Thursday, April 28, 2016

Fantastic Four

Some Spoilers.

I completely understand everyone else who has seen this movie now. If I had seen it with the expectation that the trailer gave me instead of the expectation I got later after seeing the Rotten Tomatoes score, I would have been mad too.

As they say in the movies: It's clobberin' time!

I while ago I watched a conspiracy theory video that humorously suggested the idea that all Fantastic Four movies are actually satires of what superhero movie of their day are; purposefully being terrible films to point out flaws and pitfalls, thus setting the movie world back in order. Like a League of Shadows in film form. I thought it was a neat idea, but probably untrue. Until I saw Fant4stic. Now I'm not so sure, because if this movie was trying to fully be all the worst things you can see in a superhero movie today in order to satirize it, it couldn't have done a better job.

First off, it's very cookie-cutter in form. Starting with backstory -- kid genius Reed Richards () builds a transporter to an unknown location, and when he figures out how to reverse the transport, Dr. Storm () recruits him to his lab where he's been working unsuccessfully on the same project. Then they "build the team" (and the transporter) using typical and cliched methods. There's Sue () Dr. Storm's adopted daughter, Johnny () his careless, out of control son. Victor Von Doom () is a sullen, cynical outcast type. And of course there's Reed's childhood friend Ben Grimm () who supported Reed's dream though his years as a laughing stock, and therefore couldn't be left out of his moment of success.

Miles Teller, please stop being in terrible movies.

Then once they're all together, stupidity happens! The transporter works, and the bad guy (the two-act bad guy who fills in for Doom until he's ready that is) () wants to get NASA involved to send people through to explore the whole new world on the other side. And he's totally right to want this. It's literally a new, unknown world there, you would need to send through people who are trained for every imaginable eventuality and disciplined to be cautious and cool-headed. You would not want to send a bunch of big-headed nerds whose brains are too filled with genius to be bothered with trivial things like common sense. Perfectly, the only not smart person there, Ben, is the only one with any common sense or caution, but of course his wisdom is ignored and the trip ends with disaster and the gaining of superpowers. Yay!

This is about halfway through the movie now, because, as you know, if you want to make a serious superhero movie you have to have lots of setup and wait as long as possible to reveal the comic-book-y stuff. And here, the comic-book-y stuff is where it gets really disappointing. The CGI is the worst thing ever. The Thing looks pretty good -- generally realistic, but the design is a little dopey with the human eyes -- but Mr. Fantastic's stretchiness is so bad that it's almost not even funny. Almost. The effects elsewhere are randomly spotty. Also Sue's Glinda-bubble is way too silly and way too reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz to belong in such a straight-faced movie. (Unless of course, the straight face is a facade...)

Convenient that I can't find photos of any of this silly stuff... isn't it?

Let's talk about character. To get them out of the way, Sue is dull as expected; Johnny is charmless though he's mean to be charming. Comic relief from him (and elsewhere) is written painfully bad and is only a relief when it's over. Doom is trite, and then boring, and lacks anything compelling. Reed was confusing. I kept watching him, thinking "Miles Teller isn't a bad actor. He's not even acting badly. He can brighten up a Divergent movie for goodness sake! Why is this so bad?" It was a clash of the actor's talent and the script's extreme terribleness, and I'm pretty sure Teller handled it as well as can be expected, but the script still won.

I really want to talk about Ben. No exaggeration, the two or three minutes where Jamie Bell's face was on screen where the only times this film showed even a spark of liveliness. He actually used facial expressions and didn't have to battle with the script too much. In fact, the script served him a little by giving him some interesting character development, where he feels left behind when Reed leaves, yet once he joins him, he feels out of place and out of depth. This almost goes in a good direction after the superpowers come, because as we all know, Ben's powers are the biggest burden. Literally. And we really feel for him when he's abandoned by Reed, especially after he himself was such a good, encouraging friend. But later this conflict that could be compelling turns into a petty squabble, before being resolved by -- wait for it -- absolutely nothing, for one final disappointing slap to the face.

As The Thing his voice is heavily edited as well. It was like he just disappeared from the movie.

The movie ends so lazily, with the four coming up with their team name in the most painfully contrived way conceivable. ("Fantastic Four" is such an obvious name -- none of those geniuses could think of it off the top of their head? They had to do a whole bit? Really?) It also ends at the exact spot where it seems like if it had continued it might have actually gotten better from there, but instead leaves with the promise of sequel that we know will never happen which is sad in so many ways.

Coming back to the conspiracy, I have to mention that while this movie was very bad in almost every aspect, it truly felt as though it was exactly what it meant to be. The writing was cliched and horrendous, but in a practiced, even professional way. And the movie was unbearably dull and lifeless, but was unapologetic and confident about it. There was nothing worthwhile in the whole film except one minute of Jamie Bell's screen time, and the film's strange, unjustified sense of confidence. Watching it as a satire and thinking that maybe the terribleness was done purposefully helped me enjoy way more than I possibly could have otherwise, but the fact remains: Bad movies are bad movies. And Fant4stic... it's bad.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Spectre

So the organization called "SPECTRE" is back -- or up and coming for the first time -- and James Bond is-- wait no, that's not important. Here's what's important: There's an organization, called "SPECTRE," their logo looks like this:


And it's an octopus? It's not -- you know -- a spectre? I'm confused.

Anyway, Bond () is out to stop Blofeld () and SPECTRE, without the help or permission of M (the new M, !) because there's this guy called C (but who was an "M" in another lifetime, ) who came out of nowhere and is trying to do evil things from inside the agency and the only way to stop it is for Bond to go solo (with a little help from adorkable Q () and Moneypenny (a terribly underused )), team up with a beautiful young woman () who's important to the plot somehow (have I got this right so far?), wear a tux, drink a martini, introduce himself to someone, fight intimidating henchmen (man -- ), fly, boat, fly, ski, fly, and boat -- in that order, with various gun and hand fights thrown in the mix, all the while looking as expressionless as possible. Did I leave anything out? Oh yes...

He's got a license to kill. But, he's also got a license... not to kill.

I've never been very approving of Daniel Craig's 007, though I did enjoy Skyfall, and Casino Royal had its moments as well. Craig has epic action-star abilities, which get put to good use in these films, but character-wise, Bond has never been duller than in this movie right here. A bored expression does not a cool character make. He gets one or two fleeting slick moments, but otherwise the occasional subtle eye-roll is the biggest expression his face ever makes. He's so cool, that he's not actually cool anymore.

Everyone else can be boiled down to one thing: wasted potential. Andrew Scott was where this was most obvious, because who would cast him to play a placid character? No one, that's who. Yet placid his is for placid they all are. I literally the day before seeing this watched play an extreme creepy stalker for laughs in Man Up; and then he shows up here, and just stands there... with words coming out his mouth. I know for a fact that these actors are capable of infusing a film with energy and making you care for the characters they are playing. I have witnessed every single one of them do it. But this film is so tonally dull that anything resembling liveliness gets sucked away.

I was really looking forward to her Moneypenny after 28 Days Later, but 'twas a fruitless hope.

And what is left is a pompous sense of carelessness, and one dimensional characters that only exist to move the plot along through the paint-by-numbers Bond coloring book. And all the colors are grey. One thing Spectre does that is useful is a kind of experiment, it seems. They appear to have wondered if action films are exciting and entertaining just because they have action in them, and then tested the theory, creating an action film filled with action pieces that are treated as if they were a nice stroll through a park. The result is a high-speed car chase where James is pursued by villainous henchman Bautista, and has a casual chat with Moneypenny on the phone about unrelated plot-development-exposition-what-have-you. I think it was supposed to be for laughs, but it was ironically just like the rest of the film, where casual delivery of action results in boring action.

Technically the stunts and action sequences were difficult and well-executed, and visually the film is pretty fairly striking. Silhouettes is the name of the game here, and I enjoyed the high-contrast (if not colorful) look. But impressive feats and a pretty face mean nothing if there's not anything in a movie to engage you and invite you to care. And no matter how pretty the shot is, there comes a point where it's too long -- here, you can almost see Sam Mendes wave at that point as he flies past it, muttering about how the movie has to be two and a half hours long, and calculating how many extra seconds of how many unnecessary shots he'll need to make that goal.

"A spy without a gadget is like a shopping cart without a broken wheel." -- Spy Fox

I don't care what kind of statement you're trying to make; having James Bond toss away his gun like that is just plain out of character. Maybe it could be pulled off jokingly, but I never could tell if this film attempted any jokes. This character and the elements that must surround him are the opposite of conducive to the lesson the film was trying to teach. This serious and bored Bond, trying to be what he used to be simultaneously with a new, hip, moral him is forced and trite. It just plain doesn't work.

Dark but not deep; dull, slow, and plodding but not smart, and filled with trivial action that is too easily forgettable, 007's latest adventure is only able to offer slight, relaxed moments of entertainment in a franchise meant to gleefully thrill. Spectre is not a cool and original octopus, nor a dark and haunting spirit, it's just a dry, grey wisp of expensive and useless smoke -- interesting enough in the moment; gone and forgotten at the next breeze.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

This review is Spoiler-free.

It's here. 's highly anticipated and impressively controversial sequel to Man of Steel, and setup for The Justice League, where returns as Superman, and dares to take on the role of the Dark Knight. And, as the title demands it, they must fight. But they must also join together to defeat Lex Luthor () and his evil plan for a... Doomsday. Joining them is: , returning as Lois Lane; as Wonder Woman, and taking the mantle of Alfred Pennyworth.

"The greatest gladiator match in the history of the world: God versus man; day versus night; Son of Krypton versus Bat of Goth--" you know what? Just get to it already!

The giant, hero vs. hero film is controversial because, well, it's giant, and people seem to think either it's the worst thing to come out of the superhero genre since Iron Man set the new standard, or the best. The general consensus seems to lean toward the former. I was skeptical of the film's quality ever since it was announced, and went in with low expectations and an open mind. But, as few things ever are, this film is not totally good or bad, but rather sits in a grey area. There were elements that were better than I expected, and ones that were even worse.

First thing: our two heroes in the ring. As you may know I detested Man of Steel, but did maintain that I thought Henry Cavill could play a good Superman given the proper opportunity. Well, that opportunity has still yet to arrive. He still looks the part but is oddly stiff in his acting. Like, I know it's a played comparison, but it feel like they were actually trying to make Supes be reminiscent of Jesus, but did it all wrong by making him all stiff and religious and stoic acting. Where's the guy's humanity? It came through a little more when he was being Clark. As Superman though, I waited a long time to hear him speak; to really address someone as Superman and have a conversation, but it never happened, and the few things he does say feel super rehearsed. He's at his best when fighting, and of course, doing great heroic acts.

I want to like him. I really do.

Ben Affleck's Batman fell more to my liking, with only a few notable flaws. His Batman felt so experienced it was liked he'd already made three or four films as the character that I just hadn't seen. You can feel his past. Yet he doesn't let the part where his past haunts him bog down the character too much. He does, however, have way too many dreams. I mean good grief. His Bruce Wayne also, is less of an alter ego and more of an actual, useful character. Less playboy, more businessman, and it's nice. Affleck also looks the part spectacularly. Still, for all the time he spends on screen, most of it is spend glaring and brooding, and as good of a brood as it is, there is a lack of true depth.

Both these men are total idiots. I could never decide if I was team Superman or team Batman because every time one of them presented their case for wanting to stop the other, I disagreed with them. Both of them, every time. I felt for Bruce because Supes and Zod killed so many with their collateral damage-heavy fight of the previous film, but I also can't blame Superman for that. I blame Snyder. Superman may be darker in these films, but he's still absolutely noble, and it is not in his character to let innocents die. The fact that he did is not a defining element to his character, but a flaw in the film. If it is a part of his character, then his beef with Batman is extremely hypocritical. For the Bat's part, he tries to justify killing Superman saying that he could destroy the whole world if he wanted to, and that's close enough. Grasping at straws, guys, really. But I get it: as Ken Watanabe said, "Let them fight."

Batfleck wishes he could fight an actual villain...

The supporting cast was mixed as well. Outstanding as bad: Lex Luthor takes the top spot! Jesse Eisenberg's Lex was, I am sad to say, one of the worst superhero villains I have ever witnessed. And the only one I've ever been embarrassed for. Eisenberg came across like he was going for a depressed Joker who had drunk too much coffee, and every time he tried something dramatic it was painfully distracting and obvious. I don't care anything about his age or appearance, and I bet he has the ability to play an interesting Luthor. But not today. Also, I really dislike Lois. And I like Amy Adams, so it's not a bias. Lois is just so pathetic, always perfectly adept at getting herself into danger with her strong-headed spirit, and equally adept and not being able to get herself out. She seems determined to be more than just the hero's girlfriend, but only succeeds in being a bother and taking up screen time with useless plot.

On the good side, Jeremy Irons fit the part of Alfred like a glove; but never got to do a thing with it. Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman gets a good introduction -- although it would have been a fun surprise if I didn't already know who she was, because she comes across like Catwoman at first. But she helped liven up the film, and properly teased for her solo outing.

That awkward moment when you thought you were a crazy Batman villain, and are introduced to the guy you really have a vendetta against... and it's Superman.

Plot. It started off with good intentions to be a complex narrative leading clue-by-clue up to the final climax, but just before it actually got there, suddenly none the plot lines were actually necessary to get there. All that planning and plotting and scheming and investigating -- all for practically nothing, and all adding up to an almost totally useless first half of the whole film. And once the third act begins, the film forgets that it wanted to be a smart movie with a weaving narrative and grown-up things like motivations and grey areas, and just throws everything at an explosion-filled, "POW WHAM ZAP" of an end battle. Where everything is burning, and the explosions are exploding and more CGI fills a frame than anything else.

And it was fine. The third act was just as decent and just as terrible as the first two, just for different reasons. So I may wonder at the necessity of the movie's first half, but hey -- without the first half there could be no second half. So... I could wonder at the necessity of the whole film. The true point of the film was to set up The Justice League, plain and simple. The "Batman v Superman" part was to create appeal and gather an audience, and that's exactly what it did. It tried its hand a politics but gave up (probably after confusing itself); and it threw a bug budget into giant jumbled mess of action to entertain, but it's not exactly quality. But, when Wonder Woman comes around, and after that The Justice League, people will be there; some hoping that they're improved a few things this time round, and some probably determined to love it all no matter what.

Baitman! And Superbman! And Wonderful Woman!

This was a movie not made to be good cinematic work, but to be enjoyed; and even I got more enjoyment out of it than I imagined I would. Sometimes, while I laughed to myself at how bad one thing was, I was simultaneously able to appreciate the fun of it too. This film also has a unique and extreme comic book feel to it that I hadn't experienced in any other Superhero film before. Perhaps Snyder's visual style helped with that, but it also comes across in the tone in an interesting way. Even though it's so serious, the seriousness actually plays a factor in finding the film's overly glossy, but oddly fitting state of being. There's a constant stream of drama that is taken very seriously by the film, but it isn't on the same level as a "real life" type film would have. There's no sense of shame; no tongue in cheek; no safety net. It just throws itself into the fray; clumsily, lumbering and oddly disconnected.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice winds up making a confusing mess of things that require any amount of tact, like plot, or character, or really anything that isn't fighting -- and even that is generous. But, underneath all that overlong sludge, the hum-drum attempts at meaning, and the caking layers of indulgent chaos, there's something admirable in the effort.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Testament of Youth

This review is Spoiler-free.

Testament of Youth depicts events of the First World War from the perspective of real-life war nurse and writer Vera Brittain (). Before the war began she was the suffragette-type, and determined to make it into Oxford along with her brother Edward () and his friends Victor () and Roland (). But just as the college year begins, war breaks out, and slowly tears Vera's life and dreams to pieces.

Familiar faces that pop up: , , , , and !

This film is a romantic drama through and through. And as such it is not automatically my ideal cup of tea. I mainly watched it just because I liked the cast, and didn't expect to really appreciate the story, or the way it was told. With these lower expectations, I wound up actually pretty impressed. Neither the romance nor the drama was too overt. It was kept reserved for the most part, and was artistically portrayed rather than just being thrown out there obtrusively.

The movie is based on the memoirs of Vera, and I liked how the film seems much influenced by her viewpoint. At times, it's like reading her diary. You can see how she romanticizes things -- particularly her main relationship -- and seeing things through her eyes made me more in sync with her character. Yet because of the unobtrusive nature of the drama, whenever things got too emotionally intense, I didn't feel like my emotions were being coerced and prodded to follow.

You're allowed to enjoy at you own level.

Vera is one of those people who internalize everything, which is a naturally hard character to put on screen properly. But with this film being strictly from her perspective, and with a truly, very good performance from Vikander, she is understood and easy to feel for. The film portrays her as a feminist and a pacifist, and seem to try and stretch it to the extreme at which people are feminists and pacifists today (trying to claim her as their own, if you will) but it doesn't quite stick. Fortunately it's not pushed too far. Her character's journey is kept at the front of the focus and it keeps everything grounded.

Taron Egerton's presence was probably the deciding factor for me to watch this because I enjoy watching him light up the screen so much. Edward is sweet and charming and I liked their cute brother-sister relationship. I ended up having a major soft spot for Victor though, and not just because he was Colin Morgan. And Roland was by no means bad, but I'm going to say something about him that might make you think I think so. He had, what I'll call and "Edward Cullen" syndrome -- because he seems more like fantasy than a real person. And that enhanced movie for me a lot, but it didn't leave me very attached to the character... or the drama surrounding him.

The best dress and the best man.

I don't see many period dramas set during this time, and I really liked seeing the costumes, particularly Vera's and the women's clothes. Like Downton Abbey, but less glamorous and rich. The whole look of the film is kept very consistently refined but soft, like a dream -- or more accurately, a memory -- memory is very important to this film. And it is filmed artistically to be nice to look at, and to give and enhance meaning. Occasionally it veers into a depth that is more confusing than meaningful, or a little too far into sentimentality to be taken fully seriously, but it doesn't its job better than most of its genre that I've witnessed.

Testament of Youth is a lovely, thoughtful and well-made film that succeeds in saying what it wants to say without getting too distracted by the alluring pitfalls of its genre.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Upcoming Movie Roundup - April

Last month I surprised myself, and saw a movie in theaters that I didn't even include in my March roundup. I was planning to mention 10 Cloverfield Lane, but decided against it just as I was about to watch the trailer, because I realized I didn't have anything to say about it. I didn't know anything about it, and didn't want to -- I didn't even want to see the trailer -- I just had an interest in seeing the movie. So one night I was like, "Hey guys, wanna watch Cloverfield?" and my brothers were like, "Sure." So we did. And once it was over I was like, "Should we go see 10 Cloverfield Lane tomorrow?" and they were like, "Heck yes." So we did. And you can read my spoiler-free review of it here, but honestly you shouldn't unless you've seen it already. I'll just say that it's the kind of movie that reminds me of why I love movies in the first place. So I guess I should have mentioned it, but at the same time, I'm glad I didn't -- and didn't look into it too much.

Usually looking through the new releases of the month introduces me to a few lesser known releases that pique my interest, but not so much this time. And the bigger releases aren't hugely exciting either. You never know, but right now it looks like I may be saving my money for Civil War!

My thoughts on one of these is not true -- for April Fool's Day -- guess which one?


Hardcore Henry
April 8th: R
It stars my personal favorite Sharlto Copley, it's exclusively shot from first person perspective, and it's currently getting lots of praise for it's unique and fun non-stop and innovative action and impressively involving plot line. It is the only movie on this list that I'm currently planning to see, but the only problem is that the rating is too much for me. So I'll wait until I can watch it cut, when I plan to enjoy the heck out of it!




High Strung
April 8th: PG
About a ballet dancer and a violin player who "don't fit in" and go up against the odds, this looks like a nice, appropriate dancing movie with a slight music-twist that will be very appealing to fans of the genre. It looks predictable, a little sentimental, and not terribly deep, but hey -- that's the way these kinds of film's work best.




The Jungle Book
April 15th: PG
The new, live action Jungle Book. Well, so far it's been a lot of showmanship. It's got a good-looking cast, and obviously takes much pride in the appearance of its realistically animated jungle animals. (Am I the only one wondering why they're so disproportionately large jungle animals though?) This trailer shows that the film seems to actually have a plot, and there's a lot of hype, but I still need to be convinced that it's gonna be, you know, a good movie.




The Green Room
April 15th; R
"Strong brutal graphic violence" the rating explanation says. I've never seen a violence rating look so foreboding before! Anyway this one's a horror film staring Patrick Stewart as the villain, and among others, Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots as his victims. I like Anton Yelchin a lot, but this one looks too scary for me. I'm not pulled that far into the horror genre! It's getting high reviews though, so it looks like a hit for those who are...




Paradox
April 15th(limited); NR
A murder mystery with time travel? Sounds like my kind of mash-up. There's not much to find out about this film (it doesn't even have a rating yet) and it doesn't have to look of a really great film, but if it delivers on the promises it makes in the trailer and is decent enough, and can definitely see myself watching it someday.




The Huntsman: Winter's War
April 22nd; PG-13
Uuuuuhhh. Well, at least there's no Kristen Stewart! That means it has to be better than the other one, right? Honestly this prequel to Snow White and the Huntsman does look better. It focuses on more interesting characters and doesn't have the pretense of following a fairy tale. Of course since it's a prequel, we know more or less how it will end -- with the villain undefeated -- which will probably be unsatisfying. Anyway, even if it is better, that by no means guarantees it'll be good.



APRIL FOOL! I lied about lying about one of the movies. I know. I'm such an evil April Fools genius. Or I'm just lazy. One of those. Happy April Fools Day everyone! Don't write with strange pens and be sure to check under your seat cushions!