Archive for Benedict Cumberbatch

Zoolander no. 2

Posted in Comedy, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on February 16, 2017 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

Ten years after their ascent to fashion stardom, male models Derek and Hansel are attempting to resurrect their fading careers, but this time they face some serious opposition from the competition.

What people are saying:

Zoolander No. 2 has more celebrity cameos than laughs — and its meager handful of memorable gags outnumbers the few worthwhile ideas discernible in its scattershot rehash of a script” 2 1/2 out of 5 stars

“Totally ludicrous sequel to Zoolander gets funnier as it goes along and certainly can’t be dismissed as a pointless re-iteration of the first one, as it may seem on the surface.” 2 1/2 out of 5 stars

“15 years wasted for the sequel from the original that is cliché and unfunny, tho it’s entertaining but not like the original. The characters were perfect in the original, but this (including the new cast) sequel made the characters really annoying. I suggest you to watch the original “Zoolander” over this piece of crap.” 1/2 star out of 5 stars

“For a fun, brainless show with a lot of WTF moments that are artistically done, very good and entertaining. Will Farrel was funnier in weatherman, and Ben stiller did a great job.” 4 stars

“Painful, painful, painful is the only way I can describe the new “Zoolander 2”. All of the satire, cleverness and humor in “Zoolander” has been destroyed in “Zoolander 2”. Lots more violence, sophomoric humor, and a plot that is just plain bad. Wilson and Stiller try to make it watchable but the script, pacing and so many other things just won’t make it shine. The plot is something about Zoolander and Hansel being has-beens who have gone into hiding for various personal reasons. There’s some type of nefarious plot involving the world’s fashion leaders and pop stars that a ten-year-old could have figured out but it takes practically the whole cast to sort it out. The ending is so bizarre, and not bizarre in a good way, and stupid it makes me wish I had those two hours back. On the opening night at our movie theater, there were ten people in a theater that holds three hundred or so. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” had to have two showings on opening night because of the crowds. Watch “Zoolander” again and forget this seque” 1 star

Doctor Strange (2016)

Posted in Action/Adventure, Movie Reviews, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Superhero Films with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 14, 2016 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In Kathmandu, Nepal, the sorcerer Kaecilius and his zealots enter the secret compound Kamar-Taj and murder its librarian, keeper of ancient and mystical texts. They steal a ritual from a book belonging to the Ancient One, a sorcerer who has lived for an unknown time and taught all at Kamar-Taj, including Kaecilius, in the ways of the mystic arts. The Ancient One pursues the traitors, but Kaecilius escapes with the pages and some of his followers.

Stephen Strange, an acclaimed neurosurgeon, loses the use of his hands in a car accident. Fellow surgeon and former lover Christine Palmer tries to help him move on, but Strange, believing he can regain use of his hands, instead uses all his resources pursuing experimental surgeries in vain. After learning of Jonathon Pangborn, a paraplegic who mysteriously was able to walk again, Strange seeks him out, and is directed to Kamar-Taj. There, Strange is taken in by another sorcerer under the Ancient One, Mordo. The Ancient One shows Strange her power, revealing the astral plane and other dimensions such as the Mirror Dimension. Strange begs her to teach him, and she eventually agrees despite his arrogance, which reminds her of Kaecilius.

Strange begins his tutelage under the Ancient One and Mordo, and learns from the ancient books in the library, now presided over by the master Wong. Strange learns that Earth is protected from other dimensions by a spell formed from three buildings called Sanctums, found in New York City, London, and Hong Kong. The task of the sorcerers is to protect the Sanctums, though Pangborn chose to forgo this responsibility in favor of channeling mystical energy into walking again. Strange advances quickly over several months, even secretly reading from the text Kaecilius stole from and learning to bend time with the mystical Eye of Agamotto. Mordo and Wong warn Strange against breaking the laws of nature, comparing his arrogant yearning for power to that of Kaecilius, who believes, after the deaths of his loved ones, that everyone should have eternal life.

Kaecilius and his followers use the stolen pages to begin summoning the powerful Dormammu of the Dark Dimension, where time does not exist and all can live forever. This destroys the London Sanctum, and sends Strange from Kamar-Taj to the New York Sanctum. The zealots then attack there, where Strange holds them off with the mystical Cloak of Levitation until Mordo and the Ancient One arrive. Strange and Mordo become disillusioned with the Ancient One after Kaecilius reveals that her long life has come from her own use of Dormammu’s power. Kaecilius mortally wounds the Ancient One, and escapes to Hong Kong. The Ancient One tells Strange that he, too, will have to break the rules, to balance Mordo’s steadfast nature. She then dies, despite the best efforts of Strange and a bewildered Palmer. Strange and Mordo arrive in Hong Kong to find Wong dead and the Sanctum destroyed, with the Dark Dimension already engulfing Earth. Strange uses the Eye to turn back time and save Wong, before creating an infinite time loop inside the Dark Dimension that traps himself and Dormammu in the same moment forever. Strange agrees to break the loop if Dormammu leaves Earth, and the latter takes Kaecilius and the zealots with him.

Disgusted by Strange and the Ancient One’s disregard for the consequences of defying nature, Mordo departs. Strange returns the Eye, which Wong calls an Infinity Stone, to Kamar-Taj, and then takes up residence in the New York Sanctum to continue his studies. In a mid-credits scene, Strange agrees to help Thor, who has brought his brother Loki to Earth to search for their father Odin. In a post-credits scene, Mordo visits Pangborn and steals the energy he uses to walk, stating that Earth has “too many sorcerers”.

REVIEW:

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has reached the point now to where they can explore some of the lesser known, but still major characters. This is why we are getting films such as Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and this one, Doctor Strange. It is a risky move with this guy, especially with the use of mysticism, but if anyone cane make it work, it is Marvel. Let’s see how they did, shall we?

What is this about?

Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” follows the story of the talented neurosurgeon Doctor Stephen Strange who, after a tragic car accident, must put ego aside and learn the secrets of a hidden world of mysticism and alternate dimensions. Based in New York City’s Greenwich Village, Doctor Strange must act as an intermediary between the real world and what lies beyond, utilising a vast array of metaphysical abilities and artifacts to protect the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

What did I like?

Visuals. You’ve seen the trailers and advertisements for this film, I’m sure, so I don’t really need to tell you that this film is something that can best be described as Inception on acid. Doctor Strange, much like Thor was, is not an easy character to bring to life, especially when you  start trying to portray his powers. Throw in others who have powers that may or may nor be on another level from his and your mind is blown! This is just something that has to be seen!

Strange things. When casting Dr. Strange, the first person I thought of was Robert Downey, Jr., but the problem with that choice is he’s already playing Iron Man (strangely enough there are man similarities between Tony Stark and Stephen Strange, starting with their choice of facial hair). Upon hearing Benedict Cumberbatch was cast, I was skeptical as to how he would pull it off. Not because he’s a bad actor, but because this seemed to be a bit beneath him. As it turns out, this is as perfect a role for him as Sherlock. Cumberbatch brings the cockiness needed, while also being he defeated student who is learning everything he can. I look forward to seeing much more from him in this role.

So, that’s the connection! For a Marvel film, there is about as much mention of the other Marvel properties as there are in the Netflix shows, which I actually appreciated. There is one mention of the Avengers that I remember and that was it. We don’t need to be beaten over the head with constant reminders. A few Easter eggs are nice here and there, but everything has its limit. By holding off on the MCU stuff, the scene at the beginning of the credits is much more effective as it ties him into the universe and sets up one of the next Marvel films (I won’t spoil which one).

What didn’t I like?

Is this love? It seems as if one can’t enjoy a superhero movie without the token love story, whether it fits or not. In this case, it does not. In the film’s defense, this isn’t truly a love story, as much as it is an attempt to put two people who have history and similar interests together just because. Rachel McAdams is a gorgeous woman, but I don’t think the audience would be missing much had her scenes been reduced.

Villain. If there is one weakness in these Marvel films, it seems to be the villains. Other than Loki, none of them have been memorable, let alone a threat. I know what you’re going to say….Zemo was a threat in Captain America: Civil War and Thanos is lurking out there. With Zemo, sure he was effective, but who remembers anything about the guy? Thanos’ time is coming soon…VERY soon. You can add Dormmamu and his minion Kaecilius to the list of ineffective villains. We are never really made clear of their intentions, other than Dormmamu wants to escape the Dark Dimensiom and send the Earth back there, but why?!? I need some motivation for why you are trying to destroy existence!

Whitewashing. Much has been said about the casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One. For me, not being Asian, it isn’t a big deal, but I can imagine how difficult it is to accept the change. I’m not going to go into some long diatribe about this, but I do feel as if the audience deserved at least a snippet of the Ancient One as an old Asian guy. The film makes a point about how his form is fluid, so who’s to say he needs to look like a creepy, bald white woman?

Final verdict on Doctor Strange? A solid introduction to a lesser-known character. The film really shines when it comes to the visuals. Cumberbatch, sporting an American accent that he doesn’t quite seem comfortable with, seems to be having fun with the character which really sells it to the audience. There are a few minor issues here and there, but they aren’t anything that cannot be overcome. Do I recommend this? Yes, very highly! Go check it out!

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Penguins of Madagascar

Posted in Animation, Family, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 17, 2015 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In Antarctica, three young penguins – Skipper, Kowalski, and Rico – defy the laws of nature to save an egg the other penguins believe to be doomed. After saving it from a pack of leopard seals and accidentally setting themselves adrift on an iceberg, the egg hatches into Private.

Ten years later (after the events of the previous film), the penguins decide to leave the circus to celebrate Private’s birthday by breaking into Fort Knox in order to treat him to a discontinued snack called “Cheezy Dibbles” in the vending machine of their break room. Despite this, Private begins to feel out of place with the team, as he is described as being the “secretary/mascot”. Suddenly, they are abducted by the machine and sent to Venice, Italy by Dr. Octavius Brine, a renowned geneticist who removes his human disguise and reveals he is actually an octopus named Dave, who has grown resentful of penguins after their nature of cuteness had shunned him out of every major zoo in the world.

Rico swallows Dave’s collection of snowglobes along with a canister of a green substance called the Medusa Serum before the four escape and are chased through the canals and streets of Venice by Dave’s henchmen. When cornered, they are rescued by a group of animals from a spy agency called “North Wind” consisting of their leader, a grey wolf whose name is classified, (Skipper mistakenly refers to him as “Classified” throughout the entire film) a harp seal demolitionist named Short Fuse, a polar bear named Corporal, and an intelligent snowy owl named Eva with whom Kowalski is instantly smitten. Their mission is to help animals who can’t help themselves.

At their hideout, their communication systems are hacked by Dave, who reveals that he has an enormous supply of the Medusa Serum and that he intends to capture the penguins out of every zoo he was kicked out of. Not wanting the penguins’ help, Classified sends the group to their most remote base (which happens to be on Madagascar) but the penguins awaken midflight and crash land in the Sahara Desert before making their way to Shanghai, which they mistake for Dublin, Ireland. Discovering Dave’s next target in Shanghai, the penguins ship themselves to their current location and make their way to the zoo. Disguising himself as a mermaid-tailed penguin (a tourist attraction) to distract Dave from his real target, Private himself is captured along with the Shanghai penguins after the North Wind arrives to put a stop to Dave’s plan. The penguins take the North Winds’ high-tech plane to give chase, but accidentally self-destruct the machine. They manage to track Private to an island though, using a device planted on him when Classified tranquilized them. Meanwhile, on the island, Dave demonstrates his way to genetically mutate the penguins into hideous monsters as an effort to make humans disgusted in them as revenge.

Skipper and Classified argue on the best means to rescue the captives and stop Dave, settling on Classified’s plan of a frontal assault. The North Wind manages to corner Dave at his lair only to be captured by Dave’s henchmen as well as the other penguins. Dave demonstrates his disfiguring ray at full power on Private, apparently disintegrating him with the beam, but unbeknownst to them he escapes at the last minute by using a paper clip he swallowed earlier. Private rescues the North Wind members, who want to regroup, but Private, not wanting to leave anyone behind goes to stop Dave. As Dave’s submarine docks at New York with the promise of returning the penguins he found to the zoo, he turns the ray on the rest of the penguins, mutating them all into hideous monsters. The city erupts into chaos as the brainwashed, mutated penguins run amok on the terrified human crowd. Getting the senses back into Skipper, Kowalski and Rico, they decide to connect the cute Private into the ray to return them to normal. They turn all the penguins back to normal in one huge blast.

Private is left mutated from the machine while the rest of the penguins are restored to normal. Despite his strange new look, the Penguins show their gratitude and newfound respect for Private. Dave (who caught in the blast) has been turned into a pipsqueak version of himself and is trapped in a snow globe where he is admired by a little girl. Finally seeing one another as equals, Classified promises to grant the Penguins anything they want. In addition to Kowalski getting a kiss from Eva, the Penguins are given their own jetpacks and they then fly off above the clouds looking for their next adventure.

In a mid-credits scene, the Penguins return to the circus and plug Mort into the ray and use him to revert Private back to normal. Mort does not appear to show any side effects from the ray until he manages to swallow King Julien whole, much to King Julien’s delight.

REVIEW:

Well, we have now reached that point in time where the animated franchises we’ve been watching the past few years are now letting their popular side characters have their own films. Aside from this film, Penguins of Madagascar, there was this summer’s huge hit Minions, next summer we get a film based on Scrat from Ice Age, and I’m sure there are more to come.

What is this about?

Having shown their mettle in previous Madagascar animated epics, dauntless penguins Skipper, Rico, Private and Kowalski team with a covert group, the North Wind, to stage an all-or-nothing showdown with the fiendish Dr. Octavius Brine.

What did I like?

On their own. We were first introduced to the penguins way back in the first Madagascar movie. Seeing as how they, and apparently King Julien, have been the breakout stars of that franchise, rather than the main characters, it makes sense that they have their own show on Nickelodeon and are making an attempt to cash in some more with a big screen adventure. Not having any of the characters from their original franchise, not counting a mid-credits scene, allows them to stand on their own two feet, which I can appreciate.

Documentary. When it comes to nature documentaries these days, Werner Herzog seems to be the guy you go to for narration. He pops up at the beginning of this, filming what looks to be a penguin documentary. I’m sure this was put in for the adults watching, and it was a very nice touch.

Animation. The other day, it was brought to my attention that it has been 20 years since the release of Toy Story. Think about what that film looks like and compare it to the more recent animated films that have come out. You can clearly see how far animation has come! In this case, there is a fluidity to the octopi that we wouldn’t have seen not that long ago, a more defined look to the penguins feathers, and even the snow looked more realistic. I still am no fan of using computers to animate, but I respect what they have been able to accomplish.

What didn’t I like?

Dr. Brine. The villain of the film is an octopus who masquerades as a human scientist and feels he has been slighted by penguins around the world. Ok, that makes for a good plot to go with the story, but what is my issue? Well, in his human disguise, he is still moving around like a slinky! How does no one get this? The villain in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 does something similar, but he’s a yoga nut, if I recall. Also, the design of this guy doesn’t fit with John Malkovich’s voice. Don’t get me wrong, Malkovich does a great job as the villain, but the way this guy was drawn, you’d think they were expecting Rainn Wilson!

Puns. When it comes to jokes, there are certain types that are sure to generate laughs, others that will draw boos, and then there are puns. Puns are the best when used sparingly. Someone should have told that to whoever it was that wrote this script, because the puns used as names was a joke that got old fast. For example, “Halle…bury them! Helen…Hunt them down! Hugh, Jack…man the battle stations! Charlize…they’re on the ship [sic]” (Halle Berry, Helen Hunt, Hugh Jackman, Charlize Theron). Admittedly, these could be clever, but for me it was too much at one time.

Attempted feelings. Someone thinks that these penguins needed a backstory complete with feelings about how Private is left out and unappreciated. I don’t know who this person is, but they messed up the dynamic of the team by doing so. Skipper is the leader! It is his job to lead the penguins, regardless of the outcome. Private is the young and cute one. End of story! Why must everyone mess with the formula. Remember when Coca-Cola tried that in the 80s? Didn’t work too well, did it?

For a spinoff children’s film, Penguins of Madagascar wasn’t half bad. It accomplished what it needed to in a short amount of time which, given the ADHD of the audience this is made for works out just fine. There are a couple of jokes here and there for parents to enjoy, and a flashback to Madagascar 3, for those that wanted to see what the penguins were up to while all that singing and dancing was going on. All in all, this is a pretty good picture to watch with the kids. Do I recommend it? Yes, I do!

4 out of 5 stars

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Posted in Action/Adventure, Movie Reviews, Sci-Fi/Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 22, 2014 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

The dragon Smaug destroys Laketown, while Tauriel escorts Fili, Kili, Oin, Bofur and Bard’s children out of the burning town on a boat. Bard breaks out of his prison cell and kills Smaug with the black arrow, and the dragon’s falling corpse crushes and kills the fleeing Master of Laketown. The survivors choose Bard as their new leader, who then decides the Laketown people should head for the ruins of Dale for refuge. Kíli confesses his love for Tauriel, and he and the other Dwarves journey to reunite with their company at the Lonely Mountain while Tauriel travels to investigate Mount Gundabad with Legolas. Upon arriving at Erebor, they are informed by Bilbo that Thorin has been afflicted with Smaug’s “dragon sickness” as he searched for the Arkenstone. It is revealed that Bilbo actually stole the Arkenstone from Smaug but knows it should be hidden from Thorin.

Meanwhile, Galadriel arrives at Dol Guldur, frees Gandalf and lifts the fortress’ spell of concealment. The Ringwraiths then reveal themselves and converge on Galadriel and the wounded Gandalf. Elrond and Saruman appear and battle the Ringwraiths while Radagast arrives and escorts Gandalf away. Sauron then comes forth and tries to tempt Galadriel, who casts Sauron and the Ringwraiths from the fortress. Saruman tells Elrond to take the weakened Galadriel to safety while he deals with Sauron. Gandalf leaves Radagast for Erebor to warn of the Orc army approaching the Lonely Mountain. Azog, marching on Erebor with his vast Orc army, sends Bolg to Mount Gundabad to summon their other army. Legolas and Tauriel witness the march of Bolg’s Orc army, bolstered by Goblins and giant bats.

While Bard and the Laketown survivors shelter in Dale, an elf army led by Thranduil arrives with supplies and aid. Thranduil forms an alliance with Bard, wishing to claim a necklace of white gems from the Mountain. In Erebor, Thorin commands the Dwarven company to ready for battle and presents Bilbo with a Mithril shirt. Bard travels to Erebor to negotiate and reason with Thorin, who refuses to listen or share any of the treasure. After Gandalf arrives at Dale, Bilbo sneaks out of Erebor to hand the Arkenstone over to Thranduil and Bard. The next day, Bard and Thranduil’s armies gather at the gates of Erebor, offering to trade the Arkenstone for gold. Thorin learns of Bilbo’s actions and almost kills him, before Gandalf makes Thorin release him and let him climb back down to Gandalf. Just before Thranduil’s and Bard’s forces begin their assault on Erebor, Thorin’s cousin Dáin arrives with Dwarf army. The Dwarf army prepares to attack the Elves and Men when Azog’s army makes its appearance, converging on Dale and the Dwarfs. With the Orcs outnumbering Dain’s army, Thranduil’s and Bard’s forces join the battle.

Inside Erebor, Thorin, refusing to fight, falls into a hallucinatory nightmare before finally regaining his sanity and leading his company into battle. While the other Dwarves of the company aid Dain’s forces, Thorin rides towards Ravenhill with Dwalin, Fíli, and Kíli to kill Azog and force the Orc army to retreat. Meanwhile, Tauriel arrives at Dale and tries to stop Thranduil from returning to Mirkwood, but is banished. Legolas and Tauriel leave to warn Thorin of Bolg’s approaching army with Bilbo following them using the ring.

At Ravenhill, Thorin, Fili, Kili and Dwalin fight a troop of Goblins shortly after Bilbo arrives and warns them of an attack. Thorin tells Fili and Kili to insepct a tower but Fili gets caught and killed by Azog. Tauriel tries to help Kili from Orcs, but Bolg ambushes and wounds her. Bolg is about to kill Tauriel when Kili comes to protect her, sacrificing himself in the process. Meanwhile, Thorin is fighting Azog while Legolas goes after Bolg to save Tauriel. While fighting Bolg, Legolas throws Orcrist to Thorin and saves the Dwarf King from Azog. Legolas then battles Bolg on top of a crumbling tower while Azog and Thorin fight on a frozen lake above them. After Legolas kills Bolg, Bilbo, who was knocked unconscious by an Orc, wakes to see the Great Eagles appear, carrying Radagast and Beorn into battle, after which the Orc armies are quickly decimated. Thorin kills Azog but is left mortally wounded in the process. He makes peace with Bilbo before dying.

On Thranduil’s suggestion, Legolas leaves to meet with a Dunedain ranger while Tauriel mourns Kili. Bilbo bids farewell to the remaining Dwarves and journeys home to the Shire with Gandalf. As the two part, Gandalf admits to his knowledge of the ring and cautions Bilbo he will be watching him. Bilbo’s story ends when he returns to Bag End to find his belongings being auctioned off by the Sackville-Bagginses, who assumed he died, though Bilbo clarifies his identity.

Sixty years later, Bilbo, while reflecting on the past journey, receives a visit from Gandalf and happily runs to greet his old friend

REVIEW:

One of the most anticipated films of the year, not just in the sci-fi/fantasy nerd community, but in terms of film in general has been The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, the thrilling conclusion to Peter Jackson’s (unnecessarily drug out) Hobbit trilogy. Being the final film in the franchise, one would expect it to go out with a bang, not to mention set the foundation, at least, for The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Is this mission accomplished, or were these 3 films nothing more than a cash grab?

What is this about?

Bilbo and Company are forced to engage in a war against an array of combatants and keep the Lone Mountain from falling into the hands of a rising darkness.

What did I like?

Action packed finale. With the recent release of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, part I, we are reminded about how downright dull a film cane be while waiting for the big payoff finale flick. No saying that The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was anywhere near as boring, but it wasn’t the finale that delivered on most levels as this one does. As a matter of fact, the last hour or so is nothing but a giant battle among the titular 5 armies. Are you telling me that isn’t exciting?!?

Thorin vs. Azgog. Staying on the topic of action and satisfying conclusions, we finally get the final showdown between Thorin and Azgog. As one can imagine, the rivalry between these that has been building up over the previous films comes to glorious fruition as these two don’t pull any punches and give us a an epic battle that is sure to be remembered for years to come.

Comedy bits. Inflections of comedy are always welcome, especially in more serious films so as to break the tension. There are a couple of comic relief characters in this film but they are mostly forgettable. The comedy gold comes from the subtle sight gags, one liners, and/or situations that our heroes manage to find themselves in. I can appreciate the subtle use of comedy, even if some people probably think this should be a super serious flick akin to the original trilogy.

What didn’t I like?

Little Hobbit. Here’s something worth noting, the titular Hobbit is barely in this film, or the last one for that matter. If he was going to play such a minor role, not to mention all the changes and additions to the original book, shouldn’t they have just renamed this something to do with the dwarves?

Sauron, is that you? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe we get Sauron in the book. Obviously, this was done to create some type of origin and tie-in, which I would be fine with, except it didn’t feel natural. That whole scene to me felt like it was filmed at the last minute and randomly spliced in, but perhaps I missed something during the time I had to run out and answer my phone (don’t give me that look, it was my mother!) Maybe when I watch this again in the future, it will make more sense.

Did we really need 3 films? If I had to sum this film up in a phrase it would be “one big battle” because, as I mentioned earlier, most of the film is a giant battle. There really isn’t much of a story to be told here, that was all done in the fist film. Yes, they could have put these three films into one and wouldn’t have hurt anything. I bet it would be closer to the source material that way, as well. Of course, had that have happened, then studios wouldn’t have made 3x the amount of money they would have with just one picture and the exec who is driving around in a 2014 Porsche can now afford to get a 2015 Porsche. Ugh!

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is a film of epic scheme and scope that accomplishes what it sets out to do, entertain the audience, tell a good story, and placate director Peter Jackson’s ego and obsession with Middle-Earth. While this is perhaps the shortest film in this saga, I still found it unnecessarily long, with a good 30 minutes or so that could have been left on the cutting room floor. Still, I did have a good time watching and believe that most who will take the time to check this out won’t be disappointed. Go watch and have fun!

4 out of 5 stars

12 Years a Slave

Posted in Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 19, 2014 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In 1841, Solomon Northup is a free African-American man working as a violinist, who lives with his wife, Anne Hampton, and two children in Saratoga Springs, New York. Two men, Brown and Hamilton, offer him a two-week job as a musician if he will travel to Washington, D.C., with them. Once there, they drug Northup and deliver him to a slave pen owned by James Burch.

Northup is shipped to New Orleans along with others who have been captured. A slave trader named Freeman gives Northup the identity of “Platt”, a runaway slave from Georgia and sells him to plantation owner William Ford. Northup impresses Ford when he engineers a waterway for transporting logs swiftly and cost-effectively across a swamp, and Ford presents him with a violin in gratitude into which he carves the names of his wife and children.

Ford’s carpenter John Tibeats resents Northup and the tensions between them escalate. Tibeats attacks Northup, who defends himself. In retaliation, Tibeats and his friends attempt to lynch Northup, but they are prevented by Ford’s overseer, Chapin, though Northup is left in the noose standing on tiptoe for many hours. Ford finally cuts Northup down, but chooses to sell him to planter Edwin Epps to protect him from Tibeats. Northup attempts to explain that he is actually a free man, but Ford states that he “cannot hear this” and responds “he has a debt to pay” on Northup’s purchase price.

In contrast to the relatively benevolent Ford, Epps is a sadistic man who believes his right to abuse his slaves is biblically sanctioned. The slaves are beaten if they fail to pick at least 200 pounds (91 kg) of cotton every day. A young female slave named Patsey picks over 500 pounds (230 kg) daily, and is praised lavishly by Epps. Epps is attracted to Patsey and repeatedly rapes her, causing Epps’ wife to become jealous and frequently humiliate and degrade Patsey. Patsey’s only comfort is visiting Mistress Shaw, a former slave whose owner fell in love with her and elevated her to Mistress. Patsey wishes to die and begs Northup to kill her but he refuses.

Some time later, an outbreak of cotton worm befalls Epps’ plantation. Unable to work his fields, he leases his slaves to a neighboring plantation for the season. While there, Northup gains the favor of the plantation’s owner, Jurge Turner, who allows him to play the fiddle at a neighbor’s wedding anniversary celebration, and to keep his earnings. When Northup returns to Epps, he attempts to use the money to pay a white field hand and former overseer, Armsby, to mail a letter to Northup’s friends in New York state. Armsby agrees to deliver the letter, and accepts all Northup’s saved money, but betrays him to Epps. Northup is narrowly able to convince Epps that Armsby is lying and avoids punishment. Northup tearfully burns the letter, his only hope of freedom.

Northup begins working on the construction of a gazebo with a Canadian laborer named Bass. Bass is unsettled by the brutal way that Epps treats his slaves and expresses his opposition to slavery, earning Epps’ enmity. One day, Epps becomes enraged after discovering Patsey missing from the plantation. When she returns, she reveals she was gone to get a bar of soap from Mistress Shaw, as a result of being forbidden soap by Mary Epps. Epps does not believe her and orders her flogged. Encouraged by his wife, Epps forces Northup to flog Patsey to avoid doing it himself. Northup reluctantly obeys, but Epps eventually takes the whip away from Northup, savagely lashing Patsey.

Northup purposely destroys his violin, and while continuing to work on the gazebo, Northup confides his kidnapping to Bass. Once again, Northup asks for help in getting a letter to Saratoga Springs. Bass, risking his life, agrees to send it.

One day, Northup is called over by the local sheriff, who arrives in a carriage with another man. The sheriff asks Northup a series of questions to confirm his answers match the facts of his life in New York. Northup recognizes the sheriff’s companion as C. Parker, a shopkeeper he knew in Saratoga. Parker has come to free him, and the two embrace, though an enraged Epps furiously protests the circumstances and tries to prevent him from leaving. Before Northup can board the coach to leave, Patsey cries out to him, and they embrace in a bittersweet farewell. Knowing that they are in potential danger, at the urging of Parker and the sheriff Northup finishes his tearful goodbye with Patsey and immediately leaves the plantation.

After being enslaved for twelve years, Northup is restored to freedom and returned to his family. As he walks into his home, he sees Anne, Alonzo, Margaret and her husband, who present him with his grandson and namesake, Solomon Northup Staunton. Concluding credits recount the inability of Northup and his legal counsel to prosecute Brown, Hamilton and Burch, as well as the publishing of Northup’s 1853 slave narrative memoir Twelve Years a Slave and the mystery surrounding details of his death and burial.

REVIEW:

Many countries have had slavery in their history, but I swear the U.S. has to have had treated their slaves, not to mention anyone who didn’t agree with their way of thinking, the worst. 12 Years a Slave is another in a long line of films about the wrongs of slavery. This one was a critics’ darling, racking up the awards and forever etching itself in the history books, but how good is it, really?

What is this about?

Based on an incredible true story of one man’s fight for survival and freedom. In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty (personified by a malevolent slave owner, portrayed by Michael Fassbender), as well as unexpected kindnesses, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity. In the twelfth year of his unforgettable odyssey, Solomon’s chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist (Brad Pitt) will forever alter his life.

What did I like?

Tragedy. It is never comfortable talking about how inhumane people have been treated throughout history, whether it be the Native Americans losing their land, the Jews being oppressed by the Nazis, or slavery. Now, to make this a more dramatic story, our protagonist needed to be a free man, a successful one by the looks of it, with a wife and kids. He is led to believe that his violin prowess may allow him to earn a couple of extra bucks in Washington, D.C., but it turns out that he has been kidnapped and will become a slave, a practice that was commonplace, sadly. What is the most tragic about this? As it turns out, this is based on a true story!

New stars. One of the reasons we haven’t got that Black Panther movie yet is that there just aren’t enough African-American actors that can bring in audiences and, let’s face it, Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Jamie Foxx, Idris Elba, and to a lesser extent, Djimon Hounsou, aren’t going to be around forever. With 42 and this summer’s Get On Up, we have a new star in Chadwick Bozeman, but I think his talent may be eclipsed by the stars of this film, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o. I always say that films of yesteryear have actors that actually act, while today they just read the lines and collect a paycheck. Well, these two are a throwback, as they put everything have into these roles, and boy was it worth it!

Better than the Americans. As someone who live down here in Louisiana, I’m more than a little qualified to comment on the authenticity of these accents. Something that I noticed in the film is that the actors from other countries, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, as well as Brd Pitt (mainly because he’s been in a ton of movies based in and around New Orleans, most notably Interview with the Vampire and The Curious Life of Benjamin Button), all have better southern accents than the Americans (Fassbender does let his Irish slip out now and then). I just find this amusing.

Sing a song. Watch any documentary about slavery, the south, the Civil War, etc., and you’ll hear Negro spirituals. This makes it a no-brainer that with all the scenes of slaves working out in the field, there needs to be some singing. It is a small thing, but sometimes those little things can make the biggest difference, especially when it comes to historical accuracy.

What didn’t I like?

Balance. I am not sure how much different there is between the film and the book, but I would hope that there is a better balance. As it stands, the film spends more time with the “bad guys” than with those that have a more understanding nature. In other words, more of Cumberbatch’s character and/or the Judge person the slaves were shipped off to, would have been nice, rather than a constant barrage of Fassbender and his wife.

N. The ‘N’ word is perhaps the worst term in the English language. Some have said that it is better to listen to a string of obscenities and gutter talk than to hear one utterance of the ‘n’ word, and I cannot argue with that, to be honest. Here we have a slight controversy. With this film, the ‘N’ word is used for historical purposes, but that is the same reason Quentin Tarrantino gave for his constant use of the word in Django Unchained. What is the difference? I couldn’t really find one, other than the different in the directors’ skin color. I think this film makes better use of the word, however, but still takes it a bit too far. I don’t want to get up on a soapbox about this today, but it should be said that the ‘n’ word doesn’t need to be used everytime a film set in the time of slaves is released. If that’s the case, then we’ll get an R-rated Huckleberry Finn when someone finally decides to make another movie about him, and who wants that, really…especially if the rating is based on language!!!

Token white guy. Mr. All-American himself, Brad Pitt, makes an appearance near the film’s end and “saves the day”. Now, there are two ways to look at his appearance. Before I get into that, though, let it be known that Pitt does his usual job of turning in a fine performance. However, why did Pitt have to play that role? Couldn’t it have been some schlub from the street? Second, apologies if this is in the book, but couldn’t someone else have taken the letter? Perhaps a slave from the Underground Railroad? Period withstanding, it just seems as if they were looking for a white guy to “save the day”. Again, I haven’t read the book, so this point may be moot and I could be way off-base. If so, then I accept that.

Very rarely do I agree with the critics, let alone the Academy, but 12 Years a Slave is one of those films that deserves all the accolades that have been lauded on it and then some. Now, I warn you this is a powerful film that you’re more than likely not going to want to just pop in and watch everyday, but it is a film that needs to be seen. Chances are, students will be watching parts of this in history classes in a few years, much the same way they’ve watched Roots and North and South. Do I recommend this? Yes, very highly. It is definitely one of those films that everyone needs to see before they die!

5 out of 5 stars

Star Trek Into Darkness

Posted in Action/Adventure, Movie Reviews, Sci-Fi/Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 3, 2013 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In 2259, the starship Enterprise is on a survey mission to the planet Nibiru, studying a primitive culture. Captain James T. Kirk and First Officer Spock attempt to save the planet’s inhabitants from a volcanic eruption. When Spock’s life is endangered, Kirk violates the Prime Directive in order to save him, exposing the Enterprise to the native inhabitants, a decision with which Spock disagrees.

Returning to Earth, Kirk loses command of the Enterprise and Admiral Christopher Pike is reinstated as its commanding officer. Pike manages to convince Admiral Marcus to allow Kirk to continue as his first officer on the Enterprise, rather than being sent back to the Academy. Meanwhile, a secret Section 31 installation in London is bombed by a renegade Starfleet officer, Commander John Harrison. During a meeting of Starfleet commanders to discuss the situation, Harrison attacks in a jumpship, killing Pike. Kirk disables the jumpship, but Harrison uses a prototype portable transwarp transporter device to escape to Kronos, the Klingon homeworld, knowing Starfleet would be unable to follow.

Admiral Marcus orders the Enterprise to kill Harrison, arming them with 72 prototype photon torpedoes, shielded and untraceable to sensors. Chief engineer Montgomery Scott resigns his duties in protest when Kirk denies Scott’s request to examine the weapons for safety reasons. Pavel Chekov is promoted in his stead and Dr. Carol Wallace, a weapons specialist, joins the crew. Spock, Dr. Leonard McCoy and Uhura convinces Kirk it would be better to capture Harrison and return him to Earth for trial, rather than killing him.

En route, the Enterprise suffers an unexpected coolant leak in the warp core, disabling the ship’s warp capabilities. Kirk leads a deniable operation to Kronos in a confiscated civilian vessel. Approaching Harrison’s location, they are ambushed by Klingon patrols. Harrison easily dispatches the Klingons, then unexpectedly surrenders after learning the exact number of torpedoes locked on his location. On the Enterprise, Wallace is revealed as Dr. Carol Marcus, the Admiral’s daughter, who along with Dr. McCoy, opens a torpedo at the behest of Harrison, revealing a man in cryogenic stasis. Harrison reveals his true identity as Khan, a genetically-engineered superhuman awoken by Marcus from a 300-year suspended animation. Khan reveals his crew was held hostage by Marcus to force him to develop weapons and warships for Starfleet in preparation for a war between the Federation and the Klingons. Khan attempted to smuggle his crew out in the torpedoes he had designed, but was discovered. Believing Marcus had killed his crew, he instigated his attacks to avenge his family. Khan reveals Marcus had sabotaged the Enterprise’s warp drive, intending for the Klingons to destroy the ship after firing the torpedoes at Kronos, giving him a casus belli for war. Acting on information from Khan, Kirk asks Scott to investigate a set of coordinates within the Solar System.

The Enterprise is intercepted by a larger Federation warship, the USS Vengeance under the command of Marcus. Marcus demands that Kirk deliver Khan, but Kirk refuses. The Enterprise, with a hastily repaired warp drive, flees to Earth in order to report Marcus, however the Vengeance intercepts and disables it. Kirk offers to exchange Khan and the cryogenic pods in exchange for sparing the lives of his crew. Marcus refuses, transporting Carol Marcus to the Vengeance and ordering the Enterprise’s destruction. The Vengeance suddenly loses power, having been sabotaged by Scott, who discovered and infiltrated the ship during his investigation. With the transporters down, Kirk and Khan, with the latter’s knowledge of the warship’s design, space-jump to the Vengeance. Meanwhile, Spock contacts his older self on New Vulcan, who informs him that Khan cannot be trusted. After capturing the bridge, Khan overpowers Kirk, Scott and Carol, killing Admiral Marcus and seizing control of the Vengeance.

Khan demands from Spock the return of his crew in exchange for the three Enterprise officers. Spock complies, but had previously removed Khan’s frozen crew and armed the warheads. Khan betrays their agreement, crippling the Enterprise, however the Vengeance is in turn disabled following the detonation of the torpedoes. With both starships powerless and caught in Earth’s gravity, they begin to fall toward the surface. Kirk sacrifices himself by entering the radioactive reactor chamber to realign the warp core, saving the ship. Kirk succumbs to radiation poisoning, throwing Spock into a grief-stricken rage.

In one last act of defiance, Khan crashes the Vengeance into San Francisco to destroy Starfleet headquarters. Fleeing the scene, Spock transports down in pursuit. While experimenting on a dead tribble, McCoy discovers that Khan’s blood has regenerative properties that may save Kirk. Spock manages to subdue and capture Khan, and Kirk is revived. One year later, Kirk addresses a gathering memorializing the events, where he recites the “where no man has gone before” monologue. Khan is resealed in his cryogenic pod and stored with his crew, while Carol Marcus joins the crew of a recommissioned Enterprise, as it departs on a five-year exploratory mission.

REVIEW:

Let me preface this review with a very important statement, I am not a trekkie. My sci-fi franchise allegiance lies with the holy trilogy, before George Lucas decided to make them nothing more than a cash cow. That said, I do have respect for the phenomena of Star Trek and was somewhat looking forward to Star Trek Into Darkness.

What is this about?

This sequel returns much of the cast from the Star Trek feature released in 2009, breathing new life into the seemingly ageless space franchise. Led by the intrepid Captain Kirk, the Enterprise crew still includes Scotty, Spock and Chekov as well.

What did I like?

Characterization. In the last Star Trek, I don’t recall the characters being as similar to the original as they are in this one. For instance, Scotty has an exaggerated, almost Scrooge McDuck-like Scottish accent, Bones was spitting out metaphors, until ordered to stop, etc. I know that this irked some people, but I loved it! If you’re going to reboot something, you need to have nods to the original, and this is a good way to give the fans a little nugget of nostalgia.

Sherlock. Benedict Cumberbatch is a fast rising star. If you haven’t had the chance to see him in Sherlock, then you are missing out on a great show. I’m no fan of him as Khan, but as a villain he has the cunning, cruel streak that is pure evil, not to mention his voice, which has been compared to the likes of Ian McKellan, Patrick Stewart, and Alan Rickman, makes for quite the imposing antagonist.

Pacing. If you are an avid reader of this blog, then you are more than aware that I am a sucker for films that keep things rolling along. When things slow down, my ADHD kicks in and I lose interest, unless it is an older film that Is made in a different time, so pacing isn’t the same. I appreciate this film being almost non-stop action, slowing down just long enough to let the audience catch their breath and then ratchets right back up.

What didn’t I like?

Plot. The big selling point of this rebooted Star Trek universe is that it is new adventures that may be similar to things that have happened before. Well, this was not a new adventure, no matter what they try to tell you. My dad was a trekkie and forced me to watch Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan when it was either released or on TV. It is more than obvious that this is a blatant ripoff of that film. Many of the memorable parts are recreated, just with different characters, for instance, it is Spock that yells “Khan” and Kirk that ends up in radiation. They came up with a new villain for the first film, and Khan was eventually going to have to make an appearance, but damn…they could have done better than this.

Lens flares. When this was released everyone was complaining about the lens flares. A couple of times, it worked, but after a while it just got to be old and annoying, in the same vein as bullet time has become. What was J.J. Abrams thinking by using this technique so frequently?

Underwear. There apparently is a bit of a controversy surrounding the scene with Alice Eve in her underwear. I was expecting it to be some huge scene where she’s half-naked, but instead it is a quick shot where she’s changing clothes. Yes, it was out of place, but I’m not complaining. A little skin never hurt anyone. I really don’t get the backlash. No one said anything about the alien girls in Kirk’s bed. Also, I would much rather see curvy Alice Eve than anorexic Zoe Saldana in her underwear.

There are only a few other films that were as hyped coming into this year as Star Trek Into Darkness. Did it live up to the hype? Well, judging by the box office, you would say no, but audiences seem to have responded very positively to it. That being said, audiences expected more than what we got. I enjoyed and recommend it, but I can’t help but feel it is a bit of a step back from its predecessor. Give it a shot, though.

4 out of 5 stars