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Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) Review

Few films have enjoyed as much recognition and popularity throughout history as The Wizard of Oz.  Even with a notable group of naysayers, the 1939 release is still regarded as a classic and mandatory viewing for anybody.  Needless to say, any sort of follow-up would pretty much be set up for disappointment, and in 1985 the Return to Oz didn’t leave too much of an impact.  At least, not in the long run.  It’s probably even of less surprise then, that a prequel of sorts released this year will suffer the same fate.

Things start well enough with the eye-catching opening credits and a classic, black-and-white look as we’re introduced to James Franco’s Oz.  While it isn’t entirely clear at first, his Oz is actually a tough character to get behind.  We know from the trailers that he’s an everyday magician and essentially becomes a conman when he arrives in Oz.  The problem isn’t that he’s a liar, but that he oftentimes basks in his own ego, exudes a sort of snobbiness and a general lack of concern.  This isn’t just a concern in the opening act, it stretches throughout the entire film.  He almost comes off like an anti-hero, but this isn’t in-line with how his character is necessarily supposed to come off.  There’s just a lack of sympathy due to his general lack of sympathy (with a couple exceptions).

Another problem arises literally right when Oz lands in, well, Oz: Oz itself.  If you want to know the final word on how Oz looks and feels, it’s colorful but artificial.  If nothing else, Oz should be a bit of a visual spectacle, but it’s a little tough to feel brought in when so much is clearly CGI.  There are actual sets and everything isn’t as abused as, say, the Star Wars prequels, but throughout the movie I was saying “this is to The Wizard of Oz what the prequels are to Star Wars.”

Now, I’m not one who decries every little aspects of the Star Wars prequels.  Likewise, I wouldn’t say Oz the Great and Powerful is devoid of good points.  The first 20 minutes are a solid way to start the film; it’s nostalgic, a good touch base with the characters and again, we get nice opening credits.  One of the characters, a porcelain doll, is a clear highlight of the film and probably the closest it comes to actual emotion.  I mentioned above how Oz’s character left me with a cold shoulder save for a few parts; his interactions with the doll comprised most of those.

But even when talking about what worked well, it’s so easy to get back to what doesn’t work.  Both Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz feel like they were written off for silliness and, if not that, then the costume design, make up and effects accomplish just that.  There are also some sharp plot holes when taking The Wizard of Oz into account, ranging from details such as why the characters are written the way they are, to the actual existence of the story itself.  There’s potential to explain this in a sequel, but that’ll be a tough bridge to connect.

Oz the Great and Powerful has a few neat ideas in place, but ultimately stumbles with inconsistencies as abundant as its own color spectrum.  Even the potentially invigorating moments merely instill a sense of superficiality.  Oz has a small assortment of tricks up his sleeve, but only a couple of them are actually pulled off.

 
 

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A Look Back: 2012 in Film (Part II)

Ruby Sparks

There’s an odd connection between actual aspiring writers and movies centered on writers that’s tough to pinpoint.  Ruby Sparks is like a vision coming into physical reality for writers, with a character transforming into something anyone else can see, touch and feel.  The initial promise of such a premise is taken in the directions you’d expect, before taking some surprisingly dark turns.  But fellow fictional writers will know that sometimes to truly understand your characters, you’ll have to put them through the worst possible hell.  It is, to borrow from another certain 2012 release, “a necessary evil.”  Ruby Sparks is, at the very least, compelling and leaves a relatively strong impression.  Things do end up a little to conveniently resolved, but given the road taken, such an ending can feel all the more rewarding.

The Expendables 2

Times at the cinema would be so much better if films like The Expendables 2 were easier to pick out.  Like its predecessor, this is a perfect break and escape from reality.  No, the film isn’t fantastical, but it’s a hell of a great time, suspending you amidst ridiculous action and one-linters.  While other cheap, campy B-grade action movies do little but bore, The Expendables 2 entertains and entertains and entertains.  There’s little serious merit here, but the fact you have so fun watching it the first time around makes everything else irrelevant.

Lawless

Lawless didn’t fear showing a generally grisly side to Prohibition-era America, which is showcased in a scene that makes me queasy upon the slightest recollection.  There are a number of ways to generically label Lawless, ranging from Tom Hardy’s Post-Bane Role to Wait, Shia LaBeouf Has Acting Capabilities?  Being one of the few non-haters of the latter actor, even I think he’s outclassed and generally unfit for such a role.  Thankfully, he’s not misplaced to the point of say, Josh Hutcherson in The Hunger Games, while every other performance from Tom Hardy to Jessica Chastain and Guy Pearce is spot-on.  It’s just a shame we only get two scenes with Gary Oldman, who completely owns both and shows us a side to Jim Gordon we might’ve forgotten after The Dark Knight Rises.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

It’s not every day–or even every year–I can call a film truly resonant with how I generally feel, but The Perks of Being a Wallflower managed to be such a film.  Shame it was a bit of a sleeper, though.  This is a film equally earnest and honest, working better than it probably should thanks to how relatable and irresistible the characters are.  Even Paul Rudd, amounting to a simply sympathetic teacher, manages to bring us into the film more because his scenes with Logan Lerman work so well.  Sometimes comedic, other times seriously dramatic, but always enthralling, The Perks of Being a Wallflower more than earns a personal favorite mark from yours truly.

Looper

Looper was definitely one of the more highly touted films of 2012.  Many people seemed to think it would be the next “it” thing for science fiction action thrillers, with big comparisons being made to Inception.  The film met with almost universal acclaim but seems to have become little more than a dud on the windshield.  While this is a bit of a shame, the film does have, at its core, some very potential shortcomings.  To be fair, like Philip K. Dick’s works, most of these issues stem from the film’s deliberate approach to pose ideas without completely fleshing them out.  It becomes a bit of a backdrop to the story, rather than a consistently integral part.  Some say this works to the film’s strength, I say this is a story that belongs in novel form rather than on the big screen.  Don’t get me wrong, Looper is a very solid film in its own regards, it’s just many of the paths taken are unexpected in a way that necessarily fit.  For much of the second half I forgot we were in the future, or even an alternate reality.  This isn’t a movie you watch for spectacle or visions of another world, it’s a movie you watch for its surprisingly down-to-earth story with alternating thrills and drama.

Argo

In my original review of Argo, I mentioned that while a good piece of filmmaking, it’s not one I’d have honored with several Oscar nominations.  It seems the Academy felt surprisingly similar notions, except they got a couple things mixed up.  Give Ben Affleck the Best Director nom and possibly retract its Best Picture nomination, along with Alan Arkin, despite being one of the best parts of the film.  But I digress.  Argo had a lot to live up to in my books since I’m a huge fan of The Town.  Ben Affleck has a thing about surprising many of us, which is very welcoming.  For a film with so many characters and a rather forgiving runtime, Argo feels surprisingly whole and complete.  Outside of Victor Garber, I think everyone was sufficiently developed.  The plot is expansive in some ways, but the actual story at-hand is very focused.  Not to mention we get possibly the more intense final act of any film from 2012 in Argo, which isn’t in, how do you say, a bang-bang boom-boom kind of way.  Far from my top pick of the year, but definitely one of the most well made releases.

Skyfall

I can already hear the boos coming on this one: I’m not a James Bond fan.  The whole spy movie genre is a bit elusive to me, but I can set things aside to enjoy them if I so desire.  Daniel Craig’s first outing as 007 in Casino Royale does hold up as what you could call a good movie that just happened to be associated with James Bond.  Quantum of Solace, on the other hand, was about as solid as the T-1000 at the end of Terminator 2.  Thankfully, Skyfall brought integrity back and offered a few eye-catching surprises along the way.  This is still very much a Bond film with some hard-boiled action/thriller elements pushing their way in for the final act.  Skyfall doesn’t transcend or turn its back on its faith, which means fans of the series will still get the most out of it.

Flight

I’m trying to remember if Denzel Washington has ever given a subpar performance, much less been in a bad film.  He’s able to easily outclass the best actors Hollywood has to offer and, go figure, his only Academy Award isn’t for one of his top-notch performances.  We can now add Flight to his almost intimidating resume, in which his character goes through so much in its accurate portrayal that it could be labeled synonymous with gripping tragedy.  Without giving anything away, the ending is a bit of a buzzkill and makes what comes off as a long, hard journey abruptly hit some sort of a roundabout.  Still, even for such a good year, you’re not going find many films with a lead performances that commands and demands as much Denzel does here.

Wreck-It Ralph

I can remember seeing the trailers for Wreck-It Ralph and thinking “whatever, just get Pixar out of their slump already!”  Then the film’s style brought comparisons to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and I suddenly grew intrigued.  Said film is among my favorites and one that I enjoy even more with subsequent viewings.  I can’t see Wreck-It Ralph achieving the same effect, but it was surprisingly fun, enjoyable and one I’d be all for seeing again and again.

Lincoln

We had quite a few Oscar bait films this year and Lincoln shamelessly abides the criteria.  If there’s any surprise we’re thrown it’s the amount of comedy, usually courtesy of Tommy Lee Jones.  Obviously an actor like Daniel Day Lewis brings the iconic personality we think of when we imagine Lincoln, though it can definitely become overbearing.  I must reiterate that this performance is literally 50% elaborate storytelling.  No, this is hardly a deal-breaker and, in the hands of Steven Spielberg, we have a nicely handled and borderline immaculate film.  The only downside is it isn’t the year’s most compelling release since it takes about as much chances as I do with the ladies.

Silving Linings Playbook

This is the movie that actually drove me to travel nearly an hour away just to see what the hype was about.  I’m a bit of a sucker for rom-com/dramedies since, when handled well, they strike me like few others.  Two hours of watching and cumulative driving later and I can easily say that it was a wait and trip well spent.  Silver Linings Playbook hits the dysfunctional character note like so few movies and the results are pure bliss.  Comedy and drama run equally high and effectively with no weak links.  Silver Linings Playbook is tough to describe and justify, but if I had to sum it up, I’d say go see the movie and experience it yourself.  Even if it doesn’t crack your top movies of the year, it’s guaranteed to be among the most entertaining and rewarding.

Life of Pi

A scene from Life of Pi showed before a screening of Prometheus and my reaction was, to quote my friend, “so confused.”  That scene was literally all I caught of the film before deciding to eventually see a 3D screening.  I always feel uneasy when thinking Ang Lee since I just can’t separate that name from 2003’s Hulk, a film that continues to leave a repugnant taste in my mouth.  But rest assured, Life of Pi is no Hulk.  Life of Pi is one of the most beautiful, fascinating, well directed and edited films of 2012, bringing an odd story to light that keeps us riveted, regardless of whatever crazy direction it might take.  One pleasant surprise is the ending, which avoids the happy Hollywood archetype but doesn’t take the slummy road either.  Simply put, Life of Pi is a wondrous piece of work and a movie I can’t wait to experience again from the moment it comes out on Blu-ray.

Killing Them Softly

I had my eye on Killing Them Softly for a few months, though shortly after I saw the summertime trailer it drifted off and became but a distant memory.  It’s fitting then, that the film itself will likely suffer the same fate as its previews.  Killing Them Softly certainly isn’t a bad film, it’s just a bit of a drag and feels too incomplete for its own good.  This is really a film that I thought was good for killing time, it’s just I wish it had been done with a better, more investible and worthwhile piece.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The whole idea of splitting film adaptations into multiple releases is just weird.  Monetary reasons aside, it kind of defeats the point of having an adaptation in the first place.  Typically a film adaptation is used to give us the short, sweet and entertaining version of a story.  If we’re lucky, we’ll occasionally get some good twists, but it’s often just the motion picture equivalent to spark notes.  So the fact we’re getting nearly 10 hours for a book that’s less than 400 pages is really just overkill.  Now, taken in its own regards, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a conflicted and inconsistent film.  It’s tough for me to tell whether the film wants to be a comedy or fantasy drama.  Even during its most serious moments, I kept thinking “is anyone on our side going do die?”  Granted, that’s probably the way the book is, but it cut back on the sense of urgency that The Lord of the Rings had.  That, I think, is a key reason this semi-adaptation of The Hobbit falters, in spite of retaining some laughs, entertainment and occasional majesty.

Django Unchained

Tarantino is a very inconsistent director with me.  I liked but didn’t care much for Reservoir Dogs; Pulp Fiction is, as we all know, a classic; Inglourious Basterds did what I thought no Tarantino movie would do in boring me; and Kill Bill just never appealed to me, hence why I haven’t bothered with them.  While I figured I’d enjoy Django Unchained based on the trailers, I was completely unprepared for the unrivaled level of entertainment I got out of it.  If Django Unchained is simply entertaining, then Silver Linings Playbook is a snorefest.  Now, if we break the film apart there are points that can be criticized, but there’s so much fun and enjoyment to be had that any shortcomings quickly become irrelevant.  A true crowd pleaser, Django Unchained can definitely earn more than a couple wholesome theatrical viewings.

Les Miserables

And finally we have 2012’s last impression according to release date (and alphabetical order): Les Miserables.  I’ve gone on to call Les Miserables the most frustrating film of 2012 because of how much I wanted to enjoy and be soaked into its story, only to be let down at almost every corner.  Detachment, spontaneity and weariness are how I’d describe the adaptation we’re afforded, which only accomplishes the visual class of Hooper’s previous effort, The King’s Speech.  I’d want to give the film another chance down the line, but one sitting was laborious enough.

 
 

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A Look Back: 2012 in Film (Part I)

I’ve been contemplating just how and when to provide my thoughts on the films of 2012.  This is the year I saw more new releases than any other, with the current count topping 30.  I thought about doing the usual Top 10 list with a few honorable mentions, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized this has been a very comprehensive year for me.  And with pondering came the idea to make this an equally comprehensive look back.  This is why I’ll be going through 2012’s releases over the course of a three part blog.  The first part will feature the first half of the movies I saw, according to release.  The second part will cover the remaining half and the third will provide my ranking of every film, along with the movies I wanted to see but missed out on for whatever reason.  With that, let us begin my look back at the movies of 2012.

Haywire

First up on the calendar is Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire, one of the few films I actually held off on until it hit home video.  Let’s just say I’m glad I didn’t pay a penny to see this shoddy mess.  If you look up “haywire” in the dictionary, you’ll find it means “erratic” or “out of control,” which is exactly what this felt like.  Except it’s erratic in a disjointed, juvenile and amateurishly handled way, as opposed to being genuinely gripping.  The plot is cluttered, the characters aren’t worth investing in, the acting borders on atrocious and the low budget production style lends nothing to a film that, in turn, lends nothing to us.

Wanderlust

Next we have Wanderlust, a film that seemed to divide audiences with both its content and humor.  I’m open to most any style of film so long as its done right, something Wanderlust doesn’t grasp.  Like Haywire, I caught Wanderlust after its home video release, and it was a weary reminder as to why I like to trust my sagging gut.  This movie commits a huge crime that so many comedies are guilty of: lacking laughs.  Hell, forget laughs, entertainment is an even more criminal absence.  Were it not for the fact this was one of the few films of 2012 I disliked, Wanderlust would likely remain in my forgotten bin.  So bravo, Wanderlust, you achieved memorability for being that much closer to sheer atrocity.

Project X

I enjoy a good time as much as the next person, with or without drinking.  Parties can be a fun break from reality, though they seldom are.  Project X looked about as promising as that gigantic end of the semester party littered with everyone you hate from middle school.  I just knew that if I got the chance to see it, I’d utter nothing but the most disparaging remarks.  Then the film itself caught my interest and before long, my attention was sustained.  Much of the key events in Project X are genuinely eye catching which, combined with its proper amount of exposure, makes for a far more engaging watch than I ever conceived.  Now, I can’t take things out of proportion and say this was a good movie, but it was surprisingly enjoyable.  What makes it even more so is that this came out when so few films could even achieve any form of entertainment.  As such, it was the perfect break from a long, lethargic slumber.

21 Jump Street

21 Jump Street is yet another film I didn’t catch in theaters, primarily thanks to the unappealing trailers.  My gut impressions weren’t far from those for 2010’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which appeared dead, pointless and unconvincing.  But as you probably know, Rise was a very good film, remaining one of the greatest surprises I can recount.  In some ways, 21 Jump Street was also a pleasant surprise.  It’s definitely not on the same level as Rise, but what amazed me was that the film worked at all.  Laughs aren’t necessarily a constant, but entertainment was in sufficient supply, allowing my attention to actually go somewhere.  The film is very self-aware of its silliness, which is used to its advantage.  Is it a favorite?  Absolutely not.  Is it a good time regardless?  Very much so.

The Hunger Games

Not counting re-releases, The Hunger Games was my first theatrical viewing for 2012.  I went into this film almost completely blind, knowing only that it was similar in premise to Battle Royale.  Ultimately, it proved to be a fulfilling watch, remaining a memorable piece despite losing some of its edge after subsequent viewings.  The marketing was surprisingly well done, since very little of the actual Hunger Games were shown.  Lawrence puts on another solid performance alongside Woody Harrelson and, to my surprise, Lenny Kravitz.  We get a lot of brief looks into the depicted world, which is visionary without being self-indulgent.  This helps avoid overexposure, but I can’t help but want more, even with a nearly 2 1/2 hour runtime.  I’m actually about halfway through the first book, and have to say what I’ve read is adapted rather faithfully.  Both the book and film are solid works; neither are the top players of their respective styles, but there isn’t too much I can complain about.

Lockout

The title of this movie is Lockout.  I’d call it Guy Pearce’s One Liners.  Beforehand, I figured this would at least be a fair sci-fi romp.  Not long into the movie, I was ready to call it a night.  There’s a distinct lack of personality here, aside from how ineffective everything is.  The premise?  Tired and occasionally sporadic.  Main character?  Schwarzenegger would be proud.  Our villain?  A poorly handled maniac.  Investment?  Minimal to the very degree.  Lockout did little beyond slowly tiring and annoying me, only to become a film I’m happy to push out of memory.

The Avengers

Now we have The Avengers, the big money-maker of 2012.  There’s really no hiding the fact few films even touch The Avengers for sheer entertainment value.  The nerd and geek spectacle here is Category 7.  If nothing else, the final act warrants the price of admission alone.  Comical and awe-inducing moments run a constant, with just enough drama to remind us this isn’t merely a playful simulation.  Most will probably agree when I say this is a film you watch simply for fun at its most pristine level.  Anyone who actually doesn’t want that should stay away.  Those same people should also get their priorities straightened out.

The Dictator

Hopes for fun times ran high after The Avengers, something The Dictator couldn’t deliver enough of.  Crudely offensive and gratuitous material is what Sacha Baron Cohen is all about.  While it worked in a movie like Borat to wonderful degrees, here the comedic effects began to feel increasingly forced, leading to less and less fulfilling moments.  I can recall a considerable number of scenes from Borat, having seen it only a couple times.  The Dictator?  I’d be lucky to recollect half a dozen.  To say The Dictator was completely lacking is a harsh exaggeration, but I wouldn’t enthusiastically sit through it again.  It’s a load of heavy-handed offense, sprinkled with sparingly (but crassly) enjoyable moments.

Men in Black 3

Once again, we have a film I skipped out on seeing in theaters.  Almost nothing in Men in Black 3’s previews grabbed me, and despite not feeling so negative about the second film, I couldn’t justify spending primetime money on a stale-looking threequel.  Skip ahead one at-a-friend’s home viewing later and I’ll say it’s actually worthwhile in some regards.  The emotional arc, though debatably inconsistent, does make for a good way to help things come full circle.  Laughs are far from frequent, the villain is beyond weak and entertainment is in the so-so to relaxing range.  But our characters are colorful, usually fleshed out and when all is said and done, we could’ve certainly had a worse conclusion.

Moonrise Kingdom

The journey to Moonrise Kingdom was one ripe of frustration for yours truly.  I say this since no theater around me showed it, which mixes horribly with high anticipation.  Thankfully, by the time I did see this strange, unorthodox product, I had little to complain about.  Moonrise Kingdom definitely gets a nod for most unique feature of the year, as well as the most quirkily charming.  The ensemble cast is in terrific form, with the younger actors proving to be among the best in my entire memory.  These aren’t easy characters to play, especially considering their age, but they fit the roles wonderfully.  Even when deadpan and alarmingly stoic, you can’t help but be brought in.  Moonrise Kingdom is just like opening an odd yet colorful children’s book, one that withstands repeat readings through adolescence and into adulthood.

Snow White and the Huntsman

I have a sneaky suspicion that Snow White and the Huntsman’s relationship with me isn’t far from how everybody’s first special someone turns out.  The more I saw leading up to it, the more interested and hopeful I grew.  Then the film came out and I was left feeling…stumped.  A number of things definitely worked, namely the look and atmosphere.  Charlize Theron generally made for an effective villain, but she wasn’t as fully realized as I longed for.  Something that truly crippled the film was Snow White herself, who hardly says or does anything.  Aside from “you should know, you’re the one hunting me,” I can’t remember a single line she spoke.  Kristen Stewart isn’t a bad actress, but she isn’t up to par for silent emoting, which is an improper direction to take with Snow White’s character.  There’s a great movie here, but it’s buried underneath a slumbering mud pile which we endure for too much of the runtime.

Prometheus

Even with the likes of Bully and Zero Dark Thirty, I don’t think any film has or will top the controversy of Prometheus for some time.  Outrage has followed and literally ravaged this film from every angle.  I suppose I can consider my shield null and void when I reaffirm my praise for the film.  I’ve always been fascinated by the universe and lore of the Alien franchise from a conceptual standpoint.  The ideas and glimpses we’re afforded are always enjoyable and, if nothing else, visually interesting.  Call it a tease, bait and switch or complete and utter ploy if you must, Prometheus at least maintained my attention.  Do tired cliches of its genre(s) make their way into the current cut?  Yes.  Does the idea of waiting even longer for more answers frustrate me?  To a degree, but that’s part of the point.  A few questions are answered while more are posed, and just because we have questions doesn’t mean each will (or should) be resolved.  This is something the film poses at its very core during at least one scene, which rings true with the very beginning of the Alien plotline, as well as our own impulses as human beings.  It’s the kind of film that gets you thinking more and more the deeper you dig down, which in itself is something I personally admire.  An arbitrary compliment, perhaps, but someone or something has to ignite further discussions for us.

Rock of Ages

I once described Scott Pilgrim vs. the World as an excellent case for the legalization of select substances.  Subsequently, Rock of Ages is a film that I urge adults (of age) to see with drinks lined up for sips and shots aplenty.  Oh, and they might want to have 9-1-1 on standby.  Here we have a movie cheesy enough to make cholesterol levels spike to terminal levels.  Let’s just say it’s a miracle people weren’t diagnosed upon leaving their theater.

Brave

Two things kept me from watching Brave in theaters: audience and reception.  Disney and Pixar cater to kids, which oftentimes translate to some of the worst possible moviegoing experiences.  That and despite a generally positive recommendation, some people really picked the film apart.  It wasn’t until the end of my recent Pixar wrap-up that I decided to sit down and watch the film.  The first and most obvious part to address is that Brave looks incredible.  Several scenes and shots are convincingly life-like.  People make arguments that animation still has a ways to go before it can make a convincing case for reality.  To them I say watch Brave on Blu-ray.  For me, Brave was what you could call a tease.  The set up and setting promise something big, bold and interesting.  In a way that’s what we get, if by big we mean big to a child, bold referring to the sheer concept of the film’s catalyst, and interesting in regards to what’s suggested throughout.  The film seems to promise more than it delivers, and when there’s so much at the studio’s disposal, it comes off as underwhelming.  Now if we take the film for what it is, at face value, it’s not bad at all.  It is rather silly, I’ll admit, but if you go along with it the story can maintain your interest, providing a good dynamic between two of the characters.  To say it’s better than Cars 2 is a given, but the same can’t be said for it returning Pixar to their former glory.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

It seems to have become a pattern for the worst movies I experienced this year to be utterly forgettable.  If not that, then they fail to make much of an impression for much of the runtime.  Seeking a Friend for the End of the World sadly fits the latter category, since this is a film I really wanted to enjoy.  It simply never managed to grab me.  Much of what we need is in place: an impending scenario, decent character types, motivation to keep at least one of them going, moments aiming for comedic and dramatic effect, etc.  Yet none of it ever pulled me in.  Much of the movie falls on its characters who, in some ways, are different from what we typically get.  This would be great if I had a care in the soon-to-end world for them, which I didn’t.  And a film that fails to make me care fails to get more than a shrugged mention.

The Amazing Spider-Man

I’ve already mentioned that a couple films took me by surprise in 2012.  But if I had to pick one which completely exceeded my expectations and became a true favorite, it’d be The Amazing Spider-Man.  Not every promise made from the previews and trailers was kept, but at the very least we got a more grounded and realistic origin story.  Granted, this means a lot of familiar ground is covered, but the film shows it’s less the content and more the execution that matters.  The characters, especially Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone as Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, respectively, are tough to not get behind.  Their interactions and dynamics, among others, are why I felt so gripped and transported.  Not many films get me hoping for them to go on for double their runtime (or more), but The Amazing Spider-Man achieved just this.  I don’t care if we’re seeing much of the same stuff or if our villain is less than remarkable, there’s so much more that I managed to cling to and joyously savor.  For that, it effortlessly holds up as one of my favorite movies from 2012.

The Dark Knight Rises

Now the big guns are coming out.  As of my initial viewing(s), The Dark Knight Rises stormed onto the top of my favorite movies of the year, looking down at the competition with disdain.  Here we had a re-envisioned character coming full circle in a tour de force, featuring another great villain, visual/audio marvels and strong emotional payoff throughout.  By the time I saw the film a third or fourth time, however, things began to look gloomy for what is, in itself, a gloomy movie.  The Dark Knight Rises is a tough film to get into on that level without exposing certain details, the least of which is its ending.  What I’ll leave this brief recap at is that the film remains enthralling, if inconsistent.  Scenes with a scene-commanding Bane and scene-stealing Catwoman are among the film’s best moments, while parts getting into the nitty-gritty plot are, much like The Dark Knight, less engaging.  Subsequent viewings have only made its cracks all the more apparent, which might not cripple it the way they do Bruce Wayne, but they’re not doing it any favors either.

 
 

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Flickchart Match-Ups: Star Trek (2009) vs. Zombieland (2009)

Sorry readers, there will be no Stumblings this week.  However, rather than leave the Monday slot completely blank, I’ll be providing the first in the latest series of posts.  I’m also hoping for these to provide a better chance for discussions to finally ensue.  That’s why today I’m introducing Flickchart Match-Ups, taken directly from the website Flickchart.  For the uninitiated, Flickchart is a site that organizes how you rank films against each other based on 1v1 match-ups.  These are either randomly generated or have you rank a film up (or down) your personal chart.  If you’re like me and have seen a fair share of movies (600+), then it’s going to take a long time to get an accurate chart.  But it adds all the more reason to return, and when you get some difficult match-ups, you’re really left re-evaluating what you like (and dislike) in certain movies.  These are the ones I’ll be posting, one match-up per post.
Today’s match-up comes between two personal favorites.  Both are recently released (in 2009), have a fair share of action and comedic moments along with memorable characters and pure fun-filled entertainment.  From the final frontier we have…

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/2/29/Startrekposter.jpg

And from the closer-to-home fantasy many of us is…

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/a/a3/Zombieland-poster.jpg

What do you think?  Does a witty reboot trump what’s become a cult favorite?  Or is a brief-yet-blissful taste of the zombie apocalypse leave Trekkies in a trail of blood and guts?

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2012 in Blog, Film, Movies

 

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Skyfall (2012) Review

Mr. Bond certainly isn’t the individual who needs someone to handle introductions for him, much less by an English major working in retail.  Perhaps we can take it a step further with my admittance that Bond has had a…less than involved history with me.  Goldeneye, Die Another Day, Casino Royal, Quantum of Solace.  Not exactly a full blown history lesson, per se; but Bond can always be argued as a character of impressions, which his latest outing, Skyfall, charismatically delivers.

For the third time, Daniel Craig assumes the role of James Bond, and while his first time was certainly charming, that doesn’t mean the third is automatically exempt.  Thanks in large part to a sure-handed cast and crew, Skyfall repays us for the sins committed by the 2008 outing.  The film is less obnoxious and over-the-top, but still finds enough room to let these seep in a few times for the sake of fun.  Just don’t take that to mean Bond is all laughs (which are great here, mind you), because Skyfall leaves a path that is, as M and Mallory would put it, shadowy.

Being grounded in reality isn’t the first thing to come to mind with a Bond film, but Skyfall comes about as close as we’ll ever get to that.  Sure, the opening sequence just screams (impressive) stunt work, but again, for a Bond film this is some fairly down-to-earth stuff.  It’s an edge that is bound to put the cheesy Bond purists off, but even the less dedicated film viewer can appreciate the changes made.  To that degree there’s not as much to let Skyfall stand out from the crowd other than the franchise’s namesake.  Fortunately, director Sam Mendes and director of photography Roger Deakins have provided us an immaculately shot and detailed film.  I’m not one to tell you to spend extra money when it’s not necessary, but this is definitely a film to catch in IMAX if you get the chance.  If Deakins doesn’t get some Best Cinematography awards, I’m afraid I’ll lose all hope in “professional” film appreciation.

Bond has returned with a film that does well with the characters thanks to its liberties and (remaining) loyalties.  We’re left with a film that gives us a cloudy but assured look ahead for its successors, but whatever follows will have some big shoes to fill.

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2012 in Film, Film Review, Movie Review, Movies, Review

 

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Theater Feature: The Amazing Spider-Man

It’s safe to say that many haven’t gotten over the fact we’re already getting a Spider-Man reboot half a decade after Spider-Man 3.  I for one am in the minority of people who didn’t mind the third film, even if it was the weakest in Raimi’s trilogy.  Not to mention we sort of got a reboot with The Incredible Hulk five years after the Ang Lee version, and I don’t recall many people complaining about that.  But I digress.

Needless to say, when The Amazing Spider-Man was announced, I simply rolled my eyes and spewed a “screw you, Hollywood” phrase so unoriginal it’d probably make them sigh in response.  Then footage started coming out and while I still wasn’t entirely sold, my enticement at least crept upward.  Generally speaking, the early reviews have been favorable, though I’m surprised people aren’t more immensely gratified.  Then again, the two sites I consistently visit have glowing reviews for that abominable Katy Perry movie, so I took the reception with more than a single grain of salt.  Thankfully, two YouTubers I’m fond of (Chris Stuckmann and Jeremy Jahns) both had great things to say about the movie, so I went in quite hopeful.

The end result: I freaking loved it.

As you’ve undoubtedly heard, the film covers very familiar territory, especially at the beginning.  Yet what ultimately matters is just how well everything is told, which The Amazing Spider-Man accomplishes very successfully.  Aunt May and Uncle Ben felt way more developed in this film, which makes the subsequent events hit that much harder.  The level of depth and interaction between them and/or Peter is so much more realized and complete than the Raimi version.  Another area the film really works well is the chemistry between Peter and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey, which is so much more believable and strong than Peter and MJ in Raimi’s trilogy.  The fact Emma’s a way prettier face than Kirsten Dunst is a nice plus too.  What’s more is that Andrew Garfield is a way more interesting Peter Parker and Spider-Man.  Sure, Tobey Maguire might come off to some as the quintessential Peter Parker, but Garfield’s performance is just more interesting and varied.  As a result, we identify and grow to like him even more.

All of this is even more important when the story has to be told, because without investible characters there’s not much left to care about.  I came to love these characters, their interactions and the entire movie so much that I didn’t want it to end.  I can already tell that this is one movie I’ll be watching over and over on Blu-ray simply because it does so much so well.

In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I liked this movie more than The Avengers.  Yes, send the outburst-filled posts my way, my mind is clear.  The Avengers might be the bigger, more action-oriented film but when you break it down The Avengers is superhero action done right, whereas The Amazing Spider-Man is a superhero story done right altogether.  Of course the action scenes and final 30 minutes of The Avengers is better than any of the action here, but there’s simply more (and arguably better) development in the latest Spidey iteration.

There were honestly very few things I didn’t like about the film and I have no major qualms.  Anything holding the film back simply involves our villain, the Lizard.  He’s not a bad villain per se, but there’s a good chance I won’t remember him much down the line.  The CGI is really most apparent when he’s on-screen and his shifting motivations are very jumbled to say the least.  In many ways The Lizard is merely a plot device, which I suppose is a serious problem, but it does lead to an at least decent climax, so I’m not too bothered by it.

Even if you’re a huge fan of the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films, I think this version by Marc Webb is definitely worth your time.  The cast and characters are great, the story holds up, the action and choreography all suffice and it ends in a way that keeps us guessing.  I can safely say that I’m all for this version and can’t wait to see just where it’ll be taken next.

 
 

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Casting Calls That Could Have Been…

Most of us know the movie industry well enough to realize that initial casting choices are like kids and vegetables: They seldom stick.  Recent news that Leonardo DiCaprio was considered for The Riddler in The Dark Knight Rises has become the latest in many publicized could-have-beens.  Some might even remember that before Keanu Reeves, Will Smith was sought for the role of Neo in The Matrix.  Stretches like these happen quite frequently, which are generally…interesting to stumble upon.  So to find out just how bewildering initial considerations were, here’s a list of various roles that could have gone to somebody else.

Spider-Man: Leonardo DiCaprio and James Franco as Peter Parker.

The suit must be surprising comfortable.

While we’re on the topic of Leonardo DiCaprio and superhero films, he was actually one of the actors considered for the part of Peter Parker in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man.  And in a twist of heroes and (semi) villains, James Franco, who went on to play Harry Osborn, was also among the screen tested actors.  Leo sure seems to shrug away from superheroes.  He’ll play a full-on retard and controversial, supposed homosexual, but isn’t up to being a comic book hero or villain?  Where’s the fun in that?

The Shawshank Redemption: Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Nicolas Cage, Johnny Depp and Kevin Costner as Andy Dufrense.  And Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Paul Newman and Robert Redford as Red.

Prison does things to a man.

Yes, there were quite a few potential combinations for the roles of Andy and Red in The Shawshank Redemption.  Those who’ve seen the film know that Andy is a very subdued character, so I’m really flabbergasted that Nicolas Cage came to be considered.  But hey, maybe a transition Vampire’s Kiss to one of the few subtle Stephen King stories isn’t as much a jump as I suspect.  Though in all seriousness, Johnny Depp and Clint Eastwood playing together in the famous roles sure sounds interesting.  Maybe that way Clint could warn Johnny to back away from Tim Burton a bit earlier and keep his resume from molding up.

Titanic: Matthew McConaughey and Macaulay Culkin as Jack Dawson.

I know, right?

DiCaprio’s role as Jack Dawson in Titanic probably isn’t one that he’d label as self-defining.  But hey, it probably brought on a big, fat paycheck and plenty of attention-paying teenage girls; hard to complain with that!  And Matthew McConaughey has always struck me as a guy trying to be charming or suave, so I can understand his consideration.  Then there’s Macauley Culkin.  Who’d have thought Home Alone’s own Kevin could’ve followed up losing his family (twice) by dying on the infamous ship’s maiden voyage?  The kid hasn’t exactly had a brag-worthy career either; maybe he’s got some relation to Bad Luck Brian.  In all honesty, his twig of a body probably wouldn’t have endured past hauling Kate Winslet over the stern of the ship.  Can’t win ’em all.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Bill Murray, Steve Martin and Robin Williams as Captain Jack Sparrow.

Someone else playing me?  Hand up the rum.

Pirates of the Caribbean sat in development Hell for over a decade, with the story originally being pitched for Steven Spielberg to potentially direct.  At the time, the colorful lead character was pondered on quite a bit; and guess what?  Most of the initial actors lean(ed) towards silly, comedic roles!  Given the shaky track record Steve Martin and Robin Williams have, it’s weird to imagine them as the wobbly but strangely thoughtful captain.  As for Bill Murray, he just seems to come off as dryly sarcastic, so I’m not sure how colorful and upbeat he’d be.  I think this is just one more instance that the final choice is one we can agree was for the best.

Air Force One: Kevin Costner as President Marshall.

Surely the make-up wouldn’t be THAT bad?

Oh the many, many actors we’d rather see as the President of the United States.  Many people (including myself) absolutely loved Harrison Ford as the fictionalized President in Air Force One, a film light on plausibility but heavy on entertainment.  Although any movie where the President is a decent individual–let alone a badass who does things himself–has no realism in this day and age.  Then there’s the insanely inconsistent Kevin Costner.  I might be alone here, but I think the man is talented and is given too much flak.  I could see him playing the President quite well, though I doubt his voice would command nearly as much as Ford did.  But hey, this role wasn’t such a waste; I’m sure The Postman will live on with much more respect and recognition.

Alien: Veronica Cartwright as Ripley.

Switch roles?  You got a face-swap for us?

Right now one might make an argument the Alien franchise has hit the point of being milked.  Even so, throughout the course of over thirty years now, the role of Ripley in each Alien movie has become a bit of an icon.  And with a character this memorable, you can be sure a lot of it has to do with the actress, to which Sigourney Weaver proved to be likable in each film.  Now, looking back, could we see another actress tackling and sticking with the role?  One of the other Alien stars, Veronica Cartwright, was actually considered for the key role.  I for one could see her playing Ripley in Alien, but I’m not so sure about the sequels.  But thanks to the way Weaver handled her speech at the end of Alien, she ultimately got (and stuck with) the role.

Sandra Bullock as Maggie in Million Dollar Baby

We’re not convinced.

Here’s one we can shrug aside in hindsight, since both ladies in question were given an Academy Award.  But at the time of Million Dollar Baby’s release, you’d have to wonder even more just what Maggie could have been like.  I won’t hide that I’m not the biggest Sandra Bullock fan, finding her to essentially be a more famous Linda Hamilton.  She has talent, but I’m glad that Swank was chosen, since I always find her to be a versatile actress–precisely what the role called for.

Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder as Queen Ravena in Snow White and the Huntsman

Angelina gets to play a make-up and costume-drenched freak after all.  Happy seasons!

For one of these actresses, I can definitely see why they were considered.  For the other, I can’t imagine it.  But given the final choice, I’m thankful.  Angelina Jolie seems to be an immediate go-to actress for these big, tough female characters.  And I might risk what little reputation I have already, but she can never suspend me.  I feel that her as the Evil Queen wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting, but it’s probably more than what I can say for Ryder.  She’s certainly a likeable actress, but as the intimidating villain?  Sorry, but her child-like face just doesn’t scream evil or queen-like in any way.

Chloe Grace Moretz and Shailene Woodley as Katniss in The Hunger Games

Does this face scream bows, burns and harsh survival?

Here are two young actresses I’m quite fond of, despite having only seen one or two performances by each of them.  Chloe Grace Moretz of Hugo and Kick-Ass has already established herself as more adaptable than most adult actresses.  And Shailene Woodley turned out to be perhaps the biggest, most pleasant surprise of The Descendants.  That said, this is another instance that I must say I’m content with the final choice.  Jennifer Lawrence is another still-rising actress who’s impressed me with her filmography thus far.  For the role of Katness, I think she pulled it off better than the others could since she seems more physically adept (please don’t take that out of proper context).  The performance likely would have been great if any of the other two were chosen, but Lawrence just looks the part so much more.

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2012 in Film, Movies

 

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Theater Feature: Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

Welcome to the latest in a long line of adapted material made for film: Snow White.  The industry is at a point where originality is hardly of concern for writers, producers and studios.  What else can help to explain the early release of the comical Mirror Mirror prior to the serious, superior version?

As for Snow White and the Huntsman on its own, what we have is a film that surprises as much as it disappoints.  The film looks beautiful, but that only cuts so deep.  The action and circumstances get crazy and interesting, but often with the absence of vital explanations and details.  Nevermind the abrupt opening, because even for a two-hour flick Snow White and the Huntsman feels very underutilized.  A lot of ground is apparently covered, which would be fine if everything didn’t come up so conveniently.

For all the darkness and divergences, Snow White and the Huntsman is still fundamentally the fairy tale it takes inspiration from.  But even then so much feels made up along the way.  The result is a lack of true fulfillment and the occasional eye-rolling moment.  It’s all a shame too, as there’s a lot of potential here.  If the film was really going to work with everything it had in place, then it should have gone all out with its epic characteristics.  Snow White’s latest is pretty and certainly creative in many regards, but underneath is little more than skin and bones.

 
 

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Theater Feature: The Avengers (2012)

This past weekend brought the ultimate wet dream for comic book fans as The Avengers hit theaters, meeting with a pleasant amount of praise along the way.  Factor in that it’s the latest in a long line of films from the past 3 years to set an opening weekend record and it’s bluntly obvious just about anyone remotely interested has already seen it.  At this point it’s literally pointless to ask-then-answer whether the film is good or not, so I’ll be taking a less conventional approach with this review.  In case you haven’t seen The Avengers, be warned this review will be FULL OF SPOILERS.  If you just want my quick thoughts on the film without having too much ruined, all you need to know is that The Avengers is a damn good time and perfect for a theatrical viewing.  Also, if you’re going to watch it in 3D, then be sure you catch it in IMAX, since this is far from the 3D quality seen in the first 15 minutes of Hugo.

MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Like I said, the film is a great time and one of the few that can warrant more than one theatrical viewing, if your wallet/bank account is feeling overly generous.  While a lot of this has to do with the well done action scenes, I actually found myself most invested when the characters were simply talking to each other.  Literally everyone has wonderful chemistry, whether the playfulness between Bruce and Tony or the family problem feuds between Loki and Thor.  Call me crazy, but I actually wanted to hear more of the big argument scene around the halfway mark.  Perhaps it’s a testament to the writing and/or characters, or maybe I’m so used to watching dramas and wish every argument could be a film itself (much like 12 Angry Men).  But I digress.

Another reason the film works so well is the humor, which definitely derives from the writing.  Just about any scene involving Tony Stark or the Hulk is comedic gold and if you disagree then your laughing strings are beyond withered.

One question I’m surprised hasn’t been asked more frequently is who everyone’s favorite Avenger is.  Tony Stark is his usual, brilliant, egocentric self; Thor is rash but good-hearted; Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce/Hulk is a great combination of thought and comedy; Captain America is the typical (but terrific) relatable, all around good guy; and Black Widow and Hawkeye are the determined, somewhat dryly humorous agents.  It’s truly a clash of awesomeness, which is a testament to this film’s build up and execution.  The last Avenger movie I saw leading up to this was Captain America–while it was still in theaters, so quite a few months separated my attachment from The Avengers.  But much like Fast Five, that didn’t matter; the characters were enjoyable and likable, so connecting wasn’t much of an issue.

If it sounds like The Avengers is the perfect summertime action film, that’s because it is.  But of course, like its predecessors (whether spiritual or not), it isn’t without a few problems.  Many of these might be nitpicks, but they exist.  First off, there’s a rumor that about 2 hours of footage was cut, which definitely show.  For a 140-minute movie, The Avengers really flies by, and even on my first viewing I had a feeling of where certain scenes were likely cut.  It’s a shame studios won’t give us everything up-front; films like Das Boot and each Lord of the Rings have cuts going for about 4 hours or more, each far superior to the theatrical version.  I suppose it’s just one more way to gip us when the movie comes out on DVD/Blu-ray (then we’ll have a longer cut for a gigantic box set that’ll make Harry Potter roll in his grave).

There were also a few small, unanswered questions I had throughout.  One of the biggest ones was what happened to Peggy from Captain America?  Sure, she probably got old and passed away, but I thought she’d at least get closure.  What also surprised me is that we never see Captain America ask about her, but we get confirmation that Thor’s love interest was flown out.  Speaking of which, what about Bruce Banner’s love interest?  We never even get a hint about her in this film.  I guess Gods really do get everything while humans get screwed over.  Sure, I’m not much for romantic subplots, but they should at least be resolved if included, instead of simply being cast aside.  Hopefully these are things that Thor 2, Captain America 2 and the next Hulk film will answer.

Also, I’m not sure if I’m alone on this, but did anyone else feel a bit of sympathy for Loki?  Yes, the film does do one hell of a job portraying how ruthless he can be, but I always got the impression he had some reluctance and was constantly trying to set it aside.

Despite my questions and quibbles, The Avengers does still stand as a fine way to start the summer off.  It might be easy to say that it’s all downhill from here for the season and superhero films, but I’d categorize the film as almost-amazing rather than flat-out awesome.  The Avengers certainly doesn’t hold a torch to The Dark Knight and I’d be surprised if The Dark Knight Rises happens to be inferior, but we are talking about very different films.  Ultimately, I’m in agreement and on the bandwagon: The Avengers is just a great film.

 

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Quote Review: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

“The first of many.”

With a summer full of straightforward action films cluttering 2011, Captain America finds itself sitting comfortably in the middle. We get a good (re)introduction to the character, played surprisingly well by Chris Evans.  Granted, like the other summertime films of the year, there are plenty of flaws to find here (especially if you tend to nitpick). But since this is really our first taste of another Avenger, these issues shouldn’t bother or come to-mind for the more casual viewer. If you didn’t have enough options throughout the summer for sufficient action, then this will suffice for quenching your appetite.

Did you enjoy Captain America?  Share your thoughts and comment below!

 
 

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