Saturday, June 23, 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

If you read my review of Jurassic World 3 years ago you’ll know that I wasn’t a big fan of it. I felt it was more of a remake of the original Jurassic Park than a reboot, and with that came a lot of déjà vu with none of the nostalgia. I was severely disappointed and haven’t watched it since seeing it in the theater opening night (and I still have no plans to).

Yesterday Universal released the follow-up, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. It’s safe to assume that this was not one of the summer 2018 blockbusters that I was looking forward to. The first trailer made it look like it should have been named Run Away: The Movie, and the second a remake of The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Ugh. Not thrilled. Like, at all. But due to my love of the original 1993 film I still had to see it. For all I knew it could have been a surprisingly fun and entertaining flick.

It was not.
The story picks up 3 years after Jurassic World ended. The remaining dinosaurs on Isla Nublar are in danger of being wiped out by an erupting volcano, so Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen (Chris Pratt) are asked by a shady businessman to assist the company he oversees in bringing a small number of the resurrected beasts back to the mainland for preservation purposes. But all is not what it seems… duh!

Yup, the set-up is exactly the same as The Lost World. Big surprise. The movie plays out similarly as well with minor tweaks to events to make them seem new again. I wasn’t fooled. There are only so many times you can make “dinosaurs on the loose” movies before you start repeating yourself. The answer that the writers began using with Jurassic Park III is the “we’ll introduce a new dinosaur” aspect. But Jurassic World and this sequel went one step further and introduce new genetically modified dinos instead. Lame. The IndoRaptor (the mixing of the Indominus Rex introduced in the previous film with a Velociraptor) is lazy in the extreme, looks lame (it resembles a skinny Godzilla) and adds nothing to the lore of the franchise except to sell toys.
Screenwriters Colin Trevorrow (who directed Jurassic World, but passed on this) and Derek Connolly show little interest in developing their returning characters any further and strictly on spectacle. The only thing we learn about them are some hasty introductions where Claire is running a charity to help save the dinos and Owen is retired and building a house for himself. Once that is out of the way we are off to the island and their development halts in it’s tracks for non-stop action scenes. Their romance is forced, Owen is once again written as Mr. Machismo incarnate who just wants to get into Claire’s pants and while Claire has certainly toughened up since the first film she still has to rely on Owen to get her out of tights spots (the lobby posters all seem to focus on the fact that Claire has to cling to Owen for safety). New characters Zia (Daniella Pineda) and Franklin (Justice Smith) are more fun to watch than the leads due to their chemistry and snarky humor. Shit, Blue the raptor gets more character development than anyone else.

Aside form that major issue the “cloning is bad” message is bashed over our heads more than once (especially in one groan inducing scene near the end), we have the usual moustache twirling villain BS and a worthless cameo written for the always entertaining Jeff Goldblum (I’m pretty sure he shot those courtroom scenes in less than a day). It’s all very tiring. There is stupidity all over the place, from people laying 2 inches away from a lava flow with no effect to their person to people being engulfed by super heated ash clouds with none of the death associated with it... it's mind boggling to say the least. And to top it all off, there is zero plot here. It’s just action scene after action scene after action scene.
Director J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage, The Impossible) definitely shows off some visionary skills with his usual cinematographer Oscar Faura. There were some shots that were breathtaking (that scene on the dock with the Brontosaurus nearly brought tears to my eyes) and he certainly knows how to stage an action scene so that it makes sense with all the rapid style editing required for a film such as this. Everything on the island is colorful, and once the plot moves to the mainland it becomes bleak and dreary in a stark contrast to the outdoor scenes. Visually this flick is a stunner. Bayona just needed to focus a little less on the eye candy and more on making sure his actors look like they are actually giving a shit about what’s going on around them.

I like Chris Pratt. I think he’s a very charming and charismatic actor, especially in the Marvel films. In these Jurassic World flicks he seems like he’s just doing it for the paycheck; playing a frat boy douche whose ulterior motive isn’t to do the right thing, but get a little ass. I can’t stand his character of Owen.
Bryce Dallas Howard fares much better in both films as she seems genuinely into her role, but here she doesn’t have much of one. She’s more of a participant along for the ride who needs to be saved all the time. At least she isn’t running around in high heels this time around (why that was such a big deal in the media still baffles me). Her character is a little more proactive (she shows the beginnings of becoming an Ellen Ripley style character), but her reliance on Owen still annoys the hell out of me. And her kiss to manipulate Owen… what?!

The rest of the supporting cast is fine, with only the aforementioned Daniella Pineda and Justice Smith standing out. Of course there had to be a child in peril played by Isabella Sermon, but she just gawks at things with her mouth agape for the whole movie. Ted Levine (Silence of the Lambs) takes Pete Postlethwaite’s “great white hunter” role from The Lost World and does nothing with it (his character does one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen in a film, bar none) and the less said about Rafe Spall (Hot Fuzz, Prometheus) the better. He is flat out annoying as the (uber-predictable) dastardly Eli.
But not all is worthless in this flick. Like I said, the cinematography is astounding. Everything looks fantastic, framed extremely well and there is never any question as to what you’re looking at in any given moment. The movie is supremely fast paced and rarely slows down to catch its breath. I cannot say that I was ever bored (which was a problem I had with the previous film). The action scenes are top notch; exciting and very tense at times. A couple of the jump scares really surprised me and I’m as tolerant as can be when it comes to that sort of thing. The opening stinger is kind of rad with little homages to Jaws here and there. Michael Giacchino’s fabulous, chorus fueled score amped me up on more than one occasion. I was thankful that we weren’t getting 500 reworks of the original John Williams themes here. And then there’s the ending. That super excellent and potential filled ending.  If there is another film (let’s be honest, there will be) I will be first in line to see it due to where the film leaves off. The ramifications of what some of the characters do in the finale should make for an interesting jumping off point for Jurassic World 3.

In the end I liked Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom more than the previous film, but it’s still nothing to write home about. It’s a lot of wasted time and effort as far as I’m concerned as it does nothing new and just recycles old ideas over and over again like it’s predecessor. I hope that in future sequels the writers decide to truly run with the ideas presented here in the final frames and make the Jurassic Park follow-up I’ve always wanted to see.

2 out of 5

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Cloverfield Paradox

The Cloverfield films are a bit strange in that they feel more like feature length Twilight Zone episodes than films. Not that I’m complaining as I really enjoy seeing this kind of anthology format up on the big screen. John Carpenter tried this format and (unfortunately) failed with Halloween III back in 1982. Thankfully these films have been wildly successful, especially the first film which made the found footage genre a hot commodity once again. As long as these films were profitable we would keep getting new stories and I was absolutely thrilled with the prospect.

I was expecting the third film to get a theatrical release, but I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the teaser trailer for The Cloverfield Paradox show up during Superbowl LII, stating that it would be available to stream on Netflix once the big game ended.
The crew of the space station Cloverfield, after attempting to solve the Earth’s energy crisis by experimenting with a particle accelerator in orbit, unleash the horrors of a parallel reality upon themselves and the planet below.

I’m a huge fan of this franchise. I felt the first film was a clever and thrilling take on a Godzilla movie. The second film was a fallout bunker bound potboiler that really worked for me. Where would a third movie go? Outer space… where film franchises go to die. And boy, does this flick ever follow suit as it’s one of worst sequels I‘ve seen in a looooooong time. 
There are two major issues I have with this movie. 

The first is that the film starts off on a high note. The energy crisis is set up well enough, as is the Cloverfield station and the problems they have been experiencing in attempting to get their particle accelerator operational. But once the crew crosses over into the parallel reality such stupidly off-the-wall events begin to occur that it’s hard to give a crap about the plot or the characters anymore. It’s as if the writers just decided to have random things happen to the crew that make no sense and have no set-up to build suspense. The explanation given for said random events is just a blanket excuse to allow for all kinds of dumb crap to occur – the parallel reality. 
A good example of the parallel reality side effects is that a character in the new reality never worked on the station, where in the original one where we started they did. I can buy that. But the laws of physics going completely haywire? People phasing through walls? Metal sealant becoming sentient and grabbing people? Severed limbs remaining active and writing out tips on how to save the world? What in the fucking fuck?! I can suspend disbelief only so far.

Writers Oren Uziel (22 Jump Street) and Doug Jung (Star Trek Beyond) set-up no rules for this new reality except for the aforementioned blanket explanation that felt like an afterthought at the top of the film (awkwardly delivered by Donal Logue in a television broadcast) so that the audience can be thrilled by pseudo creative use of CGI and lots of Dutch angles. Sorry, no. It’s lazy to just expect us to accept all the weirdness going on without some sort of reference point. Being weird for the sake of being weird is a hard pill to swallow when you are unable to make heads or tails of what’s going on or why. 
The second issue I have with this flick is the absolute epic fail in trying to tie Cloverfield, 10 Cloverfield Lane and The Cloverfield Paradox together. The only Earthbound character we follow is Roger Davies’ Michael who is exposed to all the awkward franchise tie-ins. There’s an explosion near his house that he actually goes to investigate and there’s a shadow of a big monster looming above the building. Umm, ok? Once there he basically abducts a young girl whose parents were killed in the explosion and brings her to a random fallout bunker for safety. Umm, ok? And that final shot… gimme a fucking break. It feels thrown into the film for no reason at all. The reality of the situation is that it actually was. 

The Cloverfield Paradox was originally a non-Cloverfield film titled God Particle. Like those Hellraiser sequels from the late 90s and early 2000s, it was an unrelated film that was heavily modified after the fact to fit into the mythos of another franchise. In the case of the Hellraiser sequels it was a number of scripts owned by Dimension Films that were doctored to include Pinhead and the Puzzle Box. The end results felt schizophrenic in the extreme. In the case of God Particle the film was completed, then the decision was made to absorb it into the Cloverfield franchise so a bunch of hastily written scenes (all the scenes with Roger Davies) were produced to tie it into the series. None of these scenes work and feel like such backhanded fan service that they are straight up insulting. It is so bad in its execution that it has actually tainted the films that have come before it in my eyes.
There’s a decent cast of familiar faces who try their hardest to sell the garbage floating past them at every turn. You have David Oyelowo (Selma), Daniel Brühl (Captain America: Civil War), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Concussion), John Ortiz (Fast & Furious), Chris O’Dowd (The IT Crowd), Ziyi Zhang (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Elizabeth Debicki (Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2) and Donal Logue (Gotham) who are all established and talented actors slumming it in this mess of a flick. Only Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s character of Hamilton gets any kind of character development while the rest are basically dog meat awaiting the grinder. I mean that literally. This film turns into a run of the mill slasher flick, with the station itself being the hockey masked killer and these grown ass adults devolve into idiotic teenagers that just want to explore every dark corridor alone after being told not to split up. Ugh. 

Sure the special effects are cool, I liked the cast and the set-up is pretty good. It just sucks that everything else about this flick is so godawful. The end result is a mash up of Sunshine, Event Horizon and one of the lesser Final Destination movies. I have a sneaking suspicion that the reason this became a Cloverfield movie was because God Particle was considered to be so bad that in order to recoup the budget the producers decided to merge it into an established franchise to break even. But then again, this went direct-to-Netflix and skipped a theatrical release altogether. Maybe they didn’t have confidence in their Frankensteined movie after all. All I know is that I was not entertained and was angry once the end credits rolled. 

Sad thing is there is a fourth movie that has already completed principal photography. It pains me to say that I am not looking forward to it. 

0.5 out of 5

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Best and Worst Films of 2017

I saw some amazing movies and some absolute trash in 2017, but that can summarize the film scene of any year. Regardless, these are my picks and mine alone. If you see a movie you didn’t like in the #1 spot please don’t pitch a hissy. This is only my opinion featured here and not the final word on the subject.

Additionally, I have not seen every movie released this past year (believe me, I tried).

Also, I rarely base my opinions on how well made or "important" a movie is. I go by how much I was entertained by or moved by a particular film (and for those that know me well, I really just want to be "entertained" by a film). So here we go...

Geektastic Film Reviews’ Top Ten Films of 2017:
10. The Disaster Artist
9. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

8. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
7.
What Happened To Monday 
6. Get Out
5.
Colossal
4. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
3. Baby Driver
2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
1. Blade Runner 2049

Honorable Mentions:
Dunkirk, Split, John Wick 2, It, Logan, Kong: Skull Island, The Girl with All the Gifts, Power Rangers, Ghost in the Shell, T2: Trainspotting, The Fate of the Furious, Alien: Covenant, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Bright, Justice League, Murder on the Orient Express, Thor: Ragnarok, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Atomic Blonde,
Wonder Woman, War for the Planet of the Apes, Spider-Man: Homecoming

Geektastic Film Reviews’ Ten Worst Films of 2017:
10.
Beauty and the Beast
9. Death Note
8.
The Shape of Water 
7. Jeepers Creepers 3
6. Rings
5. It Comes at Night
4. Underworld: Blood Wars
3. Life
2. Transformers: The Last Knight
1. The Mummy

Dishonorable Mentions:
The Great Wall, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Leatherface, A Cure for Wellness, The Boss Baby, 47 Meters Down,
Chips, Amityville: The Awakening, The Dark Tower, The Foreigner, Jigsaw, Gerald's Game, 1922, The Babysitter

Most Anticipated Films of 2018:
10: Black Panther
9. Annihilation
8. Pacific Rim: Uprising
7. The New Mutants
6. Deadpool 2
5. Ant-Man & The Wasp
4. Tomb Raider
3. Avengers: Infinity War
2. Alita: Battle Angel
1. Ready Player One

Least Anticipated Films of 2018:
10. X-Men: Dark Phoenix
9. Venom
8. Maze Runner: The Death Cure
7. Mary Poppins Returns
6. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
5. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
4. Rampage
3. Day of the Dead: Bloodline
2. Solo: A Star Wars Story
1. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Well, there you have it. I feel that is was a great year for movies in general. I look forward to what 2018 has to offer! Feel free to share your favorite/least favorite films of 2017 in the comment section below. I would love to hear from you!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Best and Worst Films of 2016

I saw some amazing movies and some absolute trash in 2016, but that can summarize the film scene of any year. Regardless, these are my picks and mine alone. If you see a movie you didn’t like in the #1 spot please don’t pitch a hissy. This is only my opinion featured here and not the final word on the subject.

Additionally, I have not seen every movie released this past year (believe me, I tried).

Also, I rarely base my opinions on how well made or "important" a movie is. I go by how much I was entertained by or moved by a particular film (and for those that know me well, I really just want to be "entertained" by a film). So here we go...

Geektastic Film Reviews’ Top Ten Films of 2016:
10. 10 Cloverfield Lane
9. Zootopia
8. The Conjuring 2
7. Deadpool 
6. Kubo and the Two Strings
5. Arrival
4. Doctor Strange
3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
2. Star Trek: Beyond
1. The Witch

Honorable Mentions:
Spectral, Passengers, The Shallows, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of BenghaziSausage Party, Captain America: Civil War, Suicide Squad, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Lights Out, Don't Breathe, Green Room, Ouija: Origin of Evil, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Keanu, De Palma, Swiss Army Man, The Purge: Election Year

Geektastic Film Reviews’ Ten Worst Films of 2016:
10. The Neon Demon
9. The Mechanic: Resurrection
8. La La Land
7. Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
6. Incarnate
5. Phantasm: Ravager
4. Independence Day: Resurgence
3. Hail, Caesar!
2. Yoga Hosers
1. Shin Godzilla

Dishonorable Mentions:
Morgan, The Jungle Book, The Angry Birds Movie, Warcraft, Assassin's Creed, X-Men: Apocalypse, The Huntsman: Winter's War, Inferno, Kung Fu Panda 3, The Legend of Tarzan, Ghostbusters, Batman: The Killing Joke, Gods of Egypt, London Has Fallen, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, Jason Bourne, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Most Anticipated Films of 2017:
10: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
9. Wonder Woman
8. Star Wars: Episode VIII
7. Ghost in the Shell
6. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter
5. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
4. Alien: Covenant
3. Logan
2. Blade Runner 2047
1. Trainspotting 2

Least Anticipated Films of 2017:
10. Beauty and the Beast
9. The Smurfs
8. Cars 3
7. World War Z 2
6. The Bye Bye Man
5. xXx: Return of Xander Cage
4. King Arthur
3. Baywatch
2. Monster Trucks
1. The Emoji Movie

Well, there you have it. It was hard picking some of these movies for each list as there were so many to choose from, but these are my final choices. Feel free to share your favorite/least favorite films of 2016 in the comment section below. I would love to hear from you!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Suicide Squad

It’s been over a week since I saw Suicide Squad in the theater, and I’ve been mulling it over in my head ever since. There were things I liked about it and things that I didn’t. Some bugged me more than others. But in the end I will say that the film is an entertainingly flawed semi-superhero film.

A group of heinous villains are chosen by the government to become an expendable black ops team in exchange for shortened prison sentences. When a catastrophe caused by one of their own threatens the world they are called in to stop it by any means necessary.
The third film in the DC Cinematic universe certainly continues with what has come before it as the death of Superman weighs heavily here while Batman and Wonder Woman are nowhere to be found (outside of a few flashbacks, one including The Flash) and the formation of the Suicide Squad being a direct result. Seeing the backstories of all the main players explained and shown is a fun treat told over dinner by the amazingly cast Viola Davis as the enigmatic Amanda Waller. In fact, virtually the whole cast is pretty fantastic and is the main reason to watch this flick in the first place.

Will Smith tries and succeeds to get another hit under his belt as the expert marksman Deadshot. He isn’t super jokey and I was thankful for that. Margot Robbie as fan favorite Harley Quinn is a godsend. She completely encapsulates all that makes that character equally fun and disturbing while not going off the overly sexualized/objectified deep end. Joel Kinnaman makes up for his taciturn version of Robocop as Rick Flag, military leader of the squad, and actually gets a few great dramatic moments. Jay Hernandez is awesome as the non-violent El Diablo, the only person who has actual superpowers in the group and has the most tragic past of them all. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is unrecognizable in heavy prosthetics as Killer Croc and barely has any lines, but he owns his role as you can see him in the background totally into his character. Cara Delevingne has a dual role as archaeologist June Moone and the evil Enchantress, her alter ego. While the June character doesn’t have much screen time Cara manages to make Enchantress a freakishly creepy entity. Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang is one of the most useless characters in the group as his only ability is that he’s a master at utilizing his namesake, but he manages to make his character fun and somewhat relatable by his realistic attitudes toward the situation the squad find themselves in. Karen Fukuhara’s Katana joins Croc in the minimal dialogue club, but she makes the most of her screen time and has a nice moment toward the end of the film. The already mentioned Viola Davis just owns this flick even when she’s not on screen.
On the flip side are the two big issues I have with this flick – Adam Beach’s Slipknot and Jared Leto’s version of The Joker. Omitting Slipknot’s origin story from the opening of the film pretty much lets you know that he’s going to die early on. Not surprisingly, he does in a very stupid way while doing something incredibly dumb. Sure his character is kind of lame (he’s a rope expert… what?!), but you could have added in a no-namer character to sacrifice instead of an actual member of the Squad. I feel sorry for Adam Beach as he seems to be stereotyped to play characters like this for the past ten or so years. Dude can’t catch a break.

And the big point of contention when it comes to the Suicide Squad is The Joker. While I definitely appreciate Jared Leto not copying Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight I found his version of the character to be completely underwhelming. Coming off more as a spoiled rich suburb kid who wishes he were Lil’ Wayne than a scary and unpredictable master manipulator, Leto’s Joker is, well, kind of a big joke. He’s shoehorned into the plot in order to cause problems to pad out the runtime and give Harley more of a starring role since she’s so beloved by the geek community. I heard rumors that there was so much Joker/Harley material shot that it could be a movie of its own, but thankfully most of it was left on the cutting room floor because I couldn’t stand this version of the character at all. What we got was more than enough for me.
Director David Ayer is known for helming movies featuring an ensemble cast, and he really excels with this one (more so than with the cast of the overrated Fury). Everyone gets their time to shine and everyone seems to be putting their all into their roles due to his contribution. Even though I didn’t care for this version of The Joker I admire the effort Ayer got Leto to put into bringing the character to life. He’s also stepped up his visuals game a great deal. Along with cinematographer Roman Vasyanov, Ayer makes the world in which the story takes place a drearily colorful wonderland. There are plenty of awesomely framed shots, from Harley falling out of a helicopter to El Diablo taking out a squad of enemies with his flamethrowing powers. Visually the flicks a stunner. The action is fun too, although a little too frantic with the camera being either too zoomed in to make sense of what’s going on or it being way to dark to see it clearly.

In the screenplay department the film isn’t so successful. The reasoning and motivations behind the big bad, or should I say the two big bads, is a little muddled and weird thanks to the script by Ayer and John Ostrander. Why would a sorceress need a machine to take out the world when we have learned that she is more than powerful enough to do it with her abilities alone? What was the point of having The Joker in the story outside of being a nuisance halfway through the film? What was up with Boomerang leaving halfway through the film and showing back up with no reason given? Why are abusive relationships made to look like a nonstop neon drenched party? There’s a lot of headscratcher moments that I suspect were either due to the random reshoots to perk up the humor or some seriously bad editing choices. This could have been a lean and mean 90 minutes, but it’s stretched a little too thin and the end result is a very uneven flick.
There are also a few things that made me laugh unintentionally, such as Enchantress’s pop-and-lock dance moves while casting her spells and the ridiculous treatment of the aforementioned Slipknot. But there are also a lot of really fun easter eggs, like seeing Harley Quinn in her original jester outfit and calling The Joker her “puddin’”. We even get a hint that she was the one who killed Robin. The bits with Batman were cool too.

I also have to mention the use of music in the film. While it does seem to take after Quentin Tarantino’s approach to using licensed songs in his movies, I will say that the old school and modern tunes chosen were absolutely perfect. The same goes for Steven Price’s score which is as percussive as what Hans Zimmer and Tom Holkenborg composed for Batman v Superman and yet more varied when it comes to the somber moments.
Suicide Squad is the most genuinely fun film in the DC Cinematic Universe so far, but I still feel that Batman v Superman was the superior entry. Especially the Extended R-Rated Cut (review to follow). Lots of great humor, action and comic booky goodness is held back by some bad character choices, nonsensical writing and dumb developments. It’s definitely worth seeing in the theater, but it’s certainly not the revelation to the genre we were all hoping it would be.

3.5 out of 5

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Batman: The Killing Joke

Being a huge Batman fan I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t read a lot of the major stories about the character in comic book form. I own a nice stack of graphic novels but can never find the time to sit down and give them a read. Note to self: Do that soon.

Anyway, whenever there is a new film or television show involving Batman I always jump on it as soon as I can. Warner Bros. Animation has been kicking ass on this front for decades now and their newest release is based on one of the most well known of these comic book stories, Batman: The Killing Joke, and had a limited theatrical release that I was more than happy to take advantage of.
The Joker (voice of Mark Hamill) nearly kills Barbara Gordon/Batgirl (voice of Tara Strong) and Batman (voice of Kevin Conroy) embarks on a personal crusade to stop him once and for all.

“The Killing Joke” is most well known for two things:
1.     Barbara Gordon gets paralyzed by The Joker.
2.     We get a nice bit of backstory on The Joker before he became The Clown Prince of Crime.

And that’s it. I haven't read the graphic novel, but in the film Batgirl and Batman have a nice little sexcapade on a rooftop, there is more than the average amount of violence spread around as well as an implied rape. The story goes to dark places that most comic books usually shy away from. But outside of those two plot points there really isn’t much to the story of “The Killing Joke”. This translates to the film version exponentially as I was alternately bored and underwhelmed by it.
For starters, The Joker seems like an afterthought as are the lame and overly cliché flashbacks to his past. The character is just sort of thrown into the story randomly and there is nothing to trigger his flashbacks like a story parallel in the present day. They are just shoehorned in because, hey, why not. His motivations for why he takes over a carnival and employs the sideshow freaks isn’t made clear outside of his plans to drive Commissioner Gordon mad. It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when you think about it and comes off as tremendously fan servicey. Why is The Joker even there? Because that’s what people want to see - The Joker.

The first half of the film deals with what I thought was the more interesting story - Barbara Gordon getting a little miffed at how Batman holds her back only to realize the reason he is doing so is because they share feelings for each other. But once The Joker is awkwardly introduced at the midway point her character is just thrown aside. Sure she’s in a hospital recovering, but still. She was the focus of the first half and she’s abandoned for the second.

Sure the animation is awesome (love the design of The Joker) not counting the few times the CG-enhancements were plainly obvious (the carousel). The few action scenes are pretty fun. The voice acting is phenomenal. Tara Strong is one of my all time favorite voice actors (if you’re not following her Vine account you have yet to live) and Mark Hamill came out of “Joker Retirement” to play the character once again as did Kevin Conroy to play Batman. The musical score is phenomenal and only utilizes strings (my favorite orchestral section). Technically this is a great animated film.
It just saddens me that I could not get into the story. It’s fragmented and did nothing for me. Not even the final scene. As I looked around the theater as it played out everyone seemed completely enthralled and I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t as well. It felt completely underwhelming and more than a little bit anticlimactic. The story (what was there anyway) seemed to building up to something big, like some sort of reveal or revelation. Instead The Joker tells Batman a joke (which I will admit was pretty funny), they share a laugh like a couple of bros and then the credits roll. The friend I was with at the screening looked at me and said “That’s it?!”

Yes, that is it. That is an hour of my life I will never get back. I felt infuriated that Batman just stood there knowing what this psycho did to Barbara and goes for the pacifist approach instead of beating his head in. I understand that Batman’s way of dealing with The Joker was trying to prove a certain point, but this was the cheesiest way of going about it. Sorry dear writers and fans. It’s just how I feel.

There are moments here and there that are fun and very well executed, but on the whole I just found the story to be simpley meh. This is one of the more celebrated stories involving these characters and I cannot figure out for the life of me why. “The Dark Knight Returns” undoubtedly deserves that honor. “A Death in the Family” as well. “Knightfall”, sure. “Hush”, oh hellz yes. “The Killing Joke”… why? I really need someone to explain it to me.
Maybe as a comic book this story works. As I’ve never read it I cannot claim that it does. As a film not so much. Some stories just aren’t meant to be translated to the medium as far as I’m concerned. This, sadly, is one of them. Just because Mark Hamill came back to play The Joker one more time shouldn’t get the film an automatic pass (which is all I heard people talking about after the screening). I kind of want a good story to go along with the outstanding voice talent. The former was missing. Sorry.

2 out of 5

P.S. Why was this rated “R” again? Oh yeah. Publicity stunt.

P.P.S. If you look closely at the screens in the Batcave showing the different pictures of The Joker, one is of Heath Ledger from The Dark Knight.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Deadpool

So the film adaptation of Deadpool was released this past weekend to take advantage of those lucrative Valentine’s Day dollars and made an absolute killing at the box office. It made so much cash that the viability of this property as a franchise is secured for many sequels to come. But was the film really all that good? I mean, this is an R-rated comic book film that focuses on a crude, loudmouthed and brutally violent character that would most likely cut off your head and ejaculate into your neck stump. How did it make all that money without the PG-13 teenybopper bucks? 

Because it’s fucking awesome. That’s how. 
Mercenary for hire Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) has found the woman of his dreams (Morena Baccarin) as he is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Promised a cure that will also give him superpowers by the mysterious Ajax (Ed Skrein), he is deceived and embarks on a violent quest for revenge.

So if you are not fully aware, the Deadpool character is an absolute loon. He’s certifiably crazy. He constantly talks shit, breaks the fourth wall and will kill someone in a heartbeat. Unpredictable. And my greatest fear was that this character would become so gratingly annoying that I wouldn’t want to see it through to the end. I was wrong to assume that. This is one of the most impressively made, well written and genuinely funny films I’ve seen in a while. And being that I’m no fan of Ryan Reynolds, who I usually DO find annoying, that’s really saying something.
Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Zombieland, G.I. Joe: Retaliation) really seem to understand this character and how to translate him to screen without compromising what makes him so appealing to comic book fans around the world. They also wrote one of the most accurate adaptations of a comic book series. The jokes are funny and not forced even though some of them do miss the mark, the characters are fleshed out well enough that you actually give a crap if they live or die, the villains are diabolical to a point that you want to see the hero open a can of whoop ass upon them (but their motivations are kind of lame and underwhelming) and the way in which they weave the tale is fun and keeps the story moving at a fast clip regardless of the fact that there really isn’t all that much going on in the action department. And the way the script pokes fun at Reynolds' past brushes with superherodom... priceless.

The aspect of the screenplay that works the best – the love story. Yeah, yeah. I know what you’re saying. “But this is a comic book movie, Chris!” Yes it is, but the reason Wade gets into the pickle he does is because of his love for Morena Baccarin’s Vanessa. We see them fall in love under odd circumstances and get a real feeling that they do love each other. It helps that Reynolds and Baccarin have amazing chemistry so I honestly felt that they did feel all these emotions. Hokey, but true. If this aspect of the film never worked I doubt anything in the movie would have. It gives weight to Wade’s decisions and the payoff of their relationship is amazing in the end.
This is director Tim Miller’s first feature film gig after working in visual FX for a number of years and I have to admit that this is one supremely impressive debut. He certainly has a handle on the comic book visuals (love that slo-mo bullet time shot during the opening credits), knows how to get his well-cast actors to perform admirably and managed to stretch his meager budget to the max (this flick looks like it cost well past the $58m he was given). I hope he sticks around for the inevitable sequels because he brings a fun energy that seemed to rub off on everyone in the cast as they all look like they’re having the time of their lives. The rad non-linear way the story is told is a revelation for this type of film and I have a sneaking suspicion that comic book films will begin to emulate this technique in the years to come.

Ryan Reynolds, who played this character before in the back alley abortion known as X-Men Origins: Wolverine, gets a second chance to play Deadpool (the right way this time) and takes full advantage of it. He’s great in the dramatic scenes, hysterically funny (95% of the time) and pulls off his action scenes with aplomb. He was born to play this part and I’m glad that casting agents felt the same way. Morena Baccarin (Serenity) is sexy as always and shows off her silly side more than once as well as some serious acting chops when the need arises. TJ Miller (Cloverfield, Transformers: Age of Extinction) is dryly funny as usual and is a great addition to the cast. I absolutely HEART Stefan Kapicic as Colossus. He’s the perfect straight man. Brianna Hildebrand is also perfectly cast as Negasonic Teenage Warhead (a very minor character who is usually the first one to be taken out during battles in the “X-Men” comics). Her nihilistic attitude to everything is refreshing where most of the actors seem to be turned up to 11. Ed Skrein (The Transporter: Refueled) is a good villain regardless of the fact that Ajax is a little underwritten. But I really, really do not like Gina Carano (Haywire, Fast & Furious 6). I thought she’d have gotten her shit together by now and taken a few acting classes. She’d be perfect as a full on superhero (I suspect we’ll see Ronda Rousey as a major superheroine sooner than her), but she is a fucking horrendous actress. She’s a like a female Howie Long in that her facial expressions never seem to change regardless of what’s going on around her. It’s sad because she has the presence, she just needs the enthusiasm. I have to say that I also immensely enjoyed Leslie Uggams (Nurse Jackie) as Blind Al. She had a great love/hate thing going on with Deadpool that was supremely fun to see in action.
I will say that not everything is awesome. No movie is perfect regardless of how entertaining it may be. The CGI used for Colossus was cartoony and looked like something you’d have seen in a movie circa 1999. I mentioned before that not all the jokes were great and I felt that the constant showing off of Ryan Reynolds face, even when scarred up, was a little overused. If I remember correctly Deadpool rarely ever showed off his ugly mug to anyone in the comics. So this situation must’ve been akin to the Sylvester Stallone debacle in Judge Dredd where the producers felt that if they were paying this megastar $20m they had better show off his face as much as possible. It’s not that big of a deal, but felt it warranted a mention. I also felt that some of the action was a little underwhelming. When you think about it the reason the non-linear storytelling was utilized was so that the movie wouldn’t be completely backloaded with action. All the fights and shootouts happen at the end of the story, so by mixing things up we get to see some of it at the beginning and dispersed throughout the movie. Without this technique this could have been one very tedious movie. Editing win! But what we get to see is cool but also kind of cliché comic book stuff. We see people flipping around and slashing at people all the time. Hopefully in the sequel we’ll see more creativity due to the new characters that will be introduced. For example, Negasonic Teenage Warhead had the best moments because she used her powers not to directly hit people, but launch bulky items around and fling Deadpool through the air. That was rad.

Just know that Deadpool is awesome and is a great example of how to make an adult comic book movie right. I suspect we’ll be seeing a resurgence of violent, edgy and vulgar comic book characters on film soon. Not too different from when Wedding Crashers and The 40 Year-Old Virgin made R-rated comedies a profitable business again. A Blade reboot? A new Punisher film? Who knows. I just know that I absolutely loved (nearly) every second of Deadpool. I’m sure you will too. 

4.5 out of 5