Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

The atmosphere is somewhat shaky after the invasion of the surviving Kryptonians and the battle with Superman. Bruce Wayne fears the unchecked power of the remaining survivor of Krypton and questions his heroic status. At the same time, Lex Luther holds the same concern and desires access to the alien technology and kryptonite deposit from the Indian Ocean. As Bruce and Lex jockey for access to the kryptonite, the public dissonance over accepting Superman as a just hero is hitting a breaking point as Congress looks to bring him in for his collateral damage and lack of accountability. As the tension continues to mount, Superman and Batman finally confront each other regarding their distrust, but there is another serious threat looming not far from their battleground.

Darkness Consumes All: The Dark Knight series was one that truly changed the tone of the DC universe and superhero movies, in general. With such a major hero having a darker tone, it ushered in a string of films that took a similar turn. Even Man of Steel took that tone. The most challenging aspects of the newer image of Superman included the massive collateral damage during the battle with General Zod and his other survivors and the killing of Zod at the end of the movie.

These actions and dark environments have bled into the new film, with Superman brooding over feeling alone on the planet and being called into question as a hero and Batman struggling greatly over the death of his parents many years later. While Superman actually more caught up in his thoughts, the Batman represented was one who seemed to engage in the torture of his enemies and was seeking the death of Superman rather than attempting to understand and reach the alien’s sensibility. Both characters seem more ready to take a life than most iterations of their storytelling. And by taking the Death of Superman story to its conclusion, it solidified a sombre beginning to the formation of the Justice League.

The Death of the Death of Superman: One major criticism of the creation of this film’s story surrounds the loose retelling of one of Superman’s most infamous stories. While Doomsday was of Kryptonian origin, this new film mashed and ripped apart his creation story to filter into a confused mess of a Justice League origin. The original Doomsday (The Ultimate) was a vicious beast of prehistoric origin from Krypton. This film used some strange combination of the crashed Kryptonian ship, General Zod’s dead corpse, and Lex Luthor’s blood to birth the beast. The fight was of epic proportions, but it lacked a sense of continuity with other tellings of Doomsday’s arrival and Superman’s death. This distortion seemed like a waste of an evil counterpoint to Superman.

Uneven Casting Choices: While I was actually not as turned off by Ben Affleck’s performances as the caped crusader and I believe that Henry Cavill makes a fine Superman, other choices in this film were a bit suspect. Casting Jesse Eisenberg as Lex was not necessarily poor at first glance, but making him more of a psychotic, Joker-like villain rather than the calculated, composed Luthor fans are used to left the film imbalanced. Gal Gadot was also actually a nice choice for Diana/Wonder Woman, but she has such little dialogue or purpose toward the storytelling that her inclusion in the film seemed unnecessary. What also felt a little out of place were the high number of real life news reporters and scientists used to try to force a sense of reality and credibility to a film that took a lot of criticism before it was even released.

Final Verdict: I have been very critical of this film before and after viewing it in the theater because we should expect better from Hollywood when taking the stories and characters we love and adapting them for the big screen. Considering the monumental success of Marvel’s waves of films, DC Comics had sorely been lagging behind and failed to produce a film that can rival Marvel’s quality and integration. A few of the fight scenes are epic, Wonder Woman’s entrance is fierce, but the overall quality is just not there. I would not mind keeping the cast and restarting the canon, but that is not how the industry works and the Spiderman and X-Men stories are perfect examples of why.

Dan’s Rating: 2.0/5

Years following the Battle of Endor, Luke Skywalker has gone missing and the Jedi order is all but extinct. General Leia Organa sends her best pilot, Poe Dameron to retrieve a piece of a map that may lead to her lost brother. Upon getting the map, Jakku gets raided by the First Order. Evil Lord Kylo Ren captures Poe but loses the map in a runaway BB-8 droid. The fight causes a conflict of interest in one of the stormtroopers, who decides to free Poe when they end up back on the star destroyer. BB-8 travels the desert until it is captured and rescued by a scavenger named Rey. The runaway stormtrooper and Rey meet at a junkyard on Jakku, when they realize that their paths have crossed for a reason.

A Near Perfect Blend of Old and New: While there was a potential of overhyping and rehashing, J.J. Abrams found a balance that truly brings the series into a new generation while maintaining the feel of the original trilogy. There are some old favorites, mainly Han (Harrison Ford), Leia (Carrie Fisher), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker), but the new cast established themselves as able to carry the franchise forward.

In terms of the story, there are some clear similarities between this film and A New Hope. A young adult in the desert discovers that their future is greater than they already know, but there is an evil empire out there looking to end the resistance. While the original film involved the Empire’s attempt to simply rule with an iron fist, this new film involves both an empire looking to exert dominance and a villain looking to wipe out the Jedi order.

Heroes for a New Generation: Rey (Daisy Ridley) the scavenger, is not your typical heroine. While she encompasses some similarities to Luke Skywalker’s humble beginnings, she appears to be far more skilled in a greater number of ways than Luke with significantly more confidence and independence. She is a skilled fighter, crafty pilot, and fast-learning student of the force. She has a great history to live up to but will undoubtedly impress many with her future adventures.

FN-2187 or Finn (John Boyega) adds a new element to the mix that the originals never did. Compared to the stormtroopers that were clones during the Empire’s existence, Finn’s hesitation to fire his blaster during the first battle changed the game. While not clear about being a student of the force, he shows a willingness to adapt to the situation between firing a blaster, manning a cannon, or wielding a lightsaber.

Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) takes the role of the skilled pilot once held by Rouge pilots Wedge and Biggs. He also has the cockiness of Han Solo. There is a clear sense that he will continue to be an important part of the Rey and Finn story.

On the other side, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) takes the role as the main villain in a different direction than Darth Vader did. While there is still a family connection and conflict, he started as a Jedi of the light side. His betrayal and mission to destroy the Jedi takes Vader’s original mission to a new level. He believes that he can restore balance to the force by eliminating Luke. In many ways, he seems imbalanced. In others, he seems like he might be restraining his actual abilities.

Final Verdict: I truly loved this film to the point that I have already seen is 3 times. From the opening line to the fade of the credits, there is so much to love about this new installment in the Star Wars franchise. The music is intoxicating, from the familiar themes to the new ballads. The landscapes are breathtaking, with the aerial dogfights and blaster battles encapsulating much of what all Star Wars fans look for in an entertaining galactic drama.

Dan’s Rating: 5.0/5

cinderella-2015-poster-691x1024Coming from a loving household, Ella grew up believing in magic and the power of kindness. After losing her mother, she and her father struggled for a bit, but were able to continue with life. After checking with her about finding love once again, Ella happily accepts a new stepmother into her life. While rough around the edges, Ella maintains her strength and kindness. Her father leaves on a business trip, but word eventually comes back that he fell ill and passed. With her stepmother worried about the finances, she releases all of the help and reduces Ella to a servant girl. Flustered by all of the evil of her stepmother and stepsisters throw her way, she jumps on a horse and rides off into the forest. Running into a member of the royal party, she is infatuated, but she rides off without giving her name. After the king and prince announce that their ball will be open to all women of the kingdom, Ella get excited about the prospect of finding her new friend again.

Review: Taking another stab at this classic fairytale, Disney tossed up Kenneth Branagh to direct this new version. Led by the lovely Lily James (Ella), she exuded grace, honor, and strength through her performance. Although it seemed unreasonable for her to stay so kind in the face of such hate, it was an adaptation of a child’s fairytale. Cate Blanchett (Stepmother) certainly played up the evil card. Her performance was unyielding. The overall acting seemed to be a push and pull between kindness and strength versus dishonesty, selfishness, and evil.

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In this new adaptation, there was a focus on the time before Ella’s life was overtaken by her stepmother and stepsisters. Although a bit rushed, her parents were introduced and both fell ill within the first third of the film. Her mother’s illness seemed a little overly sudden and too quick in transition from seemingly perfect health to deathbed, while her father’s death happened with him separated from his daughter. It also seemed a little implausible that her father would have fallen in love with such a horrid woman. Regardless, the rest of the film moved at a much slower pace, taking its time with building up the fanfare of the ball, introducing the passing of the king, and starting the search for the girl with the glass slippers. The animation for the diary godmother’s transformations for Ella’s trip to the ball and as the magic wore off was entertaining.

This may have been one of the best recent adaptations of a fairytale in the past several year.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5

The-Hobbit-Battle-of-the-Five-Armies-poster-9-691x1024Following the release of Smaug the Terrible, the people of Lake-town are in a frenzy to try to get to safety. While the Master and his deputy are more concerned with saving their wealth, Bard breaks out of his prison and attempts to take on the mighty dragon. Following the battle, the survivors gather on the shore and search for a new beginning, aiming toward the the town of Dale. Back in the Lonely Mountain, Thorin has taken back the mountain and now seeks to reestablish his place as ruler of his kingdom amongst his massive wealth. With the people entering Dale and word going out about the wealth now available inside the Lonely Mountain, armies begin to amass and march on the mountain. Thorin prepares for war, while Bilbo finds himself fighting for peace between the humans, dwarves, and elves. In the shadows, another major evil threatens to final unveil itself upon the world.

Review: As the final installment of The Hobbit series, the action and adventure is great, but the storytelling feels quite a bit dragged out. The 3-part series was based on a single book. While it was an epic story, the final film proved that it could have been pulled back a bit. This is not to say that fans of the series would not enjoy the film, but the overall execution could have been better.

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Regardless of the above, there were some compelling actors and their characters that were highlighted in this part of the story. Benedict Cumberbatch (Smaug) reprised his voiceover work and breathed life into the terrifying fire drake. Ian McKellen (Gandalf) and Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins) continued to project the great dynamic and iconic presence of their roles. Richard Armitage (Thorin) and Luke Evans (Bard) stood out as two of the best performance of the film. For Richard, he provided the depth and obsession that comes with a man overcome by power and wealth, while Luke represented the hero not seeking personal glory but focused on the protection of his family and his people.

The battles and the fantasy action are what most movie-goers of the Middle-earth franchise. The fight for survival against Smaug was epic. Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel have an excellent battle against the beginnings of Sauron/necromancer and the shadow warriors. The best of the action, of course, waited until the second half of the film with the five armies converging on the Lonely Mountain. It throws together humans, dwarves, elves, orcs, and eagles between Dale and the nearby icy cliffs, building the landscape for the eventual timeline of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

It may not be perfect, but it is a fun film that Hobbit fans will still enjoy.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5

into-the-woods-poster1A baker and his wife. A boy selling a cow. A red-hooded girl. A woman in a tower. Another controlled by her family. These seemingly unconnected people become intertwined when a witch seeks to break a spell placed upon her years ago. She appears before the baker and demands that he gather key items for her within three days time and she will remove a curse she placed on his family, allowing him and his wife to bear a child. Of the items he needs to find are a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold. As the baker and his wife head out to retrieve the items, they find that each item is attached to one of the others bound to them by destiny. Each of the encounters also begins to muddle the idea of happily ever after and unleashes a potentially large threat upon the land.

Review: In an adaptation of the 1986 musical, Rob Marshall aimed to take the mashup of these Brothers Grimm fairytales and get the story onto the big screen after 15 years of trying. Overall, the musical was entertaining, but it was also not the full story as originally projected. With Disney at the helm, there was a slightly lesser focus on adult themes, even though there were significant swings in the tone of the story. While only Meryl Streep (the witch) has received recognition for her performance, the overall cast balanced each other out well. James Corden (the baker) and Emily Blunt (the baker’s wife) present a great back and forth conflict of partnership and individuality, Daniel Huttlestone (Jack) shows off a solid singing voice, Lilia Crawford (Red Riding Hood) maintains a fun sassiness, and Anna Kendrick (Cinderella) shows off a combination of her vocal talents and fun energy.

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Where the film succeeds is with its light-hearted humor. One of the best scenes included Billy Magnussen (Rapunzel’s prince) and Chris Pine (Cinderella’s Prince) in a battle of angst put to a flighty ballad. Cinderella’s inner turmoil over running from the prince was also another great moment. Each of these elements helped to keep the overall feel whimsical without taking away from the overall story.

While imaginative, the part when the fairytales start to go wrong ended up being where the musical lost a bit of steam. The witch’s purpose for breaking the spell on her seemed fruitless. The ragtag group is united, but ultimately falls short of a truly happy ending. Rapunzel’s (Mackenzie Mauzy) story felt like an afterthought, considering her hair was not truly the ingredient needed by the witch. Shortcomings, like these, and the potential Disney (or some other production company) could have taken to be a little more risqué with their storytelling take away from this musical truly being larger than life.

Dan’s Rating: 3.0/5

rs_634x939-140324091106-634.jennifer-lawrence-x-men.ls.32414In the near future, the surviving mutants gather to extract a plan to find their salvation against the murderous Sentinels, looking to eliminate all mutants and mutant supporters. Reuniting Professor X, Magneto, Wolverine, and Kitty Pryde, they discover that Kitty and Wolverine may be able to work together to send him back to the past to stop an assassination that sets the wheels in motion to their extinction. Disoriented, Wolverine finds himself back in the early 70s and sets forth to meet up with Xavier’s younger self. Finding that Xavier is not nearly the man he would one day become, he convinces Xavier and Beast to join him on a mission to stop Mystique on her quest for murder. In order to achieve their goal, Xavier begrudgingly admits that they need Erik Lehnsherr, who is locked away in a prison deep below the Pentagon. Failure to stop the assassination will mean the end of the X-Men.

Starring: Hugh Jackman (Logan/Wolverine), James McAvoy (Charles Xavier), Michael Fassbender (Erik Lehnsherr), Jennifer Lawrence (Raven/Mystique), Halle Berry (Storm), Nicholas Hoult (Hank/Beast), Anna Paquin (Rogue), Ellen Page (Kitty Pride), Peter Dinklage (Boliver Trask), Shawn Ashmore (Bobby/Iceman), Omar Sy (Bishop), Evan Peters (Peter/Quicksilver), Josh Helman (Maj. Bill Stryker), Daniel Cudmore (Colossus), Bingbing Fan (Blink), Adan Canto (Sunspot), Booboo Stewart (Warpath), Ian McKellen (Magneto), Patrick Stewart (Professor X), Lucas Till (Havoc), Evan Jonigkeit (Toad), Mark Camacho (President Nixon), Kelsey Grammar (Beast), Famke Janssen (Jean Grey), James Marsden (Scott Summers)

With a film like this, there was a rather large cast to match. The focus of the performance centered around Jackman, McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence, and Hoult. With the 70s being the main atmosphere, the characters exhibited little bits of the 70s lifestyle, particularly with McAvoy’s focus on recreational drug use. In the end, McAvoy was the most compelling actor of the film, projecting the greatest range from pain to hope to strife to drive. Jackman was relatively even-keeled, compared to Fassbender, who was much more aggressive and menacing. Dinklage exhibited elements of his great character from Game of Thrones, but was a little more reserved and vulnerable in his delivery. The presence of some of the classic characters (including Berry, Paquin, Page, Marsden, Janssen, Stewart, and McKellan) was appreciated, but they really only served in more cameo-style appearances.

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Having taken a break away from the production of X-Men: The Last Stand and the Wolverine films, Bryan Singer returned to reclaim the series. The film was broken into two parts, with the greater attention being paid to the past. With a out-of-touch Charles Xavier struggling to deal with the events of the attack at Cuba and Erik’s involvement in the Kennedy assassination, Wolverine found Charles locked up in his mansion. Unable to convince Xavier to save the future, Wolverine was able to get him to focus on trying to save Mystique from a devastating fate. After recruiting Quicksilver to help break Erik out of prison, Xavier and Erik struggled but eventually were able to find resolution in the past conflict and agree to save Mystique. Upon find her in Paris just before she was about to follow through on her assassination, Xavier and Erik became divided once again on how to save the future. While Xavier continued to try to convince Mystique to abandon her murderous goal, Erik went on the offensive, first trying to take out Mystique and then refocusing his rage on Trask and the leadership in Washington, DC.

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The film succeeded in a number of ways, but most of them were focused in the past. The story maintained a more dramatic focus, but cleverly infused some small comedic elements to lighten the mood at the right times (Quicksilver’s rampage in the Pentagon being one of those moments). The strong acting from McAvoy, Fassbender, and Lawrence made the past storyline more compelling. With Wolverine being the wrong mutant to send, it extended the struggle the heroes faced in order to save their future. In contrast, the future scenes were significantly underdeveloped. While the action sequences had a strong flair, the character development was minimal. Iceman and Kitty Pride had minor romantic influences. Xavier and Magneto shared only little glances and minimal connection. It felt like the future sequences were just minor interludes while waiting to return to the past for the better story.

The film may not have been the exceptional story that this arc had the chance of being, but it certainly did not disappoint and sets up a potentially epic sequel with the coming of the Age of Apocalypse. There was a teaser at the end of the credits to get audiences excited for the next film in two years.

Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5

percy_jackson_sea_of_monsters_ver7After completing his battle with the Lightning Thief, Percy Jackson feels like his heroic adventure has slipped away. Falling behind Clarisse in recognition as the warrior of the demigods, he fails to beat her in the gauntlet after deciding to help another opponent who gets caught on one of the lower level obstacles. Although he has the wherewithal to help a fellow competitor, Clarisse receives all of the glory. Suddenly, the barrier protecting the camp fails and lets in a giant mechanical bull, almost destroying the camp until Percy takes it out with his sword. At the end of the battle, he is confronted by Luke, who tips him off to a prophecy which puts them in conflict over the Golden Fleece. Percy volunteers information to Mr. D and Chiron but is passed over for Clarisse to save the camp. Percy and his friends sneak off anyway to see if they can make sure the prophecy leads to positive over destructive results.

Starring: Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson), Alexandra Daddario (Annabeth), Douglas Smith (Tyson), Leven Rambin (Charisse), Brandon T. Jackson (Grover), Jake Abel (Luke), Anthony Head (Chiron), Stanley Tucci (Mr. D), Connor Dunn (Tereus), Paloma Kwiatkowski (Thalia), Nathan Fillion (Hermes), Mary Birdsong (Gray Sister #1), Yvette Nicole Brown (Gray Sister #2), Missi Pyle (Gray Sister #3)

The performances were stronger in the first film compared to the second one. The animated nature of the cast felt a little more reserved and lifeless, as Lerman failed to show the same passion as he achieved in his first adventure. Daddario and Brandon T. Jackson also took more of a back seat, allowing Douglas Smith and Leven Rambin the opportunity to be featured more prevalently. While great acting is not expected in family-genre films, even these couple actors who were featured more felt stiff. The best performance was Nathan Fillion, who at least possessed a sense of charm and wit lacking from the other actors.

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Taking over for the sequel, Thor Freudenthal tried to keep the mysticism and the presentation of the lore of the original and expand on the story. There was an unidentified amount of time that passed between the Lightning Thief and the start of this new adventure, but this new one was based around the properties of the Golden Fleece and the existence of another offspring of Poseidon. With a cyclops half-brother, Percy was feeling like more of a joke in the eyes of his peers. Sneaking off to explore his legacy and prophecy, he found himself sidetracked by the kidnapping of Grover and intrusion of Luke. Unaware that Luke’s goal was to reestablish the rule of the Titans, Percy set himself on simply finding the fleece and returning it back to the camp to revive Thalia, the spirit who created the barrier protecting the camp.

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Involved in this quest were the Gray Sisters, Hermes, and the Titan Kronos. Including the Gray Sisters as the cab drivers made for an interesting little adventure. How the rest of the world did not notice a crazy driving taxi is beyond belief. Hermes provided the greatest moment of the film. While the arguing snakes on his staff were a bit unnecessary, his charm popped off of the screen. There was also a moment with him where an additional element of Luke was revealed, with Hermes expressing his remorse for not being there for his son. The cyclops guarding the fleece was a bit of a comic relief but ended up being mostly harmless for such a towering beast. Kronos was truly the most menacing of the characters in the film. Unaware that his blade was the cursed one able to beat the Titan, it ended up being luck that he discovered how to take down the nearly unstoppable creature.

The film has its small moments that are entertaining, but it does fall short of its predecessor. With a potential for additional films, a return to the previous director may be recommended.

Dan’s Rating: 2.0/5