Sunday, May 1, 2016

Quick Update

I realized this morning, as the calendar turned to May, that it has been over a month since my last posted review.  Some of you may already know that I have picked up a part-time job.  This has cut into my free time substantially.  I haven't been to a theater in a few weeks, which is abnormal for me.  Granted, not all of that time was due to the part-time, some was due to there not being much out that I was interested in.  In any event, with what free time I have had, I haven't had the energy to work on any reviews.  The last film I saw was Allegiant (the third installment of the Divergent series), and as you can see, I have yet to get a review written for it.

I just wanted to let those who check in regularly know that I do plan on continuing to post in this space, it just won't be nearly as frequent as it has been in the past.  Right now I'm trying to determine when I might be able to find time to check out Captain America: Civil War next week as that's the next film that I'm really looking forward to.

When I do get future reviews posted, links will be shared on Facebook, Google +, and Twitter as they usually are.  As always, thanks for checking out my little corner of the web!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), PG-13, 151 minutes - In preparation for this film, I revisited 2013's Man of Steel last week. I remember having enjoyed that film for the most part, but I had not re-watched it since I saw it in theaters three years ago. As I gave it a second viewing, I realized that what I was watching wasn't the Christopher Reeve Superman that I grew up with, or even the Superman man that I knew from the comics. This Superman, while having saved people here and there, had been avoiding the public eye and didn't fully grasp the extent of his powers or have full control of them. As he was battling Zod, he was thrown into the fire and had to mature on the field of battle.  Realizing that, the destruction of Smallville and Metropolis in the film was still devastating but was more understandable and not as out of character as I had originally believed it to have been. That's not to say that there weren't other issues with the film, but once I wrapped my brain around the idea of not trying to force Man of Steel into the mold of what I knew and expected Superman to be, I actually enjoyed that film in its own right.

Now I realize that this was a bit of a clunky way to begin this review, but it informs what I'm about to say about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.  I enjoyed it.  I'm not head over heals for it and I don't hate it. I was entertained for the entirety of its two and a half hour run time. Like its predecessor, the film has some issues. There are plot holes (some more glaring than others) and as I touched on earlier, these are not the versions of these characters that I grew up with. They are different. And that's ok.

As most of you probably already know, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the direct sequel to Man of Steel and is also Zack Snyder's springboard to the rest of the expanding DC Cinematic Universe (DCCU). The film opens eighteen months ago, reliving the final battle from Man of Steel with a twist: this time it is seen from Bruce Wayne's (Ben Affleck) point of view. He rushes into a crumbling Metropolis as the battle between Superman (Henry Cavill) and Zod (Michael Shannon) devastates the city, including the destruction of the high rise that housed Wayne Financial, killing many employees. This experience of loss forms Wayne's opinion of Superman: that he is too powerful and needs to be held accountable. The film then jumps to the present, where public opinion is split between whether Superman is a hero that should be accepted or if he's a dangerous threat. This is were the plot gets a little convoluted. The short version is that Batman and Superman literally come to blows thanks to Lex Luthor's (Jesse Eisenberg) manipulations. After a battle worthy of the name of the film, they realize that things are not as they seem and that Luthor is the actual threat and then join forces to thwart Luthor's plans. We also see the introduction of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to the DCCU, along with Doomsday and future Justice League members Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher).

While the story has some weak spots, the cast is actually quite strong for the most part. Henry Cavill continues to be a very good Superman. This time around we get to see him split time between being the Man of Steel and his alter ego Clark Kent (something that didn't pop up until the very end of the 2013 film). And for all of the negative reaction to Ben Affleck's being cast as Bruce Wayne/Batman, he's one of the best parts of the film. His Batman is an older, heavily experienced Batman based on Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight from 1986. Amy Adams continues to be a great embodiment of Lois Lane although I wish she had been given more to do in this film worthy of her abilities. Lois is basically relegated to damsel in distress in this film which is unfortunate. I did really enjoy that we finally see a big screen version of Lex Luthor who is conniving and manipulative and not just obsessed with real estate, but I was a bit underwhelmed with Eisenberg in the roll. His Lex was unbalanced and even flighty at times, which seemed to undermine his more brilliant 'smartest man in the room' moments.  I also wasn't terribly impressed with Jeremy Irons' Alfred either, which pains me to say because he's a great actor.  In my opinion, the best part of the entire film was Gal Gadot's Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. She steals every scene in which she appears, including her participation in the stand off with Doomsday. I'm now even more excited for her solo film next year than I was before.

My biggest fear prior to this film being released was that it was going to be too cramped, that in the attempt to get their own connected cinematic universe off the ground, that DC and Warner Brothers would overload this film in an effort to play 'catch up' with what Marvel has accomplished with their films. I will say that it is more coherent than I had originally feared it to be, but it is a very busy film which leads to the story line problems that do exist. The overall perception of the film seems to be negative despite its cashing in the largest March box office opening ever. Friends that I've talked to seem to be fairly evenly split. Some love it. Some think it's garbage. I fall somewhere in the middle. Batman v Superman is entertaining but has its flaws.  If I can remove myself from comparing it to Christopher Reeve or Michael Keaton (who I consider 'my' Superman and Batman respectively), I can enjoy it for what it is: a film that gives us a classic comic book style showdown between two classic heroes. If you liked Man of Steel, you'll enjoy this film as it is more of the same.  If not, don't waste your time.  Now that DC/WB have begun this phase of expansion to their cinematic universe, I am hopeful that the solo and team films to come aren't quite as dense and are more easily followed and enjoyable as a result.


- I loved the inclusion of Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman but, honest question here, can anyone tell me why she was in the film? She 'borrows' the data that Bruce steals from Lex but wasn't even aware of the file including her and the other meta humans until Bruce sent it to her via e-mail. She was then skipping town completely until seeing Doomsday's destruction on the news. So as much as I enjoyed her part in the film, I can't figure out what her motivations actually were (other than surveilling Luthor for some reason). Was the sole purpose of her inclusion in the film to introduce her prior to her stand alone film in 2017?  Even if that's all it was, I geeked out when she used her bracelets/gauntlets to deflect Doomsday's attack and again when she broke out the Lasso of Truth!

- I grew up with Lynda Carter as 'my' Wonder Woman, but I felt that in this small tease of the character, Gal Gadot was worthy of the mantle.

- Bruce has a dream/vision of a giant Omega symbol in a desolate area outside of a ruined city. He also sees himself shooting and fighting men while being swarmed by what appear to be Parademons. My DC comic knowledge isn't as vast as that of Marvel, but I think these are signs pointing to the coming of Darkseid.

- Speaking of Batman shooting people...did this only occur in his vision or did he shoot someone at another point in the film?  Batman has long been anti-gun, and I've seen this point raised online as being out of character, but I only remember him doing it in his dream...making it acceptable in my book as it wasn't reality.  *UPDATE - I have been reminded that Batman shoots multiple men while rescuing Martha Kent.  Yeah, this definitely isn't the Batman I grew up with. Not sure how OK with that I am...

- In the same dream/vision sequence, Bruce finds himself taken prisoner by the forces of Superman and is unmasked by the Man of Steel himself. This is clearly influenced by his feelings towards Superman's being a destructive force from early in the film.

- Bruce's dream/vision is interrupted by someone in red warning him of something. It appears to be The Flash. Is this, along with the Omega symbol and Parademons, a sign of a 'Crisis on Infinite Earths'-like story?  If it was a vision not a dream, since when does Batman have visions?  It was hard to tell exactly what was going on as he appeared to wake up twice?

- I have never before made the connection that both Batman's and Superman's mothers were named Martha. Not sure how I missed that!

- At the beginning of the film, as Bruce is racing into Metropolis, he's speaking to a man on the phone.  I could have sworn he called him 'dad' multiple times, but then later in the film he tells Alfred 'I'm now older than my father lived to be'.  So it couldn't have been Thomas Wayne right?  What was he saying on the phone that sounded like 'dad'?  Anyone know?

- I liked that other than a quick glimpse of the death of Bruce's parents to help set up the connection he had with Superman over their mother's that we didn't get another full-on origin story for Batman. Pretty much everyone knows it already from the previous on-film incarnations of the character.

- I wish we had seen more of Luthor's interaction with the Kryptonian vessel. He gains access and then he's performing mad science turning Zod into Doomsday. I know he told the ship to 'tell him everything' but that seemed like a bit of a leap. Despite that, I did like the connection between Zod and Doomsday (which didn't exist in the comics).

- Even in the middle of a battle with Doomsday, Superman drops everything to go save Lois. I understand that they are trying to show us his evolution into the hero we all know and want him to be, but considering that this film takes place a year and a half after the events of Man of Steel, I'd like to think that he would have already matured beyond putting her safety above and beyond the safety of an entire city.

- Just as he begins to show maturity in his actions - getting the Kryptonite spear and, despite its effects on him, flying it head on into Doomsday - he dies in that final altercation.  Which was a little surprising to me that just two movies into the DCCU that they have already played the 'Death of Superman' card. One can only assume that he will be brought back during one or both of the upcoming Justice League films. 

- Comic book story lines that I recognized as having parts or elements adapted in this film:
  • 'Batman: The Dark Knight' (1986) by Frank Miller
  • 'Death of Superman' (1993) by Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonson, and Roger Stern
  • Possibly 'Crisis on Infinite Earths' (1985) by Marv Wolfman and George Perez 
- *UPDATE - I missed this in the credits, but it has been brought to my attention that this is the first time (in film at least) that Bill Finger is credited as being a co-creator of Batman.

- Still no Jimmy Olsen in the DCCU.  I am about convinced that Jenny at the Daily Planet is an analog for him. *UPDATE - I missed it myself, but have been informed by a handful of others that Jimmy Olsen does appear in this film.  He was played by Michael Cassidy and I'm told he was one of the undercover CIA Agents that was with Lois Lane in the desert towards the beginning of the film (and gets killed).

- I liked the various ways that Batman weaponized the Kryptonite in preparation for his battle with Superman.  It illustrated his need to have a solution to any member of the Justice League going rogue (in the comics).

- I also liked that the cameos by Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg were the short video clips in the files stolen from Luthor. I wondered how on Earth they were going to work in so many characters without making too much of a mess. I thought introducing them in this way worked pretty well.

- Along with the Wonder Woman solo film next year, I am really looking forward to the Aquaman film coming in 2018. Partially because I have enjoyed recent stories of his from the comics (beginning with Geoff Johns' run in 2011), and partially because it is scheduled to be directed by James Wan. I'm intrigued by a noted horror director taking on the King of Atlantis.

- Justice League Part 1 is currently slated for 2017, with Part 2 due in 2019. 

- As much as I love The Flash, I'm actually not all that excited about his solo film (also scheduled for 2018). I know that DC has set things up to be playing out in the multi-verse, separating their television and theatrical universes , but I really, really, love Grant Gustin's Barry Allen from The Flash on the CW. The DCCU Flash is supposedly also going to be Barry Allen but will instead be played by Ezra Miller. Nothing against Ezra Miller, I'm not familiar with him at all.  I just know that I'm going to have a hard time accepting a different Flash.

- I don't have much connection to Cyborg from my comic reading history (I've never been a big Teen Titans guy), so at this point in time I'm kind of indifferent in regards his solo movie (not due until 2020).

- Bruce's parents were played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Thomas Wayne) and Lauren Cohen (Martha Wayne)

- Were there any other comic related Easter Eggs that you caught?  Let me know!  I'm curious since I'm not as familiar with the history of these characters as I am with those from Marvel.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Review - Daredevil (Netflix), Season 2

Daredevil (2015), Season 2, TV-MA, 13 episodes - I feel that this should go without saying but just to be safe: if you have not seen Season 1 of Daredevil stop reading right now.  While this is as spoiler free as I can be in regards to Season 2, the discussion does reveal some spoilers for Season 1.  Seriously.  I love that you came to my blog, but leave now and watch Season 1 (at the very least) before reading any further.

When Marvel unleashed a grittier, rougher, tougher corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) via Daredevil on Netflix last year I (a long standing Daredevil fan) was beyond pleased with the outcome.  Within days, it was announced that the show had been so successful (and critically acclaimed for that matter) that a second season had already been green-lit.  The only thing that caused me the slightest bit of trepidation was the fact that Season 1 showrunner Steven S. DeKnight would be unavailable for Season 2 due to previously scheduled projects.  Would the same high quality be able to be recreated with this fledgling series in someone else's hands?  It turns out that Marvel had already taken this into consideration and handed co-showrunner duties for Season 2 to Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez.  The two had not only written for Season 1, but had also collaborated with DeKnight on prior project.  Just minutes into my binge session of Season 2 this past Friday (release day), I realized that I there was nothing to worry about and that the show was in more than capable hands.

Thanks to the excellent first season, we are already familiar with the characters and locales populating Hell's Kitchen, which allows Season 2 to hit the ground running, and quickly introduce new threats to Matt Murdock/Daredevil's (Charlie Cox) city.  Once again, organized crime (of varying levels) plagues Hell's Kitchen.  Where it had previously functioned under the watchful eye of Wilson Fisk (Vincent D'Onofrio), it is now on the verge of a gang war as differing factions attempt to fill the void left by Fisk's imprisonment.  An increase in blatant criminal activity also leads to a stronger, more violent form of vigilantism in the city as well.  Particularly concerning are the actions of a brutally no-holds-barred man named Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal), a man who has lost his family, is unafraid to take lethal measures in eliminating his targets, and whom the press has dubbed 'The Punisher'.  As the season progresses the mystical side of Daredevil's world (previously alluded to in Season 1, Episode 7) makes its presence felt and is explored in greater depth thanks to the introduction of Matt's lethal, martial arts trained ex-girlfriend from college, Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung).  Both The Punisher and Elektra illustrate more extreme forms of vigilante justice than Matt employs as Daredevil, causing him to question whether the combination of his actions and his belief in the justice system can truly get the job done in a world filled with violence and corruption.

The cast assembled for Season 2 is spectacular, which doesn't come as any surprise considering Marvel Entertainment's track record.  Series newcomer Jon Bernthal embodies Frank Castle like no one on-screen has before (and it has been tried three other times).  He absolutely nails Frank's no nonsense, uber-violent quest for revenge, which is guided only by his own sense of right and wrong.  Generally cold and unflinching, Frank's scenes opposite Karen (Deborah Ann Woll) allow his humanity to scratch the surface, and are particularly affecting.  Bernthal, Cox and Woll give the strongest, most heartfelt performances of the season.  All three are deeply nuanced and run the gamut of emotions.  We've also seen a prior film incarnation of Elektra, but Elodie Yung's portrayal here is much more faithful to the source material.  She's exotic, dangerous, whimsical, and represents a time in Matt's life he thought long left behind.  Season 2 sees great character development across the board, not only for main characters such as Matt, Karen, and Foggy (Elden Henson), but for a number of secondary characters as well.  Many of which carry over from Season 1, which helps to provide even more depth to Hell's Kitchen.

Season 2 is equally as dark and violent as Season 1 (maybe even more so), so the TV-MA rating shouldn't be any surprise.  If you've seen either of Marvel's previous Netflix entries you should have a pretty good idea of what to expect tonally.  And honestly, if you haven't seen them, you'd be doing yourself a disservice to start here.  You'd be better off beginning with Season 1 of either Daredevil or Jessica Jones.  I personally loved the balance between the noir and mystical elements in this season.  Where else can you find a burgeoning organized crime war in which one of the factions is a clan of immortal ninja?

I've kept this as vague as I could because I hate to be too spoilery in my main review so you can find more detailed, nerdy comments and facts in the spoiler section below the trailers (each provides a feel for the differing elements found in Season 2).  In short, any long time Daredevil fan will absolutely love Season 2.  And anyone who has enjoyed the previous Marvel/Netflix collaborations will likely get a kick out of it as well.  It provides a nice continuation from Season 1 along with solid character development, while also providing closure on this chapter at the same time as planting seeds for potential future story lines.  I guess it's now time for a second viewing while I impatiently await news of the show's future.  Here's hoping it comes just as quickly as it did following last season.


- The Punisher was created by Gerry Conway and John Romita, Sr. and first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #174 in February of 1974.

- The three previous on-screen incarnations of Frank Castle/The Punisher were: Dolph Lundgren in 1989's The Punisher, Thomas Jane in 2004's The Punisher, and Ray Stevenson in 2008's Punisher: War Zone.

- Elektra was created by Frank Miller, first appearing in Daredevil #168 in January of 1981.

- The previous on-screen version of Elektra mentioned earlier was played by Jennifer Garner in both 2003's Daredevil and 2005's Elektra.

- I didn't realize this last season but Sgt. Brett Mahoney (Detective after The Punisher is apprehended), played by Royce Johnson is also based on the comics, originally appearing in Marvel Comics Presents (2007) #1.

- Assistant District Attorney Blake Tower (Stephen Rider) also has ties to the comics (although he was white there), first appearing in Daredevil (1964) #129.

- Grotto (McCaleb Burnett), the man that seeks out Matt and Foggy at Josie's is based on a minor character from Frank Miller's run on Daredevil.  Grotto never got into this kind of trouble in the comics though.  He was a small time criminal associate of Turk's (Rob Morgan).

- Nesbitt (Andy Murray) and Finn (Tony Curran), the two different characters to lead the Irish early in the season are based on characters from an arc titled 'Kitchen Irish' by Garth Ennis and Leandro Fernandez in Punisher (2004) #7-12.

- While he differs a bit from his comic book counterpart, Hirochi (Ron Nakahara), the Roxxon Executive with ties to The Hand, is based on a character created by Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark that first appeared in Daredevil (1998) #113.

- Roxxon is a classic corrupt organization in Marvel comics and has been referenced in a number of other MCU properties.

- The Blacksmith/Colonel Ray Schoonover - as far as I know there is no comic book precedent for this character who turned out to be the new source of heroin in the city and that was front and center in the gang war that led to Castle's family being killed.  I thought this worked well, tying back to Frank on a personal level via his military history.  Also, it certainly never hurts to have Clancy Brown in your show.  *UPDATE: I have learned that Schoonover was Frank's Commanding Officer in Vietnam in the comics, appearing in Punisher War Journal (1989) #4.

- *UPDATE: I never would have made this connection myself but my friend Robbie informed me that the CD that Frank finds behind a photo in Schoonover's house that was labelled 'Micro', could be a link to Microchip from the comics.  Microchip is a known associate of Frank's (often providing him with guns and intel).  Micro was also referenced on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as having been one of Daisy's hacker friends.  Thanks for the info Robbie!

- Two story arc titles from the comics are referenced by Frank Castle's trial: 'Trial of the Century' from Daredevil (1998) #38-40 by Brian Michael Bendis and Terry Dodson (although this arc actually had nothing to do with The Punisher), and 'The People vs. Frank Castle' from Punisher: The Trial of the Punisher (2013) #1 by Marc Guggenheim, Leinil Francis Yu.

- When the season begins the law firm of Nelson & Murdock is successful.  Well, successful in that they have many clients and have developed a great reputation in Hell's Kitchen.  Unfortunately they are broke (as are their clients) and are often paid in food for their services.

- I like the little things that help convey every day life for a blind person such as the braille tags on the hangers in Matt's closet.

- Ok, I can barely contain myself any longer...Wilson Fisk is back!  This came as a complete (and very welcome) surprise when we appears in the prison yard at the end of Episode 8.  Kudos to Marvel for keeping Vincent D'Onofrio's return under wraps.  We knew that we would see The Punisher and Elektra this season, but more Wilson Fisk is an added bonus!  I loved his continued evolution while in prison.

- The phrase 'Kingpin' is used for the first time in the series by Dutton (William Forsythe), the inmate currently running things in prison when Fisk arrives.  I am not aware of any previous comic book history for this character.  Does anyone know if any exists?

- Add Vincent D'Onofrio to my aforementioned list of strongest performances of the season.  I didn't want to mention D'Onofrio in my main review and spoil the surprise of his inclusion.  He is only in three episodes, but is every bit the force he was in Season 1.

- In the comics, Frank's family was gunned down by the mob in Central Park.  Here they were caught in the cross-fire of a botched sting on a drug deal taking place by the carousel.

- Castle's service history in the comics began as a Marine in Vietnam.  In the show, he says he served in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This change works well in keeping the character more modern to fit the story being told.  The old man that he speaks with on the roof top when he has Daredevil chained up was a Vietnam veteran, which is a nice nod to Castle's original comic history.

- The Punisher gives Daredevil a 'shoot me or I'll kill Grotto' ultimatum.  This is reminiscent of a number of instances in the comics in which Punisher puts DD in a similar situation.

- In case you were wondering, yes we do get the obligatory Stan Lee cameo!  It isn't quite as obvious as in Season 1, but his picture is still on the wall behind the front desk of the 15th Precinct.

- The Dogs of Hell motorcycle club previously appeared on Season 1, Episode 15 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

- Castle and Fisk were being held in Cell Block D.  In the comics there was a story arc Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark from Daredevil (1998) #82-87 titled 'The Devil in Cell Block D'.  The story in the comic arc differs but this is a nice little nod to another highly regarded run from the comics.

- Episode 3 opens with a nun taking care of a young Matt - could this be Sister Maggie, Matt's mother?

- Foggy continues to provide bits of comedic relief (although he can get serious with the best of them as well) in what is primarily a very serious and dark series.

- Although it was a small part again, I absolutely loved that Melvin Potter (Matt Gerald) made another appearance.  A couple more nods to his comic book history are made as he picks up a saw blade when Matt startles him and when he shows Matt the body armor he is wearing so that he 'can be safe for Betsy' (same design as his Gladiator armor in the comics).  We can also still see Stilt Man's armor in the background of his work shop, AND last but not least, he provides Matt with the classic comic book extension cable billy club!  In the comics, Matt originally makes his billy club himself, but this fits in so well with Potter being his armorer.  Potter also mentions having heard from former contacts looking for him to produce armor but that he hasn't because he told Betsy that he wouldn't get in trouble any more.  Nice nod to his questionable, and so far un-explored past.

- And that leads me to this: it doesn't come until very late in the season, but we finally see, real, honest to God billy club swinging action!  This may seem stupid to some, but this is a comic book element that made me geek out when I saw it.

- There is also much more throwing of the billy club as a weapon this season which is awesome.

- We get a good look at Frank's moral code when he make a purchase at a pawn shop.  He has no problem doing business with a shady pawn broker to acquire a stolen police band radio and a sawed off shotgun, but as soon as the broker offers to sell him under age porn, Frank flips the 'closed' sign on the door and kills him.

- The Hand!  Another Frank Miller creation with very long and strong ties to the Daredevil mythos, we had teases of The Hand in Season 1 when a ninja-clad Nobu (Peter Shinkoda) fought with Matt, but he was thought to have been Yakuza at the time.  We officially learn of the mystical clan of ninja with the power of resurrection this season.

- After Elektra is nearly killed in a battle with The Hand, Stick (Scott Glenn) finally explains the 'war' he keeps referring to, telling Matt the interwoven history of The Hand and The Chaste.  The Hand took out a village hundreds of years ago, but a lone surviving child killed many of their men and was then referred to as 'The Chaste'.  Stick was that child.  I'm a little foggy on my Chaste history, but I don't think Stick was the creator of the group in the comics.  Can anyone confirm or correct me?  Oh by the way, Scott Glenn continues to be the perfect Stick.

- When Elektra first appears in Matt's apartment, she makes a comment that his beer 'tastes like piss'.  Stick said the same thing to Matt in Season 1.

- Nobu returns!  Showing that The Hand do have some sort of regenerative/immortal capabilities, Nobu is revealed to be the leader of The Hand and is still working in the shadows despite his supposed death.

- Nobu reveals that Elektra is The Black Sky.  Sound familiar?  The Black Sky is prophesied as being The Hand's 'greatest weapon'.  Season 1 led us to believe that the boy in the shipping container that Stick killed was The Black Sky.  This season, Stick reveals that he has known Elektra to be The Black Sky all along. The Black Sky a legacy?  In that its power could inhabit different hosts over time?  Otherwise, why would Stick have been so determined to kill the child last season?

- Frank Miller has stated that he has no interest in seeing any version of Elektra other than his own.  I know that he created her and has some animosity towards Marvel due to her continued resurrection in the comics (he was led to believe that when he killed her that she would stay dead), however I would like to think that he would appreciate this Elodie Yung's take on Elektra if he were to see it.

- Elektra and Matt leave the party that she keeps him from getting kicked out of (when they first meet) and they speed off in a bright red Lamborghini, which is reminiscent of a scene out of the Frank Miller/John Romita, Jr. Daredevil: The Man Without Fear series from 1993.

- When Daredevil and Elektra first come across the pit below the old tenement building controlled by The Hand (property given to Nobu by Fisk in Season 1), I thought that things may lead to 'The Beast' from the comics.  Instead, it was the location in which Nobu was storing the strange coffin that turned out to be The Hand's means of resurrection.  'The Beast' may have taken things a little over-the-top on the mystical front at this point so I'm ok with that not turning out to be what happened.

- District Attorney Samantha Reyes (Michelle Hurd) is a nice connecting thread to the Jessica Jones series.  She first appeared in the last episode of that show.

- Speaking of ties to Jessica Jones, Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) also has a cameo, interviewing Foggy for a position with her firm after Nelson & Murdock part ways (if Matt and Foggy's split is anything like the comics, it will only be temporary).

- So with Foggy joining the firm of Hogarth, Chao and Benowitz, do you think that he and Marci (Amy Rutberg) - who recommended Foggy to Jeri - will appear in Season 2 of Jessica Jones?

- Rosario Dawson's Claire Temple again plays an important role.  In limited screen time (just as in Season 1), she is a trusted confidante and a respected voice of reason for Matt.  She also quits her job at Metro General Hospital due to their attempts to cover up the incident with The Hand.  We already know that she is supposed to have some involvement in the upcoming Luke Cage series (set to debut on September 30).  She also referenced Luke early in this season, albeit not by name.

- Father Lantom (Peter McRobbie) presides over Grotto's funeral which is attended by only Matt, Foggy, and Karen.  He plays an even smaller roll this season than in Season 1, but provides a connection to Matt's Catholic faith which is such an important part of the character.

- Elektra obtains her comic book signature sai after killing the assassin sent by Stick to take her out when she refuses to join him and stands by Matt's side instead.

- Wai Ching Ho reprises her role as Madame Gao for a short appearance in Episode 11.  I still believe that she will tie to the upcoming Iron Fist series somehow (based upon the Steel Serpent logo affixed to her heroin).

- I really liked Ellison's (Geoffrey Cantor) involvement in this season.  After being such an obstacle for Vondie Curtis-Hall's Ben Urich to overcome last season, this was a nice turn for Ellison.  He basically took over the roll of mentor to Karen, and for all intents and purposes was Ben Urich this season.

- It's still a shame that Ben was killed off last season, but Karen working out of his office and doing more investigative work was a nice touch.

- We get a little more background on Karen this season.  Speaking to Matt she says that she has a brother and that she's from a small town in Vermont.  Then when Ellison told her she could use Ben's old office, he gave her the file that Ben had on her and it included a clipping with the headline 'Mystery Accident Causes Teen Fatality'.  Maybe Karen was responsible for her brother's death?

- The meeting between Matt and Fisk in prison really escalates their animosity to outright hatred.  Matt threatens to manipulate loop holes to ensure that Vanessa can never enter the country again and Fisk threatens to dismantle the lives of everyone Matt cares for.  Matt even takes a pretty decent beating in the process.  Does this set up the potential for a 'Born Again'-like like story arc on the show?  'Born Again' is the classic Frank Miller/David Mazzucchelli story arc appearing in Daredevil (1964) #227-233.

- Just as Daredevil didn't appear in his classic red costume until the last episode of Season 1, neither The Punisher or Elektra are seen in their final television looks until Episode 13.  Frank's look doesn't change much other than the addition of body armor taken from Schoonover's shed that he spray paints a skull on and Matt enlists Melvin's help in making body armor for Elektra.  Both looks are revealed during the final confrontation with The Hand.

- Ok, so Elektra dies in Matt's arms after being stabbed with her own sai.  Very similar to the comics, although there, Bullseye did the stabbing.  Here it is Nobu.  As a fan of the comics, I was mildly disappointed that this was different, but it works for the story being told.

- I really enjoyed the evolution of the relationship between Matt and Karen.  Ups and downs, but especially the look on Karen's face when Matt reveals that he is Daredevil is great.  It's a look of both understanding and confusion and leaves the door wide open for their relationship to go in a number of directions.

- The Hand dug up Elektra's grave!  They're going to resurrect her like they did in the comics! The red wrap that she's in when The Hand's resurrection 'coffin' is closed is reminiscent of her classic look in the comics.

- Holy crap, I hope that we get news of a third season as quickly as the news for the second season hit last year.  I've been geeking out so hard it has been difficult putting this review together!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The 88th Annual Academy Awards: 2016 Oscar Picks

This year marks the ninth year that I've made picks in one form or another for the Academy Awards.  Over those nine years, I have tweaked my process and presentation here and there, always with the goal of making informed picks in as many categories as possible.  In an effort to continue down that path, this year I have listed all twenty four categories being presented during tonight's ceremony, but I will only be sharing my personal pick for nineteen of them.  This is a smaller selection of categories for me than in recent years, but only because I have chosen to exclude categories from which I did not see any nominees.  I figure that there's no point in wasting anyone's time with completely uninformed shots in the dark!  I have also decided to present my picks this year as though I were one of the people special enough to submit an official ballot.  So the picks that you see below are for the films that I would personally vote for if that were the case.  This differs from past years when I have made attempts to predict winners.

As mentioned above, all twenty four categories are listed below.  The nominees for each category that I have seen are denoted by a link to my review of that film.  In the case that I didn't write a review for a film that I did see, it will be denoted by an asterisk (*).

Ok, I've rambled on long enough.  The music has begun and I'm being ushered off the stage.  My ballot for the 88th Annual Academy Awards would look a little something like this:

Best Short Film, Live Action: Ave Maria, Day One, Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut), Shok, Stutterer

My Pick: N/A - These films were screened locally by The Grandin Theatre.  Unlike last year though, I did not have the opportunity to check them out.  As a result, I cannot make an informed selection.

Best Short Film, Animated: Bear Story, Prologue, Sanjay's Super Team, We Can't Live without Cosmos, World of Tomorrow

My Pick: N/A - ditto for this category.

Best Documentary, Short Subject: Body Team 12, Chau, beyond the lines, Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah, The Girl on the River: The Price of Forgiveness, Last Day of Freedom

My Pick: N/A - I have never had the opportunity to see any of the Best Documentary nominees, past or present.  Again, I'm not able to vote for this category.

Best Documentary, Feature: Amy, Cartel Land, The Look of Silence, What Happened, Miss Simone?, Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom

My Pick: N/A - Four categories in and no selections.  I'm off to a great start aren't I?  This post gets better.  I promise.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects: Ex Machina, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens

My Pick: Finally!  A category in which I can actually make an informed selection.  This is a tough category for me because I really enjoyed all of these nominees and they all had amazing visual effects (obviously, otherwise they wouldn't have been nominated).  Due to the seamless integration of its visual effects (that were achieved with a number of insane practical stunts) into its non-stop, film-long action sequence, my vote goes to Mad Max: Fury Road.

Best Achievement in Sound Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Sicario, Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens

My Pick: One of just two categories in which it is nominated, my vote for Best Achievement in Sound Editing goes to Sicario although my gut says that this award will more than likely end up in the hands of Mad Max: Fury Road.  Mad Max will get more than its fair share of hardware tonight, so I'll put my support behind a different film, and as it was one of my personal Top 10 Films of 2015, I'd love to see Sicario get a little recognition.

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing: Bridge of Spies, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens

My Pick: More often than not, the Sound Editing and Sound Mixing awards go to the same recipient (at least it seems that way).  Since I broke ties with that trend with my previous vote, I'll come back to the pack for Best Achievement in Sound Mixing, making my choice here Mad Max: Fury Road.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song: Fifty Shades of Gray: The Weeknd, Belly, Jason 'DaHeala' Quenneville, Stephan Moccio ("Earned It")*, The Hunting Ground: Dianne Warren, Lady Gaga ("Til It Happens to You"), Racing Extinction: J. Ralph, Antony Hegarty ("Manta Ray"), Spectre: Sam Smith, James Napier ("Writing's on the Wall"), Youth: David Lang ("Simple Song #3")

My Pick: I have only seen two of these nominated films so my voting pool is already limited.  However, I cannot imagine a world in which Fifty Shades of Gray takes home an Oscar.  So, my love of Bond films not-withstanding, my vote here goes to Spectre, even though "Writing's on the Wall" was one of the weaker Bond themes in my opinion.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score: Bridge of Spies (Thomas Newman), Carol (Carter Burwell), The Hateful Eight (Ennio Morricone), Sicario (Jóhann Jóhannsson), Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (John Williams)

My Pick: Of the four films I have seen in this category, only one score still stands out in my head: Ennio Morricone's wonderful western-themed work for Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight.

Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling: Mad Max: Fury Road (Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega, Damian Martin), The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared (Love Larson, Eva Von Bahr), The Revenant (Sian Grigg, Duncan Jarman, Robert A. Pandini)

My Pick: The craziness of the character designs and the sheer number that appear on screen is what sets Mad Max: Fury Road apart in this category.

Best Achievement in Costume Design: Carol (Sandy Powell), Cinderella (Sandy Powell), The Danish Girl (Paco Delgado), Mad Max: Fury Road (Jenny Beavan), The Revenant (Jacqueline West)

My Pick: From what I've read online and in print, it seems like Carol may be the front runner in this category.  But since I haven't seen it and I'm not attempting to predict winners this year, my vote will go to The Revenant.  If this category were for character design, Fury Road's craziness would win hands down.  However that film's lack of elaborate costume design (most characters ran around half clothed) causes me to go in another direction.  The Revenant's detailed, period-accurate costume design qualifies as the best of the films that I've seen.

Best Achievement in Production Design: Bridge of Spies (Adam Stockhausen, Rena DeAngelo, Bernhard Henrich)The Danish Girl (Eve Stewart, Michael Standish), Mad Max: Fury Road (Colin Gibson, Lisa Thompson), The Martian (Arthur Max, Celia Bobak), The Revenant (Jack Fisk, Hamish Purdy)

My Pick: Remember what I was just saying about character design?  That's just one of the many things included under the umbrella of Production Design.  Because of its insane, post-apocalyptic designs for everything from vehicles, to characters, to the one 'city' depicted, Mad Max: Fury Road is my nominee of choice.

Best Achievement in Editing: The Big Short (Hank Corwin), Mad Max: Fury Road (Margaret Sixel), The Revenant (Stephen Mirrione), Spotlight (Tom McArdle), Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (Maryann Brandon, Mary Jo Markey)

My Pick: I realize that at this point I sound like a broken record, but what director George Miller and his crew were able to achieve with Mad Max: Fury Road really is a sight to be seen.  Can you imagine piecing together what boils down to an almost two hour long car chase in a way that is actually coherent?  No, neither can I, and that's what makes Fury Road the pick in this category.

Best Achievement in Cinematography: Carol (Edward Lachman), The Hateful Eight (Robert Richardson), Mad Max: Fury Road (John Seale), The Revenant (Emmanuel Lubezki), Sicario (Roger Deakins)

My Pick: The most beautifully shot film that I saw this year was The Revenant, hands down.  From an artistic standpoint it is head and shoulders above the rest.  Emmanuel Lubezki is once again my pick in this category (as he has been the last two years when he won for Birdman and Gravity respectively).

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year: Embrace of the Serpent, Mustang, Son of Saul, Theeb, A War

My Pick: N/A - This is the last category for which I cannot place a vote due to my having not seen any of the nominees.

Best Animated Film of the Year: Anomalisa, Boy and the World, Inside Out, Shaun the Sheep Movie, When Marnie Was There

My Pick: I have heard quite a bit of praise for Anomalisa (and would not be terribly surprised if it won), but I have not had the opportunity to see it which leaves my vote in the hands of Inside Out, which more than lived up to Pixar's usual lofty standards.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published: The Big Short (Charles Randolph, Adam McKay), Brooklyn (Nick Hornby), Carol (Phyllis Nagy), The Martian (Drew Goddard), Room (Emma Donoghue)

My Pick: I haven't read any of the actual screenplays, and in this case, I haven't read any of the source material either.  So based on my opening comments, maybe I shouldn't be making a selection in this category at all.  That hasn't caused me to shy away from either writing category in recent years though, so for continuity's sake, I'll make an exception for these two categories based on what I've seen.  I thoroughly enjoyed The Martian and am a fan of much of Drew Goddard's work, but the range of emotions conveyed by Emma Donoghue's adaptation of Room (her own novel) makes it my choice.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen: Bridge of Spies (Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen), Ex Machina (Alex Garland), Inside Out (Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, Ronnie Del Carmen), Spotlight (Josh Singer, Tom McCarthy), Straight Outta Compton (Andrea Berloff, Jonathan Herman, S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus)

My Pick: Again, I've not read the actual screenplays, but I feel like the way in which Spotlight handled and presented its very disturbing, very real subject matter makes it stand out so it gets my vote here.

Best Achievement in Directing: Adam McKay (The Big Short), George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)Alejandro González Iñárritu (The Revenant), Room (Lenny Abrahamson), Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)

My Pick: As always, this category is filled with amazing pieces of work.  But if you ask me, Alejandro González Iñárritu is once again the king of the Directing hill (he won last year for Birdman).  He has a vision and a style all his own, and with The Revenant he continues to prove how widespread his mastery of the craft can be.

Just a bit of trivia: if he does win, he'll become the third director to be named Best Director in back to back years, John Ford (1941 - Grapes of Wrath, 1942 - How Green Was My Valley) and Joseph L. Mankiewicz (1950 - A Letter to Three Wives, 1951 - All About Eve) being the other two.  That's right, it hasn't happened in sixty five years!

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight), Rooney Mara (Carol), Rachel McAdams (Spotlight), Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl), Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)

My Pick: Up until yesterday morning, I was leaning heavily towards Kate Winslet in this category.  Then I saw Alicia Vikander's performance in The Danish Girl.  Both women gave excellent performances, but I feel as though Vikander's covered a broader spectrum of emotions and had a greater impact on her film.

Side note: I realize that these awards are for individual performances, not a body of work, but Vikander was also excellent in Ex Machina this past year.  2015 was a breakout year for her and as a fan I would love to see her work acknowledged.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role: Christian Bale (The Big Short), Tom Hardy (The Revenant), Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight), Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

My Pick: The popular pick in this category this year is probably Sylvester Stallone.  His return to the character of Rocky Balboa and his mentor-ship of his friend and rival's son, along with his portrayal of Rocky's battle with cancer was excellent.  That being said, two other nominees also really stood out to me: Mark Rylance's suspected Soviet spy in Bridge of Spies, and Mark Ruffalo's investigative reporter in Spotlight.  Unfortunately, I don't think that Rylance had enough comparative screen time to really have a shot at overtaking the other two.  And as much as I personally feel that Ruffalo's turn was worthy of the award, I think the more widespread reach of a film like Creed tips the scales in Stallone's favor.  He gets my vote as well.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role: Cate Blanchett (Carol), Brie Larson (Room), Jennifer Lawrence (Joy), Charlotte Rampling (45 Years), Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)

My Pick: Somehow, I've only seen one nominee in this category this year.  But even with that being the case, after seeing Brie Larson's performance in Room, I'm not sure that I'd vote differently even if I had seen the other four.  It was that good.  So, realizing that I am not nearly as familiar and informed with this category as I am with the others, I am comfortable casting my vote for Larson.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Matt Damon (The Martian), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)

My Pick: I would consider myself a fan of all of this year's nominees in this category, so I'm happy to see them all recognized with nominations.  That being said, let me cut to the chase: my vote goes to Leonardo DiCaprio.  His frontiersman's betrayal and journey towards revenge is as strong a performance as I've seen in recent years and is even more impressive when one considers the lack of dialogue he has to help convey his emotions throughout the film.  This is DiCaprio's fifth Oscar nomination in an acting category, and fourth for a leading role.  As I mentioned earlier, these nominations are meant to be for a specific performance, but I doubt it highly if DiCaprio doesn't get a little extra support due to his stellar career thus far.

Best Motion Picture of the Year: The Big Short, Brooklyn, Bridge of Spies, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Room, Spotlight

My Pick: This year I managed to see six of the eight nominees for Best Picture, and in my mind, it really comes down to two: The Revenant and Spotlight.  I feel like if you asked me five years from now, which film from 2015 stuck with me the most, I would probably say Spotlight.  It took a very uncomfortable subject and used a brilliant angle (that of the team of investigative reporters) in presenting a wonderfully impactful film.  On the other hand, similarly to last year's Best Picture recipient Birdman, the overall artistry of The Revenant really sets it apart and tends to be what this category rewards more often than not.  So by the slimmest of margins, I'll give the nod to The Revenant.

There you have it: my 'ballot' for tonight's 88th Academy Awards.  Thanks for taking the time to check out my thoughts on this year's nominees.  I'll be curious to see how my line of thinking matches up with what actually happens later tonight.  Which nominees do you think will win?  Are they the same as those you think should win or that you want to win?  Feel free to chime in, discussion is always encouraged here! 

Rental Review - The Danish Girl

The Danish Girl (2015), R, 119 minutes - My plans for this past week were to have an Academy Awards cram session and knock off the remaining major Oscar nominees that I had not yet seen.  Things ended up being a bit busier than I had originally planned (I really should just come to expect that), and I was only able to get through two: Room and this film, a kinda-sorta-but not really biographical drama based on the lives of Danish painters Einer and Gerda Wegener.  I know that sounds a little whacky, but apparently the film is based on David Ebershoff's 2000 novel of the same name, which from what I've read on the web is actually a work of fiction that was loosely inspired by the lives of the artistic couple.  

This film from director Tom Hooper is a representation of Einer and Gerda's lives from a young, happily married couple, through Einer's discovery of his more feminine side (which came to be known as Lili), to his embracing Lili as his identity of choice and comfort.  The Danish Girl illustrates the vast range of emotions the two experienced along the way: confusion, encouragement, more confusion, abandonment, discovery, worry, happiness and a love stronger than all of the others combined.

Both Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander turn in excellent performances as Einer/Lili and Gerda respectively.  Redmayne, who won last year's Oscar for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (for The Theory of Everything), was nominated in that category again this year for this equally physically and emotionally trans-formative roll.  Vikander also received an Academy Award nomination for this film (Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role), and in my opinion should be the one giving an acceptance speech tonight.  

When watching the film, I was under the impression that it was based on a true story.  As it turns out, it is just based on actual people.  So while some things are known to be true - Einer and Gerda actually existed, Einer's physical transition into Lili - others are not.  Ebershoff has stated that he created Hans (Matthias Schoenaerts) and Henrik (Ben Whishaw) for his novel.  While those two are important pieces of the story depicted, the fact that they played no part in Einer's and Gerda's actual lives lowers the film's status in my mind.  However, that doesn't change the fact that two of the best performances on film from 2015 can be found in The Danish Girl.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Rental Review - Room

Room (2015), R, 118 minutes - This week turned out to be a bit more busy than I had originally thought, resulting in my only having the opportunity to sneak in just one of this year's Oscar nominated films that I had yet to see: Room, based on Emma Donoghue's novel of the same name from 2010 (which I have not read).

Not to be confused with The Room (2003), which is widely regarded as one of the worst films of all time (I have not seen it myself), Room tells a story that is a bit difficult to describe.  The subject matter, beginning with abduction and neglect is dark and depressing.  On the other hand, later portions of the film are inspiring and depict a wonderful sense of innocence and wonder.

Jack (Jacob Tremblay) and his mother Joy (Brie Larson) live in a small space they refer to as 'room', which is locked from the outside at all hours by their captor Old Nick (Sean Bridgers).  They are provided with the bare necessities: a bed, a sink, a bathtub, a table with chairs, and food (which Old Nick brings them now and again).  Due to their captivity, the only world Jack knows is 'room'.  His only exposure to the outside world is the limited view through their skylight.  In his mind, anything that he can't see or touch isn't real.  After celebrating Jack's fifth birthday, Joy repeatedly attempts to explain to Jack that there is much more to the world than just 'room'.  Eventually, he grudgingly agrees to help with her plan of escape.  They pull a fast one on Nick, making him believe that Jack has passed away due to an extremely high fever.  Once out of 'room' and down the road (Jack is rolled up in a rug in the back of Nick's truck), Jack jumps out and is seen by a man walking his dog.  Nick first attempts to retrieve Jack but then decides that the situation doesn't look good and he speeds off.  After some slick detective work by the officer that arrives on the scene, they determine the location at which Jack and Joy were held captive and she is rescued as well.  The film then becomes a study of not only Jack's reaction to the world he never new existed, but also Joy's as she tries to find her place in the world that was ripped from her years ago.  One that is much different now than the one she remembers.

The performances by Tremblay and Larson are both outstanding.  Larson even picked up a Best Actress nomination at this year's Academy Awards.  Joan Allen (Nancy), William H. Macy (Robert), and Tom McCamus (Leo) add familiar faces to the cast in the roles of the support group Jack and Joy return to (Joy's mother, father, and mother's current boyfriend respectively).  Larson isn't the only one to receive attention for the film though, as director Lenny Abrahamson (Best Achievement in Directing), and Donoghue (Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay) also received Academy Award nominations.

As I mentioned, the circumstances of Joy's and Jack's captivity is disturbing and is a bit difficult to stomach, however the depiction of their love for each other and Jack's discovery of the outside world is worth the price of admission (or a rental at this point in time).  Room is a film that I would definitely recommend, just keep in mind that you need to be in the right frame of mind to watch it.  While it rebounds with scenes of hope and wonder, it is pretty dense and will stick with you for a while.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Review - The Witch

The Witch (2015), R, 92 minutes - Some of you may be wondering "what on Earth is Tim doing seeing a horror film on opening weekend?".  Well, there's a story behind that and I'll try to keep it as short and sweet as possible in case you haven't read my Most Anticipated Films of 2016 post.  I first became aware of this film sometime last year after writer/director Robert Eggers took home the Directing Award in the U.S. Dramatic category at the Sundance Film Festival.  His name sounded familiar immediately, but I couldn't place why.  After a conversation with my younger sister, I came to the realization that he was the same Robert Eggers who was a friend of childhood neighbors of ours growing up in New Hampshire.  I'm not going to be 'that guy' and claim to know him, because I didn't, but the very loose friend-of-a-friend connection did help pique my curiosity in his work.  I hoped that this independent horror film would come to my area, so when I noticed that it was showing at The Grandin Theatre here in town, I jumped at the opportunity to check it out.

Steeped in New England's rich history of (supposed) witchcraft, Eggers' tale begins with a trial on a colonial plantation which concludes with a family's banishment for their differing beliefs.  William (Ralph Ineson), Katherine (Kate Dickey), and their children Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), and twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) choose to settle on a piece of land at the edge of the forest, about a day's ride from town.  Months later, after they have built a house and Katherine has given birth to an infant son named Samuel, Thomasin is playing peek-a-boo with the baby at the edge of the woods.  She uncovers her face to surprise the baby one final time, and finds that he has mysteriously disappeared.  The family searches the forest for days with no luck in locating the missing child.  As the family attempts to cope with Samuel's disappearance, they fall on hard times and begin to turn on one another.  Strange occurrences continue to plague the family, causing further turmoil and distrust, and leading to accusations that Thomasin is a witch and that Black Phillip (one of the family goats) is actually the devil incarnate.

Considering its allusions to witchcraft and satanic practices, there is surprisingly little bloodshed in the film.  There are however, a couple of instances in which the results of animal harm are briefly seen (none of the harm actually occurs on screen), so those sensitive to that sort of thing should be prepared.  The limited cast does an excellent job, especially Anya Taylor-Joy, Harvey Scrimshaw, and Ellie Grainger.  I thought that their sibling interactions were portrayed particularly well.  Some may even recognize Ineson and Dickey from their appearances on Game of Thrones, or even the plantation Governor at the beginning of the film (Julian Richings) from his time as Death on Supernatural.  The Witch may fall within the boundaries of the horror genre but it relies primarily on creepy moments as opposed to violence, which makes it all the more enjoyable in my book.  The ending does take a bit of an odd turn compared to the rest of the film, but I don't think that it suffers as a result.  It has more than its fair share of haunting moments.

According to Box Office Mojo, The Witch opened in over 2,000 theaters this weekend, which is the largest widespread launch for an A24 film thus far.  Between its Sundance acclaim and the early theatrical success thus far for such a small film (A24 purchased the distribution rights for 'just' $1 million - also according to Box Office Mojo), I will be very interested to see where Robert Eggers' career goes from here.  Hopefully he will be afforded a number of new opportunities.  The film is definitely unique, and although the 17th century-speak takes a little while to tune into, I found it quite enjoyable once it gets its legs (around the time Mercy is singing about 'the witch of the wood' by the creek).  If you're into independent horror, this film is well worth a watch.  And if you're not, hopefully something within this review will have piqued your interest just as mine was.

Rental Review - Spotlight

Spotlight (2015), R, 128 minutes - This film is based on actual events in which an investigative team from the Boston Globe (Spotlight) uncovered not just a child molestation scandal within the local Catholic church, but the scandal's cover up as well, both of which were much more widespread than originally feared.

Spotlight begins as newly-hired editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) is taking the reigns at the Globe. He directs the Spotlight team led by Walter 'Robby' Robinson (Micheal Keaton) towards a story about local lawyer Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci) who claims that the Archbishop of Boston  Cardinal Law (Len Cariou) was aware of instances of priest John Geoghan sexually abusing children and doing nothing about it. The Spotlight team begins digging into the story, with Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) making contact with Garabedian while Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d'Arcy James) attempting to contact victims. What they discover is appalling: exponential increases in the number of cases involved made even worse by the cover up within both the church and the justice system.

Director Tom McCarthy navigates the disturbing subject matter masterfully, depicting the story through the eyes of the Spotlight team and their investigative work.  Through them, he is able to illustrate the wide range of emotions caused by such a scandal.  Everything from violated, ashamed and embarrassed feelings of the victims, to the fear for one's children, to an outright crisis of faith.  The entire film is well made and acted, but the performances from McAdams and Ruffalo stand out, resulting in Oscar nominations in the Supporting Role categories this year for each.

Both the story and cover up are shocking in and of themselves, but as we learn how widespread the instances were, it becomes more unbelievable. Even as the film comes to a close, we're hit with one last gut-wrenching revelation: the Spotlight story (printed in 2002) led to the uncovering of similar scandals in 105 other U.S. cities, and another 101 cities around the globe.  This film definitely falls into the 'not for everyone' category due to the heavy subject matter, but at the same time it is a film that should be seen by as many eyes as possible.  This is easily one of the most impactful films that I have seen in recent years and I highly recommend it despite the uncomfortable content.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Review - Deadpool

Deadpool (2016), R, 108 minutes - This past week marked the 25th Anniversary of Deadpool's creation in the pages of The New Mutants #98 by Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza.  In that time the wise-cracking, gun-and-sword toting, mercenary has become one of Marvel's most popular and widely recognized characters.  A Deadpool film starring Ryan Reynolds has been in the works for years, but took a back seat after the debacle that was 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  Reynolds portrayed the character in that film, and his take on Wade Wilson was pitch perfect, unfortunately the script took a turn for the worse and produced a virtually unrecognizable version of his alter-ego Deadpool.  In the years since, rumors of a solo film popped up off and on, but nothing came of it until about a year and a half ago when test footage of an action sequence leaked to the web, causing an avalanche of support and demand for the film.  Fox finally green-lit the project (Deadpool falls under the X-Men property umbrella), kept Reynolds in place in what may be the most perfect comic book movie casting ever, and even followed through with an appropriately R-rated film.  

What did they call Shaun of the Dead?  A romantic-comedy with zombies?  Well with Deadpool, director Tim Miller, presents a similar genre mash-up: a romantic-comedy buried deep within a vengeful action flick.  Wade Wilson (Reynolds) is a mercenary, but not the sort you would typically think of.  He prefers jobs that are good-natured at their core, such as convincing a stalker that continued sketchy activity would be bad for him.  After falling in love with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), the woman of his dreams, Wade is diagnosed with terminal cancer of the everything.  She begins searching for treatments but instead of putting her through the pain of watching him die a slow death, he leaves her.  Feeling like he has no where else to go, he decides to take part in a program that promises to cure his cancer as well as turning him into a super hero.  As it turns out, the program is an illegal, off-the-books type whose actual purpose to is create super soldiers via cruel experimentation to then be sold to the highest bidder.  After being inspected, injected, and tortured, his cancer is cured but Wade is left horribly disfigured.  He escapes his captors and swears vengeance on those who turned him into a monster: Ajax (Ed Skrein) and Angel Dust (Gina Carano).

Deadpool is full of bad-assery, wise-assery, and far too many pop culture references to list, just as his best tales from the comics are.  The on-screen chemistry between Ryan Reynolds and Morena Baccarin is what really packs a punch though.  It strangely grounds Wilson's over-the-top quest of vengeance and provides a relate-able plot thread for most in this seemingly oddly placed Valentine's Day weekend release.

Some of the films put out by other studios involving Marvel properties have been less than faithful to any source material (X-Men Origins: Wolverine being a prime example), but this time around, Fox absolutely nailed it, all the way down to Wade's breaking the fourth wall (he is aware that he's in a film and addresses the crowd directly on a number of occasions).  The action sequences are great - they even included a polished version of the leaked test footage - and Deadpool's personal interactions with both friend and foe alike are spot on, especially those with Vanessa, Weasel (T.J. Miller), Blind Al (Leslie Uggams), and X-Men Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand).  There's even a diverse selection of music (what other film can seamlessly incorporate Salt-N-Pepa's "Shoop", DMX's "X Gonna Give It to Ya", and Wham!'s "Careless Whisper", among others?).

Deadpool is rated R, so parents, please, please use discretion when determining whether or not to allow your child to see this film.  This is definitely not a 'drop the kids at the theater for the afternoon' type of flick.  It's sort of a cross between a Kevin Smith and a Quentin Tarantino film: Smith-like crude humor with a dash of Tarantino-esque violence.  That being said, I absolutely loved this big screen incarnation of the character.  It couldn't have been more true to the essence of the comics.  Whether you're a Deadpool fan or not, there really is a little something for everyone in this film (as long as you're not offended by crude language and/or moments of explicit violence).  The comedic tone and underlying love story more than offset those moments, which makes Deadpool an extremely fun film.  It is smashing the previous Valentine's/President's Day Weekend opening Box Office record and they have already announced that a sequel is in the works (more on that in the spoiler section below), so Deadpool's got that going for him...which is nice.

*Both Red Band Trailers are shown here as they provide a more accurate depiction of what the film is than the standard trailers do.


- Stick around for the post credits scene which is pretty entertaining.  Deadpool riffs on the "You're still here?" bit from the end of Ferris Bueller's Day Off and then cracks that they didn't have the budget to show any sort of footage from a sequel but even though they haven't cast anyone yet, Cable will be included.  Very exciting news for any fan of the comics as the two characters have been linked since their creations (both created by Rob Liefeld).  Actor Stephen Lang is already campaigning for the role online.  I personally think he'd be a great fit for the part.

- The pre-film credits role as descriptions of those included in the film as opposed to their actual names.

- There are a couple of nods to Deadpool creator Rob Liefeld in the film.  In the opening sequence, the name Rob L. appears on a coffee cup.  Not long after, he appears in a cameo in Weasel's bar, with Wade acknowledging him as he walks by.

- Liefeld receives the majority of the credit for creating Deadpool, but the man credited with co-creating the character (he wrote Deadpool's first appearance in The New Mutants #98) was Fabian Nicieza.  His name can be seen on two street signs in the background of the massive wreck caused by Deadpool's ambush on Ajax's men (based on the leaked test footage).

- In keeping with the fourth wall breaking nature of the comics, Wade/Deadpool makes a number of meta comments, the best of which poke fun at Ryan Reynolds' previous turn in the failed Green Lantern film from 2011 and the aforementioned failure that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine, including an action figure of that version of Deadpool found in Wade's apartment.

- At one point, Colossus says that they are going to talk to the Professor and Deadpool replies "Which one?  Stewart or McAvoy?  These timelines are so confusing!", referencing Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy, who have both portrayed Professor Xavier in other X-Men films.

- Colossus is portrayed differently in this film than in prior X-Men films, but his inclusion, along with Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters (and the Professor X comments) help tie this film to the existing X-Men universe.

- Bob!!!  Those familiar with the Cable & Deadpool (2004) era of the comics will recognize henchman Bob.  In the comics he was an Agent of HYDRA (who only joined the villainous group because of the good benefits package) and becomes a sidekick of sorts for Deadpool.  Here he is one of Ajax's goons (because Fox does not hold the film rights to HYDRA) and was a former associate of Wade's from his special forces days.

- Stan Lee cameo!  This may be the best Stan Lee cameo in a film for a Marvel character yet - he's the announcer in the strip club.

- When Wade is getting wheeled into the first of many procedures/torture sessions, we see the back of a character with spikes poking out of their back in all directions.  Considering this takes place in the X-Men universe, one could imagine that this may be Marrow.  This probably isn't too much of a leap either because of her inclusion in X-Force in the comics, which has been another long rumored addition to the X-Men film universe from Fox.

- Just one of a number of pop culture references (too many to list, and I'm sure I missed some), Deadpool loads up his collection of guns for the final showdown in a Hello Kitty bag.  He also makes a number of references to Voltron.

- The ship that Ajax is holed up in at the end of the film looks very similar to a S.H.I.E.L.D. heli-carrier.  It may just be a dry-docked aircraft carrier, but is similar enough to make one wonder.  With S.H.I.E.L.D. being a Marvel property, Fox wouldn't have the rights to call it that, but it seems implied that it may be decommissioned and taken over by baddies.