Saturday, December 03, 2016

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Monday, November 14, 2016

Popcorn For One: Reviews of DOCTOR STRANGE and ARRIVAL

I think I’m getting into a bad habit again.  Back when I was in New York I’d pretty regularly spend hours on a day off going to several movies back-to-back.  Most Manhattan theaters were turning into multiplexes in the ‘80s and it was pretty easy to move from one film into another, especially if several were getting out at the same time. I have not done it in years, but find that it’s still pretty easy to get away with.  Of course, I have a feeling that the theater staff would be more likely to question a few teenagers they saw trying that, while they wouldn’t consider the senior citizen wandering the lobby to be much of a problem.  Anyway, onto the movies.

As you can imagine, if you regularly read this blog (when I remember it’s here) or actually know me, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the new Doctor Strange film from Marvel for the past few months.  Benedict Cumberbatch was perfect as Doctor Stephen Strange, a famous, if egotistical, surgeon who has little use for anyone or anything unless it reflects well on himself.  About the only person who actually likes him is fellow doctor, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), who may have been his lover at one point prior to the film’s opening scenes. After a tragic car accident causes Strange to lose the use of his hands as a surgeon he goes out of his way to alienate everyone else, including Christine, as he continues in a downward spiral.  One day he happens to hear of another man who seemingly recovered from physical injuries that should have been impossible to overcome.  The only thing this man will tell him is that he should seek Kathmandu, in Nepal. Narrowly escaping a vicious beating by local thugs thanks to the intervention of the mysterious Mordo (Chiwetelu Umeadi Ejiofor), Strange is led to his destination.  There he meets the order’s master, The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton, in a role portrayed as a male in the comics since his introduction), who finds him wanting so has him cast out.  It is again Mordo who comes to his defense allowing Strange another chance.

It is unclear how long Stephen is undergoing training in the mystic arts, but one assumes it is months, if not years.  When an earlier apprentice of the Ancient One, Kaecilius (a very intense and menacing, Mads Mekkelsen) steals a spell that will allow him to contact the ruler of the Dark Dimension, Dormammu, thereby giving this being access to Earth which he wishes to conquer and merge with his own worlds.

I’m not going to give anything else away, since most of the above you can get from the trailers that have been coming out since Comic-Con this past summer.  Needless to say the film was everything I could have wanted and I even sprung for the extra four bucks to see it in 3-D, which I generally pass on but would recommend for this film.  I’m not sure how the interdimensional travels of the good Doctor work in 2-D and I think you would miss out on just how impressive the city twisting battles (reminiscent in a way of INCEPTION) appear.  Nicely acted, with just perhaps a little too much humor for the character as fans know him.  Of course, you expect that from the Marvel films we’ve already seen so it should come as no surprise.  Some of the jokes work better than others, and those featuring the Cloak of Levitation are priceless.

There is one comment seemingly tossed off by one character towards the end of the film that should get the attention of folks already familiar with the MCU’s workings, plus it adds to one of the post credit scenes (there are two of them, so be patient) in setting up future events featuring Strange. 
It was nice to give my eyes a rest, as the 3-D glasses still bother me a bit as I have to put them on over my regular eyeglasses, as my next choice was ARRIVAL.  I had to admit that the trailers for the film really didn’t do much for me, but several online reviewers spoke so highly of the film that I decided to give it a chance.  I’m so happy that I did as I think this film is the best film I have seen so far this year.  Not only are Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner (perhaps best known to many of you as Hawkeye from the Avengers films) excellent, but supporting actors Forest Whitaker and Michael Stuhlbarg are also quite good in their roles. 

Adams portrays Dr. Louise Banks a linguist called in by the U.S. military to help decipher the language of an alien race who have suddenly appeared in twelve different areas of the world.  Renner is a physicist and mathematician also enlisted in an attempt at understanding the technology the aliens have used to travel from wherever they call home. 

I can’t really say much more without ruining the story and how the relationships develop in the film. If you go in expecting dazzling special effects or space battles I think you might be disappointed. Think more along the lines of the film CONTACT with Jodi Foster or some parts of Spielberg’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.   Just keep in mind that the trailers you have seen for the film barely give you an idea of what to expect.  This is a movie that will have you thinking after it ends and is one of the few SF films I have seen where many in the audience were applauding at the end.  I expect and hope that there will be some Oscar consideration for this film.  Amy Adams was absolutely wonderful and you forget how good Renner can be in a serious non-action role.  Do yourself a favor and see this movie.

Three trailers for upcoming films caught my attention.  I already was excited for both ROGUE ONE and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, Vol. 2, but VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS really caught me by surprise.  I don’t recall hearing of the film prior to seeing a trailer on YouTube, but have seen some pages of the French graphic novel on which it is based.  This is from Luc Besson, who directed and co-wrote FIFTH ELEMENT, so you know he can do visually stunning stuff.  I may add this to my list of films ‘to see’ next year.

Next up, expect my review of ROGUE ONE: A Star Wars Story in the later part of December.  Of course, I might actually write something about comics before that, but I’m not promising anything.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Saturday, August 27, 2016

SUICIDE SQUAD - A Popcorn for One Review (Few SPOILERS)

 I finally had a chance to catch SUICIDE SQUAD and was pleasantly pleased by the movie.  It was impossible to not hear the pod casts or read social media, even before the official release, without already getting the impression that this might be another missed opportunity by DC.  I'm glad that I ignored all that and decided to see for myself.

These are just some quick comments (Notice I always say that and end up going on at length.) about the movie, with as few SPOILERS as I can give away.  If you don't want to know anything about the movie you can quit now or take your chances.

The film opens with scenes of various criminals, who would eventually become Task Force X/The Suicide Squad, being captured and some of their background revealed.  Most of the screen time, naturally goes to the highest profiled and popular characters, Deadshot (Will Smith) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie).  A different version of Smith's character had been portrayed by Michael Row on the ARROW television series.  The Harley character was teased in the initial episode of ARROW revealing the Squad in that show, but she was not actually seen.  Both Smith and Robbie are the standouts in the film and they actually have a chemistry that I'd love to see used in future appearances of either in the DCU franchise. Ultimately, I think both could carry solo films if DC wants to go that way.  I understand that a Harley film has been mentioned.

Early on we also get to see Ben Affleck's Batman having confrontations with both Deadshot and Harley, who is in the early stages of her relationship with The Joker (played nicely by Jared Leto).  It's hard not to compare Leto with the other actors who have played Batman's greatest foe over the decades. While I don't find Leto's interpretation as riveting as that of Heath Ledger, Leto doesn't try to model his version on any of the earlier actor's.  In some way's he is closer in showing the sheer joy of mayhem that Jack Nicholson displayed way back in the first modern Batman film. But this Joker is intense and really scary. It will be interesting to see how he does when he appears again, probably in the solo Batman film that Affleck is working on.

The other villains who are forced into the Squad are Boomerang(Jai Courtney),  Diablo (Jay Hernanadez), and Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje).  The team is formed by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), who is just as ruthless as she is in most of her comic and ARROW incarnations.  Waller, known by most as The Wall, who was given her personality by John Ostrander and his late wife, Kim Yale, is a force to be reckoned with. She uses anyone without mercy to do what she believes to be the 'right' thing for her country, even if the country might not agree if they knew what she was up to.  She puts career Army officer Capt. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) in charge of the group, partly for his military expertise and partly because of the romantic connection he has formed with June Moone (Cara Delevingne),  Moone has become inhabited by the supernatural being known as The Enchantress, and Waller hopes to use that being for her own missions, not knowing that the creature has her own agenda all along.  The final member of the team, brought in by Flag as his own enforcer, is Katana (Karen Fukuhara), a skilled swords woman whose blade absorbs the souls of those she kills.

Boomerang, Waller and Katana have all appeared before, played by other actors in the CW/DC universe. I do want to mention a quick cameo in the scene where Boomerang is captured.  The audience I was with seemed pleased.

When The Enchantress is able to escape and completely possess the body of June Moone, she puts her plan into effect by resurrecting her brother so they can once again rule the world as 'gods'. This scene is creepy on several levels and probably the best one featuring Delevingne. It's up to Waller's new team to put a stop to the destruction the pair is causing, whether they want to or not.

The action is great for the most part and just about every character gets some nice scenes.  I really liked Diablo and feel he brought a lot to the film. It would be nice to see him return, but that might be problematic.  I know some folks didn't care for Killer Croc, but I don't think you can blame that on the actor.  He was given some weak jokes which didn't always work, but I'd like to see him return.  I really wish that Boomerang had more to do, because Courtney nails the character and he's a lot of fun.  Especially nice is how he tricks another character into doing something just to see the results.  Sadly, Katana, while effective in the fight scenes really didn't add anything, but again it's more the script than the actress.  I'd have to say that I'd like to see most of the team return.

The weakest performances, and unfortunately, those that hurt the film the most (and I don't seem to be the only reviewer feeling this way), were those of Flag and Moone, who really had little chemistry, except for what was written on the page.  Flag was pretty much a cipher and Kinnaman really didn't do much to make the character stand out.  Tough soldier with a 'heart of gold' underneath but he was just going through the motions.  I'm not familiar with the work of Delevingne, but as the primary villain she was 'comicbook' in the worst way.  Her portrayal of Moone was as a rather weak woman, who needed a man to help her and as The Enchantress the initial dark incarnation was creepy, but when she later transformed it was like she decided she was auditioning for a role in a Joel Schmacher Batman film.  It totally threw the viewer out of the film and her 'hoochie coochie' dance moves were laughable.  Why did director David Ayer, or anyone else behind the camera not see how bad this was?

Finally, this was for me the best of the three DC released in this new franchise.  While I personally didn't dislike (or hate as some seem to) Man of Steel & Batman v Superman as much as some folks, they weren't up to what the best of the Marvel films have been able to bring us.  I thought both movies had some merit and Ben Affleck's Batman stood out as a wonderful character.  I'm looking forward to his return in the new Justice League film and thought that Gal Gadot, as Wonder Woman, was a refreshing surprise in BvS.  I have high hopes for her solo movie. 

I'm going to give this one a solid B+ for the performances of most of the cast, with an overall B for the final product. I just wish that more thought and effort had gone into the casting of two of the major characters.

Not a spoiler, but stick around after the initial credit sequence for a scene that may reveal something happening in a future film. Nice bit with two good actors.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

San Diego Comic-Con: Part III

Thursday, July 21 - Dan and I took Uber downtown that morning and split up.  He had some items to pick up and I was registered for a conference at the San Diego Public Library.  For several years the SDPL has given space to Comic-Con for some off-site programs, as well as holding events that tied into comics culture (such as exhibits of art).  This year for the first time the organizations co-sponsored the 'Comics Conference for Librarians and Educators', a three-day series of panels covering the use of graphic novels in education, creating graphic novel collections in Libraries and how-to programs on a series of topics.  As I was going to be in San Diego, and a Comic-Con registration was required for attendance it wasn't hard to decide to take in the Thursday events which focused on comics/graphic novels in the Library.

The panels ranged from creating a graphic novel collection policy, to working with the Free Comic Book Day organization and putting together a Library comics convention.  The panelists were from the comics industry, Librarians, and SDCC reps, among others.  All were very informative and it was nice to actually run into a couple of other Librarians I know also in attendance.  If everything works out, we might actually attempt a mini-con here at the Orange Public Library.

Following the last panel I headed back to the Convention Center area where ComicCon HQ (a website run in affiliation with the con) was holding a 'meet & greet' for fans of the Schmoes Know podcasts.  These are now connected with the Collider Video and Popcorn Talk podcast networks, that you can find over on YouTube.  I've been watching and listening to the main Schmoes, Kristian Harloff and Mark Ellis (both of whom met while doing stand-up comedy) for several years.  One of the first YouTube videos I ever made, in the short time I was doing those, was in response to one of their early movie review podcasts.  I've run into them a few times at earlier cons, but wanted to use this opportunity to do so again.  The CCHQ gathering was held at the Fox Sports Bar near the con center. There were freebies, contests, free juice and water, as well as some of the other Collider folks taking selfies and meeting their fans. Only had a few minutes to chat with Kristian, Mark, Jeremy Jahns, Mark Rielly and a couple of others, before heading off to meet Dan.

Despite what I had vowed last year and up to that morning, I somehow found myself with Dan standing in line behind the marina waiting for armbands to once again get into Hall H on Friday.  The good thing was that this was after 6:00 pm and we were ONLY needed to wait about three hours before we got our bands were able to head back to homebase.

Sorry it's taken this long to get back to all this, but there should only be one or two more of these posts to cover the Friday & Saturday events.  See you then!