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.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Interstellar (2014) Movie Review

This week, I did not go gentle into that good night. Rather, I went to a preview showing of Christopher Nolan's sci-fi epic Interstellar (2014) starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain.

Interstellar (2014) is the story of the struggle for humankind to survive on a dying planet Earth. The key to said survival seems to be in space. Matt McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, among others, head out to the stars looking for a new home for everyone.

I went into this film hoping for a huge spectacle style movie with grand, sweeping shots in space, amazing, immersive music and lofty, mind-blowing ideas.

It's always nice to get what you pay for.

It's by no means a perfect film. At 2 hours and 49 minutes, it runs a little long. Some of the dialogue is corny and cliche. A few of the ideas aren't fleshed out well enough to suspend disbelief and the ending is something of a copout. Having said all of that, though, this movie is highly entertaining.

Matt McConaughey turns in a great performance as the father of two young children who suddenly finds himself thrust into the role of the saviour of all humankind. When you look back on his career, you start to appreciate how far he's come and what he's accomplished. His emotional range is dynamic and compelling. He's the lead in this film and takes it by the horns, never giving you any question that he's commanding the camera in every scene he's in.

Anne Hathaway is also very good in her portrayal as one of the scientists on the mission to save the world. She's the perfect foil for McConaughey. The two have excellent on-screen chemistry together, which allows them to boost each other's performances throughout the movie.

The visuals, sounds and technical aspects of the film are astounding. I was fortunate enough to see this film in IMAX and, boy, am I ever glad I did. The outer space shots in particular are incredible with the planet based shots on both the water world and the ice world equally so. Nolan and his cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema create these worlds for us to come and visit. At no time did I get the sense that I was watching actors walking around in a studio behind a green screen. I got sucked in for nearly every single shot that happened to the explorers in space and on alien worlds.

A little less compelling was the story that was happening on Earth during this time. Due to the effects of relativity, McConaughey's kids grow up while he stays the same age. His son, played by Casey Affleck, is a salt-of-the-earth family man running the family farm. His daughter, played by Jessica Chastain, ends up going to work for the same government setup that launched her father into space, trying to solve an equation that will help the folks on Earth save themselves. If there is any trimming to do to reduce the film's run-time, it would be to this plotline. Too much exposition and too long to get where it needed to go.

Other than these few minor quibbles, I have to say that I really enjoyed Interstellar (2014). Great performances, a thought-provoking story, stunning visuals and a soundtrack that kept giving me goosebumps throughout. I couldn't have asked for much more.

4 out of 5 stars

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Chef (2014) Movie Review

This week, I put on my favourite set of cook's whites with a big, floppy hat, burned some water and watched Chef (2014). Written, directed and starring Jon Favreau, Chef tells the tale of Carl Casper, a former hot prospect, fine dining chef who has found himself in something of a rut. Working for Dustin Hoffman's "Riva" character, Carl feels compelled to make the same old same old dishes night in and night out. A visit from the biggest food critic on the internet has Carl wanting to try new things. Shut down by Riva, Carl gets skewered (the first of many cooking puns this review will contain, I'm afraid) by the critic and goes on something of a rampage, walking off the job in the process. His ex-wife, played by the very tasty Sofia Vergara, sets Carl up with her second ex-husband Marvin (Robert Downey Jr.) to man a food truck and travel across the country. Complicating matters is the damaged relationship Carl has with his son, Percy, played by Emjay Anthony. Percy accompanies dad across the country, learning the cooking trade in the food truck along with some valuable life lessons.

The ernestness of the film cannot be denied. Favreau really wants to send some messages here. Well, it wouldn't be me if I didn't find a few things wrong...

The pacing is difficult to work around, especially if you've seen the trailers or even the poster for the film. A lot is made out of the time Favreau and son spend in the food truck, travelling and bonding. In the film, however, it seems to take a very long time for them to get to that point. You would assume that act 1 would be the trials and tribulations that lead to Favreau getting into the truck. However it's not until at least half way through act 2, or halfway through the movie, that he manages to finally get there. The long, slow build helps to establish the two main characters (Carl and Percy), but it leaves too little time to focus on the main narrative piece of the movie. We get that Carl is a frustrated chef who wants to branch out. We also get his relationship with his son is strained because of his obsession with cooking. Get on with the plot of the movie already! 

Having said that, I'd like to point out that Favreau is fantastic in the role of Carl Casper. I won't lie, I haven't seen a lot of Favreau's acting work. After having watched this, however, I think I'll go back and check out some of his earlier stuff. You completely buy into his obsessions and his indulgences. You start out rooting for him, then thinking he's kind of a dick, then rooting for him again. It's a neat little emotional rollercoaster that he pulls off beautifully.

Unfortunately, it's a little too beautifully. Once the rigmarole is done with and he actually gets into the truck, everything goes so well and so amazingly you'd think it was some sort of dream sequence. The truck is a smash hit, thanks largely due to a seemingly simply social media campaign engineered by a 10 year old. Carl repairs his damaged relationship with his son and even manages to win back the way way wayyyyy out of his league Sofia Vergara character. He even gets his own restaurant backed by the very critic that roasted him in the first place! All of this as the result of a couple of weeks in a truck. A little more strife and struggle to help match the first half of the movie wouldn't have hurt.

Pacing and 3rd act issues aside, I liked Chef even if I didn't love it. I'm looking forward to seeing Favreau show off those acting chops more and more in the future.

3 out of 5 stars
Chef (2014)
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on Sept 14 2014
Rating: 3