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Out in Theaters: ‘KONG: SKULL ISLAND’

Like Godzilla before him, King Kong has since the 1930s become a culturally permeably mainstay. A piece of cinematic iconography, King Kong is the USA’s equivalent to Japan’s giant fire-breathing lizard and both have served to define our country’s spotted history in cinematic terms. But their reach extends beyond the borders of past rivals. Each have become so ingrained in the global zeitgeist that if you plucked a child from just about anywhere on earth, they would likely be able to put a name to a photo or toy of the recognizable giants. Kong, the ape who famously fell, has found his story told a number of times but none have approached the movie monster with quite the same bombastic chutzpah and total IMAX-friendly insanity as Jordan Vogt-Roberts has with Kong: Skull IslandRead More

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Out in Theaters: ‘MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN’

There’s this odd duality that percolates throughout Tim Burton’s latest filmic venture Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. At almost any given time, it is either extremely lively or extremely dull. Look no further than its charisma-hole of a lead, Asa Butterfield (Hugo) for the dullness. He slums through scenes; a wet blanket personified. Flat as a rock, he delivers each goopy line with monotonous apathy, casting a sleeping spell on the enchantment Burton tries (and is sometimes able) to conjure. Moving as if yanked by an invisible chain, he is a blight on an otherwise solidly entertaining feature courtesy of a director who himself has recently unchained himself from his greatest liability (*cough, Johnny Depp, cough*.) Read More

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Out in Theaters: ‘THE LEGEND OF TARZAN’

An unmitigated, excitement-bereft disaster, The Legend of Tarzan marries the very worst tenets of spectacle-based blockbuster entertainment to a wholly abominable ringer of a script in this haphazard attempt to jump-start a franchise whose existence should never have made it past the very first boardroom meeting. Unconvincing characterization and stupendously dull scene work are overwhelmed by eye-pestering CGI with no conviction to call its own that assaults the viewer, who is turn is already forced to reckon with a dramatically barren, entirely overblown, infuriatingly retread plot. The result is a vine-swinging affront to adventure cinema that fails to even once justify why it was made and who it was made for. Read More

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Blu-Ray Review: ‘THE HATEFUL EIGHT’

Synopsis:  “While racing toward the town of Red Rock in post-Civil War Wyoming, bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his fugitive prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh) encounter another bounty hunter (Samuel L. Jackson) and a man who claims to be a sheriff. Hoping to find shelter from a blizzard, the group travels to a stagecoach stopover located on a mountain pass. Greeted there by four strangers, the eight travelers soon learn that they may not make it to their destination after all.” Read More

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Out in Theaters: KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE

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Absurdist superspy farce that tips its top-hat to the JB’s (James Bond, Jason Bourne, Jack Bauer) while rampantly assaulting its way into the 21st century, Kingsman: The Secret Service is filmic reassurance that ridiculous fun can still be had in the theater. Over the past decade, the spy spoof (Austin Powers, Spies Like Us) has mostly gone the way of the Crocodile Dundee (unless we’re counting the underwhelming, geri-action Red films. Note: we shouldn’t be). Leave it to genre revivalist Matthew Vaughn to inject that tired and trying genus with the same eye-widening, pulse-quickening hit of adrenaline that he’d previously brought to the superhero and crime genre with Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class and Layer Cake. Brimming with tactful homage and just enough youthful zest to make its balls-to-the-walls-ness truly one-of-a-kind, Kingsman is a shining, shimmering, splendid example of why we go to the movies.

In Vaughn’s murderous opus, the titular Kingsmen are a copacetic society of mustache-twirling gentleman/gun-totting acrobats renown for their secrecy, military effectiveness and hand-tailored suits. When world leaders want the job done right, they hire the Kingsman and if everything goes according to plan, you don’t hear peep about their success in the papers. One might assume from the cut of their jib that the Kingsmen are a group of pacifist nancies but Vaughn wastes little time conveying just how deadly his crew of well-dressed gentlemen is.

The stage is set with a fortress under siege, explosions tumbling block letter title cards to Dire Straight’s pounding “Money for Nothing″. Through a window, a masked agent informs an Arab man bolt-strapped to a chair that he will count down from ten and if he doesn’t have the information he needs in that time frame, ten will be the last thing he ever hears. There’s no deliberation, no hesitation, just counting. At five, he caps both the captive’s knees. There’s no breathy drawls, no pregnant pauses. This ain’t that kind of movie, bruv. Harry Hart, code name Galahad, counts down like a metronome.

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Caught unawares, Galahad is too late to stop the prisoner from pulling the pin on a stashed grenade, but finds himself and his fellow Kingsmen saved when a fellow super-agent in training throws himself on the explosive. Seventeen years later, Galahad feels indebted to his savior and, with a recently opened spot on the team, seeks out the promising-but-problematic son of the man who saved his life so many years ago, Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin (Taron Egerton). Eggsy is a kind-hearted ruffian, loyal to a fault and entangled with the wrong crew because of his mother’s not-so-cunning choice of gentlemen friends.

What transpires next involves a global climate change world domination plot, X-Men: First Class-style training montages, an ultra-violent blitzkrieg in a church that will assuredly go down as one of the year’s most memorable and visually-arresting sequences, Samuel L. Jackson playing a despotic billionaire with a lisp and a soft stomach for blood using the subterfuge of free data plans to “clean the slate” and loads of not-so-subtle James Bond references. If the above does not at least pique your interest, Kingsman is probably not the film for you.

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The film again pairs Vaughn with the authors of the comic book source material on which Kingsman is based; Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons (Kick-Ass). So again if you weren’t won over by the wacky, violent antics of Kick-Ass, this is likely not going to amuse you. And though shy a Hit-Girl, Kingsman has plenty of fun, memorable characters to play with, most notably Colin Firth as Galahad. Liam Neeson reinvented himself as an action hero in his twilight years so why not the King with the lisp? asks Vaughn. Firth makes the most of his pithy dialogue and provides an adroit aging action hero – a lovingly rendered throwback to the age of the smooth-talking British spy. Engaged in a carousel of gun shots and knifings, Firth shines in the action scenes too, even if it’s a fair gamble to say that most of his stunts are mostly the work of computer animations.

There are a few notable sequences that feature spotty CGI work (Eggsy’s mid-air, knife-tipped shoe stab makes him look like a plastic action figure) but in the center of Kingsman go-for-broke, give-em-all-ya-got approach to breathless bombast, it couldn’t matter less. The eyebrow-raising smarm and au courant irreverence of Vaughn’s rhapsodical vision just make for one hell of a show. Plus, there’s nothing quite like capping off your film with the prospect of slamming the back door of a princess. In the end, isn’t that the point of this whole spy venture anyways?

A-

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Out in Theaters: CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”
Directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Starring Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Toby Jones
Adventure, Action, Sci-Fi
136 Mins
PG-13

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Growing up in the 1940s gives Steve Rogers an excuse to not understand the mechanics of speed dial. But when neo-Nazi’s threaten the freedom of the entire world, you have to wonder why he’s not more focused on contacting his nuclear suit-wearing chum, Tony Stark, or the bad Shakespeare in the park actor/Norse God, Thor. Unless he’s gone on some spirit journey to be explained away in extra Blu-Ray bonus material, Tony’s probably just shambling around Stark Towers in his drawers. His billionaire skyline must be literally cast in shadow by the helicarriers of doom that Captain America’s trying to take down with the only weapons at his disposal: record-breaking sprinting skills and a shield.  The fate of the entire world is at stake and here’s good hearted Steve clearly taking a hell of an ass-whopping and he still doesn’t see fit to call up his Avengers pals? Or at least try? I’m sorry but you lost me there.

The one thing that Kevin Fiege and his Marvel Movie Universe croonies tend to get right is they suit the adventure to the adventurer. The threats Iron Man faced in his third outing were largely personal. A wronged colleague becomes a viable villain, he’s forced to deal with PDST from a near death experience and his personal arsenal of humanoid WMDs transforms him from a private citizen into national defense mascot numero uno. There were larger implications at play had he not gotten his guy but Stark at least felt well equipped to handle the charge. Thor’s arc in The Dark World involves intergalactic worm holes, gigantic frost monsters and 8-foot tall Dark Elves. But Thor wields a hammer forged in a dying star that gives him the ability to fly around like a blonde, bearded Superman. Being, you know, a god, Thor was the Avenger best equipped to handle such a mark. Sure, having other Supers alongside wouldn’t have hurt but this was a mission that suited Thor’s pedigree. Equipped only with a hunky body, a pure heart and strips of pure sinew for legs (made for putting fellow long distance runners to shame), Captain America (Chris Evans) just seems out of his depths.

Look at him in The Winter Soldier. His big mission involves a retread task (one we already saw a version of in The Avengers) that he’s simply unfit to handle because, well, his superpowers aren’t really that super. His third act heroics necessitate a flying wingman because he’s simply not equipped to handle the mission solo. Joining him is snarky sidekick Anthony Mackie as Falcon, an ex-Marine with a winged exoskeleton, because calling up Tony Stark or Thor was just… out of the question?

Part and parcel of enjoying these Marvel movies is digesting them with a spoonful of salt, especially when we’re looking at them from a logical standpoint and not a logistical one. Omissions are necessary from a budgetary standpoint and we have to be willing to overlook that… to some degree. But rather than make these shortcomings apparent, smart screenwriting would try to mask the need for the whole gang. This is where Captain America: The Winter Soldier fails hardest; an especially sad reality when contrasted to the contained spy thriller that it’s established as.

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Since the events of The Avengers, Cap and his shield shield S.H.I.E.L.D. Before this, Iron Man 2 was the first MMU film to tackle the build towards The Avengers head on and got far too bogged down in the goings on at that shadowy organization to stand as a film itself. The Winter Soldier has becomes it’s Phase 2 predecessor. Like Iron Man 2, it suffers from a fatal diagnosis of teaser syndrome. It’s all about what’s to come, not what’s happening in the now. By the end of the film, the chapter isn’t closed, it’s just beginning. Even it’s titular character, that mysterious Winter Soldier (played by a hollowed out Sebastian Stan), is relegated to a minor role with only an inkling of character.

If only Marvel would realize that not ever venture needed a third-act calamity, that millions must not be dumped on visual effects and that telling a self-contained story is a virtue in itself, then this could have been a rousing triumph. As it is, Cap 2 works so much better when its sights are centered on the smaller scale, when Steve and Scar Jo‘s Black Widow are traipsing around hunting for clues, trying to put a name to faceless villainy.

Give me more super-noir, less hapless explosions. Give me the humor and tragedy of Cap being a man lost in time. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely show savvy sneaking in some current political hot buttons as subtext but fail to tell the more personal story of a lost man adapting to a whole damn new century. But this is bane of the Russo Bros’ film; it takes one step forward, two steps back. Every cheer is followed up with a few jeers. With character resolution left dealt with in post-credit stingers and a third act that may as well have been helidropped in from some other movie, the modest enjoyment one gets from Captain America: The Winter Soldier just doesn’t justify the $170 million dollars spent. It’s too busy shoulder tapping you to go see The Avengers 2.

C

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Out in Theaters: ROBOCOP

“Robocop”
Directed by José Padilha
Starring Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael K. Williams, Samuel L. Jackson, Jay Baruchel, Zach Grenier
Action, Crime, Sci-Fi
108 Mins
PG-13

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RoboCop
tries to make communion between global politicking black satire and “ohhhh shiny” skirmishes but winds up not quite able to answer the many questions it raises. Regardless, the fact that this supposed actioner wants to stick its nose into moral territory and sniff around makes for a far more interesting experience than any paint-by-numbers shoot-em-up that I was expecting.

 In the oeuvre of action movies, the RoboCop of yore was known for its balls-to-the-walls, blood ‘n’ guts characteristics so you’ll be surprised to hear that this 2014 remake is so light on action sequences that it makes The Lion King look violent (but let’s be honest, The Lion King is pretty violent). There are maybe two instances of what one would consider violence, both blaring shootouts sans a spot of blood, and an exposition-driven explosion of note. Other than that, most of the distressing PG-13 rated stuff takes place in a Clorox-blasted laboratory.

Beckon forth the stuff of Ethics 101. Global tech-giant OmniCorp is hellbent on getting their militant robots into the domestic market but have been blocked on all sides by liberal Senator Hubert Dreyfuss (Zach Grenier) and his long-standing bill that outlaws the use of mechs in the land of the stars and stripes. They would feel nothing if they shot a child, Dreyfuss argues. How can we give unadulterated command to something that wouldn’t even feel an ounce of remorse if they blasted a baby in the face? It’s a half decent point you’re onto there Dreyfuss but one that is shied further and further away from as the revenge narrative is ratcheted up.

With the help of marketing fisher Tom Pope (a bearded but still baby-faced Jay Baruchel), Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) employs Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) to help push Dreyfuss’s bill into fisticuffs with the introduction of a half-man, half-machine hybrid. Business barons as they are, they’ve found the wishy-washy nooks of the law and let exploitation take birth. But after breezing through a list of candidates, Norton doesn’t believe they have anyone fulfilling the mental balance needed for the job. I wonder who it could be? Let fly, the red herring in all its foreshadowing glory.

Enter incorruptible cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) who has just caught the scent of a near untraceable top-tier gunrunner, Anton Vallon (Patrick Garrow). Following up on a lead, Murphy and partner Jack Lewis (Michael K. Williams) land themselves in the cacophonous din of a gunfight (and either it was the IMAX screening I attended or the gunfire sound editing has been cranked up to 11 but the blasts were near deafening). With Lewis left hospitalized with a handful of slugs lodged in him, good cop Murphy is all revved up for revenge. But, unbeknownst to him, he’s earned a hefty target on his backs from the watchful eye of the criminal underworld and before he can say “boo”, he’s blown into a limbless coma, becoming a prime candidate for what becomes the RoboCop experiment.
 
For all the character names scattered through the movie (and this review), screenwriter Joshua Zetumer deserves a hand for actually carving out a foothold for nearly all of them. Abbie Cornish as Murphy/Robocop’s wife is a little uncut but Keaton, Oldman, Williams and the rest of the supporting cast really get some actual characters to dig into. Even the villains of the piece are much more modern baddies, blinded by financial gain but not bogged down with diabolical cackles or announced plans of world domination. They hardly acknowledgement their own villainy, they’re just in it to win it. Unfortunately for them, so is RoboCop.

Each character is firmly engrained in the story and hard to leave out when talking about the piece. It’s a surprisingly ensemble piece for an action film and one that relies just as much on the characterization of the Dr. Frankenstein who created him as it does on the eponymous RoboCop. In such, everyone has their place. Making a world that’s so fleshed out and yet intimate is one of Zetumer’s many skills. Loose ends, on the other hand, are not.

In an age of drone warfare, secretive criminal tribunals and the National Defense Authorization Act (which affords Obama authority to kill a US citizen without due process), Robocop does seem ripe for the reboot. It’s a shame then that we don’t really see him (and by extension filmmaker José Padilha) grapple with the difficulties of dealing with morally gray areas. Rather, we’re given an ethical guide we’re meant to mock in Samuel L. Jackson‘s Pat Novak and a dubious puff of disapprobation in Padilha’s incisive glare.
 
As far as Robocop the machine-man, more than anything, his existence becomes a pitiable state of affairs; one stripped of choice, mellowed of free will and fine-tuned to acts of force appropriation. Seeing what’s left of the actual Alex Murphy is macabre and visceral (and may turn your popcorn bucket into a barf bag) but watching him drained of his remaining humanity is arguably more lurid.

Gone are the lampooning moments of levity that flowed from the originals, replaced with the likes of Batman-mimicking “Does it come in black?” For those seeking action-packed escapism, look elsewhere as RoboCop is more Frankenstein than Die Hard. Soaked and dripping with questions of determinism, spirituality, executive power, agency and identity that each find a pitfall or reaches the end of a rope, Robocop is a mash of hi-fi philosophy conveniently light on resolution.

C

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AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2 Trailer Features 3 Villians Because That Worked So Well Before

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In a move of unprecedented studio genius, The Amazing Spiderman 2 has decided to go big or go home, introducing a stable of villains for this second installment of a franchise that people could not be more excited about. While the film originally seemed like it would just be a Spidey vs. Electro showdown, the villians have been adding up piece-by-piece to make up the much-loved triple villain assault. As you’ll probably remember, fans and critics alike swooned over Spiderman 3, easily the favorite of Sam Raimi‘s trilogy, with many pointing to the inclusion of three separate villians, each with their own origin storyline, as the highlight of the film. Celebrated critic Roger Ebert said, “Spiderman 3 soars but I couldn’t help but wish that there were 4 villians.”

Joined by Rhino – Paul Giamatti in a big Rhino-shaped robot suit – and Green Goblin – Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) encouraged to be a dick to ol’ friend Peter Park by a bed-ridden Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper) – Electro aims to wipe out Spiderman because he’s a man dressed like a spider and that kind of nonsense just won’t fly. Because, honestly, what’s worse in life than a wackjob in a costume going around stopping petty crime? That’s right – nothing.

Even more exciting is the fact that you can clearly see hints for EVEN MORE VILLAINS TO COME in this trailer. The most obvious of which is Doc Octopus’s evil eight-armed-suit that is chilling in a tank. It likes like even though dear Robert won’t have lived to see the day when his dream came true, the rest of us living will finally be granted our ultimate wish of seeing four (no five, oh god let it be six) supervillains in one Spiderman movie.

Take a look at this trailer which looks nothing like a video game and makes complete sense. 

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First Trailer for CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLIDER

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The first trailer for Captain America: The Winter Solider has arrived and, unsurprisingly, it’s looking pretty solid. Following Chris Evan‘s Steve Rogers as he acclimates to living in the 21st century and adjusts to his new position working for S.H.I.E.L.D., the real question is whether this can stand out among the pack if it will just be another solid effort from Marvel. At this point, the studio has a formula for success that’s been working wonders for them. However successful that initial campaign is though, they’ll have to switch gears sooner rather than later if they want to keep proceedings interesting. 

The official synopsis reads:

After the cataclysmic events in New York with The Avengers, Marvel’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” finds Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, living quietly in Washington, D.C. and trying to adjust to the modern world. But when a S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague comes under attack, Steve becomes embroiled in a web of intrigue that threatens to put the world at risk. Joining forces with the Black Widow, Captain America struggles to expose the ever-widening conspiracy while fighting off professional assassins sent to silence him at every turn. When the full scope of the villainous plot is revealed, Captain America and the Black Widow enlist the help of a new ally, the Falcon. However, they soon find themselves up against an unexpected and formidable enemy—the Winter Soldier.

Captain America: The Winter Solider is directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and stars Chris Evans, Frank Grillo, Sebastian Stan, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford, Cobie Smoulders, Emily VanCamp, Dominic Cooper, and Toby Jones. It hits theaters on April 4, 2014.

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