Friday, May 18, 2012

Battleship Review

What's up Internet?  I've been following Battleship with a hint of skepticism and hesitation.  When it was first announced, several years ago, I groaned along with the rest of the world.  Are we already through all the book, television, and comic book adaptations that we need to turn to board games to fuel Hollywood?!  And then I started to read about Peter Berg's passion for the U.S. Navy and how it would be an integral part of his film.  Then I learned that aliens were involved.  Suddenly Battleship was becoming something more complicated than a simple board game.  The film debuted first in other territories to big box office numbers but less-than-stellar reviews.  All of these factors coalesced into relatively low expectations for me (even though I try to go into each film with an open mind)...and I'm happy to report that I enjoyed this film much more than I should have.  And I'm okay with that.

Basic plot: we send a signal to a distant planet that is similar to ours (using a giant satellite).  A few years later five "objects" fall out of space; four land near Hawaii and the fifth breaks up in the atmosphere, scattering pieces all over the planet.  Various navies from around the world are gathered at Hawaii for war exercises; three destroyers are dispatched to investigate the fallen objects.  One of the ships emits a pulse that creates a bubble around Hawaii, effectively trapping our protagonists (Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgard, and for some reason, Rihanna) inside with the alien vessels.  Commence explosions.

Battleship is just plain fun.  That's all it is.  It doesn't require you to think...and doesn't ask you to either.  Suspension of disbelief is something that many films require of its viewers.  If you don't suspend your disbelief within the first five minutes of this film then you probably will hate Battleship through its full run time.  I elected to roll with the blatant missteps in logic, erroneous plot developments, missed opportunities, and incredibly cheesy moments and just have a good time.  And that's just what I had.

As I type this I find myself cringing, but Battleship is similar to The Avengers in that its an action film that aims to entertain.  I found myself smiling quite a bit as I watched insane explosions and expensive-looking visual effects bore their way into my corneas.  And for me, that's what summer popcorn films are about.  There is a place for The Dark Knight and Inception...and there is also a place for The Expendables and Fast Five.  What's great to me is that I can fully recognize the flaws of this film, but I chose to ignore them at the time. There's just something fun about watching very real technology take on weaponry and tech from a distant planet - and not just tech, but people as well.  Its quite obvious what the screenwriters were doing, but there are definitely themes revolving around international cooperation and people bonding over and working together to defeat an enemy greater than themselves.

Battleship has some fantastic action sequences that are very well-staged and executed.  Events are clear and clean and free from the all-too-often-used shaky cam.  The visual effects were outstanding (with one exception being the collapse of a highway system), even if they had a heavy Transformers vibe.  But what doesn't these days?  I'm a sucker for great action scenes in movies and Battleship has plenty.

Remember the cheesy moments I mentioned earlier?  Well, there comes a point in the film after which references to the board game are dropped occasionally.  Yes, I rolled my eyes, but at that point I had already given myself to the cheese factor so much so that I just didn't care.  In fact, one of the more gripping scenes of the film involved a grid-like system almost identical to that of the game, with ships moving around the grid trying to avoid detection.  And I freaking loved it.  I'm not afraid to admit that Battleship contains one of my favorite moments (so far) of any film this year.  ***If you care about spoilers I would stop here...but I doubt many of you will.***  Our heroes lost their last of the three ships and are virtually out of options to stop the aliens from contacting their planet.  The USS Missouri, a seventy-year-old battleship, sits tied to the dock as a floating museum.  The team boards the vessel, and with the help of an elderly crew of veterans, gets the Missouri up and running, despite World War Two-era technology and a steam engine that hadn't been run in ten years.  There was cheese all over the place, but I loved the image of these elderly men giving their all for this one last mission to save the planet.  And it was glorious.

The performances were perfectly adequate; Liam Neeson is in the film for probably less than five minutes total, Brooklyn Decker exists merely to add a small tad of tension to the situation even though she's never really in danger, Alexander Skarsgard is fine but isn't around a whole lot.  I'm a fan of Taylor Kitsch and quite enjoyed him in his lead role (even if his character arc was more than predictable).  Seeing him transform (maybe pun intended?) from the n'er-do-well to the calm, collected captain was fun to watch.  Oh, and Rihanna is in this film.  Can anyone remind me why?

I'm sorry if I sound crazy by this point.  Battleship is just a fun time, despite the myriad problems it has.  I could probably right another whole review talking about the plot holes and great leaps in logic the films takes at times.  I know there will be plenty of people out there who think its an abomination of cinema and they may be right.  But at the end of the day what I care most about is being entertained.  And on that front, missions accomplished (I figured I'd end with some cheese too).

Battleship is a very fun, if not incredibly flawed popcorn action film that asks that you turn off your brain.

The Bearded Bullet.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Dark Shadows Review

Hello Internet!  I'm a bit too young to have grown up with the original Dark Shadows television show.  From what I understand its production values were laughably bad, yet the drama was good enough to warrant over 1200 episodes total for the series.  Needless to say my main exposure to the property has been through the trailers for Tim Burton's latest team-up with Johnny Depp.  Both trailers were quite intriguing; they seemed more of a fish-out-of-water story with a good bit of comedic beats.  For the uninitiated, Depp plays Barnabus Collins, a man cursed by his former lover, Angelique (Eva Green), to be a vampire so she can one day earn his affections.  There is plenty more to the story but I honestly don't care enough to explain the finer points of the plot.  I unfortunately didn't like Dark Shadows nearly as much as I had hoped.

My main complaint is with the tone of the film.  I was hoping for a relatively laugh-heavy film with some dramatic beats thrown in.  That's not really what I got.  For the entire length of the film it seems to struggle with itself to determine what it is; comedy, drama, or horror film.  And it unfortunately doesn't fully commit to any of these...which results in somewhat of a mess of a film (tonally speaking).  The first act was quite entertaining, and held almost all of the jokes and gags that were present in the trailers.  There wasn't much comedy outside of those few moments.  I was genuinely entertained throughout the beginning, but as the film transitioned into more dramatic and dark beats, my enjoyment factor dropped considerably.

Another issue that I cannot avoid is the myriad loose ends that were not tied up.  There are several plot lines and characters that are introduced and not really explored or dealt with by the end.  The character we are introduced to first, Bella Heathcote's Victoria, seems to be our main lead.  Her story is quite interesting and compelling (except for a story thread that is completely forgotten by the end), yet she disappears almost completely from the film after Barnabus is introduced.  I don't have a problem with our "main" character taking a backseat to the real lead of the film as long as they aren't forgotten - which is exactly what happens here.  I have to also mention plot twists that literally come out of nowhere and make almost no sense beyond the fact that it was in the script.

I so desperately wanted to enjoy Dark Shadows, and there were scenes and performances that I did - overall the cast is pretty fantastic.  I am a huge fan of Chloe Grace Moretz and she has quite a fascinating and interesting character.  There were several scenes I enjoyed, with most of them pertaining to Barnabus being in awe of the new world he has stepped into.  Unfortunately that's where my enjoyment fell off.  Dark Shadows isn't a terrible film, nor is it even a bad film.  Technically speaking, there are some great shots and visual effects at play.  Tim Burton is quite a visual filmmaker and this is no exception.  I just wasn't a fan of the all-over-the-place tone.  If you enjoy the Burton/Depp dynamic you very well might enjoy the heck out of this film.  Unfortunately that isn't me.

Dark Shadows is a deeply flawed horror/drama/comedy that just can't decide what it is.

The Bearded Bullet.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Avengers Review

The.  Avengers.  Four years and five films in the making.  A culmination of characters the likes of which we've never seen attempted in cinematic form.  And yet here it is.  And it is glorious.  I've decided on an initial spoiler-free discussion, followed up by a spoiler-heavy counterpart at a later date.  To quote Chris Hemsworth's character from Cabin In the Woods, let's get this party started!!

Right off the bat I want to say that I don't read any comics.  Well, I've read Watchmen.  And Brian Azzarello's Joker.  But that's it.  So this is to say that I'm more of a fan of the Marvel films that we've been treated to over the years, rather than the source material.  Its safe to say that some of the references and Easter eggs dropped throughout the saga have been lost to me (until I wiki them asap).  But I know enough about the characters to allow myself to be fully immersed in the world that Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios have developed for us.  I am quite fond of all five lead-in films, with my preference in descending order being: Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, and Iron Man 2.  As previously mentioned, never before has anything like this been attempted in the realm of film.  Four main characters, in their own stories, brought together to form a barely-cohesive team to save the Earth.  And boy is it awesome.

The Avengers is by far now my favorite of the current Marvel chronology of films.  Its everything a fan could ever hope for.  I honestly couldn't stop grinning throughout the entire film.  There is just so much going on in this movie that its quite baffling to think about; not a single frame is wasted.  Every piece of dialogue, every shot, every scene has a specific purpose and meaning.  I'm sitting here literally shaking my head with a huge grin on my face just thinking about it.  When it comes time for my spoiler-ridden review I don't think I'll be able to include all of my favorite moments...because there are just so damn many.

For me, there are two standout aspects of the film: the action and the character interactions.  Geek God Joss Whedon has delivered unto us some of the coolest, well-staged action set pieces that I have ever seen.  For the most part the action is easily comprehendible and peppered with amazing visual effects.  There are few instances of the over-used "shaky cam" to add a sense of realism to the proceedings.  I used to be quite the fan of shaky cam, but I'm kind of getting tired of it.  There are also a few instances where I wish the camera had been pulled back a bit, allowing us a broader view of the action.  And those two complaints are quite minor in the larger scheme of things.  With regards to set-pieces, this film has by far the best third act/finale of any of the previous films in the series.  With the exception of Captain America (and maybe The Incredible Hulk), Marvel finales are a bit underwhelming (Iron Man/War Machine vs. Whiplash...I'm looking at you).  Thankfully The Avengers bucks this trend, and is hopefully creating a new one that will pass on to the next series of lead-up films (to Avengers 2).

Finally seeing these larger-than-life characters interact with one another is quite a sight to behold.  The trailers hinted at this, but there is a good bit of humor in this film, with most of it coming at the expense of one of our heroes.  As to be expected, Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark is quite the quip-master and dishes some fantastic dialogue and witty one-liners to friend and foe alike.  Chris Evan's Steve Rogers (aka Captain America) is obviously the most grounded of the group, with his moral compass being grounded heavily in 1940s ethics.  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is just as awesome as he was back in his own film, as is Thor's "brother," Loki.  Tom Hiddleston continues to devour scenes with his acting chops, making a sort-of demi-God with giant golden horns incredibly terrifying and menacing.  For me, the two stand-out performances come from Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanov aka Black Widow) and new-to-the-series Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk.  Black Widow was introduced in Iron Man 2 and didn't really get anything by way of back story.  Granted, this film doesn't really deliver on that front either, but her role is very much expanded to more than just a lackey for Sam Jackson's Nick Fury.  We get to see her in full-on spy-mode for a bit, adding an interesting layer to the character.  Ruffalo is fantastic as Banner; witty, intelligent, and intense when he needs to be.  I am definitely pulling for another Hulk film centered around Ruffalo.  I don't think I'll be alone in this, but I can't but feel that Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye was underutilized in this film.  I really would like to see a S.H.I.E.L.D. film in the future that lets us see Hawkeye and Black Widow outside of the shadow cast by the main crew.

Aside from the minor issues with the direction of the action, I have really only one major complaint.  And unfortunately that falls within the spoiler category.  Its a story-related issue, and will be discussed at a later time.  And it really doesn't matter, because Joss Whedon delivered a film that fanboys the world over will fall in love with and watch over and over again.  I'm already counting down the minutes till I get to see it again.  There is just so much awesomeness crammed into the seemingly fast-paced two-and-a-half-hour run time.  And it breezed by like it was only half as long.  For me, if I look at my phone to check the time, then whatever I'm watching isn't doing its job.  The Avengers very much did that job; I was drawn into the world from the opening moments, all the way until the now-expected end-credits scene.  Don't let yourself be burned.  Stay through the credits.  And just go watch this film.  I very much doubt you'll be disappointed.

Just a quick note: I saw this film in 3D.  And it wasn't terrible.  There are definitely scenes and shots that showcase the third dimension, but it didn't stand out to me as being particularly great.  I'm neutral at this point; if you enjoy 3D I'd say go for it.  If you don't care for it you won't be missing much.

The Avengers is not only the best Marvel film yet, but is also a fantastic action film its in own right.

The Bearded Bullet.