Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review

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How god-awful is the name of this film? Dawn of the Planet of the Apes sounds like a bored screenwriter’s attempt to sell a shitty prequel. I get that people have to recognize the film as part of the franchise, but come on. As if ANOTHER film with an ape protagonist didn’t have enough obstacles. Thankfully, the film’s less than stellar title is barely a factor when compared to its astronomical quality.

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A sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), Dawn continues the reimagined origin of the classic Planet of the Apes series. Instead of  a modern man placed in an ape-dominated future, this series focuses on the evolution of the apes who will eventually overthrow humanity.

The first film introduced our hero Caesar (played by Andy Serkis), a genetically modified chimpanzee raised by humans who breaks himself and his fellow apes free from oppression by modifying them as well. The second film focuses on Caesar and some humans’ attempts to create peace between the races.

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As with the first film, one of the strongest aspects of Dawn is it’s commitment to making the apes true characters. Most films dealing with CG characters tend to rely on the human actors as a way for the audience to relate ( Transformers, Godzilla, etc). Dawn avoids that by establishing the culture of the apes and their individuality. They have just enough cultural elements to be relatable (military tactics, complex housing, horsemanship) without just being humans who look like monkeys. The film also expands on the previous film’s characters of Koba (Tony Kebbell) – a chimp embittered by a life of lab tests – and Cornelia (Judy Greer) – Caesar’s wife and mother of his children. This allows for us to truly buy into the super-apes as a group we care about.

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Ironically the apes might be more relatable than the actual humans in the film. Our side is primarily represented by Jason Clarke (The Great Gatsby, Zero Dark Thirty), Keri Russell (Felicity, Mission Impossible 3), and Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight, The Fifth Element). The first two seek the helps of the apes to regain electrical power to their city whereas the last one wants to blow their heads off. The virus that brought them to such desperation is given oddly little focus: the first film only shows one victim of the flu and the rest of the epidemic is summed up in the now cliched “opening news montage”. Given the prevalence of post-apocalyptic films, it’s possible the filmmakers just decided to spare us the usual story, which undercuts much of whats supposed to make the humans sympathetic. It’s hard to really empathize with the usual “my son/wife/dog died” story when we actually SEE the hell apes go through in the first film. We do see some of the aftermath of the flu with scenes such as Gary Oldman breaking down when he sees his dead family’s pictures for the first time in years. This shows just how dire humanity’s predicament is and why he feels so eager to kill some apes. In a similar vein, Jason Clarke’s family is focused on as a parallel to Caesar’s growing family. Both of them have to worry not only about their communities, but their children. Despite this, the human family have little impact in the overall story; there’s a subplot due to them being a recently forged stepfamily, but it goes nowhere.. Overall, the flu epidemic never goes beyond being a plot device to explain why the humans died out and why the apes are considered to be threats to man. To be fair, the same was true in the original film as well.

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Despite the shoehorned flu plot from the previous film, Dawn portrays the conflict between humanity and ape-ity with sincere tragedy. The original Planet of The Apes (1968) emphasized the recursiveness of world culture: oppressed apes gained power as the humans lost theirs. Rather than creating a new society, the apes developed all of humanity’s social ills: dogmatism, racism, and worst of all, slavery. Likewise, Dawn shows the apes as being just as capable of evil as man. The threat against the ape society comes from outside and inside as their own member begin to turn against each other. Despite the trailer’s emphasis on Gary Oldman, much of the Ape Vs. Man war arises due to several parties on both sides. Ignorance of the flu epidemic leads man to think apes are a literal virus, and apes anger towards humans makes them overly aggressive. One side overreacts to a slight, the other side misinterprets an action, all hell breaks loose.

And when hell breaks loose, it is pretty awesome. As with the first film, seeing how the filmmakers interpret how smart apes would fight is awesome. Once again, rather than just moving like humans, the apes fight like apes who realized how badass being an ape is. Just imagine a bunch of hairy Spider-Men. With spears! And horses! One scene that straddled the line between awesome and cheesy is one of the apes riding a horse while dual wielding assault rifles. All that needed was a quip like…

Monkey see, monkey KILL!!!

Monkey see, monkey KILL!!! / Just call me Furious George, motherfucker!!! / Now that’s what I call GORILLA warfare, bitch!!!

Speaking of quips, this film did not have nearly enough primate jokes. The original film managed to sneak in gems such as this visual pun with the ape elders.

I know the film is supposed to be more serious, but i would’ve loved to see just ONE ape attempt to fight off  some gunmen with a banana. Alas…

Final Verdict

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is definitely one of the best films of the year. It accomplishes most narrative and visual goals it attempts and entertained me the entire time. See the film if you want to see the summer blockbuster that others weren’t (*cough*Transformers*cough*). Don’t see it if you have a crippling fear of primates. Which would probably mean you’d have to avoid all movies since humans are primates. Take that, creationists.

To be honest; I still like The Simpsons‘ Planet of the Apes reboot better…

 

 

Godzilla Review

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History shows again and again
How nature points up the folly of men…GODZILLA! – Blue Oyster Cult

In 1954, Ishiro Honda directed one of Japan’s most defining films: Gojira (translated into “Godzilla” for western audiences). Despite the fantastical premise – a beast created by nuclear weapons attacking Japan – many consider it a not-so-thinly-veiled reflection on the bombing of Hiroshima less than ten years prior. The atomic Godzilla laid siege to Japan in a way familiar to survivors of the the attack. As such, the film is quite solemn. Strangely, the character of Godzilla was then adopted by Japan as a national icon. Films like Godzilla Raids Again (1955) and King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1962) made the monster a force for good as well as destruction. The franchise got so popular that it gained prominence in America as well…which led to an American version. That sucked ass. So much ass that the idea of another American version wasn’t even considered until this year’s release of Godzilla starring Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad, Malcolm In The Middle) , Aaron Taylor Johnson (Kick-Ass, Nowhere Boy) and Ken Watanabe (Inception, The Last Samurai).

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I had a bit of difficulty when thinking about how to describe the premise of the film. Not because the plot is confusing or vague, but just because expectation has such a huge impact on a viewing experience. Seeing the trailers for Godzilla with the titular monster hidden in shadow and roaring at the audience communicates a film not so different from the original: monster attacks city, everyone fall down, monster fall down too. I would imagine that for the average moviegoer, a sci-fi disaster film would be the go-to for the Godzilla franchise. Instead, the film deals with the threat of another monster with similar origins to Godzilla. When it becomes obvious that man is no match for the beast, Godzilla appears to be  the only solution.

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So basically Warner Bros created another “Godzilla Vs.” film and covered it up in order to sell it to a mainstream audience. Personally, marketing like this is a pet peeve of mine. I understand that major film distributors have to reach larger audiences, but misleading the moviegoing public often makes audiences feel bamboozled. I went into this expecting a more straightforward disaster movie and was confused when it became a monster battle movie.

So did that ruin the experience? No, not really. This film does what the previous American version failed at: creating sincere emotion in spite of the fantastic concept.

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The film begins with Cranston losing a loved one due to one of the monsters. His grief incites the plot of the film as he desperately tries to figure out what happened, thus placing it in a world similar to the original film where the destruction these creatures cause isn’t a joke. Not that this stems how awesome the destruction is; pretty much from beginning to end something is fucking something else up. The film definitely delivers on monster vs monster action with only minimal human intervention. This isn’t like Transformers where somehow humans are capable of fighting monsters. Any human who tries fighting any of these things gets a quick, meaningless death. As they should.

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Visually, the film’s CG isn’t particularly groundbreaking, but definitely successful. Godzilla himself looks a bit weird since the animators valiantly attempted to incorporate a lot of the original rubber suit design. As such, if you think that Godzilla inherently looks dumb, well then he’ll probably look kind of dumb here. It’s still a great recreation of the classic design. One of the best homage scenes is when inexplicably his back plates light up in before he unleashes his atomic breath. Little touches like that show that Warner Bros sincerely wanted to make a film in the tradition of the franchise. The film doesn’t highlight it’s monster’s designs as often as you’d expect, since the monsters in the film are often obscured by darkness and particle effects. This could’ve been an attempt to get cover up possibly disappointing CG or just a way to make the monsters more scary. Either way it works to communicate the titanic proportions of the monsters.

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Like many sci-fi films, Godzilla has some difficulties when it comes to exposition. A few times in the film scientist literally stand in a circle talking about plot points. This is one of those elements that is a holdover from the original Godzilla film, which also had a good amount of straightforward exposition. On the other hand, some elements are barely explained. The dialogue implies that the film is a sequel to the 1954 film with Godzilla being a known entity, but doesn’t actually tell us much about the specifics of the creature, such as why he’s compelled to heroism. By the end of the film, Godzilla seems to be more intelligent and goal-oriented than any giant monster should be, but this isn’t really touched upon. With that being said, Godzilla’s intelligence makes for one really badass moment at the end of the film.

Final Verdict

For me, this is a decent watch. I’m not really into Godzilla, but this is a faithful iteration of the franchise. The film irked me a little for being slightly different than what the commercials communicated, but what do you expect from Hollywood nowadays. Watch this film if you like Godzilla movies or just want to see a mildly fun action film. Don’t see it if you’re not into “Godzilla Vs.” films or don’t care about Godzilla in general.

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A few lingering thoughts…

  • Is there a rule saying the military has to shoot at monsters even if it has no effect? I don’t think you get purple hearts for getting stepped on.
  • Ken Watanabe speaks perfect english yet calls the monster the japanese name “Gojira”. Even stranger is that the Americans just casually start calling him Godzilla despite NOBODY establishing the translation. Why would they even bother to translate that? Are there other monsters called Gojira we haven’t met yet?
  • Bryan Cranston at one point claims that working at the nuclear plant shouldn’t give him cancer. Irony.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Review

 

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The Amazing Spider-Man series has had some big shoes to fill. Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man (2002) was basically our generation’s Richard Donner-directed Superman (instead of, y’know, Man of Steel). It not only reinvigorated the already successful Spider-Man franchise, it legitimized superhero film in general. This led to the current explosion of superhero films and, to quote the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Baron Strucker, “the age of miracles“. With all that in mind, what could the new Spider-Man series distinguish itself beyond adding on an adjective? The first film was both familiar and different. Mark Webb and Sony Pictures used many music and visual elements from the Raimi films but created a lore that impacts each film (Peter’s parents, Oscorp Industries, etc). Probably it’s most contentious element is Peter Parker himself as played by Andrew Garfield. This Peter Parker beckons more to the Stan Lee’s original vision: a smart alecky scientist with a nerdy-but-charming way with the ladies. I wouldn’t personally call this better or worse than Tobey Maguire’s portrayal, since Raimi’s Spider-Man was meant to be more of a “classic” superhero story with a more earnest protagonist. Overall, I think The Amazing Spider-Man was a solid iteration of the franchise. So what about the second film?

The premise: High school graduate Peter Parker is having turbulence in his relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) due to her father’s last request for them to be apart. Exacerbating his woes is the return of childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane Dehaan), who believed that Spider-Man is the key to curing his family’s hereditary illness. Further exacerbating things is the arrival of the villain Electro (Jaime Foxx), yet another victim of Oscorp’s piss-poor science regulations.

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Assuming that action is the first thing viewers for looking for, this film’s got a pretty decent amount. As with the previous film, Spider-Man’s acrobatics are portrayed  as more freeform and impulsive than practiced. He doesn’t move like an acrobat, he moves like a normal guy with massive strength and agility. This really shows itself while fighting the villain Electro, who he has to combat more evasively. One can tell that Mark Webb probably got excited when he realized that Spidey’s “Spider-Sense” meant that he could use gratuitous slow-mo, which he seemingly incorporated into every scene. While somewhat cliched at this point, at least it fits here. Unfortunately, the film’s so chock full of everything that there really aren’t many action scenes in it. It appears as if the filmmakers realized that themselves, given that we’re treated to an opening action scene that doesn’t even include Spidey and “action-packed” web-making scene similar to the one from the first film.

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While the film might skimp on action, it has plenty of romance. Now normally I roll my eyes at the cliche superhero romance, but I feel that Spider-Man – as the everyman – makes more sense with a love interest that characters like Thor or Batman. It helps that Garfield and Stone have natural chemistry, probably due to actually dating each other. They both have very natural humor and wit that makes their interactions fun rather than sappy. In a scene where they’re hiding in a closet (long story) they both connect on how cliched hiding in a closet is before having a bit of seemingly unscripted kissing. Many of their scenes wouldn’t be out of place in films like 500 Days Of Summer or Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Oh that hipster love!

Despite my enjoyment of the film’s romantic elements, it ends up being part of what makes the film inconsistent tonally. While I hate to draw too many comparisons between the Raimi films, one of their strengths was that they knew what they were. They were earnest and melodramatic superhero stories without much irony. These films attempt to be more modern (Peter wears a fucking Thrasher t-shirt at one point), which makes the moments where it slips back into cliche a bit more awkward.

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For example, hollywood nerd Electro wouldn’t be out of place in Batman Forever. Foxx plays him as a nebbish scientist with an inexplicable combover who becomes obsessed with Spidey after he saves his life. One scene has him (hilariously?) celebrating his birthday alone as he talks to a picture of Spider-Man on his wall. While I appreciate the film’s attempt to give him some humanity, because the character himself has no significance thematically, he lacks the same emotional weight of Green Goblin or even Sandman from Raimi’s trilogy. The tragedy of the character seems kind of insignificant to the film’s overall narrative as he becomes a generic villain.

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Harry Osborn also seems to be in a different movie at times; it’s hard to believe that the melodramatic Harry (who has a bit of a Children of the Corn vibe) was ever friends with the more laid-back Peter. To be fair, i’m not saying that Foxx or Haan put in bad performances, i’m just saying that they don’t necessarily fit into the film as well as they could have.

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Visually, the film is as gorgeous as one would expect from a Sony film. Electro is rendered magnificently as an electrical entity. Rather than just painting him blue and calling it a day, the filmmakers took the time to conceive elements such as making his skin slightly translucent in order to portray his vein’s lighting. As he grows in power, there’s visible reds and oranges underneath his skin which give off the impression of electric combustion. It shows that the effects guys really explored the idea of how an electric man would work visually. As far as cinematography, the only thing I noticed was an intriguing inclusion of a few dutch angles (a scene shot at a tilt). I suspect that they’re included just because the 60’s Batman series decided that all superhero shows and films have to contain dutch angles. To be honest, this is more of a stray observation and has little impact.

As an overall narrative, this film is okay when focusing on any of it’s constituent parts, if not necessarily forming a coherent whole. As mentioned, the love story between Peter and Gwen is fun and makes sense in context. Electro’s story is sad despite having a secondary focus. Harry Osborn’s conflict at Oscorp is equally as sad as his sympathetic goals fail to come to fruition. Do these elements sync up? Not really. They do end up impacting each other but more through contrivance than theme. Just look at how disjointed my premise summary was. As a sequel, it’s possible that the film slightly suffers from what happened the Spider-Man 3: there were several plots that they had to get through and no one thought through how they would intersect. What makes this better than Spider-Man 3  is that these plots are all solid on their own.

Final Verdict

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a fun film with an enjoyable love story and some good action. While it’s not as focused or as action oriented as it’s predecessor, it furthers the narrative journey of Peter Parker. While I wouldn’t call this film anywhere near the depth of it’s superhero contemporaries, it does manage to entertain.

Easter Eggs

Ravencroft Institute

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The facility where Oscorp takes Electro is basically Marvel’s equivalent to Arkham Asylum, used to house crazy supervillains such as the symbiotic Carnage and master of illusion Mysterio. It’s founder was Ashley Kafka, the lead scientist in the film.

Vulture’s Wings

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When showing Oscorp’s various powered armors, one of them appears to be a harness with wings. This is based on the villain Adrian Toomes aka the Vulture, who was an old man who invented a harness that allowed him to fly.

Felicia

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Harry’s secretary Felicia is most likely a reference to the Felicia Hardy aka the Black Cat, a thief who alternated between antagonist and ally of Spider-Man. They also had a fling. This sure sounds like another cat-themed supervillain…

Smythe

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The douchey scientist played by BJ Novak is a reference to Alistar Smythe, a member of the Smythe family responsible for creating the robotic Spider-Slayers. He went a little bit further and turned himself into a spider-slayer.

For more reviews:

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

American Hustle

Thor: The Dark World

Gravity

Don Jon

Riddick

Iron Man 3

Oblivion

Fast And The Furious 6

For more thoughts on Spider-Man:

The Journey of Peter Parker From Amazing Fantasy to Amazing Spider-Man

Spidey Tackles The Human Torch: Spider-Man As An Anti-Hero

10 Thankfully Obscure Spider-Man Villains

For more thoughts on superheroes:

The Lois Lane Effect

Superstitious And Cowardly Cops: Police Corruption in Gotham City

Superman As Defined By Lex Luthor

Bats In His Belfry: Batman As A Heroic Psychopath

Ben Affleck As Batman: Why So Serious?

Iron Man: Real American Hero

Three Forms Of Comedy As Seen Through Justice League

Flash: The Quintessential Superhero

Hoverboy: The Most Racist Superhero Ever

From Comic To TV: Arrow As An Adaptation of Green Arrow

10 Freaky Yet Awesome X-Men You Forgot About

10 Stupid Attempts At Rebranding Famous Comic Characters

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review

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Post-Avengers, I would say the biggest issue with Marvel films is that they seem to have ran out of characterization. The Iron Man sequels reiterate the same points of the first film: Tony doesn’t need the suit, Pepper is important, weapons can be misused blah blah blah. Thor: The Dark World doesn’t even pretend to progress Thor further than giving him an excuse to be on Earth. What’s disappointing about these films is that they don’t really progress anything that happened in Avengers; events are mentioned, but these stories are basically standalone. While I understand that Thor can’t team up with Iron Man, it would be nice if an invasion of fucking elves actually impacted someone outside of Great Britain. The first sequel to actually further  the Marvel Movie Universe is Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

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The premise: Post-Avengers, Cap is now S.H.I.E.L.D.’s elite soldier. Rather than feeling at home, Cap begins to question his allegiance while operating in the shadowy world of intelligence. Things get worse when a threat from inside S.H.I.E.L.D. puts him at odds with the organization. Things get worser (I think that’s a word) when a mysterious assassin appears to oppose him: the Winter Soldier.

For anyone who actually cares, this film is partially based on several comic series I would suggest checking out: Secret Warriors, Fury’s Secret War, and primarily Ed Brubaker’s The Winter Soldier.

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To start, the title of this film is mildly misleading. The Winter Soldier is at best a subplot in this very dense film. Most of the film centers around yet another thinly-veiled “freedom or security” debate which stretches much further than any of the other Marvel films. These plots have become overused in actual comics, but not as much in superhero films so it’s not totally objectionable. What distinguishes the plot is that it serves as a reaction to the events of The Avengers, which would probably lead to an increased desire for world security just as 9/11 did. Since this is a Captain America film, it’s appropriate that the embodiment of American Dream has to weigh in on a post 9/11 world. It would have been great if he could have weighed in a decade ago but whatever.

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The main attraction of the film is action and deservedly so. What’s great about the film is that it combines some of the low-key practical combat of the the first film and The Avengers with a few “holy shit!” superhero moments. As a friend of mine noted, Cap gets to have his “Legolas versus a mammoth” moment that is easily one of the most badass things ever. One of the biggest complaints about the film’s predecessor was that most of the good action was in a montage. While I wasn’t as bothered by this (as an 80’s film fan) , I can assure you that every scene is given a pretty decent run-time without any montages. These scenes manage to have a large variety as well, ranging from car chases, elevator brawls, and aerial combat.

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As far as performances are concerned, it’s par for the course. Chris Evans is still a bit too “kiddy” for the ultimate authority figure at times, but his earnestness contrasts well with Johansson and Jackson’s usual cynical performances. Robert Redford plays his fairly obvious role well and i’ll leave it at that. Anthony Mackie is a great addition as the down-to-earth Sam Wilson aka “The Falcon”, which helps to keep Cap in line with his identity as a soldier. My only real complaint here is that the film, like many of it’s contemporaries, has a very jarring plot twist which should be much more disturbing than how the protagonists react to it. This is the same issue in Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World. I get that the Whedon-esque flippancy of the cast means they can stay deadpan throughout any scenario, but I think given the weight of what happens, I would at least expect a bit more emotion.

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In terms of plot, this film is a bit of a mixed bag. As usual, the “freedom vs security” plot goes in the most obvious direction since this is America, after all.  The original Winter Soldier arc told a tale of a Captain America who had to come to grips with being witness to unsavory government acts during World War 2, particularly with the Soviets. The titular Winter Soldier, a Soviet assassin, was a remnant of World War 2 come back to haunt him. The series was one of the few to show Cap’s incongruity with the real world as a hindrance to his position as America’s spirit. This film goes somewhat against this: Cap’s old timey beliefs in small government and “overt” intelligence are justified in the film’s climax. As always, Cap is never wrong. In the film, rather than being a fellow soldier suffering through war memories, Cap’s relationship to the Winter Soldier is based more on their mutual roles as elite soldiers kept in the dark about their superior’s goals. While the film differs a bit from it’s sources, it isn’t supposed to be an adaptation or a deep reflection on politics, so the plot is passable.

One of the last things i’d like to note about the film is that it’s oddly subversive of usual gender dynamics. The film doesn’t go in the Cap/Black Widow route or any romance route for that matter. Hell, he’s more obsessed with  saving his male buddies in the film, while the three female characters get to be (gasp) competent partners. There’s not even a “save the girl” moment! This in contrast to most superhero films, where most women have big “kidnap me” signs on their backs. While this might sound minor, it’s a big step in a mainstream film like this.

Final Verdict

Overall, this is an enjoyable film. The plot isn’t anything new, but at least gives a new dimension to the Marvel films. Chances are you’re going to see this for action and one-liners and that’s here in spades. The only reason not to see this is if you’re un-american. If so, get off my site you damn commie.

 

 

American Hustle Review

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I love crime films. And not because i’m black ( that would be racist ). I love crime films because criminals are the guys most Americans deep down want to be, sans jail time. Or death. Criminals are more American than soldiers in a way: we are a nation of born of rebels. Of course, most of us also recognize the inherent dangers in crime, which almost always manages to be worked into crime fiction. American Hustle is a film that manages to touch upon both of these aspects, except instead of having a cast of murderous thugs, we have a team of quick-witted conmen.

The premise: Successful con-men Irving Rosenfeld ( Christian Bale ) and Sydney Prosser ( Amy Adams ) get busted by an FBI agent ( Bradley Cooper ) who uses them to entrap a Camden mayor ( Jeremy Renner ) who’s desperate for funds. Without regard to legality. See the trailer here.

The first thing you have to know about this film is that it is an unabashed period piece. Saying it has a 1970’s backdrop is an understatement; Director David O. Russell ( Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter ) inundates most of the film with the most iconic aspects of the 70’s. At one point, several characters comment on the then-arcane microwave as if it was a Star Trek device. The soundtrack follows the Back To The Future ( 1985 ) trope of having only the most famous songs from the decade, including iconic tracks such as Paul McCartney’s Live And Let Die and The Temptations Papa Was A Rolling Stone. All of this places us in the time frame, especially when exploring the greed and excess that many feel began to permeate popular culture during the decade. Speaking of excessive, i imagine many like myself will get an intial laugh at the universally hilarious hairstyles of the cast.

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Despite it’s surface ostentatiousness and humor, each character is played straight despite how unsavory they are.

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Christian Bale once again does his chameleon schtick by adding a spare tire gut and…going bald i guess ( he’s probably just wearing a bald cap ). Beyond that, he plays a schlub conman with deeply hidden morals. Weirdly enough, the character reminded me of Roy Munson in Kingpin ( 1996 ), another leisure suit Larry, except obviously played a lot straighter. What could have easily been a joke is handled with dignity by Bale as a guy who’s a crook, but one with pride and standards. It almost justifies why two hot women would fight over him. Almost.

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Jennifer Lawrence as Rosenfeld’s wife Rosalyn manages to be infuriating and hilarious at the same time. To reference another crime film set in the 70’s, the character is reminiscent of Ginger McKenna ( Sharon Stone ) in Casino ( 1995 ), a woman who’s emotional starvation causes her to be a monkey wrench in every carefully laid plan of her husband’s. Like Irving, she could have easily been immensely unlikable, but is instead a joy to watch. Honestly, who could hate Jennifer Lawrence? And that’s not just because she’s the source of “obviously-meant-for-a-trailer” fanservice ( as seen above ). Given the cred of Bale and Lawrence, i wouldn’t be surprised if there are quite a few nominations between them.

I could go into each and every character portrayal but honestly, it would take forever since everybody is solid, especially the few big name cameos.  Normally i’m apprehensive about films with several high profile actors, after a few minutes i honestly forgot about who these actors were and accepted them into their roles. It helps that this film’s 70’s aesthetic and affable characters makes it feel like it was already meant to be a film classic.

In terms of pacing, i admit i have mixed feelings , albeit much of it could be attributed to circumstance. I went into this expecting an Ocean’s 11 ( 1960 ) style “heist-style” film with all of the sex and flippancy associated with the sub-genre. And it’s definitely there throughout the film, but it’s mixed in with lots of easygoing character moments as well. For example, Irving’s budding romance with Sydney isn’t handles in an offhand scene as is common in Hollywood. There’s instead a few scenes in the first act that shows him courting her in a fairly realistically paced manner ( bonding over music, helping her pick out clothes ), without too much of an operatic build up. This is a good counterpoint to the rest of the film’s bombast, but i know some people will probably be bored of this when scenes seem to just end without a big climax or just go on longer than desired. And honestly, the length is the only thing i can say felt not as good as other aspects. Because there are a noticeable amount of scenes which only serve to give a bit of characterization ( without even necessarily contributing to an arc ), the film felt like it was overstaying it’s welcome at times. Once i was midway through the film and had an idea of where the protagonist was going, i felt anxious about seeing how it was going to pan out. This made me less interested in the characters and more about the final con. Mind you, i was watching this film from 10:45 to 1am ( with a head cold at that ), so while i was still entertained, i was impatient to see what kind of plan Irving was going to concoct.

Films dealing with guile heroes like con-men tend to put a lot of weight on their climaxes, which are like the criminal versions of summations at the end of detective dramas. One of the most famous is the ending of Trading Places ( 1983 ) with Eddie Murphy and Dan Akyroyd where the two use an elaborate stock market gambit to gain the wealth of two elderly businessmen who screwed them in the first place.  This film, which obviously leans more towards interesting characters and atmosphere than outright sensationalism, instead has a fairly plausible ( yet still surprising ) climax. It’s a good twist, but given the length of the film, I personally felt a grander finale was in order. However, as a friend expressed to me and i agreed, this isn’t a movie about the “big score”, it’s a fun, human character piece with great actors. As such, don’t go in expecting an Ocean’s 11-type film like i did.

Final Verdict

American Hustle is a film that balances it’s bombast and humanity well, albeit with a bit of lag. See it if you like 70’s aesthetic, any of the lead actors, or lovable anti-heroes. Don’t see it if you want something in the vein of a heist film or want quick and digestible entertainment.

Thor: The Dark World Review

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Thor is the Dos Equis guy of Marvel. Whereas Peter Parker cries about dead uncles and Tony Stark can’t put down that bottle of Jack Daniels, Thor fights rock giants and beds valkyries with a grin on his face and sledge in his hand. He’s omnipotent. He’s noble. He’s boring as shit. One of the reasons it took soooo long for Marvel to even create a film about one of it’s most significant characters was because he’s extremely difficult to adapt into a compelling protagonist. With that in mind, i saw the first Thor ( 2011 ) with apprehension and came out…neutrally. It’s about as good of an adaptation as one could do, but it’s not a good film in its own right. As mentioned, Thor was severely lags behind his Avengers kin in terms of character in the film. In addition, a large portion of the film ( by necessity i understand ) happens on Earth for the sole purpose of:

a) connecting the franchise with the awkwardly integrated S.H.I.E.L.D.

b ) connecting him with humanity despite the fact that it was established IN THE BEGINNING OF THE FILM that the Asgardians had already interacted with humans several times in the past

c ) forcing a relationship with all the chemistry of peanut butter and salami

With that being said, i thought it was well cast, which allowed for fairly boring characters to be interesting ( especially Loki ). In addition, i’ve grown to appreciate the artistic direction of the series in regards to its Asgard ( which i’ll touch upon later ). But enough about the first film, what do i think about it’s illustrious sequel?

Honestly? It’s better. Still not good, but better. And not for necessarily the best reasons.

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The plot: After the events of the first film, Thor has been busy maintaining order in the ( poorly defined ) nine realms of the universe. Back on Midgard / Earth, Padme and that busty CBS waitress happen to find a rip in the fabric of reality ( which happens sometimes ). It turns out that one of these rips leads to a macguffin known as “dark aether” which was previously a plot point in an ancient war between the Asgardians and the oddly-technologically-advanced Dark Elves, who want to use it to spread the daaaahkness across the realms.

The Dark Elves

The Dark Elves

One of the biggest problems i had with the first film was it’s scenes on Earth and this one more than makes up for it. The majority of the film takes place on Asgard and occasionally the titular dark world. As such, we get the sheer scope of the world of Thor. This is helped by another narrated “historical lecture” by Anthony Hopkins as Odin in the beginning. Though he’s clearly a little checked out in this film, Hopkins as always manages to get across the gravitas that a film featuring Norse myth should have. Speaking of which, one of the most under-appreciated aspects of these films is the art direction. And i don’t mean flashy Hollywood CGI ( which is still good, i’ll admit ) , i mean the actual aesthetic choices. The film furthers a sort of “magitech” feeling for the Asgardians and their technology. When Loki is imprisoned, his force field cell looks like it wouldn’t be out of place in Star Trek if it weren’t for those stock “fantasy runes”. Choices like this keeps Asgard from feeling like a generic Dungeons and Dragons locale and also makes it fit in a world where Iron Men and Heli-carriers abound. The villainous Dark Elves take this even further by using weapons straight out of Halo such as energy rifles and grenades. Overall, like the last film, The Dark World has a very strong aesthetic goal and concept that makes for compelling visuals…

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…which doesn’t do much for uncompelling plot. Thor: The Dark World suffers from the same condition as Iron Man 2 ( 2010 ) by being an uninspired franchise sequel. By the end of Thor, Thor goes from being a cocky guy who cares little for his enemies to being a cocky guy who cares a little for his enemies. That’s it. That’s the only psychology you could milk out of that asshole. As hard as it is to believe, there’s LESS characterization in this film. The only driving aspect of the character is, of course, his arbitrary love for Jane Foster ( Natalie Portman ).Once they’re reunited, that becomes the only thing we get out of the guy emotionally. Even when a MUCH more terrible event occurs during the film, he barely has emotional reaction. This is why Thor is such a god-awful film protagonist: no matter how charismatic Hemsworth is, he can’t make up for a character with absolutely no pathos. There’s nothing for him to grow into at this point, his narrative journey ended in the first film. This makes the scenes on Earth more painful than they were in the first film, since they literally have no bearing on anything. Ironically, the film’s choice to use Earth comedically actually undercuts most of the point of the first film. The first scene with Jane Foster shows her on a date with the affable Chris O’Dowd ( Bridesmaids ) who looking like this…

Chris O'Dowd At Jameson Done In 60 Seconds Media Day

…pales in comparison the dreamy Thor. During the scene, Darcy ( Kat Dennings ) shows up and basically cuts the poor sod off, while Jane purposely ignores him, which is funny because…it’s actually not that funny. It underscores the biggest problem with this film and the challenge of Thor as a superhero. Once all of the “character development” of Thor was finished, humans became punchlines to the film’s jokes. “Look at this limey loser! He ain’t shit compared to Asgardians!”. Even Jane ends up being portrayed as more of a commoner during her brief stay on Asgard, where she can barely has any screen presence when compared to her godly costars. So with all that in mind: how do you then justify Thor’s interest in Earth? Asgardians and whatever the fuck Hogun is are essentially humans but better. Why the fuck was it important for him to be a hero on Earth? The film seems to forget it has to even establish that reasoning. This lack of motivation stretches an already stretched-thin excuse plot.

Speaking of plot, it’s actually the opposite of Iron Man 2 in terms of complexity. Which is a bad thing. Obviously, no one really cared about writing a good story for Iron Man 2. So instead, they have a quick plot that needs little explanation AND could be conveniently wrapped up succinctly. The Dark World takes a fairly uninteresting macguffin plot and actually makes it hard to understand through a whole shit load of plot elements. This is where the ” magitech” elements work against the film, since we’re given obscure technobabble for almost every aspect of the climax. I dare any viewer to honestly tell me how exactly Thor defeats the Elves by the end. In terms of subplot, the only one of note is the hinted at Jane / Sif rivalry. I’ll just tell ya, it’s not that big of a deal. See it for yourself and you’ll probably agree.

One of the most criminal sins for the more passive viewer is the fact that, once again, Thor barely fights. I get it, i really do. Thor is a god. Because of this, showing him in combat often would kind of diminish the majesty of his might. This is the reason why this is one of the few elements that didn’t bother me. As i said, Thor just ain’t interesting. There’s no way for him to lose and he has no personal struggles to overcome. This film manages to spend just enough time away from Thor in order to actually be somewhat compelling. We get more screen time with his mother Frigga ( Rene Russo ) who has some tense moments. As per fan-girl request ( literally ), we get plenty of Loki as well. While it’s obvious he’s a bit tacked on to the plot, i’ll admit Hiddleston plays his role well as usual as Thor’s untrustworthy sidekick. Personally, i think the time could have been better spent with supporting characters Thor actually LIKES like, i don’t know, the four fucking badass warriors who would follow him to death. But as a non-fifteen year old white girl, i am clearly not part of Thor’s fanbase.

Thor: The Dark World film still

Final Verdict

This film is the lowest form of ‘ok’ to me. The first act is impressive and really ties you into the Norse mythos the film creates. The best parts for me were when they didn’t focus on Thor or Jane and instead had us soaring around this world. The actors make due with what they got, but it ain’t much. Not to mention the plot is almost pointless. See this film if you liked the first one, appreciate the talents of the cast, or have the money for IMAX 3D. Don’t see this film if you didn’t like the first, actually want character development, or want an interesting story.

For more posts on Marvel heroes:

Iron Man 3 Review

Iron Man: Real American Hero

Journey of Peter Parker from Amazing Fantasy to Amazing Spider-Man

Spider-Man Tackles The Torch: Spider-Man as a Classic Anti-Hero

The Lois Lane Effect

Three Things About The Thing

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The beauty of the Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres is that they literalize the figurative. Enemies become demons, philosophers become wizards, etc. This is why the two genres are ( undeservedly ) heavily associated with children, since children have yet to create a literal sense of the world. One of the few bastions of “adult” fantasy is the horror genre. Here, fantasy can explicate the darkest fears of the subconscious. John Carpenter’s The Thing ( 1982 ) is an excellent example of how the juncture between Horror and Sci-Fi can produce amazing results.

A little background: The Thing was directed by John Carpenter ( Halloween, Escape From New York ) and written by Bill Lancaster ( The Bad News Bears ). It’s based on the novella Who Goes There? (1938 ) by John W. Campbell Jr., which also inspired The Thing From Another World ( 1951 ). It stars Kurt Russell ( Escape From New York, Death Proof ) Keith David ( Pitch Black, There’s Something About Mary ) and Wilford Brimley ( Diabetes commercials ). See the trailer here

The plot: A group of American Antarctic researchers get more than they bargained for when they take in what seems like a dog that was being chased by a Norwegian gunner. Upon shooting the man and letting the dog into camp, it quickly reveals itself as a shape-shifting monster. Even worse, it turns out it can impersonate humans as well.

There are several things that makes The Thing a thing of beauty ( i promise i won’t make that joke again )…

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1. Paranoia

The threat of the shape-changing Thing creates tension between the researchers. This could have been played very straightforward: everybody just flips on each other at a moment’s notice. Instead, the characters do something unheard of: THEY ACT RATIONALLY. MacReady points out that “he knows he’s human and that some of them must be human too or else they’d just attack him. He recognizes that there’s still some reason to trust each other. When one of the characters suspects that the doctor might be going insane, he pulls MacReady outside into a helicopter to discuss the issue, rather than just putting the guy on the spot and risking a freak-out from the others. The characters are smart. Most horror films rely on stupid people making stupid decisions. They play on the lowest common denominators with helpless women and children. This is why Roger Ebert once called slasher films “dead teenager movies”. Because they’re smart, it makes the threat so much more compelling when shit hits the fan. The threat of the alien is rational when you remember that the dog had some time to interact with them and leave parts of itself. Anyone could be The Thing. Several characters try to establish a chronology of contact which is constantly in question. Who interacted with the dog first? Who was in the room during attacks? Even suggestions become suspect as we know the Thing could be trying to cover it’s bases. What’s even worse is that even the characters THEMSELVES seem uncertain if they are the Thing or not. When MacReady starts testing everyone’s blood, one of the characters is relieved when his test is negative. He wasn’t even sure if he was still human. Your own body could betray you in this film.

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2. Effects

While i’m no opponent of CGI, physical effects are always the best to me in regards to horror. It’s hard to get across quality viscera with computer models. The Thing uses entirely physical effects, making it a bit of a dinosaur when compared to its new-fangled 2011 remake. Instead of this being a hindrance, the actual models allow for a palpable level of repulsion. The Thing has some of the freakiest scenes scenes i’ve ever seen. One of my personal favorites is when a character is jumped by the Thing and his flamethower malfunctions. The Thing’s head then proceeds to SPLIT IN HALF AND BITE HIM!

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That’s the kind of shit you can’t do with CG. Like most smart pre CG films, the cinematographer is careful not to hold too long on anything so we always have very immediate bodily impressions of the Thing’s forms. This still leaves the monster some mystery.

3. Build Up and Pay Off

In America, there seems to be two schools of thought when it come to Horror film plotting. You either a) allude to terror and leave threats permanently ill-defined ( Rosemary’s Baby, The Changeling ) b) have immediate scares that jar audiences into terror ( Hostel, 30 Days of Night ). Both of these methods have their flaws: a creepy atmosphere that doesn’t deliver on threat can feel unsatisfying, whereas a overt scares can desensitize an audience. The Thing does both by having a legitimately threatening monster that doesn’t necessarily show itself unless it has to. The camera implies heavily that there’s something…off…about the dog they pick up, and we don’t realize what exactly is wrong with it until the half hour mark. Up until then, all we see is it’s longing looks at the rest of the cast. The film actually convinces you the dog is plotting against them. When it’s put in a cage with other dogs, we clearly see its demeanor is completely different from the other dogs from how it sits.

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We then of course get to where it reveals itself as a monster.

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Even after this scene, we go only a few minutes before someone else is copied. It’s at this point the film takes a step back to focus on the human drama as these men have to deal with the fact that they can’t necessarily trust each other. In addition, there’s no way for them to leave or get help in this arctic wasteland, turning the camp into a pressure cooker of tension

Overall, i would say The Thing easily rates as one of the best horror films i’ve ever seen. Do yourself a favor and check it out before the month is out.

For more posts on classic horror:

Progression of Ash in Evil Dead

Decay of the American West in Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Death Has Come To Haddonfield: Fatalism in Halloween

Also, if you want, here’s a quick musical summation of the film