Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Before and After: Doctor Strange

Welcome to Before and After. The premise is simple… I’ll take a look at some of the biggest films, television shows, comics, music, and books available. I’ll give you my take from before I dive in to them, and my thoughts about them once I’m through.

Image resultMarvel Studios has taken us on quite a journey since they exploded on the scene and launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man in 2008 . I don’t think anyone could have predicted how long and amazing the journey would be, or that it would one day cross into the realm of the mystical and magical. Continue reading Before and After: Doctor Strange

Jim’s Movie Reviews: Mad Max Fury Road

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Don’t call it a re-boot.  It’s not.  Mad Max: Fury Road  can be considered the fourth in the series (at least, as far as I’m concerned) of George Miller movies featuring Max, a reluctant hero in a post-apocalyptic desert wasteland. As in two of the previous entries, Max (Tom Hardy) finds himself facing down the forces of chaos in an effort to help a group attempting to better their plight.  This time, Max lends his efforts to Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a warrior in her own right leading a group of refugee concubines of a mad cult leader to her childhood home across the wasteland.

Rather than return to the origin of the character, we get some simple callbacks to Max’s past as he flashes back to the murder of loved ones.  Again, we find Max with little left to hope for himself, but shepherding the hopes of those naive or innocent enough to yet cling to it. The interplay between Max and Furiosa is a new thing for the series, in that they fully share the weight of it all, each having seen a life before the endless waste and abject inhumanity.

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Fury Road , in my opinion, realizes Miller’s vision more fully than any previous entry in the franchise.  To put it simply, the film takes everything previous and goes to 11 on it.  Packed with incredible views from cinematographer John Seale, sewn together with a driving, punishing rhythm by editor Margaret Sixel, and so very Miller in its colorful originality, the first half hour had me abandoning all notions of a summer action film better than this one in 2015.  It’s metal.  If The Road Warrior was to be likened to classic, blues-y Danzig, then Fury Road is early 90’s Pantera or Judas Priest.

With the kind of eyes-bleeding visuals and breakneck action this film puts out, it’d have been easy to degenerate into an album cover caricature of itself.  However, the sparse script, excellent physical acting by all involved, and compelling story arcs for each character serve to tie it down, making the acts of heroism and sacrifice stand out amidst the lunacy of it all. The punches hit that much harder, the fires burn that much hotter, and the sacrifices of the protagonists are that much more meaningful for having the depth of character Miller brings to these figures both from the page and from those portraying them.  Charlize hammers it home, bringing audiences the most compelling agency in an action heroine since Alien‘s Ripley.  And (sigh of relief) Hardy makes a truly excellent Max.  Given only sparse dialogue, he conveys reams in every expression.

If I had a complaint (and I certainly don’t have enough to form a coherent complaint about), I’d say the film felt a little top-heavy in the first act…but it had the guts to break convention there, and it certainly made sense in context of the hero clawing his way out of a crucible alongside others on the road to redemption.

Go see it in the theater.  There’s two movies already out this summer I’d place ahead of Avengers: Age Of Ultron, and this is one of them (go see Ex Machina as well).  In my opinion, Mad Max: Fury Road operates on a level that Avengers simply can’t, or doesn’t.

This is high-minded sci-fi set to metal, and it’ll rock your tits off.

9.5 out of 10, one of my all-time faves.

 

My take AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON…a mini review

When it comes to my style of review, I’m pretty much a spoiler-free writer because I want people to get out there and see things for themselves. Don’t worry, as much as I’d like to, I’m not going to ruin a movie for people who haven’t seen it yet. I will however discuss how the movies leading up to this have had some meaning or impact.

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (AOU) didn’t just focus on the movies in phase 2, every movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is relevant, even in Marvel’s AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. You aren’t expected to know every little thing about each character but having that knowledge does give you a leg up.

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Let me say that this movie completely surpassed my expectations. Typically sequels never hold up to the original but I think that AOU is in the minority. There are a lot of references and little knows to things in Marvel comics that AOU does great in getting out there. There is action, suspense, love, comic relief, but never done in an unbelievable way. The new characters were well developed in the time period they have. The 3D was amazing and, in my opinion, very necessary. I saw it in both the Cinemark XD and IMAX 3D…hands down, IMAX was the superior version. The 3D was a little more natural and on point. Audio wise, I think they were about equal but some of the bass felt a stronger in the IMAX. I’m thinking this is because the IMAX has speakers and subs that are broken in.

James Spader did a tremendous job as Ultron. He has a cold cynicism that flows within the character. When I first heard that they were looking to add some of Spader’s mannerisms into the movements of the machine, I wasn’t sure this could be pulled off. Man, was I ever wrong. Spader sometimes does these little head flicks when he gets intense and they make perfect sense for a character learning to fit in. My standout character is definitely Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch. She brought the character to life from page to screen. You can see her passion in trying not to disappoint the fans and no one can be mad at her take on Wanda. She is possibly my favorite character from the film.

Many times in comic book movie you’ll find that the director or creative team involved may say they have comic book knowledge but that could be the extent of seeing it on a spinner rack as a kid. Joss Whedon is not one of those kids. He took the team and the audience on a thrill ride that was perfectly executed and ,like I said, it is dripping with comic book jabs. He and the folks at Marvel Studios have created a universe that is not only true to form but feels very lived in with the films and TV series. Marvel Studios movies work something like a game of tetherball. Now…stay with me here… They hit the ball as hard as possible and that tether line getting shorter and shorter. The pole is like the Avengers movies. All that spinning was planned to make it to the end result of each phase. Make sense? I hope so because this is the way I see it.

The movie ran at 2 hours and 21 mins. I could’ve have easily done another 2 hours with all of the awesomeness that was thrown at me. Being a huge comic book nerd and following these characters for years, I can easily say that this is a movie that you shouldn’t miss. Get up….right now…and get your ass to the theater!

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Jim’s Movie Reviews: Ex Machina

Ex Machina is the directorial debut of acclaimed oft-sci-fi screenwriter Alex Garland (Sunshine,  28 Days Later).  Fans will know to expect more from a Garland script than your typical sci-fi popcorn flick, and here, he delivers in spades both as writer and visual storyteller.  This movie blends high-minded science fiction,  psychological thrills, and social commentary in a uniquely entertaining way.

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Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a software engineer who has won a contest hosted by Nathan (Oscar Isaac), a reclusive billionaire and developer of the world’s foremost search engine.  Caleb is supposed to spend several days at Nathan’s mountain hideaway, but the contest is a ruse:  Its true purpose surrounds the character of Ava, played by Alicia Vikander.  Ava is a robot hosting a new form of AI, and Caleb is invited to interact with her in a sort of Turing test of Nathan’s devising.  As Caleb interviews Ava, he begins to question Nathan’s true motives, his own role in the story, and matters of conscience as his feelings for the machine evolve from deep curiosity into empathy.

Ex Machina invokes thought in the way only deep science fiction can, and invites comparison to the stories of Asimov and Clarke. Moving beyond the obvious, “Does it have a soul?” question is it’s most brilliant departure from things you’ve seen before: This is a story of the soul in jeopardy, of contrasting viewpoints, and the nature of creator and creation.  It’s Genesis in the age of the smart phone.

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The film manages a novel’s worth of story while true to its cinematic nature.  Interesting visual contrasts inform the viewer on several levels:  A well-appointed (if concrete) underground bunker in the middle of a lush forest contrasts nature with man’s creation, wherein the amenities of the rich contrast with its utility as testing ground and, perhaps, prison.  Liquor bottles cast around the otherwise immaculate rooms, at times, hint at the damaged state of Nathan’s soul, and the impregnable glass walls throughout divide characters while hinting at points of contact.  Ava’s form itself, so richly animated by Alicia, is an interesting contrast between idealized human features and vulgar mechanism (or is that backward?)

Though the movie is set almost entirely inside Nathan’s little fortress,  cinematographer Rob Hardy tells a story with every surface, every nuance and detail of the place, constructing multiple frames-within-frames across the glass, but never so overtly that it removes you from the spectacle.  Subtle arrangements in the blocking and backdrops serve to clue the audience in, but without a heavy hand.  A simple scene in a kitchen, for example, is stacked with innuendo imparted by choices in viewing angle and background detail. Even the controlled lighting is administered to, its shifts communicating claustrophobia or intimacy, or subtly  heralding the arrival of evil.

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Domhnall Gleeson masters a subtle balance throughout: his character’s deep curiosity as he glimpses the frontiers Ava represents, and his willingness to pitch himself into the abyss of more immediate concerns.  As Nathan, Oscar Isaac beguiles and menaces and every subtle shade between.  However, the absolute standout here is Ms. Vikander’s performance as the humanoid Ava.  She masters the smooth, graceful movements and vocal control of the robot, and imparts subtle, yet meaningful and controlled shifts in facial expression. She lets you know very early on that the new creation indeed has a soul.  She also, without tipping her cards as a human would, hints at an infant’s curiosity and an indescribable yearning for experience.  download

SO, if you’re looking for something a bit deeper than your typical summer fare, and wish to leave the theater both thrilled and contemplative, this movie is for you.

A+, go see it now.