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The Wolverine (2013)
Not as good as other superhero films of the year, but miles better than the first three X-Men films.
The X-Men films have always been kind of hit-or-miss, in my opinion. The first 2 installments are both really good (X2 the best out of the pair), but they seem underwhelming to me in a way, being a fan that watched other superhero films first, ones that were more recent and had more of a fanbase. As any fan knows, X3 failed to impress in almost every respect, only delivering fully action-wise and with a certain after- credits scene. First Class is definitely the best of the bunch, even though it does get fairly juvenile at times with the younger mutants' story lines. Origins was a spin-off film that still didn't reveal anything new about the character, and was a convoluted mess because of it, despite some great action scenes. And they have all done their part to confuse fans with the continuity errors and plot holes. However, even after all this, they are still very well done. They have some of the best casts ever assembled, and boast top-shelf special effects. This particular film is an excellent example of that. Jackman returns to the role that made him famous among American audiences, sharing the screen with a mostly foreign cast that still manages to hold its own. It is an adaptation of the comics' Japan Saga, but holds several surprises due to some worthwhile liberties taken. Logan finds himself in a dark place after the events of X3. He is basically just a wanderer, much like he was before the events of X1. He is asked to return to Japan as part of a favor for a man whose life he saved during World War II. Once he gets there, nothing proves to be as it seems. The country holds many enemies and a few friends for him, and he might just not come out of it alive. I say that with absolute seriousness. Due to a certain critical plot point, Wolverine might just lose what makes him a mutant and not be able to get it back. There is action, suspense, and tragedy aplenty. Jackman gives a terrific performance, finally being able to deliver on what Origins fell far short of doing - really figuring out the Wolverine character, emotionally, mentally, and physically. The only problem I had with the film is that the story required a certain amount of filling stuff in for myself, and some stuff that I had to ask others about afterwards. But other than that, it proved to be a great film, a great superhero movie, and a great performance by Jackman and his foreign co-stars.
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
Wraps up Bourne's story in the best way possible.
Definitely the best of the franchise. Due to the story elements, this film operates on a different level than the first two, but it all works out. Ultimatum finds Bourne still suffering from his wounds that were inflicted at the end of Supremacy, desperate to get out of Moscow. He is determined to put an end to the agency's search for him. Within the agency, we meet Noah Vosen, the new head of the still ongoing search for Bourne. He reports directly to the CIA director, Ezra Kramer. Vosen proves to be nowhere near Bourne's capabilities, so he calls in Pamela Landy, introduced in Supremacy, to help him out. Much like she did with Brian Cox's character Abbott in Supremacy, she begins to grow suspicious of why the agency really wants Bourne and if he might actually be innocent. To further complicate things, there is a reporter in London who has some very interesting information on Bourne's past, but also has a very mysterious source that might be directly involved with the whole thing. And, of course, Bourne has begun having more visions. Like before, they are just brief flashes of scenes from his his past, along with voices and faces he doesn't recognize. In his quest to figure all this out, Bourne travels from Moscow, to Naples, to Madrid, to Tangiers, and finally, to New York City. This is where the final scene from Supremacy comes into play. It is seamlessly integrated into Ultimatum's storyline. Bourne meets up with Nicky Parsons, a former agency employee that is now willing to help him. She sees something in Bourne, much like what Marie saw in him. She begins to realize that he might very well be innocent, and that the agency is trying to eliminate an innocent man. This relationship between them is not at all romantic, but is very important. Bourne sees Nicky as someone that he can just use at first, but later, he realizes that she genuinely wants to help. Therefore, he has to protect her just because she didn't tell on him. Nicky sees Bourne as a highly tortured and emotionally conflicted person. I think that she has also had enough of the agency, and wants to do whatever she can. All throughout the film, we are treated to spectacular chases, fights, and some terrific acting by the entire cast. All of which has become expected from these films, and never gets old. Due to the agency's continued search and the inclusion of the reporter/source subplot, a lot of the film is spent away from Bourne. But this actually works in Bourne/Damon's favor, because literally everything that is happening is always focused on Bourne and what he is doing. Each member of the cast realizes and fully understands their role, and how their character ties in with the script. It is a great film because it ratchets up the intensity and suspense from the first two, without being overbearing or too simplistic.
The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
An extremely underrated - and awesome - action thriller.
As we all know, it is not very often that a sequel outdoes its predecessor. The Bourne franchise is not usually mentioned in this type of conversation, but Supremacy is a good example of it. Everything from the story, to the action, to the acting, to the intrigue, is kicked up a notch. The film brings Bourne into the proceedings while he is trying to enjoy an extended period of hiding with Marie from the agencies that are seeking to eliminate him. But, all good things must come to an end. Jason begins having terrible dreams, featuring quick bursts of scenes from his past, which of course he doesn't remember ever occurring. The CIA has found someone new to headline the tracking down of Bourne following Conklin's death in Identity. This is Pamela Landy, who is refreshingly all business, but very practical and rational. She is obviously the one best suited for the job, in that she can match anything Bourne can throw at them. But there is deadly intrigue in Landy's ranks also, in the form of Ward Abbott, Conklin's former boss. Since Conklin's death, he has seemingly thought it was all over because Bourne was dead or no longer a problem. Not so. Someone has framed two murders and the intentional botching of a CIA operation in Berlin on Bourne. He comes out of the shadows on a totally separate mission of vengeance, but before long, is drawn into an ever-so convoluted mission of clearing his name and figuring out how it all connects to his very first mission as an agent. As part of this, new -to-the-franchise director Paul Greengrass puts his own spin on the proceedings. His hyper-quick editing (especially during the action scenes) has been strongly criticized, but as I have mentioned before, I actually enjoy it. The editing gives the audience (and Bourne, presumably) the feeling of not knowing what's going on. Bourne is still suffering from amnesia, so he still doesn't really know where his training stems from. His reactions during such situations are only known to him, and we don't usually figure out what he's doing until it's already done. Bourne is not at all predictable or contrived as a character, which makes him so charismatic and easy to sympathize with. He doesn't truthfully know why or how he does what he does, he just does it. Therefore, during the action scenes, if one considers themselves a true fan, they must jump in and hang on for dear life. All the performances are terrific, with each one of the cast members getting at least one scene where they are allowed to shine. Supremacy is what results when we have seen Identity, and are therefore no longer needing introductions. We (somewhat) know who the characters are and what their involvement is in the story, and are now ready to get down to business. Supremacy is an amazing and ridiculously intense thriller, and I'm here to tell you - don't believe the detractors of the film or franchise until you watch it for yourself.
The Bourne Identity (2002)
He's gonna find them and kill them, but he's not Liam Neeson!!
To say that Jason Bourne is comparable to James Bond is something of an understatement and a very underrated claim at the same time. They even have the same initials, by the way. Some might say that it is just being clichéd to compare the two, but in my mind, it truly works. Where Bond is suave and impressionable, Bourne is direct and doesn't really care what people think of him. The film definitely departs from the source material, but not to its discredit. The film manages to transcend the genre by taking the places and names from the books and create its own original story. It follows the baseline of the books, but crafts a world for our main character which is plausible and modern enough to not even appear dated. The performances are all top-notch; as it should be, the persona Damon creates as Bourne is by far the best role in the film. I would say its absolutely one of his best roles - what one would call a tour-De-force performance. However, ample support is supplied from the rest of the cast also. Potente is especially good, and even though Cooper just seems really mad all the time, it really is a testament to his acting abilities if one watches his other movies and understands his immense range. Something that only just recently came to me about these films is the diversity of the cast. There is Bourne, who is a definite loner, even when he's with Marie. He can never get over the changes that his experiences have forced him to make, and he is therefore incredibly tortured by conflicting emotions and thoughts all the time. So no matter who he interacts with, the focus is always on Bourne. He functions in all situations the same, and deals with everybody (except Marie) more or less the same. He is what he is, and you either love him or hate him - no gray area. Then we have those who are tracking and/or trying to kill him, and they have their own separate part of the movie that only sometimes interacts with Bourne. Because of all this, everything is literally on Damon's shoulders to carry the movie, and that is why he is so great. Just like Bourne, Damon has to stand out. If he doesn't, then his role means nothing, and the viewer doesn't care about what happens. This is much like what happens in "Unknown", the fairly recent Liam Neeson vehicle, which has a very similar storyline to the Bourne films. The movie also fits in rather nicely with the other two, and creates a viable trilogy. One might say that they prefer Liman's directing simply due to the fact he doesn't use choppy editing like Greengrass did, but I understand the need for both methods in their element and could not imagine either one to be any different. As with all three of the Bourne films, the action is astonishingly simple once one gets used to it, and anyone is more than welcome to freeze-frame and follow the choreography. Some have said that the way these films compose the action sequences is unnecessarily fast and showy. I disagree. The films' choreography is a symbol for the character of Bourne. The action is literally so fast it's over before you even realize, much like it is from Bourne's side of things. Due to his amnesia, he doesn't understand what he's doing either, per Se. It's a reflex for him to react the way he does. He just does it, without hesitation or remorse, which is exactly why he's so good as an agent. I will say that for me, the franchise's only disadvantage is for anyone who's never seen the films before. When I first watched the films, I didn't really understand it either. It was all too complicated for me at the time. But after watching all three of the Damon films (haven't seen Legacy yet) several times once I got older, I have progressively understood what is going on within each one. Once I understand what's going on, it's a piece of cake to invest myself in the story and characters. But for those who are beginners like I was at one time, the films probably seem horrible. That's when I would say to stick with them for the long haul - watch them all again, if you have to. I love these films, and I would strongly recommend them to anyone. Don't underestimate the awesomeness of Bourne.
Men in Black (1997)
An always surprising and amazing action/adventure sci-fi comedy.
One of the best and most original films to come out of Hollywood in the last 20 years. Director Barry Sonnenfeld takes his unashamedly different approaches to film and comedy into the area of the "comic book movie franchise" genre. The wonderful cast is headed up by the always dependable Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith as Agents K and J, respectively. It is an absolutely delightful film, in every sense of the word. The movie combines drama with humor and action, and does it very well. It is the best film I've seen in the area of achieving these moments of fierce action and real-world occurrences, directly followed up by moments of off-the-wall sci-fi adventure and outrageous dialog/characterizations/body language. 'Men in Black' is more or less three parallel stories running simultaneously, all expertly navigated by Sonnenfeld. We have the background story of the Men in Black agency, being told to us by Agent K and Director Zed (Rip Torn). In a nutshell, the agency has been around for a long time now. It is tasked with monitoring alien activity and protecting Earth's citizens from any harm the aliens might have planned. Smith first shows up as NYPD cop James Edwards, who through a very strange (yet hilarious) set of occurrences, is gradually inducted into the agency and learns the ropes, therefore becoming the newest recruit. And we have the not-so-unfortunate story of a douche bag farmer named Edgar, who is killed but his skin is used as a disguise 'Edgar suit' for an evil alien bug. This bug plans to find an item of great importance to him and to other alien races, so that a certain war between two of these races can continue, and his own race can continue to feed off the casualties - literally. Now, while this may seem like a lot of unnecessary explanation leading to a lot of unnecessary exposition in the film, this is simply not so. The story is explained, very quickly, in just a few scenes. Sometimes, we figure out things as the characters do, other times, we are let in on stuff long before the characters ever are. But the film does not ever lose pace because of these elements, nor does it stop so the audience can catch up with all these goings-on. The film purposefully barrels along at a breakneck speed, and the audience is just expected to dive right in and hold on for dear life. Once this is accomplished, the story is really not that hard to understand. However, if one feels that the story disappoints or just doesn't understand it, then the film is always entertaining just as a great popcorn flick. This would also probably be the case for why small children enjoy these films so much - they may not understand the story particulars, but they like the special effects and the comedic moments. This is all assisted by not only the main cast, but also by several great character actors and actresses, such as Tony Shalhoub and Siobhan Fallon. Whichever way you look at it, 'Men in Black' is a ridiculously entertaining ride of action and all kinds of comedy, and I highly recommend it. Which is not something I can say for 'Men in Black II', unfortunately. Since I haven't seen 'Men in Black III' as of yet, I cannot comment on it in the slightest. I'm hoping it's just as good, or better even, than this first installment.
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Unlike IM2, this one does not disappoint. Don't listen to the haters, it's a great movie!
Obviously one of the most anticipated blockbusters of the year. It's always very important for any movie in a franchise to do well after a big movie, such as the event that was "The Avengers". But IM3 totally exceeded the expectations and proved that we fans had nothing to worry about. It combines all the best things from the previous two Iron Man films, with a story and a cast that was still original enough to make for a great movie. Also, the entire Iron Man franchise is very rooted in the ideas of self-destruction and regret. Therefore, if you pay attention to these themes in all three films, then you notice a progressive full-circle kind of thing. The first Iron Man introduced us to the character of Tony Stark and his genius, but there were slight implications of self-destruction in that if he didn't figure out something to do with all of his money and technology, then he would never be able to make up for all the mistakes he made as a weapons supplier/dealer. In IM2, he absolutely has to figure out how to fix his relationships with others and the problem with his arc reactor, or he will most certainly die and regret how he didn't fix them. And now, in Iron Man 3, his obsession with building all these different suits and using them to save the world has finally come back around to bite him in the butt, and he has to figure how to fix it all by himself. This leads to some very welcome flashbacks from Tony's experiences in "The Avengers". The film's big twist is surprising and very well thought out/set up. Others have said that this totally eliminates the entire idea of the villain, but the film makes it clear that the villain still exists within the film, just in an unexpected way. Besides, when anyone feels that the physical villain of the film does not satisfy, they can always rely on that self-destructive factor of Tony himself. That is also a villain, even if it's just in the metaphorical sense. Shane Black's direction makes sure there is a definite balance between action, great emotion/feeling, and some comedy. At times in the film, all of these things will exist in one scene, usually one right after the other. Unsurprisingly, RDJ turns in a terrific job once again. The rest of the cast also does a great job, especially Paltrow and Pearce. IM3 also doesn't disappoint in the general sense of the franchise. While Iron Man was and still is a great movie, Iron Man 2 was all over the place and never did really find a central theme, but there were certain parts of it that were very good and somewhat made up for where it fell short. Now, Iron Man 3 has absolutely wowed the socks off all its appreciative fans, and still is, according to the box office numbers. It featured what we loved from the first Iron Man in spades, while still kicking all of that up a notch with a much stronger central theme. Therefore, it is the best in the series for me.
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
Abrams knocks it out of the park yet again!!
Definitely the best big budget blockbuster of the year so far. Does not disappoint on any level whatsoever. While the fans may have been impatient for Abrams to get the ball rolling on this sequel ever since the release of the 2009 franchise reboot, practical reasoning makes it obvious that waiting is always better if the product is successful. In this sequel, the same emotions, feelings, and thoughts from the first Star Trek are all explored again, but on a much deeper and more aggressive level. This also goes for everything else in the movie. Much like the first movie, the acting is superb, the action is crazy but terrific, and the unexpected plot points are of course, always welcome. Some have compared this film to 'Iron Man 3', 'Skyfall', and 'The Dark Knight Rises' in its execution. They say that they are all too similar in plot, because they all feature a central male character that is known to regret his feelings and actions from the past. They all feature an enigmatic villain that defeats and/or humiliates the character on their own turf. The main character then has to make a decision whether or not to step outside their comfort zone, all at potential great cost to everyone else. While I agree that these similarities are true and very interesting, they do not discredit any of the mentioned films. Each of these films is fashioned in a different way, and gives the viewer an entirely different feeling. So I, for one, no matter what any detractors of this film may say, highly recommend this film to any Star Trek or sci-fi fan, or any movie fan in general. It is absolutely amazing.
The Karate Kid (1984)
Underdog + wise old mentor = cinematic genius!!
John G. Avildsen directs yet another underdog "rags-to-riches" kind of story, much like he did with the 'Rocky' films, 'Lean On Me', and '8 Seconds'. This time, the film tells the tale of a New Jersey teenager, Daniel LaRusso, who reluctantly moves with his mother to sunny California. Of course, he is an impatient and impractical smartmouth, but the real Daniel - the Daniel that's actually tolerable, is not far beneath his rough exterior. Due to his new kid status, he is bullied by the Cobra Kai, an overly aggressive group of teenage boys that are obsessed with using their own form of karate on their weaker 'inferiors'. Daniel also takes a liking to Ali, who is of course the former girlfriend of the Cobra Kai's leader. Amidst all this, he befriends the handy man at his apartment building, a Mr. Miyagi. Like everyone else, Daniel at first underestimates Miyagi. Over the course of the film, we learn that Miyagi is really a very wise man who knows a lot about karate - the less aggressive and more genuine kind. The Cobra Kai continues to torture Daniel, and he finally convinces Mr. Miyagi to teach him the ways of the ancient art. But it is not just about getting back at his tormentors - Miyagi teaches him to use karate as a way to discover himself, as well as learning about honor, responsibility, and the like. While I would agree that the film is predictable, and Daniel could get on anyone's nerves, the true magic of the story is Morita's performance as the wise handy-man/karate instructor. Rather than just come swooping in at exactly the right time to save Daniel's sorry butt, we meet him as a handy-man first, and therefore learn about him as a person before putting him into hero situations. His performance makes Daniel tolerable, because without Miyagi, I don't think anybody could stand Daniel. Morita earned an Oscar nomination for the film, and while it was highly deserved, I can't really say whether he should have won because I don't know what his competition for the award was in 1984, without researching it. However, it cannot be denied that he displayed masterful acting talent, and the only element that made the unnecessary and very repetitive sequels watchable.
Finally...Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has come back to snap necks and take names!!
Definitely the Rock's best film to date. And I don't say this just because his past movies have never received much acclaim (critical or popular), or even because he's my all-time favorite wrestler. I have never seen any of his solo movies, but I can tell from watching him in "Fast Five" that he is usually on-screen to show off his muscles and general persona of awesomeness. However, with Snitch, he is given the chance to play a character that is actually deep and emotional, much like the script. Sure, the movie has plenty of action. Of course the script is full of cops, drug cartels, and chase scenes. But this is not one of those stupid Redbox 'thrillers' starring someone who is way past their prime and just needs to retire. The Rock is at the top of his game here. He wowed me with his emotional intensity, as well as being able to hold his own alongside such phenomenal talent as Jon Bernthal, Susan Sarandon, Barry Pepper, and yes, Benjamin Bratt. But when talent like that is in some of those humdrum thrillers, they usually only have a cameo role because the star is the true attraction. Not so here. Each one of the supporting cast has a fleshed out role. We get to know them and enjoy their character's presence on screen. This allows us to have the privilege of naming Snitch as a good Sarandon vehicle, a very good Pepper vehicle, a pretty good Bratt vehicle, and an absolutely excellent effort from Bernthal. I know that action films and comedies usually get looked over at the Academy Awards, but if my opinion mattered at all during the Oscar season, I would definitely nominate the Rock for Best Actor and Bernthal for Best Supporting Actor. Snitch truly is just that good.
Dr. No (1962)
James Bond makes his first film appearance...ever!
Having never seen any Bond films outside of the newer releases starring Daniel Craig, I figured I should start off my introduction into classic Bond the right way. The film proved to be immensely entertaining. While this was Connery's first time as Bond, he plays the role so well that you would never know it otherwise. He captures Bond's personality perfectly. Craig plays the character in a more aggressive way, but both he and Connery play up the suave, gentler (and much more humorous) side of Bond to a great extent as well. The action, production design, costumes, and props are all excellent. Connery was cracking me up the entire movie with his one-liners and his cockiness. Just like Craig does in the role, he may act like he truly cares, but he's usually stringing whoever it is along as a means to an end. And that's what is so great about the character - you truly do not know what he is going to do next. I would have preferred it if the villainous Dr. No would have appeared earlier in the movie so he could establish more of a presence, but that really was the only drawback for me. Everything else considering, it was an absolutely stellar film, and a great Bond film (especially since it was the first). I may be rather late to the game of seeing the Bond films with Connery, but I'm definitely down with watching the other films in the future.