Film Review: Mars Attacks! (1996)

Release Date: December 12th, 1996 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Jonathan Gems
Based on: Mars Attacks by Topps
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Martin Short, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael J. Fox, Rod Steiger, Tom Jones, Lukas Haas, Natalie Portman, Jim Brown, Lisa Marie, Sylvia Sidney, Jack Black, Christina Applegate, Pam Grier, Paul Winfield, Joe Don Baker, O-Lan Jones, Ray J, Frank Welker (voice)

Tim Burton Productions, Warner Bros., 107 Minutes

Review:

“They blew up Congress! Ha ha ha ha!” – Grandma Florence Norris

While this isn’t one of Tim Burton’s most popular films, it is one of my favorites and I feel like it missed its mark because it’s not the type of film that would resonate with most people.

Mars Attacks! came out in late 1996, not too long after Independence Day ruled American culture that same summer. Maybe people were confused that this was a ripoff of it or that one big alien invasion movie was enough to digest but either way, I don’t think people realized that this was vastly different and sort of a parody of the genre while also being an incredible live action adaptation of the Mars Attacks trading cards that Topps put out in the 1960s. It’s like those who were kids in the ’60s no longer cared and the teens of the ’90s didn’t know the reference.

Still, this is a hilarious romp starring dozens of top notch celebrities where not a single one of them is actually safe. I mean, these Martians murder Congress, the President and even try to crush a troop of Cub Scouts with the Washington Monument. They are sick, sadistic and really, just friggin’ awesome. They are also voiced by Frank Welker, the guy who gave life to Megatron from the original and still greatest Transformers cartoon.

By the star power that this movie has, it’s clear that Hollywood got the joke and appreciated it even if audiences didn’t flock to see this. Still, it wasn’t a massive failure, by any means. It did fairly well but not as well as what Warner Bros. was probably hoping for with Tim Burton being a mega earner for the studio. While it took some time, the film did earn back the $100 million that was put into it. It was considered a box office bomb in the United States but it fared much better internationally.

This is one of the most hysterical films of the ’90s put out by a major studio. The humor is perfect, the tone is great and it pokes fun at so many different facets of Americana that it almost feels like it was written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

The special effects look dated but they looked sort of cheesy in the mid ’90s. The film was supposed to have a hokey, old school vibe to it though. Really, the effects are great and they work for what this picture is. It’s not Independence Day and didn’t need to take itself as seriously in the visual effects department.

From a stylistic standpoint, the film really has a timeless feel to it. It merges modern style with ’50s and ’60s style in a seamless way that gives this film a magical quality.

Additionally, this picture boasts one of my favorite Danny Elfman scores of all-time. The theme is powerful and perfect and really fits that old school Elfman sound. Frankly, watching this film makes me appreciate and miss the quality of Burton and Elfman’s old school collaborations.

What really resonates with me is how this film balances comedy with how dark it actually is. It’s an absurd picture in the best way possible and shows that Tim Burton really has a dark sense of humor. Well, Beetlejuice was really effective in showing that aspect of Burton as well.

Mars Attacks! was underappreciated when it came out in 1996. It is still underappreciated today, as people that like to list out their favorite Tim Burton films always have this near the bottom of the list. Like I said, it isn’t for everyone but Burton fans, who understand Burton’s influences, should really love this picture.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, Joe Dante’s Matinee and alien invasion B-movies of the ’50s.

Film Review: Justice League (2017)

Release Date: October 26th, 2017 (Beijing premiere)
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon, Zack Snyder
Based on: Characters from DC Comics
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Jeremy Irons, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons, Jesse Eisenberg (cameo), Joe Manganiello (cameo)

Access Entertainment, DC Entertainment, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment, Cruel and Unusual Films, Warner Bros., 120 Minutes

Review:

“I miss the days whens one’s biggest concern is exploding wind-up penguins.” – Alfred Pennyworth

Pardon my French but this was fucking unwatchable.

How does a film with a $300 million dollar budget in 2017 look like absolute dog shit? I have a rule, if you have a massive budget, you need to look as good or better than the original Lord of the Rings trilogy because those movies are getting close to twenty years old and they still look pretty perfect. Is technology regressing? Are the digital artists just shit now? What the hell happened with this picture?

The best way to describe this film is “CGI shit storm”. It was like someone took a bunch of unfinished, random CGI pieces, threw them in a blender and pureed that shit for two hours.

Hell, this makes Suicide Squad look like a f’n masterpiece by comparison.

The absolute worst thing about this film isn’t even the Sharknado looking special effects, it is Ezra Miller’s Flash. He’s an annoying, unfunny douchebag that is supposed to be comedic relief but is about as effective as Jay Leno trying to use Dane Cook’s material. He’s your token eccentric weirdo millennial hipster that did the most un-Flash-like thing ever by showing up late to the kooky character pop culture party. We’ve seen the type, it sucked before and it sucks now.

The film’s script and story is terrible. This is a hard film to follow, not because it is complicated but because it is a nonsensical mess that just feels like a two hour trailer and not an actual movie with some sort of a cohesive plot. In fact, it is hard to straighten out my thoughts and write much of a cohesive review because my brain is still spinning from the CGI puree. Anyway, I wrote better comic book stories when I was seven years-old and drunk.

Not a single character in this film is interesting in any way. Flash, again, sucks. Cyborg also sucks. Wonder Woman looked bored. Aquaman was token Momoa backed by CGI that defied the laws of physics in every way. Batman was boring. Superman was even more boring and his lovey dovey bullshit with Lois Lane trying to bring him back to normalcy was so cringe worthy it rivals the romance scenes between Padme and Anakin from Attack of the Clones. Yes, it was that fucking bad.

But hey, we get a cameo from Jesse Eisenluthor and Deathstroke. “Boo” for Luthor. “Hells Yeah!” for Deathstroke.

As far as the villain goes, didn’t Wonder Woman kill that same guy in her movie? Is every DC villain going to be some throwaway character no one cares about that resembles some ancient mythological god? That’s boring. And people think Marvel has a villain problem in their movies. I mean they do but DC makes Marvel’s faults look like strengths with how bad most of these movies have been.

I will never watch this film again and I have serious doubts that I’ll care for any other DC Comics movie for a very long time.

The only real positive about this film is that it wasn’t thirteen hours like Batman v. Superman. But really, it was still two hours too long.

Rating: 1.75/10
Pairs well with: Well, I guess the other really shitty DC Comics films, as of late.

Film Review: Batman Returns (1992)

Release Date: June 16th, 1992 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Daniel Waters, Sam Hamm
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Michael Murphy, Vincent Schiavelli, Andrew Bryniarski, Cristi Conaway, Paul Reubens

Warner Bros., 126 Minutes

Review:

“My dear penguins, we stand on a great threshold! It’s okay to be scared; many of you won’t be coming back. Thanks to Batman, the time has come to punish all God’s children! First, second, third and fourth born! Why be biased? Male and female! Hell, the sexes are equal with their erogenous zones blown sky high! Forward march! The liberation of Gotham has begun!” – The Penguin

When I was a kid, other than Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Back to the Future, Part II, this was my most anticipated sequel. This was also the second and final time that Michael Keaton would play Batman, as well as being Tim Burton’s last Batman picture.

While I don’t quite love this chapter in the film series as much as the original, it is still really damn good and certainly better than the two Joel Schumacher films that followed.

We lose Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl and Jack Palance but we gain Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, as well as small parts by Vincent Schiavelli and Paul Reubens. Plus, Michael Gough and Pat Hingle return to accompany Keaton.

The two top billed villains in this story are the Penguin and Catwoman, although when you really analyze the picture, Walken’s Max Shrek is the true villain and his name was an obvious homage to Nosferatu actor Max Schreck. By story’s end, Catwoman is more of an antihero like she would become in the comics.

Danny DeVito was probably a perfect choice for the Penguin back in 1992. He had star power, charisma and definitely a similar body type. However, in this adaptation of the Batman mythos, he is reinvented to be more grotesque and much larger in girth. While he comes from wealth and opulence, this version of the character was rejected as an infant and went to live out his life in the Gotham City sewers where his only friends were sewer penguins and eventually the circus themed gang that he controls.

Catwoman also has a different origin. Here, she is a pushover secretary who gets in over her head and is shoved out of a high rise window, presumably to her death. There is a sort of mystical moment where alley cats swarm her body and she is magically reborn with cat-like reflexes and confidence. It’s pretty silly but Tim Burton made this film more like a dark fairy tale than his previous Batman movie.

Even though Gotham City is a massive place, the sets and design of this film make it feel pretty confined, even when we are in what are assumed to be wide open spaces. Maybe it was designed this way, intentionally. But the film feels smaller than the previous Batman movie, even though it cost a lot more to make: $80 million, as opposed to the $35 million budget of the first chapter.

Still, the cinematography is pretty good and the world looks much more like a Tim Burton world than the first film, which had tighter controls on it from the studio. It was the Burton elements though that I feel bogged this picture down a bit. Plus, the film was considered less family friendly and caused the studio to make drastic changes to the franchise after Burton was booted before the next picture. Granted, the followup movies were pretty horrendous.

This is a pretty good Batman picture, even if it does take some tremendous liberties in altering the source material. The right kind of spirit was there and this really just sort of exists in its own Tim Burton universe. That’s not a bad thing and if it wasn’t for the Burton Batman movies, we would have never gotten the near perfect masterpiece that was Batman: The Animated Series.

Film Review: Batman (1989)

Release Date: June 19th, 1989 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Danny Elfman, Prince
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance, Tracey Walter

Guber-Peters Company, Warner Bros., 126 Minutes

Review:

“You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?” – The Joker

Sure, there are several movies that had a major impact on me, as a young kid. However, none of them, except maybe Star Wars, quite hit me like 1989’s Batman. This was the cinematic event of my childhood that probably shaped my life for quite some time and is responsible for me still being a massive Batman fan today.

After seeing this, I got into comic books a lot more, started drawing my own and even had a comic publishing company in middle school with some friends. And to this day, Batman is still my favorite hero and he also has the coolest villains, hands down.

I was so excited to see this, being that I was ten years-old. I bought the novelization when it went on sale and read it in a day. Then I read it a few more times before the film actually came out. Was I worried about spoilers? Nope. Seeing it come to life in the flesh was all I really cared about, even if I knew the story, inside and out.

All these years later, this is still my favorite Batman film and Michael Keaton is still my favorite Batman. Adam West is a very close second though, as I discovered him and the ’60s show alongside this film.

As a ten year-old, I had never seen anything as perfect as this. When it came out on VHS, my cousins and I watched it three or four times in a row, until we passed out from exhaustion. The next day, we probably watched it another half dozen times. This was the cherry on top of the summer of 1989, which is still one of the best summer movie seasons of all-time.

Watching it in 2018, I still absolutely love this film. Sure, I see some of the minor flaws it has, like a sometimes nonsensical plot and weird developments that don’t make a lot of sense when you think about it. But this is a comic book come to life and for the time, it was some top quality stuff and it has aged really well.

The film sort of has a film-noir and a German Expressionist style. Gotham City looks timeless because of the film’s style and that style helps to keep this grounded in its own reality. While some things are over the top, it feels much more plausible than most of the comic book films today. Batman and the Joker could both exist in some way because no one here has super powers. This is really a crime thriller where the hero of the story just has a lot of money for cool gadgets and a sweet jet.

Over the years, some people have complained that Jack Nicholson’s version of the Joker is corny or just a retread of the ’60s Cesar Romero incarnation. I think Nicholson was fantastic and it is one of my favorite roles he has ever played, right alongside Jack Torrance (The Shiningand Jake Gittes (Chinatown and The Two Jakes). Maybe Nicholson didn’t look like the perfect comic book version of the character but he made up for it in his madness and his ability to come off as convincing, scary and cool.

Michael Keaton is my Batman simply because he was my first and well, he is the perfect balance of Batman and Bruce Wayne. His Wayne wasn’t the best but it was acceptable while his Batman was exceptional. In later years, we got Val Kilmer, who I thought was too dry, and George Clooney, who did a great Wayne but a not so good Batman. Christian Bale was grunty and just sort of there and Ben Affleck hasn’t really wowed me, although he hasn’t disappointed either.

1989’s Batman is still a perfect storm, as far as I’m concerned. Within the context of what it is, a living comic book, there isn’t a whole lot that one could nitpick about. Then again, some writers and critics over the years have tried to call the film out for not being as good as it is remembered. But some people on the Internet survive by posting clickbait articles and whining. Some people just think they need to show how cool they are by trashing something they will never be as cool as.

While I would also go on to love the direct sequel to this, Batman Returns, this chapter in the Tim Burton Batman duology is the best. While I am a fan of directors being able to convey their vision and Burton had more control with the sequel, I like how this one turned out compared to its followup. It’s more of a studio movie, sure, but it has just enough of that Burton touch to make it fairly unique. Plus, the score by Danny Elfman mixed with the sweet tunes of Prince created one of the most iconic soundtracks of all-time.

Batman has a few problems but they pale in comparison to a lot of the blockbusters today. The film didn’t try to be too big, which is what every contemporary blockbuster does. It also has a dark edge to it, coming out of a decade where Reaganomics and new wave music had most people acting cheery and cheesy. This was a precursor to the edgier ’90s where darker indie films and grunge music became the pop culture of the time.

Film Review: Dick Tracy (1990)

Release Date: June 15th, 1990
Directed by: Warren Beatty
Written by: Jim Cash, Jack Epps Jr.
Based on: Dick Tracy created by Chester Gould
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Madonna, Glenne Headly, Charlie Korsmo, James Keane, Seymour Cassel, Michael J. Pollard, Charles Durning, Dick Van Dyke, Frank Campanella, Kathy Bates, Dustin Hoffman, William Forsythe, Ed O’Ross, James Tolkan, Mandy Patinkin, R. G. Armstrong, Henry Silva, Paul Sorvino, James Caan, Catherine O’Hara, Estelle Parsons

Touchstone Pictures, Silver Screen Partners IV, Mulholland Productions, Walt Disney, Buena Vista Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“You get behind me, we all profit; you challenge me, we all go down! There was one Napoleon, one Washington, one me!” – Big Boy Caprice

I guess, from a critical standpoint, this film didn’t get the sort of respect that it should have. I’m not really sure why or how it didn’t resonate with some critics but Roger Ebert adored it, as do I.

In fact, Dick Tracy is almost a perfect film for what it is and I’m not sure what else anyone would want from this near masterpiece. Warren Beatty directed and starred in this and he gave us something magical and marvelous. It fit the classic comic strip to a t and truly breathed live action life into it. As great as the comic strip was, I feel like this film is an improvement on the story, the characters and the ideas of Chester Gould’s beloved creation.

Unfortunately, this great launching pad for what should have been a franchise, never got to have a sequel due to copyright disputes between Warren Beatty and Tribune Media Services. The courts eventually settled in favor of Beatty but that wasn’t until 2011. He has since talked of a sequel but there hasn’t been much movement and so much time has passed. Also, Disney had hoped that this would achieve 1989 Batman numbers but it didn’t hit that mark, even though it was financially successful.

And at least this film has its fans and, at the time of its release, the public supported the picture. Some of this could be due to the film’s immense star power, boasting a cast of superstars, or because of the awesome marketing campaign this film had – one of the best of all-time, in my opinion. Especially, the tie-in stuff they did with McDonald’s. Plus, there was that great Batman picture the previous year, which finally proved that comic book movies could be something that can be taken seriously.

The film has held up tremendously well and may actually be more visually alluring today. The use of vibrant giallo-like colors and tremendous matte paintings gave the film a real pulp comic feel that felt lived in and lively. Today, the picture truly feels like a work of art and has a visual uniqueness that stands on its own.

The picture was also enhanced by the incredible score by Danny Elfman. This is one of the greatest scores of Elfman’s long career and is very reminiscent of his work on Batman, the previous year, and 1990’s short lived The Flash television show. The score is powerful and blends well with the old timey tunes and the performances by Madonna.

Being a poppy 1930s style gangster story, Beatty tapped the Bonnie and Clyde well and cast Estelle Parsons and Michael J. Pollard in small roles. The film was only missing Faye Dunaway and Gene Hackman in reuniting the gang from that classic 1967 film.

Beatty was a fantastic lead and perfect Dick Tracy. Additionally, the rest of the cast was magnificent. Al Pacino got to be a hammy mob boss and foil to Tracy. Pacino’s Big Boy Caprice is also one of my favorite Pacino characters ever put to celluloid. Both Madonna and Glenne Headly are stellar as the leading ladies and this is just one of many roles where I became a huge fan of Headly.

The cast is rounded out by so many other great actors in smaller roles. Dick Van Dyke plays a crooked mayoral candidate, Dustin Hoffman plays the gangster Mumbles and R. G. Armstrong is the sinister mob boss Pruneface. You’ve also got cameos by James Caan, Catherine O’Hara, Kathy Bates and Paul Sorvino. William Forsythe and Ed O’Ross play Big Boy’s top henchmen Flattop and Itchy. You also have the always great Seymour Cassel as one of Tracy’s cop buddies. Plus, Charlie Korsmo was cool as The Kid.

Dick Tracy is action packed and stylish but it doesn’t put that style over its substance. The narrative works, the plot moves swiftly and there is never a dull moment. Plus, who the hell doesn’t love Tommy gun shootouts in the street?

It is also worth mentioning that the character of The Blank is one of the coolest film characters to come out of this era, even if used sparingly and in the dark. Had this gone on to be a film series, it would’ve been cool seeing someone else take up that mantle or The Blank living on in some way. The character also added an interesting twist to a film that, on its surface, looks like just a straight up cops and gangsters, good versus evil, cookie cutter type scenario. The Blank added a third, unpredictable element and a noir vibe.

Dick Tracy is one of the greatest summer blockbusters ever made and it deserves more recognition today than it receives. It took some creative risks that paid off and it brought together a literal who’s who of great bad ass actors.

My initial viewing of this motion picture on the big screen is one of my fondest childhood memories. It stands alongside Batman, 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the original animated Transformers movie and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home as one of my favorite theatrical experiences of my early life.

Film Review: ‘The Evil Dead’ Film Series (1981-2013)

The Evil Dead film series is something I watch quite a lot. I probably have a mini-marathon about once a year or so. With the Evil Dead revival TV series making waves at Starz, I figured I’d rewatch the films again. I have had a strenuous few weeks with work, travel and helping people move. So I needed a nice relaxing weekend to veg out and soak in some good film watching. Well, what’s better than a series of classic horror comedies to get lost in for several hours?

The Evil Dead (1981):

Release Date: October 15th, 1981
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: Sam Raimi
Music by: Joseph LoDuca
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Hal Delrich, Betsy Baker, Sarah York

Renaissance Pictures, New Line Cinema, 85 Minutes

Review:

“Thank you. I don’t know what I would have done if I had remained on those hot coals, burning my pretty flesh.” – Shelly

If you have never seen the original The Evil Dead, then you have done yourself a disservice.

First off, this film introduced the world to Bruce Campbell – one of the greatest horror icons of all-time and a good actor who has the comedic timing and presence of some of Hollywood’s greatest comedians.

Secondly, it introduced the world to director Sam Raimi – a man who has gone on to make some pretty amazing films, the most notable (after the Evil Dead trilogy) being Spider-Man 2. We’ll ignore Spider-Man 3.

The Evil Dead follows some friends who go to a cabin in the woods, a formula that wasn’t redundant at the time. There they discover an evil book and some tape recordings that release some demonic evil on the group. Their horrible misfortune becomes our violent, frightening yet very hilarious entertainment. Never has a film offered up so much disturbing dread and still nailed it with comedy. Well, except Evil Dead II.

The most amazing thing about this film is that it was well below even being low budget. I don’t think there was really any budget at all and that is where the filmmaking skill of the young Raimi came through. He was able to create a world full of high quality practical effects for next to nothing. Filmmaking like this is truly a lost art for the most part. The Evil Dead is a standard bearer of what can be done when money is non-existent but passion far exceeds limitations.

Evil Dead II (1987):

Release Date: March 13th, 1987
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: Sam Raimi, Scott Spiegel
Music by: Joseph LoDuca
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks, Kassie Wesley, Richard Domeier

Renaissance Pictures, Rosebud Releasing, Embassy Communications, De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, Palace Pictures, 84 Minutes

Review:

“Groovy” – Ash Williams

Evil Dead II is an interesting follow-up to the original. The first ten minutes are a condensed loose remake of the first film while the following hour and fifteen minutes continue where that story left off.

This film is superior to the first in that there is a slightly higher production value and that allowed Sam Raimi’s ingenuity to be that much better. They still had a shoestring budget but that extra cash improved the look of the practical effects, as well as the sets, costumes and overall use of gore. Everything was more refined and cleaner than its predecessor.

From a story standpoint, this is the strongest of the films. It is also the fan favorite, as it is the quintessential Evil Dead movie. It is bookended with a rehash of the first film and the introduction to the world of the third film. It is a perfect bridge, tying the trilogy together. As the centerpiece of the three films and adapting elements of each chapter, this one also allows the tale to evolve the most and it plays like The Empire Strikes Back of this gore-filled, hilarious horror trilogy.

Evil Dead II is everything that made the first film great but done more masterfully. It is an amped-up successor that is one hell of an insane ride.

Army of Darkness (1992):

Release Date: October 9th, 1992
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi
Music by: Joseph LoDuca, Danny Elfman
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz

Renaissance Pictures, De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, Universal Pictures, 81 Minutes (US), 88 Minutes (International)

Review:

“Alright you Primitive Screwheads, listen up! You see this? This… is my boomstick! The twelve-gauge double-barreled Remington. S-Mart’s top of the line. You can find this in the sporting goods department. That’s right, this sweet baby was made in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Retails for about a hundred and nine, ninety five. It’s got a walnut stock, cobalt blue steel, and a hair trigger. That’s right. Shop smart. Shop S-Mart. You got that?” – Ash Williams

The third film isn’t even called Evil Dead. It also takes the most liberty of all three of the original films, as it deviates from the environment established over the course of the first two chapters – bringing our hero into the Middle Ages where he must find a way back home while combating the evil forces once again unlocked by the evil book, the Necronomicon.

This film is the least terrifying and has the most comedy. Although, it is still dark, twisted and can be frightening at times. It is also the only one that I saw in the theater when it came out, as I was too young and unaware of these films when the previous ones were released.

Where Evil Dead II is the quintessential Evil Dead movie, Army of Darkness is the quintessential Bruce Campbell movie. Never has he been better and more bad ass. By this point, Campbell was really comfortable with the role and played it so naturally, that he and Ash Williams have become one. He’s tough as nails, even more hilarious and this is probably where audiences most fell in love with him.

The Middle Ages setting is refreshing and gave this series a much needed curveball while still being true to the heart and spirit of the great films before it.

Evil Dead (2013 remake):

Release Date: March 8th, 2013 (SXSW)
Directed by: Fede Álvarez
Written by: Fede Álvarez, Rodo Sayagues
Based on: The Evil Dead by Sam Raimi
Music by: Roque Baños
Cast: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore, Bruce Campbell (post-credits cameo)

Ghost House Pictures, FilmDistrict, TriStar Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Mia’s not here, you fucking idiot! Your little sister’s being raped in Hell!” – Mia

The remake isn’t really a remake but more of a retelling that happens in the same universe to a different group of people. While it takes certain liberties to differentiate itself from the original films, each film in the original series also found ways to deviate from the established plot. It may be hard to figure out where this fits exactly but that isn’t much different from how the second film fits with the first, as it treads the same water but alters the original’s back story.

This film is the first to not be directed by Sam Raimi, although he produced it, oversaw its production and gave it his blessing. Also, the addition of Bruce Campbell in a cameo after the credits adds credence to the film.

Evil Dead is different in tone in that it focuses a lot more on horror and is truly terrifying from start-to-finish. The cinematography is top notch, the acting is better than one would typically get in a horror film and the characters are mostly likable. Plus, this film had a nice budget.

Compared to the original trilogy, this film isn’t as good. Compared to modern horror, it could very well be a masterpiece. It isn’t some PG-13 CGI fest with nothing but jump scares and irritating teenagers. In a sea of “found footage” horror schlock, this movie is refreshing and kind of groundbreaking. It doesn’t really give anything new to the genre, it just reinvigorates it and reminds us of what true cinematic terror can be.

I like this film a lot, as I have been a huge horror fan my entire life and this, at least, sets itself apart from the mediocre shit that modern horror has become.

Film Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Release Date: April 13th, 2015 (Dolby Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Joss Whedon
Written by: Joss Whedon
Based on: The Avengers by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Brian Tyler, Danny Elfman
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Anthony Mackie, Hayley Atwell, Idris Elba, Stellan Skarsgård, James Spader, Samuel L. Jackson

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 141 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2015.

Avengers: Age of Ultron further solidified the main takeaway that I had after seeing The Avengers three years ago. A film this big, with a multitude of characters strong enough to carry their own film, is not necessarily a good formula. This wasn’t a bad movie, but like the first film featuring all the Avengers, it ranks below most of the solo films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Yes, I did enjoy the movie but nowhere near as much as the recent films that preceded this one: Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: Winter Solider. I even enjoyed Thor: The Dark World more than this. The fact of the matter is, this film is just too busy.

In its busyness, Avengers: Age of Ultron lacks a good balance between the characters. There seems to be more focus on Black Widow and the Hulk, which is fine, as neither seem to be getting their own film anytime soon, but it makes things somewhat lopsided and there’s just a bunch of dudes in superhero garb one-lining each other to death from start-to-finish. And while Tony Stark witticisms are funny and the camaraderie of all these actors is generally pretty great, it has gotten to the point where it is starting to feel like a caricature of itself. The joke is wearing thin and it seems less organic now. The banter has gotten too predictable and thus, somewhat mundane. Much of it seemed forced and the back-and-forth between them over their radios during big battles, didn’t come off as natural. It felt like actors reading lines to a room full of strangers and a green screen.

Ultron, the main villain of the story, was created way too quickly, conveniently and easily. I feel like he should have been something brewing in Stark’s lab for a very long time. Something in the shadows that had been watching this whole time. Maybe there should have been seeds planted throughout other movies. I mean, the studio had to know they were going to do a film with Ultron, right? Right?!

The execution of Ultron was half-assed and the character, in this film, just didn’t feel like the unbeatable and nearly omnipotent Ultron of the comic books. Additionally, his personality was bizarre. While he was a cold and calculated killing machine, ready to wipe humanity away, he subjected himself to his own witticisms and his own weird sense of humor. Also, his powers were pretty limited compared to his comic book version, which they did because it is harder to write a story where the heroes are essentially fighting a god. That is a pretty weak cop out. Isn’t Thor a god? And then you have the Scarlet Witch, Hulk and Vision, so…

In a nutshell, Ultron came across as a bulked up General Grievous. But at least Grievous had four lightsabers. Ultron just had an army of flying robots that have been used to death since the second Iron Man film, which was eight Marvel movies ago.

And what was the point of Baron Strucker? He should have been just some random unimportant Hydra commander. He was made to look extremely weak and then just brushed aside and murdered off-screen. It was a waste of an iconic character that had potential and probably should have been used as a major villain on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Also, his eye piece looked retarded.

Yay, Nick Fury shows up! And then he just talks a bunch.

The CGI at certain points in this film was just ridiculous. In the opening scene, everything felt too sped up and the movements of the Avengers came off as pretty cartoony. Call me old fashioned but what’s wrong with using some practical effects? It isn’t a bunch of Avatar creatures fighting a Tolkien dragon, it’s a bunch of human beings in costumes. So they all move like Jedi on cocaine now? And what’s the point of Quicksilver, if every other character comes off as almost that fast? The opening scene of Avengers: Age of Ultron just reminded me of that awful snow mountain sequence from last year’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Speaking of Quicksilver and while I’m at it, the Scarlet Witch, both of them had horrible accents. Sometimes it was there, sometimes it wasn’t. I guess that’s okay though, since Black Widow, a Russian character, sounds like she is from New York City. Also, Joss Whedon recently poked fun at how X-Men: Days of Future Past handled their version of Quicksilver. Whedon’s a boring jackass, as his version was one-dimensional, uninteresting and didn’t have a single moment nearly as notable as the amazing prison break scene from last year’s X-Men film.

Oh yeah, and Quicksilver dies. You see, there had been a rumor around for awhile that an Avenger would be killed off in this film. A rumor that was pretty much confirmed. But what Whedon did was go the easy route. The guy who loves killing likable characters, didn’t have the balls to commit this round. Maybe that was Marvel’s call, maybe it was Whedon’s, no one will ever really know but it was a pointless and shallow end to a pointless and shallow character.

The plot was nothing special. You can take away almost everything you need from the trailers. If you’ve seen the trailer, you know the set up. Essentially, bad guy is born, bad guy fucks shit up, good guys fight him and then win. There are no surprises, no big twists, nothing great and unexpected. It is a pretty straightforward story and predictable. But at least they weren’t standing around talking on a Helicarrier for a third of the film like the last one. And at least the big enemy wasn’t a giant propeller or generic aliens on flying jet skis.

And the big evil plan? Ultron lifts some eastern European city into the sky with underground boosters, in an attempt to drop it back down to Earth like a meteor. And people think Whedon is a genius? Ultron was mentally handicapped for a super computer but at least they explained that the giant rock wasn’t crumbling as it was being lifted due to some magic magnetic field. Never mind that this super strong magnetic field wasn’t stopping small pieces from crumbling off the edges during the very lengthy sequence. And I wasn’t sure how the city lifting didn’t turn the city itself into a crumbled mess pretty instantaneously. Were the buildings protected by the magnetic field too? And when Thor saved people falling off the floating city, why did he drop them off on the floating city destined to crash and not the fucking ground below?

And with the giant floating rock, was Whedon inspired by Superman Returns. Visually, this idea felt like a reverse of the major villainous plot from that film.

Then there was the ongoing joke of the film, that started with the first dialogue exchange. Stark says “shit” and Cap points out his potty mouth, to which every five minutes someone has to poke fun at Cap about how lame he is. Because if you forgot, he’s from the World War II era and must be an old coot.

And why did Black Widow have a tactical outfit that lit up like a character from Tron? How the fuck is she supposed to sneak up on bad guys and take them out stealthily if you can see her body outline glowing in the dark? Then again, neon Scarlett Johansson boobies would probably distract anyone long enough for her to get in a punch.

As far as positives, I like the seed planted for the upcoming Black Panther film. I also like how the arms dealer, played by Andy Serkis, is Klaw. They even went as far as to make him lose an arm in the film. I also liked how they made the Hulk v. Iron Man in Hulkbuster armor battle happen. I thought it would be handled poorly and was a bullshit attempt at fan service but how they made it work in the film was pretty awesome. Granted, I don’t understand why people were standing around gawking during the fight but that’s Hollywood for ya.

I also like that Hawkeye actually had a presence in this movie and wasn’t just some Loki zombie for 90 percent of the film. The look into his life and the fleshing out of his character was good. I liked the casting of Linda Cardellini as his wife.

I liked the tension between Captain America and Iron Man, which is a nice set up to what will happen in next year’s Captain America: Civil War.

I like that the Infinity Stones were finally explained and that Thanos acquires the Infinity Gauntlet in the mid-credits scene. Although that scene was bizarre and it seemed like Thanos was breaking the fourth wall. I don’t like that there wasn’t a post-credits scene.

However, the greatest thing about this film was Vision (I’ve always hated calling him “The Vision”). Paul Bettany, who has been the voice of J.A.R.V.I.S. since the first Iron Man film in 2008, was brought to life in the form of Vision. Bettany was the perfect choice and not just because his voice was Tony Stark’s assistant over the years, he just had a very serious yet calming presence that made him perfect for the part.

I’m fairly excited for where this series can go but I am more optimistic about the future than the present, as the next set of Avengers films will not be helmed by Joss Whedon. To be frank, I don’t understand the insane amount of fans that guy has.

Well, next up is Ant-Man. I’m hoping its smaller scale, pun intended, is a refreshing experience because this film was too large for its own good.

But what the hell do I know? Billions of fan boys will love this without question because Marvel can apparently do no wrong and Joss Whedon has a golden penis.