Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Draft Day Review

A little while ago, I was very fortunate to sit in on a special preview of the upcoming Kevin Costner film 'Draft Day'. And despite the fact that I know next to nothing about football, I went in expecting great things and walked out of the theatre smiling.

The basic breakdown of the plot is as follows: Costner plays Cleveland Browns GM Sonny Weaver Jr. who is having a tough day as he and the other major teams of the NFL scramble to get their number one draft picks for the 2014 football season. Along the way, he makes a lot of tough decisions and choices that while at first don't seem reasonable to his staff or the rest of the league, in the end he makes the right call, for the good of the team.

Costner does a spectacular job as Weaver, he carries the character with grace and quiet dignity and brings once more, that classic Costner style of taking a role and making it his own. Alongside Costner is Jennifer Garner as Ali, Sonny's salary cap specialist and secret office romance. Filling in is Denis Leary as the Super Bowl winning coach Sonny has hired to replace his recently deceased father (whose legacy as the head coach for the team is felt throughout the film). Then there is Frank Langella as the Brown's owner who keeps Sonny under pressure to pick only the best.

Added into the mix is 'Smallville' star Tom Welling as Brown's QB Brian Drew, Chadwick Boseman as Ohio State linebacker Vontane Mack (one of Sonny's top choices for draft picks), NFL Houston Texans running back Arian Foster as Ray Jennings, whose father (played by Terry Crews), is a former Browns player, who wants nothing more then to play on his father's team and Josh Pence as superstar Wisconsin QB (and the prize pig coveted by many for 1st pick) Bo Callahan.

The film does an excellent job of holding audience attention, with a classic 'ticking clock' counting down how much time is left for Sonny until his draft picks need to be selected. There is also this constant flow of locations, from war rooms to locker rooms, to front office's and supply closets, Radio City Music Hall green rooms, and the handy trick of using multiple-frame/split-screen scenes and sweeping shots of the cities and stadiums of many noted NFL teams.

For all out there who are die-hard NFL fans, the film is a must see. Not only does it present legitimate behind the scenes material on what actually goes on for making draft picks, but the film is also graced with the presence of ESPN broadcasting favorites and the NFL Commissioner himself, Roger Goodell. For everyone else who isn't all that into football, the movie will educate and inform you as to a sliver of what goes on for in the hectic world of professional football. And while this movie may very well be buried when 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' opens next week, this film is a welcome bright spot in a slow movie season.

At the end of it all, I found myself entertained and informed because of this movie. I was entertained by the performances of the many fine actors who come together in this motion picture, and I was informed by all the information I now have about one of the most important facets of the mighty sports machine that is the NFL. My final star count for this sports picture, 5 out of 5. Come April 11 when this movie opens, I recommend it for everyone out there.

Friday, February 7, 2014

'The Monuments Men' Review

I had the pleasure this afternoon, of seeing a film which deals with a key part of history, that many people probably have not heard of before. 'The Monuments Men', adapted from the book 'The Monuments Men' by Robert Edsel, the film is directed by George Clooney and starring himself, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, Cate Blanchett, and Dimitri Leonidas. Since this review is different from the usual movie fair I write about on here, I should preface my thoughts on the film, with some background on the story behind the film.

With every great mark in history, there are other sides to that mark, deeper etchings then what is just scratched on the surface. World War II will always be remembered as one of the bloodiest, and most important wars in human history. 72 million people died during the war, 6 million of those people were Jewish. And while Hitler had set out with the goal of conquering Europe and eradicating the Jewish people off the face of the Earth, he also set about to plunder Europe of its greatest treasures, it's art, its culture. In the years leading up to the Allied invasion of Normandy, the Nazi's plundered from across France, Poland, and the rest of occupied Europe its finest works of art. In response to this, President Roosevelt put together a division of the most unlikely people, museum curators, art historians, sculptors, men of culture, to go into Europe and using their knowledge, preserve and protect the culture of the world. That meant carefully cataloging buildings, paintings, statues, great works of art and ensuring that they made it back to their rightful owners. Most of these great works had been taken by the Nazi's and hidden away, and as the war swayed in the favor of the allies, the Nazi's grew desperate. In their desperation, they were ordered by Hitler to destroy anything culturally significant, including the art. But because of the diligence and hard work of the Monuments Men and those who aided them in their mission, many of the great paintings and pieces that would have been lost to us forever, are still with us today.

The film captures the spirit of the story like lightening in a bottle. Mixed in with lighthearted humor against a dark war backdrop, the story of these brave men and women is shown to us, the people. The cast does an excellent job, and they all work together so well. While the names are different from those in recorded history, the purpose is the same, to find, protect, and preserve, the cultural history of humanity. And while the film does at times seem slow and disjointed (moving the pacing from humorous to serious can throw a person off), it doesn't deter from the main focus of the story. At the end of the day, the movie left me wondering what other aspects of the war wasn't I aware of, what other parts of great points in history are not known to the people? For all those who love history, or love learning about new aspects of history, I highly recommend this film. In the end I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars for its amazing story, cast and for presenting to us the story of the few who fought to preserve a great part of what we as people stand for.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

'Thor: The Dark World' Review

Having just returned from viewing the latest Marvel movie for a second time in two days, I decided now was the time to write my review. Having eagerly anticipated this movie, I went into to it opening night with an open mind on what to expect, and was rewarded for that with what was two hours of sheer awesomeness. Now then, let's dive into the review.

Starting off, is casting. You have Chris Hemsworth returning as Thor, Tom Hiddleston returning as Loki, Natalie Portman returning as Jane Foster, Anthony Hopkins returning as Odin, and many of the other familiar faces from 'Thor' coming back to the big screen. Now then, for NEW faces, you have Christopher Eccleston as Malekith, leader of the Dark Elves and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Algrim/Kurse, and in a surprising mid-credits scene, Benicio Del Torro as Taneleer Tivan, the Collector. Overall, it was great to have so many familiar faces back in Asgard and Earth again, everyone did an excellent job. I especially enjoyed Eccleston's performance as Malekith, he really delivered this villainous punch to the character, a dark intensity that made me actually quake in my seat slightly. Agbaje was awesome as Kurse, granted Kurse is just a heavy hitter, the muscle to match Thor's might in a fight, but that doesn't mean the character makeup wasn't awesome. And by awesome I mean ugly as heck, but therefore awesome.

The sets were lovely as usual, Asgard in all it's shining glory, Earth being, well Earth. And the desolation of Svartalfheim, wow, visual amazing in terms of its stark, bleak and barren ruin. Picture a land ravaged by war, then mix in the sheer chaos of that land being choked of anything good left in it, and left to rot and decay and fall away to nothing, and you have Svartalfheim.

Finally, I want to comment on the mid-credit scene, that gave a hinting for those who do not follow the movie forums out in the vastness of the Internet. It was such a surprising, and yet funny little scene, hinting at things to come for the Marvel Movie world. If Earth thought the Chitauri were a threat, wait until they see what else is out there. Del Torro will be appearing as the Collector in the upcoming Marvel Studio's film, 'Guardian's of the Galaxy', a film about a group of various beings from across the universe having adventure's. The movie open's of the Marvel Cinematic-verse to the various cosmic beings that have filled many of Marvel's mighty pages over the years, and give's fan's both old and new a taste of something literally out of this world.

Overall, I give 'Thor: The Dark World' four out of four stars, for amazing acting, great casting, stunning sets and visuals and for once again, giving myself and many other Marvel fans, another adventure to help excite us in our day to day lives. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

'Doc Savage' Details, Plot, Character and Casting from Director Shane Black

I am a person, who has always had such a deep love for all the old culture of the 20th century, not just the comic books, and the films and the music, but the pulp novels as well. These were the precursor to comic books, cheap novels that kids could get for a nickel or dime at the local newsstand, featuring horror stories, romance stories, science fiction and even tales of heroes who wore costumes or went out and made the world right. One of the most popular characters from those days was Doc Savage, who adventures were chronicled by Lester Dent under the house name Kenneth Robeson.

Clark "Doc" Savage Jr, was essentially the 'Superman' of the 1930s, (and was in part the inspiration for Superman himself). A brilliant man of many sciences and backgrounds, Doc had been trained by his father and a team of scientists, to be the peak of human perfection in both mind and body. Assembling a team of operatives around him, he traveled the world, having adventures, saving the day and thwarting the forces of evil.

Now, Sony is planning on putting out a Doc Savage movie, filmed by Iron Man 3 director Shane Black. In an interview with IGN, Black had this to say regarding both the film's plot, and deepening the character of Doc Savage.

Obviously in the books there’s an element of ‘goody goody’ that we like. Doc Savage was the basis essentially for Superman because his name is Clark, he has a fortress of solitude, and ‘oh Superman has the same thing, that’s odd.’ But that kind of perfect hero who never makes mistakes him great to a point and that type of adventure and the pulp it represents has been so imitated. Raiders of the Lost Ark is essentially a child of Doc Savage. But we needed something more.
So we kept it in the 30s, we beefed up the sort of rationale behind what it would take to be a perfect person and to be trained as such from childhood and how that would scar someone. And what it would take to be a parent who is capable of inflicting that on your kid. But beyond that we’ve also tried to be true to the series, give him the helpers and it’s also reinvigorating it but introducing a whole new brand of people to this is a challenge. It’s been around, it’s been 75 years. 

 Many fans of the original Doc Savage may not like the idea of Doc being portrayed as someone who is scarred on an emotional level by his perfectionism, but there is no denying that it adds a depth to his vow to "strive every moment of my life to make myself better and better." To many people out there, it could be lamented that modern superheroes are so rarely portrayed as being wholly good and righteous, that a Doc Savage who struggles under the weight of his desire to make himself better, would be more relatable than someone who never showed weakness of resolve. 

When talked turned to the subject of casting, Black admitted that the process was still in the early stages. This isn't due to finding the right actor in terms of talent who could embody Doc Savages personality, but in terms of the physicality of the character. Black had this to say about that angle of casting the pulp hero legend. 

Here’s the problem: They kind of gotta be tall. He’s the perfect physical specimen and when people look at him, they’re overawed by the sort of symmetry and perfection that he exudes. I don’t know that you could use like James McAvoy as Doc Savage. You couldn’t do it. He’s a fine actor, but we need someone big. Back in the day Schwarzenegger was talked about to play Doc Savage. I don’t know who we’d get. 

Sony's president of production, Hannah Minghella, had stated in a previous interview that the studio intends to turn Doc Savage into a franchise that will be "built from the ground up" but any plans on sequels would certainly be put on hold until the first film had been tested at the box office. Disney's recent calamity with the Lone Ranger has given Sony plenty of reason to play things cautiously with Doc Savage, since it has now been shown that classic pulp fiction characters aren't always big sellers.

But Black's description raises a tricky question: should the original source material for such classic characters be treated as sacred, or should the writers and directors simply strive toward the best possible result (kind of like Doc), even if it means altering the protagonist a little bit?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Shadow: Celebrating 83 years of crime fighting

83 years ago, the voice of the Shadow was first heard across America on the Detective Story Hour radio program. One year later, he made his first appearance in the pages of his own pulp novel, written by Walter Gibson under the house name of Maxwell Grant. From 1931 until 1949, Gibson penned 282 of the 325 Shadow pulp adventures, crafting the world of this masked man’s war on crime, his enemies, his allies, his adventures. At the same time, the Shadow became famous on the radio once again (the great Orson Welles voiced the character from 1937 until 1938), and in the movie serials. Over the years, the character has continued to delight fans young and old, with his fantastic life of crime fighting in the pages of comic books (currently being published in comics by Dynamite Entertainment), reprints of his pulp novel adventures and his own feature film in 1994, starring Alec Baldwin in the titular role. And all these years later, criminals upon the fictional page, still stop and quake in their shoes when a sinister laugh is heard, foretelling their doom. After all, who knows, what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

'Pacific Rim' Review

Greetings once again, to all those out there who have been wonderful and loyal readers of my blog over the years. Well here I am once again, with another review for you all. I just got home from catching an evening showing of Guillermo del Toro's new summer hit Pacific Rim. And I have got to tell you, I was very impressed.

Right then, on with the review. I won't plan on spoiling the plot in any way for those who have yet to see it, but I can break down the movie into these categories: casting, plot in terms of pacing/writing (without giving it away) and special effects. Ok, everyone ready? Let's go!

So to start out, we have Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh Becket, former Jaeger pilot called back into service to pilot one of the few remaining Jaeger's that has survived the war with the Kaiju. Alongside him we have Idris Elba (many will remember him as Heimdall in Thor) as Becket's commanding officer Stacker Pentecost. Filling the lead female role is Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi, playing Mako Mori, who works on the Jaeger project alongside Stacker. And filling in a very hilarious role as the one project's resident scientists is Charlie Day of 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia' fame, and then there is Ron Perlman as Hannibal Chau, a black market dealer. The rest of the cast was excellent, bringing in many unheard of actors as fellow Jaeger pilots, all in all, del Toro did a great job picking the right people to fill these, brilliant, just absolutely brilliant.

Plot wise, the movie went along at a brisk pace. Details filled in nicely, and the main characters really get fleshed out towards what could be called the second act of the film. It had its amusing moments, but they weren't awkward or forced in any way, they made me laugh because I found them funny, not because I felt I had to find them funny. The fighting sequences are beautifully scripted, like some sort of violent ballet of action.

As for the visual effects, wow just utterly wow. del Toro crafts these Jaeger mechas in a way that is just so fantastic, you wish that these things were real. We (the audience) get a real good look at how the pilot system of these machines works, a dual interface between two pilots, linked by a neural bridge. The monsters, the Kaiju, they are really scary. I mean the digital work on these beasts is outstanding, and even though they are designed to look the same in many ways physically, del Toro makes up for this by showcasing them as having many different "offensive" weapons that are a part of their bodies. I won't say what kind of weapons, because that would be telling now wouldn't it.

All in all, I give this film four out four stars for keeping me captivated the entire time, amazing casting, excellent plot, outstanding visual effects and presenting a film that doesn't pastiche or homage the classic giant monster films of the 20th century, but creates a stand alone piece that showcases a story of utter brilliance and magnificence. I highly recommend that all who read this review, that have not seen this film, to do so. You will sit down, and be treated to two hours of action-packed, mind blowing awesomeness.

Friday, June 14, 2013

'Man of Steel' Review

As of moments ago, I returned home after viewing Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan's amazing and mind-blowing film, presenting in a fresh, and bright as dawn light, one of comic book's most recognizable figures. The sets, the costumes, the special effects, the cast, all of it was beautifully done. I will not be offering any spoilers for those who read this and have yet to see the film, so don't worry about that. Now, on with the review!

To start out, the sets were amazing. The Krypton presented to audiences at the beginning of the film was the most amazing, technologically advanced rendition of the planet ever seen on film. Gone is the cold, harsh ice world of the classic Christopher Reeve's film, instead we are given the Krypton of the comic books, a world thousands of years ahead of our own, with creatures and machines the likes of which have never before been seen by humankind. As for Smallville and Metropolis, Plano Illinois and Chicago are excellent backdrops for these key components of the Superman mythos. All though more of Smallville is seen in the film (fight scenes, flashbacks to Clark's past), the use of Chicago for Metropolis was great. I'm basically tooting my home state support horn here, but so what? I look forward to seeing in the next Superman film, if (and hopefully) Chicago will again be used for Metropolis. 

For the costumes, oh man where to start? The Kryptonian garb worn by Jor-El (Russell Crowe), Lara (Ayelet Zurer), Zod (Michael Shannon) and the Kryptonian Council were awesome. Truly, those clothes were out of this world (ok sue me, its a classic pun and it fits). Superman's uniform was awesome, and looked insanely comfortable to wear. The S-shield on the chest of the costume was a stylized version of the one used during the 1940's in the comics, and not only that, but the S wasn't even actually part of the costume. Instead of being physically on the suit, sewn in, it was raised, like a logo or crest, marking the significance of the symbol (in the film it is the symbol of the House of El). 

Now for the special effects, and wowzer's were they ever amazing. Simulating Superman's powers on the screen has always been a challenge for filmmakers, but this time, they got it so right, it jumped several levels on the awesome scale. When Superman is in flight, it all looks so fluid and loose at the same time, like if a man truly could fly (with years of honing it) this is what it would look like. The effects used to render the various Kryptonian creatures, buildings, and ships seen in the film were spectacular, and so real, one would almost imagine all of it to truly exist. 

On to the cast. Oh goodness me, where to start? Ok, let's start with the obvious one, Henry Cavill stepping in to don the cape and tights of Superman. In a nutshell, Cavill IS Superman. He nailed the character so well, although there were times when he seemed a bit too serious. But aside from that readers, if Superman was a real person, this is how I would imagine him to be, quiet, serious, but with a sense of humor, an honorable being, raised by two loving parents, and endowed with the knowledge and teachings of both his human father and his Kryptonian father. 

Amy Adams as Lois Lane, boy did they make the right call. Up till now, I've only seen Ms. Adams in more comedic musical roles, but she is the icing on the cake for Lois Lane portrayals. She was serious, sarcastic, and yet genuine and sweet as well. 

Michael Shannon as General Zod, oh holy crap was he scary! This guy nailed the Zod of the comic books, an egomaniacal person, a soldier determined to do his duty to his world, even at the cost of murder and violence. I hope he wins some kind of award for playing this role, because he deserves it. 

Russell Crowe as Jor-El, now this was a great casting choice from the start. He portrayed Superman's Kryptonian father in a way that took him beyond the role of the planets leading scientist, but also gives him the added title of total bad-ass. No other man could have played this role the way he did, I just can't think of anyone who could have pulled it off. 

The rest of the cast was spectacular. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane were wonderful as Jonathan and Martha Kent. They showed the genuine love and warmth that two parents would have for a child from the stars, and the influence that Jonathan is shown to have on Clark's life is huge in developing Clark's character choices throughout the film. Everyone else was awesome, a great cast was put together for the film, and they delivered stunning performances. 

Before I end this, I just want to say, how beyond awesome this film was. This is a film, that showed our world, the real world, and what happens when a being as powerful as Superman comes to it. If the world of comic books was to be a real one, I hope to God that it would be like this. This is a world (fictionally) that is going to become a place where the impossible is possible, things that could have never happened before will happen, and the stuff of dreams will become reality. 

I give this film 5 out of 5 stars for delivering the most amazing Superman film to date. Everything I talked about in this review, all of it, is what contributed to making this movie great. I hope that everyone who see's this movie will love it as much as I did.