John Carter

21 Mar

Story: A Civil-War vet, John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) while searching the ancient markings in a cave in the Arizona desert is transported from our world to Barsoom- aka Mars, which is being ravaged by an evil warlo rd named Sab Than (Dominic West) who’s under the control of a race of ancient, all-powerful beings, led by Matai Shang (Mark Strong). Carter allies himself with a warlike race, called the Tarks, which are eight-foot tall green creatures with four arms, ruled by Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) in order to find a way home, but he must also contend with a headstrong princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) who’s trying to escape her forced marriage to Than, and believes he’s the man to save her and her people.

Review: I first was introduced to the John Carter series written by Edgar Rice Burrows in high school. The Ballentine paperbacks cost about 75 cents and had lavish covers by the great Frank Frazetta. His images of the inhabitants of Barsoom have obviously influenced the art direction of the film.

The screenplay based on the novel a Princess of Mars was written by Mark Andrews, Michael Chabon and the film’s director Pixar’s Andrew Stanton. The movie begins with John Carter’s cousin Edgar Rice Burrows arriving at Carter’s estate after Carter has passed away. Carter bequests his entire estate to Burrows whom he told bedtime stories of his Barsoom adventures because 1) Burrows believed them to be true and 2) Burrows was his favorite cousin. Burrows is given Carter’s journal where the entire story is done in flashback as Burrows starts to read.

The movie is solid entertainment, great CGI, involving plot lines that keep you interested and a beautiful strong female role model in Princess Dejah Thoris. The story is about relationships and allies Carter develops with the Tarks and the Princess as he discovers himself and his sense of purpose after his Jarsoom aka Earth family died in the Civil War. There are some interesting moments as Carter discovers he can jump over mountains because of the weight differences between Mars and Earth and his increased strength as he can hurdle rocks long distances and kill with one punch.

Princess Thoris about to lose her home city of Helium is forced by her father to marry evil warlord named Sab Than in order to save her race from certain doom. Sab is being controlled by a race of beings that are not unlike say the Q in the Star Trek series. There job it seems is to manage the death of planets and their inhabitants to keep order amongst the chaos of war. The Republican metaphor for war at all costs and corporate take over and planetary Eco destruction was not lost on me after all Stanton did direct Pixar’s Wall-E.

My only minor complaint is that Taylor Kitsch’s voice wasn’t what you would expect to hear out of a blockbuster movie hero. He sounded too normal not authoritarian enough. If say Charlton Heston’s voice or even say a voice like Patrick Stewart’s were dubbed in ….ah well it is what it is.

Will Sab marry the Princess? Will John Carter be Barsoom’s savior? Will the race of super beings’ plot to bring down the Barsoomian inhabits in order to protect their secret be followed through? (Yes they do have a secret that controls the energy allowing them to shape shift into anyone or thing) The answer to these and many other questions will be answered when you go see John Carter.

Burrows books where known as the John Carter of Mars series for some reason Disney Marketing felt just the name John Carter will be bring the fans in who know the books. Big mistake on their part because people never heard the name John Carter without the following two words “of Mars” sadly the Harry Potter and Twilight generation has no clue who the pre-release trailer was talking about. I hope good word of mouth will get people to go see it.

The John Carter Series has been in development for decades. back in the 1930’s Bob Clampett of Warner Bros. cartoon fame (Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny) did some preliminary animation for a possible cartoon series. The books were written in the Early 20th century and have become cult classics of Science Fiction. Well worth reading and can still be bought on Amazon.

Recommended:

STAR TREK BEYOND

22 Jul

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Synopsis: A surprise attack in outer space forces the Enterprise to crash-land on a mysterious world. The assault came from Krall (Idris Elba), a lizard-like dictator who derives his energy by sucking the life out of his victims. Krall needs an ancient and valuable artifact that’s aboard the badly damaged starship. Left stranded in a rugged wilderness, Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the rest of the crew must now battle a deadly alien race while trying to find a way off their hostile planet.

Cast

Chris Pine………………………James T. Kirk

Zachary Quinto…………………………Spock

Karl Urban…………………Dr. Bones McCoy

Zoe Salanda…………………………Lt. Uhura

Simon Pegg…..Montgomery (Scotty) Scott

John Cho……………………………………Sulu

Anton Yelchin…………………………Checkov

Idris Elba……………………………………Krall

Sofia Boutella……………………………….Jaylah

Review:  The Star Trek franchise always had a series of elements that made it specifically Trek, among them the sense of hope, humor and adventure for mankind’s future, an over the top enemy combatant and most importantly the familial bond between Kirk, Spock and McCoy.  This the third adventure in the reboot series, written by Simon (Scotty) Pegg, Doug Jung and under the direction of Justin Lin, not only accomplishes all the elements with a great story and script it also pays homage to Leonard Nimoy and dedicates the film to the late Nimoy and Anton Yelchin.

The real crux of this, the third and best outing yet is that, finally the Kirk, Spock, McCoy trio really connect in the way you always knew, one can not be without the other. In a side plot we learn that Ambassador Spock (Nimoy) has died and Quinto’s Spock must now come to terms with his destiny, should he leave the federation and live on New Vulcan or stay with his friends. This seems to be a theme in other incarnations of Trek and feels right at home here as well.

Sofia Boutella plays Jaylah who befriends Scotty and helps the Enterprise crew against a common enemy Krall who is hell bent on destroying the Federation and all it stands for. Jaylah is a stand-out in the film in the sense that she is a strong independent woman who looks just as good in the command chair as Kirk. She keeps calling Scotty by his full name Montgomery Scotty, confusing his last name Scott with his nick name. This really endears you to her character.

The film is a real pleasure to watch for trek fans and the pacing of the script keeps you engrossed in the story. To appease modern summer blockbuster audiences there are battle sequences, an exciting climax to the story line and great visuals. Like the original trek the cerebral aspect and metaphor here is what can happen to a human being totally consumed by hate and revenge. If this third film is any indication may the franchise live long and prosper.

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GHOSTBUSTERS 2016

18 Jul

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  • Director Paul Feig
  • Writers Katie Dippold, Paul Feig
  • Stars Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth

 

REVIEW:

Seeing any reboot these days especially one that had such a negative reaction way before it was released, is a risk considering Ghostbusters is such a beloved movie, but I ain’t afraid of no ghosts! That said, if you take four of the funniest ladies on the planet mix them with cameo’s by the original cast sans the deceased Harold Ramis, and Rick Moranis, add at times belly laughs, clever visual gags and witty dialogue you have a winner, that pays homage to the original.

First off Kate McKinnon is the star of this film with the hilarious character of the nerdy, obsessed with building gadgetry, techno babbling scientist, Jillian Holtzman. Her timing her facial expressions her commitment to the role from the moment she steps on screen to her battling with ghosts is just hilarious. She is obviously SNL’s break out star and this role just proves the point. Kristin Wiig plays scientist Erin Gilbert and she being left in the dust, by having to play straight woman to the rest of the cast, does not have enough funny moments, although her getting slimed every ten minutes is funny I wish they gave her more to do. Melissa McCarthy plays paranormal specialist Abby Yates former roommate and friend to Gilbert. McCarthy’s comic timing is impeccable and when she worked with McKinnon many belly laughs ensue. Leslie Jones plays Patty Tolan and is very funny as an extension of her SNL persona, the loudmouth woman who knows she’s right even when she’s not. The chemistry between the four of them really works well with McKinnon the stand-out. Bill Murray plays Martin Heiss, a professional debunker of the paranormal and has the best cameo, Dan Ackroyd, Annie Potts, a bust of Harold Ramis and Sigourney Weaver also appear in the film. Each one having a small but funny cameo. Chris Hemsworth plays Kevin the ditzy hunk receptionist for the Ghostbusters, you can tell he had a blast playing the role and enjoyed making fun of his own screen image. Stay for the end credits because it is a follow up of events that occur after the last scene, this also where you will see Weaver’s cameo. I give the film three and a half stars for director Paul Feig’s vision although not up to the original the film is fun and worth a look-see.

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Disney’s The Jungle Book

17 Apr

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Disney’s The Jungle Book.  First off it is safe to say this movie is less about Disney’s Jungle Book the animated version (1967) as much as it pays more attention to Rudyard Kiplings book.

The new version is live action with amazing CGI that brings you right in to the Jungle world of man-cub Mowgli, played well by new comer, Neel Sethi. The film has a PG rating and some scenes might be a bit too realistic for the very young. The casting is superb, Ben Kingsly as Bagheera the panther who found Mowgli as an infant and gave him to the wolves to raise as their own, Lupito Nyong’o plays the Raksha Mowgli’s wolf mother, Idris Elba as Shere Khan the tiger who wants Mowgli dead, Scarlette Johansson as the snake Kaa, Christopher Walken as King Louis the King of the apes, and the wonderful Bill Murray as Baloo the bear.
The only resemblance to the animated version is three songs lifted from that film:
1: Bill Murray as Baloo in an effort to befreind Mowgli after enlisting him into retreaving honey for him from live bees nests, sings the song Bear Neccesities with Mowgli. Rather than a disconnected musical number, Murray plays it as way to understand Baloo’s character and give dimension to his relationship with Mowgli. Not only is it pure Murray but it is a joy to watch, like a peacful float down a river.
2. When we first meet Christopher Walken as King Louis sitting on a throne in an ancient jungle temple, he comes across as The Godfather with a hidden agenda. He sings I Want To Be Like You so incidiously ,telling of his plot to get the red flower (FIRE), from the man-cub so he can take power and control the jungle, you can only think what a perfect choice he was to play the part. He sings it in a way that let’s you see inside him and understand just how power hungry and crazy he is. Not unlike any dictator he uses his underlings to capture the man-cub so they can negotiate face to face.
3. Lastly stay for the end credits, because there is a lot going on, a reprise of I want To Be Like You and the third song, Trust In Me sung by Kaa.
The film is a winner all around and incidently it is also Gary Shandlings last film he plays a minor character Ikki the Porcupine. (Very well too I might add.)
I saw it in 3D and the world you are drawn into like Avatar before it is complete and all consuming. Go and enjoy.

Captain America the Winter Soldier

7 Apr

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Synopsis: Captain America, Steve Rodgers, returns to fight a new world order, in a modern world. When a S.H.E.I.L.D. colleague is attacked, Rodgers joins forces with Natasha, The Black Widow and Sam Wilson, The Falcon, as H.Y.D.R.A., once again tries to dominate the planet.

 

CAST:

Chris Evans as Captain America, Scarlett Johansson as The Black Widow, Anthony Mackie as The Falcon, Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce

 

Review: In the much anticipated return of Captain America, MARVEL has made one of the best movies so far, in their superhero war chest. The movie is non-stop action from beginning to end, the story is a tightly scripted action thriller, and there are enough laughs and back-story references to please any fan. In this sense the movie succeeds at bringing the old Captain America into relevance in today’s world.

The fun begins with a murder mystery, when Nick Fury is presumably assassinated; Captain America follows a trail with fellow agent The Black Widow. Along the way are many surprises and twists. His old friend Bucky Barnes returns as a ruthless assassin working for H.Y.D.R.A, with a mission to kill the good Captain. Steve Rodgers befriends a young soldier Sam Wilson, whom he trusts, and who admires him and his American values.

Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce represents S.H.E.I.L.D and is the money man who funds the operation through influencing a tight knit consortium of world leaders. Can he be trusted….? Is Nick Fury, really dead, will Bucky remember his friendship with Rodgers, will Stan Lee have a cameo?

In the bigger picture, Fury has built a secret arsenal underneath S.H.E.I.L.D headquarters. H.Y.D.R.A has been secretly funding the project through Pierce. When Fury figures this out, he confides in Rodgers and hands him a UBS storage disk that contains all of S.H.E.I.L.D’s secrets and in his presumably dying breath tells Rodgers not to trust anyone. The story continues along this line, as Rogers forms a team with Natasha and Sam.

There are cameo appearances by Gary Shandling, (comedian, The Gary Shandling Show) as a corrupt senator working for H.Y.D.R.A as well as the obligatory Stan Lee moment.

MARVEL stories always have a human touch and the relationships between the characters ring true. When The Black Widow flirts with the Captain, you can see what she is thinking inside. Rodgers is all about Truth, Justice and the American way and obviously thrives on trust and loyalty, Fury is all about distrust, protecting freedom and always ready to fight. The newbie to this scenario is Sam Wilson, The Falcon, whose loyalty to the Captain’s cause makes him a trusted and valuable friend.

This is a story loaded with intrigue; in fact some of the gadgets and technology are slightly reminiscent of James Bond films. The film has left enough loose ends to make a sequel, as with all good movie franchises, it also ties up the some unanswered questions from the first movie.

I must say, watching Robert Redford play the heavy, with his charm and understatement, makes him more insidious as opposed to over the top as most Bond villains are. He was perfectly cast and just how insidious he is, surprises you at various tense moments throughout the story.

I saw the 3D version of this movie and felt the effect never distracted, that said, the movie would be just as enjoyable with or without the 3D.

I hope MARVEL can keep up the good works and future movies in the franchise, such as the AVENGERS sequel, will live up to the bar as raised by this one.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel

28 Mar

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Synopsis: THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL recounts the adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. The story involves the theft and recovery of a priceless Renaissance painting and the battle for an enormous family fortune — all against the back-drop of a suddenly and dramatically changing Continent. (c) Fox Searchlight

 

CAST

Ralph Fiennes (M. Gustave), Tony Revolori (Zero), F. Murray Abraham (Mr. Moustafa), Mathieu Amalric (Serge X.), Adrien Brody (Dmitri), Willem Dafoe (Jopling), Jeff Goldblum (Deputy Kovacs), Harvey Keitel (Ludwig), Jude Law (Young Writer), Bill Murray (M. Ivan), Edward Norton (Henckels), Saoirse Ronan (Agatha), Jason Schwartzman (M. Jean), Léa Seydoux (Clotilde), Tilda Swinton (Madame D.), Tom Wilkinson (Author), Bob Balaban (M. Martin) and Owen Wilson (M. Chuck).

 

 

Review: Directed by Wes Anderson , this is a hilarious, complex and quirky exercise into the creative mind of the director. Anderson’s eye for the absurd and small moments, fills the screen, and captivates. The story takes place in a pre-Nazi European country around 1932. Anderson uses the film aspect ratio of the time period, no widescreen here, as both a tip of the hat to the time and a way of making the unfolding events a more intimate visual experience.

Gustave H. (Fiennes) is the legendary concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel. He is a survivor and lives in a world of his own design. He sleeps with rich widows who inhabit the hotel, it is alluded to that he is bi-sexual and he certainly brings order to the chaotic world he has created. Zero Moustafa, (Revolori) a new foreign lobby boy, becomes Gustave H.’s trusted friend and protégé.

Madame D., (Swinton) is a rich dowager who leaves her lover Gustave H. a priceless renaissance painting. When he hears of her death he arrives at her home for the reading of the will. The family members are evil, greedy and would kill each other to attain her wealth. Gustave with the aid Zero steals the painting and a hilarious and complex series of events ensues. Was the Dowager murdered for her money? Will Gustave rot in jail for taking the painting. Will Zero, who is in love with a pastry chef , Agatha, (Ronan) ever find happiness? Etc etc.

The ensemble cast has been seen in other Anderson films, they include the always brilliant, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, most recently seen in the film, Monuments Men, F. Murray Abraham as Mr. Mustafa, the teller of the tale, Jude Law, (a young writer), Tom Wilkonson, (author of the book about the hotel), Jeff Goldblum (Deputy Kovacs) , the executor of Madame D.’s estate, Willem Defoe (Joplin) the family hit man, Harvey Keitel (Ludwig) a hardened criminal Gustave meets in jail, and Bob Balaban (M. Martin) a fellow concierge and friend of Gustave.

The story, albeit complex, is moving , clever and filled with visual delights. The film is loaded with unique Anderson visual moments, my favorite being, Keitel and company digging out of the jail with mini pickaxes and hammers provided by Agatha inside pastry she sent from her employer, Mendel’s Pastries. Anderson plants his camera dead center in all these moments, this way the frame is centered as little cameo moments play out, interspersed at various moments throughout. I certainly look forward to Anderson’s future mini epics of quirkiness. The Grand Budapest Hotel is well worth the trip.

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The Muppets Most Wanted

26 Mar

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Synopsis: While on tour in Europe, directly after the last movie ends, the Muppets find themselves involved in an international crime spree headed by Kermit look alike, the world’s # 1 criminal Constantine.

CAST
Kermit the Frog (Himself), Ricky Gervais (Dominic, a.k.a. Number Two), Miss Piggy (Herself), Ty Burrell (Jean Pierre Napoleon), Tina Fey (Nadya), Constantine (Himself) and Sam Eagle (Himself).

REVIEW: The Muppets return in The Muppets Most Wanted. This film is the most fun I have had the movies in a long time. They’re all there, Kermit, Fozzy, Miss Piggy, Rolf the Dog, The Swedish Chef, Dr. Teeth and Company, Animal , Gonzo etc. etc. . From the opening musical number to the end credits, this is Muppet mayhem that Jim Henson would be proud of.
The plot centers on the Muppets not sure what to do after the end of the last film, hire tour manager (Ricky Gervais) Dominic Badguy (pronounced badgee, it’s French). They prepare for a world tour when the worlds number 1 criminal, Constantine, a dead ringer for Kermit, except for a black mole on his face, escapes a Siberian Gulag. In cahoots with world’s number 2 criminal, Dominic Badguy, of course, they kidnap Kermit in Berlin, Germany, while the rest of the Muppets are rehearsing their show. Kermit is mistaken for Constantine, after a black mole is secretly attached to his face, is taken to the Siberia gulag, while Constantine tries to pass as Kermit. Constantine’s constant struggles with perfecting both Kermit’s unique voice and style are hilarious. Apparently only Animal thinks Constantine is, “Bad Kermit!, Bad Kermit!”, no one else suspects. The newest addition to the Muppets Waldo , so awed by Kermit, suspects something is wrong, but lacks the confidence to tell anyone. Waldo has heart and determination and comes through, with the help of Fozzy and Animal of course.
Tina Fey plays Nadia, a guard at the gulag; she is a big fan of Kermit and secretly loves him. Fey gives a bravura performance; she is hilarious, charismatic and steals every scene she is in. I can’t say enough about how she builds everything she says and does to comic delight. Considering we are in a time in history when Russian leader Vladimir Putin has just invaded Crimea, the timing of this movie is in fact just the tonic the world needs to see how insidious Russian politics can be. The Siberian Gulag is depicted as bleak as in any movie. I think Mel Brooks couldn’t have satirized the Russians any better than the Muppets did.

On the trail of Constantine is Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell), a French Interpol detective who works together with Muppet, Sam Eagle. Napoleon is very much like Inspector Clouseau with outrages French accent and bumbling.
With any good Muppet feature there come a slew of famous cameos, they include, Tony Bennett, Lady Gaga, Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Zack Galafinakis, Josh Groban as a maximum security prisoner at the gulag, Frank Langella, Christoph Waltz, doing a waltz with Sweetums, Salma Hayeck, Danny Tucci as a gulag guard, and Usher as what else a theater usher and Ray Liotta. Celine Dion plays Miss Piggy’s fairy Godmother in a duet together that will have you in tears with laughter. There 24 cameos, half the fun is seeing who you can spot.
The music is spot on; at times the songs are filled with humor and fun. There is enough music, laughs and excitement to hold the attention of any child, and more than enough irreverent references and gags to delight the adults as well. Even the end credits complete with budgetary references is worth watch. This one of the few times the sequel is better than the reboot. They even joke about the reboot and they are very self aware of being in a sequel. To quote Animal: “See movie, see movie, see movie!”
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12 Years a Slave

17 Feb

12 Years a Slave

Synopsis:  In pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty at the hands of a malevolent slave owner, as well as unexpected kindnesses, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity. In the twelf… Moreth year of his unforgettable odyssey, Solomon’s chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist will forever alter his life.

 CAST

Chiwetel Ejiofor (Solomon Northup)

 Michael Fassbender (Edwin Epps)

 Benedict Cumberbatch (Ford)

 Paul Dano (Tibeats)

 Garret Dillahunt (Armsby)

 Paul Giamatti (Freeman)

 Scoot McNairy (Brown)

 Lupita Nyong’o (Patsey)

 Adepero Oduye (Eliza)

 Sarah Paulson (Mistress Epps)

 Brad Pitt (Bass)

 Michael Kenneth Williams (Robert)

 Alfre Woodard (Mistress Shaw)

 Chris Chalk (Clemens)

 Taran Killam (Hamilton)

 Bill Camp (Radburn).

 Review:  Steve McQueen directs the story Solomon Northup, and gives us a compelling, unrelenting tale of abduction and slavery in pre-civil war years starting in 1841. The film is based on Northup’s memoirs entitled, “12 Years a Slave, Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New-York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and Rescued in 1853, From a Cotton Plantation Near the Red River, in Louisiana.”

Chiwetel Ejifor plays Northup as both a slave and an outside witness looking in. He does what he has to survive, thinking only of contacting his family left behind and his friends up north who can help him. He is abducted  in Washington, DC and sold by an English slave trader named Freeman. (Paul Giamatti). His first master Ford is played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Ford has sympathy for the slaves but is helpless and can do nothing for them. He favors Northup and grants him every courtesy. During his time with ford he is taunted by the Ford’s overseer. When Northrup fights back, the overseer strings him up on a tree. It takes hours for Ford to come to his rescue, McQueen prolongs the shots of Northup hanging there, sweating in the sun with little water. Ford has no choice but to sell Northup in order to save his life. It is with his next Master, Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), a mean, drunk, piggish, bigoted cotton plantation owner, that we see the reality of slave ownership in the deep south.

Lupita Nyong’o plays a slave girl named Patsey who Epps favors and Epps wife despises. She puts up with all manner of shame in order to survive. Nyong’o gives a bravura performance that tugs at your sympathies as she is whipped half to death at Epps’ wife’s request over a bar of soap.

Northup has a chance meeting with a Canadian Abolitionist, Bass (Brad Pitt) who after hearing Northup’s story sets the wheels in motion to get him released and sent home to his family.

McQueen breaks every Hollywood convention about slavery; this is no Gone with the Wind, or say The Little Rebel with Billy (Bojangles) Robinson tap dancing up a staircase with Shirley Temple. We see whippings, hangings and rape in a ways that are hard to take, but the restraint shown by Northup in long shots focused on his face as he internalizes his predicament, puts a human face on the chaos making it easier to swallow. You might say the same thing about Liam Neeson’s  performance as Oscar Schindler in Spielberg’s Schindler’s List.

The movie is harrowing, brilliant and a contender for a best picture Oscar.

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