Sunday, November 13, 2016

Hacksaw Ridge Review: Holding Fast to God During War

World War II, one of the bloodiest conflicts in the history of the modern world, was a time of testing for many men, young and old, who felt the urge to take up arms and defend the ideals of freedom and democracy.

Hacksaw Ridge is Mel Gibson's latest movie, and while I love all of his projects, this one stands out because of the fact that it is a film being made by such a big name Hollywood director, with a all-star cast to boot (with Spider-Man actor Andrew Garfield playing Desmond Doss, Hugo Weaving as his father and Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington as Doss's commanding officers (and his greatest detractors because of his faith in God being Doss's reason for not picking up a weapon).

Everyone who joined up with the knowledge that they would be taking up arms and have to take human life in order to make the world a safer place. But for Desmond Doss, the urge was to join up as a medic and to save lives, not take them. Doss was a Christian, specifically a Seventh-Day Adventist, and while I could go into reams of detail about his choosing to be an Adventist, what matters more then anything, was that he held fast to the 6th Commandment "Thou Shalt Not Kill", despite receiving massive negativity from not only his fellow soldiers, but his commanding officers, as shown in the movie. And in holding fast to his tenant of not taking life, he persevered and went on to save 75 soldiers during The Battle of Okinawa, earning the respect of many members of his company, his commanding officers and being the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor for his military service.

I urge everyone who see's this film, be prepared for violence and intensity in a way that will not glorify war as most films about the subject do. Movie-goers, Christians especially, should be prepared for the joy that I felt at seeing (even a fictional portrayal of real events) a story about how faith in God should not be ridiculed or looked down on, even in a time of war.

However, with this urging to see the film, there is also caution, because while many films glorify war and combat, Mel Gibson does not hold back in depicting how bloody and violent the conflict on Hacksaw Ridge was for both the American's and Japanese soldiers.

Hacksaw Ridge has been praised by critics and movie-goers, and I am adding my praise to those voices, and I am awarding this movie four out of four stars, for its story, casting, and above all, for showing that having faith in God and holding fast to one's beliefs and values no matter what, can make a huge difference in a person's life, and in the lives of those who interact with said person. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Doctor Strange Review

A few days ago, I saw "Doctor Strange" with my girlfriend, brother and a dear friend of ours for my birthday. We had all been waiting for this movie to come out for a while now, and as we all sat there for almost two hours, watching Benedict Cumberbatch go from being an arrogant jerk of a man to a humbled and wholly enlightened man, one word (as cliche as it may be) ran through my brain "magic".

I could spend time doing my usual thing about talking about how each member of the cast did a spectacular job (which they all did), but I want to write about a major theme in this movie. And I will be using a quote from the film to help me talk about said theme.

The Ancient One: Arrogance and fear still keep you from learning the simplest and most significant lesson of all.
Dr. Stephen Strange: Which is?
The Ancient One: It's not about you.

That bit of dialogue, right there, blew my mind. It summed up so much about the character of Doctor Strange in his time before he chooses to actively learn the mystic arts and become Earth's Sorcerer Supreme (though in the film universe attaining this title will take time it seems). Stephen Strange is an arrogant, brilliant and utterly self-absorbed neurosurgeon, a man whose medical skills have made him very wealthy and successful, but also inflated his ego to titanic proportions.

So when he wrecks his car, and his hands suffer the most severe nerve damage possible, his career is over, and his life seems to become utterly meaningless to him. All he cares about is finding some way to heal his hands so he can get back to his old life, a life of saving lives and receiving money and accolades. In many ways, humanity is so much like Stephen Strange at the film's start. People go throughout their lives, sometimes almost mechanically in nature, thinking that everything they do is important and everything in their life is more important then everyone else's and that their world, the tiny planet they live on, is the only thing that matters.

But then something comes along, something big or small, that is utterly unexpected and can throw one's lives into sheer and utter chaos. How people react to it, is the defining factor of how we move forward. People can be like Stephen Strange, and blindly cling to faint hopes that if they try every solution available, they can go back to that old life, not even aware that the rest of the world has just kept on going, and they are the one's stuck.

This is a major turning point in the movie for Stephen Strange, when he realizes that it truly ISN'T about him, and that he must accept this sad but real truth and move forward. And so he does, working hard to learn the mystic arts and take his place as one of the many sorcerer's who are tasked with protecting the world from threats of the mystical kind (this is hardly spoiler's for those who have no seen the film yet, I'm sorry but the plot is somewhat obvious from the trailers at time).

When people open their minds, hearts and souls to the fact that they are a part of something bigger, and can choose to be more active in serving that bigger purpose (for me, as a Christian, it is serving God each day through my work, no matter what I do, big or small at my job, I do it not for my glory, but for his glory).

There is a verse in the New Testament that applies to this theme, of accepting that we are not the most singular thing in the universe and that we are people who are called to be a part of something bigger; 1 Peter 4:10 reads "Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in it's various forms."

To apply this verse to the theme in "Doctor Strange" that I've written about, I'll sum it up. We as people before finding the truth of God go through our lives like Stephen Strange, absorbed, and focused only on ourselves. It is only when we stop staring blindly ahead and look around and see the world and see what we can do to help make it a better place by serving God using our gifts and abilities, that we can begin to do work that will truly make a difference.

In closing, "Doctor Strange" hit the mark very highly as the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I am giving it four out of four stars for its stellar casting, a superb plot that introduced non-comic book fans to Marvel's Sorcerer Supreme, and for a special effects that will make any comic fan weep tears of joy.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice Review

As of a half-hour ago, I saw along with many other people, a movie that was action-filled, and delivered up "the greatest gladiator match in the history of the world." After 75 long years, countless TV shows, cartoons and crossovers in other forms of media (including radio), Batman and Superman (or Superman and Batman) finally have met on the big screen for a titanic class unlike any other.

This movie, as a sequel to "Man of Steel", does a lot of things right, especially with the casting. But it also does a lot of things wrong, especially where plot and some of the special effects are concerned. Before I delved into the bad, I want to focus on the good.

Ben Affleck was a superb casting choice as Batman. Specifically the Batman that is being drawn from Frank Miller's 1986 comics masterpiece "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns". The Batman audiences are given is a brooding, vengeance driven older man, weary from his 20 year long war on the criminal element of Gotham City, that dons cape and cowl once more when he see's Superman as a giant threat to the status quo of humanity and the continued existence of the Earth. What comes from that return to his costumed identity is seeing a lot of Bruce Wayne doing the more detective elements of the Batman role, and Batman doing more of the punch-first and strike fear before asking questions kind of work. All that aside, Affleck was awesome, and his continued role as Batman is one that will no doubt be enjoyable for comic book fans and movie-goers alike.

Gal Gadot steps up in a big way bringing Wonder Woman to life on the silver screen for the very first time. This is a character that embodies so many different traits, passionate, strong, peace seeker, warrior, demi-goddess etc. And Gadot showcases all of these traits when she is both Wonder Woman (Diana) going through with her own personal mission (that is a very small part of the overall film plot) and when she don's the armor and weapons of Wonder Woman to help the guys (heh, yeah I went there) save the day. What we have been given is just a taste of what Gal Gadot can do as Wonder Woman. How the character will be portrayed in the standalone movie slated to come out in 2017 and the Justice League movie, is another thing entirely. But I can state with confidence, I can't wait to see what she does.

Jesse Eisenberg's performance as Lex Luthor was a far cry from the traditional mad scientist/billionaire supervillain of old. Instead we are given what could only be described as a mash-up of Eisenberg's Max Zuckerberg (young, successful, charismatic multi-billionaire) with the more traditional Lex Luthor character elements (namely hates Superman because he (Superman) has all this power and yet chooses to simply do good and try to help people with it), along with the "desire" to set Batman and Superman against one another so that one will kill the other. Yet in the end Lex would win because his insane little goal of just watching these two guys duke it out to the death would be fulfilled in order to "save" humanity. Ultimately, Eisenberg has carved out his own little niche in the pantheon of actors who have played Superman's arch-nemesis, and he fills that niche quite nicely.

Jeremy Irons isn't a major part in this movie, after all he is Alfred Pennyworth, loyal companion and confidant to Bruce Wayne in his mission as the Batman. But wait, this Alfred isn't just a stable father figure for emotional support when Bruce needs a reminder about why he is doing the right thing (Michael Cain's performance did that job quite nicely). Instead the Alfred audiences are given is a snarky, hard-working individual who was and still is in fact the head of Wayne Industries (or Wayne Financial in the movie) security. So this is an Alfred who knows what he is doing when it comes to thinking of ways to keep "Master Bruce" safe when he dons the cape and cowl to go out and beat on bad guys. Iron's does a great job as Alfred, and definitely takes the character to a new height beyond the classic role of butler/manservant/jack of all trades in helping Bruce Wayne fight crime. Hopefully he will continue to show up further DC movies as Alfred, because to simply use him once and throw him away afterwards would be a dreadful shame.

Now that I have focused on the four good things about the movie (in terms of new characters/casting), I want to focus on the two bad things about this movie, the overcrowded plot and major overuse of special effects.

As far as plot goes, too much was shoehorned into this movie (clocking it in at almost 3 hours in length). It suffers from the same mistake that Avengers: Age of Ultron made last year, trying to squeeze in too much story for the sake of advancing the characters, introducing new characters to help keep interest up (although this time it does the job magnificently) and bouncing all over the place in terms of said plot, leaving the pacing of the story varied and at times rather confusing.

Special effects wise, the movie had way too much. Like half of the end fight is just special effects (because the monster aka Doomsday) is a completely CGI figure) which means that there is a lot of bright flashes, loud booms and explosions of the kind that can only be done by a combination of Hollywood magic and computers. Despite all this, the big showdown fight between Batman and Superman was amazing and glorious, and by far one of the best aspects of the film.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is certainly a great action movie, and to many people a great comic book movie. And while it does suffer from the all important part of plot, coupled with the special effects overload, it more then makes up for these shortcomings by having a great expanded cast, introducing new characters (and hinting at others to come) while setting the stage for the eventual Justice League movie that is slated for a 2017 release date. This is a film that will stand alone for years to come, and one that will be enjoyed by many, young and old, comic book fans and movie-goers alike.  Final star count is 4.5 out 5 for the aforementioned casting decisions, and for helping to finally after 75 years, bring Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman together on the big screen in a big, noisy and epic way.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Deadpool Review

What happens when you take Hollywood heartthrob Ryan Reynolds, stick in a spandex red super-suit, mix in some super cool mutant healing powers, add a splash of twisted humor, and a hearty dosage of cool secondary characters? Well you dear readers have just mixed up a piping hot bowl of Deadpool. And let me tell you something, that is not only a tasty movie to see, it'll leave you giggling for it again and again and again.

But in all seriousness, the movie was everything I'd hoped for and more. It had all the elements of a Deadpool comic, action, violence, witty one-liners, dark humor, light humor, references to pop culture, fourth-wall breaking (and sometimes the fourth-wall being smashed in with a giant metaphorical hammer). Now that the gushing about the film's overall content is out of the way, I'm going to move on to the gushing about the cast.

Ryan Reynolds, a man blessed with a silver tongue and a sharp wit. From the moment I saw him in Wolverine: Origins as Wade Wilson I knew in my heart, that if ever there was going to be a Deadpool movie, he'd be the one to slip into the red and black spandex.

Morena Baccarin was a wonderful casting choice for Vanessa, Wade's girlfriend, love interest and the damsel in distress for him to come in and save in a violent and epic fashion. She is lovely to behold, has some great dialogue between herself and Ryan Reynolds, and isn't there to just prop up Deadpool/Wade Wilson on screen, she adds to the story by giving him something to fight for, something to live for.

Ed Skrein steps into the role of Ajax, a known Deadpool enemy (well not known by me, but hey, now I've got an excuse to go and read those old Deadpool comics). As the sinister villain who is responsible for Wade getting his ultra-advanced healing factor, he is downright vile and wicked. And plus he get's some epic fight scenes and villain dialogue.

The rest of the cast is filled out with T.J. Miller as Weasel, Gina Carano as Angel Dust (Ajax's right hand woman), Leslie Uggams as Blind Al, newcomer Brianna Hildebrand as X-Man Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Stefan Kapičić as X-Man Colossus. Plus a very amusing cameo by, yes you guessed it, Marvel's very own Stan Lee, and one by Deadpool creator Rob Liefeld as well. 

Deadpool was a movie that has long been awaited by fan's and Internet people alike (based on all the chatter I saw in forums and movie news sites). It had all the look and feel of a Deadpool comic, with an amazing cast, excellent soundtrack and intense action scenes, witty dialogue and above all, it made me wanting a Deadpool sequel here and now. This film gets high marks and a "must see" and "must see again" rating of four out of four stars. But seriously, it's a great film to see by one's self or as a Valentine's date this weekend. Show someone how much you love them, by taking them to see everyone's favorite Merc with a Mouth and remember, Deadpool knows how much you love him too. 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

It has been a long time since I was truly excited for the release of a new Star Wars film, but as I sit here writing, my mind still flashes back to the mere hours ago that I sat down and was exposed to what the brilliant mind of J.J. Abrams did with George Lucas's sci-fi superbaby.

The last Star Wars film to be released was back in 2005, so it has been a long while since any adventures happened in a galaxy far, far away. But this movie was worth the wait, it was the most compelling two hours I've sat through in a long while.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens cast was utterly fantastic. Aside from bringing back Harrison Ford as Han Solo (a role which he slipped back into like a glove) and Carrie Fisher (proving that even a thirty-two year gap does not diminish one's ability as an actress), Peter Mayhew stepped back into the role of Chewbacca (and did an amazing job as usual with it), and C-3PO (played once again by the talented Anthony Daniels), there were also new faces to the cast of Star Wars and what a job they did.

Daisy Ridley, a new face to the acting world plays the role of Rey, a fierce and independent young woman who finds herself drawn into the ongoing conflict between the Resistance (the new face of the Rebellion) and the First Order (the "next generation" Empire). She does an outstanding job, she is powerful, has a strong camera presence and her stunt-work is absolutely epic. It's clear her character is going to play a major role in the future Star Wars and I for one cannot wait to see what happens to her character.

John Boyega is Finn, a First Order Stormtrooper who reforms and joins the Resistance and is drawn into the overarching conflict that makes up The Force Awakens plot. He proves to be a capable fighter and soldier who is trying to rediscover his purpose in the universe after being on the wrong side of a war for a long time.

Oscar Isaac is Poe Dameron, self-described as "the greatest pilot in the Resistance" who certainly tries to live up to his legend. Isaac plays the character as determined, hard-headed, willing to go the extra distance for his friends and not willing to back down from any challenge. A fine and welcome edition to many legions of brave men and women who have fought for the Rebellion/Resistance in the name of freedom.

Adam Driver steps up as Kylo Ren, a new and sinister Sith in the galaxy. He is a clear disciple of the Sith and a fierce follower of the legacy of Darth Vader, determined to finish Vader's mission to wipe out any traces of the Jedi from the galaxy. Driver plays the character as moody but also emotional, prone to fits of anger that include taking his lightsaber and destroying whatever the heck is in his way in the process. Whatever Ren's overall role in the new Star Wars mytho's J.J. Abrams is crafting, I for one can't wait to see where he ends up along the way.

Overall, the film itself was wonderful. It's taken thirty-two years for the story of Luke, Leia, Han and the Rebellion to be continued on the big screen but it was utterly worth the wait. When Star Wars Episode 8 makes it to the movie theatres in 2017, it will be awesome, unbelievably awesome.

This film gets high marks for script, casting, special effects and once again proving that adventure is out there in the galaxy, all we have to do is reach out and grasp it. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Jack Kirby: A Reflection on the King of Comics

When many people are asked today who was the man who helped make Marvel Comics great, the answer that will be given the majority of the time is Stan Lee. And while its true that Stan did his part to make Marvel Comics great, a lot of the real credit should be going to Jack Kirby, the artistic and creative genius behind many of the fine characters that are part of the Marvel Comics line.

I write these words today, because today is Jack Kirby's 98th birthday. He passed from this world back in 1994, but he left behind a heck of a legacy. A legacy not only of characters and stories, but of artistic accomplishment, taking his self-taught methods and applying them to create panels and pages and covers of some of the most beautiful, splashy and brilliant artwork in the comics industry.

Jack drew from the world around him when creating Marvel's many fine heroes and villains. He drew from life experiences of growing up in Manhattan's Lower East Side. A prime example of this influence is the character of Ben Grimm, rocky super-strong Thing of the Fantastic Four. In fact many fans of Kirby's work often cite Ben as Jack in superhero form. Both grew up in rougher parts of New York (Ben grew up on the fictional Yancy Street, located on the Lower East Side). Both are of the Jewish faith, both are tough as nails and quick to defend friends, but both men have their soft sides as well.

Jack Kirby was always a consummate professional, and his thoughts on professionalism are well known. This quote sums up that professionalism very nicely: "I've never done anything half-heartedly; its a disservice to me and the audience if I do it half-heartedly."

In the end, much of what Marvel Comics is today is owed to Jack Kirby and his work. Half the superhero movies that are being produced by Hollywood are because of Jack working tirelessly to create these many fine characters and infuse them with life. So to whoever reads this, the next time you pick up a Marvel comic or watch a Marvel movie and you see Jack Kirby's name attached to the "created by" text, remember the man, the myth, the legend, that is Jack Kirby, the King of Comics.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron

There comes a time in many superheroes careers when they face a threat that isn't from another dimension or planet, isn't out to conquer the Earth or make it a part of some vast interstellar empire. Sometimes, the threat comes directly from home, and its born of the misguided dreams of those close to the heroes, and culminates in something terrible that could end all human life in a stroke.

That is what happens when the Avengers return to the big screen with Joss Whedon at the helm and face the sentient machine intelligence known as Ultron, who will stop at nothing to pacify humankind in pursuit of his warped goals.

The main cast of the film has the Avengers returning in full force, but each changed in subtle ways. For Captain America (Chris Evans) the change comes from having faced down his best friend Bucky in The Winter Soldier and having helped topple S.H.I.E.L.D. in order to save the world from a secret HYDRA threat. For Iron Man (Tony Stark), there's the whole rediscovered purpose in his mission as a hero and billionaire/inventor from Iron Man 3. As for the rest of the team, well they are shown as dealing with their own various problems. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) is dealing with finding his place on the team, as Hulk and also dealing with the romantic advances of Natasha Romanov. Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) is her usual epic self, and also as stated before, is in something of a flirtatious relationship with Bruce Banner, while Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is up to his usual tricks, cracking wise, being a master of the bow and proving that you don't need superpowers to be an effective crime fighter.

New-comers to the Marvel Cinematic Universe are legion, so I'm going to focus on the one's that play a central role in the film. The first are Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and her brother Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), known to all comics fans as the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. They start out on the wrong side of the conflict in the movie, angry at the Avengers for bringing more destruction to their tiny (and fictional) European homeland of Sokovia, when dealing with a minor threat at the start of the film. Along the way they realize that they are in fact in the wrong in choosing sides in the conflict and defect to the Avengers, proving themselves in battle and worthy of the trust of Earth's Mightiest Heroes.

James Spader steps up the camera in a big way, providing both the voice and motion capture for Ultron, the sentient machine that has a major God-complex and seeks to pacify Earth by destroying humankind. Ultron (Spader) makes use of Biblical scripture in his villainous monologues, citing Scripture in order to justify his mission to help humanity by destroying it. Spader does an amazing job bringing the character to life, in ways that previous media (all cartoons by the way) could never have done. Even though the villain appears for just this one movie, he leaves a major mark that will affect not only the Avengers, but the entire MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) itself.

The final major new-comer to the MCU is Paul Bettany, known as the voice of Tony Stark's AI "butler" J.A.R.V.I.S., now stepping into the role as the Avenger Vision, also sentient machine created by Ultron in the comics to be the next step in AI life. Bettany doesn't appear until the film is nearly done but he is so utterly amazing in the role that it doesn't matter that his screen time comprises the very last bit of the story, it is worth it. Vision's powers are shown throughout the final parts of the film, including the ever classic ability to phase through objects and it looks so cool and real. Just goes to show what Hollywood movie magic is capable of.

Joss Whedon does an amazing job once again of taking Marvel Comics premier super-team and putting them up against impossible odds. The cast was superb, with all the newcomers doing a spectacular job. Special effects once again blew me away as always and the different locales used to advance the story, from Europe to Africa to America, just utterly astounding.

Avengers: Age of Ultron gets high marks for bringing Earth's Mightiest Heroes up to bat again and driving it all the way to home with a script that left me begging for me, an awesome cast, special effects galore (but that didn't take away from the story) and a soundtrack that was in one word: super. Highly recommend this movie to anyone and everyone who loves superheroes and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.