Sunday, December 23, 2012
It can truly be said that the last nine Christmas's just have not been the same without a Lord of The Rings movie coming out. In this way, going to see 'The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey,' the first entry in what is surly intended to be a prequel series to the beloved film franchise is akin to meeting up with an old friend you have not seen in quite some time and rediscovering just how much they meant to you.
Based on J.R.R Tolkien's more condensed prelude to his seminal LOTR series, 'The Hobbit' tells the story of Bilbo Baggins, a timid and quirky homebody who gets swept up in the adventure of a lifetime when a wizard named Gandalf enlists his aid in accompanying a party of dwarves on a quest to reclaim their homeland which has been forcibly occupied by a vicious and nearly invincible dragon. A simple enough objective, though being as this is set in Middle Earth were ghouls, goblins, and a host of other nightmarish creatures lurk around every corner, there mission is quickly beset by a series of hurdles, roadblocks, and extremely close calls. The challenges they face help bring them closer together however as the characters finish out the film with a renewed determination and sense of hopefuleness which, as the last foreboding scene prior to the credits implies, could be misplaced.
Dispite 'The Hobbit' having somewhat of an ignominous 50/50 standing amidst the critical forumn, I really enjoyed this movie a lot. I think it definately suceeded in recapturing the magic of the LOTR and what's more, expanded the world viewers thought they knew. From the folksy, rural charm of The Shire to unmatched elegence of Rivendale these enchanted locales evoke a sense of nostalgia while the film delves, literally, into previously unchartered corners of middle earth such as the Dwarf kingdom of Ebenor, entirely carved out from the inside of a mountain, and a truly macabre and bizarre subterranean shantytown crawling with goblins. With the considerable progressions in visual technology made since 2003, when the last movie, 'Return of the King' was released in theaters, many of the CG creatures, backgrounds, and effects featured in 'The Hobbit' evoke a surprising sense of tangibility that probably would have been lost had they attempted to make this movie a decade ago.
Despite the cool looking monsters and eye catching scenery, it is the cast that really makes 'The Hobbit' shine. Ian Mckellan once again completely owns the role of the pointy hatted, scraggely bearded Gandalf, who having probably seen and done more than can be recounted throughout his many years still manages to maintain a youthful idealism and dreamer-like outlook for wanting to help foster in a better world for the inhabitants of Middle Earth. It is also a treat to see other characters from the previous films reprise their respective roles a decade later. The new cast members also gave very strong performances as well, particulary Martin Freeman, who plays the film's unlikely hero Bilbo Baggins. Evolving from a nervous, flakey, materialistic shut-in who continually doubts himself to someone willing to risk his life in the service of others, Bilbo's development as a character is definately one of the most rewarding aspects of the movie and Martin's nuanced, and charasmatic performance helps sell every moment.
In closing, 'The Hobbit' is definately the most pure fun one is likely to have at the movies during the Holiday season. There is always something interesting going on on screen and despite the film's almost three hour long run time, I was left aching to see what kind of peril Bilbo, Gandalf, & co. would have to get themselves out of next. Now I am trying to come up with a word that adequetely underlines the feeling of having a new series of Tolkien based fantasy movies to escape in to again. I think I will take a que from one of the more infamous characters and leave it at "precious." ; )
Thursday, December 6, 2012
Hello my legions of devoted readers. I just wanted to post this cool new one sheet from this summer's upcoming "Man of Steel" movie. Similar to the teaser poster for The Dark Knight Rises which showed Bane walking away from a broken bat cowl as raindrops pelt the ground, this image appears to be similarly trying to illicit a strong emotional response by showing Superman, the ultimate good guy and symbol of truth justice, and the American way, shackled in handcuffs and being led away by an escort of military detail like an enemy of the state. Director Zack Snyder and Co. claim that this re-imagining of Superman has one foot grounded firmly in reality and I think this image definately conveys the strong sense of fear, distrust, and suspicion we would initially respond with toward someone who could fly, melt someone into the ground with just a look, and bend steel with less effort than you or I could bend a flimsy metal clothes hanger.
Rather than illustrate the man of steel's phenomenal powers however, this image seems rather to be emphasizing his phenomenal restraint in showing humility and respect for the soldiers who he knows are only doing their jobs and trying and following orders even though we all know he could barely shrug his shoulders and those handcuffs would be history.
On that note, I think this pic evokes a mental image of Jesus on the cross, capable of summoning a legion of angels to his rescue at any moment yet determined not to endure in order to fulfill a higher purpose.
If nothing else, this one sheet definately raises a lot of questions. Why is Superman allowing himself to be arrested and to what end? I cannot wait until June 14th to find out.
Sunday, November 25, 2012
When it comes to a fictional icon like suave British superspy James Bond, it can be difficult for filmakers to come up with new things to say about a character who has either charmed, dodged, shot, or punched his way out of virtually every dangerous and high stakes situation imaginable in his fifty plus years of cinematic life. But that is exactly what director Sam Mendes accomplishes in "Skyfall," the latest installment in the 007 in which an uncharacteristically vulnerable and uncertain Bond is forced to take a long hard look at his soul and reaffirm his place in a changing and modern world.
Skyfall mark's Daniel Craig's third outing as Bond and though not quite as veral as he was in 2006's game changing "Casino Royale," the actor still exudes the steely eyed roguish charisma and devil-may-care sponteneity that make him a much more convincing killer than some of his more Hollywood predecessors. With Craig, you can tell that he is a cold, efficient assasin first and a shmoozer second contrary to previous incarnations in which the shmoozing seemed to take first priority and the character only got physical when the situation demanded.
But Bond's heroic international escapades would be moot if not darkened by the menace of a shadowy antagonist and Skyfall mark's the first time Daniel Craig's Bond goes up against a true "supervillain" in the unhinged and enigmatic Silva. Exceptionally portrayed by a very androgenous looking Javier Bardem, the creepy and cat-like Silva proves to be a nemesis who definately shatters the standard "Bond villain mold" of the callous and geriatric business mogul with megalomaniacal aspirations. Silva's motivations and desired endgame are far more personal. This becomes clear part way through the film as the department of MI6 itself is compromised by a series of vicious, techno related attacks perpetrated by the cunning cyber crimminal who we soon discover harbors chilling vendetta against M (Judy Dench) that is explored further as the story progresses. Arguably one of the best Bond villains of all time, the techno savvy Silva is not just an excellent foe for the more antiquated, "old school" Bond but comes to represent somewhat of a black mirror for Bond in terms of an abyss he could have easily fallen into himself.
Each member of the supporting cast shines as well with classic, beloved characters like Q and Monney Penny being cleverly reimagined for a new generation of viewers, Skyfall pays homage to the core elements of the 007 mythology while suceeding in making the world feel fresh, new, and exciting.
Although Casino Royale is still my personal favorite of the Daniel Craig Bond films, Skyfall probably marks the crown jewel in his tenure as 007 thus far. A riveting deconstruction of the character and why he is still relevant in today's world, Skyfall celebrates Bond's legacy while at the same time, pushing him in a bold and fantastic new direction.
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
So I recently finished taking in the pilot for the new CW show 'Arrow.' For the one or two people out there who are not so much in to comics the show is an adaptation of the DC Comics character Green Arrow. I guess the producers decided to drop the "Green" from the name since historically green superheroes do not tend to do so well in terms of live action adaptations. Green Lantern, Green Hornet, The Hulk, you get my drift. I had been looking forward to the show for quite awhile and after seeing the adds, was really digging the more grass roots approach they seemed to be taking with the emerald archer who, in a departure from his more theatrical, hi tech depiction as a re-acurring character in Smallvile, was now wielding an actual bow and sporting a no thrills vigilante get-up.
The show kicks off with a haggard looking Oliver Queen being rescued from a remote island were we find out he has been stranded for five years. The flippant, overprindulged son of a wealthy industrial Tycoon who perished in the shipwreck that turned him into a castaway, Oliver returns to his home town of Starling City a changed man with a newfound social conscience and an agenda against the criminal elite who have profited in the wake of his father's demise. While openly trying to reconcile matters with his family and an old flame, Oliver secretly dons a Green hood, and armed with little more than the bow and arrow sets about a one man crusade to set things right while making some very powerful people very angry in the process.
Throughout his comic book history Green Arrow has always struggled with the perception of being a cheap knockoff of Batman, even being dubbed the unflattering nickname of "Batman Lite." Arrow does not do a whole lot to disprove this mispercection as indeed the pilot has A LOT in common with 2005's Batman Begins both in tone and narrative structure. From Oliver Queen's character building years in exhile, to his mission to take on the crimminals who are morally bankrupting his hometown, to the requisite love interest who works in a law office and is already trying, albeit unsucessfully to make a difference from within the system, to the none linear format the story is constructed in jumping back and forth from the present day to the fateful beginning of Oliver's ordeal when his father's yacht capsized in a storm, all of these felt somewhat derivative of Bruce Wayne's journey in the first entry of the recently concluded trilogy. I am not necessarily saying this is a bad thing. Better they try and copy something that was good than something that wasn't.
Probably my biggest qualm with the pilot was that it just seemed too rushed. I would really have liked to see more service given to Ollie on the island, struggling to make the rough transition from a world were everything was handed to him on a silver platter to one were he has to kick scratch and claw for every scrap of food he can get. On that same note, I wish they had built up the bow more and explored the idea of him employing the same tool he mastered to stay alive as a weapon to fight injustice. Like Captain America's shield or Thor's hammer, Green Arrow's bow is an integral part of who he is and what he represents though in the pilot next to nothing is said about what it means to him or even were the heck he got it in the first place. Perhaps this is a theme that will be touched on in later episodes.
Despite falling a bit short of a bullseye Arrow's aim was true and it definately hit the marks that will make me want to tune in again next week. Just no Arrowmobile please.
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
She watches the humans with starry eyed fascination. Watches them stretch, saunter, and roughouse about. Their grunts, their guffaws, their four letter words shouted aloud. The cream colored skin and clinging raiments of orange and yellow conceiling all but salt caked hands whiskered, weather beaten faces. Extraordinary visitors from a beautiful, forbidden world. From her solitary perch amidst the rolling ocean the great, otherworldly craft that keeps the strangers afloat seems to leap up on invisible legs before crashing into the sea with a thunderous, concussive force. In the spoken language of the above, a single word is carved into the crafts hull. Through sapphire colored lips she tries to speak the word in the custom of the surfacers though the sound she emits is garbled and unnatural, not like the men on the craft whose mouths poor forth rapid articulations faster than her ears can follow. It is as though she is a person rediscovering a muscle after a lifetime of neglect. With a furrowed brow, she consults her mind voice to master the word her underdeveloped vocal chords can not, allowing her conscious to slide over each syllable with relish like an invisible tongue tasting something exquisite. "Lyndsay" her inner voice speaks in a mellifluous chiming echo, and she repeats the word over, and over, celebrating the word, stretching each syllable into the chorus of a song before a deafening crack that sounds like a hole being torn through the roof of the sky makes her dart like an arrow into the the blanketing safety of her cold blue world.
Skirting the shoals of the craggy gray bottom she gazes upward, wondering if it was the surfacers that made the sky to cry out like that. Were there any limits to their power? Craning upward, she observes that Lyndsay has shrunken to the size of a minnow and she giggles and chides herself for being so skiddish. Safely in her element as she was surly she should not turn tail at whatever showy displays of power the surface men could flaunt.
Swiftly, like silk in the wind her fins thrust forward and she glides on a wave of upward momentum. Climbing, climbing, she readies for the moment when the ocean's everpresent being relinquishes itself to the empty, unfilled nothingness of open air, to the danger and mystery of man's world. Rising on a column of blue, eager to complete the act of emergence, of symbolic birth, of gleeful and unapologetic defiance of the edicts of ocean antiquity.
Gazing through the distorting veneer of water caressing sky, she suddenly notices what looks to be a great hand reaching down from above to help her in her ascent, though a moment later she realizes this is not the case in the slightest as the strange apparition does not glide to meet her in a lucid arc of motion but rather plunges forward violently like a starving predator desperate for a meal. A beast the likes of nothing she has never seen before, the creature unfurls its arms and tries to force itself upon her, coarse brown appendages, groping out blindly to ensnare her in its grasp. Instinctively, she propels herself to safety though not before feeling the monster's knotty, chorded fingers scrape roughly against the back of her fins. Turning back upon reaching a safe distance she observes that others are not so fortunate and looks on astonished as a school of black cod are swept up in its seemingly unbreakable clutches. The bizarre, membranous thing, now bulging from its writhing catch, tightens and begins to rise though not before a dozen or so determined cod manage to wiggle their way through through a small circular opening in its apex. Racing away in terror, none of them seem to notice she was there save one, who's tail twitches uncontrollably as though dancing to the discordant rhythme of misfiring nerves.
"DANGER! AWAY!" its thoughts cry out in an unreasoning, terrified voice before hurriedly cutting off after the rest of the fortunate liberated.
Shaken and afraid, she considers abandoning this foolish game. Perhaps it was no coincidence that she had come within bare inches of being ensnared by that fish snatching atrocity just moments ago. As always, she had been careful, but who knew what incomprable methods of human sorcery she was meddling against? They could very well know she was spying and at this very moment be poised and ready to unleash the monster once again. Could her luck hold out a second time? She didn't think so. But fascination's lure had pierced her all the way through and she was too obsessed, too enthralled, and too stygmatized to attemp to pull it out now. Wary of staying in the same area any longer she glides a ways across to the other end of Lyndsay before ascending from the depths to resume her extraordinary observations.
A different group of men are at work on that side. One of them, an older one judging by the rumpled indentations of his skin and the tired, deliberate way in which he places his steps, struggles to re-position a set of cumbersome looking equipment and calls out for help. "David! Lend me a hand her will ya son!?" Appearing beside him a moment later is a much younger man who quickly relieves his beleaguered looking crewmate of his burden, casually hoisting the gear onto broad shoulders that appear as though they had been chiseled from granite. "Careful Grady, were a long ways from the nearest emergency room and I promised Charlotte I'd have you home in time to help her re-tile the kitchen didn't I?" The elder seaman grunts, eyeing the veral deckhand with grudging appreciation. "Good boy. Now Howz' about more muscle and less lip Hercules, eh?" David laughs and begins to say something which is immediately drowned out in a rising cacophony of rain drops barreling down from the sky like a million liquid kamakazis and the whap whap whap sound of Lyndsay as she leaps and crashes. The rain is soaking through the conceilatory orange hood masking his profile and he slides it off and she is convinced that the sea holds no comparison to the crystal blue hue of his eyes as he gazes out to the edge of the world and lets his long dark hair be tossed about by the invasive rush of rain chilled wind.
"David..." she speaks softly from the rippling undulations below. It is the first word she has spoken aloud in human custom and she smiles for having discovered a voice she hardly knew existed. Her reverie is short lived however as an almost unearthly rumbling from an endless suceession of pitch black thunderheads lining the skies above imposes itself on the moment. Minutes pass and activity aboard Lyndsay slows to a crawl as the men stop to survey the ever darknening skies. Their fingers twitch nervously and their faces read like a shared unspoken prayer for mother nature to be generous to them. But like a depraved animal that knows no kindness, only the lurid satisfaction of the kill, the squall intensifies.
She looks on worriedly at the men in craft as their earlier zeal and lusty fortitude begins to erode under the chaotic force of the downpour. A stubby, hard looking man emerges from within the vessel and begins to shout orders to the agitated crewmen as bodies rush to and fro wildly with none of the steady cadence and rhythme of before. Then, it is as if the very essence of nature's might itself, distilled into a vibrant bolt of blue fire tears open the skies and discovers a viable target upon which to excise all its unbound ferocity.
Terrified she ducks underwater wondering if the storm isn't divine retribution against her treasonous and incendiary behavior in daring to venture to the surface. Her thoughts are interrupted by a sharp osillation of water at her back and she looks to see a school of mackeral brush past her, their usual drowsy colllectedness now abondoned in the face of the sound and fury above as they push, nudge, and jostle to be formost among the group. DANGER, DANGER, DANGER, AWAY, AWAY, AWAY, there thoughts scream out to her, piercing in their urgency. She looks at them, then at surface above. Not blue but black now. What had that streak of light done to Lyndsay and the men? To David? It does not matter. She is terrified and wants nothing more than to give in to the fishes frantic flight mode and race off with them into the safe familiarity of the deep, discarding this day as a half remembered dream only there to laugh and feel silly over later on. But there is another feeling inside her that is stronger than the fear. A feeling potent enough to challange even the terrible blue fire she witnessed pour out of the sky. And as she musters her courage and swims back up, she cannot help but wonder if it is a human feeling that compels her to do so. An earie light filters over the water as she tilts back to surface. It is blood orange like the setting sun and accompanied by something else, dark and foul looking. The cloud of smoke assails her senses the moment she draws her first breath and she coughs uncontrollably, swiveling in the water before at last regaining sight of the ship. Lyndsay is on fire.
Like a green young soldier ordered to man the front lines on the day the bloodshed is at its grisliest, she looks on with mounting horror at the varying reactions of the men on inside. Some, shaken with panic, take a flying leap from the deck where they flail ungracefully in the turbulent waters beneath while those posessing of firmer character aggressively douse the assailing walls of flame with hefty pales drawn to the tip again and again. But the effort is having no visible effect. The fire only becomes angrier at the men's attempt to squelch it and seems to grow hotter and even more deadly. David is at the forefront of the attempt, his handsome face tarnished by smoke as he slings heavy balefuls of water upon the oscillating crimson tongues with a steely resolution that seems to energize the other men. Eyes stinging with sweat and tears they chuck and heave, drowning out the ardent cries of protest from aching muscles exhausted from a long day’s work. Like a group of warrior tribesmen grappling with a predator they fight on half mad with courage when suddenly the ship itself appears to moan in agony as a series of sickening snaps tear her open from within and they are at once struck with the grim understanding that their struggle has been for naught. A rabid malignance, the fire has seeped into the very bones of Lindsay herself and with bitter acknowledgement that their combined will could not overcome nature at its fiercest, the crewmen make like bandits for the ship's sole life boat as more ruptures in the hull appear and pieces of the old girl begin to collapse around them, red wreathed and smoking. Retreating down a side latter the men retract the cables holding the modest vessel aloft and rapidly pile in, plunging their hands into the frigid waters to help those foremost to abandon the ship drag themselves aboard before someone jerks the outboard motor to life with an unceremonious tug and they finally feel themselves being carried away. Some, overwhealmed from the ordeal go so far as to use their hands and arms to try and hasten the escape.
Upon having gained a safe distance the men conduct a silent head count. One short. "Oh God...Grady" David whispers with mounting horror. He rises to his feet amidst a throng of incredulous, disbelieving glances.
"DAVID NO! GRAB HIM YOU ASSHOLES!" Screams the skipper but it is to late, and before the others can so much as raise a hand to thwart their foolhardy compatriote David is already cutting through the water with marked determination back toward what can now only be described as a floating microcosm of hell itself.
Terrified, they cry out words of petition. That Grady had known the risks. That he was certainly already dead. That David was only sealing his death warrant as well.
David hears all of these things but listens to none of them as his fingers finally brush against the hull of the ship before a ill timed blast of sea water sends him coughing out loud. Gritting his teeth he reaches for the thin metal ladder bolted to Lindsay’s portside. The sizzling sensation of hot metal on flesh makes his hands sing out in pain as he hoists himself unto the battered, smoldering ruin of the deck. Like stepping into a furnace the heat is now nearly unbearable and whatever former dependence he held in the seemingly indestructible armaments of youth is quickly stripped away as wave upon wave of scorching agony blasts him from all sides. "GRADE!" he cries out hoarsely between great, hacking coughs as noxious gouts of acrid smoke reder him dizzy and unbalanced. He brings his foot down on a weak spot in the deck and a stabbing pain shoots through his ankle as a section of the it collapses beneath his weight. Pivoting wildly to the side, he scrambles to free his leg from the treacherous aperture in the floorboards. Using both hands to ease it out, he hunkers to one knee, gently caresses his throbbing ankle and noticing, through a dense haze of tears and exhaustion, the red rivulets of blood filling up the long, winding gash that stretches the length of his pantleg.
Undaunted, he again throws his voice into the charred oblivion of the once robust and seaworthy veseel.
"GRADE!" Nothing, save for the subversive crackling of ongoing incineration.
He barely hears it. A whimper coming from somewhere within the smoke and ash.
Wincing, David pushes himself upright by the strength of his uninjured leg and limps in the direction from which the voice originated. The smoke has laid a black shroud over everything and he extends his hands out before him like a sleep walking caricature to navigate his way through the blackness. Twenty paces or so later and his foot happens upon something yielding and, in spite of his throbbing ankle he manages a smile as a voice yelps out in mixed surprise and indignation.
"What’re you trying to help me or do me in!?" David looks down to the sight of his old friend pinned to the deck with a collapsed metal girder pushing down unto his chest and ribcage. Kneeling beside his fallen crewmate, David hooks his hands beneath the fallen girder and pulls upward like a weightlifter performing a curl while Grady, appearing as though he has aged another twenty years during his entrapment aboard the burning ship, lends what meager strength he has remaining to push up against the metal girder that has rendered him immobilized. For three agonizing minutes the struggle stretches on and the two men manage five or six inches on the girder before their arms go limp in supplication and a volley of explosive gasps ensue.
"David, listen to me... " Grady manages over the incessent cacophony of burning wood and alabastar, but David refusing to do so, shakes his head doggedly before his shoulder is grasped tightly by a hand calloused from hurling many nets. "Dammit kid you need to get clear of here now! The fuel tanks are going to blow any second! Just what the hell were you thinking coming back here anyway!? Sighing in fear and pain, Grady looks up and into the face of the scrawny young boy he had reluctantly allowed to join his crew at the almost unheard of age of thirteen. Back when the aches and pains that were now becoming harder and harder to endure were little more than a mild annoyance, easily ignored and he could cast a net and reel in a catch with the best of them. Better than the best of them. As was the precedent for any Captain worth his salt. If it had not been for the desperate appeals of the little prince's mother, for that was what he and his crew had dubbed him, not unflatteringly, during his first few years aboard due to his fine dark hair and deceptively delicate appearance, she was a widow trying her damndest to raise him and four girls on a waitresses salary with little success, he had known her, a lifetime ago, watched her come of age in the very town he had apprenticed on his first boat all knees and elbows and as green as they come. Even years later, after the ravages of heartache and loss she was still the most beautiful thing he had ever laid eyes on. How could he ever refuse her anything? Slowly, his grip loosens and his voice comes softer. David...it's okay...really... I'm okay..just go..please...
Gasping for breath, David covers Grady’s hand with his own and a second later, thrusts it away disgustedly.
"The hell with you! I’m Hercules remember! Now quit acting like some decrepit bagger at the A&P! You’re a Goddamn fisherman now you push that freakin' thing for all your worth you crone!
"Little shit" Grady rasps, "and here I was just starting to get a tan." With that his face contorts into a grimace of effort as once again he pushes up against two hundred plus pounds of solid metal. David, likewise redoubling his efforts, looks as though fire is about to burst from his veins and they protrude like thin exclamation marks beneath the tensed skin of his arms and neck.
Slowly, tortuously, the beam rises up from Grady's chest and at last with a stoic cry, David thrusts it forward were it smacks the deck with a deafening wham. Exhausted, he helps the older man to his feet, wrapping his arm around his shoulder for support in spite of his mangled ankle.
"We survive, first rounds on me." Grady says, smiling wanly, his wrinked skin caked heavily in soot.
"Alwayst thought a brush with death would be the least it would take for you to loosen that wallet old skin flint," replies David as the two commence in an urgent, ungraceful shuffle toward the nearest edge of the boat. Flaming debris spits out at them from the curtain of smoke stifling their vision and David grips his mentor closer before extending his arm in a sideways v to deflect it away. Stumbling a little ways ahead, David's waist finally collides with the hot metal rail running along the ship’s siding and he cries aloud in mixed pain and elation. Breathlessly he turns to the older man at his side realizing, upon observing Grady's drooping head and vacant expression, that his friend is nearly running on empty. A few more minutes of breathing in all this carbon dioxide and he would be no worse for ware as well.
"Don’t you dare give up on me now old timer" he rasps through lips more stained black with ash and grunting in exertion, heaves him into a fireman’s carry before committing him to the water‘s below. The sudden immersion seems to send a jolt of awareness back into the older man's senses. Shock mingles with relief as he breaks the surface and gazes up at the ship that just a short time before, he was convinced would be his funeral pyre. He looks up and sees David on the rails, poised to join him, and he motions frantically for him to jump.
Meanwhile, a stone's throw to the distance, the crew of the fish and shrimping boat once known as Lindsay look on in stunned silence as two ghosts emerge from the standing sheets of flame, for not more than ghosts could have survived such an unholy inferno. But when they observe the soutestained silhouette of David struggling to lift Grady over the bow reality sinks in and they know the sea is not playing tricks on their senses. "C‘MON!" one screams. They had not gotten but a few feet when suddenly there is a thunderous sound and the crimson wreck which had not long ago resembled a seaworthy vessel is swallowed in a hellish ball of fire. "Christ! The fuel tanks!" one of them cries out as the blinding glare generated from the blast forces them to duck their heads as they begin to feel specks of debris rain upon them. A moment passes and they lift their heads, reluctant to see but powerless to do otherwise.
He is a lamb. The ocean, an alter. "I have a name, what is it?" the young man wonders as consciousness fades in and out like like a black and white silent film with damaged, missing frames. Careening wildly his lungs scream for air and he opens his mouth though nary a hint of oxygen can be found. With a defiant cry, weak hands reach and writhe in desperation for the water's surface seemingly miles away before at last succombing to their cruel captor's icy embrace. Murky green dissipates into a swirling tableu of black and red and with the seeming departure of reality comes the certainty that the threshold of the living has been left behind. For why else would he feel the sensation of hands clutching him tight? Of long hair brushing against his skin? Of an unmistakeably feminine figure pressed closely against him? With sudden intensity the taste of lips hits his mouth like an electrical charge and a surreal sense of awareness washes over him as breath is forced back into his starving lungs in long sensuous bursts. Slowly, the veil of incoherence liftes and he realizes he is moving at incredible speed, no longer a captive of the sea but gliding effortlessly through it like a hawk cutting deftly through the wind. And she is beside him the entire time, holding him close, never letting go, a phantom lover.
Minutes pass. Or are they hours? Time assumes a lucidity that blurs and contorts perception like a winding corridor of deceptive trick mirrors. Faintly he hears a voice, drifting evocatively from somewhere unseen, infiltrating his senses, sweet, soothing, beautiful. A tonic equally healing and debilitating. He moves his arms and legs and feels the course, yielding texture of the sand bank upon which he rests. His eyeslids flutter open and she is there and she is singing to him. Singing in a tongue he has never heard before. Singing though not a word leaves her lips. Her face is like nothing he has ever seen before and he struggles for a clearer picture though his vision is obscured with the sting of sea salt and the muddying veil of lingering delirium. Vaguely he senses a hand gently caressing his face and wonders at the membranous folds of skin resting between the narrow, sinuous fingers. It does not matter though. Nothing matters but that she keep singing to him. That the moment be wrung dry and the dream last for as long as possible. He smiles and reaches up to take her when suddenly a distant chorus of men's voices intermingles with hers and before he even realizes she is gone they are upon him. Genuflecting in the sand they shower him in a loud chorus of hurrahs before helping him to his feet as two crew members rush to support him on either side, taking the pressure off of his hurt ankle. His back is covered in first degree burns and he flinches in sudden pain and discomfirt as a large overcoat is wrapped around him in place of his tattered shirt.
"Gave us one hell of a scare kid...A damn brave thing...Can't believe your still here..." their commendations, though well meaning assail his mind like falling glass and he twists around desperately searching for some trace of the one who saved him though none at all can be found.
Amidst the swarm of his coharts David hears a familiar, weatherworn voice call out to him and suddenly Grady is in his arms and crushing him in a fierce hug as though the younger man might choose to depart from the living at any second.
"Damn it kid don't you ever do something that stupid again okay!? You hear me!?" Grady manages, trying, with little success, to choke back tears of happiness and relief.
"To hell with you old man" David replies with a dry smile," hugging him back though his eyes continue to comb the beach and the ocean beyond, longingly, relentlessly. The Skipper is among them and though the hard looking man is likewise belated to find the youngest member of his crew alive following his harrowing ordeal, he cannot help but regard him with a suspicious look bordering on outright fear.
"how on God's earth's did you manage to swim back inland in the state you were in? We were nearly fifteen miles out at sea?
Hesitantly, David regards the skipper, completely lost on what to say. Completely lost on a lot of things. "When you first caught sight of me on the beach, was I alone?"
"You mean you didn't..you didn't see her too."
"No, but had I spent the last few hours drinking sea water maybe I would have. Who are you are you talking about son? Who is "her?"
Grady along with the rest of the lot gaze at David expectantly, waiting on pins and needles for the next words that would leave the young man's mouth. However, David cannot meet their eyes and instead looks to the sea for answers though the immense sleeping giant before him is a closed book, mysterious and unknowable. He aches with a desire to tell them everything that happened. To profess the truth of what had only ever existed in folklore and bedtime stories. The song of his mysterious rescuer still echoed in his head, begging to be shared with the world. Was it enough to bear silent witness to the extraordinary? Could he learn to keep this treasured in his heart for the rest of his days?
Quietly, he looks back at them, the ghost of a smile touching his lips.
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Harsh is probably the first word that comes to mind when describing gritty and ultraviolent Dredd. A major departure from the corny and overblown 90's dud featuring Sly Stallone and an insufferable Rob Schneider, this latest cinematic incarnation of the future's most extreme supercop and the post apocolyptic world he inhabits is lean, mean, and much like its titular character, sticks to its guns.
One of the aspects that I enjoyed most about Dredd was the intense focus of the storytelling. Rather than bog the audience down with 45 minutes plus of tedious exposition and backstory we are told all we need to know about the film's setting, the distopic Mega City 1, and the elite organization who police its streets and if the situation mandates, perform on site executions, Judges, in the first few minutes of the movie. From that point on, boom, we are off and rolling. This immersive, no nonsense approach is best summed up in a line of dialogue early on in the film.
"Sink or swim it is time to throw her in the deep end and see what she's made of" says a recruitment officer to Dredd of a rookie, Anderson, whose performance he must evaluate after a day of on the job training. "It's all a deep end" responds Dredd dubiously, no doubt talking about the chaotic urban hell hole that is Mega City 1, which is so dense and sprawling that Judges can only respond to six percent of the crimes that occur. In this way, from a thematic standpoint it as if the film itself wastes no time chucking the audience right into the deep end right along with Dredd and Anderson, letting us learn more about them through their actions and behavior as the plot progresses and the situation they have to deal with becomes more and more dire.
All the performances were solid though I particularly enjoyed Karl Urban's portrayal of the scowling, gravely voiced Dredd. Despite his cold, emotionally detached demeanor and nonexistent moral compunctions for blowing multiple bullet holes through a host of unsavory characters it is clear that he holds himself to an extremely high standard of conduct with an emphasises impartiality. This is best expemplified in the very fair, indiscrimmatory way he treats Anderson, who Dredd's superiors are pushing on him to pass mostly due of her strong telepathic abilities rather than any proven aptitude for the work, and in a scene were, despite Anderson's being 99.9 % sure of an apprehended crimminal's guilt, Dredd replies that that is still not good enough for them to perform an on the spot execution.
Besides giving the audience a rudimentary understanding of Dredd and what he does, almost everything else about the man wearing the uniform remains shrouded in mystery. This includes his face, which in a nice nod to the comics, we never recieve a full glimpse from behind his trademark Judge's helmet. I really enjoyed this minimalist approach. It left me wanting to know more about the character and the circumstances that led to him being that way.
Although unfortunately it seems to have flown a bit under the radar in terms of commercial sucess Dredd is a film that deserves to be seen. With smart, thought provoking writing and an overall creative vision that manages to be both provocative and harshly uncompromsing it is definately a movie that grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go until well after the credits roll.
Thursday, July 26, 2012
Back in the summer of 2008 when a little movie called "The Dark Knight" managed to both transcend and redefine the comic/superhero movie genre as we know it, the liklihood of a potential third installment, be it the tiniest glimmer on the horizon, became natural and inevitable. During a long and quiet couple of years in which Christopher Nolan, the director and all around master and commander of the hottest comic book franchise to date took a hiatus from the gritty streets of Gotham to direct his mind bending dream caper "Inception" many ideas were postulated by an ever hungry fanbase on were they would like to see a third movie go in terms of themes, villains, etc. I myself was eager for a story involving Batman on the run from the law while at the same time determined to hunt down a certain cerebral assailant obsessed with leaving riddles at the scene of his crimes as a taunting lure for Gotham's shadowy protector. Well, after finally have seeing that long anticipated third installment "The Dark Knight Rises" after a grueling four year turn-around, all I can say is thank goodness Chris Nolan and everyone involved were thinking so much bigger than I ever was.
Taking place eight years after the events of TDK which ended with Batman willingly becoming an outlaw to save Harvey Dent's reputation after the horribly scarred district attorney went on a mad rash of violence prompted by the The Joker's schemes, TDKR sees a Gotham that has since prospered under an era peace under "The Dent Act," which has allowed police to effectively stamp out the remaining elements of organized crime that for many years proved a blight on the heart of the city. Not fairing so well however are Police Commisioner Jim Gordon whose guilt over having betrayed his good friend and confidant in order forge a tremulous peace built on a lie is finally becoming more than he can live with, and eccentric billionaire Bruce Wayne, who, after riding off on the batpod to escape a vengeful police force in the climactic final moments of TDK, has relinquished his crime fighting alter ego of The Batman and since slid away into a life of reclusion and ignominity. Suffering from wounds both physical and mental, the once fearsome hero has let himself deteriorate into a gaunt, disheveled ghost shuffling around in his night gown and haunting the corridors of a sparse and sterile looking Wayne Manor.
But when new adversaries threaten to plunge the city into peril once more, Bruce is determined to dust off the cowl once more, and despite his past prime state, jump back into the fray much to the displeasure of his loyal butler and surrogate father figure Alfred, who yearns for his master achieve a happy and fulfilling life beyond the obsession of being Batman.
One of those adversaries is Selena Kyle, a sultry, crafty con artist who uses a potent combination of feminine wiles and kung fu kick a$$ery to get what she's after. Although she is a free agent and never truly a legitamite threat to the city, Selena (never referred to as Catwoman in the film) nevertheless plays a pivotal role in shaking Bruce, who senses a kindred spirit in Selena, out of his gloomy self exile, and opening his eyes to the economic disparities that are rotting the city from within.
Batman's other adversary, who is very much a threat to the city is Bane. Built like a 200 + pound tank and outfitted with a grotesque mask that evokes the image of a muzzled pit bull from hell and is part heavy metal part Hannibal Lecter, Bane is truly frightening not only in his strengh and size but also in the demeanor of smug casualness he projects while perpetrating extreme acts of violence in pursuit of his ultimate and horrifying goal. He is the biggest dog in the yard and he knows it.
Rounding out Bruce's stable of allies is head of Wayne Enterprises R&D department Lucius Fox, the veriable Q to Batman's 007, who makes his employers decision to resume his nightly theatrics even easier by supplying him with a truly cool and sci fi looking air assault vehicle crisoned "The Bat." Miranda Tate, an attractive and environmentally conscious Wayne Enterprises board member who encourages Bruce to come out of his shell and pursue his father's philinphropic endeavors by means both in the boardroom and bedroom. Lieutenant Peter Foley, a character whose arc is intended to mirror that of Gotham as a whole. And John Blake, an earnest and idealistic rookie cop who refuses to go along with the aura of complacency that has crept into the city and proves an indispensible ally to Batman in his war against Bane.
In the tradition of The Dark Knight, "Rises" taps into many real life contemporary fears including urban terrorism, class warfare, and the threat of total economic collapse. Like modern day suicide bombers eager to give their lives in perpetuation of some "glorious" cause, the villains of the story truly believe in their own twisted ideals of order and justice and are willing to go to any means necessary to accomplish those ends, thus making them far more scary than a giant CG lizard or some anonymous alien army from outer space.
Themes of suffering and redemption pervade as (spoilers!) after being beaten nearly to death and tossed in a hole to suffer and die, Bruce must rise from the abyss and truly become the symbol of hope he originally set out to be in the first movie, (2005's "Batman Begins) in order to save his city and perhaps finally overcome his need to be Batman.
Epic in every sense of the word, The Dark Knight Rises is truly a moving and bittersweet finale to the most outstanding superhero film franchise there has ever been and perhaps ever will be again. Batman truly rises to his highest height and the film's simple yet profound rational for what constitutes a hero really stikes at the core of why people love Batman in the first place. That any of us can be him.
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Among the pantheon of superheroes, Batman's origin is certainly one of the most compelling and identifiable. Scarred by the trauma of witnessing his parents gunned down by a mugger during a harmless family outing young billionaire Bruce Wayne literally puts his life on hold and vowing justice against the evil that robbed him of the two most precious people in his life thenceforth committs every fiber of his being to achieving the peak of mental and physical perfection. Eventually developing the alter ego of the Batman, Bruce assumes the facade of a vacuous and narcassistic playboy during the day while at night, strikes fear into the hearts of Gotham's criminal underbelly while inspiring hope in its good people as the city's Dark Knight.
There have been quite a few interpretations of Batman's origins both in comics and cinema. The most noteworthy probably being Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli's grim and gritty Batman: Year One series, pretty much considered as cannon to any current reader of the comics, and Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins, which is just as much a thought provoking psychological exploration into Bruce's drive and motivation for putting on the cape and cowl and choosing to be a hero as it is a rousing action/adventure story.
And now, just in time for The Dark Knight Rises no less, we have Batman: Earth One, the long awaited graphic novel by writer Geoff John's and artist Gary Frank in which The Caped Crusaders origins are re-imagined for a new generation of reader's. I had been looking forward to this for a long time and, John's definately takes some liberties with the mythology, probably to the disdain of more than a few hardcore purists, I found myself liking the book quite a lot.
Undeniably one of Earth One's most compelling aspects lies in its very human and fallible presentation of its central character. Contrary to his current depiction in comics and, to some extent, on film, this Batman is not yet the brilliant crime fighting strategist, not yet the cunning martial arts master, and not yet the stealthy sleuth who can creep beneath his enemies noses completely undetected. No, the Batman we are presented with in Earth One is a reclusive and angry young man not as interested in protecting the innocent and inspiring people for good as he is the single minded goal of uncovering the conspiracy behind his parents murders and dispensing violent revenge against the people ultimately responsible. He does not have the convenient amenities of a batcave or batmobile and his gadgets, or "gadget" I should say, does not always function properly in the heat of the moment. He is brash, arrogant, and his forays into to constumed vigilantism do not usually end with the bad guys lying in an unconscious heap on the floor. While I found this version of the character to come off as cold and not quite as sympathetic as the Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins who gained a sense of closure for his parents murders yet chose to become a hero anyway, I thought he was nonetheless a very compelling character as we see him grow from a snobby and entitled little rich kid to a penitent and almost tormented adult for the role he unwittingly played in the tragedy that claimed his parents lives. On a purely ascetic level, it is interesting to note that this is really the first depiction of Batman in comics were you can see his eyes, as they are not whited out and hidden like they have always been in the monthly books. The result is pretty striking as rendered by Gary Frank's exceptional, life-like artwork, causing the reader that extra degree of identification with the character's vulnerability and humanity.
Some gymnastics are made with the supportive characters of Batman's mythology especially Alfred who, in a true departure from the fastidious, dry humored and stiff upper lipped domestic housekeeper we all know and love, is a gruff and gnarled veteran of the Royal Marines who forged a close friendship with Bruce's father, Thomas Wayne, after saving him in combat. Contrary to his virtuous "against the grain" depiction in Batman: Year One, police sargeant Jim Gordon, Batman's loyal alley and confidant, in this book, is rather a disenfranchised and world weary drone in a hoplessly corrupt system he gave up trying to save after his wife died under "mysterious circumstances." Perhaps the most radical character re-imagining is that of Detective Harvey Bullock who, in a far cry from the slobbish, outspoken, in your face cynic he was shown to be in the comics and to a greater extent, in the 90's Batman animated series, is a handsome, squeaky clean, agonizingly cheery and all around naive ex reality t.v. star from the west coast looking to re-invigorate his career by making a name for himself in Gotham City though his confidence is eroded later on when he witnesses first hand the horrors the city breeds. Earth One also feature's one of the most creepy and immoral versions of The Penguin I've ever seen on page and a truly terrifying serial killer who looks like he came right out of the pages of a Thomas Harris Hannibal Lecter novel.
One of the things I enjoyed most was how each of the featured characters experiences their own unique arc throughout the course of the story which, by the end renders them all the more recognizable to their counterparts in the DC Universe proper, particularly Batman who, (spoilers!) after saving Gordon's daughter from certain death at the hands of one of the story's villains, begins to comprehend the bigger picture of the symbol he could represent to Gotham and starts to transcend his former role as a mere vigilante lost in the scramble for his own gratification to a hero committed to an ideal greater than himself.
Overall, I really enjoyed Batman: Earth One and would definately recommend it to fans of the comic book medium. It is a fresh and engaging look at Batman, not as just a super hero, but truly and inescapably one of us as well.
Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Maybe it was the jazz dancing or the Jared Leto eye liner that did him in, either way by the end of Spiderman 3 it was painfully apparent that the character had lost a good portion of his "amazing-ness." A fresh start was needed. Enter "The Amazing Spiderman," a witty, edgy and innovative re-telling of the character's origin and ultimate decision to become the hero, Spiderman.
What's that? Why are we getting another origin story when we've already covered all that in the 2002 Spideman film you may protest. Well, unlike it's predecessor, which was in such a mad rush to get Tobey Maguire in the suit that they barely scratched the surface of who Peter Parker was, "Amazing" really provides an in depth look at the character, from his earliest childhood memories of his parents leaving him under mysterious circumstances, to the strong sense morality instilled in him by his aunt and uncle as featured in the scene were he stands up for a kid being harassed by the token highschool alpha jock/meathead and takes a pounding for his troubles. In short, the movie makes you care about Peter Parker before he puts on the costume. Much of the credit for this goes to Andrew Garfield for turning in such a genuine and memorable performance. Tall, lanky, and awkward, Garfield's Peter Parker just comes across as more in line with webhead's original comic book incarnation than the diminutive maguire, and although he is fundamentally a good kid, I liked how the movie is not afraid to portray Peter Parker as just that, a kid, who can be reckless, selfish, arrogant, and even a downright snarky little a$$hole a times. When his uncle is shot and killed after trying to stop a robber, Peter does not immediatly shape up and commit himself to the lonely and selfless road of the road of the hero as he did in the previous franchise but instead becomes an angry and unpredictable vigilante acting out of a self-centered desire for revenge against his uncle's killer. It is not until later, when he uses his powers to save a young boy from falling to his death in a flaming car that Peter begins to realize his responsibility to use his abilities for good and his motives take a more altruistic bent. It is these added dimensions of moral ambiguety and wrestling with the ego that make Peter's journey as compelling as it is gratifying.
All the performance were pretty top notch. Martain Sheen is Uncle Ben to a t. evoking both wisdom and a rascally sense of good humour. The intimate and dramatic scenes between he and Garfield really shined and, although it is really small part, one of my absolute favorite bits of the movie happens near the beginning when the two are talking and Peter just tells him, "Your a pretty great dad." Sally Field, is likewise perfectly cast as Aunt May who, as in the comics, acts as Peter's moral anchor throughout the film, believably conveying the fear and heartache a parent feels when a child starts to meander down a dangerous path yet all the same never giving up on them no matter what. Emma Stone was was very well cast as Peter's classmate and love interest Gwen Stacy and ended up bringing a lot more to the table rather than just being the requisite "damsel in distress." Unlike the agonizingly forced chemistry between Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst in the Raimi films these two were a lot of fun to watch on screen together and root for as a couple. Rys Ifans was solid as Doctor Curt Conners who winds up turning himself into a giant, scaly lizard man after trying to regenerate a limb through gene splicing. There was kind of a been there done that feeling of repitition however as Peter is forced to defeate his surrogate scientific father figure, a part represented by Norman Osborn/The Green Goblin in the first film and Otto Octavius/Dr. Octopus in 2004's Spiderman 2.
Even though I have been harping on them, I still really love the Raimi/Maguire films (the first two anyway) they have a sense of wonder and fantasy about them that is infectious and makes you want to put on a red unitard and start scaling walls, but, at the end of the day, I think Amazing Spiderman's honest depiction of the complex, confusing and often times messy nature of life along with a very strong character focus on Peter Parker is what makes it soar, or should I say "swing" higher than what has come before.
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
In Superman vs. The Elite, the latest from DC Entertainment's direct to dvd animated line, themes of pheomenal power and even more phenomenal restraint are at the forefront as the man of steel's reverence for the sanctity of life is challenged when an edgy new team of super powered individuals calling themselves "The Elite" burst onto the scene. Led by the charasmatic and calculating Manchester Black, The Elite instantly garner public apporoval by demonstrating their willingingness to get their hands dirty and make the hard choices that Superman avoids. Namely, in dispensing lethal force on the world's criminal element. As people everywhere seems taken with the rockstar-esque Black and his motley crew of hard hitting anti-heroe's and their promise to clean up, Superman recognizes the immense danger The Elite pose through their casual and reckless displays of "might makes right" and braces for the inevitable showdown while all the while contemplating if the world truly has moved on to a place he cannot follow as his old fashioned, mid-western values seem to have lost their relevance and become somewhat of a parody in an increasingly fearful and calloused modern world.
I enjoyed this movie a lot. Not only does it deliver the goods in terms of action and thrills, but it also manages to be a moving and thought exploration into what truly makes Superman a hero and why his high moral standards and no killing policy when dealing with the world's most vicious monsters, though not an easy road to tread by any means, is at the end of the day superior to the instant gratification of eye for an eye championed by The Elite.
That is not to say that the thought never crosses Superman's mind, and during his brutal standoff with the volatile team, one actually experiences a twinge of panic for Superman as the paragon of truth, justice, and the American way comes closer than ever to crossing that line.
Simply put, this is one of the best from DC Entertainment's animated line thus far and, for readers of Superman in comics, a refreshing alternative to the characters attempted more edgy and sci-fi ish "New 52" revampment that, aside from Morisson's current run on "Action Comics" has left a decidedly sour taste in the mouths of many longtime DC loyalists. Now more than ever we need to be reminded why the ideals embodied by heroes like Superman are still a pivotal part of our culture and this movie does the job near perfectly.
Friday, June 8, 2012
In "Prometheus," colossus of cinema Ridley Scott's intense and ambitious quasi-prequal to his 1979 "Alien," questions of science, theology, and the all around riddle of human existence are placed under close examination as the crew of the space ship Prometheus, like the Greek god whose namesake it shares, are punished for trying to bring a symbolic "fire" to the human race in the form of the true origins for life on earth.
The movie takes place in the distant future close to the next turn of the century were what are now only theoretical scientific concepts such as cryogenic hibernation, interactive holograms, and artifical intellegence are an everyday reality. A pair of young explorers who study the markings on ancient ruins from lost civilizaitons think they have discovered a common theme of the deification of celestial, god-like beings that they are somehow able to trace to a faraway planet that orbits the rings of Saturn. A planet, that like our own, has its own sun and is capable of sustaining life. The couple theorize that this advanced race race engineered life on earth before returning to their own world. When their research captures the attention of a corporate titan with very deep pockets and a hidden agenda to boot, the two along with a team of other proffessionals are sent on a scientific expidition to this mysterious planet to uncover find this race of "engineers" who at their apex, gave birth to the human species itself. Though what awaits them when they arrive is something far more sinister...
This is a movie that tries to be a lot of things and succeeds more or less. In parts, it is a dazzling sci-fi space epic. In others, it is a sqeam inducing thrill ride complete with creepy crawlers and the trademark gothic horror of Scott's classic "Alien." In others, it is a serious study of the age old question, "why are we here?" "What is our purpose?" "Where did we come from?" In this way, the movie's ambition seems to be its greatest enemy as some of these themes tend to undermine one another especially as the action picks up and the stuff starts hitting the fan. Simply put, it is hard for a movie to be too philisophical without coming off as silly when the only thing the audience cares about is whose going to buy it next and how gross is it going to be?
Pretty good performances all around. The standouts probably being Michael Fassbender as David, an Android who turns out to be far less artificial than he lets on and Noomi Rapace as Explorer/Scientist Elizabeth Shaw, who probably undergoes one of the most truly terrifying birth sequences ever in a film.
In some ways, I feel like Prometheus, is trying to sell itself as more of an "experience" than an actual story. This is not an entirely bad thing. Especially in stunning 3D the the sheer scope and aura of film is both wondrous and terrifying to behold. Despite its flimly philisophical conjectures and somewhat shcizophrenic sense of identity, Prometheus is definately a horror/space spectacle that delivers the metaphorical "fire" and manages to return a great deal of dignity to Scott's floundering Alien franchise
Friday, May 4, 2012
It had been building since 2008 when a brief post credit sequence at the end of "Iron Man" planted the seeds for a full blown cinematic superhero extravaganza like none before that now, four years later, has finally come to fruition. "The Avengers" marks the first time Marvel characters, some (Iron Man) already carrying their own lucrative franchises, are featured together on screen taking on a common enemy that too powerful for any one of them to defeat on their own. So, the pivotal question, is The Avengers actually a good, worthwile film or just two and a half hours of loud dumb fun (e.g. transformers) that provides the quintisential of summer escapism fix (IN 3D!) while lining the pockets of Marvel studios execs eager to cash in on their biggest money making properties.
After attending a midnight showing of The Avengers. In glorious 2D showing I might add, I can say that the first film featuring "The Earth's Mightiest Heroes" definately lives up to all it's hype and then some. From the grandest set pieces to the most minute of details one can instantly tell that a lot of love care, and above all, effort was put into this movie by a studio whose intimate understanding of its characters and earnest desire to convey the ideals and values they represent really seems to take precedence over treating its characters as souless moneymaking tools which, in my opinion, is the problem with 20th Century Fox and its current mishandling of the X-Men franchise but that is the topic of another rant.
The movie is basically a thrill ride, and as with every ride, there are a few lulls and quiet moments here and there, though before you know it your senses are immersed in a another barrage of mind blowing action that, more than any other film I dare say, really feels like a comic book come to life. Seeing Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and the monstrous Hulk himself on screen fighting side by side was a truly amazing and awesome thing to behold and I am not even a big fan of those characters!
Most all of the main cast are back and slip effortlessly into their respective roles. Robert Downey Jr. once again oozes his trademark charm and charisma as Tony Stark, the world's foremost superhero celebrity. Chris Evans returns as Steve Rodgers, a war hero displaced in time now given a second chance to wield the shield as the star spangled hero Captain America in the modern world. Chris Hemsworth is back as Thor, the hammer wielding god of thunder with a personal stake in the trouble that has befallen earth. Replacing Ed Norton is Mark Ruffalow as Bruce Banner, a brilliant scientist who, when pushed to his limits, transforms into a rampaging beheamoth known as The Hulk. I was a little dissapointed when I learned that the part was being re-cast but now having seen the movie I think that Ruffalow gave a good performance as Banner and I really liked his deliberatly deadpan delivery along with the slightly unhinged quality he brought to the role. If I had to give an award for best performance in the movie though I would probably give it to Chris Hiddleson who reprised his role from last summer's "Thor" as the Loki. Much more of a true villain than the last time we saw him onscreen, Loki's actions even more aggresively reflect his overwhealming psycholical need to compensate for the shameful circumstances surrounding his origins and the feeling of inferiority he feels towards his stepbrother Thor. I loved how Thor never gave up hope that Loki would see the error of his ways and come around to the good side even after all he suffered at his brothers hands. And the way that Loki would tease possible redemption only to do a total about face and trounce his prey like a jackal that smells blood is a true credit to the actor in successfully portraying such a wonderfully despicable villain.
Unlike the hilarious post credit sequence, in which the completely exhausted group of heroes partake in a much needed fast food indulgance after their epic, world saving endeavors, I had a big smile on my face when I walked out of The Avengers. It truly epitomizes the term "summer blockbuster" and I hope its success gaurantees the long term health of a studio that is truly passionate about making good superhero movies.
Thursday, April 12, 2012
Not exactly hot off the presses news but I just felt like posting this new, "official" banner for "The Man of Steel" which hit the web a couple of weeks ago. From what I understand, the filmakers are taking a very neo/medieval approach to Superman's homeworld of Krypton, the style of which is very much conveyed here in the re-imagined S logo which manages to be evocative of the character's classic iconongraphy while at the same time hinting at something bold and new for a modern audience. I know it is a little silly to get too worked up over just a logo but damn, this looks cool!
I love distopian stories. From Brave New World, to 1984, The Handmaid's Tail, The Giver, Anthem, Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, all portray a bleak and troubling vision of the depths to which humanity can descend when we trade reason for fear and freedom for safety. Suzanne Collin's "The Hunger Games," the first in a trilogy of books is the latest offering in a long tradition of stories to take place in a future in which something is fundamentally wrong, and people are in desperate need of a dramatic example to rattle the cages shake them out of apathy and submissivness. Recently adapted into a major motion picture that, if I am not mistaken, has become the highest grossing film starring a female character ever, this harrowing tale of sacrifice, survival, and defiance in the face of insurmountable odds has certainly struck a chord with people everywhere.
Set sometime in the far future where a totalitarian regime has emerged from the ashes of what was once North America, now known "Panem" The Hunger Games tells the story of Katniss Everdeen, a young women who barely manages to scratch out a living for herself, mother, and younger sister in the poorest, coal mining province of a rigidly stratified class system, the uppermost percentage of which reside in a glistening city state called The Capitol, a veriable Roman Empire of sorts representing the pinnacle of societal acheivment and decadence. In a heroic act of self sacrifice on behalf of her younger sister whose name is drawn at a town assembly refferred to as "the reaping," Katniss volunteers to compete in her place in a yearly event known as The Hunger Games. A high stakes, winner take all gladatorial competition featuring one young man and woman under the age of eighteen selected at random from each of the twelve districts. Serving the double function of a cruel punishment against the more impoverished districts who once tried and failed to throw off the yoke of Capitol opression in a past uprising and a celebrated pastime for Panem's wealthy uppercrust who wager big money to sponsor their favorite players, the nationally televised event provides something of an ultimate reality show for the immoral, elitist and hedonistic Capitol residents who train, encourage, and expect the young tributes to savagely dispose of one another so that only one victor may make it out alive.
Borrowing themes from Lord of The Flies and The Running Man, the story explores the moral implications of young people being forced to kill one another for other people's entertainment, specifically the residents of The Capital, who, in a critique on modern society and our obsession with youth, go to extreme and unnatural lengths to alter or modify their appearances in pursuit of some distorted ideal of perfection. Despite being dismissed as subhuman and inferior, it is Katniss and the people from the lesser districts who are closer to true humanity as exemplified in their closeness to the land and their faith and dependence in each other.
I thought the movie had really good performances all around. Jennifer Lawrence did a great job as Katniss and managed to strike the perfect balance between strength and vulnerability. Unlike the main female character in another wildly popular series which shall go unnamed Katniss does not define herself by whichever broody looking guy she happens to be with at the time but is tough, decisive, resourcful, and clever. Not to mention she happens to be a crack shot with a bow and arrow. Woody Harrelson makes a memorable supporting role as the boozy, irrascible mentor to the tributes of district 12 while the usually stunning Elizabeth Banks looks creepy and clown-like as the insidiously cheerful Effie Trinket.
I was only part way through the book when I finally broke down and spoiled it for myself by seeing the movie. I am glad I did. This is truly a unique film and not one to miss. Not that I mean this as an endorsment to give up on the book, I sure haven't.
Friday, March 30, 2012
"Love Never Dies," the controversial sequel to Andrew Loyd Webber's much loved "Phantom of the Opera" musical was recently released in selected theaters for a special two night showing courtesy of Fathom Events. Not to be mistaken for a major motion picture, the movie was rather a set to film version of the stage musical currently enjoying a run in Australia.
Now, I am one of the many who has had very mixed feelings about Webber doing a follow up to his brilliant original story. First of all, I really couldn't see any overpowering need for there to be sequel. Sure the first phantom's conclusion is a little open ended, but it works perfectly in the context of the play, allowing the audience to ponder at what directions the characters could go and drawing there own conclusions. It definately is not one of those "Empire Strikes Back" kind of deals were you are left on pins and needles wondering how everything will play out.
Second, after having listened to all of the music in "Love Never Dies" I found it just did not measure up to the haunting, melodious, and completely captivating songs and orchestration of "Phantom." Not to say that there are not some really excellent songs here, I think "Until I Hear You Sing" is beautiful and it firmly remains my favorite song of them all. It goes from soft and subdued to bold and dramatic, evocking emotions of passion, loneliness, and nostalgia. Another favorite is "The Beauty Underneath" which has a rough, rock and roll edge to it that may seem jarring and out of place at first but really grows on you after a few listens. "Devil Take the Hind Most" is another one I really like and is a testosterone and tension riddled bit of verbal jousting between The Phantom and Raoul. "Beneath a Moonless Sky" an passionate duet between The Phantom and Christine practically bursts at the seems with bedroom innuendo and sexual allusions to the extent that it gets to be pretty over the top and the more emotional and dramatic the person singing becomes the more unintentonally funny the song gets. Oh well, it's still entertaining.
Unfortunately the character who I feel really gets shortchanged in terms of singing is Christine, which is odd to say since she is the character who holds the distinction of singing the title song, "Love Never Dies," but honestly, I just have never been able to get in to that one very much. My Gramma, who I took to the movie, absolutely loved it though, so I guess to each there own. I just really wish there could have been another "Think of Me" or "Wishing You Were Somehow Here" in this one. Something with a simple yet sweetly enchanting melody and lyrical depth that really make you want to fall in love with her like The Phantom. Unfortunely, as it is I felt that the character did not really recieve her due.
Regardless of my preferance for the classic I was still very excited to see this. Since the show's debut in the U.K. I had only ever listened to it via CD so I was eager to get the full experience and take it in from a visual aspect as well. It had been close to a decade since the film adaptation of The Phantom came out in 04 so I was thrilled to have the chance to see one of my favorite fictional characters once again commanding the greatest stage of all.
One of the first things that immediately grabbed my attention about the Australian production was just how much it tried to differentiate itself was from the musical's original London incarnation. Whole sections were either trimmed down, altered, or cut out entirely. Scenes that had previously been ratcheted up were toned down while parts that were toned down were, conversely, ratcheted up. Personally, I thought that these creative alterations did wonders for the show and resulted in a much more fluent and streamlined narrative. Unlike to the London production in which The Phantom does not appear until almost halfway through the first act after an introduction and some superfluous scenes that drag on for a bit too long, this version of the show truly hits the ground running with The Phantom perched intensly at his pipe organ hammering out some dramatic and tortured sounding bars as he transitions into the melodious and showstopping "Until I Hear You Sing." It is not until after this pivotal scene, in which the driving conflict of the story is revealed, that the show cleanly segways into the the whimsical and haunting "Coney Island Waltz" in which we are introduced to the human oddities that inhabit the turn of the century amusement park and a plot thread involving another key character.
The sets and costumes are stunning to look at and provide a true five course meal for the eyes. Coney Island, with its community of freaks and feeling unearthly decadence, looks every bit the perfect place for The Phantom to seek refuge and later gain influence in following his narrow escape from the mobs of Paris. When the Phantom shows whom he initially believes is Christine and Raoul's young son his lair, "illusion's domain," the entire room transforms into dazzling array of rotating cylindrical mirrors, each seeminly containing some form of Coney Island freak and oddity on the other side. Another example that immediately comes to mind is the dress Christine wears when she sings "Love Never Dies." It is dark green with a feathered peackock like theme that is echoed in the backdrop behind her giving the illusion that the two are flowing organically together. A set of wooden roller coaster tracks lies suspended in the air and loops the stage in a couple broad circles. This perfectly enhances the show's carnival like aura while at the same time, perfectly representing the symbolic emotional rollar coaster that the main characters are put through throughout the course of the story.
I thought the performances were pretty much solid all around. The actor who played The Phantom sometimes came off a bit too Boris Karlov for my taste but otherwise he was fine. The actress who played Christine was gorgeous and did a great job of balancing her vulnerability to The Phantom with an unshakable sense of maternal responsibility. Other honorable mentions include the actress who played Meg Giry, Christine's former friend from Paris who is now obsessed with establishing herself as a gifted musical talent in the states no matter the ultimate cost to her innocence or her sense of self worth.
I really enjoyed the Australian production of Love Never Dies. It was dark, dramatic, and really went a long way toward causing me to embrace there being a sequel to the original rather than holding it at arms length as a "what if" scenario. Though I still believe some aspects could have been improved upon, the Australian version is definately a musical worthy of The Phantom's legacy.
Thursday, March 8, 2012
Arriving just in time to cleanse the pallete of the rancid taste left from the abyssmal Ghostrider: Spirit of Vengeance is Justice League Doom, the latest offering in DC Entertainment's direct to dvd line of animated features. When I learned that the company's next animated venture following their stellar adaptation of Batman: Year One was going to be another ensemble film featuring the world's mightiest heroes I felt a little dissapointed. In my opinion, the single character films like Batman: Under the "Red Hood" and "Year One," as well as "Green "Lantern: First Flight" have been some of the strongest offerings in the line thus far whereas the films featuring multiple heroes, "Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, and "Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths" have fallen a bit short and have often felt like prolonged t.v. episodes. Nevertheless I was excited by what looked in the adds to be a perilous and high stakes JL story (I know, I know, like any superhero story isn't without peril and high stakes) and hoped this one would be the exception to what had come so far.
In short, JL Doom delivers. Sure the film boasted tons of the larger than life superhero specticle one would come to expect, but were the movie really shines is in the levels of suspense and moral ambiguety that propels the narrative forward and really hones in on the fact that, for all their god-like powers, superheroes can still be incredibly vulnerable when given the right weakness to exploit.
The movie's villain, Vandal Savage, and his lethal selection of assorted rogues from each League member's long list of villains find just such a way to hit each hero were it hurts when they infiltrate the Batcave and steal confidential files documenting Batman's own meticulously planned out methods for neutralizing each hero should they ever go rogue and become a threat to the world.
A megalomaniac who has been blessed, or cursed, however you want to view it, with immortality after coming in contact with a meteorite in the stone age, Savage has amassed a fortune from his centuries long existence and entertaines intimations of world domination but must first remove the greatest obstacle standing in the way of his goals. The Justice League of America. So Savage recruits a deadly enemy of each member of the League promising them an obscene amount of money and the chance to rule the world by his his side should they suceed in destroying the League. The villains cast their lots in with Savage and The Legion of Doom is officially formed.
Having pilfered the most effective ways take down the earth's mightiest hero's from the mind of one of the greatest combat strategists in the world, Batman, The Legion of Doom sets about luring each League member into an isolated situation were it looks like they will be able to take care of business and save the day as usual, but things are not what they seems. What results is some of the most intense, edge of your seat suspense that I have ever experienced watching an animated movie. You truly do start to wonder if Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, and Martian Manhunter will make it out of this one entirely unscathed much less make it out at all.
Of course, as a Batman fan first and foremost, I favorite segments were the ones involving Batman and his newly christened, Legion of Doom conterpart, Bane in which the venom enfused monster of a man strikes at the Dark Knight in a truly terrifying and brutal way.
The character Cyborg plays a pivotal role in the movie and proves why he is worthy to stand alongside the A-listers of the DCU. Personally I have never really been a very big fan of the character but really liked how he was used in this movie, quite a bit more so than the forced, abc school special way he has been tact on to the Justice League in DC's flagship, new 52 series.
Unquestionably the biggest threat they have faced so far, the League's first encounter with The Legion exacts a major toll that reaffirms their significance in the world while at the same time, shaking the team to its very core both personally and ideologically. And though the fourth act of the movie plays out in a pretty predictable fasion, it is still a thrill to watch The Justice League emerge stronger from the adversity and face their tormentors head on with no fear.
I had a blast watching this movie and, though I like what has come before, would definatley place it at the top of the DC animated features focusing on an ensemble cast. The action is thrilling, the exchanges between the characters are genuine and well written, and the story adresses some pretty heavy topics of trust and power. Simply put, Justice Leaue: Doom does not disappoint.