Tag Archive: big-budget


REVIEW: JURASSIC WORLD

JURASSIC WORLD (2015)
Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, & Nick Robinson
Directed by Colin Trevorrow
Written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly, & Colin Trevorrow
Produced by Frank Marshall & Patrick Crowley
Executive Produced by Steven Spielberg
Cinematography by John Schwartzman
Score by Michael Giacchino
Edited by Kevin Stitt

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Not pictured: Axl Rose shredding a mean guitar solo in front of an explosion

(WARNING: There are a few SPOILERS laced throughout this review. Watch your step!)

   Everybody loves Jurassic Park. Seriously, in all my years on this planet I haven’t met anyone who’s been like, “fuck that movie.” It’s pretty much universally regarded as a milestone in cinematic history, a game-changer which revolutionized special effects in popular filmmaking, revitalized dinosaurs in the mass public awareness, and also managed to spin a pretty damn exciting yarn all at once. 22 years after its release, I think it’s safe to say it’s now a classic in every sense of the word. Hell, it was once the highest-grossing film of all time until Titanic came out in 1997 and knocked it off its diamond-encrusted pedestal. Sure, it has its flaws, but they’re mostly small technical things, and don’t weigh the entire film down as a whole. It’s a genuinely iconic, groundbreaking adventure film, intelligently crafted by one of the all-time great filmmakers (Steven Spielberg) and told with a genuine love & appreciation for the dinosaurs it depicts. It’s just a neat movie!

   As far as the sequels that followed…well, not so much. The Lost World: Jurassic Park was Spielberg’s attempt to pack more energy and more dinos into the mix, but it wound up being lackluster in the story/character department and treated the dinosaurs like common monsters. Despite all this, it was still pretty cool if you’re a 9 year-old, which I was when it was first released in 1997. Jurassic Park III, on the other hand, was a pretty forced effort on all fronts, with an oversimplified rescue plot which definitely paled in comparison to its predecessors, despite having some fairly decent sequences. That one came out in 2001, and all has been slow on the dinos-in-cinema front since then. Well, hold on to your butts, fellow meatbags, because the meat-eating meatasauruses are back for a FOURTH time with the newly-released Jurassic World!

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He’d probably score a lot of sick props rolling up to a club like that if his wingmen didn’t always brutally murder everyone on sight.

   So how does it fare against the stiff competition of its own predecessors? Well…not so well, I’m unhappy to report. Jurassic World, while trying its damndest to be on par with the first film and weave its own web of dino-riffic action, corporate intrigue, and cautionary man vs. nature sentiment, unfortunately falls flat on its face in its contrived construction & mixed-bag execution. It’s pretty disappointing, to say the least. The film was in development hell for more than a decade, and now that it’s finally here it seems like very little attention was paid to the story and character development aspect which made the first film so enjoyable to watch. It’s really a damn shame, because considering the amount of hype this movie has received over the past year, it’s kind of mind-boggling to me that they just decided to take the straight up B-movie route with it. But, I’m getting ahead of myself a bit on that front. First let’s get into the “meat” of this beast. (Oh god I’m so sorry about that.)

   Jurassic World, the reboot/sequel (or “requel”) of the Jurassic Park franchise, takes place some 20-odd years after the events of the original. By now, billionaire entrepreneur/dino-cloning enthusiast/depraved vorarephile John Hammond has passed on, leaving behind his multi-billion dollar genetics corporation InGen and no doubt millions of dollars in lawsuit fees. (Seriously, how the fuck is InGen still in existence after 3 movies worth of death & destruction?) In his stead, somebody got the ingenious idea to try out that whole “Jurassic Park” idea again, this time calling it “Jurassic World” and making sure nobody hires a fat, greedy, disgruntled guy named Dennis to run literally everything. And what do you know, it worked! Jurassic World turns into a flourishing, exciting, and highly profitable tourist destination, with people traveling from all over the globe to bear witness to the awesome power of dinosaurs reborn unto the world.

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She ate Shamu’s heart out.

   Well, at least for a little while. Taking a very cynical stance on the average human attention span, the movie states that people are no longer wowed by the prospect of seeing live dinosaurs like they once were, relating their jaw-dropping attractions to nothing more than “big elephants” in the eyes of the consumer. In an attempt to bring in more attendees/moola, the corporate bigwigs make the brilliant decision to genetically manufacture a big, scary & hopelessly intelligent hybrid dinosaur-monster. The creature is given the oh-so appropriate name of Indominus Rex, and is poised to frighten & bewilder the cash right out of the visitors’ pockets. Unfortunately, these corporate bigwigs don’t know they’re in a sci-fi/action B-movie, so the obvious & inevitable backfiring of such a boneheaded move are not immediately clear to them.

   With the dinos in play, it’s time to (unfortunately) bring in the human characters! Jurassic World’s park operations manager, Claire Dearing (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) is an uptight, organized, and overtly business-minded lady who’s always focused on work. So focused, in fact, she doesn’t bother to spend time with her visiting nephews Zach and Gray (played by Nick Robinson & Ty Simpkins, respectively) who are attending the park for the weekend and serving the role of mandatory children in a Jurassic Park movie. Meanwhile, the cool, laid-back but focused & stern ex-Navy man Owen Grady (played by Chris Pratt) is engaged in a relationship of “mutual respect” with a group of Velociraptors, training them to obey commands and interact with human beings without ripping them to shreds and feasting on their vital organs. If that sounds silly to you, don’t worry – that just means you’re still a sane & rational human being. Throw all of this into the mix with a ready-to-escape Indominus Rex and you’ve got the makings of a perfect B-movie!

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Owen takes a moment to imagine just how freakin’ sweet his new tooth necklace is going to be.

   So of course, everything goes wrong. The Indominus escapes, begins wreaking havoc all over the island, and it’s up to Owen & Claire to bring down the horrible beast before it starts ripping innocent park-goers limb from limb. And that’s it, pretty much. Seriously, the story is so straight-forward and simple that it’s almost a perfect example of Screenwriting 101 – a clear, concise monster movie plot which hits all the basic plot elements you need to create a solid, 2-hour creature feature. Vincent D’Onofrio also turns up as the InGen Head of Security, who is primarily interested in utilizing the trained Velociraptors as weapons for the military to use against its enemies. Big surprise there! Seriously, it’s a plot so contrived on clichés and familiarity that predicting what’s going to happen is not only inevitable, it’s almost invited.

   When I first saw the trailer for Jurassic World, I got a bad feeling in my pits – a movie about a super-intelligent, genetic hybrid dino-monster which breaks loose and starts wreaking havoc? Well that’s just about as horribly low-grade B-movie as you can get, man, no joke! “Are they really going to turn Jurassic Park into low-grade action schlock?” I thought to myself. And the filmmakers’ answer was, “YES, you silly bastard, of course we are!” And then I saw a clip of a “romantic” dialogue sequence between Chris Pratt & Bryce Dallas Howard a couple months ago, and I was almost dumbfounded at how laughably bad the dialogue and characterization was. Seriously, she pulls up to his little bungalow, and he’s outside working on his motorcycle. She tries to recruit him to check out the Indominus’s containment area, and he starts schmaltzing on about how uptight and rigid she was when they went out on a date, and she fires back about how he “showed up in board shorts” or some shit. Seriously, it’s like a scene out of a below-average romantic comedy! It was with these expectations in mind that I sat down in the theater to watch Jurassic World with, and lo & behold, those expectations were perfectly met. So in that regard, Jurassic World lived up to what I thought it was going to be…the problem is, those expectations are NOT the kind you want to have when going to see a big, fancy reboot of a beloved franchise with massive hype and anticipation.

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A frame from the scariest scene in the film.

   Things continue along on a predictable path – they try to isolate the Indominus in the closed-off section of the park, it keeps killing its way to the main area where all the tourists are, the kids sneak into a restricted area for mandatory endangerment reasons, the trained raptors are set loose in an attempt to bring down the Indominus, which fails, and so it goes. If I seem a little flippant about the story of this film, it’s because it seems like the last thing on the filmmakers’ minds was telling an original, creative story that tries to equal the gravity of the original. I get that this is basically a dinosaur movie for little kids, but the Jurassic Park franchise is 20+ years old – if you’re going to reboot something with this much cinematic creditability, you should definitely try to bridge the gap between the old and the new by offering something with a little more substance than the typical monster B-movie.

   The thing about the original Jurassic Park is that it was certainly NOT a B-movie. Sure, it had elements of your average monster movie, what with the giant creatures chasing and eating human characters and all, but Jurassic Park had so much more going on with it intellectually. Steven Spielberg went out of his way to portray the dinosaurs with respect, with specific attention to detail about how these creatures are animals, not big, dumb, lumbering beasts. They weren’t stalking and chasing you because they were evil, they were doing so because that’s just how they are. And what’s more, Jurassic Park actually had meaningful things to say about mankind playing God, and the drastic repercussions of meddling in places you shouldn’t be meddling in. The dialogue-heavy lunch sequence, in which all the main characters discuss the philosophical ramifications of what John Hammond is doing, is so well-written and thought-provoking that I can’t even believe it comes from the same franchise as Jurassic World. With the JP movies, we’ve seen a gradual dumbing-down of the material from movie to movie, going from a mature-yet-accessible discussion about scientific progress and its dangers in the first film, to generic running & screaming action schlock in the fourth one. Jurassic World tries to address these man vs. nature themes, but it’s handled so clumsily and on a pedestrian level that it pales poorly in comparison to the first film, which did it so much better.

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Raptor dance instruction: not as easy as it looks.

   Not only that, but the writing in the film is so stilted and on-the-nose that it’s staggering. Every time a character opened up their mouth to spout some obvious, overwritten dialogue I just wished I could watch the movie on mute and look at the amazing visuals being displayed. When D’Onofrio’s character was trying to convince Chris Pratt’s to weaponize the Velociraptors (a phrase I can’t believe I just typed), he goes on about how he once saved a 2 month-old wolf from dying and formed a bond with it. He talks about how his wife once tried to stab him with a steak knife, and how the wolf took a chunk out of her arm because of their bond. When he said that I was just like…What?! Where did that tidbit come from? How is that relevant? He just drops it like it’s no big deal, and Owen doesn’t even give it a second thought. D’Onofrio goes on and on about how war is a natural part of life, and how it’s part of nature’s pecking order, and yada yada yada so on and so forth. It’s a speech we’ve all heard a thousand times in a thousand different movies. Owen at least has the sense to ask “Do you even hear yourself when you talk,” which is a pretty smart question to ask, but I would have much rather heard him ask, “wait, WHY DID YOUR WIFE TRY TO STAB YOU WITH A STEAK KNIFE?!?!”

   There are other questionable choices made with the writing as well. Once again, the kids in the movie serve no purpose in the story other than to be Kids in Jeopardy, and get saved by Owen time & time again. The older sibling, Zach, is your average angst-ridden and apathetic teen, who’s constantly ogling anything female in front of him (except the dinosaurs, naturally) and the younger sibling has this weird obsession with numbers, for…some…reason. I guess they were trying to give them “quirks”, but literally nothing is done with these traits at any point in the movie. It doesn’t help the plot that Zach is a pervy ogler, and Gray’s number-obsession doesn’t assist them in some abstract, specific way. They’re just…there, and you’d better get used to it. At least in the original Jurassic Park, the kids actually served a functional purpose in the script, and their quirky traits were utilized appropriately. Lex, being a computer nerd (or “hacker”, as she preferred), was able to get all of Jurassic Park’s systems back online at a crucial point towards the end of the film. And Tim, while he was less useful than his sister, supplied dinosaur knowledge here and there and provided some occasional comic relief. You can argue about how unrealistic it is that Lex was able to get an entire theme park’s complex electrical systems back online with a few simple mouse clicks, but my point is, the kids in that movie actually served a PURPOSE – unlike World’s boring, angst-ridden youths.

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Wow, those kids sure are BALLS-y! Haha, right?? Eh? Eh? Yeah….I’ll stop now.

   There’s a cringe-inducing scene that really should have been cut in which Zach and Gray, while riding a tram in the park, begin discussing their parents’ presumed “divorce”, with Gray tearily worrying that their parents are going to split and the two brothers are going to be separated. Zach then blows off his little brother’s concerns by basically saying it’s no big deal and that “all of [his] friends’ parents are divorced so it doesn’t really matter.” The thing is, this conversation happens FOR NO REASON and serves 0 purpose in the overall movie. When we saw Zach & Gray’s parents earlier at the start of the film, they seemed perfectly fine! They lovingly wished their kids farewell at the airport, and even shared a few wisecracks with each other. Definitely nothing to make the audience think their marriage was on the rocks. Then, at the end of the film, their parents inexplicably show up AT Jurassic World to retrieve them (even though I’m pretty sure nobody would be ferrying people to the island after such a horrific, death-and-injury-inducing disaster), further solidifying the strength of their marriage and love of their children. The conversation comes completely out of nowhere and serves no overall purpose in the film, other than to shoehorn in some feels for the audience in a really cheap and obvious way.

   In fact, there are several moments in this film’s script in which plot elements are introduced and then never addressed again at any point. The biggest and most glaring one comes after the Indominus has escaped and the security team is dispatched to go find it and bring it down. They’re bumbling around in the woods, cautiously looking around, when they find that the monster tore out its own tracking device. Right after this happens, the foliage begins moving strangely and it’s revealed that it’s actually the Indominus, perfectly cloaked and ready to fuck shit up. As the poor infantry man puts it right before he becomes lunch, “IT CAN CAMOUFLAGE!!!” Ok, great! That’s a really cool trait for a dangerous monster to have, I can’t wait to see how it plays out in the rest of the film! But oh, wait…….they never use the camouflage again. For anything. Ever. It just happens in this one scene and is never featured again. Tell me, what the fuck was the point of introducing something SO COOL and then NEVER using again in the rest of the film?! A killer, intelligent dinosaur that can cloak and set up traps for dumb humans to stumble into? That’s like the perfect scary movie monster right there! But no, they’re just gonna use it for this one scene and that’s it. What’s the point of turning your movie into a schlocky B-movie monster flick if you’re not even going to fully deliver on those promises? Talk about a failure of imagination.

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Spoiler alert: he doesn’t move.

   There were seriously parts of this movie where I felt like I was watching one of those cheesy SyFy Network original movies. The big, climactic dinosaur fight at the end between Indominus and Tyrannosaurus was visually impressive, but ended in such a ridiculous fashion that I couldn’t help but think about Deep Blue Sea, or Sharknado, or any other random B-movie. It was pure exploitation, and nothing more. And hell, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it’s so far removed from what the original Jurassic Park was that I couldn’t help but feel let down by it. The movie went out of its way to show that the Indominus was evil – the fact it was killing for sport, the way it gets other dinos to turn on the humans – it got to a point where it stopped being a film about real creatures and it became just another monster movie, which is not what the Jurassic Park movies were originally about. I couldn’t help but think what Michael Crichton, author of the original Jurassic Park novel would have thought of this shit. Would he have approved? It’s hard to say, but even if he was still alive, Hollywood would have churned out this flick regardless of what he thought, so it might not even matter at the end of the day.

   I will say this – Jurassic World was VERY much fun to look at. The special effects are dazzling, and the CGI and practical effects are blended so seamlessly you can’t really tell which is which. I gotta hand it to ‘em, they REALLY sold the awesomeness of the park at the beginning of the movie. The realistic attraction design, the displays and interactive activities they had – it was all very effective and enticing. I found myself wishing I could actually go to that theme park, and check out all the attractions there. You can definitely tell they put A LOT of effort into making Jurassic World a visual extravaganza – and shit, who can blame them? It’s a movie about dinosaurs breaking loose and attacking people, you better damn well make sure it looks good! There are some neat dinosaur setpieces, the most notable of which is the sequence in which the Indominus smashes open the Aviary and frees all the flying dinosaurs, who proceed to attack and maul the panicking herds of consumers who only minutes ago were having the time of their lives. I love it! It’s just shame these visuals weren’t featured in a more intelligently written, thought-provoking story, or else the film would have been above and beyond the call.

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Real cool genetically modified mutant dinosaur hybrids don’t look at explosions.

   Despite my problems with the writing and the dialogue in the film, the movie was pretty well cast and acted for the most part. It’s a testament to Vincent D’Onofrio’s acting ability that his character didn’t come off as a generic evil caricature when he was delivering his clichéd, militaristic “make everything into a weapon” lines. He actually added a bit of warmth to his character, and even though he was your basic war-mongering antagonist, he never came off as unrealistic or over-the-top – unlike a similar character played by Hugh Jackman in this year’s Chappie, a movie so terrible I’m kind of bummed I didn’t write a review of it back when I saw it. I might get around to it eventually. Anyway, Chris Pratt fared extremely well as our hero Owen. I’ll say right now that I really enjoy Chris Pratt – he’s charismatic and likeable, and a natural fit for a leading man in big summer popcorn flicks like this. He killed in Guardians of the Galaxy, and despite his underwritten character whom we learn very little about in this film, he knocks it out of the park. If he’s careful with his role choices and doesn’t typecast himself as an “action movie hero guy”, he could have a very promising and rewarding career ahead of him. Faring not so well was Bryce Dallas Howard, whose perfomance came off as kind of forced in the movie. She seems a bit too nice to play an uptight killjoy, and she didn’t really bring anything special to her oh-so engaging character. A much colder, rigid actress would have been better for the role.

   By the way, heads up screenwriters – it’s 2015. Rigid, uptight spoilsport women are kind of a passe stereotype in movies now. After seeing the powerhouse writing and characterization of the women in Mad Max: Fury Road (another film this year which I should have reviewed), the portrayal of Claire’s character in this movie is downright archaic. Hell, the original Jurassic Park came out 22 years ago and it had a stronger, more realistic female lead than this turd. Remember Laura Dern as Ellie Sattler? Remember “Dinosaurs eat man, woman inherits the earth?” Yeah, compare THAT shit to this stereotype-laden farce. Can we stop portraying women as stuck-up bitches in movies now? And also stop having them fall in love with the loose, laid-back-yet-stern male stereotype? “Oh, it’s soo romantic because they’re soo different from each other!” Blecch. You couldn’t get more basic, stereotypical or clichéd than the “romance” between the two leads in this movie. There’s a very awkward moment in the movie where Claire saves Owen from an attacking pterosaur, and he just promptly grabs her and kisses her – even though there’s been very little setup for their romance before this. Like, yeah, they went on a date once, and there’s some definite sexual tension between them, but are they really at that point where he can just randomly grab her and start making out with her? I mean shit, maybe, this is a B-movie after all.

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Indominus gets into a heated yawning competition with some flying dinos; most just end up flying into its mouth.

   And in the end, that was my main problem with Jurassic World – it’s a dumbed-down, oversimplified shade of what the original film set out to be. There wasn’t any subtlety, or nuance with this film, just a bunch of blunt action setpieces for what the producers consider to be the dimwitted masses. And look, I know I’ve been really hard on Jurassic World up to this point, but I should clearly state that I was genuinely entertained while watching this movie. Yeah, I knew it was stupid while I was watching it, but it does a pretty good job of pulling you into its world and popping your eyes with some sweet dinosaur action. And on that level, it’s a success – Jurassic World is a really good action movie, and if that’s all you’re looking for, then more power to you, enjoy the film with all your heart. For me, being a lifelong fan of Jurassic Park since I was a little kid, and having seen the original so many times and falling in love with its craft and charm, this movie was a very strong let down for me. It was dumbed down to the point where it was insulting, explaining everything for the audience and not letting us come to any conclusions of our own. I know JP’s sequels got progressively stupider, but the whole point of these reboots is to recapture the magic of what made the first one so great, right? Well…apparently not, I guess.

   Overall, Jurassic World is a harmless film, but it really could have been so much more. It failed to connect with me on a deeper emotional level, and for that I have to fault it, even though I was genuinely entertained by its effects and spectacle. It was predictable and clichéd with blunt, on-the-nose writing and one-dimensional characterization. I really have no desire to watch it again, at least not for a long while. It was well-made enough, but what I was really craving was a genuine story, which makes me feel sort of silly now that I know it was not trying to deliver that in the slightest. Really, this franchise is all about spectacle now, and I’ll just have to accept that from here on out. At least if more sequels come, I’ll have my expectations tempered to match their standards, and it won’t be such a disappointing experience for me. But man, the potential here was certainly wasted. Oh well. I’d like to say I can hold on to a little sliver of hope, and comfort myself with that familiar Ian Malcom adage: “Life will find a way”. Unfortunately, in Jurassic World’s case, it’s not life which finds a way…it’s dollar signs.

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REVIEW: PACIFIC RIM

PACIFIC RIM (2013)
Starring Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Rob Kazinsky & Ron Perlman
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Written by Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro
Produced by Thomas Tull, John Jashni, Guillermo del Toro & Mary Parent
Cinematography by Guillermo Navarro
Music by Ramin Djawadi
Edited by Peter Amundson & John Gilroy

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The Blood-Bot rapidly approaches the unsuspecting Crip-Bot, and the age-old struggle continues to perpetuate itself.

   The big-budget summer blockbuster, as you’re probably well aware, has been a staple of American cinema for decades now. Designed to enthrall the senses of the casual moviegoer during the slow, hot & sticky months of the middle of the year, summer blockbusters as a rule typically feature extravagant amounts of style over any sort of substance. Obviously, the best summer blockbusters are the ones which manage to feature plenty of both – movies like The Matrix, or Jurassic Park, or The Dark Knight for example, offer enough action to wow the escapist thrill-seeker residing in all of us while simultaneously providing enough clever dramatic embellishments to stimulate the muscle up in our head-parts. Nowadays, the average summer blockbuster tips a liiiiittle bit too much in the “more thrills, less brains” side of the scale. Okay let’s be real here, a LOT too much. I mostly blame the Transformers movies for this disturbing trend, although to be completely fair, there’ve always been those summer films which err more to the dumb side – that’s just the way it goes. (Although I could definitely argue that it’s just gotten EXTREMELY out of hand in recent years.) But you gotta admit, older blockbuster films at least tried to tell a cinematically pleasing story, with semi-developed characters and rationally legible plots that focused on wit and charm instead of explosions and…explosions. They were movies which understood that it was important to not only excite the audience with super-cool movie wizardry, but to emotionally connect with us as well; to actually engage the casual movie-goer in the film, and be a part of its world.

   Pacific Rim, the new film from the truly talented and visionary director Guillermo del Toro, is a film which tries to reconnect the audience to the magic and spectacle only the best summer blockbusters can provide. And for the most part, it succeeds – particularly in the spectacle aspect of things. Del Toro specifically aims to recapture the kind of wonder a 10 year-old boy would experience when seeing a movie like Godzilla for the first time, essentially trying to turn everyone in the audience into a kid again. And dammit, I give him mad props for even attempting to create something which could be considered quaint in this modern age of cynical cash-grab cinema. With the love of old school creature features and classic action blockbusters in his heart, del Toro has crafted a film which truly demonstrates how epic summer blockbusters ought to be handled. HOWEVER – despite the truly wonderful and patented visual marvels del Toro cooks up in this flick, Pacific Rim unfortunately weighs a tad too heavy on the “style” side of the scale – leaving little substance to be had for anyone looking for something a bit deeper than the average action battle flick.

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Mako looks nervous to ask, but Raleigh, an experienced Jaeger pilot, already knows the answer: yes, you can in fact go in your suit.

   On one hand, Pacific Rim is a cinema lover’s dream come true. For one thing, it’s actually an original idea, not something adapted from a comic book or TV show or some other kind of pre-established intellectual property – HALLELUJAH!!!! It boasts some of the most incredible visuals you’ve EVER seen, truly stunning battle sequences which excite and dazzle, and much needed moments of levity and heart which modern movies like Man of Steel are sorely lacking. But, on the other hand, it begins to slip into standard boneheaded action movie territory. It features such wonderful tropes as underdeveloped characters, clichéd and stilted dialogue, average performances which border on being too grating to sit through – basically it falters with anything actually involving actual human beings delivering dialogue and trying to emote. This of course is a HUGE detriment to a film which is trying to conjure up some semblance of human community and connection while simultaneously trying to astound our senses. For this reason, I found Pacific Rim to be a little disappointing – especially coming from a director with a track record as estimable as del Toro’s.

   BUT, it’s not all bad! Truthfully, I had a lot of fun watching Pacific Rim. As a summer blockbuster, it is leaps and bounds more accomplished and repeat viewing-worthy than most of the dreck thrown up on theater screens these days. I was looking forward to this film quite a bit, and I’m just a little sad about the fact my expectations were slightly let down – but not so much that I wouldn’t recommend the film to anyone, or give it a terrible review. I guess I just expected more out of the man who gave us a film as nuanced and layered as Pan’s Labyrinth – a truly engaging cinematic dream. Pacific Rim features precisely 0 nuance and subtlety – it’s like being beaten over the head with a schmaltzy brick and being hazily entranced by the pretty stars you see. It’s pretty, but your brain doesn’t get much out of it. But of course, this brings up the argument (one I’m still having with myself, actually) about del Toro’s intentions with this flick – has he purposely created something short on brains and high on action to remind us how pointlessly fun action movies can be? Is this all part of his grand design? I’ll elaborate more on this intriguing notion in a little bit – but first, let’s talk about the story.

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Things got a lot more peaceful when they finally realized the kaiju just wanted someone to help with its really bad toothache.

   Pacific Rim is basically your standard otaku (basically the Japanese synonym for “geek”) film, a movie about giant monsters which utterly decimate large cityscapes, seemingly just for the fun of it. It’s also a mecha film, sporting the biggest and baddest robots this side of Voltron. Del Toro is himself an otaku for these genres of film, and decided to combine the two into the most ass-kickingest sci-fi smash ‘em up in cinema history. SWEET! In the not-so-distant future, an inter-dimensional portal has opened up at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, out of which gigantic horrible creatures are ejected that level cities whole and kill tens of thousands of people easily. After being thoroughly ravaged enough times by these beasts, mankind decides to cut the bullshit and put aside their differences to construct a new weapon to wage war with these creatures, very appropriately referred to as kaijus (Japanese for “big ass motherfucking monsters”). These new weapons are equally gigantic robots known as Jaegers (German for “hunter”) which require two human pilots to operate. Apparently, the strain of being mentally linked to a gigantic robot suit is too much for one human to handle, so a duo of mentally-connected humans must share the load to effectively beat monster ass together. This mental connection process is known as “Drifting”. One you’ve Drifted with someone, you essentially know everything there is to know about them – their hopes, dreams, fears, secrets, memories, etc. The Jaeger project begins to turn the tide against the kaiju, and for a while humanity can once again rest easy knowing that we can finally assert ourselves against these inter-dimensional assholes. Over time, however, the kaiju begin to adapt and grow stronger against our defenses, and Jaegers start getting defeated left and right. Cue the entrance of our main character, Raleigh Becket (played by Charlie Hunnam from TV’s Sons of Anarchy), a Jaeger operator alongside his brother Yancy. Together they pilot the Gipsy Danger, a pretty badass looking Jaeger that thwomps with the best of them. However, at the start of the film the Gipsy Danger is overpowered by a wily kaiju and Raleigh’s brother is killed in action. Raleigh manages to survive the encounter but is heavily traumatized by the ordeal (he was still mind-linked to his bro at the moment of his death…not pleasant), so he spends the next 5 years helping construct a “Wall of Hope” being built to keep the kaiju out. Since the Jaegers are no longer as effective at defending humanity as they once were, the powers that be decide to discontinue the program and send the last remaining Jaegers to defend the wall until its completion.

   In charge of the operation is Stacker Pentecost (played by Idris Elba), your standard tough-as-nails, no-nonsense type of commander dude. Pentecost coaxes Raleigh back into service, as one of the last remaining Jaegers is Raleigh’s old mecha Gipsy Danger, completely rebuilt and refurbished since his last time in the cockpit. Joining this ragtag defense group is Mako Mori (played by Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi), Pentecost’s second in command, and a quirky and eccentric kaiju-studying scientist named Dr. Newton Geizler (hilariously portrayed by Charlie Day, of TV’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, oddly enough). Mako wants to co-pilot one of the Jaegers but Pentecost won’t let her, and Geizler wants to try and Drift with a still-active kaiju brain but Pentecost won’t let him. (Pentecost is kind of a dick.) Mako and Raleigh quickly form a bond, and Raleigh pressures Pentecost to let her be his co-pilot. Meanwhile, Raleigh gets bullied by some asshole from another Jaeger crew and Geizler Drifts with a kaiju brain against Pentecost’s wishes. Then, some badass fights happen and the plot continues on in a fairly straightforward manner.

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The kaiju, seeing the Sydney Opera House, finally locates a suitable looking mate while the horrified crowd looks on.

   The #1 problem with Pacific Rim is that the plot basically exists as an excuse to showcase kickass kaiju/Jaeger fights, and nothing else. It chugs along at a nice pace, but there’s this hollow feeling to all the intermediate scenes between battle sequences. You sort of get the feeling that way too much emphasis was put on the battles, and not enough on the rest of the movie. Plus, there are a few glaring logical problems in the flick. Throughout the entire thing, I kept watching robots punching the kaijus to no avail, and I kept thinking to myself Man, why don’t they just give these robots a giant sword or something? A big weapon would deeefinitely help, and then at one critical point in a battle towards the end, they actually activated a sword in the Gipsy Danger and killed the kaiju they were fighting in one blow! I was just like “for real? You couldn’t have just slashed him to pieces with that giant sword 10 minutes ago?” And then after they do that, they continue to use the sword until the end of the movie. What is up with that? Oh and hey, let’s not forget about completely convenient plot developments, either. The relationship between Mako and Raleigh seems almost forced out of necessity to the plot – they meet each other and just happen to be instantaneous Drift mates. Curiously, Raleigh happens to be completely fluent in Japanese seemingly out of nowhere and can understand Mako when she first speaks it to Pentecost. This is a little out of place when you consider earlier in the film, Raleigh stated that he and his brother weren’t really great in school, or anything else for that matter – they’re just really good at fighting, so they were a perfect match for Jaeger piloting. Then suddenly Raleigh just seems to know Japanese for some reason. I dunno about you, but that just seems extraordinarily convenient and out of character to me. And characters suddenly being able to do things they logically shouldn’t is something that really shouldn’t be present in a film of this supposed caliber.

   The #2 problem with Pacific Rim is that all the characters are extremely one-dimensional. Raleigh is a strong-willed hero-type with a troubled past. Pentecost is a stern, hard-nosed leader who is stubborn and authoritative. Mako is a determined and qualified yet underestimated fighter who just wants a shot. Geizler is a weird, eccentric comedy relief character who knows exactly what must be done to defeat the kaiju. I wish I could go into more detail regarding these characters but that’s literally it – there’s nowhere else to develop these characters, no deeper connection to be had. They’re all just cardboard cutouts being wielded around to further along the plot until the action scenes arrive. By far the worst character in the entire film is Raleigh’s half-assed rival – he basically exists because the script needs an asshole dude to create a sense of conflict. In the first scene they meet, this bully (his name is Chuck and he’s played by Robert Kazinsky) basically says to Raleigh “I don’t like you. I think you’re dead weight. Stay out of my way, buddy!” for…no real reason whatsoever. This kind of half-hearted antagonism is supposed to create a sense of tension for our main character, but it’s so obliviously one-dimensional and forced that it almost feels banal. Later in the film, these two characters inevitably gain respect for each other and proceed to work together in the final mission…much to no one’s surprise. I read that del Toro did this to illustrate how even though humans can be fighting, arguing assholes, at the end of the day you might just have to go into battle with the very same asshole you were fighting with, and at that point your petty beef doesn’t have a point anymore. This is a very admirable theme to have and I appreciate him trying to pull it off, but quite frankly it’s so blunt, simple and predictable that it ends up feeling contrived.

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Every now and then they like to let the Jaegers go out for a nice, relaxing dip…fully supervised, of course, those things are pretty damn expensive.

   I’m disappointed with Pacific Rim because even though its special effects are wonderful and genuinely engaging, the human aspect of the story is severely lacking – and what’s worse, it’s trying to pass itself off as a human story. The reason this is so troubling is because I just know del Toro is a stronger storyteller than this, and this sort of problem just feels like it shouldn’t be there. I mean, I get the feeling this movie is actively trying to be a stronger, more engaging film than most of its contemporaries, yet it experiences much of the very same problems that plague them. This is sort of why I’m almost willing to give del Toro the benefit of the doubt and say that this one-dimensionality and hokey storytelling is actually what he was going for – like he is trying to sort of capture that cheesy, gung-ho feeling of adventure that a lot of older B-movies tend to have. I mean, let’s face it – this is a movie about giant robots punching giant monsters in the face. It’s a movie for 13-year-old boys, and little kids in general. Del Toro has explicitly stated that he wanted to introduce the kaiju/mecha genres to a new generation of children, and based on THAT level alone, Pacific Rim succeeds with flying colors. Despite the lack of enriching, developed characters, the movie is still a hell of a lot of fun to watch. You won’t be able to believe your eyes when you watch the battles in this movie – they look incredible and pump the Action Receptors of your brain up to the maximum! Honestly, in the grand scheme of things, this movie isn’t really about deeper human connections – it’s about punching giant monsters in the face. It’s a silly and overblown premise, and the production values and performances are silly and overblown in return. So I guess under those stipulations, Pacific Rim is absolutely perfect – it hits the mindless action notes perfectly and with extreme style.

   Although, on the other hand, the movie goes out of its way to show these people making intimate connections and working together to overcome a horrifying obstacle. It’s trying to tell a human story. And when you start looking at the movie from the perspective of an adult moviegoer, not a little kid, it starts to fall apart at the seams a little bit. Sure, it’s a movie for little kids, but I mean…I was excited to see it, as I’m sure a lot of self-respecting adult moviegoers were. This movie is blunt, loud, and oversimplified – just like the vast majority of summer blockbusters coming out in 2013. In a way, Pacific Rim is falling right into the same pitfalls as the very blockbusters it’s trying to outdo – and that is a very real and contradictory problem for it. On a spectacle level, it’s unparalleled – but on a basic film level, it’s just not up to par with some of the more nuanced, detail-oriented action movies I’ve seen and loved in the past. This movie didn’t have to be underwritten or simplified – it could have been deep and resonant with rich characters and deeper themes that appeal to a mature audience. Instead, it’s got blunt, stiff dialogue that seems like it was written for people who aren’t able to understand what’s happening easily. It was just really hard for me to identify with the characters in this one – during the climax of the movie, I was honestly a little bit bored because I didn’t really care about any of the people, even though I knew what the stakes were. By that time I was so bogged down by the clichés and hokey writing that I didn’t even care if the humans would win (which I knew would happen, because duh). There’s a scene in this movie where Pentecost delivers a pre-battle speech, and it feels like it was ripped out of Independence Day so bad that after he delivers the highly quotable line “Today, we are cancelling the apocalypse!” I turned to my friend Frances in the theater and whispered, “Today, we celebrate our Independence Day!” It was just one of those moments that you’ve seen in countless movies before, and the movie is full of them. Clichés with a side of more clichés, if you will.

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Alright, did somebody set off a Jaeger bomb in here? (I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry I just had to. Oh God please forgive me.)

   Before I close up I just want to state that I didn’t dislike Pacific Rim in any major or debilitating way. In fact, you could say I enjoyed this movie a hell of a lot more than I disliked it – I was just disappointed by several aspects of its overall execution and I wanted to adequately express them with this review. I also loved several aspects of this movie, which I’ll go into now. For one, it somehow manages to be HUGELY entertaining despite its many script flaws. There were a few boring parts, but even during things that didn’t make sense I was still going along for the ride and anticipating where it was going next. Also, despite what I said about the characters, the writing and some of the performances, a few people in this flick shine and are worth mentioning favorably. Idris Elba handles his one-dimensional role quite eloquently, and imbues it with a proper authoritative sheen that is highly believable. He was definitely the right man for the job. Also, I particularly enjoyed Charlie Day’s performance as the eccentric Dr. Geizler – he was actually my favorite character in the whole film. Charlie Day’s just a really funny guy, and seeing him be funny and wild in this serious action flick was a nice break from all the melodrama happening everywhere. I haven’t mentioned him yet, but there was another scientist character played by Burn Gorman who was sort of the serious-toned foil to Day’s character, and the two of them had excellent comedic chemistry together. Out of all the humans in the movie, they were definitely the highlights. Del Toro regular Ron Perlman also makes an appearance as Hannibal Chau, a black marketer who sells kaiju body parts for various practical purposes…like curing erectile dysfunction, for instance. No, really. Perlman stood out as one of the more memorable characters of the film, even though he was handled a little shakily. He was still a lot of fun, though!

  There are a lot of things to appreciate in Pacific Rim. The action sequences are astounding, the tone of the movie is solid and enjoyable, and it’s a lot of fun at times. But at other times it can be a hokey, overly simplified cliché factory that makes it a little difficult to adequately connect with the characters on a true emotional level. It’s not a perfect movie in the slightest, but I will say that it is incredibly imaginative and filmed with 100% honest devotion by its director, Guillermo del Toro. If they work out the kinks in the armor and add a little bit of depth to the story and characters, I’d be very interested in checking out a sequel to this flick in the future. I definitely recommend it to anyone who’s looking to have a fun time at the movies, and also don’t mind a little dumb mixed in with their action. With Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro at least attempts to valiantly remind us of the glory days of the Hollywood blockbuster, and just for that effort alone, I’m willing to give him and his entertaining yet flawed film some much deserved kudos. And shiiiit, at least it plays a hell of a lot better than Man of Steel. Yeeeesh!

REVIEW: MAN OF STEEL

MAN OF STEEL (2013)
Starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne & Russell Crowe
Directed by Zack Snyder
Written by David S. Goyer
Produced by Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven, Emma Thomas & Deborah Snyder
Cinematography by Amir Mokri
Music by Hans Zimmer
Edited by David Brenner

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Able to change broken light bulbs in a single bound!

   Hello, hello dear readers (if I have any left at this point), I am happy to report that I AM BACK! I know my absence might have been distressing to all of you who stood so steadfastly by my movie reviews (of course, this notion is completely hypothetical on my part), but you can now finally ease that void in your troubled minds. And while it certainly plagues the guilt glands of my brain-parts for not writing a review in so damn long, I’m gonna go ahead and argue that my little break was justified. For one thing, I had all sorts of things happening with my other, more pressing aspect of existence (being a fledgling full-time musician) and for another thing, there just simply weren’t any movies I was overly interested in seeing so far this year. Oh sure, there were minor interests here or there. Iron Man 3, for example – though I thoroughly disliked its predecessor – looked like it would be an enjoyable return to form for the franchise; I still haven’t seen it.  Star Trek Into Darkness looked mildly interesting, especially since I liked the first one a lot, but it still wasn’t enough to entice me out of my comfy home to plunk down $10 (or more!!!) for a movie ticket – plus, I heard pretty lackluster things about it. Frankly, nothing this year has really excited me as a movie-goer so far – if anything, this year’s releases have just added to my increasingly cynical view of the movie industry and the state of modern cinema. Now I admit, one movie I did go see in mainstream theaters this year was The Great Gatsby – but despite Baz Luhrmann’s, Leo’s and Jay-Z’s hyperbolic attempts to utterly enthrall my senses, it wasn’t nearly worthy of penning a lengthy rant to throw onto the internet. And so, the quest went on ever more to locate the prime time to start my 2013 moviegoing experience proper.

   Unfortunately, I decided to start my 2013 here. I wasn’t excited to see Man of Steel, the latest superhero reboot in the long, uncomfortably ever-growing line of superhero reboots, and I’ll tell you the exact reason why: I am fucking SICK of these goddamn superhero movies already. Yeah, I know – they’re “exciting” and whatnot. They’re based on comic books. And everyone knows that comic books are COOOOL! But the growing market trend that X-Men popularized in the year 2000 has (ironically) mutated into American cinema’s hideously gaudy and over-reliant crutch just 13 long, uninspired years later. Seriously, these fuckin’ superhero movies have gotten SO out of hand. Reboots of reboots, endless sequels, one offs that didn’t deserve to be made in the first place (The Green Hornet) keep plaguing the American cinemascape, and the hapless masses keep going to see ‘em cuz….well, they keep makin’ em! And yes, I know Iron Man and The Avengers are pretty cool movies, and there have admittedly been some pretty killer entries along the way…but what I’m saying is, there’s an obvious lack of true cinematic progression happening in this current era of popular filmmaking, and it’s being traded in for name brand value and simple marketability – names like Spider-Man, Iron Man, Batman, Superman, and the like. Yes, we love our heroes – all the characters I just mentioned are inarguable landmarks in pop culture history. But you people have to be able to see the pandering, bottom-of-the-barrel money grubbing going on here! Movies are about escapism for sure, but they’re also about pushing the boundaries of social norms, expressing the truths of what it is to be a human, and other deep shit like that. Escapism is certifiably fine for a certain time and place, but the excessive amount of boneheaded CGI escapism currently running rampant on countless screens across America while REAL problems keep happening all around us has just become grossly extravagant and gratuitous. After an exciting, engaging and genuinely surprising year for cinema in 2012, 2013 seems to have instantly reared back to the horrid 2011 mindset of Sequels and Superheroes…and this is precisely why I had no desire to participate in any part of the bloated big-budget lineup for movies to be released in the first half of this year.

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General Zod, accurately demonstrating my own “look, another comic book movie” face.

   Of course, all that being said, my first movie review of 2013 is of a superhero movie. Why? Well, because I get masochistic when I get guilty, my friends. No literally, I decided to see Man of Steel as a punishment to myself for not writing a single movie review so far this year – I didn’t want to see it, but some part of my being was telling me I had to. After reading and hearing many unimpressed and/or scathing reviews from numerous, personally reliable sources, I generally pieced together that Man of Steel is a blundering, emotionally inept and misguided reimagining of the Superman mythos, designed to be “darker” and “more serious” in tone, à la producer Christopher Nolan’s own Batman films. Now, the only thing left to do was watch it and see if I was right.

   And boy, was I ever!!! Man of Steel, I’m sorry to report, is a narratively underwhelming and tonally vacuous exercise in “epic storytelling”…meaning, it tries to be “dark” like certain other superhero movies while incorporating one of the most obscene and inexcusably over-the-top climaxes in recent memory. Goddamn, did I utterly dislike this oblivious film. Never before have my already dirt-low expectations of a film been so utterly lived up to and – if it’s possible – maybe even surpassed. Man of Steel is a plodding, annoyingly shot, mediocrely acted, laughably simplistic, product placement-laden chore of a film to watch, a supreme butt-number if I’ve ever experienced one. Zack Snyder, the director of such comic book-inspired films as 300 and Watchmen, completely misses the mark in trying to combine those comic book film aesthetics with “real movie” ones. The result is a confusingly serious-toned yet ludicrously unrealistic comic book-styled action flick which inevitably leaves a contradictory and confusing imprint on the minds of the audience watching it.

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Curiously missing: the scene where they strip Superman naked and make him walk on all fours while wearing a leash. (Too soon?)

   So we might as well start at the start, with Superman’s homeworld of Krypton blowing up and his parents sending him off into the universe to eventually land upon our planet and be heralded as a savior of mankind. We all know the story, because it’s been pounded into our collective heads over and over again since Superman made his debut in 1938. The first 20 minutes of the film take place on Krypton, where some asshole named General Zod (played by Michael Shannon) stages a coup against the leadership of the planet for putting it in its current apocalyptic situation. Krypton’s head scientist/Supe’s daddy, Jor-El (played by Russell Crowe) takes this chaotic opportunity to steal Krypton’s genetic codex, which holds the genetic material for the future children of Krypton, due to Zod’s (assumed) plan to control which bloodlines are continued on into the future. (All Kryptonian children are “grown” in little pods instead of being naturally born, à la The Matrix.) This pisses Zod off, and he chases Jor-El throughout the deteriorating planet as he makes his way to the place where he plans to blast his newly born son and the rest of the genetic material off into the stratosphere. (Wow, that almost sounds dirty.) Jor-El succeeds, of course, but not before being killed by Zod, who is in turn captured by the remainder of Krypton’s elites and sent away to the “Phantom Zone”…which makes a lot of sense, because sending a dangerous criminal AWAY from his planet which is currently being destroyed when he could just be kept there and killed along with everybody else is clearly the best course of action for everybody. Also, if they have the technology to send horrible criminals off into Phantom Zones, why don’t they just all evacuate the planet instead of staying there and dying like dumbasses? Anyway, little Supie’s pod jettisons to and lands on our planet, where all the limp magic desperately conjured by this movie’s opening scenes can die a horrible death.

   Now, I should point out that at this point of the film, I was actually enjoying it for the most part. And since I’m using this point of the review to point out something I liked, I’ll point out other points I liked, simply because there will never be another point to point out these enjoyable points beyond this point. Get the point? One thing I noticed was the musical score, which I was actually enjoying at first – it was pretty cool and atmospheric, a bit of a departure from Hans Zimmer’s usual assault on the senses. (The US military is currently doing tests to see if they can effectively weaponize the Inception score.) Of course, the score devolved into usual Zimmeresque grandiosity later, but I was genuinely impressed with the music at first. Then there was another scene later that showed little Superman in class freaking out because all of his extra-sensory powers are overwhelming him at the same time – his X-Ray vision, his super-hearing and etc. are all assaulting his mind like a Hans Zimmer score. It was a pretty nice touch, and I give ‘em some credit there. Also, Russell Crowe did a pretty nice job as Supe’s dad – I’d say it was the strongest performance in the film, actually. I credit this entirely to Crowe though, and his pure acting talent alone, not Snyder’s direction. But that’s about it – this intro is the only part of the film’s actual narrative I truly enjoyed. And sure, Michael Shannon’s performance as Zod was stiff and hammy, and the opening lingered on Krypton for far too long, but as far as spectacle goes, the intro to this movie was pretty neat. Zack Snyder is able to create really engaging and cool-looking scenes when he’s working in his element – that element being computer-generated effects, explosion fueled action scenes and fantastic looking worlds. But once we get down to Earth’s soil and you give him some actors and dialogue in a real-world environment, it starts to become a plodding nightmare. Now, to be fair, Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake dealt with real people in real locations and that was a pretty successful movie, but I’m willing to argue that he’s sort of lost his touch with realism after directing 5 films almost entirely filled with CGI backgrounds and effects (one of these being a fully computer-animated film about talking owls or some shit). Now he’s supposed to tell this “nuanced, reality-based” tale and it’s clear he no longer has any business doing such a thing. His lackluster Watchmen adaptation can serve to demonstrate his problems with nuance and subtlety, as well as getting realistic and emotional performances from his actors. Anyway, on with the schlock…

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This movie’s called Man of Steel, not Man HOLDING Steel! I want my fucking money back.

   So we make it down to Earth, and the film begins its pointlessly nonlinear narrative structure, as we jump around to various points of Superman’s life which show that he’s a good dude but just so different and apart from everyone else. He saves a bunch of guys on a burning oil rig, saves his bullying classmates from drowning in a school bus after it careens off a bridge, and is told by his father (portrayed by Kevin Costner, although I use the term “portrayed” loosely) on several occasions how his powers are good and that he’s going to “change the world” someday, even though he encourages his son not to reveal his powers to anyone, ever. Five points for parental consistency there, Johnny. So basically the film takes every opportunity to point out to us just how different and strange Superman is, all the while further hopelessly alienating him from the audience. Let me tell ya something: usually, in a big sci-fi action movie like this, it’s a good idea to try and make your audience relate to your protagonist, not constantly distance us from him. And yes, I know, Superman IS different from all of us, and he IS an alien. But that’s basically the point of Superman, isn’t it? We all KNOW that already! It’s a predetermined trait of his character! Spelling it out for the entirety of the movie does nothing but create an emotional rift between us and the character, and because of this, we cannot get emotionally invested in his script-mandated tortured brooding.

   Speaking of brooding, let me just touch on this point really quick: superheroes DO NOT always have to be tortured, internally suffering assholes in movies – ESPECIALLY if their previously established character does not call for it. Let’s compare this simple-minded trait tacked on to Man of Steel with Chris Nolan’s actual emotionally nuanced Dark Knight trilogy. It makes sense for Bruce Wayne to be a dark, brooding guy filled with inner angst and turmoil, because that’s his character. He’s fuckin’ Batman, for chrissakes! Batman’s parents were murdered in front of him, he uses shadows to his advantage, he dresses up in a black, spooky-looking jumpsuit; the darkness is inherent in his character. Superman is supposed to be a brightly-colored, sunny-dispositional do-gooder who fights for “truth, justice, and the American way.” He’s supposed to inspire hope and strength in people around him, not fear and uncertainty. That’s Batman’s job, because he’s a dark scary dude! Does anybody understand what I’m talking about? What I’m saying here is, the dark, brooding tone of Nolan’s Batman films works there because that is Batman’s character. Simply tacking on that trope to Superman not only alienates us from his character, but is completely contradictory to everything Superman is supposed to represent! Think about all the Superman imagery you’ve ever seen throughout your life, and compare it to all the Batman imagery you’ve seen. Doesn’t really correlate, does it? The movie makes it a point to make everything dark, grey, and dreary-looking. It’s almost always cloudy outside, the cinematography is drab, and worst of all, Superman just looks like a depressed person throughout the entire thing. You can make Superman have real problems, and you can make him have uncertainty, but you DON’T have to make him some boring asshole the whole time to get those points across!

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“I’m going to beat you mercilessly with my glaring insecurities.”

   The biggest problem I can point out with Man of Steel are its characters. Beginning with the writing and ending with the performances, the characters in this film are almost entirely flawed. Worst in show definitely goes to Kevin Costner as Superman’s daddy. The scenes with him are so horribly stilted it’s almost implausible. There’s a scene near the beginning where Johnny Kent shows his adopted son the space-pod in which he arrived on our planet, and to me it stood out as the worst acted scene in the entire film. Not only was the kid playing young Superman pretty bad, but Costner just seems to phone in his entire performance. The moment when they embrace and Costner flatly states “You are my son” is such a groaner that it sort of boggles my mind. Was that the best take they had? Also, his character is basically there to constantly remind Superman how he’s meant for great things…seriously, almost every scene he’s in, he tells Supie the same exact thing, pretty much. Even when his character DIES and they’re looking at his grave Superman’s mother says shit like “he always knew you were meant for great things”. We get it, Superman’s destined for great things, STOP SAYING IT EVERY 10 MINUTES. I know this has more to do with the shoddy script and less to do with Costner, but I’m just pissed about the character’s execution in general.

   Also, let’s focus on Amy Adams and her character of Lois Lane for a few moments. Amy Adams is a generally talented actress, but she kind of just goes with the horrid flow in this movie, not really adding any of that spunky charm I’ve seen imbued in the character in previous incarnations. And seriously, what is with her being SO GODDAMN CRUCIAL in this fucking movie? She’s flying around dangerous combat zones with the military when I’m pretty damn sure they wouldn’t let any civilians on board, regardless of how involved they were, Zod requires her presence on his ship with Superman later in the film for NO REASON other than to serve the plot, and she nearly always manages to be around to have expository dialogue delivered to her in any situation. WTF is up with that?! Lois Lane has always just been the nosy yet intrepid reporter who manages to sneak her way into situations and end up being the damsel for Superman to save. And don’t get me wrong, I’m all for making her character a little more involved than that, but not to the point where she’s unnecessarily shoved into scenes to give the audience someone normal to relate to because we’re so alienated from our protagonist. That’s just straying too far into shitty storytelling mode.

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I dunno about you, but I think this scene was way more effective when they did it the first time with The Joker in The Dark Knight….

   Ah yes, our protagonist. I’ve already talked about how poorly his character was written, but I want to focus on the new (and British) dude playing Superman, Henry Cavill. Actually, despite my misgivings about the way his character was handled, I didn’t have much of a problem with his performance as Superman. I feel like if he had some better, more fitting material to work with, he could have shined brightly as the iconic American hero. Instead, he has to use his obvious charisma and charm to try and play a tortured, angst-ridden emo guy. I honestly didn’t have any big qualms about his performance, other than the fact it was wasted on such poorly thought-out schlock.  There’s some genuine empathy in his eyes, and you get the feeling he could knock a more proper Superman role out of the park. Poor guy…he’s probably going to catch most of the flack for why this flick is such an exhausting, emotionally cold clunker, but it’s not really his fault…god-awful writing and direction are the primary killers of this piece.

   Not to mention jerky, needlessly handheld camera work. The cinematography in this movie borders on incomprehensible in its execution. I will say that despite the numerous problems with this movie, the general look of the way it was shot is probably the only real thing going for it. There are a lot of pretty-looking shots in this film, but sadly, they only exist for a more deceptive purpose. By focusing on things like socks on a clothesline blowing in the wind, or close-ups of random objects or young Superman’s dog, we’re supposed to get the impression that this movie has deeper or more personal implications than it really does. By utilizing desaturated, art-house styled establishing shots of random things, Zack Snyder thinks he can trick us into emotionally connecting with the characters and story being told, basically on the simple notion that “the imagery is so pretty. This movie must be good!” These duplicitous shots are especially used in scenes like the one of young Superman at home on his farm, playing with his dog. This type of emotional trickery is about the only place where subtlety is exercised in the film, and it’s not for the audience’s benefit, let me tell you. It’s to try and subversively convince the audience that the film they’re watching actually has some artistic value or integrity, to ingrain in us some notion of poetic cinematic composition that isn’t really there. Luckily for all of you, I can see past such cheap tomfoolery, and I can tell you firsthand that there is NO integrity to be had here. To make matters worse, when we’re not being fed sappy, faux-sentimental shots of peaceful households, the camera is almost ALWAYS moving around in a jerky, found-footage-emulating style. Snyder seems to think that the countless shaky-cam shots in his film somehow enhance moments, or give his film a dramatic, first-person sense of immediacy…yet most of the time it’s both highly unnecessary and nausea-inducing. Seriously, WHY DOESN’T THE CAMERA JUST STAY STILL?! There are moments where it’s just close-ups of characters talking and the camera is jerking around like it’s the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan or something. STOP. MOVING. THE CAMERA. We need to be able to comprehend what is going on, not trying to hold in motion-sickness induced vomit.

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Wow, look at those amazing special effects.

   I can’t express enough how boneheaded and turgid this movie was. It’s almost insulting how they thought they could force this inept, deceptively heartstring-pulling tripe upon us. I mentioned the overblown, insufferable climax earlier so I guess I’ll talk about that shit now. So basically, Zod has come to Earth in the very ship he was banished in (because once Krypton blew up, Zod and his accomplices’ electronically-controlled shackles were lifted. Glad the Kryptonians thought that shit through so well) and he’s taken Superman into custody under the pretense of sparing the Earth in return. Little does Supes or the Earth know, Zod plans to make Earth the new Krypton with a giant planet-altering machine, and the entire human race is not invited. WHOOPS! So Zod sets up his monstrous device – one part in Metropolis, one part in the Indian Ocean – to start thwomping Earth into New Krypton with gravity or some shit. This causes MASSIVE damage and loss of life in Metropolis, with entire buildings being decimated and humans being visibly crushed and thrown up and down violently by this horrible machine. Snyder makes it a direct point to excessively show the destruction being caused by this device, and it’s pretty gruesome to watch because the entire tone of the film has been this realistic, moody and depressing one. And since we’ve been alienated from our protagonist for so long, we’re projecting ourselves into the position of the people and not Superman. Yeah, so this climax is going pretty well so far. To make matters worse, Superman decides to take out the Indian Ocean half of the death device first, and not the Metropolis half for…..some….reason. I feel like the area of the planet where people are dying by the thousands would sort of be the primary choice, don’t you? Anyways, Superman ends up destroying the device with some kind of convoluted black hole that somehow sucks up only the machine and the evil Kryptonians but not anything else around it. I guess the filmmakers liked the new Star Trek a lot and wanted to incorporate (read: rip-off) their ending into theirs, no matter how out of place it would be.

   Oh, and speaking of incorporate, just really quick I want to point out the obvious product placement and brand-pimping going on in this movie. At one point in the film we see lil’ Supie getting bullied by a kid, and then he saves the bully’s ass (along with the rest of his classmates in the bus incident I mentioned earlier). This kid inevitably winds up as an overweight loser who manages an IHOP later in life (nice touch) and we’re reminded of this numerous times, as Lois Lane finds him at IHOP while trying to track down who Superman is. Then later when Superman is having a destructive battle in his hometown of Smallville (before the climax), he’s thrown through the same IHOP, with the restaurant’s logo clearly displayed. Then they keep cutting back to this irrelevant character in IHOP and we get an impression of how deep Zack Snyder’s pocket must go. There’s also a scene in the climax where they do battle in front of a Sears with its giant logo clearly displayed, then shortly after Superman is tossed through that building as well. A 7-11 is also blown up in this film, and we see its logo, but it’s not featured as prominently as my other two examples. I understand product placement in films – it happens, and it’s no biggie if you find a clever way to incorporate it into the movie. Man of Steel wouldn’t know clever if it actually had a sentient mind capable of comprehending thoughts. The only positive thing I can say about this blatant and shameless commercialism is that the businesses depicted in the film are all implicitly destroyed, so that kind of makes things a little bit better. And maybe that was Zack Snyder’s clever little stipulation for being forced to include product placement in the film or something…although I just may be giving him more credit than he deserves. Whatever the case, it’s still just extraneous and distracting on the overall film, to say the least. Anyways, on with the carnage!

   So after the death machine gets sucked up and a sizeable portion of the city lays in ruin, General Zod is still somehow alive. I honestly can’t remember if he was in the death machine or not when it got sucked up (because it was never made clear), but part of me feels like he was, and that just irritates the fuck out of me. So Zod and Superman exchange some stupid dialogue and Zod attacks, and they continue to fight and continue to destroy MORE of the city as they battle! Seriously, at this point of the movie, I could not have been more bored or uninterested. What, did they want us to care about this drawn out, overly destructive battle? At least when The Avengers had the entire city being destroyed we cared about the characters enough to be distracted from all the carnage and human suffering happening all around. But in this shit, we’re reminded of it every moment with two assholes we don’t care about fighting and causing over-the-top destruction that looks like a horrible nightmare turned real. Also puzzling is the fact we spend pointless time following around some random fucking co-workers of Lois Lane’s (one of them being a tragically miscast and out of place-looking Laurence Fishburne) whom we’ve met only once or twice before, and then watch as they try to escape the horrible things happening all around them. I DO NOT CARE ABOUT THESE PEOPLE. WHO ARE THEY. WHY ARE WE FOLLOWING THEM. WHY DOES MY BRAIN FEEL LIKE A CAT STUCK IN A MICROWAVE. These are thoughts I couldn’t help having during this long, drawn-out battle scene. Also worth mentioning are the HILARIOUS crowd reaction cutaways strewn throughout this fight scene. Everybody looks waaay too calm for what’s happening around them. There are shots with people not even expressing the mildest amount of concern, and there are buildings exploding all around them! I guess when you stage an entire city being destroyed inside a computer and tell some extras to look at nothing but thin air and react to it, you can get some pretty embarrassing shots like that.

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Superman feels a little uneasy about letting Lois get anywhere near this weird, kinky S&M alien chick…

   So FINALLY, this monstrosity ends in a train station, whereupon Supes has Zod in a headlock and Zod threatens a helpless family in the corner with his laser eyes. After ignoring Superman’s pleas to desist, Superman cries out and straight up breaks Zod’s fucking neck in order to stop him. No, really. Superman straight up kills this dude. And you can argue that the ends justify the means, but Superman doesn’t just straight murder motherfuckers. EVER. Dude, even fucking Batman doesn’t kill people, no matter how goddamn evil they are! THIS IS A SUPERHERO MOVIE ABOUT SUUUPERMAN!!! Did we really need to see Superman snapping a guy’s neck? Regardless of how much genocide this crazed alien wanted to commit, wouldn’t it have been more in line with traditional Superman morals if he somehow found a way to stop him and preserve his life? Oh but no, we’re not making a “traditional” Superman movie, we’re making a darker, edgier, “updated” version of Superman. So I guess murdering someone when it’s convenient for you is the new “truth, justice and American way.” Great, sounds great. I guess sacrificing character for “intensity” is an acceptable thing to do in movies now.

   Gone are the days when Superman flew around in sunny skies, doing charming things like connecting broken railroad tracks or saving people from burning buildings, or humorously implausible things like flying around the world so fast he reverses the earth’s rotation, and therefore, time itself. Gone are the days of lighthearted adventures and genuine spectacle, filling us with a sense of wonder and awe. Now we have a depressed, angst-ridden, gloomy alien who fails incredibly hard at saving thousands upon thousands of people from being gruesomely (and ridiculously) killed by a murderous genocidal psychopath. Now we have a guy who snaps bad guys’ necks at will, like he’s fucking Rambo or something. Hey do you guys remember what FUN is? Anyone? Can we put some JOY back into our movies? How bout some CHARM, or HUMOR, or any kind of LEVITY in there? Yeah, there were a couple moments in the film where they tried to throw in a little joke (like the American general’s female soldier exclaiming how she thinks Superman is hot), but they were either terrible or completely ineffective at brightening up this overly depressing fiasco of an action flick.

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“COME, SON OF JOR-EL! KNEEL BEFORE ZOD!!!……….Snoochie Bootchies! hehehehehehehe”

   Man of Steel, in courting the same gravitas the Dark Knight trilogy evoked with its tortured hero, inexorably misses out the one simple thing which should be the driving force behind a film of like this – a true heart. Its emphasis on “grittiness”, or “reality”, or any of those other now commonplace modern superhero movie tropes does nothing but create a film of contradictory and grating tonality, and any real humanity of any kind. Superman is a boring, straight-faced, impossible-to-relate-with simpleton in this film, and it’s just not fun to watch at all.  There’s no joy here, or any kind of charming humor at all. I haven’t seen all of the Superman movies, but I am familiar with Superman lore (who isn’t, really?) and from what I’ve always known about Superman, he’s a positive-minded guy who has the glorious power to rescue people from horrors, and does. The original Superman movie (which I have seen) portrayed him as a kind-hearted defender of the people, and he did cool shit that made him look heroic. Superman does heroic things in this film, but it’s all dragged down by the bloated sense of conflict imbued throughout the film’s entire running time. It’s murky, confused, bloated, overlong, and worst of all, absolutely 0% fun to watch. Hollywood may be trying to reboot a reboot of Superman, but I haven’t even seen Superman Returns and I already prefer it WAY more over this trashy commercial schlock trying to pass itself off as respectable art with its “poetic” cinematography. Give me a fuckin’ break. I advise all people on planet Earth to avoid Man of Steel, and to avoid it at all costs. It genuinely left me with a depressed, uncomfortable feeling as I left the theater, and my friend Noah, who attended the screening with me and is a genuine comics lover in his own right, felt the same way. I paid the matinee price of $7.25 and I still feel like I was overcharged! Man, I’m just glad they didn’t get more. So in closing, and to sum up my opinion of this cultural shitbomb appropriately, I’m going to end with a quote from my good friend Moss Worthington: “Guess it’s more like Man of Steal All of My Money.”

Aaaaaaand I’d say my 2013 is off to a great start!

   Hello there, dear readers! Soooo due to both crazy scheduling in my daily life as well as my laptop being MIA for almost two weeks, I haven’t been able to post in quite a long time, and for this, I am most apologetic and ashamed. HOWEVER! In lieu of this vast gap in movie review posting, I have decided to go ahead and do my very first ever MOVIE REVIEW COMBO to make up for lost time! That’s right, instead of one long, giant ass review of one movie, you get several semi-long reviews about a variety of films! Don’tcha just love the feeling of compensation? Well get ready, my friends, because this is like a movie review OVERLOAD…in the best sense of the word! COMMENCE!

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LINCOLN (2012)
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Daniel Strathairn, Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader, Hal Holbrook & Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Tony Kushner
Produced by Steven Spielberg & Kathleen Kennedy
Cinematography by Janusz Kamiński
Music by John Williams
Edited by Michael Kahn

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It was a nice touch for them to accurately depict the angle at which Lincoln actually had to tilt his head when talking to most people.

   There’s a certain type of feeling when you’re walking into a movie with this much pedigree. It’s an almost curious, theme park-like sense of wonder, the kind that fills you with anticipation for some kind of experience you’re about to have while you’re shuffling in to find your seats with the rest of the congregated citizens. You know you’re about to see something significant unfold…but you’re not really sure what. At least, that’s what I was feeling as I walked into the theater screening Steven Spielberg’s latest sprawling opus, Lincoln – the kind of feeling that this certainly wasn’t gonna be any regular come-and-go, fast-food type of flick. This was gonna be a four-course gourmet meal type of flick, the sort of dish served to you by the utmost professional and fancy chefs, all with exceedingly gi-normous track records for producing the zestiest types of exotic film flavors. Translated from weird, I’m saying that this movie has pristineness and dignity embedded into its DNA right from the start: It’s a biopic directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, about one of the most iconic and legendary figures in American (and world) history – Abraham Lincoln. Oh, and not to mention John Williams and Janusz Kamiński – legends both – doing the score and the cinematography respectively, for a film written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner. Plus, a huge cast of talented character actors. GEE. I wonder how much THIS is going to suck?!

   Of course, Lincoln delivers every bit of cinematic esteem, credibility and bliss you could ever hope for in spades. It’s a 2 ½ hour-long exploration of the trials and tribulations a wise yet worn-out and weary leader of a fledgling, self-destructive nation must endure to somehow try and keep the whole damn thing from falling apart…oh, and also make some fucking real progress in the process. In 1865. Obviously, this is going to be a long, dialogue-heavy piece that focuses on performances and features little-to-no massive explosions. If the thought of sitting through something like that somehow startles or frightens you, then I suggest you go watch the completely relevant and entirely necessary new Red Dawn remake playing in the theater down the hall, because this is pure old-school film drama-cy turned up to Maximum Nobility Overdrive Power (MNOP). Long, slow-paced, contemplative, moment-focused, politically charged, philosophically complex, mood-building filmmaking that – despite those seemingly droll adjectives I just listed – never ONCE feels boring. Now that’s a damn hard thing to do, and Spielberg & Co. got juuuust the precise amount of baller cred to pull the whole damn thing off. Quite simply, they’ve lived up to every expectation I could have had for a movie of this caliber – it’s a damn fine piece of filmmaking.

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Lincoln looked around the room cautiously, hoping someone would eventually do the right thing…for he had indeed smelt it, but he was surely not the one who dealt it.

   Now, that isn’t to say that the narrative-bound Lincoln is a perfect movie. It isn’t. But, it’s far above the standard set by the average modern film, and it is sensationally executed by everyone involved – most especially the gifted cast, populated by all types of actors from all over the place who will have you saying “don’t I know that guy from somewhere?” a couple of times. Essentially, Lincoln is the story of our 16th president’s valiant efforts to both end the morally, physically, mentally, and financially taxing Civil War, and to pass the controversial 13th amendment, which would effectively end slavery in America for all time. Having just been re-elected to a 2nd term, Lincoln doubles his efforts to accomplish these two goals by any means necessary – even risking his reputation as an honest man at one point to pull it off in a pinch. The movie focuses on the political atmosphere of the era, with many scenes detailing the somewhat petty and unproductive arguments in the House of Representatives and the political bulldogging to get one’s own agenda accomplished. (Some things never change, huh?) Lincoln knows the 13th Amendment will never pass if the war is ended before it goes to vote, so he focuses all the attention he can on getting the Amendment voted upon before the bloody war reaches its conclusion…a dangerous ploy, given that the war is claiming lives everyday and most people would not approve of Lincoln’s stalling just to free some people from eternal enslavement. Such are the risks taken when trying to make history.

   The film also explores Lincoln’s personal relationship with his family as well, particularly with his wife and older son. This is where things begin to get a little shaky in the film’s narrative, specifically with the subplot involving Lincoln’s son Robert and his desperate attempt to participate in the war that his presidential father is trying to end. Robert is portrayed by the talented but tragically underused Joe Gord-Lev, in a role that provides a teensy bit of familial drama compounding upon Lincoln’s overbearing burdens, but is ultimately overshadowed by Sally Field as Lincoln’s devoted but overemotional wife, providing all the familial crises needed for Lincoln to be thoroughly stressed. The way the film sort of skims over this juicy conflict with his son makes it feel like it shouldn’t have really been in the movie in the first place – I mean, it definitely gives us another insight into Lincoln’s life, and there are a few really nice scenes with Robert and Abraham, but overall the subplot ends up feeling tacked on and underused, mainly because there’s so much more important stuff the movie’s trying to focus on. Joe Gord-Lev does nicely, but it just starts to stray into “we had to throw this in here too” territory. It’s really the biggest problem with the movie, apart from its length – but I’m not really bothered by long movies (unless they FEEL long, which Lincoln does not) so I give that a pass.

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Lincoln drifts off, using his large mind to ruminate on the possibility that someday, somebody somewhere will create a mediocre depiction of him as a hunter of some kind of supernatural creature…the thought does not sit well.

   Now of course, Daniel Day-Lewis tears acting an even newer asshole with his warm, thoughtful performance as the title character. The role was originally going to go to Liam Neeson, who might have been nice in the part, but since he’s recently become more of schlocky actor in recent years (Wrath of the Titans, anyone?), an actor of Day-Lewis’s pedigree is far better suited for this monumental role. You pretty much forget you’re watching an actor whenever Day-Lewis is onscreen – such is the strength of his acting prowess. Now, personally, I still prefer Day-Lewis’s powerhouse performance as a greedy oilman in Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece There Will Be Blood –that is simply one of the greatest performances in all of cinematic history.But in this film, he really imbues Lincoln with a sense of almost godly prestige, yet totally approachable openness all at once…it’s a subtle and tricky balance, but he pulls it off nicely. I really liked how pretty much everyone around Lincoln was portrayed as having a sort of reverence towards him – like they were standing in the presence of someone clearly beyond them. It’s juxtaposed sublimely with Day-Lewis’s human portrayal of this man, a man who was obviously already a legend in his own time. There’s a great scene in the movie where Lincoln walks into a busy and frantic war room, with people running to and fro in a storm of hurried chaos. Lincoln simply begins telling a lighthearted story to seemingly nobody in particular, but everyone in the room stops everything they’re doing and shuts the fuck up, just listening to the man tell his seemingly out of place yet highly relevant tale. This scene – as well as a few other storytelling moments – really show how Lincoln was not just a gifted public speaker who knew how to address a crowd, but also a warm and friendly human being who’s not above taking a moment to sit back and spin a yarn despite pressing matters weighing down constantly. It’s a tricky nuance to pull off, and Daniel Day-Lewis pulls it off with absolute expertise. Basically what I’m saying here is, there is absolutely no hope for any other actor nominated for the 2012 Best Actor Oscar next year – Day-Lewis has this one in the bag.

   Lincoln isn’t really a biopic in the conventional sense of the term – it doesn’t focus on his entire life, in a somewhat vain attempt to convey a person’s entire complex story. Instead, it centers on perhaps the most important period of Lincoln’s life, in which almost every single aspect of the world was against him and yet he somehow managed to pull off ending a bloody, gruesome war and freeing an entire group of people from horrible servitude. In this sense, it’s more of a political thriller than anything, with Lincoln as the main character. As an audience, we’re left to sort of fill in the rest of his story with the information presented to us, and that information presents Lincoln as a determined yet calm and patient individual who knows how to play his cards right. Like Lincoln, the movie knows how to take its time, and the end result is considerably elegant. Overall, Lincoln is a competently made and genuinely though-provoking portrait of one of America’s most compassionate and honorable leaders during a time of considerable crisis.

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FLIGHT (2012)
Starring Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood & John Goodman
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by John Gatins
Produced by Laurie MacDonald, Walter F. Parkes, John Rapke, Steve Starkey & Robert Zemeckis
Cinematography by Don Burgess
Music by Alan Silvestri
Edited by Jeremiah O’Driscoll

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As if you need any other image to sell your movie with.

   Let me just get this out of the way first: Denzel Washington is my absolute favorite actor. Of ALL time. The dude simply commands the screen whenever he’s on it, playing every role that’s handed to him with honesty, intensity, emotional complexity, and obvious skill. He’s definitely been in a few clunkers in his time (Heart Condition, Virtuosity, Ricochet) but even in the worst films of his catalog he ALWAYS turns in a great performance. Besides, the amount of quality films he’s been in far outweighs the schlock, so he can easily be forgiven for a few early career missteps. He’s just a natural actor, someone who was clearly born to be a performer of the highest form. He can take an otherwise mediocre and somewhat formulaic cop flick like Training Day and turn it into a grade-A film simply based on his performance alone. Basically, the D rules. Okay, now that my showering of overblown fanboy praise is out of the way, we can focus on his latest tour de force: the emotional, tense, and dramatically powerful Flight. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, in a welcome return to live-action filmmaking after some hit-or-miss forays into the realm of motion-capture animation that his homie Steven Spielberg utterly upstaged him in with The Adventures of Tintin, Fight is a compelling if sometimes questionable character study that focuses on the struggles of alcoholism as well as the pressure of being in the public light. And if you’re going to be focusing an entire story solely on a single character, you best get a damn fine actor to fill the part. Luckily, Zemeckis was wise enough to hire Denzel Washington for the role.

   Flight begins in a trashed hotel room, one that has obviously been filled with lots of booze-drinking and sex very recently. We’re introduced right away to William “Whip” Whitaker, who groggily answers the ringing phone to argue with his ex-wife while the naked woman he’s with goes about her business in the background. Clearly, this guy is of the self-destructive sort. After having a few drinks and few snorts of cocaine, Whip cleans himself up and goes in to his job – being a pilot for a commercial airliner, with this specific flight travelling from Orlando to Atlanta. Yup, he’s pretty responsible. Right off the bat, Flight throws us an interesting curveball – it gives us a lead character that we just might not want to support very much over the next 2 hours. Whip himself is clearly a likeable guy – he’s charismatic, charming, and has a pretty good sense of humor with the people around him. He just happens to make some incredibly poor decisions, especially when you take into account he’s personally responsible for the lives of more than 100 people aboard his aircraft. So, we’re shown that Whip is actually a pretty damn good pilot despite his inebriated mindset by successfully navigating the plane out of a very nasty storm right after takeoff. After making himself a nice mid-flight blend of vodka and orange juice before passing out, Whip is knocked conscious by a sudden jolt in the flight. Something is wrong with the plane’s mechanics, and the plane begins to nosedive. While his co-pilot begins to freak out, Whip stays utterly calm and begins trying to save everyone on board. After one of the most intense and harrowing plane crash scenes I’ve ever seen, Whip manages to sustain the plane’s gliding speed by inverting it – as in, flipping the plane upside-down. It’s an insane and visually stunning move that miraculously works – the plane crashes in a field, and most of the passengers walk away with their lives.

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The D proves you can never be too drunk to look fly.

   Instantly, Whip comes to be recognized as a public hero – someone who managed to save nearly every soul aboard a seemingly doomed flight. Unfortunately, the few deaths resulting from the plane’s malfunction – including Katerina Marquez, the flight attendant Whip had gotten busy with the night before – bear down upon Whip’s psyche far more than the saved lives do. Not to mention the toxicology reports taken from Whip’s unconscious body upon arrival at the hospital, which verify that Whip was indeed inebriated at the time of the accident. This pretty much means that even though Whip was able to miraculously rescue most of the people aboard the doomed airplane, and the accident itself wasn’t his fault, he’s still liable for being drunk and flying a goddamn airplane. Ya just can’t do that, ladies and gents. Wrought with guilt over his drinking problem, Whip immediately tries to quite alcohol cold turkey, and looks like he’ll be successful at first, but once he receives word of his toxicology report and his impending lawsuit he…starts…drinking again.

   Flight does a pretty good job of showing a man confronting his own guilt while simultaneously struggling with addiction, and it handles it in a mostly realistic way. I say “mostly” because something about Whip actively quitting drinking before he’s made aware of a toxicology report, then immediately starting to drink afterward, rings a little false to me. I just don’t know why somebody would make that sort of decision, especially after they have already resolved to STOP drinking in the first place. Wouldn’t continuing not to drink be the most sensible thing to do? Now, I myself am not an alcoholic, so I can’t speak on the logical machinations of a mind not only addicted to alcohol, but overcome with guilt, but basic deductive logic would denote that if you’re under scrutiny for drinking on the job, and you quit drinking before you’re even aware you’re under said scrutiny, that you would probably just say “well, good thing I stopped doing that shit” and continue being sober. However, it also sort of makes sense that the overbearing guilt of the entire situation would lead to that mindset being eradicated, so I can see it working that way too.

   What I’m trying to get at here is, it simply doesn’t make any sense for Whip to just keep drinking irrationally when it’s been established that he knows the drinking isn’t a great idea in the first place. I understand that’s the point of the whole movie, but it’s just really hard to remain sympathetic for a main character when he is continuously making self-destructive and boneheaded decisions, with seemingly no effort to even try and stop. Apart from the brief period of time Whip tried to stop drinking right after the crash, there’s no other point in the film where we see him struggle with trying to remain sober – at least, until it’s forced upon him by other people. Some scenes with him deciding to quit, and then slowly but surely turning back to the bottle would have been appreciated! He stubbornly and inexplicably sticks with getting wasted, to the point that it just starts to get ridiculous and you can’t help but say “is this guy a damn moron?” Now, I understand that alcoholism is NOT an easy thing to kick, I really do. But in terms of movie logic, why was it even shown that he tried to kick his alcoholism before he was even aware of his toxicology report when he makes absolutely no effort to remain sober AFTER he is told about said report – the results of which are extremely incriminating and could land him in TONS of trouble?! The logic there just doesn’t add up to me. I totally get that Whip is acting irrationally and self-destructively, perhaps even somewhat purposefully because he might believe he should be punished on a subconscious level, but his complete lack of effort to even try and be a little sober is not only frustrating to everyone around him in the film, but to the audience as well. I found myself questioning his actions many times throughout the film, and not really in the way I feel like the filmmakers intended…less in a concern-for-the-character type of questioning, and more in the “is this realistic?” type of way.

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Whip sits anxiously, trying as fast as he can to muster up a cooler story about how he obtained his flashy head bandage.

   That being said, Flight still packs a powerful dramatic punch, and it really gets under the skin of what addiction truly is. We see a pretty unorthodox relationship build between Whip and Nicole, a young heroin-addicted woman whom Whip meets in the hospital right after the crash. (She was in the hospital because of a heroin overdose.) Whip and Nicole take an instant liking towards each other, both broken people crippled by addiction who are able to console each other in times of need. Their relationship blossoms, but Whip’s alcoholism and pride begin to drive a wedge between them, and it’s pretty sad to see. It’s actually easier to sympathize with Nicole’s character, because she actually makes an effort to recover from her addiction without any outside reason while Whip egregiously continues on with his, despite the fact he has an overbearing burden directly related to that addiction weighing down upon him. She gives him support and even tries to get him to go to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting (which he attends but scoffs at and leaves, brilliantly enough), but his pride ends up ruining everything…it’s pretty heartbreaking stuff.

   As I said before, Flight takes the interesting choice of having a main character you can’t really sympathize with all the way through. It’s a gamble, but luckily, one that really pays off in the long run. Denzel Washington, predictably, turns in yet another incredible performance; it’s arguably his best one since Training Day, or Man on Fire at least. He really makes Whip a well-rounded character, giving him a lot of humor and seriousness all at once, and really driving home that this guy is troubled and wracked with too much grief for one man to handle. I will be both disappointed and shocked if Denzel doesn’t gain an Oscar nom for his performance in this movie – it’s just a damn shame it has to be this year, when Daniel Day-Lewis is being critically lauded and singled out as the prime contender for the Best Actor win for Lincoln. I definitely think Denzel would be a shoo-in for the win if it weren’t for Day-Lewis and his damn fine acting skills, but oh well – that’s just the way the cookie crumbles sometimes. Overall, Flight is a dramatically sound yet slightly logically flawed film that delivers on several emotional levels, and offers a pretty devastating look at the nature of addiction and being in the public eye. It shows that Robert Zemeckis is still a very competent director, and the guy to go to if you want a harrowing and realistic plane crash sequence in your movie – this flick and his earlier one Cast Away both sport the best movie plane crashes I’ve ever seen. It has great performances from the entire cast (Don Cheadle and John Goodman both do great, I didn’t really talk about them but they shine in this movie, especially Goodman as Whip’s profane yet loveable drug-dealing friend) and it takes considerable chances, and for that I can only give it my most emphatic recommendation. Plus, it’s a friggin’ Denzel movie – that alone is worth the price of admission!

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JOHN CARTER (2012)
Starring Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Mark Strong & Samantha Morton
Directed by Andrew Stanton
Written by Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews & Michael Chabon
Produced by Jim Morris, Colin Wilson & Lindsey Collins
Cinematography by Daniel Mindel
Music by Michael Giacchino
Edited by Eric Zumbrunnen

john-carter-poster-red-mars

In case you were wondering, he’s the not-red guy.

Some movies just don’t hit the mark they’re supposed to. This year’s horribly named yet excellently executed sci-fi/adventure epic John Carter is, unfortunately, one of those movies. It’s a movie that pretty much does everything right – methodical pacing, fun action scenes, interesting story ideas, epic and engulfing music, decent performances, and solid characters are all features of this unique flick. Sadly, some movies are destined to not find a solid audience, no matter how well-made they are. Who woulda thunk that a Disney-funded sci-fi/adventure flick that’s actually pretty well made would end up being a box office bomb?

   Personally, I blame the title. John Carter is an absolutely terrible name for this film. Anything, literally anything would have been better than simply naming the flick after the main character of the movie. It could have been called Mars Battle Adventures or something generic like that and that still would have been a better name for it, because then it at least describes what you’re getting. But John Carter? That sounds like a damn inspirational sports movie or something, or some kind of character-based story about some boring schmuck. It’s just NOT evocative of what kind of movie this is. I don’t know why they didn’t just call it A Princess of Mars, the name of the sci-fi/fantasy pulp novel written in 1917 by Edgar Rice Burroughs which this film is adapted from. I guess having “Princess” in the title is just WAY too gay, so they opted to take both that word and “Mars” out of the equation – even though those are by far the most exciting and descriptive words in the whole sentence – and just lazily name it after the main character. The fact that the word “Mars” does NOT appear in the title of this film is baffling to me. Why would you pass that opportunity up?! And then you consider how the sequel – I mean, the hypothetical sequel at this point – was going to be named John Carter of Mars, which by all logic and reasoning should have been the name of THIS film, if we’re changing names and shit….aggh it just really pisses me off, because this movie totally deserved to find a wider audience and its stupid ass name probably made people think it was about some real-life asshole they never heard of. SUCH a wasted opportunity.

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John and Tars are awed by the sight of the Mighty Budget slowly rising from the horizon.

   Because, my friends, despite its tepid reaction upon its release, John Carter is actually a pretty damn fine film – it’s exciting, it’s humorous, it’s got all kinds of crazy alien shit going on in it, and it keeps your interest all the way through. And SOMEHOW, it actually gets you to care about and sympathize with weird events and strange aliens (respectively) that don’t even correlate to our planet in the slightest. If that isn’t some good filmmaking, I don’t know what is. And hey, I’m not too surprised about that aspect either – this movie is the live-action debut of Andrew Stanton, a two-time Academy-Award winning computer-animated film director of Pixar fame, specifically Finding Nemo and WALL-E. That pretty much means that this dude is an accomplished filmmaker (even if his previous movies technically don’t take place in reality) and can definitely be trusted with material such as this.

   So why did this film flop? Well, apart from the title problem I’ve already addressed, I’d have to say that it’s also because this film is pretty esoteric for the most part. It’s based on an almost 100-year old series of sci-fi books, cost a good $275,000,000(!), and featured no massively major stars of any real sort. It was pretty much a gamble from the get-go. In fact, I’m not entirely sure how or why Disney even let this film get made, and why they gave it the budget they did. I mean, they must have believed in the subject matter if they were willing to drop THAT many millions of dollars on it, right? A film this epic and large-scale surely would have been a sure bet, right? Well……no. Quite simply, the lack of any kind of public interest is the main reason this movie flopped. But the movie itself does not suck, despite what some critics out there have said.

   Speaking of the movie, well, it’s about a guy named John Carter (played with Indiana Jones-esque fervor by Taylor Kitsch), a Civil War Confederate Army Captain who is accidentally transported to Mars (known as Barsoom to the locals) via a magic medallion belonging to a mysterious figure John ends up murdering in a cave. Due to the planet’s lower gravity and his different bone density, John Carter is something of a Superman on Barsoom, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound and knock the shit out of enemies with extra strength. He’s instantly picked up by some aliens known as Tharks, whose leader Tars Tarkas (motion-captured by Willem Dafoe) recognizes the power within this stranger. Before long, John Carter is wrapped up in an interplanetary conspiracy and war, and must fight to protect the residents of Barsoom from an otherwise unstoppable force.

johncarter

You know when something’s so adorable you just want to rub your face in its cuddle parts? ……This is not one of those occasions.

   It’s a wild setup, but then again, it’s a wild movie. John Carter simply looks fantastic, executed with a visual style that shouldn’t be too surprising once you realize an animated film director made the flick. The colors are vibrant, the locations are rich, and the special effects looks extremely realistic – you can see where that $275,000,000 of Walt’s money went. Elaborate set pieces and costume design really drive home the “epicness” of the project, as well as the somewhat overblown acting. If there’s one negative thing I should say about John Carter, it’s that the acting is just a liiiiittle bit subpar. Not so bad that it’s groan inducing, but you can definitely tell that working with real, live actors is something this animation guy Stanton will have to learn over time. As lavish and elaborate as the sets and special effects are, it tends to shine a bigger light on the somewhat mundane acting. The actors do their part, and it doesn’t necessarily bog the movie down, but you can feel the somewhat forced feel coming out of the performances on occasion. It’s a shame because the rest of the movie that surrounds them is really quite vivid and wonderful. Another slight complaint I have is that the ending feels a bit rushed and forced…I don’t want to give too much away, but the film’s ending suffers from the Super Mario Bros. Ending Syndrome…a setup for a sequel that just might never be.

    John Carter isn’t the game changer Disney was most likely hoping it to be. It won’t be making any huge appearances at Disneyland anytime soon. But, despite the fact the film probably came about 40 years too late, it really does a good job of being solidly entertaining, and for that I give it some credit. I’m actually pretty glad that it just exists and is now out on home video, where perhaps it will find a new life from people who missed it the first time around. It certainly deserves some kind of accolades, if only just for its production design and nothing more. But, I was very entertained while watching it, and even though I didn’t go very in depth with this review, I highly recommend it to anyone kind of on the fence about it. It’s worth your time, and maybe – just maybe – there will be another one with a better title coming out soon.

    Although I highly doubt it.

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   Well, that does it for my first review combo. Hopefully in the future I’ll be more consistent with my updates so I don’t have to punish myself with epic multi-reviews such as this one. But, keep checking back for new reviews, and happy viewing to you all!

REVIEW: THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)
Starring Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Ann Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Michael Cain, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, & Morgan Freeman
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Written by Johnathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan
Produced by Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan & Charles Roven
Cinematography by Wally Pfister
Music by Hans Zimmer
Edited by Lee Smith

Batman ponders if his latest act of destructive vandalism really justifies itself at the end of the day.

(This is a SPOILER ALERT. It’s alerting you to SPOILERS, so be cautious as you read into this review if you don’t want anything….spoiled. If you ain’t afraid of no spoilers, READ ON and ENJOY!)

   Movie trilogies can be tricky. It’s often quite a feat to maintain the same level of quality and presentation throughout three separate films which, when combined, create a singular ongoing story. Ever since the original Star Wars trilogy left a mark on the popular consciousness all those years ago, movie trilogies have been popping up left and right – we got the Back to the Future trilogy, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Godfather trilogy, The Matrix, Pirates of the Caribbean, Evil Dead, Jurassic Park, Men in Black, and Spider-Man trilogies…hell, even the Toy Story movies became quite an epic trilogy. And, because of the difficulty in maintaining a giant story throughout three films, these movie trilogies have often been executed with varying levels of success. It’s just really challenging to keep a strict eye on the overall story being told when it’s stretched out over three full-length movies! It takes a very focused filmmaker or group of filmmakers with a solid vision to keep a level-headed hold on things, without letting too many excess details getting in the way of the overall goal. This is especially hard when you get to the final installment of a franchise because wrapping everything up with a nice little bow is often a daunting task…especially when all of the details won’t fit perfectly inside the box. The Spider-Man trilogy had this problem, The Matrix trilogy definitely had this problem, and The Godfather Part III is almost begrudgingly accepted as part of that epic film franchise. Even the great Return of the Jedi is generally viewed as the weakest chapter in the original Star Wars trilogy. It’s just hard to do a final, conclusive third installment that provides the appropriate sense of closure so desperately needed. Now, what I would REALLY like to say is that the third installment of Christopher Nolan’s epic Dark Knight trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, gets all of these factors right and is a successful conclusion to what has been one of the best film franchises in recent memory…but unfortunately, my friends, I just don’t find that to be entirely the case.

   Let me just say this: I REALLY wanted to like this movie a lot more than I did. I absolutely love Nolan’s previous forays into the Batman universe, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. I find them to be intelligently made, greatly entertaining and thematically sound exercises in film escapism, and they paint a truly defining portrait of the character of Bruce Wayne/Batman. There are definitely flaws in both of those movies, but on the whole, they’re genuinely great works of cinematic art. They brought the superhero movie out of childish abandon and re-established Batman for a new generation, grounding his character in reality and achieving a new level of emotional complexity that no superhero movie had ever accomplished before. Christopher Nolan is a very competent director, even if his projects can – at times – be overly complicated or ridden with trivial details. I’ve been a fan of his stuff ever since I saw Memento, which is still one of my favorite films of all time. And after Inception, a movie I absolutely loved, I was under the impression that Nolan could do no real wrong. Well….I may have spoken a bit too soon. The Dark Knight Rises isn’t a terrible film, but unfortunately, it isn’t a very monumental or effective one either. It’s kind of just….okay. It certainly isn’t a strong note to end this previously triumphant Batman trilogy on, and in all honesty, its grandiose epicness is actually kind of a detracting factor in its overall scheme. There’s just too many new characters flying around, too many subplots and storylines intersecting and evolving, and too many loose ends desperately in need of being tied up that it actually begins to work against the fluidity of the movie. Plus, there are some genuinely boneheaded decisions being made here and there, and they feel blatantly out of place in this otherwise well-written film series. The movie just feels like it’s trying oh-so hard to fit in all this excess story into a neat little package and to get quickly to the next scene, so much so that none of the individual scenes have any time to breathe – we’re just constantly being thrust into the next event without any time to consider what has just happened.

“You know, with that mask and those little ears, you look just a little bit like a Catwom…..oh shit, I’m sorry, I forgot we aren’t saying that.”

   So where to begin? Well, I suppose we should begin at the beginning – The Dark Knight Rises picks up 8 years after the events of The Dark Knight have transpired. Gotham City is experiencing an unprecedented era of peace and tranquility, thanks in part to a bill called the Dent Act which was passed shortly after Harvey Dent’s death in the last film. The city also dignifies Dent with a Harvey Dent Day, which takes place on the anniversary of his death – clearly, the city is still gaga over Harvey Dent, and is completely unaware of the fact that he became a depraved, cold-blooded murderer named Two-Face who tried to kill Commissioner Gordon’s entire family shortly before his demise. Blame for Dent’s death is still placed on the Batman, who hasn’t been seen since the first “Harvey Dent Day” 8 years ago. Coincidentally, Bruce Wayne hasn’t left his mansion in that time either. Right off the bat, this peaceful era in Gotham’s history makes for a pretty boring first act of the film – nothing is really happening. At the beginning of The Dark Knight, we’re instantly drawn into a tense, visually stimulating action sequence that establishes the tone and intensity of the movie in a way that never lets up throughout its entire running time. At the beginning of Rises, we just get….a bunch of people indulging in upper-class pleasantries and talking about how peaceful everything is. Yeah, lots of excitement there.

   Now, to be fair, the movie does begin with a pretty cool looking action sequence aboard an airplane which introduces us to Bane, portrayed with calm and collected brutality by Tom Hardy. But, as visually interesting as this sequence is, it doesn’t really give us a ton of information, or any bearing on who (or what) Bane is or what he’s doing on this plane. I mean, he’s there to kidnap this scientist guy or something, but I don’t know why this whole plane exercise was even necessary. It’s said at the beginning of the scene that Bane and two other companions were apprehended while trying to capture the scientist (named Dr. Pavel), but it was Bane’s plan to be captured. …Why? Because he wanted to show everyone how cool he is? Why couldn’t he just capture Dr. Pavel before, without even dealing with being picked up by the CIA and going through this whole convoluted air-hijacking plot? Bane does say he wanted to find out what Pavel told them, but it’s perfectly clear these guys don’t know jack shit about Bane or his plan, and Pavel quickly shouts he told them nothing, therefore rendering the point of this plan irrelevant. I guess he knows now! Couldn’t he have just intimidated that information out of Pavel after capturing him? I dunno, it just felt flimsy to me. Everything happens extremely quickly, and it’s shot with this sort of rushed feeling that we don’t really have a good established feel for what’s happening. There’s even this weird part where they take blood from Dr. Pavel and put it into the body of some corpse in a bodybag, as the plane they’re in is being destroyed and tethered by another plane. I guess the point of this was to make it look like Pavel died in the plane crash, but honestly, I didn’t even pick up on that while I was watching the movie. It isn’t explained in any way, and honestly, it just left me feeling confused. I guess it’s a smart move, but wouldn’t the CIA have been able to tell it wasn’t Pavel by his face? Or maybe the body would get so horribly mangled in the destruction of the plane after they drop it that it would be indeterminable anyway? And furthermore, why should Bane and company care if they know Pavel is dead or not? Bane kidnapped him, and it’s doubtful the CIA would be able to locate him from that point on. I just didn’t really see the point of the whole blood transfusion thing – or the plane hijacking, for that matter – and it already left me with an uncomfortable, disoriented feeling just 5 minutes into the movie.

Staring into Bane’s eyes, Batman recalls his earlier dance with Selina Kyle and realizes this probably isn’t the time or place to be thinking about such things.

   Anyway, back to the slow, boring first act. Right away it’s established that not much is going on – the characters even talk about it with semi-awkward expository dialogue. Bruce Wayne is hosting a Harvey Dent Day party at his mansion, but isn’t showing his face at it. Commissioner Gordon begins to give a speech, where he intends to tell everyone the truth about Harvey Dent, but decides not to for some reason, and awkwardly tells everyone that they’re “not ready for the truth yet.” Um…that’s kind of a weird thing to tell a large group of people gathered to celebrate someone’s life and death, especially since it implies they’re being lied to about something regarding that very person. But, of course, nobody finds this strange at all and goes about their regular business. It might just be me, but if somebody pulls out a pre-written speech and then hastily puts it away while telling us we’re not ready to hear the truth about it, I might just get a little suspicious. But anyway, soon it’s shown that one of the servers working Wayne’s party is not who she appears to be as she sneaks into Bruce Wayne’s private quarters and begins snooping around. Wayne confronts her, and it’s revealed he’s suffered some type of injury that limits him to the use of a cane. It becomes apparent that this mysterious woman is Selina Kyle, aka “The Cat”, a burglar who’s been quite popular in the news lately. She’s there to steal Bruce Wayne’s mother’s pearl necklace, as well as his fingerprints for an unknown client. After some witty back-and-forth, Selina kicks Wayne’s cane out from under him and he collapses, allowing her to escape. At the same time, she “kidnaps” a somewhat willing United States congressman, leading to a city-wide manhut. One thing I definitely like about the movie is Ann Hathaway’s portrayal as Catwoman – although she’s not referred to as Catwoman at any point in the film, which is pretty interesting. At first I was a little iffy about Nolan’s decision to cast her in the role, which I was pretty much used to seeing fulfilled by blonde bombshell actresses (or, in worst-case scenarios, Halle Berry. But we won’t talk about that). But I promptly put my foot in my mouth once I saw the sexy sassiness Hathaway brings to the role. She nails it perfectly, giving Seling Kyle a mixture of devil-may-care sassiness as well as a brutal killer instinct. She’s probably the strongest new character in a film that has a vast overabundance of new characters.

   So Bruce Wayne is crippled and out of the superhero game, even though we’re never told how or why he injured his leg in the first place. I guess in the long run it doesn’t really matter, but honestly, I would have really liked to know how a dude like Bruce Wayne, with all his physical gusto, got reduced to the status of cane-wielding recluse. This lack of information sets up an unfortunate precedent for the movie: it doesn’t really establish things very well. The absence of a proper grounding plagues the entirety of the film throughout its nearly three-hour running time, and eventually it’s nearly impossible to ignore the numbing sensation going on in your seat. Now honestly, I have a feeling if I go incredibly in-depth on this one I’ll be sitting here typing for years and never get this review finished, so I’m going to go a bit easier from here on out, simply for time and sanity’s sake. But almost everything in this movie just feels a little…off to me. There are so many little factors, so many little details that just feel unnatural or ill-advised that it starts to bring the movie down for me. Things like overly expository dialogue, and strange editing in regards to time and where characters are. At one point, we’re jumping back and forth between two events that seem to be happening at the same time, but when Batman finishes saving people in scene A, he immediately appears in scene B to save the guy in danger there too! Does Batman have a transportation device I’m not aware of? Is scene B happening at a later time? What the hell is going on? You see, there’s just a bunch of weird and confusing stuff like that happening that really shouldn’t be in a high-profile film of this magnitude.

Speaking of weird and confusing, at one point the film suddenly becomes one of those schlocky woman-in-prison movies from the ’70s for about 20 minutes. WHY, NOLAN, WHY?!

   Let me just state this again: this is not, by any means, an atrocious film. There’s definitely exciting action sequences, some great character development for the characters that actually matter (and, unfortunately, some develophment for ones that really don’t), great performances from most of the people involved, and competent direction from Nolan himself. I liked that the story, while jumping all over the place and never really focusing solely on one detail, compellingly displays an entire society falling apart at the seams. It represents a low point for many of our established characters, and raises the stakes to a near apocalyptic level fitting for an epic conclusion such as this. At the very least, it gave a substantial role for Bruce Wayne to play. After the Joker sort of stole the show from Batman in The Dark Knight, it can truly be said that Rises is actually a movie about Bruce Wayne/Batman, and his relationship with the world. We see him go through a lot of shit in this movie, and watch a pretty harrowing character arc unfold. Ironically, the highest point in the movie is also the lowest point in the movie, when Wayne is imprisoned by Bane in a deep, cavernous prison which is readily escapable if you are physically adept enough to scale a gigantic wall and climb to freedom. After a very tense and admittedly one-sided fight with Bane, Batman suffers a back-breaking loss and is tossed helplessly into this horrible prison. Bane punishes Bruce Wayne by making him see the downfall of Gotham society through a TV set that is somehow installed in an ancient prison made entirely of stone. I guess Bane had a really long extension cord? I know this is getting into nitpicking territory, but seriously, how the fuck did Bane install a TV set in that prison for Bruce Wayne to watch? Little details like this just made Rises feel illogical and empty-headed, when it’s trying oh-so hard to tell a deep, detailed story. Oh, and then Bruce Wayne receives a hallucinatory vision of Ra’s Al Ghul, portrayed once again by Liam Neeson in a nice cameo. In this hallucination – taking place entirely in Wayne’s mind – he receives some actual information that motivates Wayne to get his ass in gear and get the fuck out of that prison cell. Now, this sort of strikes me as odd, because…how can somebody receive useful information, information that is both beneficial to the character and to the audience from a damn hallucination? Isn’t that, like…a contradiction? Now, I understand that maybe Wayne had the mental fortitude to figure out the information relayed to him through Ra’s al-Ghost by himself, and the whole scene might be some sort of visual metaphor of Wayne’s brain piecing it all together. But, even if that’s true, it still shows that Bruce Wayne got his mojo back (so to speak) from a goddamn mirage, something which can usually be defined as an “unreliable source” to say the least. I just think it sort of reveals clumsy writing when the scribes feel it necessary to have a drastic character turn that sets everything up for the remainder of the movie hinged on a prison-psychosis hallucination.

   Seriously, there’s suspect stuff like this happening all over the place in the movie. I’m almost perplexed by the fact that a movie this huge, this grandiose and epic, so obviously crafted with attention to eye-popping cinematic detail by competent filmmakers could have so many logical fallacies and head-scratching “What?” moments. But I guess when you’re telling a needlessly intricate, multi-faceted story with an overload of disposable and necessary characters doing all kinds of crazy shit, it’s easy to overlook the little details. And the things that bother me about this movie really are little things in the overall view – but there’s enough of them to drag the movie down from being truly entertaining to me. Towards the end of the movie, there’s a scene where a big, nuclear bomb that could decimate the entire city and has been established as drastically unstable is being frantically driven throug the streets in a big truck, with Batman in hot pursuit in his cool flying contraption. At one point, Batman starts shooting missles at this truck in an effort to stop it. The entire time, I was just thinking to myself – “WHY ARE YOU SHOOTING MISSLES AT A TRUCK CARRYING AN UNSTABLE NUCLEAR BOMB?!?!” I couldn’t help but think that if Batman happened to hit the right point in that truck and hit the bomb, he would be directly responsible for the destruction of the entire city he’s trying to protect. It just felt so…DUMB! And then the truck stops extremely abruptly by falling from one level of road to the one below, which kills the driver (whom I won’t reveal) but somehow doesn’t kill Commisser Gordon, who was standing unrestrained in the back of the truck with the nuclear bomb in question. I think he definitely would have been tossed around in a grisly, neck-breaking fashion when the truck violently crashed to the city street below. And THEN, when Batman makes the decision to tow the bomb out to the ocean where it can safely detonate, he drags it on the ground a bit, and knocks it into a building or two by mistake. Why is that shit in the movie?! I mean, this is a highly unstable and ready-to-blow nuclear weapon – shouldn’t we be treating it with the utmost care and caution? I seriously want to tear my hair out thinking about it – the whole sequence was just so unbearably dumb that I was taken right out of the movie and questioning the logic of everyone who created that scene. But, in a way, that just applies to the whole movie – there’s a variety of “what the fuck were they thinking” moments that truly effect this otherwise grandly entertaining movie as a whole. And I’m sorry, I REALLY can’t look past them!

One can always count on Batman to be there when the desperate need arises to charge an iPhone.

   At the end of the day, The Dark Knight Rises is a big, loud, clunky, sporadically entertaining action film that focuses a bit too much on spectacle rather than telling a cohesive story. It’s as if Christopher Nolan, in his effort to construct an epic, emotionally satisfying, catyclysmic finale to his highly popular Batman films, let the truly important filmmaking details slip away from him in the process. What we really need is a solid, strongly grounded story – I don’t want to say “easier to follow”, because that implies that the film is overly complex or beyond understanding – but certainly something less muddled, and a bit more streamlined. This is a Batman film for chrissakes, not The Odyssey. To illustrate my point, let’s just take a quick look at Nolan’s last film, Inception. While Inception is usually perceived as a sort of convoluted and complex film, it’s actually not that hard to follow the story if you just pay attention to what is happening. Sure, there’s all kinds of dream-hopping and fast-paced action happening, but for the most part the story keeps things pretty straightforward. Everything is laid out for the audience, and we’re given enough information to keep up with the crazy, mindblowing adventures that the cast embark on. What’s more, Inception follows a streamlined and legible plot, one that sticks with the protagonist and follows his story through to its conclusion. The same can’t be said for The Dark Knight Rises, with its criss-crossing plots and subplots, its barrage of characters to keep track of, its jarring time jumps and murky editing. The reason why Batman Begins and especially The Dark Knight work so well is because those movies tell grounded, logically sound stories that take us from one place to the next, while allowing scenes to breathe and find identities of their own. The idea of confusion or disorienting experiences even plays into Inception‘s conceit, because the characters are actually doing things that would generate such confusion – they’re infiltrating different levels of consciousness, impersonating other dream characters, going into other people’s minds, and so on. The intricacy employed by Inception actually works to its benefit, because it inherently imbues the film with a sort of otherworldly, dreamlike feel that compliments the subject matter appropriately. The Dark Knight Rises is essentially a movie about the good guy trying to stop the bad guy – it simply doesn’t need the same level of confounding plot twists and turns. (For the record, I know there’s deeper things going on in Rises than just Batman punching Bane in the face; the themes are mature, developed and relevant to the story. What I’m saying is, this is a goddamn Batman movie. It doesn’t need to be ridiculously complex.)

   Now truthfully, I’m not against shaking things up a bit and doing an epic tale that covers all kinds of ground, jumping from one character to the next – but that’s a bit harder to do competently without letting a bunch of extraneous details fall to the wayside. There’s all kinds of shit in this movie I haven’t even mentioned yet – Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives a pretty decent performance as Blake, a Batman-friendly cop who somehow manages to figure out who Batman really is. Well…I guess if you really think about it it’s not that hard to decipher. But in a universe where no one has ever really been able to piece together who Batman really is, it’s just kind of odd to have this one character just figure it out all on his own…pretty much through guesswork. At least the little shit who figured out Batman’s real identity in The Dark Knight actually had some solid evidence to back his claim, and he actually worked for Wayne Enterprises! I haven’t mentioned the role played by Matthew Modine as stand-in Commissioner when Gordon is injured – they seriously could have cut that entire character from the movie and not missed a damn thing, his character was that pointless. I haven’t mentioned the curious decision made to make Alfred (always well-realized by the great Michael Caine) something of a over-emotional, crying baby in this movie. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with the act of crying itself or anything like that, but seriously, did they really need to have Alfred bursting into tears in nearly every friggin’ scene he’s in? I think he’s in like…5 or 6 scenes in the movie, and he bursts into tears in three of them! We get it, he’s emotionally affected by what’s happening, it’s no doubt some heavy shit – but he doesn’t need to turn on the waterworks every time something emotional is happening! It’s just ridiculous! But anyway, I digress.

Joe Gord-Lev and Gary Oldman try to contain their excitement at being shoehorned into this review somewhere.

   While The Dark Knight Rises certainly wasn’t a bad movie – I was genuinely entertained and impressed by its scale and production value – it just felt like a lackluster, soulless and dimly thought-out one. Chalk it up to the trilogy-ending stigma, I guess. Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy is certainly one of the most cinematically satisfying film series to exist in modern times. I’m definitely glad to have been around to see them unfold and effect the populace the way they have – they’re just really fun, well-made movies than people can relate to. And I will always appreciate his brilliant decision to ground the movies in reality and make them a bit more believable in terms of character – that is what the superhero genre desperately needed. But, sadly, I cannot in all fairness deem The Dark Knight Rises a wholly effective entry into the series, and it certainly ain’t no masterpiece, like some publications have been frantically exclaiming. It’s a truly confounding film, one that tries so hard (and often succeeds) to entertain you on a visually spectacular level, but fails to find a solid base on which to tell a truly compelling story. I was disappointed with The Dark Knight Rises, but in all honesty, it could have been a lot worse. It’s just a shame it couldn’t fully live up to its predecessors.

But seriously, it’s still WAY, WAAAAY better than Batman & Robin. Fuck that movie.

Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about.

REVIEW: THE AVENGERS

THE AVENGERS (2012)
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner & Samuel L. Jackson
Written & Directed by Joss Whedon
Produced by Kevin Feige
Cinematography by Seamus McGarvey
Music by Alan Silvestri
Edited by Jeffrey Ford & Lisa Lassek

No one takes city-wide demolition and chaos quite as seriously as The Avengers.

   You know, it’s funny – I didn’t really have a huge desire to see this movie. I’m not really a big comics guy – I certainly admire them, but I’ve definitely never gone out and collected superhero comic books the way so many out there do. My only real association with the world of comics is through the movies based on them – in case you haven’t noticed, I’m definitely more of a movie guy. And, given the slew of mediocre to terrible superhero comics-to-film adaptations out there (amidst the genuinely awesome ones, of course), I wasn’t getting my hopes up too much for this release. Honestly, a mega-million dollar movie with gigantic stars playing strong people in fancy suits doesn’t really throw my Indulgence Necessity Meter (INM) for a loop. I can appreciate the fact that these are all super-legendary characters with huge, devoted followings, and the fact it’s pretty cool that a movie like this has never really been done before – an epic unification of several large media franchises into one grand story. This is definitely what could be labelled as an “event film”. And yet, for that very reason, I felt this strange obligation to see it. I’ve definitely grown distrustful of the recent fascination with loud, high-budget, computer-enhanced, scenery-destruction-obsessed movies centering on spectacle rather than story – having my brain barraged with images of cartoon robots blowing shit up for no reason ain’t exactly my  idea of a fun time at the movies. But, the good news is, there’s still a possibility to have a wild spectacle-heavy action flick that actually manages to tell a decent story. I guess it was with that hope in mind that I actually decided to check this particular cash-in flick out. It’s shamelessly over-the-top, extravagant entertainment, but the best thing about The Avengers is…it knows that.

   Now, with that all out of the way, I can tell you that The Avengers is a really fun movie. I can definitely say I was entertained while I was watching it, and there enough new ideas and interesting turns in there to keep a seasoned film buff (read: cynical snob) like myself satisfied. I especially enjoyed seeing the personalities of these superpowerful titans bouncing off each other – even more than the incredible action sequences where they were physically doing the exact same thing. The movie really focuses on the forming of this group of extraordinary individuals into a cohesive team – which is cool when you start seeing Iron Man and Thor fucking throw down in the middle of the forest. I gotta say, it’s the most appealing thing about the movie, and exactly why it’s already going to gross near-Avatar­ levels – it’s just fun to see all of these movies meld into one. Although I am highly critical of the slew of superhero movies being shoved down our throats lately, I do have to admit their tactic was pretty genius – and it’s obviously working. I mean, it’s good for them – they get money. Meanwhile, we have to put up with mediocre films. I guess it’s a fair enough tradeoff, because eventually we get The Avengers – the big one that a bunch of those superhero movies were leading up to. They’ve taken the comic book mentality and thrust it onto the big screen – for better or for worse.

The Avengers are not amused by the smartass onlooking citizen yelling “Free Bird!”

   So The Avengers is fun. But is it really necessary? The answer is no, of course not. I’m not trying to say it’s not worth your time, or that it’s a terrible film – I’ve definitely seen plenty big-budget, star-studded action flicks WAY worse than this one. It’s just…..don’t let it get to your head. This is pure film fluff at its highest form – a purely mind-numbing exercise in awe-inducing spectacle with just enough plot and character development to be acceptable. And it is! This is a very quality made film. But once you get down to it, it’s just another superhero movie…or rather, several of them. It is interesting to see all of these stories intersect with one another, and there are plenty of individual character moments where – if you were to take the particular scene out of the movie and watch it separately – it would definitely seem like it was a solo movie for that character. That’s probably the movie’s greatest feat: effectively welding all of these crazy-ass epic stories together. I think the credit clearly goes to uber-writer/first time film director Joss Whedon here. I’m pretty sure Whedon’s entire life has been leading to his involvement with this film, meaning that he actually had a DEEP interest in doing a big-screen version of this comic book right. The dude’s actually written comics before, and he’s written movies (including the last one I reviewed) – he knows how both work and how to integrate them effectively, so it works! By this end, the movie was in VERY good hands. And it shows.

   So what the hell is this movie about anyway? Why, it’s about superheroes trying to save the fuckin’ world, ya dope!!! What else would it be about? I mean, you could also say it’s about how teamwork and putting aside differences – no matter how super you are – is the most effective way to get the job at hand done, but no, it’s about SAVIN’ THE WORLD!!! Therefore, the plot is quite simple: Loki, the evil and “adopted” brother of Thor (his words, not mine) portal-warps onto our planet and starts killing everyone he sees (except for the important characters) because he wants to rule the puny humans. He got here by using the Tesseract, an energy cube of unlimited and unknown power that us humans found at the bottom of the ocean. After some good guys get mind-bent over to Loki’s side, including the absolutely savage archer Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Nick Fury (the right-at-home Samuel L. Jackson) takes one in the bulletproof vest, said victim of pesky bullet-tickling waits for the bad guys to leave without killing him and orders the re-engagement of The Avengers Initiative – a super elite team of Earth’s mightiest heroes to take the son of a bitch down before he subjugates all of mankind. From that point on the entire movie is pretty much just down to meeting the Avengers, and seeing them overcome personal differences to have a drawn-out yet highly kickass battle at the end of the movie.

Serious stares are only that much more serious when there’s an eyepatch involved.

   Normally, I would say that such a lack of plot would be a detriment to a film this huge, but in a strange way, the miniscule narrative is actually part of the fun of the movie. Since everything is laid out for us to understand, we can pretty much just focus on the characters, which is a GOOD thing. If there’s one thing Joss Whedon can do, it’s write snappy, witty dialogue that fits characters appropriately, and it’s really fun to watch. Another big thing working for the movie are the performances: there are a lot of kickass actors in this film, and while their talents might be better off being in some Oscar-baiting type of material, they work wonders here. I may be biased, since I think she’s one of the most beautiful women on the entire planet, but Scarlett Johansson really knocks it out of the park as Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow. I also think she’s a really gifted actress, so that helps as well. I will admit, I’ve always thought of Scarlett as having a bit more class than this kind of movie…seeing her in this makes me think of the scene in Lost In Translation where her character sees a dumb blonde actress doing press for a stupid action flick she did. But I can definitely say that Scarlett brings a lot of class to the role, and she totally looks badass beating the shit out of countless thugs, so maybe it’s not that big of a deal.  Anyway, her character was introduced to the movie-going populace in Iron Man 2, and quite frankly, apart from her scene where she kicks a bunch of dudes’ asses in a hallway, she was pretty much wasted in that movie. (I actually think that entire movie was a waste, but that’s another review.) It’s really refreshing to see her strut her stuff more here, and her character manages to fit in quite well amongst the hodgepodge of superhuman testosterone.

Even with 6 other dudes, having a chick like that on the team pretty much evens out the hormonal scorecard.

   Also bringing something surprising to the table was Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, aka The Hulk. Now, The Hulk hasn’t really had the greatest luck when it comes to super big-budget film adaptations. Hulk, the Ang Lee-directed first outing from 2003, was a boring, self-indulgent mess. The Incredible Hulk, the 2008 reboot starring Edward Norton, was….pretty cool, I guess, but nothing great. This time around, The Hulk is one of the most enjoyable things about the movie, and I really think it’s because of Mark Ruffalo. At first I wasn’t really sure how he would measure up compared to the other actors (especially Robert Downey Jr., who still is my favorite out of all these people) but Ruffalo definitely holds his own and kind of makes me wish they had gone with him from the get-go. He brings a charming awkwardness to Bruce Banner, making him a strange, nerdy type of fellow who just happens to be harboring one of the most unpredictable and destructive forces in the galaxy inside his person. Next to Downey Jr., who was pretty much born to play the role of Tony Stark, I’d say he gives one of the film’s strongest performances.

   I really don’t have a lot else to say about The Avengers…it’s really quite a simple film, at least in terms of what it’s there to do. It’s certainly a fun, exciting, very well-executed piece of commercial filmmaking, and it actually has a brain thanks to a competent writer/director. The action sequences are exhilarating, although a little lacking in suspense (c’mon, you already know they’re going to win. It’s, uh….it’s obvious), and it has great dialogue and performances from everyone involved. But I will say again…this is purely a piece of commercial filmmaking. I’m hesitant to even really call it “art”…this movie was definitely made because the people making it want to make a yacht-full of money. And they are succeeding. The movie’s already broken the world record for the highest grossing opening weekend of all time, and it’s only going to keep getting bigger from there – I wouldn’t be surprised if it dethroned Avatar as the highest grossing film of all time.  But what I’m trying to say is, there are definitely more artfully executed, genuinely thoughtful movies out there that are probably more deserving of the the jillions of dollars and heaps of accolades this movie will accrue. The Avengers is a pop culture-infused juggernaut, the result of a carefully laid-out plan to infiltrate the wallets of as many average citizens as possible. I’m probably sounding more grumpy and lame than I mean to, but in all honesty, I just don’t think this movie is that big of a deal. It accomplishes telling a coherent story with a multitude of epic characters, and for that it’s impressive. I definitely recommend it to anyone looking to have a fun time watching a movie, because at the end of the day, that’s what movies are for! But like I said…just don’t let it get to your head.

Review: RED TAILS

RED TAILS (2012)
Starring Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Nate Parker, David Oyelowo, Daniela Ruah & Bryan Cranston
Directed by Anthony Hemingway
Written by John Ridley & Aaron McGruder
Executive Produced by George Lucas
Produced by Rick McCallum & Charles Floyd Johnson
Cinematography by John Aronson
Music by Terence Blanchard
Edited by Michael O’Halloran & Ben Burtt

Did you guys hear?! They're making a Tuskegee Airmen video game! It's going to be SO awe....oh, wait.

   If there’s one thing that I feel should be eradicated from the face of the planet, it’s racism. Seriously, it’s probably the stupidest notion that mankind has ever conjured, one that gets absolutely nothing accomplished and feeds on people’s fears and lack of knowledge about others. I’m happy that racism seems to be less of a problem today than it was as little as 50 years ago, but it’s definitely still there, and frankly, I feel the people who practice racism today need to get with the fuckin’ program. We don’t need to be afraid of each other anymore! We’re all people! It’s literally mind-boggling to me that anyone would treat someone else cruelly based solely on their skin color. But hey, this is a movie review, not a dissertation on racial ethics. The reason I bring it up at all is because race is topic #1 in Red Tails, the new project straight from George Lucas’s vast and unfathomably bottomless wallet. This film is based on the amazing true story of the Tuskegee Airmen, an all-black regiment more officially known as 332nd Fighter Group of the Air Force during WWII, and is the first Lucasfilm production since 1994 that has nothing to do with Star Wars or Indiana Jones. Now I don’t know about you, but I felt much appreciation towards George Lucas for doing something beyond his multi-billion dollar franchises, and finally producing one of those “great film ideas” he’s been touting for so many years. So here we are – a brand new Lucasfilm movie based on the stories of a group of true American heroes, featuring a nearly all black cast and badass recreations of exciting WWII aerial battles. With a setup like that, Red Tails should be, like, the greatest thing EVER, right?! Well….the sad truth of the matter is no, my friends. No, it definitely isn’t.

   Red Tails was, according to the G-man himself, “designed” to look like the aerial battle films of the 40’s. And, given the exorbitant amount of detail put into the CGI dogfights in the film, I could say this “design” worked perfectly. But Red Tails, despite having excellent production value and a promising cast, unfortunately falls short of its seemingly infinite potential. And while the movie is by no means excruciatingly terrible – it provides some great visuals and a couple exciting moments – it just isn’t very good either. It’s kind of just….ehhhhhh. Which is disappointing, because honestly, I would’ve LOVED to give a movie like this a glowing review full of hyperbolic complimentary adjectives, praising it for its character depth, its execution, its style, its themes & message, the works! But each of these things I’ve listed are all where the movie just completely, utterly misses the mark.

Now THAT'S how you hit a mark! You know, these filmmakers could learn a thing or two from their own fake little plane pilots.

   My real, main beef with this film is the performances. I really don’t know what happened, because the cast in this movie is potentially GREAT and chock full of talented actors, but nearly every line in this movie is delivered with a hokey, unnatural undertone that completely takes the viewer out of what’s happening! I knew it wasn’t a very good sign when the very first line of dialogue in the movie actually made me laugh out loud in the theater. The line is delivered in German, actually, by an evil Nazi fighter pilot – I know he’s evil because his over-the-top and deliberately evil delivery of the line was meant to imbue that sense into my brain. While I was laughing I was thinking to myself “seriously….THAT was the take you used? The one that completely sounds equivalent to what a little kid would sound like while pretending to be an evil Nazi in a school playground game?” And not only that, but the dude’s facial expression – it was just soooo overplayed and corny! Like he was so obviously trying to convey that he was AN EVIL NAZI and he was ABOUT TO TAKE OUT THE AMERICANS! And then the American pilots start talking, and they sounded completely unconvincing as well! It’s like everybody in the movie deliberately decided to act terribly, and for all I know, that could have been their decision….but if it was, they didn’t do a very good job of conveying that was their intention. It just sounded like shitty, amateur line reads in a major multi-million dollar studio movie.

   In the very first scene of the film I was already taken out of what was happening because of the wooden performances by these people! Oh, and get this – during this seemingly exciting and intense battle sequence, they decide to let the opening credits roll using a VERY plain font in a very distracting shade of bright red that takes up the entire middle of the screen! So while this “action” sequence plays out – I put “action” in quotations because there isn’t any reason to care about anything that’s happening yet, thus making the “action” boring – there are giant red letters blocking our view of what’s happening! There’s these gloriously rendered CGI airplanes shooting the shit out of each other, and we can’t even kind of enjoy it because there’s giant letters in the way! So even if you wanted to enjoy the battle taking place onscreen, you couldn’t because they shoved the opening credits right in the fucking way! Couldn’t they have devised a less distracting method of rolling the opening credits? This whole opening sequence is, without a doubt, one of the most boneheaded openings for any film I’ve ever seen. I was seriously dreading the rest of the movie after viewing this haphazardly constructed sequence, and it wasn’t even 5 minutes into the film yet!

   Luckily, things started to get slightly better in the very next scene, once we actually meet the Airmen themselves. After the disaster of an opening sequence, we finally meet the main characters of the movie, and it’s refreshing that they actually have some personality and charm. I have to say that, despite my criticism of the acting in this film, the young African-American actors portraying the Airmen do a damn fine job of establishing a sense of camaraderie to the audience. You get the feeling these guys all like each other, and have been through some shit together. This is where I can actually give some credit to the filmmakers – in terms of character relatability, they actually managed to convey something extremely crucial, and that is the true brotherhood of the Tuskegee Airmen. So we start to get to know the pilots as they trade casual insults and witty remarks with each other, and they’re all pretty likeable dudes – the main two we get to know here and throughout the movie are Martin “Easy” Julian (Nate Parker) and Joe “Lightning” Little (David Oyelowo), the latter of which blows up a German train by himself by disobeying orders and taking it head-on – effectively establishing his recklessness and penchant for disobedience. Although individually, almost every actor in this movie comes off as a little stale and wooden, as a group these actors shine, and since this is a movie about a group of courageous people, I can’t really knock them for achieving that. I can give ’em a pat on the head for it, at least.

It's a little known fact that the Tuskegee Airmen did, in fact, invent the badass pimp strut.

   Soon we’re treated to a scene that establishes the 332nd’s struggle to be recognized as legitimate fighter pilots in the war – a war room scene in which Col. A.J. Bullard (portrayed by Terrence Howard) takes on the clearly bigoted white warlords (for lack of a better term), the head of which is portrayed by Bryan Cranston. It’s no secret that the 332nd are pretty much regarded as a joke amongst the high brass of the war, who have no intention at all of letting these dudes see any real combat. Bullard is there to push these racist assholes into letting his men fight in a real battle, and he’s got his work cut out for him. The scene is pretty well done, but I want to take a moment to focus on the truly talented Bryan Cranston. For one thing….he’s barely, barely in this movie at all!  Now, this is a small point, since the movie is clearly not about him, but I feel like more could have been done with his character to justify the very fact that an actor of Cranston’s talent is in this movie! For those not in the loop, Bryan Cranston plays Walter White on TV’s absolutely amazing show Breaking Bad, and if you’ve seen even one episode of that magnificent show, then you understand just how great of an actor Cranston is. When I saw him in the trailers I thought he would be a formidable antagonist in this film about race issues during the war. But the dude’s literally got two scenes in the entire thing and they were BOTH in the trailers!!! I’d say his grand total was….about 4 minutes of screentime, give or take? It’s just disappointing, because I was really excited to see Cranston bust out his formidable talents in this movie – but no, he was only there to serve as a small hurdle in Bullard’s fight for equality. I dunno, I just feel like if they were going to give him such a small role, they should have cast a different actor in the part…but like I said, this is absolutely just a personal beef I have with the movie, it doesn’t really effect it as a whole….but man, I was achin’ for more Cranston! And I really think he could have made the movie just a LITTLE better! But anyway, back to bigger things.

   I really have to pick apart the tone of this movie, because frankly, I feel like it’s just completely off. Now, I know the point of this movie (according to George Lucas at least…a “man of his word”, no doubt) was to harken back to the days of simple, jingoistic, flag-waving war films, complete with the corniness and over-sentimentality that notion implies…but I’m not really sure if the story of the Tuskegee Airmen was really the right one for G.L. to do that with. The Airmen faced a LOT of hardships while fighting to attain some respect in the harsh times of the war, and I don’t feel like their story is one that can be dealt with lightly. This movie tries at once to be an examination of race issues that unfortunately plague society and also a big, dumb action flick with badass CGI dogfights. It just…doesn’t…WORK!!! There have been countless films made in the past that deal with the exact same issues this one does in much more profound and meaningful ways…Remember The Titans comes to mind, as does A Soldier’s Story, and Glory. This movie feels like it’s trying oh-so-hard to be in the same league as those movies, but it ends up brushing over the very things that made those movies emotionally notable and thematically strong to get to the mind-numbing dogfights. And while racism is definitely a big issue in the movie – there’s a scene in which Lightning goes to a military bar and is immediately told to leave by the white men in uniform there, and later scenes which show the Airmen slowly gaining respect amongst the ranks for being badass pilots who escort bombing raids to relatively casualty-free success – I just feel like overall, it wasn’t really given the attention that it definitely should have received. This is another reason I felt Bryan Cranston should have been in the movie more – his character would have been the  perfect antagonist for the 332nd! I mean, that’s what I was expecting him to be, at least! He could have been actively trying to sabotage the Airmen or sully their reputation somehow, or SOMEthing! But after the Airmen get their new planes and respect from the higher-ups, he’s just gone – as is any real form of racial bigotry in the upper ranks of the Air Force. To me, this just signifies that the movie didn’t really know what to do with its own themes, and sort of just abandoned them for glorified, CG aerial acrobatics. And while the dogfights are definitely exciting and fun to watch, there just isn’t that much depth to what is happening to make it truly captivating.

Bet you never thought you'd be yawning at something like this, did you?

   Instead of a truly deserving antagonist who could very well screw everything up for the Airmen on the beauracracy side, we’re given some kind of weird, half-assed antagonist in the form of one German dude who is affectionately dubbed “Pretty Boy” by the pilots. This guy REALLY DOESN’T LIKE the Tuskegee Airmen, and for some reason, happens to be on the opposing side every time they have a new mission. I mean, I guess that could be plausible, but it just feels really dumb and coincidental to me. Basically, this dude’s job is to look mean and shoot at the Airmen in an attempt to give us a sufficient “bad guy”, but we literally learn NOTHING about him, other than the fact he’s evil.  He really serves no purpose AT ALL in the movie and even gets shot down midway through. Seriously? This is what we get? You’ve got a kickass actor like Bryan Cranston and you completely waste him so we can see some shitty actor pretend to be all evil? What a gyp, man!

   Anyway, back to other stuff that doesn’t work. I really didn’t like the way this movie looked – everything has this over-lit, glossy feel that really detracts from the gritty reality the Airmen faced. It just feels so fake and sterilized, much like the Star Wars prequels did. While this helps the dogfight scenes have a distinctive look, it makes the rest of the movie seem as artificial as the dogfight scenes themselves. And think about this, kids: there was a time, way back in the day, where people would actually go up into the sky and stage dogfights with REAL planes, and the director and DP would be up there with them trying to capture all the frenetic action. Um, can you imagine anybody NOW doing something crazy like that?! Of course, the answer is NO! Now, thanks to the marvels of modern technology, any actual filmmaking effort can be thrown to the side in favor of convenience. I mean, if they could do it 70 years ago, why can’t they do it NOW? I dunno, this doesn’t really matter in the long run, but my point is you can go ahead and have CGI dogfights in your film, I don’t care, whatever….just please, try to make them feel real, please!

"Nice job, the green screen looks great! How much am I getting paid for this again?"

   There’s a few more things worth mentioning because they definitely drag the movie down too. I almost don’t even want to mention the romance subplot with Lightning and a local Italian woman named Sofia. Never before have I seen a romance subplot so shoddily shoved into a movie. It’s really just there to make you sad when he gets shot down at the end, so I can’t really say it adds much more depth than that to the story. Seriously, it’s not even worth going into elaborate detail for, because I honestly think my brain would explode if I attempted to do it, and it would get boring anyway, so I’ll just spare us both the strain. Just know that it SUUUUCKS. The dogfights are really cool, but even those have this otherworldly, Star Wars-like feel to them, even down to the sound design. Basically, this movie has so much going for it but never really lives up to what it could have been – a really great action flick with a solid social resonance. It simply juggles too many things at once, and what’s more, it heaps on pounds of cliches and features some truly crummy acting from most of the people involved, even the big names like Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding, Jr., both Oscar-recognized actors. I would normally mostly blame this on first-time film director Anthony Hemingway, who has made a name for himself directing episodes of TV shows like CSI:NY and The Wire. I’m sure he’s quite talented and can direct well on the little box, but for a big-budget action flick of this magnitude, he probably wasn’t the right choice. But I dunno, in the end I’m really just going to blame George Lucas for it all anyway, because let’s face it, it really just boils down to him in the long run. You can’t tell me that George Lucas didn’t have complete creative control over this movie. It was his money financing it, for God’s sake, you can’t just tell the guy with all the moneys NO!

   Believe it or not, I actually think Red Tails has one or two redeeming qualities about it – it captures the spirit of the Tuskegee Airmen and their camaraderie, and in that regard, it is a success. I’m definitely more aware of these people because of this movie, and even if it was lame, I’m glad I’m more conscious of them and the fact more people will be too. When I went and saw the movie, there were a LOT of people in the theater. Not only that, when it was over, a lot of them applauded it. It did somewhat capture a rousing spirit of adventure through somewhat likeable (if extremely one-dimensional) characters, but I doubt the people who applauded it picked up on the incredibly half-assed manner in which it was executed. But hey, if the people are entertained, what’s the difference in the end? It might just be one of those things that strikes a chord with audiences, even if the thing in question is schlocky as hell and shoddily made. Hell, just look at Troll 2.

No seriously, look at Troll 2. It's excruciatingly hilarious!

   I had really high hopes for Red Tails.  I wanted George Lucas to prove to everyone that he’s really not a soulless, money-grubbing businessman, that he actually has some filmmaking ability left in him and that something bearing his name – aside from the original Star Wars trilogy and first three Indiana Jones films – could be crafted, creatively inspired and genuinely poignant in its actualization. But instead, we get a corny, simplified, just-entertaining-enough-to-get-by action flick that could have been so much more. They’ve made the point of saying it’s like that on purpose and it still isn’t even passable under such stipulation! There’s just so many things wrong with it strictly in a filmmaker’s perspective…things like cliched writing techniques, wooden acting, awkward editing, and trivial and unneccessary subplots that don’t add anything to the story! I really feel that real American legends such as the Tuskegee Airmen deserve a lot better than this. Making a corny, pandering 40’s B-movie throwback in 2012 that simultaneously tries to honor the story of highly respected war heroes completely cheapens and makes light of what said heroes went through…even if your intent wasn’t to do that at all! The movie is just a failure. On many, many levels.

    So I guess in the end, while I managed to find a few redeeming things about Red Tails, it’s generally just another multi-million financial investment from George Lucas, in a grand-scale attempt to add some credibility to his one-trick pony name. Let’s see if it pays off.