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Eye in the Sky (2015)
The moral cost of collateral damage.
Eye in the sky is not a war film. The scenes that take place have a military context, but this movie is not about terrorism, catching the bad guy, or even preventing further acts of violence from men and women who hate the western world. This film is about the consequences of our actions as a nation, and our willingness to let good people die in the name of freedom and security.
What this film brings to the viewer is a rather realistic view of the quagmire of legal and moral responsibilities shared by various government and military bodies. There are so many moments in this film, that make the viewer question what is right and what is wrong. Many of the decisions of military action is done by people in offices, crewmen stationed halfway around the world, and politicians with their own agendas. Here we witness the intricacies of this process and the impact these groups of people have on the third world, where most of the foreign enemy lives. But so do a many people and families, whom lives are forever altered by the actions of just a few men and women in who consider it their job to protect the people and interests of their own nations.
Helen Mirren portrays Colonel Katherine Powell of U.K. Special Forces. Her mission is to discover the location, and carry out the possible termination of 3 terrorists at the top of various global watch lists, currently spotted in Kenya. To do so, she will be leading a joint operation between several offices. A team of U.S air-force drone pilots providing over-watch (Phoebe Fox and Aaron Paul), Kenyan Special Forces on the ground (Barkhad Abdi), while relaying details to U.K Head of Command based in London (with Alan Rickman). It's a well blended cast, and each person brings something unique to the table. I personally enjoyed seeing Mirren's determination in her role, one originally meant for a male lead, but her cocksure attitude and resolve to complete her mission resounds in her performance. Barkhad Abdi was a very nice addition, he shows a lot of heart in his actions, and as a Somali national he uses his language skills to bring authenticity to the screen. Alan Rickman, of course, should be mentioned not because of his untimely passing, but because of the broad spectrum he brings to the screen. His voice resounds authority in his role, and in his final scene he delivers a fantastic line about the lives of soldiers I don't think anyone should miss.
For those of us who have served in the military, have family members who do, or support our seemingly endless and idyllic war on terrorism abroad, I recommend you watch this moral tale. Director Gavin Hood designed it to make you think about the consequences of our actions abroad, and the absurd hypocrisy of ending innocent lives abroad in our pursuit of freedom and security at home.
13 Hours (2016)
Pumped up Military Propaganda
After a string of action films of debatable success, Michael Bay brings us yet another fast paced action film full of the usual U.S propaganda and militaristic rhetoric.
Theme-wise, and just as an action film, sure this movie has your typical action packed sequence of events. Explosions, violence, blood, and death by the dozens from beginning to end. Maybe that's enough for the majority of viewers to feel like they're watching something worthwhile, and if that's all you want, then by all means enjoy this Ramboesque montage of death and destruction. It certainly gets you pumped up, and dramatizes the camaraderie between the soldiers that form the core group in this movie. Their military hardware, wide array of weaponry, and well honed physiques certainly intensifies that feeling of power and superiority, making the life of a mercenary seem like a glorious way to make a living and friendship. It is certainly full of great action, with a cast that plays well off each other (3 of the actors were all in 'The Office '2005-2013' so they had plenty of experience). There is a nice consistent tension throughout the film, and the film focuses on the danger that the U.S citizens are in by keeping a fast pace with loads of violence.
Once you get past all that superficial nonsense, the movie is pretty god-awful at times. It's tries to portray itself as a hero film, similar to that of "Black Hawk Down" (2001), and even goes so far as to mention that film as the current situation that they are in. But this movie is certainly is doing its best to copy the situation. American personal, trapped behind enemy lines, with overwhelming numbers against them... it's a huge carbon copy, just without the helicopters, and a smaller central cast. I mean, kudos to the screenwriter who points out the similarity between the film, and was cheeky enough to put that in the dialogue, but if you're going to copy a film, perhaps is best not to mention it (only because Black Hawk was a much better film in so many ways).
Likewise, the movie is heralded as a true story from the beginning. However, several eye-witness accounts have mentioned that this movie is far off the mark from what really happened in the course of the 13 hour siege on the CIA base in Libya. So much so that the CIA operative who was in charge of the base at the time, issued a press release shortly after the film's premiere, criticizing the film as a "distortion of events." The situation stems from the military contractors adamantly saying they received stand down orders, when no such orders were given. The dramatization of events isn't anything new in film, but if you're going to take a whole lot of leeway with true events, then you can't really call it a 'true story' anymore. Of course, it all depends on who you believe, but if the movie and book aren't based on the facts, they are therefore, untrue. However the movie isn't a lesson on failed policies, or truth. It's an action flick, so it's up to the viewer to make up their own mind about what happened that day. If you want to create a pumped up action film, then stick to that and don't call it a true story. I'm not sure that this movie pays tribute to the life of U.S senator John Christopher Stevens in a way that honors his sacrifice for his country.
Overall, it's a solid action film, and Michael Bay does his thing well. He really drives home the fact that, despite what happened that day, America still kicks ass.
An Irrelevant Event
I've watched most of Greg Araki's films, weather online or by accident. In university I was directed to several of his movies, for his wild and outrageous plot-lines, and desolate themes of helplessness. I wouldn't call myself a fan, but I did enjoy the 90's drug escapade "Nowhere"(1997), which was a precursor to many well known stars of the early 2000 era. Araki leads viewers on a non-oriented vision of college life, complete with all the oddball events of his previous films, but ends up as a rather dull entry.
For most of the movie the viewer is listening to our main character (known only as Smith), discuss the trials and tribulations of his young adult life. Bi-sexual, awkward, unfocused, and generally ignorant of other people around him, we are forced into his fantasies, absurd lifestyle, and unrealistic grip on reality. Sounds like fun right? Well, unfortunately you'd be wrong. The events that we witness unbearably forced, despite its unnatural and science-fiction theme. I felt most of the actors were just terribly strained and the unnatural dialogue between characters only draws attention to the situation. I think the actors were just terribly tedious in their delivery, and before long, I found there wasn't as single one that was believable.
As with most drug riddled, and absurdist films, this movie has some interesting happenings. There is everything from serial killers to witchcraft here, and they certainly match Araki's usual plot-lines. Some are pretty amusing, and somewhat surreal, while others simply fall flat and actually take away from the enjoyment of the film. Several of them (if not most) have no significance to anything at all, and they leave you with the feeling that Araki is trying his hardest to stay relevant in his own way. I didn't mind the craziness, in fact, I was expecting it. However, by the end of the film, you find yourself more than confused (which is probably his goal in the first place).
If you're a fan of Araki, you'll probably like this film very much. I didn't really think it had anything to offer besides that "WTF is happening" feeling he brings to movies. An irrelevant event with an abrupt ending.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
One of the More Important Entries in the MCU
Action packed from beginning to end, Marvel Studios expands its cinematic universe yet again in Captain America: Civil War.
As the Avengers have stepped up to the plate, toe to toe against the forces that threaten our humble blue planet, public opinion of our heroes have been heavily tainted due to the high body count, and absolute destruction left in the wake of events that occurred in New York, Washington D.C, and the fictional country of Sokovia. Some hail the Avengers as the only group able to battle such enemies, but others believe that these events occurred because the Avengers allowed them to happen. Think about it for a second, if Thor never came to Earth, then neither would Loki. If Stark never invented the A.I Jarvis, then Ultron would never have been born. Captain America has been left in charge of the team for now, but the U.S government would like them to register their identities, and put themselves under their command. Although this entry lightly samples the massive 2006/07 Civil War crossover events, it does well on its own as the Marvel universe expands.
The plot is everything an action movie should be, with a few twists and turns in the road. It is of course as linear an event as you would expect, you know 'catch the bad guy,' as every superhero film goes, and it rehashes a few topics already touched on in the first Avengers film where you have the typical 'Hero Vs. Hero' situation that everyone seems to love. Yet the film does well in its intensity, and is never cartoonish or convoluted within the borders of the story-line. I didn't expect too much after seeing 'The Winter Soldier (2014), which I felt was probably one of the more boring entries from Marvel, but this film makes up for that slow movie, expands on it, and drives home quite a punch. This is the film that I felt closes the second phase of Marvel, and leaves it open for new additions for the next.
I found it difficult to put the focus on Captain America, because of the sheer volume of characters who star and interact with each other. It is a 'Captain America' branded film, but he shares the screen with several heroes throughout the film, and arguably this movie doesn't necessarily feel too focused on him. The major players all happen to pop in at some time (barring Thor and Hulk), but a few new faces have joined in the fray. Chris Evans does well reprising his role as the titular character. Robert Downey Jr, and Scarlett Johansson easily have as much screen time with the Captain (arguably more). Sebastian Stan returns as Bucky Barnes, and has certainly beefed up since his last incarnation as the Winter Soldier. A few new faces enter the fray as well. Chadwick Boseman as the Black Panther gets a poignant origin story here. Tom Holland, as the teenage Spiderman, is a welcome addition if you can ignore all other incarnations of the Webslinger (it fits better with the overall story if you do, and you don't won't have to shake your head at the gaping plot hole he provides). Finally, I was quite surprised at Daniel Bruhl's portrayal as the manipulative and intelligent Baron Zemo, and he was definitely the most human role in this entire film.
However, one small issue I had was with the motivations behind the main characters. I did have a hard time trying to figure out what the divide was between these friends, outside of Tony Stark's and the Captain's motivations to keep the planet safe at all costs. I didn't really get why Stark would feel the need to register all superheroes if the government ALREADY knows who each super-individual is, and where they are at all times. Wouldn't registration be irrelevant? Tony Stark is one person who should be AGAINST this idea. After all, he's seen the Chitauri army gifted to Loki via Thanos during the Battle of New York, and he's one of the few people who comprehend the magnitude of this threat that faces mankind from a galaxy away.
On the flipside; Why does Captain America, who's been a government agent from the very start of his adventure, oppose such a move from the U.S ? He's been a soldier in the American Army since World War II. If anything, he should be the one supporting registration, because he is already registered as a U.S infantryman. What's the difference if they are or not? It poses no threat to the Avengers, nor their members, nor the Winter Soldier. If he signed it, he could still go on after Bucky, and keep his allegiance in tact. An avid fan could easily argue these two roles should have been reversed from the comic book approach (where it made a lot more sense due to the sheer number of mutants and super-powered individuals, many of whom live in secret and have lives or families to protect. Cap goes against the government's plans for registration because he sees the act somewhat akin to what the Nazi's did to the Jewish people in WW2), but I'm certain they wanted to adhere to the original comic event somewhat without too many alterations.
The movie could have easily been called Captain America Vs Iron Man, and still do well as a set up to the future Civil War events. I suppose, Marvel Studios wants to plow ahead with its endgame before people lose interest by 2018. All in all, Civil War is an absolute action smash from beginning to end, and I think this will be noted as one of the more important entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The Cobbler (2014)
A Heartfelt Drama
The Cobbler is a modern day fantasy about a middle aged shoe repairman, who stumbles into a world of magic, that changes his life forever. It is certainly a great mix of drama and comedy, and designed to pull at your heartstrings from Oscar winning Writer / Director (and actor) Tom McCarthy.
Adam Sandler portrays Max Simkin, a simple man with a simple job that he inherited from his father. He runs his father's shop and lives his life taking care of his ailing mother, and wondering why his father disappeared so many years ago. He keeps to himself, is good at what he does, and is an unassuming man who doesn't worry much about the outside world. One day in his shop, working on a rather aggressive customer's high end leather bound wingtips, his machinery breaks down and he has to dig out his father's old sewing machine for shoe-making. It's an old manually operated contraption used for stripping and attaching the sole of your shoe. After completing his task, while he is waiting for his customer's return, he tests them out himself, and finds a shocking and magical discovery. This leads Max on an adventure of discovery, not only through the lives of his customers, but of his own life as well.
The film itself is very well acted, with several notable names throughout. Steve Buscemi joins Sandler on screen for several scenes, and as always, the two play well off each other. The intimidating Cliff 'Method Man' Smith (of Wu Tang Clan infamy) is fantastic as the drug dealing, neighbourhood gangster that sets some major events in Max's life off to begin with. Every character has a real purpose in this film, as you find out that each of their lives drive the plot through the events of this film, but it is a very well acted script and each actor lends their talent well to their roles The movie revolves around several dramatic themes, abandonment, inadequacy, and maturity, yet maintains a light-hearted airiness about it despite some rather dark moments. It certainly is a fantasy, but never goes overboard with it, and you can easily imagine what it must feel like to walk around in another man's shoes, and what it must take to live their life, with a few jokes tossed in for good measure. You can whittle out what's going to happen before hand, for the most part, but the film does very well to keep the fantasy going. The only time I thought it lost the point of the movie was near the last 15 minutes or so, when it takes a left turn and leads to a kind of 'superhero' cliff hanger which was totally unlike the feel of anything else in this movie. But it's a sweet little film, with some very interesting side stories into the lives of New Yorkers, whom make it such an interesting city to live in. The Cobbler is certainly a heart warming film.
The Canal (2014)
A Slow yet Haunting Film
The Canal is a rather interesting story about a man and his increasing feelings of inadequacy and jealousy, as he tumbles down a macabre corridor of horrific events. It's a fairly simplistic approach to a rather horrid series of events.
Rupert Evans, portrays the central character David. He is at constant conflict with himself throughout this film, whether as a father or lover. I found his emotional capacity rather bland at times, but he did a great job in the first half of the film by showing a man spiraling out of control, as his life unravels around him. His increasing anxiety and jealousy plays a large part of who he is, and evidently is his undoing. He has a lot of screen time, so if you don't like him, you may not enjoy the film itself, but I thought he did a fine job as the main focus of the film. Several others, especially Steve Oram as the tough and experienced homicide detective McNamara, did well in their supporting roles.
The Canal is certainly influenced by other films of this genre. I noticed the main plot devices weren't dissimilar to several Japanese films, most notably "Ju-on: The Grudge" (2002) as well as "The Ring" (1998). What I really enjoyed from this film was the use of the camera throughout the movie. There are some fantastic angles that made this film certainly feel creepy. There are moments when you feel absolutely claustrophobic. Even some of the low budget effects (including a scene with David talking to his son via laptop) were still intriguing enough to surprise me at times. Some of the gorier moments of the movie were well thought out, and didn't rely on jump-scares or with bloody reveals. There is even some decent background story in terms of why all of this horror is happening in the first place.
I think the most interesting aspect of this film is not the horror itself though. You can watch it as a horror film, and take it for face value, yet I found myself questioning what kind of film I was really watching. David certainly devolves into paranoia by the end of the film, but you have to ask yourself... is this because of an evil influence, or is it because David is completely delusional. This film could be watched twice with either perspective, but I think it's pretty clear by the end of the film what's actually happening. It does have a rather slow pace, but at only an hour and a half it doesn't go on forever. It's a concise film, and it does well for the short screen time it has.
Marvel Studios Goes for its First R-rating
Marvel Studios embraces it's R-rated but hugely comical Deadpool, while keeping the typical superhero formula, starring Ryan Reynolds as the titular 'Merc with a mouth.'
Most people know the fictional anti-hero for his insane mentality, offhand humour, and downright positive attitude under fire, all the while hacking and slashing his victims to shreds in the most difficult of battles. From his humble beginnings in the early 90's, as a comic-book super villain, he rose to the top of popularity for his offhand comments, unique narration, and violent nature. Depicted as a mercenary wearing a strikingly non-camouflage red outfit with black panda eyes, underneath lies a physically disfigured and mentally insane man with a heart of gold. He likes the banter, and even during some of the most important comic book events (his Civil-War entries are some of my personal favourites).
The film takes its own liberties, with its twisted sense of humour, tongue in cheek references (to past movies), and a hyper-level of violence. We get a lot in terms of who Wade Wilson was before he dawned the red pyjamas of revenge. His life as a mercenary isn't glamorous... it's actually impoverished. He's cocky and handsome, and the story begins right in the middle of his revenge, against the man who tortured him nearly to death and took away any chance of having a real life.
Of course the movie detracts from the original comics in terms of his origins, which is not bad actually, but it was a lot more melodramatic than I was expecting in parts. Wade discovers he has cancer and seeks out a cure by requesting the help of an underground medical group that is illegally testing gene mutations on people (technically making Wade a mutant). His whole 'Weapon-X' origin story from Deadpool's previous incarnation is thrown right out the window, spat on, and stomped into the ground. It's not surprising considering how terrible Ryan Reynolds was as his first induction as Wade Wilson / Deadpool in "X-men Origins: Wolverine" (2009). Personally, I would have loved to see a more insane version of Deadpool, with the voices in his head that are constantly talking to him, his widely accepted acts of domestic terrorism, and violent slapstick comedic nature (instead of Reynolds ongoing commentary and pop culture references).
This movie does have a lot of things I hate about the superhero genre. The simplistic 'get the bad guy' plot line, inconsistencies with story, a villain who doesn't deliver any kind of threat at all, the exceptionally obvious plot holes. Also, some of the jokes fell flat for me at times, and I was hearing some painfully forced laughter in the theatre when I saw this. But it is unique, very funny at times, and it's as violent as you would expect from this character.
Worth a watch
Uchû senkan Yamato 2 (1978)
Yamoto Vs. The Comet Empire.
Only a year has passed since the defeat of the Gamilus Empire, and the Yamato and her crew return to the helm in this sequel to the wildly popular Japanese series.
Earth is prosperous once again, but on a routine training mission, the Yamato comes across a new enemy. Scout ships from the Comet Empire (green skinned humanoids) come across the Yamato in space and quickly attack her. Their technology is vastly superior to anything the Yamato has to offer in terms of battlements, but they escape their attackers, and head back to Earth to report this new enemy. Additionally, the Yamato is no longer the only ship in the fleet, and is vastly out gunned next to her sister ship; the Andromeda Class Battle cruiser. The Yamato crew, lead by acting captain (as he's referred to throughout the series) Kodai, are ordered to stand down and await orders, after Earth's forces have discovered a massive White Comet traveling at an incredible speed towards earth. They perform a somewhat impromptu mutiny, disobeying their Admiral's orders, and board the Yamato while she is being repaired. They are on their own, and no longer protected by Earths powerful fleet of spacecraft. They will meet with the Comet head on, and try to stop it before it reaches earth.
This series came about after a poorly received finale film (Arrivederci Yamato) was released in Japan, following the end of the original series . This film, although wildly popular in the cinema, was a surprise upset to fans of the series and fans were upset at the death of beloved characters, and the destruction of the Yamato in the previous film. So much so, that producers and studio decided to scrap the movie after its release and turn the film into another franchise series. The plots between Yamato 2 and Arrivederci Yamato are exceptionally similar of course, but the series takes a lot of different turns along the way, adding a few new characters, more battle events, and much more upbeat story line.
Where Yamato 2 excels most though is in the level and clarity of animation. Viewers are treated to more frames per second, and a lot of beautiful rendering and artwork, far better than the jumpy framework of the original series. The series runs for 500+ minutes, but only a few episodes have any real technical errors, or looped animation sequences. I was particularly impressed with the number of star-ship battles, as there are nearly twice as many in the second series.
Overall, it's an excellent sequel to the first series, although similar in plot the events are much deeper in emotional content and certainly more fun to watch.
Zombies doth not a movie maketh
Jumping on the zombie bandwagon, Burr Steer bets heavily on the popularity of Seth Grahame-Smith's quirky novel "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies." Perhaps, as a desperate attempt to interest people in Jane Austen's classic story of 19th century love tirades, Grahame-Smith creates a world in which the British aristocracy are all trained in Martial Arts, Zombies talk and have some debate about the merits of eating live humans over pig brains, and that Lena Headey is still rather fetching with a plucked out eye. Sadly, zombies do not save the viewer from an absolute mediocre and downright boring film.
Without delving too much into the plot line, the main story consists of a group of young well to do's, forced into what boils down to a tale of class warfare. Sam Riley, Lily James, and Jack Huston form the center of this group and end up in a rather blaze love triangle (nobody has sex in this film). Both men are rivals, from noble families, who have a sordid past of betrayal and anger towards each other, and end up fighting for the favour of the same woman, Elizabeth Bennet (James). Unfortunately the plot centers far too much on this inane romance, which never really feels real throughout the whole film.
If you know the original, then you know who she chooses in the end, but this film made an absolute mistake buy trying for a cliff-hanger ending. I won't tell you what it is, but how on earth do they plan on continuing this disgraceful film is beyond me. The zombies themselves are quite talkative for the living dead. I didn't understand why, if they were of reasonable nature and capable of rational thought, that they would not work TOGETHER with society in order to treat or subdue their disease. It seems feasible enough to the viewer that if the zombies crave human flesh, but can sustain by eating pig brains, then there isn't really any reason to go to war against the human population. I understood the context of the elite rich humans vs. the poor and disenfranchised zombies, but honestly it was a pretty thin analogy for class warfare.
Overall, this film is pointless and utterly missable . Zombies can't save this story unfortunately, and it certainly didn't save this film from being a box office bomb.
The 'Burbs (1989)
A Slightly Dark Romp Through Suburbia
The 'Burbs were one of those semi-clean comedies that my mother and father approved of in our VHS library when I was a child. Directed by Joe Dante (of Gremlins fame), and featuring some of the biggest names from the 1980's, it's a movie that still is still hilarious from a somewhat gentler political time.
Tom Hanks and Carrie Fisher play the central family unit during a weekend holiday, representing the ideal American family living somewhere in unknown suburbia. Every neighbour plays a wonderful caricature of the typical melting pot that makes the U.S such a weird and wonderful place to live. There is a retired war veteran (Bruce Dern), and his beautiful young wife (Wendy Schaal) ready to play taps and raise the American flag every morning. The young rock and roller (Corey Feldman), left home alone for the weekend with a few chores to do around the house, but will spend the majority of this weekend drinking beer and running amok. And the 'everyman' neighbour Art (Rick Ducommun) who plays the instigating and downright rude best friend to the main character. Each one brings a different persona to this crazy little neighbourhood, and they blend well together.
The plot revolves around a family of recluses, the Klopek family, who rumour has it are mentally disturbed, extremely secretive, maybe even homicidal. Every neighbour has a different story to tell about them, and following a night of a massive power outage, the rumours spread quickly. Ray Peterson (Tom Hanks) becomes quickly paranoid and the neighbours become more and more aggressive when it comes to finding out what's going on in the Klopek's house. It doesn't take long before a few of the more suspicious neighbours decide to sneak into their home and finally figure what's going on in their dilapidated home.
A comedy from a different generation, where breaking and entering was considered a petty crime. It's a fun romp through an a-typical U.S suburb, and even slightly dark at times. A definite classic in 80's comedy, before Tom Hanks entered the more dramatic era of his career.
Riding on the waves of the "Hero vs Hero" bandwagon, comes one of the more boring entries in the DC animation universe. From the direction of this story's terrible plot, the voice characterization, to the lack luster pace of the movie, it really ruins the overall experience of this film.
The story is the least entertaining of the entire WB Animation adaptation of a DC comic to date. I never once felt excited or compelled by the events in the series. The plot revolves around Bruce Wayne's son Damien screwing up on a Justice League mission and being sent away for basically doing his job, to join the Teen Titans and learn how to work with a team. The original group has already bonded together and Robin plays the outsider, who looks doubtfully on the capabilities of the group. It's a meager Twilight-esque boy meets girl 'coming of age' teen drama with some superhero kids.
The storytelling is weak throughout, and it truly lacks any depth of character. Nor does it bring anything new or interesting in terms of story to the DC animated universe. One of the more important scenes in the film, the bonding sequence at a carnival, is an awful montage of hackneyed moments straight out of a teen drama, complete with a pop-emo soundtrack and a ridiculous Dance-Dance Revolution sequence. The main drawback of this film however, is it's incredibly slow pace. It doesn't build up at any point. The events just happen with such lackluster, and most of them don't feel very connected to each other. The characters simply go through the motions. By the end of the film, the climax feels anything but climatic.
You may be a fan of Teen Titans and the success of their Saturday Morning cartoon adventures, but this is by no means a story related to that series. The characters have been altered to adapt the DC animated universe and their previous incarnations. Cyborg himself is already part of the Justice League, but downgrades himself to a Teen Titan due to circumstance and necessity. Starfire, the group leader is... shall we say more mature (*ahem* sexualized) than the original incarnation as she's pretty much an adult in charge of this group of kids. She plays an alien babysitter, while the other members of the group are significantly younger. Raven is right out of a Twilight fan's wet dream, an emotionally inverted 14 year old witch, who forms the centre of this film's major story-line with Damien Wayne love story mixed in. Beastboy and Blue Beetle are ancillary characters designed as necessary support for the primary group, and there are several hints at their interest in each other (kudos for including homosexual characters though). The most notable issue I had with this entire debacle was the delivery of the lines in this film. They seemed completely uninterested in their characterization for the most part, which was surprising considering how experienced some of the actors are. Jon Bernthal was a the one that stood out the most as Trigon, the main villain of the story, and I felt he really brought out a new characterization in his voice.
Technically speaking, this animation is sound. The visual style and look are clean and it keeps in line with previous franchise entries. Personally, this film is only slightly better 'Gods and Monsters' (2015), which was also directed by Sam Liu. I hope he brings better skill in 'Batman: The Killing Joke' (2016) due out later this year.
Serbuan Maut 2: Berandal (2014)
Surprisingly Surpasses the First Film
Very few films have surprised me when it comes to their sequels, as well as this film has. Some movies in my experience rarely live up to their original precursor films. Studios throw hundreds of millions of dollars to produce massive trilogies that rarely pan out in terms of storyline, and are often bloated massacres (Harry Potter, and that awful Hunger Games series come to mind). However, 'The Raid 2: Redemption' exceeded my expectations at every turn.
There have been so many advances in this film, when compared to its first independent and low budget brother. I praised the original for its simplistic, catch-the-bad-guy storyline, but they really focused on telling a much broader and in-depth story this time around, that massively improves upon the first, lending more to the characters and their overall story. If you just look at the run times of both films, the Raid 2 is longer by nearly an hour, and by no means slower in pace. There are certainly better dialogue and delivery this time around, and it actually lends to the original by going further into the lives of the characters in the first film and connecting to the original right away. Every character gets a bit of background and that really adds to the overall experience. The main character, Rama (Iko Uwais), returns to action for a completely believable reason and it doesn't seem forced. The multi-layered and multi-lingual Uco (Arifin Putra), is aggressive, driven, and downright evil at times. His father running his corporate mafia, Bejo the conniving criminal and his influence over others. Even the homeless assassin Prakoso, (Yayan Ruhian who played 'Mad Dog' in the original) has enough storyline to make the viewer actually care about what happens to him as he fights through a sad and violent life. The Raid 2 is a massive improvement just in terms of storytelling alone.
Another huge improvement was the advances in action and choreography in the fight scenes throughout Raid 2. I am by no means a martial artist, but I have a lot of respect for those who commit themselves to this kind of art form, and it shows with the sheer number of characters who excel their respective styles. The number of action sequences are frequent, and only broken up by moments that lend to the overall story. The muddy gangland fight notably stands out as one of the best choreographed brawls I've ever seen, and if you focus on the background, ever single fist thrown and kick landed looks real. The debt collection scene has one of the best hallway chase sequences I've ever seen with its twisting and obscure camera angles. One of the hardest sequences in terms of choreography was probably the hallway scene between Rama and the brother / sister duo of 'Baseball-bat boy and Hammer girl' (Very Tri Yulisman and Julie Estelle respectively). The final knife fight sequence in the kitchen shows off the proficiency of one of Uco's henchmen; Eka (played by Oko Antara) and his skill with the Karambit; a curved, cat-claw type of blade. Whereas, the first film mainly focused on Iko Uwais's abilities to stun with his skills in Penak Silat, the Raid 2 really focuses on more than one character's ability to fight. There are several other players that lend to this film's action and it really shows in every scene.
Just on a final note, yes this movie is bloody and gory. There is a bit of overkill in that respect, which takes away from some of the action. Most of the violence has a lot of post production FX in terms of the blood you see and it can look a bit silly at times. Of course there has been a growing trend for gore in the action genre (mostly inspired by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez successes), and of course this film is no exception. The blood flies in ridiculous amounts and for me it loses some of its action credit that way.
Yet, this is a spectacular sequel in the overall scope and sequence in direction and editing by Gareth Evens, the choreography of the actors themselves, and even the use of 'free to use' licensed music from none other than Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, this movie is bigger and better in so many ways.
Do not miss this film.
The Barrens (2012)
Badly Acted Drivel
The Barrens is a horror that thinks it's a drama.
A family of four head into the New Jersey forest, and run into a monster from the American folk legend: The Jersey Devil. It touches on some satanic plot devices, bad witch stories from the Salem days, and kids telling campfires stories about garbage they read online. Normally I wouldn't trash a movie for trying (and this one certainly does), but the problem with this film is that it's SO badly acted.
The father, played by Stephen Moyer (of True Blood fame) is the only actor with any real experience. Sadly he doesn't bring any of that to this film. He starts as a distant, derelict, and somewhat dead-beat father, trying to reconnect with his son and daughter, and quickly devolves into a madhouse drunkard possessed by abstract visions and nightmares. He never once comes across as father, and acts like a genuine jackass throughout the movie. His new wife doesn't do a very good job at being amicable but the children... my god these two kids are the most annoying poorly devised children you've ever seen. They are what baby-boomers must think Millennials must speak like. The dialogue that is regurgitated out of their mouths, makes one gag at the very thought that someone put pen to paper and devised this film. Every second on screen is an agonizing display of ineptitude, that makes you weep for the future generations of young actors. I never once felt like they were a family, nobody showed any genuine affection or love towards each other, and every scene is a lost opportunity to make a genuine film.
The most effort they put into it was with the monster, which sadly remains elusive throughout the film until the very ending. It almost makes it worthwhile until the screen lingers just a little too long and you can see the seems that connect the cowl to the rest of the body.
Nothing makes up for the clumsy acting and direction of this film, and you shouldn't bother.
Uchû senkan Yamato (1974)
The Grand Daddy of Space Adventure Anime
Space Battleship Yamato, or Starblazers as it was known in the U.S and most of Europe, is in many ways the precursor for a number of Japanese Animation Series that followed space adventure themes. Gundam, Macross, Evangelion all owe this late 70's series homage in terms of theme and design.
In the year 2199, the Earth has been under a devastating attack from an ancient and distant race of humanoids known as the Gamilas. They have bombarded earth with radioactive meteorites that has devastated the surface of our planet, and the only remaining people left live in underground cities. Soon, Russia, England, and North America cities collapse and the Earth has less than a year to survive. The Earth Defense Fleet have one last shot. Contacted by a distant race, on a planet known as Iscandar, the human race's last chance at survival lies in alien hands. Soon the inhabitants of Earth focus all their energy on re-purposing the former WWII battleship Yamato with the blueprints given to us in that distant and alien message. We develop the Wave Motion Gun, capable of destroying entire fleets, and the Wave Motion Engine which allows the Yamato to travel faster than the speed of light using tachyon energy. 114 men depart, and they must travel further than any known ship in history, to save the Earth before it is too late.
As far as Anime Goes, it's a wild story without any doubt, but it holds a certain level of nostalgia for the Japanese. While I was living there, most of my friends (and even their parents) could recite word for word the opening title sequence. It's an excellent example of Japanese pride and nationalism throughout this fun series. Families that I spoke to about the series, often told me stories of watching Yamato with their parents and then showing the series to their own children as adults, bridging generations with the same story line. Of course, the level of animation can leave something to be desired in comparison to the more fluid animations of the 90's and CGI that seems to have taken over this generation in the last decade, but it is without a doubt one of the seminal series you need to watch if you consider yourself a fan of the genre.
Personally, I thought the last two episodes of the first season were rushed, and there is so much more story after the first 26 episodes are over. The mission these men and women (well... one anyway), is a bold one. Suicidal almost. It is lighthearted, but also has it's very dark moments as well. The mission is a very serious one, but every episode has its own plot line leading up to a major Anime event, making the Yamato a ship to be feared by its enemies, when they have had the upper hand for so long. The theme remains the same throughout the series, and it has a lot of heart. Work hard, listen to those with more experience than you, trust your instincts, there are a number of messages to learn throughout the series.
It's an excellent place to begin if you're a new fan, even in this generation. If you've never seen it, give it a watch, it is a long series if you delve into it, but well worth it by the end.
The Bang Bang Club (2010)
Interesting, Violent, and Well Scripted.
Kevin Carter's Pulitzer prize winning photograph is one of those images that gets burned into the back of your mind. It haunts you long after you see it. I saw this photo of the young Sudanese girl, about 10 years after it was taken, and it still fills me with sorrow. It makes you wonder what happened to the poor girl. It makes you question how the world can have both a massive obesity epidemic, and massive global starvation at the same time. It isn't something you can easily forget, and it's the type of image photo journalists spend an entire career searching for.
In this multi-biography, director Steven Silver tells the story of four friends, all combat photographers in the mid 1990's before the fall of the Apartheid. They tell the story of the Zulu and their tribal warfare all the while photographing the constant death, starvation, and violence that surrounds them, all the while building their camaraderie and forming the Bang Bang Club.
It's a very well written film and it brings up many issues. Most notably the hypocrisy of the situation, is that these journalists are living a life of comparative wealth and debauchery in this time of strife, and at the same time trying to make a name for themselves by taking photos focused on the very visceral suffering of others. Where the film really shines is in the background and the violence therein. I was quite impressed with the sheer number of extras for most of the fighting scenes. There are a lot of graphic sequences of course, but it's not the violence that makes the film. It's the exploitation of that violence that makes the film so interesting.
There were a couple of issues I had with the movie. For example, 4 white guys with cameras strapped to their bodies standing in the middle of battles while dodging bullets is certainly unbelievable at times. Yelling "PRESS! PRESS!" doesn't keep you safe in a war-zone. The dialogue is believable for the most part, except when they are joking around in the middle of the battle scenes. I did enjoy Taylor Kitsch's torn and dark portrayal of his character Kevin Carter. Ryan Phillippe does well as prize winning photographer Greg Marinovich, but I thought he was perhaps too good looking to be believable. Compare him to the real Greg Marionovich during the end credits and you'll see what I mean.
That being said, it's an excellent film and Steven Silver certainly has an eye for very personal story telling.
The Battery (2012)
A Slow Zombie Film.
I'm not against low budget films, in fact some of my favourite films were made on little funding (Clerks, Blair Witch Project, Friday the 13th to name a few), and with a small budget Jeremy Gardner funded, wrote, directed and acted in this indie flick about two friends stuck together after the zombie apocalypse.
The story has a quick introduction, two buddies on the same beer league baseball team, join together wandering the around in the New England wilderness, trying to avoid zombies, and generally moving around a lot. Mickey and Ben (pitcher and catcher respectively) banter and bicker a lot, and slowly but surely get on each others nerves. Both characters are together, but very separate at the same time and it's a nice dynamic that most of us can relate to.
The film progresses nicely and events unfold through a rather predictable story line. Of course you can expect a lot of screen time from the baseball duo, but it's easy to listen to them talk back and forth with some pretty decent and relevant dialogue. The movie never loses its pace, and slowly builds up to a gut wrenching series of events by the end of the film. The story is well crafted, and simplistic in its way. I really enjoyed the soundtrack as well. It lends a lot to the kind of meandering pace of the film and is a smart little plot device as well, as Mickey rarely goes out without his headphones on.
It's a technically sound film, with no silly effects, and really is a nice walk through the countryside... with zombies. There are a few scenes that were pretty difficult to watch, but overall it's a well acted movie with a very limited cast.
I would recommend surely it, but don't expect a horror fest with bunch of bloody deaths. It's a character film after all, and some might find it a bit boring.
100 Bloody Acres (2012)
A Funny and Twisted Dark Comedy.
I ran across this movie while looking up information on the actor Angus Sampson, after my girlfriend and I finished the second season of Fargo. I was impressed with his serious and somewhat viciously silent Bear Gerhart, and wanted to look up a couple of his other film. I wasn't disappointed with '100 Bloody Acres, and is a great addition to the dark-comedy genre.
The real gem in this film is the comedy duo of Reg and Lindsay Morgan; two bumbling bogan brothers who run their own fertilizer business in rural Australia. Damon Herriman plays the younger of the two (Reg) who only lives to impress his brother played by Angus Sampson. They have a strange relationship to say the least (some odd kissing scenes going on there too), but you definitely get the feeling that something is completely messed up with these guys from the get go. They play off each others' dialogue, action and mistakes so well, that it's easy to believe they're siblings just trying to make ends meet, but are so mental that they both suffer from the same disorder: severe stupidity.
Sure the movie is fairly predictable throughout, and there is some absolutely terrible acting from the main trio who end up in trouble, but events unfold and there are some very funny and gross moments in this film. I credit Cameron and Colin Cairnes with some excellent comedic writing, and some pretty funny dialogue. Direction wise it's a short and sweet little film without too much going on. It's a very A to B plot line, and they didn't bother with any useless plot twists. The jokes are well timed, but few and far in between which resulted in a few dead scenes that were absolutely bothersome to get through. By the end of the film, they were definitely focusing on the dark and gory side of things.
If you enjoy a twisted comedy then I would recommend this one.
The Collection (2012)
Gruesome, Nasty, And Ridiculous At Times.
I didn't realize while I was watching this film that it happens to be a sequel. I walked into this one knowing absolutely nothing about the previous film 'The Collector' (2009), so my view of this movie wasn't very knowledgeable of the overall plot between the two films. I watched it as a one off, and not sure how the first film affected the plot of this movie.
The Collection is a gruesome series of trap-based murders, akin to the 'Saw' franchise. There is no denying it's influence on this film, as several people find themselves trapped in a warehouse of a serial killer known as "The Collector." An escaped victim of a mass slaughter, an former convict who had a run in with the killer in the past (watch the previous film to find out about that), and a band of soldiers/mercenaries looking for the main character. They find themselves being knocked off one by one, through various disgusting and nasty traps. As the victims fall to the killer's somewhat ridiculous traps, they get closer and closer to discovering who the killer really is.
It's not a bad Horror/Thriller film. It has one of the worst beginnings of any horror I've ever seen however. The Collector is obviously some sort of wizard like engineer, being able to transform entire buildings into one giant death trap. I know you don't watch something like this for the plot, but this film is pretty absurd throughout its short run time. The lead actor and actress aren't awful, they stand above the rest of the cast, but I never felt scared throughout the movie. There was a bit of action elements in the middle, which was actually the best part of the film. There were some very decent knife fighting sequences in this movie. However, a horror should put you on the edge of your seat, and I kind of thought this movie was not successful for its genre. I realize that the author of this film has a reputation for 'funny' gore flicks, but this one wasn't funny or scary. It was just okay for me.
Obviously if you are a fan of this genre you may simply enjoy the blood, traps, and gore, but I thought the whole thing was one big 'Saw' copy, that has the occasional moment or two.
Mansfield Park (1999)
I'm not a Jane Austin fan, that should be mentioned first. Not that I find her works boring but they simply aren't my cup of tea. I read Pride and Prejudice in a first year literary class, but it was a fairly dull experience for me, and I have never picked up Mansfield Park once.
As a film, it is not even an eventful one. A kind of coming to age, rags to riches and back again kind of plot line. Although there were some beautiful settings and some extremely nice costuming, I never really felt that I was witnessing this period drama in the 1800's. I was trying not to laugh at most of the actors, taking themselves exceptionally seriously in roles that they obviously did not fit in. The main character was rather blasé at best. The morality of some of the characters were simply selfish, even when they were not trying to be, by simply trying to improve their social settings. By the end of the film, nobody had really changed, but just become more aged and experienced as one would expect. In the end, the women of the story overcome their respective obstacles and then it stops like an overly long bus trip. You need a meal and a nap at the end of this film.
I would assume you have to enjoy Jane Austin novels to enjoy this film. If you are not into period pieces, give this one a miss.
The Stag (2013)
A Heartfelt Comedy
I somehow ran across this title after review of the title 'Calvary' (2014), another film from the Irish Film Board that I was impressed with. I was quite delighted with this tale of a bachelor stag gone awry, that didn't take the low road of comedy, as the infamous 'Hangover' Trilogy.
Long time friends Davin and Fionan find themselves planning and impromptu stag party for the rather effeminate and polite groom. What starts off as a simple little camping trip between 5 friends turns into a rather long evening of mishaps, bad decisions, and inconveniences. Enter 'The Machine,' brilliantly played by Peter McDonald, the grooms soon to be brother in-law, and a character of insulting bravado, who acts as an instigator throughout the film. Things begin nicely enough, but little by little, plans get skewed and they all end up off course.
What made this film such a pleasure was how real the whole situation seems. If you've ever been hiking with friends, you learn very quickly who are the capable friends, and who are not. This film delightfully plays into this idea, when friendships are tested out in the wilderness after a few slight mishaps. At no point did this film scream fake, and I found myself laughing along with the banter. Each character brings a little bit of their own humour in this film, and each personality was perfect for their role. The run on jokes are timed very well, and even though you know they might be coming, they still deliver laughs.
A great heartfelt comedy, funny and smart throughout.
A Bittersweet Experience
Almost certainly, fanboys of superhero films will most likely be pleased with Zack Snyder's second adaptation of the D.C universe. Unfortunately, despite beautiful special effects, the film is mostly uninspired, convoluted, and badly pilfered from some of D.C comics greatest titles.
It's been 18 months since the appearance of Superman, and since the aftermath of his devastating battle in Metropolis. Immediately the tone is set in a world that is distrustful of Superman and his god-like abilities, as previously alluded in 'Man of Steel.' Society is divided between those who believe he is meant to be their saviour, and those who disbelieve his intentions are good. Superman is already worshipped by many around the world, and he has already saved the world once from General Zod's army. But Superman poses a very real threat to humanity, and is an alien in a world that doesn't belong to him with the power to rule it like a god if he wished. This is the division that ultimately sets up the titular battle that both heroes are drawn into. The theme is one of distrust. It's a good theme, but sadly the plot is too twisted and convoluted to follow.
The plot itself was a fairly difficult and confusing experience, even for a regular moviegoer. Writer/ Producer David S. Goyer, and Chris Terrio, adapt so many different events from some of the best D.C titles, that the avid reader should be able to pick them out with ease. Most notably Frank Miller's 'The Dark Knight Returns', Grant Morrison's 'All-Star Superman', Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert's 'Flashpoint' (briefly), and of course I won't name the event in Superman Vol.2 from 1992 that gives away the ending of this movie. Unfortunately, this is a common problem in the Superhero genre, that any SINGLE title here could have easily been adapted as a film by itself, but filmmakers borrow and lend from ALL of them and never settle on one simple story. The result is a garbled story that is barely cohesive, with special effects layered on top in order to mask how badly devised this film really is.
This movie lets itself be smothered in an avalanche of events and unnecessary plot devices. The first hour of the film is a barrage of flashbacks, 4 or 5 dream sequences, and poorly written dialogue. You never really have a chance to settle into this new world and take it all in. The story jumps around like a fish out of water, from character to character, event to unconnected event, and is rife with plot holes from the beginning (most notably for me was the geography between Gotham and Metropolis, and this new 'killer' Batman hypocrisy). The final half of the film is simply a grouping of loose references towards future movies in the series, so much so that it becomes an advertisement unto itself.
On the positive side, there are some decent moments of acting in the film. The introduction of Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman, was perhaps the best casting choice for the whole film. She exudes power in every scene, and I found myself hoping for more of her story in this film. Henry Cavil hasn't changed much since his first film as Superman, and does well reprising the role. He's perhaps more confused about his place in the world than before, and finds himself swayed by the people he protects. He's also more vulnerable in this film, which was nicely expressed at times. On the other hand, Ben Affleck was a surprisingly different version of Batman. I wasn't very impressed with this older and slightly broken Batman, and was very different from previous incarnations. He is a much more sadistic version, who enjoys the violence he inflicts on others, and you could easily argue is a straight up murderer. Jesse Eisenburg was an absolute miscast in this film, as the geeky version of Superman's arch-nemesis Lex Luthor (or the son, also named Lex Luthor?). He is a tiny, insane, fragile little ball of emotions. They dressed him up to look powerful, but he does not exude power. His character is supposed to be motivated and intelligent, but he comes off as obnoxious and annoying. Nor does he ever explain his motivations behind ANY of his actions. He was, to put it bluntly, terrible. I certainly hope he doesn't return in future films.
Overall, it was a bittersweet experience. As a D.C fan I really wanted to like this movie. I wanted to leave the theatre with a sense of excitement and anticipation, but I was left confused and upset at the lack of storytelling from both writer and director. I hope future D.C entries learn from this blunder, and Snyder returns to the level of storytelling in some of his previous films.
The Atticus Institute (2015)
A Worthy 'Found Footage' Horror
I rarely, if ever, enjoy the 'found footage/ faux documentary' genre of films. The majority of these films feel contrite and fake at best. Some filmmakers have based their entire career on these types of movies, most notably the 'Paranormal Activity' or 'REC' series. The Atticus Institute is perhaps the same type of film, but it does have a remarkably intriguing plot that separates it from the majority of these films.
The film deals with a group of scientists running a small psychology laboratory during the 1970's. The focus of their research is on those individuals who have extra-behavioural abilities; ESP, psychokinetic powers, and things that are considered mostly in the realm of parapsychology. The lead scientist, Dr. West, and his group of researchers run an underfunded observation department, focusing on the documentation of paranormal abilities. After years of research, the institutes credibility falls into jeopardy, and what little funding there was, begins to dissipate. Enter Judith Winstead (arguably the main character of the film and very well portrayed by Rya Kihlstedt) is a withdrawn and a somewhat vacant woman capable of truly remarkable things. The story unfolds as a series of interviews between various individuals of interest in centered around Judith's life and her time at the Atticus Institute.
What makes this movie more interesting that most is an excellent blend of plot devices. They vary from act to act, and allow the viewer to delve deeper into this unusual story. There are a range of ideas that the film covers, outside of just the strange tests they put before her, her exceptional 'Godlike' performance level. As the movie progresses, the scientist find the source of Judith's remarkable power, and it becomes a slightly different kind of film. I really enjoyed this subtle switch in direction, and was surprised at how well they were blended together. It's a slight shift in theme, but what begins as a research into the abnormal, becomes a movie about possession and the occult. I really enjoyed that, and it's done in such a way that it doesn't seem so ridiculous. By the second act the military becomes involved, although it seems like such a preposterous plot twist, it is so smoothly done that it feels like a natural progression of the documentary.
There are some rather silly effects throughout the film, a couple of rather predictable jump scares, and several other things that perhaps with a little more effort from post-production could have been avoided. Most notably for me was the clarity of the video footage from the 70's, and how it doesn't quite fit with the technology of the time. The digital post production to age the film was a bit too clean for me, but it works. The focus of the 'declassified files' was far too quick to skim over for the viewer, within the allotted time given to read them. However, I actually paused the film at these moments and thought they were fairly interesting, and they lend a lot into the story line. They certainly contain key information never discussed by any of the interviewees, and they are worth checking out.
Overall, this film was much better than I anticipated, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the thriller/ horror genre. It is an interesting interpretation of what might happen if the Military were to investigate a confirmed case of possession.
The Armstrong Lie (2013)
A Narcissistic Personality
Many were shocked when Lance Armstrong (finally) admitted to his use of steroids, which assisted in his 7 Tour Du France wins. Stripped of his titles, dumped by his multi-million dollar sponsorships, banned from all World Anti-Doping Agency governed sports, and literally taken out of the record books for all 7 years he won, most expected him to experience a deep shame and regret over his actions. Most of us, upon revealing our deepest secrets, and the lies that we chose to live, might respond in that way, but Lance Armstrong is a different kind of person, and perhaps doesn't function in the same capacity.
Oscar winning documentary film maker Alex Gibney tackles another societal dysfunction, in his attempt to tell the story of why one of sporting world's most famous names, would come out to admit his fraud to the world. It's an absolutely spellbinding story, and doesn't tip-toe around the subject. Rather, it opens up at his most publicly shameful moments, when he told Oprah Winfrey on national television (in yes / no fashion) that he had been cheating the whole time he was winning one of the most grueling competitions in the world. But there is a great deal more to this story, and Gibney delves into some of the bigger problems surrounding the sport, his issues with bullying team mates, the nature of cheating, and most importantly: Why Armstrong acts the way he does.
The American Psychiatric Association defines the narcissistic personality as:
"In which a person is excessively preoccupied with personal adequacy, power, prestige and/or vanity, mentally unable to see the destructive damage they are causing to themselves and often others."
Whenever I think of this personality, a few names come to mind (Donald Trump, and Kanye West are just a few), but I think Lance Armstrong fits this description well. I don't particularly think that he, and others who share these traits, are necessarily terrible people, but it does make them capable of some truly awful actions. It's a remarkable study into this type of personality. Armstrong admits to wrong-doings, but never feels remorse for his actions. It's remarkable how he treats his own teammates throughout his career, and forces us to see him as a very driven man, yet at the same time, one capable of very criminal action.
At this time, in 2016, Armstrong faces a 100 million dollar lawsuit brought forth by the federal government for defrauding the U.S. Postal service (the main sponsor during his tours). It's expected to ruin him financially, but many don't expect a decision requiring a full penalty. Perhaps his actions do have consequences, but he's apt not to let that bother him. That being said, Alex Gibney narrates and describes the situation facing him and sport of cycling rather well. I would recommend this documentary to anyone who was interested in Armstrong as a competitor, but also to really let the depth of his actions sink in with the viewer.
One of Gibney's best, and more personal documentaries.
Man of Steel (2013)
A More Human Superman
The popularity of Superman in comics has continued to supersede every title in comic book history, selling well over 600 million copies worldwide, beating Batman, Spiderman, and the famous Japanese manga One Piece (in descending popularity respectively). Superman in the movies movies, on the other hand, has never done that well. He has never even broken into the Top 10 of most profitable superhero movies of all time (unbelievably losing out to the 1995 Joel Schumacher film 'Batman Forever'). However, Zack Snider attempts a new look at the character, and a very different approach in 'Man of Steel.'
In many respects, this film is a very unique take on the character. Zack Snider took a very humanistic approach and followed a slightly non-linear narrative, in order to show us a much deeper history of Superman. He created an outsider out of Clark Kent. What I enjoyed most is that you receive the whole visual history of superman in this film, something that hasn't been the real focus in previous Superman films. His mother and father, an epic view of his home planet, the troubles facing it, and remarkably an entire narrative into why Superman can do the things he is capable of. It may upset hardcore fans of the previous films by changing so much of the original storyline, but this new film does wonders, and I suppose separates this film from the rest of the Superman films. The biggest reason for this might be studios pushing for a new franchise after the incredible success of Christopher Nolan's Batman Trilogy (both produced by Nolan's Syncopy Inc.), but it is a welcome change.
There are quite a few detractors of this film, and for good reason. The story is disjointed to say the least, and you have to have a taste for the non-linear. Many pointed out the fair number of plot holes, (mostly to do with Lois Lane giving away his identity to the press, or screaming "CLARK!" when she he was in his superman outfit, or the fact that she doesn't freeze to death in the Northern Arctic scenes), in addition to a lot of convenient happenings and loose ends (how many people must have died in the battle of Metropolis?). But overall, it's a very interesting film. There is some wonderful storytelling here, outside of the plot issues. Where this film really excels however, is in superman's strengths and weaknesses. He is nearly god like and by far the most powerful being on the planet, and perhaps that power would corrupt some. But he is a man of morality, instilled by his adoptive parents, yet perhaps completely unsure of himself and his place on the planet he calls home. He is an outsider, and he knows this, and will he ever be able to call Earth his home. It is his emotional struggle throughout the film that makes this movie most interesting, and not just the epic fights.
Kal-El's future is uncertain, especially to himself. This movie raises the question that if he should reveal himself to the world; will we accept his help in our failing society, or will we reject and oppose him because of the danger he represents to us? (Personally, this is where I think they are going with the future of the series in Superman Vs. Batman), but as a stand alone film, 'Man of Steel' is one of the better, if not more human Superman adaptations to date.
Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
A Wonderful Portrayal of Brutal Times.
The Crusades began in the late 11th Century as the Christian Armies of Europe, responding to Pope Ubran II's cries to go to war on behalf of all Christendom, against the Muslim armies in the Holy Land near Jerusalem. These battles lasted over two hundred years, and are considered some of the bloodiest of the Middle Ages.
Ridley Scott Delivers a truly epic historical drama about a blacksmith Balian (Orlando Bloom) turned crusader, and how even a man from simple beginnings can change the world. The brutality of the times is duly delivered throughout the film, and well acted throughout with a fairly dynamic cast of supporting actors. Most notably Liam Neeson as the Knight Godfrey, Edward Norton as the masked King Baldwin, and David Thewlis, the unnamed monk who supports Balian throughout his battles. What he really achieves, and to my surprise is a lack of bias towards both the Christian and Muslim sides of this battle. Both sides retained their own ideologies, but never once does Scott make one side seem to be without principle or merit. Despite what people may feel currently, when I look back on this film, I think it fairly portrays the honour and cruelty of religious ideology on both sides.
One of the best achievements of this movie is the lack, or at least reduced use of CGI throughout the film. Every Battle looks realistic, and avoids the pitfalls of subsequent movies like 'Lord of the Rings,' and 'Troy' (of which Bloom also stars). Ever face on the battle field is a different one, and it looks exactly like it should. 1500 dressed in armor, and each with their own weapon, fighting it out for their respective King and Religion. The towers that were used in the siege of Jerusalem were really built using technology from that period of time, and it certainly adds a sense of realism to the movie.
Of course it's not without a few minor flaws. I'm usually thrown off by the use of the British accent during historical dramas. I understand the necessity of it, as it connect the viewer to the period, but considering the majority of the Knights during the crusades were of mixed decent (French and Germanic mostly), it can seem a bit out of place (especially when using names like Raynald de Chatillion and such). It's a bit like using an American accent to read Shakespeare. It throws the whole thing off. Additionally, there are several differences between the theatrical version, and the director's cut (being 194 minutes) is noted by the Director as being the 'definitive cut,' so it's recommended to avoid the shorter 2 hour version as it misses an entire act.
Undoubtedly one of the most detailed and well portrayed epic films of it's time, Kingdom of Heaven is a beautiful rendition of a brutal time.