Fantastic Four

August 7, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan
Directed by: Josh Trank (“Chronicle”)
Written by: Simon Kinberg (“X-Men: Days of Future Past”), Jeremy Slater (“The Lazarus Effect”) and Josh Trank (debut)

During various stages of production, there were whispers that the reboot of “Fantastic Four” was turning into a bit of a mess. Though there were reshoots and rumors that director Josh Trank was causing all sorts of on set issues, it was hard to tell if this was true or just Hollywood hearsay. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Trank left his job as director of one of the upcoming “Star Wars” spinoffs. Again, reports cited his erratic behavior and directorial performance on the set of “Fantastic Four” as one of the catalysts for the decision. Fox entered damage control mode, but the chatter hasn’t subsided as Trank’s “Fantastic Four” finally arrives in theaters, mired in all sorts of controversy.

After finding a way to send objects through other dimensions and return them back, Reed Richards (Miles Teller) is given a scholarship to a research institute. Once there, he along with scientist Sue Storm (Kate Mara) and technician Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) finalize a full size model of the project. Under the threat of losing the project, the team sneaks out to claim their stake of the newly developed alternate universe. Disaster strikes, however, and the team find themselves altered, with unexplainable new powers.

It may seem like with Teller, Jordan, Mara and Jamie Bell, “Fantastic Four,” Trank put together a great cast of likeable actors who can each shine in their own way and as an ensemble. Unfortunately, that isn’t even close to being the case. Bell is barely in the movie and adds nothing, Jordan has almost no character arc, and Mara just kind of exists in the background. Teller is the only one that gets any semblance of character development, and even he is a blank slate compared to charismatic roles in many of his other films.

In fact, almost anything character related in “Fantastic Four” goes absolutely nowhere. There’s an attempt to find connection through friendships, family strains and relationships, but nothing ever develops in any meaningful way. It’s the fault of a pretty mediocre script that is somehow both slow developing and way too accelerated. “Fantastic Four” spends most of its 100 minute run time in exposition mode, giving the full origin story treatment. It then hits the gas and clumsily stumbles into the climax, which takes place over a span of merely minutes, wraps up neatly, and ends with one of the worst scenes in a comic book movie in recent memory.

The strange thing about “Fantastic Four” is that there are a few glimmers of hope. There is something oddly refreshing about its early scenes, where we see members of the team as somewhat normal people, working research jobs. There are no suits, no super powers, and most importantly, no super vague world ending threat. It’s a situation that is ripe for creating a character driven, intimate superhero movie that we haven’t seen much of. It isn’t great by any stretch, but there are moments where Trank creates almost an anti-comic book movie atmosphere. Of course, this is something that is short lived and once it takes off into generic comic-book movie territory, complete with obligatory gaining of powers, lame villain turns (minus the head-exploding powers of Dr. Doom which was, admittedly, awesome), super lame one-liners, and shoddy CGI, anything unique about the film vanishes into a puff of smoke.

“Fantastic Four” is perhaps best described as an incredibly frustrating experience. There are moments throughout the film where the viewer can actually see what Trank was trying to do. The problem is that they are fleeting, and have no lasting impact. The actual experience of watching “Fantastic Four” is not agonizing, but under scrutiny, and as soon as the credits role it becomes abundantly apparent that literally nothing about the film works. It’s a waste of talented actors, a well-known property, and perhaps most valuable, our precious time.

Snowpiercer

July 4, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Tilda Swinton
Directed by: Bong Joon-ho (“Mother”)
Written by: Bong Joon-ho (“Mother”) and Kelly Masterson (“Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”)

When the news came out that The Weinstein Company wanted to cut Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s English language debut, “Snowpiercer,” to make it more palatable to American audiences, many people (including those who hadn’t even seen the film) found it frustrating to see a director’s vision stifled. Even though the full runtime was only two hours without credits, the Weinstein’s allegedly wanted to cut character scenes and add voiceovers to make the film a more straightforward action and sci-fi movie. In the end, the Weinstein’s relented and Joon-ho’s vision remained intact as the full cut of “Snowpiercer” reaches American soil.

Seventeen years after the chemical CW-7 froze the planet in an effort to combat global warming, a train called the Rattling Ark continues to carry the only surviving humans on a non-stop route. The train is segregated with the rich and powerful at the front of the train and the poor in the back. After being fed up with years of subpar treatment, the passengers in the rear of the train, led by Curtis (Chris Evans), plan a revolt. Moving through the train car by car, the determined group will stop at nothing until they claim the very front car.

As “Snowpiercer” progresses and the people from the back of the train begin to trudge forward, the film is almost reminiscent of a video game, where new challenges or surroundings are behind every door. It’s a good way to construct the film and Joon-ho is able to mine a lot of tension from the mystery awaiting the rebellious group.

Though few of the characters are particularly memorable, actors like Evans and the Korean veteran Song Kang-ho provide strong performances when given the opportunity. Evans in particular is able to convey a breadth of non-verbal emotion while flawlessly delivering a mortifying story towards the end of the film. The one character that really stands out is Tilda Swinton’s Minister Mason. It is a character and performance that is incredibly odd, yet so detailed and well defined as Swinton goes all in on the weirdness. Frankly, this character could have been a complete disaster in the hands of a lesser actress.

From a technical standpoint, “Snowpiercer” thrives with fantastic sound and incredible production design for the interiors of the train. Where Joon-ho truly excels is in his treatment of the action sequences in the film. Carefully planned out and orchestrated, there is a certain quiet creativity to these scenes. Where other directors might tend to go big and kinetic, Joon-ho uses techniques like slow motion, isolated sound effects and in one fantastic scene, night-vision to carry out his action.

The film isn’t exactly shy about its themes surrounding socioeconomic status and class warfare and occasionally hammers the point home a little too hard with cliché highfalutin surroundings and people. There are also a few instances of the film getting a little too bizarre, including one scene taking place in a classroom that is particularly over the top. Despite all of this, “Snowpiercer” is brainier than your average action film, and deserves credit for going beyond the basics of the genre to provide a film with substance. With great action, performances, and tension, “Snowpiercer” is sure to stand out in the summer crowd.

Man on a Ledge

January 28, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell
Directed by: Asger Leth (debut)
Written by: Pablo Fenjeves (debut)

There is something fascinating about seeing dramatic and life-altering events play themselves out in front of the public eye. It is why traffic gets backed up when there’s an accident on the highway or why crowds of people flock when police or fire trucks show up somewhere. As Nick Cassady (Sam Worthington) stands perched on the ledge of a hotel room, it is clear that he is trying to rile the crowd up for motives unknown to those trying to help (or in the crowd’s case, encourage) him. While this perilous setup doesn’t leave the movie completely devoid of entertainment value, poor acting, lame dialogue, and a lack of creativity plague the appropriately titled “Man on a Ledge.”

As prison escapee Nick Cassady arrives at his hotel, he writes a note and steps out onto a ledge high above New York City. Claiming he is innocent of the diamond theft he was putting prison for, he threatens to jump unless he gets police officer Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks) there to talk to him. As he is up on the ledge manipulating Mercer and entertaining the crowd below, he is in contact with his brother Joey (Jamie Bell) and his girlfriend Angie (Genesis Rodriguez) via earpiece as they attempt to commit a crime to prove his innocence.

Worthington, sporting a Kenny Powers style near-mullet, turns in yet another robotic performance. Not only is he completely dull, but his Australian accent randomly rears its head throughout the film. While Banks is great at many things, she fails to pull off the role of a cop convincingly. There is something about her cadence that is distracting and can’t be taken seriously in this type of setup.  In fact, Bellis the only actor who plays his role well. There are too many supporting performances in the film that are hokey and trite. Ed Harris (“History of Violence”) is the typical bad guy, the other cops in the film have the familiar cop attitude and use ridiculous lingo, and Rodriguez plays the annoyingly played-out stereotypical “fiery Latina,” hurling out insults in Spanish when she gets worked up.

There is a sense throughout “Man on a Ledge” that these are all things that have been done before. There is a recycled heist gag straight out of “Mission: Impossible 3,” the cop cars and crowds surrounding a suspicious hostage situation in New York City evokes “Phone Booth,” and the cop/criminal conversations and general themes of “Inside Man” can be found as well. When mixed in with a script chock full of cheesy conversations, the end result is a film that feels very redundant.

Despite the film’s shortcomings, “Man on a Ledge” unfolds rather briskly and is never boring. While most of the film’s far-fetched logic can be overlooked for the sake of entertainment, the ending of the film is so absurd that even the most open-minded filmgoer will react incredulously. There are certainly worse movies than “Man on a Ledge,” but the film is overall stifled by its lack of originality and corniness.

The Adventures of Tintin

December 24, 2011 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig
Written by: Steven Moffat (debut), Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead”), Joe Cornish (”Attack the Block”)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg (“War Horse”)

If you mention “The Adventures of Tintin” in the confines of Europe, you won’t have to go far to find fans of the immensely popular comic book and TV show.  Mention it in America, and you’re just as likely to get confused looks and blank stares. Tintin is a national treasure in Europe, as evidenced by its $240 million international box office haul prior to its opening in the U.S. But for some reason, like man-purses and the metric system, it has never truly caught on in the United States. One person that did take to the comics just happens to be powerhouse director Steven Spielberg, who secured the rights to adapt it into a film series back in 1983.  Likening it to an “Indiana Jones for kids,” Spielberg has teamed with director Peter Jackson and the art of motion-capture animation to finally bring the whip-smart Tintin to life on the big screen.

When the young journalist Tintin (Jamie Bell) purchases a model boat at an outdoor market, he is immediately confronted by Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine (Daniel Craig) in efforts to buy the ship off him. After the ship is broken and a scroll falls out unbeknownst to Tintin, he is kidnapped by Sakharine and taken to the SS Karaboudjan. With the help of the chronically drunken Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), Tintin and his dog Snowy escape. From there, they discover that there are at least two other model ships, each containing a scroll with a clue to a sunken, treasure-laden ship that Sakharine and Haddock’s ancestors were once aboard. Trying to beat Sakharine to the scrolls and the treasure, Tintin, Haddock and Snowy must travel through Europe by any means necessary.

The film wastes little time on introductions, as Tintin’s crime-solving prowess is only referenced in a series of press-clippings following an impressive silhouette-filled, spy-thriller inspired opening credits. Still, audiences young and old alike are able to grasp what it is Tintin does best.  There’s a strong sense of adventure and playful humor as we watch Tintin and Snowy try to keep Haddock under control, all whilst trying to evade Sakharine. Bell and Serkis are particularly good in their voice roles. Serkis, with a bold and boisterous Scottish accent, attacks the motion-capture role (as he does in all of his mo-cap work) with the intensity and effort of someone who is a leading actor. If there is one element of “The Adventures of Tintin” that does not work it is the Thomson twins voiced by British comedic actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Playing bumbling detectives trying to solve the case of a local pickpocket, their humor mostly misses the mark and the B-story line of the pickpocket fails to live up to the excitement of Tintin’s adventure to retrieve the scrolls.

Using Peter Jackson’s digital effects company Weta, who was responsible for “The Lord of the Rings” franchise and “Avatar,” “Tintin” boasts some of the best motion-capture animation ever produced. While still keeping a cartoon-like sensibility, “Tintin” features incredibly photorealistic faces and settings. Even smaller details like mouth movements are precisely accurate, preventing any distraction from the masterful voice performances. Since Spielberg treated the film like it was live action, the camera movements add another layer of realism to the animation. One sequence in particular that demonstrates this approach is a “one-shot” multi-character chase through the streets of a Morrocan village. It is easily one of the most fun adventure sequences in a movie all year.

While Haddock’s constant state of drunkenness, including some serious enabling by the dog Snowy, might be seen as inappropriate for some parents, “The Adventures of Tintin” is a fun adventure film spanning air, land and sea. It remains to be seen if the film can be successful in America though. If it is, we have a Peter Jackson-directed sequel to look forward to, with Jackson and Spielberg teaming up to co-direct a possible third film.  Make sure to also opt out of the 3D if you have the chance. It doesn’t really accentuate the film and the impressive animation will look best with bright and deep colors, something that 3D technology neglects.