Friday, July 26, 2013

Movie Review: "The Wolverine"

Hugh Jackman returns for the sixth time as everyone's favorite bad boy mutant, Wolverine, in what is the best Wolverine-centric movie since 2003's X-2: X-Men United.

In The Wolverine, our titular hero journeys to Japan to say goodbye to Yashida, a man he saved from the H bomb in Nagasaki, who is now a dying business tycoon.  Yashida offers the immortal Wolverine a tempting proposition -- he will thank Wolverine for saving him by taking away Wolverine's powers, enabling Wolverine to go off and be mortal.  Of course, nothing goes as planned and everyone around Wolverine, including Yashida himself, seem to have ulterior motives.

What is so fun about this movie is that it's a serious, character centric superhero movie.  This movie literally has only two other mutants in it other than Wolverine himself.  It's quite simply a stripped down action movie where the hero just happens to have special powers and centuries of baggage that he must overcome in order to once more find his place in the world.  Of course, by the movie starring Hugh Jackman's Wolverine, even though it's a dramatic look at what makes Wolverine who he is, Jackman still infuses the character with enough gruff charisma to where his one-liners are all actually funny and you're having fun while also being completely captivated by the serious tone of the story.

This is honestly unlike any other superhero film ever done before.  There aren't many pure black-and-white characters in this story, almost every character languishes in the moral grey area, including Wolverine himself at times.  It's a movie that actually shows one of the toughest superheroes in all his glory.  While it's a shame that the climax of the film lacks any real definitive punch that tops all of the action and adventure that comes before it, The Wolverine is still a close to perfect cinematic adaptation that will please almost any fanboy.

I give The Wolverine an A!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Top 5: X-Men Movies

This weekend sees the release of the sixth film in the X-Men movie franchise, and the second to be a solo effort for the character of Wolverine.  Simply titled, The Wolverine, the film looks like it's really trying to get the Wolverine character back to his roots after his last solo outing didn't turn out so well.  By adapting one of the most famous Wolverine stories ever written in the comic books, the filmmakers seem to be on good ground for at least the fans.  I  don't think The Wolverine will make any new fans of the series, but if you're already a fan of the world of mutants, it will hopefully more than suffice till next Summer, when we get the epic, X-Men: Days of Future Past, combining the casts of the original X-Men trilogy with that of 2011's X-Men: First Class.  However, this post is not so much looking towards the future, that time will come, but rather it's about looking back at the five X-Men films that have been released since the first one in 2000.

With five films released in thirteen years, and a sixth and a seventh that are nearly here, the X-Men franchise is easily one of the more venerable of the last decade and a half.  While some might gripe about changes from the source material, the bottom line is, almost all of these movies have at least remained consistently entertaining, otherwise they wouldn't keep throwing so many hundreds of millions of dollars at them.  While continuity errors from film to film make the X-Men movies not very easy to watch in order, each installment on their own have been some of my personal favorite films over the past thirteen years.  Each film has been filled to the brim with thought provoking social commentary, gut wrenching emotion, and adrenalized action sequences, making these the rare blockbusters that manage to both entertain and provoke thought.  Given my level of love for the franchise, I figured it would be fun to rank my favorite X-Men movies in order, from my least favorite, to my favorite.  So without further ado, here we go...

5.  X-Men: Origins - Wolverine
(Dir. Gavin Hood, 2009)
Here's the thing, doing an origin film for Wolverine was a great idea, and here's why it didn't work, because all it did was retread the Wolverine origin aspects from the other X-Men movies, just in further detail, ultimately murking up the series' continuity in the process.  Had the film taken more time exploring Wolverine's childhood, or exploring Wolverine's roles throughout history (I mean, seeing as he's immortal), rather than just giving us a few brief glimpses of Wolverine in the 1800s and a shot of him storming Normandy in WWII during the opening credits, I might have bought this movie better.  Instead, they saw fit to rehash scenes and moments from the first three movies that were shot far better in those movies.

Initially meant to be the kickstarter for a spin-off series that Fox dubbed X-Men: Origins, Wolverine was the only character that got a spin-off.  Perhaps Fox thought that the reason this movie didn't work was because it focused entirely on one character, which is why the Magneto origin movie got downsized and was infused with Professor X's and the rest of the X-Men in X-Men: First Class.  I don't know if that's the reason we only got one Origins' movie, but no matter how you slice it or dice it, this just wasn't a good movie.  It was like the Fox board members said, fans want to see this moments as well as that moment, so they all lumped it into the movie without any regard as to whether or not it lined up with the pre-established timeline from the three earlier movies, or whether or not it was faithful to the comics.  The biggest casualty of this school of thought though, was that they introduced a ton of highly important X-Men characters in this movie and shortchanged them, such as Deadpool and Gambit.  They introduced so many fan favorite characters, just so they could say that they were in the movie, and therefore no character ever got any time on their own to shine.

Ultimately, while this film may have had good intentions when they first greenlit it, very few of those intentions came across to the audience.  Sure, there were some cool action scenes, and some nice little Easter egg moments, such as Patrick Stewart's cameo, but they can't redeem what is easily the worst entry in the series.

4.  X-Men: The Last Stand
(Dir. Brett Ratner, 2006)
The common misconception about the third X-Men film is that it's a bad film, and that's not the case.  While The Last Stand is by no means as good as its predecessors, the film still manages to entertain with some of the larger action set pieces that the five X-Men films have featured thus far.  The problem with The Last Stand is that it's a half-baked movie that tried to take a bunch of broken pieces and rebuild the mold that worked so well the last go around, with many of the key pieces missing.

Director Bryan Singer, who directed the first two films, reportedly butted heads over creative differences with the studio, and when he got the chance to try and revive Superman with Superman Returns, with greater creative freedom, he took it, leaving Fox in a lurch without the director of the first two installments.  Fox tried to replace Singer with Matthew Vaughn (who went on to do First Class), but Vaughn left the project weeks before shooting began due to the rushed production schedule, with Brett Ratner being brought in at the last second, just literally there to get the film in the can so the studio could meet their release date.

With so much creative, behind the scenes politics going on, many of the actors from the first two films didn't want to stick around, with the studio negotiating just to get key actors back for only a few days worth of shooting, just so they can say their character was back.  What this meant was that the screenwriters were constantly having to write major characters out of the script, either killing them off, or stripping away their powers, in order to try and justify why that actor was not in the rest of the movie.  What it made the final film, was a much more hollow film than its predecessors, that managed to get by on sheer spectacle and a short, propulsive running time, but without much of the wit that the three X-Men films above it on this list had.

3.  X-Men
(Dir. Bryan Singer, 2000)
Arguably the film that kickstarted the whole superhero movie craze.  While there had been many superhero movies before this one, this was the first superhero movie since Batman Forever in 1995 that managed to really strike a chord at the box office with mainstream moviegoers.  While the movie was by no means a runaway success, its modest budget, coupled with a surprisingly thought-provoking and emotional story, made this film a winner with audiences and with the studio, greenlighting a sequel almost immediately.

I personally have very fond memories of this film.  I remember seeing this film in theaters with my entire family, as we were on Summer vacation one year going up to Washington, D.C.  I grew up a fan of the X-Men animated series in the '90s and a fan of the comics, and for a fan of any Marvel comic, this was a watershed moment to finally see a Marvel hero onscreen.  Up to this point, DC had had a monopoly in the superheroes onscreen department, with Batman and Superman having had numerous films each, and while Marvel had done Blade a few years before, as a 10-year-old kid, I was not yet old enough to see a movie about a vampire hunter, so X-Men was a big deal.

Even though it was not the most faithful movie, the movie manages to bring together many of the key players from the comic books and form a cohesive story that works for film.  While the scale is noticeably smaller than later installments in the series -- thanks in large part to Fox's cutting of the budget -- ultimately, X-Men is a fun film that is emotional, but it feels as if it is constantly hitting its head against the ceiling that Fox had placed above it.  Had this film had the freedom to have bust through that ceiling, this would be higher up on the list, but for that reason, many of the best ideas that director Bryan Singer and company had, had to be held back for later sequels.  Most notably, the next two films on this list.

2.  X-Men: First Class
(Dir. Matthew Vaughn, 2011)
This was a big moment for the X-Men franchise, when Fox forgave Bryan Singer for abandoning X-Men: The Last Stand.  Ultimately, Singer was unable to direct, but he remained as a producer, and his love and knowledge of the franchise is noticeable in every frame.  Initially pitched as a reboot, the film wound up being more of a prequel, by utilizing footage from the first X-Men movie, as well as a Hugh Jackman cameo, that tied this film into the continuity of all the other movies.  While this further complicated much of the continuity of the film series, as an individual film, they don't make them much better.

Director Matthew Vaughn, who left The Last Stand mere weeks before shooting, came back with the lure of Bryan Singer as producer and greater freedom, and his enthusiasm really lent this film its identity.  Vaughn gave the film this slick, stylish, Sean Connery-era Bond feel, thanks to his kinetic visuals, but mostly thanks, by and large, to the 1960's period setting.  This film came out the same Summer as Captain America: The First Avenger, and both films challenged the notion that all superhero films had to be made in modern day.  That may sound like a trivial matter, but by setting this film in the past, most notably the Sixties, it gave this film a different tonal feel than any other superhero film ever made.  It gave this film its identity, and the filmmakers had a lot of fun tying the time period into every single moment of this film.  Of course, what really makes this film phenomenal is that it's just a great film, period.

This film tells the story of how Professor X and Magneto meet, before Professor X is in a wheelchair.  We watch as they are unsure of one another at their first meeting, to their friendship slowly forming as they assist the government to combat mutant terrorists, and then the tragedy of their falling on different sides of the looming mutant war.  Vaughn treated this arc with dashes of humor and pathos, that makes this story, of essentially two brothers growing apart, on the level of Greek tragedy, at least, if you're a comic book fan that is.  Even still, throughout all of the emotion, this film manages to have fun and have a cool swagger.  It's not so serious that you aren't allowed to be entertained, but it never makes fun of itself, having the characters, even if their cracking jokes while doing it, take everything that is happening to them seriously, therefore we believe that the stakes are serious, even though we're having a blast while watching.  That is the mark of a great Summer blockbuster.

1.  X-2: X-Men United
(Dir. Bryan Singer, 2003)
This is easily the best film of the entire series, and it still stands as one of the finest examples of the young superhero genre.  With greater creative freedom, the origin story all told, and a significantly larger budget, this was the X-Men film that X-Men fans had dreamed of since their childhoods.  The larger budget allowed the filmmakers to fully realize the mutants and their powers that were introduced in the first film with greater detail and more faithfulness to their comic book counterparts.  As well, it allowed the filmmakers to introduce much more visually stunning mutants like Nightcrawler into the mix because they were too expensive to include the first go around, but now they weren't.

Where this film goes above and beyond every other X-Men film is that it's just the most complete movie of all of them thus far.  Every character has an arc and a moment to shine.  No one character was shortchanged and it made the film feel as if everyone that was included in the script had a purpose, and it worked.  Not to mention the fact that this film raised so many philosophical questions about our own world through the lens of the mutants, which is what Stan Lee did way back in the Sixties when he first created these characters.  However, what really makes me watch this film again and again, is that it's just such a fun, emotionally involving film filled with originality around every twist and turn.

X-2 was just one of those movies that dreams are made of.  The use of the super powers in this film are unparalleled by any film before it or since.  The filmmakers put so much thought into every characters power set and how far they could literally push it, and in many cases I feel the filmmakers pushed some characters and their abilities even further than the comics had on many occasions.  Of course, as I've already said, this film was just fun, and as a comic book fan, there is nothing else that can compare to Wolverine unleashing his full on berserker rage as he defends the school from the military, or when Nightcrawler is brainwashed and uses all of his teleportation skill set to try and assassinate the President of the United States.  These are moments that X-Men fans had only ever been able to dream of, and now they were realized on the bigscreen.  I cannot tell you how excited I was when the film ends with Jean Grey's voice-over as the camera flies over Alkali Lake, and right before we cut to the credits, we see the faint silhouette of the Phoenix rising out of the water.  One of the best teases ever for a sequel, unfortunately The Last Stand didn't quite live up to the awesomeness, but thankfully X-2 still manages to stand on its own, untarnished by its sequel.  Thank you Bryan Singer and company, for making what is, and always will be, a classic of the superhero movie genre.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Trouble With Superman

Superman, as drawn by Jim Lee
** There may be what some consider SPOILERS for Man of Steel  below. **

I've been fairly quiet about Man of Steel ever since I first reviewed it.  If you need a refresher of what I thought, check out my review here.  Safe to say I was not the movie's biggest fan, and I am not the only one.  Many critics and fans were divided on the film, with diehard Superman fans literally split right down the middle due to the drastic changes in story and tone that the film represented.  I fell on the side of the divide that did not particularly like the film.

What's inspired this post are two recent opinion pieces, one from Herofix and the other from IGN, both trying to riddle out their own reasons as to why Man of Steel did not connect with the mass fan base like The Avengers or The Dark Knight trilogy did.  However, I don't think it's just Man of Steel that's the problem, I think the problem is simply with the Superman character in all of his different mediums.  This is why I feel it's time for me to add my own thoughts as to why I feel Man of Steel did not succeed, where I feel Warner Bros. should go with future sequels, and what DC Comics needs to do in general to their Big Blue Boy Scout.

Currently, I feel the character of Superman is languishing in obscurity, and I'm not just talking about Man of Steel, I'm talking about all of the comic books that feature Superman month to month.  It seems everyone that writes Superman, whether it be for film, television, or comics, no one seems to know who the character truly is.  I think there have been many admirable attempts in recent years trying to get back at the core of Superman, such as DC completely rebooting the Superman comics nearly two years ago with the New 52, but two years later and the Man of Steel is just as lifeless in the comics as he was onscreen this Summer.  The problem is, Superman has always been a hopeful, optimistic character who fights the bullies and stands up for the little guys, the thing is, modern audiences are too cynical to find a morally righteous man like that believable, so what do the writers do, they go in the opposite direction.

Screenwriter David Goyer wrote Batman Begins and came up with the stories for its two sequels, but Man of Steel just did not have the same zing or truth of character that his Batman films had.  Why?  Take another example, comic book writers Grant Morrison and Scott Snyder, both having written some of the greatest Batman stories ever, and when both tried to reinvent the Man of Steel in the comics over the past two years - with Action Comics and Superman Unchained, respectively - neither of their attempts were all that successful at getting back to the core of Superman's character.  The problem that these writers all seem to be facing is that they're trying to reinvent Superman rather than just letting him be who he is as a character.
his script for

A character that has existed for 75 years now has existed for that long, not because he's grown stale and is no longer relatable, but because people still like who Superman is and has always been.  There is no need to reinvent a character this popular, and when you try, all you do is anger or frustrate the people who have always loved these stories for what they are.  The problems with Goyer, Morrison, Snyder, and many other writers who have tried over the past few years to make Superman "relevant" again, is that they don't seem to understand what made Superman relevant in the first place.

Why have people always loved Superman, and what made them love him in the first place?  That's the question these writers need to be answering, and honestly, what has always made Superman relevant is that here is a man who literally represents the best of humanity.  Superman always makes the right choice, even if it isn't agreeable with everyone.  That's what makes him a hero.  He doesn't resort to murder just because it's the easiest alternative, and if he does kill, as comics writer John Byrne showed, he is filled with regret and his haunted by it, he's not bounding off and cracking jokes with the US military the very next scene (see Man of Steel to understand what I'm talking about).  The thing that no writer currently writing Superman seems to understand is that what makes Superman isn't his mythology or his powers.  You can make changes to those and I may question them at first, but at the end of the day, Superman has never been about that.  The varying forms of Superman in comics, television, and film have shown that the mythology and power set are indeed maleable, but what is not is who Superman is as a character.

From his earliest days, Superman has always done the right thing, even if it was the hardest thing to do, or even went against the grain of the law.  Superman showed up and taught the bad guy a lesson, even if it was a corrupt politician or someone in power.  There is a reason he got the nickname of the Big Blue Boy Scout, because Superman had a moral compass that always told him what was right and what was wrong.  He wasn't like other heroes like Batman, where he is conflicted as to who or what he should be.  Superman knows he has power and therefore it's his responsibility to use it to better mankind.  The thing is, it's not to say that Superman can't be represented with a dilemma where the right moral decision isn't so clear cut, or that he may not get depressed or feel remorse from time to time like any normal person would, but the truth of Superman is that he is a better person than us, and that's why people have always aspired to the character.

Superman is what we want to be, or wish we could be, not because of his powers, but because of his virtue.  It's the cynical detractors that have spurred all of these writers to try and write Superman as a more complex character with gray areas.  At the end of the day though, Superman is a black-and-white character in the gray area of our world, and he has to riddle out what is black and what is white.  That's where the drama comes from in a great Superman story, not from human angst - because even though he learned his morality from humans, he isn't human.  Why are so many people eager to try and tear down and destroy people because they are too perfect, too kind, too nice, too virtuous, or too optimistic?  Do we really need to complicate a character who is all of those things?  I don't think it's necessary.

When it gets right down to it, we see these big budget films, watch TV shows, and read comic books, to escape from our everyday existence.  Sure, we want a good, emotionally involving story, but I honestly am getting frustrated with all of this entertainment that is trying to make our fantasy and escapism too realistic and serious.  That's the biggest point of the IGN article, is that blockbusters in general are just taking themselves too seriously.  They pointed out that Superman barely even smiled or cracked a joke in Man of Steel.  Since when does Superman being so serious constitute better?  As the same article points out, while Superman: The Movie is at times campy, it's just a whole lot more fun and  more emotionally involving than Man of Steel because all this seriousness and realism is sucking out all of the wonder of these fantasy films.

We're supposed to feel something when we see Superman defy the laws of gravity.  It's wondrous, it's magical, it's impossible, and that's why it is so impactful when represented right.  We can't do these things in real life, but for a few minutes or hours out of our lives, we can suspend disbelief and actually believe that maybe anything is possible, and that's why wonderment is so important in storytelling.  If we are constantly being reminded of our own reality while in these fantasy worlds, it's hard for that disbelief to ever be suspended.  This is why we need Superman.  Not to show us a reflection of ourselves, but to show us what to strive towards.

Take the recent Summer blockbuster, Star Trek Into Darkness, as an example of a film that did all of this right.  Yes, it was was a much darker, more solemn film than its 2009 predecessor (which I still prefer for it's naive innocence), but director JJ Abrams still created moments of sheer movie magic.  He gave us jaw-dropping wonder and moments worth cheering for and caring about, because he showed us these characters who chose to do the right moral thing regardless of if it cost them their own lives.  Man of Steel did not do that, which is why the ratings I gave the two films differ from A+ to D-.

Man of Steel did not work for me, not just because it misrepresented who the character of Superman always has been, not just because it made drastic changes in tone and mythology from previous interpretations, but because it just did not move me.  It was a movie that left me emotionally cold and questioning the moral decisions of the characters.  Jonathan Kent would never tell Clark to possibly let another person die to keep his secret.  The Clark I've always loved would never watch his dad get sucked up into a tornado just so he wont reveal his secret to anyone.  These are character things, but they're also moral issues that do not represent the Kent family values that people have grown to love over the course of 75 years of stories.  But most importantly for me, it's exactly as the IGN articled stated, Man of Steel just never had any fun or excitement.

There was never a rush of emotion when Superman saved the day or did something cool, because the filmmakers were so intent on representing everything as if it really happened in the real world and were taking it all so seriously.  While I am always pushing for comic books to be represented as genuine works of art, at the end of the day, they're still comic books.  They're supposed to be fun.  There needs to be some jokes in there to alleviate the tension.  Show me some wit, warmth, and charm.  We want to feel hopeful and safe whenever Superman comes onto the screen, but I never felt that.  In short, I just want to see a world that's better than our own for just a few short hours, and I didn't get that.

The Herofix article really hit that lost note home for me.  The writer of that article asked people out of all the superhero movies released, which world would they most like to live in.  Almost all of the people said the world of Marvel Studios, where Iron Man and the Avengers live.  Why?  Because it's more fun than our world, it's simpler, there are less gray areas, and heroes can just be that, heroes.  When the writer asked if they wanted to live in The Dark Knight trilogy's Gotham City or Man of Steel's Metropolis, the answer was a resounding no, because these worlds are even more messed up than our own.  Who would want to live in a world like that, so why would I want to spend hours on end watching this for entertainment?

The thing is, The Dark Knight trilogy I feel gets away with it because Gotham has always been the most messed up city on Earth in the comics, and even still, throughout all three films, there is a dry sense of humor from characters like Alfred, playboy Bruce, and Lucius Fox - especially in Batman Begins - that keeps the proceedings fun.  Man of Steel didn't even have that dry wit going for it.  Then you look on the flip side with something like The Avengers, that has you laughing and cheering all while feeling as if the world really is at stake.  How did The Avengers pull this off?  In short, they acknowledged that this is fantasy, that this is a comic book, they had fun with it, but the characters took the proceedings serious, therefore we believed in them, and we learned to believe in heroes once again. I never believed in Superman once in Man of Steel, even though I desperately wanted to.

I still wish almost anytime someone mentions Man of Steel that I had loved it, but I didn't.  As it is, the film has already grossed close to $300 million in just the US alone, with a sequel already announced.  With this cinematic interpretation of Superman more than likely carrying on for many more years, inspiring the interpretations of every other DC Comics character in order to do a Justice League movie, I think it's also worth taking the time to see what DC and Warner Bros. can do to try and win back the fans that did not like the first film, while still appealing to the ones that did.

The first step in the right direction for the sequel is that DC and Warner Bros. are making the film not just a Superman movie, but a Batman/Superman movie.  As was revealed at Comic-Con this weekend, the film will be a team-up between the two most popular characters in the DC Comics universe set for a tentative release date of Summer 2015.  Writer David Goyer has already proven that he's more than capable at writing Batman, just see Batman Begins for the results.  While Christian Bale will not be the Caped Crusader, nor will it be a continuation of Christopher Nolan's Batman universe, I think Zack Snyder's gritty, realistic vision for Man of Steel will make it very easy to introduce a believable Batman in this cinematic universe.  The great thing is this is very familiar territory for Goyer, lending a slight sense of security to the proceedings, and this also somewhat forces the filmmakers to step back and put more thought into representing the story of how these two become best friends, rather than taking liberties with the characters (at least, I hope).  However, I think the single greatest thing about this revelation for the sequel is that it has the potential to bridge the gap for the fans who did not like the first film.

Batman is arguably the most popular superhero of all-time, even more so than Superman, especially if you take into account the number of movies, TV shows, and videogames, made about him.  The mere presence of Batman lends a slight sense of security to fanboys, giving us hope that even if they don't fully rectify what we didn't like about Superman in Man of Steel, at least they can really nail Batman, seeing as how Goyer has already done it time and time again.  Of course, even with the inclusion of Batman and the story more than likely centering around the growth of his and Superman's friendship, I still think the movie will feature Superman more prominently than Batman, primarily because it is the sequel to Man of Steel.  This is where my concern comes in.  Honestly, if I had loved Man of Steel, my anticipation for this Batman/Superman movie would be through the roof, but unfortunately I'm skeptical, because the big elephant in the room for me is still their interpretation of Superman.

Personally, I loved Henry Cavill as Superman.  I feel that if he had been given a better script to work with, he could have rivaled Christopher Reeve, but that was not the case, and he was the only shining light in a dim movie.  Here's the thing DC and Warner Bros. need to do to win back fans, without alienating the ones who loved the first movie.  First and foremost, my problems with Man of Steel primarily stemmed from the simple fact that the Superman onscreen was not the optimistic Superman I'd always loved in the comic books. 

You can place Superman in a more gritty world, but don't make him so conflicted with human emotion that there is nothing inspiring or heroic about him.  Give us an optimistic Superman.  What makes Batman and Superman's friendship so rich is that they're literally polar opposites.  It's like The Odd Couple, but with superheroes.  However, if they presented Superman as he was in Man of Steel, opposite of Batman, there wouldn't be too much of a difference from Bruce Wayne to Clark Kent, because they're both pessimistic characters.  Not much room for drama or humor.  Secondly though, they just need to have more fun this second go around.

There is no need to treat everything so seriously.  This should be fun, seeing these two mythological characters meeting for the first time on the big screen.  There should be some humor in pairing them together and there should be some genuine stand up and cheer moments, such as the inevitable moment when they finally start to gel and work together as a team.  That's what made The Avengers work so well with fans across the board, and I think they can still do all of this with the same tonal style that was established in Man of Steel.  In doing so, they'd still satisfy those who dug Man of Steel, but by being more faithful with Superman's character and allowing room for more fun and not so much doom, gloom, and destruction, I think DC and Warner Bros. could seriously pick back up the fans that did not like Man of Steel

 In many ways I firmly believe that this could be like a blank slate for Warner Bros. to fix the problems with the first film, while still catering to its fanbase, therefore making the sequel a more crowd pleasing affair with a wider majority of fans.  Here's hoping that they actually listen to the backlash and don't just look at the big box office numbers.

The Comic-Con teaser image for the 2015 Batman/Superman movie

Friday, July 19, 2013

Movie Review: "Red 2"

Every year there's always a parade of seemingly unnecessary sequels, the thing with Red 2 is that I thought that the first Red had a good enough concept with fun enough characters that it would be a blast to revisit them.  Boy, was I wrong.  Red 2 is just a boring movie that tries too hard.  None of the action is real exciting, none of the jokes ever really work, and all of the actors just seem bored here.  While Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, and Helen Mirren are all back as retired secret agents on the run, the film lacks the wit and charm of its predecessor.  Not to mention the fact that the plot makes little to no sense, is bloated with too many underdeveloped characters, and therefore I just don't care.  Honestly, this is the first movie in a long time that I seriously thought about leaving the theater after about midway through.  The only shining light is Anthony Hopkins as a deranged mad scientist, other than that, Red 2 is a complete misfire.

I give Red 2 an F!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Movie Review: "Pacific Rim"

As a kid growing up, a lot of the times during the Summer I would get bored with no one else around to hang out with.  I mean, what else does a film obsessed kid do when he's bored in the Summer?  Well, he makes a movie of course.  However, what type of movies?  There were no other kids around in my neighborhood to use as actors, so I made monster movies.  Some of the times these movies starred our cat, but seeing as how living creatures were more difficult to work with, most of my monster movies starred a marionette creature or stuffed animals, with action figures playing the human roles.  There were no scripts, just my imagination literally making everything up as I went along with our Hi-8 video camera in tow.  All of this to say, I've always loved monster movies, and Pacific Rim may just be one of the best, if not the most original monster movies ever made.

What makes Pacific Rim so original is that it mashes up two Japanese film genres, those of the giant monster and the giant robot, and creates a movie that is unlike anything that Western audiences have ever seen before.  Pitting giant robots versus giant monsters was a genius idea that I wish I had come up with, and screenwriter Travis Beacham deserves huge kudos for coming up with the idea.  The thing is though, this film wouldn't be worth watching if it didn't manage to have more going for it than just giant robots and giant monsters.  Beacham and director Guillermo Del Toro go beyond that simple idea and actually have created likable characters and an involving story to go along with the awesome spectacle, and that's why Pacific Rim should be considered one of the best monster movies ever made.

If you've ever seen any Godzilla movie or episode of Japanese animation (i.e. anime) featuring giant robots, then you will recognize all of the character types that exist in this movie.  Pacific Rim is really like anime brought to life in live action, and if this movie can achieve such believable results, then can a live action Mobile Suit Gundam movie be far behind?  One can only hope, but for right now, as a fan of anime and Japanese entertainment, Pacific Rim manages to introduce American audiences to all of the Japanese film and anime tropes that many of the kids in my generation have been in love with for our entire lives.  However, I don't want anyone reading this who has never seen any anime or previous monster movies to think that this movie is not for them.

Pacific Rim is really a movie for anyone who just loves a good time at the movies.  It's fun, action packed, and is emotionally involving.  Unlike so many Summer blockbusters that take themselves too seriously, Pacific Rim manages to balance the humor with the seriousness to create a lighthearted adventure film that still carries weight and consequence through the character's actions, but you're having a blast while the world is literally on the brink of destruction.  Guillermo Del Toro treats this film as if it's like a propaganda film from the WWII days, where he's idolizing the pilots of these giant robots, trying to inspire humanity with hope and optimism to actually rise up and meet the monsters rather than getting crushed under their feet.  Of course, I'll reiterate this point, had the characters not have worked, neither would have this movie.  The characters and their relationships with one another are what gives this movie dramatic heft when it most matters, to where when we reach the action, it's not just mayhem for the sake of mayhem, it actually means something.

In case you haven't noticed, I loved Pacific Rim.  Few movies are this imaginative and this much fun, and that's the main thing to take away from this movie.  From a design standpoint, this is one of the more meticulously crafted made up worlds I've seen in recent years, and that is a testament to Del Toro's gifted cinematic eye.  The action is stand up and cheer awesome, thanks to amazing FX work from Industrial Light and Magic.  As for the characters, none of them would work if the actors playing them weren't so likable, from Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, and Charlie Day, to the emotionally vulnerable performance from Rinko Kikuchi, they're the ones that actually make us care about the story.  Bottom line, this isn't another Summer blockbuster trying to play off of post-9/11 fears and anxieties, it's literally a movie about the goodness of humanity and the power of the human spirit to work together when it's most needed, and who doesn't want to see that?

I give Pacific Rim an A!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Review Roundup - July 2, 2013

There are always those movies that you kind of wanted to see when they came out, but reviews or whatever changed your mind, so you said you'd wait to DVD or Blu Ray to give them a shot.  Well, it's now been enough time for the movies that were released in January and February of this past year to hit DVD.  With that all said, I have seen six new movies on DVD and Blu Ray, and have decided to review them in a roundup fashion.  You'll find links to my reviews of the six movies below.  Check them out and see if these movies sound as if they're right for you.

Broken City

The Call

Gangster Squad

A Good Day to Die Hard

Side Effects

Warm Bodies