Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Marvel's The Avengers

YES! The Avengers arrived on Blu-Ray yesterday, September 25th, 2012, and I was delighted beyond any euphoria I have ever experienced in my life!

Okay…maybe that’s overdoing it a bit…but I was happy to receive this Blu-Ray from my wife when she returned home from a day of shopping at Target. Even if she didn’t bring it home last night, I still would’ve took a trip there myself to get it, because I had been waiting for this disc from the minute I left the theater last May after watching the film for the first time.

Back in 1978, I saw—at the time—the best comic book film I had ever seen: Superman. As far as special effects movies of that time, Superman was the best. It had even won an Oscar for it and won such critical praise for its cinematography, but my 9-year-old self loved it regardless back then. For over 25 years, that movie was on a pedestal for me as the best superhero movie ever…until Spider-Man 2 was released. Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy was overall a good trifecta of films (yes, even the third one was enjoyable), but part 2 stood out from the three and even from all comic book movies, because in 2004, I held that movie as the best superhero movie ever. In my mind, The Dark Knight was a worthy runner-up, but Spider-Man 2 won me over as the best. However, a mere 8 years later, The Avengers comes along and just blows me away!

Conversely, this film didn’t just drop on us all of a sudden...we all knew about this and saw this beast coming almost 5 years ago. Starting with Iron Man in 2008, four separate films constructed and readied all of us for The Avengers simply by giving us entertaining movies with a tag at the end of each one—albeit, making us wait through exorbitant amounts of movie credits—hinting at an upcoming collaborative superhero movies which we all knew was going to be The Avengers. And, looking back, that is what made this film work. Because the filmmakers couldn’t just drop a huge movie like this and try to introduce us to a group of heroes with their origins in just a matter of 2½ hours. If they did, the movie would need to be over 4 hours long.

So, what I’m trying to say is that this movie has topped my choice for the best comic book/superhero movie to date. It breaks my heart to say it, because I’m a HUGE Spider-Man fan (although it makes it easier now that Sony screwed up the character with this new rebooted debacle they released over the summer). But yes, The Avengers is now my favorite film based on comic book characters.

Now, if you’re coming in this dry, with no prior knowledge of the separate films that led up to this one, it’s okay. You may find yourself asking questions about what one person (or alien) is, or you may not understand the objects or plots discussed, but you’ll get the basic gist of the film. And the simple idea of it is that an alien menace threatens the welfare of the planet, so a security agency in charge of keeping peace helps to assemble a group of superheroes to maintain that peace and fight off the threat that wants to annihilate our planet.

The heroes should all be familiar and are pretty much household names that most people would recognize. But as I had said, even if you don’t, the movie is very enjoyable to watch.

So, assuming that you’ve seen the preceding films, we see that Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is still alive and is able to get to Earth to take the Tesseract (the Cosmic Cube) that S.H.I.E.L.D. (the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division) has been performing tests on. Loki’s plan is to open a portal and let in an alien army to overpower the humans of Earth in an attempt to rule over them. S.H.I.E.L.D., directed by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), fails to protect the Tesseract and Loki—taking over the minds of Clint Barton, AKA Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Dr. Selvig (Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd) to help in his plan—steals it.

One by one, the heroes from the previous stand-alone films are called in to help.

Steve Rogers, AKA Captain America (Chris Evans), is brought in to lead this mission. Still taking in this new world after being asleep for 70 years, but never losing his sense of patriotic duty, steps in. It still throws me for a loop how straight-laced Evans plays the roll. I’m used to him as Johnny Storm from The Fantastic Four and how much he was a smart-ass in that film, so it’s a little off-putting to see him as the guy who gets annoyed when other characters joke around and not take things seriously.

Tony Stark, well known to the world as Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), is brought information by Agent Coulson ((Clark Gregg) about the threat and the other potential team mates, but he's still reluctant to join in. As in the previous two standalone Iron man films, Downey maintains his wit and funny banter, never taking things too seriously (he tried to get Banner to turn into the Hulk for Christ’s sake!). He turns in a solid performance and doesn’t disappoint. However, if I do have any criticism on his performance, it’s the constant need to give everybody funny nicknames (he calls Loki “Shakespeare in the Park” and “Rock of Ages” and refers to Thor as “Point Break”), but it can all be tagged as the type of character he is.

Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is called in during her covert operation she’s in the middle of to help bring in the most unstable of the group-to-be, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), due to his knowledge of gamma radiation that the Tesseract has traces of, being careful not to let his alter ego, the Hulk, emerge. Johansson continues her character arc from Iron Man 2 and even brings a little bit more as we find out she may have some history we never fully get to know about, but it seems shady as we hear there’s “a lot of red in her ledger.” As for Ruffalo’s portrayal of Bruce Banner, what a breath of fresh air. Don’t get me wrong, Eric Bana and Edward Norton are both great actors, but I don’t think they had the right chemistry or heart for the part. Or perhaps the actor and CGI character didn’t mesh well together. Whatever the reason, the filmmakers remedied it perfectly by casting Ruffalo in the part.

After initially capturing Loki—which leads Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who jumps right back into the role flawlessly, to come to the group, as he wants to bring Loki, along with the Tesseract, back to Asgard—the group finally comes together. Not without its trials and tribulations, the members-to-be test each other out, fighting amongst themselves as they get to know each other and their strengths. But even after getting along, they’re still at odds, mostly with disagreements of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s plans and Stark’s ego—as well as a touch of Loki’s manipulation—it sort of falls apart, aiding in Loki’s escape, although we have to wonder if he really was a prisoner after all. Once Loki’s plan comes to fruition and the world is at stake (and Nick Fury plays his hand to help push them), the team comes together perfectly for some of the best action scenes put to film.

What I liked most about this film was The Hulk. You’ve probably heard from a lot of reviewers, or just word-of-mouth, that he stole the movie—and it’s true. But it was even better for me because after my favorite superhero, Spider-Man, Hulk is number two—or at least almost equal to Spidey. So to see him finally portrayed accurately on screen overloaded my heart with fan boy glee. The scene when he goes toe-to-toe with Thor was terrific and I was in awe at how much motion-capture/CGI has improved over the years. The part of the trailer where the characters circle together to get ready for the oncoming threat, I had seen dozens of times before the movie came out, but it still gives me goose bumps to see it in context with the film as a whole. All the characters get the same amount of screen time and all of them help the story move along. They all help the plot move along and it’s not like any of the characters are wasted.

The music score by Alan Silvestri is actually memorable and symbolic as the heroic theme of the movie. As I sit here, writing this review, it’s replaying in my head, over and over. Trust me, I’m not complaining.

The movie was released in both a normal format as well as in 3D. I chose to watch it in the normal viewing format because I didn’t think the film needed the gimmick to win me over. I was right. The Avengers wins the audience over with the stories and characters and not the visual effects. The film features individuals you care about and want to see come out on top over the evildoers. It’s an original story, from the pages of the comic books anyway, and not some borrowed sci-fi version of Dances With Wolves. Do you see what I’m comparing it to (wink-wink)?

Marvel definitely have their stuff together and are finally doing things right. They’ve created a universe that have the characters overlap each other and that’s what the comic book fans have wanted for a long time. Hopefully Marvel can win back the rights of other characters to get them all involved in this comic book cosmos, whether they become part of the team or not. Dare Devil should be free. The Punisher might be—however, they’re in talks to make a television series out of the character, so I’m not sure. Ghost Rider might be on the market after the debacle the last movie turned out to be. But other important characters that are actually part of the team in the comic book pages should be there and we nerds feel their absence. How cool would it be to see Spider-Man swinging along and fighting side-by-side with Captain America and Hulk? Let’s get the Fantastic Four in there to help out in the battle! Or the X-Men! Who knows? Maybe we will see that in the future.

Nonetheless, I can go on and on about this flick. I’ve seen it twice in the theater and once so far on Blu-Ray, only because I had to get to sleep last night, otherwise I would’ve watched it a second time last night. I’ll probably wear out this disc with the multiple viewings it’s going to endure, but it’ll be well-deserved because this film is the quintessential superhero comic book movie. It’s what other studios would love to do, but I really don’t think they’ll have the know-how that Marvel does. Talk has been brewing about the Justice League movie going into pre-production, but they better watch all the movies leading up to The Avengers if they want a chance at doing it halfway right. Are you listening (or reading this), Warner Bros.?

But you know what? It’s all about Marvel. The future is bright with what’s to come and I can’t wait!

So, in conclusion…what’s my final “bit” on The Avengers?

The best and most definitive superhero movie to date; it’s filled with drama, action, humor, suspense…basically something for everyone. It’s a movie for the whole family to sit around the television and watch with a tub of popcorn. I love it! You’ll love it! It’s especially entertaining and satisfying to watch all the solo movies that lead up to it before watching this one. But it’s just as enjoyable as a separate feature. Worth a watch or a rent…definitely worth it to own it on DVD or Blu-Ray, take my word for it.

Also, to follow suit with all the stand alone movies, there are two post credits scenes: one in the middle and one at the very end. Comic book nerds will understand the first one and the second one is very amusing.

Well, that’s about it. Thank you for reading and, as always, you can reach me on Twitter: @JustCallMeManny.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Loved Ones

Yesterday, I popped The Loved Ones into my PS3 for a watch and I must say, it kept me on edge throughout.

In the past year or so, I had heard of this movie that many horror sites have held in high regard. But to avoid contaminating my mind with opinions—both good and bad—from other movie reviews, I dodged them all until finally getting this flick in the mail from by beloved Netflix account.

I’m actually glad I avoided all references, as well as checking it out on IMDb, because I found out right away that it was an Aussie film. Now, generally I have an open mind about watching films, both foreign and domestic, but I tend to steer away from transcontinental movies. I don’t know…I guess it throws me off, hearing the accents, seeing the obvious non-American landscapes, noticing the steering wheel on the right side instead of the left…I really don’t know. I’ve felt this way before, only to enjoy the films nonetheless. Sometimes, knowing that the films are foreign—but heard they were great films—I’ll just keep them in my Netflix queue, passing them up with other, American, films. When I finally decide to watch them, I enjoy them thoroughly.

And that was the case with The Loved Ones.

The film opens with Brent (Xavier Samuel of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse) and his father, driving along a road, seeming to have a good relationship. Suddenly, there’s a young man on the road, bloodied and walking like a zombie, right in the center. Brent swerves to miss the young man, only to smash into a tree.

The film goes on after that, showing a more somber Brent as we find out his father died in that crash. He seems distant and dark, only coming out of his trance-like states for his girlfriend, Holly (Victoria Thaine). He seems to only keep attachment with one friend, Jamie (Richard Wilson) and not much else. He broods in his room, listening to metal music and doesn’t do much else that doesn’t involve hurting himself (he carries a blade around his neck and we later see scars on his body from cutting) or wanting death (we see him climbing a cliff and hang there, wanting to drop).

As prom season is approaching, Brent’s friend, Jamie, wants to ask the dark and elusive Mia to the upcoming event. She actually agrees to, setting the subplot on its way. Brent is left standing at his locker as Jamie walks away and is startled to see a dark-haired girl standing next to him. She asks him to the prom, but is turned down as Brent explains, in short, that he’s already going with his girlfriend, Holly. He walks off, leaving this girl look sad and rejected, and you almost feel sorry for her…until you see what happens later in this film.

The second act of this movie is reminiscent of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, where the heroine is held captive in the house, and that's what happens to Brent, because a lot of weird stuff goes on once we get there, including larynx paralyzing injections, use of hammers and knives, and of course the crude attempt of a homemade lobotomy. Around this time, I was hanging on the edge of my seat, and really feeling for our protagonist.

Although this is a short review (to avoid any spoilers), my final “bit” is this: The Loved Ones is definitely a simple story that easily followed along and understood. However, if there’s one thing I can complain about is the subplot involving Brent’s friend, Jamie, and what goes on during and after the prom. I thought he was going to tie into everything that was going on with Brent, but he really doesn’t. It sort of does, when you find out how his prom date is involved in the story, but I thought maybe they could’ve had a better view of that. Besides that, though, this film was very good and had solid performances throughout. I highly recommend the film if you’re a horror fan like me.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Iron Man 2

I’ve got to say, my favorite genre of film is horror. I can watch a horror movie any time of the year, whether it’s in the morning or afternoon or, preferably, at night. I long for Halloween because there’s usually a smorgasbord of horror movies on the tube and I usually watch the ones I don’t have on DVD and line up a bunch of them to view continually throughout October.

Once again, I digress.

My second favorite genre of movies is probably, and more accurately, a sub-genre of action movies—comic book movies.

After years of collecting DVDs, my wife grew tired of seeing all the different colors of movie covers in our bookshelf. She suggested that I inter the discs and covers into a DVD binder, doing away with the plastic cases and saving space on our shelf. Not long after doing this, my binder count is up to 25, with each binder holding 20 movies. That means I have around 500 titles in our bookshelf. Of course, maybe 2% of those movies are my wife’s, but the rest are all mine.

Two of those binders are dedicated to my second favorite genre—or first favorite sub-genre—comic book movies. A good portion of one of the binders is growing with the Marvel Studios films that tie into my upcoming Blu-Ray, The Avengers (I already have a spot saved for it).

Before The Avengers came out back in May, I sat at home and watched the films that led up to it, so I can have the characters’ stories fresh in my mind. Seeing that the Blu-Ray is probably coming out in September, I decided to do it again (although it might be a little premature since it’s still more than a month away). But after watching the first Iron Man film and The Incredible Hulk, I ventured into the next Marvel Studios film leading to The AvengersIron Man 2.

Sorry for the long-windedness in getting to this point, but let’s move on and get into my thoughts on the film.

To synopsize the film, we open with the ending of Iron Man, or at least the audio of that press conference that ends the first movie. The scene takes place in Russia and it opens with an old man, Anton Vanko, clearly very sick, who is lying in bed and watching said press conference. As he’s about to die, he calls over his son, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) and tells him he’s given him all his knowledge that the Starks have robbed from him. As he passes, we get a terrific performance from Rourke as he believably portrays a grief-stricken son, showing the anguish in his face, as well as obvious anger toward the man on TV—Tony Stark. In the next scene, we’re treated to a montage of Ivan, going over plans and schematics (bearing the Stark Industries name, as well as Anton Vanko), as he proceeds to build a similar arc reactor that Tony Stark built for himself. But at the end of the scene, we see that Ivan Vanko has made some type of electric whip devices before the scene blacks out and the Iron Man 2 title appears.

We then cut to Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), as Iron Man, jumping from a military aircraft with AC/DC’s “Shoot To Thrill” accompanying the scene, as he flies threw fireworks (and getting hit by one) and down into the Stark Expo. Once on stage, he demonstrates how he’s disassembled and goes on to host the opening of the show. As he introduces a 1974 film of his father, he takes a break to go back stage and we see that he’s testing his blood, the reading showing his blood toxicity level is at 17% (if memory serves me correctly). At this point of the story, it isn’t clear why there are toxins in his blood, but we come to find out later that the palladium in his miniature arc reactor is slowly poisoning Tony.

Later, Tony summoned to appear before a senate hearing regarding his Iron Man suit and how he should release it to the government as a weapon. That’s where we meet Justin Hammer, a counterpart (albeit inferior counterpart) to Tony Stark. He’s called in before the senate as a weapons expert. The scene, as most in this film, is very entertaining, showcasing the humoristic zings between Tony Stark and Senator Stern (Garry Shandling).

As the story moves on, we see that Tony’s blood toxicity rises dramatically as he fights it, unaffectedly, with some sort of green liquid that he drinks constantly. Perhaps as a result of this, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is given control of Stark Industries as Tony has made her CEO, following an introduction to Scarlett Johansson’s character of Natasha Romanoff—the Black Widow from S.H.I.E.L.D.—posing as Natalie Rushman, a new notary assistant to Ms. Potts.

Later, Tony, et al, go to Monaco to attend a Formula One race, as one of the cars is sponsored by Stark Industries. They all get together in a nearby restaurant, where Justin Hammer, coincidentally, is present as well. Not surprisingly, and to get away from Hammer, Tony suits up in racing gear to drive the Stark car himself. This is where Ivan Vanko—Whiplash (although he’s never called this in the movie)—confronts Stark for the very first time.

As the confrontation is seen on television, viewed by everybody in the restaurant, Pepper gets Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and has him drive to the track, making sure they bring a metal case that has the same colors as Iron Man’s armor. They get there in the nick of time and save Stark from Vanko, giving him this case that turns out to be Stark’s mobile Iron Man armor (which is a pretty cool special effects shot). Again, just in time, because Vanko wasn’t out for the count when Happy slams into him twice with the car (one part I clearly didn’t get—how can he survive that?). Iron Man prevails and Vanko goes to jail in France, only to have Hammer help him bust out seeking revenge on Stark.

Without going further into the story, there are a lot of great surprises and performances here. Samuel L. Jackson is back as Nick Fury, with a bigger part, I might add. He’s actually an integral part in helping Stark with the palladium poisoning from the arc reactor. And let’s not forget Don Cheadle taking over the role of Rhodes from Terrance Howard. I thought he gave the character more life and there was a lot better chemistry between him and Downey, especially when they fight side by side as Iron man and War Machine (awesome).

Everything was enjoyable in this film and I don’t have many complaints. If there was anything I can complain about was how quick and simple the ending was and how it was resolved. But there were a few winks here and there us comic book fans can appreciate, like the appearance of Captain America’s shield, or replica thereof.

Yes, I’m looking forward to seeing how far Marvel Studios can go with this universe they’ve created. Hopefully they can introduce more characters to the group and retain other heroes’ rights currently owned by other movie studios. I mean, come on! Spider-Man should be a part of this universe! They’ve already ruined the character by rebooting a successful franchise with a shoddy retelling of a story we saw a mere decade ago (see my July 9th review)!

Well, what’s my final “bit” on Iron Man 2?

Great comedic moments, some dramatic acts, a lot of kick-ass scenes, all made for an awesome film!

By the way, don’t forget to wait for that extra scene!

Thanks for reading!

You can follow me on Twitter: @JustCallMeManny