Archive for the 'REVIEWS' Category

Review: CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

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When it was announced that Tony Stark/Iron Man would be joining the third Captain America movie as a co-lead for the Civil War storyline, I was thrilled beyond words. Not because I’m a fan of the comic book version of the story (I didn’t read comics growing up, so I know nothing about how this plays out on the page), but because I knew a major conflict between two of the biggest Marvel cinematic heroes would be much more dramatically interesting than what we’ve gotten from any of the previous films, where the hero(es) face off against a string of lame, underwritten, one-note villains. The hero vs. hero scenes in The Avengers were the best parts of that movie, and to have an entire film focusing on these two A-listers in conflict could only be a good thing.

I’m a YUUUGE fan of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I think it’s tied with The Avengers as the best movie so far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (referenced as ‘MCU’ for the rest of this review). As such, I was looking forward to a third Cap movie more than any other upcoming Marvel project. Even more so after I found out directing brothers Anthony and Joe Russo would be returning. Then, as news trickled down that Civil War would feature almost all of the Avengers characters & actors having to pick sides and square off against each other, my excitement grew by leaps and bounds. It would basically be a third Avengers movie (Avengers 2.5 as many called it), but grounded on Earth with serious political overtones, without any silly alien bad guy elements. Clearly, they were making this movie just for me.

If all that wasn’t enough, Disney Marvel (MCU) then made an historic deal with Sony Marvel to not only include Spider-Man in Civil War, but to basically take over creative control of a character who had been horribly misused for basically a decade (Amazing Spider-Man was good, but the last Spidey movie I really loved was Spider-Man 2 in 2004). Then they actually started making the movie, and we were eventually blessed with two jaw-dropping trailers that left little doubt this was going to be an epic, orgasmic geek experience.

And boy did it deliver. We’re now 8 years and 13 films (that’s 3 Iron Mans, 3 Captain Americas, 2 Thors, 2 Avengers, a Guardians of the Galaxy, an Ant-Man and one Incredible Hulk) into this crazy cinematic experiment, and Captain America: Civil War is without a doubt the best MCU movie yet. I’ve seen it twice as I write this review. It is a stunning accomplishment of action and storytelling. It’s the best movie I’ve seen in 2016 as of early May. No doubt that will change as we head into the fall, but I’d love for Civil War to stick around until the end of the year as one of my Best Picture contenders. It would be the first MCU movie to earn a spot at that table.

As with all my full reviews, SPOILERS AHEAD. Let’s get into the details…

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Review: STAR WARS: EPISODE VII- THE FORCE AWAKENS

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Vader helmet

Welcome back, friends. Please forgive my lack of productivity in this space through pretty much all of 2015, but I’ve had quite a bit going on out in the real world. On top of that, I’m much more interested in creating my own work than I am reacting to the work of others, which is what I do most of the time on this blog. That’s a result of simply wanting to get things off my chest, and over the past year I’ve become pretty good about being able to keep my mouth shut and my thoughts contained inside my head. This is my first full review since I analyzed Captain America: The Winter Soldier in April of 2014. Fuck, it has been awhile, hasn’t it?

Reviewing Star Wars movies has always been tough for me. And by “tough”, I mean “nearly impossible”. The original trilogy, collectively, occupies the #1 slot on my list of favorite movies of all time. When I watch those movies, I don’t see actors and cinematography and writing, I am watching a story unfold, nothing more. I’m not thinking at all about how it was made. That’s because I became passionate about Star Wars before I knew I was passionate about filmmaking. When it comes to the prequels, I don’t like talking about them because of how disappointing they are. I’ve never gone as far as most in saying they outright suck, but I freely admit they are a mess. I can still watch them and enjoy doing so, but they don’t feel like the original movies at all, and I’d have a very tough time watching all 6 in order, because the gap in style, both visually and in storytelling, between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope would be too big a jump to make in my mind. I’m also bitter that the way Anakin Skywalker was handled in the prequels makes original trilogy Darth Vader much less badass, which is a cinematic felony.

On to current events! Back when Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012 and sent George Lucas packing, I posted my reaction to the news [HERE] and then did another piece reacting to the announcement of J.J. Abrams as Episode VII’s director [HERE]. I originally pegged Abrams’ selection at only a 2% chance of happening. In hindsight, that was foolish, but I based that doubt on the fact that I refused to believe that they’d hire the same guy who rebooted Star Trek to also revive Star Wars. I viewed that as some sort of celestial paradox. Minus the Star Trek factor, I approved of Abrams doing this, and I still approve now after we’ve all seen the finished product. Episode VII needed to be directed by a Star Wars fan, and Abrams has proven his worthiness in that regard. In many people’s views, his love for the original films is too evident in Force Awakens, but we’ll get to that.

Without further ado, let’s get straight into it. Needless to say, SPOILERS APLENTY AHEAD!

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Review: CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier marks the unofficial start to the 2014 summer movie season (yes, I know it’s the first week of April, but that’s how Hollywood does business now). It arrives riding a wave of massive fanboy approval and some of the best reviews any Marvel movie has received thus far. A lot of people are calling it the best Marvel movie yet*, while some are boldly using the “it’s better than The Avengers” line to drum up hype and/or to get their name on the TV ads. I was actually hoping that those things were true. I wanted a more story-centric Marvel movie, and from the two amazing trailers, it looked like we might finally be getting one. In the end, kinda, but not so much. This movie is almost great. It’s almost what I wanted it to be, but in the end it succumbs to a lot of the issues that plague the other Marvel flicks; large gaps in logic, a weak villain, an overabundance of action in lieu of story in order to keep 12-year olds hooked, and an overdone visual effects extravaganza for a finale.

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Review: THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE

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Hunger Games Yay

The Hungers Games: Catching Fire has arrived in theaters as the most anticipated studio film probably since The Avengers last year, and with Christopher Nolan‘s Batman series wrapped up, The Hunger Games may now be the most popular active movie franchise in America. In the U.S. at least, it’s bigger than any of Marvel’s individual franchises (including Iron Man). It’s bigger than Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s bigger than The Hobbit. It’s bigger than Transformers. It’s bigger than Bond or Star Trek or X-Men or Spider-Man or anything from Pixar. In fact, the first Hunger Games grossed more in the U.S. than any of the Harry Potter movies. And it’s outgrossed these movies without the use of 3D surcharges. Remarkable. I don’t pretend to know why any of this is true, but as Bill Belichick would say, it is what it is.

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Mini-Review: LEE DANIELS’ OSCAR-BAITING THE BUTLER

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First things first, as you’ll see, I refuse to call this movie Lee Daniels’ The Butler. Have you heard the story about why they had to retitle the film from simply The Butler? Oh, please read about it [HERE]. It’s one of the most idiotic behind-the-scenes controversies in recent Hollywood history. The Butler is a movie I wasn’t excited to see, per se, but because it’s considered one of this year’s serious awards contenders, I’m sort of required to see it so that I’m “in the know” come January. It’s certainly worthy of consideration in several categories, but this is not the best movie of the year, and it should not be nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, or for its adapted screenplay (from Danny Strong, who won an Emmy last year for adapting Game Change for HBO).

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Mini-Review: FRUITVALE STATION

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Fruitvale Station is based on the true events of December 31, 2008 and the early morning hours of New Year’s Day, 2009 involving the wrongful shooting death by an Oakland transit police officer of young Oscar Grant. The events of that night led to protesting and rioting in the Oakland area. The officer involved in the shooting, Johannes Mehserle, was eventually convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served 11 months in prison out of a 2-year sentence. He was later fired from the police force. The incident sparked nationwide outrage, civil lawsuits on behalf of the family, and now this film. The movie was shot in just 20 days last July with a budget of less than $1 million. It premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and took home the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award, which if I’m not mistaken are the two biggest awards given out at Sundance.

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Free Review of a $200 Million Turd: THE LONE RANGER

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The Lone Ranger (from the team that brought you Pirates of the Caribbean, didn’t ya know?!) arrived in theaters last week to scathing reviews, low industry expectations and minuscule audience anticipation. Of course, by that “team”, I’m referring to producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Gore Verbinski, and star Johnny Depp. Here we have another project that took a long, troubled road to the big screen – a road that Disney probably now wishes it hadn’t traveled. The final box office tally for the film’s opening weekend was a disastrous $48.7 million for the 5-day holiday weekend. For comparison, Despicable Me 2 opened strong with $143 million over the same period. Wall Street analysts are now saying that Disney could end up losing $150-190 million total on the movie. That’s a big deal, but a company the size of Disney will absorb that without blinking. The only thing it will really cause is some bruised egos. Anyway, it’s still not as bad as the $200 million hit Disney took last year on the stinker known as John Carter. So…there’s that. Nor is Jerry Bruckheimer likely to feel much heat given how much money he’s made for the studio with the Pirates movies, especially given the [unfortunate] fact that a fifth one is on the way.

So why did Bruckheimer think that a cheesy western TV show from the 50’s would make an exciting $215-250 million (depending who you ask) summer blockbuster in 2013? The fuck if I know, brah. I thought this was a terrible idea from the get-go when it was announced several years ago, so its creative and financial failure doesn’t surprise me one bit. I’m not celebrating its failure, but I am happy that audiences knew better and rejected it. That’s a positive sign. I only wish they’d do so more often (like, say, on the 4th Pirates movie). I guess Bruckheimer felt that if he can turn a theme park ride into a multibillion-dollar franchise, he and his boys could do it with any property. Unfortunately for him, that is not the case. I’m not as big a fan of “TV crime show/epic adventure-fantasy film producer” Jerry Bruckheimer as I was “R-rated action movie producer” Jerry Bruckheimer from the 90’s, but I still respect the guy a great deal and consider myself a fan. Just don’t expect to see CSI: Topeka on my DVR, and I will not be fooled into paying to see Pirates of the Caribbean 5 in theaters. Never again!

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