At The Movies: Kick-Ass 2 (2013)

(Long Island, N. Y.) Kick-Ass 2 is basically more Kick-Ass but less of the irony that defined the original film, with its real-world take on the whole superhero business. In other words, while entertaining on a base level, it’s also basically become what it first set out to parody.

The first Kick-Ass, released in 2010 and directed by the awesome Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class), was based on a “mature readers” comic book created by writer Mark Millar and artist John Romita, Jr. To make the movie he wanted, Vaughn achieved independent backing, which enabled him to thumb his nose at the Hollywood bigwigs and do pretty much whatever the hell he wanted.

Kick-Ass was the heart-warming story of average geek Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), who one day decides to don a goofy green wetsuit and fight crime just like the superheroes in comic books. Dubbing himself “Kick-Ass” but possessing no equivalent abilities that such a nom de plume would suggest, he is

soon left battered and broken by thugs after attempting to stop a robbery.

But, lucky for Kick-Ass the extensive nerve damage and the plates and screws now holding him together create a hero far more capable of taking a beating, and once he’s discharged from the hospital, he goes right back into crime fighting.

Filmed defending a beating victim from a gang attack (’cause you know kids love filming cool stuff with their smart phones), Kick-Ass ends up a YouTube sensation and attracts the attention of a real crime fighting duo: Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage), a cross between Batman and The Punisher, and his daughter, Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz), an 11 year-old kid who swears like a sailor and brutally slices and dices bad guys without remorse. Together, they enter into conflict with Mafia kingpin Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong) and his son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), blood is spilt, things blow up, the bad guys are beaten, etc, etc, etc.

kick_ass_2Kick-Ass 2 picks up with Kick-Ass being trained by Hit-Girl to be a better crime fighter, while she attempts to give up the game and lead the life of a normal teenage girl (at the behest of her guardian Marcus after the death of Big Daddy in the previous movie). Meanwhile, Chris D’Amico, whose father perished at the hands of Kick-Ass and his bazooka in their last encounter, uses his inheritance to become a super villain, calling himself…um…well, “The M-Fer.” Only, that’s not the whole name. It’s a bad word. I can’t type it here or I’ll get fired. But I’m sure you get it, right?

Anyway, Kick-Ass’ exploits have inspired the city, and soon there’s costumed vigilantes everywhere. Kick-Ass joins a team of heroes called “Justice Forever,” led by Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey). Meanwhile, The M-Fer hires a team of super villains to back him up, and starts doing his best to make Kick-Ass pay for his father’s death. Meanwhile, Hit-Girl, who is honestly the only real capable fighter in the entire movie, is trying her hardest to fit in with the popular girls in high school…and failing miserably. Will she become Hit-Girl again and save Kick-Ass from certain death at the hands of The M-Fer and his gang, the Toxic Mega-C…um, well…it’s another bad word.

It rhymes with “runts.” You do the math.

Overall, the first Kick-Ass was a pretty fun movie, especially when you take into consideration the writing/directing skills of Matthew Vaughn; whereas the characters of the comic

book were rather loathsome and unlikable (even the good guys), Vaughn did what he could to humanize them and, in the case of Hit-Girl, tone down some of the REALLY objectionable aspects of her character for the film adaptation. Oh, you didn’t think she could be more offensive (or awesome)? Well, for example, Vaughn thankfully omitted her

habit of doing cocaine before battle, which I think REALLY would have sent people over the deep end. No, there was still some glaring issues regarding the characters of Kick-Ass and how invested the film got you in their plights, bit overall it was a solid and fun movie.

However, the sequel, written and directed this time by Jeff Wadlow (Matthew Vaughn co-produced), while still fun in many respects, seems to fall a bit short of the mark set by the first movie. Wadlow seems unwilling to put the effort into it to either make the characters semi-relatable or wholeheartedly embrace the parody of superhero films like his predecessor did. Thus, you get a movie that basically almost becomes what the first installment set out to make fun of. It’s a shame, because the cast is as solid as before and the actions scenes are just as hard-hitting, gory, and intense.

Aaron Johnson, with his awkward delivery, was really good, although something seemed to be missing from his performance this time around; he seemed slightly less intense for whatever reason. But once again the scene-stealer, of course, is Chloë Grace Moretz’s Hit-Girl. Yes, she’s a good actress, but it’s her bravery in taking such a messed-up role that really makes her stand out. After shocking audiences with the brash and foul-mouthed Hit-Girl when she was

just 12, she returns to do it again as a teenager, whereas most actresses her are more worried about starring in the latest crappy Twilight rip-off film. She owns this movie, plain and simple.

Oh, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse? He’s okay, but man, if he wasn’t typecast as a nerd before (and he was), this movie seals the deal forever. I just couldn’t take him seriously as a villain. Not for a second.

Kick-Ass 2, just like the original, hits a speed bump and slows way down in the middle, throwing off the pace rather significantly (it does recover for the ending, however). And, despite being a major part of the marketing, Jim Carrey‘s role is basically one step up from a glorified cameo; it’s that brief.

Also, some of the humor is hit or miss, and at times even far too tasteless for even someone as twisted as myself; an attempted sexual assault is actually played for laughs (the perp couldn’t “perform”), which is just gross. Yes, I know that, in the comic Kick-Ass 2 is based on, the rape actually takes place (that’s one reason out of many that I won’t be reading it), so at least the director had the good sense to reign in that scene, but I think the movie would have been better served if he had just removed it altogether.

Otherwise, if you liked the first Kick-Ass, there’s (almost) no reason why you wouldn’t like Kick-Ass 2. It’s certainly not for everyone, however, but if you dig your action bloody and tasteless (who doesn’t?), you should dig it.


At The Movies: Elysium (2013)

(Long Island, N. Y.) One of my favorite films in the last few years (heck, possibly of all-time) is Neill Blomkamp“s

amazingly awesome 2009 writing/directorial debut District 9. A gritty, funny, and altogether mind-blowing and original sci-fi action movie set in South Africa, the independently-produced District 9 put Blomkamp on the map in a big way. I really can”t say enough about how good this movie is.

That said, the stakes were high when his second film, another sci-fi effort entitled Elysium, was announced, and after what seems like forever, it”s finally upon us. Now, I”ve tried to be realistic with my expectations – after all, people were expecting probably way too much out of Blomkamp for his debut with a major studio – but nonetheless, my expectations were met. Mostly,


Elysium, set in the year 2154, is the tale of Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) a guy living in Mexico, the squalor of Earth”s many disgusting slums, along with all of the other “Have Nots.” Meanwhile, the “Haves” live in orbit in a posh space station, the eponymous “Elysium,” where they have access to advanced medical pods that can pretty much heal any disease or injury (apparently even an exploded head isn”t too much for these things to handle). Earth inhabitants, with little access to

proper health care (sound familiar?), often attempt to “jump the border” into Elysium via outlaw shuttle-crafts; provided they aren”t shot down in the process, they then run into the nearest home and utilize its medical pod (using fake generic ID) to fix what ails “em, only to be deported right afterwards. It”s risky, but sometimes it”s the poor populace”s only choice to survive.

Max, a former gangster, is trying to get his life back on track by working in a robot factory, but after he receives lethal radiation poisoning from an industrial accident, he becomes obsessed with getting to Elysium and using their medical pods to cure his condition. In his bid for life, he joins up with his former gang and is outfitted with a powered exo-skeleton to aid in the violent theft of data from a visiting

Elysium resident overseeing business operations on Earth; once the mysterious data is retrieved, Max will be granted a one-way ticket to Elysium and salvation. However, the stolen data contains a startling secret, one that has Elysium”s Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster) pulling out all the stops to get it back…even going so far as to activate the deadly and ruthless Agent C.M. Kruger (Sharlto Copley), a loose cannon that commands a team of mercenaries under Elysium”s employ.

elysiumWith all of this against him, and the complication of a childhood sweetheart getting involved in the mix, is there any chance that Max will make it to Elysium before his five days to live are up?

Elysium is really good. It didn”t completely blow me onto my backside like District 9 did – it”s not THAT good – but it was wasn”t a letdown, either. It featured a lot of great action scenes; innovative speculative future-tech; and rather biting social commentary that, while unfortunately not nearly as subtle as the messages presented in District 9, are still effective and, in this day and age of the Haves vs. the Have-Nots, very, very relevant. The message of the film wasn”t particularly heavy-handed for the most part…at least, until the very end, when it went into overdrive. I was slightly annoyed, but whatever; it could have been worse. Another minor complaint about Elysium is the toned down humor and emotionalism that were very much present in District 9; as a result, Blomkamp”s sophomore effort feels a tad dry. But only a


I”ve also seen complaints about excessive shaky cam, but I personally think it”s all overblown; I”ve seen way, waaay worse shaky cam in other films… Elysium wasn”t that bad in that regard at all.

Matt Damon, aside from being oddly miscast as online casinos a Mexican gang-banging car thief (huh?) trying to get on the straight and narrow, is otherwise excellent and proves that he”s still one of this generation”s most capable action stars who can also deliver a dramatic, nuanced performance as well. Jodie Foster plays a capable ice queen, showing a ruthlessness that we don”t normally see coming from her. Alice Braga and Emma Tremblay were okay, but not really needed in my opinion…they just formed the stereotypical duo of the mommy and daughter that the self-absorbed hero bonds with to learn selflessness. I”d love to see a movie without this plot element shoehorned into it in one form or another for once; a hero who is just a total jerk without any growth or arc that humanizes him would be awesome.

And Sharlto Copley as Agent Kruger…oh, man. Copley owned District 9 in its quirky lead role and, playing the exact opposite here as Elysium”s horrifyingly creepy villain, Copley owns yet another movie. This guy is the real deal, and I hope he has a long career ahead of him.

The visuals…well, it”s a Neill Blomkamp movie, and I think he”s using the same effect studios as he did for District 9, so yeah, it”s pretty, but in a way that runs against the usual “LOOK AT ME AND MY EYE-SEARING EFFECTS” offered by your average big-budget film. Blomkamp understands that the effects just supplement the action and, most importantly, the characters; so, in the case of Elysium, we get CG that compliments and supports the film as opposed to overpowering it. Everything is functional, and nothing feels inserted simply as a “wow” shot. But, just purely from a “wow” standpoint, the shots of Elysium itself are pretty impressive, and the robots pretty much blew me away- they”re obviously guys in green suits with extensive, photo-realistic CG laid over them, giving them a definite physical presence with the other actors that most movies lack.

Overall, Elysium is

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a really good movie, but I think top honors for the Summer Blockbuster season have to go to Guillermo del Toro”s fantastic Pacific Rim, which was just as good in its own way, but holds the edge in being just plain old FUN. But really, two great, intelligent sci-fi movies in one summer season? The real winners are movie-going audiences, in my opinion; if you haven”t seen either of them yet (how is that possible?), go make a double-feature of Elysium and Pacific Rim. Trust me, your mind will be blown.


At The Movies: 2 Guns (2013)

(Long Island, N. Y.) 2 Guns is yet another entry in the “buddy cop” genre…you know, two cops who hate each other are forced to team up to eradicate a common goal. Usually one cop is straight-laced and the other a “loose cannon,” but together they become an unstoppable duo and eventually they bond, learning about life, love, and shooting bad guys along the way.

However, what separates 2 Guns from the billions of other buddy cop movies is it’s leads- Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg. Marky Mark usually delivers the goods when the chips are down, and Denzel is, well…he’s Denzel, man! He ALWAYS delivers the goods! So, when you have two charismatic leads with decent chemistry in your film, how could you possibly go wrong?

Well, for the most part, you can’t. 2 Guns, despite the horribly generic title, is a genuinely fun and exciting flick. The plot involves Robert Trench (Washington), an undercover DEA agent, and Michael Stigman (Wahlberg), an undercover Naval Intelligence Officer, who end up working together to take down drug lord Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos). However, there’s a twist…actually, a lot of twists, as the duo (who, of course start out at odds with each other because neither man knows the other is undercover at first) end up embroiled in a scheme involving drug cartels, crooked government officials, and $43 million in stolen currency that the CIA plans to use to fund secret, ultra-naughty black ops missions. Basically everyone is trying to either kill Trench and Stigman, or coerce them into doing their dirty work, and these two bad boys will need to expend a lot of lead if they’re going to come out of the movie alive.

At The Movies: 2 GunsOr maybe not…maybe Trench and Stigman will have a guardian scriptwriter on their shoulders looking out for them instead. After all, the hardest thing to write in a movie are characters that do smart things, but nonetheless manage to get into trouble; it’s far easier to write stupid characters that do stupid things that get them into trouble. Case in point- 2 Guns goes out of its way to establish its bad guys as brutal and more than willing to kill anyone and everyone without a second’s hesitation- everyone except the people they should want to kill most of all, which would be Trench and Stigman. No, once they get their grubby little paws on these two, suddenly they get all reasonable and want to…talk? Even when blowing Trench and Stigman away would be in their best interests? It just makes no sense and really takes you out of a movie when you see characters doing something that no one on the planet would ever, ever do.

Otherwise, 2 Guns is a solid and fun movie. Washington and Wahlberg clearly steal the spotlight, but their supporting cast is pretty much uniformly excellent as well. Any film that gives guys like Bill Paxton, Fred Ward, and James Marsden a little exposure always gets a plus from me.

Plus, 2 Guns is fast-paced, contains sweet action scenes, and plenty of humor- much of it even funny, in fact. I’d say the first two-thirds are pretty great, but once the aforementioned lapse into stupidity on behalf of the bad guys kicks in during the film’s final third, the proceedings just kinda go down the tubes and never recovers. It’s a pity, but sticking the landing is always the hardest part of the ride, I guess. I’ve seen better movies make the same mistake, so in this case it’s not a total deal-breaker. Just be ready for it.

Overall, 2 Guns is a fun time at the movies, so if you’re in the mood for an occasionally dumb film that re-treads a tried-and-true concept with some flair and great casting, go and check it out.

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At The Movies: The Wolverine (2013)

(Long Island, N. Y.) I gave 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine a good review. I was wrong- in hindsight, it was actually pretty bad. I screwed up…I can admit that. It doesn’t happen with me often, but I think everyone has at least one or two movies under their belt that they’ve flipped on after initially liking for whatever reason… temporary insanity, whatever.

It doesn’t mean that X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a BAD movie, per se…it’s just a cheesy, cliché-ridden mess with a storyline filled with plot holes, inconsistencies, and just plain silliness. It also botches the portrayal of several fan-favorite characters, which ticked a lot of people off as well.

Nonetheless, it was successful at the box office, but expectations were low for a sequel. Luckily, the newest installment in the X-Men series, simply entitled The Wolverine, is a major step up from its predecessor…although it’s not without its problems. But wait…who the heck is Wolverine, you ask? Geez, what’s wrong with you? Well, okay…I’ll school you.

Wolverine, AKA Logan, is a mutant born with enhanced regenerative abilities that enable him to rapidly recover from almost any wound or disease (as well as granting him virtual immortality, both a blessing and a curse), enhanced animal senses, retractable, foot-long, razor-sharp claws housed in his forearms, and a skeleton bonded with an indestructible metal called adamantium. A member of the X-Men, a group of super-powered mutants banded together to help protect a world that hates and fears them, Wolverine has become one of the most popular funny-book characters around over the years

Played by Hugh Jackman after pounding down 6,000 calories a day and living in the gym every minute for the past few months, Wolverine is a jacked berserker oozing with muscles and veins and striations and actually looks

pretty freaky, especially when he’s slashing stuff with his claws while screaming at the top of his lungs. But Jackman is actually a talented actor, and manages to bring one of the comic world’s most complex and nuanced characters to life with a superb performance; Logan’s rage and anger are tempered with a world-weariness in this installment and the need to find something new to give his life meaning after living untold lifetimes due to his mutation.

At The Movies: The Wolverine (2013)The Wolverine is yet another solo effort that takes place after the last X-Men film, The Last Stand (which was pretty bad, falling short of the high-water mark set by the great X1 and X2), and it finds Logan living as a homeless bum in the woods, traumatized after the tragic loss of the love of his live and the breakup of the X-Men team. However, his past comes calling as a former Japanese solider that he saved during World War 2 (like I said, Logan is basically immortal) calls upon his one-time savior while on his deathbed, wishing to bid him farewell. Flying to Japan, Logan soon discovers a deceptive plot to strip him of his powers and, weakened and diminished for the first time in his life due to mysterious circumstances, he finds himself fighting Yakuza, Ninja, and his own painful past that he can’t escape.

I actually thought The Wolverine was really good. I really dug the whole Japanese aspect, with its effective mix of modern and traditional aesthetics. It was slightly unconventional for a superhero movie, with its slower pace sprinkled with intense action scenes and character-building moments, and ran rather contrary to the average summer blockbuster.

I also enjoyed that they reduced Logan’s healing factor drastically due to a certain plot device…it made him a far more compelling and interesting character when he could be hurt and was walking around all injured and shot up and a gang of normal dudes could actually give him trouble for once. I mean, it gets boring when he’s totally invincible all of the time and can regenerate.

The characters in The Wolverine are also pretty cool, and were a big part of my enjoyment of it. While Tao Okamoto, who plays Logan’s love interest Mariko Yashida, is solid but ultimately somewhat bland, a big standout for me was Rila Fukushima as Yukio, a spunky mutant with fortune-telling powers and slick martial arts skills who ends up as a sidekick of sorts to Logan. I also liked Svetlana Khodchenkova as Viper, one of the film’s main baddies; she has an astonishingly evil, snake-like look and attitude.

In fact, there really wasn’t a weak acting link in The Wolverine, and overall, it was a big improvement over X-Men Origins and a very good movie in its own right.

But at the end it aaaall fell apart.

The movie’s whole vibe does a complete 180 when that Transformers reject CGI Robo-Samurai shown in the trailers shows up and the whole flick goes into full-blown summer blockbuster mode. But it wasn’t JUST Robo-Samurai that screws things up…it was also the “you’ll see it coming from a mile away” twist he represented

and all the garbage that went along with it. Basically, the whole ending was flawed from the concept level up and badly needed to be rewritten.

I also saw a screening of the 3D version,

and I have never seen a 3D film where the 3D effect was so completely and totally unnoticeable ever before. Aside from a power wire on a house in one shot looking ever so SLIGHTLY 3D-ish (that’s how bad it was…a WIRE stood out), this was a just a blurry movie made clear with funny glasses, nothing more. An even bigger rip-off than most 3D movies are. It’s borderline fraud calling this a 3D movie, in my opinion, as the 3D effect just doesn’t exist in The Wolverine.

But aside from the ending and the not-3D, I really enjoyed The Wolverine. But that ending is BAD…it doesn’t quite ruin the whole movie, but it comes close. But the film nonetheless is a must-see for fans of the character and comic book movies overall, and it also does a good job of setting up the next installment of the X-Men series, entitled Days of Future Past with a mid-credits sequence worth waiting around for. Check it out.

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At The Movies: The Conjuring (2013)

(Long Island, N. Y.) The Conjuring is a good, scary time at the movies, and I really feel that director James Wan (creator of the Saw series, but don’t blame him for how bad those films ended up…he only made the first one) is finding his stride as a director. No, it’s not quite as good as his 2011 effort Insidious, which was really freaky and masterful, but The Conjuring is still a triumph for the horror genre in the sense that it embraces a return to old-school creeps and scares on a low budget instead of flashy CG effects and stupid false scares.

Wan is fast becoming an expert on the things that get under your skin and stay with you long after you’ve left the theater…things that remain when you’re home alone in a dark and creaky house. Ugh! And this is the same guy who will be directing the upcoming Fast and Furious 7! Honestly, that announcement surprised me, and I’m curious how such an unorthodox choice will pan out. But I have faith in Wan to craft a great film.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Conjuring is one of those movies that are “based on a true story but not really” involving real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) and the made-up events surrounding a supposedly legit exorcism the duo performs on a family occupying a farmhouse in Harrisville, Rhode Island, in 1971.

Long Islanders might recall that the Warrens gained fame as the lead investigators of the infamous Amityville Horror House case in 1977; Ed was a former Army vet and cop turned demonologist, and Lorraine was a psychic. The two are noted for using their abilities to travel the nation, sniffing out the truth about various supernatural phenomena, and The Conjuring centers on their second most famous case (I guess Amityville will happen in the sequel or something).

At The Movies: The Conjuring (2013)The Warrens are called to the home of Carolyn and Roger Perron (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston…yes, the Office Space guy), who have just moved into a new farmhouse in the middle of nowhere with their five daughters and, of course, all sorts of creepy, messed-up stuff starts happening. The Warrens determine that the haunting the Perrons are experiencing is legitimate, but do they have what it takes to cleanse the demonic entities that have latched onto the innocent family, and furthermore, what will the Warrens do when these spooky denizens of the nether regions take exception to strangers butting into their business and start turning their attention upon the Warrens’ own daughter? No amount of TPS reports will save the day, I assure you.

The Conjuring, while not hitting the primal fear bulls-eye that Insidious did, still manages to be creepy as all get-out. Part of it is the expert pacing…not too fast, and not too slow, but just right to allow the sense of dread and foreboding to seep in. It’s not the most original film ever made (The Exorcist and Poltergeist both come to mind), but standard horror clichés are ignored for the most part, and when they do turn up, they are either accompanied by a clever twist, or just done so well that you really don’t care that they’re ripped off from somewhere else.

But what really makes The Conjuring work so well is the cast; informally, everyone is excellent, but while Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga really do shine as a couple who are struggling to deal with their unusual, otherworldly profession, what really drove home the terror were the actresses playing the five children of the Perron family. Unlike most movie kids, none of them came across as obnoxious or annoying; instead, they all felt real, and this made them far more relatable and thus, the danger they experience gets to you that much more.

Don’t get me wrong- people still do stupid horror movie things that people in real life would never, EVER do (I’m going to explore this pitch-black, mysterious, cobweb-filled cellar…by myself! In just a nightgown! With just matches to light my way!), but it’s more forgivable in this case because A) the movie is well-made, and B) it’s unrealistic to expect scriptwriters to create intelligent ways for people to get into trouble in horror movies. After all, these people only make millions of dollars, you know?

But overall, The Conjuring is a great excursion into terror and highlights the talents of a great director at the top of his game. Don’t pass it up!


At The Movies: The Lone Ranger (2013)

(Long Island, N. Y.) Hey, it’s a movie that no one asked for and it’s really not that good! Oh boy! As an adult, I have fleeting memories of The Lone Ranger, but honestly, I’m not sure from where. I don’t think I ever watched the show as a kid, as even then it was way before my time (the character debuted in 1933 in radio dramas before graduating to popular TV shows and movies). But I think everyone is at least vaguely familiar with the tale of the masked man riding into the sunset with his trusty Native American sidekick Tonto, dispensing justice in the Wild West one trademark silver bullet at a time (no, he didn’t fight werewolves…he just liked bling in his gun).

However, despite being a major part of American entertainment history, the character really hasn’t been relevant in quite some time. However, Hollywood, with its complete inability to create anything new, fresh, and interesting, instead mines its past once again and this time, decides to plunk down $250 large (as in MILLION) on a big-screen adaptation of The Lone Ranger, despite no one really caring. You could really feel the apathy of the American audience as Disney made the announcement of this project, and I wondered how a western period piece, no matter how extravagant, would possibly cost $250 million to make (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, one of the most epic westerns ever made, only cost $1.2 million…granted, that was back in 1966, but still); especially one with so little hype surrounding it.

Well, the new The Lone Ranger film is here, and it’s basically considered by many media analysts as a flop right out of the gate; starring Armie Hammer as The Ranger himself and Johnny Depp as Tonto, the film seems to have failed to attract audiences, who I hope have wised up and perhaps started valuing substance over computer-generated style and stupidity.

The film follows the origin tale of The Lone Ranger himself (Hammer), who starts out life as a Texas Ranger named John Reid whose brother is killed by the infamous outlaw Butch Cavendish and his gang. Oh, and John was “killed” as well, but he is “revived” by a scared white “spirit horse” named Silver (who becomes his trusty steed), and is informed by a mysterious Comanche named Tonto (Depp) that he has “been to the other side.” The two join forces to take down the bad guys, with Reid donning a mask at Tonto’s behest to conceal his identity (after all, he’s supposed to be dead, right?).

At The Movies: The Lone Ranger (2013)What follows is an overlong, drawn-out, semi-unfunny film that possesses no character or soul. It’s amusing here and there, and there are some pretty good action scenes (a train sequence near the end is probably the highlight…although it’s not without its own problems), but overall, this is a film that no one asked for, and a film that won’t win over the Ranger any modern fans.

Armie Hammer does a decent job…heck, he actually does a good job as the title character, combining his imposing frame with a tough-guy persona that works fairly well to introduce the ranger to modern audiences. It’s just a shame the film built around him couldn’t have been better, but if you were familiar with the troubled production history behind this movie (lots of budget issues, casting issues, script-re-writes, etc), it’s not really surprising that it’s uneven or sloppy. Helena Bonham Carter plays a brothel madam who aids our duo of The Ranger and Tonto and remains as annoying and unnecessary as she usually is in most of her recent film roles. Another review for this film stated that her role could be completely removed and The Lone Ranger not only wouldn’t miss her but the film overall would show improvement. I concur.

Of course, the big issue many people seem to have with the film is the casting of Depp as a Native American; personally, I find it barely one step up from a black-face minstrel show. There’s plenty of Native American actors out there looking for a break, and instead Disney decides to just paint Depp red and parade him out in front of audiences acting like a buffoon; his Tonto character amounts to little more than a pathetic attempt at comic relief while spouting forth stereotypical Native American mannerisms, and seriously serves to undercut Hammer’s otherwise solid portrayal as The Ranger at every turn. Depp is good at creating great, memorable characters, but this is one time where he’s seriously misfired…and in the most racially offensive way possible to boot.

So, I can’t really recommend The Lone Ranger. It’s overly long, dumb, and even fairly offensive

to an often-marginalized ethnic group. It’s a typical example of Hollywood’s recent obsession of digging up its past and defacing it with its modern style-over-substance policy, and an ugly sheen of CG video-game graphics draped over it for good measure. Skip it.

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At The Movies: World War Z (2013)

(Long Island, N. Y.) Yawn…World War Z. Yeah, okay. I guess I’ll write about it. It’s based on the 2006 novel of the same name by Max Brooks, the same guy who wrote the tongue-in-cheek (at least, I THINK it was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek) Zombie Survival Guide. I remember skimming through that book at Barnes and Noble and thinking it was amusing; I know that Brooks’ follow-up, World War Z, has a lot of fans, although I never skimmed through that one at the book store. But, after talking to those who had, it sounded somewhat interesting, but ultimately it just wasn’t my thing; for me, zombies are a far more effective cinematic tool than a literary one.

Nonetheless, I knew trouble was brewin’ when the powers that be announced a film adaptation of Z, simply because what little I had heard about the book led me to believe that it basically read like a United Nations Tactical Report as opposed to a cohesive, dramatic narrative; clearly, the producers of the movie were going to go off in a different direction (I guess they had to?), and I knew it would be the usual Hollywood manufactured, cliché-ridden, big-budget, star-studded, CG-laden direction. Guess what? It was!

Brad Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a retired United Nations employee traveling the globe to try and find a way to stop a zombie pandemic. And before you

ask, these are “fast” zombies. If you’re not sure what I mean, let me school you- in zombie movies, there are two archtypes: the “George Romero” zombie (slow and shambling) and the “Zach Snyder” zombie (fast and agile). The zombies of

World War Z fall into the latter camp, for your information; these guys are fast. Real fast. The movie starts out with them running around, biting everyone they can get their hands on; those bitten become zombies themselves, and the cycle continues ad infinitum.

However, World War Z is a PG-13 movie, which means we don’t get cool, flesh-eating zombies…the zombies in this movie are more akin to a virus. In other words, they don’t want to eat you; they just want to spread whatever it is that’s turning everyone into zombies. Bite, and move on. Bite, and move on. It’s the only way Hollywood could realistically create a zombie movie that could bring in the kiddie money, I’m afraid, and while it kinda, sorta works, it’s also kinda, sorta lame.

At The Movies: World War Z (2013)Anyway, Pitt’s character is brought in because, as usual, he’s the only man who can uncover the outbreak’s source due to his expertise and experience, but of course he does so reluctantly, blah, blah, blah. And while Pitt is running around, his golden locks flowing in the breeze while engaging in endless chase scenes and close calls, we’re treated to a rather unimpressive video-game involving waves and waves of rather poorly-rendered and animated zombies climbing all over each other to get at the dwindling human survivors, many of whom have walled themselves up in massive “safe zones.” And the entire time, we’re left desperately trying to find a reason we shouldn’t be rooting for the undead in this movie, most of whom have far more personality than the human beings.

World War Z had a well-publicized, troubled production, and it really shows. The film is all spectacle and no soul or heart, and often finds itself more concerned with showing landscapes filled with ravenous, crazed, computer-generated zombies running amok than instilling its characters with any interesting qualities. It’s also disjointed, especially when it comes to its ending sequence; word on the street is that the studio insisted on a massive last-second re-shoot to make the climax more “summer blockbuster” friendly. I can only assume that the filmmakers actually went a little too dark for a studio-mandated family-friendly horror/action flick? Who knows, but the result is rather jarring; the flow of buildup to the ending is obviously thrown out of the window in favor of something glaringly awkward. But hey, gotta have that

happy ending that leaves open that lucrative sequel, right?

Granted, the spectacle on display can be fun at times, in a totally mindless way; but, in the end, World War Z is as brainless as its undead antagonists. I’d say it was a shame, but there are so damn many well-made zombie movies out there to choose from these days that a few crappy ones like this don’t really matter much in the grand scheme of things.

Pass unless you dress up as a zombie every Halloween.

StarHalf Star

At The Movies: Man of Steel (2013)

(Long Island, N. Y.) Yeah, so we have a new Superman movie on our hands. After the failure of director Bryan Singer’s 2006 Superman Returns, a well-meaning but somewhat misguided attempt to revive the franchise as a sequel to and (some would say overly) loving homage of the late 70’s Richard Donner Superman films, the series went into a limbo of sorts. In the interim, a number of high-profile superhero movies were made and released to critical acclaim and big box office numbers, and after a spell, the Hollywood bigwigs must have decided to dust off the guy in the cape for another go-around.

How does he fair this time? Well, that all depends on how you look at it.

Everyone knows Superman; the dude’s an American icon, after all. The last surviving member of the doomed planet Krypton, baby Kal-El was sent here in a rocket by his parents, where he was adopted by a mid-west farm couple and raised into adulthood under the alias of “Clark Kent.” His unique alien physiology, combined with the nourishing radiation given off by Earth’s yellow sun, combined to give Clark/Kal-El godlike superpowers which he selflessly uses to combat the forces of evil. Sounds like a pretty nice guy, huh?

After kicking around in the funny books since his debut in 1938, director Richard Donner helmed a breakthrough Superman film adaptation starring Christopher Reeve in 1978 that pretty much set the standard for all superhero films for years to come. The series that film spawned peaked with Superman 2, and then took a nosedive straight into the toilet as hack writers and directors got their ugly mitts into the works with the next two installments, effectively killing the franchise. However, Donner’s early legacy has remained, Singer’s somewhat divisive modern take on the subject matter years later aside.

At The Movies: Man of Steel (2013)It’s now 2013, and we have a Superman reboot on our hands, taking a ‘dark and gritty’ page out of producer Christopher Nolan‘s Batman series, and directed by Zack Snyder, known as one of the ultimate examples of a ‘style over substance’ guy that has ever been produced by the union of man and woman. However, a minor miracle has occurred- the film, entitled Man of Steel, is actually…good.

Yes, good…but not great. Man of Steel represents a quantum leap of quality for Snyder over 2011’s horrifically bad Sucker Punch, but only because Sucker Punch is one of the biggest pieces of garbage ever made in the history of anything ever. I’m assuming Nolan’s watchful eye served to keep Snyder in check. Somewhat, anyway.

When measuring comic book movies, Marvel’s Avengers (which is pretty much the current top of the heap, and will remain so for the foreseeable future) was much better. I know that Avengers had some plot holes and whatever, but I didn’t care because I liked it so much. But while I liked Man of Steel, I was already nitpicking it when I was walking out of the theater.

The film took a slightly different take on the mythos by featuring an extended opening on the planet Krypton, and while this gave the movie a refreshing feel from your usual reboot, the Krypton scenes completely sucked because everything about them were SO RUSHED. In rapid-fire succession a series of events unfold and before you know it, Krypton is blowing up and little Kal is on his way to Earth. Not one quiet second to get you to know who the heck any of these people you just saw are, just blind action and pretty CG sets and explosions…if I wasn’t familiar with the comic and had seen the old movies I would have had no idea whatsoever what the hell was going on.

Luckily, the pace slowed significantly one Kal reaches Earth and concentrated a tiny bit more on establishing Kal/Clark’s character; I found these scenes to be actually somewhat charming and entertaining. It wasn’t deep or anything, but it was a hell of a lot better than the mess Krypton was. I also liked how they skipped the usual linear origin story in favor of showing Superman’s upbringing via short little flashbacks. It made going through his story less of a chore than it usually is in reboots.

British actor Henry Cavill played Supes this time around, and he was really good…probably the best thing about the movie. He didn’t make me think of Chris Reeves at all. In fact, Cavill was very likable, looked the part, and held his British accent in check like a pro. Great job, and he’s what holds the movie together in its weakest moments.

Backing Cavill up is an impressive cast that tried their best to do something with a script and direction that is suspect at best. I liked Russell Crowe as Jor-El, Superman’s Kryptonian father. A lot, actually. And Christopher Meloni plays an Army Colonel in a role that was actually bigger than I thought. Probably my second favorite thing about this movie. Dude’s awesome.

Amy Adams plays spunky newspaper reporter Lois Lane, Superman’s classic love interest. I liked her. She’s cute in a non-Hollywood, realistic kind of way. I mean, she’s got some wrinkles and creases going on instead of flawless, porcelain skin. I almost couldn’t believe such a non-perfect person could have been cast in a major movie like this. It was actually refreshing. I also dug her investigation of the urban myths that had sprung up around Clark’s comings and goings over the years as she was attempting to uncover the mystery of this “super man” who goes around saving people and then disappearing. That was kinda cool.

Michael Shannon was pretty solid as the evil General Zod, the antagonist of the film despite his odd little lisp. He and his followers are the last surviving Kryptonians come to Earth to take over the planet and use Superman to develop a new race of their people. Shannon manages to avoid a direct comparison to the man who originated his role in 1980’s Superman 2, the great Terrance Stamp, although if you did place them side-by-side, it is indeed Shannon who would kneel to Stamp; not the other way around.

But other than maybe some minor character development for Supes, pretty much everyone was flat, one-dimensional, and pretty much soulless. But I expected that from Snyder, but still, would it hurt to raise the bar just a little? That said, Snyder is still very much a “visuals” kind of guy. Characters obviously come second, although the actors, as previously mentioned, tried their best to overcome Snyder’s disinterest in them in favor of more eyeball-searing CG effects.

And yes, the movie is beautiful. But every movie is nowadays. No need to dwell on the obvious.

I liked how they represented Supes’ powers- the flight, speed, punches, heat vision, the combat, all that stuff was cool, and something that was lacking in all previous Superman movies, mostly due to previous technology limitations of the eras they were created in. I also liked how they showed him trying to come to grips with his powers as a kid; I feel this movie has come the closest to really portraying the Superman of the comics in this respect.

However, one thing REALLY bugs me about Man of Steel- the fact that Superman was obviously responsible for killing probably thousands and thousands of people during his various battles is just something that I can’t get past. There are two MAJOR battle scenes in this movie, one in Superman’s hometown of Smallville and one in the city of Metropolis, and all those buildings Supes and Zod (and Zod’s underlings) destroyed in each ferocious battle HAD to have had people in them, and those people were likely all doomed. I honestly couldn’t believe what I was watching. In the comics and previous films Supes always had a keen awareness for civilians in danger and always went out of his way to protect them, but not here. I mean, the fights in Man of Steel were all pretty rad and all, but this Superman is a mass-murderer, plain and simple.

Of course, this wouldn’t occur to Zack Snyder, who’s just concerned with getting to the next pretty shot.

Honestly, I’m getting very, very tired of every superhero movie having to be a bigger spectacle and causing more insane, widespread destruction than the last one. I’m getting pretty numb to it, actually. It felt a bit more organic to the plot in Avengers because they build up to the crazy stuff happening at the end, whereas in Man of Steel it was just EXTREME DESTRUCTION from the opening onward with little-to-no build-up. They basically destroyed Smallville AND Metropolis in this movie, how do you outdo that in the sequel? Supes’ll have to punch the planet in half in Man of Steel 2 to even begin to compare. It’s getting old.

Overall, Man of Steel is a good but not great movie packed with a lot of cool action, Hollywood summer blockbuster clichés, and the occasional moment of warmth and charm that quickly gets smothered in favor of Superman punching something or Zod blowing something up. I must point out that I’m not the biggest Superman fan on the planet, so if you are you can feel free to add a half-star to my rating.

It’s missing the humor of the Reeves movies, but the action is obviously much better; Man of Steel is fun but ultimately cold and not really all that memorable.


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