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Wind River – ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

Wind River40

Wind River was written and directed by Taylor Sheridan who also wrote Sicario and Hell or High Water and was a very enjoyable movie.  I was about to say it was a good mystery thriller, but it really isn’t a mystery.  True, we don’t know “whodunit” but we’re led there through the course of the investigation step by step.  It was a good crime thriller.  I liked the cast, and I liked the story behind it all.  It had the “fish out of water” idea, the rookie cop, the guy who helps the cops who can act outside the law.  Lots of tropes, but still everything clicked.

I really liked the cast, and that was what initially drew me to Wind River.  I’ve been an Elizabeth Olsen fan for some time now and again was quite impressed.  The story was excellent hitting emotional and suspenseful notes equally well.  Jeremy Renner was also good, and it was interesting to see the two interact with each other while not playing their MCU characters (Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye if you will).

When a young woman is found dead (and probably murdered) on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, young FBI Agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) from the Las Vegas field office is sent to investigate.  Not familiar with the territory or the people she asks Fish and Wildlife Service agent and game tracker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), who is accepted by the locals, to help her navigate the snowy terrain and the distrust of the locals.  Banner also works closely with the local sheriff Ben (Graham Greene).  The plot unfolds and we learn how the girl met her fate, and that she was best friends with Lambert’s own daughter who also died.  The film shines a light on many of the darker aspects of reservation life, such as rampant violence, drug use, depression and of course the many, many unsolved cases of missing women.  It is a sobering look, and one that draws you into the film at every turn.

I enjoyed the way the film played out, how the case was solved, who did it, and how they paid for their crime.  At first I thought they were going to go a much different way with that payment…. I really thought Lambert was going to leave him to the mountain lion, but the way they did it was definitely satisfying. …A very good film all around, and even though it is full of tragedy it has a satisfying payoff.

Bottom Line: Graham Greene is a great actor, he’s been in such works as Green Mile, Dances With Wolves, and he played Mr. Crabby Tree on The Adventures of Dudley the Dragon


Captain America 3: Civil War – ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

Captain America 3: Civil War4.5 Stars

This might as well have been Avengers 3, because it had everyone in it.  Steve Rogers’ Captain America (Chris Evans) battles Tony Stark’s Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) as the heroes pick sides after the fallout of Avengers 2: Age of Ultron and the events of Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier collide.  They may have saved the world (from a menace they had a hand in creating), but many innocent lives were lost.  The governments of the world and the United Nations now want to keep the Avengers in check and hold them accountable.  Cap’s WWII friend Bucky (who had been brainwashed into becoming the cold war assassin the Winter Soldier) has been framed for a new crime by Zemo (Daniel Brühl) and the two teams of Avengers set out to find him.  Captain America’s team (Falcon, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Ant-Man) are trying to save Bucky, while Iron Man’s team (Black Widow, War Machine, Black Panther, Vision and Spider-Man) try to bring Bucky to justice.

The film may have been a bit of fan pandering, but it was still well constructed and entertaining to me.  We got the introduction of a few new key characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther will soon have his own film, as will Tom Holland’s Spider-Man.  Both are important additions to the ever growing MCU, and I like the potential directions that both characters/films/franchises could take.  I will admit that I’m super excited for a “proper” Marvel Spider-Man film.  What I like about the Marvel films (the proper Disney Marvel films that is) is that they really do know how to pace and lay out a story.  The first act of Civil War was the build-up and the increasing tensions between the team, as well as the hunt and mystery over the Winter Soldier.  The second act was the big battle scene that brought all the characters together and the third act resolved it all, with Captain America and Iron Man temporarily setting aside their differences to fight the common enemy that had been pulling their strings for most of the movie.  Essentially the first act was character driven, the second action and then it circled back to a character driven story again.  All of it worked, and balanced the action with drama and humour.  I have heard some people say there was too much humour, but I disagree.  When you’re dealing with gods and monsters and knights and soldiers and heroes, all fantastical things, I prefer to keep it lighter.  I also think there was more than enough action to keep the story flowing so that I didn’t mind or really realize that it was two and a half hours long.

I really enjoyed all the characters.  With a pool of characters as deep as those in the MCU, you like to see the filmmakers play with “all the toys”, or at least all the toys that they’re allowed to use.  It’s really nice to see Spider-Man back where he belongs, alongside the biggest Marvel characters.  There’s no subtlety lost in naming the upcoming film Spider-Man Homecoming.  Getting a small taste of Spider-Man in the big airport fight scene was a treat that many Marvel fans didn’t think they’d ever get, what with the complicated stories behind which studios have the rights to which characters.  That whole airport scene was a lot of fun, even if it did condense a whole “superhero civil war” down to about fifteen minutes.

There were of course comparisons between Civil War and the other big super hero film of the year, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.  I haven’t seen BvS yet, so I can’t judge it.  I know critics didn’t like it, and I know there is a HUGE divide among the fans both on that film in particular and on the differences between the Marvel and DC film universes.  Apparently it’s become a rule that Marvel fans can’t like DC films or vice versa.  I read quite a few user reviews on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes where it seemed like DC fans were just bashing Marvel films (and fans) while the Marvel fans seemed pretty even tempered, though to be fair, I was just checking a Marvel film, so they would tend to be kinder on those pages.  It’s entirely possible on pages for DC films that Marvel fans are bashing those too.  I guess I can’t help but wonder why the two fandoms can’t just get along?  It seems like there are a lot of negative reviews out there just for the sake of negatively reviewing something!  I like reviews to be constructive and helpful.  If you liked previous Marvel films, I think you’ll most likely enjoy Captain America 3: Civil War.  Is it better than DC, and everything Batman v Superman wasn’t?  I don’t know, that’s not something I can say without having seen both films, that would be up to you to decide if you have watched them both.

Bottom Line: This was one of the few MCU films I missed seeing in theatres.  I think the only other one was Iron Man 3….

Avengers 2: Age of Ultron – ★ ★ ★ ★ Theatrical Review

Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-IMAX-HR-1  4.0 Stars

It got a lot right, but also left a lot on the table.  Not to say that it got things wrong, but there were a lot of things that they could have done (and quite possibly should have done) but they didn’t.  You probably know the story, Earth’s mightiest heroes, the Avengers are back to fight Ultron (voiced by James Spader) an artificial robot intelligence that is planning to takeover the world by killing all the humans (the way Ultron plans to kill us all off is pretty darn creative I will admit!).  Ultron was accidentally created by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and now he and his team are the only ones who can stop it, but along the way they’ll have to fight the remnants of Hydra (including the fearsome Baron Strucker) and the superpowered twins Wanda (the Scarlet Witch played by Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro (Quicksilver played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson) as well as legions of killer robots.

  •  The film started off with a bang, and had a nice comic book action fight scene to whet our appetites…then they had an Avengers dinner party at the Tower with heroes galore…  We got Falcon from Captain America: Winter Soldier (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle) from the Iron Man franchise, Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), and of course the Avengers: Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and even Stan Lee in his cameo.  This scene really wasn’t necessary.  It may have killed the energy of the opening and made the film fifteen minutes longer than it needed to be, but it did really make the film feel like a classic comic book to me.  The whole party could have been drawn by George Perez and written by Jim Shooter or Roger Stern or John Byrne…  In fact, one probably was.
  • Once the party was out of the way and the evil robots started attacking, things picked up and the pace only slowed down at one point when the Avengers had to go to ground and regroup.  More characters are introduced along the way as Ultron severs the hand of Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) who will likely become Klaw and a Black Panther villain at some point.  Minor Spoiler (but I want to gripe about it so I’m not hiding this one) We also learn that Ultron kills Baron Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann).  I think that was a giant waste.  First, I don’t think they even called him “Baron”, he may have just been “Strucker”.  Second, for being the big bad guy who orchestrated the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. and whatnot, he really wasn’t in the film that long, and he seemed to go out like a chump!  First the Avengers beat him and his goons quite easily, then Ultron kills him.  Ah well, c’est la vie, and such is the life (and death) of an arch villain I suppose.
  • My first disappointment with Avengers 2 was (spoiler again) that while there was a bit of a crossover with the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television show, we didn’t get to see Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) on the big screen and reveal he’s still alive to the team.  Second, we had the setup, but we didn’t get “that” line.  If you’re a comic book fan like me, you know what I’m talking about.  How come we didn’t get Thor, beaten and bruised, confronting Ultron and delivering the classic line “Ultron. We would have words with thee.”
    Come on!  It’s classic.  Why wasn’t it in there?
  • The plot and cast advanced the Marvel Cinematic Universe quite well I thought, and set up the next batch of movies where the “big” stars may not be around.  Robert Downey Jr and Chris Evans (and likely the rest of the cast) signed limited contracts, only three or four films, so they need to start planning things without Iron Man and Captain America and such.

Lots of action, lots of fun, and this time the comic book-esque quips were spread out more evenly in the film, as opposed to the first film, where Iron Man seemed to get all the good lines.  I will say that I enjoyed the sequel more than the first film, as the first Avengers just didn’t live up to the hype for me.

Bottom Line: they suckered me in with this one, and I freely admitted it to the remaining audience members in the theatre.  There was only one “after the credits” scene in this one, but I foolishly stuck around until the very end just in case…Sure, I may know that Zoe Whittaker was the second unit video operator but I also wasted time waiting for a second bonus scene.  Maybe there will be something on the DVD, but if you’re going to the theatre, after the first bonus bit, you can safely leave!

Godzilla 2014 – DVD Review 4/5 stars

Product Details4 Stars

Fun.  This movie was a lot of fun for me.  I have always enjoyed Godzilla movies, well except for the 1998 fiasco, because for the most part they are a mindless escape, and fun.  They are some sort of male fantasy where two giant monsters just beat the crap out of each other.  But there are other things I love about the good Godzilla movies too.  There are great metaphors which come through with the human side of the story.  In 1954 Japan could hardly come out and make a movie about nuclear war and the bombing of Hiroshima, but they did by hiding it behind a science fiction monster movie.  Virtually all good science fiction has a strong social message.  Now, Godzilla 2014 had a lot more human story than it did monster fights, but that was okay, because the story was pretty well told and had a lot of ties back to the original Gojira film.  I especially enjoyed the nods in in the opening credits of the movie. 

The film begins with a nice build up of suspense and we are treated to a radioactive monster wiping out parts of Japan and Hawaii that soon heads towards San Francisco that the military are mostly powerless to combat.  As the human story and family stories continue, we get another monster wreaking havoc on the United States.  As the slow burn continues, we finally get to see our heroic titular monster as he homes in on his foes.  The visual effects were excellent throughout the film, as was the sound.  The “Godzilla roar” sounded great on my surround sound, even if the roar itself was altered a bit from it’s classic form.  The final act of the movie of course is the big fight that you know is coming.  The Godzilla final fight is what you are really looking forward to whenever you watch a Godzilla movie.  This one did not disappoint, as it took full advantage of today’s CGI effects and gave probably the truest sense of the level of destruction a fight like this would actually produce.

Of course I’ve heard a lot of people complain about Godzilla 2014, that the heavily billed stars, such as Bryan Cranston, were not in it enough;  that the characters weren’t developed very well; and that there was not enough Godzilla.  Well, I have to agree with some of that, but remember folks, this is a Godzilla movie, not Shakespeare.  I suppose my three biggest complaints were that:

  1. We didn’t get enough good looks at Godzilla himself.  A lot of the times the title character was obscured by smoke, under water, in darkness, or behind a building, or shot from really far away and shown on the news in the foreground of another shot.  I think I saw that someone clocked the amount of time that Godzilla was on screen at just over 11 minutes.  It felt longer to me, but they could have timed just the total, un-obscured time on screen.
  2. There wasn’t enough monster fighting.  Sure we got to see the MUTO destroying cities and bridges and buildings and everything in between, but not nearly enough time of them getting beaten up by Godzilla…though (minor SPOILER ALERT) when Godzilla kills that one….holy cow!  That was pretty cool.  All I can say is “suck atomic fire breath”.
  3. When we did get to see Godzilla, I didn’t really like the look they went with.  I don’t know.  I kind of prefer my Godzilla to have a neck and a forehead.  How else do you fit a guy into the rubber suit?


Bottom Line: Once again we’re faced with the dangers of nuclear power and giant monsters, fortunately nature has a way to balance things back, in the form of Godzilla.

Red Lights

Product Details4.5 Stars

When Simon Silver, a famous blind psychic (Robert De Niro), comes out of retirement years after his toughest critic mysteriously passed away, veteran paranormal researchers Dr. Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and Dr. Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) are set to investigate.  The pair work in a university Parapsychology Department debunking fraudulent claims of psychic phenomena.

Well, I certainly enjoyed this one!  An amazing thriller; and not so much a “horror” thriller, but a nice, well thought out, taut psychological thriller.  For the first time in quite a while, I found another one of those gems where I liked virtually everything about the movie.  My only criticism would have to be that it ran a little long, but that may also have been because I started watching late after another long day at work.  This was a great tale from writer-director Rodrigo Cortés, check this one out, and pay attention.  There is a clue dropped early on that I loved, partially because I picked up on it, and partially because the way it played out was very similar to a story idea I’ve had kicking around in my head for quite some time.

The cast was simply the best I could imagine for this film.  Sigourney Weaver was fantastic, and ironically I had re-watched Ghostbusters back around Hallowe’en, and seeing her as a serious sort of Venkman was quite nice.  Through the film, we learn why her character is so dedicated to her work, and explore her views not only on the supernatural but also belief systems (her own and those of others) in a modern world.  Weaver gives instant credibility to Matheson, and you believe her to be an expert.  Cillian Murphy was perfectly cast as her younger associate professor bringing a great deal passion and seriousness to the role.  The excellent chemistry between Weaver and Murphy was evident from their opening scene, where they visit a creepy old house to observe a seance, using all their scientific tools to get to the truth.  Robert De Niro was captivating as Simon Silver, a role I’m having a bit of a hard time categorizing.  He was clearly the antagonist of the piece, but he wasn’t really a stereotypical “bad guy”, or was he?  If he’s a charlatan, I guess he is; but if he is a real psychic, wrongly accused of being a fraud, how do we view him now?  This was a role that only a great actor could manage to play successfully, and fortunately Red Lights got De Niro.  For quite a while now I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about the acting ability of Elizabeth Olsen, the younger sister of “the Olsen Twins”, who, let’s face it, they’re phenomenally successful, but they weren’t great actresses.  Elizabeth Olsen however, is quite a good actress, and she was a very good fit for this film, and with this cast.  To top things off, we also get Toby Jones, who I’m glad to say I’ve noticed popping up more and more recently.

I was initially drawn to the film by the trailer, the story looked very good, and of course the cast was top notch as I’ve said.  I will also admit I found it an excellent excuse to watch Elizabeth Olsen for the first time and get to see why she was getting so much praise.  Praise that I find well placed.  Horror is not really my thing, so I was a little leery, but this was such a well done film; with great pieces of suspense, drama and even a fair bit of dark humour; I’m very glad to have watched it.

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