Film Review: Batman: Year One (2011)

Release Date: September 27th, 2011 (Spain)
Directed by: Sam Liu, Lauren Montgomery
Written by: Tab Murphy
Based on: Batman: Year One by Frank Miller, David Mazzucchelli
Music by: Christopher Drake
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Ben McKenzie, Eliza Dushku, Jon Polito, Alex Rocco, Katee Sackhoff, Grey DeLisle, Stephen Root

Warner Premiere, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Animation, 64 Minutes

Review:

“Twelve years. And the ache is still fresh. Like a raw angry nerve. But this isn’t about healing. I’m not looking for closure.” – Batman

This was a pretty short film, even for a DC Comics animated feature. Not counting the credits, this was exactly one hour and it played more like a pilot for an hour long Batman animated series for adult fans than it did a movie.

That’s certainly not a knock, as this was pretty solid, overall. It was a really good adaptation of the original Frank Miller story, even though these DC animated films take a lot of creative liberties.

It captures the gist of the story and the tone of the comic. Although, this does feel less gritty but I think that is due to it being very clean looking animation mixed with obvious CGI in parts. I wasn’t a fan of the CGI bits, as they stick out like a sore thumb and don’t blend well with the overall visual composition.

The plot and the script are very good though. But they are truly brought to life by a heck of a cast that boasts Bryan Cranston, Ben McKenzie (who went on to be the star of Gotham), Eliza Dushku, Katee Sackhoff, Alex Rocco, Jon Polito, Stephen Root and solid voice actress, Grey DeLisle. The voice acting was superb and it made this a better film than it would have been with a lesser cast.

I guess I actually would’ve liked this to be a bit longer. It rushes through the story, which isn’t too dissimilar from the comic it is based on, but I felt like some added context and more plot and character development could’ve put this at the level of the two-part The Dark Knight Returns animated picture.

Still, this is a good outing by Warner Bros. animation studio and it’s definitely in the upper echelon of animated Batman flicks.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other DC animated films, primarily those featuring Batman.

Film Review: Drive (2011)

Release Date: May 20th, 2011 (Cannes)
Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Written by: Hossein Amini
Based on: Drive by James Sallis
Music by: Cliff Martinez
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, Oscar Issac, Albert Brooks

FilmDistrict, Bold Films, MWM Studios, OddLot Entertainment, Marc Platt Productions, Motel Movies, 100 Minutes

Review:

“[on phone] There’s a hundred-thousand streets in this city. You don’t need to know the route. You give me a time and a place, I give you a five minute window. Anything happens in that five minutes and I’m yours. No matter what. Anything happens a minute either side of that and you’re on your own. Do you understand?” – Driver

Nicolas Winding Refn is a director I appreciate but have also had some issues with, as some of his films feel like style over substance and entirely miss their mark for me. That being said, this was really my introduction to Refn and upon initially seeing this, I thought it was spectacular.

It’s been awhile since I revisited it, however, and I wondered if my assessment would still be the same after having bad experiences with his films that followed it. I wondered if I might have just been captivated by the visuals and music of the picture that I gave a free pass to a film that really didn’t cut the mustard.

Well, I’m glad to say that I still think this is pretty exceptional. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that Refn didn’t write this, unlike Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon. My other favorite film by Refn, Bronson, was co-written with another writer. So maybe Refn does his best work behind the camera, filming the stories and scripts of another writer (or co-writer that can massage out the overly pretentious crap).

Driver has one of the best opening sequences I have ever seen in the way that it builds suspense and introduces you to the main character, who remains nameless throughout the film. He’s quiet but intense and lives by a sort of code that ultimately, causes a lot of problems for himself and the few people who come into his orbit.

The film’s greatness is magnified by the performance of Ryan Gosling, who didn’t fully win me over until this role. He moves through every scene like a spectre, saying little and sort of just reacting to what happens around him. It’s a truly understated performance but it works so well for the picture’s tone and style.

There is mystery around the character, mystery around the swerves within the plot and nothing is really clear until the end and even then, you still don’t feel like you know this guy who you just spent 100 minutes with. But it’s hard not to respect him, even if he did terrible things because there’s a selflessness in his actions despite living a morally vacant and criminal life.

It’s apparent that his time with Carey Mulligan’s Irene and her son has left an impact on him that has brought him a newfound sense of morality. But ultimately, he can only respond with the tools and experiences that are most familiar to him and to the underworld he inhabits.

Despite the violence and the heinous things that happen within the film, there is a bizarre sweetness to it. There are few films that can make you feel so much for its characters when the actors’ performances are so low key.

But there are also a few actors in this who seem larger than life. Mostly, the two mob bosses played by Ron Perlman, at his slimy best, and Albert Brooks, who steals the show and whose performance here makes me wonder why he hasn’t been in a lot more movies. The dude was cold, callous but exuded a genuineness that lesser actors couldn’t have pulled off in quite the same way.

This film is greatly enhanced by the tremendous musical score from Cliff Martinez, as well as the use of synthwave music throughout the film. The music just feels perfectly married to the visual style of the film, which has a vibrant neo-noir look to it. This mixture of visual style and music can’t simply carry a picture though, as tapping this well again in Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon didn’t deliver the same results.

Drive is comprised off a lot of different elements that just came together and worked. I don’t think that it is something that can replicated easily, as Refn’s two following films showed. Here, it was just magic. And frankly, I think that Refn is better off adapting other people’s scripts or finding himself a great co-writer that can come in and make something that’s more coherent and emotional.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: stylistically, other Nicolas Winding Refn films, other than that it is pretty unique.

Film Review: John Carter (2012)

Also known as: John Carter of Mars, A Princess of Mars, Barsoom (working titles)
Release Date: February 22nd, 2012 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Andrew Stanton
Written by: Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews, Michael Chabon
Based on: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, Dominic West, James Purefoy, Willem Dafoe, Don Stark, Bryan Cranston, Thomas Haden Church, David Schwimmer, Jon Favreau

Walt Disney Pictures, 132 Minutes

Review:

“Did I not tell you he could jump!” – Tars Tarkas

I got to be honest, I didn’t think I’d get much out of this film but I was pleasantly surprised.

I never planned to watch it but I recently started reading Dynamite Entertainment’s comic book adaptations of the Barsoom stuff (titled Warlord of Mars) and I wanted to see how similar the comic book version of A Princess of Mars was to this film, a live action version of the same story.

They were pretty close, for the most part. Having never read the novel though, I’m not sure which is closer to the source material. I’d assume the comic though, as Disney loves to put their own stamp on their adaptations.

This is an action packed, epic adventure story. It’s grand in scale, is a hell of a lot of fun and is basically a swashbuckling romp on Mars. It’s like if you merged Disney’s Prince of Persia and Pirates of the Caribbean movies together and then threw them into outer space.

This was also one of the most expensive movies ever made but completely flopped at the box office and has become one of Disney’s biggest failures. The sad thing is that it wasn’t shit and the film did a fantastic job of world building: setting up future sequels. Honestly, having seen this now, I wish it would have evolved into a franchise.

I thought that Taylor Kitsch was convincing as John Carter and his chemistry with Lynn Collins’ Dejah Thoris was pretty good. But I actually preferred his relationship with his badass Martian dog, Woola. I smiled every time this cosmic canine was on the screen.

Plus, the Michael Giacchino score is superb. I loved the themes in this picture.

My only real complaint about the movie is that I didn’t like some of the character design. I’m not sure how true to the books the look of the Martians was but I preferred the bulkier, heavyset versions in the comics, as opposed to these skinny ones in the film. Still, the actors that played the Martians (primarily Willem Dafoe) did a solid job.

Additionally, the CGI was questionable in the quality of the characters. The special effects work great for the ships, vehicles, landscapes and architecture but the living, breathing characters felt artificial. And that’s kind of baffling considering the immense budget of this top tier motion picture.

None of the flaws are enough to distract you though. The total package is good and I enjoyed it enough to not want to nitpick the shit out of certain things that don’t wreck the film.

I hope that this being a massive flop won’t deter future filmmakers from taking on the Barsoom material. John Carter is a worthy enough character to live on in various forms forever. I just hope that someone can eventually make something that the people want to see because the Barsoom mythos is rich and deserving of further adaptations.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Disney’s Prince of Persia and Pirates of the Caribbean movies, as well as the first two Brendan Fraser Mummy films and Aquaman.

Film Review: The Disaster Artist (2017)

Release Date: March 12th, 2017 (SXSW)
Directed by: James Franco
Written by: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Based on: The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Film Ever Made by Greg Sestero, Tom Bissell
Music by: Dave Porter
Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron, Hannibal Buress, Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffith, Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas, Megan Mullally, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Bob Odenkirk, Bryan Cranston, Judd Apatow, Zach Braff, J. J. Abrams, Lizzy Caplan, Kristen Bell, Keegan-Michael Key, Adam Scott, Danny McBride, Kate Upton, Kevin Smith, Ike Barinholtz

New Line Cinema, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Good Universe, Point Grey Pictures, Rabbit Bandini Productions, Ramona Films, A24, 103 Minutes

Review:

“No, no! Very necessary. I need to show my ass to sell this picture.” – Tommy Wiseau

This was one of the most anticipated film sf 2017. It wasn’t just anticipated by me, though. Anyone who had seen Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 cult classic The Room was probably in line on opening night. Plus, it was directed by and stars James Franco, a guy with a deep personal connection to Wiseau who probably still doesn’t get enough credit for his talents.

The film also stars little brother, Dave Franco, as Greg Sestero, Tommy’s best friend and the author of the book this is based on, also titled The Disaster Artist. The book is a pretty exceptional look into The Room and into Wiseau’s life and if you haven’t read it yet, you should. Because even though I did like this film, the book has so much more that Franco couldn’t fit into a two hour movie.

In fact, there are a lot of things in the book that I wish had made it into the movie but I understand why time wouldn’t permit it. I really would have liked to have seen Sestero’s experience working on a Puppet Master film or all the stuff in the book surrounding The Talented Mr. Ripley and how Mark in The Room was named after Matt Damon but Wiseau mistakenly called him “Mark”. But the fact that we got the James Dean bits, was pretty cool.

Both Franco brothers did a great job of bringing Wiseau and Sestero to life. While James will get most of the acting props in this film for his portrayal of Wiseau and how he mastered his accent and mannerisms, I want to be the one person to actually put the focus on Dave. You see, Dave was the actual glue that held this picture together and made it work. He is the real eyes and ears of the audience and we really take this journey with him, as we did in the book. Dave Franco put in a better performance here than he has in his entire acting career. That isn’t a knock against his other work, it’s just great to see him evolve as an actor and display that he has the skills his older brother does. Hopefully, this leads to bigger and better things for the younger Franco and I assume it will.

This film is littered with a ton of celebrity cameos. Bryan Cranston even plays himself back when he was still working on Malcolm In the Middle, before his big breakout on Breaking Bad. The one cameo I loved and had actually hoped to see more of, as the character was more prominent in the book, was Sharon Stone’s portrayal of Iris Burton, Sestero’s agent. I also loved Megan Mullally as Sestero’s mother but who doesn’t love Mullally in everything?

You also get a lot of other celeb cameos, as they introduce the movie. Having known about it and having read the book, I didn’t need the intro but it serves to educate people going into this film blindly and it was still nice hearing some famous people talk about their love of The Room and its significance.

The Disaster Artist serves the story of the book well and the film was a delight. It didn’t surprise me in any way and it was pretty much exactly the film I anticipated. That’s neither good or bad, as Hollywood biopics are usually very straightforward.

Even though there weren’t surprises in the film, this is a fantastic story, that at its core, is about a man not giving up on his dream and forging his own path against those that held him back and told him “no”. The real story behind it all, is that Wiseau’s tale is an underdog tale and it’s a true story, not a Hollywood fabrication. Wiseau did something incredible and although the reception he got might not have been what he initially wanted, he did rise above all the adversity and became a star in an arena where he wasn’t welcome.

The lasting power of The Room isn’t just about how incredibly bad it is, it is that once people know its story, it is hard not to feel an intimate connection to Tommy Wiseau, a guy that should serve as an inspiration in spite of his bizarre personality and tactics.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Power Rangers (2017)

Also known as: Saban’s Power Rangers
Release Date: March 22nd, 2017 (Regency Village Theater premiere)
Directed by: Dean Israelite
Written by: John Gatins, Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless, Michele Mulroney, Kieran Mulroney
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Becky G, Ludi Lin, Bill Hader, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Banks, David Denman

Lionsgate, Temple Hill Entertainment, 124 Minutes

Review:

For awhile now, I have been a fan of Japan’s Super Sentai franchise. For those that don’t know, it is the source material that was used to create Mighty Morphin Power Rangers in the United States.

I have never been a big Power Rangers fan though. Believe me, I have tried but the show is cheesy to the point that it made Saved By the Bell look like an episode of Breaking Bad. Let’s be honest, Power Rangers has never really been good. And now that it is being presented more seriously and with a budget and also all original footage, one would have to assume that it could only be better than the original Power Rangers show.

Well, being that it doesn’t have much to live up to, it certainly surpasses the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers show in every way. That doesn’t mean that it is a fantastic movie, however. It also isn’t bad though. Let me elaborate.

The film is primarily a teen drama that doesn’t really get to the action and superhero vibe of the film until the finale. There are a few run-ins with the villain and training montages but this is an origin story. Like most comic book style origin stories, it puts most of its emphasis on the journey of the characters as they transform into heroes. This isn’t a bad thing and I like that the film takes its time, developing the characters and fleshing out their personalities, their individual characteristics and what all this means for them.

The acting is certainly better than what the Power Rangers television shows have given us now for two-plus decades. The writing is also better and so is the story of these characters. While the film reestablishes the franchise’s mythos in new ways and deviates from the source material, it is probably for the best. The original series wasn’t well thought out and it was just an Americanized attempt at trying to make sense out of the footage they spliced in from the Japanese Sentai series Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger.

Power Rangers is hokey but it is fun. However, it isn’t cheesy in an eye-rolling sort of way. It certainly stands well above the Michael Bay Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles remakes. It also doesn’t play like the male version of Twilight, which I feared from some of the trailers and marketing. Unlike those three franchises just mentioned, you really care about the kids in Power Rangers.

Elizabeth Banks was also pretty entertaining as the new version of the villain Rita Repulsa. While the character is completely different than the television version, who was a different villain completely in Japan where she was known as Bandora, Banks owned the part and looked like she was having a lot of fun playing an over-the-top supervillain.

Bryan Cranston was solid as Zordon and Bill Hader was actually quite perfect for the voice of Alpha 5. I liked that Alpha 5 wasn’t some annoying moron and actually was a snarky character that could probably hold his own in a fight if he had to.

The Zords were all fairly cool and came off better than I thought they would. The Pink Ranger’s pterodactyl was by far the coolest. Megazord also looked good and resembled an upgraded and more futuristic version of a Jaeger from Pacific Rim.

As far as negatives, while the film takes its time before putting our heroes in their Ranger armor, they do seem to beat Rita Repulsa and Goldar fairly easily without any real experience. They learned how to pilot their Zords pretty quickly and after one initial stumble piloting the Megazord, the five pilots are able to fairly easily defeat Goldar. Also, apart from summoning Goldar and Putties, Rita Repulsa doesn’t seem to have much power at all.

Power Rangers is by no means a great film but it isn’t supposed to be. It is supposed to reinvigorate the fan base with something new and something better. It really gets away from the teen sitcom and tokusatsu vibe of the television shows but what it gives us is a legitimate upgrade. It’ll be interesting to see what happens as this new incarnation roars forward with other installments. I don’t expect mind blowing motion pictures but I do anticipate a lot of fun between bites of double buttered extra salty popcorn.

 

Film Review: Godzilla (2014)

Release Date: May 8th, 2014 (Los Angeles Premiere)
Directed by: Gareth Edwards
Written by: Max Borenstein, David Callaham
Based on: Gojira by Toho Co. Ltd.
Music by: Alexandre Desplat
Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, Bryan Cranston

Legendary Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, Toho, 123 Minutes

godzilla_2014Review:

It has been 60 years! Yes, 60 years since Godzilla first appeared on-screen. In that time we have seen a few different incarnations over dozens of films. There are some things that change from era-to-era and some timeless parts that remain consistent. Well, the new Godzilla follows suit, in that it was a reinvention that took some liberties yet also stayed true to the general nature of the franchise.

Godzilla, as a monster, was pretty damn accurate overall. Some people have complained that he’s too bulky, he is – but he just looks like more of a beast. Others have complained about his face and the fact that it looks human-like, I get that and noticed it but it didn’t bother me. We’re no longer limited by the technology of the rubber suit and truth be told, I haven’t liked most Godzilla faces since the original era came to an end in the mid-70s. At least the monster didn’t have the Jay Leno chin of the 1998 Godzilla monster from that atrocious Roland Emmerich film.

The other monsters in the film, there are two, are variations of one another, as one is the male and has wings, while the other is a much larger female without wings. I wasn’t too keen on these monsters, called M.U.T.O. for “Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism.” Their design was kind of cool, their backstory and biology was even cooler but they didn’t have that classic Godzilla monster feel. They kind of came across as more streamlined versions of a couple of generic kaiju from Pacific Rim. Maybe their design is just how filmmakers envision contemporary monsters to be. I thought it was pretty unimaginative and they had more resemblances to that shitty Cloverfield monster than anything from the vast Godzilla mythos. I just didn’t like them, I never felt that threatened by them and was kind of just waiting for King Ghidorah to fly on-screen and really tear shit up.

That leads me to one of the beefs I have with the film. With such a deep pool of characters and monsters to pull from, if you really needed Godzilla to battle a threat, why not reinvent some of those iconic monsters and really give fans a fight they want to see instead of this film that could have been titled Godzilla vs. The Unimaginative Insect-Dragon and His Big Angry Wife? I don’t think Hollywood understands that the Godzilla brand isn’t just Godzilla, there is an entire sea of monsters waiting to be exploited. In fact, in the trailer when I saw the flying monster for a split second, I thought Rodan was going to be in this. Nope, no Rodan, just some slightly modified Cloverfield creature with wings – opportunity completely missed.

But then there is the issue with licensing. Apparently, Legendary Pictures didn’t have the rights to any other creatures. I feel like this could have been resolved before this film was made, as they have since acquired the right to several more monsters for the upcoming sequel.

Another beef with the film is that it is called Godzilla but it barely has any Godzilla in it. He doesn’t show up for like an hour and when he makes his first appearance to fight the flying M.U.T.O. at the Honolulu Airport, they cut away just after he roars and right when your fanboy boner goes to full attention. Thank you, Gareth Edwards and Legendary Pictures for giving millions of moviegoers cinematic blue balls.

The lack of Godzilla carried over into the big finale. Godzilla would engage the two monsters, they’d do a power move or two and then the film would cut to the human characters running around trying to complete a nuisance of a mission that didn’t matter all that much considering the state of San Francisco by that point. Godzilla punch, M.U.T.O. bite, cut to overly dramatic white Army dude torching eggs. Godzilla kick, M.U.T.O. jump, cut to overly dramatic white Army dude starting a boat. Screw the humans, show the monster fight, that’s what we paid to see. In fact, scrap the whole plot and just put Godzilla in a cage match with a dozen monsters. Preferably classic kaiju and not some half-assed Level 3 bosses from a 1987 Konami game.

Now getting to the human element of the film, it was pretty good. Bryan Cranston  and Ken Watanabe were fantastic but lacked screen time compared to Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who was better than decent, and Elizabeth Olsen, who felt completely wasted and unnecessary in the film.

Now it probably sounds like I am griping about this a lot but I did really enjoy the movie. There was much more good than bad and it is worth your time if giant monsters engaged in combat is your thing. Tonally, the film felt like it belonged in the same world as the original 1954 Gojira – the original Godzilla film that was darker and a lot more serious and frightening than it’s comedic and campy successors. The tone was perfect, in my opinion, and that is what really makes this movie.

I hope that if this becomes the franchise it is destined to be, the filmmakers going forward tap the well and bring back our favorite kaiju from past films. Because comparatively, no one wants to see Superman fight some scrubs that just walked out of the gym.