If this bombs, then the Justice League movie is doomed.
I have very high hopes for Man of Steel. The trailer is enough to wash the disgusting taste of Brandon Routh out of my mouth. Of course, I didn't mean that literally. Michael Urie would not resist though. Joking!
If this bombs, then the Justice League movie is doomed.
Prometheus (2012 20th Century Fox)
Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green, Charlize Theron
dir. Ridley Scott
Ambitious as the mythical figure it takes its cue from, Prometheus aims to expand the Alien universe despite all the coy denials from the Ridley Scott camp during the making. Well, not only that, but they churned a great standalone sci-fi film by itself. Of course, the ending leaves the doors open for a sequel (and they should make one), but as it is, the film is satisfying enough.
I love Fassbender's work as the android David, who despite his origin, seems to also spit on his creator with burgeoning ego and cunning - again, Prometheus - and when his hubris meets its head-ripping end, you do feel sympathy for him despite knowing he set all these things into motion. His remark about children wanting to kill their parents left me chilled. I hope my son will never think that way.
So if these Engineers made us, what made them change their minds that they created another organism to wipe us out? Actually the Alien creature that bedeviled Sigourney Weaver and the Predators (hey! what happens now to AvP?) seems to be a cross between their original weapon and themselves. Rapace (of the Swedish version of the Lisbeth Salander trilogy) will have to be onboard the sequel to continue the quest for answers - but hopefully not endure another "ejecting the Alien in my belly" sequence (not to be watched by pregnant women or new mothers). The rest of the cast is topnotch - Theron as her usual ice queen facade, Idris "I Could Be the Next Bond" Elba as the heroic Captain Janek, and Marshall-Green as the career science guy. Personal fave Guy Pearce cameos as the elderly funder of the expedition who finds out that he should have just quit while he was ahead.
Margin Call (2011, Lionsgate)
Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley, Simon Baker, Mary McDonnell, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci
dir. JC Chandor
A Sundance entry that tries to encapsulate the possible 36 hours before the economic crash of 2007, Margin Call succeeds in its simple plot, putting the terminology and concepts across to the layman viewer without talking down to them. The first 20 minutes showing the termination of employees in the trading floor of an unnamed Wall Street investment firm is scary as shit (why hasn't Stanley Tucci won an Oscar yet?), and that's the opening salvo.
Zachary Quinto brings his trademark eyebrows as the smart upcoming kid who figures out that his office stands to lose historically and spectacularly in the market, realizing that the packaged assets they were selling were essentially worthless. The tension that ensues between middle management, executives and CEO (Jeremy Irons as John Tuld - a reference to disgraced Lehman Brothers CEO Richard Fuld?) is fun to watch - witness "Mentalist" Simon Baker coldly take steps to save his job (and does). Paul Bettany gets the most lines, a survivor of an attrition-filled industry. Kevin Spacey is Kevin Spacey; he'll do awesome acting jobs while asleep.
Its almost as good as any documentary made about the economic crisis, but a lot more entertaining. Give it a shot.
The Avengers (2012, Disney/Marvel Studios)
Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Samuel Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Clark Gregg, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgård, Gwyneth Paltrow
dir. Joss Whedon
The culmination of tentpole blockbusters of recent years is here. When this was hinted at, then announced officially back then, I made sure I had to survive to make it to this day. And be able to watch it on opening weekend (I could have flown somewhere else to watch it a week earlier, but whatever). Mission accomplished.
For the comic book cognoscenti, this is the final affirmation that given a good story, spandex comics can translate to the big screen, and rake in money. Sure, the more fantastical elements have to be distilled down a bit for the product to be palatable and relatable to Joe Q Public. I don't mind this process, as long as you don't talk down to the masses that much and present it in a way that makes sense. Of course, the product being what it is, you will need to still suspend disbelief at the door. But that's part of enjoying the ride.
Its somewhat a stroke of luck that Iron Man hit it big 4 years ago, and Robert Downey Jr. found his groove and made him synonymous with Tony Stark. Everything fell into place for the rest of the Big Three of Avengers lore, and Marvel made all the right moves in putting out quality movies that resonated with longtime readers and pulled in new fans. Their choice of casting was not bad, and the interaction and banter in The Avengers showed a lot of chemistry between the actors. The tete-a-tete between Brooklyn blue collar guy Steve Rogers and billionaire playboy Stark made sense and is a nod to the characters' depth in the comics over the last 25 years.
Captain America, whose triumphant return (in film, in their burgeoning cinematic Marvel Universe, and in cultural significance), could not come at a better time - if this was 2006/2007 with the Iraq morass and the economy about to tank, we would not have gotten the same results here. Being a man out of time, he learns to adapt with the times (not just simply following orders) and channels his best traits: strategic skills, charismatic leadership ("Hulk? Smash.") and unwavering conviction. The flag is not really being waved at your face, but the symbolism is undeniable. This is the man the Marvel Universe looks up to - even the Punisher. Who would not want to follow him into the belly of the beast?
But the X factor here is the somewhat forgotten character that already had 2 actors play the part in recent times - the Hulk. Joss Whedon magnificently makes him a major player again, and correctly so, as essentially in comics, he's the reason why the Avengers banded together (thanks to Loki's manipulations, in full display here). Mark Ruffalo plays the hesitant but coy Bruce Banner, who's able to talk equations and nerdspeak with Stark, but yet projects a vulnerability along with a quiet confidence and strength. The revelation of why he hasn't "Hulked out" in a while was a nice touch, and spared us from more of the dumb Hulk nonsense that can get old quickly. The purple shirt is also a winner.
The other players are given equal if not significant screen time - Scarlett Johansson fans would not be disappointed - and the other elements like the HeliCarrier and Stark Tower are nods to the longtime fans. I'm not anal enough to complain why the Pyms are not represented, but I do hope they'll make an appearance somewhere down the line. Secretly, I wanted a throwdown with the Masters of Evil, but maybe that's too much to throw at the casual viewer. Not to mention it has to be done with a really clever plot instead of just duking it out with evil spandex crowd.
I kind of agree with A.O. Scott's take on the film, necessitating a Tweebuke from Nick Fury himself. I found myself clapping and laughing at the script's machine gun quips, that it seemed too overboard at times. However, I understand the writers' intent - this is not The Dark Knight. True, the Avengers comics are anything but light either, but it does make for good word-of-mouth and a pretty memorable experience, one I suspect that fanboys and non-fanboys alike would be discussing for awhile.
The biggest fear at the moment, with the success of The Avengers, that it'll open the floodgates for more spandex movies to the point of saturation and backlash (hey, DC Comics, when are you really joining the party?). But then again, I also realize that my mission spawned new ones: to make it to the inevitable sequels.
New York, I Love You (2009, Vivendi)
Hayden Christensen, Andy Garcia, Rachel Bilson, Natalie Portman, Irrfan Khan, Orlando Bloom, Christina Ricci, Maggie Q, Ethan Hawke, Chris Cooper, Robin Wright Penn, Anton Yelchin, James Caan, Olivia Thirlby, Blake Lively, Bradley Cooper, Drea de Matteo, Julie Christie, John Hurt, Shia LaBeouf, Uğur Yücel, Shu Qi, Eli Wallach, Cloris Leachman, Taylor Geare, Carlos Acosta, Jacinda Barrett, Eva Amurri, Justin Bartha, Emilie Ohana
dir. Jiang Wen, Mira Nair, Shunji Iwai, Yvan Attal, Brett Ratner, Allen Hughes, Shekhar Kapur, Natalie Portman, Fatih Akin, Joshua Marston, Randy Balsmeyer
multi-threaded storylines are nothing new. i love it when they're executed properly, like Babel. piling on the stories, especially short stories, can be a little too much. that being said, i guess i'll just call myself a homer when i say i am a bit partial to this multi-vignette narrative, because i live here. (note to self: go find a copy of the Paris version)
the POVs are tied in through the camera of videographer Zoe, who interacts with one character or another during the film. among the better ones are the boy bringing a handicapped girl to the prom (Yelchin, directed by Brett Ratner), a writer trying to pick up a call girl (Maggie Q, Hawke, directed by Yvan Attal), a Jew and a Indian trading witty barbs over a diamond purchase (Natalie Portman and the great Irrfan Khan, directed by Mira Nair), and a Chinese herbal store clerk torn on being a muse for an eccentric artist (Shu Qi, directed by Fatih Akin). there's also one that makes me take a look at Shia LeBouf for his acting skills that have all been forgotten due to the Transformers franchise. but my favorite is the two senior citizens from Brighton Beach (Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman, directed by newcomer Joshua Marston) simply walking. that gave me again a reminder of my own mortality, and a hope that my wife and i could be like that someday. Wallach and Leachman sell it so good, they're naturals.
overall, there's a sense of disjointment of the product as a whole (really? we need a whole 15 minutes of lothario Bradley Cooper having sex with Drea de Matteo?). but the great parts make up for it. if you're a New Yorker, try this out. it is a love letter to you after all.
The Company Men (2011, The Weinstein Company)
Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Maria Bello, Rosemarie DeWitt, Craig T. Nelson
dir. John Wells
a small film taking a peek at how the current economic crisis affects white collar workers, at least those earning six figure salaries, The Company Men is quite an entertaining ride, still radiating hope despite the gloominess of it all. on one hand, you may not have any sympathy for these men who enjoy a lot more privileges than you do when they lose their job, but on the other hand, the film does remind us that some of them, those whose heads are not stuck in the clouds or their ass (hello, Wall Streeters), are people too, just like you and me.
Bobby Walker (Affleck) is the first casualty as the film opens as he gets a hard dose of reality when he gets served his pink slip in the shipbuilding company where he's a star salesman. his close friends Phil (the always-excellent Cooper) and division manager Gene (Jones does look like a weathered executive for years now, hasn't he) try to lift his spirits, but the inevitable happens anyway. since Bobby is younger, he still manages to wrangle interviews for jobs half his former salary, but ends up losing his Porsche, country manse, and lifestyle to work in home building with his blue collar brother in law (Costner). Phil on the other hand, does not get any considerations because of his age, and ends up paying a higher price far more than the audiences expected. Gene, whom you sense is more comfortable in building things rather than enjoying the trappings of his status, does exactly that and provides a ray of hope in the bleakness of it all. the story builds on the characters and have their details woven smartly.
the film is a small treasure and can be likened to a Pandora's Box of reality. strangely, i also want to hear about those arrogant rich jerks who got laid off. what do you mean there weren't any?
Drive Angry (2011, Summit Entertainment)
Nicholas Cage, Amber Heard, William Fichtner, Katy Mixon, David Morse, Billy Burke
dir. Patrick Lussier
someone took a look at Quentin Tarantino's grindhouse tribute Planet Terror/Death Proof and remembered Nicolas Cage's Gone in 60 Seconds remake along with 2007's abysmal Ghost Rider - and put three and three together. presto! we got Drive Angry.
playing the troubled soul John Milton (cough, get it, Millenials? cough), Cage stalks a satanic cult leader named Jonah King (Burke) for what else - revenge for killing his daughter (he's not that old is he?) and kidnapping his granddaughter (he's not that old is he?). along the way, he picks up a hot kickass-when-needed waitress (Heard), and a dapper-looking killer named The Accountant is on his trail (a hilarious yet impressive Fichtner). bodies are left in the wake. gore ensues. in the end, we learn that Milton escaped from Hell just to get things squared out and the Accountant has been sent to bring him back.
if you like muscle cars, vehicular destruction and a vapid plot, this is right up your alley. let's just say the fun doesn't last long so if you can watch this without paying more than a couple of dollars, that should be ok. you might be interested more in Amber Heard's next projects from hereon.
X-Men: First Class (2011 20th Century Fox)
James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, January Jones, Rose Byrne, Jennifer Lawrence, Zoë Kravitz, Nicholas Hoult, Lucas Till, Oliver Platt, Caleb Landry Jones, Edi Gathegi, Jason Flemyng, Álex González, Glenn Morshower, Michael Ironside, James Remar, Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Romijn
dir. Matthew Vaughn
five years after X-Men: The Last Stand disappointed us, Marvel and Hollywood gives us a fresh take on the X-Men, set in the 60s where the seminal comicbook had its origins. despite the title, it turns out that this is not even remotely close to the comicbook series of the same name; a fresh take meant cherry-picking of characters from all eras of Marvel's merry mutants, framing it in a storyline that would still agree with longtime fans.
to wit, this is not my X-Men, or the X-Men in the previous milestone-setting trilogy. we have the main players, Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Erik Lensherr (Magneto) of course, and as the comics do tell, they were friends at one point. incorporating Magneto's origins as a Polish Jew experimented on because of his natural abilities (by Nazi scientist Dr. Schmidt/Sebastian Shaw), the Hellfire Club, and characters that may not be the most preferred to be seen by the fanboys, the story does hold up, with Xavier's enlistment into the CIA's war against Communism, and to a lesser degree, against superpowered terrorists, and their recruitment of what is then known as first class of mutant students, to battle Shaw and his own small army. eventually, Xavier's and Magneto's philosophical differences lead them to different paths, but inherently the same goal.
my main beef with casting in the earlier trilogy hinged primarily on getting the annoying and unfit James Marsden to play Cyclops/Scott Summers, one of the strongest and most important X-Men in comic mythos. even worse, they wrote him as a lovesick puppy for Jean Grey (grudgingly, in the early comics he was more of young, shy mutant trying to become a combat leader and displaying the same amount of confidence in dating girls), and dies early in the final film. for years i've hated this. even in Wolverine: Origins, we see a young Scott and Emma Frost getting recruited by an older Xavier. again, not exactly a ringing endorsement of using one of the best X-Men ever. with this new film, i am finally letting go of those feelings and looking forward to a new era, even though this one does not have Cyclops at all (i wonder how they'll handle that, given that his younger brother, Alex, is introduced here). among the changes that takes some getting used to is rewriting Moira McTaggert as a CIA agent (!), making Emma Frost already have her diamond form along with her telepathy (the former on display in Wolverine: Origins), casting January Jones as Frost (here we go again), and including the Grant Morrison-era Angel (obviously the audience don't know her origins, which are far from the glamorous stripper she's depicted as), and Azazel, a much-maligned demon character in the comics, as an actual mutant. also, two wink-wink cameos led me to believe there might be a bonus scene at the end but no. but that aside, its not enough to keep me from enjoying this reboot. McAvoy, Fassbender, and Bacon all radiate star power, and the dramatic tension and heart resonate well with the disenfranchised in the audience.
oh hey, i thought Darwin was unkillable?
Unstoppable (2010 20th Century Fox)
Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, Ethan Suplee, Kevin Dunn
dir. Tony Scott
mirroring a similar incident a decade ago, Unstoppable casts the indomitable Denzel Washington and young gun Chris Pine (Star Trek) as the train employees taking it upon their charitable selves to place their lives on the line and chase and stop a runaway train. the railroad industry, a testament to the ruggedness and unflappable American spirit, has been lagging behind in importance. but it is the backbone of transportation, the best option to connect the cities from the Atlantic to the Pacific. that is, until we can travel via teleportation or transform ourselves as electrons and move thru phone and cable lines.
Washington represents the graying generation of railroad employees, and Pine the upstarts who are being pushed to push the old men out. interestingly, Washington plays it cool despite the knocks on his job security, and his own fragile family relationships (both daughters are semi-estranged and work in Hooters, but that just seems a throwaway detail). Pine meanwhile, has almost hit rock bottom vaguely because of a restraining order from his wife (or so we are led to believe to make his character a bit more symphatetic and to validate his impending heroism). both men learn to work together and make critical life-saving decisions, despite only meeting each other a couple of hours earlier.
this being a (longtime Denzel favorite) Tony Scott film, we are provided with thrills that put us on the edge of our seats, recycling Murphy's Law again and again until it comes to the final stand, where our heroes save the day. a good thing is they didn't write the female lead (Dawson, as the steely female yardmaster, making lemons out of lemonade) to typically share a bed scene or romantic entanglements with the action hero (wait, she did kiss him after). one thing you should take out of this movie is never take short cuts with your work, especially if you're in charge of huge equipment that might cost thousands or millions of dollars when it goes haywire, unless you want to get demoted to the food service industry. and on that note, cue in the official complaint filed by the Food Service Industry Anti-Defamation League.
Julie & Julia (2009 Columbia Pictures)
Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina, Linda Emond, Jane Lynch, Vanessa Ferlito, Mary Lynn Rajskub
dir. Nora Ephron
Julie and Julia is an much-prettified (its Nora Ephron, people!) account of how the story of one Julie Powell, food blogger, intertwines with her inspiration, Julia Child's life experiences. the film is touted to be the first ever inspired from an actual blog.
Julie takes on the challenge of cooking all of the recipe's in Julia's book Mastering the Art of French Cooking within one year, and blogs about each completed task. in storied flashbacks, we see the origins of this book as Julia and husband Paul settle in Paris. Paul, a government officer, is credited for introducing Julia to fine cuisine, and in the City of Lights, Julia resolves to sharpen her cooking skills by attending the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu. mastering the kitchen proves much easier than mastering the snobbish resistance of the French to have an outsider learning the culinary secrets. eventually she wins them over, in particular Simone Beck, who would end up co-authoring the book with her. Julie's own difficulties lie more in keeping her own family life intact with her new husband Eric, who patiently supports her through this endeavour. eventually, she manages to complete her gauntlet, and her blog earns attention from media outlets. significantly, Julia herself thinks the whole thing was a stunt and is dismissive of Julie's accomplishments.
Meryl Streep as always, turns in another masterful performance that would not win an Oscar (12 and counting, since 1982). the rest of the cast pull their weight, from the delightful Stanley Tucci, and the radiant Amy Adams (who's starring in her second movie with Streep, and will win a Golden Bald Guy someday) to Jane Lynch, who's refreshing as Julia's sister and a change of pace from her deliciously bitchy Glee character. Ephron honors both personalities and their stories, and churns out a feel-good movie not just for cooking enthusiasts or Julia Child fans.