Thursday, June 27, 2013

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is at first glance, a very cool looking film. Until you get to watching it.  The production values are great, the witches look great, costumes are great.  Its just the acting and story are flat and predictable.  I had read a few reviews of this film when it came out in January (never a good sign), and hoped that even though it wasn't universally loved, I would find something redeeming in it.  All I can say good about this film is that as usual, Gemma Arterton really tries here, and Famke Jannsen looks like she's having fun as the evil witch.  As for Jeremy Renner, from his first line in the film, you can tell he doesn't want to be here. And that does not set a good precedence.

There's no real logic presented here to the weapons or the world. It just is what it is. There's no reason why Hansel and Gretel look like they stepped out of the Matrix, they just do. Just go with it!  Unfortunately, just go with it doesn't work for this film.  What could have been a fun Rambo-style witch killing quest movie turns into a plot-contrived story with lost family members, family secrets, and the different between good and bad witches.  I was hoping Gemma Arterton could salvage this film, as she did for Prince of Persia and Clash of the Titans, but even those films had more elements going for it other then her than Hansel & Gretel does.  Unless you're really curious about how bad this film is, skip it.

1 out of 5 stars


Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Snitch is one of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's smaller films. This is not Fast and Furious, G.I. Joe, The Mummy, etc etc.  Unlike those other films, this is not an ensemble picture. It's all Rock, all the time.  I know it says Dwayne Johnson on the poster, but he'll still be The Rock for me.  As a film, it's not bad, but it is not going to break out the Rock as a stand-alone star either.

Snitch is "inspired by actual events" where Dwayne's son gets arrested for signing for a package of drugs that got sent to him without his permission.  His son now faces the mandatory minimums sentence for his crimes. Dwayne convinces the U.S. Attorney to let him "snitch" to make arrests on his son's behalf. Except that Dwayne has no connections.  Jon Bernthal enters here as one of Dwayne's employees who has a past in the drug game.  He makes introductions to the lowlifes working the street (Hi Omar from The Wire!).  Things escalate from here when the DEA wants to grab the big Mexican cartel guy (Benjamin Bratt) instead of the lowlifes.

Snitch is a pretty good film.  Dwayne and Jon Bernthal are really likable actors, so their performances keep your attention.  The biggest detractor for this film is that there is nothing here to make it stand out from Dwayne's larger franchise films.  There's no large acting twist for Dwayne to advertise, no large action sequence to compete with the other films, etc.  Its just Dwayne doing his normal thing, making a decent movie.  All in all, that is what Snitch is, a decent, likable film that won't stand out from the other things on the shelf.

3 out of 5 stars


Identity Thief

 I saw Identity Thief last week and was unimpressed.  When I first saw the trailer it looked pretty good. I like Jason Bateman in The Change Up, The Switch, and films like that.  Melissa McCarthy was awesome in Bridesmaids, how could this be anything but a winning combination?  Both actors do their best, but unfortunately, the script doesn't service their comedic talents.  It had some funny parts, but on a whole, it was definitely not worth seeing in a theater. I'm glad I saw it at home.

The basic plot is that Jason Bateman's character, Sandy Patterson, has his identity stolen by Melissa McCarthy's character, Diana.  Diana lives in Winter Park, FL and Sandy lives in Denver, CO, so he has to travel to Florida to bring Sandy back to Denver to sort out all his job troubles.  Apparently there are no Federal laws she is breaking, and Denver Police have no relationship with other police departments.  No FBI, nothing, so Sandy takes it on himself to apprehend her.  Now, Winter Park, FL is a suburb or Orlando, FL and they did NOT Shoot in Winter Park at all.  The Winter Park of this film looks more like Arizona or Louisiana than Florida.  I live in Orlando and am in Winter Park frequently, so it did not pass muster with me. Small gripe, but whatever.

During this trip, driving back across the country, Sandy has to pretend that Diana is his wife, in order not to appear weird.  I think technically this would be considered kidnapping? Anyways the best part of the film is when Diana invites another man back to their hotel room to have sex while Sandy watches. Hilarity ensues.  Its all downhill after that.  Sandy and Diana are on the run from a bill collector/bounty hunter (Robert Patrick) as well as some gangsters (T.I. and Genesis Rodriguez). Its here that the film loses steam. I think the film would have been much funnier if we had more situations where Diana was stealing identities.  Once these other characters enter the picture, the film turns into a predictable on the road/on the run comedy.  There are certainly worse films than this one you could watch, but there are also certainly better films as well.

2 out of 5 stars


Monday, June 17, 2013

Man of Steel (SPOILERS)

I have been really excited to see this movie over the past month.  The first two trailers didn't really grab me, and then the third trailer was released and we really saw a lot of the action that was going to take place.  That hooked me. Then everything we saw after that was action packed, and we still hadn't seen everything.  There were moments in the film that genuinely surprised me, and I felt like I had seen ALL of the promotional material.  In the week before this film's release the review embargo was lifted and I read a few reviews.  I came away with the impression that there were two types of critics reviewing the film.  Critics who were attached to the Christopher Reeve Superman films, and those that weren't.  I'll be upfront and say that even though I own the Reeve/Donner Superman films on DVD, I've maybe seen them one or two times.  I distinctly remember seeing Superman IV: A Quest for Peace a lot as a child, but I think it was on TV a lot back then.  So I'm not necessarily attached to Christopher Reeve as Superman, nor anyone else who has played him.  I've seen the Reeve films, grew up watching Lois & Clark with my Mom and Dad, and then spent the last 10 years watching Tom Welling as Clark Kent on Smallville.  I liked all of these actors, and wasn't really affected that they cast a new guy in the suit for this film. It seems they've done that for every iteration of it.  I am however a enormous Chris Nolan fan. I adore his Batman films as well as The Prestige, and Inception. In fact, because of his success with Batman, I'll probably watch every Chris Nolan film he directs from now on.  So, I have a little bit of bias going into Man of Steel because Chris Nolan produced it with the same team as his Batman films, as well as some affection for Zack Snyder, of 300 and Watchmen fame.

Onto the film itself.  SPOILERS from here on out.  I won't go into too much detail, but I will touch on one part of the film that seems to have affected dedicated Superman fans and split them from the movie.

Still here? Great!  I enjoyed this film.  There was clapping at the end of it in my theater, but I did not feel the same emotional satisfaction as I did when Batman Begins, or any of The Dark Knight trilogy ended.  I like most things about this movie, but in particular I don't know that I can pick out anything that I don't like.  It's strange.  I love the cast.  Henry Cavill is a good Superman. I definitely felt his loneliness and longing to belong.  Amy Adams is a great choice for Lois Lane.  She's more like the Teri Hatcher Lois, spunky, resourceful, except she doesn't get kidnapped nearly as much as Teri Hatcher's did.  Michael Shannon was great as General Zod. He wasn't so much evil, as just narrow-minded and singular in purpose. It made sense.
Ma and Pa Kent (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner) were good choices for me. I saw some critics disliking Kevin Costner's performance, saying he came across as annoyed by Clark, but I didn't take it that way at all.  Most times Pa Kent came off as concerned.  He's more concerned for keeping his son's secrets hidden, for the good of his son than anything, but he still wants his son to make good decisions.  Pa Kent here knew that in time, Clark would have to come out to the world, and he wanted this son to be ready, even if the world wasn't.

I think one of the great victories of the film is its sequence on Krypton.  The film opens with Kal-El's birth on Krypton, and its subsequent destruction.  But instead of just rehashing the same old crystal motif here again, we see a more fully fleshed out Krypton. We see Jor-El atop a Kryptonian dragonfly-beast, as he rides it from the council chamber to the launching pad. We see the Kryptonian military with General Zod, we see the ruling Council. Everything here is new.  The costume designs are amazingly alien, and make sense in a world with such rich history that they are clinging too as their world dies.  I like the idea that Krypton was once an immense empire, spanning galaxies and setting up colonies and exploring new worlds.  It lends credence to the fact that Jor-El knows where to send Kal-El.  He didn't just land here by accident, and Jor-El isn't just hoping his son survives somewhere.  It makes Krypton a lot more plausible than the magic growing crystals of the Donner films and Smallville.  I want to go back to the Krypton of this film.  I'd like another extended flashback, or a prequel film, or animated series.  It was a stunning opening to a film, and made you forget any incarnation of Superman that had come before.

Another thing I liked is the idea of Kal-El as a symbol of hope.  His "S" is a glyph for hope in the Kryptonian language, and only we earthlings see it as an "S" and then assume his name needs to start with an "S", thus arriving at Superman.  Kal-El doesn't assign this name to himself like in the Donner movies, the people of earth do.  He's going to continue to be a symbol for hope as best he can. He's not perfect, he can't do it all, we have to participate in saving ourselves as well.  That's another thing I liked in Man of Steel.  Superman wasn't a perfect hero. He's only one man.  Even though he can do all of these great things he still cannot be two places at once.  During the film there are two Kryptonian machines terraforming the earth to match Krypton. One is in India, the other in Metropolis.  Superman leaves to stop the one in India, while leaving the very capable American Military to send the Zod and his minions back to the Phantom Zone.  Yes, the military still struggles against the superior alien technology, but we still find a way to do it.  We persevere.  The film takes the line that Jor-El says "in time, they will join you in the sun" and executes it.  Its great. At no point in time does anyone say to Superman "You have to save us" or "You have to stop them," it's "how can WE stop them?" Superman inspires us and we strive to join him in the sun.

That may tie into one of the things longtime Superman fans probably hate about the film.  Superman isn't perfect.  Lots of people die.  The Kryptonian terraforming machine in metropolis levels what looks to be a few square miles of the city.  Buildings rise, fall, and then get flattened to dust, block by block. We see other buildings topple over, which may strike some 9/11 feelings when we watched that horrific event on television.  Many critics have not liked the "umpteenth" 9/11 scene, but I don't know what films they have been watching.  This is the first time I've seen this 9/11 level of destruction, in detail, from the ground up.  It took my breath away watching it, not because the CGI was so incredible, but because as Americans we have this horrific shared experience. My breath was taken away in shock, in terror.  Because of this, I really felt invested in the film.  This is just my experience, I'm not a New Yorker, and didn't know anyone in New York or on the planes on 9/11. Others who did may have a different experience, depending on your sensitivities.  Buildings, and presumably people also die when Superman and Zod pummel each other in the city.  One thing that always happens in the comics is after the first punch, Superman takes the fight to the skies, or some other empty spaces, to avoid the kind of destruction showcased here.  Something I always wondered was who told Superman to do this? How did he learn it? I think it will be interesting in the next film to see Superman do the same thing, because of his experience in this film. In the aftermath, Superman can learn just HOW powerful he is, and what it can do to his environment.  Longtime Superman fans might say "Superman saves everyone, he doesn't let people die, he doesn't kill."  Well, in my opinion, he just became Superman, he hasn't made the rules, doesn't know the extent of his powers, so how can we expect him to be the perfect hero right out of the gate? C'mon. A baseball player doesn't hit a home run on his first at bat, he needs to know how to identify what is a good home run pitch and what isn't.  I'll apply the same argument to how Superman deals with Zod in the film.  Zod says to Superman, "either you die, or I do!"  Then they fly around in the climactic battle until they land in a train station, and Zod sees a family sheltering in a corner. Superman grabs him from behind in a headlock, and Zod uses his heat vision and threatens the family.  He tells Superman that he dies or the family dies.  Superman then snaps Zod's neck.  Realizing that he's: a) killed a person, b) killed the last kryptonian other than him, and c) failed to save other people in the battle Superman screams. I know for my buddy Raph, this moment ruined the movie for him based on the "Superman doesn't kill" argument.  I'm kind of okay with this moment.  Superman hasn't yet learned how to make these decisions. Every life or death situation for him up until now was some sort of natural disaster where he could save human lives and not get hurt.  This was unprecedented.  Superman is not perfect, and I hate the fans who think he has to be.  I know Batman doesn't kill deliberately or use guns because he knows what killing and a gun did to him and his psyche, but Superman's made no such vow.  I'm pretty sure Jor-El killed a few of Zod's soldiers in the opening, and Pa Kent essentially kills himself to keep Clark's secret.  Superman's fathers have not taught him not to kill, so how else is he going to learn this lesson? I may be reading too much into it, but that is my take on it.

After this moment is where the movie falls flat for me.  Immediately after this scene we get some humor thrown at us to lighten the moment, but it's exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time.  Even though I liked the fact that Superman had to kill Zod, I didn't like the handling of it. Another thing the film could have used is some more humor.  Batman is funny in Nolan's films, he and Alfred trade barbs at each other from time to time, and I feel like Man of Steel could use some more moments like that. Don't get me wrong, there is some humor in the film, but not enough.  Its clear why Jimmy Olsen serves a purpose, and could have served a purpose in this film as well if he was not included.

All in all Man of Steel is a great 2.3 hours in the multiplex.  I would avoid 3D if possible, as a lot of it his handheld and so much is moving to fast to probably make the 3D worthwhile.  See Cinemablend's 3D review for more detail on that.  There are lots of things to like in this film, a few to love (like the casting and Hans Zimmer's score), and a few things to dislike.

4 out of 5 Stars


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Iron Man 2 Movie Review Podcast

Remember how I said I'd post my old movie-review podcasts? Here's another!

Aside from this blog, I've been part of the Comic Timing Podcast for several years with my friend +Ian Levenstein.  We reviewed Iron Man 2 on our podcast so I'd like to link you to there to listen to it.  

Listen Here

Comic Timing is a comics podcast where +Ian L and I will discuss comics, comic films, comic video games, and anything comics related.  We've been doing it for a couple of years and are quickly approaching our 150th episode.  If you like the Iron Man 3 review, we have done other movie reviews in the past, and I may link them here from time to time. 



Blackfish's Terrifying Trailer

Being a resident of Orlando, I remember these stories of Sea World trainers being killed by their orcas.  One in particular, Tillicum, has killed multiple people and went back to "work" at Sea World weeks later.  This documentary focuses around Tillicum and is edited in a very compelling, terrifying way.  I'm definitely going to search this one out.  Yikes!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Spartacus: A Series You Should Watch!

 I'm currently working my way through Spartacus: War of the Damned from STARZ.  If you haven't heard of it, Spartacus started a few years ago that looked like a 300 rip off because of its use of CGI blood, slow-motion shots, and fit bare-chested men.    I caught the first two seasons, Blood and Sand and Gods of the Arena on Netflix, and was hooked in by the weaving storylines and well developed characters.  All the action blood didn't hurt either.  If you're a fan of 300 or HBO's ROME, Spartacus is a good mixture of both, minus the larger budgets.  I'll talk about why you should take a look at the series and move my way towards the present series War of the Damned.

The first series launched in 2010 starring Andy Whitfield (Spartacus), Lucy Lawless (Lucretia), and John Hannah (Batiatus).  This first series followed Spartacus' capture and enslavement and rise as Gladiator.  What was neat about this season was seeing Spartacus build his resolve against the Romans through his mistreatment and betrayal, all of which came from Batiatus and his wife Lucretia.  John Hannah and Lucy Lawless were really fun to watch. Not only were they manipulating their gladiators against each other, but they were also using their gladiator's successes and failures in the arena as leverage in the Roman politcal world.  We were frequently visited by Roman senators and their wives, and we frequently saw how the slaves were used as entertainment for their masters.  Often to the slave's embarassment, or occasionally, pleasure.  This series gave us a lot of different characters to fall in love with. We had our hero Spartacus, his friend Varro, the head slave Oenomaus, and the rival Crixus.  In any episode some or all of these characters could clash or work together, mostly to serve their own goals.  I came into it thinking it was a cheap 300 knock-off but left wanting more, especially after the finale here.

Spartacus' star, Andy Whitfield was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and the series was put on pause to allow the actor to recover.  Unfortunately, Andy Whitfield passed away in 2011 and Spartacus, now STARZ's first hit series, needed to be recast.   In the meantime, STARZ gave us a six episode prequel series entitled Spartacus: Gods of the Arena to tide over fans.  This short series showed us the rise of the house of Batiatus and his Gladiators, thanks to a new character, Gannicus.  We saw Oenomaus become the head gladiator/trainer and Crixus' arrival into slavery, similar to Spartacus' in the first series, although they chose separate paths and approaches to it.  Part of the fun of this series is our new gladiator, Gannicus, as he is totally opposite of Spartacus. Gannicus is not interested in freedom, only glory, women, wine and food. His victories in the arena grant him this until he falls in love with Oenomaus' wife, who also happens to be his best friend. Whoops!  We also get a good dose of the Roman political maneuvering from Lucretia and Batiatus.  When we join them here, Batiatus is not the head of the house, his father is. So we see his struggle with his father's decisions as Batiatus maneuvers to undermine them.  All in all this was not as good as the first season, but it was an enjoyable placeholder until we got a full second season.

The second series, Spartacus: Vengence premiered and gave us a new Spartacus after Andy Whitfield's passing.  Stepping into the role was Liam McIntyre.  STARZ promoted a lot that Andy Whitfield was able to see Liam's audition, after it became clear he would not be able to act in the show any longer, and was so pleased with Liam's audition he gave him his blessing to carry Spartacus forward.  It is hard to say who is the better Spartacus, although now, Liam has been in the role longer than Andy Whitfield. I think the large shift in the tone of Vengence helped eliminate comparisons between the two actors.  Vengence finds our former slaves on the run from the Romans, wreaking havoc while formulating what will become a large rebellion in War of the Damned.  What helped keep Spartacus on track, after losing and replacing its main actor, was the large number of returning cast members. We still had Crixus, Oenomaus, Lucretia, and Ashur to keep the series along.  Seeing the old faces alongside McIntyre's helped improve his performance, I think.

The third and final series, Spartacus: War of the Damned finds Spartacus' army growing by the day and wreaking havoc on the Roman countryside.  It suffers a little because we no longer have Lucy Lawless' character in the series, but she was one of my favorites.  Spartacus' army eventually takes over a whole Roman city, and either enslaving the Romans or killing them. Watching this role reversal of the first season is interesting, it brings up strong feelings from Crixus and Spartacus, now again at opposing sides after they formed a strong bond in Vengence.  One of the best things about Spartacus is the character of Crixus, played by Manu Bennett. He starts out as the reigning champion gladiator and Spartacus' rival, and then his friend and second-in-command, and then back to sometimes rival.  It doesn't feel forced, as what drives them apart are differing opinions on where to take the slave army, long term.  Crixus wants to strike at Rome, while Spartacus seeks true freedom.  Also interesting this series is the addition of Marcus Crassus our new Roman bad guy, as well as Julius Caesar, who infiltrates the slave-city for the first few episodes.  I don't know if that is historically accurate, but it certainly build Caesar as a cunning man, which kind of connects to him in HBO's ROME.  I feel like I should go watch that again after I finish War of the Damned just to continue Caesar's story.

If you like sword and sandals stories, sword fights, beautiful women, beautiful men, political dramas, family dramas, and can stand a little blood, sex, and gore, then definitely give Spartacus a shot in your Netflix DVD queue or buy the series from wherever you buy your content.  It is worth your investment, and you won't question whether or not to continue after you finish the first series Blood and Sand. I promise, Scout's Honor!

Silver Linings Playbook

I watched Silver Linings Playbook last night.  I had wanted to watch it, mainly because of the hype leading up to the movie, as well as the Oscar buzz it had.  After Jennifer Lawrence won for Best Actress, i really wanted to see the film.  After viewing it, I don't understand the hype.  Sometimes I feel like the Oscar crowd gets all hyped up on performances for the wrong reasons.  Bradley Cooper was fine here, but nothing in this performance made me feel it was Oscar-Nomination worthy.  His character is bi-polar and yells a lot in his manic states.  I feel like I've seen Cooper do this before.  As for Jennifer Lawrence, I would say the same thing.  For me, her performance wasn't anything special or Oscar-worthy.  Don't get me wrong, she is not terrible, it's just that  no scene really stands out that sets her apart.

One of the things that also struck me as strange was that the title, Silver Linings Playbook isn't really explained. Only once does Cooper's character say "silver lining" and as for "playbook" I guess that has to do with the football subplot surrounding Robert DeNiro's character.  Its not really clear.  Now, I'm not saying that film titles should be always on the nose, but most of the time I can understand after seeing a film why it is titled as such. I enjoyed watching the movie, but if you're only curious like I was because of the Oscar-buzz only, just be forewarned that the film will by no means blow you away with its plot or acting.  I think the Oscar voters just wanted to see a young hottie onstage rather than her older competitors.

3 out of 5 stars


Gangster Squad

 I watched Gangster Squad last week.  While no means ground-breaking, it is definitely a good, fun movie.  I'd definitely recommend this over Broken City which recently came out on DVD as well and didn't hold my attention as much as this film did.  This is a pretty formulaic gangsters vs. cops film.  Sean Penn is Mickey Cohen, the big gangster in Los Angeles. Mickey is firming up his territory and getting rid of his competition to do it, with no regard for the public or innocent lives.  Its this recklessness that leads the Chief of Police (Nick Nolte) to task John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) to take him down.  What follows are some exciting car chases, shootouts, shootouts, and more shootouts.

All the actors are good here. Sean Penn is threatening behind this ridiculous nose they gave him, Josh Brolin is solid as always, and Ryan Gosling does his pretty boy shtick   One thing that I did find strange was that Ryan Gosling uses a high pitched tone throughout the whole movie.  It wasn't good, nor bad, just unnecessary.  The rest of the Gangster Squad is rounded out by the likes of Anthony Mackie, Robert Patrick, Michael Pena, and Giovanni Ribisi, all whom are pretty good with their characters.  Each member of the squad, like any cop movie, serves a certain purpose. You have your technology guy, your sharpshooter, the rookie, the hotshot, the leader, and your shakedown guy.  Whats nice is that all of the team members get a moment to shine to serve their purpose as well as a moment to overcome it. So there is some character development.   All in all , this is an enjoyable film, but nothing new is offered for people who love gangster films.

3.5 out of 5 stars.