Monday, June 17, 2013

Man of Steel Review

If you're a super-hero nerd like myself, you have been anticipating Man of Steel for a long time and now that it's finally out you have either already seen it or you are wondering why the reviews for it seem to be so mediocre.  Having seen the movie I would have to say I'm slightly surprised by the stale response that critics had toward Man of Steel.  I was really into it.  Like all movies these days, it is impossible not to compare it to the slew of super-hero movies that have inundated cinemas for the past, let's say decade. Take this movie and release it 10 or even 5 years ago and it would have been one of the best things anyone has ever seen.  As such I can only conclude if you generally like super hero movies and don't like Man of Steel, it was for 1 of a few reasons.  Among them.

1) It wasn't Chris Nolan's Dark Knight Franchise.
2) It wasn't the Avengers.
3) Your standards for a movie about a guy who flies around in blue spandex are too high.

I'm not saying the movie was a flawless masterpiece, quite the contrary.  Just that it's a victim of it's own hubris and few movies could live up to the expectations that were placed on this Man of Steel movie.  I was never bored by it, except maybe during the last set-piece (more on that in a bit). The story was great and the action was for the most part fantastic.  Tonally, I would say it is somewhere between the brooding Dark Knight films and the action packed Avengers.  The movie was severely lacking humour though.  Don't get me wrong, I'm glad the movie wasn't the perpetual wise-cracking slapstick that was Iron Man 3. That wouldn't be consistent with the character.  But it didn't have to take itself as seriously as it did either.

It almost felt like 2 different movies. For the first 30 to 60 minutes, I was watching something spectacular.  The cinematography was gorgeous and it really drew me in.  It took its time telling a story.  This movie has Krypton like you have never seen it before, with eye-popping visuals, complex culture and politics.  They did a good job of giving us the Superman backstory without getting too bogged own in it.  It reminded me of Batman Begins.  They jump around in time so that you only get the information you need (though director Zack Snyder doesn't do it nearly as well as Chris Nolan).  By the time Clark Kent becomes Superman you're like, "Already?  Well, that was pretty cool."

And then, problems start to pop up.  The characters do and say things that don't make any sense.  Martha Kent's (Diane Lane) reaction to Superman saying, "I've found my people!" Was little more than a dry, "Good for you."  As if she couldn't care less.  Had I been Superman at that moment I would have been like, "Good for me...?  My people are aliens!  From outer space and I found them!  Our planet blew up, they're all dead!  Do you know what a planet is, Mom?  Also, I can freaking fly!  Mom?  Are you awake?"
Superman: "Mom, I'm from another planet that exploded and I'm the last of my kind."
Martha Kent: "Meh..."

You may have seen the scene in trailers where a young Superman, after rescuing a bunch of children from drowning in a bus, asks his father, "What was I supposed to do?  Let them die."  And a morally bankrupt Jonathan Kent played by Kevin Costner basically says, "Yes." Really??  The idea is supposed to be that Superman's adopted father is so worried that people will persecute Superman when they find out he's an alien, that he should keep his powers a secret, even if it means standing by and watching people die.  It gets a little strange.

"Clark... God clearly wanted those children to die. I know you have super powers but I don't want you going around saving people's lives!"
And then the ultimate sin of this movie comes in the last 45 minutes.  Non-stop, mind-numbing, senseless action.  There are times when the action is great.  But the final set-piece is way too long.  It was ALMOST as tedious to sit through as the ending of Transformers 2 and 3.  Buildings are crumbling to bits, Superman endlessly punches the villain, sending him flying through walls and even into outerspace.  At a certain point someone throws a train at Superman and then an orbital satellite which just made me laugh out loud.  It was overkill.  You'll hear this phrase in many reviews of Man of Steel.  "Less is more!"

Was the movie too melodramatic at some points?  Definitely.  But other times it was spot on.  Other times the action or the pacing just seemed off.  Other times it was perfect.  Henry Cavill's Superman didn't have great chemistry with anyone on screen from his parents to Amy Adams' Lois Lane.  I think he was trying too hard to be alien and otherworldly.  Sometimes it actually worked quite well in a scene, other times it was just creepy and weird. But there is no denying that he looks the part.

At the end of the day I would say, aside from a few misfires, it's a good movie.  After the origin story, which is as well known as the story of Jesus at this point, Man of Steel becomes an alien invasion story done sufficiently.  The invaders have history, and culture and motivation and are lead by a charismatic General Zod played by Michael Shannon who many critics feel was not in full form, but still very good.

The movie is inconsistent.  Its high points are incredibly high, and it's low points are jarring enough to take you out of the movie entirely.  But in many ways this is the Superman movie a lot of us have been waiting for.  Finally, he gets a worthy adversary!  The battle scenes in this movie are what has been missing from our Man of Steel all these years.
Time for an epic fight!  And by epic I mean long.
So, if you're a fan of Superman, comic books or the DC universe, I suggest you just roll with it.  Not all movies can be Dark Knight, or Avengers.  On the bright side the movie isn't Daredevil or Spider-man 3 either (yet).  Besides, we have tolerated all kinds of sub-par super hero movies.  When I think of Marvel's Thor, Captain America and Iron Man 2 as build ups to the Avengers, I would have to say that Man of Steel is at least as good or better than those, though it would have benefit from a little humour here and there. 

And, the good news is, with the success of this movie there is some hope that the DC Universe will finally find life at the cinema.  Justice League movie?  More Batman movies?  That's all us fanboys want.  So I choose to give Man of Steel a break and say it was enough that it wasn't terrible.  The plot held together relatively well, it was exciting and I was rarely ever bored by it..

3.75 choo-choo trains to the face out of 5

A few very minor spoilers.  If anyone has seen the documentary, "An Evening With Kevin Smith" you will probably remember his story about the brief time he was hired to write for the Man of Steel movie.  This was back in 2001 and he tells a great story about producer Jon Peters, who is in fact one of the producers of Man of Steel today. The story goes that Jon Peters insisted that Superman have a giant spider in it for no apparent reason and that polar bears guard the Fortress of Solitude.  Though Jon Peters eventually got to shoehorn a giant spider into the movie, Wild Wild West I think it's pretty clear that the World Engine is some kind of giant spider.  Also, there is a very odd shot of a polar bear early in the movie. Start watching at 5:18 for the Jon Peters story.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Arrested Development, season 4

I know that all my fans are waiting with bated breath to hear what I think of the resurrected Arrested Development. Having finished the season yesterday, I have a few thoughts.

First, some background. I was a day 1 fan of the show. I remember catching the first episode when it aired, way back on Sunday, November 2, 2003, and I was hooked ever since. I couldn't tell people to watch the show fast enough but my influence obviously isn't as widespread as I would have liked, and thus the show was cancelled. For years, whenever some terrible TV series would get crazy ratings, I'd always say my go-to line, "and yet they cancelled Arrested Development". The worst part about Netflix reviving the series is that they've taken this line away from me.

A new start for the series on Netflix

But now, 7 years later, it's a new start for the show, due to the fan base growing since it was axed, discovering the show on DVD and especially Netflix. So was it worth the wait? It depends. I find that this season, more than any of the others, requires repeat viewings, and I'll tell you why. More than ever, this season is serialized, heavily so. In fact, the entire season takes place during a handful of events, and we see them played out, out of order, from the points of view of all the different characters. It's apparent that the actors' availabilities resulted in this structure so if you're waiting for everyone to interact with each other, you'll be disappointed at how infrequently this occurs. If you're a Buster fan, prepare to be sad. I found that Buster had the least screen time. Is he the busiest of the actors? I don't know but it's a shame because his episode near the end of the run was pretty funny. But as I wrote, after finishing the series, if you were to go back and watch earlier episodes of the season, more pieces would fall into place, strengthening many of the moments from early episodes, when the viewer would be confused as to what's happening in an initial viewing.

That's the case with this season: the funniest episodes are in the last half, and that's due to the structure I mentioned above: seeing the same scenarios play out from multiple points of view. After watching the series once, I found myself more confused than anything for the first few stories. It's constantly jumping around in time and is far more focused on laying the groundwork in terms of story than in telling jokes, so don't expect to laugh out loud at first. I would say the first strong episode is the first one that focuses on Tobias and then the first one that focuses on Gob. The least funny are George Sr. and Lindsay, if you can even recognize her reconstructed face. Gradually, as you progress and get an idea of the timeline of events, I became more familiar with the situations and the jokes strengthened.

At least she seems to have a sense of humour about it, judging by all the plastic surgery jokes they make at her expense in the series
Sometimes, you'll have one character come into a scene and say some non sequitur or do something baffling that isn't funny and you're left wondering what happened only to watch an episode in the back half to see the situation for their point of view and finally get the joke. I found it a bit frustrating for the show to not tell a straightforward story in any given episode, but once it got going around the halfway mark, it definitely had its moments and justified its continued existence. Here's hoping for a fifth season where the actors' might be more available so that the writers could tell their stories in a more traditional, linear manner.

-The back half of the season is up to par
-Gob, George Michael, Tobias still very funny
-Return of your favourite guest characters from the series
-Lots of callbacks to old recurring gags, and some new recurring gags as well
-In-jokes about Imagine Entertainment were good if you got them

-The episodes are way too long (over 30 minutes each), resulting in a feeling of dragging and filler content
-Lindsay, George Sr. episodes lacking
-Weak first half of the season
-Not much weight to the season finale
-Not enough Buster
-Not enough of the ensemble together

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Iron Man 3

Who will deliver the goods this summer?  Iron Man or Man of Steel?
I've been sitting on this review for a while, not quite sure if my opinion on it is set in stone.  Even while watching Iron Man 3 I went through periods of loving it to periods of hating it.  What's clear is Iron Man 3 is a movie that seems so eager to please.  I think they tried to do too much with it and the end result is a mixed bag.  Sometimes it's trying to be a character movie with Tony Stark suffering anxiety attacks in the wake of his harrowing experience in the Avengers movie.  Then they have some very dark scenes with the movies main villain, the Mandarin, played by a creepy and ruthless Ben Kingsley.  Then it alternates between being a buddy comedy, with Tony and Rhodes (Don Cheadle was badass!), a buddy comedy with Tony and some little kid (which was funny).  It's also a Bond movie, a slapstick comedy and of course a super hero movie.

All the little parts work really well on their own, the movie's funny, the action is great, somehow I just felt when it all came together it seemed like too much.  Robert Downey Jr. is Robert Downey Jr and therefore fun to watch.  His scenes with Don Cheadle are lots of fun but far too few.  Ben Kingsley was excellent as the Mandarin and almost all of his scenes were really strong. Guy Pearce was fairly interesting villain.   Sadly though, the weakest part of the movie for me ends up being the 'super-hero' part.  Stark spends a good part of the movie out of armour, having anxiety attacks, bickering with Gwyneth Paltrow and doing other things I could have done without.  Worse stilll, when he is in armour, you don't really care.  Probably because there is so much over the top, almost cartoonish action taking place that the movie loses a lot of tension.  And by the time the movie gets to the scene with dozens of Iron Mans flying around, the thrill of seeing Iron Man is completely gone and the grandiose super hero is somewhat diminished.

I like Iron Man.  I like bacon.  Would I eat 20 packs of bacon?  Maybe.  But this is too many Iron Mans.
The movie is really funny, but this eventually becomes a problem for me.  On the one hand they seem to want this to be a darker Iron Man. On the other hand any time things are about to get serious and you get any sense of menace, they undo it with some comedy.  Something horrible happens, then there's a cheesy one liner or comedic slapstick.  So tonally it sometimes comes off as sloppy to me. Add to that, all the characters are too quick to deliver one liners.  So not only are there dozens of Iron Man suits, there's also dozens of Robert Downeys.  Didn't bother me too much, but you notice it.

Then, there is the twist! The plot twist in Iron Man 3 has been very polarizing and I can't say too much about it without spoiling the movie.  But I will say that when I first saw it I felt let down.  No, that's not strong enough.  I was incensed!  As a comic book fan, what they did was nothing short of heresy. However, as the movie progressed I grew to appreciate it and now I even think it's pretty clever.  I guess the director was making a satirical statement about the face of terrorism by the end.  I can appreciate what the movie was trying to say, but then they play even that for laughs and we're back to status quo comedy and frenetic action.

Ben Kingsley as Osama Bin Ladden as the Mandarin.  Not the villain we deserve, but the villain we need?
Iron Man 3 is hit and miss for me.  Maybe it sounds like I didn't enjoy it, but I really did.  Good laughs, good action...  It's just that as a follow up to the Avengers it's bound to disappoint some and the geek in me really wanted more. The painful reality is that no super hero movie this year is going to be as completely satisfying as the Avengers.  I'm almost dreading Captain America, Wolverine and Thor and I fear the Marvel vehicle may run out of steam before the year is up.  The consequence of the Avengers movie is, the Marvel movies up until that point were all building up to this big amazing thing.  We were paying our dues because the promise was a big payoff!  We've seen the Avengers and it was everything fans wanted.  Now we have to go back to the milquetoast adventures of the individual characters again : Hero X has girlfriend Y and fights villain Z.

Not that the movies will necessarily be bad, I'll probably even enjoy them, but they certainly won't be amazing.  Also, Iron Man is the strongest of those characters, so as far as Marvel Movies this year, we've already peaked.  In short, the only Marvel movie I'm really anticipating at this point, is Avengers 2.  I'm hopeful that with Man of Steel on the horizon and the Dark Knight trilogy still a fan favourite, it may be DC's chance to take back its throne at the box office becoming the paragon of super hero movies once again. Here is what nerds like me are hoping for.  1) Man of Steel is amazing. 2) Chris Nolan gets involved with making a Justice League movie (or at very least a World's Finest movie) and 3) we get to see a few new DC superheroes get their own movies in the next year or so (and those movies won't suck).

Quite frankly, if Man of Steel doesn't deliver in a big way, I ... I just don't know.

3.5 exploding bad guys out of 5

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness and a list of my favourite Star Trek movies

I am a hardcore Trekkie.  Star Trek is a rare example of optimistic sci-fi, one that paints a future where diverse cultures get together to make the universe a better place.  Over the years that theme has taken a back seat to things with wider appeal and cheaper thrills : special effects, action, sex, youth...  Consequently, although I enjoyed the rebooted Star Trek of 2009, I wasn't thrilled by it. It was just a fun sci-fi action movie with characters I used to know and love inserted into a paper thin plot.  There was a generic villain who wanted to destroy the universe (why?) and a handful of heroes dressed up as Kirk, Spock and Uhura to take him down.  Fun movie, but was it a Star Trek movie?

I saw this movie a few hours ago and can't remember why this woman is in her underwear.
That said, the latest entry into this franchise, Star Trek Into Darkness came as a very unexpected surprise for me.  First off I would like to thank the director JJ Abrams for keeping most of the details of the movie under lock and key.  It's one of the rare movies that I went in without knowing anything about the premise, aside from a few rumours here and there.

So, I won't do you the disservice of ruining the movie for you.  I'll just say I really enjoyed the story.  I thought it brought back the 'Star Trek' element to the universe and we get to consider, briefly, the Federation's mission to be at peace with scary alien cultures all the while trying not to interfere with their evolution in the galaxy.  It was there just enough to feel like you were watching a Star Trek movie, but subtle enough that it wasn't a preachy movie about 'the Prime Directive' and peace among races.  When they did deal with the themes of the movie, there was always a powerful human motive driving the story forward. 

Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto as Kirk and Spock are phenomenal.  I must say, there were some emotional moments for me in this movie with both actors really pulling at your heartstrings at some moments. Those moments could have come off as schlocky to some, but they resonated with me for some reason.  Kirk and Spock are vulnerable heroes facing some interesting dilemmas which to me has always been the heart of Star Trek.  Benedict Cumberbatch is an intense, brooding villain stealing scenes from beginning to end.  Bruce Greenwood and Robocop (Peter Sellers) were really engaging in their supporting roles.  The movie does a masterful job of handling its different elements.  Action, sentimentality and humour come together without clashing.  I mention this because I recently saw Iron Man 3, which is a hilarious movie, but when the jokes come in Iron Man 3, they sometimes suck the life out of everything else that's going on and ultimately diffuse the tension of a scene.

There isn't much in this movie that didn't work for me.  One minor complaint : it's difficult to watch a movie where they need to give characters something to do.  Zoe Saldana is given her Uhura moments, which are fun and well done.  We get an extra helping of Simon Pegg as Scotty which fans will appreciate.  The rest of the crew is dutifully given a nod here and there.  The biggest disappointment for me was that I found Karl Urban's Dr. McCoy to be underused.  I like the actor and I like the character but in this Star Trek franchise he is not the presence that he was in earlier movies when played by the late Deforest Kelley.  Dr. McCoy, once a main character, is now there for gags.  There is also a ham-fisted cameo by a Star Trek alumni which is pointless to the plot but I thought served to add some gravitas to a scene.

Some people may find the movie too frenetic. I would go as far as to compare this to Michael Bay levels of flashy colors and explosions, all being shot by a camera man who is shooting the movie while on a truck, driving over speedbumbs while he is being electrocuted. But, there is actually a story to justify the action so the intensity and spectacle are justified and even welcome.

I love seeing new movies, and get excited after watching them if they're this good.  As such, I would need to see the movie again to really finalize the opinion I'm about to give you, but this Star Trek has at very least made it into my top 3 Star Trek movies of all time, battling it out with Star Trek 2 and 6 for top spot.  It easily out-classes any of the other movies.  I think it has wide appeal, the fan service is there and it actually has a great story IMO. 

rating : 5 dying tribbles out of 5

Oh, you're still here?  Let's rate the Trek movies in order of preference, shall we?  Which one is your favourite?

Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country : Star Trek at its finest.  Kirk, Spock and Bones endeavor to make peace with their long time enemies, the Klingons.  This movie has great action, the Star Trek brand is being used to talk about real issues like racism, international conflict and we get to see our characters dealing with personal issues like friendship and old age (a common theme in a franchise starring actors that were past their prime decades before this movie was released).  It marks the return of Nicholas Meyer, the man who many believe saved Star Trek by directing the Wrath of Khan.  I love this movie. 5 eye patches bolted to your face out of 5

Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan : Speaking of Nicholas Meyer, Wrath of Khan is a a fan favourite and as I said, the movie that saved Star Trek. Kirk fights his nemesis, the super genius Khan.  A good balance of quiet character moments and tense action, Wrath of Khan is something of a space thriller with a classic, unforgettable ending.  5 brain controlling ear parasites out of 5

Star Trek 3: The Search for Spock :  I liked the science fictiony ideas they had in this Star Trek movie.  Search for Spock has the feeling of a fantasy adventure and again, the friendship between our main characters comes out a lot in this movie. 4 space coffins out of 5.

Star Trek 8: First Contact : Possibly the only good Next Generation movie.  This was pretty much a sci-fi action movie, but they shoe horn in the 'peace with other cultures' theme fairly appropriately.  Definitely a fun watch and our only opportunity to see the Next Generation crew shine in a motion picture.  It keeps a brisk pace that usually manages to outrun the many plot holes.  4 borg queens out of 5.

Star Trek (2009 with Chris Pine and Co.):  A competent reboot of the franchise, featuring a swaggering, convincing Chris Pine as Captain Kirk.  An undeniably fun action movie with the 'Star Trek' themes mostly lacking.  Like First Contact, the fun and the action allow you to overlook the elements that don't work.  4 cases of pandering to the audience out of 5.

Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home :  A Star Trek comedy?  I can never decide how much I liked this movie about time travel with a heavy handed message about the environment and biodiversity.  It's fun, and basically it's part of 1 big story (with Star Trek 2 and 3 being the first parts of that story).  It's impossible to hate, and in many ways I believe will be the only Star Trek movie of its kind.  4 aliens who befriend humpback whales out of 5.

Star Trek 5: The Final Frontier :  A lot of people hate this one, but I had fun with the somewhat underwritten adventures of Kirk, Spock and McCoy on their quest to find God at the behest of a charismatic Vulcan cult leader. 3 fake deities out of 5.

Star Trek 10: Nemesis : A disappointing swan song for the TNG cast.  A plot full of holes, desperate attempts at fan service while using the aging next generation cast to fight a villain who, of course, wants to destroy Earth.  But why?  2.5 years past its expiry date.  Umm... out of 5.

Star Trek 9: Insurrection :  A mediocre episode of the Next Generation TV show, barely dressed up for the box office.  A planet with a cure for something is attacked by guys... Then picard shoots stuff and kisses a lady.  2 purple bazookas out of 5.

Star Trek the Motion Picture (which I have yet to watch without falling asleep).  Dated, slow and boring, I can't believe that this movie was the beginning of a series of what is now 12 movies spanning over more than 3 decades.  I'm told the story is pretty good, but I wouldn't be able to say.  2 mid movie naps out of 5.

Star Trek: Generations : An incoherent mess with Next Generation crew and Original series crew thrown together using silly plot devices.  Humourless, tasteless and senseless, it fails as Star Trek, it fails as sci-fi and it fails as a movie.  Eff this Ess!!! 1 lame flying pink plot macguffin out of 5

It is very difficult to place the rebooted movies on this list as they seem to be in a class of their own.  But in terms of pure enjoyment, as I said in my review, Into Darkness is really fighting hard for top spot.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Django: Unchained

Pure Badass
Django: Unchained is easily one of my favourite movies of the year.  Anyone who has been following the buzz surrounding this movie is well aware of how amazing Leonardo DiCaprio and Christoph Waltz are in this movie.  Quentin Tarantino’s trademark meticulous dialogue has already gotten a Golden Globe for the movie.  Jamie Foxx, who plays the main character of Django, has not gotten as much attention for his performance, but I enjoyed it a lot.  His performance bubbles beneath an intensely silent exterior.  He starts off broken and hopeless but grows into an action hero/super hero/Blaxploitation anti-hero, wearing each of those hats convincingly throughout the film. It’s exactly what he needed to be for this movie and I thought he did it perfectly. Samuel L. Jackson is always awesome, but maybe just a little bit more awesome than usual in this.

The movie opens when Dr. Shultz, played by Christoph Waltz, frees Django so that he can help him find 3 criminals and collect the bounty on them.  In return, Dr. Shultz will help Django find his wife, Broomhilda Von Shaft, played by Kerry Washington (an obvious nod to Blaxploitation films).  Funny, well-written and action packed, the movie is as enjoyable in its cathartic violent moments as it is heart-wrenching in some of its more depressing scenes.  It goes from being a fun action/adventure to a period piece about slavery to a fairy tale and like it's main character plays its many roles convincingly.  

Django is on its way to becoming Tarantino’s highest grossing movie in no small part because of the controversy surrounding it.  People were afraid that it might take the horrors of slavery too lightly.  Other people were uncomfortable with the frequent use of the word ‘nigger’.  I don’t know how that is possible.  Does anyone listen to rap music?  Have these people ever read Huckleberry Finn?  Well, then you certainly shouldn’t be bothered with this movie that uses the word in its historical context, generally to characterize the villains in the movie.

Have you ever seen my movies?  Frozone is the only character I have played who doesn't say the 'n-word'.

Why you no like it when I wear a dress, Spike?
And when will people like Spike Lee learn that there is no such thing as bad publicity?  Before the movie’s release, Spike Lee announced that he would not go to see the movie because, “Slavery was not a spaghetti western.  It was a holocaust.” Very true, but I’m always amazed by Spike Lee, a vocal critic of not only Tarantino but even Tyler Perry.  I’m tired of having Spike Lee’s recipe for Black empowerment shoved down my throat anytime anyone deals with issues of race. Don’t get me wrong, I love Spike Lee’s movies, and I think he has done a lot for the movie industry, but I could do without Spike Lee rants.  Especially since his cantankerous sounding off probably has exactly the opposite effect that he would like it to have.  Not all movies need to be, or can be ‘Malcolm X’. Some movies are ‘Madea’s Big Top Adventure’ or 'Madea Saves Christmas' or 'Madea goes to..." whatever, you get the point.  If Black people survived slavery they’ll survive Madea, it’s okay, Spike.

Still, I was certainly worried that with Django, I would be seeing a movie that dealt with slavery in a flippant manner.  The only thing I would have hated more is the feeling of watching a movie where the main white character suddenly realizes, “Well, Golly!  Black people are very much like human beings! Let’s free all the slaves!” In this movie the main white hero, Dr. Shultz, starts at the same point as the audience (most of us):  that slavery was a barbaric and cruel affliction on human beings with black skin.  It avoids the condescending preachiness of some movies that endeavor to tackle a big issue.

Where the movie really turns into something unique is when we see the role reversal that takes place between Django and Dr. Shultz.  Django starts off as an uneducated man, broken by the cruelty he has endured throughout his life and the loss of his wife. Dr. Shultz trains him to be a bounty hunter, teaching him how to read, negotiate and generally how to be an awesome badass.  It’s a super hero origin story with an almost wizard like mentor, teaching the main character how to become a hero.  But once the two characters are immersed into the ugly, cruel world of slavery in Mississippi, it is Dr. Shultz who becomes the neophyte, completely baffled by the horrors around him. We then see Django growing into his role as a hero, ‘getting dirty’, in ways that make even Dr. Shultz, an otherwise remorseless killer, shudder.  I thought the actors did a great job of bringing out the subtleties in their characters and showing their growth and change throughout the movie.

"Feel the Force, Django."
With all that being said, ultimately, the movie is a simple revenge flic, Tarantino’s speciality.  Does it need to be anything more than that?  Do we really want to charge Hollywood with the task of teaching us history or morality?  I don’t think anyone is rushing to give Tarantino a Nobel Peace Prize for this action movie but as a movie that seeks to be escapist entertainment I think it succeeds.  Anything else it might do with regards to ‘opening a dialogue about slavery’ is debatable but it certainly doesn’t hurt. 

Tarantino walks a fine line in making an entertaining movie without making a farce of slavery itself.  Of course it goes without saying that Django: Unchained is not a history lesson, with many fantasies invented or borrowed for the narrative of the film.  Most upsetting is the idea of slaves fighting to the death for the amusement of their capricious masters.  Here’s an article that discusses some of the more contentious claims being made in the movie.,0

I myself am not what you would call a fanboy of Quentin Tarantino, though I do enjoy some of his movies.  I would highly recommend this particular movie, unless of course you are not in the mood for over the top violence and some truly upsetting scenes of cruelty and brutality. 

5 bullets to the junk out of 5.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Hobbit : An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit is basically mandatory viewing for any fans of Lord of the Rings and probably any fan of fantasy. So far, the reviews for the Hobbit are not the overwhelmingly positive reviews that the Lord of the Rings trilogy enjoyed, with some people criticizing its pacing and the strange effect that is created by filming the movie in 48 frames per second. I suspect that this movie suffers most from not being Lord of the Rings and if it had come out before the Lord of the Rings movies it would have been better received. As it stands, the Hobbit : An Unexpected Journey,as good as it may be, will be perceived by most as just an inferior sequel.

I’ll start off by saying, I was probably seeing the entire thing through rose coloured lenses. I'm too much of a geek to not be in love with this movie. And I can't really see this movie as 'inferior', but rather just different. It's not trying to be a dark, intense apocalyptic tale. It's just a fun adventure. That being said, I think I understand the criticisms about the length and pacing of the movie. Think about it, this was supposed to be one movie originally. No one complained. Except studio executives I guess, who saw dollar signs and decided to turn the Hobbit, based on one book, into two movies. Alright, alright, it’s a business they want to double dip. Can’t fault them for that. Then a month later they decided to go for broke and turn the Hobbit, one children’s book, into an astounding 3 movies which will probably be about 3 hours each.
"I have to be in how many of these movies? The first one is almost 3 hours long!?"
That my friends is gratuitous. The episodic nature of the books translates to a movie where you almost feel like, they could have ended it anywhere after the two-hour mark and had the same effect as it did after 3. After our heroes leave the Shire they go on one adventure after another until the movie seems to arbitrarily stop with them looking at their ultimate destination, the Lonely Mountain. I also got the feeling that the movie had a lot of trouble getting off the ground. It starts off way slow with old Bilbo, played by Ian Holm narrating his life story. As if that's not enough,Elijah Wood as Frodo shows up to add some more padding to the movie. Knowing that you have almost 3 hours ahead of you you find yourself asking, "Why? Why Elijah Wood? Why a flashback scene? Can we just get to the point? Or do we need to make sure there is enough material for 3 movies?"

The slow narration brings us to Martin Freeman, a younger Bilbo Baggins, languidly smoking a pipe when Ian McKellen shows up as Gandalf. What follows is a long but rather long but enjoyable introduction of the 13 dwarves, who recruit Bilbo on their quest to recover their gold from the dragon Smaug. Now here is where I prefer the Hobbit over the Lord of the Rings. Despite having so many characters introduced all at once in one scene, I find most of them to be far more interesting than the characters in Lord of the Rings. Most of the characters in Lord of the Rings are these weird, other-worldy, sometimes alienating archetypes. The dwarves who are central to this story have had their home taken from them by the evil dragon Smaug. To fit into the world we’re told they have been forced to take jobs as craftsmen and merchants. Something about their lost home really resonated with me. Still, despite their tragic history, they can still turn around and party, without seeming impish and bizarre like the Hobbits in Lord of the Rings. In short, I love the dwarves.
I find Martin Freeman's Bilbo to be a more compelling protagonist than Frodo. He just seems like he's a more decisive character, making choices based on compassion and a desire for adventure. Frodo seemed to have been forced on his journey and is constantly overwhelmed, tormented and broken. That's no fun. I loved the grim and almost bitter character of Thorin Oakenshield played by Richard Armitage. And even though the dwarves are mostly site gags, the scene where they intrude on Bilbo's home manages to hit a wide range of emotions from the dwarves. For those who know the story of the Hobbit, it starts off when a company of dwarves crash Bilbo’s house and start partying, tracking mud all over his house and eating all of his food. They’re singing and partying but when their leader Thorin finally shows up, the scene immediately becomes heavy and reverent. I was enthralled by the dwarves singing Over the Misty Mountains Cold, a lament over their lost home. It was kind of touching.

 After that you feel like there are a few slow unnecessary scenes. Where the Hobbit novel is a brisk tale about Bilbo Baggins, the Hobbit movie is a meandering epic about the Hobbit, a bunch of dwarves, surprise cameos from the other movies and some pot smoking, hippy wizard named Radagast who rides a sleigh pulled by rabbits (the rabbits must be jacked up on steroids or something). It's not as focused and I think the movie would have had more of a punch if it was centered on Bilbo rather than 3-4 characters at once. Of course, if you know who Radagast is (and have his Middle Earth customizable card game card…which I do), then you may not mind the added detail.
Look! It's everyone's favourite character, Radagast! I have his trading card! Seriously!

The story does finally take off and when it does, it's a lot of fun. I wondered if the over the top cartoonish action scenes would be off-putting to some. I liked them. To compare this to Lord of the Rings, I would say that although the Hobbit can hit a few dark notes from time to time, overall it’s a funner, lighter adventure than the often morose Lord of the Rings. I can’t write this review without mentioning the fantastic job they did with the Riddles in the Dark chapter from the book which is of course where Bilbo meets Gollum. Again, Andy Serkis is just brilliant as Gollum in a scene that’s funny, scary and sometimes sad. That scene had everything I love most about this movie, namely its ability to hit all those emotional notes without betraying the tone of the story which never strays too far from being a light-hearted adventure.

Concerning the 48 fps. Well, have you ever been watching a blu ray, or a movie in the theater and thought to yourself, “Man, I wish the frame rate was faster!” Of course not, but clearly the same people who would try and make 3 movies out of 1 book, would also be very interested in introducing a new gimmick to sell their movies. This is that gimmick that no one asked for, 48fps! I found the faster frame rate little strange. It makes the movie look like it’s being sped up. You would have to see it to get the full impression, but it is noticeable. Allegedly, this faster frame rate is supposed to make the 3D effects easier to swallow. Now I am a person who likes 3D movies when done properly. This year I saw Men in Black 3 and Prometheus in 3D and thought those movies looked amazing. The main reason is, 3D glasses normally make a movie look dark, so the movie itself has to be projected brighter than a normal movie would. For the movies I just mentioned everything seemed bright enough that you can enjoy the 3D effects without losing the colour and detail of the picture. I also saw the Amazing Spiderman in 3D and didn’t think it looked so good at all. Everything was too dark and the movie ended up looking like crap.

This looked awesome in 3D.
Now, we all know that Peter Jackson is in love with New Zealand and though some people might find the grandiose shots of the mountains in Middle Earth to be unnecessary and self-indulgent, I was totally into it. I think the 3D effects added to the feeling of being on a cliff or looking out over a vast landscape, or falling into the cavernous pits of the Goblin layer. I would go as far as saying this is among the best uses of 3D in a movie I have seen yet. If you like 3D movies, I would say you're in for a treat. I don't understand people who say that 3D movies give them a headache, or say that it's distracting or insist that it is a trend that won't last. But if you're one of those people, you know what to do! I’m still undecided on whether or not the increased frame rate is necessary, but it didn’t bother me too much at all.

Whatever the format, if you’re a fan of fantasy, you’re going to see this movie at some point. You might need a little bit of caffeine to carry you through the somewhat bloated 3 hours, but it seems you’ve already read this review so you are already an expert on ‘bloated’. As a fan of fantasy, seeing orcs battle dwarves, seeing wizards throw fire balls at wolf monsters, seeing a dragon sleeping under a mountain of gold made my inner kid go crazy. The Hobbit is a welcome addition to the world of Middle Earth. It is different enough in tone and atmosphere to not feel like a tedious repeat of what we've already seen and fun enough that I will definitely be seeing it again, while I eagerly await sequels.
4.5 steroid enhanced rabbits out of 5.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Twilight : Breaking Dawn Part II

It’s the end of an era.  The Twilight movies are finally dead!  For those of you who don’t know my story/excuse for going to see these movies is long ago, before we started dating, the woman who I am now married to went with me to see the first Twilight movie.  And it was terrible.  But since then we have made it a point to see all of these in the theatre.  Sometimes we could enjoy the unintentional hilarity of the movie, bask in the sheer incompetence of the storytelling, all the while enduring how incredibly boring it is. For those of you who are not in the know, the following is not really a review but a snarky synopsis of the movie.

Well, Twilight 5 : Breaking Dawn Part 2 is not so much a movie as it was a 2 hour anti-climax and a final cash grab.   When we last left our cast in Twilight 4 : Breaking Dawn Part I, Bella had just given birth to a vampire baby, whom they name Renesmee.  Bella was turned into a vampire because essentially giving birth to a vampire killed her.

There were of course a few loose ends to tie up.  For starters, Jacob the werewolf, who has been in love with Bella for 4 movies, gets a consolation prize having lost his true love to the vampire Edward.  His consolation prize is… wait for it…Bella’s daughter!  You’re probably asking, “Wait, that guy without a shirt is in love with a baby?”  Basically, but the baby grows up super fast and the movie implies that in 7 years, he will be able to have carnal wolf relations with Bella’s daughter.  Sure, she would only be 7 years old, but would probably look much, much older.  And that makes it socially acceptable.

Twilight's new power couple : a werewolf and a 3 year old kid. Do I hear spinoff?
See, in the Twilight universe, werewolves imprint on people involuntarily.  If I remember correctly, when Jacob first sees Bella’s baby in the last movie, he makes an orgasm face and that means that he’s imprinted on her and they’re soul mates.  That is addressed in this movie resulting in a hilarious scene where Bella screams out, “You imprinted on my baby?!?”   And then she beats the crap out of Jacob, kicking him so hard that he goes flying into trees.  Then she gets bored of beating him up and stops.  I guess I’d be upset too if someone imprinted on my baby.  Nothing gets imprint stains out.  Just ask Clinton.

Other loose ends include the mandatory scenes of Bella lying to her dad, a dutifully executed a sex scene where Bella sparkles and a scene where Bella kills a mountain lion.  Because vampires sparkle and kill mountain lions…  And they also arm wrestle.  For some reason there are a few scenes showing that Bella is the strongest vampire of all.  She even beats this guy, and then breaks the rock they were arm wrestling on.  She's so badass and strong!

With all that out of the way, we can get to the plot.  At some point Edward’s cousin sees the new Cullen baby and freaks out.  Why?  Because turning children into vampires is forbidden!  And so Edward’s cousin goes to Italy to tell the evil vampire council that Edward and Bella have made a vampire baby.  The punishment for this crime is death and the vampire council goes to the US to kill both parents and child.  But technically, they didn’t turn a child into a vampire, the child was born a vampire, which turns out to be totally legal.

So the whole plot is based on a horrible misunderstanding.  The Cullen’s plan is to explain this to the vampire council when they arrive.  To strengthen their case, Edward and Bella call upon friends and family to be witnesses that our young couple have done nothing wrong (except being largely responsible for some of the worst movies in history).

For The whole second act of the movie vampire stereotypes from all over the world come to the U.S. to somehow help explain to the evil vampire council that Renesmee is not a child who turned into a vampire, but rather a child who was born as a vampire which is okay.  The vampires who come to the Cullen family’s aid include vampires with Irish accents, vampires with Italian accents, Indian vampires and Brazillian vampires (the brazillian vampires don’t have cheesy accents but we know they’re brazillian because they wear loin cloths… ?).  As an added bonus, all the vampires have super powers!  There’s a vampire with electricity powers, there’s a vampire that can control the elements, we even discover that Bella can make vampire force fields.  All vampires can jump super high and move at super speed.   The take home lesson from all of this is that even though they don’t intend to get into a fight, they would be ready for a fight should one ever occur.  *wink*

Now, even though these vampires from around the world show up in minutes, it takes the evil vampires the entire movie to show up.  The movie ends when all these vampires explain that Renesmee is not the bad kind of vampire child, but the good kind.  The vampire bad guys actually agree, “Yeah, she’s not evil and no threat to us.”  But, for some reason the bad guys want to fight anyway. Luckily, there’s a psychic vampire on the Cullen’s side who convinces the evil vampires that if they fight, lots of vampires will die, including the evil vampire boss, played by a delightfully hammy Michael Sheen.  And so the bad guys decide to go home to avoid unnecessary loss of life.  The end!  You think I’m joking?  That’s how the Twilight Saga ends with shrugged shoulders and everyone going home.  I was not amused.  

Here's a video of me after seeing the ending to Twilight.

Perhaps you’ve seen the trailers and posters and you’re thinking, “Wait, wait… I’m sure I saw some fighting in the movie.”  Well, here is where I am tempted to say there was 10 or so minutes of the franchise that didn’t totally suck.  Before everyone goes home, in order to convince the evil vampires that they shouldn’t fight the Cullens, the psychic vampire gives the evil vampire boss a vision of the battle that would have ensued if they actually did fight each other.  So we get to see a battle that didn’t really happen.

The good news for the viewer is, the only way to kill a vampire is to rip off its head.  So there are about 10 minutes of graphic decapitations.  I don’t know if it’s my imagination but it seems to me that the battle basically proceeds this way. 

Phase 1: A bad guy vampire kills a good guy vampire’s boyfriend by ripping his head off.  Then they scream, “NOOOOOOOO!!!” Then a good guy vampire kills a bad guy vampire’s boyfriend by ripping his head off.  Repeat.

Phase 2: The vampires bust out their super powers.  Electricity, earthquakes and Bella forcefields abound!  At one point the Indian vampire opens up the ground beneath them and obviously, 100 feet down there is hot magma.  Presumably that is the Earth’s core and the earth is approximately 250 feet in diameter.  So some werewolves and vampires fall into the magma.

Phase 3: they start ripping off the heads of the B-list celebrities.  They rip off that guy’s head.  A wolf rips off Dakota Fanning’s head with its jaws.  Then Bella and Edward rip off Michael Sheen’s head.  That decapitation was particularly graphic with Bella and Edward pulling on Michael Sheen like he was a wishbone until ‘pop’! his head flies off.  But the head is still alive, so they take a torch to the head and burn it up! Best love story ever.  It was awesome and for a while I was worried I would have to admit that I actually legitimately enjoyed about 10 minutes of Twilight.

But then they kind of wake up and you realize none of that awesomeness actually happened.  Does the scene still count if it didn’t really happen in the movie?  Can I safely say I’ve seen the entire Twilight series and didn’t enjoy any of it?  I guess not.  The movie ends with a montage of other scenes from Twilight just in case you have forgotten how bad these movies are.  I got some good laughs, especially at the pictures of Edward looking constipated and creepy.

"Ummm... Could you maybe give me a few inches? You're making me very uncomfortable."
In conclusion, I don’t think Stephanie Meyers knows what a vampire is.  Or what or where Brazil is for that matter.  Oh well, as my wife said, we have closed our loop (a quote from an actual good movie, called Looper, you should go see that).  We even went back to the crappy cinema in the Cavendish mall where we first went to see the first Twilight movie over 4 years ago.  When we walked into the lobby, there was me and my wife, 4 people at the concession stand and 1 person to take our ticket.  No one else!  It was super quiet, almost spooky.  There were a few people in the theatre.  There was something appropriate about seeing the last Twilight movie in the almost completely desolate cinema.  I felt like we were being given a semi-private screening as a reward for enduring so much.  And now it’s finally over.

Burn in hell, Twilight movies! 

1 pedophile werewolf out of 5.