Archive for the '6' Category

12 Years a Slave

Monday, January 20th, 2014

******

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (3 People gave this 5.00 out of 5)
Loading...Loading...

Lest we forget…

12 Years a Slave

The H-Bomb: Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free black man living in 1840’s New York. Married with two children, and working as a successful violinist, Solomon seems to be leading the ideal life. All of that, however, is about to change, when he accompanies a couple of fellow musicians to Washington for a prospective job. As it turns out, these musicians are in fact con men, who drug him, abduct him, and sell him to slave traders. Stripped of his name, and unable to prove who he is, Solomon is put on a southbound boat, where a fellow slave warns him to keep his head low and his mouth shut, about who he is and the fact that he can read and write.

Upon his arrival in Louisiana, Solomon, now given the name Pratt, is sold to Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), a southern gentleman who treats his slaves with more kindness than most (he’s a nice slaver… how sweet). It would seem as though Solomon, given the circumstances, could have done far worse, but after a nasty mishap with one of Ford’s more abusive slave overseers (the ever weaselly Paul Dano), Ford is forced to sell Solomon to plantation owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), and this is where Solomon’s true nightmare begins.

Edwin Epps has a reputation. He is what they call a “slave breaker.” A cruel, vicious, hard drinking son of a bitch who is hot tempered and quick to take a whip to the ass-side of anyone who he feels has crossed him. To Epps’ way of thinking, slaves aren’t people, they’re his “property,” and as he explains, he will do with his property whatever he pleases, be it raping the women, working the men until they drop, or beating any one of them within an inch of their life, just for the hell of it. And his wicked witch of a Mistress (Sarah Paulson) isn’t any better.

This is Solomon Northup’s world now. Far, far from his family and home, being forced to work for nothing, being endlessly taunted and humiliated, and worst of all, being another man’s property. All the time he thinks about escaping, but he’s seen what happens to runaway slaves. He’ll have to bide his time, wait for the right opportunity… but will that opportunity ever come?

Adapted by screenwriter/novelist John Ridley (U-Turn, Three Kings) from the autobiographical book by Northup, 12 Years a Slave is a searing look at one of the darkest and most shameful chapters of American history. As directed by Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame), the film dares not look away from the ugliest aspects of its subject matter, even though we the audience may often feel compelled to do so, particularly during a gruelingly brutal scene in which a young female slave is whipped for what feels like an eternity.

Some critics have accused McQueen of “going too far” in depicting the violence, claiming that it’s so gratuitous it becomes manipulative and offensive. I say those critics are absolutely full of shit. Slavery was a fucking atrocity (trite, I know, but still), and any attempt to sanitize it (or “white wash” it) for the sake of making it more palatable for the moviegoing masses would be, in my humble estimation, far more offensive. The only honest way to tell this story is in the most raw, unflinching manner possible, and that is exactly what McQueen has done. By never flinching once, he delivers a film that is, again, very tough to stomach, but that is undeniably honest and deeply moving.

However, as commendable as McQueen’s direction is, the real driving force behind 12 Years a Slave is the fearless lead performance by Ejiofor. He’s an actor who has impressed me in the past, particularly in Dirty Pretty Things, but this time, he pulls out all the stops and delivers a turn that puts him in league with the finest actors working today. His portrayal of a man who struggles to hold on to his humanity while enduring a living hell is utterly captivating and, by the final scene, just heart breaking. Ejiofor carries the movie from beginning to end, and If there’s a performance out there that’s more deserving of a Best Actor statue, I haven’t seen it.

An actor who has far less screen time than Ejiofor, but whose performance is every bit as powerful, is Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey, the young female slave who suffers an immeasurable amount of abuse at the hands of Epps and his wretched Mistress. The scene where she makes a dire proposition to Solomon in order to escape the plantation is simply devastating. She has been nominated for an Academy Award for this performance, and in a just world, she will win.

As the loathsome Epps, Fassbender is positively chilling, and reminds us why his star is on the rise. The aforementioned Cumberbatch, Dano, and Paulson, along with Paul Giamatti, Garret Dillahunt, and Alfre Woodard all put in stellar, if regrettably brief, supporting turns. The only member of the ensemble I didn’t care for was Brad Pitt, and it had nothing to do with his performance so much as his character. [Sort-of Spoiler] Basically, he turns up late in the movie as the great white savior. Now, I have no idea if he was a real character or not, but he essentially made the end of the film a bit pat and anti-climatic. Again, it could have very well played out the way that it’s portrayed here, but to me it seemed not entirely believable and just too damn convenient. [End of Spoiler]

All things considered, though, the film up to that point was so bloody terrific that this character/plot device didn’t do any real damage in my eyes. As I told a friend on Facebook the other day, I didn’t think I would see a better film than Gravity this year… and I was wrong. As great as Gravity is as a visceral and immersive movie going experience (I still think Alfonso Cuaron deserves Best Director), 12 Years a Slave is far and away the most wrenchingly powerful film that I’ve seen in years. I often tend to scoff at “Oscar Bait” pictures, but when one is done this well, it really doesn’t matter. A great film is a great film, and 12 Years a Slave is one hell of a great film.

Lone Survivor

Friday, January 10th, 2014

******

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (4 People gave this 5.00 out of 5)
Loading...Loading...

“I died with a full heart, with my brothers.”

Lone Survivor

Swift shot: Peter Berg has clearly become one of the better action movie directors out of Hollywood, as Lone Survivor demonstrates in a visceral way, as you feel each and every wound and fracture as you learn the fate of the seemingly cursed Operation Red Wings. While this film is BOATS, (Based On A True Story) and the sheer amount of will to survive defies belief, at no time did I think to myself, oh, come on, that’s bullshit. Quite the opposite, in fact, as the events are all too believable. You feel every death, and because this isn’t some fiction, it really hits hard.  The impact is real.

Mark Wahlberg is Marcus Luttrell, a Texas born Frog-man, assigned with his SEAL team to take out Ahmad Shah (Yousuf Azami). Early on in the film we are given a glimpse of the Taliban chief’s evil nature, and the case is made as to why he needs to be terminated. The mission is complex, with a lot of moving parts, perhaps too many, as the title of the film hints – they are doomed.

On the High-Value-Target mission, Ben Foster as Axe, Emile Hirsch as Dietz, and Taylor Kitsch as their commander, Lt. Mike Murphy, insert themselves outside the perimeter of a village swarming with Taliban. High on a mountain ridge, something comes their way that will seal the fate of all but one of them, and leads to the most intense fire-fight sequence ever filmed. Evading RPG attacks, rifle rounds, and even a machine gun trained on them, the SEALs quickly determine that survival is the new mission. Several times they are left with one lethal option over another lethal option. Both options suck.

This film serves as a reminder that we are still engaged in Afghanistan, and we are still losing people, great people, in a region seemingly ruled by chaos. Yet, within the chaos, there is compassion. I like to think that those pockets of civility are worth fighting for, and I hope this film also inspires others to stay in the fight.

[Swift aside – After you see this film, I ask you, honestly, which of the three options would you have chosen?]

~@rickswift

 

 

Man of Steel

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

******

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (1 People gave this 4.00 out of 5)
Loading...Loading...

“He’ll be an outcast.  They’ll kill him.” – Lara Lor-Van 

Man of Steel

Swift shot:  Superman is back, but this time he isn’t some peeping-tom who has abandoned Earth.  In this re-launch of the franchise, with British actor Henry Cavill donning the cape and boots, we are shown the civil unrest on Krypton and how the planet’s politics led to its ultimate implosion. In fact, unlike the 1978 version with Marlon Brando, that whole opening sequence is almost one mini-movie.  It probably took about thirty minutes of non-stop suspense! Zack Snyder is no slouch on the action, and the film really only slows down a few times to allow the audience a quick respite.  Man of Steel is powerful, emotional, with a solid script and some incredible fight sequences that must be seen in theaters!

Russell Crowe plays Superman’s father, Jor-El who has to come to terms with the fact that some of his decisions, as the planet’s lead scientist, have led to her demise.  Defying authority, he and his wife Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) have conceived a natural child.  In Krypton, the government has outlawed such natural births, and all children are essentially hatched for a sole-purpose.  They are genetically designed for that one job, but the nature of their society is driven through conquest.  This conquest ultimately leads to their downfall.  Determined to make sure that their planet’s line doesn’t completely expire, Jor-El and Lara painfully decide to jettison their son, along with all the genetic material of Krypton’s hatchery, to a planet where he will most-likely be a freak to them.  This is nothing new, folks.  And it is no spoiler to say that Kal-El, their son, makes it to Earth.  This you all know.

When we first see Kal-El though, he isn’t where you might be expecting him on the “Planet.”  In fact, the Chris Nolan/David Goyer script doesn’t stick to the traditional story-line of Superman.  But, well, you’ll have to see how they manage to not piss off die-hard fans.  They did a great job of trying to appease the traditionalists and the folks who like when an origin is thrown into a Magic-Bullet and blended a bit.  I didn’t mind this slightly varied origin one bit.  It had a lot more credibility as well.

Cavill delivers an impeccable physical performance as the Man of Steel.  I could actually hear women swooning next to me at times when he really got to show off his machismo.  You know my philosophy for men and women when it comes to that, if you got it, flaunt it, it ain’t gonna last forever.  Also, it takes a lot of hard work, so I would be remiss not to point that out.  But, fret not, men and women seeking women, we get Amy Adams as Lois Lane.  She is a lot less plucky and annoying than any other version of Lois that I can remember . . . which was fine by me!  When Lois and Clark meet for the first time, when they really “meet” – things heat up in a very real sense.  Right away, Lois knows there is something different about this guy.  It becomes an obsession that Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) has to deal with at the Daily Planet.

The Superman origin story is told through some really well placed flashbacks, as we learn all about how Clark grew up a freak in Kansas.  His Earth father, Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Earth mother, Martha Kent (Diane Lane) try to keep his abilities a secret.  For the most part, they do.  But when a crucial moment of life faces Clark, will he still keep the secret as Jonathan has implored?  Or will he reveal his existence to an always-on-edge Earth?  Are some secrets worth dying for?  [Swift aside: Pretty poignant timing for this film to be debuting, wouldn’t you agree?]

Clark is forced to finally come to terms with his past, the past that was always hidden from him by the Kents.  But even that was only the tip of the non-proverbial iceberg.  With his discovery, he has ushered in a new horror on Earth.

Remember that civil-unrest on Krypton?  Well, it catches up with Clark/Kal-El and even the ghost of his father, Jor-El.  One of those hatched creatures from Krypton is the infamous General Zod, and his sole purpose is to defend Krypton.  Michael Shannon is one of my favorite actors, and when I heard he was going to be Zod, I was thrilled beyond words.  He has the ability to play a sympathetic villain, which is not as easy as you might think.  Think about the 80’s Zod, there was no sympathy for that monster, but Shannon manages to be as monstrous, if not more so, and still eeks out a semblance of . . . humanity.  His soldiers are many, but the stand-out for most will be the East-German born Antje Traue (who first caught my attention in a short role in Pandorum) as Faora-Ul.  She is the most bad-ass villainess, physically speaking, of many in a long time.  She doesn’t have a lot of dialog, but you don’t need much to determine her motivation, as she pretty much just kicks ass the whole film.  And, man, are the fight sequences loud, painful, and crushing . . . not to mention devastating to any observers in the area.  The sheer scale of the fights will leave a mark on you.

Man of Steel is one of those films that isn’t just a “movie” – it is an event.  There are films like that from time to time, where you will be recalling with friends in the years to come what your Man of Steel experience was like.  You will definitely remember this story, you will be drawn into the characters and their world, because it is very much your world.  Man of Steel reminds us all that the choices we make have consequences, political, personal and even the choices of our parents have consequences we might not yet understand.  Ultimately though, we will have to face those consequences, if even Superman can’t hide from the sins of his fathers.  There’s little hope we stand a chance ourselves.

[Read my abridged review for NerdSpan here: Man of Steel]

Star Trek Into Darkness

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

******

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (2 People gave this 3.00 out of 5)
Loading...Loading...

“Boldly go!”

STID
Click the image above for behind the scenes pics!

 

Swift shot:  The next chapter of the J.J. Abrams helmed Star Trek franchise doesn’t fail to deliver on the action, sexiness, or gut-wrenching drama you have come to expect from this incredible director.  All of your favorite characters are back to boldly go where no man has gone before.  (Screw you, PC police . . . it was meant to be man, and ‘man’ it will stay in my review!)  Some things should remain intact, even in an alternate reality.

Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) are an odd couple in this universe, with both more or less tolerating one another yet grudgingly admitting they are a fantastic team.  And from the moment the action starts, we are given a glimpse of how each views their duties.  Spock is always logical and by the book, even at great personal risk, while Kirk is always a seat-of-your-pants type leader.  This film changes those roles to a certain degree, as Kirk is betrayed by Spock and loses his command of the Enterprise.  Now, if you thought that was a spoiler – DO NOT go beyond my Red Alert line below, because there are so many things in this film that are just far too easy to spoil.

After some major convincing, Kirk is allowed back on the Enterprise under Admiral Pike, but his tenure is short-lived as a nefarious terrorist, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) has destroyed the Starfleet Archives in London.  No doubt a subtle tip of the bowler to Cumberbatch’s roots.  Harrison is a formidable opponent of Starfleet.

Kirk is put in charge of a top-secret mission to bring the Enterprise to the edge of Klingon space (where Harrison is believed to be in hiding) and fire a set of experimental long-range stealth torpedoes at Harrison and then go home and drink some scotch.  That’s the plan, but this is Abrams folks – you don’t really think it’s going to be that simple do you?  Kirk, Spock, Uhura and some defrocked “red shirts” manage to capture Harrison at great personal cost.  Also, they kinda blow the whole “top-secret” aspect of the mission . . . and disobey their original orders.  Kirk disobeys a lot of orders, it’s kind of his thing, in ANY universe!

Admiral Marcus, the mission’s architect is none to pleased and decides to rendezvous with Kirk to voice his displeasure, but turns out the Enterprise has a stowaway on board, Marcus’ daughter, Carol, again, not a major spoiler!  Marcus is played by RoboCop himself, Peter Weller, and his blonde daughter by Alice Eve.  You may recognize Alice from her other Sci-Fi role as the young Agent O in Men in Black III.  Her character plays a crucial role in Kirk’s destiny, but not how you might be thinking.

Things rapidly go from black and white to gray as words like morality and honor take on a double-meaning.  As the Federation stands on the precipice of a great war with the Klingon Empire, there are those vying for a glory-bound campaign and others determined to avoid war at all costs.  There are arguably some stabs at previous administrations in the film, but I didn’t find them overly annoying.  Suffice it to say that if you want to find politics in this film, you won’t have to look hard.  But, there are so many great things and greater characters, with Chekov, Bones and of course Scotty and his weird . . . “companion.”  All the one-liners you are hoping for are again thrown into the mix as the tension is built up to a 10 on the butt-pucker factor!  Or, a 10 on my patent pending Thrillometer!

Again, ILM (if I have to tell you who that is, it doesn’t mean anything to you anyway) lend their talents to this Star Trek film, and the attention to detail is again breathtaking and spectacular.  Back when those words actually meant something, ILM was shattering their definitions!  With Star Trek Into Darkness, they really outdid themselves.  I got to screen it in 3D which was a bit of aaaallllllll riiiiight!

There are some crucial things that happen in Star Trek Into Darkness that “flip the switch” on the past franchise, but to get into that, you need to delve into the Red Alert section below – because there will be major spoilers ahead!  If you don’t want to be deprived the joy of experiencing everything as it unfolds, and/or you are Dr. Sheldon Cooper, this ends your read.  For many reasons that you have to see to appreciate, Star Trek Into Darkness is a must watch film!  And, as it is a major popcorn flick, you need to see it in theaters . . . there is no excuse not to!

***RED ALERT*** – Spoilers below

Ok, you have been advised, you proceed now at your own risk . . .

This film takes a literal exploration of its sister sequel, The Wrath of Khan.  In fact, Khan is the primary villain, as he manipulates just about everyone into reckless danger.  Where The Wrath of Khan is known for many famous, often quoted, lines – Into Darkness delivers the same lines with not-so-subtle changes.  Perhaps a character you were expecting to say a famous line is uttered by another, equally important, character.  But, even my spoiler section isn’t going to divulge that.  Just know that the entire film is a dedicated parallel to The Wrath of Khan.  And just like when Ricardo (Fantasy Island) Montalban played him, Cumberbatch is vicious and unrelenting in his desire for revenge.  Perhaps his vengeance is a bit weak though, as Abrams only dabbles in the back-story of why he is so determined to see Marcus die.

Maybe letting us actually see Marcus’ betrayal would have made Khan a more sympathetic creature.  Perhaps his vengeance would have been justified?  Also, Abrams attempted to make the argument that vengeance doesn’t solve anything.  Ok, but ending the film like he did, a year after the attack where they go off on a five year mission might have made sense in our known Star Trek universe, but in this new reality . . . not so much.  As the film ends, Kirk [The Federation in other words] has led an incursion into Klingon space and killed a patrol there.  Vulcan is gone, and the enemies are very much at the gates.  So to go on a noble five year fact-finding mission makes little, if any, sense.  Maybe it is the warrior in me, but the ending was weak, and Kirk’s final moment at the podium about not seeking adventure and vengeance are all well and good until you hear these words . . . “Klingon bird of prey ahead, Captain!”  Now what?

 

 

Oz The Great and Powerful

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

******

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (1 People gave this 5.00 out of 5)
Loading...Loading...

This is not your Grandmother’s “The Wizard of Oz”

Oz The Great and Powerful

At last, we finally get to see how the great and powerful Wizard of Oz came to be.  I know there have been books written about the Land of Oz, but I can’t recall there being a movie about the origin of the characters.  With “Oz The Great and Powerful,” we learn how both the Wizard and the Wicked Witch of the West came to be.

Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Issac Norman Henkel Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs, or Oz for short (James Franco) is a magician in a traveling circus, circa 1905.  Currently the circus is in Kansas and Oz is performing with the help of his assistant Frank (Zach Braff).  We learn pretty quickly that Oz is a bit of a con man and a lot of a lady’s man.  One of his scams is to give pretty ladies a music box that he claims was his grandmother’s (he actually has quite a bit of these music boxes).  Oz is good at smoke and mirrors and other assorted tricks, which sure comes in handy later!!  When he is chased down by a paramour’s lover, he goes on the run and ends up…in a hot air balloon.  Not really a great place to hide when a storm is coming.

Of course there is a tornado (apparently the transportation method to get to the Land of Oz) which sweeps up the magician Oz and that’s when everything changes.  Oz meets Theodora (Mila Kunis) and pretty much instantly, sparks fly.  See, there is a prophecy that there will be a great wizard who will come and save the Land of Oz.  Theodora truly believes the prophecy is about Oz.  She brings him to the Emerald City, where he meets Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and a giant room full of gold, all of which will be his when he takes the throne.  One catch though, he needs to defeat the evil witch by breaking her magic wand.

Off Oz goes with Finley the flying monkey (also Zach Braff).  Along the way, they pass by China Town (not what you are thinking) and pick up another mate to join along in their travels, China Girl (voiced by Joey King).  When they reach the Dark Forest, they discover that they were tricked, and the ‘evil’ witch was actually Glinda the Good Witch (Michelle Williams).  Glinda convinces Oz to help her, and the people of Oz, defeat the witches that currently reside in Emerald City, thereby freeing the Land of Oz!!

Together with the residents of the Land of Oz, the magician Oz plans an amazing spectacle to defeat the two evil witches.  What follows next is a real nail-biter, as the people of Oz battle the two evil witches to gain control of the Emerald City.  I won’t give any more away but it truly is amazing.

With a two hour and ten minute running time, you would think the movie might drag but the time flew by.  The story is immersing, I felt like I was there in Oz!!  Maybe that was due to the 3D effects.  Unlike The Wizard of Oz this was not a musical, although there was one partial musical number.

Solid acting performances all around, even with wild card James Franco.  You just never know what you’ll get, between the cheesy Spider-Man 3 (“You’re my best friend forever Peter”) and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which he was really good in.  Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz were great as the witch sisters (Weisz especially being deliciously evil) and Michelle Williams was a fabulous Glinda the Good Witch.  As most of the movie, he was the voice of the monkey Finley, Zach Braff had to rely on his distinctive voice to animate his character (did you know he was also the voice of Chicken Little?).  I won’t give away who, but the actress whose character became The Wicked Witch of the West gave a stand-out performance as well.

At first, I thought the production quality was kind of lacking.  It looked like they were on a giant set.  Then I realized…it looked like The Wizard of Oz looked!!  Amazing!!  Keep in mind, this is not a remake of The Wizard of Oz, rather it’s a prequel.  Although direct references to The Wizard of Oz weren’t allowed, they made many nods to the earlier film; if you keep your eyes and ears peeled you’ll spot them.  I’m not sure if there will be a sequel to this but I hope so as I would love the chance to visit Oz again.

The movie is rated PG for some scary scenes (the flying monkeys, for one, which definitely had facelifts!!) but overall this is a great family movie that can be enjoyed by fans of The Wizard of Oz and newcomers also.

Skyfall

Monday, November 19th, 2012

******

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (4 People gave this 4.75 out of 5)
Loading...Loading...

Welcome back, Mr. Bond.

The H-Bomb:  A list containing the names of all the deep cover operatives embedded in various terrorist groups has been stolen in Istanbul, and while in pursuit of the thief, James Bond (Daniel Craig) finds himself taking a nasty dive after catching a bullet fired by fellow agent, Eve (Naomie Harris).  Believed to be dead, 007 takes the opportunity to drop off the radar for a couple of months, living in a lovely little beach bungalow, shagging gorgeous women, playing drinking games with scorpions at the local bar, ya know, the normal things that dead secret agents do.

But when Bond finds out that the MI6 headquarters in London has been bombed, he decides it’s time to go back to work.  And his old boss, M (Judi Dench), couldn’t be happier to see him, as not only has the security at MI6 been compromised, but the list that was stolen months ago has been decrypted, and the names and photos of undercover agents are being posted online.  As if all this isn’t enough, M is facing political pressure to resign in the wake of this massive security breach, and is being closely scrutinized by government bureaucrat, Mallory (Ralph Fiennes).

So, with no time to lose, she sends her best agent on the trail of this cyber terrorist.  But, the question arises, is Bond up to the task?  He’s been out of practice for quite a while, and the less-than-stellar results of his physical and psychological exams have raised a few eyebrows.  Nevertheless, he will have to do.  So, armed with his own personalized Walther PPK from the new Quartermaster (Ben Whishaw), Bond follows a lead that takes him to Shanghai, and eventually, after a few nasty scrapes, as well as a close encounter with a hungry Komodo Dragon, to Silva (Javier Bardem).

Who is Silva?  Well, aside from being the mastermind behind all this madness, he’s a “ghost” from M’s past who has come back to haunt her.  A psychotic genius with a mean axe to grind with the old gal, he will stop at nothing to see her, and all of MI6, burn to the ground.  Now, 007 is going to have to shake off the ring rust, and get back on his A-game pronto, before this bleach-blond whack-nut makes good on his promise to make “Mommy” atone for what he feels are her past sins.

Well, I said it couldn’t be done.  After first seeing Casino Royale back in 2006, I said, “This is as good as a James Bond movie can get, and it will never get this good again.”  As much as I absolutely loved it, I feared it might have been too good, in that it set the bar so high that no subsequent film in the series had even a prayer of living up to it, and after Quantum of Solace- which isn’t a bad movie, but as a sequel to Casino Royale, is underwhelming- it seemed that my fears were very much founded.  Casino Royale was just too fucking good.

However, having now seen Skyfall, the 23rd official Bond film, and the third to star the rugged, steely-eyed Craig as the legendary super spy, I can say that being proven wrong has never felt so good.  This film is easily as good as Casino Royale.  Whether or not it’s better, I’m not prepared to say, as I should see it a second time.  But for right now, it’s tied as my favorite 007 flick.  What we have here, compliments of Craig, Dench, Bardem and director Sam Mendes, is a very special James Bond movie that I can say, with confidence, is perfect on every level.  Make no mistake, people, 007 is back, and he is firing on all cylinders (or more appropriately, barrels).

In a way, Skyfall acts as a bridge between the Bond of new and old.  The gritty intensity of the Craig films is very much present, but Mendes also incorporates a number of old school Bond elements, the most apparent being the look of the film, which, as photographed by the great Roger Deakins, flawlessly mirrors the early movies while giving it all an extra visual pop.  If nothing else, Skyfall is easily the most gorgeous 007 film ever made (if there’s a real IMAX screen near you, see it on that).

In addition to the classically inspired cinematography, Mendes also welcomes back the gadgets and the witty humor.  Now, the gadgets promise to be of a less fantastical and more practical nature (“What were you expecting, an exploding pen?”), and the humor is dry, but very present.  It’s as if the producers are appeasing those who bitched about the more recent outings being too serious and not “Bondian” enough, without making it obvious that they are, in fact, appeasing them.

But the way in which Skyfall annexes the old and new the most is in its treatment of Bond himself, in how he’s written and portrayed.  He is no longer the hotheaded, overly impulsive, trigger-happy novice of Casino and Quantum, he is now a battle-hardened veteran with many, many missions under his belt.  Missions that have taken a toll on him over time.  He’s still a lethal motherfucker, but he‘s also looking haggard and tired, as if all the years of running and gunning have caused him to “lose a step.”  This, above all else, is what defines Craig’s Bond, he is all too human.  That humanity, that mortality, is what makes his take on the character so wonderfully unique, and this time he truly outdoes himself.

As M, Dench is given her largest role ever in the franchise.  Now, that may make some of you, who thought she was in Quantum way too much, groan.  But, let me put your minds at ease, she isn’t just some henpecking old nag who pops in to berate Bond every five minutes.  No, this time M is actually an integral part of the story, and the way it plays out is one of Skyfall’s many surprises.  Her sort-of mother/son relationship with Bond gives the movie a genuine emotional payoff, and performance-wise, Dench rises to the occasion.

If there was one thing that was missing from the Craig Bonds, it was the presence of a truly great villain.  Skyfall rectifies that with the frighteningly psychotic Silva, embodied by none other than Anton Chigurh himself, Javier Bardem.  A larger-than-life villain who “comes from the shadows,” Silva will no doubt become iconic in series canon.  Bardem gives him a playful side, as he taunts Bond with genuine glee.  But, much like Heath Ledger’s Joker, underneath the playful facade, there is something very dark and sinister about Silva.  He is one sick, disturbed puppy, and perhaps, the greatest Bond villain of all time.  Bravo, Mr. Bardem, you and your hair have managed to scare me shitless yet again.

Fiennes, Harris, and Albert Finney all do solid work in their supporting roles, but since I can’t say a whole hell of a lot about them without dropping spoilers, I’ll just have to leave it at that.  French beauty Berenice Marlohe, as the requisite femme fatale, brings a sexy mystique to her character, it’s just too bad that she exits the film as quickly as she does.  Whishaw gets some laughs as the new Q, and I look forward to seeing him banter with Bond in future films.

Looking at the actors named above, it is very safe to say that Skyfall has the greatest cast this series has ever seen, and in Sam Mendes, it also has the greatest director to have ever worked on the franchise.  This guy is not only a world class, Oscar-winning filmmaker, but he’s also a lifelong Bond fan, who clearly understands that it’s the character of Bond, and not the over-the-top chases and gun battles, that makes this series special.  In fact, not only does Mendes not shoe-horn a ton of needless action set pieces into the film, he actually scales the action back, and uses it to serve the story, instead of merely supplementing it.  What we get is something unheard of, a Bond flick that favors character and story over stunts and explosions.

That’s not to say that it doesn‘t have its share of spectacle.  From the opening train top chase in Istanbul, to the western-style showdown at an old Scottish manor, there are pyrotechnics aplenty.  For me, since Craig is so physically adept, the action works best when he gets up close and personal with his adversaries.  And this time, my personal favorite slug-fest would have to be the life or death scuffle in a Shanghai skyscraper that’s entirely backlit, so only the silhouettes are visible, and that plays out in one uninterrupted shot.  A finer display of Craig’s mad ass-kicking skills I have not seen.

Add, as a cherry on top, a sensational title song by Adele, and what we have with Skyfall is a truly exceptional entry in the 007 canon.  One that upholds the traditions of the series, while also breaking away from the standard formula by serving up a number of surprising twists and turns throughout, including a real zinger of a climax.  The James Bond franchise turns 50 this year, and I can’t think of a greater gift that the producers could have given the fans who have stuck with it for half a century.  It‘s our editor Rick Swift‘s new favorite of the series, and as stated earlier, it‘s deadlocked with Casino Royale as being mine, as well.  I can’t put it any plainer than that, Skyfall is Double-O Awesome!

Skyfall

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

******

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (1 People gave this 5.00 out of 5)
Loading...Loading...

Scotland is no country for old men!

Swift shot: It’s been fifty years since we were introduced to the screen version of Ian Fleming’s 007.  Skyfall marks the latest, arguably, greatest of the franchise. I grew up with the debonair Bond, Roger Moore.  There have been so many iterations of the character, and granted, it’s been 50 years, and I wouldn’t expect, nor want to see Moore as Bond now.  No offense Roger, we’ll always have Octopussy.  But the semi-centennial honors go to Daniel Craig. He brings a living pulse to Bond, you feel every scene with all your senses, you can’t escape his reality, his pain.

Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Jarhead) begins Skyfall as all the great Bonds of yesteryear, it opens with a dramatic, over the top, chase. On rooftops, on motorcycles, on trains, through crowded streets in Turkey, Bond and his not-so-skilled, behind the wheel, accomplice, Eve (Naomie Harris) are pursuing an enemy that somehow managed to steal the NATO covert agent list.  [Being a former NATO intel guy myself, that brought things home a bit, granted I was overt, with a capital O].  But you get the concept that letting the identities of these agents slip is dire, and M (Judi Dench) can’t afford to lose the list.  She has to make the hard call. She does, and this sets things into motion.

Things go from bad to worse as MI6 is directly assaulted, again under M’s watch leading her to a resounding “No” from the Prime Minister.  Essentially told to gracefully resign in two months by a straight-jawed civilian, Garreth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), the clock begins ticking for her to find out which of her sins is finally catching up with her. Being M means that list is probably as long as the covert agent list itself.

She recruits a ghost agent to help her at least not leave her beloved command in a buggery of shambles before she turns it over. It’s a ghost she relies on, resurrected, that must help her drown a rat from her past, only this is a rat she betrayed for the greater good.  Thing is, all that “for England” shit is all well and good until it is your ass dealing with her betrayal. Sometimes mother doesn’t always know best.

With the demise of the old Quartermaster, or Q, MI6 introduces some youthful exuberance, or is that hubris, in the new Q (Ben Whishaw).  He’s not my favorite actor, but he turned in a believable, albeit, feeble Q.  As I’ve been sworn to ‘code-word’ secrecy not to spoil anything, I hope I can reveal the rat from M’s past is Mr. Silva (Javier Bardem).  A few of his scenes are over the top and teetering on the edge of Shatner-esque acting, but he tethers his performance in credibility so it works.  But, it’s a cut-throat razor’s edge to be sure.  Some people were laughing at his performance, and I couldn’t fault them. He’s one of those actors that deliver pure terror in your mind and you still find him oddly fascinating and quirky.  His blond hair though, has to go, it does grudgingly serve to show his vanity.

Speaking of vanity, you’ll be “in your bunk” over the sultry femme fatale Severine (Berenice Marlohe) who plays the crucial role in putting all the pieces together that lead to the final scene.

And just what the hell is Skyfall?  I feel like that may be the biggest spoiler of all, but let’s just say its an origin to everything.  In fact when I first heard Adele’s song on the radio I said out loud . . . these lyrics suck.  But if you watch them in the context of the film they make perfect sense and even reveal a lot about the story.

As this is the fifty year anniversary to the 007 debut, there are countless nods, allusions, and straight out word-for-word dialogs of past films. It was a really nice touch for the loyal fans in the audience.  And it gave me a chance to reflect on some of the excellent films of the past, as well as the bombs, and it had me wondering . . . my kid is four now, which Bond will he consider the “real” 007?  I’m excited to find out, and I’m excited for you as well, because you are going to love this film!  See it in theaters to get the adrenaline really kicking.  Incredible action sequences, sexy seduction (sadly sans nudity), and more explosions and mayhem than I could fathom demands this be on your Bond must-see list for all time!  That’s why I gave it my coveted six-stars!

[Swift aside – speaking of my son, I sacrificed an interview with the following to take him to the Magic Kingdom for trick-or-treating: Daniel Craig; Javier Bardem; Naomie Harris; Berenice Marlohe; Barbara Broccoli.  If he complains about ANYTHING, I will remind him of that fact, of that you can be sure.  But, again, our buddy Kai did manage to show up, so check out his interviews, here].

The Dark Knight Rises

Friday, July 20th, 2012

******

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (3 People gave this 4.33 out of 5)
Loading...Loading...

“I’m not afraid…  I’m angry!”

The H-Bomb:  It’s been eight years since The Joker wreaked havoc on Gotham City, and since then, things have been relatively peaceful, with a crime rate that has dwindled to almost nothing.  But for Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), time has done very little to heal old wounds, as he has since become a Howard Hughes-like recluse.  It’s not just the loss of his life-long love that has sent him, and his crime fighting alter ego underground, but also a pact he made with Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), to take the fall for the murders committed by Gotham D.A. Harvey “Two-Face” Dent, a once heroic figure who was disfigured and driven insane by The Joker.

So, with Dent’s heroic image intact, the citizens galvanized to pass a tough anti-crime bill that finally stomped out the mob’s rule over the city.  At last, Gotham is at peace, but, it’s a peace based on a lie… and peace based on a lie cannot last.  One person who doesn’t seem to buy into the “official” story about Dent is a young, earnest cop named John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who has more or less pieced together Batman’s true identity.

Bruce Wayne, meanwhile, finds his curiosity piqued by the sassy and agile cat burglar, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), after he catches her stealing, of all things, his fingerprints.  What could she possibly want with those?  Wayne would really like to know.  All the while, a chase into the sewers leads Gordon to a horrifying discovery…  the rise of an underground army led by a gargantuan, muzzle-masked freak known simply as Bane (Tom Hardy), a man hell bent on ending the eight years of harmony that Gotham has enjoyed.

Now, Wayne must once again don the cape and cowl in order to battle this new evil.  But, he is nearly a decade older now, and in that time he has been worn down both spiritually and physically.  It doesn’t help that, for the first time in his crime fighting life, he is going up against a foe who is, physically, his equal.  A monstrously powerful man who he might not even have been able to defeat in his prime, let alone eight years and a bum leg later.

Since I am committed to keeping this review free of spoilers, I’ll just stop right there with the plot.  Yeah, there is a lot more going on than I described, but it is best to go into this movie as cold as possible.  I’ll just say, that with The Dark Knight Rises, director Christopher Nolan has done the impossible… or, at least, what I thought was impossible, he has made a film that not only rises to the same towering level of excellence as The Dark Knight, he has actually surpassed it.  Sam Raimi, do take note, this is how you wrap up a superhero trilogy!

The best way to see The Dark Knight Rises is to re-watch the two previous Nolan Batman films right beforehand, that way you can really see how the character of Bruce Wayne grows from film to film, and how he comes full circle at the end.  In Batman Begins, he was an angry young man who learned to channel his desire for revenge into fighting for what’s right and just.  With The Dark Knight, the chapter where, much like The Empire Strikes Back, everything goes wrong for the good guys, Batman is forced to question his own morality while facing off against a fearless villain whose end game, it seems, is to make Batman kill him.  Now, with The Dark Knight Rises, we see Wayne as a bitter, broken man, who is set on a path to redemption.

Watching the journey he takes over the course of this trilogy is what really makes it for me: Bruce Wayne, unlike in the Burton or Schumacher films, is a flesh and blood human being who is constantly changing and growing throughout.  Just looking at him, you can really see that he is carrying the weight of what happened to him in the previous films on his shoulders.  That’s why I say watch all three movies back-to-back-to-back, the character arc is really impressive, and that, to me, is why Bale is the definitive Batman.  His Batman is by far the most challenged and conflicted, and he is terrific through the whole trilogy, even if he was upstaged in the second film.

Which brings me to a few concerns I had going into the third Nolan Bat-film.  How are they going to top the last one?  How are they going to deal with the Joker?  As stoked as I was, I just had that general fear of disappointment leading up to this movie.  But, as stated, that fear was very much misplaced, as I was absolutely blown the fuck away by what has to be both the best conclusion of a trilogy I have ever seen, and perhaps, the best comic book movie of all time (I wouldn’t say that if I didn’t mean it).

Much like The Dark Knight, it took me a while to get into it, with a first act that goes in about a million different directions, introducing a whole slew of new characters and story threads, that seems kind of choppy and becomes dangerously close to being too busy.  But once Bale puts on the suit and comes roaring through the darkness on his Bat-Pod, this thing had my complete and undivided attention, with my ass planted firmly in my seat and my eyes glued to the fucking Imax screen for the duration.  (If you can see this bitch in Imax, then see this bitch in Imax!)

With all the characters and subplots running around, some may fear this is going to be another Spider-Man 3.  Let me put your minds at ease about that right now.  While, like Spidey 3, this is a pretty crowded playing field, this film managed to fit all those individual pieces together to create a whole that is satisfying and focused, where every character got their due screen time, and nothing felt half-baked or shoe-horned in (like Venom in Spidey 3).  At two hours and forty-five minutes, it is a long ride, but there’s nary a dull moment.

An aspect of The Dark Knight that put it heads and shoulders above all other comic book movies was how emotional it was.  During the last third of that film, I was on the edge of my seat, wondering what was going to happen next, with my stomach tied in knots, terrified for the characters.  No comic flick, especially a Batman movie, had ever done that to me before.

This time, Nolan has both duplicated and amplified that intensity.  During the latter half of Rises, when Wayne is recovering physically, and rediscovering the hero inside himself, I felt that same level of investment, and was rooting for him all the way.  When he makes his fiery return to Gotham for the final showdown, I had to restrain myself from cheering aloud.  Like in the second film, Nolan creates an atmosphere of utter despair, only this time he has his Dark Knight rise in a way that is truly triumphant, thus making the emotional payoff all the more satisfying.

There’s also a sense of playful humor in Rises that many people thought was missing from its predecessor, coming mainly from the cheery old Alfred (Michael Caine), and gadget man Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman).  It was great seeing both of these veteran’s back, though I didn’t like how Alfred abruptly exits the story about midway through.  It just seemed like a strange thing for the character, Wayne’s one true friend, to do.

Hathaway also brings a welcome dose of sly, sardonic wit as Selina Kyle, a rather desperate character with an agenda of her own.  A lot of people poo-pooed the casting of Hathaway in the role, but I say poo-poo on them!  She was perfect!  Whether trading barbs with Wayne, or kicking the crap out of people, or just looking dead fucking sexy in her catsuit, she was amazing.

Speaking of amazing, there’s Gordon-Levitt as the eager beaver cop John Blake.  Now this character may sound bland and boring, and if the wrong actor had been cast, he probably would have been.  But Gordon-Levitt plays him as such a complex, layered person with his own tragic past, that he becomes just as compelling to watch as the more colorful characters in here.  He proves to be an invaluable ally to Batman as the story progresses, and the way the film pays this character off at the end is brilliant.

But enough about the side characters, let’s get to the villain of this picture, Bane.  If the Joker was evil incarnate, then Bane is his bigger, meaner, less playful older brother (in actuality, while not related to The Joker, Bane does have ties to a past Bat-Villain that I won‘t reveal).  Taking one look at Hardy in this role, I thought to myself, “Batman would have to be fucking crazy not to be afraid of this guy!”  And right I was, especially after their bone crunching first encounter, one of the best cinematic fist fights you’ll ever see, that leaves Batman in a state of… discomfort, to phrase it mildly.  This isn’t the grunting, retard Bane from that Joel Schumacher abortion, this is a monster who is as smart as he is powerful, and who is just as scary when he speaks as he is when he’s cracking skulls and snapping necks.  And for the record, I understood him just fine whenever he spoke.

Long and short of it, Bane is a great villain.  But what about The Joker?  What happened to that guy?  Well, if you’re hoping the movie is going to tell you, you’re in for a disappointment, because it doesn’t.  That’s why I think it was a very smart move on Nolan’s part to set the film so long after the events in the last one, so he wouldn’t have to explain The Joker’s fate.  It’s at a point in time when The Joker is nothing more than a bad memory for Gotham.  He has long since been neutralized, and the city has moved on.  Still, I wonder what this film would’ve been had Heath Ledger not tragically passed away, as The Dark Knight was clearly just the beginning for that character.

But that’s enough pontificating on what might have been, let’s look at The Dark Knight Rises for what it is, a rousing conclusion to a truly epic trilogy that rivals The Lord of the Rings in its ambition and The Godfather in its complexity.  In fact, I prefer it to those trilogies (well, okay, not The Godfather Trilogy), and I prefer it to the original Star Wars trilogy.  I know I might eat crow for saying that, but fuck it, my review, my opinion.  If you only go to the theaters once this summer, go to see The Dark Knight Rises.  If you only go to the theaters twice this summer, go to see The Dark Knight Rises again!  I know I’m sounding like a groveling fan boy, but it is that kind of incredible.  I believed in Christopher Nolan, and he delivered.

The Amazing Spider-Man

Friday, June 29th, 2012

******

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (2 People gave this 4.50 out of 5)
Loading...Loading...

“Spider-Man belongs to everyone.”

Check out my interview with Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and Dr. Denis Leary here!

Swift shot:  They finally addressed the fact that Peter Parker is more than just a teenager with a fortunate spider-bite, he is a real person, and more to the point, he is a genius! Fans of Spider-Man, the “real” Spider-Man, whatever that means anymore, should be incredibly happy to see a more compassionate person, rather than a caricature of what Hollywood thinks we want to see on the big screen, Andrew Garfield’s Parker was real in many ways.  In a few scenes, even the way he sat on the floor felt real, un-staged, and maybe the lanky guy that I am can appreciate how it works . . . tucking your knee under your chin and focusing intently on a book on the floor.  Little physical tricks like that helped flesh-out Peter Parker in The Amazing Spider-Man and while it is a giant Summer action blockbuster, there was a slight pulse throughout that couldn’t be ignored.  You feel for these characters in a big way.

When we first see Peter, he is only about seven years old, and his parents are still in his life.  But someone decides to destroy the happy home, and his parents flee in the night, leaving Peter scared, confused and a bit angry as he grows up without his real parents to guide him.  His Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Fields) are wonderful, but they just aren’t his parents.  A boy needs his father, and Peter’s quest to find answers to his father’s fate lead him to his destiny and molds the destinies of those around him in ways he will never be able to reconcile.

The teenaged Peter is a hero in his own right, whilst he may not have the physical mettle to stand up to injustice, his heart and courage are remarkable.  He is smitten by Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), who is probably as smart, if not smarter than he is, but he isn’t really on her radar as far as he knows.  The direct-from-central-casting bully, Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka) thinks he can get any girl, but Gwen isn’t interested in him either.

One night, when Peter happens upon his father’s briefcase, he discovers a clue about his father’s work, and his dad’s old partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) conveniently is hosting a group of interns from his school . . . and Gwen happens to be in charge of the group.  It might have been a bit too convenient, but we’ll let that pass, as this is where Peter, again searching for clues, manages to find himself in a web of intrigue when he gets bit by . . . duh, a “special” spider.  Dr. Connors’ research is only missing one piece, a formula that Peter’s father was working on solving.  It never occurred to Peter that maybe his dad didn’t want Connors solving the riddle of genetic manipulation.  From here, I think you can figure out the rest, no spoiler alert needed, Parker becomes Spider-Man and Connors eventually becomes The Lizard.  [By the way, that was the number one answer when I asked my twitter followers their favorite Spider-Man villain . . . mentioned in my interviews above]

Dr. Denis Leary turns in a solid performance as Captain Stacy, Gwen’s dad.  He’s a good-guy, which Leary admits is against his grain as an actor, so it was a novel role for him.  Stacy sees Spider-Man as a masked nutjob, a vigilante going around doing police work the wrong way.  In one somewhat dramatic scene, Stacy and Parker are debating on the morality of Spider-Man and how he doesn’t let the little fish get away, he busts all skulls.  I like that scene, because it developed the characters in a way that most of us could relate . . . if you have ever been at one of those dinners you wish you could just jettison yourself away from the table because the conversation is getting way too serious.

You’ll note this review, like the film, is focusing on the story more than the cool Spider-Man stuff.  I was impressed by the special effects team and the stunt crew, and visually this film stands out as really delivering that immerseve quality that a lot of CGI-rich films lack.  I had the opportunity to peak at some of the behind the scenes stuff whilst waiting for our interviews, and I can tell you a lot of the physical stuff is done by people, that is why it doesn’t look like a giant cartoon.  And, yes, I saw it in 3D IMAX, and Director Marc Webb [that still makes me chuckle, Web / Spider] added some first-person wall-crawling effects in there . . . most likely for fans of the video games.  I thought it was a nice touch, it was almost over-used, but he managed to avoid that trap.  Oh, and speaking of traps, the sewer trap scene was ripped right out of the comics and was so well done, showing how Parker can be a genius and the biggest web-head on the planet by overlooking one key element when laying out his trap for The Lizard.

After I met Emma Stone, I feel I would be doing her injustice if I didn’t point out that she brought to life a character that is probably often over-looked in the Spider-Man nerd-verse in Gwen Stacy.  Gwen’s character is the glue that keeps Peter, Captain Stacy and Dr. Connors weaved together in a complex story about a boy struggling to find himself as he faces ghosts from his past, deals with tragedy and power and all whist still not being able to legally drink.

I had one person comment that this film should never have been made, granted, they didn’t see it yet.  They were reacting out of anger that the other trilogy was dead, but I am like Andrew Garfield, I just wanted to see my ‘buddy’ on the screen again.  Spider-Man is, by far, my favorite Marvel character, he is surrounded by so much tragedy and pain, yet he still maintains his morality and avoids evil choices.  If you search the Marvel wiki, there are countless versions of Spider-Man, and whilst this film may be yet another version, it was highly entertaining.  And, I caught the ORIGINAL 1967 series Spider-Man [the one with the best song on the PLANET] wherein Dr. Curt Connors is a doctor in the Florida Everglades who has both arms and is trying to cure swamp-fever!   So, yea, spare me any attacks that this film isn’t the REAL Spider-Man . . . he doesn’t exist.  Yet, he does exist, we are all Spider-Man . . . otherwise, what’s the point of loving the character?