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alanrayford

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Amazing is more like the third word I'd use., 6 January 2013
7/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Physically, Andrew Garfield makes for a much better Web Head than Tobey Maguire or Nicholas Hammond. He looks the part in a way requiring no imagination. Emma Stone is a perfect match for Gwen Stacy's likeness, even though her look has remained frozen in the late 60's to early 70's. Martin Sheen and Sally Fields did Ben and May Parker justice and stand as this films one, truly flawless asset. Due to them, the Parkers were shown in a light that not only outdid the previous films, but managed to surpass over 50 years of comic-book continuity. There was also far less of a CGI Spiderman than in previous installments, which added a certain tactile element to the main character. Lastly, Spiderman's smart mouth was in full effect with some genuine zingers. Now, so you were warned, it's all downhill from here.

To me, it was painfully obvious TASM was written almost entirely by committee. And each voice it featured seemed to conflict with another voice. There are simply too many plot holes, inaccuracies, omissions, WTF moments and pacing issues for this to be otherwise.

Some of the gaps were manageable. Why did the receptionist believe Parker to be Hispanic? No one noticed Parker, in civvies, swing from the top of a high rise and down to the sidewalk in broad daylight? How is it Gwen Stacy, a high school intern, seemingly had executive level clearance at Oscorp? What was with Parker's camera setup in the sewers, since he was not yet in the business of shilling photos? Now, with the small potatoes out of the way, it's time for the biggies.

What happened to Mr. Ratha (Irrfan Khan)? He seemed important. But, during the second act, he disappeared without explanation. After his incident as the Lizard, Connors is walking through the sewers and smells Peter Parker's scent, right around where Spiderman clocked him. Why didn't he remember that? When Pete went to Connors' to ask about reptiles, and saw that mutated mouse, why did he let Connor's walk away? The Lizard mutates a SWAT team into lizard men. Why didn't they go on the rampage? Why weren't they even mentioned? After Parker dispersed the cure are we supposed to believe everyone infected was instantly cured? Like the Lizard, wouldn't many of those who were mutated have gone underground? Also, wouldn't the cure have also affected Spidey? He's not reptilian, but he's still a human mutate. So a "gene cleanser" having no effect on him at all is odd. Then, there are the inaccuracies.

Half the time, Spiderman was either swinging into walls or into traffic. Other times, he had no problem swinging like a pro. The Lizard got the drop on Spiderman in the sewers, but shouldn't Pete's spider sense have gone off? Also, shouldn't it have gone off when he went to Connor's after the encounter on the bridge? Anyone else notice how Spiderman couldn't really crawl up walls? He did a lot of grabbing, pulling, pushing and jumping. But it was all far more parkour than wallcrawling. Then, towards the end, Peter was dangling from Oscorp Towers as though he can't adhere to vertical surfaces and actually had to be pulled up.

Parker also got his ass kicked on a regular basis, despite being strong enough to single-handedly hold a car in midair. He didn't seem capable of hurting the Lizard. Matter of fact, had it not been for the intervention of others, Parker would've been shredded. The NYPD kicked Parker's butt too, even going as far as to unmask him. Given Spidey's propensity for adhesion, the mask coming off shouldn't have happened. The only people Parker seemed able to handle were lowly street muggers. But, when they got together, he ended up running from them. Oh, and all of the mentioned events either take place after dark or underground. So expect an otherwise colorful and vibrant character to feel quite muted by shadows.

Then there are the WTF moments. Parker shows up Flash Thompson by jumping 20 feet in the air to slamdunk a b-ball? Parker catches a football and throws it with enough force to bend a goalpost? Come on. For some reason, it was also decided Parker would rock a skateboard. Who the hell Tony Hawks it down a crowded school hallway anymore? Lastly is the pacing.

Despite appearances, this is a plodding film. In 2002, Parker had been bitten by the spider, gotten powers, trounced the bully, suffered the death of his uncle and was in full costume at around 30 minutes. TASM stretches the same material out to over an hour, and little of it is handled smoothly. So, if your threshold for repetition is low, prepare to suffer. Contrarily, the romance between Peter and Gwen is rushed. In two days they go from being tangentially aware of each other to being madly in-love. Even for teenagers, that's too fast. Yet Parker was sharing his secrets and going to Gwen to get patched up, although she had no medical training, in little to no time.

There are a lot of careless problems here that could've, that should've been fixed, but were ignored. It feels like all Sony cared about was getting this into theaters (to retain the license) between the release of the Avengers and TDKR (to maximize earnings) instead of making a coherent film. For this, The Amazing Spiderman is merely passable. It's better than Green Lantern or 2003's Hulk, but it's not the next great Spiderman film. In all honesty, it doesn't quite break even with Spiderman 3.

1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
A real world James Bond., 6 January 2013
9/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I'm not that into James Bond nowadays. I've seen all the movies, several more than once. Too many of the plots involve evil trust fund babies trying to take over the world, destroy the world or steal the all the money in the world. When the Bond films try to ground themselves in some semblance of reality, they still indulge in fantastical gadgets and implausible action-set pieces featuring everything from wheelie popping big rigs to parkour. The only exception to this rule, so far, has been the Living Daylights.

The story has nothing to do with global domination or obliteration. It's just about a scam being perpetuated by a Soviet officer and an American arm's merchant to skim millions off the Soviet's occupation of Afghanistan. As such, TLD's storyline feels very much in line with the reality of Cold War era politics. It was so dead on it even had to have a disclaimer put at the beginning of the film.

As for Bond himself, Timothy Dalton nailed it. First off, Dalton, circa 1987, looked like a regular, run of the mill guy. He didn't have a deep, overly confident voice. He didn't have a swagger. He didn't have broad shoulders or a distinct lack of empathy for the human condition. He was one of us. Thanks to Dalton's performance, Bond's humanity, which is usually ignored, got to shine through. The look of surprise when he found out the "sniper" was the cellist; the look of pure rage when Saunders was murdered; and the horror on Bond's face when he nearly shot a mother and her child because he misread the situation painted a very human portrait. So, when Bond spring to action, it had a little more impact than in the other films. Case in point, the ambush of General Pushkin was some pretty ice cold stuff.

As for the rest of the cast, I had no problem with them. Kara was a doe eyed ditz, sure. But she'd been painstakingly sheltered from certain realities. It made absolute sense how Bond could develop real feelings for her over the time they were together. As for the bad guys, good work. Many say the villains of TLD weren't up to the task, but I say nay. In the real world, killers for hire don't wear razor rimmed hats or have bionic braces. They're just really good at getting you to stop breathing through proper planning, preparation and execution. So Necro measured up by being physically unremarkable, save for the fact he was exceptionally skilled at what he did. Koskov and Whitaker, however, really take the cake. The reason people who pull strings like to stay behind the scenes is because, 90% of the time, they don't have the gut for the live stuff. So these two being such lames is not only realistic, it is commendable the studio was brave enough to not amp them up to some impossible level of formidability.

However, this isn't to say there isn't action. There are car chases, gunfights, fistfights and explosions galore. The pursuit and confrontation between Bond and an assassin in the opening; the attack on the safe-house; the Soviets pursuit of Bond and Kara; the rooftop escape in Tangiers; the brawl at the prison; Bond hijacking a plane in the middle of a firefight between the Mujahideen and Soviets; the fight between Necro and Bond; and the death of Whitaker were all on it. With the lone exception Bond and Kara's escape to Austria, nothing was overdone and felt plausible. Bond's marksmanship and affinity with firearms never felt unrealistic. His proficiency at unarmed combat wasn't flashy, but remained extremely effective and practical. This Bond had one foot firmly planted in hard reality and the other right up someone's ass.

There have been over two dozen Bond films, each one claiming to reinvent the wheel and change how the character will be perceived. Some have had better luck at this than others. But The Living Daylights stands as the only one that can honestly be classified as a genuine espionage thriller. TLD delivers a very human Bond to a setting that feels ripped from old newsreels and not from a pulp serial. If that sounds up your alley, treat yourself to a viewing. Go ahead...you deserve it.

4 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
There can be no going back from this., 5 May 2012
9/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It once seemed like Hollywood would never realize how profitable comicbook to film adaptations could be if handled properly. But, eventually, they came around. Since then, superheroes and villains have been setting the Box Office ablaze. But, there's always been one problem with these summer season mainstays.

All of the characters were isolated in their own pocket universes. We could never see Spiderman kick back with the Human Torch. Superman could never run across Green Lantern. Well, here comes Marvel's the Avengers (MtA) to do away with this shortcoming. From here on out, there can be no going back.

The plot to MtA sees Loki (Tom Hiddleston), partnering with a maleficent race of beings to conquer Earth. Nick Fury (Sam Jackson), the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., takes issue with this and, thankfully, has a contingency plan up his sleeve called the Avenger's Initiative.

Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) come together, with some wrangling by S.H.I.E.L.D., to stop Loki. But, before they can work effectively as a unit, there are a few bumps to be smoothed out.

The first 90 minutes of MtA leads to several instances of one constant of superhero team-ups. That is before they can work together, the good guys have to kick each others asses for just a bit. These hero vs. hero battles are tremendously satisfying. Thankfully, the reasoning behind all of the inter-Avenger bouts is also sound. So you can sit back and enjoy the visuals without feeling as though you have to turn your brain off.

When Loki escalates his plan, however, all differences are put aside as the Avenger's assemble. During this final act, every member of the team gets their moment in the spotlight. One, who happens to be green, gets several.

A particular highlight for me was a bit between the Hulk and Loki that played like something from an old Warner Bros. toon. Anyone who's seen the movie knows what I'm talking about. Besides that, there's Thor calling down thunder, Captain America laying an up close smack down on the baddies, Iron Man zipping and dodging through the urban chasms of NYC and Black Widow and Hawkeye sniping hostiles and snapping necks. If you find yourself feeling anything less than 100% involved with what's happening on screen, consult a physician or check the power level of your positronic heart—something is clearly wrong with you.

When the dust settles, the bad guys have been thoroughly trounced. The good guys are all on good terms as they ride into the sunset. Nick Fury is still looking like the zenith of cool, and things are set up for the, as of yet, unannounced sequel. In short, MtA did its job admirably.

Every actor brought their character to life, special recognition to Ruffalo and Middleston. Ruffalo was able to take a character that's been portrayed by four different actors (Bixby, Ferrigno, Bana and Norton) and still lend it enough pathos to make it his own. Instead of being evil for evil's sake, Middleston's portrayal of Loki depicted a tragically flawed being, driven to the brink of insanity by living in the shadow of his brother.

With the introductions relegated to the solo films, the script was free to move along briskly. At the same time, it was never afraid to slow down and flesh out details that, otherwise, would've left things feeling disjointed. The SFX were superlative. The Hulk not only looked better than ever, his face resembled the actor playing him. The S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier looked surprisingly plausible. The hostiles looked imposing, and their flying behemoths were terrifying. But the major contributor to this movie's success, I feel, is Director Joss Whedon. The guy was able to take the reins of four separate franchises, simultaneously, and never once lose control. I thought such a feat would be impossible for a single director to achieve. I still think so, unless the director happens to be Joss Whedon. There's no rulebook for helming a project like this. Yet, he still hit a homerun—kudos.

MtA does have its snags. The first is if you had a problem with Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk or Thor in their solo films, you'll have the same problems with them here. I took issue with Captain America.

I gave the First Avenger a 10/10 on this site because I had my head up my ass and didn't notice what a fanboy I was being. Well, the deficits in that film translated to this one. The good Captain doesn't feel anywhere near as skillful or formidable as he should. There's a scene where Roger's, sans shield, is pinned by machine gun fire. In the comics, the gunman would've been eating that weapon in three seconds flat. But, this isn't the comics. As the scenario played out, complete with Rogers picking up a weapon and unsuccessfully returning fire, it made him feel less like a super-soldier and more like a regular guy in blue spandex. Yes, in the final act he got a chance to shine. But it did little to balance out how poorly he'd fared in the proceedings up to that point. The second problem I had was a minor one about Rogers' new costume. The red, white and blue stripes should completely wrap around his waist. Without that, his costume looks like blue long-johns from behind.

Regardless, Marvel's the Avengers is a really fun, enthralling ride that needs to be seen to be believed. After four years of careful maneuvering, Marvel was able to successfully deliver this first of a kind film that actually lives up to the hype.

ALSO: If you liked MtA, be sure to check out Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes. It's an outstanding animated-series that further fleshes out the world these characters call home in a way live-action simply cannot.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Pleasantly predictable., 29 April 2012
7/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Larry Crowne is not a bad movie, per se. Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts afford their roles well. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Wilmer Valderrama, Pam Grier, Bryan Cranston, George Takei, Taraji P. Henson, Cedric the Entertainer and the rest of the supporting players back them up admirably and flesh out the world this takes place in. The script keeps itself light, breezy and moves along. There are also quite a few laughs. While not of the raucous, belly laughing variety, the setups and punch-lines never failed to illicit a smile on my part.

Larry Crowne also serves as a movie for the times. Many people here in the states and abroad have indeed had to reinvent themselves during these hard times. So a movie about a man who's thrown to the wolves and finds himself having to do the same does indeed deserve to exist; even if it does romanticize the situation. So take that, Ebert.

There's only one problem with Larry Crowne, and it sadly mars the hell out of what would otherwise be a totally enjoyable flick. The problem is from the moment Larry (Tom Hanks) and Professor Tainot (Julia Roberts) first laid eyes on each other, even a blind man could see how things were to end. Everything proceeds along a well worn path.

Many have put Larry Crowne's lukewarm critical and commercial reception on Hanks and Roberts playing it safe. But, I say nay. Forrest Gump and Pretty Woman were a long time ago, and, since then, their star wattage has faded tremendously. So comparing their current work to the stuff they were doing 15-plus years ago is akin to comparing two completely different actors.

So what really is the basic problem with Larry Crowne and pretty much all other movies that never stray far from the beaten path? The problem is it overstays its welcome. There is a point in the film, with about ten minutes left, when the movie would've been wise to stop. Everything was in place. We all knew what was going to happen. All they had to do to save the production from being almost unbearably cookie cutter was end it there, with that scene in the diner.

But, no. Instead, Tom Hanks (co-writer/director) and Nia Vardalos (co-writer) opted to spend the final ten minutes clubbing the audience over the head with what had been obvious since Larry first stumbled into Professor Tainot's classroom. And, on these ten minutes, I'll cede to Ebert's charge of them not needing to exist. Yet they do. And, in doing so, drag everything down into a syrupy blend of yadda yadda, been there-done that.

Still, I can't bring myself to say Larry Crowne is a bad film. It's just a little too familiar for its own good. If you want to see an easygoing flick which doesn't take any real investment to sit back and watch for 100 minutes, this is a good pick. It's fun and easy to digest. It's also one hell of a good date flick, and infinitely more tolerable than anything with Ryan Gosling (excluding Drive). Just don't expect to be fully engaged, even once, during its running time.

Were it not for those last ten minutes, Larry Crowne would be a much better movie that had just enough ambiguity to put off the by-the-numbers-plot. But those last ten minutes are there and lower what should be a solid 8/10 down to a 6.8/10. Since IMDb doesn't allow for decimal places, I'm rounding up to the above score.

40 out of 60 people found the following review useful:
Not the Spiderman we need, deserve or want., 8 April 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I remember watching the two part series premiere of the Spectacular Spiderman in 2008. Despite reservations over the art style, I could tell the show had the goods halfway through the first episode. By the end of the second episode, I couldn't wait to see the third the following weekend.

Fast forward to 2012 and I find myself watching the two part series premiere for Ultimate Spiderman. By the end of the second episode, I was feeling on the verge of being physically ill. However, to be fair, I decided to watch the third episode to make sure my hunches were correct. They were. This show is rubbish.

USM is nowhere near being in the same league as SSM. To be blunt, it comes up short against every animated series to feature the character. Yes, this includes Spiderman and his Amazing Friends. While Spidey had to share the spotlight with Firestar and Iceman, in that series, here he is all but crowded out of frame by the likes of Power Man, Iron Fist, White Tiger and Nova. Oh Yeah, there's also Nick Fury, Agent Coulson (from the movies) and the rest of shield. Oh yeah, there's also the ever ubiquitous villain of the week. Not one of the good or bad guys really fit in with the Spiderman mythos, and it shows. Thankfully, there are the good old standbys.

For instance, Mary Jane Watson is now a burgeoning, high school reporter and only feels vaguely reminiscent of a teenage Lois Lane because this characterization blatantly rips that property off. Aunt May is shown as being a bit younger and livelier here than ever before. Were it not for her gray hair, one could imagine May blowing off her nephew to go clubbing with college kids. J. Jonah Jameson has apparently gotten out of printed news and is now a television news personality, because seeing him scream out from a television screen is cooler than seeing him run roughshod over a bullpen. Right? Then, there's Harry. Why should Harry Osborn be a geeky outsider, when he can be a cool kid who sticks up for Parker? Well now we find out why.

But, the belle of the ball, the icing on the cake, the cherry on the top and the recipient of more clichés than I have fingers is USM's lead. One has to wonder if Otto Octavius was charged with developing this series because the Wallcrawler really gets the short end of the stick. Here, Parker is prone to flights of fancy where he'll see himself as a toaster or using a jetpack. When not envisioning painfully out of character scenarios, he's breaking the fourth wall with an alarming regularity. Every time he freezes the action to talk to me, an esteemed member of the viewing audience, I find myself wishing he'd have the common decency to shut up. Some of this is due to the context of the situation he's in. It makes no sense for him to "timeout" in the middle of a fight to fill us in on what's happening. But the majority of the pain this narrative device provides, however, is due to Drake Bell's performance as Peter Parker.

Over three decades of reading the comics, watching the movies, watching the cartoons and playing the games, I've come to expect Spiderman's voice to be cerebral and quite sardonic. In short the character's always been a blast to listen to. In USM, instead of an intelligent smart aleck, we get a pipsqueaky delivery that confuses crass for wit. Spidey, the thinking man's superhero, sounds about as witty as a high school kid bragging about his first beer.

There's only one aspect of USM that compares favorably to previous series. This would be the animation and overall character designs. Visually, Parker veers extremely close to his depiction in the USM comics. The character model is quite detailed. Surprisingly, despite the bump up in detail, everything animates very smoothly. To be honest, the animation here actually seems to do a better job of conveying momentum and impact than even SSM. Regardless, when the writing, acting and action scenes are so jarringly bad, what does it matter? A lemon's a lemon, regardless of how shiny its paint job is.

I honestly have no idea what the creators of this series were thinking. Most of them are former or current comic scribes who honestly should have a better handle on things. It's as though there is a deliberate effort on their part to sabotage this series. Either that or these guys are working past their expiration date. I'm going with the latter. Even so, this would still be an interesting experiment in failure; were it not for the fact a MUCH better series was cancelled for this pile to exist.

In defense of USM's creators, this probably was written for a much younger audience to sell toys. After all, exploiting rugrats to attack their parent's wallets is such a noble endeavor. Regardless, if you're in the target demo and are old enough to sleep on your stomach without dying, don't watch USM. It'll only make you want to swear, and that's a bad habit to get into.

2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
One Amazing Spiderman., 3 April 2012
9/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It's easy to look at 1977's The Amazing Spiderman series and laugh our asses off. We've already had three live action Spiderman films that were able to perfectly capture Spidey's grace and agility through the use of cutting edge CGI. But, even before Sam Raimi's films, the original live action Spiderman series was ridiculed on a regular basis. Even going as far back as the mid 80's, it looked so craptastically cheesy it rivaled Adam West's and Burt Ward's Batman in preposterousness. But, hindsight being 20/20, I realize we all may have been wrong. It may very well be the single best interpretation of this character…EVER.

I know this sounds insane. However, there were a lot of things this show had that really worked. One, for instance, is the lead. When this show was still airing on CBS, the comics saw Peter Parker as a college student somewhere in his early to mid twenties. He was depicted as being tall and having a lean, athletic build. Well, Nicholas Hammond matched those qualities to a tee. He stacked up to Peter Parker the same way Christopher Reeves did to Superman. I won't lie; his portrayal lost some strength when he was in costume. However, out of costume, he did a damn fine job playing Parker as a highly intellectual dude with great power and great responsibility.

Besides Hammond's physical performance, I've got to bring up the special effects. Silly string that stood in for webbing; webs that had to wrap around flagpoles to stick; wall-crawling that looked like a man being lowered from an off camera rig; web swinging that definitely looked like a stuntman being hurled through the air at the end of a rope; Spidey leaping from rooftop to rooftop by overlaying video onto background footage. Yeah, they all look more like student film territory by today's standards—worse even. Nonetheless, when this originally aired, these visuals were bleeding edge stuff. CGI was all but science fiction. Green screen tech was too cost prohibitive for television. This was the best that could be done, and, in 1977, it glued asses to seats. So while the first ten minutes of 2002's Spiderman blow this out of the water, ASM was quite revolutionary and outright jawdropping for its time.

Spiderman looked cheesy, but realistic. The truth of the matter is that spandex only makes for dynamic attire in comics, cartoons and videogames. In real life, even if you were built like Hugh Jackman or the Rock, it would make you look like a chump with an overly pronounced feminine side. So Hammond looking less than impressive, when in costume, is pretty much what Spiderman would look like in real life—deal with it. The costumes worn by Tobey Maguire and the one to be worn by Andrew Garfield are more dynamic and eye catching. But, between style and reality, I always choose the latter.

Over its brief thirteen episode run, none of the villains from the comics were featured. This is a point of contention for most, and an understandable one. But this was a TV show in the 70's. There was simply no money to include characters like the Green Goblin, Doc Ock, Sandman or any other classic foe of Spidey in a compelling manner. Even so, ASM did feature a take on the 1970's clone storyline when it was still a fresh in the comics. It wasn't much, but it was the best they could do and was quite remarkable for the time.

Given the era in which this aired, ASM was nothing short of miraculous. 1977 was over twenty years before comics were finally allowed to enter the mainstream without being frowned upon. It was an extremely hostile period where comic books were treated with all the dignity of a dirty Kleenex. It was so hostile CBS gave ASM the runaround for two years before pulling the plug. When they did, it wasn't due to low ratings because the show was doing well. They cancelled it simply because, after Wonder Woman and the Incredible Hulk, they were afraid CBS would come to be known as the Comic Book Station. Seriously. That's it. Hell, Stan Lee saw fit to bash this show (even though he was a script consultant). But I'm willing to bet that could've been over him not being given a cameo—something he's apparently quite fond of.

In the over 20 years between the cancellation of ASM and the 2002 film which rewrote the rulebook on blockbuster premieres and opened the floodgates for Marvel in Hollywood, ASM was ridiculed by any and everyone. I too occasionally took shots at it. But, now in my thirties, I can honestly look back and see what ASM really was. It was a program that had a lot of ambition, took a lot of creativity, did everything it could to succeed and still came up short—all because it was two decades ahead of its time. Had the public attitude towards comics been more positive back then, this would've been on the air for years and been a smash hit. It would've been the best live action Spiderman, probably to this day.

If you're a fan of Spiderman or of comic related media that's seen fit to ridicule this effort, stop. 1977's The Amazing Spiderman deserves your respect. It deserves all of our respect. And I just want to add Stu Phillips' theme is one of the most infectious pieces of music I've ever heard. It gets in your head and just sticks there—like a spider…man.

Ninja (2009)
2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
What's up, my ninja?, 31 March 2012
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Ninja is as simple, effective and to the point as its cover suggests. The word hangs at the top of the DVD cover all alone, avoid of such descriptors such as American, assassin, mutant, red, shoguns, teenage, turtles or warriors. Its only companion is a picture of a single man in a black costume wielding a sword that may very well be in mid swing. In both title and image, this cover tells you this flick delivers ninja…period, and that is no lie.

At the heart of Ninja are bitter rivals Casey (Scott Adkins) and Masuka (Tsuyoshi Ihara). Casey is an all around good guy who, despite being a westerner (P.C. for white), just happens to be a top student at a prestigious ninjitsu school in Japan. To ensure we see him as sympathetic, the movie reminds you he's an orphan every fifteen minutes or so. Masuka is the other top student and (surprise, surprise) hates Casey with a passion usually reserved for pedophiles and fascists. When Masuka goes as far as to try and murder Casey during a sparring match, the school's headmaster sends him packing and sets things into motion.

There are a lot of things which occur during the 86 minute running time of Ninja. There's a trip to New York City to retrieve an artifact for the school. There's also a secret society that feels straight out of a comic book and comes off as 1/2 cult and 1/2 mafia. There's even the budding romance between Casey and Namiko (Mika Hijii), the headmaster's daughter. But all of this is background to what we all want to see in films like this; ninja and action starring ninja.

While there are only two ninja in the film, the sheer amount of badassery present dares you to feel shortchanged. Most of the action deals with Casey fighting members of a mysterious cult who're in league with Mazuka, and these scenes deliver. Name a martial arts move and, odds are, it's used to great effect here. Scott Adkins is the real deal and is effortlessly able to tread that thin line between believability, practicality and style often lacking in more mainstream action flicks. While the scenes with Mazuka take a back seat, they still do a damn good job of establishing him as an extremely viable threat and a reason to keep the lights on at all hours. While Ihara's not a martial artist in real life, you'd truly be hard pressed to know it by how well he compares to Adkins' physical performance.

Between Casey and Masuka, more asses are kicked around the Big Apple than in the typical play through of Arkham City. And, I have to say, the beatdowns seen here veer dizzyingly close to being a live action version of that game. No matter how good that may sound to you, believe me, it looks even better in action. However, it all comes down to a bloodfued between two ninja that can only end with one left standing.

When the finale comes around, this is when Ninja's ninja really starts to shine through. The hand to hand takes a backseat to the likes of caltrops, shuriken, katanas and even poison. Things definitely get ramped up as the two rivals leave an impressive trail of bodies in their wake as their final conflict looms. And, that climatic showdown does not disappoint. By film's end, there is only one ninja left standing. But, at several points, it felt like it could have gone either way.

Now, while Ninja is everything you've been trained to believe a film with ninja in the title can't be (namely good), there are a few points of contention I had with it. First, the costumes looked like a cross between the Power Rangers and something from an old Sho Kosugi flick. While they worked within the context of the movie, I personally find the more traditional shozoku robes to convey a much more powerful image on screen. Then there's the ending. I think this movie would've benefited greatly by ending immediately after the final confrontation between Casey and Mazuka. It would've made a better, longer lasting impression by being more brutal, final and cutting edge (pun intended). Also, it would've kept things open for potential sequels. American Ninja was like smallpox on celluloid, yet it spawned four sequels. Relative Oscar bait by comparison, Ninja is easily of enough quality to warrant at least one follow up treatment as it's a sincerely entertaining film. All in all, Ninja stands heads and shoulders above the likes of similar fare such as the theatrically released Ninja Assassin.

Also, I just want to say Scott Adkins may very well be the single best Bruce Wayne ever and, sadly, one we'll probably never get to see on screen. Still though, one can only hope someone at Warner Bros. might take notice of the obvious match between looks, age and skills, coupled with some solid acting chops, and have that proverbial light bulb go off over their head.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Welcome to Fright Night...for real., 27 December 2011
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Fright Night (2011) is a rare horror remake that, much like the Hills Have Eyes (2006) and Piranha (2010), does way more than merely not suck. There are parts of this remake which truly surpass the original. However, these are complemented by parts that definitely do not.

The original, for the most part, felt like a PG-13 flick. This is a more visceral and streamlined tale cutting right to the hard truth--a boy fights for his life against a bloodthirsty monster. As such, gruesome and dark things occur. The opening scene, a rather muted and harrowing affair, truly sets the stage for what follows. This dark parable is further lifted by some fresh characterizations which help it break free from many of the ruts which pervade this genre.

Jerry Dandridge (Collin Farrell) isn't a tortured soul. He isn't a sympathetic being who only wishes to be left alone as he reluctantly does what he must to survive. No, unlike what is commonly seen in contemporary fiction, he is entirely bereft of humanity. He moves into a neighborhood, feeds on its population and then leaves to start anew somewhere else. There is no regret or sorrow over what he does. He is a gleeful monster, through and through. Farrell is effortlessly able to carry off this hodgepodge of insincere charm and supernatural menace.

Charlie Brewster (Anton Yelchin) is basically a normal kid who starts off as the worst kind of real world douchebag—the kind who alienates his friends for popularity. Thankfully, this doesn't last long before Brewster finds himself faced with his neighbor. When he is, and Dandridge literally comes knocking, Yelchin sells Brewster through his reactions. His performance delivers a young man who doesn't endlessly quote pop culture references. He doesn't get snarky. He's not a stoner monkey or horndog. We instead get a teen who narrowly manages to hold onto his sanity in the face of overwhelming darkness. Towards the end, while watching the sun come up over the mountains, he doesn't even blink when the light hit's his eyes. That's because he's been hollowed out and is nearly catatonic. Given the situation, that's really the best anyone could ever hope for, and Yelchin nailed it.

There's also Charlie's mom, Jane (Toni Collette) and his girlfriend, Amy (Imogen Poots). Jane isn't the typical horror movie mom who goes to work at the beginning and gets home just in time to wonder what's happened to her home. She's actually present in the narrative and in her son's life. She also happens to have a pretty good handle on the lay of the land. So when Charlie warns her about Dandridge, she actually humors him—even though she doesn't understand what's going on. So instead of opposing her child, as most horror movie parents unwittingly do, she had his back 100%. As for Amy, she wasn't some doe eyed submissive. She was quite confident and assertive in what she wanted from her boyfriend—and her demands were in no way unreasonable. Like Jane, she backed Charles all the way. And, had it not been for Amy, when things started to get grisly, Charlie probably would've lost the ability to function rationally.

The overall flow and direction of the screenplay by Marti Nixon is a strength. The acting by Farrell, Yelchin, Collette and Poots brought the characters to life. Everything else, sadly, drags the production down.

Evil Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) was unnecessary. He served no real function other than to pay homage to the original and paint Charlie Brewster as a dick. He was annoying, and his devotion to pop culture felt forced. Matter of fact, Fright Night (2011) wouldn't have lost anything from his omission. Since Charlie lived next door to Jerry, it's hard to believe he wouldn't have known something was wrong almost immediately—if for no other reason than seeing Jerry chat up his neighbor and her disappearing right afterwards. Here, Ed was simply too typical of the genre and didn't bring enough to the table to warrant his inclusion—not through his characterization or portrayal.

Peter Vincent (David Tennant) was another letdown, but not due to Tennant's entertaining performance. This was due the script. Vincent's supposed to be an integral part of Fright Night. However, the character is treated more like a tacked on sidekick to Brewster and not a partner/mentor. In a perfect world, there would've been a few more minutes to accommodate a more detailed exploration of how Vincent's story mirrors Charlie's and how they're linked by this. Alas, this, a perfect world, is not.

The biggest issue I take with Fright Night is the horrid CGI. Late in the movie, a character pulls back her face to reveal fangs. Besides that, she looked normal and was highly off-putting. Then she transforms into what can best be described as Mr. Potato Head on LSD. The same goes for Dandridge. An imposing and monstrously powerful predator, he's defanged upon vamping out and looks like a pale Sloth. When it comes to effectively rendering vampires, less has always been more since Lugosi's heyday.

Fright Night (2011) boasts a script and direction which has a genuine edge and packs a bite. Dandridge, the Brewster's and Amy feel far more like genuine characters than cookie cutter caricatures. Ramin Djawadi's score, particularly the track "How to Kill a Vampire" is catchy and conveys the proper tone. This is counterbalanced by an unnecessary character, a lack of insight on Peter Vincent and some seriously hideous CGI. This had the potential to be better than the 1985 original. On the other hand, it could've been a lot worse. But, at the end of the day, it only breaks even. If you like the original, this is an alternate and well executed take that warrants watching. I'm rather saddened Fright Night didn't do well enough to warrant a sequel. I'd love to see what happens to Charlie now that the night has taken notice of him.

4 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
A great cast, a promising premise and the great taste of dinosaurs., 27 December 2011
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

When I first heard about Terra Nova, I wasn't impressed. At first I thought it would be yet another sci-fi show about yet another family trying to start over on yet another newly colonized planet. Then, when I heard the story involved traveling back in time to the Prehistoric Era, I figured the show would be dead on arrival. However, I could hardly complain without ever having watched it. So, I steeled myself to catch a few minutes of the pilot. I haven't missed a minute of Terra Nova since.

This series is good. It's really, really good. What you have here is a show with a rather high concept premise involving high technology, a dystopian future, the distant past, warring factions and dinosaurs. The concept itself is good enough to carry two or three episodes. But then the showrunners went the extra step and populated the world of Terra Nova with an army of characters who are interesting, relatable and layered. The Shannon family, Commander Taylor and Mira are just the tip of the iceberg in a show dominated by well written characterizations which are complemented by solid acting. The character of Skye (Allison Miller) is a good example of this.

At first Skye just appeared to be the throw away love interest for Josh Shannon. But as the season went on, this angle was dropped and Skye became more pivotal and perseverant than I would've thought. By the season finale, she'd become a fave of mine. This is 1/2 writing and 1/2 the actresses convincing portrayal. This is the same formula I can easily apply to every character on the show.

This one-two punch of inspired characterization and deft acting is further bolstered by some pretty respectable set designs, F/X and action. On a visual, the settlement feels like the right combination of future tech and older trappings such as flee markets and dirt trails. The dinosaurs aren't nearly as omnipresent as the trailers would make them seem. But when they're on screen, they don't look like busted CGI. I therefore have no problem believing the characters are dealing with these creatures as a way of life. When Terra Nova calls for action, and it does frequently, it never fails to deliver. For the most part, the hand to hand sequences are far more brutal and grounded in reality than overly balladic. When the dinos rear their heads, all the actors effectively convey their characters are dealing with large, apex predators. I didn't have any reservations about Stephen Lang's performance when Commander Taylor successfully faced down a slasher with nothing more than a growl and a tiki torch.

Another thing I have to bring up is the heterogeneous cast. The characters of Terra Nova are of African descent, European descent or Middle Eastern descent (among others). For a primetime show to feature so many prominent characters that aren't white is impressive and, dare I say, progressive. This is especially reflected within the Shannon family. Jim Shannon (Jason O'Mara) is white, Elizabeth Shannon (Shelley Conn) is Sri Lankan and their kids are biracial. Yet, this is never treated as the driving force of any aspect of the narrative. It's never about the culture clash the media insists on employing in their portrayal of biracial couples. The Shannon's marriage and family is merely something to be taken at face value, the same way you should any happily married couple with three children. This is simply a level of open mindedness you don't see with most televised programming stateside.

Also to be commended is the twelve episode season. The standard programming season for a series over here lies somewhere in the mid-twenties. And to achieve this high number, most of our programming has to rely excessively on filler—stories that go nowhere and only exist to pad out the episode count. Terra Nova just being twelve episodes doesn't fall into this trap. The series is able to keep its momentum, while having adequate time to explore its rich setting, without ever feeling needlessly drawn out.

Terra Nova feels more in line with the quality, original programming found on TNT, USA or SyFy. It's characters first, premise second and action third. And, this feels like the only problem facing this well deserving series. It's too good for FOX and is unlike any other program in their underwhelming arsenal of reality based properties. As such, Terra Nova's future is unsure. If FOX doesn't decide to renew for a second season, I sincerely hope one of the three above mentioned networks has the moxy to snatch it up. I could see the further exploits of the Shannon's doing much better on TNT, nestled between Falling Skies and Leverage than on the network which brought us American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance.

4 out of 32 people found the following review useful:
A most unimpressive shade of green., 12 November 2011
6/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

If you're a fan of animation or grew up in the nineties, you're probably familiar with the name Bruce Timm. He played a pivotal role in the emergence of complex and nuanced animation on television with hits like Batman the Animated Series, Superman the Animated Series and Justice League. Well after five years away from the boob tube producing animated DTV's, Green Lantern the Animated Series (GLAS) marks his return to the small screen. Sadly, it would appear his time in the DTV market has knocked him off his game.

First and foremost, I have to bring up the visuals to GLAS. They're not appealing. I've seen cutscenes on old PS2 games better looking than this. The backgrounds are devoid of textures, reducing mountainsides and cityscapes to an assortment of flat and dull shapes. The lack of textures in the background also extends to the characters, giving them a rather pronounced, plastic-like quality. Speaking of the characters, in hand drawn animation, the exaggerated physique approach that's indicative of Bruce Timm is surprisingly effective. But, the strength of Timm's style becomes a glaring weakness the second it's rendered in 3-D by CGI without the use of cell shading. This is especially true for the character model of Hal Jordan, which looks like a stock character from the background of an old Pixar film. His chest and arms are unbelievably massive. His chin is extremely prominent. By comparison, his waist is implausibly thin. Devoid of anything resembling texture and impossibly proportioned, Jordan looks like the bastardized offspring of a pro wrestler and a primate.

Many will say lackluster visuals don't matter if the writings spot on. Sadly, the writing of GLAS is hardly in a position to balance things out. Hal Jordan is taken from being a headstrong, but still loyal lantern into near treasonous territory. The Guardians tell him to stand down, he laughs at the order. They're questioning his tactics and he cuts them off. They tell him he is not to intervene, under any circumstances, and he pulls the intergalactic equivalent of GTA and hauls across the cosmos to…intervene. This doesn't feel like the Hal Jordan of the comics or even the depiction in the movie. Worse was that Kilowog, the Guardian's right hand man, was right beside him. This didn't ring true to decades of characterization. Thankfully, it would appear the rest of the GLC will be spared this treatment.

This is because, according to this pilot episode, the series will primarily take place in an extremely remote sector of space the Corp can't get to in any reasonable amount of time. So the expanded Green Lantern Corp will most likely not be making an appearance. So don't expect to see Tomar Re, Boodika, Gnort, or even Katma Tui. Also, don't expect to see Jordan return home to establish he does have a life and a day job and a girlfriend. This effort only fills half the canvas and is akin to Superman without Clark Kent.

The conflict in GLAS is provided by the Red Lantern Corps, led by Atrocitus. In the comics, the Red Lanterns are savage, near mindless bruisers with a penchant for spewing blood. Here, they're basically treated as evil counterparts to the GLC. If that's what GLAS wanted, why didn't it go for the Sinestro Corps? This would've made things more personal for Jordan and the rest of the Corp as it would've been them vs. the former AAA lantern of their ranks. But instead of a more fitting adversary, we get villains which, while new to the medium, have largely and understandably been neutered.

I'd been looking forward to GLAS since before the live action film debuted and bombed. But now that I've seen the pilot, I'm not angry or even disappointed. I'm worried. On one hand, there's the future of this series. On the other hand, there is Bruce Timm.

As previously stated, from 1992 through 2006, he played a key part in raising the bar for animation on television. Yet, here's he's given us a show about Green Lantern which features boring, flat and preposterous visuals; characters which don't feel true; a setting which eliminates much of what's enabled this property to survive for over fifty years; and a villain that's been twisted around to fit the standards of children's television as opposed to a more suitable adversary. The only aspect of GLAS which can't be challenged was the acting. But this is animation, not Terms of Endearment. It would appear Timm, like Frank Miller, Chris Claremont, John Landis, David Chapelle and so many other truly talented people, may have run out of juice.

I do hope he's as dissatisfied with this pilot as I am and, if it truly is indicative of the rest of the series proper, is able to retool it as much as possible. I don't care if the series premiere is delayed by a month, a season or even a year. I know Timm can do better by this property, if for no other reason than Justice League TAS, Green Lantern: First Flight and Emerald Knights. These treatments were so much more engaging than this one is. Then again, maybe they're the problem. Hal Jordan and Kilowog stranded in a remote section of space and cut off from the Corp, while facing a dire threat, would make for a damn fine DTV or two episode arc. But I just don't see how this story coupled with this presentation will hold up under the stress of an ongoing series. One can only hope this sneak peek was a test run and not the final product—fingers crossed. If this is the case and things aren't as final as they'd seem, I will heavily revise this review and the score.


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