Sunday, August 23, 2015

Straight Outta Compton (2015) review

There’s no denying the increased racial tension that has come about these past few years. Incidents like the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the deaths of other victims like Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and Sandra Bland, the majority of whom died as a result of police brutality, have all resulted in considerably high amounts of unrest across the country, showing that the racism of the past is unfortunately still around today. So it’s fitting that a film like this comes out that tells the story of a group of individuals who dealt with the exact same thing in California in the late 80’s but stood up to it, making them prophets of their time. This serves as the basis for ‘Straight Outta Compton’, the true story of, as described by the poster, ‘the most dangerous group in the world’, N.W.A.; Ice Cube, Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, MC Ren, and DJ Yella. Produced by Cube and Dre and directed by F. Gary Gray, who had previously directed Cube in 1995’s ‘Friday’, ‘Straight Outta Compton’ is an energized and emotionally-charged biopic that provides a truly captivating portrait of the popular but controversial hip-hop group. Sure it may not cover all of the beats of the considerably large history of N.W.A. but what is featured here all comes together nicely in one hard-hitting musical biopic that is quite relevant given the current circumstances.

In 1986, young Compton residents O’Shea Jackson AKA Ice Cube (played by Cube’s own son, O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Andre Young AKA Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), and Eric Wright AKA Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) traverse through life in the violent California neighborhood, constantly having to deal with things like gang violence and police brutality. Along with their friends Antoine Carraby AKA DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) and Lorenzo Patterson AKA MC Ren (Aldis Hodge), the five decide to form a new hip-hop group, N.W.A., as part of Eazy-E’s new label Ruthless Records. After an early success with their single ‘Boyz-n-the-Hood’, the group hires Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) as their manager and the group achieves even greater success, along with attracting much controversy (especially from law enforcement), with their debut album ‘Straight Outta Compton’, inspired by their personal experiences in the hood. But as time goes on, both Ice Cube and Dr. Dre start to suspect that they’re being played by Heller and the two of them end up leaving the group to pursue solo careers, with the latter forming Death Row Records with Suge Knight (R. Marcus Taylor), while also dealing with the pressures of their newfound stardom.

Some have stated that the history of N.W.A. is so extensive that it is capable of producing at least a whole trilogy of films focusing on the group’s formation, solo ventures, and the decline/death of Eazy-E, respectively. Instead of going that route, that history is condensed into a two and a half hour film. Obviously that does mean that certain elements of the story were cut like some of the group members’ unethical actions, most infamously Dr. Dre as evident through the recent controversy surrounding his abusive behavior towards women. But even at two and a half hours long and given what’s there in the film and what isn’t, ‘Straight Outta Compton’ more than succeeds in regards to recreating what life was like for the members of N.W.A. in the late 80’s and early 90’s, including being witnesses to the Rodney King beating. Scenes of the subsequent LA riots and other various moments including the death of Dre’s brother (even if it’s only a minor part of the overall story) and of course the death of Eazy-E have a major emotional drive to them, resulting in a film that is just full of energy even in parts when it sort of drags, which is mostly during the film’s latter half after Cube and Dre have already left the group. This is a case of a musical biopic where it is more about the atmosphere than it is about the music and in the case of N.W.A., it was definitely the right route to go.

The most notable aspect about the film’s cast is that Ice Cube’s son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., plays his father in the film. While some view this as nepotism, at the end of the day there really isn’t anyone better for the role. He 100% looks and acts just like his father. As for the other two main leads, Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell, they may not be the offspring of their respective characters but they are equally as excellent in capturing the attitudes, the passion, and mannerisms of Dr. Dree and Eazy-E, respectively, with Mitchell in particular really standing out due to the fierceness of his performance and the film really makes an effort to pay tribute to ‘the godfather of Gangsta rap’. At the end of the day, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Eazy-E are the three primary protagonists of the film. So while MC Ren and DJ Yella were just as important as the other members of the group, in this film they are generally overshadowed in favor of the film placing a greater focus on the primary trio. With that said, though, Neil Brown Jr. and Aldis Hodge are also solid in their performances as is Paul Giamatti, as usual, as N.W.A. manager Jerry Heller. And even though this film is produced by Ice Cube and Dr. Dre and even when considering all of the stuff that was left out, it never really feels like the film tries to 100% glorify all of the things that its protagonists did during this time. For what could be viewed and labeled as a ‘vanity project’, it really isn’t that vain.

At just 147 minutes long, ‘Straight Outta Compton’ admittedly has a lot to cover in regards to telling the lengthy history of N.W.A. Obviously not everything was addressed in this film and it could even be argued that it tries to do a bit too much in its given runtime. But even with that in mind, ‘Straight Outta Compton’ still stands strong thanks to F. Gary Gray’s solid direction and the talented cast portraying the members of N.W.A, including O’Shea Jackson Jr. as his father Ice Cube and Jason Mitchell as the late Eazy-E. Even though the film is produced by former N.W.A. members Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, the film never really feels like a vanity project as it even has the balls to highlight some of the flaws of its protagonists. But at the end of the day, the key reason why ‘Straight Outta Compton’ works as well as it does is the unfortunate fact that a lot of the things that the members of N.W.A. endured in their time are still occurring today. Just like last year with ‘Selma’, ‘Straight Outta Compton’ is a timely release that showcases how far we as a society still have to go as a result of our prejudiced past. It just so happens to come as the result of an energetic and emotionally charged musical biopic about the history of a group of individuals from one of the toughest neighborhoods in California who came together at the right time and forever changed the hip-hop genre.

Rating: 4.5/5

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Fan Vote- Favorite Films of Summer 2015

Hey everybody! Well with the summer movie season nearing its end, I’m continuing a new tradition that I started last year and will be holding a special fan survey in which you folks can vote for your favorite films from Summer 2015. All you have to do is go to the link provided below to vote for your favorite film from these past four months. That means any film that came out from the beginning of May to the end of August. I basically listed almost all of the major wide releases that I covered in my monthly ‘preview’ posts in this survey. But, like last year, if your favorite film is not on the list, feel free to list it in the write-in section. This year, the voting period will run for two weeks instead of one and will come to a close on September 3rd (I’ll be keeping you folks notified regularly on Twitter). At that point, all of the votes will be tallied up and I will be posting a special blog post covering your picks sometime shortly after. Depending on how things turn out, it’ll either be a Top 10 list or a full recap on every film that ended up getting a vote. I look forward to seeing your responses as to what your favorite films were from the summer of dinosaurs, superheroes, post-apocalyptic car chases, and much, much more.   

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) review

2015 has been a banner year for the spy genre and what’s even more impressive is the fact that all of the major spy films that have been released this year are all very much different in regards to execution. The year kicked off with ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’, which embraced the campier/over-the-top atmosphere of the genre that had been abandoned in recent years. Then in June there was ‘Spy’, a comedic flick that was surprisingly well-shot for a film of that genre. And just a few weeks ago, the ‘Mission Impossible’ franchise returned with a bang with yet another excellent installment in the form of ‘Rogue Nation’. Of course we have the next Bond film, ‘Spectre’, coming out later this year but for now we come to the latest 2015 spy flick, ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’. Like ‘Kingsman’, it harkens back to the old-school era of the genre. In fact, this is actually based off of a TV series of the same name which ran from 1964 to 1968 on NBC and starred Robert Vaughn and David McCallum as American agent Napoleon Solo and Russian agent Illya Kuryakin, respectively, polar opposites who find themselves working together as part of the international espionage organization known as the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement (U.N.C.L.E.). Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer take on these famous roles in director Guy Ritchie’s modern-day adaptation. And while the film may ultimately lack the depth of the other spy films we’ve seen this year, it still manages to be a pretty darn entertaining action flick, mainly due to Ritchie’s talents as a visual director.

In the midst of the Cold War in 1963, CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) helps German mechanic Gabby Teller (Alicia Vikander) escape from East Berlin in order to get her to help him and his superiors track down her father, a Nazi scientist who had recently been working for the U.S. government. But during their escape, they find themselves being pursued by KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), who they barely manage to get away from. The following day, Solo and Kuryakin suddenly find themselves being paired together by their superiors in a joint venture in order to investigate the owners of an Italian shipping company for whom Gabby’s uncle Rudi (Sylvester Groth) works for, Alexander (Luca Calvani) and Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki) Vinciguerra, a couple with ties to former Nazis who are using Gabby’s father to build them an atomic bomb. Despite their obvious contempt for one another, as well as the fact that they’re each given private instructions by their respective superiors to steal a vital piece of computer data for their governments and kill their partner if necessary, Solo and Kuryakin are forced to work together with the help of Gabby, who poses as Kuryakin’s fiancé, in order to prevent the Vinciguerras from getting the chance to use their nuke.

The film’s visuals are easily its biggest strength. Obviously the film’s production design is excellent in its period style, very much capturing the look and feel of the spy films of the 60’s just like how ‘Kingsman’ did a great job in harkening back to the more over-the-top tone and plotting of those films. Compared to some of the other spy films this year, this film is much simpler as far as the action sequences are concerned. In other words, you won’t be seeing anyone hang onto the side of a plane as it takes off from a runway or an all-out brawl break out inside a church. But Guy Ritchie more than makes up for that with his solid direction. The film moves at a solidly energetic pace and never drags at any point. Ritchie’s knack for visual flair also translates into the action sequences. Slick and kinetic, well-paired with a pulsating score by up-and-coming composer Daniel Pemberton, and from what I can tell mostly practical with both Cavill and Hammer doing a lot of their own stunts, these action sequences more than do their job in regards to thrilling the audience and for the most part make up for some of the film’s shortcomings as far as the writing is concerned.

Because admittedly, this film is sort of a major case of style over substance. In this case I’m not saying that this is a bad thing but it does mean that the film doesn’t have as much depth as something like ‘Kingsman’ or ‘Mission Impossible’. Each of the main characters get only very simple beats of character development (e.g. Solo’s criminal past, Kuryakin’s family history) and overall the story is generally straight-forward, not really pulling any major fast ones on us in terms of twists. But even with that said, the film definitely benefits from having an excellent ensemble cast. While Solo and Kuryakin spend most of their time bickering with each other, Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer have excellent camaraderie and the scenes of them going back and forth with each other are definitely one of the film’s major highlights. Both of them also prove to be very charming leads, with Cavill in particular showcasing off charm that would’ve made him a pretty damn good James Bond. Their leading ladies are even bigger standouts with both Alicia Vikander, in the midst of a breakout year having already garnered much acclaim for her performance in this year’s ‘Ex-Machina’, and Elizabeth Debicki, following her breakout turn as Jordan Baker in Baz Luhrmann’s ‘The Great Gatsby’, evoking classic Bond girls and femme fatales, respectively, with their performances. The film also features noteworthy cameos by Jared Harris as Solo’s CIA handler and Hugh Grant as Waverly who, minor spoilers for those who haven’t seen the show, becomes the head of U.N.C.L.E.

Unfortunately, it looks like this film is going to become one of the summer’s under-performers at the box-office, having only grossed $13 million during its opening weekend. It may not have been made on the type of budget that we see for superhero films nowadays, but that’s still not a solid number for a film that was made on a budget of around $75 million. And that’s sad because this film is pretty damn entertaining and is a prime example of pure film escapism. Sure it may also be a major example of a film that is style over substance but Ritchie’s style is so good that I can ignore that for the most part. The film is a fun thrill-ride from beginning to end thanks to its exciting action sequences and its solid cast, headlined by the charming trio of Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, and Alicia Vikander. Like ‘Mission: Impossible’, I’ll admit that I went into this without having seen any episodes of the TV show that it is based on but having now seen it, I’m now encouraged to check out the show in the future. Obviously because of this, I can’t really say anything about how much this film stays true to its source material, and for the record this is basically a prequel to the TV series, but I will say that I had a lot of fun watching this film and if you’re looking for a nice simple spy action-adventure flick, then I think you’ll like this film as well.     

Rating: 3.5/5

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Fantastic Four (2015) review

Debuting in November 1961 as the first major superhero team developed by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the Fantastic Four have been one of Marvel’s most famous franchises as far as the comics are concerned. But as for their track record on the big screen, Marvel’s First Family has not been as successful compared to other Marvel franchises such as Spider-Man, The Avengers, X-Men, or even lesser-known characters like the Guardians of the Galaxy. It all began in 1994 when famous B-movie producer Roger Corman produced a low-budget adaptation of ‘The Fantastic Four’. But because either the production company behind it, Constantin Film, just made it to keep the film rights or Marvel stepped in so that it wouldn’t ‘ruin the franchise’, that film was never released in theaters and is currently only viewable on the internet in bootleg quality. 20th Century Fox would eventually get a ‘Fantastic Four’ film into theaters in 2005 with the Tim Story directed ‘Fantastic Four’. The film was successful enough financially to warrant a sequel, ‘Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer’, in 2007. But while both films performed solidly enough at the box-office, they were also generally disliked by both critics and audiences, primarily for their overtly goofy attempts at humor, some questionable casting choices (i.e. Jessica Alba as the Invisible Woman), and, in the case of the sequel, one of the worst changes from the comics in superhero film history in regards to the portrayal of Galactus.

Cut to 2015, 8 years after the release of ‘Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer’. Fox is back again with their second major attempt at launching a ‘Fantastic Four’ film franchise. And compared to the previous two films, this one really showed some potential due to who was working on it. It was to be directed by Josh Trank, who was fresh off of 2012’s excellent found-footage flick ‘Chronicle’. It was to be produced by Matthew Vaughn and Simon Kinberg, who were both fresh off of playing a major role in the resurrection of the ‘X-Men’ franchise with 2011’s ‘First Class’ and later ‘Days of Future Past’. And it would feature an excellent group of leads playing the Fantastic Four in Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, and Jamie Bell. But, as is typical with any film in the superhero genre, this one was subjected to some heavy scrutiny by comic book fans in the months leading up to its release. As is also common with this genre, the casting was one of the major points of controversy amongst fans, primarily the casting of Michael B. Jordan in the role of the Human Torch, who is usually portrayed as a white man in the comics. Additional rumors including major deviations from the source material (including the supposed change of Doctor Doom into a hacker), confirmed reshoots, and rumors of Trank being ‘abrasive’ during the shoot also aroused suspicion that this was going to turn out to be nothing more than a mess. And now that the film has come out… well, unfortunately those fears are well-founded as this new ‘Fantastic Four’ ultimately ends up being a ‘fantastic’ disaster.

In 2007, young Reed Richards dreams of becoming the first human in existence to teleport. With the help of his best friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), Reed (Miles Teller) starts to develop a prototype for a teleportation device. That prototype ends up attracting the attention of Professor Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) of the Baxter Foundation, who recruits Reed to help work on a special teleportation device developed by Storm’s old protégé Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell). Along with Storm’s children Sue (Kate Mara) and Johnny (Michael B. Jordan), Reed helps get the machine operational but is disappointed to learn that he won’t be part of the initial voyage to the alternate dimension (referred to as ‘Planet Zero’) that the teleporter is set to head to. But the night before this is set to happen, Reed, Johnny, Victor, and Ben end up taking an unsanctioned trip to Planet Zero so that they could have their chance at using the machine that they created. Once there, chaos ensues and Reed, Johnny, Ben, and Sue (who didn’t come with them but was affected when the device returned to Earth) find themselves with strange new abilities; Reed can stretch his body to great lengths, Sue can turn invisible and generate force fields, Johnny can engulf himself in flames and can fly, and Ben is transformed into a powerful rock-like creature. With these new powers, the four must band together when Victor returns from Planet Zero hell-bent on the destruction of the Earth.

It is very much clear that the theatrical cut of this film was the result of Fox taking away creative control from Josh Trank, which I presume was due to them not having any faith in his vision for the film, which probably included all of those alleged major deviations from the comics (i.e. Doom being a hacker). As a result, the film as it is now definitely feels like the haphazard final product of this meddling. There are quite a few instances of continuity errors (most notably Sue’s changing hairstyle) and the film’s pacing feels off. Ultimately that leads into the film’s biggest issue… it is extremely dull and lacks the visual spark that one can expect from films of this genre. From what I hear, Fox actually cut out at least three major action sequences from the film just days before shooting was set to begin. Uh Fox, you do realize that action sequences are the bread and butter of this genre, right? But apparently they forgot about that because this has to be one of the most boring superhero films that I’ve ever seen in my life. Pretty much all of the film’s action sequences (all 2 of them) happen at the end, which means that basically 80% of this ‘superhero film’ is nothing more than just scenes of exposition. The very much-dragged out buildup to the Four gaining their powers ultimately leads to terrible payoff and the final fight between them and Doom is laughably bland and insignificant. This emphasis on exposition instead of action was also an issue with the 2005 ‘Fantastic Four’ film but even that film had better pacing than this.

Another big issue is that the film is also pretty darn downbeat compared to, well, pretty much every other superhero film ever made. If I haven’t made it clear before, I’ve been rather hesitant about DC’s more serious approach to their superhero films to the point where they are apparently enforcing a ‘no joke’ mandate. But after watching this film, I can safely say that I’m pretty confident that DC will never go as far as this film did in terms of its overall tone. Trank has stated that David Cronenberg was a major influence in regards to how he approached how the Four would react to their transformations; in other words, it’s very much reminiscent of body horror. Now I do think that this is an interesting take on these characters and you can definitely see that in the initial scenes of them with their powers, which are arguably the best scenes in the entire film. But ultimately those are the only moments where this concept is utilized. As a whole, the film is very drab in its overall look and feel, lacking the humor and charm that one can expect from, say, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There are some attempts at humor throughout the film but most of them end up falling flat. Hell, what I’d argue is the best line from the trailer, where Johnny remarks about how he’ll need ‘a heat-resistant workshop and a big-ass sunroof’… isn’t even in the film. Whereas the previous ‘Fantastic Four’ films were a bit too goofy, this film is just too damn serious.

Now I wouldn’t be ‘too annoyed’ with the darker approach if the characters were well-developed. But unfortunately they aren’t and again it’s due to the film’s terrible pacing. Not long after the initial incident they literally cut to one year later, glossing over what should have been essential moments of character development. In fact, it isn’t even until the end of the film when the Four are actually all together on-screen. As a result, you never get a sense of the familial relationships between the main four that define who they are in the comics whatsoever; the friendship of Reed and Ben, the romance between Reed and Sue, etc. And it’s sad because, contrary to popular opinion, I think that the film was well-cast in regards to the main Four. Teller, Mara, Jordan, and Bell have all proven to be some of the best actors/actresses of their generation but unfortunately they’re all pretty much wasted here. And I think that they did a good job in casting Doctor Doom by going with Toby Kebbell, who last year really stood out as Koba, the main villain of ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’. It’s too bad then that Kebbell is majorly underused here. After the incident, Doom is not seen again until the end of the film and by that point there’s absolutely no motivation for his actions other than ‘he’s just evil’. For the record, that is the third straight time that one of Marvel’s most iconic villains has been butchered on the big screen, from being an absolute wuss in the 1994 ‘Fantastic Four’ film to the overly cheesy Doom of the 2000’s ‘Fantastic Four’ films to finally the highly underdeveloped baddie of this ‘Fantastic Four’ film.

Now let me be clear; while it’s obvious that Josh Trank was majorly screwed over by Fox in regards to him losing creative control over what would turn out to be a quite aimless final product, at the end of the day we may never know if his ‘version’ of the film would’ve been any better. This may have just been a case of a young director who was simply unprepared to handle a big-budget blockbuster like this, hence why Fox seemed to have had little faith in what he did with it. Ultimately though, I don’t blame Trank for the fact that this new version of this new ‘Fantastic Four’ film that we got is… just terrible. This film is just not entertaining and not just because it is severely lacking in terms of action sequences, which is something that you really don’t want for a film in the superhero genre, but because it’s also quite dour. Ultimately, it’s just boring; thankfully the film is only 100 minutes long and it actually does fly by rather fast. But at the end of the day, that also means that the film fails to make any major impression whatsoever. And that’s really sad given how many good people worked on it and while I know that a lot of people were hesitant about this film, I was actually really optimistic and hopeful that this film was going to be good and prove its critics wrong. But at the end of the day, it just ends up being a major disappointment, continuing the mediocre track record of the ‘Fantastic Four’ on the big screen. On the bright side, maybe Marvel’s First Family will have greater luck when their film rights are inevitably reacquired by Marvel Studios.  

Rating: 1/5

(P.S. To put this rating into perspective, I gave both the 1994 unreleased low-budget ‘Fantastic Four’ film and both of the early 2000’s ‘Fantastic Four’ films higher ratings than this… now that’s saying something)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Fantastic Four (1994, 2005, 2007) Film Series Retrospective

We are currently in the golden age of superhero films and Marvel is right at the forefront of this comic book revolution. Thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe along with films produced by other studios like Fox and Sony, many of Marvel’s iconic characters have graced the big-screen to solid success, from Iron Man to Spider-Man to the X-Men to even lesser-known characters like the Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man. But not every superhero has had a successful run on the big screen and probably the most infamous example of this has been the Fantastic Four. Despite being arguably one of the most famous superhero groups in not just the Marvel Universe but of all-time, their track record on film has been fairly mediocre at best, especially when compared with their fellow Marvel heroes like Spider-Man or the Avengers. The upcoming ‘Fantastic Four’ film, directed by Josh Trank, will be the third major attempt at bringing Marvel’s ‘First Family’ to the big-screen after two previous attempts in the past failed to attract much success. One film in particular didn’t even make it to theaters and the two that did are generally considered to be some of the weakest superhero films of their era. And today we’ll be looking at all three of those films. Yes I will be looking at not only the 2005 ‘Fantastic Four’ and its 2007 sequel but also the 1994 low-budget version that was ultimately never released in theaters. Here’s hoping that the new ‘Fantastic Four’ film will finally break this curse of this unlucky superhero film franchise.


Before the two ‘Fantastic Four’ films that we are all familiar with ever came out, and before Marvel was even the film powerhouse that it is today, there was actually a different ‘Fantastic Four’ film that even predates the 2005 film. This particular film was produced in 1994 by B-movie king Roger Corman and directed by music video director Oley Sassone. Never heard of it? Well, there’s actually a rather legitimate reason for this. For you see, this film never got a theatrical release, despite it being promoted in theaters at the time and the announcement of a planned world premiere at the Mall of America on January 19, 1994. Apparently the reasoning behind this move was that the film was never actually intended to be shown in theaters and was just produced so that producer Bernd Eichinger (who would go on to produce the following two officially released ‘Fantastic Four’ films) could retain the rights to the characters, though Eichinger himself denied these claims and instead claimed that Marvel stepped in because they didn’t want the film to ‘ruin the franchise’. Regardless of which story is true, most of the cast and crew were left completely unaware of this and in that regard, I do feel bad for them in this situation, having to ‘learn the hard way’ that the film they had all worked so hard on would never get to see the light of day. Unlike the 1990 ‘Captain America’ film, which was also never released in theaters but was released on home video, this film has never seen an official release outside of bootleg recordings on the internet.

To the credit of the cast and crew, if anything it looks like they at least tried their best with the limited resources that they had. This film only had a budget of around $2 million, and just about half of that budget went solely into developing the costuming for ‘The Thing’. But with that said, yes you could definitely tell that this is a very low-budget flick as far as superhero films are concerned based on certain elements of the production design and the visuals, or lack thereof in some cases. There’s seriously a ‘fight scene’ (and I use that term loosely) between the Thing and some of Dr. Doom’s henchmen which just consists of the camera rapidly spinning around to ‘simulate’ the action before cutting to the ‘aftermath’. And I’m pretty sure that the one major action sequence in which Johnny Storm is in full Human Torch mode recycles the exact same visual cues of an old ‘Superman’ cartoon from the 1940’s. Also there apparently wasn’t any major ADR work done for Dr. Doom because whenever he talks, he’s more unintelligible than Bane from ‘The Dark Knight Rises’. And finally, speaking of this iteration of Dr. Doom, he is easily the weakest villain in superhero film history as he lacks any sort of intimidation factor and repeatedly gets his plans foiled and his butt kicked by the Fantastic Four. Sure he may have a solid connection to the Fantastic Four being Reed Richards’ old friend from college, Victor Von Doom, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is just a wuss of a villain. Seriously, even Malekith from ‘Thor 2’ wasn’t as bad as him.

Ultimately, this ‘Fantastic Four’ is very cheesy and even a bit overly melodramatic at times, which partially stems from the film’s rather over-bearing score. But despite all of that, for some strange reason, I actually recommend you checking this film out at least once in your life (heck, I’ll even provide a link to it below). Let me be clear, it is by no means ‘good’ but similar to the legendary stinker ‘Batman and Robin’, it actually turns out to be one of those ‘so bad it’s hilarious’ films, namely due to the aforementioned ‘oddities’ that I mentioned earlier. And for what it’s worth, the four main leads in the film who play the Fantastic Four (technically 5 if you count the fact that Thing is played by two different actors); Alex Hyde-White, Rebecca Staab, Jay Underwood, and Michael Bailey Smith (Carl Ciarfalio plays ‘the Thing’) are fine enough in their respective roles. But ultimately I’d only recommend this film if you’re really interested in checking out an odd little part of cinematic superhero history; a low-budget superhero film that never got released to theaters and can only be viewed through bootleg-quality copies on the internet. Seriously, they released that godawful ‘Captain America’ film from the 90’s on Blu-Ray recently (I’ll get to that one someday) so why hasn’t this ‘Fantastic Four’ film gotten the same treatment? I’m serious, I think the time has come to give this film a proper home video release instead of just having it be viewable only on the internet and in rather piss-poor quality. In fact, dare I say that there is more heart to this ‘Fantastic Four’ film than the films that actually got released in theaters? That folks… is saying something.

Rating: 1.5/5


One whole decade after the 1994 ‘Fantastic Four’ film incident, producer Bernd Eichinger finally brought Marvel’s First Family to the big screen with 2005’s ‘Fantastic Four’, directed by Tim Story. The film was a solid hit at the box office, ultimately making about 3.3 times its original budget. However, the film itself fared poorly with critics and most audiences. As for me, I’ll admit that I don’t necessarily ‘hate’ this film compared to many others on the internet and while I hate using this term, I guess you can say this is sort of a ‘guilty pleasure’ for me. Still, this is definitely one of the weaker superhero films of the early 2000’s. It sort of shares a major similarity with the 2003 ‘Daredevil’ film in that it very much feels like a Hollywoodized superhero film in terms of execution, which seems to have been the major pattern for most of Fox’s Marvel flicks up until the X-Men series got itself back on track in 2011 with ‘X-Men: First Class’. In fact, for a superhero film, ‘Fantastic Four’ is actually rather light on superhero action. There are only about two to three major action sequences in the entire film and most of the run-time is instead focusing on scenes of the main characters talking and placing a lot of emphasis on humor that quite frankly comes off as being way too goofy. To anyone who complains about the Marvel Cinematic Universe films being way too focused on humor, trust me when I say that at least they’ve never gone ‘this far’.         

As far as casting is concerned, the film is about 50-50 in terms of its casting choices. The two biggest standouts are Chris Evans, before he took on another famous Marvel hero, Captain America, in, to be perfectly blunt, much better films, as the Human Torch and Michael Chiklis as Thing (also props to the filmmakers for sticking with practical make-up effects in order to bring Thing to life). Both do solid jobs in capturing their characters’ personalities and despite what I said earlier about the film’s over-reliance on humor, the back-and-forth camaraderie between them is actually one of the better aspects of the film. Heck, I’d also argue that Ioan Gruffudd was actually a solid choice for Mr. Fantastic even though he really could’ve benefitted more from a better script. But as for Jessica Alba as the Invisible Woman, this is definitely one of the biggest miscastings in superhero film history. In fact, this feels much more like stunt-casting given how much emphasis is placed on her sex appeal instead of any of the things that made the Invisible Woman such a great character in the comics. Julian McMahon is also majorly miscast as Dr. Doom. I may not have read much of the ‘Fantastic Four’ comics, but I definitely tell that the Doom of this film series shares little similarities with the Doom from the comics. All in all, though, I’ll admit that I still find this film to be fairly entertaining in parts and I don’t think that it’s the absolute worst superhero film of the era. But with that said, this is also by no means one of the genre’s best. Compared to other superhero films of the time like the first two ‘Spider-Man’ and ‘X-Men’ films, this is a much more ‘by-the-numbers’ superhero flick which definitely must have been majorly disappointing for fans of the franchise.

Rating: 3/5


So while the first ‘Fantastic Four’ film didn’t do so great with critics, it was successful enough to warrant a sequel in 2007 in ‘Rise of the Silver Surfer’. As the title suggests, this film, which surprisingly managed to warrant a PG rating after the first film was rated PG-13, introduces the iconic ‘Silver Surfer’, the herald of Galactus, the Devourer of Worlds. But like the previous film, this film also fared poorly with critics… but also like the previous film, I don’t think that this film is all that bad. In fact, I’d say it’s actually one of those rare sequels that actually manages to be better than the original, even if that’s not really saying much in the case of this franchise. It still carries quite a few of the same issues from the previous film, specifically the overly goofy attempts at humor and the hit or miss quality of the cast. Thankfully, though, this film does up the amount of action which was rather lacking in the first film. Because of that, this film also doesn’t drag as much at times like its predecessor did. And at the end of the day, the Silver Surfer (portrayed by Doug Jones but voiced by Laurence Fishburne) is definitely a major standout. But ultimately this film’s biggest downfall is how it portrays the character of Galactus. Instead of portraying him as the gigantic purple suit-wearing god-like character that comic book fans are all familiar with, he is instead turned into a giant cloud-like entity with a few fleeting visuals that resemble his look from the comics.

Now I’m not one to do many film comparisons but in the case of how Galactus is portrayed in this film, I feel that I must by comparing this infamous change to another infamous comic book film change; the ‘Mandarin’ fake-out from ‘Iron Man 3’. Obviously I’ve made it very clear in the past that I will always defend the ‘Mandarin’ twist because while it does go against how the character was portrayed in the comics, it actually worked well within the context of that film’s story. But the same cannot be said for Galactus in this film. There’s absolutely no reason story-wise for Galactus to look the way that he does in the film. Really, the only major reason I can figure as to why Galactus is portrayed like this is because the filmmakers couldn’t really come up with a way of having him look like he does in the comics without it being too silly. Though at the end of the day, I can’t really blame them that much for this because quite frankly even I can’t see how one can do this character justice on the big-screen without making some changes to his character design. So like with the first ‘Fantastic Four’, I’ll admit that I actually do like ‘Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer’. Again it is by no means the ‘best’ superhero film ever made. It makes one of the worst ‘character changes’ in superhero film history and it still carries some of its predecessor’s glaring issues. But at the same time I don’t think that it is ‘terrible’ and if I had to choose between this and the first film, ultimately I prefer this film as it does benefit from better pacing and more action.

Rating: 3.5/5

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015) review

The ‘Mission Impossible’ franchise has been one of the rare film franchises that has actually gotten better and better as the series has gone on. It started off solidly enough in 1996 with the Brian De Palma-directed ‘Mission Impossible’, which still holds up quite well even after almost two decades. But then the series took a major stumble in 2000 with John Woo’s ‘Mission Impossible II’, as Woo, despite being one of the most famous action directors in the world at the time, proved to be the wrong choice for director, making the film feel more like a Bond film than a ‘Mission Impossible’ film. Thankfully, ‘franchise savior’ J.J. Abrams redeemed the franchise when he made his directorial debut with the third ‘Mission Impossible’ film in 2006 as he brought back the series’ fast-paced tone that had been severely lacking in the second film. But little did we know that the series would get even better in 2011 when Brad Bird made his live-action directorial debut with ‘Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’. Not only did that film feature some of the series’ best action sequences to date but it also greatly excelled in placing greater emphasis on the one major aspect of the franchise that had defined it since its days as a TV series in the 60’s; the team dynamic of the main IMF team. Whereas earlier films placed more emphasis on Tom Cruise’s character Ethan Hunt, sometimes to the detriment of his co-stars, ‘Ghost Protocol’ did a far greater job at balancing out the roles of Ethan’s teammates and giving them solid character development, resulting in the series’ best group of leads to date.

For the fifth film in the franchise, ‘Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’, directing duties go to Christopher McQuarrie, who also wrote the screenplay for the film and co-wrote the story with Drew Pearce. While McQuarrie’s directorial resume has been fairly short prior to directing this film, with only two films to his name, he does have the benefit of being one of Tom Cruise’s most frequent collaborators in recent years, having worked on the screenplays for ‘Valkyrie’ and ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ and directing Cruise in 2012’s ‘Jack Reacher’ (he also wrote the highly-acclaimed crime drama ‘The Usual Suspects’ for Bryan Singer, who would go on to direct Cruise in ‘Valkyrie’, in 1995). So clearly McQuarrie was a solid choice to take on a ‘Mission Impossible’ film and because of it, ‘Rogue Nation’ is another Grade-A entry in this long-running franchise that has now been around for almost two whole decades. While I don’t know if I can go as far as say that it is ‘better’ than ‘Ghost Protocol’, namely due to it going back a bit on one of the best aspects of its predecessor, ‘Rogue Nation’ delivers exactly what you’ve come to expect from this franchise; impressive, tension-filled action sequences and a fast-paced story that is full of twists and turns. All of this results in what is easily one of the best blockbusters of the year that continues the resurgence of the ‘Mission Impossible’ franchise.

At the end of ‘Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’, IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) received a mission brief about ‘the Syndicate’, a rogue organization full of trained operatives, like the IMF, that have been behind a series of attacks all over the world. As ‘Rogue Nation’ begins, Ethan has been spending the last year trying to prove the Syndicate’s existence with little success. To make matters worse, as a result of all of the IMF’s actions in previous films, the government has the IMF disbanded. Around this time, Ethan finally gets a lead on the Syndicate when he has a run-in with the organization’s leader, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). But due to the IMF’s disbandment and him being branded as a fugitive by the CIA, Ethan is forced to go rogue, along with his IMF teammates Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), as well as a new ally in Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), a disavowed MI6 agent working with the Syndicate, in order to take down Solomon Lane and the Syndicate before they can take down the IMF. 

Just like with previous entries in the franchise, ‘Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’ greatly delivers in terms of its action sequences. Of course there is the famous moment featured in the trailer, which actually serves as the opening sequence of the film, where Ethan Hunt hangs onto the side of a military aircraft as it takes off. But then you also have some other exceptional action sequences, from Ethan’s dive into a secure underwater server without the use of any oxygen tanks to a tense fight sequence inside a Vienna Opera House. And of course these sequences are even more effective due to their practical execution that once again shows that Tom Cruise is quite the badass due to him always doing his own stunts. Each ‘Mission Impossible’ director has brought something different to the franchise, from Brad Bird’s comic sensibilities to J.J. Abrams’ modern-day action aesthetic. In the case of McQuarrie, I’d say his biggest strength as director is in regards to how well he stages the film’s action sequences that in turn result in solid build-up, with the aforementioned Opera House sequence being the prime example of this. Like Brad Bird before him, McQuarrie does an excellent job in establishing solid suspense through both the action sequences and the overall plot. And because of both the latter and the film’s solid screenplay full of the usual twists and turns that one would expect from a film of this genre, I was fully invested in this film from beginning to end.

However, there is one thing about this film that is a little disappointing to me coming off of ‘Ghost Protocol’ and that is that it backtracks a bit on one of the greatest things about its immediate predecessor; the team dynamic. Despite being series regulars, Brandt and Luther are mostly ignored for the first half of the film, sidelined away from the action while the film focuses more on Ethan Hunt. While the film does attempt to further develop Ethan as a character through what could’ve been an interesting plot-point of him possibly being deranged in thinking that the Syndicate is real, at the end of the day it doesn’t really go anywhere and is actually rather pointless given the fact that he is ultimately shown to be right. Thankfully Simon Pegg isn’t underused early on like Renner and Rhames as Benji is right there with Ethan for most of the film’s first half. Plus, Brandt and Luther eventually end up rejoining them for the second half of the film so it’s not like ‘Mission Impossible II’ where Rhames and John Polson were completely underused due to a greater focus on Ethan Hunt. And when the four are all together, their camaraderie with one another is just as strong as it was in previous films. But then you have the biggest standout of the entire film in Rebecca Ferguson as female lead Ilsa. Described by some as the ‘female Ethan Hunt’ of the film, Ferguson more than holds her own against Cruise and is quite frankly the most interesting character in the entire film, an agent forced to work for the Syndicate so that she wouldn’t risk being killed by them.  

When it comes to villains, the ‘Mission Impossible’ films have admittedly had some lackluster foes for Ethan Hunt and his team to face. The most notorious case of this has been with ‘Ghost Protocol’. It may be a masterpiece but its single downfall is that it had the series’ weakest villain to date, but like with most of the MCU films, I didn’t think it was that big of an issue due to how well-written the main characters were. Before this film’s release, the series’ greatest villain had been Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Owen Davian from ‘Mission Impossible III’. But even then that was more due to Hoffman’s excellent performance in the role and not because of the writing. In other words, he was more of an intimidating foe than he was a well-written one as a result of that film’s action-heavy pacing. So as far as ‘Mission Impossible’ villains are concerned, Sean Harris’ Solomon Lane is the series’ best villain to date in terms of the writing. Compared to Hendricks, the villain from ‘Ghost Protocol’, Lane has a much more substantial role in the film as the main villain and has a greater presence that can be felt throughout the entire film. He proves to be a solid foil to Ethan Hunt and is sort of like the Joker in how he always manages to be one step ahead of Ethan and his team. And for the record this is all without him ever really partaking in any of the film’s action sequences.

I’ll admit that I’m a little disappointed that the team dynamic that had been handled to such great effect in ‘Ghost Protocol’ wasn’t managed as well here to the point where two of the main leads don’t get anything major to do until the film’s second half. That’s why at the end of the day I feel that ‘Ghost Protocol’ is still the best film in the series, even if this film does have the advantage of having a much stronger villain. But that doesn’t mean that ‘Rogue Nation’ is a bad film… far from it. It still very much succeeds in delivering on what you have come to expect from this franchise; amazing action sequences, solid tension (primarily thanks to the action sequences), and an overall fast-paced tone. Director Christopher McQuarrie does an excellent job as director, primarily due to how well he sets up the film’s action sequences. So thanks to McQuarrie’s solid direction, an excellent ensemble cast, and a solid screenplay/story that kept me engrossed from beginning to end, ‘Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’ is another excellent installment of a franchise that has only gotten better and better over the years. It really is quite impressive how far this series has come from its early days, especially after the second film could’ve potentially killed the franchise due to it being, well, pretty damn mediocre. But thanks to its last three films, the ‘Mission Impossible’ franchise has now become one of the best, if not the best, action film franchises around.  

Rating: 4.5/5

Saturday, August 1, 2015

2015 Preview: August

Summer may be coming to a close but the 2015 year in film is still going strong. Welcome back to Rhode Island Movie Corner’s year-long preview of the films that are set to come out in 2015. This is Part 8 of 12 and today we’ll be looking at all of the films that will be hitting theaters this August. It’s commonly said that this is when the Summer Movie Season begins to fizzle out but I think that there are still quite a few noteworthy films coming out this month. So without further ado, here are the films of August 2015.

AUGUST 7- A pretty busy weekend with four new wide releases kicking off the month, including the last major Marvel film of the year.

*Director Josh Trank (‘Chronicle’) helms the third major film adaptation of Marvel’s First Family, the ‘Fantastic Four’. As with previous adaptations of this particular franchise, the film centers on the foursome of Reed Richards AKA Mr. Fantastic (Miles Teller), Susan Storm AKA the ‘Invisible Woman’ (Kate Mara), her brother Johnny Storm AKA the ‘Human Torch’ (Michael B. Jordan), and Ben Grimm AKA ‘The Thing’ (Jamie Bell), who gain unique superpowers during a scientific experiment. The film also stars Toby Kebbell as Dr. Doom and Reg E. Cathey as Susan and Johnny’s father Franklin.

*Joel Edgerton makes his directorial debut with ‘The Gift’, in which Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall star as a married couple whose relationship becomes complicated when the arrival of an old acquaintance (played by Edgerton) of Bateman’s character leads into the reveal of an old dark secret from their past.

*Meryl Streep stars in ‘Ricki and the Flash’, directed by Jonathan Demme (‘The Silence of the Lambs’) and written by Diablo Cody (‘Juno’). Streep plays a former musician who returns home for the first time in years after leaving it all behind to pursue a music career. The film also stars Kevin Kline and Sebastian Stan.

*Finally this week there is the ‘Shaun the Sheep Movie’, a feature film adaptation of the British stop-motion animated series ‘Shaun the Sheep’, which centered around the titular character of the same name who had first appeared in the ‘Wallace and Gromit’ short film ‘A Close Shave’. In this film, Shaun decides to take a day off but ends up having to get everyone he knows back home following a mix-up.

AUGUST 14- Three major wide releases this month, including a spy flick, a musical biopic, and an animated sports film.

*An adaptation of the 1960’s spy TV series of the same name, ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ is directed by Guy Ritchie (director of the Robert Downey Jr. starring ‘Sherlock Holmes’ films) and stars Henry ‘Superman’ Cavill and Armie ‘Lone Ranger’ Hammer as CIA agent Napoleon Solo and KGB agent Illya Kuryakin, respectively, who are forced to work together in order to stop a criminal organization from using nuclear weapons on the world. The film also stars Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Jared Harris, and Hugh Grant.

*Directed by F. Gary Gray (‘Friday’), ‘Straight Outta Compton’ is the true story of hip-hop group N.W.A. and the intense controversy that spurred from their music, particularly in their hometown of Compton, California. Produced by band members Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, the film features Cube’s son O’Shea Jackson Jr. in the role of his father and also stars Paul Giamatti as the group’s manager.

*Originally released in Argentina and the United Kingdom in 2013, ‘Underdogs’ focuses on a boy named Jake (Amadeo in other regions) who attempts to defeat an old rival in a game of Foosball. Along the way, he discovers that he can actually talk to the board’s ‘foosball’ players. The film’s US voice cast includes Matthew Morrison, Ariana Grande, Bella Thorne, Nicholas Hoult, and Taran Killam.

AUGUST 21- A stoner comedy and video game adaptation headline the weekend.

*In ‘American Ultra’, Jesse Eisenberg stars as a stoner who learns that he’s actually a ‘sleeper’ agent for the government who must now deal with being labeled a ‘liability’ and marked for elimination. The film also stars Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, and John Leguizamo.

*The second major film adaptation of the ‘Hitman’ video game series, ‘Hitman: Agent 47’ (which was written by the same writer of the 2007 ‘Hitman’ film), Rupert Friend stars as the titular ‘Agent 47’, a secret agent who takes on assassination missions for an organization known as the International Contracts Agency. The film also stars Zachary Quinto and Thomas Kretschmann.

AUGUST 28- Finally we have three flicks that will conclude both the August lineup and the Summer Movie Season.

*The sequel to 2012’s horror hit ‘Sinister’, ‘Sinister 2’, not directed by Scott Derrickson but still written by him and C. Robert Cargill (AKA ‘Carlyle’ from the old film review website), centers on a young mother (Shannyn Sossamon) who moves into a new home with her two sons but must then deal with the mysterious demon known as ‘Bughuul’.

*Ethan Hawke and Emma Watson star in ‘Regression’, in which Hawke plays a detective who investigates a case in which a young teenager (Watson) accuses her father of a crime that he has no memory of.

*Finally, in ‘We Are Your Friends’, Zac Efron stars as an up-and-coming DJ looking to become a record producer. However, things get complicated when he gets involved with the girlfriend (Emily Ratajkowski) of his ‘mentor’ (Wes Bentley). The film also stars Jonny Weston and Jon Bernthal.

And those are the films that will be coming out this August. Check back next month for Part 9 as we start up the last third of the year with the films of September.