by Steve Habrat
Last summer, Marvel Studios kicked off Phase 2 of their cinematic universe with Iron Man 3, a film that featured a marketing campaign that hinted that this new set of superhero films would embrace a darker tone. Unfortunately, many were left disappointed, as Iron Man 3 quickly succumbed to the creeping sarcasm and carefree antics that Tony Stark had become known for. The hope for some darker action carried over to November’s Thor: The Dark World, which suggested that things might be getting grittier for the Norse god, but once again the audience got more of Marvel’s winking escapism. To make things worse, Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World implied that Marvel might be producing these films a little too quickly, as they were far from the superhero factory’s best efforts. Somebody should tell Stan Lee that even superheroes need some time off. Now, right on the cusp of the summer movie season, audiences are given the chance to catch up with super soldier Steve Rogers in Captain America: The Winter Solider, which easily ranks as the best solo-Avengers outing yet. Under the direction of Joe and Anthony Russo, Captain America: The Winter Soldier finds Marvel getting in touch with their dark side, and opting for a much more plot-driven approach that caters more to adults than to the pint-sized viewer. The result is a heart-pounding political thriller that gives Joss Whedon’s The Avengers a run for its money as the best superhero film from Marvel Studios.
Two years after the battle for New York City, Steve Rogers aka Captain America (played by Chris Evans) has been living in Washington D.C., where he has been attempting to adjust to modern day life and taking on various missions for intelligence agency S.H.I.E.L.D. One day, Rogers is approached by S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson) about leading a rescue mission to help save a S.H.I.E.L.D. ship from a band of vicious Algerian pirates. The rescue mission seems to go as planned, but Rogers is enraged to learn that fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Natasha Romanoff aka The Black Widow (played by Scarlett Johansson) nearly compromised the rescue attempt by stopping to collect classified data from the ship’s computer for Fury. Upon returning to Washington D.C., Fury briefs Rogers on Project Insight, which involves three massive gunships that are able to neutralize dangerous threats before they even happen. Rogers is less the pleased to learn about S.H.I.E.L.D.’s new defensive program, but things get worse after Fury is attacked and nearly killed by a mysterious assassin known only as The Winter Soldier (played by Sebastian Stan). With orders from Fury to not trust anyone at S.H.I.E.L.D., including their senior leader, Alexander Pierce (played by Robert Redford), Rogers enlists the help of Romanoff and newly befriended war hero Sam Wilson aka Falcon (played by Anthony Mackie) to help him uncover S.H.I.E.L.D.’s dirty secrets—secrets that could threaten the lives of millions of innocent American citizens.
Unlike usual Marvel fare, Captain America: The Winter Soldier doesn’t focus all of its energy on the CGI battles, explosions, fistfights, showdowns, and whatever else gets the audience’s adrenaline pumping. Sure, there is no shortage of action to be found in The Winter Solider—that I can assure you—but what we have here is something that gets more mileage out of the complex plot and meaty character development. Credit this welcome shift to Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who provide a screenplay that reaches back to Cap’s pulpy WWII origins while never forgetting to develop the modern characters that, up until now, have gotten by on name recognition alone from diehard Marvel Universe fanboys. Sure, we knew a bit about Johansson’s The Black Widow thanks to Whendon’s work in The Avengers, but she still acted as more of a pretty face and a fit body filling out a skin-tight jumpsuit than a properly developed member of the eccentric fighting force. She was simply riding a wave of voluptuous sex appeal before this entry came along. And then there is Jackson’s Nick Fury, another member that has acted as the one-dimensional link between Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, and Captain America. Here, we finally get a bit of backstory on the trench coat-clad S.H.I.E.L.D. director, and we are even given a chance to peak behind the famous eye patch.
As far as the character of Steve Rogers aka Captain America goes, he’s still a good deal of fun as he tries to bring himself up to our modern times. In between working his way through his list of music to listen to, movies to see, and various other fun facts to brush up on, he wrestles with the post-9/11 world in which we now live. No longer do our enemies wear uniforms or clearly identify themselves. Instead, they lurk in plain sight, acting as an ally before dealing a cataclysmic and calculated blow. Even more perplexing to the Cap is the way S.H.I.E.L.D. now plans on dealing with these emerging threats—neutralizing them before they even occur. “I thought the punishment came after the crime?,” he asks. If only things were that easy! It’s a mature thrill to watch Cap pull back the layers of filth and corruption around him, and it’s an even bigger thrill to hear him remind us that sometimes you need a bit of old fashioned to combat these new threats. And then there is Mackie’s Wilson aka Falcon, a courageous war hero who is willing to stand proudly next to the Cap, no matter how dangerous the situation may be. He may not have the abilities that Rogers has, but when he straps on that wicked jet pack and flies into battle with barely any armor to protect him from the bullets and bombs exploding around him, you want to stand up and cheer.
The most surprising presence in Captain America: The Winter Soldier is none other than Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce, the tough-talking head of S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s best not to reveal too terribly much about his character, but his inclusion here makes the ‘70’s political thriller echoes ring just a little bit louder than they already do. It’s a welcome surprise to see Redford jumping into the realm of escapism, and he seems to be thoroughly enjoying every single second of his role. Probably the most hit-or-miss character here is none other than The Winter Solider, the mysterious bad guy with a buzzing metal arm and dark hair hanging in his face. For those who are only familiar with Captain America through his rollicking cinematic adventures, I won’t ruin the big reveal about his character, but what I will tell you is that his character’s full potential is never fully reached. He’s certainly a formidable villain as he jumps, kicks, and shoots at the Cap and his sidekicks, but we just don’t get enough of the powerful assassin. His relegation to a secondary foe is a bit of a letdown, but rest assured that there is plenty of emotional weight behind his fiery final showdown with Rogers.
With all of these juicy characters and the riveting plot taking center stage in The Winter Soldier, we almost forget to stop and admire all the gritty action that explodes with hair-raising strength. This time around, we get a nifty, Captain Phillips-esque hostage situation that lashes out with brutal fury as the Cap and his team execute strategic moves to diffuse the situation. There is also my personal favorite, the highway gun battle centerpiece, a sequence that roars with danger and destruction as cars explode, Gatling guns spin to life, and the Cap has his first up-close-and-personal encounter with The Winter Soldier. And then there is the colossal aerial finale that boasts tumbling gunships, even more gunfights, breathtaking fistfights, and a heaping pile of destruction. Trust me, folks, it’s an absolute doozy that leaves you gasping for air. Overall, Captain America: The Winter Soldier marks a new high for Marvel Studios. It’s a brainy superhero adventure that doesn’t even dream of skimping on expert storytelling, captivating character development, or high-stakes action. It’s downright impossible to walk away without wanting more of Captain America.
by Steve Habrat
After some of last year’s massive releases (The Hunger Games, The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit), you had to wonder if 2013 could even hold a candle to what blockbusters blasted their way through the local Regal Cinemas in 2012. It turns out that 2013 looks to be packing some seriously entertaining movies that will be luring us in droves to the theater throughout the year. So, without further ado, here are ten movies I just cannot wait to see this year. I’ll see ya at the theater.
10.) Monster’s University
Let’s be honest, in the past two years, Pixar has sort of been tanking. Absolutely no one but a rabid bunch of seven year olds was asking for a sequel to Cars and Brave had its heart in the right place but it fell short of being a true classic. Enter those lovable spooks Mike and Sully from Monsters, Inc, who may just be able to shake Pixar out of their frustrating funk. If you haven’t seen the trailer for the movie, do make sure you check it out. It’s absolutely hilarious. Acting as a prequel to Monsters, Inc, Monster’s University shows us all how Mike and Sully met in college and how they formed their friendship. There is a lot riding on this, Pixar, so don’t screw it up.
9.) Pacific Rim
Since 2008, visionary director Guillermo del Toro has been busy playing the role of producer to some middle of the road horror movies and some lackluster animated features. This summer, the director of Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth returns to the director’s chair with Pacific Rim, an apocalyptic science-fiction epic about giant monsters emerging from a portal under the sea and ripping humans to shreds. Well, it just so happens that the humans have developed giant robots that are capable of kicking monster ass. The trailer looks like the coolest B-movie you will ever see and the action looks like it will shake down the walls of the theater. Count me in, Mr. del Toro. I’ll be there wearing a pair of 3D glasses and a smile from ear to ear.
8.) World War Z
Everywhere you look these days, it is all about zombies, which isn’t a bad thing. Naturally, Hollywood is taking notice (again) and bringing World War Z, the zombie epic from Max Brooks, to the big screen. Yes, the trailer isn’t a complete knockout and it is directed by Marc Foster, the director of the forgettable Bond movie Quantum of Solace, but it did appear to have some MASSIVE zombie action. If you’re looking for another plus, look no further than Brad Pitt, who is starring as a terrified family man in this epic adventure of the undead. While I don’t expect it to match the quality of the book, it has been a while since there has been a really great zombie movie in theaters. It’s about time we got another zombie fix!
7.) Evil Dead
Initially, I wasn’t sold on this spiffed up remake of Sam Raimi’s horror classic but then I laid eyes on the gore-drenched trailer. My jaw was on the floor and I considered jumping onto Fandango to grab an advanced ticket right then and there. Produced by Raimi, original star Bruce Campbell, original producer Robert G. Tapert, and directed by Fede Alvarez, Evil Dead looks like it will be THE horror movie to see this year. The trailer has it all, the boomstick, arms being sawed off, showers of pus, firehose blasts of blood, tongues being cut in half, and, yes, those frisky trees. If you are a fan of horror or Raimi’s terrifying original, you’re probably already in line. I’m going to call it now and say this movie is going to rock.
6.) The Great Gatsby
Originally supposed to be in theaters on Christmas day 2012, this lavish interpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic story looks like it is going to pack enough eye candy to fuel a dozen blockbusters. It’s directed by Baz Lurhmann (Romeo & Juliet, Moulin Rouge), so you know it will be hip and stylish, and it stars none other than Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role, which automatically makes it a must see (Did you see him in Django Unchained?!). Certainly an odd release for summer 2013 (and in 3D?), it should be interesting to see how the film lands with critics, especially since it is never a good sign when a release date is tinkered with, and how the film stacks up against its superhero (Iron Man 3, The Wolverine, Man of Steel) and science fiction (Star Trek) competition.
5.) Kick Ass 2
I’m a superhero nut. If you haven’t figured it out by now then there may be something wrong with you. I absolutely LOVED 2010’s Kick Ass, a film that ended up making my ten best of that year. It was bizarre, controversial, funny, smart, exciting, and just plain unique. With director Jeff Wadlow (Cry Wolf, Never Back Down) taking over original director Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class, Layer Cake), I fear the film may not hit you across the face like the first film did, but with Jim Carrey signing on as ex-mobster-turned-superhero Colonel Stars and Stripes and even more of Chloe Grace Mortez’s foul-mouthed Hit Girl, how could you not be intrigued?
4.) The Lone Ranger
Many people are already trashing Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger, labeling it a dud before it even hits theaters. Give it a chance, people! I understand that Cowboys vs. Aliens left a bad taste in your mouth but this should be infinitely more fun than that piece of trash. With the very talented Armie Hammer (The Social Network) behind that famous mask, Johnny Depp bringing heaping amounts of weird to Tonto, and plenty of smashing and crashing trains, this should be a big, loud, and rollicking adventure across the west. Plus, the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie was really good and Rango proved that Verbinski is up-and-up on his westerns. So, can we stop judging this before we see it?
3.) Star Trek: Into Darkness
If you are one of the people who has yet to see J.J. Abrams’ first Star Trek movie, you may want to just run out and pick up the Blu-ray now. It’s THAT good and I’m not even a Star Trek buff. After a lengthy wait, we FINALLY get a follow-up that looks like it will smash the first film to smithereens. Cities are leveled, Pine’s Captain Kirk looks like he has finally met his match, Zachary Quinto’s Spock looks like he is finally getting with Zoe Saldana’s Uhura, and Benedict Cumberbatch looks like he is going to make your skin crawl as Khan. Who’s up for the midnight showing?
2.) Iron Man 3/Thor: The Dark World
A tie at number 2?! Come on, guys, we can kinda lump these two together. The Avengers kicked major ass and you know full well these two films will be working hard to both set up The Avengers sequel and sort of tie in with each other. Plus, the first Thor was a pleasant surprise and Iron Man 3 looks like it will have some rip-roaring action that will have you jumping back in line for seconds. I mean, did you SEE the Super Bowl trailer for Iron Man 3? I thought so. We have yet to see a trailer for Thor: The Dark World but I’m confident it will be just as impressive. Keep up the good work, Marvel. Don’t let us down now.
1.) Man of Steel
Being a massive DC comics fan (my favorite superhero is Batman), I’m always rooting for their movies but I think we can all agree that they have produced some major duds over the years. The last time we saw Superman, he was hovering around Metropolis in Superman Returns, sulking over Lois Lane, fighting Lex Luthor (again), and creepily watching a kid he believed to be his son. It was a huge disappointment and also the cure for insomnia. Thankfully, Brandon Routh and Bryan Singer are out and Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan are in for Man of Steel. Yes, I know Snyder has directed a few questionable films (300, Sucker Punch) but he did a bang up job with Watchmen (I’m sure many will disagree with me there), and Nolan managed to produce the greatest superhero trilogy of all time (The Dark Knight Trilogy). Together, it appears that they may have successfully reinvented Supes and made him exciting again. The two trailers we have seen so far have suggested a darker atmosphere and a brooding tone, but boy, does this movie look exciting. With an all-star cast in place and General Zod being the villain (excuse me while I nerd out for a minute), Man of Steel is shaping up to be the must-see film of the summer.
Didn’t see the movie you’re looking forward to on this list? Leave a comment and tell me which movie you can’t wait to see. I love hearing from you!
by Craig Thomas
I have a confession. The Resident Evil movies fascinate me. Now, I am not saying they are good. In fact, they are terrible in every single regard. Yet they are massive, massive hits. That shouldn’t be too surprising, seeing as they have an in-built and continually regenerating fan-base (the sixth installment of the computer game franchise came out this year). Even so, after four of the things you would have thought people would have caught on.
But I am part of the problem. I have seen all of them. Without doubt, each one should have been a nail in the career of Paul W. S. Anderson. In fact, they’re just the opposite, whatever that is symbolized by. Let me make it clear for those who don’t know:
He is a terrible film-maker.
By now you might have guessed that I do not like the work of Paul W. S. Anderson, or of the Resident Evil films. You would be correct. Yet I cannot look away. In fact, I go hunting them out, similar to the sexual deviants looking for car crashes in David Cronenberg’s brilliantly twisted adaptation of the J. G. Ballard novel, Crash. I am like that. But without the sexual deviancy, obviously.
If you have ever seen one of his films, you would know that, unlike his (not really) namesake, Paul Thomas Anderson, he does not know how to deal with actors. Whilst the latter can get a great performance of out pretty much anyone, getting someone to “phone it in” in Resident Evil would be something of an achievement.
But there is something about the Resident Evil franchise and the influence of Paul W. S. Anderson that makes the whole experience poisonous to the creative spirit. It’s bizarre, because at times it is less convincing than watching the CGI cut-scenes from when the game was first released back in 1996. It’s like he has tried to transpose directly from the game to the screen.
Perhaps it is all down to the writing, which is abhorrent. The dialogue is clunky and patronizing, and everything in the relatively straight-forward plot is explained, often twice. PWSA has written all five of them, but directed only three, so it would seem this to be the most common factor. But having written and directed Resident Evil: Retribution, all the blame falls on him.
So having seen the fifth one, is there any difference between it and the others? In a word, no. The dialogue is awful and the acting is worse. The story is stupid and the characters are unbelievable.
In this particular installment they are trapped in an old Soviet submarine base which has been modified by the evil Umbrella Corporation. Thanks to the miracle of cloning, all the old characters return, though not necessarily with the same personalities. The rest of the plot is pretty much just an excuse for jumping, shooting and generally blowing stuff up. The film basically takes the plot full circle, back to the first installment, but this time on a global scale.
It is remarkable how after five films, nothing has improved. Not a single thing. It isn’t even so-bad-its-good awful, it is just plain awful. Yet I cannot stop watching to see how ridiculous it is going to get. By the end of the franchise I think I am going to use up the global supply of exasperation.
I think the best thing about the whole franchise is the fact that each film ends on a cliff-hanger, which is a cheap way to get you excited about the next one, and there is always a next one. But it kind of becomes like at the end of a TV series, which you watch out of habit just to see what happens, rather than gaining any enjoyment out of it.
“What’s the second best thing about the franchise?” I hear you ask. It’s brevity. They all last about 90 minutes, which is just about long enough for them to not outstay their welcome. I think this is part of the reason for their success and part of the reason I can tolerate this nonsense. This is supported by the fact that I am physically incapable of sitting through one of the Michael Bay monstrosities that regularly push the three hour mark.
But for everything, the biggest crime committed here is that the idea itself is not a bad one. I like to see sexy women killing hideous monsters in a post-apocalyptic wasteland as much as the next guy (ie a lot), but having it done in such a relentlessly awful manner really spoils an opportunity to do something interesting and entertaining and profitable. They have just gone for profitable.
So yeah, if you’ve seen any of the others then you already know whether or not you will like this one. As for me, despite everything, I can’t wait until the next one, sadly.
by Steve Habrat
America, you can all breath a collective sigh of relief. That nagging question on all of your minds has finally been answered. We now know what it looks like when Ghost Rider urinates! I know, I know, I was wondering when we would finally get the definitive answer to that brain-melting question. Thank you, Marvel! On a serious note, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is another swing and a miss for the Marvel Knights, the spin-off studio of Marvel Studios. Marvel Knights, we created in an attempt to bring some of the darker superheroes from the comic pages to the big screen and so far, they are zero for two (the other masterpiece from this branch division is Punisher: War Zone). With a fresh pair of directors (Crank’s Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor) and the studio hitting the restart button (subtly), Marvel somehow managed to make things even worse and make a film so unpleasant, the only reason it avoided the direct-to-DVD barging bin was the fact that Nicolas Cage’s name is leading the credits. To my astonishment, Cage throws himself into Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance with such maniacal delight, I think that he may have finally hit rock bottom, and I thought that bottom was the FIRST Ghost Rider. Cage must really be a big fan of Ghost Rider and really hurting for money to agree to do this to himself. And to think that this man won an Oscar.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance picks up eight years after Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider (Played by Cage) battled the gathering satanic forces on American soil. He has been on the run and hiding out in Eastern Europe ever since, trying to deal with the curse that has been put on him by Roarke (Mephistopheles) (Played by Ciarán Hinds). Blaze soon finds himself approached by French priest Moreau (Played by Idris Elba), who asks Blaze to track down and save a young boy, Danny (Played by Fergus Riordan) and his mother, Nadya (Played by Violante Placido), from Roarke’s forces that are pursuing them. It turns out that Roarke, who is the Devil in a human body, wants Danny so that he can take a new human form on earth. Blaze reluctantly accepts the offer on the condition that Moreau takes him to a group of priests that will be able to lift the fiery cruse that plagues him. As the battle rages for Danny’s fate, the Devil unleashes the deadly Blackout (Played by Johnny Whitmore), who possesses the power to decay anything he touches, to deliver him Danny and kill Ghost Rider any way he can.
There really isn’t much to say about the plotline of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. It sucks and that is all there is to it. Half the time, it is barely coherent underneath all the searing action that cuts through the film like a white-hot knife. The story, which was penned by Scott M. Gimple, Seth Hoffman, and David S. Goyer (yes, the same David S. Goyer who helped revive Batman), is basically a recycled glob of other, better satanic horror films. Think a touch of The Exorcist with a big scoop of Rosemary’s Baby fused with Crank and the original Ghost Rider. When I wasn’t rolling my eyes from the story, I was busy fighting off motion sickness from the constant shaking of the camera. Mind you, I have NEVER once got motion sick from a movie before but I can say that Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance was the film that had me reaching for the barf bag. I couldn’t wait until things slowed down so that my stomach would stop doing somersaults. I wish that the nausea was worth it and that there was some cool action scene to tell you about but the fight scenes are all the same here. They all basically consist of a bunch of bad guys standing around, Ghost Rider barreling towards them on his bike as they all stand in shock, and Ghost Rider approaching them one by one and sucking their souls out. That is all there is to it.
If I had to think of one reason for you to see Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, I’d say see it for the way that Cage throws himself into the role of Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider. I promise that you have never seen anything like it in your entire life. It is almost like we are watching a nervous breakdown documented in a big budget blockbuster. Cage is all shaky delivery and bone rattling screams as his face bubbles and contorts into the charred black skull. I guess if my career had come to what his has, I would be starting to go a little berserk myself. Luckily, Idris Elba is present to take things down a notch in one of the worst French accents you will ever hear. Don’t get me wrong. Elba brings more to the table that anyone else does here but it is so painful to watch him slip like this. Come one, Idris, you have been awesome in the past! Hinds seems to get a kick out of delivering lines like “Worst fucking deal I ever made” right to the face of the fiery Ghost Rider. He is slumming it after doing heavier work like Tinker Tailor Solider Spy. Riordan is a forgettable child actor who doesn’t even register in all the chaos while Placido is the eye candy, taking over where Eva Mendes left off. Whitmore really tries to shake things up as Blackout but he has to be the most pointless character in the entire film. He is only here to provide the audience was a high-speed slugfest in the final moments of the film.
Neveldine and Taylor do what they can to add a smidgeon of emotion to this project but they cannot resist the urge to just leap back into the head pounding action. They try to throw in a half-assed relationship between Blaze and Danny but it such a weak attempt, it practically disappears from your memory by the end battle. I can say that I was pretty impressed by the special effects and I did like the overall look of Ghost Rider. Shaking off some of the polish that original director Mark Steven Johnson had slathered all over his CGI hero, this version of the character is a hell of a lot grittier than what Johnson came up with. It actually suits the character but it is a shame this was not applied to a much better movie. Much like the Punisher, I know there is someone out there with a good story for Ghost Rider but this certainly wasn’t it. It is time for Cage to walk away from the franchise and really do some soul searching because the man has completely lost his marbles. And to you, Mr. Goyer, what is your excuse? You helped bring one of the greatest superhero trilogies to the big screen and then you follow that up with this piece of shit! Do you hate comic books and comic book movies?! With the level of quality that we have seen in films like Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, X-Men, V for Vendetta, Watchmen, and The Dark Knight, there is no excuse for these types of superhero films in 2012. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance should have been tossed into an incinerator and forgotten. All of you responsible for this, sit in the corner and think about what you have done.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
Severed heads as high art? Welcome to the world of Zack Snyder’s 300, a chiseled slice of masculinity based on the comic series by Frank Miller that enjoys shouting at the top of its lungs over the endless swirl of slaughter at its center. Considered the ultimate “guy movie”, 300 looks like a painting that has sprung to spitting and snarling life as CGI blood splashes across the sea of clanking swords. This carnage is beautiful, this battle a barreling ballet of firm defiance and ferocity but one that we have seen previous times in countless other period epics of this sort, here it just boasts an extra layer of gloss. 300 sells itself on the idea that it is going to rethink that sword-and-sandals epic and to an extent it does, that is if any of what 300 has to offer came as a surprise to the audience. It is hard to believe that Snyder and Warner Bros. would be so eager to show us everything their film had to offer before we have even seen it but that is the sad truth about 300. If you saw the trailer for the movie, you basically saw the best parts of this picture. The only thing you are missing out on is the severed limbs that dance across the screen and a soft-core sex scene that further earns the R-rating for nudity. Let’s be honest here, you are not coming into this film to hear any of these beefcakes deliver their lines. You came to this party for the sex and violence, now get in line.
300 begins with a flashback narrated by Dilios (Played by David Wenham), a Spartan solider, who explains the back-story and training of Leonidas, the man who would become king of Sparta. The back-story details the fierce training that a Spartan child goes through, molding them into hardened warriors hungry for battle and victory. The film then flashes ahead and introduces us to adult Leonidas (Played by Gerard Butler), who is now the valiant king of Sparta. One peaceful day, a Persian messenger rides into Sparta and demands that all of the people of Sparta submit to God-King Xerxes (Played by Rodrigo Santoro). King Leonidas and his wife, Queen Gorgo (Played by Lena Headey), refuse to submit to the God-King and his loyal group of Spartan soldiers kick the messenger and his accompanying soldiers down the biggest well you have ever laid eyes on. Leonidas knows that murdering the messenger has provoked a Persian attack so he seeks out the Ephors, a corrupt group of leprosy-ridden priests who have to give to okay for war. The Ephors refuse to give their blessing to Leonidas and facing annihilation at the hands of the Persians, the brave King rounds up 300 of his bravest and strongest soldiers to meet the Persians at Thermopylae, where the Persians’ numbers will count for nothing against the Spartan’s superior fighting techniques. Meanwhile, Gorgo has to deal with corrupt politicians behind the walls of Sparta.
The ultimate exercise in visual brawn over screenplay brain, 300 gets far despite not having much going on upstairs. It is no secret that many have viewed 300 as a conservative comment on the War on Terror and as you look closer, it is easy to see how history has been used to mirror present day realities. The problem with 300 is that it doesn’t have anything particularly insightful to say about the War on Terror and instead glorifies the art of war, putting more emphasis on the art than the horrors of battle. 300 also seems to exists to feed the masculine egos of all the alpha males who hang on every shriek that erupts from the mouths of the Spartans. Anyone who lacks chest hair practically grows some instantly just by touching the DVD case. And while there is some flexing action to be found, most of the fighting has been already glimpsed in the spirited trailer that almost everyone has seen. There is some fun to be had in the montages of combat but it becomes a bit redundant and meaningless as the Spartans hack their way through one eccentric clan after another. It begins to feel like a video game after a while, complete with boss rounds.
The one thing I have to praise Snyder for is the way that he casts a group of unknown actors and actresses. This allows the characters of 300 to really come to life rather than be overshadowed by a familiar face that is plastered all over the tabloids. Gerard Butler disappears into the role of King Leonidas and now it is hard for me to take him seriously in other roles that he tackles. A blessing and a curse, I’m afraid. Butler does do a pretty good job with the one–dimensional role that Snyder dumps on him. All the role requires is a perfect physique and the ability to yell really loud. Luckily, Butler becomes a teeth-gritting force that does allow affection to bleed through his masculine intensity. Lena Headey is present for eye-candy but she insists on have the strength of twenty Spartan men, which is welcome in this sea of alpha males. Rodrigo Santoro as Xerxes is asked to portray the God-King as an ostentatious ruler who is clearly a homosexual. While I understand he is supposed to be the villain here, you can’t help but pick up on negative light shed on his sexuality, which further adds to the conservative reading of the film. The other familiar face is Michael Fassbender as Stelios, an eager warrior who gets the film’s coolest line. Naturally, he is a standout here, which should come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with him.
While it may rethink the sword-and-sandals epic visually, 300 doesn’t do much for narrative but you don’t really care. There is plenty here to entertain you for its two hour runtime and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The battle between the masked Immortals and the Spartans is the highlight of the film and I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see the superior fighting style of the Spartans (they brag about it enough!). Still, you can’t help but yearn for more flesh and blood authenticity in all the artificiality but what you see is what you get. You will also long for some sort of a surprise but very few will come your way, so don’t hold your breath. Grabbing history by the hair, dousing it in comic book colors, and then doing a bit of lazy rewiring, Snyder takes a step back from the incisive filmmaking and storytelling that he showed us with his spry remake of Dawn of the Dead. With 300, he just can’t seem to shake his obsessive infatuation with the eye candy and that is the ultimate disappointment. Still, you’ll root for these 300 Spartans until the very end even if you know the outcome. So sit back, crack open a PBR, and marvel at the many ways that severed heads can spin through the air.
300 is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
If action fans were turned off by Richard Donner’s 1978 slow burner origin story Superman, they will find tons to enjoy in Richard Lester’s breathless action extravaganza Superman II, the controversial follow-up to the original film. Pitting the Man of Steel against the dreaded General Zod, a foe that possesses the same powers as Superman, Superman II manages to be more of a nail bitter than its predecessor by really putting Superman’s back against the skyscraper. Out of all the Superman films, Superman II has to be my favorite for how tense some of it can be. There are moments where you really think Supes isn’t going to make it out of this one alive, especially when General Zod teams up Lex Luthor. Superman II also features some really complex emotions, especially when it dives into the relationship between feisty news reporter Lois Lane and Superman/Clark Kent. Filmed simultaneously with Superman, it is said that Donner, who claimed to have made 75% of Superman II, quit working on this film because the studio pushed him to make it campier than the original, which led to Lester stepping in and finishing the film. Personally, I have always found this film to be a bit darker and lacking in the winks that were heavy in the first film, something that made me like Superman II even more.
Superman II begins with a quick flashback to the events in Superman, which began with wise Jor-El (Played by Marlon Brando) banishing three criminals by the names of General Zod (Played by Terence Stamp), Ursa (Played by Sarah Douglas), and Non (Played by Jack O’Halloran), into deep space just before the destruction of Krypton. He traps them in the Phantom Zone, a glass-like cube that spirals aimlessly through the galaxy. The film speeds ahead to present day with Superman (Played by Christopher Reeve) foiling a terrorist plot to destroy the Eiffel Tower. Supes discovers the terrorists have a hydrogen bomb in their clutches, which he quickly takes to space and detonates. The shock waves from the bomb destroy the Phantom Zone and free Zod and his cronies. The deadly trio soon arrives on earth, where they begin destroying anything in their path. Meanwhile Clark Kent and Lois Lane (Played by Margot Kidder) are on a business trip in Niagara Falls when Lois begins to suspect that Clark Kent is in fact Superman, given the fact that he is never around when Superman is swooping in to save the day. She is proven right and Superman learns that if he wishes to be with a mortal, he must be stripped of his powers and also live as a mortal. Soon, Superman learns of General Zod’s plot to enslave the human race and to make things worse, his arch nemesis Lex Luthor (Played by Gene Hackman) has broken out of prison and offers an alliance to General Zod.
Bigger, louder, faster, and stronger than Donner’s original film, Superman II has an epic final showdown that goes on for almost forty minutes in the streets of Metropolis. Everything that gets in between Superman and General Zod is crushed like a tin can. Cars tumble through the air and buildings are destroyed as Superman tries desperately to prevent Zod, Ursa, and Non from reducing Metropolis to ash. It is a lot of fun with some camp thrown in to keep things from getting too dark for children. To make things worse for Superman, Lex Luthor refuses to lend him a hand in trying to figure out a way to beat Zod, Luthor revealing every single trick Superman tries to use against the trio. He is basically on his own and that adds a lot of anxiety to Superman II. How does the Man of Steel beat three invincible foes with little regard for human life? Now that is one hell of a sequel if you ask me. Screenwriters Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, and Tom Mankiewicz work overtime to also give the love story a set of teeth. Things are not simple between Lois and Superman, at least not as easy as Superman first figures they are. Responsibility steps in between the couple and forces them to put their love on hold as Zod forces Superman to step out of retirement.
With the screenwriters taking Superman to new emotional heights, the cast is forced to add more depth to their characters. The darkness that crept into Superman’s heart of gold flares up again in smaller ways. He grapples with being stripped of his powers as a hulking bully in a diner roughs him up. He trembles with fear and embarrassment, the nerdy Clark Kent actually helpless for once. The tough Lois Lane finally loosens up a bit, especially when her theory that Clark Kent is Superman turns out to be right. I actually enjoyed that the filmmakers made her character suspect that Superman and Clark Kent are the same person. I always thought it would be a cinch to spot the resemblance. The affection between Lois and Superman is out of this world when it is being fully addressed, especially when without hesitation, Superman declares that he is willing to be stripped of his powers so that he can be with the one that he loves. It’s a sweet romance that builds up to a finale of tears and hurt, something that still pierces even after having seen the film multiple times.
Superman II also comes loaded with four villains ready to lay waste to the Man of Steel. Hackman’s Lex Luthor doesn’t really show much growth outside of the reveal that he is a slight coward. He gravitates to whoever is on top at that particular moment. He seems present just to add a little bit more comic relief to the action and to keep the kids chuckling. It is said that when Donner left the film, he went with him, refusing to work for Lester. Then we have Stamp as the booming General Zod, who speaks in third person and promises anyone he meets that they will “kneel before Zod!” He is so evil that you will want to cheer when Superman shows up and asks him if he’d like to step outside to work out their differences, which is code for throwing a few punches at each other. Zod’s second in command Ursa is a sexy femme fatale who is loyal to her general until the very end. She may just be an enforcer but she still sends chills down your spine, especially her amused smirk as she butchers a group of astronauts. Rounding out the baddies is O’Halloran’s Non, a mute giant who is capable of more destruction than Luthor, Zod, and Ursa combined. He barrels at Superman in midflight and smashes through brick like it was a sheet of paper. The trio gets a fun little destruction free-for-all in a small town where they deflect flamethrowers and break missiles in half as a warm up before the battle for Metropolis.
Much like Superman, Superman II’s special effects are completely devoid of the wonder I’m sure they once possessed. Some of the battles are a bit flat as the actors bob around on wires that don’t allow them to move as quickly as they would like. Still, the moments where cars and buses crash through the streets of Metropolis hold up nicely, adding a wave of apocalyptic dread to the battle. Zod is capable of destruction that makes Luthor salivate, another aspect that is pretty neat to watch. Superman II is also loaded with barefaced jingoism that really fits the superhero that stands for “truth, honor, and American way”. The film fades out with Superman flying to the destroyed White House with an American flag that he places atop the ruins, promising the president that he will never disappear again. It is this beaming pride that makes Superman II endearing and reminds us that ol’ Supes will always be the American good old boy. Overall, a faster pace and trickier romance angle allows Superman II to be just slightly more fun than the influential original, even if it is not as thought provoking with its imagery. It also justifies the very idea of a sequel and proves that a sequel can sometimes be a great thing.
Superman II is available on Blu-ray DVD.
by Steve Habrat
You can’t call yourself a comic book fan if you haven’t seen Richard Donner’s powerful interpretation of DC Comics hero Superman, the first superhero epic ever projected onto the big screen. This 1978 blockbuster, based on the character created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, was marketed with the tagline “you’ll believe a MAN can fly” and to this day, despite dated special effects, I still do believe a man can fly. Donner’s Superman was the film that laid the foundation for superhero origin stories, one that taught Hollywood how to properly pace the origin tale of a crime fighter in tights, slowly and with a never-ending amount of care poured into each and every frame. Superman was born out of the explosion of fantasy films that came with a gigantic price tag, mainly science fiction films escapism like Star Wars. While I have never been big on Superman and I have never really been an avid collector of his comics, I will give his big screen debut credit as being one of the best big screen interpretations of his character as well as being one of the finest superhero epics ever made. I love the slow building story that arrives at an apocalyptic disaster that only the Man of Steel could prevent and the casting of Christopher Reeve is a stroke of genius as the hero who stands for “truth, justice, and the American way”. I will even go so far to say that any director planning to make a superhero origin story should be required to watch this film before they even think about stepping behind the camera.
Superman begins with the destruction of our hero’s home planet, Krypton, and his father, Kal-El (Played by Marlon Brando), sending him to earth in an asteroid-like spacepod. Three years pass and Superman or Jor-El, as he is called on Krypton, crashes in the rural farming community of Smallville. Shortly after he lands, the kind couple Jonathan and Martha Kent (Played by Glenn Ford and Phyllis Thaxter) discovers the young Jor-El and proceed to raise him as a normal human being even though they are well aware of his astonishing superpowers. At age eighteen, Jor-El or Clark Kent, as he is now called, grapples with his superhuman abilities and his world is shattered when Jonathan collapses and dies from a heart attack. Shortly after his father’s death, Clark finds a mysterious green crystal in the Kent’s barn, a treasure that was aboard the ship that Clark arrived in many years ago. Clark says goodbye to the grief stricken Martha and sets out to discover who he really is and why he is capable of such incredible powers. He travels to the arctic where he uses the green crystal to build the Fortress of Solitude, a temple where he can communicate with a recording from his father. It is here that Clark begins learning about his abilities and responsibilities to the citizens of earth. More time passes and the adult Clark (Played by Christopher Reeve) arrives in the big city of Metropolis, where he gets a job as a reporter at the Daily Planet and he meets the striking Lois Lane (Played by Margot Kidder), who he quickly falls in love with. Clark begins to use his powers to help the people of Metropolis, which earns him the name of Superman by the press. Superman soon grabs the attention of criminal mastermind Lex Luthor (Played by Gene Hackman), who is developing a plot that could wipe California off the face of the earth.
Many may find Donner’s Superman a bit longwinded and slow to get to the action, but he really wants us to become attached to the Man of Steel. It is easy to like the guy, especially when Reeve steps into the character and lets his good-old-boy charm have some fun. As Clark Kent, he is an ungainly oaf who stutters through every word that pours out of his mouth. The employees of the Daily Planet march around him, barely even registering that he is actually in the room half the time. He scurries after Lois, who tries hard to humor him but also forgets about him like the rest of their colleagues. His confidence and warmth really takes hold when he rips open that button-up shirt to reveal that iconic “S” stamped proudly on his chest. He almost single handedly cleans up the streets of Metropolis in one evening and still finds time to rescue a kitty stuck in a tree. It is funny that Donner uses New York City as his Metropolis, a city that was slowly deteriorating from rampant crime during this particular era. He seems to literally be suggesting that this “Metropolis” could use a savior who is willing to clean up the streets and stand up to the grimy violence. That savior is a Christ-like alien from another planet who can see through walls, shoot lasers out of his eyes, deflect bullets, and leap tall buildings in a single bound.
Superman belongs to Reeve but his supporting cast is equally as brilliant as he is. Marlon Brando shows up as Superman’s astute father who is always offering up lessons to his pupil. When Brando steps into the frame, your eyes won’t be able to be torn away. About forty minutes into the film, he gets to deliver an unforgettable speech that compares the Man of Steel to Christ, something that may upset some viewers. Brando booms, “I have sent them you! My only son!” and you can’t help but get goosebumps. When Brando isn’t making waves as Kal-El, Gene Hackman cackles as the Man of Steel’s arch nemesis Lex Luthor, who schemes up a nuclear plot (Cold War willies anyone?) that would leave millions dead. A scene where he hacks into Superman’s head and threatens to kill thousands of people in New York City sends an icy chill through the lighter atmosphere that grips the middle part of the film. Margot Kidder is a throaty looker as the force that is Lois Lane. Moving at one hundred miles per hour, Lois is always in the wrong place at the wrong time but the scenes where she is in need of help never feel strained. A sequence where she dangles from the very top of the Daily Planet will take your breath away but you never fear that Supes won’t be able to catch his damsel in distress.
Superman is loaded with sprawling special effects, destroying everything from the Hoover Dam to the Golden Gate Bridge and everything in between. These scenes of destruction still make us scratch our heads and say, “How’d they do THAT?” The most impressive has to be the wobbling Golden Gate Bridge, where the Man of Steel glides in and saves a bus of school children from tumbling to their death. The early sequences of Superman are appropriately trippy, fitting for their intergalactic landscape that looks like it would have been at home in something like Angry Red Planet or This Island Earth. These wondrous images are complimented by a trumpeting score that could only come from John Williams, who composes one of the greatest scores in the history of motion pictures. There are moments of Superman that are devilishly funny, lovingly winking at all the blue, yellow, and red clad fans that are hanging on every second of the film. My favorite wink has to be a scene where Clark is looking for a place to rip off his business attire to reveal the Superman armor. He jogs up to an exposed phone booth but opts for a revolving door that offers him some privacy for a quick wardrobe change. Yet the sweetest moments of the film are the ones where Superman literally sweeps Lois off her feet, taking her up into the clouds. These scenes show us that the Man of Steel has a mushy center.
Overall, Superman is grand achievement for the superhero genre. It proved that these stories could have intellectual ideas swirling below the special effects as well as breezy stories with tons of “WOW” moments. At two hours and twenty minutes, the film covers an enormous amount of ground, something only Superman is capable of. In the end, the whole picture belongs to Reeve, who can’t be topped as the squeaky clean do-gooder. Surprisingly, he lets a small amount of darkness and rage slip into his soul, especially when someone close to him bites the dust in the final moments. You will be hoping that suppressed rage and darkness will be let loose in later installments. Donner’s Superman is a larger than life explosion of sheer superhero bliss that you will want to revisit again and again. Bring on part two!
Superman is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
Since its release in 2003, Marvel’s big screen adaptation of the lesser-known Daredevil has gained the reputation of being a downright stinker of a movie with a cringe-inducing Ben Affleck as the blind crime fighter. Daredevil isn’t nearly as bad as it has been made out to be. It is merely a decent movie that does have its fair share of flaws. Reeking of Matrix-esque fight sequences with a hints of Spider-Man and Batman thrown in, Daredevil is a clunky film set to awful wannabe grunge rock that was all the rage in 2003, but there are still a number of aspects to admire. Affleck molds the blind lawyer Matt Murdock into a captivating character who is more interesting during the day when he is fighting crime in the courtroom than when he is prowling the streets as the teeth-gnashing vigilante dressed up in red leather. Capitalizing on the popularity of 2002’s Spider-Man, director Mark Steven Johnson works hard to make something that is faithful to the comic lore (many shots are taken directly from the comics) but he trims his origin story down to a brief hour and forty minutes, too in a rush to get to the action and leaving several major characters and a romance underdeveloped.
Daredevil begins by flashing back to the troubled childhood of Matt Murdock (Played by Scott Terra), a nerdy kid from New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen. Much like Spider-Man, Murdock is the target of neighborhood bullies who like to toss him around like a ragdoll. At home, his father is a washed-up boxer named Jack “The Devil” Murdock (Played by David Keith), who relives his glory days by guzzling countless bottles of beer and drunkenly rambling to Matt about fights he won and why it is important to get an education. Matt suspects his dad is working as an enforcer for a local mobster and his suspicions are confirmed when he bumps into his dad roughing up a local hood in an alley. Fleeing in horror, Matt stumbles into a construction yard and proceeds to be blinded by toxic waste in a freak accident. Matt’s father blames himself for the accident and the two make a silent promise to each other to never give up and better themselves. Shortly after the accident, Matt begins to discover that his other four senses are operating at superhuman strength and give him a radar-like sight, which he uses to stand up to neighborhood bullies. Matt’s father begins boxing again but he finds that he is unable to walk cleanly away from the mob. After Jack refuses to throw a fight, he is beaten to death in an alley by a towering enforcer who likes to leave roses on the bodies of his victims. The devastated Matt silently vows to find the people responsible for the death of his father and he assumes the identity of Daredevil, the man without fear.
Part Spider-Man and part Batman, Daredevil doesn’t really have any superpowers to speak of. He uses sound waves to create a radar sight to help him locate and knock out bad guys throwing punches his way. He leaps around the rooftops dressed in a goofy red getup that does have a slight DIY feel to it despite its silliness. Matt doesn’t stop fighting crime when the sun comes up. By day, he paces a courtroom as a lousy attorney who shouts, “Justice is blind!” When Affleck doesn’t have a mask pulled over his face, he is fascinating to watch as a blind man. We watch him perform daily rituals that help him get around the bustling New York City streets. He folds his money in different ways to help him figure out if he is reaching for a ten or a five and crams prescription painkillers into his mouth to help ease the pain of injuries that he suffers at night. You will genuinely like him as Matt Murdock and you will relish the moments he shares with Franklin “Foggy” Nelson (Played by Jon Favreau), his chatty partner who likes to get drunk with Matt and describe beautiful women they encounter on the street. Together they are the saviors of Daredevil with their chuckle-worthy conversations and pranks they pull on each other.
Naturally, Daredevil has a love interest by the name of Elektra Natchios (Played by Jennifer Garner), a stunning Greek beauty that can hold her own in a schoolyard brawl. Daredevil does hint at a substantial romance between Murdock and Elektra but it doesn’t hold together once Elektra’s father is slain by the Irish hitman Bullseye (Played by Colin Farrell). Bullseye is hired by the hulking mobster William Fisk/The Kingpin (Played by Michael Clarke Duncan), a ruthless gangster who oversees organized crime in New York City and may be responsible for Jack Murdock’s death. In a rage, Elektra almost instantly morphs into a superhero herself and then disappears from the film like she was never there to begin with. Bullseye is easily the coolest character in the film, a resourceful bad boy who likes Guinness, has a nasty brand on his forehead, and can turn anything he touches into a deadly weapon. Farrell’s enthusiasm for the role is contagious as he slinks around hissing at our horned hero. The Kingpin is supposed to be the main villain of Daredevil but we hear about him more than we actually see him. He is probably on the screen a total of twenty minutes, making him more of a gigantic disappointment.
At its core, Daredevil is a gritty tale that is loaded with untapped potential. The opening flashback of the film is thrown off by lame acting from the child actors, removing us from the moment entirely. I am also bothered by the wiry action sequences, where the actors go spinning effortlessly through the air with no explanation at all. It is painfully obvious they are dangling from wires and it is sloppily executed. Daredevil could have also used more of The Kingpin, a mildly frightening villain who could have been even more menacing had we gotten to know him a little bit better. We have to take into consideration that Daredevil was made in a time where the superhero genre was experiencing some growing pains, many filmmakers viewing them as mere escapist thrill rides that were heavy with wild action scenes and perfect CGI. To be fair, Daredevil attempts to put more emphasis into the characters when they don’t have their masks on and I will give it credit for that but we still have to like the costumed hero and I can honestly say Affleck lost it for me when he was wearing the horns. Overall, it was a step in the dark direction for superhero films and it does feature some fine performances, but the skimpy runtime prevents Daredevil from having the depth it is so convinced it has.
by Steve Habrat
Did you miss him? Robert Downey Jr.’s motor-mouthed brawler/detective Sherlock Holmes blasts his way back into theaters and the people are flocking to his latest case. While I found myself smitten with Downey Jr.’s magnetic performance during the first case, I found the events swirling around him too tortuous. I understand what British director Guy Ritchie is trying to achieve, which is to put us in Holmes’ rutty boots and work along side him in racing the clock and solving the diabolical plot. Yet Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows gets tangled up in its own reveals, twists, turns, and fake-outs. I found myself backtracking to pinpoint which character Holmes and Jude Law’s Dr. Watson were chattering on about. Do not interpret this as me saying the film was over my head, but I just wish these movies would slow down for a minute and let me catch up before it dashes off again. The film leaves you mentally exhausted. I suppose that the modish action sequences are there to let us rest our brains, but Ritchie goes above and beyond the normal slam-bang intensity that is rampaging through action films of late. He stages some of the most rousing action sequences of the year, with precise slow-motion halts to give us a clear glimpse of the bone snapping action. It’s exhilarating and you can’t peel your eyes from it. So much for a second to catch my breath.
After a string of seemingly unrelated crimes throughout Europe, the peculiar detective Holmes (Played by Downey Jr.) suspects that there is more to these strange events than meets the eye. He begins applying his usual unorthodox detective work and enlists the help of the less-than-patient Dr. John Watson (Played by Law) to aid him in discovering the truth. The trail leads them to Professor James Moriarty (Played by Jared Harris), a genius that can match Holmes every step of the way. As Holmes tries to piece together what all these crimes are leading up to, he crosses paths with a dagger-throwing gypsy named Sim (Played by Noomi Rapace), who is the next target of Moriarty. Sim proves to be useful in aiding Holmes and Dr. Watson in figuring out what Moriarty’s plot is, which turns out to be more destructive than Holmes could have ever imagined.
I don’t really want to dive into many more details about the plot of the second entry to the Sherlock Holmes franchise; the slow reveals of this one prove to be a hell of a lot more interesting than the first installment. A Game of Shadows benefits from a much better villain, one who can go toe-to-toe with Holmes both in a fight and in brains too. The film does have some incredibly exhaustive art direction, featuring some lavish costumes, realistic CGI, and some sets that are to die for. It maintains the steam-punk industrial aesthetic that Ritchie established with the first film. Yet my qualm about Holmes stems from its overly busy inner workings, mostly in the plot department. Everyone speaks in a thick British accent and rambles on about characters that are hard to remember. Trust me, there are a TON of characters so I would advise you bring a notebook to scribble them all down in. The film also moves at a breakneck speed that left me wishing I could just have a brief intermission and review everything that had just happened before piling on more plot points. This one will leave you exhausted but I commend its unremitting energy.
The one aspect that I love about Sherlock Holmes is the driven, fanatical performance from Downey Jr. I think he may be a bit sharper with Holmes than he is with Tony Stark, a role many love a bit more than Holmes. Credit should be given to his spot-on and rich British accent that pours effortlessly through his mumbling mouth. He sometimes comes off as a ranting lunatic that would seem more at home in a straightjacket rather than an overcoat and bowler cap. He’s unpredictable (He shows up on a train dressed as a woman), brash, and poised in every move he makes. When at one point he admits he made a mistake and lives are lost, we feel his distress in himself. It’s only one of two times we see a crack in his self-assured manner. Law’s Dr. Watson acts as the voice of reason when Holmes goes on a brain-frying rampage. Law also has perfect comedic timing to Downey Jr.’s deadpan delivery. Truth is, their relationship is given room to grow and evolve here. We get to see their affection for one another. They are an odd couple but, hey, opposites attract right?
Moriarty is a memorable villain, one who spits his words out with vitriol to spare. He truly does have a diabolical plot and I love his final moments with Holmes. Harris look like he had a good time playing evil. Rachel McAdams returns for a brief cameo as Adler, one that seems a little bit pointless, as she wasn’t in the original all that much. Rapace, for all the celebration around her performance in the Swedish film version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo seems to just be a pretty face stuck between Law and Downey Jr.’s stubbly faces. I would have liked to see more range from her, as all Ritchie has her doing is running from bullets, hitmen, and cannonballs. Stephen Fry turns up as Mycroft, Sherlock’s posh brother who is just as deadpan and batty as the good detective.
As someone who is always rallying for more intellectual blockbusters, I have to hand it to Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. It refuses to dumb itself down too much, even if it is just escapist fluff. If there is another Sherlock Holmes, and I’m sure there will be, I would love to see the screenwriter shave things down a little bit and I’d love for Ritchie to ease up on the pace. Don’t be in such a rush to push Holmes through the case, as I enjoy watching him tick. I’ll definitely have thirds on the relationship between Holmes and Dr. Watson, as that acts as the heart and soul for this franchise. The action should also be noted, as it turns out to be much more epic the second time around. Just wait until you see the gunfight between Holmes, Sim, and Watson against a gang of German soldiers. All I will say is that it involves stellar slow-motion effects and a gun named Little Hansel. Funnier than the original, a bit more straight forward (Just slightly!), with style and energy to burn, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is the ideal thrill ride to distract you from all those Christmas presents you still have to buy.
by Steve Habrat
I think it is safe to assume that the true day that cinema died is March 11th, 2011. Sure, every year sees it’s fair share of rubbish movies discarded into your local megaplex to fill space, but none have been more absurd, shrill, dumb, meaningless, and excruciating than Battle: Los Angeles. The film is the textbook example of how not to make a movie, especially pure escapist entertainment at that. The film, which has no trace of a plot, looked promising. Did you happen to see the theatrical trailer? It was spellbinding and intriguing. The final product isn’t anywhere near what the trailer promised. Seriously, Hollywood, did anyone actually read the script to this thing? And who actually gave the filmmakers the go ahead? And who convinced a talented actor like Aaron Eckhart to actually star in the damn thing? Nothing about this film is remotely close to engaging and every time it hints at a clever set up, it pulverizes it with a barrage of gunfire, screaming, and camera work so shaky, it practically makes you want to vomit. I’ve been told I am lax when it comes to blockbusters of this breed, but Battle: Los Angeles has tried my patience and left me shell-shocked that Hollywood actually tried to pass it off as entertainment. They must take us for fools!!
Okay, so I’m sure by now you’re curious what the film is about? Well, the answer to that question is basically nothing. Aliens attack earth for our resources (Apparently, they want our water) and a bunch of meathead clichés fight back. They are lead by the retired Ssgt. Michael Nantz (Played by the determined-not-to-let the-film-crumble-into-smoldering-ruin Aaron Eckhart). Unfortunately, he can’t salvage the film’s set up by his acting alone. The rest of the characters don’t matter, as they are there to just be “Hoorah!” shouting targets for the aliens. Their mission is to hold LA at any cost. Why? Good question. They never tell us and we are supposed to just accept it. The film refuses to offer anything in the way of substance and opts for countless gunfights instead. It never attempts to offer up a developed hero we can stand behind and the rest of the marines that populate the squad are there to be shot up by the aliens. The film is the simple equation of explosion, run, scream, shoot, plot how to destroy the alien killing machines, repeat.
Usually, when I go to this type of film, I lower my expectations. I give myself over to it and roll with the punches. Sure, when the lights come up again in the theater, I will admit that what I just saw was pure crap. But, if it’s crap done right and with some obvious care of the material, then I will give the film some critical leeway. I will not tear the film to pieces if it at least made me care about a character, invoked something in the way of an emotion, thrilled me, entertained me, or transported me to a world I never knew I wanted to visit. This is precisely why we go to these types of movies. We go to explore a world we have never seen before with a larger-than-life hero and escape from our daily problems, if only for a little bit. And I will admit that my expectations were lowered when I started to see the irate reviews for this film. It broke my heart because the trailer had been so effective and for a while, the film was actually tolerable. I was curious to see what route the film was going to take. But after about twenty minutes, the project dive-bombed and it never regained itself. The major problem with all of it is the fact that it attempts to blind us to the fact that there is nothing underneath all of the rumble and special effects. There is no humanity to it. It’s all, sadly, for nothing.
Furthermore, the film is not only a chore to endure, but it features dialogue so painful, it’s offensive. It seems like the film was penned by a fifteen year old action junkie who watched District 9 way too many times and plays Call of Duty: Modern Warfare too often. The film is like an unholy mutation of two forms of unrelated entertainment that are both actually quite respectable. Any film that contains the line, which is someone offering up their help in dissecting one of the barely seen extraterrestrials: “Maybe I can help! I’m a vet!”, should have gone back to the drawing board. The film is loaded with these so-bad-they-actually-make-you-groan lines and it shamelessly delivers them with a straight face. Instead of thoughtful banter between the marines, it consists of them yelling: “Let’s show them who they fucked with!” and my personal favorite “We already had breakfast!” (This line, if you have seen the movie, has got to be the cheesiest lines in the history of cinema.).
Since this is a special effects spectacle (Well, it’s convinced that it is.), you are probably wondering how the effects are. This is the films strongest department, as the alien ships are actually quite creative. They resemble the silver disc-like flying saucers that we have seen in countless stock photos. The aliens, however, are not nearly as inspired, as they are a strange machine and flesh fusion that we never get a good look at. They march around in the distance making growling and clicking noises that would make the Prawns in District 9 roll their eyes. They have guns attached to their arms, which is another neat concept, but ultimately is obscured underneath more gunfights and explosions. And don’t even get me started about the final battle between the marines and a ship that rises up out of the ground. At one point, the aliens use a strange, spider-like death machine that fires off several rockets at once. You would think that the aliens would use more of these, as it is clearly a devastating weapon that proves to be quite a challenge to bring down. Unfortunately, it is loudly destroyed and that’s the last we see of this.
Battle: Los Angeles has succeeded in putting the final bullet in the head of blockbusters. Every single aspect of the film is so awful; I started to wonder if this was all just a sick joke on the audience. The film relentlessly bashes us over the head and practically causes a seizure from the shaky, strobe like editing. It raises more questions than it answers (How the hell are the televisions and internet still working even though LA has been bombed into oblivion?). I have never, in the twenty-one years I have been attending movies, wanted a film to end so badly as I did this one. It was excruciating. I will admit that even trying to form a proper way of describing how awful this film was to anyone is difficult, as it is dreadful on so many levels. It was appalling. Please, folks, for the love of God, do not see this movie. Do not show support for this kind of shit. That’s exactly what the film is. Shit. A stinking, steaming, ugly, disgusting, mean, lump of shit. The acting is shit, the script is shit, the cinematography is shit and the plot is shit. Battle: Los Angeles is without question, the worst film in recent memory. Somewhere, Battlefield Earth is breathing a huge sigh of relief.
Battle: Los Angeles is now ruining movies on Blu-ray and DVD.