SDCC Justice League Teaser

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Bryan Cranston joins Power Rangers cast

Emmy Award winning actor Bryan Cranston has announced on Twitter that he will be playing Zordon in the Power Rangers film reboot.  Cranston, who is now perhaps best known for his role as Walter White in Breaking Bad, has a history with the Power Rangers franchise, having provided voices to various monsters throughout the series’ run before moving on to some of his bigger roles.  Cranston adds some strong starring power to the cast of the film which, aside from Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa, is composed of relatively unknown actors.  Power Rangers is currently scheduled for a March 24, 2017 release.

Warcraft is the highest grossing videogame movie of all time

Despite a steep decline in domestic revenue over the last week, Warcraft has become the highest grossing film adaptation of a videogame of all time – even adjusting for inflation.  Warcraft suffered a 73% drop in ticket sales from its opening weekend to last weekend, when it was up against the dominating force of Pixar’s Finding Dory.  The majority of the film’s ticket sales have come from overseas, with over $200 million of the film’s $377 earnings coming from China alone.  The film had a budget of $160 million and, despite some harsh reviews from critics, has been a success with fans.  Our own review gave the film a 3 / 3 (for a “Good” rank).  Despite the promising numbers, the film is expected to need to hit a $450 million gross to break even when considering the marketing budget, distribution costs, and a smaller cut from overseas markets.

The previous record holder, Prince of Persia, had a total gross of $335 million when its theatrical run finished.

Warcraft movie review

Videogame films have a long history of being among some of the worst films ever made.  Not from a lack of solid source material, but the execution has always proved lacking.  Early reviews of this summer’s Warcraft movie seemed to indicate that would be the case, yet again, with the first live action adaptation of one of the biggest franchises in the realm of PC gaming.  Early box office numbers seem to suggest otherwise.

The film thrusts viewers into the dying world of Draenor – the Orc homeworld.  We don’t know why it’s dying, but things are grim for this tribal race of warriors.  Hope for the Orcs lies beyond a portal into a new world.  To open and sustain this portal, the Orcish shaman Gul’dan harnesses the power of a mysterious magic known as “the fel.”  It’s a dark magic fueled by death, and a major driving force in the film’s plot.  The amount of energy required to open this portal is immense as Gul’dan harvests the life force of thousands of captives to lead an invading force into this new world, Azeroth.

As a relative newcomer to the lore of Warcraft, having only played one of the original games and less than 20 hours of World of Warcraft, I expected to be lost going into this film.  From the early reviews, it seemed like this was going to be a tale that would only make sense for viewers with a background in the established mythos of Warcraft.  However, I found this assumption to be hugely inaccurate.  While there were moments early in the narrative that felt confusing, the exposition, both from character dialogue and situational context, helped to weave those threads into a coherent plot that was genuinely enjoyable.

The basic premise of the film is rather simple:  a warrior race is moving to a new home, but the natives there don’t take too kindly to that invasion – especially since those invaders are working hard to kill everything in their path.  The way it progresses and the subtle intricacies peppered in the story’s intertwining subplots elevate the basic foundation of the plot and creates an entire world rich with fantasy lore and memorable characters.  It’s not as straightforward as a brutish horde encroaching on a civilized world.  There’s internal conflict from within the tribe as some Orcs begin to question if what Gul’dan is doing is right for the Orcs, or if he’s leading them down a destructive path that blasphemes their heritage and traditions.  The trailers for the film hint at unlikely alliances being formed as a result of these internal conflicts, but when these events take place in the film, the payoff is grand.  It not only sets up one of the best action scenes in the movie, but also unveils new mysteries that send viewers off to fantastic new locations as the players in the Alliance try to stop the rest of the devastating Horde from breaking through from Draenor and destroying the world of Azeroth.

While I can’t say that there’s anything particularly outstanding about the plot – nothing life-changing or deeply impactful – the story manages to be entertaining for the film’s 2-hour runtime.  The fantasy lore is deep and intriguing.  It doesn’t ease viewers in, necessarily, but it does a great job during the 120 minutes you’re in Azeroth to get you caught up.  It doesn’t go out of its way to remind viewers with callbacks or reiterating plot points; instead, exposition in this world feels natural with characters expecting their associates to remember a previous plot point without having to repeat it.  Some viewers may suffer during a first viewing, but the end result feels more organic than hearing a rehash of dialogues and ideas.

The world of Azeroth is a fantastical one filled with numerous fantasy races, powerful mages, devastating warriors, and fearsome Orcs.  The characters in the world are natural in this fantasy realm.  The dialogue is a blend of pseudo old timey expressions melded with contemporary English to give each line a fantasy feel without alienating audiences by being hard to follow.  The only confusion really comes with trying to keep track of characters and locales by name.  As strong as the cast of characters is, the otherworldly nomenclatures are definitely not easy to remember.

Being a fantasy action epic, there’s plenty of fantasy action to be had in Warcraft.  The world is inhabited by formidable warriors and powerful mages.  The Orcs that invade Azeroth are these gigantic, brutish beasts that wield proportionally large weapons.  These massive foes dwarf the humans of the alliance and their prowess of using pure force is downright terrifying when you see them in action.  The combat scenes are as intense as they are entertaining.  Unlike other fantasy films where the heroes are just slightly outmatched in strength by their foes, the Orcs in Warcraft are towering mounds of muscle that can toss a horse without breaking a sweat.  These aren’t end bosses in dungeons, these are the grunts in this army – each one just as powerful as the next.  It’s a genuine blast seeing just how devastating they can be in combat.

It’s not just the war hammers and battle axes that have this devastating impact.  Sorcery is also hugely important in the world of Warcraft.  The previously mentioned “fel” is a terrifying dark magic that feeds on life energy and can be used to bestow or, more appropriately, infect others with this power.  There are a number of spells that make an appearance in the film with each having this startlingly forceful power.  Even a teleport spell feels impressive when the bass reverberates throughout the cinema.

Warcraft is a huge IP.  Millions of gamers are still logging countless hours in World of Warcraft.  The franchise is no stranger to other mediums, and film feels like the next logical step for the brand.  And it’s one that makes sense.  The universe is huge, and the action lends itself well to a summer blockbuster.  Thankfully, the lore is interesting enough to keep the plot moving forward when characters aren’t engaging in combat.  It’s a loud, fun, summer flick that has plenty of depth to keep viewers invested.  While it may not win any awards, it’s certainly entertaining and absolutely worth a watch.

 

Good – 3 / 3

X-Men: Apocalypse Review

“The third film is always the worst.”  This pseudo self-aware line is spoken as a not so subtle nod to the less than stellar reception X-Men 3: The Last Stand received.  And, as painful as it was hearing this piss poor attempt at irony, it couldn’t be more true.

X-Men:  Apocalypse is the third film in the new X-Men timeline and follows the events of the X-Men sequel / reboot Days of Future Past.  While Days of Future Past had its faults, it still stood out as one of the stronger entries in the X-Men film franchise.  Sadly, the legacy of the excellent First Class does nothing to elevate Apocalypse above mediocrity.

The film opens strong enough with a thundering score and the titular En Sabah Nur (Apocalypse) and his four henchman marching to a ritual to transfer his consciousness.  We’re treated to a fun, if a little clumsy, action scene right off the bat before the film tosses up the title card… and then devolves into a muddy mess of mediocrity and wasted potential.

The majority of the film is set in 1983, over 20 years after First Class, and it does little to emphasize this point aside from a few period outfits and a Return of the Jedi marquee.  Despite the cast having aged only 5 years since this new (old) class of heroes was introduced, we’re thrust into yet another decade with little to no reason.  Really, the only cues we have, aside from the punk clothing and movies playing in cinemas, that any time has passed between films is the damage done in the last two movies is barely a passing thought to anyone in this universe and one of the characters has a family now.

With First Class, and to a lesser extent Days of Future Past, the characters felt new and refreshing.  Even if we had seen them before in these films, the new interpretations added a new layer of depth.  In the original X-Men film, we were given a glimpse into what turned Erik into Magneto.  First Class took us deeper into that character evolution with an extended look at Erik’s time in Auschwitz and Michael Fassbender giving us a Magneto that, in spite of his feelings toward them, is more human.  The relationship between Charles and Erik in First Class gives more weight to each instance you hear the line “old friend” spoken in the original films.  It’s a compelling relationship and one I’d love to see more of, but one that takes a back seat to some of the new gifted youngsters as Apocalypse tries desperately to bridge the gap between the old and new.

While Days of Future Past did little to develop that relationship further, being essentially another Wolverine movie, the characters in that go ‘round were actually fun to follow.  Apocalypse shifts its focus to follow Jean Grey, Kurt Wagner, and Scott Summers in their “first” appearance in the franchise.  I’ve never been a fan of how Cyclops has been presented in the film franchise, being a bit of a whiny douche, which is disappointing because he was always my favorite in the comics.  Apocalypse somehow manages to make the character even less likable than the James Marsden iteration of the character.  I understand, he’s going through some unexpected changes that are difficult to handle, but the stilted performance, cringe-worthy dialogue, and lack of chemistry do nothing to make those changes relatable – or even tolerable.

On the topic of dialogue, the script is downright terrible at times.  With a hodgepodge of graceless exposition, ham-fisted attempts at humor, and standard, impact-less “us versus the world” hero speeches, you’re sure to shake your head more than a few times at just how utterly stupid these characters can sound when they open their mouths.  That’s not to say that it’s all bad – there are moments with true dramatic weight, but I think that has less to do with the script and more to do with Michael Fassbender’s better-than-this-movie-deserves performance.  Each scene he’s in is mesmerizing, with one in particular striking nearly every emotional cord.  It’s a shame, then, that he’s such a small presence in the film.  Each scene with Erik is like watching a different movie.  A good movie.

The primary conflict in X-Men:  Apocolypse centers on the return of Apocalypse as he gathers an army of mutants to push the reset button on the world so the strong can survive and start anew.  It’s an idea with potential:  all-powerful being hell-bent on world destruction and domination surrounds himself with other, like-minded powerful beings to see that plan through.  Unfortunately, it’s wasted on unnecessary subplots and stupid characters.

Apocalypse keeps four henchmen nearby and, of those, only two are actually interesting in any way.  Olivia Munn as Psylocke is hard to watch – even if she is just a blip on the radar in the film – and the inclusion of Angel is downright baffling (I don’t remember him being in his forties in The Last Stand).  Alexandra Shipp’s turn as Storm is a vast improvement over Halle Berry’s, but she gets about as much screen time as Psylocke – which is a shame because she manages to be one of the few enjoyable characters in the film.  Apocalypse himself is bland and a waste of Oscar Isaac’s talent as the blue makeup and boring progression do a fine job of making him as unrecognizable as he is uninteresting.  There are brief moments where you can see a glimmer of what could be only to be pulled back down by a groan-inducing line someone managed to choke out.

There was an opportunity to build toward something bigger with ApocalypseDays of Future Past reset the timeline and created the possibility to do something new; instead, they went with another paint-by-numbers standalone superhero flick.  While some of the action is enjoyable and the time you get to spend with the Magneto subplot is absolutely worth watching, there’s little to nothing else in this film worth recommending.  It’s like a cocktail of one part good movie, two parts painfully mediocre movie, and one part absolutely horrible movie.  While it’s not downright terrible as a whole, it rarely ever tries not to be.

Meh – 2 / 3

Kick Ass 2 Review

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The first Kick Ass, for me, was entirely unexpected.  I knew nothing about the comic upon which the film was based and was joyfully surprised by the film’s wit and brutally over-the-top violence.  It was a breath of fresh air in the world of comic book films that are trying to be grittier or more realistic in the wake of Chris Nolan’s Batman flicks.  It was a terrifically fun romp and I was anxious for more.

Enter Kick Ass 2 – the bigger budget sequel to one of the most fun superhero flicks that seeks to outdo its predecessor.  While I can’t say that the film succeeds in its ambitions, it certainly puts up a good effort.

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Kick Ass 2 begins two years after the first movie ended.  Chris D’Amico is an emotionally unstable manchild who is pissed at Kick Ass.  Meanwhile, masked vigilantes inspired by Kick Ass are taking to the streets to help those in need; whether it’s feeding the hungry or busting up an illegal poker game run by human traffickers.  Kick Ass himself, however, isn’t present in this group of heroes – no, he gave up vigilantism in favor of living a boring teenage life.  Leading this masked band of misfits, calling themselves Justice Forever, is Colonel Stars and Stripes.

Amidst all the heroics, the film gets lost in some high school drama and heavy-handed character development.  While I’m fully aware that character development is necessary for driving the story, the primary players have already had their backgrounds and personalities laid out in the first film.  The sequel sees them straying away from the character traits you’re expecting and often abandons the high quality wit of the first in favor of a more realistic or even cliched scenario.

kick-ass-2-posterTonally, the film fails to hold up the high energy of the original.  It still has its moments where it shines, but it attempts to be darker and more serious than the first film.  While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it wasn’t entirely expected.  Going in knowing that Jim Carrey had a starring role – even having his image and name billed on posters – I was expecting more on the comedic side.  While he certainly fills the role well, I can’t help but feel he was under utilized.  There’s one scene in particular where Jim Carrey shined as Col. Stars and Stripes, but the character didn’t really feel like it took advantage of him and his abilities.

The film’s climax was disappointing to me and, I feel, it didn’t really live up to the buildup, but even with its flaws, the film is full of energy and has some great action.  Some of the high school drama feels over done and unnecessary, but there was always something unexpected and thrilling making up for the films lulls.  It’s a fun film that doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor, but it’s still well worth sitting through.

 

Kick Ass 2:  3 out of 5

Grumpy Cat getting a movie

Because giving movies and shows to Fred and The Annoying Orange were terrific ideas, someone saw an opportunity to further cash in on some internet success.  It’s been confirmed that a movie based on the one and only Grumpy Cat is in the works; it’s said to be a Garfield-like feature.  It’s not really surprising given the cat’s popularity and the fact that movies based on other questionable sources of inspiration for films (like Angry Birds) are in the works.  No word on whether this will be live action or CG or whether or not the grumpy feline will be playing herself in the film.  But a film is in the works.  Be excited, I guess.

 

Source:  IGN

Star Trek: Into Darkness Review

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A new Star Trek for a new audience may be the best way to describe this sequel to the 2009 alternate timeline reboot.  We’ve got the same characters, the same Starfleet, and the same (kinda) NCC-1701 USS Enterprise and, as a fan of the series, it’s great to see all of these on the big screen.  But, despite the familiarities, it’s apparent that this Trek is a new and exciting journey that is trying to sever the ties, while making clever references, and carve its own identity.

Being set some time after the first film, Into Darkness has characters settling into their more traditional roles.  Spock and Kirk aren’t at each other’s throats and it’s evident that Kirk has sincerely embraced his friendship with Spock.  It’s a nice change from the tense relationship between the two in the previous film and more in-line with the characters from The Original Series (TOS).  There’s witty banter between the two and the relationship between Spock and Uhura gets some worthwhile focus as well which leads to some well-done character interactions and hilarious dialogue between the Kirk, Spock, and Uhura.

The film’s primary plot has been the subject of speculation and rumors for some time with fans believing that Benedict Cumberbatch’s villainous character was Khan Noonien Singh from TOS’s “Space Seed” and the film The Wrath of Khan or Gary Mitchell from the season 1 TOS episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”  While it’s evident that there is a great deal of direct influence from TOS’s existing plots, Cumberbatch’s John Harrison is very much a product of this new Trek for a new audience.  Fans can sit back and pick out all the clever references and embrace this villain while new audiences are able to enjoy the struggles of the Enterprise and her crew against this fierce opponent unburdened by the necessity of having to know the series’ history.

Plot progression is done very well with location changes and new developments providing a wonderfully coherent but incredibly diverse experience.  The film forges its path like a composition of six mini-episodes where the climax is the penultimate episode leaving audiences with a “To Be Continued…” cliffhanger and the finale wrapping up the conflict, restoring order, and teasing what the next season holds for us.  Even with its distinct take on the property that often feels alien in the Star Trek universe, the film unfolds in the way you’d hope or expect a Star Trek film to and is the perfect model for what future entries in the series should strive for.

Characters differ from their TOS counterparts.  In some instances, this is understandable.  Shatner’s Kirk from the Star Trek of the past is brash and sometimes reckless, but in a responsible way.  He’s not going to forego protocol simply to forego protocol.  If he can find a way that won’t endanger his crew and disregard the Prime Directive, he’ll make the right call.  This isn’t to say that Shatner’s Kirk was the perfect model of a Starfleet commander, but he did still respect, to a certain extent, the rules even though he was willing to break them when necessary.

Chris Pine’s Kirk is much less refined.  He’s like a child given a set of responsibilities for which he is absolutely not ready.  He’s reckless with little or no thought about the consequences.  He doesn’t think of whether or not there is a better approach, he takes the quickest or the easiest one simply because he feels that the end will justify the means and that the success will outweigh the cost.  Given that this alternate timeline Kirk was given command of a ship in much less time than TOS’s Kirk and grew up without his father, it’s understandable that he’d be less mature or wise than Shatner’s rendition of the character.  However, it’s baffling that, after all of this, he managed to stay in command of the Enterprise during the events between Star Trek and Into Darkness.

Zachary Quinto’s Spock is excellent, in this reviewer’s humble opinion.  He nails the Vulcan demeanor and his delivery is mechanically organic.  At times I felt that his character lacks the human side that Spock Prime of TOS had with this Spock being almost too Vulcan at times, but that feeling is unfounded as Spock has some excellent dialogue that highlights his human nature and one incredibly powerful scene that brings forth the Spock I know and love.

The rest of the cast rounds out the experience nicely with Benedict Cumberbatch playing an excellent villain who is as brutal, powerful, and war-hungry as he is intelligent.  This isn’t just a villain who relies on brute strength, but cunning and an infallible strategy to ensure success.  Simon Pegg’s rendition of Scotty is also worthy of note as he fills the role perfectly.  This isn’t a surprise as I felt his performance was one of the best things of the 2009 film and it’s great to see him back aboard the Enterprise.

On its own, Star Trek: Into Darkness is a fantastic film.  It was everything I was hoping for from a sequel to the 2009 film.  It was, however, somewhat hollow.  The main emotional conflicts and the most rousing scenes are the ones that are modernized echoes of TOS.  For a film so heavily reliant on creating its own identity, it’s so heavily reliant on the premise of existing plots to succeed in the task it’s trying so hard to achieve.  It hurts the film, but not in such a way that you can’t sit back and enjoy the experience and love every second aboard the Enterprise.

The events from the first film, a Romulan (Nero) traveling back in time to kill James T. Kirk alters the course of the future and sets up a timeline drastically different from that of TOS.  While certain events from that film have had a huge impact on that fictional universe, a part of me was hoping that they would move this film franchise closer to merging with the original timeline, for some reason.  It’s apparent with Into Darkness that they’re content with straying far from making reparations to their fractured timeline while referencing the existing materials to keep the fans happy.  This isn’t a bad thing as it gives us fans some unexpected turns and ensures that the future isn’t predictable, but it’s still hard to not be protective of a property you’ve considered “yours” for years.  This modern take on the property has eschewed socio-political commentaries for high-adrenaline action featuring characters that fans are familiar with and non-fans can appreciate.  It’s nice to see the crew of the Enterprise back in action and the film is an absolute blast, but you can’t help but feel a little disappointed at times for the lack of traditional Trek feel.

Star Trek: Into Darkness:  4 out of 5

Elysium Trailer

A trailer for Neill Blomkamp’s upcoming science fiction film Elysium has been released.  This is Blomkamp’s first filme since his 2009 feature film debut with the Academy Award nominated District 9.  Elysium stars Matt Damon and is scheduled for an August 9 release this year.