Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Fast & Furious 6 Review

Before I begin, I'd just like to point out that I'll be spoiling some events from the fourth film in this franchise, Fast & Furious, but nothing from Fast & Furious 6.

My history with The Fast and the Furious franchise is quite short; I saw the first film over a decade ago when it was first released and just two years ago saw and loved Fast Five; it was by far one of the best action films of that year and one of my favorites.  In preparation for Fast & Furious 6 (or just Furious 6 as the title sequence christens it) I sat down to check out Fast and Furious, considering its ties to this newest film, and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it as well.  Boy, am I glad I did that...the film's entire existence hinges on an event that happens in Fast and Furious...

...which is Letty's (Michelle Rodriguez) death.  Or now her supposed death.  Back in the fourth film, Letty was forced into an accident, then shot and burned to death.  But this is just what Dom (Vin Diesel) is told and thinks went down.  In actuality events occurred a tad differently from what everyone thought and Letty is alive and well and working for an ex-SAS-turned-criminal-badass, Shaw (Luke Evans).  He runs his own doppelganger heist crew that is bent on assembling a country-crippling piece of tech and selling it to the highest bidder.  Hobbs (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) uses Letty as leverage to get Dom to re-assemble (most) of his crew from Fast Five to help him stop Shaw and his crew.

I honestly had more fun with this movie that I have in a very long time in the theater; it's funny, shallow, deep, emotionless, emotion-filled, dumb, loud, and just plain entertaining.  Never before has a film required such a strong suspension of disbelief; things happen in this film that will either blow you away or make you laugh out of the absurdity of what's transpiring.  Luckily, I fall into the former camp and was thoroughly blown away by each well-staged and executed action set-piece.  Just as with the previous two films, I cannot fathom how director Justin Lin managed to capture the action on screen as he did; the choreography it must have taken to lock down some of these scenes and shots just boggles my mind.

I just briefly touched up on it, but the action in this film is turned up to eleven.  Every foot chase (of there are a few), car race (again, of which there are a few), and every fist fight is incredibly memorable and pulled off with an adeptness that is astounding; Justin Lin has incredible control over all the action - something that he's honed from directing four of these films.  But seriously, folks, this film has some of the best action set-pieces that I've ever seen.  There's a chase on a highway involving a tank that is mind-boggling to watch and the movie has one of the strongest third acts/finales that I've seen in any action film of recent memory.  Not to mention one of the best fist-fights I've ever seen.  Let's just say that Vin Diesel transforms into a Vinmissle.  It's insane.

But it can't be all Camaros and Superbirds, right?  I mean there has to be an Edsel here and there...and fortunately there really aren't many Edsels in Furious 6.  I mean, there are no literal Edsels but there are tiny missteps here and there.  The most obvious of which is Gina Carano's acting abilities...or lack thereof.  Her previous performance was in Haywire, a film I very much enjoyed, but with a performance that wasn't spectacular.  Somehow she's worse in this film; she has very little dialogue and rarely says more than a few words at a time, but just the way she acts feels wrong.  I just didn't buy her performance one bit.

Besides her lackluster performances I don't have much else to complain about.  If you don't wholly suspend your disbelief then this movie will be an awful experience for you.  So many things happen that probably aren't physically possible that it"s incredibly amusing - but incredibly badass at the same time.  There are really just little gripes here and there: Dom and Letty race in the latter part of the film but sans any form of GPS.  I mean, they're racing through the streets of London with seemingly no idea where they're going.  And seriously, there's no way in hell that Michelle Rodriguez could put up any amount of fight against Carano.  And she does twice.

For as big of a fan as Fast Five as I am, I can't quite decide whether or not Furious 6 takes the mantle as best of the franchise.  While it's bigger in scope in almost every way, I can't help but feel that this takes away from the tight cohesiveness that was the previous entry.  Five is such a great little package of a movie that the sprawling narrative of Furious 6 seems a bit unwieldy at times.  During several action sequences we're bouncing from up to three different happenings - the film's finale is a perfect example - and that leads to a bit of exhaustion by the end.  It all just seems like a a bit too much is going on at times.

Furious 6 really delivers on everything you could want out of a Furious movie and an action movie in general.  Honestly, its greatest strength isn't the mind-blowing action scenes or incredible chemistry between the cast, but is its overt self-awareness.  Writer Chris Morgan knows exactly what the movie should be and delivers in spades.  Hell, there's even a scene that approaches fourth-wall breakage with Tyrese's Roman that I won't spoil here because it's one of the best gags in the film.  When you see Dwayne Johnson jump twenty feet, in nearly-impossible-to-survive circumstances and doesn't get a scratch...well, you know you're watching a Furious movie.  And I'm okay with that.

By now (and even well beforehand) everyone should know what they're getting into with this movie; one of the best film-going experiences you'll ever have (as long as you don't have whiny kids beside you...), with insane action, incredibly humorous dialogue, great characters, some real emotion, and just a hint of self-awareness.  It's not perfect by any means...but what is?  I see movies to be entertained and Fast & Furious 6 delivers like no other.

Oh, and Vinmissle.  For reals.

Fast & Furious 6 up the ante from the incredible Fast Five - just don't expect Shakespeare, here.

The Bearded Bullet.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness Review

J.J. Abrams' Star Trek is without a doubt one of my all-time favorite films.  I'm not afraid to admit it.  Yes, Wrath of Khan may be a better film but I just have a special place in my heart for Star Trek.  To set the stage a little before I delve into this review, I am a life-long Trekkie.  I grew up watching re-runs of The Next Generation and watched most of Deep Space Nine, Voyage and Enterprise while they were on the air.  Of those, Deep Space Nine is bar none my favorite series.  I have never actually watched Star Trek: The Original Series the whole way through and when I recently attempted to do so I just couldn't bring myself to it; I just don't have the patience.  I fell in love with 2009's Trek because it freshened things up with a relatively dormant franchise (Enterprise went off the air in 2006) and brought it back into the public's awareness.  Abrams and co. took all of post-Enterprise Trek and threw it out the window, effectively creating a playground in which they could do whatever they wanted with the characters they had reinvented for us.  With Into Darkness I was hoping we'd see them play around a bit with the conventions we've come to know and love...but that's not quite the case.

I have quite a bit to say about this film, and as such, I'll relegate all spoilers to the latter half of the review.  So consider yourself warned!

Star Trek Into Darkness is one helluva action film.  Essentially a non-stop roller coaster of action set-piece after action set-piece, the film is a visual and auditory blitz that rarely pauses to catch its breath.  From the very opening moments - with Captain James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine) and Dr. Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban) running from a group of angry aliens - the dial is turned up to 11; we're dropped right into the middle of a mission (that was supposed to just entail surveying) with these aliens, a volcano erupting, the Enterprise hiding under water, and Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) being stranded inside said volcano.  It's insane.  But what follows is utterly brilliant.

Immediately after this nail-biting opening we're transported to London, where we see the plight of two parents and their dying daughter.  There is no dialogue, save for one line spoken by the mysterious John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), just a beautiful piece of music by the talented Michael Giacchino.  In fact, when we return to this family there is still yet no dialogue; the story unfolds before us silently and quite beautifully.  The exclusion of any real dialogue in these sections was truly brilliant and daring, yet are quite lost amongst the whizz-banging visual effects and intense audio mixing in the rest of the film.

Rogue agent John Harrison attacks a Starfleet installation and jump-starts the plot: Jim and crew take off in the Enterprise to track him and down and bring him to justice.  What follows is an intense series of incredible set-pieces (a Millennium Falcon-esque chase, an insane fight on Kronos, and some ship-to-ship action that was just bonkers), fantastic character work, and twists galore.  If you like your Trek more actiony and less cerebraly then this will most certainly please you in every regard.  If you're a diehard fan you might be a smidge disappointed.

As I've said previously, the visual effects on display are simply jaw-dropping.  I couldn't fathom how 2009's Trek could be topped, but it was.  The Enterprise looks great as always, included now with a fancy blue, sparkly trail (of something) that's left in its wake upon going to warp.  Speaking of warp, some of the stuff they do in this movie regarding warp speed is insanely cool; yes, the sparkles are neat (but...why is this happening now when it never happened before?), but there are two sequences during which the Enterprise is forced out of warp and the effects are just awesome.  There is a space jump (reminiscent of the previous film's scene with the Narada's drill platform) between two ships that is harrowing and incredibly intense...and looks gorgeous to boot.  Part of me wishes that they had maintained the "no sound in space" concept that Firefly wholly embraced but it was incredible nonetheless.

While we haven't really spent that much time with this crew (actually AS a crew), I couldn't help but immediately feel their connectedness and strong sense of teamwork.  I got the feeling that the adventures this crew had between the two films brought them closer together and helped Kirk out a little as Captain.  I say "a little" because his actions during the opening scene don't go over too well with Starfleet brass...anyway, the performances, for the most part, are very solid throughout the cast.  I fall more in love with Chris Pine's Kirk with every scene he's in; in Darkness he wasn't emulating William Shatner's performance nearly as much as with the first film (there were a few moments, lines of dialogue, and looks that were clearly there to evoke Shatner) and starts to come more into his own with this iconic character.  The same goes for Quinto's portrayal of Spock; he's witty, logical, and incredibly emotional when he needs to be.  One scene in particular, near the end of the film, is a showcase for both of these men to show us their talent...and it worked incredibly well.  Karl Urban's McCoy is still fantastic, but still just on the outside of the three-way awesomeness that was the original Kirk/Spock/McCoy triumvirate.  His excessive metaphors were hilarious and incredibly apt; he handles McCoy's dry humor well and, again, starts to come into his own with the character.

Scotty (Simon Pegg) gets a beefed-up part in this film, with Pegg bringing a great comedic energy to the film.  More Scotty being awesome is never a bad thing!  Uhura (Zoe Saldana) gets into the action a little more (literally...right into two climactic fights) but ultimately doesn't contribute all that much.  Her relationship with Spock continues to be there; we never really get a sense of what the two of them are like together.  I know that's because we've only ever seen them together on the Enterprise or on a mission, but it would be nice to get some out-of-uniform stuff between them to develop this relationship a bit more.

The showcase role in this film, as is with a lot of blockbusters like this (The Dark Knight, Skyfall to name a few) goes to Benedict Cumberbatch and his John Harrison.  Much ado was made about this character over the months and years before the film released, and anything I have to say about the character specifically will be held till the spoiler section.  Until then, I can say that the 'Batch puts in one stellar performance; he is an amazing actor dealing with an amazing character and it shines through in spades.  He has one particular monologue that is just mesmerizing to watch, as is his interplay with these characters that we've come to love.  While I enjoyed Eric Bana's Nero from the previous film, Benedict throws everything he has into this role and character and it's just simply a joy to watch.

Several cast members get short-changed a bit.  While John Cho's Hikaru Sulu got one fantastic moment in this film, I can't help but feel like he's being under-utilized.  Same goes for Chekov (Anton Yelchin).  He gets a little more to do in this film (physically...like, more running around) but really doesn't have anything to do of substance.  At least in Star Trek he got to show off his intelligence by beaming Sulu and Kirk up by using Vulcan's gravitational pull...

My only non-spoiler gripe is that both this and its predecessor are incredibly small in scale.  Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with that, but I just expect big, Summer blockbusters to have a huge scale and scope, a la The Dark Knight Rises (which takes place over several months and spans the globe).  This film essentially takes place within a matter of a day...maybe two.  Yes, some will say "but Bullet, the first film covered over twenty-five years total!"  To them I'd say, "go away.  The intro doesn't count."  The main thrust of both films covers little territory (literally) and doesn't have that globe-hopping (or quadrant-hopping) feel to it.  And that doesn't by any means stop me from liking this film.  Star Trek: First Contact takes place in essentially one location (Earth/above Earth), over just a few days.  And I love the crap outta that movie!!

Just a quick note about the 3D in Into Darkness...I would say that it's good but not great.  While certainly better than the non-existent 3D in Iron Man 3, there were only a few moments where I felt like it was really warranted.  I'd say either check it out in 2D or pony up for 3D Imax just to have it on the big screen.

Alright, well I've talked long enough without spoilers.  Into Darkness is more than a worthy successor to the fantastic Star Trek, with intense action, great characters, a magnificent villain, and a story laden with twists, turns, and surprises.  Just go see it.

***Spoiler Warning for Star Trek Into Darkness***

Okay, so leading up to this film it was heavily rumored that the 'Batch was playing Khan, and that John Harrison was just to throw us all off.  Well that's exactly what happened.  Going into my screening, I was still hopeful that the writers (Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci, and Alex Kurtzman) would go with a new villain and not tread the dangerous Khan territory.  I even tried to talk myself out of believing he was Khan when he drew his blood to cure the man's daughter in the beginning.  But when he started mass-murdering a horde of Klingon warriors I knew the jig was up.  Then he just straight-up told us he was Khan.  And no one cared; both the crew in the film and the "how'd-he-do-dats" in the audience.  See, to us fans we know exactly who this guy is.  He was awoken in the ToS episode, "Space Seed."  He then wrought vengeance upon Kirk and his crew in The Wrath of Khan.  It is from this film that the writers borrow quite heavily...

See, I have no problem with them using Khan.  He was bound to show up eventually.  This altered timeline means that he could've been found much sooner...which is exactly the case.  Just by Starfleet itself and not Kirk and his crew.  My main issue is simply with the fact that he IS Khan.  See, Khan (who is of Indian decent) was played by the great Ricardo Montalbon (from Mexico).  A Mexican actor was playing and Indian character.  I know, this in and of itself isn't quite right, in that they could've cast an Indian actor to play an Indian character.  But just put that aside for right now.  Khan, in this film, should not have been played by a Caucasian, British actor.  Cumberbatch looks literally the complete opposite of Montalbon.  And this bothers me TO NO END.  And before you bring up the altered timeline, Khan was put into cryo-stasis way back in like, 1999 after the Eugenics War.  Therefore, he should be the same person in both Space Seed and this film.  They didn't even bother to cast an actor who at resembled Montalbon in the least (I know, Benecio del Toro was approached initially and he would've appeased me quite a bit in this case...).  It's almost a flippant "f you!" to fans who know all about Khan and what he actually looks like.  That said, Cumberbatch did wonders with the character and ultimately made him incredibly sympathetic yet insanely homicidal at the same time.

Getting back to the Wrath of Khan business, the writers didn't stop there with callbacks to that film (I know, technically it was a callback to Space Seed, but whatever).  Spock's famous "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" line makes it in, we get the "KHAAAAAAAN!" scream (this time from Spock), and we even get a main character death scene at the end of the film after they sacrifice them self to fix the warp core but ultimately die from radiation poisoning.  Phew.  We even got Khan taking over a more powerful ship and engaging in witty discourse.  Oh, and Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) is even in this film.  Why are all these callbacks and references present in this film?  I understand the want to insert things into the film that will give fans something to latch on to, but it was handled with a smidge more tact in the first film.  Simple things like Scotty's off-hand remark about "Admiral Archer's prized beagle," Spock's "I am, and always shall be, your friend," the tribble sitting in the background with Scotty, and the phase-cannons on the Kelvin (from Enterprise), just to name a few.  These were references to Trek in general, not one specific movie.  Yes, there are plenty of subtle nods to Trek lore in Darkness (Section 31, the model of the NX-01 on Adm. Marcus' desk, etc.), but these utterly blatant callbacks to Wrath were a bit much.  Actually it was a lot much.  Isn't Khan alone enough to pull at fan's heartstrings?  Why did all of these things have to happen like they did in this film specifically?  Were the writers lazy?  I'd like to think not.  I imagine the studio execs stepped in and were like, "hey, you guys need to include blatant references and callbacks to that movie that everyone liked.  Just do it!"  Like I said before, with this new timeline I was hoping for a bit more originality from the writers.  They can do almost literally anything they want; include species that they hadn't made first contact with, explore planets and situations that didn't happen before, etc.  But instead, we get a relatively original plot laden with characters and moments that we've seen before.

The writers weren't just referencing Khan, but were referencing themselves from their previous work.  Both films have a scene with Kirk and Pike at a bar (and the fact that this was called out by Pike almost doesn't make it count), both films have a space jump/dive sequence, both films have McCoy doing medical stuff to Kirk and pissing him off in the process, both feature a villain with a larger, more powerful ship that beats up the Enterprise (Star Trek: Insurrection and Nemesis both did this as well), both films have a scene with Kirk in bed with attractive aliens, both films have a moment of Kirk turning around to look at women at Starfleet HQ, both films have sequences where San Francisco is in peril, and both films end on a similar note - Kirk and crew are about to head out for adventures.  Now, some of that is a little nitpicky, but I can't help but see the parallels between the two films.  Again, laziness or simply being referential as a "wink, wink" type of deal?  Perhaps we'll never know..

Now, there was one tidbit of Trek lore that I'm insanely happy that made it into the film: the inclusion of Section 31.  For those who don't know, Section 31 was a secret clause built into the original Starfleet charter; it's an organization that doesn't officially exist and conducts covert operations across the galaxy for defensive and offensive purposes.  31 was featured in Enterprise, with Malcolm Reed working for them in secret, and again in Deep Space 9, with the group attempting to recruit Dr. Julian Bashir by dubious methods.  31 has only popped up on these few occasions, and its inclusion in this film makes me so happy.  The only problem I have, and it's a nitpick, is that the head of Starfleet (and of Section 31), is Admiral Marcus (played by Peter Weller).  The issue is that Weller played a character on Enterprise, John Frederick Paxton, during a two-parter in which his character is a terrorist who hijacks a lunar base and flies it to Mars.  This actor played two different characters who were alive within probably decades of one another.  For me, as a fan, its very jarring to see Weller play this role when he was so great as Paxton on Enterprise.  I mean, it's not like there's a plethora of older actors would could've been cast...

Despite all these gripes I liked a whole lot about this film.  I'm just gonna list a bunch of em:
  • I loved the design of the U.S.S. Vengeance
  • I lost my shit when the Vengeance overtook the Enterprise at warp; the sound effect it made was insane.  And those people being sucked out into space at warp...ouch!
  • The Inception-like running up the corridors as the Enterprise tumbled to Earth was rad.
  • Khan DESTROYING all those Klingons with his portable phase cannon was insane!
  • I loved Leonard Nimoy's cameo as Spock Prime; his reaction to hearing about Khan was priceless!
  • The twist of Khan's crew being in the torpedoes was fantastic!
  • Spock and Khan's fistfight over San Francisco was intense, and I enjoyed the nod to Spock beating up that kid way back in the beginning of the first film.
  • Uhura's line: "Go get him" to Spock about Khan was so badass.
  • Kirk's death brought me to tears, especially when he asked Spock to help him not be afraid.
I don't know if anyone caught this, but when the Klingons are chasing Kirk's pseudo-Millennium Falcon, their torpedoes looked and sounded almost identical to ones deployed by the Narada in the first film, which in turn looked and sounded like (and were) Borg torpedoes.  If this is intentional, it means that in the 25 years that the Narada was in Klingon custody (following the events of the destruction of the Kelvin), they reverse-engineered Borg technology from the Narada and applied it to their own vessels.  If this is true, it could have tremendous ramifications on the upcoming war that is bound to break out between them and Starfleet.

Boy, that's a lot of Trek talk.  I have more to say about the film but I'll just stop while I'm ahead.  When I first saw the film, my blind hatred of the idea that the 'Batch was Khan stopped me from truly appreciating what a fantastic film Darkness really is.  I'm not quite sure if I like it better than the original, but only time will tell.  Like I said before, just go see it.

Star Trek Into Darkness is a worthy follow-up to the first film, but will leave fans very divided.

The Bearded Bullet.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Movie 43 Trimmed Review

I had actually written a normal review for this film way back when, but I lost the flash drive that it was saved on.  So this is what I feel like writing!

Don't waste your time even thinking about seeing Movie 43.  When I saw the film upon its release I actually had some fun with it - there are some genuinely funny moments and performances that made laugh quite a bit, but after the blessing of time I have come to realize that the film was utterly worthless and incredibly offensive for most of its run-time.  Most importantly it was offensive to the host of men and women who must have been held at gunpoint when signing their contracts to star in this film.

Just don't waste your time with this movie.  Just look up some of the scenes online and spare yourself that agony of what most of this film is.

Movie 43 is an utter waste of time and an embarrassment to those who starred in it.

The Bearded Bullet.

The Place Beyond the Pines Review

The Place Beyond the Pines is an incredibly fascinating, meandering, and long-winded film that causes one to ponder...the impact of our actions today on our children in the future.  To ponder where the thin red line between blatant revenge and that abstract idea of justice lies. To ponder what justice truly entails.  Directed by Derek Cianfrance, Pines is a film that follows two families across almost two decades and how their actions of the past come back to haunt them in the future.

Luke (Ryan Gosling, as stoic as ever) is a tattoo-laden carnie who specializes in dirt bike/motorcycle riding and stunts.  Early in the film he discovers that he has an infant child with an old fling of his, Romina (Eva Mendes).  He quits his carnival job and takes work from a fledgling auto mechanic, Robin (Ben Mendelsohn). Soon the two turn to bank robberies to fill their pockets, with Luke using his new-found funds to help support the child he never knew he had.  This is of course causes friction between Luke, Romina, and her new boyfriend, Kofi.  A poorly-planned heist causes Luke's life to violently collide with police officer Avery's (Bradley Cooper).  At this point the narrative takes an unexpected turn - a turn that I shan't say anything more about.  Where the story goes from here is incredibly fascinating and was completely engrossing to watch unfold.  Then a second shift happens and the story becomes something else entirely.  Part of the magic of Pines is seeing these transitions play out unexpectedly; I had no idea where the story was going until it actually happened.

The themes at play revolve around justice and revenge.  Cooper's Avery makes a speech halfway through the film about what justice really means and that concept applies to the film as a whole.  Do money and gifts make up for being an absentee father?  Does a  lifetime of regret make up for mistakes made in the past?  The idea of the "sins of the father" (an excellent episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, by the way) is dealt with subtly here, with actions taken by both Luke and Avery coming back to haunt them and others in the future.  While I picked up on these themes, they weren't actually explored much at all and we only ever see their surface scratched.

The performances all around were just simply fantastic.  Cooper continues his run of great performances (namely Limitless and The Silver Linings Playbook) with Pines.  His character is incredibly sympathetic and complex.  The name of the game with this film is subtlety - no one is hamming it up here.  Subtle magic happens whenever Cooper is on screen with his character's wife Jennifer, played by Rose Byrne.  Byrne doesn't have all that much to do with the overall narrative, but she puts in one helluva performance with the little screen time she's given.  The rest of the cast is superb as well: Ben Mendelsohn, whom I usually don't like, is a fantastically strange accomplice to Luke's crimes, Ray Liotta seems to thrive in these pseudo-crime dramas and his performance is low-key and great, and Eva Mendes plays her part as Luke's struggling-to-make it ex-girlfriend.  If any props must be truly handed out they would have to go to Dane DeHaan for his work as Jason.  DeHaan is hit-or-miss with  me (he's actually only been a miss in his small bit in Lincoln) but here he puts in a powerhouse of a performance.  I can't say much about his role for fear of spoiling the film, but his character is very sympathetic as well and he pulls it off beautifully.

I purposely left my thoughts on Ryan Gosling's part for this section, the one I'll call "How the Place Beyond the Pines was the sequel/prequel to Drive."  On the surface, Pines is similar in tone and style to Drive.  Both are deliberately slow and rather plodding and Gosling's Luke shares many similarities to his Driver.  Both are loners, become involved with a woman with a small child, have to deal with the tension of said woman's boyfriend/husband, are prone to sudden acts of violence, are quiet, calm and collected, engage in robberies to help someone else out, and are stuntmen of sorts.  There's also the fact that both work for a mechanic, both of whom are somewhat dirty and greasy (figuratively and literally).  In both films his character has a special/particular "set of skills."  Hard to NOT think of the similarities, no?  It may sound like I'm complaining here, but I'm not.  Drive was my favorite film from 2011 and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  IF Pines is intentionally borrowing from Drive then so be it.  If not, all of those add up to HELL of a coincidence!

For the few people who will actually see this film, I can foresee them being very divided in their opinions.  While I found much to like about it, Pines certainly takes its grand old time getting any kind of narrative traction going and takes some rather bold risks in its storytelling that will most certainly turn some viewers off.  I was wholly engaged for the two-thirds of the film, until a certain character, AJ, arrives on screen and almost ruined the whole thing for me.  AJ's demeanor, accent, actions, everything, just annoyed me to no end.  The performance was utterly grating when compared to something like DeHaan's.  I understand that this was the intention of the character - we aren't supposed to like him (but maybe we're supposed to sympathize with him?  If so, the performance did nothing to attain that...) and if that was truly the goal, then it was accomplished in spades.

Pines isn't action-packed with grand explosions and cheesy one-liners (although it does feature some nail-biting, utterly gripping heist sequences).  It's a deliberately-paced drama that meanders its way through the lives of this wide array of characters.  Films like this don't usually crop up this time of year and is most certainly a welcome change of pace from the typical action blockbusters (don't get me wrong, the love the hell out of those films too!).  I'd say definitely check it out on video/streaming when it becomes available in a few months.  Just make sure to set aside plenty of time as it's almost two-and-a-half hours long.

The Place Beyond the Pines is an intriguing drama with some showcase performances.

The Bearded Bullet.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Oblivion Review

I'm a huge fan of Joseph Kosinski, and he's only directed two films: Oblivion and 2010's outstanding Tron: Legacy.  I loved the film (Tron) so much that I've listened to its score during almost every review I've ever written, this one included.  With such a strong freshman effort, my expectations were understandably high for his follow-up, Oblivion, based upon a graphic novel that Joseph himself wrote.  While not perfect by any means, I enjoyed Oblivion immensely, and possibly even more than his first effort.

Tom Cruise is Jack Harper, a drone tech on 2077 Earth.  He and his partner, Vicca (Andrea Riseborough) are the only remaining humans on the planet, tasked with patrolling the skies and protecting/repairing drones that are in turn protecting ginormous fusion reactors that are converting Earth's water into fuel...fuel for the rest of the human race to use on Titan, one of Saturn's moons.  See, sixty years prior, an alien race known as the Scavs came from the depths of space to eradicate the human population and take our resources.  "We won the war, but we lost the planet," to quote Jack.  The remaining humans fled to the Tet (I couldn't help but think of the 1968 Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War whenever this was mentioned...cool story bro, I know), a space station orbiting the Earth, which serves as an embarkation point to Titan.  Still with me?  Cool.  Most of this information is conveyed through a detail-heavy bit of exposition at the top of the film; Kosinski has a lot of ground to cover in terms of world-building, and I think he did a fantastic job.

One of the film's strengths is the world in which Jack and Vicca operate.  It's still the Earth we know today...just with almost everything recognizable destroyed.  Remember those Scavs I was talking about?  Well before they invaded the Earth they blew up the Moon, which caused massive upheavels in the tectonic plates; New York City is almost literally underground, save for a trench between some skyscrapers and the top of the Empire State Building.  Its these few elements that help to reassure us that this is actually Earth despite the alien presence and the future-tech at play.

The visual effects on display most certainly play into this feeling of reality.  Jack flies a small ship that looks akin to a dragonfly, that can pull off wondrous stunts.  Many scenes involving the ship were filmed practically, with Cruise actually sitting in a real version of it.  No matter how good effects get, the eye can just tell when something is real.  I mean, most of the time anyway!  Everything just felt very tactile, despite the Tron-like sheen to it all (at least in Jack and Vicca's skylofty apartment).  Honestly, this film sports some of the most impressive visual effects I've ever seen; nary a moment passed where I wasn't fully immersed in the world that Jack was flying around in.  The incredible sound design also deserves much credit; every energy bolt fired from Jack's rifle pulsed in my chest.  The drones that Jack is tasked with repairing are a masterful blend of these two crafts; I swear that an actual spherical drone was on-screen with Cruise at all times...and the sound-effects of their "language" and propulsion rumbled my seat.  Just amazing.

Without getting into too much detail, where Oblivion will become love-it-or-hate-it is with its trope-riddled plot.  The main argument against this film is that it poaches heavily from previous science fiction franchises.  To name them would be akin to spoiling the film, but let's just say that the homages/rip-offs are quite apparent and abundant during the film.  And I had no problem with it.  Frankly, I felt like Oblivion's narrative was wholly unique and breath of fresh air, while at the same time doing very little to be actually innovative.  This is a very difficult place to be in - I recognize the cherry-picking being done from movie-trope-history, but I ultimately don't care.  Almost nothing is unique these days, and within a world filled with sequels, prequels, remakes, reboots, requels, and premakes what Kosinski was able to accomplish is truly astounding.  Will you see the plot twists coming from a mile away?  Maybe.  I did with some.  But others kept me guessing right up until the end.

If I'm being honest with myself, there is just very little negative that I have to say about this film.  The characters aren't necessarily anything to write home about, but that's on purpose.  The visuals are outstanding, as is the narrative as a whole.  The score, on the other hand, while very, very good just didn't live up to my expectations from the superb Legacy (seriously, it has got to be one of the best film scores of the last decade); this time around composed by M83 instead of Daft Punk, I couldn't help but feel Tron and The Dark Knight/The Dark Knight Rises undertones were at play.  And to be fair, a good bit of the Tron:Legacy score is eerily reminiscent to Inception/The Dark Knight, but I was just hoping for something a tad more iconic.

My only other gripe would be with several plot holes that crop up throughout the film.  I'm completely fine with a film that has a lot going on (the aforementioned Inception springs to mind), but when something happens or someone does something that makes you stop and ask yourself, "wait, why...what?" then there might be a problem.  Several times throughout the film jumps in logic are made and we're expected to fill in the gaps.  Again, I have no problem with this in general, but I couldn't help but feel that maybe the film thought it was a wee bit smarter than it actually is...

Despite retreading seemingly well-worn science fiction territory, I couldn't help but feel like Oblivion was a great big breath of fresh air in today's cinematic landscape.  Yes, plenty of ideas and concepts are borrowed/poached from the other franchises, but what Kosinski does with those ideas are truly fantastic and incredibly memorable.  Yes, maybe Morgan Freeman's Beech was a tad underdeveloped as a character, but he didn't need to be.  This is Jack's story and I'm very glad that I came along for the ride (you'll see what I did there after you see the movie).

Before I wrap this up I need to just quickly point out that the film's one "f" bomb was absolutely per-fect.  So good!!  Also, The Kingslayer!!!

Oblivion feels like an incredibly fresh, vibrant sci-fi action film while borrowing from quite a few franchises.

The Bearded Bullet

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Bearded Bullet's 2013 Film Rankings

In keeping with my new tradition, here you will find the list of films I've seen so far in 2013, ranked from my favorite to least favorite.  I've had a slow first half of the year, having missed many-a-film in the March/April area.  Perhaps I'll attempt to catch them on video later this year.  In any case, I am endeavoring to catch up and maintain as an impressive of a list as last year's.  As before, the number after each titles signifies the number of times I've seen said film.  And as a side note, I lost the flash drive that had several reviews on it for films earlier this year.  If I ever find it I'll most certainly publish them right away.  To quote the great Brendan Fraser in 2008's The Mummy: The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, "here we go again!" (Yeah, I can't believe I just did that either...)

1.  Man of Steel (4)
2.  This is the End (2)
3.  Fast & Furious 6 (2)
4.  Star Trek Into Darkness (3)
5.  World War Z (2)
6.  Oblivion (2)
7.  Iron Man 3 (2)
8.  The Hangover Part III (1)
9.  Pain & Gain (1)
10.Evil Dead (1)
11.The Place Beyond the Pines (1)
12.G.I. Joe: Retaliation (1)
13.Warm Bodies (1)
14.Broken City (1)
15.The Last Stand (1)
16.Gangster Squad (1)
17.Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (1)
18.Movie 43 (1)

The Bearded Bullet

Friday, May 3, 2013

Iron Man 3 Review

I have a strong connection with the Marvel films of the last five years.  I've been wholly engaged since the first Iron Man rolled out of the Marvel assembly line all shiny and rarin' to go.  Iron Man himself, Tony Stark, has been through the ringer in the last five years; gets kidnapped by terrorists, his mentor turns on him and tries to kill him, starts being killed by the one thing keeping him alive, has to fight a dude who was mad at his dad, and oh yeah, there's that little incident in New York where he fought friggin aliens with a super solider from a bygone era, a god from another realm, an irradiated man who smashes things...and two other people.  It's this last event that has the greatest impact on Tony as a character, and helps to make Iron Man 3 the darkest and most dire of the franchise yet.

Quick note: most of IM3's plot is twisty and turny and therefore, I'll keep the spoilery bits for the end.

We catch up with Tony not too long after the events of last year's The Avengers.  He's a bit of a changed man.  Long gone are the "billionaire, playboy, philanthropist" days (he's still a genius).  Mr. Stark now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, or some amalgamation of it; he endures crippling panic attacks that grind the strong, confident man we know and love to his literal knees.  His one driving force is to protect the "one thing he can't live without:" Pepper Potts.  Tony can't sleep at night because of panic-enducing nightmares about his travel through the wormhole in New York.  He spends all of his waking hours toiling away in his garage, trying to perfect his Mk. 42 armor.  Robert Downey Jr. puts in his most complex and impressive performance yet as the now-troubled Tony Stark.  I am thoroughly convinced that no other man, woman, or child on the planet could inhabit the role as he does.

While Tony is trying to deal with his new stresses in life, someone from his past returns to haunt him; the scientist Aldrich Killian (played oh-so-smarmily by Guy Pearce).  Oh, and the leader of a terrorist group known as "The Ten Rings" (the same group that kidnapped Tony in the first film), the Mandarin, begins launching terror attacks across the globe...with one of them hitting Tony right at home, literally.  The portrayal of the Mandarin, as played by Sir Ben Kingsley, will undoubtedly be the focal-point for all discussions about Iron Man 3.  I thought he was superb in the role...and that's all I'll say about that.

It's this attack that sets the rest of the film in motion, with Tony having to MacGyver his way out of some very sticky (and firey) situations.  It's here where we meet the unexpected stand-out of the film (for me) - a young boy named Harley.  It's between Tony and Harley that we get some great "buddy" movie banter.  The two share some of the most memorable dialogue and scenes of the film and were just a delight to watch.

Without getting into too much detail, I felt the story was very fresh and a nice change of pace from the first two Iron Man films; the previous entries follow a relatively similar story-and-character arc for Tony and Iron Man 3 switches that up a bit.  There are most certainly some surprises along the way with regards to the Mandarin's intentions and how the story plays out.  And I loved every minute of it.

While the technical aspects of the film were, on the whole, quite fantastic, there were some instances of iffy CGI - namely with Iron Man himself.  There were several wide shots of IM walking across a room that didn't quite look right.  I'm not quite sure why this wasn't done practically; we know RDJ can act in an actual suit, as evidenced by his birthday party scene in Iron Man 2.  Perhaps he can't walk distances in the real thing.  Regardless, this is just one minor gripe in a sea of incredibly well-done digital effects, with several mind-blowing action sequences that make especially Iron Man feel very small in comparison.

I may seem to be praising Iron Man 3 quite a bit, and that's because I enjoyed it immensely.  If I had to pick one aspect of the film that doesn't stand out to me as being fantastic, it would have to be the film's score.  I find it troubling that out of now six films, I can barely remember any of the score from any of the films (Captain America and The Avengers have one or two memorable songs but that's about it for me) and unfortunately IM3 is the same.  There are two moments where the music swells, eerily reminiscent of Danny Elfman's score for Tim Burton's Batman...and those are the only two musically-memorable moments of the film.  Well, that's outside of the excellent use of "Blue (Da Ba Dee)" early in the proceedings.

There are a few other missteps along the way, including various plot holes or things that just make you stop and think, "now wait a minute..."  A big missed opportunity lies with Rebecca Hall's Maya Hansen.  An old fling of Tony's, Maya doesn't get all that much to do in the film and as a result, her character isn't nearly as fleshed-out as say, Guy Pearce's Killian.  Maya serves a specific role and that's about it.  James Badge Dale's Savin meets a similar fate; he's just the muscle of the baddies and pretty much just serves that role...although it is nice to see the man getting work.  He had a small but memorable role in Flight and is simply fantastic as the main protagonist for most of HBO's The Pacific.

That about sums up my thoughts on Iron Man 3.  Despite some minor gripes and complaints I've gotta say that I almost unabashedly love this film.  Maybe I still have PMH (post-movie high...an awesome term coined by a friend of mine), but I think this may be my favorite of the franchise (of Iron Man films).  But we all know big decisions like this (where to rank films you like) take time.  It takes a little more thought and processing and movie-watching (like, seeing the film ten times).  You don't need me to convince you to see or to not see this film - if you've seen the rest you're probably already in for the long haul on this franchise.

If you don't want to be spoiled on anything, you'll probably want to stop here.  Like, for reals.  Don't scroll down.  The first thing you'll read will spoil the crap outta the film....just go watch it!

********Spoiler Alert*********

Still with me?  Ok...HOLY CRAP THE MANDARIN ISN'T THE MANDARIN.  The marketing and trailers for this film did wonders into portraying Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin and the brains behind the Ten Rings.  I had to pick my face up off the floor after the reveal that he's really just a British actor that Killian hired to be a terrorist leader.  Having never read the comics I don't have any attachment to the history of these characters, and as a result, it completely blew me away that Shane Black (directing and co-writing) would have the guts to give us a villain and then halfway through the film just pull him out from under our feet.  In all of the Marvel films so far, the villain is the villain is the villain.  No crazy switcheroos like this!  I can wholly understand the nerdrage that will emanate from this: as a friend of mine put it, imagine if the Joker wasn't the Joker.  Messing with iconic characters like this can be stirring the beehive, especially when the repeat viewers are the hardcore fanbase that this will piss off.

Tony's myraid suits showing up for the final battle was spoiled in the trailers for the film, but were still quite a sight to behold.  Going into the film I thought it'd be a bigger deal about the suits' differences, but that wasn't even brought up.  I didn't expect Tony to go "oh, there's the space one.  And there's the underwater one.  And there's the Hulkbuster armor," but I was just hoping and expecting something...anything!  And now they're all gone!!!!!!  I've gotta give the writers credit again for not only destroying the things that make Tony Stark Iron Man, but for also removing the one literal thing that started the entire franchise.  Tony's personal arc reactor is gone, and with it the shrapnel that was oh so close to killing him back in the first film.  The implications of both of these actions will undoubtedly be explored in further detail in Avengers 2, but I don't wanna wait till 2015, dammit!!

And Pepper's Extremis-ified!!!  This was totally spoiled for me by the trailers, considering we see her, post-fall, in every trailer the was released, but I still thought it was incredibly badass.

Regardless of what you think about the Mandarin or how some of the characters were handled, Iron Man 3 is without a doubt a blast of a time at the theater.  This year so far has been just okay...nothing too spectacular (well, I thought Oblivion was), but hopefully this film is the start to a very, very incredible summer of films.  Just go see it.  You know you will.

And I'll leave you with a parting thought...was Killian really the Mandarin?  Or were we and Tony duped into believing the swticheroo, when Trevor really IS the Mandarin?  Perhaps this was an elaborate Joker/Loki plan and he wanted to be captured all along and Killian was just playing the part of the martyr for the cause of the Ten Rings?  Who knows....

Iron Man 3 is wham bam of an action film and a fitting end to the trilogy.

The Bearded Bullet.