Thursday, July 28, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger

How many Comic Book movies does that make now just for the last four months? Not that I'm complaining or anything I've seen most of the biggies and I'd have to say I'm about 65% satisfied with the lot of them. But I do think in the future it might behoove these film companies to spread the spandex out just a little bit. For instance having Thor, Green Lantern, X-Men: First Class, Transformers 3D and Captain America all come out within 4 months of each other was kind of overkill. Which brings me to my next point about Cap's box office haul opening weekend last week, it had pretty good reviews and opened to a solid 65 million. Yes, that's a pretty solid opening for a superhero that isn't enjoying Spider-Man size popularity across the board. But honestly, it should have been bigger, which makes me think it had something to do with Cape and spandex fatigue. I mean after all the bloated shit the U.S. has had to deal over the last few years in addition to real super soldiers from Seal Team 6 putting two in Osama's face, there was no doubt in my mind that a guy who wears a star spangled shield and is named Captain America kicking the Nazi's ass in WWII was, and frankly should, be number 1 at the box office for three straight weeks. America, Fuck Yeah!
Weakly Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), is determined to join the Army to fight the Nazis at whatever cost. He may be a 90 pound asthmatic weakling but he's got courage and heart which count for a lot. He's denied several times at various recruiting stations until a kindly scientist, Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) offers him the chance to serve his country by being the first test subject for a Super Soldier Program.  Cap gets to join forces with the Howling Commandos; his old pal Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Gabe Jones (Derek Luke), Dum Dum Dugan (Neal McDonough), Jim Morita (Kenneth Choi), James Montgomery Falsworth (JJ Feild) and Jaques Dernier (Bruno Ricci). Their mission is to bring down the science division of the S.S, Hydra, led by Johann Schmidt aka. The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) and his toady scientist Dr. Arnim Zola (Toby Jones). Cap gets some extra support from his gal Peggy Carter (Haley Atwell) a British agent who is fiesty, smart and gorgeous. Also from the craggy Col. Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) and the Billionaire industrialist and father of Iron Man Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper).
As a fan of the comics and the Avengers it's easy to forget when you are reading about this adonis with the super shield actually started as a weakling. You get a few random sketches of him, in those books, as a thin rail but most of the story he's already Captain America with his heightened strength, speed and agility. So for the film it was really great seeing the Cap you know and love in the body of this little runt. It really gives the performance a lot more weight. Yes at times it was a bit hokey and the script wasn't perfect. But it really captured the essence of the time period, that spirit of the Greatest Generation and Evans' Steve Rogers embodies that perfectly. I really did enjoy this flick, director Joe Johnson has, for the second time, been successful in transporting me back to the early part of the 20th Century. The first was the Rocketeer from 1991, a truly fun flick if you haven't seen it I recommend you check it out on Netflix. Cap also fits in nicely to the larger story that everyone, including myself have been waiting for, The Avengers. There is a great teaser trailer for it after the credit sequence, it's like being a kid at Christmas. It's a truly fun flick and if you are looking to just get away and see something that will make you feel good to be an American, where it seems like the "Can do Spirit" still exists. So avoid the Smurfs, go and see something worth a damn, God Bless America!
Grade: 3 Buckets

Friday, July 22, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2

The end is nigh! Oh what will Warner Brothers do now? I'm sure that as much as WB has been anticipating the finale to one of the most profitable film series ever, they are also dreading the fact that they won't be able to pull the lever on the cash register for this series any longer. The funny thing is once the last book ended, author J.K. Rowling assured the public that there would be no more Potter to tell. Now that some time has passed and the films are coming to a close she has been gradually changing her tune from a never to a....maybe. Which must have given the execs at Warner Brothers a big Corporate grin because it means that maybe we haven't seen the last of Harry Potter, or at least his universe. Personally I wouldn't mind seeing some of the other characters get a stand-alone flick or maybe some prequels, but I would just as soon go forward and find another pond to jump into. What about the Wizarding World in the U.S.? Take note Warner Brothers! But enough of my yammering about the future, let's focus on the present and my review.
I have really enjoyed this series especially the last two or three, they have, in my mind, been able to convey the tone of the last few books and in some cases exceed them. That would certainly be true for this last film. I really enjoyed part 1 where Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are forced to go on the run, looking for Horocruxes, as Voldermort (Ralph Fiennes) grows ever stronger. They had to fend for themselves living in isolation in a tent like refugees moving from place to place in order to stay hidden. It was truly excellent filmmaking and I was sure that wouldn't be able to keep it up into the final chapter. Thankfully, they were able to do that and more. The pacing was extraordinary as we followed the kids from one harrowing journey after another from Gringotts Bank to Hogwarts where the final showdown takes place. It did feel a little Return of the Jedi-ish, without the space battle of course. I got a kick out of watching shy Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) come out of his shell and become a reluctant hero worthy of Indiana Jones, when you see the scene you'll know what I mean. Ralph Fiennes also brought an interesting new wrinkle for Voldermort as you get to see him for the first time as a vulnerable man clinging on to the little bit of life he has left. I was also really glad they finally gave Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith) some much needed screen time, I feel like she usually gets the short end of the stick in these movies but she got some great lines and even some action pieces in this one. Daniel Radcliffe has continued to shine and take command of this series and there is no doubt that this kid has vastly improved his skills from the slightly wooden of the first two films to the reflective and honest portrayal in this last film. It was great to see Ron and Hermione get some much needed screen time and the flashback sequences for Snape (Alan Rickman) were some of the best of the series. Just those scenes alone proved why the talented actor would take on what would seem to be a tiny and insignificant role because, as you discover watching those scenes, it turns out to be one of the most intriguing of the series.  But I promise I won't go into detail here.
The action scenes were intense and they did a great job with the 3D. They were clear and concise and you could really feel the carnage as Hogwarts gets ripped to shreds. Both Tamar and I were more than impressed, lately the 3D flicks I've seen have been mediocre to terrible, so it was nice to see them use it properly. It wasn't in your face every second but they utilized the technology more for depth and scope rather than bells and whistles and in my mind made it much more exciting. Now if I had any problems with the story it was mostly some nitpicky things where they introduced characters oh so briefly and they disappeared just as quickly without much explanation either way. In some cases, at least for those of us who read the books, it was fine, but if you hadn't read the books you were probably scratching your head a bit more than usual. Here are a few names that you may either be scratching your head at who the hell they are or if you are like me agree that these folk needed a bit more screen time if you were going to introduce them at all. Bill Weasley, Ariana Dumbledore, Remus Lupin (David Thewlis), Tonks (Natalia Tena) and Aberforth Dumbledore (Ciaran Hinds). The premise surrounding the Dumbledore brother's sister Ariana was always intriguing in the book and I had forgotten what had actually happened, but they don't give you much to go on in the film either which sort of felt like a waste. Why give us these nuggets if you aren't going to at least explain some of it. And of course Remus and Tonks get sidestepped again, yes I understand the book did this as well but it was one thing I was hoping they were going to correct for the film. They were probably in it for about two minutes and then --SPOILER ALERT--- they were worm food. I felt there was something more for Lupin to do and it felt like Rowling didn't know what that was and now it looks like we'll never know.  It's one of those things where I wish screenwriter Steve Kloves had put his foot down with J.K. and said that too many of these deaths occur off camera and people are going to feel cheated. The flip side of that argument is that it's just life and people die. Deal with it. True enough but I can't help but feel a little disappointed.
As for the final sequence, with the kids all grown up and sending their kids off to Hogwarts, I actually felt it played well. Yes you could look at it as the super happy ending but if you watch that great scene with a world weary Harry comforting his young son about his trepidation of being chosen into the Slytherin house. It gives weight to a certain person's sacrifice and it validates the kind of man that Harry has finally grown into. So all you haters can relax. I have truly enjoyed this series and I personally hope they leave it alone for future endeavors, it's pretty perfect the way it is.
Grade: 4 Buckets

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

X-Men: First Class

Yes I realize this is really late but this summer has been extremely busy. I was recently in the city of (Dirty) Angels for work and got to catch up with some friends. They both had seen First Class already but they liked it enough to see it again with me, which was great, cause at the rate I was going I was never gonna see the damn movie on the big screen. For a few weeks I tried to get my wife interested in seeing it but she's doing this, "I'm kind of done with the Superheroes" thing. She couldn't quite understand why the X-Men were in the 60's and what exactly that had to do with the Cuban Missile Crisis? She lost interest before she could even finish her sentence. So thanks Jen and Speck for seeing it again just for me.

First Class follows the two very different lives of it's most famous Mutants. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), the telepathic mutant originally played by Patrick Stewart in the first few films. Thankfully McAvoy didn't play him as a caricature. He's a good hearted guy but he's arrogant and spoiled and he's not above using his powers to bed pretty girls. He's sheltered from the world in his mansion and it makes it harder for him to control or fully understand his complicated friend Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), a Holocaust survivor and mutant with the power of magnetism. Erik was originally played by sir Ian McKellan, and honestly I think Fassbender is even better in the role.  Erik only feels anger and vengeance and in the beginning he's on the hunt for Nazis in hiding. The first forty minutes are almost like the Odessa File and Munich, as Erik brutally hunts these men down and kills them. The big fish he's after is a former Nazi under the surname Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) who is himself a mutant. Possibly the most powerful of them all as  he is able to absorb kinetic energy, channel it and use it as he sees fit. It also allows him to slow the aging process. Shaw is intent on bringing humans to their knees while birthing the dominance of mutants by inciting a war between the Soviet Union and the United States. Only the X-Men led by Xavier and Lensherr, aka. Magneto, can stop him from creating a new global Holocaust.

This flick completely washed away the terribleness of X3 and Wolverine. I really did love that this takes place in the 60's where I think being "children of the atom" works best in this era. I still wish that Fox would get a clue and included the original X-Men to this movie and call it a reboot. That would include; Scott Summers aka. Cyclops, Jean Grey, Bobby Drake aka, Iceman, Warren Worthington aka. Angel and of course the only one of the group that was in the movie Hank McCoy aka Beast (Nicholas Hoult). Instead we got stupid throwaway B characters like Darwin (Edi Gathegi) & slutty Angel (Zoe Kravitz). Admittedly Darwin wasn't terrible but ugh, Zoe Kravitz's Angel was awful. She looked awful when she flew she looked almost laughable when she shot out her flame balls from her mouth. If they had given her a larger role it would have completely ruined the movie. Thankfully the chemistry between frenemies Xavier and Magneto was so good it allowed me to ignore her for the most part. I also really liked the evolution of Beast as they seem to stay pretty close to the comic. He was certainly the heart of the show and you really feel for him when the experiment on himself goes awry. I also really loved Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique, she totally erased the bad acting of Rebecca Romijn from the first few films. She gave her a depth and a much better road for her turning wicked then what was presented in previous films. I know fanboys were howling over her early relationship with Xavier but it really makes sense in the larger scheme of the comics and how she makes her turn to the dark side. The rest of the team, Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones) and Alex Summers aka Havok (Lucas Till) were nice additions. I also really enjoyed Rose Byrne as Moira MacTaggert. Not quite sure why she was a C.I.A agent but whatever I though it worked. For future films I'm going to enjoy how they explain Alex Summers, who is Cyclops' younger brother, fits into the larger universe especially if Scott makes an appearance in future films.

As for the bad guys I really dug Azazel (Jason Flemyng) who is sure as shit Nightcrawler's daddy the way he moves. Riptide (Alex Gonzalez) was cool but they didn't really allow him to do much except make little mini tornadoes. Kevin Bacon was great as Sebastian Shaw, he was effortless with his German, perfect embodiment of evil. The only flaw here was the White Queen (January Jones). She is certainly hot and she looks the part but damn this woman is so wooden. There are so many women who I think would have been great in this role but none of them were January Jones. Yes I understand she is on Mad Men but that doesn't mean she's a good actress or more importantly it doesn't mean she is capable of playing a complex character like Emma Frost. I mean this chick has been apart of the Hellfire Club the Brotherhood of Mutants and the X-Men. Couldn't they find somebody a little more suitable then January Jones? But again she wasn't bad enough to deter me from loving every minute of the film. Director Matthew Vaughn has proven once again what a phenomenal director he is. So far I haven't seen a film he has directed that I haven't liked.  So if he wants to bitch about how bad Brett Ratner is, I think he's well within his rights to do so. Yes I understand that X-Men hasn't brought in as much money as Last Stand but it is a far superior film. Hell I think it's just as good or better than X2 which up until now was my favorite of the X series.

I realize that this review is really late and X-Men First Class may already be gone from your local theatre but if it isn't or if it's in a subrun house, ditch Transformers and that stupid looking Zookeeper, go and see something that will make you feel good about the comic adaptations again as well as entertain the fuck out of you. A small note here for MGM/Sony, whoever the hell is going to be doing the Bond flicks in the future; If Daniel Craig decides to stop being Bond you shouldn't waste much air and go right for Michael Fassbender the guy was basically playing Bond for the first hour or so of this movie, I shit you not he may be an even better Bond than Craig and Connery.

Grade: 4 Buckets