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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Wolverine

REDEMPTION
The Wolverine - Redemption

It would be such a beautiful thing to one day have Sony, 20th Century Fox, and Disney to all sit down, enjoy a beer and say, "Hey, let's all work together and share these wonderful, and lucrative, Marvel Comics characters will own, and get Oprah rich!"

That will probably never happen, but being the optimist and a person who believes in the mantra "Money Talks, Bullshit Walks," one day it will happen and we will see Spider-Man joining up with Wolverine to fight Hulk while the Fantastic Four are fighting Thanos while Galactus and The Watcher look on.  Sure, it's going to take millions, if not billions of dollars, but the bottom line for studios is seeing their bottom line in the black.

Fox has a sordid history with their Marvel properties,  Sure, "X-Men: First Class" was a surprise hit, but there are more "Fantastic Four II:  Rise of the Silver Surfer" and "X-Men: The Last Stand" and don't even get me started started on "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," but that brings me to Fox's latest X-Men offering, "The Wolverine" the redemption that Fox needed in order to gain momentum and hype for the much anticipated "X-Men: Days of Future Past" film in 2015.

Once again Hugh Jackman is back as Logan aka, Wolverine.  We pick up after the events of "The Last Stand" where Logan is living alone in the Yukon wilderness still haunted by visions of Jean Grey, whom he killed when she descended into the madness that was Dark Phoenix.  While in town to teach some hunters a lesson in proper bear disposal, he is confronted by Yukio, a young mutant with the power to tell the future, even though odd enough you never see her use her power, but she is a bad-ass with a samurai sword.  Yukio convinces Logan to come with her to Tokyo to pay respects to a man that he saved in the bombing in Nagasaki during World War II.  Sure enough, Logan is forced to embrace his savage nature once again fighting off Yakuza and members of The Black Clan (I wish they would have just used The Hand, but you take what you can get).  During the course of his Japanese vacation, Logan loses his healing powers, finds redemption, and fights Silver Samurai.  Not all fun in the sun for our hero, but for fan boys that follow the Chris Claremont/Frank Miller Wolverine Japanese adventures, you'll probably geek out a few times.

This isn't to say "The Wolverine" is without problems.  There are plot holes, characters that either go unused or underutilized, and in a few scenes some really bad shaky cam.  Being that this film was directed by James Mangold, who I have tremendous respect for, I expected some better camera work, but considering this is his first superhero movie, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.  Mangold is able to bring a good balance to this film by combining a lot of genre elements that work.  The allusions to ronins works really well in Logan's case since for all intensive purposes he is a ronin; a man without a master who is forced to live forever and be on his own.

"The Wolverine" gives some extra depth to the character that "X-Men Origins" fumbled with.  We know that Logan is having a difficult time dealing with the death of Jean Grey while trying to create a new life in Japan with another woman.  We also see his struggle with trying to keep his feral side contained while also dealing with the lose of his biggest mutant asset; his healing factor.  But the loss of his healing factor makes him feel something he's never felt before; humanity.  Logan has never had a fear of death due to his mutant ability and for the first time we see a vulnerable super hero who is trying to build a new life in a foreign land.  Hugh Jackman, who I give tons of credit to for returning time and time again to portray Wolverine, gives a nuanced yet complicated performance this time around.  Jackman was born to play Logan, just like Robert Downey Jr. was born to play Iron Man, and his love for the character really shines through this time around, and that's not to say it didn't in "X-Men" or X2: X-Men United" but "The Wolverine" lives up to it's name and you get wall-to-wall Wolverine from the get-go.

With "The Wolverine," Fox finally seems to be getting back on track with their super hero/X-Men properties.  Of course it takes more than just one movie to settle a fan-base down, and while "First Class" was a solid start and "Wolverine" continues the trend, "Days of Future Past" is a huge gamble and the "Fantastic Four" re-boot is still developing.  The problem with studios that own Marvel properties aside from Marvel Studios themselves, is lack of long term awareness.  For Sony and Fox it seems to be more of a cash grab than giving the source material a chance to shine, or simply bastardizing the source material to appeal to tweens, case in point "The Amazing Spider-man."  With "Wolverine" Fox took a chance and told an X-Men story that not many people outside of the comic book reading community would know, and judging by the box office in the first week, both domestic and foreign, the film is being received well.

I'm not going to say the "Marvel Studios Method" was used for "The Wolverine" but the fact that source material was used in an effective way while adding to the X-Men mythos while prepping for the most ambitious X-Men film to date, it finally seems like Fox has a game-plan.  Of course it's not as ambitious as what Marvel Studios is doing, but its a hell of a lot better than Warner/DC.

Fun Fact:  Wolverine's first appearance was in The Incredible Hulk #180.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

V/H/S/2

WORTHY
V/H/S/2 - Worthy

There are certain things in life that you can count on; death, taxes, and numerous sequels to horror films.  Trust me, it's inevitable once a studio smells money, not to mention the fact that horror films are normally the cheapest genre films to make, especially when those horror films are of the "found footage" variety.  Thankfully, it seems that this horror genre is starting to wind down, but when its done right and provides a story and narrative that is not only scary but provides just enough humor, it can be tolerable.  This brings me to the sequel to 2012's "V/H/S" entitled what else, "V/H/S/2" a worthy sequel to the sleeper hit.

To start, if you haven't seen "V/H/S" there really isn't a need.  Sure, it's entertaining and when watching the sequel you might catch a few Easter eggs from the first film, but aside from that nothing really carries over aside from the format, which features a wrap-around story and four segments that play out over VHS tapes viewed by our "protagonists." The stories run typical horror movie tropes like ghosts, zombies, demons, and aliens, but it's how the stories are told that really make "V/H/S/2" better than it's predecessor.

Part of the fun of "V2" (yes, that's what I'm calling it the rest of this review because of sick of typing three /) is knowing that the people in charge are fans of the genre themselves.  From Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale, the team behind "The Blair Witch Project" the harbinger of modern "found footage," to Jason Eisener, the genius behind "Hobo With a Shotgun."  And while the stories have their ups and downs, namely the wrap-around story, there is just enough freshness injected into the genres that we've all seen before, where they seem fresh again.

The basis of "V2" revolves around two private detectives searching for a missing person.  Their keen detective skills take them to an abandoned house that, surprise surprise, is filled with VCRs and piles of VHS tapes.  Of course its only a matter of time before we get to see what's on the VHS tapes, and while the stories all have their own niche, some are better than others.  The first tape "Phase 1 Clinical Tests" is a strong start, but if you've seen the segment from "John Carpenter's Body Bags," Eye, you've seen this story before.  But the strongest story, Safe Haven, sets the bar pretty high if there are going to be more editions of "V/H/S" in the future.  Gareth Evans, the director of "The Raid: Redemption," pulls what he knows about Indo-China and puts a horror/religious cult/zombie/Apocalypse spin on it.  It might seem like a mish-mosh of multiple genres, but it works really well with plenty of suspense and a funny little twist come the end of the story.

One of the weaker segments is "Slumber Party Alien Abduction."  Sure enough, the title of the segment tells you everything you need to know;  there's a slumber party, and aliens invade.  While the story is weak and you see everything coming a mile away, the introduction of the aliens works well, along with some decent scenes of suspense, but the fact that you want the characters in the segment to all die/be abducted, takes away from the overall feel of the segment.  Yes, all the characters pretty much all talk like they walked off the set of "Hobo With a Shotgun," but that doesn't make it good.

If you've become as jaded as I have with the horror genre, "V2" is a shot in the arm once again.  Thankfully, the "torture porn" era has been ushered out, but it's been replaced with "found footage porn," which just sounds like an film you'd go buy down at your local XXX Emporium now that I think about it, and personally I much rather see Sasha Gray getting filled out like an application by Evan Stone than see another "Paranormal Activity" sequel, but I digress.  "V/H/S/2" is a sequel that takes what was best about it's predecessor and expands on the visuals, storytelling, and overall feel.  There is a greater sense of dread in each story, maybe because if you're a fan of anthology horror you always know that there is a twist.

What's been missing from the horror genre for the past decade is that sense of dread.  Yes, the gore has gotten better and the body count has gone up, but if your sole purpose as a horror director is to simply gross the audience out and not provide any "horror," than what's the point.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good gore-fest, I mean I loved the "Evil Dead" remake and that was a blood-spewing extravaganza.  My point is that while studios and directors stick to the same tropes in horror that sell, when is the genre allowed to grow?  "V2" shows that the genre still has some fresh ideas, and when you get enough creative people together that love horror films, new ideas can be milked from an already tired sub-genre, namely, zombies, in the segment "A Ride in the Park."

Bottom line, take "V/H/S/2" for what it is; an all-around solid horror flick that has some staying power.
Considering the fact that website, Bloody Disgusting, is involved, there are some good minds behind possible sequels, and I'd personally like to see a few more established horror directors hop on board, such as Adam Green, Eli Roth, and maybe some old school types like Stuart Gordon or (just wishing here) Guillermo del Toro.  Blockbuster Video might be gone, but make it a "V/H/S/2" night.

Fun Fact:  VHS tapes typically record using three formats; SP (Standard Play), LP (Long Play), and SLP (Super Long Play).

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Only God Forgives (DJ's Take)

BLANK
All my cards on the table.  I love the film Drive.  I own the dvd, I own the soundtrack, I own the poster, and to be honest, I was a second thought away from owning that satin scorpion racing jacket.  I get really frustrated when the now overly cynical, "If something is trying to be cool I'll automatically hate it" film critic says they despise Drive.  It is a perfect example of minimalism done right.  Minimalism used in an action/drama film that made it into something fresh and different.  So, when I heard that star Ryan Gosling and director Nicolas Winding Refn were teaming up again, I was excited.  However, after watching their new film Only God Forgives, I have to say that this is an example of minimalism done wrong.  When word got out of audience members booing and walking out of the premier at Cannes, I was very puzzled.  I can always understand not liking a film afterwards, but booing and walking out during, baffles me.  What could be so bad?  Well, within the first ten minutes there are certainly reasons to warrant a conservative audience uprising.  As a whole, the film has subject matter offensive and violent enough to have me second guess the rating.  However, the film's biggest crime for me was the emptiness of it.  Only God Forgives provides little in the way of plot and character development.  And the crime is, that it is set up to give you so much more.

Now I know what you're probably thinking.  How could you criticize Only God Forgives for using a style that Drive also uses?  Well, Drive was originally intended to be another cliched action vehicle much like The Transporter.  There was nothing really there originally that we hadn't seen already in regards to the story and characters.  A mysterious rebel who wants to do good but is pulled back into a life of crime to protect the woman he loves.  Winding Refn's decision to pull back on the cliche and make Drive more dramatic and serious and realistic separates it from the rest in the genre.  Only God Forgives, on the other hand, is not a traditional action/drama set up.  Yes, you could say there is a revenge angle going on.  However, the setting of the film, the symbolism of the film, and the creepy family dynamic of the film are all begging to be explored.  It really isn't.  In Drive, despite Gosling's man of few words gimmick, the supporting characters give you something to chew on.  Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston, and the amazing Albert Brooks fill in the gaps the film's stoic hero leaves.  In Only God Forgives, we are left with only one character that does that.  The deplorably offensive Crystal, played to perfection by Kristin Scott Thomas.  Unfortunately, she can only fill so many BLANK spaces before you're left wanting.  In Drive, the BLANKS were there but in fewer frequency.  When they did show up, because it was material you were familiar with, your imagination could fill them in.  So, an uncomfortably sweet conversation in the hallway with Gosling and Carey Mulligan isn't as jarring.  The world of Only God Forgives is very unfamiliar.  The characters are very unfamiliar.  The situations are very unfamiliar.  So, when you're searching for the motivations and thoughts of a character, you're just left with a BLANK.

If you think Gosling's Driver said and expressed little in Drive, just wait until you see Only God Forgives.  Julian Thompson feels like a stranger to us throughout.  Gosling's perpetual sphinx-like expression hurts the character more than adds to his mystery.  One could assume this was done to heighten the effect of Julian's later emotional outbursts as was done in Drive.  However, Winding Refn's stripping down of his personality and emotion seems to have passed the breaking point.  Though it may be the dialogue fiend in me, but he just seemed like a character that would be better suited talking a good game.  He's a fight promoter for crying out loud!  I personally think Gosling is a very good actor and when given more things to do emotionally and expressively, he usually knocks it out of the park.  He's grasping at straws here.  The...um...villain I guess (He's more reactionary if you think about it.  And God himself if you REALLY think about it.), played by Vithaya Pansringarm, is another great character with sadly minimized background.  It works more for him seeing as the mysterious villain is a familiar concept.  However, when the protagonist and antagonist of your story are both practically mute, their dynamic suffers.  Drive, again, didn't have this problem because Albert Brooks filled those BLANKS.

The one true positive and apparent focus of the film is the stunning cinematography.  I got a hint of this during the trailer, but it barely scratches the surface of the amount of breathtakingly beautiful shots you'll see.  I haven't seen scenes this colorfully vibrant and skillful composed since Skyfall.  Props should be given to acclaimed cinematographer Larry Smith of Eyes Wide Shut fame and Winding Refn himself.  However, the look of the film seems to be the only place where Winding Refn spent his time.  There really could have been some great material fleshed out of that script if he wanted.

It is thought to be a good thing to leave the people wanting more.  However, a film with too much of too little can run the risk of appearing unclear, disjointed, and lazy.  Now, I know Nicolas Winding Refn isn't lazy.  He's a terrific filmmaker.  The style of Only God Forgives seems to be a choice.  In my opinion, it wasn't entirely the right one.  Crank up the karaoke machine...roll up your sleeves...watch it...then tell me I'm wrong.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Simplistic Reviews Podcast: One Year Anniversary Extravaganza



It's hard to believe that Simplistic Reviews has been around for one year.  You would have thought that the FCC, Michael Bay, or some other Hollywood douchebag would have called in a favor and had the three of us involved in an unfortunate electrical or chemical accident.  I guess they feared that if that happened we would genetically mutate and plan to conquer the world, or in the least just keep doing podcasts since their plans failed.  Well, we're not genetically mutating anytime soon, but we are going to continue rocking the Interwebs with our colorful dialogue and point-of-views

On a serious note, we would like to thank everyone who reads our reviews, leaves comments, likes our Facebook page, re-tweets our tweets, and/or listens to our podcasts.  As Simplistic Reviews enters our sophomore year we'll continue to either tear movies apart or heap unlimited amounts of praise upon them.

In this special podcast we look back at the first two films reviewed on the site, "Lethal Weapon" and "Die Hard" arguably the two best action movies of the 80's, if not, ever.  And since we like games so much, we introduce the newest Simplistic Reviews game, "Martin Or McClane" where we decide who has the best 80's hair, John McClane or Martin Riggs.  So sit back, relax, and enjoy this anniversary edition of The Simplistic Reviews Podcast.

Show Notes:

Lethal Weapon Review
Die Hard Review
Zack and Miri Make A Porno Review 


FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY.

Click HERE to listen to podcast

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Pacific Rim (Matt's Take)

Pacific Rim - Correct


CORRECT
In a movie climate of big booms, there is a vacuum of emptiness. You have "Transformers", "Man of Steel", and countless "Fast and the Furious" sequels where droves of people go just to see what I'll call "explosion porn." In a summer full of disappointment it's refreshing to finally see a big budget tent pole film live up to not only its potential, but gives even more. "Pacific Rim" might be the wild card blockbuster of this Summer, but it does everything correct.

I could make this review brief and just say "Rim" is great and you should plunk down $10 at your local multiplex and support a film that, one, doesn't take itself too serious, two, provides over two hours of action eye candy, and three, is a breath of fresh air in a time of cinema that relies on sequels that are inferior to its predecessors.  The sad part about "Rim" is that it will ultimately become a cult hit, which is odd for a film that cost upwards of $200 Million between it's production and marketing, but that is what Guillermo del Toro films are; cult hits that delivers fan service up the ass, but just don't make enough at the box office to call themselves "monetary hits" despite the fact that nearly all of del Toro's films have been critically lauded (I'm not including "Rim" in that bunch because at heart it's really just a bunch of dumb fun).

But what's wrong with dumb fun?  I mean "Grown Ups 2" made nearly $50 Million in it's opening weekend. "Grown Ups 2"?!  Really?!  A film that has plenty dumb, and I'm sure some people would say is "fun."  And this isn't going into an Adam Sandler rant.  I respect anyone that finds a niche and makes money off of it.  Del Toro has his niche, sci-fi and fantasy geeks, which are mostly single guys and girls between the ages of 18-35.  Seems like a solid demographic, right?  Not when you look at the ticket returns.  I can see "Hellboy" not making a ton of money.  It's literally a fringe comic from Dark Horse that not many people would know about outside the comic book reading public.  "Rim" should appeal to EVERYONE who saw all three "Transformers" film as well as anyone who saw "Cloverfield" or "Independence Day" or "Godzilla" or I could keep the list going but I won't.  My question is why didn't this film get the love, and money, it deserves its opening week.  Yes, it's the Summer and there are a lot of movies to see right now.  I'm not going to say they are good movies, but they're movies nonetheless.  What continues to befuddle me is the movie-going audience in this day and age.  They will celebrate sequel after horrible sequel, but when something interesting comes their way with the same thing they are watching over and over, they dare not give it a chance?  Rant end, now let's get to Grown U.....I mean "Pacific Rim."

In short, "Rim" is about a war between humans and giant sea monsters.  These monsters, or Kaiju, are creating havoc within the 'Ring of Fire" in the Pacific Ocean, decimating China, Japan, Australia, and the West Coast of the United States.  To combat this menace, the Jaeger Program was created.  A program comprised of giant robots piloted by humans, the robots, called Jaegers, hunt the Kaiju, engage them in combat, and most of the time defeat them.  Controlling the Jaegers requires a mind-meld between the pilots called "drifting" in which the pilots share memories, fears, and anger in order to fight better.  As the plot progresses we are introduced to your typical action movie archetypes; the loner with a past, the quiet girl that kicks ass, the grizzled guy in charge with a past, and your typical bad-ass roughnecks, but just become fodder for story's sake.  The whole story leads up to a final confrontation with "a category 5 monster" and when all seems lost for humanity....well, I'll stop there.

While acting isn't it's strongest suit, the camp element of robots fighting monsters makes the acting fit like a glove.  Even when Idris Elba gives his "Braveheart" speech, which is shoehorned in, I still felt inspired despite the fact I've heard the same speech in every sports film ever made.  Even though Charlie Day does his best Charlie Kelly the Scientist impression I still thought the character had a place in the film as a so-called "Kaiju groupie."

Yes, we've all seen "Rim" before, just not all in one film.  del Toro, a master of genre film-making, borrows what he likes best from "Aliens" all the way to H.P. Lovercraft, and creates a cohesive film filled with colorful characters, locations, and amazing action set pieces.  There isn't any new ground being broken which leads to my massive confusion of why this film isn't getting the love it should be getting.  Are we going cold turkey on big-budget robot/monster beat-em-ups?  In the case of "Transformers", I hope so, but not "Pacific Rim."  There is a love and commitment to detail in "Rim."  Keep in mind, this is the film that del Toro left "The Hobbit" for.  "The Hobbit," a guaranteed, and critic proof, hit, was put aside so he could create a wonderful genre piece that is now being overlooked by audiences.

I could be getting ahead of myself.  Perhaps word of mouth will help "Rim" in the coming weeks and it's box office receipts won't drop off too much, but it's Summer, where a film's time to make a dent in an audiences' wallet is limited, and it could be an uphill battle.  Regardless, the fact that "Pacific Rim" exists is a good for film.  It reinvigorates the "giant monster/robot" genre but it does it in a way that provides just enough heart and tongue-in-cheek fun where you wouldn't mind seeing more Kaiju vs. Jaeger fist fighting.  For a fun time, check out "Pacific Rim."

Fun Fact:  Having now appeared in five of del Toro's films, this is the first film where Ron Perlman plays a human character, Hannibal Chau.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Pacific Rim (DJ's Take)...And Inexplicably...The DC Film Universe

GEEKGASM
One question that has been plaguing my thoughts ever since I walked out of the dreary and utterly disappointing Man Of Steel.  That question is, why does DC/Warner keep entrusting their comic book movie properties to Christopher Nolan?  A man who set out to produce a Superman movie and wound up producing an Incredible Hulk movie more morbid and depressing than Ang Lee's, starring someone who resembles Superman in appearance but not in character.  A man who admittedly does not truly care for the material he is supposed to be translating into film.  A man who is admittedly apoplectic about the concerns of the comic book fans he's supposed to be catering to.  A man who feels more comfortable turning anything resembling a classic superhero into a moping, colorless, suicide inducing allegory for daddy issues.  Why would DC/Warner give their entire comic book HISTORY to him?  Yes, I know it's because Nolan is one of the finest directors working today.  Yes, I know it's because Nolan's Batman trilogy is a 3 billion dollar worldwide success.  Yes, I know it's because Nolan's Batman trilogy is also the most critically lauded and awarded comic book franchise ever.  Problem is that his bleek, moody, and dystopian societal outlook ONLY WORKS FOR F%*KING BATMAN.  Batman is a dark character.  So yes, the more gritty and realistic you make him, the better he gets.  However, that formula DOES NOT work for the entire DC Universe.  A flawed strategy I spoke about and foresaw during my Dark Knight Rises review almost a year ago.  DC/Warner was effectively entrusting the construction of their cinematic universe to someone who DID NOT want to construct their cinematic universe.  

You're probably asking yourself why am I ranting about Man Of Steel, Chris Nolan and DC/Warner in the beginning of a Pacific Rim review.  Well, it's because DC/Warner does have another director in their stable that not only knows the material, but has a genuine love for the material.  A man who should be constructing their universe.  That man is Pacific Rim's director Guillermo Del Toro.  Give me a reason why not him.  Worried Del Toro can't bring fun, eclectic comic book characters like Martian Manhunter, Flash, and Wonder Woman convincingly to life?  See Hellboy.  Worried Del Toro doesn't have the chops to do comic book perfect action scenes and sequences?  See Blade 2.  Worried Del Toro can't give a film pathos and originality?  See Pan's Labyrinth.  Worried that a comic book nerd would be the wrong choice to helm a superhero epic.  See Avengers.  Worried that a film like Justice League is just too big to bestow upon him.  Well, Del Toro was the first person Peter Jackson asked to do The Hobbit before scheduling conflicts interceded.  If Peter Jackson was willing to hand over the best fantasy franchise ever made to Del Toro, why is it such a far leap for DC/Warner to trust him with the JLA?  Del Toro's resume just grows and grows almost without notice.  Pacific Rim is just another awesome notch on his belt.

Rim is the fulfillment of a promise Del Toro delivered when he leaked the film's original title at Comic-Con. (Giant F%*king Robots Versus Giant F%*king Monsters)  This is a tech versus terror smörgåsbord that draws breath from it's Toho Company & Manga Studios predecessors and creates something amazingly fresh and original out of it.  If I was a producer on that 2014 Godzilla movie or that long awaited Voltron film, I'd shut down shop right now.  There is NOTHING I can think of that those two films can do to equal, let alone, top Pacific Rim.  Yes, Rim may be cliched empty calories as far as it's character archetypes and plot are concerned.  However, it is the most tasty empty calories you'll enjoy this summer and probably this entire year.  I haven't seen a film with as many GEEKGASM moments since The Avengers.  Instead of the action scenes being incomprehensible, emotionally hollow, blunders, with the visual resonating effect of a strobe light...(Hello Battleship and EVERY Transformers movie)...they end up being well crafted, stunning, and cathartic displays of raw violence.  The special effects here are, and I was convinced of this from just the trailer, the best I personally have ever seen.  That is not hyperbole.  Every effect, every monster tooth, every robot rivet, every building toppling explosion looks breathtaking and FINISHED.  Every penny of the budget and every drop of sweat from the VFX crew is on the screen from beginning to end.  Guillermo Del Toro understands the concept of fan service.  And instead of shying away from it like most, he embraces it.  He doesn't mind having a character in a giant robot shoot a fallen monster, video game style, as a joke just to get a "Hell, Yeah!" from the audience.  That is who I would want to make my comic book universe.  Someone who wants to please BOTH the fans and the uninitiated.  Someone who can have a balls to the wall battle scene and still have time to make the battle fun.  Yes, fun.  It is not a four letter word, literally and figuratively.  Fun is a word that needs to be the lifeblood of genre movies like this.  If it isn't fun, then why the hell should we watch?

Recently, DC/Warner announced that Nolan won't be producing the Justice League film.  However, it's a safe bet that they won't have the sense or vision to pick someone like Guillermo Del Toro to take the reigns.  They are losing the arms race to Marvel and it saddens me.  Not because I want them to win.  I love Marvel.  It saddens me because the two companies competing is better for the audiences than one totally dominating the other.  DC/Warner's savior is right in their face flapping his arms like a cartoon character, and they still can't see it.  Don't believe me?  Watch Pacific Rim...imagine while doing so the same care, fun and GEEKGASM moments put into a Justice League film....cry your heart out when you realize that will probably never happen....then tell me I'm wrong.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Man of Steel

Man of Steel - Sponsors
SPONSORS


The time is now for Warner Bros. and DC Comics.  The window has already closed to be able to compete with Disney and Marvel Comics so its time to just try and carve out a little bit of a niche for themselves.  Sure, Christopher Nolan's Batman Trilogy was a huge success, but that's over, and unless you thought "Green Lantern" was a good direction for DC Comics film-wise, well, I'd have to disagree with you on that one.  So with all their chips on the table, Warner/DC has decided to go for the Hail Mary.  That Hail Mary is "Man of Steel," sponsored by Sears, 7-11, IHOP, and of course, LexCorp.

Contrary to what you might hear about "Man" the film isn't that bad, sure its loud, bombastic, brash, and suffers from a severe case of style-over-substance.....hmmm, well, I guess "Man of Steel" isn't that great when I really stop and think about it.  While it has some good ideas, the way Superman is presented almost makes this attempt feel like this is a sequel to another film.  And while "Man" tries it's best to distance itself from the less-than-super "Superman Returns" there are too many scenes where director, Zack Snyder, once again, lets his ego get in the way and decides to make things explode as opposed to detailing the psychology of Clark Kent and how he's torn between being the last son of a dying world and the protector to a new one. Snyder shoehorns scenes of Clark's more impressionable years in Smallville, but the scenes merely feel like a feeble attempt at trying to make us feel like he has a soul and why he feels an obligation to the human race.  I almost feel "Man of Steel" would have been better suited as a trilogy as opposed to fitting everything into one giant action-fest.  Obviously Warners has no interest in another compelling "Dark Knight-like" trilogy, they are so busy trying to catch up to Marvel.  The one thing I will say is that Superman isn't as interesting to be able to fit into an entire trilogy like Bruce Wayne/Batman.

At the end of "Man" I was left both wanting more and wanting less, if that is possible.  The action scenes were both large in scope, but felt empty; the story of Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman was both easy to follow, yet lacked depth; and the story became inconsequential come the start of the 3rd act when everything that can go boom, goes boom.  I'm sure Michael Bay had plenty of tissue handy when he witnessed Metropolis being torn apart by a group of Kryptonians.

What troubles me the most about this new direction for Warner/DC is the world building, or lack thereof. Sure, you get a nod to LexCorp, Wayne Enterprises and other minor DC characters that may exist in this specific universe, but while Warner says they want to complete with Marvel in the superhero-movie-making business, they still seem to want to make self-contained films and somehow make them all gel.  If you go all the way back to when Marvel released "Iron Man" the plan was already in motion for more films within a coherent universe.  Marvel could have slapped "Iron Man" together and flown by the seat of their pants, but they made a conscience effort to create a world where other heroes could exist.  "Man of Steel" provides us with glimpses, or "Easter Eggs" of companies which have meaning to characters such as Lex Luthor, Batman, and Cyborg, but you're left to wonder how many movies it is going to take to finally set in motion a "Justice League" or even a "World's Finest" film.  At this stage in the game it looks like we'll get another "Man of Steel" film in 2015 and maybe a "Batman" reboot in 2016.  You might say "Well, you can't create an entire universe in just one film."  I'd say back "How come Marvel was able to do it, and make us believe they knew what they were doing from the get-go?"

In no way am I shredding this film, even though it might sound like it.  There are things I genuinely like about "Man of Steel."  I thought the acting and casting was spot on, and it looks like we finally have an actor playing Superman that we can believe in with Henry Cavill.  He fits the suit like a glove and his banter with Lois Lane, played wonderfully by Amy Adams, is vintage.  Michael Shannon continues to impress as General Zod and is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters actors in Hollywood.  The supporting cast is solid as well, including Russell Crowe as Jor-El and Lawrence Fishburne as Perry White, Chief Editor of The Daily Planet.

With "Man of Steel," Warner/DC neither loses ground or gains ground on the Disney/Marvel juggernaut.  If anything it washes the taste out of Superman fans mouths for "Superman Returns" and gives people plenty of explosions.  What it didn't do is break new ground.  Sure, Superman does some super things, but he also feels like a shell of what Superman should be; a protector of the Earth and Metropolis, not it's destroyer as seen in the final 30 minutes of "Steel."  This review sponsored by Wayne Enterprises.

Fun Fact:  General Zod's first appearance was in Adventure Comics #283 in 1961.

(Turn on the TV) The Bridge

AGAIN
The Bridge - Again

FX is known for putting out fantastic programming.  Just look at the catalog; "The Shield," "Justified," "American Horror Story," "Louie," and "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." Of course I'm missing a few, including "Archer" but you look at their lineup either currently or in the past, and you see the quality.  This brings me to FX's newest show "The Bridge" a look at crime on the border of Texas and Mexico.  After watching the pilot I was left thinking, "again?"

"The Bridge" is based on the Swedish TV series "Bron" which deals with crime on the Denmark-Sweden border.  Who'd of thought; crime in Denmark and and Sweden, I thought that only happened in Steig Larsson novels.  In this American version, two cops, Diane Kruger, who is ironically German, and Demian Bichir, who is in fact Mexican, so that helps, both find a body on the US-Mexico border.  It's discovered that the body was cut in half and comprised of two different bodies.  Intrigued?

Moving from the plot aspects to the character aspects for a second, I just want to comment on the character Sonya Cross, or North, depending where you read her character's name from.  Now this is the third show in the past year where the creators decided to go the now-cliched detective route, namely giving the main detective symptoms of Aspergers.  We've had "Sherlock" on the BBC, "Hannibal" on NBC, and now "The Bridge" on FX.  There used to be an age where cops or detectives had the cliche of having a gruff exterior with a soft interior, usually involving "a past event" that shaped their character, but now we are stuck with detectives and cops who have some sort of autism.  It was cute the first time, but personally I think it's time find a new cliche.

Being that the pilot was an "extended pilot" (clocking in at just over 90 minutes as opposed to your standard 60 minute program) we get some extra time with our main characters and our "killer."  Yet, I didn't really feel any type of investment with either North or her Mexican counterpart, Marco Ruiz.  The stakes seem higher for Ruiz who is balancing both personal and professional business in one of the most corrupt cities in Mexico, whereas the only thing we know about North is that she is a little off.

Stylistically, if you took the film "Savages" and gave it the Michael Mann treatment, that's exactly how "The Bridge" looks, which means it looks great.  I would even say that it even has a little "No Country For Old Man" vibe with the look and feel of the desert landscapes.  They always say imitation is the highest form of flattery.

Overall, "The Bridge" has potential, but in a TV landscape with every cop and procedural show trying to one-up the other when it comes to violence, gory, and autistic detectives, where does this show fit?  Being it's on FX, the pedigree is there, but it's where they decide to go with the characters that really matters.  If I want to see gory murders and detectives with problems I'll stick with "Hannibal."

Fun Fact:  According to The International Boundary and Water Commission, the US-Mexico border is approximately 1.954 miles long.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

White House Down

NO
Wash.  Rinse.  Repeat.  In this case, however, what we are washing is the previously TERRIBLE White House take over movie that came out only months ago in Olympus Has Fallen.  What we are rinsing it with is water more akin to the foul waste that made The Toxic Avenger and Emil from Robocop what they are today.  And what we are repeating is an idea that would only work for an easy to please audience perpetually living in the year 1992.  White House Down, surprisingly isn't the worst movie to come out this year. (Hi Lone Ranger)  But boy oh boy it misses that mark by only an ant hair.  I honestly had to go back and reread my previous review of Olympus Has Fallen just so I wouldn't duplicate it here.  White House Down makes all of the same ridiculous, clichéd, laughable, absurd mistakes as Olympus Has Fallen, but does it with a smile on it's face.  Because...that's...better?  Because director Roland Emmerich winks at us as he slips money out of our wallets, we should accept it?  NO.  And I don't want to hear how we should really lower our expectations when watching such a film.  I did.  What I ended up witnessing was even lower than my already low expectations.

For those who didn't watch the thousand and one ads run during the NBA playoffs, or...well...didn't see Olympus Has Fallen, White House Down is about a terrorist attack and take over of the aforementioned White House by a highly trained, highly committed paramilitary group.  A lone, not supposed to be there, regular joe/cop/bodyguard must rescue the President and take back the building.  To follow the lazy, insultingly daft parlance used by most...it is Die Hard...in the White House...again.  That is to say, it is Die Hard in the White House if Die Hard was a comedically awful film with brainless, horribly shot set pieces and bland, underwhelming performance AND NOT...THE BEST ACTION FILM EVER MADE.  Yeah, just like Die Hard.  Watching White House Down is not a popcorn flick experience.  It is merely a test of patience.  How long can you sit there and take stupidity masqueraded as brillance?  How long does the parent who knows their child has begun lying to them let their child continue?  How long do you let that strange and jittery pamphlet guy at the mall talk to you before you tell him you're not interested?  Not to get too political, but this would be a more Geneva Convention friendly, yet, still effective means of torture to inflict on the prisoners at Guantanamo Mr. President.   Perhaps you think I'm being too harsh?  NO.  This is me bitting my tongue.  It is that bad.

Hey remember when we saw Jamie Foxx win an Oscar for Ray...then we immediately saw him in the horrid Rob Cohen movie Stealth and were like, "Why the hell did Jamie Foxx do this?  He's better than this."  Then the sobering realization washed over us as that even celebrities like easy money too?  Well, yeah.  Wash.  Rinse.  Repeat.  Jamie is coming off of Django Unchained for crying out loud.  A terrific and under-appreciated performance that wonderfully captured the stoic and quiet hero of the Sergio Leone Spaghetti Westerns.  What does Roland Emmerich have him do here?  A two hour Obama impersonation.  NO.  I'm not sh%tting you.  The difference between Jamie's performance in White House Down as The President and a performance on SNL as President Obama is a studio audience.  You are better than this Jamie.  Damn!  I did it again.

My dislike of Channing Tatum stopped somewhere in between Haywire and 21 Jump Street.  He began not taking himself so seriously, stopped making Step Up movies, started working with really talented people, and found his niche as a performer.  However, his name in White House Down might as well be Channing Tatum because there is nothing here for him personality or character-wise.  Father and estranged daughter stuff you say?  NO.  It is a two minute, go through the motions, plot contrivance.  Good rapport with President Obama/Foxx?  NO.  The two of them displayed better chemistry in a mock rap video making fun of Channing's name.  It is funny and a bit disappointing that the best action vehicles Tatum has managed to star in either have him in it for less then ten minutes or is clearly a comedy.

The rest of the actors hopping on this paycheck train may not be as well-known as the inexplicably star studded cast of Olympus Has Fallen.  However, you'll still scratch your head wondering how Emmerich managed to cast them.  The always great Richard Jenkins, the undervalued Maggie Gllyennhaal, James Woods, Jason Clarke, Lance Reddick.  All of them seem so out of place here.  My only solace after seeing this was knowing that their 4th of July was probably spent on a newly bought boat instead of inside a quaint and quiet apartment.

To ask me what is better between Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down is like asking me is it better to be shot in the dick or to be shot in the dick.  They are both bad.  Both films try to force feed you bile while pretending it's caviare.  However, one just plays itself seriously while the other has a lousier poker face about it.  If I can offer an olive branch to these two films, I'd say this.   There is NO way to make a film about a White House take over in modern day and it not be ridiculous.  Solution?  STOP MAKING THEM!  NO more money shots of D.C. buildings blowing up.  NO more lax security at the most SECURED BUILDING IN THE WORLD.  I don't care how many inside men you have.  NO more poor attempts to portray the president as Rambo.  NO more misunderstandings and misuse of the constitution for plot convenience.   NO more dumb converting of famous quotes from our forefathers into groan inducing one liners.  NO more ripping off Die Hard.  Hell, Die Hard can't even rip off Die Hard anymore, so stop trying to do friggin' Die Hard!  Just...NO.  DON'T watch it...DON'T compare it to Die Hard...DON'T make anymore...and DON'T even bother telling me I'm wrong.

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