Archives for December, 2011
This is of course the longest episode of 2011 but we have an excuse! Listener Zach Martin joins us to discuss the best films of 2011. We hit on all the great films of the year and discuss just how many films Mike, Stephen, and Niko watched over the holiday to prepare for this episode. Check it out and share your own list in the comments.
Directed by Douglas McGrath
Starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinear, Christina Hendricks
I’m not sure if this is a movie or a catalog of cliches. There is the spunky single mother, the bitchy stay at home moms, the flighty surfer(in Boston?) nanny, the unsupportive mother in law, the holiday in the country, the family car is even a Volvo. I could go on. Luckily theses cliches do not ruin an original storyline, because I Don’t Know How She Does It is as formulaic as it is predictable.
Kate, Sara Jessica Parker, is a hard working mom married to Richard, Greg Kinear a hard working Dad. They have two beautiful children and are managing to juggle careers, marriage and parenthood if not with aplomb, then at least with a modicum of mediocrity. That is until their careers start to pick up. Richard’s architecture firm is actually starting to pick up some decent accounts and Kate who works for an investment banking firm comes up with something called a retirement fund. Evidently this is such an outlandish concept that it requires a great deal of work from Kate and her robotic assistant Momo to sell the idea to their boss in New York, a Mr. Jack Ablehammer, Pierce Brosnan. Even after Kate and Momo sell the idea to Jack in spite of a presentation marred by lice infestations and mixed up off color emails the real work is just beginning. Now that Jack is sold on this new to the investment banking industry idea of a retirement fund, sort of explains the credit crunch doesn’t it, Boston based Kate is going to be spending at least half the week in New York, just when Richard is also going to be much busier than he has been in the past. For a while it appears that Kate is keeping all of the irons in the air, but it’s only a matter of time until somebody gets burned, I think I just mixed a metaphor there.
The story is partially told through flashbacks with Kate’s friends and acquaintances then there is some voice over narration by Kate and just to make sure no opportunity to tell instead of show is wasted time freezes every now and then so Kate can break the fourth wall and explain something to the camera, the emails even talk, like the audience can’t be trusted to read a couple of lines of text. Sarah Jessica Parker can be funny, but she’s never given the chance, slapstick is substituted for any character based comedy, but frankly the characters aren’t developed enough to support it anyway. Kate is defined more by her fine wrinkles and frazzled hair than anything else. The supporting cast of Brosnan, Kinear, and Hendricks all phone in decent performances but again they aren’t really given anything to work with. The story just plods along with Kate digging a deeper and deeper hole until the filmmakers realize that there is only fifteen minutes left and they need to wrap things up, so they wrap things up. There is never any real jeopardy, no doubt that everybody will do the right thing in the end, if this is the worst that driven working moms have to put up with, if this is the biggest crisis that Kate and Richard have to deal with in their marriage then Kate doesn’t really have much to complain about.
The 1080p video is presented in wide screen format. The image is crisp, and detailed with deep focus and a hint of grain. The color palette is neutral with naturalistic skin tones. There are some scenes with blown out highlights but it never affects the subject of the shots. I never noticed any aliasing or blooming are any other sorts of digital artifacts. It looks great.
The audio is presented in 5.1 DTSHD-MA in English only. The mix is competent. The score and the foley never steps on the dialog, and the surround sound use is subtle but present. There are English and Spanish subtitles.
The Packaging and Bonus Features:
The disc comes in a standard blue tinted Blu Ray case. The artwork is an uninspired, saccharine, Photoshoped kludge, but it manages to sum up the movie perfectly. Anchor Bay is confident of the demographic for the film, there is a ten dollar coupon for diapers.com included. The only extras, besides the coupon, are some trailers and a conversation with the author of the book the screenplay was based on, Allison Pearson. She actually makes the book sound much more interesting than the movie without denigrating the film. Quite a feat actually.
Overall (not an average): 4/10
I know they wanted to cash in the title of the book but with a name like I Don’t Know How She Does It you just can’t help but think of juvenile comebacks; I Don’t Know How She Does It – and I don’t care, I Don’t Know How She Does It – and I still don’t know how she does it. Well actually those are the only ones I can think of. I’m sure cinegeek.com readers can come up with a few more, most likely better, let’s hear them in the comments.
The Movie: 4/10
The Video: 8/10
The Audio: 7/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features: 5/10
Overall (not an average): 4/10
Written and Art by Mark Crilley
Being haunted and forced to catch murderers really cuts unto hangout time.
Brody is a young man searching for a murderer in a seedy city, with the help of ghosts. Specifically, the ghosts of a young teen girl who can shatter glass and of an ancient samurai training Brody to unlock his supernatural senses.
Brody is a hapless good guy who doesn’t want to be a psychic detective but nonetheless commits himself to finding this murderer. He’s likeable enough, wanting to do the right thing and help people, but he doesn’t want to dedicate his life to it as the final story cramps into his personal time. Still, how he found the time to spend a week and a half in a sewer, I have no idea.
This one-shot is made of four short tales featuring Brody training and working on the Penny Murder case. Each short is self-contained and works on its own. The first shows Brody saving a girl and talking to the ghosts, telling the reader the basics to get started. The series ranges from dramatic to comedic, dealing with Brody saving people from thugs and seeing the affects of murders on loved ones, as well as putting up with crazy training high jinks and a persistently annoying and pushy teenage girl (who happens to be a ghost that can shatter glass).
This book feels less like a one-shot and more like a pilot, and that’s because it is. These segments were originally published online in MySpace Dark Horse Presents #30-33 in 2010, previews to the then upcoming main comic series.
Because this is essentially a preview to an already started series and all of these segments are stand-alone stories, this specific book feels incomplete.
It’s an odd combination I’d expect to see in the bonus material of the main books. Fans of the series will appreciate having these stories combined in print. There’s enough here to interest new readers as well, the ghost concept is interesting, as is seeing Brody’s emerging abilities that are only referenced in here. It can grab new readers for the series, so I hope the book is filled with advertisements for the already-published books.
Crilley has a serious manga influence in his character designs, with simplified figures, enlarged eyes and spiky hair. It works with the story, especially with the samurai ghost character. Otherwise, it’s not particularly remarkable, but it gets the story told well enough. The only knocks I’d really have are some off eyes and occasional background color inconsistencies.
Speaking of colors, after the first segment, Dan Jackson takes over coloring from Crilley. Jackson’s colors are vibrant and sharp, with better shading to give more shape to the artwork. Crilley’s coloring by comparison looks a bit flatter and washed out, but only barely and after more critical reflection.
This one-shot is a decent enough preview of the main series. As a stand-alone, it feels incomplete and leaves the reader wanting more, which means it’s done its job.
Overall (Not an Average) 7/10
By all rights Texas Killing Fields should have received a reasonable theatrical run based on the cast alone. The movie features Sam Worthington, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Chloe Grace Moretz. Sometimes bad things happen to good movies though. This one looks good too. The plot follows two detectives investigating a bevy of unsolved murders in the Texas bayou.
Checkout the blu-ray/DVD trailer:
Directed by Gonzalo López-Gallego
Starring Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen, Ryan Robbins
The found footage type of film has been around much longer than people think but the truth is it really started to go mainstream with The Blair Witch Project. It’s a genre of film that’s tough to get right. Some films in the genre that truly nail it are of course The Blair Witch Project, but also The Last Broadcast, and Paranormal Activity. In a further extension of the genre Series 7 deserves a mention. That film isn’t a found footage film but instead a reality show where people literally kill each other for prizes (no not as gory or gritty as you may be thinking; it’s not a horror movie at all). There have also been films about making reality shows such as The Running Man and the awesomely awesome Battle Royale. Most often though this genre is made a disaster of by filmmakers too in love with their imagery or process to really get it right. It’s a fine line they have to walk between making the film tell the story and truly making the footage feel “found”.
Apollo 18 is about a final classified DOD sponsored Apollo mission to the moon. The problem is the moon rocks are badasses. They don’t take kindly to having ships dropped on their heads. The film is made up of four hours of declassified footage. Here’s the thing that’s a problem right away; would the government truly declassify footage that makes them look so sinister. I think we all know the answer to that. So the reality premise of the film kind of goes out the window right away.
Within the footage is home movie clips of a party featuring the team chosen to go on the mission, some interview footage, and of course footage from the mission taken from several 16 mm cameras provided to the astronauts to record the event for posterity. Everything is going well initially, too well in fact. Things are going so well for such a long span of time that the movie gets boring. It’s these sequences that the director truly gets the reality part right. The shots are off angle with things happening off screen and you know what the things happening are so mundane that you really don’t need to see them happen. These sorts of scenes are necessary for building the reality aspect of a project like this but a well done film would use these portions to actually develop the characters. Instead the characters are left to feel like cardboard standees like the ones in the Best Buy used to tell you how great some new gadget is or to advertise a good movie. There’s no depth to the characters so we really don’t care what happens to them. They don’t all look much alike but they feel so much alike that they begin to run together. I actually was looking forward to those damn rocks getting pissed. I kind of wanted them to squeak and bounce like tribbles too but that never happened.
The “action” packed sequences are just aggravating for the most part. When things kick in the lights decide to randomly start blinking. Now, there is some explanation for why this happens in the film but it happens so much it just started to feel like a crutch for the director, kind of like a brick wall was for the first half of Kevin Smith’s filmmaking career. When you do get to see some FX shots toward the end of the film they actually look fairly striking. In fact, the end of this movie is pretty damn entertaining and dark. Oh and by dark I’m not referring to the black and white footage or the scenes where the damn lights blink on and off.
There are more logic holes in this film than there are holes in the Swiss cheese Jerry always steals right from under Tom’s nose. These issues come up due to the reality/found footage aspect of the film. The shooting of Apollo 18 and the plotting of it just strays in and out of the genre at will making the entire thing fail. Sadly, the premise is actually a good one and would probably have been better served with a standard narrative film presentation rather than the overcooked under seasoned found footage entré the filmmakers chose.
Apollo 18 is supposed to look like rough old unkempt footage and even in this 1080p presentation it does. Colors and contrast appear to be represented here as the filmmakers intended and that’s about as good as it gets. The film looks appropriately crappy. How about that?
The surround sound presentation is mixed with distortion and other artifacts like the video to make feel old and beat up but dialogue that’s meant to be heard sounds great and the surrounds get some work from time to time. It’s nothing spectacular but it’s what it should be for a montage of footage that was supposed to have been shot over 30 years ago on low budget film.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The two disc set is packaged in a standard slim blu-ray case with retro looking moon landing style art for a cover, nothing special or particularly memorable; kind of like the movie now that I think of it. The first disc is a DVD/digital copy and the second disc is the blu-ray with the film and bonus features.
First up as far as bonus features go is an audio commentary with the director and editor. The commentary focuses on making the sets appear legitimate and making the footage feel old. There’s actually some good information here is you’re a student of the filmmaking process. Other than the commentary there are some deleted scenes and alternative endings, nothing too exciting here and nothing that would have improved the film had it been added back in. Where’s the trailer and featurettes? Meh.
Apollo 18 is a great concept for a film and it even features some entertaining government conspiracy stuff at the end but it’s just so poorly executed that nothing can really save it. It’s like saying “well that movie could have been good if it had a better director, revised script, and better actors.” Wait, that’s exactly what I’m saying.
Overall (Not an Average) 4/10
The Movie 3/10
The Video 8/10
The Audio 8/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 4/10
Overall (Not an Average) 4/10
Directed by Jesse Peretz
Starring Paul Rudd, Zooey Deschanel, Elizabeth Banks
Everyone has that one family member that despite all the best intentions in the world just can’t quite get things right. That “idiot” relative takes center stage here.
In the opening scene of Our Idiot Brother the kind-hearted but naïve Ned (Paul Rudd) sells marijuana to a uniformed police officer and winds up in jail. After his release he finds that his girlfriend has moved on to a new guy and now he doesn’t have a place to live. On top of all this she will not let him have his dog, Willie Nelson. With no where to go Ned turns to his family.
Starting with his mother (Shirley Knight) Ned moves in with each of his family members (Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel and Emily Mortimer) and manages to disrupt each of their lives with his own brand of well meaning helpfulness. As he bounces from one family member to another things get increasingly worse for Ned, and seemingly for his sisters.
Our Idiot Brother falls into a category of movies that litter the multiplexes these days and really, they defy definition. By that I mean that they aren’t comedies nor are they dramas. And as much as I like the term “dramedy” they don’t qualify for that moniker either. Yes, there are comedic elements to this movie. Yes, there is some drama as well. But in the end this movie seems to be a “feel good” movie that doesn’t make you feel as good as it should. By the end you feel good for Ned but the rest of the family just feels like an endless pit of self-centeredness and self importance.
At the end of the movie I felt like things had closure. Sure it’s not hard to guess where this movie is going or how it will get there but it is a fun ride. I’m not sure I would go back and re-watch this movie but I don’t think I would turn the channel if it was on either. I would however recommend watching Our Idiot Brother.
Presented in Widescreen 1.78:1, 1080p. I’m starting to see the benefits of the blu-ray format. Everything that I’ve watched so far has looked spectacular and this movie is no different.
This movie is featured in 5.1 DTSHD-MA and if I had surround sound I’m sure it would sound spectacular. I really need to invest in better audio….
The Packaging and Special Features
The special features (as well as the packaging) are pretty lackluster. The only real feature is the Making of featurette. Of course there is an audio commentary and some deleted scenes but all in all there isn’t much to watch. And the packaging is just a blu-ray clamshell with a paper insert.
Overall (Not an Average) 8/10
I really liked this movie. It was enjoyable and Paul Rudd is as likeable and relatable as ever. This is a good movie for settling in on a cold night with your significant other and relaxing on the couch.
The Movie 8/10
The Video 9/10
The Audio 8/10
The Packaging and Special Features 2/10
Overall (Not an Average) 8/10
Ok here we are, an epic show. That’s what happens when geeks get pissed off. We discuss the IMAX experience, Mission Impossible, The Dark Knight Rises, Terra Nova, best of lists and way more than usual!
Written by John Ostrander
Art by Stephane Roux
“The name is Cross. Jahan Cross. I’ll take my Blue Milk shaken, not stirred.”
Jahan Cross is an intelligence officer for the Empire, going undercover to thwart threats to the security of Palpatine’s rule. After all, not every situation requires Vader force choking someone (just most of them). This time, Jahan’s mission takes him into the heart of the Corporate Sector to learn about a mysterious “Iron Eclipse” project that may bring harm to the Empire.
Jahan is supposed to be the James Bond of the Star Wars universe, a government agent working to ensure the security and safety of the Empire, just not the British one. And that’s just what he is. Ostrander simply put a Star Wars skin over a by-the-numbers Bond story. The issue starts with Jahan wrapping up a mission of corporate espionage, which then unfolds into to the current underlying threat to the Empire. Following a meeting with his “M” supervisor and a trip to space “Q” – complete with exploding gadgets – Jahan Bond is off on his next assignment.
Because of this, the story feels stale as soon as you start, reminiscent of a fan cross fiction between those two franchises.
The book hits the breaks for some drawn out narrated exposition about a deceased industrialist named Iaco Stark, who seems to be involved with the sinister anti-imperial plot at hand. First off, really? Stark? There are better, more original ways to pay Iron Man homage. Anyway, while this back story will likely come into play in the following issues, the narration from Jahan and his boss draw out a forced conversation into something that could have been introduced more naturally to the reader.
Original trilogy fans will be glad to see a familiar face or two – the original space badasses Han Solo and Chewbacca. Han and Jahan have history as Imperial Academy students. Han is in classic form, escaping from some thugs that disagree with his beating them gambling.
This story reminds me of a Star Wars role playing game I played with some friends once. In one way, it’s dealing with the corporate underbelly of the Star Wars universe, which can be interesting and unique. In another, it feels like fans inserting their own hero characters into the universe just for that sake alone. Still, it’s hard to argue with more Han.
For the most part, the book looks nice. The characters and settings are well designed and look like they fit within the Star Wars universe. The technology especially. Han and Chewie translate well into this art style. The police sergeant is a bit too “terrestrial” for my tastes though, with a ragged brown coat and fedora looking like a generic Earth detective.
When you stare long enough, you start to see the awkwardness in some of the characters. Unnaturally slanted shoulders and oddly scrawny and distorted arms pop up throughout the book, but for the most part, it’s not problematic.
The real thing that hurts this book is that it really just feels like a James Bond fan fic in the Star Wars universe. This is the first issue, and it may break from that mold in later issues. Until then, it is what it is.
Overall (Not an Average) 5/10
Directed Harley Cokliss
Starring Burt Reynolds, Cliff Robertson, Scott Wilson, Cynthia Gibb, Lauren Hutton, Kenneth McMillan
International hit man may seem like the perfect job. There is travel, mystery, adventure and you get to meet interesting people and kill them. Of course there are downsides, primarily the the severance package tends to be rather extreme. Malone finds this out when he tires of pulling the trigger and tries to retire.
Malone, played straight by an unusually taciturn and restrained Burt Reynolds, is a burned out hit man. After botching his last couple of jobs his heart just isn’t into it anymore. He decides to take a leave of absence even after a coworker, played by Lauren Hutton, reminds him that turning his back on the job might prove detrimental to health. His retirement hits a snag when his transmission gives out on him in, at least what seems to be at first glance, a sleepy little town in the Oregon backwoods. He ends up at a service station run by Paul Barlow, Scott Wilson, and his teenage daughter Jo, Cynthia Gibb. Turns out Paul doesn’t stock the parts needed to fix Malone’s Mustang and he ends up stuck in town for several days. Malone takes the delay in stride, after all one place is as good as another when you don’t really have a destination. Malone gets pulled into the town troubles when he puts a local lowlife in the hospital after said lowlife picks a fight with him as he’s taking a walk with Jo. Turns out the lowlife is on the payroll of Congressman Delaney, played in a scene chewing performance by Cliff Robertson.
Delaney is buying up all the land in the valley for some reason that he’s not sharing with the townsfolk and he’s using the town lowlifes to put pressure on the holdouts. Lowlifes aren’t the only people in town that Delaney has bought out, the Sheriff is also on his payroll. Delaney’s intimidation tactics aren’t having the desired effect and he suspects there might be more to Malone’s presence than simple transmission problems. One of Delaney’s lieutenants goads the brother of the lowlife Malone put in the hospital to go after Malone. The plan doesn’t quite go as planned when Malone ends up killing this brother. It’s a clear case of self defense but it gives the Sheriff an excuse to hold Malone for questioning. Delaney takes advantage of the situation to personally interview Malone. Delaney sizes up Malone and quickly sees that he’s more than just a normal bloke passing through town. As a collector of men with particular skills Delaney tries unsuccessfully to recruit Malone into his organization. Turns out Delaney is trying to turn the valley into some kind of ultra right wing freedom zone or compound of some sort. Since Delaney is a “your either with me or your against me” sort of guy Malone has to go and he gives the order for specialists to be brought in to take care of Malone. That’s not Malone’s only problem. As a matter of routine the Sheriff ran a information request on Malone’s driver’s license after the shooting. Malone’s former employer intercepted the request and now knows where to find him so they also put a plan into motion to take care of Malone.
Malone is an odd little film. It’s got some real star power, but plays like a well put together B movie. It feels like a decent Network TV movie of the week except for a few expletives sprinkled here and there. The story is an above average tight thriller but it’s riddled with cliche’s like silenced revolvers and cars that explode after being shot a couple of times. Reynolds is actually acting this time around but he’s carrying a lot of baggage. There are a couple of scenes when you expect him to turn to the camera, wink and let go with his trademark “ha haa.” Scott Wilson turns in a great performance and Cliff Robertson appears to be having a blast playing the oily Delaney. Cokliss’s direction is professional without calling attention to itself and he really leverages the beautiful British Columbia locations. Malone is a competent by the numbers thriller that unfortunately never manages to rise above the material with the exception of the final confrontation between Malone and Delaney which has a great neo noir vibe to it.
The movie starts with the message “This film has been manufactured from the best source materials available.” Not a statement that inspires confidence. It is presented in a 16×9 aspect ratio and it looks decent. There is a fair amount of grain, the blacks tend to soak up a lot of detail and the image is sometimes a little soft. On the good side I never noticed any aliasing, moire, blooming or any other digital artifacts.
The audio is nothing special. There are no subtitles or other language tracks. The mix is professional if not inspiring.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The packaging is basic, even generic, there are no extras of any type. The only option on the menu is play. There aren’t even real chapters, the film is just split up into ten minute chunks.
Overall (not an average) 5/10
Malone is a mostly forgettable film. It’s not bad it’s just not memorable. The few moments it has that are interesting are just not enough to propel it out of the sea of mediocrity that it’s mired in.
The Movie: 5/10
The Video: 7/10
The Audio: 5/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features: 1/10
Overall (not an average): 5/10
So on the 16th of December I was geared up to check out Mission Impossible: The IMAX Experience with the 7 minutes of Dark Knight Rises footage attached to the beginning. That full review is on the way but the overall experience at the Regal Opry Mills Theater requires some editorial attention. I typically go in a group to see films for review because I like to gauge trusted friends responses to the films. Those responses don’t change my feeling on a film but they can help with investigating varying perspectives, but, I digress.
So me a friend and one of the other writers here at the site decide to make the trip to the recently renovated (after a disastrous flood) Regal Opry Mills Theater for what we hoped would be a great night. Travis and I purchased tickets at the theater and were slapped with a whopping $18 price tag! That’s up $3 from when we saw Avatar in 3-D! Mission Impossible was not in 3-D but it does feature a lot of full screen IMAX footage, which I’ll discuss in that review. It’s hard to complain about prices because theaters will charge whatever they can get away with. This experience has taught me that, at least in the case of Regal Cinemas, the customer is the last thing on their list of concerns. I do have to say that this price must be taken into consideration in future reviews because there is something called “value” that’s worth discussing. Maybe there will be films worth the $18 admission fee, but that amount of money can still get you into live concerts and ball games so the level of comparison of value is a bit higher.
So, Travis and I purchase our tickets at the door and Mike (writer for CineGeek) decides to spend the extra greenbacks and grab the ticket from Fandango. He bought his ticket while we were having dinner on his snazzy new Kindle Fire. The site came up and asked him if he’d like to pick his seats. We thought that was odd but paid it little attention because nothing of the sort was mentioned to us at the theater when we bought tickets there. We arrive at the theater a few minutes before show time and are greeted sure enough by theater employees ushering us to specific seats! In a movie theater! Are you kidding? So, of course since Mike bought his ticket separate from us he was forced to sit separate from us. When we questioned this process the employee advised us that the information is on the theater’s website. So, in what world do we exist where most of us would ever visit the website for a theater? Most of us either use fandango or a phone app to check movie times and if we’re feeling like big spenders buy tickets in advance. Even if we do visit the site regularly is that truly the response you want to give a customer? On that note, the show times on the internet wouldn’t even update until the day of the show by the way. We were also told that it’s plainly noted on said website that this showing featured reserved seating. I checked later that night and the only show with reserved seating listed was a 1am showing.
So we settle into the theater, sort of. People are being forced to bounce around the aisles to excess because they are all looking for the required seat instead of just grabbing an open seat. Still, the theater was calmed down in plenty of time for the film to begin. Did the film start on time you ask? Well no, it started 10 minutes late. Why? Who knows? If the answer is that there was some issue being worked out regarding seating well that should further prove to the suits that there’s a flaw in this system.
Post screening I went to the manager to discuss the situation and his response was “Well some people like it.” He also said that we should have been told at the ticket booth that “we can offer you the best possible seating”. Well, we were told nothing of the sort and his response to us was that he didn’t believe us. It’s at that point that I told him I wasn’t interested in a free ticket at this point so I had no reason to lie.
This whole experience leads to one simple fact: don’t go to IMAX films. What you get doesn’t balance with the hassle of simply trying to sit together and paying the huge ticket price. On top of all of that the staff at the Opry Mills Theater in Nashville is equal to nothing less than an epic failure. This all goes back to the “value” proposition. You’re paying an above premium price and you can’t even sit with your friends. Or can you? It just won’t be clear unless you remember to visit the theater’s website. In order to sit together you will have to make one person responsible for buying all the tickets, similar to the way many of us have for concerts, or you all have to buy the tickets at the counter at the same time and hope the couple at the next booth isn’t buying two tickets right in the center of your group because these are the exact seats where they had their first date and they just can’t see a movie sitting anywhere else in the theater now. Regal seems to be hoping to treat going to a movie on a Friday night like going to a concert. That’s a bad move because people generally see way more movies in a year than concerts. If that’s the direction we’re going then there will be fewer and fewer trips to the IMAX.
Written by Dave Lapham (script), Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan (story)
Art by Mike Huddleston
A vampiric plague may threaten the world. Symptoms do NOT include sparkling, raging fangirls or horrible writing.
To preface, I haven’t read the original Strain books by Del Toro and Hogan. This comic is my first experience with the franchise.
The issue begins with an old Jewish woman in 1927 telling her grandson about a kind giant noble in a local village involved in a hunting accident which turns him into a monster kidnapping children. The perfect tale to scare kids into being good to avoid this boogieman. Cut to today, our star Center of Disease Control agent Ephraim is pulled away from family quality time to investigate a plane landing that’s sealed up and curtained, hiding its passengers mysteriously dead… and a coffin of course.
This issue is all set up, but it’s still interesting. The opening bedtime story of the giant feels like an original and fresh urban legend, and even the giant in this story-within-a-story is sympathetic enough for the reader to follow. The actual main character Ephraim is fully developed in these few pages as a caring father with a troubled marriage and more troubled divorce, yet who is pulled between his family and his CDC work with a bit of a hero complex. It’s a bit clichéd, but what horror story isn’t?
Nothing is revealed about the vampires or how they work in this world. You don’t even see them beyond the cover. The title implies a pathogenic origin, but the urban legend in the beginning by its very nature adds credence to a darker supernatural aspect. The book is smart in not playing its hand too early. A good suspense is building for its eventual vampiric antagonists, and readers will be driven to the following issue to see what happens next.
The artwork sets the theme of this grotesque horror story. Coloring is dark, and what bright colors there are appear somewhat muted. The shading is often strong, giving that hidden-by-the-shadows affect. The characters and the backgrounds are well detailed. Overall, it’s a well drawn book.
From only the cover, the vampire designs in this are a nice change of pace from the generic pointy fanged variety we’re used to (thankfully not in a sparkling way). Their tongues pointed and barbed on one side, as if for a puncturing weapon, and their length gives Venom and Gene Simmons a run for their money. These vampires stick out their tongues so far, the stomach they’re attached to come with out too, making for creepy a visual of a guy breathing into his own stomach like a brown paper bag. Add their baldness and pale complexion, and dark red eyes, and these aren’t the type teen girls will poster their room with.
This definitely feels like a Del Toro movie works, even with the issue writing not by himself. The darker and fleshed out plot feels like some of his works, and the vampires have a passing resemblance to Del Toro’s Blade II. If you’re looking for a good suspense horror tale, The Strain is off to a good start.
Overall (Not an Average) 8/10
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Starring James Franco, John Lithgow
The Planet of the Apes series was one of those campy fun sci-fi franchises that was fun, not particularly deep or complex, just entertaining. There was always the heavy handed moral message in the films but the execution of the message was often unintentionally funny making the films all the more entertaining. Like so many franchises though the series continued to degrade as it progressed both in storytelling and production before it finally hit a wall. Tim Burton attempted to revitalize the franchise with a new film a few years ago but fantastic special FX couldn’t save a horribly written and directed film. It was inevitable that Hollywood would give it another go at some point so now we have Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a pseudo remake of the film of the same name from the 70’s.
Like the original film this one is a prequel to the events of Planet of the Apes, the story of what brought our world to the state it was in during Planet of the Apes. This one can’t really be called a prequel though because it feels like the start of a new franchise. So it is possible that we may see Planet of the Apes in the future. There are plenty of little nods to the original series including the name of the first ape, actually a chimpanzee, to gain intelligence; Caesar. James Franco is a scientist desperate to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease which is rapidly taking over his father who is played by John Lithgow. In an attempt to move the testing forward at one point Franco tests his new drug on a chimp named Caesar. The chimp quickly begins to gain intellect far beyond any ape and even beyond that.
The drama is actually well rendered in this story for such an over the top concept and the CGI is solid for the most part. Caesar is played by Andy Serkis who became somewhat typecast in the role of motion capturing creatures after his amazing portrayal of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films. Like that previous film Serkis gives his fully CGI character a sense of uniqueness and reality not common to these sorts of characters. The overt moral message is still here from the original films but it’s delivered with a teaspoon of sugar rather than jammed down your throat like the previous franchise. This is a summer movie so yes there is action and it’s fairly well executed and exciting. Overall, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is an extremely entertaining film and a solid start to the franchise.
The film isn’t perfect though. It’s mostly predictable in its story and there is an issue with Franco’s character and that of his bsos completely switching points of view by the last act of the film. With that said though, there are some nice story twists and some incredibly powerful and dramatic moments throughout the film. Fans of the original will appreciate this update and those who’ve never seen the original films will enjoy it too.
To be blunt this 1080p blu-ray, presented in the film’s original 2:35:1 aspect ratio, is damn near perfect. The movie was shot on film which means there’s that fine warm grain that only comes with film and it was expertly mixed with CGI special FX from Weta. The blu-ray accurately recreates that viewing experience down to the hairs on the faces of the apes. Detail is amazingly high, color is dead on with no blooming, and black levels are dark and inky without losing any of that amazing detail. Contrast is also spot on and typical issues that plague CGI laden films such as banding and compression artifacts are nonexistent here. The only minor complaints I have for this presentation are a couple of scenes that stand out as being softer in focus than the rest of the film.
The studio pulled out all of the stops for the audio presentation too by bringing us a lossless DTS HD Master audio mix that’s nothing short of stellar. The film features a consistent aggressive dynamic range with strong lows and solid midrange. The balance is well done and dialogue is always clean. The audio is heavily front speaker loaded but the surrounds get plenty of use with ambient noise and room spanning action. If all of the front speaker audio was pushed just a little more to the center of the room you’d have a perfect audio presentation too. As it stands the audio here is still amazing.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The blu-ray/DVD/digital combo pack is pretty basic in its packaging coming in a standard slim blu-ray case with a slipcover. The slipcover art actually feels really too similar to another old monkey movie called Congo. Put those two blu-rays side by side on a store shelf and a potential shopper might grab the wrong one.
There are two audio commentaries; one from the director and another from the writers. The two commentaries combined offer a deep look at the creative process behind this film from the writing and thematic elements to the specifics of filming the project. There’s great information here but some input from the actors would have added a lighter feel to the proceedings.
There are seven featurettes on the blu-ray covering the early writing process, the motion capture, the shooting of specific scenes, the links (and there are many, both obvious and tough to catch) to the original franchise, and the music. The featurettes are all great but the organization on the disc is frustrating. Have these people not heard of a “Play All” button? After each featurette you will be kicked back out to the main menu where you’ll have to wait for it to load and then hit play again. Another problem is that you can’t just keep hitting enter after each featurette unless you want to take a break from the action and look at slideshows of character concept art, deleted scenes, and the trailers. Those items should really have been at the end of the list so that if you can’t just play all at least you could just quickly hit enter to start the next featurette one after another. With that complaint registered the information in the featurettes is solid and a must view for fans of the film.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a worthy homage to the franchise that it is reinventing and a fantastic start to what should be an amazing new franchise. This movie is easily one of the best of 2011.
Overall (Not an Average) 9/10
The Movie 8.5/10
The Video 9.5/10
The Audio 9/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 8/10
Overall (Not an Average) 9/10
This week the gang tries some freeze dried ice cream, watch some trailers (GI Joe Retribution, Battleship, and Star Trek vs. Star Wars). We also manage to talk Hugo, The Equalizer, and Avengers X Sanction!
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Lee, Ben Kingsley
Hugo is a mis-marketed and mis-sold film. The ads would lead you to believe that it’s a fun kid’s fantasy film. Also, Martin Scorsese’ name on the film could lead you to believe that this is a mainstream release. Hugo is neither of these things, at least not completely. With that said, what Hugo is is something so different that it requires discussion.
This film is set in 1930’s Paris and it follows the adventures of a young orphan living in the walls of a train station stealing food and parts to try and repair an automaton. The automaton is a robot the young boy and his father were trying to repair before his father died. This little project leads the young boy on an amazing adventure through the world of silent film.
Hugo is a subtle, nuanced film featuring a true heart and passion for film that just doesn’t come across in most modern day films. With that said it’s not perfect. The biggest problem is that the film feels painfully long throughout the first act. The first 30 to 45 minutes could have been handled in half the time. Hugo is actually two connected but broken stories. The first story comes to a climax halfway through the film and that climax leads Hugo on a new journey through a new story. You definitely can’t have one story without the other; so the first story should have been compressed to keep the film’s length more manageable. It’s a tough call on the editing because some of the most clever story elements evolve throughout the first act. The whole thing makes me miss Thelma Schoomaker, Scorsese’ partner in crime. She edited the director’s best work. She truly understood Scorsese’ storytelling and knew how to tweak it and make it pace a little better.
The first story of Hugo trying to finish the automaton leads Hugo deep into a world he loves, the world of film. When this second story begins you can feel Scorsese sharing his heart and passion for the medium with us. There’s even a somewhat blatant riff on how terribly many original film prints have been treated and how so much great art has been lost. This may be a little spoilery so tread carefully through the rest of this review up to the last paragraph if that sort of thing matters to you. The second story reveals some character philosophies that are truly magical. Hugo believes himself to be a part of a greater machine. That machine is the world. He and his father were fixers of clocks and or a robot. Hugo has evolved to be a fixer of the greater machine. That is what he believes his job is as a part of the machine and he believes everyone is a part and they are all required to keep the machine running. He tells a friend that she has to figure out what her job is, what her part to play is. When she eventually does discover her job it’s moving and again, magical.
The other philosophy comes from a destroyed man, a man that found his passion in film and lost it all during the war. He was a magician looking to create the greatest magic of all time and he discovered that magic in film. He became a filmmaker and he believed himself and others like him to truly be magicians on an epic level. The simple idea that movies are magical is so right and so perfect and so amazingly represented in this film that it too is moving. Great filmmakers are lords of illusion, they can control your emotions better than the greatest hypnotist, they can misdirect, they can make anything disappear and reappear, they can literally do anything.
This film is set during the silent film era. Scorsese tells his stories in such a fantastic homage to the era that you may not even realize it’s happening until halfway through the film. Along with the main story of the film there are all of these simple little vignettes that are happening in the background and integrated into the film that are all told in formulaic silent film style. One such story follows a man who is enamored with a lady but her dog keeps him from getting close to her. His eventual solution is sweet and fitting. The film’s soundtrack and even the sets of the film are all steeped in the silent film era. The whole thing is simply brilliant.
While doing a homage to the beginnings of film Scorsese also looks forward to the future of film by not just converting Hugo to 3-D but taking the time and budget to utilize and even upgrade James Cameron’s 3-D Avatar technology to shoot Hugo. The resulting film is stunning and some of the very best 3-D ever put on the big screen.
I started this review by implying that Hugo might not be a mainstream film. Hugo in a way feels like a huge budget art house film. There are the silent film references for one thing but more importantly Hugo is a film by a hardcore film fan for hardcore film fans. The greater your passion for film as a medium for storytelling the more Hugo is likely to affect you. You don’t have to be the hardcore film fanatic to like Hugo, but if you are the last hour of the film will have you riveted. The film execution has to be dinged for the length and pace in the early act but Scorsese makes up so much ground for that flaw with his creation of such a unique world for the film fan to play in. Acting is superlative throughout the film. Asa Butterfield does his best Elijah Wood acting with his big blue eyes but it works most of the time. Chloe Grace Moretz is again amazing just as she was in Kick Ass and Let Me In. Here she’s supposed to be irritating and she is. She ties up the film perfectly at the end too. It’s awesome to see Christopher Lee doing such good work here and Ben Kingsley is great just as he always is when he’s not slumming in some terrible movie. If you sit down in front of Hugo looking for something in the realm of Harry Potter you’re probably going to be disappointed. Sit down in front of Hugo expecting one of the magicians of film to use his bag of tricks to show us why this brand of magic is so important and you’ll love this film.
There’s nothing like that feeling of seeing a loved one open your gift and realizing that you literally managed to get them the perfect gift. In fact, the gift is so damn perfect that you wish you had kept it for yourself. You sit there watching them as they brag about it, thank you countless times and fondle the gifty goodness of it, all the while your plotting their murder in order to get the gift back for yourself. Ok, so not murder, but there has to be a way to get that gift back right? Sure you could just go buy another one but it just won’t be the same as having that first one you bought right?
So, in order to avoid a possible near murder during your holiday festivities some of the writers here at CineGeek have put together a list of the must have geeky gifts for the holiday season. This way, you can buy that first one for yourself and if you are feeling generous you can pick up a second one for that special someone.
Alan’s Holiday Must Haves
I decided to go a little different for my gift guide. There are some really cool items available today but I thought I’d go with some cool items from the past that are still cool. Retro gaming and classic toys are all the rage these days so here are my must have retro choices (and one retro inspired new item):
11” Voltron (Lionbot, 1981)
This is one of the greatest toys ever. I never had this version of the Voltron toy but I always wanted one. It is die cast metal and pretty solid. These toys are a bit pricey today but for any fan of classic toys this would be a nice addition to any collection.
Shockwave (Transformers, 1985)
Shockwave was one of those toys that had it all. It was a giant robot that transformed into a gun plus it lit up and made laser sounds. How can you not love that? Granted most people want an Optimus Prime or one of the Dinobots and I could have included so many more Transformers on this list (Devastator comes to mind) but Shockwave was the coolest toy in an ultra cool toy line.
USS Flagg (G.I. Joe, 1985) –
This is the granddaddy of all classic toys. The USS Flagg is an aircraft carrier that had a very short production run. These things sell for upwards of $500 without the box or all the accessories. Complete they are worth over a grand. If you can find one and if you have the cash this toy would be ideal for transporting all your Joes into a sea battle with Cobra.
Castle Grayskull (Masters of the Universe, 1981)
I actually had this one when I was a kid and I enjoyed hundreds of hours of play time because of it. Castle Grayskull was a great play set because of all the imagination it lent to. That skull jaw draw bridge with the sword key latch, the elevator to the second floor, the throne room with a trap door and all the extra weapons never left me with loss of story lines and epic toy battles.
Fortress of Fangs (Dungeons & Dragons, 1983)
Most people forget that LJN produced a line of toys based on the Dungeons & Dragons franchise. I also had this one as a kid but to tell the truth I’m not sure how I managed to. My parents (like so many others in the 80’s) were scared that D&D was going to corrupt me and turn me into a Satan worshiper. And to this day I have never played a game of Dungeons & Dragons. But somehow I managed to get this play set and a few of the figured. The Fortress of Fangs was so cool because it had a moving spike wall, a weapons rack, a “river of lava,” a treasure chest and a giant purple demon throne. I wish I had never gotten rid of mine….
Xbox 360 Limited Edition Kinect Star Wars Bundle
I included this as a bonus because, come on it’s a R2-D2 themed Xbox 360 with a C-3PO controller!! AND it makes noises like R2 when it is powered up. What more could you want without having your own R2 unit? I know this does not ship until December 31st but it is a must have for all Star Wars geeks. I would love to find a pre-order for this machine under my Christmas tree this year!!