Monday, May 30, 2011

Isiaha Mustafa is Luke Cage

Anyone who knows me will know I love Isiaha Mustafa. His commercials are funny, he's got natural comic timing, he's a solid actor if what I've heard about him in Tyler Perry's (gag) new movie is true, and I'm not ashamed to say he's a very sexy man. Ahem. Anywho, a while back, he was doing an interview and expressed an interest in playing Marvel Hero Luke Cage and, well...

I know, I know, it's clearly and indie trailer made as a 'proof of concept' type thing. But how good does he look as the guy? Come on Marvel, this would be a big hit and we all know it. Is there some kind of petition we can sign?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Bad News

Just a quick one, my time in New Orleans has been delayed to July, probably due to the flooding or some shit like that. I dunno, they never tell me anything. Anyway, thought y'all should know.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Second Age Reviews: The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride leaves me as at an awkward place as a reviewer. Partially it is the increasingly common fact about many of the Second Age Reviews, that many people will have already seen it. But more alarming is the fact that, I can't count on that so I may accidentally give away spoilers. For example, I can say that the actor playing the Man in Black (unrelated to Will Smith or Tommy Lee Jones) does an excellent job, but if I were to name that actor I would most probably spoil a major reveal of the movie for anyone who hasn't seen it (although honestly, who hasn't seen it?).

Oy. Anyway the plot is concerned with a girl named Buttercup who loses the love of her life when he leaves to find his fortune and is killed by a pirate and as a result she becomes completely emotionally numb. 5 years later she is engaged to the Prince of her land, but she is quickly kidnapped by a group of 3 men, intent on starting a war between her home and it's neighbor, but are being pursued by a mysterious Man in Black™.

If that sounds a little sparse, it's merely the setup, but you don't need me to tell you that (who hasn't seen this movie? Honestly, if you haven't, please leave a comment below). You all probably know the plot by heart, so what you need from me is technical details. After all, this movie has long been enshrined as a classic. But does it deserve it's title?

Well, in a word; Yes. It's a well made, exciting, engaging and enjoyable romp, with many moments that have dug their way deep into the collective unconscious. It's period setting and fantastical elements make it more unique than it's primary contemporary sibling (Romancing the Stone, another good movie you all should have seen) and it's comedy aspects and light tone render it more enjoyable and accessible than it's primary fantasy sibling (Ladyhawke, an underwatched and underappreciated Richard Donner entry).

The entire script is sharp and enjoyable, winking slightly at it's more fantastical elements, heavily reliant on deadpan snark, all of it adapted from a book I've never read. The characters are well rounded (for the most part, more on that later) and the story engaging. The actors are doing great jobs, particularly the good hearted minions of the early villains, and a succession of famous comedians and actors in brief roles (most notably Billie Crystal in a scene stealing cameo as Miracle Max).

Like with many period action movies based around fencing, the combat will be mostly based around 2 guys dancing around whacking at each other with thin fragile swords, so the trick is to make it engaging (it was the inability to do this that sunk Pirates 4). And not only is Princess Bride aware of this, it practically wrote the book that movies like the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy and The Mask of Zorro follow to engage the audience. Of course, it would seem like such tricks are absurdly obvious as they consist, for the most part, of good camera work, judicious editing and a great score used well, but Princess Bride takes it a step further to help, with engaging dialogue and sharp tongued wit during the sword fights.

It's not entirely perfect (I seem to open a lot of paragraphs that way). The real world setting (Australia and Asia get name dropped early on) and lack of any overt magical elements, mean that a lot of things work because they say so. Some of the villains are kind of one dimensional, well third act villains, the first act villains are, eh you'll see. And while most of the technical details are great (solid makeup, great costumes and props, and a particularly unnerving bit of puppetry with the Screeching Eels), the techniques used to realize the Rodents of Unusual Sizes are awkward and unconvincing. And I guess there are some obvious stunt doubles in one bit and an absurdly obvious matte painting, but that's just me nitpicking.

Look, most of you don't need me to tell you to see this movie, and even if you haven't seen it (seriously leave a comment) I'm probably not the first person to tell you to see it. But for my money, it's a justifiable classic, and one of the all time great entries into particular subgenre (action, fantasy, romance, comedy? What is that a sub-sub-subgenre?). So if you haven't seen it, leave a comment and then give it a look.

Next on Second Age Reviews:...Fucked if I know. Probably Rock 'N Roll High School

Elessar is a 21 Alaskan born cinephile and his favorite line in this movie remains the bit about how life is pain.

It can finally be told

Alright, I've stalled on you long enough, so here is the big news I've been hinting at for a while:

Starting sometime after Memorial Day (not sure of exact date, but soon) I will be heading off down to New Orleans to work on a movie set, at least until I die of heat stroke.

No, not an independent production with a bunch of friends making an amateur movie (I will have enough chance to do that once I actually scrape together enough money to make my own). A professional set, with real actors and such. From what the man who hired me told me, David Duchovny is supposedly going to be there, and Ben Affleck was in talks (which, if everything from Good Will Hunting and Dogma to Gigli and Surviving Christmas are any indication, I have NO IDEA how good the movie will be). And I will be paid, so don't ask.

So what does this mean for you, my readers, aside from the obvious that reviews will become...well let's say rarer for a while. Well, so long as I get permission from...well whoever would give me permission, I will be attempting to live blog it, IE write down or record my thoughts on set and put them, as unedited as is humanly possible (see: heavily edited) for you to enjoy. Try to give an inside look at what day-by-day stuff on Set is like.

More information on when I leave and whether I can blog it as I get it. The reason I'm telling you this is, because tonight is the last Cult Classic I KNOW I'll be here for and I have no idea when I'll be back. So when I tell you tomorrow that I have no idea what my next Second Age Review will be, I want you to know why.

Alright that's it, see you all tomorrow for my next Second Age Review.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

8 years ago a film called Pirates of the Caribbean was released that looked like it couldn't possibly be any good. Positioned as a companion film to a now long forgotten Eddy Murphy vehicle, based on a ride and put out by the (at the time) artistically bankrupt Walt Disney, we were all ready to dismiss it before it even hit theaters. But then something odd happened. The film had a great director, a solid script, and a gift from god cast and against all the odds, it was good. So, 3 times over the last 10 years we all turned out for a good time at the theater.

Of course, this new film has more than a few reasons for us all to be a little nervous about it. Half the gift from god cast has left to do other things, the director wandered off into the wild, and the film looked like a quick cash in. But hey, the first 3 were 'good against all odds' so I went in with optimism.

The result? A massive 'eh.' The script is lazy and confusing, the film long and stalling, the actors bored looking and the direction paint by numbers. Oddly, it's the character of Jack Sparrow who drags the most. We loved Jack as the side character, having fun on the margins, while Will went through all the heroes business. Saddling Jack with main character duties keeps him from being fun.

To the plot...Well something to do with the fountain of youth, but that's all I can be sure of. Jack gets jacked (HA) by Blackbeard, who has some vaguely defined magical powers, and his daughter Angelica, who Jack use to have a thing with, so that Jack can lead all of them to the fountain. Oh and the British and the Spanish are having a race for the fountain too, with Barbossa leading the British and being essentially an entirely different character. Along the way there's this subplot about a romance between a Cleric and a Mermaid (no really) that seems like it's out of an entirely separate movie.

The film is, to put it gently, a massive mess. Ironically it turns out that director Gore Verbinski's presence is the one that is the most sorely missed. Remember the swirling camera movements and smooth and well used editing in the first three that made simple sword fights so exhilarating and engaging? Well it's all gone, leaving simple shots and flat editing, rendering most of the sword and gun fights boring. And not to complain, but the series desire to get gradually more epic is apparently gone. Nothing in it comes close to the Wheel fight from Dead Man's Chest, much less any of the epic duels at the end of At World's End. Rob Marshall's biggest film before this was the Oscar winning Chicago but he seems completely out of his depth in this, and the inexperience at action shows.

Of course Jack Sparrow is always fun, and Johnny Depp is always a treat but thrust into the spotlight, he's a lot less fun and his schtick is starting to feel a bit tired. Geoffery Rush isn't as into this movie as he was in the last 2. Ian McShane has a solid screen presence but no real character or motivation, and his abilities are usually forgotten until the plot requires him to have them. And Penelope Cruz is merely a tired and annoying stereotype, with no real depth or interest. Hell, Anamaria had more depth with a quarter of the screentime in Curse.

The screenplay lurches back and forth between padded, poorly thought out or rushed, and the story is lot less interesting or unique then the last 3, perhaps due to the fact that it's based on some book that I've never heard of or perhaps just due to no one's heart really being in it. It's over 2 hours and does next to nothing in that time, or at least nothing a better director couldn't do in 90 minutes.

Look, I know we all love Pirates and we were all hoping this one would be good, but it's really just a lazy cash in. You'd get better value watching any of the last 3 again, or if you absolutely MUST see this, please wait till it hits DVD. Otherwise they might make the 5th one they were desperately trying to tease the entire film.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he thinks the credit 'Suggested by the book' is probably his new favorite.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

More About Me

Well I'm going to see Pirates 4 this weekend, which I remain fairly nervous about. But hey, Johnny Depp is in it, so it can't possibly be as bad as Sucker Punch or Battle: LA. Anywho, I have a big announcement coming soon, but until then to apologize for the relative lack of content, and since I want to avoid doing another fucking Missed Movies, I figured I'd let all of you know a little more about me, your...well humble is the wrong word, but you get the idea, host. Oh and for context, I tend to list trilogies as 1 movie/book, to save space on such things.
Answers to some fairly basic questions below the cut:

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Review: Thor

Thor is the second to last movie in the buildup to Marvel's massive Avengers film in 2012, and is thus one of the most highly anticipated movies of the summer, and an opportunity for me to showcase one of the things that sets me apart from my peers in the geek side of cinema. One of the complaints or compliments you'll often hear directed at comic book movies is based on how much the heroes and villains costumes look like their comic book counterparts, and I could not possibly give less of a shit. The heroes costumes in the X-Men films looked nothing like their comic book characters, but that didn't stop X-Men and X2 from being great films. On the other hand, Ghost Rider looked like he could have walked right off the page, and that movie was a massive pile of shit. So with that out of the way, how is Thor?

The story is concerned with the titular god of thunder from Norse mythology. Yes it turns out in true Chariot of the Gods style, the Norse gods did and continue to exist and are actually visitors from another...dimension I think. Anywho, Thor is the heir to Odin's throne but is actually an pompous braggart and after a particularly arrogant stunt puts Asgard on the brink of war with the frost giants (look it up), Odin banishes his son to Earth and takes away all his powers to teach him a lesson in humility.

The actors are usually fairly important, no matter what kind of film you're making and here they rise to the occasion admirably. Chris Hemsworth kicks ass as Thor himself, while still managing to find the humor and absurdity in a Norse god suddenly flung into modern America, Natalie Portman turns in a nice performance, Anthony Hopkins is as awesome as Odin as you might expect him to be, and the supporting cast all turn in solid performances.

The lifeblood of a movie like this is always gonna be the action scenes (well except for Iron Man but shut up) and these are as awesome and you might expect a movie about a Norse God beating up monsters with a hammer might be. The visual style is distinct, as is the excellent costume design.

The script isn't as sharp as it could be, but it works, using enough clever dialogue and characterization to keep us interested. It's all very true to the comics (as far as I know; casual fan at best) and more interestingly, to the legends the comics were based on. Don't get too excited though, it's nothing on Neil Gaiman's fidelity to mythology. What, did you actually expect them to do the bit where Odin hung from a tree impaled on a spear in a PG-13 movie? In the end, classically trained actor and director Kenneth Branaugh is perfect for the directing job on this movie. Primarily known for his adaptations of Shakespear plays, if anyone could figure out a way to keep Gods howling dialogue about Frost Giants and magic hammers from sounding silly, it'd be him.

Oh and those of you who are more than casual fans are gonna find a lot to like in this, as Thor continues the Marvel film's tradition of dropping hints and references to comic continuity and upcoming films, though I must say they've gotten a little more subtle about it than Iron Man 2 was (pop quiz: At what point in Iron Man 2 did they ever explain who Samuel Jackson's character was or why he was hanging around? Answer: Never). Oh and I don't know if it needs saying but just in case: Yeah, stay through the credits.

It's not quite perfect, or rather, as good as it could be. Aside from the aforementioned script issues, it's a little rushed at times, moving too quick for characterization to sink in. While the visual style is distinct, the CGI looks unfinished in some places and the shot composition in most of the human size vs. human size fights could stand to be a little bit better. Finally, while it's a little more outsider friendly than Iron Man 2 or The Incredible Hulk a couple of teases and about half the stinger, are gonna go right over the mainstream audiences heads.

But those niggling problems don't stop it from being good and they certainly don't stop it from being a good time at the movies. It finally turns around the trend that all the movies I saw on their opening weekend this year (Sucker Punch, Battle: LA) are garbage. It's easily the most kid friendly of the Avengers lead in movies so far, so if you have kids go ahead and bring them, have a good time. I did. See you next time.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and as he was leaving the theater, it started raining. And he's just gonna let that speak for itself.

Decadent and Depraved

It's Derby time, which always make me think of something important to me. Not the Derby itself, even the sport I actually care about (soccer, be shocked) is only sporadically in my mind and not really important in the long run. No, the thing that's important to me is one of my personal heroes, journalist Hunter Thompson, writer of the landmark article The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved.

More after cut.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Missed Movies number 6

Man you guys seem to love these Missed Movies. Well gotta give the readers what they want. 

How many of you are familiar the concept of 'Near future' sci-fi? Quick version, it's sci-fi with most of the elements we traditionally associate with sci-fi stripped out (best film in this subgenre: A Clockwork Orange). It tends to lead to smarter and darker sci-fi, which is always good. So today I'd like to bring 3 movies in this subgenre to your attention.

The Truman Show

Starting off our list with the least sci-fi of the movies (the list will get gradually more sci-fi), this one amounts to Jim Carrey's acting movie. He plays the titular Truman, an ordinary man living in a walled off dome with an island based city in the center, where he is watched night and day by a group of hidden cameras, recording his every move for a 24 hour TV show devoted to him.

That's all it is, and they stretch that premise for all it's worth to make a good movie...and it works. Jim Carrey puts in a great dramatic spin on his usual persona, the script is sharp and nuanced and it manages to be perfect paranoia fuel (and it's worth noting that this came out before the advent of reality TV). The sci-fi aspects are mostly the tech used to spy on Truman, which is never really gone into in detail. Overall, I more or less just wanted to draw this one to your attention, so it got stuck on this list. Deal with it.

Children of Men

The third best sci-fi film of the new century (behind District 9 and Moon in first and second) this one reads like an action movie with all action hero stuff left out. Sometime in the future (I forget the year) the entirety of humanity has suddenly gone sterile, leaving humanity literally aging to death. The hero, played by Clive Owen (the guy who's turning Stephen Colbert gay) has the lead as the man charged with protecting the last pregnant woman on earth from both the British government which has reverted to a semi-fascist state to protect itself from the anarchy that has struck elsewhere and from the terrorist group that would use her as a rallying symbol.

As I said, most of the action movie staples that would characterize this kind of 'one man against the world' film are gone. The hero has a very human weakness (you'll see what I mean) and when the fighting breaks out, he's generally the only guy without a gun. The action scenes themselves are daring and gorgeously shot in one, long, unbroken shot, leading to some of the most striking chase and action scenes you'll ever see. This one is fairly dark, so keep the kids out.

Strange Days

Strange Days is easily the darkest film on this list, and in any other subgenre would most likely take home the cake of being the darkest overall entry...if this subgenre didn't also include A Clockwork Orange. This one is devoted to Ralph Finnes as an ex-cop turn SQUID recordings seller. SQUID recordings let the viewer live any fantasy they want, from sex, to murder, to death. While outwardly charming, Ralph's character is slowly dying inside, pining for his ex-girlfriend and addicted to his own product, while his bodyguard (Angela Basset) watches in despair.

This one is believe it or not, written by James Cameron and directed by Katherine Bigelow and pretty much blows all of their respective other work out of the fucking water. I really can't tell you more about it than I already have without spoiling (other than the soundtrack is flat out incredible). I can say that it is NOT, repeat, NOT, for the faint of heart. One sequence is horrifying enough, both in execution and concept to physically make me feel ill. But if you think you can stand it, it's a fascinating and unique film, so give it a look if you dare. See you tomorrow for Thor.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Bin Laden Dead Part 2

Hm? Oh yes, this thing. Sorry, finals coming up, you know how it is.

Overall, bin Laden's death doesn't mean a whole lot tactically. Al Qaeda will still be out there and it's not the sort of organization to be crippled by the death of a single leader. On an emotional level, it's big. There can and will be other developments that mean more, but none that are so viscerally pleasing to American's sense of revenge.

Of course the backlash is bond to happen. You know the backlash I mean, that really annoying aspect to American culture right now where Obama literally cannot do anything without certain conservatives (not all, I want to stress) finding something in it to trash him about. That'll happen, and there's nothing anyone can do about it.

The primary thing I've been hearing is that this is 'Conveniently timed' or some shit, IE, that we've had him or his body for a while and he's releasing the news now because...I dunno. While interrupting the Apprentice might seem like that, I don't buy it. Sure jacking some of Trump's thunder was probably nice, but Trump was never really a threat. If the White House Press Dinner last weekend proved anything, it's that nobody likes Trump.

As for convenient in some other way, I'm not feeling it. Don't get me wrong, I'll believe next to anything about the government, but I can't see how this is beneficial. Releasing it earlier might have helped with the budget fight and as for the general election? Shit, I wish people had memories of 18 months, lately it seems like we can't get them to remember things that happened 18 minutes ago.

Still, this is unarguably a good thing. Huge moral boost both for America as a country and our military. And it gives newscasters something to talk about other than the fucking Royal wedding.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Bin Laden Dead

So. Osama bin Laden is dead, or so they say.

Let me start over.

So. Osama bin Laden is dead. Or so they say. No really, go check all the cable news network. Or the internet, it's all over.

I'll check back in a little after Obama's statement. I need to confirm it's true. And figure out what, if anything, it means.

But if it's true, good. Unarguably good.