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By otakuman5000 On 28 Jul, 2011 At 02:32 PM | Categorized As Comics/Manga, Featured, Movie News, Reviews | With 2 Comments

No GravatarRed, White, and Blue or Red, White, and Blew?

Captain America is a pitch perfect movie that ties together the entire Marvel Cinema Universe, establishes Cap’s place in it, and provides a launch pad for next year’s Avengers.

I was initially a bit hesitant when I heard that Joe Johnston had been chosen to helm the production of Cap, as he did not seem like a particularly inspired choice.  John Favreau was a perfect fit for the tone of Iron Man and all the witty banter that made the characters work so well, and Kennethn Branagh really brought the family dynamic of the Thor characters to the forefront.  Looking at Joe Johnston’s previous work (Jurassic Park 3, Hidalgo, Jumanji) I knew that he would make a good film, but I wasn’t sure Cap could match the heights of Iron Man or even Thor.  Then I remembered that he also directed one of my favorite childhood super hero movies, The Rocketeer.   I’m relieved to report that Johnston creates another fun ride that hits all the right notes and delivers an amazingly fun summer blockbuster.

The movie is shot with wide angles and very few quick cuts.  Though not as kinetic as many current film styles, it’s a classic approach that perfectly frames Cap’s WWII era America.  The sets look authentic and all of the period attire helps create a believable world that is easy to get drawn in to.  The cast also does a wonderful job helping the comic characters jump from page to screen.  Chris Evans combines just the right amount of charm, bravery, and modesty to create the definitive Steve Rogers/Captain America.  His character arc is all the more believable, thanks to the movie’s first act utilizing some incredible digital effects to create the small and frail pre-super soldier Steve Rogers.  Haley Atwell (who plays Peggy Carter) also sparks some genuine chemistry with Chris Evans making their love story seem organic and unforced.  Everyone from Sebastian Stan (Buckey Barnes) and Dominic Cooper (Howard Stark) to Tommy Lee Jones (Colonel Phillips) play their characters perfectly and provide a  solid supporting cast for Johnston and Evans to play with.  However, no one relishes their screen time like Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull.  He seems to be having a blast chewing out lines in what I can only describe as a diabolically evil Arnold Schwarzenegger impression.  Hugo Weaving in the full-on Red Skull make-up sneering, insulting his troops, and taunting Cap is worth the price of admission alone.

Hector Hammond vs Cap?

The movie has a few scenes where the effects can’t quite keep up with everyone’s imagination, but for the most part it works.  One place where they really nailed it was in the costume design.  Cap’s costume looks fine on paper (especially when he’s battling a giant head in a floating chair) but would look cheesy if translated directly to film.  Cap has several costumes in the movie, all of which pay homage to the source material but make natural and necessary changes to make sense in the film world.  And then there’s his iconic shield.   Comic book ink made solid and real through effects alchemy, the shield looks great and is worthy of a fanboy’s eyes (and ears).  I loved the sound effects attached to the shield (I could imagine SWOOSH’s and K-TANG’s in bright letters accompanying the shield throws a la TV’s Batman).

So how does it rank with the rest of Marvel’s Cinema Universe?  I can’t say that it tops Iron Man, but it stands toe-to-toe in vying for leadership of the Avengers.  I highly recommend seeing it to complete the set-up arc to the Avengers, as there are a ton of Easter eggs sprinkled throughout every other frame of Cap.  There are nods to Iron Man, Hulk, and Thor.  Knowledge of the Marvel Movie Universe is not a prerequisite, however.  The film works just as well as a stand-alone underdog story and epic action film.  I was entertained and the movie reminded me of some of the best action adventure films from my childhood.  The cast, costumes, and sets hit all the right marks.  Joe Johnston, Chris Evans and co.  deliver a fun-filled summer blockbuster and superhero film worthy of hero worship.

Recommendati0n:  It’s 0n.  Go see it now or the terrorists win.

The More You Know:  The Avengers movies have grossed almost a billion dollars domestically and close to 2 Billion worldwide.  (This only reflects totals from Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, and Thor)

–  Stay after the credits for a secret scene that leads into an Avengers trailer!!!

-In Russia, Korea, and Ukraine the movie is simply called The First Avenger.

-Director Joe Johnston worked on the visual effects for Raiders of the Lost Ark and the original Star Wars trilogy.  He helped design Yoda and Boba Fett.

"America Still Needs Your Help!!!"

By otakuman5000 On 7 May, 2011 At 08:56 PM | Categorized As Movie News, Reviews | With 2 Comments

No GravatarDoes Thor Bring the hammer down or drop it?

The summer movie season kicks off with a thunderous boom thanks to Marvel Studio’s THOR.  Kenneth Branagh, an unlikely choice of director for a summer blockbuster/comic movie, has crafted a fast-paced ride through a comic book world that kept me entertained from the first to final frame.  Credit has to go to Kenneth Branagh and the script for conveying a lot of THOR/MARVEL lore without coddling the audience or forcing you to sit through an hour of exposition to explain the difference between a Heimdal and a Heimlich.  A tight running time (under two hours), superb casting choices, and dazzling set/costume design propel THOR to its rightful place among MARVEL’s top tier movies.

The film kicks off with a tour of Asgard (the world which Thor and his kin hail from) and its residents.  We are introduced to Odin (played with snarling confidence by Sir Anthony Hopkins) and how he has kept evil forces at bay and watched over the realms from atop Asgard.  It is explained what Asgard is and where it exists in relation to Midgard (Earth for you non-asgardian folk) and how our histories intertwine.  The writers do a tidy job here of culling a single origin story for Thor and Asgard from several different comic myths spanning Marvel’s prime and Ultimate universes.  Basically, enough information is given for the proceedings to make sense to a new audience, but enough easter eggs and bread crumbs are given for Thor fans to be kept satisfied.  There are also plenty of hidden gems working to connect THOR to the larger Marvel Cinema Universe, but thankfully they aren’t as overt as they were in Iron Man 2.  Kudos.  We see how Thor (in a breakout performance from Chris Hemsworth aka the father of one Captain James Tiberius Kirk) has come to be Odin’s heir, and his younger brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is next in line.  A group of Frost giants, ancient enemies of Odin, breach the walls of Asgard and set the wheels in motion for Thor’s banishment to Earth.  Thor immediately sets out for the home of the frost giants to get answers and knock heads.  Disobeying Odin’s direct commands, Thor brings his world to the brink of war and Odin strips Thor of his powers and casts him down to Earth where he must learn humility before he can ascend to his rightful place as heir to the throne.  From here, Thor meets Jane Foster and Erik Selvig (Natalie Portman and Stellan Skarsgard doing their best with some pretty plain roles), astrophysicists who are exploring the connection between Earth and Asgard.  It is at this point that the film takes on the characteristics of a fish out of water story and much of the movie’s laughs are generated.  All the while, we keep flipping back and forth to see what is occurring in Asgard during Thor’s absence.  The movie has a lighthearted sense of humor here and much of it works because Chris Hemsworth’s comic timing is impeccable.  Every time I felt that the film was beginning to meander or get too funny for its own good, it would switch back to the turmoil in Asgard.  The final act of the film is all about Thor rising up from his banishment and becoming the hero he is meant to be and features some big action set-pieces and effects work.  It’s a classic tale, but one that is shown through the lens of a new world and backed by heartfelt dramatic turns by the leads.

 

Thor, Sif, Odin, Loki, Padme, and Heimlich

Chris Hemsworth is given a lot of screen-time and rightly so.  He does a lot to humanize Thor, who has been a rather one-note character in the world of comics.  He truly looks the part, and his rigorous training pays off during the fight sequences.  Early in the film, when Thor goes to confront the frost giant’s King Laufey (Colm Feore sporting some great practical effects make-up), we are given the chance to see Thor fight like a god.  The action choreography had my eyes glued to the screen.  Chris Hemsworth, with the aid of some top notch effects work, pulls off iconic moves taken straight from the comic’s playbook and it translates extraordinarily well to the screen.  Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is also a standout performance.  In lesser hands, Loki’s role could have fallen into scenery chewing and mustache twirling, but Hiddleston imbues his Loki with just the right amount of outward conniving and inner menace.  Anthony Hopkins was also a perfect choice for Odin.  He reigns in his performance here, which could easily have been over the top, and balances Odin’s bellowing with just as much being expressed in silence or with the gaze of his one eye.  These three form the core and heart of THOR and the film works best when they are on screen and playing off of each other.  Thor’s comic book cohorts The Warrior’s Three and Sif (Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Josh Dallas, and Jaimie Alexander) are also represented, but just don’t have that much to do.  I feel like they were written in for completion’s sake.  They do look the part and have some interesting action moments, though.  The best small roles go to Idris Elba as Heimdal (Asgard’s gatekeeper and sentry) and Clark Gregg (reprising his role as Agent Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D. from the Iron Man movies).  Clark Gregg has fun with Agent Coulson and gets some great lines and funny moments.  Heimdal however, is seriously imposing as played by Idris Elba.  He looks and sounds exactly how I would have imagined and his brief but important role is bolstered by one of the film’s best costumes.

 

Most extravagant bathroom ever.

I hope the production crew gets some recognition for THOR because the set and costume design of Asgard is truly a spectacle.  The comic book look of each of the characters is faithfully re-imagined and given an updated sheen while seeming functional and realistic for the characters that wear them.  The set designs are grand and there is a massive amount of detail to take in.  Kenneth Branagh and his creative team did an amazing job of creating this other-worldly place, and it really does look fit for gods.  The scenery becomes a bit more humdrum during the sequences set on Earth, but that’s mostly because they take place in a small town, and are juxtaposed between the grandeur of scenes from Asgard.  If THOR does well I hope to see a bigger budget for the sequel, which can be spent to showcase more time in Asgard.

Thor has a lot going for it, but perhaps its greatest strength is the titular character’s relatively low profile in the minds of the mass market audience.  Like Iron Man before it, THOR has a great opportunity to introduce itself to audiences who have little to no expectation for what the character could bring.  THOR is not as widely recognized as Spider man, Hulk, or Wolverine.  The director, Kenneth Branagh, has no giant action movies in his credits, and the leads are relative unknowns.  Kenneth Branagh and company, however, deftly maneuver what could have been a rehash of an all-too-familiar tale into something more by giving its main characters a Shakespearean family drama as a backdrop for all of the heroics and action to play out against.  If audiences give THOR a chance I think they will be happily surprised by how well it all comes together.

Recommendati0n:  ‘Tis 0n.  Go check it out for a verily good time.

The more you know: Kenneth Branagh is actually pronounced Kenneth Branner (like Bruce Banner)

Tom Hiddleston (Loki) was originally auditioned and considered for the role of Thor.  He also worked with Kenneth Branagh on the BBC’s Wallander.

Thor was relegated to the 9th ring of development hell for nearly 20 Years with everyone from Sam Raimi and David Goyer to Matthew Vaughn and D.J. Caruso attached to the project at one point or another.

Stay for an extra scene at the end of the credits.  It’s worth it.

 

 

By otakuman5000 On 5 May, 2011 At 07:29 PM | Categorized As Featured, Movie News, Reviews | With 2 Comments

No GravatarNowheresville, Population:  This Guy.
Located a stone’s throw from Unstoppable Ass-Kickery-Ville

If you saw Ip Man 2 on BluRay recently, you caught a trailer for The Man From Nowhere.   Intrigued by the trailer, I went out and picked up a copy, and here’s what I found.  If you enjoy Korean cinema, revenge thrillers, and epic knife fights, this movie is for you.

Directed by Lee Jeong-Beom (Cruel Winter Blues) and starring Won Bin (Mother) and Kim Sae-Ron (A Brand New Life) The Man From Nowhere is a revenge thriller in the vein of Taken and Man On Fire.  Like any movie from the revenge thriller sub-genre, The Man From Nowhere is filled with familiar tropes and staples, but it’s the presentation and characterization that helps it stand out from the pack.

The basic premise follows Cha Tae-Shik (played with stoic gravitas by Won Bin) and Jeong So-Mi (admirably played by 11 year old actress Kim Sae-Ron) as kindred spirits caught in the violent underground world of the Korean organ smuggling trade.  The story opens with glimpses into the nature of Tae-Shik and So-Mi’s unconventional friendship.  They both lead solitary lives, one as a pawnshop owner with a mysterious past and the other as an outcast with a broken home life.  Tae-Shik interacts with so few that the neighborhood has nicknamed him the Pawnshop Ghost, and due to So-Mi’s absentee/stripper/drug addict mother she is a loner who just doesn’t fit in with the other kids.  Tae-Shik and So-Mi share meals together and when things get rough at So-Mi’s apartment, he lets her sleep at his (in a kind and totally non-creepy way).  Through all this, an unlikely friendship is formed and it’s given enough screen time to be believable and not seem forced.  These scenes are also where the leads really get a chance to shine.  Won Bin owns the screen saying little but conveying much through his eyes and gestures, and Kim Sae-Ron pulls off some tear jerking scenes that go straight for your heart strings.  Through a series of unfortunate events, So-Mi is kidnapped by gangsters and Tae-Shik is seemingly the only one that can help her.  The film follows a fairly predictable path from there, but includes some stand-out action sequences  and great pacing.

It’s a slow reveal as to why and how Tae-Shik ended up such a loner and is so ably qualified to go up against a crime ring.  In films like Taken and Leon/The Professional, it’s obvious from the start why the resident badass is so badass.  The kidnapping or event that requires avenging also occurs relatively early in most of these films so you can jump to the action as fast as possible.  I have to say I really enjoyed the slower build-up in The Man From Nowhere.  The characters are given plenty of room to breathe and the relationships, time to build.  The movie is also pretty bleak (like a lot of Korean Cinema) and tragedy saturates the celluloid, but this all makes the heroic moments that much more impactful and cathartic.

The Man From Nowhere Knife Fight

It slices! It dices… Every major artery you possess.

When we do get to the action, it’s pretty much a non-stop ride on a bullet train of ass-kicking.  The action is shot well and without style overriding the choreography.  You get to see every punch, kick, gunshot and stab.  And holy crap is there stabbing-a-plenty!  The Man From Nowhere has shot straight to the top of the list for some of my favorite knife fights ever filmed (in good company with The Hunted and Eastern Promises).  It’s well choreographed, unflinchingly filmed, and has that all-too- important and ever-elusive quality of being visceral.  In other words, s**t is hardcore.  The villains have a lot to do with this.  They are not portrayed as multi-dimensional or layered, but are so utterly despicable that when you finally see them getting their just deserts, it’s that much sweeter.

I can’t speak for how the BluRay compares to its theatrical release, as I did not see it on the big screen.  The BluRay, however, is a superb transfer with regards to maintaining black levels throughout most of this dark picture.  The 1080p AVC encode handles the movie’s icy blues and inky blacks with style, while providing sharp detail throughout the run time.  Audio is handled capably with the surround channels getting serious use during the action sequences.  The club scene will make your sub shake and the dialogue is crisp and clear.  Not quite reference level stuff, but the video and audio quality delivers an engaging and immersive experience.  The special features are pretty slim, though.  There are a couple of trailers, a making-of, and a clip reel showcasing key scenes.  Not really groundbreaking stuff, but still a good disc overall.

The Man From Nowhere, thanks to its direction, superb leads, and some spectacular knife fighting, ends up being more than the sum of its parts.  If you’re in the mood for a revenge thriller or are curious about Korean cinema, give The Man From Nowhere a look.

Recommendati0n: It’s 0n.  Go grab it now.  It’ll make a nice addition to your collection.

The More You Know: I got my copy from Best Buy for 16 bucks.  Not a bad price for a BluRay.  I’ve seen it for as low as $13 on Amazon, but I still enjoy shopping for my flix on the racks.