Monday, 18 May 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) Movie Review

This week, I strapped on my dirtiest leathers and headed out into the desert to check out Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) starring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron. It's directed by George Miller, who directed the three previous films in this franchise.

The new Mad Max: Fury Road is a pretty simple tale. Imperator Furiosa (Theron) hijacks the "War Rig" to smuggle out a bevy of beauties that are being used as broodmares for the leader of the War Boys faction, one Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne who also played the lead villain in the original Mad Max (1979)). She intends to take them to the "green land" that she remembers from her youth. Joe, not wanting to be without his harem, gives chase. Max (Tom Hardy taking over for Mel Gibson) finds himself caught in the middle of the conflict and eventually having to choose a side. I'm sure you can guess which one.

And that, friends and neighbours, is it. If you're looking for a movie with deep, layered plot points, fully fleshed-out characters with complete backstories or even a bit of dialogue and exposition, you've come to the wrong place.

If you're looking for a 2 hour car chase movie with some of the most spectacular action sequences ever put on film, grab some popcorn, sit back and enjoy the ride.

This film will set a new benchmark on the use of practical effects to tell a story. The rig and stunt work on this movie is second to none. Things actually move and explode. Lots and lots of things and, boy, do they ever explode. The look and feel of the movie with the bright saturation of colours and the amazing conglomeration of vehicles put together will have you smirking with delight throughout. It's an assualt on the senses in the truest sense of that phrase. I spent the majority of the two hours not knowing what anyone was really saying as they seemed to have a language all their own, spoke very fast and had pretty thick accents. And do you know what? I just didn't care. Because even though I paid for the whole seat I was in, I only used the edge of it...

Not all is well, though. I couldn't call myself The Bitter Critic if I didn't find something to nitpick about. Tom Hardy isn't given much to work with here as far as character development is concerend. He does the best he can with what he has, but he's the least engaging of the three major stars. Charlize Theron and even Nicholas Hoult are for more intriguing and even seem to get more screen time (and definitely get more dialogue). I didn't hate Hardy in this role, I just didn't love him in it. Since it's called Mad Max, I expected Max to take a more central role. He doesn't. This movie could've been called Imperator Furiosa: Fury Road, but that likely wouldn't have sold as many tickets.

Still, these pickings are small. I highly recommend you go to the biggest and loudest movie theatre you can find to watch this movie. I even enjoyed the 3D aspect of it, which is something I didn't think I would ever say.

4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Marvel's Daredevil Episode 4 Review

This week I managed to squeeze in another episode of Marvel's Daredevil on Netflix. 

We're up to episode 4 now and things are starting to get interesting.

First off, it can't be understated how violent this show is. Not only is there relentless beating of various thugs and baddies, but decapitations, suicides and even some good ol' fashioned corpse defiling. This show isn't for the faint of heart. It's dark, gritty and unrelenting. During this episode's viewing, I turned to my buddy who was watching it with me and said "Marvel finally gets a TV show right, and all they had to do was pretend they were DC". That's not to start a flame war or anything. It just details how completely different the look and feel of Daredevil is compared to everything else from Disney/Marvel.

Anyway, on to the episode. Some key elements started falling into place that will clearly build to a bigger payoff later on. Primarily, Wilson Fisk (Vince D'onofrio) was heavily featured. I have to admit, I'm not keen on his portrayal of the character thus far. The feel I get from him as he awkwardly stumbles around a social engagement before literally smashing a thug's head off with a car door is one of someone not all there mentally. I don't mean unhinged, though he's clearly that. I mean slow. This isn't the criminal underworld mastermind I was expecting to see. It's still early for He-Who's-Name-We-Do-Not-Say, so I'll give the show runners the benefit of the doubt. I'm hoping they turn it around.

Overall, the criminal element in Hell's Kitchen is starting to take notice of our intrepid hero. They've even slapped a nickname on him, calling him "the devil" which I can only assume will lead to his eventual moniker of Daredevil.

This has it's drawbacks for Matt (Charlie Cox) though as it's putting those that are helping him in the line of fire as well. Namely, our friendly neighbourhood nurse Claire (Rosario Dawson). She's kidnapped and beaten for information she doesn't have and has to be rescued a la damsel in distress by Matt, who tells her his real first name after this shared traumatic experience. The chemistry between these two is undeniable. I'm genuinely curious where it's going to go.

Even the Karen Page/Ben Urich story line following Karen's former employer and all the corruption surrounding it is keeping my interest. I had a nasty feeling it was going to start to feel like filler, but it's actually quite engaging. My guess is it will likely lead to Fisk, bringing all our introduced characters into the same arc by season's end. Time will tell, I suppose. I'm still determined to watch this show weekly and not binge it like so many others.

Until next week, friends!

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Jupiter Ascending (2015) Movie Review

This week, I decided to shift gears a little and get back to watching some movies. Since sci-fi is a particular love of mine, I thought I'd check out Jupiter Ascending  (2015) starring Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis. It's written, produced and directed by the Wachowski siblings.

To explain the plot of the film in a single paragraph would be problematic at best. This is actually one of the downfalls of Jupiter Ascending (2015).

At it's heart, it's a love story between Jupiter Jones (Kunis) and Caine Wise (Tatum). I won't spoil anything for you, but I'm sure you can guess where a love story between these two ends up. There are barely explained reincarnation issues, family squabbling and backstabbing on a truly epic scale, entire planets owned and willed as part of an inheritance for farming purposes, former soldiers stripped of rank for biting, a boyfriend trying to sell his girlfriend's unfertilized eggs and the scrubbing of many, many toilets. If none of that seems to lineup for you, you've got a pretty good idea why this movie has a hard time finding it's place and defies explanation.

The visuals in the film are amazing. The release was delayed 9 months to give the post-production team more time to put finishing touches on the VFX required. You can see exactly where this 9 months was spent. Much of the movie takes place either on huge spaceships or in grandiose palaces on foreign worlds. It's all rendered beautifully. The sound effects are expertly done as well. From a technical standpoint, this movie is great.

From a story standpoint, however, this movie is just a mess. Too many ideas shoved into too small of a space, giving short shrift to all. 

Still, the visuals and action sequences are enough to keep you in your seat until the end. Sure, some of the acting is clumsy. Eddie Redmayne is ridiculously over-the-top and Channing Tatum only has the one facial expression, apparently. Mila Kunis is good but not great and her character seems to be in constant need of rescuing at the very last minute. Whether that's from certain death or just her own very bad decisions. None of the characters are given near enough time for any true development and end up coming across as cardboard cutouts with only the most basic of motivations.

If you're bored on a Sunday afternoon and you want to watch a movie that looks and sounds incredible and no sense at all, give this one a try.

2.5 out of 5 stars.
Jupiter Ascending (2015) Movie Review
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on April 21 2015
Rating: 2.5

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Marvel's Daredevil Episode 3 Review

I managed to plop myself in front of Netflix for an hour to catch the third episode of Daredevil.

This series just keeps getting better and better.

This particular episode was much improved for a number of reasons. Chief of which was the lack of flashbacks. I understand an origin story is important to establish the character and why he does what he does, but it was my least favourite aspect of this new show, so I'm rather glad it appears to be over.

More fleshing out of the nefarious Wilson Fisk (or Kingpin as he's known in the comics, played here by a very heavy Vincent D'onofrio), his hired associate and the criminal empire they are trying to build around him. We even get to have a brief scene with Fisk right at the end of the episode. Too early to tell how well D'onofrio will inhabit the role, but it looks promising from this quick peek.

Most important, however, is that this episode was much more nuanced than the two that came before. Yes, we still had an over-the-top fisticuffs battle towards the end of the show with a very shaky conclusion, but the rest focused on the hard choices Matt Murdock is going to have to make to be both a good lawyer and a good hero. 

It was nice to see some further progress with the story that brought Karen Page into the fray. Unlike most episodic series that would have likely dropped it after the premiere episode, Karen is still dealing with emotional fallout of waking up to a dead man in her apartment as well as all the chaos that she caused when she leaked her story to the news media. News reporter Ben Urich (played by longtime character actor Vondie Curtis-Hall) is a welcome addition to the cast with his ties to Karen and her corruption story. I'm genuinely interested in where this is going to go.

My only real beef with this episode was the courtroom case itself. I spent a lot of it not really understanding what was going on and I'm still kinda clueless how it played out at the end. I'm going to have to brush up on my U.S. judicial system knowledge, I guess.

All in all, a step in the right direction. The ball is finally rolling with Fisk and our hero is having to make some tough calls and juggle some moral issues. More episodes like this, please.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Marvel's Daredevil Episode 2 Review

A couple of days ago, I reviewed the premiere episode of Marvel's Daredevil on Netflix. You can find that review here. Unlike most, I'm not binge watching the entire season in one weekend. I've managed to watch the second episode, however, and thought I'd share my thoughts on it.

This episode improves on some items I took issue with in my review of the premiere. Namely, the fight sequences. Let's face it, this show is primarily about a guy who beats people up. If the fighting doesn't look good, the entire show will suffer. I found the fight scenes in the premiere looked far too polished and choreographed for my taste, not to mention how it deviates from making this series look tough and street level. This second episode improves upon that. The final fight scene at the villain lair is a little ridiculous (our intrepid hero, barely able to stand much less fight, still manages to dispatch about a dozen guys), but it looks far better. If you've ever been in an actual fistfight or have been witness to one, you know it's mostly chaos and mayhem. This end fight sequence channeled that chaos far better.

Some new cast members joined the show with this outing. Namely, Rosario Dawson as Claire, the nurse who helps Murdock when she finds him beat to hell in a dumpster. Dawson plays the role well and clearly has some chemistry with Charlie Cox. It'll be interesting to see where this partnership leads.

I'm going to touch on the narrative style of this episode. It's really just a pet peeve of mine and maybe it's due to old age or something, but I'm really not a fan of episodes that start in the middle and slowly reveal how we got there throughout the rest of the show. I just find it gimmicky. Show me a linear narrative so I can be invested in it. I'll admit, this time around it wasn't as bad as some as the events that lead us to the middle were told to us through exposition rather than shown to us in a flashback. No, all the flashbacks were reserved for our continuing origin story.

It's probably just me again, but I'm not digging the origin story either. This is a comic book I've never read and a hero I know next to nothing about...well, other than the fact that he's blind, of course. Still, far too much time is being dedicated to setting up how our hero came to be a hero in the first place. I think we get it. Grew up poor with a single dad and a ton of Irish pride. Get's blinded in a freak accident (while saving someone, no less) and dad sacrifices himself rather than take a dive in a boxing match. Done and done. Can we move on?

Foggy and Karen's night out on the town was fun, at least. Some good character building going on there. I'm sure there will be some kind of unrequited crush or maybe a love triangle or something, but since this is still early times in the show, this gives us the breathing room to develop these characters without mucking up the waters with soap opera cliches. The chemistry isn't quite there between these two like it is with Murdock and Claire, but it's not entirely absent either. I think they're trying a little too hard to make Foggy funny, though. Maybe they'll settle him down a little as the series moves on.

All in all, I liked this episode better than the premiere. I'm still not going to binge watch it like most. Probably an episode or two per week. It's the slow burn that leaves the most lasting impression! Or something like that.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Marvel's Daredevil Premiere Episode Review

Today, I double-clicked on the Ol' Netflix and queued up the newest series to hit the streaming giant. 

Marvel's Daredevil stars Charlie Cox (Boardwalk Empire) as Matt Murdock, a blind defense attorney by day and an ass-kicking, masked vigilante by night. It also stars Elden Hensen as plucky sidekick "Foggy" Nelson and Deborah Ann Woll as damsel in distress Karen Page.

Daredevil is Marvel's first foray into a more serious, grounded television program. Netflix, with it's lack of commercials and shortened season structure, along with it's willingness to run PG-13 or even R rated with some of it's content, should lend itself very well to a property like Daredevil.

After watching the first episode, I can tell you that it does...and it doesn't.

First off, let me say I enjoyed the premiere quite a bit. This is definitely a departure from the rest of what Marvel has given us. Darker, grittier and much more violent, Daredevil takes some huge risks deviating from what's already been established. 

That's both it's blessing and it's curse.

It's nice to see them giving us another side to the Marvel Universe; one that isn't filled with fancy gadgets, ancient gods, huge government agencies or aliens. Hell's Kitchen, where Daredevil takes place, feels very real. Most of the colour has been bled out of the environment and it's nearly always raining. The entire setup is very moody and noir. 

The problem? It doesn't match up with anything else Marvel has done. Which really wouldn't be a problem if everything wasn't so interconnected. And before you start thinking that these shows on Netflix won't be tied very closely to the rest of the MCU, please take note there is not one, not two, but three direct references to the events that occurred in the first Avengers movie just in this premiere episode alone. In fact, the first one comes not 10 minutes in.

If Daredevil is going to be this dark, violent and gruesome show where it's hero seemingly takes some enjoyment from beating the snot out of the bad guys with his bare hands, how would that ever transfer over to the rest of the largely light and fluffy (and sometimes silly) Marvel universe? These properties are all supposed to take place within the same framework, but Daredevil feels like a completely different thing. This isn't necessarily bad, I might add. It just shows that, sometimes, it's okay to have standalone projects and not try to shoehorn the rest of your universe into everything you ever produce.

The foundation for a great show is all there. Performances were good. Cinematography was excellent. Casting seems spot on. 

There are some issues, though. Most of the fight scenes are far too choreographed. It looks more like a complicated dance off than a tough and gritty street fight a lot of the time. Murdock's partner Foggy is such a ridiculous cliched comic relief sidekick that it gets annoying almost immediately. Then there's the obligatory shirtless scene in the first 10 minutes and the very obvious product placement shots throughout (anyone suddenly feel like buying a Microsoft Surface tablet?).

But, overall, this first episode definitely sets the stage for a pretty cool show. Several story arcs are begun and we want to know where they're going. I'll be hanging around for a few more episodes at least.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Dear Warner Bros. - Please don't screw up Suicide Squad

I started thinking about the slew of comic book movies being released in the coming years. Fox, Sony, Marvel/Disney and DC/Warner Bros. have somewhere around 40 titles confirmed between them over the next 6 years. That's a lot of capes and tights to get excited about. One title, however, has me both intrigued and excited. That title is Suicide Squad.

David Ayer (Fury) is directing this adaptation of the DC Comics property. The main cast has already been announced, though there's been a rather big shakeup with Tom Hardy leaving due to scheduling conflicts. Rumoured to replace him is Jake Gyllenhaal, who I think is a solid choice. Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jai Courtney, Jared Leto and possibly Viola Davis round out what's shaping up to be an impressive lineup.

The cast doesn't intrigue nearly as much as the concept.

The Suicide Squad property is a unique one in comics. The basic idea involves "super villains" that are incarcerated facing life in prison. Given an opportunity to shorten their sentence, these bad guys and gals are recruited by a shadowy government agency to pull off missions that are deemed too dangerous for regular field operatives. They're also given added incentive with bombs implanted in their necks to ensure good behavior and strict adherence to the mission at hand. Getting a group of known criminal hardasses to work together is only half the job. 

Hence the name Suicide Squad. Most of them are not expected to survive the mission...one way or another.

To me, this sounds like a great recipe for a dark, daring, exciting anti-hero film. So what's my problem? Well, it's mainly the rumour that this film is only seeing the light of day thanks to the success of Marvel/Disney's biggest gamble yet, Guardians of the Galaxy.

If you've seen Guardians, you can imagine how some similarities might make you think the two properties are related. Guardians is about a group of misfit criminals that come together for the common good, saving the world and probably the galaxy they are so zealously guarding now. 

Guardians was a goofy, funny, romping good time. And that's everything Suicide Squad should not be.

WB/DC is going to be sorely tempted to try to emulate Guardians based on it's success. We're all going to have to hope this doesn't happen as Suicide Squad is an entirely different animal.

The Squad members are not brought together by chance or kismet and they're certainly not interested in the greater good. They're forced together under threat of death by a powerful and manipulative government agency headed by a character named Amanda Waller. Waller (rumoured to be played by Viola Davis) is a tough as nails woman with whom you would not want to mess. She's been portrayed as both a villain and an ally in the comics, but mostly she fills a bit of a grey area. These dangerous missions need to get done and she's willing to do whatever it takes to make sure the Squad does just that. 

It's this dynamic that should set Suicide Squad apart. Nobody on this "team" is going to fall on a grenade for anyone. They're career villains looking at spending the rest of their lives in prison. Given a chance to commute some of that sentence, they jump at the chance. Then they wake up with bombs in their necks, being sent out on missions so dangerous they're not all supposed to survive. 

This should make for some stressful, action-packed situations and some very intense exchanges between the various Squad members and Waller herself. 

In other words, please don't make this some zany Guardians clone, Warner Bros. Keep this one dark and gritty. I want my anti-heroes to get dirty while they get dangerous. Let this film stand on it's own unique concept.