Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Justice League: Gods and Monsters (2015) - Review

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Spoilers ahead. Readers who wish to avoid spoilers are recommended to skip the post.

I was not impressed with the companion web series (Justice League: Gods and Monsters Chronicles) that was released last month and was not sure about this movie.

This movie proved to be a pleasant surprise. Featuring alternate versions of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, the movie has an excellent script, screenplay, direction and astounding action choreography (as most DC Animated Movies do).

Superman is not the son of Zor-El, but of General Zod and is raised by Mexican immigrants.

Batman is Kirk Langstrom and not Bruce Wayne. In the Batman Canon, Kirk Langstrom is Man-Bat. In this universe, he becomes a pseudo-vampire in his attempts to cure his cancer. He feeds on the blood of the bad guys.

Wonder Woman is not the Princess Diana of Themyscira, but is Bekka. Bekka is a New God of New Genesis, the daughter of Himon and the wife of Orion.

Mexican Superman Son of Zod in Justice League Gods and Monsters poster image picture screensaver wallpaper

A pre-credit sequence is set in Krypton. (DC fans can rest easy. The similarities with Man of Steel ends right here). Jor-El (Yuri Lowenthal) is about to imprint his DNA on his wife Lara Lor-Van's (Lauren Tom) using a machine to send their soon-to-be born son to Earth. General Zod (Bruce Thomas) intervenes and forcefully puts his own DNA instead.

The baby is adopted by migrant Mexican parents. Named Hernan Guerras, this version of Superman is a bit arrogant because of the difficulties he endures in his upbringing, 

Cut to the present. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are based at the Tower of Justice. Unlike the regular versions, these characters are ruthless when it comes to punishing bad guys.

The government, headed by President Amanda Waller (Penny Johnson Jerald) is not willing to take any steps to challenge the Justice Leaguers.

Trouble starts for our characters, when leading scientists are killed off one by one by unidentified assassins with the specific purpose of framing Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. The victims include Dr Victor Fries (Mr Freeze), Ray Palmer (Atom) and Silas Stone.

Vampire Batman Kirk Langstrom Justice League Gods and Monsters poster image picture screensaver wallpaper

The public's hatred of the Justice League increases, thanks to the media campaign run by reporter Lois Lane (Paget Brewster). President Waller is forced to execute “Project FairPlay”, which is a brainchild of Lex Luthor (Jason Isaacs). Lex has always been wary of Superman and has put plans in place to neutralize him and his colleagues, should they go rogue.

Are the heroes able to prove their innocence? Who is out to frame them? What happens when Waller initiates FairPlay?

I would recommend the readers to check out the movie for the answers.

The story is credited to Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett, both of whom have worked on some of the best DC Animated projects including Superman: The Animated Series and Batman: The Animated Series.

Like these classic shows, the movie also delves deep into the lead characters. Each of the DC Trinity characters get an extensive back story.

Considering that this is an animated superhero movie, the script manages to hold our attention for the most part, until the mystery is resolved. Kudos to Bruce and Alan for the excellent story and screenplay. 

Bruce Timm Justice League Gods and Monsters poster wallpaper picture image screensaver

The animation is done in Bruce Timm style which is refreshing after all the anime and other styles that have dominated animation in the recent past.

The action sequences are executed very well, especially the last one between Supes and the bad guys which is exceptional. The last 20 minutes has non-stop action and successfully combines great character moments and action beats.

This is classic DC Comics and a must watch for fans of Supes, Bats and Wonder Woman.

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Image Sources: DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Animation, Warner Premiere 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Ant-Man (2015) - Recap and Review

Paul Rudd Scott Lang Ant-Man poster wallpaper image picture screensaver

The movie starts with a pre-credit scene set in 1989. Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) is furious when he realizes that his secret formula for Pym particle is being stolen by Howard Stark (John Slattery), Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Mitchell Carson (Martin Donovan). An angry Hank retires from S.H.I.E.L.D  and vows to keep his formula a secret.

Back to the present. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is in San Quentin Penitentiary. The day he is released, he is met by his buddy, Luis (Michael Pena).

Despite Luis' best sales pitch for another con, Scott opts for an honest living with Baskin Robbins. But not for long.. His boss fires him as soon as he finds about Scott's run-ins with the law in the past.. Scott again refuses to participate in another of his buddy's plan.

Scott's determination to play it straight weakens, when he realizes that he has to have cash to play any role in the life of his daughter, Cassie Lang (Abby Ryder Fortson). Cassie is now living with his estranged wife, Maggie Lang (Judy Greer) and her current husband, Paxton (Bobby Cannavale). Paxton is a cop.

Evangeline Lilly wig Hope Van Dyne Ant-Man poster wallpaper image picture screensaver

Dr Hank Pym's daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) is also estranged from him.

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Yes, the movie takes a heavy-handed approach to show the similarities between the previous Ant-Man and the current one. Will the two sets of father-daughter be united at the end? Hey, this is a Marvel/Disney movie we are talking about. A movie that has been specifically designed to appeal to as wide a global audience as possible..

The villain of the piece is Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), former protege of Hank and current rival. Darren has developed another version of the Ant-Man technology and has unimaginatively named it Yellowjacket” for obvious reasons. He plans to sell it to Hydra (who else?) for a large sum of money and it is up to Hank Pym to stop this from happening.

Hank's solution: He organizes a plan with Scott and his buddies to infiltrate the Darren's corporate headquarters and steal the suit. Throw in a few training montage scenes and of course, the necessary fight scene between heroes and Voila! we have our Ant-Man movie.

The most obvious aspect of the movie is this: The movie shamelessly rides the coattails of the success of Avengers and the brand name of Marvel Studios. There are a number of references and name dropping to those set of characters throughout the movie.

Avengers Age of Ultron team photo poster image wallpaper picture marvel cinematic universe

Gone are the days, when each movie stood on its own legs and was measured by its own merits and demerits. Today, thanks to the idea of a shared cinematic universe, all a studio has to do is churn out one massive global hit and the rest of the movies can have a free ride coasting on the aforementioned success.

As if Marvel's brand name is not enough, the parent studio (Disney) has enough money and marketing muscle to make sure that every single person, not living under a rock, is aware of the movie's release date.

All of this leads to the single most important question: Under the circumstances mentioned above, does the quality of the movie really matter?

People are going to show up en masse to see the latest Marvel Studios movie anyway. But for the sake of the discerning readers out there, who actually want to spend their time and money on a quality product, I am going to present my thoughts on the movie...

Edgar Wright Ant-Man comic book poster wallpaper image picture screensaver

Edgar Wright, the visionary director (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) was originally attached to the movie since 2006. Yes, even before Iron Man came out and launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) to both critical and commercial success.

Edgar's movies tend to carry his quirky sense of humor and quick camera shots. He had a strong vision for the Ant-Man movie (as any self respecting director would do). But as the Marvel Cinematic Universe grew leaps and bounds over the years, Edgar's vision went out of sync with the Marvel Studio's bigger plans for a shared movie universe.

Edgar stepped out and in came another director who was more willing to play along with Marvel Studios' cleverly crafted plans for box office domination: Peyton Reed. The final product still bears Edgar's influence but lacks his signature wit and energy.

Instead, we have a lackluster movie that has been designed to appeal to as broad a worldwide audience as possible and make as much profits as possible for Marvel and Disney studios.

Ant Man fighting Yellowjacket fight scene poster wallpaper image picture screensaver

Evangeline Lilly sleepwalks through her role and also happens to be burdened with a hideous wig. Interestingly, Corey Stoll also sported a similarly out-of-place hairpiece in the FX Vampire horror show “The Strain. Another coincidence: Corey also looked bored as Dr. Eph Goodweather. In this movie, he is slightly better as the antagonist, but is just as forgettable.

Michael Cena goes overboard as Luis. Some of his attempts at humor work and some fall flat. Many of these attempts come off as childish and predictable.

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Michael Douglas is OK as Dr Hank Pym. He is reported to have shown interest in having his real life wife, Catherine Zeta Jones to play his reel wife, Janet van Dyne/Wasp in the inevitable sequel/upcoming MCU movies. Hey, if BBC Sherlock can do it, so can we. Nepotism is after all a common human trait.

As for Paul Rudd, he has hit the cinematic jackpot by being cast as a lead in a MCU movie. He seems to have learned his lessons well - Just as the studio marketed the movie by associating it with the Avengers and the Marvel brand name, Rudd himself has been claiming to have followed Chris Pratt's lead in training himself for his role. Way to go, guys. All of you deserve some sort of medal for milking the value of “Positive Brand Association for all its worth.

The movie has a couple of scenes, in which characters mouth anti-feminist dialogues, referring to female anatomy. I am sure, this will be lost even on the female audiences as well.

Fans of Marvel Cinematic Universe will love this movie. There are the usual ingredients they have come to expect from a MCU movie:

1. Heroes fighting each other - In this movie, Ant-Man fights Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) at the Avenger's mansion. A MCU movie is not complete, if the heroes don't fight each other and that is a proven fact.
2. Mid-Credits and Post-Credits scenes, that will have the fans stoked for the next movie and ensure a box office success well in advance.
3. Cameos from supporting MCU characters - In addition to Falcon, Howard Stark, Peggy Carter and Captain America make their appearances.

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Image Source: Marvel Studios 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Suicide Squad Comic Con Trailer - Review and Recap

Suicide Squad movie poster logo image picture wallpaper dc cinematic universe 2016 movie jared leto margot robbie

The comic-con trailer for the upcoming DC Comics movie Suicide Squad has been released.

Directed by David Ayer (Fury, Sabotage, Street Kings), the movie stars Will Smith as Floyd Lawton/Deadshot, Jared Leto as The Joker, Margot Robbie as Dr. Harleen F. Quinzel/Harley Quinn, Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Waylon Jones/Killer Croc and Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman.

For the uninitiated: Suicide Squad (a.k.a Task Force X) is a group of villains who are (forcefully) recruited by Amanda Waller to complete deadly missions. For obvious reasons, the trailer does not reveal the exact mission for which they have been assembled in this movie.

Check out the trailer:

In the 2014 animated movie, Batman: Assault on Arkham, the squad was ordered to kill The Riddler, who is currently in Arkham Asylum. Making things further interesting was the fact that The Joker (also confined in Arkham Asylum) has a ticking time bomb hidden somewhere that will bring destruction to Gotham city.

Batman's efforts to locate and defuse the bomb brings him into conflict with the Suicide Squad. The movie served as my introduction to the super-villain team. Plus, it helped that the animated movie is hands downs one of the best DC Animated Original (DCAU) Movies ever made.

That movie also happens to be the one and only reason, I was looking forward to the live action adaptation coming out next year. 

Unfortunately, the trailer does not do the movie any favors. Just as the Comic Con trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice informed us about the potential drawbacks in that movie, this movie also indicates an unmistakable lack of imagination and humor. The movie looks pretty generic and dull.

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The costumes for Katana, Killer Croc and even Deadshot look like cosplay that would look more at home at the Comic Con itself rather than in a big budget blockbuster.

Will Smith is all emo as Deadshot. As readers familiar with his character will be aware, he loses his daughter when goes to prison. And this factor is really hit over our heads in the most unimaginative way possible.

Suicide Squad movie actors cast Margot Robbie Will Smith Viola Davis Jai Courtney with director David Ayer

Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn is nothing like the Harley Quinn, who was introduced in the classic Batman: The Animated Series. Gone is the funny and quirky character and in her place, we have been presented with an extremely sexed-up version. Shame on Warner Bros. and the writers for making such crass and commercially motivated changes to a classic character.

After failing to wow audiences in A Good Day to Die Hard and the most recently released Terminator Genisys, Jai Courtney threatens to bore us again as Captain Boomerang.

Rest of the cast do not get much screen-time and/or mouth dialogues to leave any impression. Mention must be made that Ben Affleck's Batman makes a very brief appearance in the trailer. This is presumably taken the footage that was leaked while filming - Batman is on top of the car in which The Joker and Harley Quinn are making their escape.

The only saving grace looks to be Jared Leto's performance as The Joker. He looks to be genuinely having a blast with the role. Hope, he can inspire the same in his co-actors as well.

I do applaud the courage displayed by Warner Bros. in making a movie that does not have Superman or Batman in the lead roles. Perhaps, the marketing department did not do a great job of winning us over. I hope that is the case and that the actual movie turns out far better than what this trailer represents.

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Image Sources: Atlas Entertainment, DC Entertainment, Dune Entertainment, Lin Pictures

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Comic Con Trailer - Review

Batman v Superman fight scene Dawn of Justice poster wallpaper image picture screensaver DC Cinematic Universe

Dear Readers,

The Comic-Con trailer for the upcoming DC Comics movie has been released.

Directed by Zack Snyder (Man of Steel300), the movie stars Henry Cavill as Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman, Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Gal Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman.

Supporting cast includes Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, Diane Lane as Martha Kent, Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth and  Laurence Fishburne as Perry White.

The trailer focuses primarily on why Ben Affleck's Bruce Wayne/Batman has a grudge against Henry Cavill's Man of Steel.

In the first movie, Man of Steel, we only got a quick look at one of Bruce Wayne's satellite that was damaged in the climactic fight between Superman and General Zod (Michael Shannon). But it seems, Bruce Wayne was more directly impacted than what the movie suggested.

As seen in the trailer, Bruce Wayne loses a number of his employees, when his office gets trashed in the battle between the two nearly invulnerable Kyrptonians. This convinces Bruce that he needs to step up to the alien, before he inflicts further destruction on the human race.

Alfred tries to convince his master that Superman is not their enemy, but fails to succeed. Hey, we need them to fight to justify the movie's title after all...

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We also get our first look at Gal Gadot as the Wonder Woman, Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, Tao Okamoto as Mercy Graves and Holly Hunter as a US Senator. 

Lex seems to have convinced Holly Hunter's Senator to initiate legal proceedings against the Man of Steel. I am sure she will change her opinion at the end of the movie.

After romancing Hugh Jackman's Logan as Mariko in The Wolverine (2013), Tao Okamoto has entered the DC Universe as Lex Luthor's assistant/bodyguard, Mercy Graves.

The two new major players who get a lot of screentime are Gal Gadot and Jesse Eisenberg as the Amazon and Lex Luthor respectively.

Ben Affleck Gal Gadot Bruce Wayne Batman Diana Prince Wonder Woman Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice poster wallpaper image

Gal Gadot's character does not get to mouth any dialogue and is reduced to looking beautiful as Diana Prince and then in full battle mode as Wonder Woman. It is too early to judge her performance right now.

Jesse Eisenberg seems to be miscast as Lex Luthor. His dialogue delivery seems to be modeled on Kevin Spacey's version in Superman Returns. He also seems to be channeling his usual arrogant genius shtick that we have already seen many times (The Social Network, Now You See Me).

Jesse Eisenberg Lex Luthor with hair Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice poster wallpaper image picture screensaver

At least, his evil plans seem to be different. Instead of the usual land grabbing scheme we have seen in Superman (1978) and slavishly repeated in Superman Returns (2006), Lex seems to be experimenting with General Zod's corpse. My guess is that he is going to create Doomsday, the unstoppable Kryptonian villain who killed Superman.

This would also explain the reason for DC Comics Trinity to band together to stop Doomsday. And of course, other superheroes include Cyborg (played by Ray Fisher), Aquaman (played by Jason Momoa) and The Flash (played by Ezra Miller) can also lend a helping hand.

As interesting as all this sounds, the trailer indicates that the movie suffers from two major problems, that can potentially prevent the movie from being the pop culture behemoth that it intends to be.

The first one is that none of the actors/actresses seem to be in character. The only exception might be Holly Hunter and she is not playing a DC Comics character at all.

Every one from Ben Affleck to Jeremy Irons look and act in a one-note mode. Ben Affleck is all angry and Jeremy is all serious. Henry Cavill is bland as ever and for some unexplained reason, still gets to play the most iconic superhero ever. As I mentioned earlier, Eisenberg seems to be miscast. Even the reliable Diane Lane looks bored as Martha Kent, while giving some motherly advice to Clark.

New Batmobile Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice poster wallpaper image picture still

I guess one possible reason is that Zack Snyder is not an actor's director i.e. one who gets some great performances from his actors. Zack's strengths seem to be in the special effects department, which brings us to the next point: Bad Special Effects.

I had hoped that this sequel would improve on the shockingly bad CGI that was quite obvious in the previous movie. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case here. The special effects look as bad as ever. Perhaps, the finished product will look better when the movie releases in March 25 2016. But history does not inspire confidence...

Irrespective of the box office success, in my humble opinion, the reason this movie will suck big time is because this is a studio product, as opposed to being a passion project for a visionary filmmaker. Richard Donner and Christopher Nolan made amazing movies that will stand the test of time.

This one has been made with the sole purpose of making money. Just for the sake of competing with rival studios, Warner Bros. is doing a big disservice to these classic comic book characters.

Well, looks like the late Christopher Reeve and Christian Bale will continue to be the definitive real life impersonators of Supes and Bats respectively.

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Image Sources: DC Entertainment, Dune Entertainment, Syncopy, Warner Bros.

Friday, July 10, 2015

BBC Sherlock Christmas Special Teaser - Review

Benedict Cumberbatch Martin Freeman Victorian Sherlock Holmes Dr John Watson 2015 Christmas Special episode first look poster wallpaper image picture

Click here to read the list of Canonical references in this episode.

The first look teaser for the upcoming Christmas special episode of BBC Sherlock has been released.

As the camera pans back from the familiar close-up shot of the Baker Street. w. sign, we see that it is a foggy London teaming with hansoms and snowing heavily.Yes, as readers might be aware, this stand alone episode is set in the 19th century, the actual time in which Arthur Conan Doyle started writing the original stories and novels.

Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Dr John Watson (Martin Freeman) return from one of their adventures. A frustrated Mrs Hudson (Una Stubbs) wishes loudly that her famous tenant should inform her beforehand about his planned arrival.

Accompanying her is a young boy, who may or may not be Billie, Holmes' page in The Valley of Fear, The Problem of Thor Bridge and The Mazarin Stone. He is played by Adam Greaves-Neal, who portrayed Archie in The Sign of Three.

The rest of the teaser features a playful banter between Mrs Hudson and Dr Watson as they debate her opinions about his published stories. In true BBC Sherlock style, Mrs Hudson reminds him: I am your land lady, not a plot device!

She is concerned about her role being reduced to that of a lady who just shows the clients to her tenant's room and bringing food for them.

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Sherlock consoles her by commenting that he himself has been a casualty by being short changed in The Dog one” (reference to The Hound of the Baskervilles).

Mrs Hudson also complains about Dr Watson making her beloved 221 B so drab and dingy. The doctor promptly blames this on the illustrator (Sidney Paget?) and claims to have grown the mustache to hide his true identity.

Though very short, the clip gives enough footage to showcase the glory of Benedict Cumberbatch's Victorian Sherlock. Benedict looks quite comfortable, smoking the pipe and in full fledged Victorian outfit (Inverness cape, Deerstalker et al). This looks to be another home run for Cumberbatch. His Victorian Holmes looks to have more of the dry wit that characterizes the Canonical version so well.

Martin Freeman and Una Stubbs also look right at home in their Victorian versions. Freeman's Dr Watson seems to be carrying a criminal relic from their recent investigation, that he wisely chooses not to disclose to the curious young boy.

Hopefully, the script by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat will strike the right balance between humor and mystery to provide a solid episode, full of Victorian Goodness in true ACD style Sherlock Holmes.

Check out the clip below:

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Image Sources: Hartswood Films, BBC

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