X-Men: Days of Future Past (Fox)

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Rating: 4.5/5 – A Nearly Perfect Superhero Film!
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Hank Johnson.

The movie opens with a great battle scene set in the future. Blink, Warpath, Bishop, Kitty Pryde, and Ice Man are all fighting off a sentinel army. This scene was top notch, especially the way Director Bryan Singer filmed and used Blink’s power set. The plot of the movie centers on the cast from the original trilogy holding sentinels at bay in the future while the X-Men First Class cast, aided by Wolverine whose consciousness is transported back into his past body, try to prevent Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from murdering Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) in 1973.

Dinklage does an exceptional job playing Bolivar Trask. To be fair, it took me a second to adjust to him not playing Tyrion Lannister. Once my mind made the shift, Dinklage proved to be a haunting foil for the movie. I particularly liked a scene in which Dinklage said his mission to eliminate the mutants wasn’t about hating them, but survival. While the lines could have come across as hacky, Dinklage used just the right amount of inflection to come across as a somewhat sympathetic character, despite the horrible atrocities he committed.  When future Wolverine wakes up in his past body Singer does an amazing job of showing what Times Square looked like in 1973 (complete with a billboard containing a smoking Marlboro man).

The Quicksilver sequence was the best 20 minutes of any superhero film hands down. Evan Peters played the character Quicksilver with an unmatched style and flair. He stole every moment he was on camera. His main scene was filmed in super slow-motion while time in a bottle played hauntingly. Having seen almost every super-hero movie (even watching David Hasslehoff play Nick Fury) this was far and away the best display of powers I have ever seen in a film. I can’t wait for the DVD to watch this scene again. I also liked how Singer systematically used a variety of Easter eggs throughout the film, particularly when Quicksilver was involved. I am sure I missed a few too.

Singer does an amazing job mixing 1970’s style footage with modern movie production values, another high water mark for the film. The climactic battle scene had top-notch special effects. During the final few scenes Michael Fassbender really nailed the character of Magneto. Fassbender’s portrayal of Magneto is probably second only to Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Tony Stark as perfect casting in my mind. I’d love for Fox to make a Magneto solo movie if Fassbender played the character.  If I remove my personal nitpicks, it really is a nearly perfect superhero film. If you have seen and enjoyed the other films in the X-Men franchise, you should like this one as well. It was a lot of fun and a great way to spend 2 hours this summer.

Reviewed by: Hank Johnson
(hank@comicspectrum.com
)
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The Lego Movie

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Rating: 5/5 – An extremely fun, funny and overall great movie for all ages.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Stephen Bretall.

Emmet, a normal Lego guy, discovers he’s destined to help stop the evil President Business.  He is helped in this quest by a variety of other (lego) characters including a robot pirate, a wizard voiced by Morgan Freeman, and Batman.   Roll that over in your mind.  A robot pirate + Morgan Freeman wizard + Batman.  If that doesn’t make you want to see this movie I feel sad for your ability to assimilate fun.

Everything about this movie is awesome. For one thing, it’s the most I’ve laughed in a movie in a long time. The jokes are well done and manage to resist feeling “childish” although they’re definitely still all-ages. The movie plays the line really nicely between kids movie and humor that can be appreciated by teens and adults.  The visual style is stunning and used to great effect both for comedy and in the action sequences. The characters themselves are amazingly executed and manage to be funny and endearing. The music is excellent – with recurring track “Everything is Awesome” as a catchy tune that plays well with the movie and will keep you humming it after you’ve left the theater. Be sure to stay through the credits so you can hear the extended version of the hilarious song Batman writes.

If you like Lego, Superheroes, Humor, or Fun you should see this movie. If you hate good films, or refuse to watch anything that isn’t 100% serious then this movie isn’t for you…but maybe you should watch it anyway and see if it can change your mind.

Reviewed by: Stephen Bretall
(stephen@comicspectrum.com
)
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Justice League: War (DC Animated)

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Rating: 4/5 – DC proves once again they have no match in animated super-heroes.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Gilad Levin.

Justice League: War is based on the first six-issue story arc of the New52 Justice League title. The main plot revolves around the formation of the Justice League after an army of Parademons from Apocalypse, led by Darkseid, invades Earth. The film doesn’t change much from the comic book it is based on, but it changes enough for the movie to be classified as “Awesome!!!”  Another fantastic DC Animated film.

Director Jay Oliva had perfect pacing on every character introduction and stand-alone scene building up to the inevitable invasion and the first meeting of all the heroes. The introduction of the characters was solid the introductions were nicely connected to one another, for example Flash & Cyborg , Shazam & Cyborg , Green Lantern & Batman, etc. the whole first part of the film was great.  After that, once the fighting begins and the story takes secondary priority, there are some plot holes, but not big enough to ruin my movie watching experience. I’ll get to that later.

Darkseid was a great villain; he was just all around menacing. He arrives on earth and he means business. He doesn’t have much dialog and his motivations are unexplained, but that doesn’t make him any less of a great villain. His character design is menacing, he’s big strong and powerful, but still calculating. The best depiction of the character I’ve ever seen put to film.

The character interactions in the film were humorous with the heroes meeting and not immediately like each other which led to some great dialog moments in the first third of the film. Easter eggs for readers of the comics are seeded through the film, like Superman and Wonder Woman’s flirty relationship.

The animation was great- the characters looked young (as they should as this is set early in their careers), the voice actors also portrayed a younger and inexperienced Justice League, I could hear it in their voices. Superman, for example is laid back and relaxed, because nothing can stop him- he’s Superman.

But the film was not without some issues: There were too many characters and not enough time for all of them, but they are all essential to the film and help it in different ways. Cyborg’s origin wasn’t explained enough and Wonder Woman’s supposed threat was never actually solved completely.  The final act was a bit dragged out and could’ve been shorter, with more time devoted to character development.

With these New52 animated movies DC gets more potential readers who can go pick up the collected edition of the story the movie is based on, or other Justice League comics/collected editions in general, though we’ll need to wait and see if this actually turns into print readers.   For comic fans, I think it’s nice to see recent stories come to life (or animation) on the small screen.  It’s good that DC is creating an animated universe with cross-film continuity and consistency of character designs and voice. In this film, DC has shown that they can take the not-so-best-of-comic-stories and turn them into a great animated film. And Aquaman? Worry not, he is one his way!

Reviewed by: Gilad Levin
(gilad@comicspectrum.com
)
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The Counselor

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Rating: 0/5 – Crime drama that’s disengaging at every turn and an endurance challenge to get through.

You would think that teaming up director Ridley Scott with celebrated writer Cormac McCarthy would yield an absolutely entertaining as can be film… at least that’s what I thought…

After seeing the movie, one of my friends and I were driving back to my house and he, having the same reaction as I started to play a game of negative catch-phrase summaries for the movie, coming up with things like, “The Counselor should be disbarred!,” or “The Counselor is a mistrial!,” or “The Counselor should file a motion… or have a motion, any motion!”  Yeah, sure they’re lame phrases, but it was about the only enjoyment we got out of the whole film.

Basically, what you have here is Scott and McCarthy creating a sort of pulp fiction fable of sorts.  A young lawyer (only known here as The Counselor- no name is ever given) is madly in love and is about to engage in a one-time drug cartel deal in order to make a ton of money in which to keep him and his lover in a lavish lifestyle.  Before the deal goes down, The Counselor is warned by two other associates (both also tied to the deal) that if he takes this step, his life will be irrevocably changed in ways that he can’t even prepare for.  Still, the Counselor goes in on the deal and as expected it all goes horribly wrong…

By the above premise, it sounds like this should be fairly straightforward in how it’s events all lay out, but it’s anything but.  This story is told in scenes that are filled with long-winded philosophical discussions that seem like they’re trying to embrace the idea of being disengaging.  Now there’s nothing wrong with that and as one of my friends pointed out (and I certainly agree), it’s the sort of thing that Quentin Tarantino does all the time in his films, but Tarantino also tends to throw in other qualities that makes his scene more than just the talk (I tend to think that it’s more how Tarantino is a genuine movie nerd, and that joy about movies is what makes his scenes and characters work so well).  The titular character is drawn out in the most broad of ways, he’s supposed to be interesting because of his amazing love for this woman and has these nebulous money problems that he’s trying to overcome, but other than that, there’s nothing that makes him relatable or interesting in the slightest.  The same can be said of his associates, one of which (played by Javier Bardem, the character Reiner) delights in his excesses and the other (played by Brad Pitt, Westray) prides himself on his ability to be ready to walk away from anything.  They’re both ciphers of sorts (as is every character in the film) and for that, they certainly serve the fable aspect of this story, but their dialogue is so dry and endlessly pontificating that it just makes scenes more of an endurance challenge than anything else.

I’ve mentioned both Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt above, and yes, The Counselor certainly does have a high-powered cast.  One of my favorite actors of the present day, Michael Fassbender, plays the titular character, Cameron Diaz plays Malkina, Reiner’s scheming girlfriend and Penélope Cruz plays Laura, the Counselor’s love.  I think the cast are all fine here, it’s just that the dialogue is completely off-putting.  To me, Pitt fares the best in his few scenes as he seems to be doing his best to not only speak these words naturally, but also bring in some sort of engagement to the overall piece.  Cameron Diaz certainly has a sharp look about her here, but even an over-the-top scene with her dry-humping a car is just something that we endure more than we’re engaged in.  Penélope Cruz is basically “the girl” of the film and nothing more.  Fassbender certainly looks good in his part, and does a respectable job of holding his own with Bardem and Pitt (though again, it’s disengaging), but after that, there’s little reason to give a damn at all.  Late in the movie, Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris shows up for one little scene (uncredited) that serves us another little bit of philosophical pontificating, but it’s glaring due to Norris’ recognizability from Breaking Bad and the fact that other than reacting to what was being said he had nothing else to do.  To me, it served as more of a reminder of just how much more superior Breaking Bad was at doing a lot of the same things that The Counselor is trying to do.

I’ve used the word “endurance” a lot during this review, and I’m sorry to say, getting through this film was a test of that more than anything else.  Director Ridley Scott certainly does a few interesting visual things here, but other than that, he just seems slavish to McCarthy’s pretentious script.  I get the movie’s symbolism and dark messages about human nature but in the end it’s just completely soulless and ultimately… boring.  With a director of Ridley Scott’s calibre and a cast that should be able to deliver huge life to anything, this just ends up making The Counselor one of the most bloated and disappointing movies that I’ve seen this year.

Reviewed by: Darren Goodhart - darren@comicspectrum.com
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Bad Grandpa

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Rating: 5/5 – Raunchy candid camera comedy from the creators of Jackass.

86-year old Irving Zisman’s wife has just passed away and the old man couldn’t be happier.  He’s now ready to sow his oats with other women, but soon finds he has another problem that he has to deal with.  His daughter, a drug user, is about to be sent to jail and now she wants Irving to watch over her son, Billy.  Irving does this but with the idea of taking Billy cross country to be with his father who’s not exactly the most stand-up of individuals his own self.  Along the way, Irving and Billy have their own set of adventures… so to speak.

That’s the “glue” for the movie Bad Grandpa, a full-length film from Jackass creators Johnny Knoxville, Jeff Tremaine and Spike Jonze which itself is based on a series of candid camera situations that have been seen in past Jackass productions.  If you’re at all familiar with Jackass, then you already know what I’m talking about, but for the uninitiated, these pieces take Jackass, frontman Johnny Knoxville, apply elaborate old-age make-up to him and then have him and a young boy serving as his grandson get into some pretty ridiculous (and often raunchy) situations that gets the most amazing of reactions from unsuspecting onlookers.  They’ve been some pretty funny segments in past Jackass movies, and now, Knoxville, Tremaine and Jonze are following Sacha Baron Cohen’s lead from his Borat and Bruno movies, and have created this full-length feature and it’s hilarious.

Now of course, the ridiculousness of these situations are certainly a big part of the humor, but the other thing that certainly adds to this has to just be the sheer danger of what could happen out of these when they might go too far.  That’s certainly evident in a couple of parts of the movie; one involving Zisman getting into a confrontation with a guy after having destroyed a giant penguin attraction for a diner and another in which Billy’s father is just about to face off against a group of bikers while claiming his son.  Getting to these points is certainly very funny, but you can’t help but wonder what happens afterwards.  Well, here, you actually get a chance to see some of that in a terrific end credits sequence that not only shows some alternate situations, but pulls back the curtain and lets you see a little bit behind the scenes, including all onlookers being told that they’re part of a movie.  This actually adds tremendously to the end enjoyment of the film- those of us who are familiar with the set-up now get a much more complete picture of just what it takes to make this sort of production, not just cast-iron balls, but also a lot of fairly elaborate planning.

Knoxville is terrific here and he certainly fools everyone that we see him coming into contact with.  He’s definitely playing a cartoon character and even with the “glue” holding all of these stunts together, there is a relationship that’s built with Billy, a twisted relationship though to be sure.  But still, Knoxville’s always fun to watch.  Jackson Nicoll plays Billy, and though most of the gags here focus around Zisman, Nicoll gets his moments too.  I suspect that most of what’s done with Nicoll is along the lines of how gags are done on TruTV’s Impractical Jokers show (in my opinion, one of the funniest shows on TV today), basically with Nicoll wearing an earpiece of some sort and being fed lines from the production team.  But even with that, Nicoll still gets one of the drop-dead funniest moments in the movie involving an obviously staged beauty contest along the lines of what you might see on TLC’s Toddlers and Tiaras.

Bad Grandpa is one of the funniest, if not the funniest, movie that I’ve seen all year.  Yeah, it’s humor is way on the lowbrow side of things and there’s nothing wrong with that at all, especially when you consider just how elaborate some of these set pieces had to be.  It definitely earns it’s “R” rating as well, In particular with a couple of scenes that… no forget it, I won’t say any more you should see this for yourself, but trust me, it’s “R” is deserved.  I saw this with a group of three other friends last night and we all had a terrific time with this.  Certainly recommended for Jackass fans of course, but I think they’ve crafted something here that even goes beyond that and even just a touch further than Sacha Baron Cohen’s films, especially with it’s end credits sequence.  Don’t miss this one…

Reviewed by: Darren Goodhart - darren@comicspectrum.com
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Escape Plan: Theatrical Review

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Rating: 4/5 – Terrific action movie featuring two of the biggest action stars ever.

Ray Breslin is the foremost authority on maximum security incarceration in the world.  His security company is a private contractor to the United States government that’s used to check out the overall security of those facilities.  How they do this is that Ray himself is inserted as a convict in the prison and then he immediately starts to plan his escape.  He’s a master at this and now the CIA is asking for his help in evaluating their newest facility; designed to take the worst offenders in the world and send them away forever.  Once Ray gets to this facility, he finds that it’s a completely different situation, something that’s much more sinister than he’d originally thought.  Ray begins to plan anew but finds he needs a little help and he gets that from a fellow inmate named Rottmayer.

This is the premise to Escape Plan, the latest in a string of films featuring 80s action stars coming back to the forefront and, of course, this teams two of the biggest; Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Both stars have had movies out already this year; Stallone with Bullet To The Head and Schwarzenegger with The Last Stand and I certainly thought both were a lot of fun (though I preferred The Last Stand a little more), but I think Escape Plan trumps them both… this is a really good time at the theater.

It’s terrific to see two of the biggest iconic action stars teamed in a movie together and I know I enjoyed seeing these guys together in the Expendables films.  It’s especially fun when you can get them together in a movie with a premise like this.  I think Escape Plan has a pretty darn good and tightly plotted story that looks great and takes it’s time to unfold everything thanks to director Mikael Håfström.  Now, that’s not necessarily saying this is the most original of stories that you’ll see but it is really well put together and it’s at least apparent to me that Stallone and Schwarzenegger are having a good time playing off of each other.

And of course, that’s the main reason most would be going to see this, at least in my estimation, and certainly both guys are rock-solid here, with me giving just a little more of a nod to Schwarzenegger.  Schwarzenegger particularly shines in a fantastic scene where Ray and Rottmayer have worked out a plan so that Ray can actually get on the outside of the holding facility.  During this scene, Schwarzenegger’s Rottmayer is being tortured and he slips into speaking in German and it’s probably some of the most natural line delivery I’ve ever seen on Schwarzenegger’s part.

Both actors have a lot of nice support here.  Person of Interest’s (one of the best shows on TV today), Jim Caviezel gets to step out of his normal heroic role and play sadistic warden of this mystery facility, Hobbes, and he look like he’s lapping it up.  Vinnie Jones plays Hobbes’ head guard, Drake and again, he’s just matching Caviezel with his zeal for the part.  Character actor Faran Tahir is a Muslim inmate named Javed who ends up being an ally of Ray’s and Rottmayer’s and he’s certainly got the chops to go toe-to-toe with Stallone and Schwarzenegger any day of the week (Stallone should look at getting him into the Expendables films).  Amy Ryan, Sam Neill, Vincent D’Onofrio, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and Caitrona Balfe round out the rest of the main cast, and again, it’s just solid work and especially satisfying to see guys like Neill and D’Onofrio here, who certainly go a long way to grounding this story.

Like I said, I had a great time with Escape Plan and have no trouble recommending it here at all.  It’s terrific to see Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwazenegger play off of each other and especially so with this type of story.  Sure, both stars are certainly showing their age (I should look that good when I get to their ages), but as far as I’m concerned, that just adds further to the flavor of their performances and I can’t wait to see what more they still have in store for us down the road.

Reviewed by: Darren Goodhart - darren@comicspectrum.com
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Machete Kills

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Rating: 3.5/5 – Fun exploitation action movie that doesn’t take itself seriously in the slightest.

Former Mexican Federale and all around bad-ass, Machete, gets recruited by the United States government to go after an arms dealer, Voz, as he plans to enact an insane scheme.

Yep, that’s all I’m going to say about the story to Machete Kills, the latest film from director Robert Rodriguez and the sequel to 2010’s Machete, which in turn was a pseudo-sequel of sorts to 2007’s Grindhouse. Grindhouse (my personal nod for movie of the year for 2007) was the brainchild of directors Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino that sought to bring back the flavor of 70s and 80s exploitation films with it’s double feature of movies, Planet Terror and Death Proof.  Peppered around the movies were all sorts of cool “fake” trailers for upcoming movies as well as assorted ads (and this is where I insert my personal appeal to Rob Zombie to yet again make a full-length feature around his trailer, Werewolf Women of the S.S., forgive me, I have to do this every time I talk about Grindhouse in any sort of review- what can I say? I had no idea how much I wanted to see this movie until Zombie made that trailer, but I digress).  One of those trailers was for a movie called Machete which in itself is also a little nod to Rodriguez’s past movie, Spy Kids, as this is the same character seen in that film, but in a completely different light (an R-rated light).

Anyway, enough with the background, so how was the movie?  Well, I had a good time with it, but then I’m a huge fan of Grindhouse films, exploitation films and B-movies in general.  Fans like myself will probably have a lot of fun with Machete Kills.  This movie doesn’t take itself too seriously in the slightest and borders on the edge of parody.  Now some might see this as a sort of betrayal of the Grindhouse theme, but I guess it all depends on just how wide you define that theme.  If you’re thinking more of 70s exploitation films, yeah this strays from that, but I tend to include the 80s movies in that as well, and when you do that, then it fits.  When Rodriguez made Planet Terror in Grindhouse, I likened that movie to the films of cult director Fred Olen Ray (whose filmography includes films like Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers and Bad Girls from Mars amongst others).  Ray’s movies are about as broad as it gets for exploitation films and while I have no idea if he’s an actual influence on what Rodriguez does with these movies, it’s certainly a sensibility that I think they have in common.

Staying true to it’s roots, right off the bat we get a “fake” trailer for Machete Kills Again… In Space though it may not be as fake as you think.  It sets the tone of the whole piece right away. This is broad, over-the-top stuff that winks more at James Bond movies than anything else, right down to the structure of the rest of the movie.  Machete meets an assortment of villains throughout, all of whom could be Bond villains as seen through a Fred Olen Ray lens.  He battles each in some sort of over-the-top manner.  It’s obvious to me that Rodriguez and his cast and crew were having a ball putting this thing together and we just shouldn’t take it seriously in the slightest.

It’s definitely a low-budget movie, but that’s how Rodriguez works and manages to see his vision through.  Robert Rodriguez usually has his hand in everything including the movie’s excellent score and it’s visual effects.  Hell, it wouldn’t surprise me if he didn’t cook for the crew at some point either. To me he’s one of the most talented creative forces in movies today- he knows what he wants and he always gets it and he’s willing to put himself into it fully to get it.  Now with that said, this isn’t quite as satisfying as it’s predecessor and a lot of that is due to the film’s ending or rather lack of one (though again, this is set up from the start).  This could also all be by design as maybe a bit of commentary on Rodriguez’s part about major studio tentpole films, if so I wasn’t quite satisfied by it but still had a good time with the film overall.

Once again, veteran character actor Danny Trejo plays the title character.  He’s a definite tough guy and this film just amplifies that.  He’s there to be super-cool and that’s it.  And he is; his look is terrific and whenever he gets ready to do his thing, it’s right on the money.  Trejo’s character is designed as one-note so the drive forward in the film comes from the rest of the cast.  Demian Bichir (from FX’s The Bridge), Amber Heard, returnees Michelle Rodriguez and Jessica Alba, Sofia Vergara, Carlos Estevez (Charlie Sheen), Lady GaGa, Antonio Banderas, Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Mel Gibson round out the support here and all certainly fit well into Rodriguez’s vision.  My own picks for standouts here are the gorgeous Sofia Vergara as the man-hating head of a whorehouse, Desdemona, Charlie Sheen as the President of the United States and Mel Gibson as the main villain of the piece, Voz.  They all look like they”re lapping this all up and it makes them all fun to watch whenever they’re on-screen.

Even with my own problem with the film, I still had a great time with Machete Kills and would certainly want to see it again down the road, but again, I’m a huge fan of this type of stuff.  I saw this the very next night after I saw Captain Phillips and it made for a very nice film palette cleanser for as heavy a movie as Captain Phillips was.  Certainly recommended, but primarily for fans of Rodriguez and whacked-out exploitation films.

Reviewed by: Darren Goodhart - darren@comicspectrum.com
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