Saturday, 7 December 2013

Gravity (2013) Review

This week (actually, a few weeks ago), I strapped on my space suit and moonwalked down to the local cinema to check out Gravity (2013) starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney and directed by Alfonso Cuaron.

Gravity takes place in space. That's pretty much the plot synopsis right there. Bullock and Clooney are working on a satellite when all hell breaks loose. It then turns into a fight for survival.

Even that synopsis is too long. I could sum up this film in two words:

Absolutely beautiful.

Visually this is, hands down, one of the most stunning pieces of film you will ever see. The movie starts off in space and stays there for the duration. Some of the laws of space are even observed. Most notably, the lack of any sound. This means that, while all this crazy destruction is going on around them, all you hear is Bullock and Clooney talking and breathing in their own suits. Oh, and the soundtrack...

Steven Price did the soundtrack for this movie and it's brilliant. You go in expecting grandiose, orchestral music to accompany the sci-fi space setting. You don't get it. What you get is some amazing ambient tones and music that manages to get you exactly where you need to go to appreciate the scene in question without bashing you over the head with it. It's a truly unique approach and a welcome surprise in a movie that was full of them.

The special effects are not only top notch, but they seem nearly impossible. In the past, when a movie wanted to simulate weightlessness, they'd send the cast and crew up in a plane ironically called the "vomit comet". It's the same plane used by NASA to train it's astronauts. It does, in fact, render everyone and everything weightless, but only for a brief period of time. Apollo 13 is a good example of a movie that utilized this feature.

For Gravity, however, the vast majority of the film takes place in a zero-g environment. You get long, beautifully shot takes of Bullock and Clooney blissfully floating around completely weightless. I scratched my head trying to figure out how it was done. I won't spoil the experience for you, but I actually had to look it  up to see how they did it. If you'd like to know, you can too!

That's not to say all is well. While the movie is very tightly edited at 91 minutes in length and is largely wall-to-wall action and adventure, it suffers greatly from a lack of backstory and character development. I appreciated the sequences and the non-stop pacing, but I found it difficult to root for anyone in this film. I don't know them. As I said, the movie starts off with them already in space and just stays there. No flashbacks. No long pieces of exposition about past experiences (save one that isn't very long nor is it very impactful). Just them. In space. Fighting for their lives. Pulse-pounding? Absolutely. Did I much care about either of them? Not really.

The film is a triumph of visual effects. It's a groundbreaking movie much the same way Star Wars and The Matrix were when it comes to showing off just what someone can do with technology and imagination. It's a bit of a shame about the characterization, but you'll barely notice it since you won't leave the edge of your seat once the debris starts to fly.

4 out of 5 stars
Gravity (2013) Review
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on Dec 07 2013
Rating: 4

Monday, 9 September 2013

Elysium (2013) Review

This week, I put on my jumpsuit, shaved my head and skipped on down to the local theatre to see Elysium (2013) starring Matt Damon and directed by Neill Blomkamp.

The film tells the story of Max DaCosta (Damon), a down-on-his-luck guy who, after an accident at work brought on by negligence by the supervisor, has only 5 days to live. His only hope for survival are the medical facilities on the sub-orbital space station Elysium. The catch? Elysium is extremely well guarded (apparently) and only meant for the rich and wealthy while the rest of the sweaty masses live on a disease-ridden and overpopulated Earth.

If you're expecting another film like Blomkamp's directorial debut and Best Picture Oscar nominated District 9 (2009)...a taut, gritty, political drama about class separation that just happens to have a sci-fi're going to be sorely disappointed.

My assumption here is that, with all the good will District 9 (2009) garnered, Blomkamp was basically given a blank cheque and told to write and direct whatever the hell he wanted. And boy does it show.

There's enough wrong with this movie that I simply can't dedicate entire paragraphs to every point. I'm going to have to just give you the quick and dirty bullet points instead. 

WARNING: Here there be spoilers
  • Sharlto Copley is ridiculous as the lead bad guy. He's so over the top he makes other movie villains seem downright Shakespearian by comparison.
  • Matt Damon seems half asleep throughout most of this. I know he's supposed to be sick near the beginning of the movie, but he just never seems to engage with the audience. Most of the time, I just didn't much care what happened to him.
  • Jodie Foster is absolutely dreadful. She sounded like she was trying to effect some kind of an accent, but I have zero idea what it was supposed to be, other than terrible. Her motivations were sketchy at best and never really fleshed out. Her death (I warned ya!) not only comes as no surprise, but it's handled very poorly.
  • I hope William Fitchner was paid very well for his role in this film. Not only is his character utterly useless, but it's so cardboard thin and cliched I cringed every single time he was on the screen.
  • It's over 90 minutes before Damon's character actually gets to Elysium. Let me say that again. It's over 90 MINUTES.
  • Damon's underworld contact on Earth is a guy named Spider. Spider has a rather thick accent. Spider is a very fast talker. This means I didn't catch fully two-thirds of what Spider was saying most of the time.
  • Neill Blomkamp can only shoot a film with two types of cameras; a slow-motion one and an extremely shaky handheld one. Neither was flattering to this film. It's like Ang Lee and Paul Greengrass had a baby and that baby grew up to be an old person with palsy and that old person with palsy was operating the camera most of the time.
  • Jodie Foster's character asks William Fitchner's character to make her a program that will put Elysium under her control. Fichter even labels her plan as a "coup". Somehow, when this one program is run, it actually does the exact opposite of that thing, making everyone everywhere a citizen of Elysium and sending help out to the entire Earth. What?
  • And then there's the suit. You've seen the trailers. You know Damon gets strapped into this suit looking dealie that appears to give him super powers and is the key to getting on to Elysium. Only it's not. The suit almost never comes into play. It also doesn't do anything to help him get to Elysium. It kinda gets used in a couple of fights and it ends up storing this mystical, magical program (like a really painful USB stick) and that's about it.

To summarize, this film looks terrible due to the shoddy camera work. The plot is laughable, the action is sub-standard and all the high ideals put forth at the beginning of the film end up taking a back seat to the horrible cat and mouse act between Evil Copley and Boring Damon. You don't need to see this film.

1 out of 5 stars
Elysium (2013)
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on Aug 09 2013
Rating: 1

Saturday, 24 August 2013

So...Ben Affleck is Batman (and other interesting casting choices)

In an interesting casting move, the much anticipated followup to this year's Man of Steel movie, tentatively titled "Batman vs. Superman" will feature Ben Affleck playing Bruce Wayne/Batman along side Henry Cavill's Clark Kent/Superman.

Yes, that Ben Affleck.

And the Internet was torn asunder....

Coming as no surprise, the blogosphere in particular and most of the Internet in general has come out against Affleck donning the cape and cowl. I haven't seen many decent reasons why. Most of them just say "he sucks" or "did you even see Daredevil?". The trouble with that is, "he sucks" isn't anything I can work with and the whole Daredevil fiasco was a decade ago, a different studio and a different property altogether.

I'm not going to lie; my initial reaction was shock. I mean, Ben Affleck? He wasn't even on the radar as far as I knew. I had read that Warner Brothers was looking for a 40+ actor to play the role as a grizzled veteran of crime fighting. Affleck is 41, so he fits that bill. And while he hasn't won any accolades for his acting, he is coming off a best director Oscar win for Argo (2012), after directing the much applauded and critically acclaimed The Town (2010) two years earlier. 

But Batman? Really??? How can this be a good thing? Clearly, this is the worst casting mistake since....

Well, hang on a second.

Movie casting is a tricky business. Even in the world of comic book movies, casting an actor to play what is essentially a cultural icon can be a daunting task. This isn't the first time someone's been cast to put on a costume and fight crime and have the general public go into a frenzy over the choice. 

Let's do a list, shall we? Here's my Top 4 comic book casting choices that were initially met with scorn but turned out to be pretty great. 

4. Hugh Jackman - Wolverine
It's hard to imagine, but when the first X-Men (2000) movie came out, unofficially ushering in the modern era of great comic book films, Hugh Jackman was a relatively unknown Aussie stage actor known for his singing and dancing. Folks who had seen him didn't think he could bring the intensity and grittiness to the anti-hero Logan that was needed to really define the character. They couldn't have been more wrong. He's now appeared as the Wolverine a record 6 times and is about to put in his 7th appearance in X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

3. Christopher Reeve - Clark Kent/Superman
Similar to Jackman, Christopher Reeve was a virtual unknown, having only appeared in a few tv soaps leading up to being cast as the most iconic superhero of all time. The short list of actors that the studio wanted for the role reads like a who's who of Hollywood at the time. Names like Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, Nick Nolte and Burt Reynolds were being bandied about. When Reeve was cast, he was such an unknown that he only received 3rd billing for the film (Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman getting spots one and two, respectively)! Now, find anyone born in the late 60s or through the 70s and ask them who they most associate with the role of Superman. Every single person will tell you it's Reeve. He's my generation's Superman.

2. Michael Keaton - Bruce Wayne/Batman
Ah, Mr. Mom as Batman. To say fans were outraged by this choice is putting it mildly. The backlash from this news was absolutely staggering, especially considering it predates the Internet. "Michael Keaton? Isn't he just, like, funny and stuff? He'll make a terrible Batman!". No, dear genre fans. No he won't. Keaton's turn as the Caped Crusader is still, to this day, the favourite of a lot of fan boys and gals. His quirkiness as Wayne and his dead seriousness as the Dark Knight lent weight to the role that could have come across as campy and cartoony as Batman had so often been portrayed prior to this. You never got the sense Keaton was winking at the camera or not taking it seriously.

1. Heath Ledger - The Joker
If there's one thing I remember most clearly about the time that Ledger was announced as playing the Joker in The Dark Knight (2008), it's all the comments that were made about how some Aussie pretty boy was never going to be able to fill Jack Nicholson's shoes. The single greatest comic book villain turn (one of the single best villain portrayals period, really) and a posthumous best supporting acting Oscar later and nobody can imagine anyone nailing the role of the Clown Prince of Crime the way Ledger did. It truly is a shame that we won't be able to see more of him in the future.

To sum this all up, let me just say this to the shocked and outraged fans out there wailing about Affleck being Batman. I, like you, was shocked as well. I've gotten over it and you should too. At the very least, give the man a chance to get in there and show you what he's got. If he's terrible in the role, I'll jump on the bandwagon with everyone else and write Warner Brothers a sternly worded letter. If he's great, like the actors I've listed here turned out to be great...well then I expect there will be a lot of crow served on the Internet that day.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

The Wolverine (2013) Review

This week, I refused to trim my sideburns, donned my favourite yellow spandex unitard and went across to the local cinema to check out The Wolverine (2013) starring Hugh Jackman and directed by James Mangold.

The story takes place some time after the events of X-Men: Last Stand (2006). Logan (Jackman) is a bearded, bedraggled man haunted by memories of his past love Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), living off of booze and little else up in the mountains somewhere. He's approached by a young Japanese woman who's job it is to bring him back to Japan where a soldier from WWII that Logan saved can pay his last respects and say goodbye. When Logan gets to Japan, hijinks promptly ensue as everything is not as it seems....

Wait. Actually, everything pretty much ends up being exactly as it seems. Well, the parts that make any kind of sense, anyway.

Jackman embodies the role of Logan/Wolverine seamlessly. He's one of those rare Hollywood actors who've become so synonymous with a single role, yet has managed to branch out and put together a fairly impressive body of work. Instead of turning his nose up and outgrowing the role that made him famous, Jackman returns again and again, paying homage to the character that made him a household name.

Unfortunately, he's saddled with one of the worst films I've seen this year. And that's saying a lot.

The plot, if you could call it that, has two major points. The first focuses on the granddaughter of the tech industry giant that Logan saved back in WWII. She stands to inherit the company once her grandfather dies, much to her father's chagrin. Thugs are hired by her evil dad to take her out. Logan decides it's his job to protect her. They spend two days together and fall in love with each other. His love for this Japanese girl whom he met two days ago is enough for him to let go of the years long love he's had for Jean.

Yep. You read that right. TWO DAYS.

I have to mention something about this love story. It's awful. The reason? The complete and utter lack of chemistry between Jackman's Logan character and "Mariko" played by Tao Okamoto. The last time there was a couple on screen that had this poor of chemistry, those movies had "Clones" and "Sith" in their titles. I never, not for one single second, bought these two as a legitimate couple. I certainly didn't understand Logan letting go of Jean for a woman he's just met and only shared a single night in bed with.

The other half of the plot is so convoluted I don't even know where to begin. The aging tech giant Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) was once stationed in Nagasaki during WWII. Logan was being held as a POW there. When the A-bomb starts to drop, Logan saves Yashida for no discernible reason. Years later, Yashida is dying of cancer and wants Logan to give him his power of healing in exchange for a normal life and a proper, ordinary death. Logan refuses and the old man "dies".

The old man's oncologist, a horrible, misused villain called The Viper played by Svetlana Khodchenkova, somehow robs Logan of his healing ability but doesn't pass it along to the old man. Meanwhile, the ex-boyfriend of the granddaughter Logan is protecting/loving is a ninja (totally not making this up) and has a huge gang of ninjas (still not making this up) that start out helping Logan, then wind up hunting and hurting Logan, then end up helping Logan again.

How do you bring that all together, you ask? Spoiler alert (which you will not need if you see the film), grandfather is still alive and behind the whole thing.


The action beats can't even save this movie. From the physics defying, ridiculous train top scene to the horribly choreographed hand-to-hand fight scenes that include the often misused and completely unnecessary extreme close-up, shaky handheld camera shots to the final, climactic fight between all the protagonists and all the antagonists, the action is just dreadful. Maybe I missed a memo somewhere, but I thought this guy was supposed to be a comic book super hero.

I can't fathom why this movie is reviewing so well, but I can understand why domestic moviegoers are staying away. While Jackman is great, everybody else is just appalling. Some of the dialogue is downright laughable in it's clunkiness and corniness. There isn't a single "reveal" in this movie that will surprise you in the least. It's just bad all the way through and easily the most boring movie I've watched this year.

1 out of 5 stars.
The Wolverine (2013)
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on Aug 07 2013
Rating: 1

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Pacific Rim (2013) Review

This week, I went to the cinema to check out Pacific Rim (2013) starring Charlie Hunnam and directed by Guillermo del Toro.

The story is straight forward and covered fairly well in the trailers. Giant monsters known as Kaiju (Japanese for "strange beast") have been attacking humankind from the depths of the Pacific Ocean where they've opened a portal from another dimension. Humankind's response is to build giant robot warriors called Jaegers (German for "hunters") to battle the Kaiju. Each Jaegar must be piloted by two people who enter something called "the drift", which allows them to share memories and operate the giant robot in a left brain/right brain type fashion. When the Kaiju start to evolve and the Jaegers start falling one by one, the governments of the world turn to a new plan to stop the Kaiju and cancel the Jaeger program. The few remaining Jaegers hole up in Hong Kong and start a last ditch effort to stop the Kaiju invasions once and for all.

Every now and then a movie will come along that will redefine a genre, changing everyone's perceptions about what it is to make a great movie. 

Unfortunately, this ain't it.

I was actually worried going in to this film that maybe I wasn't being as objective as I needed to be when it came to writing movie reviews. Was I putting so much hope into films that looked really cool going in that I'd turned a blind eye to anything that might make said movie look bad once I'd viewed it?


First off, not everything about this movie is bad. If you're looking for mind-blowing, jaw-dropping effects, this is your popcorn summer blockbuster. The fights between the Kaiju and the Jaegers are not flashbang affairs. These fights last and last and there's more than one epic battle on display. The action sequences truly are breaking new ground and really showcase what a movie like Transformers (2007) could have been. No up close, shaky camera bullshit where you can't tell who's doing what. Each of the battle sequences is shot near perfectly and the choreography (if you can call it that when it's all done on computers) is spot on. During those battle scenes you can suspend your disbelief for a bit and enjoy some truly awesome carnage.

The story itself isn't terrible either. The concept, while borrowing heavily from other sci-fi sources, is still a neat one to explore. Giant monsters hitting us on a global scale? The world finally putting aside it's own petty differences and banding together to fight these things in the coolest manner possible? How can you go wrong with that?

By hiring terrible actors and throwing in every damned clichè you can possibly come up with, that's how.

Not all of the actors are terrible. Charlie Day (It's Always Sunny in Philadephia, Horrible Bosses (2011)) has a great turn as quirky scientist and Kaiju fanatic Dr. Geiszler. He's exactly as goofy as you expect him to be. Ron Perlman (Hellboy (2004), Sons of Anarchy) has a wonderful cameo as Hannibal Chow, a black market dealer in Kaiju organs. Burn Gorman's (The Dark Knight Rises (2012)) Dr. Gottleib makes a perfect, fastidious foil for Day's goofiness.

Unfortunately, none of the above mentioned actors are the stars of this film. What we end up with is Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy), Idris Elba (Luthor) and Rinko Kikuchi (The Brothers Bloom (2008)) in a competition to see who can be the most bland piece of driftwood on screen.

Hunnam plays Raleigh Beckett. His particular clichèd role is the reluctant hero with the tortured past convinced to climb back into the saddle one more time to save the freakin day. I don't want to spoil anything for you, but save it he does, my friends. Save it he does. Mind you, he does so with a deplorable lack of personality. I didn't find myself rooting for Raleigh at any point in this movie and he's supposed to be the main protagonist.

Idris Elba plays President Whitmore, who, after a moving speech to rally the troops, comes out of retirement to lead the final battle against the alien invaders intent on our natural resources and...and...ah crap. Wait a second. That's the wrong movie. That was Bill Pullman in Independence Day (1996). Let me try that again.

Idris Elba plays Marshall Stacker Pentecost who, after a moving speech to rally the troops, comes out of retirement to lead the final battle against the Kaiju. Elba is pretty bad in this. His English accent seems to come and go throughout the film which is really weird since he's actually English in real life. His scenes carry little weight and he brings absolutely nothing new to the table.

If Elba and Hunnam and bad in this, Rinko Kikuchi is absolutely dreadful. She plays Mako Mori, assistant to Elba's Marshall character and someone desperate to get into a Jaegar and fight some Kaiju. She's bent on revenge against the Kaiju for an attack on her home city when she was a child. She makes moony eyes at Hunnam throughout that are so overdone as to be downright comical. In fact, the only thing I found sadly funnier than that was her looks of determination, pleading and dejectedness whenever the subject of her piloting a Jaeger came up. I'm not sure who all tested for this role, but I'm willing to bet almost anyone would've done a better job. 

Having brought up the Kaiju attack when Mako was a child, I have to talk about the child actor that ends up playing Young Mako in a flashback sequence. The young girl's name is Mana Ashida and she's easily the best actor in this movie. I'm not kidding, I only wish I were. The scene in question is the only 10 minutes of the movie that has a truly human, emotional element to it and it's largely due to this little girl's performance. The scene and the girl will move you. I guarantee it.

Then there are the clichè's. I've already mentioned Hunnam's and Elba's characters. There's also the cocky Australian pilot who doesn't like Hunnam for absolutely no apparent reason other than to give Hunnam's character someone to spar with. Oh, and he has daddy issues. There are the Russian pilots who are stoic throughout and get almost no dialogue. The Chinese pilots get even less dialogue than that. 

More to the point, though, is how American-centric this movie ends up being. There are only four Jaegers that survive the initial purge: The Russians, the Chinese, the Australians and the Americans. Keep in mind, every major world government built one and the rest have all been trashed by the Kaiju. Only these four were badass enough to survive. And in the very first fight involving these four, the Chinese and the Russian Jaegers get destroyed and their pilots get killed and they accomplish absolutely nothing before they die. Even the Australian Jaeger gets disabled. Who comes in to pull everyone's fat out of the fire? The Americans, that's who! Just like doubleya doublya two! 

Even the climax of the film finds the American Jaegar, the American scientist and the American pilot the only ones to ultimately figure out what to do and save the day. 

This movie had the potential to step out of the mold and really showcase the global aspect of the film and story. Alas, it gets caught up in it's own clichès and takes the path of least resistance.

I wanted to like this film. I really did. I was hoping it would be the start of something really cool. What I got was a movie that had mind-blowing special effects but lacked brains and heart.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Pacific Rim (2013)
Reviewed by The Bitter Criticon Jul 20 2013
Rating: 2.5

Monday, 17 June 2013

Man Of Steel (2013) Review

This week, I put on my cape and boots and flew down to my local IMAX cinema to check out Man Of Steel (2013) starring Henry Cavill as our brawny-chested hero. The film also stars Amy Adams as intrepid reporter Lois Lane and Michael Shannon as the villainous General Zod. It's directed by Zack Snyder.

Yes, that Zack Snyder. The guy who directed 300 (2006) and Watchmen (2009) and (ugh) Sucker Punch (2011). He of the quick-then-slow-then-quick action shots. Often accused of all glam and no substance.

Take a deep breath, now. It'll be ok. Trust me.

This movie is actually quite good. A lot of this credit will likely go to Christopher Nolan, the director of the Dark Knight Trilogy. While I'm sure, as one of 7 or 8 producers on this film, he had his share of input and feedback, the bulk of the credit should go to Snyder.

The movie is laid out a little differently then you might expect. In fact, I've heard some complaints about the narrative style chosen. It was made clear very early on in the production that this would be a reboot with a full origin story intact. The style they chose for the telling of said origin story is a non-linear series of flashbacks from an already grown up Clark Kent. Personally, I think this was a brilliant way to shoot this.

Trying to tell the story of how little Kal-El is shot to Earth in a spaceship from the dying planet of Krypton and found by the Kents in a linear, chronological fashion would be too reminiscent of the original Superman (1978) film. More than that, though, we're talking about the single most well known and celebrated superhero of all time. You'd have to go 10,000 miles to find someone in a deep, dark jungle who didn't know who Superman was or what his story entails. With the story told this way, we get to catch a glimpse of his past struggles, helping us identify with his character, while getting to see him facing the challenges of being the most powerful person on the planet and trying desperately to hide that fact. It also helps with the pacing early on as we get to see different aspects of Clark's personality as they develop.

The opening scenes of the movie take place on Krypton with Jor-El (Russell Crowe) helping to give birth to his son while, at the same time, trying to prevent a military coup by General Zod (Michael Shannon). Krypton is rendered beautifully in these opening sequences. It's a different take on the planet and the technology used from what's been previously shown. Everything is more fluid, rather than crystaline as has been portrayed in other properties. The action on Krypton is fast and furious as Jor-El tries to save his infant son while battling Zod and his followers with the whole planet blowing up around them. It does a great job of setting the tone early for the action to come later in the film.

The middle of the film does a good job introducing us to the supporting cast as well as establishing the major plot points. It's a little clunky, but that's usually due to periods of exposition by characters helping to explain what's going on. While this gets overdone at times, there wasn't a single point in the movie where I had difficulty following the narrative or didn't know what was going on. More importantly, it does something the films, tv series' and even the source material comic books have shied away from; it makes Superman relateable. The second act really focuses on humanizing the Last Son of Krypton in a way that's refreshing and totally unexpected. You don't end up cheering for him just because he's Superman. You end up cheering from him because you kinda fall in love with him a little. You get to a point where you appreciate his struggles and understand what he must go through trying to make his way through life as an outsider.

The third and final act of the movie is all action. And when I say action, I mean action. For those of you who've always wanted to see an all-out slugfest between superheroes and supervillains, you cannot miss this film. The action is incredibly fast pace and utterly relentless, never letting up. When I heard this movie cost the studio $225 million to make, I had to wonder where all that money went. After watching the last 45 minutes of Man of Steel, I wonder no longer. From heat-vision scorching to flying, burning locomotive trains, to mid-air battles between flying Kryptonians, the action is crazy start to finish.

The casting for this movie is pretty spot on. Michael Shannon has a good turn as Zod. Amy Adams is great as Lois Lane. The real star, though, is Henry Cavill as Clark Kent/Superman. Not since Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Ironman has there been a more inspired casting choice for a role. Cavill IS Superman. His Clark Kent is great as well. He brought weight and gravitas to a role that is one of the most difficult in Hollywood to portray. How do you make a god-like boy scout believable, approachable and relateable? By playing it straight and to the point, earnestly and honestly. Cavill does this and does it so well it's hard to imagine anyone else donning the cape. He's the first actor I've seen in the role that made me think someone other than Christopher Reeves has a spot in the pantheon as the Man of Steel.

Ok, I think I've gushed over Henry enough. Man-crush is getting a little out of hand there.

Are there issues with this film? Of course. As I mentioned, the second act has some long-winded and clunky moments. The third act, while sporting some of the best superhero action ever put on film, does so by sacrificing story and character development. 

Still, this film delivers and it delivers big time. Rumour has it that the success of this film would determine whether or not we'd see movement on a Justice League film in the future. I think we can safely assume we'll be seeing bigger things to come.

4 out of 5 stars.

Man Of Steel (2013)
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on Jun 17 2013
Rating: 4

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) Review

This week, I put on my pointy ears, set my phaser to stun and warped into the nearest cinema to check out Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). The film stars Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Karl Urban and Benedict Cumberbatch. It's directed by J.J. Abrams.

Into Darkness picks up a few years after the end of the previous film Star Trek (2009). Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is in command of the Enterprise on a mission involving a volcano and a primitive culture. Needless to say, Kirk abandons all the rules and completes the mission while saving Spock's (Zachary Quinto) life, very much against the Vulcan's wishes as this would break the big rule known as The Prime Directive.

This idea of them working together despite wildly different views on how to handle sticky situations is a common theme throughout the film. It actually works quite well as the dynamic between these two is fantastic. Pine is clearly sinking his teeth into the Kirk role and Quinto is simply awesome with his deadpan delivery. It's interesting to point out that, in the original series TV show, you had Kirk, Spock and McCoy as the central three cast members with the other four sort of floating around them. In this film, it's really just Kirk and Spock that have the main focus and anyone they place in the scene with them gets immediately elevated by their seamless bickering.

That's not to say Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy isn't great in the role. Out of all the cast members, he's the one doing his best to emulate the original cast member's performance (in this case, the late DeForest Kelley) and he does so quite well. His role is a little different in this sequel, though. In the first film, he was Kirk's best friend and closest confidant. That spot is being filled by Spock in this film, so the good doctor plays a more supporting role and adds some laughs.

Zoe Saldana gets some serious screen time as Uhura, largely due to her relationship with Spock. In fact, it's this relationship that provides the majority of the truly funny moments in the movie, of which there are several. Saldana is able to bring some much needed emotion to the film to help break up some of the action pieces.

John Cho has a great turn as Sulu. Again, another cast member who's clearly getting comfortable in the role and starting to have fun with it. Cho even gets to sit in the big chair and deliver some kick ass lines, which he does superbly.

Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty, is used rather shabbily, in my oh so humble opinion. It's like someone on set said "Hey, this guy is hilarious, let's make every scene he's in have him cracking wise and acting like a goofball". Pegg gets very few truly human moments in the film and, even when he does, it's hard to take him seriously since he's been goofing off for the other 2 hours. I get that he's a funny guy and I even get that he's expected to provide some comic relief. I just don't think it needs to happen in every single scene he's in.

I'm not sure if Anton Yelchin pissed someone off or if he had another project on the go and just couldn't spare much time for the production, but his Chekov character is relegated to the bowels of the ship early in the film and is barely heard from again.

The supporting cast of this film is pretty great. Bruce Greenwood returns as Admiral Pike and turns in a great, emotional performance. He continues to act as Kirk's mentor much like he did in the first film but, this time, he's clearly acting as a father figure as well.

Peter Weller as Admiral Marcus just chews up the screen when he's on it. He makes the best of a shaky plot line and runs with it. It was late in the production before I'd even heard he was in the movie. I'm very glad they added him in.

The real scene-stealer in this one, though, is Benedict Cumberbatch. Right after I watched this movie, my friend turned to me and said "Cumberbatch just commands the screen in every scene he's in" and I couldn't agree more. His John Harrison character is one for the books. One of the best turns as a villain I've seen recently. Not all campy and over the top, in spite of some rather corny dialogue. He kept his villain reserved and calculating throughout. He was the Hannibal Lecter of this film.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the visuals. They are stunning. Truly stunning. Easily the single most gorgeous film I've seen this year. The space scenes in particular are rendered so beautifully it may take you a moment or two to realize these folks aren't actually in space.

And I can't talk about the visuals without mentioning the Klingons. Yes, our boney-foreheaded friends make an appearance in this one, if only briefly. Their look gets updated (I won't go into details) and there's clearly a promise of more to come with these guys. Expect big things from them in future installments.

The movie has some plot issues that I can't really go into without giving away some major spoilers, which I've tried to stay away from this time around. The story itself is the weakest part of the film, but it's still far better than the last film's shaky plot.

I think it's fairly important to know what you're going to get from a movie based on the trailers and the source material to come before. In this case, based on the trailers I saw and the 2009 reboot, I was expecting a romping good action/fantasy film with some character moments, some decent humour and a villain that was going to steal the show. I have to say, I got exactly what I expected.

4 out of 5 stars.
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on May 21 2013
Rating: 4

Sunday, 12 May 2013

The Colony (2013) Review

This week, I threw on my snowsuit and took the dog sled down to the local cinema to check out The Colony (2013) starring Laurence Fishburne and directed by Jeff Renfroe.

The Colony (2013) takes place in a future where the world has entered another global ice age. The struggling remains of humanity have sought shelter in underground colonies. These colonies are slowly dying off due to lack of medical treatments and proper medicine.

When Colony 5 stops responding by radio, Colony 7, led by Laurence Fishburne's character "Briggs", sends out a rescue party across the frozen wasteland to determine what became of them. Hijinks promptly ensue.

I wanted to like this movie. I really did. It's a low budget Canadian production starring two of my favourite actors (Fishburne and Paxton) in a limited release. It's sci-fi in nature, which I love, and the trailer didn't look half bad. Alas, it was just not meant to be.

As with my previous review, Iron Man 3 (2013), I can't really do a proper review without giving away some spoilers. If you plan on seeing this turd of a movie, skip the rest of this!

The story is the real issue here. There are enough plot holes to drive a convoy of trucks through. What's worse is the almost total lack of explanation as to what really happened and why.

I'm usually okay with leaving some plot points to the viewers' imagination. Take The Matrix (1999), for example. Fishburne's character of Morpheus begins trying to explain to Neo what happened to the world and how the machines took over. He admits that it's been a couple of hundred years and record keeping is really dodgy, so they only have scattered facts and a few theories. It's left to us, the viewers, to fill in some of the blanks.

Now take this movie. Nobody stops to explain to the viewer how the world ended up a frozen ice ball. Only that, one day, it started snowing and it never stopped. The problem is, this event occurred within their lifetimes! Both Briggs and Paxton's character "Mason" were serving in the military when the snows began. They helped with the evacuation of civilians, according to Briggs. They were around when this started. Yet they seem fantastically uninterested in how it happened or even how to go about trying to fix it.

There's a hint fairly early in the film as to what might have happened. When our intrepid heroes set out to check up on Colony 5, they pass a huge structure that they identify as a weather controlling machine. When the youngest member of the group says something about checking to see if it still works, Briggs says "It's already done it's damage". This would seem to indicate it was the weather machines themselves that caused the global ice age. This gets taken away later in the film, however, when a message is received from another colony who happened to repair the weather machine near them, creating a thaw and allowing the planting of crops in soil.

So in all the time Colony 7 has been within walking distance of a machine that controls the weather, barely hanging on to life due to the extreme cold and constant snows, not a single person has ever ventured out to see if they could get it working and, I don't know, control the freaking weather. If we're unsure if they could fix it, we only have to look to the satellite in orbit that Briggs managed to fix from the ground and communicate with. Clearly, our man Briggs has some skills to pay the bills.

Then we get to the reason Colony 5 went silent:

Bad guys. Grunting, teeth filed to points, lots of chains and leather wearing bad guys.

In a not so subtle nod to Serenity (2005) and Ghosts of Mars (2001), the main antagonists are deranged dudes bent on killing everything and everyone they come into contact with. They don't speak or plot or plan, they just kill. Somehow, these 20 or 30 mentally unhinged, rabid killers band together and organize themselves into a colony-invading wrecking machine. Again, we rely on the Briggs character for an attempted explanation. He says they've gone "feral" due to the hunger. Oddly enough, we never see any of the baddies stopping to actually eat anything or even anyone. Just lots and lots of stabby stabby.

Oh, did I mention the baddies bring knives and axes to a gun fight? And WIN???

I was hoping for another decent, low budget sci-fi movie with great performances like Moon (2009). What I got was my patience tested and a sense of regret at having paid $9 to watch this.

1.5 out of 5 stars
The Colony (2013)
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on May 12 2013
Rating: 1.5

Monday, 6 May 2013

Iron Man 3 (2013) Review

Greetings, true believers! This week, I cut in a nasty chin-strap beard and clomped down to the local cinema to check out Iron Man 3 (2013) starring Robert Downey Jr. and directed by Shane Black.

The story of Iron Man 3 is rather complex. Needlessly so, in point of fact. The film is meant to be viewed as a follow up to The Avengers (2012) more so than to Iron Man 2 (2010). It follows Tony on his latest quest to save the world, this time from the evil Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley. Along the way he meets up with Maya (Rebecca Hall), a genetic botonist and former one night stand, Aldritch Killian (Guy Pearce), a former dweeb that Tony wasn't very nice to once upon a time, and a host of minor characters that include the President (William Sadler) and Vice President (Miguel Ferrer) of the United States. James "Rhodey" Rhodes, played by Don Cheadle, also appears, returning as the newly rebranded Iron Patriot with a nifty new paintjob. And, of course, there's Pepper Pots played by Gwyneth Paltrow.

Just a warning before you read any further. There are a few twists in this film that I can't help but talk about, so if you don't want any spoilers, now might be a good time to read one of my other bitter reviews!

Watching the trailers and knowing the lore and history of Iron Man, I was extremely pumped to see Sir Ben Kingsley debuting as the villainous Mandarin. A terrorist hell bent on giving Tony Stark a major ass kicking from which Tony would struggle to rise from and eventually overcome seemed like a match made in heaven. Well, it wasn't. As it turns out, nearly everyone in this movie is the bad guy except for the actual bad guy. The rather douchey Aldritch Killian character? Bad guy, but kind of obvious for all that. Former flame and cute sciency Maya? Oh yeah, she's a bad guy (or girl, as it were) as well. The Vice President of the United States? Hey, why not? Who couldn't use one more bad guy? But but...what about The Mandarin, you say? The best of the bad guys, maybe? The one the rest of the bad guys are working for and plotting with? In what had to be the biggest slap in the face to geeks and fanboys since Bane in Batman and Robin (1997), The Mandarin turns out to be just a drug addicted stage actor being paid to front the whole operation. Don't get me wrong; Kingsley is absolutely magnificient in the role. His acting is stellar. It's the role itself that winds up leaving you with a bad taste in your mouth. It's a twist that you keep expecting to twist back. It just never does. Instead we get an entire cadre of baddies, none of which I care a fig about. 

Still, with all these nefarious nogoodniks lounging about, you'd think it would give our intrepid heroes all kinds of opportunities to strap on the old armour and kick a bunch of tail, right? Wrong. If you're going to this movie to see Cheadle and Downey blasting away as Iron Patriot and Iron Man respectively, you're going to be sorely disappointed. There's a small scene at the beginning as Tony is tinkering with a modular suit (which turns out to be so flimsy that he can make it fall to pieces with a single bare-handed blow) and another scene early on made popular in the trailers of Tony's mansion being attacked by helicopters. Even this scene doesn't have Tony as Iron Man through half of it (it's actually Pepper in the suit). Then we get a long second act where Tony is without any armour of any kind. He ends up playing sleuthy detective and trading witty, if somewhat inappropriate, banter with an 11 year old kid throughout most of the second act. Oh, and also having anxiety attacks after the events of The Avengers. Yes, Tony Stark, billionaire playboy, genius, philanthropist spends a good chunk of the movie curled up in a ball trying not to cry.

Even in the third act and the climactic end battle scene, Tony spends so little time in the suit you start to wonder why they keep calling him Iron Man. In fact, Tony doesn't kill the bad guy. Neither does Rhodey, for that matter, who spends even less time in his suit than Tony does (and doesn't fire a single shot in it, if I'm not mistaken). Nope, it's Pepper that kills the bad guy. Yeah, that Pepper. In fact, Pepper ends up kicking all kinds of ass in this one. Maybe they should call it Iron Woman...

So, in the end, what we're left with is a bunch of bad guys with little to no motivation for being bad in a story that I cared nothing about with an absentee super-hero who's name is right in the goddamn title of the movie. This film should have been called "RDJ Cracks Wise For Two Hours in a Movie That Makes No Sense. Thanks For All Your Money". Ok, that's a little wordy for a movie title. How about "You Love RDJ, So You're Gonna Pay"? Hey, at least it rhymes.

Avoid this one if you can. Wait for Avengers 2.

1.5 out of 5 Stars
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on May 06 2013
Rating: 1.5

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Jurassic Park 3D (1993) Review

This week, I got together with some old friends and new and went to see a classic from my youth that's been re-released to the big screen with a 3D conversion attached. Jurassic Park 3D (1993) stars Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Richard Attenborough and Jeff Goldblum and it's directed by Steven Spielberg. 

Do I really need to do a summary for Jurassic Park? Sigh. Ok, here goes;


Moving right along. I know the title of my blog is The Bitter Critic and I know I tend to rant and rage about movies. It's kinda my thing. This, however, will be the exception that proves the rule. This, my friends, is nearly the perfect movie. 

First off, the movie is gorgeous. The island where the film is largely shot is rich with colour and vibrant with life. More importantly, Spielberg and cinematographer Dean Cundey do an amazing job giving you the exact shots you need to bring you right into the movie. Whether it's wide sweeping shots of the dinosaurs herding or claustrophobic shots inside a battered Ford Explorer while a T.Rex tries to chew through it, the movie doesn't waste a single opportunity to make you feel like you're a part of the story.

The soundtrack is pure John Williams and pure 90's fun. It's meant to be large and grandiose and it largely succeeds. Spielberg shows off why he's the progenitor of the modern blockbuster with his use, and sometimes lack of use, of the score. In particular, one of the best action/suspense scenes ever put on film is the initial T.Rex attack on our intrepid heroes. I didn't notice it 20 years ago, but there's no music playing in the background during this scene. In most films, the soundtrack for a scene like this would be there to prep you for dramatic, funny or suspenseful moments. It's just not needed in this scene and, in point of fact, would have detracted from it. Everything is accomplished with some rippling water and an insanely loud roar.

This movie may represent one of the best cast films of all time. Sam Neill is Dr. Alan Grant. It's difficult to imagine anyone else even attempting this role. His lines are delivered flawlessly in what had to be a very physically demanding role. He takes charge early in this movie and never really lets up. As an audience member, you totally buy it. This movie cemented Neill as a bankable Hollywood heavyweight. 

Laura Dern is amazing as Dr. Ellie Sattler. She's cheeky when the scene calls for it and deadly serious when the action does. More importantly, she never gets lumped into the "Damsel in Distress" category for Goldblum or Neill to come save. In fact, in a poignant scene late in the film when someone has to go turn the power back on, Ellie volunteers and Hammond objects, stuttering over the fact that she's not suited for such due to her having lady parts. Ellie gives him a quick dressing down and proceeds to go get the job done. There's never a time when she's relegated to second fiddle behind Neill. She holds her own and does it very very well.

Richard Attenborough is equally fantastic as John Hammond. At the time, Attenborough hadn't acted in a film in over 15 years. If there was any rust on the man, I sure didn't see it. His iconic line " Jurassic Park" will live on in cinema history as one of the best of all time. The line itself isn't all that iconic. Attenborough's delivery of it, is. Gives me goosebumps just writing it.

The child actors really nail it as well. Joseph Mazzello and Ariana Richards bring that innocence and wonder that's needed through a lot of the movie. While they spend a good chunk of the film tagging along behind Neill and Dern, they get to show off some acting chops during the kitchen/raptor scene. They carry that scene all by themselves and they do a superb job of it.

Jeff Goldblum is....well, he's Jeff Goldblum. 

I'd be remiss as a reviewer if I didn't touch on the special effects in Jurrasic Park. The use of dinosaurs in the movie was a mix of animatronic models built to full scale and computer graphics images, or CGI as it's more commonly known. If I had to nickpick anything about this movie as it was originally shot, it's that the mix between these two is very apparent on screen. CGI from 20 years ago was only so good. Proper shadows and texturing was difficult to render. As a result, you always know when you're looking at a CGI dinosaur or an animatronic dinosaur.  The scene with the brachiasaurus sneezing on Lex is the best example of this. While they're feeding and petting it, it's clearly a model. When it rears back and sneezes, it's clearly CGI. Having said that, the CGI actually holds up very well for a movie made over two decades ago.

That does lead me to my only real complaint for this movie and it's one that didn't exist 20 years ago; the 3D conversion.

I'm not sure the 3D really added anything to the movie. Sure, it helped bring better depth and life to the creations on screen, but it also became incredibly distracting at times. The conversion process usually works by leaving the background in 2D and bringing what's at the forefront of the screen into 3D. You can see this for yourself by taking off your glasses while the film is playing. This works great when you want the forefront images to be the focus of the shot. It works lousy when you don't. Some examples of this are:

  • The actors heads shot from behind as they watch the DNA cartoon when they first get on the ride.
  • Alan Grant's boot while they climb the electric fence.
  • A leaf right in front of Muldoon's face as he stalks the raptors.
  • The log Grant, Tim and Lex are hiding behind while the T.Rex attacks the gallimimuses.

These are just a few examples of what I'm talking about. There were times where I actually found myself moving my head to try to see around the object blocking my view. Not the best use of 3D I've ever seen but, let's face it, current 3D technology wasn't in use 20 years ago. This film was never intended as such. Were I to go to the cinema a 6th time to watch this, I'd want to watch a 2D version as it was originally intended.

That's it. I love this film. It's easily one of the best movies of all time and a cherished memory for me. I loved seeing it on the big screen one more time. It's going to lose half a star for the 3D conversion, though. Don't hate me. Hate technology.

4.5 out of 5 stars 
Jurassic Park 3D (1993)
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on Apr 06 2013
Rating: 4.5

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Oz The Great and Powerful (2013) Review

This week, I put on my ruby slippers (don't judge me), clicked my heels together three times and said "There's no place like the cinema!" and checked out Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) starring James Franco and directed by Sam Raimi.

The story serves as a prequel of sorts to the original The Wizard of Oz (1939). Certain elements couldn't be used as this is a Disney film and the original film is owned by Warner Bros., but all the groundwork is layed out for anyone familiar with the original.

The movie tells the tale of Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a mediocre carnival magician and conman working in Kansas in 1905. In an altercation with another carny, Oscar escapes in a hot air balloon only to be caught up in a familiar feeling tornado and transported to the magical realm of Oz. There he meets the first of three witches in the film, Theodora, played by Mila Kunis. Theodora believes Oscar is the "Wizard" from prophecy and has come to Oz to bring peace and rule over all the land. Oscar, always having believed he was destined for great things and with a greedy streak a mile wide, immediately assures her he is, in fact, the Great Wizard and will gladly take the throne. Little does Oscar know he will have to battle a wicked witch or two along with their evil flying monkeys and tall guards with funny mustaches.

I'll spare you the details of how everything turns out. Not necessarily because I'm afraid I'll spoil anything for you. More because nothing that happens in this film will surprise you in the slightest.

Ok, first the good news. The opening of the film is done well. It's shot in black and white and the screen at the theater is not as wide as it normally would be, making the entire look and feel of the first 15 minutes of the film unique. The ensuing storyline giving you a glimpse of Oscar at his sleaziest is pretty campy and sometimes downright silly, but it helps to set the stage for Oscar's path to goodness later in the film.

In what is one of the more unique and ingenious uses of technology in a movie theatre setting, when Oscar emerges from the tornado and is first getting a glimpse of Oz, the movie theatre screen itself slowly widens out to it's maximum size while, at the same time, vibrant colour gradually bleeds into the picture. It's an amazing effect to behold. Unfortunately, it was shown in one of the trailers leading up to the film, so it wasn't the surprise it should have been, but it was still a very impressive use of technology.

Alas, it's all downhill from here.

I'm not sure which effects house was commissioned to do the special effects for this movie, but they should probably feel bad about cashing those cheques. For a movie released in 2013 and the next in a very long line of movies where entire worlds are crafted for our protagonist to march around in, it's so poorly done it's almost comical. From little river fairies to the obligatory cute Disney character China Doll to the even more obligatory comic relief character Finley the Flying Monkey, all of Oscar's interactions look like he's standing on a sound stage and talking to the air where someone has told him a character will be inserted later. There's a good 20-25 minutes of the movie where it's just Oscar tromping through Oz with two CGI characters in tow. So, essentially, it's James Franco walking around in front of a green screen talking to himself. I don't mean that in a "I-know-how-films-are-crafted-and-that's-what-they-do" kind of way. I mean that in a "This-looks-so-bad-I-can't-help-thinking-that-he's-talking-to-the-air-in-a-big-green-room" kind of way.

Don't even get me started on the magic effects the witches use throughout the film. At one point, there's a duel between a good witch and a bad witch that looks so terrible I thought I was watching a kids show on Nickelodeon from 1995. I thought back to a similar duel between Dumbledore and Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) and nearly tore my hair out for what could have been.

There just wasn't any suspension of disbelief for me at any time throughout the film. From the terrible effects to the bad acting to the awful script to the cliched storyline, nothing at all captured my attention or drew me into the movie. It probably didn't help that the movie is a prequel so we go in knowing how it's all going to turn out.

I'd recommend avoiding this one like the plague. If you have to see it, I'll make one suggestion; bring kids with you. If you don't have any of your own, borrow or rent some. The kids in the audience at the showing I went to were laughing and crying throughout.

1.5 stars out of 5
Oz The Great and Powerful (2013)
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on Mar 14 2013
Rating: 1.5

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Zero Dark Thirty (2012) Review

This week, I put on my Kevlar vest, got to the choppah and flew down to the local theatre to check out Best Picture Oscar nominee Zero Dark Thirty (2012) starring Jessica Chastain and directed by Kathryn Bigelow.

Zero Dark Thirty (2012) is the tale of the decade long hunt for Al-Qaeda leader and alleged 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden. Said hunt is lead and championed by Maya (no last name given) who is relentless in her determination to track down the terrorist leader.

I'll give you fair warning, folks. Unlike the movie, this review will be short, sweet and to the point. 

I'm not entirely sure why this movie is up for a Best Picture Oscar this year. And by "not entirely sure", I mean "I can't believe" this movie is up for a Best Picture Oscar this year. Like the hunt for Bin Laden upon which this movie is based, it's just too damned long and incredibly boring for the vast majority of it. Not only that, I spent most of the first half of this movie having zero idea, and I mean I was completely in the dark (zero...dark...get it? yeah, sorry) about what was going on. Names and places are flung out in rapid fire succession to the point where you're not sure where they are or who they're talking about but they're sure talking about it a lot!

Some things are just introduced with barely any explanation at all. Take Mark Strong's character in the film, for example. He doesn't appear at all in the first half of the movie. Then he shows up, yells at everyone, and ends up sticking around for the rest of the movie, running the whole show. Who is he? What's his title? Is he CIA as well? If he's so integral to the hunt for Bin Laden, where was he for the first hour and a half of the film? If the time is taken to explain any of this, I clearly missed it.

There's also some terrible setups in this film. At one point, a high ranking Al-Qaeda member is "turned" by the CIA with the promise of millions of dollars. Said betrayer won't come to the CIA with his information but insists they meet on sacred ground, or some such. Already, warning bells are going off. They arrange the meet at Camp Something-Or-Other and spend about 20 minutes telegraphing the most obvious twist you will ever see in modern film. I heartily wish I was exaggerating. I'm not.

The acting just isn't great either. Jessica Chastain spends most of the movie doing an amazing impression of an emotionless robot. She's the star of this movie and there's hardly a scene without her in it. Most of the other actors in the film sort of hover around her with nobody really knocking one out of the park.

For all of it's issues, the film's single biggest stumbling block was the way in which the story unfolded. The entirety of the film ends up being broken down into two major plot points. The first is whether or not any of the leads, and especially the lead Maya finds fairly early in the film, will actually lead to Bin Laden. The second is whether or not they will get the green light once they think they've found him to go in and get him. The main problem here is, we already know the answers to both of these questions!

I'm not saying you can't shoot a decent movie when it's based on real life events. There are tons of such films out there. This film, though, spends a truly staggering amount of time teasing at both of these plot points. First, Maya is convinced that her early lead on Bin Laden is good and spends a ridiculous amount of time trying to convince other people of it. When the lead does, in fact, turn out to be good and points them to the possible location of Bin Laden (shocking, I know), she then spends a ridiculous amount of time trying to convince other people that he is, in fact, at that location and ready to be taken out. When we finally get to the climax of the movie, the actual incursion into the compound that lead to his alleged shooting death, it's a complete letdown since the entire build up to that moment was dragged out for so damn long. How can you possibly try to create that much suspense and anticipation for things we already know the outcome of? 

Hell, start the movie with the incursion, then show me how they got there in a matter-of-fact, clearly explained, brilliantly written, acted, shot and, most importantly, concise manner. Alas, my friends, this is not what you will see if you are unfortunate enough to be dragged to this film (not that I was dragged or anything....).

I thought this film might end up being a recruitment film for the US Armed Forces much like Act of Valor was. I was wrong. It was an anti-recruitment film for the CIA which appears to be largely run by a collection of boobs that, once they pulled their heads out of their collective asses, ended up getting extremely lucky. Allegedly. 

2 out of 5 stars

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on Jan 29 2013
Rating: 2

Monday, 14 January 2013

Looper (2012) Review

This week, I called Mr. Peabody, jumped in his Wayback Machine and caught Looper (2012) at the cinema starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis and directed by Rian Johnson. 

Looper (2012) centres on Joe, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Joe is a killer for hire. The twist is, he's hired by people 30 years in the future. Apparently, you can't just kill someone 30 years in the future. If you want someone killed, you have to send them back in time to these specialized assassins called "loopers", of which Joe is one. You kill and you kill and dispose of future bodies until, one day, the mob of the future sends your future self back to be killed by you, thereby "closing your loop". You then get to spend the next 30 years living it up. When Joe has his future self appear before him (Old Joe, played by Bruce Willis), he hesitates, allowing Old Joe the chance to knock Young Joe out and take off. Most of the rest of the movie is about everyone chasing down Young and Old Joe (in an effort to close the loop) while Old Joe goes about trying to fix the future.

I don't know about you, but when I hear a movie is going to deal with time travel as it's central plot device, I usually let out a loud groan. I'm sad to say Looper is no exception. The sheer number of times paradoxes are introduced over the course of the movie is staggering. Without giving away major plot points or spoilers, there are even paradoxes that conflict with other paradoxes. It's so bad that, on two separate occasions, characters in the movie practically tell the audience not to think too hard about the time travel aspect of it. This doesn't necessarily make the movie harder to understand. It just means you can't spend a lot of time thinking about or discussing the time travel aspect of the film as you'll soon be left feeling frustrated and unfulfilled. Because of this, the movie has a hard time finding it legs throughout. Which brings me to my next point. Expectations.

Having seen two different trailers for Looper (2012), the movie was presented and even reviewed as a sci-fi, tech-noir action adventure style movie. Nothing could be further from the truth. This movie is long. Very long. There seems to be an inordinate amount of time sitting around waiting for things to happen. The pacing is hard to get around. On top of that, a goodly chunk of the movie takes place in a rural setting, eliminating the sci-fi, tech-noir look and feel. Maybe it's my fault for having watched the trailers and read the reviews, but aren't those there specifically to garner interest in the film? If you're going to put trailers together to showcase your film, do so honestly.

That's not to say everything about this movie is bad. Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a good job with the role he's given and clearly sinks his teeth into playing a young Bruce Willis. The prosthesis applied to JGL to make him look like a younger Willis is absolutely flawless. There was not a single moment where I looked and thought I could see where the makeup lines began and Gordon-Levitt ended. And his take on Willis is spot on, right down to the characteristic sideways glance and even the little smirk Willis is so famous for.

Willis himself turns in his best performance in years. He has about half the screen time that Gordon-Levitt gets, but he definitely steals the show as far as I'm concerned. It's a far, far more emotional role for Willis than any he's done in recent memory.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't at least mention Pierce Gagnon, who plays Cid in the movie. Child actors are always a risk. Entire franchises have been mercilessly killed based on a bad performance by a child actor (Jake Lloyd and the Phantom Menace, anyone?). Pierce Gagnon does an excellent job with his role, giving us one of the best child performances I've seen in recent memory. I have no idea how old this little boy is (were I to guess, I'd say he was probably 6 or 7 when this film was shot), but he has a bright future ahead of him if this film is any indication of what kind of actor he will grow up to be.

Unfortunately, good performances are not enough to save this film from itself. I mentioned earlier how the characters on the screen make light of trying to figure out the time travel aspect of the plot. For some weird reason, this has given way to a lot of critics and fans of the genre giving this facet of the film a free pass. I'm sorry folks, but just because one of your on screen characters apologizes for all of the future plot holes and sloppy, lazy writing, that doesn't make it ok. 

I've heard others saying you, as the viewer, should just ignore the time travel part of the film and enjoy the action instead. I have two issues with that. First, there isn't much action on display. At least, not enough to ignore the central plot of the movie. Secondly, like I just said, it's the central plot of the movie! That's like saying "Se7en is a great film if you just ignore the murders and focus on the relationship between Pitt and Freeman". You can't chuck the time travel plot and you can't ignore how badly that part of the movie is executed. 

Even apart from the time travel paradoxes, there are major plot holes in this film. Ask yourself a couple of questions; Why aren't the victims from the future sent back unconscious? Why have the loopers kill themselves instead of setting up a system where loopers kill each other's future loops (thereby eliminating the possibility of recognizing one's future self)? Why, if you can't kill anyone in the future, do we see at least one person killed in the future and get referenced to a whole lot of people getting killed in the future? In truth, I could ask at least a dozen more, but you get the idea.

This is a high concept movie that gets bogged down in it's own high concept. A decent netflix viewing if you're bored, but I don't think you'll miss much by not seeing it in theatres.

3 out of 5 stars

Looper (2012)
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on Jan 14 2013
Rating: 3

Thursday, 3 January 2013

The Bourne Legacy (2012) Review

Today, I decided to kill some time with a new movie based off an existing franchise. I checked out The Bourne Legacy (2012) starring Jeremy Renner and directed by Tony Gilroy.

The Bourne Legacy (2012) is a side-quel that takes place, chronologically, at the same time as The Bourne Ultimatum (2007). Jeremy Renner plays Aaron Cross, a field agent with a lot of the same skills as Jason Bourne, but he's been enchanced through chemical pharmaceuticals that he must take on a regular basis to maintain his high degree of intelligence and physical prowess. When the project is scrapped during the chase for Jason Bourne, the other agents in Cross's "Outcome" project start getting eliminated one by one. Cross finds a way to avoid getting killed but needs to track down more of the pills that give him the skills he requires to stay alive. This leads him to Dr. Shearing, played by Rachel Weisz. Dr. Shearing is one of the people Cross has seen during his routine examinations while part of the "Outcome" project. The two are then targeted for elimination with Cross keeping Shearing alive while Shearing tries to find a way to get Cross the pills he needs. 

Yeah. That's the plot. Gone is the haunted young Jason Bourne trying to piece his life back together after losing everything that was important to him, including his very identity. No, what we get is a guy who knows exactly where he came from and actually prefers the life of a super secret, juiced hitman. The only motivation Cross has for continuing with the project is the fact that, before the enhancements, he was dumb. Like, country dumb. Like, failed the IQ test to get into the Army kind of dumb. They let him in anyway and earmarked him for the project. So, in point of fact, they took advantage of a young man who didn't even have the smarts to know what he was getting himself into. When they're done making him chemically dependent as well as making him a skilled assassin....he does everything he can to stay that way!

It's like someone looked at the existing Bourne franchise and said "You know all these great elements that really click and work with these films? Let's not only ditch them all, let's do the exact opposite". 

So, Jason Bourne is still on the loose during the film. Matt Damon's picture is flashed a few times. More than a few of the characters from Ultimatum find a way to make an appearance on the screen. It's like director/writer Tony Gilroy wanted to make sure nobody forgot that this movie is tied to those movies. 

This is another example of a movie who's concept could be decent with some tweaks and could be turned into a standalone action film. Probably not a great one, but maybe an ok one. Instead, they try to squeeze as many bucks as they can out of a franchise who's main director and lead actor left the project. Paul Greengrass, who directed Bournes Supremacy and Utlimatum said, after he departed, had he stuck around to do Bourne 4, he would have called it the Bourne Redundancy. Matt Damon has gone on record numerous times saying he wouldn't do another Bourne movie without Greengrass at the helm. Instead, we have to suffer this dreadful movie.

Jeremy Renner is one of the up and coming stars in Hollywood right now. Somebody probably should have told him that when he took this role. They also might have wanted to tell him this film could have launched a whole new franchise with him as the star. I'm sure you can guess by now, but I thought he was pretty bad in this. He just seems to walk through most of this film. He never captured my attention and there was nothing special about his performance. I'm not saying he's the only reason this movie doesn't work. Far from it. But if someone handed me an established and beloved franchise and said "Here, we're giving this to with it", I'd have acted my ass off. He didn't. Rachel Weisz isn't bad and does a better job than Renner, but I'm willing to bet they aren't going to base the franchise around her...

Don't even get me started about the ending to this movie. You'll actually start to wonder if you're being punished for something you did in a previous life.

Poorly written, poorly acted and poorly directed, this movie has almost nothing going for it. Give this one a miss.

1.5 out of 5 stars
The Bourne Legacy (2012)
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on Jan 03 2013
Rating: 1.5