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Man of Steel (2013)
That would have been a more appropriate title for this, the first in what I'm sure will be a trilogy for Superman with Man of Steel being better suited to the sequel. In a way, it felt much like 'Superman Begins' ran right into 'Man of Steel' as the script's first half rushed to deliver the correct message before the mayhem and bedlam of the second half slug-fest. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the film and feel Henry Cavill will do quite well as Kal-El, but Superman has over 70 years of origin retelling and storyline which can easily be spaced, spread and placed across any number of films... no need to hurry.
As for 'Man of Steel', it definitely had a somewhat intergalactic 'Batman Begins' feel to it and it should have. That's no slight against Christopher Nolan, it is his demand for realism and character development that made the Dark Knight Trilogy the success it was and will again be a building block of Superman's initial trilogy. Personally, I'd have no problem if they copied the exact formula and Warner Bros. will be lucky if Nolan and Snyder can. The WB have a history of interference with their DC tent-pole line (Batman & Robin, Green Lantern) and need a Nolan or Snyder to just keep the execs in their suits at bay. 'Superman Begins' maybe should have been followed by 'Man of Steel' and an eventual 'Last Son of Krypton' or some other fill in the blank third act, but I'm sure the marketing gurus felt otherwise.
The real film rests in the first half. Act two pushes for the high-adrenaline of the 3rd Act and loses itself in a rush to just utterly destroy Metropolis and kill, literally, countless tens of thousands. The closing leaves little to ponder in the way of continuation, hints of 'LexCorp', 'Wayne Enterprises' and a city to rebuild as the Daily Planet's newest hire comes on board though I'm sure Goyer/Nolan/Snyder will have plenty to give. The fact that Ben Affleck has been hired to deliver a more Frank Miller 'TDKR' turn in the role of the Caped Crusader (effectively ending any link to the Nolan trilogy and an inherent time-line) tells us this won't be the same old 'same 'ole'. And kudos for it as DC is in desperate need of an 'Iron Man' to 'The Avengers' build up over the next few years.
Like any Nolan film, we great great turns in form of character. Russel Crowe delivers in his take of Jor-El as does Kevin Costner as Superman's adoptive father Jonathan Kent. Amy Adams gives us a great spin on a Lois Lan who actually can investigate a story (even if its in retrospect) and Michael Shannon does General Zod proud.
Though reaching epic for the first half, its still a great film overall and a definite place setting for greater things (much like, but not as well as 'Batman Begins'). Bring the Reece's Pieces and popcorn... no bathroom breaks.
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009)
A Real American Hero....
"G.I.Joe is the codename for America's highly trained special mission force. It's purpose: To defend human freedom against Cobra, a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world." From the phenomenal release of the 3 3/4 inch toy line, the groundbreaking cartoon and even the Marvel Comics version, this basic principle has always rung true. 'GIJOE: The Rise of Cobra' stays true to that, no question.
While JOE makes a very vibrant and well paced action flick and popcorn movie, it fails in supporting what producers may have seen as a rather thin cannon that the die-hard 80's fans will know by heart. For those of you who don't know or really didn't care... here it is. The GIJoe cartoon was the mainstream outlet while the comic book served as filler / fodder depending on how you viewed it. The comics obviously needed to add more human interest to the background and swerved way to the left where the cartoon would stay on its course of animated violence with a PSA and all is resolved by the end of the half hour episode. The big screen versions of 'Transformers' suffers from the same story problems, but easily overcame it because they're big robots and that's that. Though to the producers the background stories of the cartoons/comics may be fairly pointless (they took comic over cartoon because of the more realistic Cobra aspect) when launching a franchise and raking in millions upon millions of dollars (just ask Trekkies how much they love when the story veers from the cannon) it still means a little something to that small demographic of the audience who grew up with it. Certain characters worked seamlessly in transition, Destro being one and surprisingly Cobra Commander being another. Other characters endured minor tweaks while some simply had their backgrounds twisted into some useless silly sweet simple to follow everyday follies while others were changed completely inside out (if you're familiar with 'Ripcord' you know what I mean and 'Sgt. Slaughter' or 'Stalker' (or Stone as listed in the IMDb and played by Brendan Fasier) in the film renamed 'Flint' would have been perfect)... and sorry, but Duke was seriously miscast. Too bad considering you could have actually used the cannon background, re-arranged two or three scenes, a character name or two and have a movie approximately seven minutes longer but a lot more involving to the die-hard fan. Overall, this film does what it should. It takes you on the summer blockbuster journey through good versus evil (making cute fun of itself and the source material in the process) with some really great and imaginative locales and explosions delivering you neatly to the end of the ride where it at least appears that the good guys won... but they didn't. Kudos for that and for setting up what could be a great franchise. Story wise, and again only for the diehards (if you've never seen G.I.Joe or don't know anything of it outside of a little toy with kung-fu grip, you're safe) it's a tainted premise but obviously we'll muddle through. Popcorn movie epic and no bathroom breaks.
"... human life is cheap."
Where to begin..? Originally believed a 'B' film in their product, Warner Bros. never conceived the effect the movie would have. Shot in sequence due to a script written daily, the actors never knew what to expect from the characters day after day. The fact that not even the writers knew who would win the girl till the night before the classic scene was shot. And yet 'Casablanca' is listed at No. 2 on the AFI top 100 films of all time (though should, in all actuality, be flip-flopped with 'Citizen Kane' for the top spot). With success in 'High Sierra' and 'The Maltese Falcon' (Thanks in large part to a rather ignorant George Raft) Bogart was well on his way to being a legitimate leading man. This film would make him a legend a studio star and later, a legend. Sure his body of work was the main factor, but 'Casablanca' in hand with 'Falcon' created the mystique of Bogart which films like 'To Have and Have Not' and 'The Big Sleep' only fueled. A mediocre effort from Warners which molded many of their castaway Euro-stars into a great and well written tapestry where everyone stole the scene from everyone else in such fashion it appeared seamless. The film moves along introducing us to each character in perfect detail, the harsh environment of Casablanca, that war-torn sweat-box which could easily double as a Tatooine spaceport from 'Star Wars', and the Nazi imperial rule who smothers them all. Never looked upon as epic and not even filmed as such 'Casablanca' exudes Epic film in a nice tidy package. With all around fantastic effort from everyone on screen with a great turn by Claude Raines the film is a must see and worthy of No. 2 on the list (sandwiched between 'Kane' and 'The Godfather'). Quickly paced and keeping you in your seat, get the popcorn and don't even think of going to the bathroom.
Citizen Kane (1941)
Rosebud... who'd have guessed?
Originally I was accepting of the nickname of the sled, but finding out what 'Rosebud' actually was code for in the world of William Randolph Hearst... Welles was probably lucky he wasn't killed, literally. Listed as No. 1 on the AFI top 100 films of all time I think it falls just a tad short. I'd have been more than happy to see it in the No. 2 or even 3 hole behind "Casablanca" and "The Godfather" respectively. The film still is an awesome piece of American film-making and in my opinion represents one of the first great 'indie' films as everyone aside from R.K.O. turned away the young upstart and his blasphemous script (with credit to his writing partner Herman J. Mankiewicz). The film is thorough in bringing along for the journey, even if it does hit a hump at the midpoint it follows quickly enough to keep us interested. Obviously it has survived the ultimate test, which is time, to prove itself since it was basically left for dead upon original release. It also didn't help that 'Kane' is one of those films you really do need to take in more than once to fully appreciate the film-scape. (In tribute, just see their reference in an episode of 'Family Guy' as "Two long boob-less hours!") Given that Orson Welles was a filmmaker well ahead of his time, it leaves one to wonder what his legacy may have been if 'Kane' had been more widely accepted by the film industry and the populace. Unfortunately we are left to realize his greatness too close to his death and well after it. How things may have been different in Hollywood as a whole if he had been anointed the master director and ringleader of the Mercury Theater he was instead of relegated to studio actor under the 'Dream Factory' thumb. Luckily, we'll always have his 'one hit wonder' (to those who simply ignore his body of work) to remind us of 'wasted potential' (due in NO part to Welles' own effort) in epic film. Enjoy the movie, pay attention and no bathroom breaks. Oh, and pay homage to Rosebud.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
"Do you even know how to kill me?"
Marvel Comics has taken great steps in bringing along their film franchise, growing their characters and getting them ready for the 'bigtime' spotlight formerly reserved for the likes of 'Batman' and 'Superman'. With the past success of such Marvel titans 'X-Men & X-2', 'Spider-Man', 'Hulk' and now 'Iron Man', the 'X-Men Origin' series is expected to catapult the ensemble into their own tales of derring do... however 'Wolverine' didn't hit the mark. "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" marks the first of the 'Origin' line which we already know has sequels for separate characters such as Deadpool and Magneto in the works, but being the first, it felt rushed. Wolverine is already a mainstay, especially on film as he dominated the ensemble 'X-Men' series all on his own, but his first 'solo' film just seemed really smushed together for a lack of better phrasing. Yes, the origin tale place-setting of he and Sabertooth (excellently played by Liev Schriber), the Weapon X Project (Roman numeral 10, fool) and Striker plus the path-crossing heavyweights such as Cyclops, Professor-X, several members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (comic wise anyway) and the like... too many deaths of characters who should have carried on, too little emphasis on what are actual comic plot points... it just came off as a little messy. Please don't get wrong, Jackman does his usual best with his fave character to play and will do so again in the upcoming sequel... but the play itself of events is just too much (or too little depending on which plot point). Still a viable film in the Marvel Universe, it will definitely serve as a blockbuster to get the ball rolling on the 'Origins' series and renew interest in the still to come 'X-Men: First Class', but to this comic book geek who adores the original ideas of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, et al; this film just veers a little too much off course. Just shy of comic epic, bring the popcorn and skip the bathroom breaks.
Star Trek (2009)
To Boldly Go Where No Trek Has Gone Before...
To those of you 'Trekkies' (No I will not say Trekker) who walked out at the near halfway point of the film, and you know who you are... stupid. Accept change. For months we've seen the catchphrase "This is not your father's Star Trek", but it is still Gene Roddenberry's tale of 'Wagontrain to the stars'. From the start, if you are accepting of change, this film kicks off with a hellava bang and rolls pretty well. Those who may also be comic book geeks would recognize this film as a 'What If..?' or 'Elseworlds' tale, asking the question of "What would happen if..?" and giving us a very imaginative yet faithful answer. No one said this was TOS redone, but TOS reborn. Since we already know the set standard of time in the Trek Universe (even the errors and mistakes in continuity), isn't it just really damn cool to start over, yet not, all at the same time? J.J. Abrhams brought to the film what the feature film series needed two decades ago... a big name director with big time vision. Wise, Meyer, Nimoy and Frakes all did great jobs (as did those who remain nameless for what they had to work with), but the franchise long ago required a Spielberg or Jackson or as it almost was once upon a time, a Lucas to bring the vision of wild west in space to vivid light (or Idustrial Light and Magic). Yes, plenty of you hardcore to the death 'Trekkies' will curse J.J.'s name wish him death for changing your precious universe, but that's your loss for not recognizing a change for the better. (We all remember how Tasha Yar became a Romulan do we not?) Its not a prequel technically, its not an update or really even a 'reboot', but it is epic in scope given the vast material which preceded it. Very well paced with action, drama, humor and place-setting (oh the joy of sequels) it is a great new look at our old favorites (most of the actors partially picked and approved by TOS vet Nimoy). Worthy of the tag 'epic' and a must see for any science fiction fan or real movie buff. Bring popcorn and bathroom breaks forbidden.
Punisher: War Zone (2008)
Someone must punish the corrupt...
Thomas Jane.. get in the back seat. Dolph Lundgren.. get out. The Punisher has arrived. Though Jane's Punisher was slightly more emotional and carried more star power, this go 'round is right off the page. Following closer to the storyline than any of the previous flicks, Stevenson hits his character mark like a gold brick. Cold, nearly emotionless (except for his family and the occasional screw-up) and the perfect machine to carry out the punishment of the corrupt. Though Thomas Jane had a meatier script with a far better supporting cast, Stevenson gets the comic book movie. A villain who was trying a little to hard to be a Joker or Two-Face type (as compared to Travolta's cold care-free villain in the previous fare) this Punisher stills kills and blows stuff up with a good deal of gusto. The opening 20 minutes alone rivals the glued to your seat final 20 minutes of action the Punisher represents. With a slight recall of Lundgren's "You're guilty, you die" type, yet not as emotional or torn as Jane's brooding sort of anti-hero, this is definitely the Punisher the comics books wrote about.. just not the villain or supporting characters he really needed. Not quit comic epic, but bring the popcorn and no bathroom breaks.
Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)
A signature WB 'Gangster' film...
Warner's christened the 'Gangster' genre with "Little Ceaser" and Cagney's "Public Enemy" and suddenly re-lit the fire of the genre with "Angels.." not only great storyline but fine castings. Cagney and O'Brien had been cast in buddy films a few times prior and were excellent pals off the screen (though opposites just the same), and the film's fork in the road angle made for a great contrast. While Rocky's delinquent was crafted into cold machine, Jerry's escaped delinquent not only wishes to take the rap but turns over the new leaf as a result... "Don't be a sucker!" As many of the films of the time (see director 'Wild' Bill Wellman as a reference) preached of the system's failings, "Angels.." gave us the proof. Rocky's cold and heartless machine returns to the old home ghetto to churn the next generation of 'Rockys' without even knowing it, while Father Jerry not only prays for his pal's soul, but his downfall. Throw the rather sweet yet sensual Ann Sheridan into the mix and you have a movie. Warner's usual ploy of root for the gangster but cheer for his fall is in full swing as we see it through the eyes of the 'Dead End Kids' angels with dirty faces... their hero dies a coward. Or does he? Cagney, often asked about his performance in Rocky's final scene, always said he left ambiguous for a reason. You watch and you decide. A good film will always make you question or perhaps say 'That could happen', but a great film will often leave you saying "Hey...did that.. wha?" (but in a good way) A great classic film.. a popcorn movie all day long and no bathroom breaks!
Quantum of Solace (2008)
An Amount of Comfort...
Yes, the title "Quantum of Solace" is taken from a short story of Flemming's... this film however has nothing to do with it. The title and it's scientific meaning is quite applicable as at this point there is quite an amount of comfort with Daniel Craig as 007. Though a bit more violent than most of it's predecessors, 'Solace' follows the current formula with excellent results. Very little in the gadget department, but the right mix of guns, booze and hot broads. Connery (and to an extent even Lazenby) should be proud. Yes, Roger Moore was a bit outspoken on the violence, but he was the comedic Bond. A one two punch of 007 hasn't been thrown this hard nor this effective since the original debut of "Dr. No" & "From Russia...", the last one-two combination of any real 007 mettle being Moore's "For Your Eyes Only" & "Octo*****". Again, the formula of little gadgetry, a lot of girls and villainous stories. Though I agree with Judy Dench and Daniel Craig that the characters of 'Moneypenny' and 'Q' should be returned to the background environment, I'd hate for it to be at the expense of the current formula. The first 007 sequel (or prequel, depending on how you look at it) to pick up directly where the preceding film left off and introducing us to Quantum, the obligatory successor to 'S.P.E.C.T.R.E.' (which just sounds cooler anyway) we're given insight that Bond's job is far from over... and that there are sequels a plenty to follow. The mix of friends, villains and Bond Girls makes great contrast against Craig's brooding and bruised agent (both internally and externally). The fact that M can note "They will do anything for you, won't they?" is a great psychological dig at the many years established as the screen's most suave user of the female form... physically, mentally and fatally. Though I was not a fan of the opening title sequence (a departure from the established formula from Maurice Binder and his successors) I was pleased to see the return of the 'Three White Dots' at films end as a pre-cursor to the next film. A great popcorn film which keeps you in the seat. Well paced and action filled with very little lag.... no bathroom breaks.
The 'Saturday Matinée' idol who never was...
But is still the greatest 'Serial' adventure hero to not star in a 10 part series... yet.
Yes, the Saturday matinée serials that inspired Spielberg and Lucas are in full glory as we can see.
Sure a lot of critics said this that and the other... it's a fun movie that takes you on the journey for under three hours.
A Movie! That's what it is supposed to do.
Doctor Jones is at it again, just as we love.
Yes, the film and script does swerve a little off the formula, but not near as bad as 'Temple of Doom', and delivers Indy to a genre we hadn't imagined.. Sci-Fi. So, aliens and Russians instead of Nazi's and Christ Almighty. It still works.
Now, Indy's calling to Junior.. it works.. if not in some corny reversal.
He's still Doctor Jones, named after the dog and saving the free world from the forces of whatever earthly or other worldly evil threatens us... all in the name of archeology.
And what a wonderful gift we may have in the form of Indy's WWII adventures in the form of pre-quels... ah but to challenge Lucas and Spielberg just a little more.
Adventure epic.. popcorn and no breaks.