that off, but it looks like something you can only see in your dreams. There is no way that any type of computer could match the realism on display in this movie, and I really could not believe my eyes.

In the 1920's, everything was over-dramatic, probably because there was no dialogue. But I was able to find big humor in these overly-done performances. There is a level of humor that Keaton and the wonderful actors who worked with him achieved. Much of the comedy is slapstick humor, there is a great scene in the film "Convict 13," when Buster is about to be hanged at the prison, and instead of falling through and dying, the rope bounces him up and down. It is a scene that I did not expect, and it made me laugh out loud. Based on how certain things were staged in the movies, I can't help but wonder if people like Wes Anderson were influenced by these early silent classics. There were many set pieces and even actor mannerisms that I recognized.

Even though it can easy to discuss how excited I am for movies like "Avengers: Age of Ultron," or "Mad Max: Fury Road" or "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," I also love to look back at the vast history of cinema, and all of the great we already have. It is amazing to me that an image of a spinning house can be just as striking as an army of aliens spewing from a intergalactic opening in our sky. This afternoon proved that special effects or not, all film has the opportunity to make our dreams a reality. I loved watching most of this first disc, and I can't wait to watch the other two discs in this timeless collection.


Overlooked Film of the Week- Force Majeure (2014)

Overlooked Film of the Week-#97
 
Force Majeure
If you were faced with a life or death situation involving your family, would you not fight to protect them? Would step up and be the man or the woman you need to be in order to shield your loved ones from whatever the world throws at you? Or as human beings, are we destined to always be selfish? When we are hunkered down into survival mode, are we all talk and no walk when it comes to the lives of others?

"Force Majeure," a Swedish movie directed by Ruben Ostlund, dissects those questions and asks them to a happy family who have gone on a ski trip in the Alps. On the second day of  their vacation, they watch as an avalanche begins coming down the mountain. Sometimes, ski resorts will set off avalanches to make the park safer and probably for other reasons I don't know. Growing up, my family was a big ski family. I skied for a couple years, then decided snowboarding looked cooler and I did that until we stop going. I remember one year skiing in Colorado, hearing big booms across the resort we stayed at. It is not uncommon for resorts to do this.

So as this nice, cute family watches this avalanche coming down the mountain, they begin to notice that it is getting awfully close to the building they are eating at. Everybody panics and begins to run away. Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsil), the family's mother, grips the kids and holds on tight. Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke), the family's father, runs for his life. The screen is covered in white for a few minutes when we realize it was a false alarm, the avalanche does not come crashing into the building. (No, "Force Majeure" is NOT  a disaster movie.) Everybody begins to make it back to the table, including Tomas.

The rest of the movie focuses on Ebba and Tomas. Ebba feels betrayed that Tomas fled their family while Ebba stayed behind, not making much of an effort to make sure his family was okay. As she tells their friends this story, Tomas is in complete denial. Tomas claims that he did not run away, and this difference in perspectives slowly begins to tear this family apart. Not only that, but the story begins to infect the family's friends who are skiing too, as their friends begin to debate what they would do in such a situation. There is almost a battle wills between Ebba and Tomas that becomes infectious to the audience, at least it did so for me.

The work by Lisa Loven Kongsil and Johannes Kuhnke are incredible. Even though this is a foreign title and you will need to read subtitles in order to understand what they are talking about, "Force Majeure" is totally worth it to see two actors throw down. I can't tell you a thing about either performers merits, but they create a couple on the brink of disaster and it is instantly believable. Anybody who has gone through any type of rough patch with their significant other will be able to relate to the performances these two actors put on, and its pretty amazing how both actors can be sincere and funny towards their kids then at each other's throats during another scene. Truly astounding work.

Plus, the look of the Alps in high definition is breath-taking, and the cinematography by Fredrik Wenzel is nothing to wince at.

"Force Majeure" is currently on Netflix, and it is definitely worth checking out.


Friday, April 17, 2015

The Lazarus Effect Review

The Lazarus Effect Review
Back in 1983, Stephen King wrote a book called Pet Sematary. It was essentially about a cursed graveyard where if you buried your dead animal or human in it, the corpse would reanimate. But, as these stories often go, the person or animal that came back was never the same as they were before. It was later adapted into a movie in 1989, and while I never read the book, I did catch the movie a while back. What drew me to the story wasn't how scary or strange it was, but how the playing God factor underlines the entire story. I think how our culture is constantly trying to cheat death, constantly discovering breakthrough which will help the next generation live longer is very fascinating and if used right, it can lead to a good horror story.

Here is a look at Pet Sematary in greater depth:
I bring "Pet Sematary" up because I could not help but think of it as I watched "The Lazarus Effect" earlier this week. Because "The Lazarus Effect" is a more scientific version of "Pet Sematary" and it also featured more high-profile actors and a bigger budget. A group of scientists are doing research on reviving the dead. They commit an unsanctioned experiment on a dog and successfully bring a dog back to life, eventually the fiancée of the scientist behind this research dies, and he blissfully brings her back to life, but she's not the same person coming back. With all these special commodities, is "The Lazarus Effect" a better movie?

I was actually kind of surprised how much "The Lazarus Effect" struck me. First of all, I am always engaged when it comes to anything to do with dogs. I know I sound like an innocent, overprotective lady, but it is the truth. I have been a dog-lover my whole life, but ever since my girlfriend and I got a dog of our own, I am much sensitive to anything pertaining to them. The big moment in last year's "John Wick" involving the dog had me burst into tears immediately after it happened. So that subplot in "The Lazarus Effect" definitely pulled at my heart a little bit. The film features a great cast including Mark Duplass, Olivia Wilde, Evan Peters, Donald Glover, and Sarah Bolger, all of whom do great work. I am constantly impressed by how great an acting range Duplass possesses and he shocks me at least once a year. Each actor, taken in as a whole, do what they and they are a good unit. I also appreciated how strange and dark the movie got. I always like some weird darkness in my horror movies and it looked like director David Gelb agreed.

Here's the thing, there isn't much of "The Lazarus Effect" that we haven't seen before and better. It is always tricky to make a movie which is essentially the sum of other movies' parts, because you always run the risk of being too familiar or too distracting and I think "The Lazarus Effect" definitely suffers from that. As much as I was impressed with the film's acting, I don't think Olivia Wilde is that strong of an actress, and she wouldn't be my first pick for a leading lady in any kind of movie. She always comes off as someone reciting lines to me, and that is ever more evident here.

The other big thing for me when it comes to horror movies is that they have to be scary. While I will say there was some off-putting imagery in an experimental sort of way, (the dog appearing in the bedroom, watching Wilde sleep was appropriately creepy), most of the film fails to scare. I really wish more directors in horror would trust their material and their convictions instead of relying on loud music and boo scares. I wish "The Lazarus Effect" tried a little harder to be original or to approach this material in a unique way, but it does not.

Despite what I've said, I think "The Lazarus Effect" is worth a look. If you are fan of the horror genre, you might be swept in by some of the mood the film creates, just expect to sleep pretty easily the night of.

FINAL GRADE: C-
 
 


Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice Trailer

What a great week to be a fan of superheroes and their movies.

We had some big announcements with the "X-Men" franchise, we got a full-length "Ant-Man" trailer the same day. Now, on a Friday no less, we get our first trailer for "Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice" a few days earlier than we were told we would. Of course, all of the trailers and announcements are great news. Yes its true, Zak Snyder released this trailer because it got leaked, or something of the sort. No matter. We got the trailer and it is glorious.

I love the opening of the trailer, as we hear faceless voices debating the merits of the Man of Steel, Superman himself. As the camera inches closer and closer to a colossal statue of Superman, with the words "False God" spray-painted in red on his chest. Its interesting since as lines are drawn on whether or not Superman is a hero or a villain, the same lines are being drawn on whether or not this is a worthy franchise in general. I love that "Batman vs. Superman" will be a direct sequel to "Man of Steel" and it seems the movie will tackle the issues brought up at the end of "Man of Steel." Whether it was intended to be that way or not, I love that Snyder is going for it.

Let's talk about "Man of Steel" for a moment, because it isn't like your average Marvel movie. This isn't a superhero movie that was heavily embraced by every human being on the planet. The movie divided viewers almost across the board and the last thirty or so minutes of the movie have been highly controversial. I am one of the people who actually loved "Man of Steel" and if you are paying attention, I think the ending exposed something very important about a ordinary being becoming a superhero. I didn't just ignore because of all the relentless action, which I believe some people did. Because, I guess huge-scaled devastation to a city has never happened in any superhero movie before "Man of Steel" (Sarcasm)

I like that the trailer for "Batman vs. Superman" is bluntly stating that the DC Cinematic Universe is not going to be anything like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Good. They shouldn't be alike. The worst thing Warner Brothers could do is simply mimic Marvel. Snyder is embracing the tone and atmosphere he helped set up in "Man of Steel" and I can't wait to see Snyder plans to build on the world he helped create a couple years ago. Yes, this is going to be a different type of superhero movie, but DC and Marvel are very different comic companies, and those differences make both companies great. Which is why I always laugh when people try to say that "Superman wouldn't do that" when it comes to this new franchise. Superman wouldn't do that because...why? Because Richard Donner never did it in his movies? I think part of the reason why so many people didn't jump on the "Man of Steel" bandwagon was because "Man of Steel" is nothing like the Superman movies Donner made, but that is something I dig. I don't need a Donner-reshoot because I saw all the Donner movies. "Superman Returns" tried to recreate that Donner anesthetic and that is part of the reason why that movie failed. This new franchise is trying something different and I am glad Warner Brothers and Snyder himself are not wavering from that.

It's trailers like this that make me sad that 2016 is still so far away. But I think I can rest with a little more ease knowing that "Batman vs. Superman" is in the right direction. I hope that direction is well realized by this time next year.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Second "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" trailer

I remember when the prospect of Star Wars episodes seven, eight and nine were all a fever dream. I never once thought I'd ever see any kind of movie associated with the property again. There were already countless comics, books, video games and other forms of media to keep the franchise going to the unforeseeable future, but I thought the movie series would never go over six films.

Boy, was I wrong.

When it was announced that we would get a seventh, eighth and ninth episode in the series, I was a little hesitant. Was it better to leave good enough alone? I mean, the prequels surely didn't win everybody over, the world was united in fandom, it was shockingly divided. What could George Lucas bring to the table after so many year? Easy. He doesn't come to the table. He becomes a creative consultant, Disney buys LucasFilm, and new series of films is announced. Not in that order though. I think breathing new creative life into this series was exactly what it needs. Lucas inviting other writers and directors to play in his playground was just what the audience needs.

The first trailer was good, but built on lots of nostalgia. Very little of the storyline was unleashed in that first trailer. But the same goes for the second trailer released today. I love that this new trailer is continually pushing its new cast to the forefront. I love that this trailer is not Skywalker/Han Solo/droid obsessed and it seems they won't be the leads in this film. Fine by me, I can't wait for this franchise to expand further, break new boundaries. There is still enough iconography that has me theorizing what is going to happen in this movie. You'll all love the bit at the end as well.

This is really happening. A sleuth of new "Star Wars" films will be hitting theaters in a big way over the next few years, and I am so happy to be, once again, apart of it.



"Furious 7" Review

FURIOUS 7 REVIEW
 
I figured that this would be an emotional viewing for me. As many of you, I was shocked by Paul Walker's death. It was something absolutely nobody saw coming, and was completely off-the-map until it happened. This event reinforced how precious life is and that we have to have too much fun everyday, since we never truly know when we are gone. I feel extra bad because I felt like I had to warm up to Paul Walker, but I always absolutely loved  his work on the "Fast and Furious" franchise. I could not wait for this year to see him fill Brian O'Connor's boots one last time.

What a heck of a time too, because "Furious 7" is loads of fun.

I have said it before and I'll say it again, I liked the first "Fast and the Furious" movie. I was not such a fan of the second entry in the franchise and I found part three and part four to be strikingly mild. It seemed Universal decided to kick back and have a little more fun with the franchise. They traded grittiness for flair and fun. They created movies that felt like summer blockbusters, all across the board. Ever since part five on, this has been a franchise to get giddy about, and I never once thought I would ever say that about this franchise ten years ago. The "Fast and Furious" franchise is a Hail Mary franchise. If there is somehow a way to keep it going and get parts eight and nine as rumored, then I'll be ready for it.

What I liked about "Furious 7" is how it connects to parts five and six. The first half of the "Fast and Furious" franchise felt very disjointed, adventures with the same characters featuring the "Fast and Furious" trademark. That doesn't happen anymore. Part five lead to the team finding out Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) was alive, part six lead to the rescue of Letty and the conflict with Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). This leads us to "Furious 7" in which Owen's brother Deckard Shaw (Jason Fucking Statham) wants revenge. We find out that it is Deckard Shaw was the mastermind who murdered Han in "Tokyo Drift" and now he's coming for everyone else associated with Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel). Dom is approached by Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) who recruits Dom and his crew to regain hold of the God's Eye, something Deckard Shaw wants and has sent mercenary Mose (Djimon Hounsou). Mr. Nobody wants Dom to get ahold of the God's Eye, stop Mose and he will assist the crew in stopping Deckard.

It sounds kind of complicated, but it really is not. This is a story just right in fitting into a summer blockbuster. It is also incredibly fun the whole way over, there are great one-liners, big action scenes and of course awesome cars. What more would you want from a movie like this? The biggest complaint I have is that the third act is kind of a let down. The big "holy shit" moments in the entire movie are all mostly in the trailers. The big street brawl at the end of the movie is not as epic as I had hoped, but it is still pretty epic.

What can I say about the actors work as these characters when it comes to Diesel, Walker, Rodriguez, Luda, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, and The Rock? By the time a seventh movie comes out in an ongoing franchise, it is safe to say that the core actors in the franchise connect to their characters in a second-hand nature way. I think its save to say of all the actors who have are seasoned veterans of this franchise. I don't need to tell you how good each of the actors above are, because you already know that they are these characters by now. I can tell you that Jason Statham creates an iconic and nasty villain. I can tell you I loved everything about Kurt Russell's small but memorable time onscreen. I liked Hounsou showing up and even Ronda Rousey has a nice scene in the middle. I liked that we got to see Lucas Black return to the franchise, even it was for a brief moment. And anybody who loves Nathalie Emmanuel from "Game of Thrones" will be pleased with her here.

What got me though was the emotional send-off to Paul Walker's character at the very end of the movie. They give his character an honorable and emotional exist to the franchise. I am glad that they didn't just simply kill his character off, I think the ending they chose for him will honor his family and the cast and crew he has worked with for so long. If you have been a Walker fan, you will be pleased by it as well. All in all, if you have liked this franchise so far, you are going to really dig this latest entry.

FINAL GRADE: A-


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Griswolds Family Photo

I love the "Vacation" movies

It has been an annual family tradition when my family gets together for Christmas, we watch "Christmas Vacation." Every single year. Without fail.

While "Christmas Vacation" maybe my favorite film of the bunch, I have dug the entire series as a whole. While I will admit that "Vegas Vacation" may have been the last time the Griswold's needed an audience to accompany them on a family trip. I just felt they have said everything they needed to say. That is the reason why this new "Vacation" movie coming out later this year has me nervous.

Look, I am pleased to see Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo in the family photo, but I already know the new film will not focus on Clark and Ellen. This new movie is pushing a grown-up Russ (Who will be played by Ed Helms) into the forefront. Russ and his family will be the main focus of this new movie, and I don't know if that is a gift or a curse. I love Ed Helms as a performer, and I praying to God that Hollywood gives him a good script to work on. But will this franchise feel the same without Clark and Ellen? I am not so sure, especially if Clark and Ellen's scenes outdo anything Russ is given to do in the film.

I got to keep in mind though that this is merely a photograph, not even a trailer. So I will be reserving my judgment until then. I have to say I am feeling quite nostalgic now.

SOURCE:
http://www.aintitcool.com/node/71122

TV REVIEW: "AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D." (EPISODE 17, SEASON 2)

TV REIVEW
 
AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.
 
EPISODE 17, SEASON 2: "MELINDA"

When you are starting any television show or even a movie, it can be difficult to make sure each character is relevant and each character matters. Especially with TV, if we are going to meet up with these characters for huge chunks out of the year, a showrunner and a television writer and the actor portraying the character have to make sure that the audience cares. With team shows or team movies like "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." it can be easy if certain characters get lost in the shuffle. I can't help but be reminded of the "X-Men" franchise. No matter how much I love those movies, I feel like there is always one or two characters who never fully realized. That breaks my heart, because the comic writers made it feel so effortless.

Last night's episode of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." was special, because it focused on two important women. Tonight's episode jumped in the passed seven years and in the present, as we find agent Melinda May in a crossroads. We discovered tonight why Melinda is such a badass and the true reason why she is "The Calvary." She was a one-person wrecking ball seven years prior to the action right now in the show, when she saved a dozen agents from a crazy woman with super strength. As we watched May get to know Coulson as a person, it parallels with her newfound role as headquarters director for "The Real S.H.I.E.L.D." Something comes up though, and there may be a chance that Coulson has not been sharing some key assignments with Melinda May, and she is trying to find out what those are, even if at the cost of assisting Real S.H.I.E.L.D. It seems in these last few episodes, relationships are going to be tested, and that really excites me.

What I felt was a little too convenient about tonight's episode was that Melinda mission seven years ago directly connects to a story Skye heard at Afterlife as she is be trained to control her powers. Skye finally learns that the woman in charge of Afterlife, that we saw last week, is her mom. There was a nice family reunion between Skye her mom and Cal. While I liked that the show also fleshed Skye out more as a character, I couldn't stand that Melinda's mission connected to what is going on in the Afterlife, its one of those odd show decisions that I feel is just trying to wring out emotion. I already know that this will come to full circle sometime down the road in this show and I pray that it is worth it. I find it silly and cliché when every little piece of everyone's story connects to the bigger picture. It feels like desperation rather than creativity, it makes the world feel smaller and less urgent. I hope they have a clever way to wrap that piece of the story up.

But focusing on these two women shows us that the crew wants the audience to identify with the cast. That is a good thing. I want to care about these characters. Now, when Melinda finds out whatever she is about to find out about Coulson, good or bad, it will rock the audiences world. That is what it means to create good television.

What did everyone else think?
 


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

"Batman vs. Superman" trailer coming soon?

Well, they've been saying for months.

It seems like for a period of time that seems endless, Warner Bros. has been teasing us about the time we would finally see the first trailer for "Batman vs. Superman." I remember some banter about it being attached to "Jupiter Ascending," then that rolled around into theaters and...nothing happened. I can't remember the other movies before "Jupiter Ascending" that the film was supposedly attached to, because there have been WAY too many. Either attach the trailer or not, but don't play games with us! It is not nice!

I have seen the very small bit of footage from last years Comic-Con, bootlegged on Youtube, about a dozen times. It may just be Batman and Superman having a staring contest, but it is more than that. This movie is a big deal because the two most iconic superheroes in the world are finally going to square off in live action. Yes, as much as I am a Marvel freak, I would have to be stupid not to admit that Batman and Superman are the most iconic superheroes in the history of the medium. If you look up "superhero" on Wikipedia, the image you see is of Batman and Superman. They define the world of superheroes, and they both belong to DC. Seeing DC's two biggest titans in live-action format is going to be a big deal and I can't believe that we are only a year away from seeing the film.

We are not a year away, from seeing the first full-length trailer. The movie is supposedly attached to is not what you would expect.

Apparently, the trailer will be attached to "Avengers: Age of Ultron" of all things. Zak Snyder apparently confirmed as much on his Twitter account today. Such an interesting movie to attach this trailer too and not at all what I would expect. At this point, it is just a rumor. But a Star Wars trailer AND a Batman vs. Superman trailer attached to arguably the biggest superhero movie of  the year? Are they trying to kill movie fans?

I hope this turns out to be true, because I can't take much more teasing.

SOURCE:
http://www.aintitcool.com/node/71116

Monday, April 13, 2015

Marvel Day: "Ant-Man" trailer & "X-Men: Apocalypse" casting

It's been a big couple of days for Marvel, whether we are discussing the independent studio or the characters under other studios control. The snapshots from the Deadpool set that have been popping up online recently are getting me very eager for the movie in 2016. I just did a power-through of all episodes of "Marvel's Daredevil" on Netflix, and wrote my review of the entire first season on Saturday night. Several fun clips for "Avengers: Age of Ultron" are hitting the net today, and it has just been a really exciting time to be a fan of this property.

Tonight, I wanted to discuss a couple other things that happened today. On the Marvel Cinematic Universe side, we got a second trailer of "Ant-Man." This is a big one for me, because this a movie that will really test audiences. Much like "Guardians of the Galaxy," the MCU is throwing the audience into the weirder sides of Marvel comics. As a lifelong fan, I say bring it on. It is about time that this cinematic universe based on a comic book universe actually felt like a comic book. The need to put a realistic stamp on everything thus far has become a little tedious at this point. There is really no way to put a realistic twist on characters like Doctor Strange or the Inhumans or Captain Marvel, and I applaud Kevin Feige and rest of the Marvel team for tackling these weirder corners of the universe. I am also excited that to see how the studio pulls off Ant-Man. As I have discussed before, Ant-Man has strange powers. He can shrink and grow at will, but he also possesses a sensory helmet which allows him to communicate and control ants. It may seem like a strange superpower, but think about it, would you want to mess with someone who sent an billions and billions of fire ants after you? I wouldn't.

I enjoyed the second trailer because it just looks fun. The best way to focus on a character like Ant-Man is to keep it light and keep it fun, and I think that is the direction they are going for. So much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been heavy already, and it will be good to chuckle and cheer through this movie. The more I watch this trailer, the more I am excited to see Paul Rudd play a superhero. Tell me what you think:
Olivia Munn is Psylocke in "X-Men Apocalypse"
The casting for "X-Men: Apocalypse" is telling me that this will be the best "X-Men" movie yet.

It looks like Michael Fassbender, James MacAvoy, Hugh Jackman and Evan Peters are returning as Magneto, Professor X, Wolverine and Quicksilver respectively. Rose Byrne is also returning as Moira McTaggart. I love that Channing Tatum will be Gambit. I am delirious that Oscar Issac will play Apocalypse. It looks like Jennifer Lawrence will be Mystique one last time. I am also totally in love with the younger versions of the classic X-Men. Sophie Turner as Jean Grey? Tye Sheridan as Cyclops? Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler? This is all music to my ears. Now, Bryan Singer has done it again, as if I needed one more reason to see this movie. Olivia Munn has joined the cast as Psylocke.

Based on looks alone, Munn has the role. But I have believed for awhile that Munn is incredibly talented and I think she will bring great depth to the role. We only saw small glimpses of Psylocke in "X-Men: The Last Stand" and I encourage Singer to make the character more important to the story, give Munn something significant to do! As for right now, let's just tell Singer well done on the casting choices and I am absolutely in need of a trailer! Soon!

SOURCE:
http://io9.com/olivia-munn-will-wield-psylockes-psy-blades-in-x-men-a-1697576550

Quick Thoughts: "Hot Tub Time Machine 2" & "Devil's Backbone, Texas" Reviewed

Okay, if you do not dig this format, I am pleased to report that this will be probably be the last time we do this in awhile. I didn't think my Movie March Madness Bracket would have such repercussions so long afterward. It pretty much took over my blog in a big way. I stopped "Who Played It Best?" for a week, my "Essentials" and "Overlooked Film of the Week" froze for awhile. Most of all, as I was seeing new material, I wasn't writing about it. I've been a very busy guy, and I apologize if my blog has not represented that. I have a couple of quick thoughts on two movies I saw last week, then I promise to move back to formal reviewing. I have some movies planned for this week and I am inviting my man Hunter back to discuss "Furious 7," something I can't to get going with you guys. Right now, let me delve into these movies that I saw last week.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2
I never wrote about it on the blog, but I was a fan of the original "Hot Tub Time Machine." Its not a movie I particularly want to buy or to rigorously see again, but for what it was, I enjoyed. Not every movie has make me gush, and I can let myself be transported by light entertainment. This was never an idea that would ever warrant a sequel, but of course, never bet on Hollywood. Lots of ideas that never needed sequels usually get the sequel treatment. I am afraid that "Hot Tub Time Machine" was one of those.

"Hot Tub Time Machine 2" is sadly one of those sequels that treads water. The themes and storylines from the first movie are the same  themes and storylines explored in this sequel. The characters never mature or change or adjust; they are simply around to do exactly what  they did in the first film. That is the worst kind of sequel in my eyes. I find it lazy to just bring everybody back to essentially do a remake of your own film. I like Rob Corddy, Craig Robinson and Clark Duke quite a bit, and they have some good material in this movie. The thing is that they are just doing a different version of the same story from last time. The movie walks the tightrope between raunchy funny and just being unsettling, and it seems the movie pulls off the later. Plus, I feel John Cusack is a much better leader for this movie, and sadly his character does not come back for this movie. Instead we get his son from the future, played by Adam Scott. I have liked Scott in the past, and he does some good stuff here, his character is just a stand-in for Cusack though, never becoming his own character. I was hoping for a sequel to raise the bar from the first film, unfortunately, "Hot Tub Time Machine 2" suffers from sequel syndrome.

FINAL GRADE: D

Devil's Backbone, Texas
This movie was kind of confusing from the start. At first, I thought I was watching a documentary. I will give "Devil's Backbone, Texas" this much, it had a very effective found-footage style. I was completely convinced that what I was watching was factual. The story revolves around the passing of Bert Wall, who lived in a territory of Texas called "Devil's Backbone," a land-mass that was said to be haunted. Wall was disconnected from his family and normalcy in particular, because he was wildly obsessed with what he saw at the Backbone. When he passed, he left behind a disturbing house and videotapes of his spiritual encounters and his son tries to find closure in the Backbone, he takes friends with him and he plans to make a documentary about his father and the Backbone in general.

Like I said, it some of the best found-footage imagery I have seen in awhile. Most found-footage movies these days are a little too slick looking, and the illusion of realism is becoming lost in the subgenre, not here. Everything feels authentic, even the faux 1996 Unsolved Mysteries footage shown at the beginning of the movie. As the movie wears on, the pacing really becomes an issue. It never seems like much is going on, and I have to admit I got bored quick. The story was fairly engaging, the cinematography is top-notch and the actors do what they can, but the pacing becomes a serious issue. What also broke my heart was the ending. For a second, I thought I was watching M. Night Shymalan's "The Village" again. The movie plays with expectations a bit, then at the end, those expectations are shattered in order to create a total cop-out. Then suddenly, the movie desperately aims for a shocking twist right before the credits. But the ending falls flat, you can't have an ending go in one direction, then suddenly change that direction radically. In movies, you can never have things both ways, you have to be doing something specific when you tie up your story. No audience likes to be toyed with, especially right when the credits roll. This was a valiant effort and I will surely keep an eye out for this cast and crew again, but that ending got the best of them.

FINAL GRADE: C