Archive for the ‘Action/Adventure’ Category

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Cockneys Vs Zombies

July 8, 2013

Cockneys vs Zombies

As the name suggests, this is a very serious British period piece set shortly before the death of Queen Victoria, the general plot follows an assassination attempt on……

No, it’s cockneys, guns, zombies, guns, old people, and guns.  It is everything that you’d hope the film would be, scene stealing actors (not great actors but scene stealing ones), zombie action, and some of the funniest scenes I’ve seen in a movie in  years.  It is camp to the extreme, but done brilliantly for the budget and keeps the laughs coming.

I was fortunate enough to see this film as CONvergence, a yearly con in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, at a screening prior to it’s limited US release and with James Moran, the screenwriter, in the audience.  There was then a question and answer section after that.  So a bit of “history” on this film, it was the idea of the films director, with the original idea being a more serious film until James Moran got his hands onto it and turned it into a hilarious comedy/action film.  He had a few goals in this film, which included coming up with three things that he had never seen in a zombie film before, I would write what they are, but I only remember two of them and they are a bit spoilerish, albeit on the light spoiler side.  This film also has a moment that James Moran said was the best idea he’d ever come up with and that he wouldn’t ever come up with anything as great again, it is one of the most hilarious scenes in the film and very memorable as well.

The story is pretty simple, two brothers are trying to help out their granddad, but don’t have any legal means to do it, so they decide to rob a bank, while they are in the bank, the zombie apocalypse happens in London and they have to fight there way to try and save their granddad with various adventures and odd moments along the way.  What works with how this is written is, firstly it doesn’t take itself seriously, at all.  It keeps the jokes coming quickly, and with non-stop hilarity.  Secondly, the characters have their own stories and personalities.  Thirdly, for the type of story it is, it has a happy ending, and one that works perfectly with the film, I get a momentary chill thinking about it, it doesn’t seem like a happy ending was stuck on, but a sad ending would have been so out of place that it would have ruined much of the first part of the film.  And the blend of characters works well, you have a good sized range in age and type, plus none of the characters are pigeon holed into one area.    And Moran doesn’t do two common zombie things, firstly, he doesn’t spend time explaining where the zombies come from, they are found in a tomb, genetic experiment, contaminated ground water, previous zombie outbreak, who knows, but it doesn’t matter.  And lastly, he doesn’t spend time explaining about the head shot.  This takes place in modern day London, if you and I know to take out a zombie with a head shot, why wouldn’t these people.

The big names in this film aren’t really the main characters for the most part.  Alan Ford and Richard Briers, Snatch and Watershipdown respectively,  have rolls in this film and are on screen for a strong period of time, but aren’t the two major protagonists.  Rasmus Hardiker and Harry Treadaway play the two main characters, they do a good job in those roles, they play off of each other well, as does everyone else in the film, but they are minor names when it comes to American knowledge of their acting with City of Ember and Your Highness being the most recognizable names on their IMDB pages, after Cockneys vs Zombies (or at least I hope it will become that).  I should also mention Michelle Ryan who has been in a number of things as well including Jekyll and Cashback, her role is different than the normal girlfriend sort of roll she’s had and she apparently jumped at the opportunity to play a stronger smarter character.

Visually this film has a low budget, the make-up and special effects are solid, but there aren’t a ton of them like you would get with something like Zombieland, but it works well enough in this film, and zombies are so popular now that they had extras coming out from everywhere who wanted to be zombies.  One of the extras even sent a 20 minute screen test of himself being a zombie in to become an extra, he got a slightly larger roll than most zombie extras in one of the most memorable scenes.  But there aren’t any major mistakes in this film that I caught with continuity or anything like that, and with the type of film it is, who cares.   The music also works very well for the film, and a British Cockney band, Chas ‘n’ Dave wanted to be in the film ,but it wouldn’t work with their schedule so they wrote original end credit music for the film.

Overall this is a film I could gush over a long time.  Find this film, watch it, it’s coming out in 8 cities in the beginning of August in the US, but also VOD the same day.  It is hilarious, well done, and a feel good film.  My best comparison for this films is Black Sheep (NZ), but it isn’t nearly as bloody and gory as that film was, and I think it works better that way.  It doesn’t try and have the zombie horror jumps, it just is a very straight forward action/comedy film with zombies, and while zombies are starting to get over played a little bit, this is one case where they remain simply fabulous and work.

Critical Grade: C

Entertainment Grade: A+

Overall Grade: A

Just a quick reason for the grade, this film isn’t meant to be looked at through such a critical lens, there are films like this that are just meant to be enjoyed for the absurdity that they are, and if they don’t completely suck in other ways they can be enjoyed, so that is why this has an overall grade of an A while maintaining a C critical grade.

 

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50 Movies in 100 Days: Dead Heat

February 13, 2013

Dead Heat

The best way that I can describe this movie would be to call it the poor prequel to Big Trouble in Little China.  This is a completely absurd buddy cop sort of film.  It is an 80’s film, and it is completely over the top.  There is very little that makes complete sense in this film, and it is totally okay.  This movie is cheese.

Two cops are investigating a string of dangerous daylight crimes, but the criminals seem to be super human.  They find a drug in their blood stream and track down a pharmacy that has a large order of it come in.  There they stumble across a machine that re-animates the dead.  One of the cops dies and they find out why the criminals are never repeats, the machine doesn’t keep the cells stable for that long, so they have 12 hours to solve the crime and take down the ring.  After that they run through a series of undead bad guys and things go from bad to worse as they start to unravel the mystery with everything being completely absurd.

The acting is over the top absurd 80’s like you’d expect.  The film stars Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo, to call them good actors would definitely be an overstatement, but the film isn’t meant to be anything more special.  The rest of the cast has the quintessential 80’s feel.  It works because the film is really cheesy and the lines are cheesy and the action is cheesy, so who cares if the acting is cheesy.

The best way to describe how this film looks and feels is the 80’s.  The special effects are cheesy, there is a scene where a bunch of dead animals come back to life, and they are completely absurd and over the top.  This is what really reminded me of Big Trouble in Little China, the stuff that completely over the top and makes no sense, but for the 80’s, the practical  effects just aren’t there, but they are fun to look back on and laugh at.

This is a film that if you enjoy some 80’s absurdity, you’ll love.  It takes itself a bit seriously, but it is so goofy and you can ignore the fact that it might have been semi-serious when it was made.  The cheese flows and it is fun mindless entertainment.

Entertainment Grade: B

Critical Grade: Doubtful there is one, D

Overall Grade: B-

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50 New Movies in 100 Days: The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu

February 5, 2013

The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu

I give this movie props, it is raunchy, funny, over the top, and slightly comic book like in how it handles some things, heck there are some comic books even in there.  It is a story that makes no sense, a relic of Cthulhu has been found, which is likely going to bring him forth and the only one who can stop him is this group who has the other half the relic, and the only one that they can give it to is the last remaining relative of HP Lovecraft.

So, I basically summarized the story already, but to go into more detail.  Two slackers, Jeff and Charlie are in a dead end job, there is a girl that one of them likes (and that’s the last we see of that girl).  Then there is a professor who gets pulled from his class by a secret organization which he is a part of, they give him the task of bringing their part of the artifact tot he last descendent of HP Lovecraft, who turns out to be one of the slackers, and a creature from the deep tries to steal the artifact, they run off to their nerdy highschool losers place (who happens to still with his Grandma.  They go off trying to find a sea captain who had run across the sea creatures before.  They end up eventually defeating Cthulhu’s minions in a pretty hilarious manner befitting the film.

The acting and whole film are really low budget, but it works for the film.  It is meant as a completely absurd comedy action film and no doubt that it actually works for the extremely low budget that it is.  Everything is completely hilarious in the action.  But Harry Saine, the director does a pretty good job.  The Kyle Davis and Devin McGinn are the two leading actors and they are pretty hilarious.  Barak Hardley is probably the best comedy in the film as the lonely nerdy friend.  Like I said, the production values are really low, but for the small budget that it likely had, it doesn’t seem cheap.  I started five minutes of the movie Cross, and it had bigger names, and it looked much cheaper in how it was put together.

Overall it was a pretty funny film and is actually entertaining to watch, and isn’t a long watch.  If you are in the mood for something that is completely absurd and full of wonderfully odd pointlessly weird situations.   It isn’t worth all that much more than a silly comedy and anything with Cthulhu mentioned in it, and briefly seen in animated form, is pretty good in my book.

Critical Grade: D+

Entertainment Grade: B-

Overall Grade: C-

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50 New Movies in 100 Days: Season of the Witch

February 2, 2013

Season of the Witch

This is Nicolas Cage and  Ron Perlman as two knights in the middle ages having to fight against a witch, what could go wrong.  Well, technically many things, but surprisingly very few of them did.  It is a goofy movie filled with hilarious lines that are completely out of place and time.  It isn’t as good as Drive Angry but it is is pretty awesome.

The story starts with telling of a book that can bury witches permanently and anything else supernatural and evil.  Then we meet Damien, Cage, and Felson, Perlman, two knights who fight in the crusades and in other church missions.  They end up leaving when they realize that they have killed women and innocent children in their time.  They wander around for a while before coming to a city with the black plague.   The plague is being caused by a witch.  They end up finding out that there is one remaining book in a nearby monastery and they go there with the witch, a priest, and a couple of soldiers.  They face several hardships along the way, but end up making it to the monastery.  However, nothing is quite as it seems, and there is a larger plan in place.

The acting is what you’d expect, Perlman and Cage are pretty good and hilarious.  It is Nicolas Cage as Nicolas Cage in the film like in Drive Angry.  Perlman is definitely a fun actor to watch, his performance was somewhere along the lines of Hellboy and Mutant Chronicles, playing the tough guy and kicking lots of butt.  This is obviously not a film about the acting though with having Cage as a leading man, and none of the rest of the performances were anything of note, and even Cage and Perlman weren’t anything special, they are just very recognizable names.

Directing wise, it seems like a mid-level blockbuster, they had some money to make the film, and there were points in time when there was solid special effects, but maybe because it isn’t like Transformers where everything is special effects, it didn’t seem to rely as heavily on them.  Perlman and Cage both looked fairly out of place in the time period of the film.  Some of the other actors seemed to carry that role much better, but when it is Cage being Cage, you don’t watch it for the authenticity of the piece.

This is a fun film that got universally destroyed by the critics, sitting at 10% on rotten tomatoes, but I think that has more to do now with people liking to use Cage as a punch line for jokes than for anything else.  This was a pointless, mindless film that had some fun action, and slightly clever storyline, and dialog from the year 2011 set back in 1345 or so.  It isn’t meant to be anything more than pointless popcorn flick, and when viewed as that, it really isn’t that bad a film.  There isn’t anything that stands out as special, but there isn’t anything laughably bad, such as in Wickerman.

Critical Grade: D

Entertainment Grade: B-

Overall Grade: C-

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50 Movies in 100 Days: Iron Sky

January 27, 2013

Iron Sky

This is a film that I had heard about 6 months or so, when I happened to track down the trailer on-line.  Nazi’s with a secret moon base and coming back to take over Earth in this time, what could go wrong? It was somewhere between great and terrible, there were elements to it that were hilarious, and awesome but it got bogged down in a movie that clearly shouldn’t have any message or ideals, when it clearly tried to have some.  Those points in time were basically a waste in time, but there were many moments where that wasn’t the case.

The US has sent two men back tot he moon during a presidential election year to try and bolster the public support for the president who is a poorly done caricature of Sarah Palin, which was funny in concept but much less successful in execution.  One of them is captured, who is an African-American model, and he is studied in the Nazi base.  He says that he knows the President, so the Nazi’s turn him white, and take him to Earth on a mission to plan their attack.  Things don’t go all that well as one of the Nazi’s, who has studied Earth, ends up realizing the Nazi’s aren’t the good guys like she thought.  The Nazi invasion happens, and things don’t go all that well for them.  The US has a space ship with weapons, going against a treaty, and then it turns out that almost every country does, minus Greece.  Things almost work out, but then the Nazi’s use a tablet computer to power up their Helium-3 weapon, but the Nazi who has become good and the model manage to stop the massive weapon that the Nazi’s have built.

The acting performances in this film are pretty hilarious.  The actress who plays the Sarah Palin president, Stephanie Paul, looks like Palin, but really isn’t all that good an actress and is given predictable lines to work with over and over and over again.  Christopher Kirby, as the model actually does a hilarious job, he has great lines, and performs them well doing the opposite thing that Robert Downey Jr did in Tropic Thunder.  The rest of the actors were pretty good, Julia Dietz, as the good Nazi, aren’t bad, they go overboard a lot in the lines that they are given.

This film is shot primarily in grey tones, which was annoying at first, but actually works fairly well.  The Nazi’s, on the moon, are very clueless as to how life on Earth is now, so there are many old fashioned things that make the filming in grey tones actually pretty good.  They also work in a lot of older sounding songs into the film.  Timo Vuorensola hasn’t done anything else that is all that notable, but seems to be working on films now or attached to films that sound basically like this film.

This was supposed to be a better film, but there were a few things that went really wrong.  It got preachy at time mocking the USA in not all that funny a way, it had some potential, and they could have poked great fun at Sarah Palin, but they just did a poor job of it.  The best way to put it would be that they are trying to make a joke, but it comes across in joke form that they really mean exactly everything they are saying, so the insults which are jokes are actually insults, and it comes off as way to forced.  This was especially sad since it could have been a hilarious film and kept much more straight forward.  I was hoping for a film that was somewhat campy and had lots of absurd action and lines.  It had enough of that to make me glad I watched it, and it is one that I might watch from time to time, but it could have been much better and while not being great something I would watch over and over again, like G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra.

Critical Grade: C-

Entertainment Grade: C+

Overall Grade: C

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50 Movies in 100 Days: Tomorrow When the War Began

January 21, 2013

My goal is to watch 50 new films that I haven’t seen before in 100 days.  I’ve done 100 movies in 100 days before, this time it is something slightly different, finding 50 new films is going to be slightly different, less movies, but none that I’ve ever seen before.

Tomorrow When the War Began

This Australian Film I would compared favorably to Red Dawn.   The story is of Australia being invaded by either Korea or China, don’t remember, for the lack of land in the country.  The higher population and room in Australia is the reason given for the attack.  It is actually pretty well shot, and the acting is something that you’d expect to see on the CW, in fact it felt like it was the first two episodes of a television show.

The plot surrounds a group of teenagers who went camping out in “Hell” a little place by a river away from everyone.  They just happen to be gone while the country was invaded and they happened to be in one of the cities that was taken originally.  They come back to find everyone in the town either dead, hiding, or in a camp in the middle of the town.  After several scares they decide to take the battle to the invading forces by destroying the supply bridge from the coast to the main town.  They succeed of course and that’s when the story cuts out, and we are left with what really feels like the first two episodes of what would be a pretty entertaining television show.

The acting is what you would expect, it is a group of teenagers in the movie, and while it is probably twenty somethings in real life and the performances aren’t all that great.  It wasn’t so much that they were bad actors, just that it wasn’t that high quality quality acting, no one bombed their performances, there are definitely cheesy points, it just felt like it was CW acting performances.  Very attractive talent, but not all that talented, or maybe it was so much not all that amazing a script.

Visually is what kept me entertained.  It was beautiful locations throughout the whole shoot.  And it was well shot, tense action scenes, even though a number of them had hokey moments.  The colors were spot on throughout the whole film and while the people did look like they had been in a war or lived off the land for a while, but neither did Red Dawn or Red Dawn (2012).  The music itself seems over powering at times, there were scenes where the music just took over everything.  But in terms of a film the size that it was good, and the director Stuart Beattie is making a second one, which is good, cause like I said, it felt like the first two episodes of a well done CW show.  And it is very different from Beattie’s previous work, such as writing for the Pirates movies.

Overall this is a pretty fun movie.  It is very similar to Red Dawn, and if you grew up watching the first one, and possibly the new one which I haven’t seen yet.  It is campy fun, nothing so strong or special that it deserves critical praise, but something entertaining enough to warrant watching once.  And it is currently on Netflix.

Critical Grade: C

Entertainment Grade: B

Overall Grade: C+

(EDIT) For what it’s worth Phoebe Tonkin is on a CW show, The Vampire Diaries.

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The Dark Knight Rises

July 20, 2012

 

The Dark Knight Rises

This being Christopher  Nolan’s last Batman film, it ended up being more of a farewell tour, then a soundly put together movie, that relied more on bringing back everyone they could, then developing a well focused story.  He wanted to go out with something epic but didn’t have a strong enough bad guy to carry the film and while it has some of the same visual and scoring impact, there were lapses in sound editing that took the audience out of the film.  It doesn’t live up to the strength of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

The story, a convoluted one, is one that we’ve already seen before, in fact, it is basically the same as the first two.  Batman has a problem, he faces the problem, he fails, he gets broken, he comes back stronger, someone teaches him something to make him even stronger still, and he wins at the last minute.  This film basically followed the same plot line with the added bonus  of John Blake, another member of the police force who gets to work with Commissioner Gordon.  It also suffers from the extreme backstorying, not of the people who completely matter, but of Bruce Wayne from the previous movies.  Most people seeing this either won’t care that much about the back story or already know it, it was about 20 wasted minutes of flashbacks that weren’t needed which seriously hurt the pacing of the story.

The acting in this film is considerably weaker then any of the other films.  Bane, played by Tom Hardy, is extremely forgettable.  He is physically imposing muscle wise, but seems tiny on the screen, he doesn’t ever seem like someone who people should fear on the screen.  His voice also was very disconnected and poorly done (and mixed) from the rest of the film.  The first few scenes he is in, it seems more like a voice over then the actual character talking.  Marion Cotillard is also weak as Miranda/Ra’s Al Ghul’s daughter.  Her romance with Bruce Wayne is very forced and very quickly done in the film, people complained about Jane Foster and Thor in Thor, this had about half the set-up that one did.  Then the “great” twist that she is evil gave us some of the most poorly delivered monologues in the film that were pretty well devoid the the emotion that you were hoping for, and illogically placed.  I realize it shouldn’t be compared to the Avengers or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but Joss Whedon does one thing very well, when something major is going on in a battle and someone dies, it isn’t focused on, here no one dies, but everything is separated greatly and needlessly.  The hero versus villain battle that we get between Bane and Batman is in a larger ongoing battle, but apparently all the police know not to even look at Bane and all of Bane’s minions know not to look at Batman.  This is normal for most movies, but in a film that is supposed to be tougher, more realistic, and grittier then your average superhero film, it fails.  Gary Oldman is done no services as Commissioner Gordon, all the previous work developing his character is swiftly undone in this film, wasting Oldman’s talents as he becomes a device to move a plot forward, not an actual character.  Christian Bale is also a disappointment in the film, but that is kind of expected, his forced gravelly Batman voice works about as well as Clark Kent putting on glasses so people don’t know he’s Superman, except with this we have to listen to it the whole time, which becomes very old quickly and Bale becomes more of a caricature then an actual superhero.  This also doesn’t touch on the fact that Bale can be okay as Batman, but is worse as Bruce Wayne providing none of the emotion that one would expect to see from this film.  Anne Hathaway is another disappointing character, which I blame more on writing of Catwoman, than on Anne Hathaway.  The role is meant to be seductive and sexual, which Hathaway pulls off quite well at various parties and galas which she has broken into it, but towards the send of the film, all the shots of her are overtly sexual and  completely objectify her character, and remove the ability to see her as a serious performance in the film.  There was a good performance though in Blake, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as he showed off some acting chops and showed character change throughout the film, unlike basically anyone else in the film.  And it looks like he could be used in films going forward, so that gives me some hope for a franchise that should be moving forward still, even without Nolan and Bale.

Critically this film had much of the look without any of the flare.  Nolan got lost in the fact that this was his last film trying to create this grand plot that would allow him to reference extensively the previous two films.  This film seems to be his good bye and he leaves major issues with the timing of the story, figuratively and literally, where Batman is trapped in a prison called the pit, gets out, and in 6 hours is back on Gotham which is shut off from the outside world.  Or Batman being in one place in Gotham, showing a time counting down, at another place in Gotham and considerably too little time has passed.  The music also isn’t as tightly done as it should be and as one would expect it to be.  It doesn’t take the audience out of the film, but it doesn’t drive them deeper in.

Overall this isn’t a bad film, it is entertaining, but it isn’t anything special for several reasons.  Firstly, the story got to big on Nolan, he wanted to make an epic swan song for him to leave on, and he drew it out too long and added things that weren’t needed.  This is fairly understandable though, it was an entertaining 2:45 film, but would have been a better 2:00 film.  Secondly, Batman is more about the villains then the hero, Batman himself isn’t all that compelling, he is a man on a mission to take down bad guys, he doesn’t have a huge personality of his own.  His villains do, however, and with Ra’s Al Ghul, Scarecrow, and The Joker, we got that, with Bane we got none of that.  There are at  least 3 Batman movies better then this one.  But go to it not for critical prowess or expecting it to be as great as The Dark Knight and you should enjoy this film.

Entertainment Grade: B

Critical Grade: B-/C+

Overall Grade: B-

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X-Men:First Class

June 6, 2011

X-Men: First Class

 

This was a well crafted fairly serious superhero film.  It is a set-up story like that of Batman Begins where we find out the history of many of the key players.  But it is brought together much better than Wolverine was brought together and focuses in much more on the characters in the film as compared to the action in the film, which is enjoyable to watch.  Matthew Vaughn does a good job directing this well crafted story.

The story is  the origin of Professor X and Magneto and their friendship and how that fell apart.  It starts with Erik (Magneto) is a Nazi concentration camp where he is separated from his family.  His powers are then revealed to a German guard who tries to train Erik to use his powers.  At the same time Charles Xavier comes across Raven who has broken into his house to find food.  She is like him in that she is a mutant and he takes her under his wing and they grow up together.  Things come to a head when Moira (in this telling a CIA Operative) runs across some interesting people and she goes to Xavier as one of the top genetics experts to solve her problem.  This leads to a team up with Erik who has been tracking down the German who killed his mother and trained him.  Xavier rescues Erik as he tries to attack Shaw, the German, and is going to die.  They team up and together locate some other mutants with the help of Hank McCoy.  They form a team and go after Shaw and his team of mutants, but they have a different way of looking at things.  Erik wants mutants to rule since they are superior beings whereas Xavier wants to live in harmony with the humans (if that is possible).  This comes to a head and Erik kills Shaw to become Magneto.

The acting of the two leads is superb.  James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender shine as Charles Xavier and Erik respectively.  McAvoy has a boyish charm and optimism about him and he turns into a sort of charisma with how he can influence people.  Fassbender shows off a nice dark side where you feel sorry for him but don’t completely trust his intentions all the time.  Raven (Mystique) played by Jennifer Lawrence is great as well.  She plays a very conflicted character torn between the fact she doesn’t look normal but she can change her appearance to be normal and the dichotomy of the two positions.  Kevin Bacon is also very good as Shaw.  At the beginning of the film when he is playing the role at the concentration camp he is simply brilliant, his performance falters a tiny bit as the movie progresses, but he is very strongly evil.  The cast wasn’t all perfect though, January Jones as Emma Frost was beautiful to look at, but quite poorly acted.  Considering that she is supposed to look like a sex symbol, that isn’t the worst thing in the world, but when paired with some of the great acting in this film, she does stick out as a weak point.  Nicholas Hoult also struggles in her performance as Hank McCoy (Beast), he isn’t bad, but the role was played so perfectly by Kelsey Grammer that Hoult seems to come up just short.  He has some fairly emotional scenes that he pulls of well, though.  The rest of the cast is solid, but not completely memorable.

Visually this film shines through as well.  It has an older quality feel to it as it takes place in the 1960’s for the most part.  Vaughn does a good job creating this world where the mutants exist but humanity doesn’t really  know about them.  Ashley Miller, Zach Stentz, Jane Goldman, and Matthew Vaughn do a great job putting together this screenplay.  The story is wonderfully character driven and while they show off a nice array of powers, they don’t get lost in showing everyone.  If they had tried to, it would have becomes a mess like the second Transformers movie.  But they keep it simple enough and they don’t go over the top with any of the characters.

Overall this is one of the better superhero films that I’ve seen.  It has some lighter moments that makes me appreciate it more than I do a film like The Dark Knight, but it takes itself a bit more seriously than a film like Iron Man or Thor.  I’m very hopeful that they can keep this cast together and make more films because it would be very enjoyable to watch and see how they end up developing the story.

Entertainment Grade: A

Critical Grade: B+

Overall Grade: A-

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Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

May 23, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

This Pirates of the Caribbean film really brings it back to the style of the first film.  Yes, it is absurd in that has mermaids, zombies, and voodoo, but it is a stand alone film.  It leaves itself plenty open for sequel, but it doesn’t require one.  If Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz decide not to come back and do another film, it isn’t a big deal, even though Penelope Cruz’s character would make sense in a sequel, she can even be replaced as there are a number of ways that it can go.  This was fun like the first one, a bit absurd, but very strong in terms of a stand alone summer sort of film.  With as bad as the summer films could have been, they have turned out quite nicely thus far.

The story is that of Jack Sparrow trying to make is way to the Fountain of Youth.  Not because he really wants to, all he really wants is The Black Pearl back (yet again), but Angelica (Penelope Cruz), basically kidnaps him to work for her father, Blackbeard, on his ship and to get him to the fountain of youth because it has been prophesied that he will be killed by the one legged man, Barbossa, who managed to escape from the Black Pearl before Blackbeard captured it.  Barbossa knows that Blackbeard is going after this, so he slides himself in with the British government in order to have a ship to go after Blackbeard and the fountain of youth.  At the same time, a Spanish general goes after it as well.  Leading to a three way race to get two silver chalices and a mermaids tear.  Much confusion, betrayal, and randomness happens on the way to the fountain of youth.

The acting is what you expect from a Pirates of the Caribbean film.  Johnny Depp slides back into his role of Captain Jack Sparrow very nicely, and it was kind of refreshing to not have Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley playing opposite him in the lead roles.  Penelope Cruz does a good job of stepping in as a sweet lady who Jack had corrupted and Ian McShane does a good job stepping in as Blackbeard, neither performance is astounding, but they are as good if not better than those of Bloom and Knightley.  Geoffrey Rush comes back as Barbossa, and he really does a very good job as Barbossa.  There are a few other characters that are brought back, but for the most part, there aren’t any other strongly memorable performances.  Keith Richards makes another guest appearance which is okay, but really could have been done without.

In terms of the level of competence in the film making, the direction by Rob Marshall is good, and the screenplay, while having some very absurd elements to it, is strong.  They manage to add in zombies and mermaids very well.  The voodoo aspect gets a bit shaky at a couple of points as Blackbeard is able to control parts of his ship with just his sword, I felt like that was over the top, but the voodoo doll of Jack Sparrow was a nice touch and didn’t seem too strange at all.  The score, by Hans Zimmer, was good as always and was similar to the previous ones which makes all the films have the same feel quite nicely.

Overall this was an entertaining film.  It won’t get a ton of critical love because there isn’t anything all that special about it, but it is a summer film, and it is rare that summer films, like Thor and the Pirates films, get all that much love.  I’d place this as the second best pirates film, and while I did enjoy the second and the third, even with their absurdity (and you have to view them as a single film), this fourth one is much closer to the first than either the second or third were.

Entertainment Grade: A-

Critical Grade: C

Overall Grade: B+

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Thor

May 6, 2011

Thor

This film might be second only to the first Iron Man when it comes to Marvel world films.  It is put together so nicely and precisely the fact that the dialog is hokey at points in time isn’t really noticeable, and the fact that the plot might not be 100% solid is also easy to gloss over.  It simply is a fun action/adventure super hero film that is a blast to watch.  Kenneth Branagh does a great job putting this all down onto the screen.

The story is that of how Thor gets banished from Asgard and the story of his redemption.  Thor is a brash young prince who is more of a warrior than a leader and who can’t see how his father’s, Odin, rule is so strong when he doesn’t show off his force.  When Asgard in infiltrated by ice giants, Thor along with his brother Loki and some of Thor’s closest friends decide to disobey Odin and solve the problems themselves.  Things go wrong and Thor is banished from Asgard to Midgard (Earth) and separated from his hammer, Mjillnar.  Odin enchants that hammer that only someone with the heart of Thor can lift it.  Thor tries, but fails.  It isn’t until he sacrifices himself for the good of others that his hammer returns to him.  When that happens he has to deal with the disarray that has fallen on Asgard under Loki’s rule.

The acting in this film is surprisingly strong.  Chris Hemsworth really fits into the role of Thor and even with some very corny lines, he delivers them in such a way that they are believable, especially in the Earth setting.  There are a few other characters who are really strong, Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings both outshine Natalie Portman as the humans who befriend Thor.  Skarsgard is very good in his role as playing an older wiser professor who is doing research with Portman’s character, and Kat Dennings has some great one-liners that she delivers as Portman’s intern.  Asgard also has some solid characters, Tom Hiddleston oozes with the kind of charm and cunning that Loki should have.  And Anthony Hopkins gives a good performance as Odin.  The whole cast just seems to have gelled together.

Technically Kenneth Branagh has done a good job with this film.  The script is a little bit rough at times with the dialog and the plot doesn’t hold together perfectly, but for the most part it works extremely well, and Branagh has taken the short comings and hid them quite well.  He got a ton out of the talent that he was given for the film and while this film has a lighter feel than some superhero films, most notably the Batman films, it is clear to see many tie ins to other Marvel universe films.  There is a reference to the Hulk, an appearance by Hawkeye, and references to Tony Stark as well.  Visually it is fun as well, Asgard doesn’t completely hold together in terms of CGI, but it has a royal grandeur that one would expect from the home of the Norse Gods, and the town in New Mexico where Thor lands is spot on for the comics.

Overall this was a better film than I was expecting, even with Rotten Tomatoes showing the top critic rating at 80%, I had heard about a few struggles with the dialog and plot and figured I might have issue with that.  But they do a very good job of glossing it over and making it very very fun to watch, which fits very well into the world that was created for Tony Stark.  It is very much worth checking out if you want to see the first giant film of the summer, and this is probably going to be one of the better ones and deservedly so.

Entertainment Grade: A

Critical Grade: B+

Overall Grade: A-