Tag Archives: pop culture podcast

Marcus Reviews The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

18 Dec

Synopsis:

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey follows title character Bilbo Baggins, who is swept into an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor, which was long ago conquered by the dragon Smaug. Approached out of the blue by the wizard Gandalf the Grey, Bilbo finds himself joining a company of thirteen dwarves led by the legendary warrior Thorin Oakenshield. Although their goal lies to the East and the wastelands of the Lonely Mountain, first they must escape the goblin tunnels, where Bilbo meets the creature that will change his life forever… Gollum. Here, alone with Gollum, on the shores of an underground lake, the unassuming Bilbo Baggins not only discovers depths of guile and courage that surprise even him, he also gains possession of Gollum’s “precious” …a simple, gold ring that is tied to the fate of all Middle-earth in ways Bilbo cannot begin to know

What I Liked:

If there’s one thing that Peter Jackson is able to do possibly better than any director before him, it’s capture & navigate the feelings of awe, fear and joy that come from experiencing a fantasy adventure. He showcases the highs & lows of an adventure like a true veteran while still managing to infuse the child-like wonder throughtout every part of the film. No matter how dangerous the journey, he makes you want to embark on that journey with the characters which is something that not many directors have been able to do.

Another thing that Jackson does better than practically every other director is work with scale & cinematography. As expected from by anyone who’s seen a Peter Jackson film at this point, The Hobbit is filled with sprawling landscapes & amazingly detailed structures that seem to be brimming with history and culture. The visuals in this film were downright breathtaking at times and out of everything I’ve seen this year only Skyfall rivals it’s beauty on a cinematic level.

The performances from the ensemble were quite strong all around; especially from Richard Armitage as the prideful & equally vengeful dwarf prince Thorin, Andy Serkis as the tragic & oddly adorable Gollum and the incomparable Ian McKellen as everyone’s favorite grand wizard, Gandalf; but it was Martin Freeman who truly stole the show here. From the moment we see him it becomes obvious that there was no one else that could’ve been Bilbo. He’s a man from small beginnings with a hidden but undeniable thirst for adventure who carries within him the virtues and spirit of The Shire. Though based on appearance alone he’s completely unequipped for an adventure of this magnitude, it’s his humble nature, his big heart & his simple values that make him the perfect man (Hobbit) for the task ahead. He’s one of those rare characters who actually becomes more layered as the story progresses and it’s a real treat to watch him grow.

Howard Shore returns to Middle Earth with long time collaborator Jackson and provides yet another rousing & grandiose score that makes the film feel that much more epic. It’s definitely one of the best film scores of the year.

What I Didn’t Like:

I wasn’t able to see this movie in 48fps format that had people so split but viewing it in 3-D was a bit of a chore in it’s own right. While the 3-D did make the landscapes & other visuals pop, during the action set pieces it became an eyesore as I kept having to adjust my eyes in order to keep up with the fast paced movements. I even had to take the glasses off every now and then because my eyes started hurting.

I wasn’t really a huge fan of the CG orcs. While I understand that it was a cheaper way to go, after using actual actors for the orcs for 3 movies this was kind of an unwelcome change. In fact the only things that I liked about the CG orcs were that they were able to use Wargs and Azog (the orc leader) looked badass.

The fact that Thorin thought that Azog had died after he’d simply cut his arm off baffled me.

There were certain moments in this that simply made no sense, the most glaring of which was the moment where the group was cornered by the orcs as they were dangling off of a toppled tree on a cliff but some how were able to spring into action the moment where Thorin was about to kick the bucket. It’s a nitpick I know but it kind of bothered me.

While this isn’t so much something that bothered me, the movie is quite deliberately paced and spends alot of time setting things up for the sequel which will undoubtedly bother the average moviegoer.

Overall:

In the pantheon of pure fantasy films, I consider the Lord of the Rings trilogy to be the perfect examples of how to get it right. They’re essentially beautifully crafted love letters not only to the source material, but the genre that Jackson so obviously loves. While the first installment of The Hobbit doesn’t quite meet the grand standards of it’s predecessors, it still is able to capture the scale and bewilderment that every great fantasy adventure should making it’s missteps almost seem irrelevant. Some people may fault this movie for being too lighthearted but it’s important to remember that, compared to The Lord of The Rings trilogy that follows it, The Hobbit is a much lighter series. Boasting expected but nonetheless breathtaking cinematography, a truly rousing score, great ensemble acting & a star turn from Martin Freeman, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a gleeful first installment to what I’m hoping to be a truly epic trilogy.

Rating: B/B+

Advertisements

Marcus Reviews Silver Linings Playbook

2 Dec

Synopsis:

Life doesn’t always go according to plan. Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) has lost everything — his house, his job, and his wife. He now finds himself living back with his mother (Jacki Weaver) and father (Robert DeNiro) after spending eight months is a state institution on a plea bargain. Pat is determined to rebuild his life, remain positive and reunite with his wife, despite the challenging circumstances of their separation. All Pat’s parents want is for him to get back on his feet-and to share their family’s obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles football team. When Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a mysterious girl with problems of her own, things get complicated. Tiffany offers to help Pat reconnect with his wife, but only if he’ll do something very important for her in return. As their deal plays out, an unexpected bond begins to form between them, and silver linings appear in both of their lives.

What I Liked:

Like all movies (especially comedies) that center around mental illness, Silver Linings Playbook ran the risk of offending a whole community of people if it didn’t handle it properly. If they would’ve underplayed it then it would’ve been chastised for playing it safe and on the flip side if they would’ve hammed it up they would’ve turned it into a parody. Luckily thanks to the capable hands involved in this film they were able to handle this touchy topic both honestly and tastefully while still pulling off natural comedy & genuine comedy. Hats off all around.

This movie is pretty stacked ensemble-wise and for the most part the supporting characters do a great job (Robert Deniro gives on of his better performances in recent memory and Chris Tucker provides a refreshing source of levity without being the least bit obnoxious) but this is Cooper & Lawrence’s movie to carry and carry it they did. It’s not secret now that Jennifer Lawrence is quite possibly the most talented young actress out there right now and her performance in this further supports that claim. When I first heard that she was in this movie alongside Bradley Cooper I was slightly worried due to how young she looks compared to him, but she was very much so a woman here. The way she had to weave in & out of the highs & lows of grief was no easy task and yet she was able to pull it off with relative ease. Bradley Cooper was the true star of this movie though as I have no doubt that his performance in this will earn him a Best Actor nod. Playing a character who deals with bipolar disorder would’ve easily gone array when it came time to display the manic episodes but Cooper’s growth as an actor was deftly showcased as he realistically depicted the ins and outs of this perplexing illness. He would make you laugh out loud one minute (his reactions to things were golden) and then break your heart the next in a way that a lesser actor could’ve only hoped to achieve.

I’d also like to shine a light on Bradley & Jennifer’s natural chemistry and charisma here. From the first moment that their characters laid eyes on one another it was magic and their chemistry was electric from that moment until the credits rolled. Considering the substantial age difference between the two, Bradley is 37 & Jennifer is 22, it’s truly impressive how they make it work without it ever being awkward or creepy.

The comedy in this movie was often times very risky as in several moments it happened in the middle of a manic episode but thanks to the sharp script and the talented actors it always felt oddly natural. I found myself laughing genuinely at moments where I didn’t even think it was appropriate to laugh.

There was a moment in this movie towards the end where I got really worried that the movie was going to go the Hollywood happy ending route and when they didn’t I was genuinely relieved.

What I Didn’t Like:

I don’t know whether it was the actress or the script that I should blame but the mother always ended up feeling like a background character. She really had very little presence whenever she was on screen and it was even more obvious whenever she was in a room full of people. Though then again this may have been intentional…

I could’ve done without some of the side characters if it meant more scenes with Chris Tucker.

Even though they were in Philly, I found the football sub plot to be a bit unneeded.

The pacing of this movie was a bit all over the place at times and it dragged a bit towards the middle.

Overall:

Silver Linings Playbook is one of those rare romantic comedies that isn’t satisfied with being cute chick bait and goes above and beyond to get the most out of it’s story and actors. It’s easily the best romantic comedy to come out this year and thanks to David O. Russell’s sensitive direction, a sharp script, some strong supporting performances and very strong turns from both Bradley Cooper & Jennifer Lawrence; I could definitely see this making a run at the Oscars this year. If you need a little feel good in your life then I definitely recommend that get yourself a date and check out Silver Linings Playbook.

Rating: B+

Marcus Reviews Rise of the Guardians

2 Dec

Synopsis:

When the evil spirit Pitch (The Boogeyman) launches an assault on Earth, the Immortal Guardians (Santa Claus, The Tooth Fairy, The Sandman, The Easter Bunny & the newly appointed Jack Frost) team up to protect the innocence of children all around the world.

What I Liked:

This movie is basically The Avengers/The Justice League for the pre-high school generation and it’s awareness of this fact turns out to be it’s greatest strength. The guardians are handled like superheroes; each with their own special powers & individual strengths but, like all superhero team movies, it’s seeing the group interact and fight together that is the true treat.

Visually Dreamworks is usually always playing second fiddle to Pixar & Disney but in the last few years they’ve stepped their game up and this is no exception. From the varied character designs to the surprisingly expansive world to the effects for the powers, Rise is a very attractive movie with an impressive amount of detail put into the visuals.

Plot-wise the movie was pretty by-the-numbers stuff but the overarching themes were pretty interesting. Without giving too much away, once a guardian is chosen they depend on the belief of children to keep them from “disappearing” into nothing more than a myth or an urban legend and I found that to be somewhat fascinating.

While for the most part they don’t have much depth, each of the characters in the movie are engaging in their own way which can be credited to the mostly impressive voice acting. Alec Baldwin showcases an great Russian accent as the hilariously over-the-top Santa Claus (who’s bound to be the kids favorite character), Isla Fisher speaks in double time as the frantic and semi-anal Tooth Fairy, Hugh Jackman goes back to his native accent as the overcompensating Easter Bunny and Jude Law (I kept mistaking for Tom Hiddleston) gets sinister as the very Loki-esque and poorly named Pitch (whenever someone said his name it sounded like they were cursing) aka The Boogeyman. I didn’t mention Sandy aka The Sandman because he didn’t speak a word the entire movie, instead he spoke using gestures and materializing images with his dream sand which was pretty cool and reminded me of The Green Lantern. The human characters were overall forgettable but they ultimately served their purpose.

The movie is briskly paced and while I do wish that they would’ve delved a bit more into the pasts of the Guardians and Pitch, I’m glad that the movie didn’t overstay it’s welcome.

Another way that this movie can be compared to The Avengers is by how high octane and epic that the action set pieces were. There were moments during the fight scenes that I actually got goosebumps from some of the things that I was seeing.

The elves & the yeti that belongs to Santa Claus were outright hilarious. I greatly prefer them to the minions from Despicable Me.

The scoring was nothing special but it was appropriate for the movie.

What I Didn’t Like:

While Jack Frost was pretty interesting and an overall likeable character, I felt like the choice of voice actor was a bit off putting. Even though he’s over a hundred years old, his character model makes him look like a teenager and Chris Pine’s voice sounded a bit too masculine and adult. There were moments where it match but others where it just didn’t sound right. I feel like they would’ve been better off going with a younger guy.

As I noted earlier, the movie goes by pretty quickly and because of this we only really got character development from Jack Frost. Now while I understand that this was basically his movie, I can only hope that there ends up being a sequel because I was left with questions about all of the other characters’ back stories as well as how the “Man on the Moon” thing even works.

Overall:

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again here, in my view the best animated films have something that appeals to both the children and the grown ups in the audience. They have to be able to cater to the kids while still being able to somehow keep the adults engaged and for the most part Rise of The Guardians does just that. While it could’ve used a bit more in the way of character development and there was an odd choice of voice actor, RoTG’s strengths ultimately outweigh its negatives with fun characters, attractive visuals, epic action set pieces and a surprising amount of depth for a movie of this nature. If you’ve already seen Wreck-It-Ralph then I definitely recommend that you grab your siblings, your kids or even some friends and check this one out.

Rating: B

Marcus Reviews Killing Them Softly

2 Dec

Synopsis:

Jackie Cogan is an enforcer hired to restore order after three dumb guys rob a Mob protected card game, causing the local criminal economy to collapse.

What I Liked:

From the moment that this movie started I knew that I was in for one hell of a ride. Few movies make me feel that way right off the bat but when they do they usually end up being something truly special.

While using a mobster backdrop as the scenery for social commentary is hardly a new concept, the cynical, grim & controversial nature that it’s presented in in Killing Them Softly is what truly forces you to pay attention. Set in the middle of the recession, the stark mood and blatant force of the film feel warranted and even appropriate instead of coming off as heavy handed.

Andrew Dominik does a fantastic job at bringing this seemingly pre-apocalyptic view of America and the dirty characters that inhabit it to life. There’s nothing pretty about this world and Dominik really makes sure that we’re aware of that. He also does a great job at getting the most of the scenes by letting a scene run a bit longer then you’re comfortable with and building very real tension.

The ensemble acting in this is fantastic all around with Scott McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn & the ever impressive, James Gandolfini standing out particularly but ultimately it’s Brad Pitt that steals the entire movie. His character exudes cool but it’s a cool that stems from apathy and lethargy. He’s a man who’s been in the game for so long that he knows the system like the back of his hand and he’s tired of all the bullsh*t. He’s walking, talking cynicism in a leather jacket & aviators with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and you can’t help but be intrigued.

The script, also provided by Andrew Dominik, is a brilliant mix of insanely dark but genuinely hilarious comedy, vulgar profanity and very honest confessions/anecdotes. None of the dialogue feels out of place here and it only adds effect to the movie’s controversial tone.

The cinematography is very raw & unflitered which gives the movie the feel of old procedural cop dramas like Kojak & Columbo and combined with Dominik’s surefooted direction, Killing Me Softly has an interesting mix of the past and the present.

There is no score in this film, instead there are a set of old rock/folk songs that are hilariously placed and totally appropriate.

This movie has the best ending of any movie that I’ve seen all year (and possibly one of the best of all time). There is literally no better way that they could’ve closed a movie of this nature and that scene alone could earn Brad Pitt an Oscar nod.

What I Didn’t Like:

There will inevitably be those that won’t agree but I honestly can’t think of anything that I had a problem with here. In my mind this movie hit all the right notes and was executed perfectly.

Overall:

Killing Them Softly is one of those rare movies that comes along and ends up being so different from everything that came out that year that people can’t help but take notice. It’s raw, edgy, cynical, dark, eye opening and downright hilarious all at the same time. People actually clapped at the end of this. It’s a movie that’s fully aware of the urgency and importance of it’s message and doesn’t hold back once. This movie is the personification of the quotation marks on the term “The American Dream”. I’d be hard pressed to find a movie that was more timely and culturally relevant to come out this year. Stacked with a fantastic ensemble cast, hard hitting social commentary, ballsy direction by Andrew Dominick and quite possibly Brad Pitt’s best turn in years; Killing Me Softly is a film that might not be appreciated by everyone, but one that people will be talking about.

Rating: A

Marcus Reviews Lincoln

18 Nov

Synopsis:

Steven Spielberg directs Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln, a revealing drama that focuses on the 16th President’s tumultuous final months in office. In a nation divided by war and the strong winds of change, Lincoln pursues a course of action designed to end the war, unite the country and abolish slavery. With the moral courage and fierce determination to succeed, his choices during this critical moment will change the fate of generations to come.

What I Liked:

Daniel Day Lewis is absolutely phenomenal in this. He was so good in fact that every time he appeared on screen and spoke, everyone else suddenly felt irrelevant which is very rare. Lewis portrayed Lincoln as an idealist that was as stubborn as he was ambitious, a man of the people proficient in anecdotal stories and a conflicted commander & chief in warring times with ease. His Lincoln was towering in height but with a frail physique and a gentle voice that spoke powerful words. To date this is the most amazingly human portrayal of a person of power that I can remember seeing. I’d honestly be shocked and upset if Lewis didn’t get the Oscar for his role here.

Steven Spielberg did a wonderful job at scaling back his more extravagant tendencies and really capturing the more intimate moments in this film. There were a lot of lingering close ups or occasional pregnant pauses that really forced you to get wrapped up in whatever emotion that the scene was trying to convey whether it be dour or lighthearted. The movie worked the best in those isolated moments.

The supporting cast was stacked with young up and comers and Hollywood veterans and while most of them were only in the movie for a scene or two, there were several who were truly able to stand out when not getting eclipsed by Lewis’ performance. The most notable of which were Sally Field as Lincoln’s unstable yet fiery & supportive wife, David Strathairn as conflicted & skeptical secretary of state, James Spader in a hilarious turn as one of four Democratic operatives that Lincoln hires to garner votes for the amendment and last but certainly not least, Tommy Lee Jones as a hardnosed Congressman who can turn a phrase as well as he can sling an insult. While ultimately this is definitely Lewis’ film, for the most part the supporting cast give the film some color & levity as well as provide Lewis with energy to feed off of.

With a strong message that is all too familiar to anyone who went to school in this country, the movie does a great job at making not only Lincoln but also the 13th Amendment feel as though we’re learning about them for the first time and it never once shoves them down our throats. I give credit to Lewis & Spielberg once again for that because I feel as though a director and actor of lesser talent wouldn’t have been able to pull that off.

Movie score legend & frequent Spielberg collaborator, John Williams provides yet another sweeping score that actually adds to the impact of the film without being heavy handed and patronizing like his War Horse score.

What I Didn’t Like:

Though the film does an amazing job painting Lincoln as a layered individual, I feel like the ball was dropped when it came time to portray him as a family man. Not enough time was spent examining the relationships in his household in my eyes and because of that Mary Todd Lincoln’s grief came off as unwarranted at times and Joseph Gordon Levitt was wasted in his role as Robert Todd Lincoln who we barely even get to know.

The dialogue in this film is very true to the time period and because of that some of the phrases and quips were completely lost on me. I’m not saying that this is a fault of the film though so much as an element of the film that made it a bit difficult to understand at times.

Due to the intimate and somewhat meditative nature of the film, at times it became a bit plodding and felt overlong. Looking back over the film there were just some scenes that didn’t feel needed in the grand scheme of things.

I felt that Lincoln’s death was handled terribly. For a movie that’s so intimate and candid, the death and its aftermath were very impersonal and detached. It’s not like I was expecting them to show every detail but they could’ve given us more than they did to really drive home how horrible of an event in history that it was.

I could’ve sworn there was a moment where there was a shot of the modern day White House.

Overall:

Lincoln is a very powerful film, a flawed film, but a powerful one nonetheless. In my eyes Spielberg’s best work lies in his fantasy/sci-fi films but every now and then he’s able to bring his signature charm and awe to a historical property and breath new life into it as he’s done here. It’s not paced as cleanly as it could’ve been which results in it becoming plodding in some places but it still manages to be a film that’s a charming & witty as it is informative & insightful. The supporting cast does a great job at filling out the film, the score is strong, as is the script, but at the end of the day it’s Daniel Day Lewis who is truly responsible for this film’s brilliance. Lewis provides us with a truly majestic performance that the rest of the film doesn’t quite match up to and I honestly believe that if a lesser actor were to have been at the head of this film, it would not have been as strong. Nevertheless, at the end of the day Lincoln is a fine film that enjoyed greatly. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if it got Spielberg yet another Oscar nod (if War Horse got him one then this definitely will) and quite possibly give Lewis his 3rd Academy Award for Best Actor. I’m not sure if I’d recommend this to the masses (most of you are probably gonna see Twilight this weekend anyway if you haven’t already) but if you’ve got 2 & a half hours to spare and you’re looking for an enriching film experience then by all means go see Lincoln.

 

Rating: B+

Marcus Reviews Skyfall

10 Nov

Synopsis:

In Skyfall, Bond’s loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.

What I Liked:

Skyfall has quite possibly the most thrilling opening act of 2012. From the very start to the opening credits it has you completely immersed. I knew that from this moment on I was in store for one hell of a movie.

Speaking of the opening credits, Skyfall may very well have the most visually arresting intro that they’ve ever had. Combined with Adele’s excellent song it truly captured the classic Bond feel will also keeping it very modern.

Sam Mendes’ direction in this is masterclass. One of the biggest issues with the more modern Bond films (both Brosnan & Craig) is that they lacked poise and focused more on the spectacle. While there is still plenty of brilliant spectacle in Skyfall, Mendes also brings back the meditative, slow burn nature of some of the older films and because of this the film flows much more smoothly. His substance over style brand of direction really comes across with the moments of dialogue as in several scenes he just leaves the camera in one position without any needless angle changes or editing and just lets the actors shine. Mendes turned this Bond film into a quiet storm as opposed to the raging tornado that most of the previous films have been.

Ever since Casino Royale the main criticism that people have given Craig’s Bond is that, while he had the grittiness of Bond from the novels, he never quite nailed the classic smoothness that he was known for. He was very rough around the edges (though I think it’s more due to the material he was given). Taking that all into account, Skyfall signals the first time in his run as Bond where he finally put all of the pieces together and truly embodied the character (possibly even better than Connery) which I can’t help but think is thanks to the fact that he’s no longer weighed down by a love interest. He wasn’t overly gritty like he was in Quantum of Solace while at the same time he wasn’t overly stylistic either like Brosnan’s Bond was. He was still intense/gritty but he was also suave, witty and precise. For the first time in the modern era, I felt like I was watching the REAL James Bond.

To piggyback off of my praise of Craig, Skyfall features arguably the best ensemble acting in a Bond movie since the Connery era. Everybody on the cast had electric chemistry with one another and really shined in their own individual performances. Whether it was the veteran Dame Judi Dench as the classy yet staunch M or newcomers like Naomie Harris as the feisty Eve and Ben Whishaw as the young tech prodigy Q, everyone did great. The star that shined brightest though was a platinum blonde Javier Bardem as the film’s villain, Raoul Silva. If there’s one major thing that Bond films have been severely lacking ever since Goldeneye, it’s a memorable villain and Bardem makes up for that lack and then some in this role as he chewed up the scenery every time he appeared on screen. I don’t want to delve to far into what made his character so special (so that I don’t spoil the movie for anyone) but he had this boyish innocence and effortless charm to him that made him almost as endearing as he was completely unsettling. If I were to describe him to someone I’d say he was like a sick mixture of Heath Ledger’s Joker, Hannibal Lector, Hans Landa from Inglorious Bastards and Tom Hardy’s Bane. Due to the character of James Bond being a force of nature in his own right often times the villain becomes obsolete, but in this particular instance Bond finally had a villain that matched him in every way and it was a joy to behold.

After two overly serious Bond films, the dry and witty humor that the franchise is known for makes its return and it was sorely missed.

James Bond movies have always been known for being striking on a cinematic level but they have never been THIS gorgeous. The cinematography in this movie was absolutely stunning and there were several breathtaking moments of stillness that I found myself completely lost in. Another credit to Mendes’ bravura direction as well as Roger Deakins.

The action set pieces & fight choreography in this were top notch and thankfully there was no use of shaky cam or shoddy editing to obscure the scenes.

Thomas Newman’s score was just as powerful and sweeping as the massive landscapes and intense action that inhabited Skyfall. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he got an Oscar nod for this because it’s truly amazing stuff.

If you’re a fan of the Bond franchise as a whole then you will find great delight in the nods, jabs and homages that this film sends to the older Bond films. Some are blatant and some are very subtle but they’re all brilliantly done.

What I Didn’t Like:

While I understand that she was used to help set up the Silva’s debut into the film, Severine (played by French actress Bérénice Lim Marlohe) ultimately felt expendable and by the time the movie had reached the final act I’d practically forgot that she was even in it at all.

Overall:

As we come upon the 50th anniversary of the granddaddy of all spy media, Skyfall presents the questions of whether or not spies are redundant in this day and age and more importantly if James Bond is still capable of getting the job done after all this time. Skyfall is a story of revenge, resurrection & redemption that wisely doesn’t simply focus on Bond himself but also those who are immersed in and have been effected by his line of work. It’s a movie that ponders whether or not both the Bond character and the franchise itself should hang it up ride off  and into the sunset with it’s legacy still intact. With the stakes this high Skyfall had no choice but to rise to the occasion and thanks to Sam Mendes’ brilliant direction, amazing ensemble acting, breathtaking cinematography, powerful scoring and truly dynamic action, it did that and then some. Skyfall is a a cinematic tour de force that not only redeems James Bond the character but also reinvigorates the franchise by taking a few cues from the past. Please do yourself a favor, grab some friends and go see this immediately.

Rating: A

Marcus Reviews The Man With The Iron Fists

3 Nov

Synopsis:

Making his debut as a big-screen director and leading man, RZA-alongside a stellar international cast led by Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu-tells the epic story of warriors, assassins and a lone outsider hero in nineteenth-century China who must unite to destroy the clan traitor who would destroy them all. Since his arrival in China’s Jungle Village, the town’s blacksmith (RZA) has been forced by radical tribal factions to create elaborate tools of destruction. When the clans’ brewing war boils over, the stranger channels an ancient energy to transform himself into a human weapon. As he fights alongside iconic heroes and against soulless villains, one man must harness this power to become savior of his adopted people.

What I Liked:

The biggest compliment that I can give this movie is that it made me feel extremely nostalgic. Having grown up watching old kung fu classics such as The Seven Deadly Venoms, Enter The Dragon, etc, watching this felt like taking a time machine back to my childhood. You can tell that RZA is a huge fan of those films as all of the classic kung fu tropes appear in this film.

Like most kung fu movies there are alot of colorful characters that inhabit this world that RZA created. Most impressive/entertaining of which were Jack Knife played by Russell Crowe (who was basically Jack Sparrow but was a blast to watch), Madame Blossom played by Lucy Liu (Basically playing her character in Kill Bill amped up to 11), Brassbody played by Batista (who did some impressive physical acting) and Silver Lion played by Byron Mann (who chewed up the scenery every time he came on screen and was by far my favorite character).

There were some brilliant moments of self satire in the dialogue (mostly given to Silver Lion) as well as a moment of pure gold uttered by Russell Crowe’s character that almost made me stand up and cap.

You could tell that RZA’s spent many hours in his life watching classic kung fu movies as he used alot of the editing techniques and camera tricks used in them to make it feel more authentic.

The fight choreography, though not for everyone, was pretty damn impressive throughout.

“Shame On A Nigga” by The Wu + Kung Fu Badassery = one of the dopest movie intros that I’ve seen all year. My friends and I were AMPED after it had ended.

What I Didn’t Like:

While he’s a solid director, RZA is an outright TERRIBLE actor even by kung fu movie standards. He seems to have a really hard time enunciating and his voice was ridiculously low so most of the time I didn’t understand what he was saying. To make matters worse he was narrating the entire movie.

While storytelling was never one of the strong suits of the Kung Fu genre, this movie was so all over the place at times that it was easy to lose track of what the whole thing was about in the first place. While I didn’t have much difficulty keeping up personally, my friends were totally lost and I’m sure most of the other people in the theater were too.

Though I understand why they used it, I HATE CG blood and this movie had loads of it.

The section of the movie where they explored RZA’s character’s back story and he became the focal point of the movie was by far the weakest and most unintentionally hilarious part of the entire movie. After it was all said and done I couldn’t help but feel like this would’ve been a better, and more coherent, movie without his character all together.

For a movie directed by the head of the Wu-Tang Clan, there was a surprising lack of hip-hop in the score which was honestly disappointing to me (especially after how amazing the intro was).

After all of the buildup, I was left feeling that the finale was a tad bit anticlimactic.

Overall:

Let me start off by saying that The Man With The Iron Fists is a terrible movie but it’s terrible in the best way possible. If we’re judging it by pure filmmaking standards it’s got incoherent storytelling, amateur camerawork, hilariously bad acting and somewhat schizophrenic fight choreography but at the same time that’s what made it so entertaining. It’s almost unfair to critique this in terms of filmmaking because going into this one should already expect it be below average in that respect. If you’ve seen pure kung fu movies before then you know that the best ones revel in how ridiculous they are and The Man With The Iron Fists succeeds in that respect for the most part. Though I’d be lying if I said that there weren’t moments where I was curious about how this movie would’ve turned out if Quentin Tarantino had directed it instead of RZA. Nevertheless, While I wouldn’t recommend this to most people, if you’re a fan of kung fu movies and are just looking for a good time/you’ve already seen Wreck-It-Ralph then gather some likeminded friends and check this gem that’s destined to land on many people’s guilty pleasure list.

Rating: C

Marcus Reviews Looper

5 Oct

Synopsis:

In the futuristic action thriller Looper, time travel will be invented – but it will be illegal and only available on the black market. When the mob wants to get rid of someone, they will send their target 30 years into the past, where a “looper” – a hired gun, like Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) – is waiting to mop up. Joe is getting rich and life is good… until the day the mob decides to “close the loop,” sending back Joe’s future self (Bruce Willis) for assassination.

What I Liked:

Allow me to start by saying that I hate time travel as a plot device. It’s an extremely risky thing to work with and too many times has the end result been a sloppy, convoluted mess. So imagine my surprise when I find out that not only did it not turn out to be a disaster here, but it was also handled very precisely and intelligently. That alone is enough to send the highest of kudos to Rian Johnson, who both wrote & directed the film, but he also had the nerve to direct this little movie with the confidence & poise of an experienced, big budget film director AND write an intelligent & heartfelt script to go along with it. And this was only his 3rd film might I add! Hats off to you Mr Johnson for not only holding it all together, but making it look easy.

Everybody in this film was strong (most notably Jeff Daniels as the conniving villain, Abe, and Emily Blunt playing a surprisingly convincing Southerner as Sarah) but at the end of the day this was the Bruce Willis & Joseph Gordon Levitt show and they both knocked it all the way out of the park. Bruce seemed determined to remind everyone that he’s not just an action hero with a furrowed brow and ended up delivering his best performance in years. As we follow Old Joe on his quest for redemption and peace, Bruce had me hooked every step of the way as he really sold the pain, anger & regret over what he’d lost and what he has to do to make things right. As great as Bruce is in this, JGL matches him almost complete. Young Joe is a man trying to evade a future that he know is going to come inevitably and ends up making some reckless decisions along the way. Early on Levitt showcases a suave and charismatic side that I hadn’t seen from him before but then as things begin to unravel he slowly begins to show chinks in his seemingly impenetrable armor of cool only reveal a guy in over his head with no idea just how important every one of his actions are. He was a character who realistically grew throughout the course of the film which makes the film’s climax that much more impactful. Also I have to mention that Levitt, with the aid of the prosthetics, had Wills’ facial expressions and mannerisms down to a science. It was almost eerie seeing them on screen together at times because it really did seem like Bruce Willis was talking to a younger version on himself.

I said earlier that Rian Johnson handled this movie with the poise & confidence of an experienced big budget director and the biggest testament to that is the fact that he, with the help of cinematographer Steve Yedlin, made a film with a 20 million dollar budget look like it was an 100+ million dollar movie. Aside from a couple obvious green screen moments, this movie was absolutely gorgeous and I was amazed with how much they were able to do with so little.

The score for the film, provided by Nathan Johnson, fit it like a glove and never once outshined the movie itself. It was the right blend of futuristic grunge and emotional keys to truly bring the scenes of this sci-fi/noir to life.

I’m usually pretty good and catching the twist to a film early on and it happened here but the build up was handled so expertly and paced so well that it didn’t ruin the reveal for me in the least, which is rare.

There are elements of some of the greatest sci-fi media of all time sprinkled throughout the film such as; The Terminator, Blade Runner, Akira, Cowboy Bebop & Ghost In The Shell; but it never feels like a rip off of any of them.

This really has nothing to do with how good the film is but this movie has one of the best/most non-blatantly hilarious lead-ins to a sex scene that I’ve ever seen.

What I Didn’t Like:

The only outright complaint that I have with this movie is that I wish that they would’ve explored the future a little bit more. There were a few things that I was genuinely curious about that never got answered and I found myself still wondering about those things well after the movie had ended.

Also though it worked most of the time, there were moments where the prosthetics made JGL look ridiculous.

Overall:

Looper is one of those genre films that comes out every once and a while that does something genuinely refreshing, sets the bar higher & makes you rethink what you accepted from said genre before then. We had one of those earlier in the year with Chronicle (which was also ironically a small budget film) and now we’ve come upon one again. Looper is a movie that had a lot about that could’ve gone terribly wrong but rose past it’s limitations and achieved what few sci-fi movies have done in the last few years; made us think, thrilled us and tugged at our heart strings all at the same time. The last sci-fi movie that made me do all of those things at once (not counting Chronicle) was Inception. At face value, Looper may just look like a cool futuristic sci-fi/noir flick, but behind the flash & spectacle is a cautionary tale of how your actions as a youth can truly effect how your future turns out. Boasting amazing turns from Willis & Levitt, strong acting from the supporting cast, impressive visuals, confident direction, a strong score and a tight script, Looper is one of those rare movies turned out to be as fantastic as it is ambitious. God I love when that happens.

Rating: A

Marcus Reviews Dredd

29 Sep

Synopsis:

The future America is an irradiated waste land. On its East Coast, running from Boston to Washington DC, lies Mega City One- a vast, violent metropolis where criminals rule the chaotic streets. The only force of order lies with the urban cops called “Judges” who possess the combined powers of judge, jury and instant executioner. Known and feared throughout the city, Dredd (Karl Urban) is the ultimate Judge, challenged with ridding the city of its latest scourge – a dangerous drug epidemic that has users of “Slo-Mo” experiencing reality at a fraction of its normal speed

What I Liked:

For those that don’t know, Judge Dredd is a character from a semi popular ultra violent 90s comic where a police task force known as Judges exact justice in a war ravaged post apocalyptic world. The biggest credit that I can give this movie is that it’s a movie that fully understands the material that it’s working with and plays it completely straight. Director Pete Travis doesn’t try and make it bigger/more cerebral than it needs to be nor does he undercut it and turn it into a parody of itself which is what makes it so effective.

The three lead actors in this (Urban, Thirlby & Headey) deserve just as much credit for making this work as the director. Unlike Stallone before him, Urban seems to truly understand the character that he’s playing and truly chews up the scenery when he comes on screen (which was impressive considering you never see the top half of his face) further showcasing that he’s one of Hollywood’s most valuable & consistently strong actors. Headey’s turn as the movie’s scorned hooker turned violent drug lord villain, Ma Ma, was almost equally as strong. There was this calmness to her character’s demeanor that combined with her unexpectedly soft voice really made her for more unsettling then I would’ve imagined just by looking at her. It’s Thirlby that truly owns the movie though as the young psychic recruit Cassandra Anderson who right along with the audience gets a crash course in the environment that Dredd thrives in. Thirlby does a great job showcasing her characters journey from naive new recruit to a hardened and more mature young woman worthy of the Judge title. From the moment that she’s introduced we see her body movements and facial expressions become more and more like Dredd’s. It also helped that Thirlby & Urban had great chemistry on screen and were able to successfully make the teacher/student relationship work without any needless sexual undertones.

Alot of times movies are ultra violent for the sake of pushing the limits, but in this case the violence & the gore feel totally necessary to really drive him the fact that this is a world that has fully fallen into chaos where the only way people will learn is through sheer brute force.

This marks one of the few times where the popular slo-mo effect has been used as an actual plot device in a movie which only makes the scenes when it’s used even more impactful. One of the coolest & most beautiful death sequences that I’ve ever seen take place as a result of this.

Paul Leonard-Morgan provided a great industrial score which was pitch perfect for this film and really added more grit to the world that was created for the movie.

There was some great deadpan humor and snark throughout the movie thanks to Alex Garland & Andrew MacDonald’s script and even when some of the dialogue got cheesy and derivative the actors still somehow made it work.

What I Didn’t Like:

There were a couple of moments where the slow-mo sequences dragged on a little long

After all the work it took to get there, the final act of the film was a tad bit anti-climactic when you think about who showed up towards the end. Due to that I was left wanting a bit more.

Overall:

Dredd is one of those movies that you go into already knowing what you’re going to get and end up getting rewarded with a little extra bang for your buck. Unlike the the 1995 Stallone helmed adaption, this film is able to come off as a legitimately serious action/thriller while still taking a few jabs at itself without it feeling forced. Thanks to it’s visceral action, strong turns from it’s leads, a mostly tight script chock full of deadpan humor, a pitch perfect score, impressive visuals and confident direction, Dredd is a rare remake that not only works but ends up being much better than the original. This movie demands your respect and much like it’s main character, it’s not afraid to beat it into you.

Rating: B

Marcus Reviews Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1

20 Sep

Strange Fruition feat Casey Benjamin: After a poem by Ayesha; the album starts off with a thumping piano laden beat (reminiscent of Dr. Dre’s production) from longtime collaborator, Soundtrakk, where Lupe opens with the bar “Now I can’t pledge allegiance to your flag, cause I can’t find no reconciliation with your past/When there was nothing equal for my people in your math, you forced us in the ghetto and you took away our dads” which soundly sets the tone for an album that is supposed to deconstruct “The American Dream”. This track not only sets the tone but also serves as a lyrical warm up of sorts for Lupe as the witty wordplay that made him a mainstay in the “Best Living MC’s” conversation is on full display here. With a dope voicebox chorus from Casey Benjamin (from The Robert Glasper Experiment) as the cherry on top, Strange Fruition continues Lupe’s track record for strong opening tracks for his albums. (5/5)

ITAL (Roses): Backed by a triumphant horn heavy beat by 1500 or Nothin, Lupe encourages to the streets (most significantly the youth) to rise above the stereotypes that society has put upon them on this optimistic yet honest track. Lupe even busts out the distortion voice effect that he’s become fond of as of late for part of the chorus. This song would’ve been right at home on Lasers and I could definitely see it being a single in the future. (4.5/5)

Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free): The first single of the album that lead to an brief and unnecessary beef between Lupe & hip-hop legend Pete Rock over the T.R.O.Y. sample that takes up most of the beat. We’ve all heard this one by now so I don’t need to tell you what it’s about or explain it. It’s classic Lupe and still holds up well months after its release. (5/5)

Audubon Ballroom: On this appropriately named track; Lupe reawakens Chitown Guevara, whips out his marching boots and stands on his soapbox with his megaphone (the vocal distortion makes it’s return on the track which I’d like to think was intentional) as he continues the theme of two previous tracks and attempts to elevate the hood (most effectively in the uplifting third verse) while simultaneously revoking white people’s ability to say “Nigga” (Overachiever much?). Fatimes & Bullit supply Lupe with a suitably Cool & Dre-esque epic beat to properly get his revolution on without ever upstaging the MC. The chorus of this song is sure to ruffle plenty jimmies once the masses hear it and I’m sure that’s what Lupe wanted in the first place. Some men just want to watch the world burn. (4.5/5)

Bitch Bad: Now if you haven’t heard Around My Way, you’ve DEFINITELY heard this song by now due to both how relevant and controversial the subject matter is. It’s quite possibly Lupe’s most polarizing song as its garnered very strong positive and negative responses and led to Lupe being referred to as “too preachy” by the unwashed masses. Lupe said that he made this song with the intention of starting a conversation and he did that and then some. Mission accomplished Mr. Fiasco, Mission accomplished. (5/5)

Lamborghini Angels: On the third official single of the album, Lupe goes into full on storyteller mode as he tackles the heavy issues of Materialism, Racism, Women’s Independence, Child Molestation, War Crimes & Untrustworthy Politicians in the form of a 3 part story told from the perspective of 5 different characters over an uptempo and surprisingly danceable beat from Mr. Inkredible (which I definitely freestyled to lol) that samples a section of Lupe’s “Angels (Remix)” from the Enemy of the State mixtape. Lupe Fiasco has been known as a rapper whose songs you have to listen to multiple times to fully understand and this is no different as you won’t fully grasp the concept if you don’t listen closely which I found myself not doing a few times because I was too busy rocking to the beat. This is one of my personal favorite cuts from the album and a great example of balancing style and substance. (5/5)

Put Em Up: Every now and then Lupe will take a break from spreading the gospel and simply remind everyone who might’ve forgotten how ill he is on the mic and that’s exactly what he does on this track. Over a dirty 1500 or Nothin beat, Lupe gets his dragon breath on and precedes to defecate on 95% of the rap game simply because he can. The chorus is a bit weak but I overlook it because of I’m too busy trying to make my way through the Inception level lyrical mazes that Lupe conjured up here. Any claims that Lupe has fallen off lyrical should officially be deaded after this. (4.75/5)

Heart Donor feat Poo Bear: Lupe links up with frequent collaborator Poo Bear (formally known as MDMA who was formally known as Pooh Bear who was formally known as The Artist formally known as Prince) on this track where he compares himself to a heart donor because of how he puts his heart and soul into spreading knowledge & positivity to those who will listen. It’s a nice concept and all but I admittedly find this song to be extremely corny and not in the so corny its awesome kind of way like “Go Baby” or “I Don’t Wanna Care Right Now”. The frolic worthy fairy dust beat by The Runners doesn’t really help matters either. While it’s not a bad song, I consider it to be the first real misstep of the album. (3/5)

How Dare You feat Bilal: I wouldn’t be a Lupe Fiasco album without song for the ladies now would it? Now to be perfectly honest judging from the track title and the Bilal feature I wasn’t expecting it to be this one (I thought it was gonna be Heart Donor) but low and behold here it is. Over a beat from Severe that’s extremely similar to “That’s That Shit” by Snoop Dogg (excuse me Snoop Lion) & R. Kelly, Lupe kicks his special brand of totally inoffensive and slightly cheesy women worship while Bilal berates the unnamed female for being so damn amazing. Yes it’s as corny as it sounds but I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt due to the subject matter unlike the previous track. The women folk will probably eat this one up but it’s not my thing. (3.25/5)

Battle Scars with Guy Sebastian: The fourth single of the album that was originally just a Lupe feature until he jacked it for his album and turned it into a duet is yet another song that most of us have probably heard by now so I don’t need to say much. This one has chart topping single written all over it but due to its’ genuine lyrics and universal subject matter it doesn’t feel like one that you have to “sell out” to make. I personally really like the song and while it’s been done before, appreciate how it compares emotional wounds to war wounds. Guy Sebastian can sing his ass off and I wouldn’t mind seeing them work together again as he’s the only singer that Lupe’s worked with so far that’s held a candle to Matthew Santos and all his glory. (5/5)

Brave Heart feat Poo Bear: After taking a brief detour over to his sensitive side, Lupe roars back in full on gladiator armor ready to overthrow an empire. Lupe hasn’t raged against the machine this hard since Words I Never Said and it’s nice to hear the fire back in his heart as he raps like a man possessed. Obviously looking to redeem themselves for their tomfoolery on Heart Donor, The Runners come back with a beat tailor made for the Coliseum (would also make a dope WWE/Boxing/UFC theme) and thanks to a war ready chant provided by Poo Bear (also seeking redemption) this song becomes Lupe’s equivalent to “The Spiteful Chant” by Kendrick Lamar (who I lowkey wish was on this song). (5/5)

Form Follows Function: Remember how I said Lupe got his dragonbreath on on “Put Em Up”? Well consider this a brigade of dragons conjuring up a goddamn flaming tornado of lyrical doom and double entendres. Over a slick jazz infused classic hip-hop beat by Infamous that was tailor made for this type of lyrical slaughter, Lupe proceeds to re-enforce his unf*ckwitableness (that’s a word now, don’t argue with it just accept it) in such a calm manner that it’s almost smug. I actually visually him smirking in the booth thinking about how rappers are gonna have re-evaluate their careers after he drops this on them. There’s no overarching thing here, just Lupe being rude to the less lyrically gifted. Don’t be a bully, Be A Star Lupe. (5/5)

Cold War feat Jane $$$: Lupe calls this “That Esco Music” in reference to Nas but this song is so Houston that you would’ve thought that Pimp C was gonna raise up from the dead just to jump on this. Lupe sounds like a Southern OG over this syrupy beat by 1500 or Nothin as he gets a bit personal rapping about the death of his brother and how cold it out there in the world when you’re alone. He also throws a clever nod to his Michael Young History character from his earlier mixtapes and first two albums. I’m not sure who Jane $$$ (there’s speculation that it’s either Sarah Green or Janelle Monae) but her chorus only adds to the overall feel of the song. This track MUST be listened to in a car with a great sound system, with your seat leaned back and one hand up on the wheel as you drive slow as hell gritting on everyone you pass (preferably in suburban neighborhoods). Thank me later. (5/5)

Unforgivable Youth feat Jason Evigan: Back in storyteller mode, Lupe drop 3 verses spanning thousands of years chronicling the rise and hypothetical fall of the United States of America as well as how we as a society grossly misuse our resources for selfish & often times destructive gain over rock infused King David beat. To cap it all of it ends with a twist that would make Pierre Boulle (The author of The Planet of the Apes) grin from ear to ear. The only thing keeping this song away from being perfect in my eyes is the underwhelming chorus from Jason Evigan who doesn’t have the vocal presence or power to really make it as impactful as it needed to be. If Chester Bennington, Matthew Santos or Guy Sebastian had been on the chorus then it would’ve pushed the track to another level. Nonetheless this is still a very strong track. (4.75/5)

Hood Now (Outro): On the album closer Lupe has some lighthearted fun as he satirically (and quite hilariously at times) talks about hood life, stereotypes & the members of the African-American community that have risen above them over the years while ending each bar with “It’s Hood Now!” (I guarantee people are going to be saying that by next month) over a breezy, Neptunes-esque beat by Poo Bear. It’s basically “All Black Everything” without the “What If?” scenarios. Lupe seems fully aware of how intense his subject matter can get sometimes throughout his albums so he always closes out things on a lighter note which is a smart move on his part to prevent listeners from walking into oncoming traffic due Lupe’s “This country is shit” raps. This is a cool track, full of quotables, that is guaranteed to leaving you smiling as The Great American Rap Album comes to a close.

Overall:

First off let me start by saying this album should be renamed Food & Liquor II: The Black Plight In America or Food & Liqour II: The Hood Is A Terrible Place or even Lasers 2: This Is What Should’ve Happened The First Time Atlantic Records, these (aside for the last one obviously) more accurately match the overarching message on this album than The Great American Rap Album. This album feels very “Pro-Black” (so much so that I bet the Deluxe Edition comes with a Black Power Fist hair pick, a black beret & a Black Panther sign-up sheet) and really speaks to the hood/breaks down society’s impact on the hood more than it does America’s problem as a whole. But then again Lupe could be trying to convey the message that the existence of hoods & projects is America’s biggest “f*ck up” if you will. Nevertheless, no matter how you interpret it’s overarching message, the fact remains that this is a great rap album and the album that Lupe fans have been waiting to hear from him since The Cool. Like the phoenix raising from the ashes, Lupe returns with a vengeance from the doldrums of the Lasers-era fully rejuvenated with a lot to say and more times than not it hits the mark. From Lasers up until now Lupe’s gained a valuable skill, the ability to rap over expensive mainstream sounding beats without sacrificing any of his lyrical content or “dumbing down” his message. This basically feels like the album that Lupe wished Lasers could’ve been as it features the best/most polished production that he’s ever worked with (The Cool is in second place) and at the same time he was able to say everything that he wanted to say with having to worry about being censored by Atlantic. It’s not without its’ hiccups and it does lose steam in the middle of the album, but it’s still a substantial upgrade from his last effort (if you wanna call it that). While it’s not as strong as a cohesive album as it’s predecessor or The Cool, it’s a large step in the right direction. Jolly good show Mr. Fiasco, jolly good show indeed.

Rating: 4.5/5