Monday, August 11, 2014

Robin Williams: The passing of a legend

Today, the world mourns the passing of Robin Williams, arguably, one of the greatest comedic personalities and actors of several generations. For many, he was known for his great dramatic roles, such as Adrian Cronauer in "Good Morning Vietnam", John Keating in "Dead Poets Society", Daniel Hillard in "Mrs. Doubtfire" and Sean Maguire in "Good Will Hunting". And for others, myself included, he was the voice of the Genie in "Aladdin". 

But he was so much more, to so many others. He was an inspiration for what it means to be good at being funny, to be really good. He was also an inspiration for those who pursue tireless dreams and should not give, because things start out rough. If they want to be good at something, they should pursue it, become better at it. And there is no better example then being good at pursuing a dream then Robin Williams. 

I could go on and on about his work in film, in stand up, in just being an all-around amazing human being. But mere words can not describe this towering figure, this giant of laughter. If you want to look for the means to describe who he was, look to his films, and the roles he played and the characters he brought to life. There is the means to describe who and what Robin Williams was. And do you know what my description of him is? Comedian, actor, genius, bringer of smiles and purveyor of good times. But now, the good times are over. Because the comedian has told his last joke, and the actor has taken his last bow. It's time to say so long folks, and have a good evening, drive safe, and keep smiling.

Friday, August 1, 2014

'Guardians of the Galaxy' Review

If there is one word I can use to sum up Marvel's latest film "Guardians of the Galaxy", it is quite simply, amazing. This movie did for me, what no other film has done in a long time. It made me laugh, made me cry, made me grip my seat arms with excitement and anticipation. James Gunn does an outstanding job taking a film with characters from the Marvel Universe that haven't seen the big screen before, and blending them and their worlds together in a film that takes drama, comedy and adventure and mix it together into one delicious cocktail of excellent.

One of the things that stood out for me right off the bat was the acting and casting. Chris Pratt takes his role as Star-Lord and really owns it, making the character brave, stupid, roguish and sometimes downright annoying. In short, to me, he is like a young Captain James T. Kirk (the womanizing aspect doesn't need explanation, its prevalent alright). Zoe Saldana fits the role of Gamora, taking the character's serious, yet caring nature and bringing it to life along with her fierce fighting skills. As for Dave Batista as Drax, well while he starts off somewhat awkward in the role, he gets progressively better throughout the film. And last but not least, we round out the hero cart with Bradley Cooper providing the voice of Rocket Raccoon and Vin Diesel providing the voice and motion casting of Groot. Both do amazing jobs, even if Groots dialogue is limited to three syllables. But Rocket, well, there are times I wanna punt the little guy like a furry football, and times when you want to hug him and hope he doesn't scratch off your face and ruin the nice moment.

Lee Pace stepping in as Kree terrorist Ronan the Accuser is a nice touch, but the character is at times rather one-sided. He does have his moments though, as does Karen Gillan as Nebula, one of the mad Titan Thano's adopted daughters. Oh, and did I mention Thanos shows up as well? Yes, the legendary villain finally gets screen time, with his voice and motion capture provided by actor Josh Brolin (I was extremely terrified and excited when this scene played out).

As for the CGI, special effects and visual appeal of the film, there is no shortage of that. Sets like the Xandarian prison The Kiln, the space outpost Knowhere and Ronan's ship 'The Dark Aster' are beautifully done and incredibly elaborate. But part of me was left lacking by the fact that while the Nova Corps home planet of Xandar is shown, there isn't much detail about the people of Xandar and the culture, merely that it is the object of Ronan's evil desires. But I can excuse this because the battle scenes are quite literally out of this world.

Overall, this movie is well worth all the wait. It holds up, and goes above and beyond what I had even expected. It is the most unique of the Marvel films thus far, because it literally opens the possibility of bringing more to the table as far as movies go, literally taking audiences among the stars to new worlds. I am giving the moving four out of four stars for amazing acting, sets, CGI, story and above all, for making a guy like me feel like a kid again. It takes a lot for a film to garner that kind of reaction from me, and 'Guardians of the Galaxy' does that in spades.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

'Godzilla' Review

Several hours ago, I had the good fortune to catch a early day showing of the new Godzilla film, and wow, it was beyond amazing. The story, the special effects and the acting, ah, they were so glorious!

Right off the bat, audiences are shown that this isn't just going to be the usual Godzilla-brand movie of giant monsters fighting each other in a major metropolitan center. Yes, there are amazing fight scenes, but there is more then that. There is an actual story being told here, the story of what would happen in our world, if these giant ancient monsters existed, and how would mankind react to them? Take that script, sprinkle in the fight sequences between the various armed forces (primarily US) and Godzilla taking on this new monster that is set out to sweep aside mankind for its own survival, and then there is one heck of a movie in front of audiences.

The special effects were beyond amazing. The CGI for Godzilla and the MUTO (the antagonist monster of the film) was utterly fantastic. It is both believable, and terrifying to behold. If there are ever to be sequel movies made, this is the style of special effects crafting that needs to be utilized for making these movie monsters so real.

As for the acting, well honestly, it was a bit of hit and miss. Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe and Aaron Taylor-Johnson all did amazing jobs with their performances, but Elizabeth Olsen's was a bit out of place. Her role is that of the loving wife to Taylor-Johnson's soldier husband, and she does her part well, but it felt out of place in all these action sequences and scenes within military zones planning the next moves against the creatures. But in the end, all did deliver and helped make the movie all the better for their acting.

'Godzilla' gets four out of four stars for breathing fresh life into the monster movie franchise, and for doing it in a way that pays homage to the films that came before it, while presenting a fresh new take on the genre that can hopefully delight and thrill audiences should further movies be made.

Friday, May 2, 2014

'Amazing Spider-Man 2' Review

One word, can be used to describe the new Spider-Man film ladies and gentlenerds (cliche as it may be), and that word is amazing. This second installment delivers so much to the screen, it stands apart from its predecessor and has laid the foundation for even more great Spider-Man films.

To start off, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone once again do a spectacular job as Peter and Gwen. There are obvious changes to the characters, the passage of time aging them, their relationship now taking a new turn as they leave high school and go off into the world of college. Andrew has upped things in his performance of Spidey, really putting the 'friendly' back into Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. He cracks funny jokes, deliver's great one-liners and carries the character physically in a way that is entirely believable and helps sell the performance. And Emma, oh there was never a doubt in my mind as to her performance. Here is her character, at this crossroads of life, and she has to make tough decisions about her future, and whether or not the man she loves (plus his side career as New York's favorite web-slinging superhero) are going to be a part of it. Once again, she is bold, she is sassy, she will break your heart and then help you pick up the pieces again, only to break it once more.

There are two new-comers to the film, Jaime Foxx as Max Dillon/Electro and Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborn. Jamie has set himself up in a huge way as Electro, starting out as meek, pushover Max, who goes through this very Jekyll and Hyde like transformation when he becomes Electro, and gets overwhelmed by this power. By the time the film ends, he has become so intimidating and scary, with these small bolts of electricity crackling from his fingers, that I was genuinely in awe and afraid. As for Dane DeHaan, who is brand new to the franchise in the role of Peter's best friend Harry Osborn, he presents a young man, who was pushed aside by his father and shunted out of his life, all in the name of business. Now he has come back into Peter's life a changed person, and these changes affect their friendship, down to the very core. What comes from these changes, are events that will rock their lives, and the lives of all who close to them.

Special effects, oh what glorious special effects! The CGI for Electro starts out a bit cartoonish, but as the film progresses, it is better and better, until the very end, during the nice, splashy fight sequence, it is utterly unbelievable. Spidey's web slinging across the great canyon's of New York City skyscrapers is wonderful, at times you'd think he was going to websling out of the screen and into the theatre.

Overall, the whole movie was again (a cliche word to use) amazing. Acting, special effects, plot, pacing, all of these things contribute to put together a film that is going to be very memorable for all who see it. Face front true believers, Amazing Spider-Man 2 is worth the ticket money, and I'm giving it five out of five stars. Nuff said. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' Review

When a nation calls for a hero, who is the one that answers that call. I'll give you all a hint, he wears the flag on his chest, and carries a wonderful shield made of indestructible alloy's. Once again ladies and gentlenerds, Captain America, the Sentinel of Liberty, is back, and better then ever. 

This second film, starring Chris Evans as one of Marvel's oldest superheroes, delivers not only one-two action sequences, but a compelling and dark story that thrusts Cap's black and white way of viewing the world, into a tangled spy story where a lot of grey bleeds into the picture. 

Audiences are treated to the return of some familiar faces from the Marvel Cinematic-verse, Chris Evans being one, as well as Scarlett Johansson and Samuel Jackson. There is also the return of Sebastian Stan as the titular villain the Winter Soldier, and Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/Falcon. A second new face is acting legend Robert Redford as senior officer of S.H.I.E.L.D. Though Stan is silent for the majority of the film, his face does most of the talking, conveying the stern, hard evil that the Soldier projects further through his fighting and combat scenes. Mackie does a splendid job as a newcomer to the Marvel fold, and Redford nails his role utterly. 

The script is an excellent one, and while I'm not going to spoil it for everyone who hasn't seen the film yet, if anyone recalls many of the political-thriller films of the 1970s. Steve Rogers may have been awake in the comics for the swinging 60's, the Watergate 70's and the Regan 80's up to the modern day, but since he's been asleep for 60 years within the Marvel Cinematic-verse, the writing is meant to draw the elements of that period, and tie them into the modern setting for him to encounter. And it does that in a way that is both compelling and engaging for audiences. 

Overall, I give this film four out of four stars, for being another brilliant chapter in the Marvel Movie-verse, delivering one again that fantastic blend of story and action that has become synonymous with their movies. And I encourage everyone to go and see this film, because it is worth, 100%.

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.