Saturday, July 30, 2011

Captain America Review

When trying to think back on moments that I loved in Marvel's Captain America: The First Avenger, not a whole lot comes to mind. In fact, the whole movie is something of a blur. The character certainly has a following and his presence in recent comic books like Civil War and The Ultimates has given him a great deal of depth. However, that does not translate over into this fairly bland film. In it, we merely see a good man, imbued with super strength and set against an evil foe. How many films of the genre could be described by that description? Although Captain America isn't a terrible movie, it sins in that it doesn't give Cap the origin he deserves.

There are some decent performances in Captain America. Chris Evans and Hugo Weaving attack their roles with serious gusto, with the former proving himself as a solid Steve Rogers. Their good vs. evil struggle throughout the film, lacks anything interesting behind it. Weaving's Red Skull has harnessed the power of the gods (in a Thor tie-in) and aims to blast the good guys with nondescript laser beams - Captain America is the only man tough enough to stop him.

I'm getting bored just writing about it. I've never bought into the superhero-movie fatigue that many critics have sited (especially in relation to this year's Summer lineup), but I'm beginning to understand. Every film released could be a comic-book adaptation and I would be fine with that, but the films need to be interesting. Many superheroes, at their core, are quite similar, and parading their origin stories in front of us only makes that more apparent. It's the captivating situations in which they find themselves that make these films worth making. Not every film in the genre is going to have an edge like Nolan's Batman films or even that of X-Men: First Class, but creative individuals (such as graphic novel writers) need to be on-hand to make these characters worth watching onscreen, otherwise the fact that Hollywood is cashing in on a fad for quick $ becomes real.

So what went wrong with Captain America? I have a few guesses. Primarily though, I'd throw the blame at director Joe Johnston's feet. How this guy got the gig to direct the film is a mystery to me - perhaps he's still riding the goodwill he earned by designing Boba Fett as one of George Lucas' underlings. Since October Sky over a decade ago, Johnston has helmed failure upon failure. Hildalgo was laughably bad and Jurassic Park III might have single-handedly marked the end of my childhood. Let's not forget that Johnston's last film previous to Cap was The Wolfman, both a critical and box-office bomb. Maybe it's just me, but aren't directors for huge properties usually chosen when coming off successes? Johnston is as bland, boring and cookie-cutter of a director as you're likely to find working in Hollywood. The guy doesn't even seem to have any passion for the craft anymore. In Captain America, he even fails to capture the same, fun, period-aesthetic that he did so many years ago in The Rocketeer.

I wouldn't really recommend that anyone see Captain America in theaters, but good god, if you must, do yourself a favor and see it in 2D. Part of what ruined my viewing experience of this film was the post-conversion 3D. The images in the film were blurry and way too dark. Was it really worth it to make the movie 3D just for a few shield throws? Most of the film's 3D accomplishes an 'enhanced' depth-of-field, which is something 2D film does just fine by itself. I couldn't decide whether it was better to watch the dark, blurry film with the glasses on, or watch the bright and occasionally blurry film with the glasses off. I'll admit that I think 3D as a whole is pretty stupid, but I'm aware of the potential there for image clarity at least when film's are shot in 3D to begin with. Converting to 3D in post-production is just lame though and an avenue for quick profit.

After the credits are done rolling, viewers are treated to an Avengers trailer. In it, you see the title characters all interacting for the first time, which is fun. I feel like the ambitious project would be biting off more than it can chew if Joss Whedon weren't directing. There's just so much to fit into one film, I don't believe any of the Marvel films' previous directors would be able to pull it off. Whedon has a close relationship with the comics, so he knows how to make these characters interesting. He's also adept at working with ensembles, which should help immensely here. The footage from The Avengers looks promising, but I can't help that my excitement was slightly stifled after having just seen Captain America.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Retro Trailers

In honor of Aliens' recent 25-year anniversary, I have posted a trailer for the film here. If you haven't seen it, or haven't seen it recently, do yourself a favor and watch it. It's one of the best films ever made and, in my opinion, the best thing James Cameron has ever done.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 Reviewed

I know I'm in the minority here, but I legitimately didn't like J.K. Rowling's final "Harry Potter" installment. I found it to be somewhat boring, anti-climactic, and terribly unsatisfying. It bothered me for months after finishing. My one hope that this series wouldn't leave a bad taste in my mouth lived with this final film (actually the final two). This time, I was not left disappointed, for Harry Potter finally has an end worthy of the series.

These last two Deathly Hallows films are just a cut above the rest. Almost every film in the series could have benefited from being split into two parts. It cuts down on that rushed feeling that often accompanies literary adaptations. Pacing, mood and character development are no longer slaves to the necessary shoehorning of important plot points. Part 1 is the slower film of the two, an enjoyable yet bleak affair that leads you through some tense events with a near-post-apocalyptic feeling to it. Part 2 is the showdown where everything finally comes to a head.  It's definitely the film with the shortest plot duration, which is a plus in that it allows events their proper exposure.

The Hogwarts portion of the story, which, in the book, I found to be terribly brief when considering the length of entire series, essentially gets its own film. There's a definite "this is it" "let's go" feel to the film. It's high energy, loaded with action and emotionally draining. Harry's return to Hogwarts feels special since that element was missing from the previous installment. Even in these dire circumstances, it was still good to see all the familiar faces that we've seen consistently throughout the series. One of my favorite moments of the film involves Professor McGonagall sending the castle's knight's to protect the bridge. It just screams "epic", but then again, most moments in the movie do as well.

It wouldn't take much for these characters, their situation and their world to seem silly, but Yates displays a knack for drawing us into this fray, making it feel as realistic and as frightening as possible. Dementors, gliding like black death, threaten the castle, as do giants, dark wizards and enormous spiders, which is pretty out there, but the way it's captured makes it feel like a real warzone. This truly feels like the showdown everything else has lead up to. 

Some fans might be disappointed by the lack of screentime and attention received by certain supplementary characters, but to me, the film concentrates on what's important - Harry himself. Even his closest friends, Ron and Hermione seem to take an even further-removed backseat. This really allows for the character to become the man he was meant to be. Radcliffe attacks his performance as a man on a mission, giving Potter the aura of a legend who is truly good and fearless to boot.

With emotions running so high, the end almost feels a tad underwhelming. Harry and Voldemort battle for a while, but the moment of truth might have been a little more spectacular, but I won't hold that against the film too much because I think it would be impossible for any part of the film  (or most films for that matter) to match the emotional quality of the tear-inducing Snape-sequence.

As with much of the other Harry Potter films, this one also suffers from a fair amount of exposition, but I guess it's necessary at this point, so people don't get confused by the murkier story developments. I'm inclined to brush over it more with this film because there's just so much good in it.

The very end of the film (the book's epilogue), plays out a tad silly here with CG that doesn't seem to age the characters the necessary amount. However, it's still sorta sweet. Now we must say goodbye to Harry, possibly for good. I will hold out hope that someday Rowling will return at least to the Wizarding World and that perhaps we will have more of these great films (don't you think a period-set prequel featuring Voldemort's initial rise would be awesome?).

Adapting books to film can be tricky - even more so with popular fiction. I don't love all of the Harry Potter films, but I love a majority of them and like the rest just fine, I suppose. But when speaking about the series as a whole - these films are better than they ever had any right to be. Pumping out eight quality films with a fairly consistent cast whilst maintaining the interest of the masses is no easy feat. In fact, it's unprecedented. I'm sure someday a series will come along that rivals this one (there are certainly enough pretenders out there), but for now, Harry Potter stands alone. In the end, I must give a great deal of credit to director David Yates, who took on the series after three directors had already had their hand at it. He gave the series the tone and style it needed for these final installments, something I don't believe any of his predecessors had the ability to.


The Rundown: The Dark Knight Rises Teaser Trailer

Personally, I'd just wait and see it for myself, but if anyone is interested in what The Dark Knight Rises teaser trailer entails, here it is (as far as I remember):

- There are a bunch of clips from the previous films (mostly Begins) with titles intercut saying things about "the heroes journey" and how they must always come to an end.

- There are also images reminiscent of the teaser poster, showing buildings crumbling from above. Throughout the trailer, these images move progressively upwards until the end where they become the bat symbol in a fashion similar to trailers for the previous installments.

- What felt like the bulk of the trailer was new footage of Jim Gordon laid up in a hospital bed, barely able to breathe, talking to an offscreen Batman/Bruce Wayne. He's wheezing, so I don't think I picked up on everything he said, but it was something to the effect of "You left us and allowed this evil to come in. Please come back" and Wayne responds "what if he can't?" and more from Gordon on why they need Batman.

- There's a split-second cut of Bane's face in the mask, though most people have already seen what that looks like.

- The final fresh image from the trailer is Batman lifting himself from standing water and seemingly struggling, hands raised to fight, and then Bane's enormous back enters the frame.

This isn't a 100% account, but I assure you it's pretty close. Though, since it was very late and much of my attention then went to Harry Potter, some details may have escaped my memory.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Top-Ten Films of 2011 (So Far)

It's a little over halfway through the year, so it's only appropriate that we do a mid-year top-ten films list. Typically, most of the year's best are released closer to its final quarter, so it'll be interesting to see what selections from this list make 2011's final cut.

1. X-Men: First Class:

Of all the many superhero flicks that have come out this Summer, First Class is a cut above the rest. There are some moments where the film deteriorates into the standard fare, but they are few, far between and easily forgettable when considering the film's many bright spots. Michael Fassbender knocks the Magneto role out of the park, as do Kevin Bacon and James McAvoy in their respective roles. Unlike this month's Captain America, First Class also nails mostly every aspect of the period setting.

Year's Best? 
Could be. You never know, especially considering the quality of films released during the final quarter of the year. However, I'm very high on this film and could easily see it taking up the spot in my top-ten typically reserved for Summer blockbusters.

2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2:

An excellent ending to a solid series. Unlike the equally excellent Part 1, Part 2 is defined by a definite "let's do this thing" attitude, filled with emotion and thrills.

Year's Best? 
This is also a possibility. Again, this depends on the crop of films going forward, but this film could succeed where Part 1 fell slightly short last year.

3. City of Life and Death:

This Chinese WWII drama depicting the Rape of Nanking perpetrated by the invading Japanese forces is hard to forget. The film is shocking and upsetting, but also hauntingly beautiful in its portrayal of war and all those involved. City of Life and Death is probably the best war film I've seen in years. 

Year's Best?
Strong possibility. (Though the film was released a couple years ago abroad, it hadn't made its way to the States until recently)

4. Meek's Cutoff:

Kelly Reichardt's newest, a wagon-train western of sorts isn't for everyone. It's slow and utterly without cliche, which makes it foreign territory amongst most mainstream modern westerns. Besides being visually stunning, Meek's features a reserved-yet-dynamic performance from the always-excellent Michelle Williams, who can't help but look great even in a bonnet and peddicoat. Over the course of the film, you become greatly invested in the characters and their plight - a search for drinkable water with an inept guide in Meek himself. The film comes to a conclusion at an unlikely point and that's initially frustrating, but once that feeling passes, it becomes thought-provoking and entirely too fitting for the type of film Reichardt was making.

Year's Best?
Also, highly possible.

5. Midnight in Paris:

Woody Allen's latest is one of his best in years. Wilson gives a great performance as do the actors in the historical roles. Midnight's time-travel aspect is magical and without unnecessary explanation. The whole movie, in fact, is quite (for lack of better word) whimsical.

Year's Best?
I'd doubt it, but it's destined to be the year's best comedy. Sure to be on many senior citizens' best of 2011 lists though.

6. The Tree of Life

Malick's latest gets better with every viewing. The visuals are stunning throughout and anyone who cares to scratch the surface of the film's titular implications will get something out of viewing it. There is likely to be no other film like it this year or next.

Year's Best?
A possibility, though it might just fall short when the time comes.

7. Source Code:

Like director Duncan Jones' feature debut, Moon, Source Code examines some interesting existential issues in an effective and engaging way - though this sophomore effort is definitely higher on action. Gyllenhaal gives a solid leading performance and the film comes to a satisfactory conclusion that is likely to elicit some audible "hmmm"s from viewers.

Year's Best?
Probably not, but an above-average effort from the first third of the year. 

8. Hanna:

Joe Wright's edgiest film to date features some solid performances, especially from its leading lady, as well as a great soundtrack and some creative action sequences. Hanna makes the list because of its originality and uniqueness.

Year's Best?
Nah. See Source Code.

9. Thor:

Definitely the better of the two Marvel offerings this Summer - Thor is a lot of fun. Hemsworth owns the role and Branagh captures Asgard admirably.

Year's Best? 
Not likely. Not ahead of First Class anyway.

10. The Troll-Hunter:

A foreign, found-footage horror/fantasy, you say? A silly film, for sure, but also quite imaginative.

Year's Best?
Well, no, but that's not to say it isn't awesome though. 

The Casting Call

There's been just so much interesting casting news lately that I can't really ignore it. Here's a list of what's been going on recently.

1. Ted Danson joins CSI in place of Laurence Fishburne:

Okay, I've never really watched CSI, but I might have to start. Ted Danson in the show's lead role sounds great and just plain weird.

2. Chris Pine might be Robocop:

A  lot of people aren't happy about the Jose Padilha-helmed Robocop remake and I can see why. Plenty of loyalists don't want it because the original is so good and perhaps doesn't need updating, others don't like it because Darren Aronofsky was previously attached to the project and moving forward without him just seems like a missed opportunity.

I, on the other hand, have faith in Padilha (whose Elite Squad is a pretty awesome film) and believe an updated version of the now-classic film might be pretty cool. However, one of the major problems I see this production having is casting. Verhoeven was at the top of his game with the original, for certain, but he was lucky to have someone like Peter Weller in the title role. Apart from being a decent overall actor in his own right, Weller really goes the extra mile physically to make the somewhat ridiculous character premise believable. Having some pampered Hollywood celeb as Robocop just doesn't seem feasible. I imagine a lot of the character will be computer animated, so that might take a little bit of the strain out of the performance, but it's still going to be hard.

I'm really very high on top-contender Chris Pine normally, but I don't know if he's right for the role. His limitation isn't is his acting ability - perhaps he will show just how good he is and give an excellent performance - his drawback is that he's just too darn charismatic. Why have him play the role of an android? Personally, I'd rather see him in a different role, like Bob Morton (played in the original by Miguel Ferrer). I'd buy that for a dollar. Anyway, this is all purely academic at this point. Who knows if this film will ever actually get made, let alone stick to its original casting wishes (which no large production ever seems to do).

3. Josh Brolin might take on the lead in Oldboy remake:

This is a big "meh" for me. Oldboy is another remake film-fans are already contemptuous toward. Blah blah blah, you love the original, why remake it? blah blah blah. For my money, Oldboy isn't all that good to begin with, so remake it or not, I don't really care. A Spike-lee helmed, Americanized version could be interesting, but whatever, it's taking forever to get this project off the ground as well, so we'll just have to wait and see if this becomes reality.

4. Edward Norton might be villain in next Bourne film:

Can't a franchise just end these days? Enough with the Bourne movies already. This one doesn't even have Bourne in it. I like Jeremy Renner as a replacement and Tony Gilroy as a director, but I can't help but feel that their talents are wasted on this. This news is the only thing that makes this project worthy of notice. Norton is a fun actor to watch and a pretty good heel, so he could give this film a much-needed shot in the arm.

5. Schwarzenegger chooses role for acting return:

And it's just the one I was hoping he would. The various Terminator rumors surrounding Arnold were somewhat interesting, but I'm kind of rooting for him not to return to the series when it gets its inevitable reboot. For his return, he'll be taking on some baddies at the border in The Last Stand, Kim Jee-Woon's (The Good, The Bad, and the Weird and I Saw the Devil) American feature debut. When the film was first announced, Liam Neeson was in line for the role, which I was all in favor of, though it was a little on-the-nose. Arnold makes for a more interesting choice, though, and I'm excited to see how him and Jee-Woon work together.

Here's a synopsis for the film:
Schwarzenegger will be starring as Sheriff Owens, a man who has resigned himself to a life of fighting what little crime takes place in sleepy border town Sommerton Junction after leaving his LAPD post following a bungled operation that left him wracked with failure and defeat after his partner was crippled. After a spectacular escape from an FBI prisoner convoy, the most notorious, wanted drug kingpin in the hemisphere is hurtling toward the border at 200 mph in a specially outfitted car with a hostage and a fierce army of gang members. He is headed, it turns out, straight for Summerton Junction, where the whole of U.S. law enforcement will have their last opportunity to make a stand and intercept him before he slips across the border forever. At first reluctant to become involved, and then counted out because of the perceived ineptitude of his small town force, Owens ultimately accepts responsibility for one of the most daring face offs in cinema history.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Retro Trailers

Remember how much you wanted to see this one?

Boardwalk Empire S.2 Teaser

How come I didn't hear that this had come out? I was worried "Boardwalk" might be one of those shows that would be too ambitious to conform to a typical yearly schedule, but it appears everything is set for the show's second season to premiere in September as expected. Here's the teaser trailer. 

For my money, "Boardwalk" is currently the best show on television. I've got high hopes for season two.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day Speech

In honor of the 4th of July, I'm including President Pullman's inspirational pre-battle speech from Independence Day here. I'd post a video if I could, but I can't.

"Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. "Mankind." That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can't be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it's fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom... Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution... but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: "We will not go quietly into the night!" We will not vanish without a fight! We're going to live on! We're going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!"

The final sentence of the President's speech was not in the original script and was added at the last minute for dramatic effect in an effort to convince 20th Century Fox not to avoid a legal battle to earn the right to name the film "Independence Day". 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Retro Trailers

Every week, I'll be posting a trailer for a great film from years past. Here's the first:

To Live and Die in L.A. (William Friedkin, 1985)

 A fearless Secret Service agent will stop at nothing to bring down the counterfeiter who killed his partner.