Marvel’s Doctor Strange Teaser Trailer

The Force Awakens Trailer!!!

Avengers: Age of Ultron is Worthy

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Avengers: Age of Ultron is the sequel to the wildly successful original Avengers movie. Returning to the franchise is director/writer Joss Whedon, and the big 6: Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Chris Evans (Captain America), Chris Helmsworth (Thor), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) and Scarlet Johanson (Black Widow).

The film opens with The Avengers taking down one of the last remaining Hydra bases (remember them from Captain America:Winter Soldier?). The objective is twofold, search for rumored alien tech that fell into Hydra’s hands after the Battle of New York and specifically retrieve the Scepter of Loki.

This opening battle sequence is a great set piece to start the film and helps establish how our heroes have meshed together as a team since the first film. It is revealed that Hydra is using their discoveries to try to create their own soldiers with super powers. We get to meet the cinematic versions of Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). Quicksilver is capable of running at unbelievable speeds and gives a serious challenge to the team. However, a bigger threat is created by the Scarlet Witch. At this point in the film she uses her powers to reveal each characters greatest fears. These fears drive the rest of the film and provide the basis for the seeds that will culminate in Captain America: Civil War.

Tony Stark (Iron Man) has just discovered Loki’s scepter when the Scarlet Witch uses her power on him. Turns out that Tony’s biggest fear is that he will be responsible for the destruction of the world and the deaths of his teammates because he will be unable to stop the next alien invasion. I won’t go into everyone else’s fears here. Just know that they will tie in nicely to the dissension that begins to eat away at Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and will continue to propel this franchise.

Tony convinces Bruce Banner (Hulk) to help him use the power of the Scepter to help construct a artificial intelligence peacekeeping program he has been working on called Ultron. As luck would have it, the duo is successful. TOO Successful, because Ultron has achieved sentience and has decided that there will never be peace as long as humanity exists. Therefore, he must exterminate the human race. Ultron is played in all his CGI glory by James Spader. Mr Spader does a wonderful job of voicing this iconic Marvel villain (my personal favorite villain) and balances the role between psychotic and humorous with ease.

The rest of the film follows the machinations as the Avengers attempt to shut Ultron down but discover that he can download his consciousness into another body as easily or even more so than you can log on to various computers.

There are some incredibly complicated action sequences and I can’t begin to imagine the number of hours it took to choreograph, film and integrate with all the CGI. The battle between Hulk and Iron Man in his Hulkbuster armor (lovingly called “Veronica”) is tons of fun and an epic battle to witness. There are several other smaller battles and everyone gets a moment to shine

Eventually, The Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver realize how they have been misled by Hydra’s propaganda and Ultron’s lies. They decide to help the Avengers and begin to turn the tide.

The final battle is exactly what you would expect. It is grand, Wagnerian in nature and not without consequences. The stakes are the existence of the very planet and you have got to give the crew that put it together credit for putting such a thing on film. It looks fantastic!

Of course the Avengers save the day (they ARE heroes, after all) But its a victory that comes with a cost. The fears that they have are still working their ways into the decisions that are made and give rise to a new team. For those of you that are interested, you get a great Stan Lee cameo, the trademark Joss Whedon banter and humor is abundantly present and there is a nifty Mid Credit tag ending that reminds you of who and what these films are ultimately leading up to (Infinity War!!!). However, there is NOT a final tag ending after the credits are completed.

I think this is a great film. Enjoyable, layered and tons of Marvel easter eggs for the hardcore fan. Marvel fans will definitely squeal with delight as Ultron’s “Vision” is revealed!

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON

GRADE A-

 

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Chappie is, well, you know…

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I can see it now. Director Neil Blomkamp, still full of hope and promise after District 9 and only slightly tarnished from Elysium, goes into a meeting to pitch his next project, Chappie

“I have a vision for a movie about a robot. It’s a mashup of Short Circuit and Robocop. It’ll be great! And to ensure that we get the young adult crowd, we’ll give it a hard R rating!! Whattayasay???”

Investors are still unconvinced and so he continues on:

“Look, I’ve got a stellar cast lined up. We’ll have Sharito Copley do the motion capture for Chappie, my buddy Dev Patel will be the scientist/creator, Yo-Landi Visser and Ninja will be the criminals you can’t help but love, Sigourney Weaver will be the clueless CEO and Wolverine himself, Hugh Jackman will be our villain!! Heck, I’ll even get Hans Zimmer to do the music It can’t miss!!! Whattayasay?????”

Of course, the movie gets greenlit. It does sound great! Unfortunately, the reality is far removed from the vision.

Chappie depicts a world in the not too distant future where Robots are being used as the main force in augmenting the abilities of the local police to combat crime. They are called Scout Drones and are the creation of  Deon Wilson (Patel). His main rival is Vincent Moore (Jackman), who has created another type of robot called MOOSE that is the mother of all overkill in modern weapons. Moose is big, has machine guns, as well as Cluster bombs.

Wackiness ensues when Deon, who is ready to test a program that will make artificial intelligence sentient, uses the new program on a Scout that is scheduled to be scrapped. Through a series of events, Vincent discovers what Deon has done and plots to use the situation to discredit Deon and gain support for his MOOSE program. Things are complicated when the now sentient robot, called CHAPPIE, winds up being “raised” by a group of criminals that want to use him to pull off one big heist. He winds up talking like the gangsters that are raising them and even emulates their body language. 

Chappie excels in the integration of the motion capture work of Sharito Copley to bring the sentient robot to life. The cinematography is exceptional and creates a believable atmosphere of squalor coupled with technological achievement. The scenes where Chappie is abandoned and experiences the cruelty of man firsthand can be jarring and echoes incidents of abuse that are all too often parts of our reality.

The film breaks down with incredibly huge, gaping holes in its internal logic. Chappie has the intelligence of a newborn when he first awakens. However, without explanation, he matures mentally to a young teenager. I can accept that the AI can develop more quickly than a human, but there is no context to show how fast he learns or how he gains the knowledge to use the skills he demonstrates. He also makes an unexplained leap from the mind of a child with no experience regarding computer science, programming or computation to being able to develop a way to transfer a consciousness from one body to another.

I could ignore these potholes and chock it up to editing, however there is one major plot point upon which the movie turns, that is unforgivable. Chappie possesses a CPU that acts as a “key”. It connects him to the rest of the Scout drone network.  In a particularly disturbing scene, Vincent captures Chappie and removes the key so that he can disable the network and create a situation that can only be resolved by deploying the MOOSE unit. The plan is put into effect and the network is shut down. INCLUDING CHAPPIE. HUH? He’s not connected to the network anymore so how is this possible? Later in the movie, Chappie is able to accomplish a major plot point by entering the network, BUT HE STILL DOESN’T HAVE THE KEY! 

In my opinion, gaping lapses in story logic is an unforgivable sin that ruins  my ability to enjoy a film.

Ultimately, Chappie is a disappointment because no matter how well intended the allegory, if you don’t follow the rules you set up in your story, your message doesn’t matter.

Chappie-C

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The Imitation Game is Riveting

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The Imitation Game is the Oscar nominated film directed by Morten Tyldum, and starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke, Matthew Goode as Hugh Alexander, and Rory Kinnear as Detective Robert Nock. It is based on the book titled Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges.

People tend to forget that when a film is portrayed as being based on something that it means exactly that. This is not a documentary and is not a faithful, historical recreation of Alan Turing’s life. What this film does is take 3 specific time periods in Alan Turing’s life and weaves a story about the race to break the codes of the Nazi Enigma machine to help hasten the end of WW II. 

Tyldum does a masterful job of creating an interweaving story that shows Turing’s relationships with the men (and woman)he worked with on the top secret Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, the impact of his experiences as a young boy in boarding school and his friendship with Christopher Morcom, and finally, the consequences in 1951 for Alan Turing after  he is investigated by the police for suspicious behavior.

The film works on so many levels. It is a thriller, a mystery and a tale of prejudice and discrimination. We get a glimpse into the turmoil that Turing must have experienced during his life as a gifted genius who also happens to live in a society where homosexuality is a crime punishable by either prison or chemical castration. It serves as perfect metaphor for so many people today who may be gifted in a variety of areas, but are experiencing prejudice and discrimination in their own lives.

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A director working on a biographical/historical film has a couple of innate problems that must be dealt with, regardless of the subject matter. In an interview with Time magazine, Mr. Tyldum is quoted as saying:

“It’s a huge responsibility when you’re dealing with real-life persons and real-life events to do it accurately. Of course, you have to compress a lot into two hours, and there’s no way you can be totally accurate. You have to convey the emotional accuracy—how did Alan Turing feel at this time?—and to do that, you sort of have to dramatize events.

That’s why I wanted it to feel like a thriller. He was 27 years old when he came to Bletchley Park, where the code-breakers worked. Here was this man plucked straight out of Cambridge. And he ends up with all these incredible secrets being dumped on his shoulders and all this incredible pressure. It would be as if he was living in the middle of this wartime spy thriller, so that’s what we wanted to convey.

One thing people have been saying is it’s not accurate that the machine he built was named Christopher. Here’s the fact though: The machine was inspired by Christopher. We know this because he wrote letters to Christopher’s mom his whole life. We know that from his journals, his obsession about recreating a consciousness that he lost—Christopher. How do we communicate that onscreen without making it a lecture? By naming the machine Christopher.”

The Imitation Game is not the only Oscar nominated biographical film to come under scrutiny this year. American Sniper has had its own share of critics for not being an accurate portrayal of Chris Kyle.

The biographical film will hopefully accomplish several goals. It should give the audience a snapshot of the subject and the circumstances that make this a significant period to observe. It should also create a need to know. What’s the full story? Why did this happen? What impact does it have on my life? In my case, I felt both films were very successful. I researched the lives of both men after I saw those films. When I discovered the differences it did not make me feel like I had been cheated or lied to. Instead, I felt that I was now more educated about events and issues that I had previously been ignorant about.

See The Imitation Game. You might discover some things you didn’t know before. It’s then up to you to find out if you were manipulated or educated.

 

The Imitation Game-A

 

Kingsman: The Secret Service may not be what you think

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We’re all familiar with the James Bond tropes before the current Daniel Craig outings. The typical plot line goes something like this: There’s an over the top threat to the world and James must save us by infiltrating, seducing and fighting his way across several exotic locations before a final showdown where he barely defeats the villain and is rewarded with copious amounts of sex as credits roll. Be assured that there are plenty of quips and double entendres along the way and that there is a diabolical henchman involved possessing some skill or physical attribute that makes it seem like our hero has no chance of victory.

Kingsman: The Secret Service takes these familiar plot lines and gives it a hard R twist with its violence. It is loosely based on comic titled The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons.  It is directed by Matthew Vaughn and stars Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Taron Egerton , Samuel L. Jackson and Sophie Cookson

The film opens in 1997, where we see 4 men interrogating a captured terrorist. The terrorist raises his head to reveal a grenade pin in his mouth. One of the interrogators throws himself on top of the terrorist, thus saving the others. Colin Firth’s character, Harry (codename Galahad), was in charge of that mission. Harry visits his fallen friend’s wife and attempts to give her  a medal in her husband’s memory. There is a phone number on the back of the medal in case she needs a favor, and to say “Oxford’s not brogues” to confirm her identity. She rejects the medal and so Harry give the medal to her son, Gary.

17 years later, another Kingsman operative is attempting the rescue of a kidnapped Professor. The operative is almost successful until he is killed in over the top fashion by Gazelle, a female assassin with bladed prosthetic legs. 

This opening sequence sets up the plot threads for the film. Harry takes the teen, Gary, under his wing and begins his training to become a member of the Kingsmen. The scenes trade off between Gary and other candidate’s training and those that further reveal the villainous intentions of Sam Jackson’s Mr. Valentine.

Kingsman entertains with action set pieces that defy physics and ramp up the budget for blood spatter. One of the highlights of the film is an extended  sequence that takes place in a church. Mr. Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson, speaking in only the 2nd most annoying voice this year, has created technology that uses cell phone signals to turn people into murderous hordes. His first test case of the mass murder network he created is in this church. We see an incredibly choreographed sequence of death and destruction in excruciating detail and slow motion that leaves Harry as the sole survivor. Upon emerging from the church, Harry regains his composure and has a fateful encounter with Mr. Valentine. This sets up the plot for the final act of the film.

Kingsman is a fun action movie for its demographic. My problem with the film is that I’m not sure how to take violence that is shown in such gleeful, glorious detail and I’m definitely uncomfortable with the notion of a female character offering sex as a reward for her freedom. (Admittedly a staple of the Roger Moore James Bond years, but at least it was inferred and not graphically described).  

Should I take this as just a modern take on an old formula or should I take it as where we’ve come as a society because we are so desensitized to sex and violence in today’s cinema? I think the answer to this may unfortunately say more about us than it does about the film.

Kingsman: The Secret Service-B

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American Sniper is an important film

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American Sniper is the film directed by Clint Eastwood about the life of Navy Seal Sniper, Chris Kyle. It stars Bradley Cooper as Kyle and Sienna Miller as Kyle’s wife, Taya. The film is based on the book of the same name by Chris Kyle.

American Sniper is not so much a biography as it is a character study of the pressures and trials that members of our military face on the battlefield as well as the challenges they face when they return home to their families. There are certainly events in the film that actually occurred to Kyle, but there are also scenes and characters that are amalgams of  other incidents. Some are factual and some are not. Some have criticized the film as an oversimplification of war and a glorification of Kyle. I don’t think that was the goal of the film. I took it as a film with 2 purposes: 1. to show the life and times of the ones who were the “boots on the ground” and 2. to show how their return home could be a crippling experience for both the soldier and his family.

The film follows Kyle as he decides to enlist, through his 4 tours of Iraq and the difficulties he had in reintegrating into his family when home. It opens with a scene that effectively shows the essence of his mission and the mental stress that could occur. Chris is perched on a roof, scoping out the path of a convoy through his rifle. He spots a man talking on a cell phone and reports him on his headset. He’s given the green light to use his discretion, but is unsure. His backup suggests that maybe he’s just talking to a girlfriend. The man leaves, but a few moments later a woman and a young boy appear in a doorway and walk toward the convoy. Kyle reports the duo and sees that the woman hands the boy something. No one can confirm his observation. He watches the woman and realizes it’s a grenade. He again gets the green light, but his backup warns him that he will be sent to prison for shooting a child if he is wrong. At this point the film cuts to a scene of Chris as a little boy on his first deer hunt with his father. Through several scenes we see how Chris’ upbringing has instilled a black and white morality  and has given him a strong sense of being willing to do what is necessary to protect others.

This is the crux of the film. The members of the military that Chris represents were given great latitude to make their own decisions about whether to act….or not. Either way, people died. The correct decision would save American lives. The incorrect decision could result in being sent to prison as a murderer. Regardless of what Chris Kyle decides to do, how does he live with the ramifications of that decision and then go out and do it again and again? 

We see Chris go through 4 tours of Iraq and how his reputation grows with each mission. He is referred to as “The Legend” among his peers and has the most kills of any sniper in American Military History. The film creates an adversary in the guise of Mustafa. He is supposedly a Syrian sniper who was an Olympic medalist and now works for the terrorists. (In fact, Mustafa is only mentioned in one paragraph of Kyle’s book and Kyle says that he believes he was killed by another unit). 

Chris goes through difficult times when he returns home on leave and after his eventual discharge. He can’t enjoy ordinary life and is unable to verbalize his feelings to his family. He grows increasingly distant and may have the beginnings of tendency towards violence. It affects his relationships and is on the verge of threatening his marriage. Eventually Chris receives some counseling that helps him channels his need to protect and save people by talking with soldiers  through a VA hospital. (In fact, Kyle was quoted as saying that he never had any bad feelings about what he did in the service. However, this does not diminish the need to bring awareness to a very tragic problem for many military personnel.)

Bradley Cooper does an incredible job in the role of Chris Kyle. He disappears in the role and his Oscar nomination is well deserved. The scenes between he and Sienna Miller as Taya are both touching and often heartbreaking as well. The battle scenes in Iraq are realistically constructed. The danger is palpable and the violence is shocking.

American Sniper is not a perfect film but it is an important one. It highlights the dangers to both our military and their families in these complicated times and helps to show why we can have conflicting feelings of pride and sadness in today’s world.

My rating for American Sniper: A

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New movies on their way to theaters 2014

I just saw Godzilla, and it was pretty damn fabulous! Really enjoyed Aaron Taylor-Johnson, star of Kickass and Kickass2, along with Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad! I have to admit seeing a Gozilla movie of today as compared to to the ones in the old days…..Yes, I’m old enough to remember those old Godzirra movies; I honestly do not remember story lines. It was nice to associate a theme and storyline with a legendary character. Here are a few trailer links for upcoming movies. This time, I LOVED all the pre-movie trailers. Here are the links for those including, The Giver, Interstellar, Transformers; Age of Extinction, How to Train your Dragon 2, Deliver us from Evil and Lucy. Enjoy.

The Giver: In Theatres August 15th, 2014

Interstellar:  In Theatres November 7th, 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction: In Theatres June 27th, 2014

How to Train your Dragon 2: In Theatres June 13th, 2014

Deliver us from Evil: In Theatres July 2nd,2014

Lucy:  In Theatres August 8th, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past Delivers the Goods

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X-Men Days of Future Past is the latest outing of the extremely popular Marvel Comics Franchise. This film is directed by Bryan Singer (X-Men 2, The Usual Suspects, Superman Returns). Screenplay is by Simon Kenberg ( X-Men: The Last Stand, Sherlock Holmes). Music is by John Ottman (X-Men 2, The Usual Suspects, Superman Returns). It stars Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), James McAvoy (Charles Xavier), Michael Fassbender (Magneto), Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique), Sir Patrick Stewart (Charles Xavier), Sir Ian McKellen (Magneto), Nicholas Hoult (Beast), Ellen Page (Kitty Pryde) and a small army of other oscar nominated actors to round out the cast.

DOFP is loosely based on the classic Chris Claremont story that appeared in the X-Men line of comics in 1981. Bryan Singer does an admirable job of taking the basic concept of the original and using it to complete reboot the franchise and brings back characters that had been previously killed off. It references important plot points that were used for earlier films but occur in the future for our heroes and lays the groundwork for the next chapter.

The story centers around the efforts of the X-Men of the future (Charles Xavier, Magneto, Storm, Blink, Havok, Bishop, Iceman, Colossus and others ) to be able to give Kitty Pryde enough time to send Wolverine’s mind back in the past to his younger self so that he can enlist the help of the X-men of that era (Charles Xavier, Magneto, Beast and Quicksilver) to prevent the assassination of Dr. Boliver Trask (Peter Dinklage) by Mystique. This assassination will spur the US Government to complete the Sentinel program. The Sentinels are robots that are able to identify and capture mutants. Eventually the Sentinels evolve to the point that they identify anyone that possesses the mutant gene regardless of whether the gene is active or not and either kill the mutants or incarcerate them in prison camps. This results in a dystopian future (is there any other kind?) where both homo sapien and homo superior are in danger of extinction. Got it? I know it sounds confusing but trust me when I tell you that the writers have done an excellent job of making the plot easy to follow.

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Bryan Singer does an excellent job of moving the troops to where they need to be in this massive effort. This cast is so large that I am amazed they were able to get so many Oscar nominated actors in roles that literally only lasted a few seconds in some cases.

The sequence that showcases Quicksilver helping Magneto to escape from his prison is very entertaining and clever. The final battle of the film is a CGI tour de force and the manner in which Magneto neutralizes Wolverine is a great homage to a similar scene in the comics. (Let’s just say that rebar is not Wolverine’s favorite thing.) 

The film has a great ending that virtually leaves it open to use any of the X-Men that we have been missing over the last few films. 

There is a tag ending at the very end of the credits that teases the next film in the series. (Hint: if you don’t know who Apocalypse is, then start reading!) 

This is a wonderful film and is lots of fun. The Script is very well done and the lead actors are as convincing as you would expect them to be.

 

John Ottman’s film score is a disappointment in an otherwise stellar film. It is not memorable or effective. Comic purists may get hung up over the hedging on Kitty Pryde’s powers (she has no time travel ability in the comics). They may also be annoyed that Quicksilver is sent home after breaking Magneto out of prison when he could clearly be very useful.

 

Other than those small quibbles, I must say that X-Men: Days of Future Past is well worth your time.

 

I give this film an A.

 

 

Godzilla Almost Gets It Right

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Godzilla is a reboot of perhaps the most famous monster film series of the 1950’s and 60’s. It is directed by Gareth Edwards (best known for the 2010 film Monsters), with a screenplay by Max Borenstein (Swordswallowers and Thin men) and stars Aaron-Taylor Johnson as Ford Brody, Ken Watanabe as Dr Ishiro Serizawa, Bryan Cranston as Joe Brody, Elizabeth Olsen as Elle Brody, Carson Bolde as Sam Brody and Juliette Binoche as Sandra Brody.

 

There is a lot to like about this film. The design of Godzilla is spot on. The scale and feeling of power is conveyed very well on screen. When he unleashes his fire on his opponent towards the end of the film, the 7 year old inside me wanted to jump out of my seat.

 

Godzilla’s foes are called M.U.T.A.’s (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) and are giant insect like creatures that crave radiation to grow. They literally chomp down on nuclear weapons like candy. One of the driving plot devices of the film is that there are two of these creatures that are seeking each other out so that they might breed. One of my nitpicks is despite this established plot point , the female is already carrying a egg sack with hundreds of potential little monsters.

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The human heroes of the film are Dr. Ishiro Serizawa and the various members of the Brody clan. If you are expecting Bryan Cranston’s character to be the main focus of the film then you have placed too much faith in movie trailers. He is the patriarch of the Brody clan (a tribute to the ever present Brody family of Jaws fame) and has the first encounter with the devastation these monsters can inflict. He provides exposition before he is shuffled off this mortal coil and his son, Ford, does his best to get back to his family who are in the direct path of the monsters. This is classic set up material for your classic movie hero who ultimately saves the day, etc. The unusual thing about Godzilla is that Aaron-Taylor Johnson’s character has got to be the most ineffective hero in movie history. He spends almost the entire film as a powerless observer. He manages to take care of the problem that hundreds of eggs hatching might create, but completely fails at the one thing the movie has been building about his skills (ordinance specialist).

 

His wife, Elle, as played by Elizabeth Olsen has got to be the poorest decision maker on the planet. At every turn, her decisions place her husband, son or herself directly in the path of these creatures.

 

Despite all these failings I still enjoyed Godzilla. The fight scenes are fun to watch (even though you might get tired of seeing them in slo mo every time). The Godzilla roar is absolutely bone rattling when heard in an IMAX theatre with their sound system. The sound track by Alexandre Desplat is one of the most outstanding things about the entire film. Great use of Japanese tribal drums, hints of the original Godzilla theme and incredible attention to the creation of atmosphere and pacing. The look of the film is outstanding and if you don’t pay too much attention to the dialogue, then you can have a good time.

 

I hope the film does well enough to justify a sequel with a better writer at the helm.

 

I give Godzilla a C.

 

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