Friday, July 20, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

Starring Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway,  Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman, and Marion Cotillard

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Release Date: July 20th, 2012

A champion returns. Evil plagues a city. Who will fall, and who will rise?

Eight years after the death of Harvey Dent,  Gotham City has experienced a lull in criminal activity. The people feel safe, and The Batman has been banished to whispers and speculation. Bruce Wayne (Bale), still reeling from all his loss, cannot move on now that Gotham no longer needs the Batman. Still, there are those like Officer John Blake (Gordon-Levitt), who still believe in the Batman. But there is a dark shadow looming in Gotham's path, a shadow known only as BANE (Hardy). Bane, a terrorist known for his unusual mask, is looking to take Gotham to its' knees. Will the Batman return? Can he?

I'm honestly sad this is the finale.  I have truly enjoyed Nolan's series and will miss his sense of direction in the Batman film series. Still, he has given us a fitting finale to the trilogy. He had brought a flagging franchise back into success and turned out stellar set pieces and striking character studies with Batman, The Joker, and Ra's Al Ghul (to name a few). His name has become a titan of visual storytelling similar to directors like Hitchcock, Spielberg, and Scorsese.  Now, onto the movie...

 Let's just get it over with quickly. I've already said how good Bale and Caine are in their roles. Despite the "Growl", Bale does a  great job at juggling both Bruce Wayne and Batman. As seen in the last movie, more focus is displayed on Batman's detective and tactician skills. So props to Bale. Also, Caine has less of a supporting role this time around, but still does a commendable job as Wayne's oldest ally who wants him to save Gotham as Bruce Wayne, not Batman. Also, there's Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman as Commissioner Gordon and Lucius Fox. Both are good, commendable actors, but nothing they haven't done in the last two movies; not bad, just nothing new to add. Therefore, it's time to discuss the newest additions to the cast: Tom Hardy as BANE,  Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate, and Joesph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake. 

After a command performance of Heath Ledger's The Joker, how do you follow it up? Do you imitate and pattern it into another character? Do you run in a completely different direction? Nolan said, "Let's do it with more discipline". Bane is NOT JOKER. He's a ruthless terrorist with an agenda and a goal. Hardy makes Bane into a monster who is just as intelligent as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Hardy's Bane is nothing like Bane from Batman and Robin; this Bane is a leader of men whose goal is to destroy and terrorize Gotham City. While he isn't as charismatic as Ledger's Joker, I found myself captivated by Bane's dry sense of humor, or his cold, emotionless voice as he looms over someone. His fight scenes are tough, loud, and brutal. When Bane hits someone, YOU feel it. 

When I was a kid, one of my favorite movies was Batman Returns which co-starred Michelle Pfiffer as Selina Kyle/Catwoman. While many have reviled Pfiffer's performance as too weird or not faithful to the comics, I enjoyed her performance and thought it was the best live action Catwoman (the less said about Halle Berry, the better). Still, when photos surfaced of Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, many were unsure she could be the feline thief. What do I think? Since my younger days, I have gotten into the wonderful Catwoman Series during 2002-2007 that featured the likes of Darwyn Cooke, Ed Brubaker, and Adam Hughes. The series is a crime noir that makes great use of the title character and explores more of her character outside of her relationship with The Dark Knight. (If you're interested, the latest printing of Volume 1 is titled "Trial of the Catwoman"). What does this have to do with Hathaway? It's fairly obvious that Nolan (or his brother Jonathan) had been reading the more recent Catwoman as it makes her a more competent fighter and gives her the seductive personality that really works in her scenes with Bale. I just wish they gave her the whip. Meh. It's still a good part and Hathaway did a good with it.

Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake? In the words of River Song "Sorry, spoilers".

What doesn't work (as well)? Honestly, the film is a little slow at first. Then, there's the problem of secondary characters. While I may know that the young woman Selina Kyle pals around with is Holly Robinson (sidekick to Selina Kyle and one-time Catwoman herself), others may not know of her or other comic characters in the film. This is the same problem I had with The Amazing Spider-Man, where characters show up and no one says who they are. They're tertiary characters, but that doesn't mean I have to guess who their names. 

Final Thoughts:  Despite a slow build-up, The Dark Knight Rises is a rousing action film that makes for a thrill ride adventure. While admittedly the darkest of the three "Dark Knight" films, it's still really good. 

Rating: 5 out 5. GO NOW! SEE IT NOW! 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Puss In Boots

Starring the voice talents of Antonio Banderas, Zach Galifanakis, Salma Hayek, Billy Bob Thornton, Amy Sedaris, and Guillermo Del Toro

Directed by Chris Miller

Release Date: October 28th, 2011

A daring rouge with with orange fur, the outlaw known as Puss roams the country side searching for two things: money and redemption. But soon, his no good foster brother Humpty "Alexander" Dumpty (Galifanakis) has returned into his life with the score of a lifetime: magic beans. Puss wants nothing to do with Humpty, until he's convinced by the wily Kitty Softpaws (Hayek) with the trio now tracking down the infamous beans in the clutches of outlaws Jack and Jill (Thornton and Sedaris).

Puss in Boots is a spin-off of the Shrek franchise, as the character originally appeared in Shrek 2 then continued to appear in the third and fourth installments. However, I'm a little unclear how this applies to the spinoff as SPOILERS Puss is not an ogre-slayer in this movie and shows little sign of becoming an assassin. I'm not entirely sure if there will be a sequel to this film, otherwise I'm sure this was just to capitalize on the character's more positive characteristics for family audiences; none the less, that's how I see it.

What Works: Returning to play the title character, Antonio Banderas brings a lot of charm and humor to his performance. He really makes the character his own, and I never had a doubt that Banderas could carry a spin-off on his own. In addition to Banderas, we have Salma Hayek as Kitty Softpaws, Zach Galifanakis as Humpty Dumpty, Billy Bob Thornton as Jack and Amy Sedaris as Jill. For the most part, the other actors are very enjoyable in their performances and work well together. I thought Humpty Dumpty was an interesting character and I liked Kitty Softpaws.

To set this apart from the Shrek films, the filmmakers decided to invoke an 18th Century Hispanic/Spanish atmosphere into the film, from how the towns look to using Latin music on the soundtrack.  I think this actually works really well, as it makes the film create its own look and feel without relying too heavily on the Shrek films. Plus, the soundtrack brings a lot of energy and excitement to the action sequences.

What Fails: Like 99% of all Dreamworks films, Puss in Boots ends with a dance number. Can we stop this? Please come up with something new, Dreamworks; it's getting old when all the characters dance at the end. Perhaps what they should have done was add a scene to tie toward a sequel, or the Shrek films, or something. Just no more dancing.

Final Thoughts: An enjoyable action adventure film

Rating: 4 out of  5

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom

Starring Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand,  Jason Schwartzman and Tilda Swinton/
Introducing Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward

Directed by Wes Anderson

Release Date(s):

May 16, 2012....France
May 25, 2012.......U.S.

On a small New England island, there is a search party looking for two runaway children. One, a loner "Khaki Scout" (Gilman) and the other is a young girl lost in a world of young adult fantasy novels. These mismatched misfits soon embark on an adventure without adults or rules. However, there is a massive hurricane coming to strike the little island....

Wes Anderson thrives in his own world of dead-pan witty characters, muted colors, and French New Wave music. He is the filmmaker behind such indie classics as The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and The Darjeeling Limited. His unique perspective and quirky humor have made him a critical darling and a name among directors. Personally, I have liked most of his movies and find The Royal Tenenbaums to be the best of his filmography. So, what do I think of Moonrise Kingdom?

What Works: Once again, Anderson makes great use of his cast. On the whole, the cast does a great job with their characters. I liked Edward Norton as Scout Master Randy and Frances McDormand gets in a few funny lines as Suzy's Mother. However, my favorite has to be Jason Schwartzman as Cousin Ben, the fast-talking middle man who, while not marrying them, can approve their union as a Khaki Scout.  Finally, there is the young couple, Sam and Suzy, played by Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, respectively. I found that each of these actors did a convincing job with their performance, particularly Hayward being the easy to anger Suzy.

Wes Anderson is well known for the lay-out of his camera work, and Moonrise Kingdom doesn't disappoint. Anderson makes the tiny New England island into a strange hodgepodge of forest, beach, small-town neighborhood, and camp site. For example, there's an amusing scene of Sam paddling across a river in a painted canoe while "Kaw-Liga" by Hank Williams plays on the soundtrack. The scene is both funny and strangely serious, making Sam envision himself as a brave Frontiersman.

What fails: The story, while charming, is scatterbrained at times and the conclusion leaves too many unanswered questions. I'd go into further detail, but I would be going into spoiler territory. The other problem stems from the "villains", such as the motorbike Khaki Scout or "Social Services". Why are these two the villains? They are certainly antagonists, a force opposing the protagonist, but what makes them oppose Sam and Suzy? I feel that a tad more character development with both characters would have helped.

Final Thoughts: If you've never heard of Wes Anderson before, rent some of his earlier films before seeing this. If you're an Anderson fan, I'd just skip this. It's not a bad movie, just not a terribly good one.

Rating:  3 out of 5

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man

Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Sally Field, Campbell Scott, and Martin Sheen

Directed by Marc Webb

Release Date: July 3rd, 2012

Teenager Peter Parker (Garfield) lives a quiet life with his Aunt May (Field) and Uncle Ben (Sheen). At school, he tries to muster the courage to talk to Gwen Stacy (Stone) to no avail. Soon, he makes a discovery about his deceased father and his partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Ifans). Going to Connors' lab at OsCorp, Peter gets into a restricted area where he's bitten by a radioactive spider............

I liked the original Spider-Man films by Sam Raimi. Sure, Spider-Man 3 was flawed (if I can be kind), but I feel that overall Raimi did a good job of adapting the web-head and felt a lot of love and passion from the crew and most of the cast (I'm looking at you, Kristen Dunst). So, I wasn't really sure why we needed a reboot only a decade after Spider-Man came out. None the less, here we are.

What works: Overall, I like the cast. Andrew Garfield makes a convincing performance as Parker/Spider-Man. When I originally saw the trailer, I wasn't a fan of his overly mopey appearance, his hangdog attitude, and once again, I was proven wrong. I thought about it, and it makes sense that in 2012, Peter Parker would  be more of a "hoodie" wearing nerd rather than a 1960s nerd that I read in the comics, so skateboards are in and polo shirts are out. Then, once he becomes Spider-Man, Peter gradually gains more confidence rather than just completely change his character. I thought that Garfield and the screenwriters did a good job of making Peter's character growth not only believable, but very honest.

Next, I really enjoyed the performances by Emma Stone and Rhys Ifans as Gwen Stacey and Curt Connors/The Lizard. Now, while many people know Mary Jane Watson from the films, comic book fans will be more familiar with Gwen Stacey, one of Peter's earliest loves and a very integral part of the Spider-Man saga. Here, Stone uses her comedic timing and charming personality to make Gwen not only a lovely person, but someone just as smart as Peter, and willing to be just as brave as him. Seriously, if Stone isn't back in the sequel, I'll be disappointed. Ifans makes a good performance as Connors/The Lizard, using a very slow and gradual buildup from trusted mentor to psychotic lizard-person. I really understood his motivation and it does vary from the traditional "take over the world" plan villains usually have.

Then, there's something that Raimi forgot from his Spider-Man movies: make Spidey funny. I think in 3 Spider-Man movies, he only makes 3 or 4 quips. That's insulting. In the comics, one of Spider-Mans's greatest traits is his banter with a villain. I then heard the "small knives!" joke in the trailer, and I knew Webb knew how to make the character more faithful to the comics, which includes using his mechanical web-shooters rather than use organic webbing.

What fails: There's a character who's meant to be a mysterious and menacing figure at OsCorp.......but you'll never hear his name in the movie and he disappears halfway through the movie! Who was this character? Why does he speak for Norman Osborn? For that matter, Where is Norman? We are told he's dying, but we never see it. Look, I get it: they want a big name to play the character in another movie, but that's just lazy. Either use the character, or omit him from the script.  Also, I didn't like the casting of Sally Field as Aunt May. I know it's a small part, but Field doesn't fit the character for me and I hope they recast Aunt May in the sequel.

Final Thoughts: A good movie, with a few minor nitpicks.

Rating: 4.2 out of 5


Starring the voice talents of Kelly MacDonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Craig Ferguson, and John Ratzenburger

Directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman

Release Date: June 22nd, 2012

Princess Merida: Expert Marksman, adventurous, running free in the wild...betrothed to whom?! The young princess of Clan DunBroch wants to defy a local custom where the first born of each clan ( Macintosh, Dingwall, and MacGuffin) compete to win her hand in marriage. Merida's parents, King Fergus and Queen Elinor, only want what is best for their daughter but Elinor and Merida continue to butt heads over everything. Soon, Merida runs off into the forest, meeting a strange old woman who claims she can change Merida's fate. Will this encounter be for the best?

Pixar's thirteen feature film is the first to feature a female protagonist and the first period piece for the power house animation studio. Personally, I love Pixar and they do amazing work (for the record, I haven't seen Cars 2 and I probably won't after how dull Cars was) that delight children and adults like parent company Walt Disney Studios have done for years. So, I was really looking forward to Brave once I saw the trailers, heard about the premise, etc. How is the film?

On a technical/visual note, Brave is absolutely stunning. The environments of the story are breath taking and I really took note of how intricate the detail was in the castle interiors; top notch work from the animators. Also, I have to note how great the clothing and hair styles look. Just take note of how seamless (no pun intended) the clothing look, or how life-like Merida's hair gets, from how it blows in the wind to how wild and uncontrollable it can get. For kids, they'll just see the pretty colors and notice how good the film looks. As an adult, I am marveled at how stunning the CGI can become and I am floored at what Pixar can do.

The characters are a lot of fun, particularly Merida's family. Billy Connolly gets a lot of funny lines as King Fergus and I really understood how confused he can be when his wife and daughter are having a problem and he's just dumbstruck. Connolly also does a great job of making Fergus into a goofy man who'd rather sing, drink, and hunt rather than act like a proper king. Then there's Merida's triplet brothers, who are unvoiced. The triplets are really funny; they act like little troublemakers, but they obviously love their sister and parents, and they act like real kids. Finally, there's the relationship between Merida and Elinore, her mother. This was really stunning, as the characters are forced to work together and better understand each other due to a misunderstanding. Yes, I know it's formulaic, two mismatched people work together for a common goal, but the characters work really well together and it pays off very well in the finale.

Rating: 4 out 5 

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Starring Nicolas Cage, Ciaran Hinds, Johnny Whitworth, Idris Elba, and Christopher Lambert

Directed by Neveldine/Taylor

Release Date: February 17th, 2012

The Rider is Back! Years after running away from his deal with The Devil (Hinds), stuntman Johnny Blaze (Cage) is trying to escape his fate intertwined with the spirit of vengeance, the Ghost Rider. He is soon met by Moreau (Elba) a French priest who claims that is Blaze helps him save a young boy, the curse of 'the Rider' will be lifted and Johnny can be a free man. However, the Devil has agents of his own to use against Johnny.

Similar to The Incredible Hulk and Punisher: War Zone, Spirit of Vengeance cuts ties with its' predecessor to make its own identity to stray from the less-than-stellar 2007 Ghost Rider. The only cast member form that film is star Nicolas Cage who returns as Blaze/Ghost Rider, and makes the character more  bleak and dark than previously seen; there's no scenes of Blaze eating jelly beans out of martini glasses. Here, Blaze is a tortured and slightly on edge man, someone who fears the darkness in him and he realizes the Rider is no hero, but a madman made of flame.

The film is directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the duo behind Crank and Crank 2, the high-octane action movies that used hyper-kinetic film editing and unusual camera shots to great use. Here, they make the film into a 1970s style with a dark anti-hero who may be against the villain, but he can also turn on Danny and his mother Nadiya. I like that Neveldine and Taylor use a lot of bleak and muddy colors in the film, as it shows that this is a harsh and cruel environment the story is set. Also, when showing Ghost Rider, they use a lot of neat visual cues, such as smoke when Ghost Rider is attacked or that his leather jacket is melting when turned into the Rider.

Does the film has short comings? Sure, the plot is occasionally sidetracked by exposition and I would've loved more of Carrigan/Blackout using his rot powers in a comedic way, but the movie still works in a action movie fashion.

Final Thoughts: If you needed a proper Ghost Rider movie, check this out. If you're a die hard Nicolas Cage fan, this is a MUST SEE.

Rating: 4 out of 5 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Reviews Coming Soon for ...

Happy  4th Of July!

I'm taking a little time off, but in the meantime, here's what's  on the docket for Critical View:



-Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

-Superman Vs The Elite

-Breaking Bad Season 1