Movie-A-Day: High Noon (1952)

That movie to blame for Shanghai Noon

Cast:

Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, and other actors your grandparents had crushes on.

Premise:

When a man he sent to jail swears vengeance, a newlywed marshal prepares for the inevitable showdown.

In the first episode of The Sopranos, Tony Soprano states that modern psychology has weakened men by making them talk about feelings. To quote; “whatever happened to Gary Cooper, the strong silent type?” Up until now that was the only thing I ever heard about the actor. Modern audiences associate the Western genre with Clint Eastwood and John Wayne (assuming they’ve even seen a western). Which is a shame because the guy was an ACTUAL cowboy and knew how to ride a horse and everything.

In this film, however, he’s one of the more mundane Western heroes. When he know his archenemy and his 4-man gang is coming, he spends most of the film trying to recruit deputies to fight them. Because that’s what a real person would do. Compare this to the Italian Westerns like A Fistfull of Dollars where Clint Eastwood can shoot three gunmen dead in 5 seconds.

Gary Cooper’s attempts to find support consistently. When he’s not being denied, someone’s trying to convince him to leave and he refuses. Even his cowardly deputy, who I assumed would pull a Han Solo and save him at the end, doesn’t help the poor guy out. I might be reading the film differently than intended, but it seems to suggest that it’s NOT for society’s benefit that good guys get in gun battles with bad guys. Gary could just run away and save everyone the trouble but consistently refuses, which to me makes the whole shootout his fault. I guess I should admire that he stuck by his guns but the whole thing seems a waste of time.

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Another oddly progressive element is the two female leads of the film. One is his new wife played by Grace Kelly. On the surface she’s very much a stereotypical southern belle: highly religious, overdressed, etc. Then she’s given a backstory explaining that she was an orphan who became a quaker due to seeing her parents’ violent deaths. So rather than her just being a lady scared of losing her husband, she’s someone who’s experienced violence firsthand.

The other lead is Katy Jurado, who plays the ex-flame of Cooper and the dude that wants to kill him (awkward). I was surprised to learn she was actually hispanic since so many films back then had whites playing other races. I’m a bit torn as to whether she’s progressive or not. On one hand, she’s shows to be the owner of a saloon and doesn’t mind the idea of picking up the gun – all pretty good things for a woman in the 50’s. On the other hand, you could just say that her headstrongness is just because she’s a “spicy latina”, which was also a pretty big stereotype. Either way, she’s obviously meant to contrast with Grace Kelly’s character. While she also wants Cooper to leave town, she claims to be willing to help defend him, which Kelly won’t do. The two women help articulate the inner struggle Cooper is having: Kelly is his desire for safety and absolution whereas Jurado is his pride and sense of justice.

Overall, I enjoyed High Noon. I’m not sure I can see yet why it’s considered one of the greatest films of yet, but it’s definitely worth a look for any fans of Westerns.

Rating: Two Guns Up

Fuck yea, Clint!

Fuck yea, Clint!

Stray Thoughts

This guy must’ve been obligated to do every major western, since he was so many including The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Stagecoach. He’s normally the smart-but-slovenly guy who helps out the hero at the end, which makes it pretty painful when he turns down Cooper.

It’s hilarious that it’s common knowledge that the bad guy vowed to murder a public official while in prison, AND STILL GOT RELEASED! You’d think that would come up in a parole meeting.

Movie-A-Day: Deep Blue Sea (1999)

That movie where a shark eats fucking Samuel L Jackson.

Cast: Thomas Jane, Samuel L Jackson, LL Cool J, Saffron Burrows, Michael Rapapport

Premise: In an attempt to cure Altzheimer’s, a research team enhances the brains of three Mako sharks. Too bad they didn’t enhance their own brains first.

I hate Sharknado. I didn’t hate it when I first saw it – though I thought it was bad from the beginning. I hated it because it made me think of how Syfy, a channel that once honestly attempted to make cheap yet entertaining films (I’m a big fan of their version of Hercules) instead just settled for the cheap part. Sharknado‘s creators attempt to cloak the film’s laziness as refuge in audacity; “Sure the effects are cheap but come on it’s SHARKS IN A TORNADO”. “Yeah all of these experienced actors turn in awful performances but come on it’s SHARKS IN A TORNADO”. Ironically, the film’s cheapness equates it with the type of expensive yet soulless schlock Hollywood puts out; it’s a film born of cynicism and disdain for the audience. Good “bad” movies come from sincere effort and energy. Even if filmmakers don’t think their film will be the next Jaws or Alien, at least attempting to make something competent goes a long way to pleasing audiences. Which brings me to Deep Blue Sea.

With a premise as silly as “super smart sharks attack humans”, Deep Blue Sea wasn’t going for anything Oscar-worthy. Instead, it’s a pretty derivative film. And that’s not a bad thing. Audiences and critics have been taught to think of “derivative” as a four-letter word in regards to art. “Art should be wholly original”, one would say. In actuality, not only should art be derivative, it’s actually bolstered by referencing the work of others. Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver based it’s core conflict on John Ford’s The Searchers, taking the cowboys’ attempt to save a girl from Indians and transposing into a slimy 70’s New York. Even without knowing the source material, this allowed Taxi Driver to have an urban psychological twist on the familiar Western tale.

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The premise of Deep Blue Sea immediately reminds us of films such as Jaws and Jurassic Park and the filmmakers seemed to realize that. Several of the characters are equivalents to characters in those films: Thomas Jane plays a shark wrangler who’s knowledge of shark hunting parallels the dinosaur herder Robert Muldoon in Jurassic Park. Samuel Jackson plays a badass avalanche survivor whose expertise doesn’t save him in the same way that Jaws‘ Clint is killed by the very shark he claimed he could handle. These similarities allow us to connect with the characters without too much exposition. The plot also has many shades of the two films: the fence surrounding the underwater research station is a big plot point just like the one in Jurassic Park. And of course, the film’s penultimate scene has a great variation on the final confrontation with the shark in Jaws. These references don’t rely wholly on familiarity however, many of the characters we assume will be fish food manage to survive and vice versa.

In terms of plotting, the film is pretty consistent with good foreshadowing and exposition. The opening scenes establish all of the interiors of the underwater research station and how the equipment works. This is important because the film has A LOT of technobabble when the characters attempt to escape the increasingly flooded, shark-infested station. The exposition is admittedly ham-fisted at times; during the initial escape attempt, Jackson asks what would happen if the sharks escaped the station, to which a character replies how impossible that idea is. Riiiiiight. Much of it works well though. The midpoint of the film introduces a compeling conflict where our heroes have to decide whether or not to attempt scaling the elevator shaft or actually swiming to the surface. While we could guess which plan will succeed, we at least can see the value of each course; one is proactive yet terrifying and one is defensive yet precarious. It sort of reminded me of George Romero’s Night of The Living Dead where the group has to decide whether to stay in the cellar or attempt to outrun the zombies and commandeer a nearby truck. In both cases, we know which course we’d like to be successful but fear which one we’ll probably have to take.

The setpieces are mostly well done. Nobody pulls a weapon or comes with a plan out of nowhere and the environment is always well established. In one scene a character walks into a room with a heavy amount of sparks coming out of the big obvious wiring. Guess what’s later used as a weapon against an attacking shark? In the background of an escape up an elevator shaft, we see several flaming debris falling from above. Guess what eventually knocks off one of the escapees?

While this is basic, it’s competent screenwriting like this that sets Deep Blue Sea apart from dumbass movies like Sharknado. While I wouldn’t go as far to call it a “passion project”, it’s clear everyone involved did their best to create an engaging film.

My rating: One partially digested thumb up.

Stray observations

  • I can’t help but feel that Samuel Jackson’s successful, intelligent and brave character is meant to offset LL Cool J’s mildy “coonish” character

  • If you don’t know who Saffron Burrows is, you’ll want to after the film has the oh-so-unnecessary but oh-so-hot scene where she strips off her clothes to…do something.

  • While some might call bullshit on me making fun of Sharknado with how bad the CG is in this film, remember that this was made in 1999

  • Dave Chappelle ruined one of the most shocking scenes in the film. Kind of like how he ruined his own career. Burn.

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…

 

 

How Green Was My Goblin: A Look At Norman Osborn

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DISCLAIMER: Reading, summarizing and examining every appearance of Norman Osborn would be both overly time-consuming and messy. As such, this post will focus on his most significant early appearances and a large part of his recent storylines.

One of the reasons the Spider-Man franchise has lasted so long is due to how personal the character’s world is. Peter Parker is a human being before he’s a superhero, with all of his conflicts having human consequences. Parker isn’t a representative of anything lofty, he’s just a kid in a suit trying his best to help people. With that in mind, what kind of asshole would go out of his way to pick on the poor guy?

Amazing Spider-Man #39 (1966)

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Dick

Green Goblin/Norman Osborn is one of the oddest comic villains in terms of initial concept. He’s a green skinned (or is it garbed?) man with a purple Legend of Zelda tunic, a flying bat-thing (which was originally a fucking broomstick) who threw exploding pumpkins. And frogs for some reason.

Amazing Spider-Man #17 (1964)

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Even his original introduction is wacky as hell: seeking to take over the underworld of NY, Goblin hires three previous Spidey villains named the Enforcers, who consisted of a guy with lasso, a midget karate master, and a “strong for a normal guy” guy. His plan? Approach a film producer and casually suggest to him that he should fund a Spider-Man film. He does this in full costume.

Amazing Spider-Man #14 (1964)

 

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The guy agrees and just stands on a roof top waiting for Spider Man to just happen upon him (which actually works) He pitches him the film, which Spidey agrees to quite easily. The Goblin, having apparently written an honest to god script, has them shoot the first scene in a cave, where his “master plan” this whole time was to just to have himself and the gang (who Spidey thought were just guys who just happened to look like enemies of his) beat him up.

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Even as a 60’s comic lover, this debut has to be one of the dumbest i’ve ever read. We don’t even get a passing explanation of the Goblin’s powers, weapons, or even who the fuck he is in the first place. Apparently, writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko disagreed on who the Goblin should be. Ditko felt he should remain anonymous whereas Lee felt he should be someone close to Peter. When Ditko left the series, Lee had his way with the Goblin (that sounds dirty!), which leads us to the revelation that he’s Norman Osborn, father of Peter’s then-new friend, Harry Osborn.

Amazing Spider-Man #39 (1966)

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The backstory: Normie had a routine freak lab accident while working on (of course) green chemicals, which increased his mental and physical capabilities. It also increased his crazy as well, which manifested as the character of Green Goblin. Which doesn’t explain the gimmick AT ALL, but whaddaya gonna do? Much later on it was retconned that Norman Osborn had a recurring childhood nightmare of a literal “green goblin” that inspired his motif. So he’s basically an even more fucked up Batman.

The revelation of Norman Osborn as the Goblin is where he goes from being a silly Joker-esque madman to being a truly unique character. Like many villains, Osborn attempts to explain to Peter his origin, but what makes this moment particularly unique is that there’s a clear disconnect between how he views himself as Norman Osborn and the reality of his actions even before he became the Goblin.

Amazing Spider-Man #40 (1966)

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In his mind, he was a great father to Harry, whereas we can clearly see he was emotionally distant. In his mind, he’s a pragmatic businessman, whereas we can clearly see he’s quite corrupt. Osborn is completely delusional about his own villainy, a rare trait in comic villains. At this point, most super-villains are just crooks and despots, but he actually thinks his actions are for the best. By the end of this issue, Norman conveniently gets amnesia but this characterization sticks with the character for awhile anyway. His delusion reaches it’s zenith when blames Peter (without cause, of course) for his son’s drug abuse.

Slipping back into his Goblin persona, his method of “justice” is killing Peter’s girlfriend at the time Gwen Stacy. Your welcome for the spoiler.

Amazing Spider-Man #121 (1973)

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This sets off a chain of events that leads to his own (of course temporary) death.

Such a heinous act not only codified Osborn’s delusion, but also his pettiness. In a way, this is why he makes such a good antagonist for Spidey. Characters like Superman and Captain America represent lofty ideals, so their antagonists have to be equally as lofty. Generally, Lex Luthor is portrayed as having a sense of purpose so grand that he could just as easily be as heroic as he is villainous. In a Silver Age story, this was realized when he found his own planet (which he un-egotistically dubbed “Lexor”) where he got to play hero. 

Superman #164 (1963)

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Far from heroic, Osborn’s goals are no more lofty than fucking with Peter. His reintroduction to the Spider-Man franchise was orchestrating an elaborate plot to create clones of Spider-Man and Gwen Stacy just to fuck with him for…ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Once again, Spidey didn’t do anything to him or Harry before his resurrection and even spared his life after killing Gwen. 

Osborn went on to plague Spidey in a number of ways after his resurrection. For example, one story reveals he raised two Spidey-hating kids who he had with Gwen Stacy before her death. Comics, lol. The character continued to be singularly a Spidey villain till the Thunderbolts series, where he led a team of villains who were tasked with policing superheroes. The series illustrates the distinction between Norman’s personalities. Norman is a mixture of Lex Luthor and the Joker. As a businessman and leader, he’s very Luthor-like, with a massive sense of importance and superiority. Then there’s the Goblin persona, which is more Joker-like with an obsession with Spidey and massive bloodlust.  

Thunderbolts #111 (2006)

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His growing positive reputation combined with a strange set of events allow Norman to become Earth’s greatest hero when he defeats an alien queen during an invasion. His newfound admiration not only allows him to finally rewrite public record of his past crimes, it also means that he’s able to take the role of both Nick Fury AND Iron Man as director of S.H.I.E.L.D. (which he aggressively re- dubs H.A.M.M.E.R.) and leader of the Avengers (having jacked himself some sweet-ass armor and recast the team with equivalent super villains).

New Avengers Annual #3 (2009)

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This is definitely his “Lexor” moment, where Stan Lee’s Norman Osborn really comes to fruition. As mentioned, the two defining attributes of Norman are a) delusion b) pettiness. So seeing him in a role where he has to deal with characters like Dr. Doom and Namor, men with both a clarity and grandeur of vision, allows for both humor and tension.

Dark Avengers #6 (2009)

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He becomes, dare I say it, almost sympathetic. Osborn is so out of his depth and he knows it. Ironically, he becomes an almost Peter Parker like figure in the larger Marvel Universe. Spidey has also been in the big-time as an Avenger for over a decade now, but he’s often still written as the low man on the totem pole. Spidey’s role on the team is essentially comic relief. Parker and Osborn are both people of just enough ability to reach the peak of Olympus but with the barely the strength to survive the climate once they get there.

Brian Michael Bendis uses the persona of Norman to seemingly comment on  the irrationality of real life government leaders (most likely George W. Bush). Norman becomes increasingly obsessed with ” protecting America ” and letting his presence be known. When Asgard ends up hovering near Earth (don’t ask) he immediately views it as a threat despite the fact that NOTHING suggests that at all. As he did with Spidey, Norman delusions created a threat. In order to legitimize Asgard as a threat, he tricks an Asgardian into committing mass murder.

Siege: The Cabal #1 (2010)

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Norman’s war with Asgard is most likely meant to reflect the War on Terror, where many feel the American government purposely caused fear of Iraq in order to justify war, some even going as far to claim that 9/11 was engineered by them. Using Norman as a stand-in for Bush is a stretch, but fits into the public perception of what people considered “evil” at the time. Like the ‘corrupt corporate executive’ version of Lex Luthor in the 80’s, Norman reflected America’s distrust of those in power.

Despite losing his war with Asgard and his public clout, Norman continues to be a major villain in Marvel Comics. Norman Osborn/Green Goblin’s continued prominence is a testament to the ability of skilled writers to reinterpret characters. Lets hope the wacko always has a place at Marvel.

For more posts on Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Review

The Lois Lane Effect

Top 5 Fictional Bullies

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

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

For more posts on Marvel Comics

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review

Thor: The Dark World Review

Iron Man: Real American Hero

 

 

 

 

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.