Thursday, September 21, 2017

Last Action Hero

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion (or other commenters), that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching! Jokes on this movie, we've had TONS of action heroes since this film came out.

Last Action Hero – 4 out of 5

Arnold Schwarzenegger is a larger than life presence and not just in the fact that he’s a body builder.  Unless you’re new to this planet (in that case, I welcome you aliens and hope you haven’t come to destroy us), you know this man pretty much created the action genre as we know it as his films are legendary and his time as the badass hero in these films are infamous.  During his peak, after the smash success of Terminator 2 but before the fun of True Lies, a strange little action comedy hit the scene in 1993 called Last Action Hero.  The film was pretty much panned by audiences and critics alike.  Lord knows when I saw it I was confused by the feature’s tone and couldn’t quite wrap my head around what it was trying to accomplish.  However, times have changed and so have my tastes and I would later come around to really enjoy this film.  Recently, I decided to watch it again so I can review it and talk about how much I love this misunderstood gem and how I think it is far more brilliant than we ever gave it credit for.

This scene might have one of the greatest pithy/bad pun lines ever written...
"You wanna be a farmer?  Here's a couple of acres," and then kicks him
in the nuts.  It's so bad that it's freakin' brilliant!

Danny Madigan (Austin O’Brien) is a movie-obsessed kid living in a bad part of Manhattan.  Rather than focusing on school, he’s often skipping and hanging out with Nick (Robert Prosky), the manager of a run-down theater about to close.  One night, he tells Danny that he’s going to have a late night screening of the latest feature in an action franchise centered on Danny’s favorite hero cop; Jack Slater (Arnold Schwarzenegger).  Before the feature starts, Nick gives Danny a magic ticket that was handed down to him from Houdini but little does Danny realize is the magic ticket is real and he soon finds himself in the movie world with Jack Slater.  Now he must convince Jack that everything around him isn’t real and figure out how to get out before the film’s hitman villain; Benedict (Charles Dance), learns of the magic ticket and escapes to the real world.

He's got a Golden Ticket...and one that kicks the ass of Charlie's Golden Ticket.

Like I said earlier, when I first watched this film when it came out, I didn’t care for it but that was because I didn’t get it.  I didn’t understand satire and Meta gags weren’t really in my wheelhouse yet.  As I got older and started to really become a student of film, I found myself checking it out again and I started to get it.  When I hit college and my course of study was that of the rhetoric and production of media, I began watching this movie more and more and realized that Last Action Hero was ahead of its time.  This movie is one giant satire piece that pokes fun at the action genre, movies in general and how they compare to real life and it was obvious that the 90s wasn’t the decade for this film (sorry, 90s Kids, I know you think that decade was perfect).  I fully believe that if this movie was made today, it would be a critics’ hit since we are neck deep in satire at every second of the day.

Every time I see this part of the movie, I take a second and actually find myself
wondering how T2 would have been with Stallone.

Did I mention this movie also throws in two second
cameos just for quick throwaway gags?  That's
The way Last Action Hero is constantly goofing on the action genre and the warped reality that has become the world of movies is smart, witty, and hysterical.  It’s even more impactful because an action film icon is the lead role and a big reason this film works so well is because of Arnold.  In recent years, the man has made huge steps forward as an actor and has shown he has dramatic chops (see the zombie film Maggie) but for a long time he was the butt of a lot of jokes as just being the tough guy with no real depth.  On the surface, LAH doesn’t seem like we get to see Arnie really test his range but when you really look at it for what it is (satire) you see that he’s playing a heightened version of the man we were overly familiar with from the movies but doing it to a degree that works within the film’s reality.  It’s a subtle from a certain perspective and one that can easily be overlooked because we had also seem him in comedies at this point.  Arnie is simply taking the goofiness from those comedies and mixing them with the hard-edge from the action features and that brought forth a performance that perfectly encapsulates the satirical nature of the story and major points to him for having a few friendly jabs at himself in the process.

There were times that I took Arnie for granted.  If I ever do that in the future, I
just have to watch this movie again and remember why I think he's so cool.

At least in this property, Dance isn't killed while
sitting on the toilet.
Another performer that really seemed to get their hooks into the fantastic writing of this film is Charles Dance as the hitman with the glass eye; Benedict.  Dance already has this aura of sophistication that he brings to every role he plays and having him as the “straight man” in this fantasy-dipped action feature made the comedy and tone that much stronger.  Watching his response when he sees that cops don’t arrive immediately on the scene when a crime occurs and he sees how apathetic the real world can be is not only smart comedy that is providing commentary about our world but it’s also incredibly amusing to see because he makes the idea of a fictional character jumping out of the silver screen and into the real hilarious but also authentic feeling.  

This movie also has F. Murray Abraham.
F.  Murray.  Abraham!

For the most part, I pretty much love this film from start to finish but there are a few elements that I think partially hinder the movie but never really harms the overall quality to a noticeable degree.   The first element is that I don’t think Austin O’Brien was the best choice for Danny.  He’s not a bad actor and he definitely has his moments of greatness but there are just enough bad moments that make him sorta serviceable in the role.  Unlike the rest of the cast, he can’t quite nail down the level the others brought to the satirical elements and he often comes off a little slap-sticky with his comedic moments when a more subtle approach would have been better.   

O'Brien is actually fairly decent for a child actor in this feature but, compared to
the rest of the cast, he just couldn't stand toe-to-toe with them.

The final element is the running length.  This movie is over two hours long and that’s not really a bad thing but this one definitely could have been improved with a little tightening up.  There’s a few superfluous moments here and there that could have been left on the cutting room floor and this movie might have been a perfect satire and parody.  For example, as much as I love seeing Ian McKellen as Death during the final moments of the film, the reality is the story could have easily existed without this sequence and it would have cut down the somewhat bloated running length.

Honestly, though, I will take the long running length just for McKellen as Death.

He'll always be the first action hero in my heart!
Yes, that was cheesy.
Despite these small problems, I really think Last Action Hero is a brilliant film that lovingly pokes fun at everything in the action genre, the medium of film in general and it even has some fun with its lead star.  With our currently social climate and how comedy has so fully embraced satire, this film would have been better off being made now because the 90s wasn’t very much into irony or into the idea of having a mirror put up in front of pop culture and playfully teasing the image.  From my personal perspective, I absolutely believe that this movie was ahead of its time and is fairly misunderstood by some audiences…also the film has a rocking soundtrack featuring some of the best rock bands of the time period.

Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion (or other commenters), that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching!  We ask who watches the watchmen but who smells them?

Watchmen:  The Ultimate Cut – 5 out of 5

I’m a pretty big fan of the graphic novel Watchmen from writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons.  The book blew me away as it told a story of superheroes from a perspective never before seen and it altered the industry forever.  For a long time, the story stood as an entity all by itself but, recently, DC introduced the events into their main universe when they launched the Rebirth line.  As a fan, I was hesitant about this decision but ultimately loved how they’ve teased that this world is having some impact on the world where Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and the rest reside.  Since I’ve found I’ve enjoyed this crossover (I highly, HIGHLY, suggest you check out the Batman/Flash crossover called “The Button”), I decided to finally check out a series of books that nostalgia and my own stubborn fandom prevented me from originally checking out; Before Watchmen.  This series of book tells the tales of the characters from Watchmen before the events of the main story.  I won’t get into my mixed feelings about the content of those stories but reading them really got me craving to revisit the film adaptation from 2009 that was directed by Zack Snyder.  In this case, I decided to sit back and once again check out The Ultimate Cut and see if it is still just as awesome as the first time I watched it…and, as you can see from the score, it is!

Such an iconic geek culture image!

After an aging, retired hero by the name of Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is murdered, two of his former colleagues; the deranged Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) and Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), start to investigate a nefarious plot that seems to involve their friends and past teammates:  the smartest man in the world and business mogul; Ozymandias, the daughter of one of the original masked heroes; Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman), and the first man ever to gain superhuman abilities, the near god-like; Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup).  Their investigation soon uncovers that someone is planning a massive attack that will leave millions dead and forever alter the course of human history.

Also, some shit goes down on Mars.  A planet you need to get your ass to.

A friend of mine really like Wilson's butt and loves the
movie so showing it but you got to give it up to
his smile too.  Look at that thing!
Some people I interact with have this belief that I hate Zack Snyder because I hold the stance that he is a great visual director but a terrible director when it comes to telling a story and handling character.  This isn’t me hating the man but rather a real and honest critique of his work.  I think the man makes very visually appealing movies and he can film the living hell out of action.  However, the guy just can’t handle pacing, character and plot at all.  Despite this, I actually think he’s done some great work in his career.  Like, as you can see, I LOVE Watchmen, I think his remake of Dawn of the Dead is fun, 300 is amazeballs and I think Sucker Punch is a gorgeous film with entertaining action and a terrific soundtrack (although the story is something to be desired).  I don’t hate the guy but when you tell the fanboys that you went into Batman v Superman excited but walked out very disappointed, they hear it as, “I WANT ZACK SNYDER DEAD!!!”  Hell, I will admit to there are a lot of things in BvS that I liked too but the man does have numerous and very obvious shortcomings.  Basically, he is really good at making 2 hour long trailers that look fantastic but are mucked up by periodic slow storytelling.  Watchmen, however, I think is where he was at his most competent and I think it will be the best film he’s ever done.

Actual representation of a DC fanboy yelling at me and telling me that I'm not
"mature enough" for DC when I say I was disappointed with Batman v Superman.

Fan reaction to this adaptation when it came out in 2009 was mixed.  Some loved how close it was to the source material while others hated it because it was too close.  This proved, once again, that fanboys are impossible to please.  For me, I was a big fan of how faithful the writers and Snyder kept the feature.  Everything from the set design, to the colors felt dead on to the comic—Hell, Snyder even went as far as mirroring panels for shots.  There were some obvious changes as the costumes don’t specifically match and there was a major story element that was changed but it didn’t destroy how highly I think of this comic adaptation.  I’ll be 100% honest here; the major change to the story is actually an improvement from the book.


I think enough time has passed where I can talk about the ending of the movie and compare it to the film—Spoilers just can’t exist here, people.  The comic came out in the back half of the 80s and it’s been 8 years since the film came out.  In the comic, Ozymandias orchestrates an elaborate plot that will fool the world that an alien race has invaded the planet and a common enemy will unite the surviving people in peace and harmony.  In the film, this alien creature is completely eliminated from the story and, instead, Ozymandias plans on making Dr. Manhattan a scapegoat and replicates his powers and uses it as an attack on the world, making Manhattan the common enemy for everyone to unite under.  

Look, Ozymandias is opening up for a hug!

With no disrespect to Moore, I actually found the movie ending to be better than the comic.  Having the god-like Manhattan become the fall guy for Ozymandias and not some random alien creature that the businessman-turned-hero had writers, creators and scientists create made much more dramatic sense to the characters and story and it added more weight to the actions Oz takes against Manhattan.  Plus, eliminating the creation of the octopus creature definitely cut at least an hour out of the possible running length.  Sometimes changes to the source material work out really well and I honestly found this change—that exists in a property that realistically didn’t change much—to be a very effective one.

I know the site would send me a "Hey, there's nudity on your blog, take that shit
down" if I posted a screencap of Dr. Manhattan's dangling bits so, instead,
here's his big blue butt.

Frewer is so damn talented.  I love this man!
Another element that I really enjoyed about Watchmen is the fact that this cast feels like they were all perfect for their roles.  So many performers—like Jeffrey Dean Morgan Carla Gugino as the first Silk Spectre, and Jackie Earle Haley—felt tailor-made for their roles and seemed like they were lifted directly off the pages.  There’s also the surprise casting (meaning players that wouldn’t be the first to come to mind for me with their roles) that worked so effectively.  For example, Matt Frewer (who can do no wrong with his acting, in my book) is great in his small role as Moloch, Stephen McHattie brings his gravitas as Hollis Mason; the first Nite Owl, and Matthew Goode really embodies the type of man that Ozymandias is presented as in the book.  However, I think my favorite bit of casting is Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan.  Manhattan is a being of unbelievable power and to have him played by the soft spoken Crudup is just such a great melding of tones that it made the character even more commanding.  Not to mention that Crudup vocally captures Manhattan’s exhaustion with the human race and how he’s become bored by the “normal life” they lead.

Although having him makes me imagine Dr. Manhattan as the voice of

If there is any critiques I have with Watchmen, it is that it’s loaded with Snyder-isms.  Sometimes his tropes are fine to deal with and work very well for this property but sometimes they are a bit overused.  For example, his love of slow-motion during fight scenes is excellent most of the time throughout this film but there is a moment or two where it feels like he did it too much.  Another element that I’m not the biggest fan of is Malin Akerman as Laurie Jupiter.  Mind you, I don’t think she’s terrible in her role but if someone held a gun to my head and said I had to pick the weakest link on the acting chain, I would first wonder why they would resort to such measures and why they so desperately want me to single out an actor but Akerman is essentially the weakest of the cast and is basically just serviceable as Silk Spectre.

With that being said, Akerman isn't that bad.  I have to emphasize that.
Be damned, Strange Man with the Gun to my Head.

If you don't want to deal with Butler as a cartoon
pirate who loses his mind, you can still just watch
the theatrical cut.  Both are great, in my opinion.
Watchmen is, without a doubt, my favorite film Zack Snyder has done and definitely one of my all-time favorite comic book adaptations that has ever been made.  What’s even better is that after not having seen it for at least 6 years, the film still holds up.  Sometimes movies are just a product of their time and don’t age well after they are initially released (or they are ahead of their time and get better with age) but Watchmen, even this cut which edits in the Tales of the Black Freighter cartoon featuring the voice of Gerald Butler, holds up and is still a fantastic feature film with themes and ideas that are just as relevant today as they were when it first was released…both in comic and movie form.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion (or other commenters), that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching!  I was going to write "Be my guest to read this review" but I guarantee that thousands of other critics have started their reviews that way.

Beauty and the Beast (2017) – 4 out of 5

So, Disney is remaking all of their animated features into live-action films.  To some, this is a sign that they have lost all creativity and are just dipping their hands back into the well that made their name but to others (like me), this is an opportunity to see those classic animated features come to life in a new way…like in a living/life kinda way—you know, because it’s live-action (I really over explained that one).  The last live-action remake I watched (The Jungle Book) proved to be absolutely amazing and I was completely enthralled and blown away with the final product.  So, does this tale as old as time that features the songs that are old as rhyme compare?  Is Beauty and the Beast just as awesome with flesh and blood humans and a computer generated beast as it was when it was animated?  Yes, yes it is!

Trust me, it's great despite the fact that Beast has a "meh, it's okay" face here.

"Gaze upon me and weep for I am all-powerful!"
In a remote village in France, a young bookworm woman named Belle (Emma Watson) finds her common life to be a bit boring and is looking for more than just the local jacked up buffoon; Gaston (Luke Evans), trying to get her hand in marriage.  One night, her father Maurice (Kevin Kline) stumbles upon a great castle outside the village in the forest and is taken prisoner by a hideous beast inside.  Belle finds him and learns the beast (Dan Stevens) was once a selfish, arrogant prince who was cursed by an enchantress.  Because he had no love in his heart, he would remain a beast until he could love another and be loved in return.  However, like all great curses, there’s a time limited and a magical rose lies in the castle and when the final pedal falls and he hasn’t opened his heart to someone, he shall remain a beast forever and all his servants in the castle will become trapped as household items (did I mention that part?  Yeah, all his servants are talking house goods).  Can the beast overcome his anger and isolation to find love?  Can Belle overcome her fear of the beast?  Will the village and Gaston find out about the castle in the woods that holds the monster?

The villagers hated her because she could read and liked to learn.
Nowadays Belle would just have been mansplained until she quit social
media by a bunch of neckbeards saying "Well actually..."

First things first (because I can’t very well do the second thing first, that’s crazy), there was a bit of a shock to the system seeing Beauty and the Beast go live-action.  Unlike The Jungle Book, B and the B has had a strong foothold in my life and, alongside The Lion King, Aladdin, and The Little Mermaid, was watched a lot in my younger days and, even now as a man in his mid-30s, I find myself singing the songs it contained.  So, seeing the familiar faces slightly differently, hearing the same songs done in a way that they’re changed just enough and seeing the visuals done in a way that honors what came before but in a live, grandiose way was a bit jarring and I was in real danger of having nostalgia take over and take me out of this movie (nostalgia can be so toxic).  While I will admit that it is really weird not having Angela Lansbury singing that signature theme but any potential toxicity from nostalgia was quickly washed away in that wonderful Disney magic.

How cold of a heart could a person have to not love the waltz scene?

I'm going to hazard a guess that Gaston is a hero to
Men's Rights Activists everywhere.
There are not a lot of surprises with this new version, aside from a few new songs, but knowing Belle and Beast’s story doesn’t diminish the returns with this one.  This new cast is fantastic and are all giving their own unique spin on these characters but not changing them to the point they are unrecognizable.  I thought Emma Watson was fantastic as Belle and Dan Stevens is definitely a lot of fun as Beast.  I will admit I was hesitant to Luke Evans as Gaston because, on a physical level, he’s so much more different than the animated version (that toxic nostalgia was creeping up) but he started to work for me and I really started to notice how he definitely captured the character from the previous adaptation.  Finally, the supporting cast members like Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor as Lumière, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, and Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts were all very entertaining and helped bring this majestic tale to life and made the story as vibrant and fun as what came before.

While still pretty cool, there's no denying the nightmare fuel that is live-action
ère and Cogsworth.

I didn’t really find any drawbacks to the film beyond the replay value.  Now that I’m in my 30s, this film probably won’t be seen as often as I watched the animated one when I was 10 but that doesn’t erase the beautiful visuals, great performances, and how it captured the magic of the 1991 classic.  I will also add that Josh Gad kinda was a little irritating at points because he has a habit of being too hammy with his performances and sorta feels like he’s trying too hard but the level of annoying he brought was very minuscule and it was easy to overlook.  Plus, Disney decided to make his character of Lefou gay and that’s pretty damn groundbreaking…even though it made people lose their minds because it meant they had to once again face the reality that the sexual spectrum exists beyond heterosexuality.

I wish my dishes did a show for me...instead they recite poetry.  It's disappointing.

Overall, Beauty and the Beast is another for the win column in Disney’s pursuit of making live-action adaptations of their animated features.  It’s just another example how retelling a story in a different format may not entirely change the emotional response or experience but provide a new dimension to the familiar.