Sunday, May 31, 2015

What I`m Watching: "Wet Hot American Summer" (2001)

What I'm Watching: Wet Hot American Summer
I had never seen "Wet Hot American Summer" before last night. I had no idea that so many talented actors starred in it. I had no idea that H. Jon Benjamin, who I have appreciated as a voice actor for the last eight or so years, gave voice to a can of vegetables in this movie. I never knew David Hyde Pierce was so funny outside of "Fraser." I had no idea Paul Rudd could be such an asshole. I don't know how many of you have had the chance to experience "Wet Hot American Summer," but if you haven't, now is the time.

I can across "Wet Hot American Summer" as I read online about its revival series on Netflix. You can bet that revival show will be my television write-ups on this blog now that my MCU shows are done for the summer. When I read  that so many talented people, like Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, Christopher Meloni, Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Janeane Garofalo, Ken Marino, Joe Lo Truglio, Kevin Sussman and Molly Shannon were in the movie. If you haven't heard of any of those actors, try Googling them. I can bet good money that will at least recognize them by their face if anything. These are some of the best and most underappreciated performers in comedy today. Its interesting seeing them in this, mulling over their careers, and once hearing about this movie. Now that I have seen it, I can't wait to see what Netflix and the rest of the company plans to do with the storyline of these characters.

So, what's "Wet Hot American Summer" all about? Well, its about nostalgia. The movie takes place on the last day of an eight-week long summer camp. As summer camps go, the adolescents attending this camp are trying to get one last make-out session with their summer fling just as bad the camp councilors are. Everybody wants a little last-minute romance, and the movie mainly focuses on the councilors. We focus on the relationships, the togetherness, the break-ups, the wild and crazy fun they create, the kind of fun that could only be mustered on the last night of summer camp. Come on, don't kid yourself, you know what I am talking about. We have all had that one summer. That summer where we discovered the opposite sex and looked at them in a different light. That summer where romance was budding, and our hormones could barely teach us what to do with these feelings. That summer where being young and having fun meant something. You'll definitely be reflecting on your past and how much fun you had growing up during the summertime.

Its also funny as hell.

But is that honestly that surprising? Take another look at the cast up there, was there any doubt that this wouldn't be funny? Not only is the script great, but the actors do everything they can to make this count, and it was more than enough from everyone. To pick a favorite character is too difficult, and you will notice that there are big scenes from all the characters, and you will appreciate each character in a different way. (Either that, or you will love to root against them.) There aren't too many movies rich with wonderful characters. People you feel like you could hang out with and be friends with. That is the type of cast we are dealing with here, and it is miraculous.

I also love that the movie didn't really follow the usual clichés and norms of the genre. This is a homage to 1980's comedies, yet it has a voice that is strikingly original. This also doesn't have the end in the conventional sort of way, it actually ends sort of bittersweet, just like those young love summers usually ended. The film is unpredictable in the way that nobody can really call what is going to happen next. There is so much of the movie that was alarmingly crazy and there was no telling what shenanigans you would see on the screen next. I love a movie that doesn't feel like anything I have seen before. Believe it or not, "Wet Hot American Summer" did that for me.

So as a brand new hot season begins to take hold on us, this is the perfect time to see this unsuspecting gem. I hope you all are as enthusiastic about it as I am. You can also bet that this won't be the last time I write about this characters this summer, and I am very much looking forward to it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Who Played It Best? Max Rockatansky

Who Played It Best? Max Rockatansky
Like I said in my review of "Mad Max: Fury Road" a few weeks ago, I have been keeping tabs on the "Mad Max" franchise for awhile. It is a world that has become instantly recognizable, and it eventually hit our popular culture canon hard. (Tupac made a music video based on Mad Max for crying out loud!) After "Beyond Thunderdome" I never imagined we would ever get another Mad Max movie again. Why would we? It seemed George Miller did everything he could possibly do with the character. What more was needed to be said? A few short weeks ago, it turned out that Miller still had plenty of gas in his tank, and he was ready to head back to The Wasteland. I had high hopes for "Fury Road," but I still can't believe just how much the movie blew me away. I have mad respect for everything Mel Gibson did with the role, but Tom Hardy sure did cast a shadow with his performance. My question now is, who played the character best?

My Two Cents
Tom Hardy really blew me away with his performance of Max. I find it unique that he was able to create something that respected the work Gibson did on the character, but was also something of his own at the same time. It never felt like Tom Hardy was playing Mel Gibson's Mad Max, but Tom Hardy was playing HIS Mad Max. With that said, its hard not to look at Mel Gibson's go with the character. He was the first actor to portray him, which pretty much set the stage for anyone in the future. Plus, it seems Gibson has made three movies so far, so we have had lots more time with Gibson in the character's boots, and he's been able to adjust and recreate the character with ease. Will Tom Hardy play the character again, according to some reports it is possible. If that happens perhaps Gibson and Hardy will have a rematch on this column. As of right now, I think I am going to give the edge to Gibson.

Agree? Disagree? Fire off in the comment section below, or simply email me your votes (bloggershawn@gmail. com). You will have until next Wednesday to vote.

Our favorite speedster from Marvel comics went head-to-head last week. People got to claim if it was Fox or Disney who got the character of Quicksilver right. The results are in and I think the picture for the crowning result below speaks for itself.

Good Kill Review

Good Kill Review
The film begins like one of those levels from Call of Duty.
As if you're a player and you are being given orders through your television screen, to blow up neon green human targets. Its funny because, early in "Good Kill," a reference is made to the idea of comparing drone strikes to video games. Flying in drones and dropping bombs on targets comes off just as easy as pushing a button on a gaming controller, but the cost is much more heavy. There are real people dying when a drone drops a bomb, which is something this new movie spends lots of time grappling with.
But don't fret, "Good Kill" is not nearly as preachy as say, "Tomorrowland" was. "Good Kill" follows Major Thomas Egan (Ethan Hawke) on his day-to-day life as a drone pilot. This is a fighter pilot stuck behind the screen in a small room. It is absolutely driving him mad that he isn't flying planes but pushing buttons and controls on drones. This affects him so much so that it affects how he acts at work and especially how he acts at home with his wife (January Jones) and their family. Not only is he upset that he isn't a real pilot, but the ethics of his job come into question for him as he and his team begin taking off-the-books missions from the CIA. Since the targets they get are far away from anywhere near America, some of Egan's co-workers feel that they are not a threat, it also comes into question killing unarmed people as well as leaving collateral damage. Egan also plays off the feelings of the other pilots, people who lose faith in what their doing (Zoe Kravitz), people who love what they are doing (Jake Abel) and people just following orders (Bruce Greenwood).
Like I said, despite my synopsis, "Good Kill" is not a preachy movie. It just throws some ideas into the wind and asks the audience to think about them. There are great ideas from both sides of this debate and each is given a good spotlight in the film. For Hollywood always being blamed for a liberal bias in all of its movies, it is refreshing to see something stunningly neutral. This is a movie that is going to make you think, not rethink you're entire views on war and why we fight and how we fight. This is not a movie that really stirs the pot, but really offers information and tries to get the audience to see the debate from both sides, and the film really nails it. The ending, as well as the subplot that goes along with it, ends on a safe note, not trying to get your political views all in a muster.
The work done by Ethan Hawke is superb, and I can say with confidence that 2015 is going to be remembered as a great year for him as a performer. Between this and "Predestination," he has really hit the ground running for the year. He has great chemistry with the rest of the cast, and he pushes his character to not just be a cliché, even though it comes close a couple times. Major Egan isn't a silent alcoholic because of his job or plot convenience, Hawke makes sure his character is fleshed out. Some of the most striking imagery isn't of the drone monitor, but the interplay between Hawke and January Jones. I love that Jones' housewife isn't the normal wife we usually see in these kinds of movies, even though the movie flirts with taking her that direction in one crucial part of the movie. This is very much a movie about how this type of profession would ware on somebody, and it is strong work by all involved.
I will say though that the drone missions are outstanding in this movie. I was quite taken aback just how intense five people in a small room can be, but this cast makes sure you feel every bit of it. The scenes of a bomb actually hitting its target through the drone screen is eerily accurate and the authentic feeling of those scenes really left a lasting impression on me.
From a surface view, this looks just like every other military movie hitting the theaters right now. But I can assure you that "Good Kill" will hit you in a way that you are least expecting. Yes, it tries to jerk around with you, trying to make you believe its just like the other military movies, and that sneaking around can kind of be annoying, but everything else about the movie works. The cast is all on point here, and this movie as a whole is more of a debate piece that something that will cause controversy.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Tomorrowland Review

Tomorrowland Review
I will not be getting into any serious spoilers in this review, but to really dissect my thoughts on the latest from Disney Studios, I have to dig deep into the premise. If this doesn't sound good to you, because you haven't seen the movie yet, check it out then come back for my review. If I am being honest with myself, I can't take my writings by any half-measures, there are several movies that don't need this type of treatment, but "Tomorrowland" is special. So you haven't seen it, and if you are squeamish about anything resembling a spoiler, please bail now and join us once you see the movie.
I love Brad Bird. He has become one of those directors who I get giddy for just by reading his name. This is, of course, the guy that gave "The Incredibles." Not only is "The Incredibles" a great superhero movie, but it is among the all-time best Pixar movies ever. But I also love "Ratatouille," which Bird also directed. Even though Bird has done a lot for Pixar, his magnum opus is "The Iron Giant," easily one of the best animated movies ever created. If you haven't seen it yet, you are committing a crime, end of story. Then in 2011, Brad Bird shocked the world when he made "Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol." Bird did the impossible that year, he breathed a new life into a failing franchise while also telling a rousing action movie not connected to Disney. A tall order looking at his background and he pulled it off effortlessly.
So its true, I love Brad Bird. He is somebody to always be excited for. There is something about his work that is so entertaining and so rich with detail. That is what I was expecting when I first heard about "Tomorrowland." This is what I wanted from the movie itself, I wanted entertainment and I want to see that richness of detail back. A girl discovering that there is a world of wonder hidden from us is a cool idea. A world where people are trying to change the real world for the better? A nice way to tell half a dozen different stories. Throw George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Tim McGraw, Judy Greer, Katheryn Hahn, and Keegan-Michael Key into the mix, and you've got an already solid cast. Showcase Britt Robertson as the lead and the movie feels like its off and running. The cast is solid, Britt Robertson is a real discovery here too. You can also bet that Bird brings his richness of detail, because "Tomorrowland" is visually arresting at times. There are moments of this movie that feel like paintings coming to life and it is quite bracing.
So "Tomorrowland" features a cast on top of its game and visuals that melt the eyeballs. But were we expecting anything different from Brad Bird? I sure wasn't. What transports Bird's films from good to great is how he is able to tell an engaging story with his spectacle. I am unhappy to report that "Tomorrowland" is mostly underwhelming when you look past the surface. First of all, the film's set up is quite clunky. We barely see Tomorrowland, the place. The first have of the film features an open monologue which runs way too long, followed by nearly two hours of our films heroes battling robots, running and jumping. We don't spend too much time in Tomorrowland. What is most striking is that once we finally make it to Tomorrowland, the place itself is kind of a letdown, even if it brought to life by state-of-the-art special effects. There is just something about the set-up that felt underwhelming to me. The action scenes early in the movie are preposterously staged, and that is quite embarrassing coming from the guy that gave us such remarkable action scenes in his past.
But there is a moment in the movie in which the premise is laid bare. A moment that baffled me so much that I almost got up and left the theater. Since this is a Disney movie, the premise is smacked over our heads repeatedly, just in case we don't see it the first dozen times. What shocked me most about "Tomorrowland" is that it denounces any type of popular culture that doesn't indulge in optimism. "Tomorrowland" is a movie that goes out of its way to say that movies like "The Hunger Games," "The Terminator," "Divergent" and even "Mad Max: Fury Road" are all doing it wrong because they take place in dystopias, and dystopian entertainment is apparently killing our culture right now. Everything that is wrong in our society right is heaped on our entertainment according to this movie, and if we don't start becoming optimists right now, we will destroy the world. Taken into context, "Tomorrowland" feels like it was made by a bunch of bigoted, self-righteous, self-indulgent, judgmental "church people" who think you're a horrible person for not going to church every hour of your life. Look, I don't want to sound like a Satanist, because that is simply not the case. I think a movie about optimism is a great idea, and there is lots you can do with that idea that would be worthwhile, especially for a family-friendly Disney movie. But being so militaristically preachy with your premise was the wrong way to tell this story.
And let's be straight here, the darker rides in our pop culture? The dreary stories that are not all meant for kids? Those stories matter. Not because they are dark and gritty, but because of what they do within their respected context. The best dystopian movies show that there is light at the end of every dark tunnel, or they put a mirror to ourselves and force us to rethink our place in culture and society. They engage us with a thought-provoking, entertaining story and they even explain the importance of life. I got a lot of that from my recent viewing of "Mad Max," whereas "Tomorrowland" just feels like a overbearing, strict parent is badgering me with their overly-protective rhetoric. Not the same thing by a mile.
Also, Brad Bird makes good use of his "special people" metaphor which he has been making for awhile in his career. You've seen it in "The Incredibles" and you've seen it in "Ratatouille." While I thought Bird found a creative way to explore is "special people" idea, he totally wastes it here. Again, by being way too preachy. You see, Brad Bird has this thing in a lot of work which states that there are people in this world that are above everyone else. These people are special with gifts, and we need these people to rise above us all so that they can do whatever it is they were put here to do. Like I said, the idea was daring for something like "The Incredibles," and Bird approached it in a meaningful and entertaining way with that movie. With "Tomorrowland," he just comes off like people who are not special don't matter, and that is something I simply cannot endorse. Of course everybody has some kind of worth, and I believe we are all put here for some reason. Whether or not a person acts upon that reason is entirely up to them, but saying that some people are born above everyone else just seems snarky and superficial to me.
This kills me to write, because I am such a big fan of Brad Bird. He has a great cast here is gives it all they have and I really can't say enough about the visuals on display here. But everything is a jumbled mess. From the action scenes to the context of the entire film. I am scratching my head right now, wondering where it all went wrong. But then again, I am sure the little ones will enjoy all the eye-popping effects and all the science fiction fun. So if you have a family, take the young ones to see it, I am sure they will love it. If you are a parent who loves all the corners of cinema, you might find yourself in shock of what Bird, or Disney, or Bird's screenwriters or whomever is trying to sell you.

Point Break remake trailer

One of the first movies Katheryn Bigelow ever made was "Point Break" in 1991. It followed a rookie FBI agent played Keanu Reeves. Reeves was put undercover to investigate and infiltrate a group of bank robbers who just happened to love surfing. The leader of this group of extreme bank robbers was Patrick Swayze. "Point Break," in my opinion, was one of the biggest action clunkers of that decade, and just a horrid movie all around. Keanu Reeves was as half-asleep as always. And Patrick Swayze as a villainous bank robber? Yeah, I'll let you laugh at that for a bit. While I usually grown when a movie gets remade, this is one of those rare instances when a movie was being remade that dramatically needed it.

To my astonishment, the 2015 "Point Break" seems like it is really distancing itself from the original. Oh sure, it has  to do with bank robbers who love sports, but they are not just surfers. According to the trailer, they are involved in a wide array of sports. They don't seem to be aimless robbers either, these are bad guys who seem to have an agenda, but what is that agenda?

Replacing Patrick Swayze with Edgar Ramirez is a stroke of genius, and it seems he is giving his all for this. I can't tell you much about Luke Bacey, who is replacing Reeves here, but he doesn't have the half-baked demeanor Reeves almost always carries, so that is a plus. I also like seeing Teresa Palmer, Delroy Lindo and Ray Winstone in the trailer. That is awesome.

So perhaps "Point Break" will be a different kind of remake and it might turn out to be good. Lets see how it goes.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Poltergeist Review

Poltergeist Review
I liked the original 1982 "Poltergeist" movie. One thing that stood out about it was that it tried to reinvent some of the norms and genre clichés of horror. One thing that was different was that it took place in suburbia. No longer did horror movies have to take place in houses that looked haunted, but homes that looked like the homes we all grew up in. I also loved how subtle a lot of the horror was in the original "Poltergeist" (I especially like the scene when all the chairs are stacked crudely on the table when the mother steps out for a second.) Plus, the movie had several good money shots (particularly the clown scene) which I felt paid off in a big way. The idea of a family moving into a house which was built on top of a Indian burial ground is a juicy idea for a horror movie and it left its mark I think.

In the 2015 remake, we get Sam Rockwell as the father instead of Craig T. Nelson. We get Richard Harris instead of Zelda Rubinstein. Instead of a Indian burial  ground we get a simple cemetery. We also get a lot more horror involving today's technology, simply because it did not exist in the early 1980's. I don't mind changes, I can live with changes, especially when somebody is remaking a movie from the 1980's for today. What kind of bothered me was how dependent this remake was on the original and how non-frightening it was as a whole.

The big thing that sticks out for me is the overabundance of special effects. Remember the chairs stacked on the table in the original movie? Remember how strikingly realistic it looked? Well, in the remake, it is replaced by a CGI stack of comic books, and it just has less of an impact. Remember the famous clown scene I discussed above? A evil toy clown popping up from behind a little boy is far more scarier than a CGI clown jumping out at the audience. So much of the movie relied so heavily on visual effects that it takes any threat out of everything. The original may have dealt in the supernatural, but it made what we were looking at threatening. It still had the strength to scare. Here, everything looks so severely unrealistic that nothing creepy sticks.

Then there is the entire set-up of the movie itself. Remember the "Psycho" remake from 1998, which was literally a frame-by-frame remake of the Alfred Hitchcock classic? Well, I wouldn't say this remake is a complete telegraph of the original "Poltergeist" but it might as well be. This is the karaoke version of this movie. A movie that only wants to interpret the original, never having its own voice and never approaching the material in a very creative or invigorating way. There is only one scene which I feel director Gil Kenan really tried to expand on the "Poltergeist" mythology, one scene where he really tried to make the movie his. It involves a drone plane, a camera attached to it and an Ipad. We actually see the other plane of existence that spirits occupy. Its a scene that was never in the original, but it is creepy and moody. It is just about the only time doesn't feel like a remake, and I wish the rest of the film played out like that.

I think Rockwell and Harris do good work here. I think the rest of the cast, which includes Rosemarie DeWitt, Nicholas Braun, and Jane Adams. I think the cast does exactly what they were asked to do, straight across the board. They definitely try to milk as much connection and tension from the script that they possibly can. I just really wish that script was better.

Sadly, the "Poltergeist" remake clearly was motivated by nothing more than money. I know when horror buffs reflect on the best of the best in the genre, "Poltergeist" doesn't come up. But I think it deserved a much better remake than this. I think there are good performances, and I think there are moments when director Kenan really wanted the movie to stick out, but its ultimately not enough.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Pitch Perfect 2 Review

Pitch Perfect 2 Review
In case anybody can't remember, I was pleasantly surprised by "Pitch Perfect." Music has been apart of my background for awhile. I used to play piano, I used to play guitar, I stopped both because I was a lazy oaf in my youth and I regret not keeping up with both of them because I would probably be pretty awesome at both by now. I sure do sing a lot too, and not just in the car or in the shower. I took singing lessons from the same instructor who taught me to play piano. I sang in my high school's choir, an experience I liked and valued much more than I ever imagined going in as a freshman. I sang my first year of college before my schedule got too busy after that first year. So yes, music is important to me. There are musical films that I love and musical films I detest. "Pitch Perfect" came off like a reaction to "Glee." A musical movie that was going to try way to hard to be cute and fluffy, while actors sang upbeat versions of today's hits. Then I saw the movie and realized that "Pitch Perfect" was everything "Glee" wasn't, it was for all intents and purposes the Anti-Glee, and I loved every minute of it.
"Pitch Perfect"  told the story of the Barden Bellas, an all-female a capella group that fell from grace and what set the team back together again was the unlikely Beca Mitchell (Anna Kendrick). Beca didn't really want to sing, she wanted to produce music, but she saw this group as her only way into her field of study, something that she could add to her resume during her time at Barden University. It seems that Beca and the other Bellas strengthened each other, all the while singing great songs.
In "Pitch Perfect 2" the Barden Bellas are all in their senior year at Barden University and they have won three national titles in collegiate a capella competitions. They are performing at the Kennedy Center for President Barack Obama at the beginning of the movie and its clear they have become a big deal. Then something happens, something terrible, something that completely tarnishes their reputation and they are told that they cannot perform at anymore collegiate competitions again. Unless, of course, they go to the World A-Capella competition in Coppenhagen, Denmark and win, which has never been done by an American team because "the world hates America." The Bellas train hard, and recruit freshman Emily Junk (Hailee Steinfeld) into their team and Beca gets an internship at a recording studio, and she finds trouble trying to balance her time between her internship and the Bellas, which causes some dysfunction.
Once again, "Pitch Perfect 2" features some very funny material, material that had my entire theater in an uproar, myself included. It once again features some fabulous renditions of both classic and modern hits, stuff that is going to make you tap your foot and nod your head. Once again, Anna Kendrick is both wonderful and adorable. The work done by Brittany Snow, Rebel Wilson, Ester Dean, Alexis Knapp, Hana Mae Lee, Elizabeth Banks, Skylar Astin, Adam DeVine, and John Michel Higgins is all rock-solid. I also really work the performance by Hailee Steinfeld, I knew when I saw her in the 2010 remake of "True Grit" that she was going to become something special, and absolutely nothing has changed. There is a great scene involving the some of the Green Bay Packers and Destiny's Child' "Bootlicious" which made want to stand up and applaud.
So "Pitch Perfect 2" has a lot going for it, and I liked the movie quite a bit. I just have a couple reservations.
Like many summertime sequels, "Pitch Perfect 2" suffers from Treading Water Symdrome. Put both "Pitch Perfect" movies side by side, and each movie is a parallel of the other. Everything that plays out in this sequel plays out exactly like it did in the first movie. In the beginning of both movies, the Barden Bellas had become dysfunctional and a unique individual swoops in to save the day, in the first film it was Beca and her mash-ups. In this sequel, its Emily and her need to write original music. There is a musical stand-off in both movies, but it felt more natural in the first and the set up in this sequel is downright creepy. I could go all night, this is sequel that is essentially a remake of the first movie, with the same themes and the same metaphors, just done differently.
There are also those sequel jitters that didn't quite get the job done. Rebel Wilson has lots of great stuff in this movie, but she was funnier in the first movie, I thought. The reasoning for the Bellas getting suspended from competition is a little thin, story-wise and how it plays out, I can't imagine any college really doing this to a school. Their mistake just isn't that severe, which took me out of the film just a bit. The antagonists of this film are Das Sound Machine, the a capella group from Germany who has won the World Tournament every year. Each performance by Das Sound Machine is, quite frankly, awesome. I can't quite get their rendition of Muse's "Absolution" out of my head and their mash-up of "My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark" and "All I Do is Win" is reason to pay full price for a ticket at the theater. The thing is, the movie pushes for a happy ending, and I just don't think its well deserved. In the first movie, I believed in the ending and believed the Bellas had the best performance. This time I didn't.
But hey, there is still plenty to like here. For a sequel, there was still enough charm and wit to get me through the entire movie. Even though the movie is built like a sequel there are several moments in the movie that shine bright. Sometimes sequels that merely remake the original become a laughing stock of celluloid (The Hangover: Part II anyone?), but this sequel was still quite entertaining. If you enjoyed the first film and are curious about this one, just go see it. I think it will be time well spent, even if the original is still better.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Who Played It Best? Quicksilver

Way before "Avengers: Age of Ultron" began shooting, Joss Whedon made it very clear that he planned to feature Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch in his anticipated sequel. After that announcement, several people were confused by the matter and how it related back to Fox. Because anybody who knows the comics well knows that even though Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are hardcore Avengers, they are also mutants. Not only that, but they are Magneto's children. Wouldn't that mean that Fox had rights to them first since they were making the "X-Men" movies? Who really had the rights to the characters? The right answer is that somehow, both Disney and Fox had rights to share the characters, further confusing the matters of how these character rights really work. In what seemed like a move to spite Disney, Fox shoehorned Quicksilver in "X-Men: Days of Future Past," knowing their version of the character would hit the silver screen first. Within two years, we saw two totally different versions of the same character, and the first real competition between Marvel on the big screen. Funny enough, both actors who portrayed Quicksilver both starred in "Kick-Ass" together in 2010, between Evan Peters and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who played the character best?
Well, this is actually tough. See, I was ready to write off Evan Peters Quicksilver way before the movie came out. I didn't like that Fox was just trying piss off Disney with their decision and I knew that we would only see Fox's Quicksilver for maybe a scene, instead getting the character fleshed out thanks to Joss Whedon. (You watch enough "X-Men" movies and you see the ultimate flaw in all  their movies is their obsession with including several X-Men characters without really making them "characters" in the movies). My prediction was correct, Evan Peters got one scene, Aaron Taylor-Johnson got a whole movie. But that one scene by Evan Peters showed more character than was written for Taylor-Johnson in his whole movie, Evan Peters one scene was also one of the biggest highlights of "X-Men: Days of Future Past." While I dug Taylor-Johnson's Eastern European accent and I thought he had several great scenes, I think Evan Peters left the longer-lasting impression on the character, so much so that we will see more of him in the future. Therefore, I give the edge to Evan Peters.
Agree? Disagree? Sound off in the comment section below or email me ( You will have until next Wednesday to vote.
Last time on "Who Played It Best?" I took a look at the original 1970's "Rollerball" as well as the 2002 remake. The results are in and here is how the Jonathon E. vote resulted.
Not surprising at all.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Ex Machina Review

Ex Machina Review
"Ex Machina" is one of the first great movies of year so far.

It is tough to make it one day without resorting to technology for something, anything. We have become hardwired to the very technology that we as a species has invented. Of course, the most exciting, and sometimes the scariest question we could ask ourselves is, where will it go from here? Will there be a not-too-distant future completely run by robots, and will there be human in sight? We already had a decent fill of "technology rules all" type of movies, and it seems as we grow in this Digital Age, our awareness of technology is popular culture begins to grow. From "Terminator" to "The Matrix," we play with these big themes in very astounding ways. Heck, "Avengers: Age of Ultron" taps into the horrors of too much tech and what it can do when somebody gets a bad result from trying to do something good with tech.

Based upon the way I am talking, you probably think you have "Ex Machina" all figured out. Let me tell you right now that you don't. This isn't a cautionary tale, well it is, but it isn't. Not in the way that we have seen it before at least. "Ex Machina" has more in common with something like "Frankenstein" than it does with something like "The Terminator." If that parallel makes you groan, then I will have to ask you to keep an open mind. "Ex Machina" is a bit of a mind bender, it gets weird and heavy at moments, but it is a ride worth taking. It represents the very best of what can be made by computer affects, yet it is a movie that is completely gauged by performance and not all the money getting thrown at the screen.

A young coder named Caleb (Domhall Gleeson) works at one of the biggest internet companies in the world, and he just won a company contest allowing him to visit the private compound of the company's CEO. When Caleb gets to the compound, he meets the reclusive CEO Nathan (Oscar Issac). It seems Nathan has a plan for Caleb over this week, Nathan is going to have Caleb test the first true artificial intelligence. Seems like a bizarre and unreal job, until Caleb sees the A.I. for the first time. It comes in the form of a beautiful woman named Ava (Alicia Vikander) and Caleb must process her through questions to see if she is actually capable of being intelligent. Its a weird gig, but Caleb is drawn to Ava, and plans to pursue this plan.

I know I am beating around the bush, that is all I plan to share about the movie's synopsis. This is a movie where the less you know, the better the experience will be. I only read about "Ex Machina" vaguely, never really reading anything about it, and now at the other end of spectrum, I am glad I did. This is a tremendously powerful motion picture, beautiful as it is bizarre and dazzling as it is daring.

I can say that for long stretches of the film, I loved just watching Domhall Gleeson and Oscar Issac bounce off of each other. This is a fine example of two underrated actors throwing down like they never have before. This will show people why Issac is going to pop up in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" and "X-Men: Apocaylpse," this guy has been heading toward the big time for awhile now, and this is just another admirable effort to add to his collection of filmography. I have liked Gleeson a lot in the past, but he's never been this determined, he has never been this strong.

The film's true magic trick is making Ava believable. Which is interesting because she is robot form for nearly the entire movie. Yet, even though it is clear we looking at a robot, it is unbelievable how realistic it looks. This is the most realism-based science fiction film that I have seen in a very long time. It goes to show that special effects have the ability to rattle the viewer. Then there is the performance by Alicia Vikander, and all I can say is wow. What gets me the most about her work here is that she somehow had  the talent to come off 100% as a robot, but still have that human capability. It is weird to describe, but there is a calculating method to Vikander's performance, and watching her onscreen with Gleeson was a joy.

I haven't even begun to delve further into the twists and turns in the movie. I haven't scratched the surface of the many secrets the characters are hiding. Honestly? I don't want to spoil the fun for you. Just go in knowing you are going to see the best of performers at the top of their games. Be prepared to see the work of visual effects unlike any you have ever witnessed before. Be prepared to see the beauty of the argument of too much technology in the world. But most of all, be prepared to see the art form of cinema come alive in a way that forces you to remember why you love movies so much in the first place.


Pan trailer

I have noticed growing up that the stories of Peter Pan have been very hard to adapt for Hollywood. The Disney animated classic is great, and the 2003 film is pretty good. But the other adaptations out there, not worth my morning poo's. That NBC musical version last year is something I wish I could forget. I know many people grew up captivated by "Hook," but it was simply not for me. Peter Pan growing and forgetting he was Peter Pan seemed lame to me even when I was so young. The story of a boy who never grew up and battling pirates seems like something that would be hard to mess up, yet we have so few good interpretations of the character onscreen.

Joe Wright's "Pan" is coming our way this October, and you'll see from the trailer, it is breathtakingly beautiful to look at. I mean the trailer is gorgeous. I get the feeling that we are in for an imaginative and creative adaptation of this material. The costume designs and settings seem a little over-the-top, but curiosity has struck for me over anything else. There are just two things that are nagging me about the trailer. First of all, this looks to be an origin story, a prequel to everything involving Wendy. Prequels are tough water to cross for Hollywood, which automatically puts me on edge. Second of all, do we really need another "Chosen One" story? Didn't anybody learn anything from Sony and "The Amazing Spiderman?" Was there no other path to take other than the Peter Pan being the "Chosen One?" I hope they make a satisfying story from this concept that slowly becoming a cliché.

Anywho, beautiful trailer. Tell me what you think

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Essentials- "Mad Max" (1979)

The Essentials- #98
Mad Max
If you missed my review on Saturday night, it is safe to say that I really lost my mind for "Mad Max: Fury Road." I won't completely re-write my review of that movie, but it is safe to say that everything clicked when watching it that afternoon. It compelled to pull out my Blu-ray of "Mad Max." This was also going to be treat since I hadn't watched it in awhile. After getting back from a friend's house, I decided to quickly write my "Fury Road" review then jump head-first into the first "Mad Max" movie ever.
This was the first time director George Miller threw us into this world. Miller did not have the biggest budget in the world, and that showed. Plus, this was the late 1970's and that clearly showed too. "Mad Max" is interesting because it was the first big role Mel Gibson ever had, funny as the character is something that has been fully engraved into Gibson's filmography and iconography at this point. In this early movie, there were no armored cars are crazy costumes, those didn't come until "The Road Warrior." I will say that I like the crazy yellow police cars that Gibson and the other cops drive around in this movie, adding to the films unique flavor. As far as "Mad Max" movies go, this first one stands out in a big way. But I think that is part of the reason why I like it so much.
The main reason I have been drawn into the world of Mad Max has to do with the idea of a dystopian future. These dystopias have been widely popular in the canon of popular culture, and that doesn't seem to be ending any time soon. I like the sub-genre because it is an exercise in human nature. If the world broke down tomorrow, how would you react. Would you become sick and twisted and let it out on the first lonely group of people you saw? Would try to rebuild the smallest remnants of society? What would you do? What would be your new role? Those questions are the most fun while watching movies like "Mad Max." I think "Mad Max" was something that forced us to look in mirror and face what our society would become if the world hypothetically ended.
This first "Mad Max" movie doesn't take place in the Wasteland. This movie begins in the very early days of societal decline and it is honestly a very fascinating beginning. While people are fighting over oil, water and food, there is a small police force trying to maintain order. One of these cops is Max Rockatansky, at the beginning of the movie, he isn't quite Mad Max yet either. "Mad Max" is a like a comic book origin story. In a world full of origin stories, that might come off like a faint praise, but it isn't. Each story has a point A through point Z, and each of the points visited is essential. Yes, underneath it all, "Mad Max" is a revenge flick. But once you see everything Max is put through in the movie, it s pretty clear that "Mad Max" stands above most other revenge movies.
I also love that Hugh Keays-Byrne, who plays the villain in "Fury Road" appears as the villain here. I also love that Mel Gibson sports an Australian accent throughout the movie. (George Miller himself hails from Australia.)
If you like revenge flicks. If you like movies with dystopian futures. If you like Mel Gibson and like watching him kick-ass. If you dig crazy visions of the future. If you are curious about "Fury Road" and how this journey all began, then you owe it to yourself to watch it from the beginning. This is a trip worth taking.

Area 51 Review

Area 51 Review
Area 51 has always been a place shrouded in secrecy. I am not saying that for affect of  this review, literally nobody knows anything about the place. Apparently, it is run by the United States Air Force and it could be a base where they experiment with new weapons and technology, but not even that is confirmed. This sparked lots of controversy and conspiracy and maybe, just maybe, the United States government is hiding alien life forms there. You may all call me crazy after you read this, but I attended a cross country camp at the University of Wisconsin with a friend before my sophomore year of high school. Walking back to the dorm rooms after a early evening workout, a decent size group of us noticed something in the sky. Something that was hovering in the sky, not like a plane or even a helicopter. No, this thing was crude in its movements, but what was shocking was that when it turned to one side, there was a spike. Or, at least, it looked like a spike. The colors on the object were purple and orange, weird colors to have on a plane or helicopter. I had always been skeptical of aliens growing up, no matter how much I liked alien movies, but after that point, a part of me always believed that we are not alone in the universe.
Like I said, you don't have to believe me if you don't want to. I know what I saw, and so do the people I ran with, whether they forgot or not. So, I do have a soft-spot when it comes to alien lore and alien conspiracy theories. I love it. So I was excited when I heard about this new movie "Area 51," which hit video on demand over the weekend. The film was directed by Oren Peli, the director of the first "Paranormal Activity" movie. Experiencing "Paranormal Activity" in a theater full of horror-fans is something I will never forget the rest of my life. It was a great experience and Oren Peli's name was the one  thing that really drew to me to see this movie.
What set me on edge was that this movie has been dormant for a few years. It began in 2009, then there were some script re-writes. Then Peli replaced the director. In 2013, Peli was apparently "tinkering" with the movie during the editing process. What I am getting at is that this movie took a long time to finally get released. Usually, that is a bad sign, but this is from the guy who gave birth to "Paranormal Activity," could it really be bad? Did he just want to make the best movie possible?
Nope, "Area 51" is nothing new. It is nothing fresh. As far as found footage movies go, it is more of the same. There is an hour set-up, followed by thirty minutes of supposed "scary stuff" and then it ends. Of course nothing about the movie gets explained, and of course (SPOILER ALERT!) all the characters we watched run around from a threat the audience never sees, get killed. Which leaves the audience wondering how their footage got out into the open in the first place. Seriously, if there was ever a big leap in logic in one of these found footage movies, its "Area 51." How does a governmental, top-secret facility just decide to release this footage? Who is actually watching this footage?
The film begins with three friends going to a party, I would use character names and actor names but honestly, it doesn't matter. The actors first names are the names of the characters, to make everything more real. Of course, anybody could act in these found footage movies, since all your doing is running and yelling, but more on that later. One of the friends mysteriously disappears at the party and is found on the road on the way home by the other two friends. Why did this friend disappear? It never fully answered (seriously, what the fuck?), but it evidently forced this person to want to break into Area 51 and snoop around. This is exactly what happens. The next hour is spent on the three friends gathering gizmos that will help them get into Area 51, all of it seems silly, but I can forgive some minor logical silliness in order to get a good payoff. But that payoff never comes.
Once the friends actually make it into Area 51, they do some snooping, get figured out, then start running and yelling. Everything that is revealed is never quite explained and its just ideas that have been circling around Area 51 for years now. Nothing is done to further explore the material, or put a unique spin on the conspiracy theories that surround Area 51. The movie works more a checklist of things people have talked about, and those things are never discussed or explored with anything resembling depth.
Basically that's the movie. One friend gets chased by alien, even though we never get a good look at the alien. But its pretty clear that it is an alien. That's just a shame that so little was done make this movie more engaging and more interesting. I can't believe that the original director of one of the best found footage film of the last decade could barely get me to raise in eyebrow. The last half-hour was meant to be powerful, but I never felt anything toward it. What a big waste of time. This movie spent so much time in post-production for such a bland finish? Can somebody tell me why?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road Review

Mad Max: Fury Road Review
My earliest memories of anything pertaining to "Mad Max" was actually the third film.

I was really young, and it was some cable channel that escaped my mind. I remember that my mom was a massive Tina Turner fan, which pretty much turned me into Tina Turner fan (something I definitely was not expecting) and her song was a big part of the third film. Not only that, but Turner was a big part of the third film altogether. I have vague memories of "Beyond Thunderdome" and up until recently, I had vague memories of the "Mad Max" movies period. I have the first Mad Max movie here at home and I thinking about digging right in.

The thing is, I had a ball with "Mad Max: Fury Road," the new film hitting theaters this weekend. If you are wondering if you have to jump into everything Mad Max related in order to enjoy "Fury Road," and I say no. As the film begins we get a small but successful explanation to why the world collapsed and what Max has been up to. It doesn't spend anytime running through the history of Max, but it is just enough to spring us into this scary future. We get small glimpses of his past, but that is just to establish that Max is haunted by his past and that helps the new coming audience figure out why Max makes the decisions he does in this movie. Overall, I think you can go into this movie with no prior knowledge of any of the other Max films and be perfectly fine.

When we meet Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) in this new film, he just happens to be noticed by a group of scavengers in the Wasteland, a barren desert in the middle of a apocalyptic future. A great war ravaged the Earth, and that war was over oil. Max is taken to the Citadel, an enormous fortress where he held prisoner to Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Immortan Joe is a modern world prophet, or at least his people think he is. He controls all the water, oil and closest vegetation within countless miles. He also rules his followers with an iron hand. His "war boys" are all of his children, whom he has fathered from countless women. Immortan Joe plans to use Max for his blood, helping his sick children grow into the war boys he needs for his conquest.

Then there is Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron. It becomes pretty clear that Imperator Furiosa is an enforcer for Immortan Joe. One day on a seemingly easy gasoline run by Furiosa, she breaks from her usual route and seems to be running from Immortan Joe. You see, she has stolen five of Immortan Joe's prized "wives" and she plans to bring them to safety. Eventually Furiosa and Max will clash, and Max will help the wives and Furiosa get to safety and away from Immortan Joe and his war boys. Immortan Joe is less than happy about this, and he gathers his allies, his war boys, and his war machines and he chases Furiosa and Max to get his wives back. Joe's wives are the basis of his power, and he needs to continually breed in order to create this massive army he has. The movie is this massively-scaled chess game between Furiosa and Max versus Immortan Joe.

If you thought "Avengers: Age of Ultron" was big on action, just wait until you see the scale and scope of the action scenes in "Fury Road." Nothing about this film is played by half-measures, everything feels epic, but at the same time feels dramatic enough that it doesn't need more time in the editing room. Not only that, but this is the most visually interesting world you will gaze at probably all summer. Immortan Joe is just fascinating to look at, with his long white hair, his see-through body armor, and his ultra-freaky breathing apparatus. He is brought to astounding life by Keays-Byrne, who ironically played the villain in the first Mad Max movie. His war boys will remind of the vampires from "I Am Legend," they are all bold and painted a pale white. As I watched "Mad Max: Fury Road," my jaw was continually dropped by just how eye-popping the sets and the action were.

Charlize Theron does very good work as Furiosa and the five wives she transports are played by Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton and Megan Gale. I love that the five wives are not just the typical damsels in distress, but very much part of the plot. They never want to go back to the uncontrollable slavery under Immortan Joe and they will do just about anything to keep themselves from going back to him. Any action movie which features strong female characters is something that appeals to me. I love that director George Miller didn't take the easy route when creating his female leads, his movie that much stronger because of it.

Another big character that was fun to watch was Nux, played by Nicholas Hoult. Hoult is just another war boy within Immortan Joe's army at the beginning of the movie, ready to die for Joe's causes. Something draws him to Max and eventually to one of the five wives and he slowly but surely becomes another ally to Max and Furiosa. Watching Nux's transformation throughout the film was surprisingly affective. Watching Hoult's glee of playing Nux was also quite affective. Nux is a crazy character and Hoult makes sure we believe in every quirk and every cackle his character unleashes.

Then there is Tom Hardy as Max. Through out most of the movie, Max is a lone cowboy, or a honorable Ronin. He is a man of few words throughout the movie, but he makes each of those words count. He can speak volumes and makes the audiences feel several emotions just through his gazing glare. Hardy has set a new standard for this character, and I believed every foot Max took on this journey. Now, is Tom Hardy better than Mel Gibson? I honestly, don't know after one viewing and I feel like I need to see  the other Mad Max movies again. But make no mistake, "Fury Road" is a movie I'll revisit several times in the future.

It has been about thirty years since George Miller visited the Wasteland. Now that he is back, it seems he's better than ever. He made an action film that felt urgent, something that stands on its own even though it is part of a larger franchise. It is a movie that doesn't follow the usual action cliché's, in fact, it literally shatters them. It is filled with classic moments and classic characters and if you allow yourself to be open-minded, this movie will take on a journey you'll be glad you took. I thought this movie looked good, but I was blown away by just how much it shook me up!


Friday, May 15, 2015

Captain America: Civil War set photos

Hints of the cast for the highly-anticipated "Captain America: Civil War" has had fans in an uproar for several weeks. It sounds like "Captain America 3" is going to be "Avengers 2 1/2" in all of the glory of that concept. I always thought that Civil War should have been called "Marvel's Civil War," simply because I believe the event is bigger than one or two characters, but that's just me. With all of these characters making up this story, I hope Marvel doesn't forget that this is a Captain America movie first and foremost. If they don't forget its a Captain America movie, will we witness the Marvel Civil War in all of its glory?

I know, I know. Why am I complaining now? The Russo brothers are returning to direct (they did a great job on "The Winter Soldier"), so there is no need to think the movie is in the wrong hands. It's just clear to me that each of these MCU movies are actually directed by Kevin Fiege and whomever else he hires. But, now its time to get off the hobby horse and take a peak at the set photos which hit the internet today. We get a nice look at Steve Rogers in action, as well as his new bestie Sam Wilson who is decked out in a new costume. We get a great look at Frank Grillo, who has definitely become Crossbones now.

Also, whose funeral is it?
The British flag has me worried. Will Peggy Carter pass away in this movie??

Here are a couple with Scarlet Johannson.

Like I said above, I love Grillo's costume. Everybody looks great.

What do you think of them?


The Cobbler Review

The Cobbler Review
What a weird movie.
There is a certain trend we have come to expect with Adam Sandler movies. His films are usually high in the slapstick realm of humor. His films are often raunchy, and there maybe one big scene or perhaps a couple of scenes that are designed specifically to cause a reaction. Those reactions can be shock, disturbed or even wanting your life back. But, by the end of every Sandler movie, he pulls it into a metaphor everybody can relate to and ends his films on a happy note. It can be argued that just about every movie he has been in winds back to this little check list. While I appreciated something like "Funny People," which was absolutely nowhere near Sandler's comfort zone, something about the movie really fell flat to me. I have tried to watch the movie a couple of times and I end up bored somewhere in the middle. I love it when actors take chances, but I felt that wasn't a chance Sandler should have taken.
Now that I have seen "The Cobbler," I wonder if Adam Sandler is a one-trick pony. If he is a trick-pony, I wonder if that is a bad thing, despite not having a big hit in years.
"The Cobbler" definitely feels like vintage Woody Allen at times, definitely something Allen would make. Sandler plays Max, a lonesome shoe cobbler who spends his days wishing he led the life of some of his richer customers. Soon Max realizes if he puts the shoes on at his shop, he can become the people who wear those shoes. As his cobbling business slowly begins to decline he fights to keep his fourth generation shop open while also having fun walking in other people's shoes, literally.
What shocked me is that this is not the typical Adam Sandler movie. There is no slapstick or raunchy comedy anywhere in this movie. At no point does the humor try to play it safe, this is a very offbeat comedy. This is not the type of humor we are accustomed to for Sandler, but overall he does good with it. There were a couple moments where I laughed out loud. I think Adam Sandler gives a good performance here. He makes good use of his fellow cast, which includes Dustin Hoffman, Steve Buscemi, Method Man, Ellen Barkin, Melonie Diaz, and Lynn Cohen, all of whom do superb work as well. More so than in "Funny People," I think Sandler proved he can get past his usual anesthetic and it can work.
My major gripes are more toward the film itself. It never knows what it wants to be. It doesn't know if it wants to be a comedy about a guy who finds he has an usual power and how he experiments with it, or a movie about the poor keeping big, corrupt business out of the streets, or a movie about a guy trying to stop one particular hoodlum or a movie wishing he could be someone else and just not know what to do once he figures out he can. So "The Cobbler" slaps all of those ideas into one movie. The result is something that is funny at times, but ultimately comes off weird. I think the entire segment featuring Method Man could have easily been edited out of the movie entirely. This really is a concept where it is much better to focus on one storyline, rather than trying to tell several and this movie appears sloppy and all-over-the-place.
I also can't stand it when movies push for heartstrings and coincidence for the sake of it. "The Cobbler" definitely suffers from that. When Adam Sandler finds out the identity of his neighboring barber shop owner is, my eyes grew tired from rolling. This is an example of happy getting to forefront then exaggerated completely and none of it works. Especially after Max becomes his father so his mother can have one last dinner with him, this is played up as misplaced emotionality and it rubbed me wrong.
While there was stuff to like, there was just as much stuff that kind of aggravated me, while also some stuff just kind of left me with a question mark. I hope Adam Sandler continues to move out of his comfort zone, but when he does, I just hope the movies he chooses are finally good. Sandler is a great guy, I want him to have another hit.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Crimson Peak Trailer

I love Guillermo del Toro

It really is that simple.

Many of you only know him from the "Hellboy" movies, or "Pacific Rim" or "Blade 2" and those movies are all great. I love that del Toro has a great eye for what makes blockbuster entertainment so enticing. But its the material from his roots that I feel really put his merits to the test. "The Devils Backbone" is one of the scariest movies you will ever see, full of addicting mood and atmosphere and everything that make classic horror films great. In 2006, he blended the blockbuster, the horror film and his native tongue for "Pan's Labyrinth" a I still feel is one of the very best movies of the 2000's. It is completely imaginative, absolutely creative and triumph on almost every level. There really are not too many other movies like "Pan's Labyrinth" and that is part of the reason why I love it so much.

Once again, it looks like Guillermo del Toro is going to mix horror with blockbuster once more and you can bet that I will be there front and freaking center. The first full trailer for del Toro's "Crimson Peak" was released today and it looks fantastic. I love gothic horror movies and I love that del Toro seemingly lost himself in gothic style of horror filmmaking. It looks like Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain are going to be great in this. It definitely looks like del Toro will be wringing in the intense atmosphere. At the same time, it looks like there is going to be plenty of fun to be had with this movie. I can't wait for October.

What did you guys think?

The next Planet of the Apes movie will be called...

Its no secret that I was a huge fan of "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." If you go back to my end of the year list for 2014, you will see it at number ten. "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" was more than a blockbuster, it was an experience for me in the dark. There are not too many blockbusters out there that have the power to do that, and I was glad director Matt Reeves conveyed so much in his movie. Before that, I was a huge fan of "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." I loved how it also was an abnormal blockbuster compared to the rest of the heard.

Matt Reeves is pressing forward with the new Apes franchise and the title was released today. The third film will be titled War of the Planet of the Apes and the new movie will hit theaters in 2017.

I personally am a big fan of title, it matches up with the theme of the previous movies well. I can't wait to see how this movie concludes. Of course, we know a big war is coming. In fact, Matt Reeves even mentioned that he originally wanted to start the war at the end of "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" but wanted to save it for next time. Well, I personally am pumped and primed for next time, how about you?


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Blackhat Review

Blackhat Review
When people discuss what the world would look like during a, God willing, third world war, the prospect always turns to nuclear holocaust. If you ask me, I think if we were to ever have a third world war or if a terrorist wanted to hit the free world where it hurts, they would use technology. There is something very frightening to me about thinking about a world where our money, our accounts and nearly every aspect of our lives is digital. Heck, parts of our friendships are digital and if somebody tried to attack that over political turmoil or even scarier, for fun, we would have a world of problems.

I have always liked Michael Mann as a director, and I have especially enjoyed the way his recent career has materialized. He is just about the only director in the business right now who jumps nose first into the digital art of filmmaking. Even with a period piece like "Public Enemies" from 2009 felt uncannily realistic, and I never thought it would have worked for a film set in the 1930's. Mann has a visual eye unlike any other right now and they way he digitally shoots his films, it really does feel like we are right there, experiencing the film with the characters. "Blackhat" features that type of filmmaking. The way Michael Mann films his cinematography in "Blackhat" is flat-out mesmerizing and the digital glow of all the films exotic locations is almost unreal in how gorgeous it is. What I love about most Michael Mann films is that he makes the audience feel the culture and society of which he is filming and that doesn't end with "Blackhat." We feel the chemical sugar rush of looking into a beautiful hill range in Indonesia just as much as we are struck by the gritty, sweaty slums of the same island. On a visual basis, like most Michael Mann films, there is nothing to complain about.

Then you actually watch "Blackhat," and you allow yourself to become engaged in the story being told and you can't believe your eyes. "Blackhat" is nothing more than an exercise in beauty over anything else. For a film based around a cyber-terrorist, the last thing I should be engulfed with is the cinematography. Mann completely wastes his great cast; which includes Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Tang Wei, Wang Leehom, Holt McCallany, Yorick van Wageningen and Ritchie Coster. He makes his film way too long and makes sure we feel every mind-numbing minute of it. Worst of all, Mann can't seem to help himself when he shows us that this is either a 1990's action film homage or a 1990's action film rip-off and Mann seems blatantly confused by which it is too.

The film opens with a cyber attack on a Chinese nuclear power plant and Mercantile Trade Exchange and Mann wastes no time trying to waste our time. As the evil cyber-terrorist is plotting away in his lair, there is a silly dramatic beat every time he pushes in a key on his keyboard. Then we have several lame scenes of digital information running through computer wires to its destination. I immediately think of several action films which pushed the camera through something mechanical so the audience can see how the device works. This footage could have easily been edited out and the film would have ended the exact same way it does.

So yeah, we have a cyber-terrorist causing lots of havoc. He is taking lives and playing games with international trade and the American and Chinese governments come together to stop him. Apparently the only way to stop this terrorist is to release an American hacker Hathaway (Hemsworth) to help the team go after him. Hathaway is a hero who would only appear in cheesy 1990's action movies. Because even though he is an incredibly talented hacker, he is also apparently unbeatable in hand-to-hand combat and you can bet that the movie never stops a second to explain how Hathaway can fight so well or how he is a master of nearly every weapon he touches. He is also able to swoon the lead female in the movie because, since this is a 1990's action movie, there needs to be an un-needed romance.

"Blackhat" could have been an excellent look at the way our world could crumble if we are not careful about how we handle business and trade in this Digital Age. In the films strongest moments, we really get a good glimpse of how the world could fall with just a few clicks on a keyboard. For some reason though, Mann keeps bringing the film back action picture mode. The climax of the film involves guns, knives and screwdrivers instead of any unique thought on the idea of cyber-terrorism. I can't really put into words how shocked and even border-line offended I was to learn that "Blackhat" is nothing more than a grisly revenge flick with todays cyber scare as window dressing.

Hemsworth is fine here, the entire cast is fine, there is just nothing thrilling or exciting about the movie. Even the action scenes in this movie don't have the realistic zest that Mann has been known for within the last five years. Once again, Mann picks an astounding soundtrack to match the scenes with, but we never feel any emotions from the actors because we are never completely invested in them. As far as Michael Mann goes as an artist, "Blackhat" is an almost complete embarrassment and I have to ask him the question; what the hell was he thinking?


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Tribe poster

Now wait until you get a load of this premise.

A movie where there is absolutely no dialogue or subtitles. The only form of communication pushing the movie along is sign language. I remember when I was in third grade and I took a sign language course. I don't remember what I thought I was getting into and it kills me that I forgot everything I learned since, but something about that really affected me in a positive way. Perhaps it was learning a new way of communication, a new to reach into the minds and souls of others for which I could not before. All I remember is how it affected while I took it and how it affected me afterwards. I was very proud of my work.

But like I said, I don't remember any of it, and it won't help me when I see "The Tribe." This movie has been generating a ton of buzz since its festival run last year. Some of my most trusted critics that I read put it on their end-of-the-year lists in January. I can't wait to see if I can possibly follow along with this movie. This is more than just a gimmick, this is more than a movie daring to be ambitious and different. This sounds like this what it looks like when a revolution takes hold. This movie hits theaters on June 17th. I can't wait to see it.


Now, that is how you end a season.
Where do I even begin to explain the awesome conclusion of this second season? Well, let's start with last week. During the ending moments of last episode, we find out that Skye's mother is evil and she murders Agent Gonzalez and frames S.H.I.E.L.D. As this episode opens, a huge battle breaks out between the Inhumans and S.H.I.E.L.D. What shocked me was that Gordon was in on the framing with Skye's mother the whole time. That I did not see coming, but that was just one of the several surprises this season finale had in store for the audience tonight.
So yes, war erupts between the Inhumans and S.H.I.E.L.D. and at first, Skye firmly believes that is to blame, and there is a nice one-on-one fight between Skye and Melinda May that was absolutely cool. Even though I hated seeing both of our heroes battling each other. All the Inhumans begin to blindly follow Skye's mother to war as she plans to infiltrate and destroy S.H.I.E.L.D. It is up to Coulson and the rest of the team to break the fight. While Lance Hunter and Melinda go rescue Bobbi from Ward and Agent 33. Make no mistake about it people, this is easily the most-action packed, most grand-scale of all the "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." episodes. Nothing has ever come close to the epic feeling that I got watching this conclusion unfold and perhaps making it a two-hour finale was part of why it was so great.
There was one variable in the formula to destroy S.H.I.E.L.D. that Skye's mother didn't see coming and that was Raina. There is a reason why Skye's mother turned everyone against Raina last week, because she could see this coming with her new see-future powers. Skye's mother murders Raina, just as Skye comes to join her side. Skye figures out how terrible her mother is and tries to stand against her. She is overpowered and locked up, taken to the main S.H.I.E.L.D. vessel where Skye's mother plans to use the Inhuman's special crystals to either kill or turn all the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Coulson would come help, except he's dealing with Cal at the moment.
We finally see why Cal was referred to as a monster at the end of season one and we finally see the Cal Zabo we know from the comics and I loved that we saw that.
But Coulson being the smooth talker that he is, gets Cal to help him and the episodes' grand finale takes place on the vessel and another huge battle ensues. Seriously this was some of the best action on television that I have seen in awhile, and I think just maybe "Arrow" was given a run for its money. We saw Skye kick more ass which was awesome, we heard Fitz get the best line of the entire season before delivering the last blow to one particular bad Inhuman, and we saw Coulson get his arm cut off in order to save his life. Cal kills Skye's mother and the rest of her crystals get lost in the ocean.
Let's also not forget that Lance does end up saving Bobbi, who takes a bullet for him to save his life. I also had to laugh when May tricked Agent 33 and she died at the hands of Ward. Sadly Ward just snuck by and even though it is evident that he will have something to do next season, it still kills me that he is hanging around. He is nothing but a useless plot thread that ABC doesn't want to get rid of. For what reason is still baffling to me. Ward needs to go, and Marvel better figure out how to keep Ward and HYDRA relevant because putting both of them together again has circular plot written all over it and I hope to God that I am either wrong or they do something cool with that storyline. But right now, gosh just turn Ward loose already.
But hey, after two-hours of awesome action, great acting, Cal Hulking out and all sorts of crazy superpower play, I loved this conclusion to season two. After all the set-up that was done at the end of this episode (including a shocking cliffhanger of an ending involving none other than Jemma) it seems that the third season is going to have plenty on its plate. I hope the crew behind this series is ready for the task, because if they proved anything this season, it was that they had to fight hard in order to maintain several storylines in one episode. I hope the writing and the execution improve between now and September. Or perhaps they change the set-up of the show altogether, which I wouldn't argue against either. What is important right now, is that this season ended on a high note and the bar for next season has ben raised very high.
Oh, and I am betting good money that tonight won't be the last time we see Lance Hunter and Bobbi Morse, but that's just me.
What did you all think?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Maggie Review

Maggie Review
What has made me laugh more over the years as a film fan is the big difference between an actor and a movie star. If you are an actor, then I think you have to have at least some talent, whether misguided by the media or not. But if you are a movie star, you don't necessarily have to give a good performance when you step in front of the camera, you just have to bring a certain group of character charms and details to each character you play. I think its pretty safe to say that Arnold Schwarzenegger has fallen under the movie star category for his whole career. I have enjoyed several of his movies, but him as performer? Much less I am afraid. Movie stars tend to use the same bag of tricks for each movie, and why not? Those tricks sell, so why not use them until they have gone much past their expiration date. Whether you think it sounds harsh or not, we have enjoyed Arnold Schwarzenegger as a screen presents, but there are very few movies in his career where I can honestly tell myself that I thought he gave a good performance.

Out of all the horror subgenres it seems zombies are very straightforward. Or, I guess I should say that they have played out pretty straightforward for awhile. No matter what a storyteller is trying to convey with the genre, it has always come down to a group of people trying to survive the zombie onslaught. Each of those type of films boil down to the same template, no matter if the director throws in a certain metaphor or if they just wanted to make a good, old-fashioned zombie movie, they come down to a group of people trying to stay healthy. Hey, I love "The Walking Dead" just as much as anybody, and while that comic book and show tend to focus more on human nature than surviving the zombie apocalypse, it is in the end, about a group of survivors fighting for their lives against the undead. This begs the question; can anything else be done with the genre? In recent years, we have seen some filmmakers really approach the zombie movie in a different light, and whether I have liked or disliked their execution, I find their attempts to be ambitious, and that counts for something.

Now, when I put Arnold Schwarzenegger and zombie apocalypse in the same review, I bet that your thought process is preparing you for a certain kind of movie. Yes, "Maggie" is about a zombie apocalypse (well, a zombie apocalypse of sorts) and the film's male lead is indeed Arnold Schwarzenegger. But trust me, this is anything but what you'd figure when both of those ideas collide in a movie. "Maggie" is not your conventional zombie movie. There is very little blood, very little killing. There are no explosions, no beheadings, no group of survivors. As much as "Signs" was an alien movie without the alien invasion, "Maggie" is a zombie movie without the apocalypse. Depending on what you expect from your zombie movies, this may disappoint you.

After his daughter has been missing, Wade (Schwarzenegger) spends two weeks trying to find her after she has ran away. He finds Maggie (Abigail Breslin) at a hospital, and discovers she has been bitten and infected with the "necroambulist" virus, which will turn her into a zombie within a matter of weeks. The rest of the movie focuses on Wade and Maggie, and it is a slow burn until Maggie completes her transformation into a zombie. I wouldn't even call "Maggie" a horror film, and again, depending on what you like from this genre, that may kill your interest in this movie altogether. At an hour and thirty-five minutes, it is sweet and to the point.

Now, for a movie with no big action set pieces, you are probably wondering how Arnold does. Honestly, this is the first time where Arnold had to really rely on his acting, and for the most part, I think he does a good job. What stinks is that he really doesn't have a role to play. Wade is a man of very few words in this movie, and he spends lots of the movie trying to cope with a massive decision regarding what to do about his daughter once she has fully transformed. While I loved his character interactions through most of the film, Arnold's character spends most of the movie starring off at the sun, trying to find an answer, even though he knows there is no easy answer. There are some big character beats I think he lands well, but ultimately, he has no part to play. For being intrigued to see if Arnold had any real acting skills, I felt that was kind of a letdown.

The main reason to see this movie is for Abigail Breslin. The character of Maggie is quite melancholy and Breslin makes sure we feel every bit of her sadness, while we also feel every bit of her deterioration. There is absolutely nothing beautiful about Maggie's transformation through the movie. The make-up and special effects used throughout the movie are solid and provide great subtext and Breslin carefully etches in the context. It is some of the most magnificent acting I think she's ever done and I can say with confidence that she has grown as a performer. I think Breslin handles her transformation really well and I think audiences will be shocked to see how well she does here.

I know, I know. Still it isn't your typical zombie movie. This is a movie that focuses on a much quieter corner of a zombie epidemic. Instead of groups of survivors hiding out in a mall, this short story focuses on a father and his daughter in their house, trying to fight the upcoming storm. There is only one zombie attack in the whole movie, and it never becomes overly-stylized. It is over pretty much before it begins, and like I said if you expect a certain level of survival and bloodshed in your zombie movies, you might as well skip this one all together, because this doesn't become violent or thrilling. This is "The Walking Dead" with no zombie attacks, it is a straight-up sad story about a terrible decision that needs to be made. The movie even does a good job of keeping its cinematography dark, with no sign of light anywhere. On that basis alone, I enjoyed the ambition behind this, it takes a lot to try to do something different with a genre that is popular for "more of the same" and the crew behind this one really tried to be different and I was struck by how powerful some images and performances played out.

But the slow-burn payoff? Not what I was hoping for and I think that is what ultimately disappointed me the most. A slow-burn movie is tricky because the ending you are building towards needs to have a payoff that will send audiences reeling out of the theater and instantly get caught up in discussion about what happened. The best slow-burn movies did that, and I think that is where "Maggie' fails. It is a rather predictable finale, and never reaches the epic conclusion it seemed to have wanted all along. Still, I like the ambition, and this one seemed like it got away from them. I hope Schwarzenegger keeps up his daring filmography as I'd really like to see him tackle more roles like this.