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Review of “Victor Frankenstein”

Ignore the Rotten Tomatoes critics for this one, I implore you.

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To begin, the acting is stellar. James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe are on-point (I really mean it, Radcliffe is clearly giving it his all as Igor and McAvoy is reveling in the mad scientist fun of Frankenstein, though he does give the character surprising layers), Andrew Scott is a GREAT detective who really embodies the greatest fears towards science of the time period, and Jessica Findlay plays a VERY believable love interest (my theory is that she, in real life, is such a big fan of Radcliffe that it was easy for her to slip into the fantasy of being his bed partner). Basically, I bought every character on their own and every relationship that connected them. That is a rarity, and good job on Victor Frankenstein for achieving such a feat.

Next up: the story. Click here to read more

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Review of “Fantastic Four” — Just See the Damn Movie. It’s Fantastic.

I’m kicking off this review with an informal letter to director Josh Trank: Come on, man. Don’t go cannibalizing your product by turning around and calling it shit just after everyone else started to. Besides, attacking the studio won’t help save your career. Just own what you made, because it was amazing.

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Here’s the truth of the matter: Fantastic Four takes a long time to get going. It’s only got a single action scene. Very few relationship tropes are achieved over the course of the movie. And for all those reasons, it’s probably the best origin story I’ve seen in ages.

Why do people hate it? Let’s go down the list. For each item, I’ll give a rebuttal of why I think it made the movie great.

1.) “The characters don’t develop.”

Some people are whining that Miles Teller and Kate Mara don’t bang by the end of this movie. Seriously, though? These kids have some brief moments of “will they or won’t they” in the beginning, much like any teens might have when they’re testing the waters. But priorities shift when they crack inter-dimensional travel, acquire super mutations, etc. Those are the sort of events that might stop a campy teen romance from developing, people. Biological anomalies and pressure from the government to be turned into a human weapon, as well as the impending threat of Doom, might impede on a shitty romance subplot. It’s a realistic sacrifice; get over your addiction to cliches.

2.) “Not enough action.”

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There’s no argument that there’s little action. A single fight at the end is all that the movie builds up to. But there are two things worth mentioning here: the final fight is a worthy conclusion to an extremely solid, slow-burn origin story and secondly, rumor has it there were meant to be more fights. Now, I’m not going to regard that last point because it doesn’t matter what was meant to be rather than what’s actually IN the final product, but understand that the rumor mill claims Trank wanted three fights and Fox chopped the third act in some weird ways. Regardless, I honestly loved the single fight aspect. It made the event feel far grander than it actually was, when for the first time in the whole movie, the heroes had an obstacle as great as them to overcome. If they’d managed to fight three different fights by the end of this movie, it wouldn’t really have been an origin on them getting their collective shit together, now would it? A single fight to unite them once and for all, though, was awesome. It capped off a slow sci-fi flick with some comic book elements about five young adults going through some insane shit together.

3.) “The main cast is bad.”

While I will admit I was a little let down by Miles Teller who occasionally gave off the impression that he was just in it for the paycheck, the other five main members of the cast were great. Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell and Reg E. Cathey all brought their A-game, and blended well together. And sure, they might not have been written as the overly common in-sync super team we were expecting, but that’s because they were written as individuals with flaws that needed overcoming. They were written as REAL PEOPLE, and most audience members can’t accept that, it seems.

4.) “Doom sucked.”

Shut up, right now. Doom was honestly the best comic book movie antagonist I’ve ever seen, tying with the Joker (TDK) and Zod (MoS). Some might call that statement blasphemy, but hear me out: *SPOILER ALERT* he does what no Marvel antagonist has had the balls to do thus far, which is actually try to achieve his goals. Douchey government guy standing in his way? Doom just stares at him and BLOWS UP HIS HEAD. Innocent nurse blocking his path? Head blown up. Red was painting the walls by the time Doom started his killing spree, with little chunks bursting and shit. It was gruesome, and for the first time in comic book movie history, I was actually slightly frightened (the primary goal of a comic book villain!!!). The Joker wasn’t scary because we knew Batman would win, with the same caveat applying for Zod, though the latter did tear shit up before the inevitable save-the-day sequence. Doom, though, managed to suspend my disbelief to the point where I genuinely thought he had a chance at winning and ending the movie on a sour cliffhanger. I’ll be surprised if I ever feel that kind of suspense again. Not to mention his origin of being a computer nerd who plays Assassin’s Creed Unity wasn’t unbelievable, far from it. It was a classic tale of a kid with great potential squandering his life away behind a screen. An overall excellent modern adaptation of Doom.

5.) “The movie is too slow.”

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Boo-hoo! I’m sorry this couldn’t be Spider-Man reboot #36 for you, where within the first thirty minutes he’s knocking out subway goons, zapping the Green Goblin’s mouth shut, etc. This movie tried to be Interstellar with a comic book conclusion, which meant that cheap action would have to be exchanged for a slow-burn sci-fi build. And, in my opinion, the gambit paid off. I cared more at the end simply because I hadn’t seen the heroes tested up to that point. It was methodically slow, in the best of ways.

Those are my retorts as a contrarian. I honestly liked this movie just a hair more than Ant-Man, to give you a frame of reference as to how I really feel (and I absolutely loved Ant-Man) about Fantastic Four. The soundtrack is phenomenal, the CGI is effective (and looks slightly more real based solely on how little of it crops up until the finale), the characters are believable and great, and everything is just awesome. Yes, if you want a run-of-the-mill action-churning, light-hearted origin story Fantastic Four will let you down. But if you want something unique, a movie that tried to be more than just a regular shitty comic book flick, give F4 a try. Just like Ant-Man was more heist than it was comic book, this is more sci-fi than superhero. And against all the critics, I for one will say it was a fantastic ride.

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Review of “Ant-Man”

Absolutely stellar.

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After the disgraceful show of incompetence that was the contrived and bloated yet paradoxically hollow Age of Ultron, my faith in Marvel had been violently shaken, to the point where I literally waited two weeks just for ticket prices to go down for this flick. This was the make or break point, as if Marvel screwed me over with two consecutive blunders I was hopping ship. Luckily, it seemed Age of Ultron was just the ugly stepchild in an otherwise beautiful family of movies, Ant-Man being the latest addition to the long list of reasons for why we (generally) love Marvel.

Ant-Man, in my opinion, is just as much of a technical masterpiece as the original Iron Man. On all cylinders, it nails every beat in its story and captures that same magic. The only difference and reason I find myself still preferring the original Iron Man is simply because I like Downey Jr. and the concept of the Iron Man suit more. BUT, Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas are awesome, no denying that, and the Ant-Man suit is pretty cool as well.

Some people have been complaining that Ant-Man isn’t big enough (pun fully intended), in terms of its action. I beg to differ. While the small-scale of this adventure is appreciated, I would’ve liked if it had gone even smaller. Minor Spoiler: throughout the movie, one massive building is warped out of existence and a certain toy train gets blown up to the size of a real train, as well as a key chain tank. Those are the three major *boom* events of the movie, and even so, they still seemed a bit much for what the movie needed. I guess a certain minimum of *boom* is required in Hollywood these days, but Ant-Man came so close to breaking that trend. I understand Feige and the Marvel overlords would never allow the movie to have a scope even smaller than the current one, but still, in a dream world Ant-Man would’ve embraced its true size even more.

Besides that single complaint about the scope not being quite small enough (still, I love that it is substantially smaller than most other Hollywood flicks), all I have is praise for the movie. Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly are all great, and so are Judy Greer and Bobby Cannavale. I loved the entire cast, basically. One stand-out was Michael Pena, who has two monologue-ish sequences, both of which are my favorite bits in the entire movie. In fact, Michael Pena just brought the heat. I was the only person in the theatre who couldn’t help but laugh out loud when he said “that’s some David Copperfield shit” in response to seeing Rudd’s Ant-Man for the first time. And then he says some funny stuff about what kind of art he likes at an art gallery, and it’s all just great dialogue. I could smell Edgar Wright’s work in this from a mile away. A+ stuff. Not to mention the other members of Rudd’s heist team were great; T.I. Harris and David Dastmalchian (the actor who played that one psycho guy during the attempted Gordon assassination in The Dark Knight!) were awesome in their smaller roles. In fact, I’m pretty sure I just named everyone in the primary cast, mainly because they were all fantastic. Easily my favorite full cast of any Marvel movie yet. Everyone, literally everyone, was great. Even the little girl who plays Rudd’s daughter was phenomenal, though she could’ve acted a bit more scared when Yellowjacket was seemingly threatening to kill her. Otherwise, she was perfect. And speaking of Yellowjacket, how could I forget to mention my House of Cards boy, Corey Stoll! Dude was fucking great! Loved him! Some say he was a cliche villain, but for this movie’s purposes I think he was just believable enough to work. And lastly, but definitely not least, a certain Avenger makes a sizable appearance in this movie. Anthony Mackie is present in Ant-Man and manages to deliver the perfect level of MCU integration without over-encroaching on the movie’s Rudd-centric focus.

That’s another aspect of Ant-Man I loved: there was a large amount of MCU world-building present, but none of it felt intrusive. In fact, what they built off of from Age of Ultron almost made all of that movie’s utter shit worth it. Almost. There’s also a really cool intro involving old-SHIELD featuring Howard Stark and Peggy Carter, reminding us that the old world referenced in Iron Man 2 and Captain America: The First Avenger is still a thing.

Script-wise, the amount of humor present was absolutely perfect. This was naturally going to be a slightly funnier movie based solely off the premise and Edgar Wright’s inclusion, but unlike Iron Man 3, this movie knows what it is. It doesn’t try to balance heroic epic with comedic adventure, it just accepts that it is the latter and soars with flying colors.

Lastly, Ant-Man himself is awesome. The size-shifting nature of the hero is put to use in some of the coolest and most creative scenes I’ve witnessed in comic book hero cinematic history, and the utter enjoyment I got out of watching Rudd flung from a DJ’s soundboard onto a scattered dance floor where he had to dodge go-go boots was borderline unreasonable. It was just so much fun, I can’t even express it.

Overall, the more I talk about the movie, the more I realize how much I loved it. While Iron Man will always hold that special number one spot in my heart, Ant-Man has quickly nudged itself to a cozy number two, easily being the best thing to come out of Marvel Studios since 2008.

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Review of “Mad Max: Fury Road”

“Oh what a day. What a lovely day!” That’s one of Nux’s quotes in the movie, and it’s also how you’ll feel after exiting the theatre. mad-max-fury-road

Mad Max: Fury Road is an hour and a half car chase with an extra half hour of character interaction tossed in there for sake of story. But even with such an emphasis on high-octane action, I actually found myself caring about the characters more in Fury Road than any other movie this year, even though they all had the least development. It was amazing. I went from looking at Nux as nothing more than a crazy asshole to eventually learning to love him for what he was. And Max, well, he’s a side character in his own movie, but with only about thirty words of dialogue over the course of two hours, you can’t help but love him. As always, Charlize Theron is pro, not much to say there. And Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is in this too, surprisingly. Remember her? From Transformers: Dark of the Moon? No? Well, okay, point is she was good here.

The action is wonderful. There was a relatively tame action sequence (when compared to the others in this movie) about a third of the way into the film involving a squad of motorcycles, and it’s just about the coolest thing ever. I mean, the way the sand looks in the midst of all this fighting and driving is just so bad-ass, it’s like oceans of orange dirt spiraling out of control around off-road vehicular death-derbies.

Then there’s another sequence, during the big finale (super minor spoiler, barely even qualifies as one) where Max gets an arrow shot through his hand, and he just slams it against the side of his car door, effectively pushing the arrow out. While that might seem small, it’s something I’ve always wanted to see done in a movie (curious that it’s taken this long), and it just looked so bad-ass. That pretty much sums up all of Fury Road.

While the stuff I’m gushing over might seem relatively small-scale, fear not, the movie has TONS of larger action. I just liked the smaller, more tight sequences. But the bits with the storm and the pole-vaulters (teased in trailers) are amazing scenes as well.

In short, Mad Max: Fury Road is growing on me with every passing second. It’s definitely my second favorite movie of the year, maybe even starting to encroach on that prized first-place spot. Needless to say, it is a MUST SEE. Do not let this one leave you in the dust.

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Review of “Chappie”

Neill Blomkamp is my main man when it comes to sci-fi, these days. I really liked both District 9 and Elysium, and Chappie is no different. Since he’s made more than one short film about sentient robots in his time, it’s nice to finally see his long-running idea turn into a full-fledged blockbuster. That’s not to say that it doesn’t suffer from quite a few problems, but overall it’s still an arguably great movie with a lot of thought put into it.

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What I liked: the film doesn’t go the boring route. Chappie could easily have chosen to be the cliche “robot with a heart gets bullied by a society that just doesn’t understand him” route, but instead it chooses to ask what our response would be if said sentient robot decided to align itself with the wrong side of humanity, such as the drug traffickers and murderers. Blomkamp also manages to incorporate the ever-popular sci-fi debate of whether or not it is safe for robots to take the place of regular police officers, when it comes to making the tough calls in life or death situations. In other words, this is far more than your typical Iron Giant type of story, this is a whole ‘nother level of Hollywood social commentary. It’s not revolutionary or anything, but it does manage to successfully communicate the hard questions that most of us would rather ignore.

The issues with the film are few, with the biggest one (in my eyes) being pacing. The first act is great, yet the second and third acts could’ve used some trimming. It’s understandable that Blomkamp wants to exceed that two hour mark and maintain his uncut vision, which I respect, but there are some minor exposition moments that could’ve gone without saying, which would’ve left the movie shorter, tighter and a tad bit more effective. Specifically the ending, which I would’ve liked to end about ten minutes before it did. The movie follows through to its logical conclusion, but I feel like if they’d left a bit more up to the viewer’s imagination and hadn’t tied up every single dangling plot thread I would’ve actually left more satisfied.

The score by Hans Zimmer is awesome, as always (even if he’s getting a bit by the numbers at this point), and the supplementary Die Antwoord tracks are solid enough. Speaking of Die Antwoord, the band who’s members are the leads of this movie, their acting skills are actually pretty solid! Nothing to write home about, but far better than what some are saying. Especially Yolandi, who manages to be an endearing mother to a child-minded police robot. That’s one heck of a role to kick off your acting career with. And even if we never see them again in a movie, they deserve to be commended for this and I like that Blomkamp includes these South African talents into his movies, it spices up the usual Hollywood soup. It goes without saying that Sharlto Copley was kick-ass as Chappie. Hugh Jackman was really good as well, and, in fact, the only actor who seemed to be phoning it in was Sigourney Weaver, who was probably only there so Blomkamp could establish a working relationship for Alien 3.

Overall, if there is still a theatre showing Chappie near you, I implore you to see it. It’s way better than critics would have you believe, and just because it doesn’t adhere to the same tired old story the trailers advertise it as, doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s different, and uniquely endearing, just like Chappie himself.