30 June 2011

Movie Prowlin: 2011 Edition, Vol. 2

So I suck. Majorly. After a pretty good start of the year, I plummeted with the movie watching. Good news is though, I guess, my television viewing has risen dramatically! Since coming back from Mankato, I've zoomed through loads of TV shows, spending a good several weeks watching episode after episode. ROME was addicting, and BREAKING BAD is proving to be just the same; I also caught on to the brilliance of COMMUNITY and SONS OF ANARCHY; and I finally fulfilled my long desire to finish DOLLHOUSE and BEING HUMAN.

What do we take out of this? I just suck at blogging. The good news is that school is starting back up soon, and with it, my ambition will be skyrocketing once again.

Same drill as before: if you want me to review something, just let me know! It'll do me some good. Right now, reviews of X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON, SONS OF ANARCHY, and some final 2010 titles are in the process of being written, so look for them imminently!

Movies Watched in 2011: 01 April 2011 - 30 June 2011

81. Source Code
82. Seven Samurai
83. Scream 3
84. I Love You, Phillip Morris
85. Stargate: The Ark of Truth
86. Stargate: Continuum
87. Scream 4
88. Scream 4
89. Sliding Doors
90. Fight Club
91. The Green Hornet
92. American History X
93. Thor
94. Hanna
95. Thor
96. Bandslam
97. Clueless
98. No Strings Attached
99. Bridesmaids
100. Black Swan
101. The Big Bang
102. Faster
103. Battle: LA
104. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
105. Paul
106. Scream 4
107. In the Loop
108. X-Men: First Class
109. Drive Angry
110. Lost in Space
111. Point Break
112. Super 8
113. The Hangover Part II
114. Green Lantern
115. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides [3D]
116. I Spit On Your Grave (1978)
117. Transformers: Dark of the Moon [3D]
118. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring - Extended Edition
119. American Psycho

TV Seasons Watched in 2011: 01 April 2011 - 31 June 2011

10. Rome: Season 1
11. Rome: Season 2
12. Sons of Anarchy: Season 1
13. Breaking Bad: Season 1
14. Dollhouse: Season 2
15. Gossip Girl: Season 1
16. Community: Season 1
17. Being Human: Series 2
18. Community: Season 2
19. House: Season 5
20. House: Season 6

The Watcher: 06/17/11 - 06/30/11

Unfortunately by the time of this writing I have been unable to view FALLING SKIES, but I guarantee they will be reviewed in time for next week! So look for that and possibly a review of GAME OF THRONES, since I intend to take a bite out of that series. Stay tuned!

TEEN WOLF - THE FIRST 5 EPISODES - (05 June 2011 - 27 June 2011) - MTV impressed me with their interpretation of SKINS, a successful British show about the everyday lives of teenagers Americanized for audiences over here. Unfortunately, SKINS was canceled cos the stupid young adult audience favored JERSEY SHORE over worthwhile content. So here we have MTV's new agey interpretation of TEEN WOLF, a show that is doing rather well in the ratings and is a perfect series for the channel: it appeals to the TWILIGHT crowd and abides by a successful formula - attractive young men, angst, attractive young women, secrets & betrayals, werewolves, and more angst. Regrettably, TEEN WOLF isn’t all that great, despite a clear attempt on everyone’s part to make it something worthwhile.

Kudos to the showrunners for making the show serious and ‘dark’ instead of comedic, a route they easily could have gone, instead focusing on the (potential) real problems a teenager would face in this situation. Of course, this being a TV series, everything is heightened and clich├ęs are embraced. For example, Scott’s into sports, specifically lacrosse and constantly forces himself to keep his aggression in check to not force a change, and his newfound athletic skills awes his peers; his abilities and rejuvenated confidence gets him a girl, the new transfer to school Allison, but finds it difficult to indulge in his raging hormones without also igniting a change; the presence of a Alpha werewolf; the presence of a high school hierarchy and subsequently a friend who is the protagonists confidant and fancies a woman above and beyond his league, etc. Originality isn’t a strong point with TEEN WOLF, which is rather unfortunate.

I admit, I had high hopes for the series, that it would rise above its TWILIGHT influences and become an intelligent, confidant show that’s worthwhile. As it stands, TEEN WOLF is entertaining, but doesn’t really have any desire to become awesome. The pilot “Teen Wolf” does a fine job setting up the series premise, although Scott and his friend Stiles accept his new werewolf side a little too quickly for my taste. It introduces the love interest Allison, it introduces possible obstacles for Scott to overcome (Allison’s father being a werewolf hunter, this dark and unshaven Derek character lurking around, threat of random changes, etc.) and allows Tyler Posey to show off his skills as series leader. Not bad, honestly. Posey nicely bridges his dark side with his good natured self, although Posey does come across as a bit of a doofus sometimes. Tyler Hoechlin is freaky to look at as Derek, but he fulfills the Broody Dark Man obligations very well. Crystal Reed is gorgeous as Posey’s love interest, although I do wish her character gains some dimension and true personality as the series progresses.

At this point, TEEN WOLF doesn’t impress me, but I’m entertained enough to see the series through. Take this how you will, but the series is far easier to review coupled together as so – writing about five episodes, see – as opposed to individual episodes. Does this point to a lack of strength with these 40 minute episodes? I haven’t decided yet about how to review the series, maybe waiting until another five episodes have aired or for all I know you’ll see TEEN WOLF again next week. But I’ll leave you with this: if you have mild interest in TEEN WOLF, check it out. Just don’t expect anything grand. The last episode, “The Tell”, seems to point the series in a interesting direction. Let’s hope that interest stays up.

TRUE BLOOD S04E01 - "She's Not There" (26 June 2011) - It honestly feels like just yesterday season three ended with loads of angst and rage, and now here we are again for a fourth year! And it doesn’t look like showrunner Alan Ball is letting up the momentum anytime soon. The first season was all about vampires and the world Sookie finds herself inhabiting, the second about the darkness inside us (?), the third expanding the universe to werewolves and politicians, and season four brings us Witches. Lots and lots of Witches. Ball recently called this year the “Season of the Witch”, and I believe him. From the stellar opening minutes of Sookie transported to what appears to be Faerie world only to apparently be an elaborate illusion by a group of Witches [unless those are just pissed off ugly faeries], Ball’s comments appear to be accurate. The entire episode is full of Witchcraft: the freaky OMEN-esque happenings with Arlene’s kid (a subplot that I’m not too keen on seeing explored) and Lafayete and Jesus’ experimentation with the field at a Wiccan meeting. Arlene’s boring subplot aside, I am interested in what happened with Lafayete when he joined the circle. It seemed that once he joined hands with them, it was his energy or power that channeled through them all and revived the bird. Now that’s an interesting subplot.

What more, TRUE BLOOD makes an unexpected twist: when Sookie returns from the faerie world, a whole year has passed! Um, a world of awesome! This makes for some creative storytelling, as well as forwarding the narrative from only a few months (which the entirety of the first three seasons captured). It allows Sookie to be more emotionally scattered; it allows both Bill and Eric to be into something new, and in Bill’s case being the King of Louisiana; and it enables characters to be at different points of their development than what could be possible before, such as Tara’s logical newfound bisexuality. Eventually all these characters are going to come together and hopefully play a major part in this seasons arc, as they did in the whole Maryanne season two crazyfest. Love or hate that season, it was nice how all the characters had their own stories that, in the end, brought them together.

“She’s Not There” makes me giddy, frankly. Sure, I’m not too big of a fan of Andy’s vampire blood addiction or anything dealing with Arlene, but Sookie is a strong enough character (and hot) that I am interested to see how she progresses, and I’m equally as interested in seeing Alan Ball’s interpretation of witches and witchcraft and how all that evolves. So, sit back and enjoy another eleven TRUE BLOOD episodes! Excited to see where it ends…

29 June 2011

Banzai! 2010 Catch-Up, Part III


Starring Matt Damon, Cecile de France, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jay Mohr, Richard Kind, Frankie McLaren, George McLaren, Derek Jacobi
Written by Peter Morgan
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Release: 22 October 2010
Warner Bros., 129 mins., Rated R

Plot: Three people who have experiences with death first hand are gradually brought together to help one another.

Visions of the afterlife is a tricky subject, and having a story that weaves multiple characters and plotlines together in the climax is just as tricky, but amazingly, Hereafter overcomes the possibility of corniness or failure and instead becomes a rather engrossing movie with some phenomenal and sadly overlooked performances.

For a film that gained some Oscar buzz pre-release, Hereafter didn't come anywhere near the Twin Cities, so sadly a DVD rental was my resort. It's unfortunate, because the film opens with a utterly spectacular nine-minute CG-heavy tsunami scene that propels one character into her familiar arc: a woman who 'visits' the afterlife, gets a glimpse behind the curtain, as it were, and is now consumed with finding out as much information as she can about it. Records and testimonies of folks who claim to have glimpsed the afterlife, like her. Marie's story seems to be the glue, but the beautiful and successful thing about Hereafter is that each story compliments and doesn't overshadow the others. They need each other, and the film wisely inter-cuts between these arcs, one never overstaying its welcome. So Marie is the investigator, and there's George (Damon), a man who is able to channel the afterlife with great concentration and the touch of ones hands. A tortured soul like anyone with a gift, George doesn't tend to socialize much, and has come to be angry at his abilities. What George can do makes him a target of interest to a young boy in London, Marcus (McLaren) who recently lost his brother and seeks George's assistance to make a connection. With these three storylines set up, Eastwood and Morgan nicely intercuts between them rather smoothly, each story having sufficient time to develop, none of them feeling forced or lacking in screentime.

The characters are interesting, no doubt, and the best thing that can be said about the actors is that we're not looking at Matt Damon or Cecile de France or Bryce Dallas Howard or what have you, but the characters themselves. The actor shell slides away and we have the characters. That's quite the accomplishment, I daresay. Dark, somber, quiet, George and Marcus are similar in that respect, both looking to forge their own lives out of death. And Marie wants to move on, but feels compelled to make her experience widely known.

Competently written and directed, Hereafter is a solid and interesting film exploring life after death and how it affects the living for those who have glimpsed behind the curtain. Fascinating, really. And although a part of me feels that Hereafter doesn't push the envelope enough, more intent on character over musings on the afterlife (and understandably so), it's a engaging story and film. Sadly overlooked, if you have the chance to check it out, do so.

Rating: 7/10 = Interesting drama of loved ones lost, what's not to dig?

I Love You, Phillip Morris

Starring Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro.
Written & Directed by Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Release: 3 December 2010
EuropaCorp, 93 mins., Rated R

Plot: While incarcerated, Russell falls in love with fellow inmate Phillip Morris, and once on the outside, they plan a life together that doesn't exactly go as planned.

Unrelated note related to I Love You, Phillip Morris: this aging Jim Carrey has a sort of creepy appeal to him, so instead of comedy films (and utter shit like this penguin childrens garbage out this summer) Carrey could easily flex his acting muscles as a serial killer. He has the look for it, and his aged face and crazy eyes could definitely sell the role. Alright, onwards to I Love You, Phillip Morris.

Basically, it was "okay." One of those shoulder-shrugging, "Yeah, I saw it" type flicks where you can't honestly say you feel one way or another about it. The thing is, I was looking forward to it. The opportunity to see Jim Carrey stretch out his acting muscles, and to see the blossoming love life of Jim Carrey and motherfrakking Obi-Wan Kenobi - how could I not be enticed? To the films credit, there are some genuine moments where the couple are really good - and dare I use the word cute - together, and their relationship feels momentarily real and strong. McGregor's Phillip Morris, however, isn't a strong character, and is very much regulated to the sidelines, hardly standing out as a person other than to be the object of Carrey's desire. Rather amazingly, though, Carrey does steal the film, and not in a over-the-top-look-at-me-I'm-incredibly-obnoxious kind of way. Yes, he does have a tendency to be a little loud and aggressive with his mannerisms and expressions, but it is one of Carrey's more subdued and honest performances to date. Russell is a fantastic character who can't help take some money from a company or two unjustly, and tends to get caught a lot. His personality definitely holds this movie upright, but ultimately, when the film is about Russell and Morris together, it doesn't soar. It's best and most enjoyable when Carrey is pulling off one of his cons and escapes from confinement (once again).

This being a comedy, I guess it might be best rating the "ha ha"'s. There are some moments that bring on the laughter, but for the most part, I found handing over a chuckle or two. I Love You, Phillip Morris has its flaws, but its heart is at the right place, and Carrey is loads of fun (although scary to look at), so it's worth a rental. Not a blind buy by any means, but a rental most definitely.

Rating: 6/10 = Flawed here and there with Carrey ringing in the laughter, the film could benefit from a tighter, funnier script, but for what it is, Phillip Morris is lovable enough.

Love and Other Drugs

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathway, Josh Gad, Judy Greer, Gabriel Macht, Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria, George Segal, Jill Clayburgh
Written by Edward Zwick, Charles Randolph, Marshall Herskovitz
Directed by Edward Zwick
Release: 24 November 2010
20th Century Fox, 112 mins., Rated R

Plot: Jamie shags Maggie, Jamie falls for Maggie, Maggie falls for Jamie, Maggie 'grr' cos she has Parkinsons, makes relationship difficult...love!


Alright, now that the prime motivator for checking out Love and Other Drugs has been established, let's talk about the movie itself. Overall, not bad. But the general consensus that the film is 'uneven' does have some merit. The films tone seem to hit different marks, never really seeming to be organic but instead just out-of-placey. That said, aside from a script that could use a bit of a sprucing upping, Edward Zwick's love story ain't bad, and I ain't got no complaints.

I appreciate Anne Hathaway's Maggie Murdock being a sort of anti-social, no bullshit kind of woman, who just wants a meaningless shag here and there and is a tad grumpy at her deteriorating state, and Hathaway portrays the character wonderfully. Similarly, Gyllenhaal perfects the womanizing Jamie who uses his Jedi powers to charm women into bed. When these two characters meet, one can't help but be pulled in. In regards to romantic comedies or dramas, I tend to concentrate more on the chemistry and story of the film over its technical value. For example, I'm not exactly going to be judging Zwick's directing style like I analyze Nolan's perfect and gorgeous cinematography in The Dark Knight. Taking that into account, I gotta say, Love and Other Drugs is quite successful. Yes, we have two quasi-formulaic characters undergoing a formulaic film: the womanizer, the sorta-artsy-bitch, they mingle and eventually like each other, and love is hand - The End. It's how their story is handled and the performances of both Hathaway and Gyllenhaal that save the film.

I love that Jamie and Maggie recognize that their relationship isn't going to be easy, that there's going to be some seriously tough shit heading their way, and I love that Jamie accepts that and chooses to go through with it. Oops, does that constitute a spoiler? Sure, I could have done without the super-facepalm-groan-ugh-worthy-cliched-man-stopping-car/bus-with-girl-inside bit, but hell, whatever. If I was the screenwriter, I maybe would have changed that bit, but otherwise, very well written. The gradual progress of their hookups turning into a sort of dating and eventually cementing into full on passionate love was great to see, and definitely one of the films highlights. Love and Other Drugs definitely calls for some improvement in the script area, but Hathaway and Gyllenhaal are so fun to watch, I'll nearly let it slide.

Nearly. The film could be so much more fun and interesting, but it doesn't really seem to take off. It became a One Time Watched film, where it doesn't necessarily call for another viewing anytime soon or down the line. And that's a bummer to say. Hell, with the exception of Tangled (review below), none of these films escape the One Time Watched syndrome (should come up with a better name).

Rating: 6.5/10 = A gorgeous Anne Hathaway and charming Jake Gyllenhaal sell a film that is a fine piece of entertainment, but I can't help but feel the film could be so much more.


Featuring the voices of Zachary Levi, Mandy Moore, Donna Murphy, Ron Pearlman
Written by Dan Fogelman
Directed by Nathan Greno, Byron Howard
Release: 24 November 2010
Walt Disney Pictures, 100 mins., Rated PG

Plot: Rapunzel wants to get out of her prisoner/tower, and opportunity arises as thief Flynn Rider comes to save the day!

TANGLED is loads and loads of supergigantic loads of fun. Why? The horse Maximus. A true testament to the brilliance of animation, Maximus boasts the best facial expressions, physical gags, and hilarious situations that I've seen in a long, long time. Maximus is the true heart of gold in this movie, and if it wasn't for him - and Rapunzel's chameleon Pascal - TANGLED wouldn't be nearly as fun. I know, I know, horrible thing to say. Sure, Rapunzel and Flynn Rider are great characters - especially Rapunzel (more on that in a sec), but I guess what I'll be taking away from TANGLED more is these two creatures, Maximus and Pascal. They are absolutely brilliant.

The story of TANGLED doesn't exactly reach new heights of creativity, but then again, the story isn't what's important here. What is important is Rapunzel and her newfound freedom. Her flirtation and eventually likey-like with Flynn also isn't all that important, it's just sorta there. The foundation of TANGLED, aside from having a jolly good Disney time, is Rapunzel coming into her own, finding her place in the world, and most of all, having one heck of a fantastic personality. Rapunzel is funny, she's curious, she's strong, she's playful, and she begins to forge her own independence away from her overbearing 'Mother'. Speaking of 'Mother', what a weak villain. Yeah, she fulfilled her evil duties in the first two acts, and she went a bit nutso in the third (which I appreciated), but as far as Disney baddies go, Gothel is kinda lame.

TANGLED is funny. It's a jolly good time at the movies, and it ranks as one of Disney's best in the last few years. The trailers definitely didn't look remarkable, the plot reflects that rather accurately, too. But it's the script and characters that once again make one of these animated films far, far better and entertaining than what could have been anticipated.

That said, there is a downside: the music. Ugh. None of the songs are remotely good, and the only track in the entire film that I love is from the score by Alan Menken, "Kingdom Dance." Score aside, the songs are just - "meh" [insert a shoulder shrug here]. To make up for the lack of decent music, Disney produced one hell of a gorgeous film. Absolutely stunning. Seriously, if you have a PS3 or a Blu-Ray player, there is no better way to see TANGLED. The above screenshot is a good example of how gorgeous the whole film looks. Solid, beautiful animation.

A strong female protagonist with her own fantastic arc, two wildly expressive and hilarious animal characters, stellar animation, so-so songs, and a huge sense of fun. That's what TANGLED is. Entertaining for audiences of all ages, watch it. Pronto.

Rating: 8.5/10 = Better and funner than it has any right to be, TANGLED is a blast, and should not be missed.

28 June 2011

Tuesday Cap - Vol. 29

Title: Jurassic Park III

Notes: Within the last few days news broke that the JURASSIC PARK trilogy will be making its way to Blu-Ray in October. Count me in the category of people who are giddy as hell about the news. I might even splurge the extra few dinero to buy the Gift Set with a T-Rex bursting out of the Jurassic Park entrance. It's pretty awesome. So that brings me to JURASSIC PARK III, a movie that is admittedly not as good as the first two - which, truthfully, it really doesn't seem concerned being - but is a helluva lot of fun. Take a shot at that screencap: a T-Rex vs. Spinosaurus fight, which was nothing short of spectacular. JURASSIC PARK III is a full on action/adventure movie, and director Joe Johnston delivers that. The crazy hijinks that descend upon poor Dr. Alan Grant and his companions are a blast. The dinosaurs - new and old (and revamped) are just as beautiful to look at, if not more. The digital effects have improved significantly since '93. And there are some genuinely tense moments [here I'm thinking of the Spinosaurus and the phone signal trick, as well as any scene with the Velociraptors]. Another great thing about JURASSIC PARK III: Sam Neil's back, baby! I can't stress enough how much I love this guy. Sure, this third (and most likely last) of the bunch isn't perfect, but it's fun, and it delivers fantastically designed and rendered dinosaurs, and that's what matters, right? Fun and dinosaurs? So what's with all the hateration?

Discuss: JP III aside, anyone interested in a fourth one? Who do you like better: Malcolm or Alan? If you like JP III, what attributes are you most a fan of? What are you not a fan of?

27 June 2011

MMAM - Vol. 40

I've been walking to work the last few days and blasting my iPod. Initially I anticipated playing some DOCTOR WHO music, or maybe some rockin' tunes to get me in the mood to deal with whatever oddball series of customers the day would bring. Lo and behold, I throw on some BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. Bear McCreary. What a brilliant, brilliant man. Instead of just one track, I'm going to throw two on here. These selections are examples of McCreary's beautiful work, and they're the two tracks I replay the most.

I hope you enjoy, and with the gazillion times McCreary and Giacchino are dropped on this blog, you might be enticed to buy/download their soundtracks. Without further ado, two awesome, beautiful, perfect tracks:

"Violence and Variations" I primarily play to get me in the mood. It's a war piece as the Galactica raids New Caprica to save their enslaved crewmembers. This is on par with the greatness of Hans Zimmer's "The Battle", I daresay. A perfect track to get the blood flowing and ready to face the day.

"Laura Runs" is the opposite. Quiet, melodic, and beautiful for the serenity that comes out of it. The track I listen to the most, and the track I listen to last before I clock in for work. If you only listen to one track, listen to this one.

26 June 2011

Avatar: The Last Airbender - Book Three: Fire

Avatar: The Last Airbender - Book Three: Fire

Plot: It's crunch time for Aang who really needs to master the elements pronto before his fight with Fire Lord Ozai, which is coming up rather super fast, and he still has quite the way to go before being a master of anything.

Endings are hard. So much work and build up has been put into the seasons past, and with a (presumably) large and dedicated fan base having your back, the pressure is on. The ending needs to satisfy creatively, as well as to the audience whilst serving the story. Here we have AVATAR, finishing its final act in a three-act epic tale, where lines and drawn, allegiances change, and the ultimate showdown is fast approaching with a worrisome under-skilled savior.

Season one was the light-hearted introduction, with emphasis on character mischief and crazy adventures. Season two held the task of further developing these characters, providing more beats of the Avatar mythology, and overall indulging in a darker tone to reflect the gravity of the situation. Hope is fading, the Avatar is in hiding, and Fire King Ozai will soon harness unbeatable power. As per the prerequisite of a final act, the stakes have never been hire, and the hero has never fallen lower –

-- only to rise higher than ever before.

This is a kids show, mind you. And just like the last two seasons, I am flabbergasted by the adult nature of this series. Here we have a 12-year old Savior who is overcome with fear – fear of what winning will mean, fear of failure, fear of having to take a life, fear of having to even fight. Lives are on the line, and extremely young characters are forced into very adult situations and make very adult decisions. Take away the fantasy aspect of THE LAST AIRBENDER, and you have one hell of a fantastic guide for Building Character. That aside, BOOK THREE: FIRE is akin to REVENGE OF THE SITH in tone, but with a happier ending. The world is very dark, no doubt about that, but amazingly, the writers still have the opportunity to throw in plenty of comedy into the mix without feeling forced or out-of-place.

Every season feels meticulously thought out, and this is no truer than in BOOK THREE, where the creators and writers are presented with penning the finishing touches. FIRE is competently plotted and written, nicely balancing the humor, the darkness, the action, and the arc without one overbearing the other.

BOOK THREE: FIRE begins with a bit of catch-up of what’s been going on since Aang was so viciously defeated three months ago. Now in the Fire Nation, Aang, Katara, and Sokka are hiding in plain sight in the Fire Nation. While Prince Zuko and Fire Lord Ozai prepare for Sozin’s Comet and the power it will bring, the season spends the first few episodes allowing the characters to grow. Sokka and Toph become more adult, but still maintain their signature character traits; Aang is trying to control fire, face his fear of Sozin’s Comet, and overall regain his strength from being royally pwaned. The character that makes a rather frightful detour is Katara, who in “The Puppetmaster” learns the sadistic art of Bloodbending: consumed with rage while pursuing an investigation into her mother’s death, Katara learns a ‘skill’ that is intriguing, impressive, and horrifying. New realms of darkness seep through.

But not to let too much darkness overcome a kids show, FIRE also boasts two of my favorite AVATAR episodes: “Nightmares and Daydreams” is absolutely hilarious (and, at times, serious) as Aang is plagued by fear in his dreamscape, and “The Ember Island Players” (the last fun episode before the four-part series finale where things get deadly serious), a meta-esque episode that pokes fun at the series and also functions as a nice “looking back…” before the ending.

As Aang moves ever closer to his destiny, so does Zuko, faced with a morality that doesn’t adhere to his father’s plans and wavering in his allegiance. After his brilliant arc in BOOK TWO: EARTH, Zuko is given one amazing finale. This series, as I think I’ve said before, is just as much Zuko’s as it is Aang’s, and with both of their destinies reaching their culmination in the four-part series finale, this point has never been more clearly shown. Without giving too much away, Zuko is given a very satisfying arc this series, and just as multi-layered the show is, gives the character time to scratch his darkness, indulge in his more light-hearted side, and face a new dynamic that creates new story beats that better serve the show.

So, basically, AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER is firing on all cylinders.

If one has already followed the series this far, obviously, don’t stop now. Finish the blasted thing. If you’re reading this without prior knowledge of the series, I can’t recommend enough to check it out. The series is a testament of marvelous storytelling, and genius plotting and creativity. Satisfying both the kid and adult demograph, whether or not to watch the series should be a no brainer.

In the end, BOOK THREE: FIRE is extremely well crafted – just like its predecessors – but oddly, I still find myself fancying BOOK TWO: EARTH over WATER and FIRE. Perhaps I’m just a fan of the second act structure, or perhaps the pacing, I feel, was better or the stories more awesomer, but EARTH is pure magnificence, and FIRE is a close second. The resolution to the big Aang vs. Fire Lord Ozai arc is okay. Visually, very much awesomely stunning, and the battle royale is definitely one to be remembered. Unfortunately, there does seem to be a Deus ex Machina vibe to the whole affair. That said, it was still entertaining and extremely breathtaking. All I can say is: Wow. Wow. WOW.

AVATAR, you were three seasons of sheer awesomeness. One of the true great animated shows ever made. Thank you.

Rating: 8.5/10 = Brilliant. Satisfying conclusion to a brilliant series.

22 June 2011

Green Lantern

Green Lantern

Starring Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Tim Robbins, Angela Bassett
Writers: Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim, Michael Goldenberg
Directed by Martin Campbell
Release: 17 June 2011
Warner Bros., 114 mins., Rated PG-13

Plot: Pilot Hal Jordan (Reynolds) is recruited by the Green Lantern Corps to become a Green Lantern, a space cop bound to protect their Sector, but before he can become the hero he was appointed to be, Hal must face the greatest enemy: fear.

I think it was the midnight screening of HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – PART ONE, a GREEN LANTERN trailer was attached and it was the first time I saw honest-to-God footage of the film, complete with unfinished visual effects. When the trailer ended, I turned to my girlfriend and said, “Looks like another FANTASTIC FOUR.” Someone on the level above said, “but better!” Back in November I completely disagreed with them. The special effects looked downright embarrassing, and nothing from the trailer really caught my attention aside from Blake Lively looking gorgeous like she does. Now, after having seen the film twice, I gotta confess, GREEN LANTERN is leaps and bounds better than I expected, and is quite the enjoyable action/adventure space/superhero film. Of course there are areas that need some patching up, but overall, the experience was a good one.

My experience with the GREEN LANTERN mythology isn’t huge. It consists of picking up Geoff Johns’ SECRET ORIGIN at Barns & Noble while mum spent three hours at TARGET. I ate that book up. Brilliant. Superb script, great characters, great illustrations, great everything. Also watched the direct-to-DVD DC animated movie GREEN LANTERN: FIRST FLIGHT, which also tells the story of Hal Jordan’s transformation into the Green Lantern, albeit his enemy isn’t Paralax, but instead someone a little more personal. So with that little knowledge of the mythology, and a bit of trepidation, I walked into GREEN LANTERN with hope to at least be entertained. Which, y’know, with Ryan Reynolds as the lead, how can one go wrong? He somehow made his brief three minutes in X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE possibly the best part of the movie. Further proof Ryan is a Jedi.First, the positive. Very, very cool opening. The first four minutes is all set-up: there’s Geoffrey Rush as Tomar-Re providing background voice over concerning the Green Lantern Corps, the power of Will in the Universe and the evil power of Fear that seeks to upset the balance. And then there’s the introduction of the power-hungry antagonist, Paralax. Frightening, ladies and gents, frightening. Although occasionally reminding me of the puff of smoke Galactus in FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER, Paralax is a truly powerful, terrifying villain. It’s evildoing on earth is, albeit brief, just like a horror movie as it causes chaos. This is a power-hungry, fear-loving, giant wibbley blob of pissed off energy that wants to destroy the Green Lantern home planet of Oa into smithereens. So if there’s at least one thing the movie did really well, it’s setting up a badass and genuinely terrifying baddie. To add, the quick battle with Abin Sur and Paralax was awesome. Absolute craziness as Abin Sur fights to get away from the evil entity yearning for revenge. Awesome way to open a movie.

A big part of GREEN LANTERN is its special effects: the Green Lantern suits, the planet Oa, the thousands of alien Lanterns, aerial shot, Paralax, digital characters, plus loads of things I can’t think of, etc. Hell, there’s so much that in April Warner Bros. threw in another $9 million to finish the SPFX in time for release. Well, I can positively say the effects are definitely improved over the embarrassing early trailers. The best way to sum up the special effects is by saying they’re ambitious. Not only were the CGI workers tasked with designing thousands of alien species, a planet to house these Lanterns, a cloudy, jelly-like antagonist, two ginormous firey Rings of Power (which would totally kick Sauron’s ass), but they faced a creative idea that would be difficult to realistically render: a ever lively suit that looked and feels attached to the skin. A protective outlayer that forms over the ring wearers body. Bloody brilliant idea, and one hell of ambitious project. So each time Reynolds is onscreen in his Lantern outfit, a team of animators were clicking away at each frame to make it look realistic and organic and constantly moving with power. They didn’t succeed in the realism part – especially in regards to the groan-worthy green mask of bad CGI – but given the most likely momentous task, I can give them some slack. Now if only they worked at Lucasfilm and were given permission to continually tweak the effects until DVD/Blu-Ray day.
For every comic book movie franchise the origin story needs to be told, and then if that film is successful, the writers can work on forwarding the narrative. Aside from a few instances, like SPIDER-MAN or BATMAN BEGINS where their origin story is just as impactful and important to their everyday lives as it is in the beginning, origins do seem to be glossed over to get to the “meaty” stuff. Y’know, the stuff summer blockbusters are made of: digital characters, explosions, pretty girls, extravagant climax. Point is, GREEN LANTERN is all about origin, it’s all about Hal Jordan’s journey to acceptance. Not his acceptance of alien life, cos that seems to happen quite quickly and without much in the way of effort, but acceptance in the responsibility of who and what a Green Lantern is. In the case of Hal Jordan, the entire movie is about facing fear and overcoming in. Hell, they went out of their way to include an entity that thrives on fear and devours the fear of any being that is just a teeny bit afraid. To have a superhero movie where the main character is absolutely not cut out for the job, who is overcome with a feeling that represents what a Green Lantern should not be, to see that journey onscreen – that, personally, is a wonderful thing. GREEN LANTERN doesn’t handle it as subtly, delicately, or emotionally as I would have liked, instead becoming a overbearing theme hammered into our heads a hundred times over and failing in any true powerful dramatic resonance. Not to sound too begrudging towards the movie. For what the movie sets out to do, to say, to explore, it deserves lots of props.

Same thing goes with the world that GREEN LANTERN inhabits, and this is where this franchise/series is most unique and spectacular. There are entire galaxies of aliens that are members of the Green Lantern Corps, whole worlds to explore and set stories in. Yes, the film is primarily about the first human Lantern and his literal out-of-this-world experience, but the magnitude of what can be explored here is exciting. I feel like a giddy school kid who just heard about AVATAR. Speaking of that film, now would probably be a proper time to make a small comment. Now, I didn’t see GREEN LANTERN in 3D, so I can’t comment on how this new and dying format is utilized, but if there is any film in the universe that can achieve the same visual success of AVATAR and benefit from it just as greatly if not more, it would be this movie. Imagine the Green Lantern home planet of Oa properly brought to life is glorious three dimensions, to see these brand new, original-designed worlds/universes packed with brilliantly rendered and thought up beings. This is a superhero world that allows us to explore space and alien races, presenting audiences with the best of opportunities to see exciting entities or planets that would make any filmgoer feel like one of those kids in the 1970’s being awe-struck by the Death Star rumbling overheard in the cinema. Personally, if done properly, GREEN LANTERN and 3D could be the MOST AMAZING THING EVER.

It’s exactly this world of extraordinary things that sets Green Lantern apart from other big-time superhero characters, like IRON MAN, BATMAN, CAPTAIN AMERICA, or X-MEN. With THOR there are definitely amazing sights to be seen, no doubt, but Green Lantern allows the creators mind to be nearly limitless with their designs, their creature/character desires. Not to forget mentioning the bazillion story opportunities this universe presents.Anyways, back on point: the finished product, GREEN LANTERN the movie. In regards to negatives, or at least less positive things, I still have a nagging feeling that Ryan Reynolds is miscast as Hal Jordan. No disrespect to Mr. Reynolds – I love him dearly, and he’s a tremendously talented actor. He’s just not Hal Jordan, but he’s a perfect Deadpool (my rant concerning the same actors playing different superheroes will have to be left for another day). Can I offer a better replacement? Not exactly. The first name that pops to mind is, of course, Mr. Nathan Fillion, who could nicely portray the character, both his fear and his heroism. Reynolds can deliver the funny lines like nobody’s business, but in regards to battling his inner fear, being a superhero, and even looking good in the (digital) outfit – nah, don’t see it. But my nitpick of casting aside, Ryan absolutely does the best he can, and it’s abundantly apparent, so kudos, sir. As for Blake Lively, well, my main gripe with her is more the inclusion of yet another love interest in a superhero movie and less her acting. Blake is fine, nothing bad nor nothing great, she’s just there looking mighty pretty with one or two scenes that are actually nicely written. I like the different dynamic of the relationship between Carol and Hal, instead of Hal pinning for Carol they both have common ground and are sort of circling each other. So I liked that bit, but I’m getting a little tired of the seemingly mandatory romance that’s seeped its way through all these superhero films. Why can’t the female character just be similar to Buffy Summers: strong, confidant, and integral to the action and definitely NOT the damsel in distress? Give us that.

Amanda Waller’s character – rather important in the DC universe – is less than important here. Hell, exercise her entirely; she seemed present just to make her name drop excite some fans. Peter Sarsgaard did a great job as Dr. Hector Hammond, but that doesn’t mean I was particularly pleased with the character, and I don’t think the movie greatly benefited from including him. Although, it did lend a interesting dynamic between Hector and Hal, and Hector and his father. Sinestro’s interest in the power of the Yellow Ring of Fear could have at least been hinted at, or at least his desire to try it out selfishly. When it happens, it sort of comes out of nowhere after he gives an inspiring speech about believing in the power of Will again. The resurrection and eventual demise of Paralax seems a bit lazy and not well thought out, but again, Paralax was cool, so I’m willing to forgive it. And finally, damnit, that digital suit. Ugh.

Superhero soundtracks have been a hit and miss thing lately. Patrick Doyle started the summer off with a reasonably average score for THOR, hitting all the needs of the film without really standing out in its own right. Henry Jackmen’s X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, score, however, was nothing short is fantastic. James Newton Howard’s GREEN LANTERN composition is somewhere in-between: great in some areas, serviceable in others. Listening to the soundtrack release, Newton’s score is good, but not something that lends itself to multiple exposures, unlike Jackmen’s brilliant, say, “First Class” theme. Disappointing, but serviceable to the movie as a need-be basis.

Directing and editing is creative and precise, so major kudos to director Martin Campbell (who directed one of my favorite childhood films, THE MASK OF ZORRO) and the cutting room team who made an easily rewatchable and entertaining film. Superhero movies have been blessed thus far this summer with some great visionary directors such as Kenneth Brannagh, Matthew Vaughn, and now Campbell. Let’s hope Joe is just as creative with his CAPTAIN AMERICA film out next month. Visually, the film is quite beautiful. Look at the screencaps for proof. Editing, the next best thing, is just as good. So, on a technical level, no problems here. GREEN LANTERN was the summer movie I was most intrigued to see the finished product. The trailers looked horrible, Ryan Reynolds felt miscast, the special effects were embarrassing but ambitious, and my enthusiasm level was not raised in the slightest. But here we are, and lo and behold, GREEN LANTERN is a fun ride, and I confess I wouldn’t be opposed to a sequel. I’d be there. With an entire universe of infinite possibilities, this franchise could honestly be something with longevity. A beautiful superhero space opera, the Galactic cops versus the naughties of the world – sounds awesome. Who’s with me?

There's loads to be said about GREEN LANTERN. Nitpicking to an extreme, I'll give you that; complaints about the special effects which still look unfinished; comic continuity, what have you. And there's the positive's still left unsaid. Thing is about GREEN LANTERN, there's a lot of love in every frame of the film, and to truly give it justice, I would have to see it another two or three times and analyze the hell out of it. LANTERN is a good movie. I enjoyed it. Reynolds was good. The fights were cool. The CGI was passable. Do I have some problems? Sure. But don't let that stop you from giving it a check, and preferably in the theaters. It's a mega movie with some awesome sights and ideas, and deserves to be seen on the big screen.

Rating: 7.5/10 = Funny, visually impressive, and beaming with a vast and wonderful mythology and characters that demand to be explored, GREEN LANTERN is better than expected (and the critics would like you to believe) but still has some faults that unfortunately are noticeable. Still, give me the sequel.

21 June 2011

Tuesday Cap - Vol. 28

Title: Mission: Impossible III

Notes: My personal favorite of the bunch, and the only one I can actually rewatch, this was the first time I experienced the awesome directorial style of J.J. Abrams. And the first (and possibly last) time I thought Tom Cruise was cool. Brad Bird has big shoes to fill with Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, so I hope he's game.

Discuss: Thoughts on M:I III. Did you like Abrams' style? Pissed or indifferent to the '[Blah] Days/Weeks/Hours Earlier...' tease movies/television shows overuse? Should Paramount have stopped at III?

20 June 2011

MMAM - Vol. 39

So I like HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL. *Shoulder shrug* Truth be told, I haven't listened or watched the trilogy in a long while, but mom fancied a revisit to the Efron/Hudgens romance and threw 2 and 3 on. And there I was, digging the music like it was the first time I saw it. This song particularly is rather relevant in that I'm in the process of preparing to sit down and write a novel, do that whole do-what-I-preach/stop-procrastinating thing, and I'm betting on myself.

Yep. Deep thoughts associated to HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL. Wowzers.

Anyway, the song below originates from HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 2, titled "Bet On It", and aside from some rather embarrassing choreography, it ain't a bad song. Cheers.

16 June 2011

The Watcher: 06/10/11 - 06/16/11

Community - Season 2

I was a little late to the game, but I’m all caught up now. Great things were said about COMMUNITY, I ignored them. Hilarious show with loads of geek-friendly culture references and influences, I heard. Once in awhile, when I remembered, I tossed NBC on when the show aired, but wasn’t ever particularly in love with it. Last week I rented season one, and finished in three days. Rather immediately, I was on the hunt for season two. I’m all caught up, and completely at the mercy of COMMUNITY. The rumors and murmurs are true: this series is brilliant. No other word for it: brilliant.

The perfect blend of clever writing, dimensional characters, great actors, hilarious gags and jokes, and meta and geek culture references.

Those unfamiliar with the setup of COMMUNITY, here’s the jiffy: Jeff was a big-time lawyer, but shit happened and he ended up enrolling at Greendale Community College and formed a study group for Spanish (primarily to sleep with a girl; which sort of backfired – sorta). There, he became friends with six rather eccentric people: Abed, the cinema geek; Britta, the mightier-art-thou blond; Troy, the ex-football player just looking for some direction; Annie, the young high school graduate who wants everyone to love her; Pierce, the millionaire who has no edit button and doesn’t socialize well with others; and Shirley, the Christian woman who chooses to forgive rather than judge. Together, Jeff, Britta, Pierce, Abed, Troy, Shirley, and Annie make an indestructible team of awesomeness, dorkiness, and sometimes-studyingness.

Season two settles the whole will-they?/won’t-they? tension between Jeff and Britta brewing since episode one, leaving the rest of the season for character growth and hilarious one-bit episodes. I’m thinking, primarily, of Abed making a quasi-religious super-meta film and Abed’s claymation Christmas (with actual claymation, mind you) special, both outstanding examples of great television.

All the characters are given hilarious, brilliant things to do. Even Chang, the obnoxious ex-Spanish teacher now turned student. He and Shirley have a season-long arc that isn’t quite as annoying as I anticipated, and although I still have no desire to see Chang integrated into the group, his presence this year was surprisingly bearable. Edging on the opposite end of the spectrum, Pierce Hawthorne is becoming a darker, less likable character. Being regulated as the butt of jokes and excluded from study group activities can definitely do a number on a person, and I do appreciate the arc they’ve taken Pierce down, but mix Chevy Chase’s general lack of funny and his messed up character traits, and Piece becomes a difficult character to suffer.

The Greendale Community College Dean, however, never fails to elicit a laugh and is the cameo star of the show. In season one, his presence ranged from hilarious to annoying, but this year the writers and directors seemed to know just the right amount of time he should be onscreen and how, making his bits some of the funniest areas of an already super-funny season.

COMMUNITY suffers no sophomore slump. For another 24 episodes, the writers are buzzing with ideas that are original, self-referential, geeky, dramatic, clever, and so much more. There really isn’t a show like it on TV, not even THE BIG BANG THEORY where comparisons could easily be made. The characters are rich, and the jokes don't stop coming.

Watching so many TV shows, there comes a point where I end up appreciating the small things more than I expected. With COMMUNITY, what I really appreciate is that the show doesn't play dumb with the viewers - and it's part of its meta charm, the acknowledging television conventions and either full on embracing them or mocking them. Another absolutely stellar thing is continuity. Elements from earlier in the season (or the year before) are incorporated into the narrative, not simply forgotten or wiped away after a episodes end credits. It's that sense of continuity and attention to storytelling (including inserting hints/foreshadowing of beats that will show up later) that make COMMUNITY even more awesome. Not a huge deal in the larger scale of things - whether or not one likes the series, for example - but it's admirable, and adds more to my love for the NBC comedy.

Now with two seasons of COMMUNITY under my belt and successfully fallen in love with each and every one of these characters, I'm over the moon NBC gave it a third season renewal. I'm not entirely privy to the shows ratings during year two, but I hope they continue to grow and COMMUNITY has strong staying power. It's a brilliant, clever, and hilarious show, and if anyone hasn't had the opportunity to watch a episode yet, do so. Immediately. Pronto. Seriously, add season 1 to your Netflix Que or library account, because COMMUNITY should not be missed. No, I don't think it's a series for everyone, but for those who 'get' the comedy, who love it and adore these unique, complicated and rather bizarre characters, you'll see the series you have secretly always been wanting.

Rating: 9/10 = About as perfect of a television comedy one could want, NBC better keep this show going...

Next week's The Watcher will begin reviews of new episodes. I've completely forgotten about MTV's TEEN WOLF, which I'm interested in checking out, an

15 June 2011

Super 8

Starring Joel Courtney, Ella Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Noah Emmerich, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee, Gabriel Basso, Zack Mills
Written and Directed by J.J. Abrams
Release: 10 June 2011
Bad Robot, 112 mins., Rated PG-13

Plot: In the small town of Lilly, five friends confront an alien presence and a military invasion during the filming of a zombie epic.
J.J. Abrams will forever be something akin to a cinematic God to me. His MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE is the best of the franchise, and 2009's STAR TREK is one hell of a marvelous, damn near perfect film as I can imagine. So, yeah, there was a bit of hype for SUPER 8, as one can imagine. Plus: monster movie. Me love monster movies. Combine the signature style of Abrams that he has perfected, a story and film that pays homage and embraces the natural childlike wonder of amazing, impossible things, a giganto alien, swift editing, and the mighty musician Michael Giacchino at the score's helm, and you have SUPER 8: a marvelous, beautiful, brilliant movie that succeeds in everything Abrams set out to do.
Simply said, the casting director deserves a raise. Every actor in the cast was perfect in their respective roles, especially the children who never feel phony or remotely forced. Surprisingly, it's Ella Fanning who impresses the most. Subtle, genuine, and caring, Fanning plays Alice pitch perfectly. A very impressive performance from a young actress. The young protagonist, Joe, played by Courtney), is just as good, easily sucking us into his despair over his mothers death and also growing feelings toward Alice. These two leads are marvelous. As the ambitious young filmmaker Charles, Riley Griffiths owns the role. He is Charles. The wise-cracking, demanding, stubborn, narrow-viewed kid who already fancies himself the, say, next Spielberg. It's a role just as crucial as Joel's Joe Lamb, and Riley Griffiths rocks it.

There couldn't be a better cast of kids, frankly. They rock. It's a blast watching them huddle together and discuss strategy, or argue over having the tape in the camera yet, or bickering about blossoming romance. Just as charismatic and fun as the group from THE GOONIES, these kids make SUPER 8. And that's the point. No amount of crazy monster action or lens flares (which I actually genuinely like) or giant BOOM! BOOM! explosions can replace the beautiful heart of the film: the strained father-son relationship and the relationship of the friends.

If there was just one criticism I'd direct to this category, is that not enough time is given to develop certain aspects in a realistic manner. The subtle subplot of letting go, which both Joe and his father have to do; the other subplot about them finding common ground, not only together but also with the man who is sorta/kinda responsible for the wife's/mother's death. Would have appreciated more time dedicated to that, but understandably, they probably didn't want the runtime to go on too long and still had to squeeze in the military presence and monster mayhem.

One last rather random note: X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is maybe one of the best examples of using the PG-13 one "F" word rule. SUPER 8, not so much. It's the films final 20 minutes, I believe, and the druggy dude who wants to get it on with Charles' sister looks up at monster-caused debris and exclaims, "what the fuck!" Doesn't get quite the "w00t!" FIRST CLASS got, nor much of a chuckle. Instead, sorta felt misplaced and stood out 'like a sore thumb' (as the expression goes). Doesn't add or deter the films enjoyment, just thought it was worth mentioning.
I am, first and foremost, a monster movie fan watching SUPER 8, so it's (finally!) time to talk about the big alien creature that's been kept hush-hush for over a year. To be frank, my initial feeling was disappointment. I realize that Abrams and his artistic department fancy multi-limbed life forms, but the creature here didn't fully appease my expectations. Looked a little too CLOVERFIELD-y, honestly. But again, considering the time of film SUPER 8 is, the monster is rather appropriate. Wonderful yet menacing enough to strike fear into the hearts of the army and children, yet amazing to behold. My biggest disappointment is that I would have loved to see clearer, full body shots of the creature. Yes, we did get that, but each frame was cloaked in so much darkness it was difficult to really get what I was seeing. A single alien attack in the daylight would have been beneficial. Still, I need to remind myself: we got ourselves a (quasi)big budgeted monster movie. Then I jump for joy.

Next to the monster, the other element of SUPER 8 I was most looking forward to was the score by Michael Giacchino. If Abrams is akin to God in the cinema world (personally), then Giacchino is the contemporary God of Music. Look through some previous MMAMs, I'm sure I have at least one or two of his works still up. This man is a genius, and his work for SUPER 8 supports my claim. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Perfectly channels the tone and emotion of this type of film: the evil military, the lurking presence of a powerful alien force, the sense of awe with the youngsters, and absolute blazing chaos for the action-y scenes. The SUPER 8 soundtrack hits shelves 28 June, and you can bet by days end, I'll be blasting that gorgeous thing on my iTunes. Giacchino, I love you, dude. Only sorta itty bitty tiny downside: recognized a film LOST-esque tracks, but that's to be expected from a guy who is weathered down by loads of work. After all, look at John Williams. His career is full of music that mimics itself here and there.
Unfortunately I can't label SUPER 8 as the embodiment of perfection I would have gleefully awarded it, but it's pretty damn close. My personal nitpicks aside, there is absolutely no reason why SUPER 8 should be missed. The film easily appeals to all audiences, not dumbing down the narrative or dialogue to make it more child-accessible; it truly is like THE GOONIES and Spielbergean films that are both young and adultin nature, appealing to both demographics without ostracizing the other. Editing is tight, the film is fun, the music is gorgeous, and it's a pretty nice film to see with the family.

Rating 8/10 = Fun, awesome, spectacular, heartfelt, nostalgia, town destruction, giant alien creature, evil military branch, pretty music, quick, enjoyable movie: what's not to love?

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Starring Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Kevin McNally
Written by Ted Elliot & Terry Rossio
Directed by Rob Marshal
Release: 20 May 2011
Disney, 137 mins., Rated PG-13

Plot: Jack Sparrow is tasked with finding the Fountain of Youth before Barbossa and the Spanish make their way there.

Jack Sparrow's back. Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio have come back to pen the script. Hans Zimmer is back to bring the signature action/adventure-y funness to the table with his score (aided by some band called Rodrigo Y Gabriela). Even Mr. Gibbs and Barbossa are back. A rather inventive adventure is concocted. A interesting character or two are introduced into the foray. There's two romantic subplots. Lots of action and crazy stunts galore. Basically, all the ingredients to make another successful and entertaining PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movie. But weirdly, it feels like something's missing. And ultimately, I can't help but feel that whatever it is exactly has made ON STRANGER TIDES less than what it could have been.Perhaps it's the vacancy of Gore Verbinski at the director seat, taken over by Rob Marshal (CHICAGO). I recognize it may be rather ridiculous to pinpoint a director as the source of the problems, and that more often then not, it's the script that needs to be analyzed. To make a comparison that works for me, ON STRANGER TIDES is similar to QUANTUM OF SOLACE. With Daniel Craig's second outing as James Bond, I was utterly bored. The script was lacking, the action scenes were boring, and I the change of directors was surprisingly excruciatingly apparent. ON STRANGER TIDES isn't as severe as SOLACE, but the fact that there is change both in the universe of the film and behind the scenes is, I feel, obvious and possibly detrimental. I feel hesitant to blame Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio. With the POTC trilogy involving the Jack-Will-Elizabeth dynamic, from a screenwriting standpoint, I find them quite solid. Here, the movie seems to have plenty of ideas that don't see their potential through, or sometimes not enough ideas or originality or obstacles to make the story or characters super interesting. Right now I'm thinking about the romance between the Bible Thumper and Mermaid Girl, as well as the relationship between Blackbeard and Penelope Cruz. Surprisingly, for a movie clocking in at 137 minutes, I feel that there's not enough. Or rather, not enough with some things, and too much in others. And with regards to Rob Marshal's directing style, it's an obvious departure from Verbinski's Nolan-esque knack for exquisite camerawork, but still a confidant and pretty enough film [here, I'm thinking of Blackbeard's gorgeous demise; and no, I don't consider that a spoiler, mostly a duh kind of thing]. All of this is just a wordy way of shrugging and saying I don't know exactly what's up with ON STRANGER TIDES, but there's just something that feels off.Johnny Depp loves playing Captain Jack Sparrow, and it's abundantly apparent in every scene he's in. Yet, he, too, feels a little off. Like it's nearly the Jack Sparrow we know and love, but there was some sort of shift in how he is played or written. Nah, not written. The trademark one liners and crazy antics are all there, yet he doesn't feel entirely genuine. Maybe this might be one of those cases where too much of something we love is a bad thing? Love them or hate them, Will and Elizabeth grounded the character dynamic of the trilogy - they were the more serious, more human characters while we had Captain Jack running around like a loose canon and a miserable and vile sea captain with tentacles on his face. Perhaps POTC needs equally grounded characters to make Captain Jack shine, and unfortunately, there aren't any here. Penelope Cruz would seem like the next Big Player, but she fails to make an impression, both in scripted character and actor presence. Which is a shame, mind you. Even the great Geoffrey Rush doesn't entirely own Barbossa, although I admit I was very distracted by whatever new hideous makeup they had him wearing this time out (looked like his skin was peeling). Ian McShane deserves kudos for trying to impress with his evil and cold-hearted Blackbeard, and he does own the role, but I would argue more development needed to be attributed to the character for the audience to really give a damn about any of the last two acts (since he and his selfishness domineers it). The less said about the silly romance between Preacher Boy and Mermaid Girl the better, frankly. I recognize I may sound far too harsh on this film, but for the most part, ON STRANGER TIDES is an enjoyable action/adventure movie. While you're watching it, the film's entertaining enough; it's only after everything is said and done (and the rather lame post-credits sequence is played) that one begins to feel that the movie wasn't entirely up to snuff, that something was off or could have been remedied. For a fourth film in a franchise, ON STRANGER TIDES definitely is one of the better installments, and gives me hope that the future of POTC will indeed be a good one. I still look forward to a fifth film, and depending on how good that one is, potentially a sixth. Captain Jack Sparrow has amazing charisma and worldwide interest, so as long as the scripts are strong enough and the public want him, we'll see Johnny Depp and Jack Sparrow back again in no time. The journey this time around wasn't as thrilling as the previous three, but it's a good step in the right direction for Jack-oriented stories. So here's to looking at the future, and a rather well-done film that had a lot to accomplish.

Rating: 7/10 = Although there does feel like there's something missing, ON STRANGER TIDES meets and fulfills the action/adventure/funness expectations of its predecessors and is a jolly fun good time when watching.

14 June 2011

Tuesday Cap - Vol. 27

Title: Lost in Space

Note: Surprisingly few people seem to like the LOST IN SPACE cinematic adaptation. A world of why? Although, I wager if I was a fan of the old tele series, I just might find this flick to be not so good. The family dynamic that I'm sure was so crucial in the series just doesn't seem to gel successfully here, but personally, I can forgive that. The writers basically have a two hour window to create and personalize multiple characters of the Robinson family, create loads of sci-fi drama, and construct elaborate and fun action sequences and space creatures. Quite a lot on a writers plate. So for what we have here, as the finished product - yeah, I dig LOST IN SPACE. The film has some absolutely stellar CG and model work, so well done and pristine one could easily mistaken it as a recent release (as in the last three or four years). So in regards to digital effects, LOST IN SPACE is solid. Performances - eh, not so much. Matt Leblanc doesn't have the ability to deliver his one liners like Harrison Ford, instead coming off a bit stilted and awkward. Good ol' John Hurt could try a little harder to create more depth to his fatherly character instead of relying on cliches, another ailment that burdens Gary Oldman's utterly unconvincing villain. Seriously, that dude spouts off ridiculous dialogue that I'm sure in his mind sounds like bloody Shakespeare. All that aside, it's a fast paced two hours, and by films end, I want me some more. However, a decade plus later, I sorta kinda don't think that's gonna happen, do you? Still, it's nice thinking about the possibilities.

Discuss: What are your thoughts on LOST IN SPACE? Would you mind a sequel? Thoughts and opinions on the digital effects, the performances? Did you think Gary Oldman was just right or a tad over-the-top? Do you have this flick in your collection?

13 June 2011

MMAM - Vol. 38

Anyone following my Facebook will know that I just acquired a super awesome gizmo thingy called a iPod Touch. It's marvelous. Opens new doorways to paths unexplored. I feel like James T. Kirk on board the Enterprise and pressing every button of his newly constructed star-ship with absolute glee. As I was going through my music library, lo and behold, I have some Godzilla tracks I completely forgot about. I would love to play some Michiru Oshima for you guys, from the marvelous GODZILLA X MECHAGODZILLA, but no one on YouTube has it (evil people!). So, instead, here's a (bonus) track from GODZILLA, MOTHRA, KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL OUT ATTACK, featuring the magnificent Akira Ifukube's legendary monster theme. Created in the 1960s, it's been a sort of staple of Toho daikaiju eiga, specifically the Godzilla franchise.

Ifukube has crafted some seriously brilliant themes over his long career (which includes some Kurosawa films, I believe), and his monster march is definitely one of the top ten. Do enjoy!

09 June 2011

The Watcher: 05/27/11 - 06/09/11

Hey, all. Well, the 2010-2011 TV season is behind us, and now with summer full speed ahead - and the deathly temperatures to prove it - what does that mean for this feature? Initially, I was perplexed as to what on earth I was going to review, but thankfully, I was saved with the reminder of two shows I love returning next month! On the Syfy Channel, the only-decent-show-left WAREHOUSE 13 premiers its third season, while TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY debuts on Starz the same week. Color me excited. So, until then, I'll be focusing on other 2010-2011 programs I need to catch up on, or some series I check out via Netflix Streaming. There just might also be a SMALLVILLE rewatch on the horizon...

The Big Bang Theory - Season 4

It was the end of season two when I first heard of THE BIG BANG THEORY, and quickly rented the available seasons. Comedy gold. The freshman year had me laughing nearly nonstop, boasting some of the most clever and hilarious jokes I had encountered in a long while. Returning with a season two, the show was just as brilliant, just as original and clever and hilarious. Season three had a bit of a rough start, with a few good episodes there and some mediocre episodes here, but luckily ended strong. This year is very similar to last, where there are some genuinely laugh-out-loud funny episodes every three or four. It's not the strongest season by far, but props must be given that the writers are actively seeking out growth for these characters and attempt to change things up with the recurring presence of two female co-leads. The season has its ups and downs, but is still entertaining nonetheless.

Last year saw the consummation and eventual breakup of Leonard and Penny. Whether you're a fan of the couple of pleased to see them separated, I dug how the writers approached the relationship, and how it seemed to evolve as a organic rate. Season four has Leonard on the lookout for the Next Best Thing, Sheldon experiments with having a female companion to share in intellect, and Howard takes small steps towards adulthood with girlfriend Bernadette. Basically everyone but Raj is getting his groove on, sadly enough, regulated to jokes on racism and his gay or not gay friendship with Howard. In regards to Howard and Raj, there is some tired jokes that just need to be retired already: all the material about Howard's mother and his freaky, PSYCHO-esque lifestyle at her house, the whole gay undertones with Raj & Howard, and the 'I'm an engineer' bit that makes Sheldon laugh with mockery. Time to move into a new direction with these guys, and if the last two episodes of season four are any indication, the writers just might be...

This season is most remarkable for the rather creative relationships that affect all the characters. First, we have Amy Farrah Fawler who is a girl and is a friend to Sheldon. She's basically him but with female parts, and their relationship is more or less a partnership of brilliant minds. Of course the gang have loads of fun making jokes at Sheldon's expense, but amazingly, by seasons end, Amy feels like one of the original gang, and has solidified a friendship with Penny and Bernadette and created a unique dynamic between her and Sheldon. Perhaps the best creative decision of season four, I genuinely hope Amy stays onboard longer. As for a romantic relationship between her and Sheldon, I can't say I'm to keen for that to develop, but I wouldn't be opposed to it. What the writers did with that relationship was perfectly handled. In addition to Sheldon, Amy becomes Best Friends with Penny and Bernadette, and her interactions with the ladies end up making the best episodes of the year. When the three of them are together, jocularity inevitably ensues. Leonard finds himself a stable girlfriend in Raj's sister Priya, introduced earlier in the season, and she is awesome. A legal gal, confidant, and gorgeous, she does have a few stuck-up moments but I genuinely was all-systems-a-go with their relationship. Another nice development I appreciated. Furthermore, Howard took great strides in becoming an adult this year, what with his relationship with Bernadette blossoming. Overall, in regards to the relationships and group dynamic, it's been a great year full of change.

Unfortunately the episodes weren't always up to snuff and don't successfully reflect the fun and interesting development of characters, but nevertheless, it was another year of Leonard, Penny, Sheldon, Raj, and Howard (and even Stu), so I'm hugely thankful and enjoyed the season regardless. See ya next year for another 24 episodes of BIG BANG goodness!

08 June 2011



Starring Saorise Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Jessica Barden, Tom Hollander
Written by Seth Lochhead
Directed by Joe Wright
Release: 8 April 2011
Focus Features, 111 mins., Rated R

Plot: Hanna is brought up to locate and kill Marissa Wiegler for the death of her mother, and her journey in the outside world presents her with new experiences she never dreamed of in this unconventional coming-of-age tale.

What Little Girls Are Made Of

HANNA is a odd hybrid of a movie. There's the fantastical revenge element, where this young girl springs into lethal action without hesitation or the slightest hint of emotion, and then there's the growing up tale, where the vengeance takes a backseat and Hanna is exposed to a life outside of data and facts told to her by father Erik (Bana). Seth Lochhead's script isn't deep, and it doesn't attempt to say something about human nature or relationships or the goodness or wrongness of revenge. No, HANNA should be categorized as a action/revenge film, and rightfully so.

But director Joe Wright seems particularly invested in Hanna and wants the audience to be so, as well. The camera lingers on our lead longer than one would typically expect: her eyes, her expression - vacant or worrisome or intrigued - her experiences outside kicking ass. When she is kicking ass, Wright films it quick and ruthlessly, just like her [that said, Wright films a particularly gorgeous one-shot of Eric Bana beating the snot out of four or five bad guys in a parking garage]. Wright is pulling for us to be just as interested in Hanna's reactions to the real world and her newfound relationship with a English family as we are with seeing her dish out Marissa Weigler's just rewards.

It's fantastic Wright concentrates on Hanna as a character, as a human being who feels and is hit with a sense of wonderment of the outside world, not simply a vehicle where to dish out some ass whoopin', which I admittedly feared. Depth of character is nice, especially in a action film, and the film definitely delivers in that regard.

Other notable elements of HANNA include accents from many of the cast that seem to appear, disappear, and transform with each passing scene, a rockin' soundtrack by some band called The Chemical Brothers that ranges from occasionally annoying to absolutely bloody awesome, some super stellar cinematography that makes this film look and feel more spectacular than it actually is, a fine and subtle 'cameo' from Eric Bana (I say 'cameo' because he's hardly in the film, ultimately), and a few sci-fi elements thrown into the plot for good measure.

Style and Substance: Finding a Balance

When Hanna makes the final shot, completing her mission, and the film snaps to the red and white title card, I admittedly was a little disappointed. Yes, our dear little Hanna achieves her revenge for Mommy and Daddy, and she has a bloody time doing so, but writer Lochhead and director Wright successfully grabbed me with the character to the point that I want to know where she goes next, I want to know the next step of her journey. One path is fulfilled, the path of vengeance, and now Hanna can do literally anything she wants - I wanted that type of note to end the movie on, not a mirror of its opening title card with a shot ringing out at the camera. But my wish for that alone is major kudos to Lochhead and Wright, who manage to make what could be easily mistaken as a simple revenge story into a rather interesting tale of a young girl experiencing the real world for the first time (outside of facts and numbers swimming around her brain), and keeping me completely engulfed from start to finish.

Next to Saoirse Ronan's stellar performance as Hanna - emotionally disconnected, calculating, and acrobatic in her scenes of action; vulnerable with awe and wonder at the world as she makes her trek - the real standout star of the picture is director Joe Wright. Honestly, I haven't had the 'pleasure' of seeing ATONEMENT, and I dunno if I'm going to be taking the plunge anytime in the near future, but Wright's kinetic style works wonders here. The hand held camerawork, the super awesome oners (e.g., the container dock, Erik's parking garage/wherever fight scene), the Michael Bayey-circlyness - all fantastic and is just as vital to the HANNA experience as Ronan's commitment to the role.

Rating: 7/10 = HANNA kicks all kinds of ass, a technical marvel and some strong performances, the film is a bit more than a simple revenge splatterfest, and I love it all the more for that.

The Hangover Part II

The Hangover Part II

Starring Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zack Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Ken Jeong, Jamie Chung
Written by Todd Phillips, Scott Armstrong, Craig Mazin
Directed by Todd Phillips
Release: 26 May 2011
Legendary Pictures, 102 mins., Rated R

Plot: THE HANGOVER in Bangkok.

In 2009, the Must See/The Best/End All-Comedy film for audiences and (specifically) young adults was THE HANGOVER. It blasted into theaters making a good gazillion million dollars, and within opening weekend folks were enjoying their own self-sponsored HANGOVER quote-a-thon, usually based off some 'brilliant' Alan or Chang joke. Aside from a few chuckles, HANGOVER didn't do much for me. It was enjoyable, I'll give it that, but overall, HANGOVER simply wasn't the Must See/The Best/End-All-Comedy film the hype was making it to out be. Well, like it or not, here we are with THE HANGOVER PART II (sorta did the 'Part II' bit of the title), and as expected, the writers do their damnest to recreate the success of the original by heavily mirroring it, retreading jokes, beats, and subplots without creating too much of a noteworthy variance to the formula.

All that aside, HANGOVER PART II just really isn't funny.

There is a clever bit with Paul Giamatti in the third act that I did enjoy, and some material involving Alan and monks who've taken a vow of silence elicited a chuckle, but the film is surprisingly devoid of laughs. And that's what matters to me. Loads of people dislike Steve Martin's PINK PANTHER, but I maintain absolute enjoyment from the flick because I laugh a lot from it. Thus, I love PANTHER 2008. The sequel I expected to love, and I did not, cos the laughs just weren't there. They ain't here for this sequel, either.

Laughs and hype and retreading-the-past aside, HANGOVER PART II sort of felt like a rushed production. When the film began, I prepared myself to be entertained by the Wolf Pack's shenanigans in Bangkok, and before I knew it, the film was over. It was as if hardly anything happened. Well, there was that nifty Paul Giamatti thing, and a wise monkey, and one of the characters getting shot (although it only affects that one scene and isn't brought up again), but otherwise, PART II doesn't have anything highly memorable or extravagant or engaging, really. I wasn't glued into the mystery, frankly, and I wasn't glued into the cast. Perhaps PART II is one of those rare cases where 'more' would have been better and possibly necessary to make a enjoyable sequel. Feels like there's not enough shenanigans for the Wolf Pack to endeavor to regain their memory of the nights events.

PART II climaxes with the wedding, of course, and a obnoxious cameo from another part one character. But before that, when Stu, Alan, Phil and Teddy make it back just in time for the ceremony, there is a interesting little bit that's also more unbelievable than anything in the last two films: a very shattered and mentally insane Stu goes off on a a tangent to his fiance Laren's father that he has "a demon inside" himself, and ends the tangent by demanding Lauren's father give them his "motherfucking blessing." Right. Cos that would work. Just trying to figure out the logic of that breaking point of Stu's. Sure, I wager the writers felt obligated in that PART II needs to show a character 'growing' by some margin, and this 'I'm a crazy motherfucker'-type epiphany of Stu's supposedly fits that bill. If anyone wanted to write a thesis demeaning the HANGOVER films, I'm sure they would take Stu's very angry monologue and dissect the potential meanings from it: the Wolf Pack represents all that is inherently evil in mankind, that we all have a demon inside ourselves that need to be let out, that we perhaps control our inner evil urges on a day by day basis but succumb to them under the influence, etc. See? It's fun doing that.

One last note: why the frak did Doug stay out of the story yet again? Throw him in, damnit! Would have at least changed the dynamic. And I really, really, really, sincerely, genuinely hope this is the last we see of Chow. Most. Annoying. Character. in. the. Universe. Give us Hayden Christensen anyday.

As it stands, THE HANGOVER PART II just is. It exists. The film isn't good, and the film isn't bad. I understand its reason for existing and for why the writers and actors went the route they did. It simply wasn't enough. That said, there is a part of me that sort of hopes for a PART III, if only out of interest to see if they would shake up the existing format and add some life to the story and characters. So here we are then, with 2011's much-anticipated comedy sequel failing to make with the "ha ha" or entertain. Just might be the summer of superheroes, after all.

Rating: 5/10 = A super underwhelming sequel to a already underwhelming original, the film feels halfhearted and doesn't really hit any comedic notes or do anything fresh.