Tuesday, June 21, 2011

MOVIE REVIEWS Pirates, Mutants, and Ringslingers: Welcome to the Summer Blockbuster Season, Poozers!

So I know I've been more or less slacking on the movie reviews lately. Amazing how much time a sequel novel can take up isn't it? (By the way, The Last Ascension: Book Two of the Mavonduri Trilogy is going great, never mind the fact that it's kicking my ass six ways from Sunday). But, despite the juggling act I've been consistently performing between my dayjob and epic fantasy trilogy about a war between werewolves and a pre-Atlantean race of werewolf hunters, I have been able to get out of the house and have a little "me" time at the movies. And all on a pretty tight budget.

On that note, I would encourage everyone to try and donate blood at your local movie theater if such services are provided. Why? Three reasons: it's a good cause, the snacks are usually pretty good and keep your blood sugar up (though I wish my blood bus would stock back up on those Burger King French toast sticks) and more often than not you get a free movie ticket out of it. Ah, the joy of perks.

Anyway, enough babbling about, it's time for my craziest blog post yet. After the Thor review, I realized that I needed to change up the game a little bit, and so decided to hold off on doing individual reviews until Deathly Hallows Part 2 and Captain America hit screens. Now, without sounding like I'm trying to "stick it to the man" (looking at you, Ebert), I thought it would be a great exercise for me personally to do a three-in-one compare/contrast trifecta review of three of the most diverse blockbusters coming out within a less-than-one-month period this summer. Namely, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, X-Men: First Class, and Green Lantern. Plus, it makes for a pretty nifty blog title, if I do say so myself. So, what better way to do it than to get to it?

  • PIRATES: The cool thing about OST is that it completely broke off from where the original trilogy ended. This is a Jack Sparrow movie and it's just about as neurotic and eccentric as the Captain himself. Yet, for a director who's usually known for his work in musicals, Rob Marshall shows that he can handle a sweeping, epic story just as well as Gore Verbinski. While he may be a bit green to this particular genre, Marshall did a good job maintaining each of the major storylines.
    Hearking back to the first film, On Stranger Tides is a quest story in which all participants in the quest have a specific goal for the prize. Whether the reasons are personally, religiously or politically motivated, it is the idea of "the Quest" that makes this epic pirate fantasy a good epic pirate fantasy. While watching the film, I found myself engaged with the story. I tried to figure out where it would lead, what turns it would take and where it would end up. There were times that I'd go right and the story would go left, and there were other times where I could pinpoint certain plot points and though I knew it would go there I was still satisfied with how it unfolded.
  • GREEN LANTERN: I think it needs to be said that I did read an early draft of the Green Lantern script that was leaked online, and I enjoyed it immensely. That being said, I was unfortunately underwhelmed with the final story as presented in the film. Yes, there were elements of that initial script in the final cut and yes, it is the first in the franchise but then again so was Batman Begins. I'm not trying to say that I didn't like it, because I did. But all the same, I wish that the script I had read had ended up onscreen. While watching the film I could tell that there were a lot of plot points that had been cut out for whatever reasons. Maybe it was to focus more on Hal's story, maybe it was for budget reasons, I don't know, I didn't make the film. But with a universe as rich as Green Lantern's, Warner Bros. could have done a lot better story-wise for this film.
  • X-MEN: FIRST CLASS: Now, this was a story! I remember the day I went to go see this film that Billy Corgan (I think) had said that X-Men: First Class was "a Saturday morning cartoon mixed with a Nazi revenge thriller set against the Cuban missile crisis", and that's exactly what it was, and it rocked. The pacing was perfectly done, because there is a lot to tell in this film, and it kept my attention for the entire duration of the film. Probably the story's strongest pillar was the friendship between Xavier and Magneto, and how that played out over the course of the film and how it changed each of the men at the conclusion. Throughout the film you see them discuss the idea of mutation and how mutants can coexist alongside humans, if they even can, and you can tell that each man has been shaped by their life experiences, one for better and one for worse. Never mind all the continuity issues, this is a fresh start for the X-Men series. And I want to see where it goes.

  • PIRATES: First off, let's just get this one little point out of the way: You can't go wrong with Jack Sparrow. Give Johnny Depp a little and he'll get a mile out of it. That being said, everyone else was fantastic. It was great to see Kevin MacNally back as Joshamee Gibbs, and even better to see him first as being innocent of being accused as Jack Sparrow (genius writing!!). Geoffrey Rush brought a freshness back to Barbossa after the writers reimagined him as a Royal privateer, peg leg and all, and that his relationship with Jack was reinvigorated by that fact. Penelope Cruz created the perfect female foil for Jack, with Angelica matching Jack wit for wit and line for line. Unfortunately, Ian McShane's Edward Teach/Blackbeard left more to be desired. After hearing all the characters hyping him up for his ruthlessness and depravity, I found him to be quite a decent fellow all things considered. But then again, following Bill Nighy as Davy Jones is a pretty big hat to fill.
  • GREEN LANTERN: Despite all my gripes with Green Lantern's story, I thought the characters were phenomenal. Ryan Reynolds proved that he can balance cockiness and a sharp tongue with emotional gravitas and empathy, and I was very pleasantly surprised with Blake Lively (who happens to be exactly as old as I am, to the day no less) as Carrol Ferris. Peter Sarsgaard always makes for a great villain, and he pulled off the creepiness of Hector Hammond sinisterly well. Geoffrey Rush and Michael Clarke Duncan lended their perfectly selected voices as Tomar-Re and Kilowog, respectively, although Kilowog's design could have been more piggish. My favorite performance, however, was one we didn't get to see enough of: Mark Strong as Thaal Sinestro. You could really see the sincerity of his performance in his eyes, and you knew that when he spoke of the power of fear he spoke reverently of it. Parallax was not a very convincing villain, and not as credible nor immediate a threat as Hammond, but it did widen the scope of the film.
  • X-MEN: FIRST CLASS: First of all, it was great to see Kevin Bacon acting again. Second of all, it was great to see Kevin Bacon be a villain. Third of all, Kevin Bacon speaks sehr gut Deutsche. Sebastian Shaw (played by Bacon) is a villain who can harness kinetic energy and repurpose it, a perfect dark metaphor for the early years of the Cold War. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have James McAvoy as Charles Xavier. This was one of the performances I was very interested in seeing, and was thoroughly satisfied with. Xavier in the '60s was, essentially, a womanizer. Using mutation as a pickup line to get chicks? Brilliant! It shows that there can be a freshness to old characters while still staying thematically true to what drives them. But the real star of this film is Michael Fassbender's Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto. This is a man who has suffered more than any of the other mutants we meet in the course of the film. He travels the world looking for the man who killed his mother, and all the while struggling with what he is, thinking that he's the only one of his kind. And while this is essentially true, he struggles with everyone else's idealistic way of handling things. Fassbender uses his talent to present a wide-angle view of Magneto's narrow-mindedness, and provides more gravitas than any villain I've yet seen. But this film is chock-full of strong supporting characters in addition to the names that will be on the posters. January Jones really makes the phrase "ice queen" come to life (yes, I know she turns into crystal and not ice!) and Lucas Till gave one of the surprise performances of the film as Alex Summers/Havok. And enough can't be said for Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique.
  • PIRATES: Probably the best "fourth film" in a given franchise that I've seen in all my years of movie going. Solid story, good character actors to give character performances, a fresh take on some old faces (I'm looking at you, Geoffrey) and a very interesting ending scene and after-credits scene to whet your fanboy brains about Pirates of the Caribbean 5. Not to mention the fact that it's now in the Top 10 All-Time Grossing Movies list. Gotta count for something, right?
  • GREEN LANTERN: Unfortunately adequate. Grant Major did a hell of a design job and Reynolds and Strong gave very solid performances, but it seems to me like Warner Bros. could have risked more than they did and had the next Batman Begins on their hands. But, as a comic book fan, I did like it overall, and would go see it again.
  • X-MEN: FIRST CLASS: Yes, yes, and YES. Finally, Fox got something right and breathed new life into the franchise by stripping it down and rebuilding it bit by bit. My only concern now is that the inevitable sequel be just as good if not better than this first. But that was a movie I thoroughly enjoyed, and will definitely go see again before Captain America hits theaters.
Well, that's it for me for now (I do have a book to write, after all). Stay tuned to the MAVONDURI TRILOGY OFFICIAL BLOG for more Book 2 News and Movie Reviews. Next month is going to be one hell of a joyride as we say goodbye to Harry Potter with Deathly Hallows Part 2 and hello to the First Avenger with Captain America. Be sure to be following me on Twitter @Mavonduri, and why not add me on Facebook?

By the way, I just finished watching The Social Network with my brother, and....Inception was better. Night folks!!

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