It’s January, and I’m behind in my reviews again! Alright, the next few days I’m going to try and catch up, but they’re going to be short, probably not sweet.
The Dark Tower is based on the series of books by Stephen King, which I have never read. After seeing the movie however, I’m interested now. When the film originally went to theatres, I had heard comments that people who had read the books wouldn’t (or didn’t) like the movie, but that people who hadn’t read them would probably like the movie. I fall into that segment. I enjoyed The Dark Tower. I watched the film at home, on Blu Ray which benefits me the bonus features. In one interview segment, King says that this movie starts the story essentially in the middle of the book series. It was done so intentionally because the filmmakers didn’t want to have it so the audience who hadn’t read the books would feel as though they were “behind” the audiences who had read the books. They say that they started in middle of series and let things grow from there. It worked for me, but as I said I haven’t read the books.
Idris Elba plays Roland, the last Gunslinger, who has been locked in an eternal battle with Walter aka the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey). The Mna in Black is trying to destroy the Dark Tower, which holds the universe (and I guess some sort of multiverse) together. Walter has agents working on earth (and presumably other dimensions or planets) to find people who show signs of powers and to kidnap them, and use their abilities to destroy the tower. Most of the people are children, and it does kill them… (I think, I can’t remember, it’s been a few months since I watched it, but it seems to make sense.) Roland meets Jake (Tom Taylor), an earth boy who Walter was trying to capture because he has an exceptionally strong set of psychic powers (or “shine”), and the two set off to stop Walter, jumping back and forth from Earth to the Dark Tower dimension…
Okay, it was a pretty decent action film with some sci-fi thrown on top. I liked the performances of both Elba and McConaughey and thought the story flowed pretty well. There was humour, great stunts and effects, and the underlying story of good versus evil worked well within this framework. I’d say it’s worth watching if you’re a fan of either of the leads, or an open minded fan of the source material.
Bottom Line: There were lots of references to other Stephen King works, including It, with a rusting carnival ride labelled Pennywise.
Disney did it again, and Zootopia took home the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, but I wasn’t overly impressed by it. Sure the animation was flawless, the characters were good, as was the story, but when I watch cartoons, I want to laugh, and I didn’t laugh as much as I thought I should have for a Disney cartoon.
Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is a bunny, who has wanted to become a police officer since she was a child. But bunnies are small, weak and timid, so there has never been a bunny police officer in Zootoipa, the land where animals all live together in harmony. Yes, in Zootoipa prey animals like sheep or bunnies no longer have to fear the predatory animals like jaguars or foxes. Judy fights against prejudice and works hard to become the first bunny officer of the ZPD (Zootopia Police Department), but a case of missing animals comes up that she must solve within 24 hours or else she must quit the force. To solve the case she turns to a street hustler fox (Jason Bateman) for help, and the two set off reluctantly together discover how and why several predator animals have apparently gone savage. Their search leads them through all the habitats of Zootopia and brings them deeper into a web of crime and corruption than they ever expected…
The film naturally has a message as it deals with prejudice and also explores the role of implicit bias in policing, which is good, but I think might have been a bit heavy for the expected target audience. It may be something that the older kids and parents in the audience will pickup on, but would be completely lost on someone like my five year old nephew. Judy does solve the case and does get predator and prey animals to once again get along and live peacefully together but not before realizing her own prejudices. Did Zootopia really need to be Serpico with animals though? When I watch cartoons (and yes, I watch them fairly regularly and by choice as an adult), I want to go back to my childhood and be amazed and entertained and laugh and maybe even shed a tear. Zootopia was entertaining, but to me it didn’t have that magic touch.
Idris Elba stars as Sean Briar, a CIA agent in Paris who pushes the limits and doesn’t “play well with others”. Michael Mason (Richard Madden) is a professional pickpocket who steals a bag belonging to Zoe (Charlotte Le Bon) and drops it with the garbage in front of a small apartment building after taking anything of value from it only to have the bag blow up moments later. Now on the run as a suspected terrorist bomber, Mason finds himself being hunted by Briar. Briar does capture Mason and eventually believes him to be innocent of the bombing, but he uses the thief to help him track down Zoe and the bomb makers who are threatening to detonate more bombs. As the Mason and Briar inch closer to Zoe and the truth, they discover cover-ups and corruption and the real reasons the French people have been antagonized to riot in their own streets.
I was in the mood for a good action film, and Idris Elba impressed me so much in the BBC’s Luther, that I gave The Take a chance. The plot takes place on the days leading up to Bastille Day, which was the film’s European title, I assume they switched it to The Take for North American audiences because they assumed the majority of audiences wouldn’t know what Bastille Day was, kind of like they assumed American Harry Potter audiences wouldn’t know what a Philosopher’s Stone was… The Take was a fairly low budget and relatively unknown film but I rather liked it. It started off a little slow and I thought it was going to be quite predictable, but they threw a few original twists and ideas in that I wasn’t expecting. Those things really paid off in my mind, and allowed me to enjoy what could have been a very formulaic and hum-drum action flick. The action kept me entertained throughout, and the performances were solid. The cast had good chemistry together, and the cinematography was top notch. An enjoyable film that avoided many of the clichés of the genre.
Bottom Line: Idris Elba wrote and performed (with Fatboy Slim) the song The Road Less Travelled which plays over the closing credits.
Pacific Rim came out at the perfect time. It satisfied the audience’s need for giant monsters and destruction, and did well financially at the box office. Why is this important? I think it paves the way perfectly for audiences to see the “King of the Monsters” next summer with Godzilla. Though, this could be a perfect “chicken or the egg” situation. Did Pacific Rim do well because people are anticipating Godzilla, or does the success of Pacific Rim fortell Godzilla’s future success? Oh, and by the way, the egg came first. Creatures were laying eggs long before chickens ever came around…
You may think you can call Pacific Rim nothing more than just a popcorn film. It had the giant alien monsters, robots, action galore, and wasn’t too deep or heavy on plot but it was very much a character driven film. It had a surprisingly good cast and . Idris Alba and Ron Perlman are fantastic actors, and really shone well in what were effectively supporting roles tonight, well not tonight, because once again I’m putting up a review for a film I watched two and a half (maybe even three) weeks ago. That aside, Alba and Perlman were great at bringing some star power to a film that could easily have been overlooked. Leads Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi developed their characters well and elevated the film above simple popcorn fare. Though, if you hadn’t heard that Guillermo del Toro was directing it you’d probably expect this sort of film to be “direct to video”, I mean come on aliens coming out of the ocean, it sounds just like Atlantic Rim…. Actually I had heard that Asylum’s “mockbuster” Atlantic Rim had to be renamed Attack from Beneath for some rather obvious copyright and confusion issues before it could be released on DVD.
Aliens are invading Earth, but they aren’t coming from outer space, they’re coming from a rift in the Pacific Ocean. And they aren’t little green men, they’re giant lizard, monster….things… Kaiju. To combat these creatures the world has been using Jaegers, giant robot-esque creations that require two pilots, mentally in sync to properly guide the machine and fight the aliens. After a series of defeats and narrow victories, the Jaeger program is scrapped in favour of giant walls to protect the populace, but Marshall Pentecost (Alba) keeps the last four Jaegers active to make one last attempt at destroying the rift and stopping the invaders once and for all. Recruiting Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) a former Jaeger pilot who quit the program after his brother was ripped from their craft (Gipsy Danger) and killed while they were still mentally linked. Teamed with a new partner (Mako Mori played by Rinko Kikuchi), Becket is brought back into service, with his old Jaeger repaired and is given one last chance to stop the end of the world.
Pacific Rim probably would have been more fun on the big screen. My complaint about these sorts of movies is that at home, the effects move too quickly and (to me and my aging eyes at least) the incredible amount of detail put into the creation of the robots or the monsters or whatever, is lost and you see none of the detail. Sometimes I wish they would follow the “less is more” philosophy and not put as much detail into the design so you can actually see and discern more of the detail. Instead of showing us that the graphics department put every rivet into every piece of steel, go with less so that I can actually see more instead of just a blur created by over-rendering. While Pacific Rim was fairly predictable, though in a pretty “feel good” sort of way, there were a few tropes that it avoided. While at first there were hints that a romantic subplot may develop between Becket and Mako, they actually ignored it in the end and went with the stunning concept of a man and woman just being friends. A strong female character was not reduced to a literary nothing by being thrown into a stereotypical plotline. I think Pacific Rim found a wonderful balance was found between giving the audience what they expected and avoiding what they expected and by doing so, gave them something better.
I treated myself to a night out tonight and went and saw Thor The Dark World, or Thor 2 if you will. The first Thor movie was my favourite of the Marvel movies so far (and will likely remain that way until they make a Doctor Strange movie), now Thor 2 comes in at a definite second.
The story this time out concerns the return of the evil Dark Elves, led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) who are set on returning the universe and all the nine realms to the darkness that existed before there was light. The nine realms are aligning in a cosmic convergence and the barriers between the worlds are weakened which leads to the return of the Dark Elves’ weapon the Aether. On Earth, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is told of strange gravitational energies by her intern Darcy (Kat Dennings) who takes her to a place in London where a truck can float and objects are transported through dimensions. It’s not just objects that can pass through these rifts though, Jane herself is pulled through one and finds herself trapped with the Aether, hidden away thousands of years ago by Bor, Odin’s father. The Aether takes Foster as a living host, which awakens the sleeping Dark Elves who attack Asgard in search of the Aether after Thor (Chris Hemsworth) finds and rescues Jane and brings her to his home. After fending off the first attack of the Dark Elves, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is distraught after Malekith attacks his wife Frigga (Rene Russo) and chooses to wait for them to return rather than follow them or to take the Aether away from Asgard and fight them in an unpopulated area. Thor seeks out help from his brother Loki (Tim Hiddleston) to save Jane from the Aether, save Asgard from the Dark Elves’ next attack, and avenge Malekith’s attack on their mother. Melekith absorbs the Aether from Jane Foster and heads to Earth to launch his attack on all reality, where his only opposition is Thor and his human friends Jane, Darcy and Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) who may have a weapon to use against the gravitational anomalies that could stop Malekith once and for all.
Whew, that was hard to type up without spoilers. I really enjoyed the film, which thankfully I got to see in theatres and got to see in 2D. There were several moments in the film that I could guess were shot specially for 3D, but they don’t really add to the experience for me. Sure these things look nice, but the overall look of the film I think suffers. The “super 3D” parts look great, but the more mundane scenes always appear too dark. Thor 2 was a lot of fun, just like the first movie. It was definitely a science-fiction/fantasy film and not really a mythological take of the Norse god. There were lots of lasers and spaceships, which if memory serves me lines up fairly close with the Thor comics Marvel did in the ’80’s with Walt Simonson’s run. There were nice nods with the Warriors Three (Zachary Levi as Fandral, Ray Stevenson as Volstagg, and Tadanobu Asano as Hogun) which brought a fair bit of levity to the tale. Jaimie Alexander as Sif was great if not a bit underused, but really everyone had great chemistry with Tim Hiddleston. As much of a fan of Hemsworth’s Thor that I am, Loki may have stolen a bit of his thunder. Pun intended. Thor was great for the action and I really enjoyed the battles and struggles, but Loki was just a great “tweener” character; not really a villain this time around, but also not exactly a good guy. His character may have been in-between, but his performance was top notch.
Of course there was an excellent Stan Lee cameo in Thor 2, but also we were treated to a light hearted Chris Evans/Captain America cameo just to remind us that Captain America: Winter Soldier is coming soon. I think they missed out on a potential cameo appearance though. After the first battle with the Dark Elves in Asgard, there is an Asgardian funeral scene where the dead warriors are set to drive at sea in boats that are then set aflame. Great scene, but why didn’t they include a few Valkyries to escort the honoured dead to Valhalla? It would have been a nice nod to the fans to see Brunnhilde and possibly setup future films or appearances. Marvel is going all out these days with Agents of SHIELD on television and apparently four planned series on Netflix that are supposed to culminate in a Defenders mini-series, so why not introduce some characters on the big screen, who were key members of Marvel’s famous “non-team”?
We were also treated to some “after the credits” scenes, as with Avengers there were two scenes, a serious one part way through the credits and a second, more humourous one at the very end as a treat to the fans who really stick it out. I’ve always sat through the credits to every movie I watch; though it’s easier at home when you can just fast forward, which may be something the theatre operators may want to consider doing. Speed it up, get to the scene we want to see and get us out of there, then the staff can set to cleaning up for the next showing a few minutes earlier, because we’re not really reading them or interested that Richard Glass was the contact lens optician. Though how ironic is that given his last name? Ah well, in case you missed them I’ll list the scenes below, as usual for my spoilers, highlight to read:
Sif and Volstagg meet The Collector (Benicio Del Toro) and they hand him a container that holds the Aether. He asks why they don’t just keep it in their own vault, and they tell him that the Tesseract is already there in Asgard and having two Infinity Stones so close to each other would be dangerous. When they leave, The Collector states, “One down, five to go.” Knowing that we saw Thanos in the Avengers after credit scene and now the Collector, somewhere down the line we’ll be getting an Infinity War story.
Jane is sitting at the table by herself when it starts to thunder. She goes outside to find Thor. She runs to him and they kiss passionately. Meanwhile, the Jotunheim beast that came through the rifts earlier is running by the factory chasing birds.